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Press briefing notes on Iraq, Lebanon /Tunisia / Jordan and Uzbekistan

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 22 August 2017 

(1) Iraq

Today we are releasing a report produced jointly with the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), urging the Iraqi Government to ensure that the thousands of women and girls who survived rape and other forms of sexual violence by ISIL fighters receive care, protection and justice, and that children born as a result of such violence do not face a life of discrimination and abuse.

Women and girls under the control of ISIL, in particular women from the Yezidi and other minority communities, have been especially vulnerable to abuses of human rights and violation of international humanitarian law, including rape and sexual assault, forced displacement, abduction, deprivation of liberty, slavery, forced religious conversion, and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

The High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has said that the physical, mental, and emotional injuries inflicted by ISIL are "almost beyond comprehension," and that if victims are to rebuild their lives, and those of their children, they need both justice and  redress.

The Iraqi Government has the obligation, under domestic law and international human rights law, to ensure all victims have access to justice and reparations. This obligation includes ensuring accountability of the alleged perpetrators through trials before independent and impartial tribunals, conducted in a gender-sensitive manner so as not to perpetuate victims’ suffering. 

The report notes that the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have taken some positive steps to promote women and children’s rights and to address the needs of those who have suffered abuses at the hands of ISIL. However, the criminal justice system largely fails to ensure the appropriate protection of victims.  Significant legislative and institutional changes are needed, the report says, to facilitate access to justice and to ensure the care and protection of victims in such proceedings.

Despite government efforts to alleviate the suffering of victims and provide services, huge challenges remain. The report stresses the need for women and girls to have access to appropriate medical, psychosocial, financial, livelihood and other means of support.

The report also voices serious concern with regard to tribal agreements reached by representatives of tribes in a number of governorates, which include provisions allowing for forced evictions of families connected to ISIL and their property transferred to victims as reparation.

The situation of hundreds of children born to women in ISIL-controlled areas without birth certificates or whose ISIL-issued documents are not accepted by the Government of Iraq or the Kurdistan Regional Government is also deeply troubling. Birth registration requires the parents to present proof of marital status and two witnesses must confirm the circumstances of the child’s birth – exceedingly difficult in the case of children whose parents may be dead or missing; where the father’s identity is not known; where a child has been abandoned due to stigma or for those who live in IDP camps where no civil status offices or courts operate.

Children who were born in ISIL-controlled areas have the same legal rights as any other Iraqi citizen. The Government must ensure they are protected from marginalisation and abuse. They must not be exposed to discrimination through references on their birth certificate saying they were born out of wedlock or have a father linked to ISIL. Nor should they be left unregistered and as result in danger of statelessness, exploitation and trafficking.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including regarding access to justice; provision of support and care for victims; information and counselling services to reunite separated families, and the importance of birth registration. 

(2) Lebanon /Tunisia / Jordan

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is today welcoming the repeal of laws that allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims in Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan. Important legislative changes occurred in all three of these countries over a recent three-week period.

As the High Commissioner puts it in a press realease we are issuing today, "To punish a rape victim by making her marry the perpetrator of a horrible crime against her – there is no place in today’s world for such hideous laws."

On 16 August, Lebanon voted to repeal article 522 of its penal code, a law that provided that if a person accused of rape agreed to marry the victim, the accused would not be subjected to criminal prosecution.

Two weeks earlier, on 1 August, Jordanian lawmakers also voted to abolish a similar provision – article 308 of its penal code.
In Tunisia, on 26 July, the parliament adopted a law on eliminating violence against women and eliminating impunity for perpetrators, recognizing that violence against women includes economic, sexual, political and psychological violence. The law will come into effect next year. Tunisia has also established two human rights institutions this year dealing with human trafficking and improving the enjoyment of individual liberties and equality.

These are hard-won victories, thanks to the tireless campaigns over the years by human rights defenders – in particular women human rights defenders – in Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan. The High Commissioner is calling on the Governments and people of these countries – and other countries in the region – to build on this positive momentum, and work towards the swift repeal of other legislation that condones sexual violence against women and girls and perpetuates discrimination against them in clear violation of international human rights law.

In Lebanon, for example, article 505 of the penal code continues to allow those accused of having sex with a minor to go free if they marry their victims, while article 508 allows for marital rape. Zeid is calling for article 505 to be repealed and for marital rape to be criminalized.

(2) Uzbekistan

We welcome the news that former UN employee Erkin Musaev has been released by the Uzbek authorities, 11 years after he was arrested at Tashkent airport while travelling to a regional seminar.

Musaev, who was the country manager of a joint UNDP-European Union programme, was tried on three separate charges in 2006 and 2007 receiving sentences of 15, 6 and 4 years respectively.

In 2008, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that he had not been tried fairly and that his detention was arbitrary. His case was subsequently taken up by various other UN Special Procedures and the Human Rights Committee, as well as by three successive High Commissioners for Human Rights.

The current High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, raised Mr Musaev’s case in his meeting with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev when he made the first ever visit to Uzbekistan by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in May this year.*
During that visit, Zeid also welcomed the release of a number of other political prisoners since Mr Mirziyoyev became President in December 2016, and urged the authorities to release all political prisoners, some of whom – like Erkin Musaev – also received very long prison sentences after highly problematic trial processes.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org) or Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 97 67 / rcolville@ohchr.org)

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