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Press briefing note on Philippines and South Soudan

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva 
Date: 15 February 2019

1) The Philippines

We are very concerned about the arrest on libel charges of Maria Ressa, the CEO of the independent news outlet Rappler in the Philippines, which appears to be the latest element in a pattern of intimidation of a media outlet that has fiercely guarded its independence and its right to conduct in-depth investigations and to criticize the authorities. While Ms. Ressa was released on bail on Thursday, the charges are still pending.

Maria Ressa, who has frequently been critical of President Duterte and his administration’s policies, has previously faced charges of tax evasion as well as attempts to revoke Rappler’s license to operate. These have been widely viewed as efforts to silence Rappler’s independent investigative reporting and critical voice, by misusing judicial and administrative powers, including libel laws. Rappler journalists have also allegedly been threatened with physical harm.

Attempts to intimidate or muzzle independent news sources has a serious effect on freedom of opinion and expression in general, and the rights of journalists to carry out their professional duties safely and without fear of reprisal are clear under international law.

The UN Human Rights Office calls for an independent and thorough review of all charges against Ms. Ressa and other media professionals in the Philippines, and urges the Philippines judiciary to safeguard their own independence by throwing out cases that are clearly politically motivated or are not in line with international human rights standards, including freedom of opinion and expression.  Any charges that appear to be aimed at preventing journalists from undertaking their profession, thereby depriving the public of their right to information, should be dropped immediately.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye as well as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, have all spoken out recently in defence of Rappler. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights fully endorses the positions they have taken.

2) South Sudan

A UN report released Friday highlights persistently high levels of sexual violence in South Sudan’s northern Unity region, with at least 134 women and girls raped, and 41 having suffered other forms of sexual and physical violence just between September and December 2018.

Among the survivors, some were as young as eight. The actual level of sexual violence is likely to be considerably higher than the number of cases recorded.

The report by the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) warns that although attacks against civilians have decreased significantly since the peace agreement was signed on 12 September 2018, endemic conflict-related sexual violence continues in northern Unity. The sexual violence was committed in a context of “pervasive impunity, which contributed to the normalization of violence against women and girls,” the report notes.

Almost 90 percent of the women and girls were raped by more than one perpetrator and often over several hours. Pregnant women and nursing mothers were also victims of sexual violence. In one incident alone on 17 December, in the village of Lang in Koch county, five women were gang-raped, four of whom were pregnant, including one who was nearly nine months pregnant.

To read the full press release in English go to: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24168&LangID=E

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org  or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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