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Press briefing notes on Iraq, Mauritania, Egypt and Colombia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 13 June 2014

1) Iraq

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will later today issue a press release expressing extreme alarm at the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Iraq, amid reports of summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and the massive displacement of some half a million people, as forces allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), overran a succession of major towns and cities earlier in the week.

The full extent of civilian casualties is not yet known, but reports suggest the number of people killed in recent days may run into the hundreds, and the number of wounded is said to be approaching 1,000. We have received reports of the summary execution of Iraq Army soldiers during the capture of Mosul, and of 17 civilians on one particular street in Mosul City on 11 June.

The High Commissioner will warn the parties to the conflict that they are obliged under international law to treat humanely members of armed forces who have laid down their arms or are hors de combat. She will also stress that murder of all kind, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture constitute war crimes. They must also take all feasible precautions, in areas under their effective control, to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities, and to respect, protect and meet the basic needs of civilian populations.

The following initial reports of human rights violations have been received by the Human Rights Division of the UN mission in Iraq, UNAMI, since the fall of Mosul:

  • The execution on 11 June of 17 civilians who work for the police that took place on Street 60, close to the airport in southern Mosul.
  • The execution of a court employee in the central Dawasa area of Mosul.
  • The execution of 12 people in Dawasa who were believed to have been serving with the Iraqi security forces (ISF) or were members of the police
  • The reported suicide of four women either after they were raped by members of ISIL, or after an attempt to force them into marriage with ISIL fighters.
  • The kidnapping of 16 Georgians who work for an Iraqi communications company in Mosul.
  • Reports that prisoners from Mosul’s prisons, who were then armed by ISIL, have been searching for those they believe to be responsible for their incarceration, including allegations that former prisoners went to Tikrit and killed seven former police officers who had worked in the prison.
  • Reports that ISIL checkpoints are specifically targeting former soldiers and police and others they perceives as being associated with the Government

We have also received reports concerning violations by the Iraqi army including allegations that, at a certain point on 9 June, soldiers were preventing civilians from leaving Mosul, and were turning them back at checkpoints on the outskirts of the city. We have also received disturbing reports that Iraqi security forces shelled civilian areas during the fighting on 6 and 8 June, resulting in a large number of civilian casualties, with allegations that up to 30 civilians may have been killed during the shelling.

2) Mauritania

We are concerned at death threats issued last week on social media against the prominent Mauritanian human rights activist Aminetou Mint El-Moctar. The threats are based on a fatwa issued by the leader of the movement known as ‘Friends of the prophet’ and declare that “whoever kills her or tears out her eyes will be rewarded by God.”

Ms. Mint El-Moctar is being targeted because she publicly demanded a fair trial procedure, in compliance with Mauritania’s international human rights obligations, for Mohamed Ould M’Kaitir, a young Mauritanian man who has been awaiting trial on charges of apostasy since January. Because of the nature of the charges, no lawyers have been willing to come forward to defend Mr. Ould M’Kaitir, effectively making it impossible at present for him to be given a fair trial. The horrendous threats against Ms. Mint El-Moctar, simply for pointing this out, starkly underline the importance of her public call that a fair trial must be ensured, and illustrate how difficult that will be.

We are concerned that Ms. Mint El-Moctar is not being provided with adequate protection by the authorities, despite having requested it. We remind the government of Mauritania of its obligation to protect its citizens from threats to their life and safety. The government should take all necessary steps to protect Ms. Mint El-Moctar given the very clear public threats to kill or mutilate her, and to investigate and possibly prosecute those making threats which amount to incitement to kill. In this context, we encourage the government to finally adopt the draft law on civil association, which would strengthen the protection of members of civil society in circumstances such as these.

We also remind Mauritania of its obligation to ensure an impartial and fair procedure with full respect for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In particular, during the current heightened political discussion in the run up to the presidential elections, the Government should ensure that religion is not used as a tool in the political debate.

3) Egypt

We are concerned about the decision by a Cairo criminal court on June 11 to sentence 25 Egyptian activists, including Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Wael Metwally and human rights defender and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah in abstentia to 15 years’ imprisonment and to a fine and a further five years of police surveillance after their release. According to Egyptian NGOs, the 25 defendants have been accused of “breaching the protest law, illegal gathering, theft, and attacking officials on duty”.

This verdict constitutes the latest example in a chain of legal cases that have failed to meet international fair trial standards. Since the promulgation of the protest law in November 2013, dozens of protesters, including prominent activists, have been arrested and harshly sentenced in trials that generally fell short of key international fair trial standards.

We have already raised serious concerns about the law on protests, notably the vague definitions of restrictions and the excessive powers bestowed on commanders on the ground, leading to the possible use of lethal force without sufficient safeguards. We have warned that the law could lead to serious breaches of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and needs to urgently be brought in conformity with Egypt’s international human rights obligations.

4) Colombia: Joint Declaration of Principles on Victims

We welcome the announcement on 7 June of the Declaration of Principles for the Discussion of Point 5 on the Agenda: Victims by the Colombian Government and the FARC.

In line with human rights standards regarding transitional justice, this declaration of principles, which establishes how the negotiations on victims have to be conducted, states that the satisfaction of the rights of victims is a fundamental guarantee for achieving peace. It also states that the termination of the conflict will contribute greatly to the satisfaction of these rights, which will include the rights to truth, justice, and reparation as well as guarantees of non-repetition.

We particularly welcome the fact that the Declaration clearly states that victims’ rights are non-negotiable. The question is now about reaching an agreement on how these rights might best be satisfied in the context of an armed conflict. In the statement introducing the Declaration, the Government and the FARC have also requested the United Nations to organise consultations with victims, and announced that they will invite a victims’ delegation to the next round of negotiations, which is another praiseworthy development.

After the framework agreement on peace, and three specific agreements on agrarian development, political participation and drug trafficking and illicit crops, we believe this Declaration to be another important milestone on the path to peace. We encourage all parties to now come to a full binding agreement on victims, and hope that this will allow them to move closer towards bringing about a true and lasting peace in Colombia.


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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