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Press briefing notes on Ukraine, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location:   Geneva
Date: 6 May 2014
Subject:     1) Ukraine
                   2) Nigeria
                   3) DRC

1)   Ukraine

We are deeply concerned by the surge in violence in Ukraine, which is resulting in more and more deaths and destruction. We urge all sides to make a much greater effort to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, especially in the various towns in eastern and southern Ukraine that have been racked by increasingly violent confrontations.

The Government must ensure that military and police operations are undertaken in line with international standards. It is extremely important that the authorities themselves demonstrate full respect for the rule of law and scrupulously protect the human rights of all, including the Russian-speaking population.

Armed opposition groups must stop all illegal actions, including detaining people and seizing public buildings in violation of Ukraine’s laws and Constitution.  These organized and well-armed groups should lay down their weapons, free arbitrarily detained persons, and vacate occupied public and administrative buildings.

It is essential the authorities carry out prompt, transparent and comprehensive investigations into the events in Odessa and Donetsk regions that led to the deaths of dozens of people in recent days including the fire in the trade union building in Odessa last Friday in which more than 40 people are believed to have died.

Inclusive and participatory dialogue needs, as a matter of urgency, to be undertaken at all levels to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence. Leaders at national and local levels need to take serious steps to halt the rhetoric of hatred and confrontation, before the situation spirals totally out of control.

Genuine peaceful demonstrations must be permitted, both as a matter of international law and as a release valve for people’s legitimate fears and frustrations. Policing should facilitate such assemblies while ensuring the protection of participants, irrespective of their political views. There is an urgent need to create an environment where freedom of expression and opinion are fully respected.

We condemn all attacks on, and harassment of, journalists. All sides must allow journalists space to work. This is a key element in ending the increasing misinformation, disinformation and hate speech that has been colouring conflicting narratives and fuelling the development of artificial, destructive and deeply dangerous divisions between communities.  Journalists themselves should make strenuous efforts to be objective, and to avoid incitement.

Very little time remains before the elections on 25 May, which remain the best opportunity for Ukraine to begin the process of reconciliation and stabilization.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights currently has a monitoring mission of 34 staff based in five locations, and is due to publish its next report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on 15 May.

2) Nigeria

We are deeply concerned about the outrageous claims made in a video believed to be by the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria yesterday, in which he brazenly says he will sell the abducted schoolgirls “in the market” and “marry them off”, referring to them as “slaves”.

We condemn the violent abduction of these girls, reportedly at gunpoint from their school in Chibok in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law. These can, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity. The girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families.

The High Commissioner has contacted the President of Nigeria and urged the Government to ensure that it spares no effort to ensure the safe return of the girls to their homes and communities. In a letter signed by Navi Pillay, along with the Executive Director of UN Women, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the four African UN women leaders reminded the Nigerian Government of its legal responsibility to ensure that girls and boys have the fundamental rights to education and to be protected from violence, persecution and intimidation.

As the High Commissioner said during her visit to Nigeria earlier this year, the actions of Boko Haram have grown increasingly monstrous. The group has targeted some people simply because of their religion or professional occupation – and in this case, simply because the girls were enrolled in school.

We urge the authorities to take all necessary measures, consistent with human rights, to protect their people from these violations and crimes. It is particularly important that the local state authorities and the federal government cooperate fully. Failure to undertake effective measures that are within the authorities' means to protect people is a violation of human rights. However, States assisting Nigeria in its counter-terrorism operations should also ensure that they stay within the remits of international law.

3) Democratic Republic of the Congo

We are disappointed by the judgment yesterday of the Operational Military Court in North Kivu against 39 members of the DRC armed forces (FARDC) who were accused of rapes and crimes committed in Minova and its surroundings in November 2012.

The Court condemned 26 FARDC members, including two for rape, one for murder and most of the rest on more minor charges such as looting and disobedience. Fourteen officers were acquitted. Our human rights colleagues on the ground are still carefully analysing the Court’s judgment.

By this judgment, the judiciary did not meet the expectations of the numerous victims of rape who fully participated in the trial. The outcome of the trial confirms shortcomings in the administration of justice in the DRC, as outlined in the report on progress and obstacles in the fight against impunity for sexual violence in the country issued on 9 April 2014 by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC.

There is no possibility for appeal as per the rules of procedure of the Operational Military Court, in contradiction of international standards as well as the Congolese Constitution, both of which guarantee the right to appeal.

The crimes perpetrated in Minova and its surroundings in November 2012 were extremely serious and widespread. On 8 May 2013, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and MONUSCO issued a report on mass rapes and other violations of human rights committed in Minova and surrounding areas in November 2012. The report documented 135 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by FARDC elements in and around the town of Minova as units retreated from the front lines.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org ) Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 /rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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