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Press briefing note on (1) Iraq, (2) Israel-OPT, (3) Gambia & (4) Mauritania

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Cécile Pouilly
Location:  Geneva
Date: 23 August 2016
Subject:  (1) Iraq, (2) Israel-OPT, (3) Gambia & (4) Mauritania

(1) Iraq

The High Commissioner is deeply dismayed at the execution on Sunday of 36 people in Iraq in relation to the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre, during which some 1,700 cadets were killed by ISIL fighters, particularly given the serious due process concerns and fair trial shortcomings in these cases.

As the High Commissioner said in the aftermath of the killings at Camp Speicher, the “magnitude and brutality of the Camp Speicher massacre was exceptional” and it was important to respond to the plight of the survivors and families of the victims. He urged the authorities to ensure that any trials conducted in connection with the massacre respected due process and international fair trial rather than be fuelled by vengeance. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

We are concerned that the individuals who have been executed were convicted only on the basis of information provided by secret informants or by confessions allegedly extracted under duress. The claims of 19 defendants that they were tortured to induce confessions were never investigated. The defendants were represented by a Court-appointed lawyer who did not intervene during the proceedings, making only a three-minute statement before the verdicts were delivered.

An estimated 1,200 individuals remain on death row in Iraq. We urge the authorities to halt all imminent executions and to urgently conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in the country.

(2) Israel

We are deeply concerned at the deteriorating health of Bilal Kayed, a 35-year-old Palestinian man, who has been on hunger strike in Israel since 15 June 2016 to protest against his administrative detention. After 70 days of hunger strike, Mr. Kayed is reported to be in a critical condition and doctors have informed him that he may suffer irreversible damage to his health.

Mr. Kayed is one of the at least 700 Palestinians believed to be held in administrative detention in Israel Prison Service facilities.

This is the highest number of administrative detainees at a given time since early 2008.

Mr. Kayed was arrested in December 2001 and sentenced to 14 years and six months' imprisonment. He was held in solitary confinement during his last nine months of imprisonment. On 13 June 2016, the day of his scheduled release, a six-month administrative detention order was issued against him on unspecified security grounds and relying on secret evidence.

We are also worried at the situation of some 100 Palestinian detainees who are on hunger strike in solidarity with Mr. Kayed or to protest their own administrative detention or placement in isolation. One of them, Ayyad Jamal Al-Hreini, was also re-arrested and held in administrative detention on 23 December 2015, ten days after having completed a three-year sentence. He has been on hunger strike since mid-July.

We, once again, urge the Israeli authorities to end their practice of administrative detention and to either release immediately or promptly charge and prosecute all administrative detainees, with all the judicial guarantees required by international human rights law and standards.

(3) Gambia

We deplore the reported death in custody of Ebrima Solo Kurumah, a member of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), last Saturday.

According to information we have received, Mr. Kurumah passed away after he was taken to hospital for a surgical operation. He had allegedly been denied medical help on several occasions while in detention. 

Mr. Kurumah was among the 30 members of the main opposition party sentenced to three years' imprisonment last July, following their participation in peaceful demonstrations to call for electoral reform and to protest against the death in State custody of the Chairman of the UDP youth wing, Solo Sandeng.

Other detainees have also reportedly been denied medical care in recent months.

We urge the authorities to investigate the death in State custody of Mr. Sandeng and Mr. Kurumah as well as allegations that detainees are denied access to medical care.

(4) Mauritania

We are concerned at the sentencing last Thursday of 23 people, including 13 members of a prominent NGO that campaigns against slavery, to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years for their alleged role in a riot in June.

The 23 individuals were found guilty by a court in Nouakchott of rebellion, physical assault of police officers, armed assembly and membership of an unrecognized organization.

On 20 June 2016, violent clashes with police forces took place during the eviction of some 400 families from a slum in Nouakchott, many of whom are themselves former slaves. Dozens of people, including 19 police officers, were injured.

We are deeply troubled by allegations that the trial was marred by irregularities and that some of those found guilty were not even present at the June protests. We urge the Mauritanian authorities to quickly review this case and to investigate allegations that some of the defendants were subject to ill-treatment or torture during their pre-trial detention.


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

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