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Press briefing notes on Iran, Hungary and El Salvador

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 16 February 2018

(1) Iran

Noting a surge in the number of juvenile offenders being executed in Iran, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday urged Iran “to abide by international law and immediately halt all executions of people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were juveniles.” Already, during the first month of 2018, three people – two male and one female –have been executed for crimes they committed when they were 15 or 16 years old. This compares to the execution of a total of five juvenile offenders during the whole of 2017.

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(2) Hungary

The Hungarian Government submitted a legislative package to Parliament this week that, if passed, is likely to further affect and stigmatize civil society groups, which are already under great pressure in the country, and reduce their ability to carry out their often indispensable work.  

The proposed laws refer to organizations “supporting migration” and detail a range of activities that this covers, including advocacy, campaigning, monitoring borders, producing information material and recruiting volunteers, as well as using funds received directly or indirectly from abroad. The legislation thus appears to be a further tightening of government controls on civil society groups working on issues the Government regards as against State interests, such as migration and asylum.

We understand that the laws will require organizations to apply for a licence to operate from the Ministry of the Interior and be cleared by the national security services – a process that may take up to nine months. They must also provide information about their level and source of funding. If an organization fails to apply for a license or if its application is refused, and it continues its activities, this could result in the organization’s dissolution. Those that receive foreign funding also face a 25% tax on these funds. Such a tax is likely to result in reduced budgets and disrupt fundraising, thereby undermining NGOs’ to carry out their activities and services.

The package also sets out “immigration restraining orders” under which people considered to “support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national in Hungary” may be banned from going within 8km of border areas, while third-country nationals may be banned from the whole of the country.

We recognize the responsibility of the Hungarian State to control its borders but the proposed legislation not only threatens the work of the country’s civil society, but also may have a serious effect on the rights of those who rely on the services of NGOs and charities, including refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom rely on such NGOs for support, as Government assistance has dwindled over time.

The proposed legislation represents an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the Government’s assault on human rights and civic space. The ability of civil society organizations to access funding and other resources from domestic, foreign and international sources is an integral part of the right to freedom of association.  We call on the Hungarian Government to review these proposed laws to ensure that freedom of association is fully guaranteed.

In this respect, we note that Hungary is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of association. As a State party, Hungary is due to be reviewed on its implementation of the Covenant by the UN Human Rights Committee in March. Hungary has also acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

(3) El Salvador

We welcome the news that El Salvador has freed a woman from prison where she was serving a 30-year sentence for “aggravated homicide” after her baby was stillborn.

Teodora Vásquez was one of four women the High Commissioner met during his mission to El Salvador last November, who were all serving 30-year prison terms for  “aggravated homicide” as a result of a miscarriage or other obstetric emergencies.

Zeid said at the time that he had rarely been as moved as he was by their stories and the cruelty they had suffered, and he called for the cases of all women detained as a result of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition on abortion to be reviewed.
Vásquez, who had spent more than 10 years in prison, was released yesterday after El Salvador’s Supreme Court commuted her sentence.

This is a positive development that could pave the way for the release of other women who are in a similar situation. In this regard, we urge the authorities to continue to review the cases of the at least 25 women still serving similarly long sentences in connection with pregnancy complications or abortion-related offenses. As Zeid proposed during his mission, such a review of cases could be carried out by an Expert Executive Committee composed of national and international members.

We also reiterate the call he made that El Salvador should comply with its international human rights obligations and lift the absolute prohibition on abortion.

We are encouraged that the Salvadoran authorities, including the Supreme Court of Justice and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, are currently considering some of the recommendations made by the High Commissioner, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, who visited El Salvador from 24 January to 5 February, and urge them to continue to do so.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466/ ethrossell@ohchr.org)

2018 is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.

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