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Press briefing notes on Nicaragua, Mali and Kashmir

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 17 July 2018

(1) Nicaragua

Tomorrow, Wednesday, will mark three months since demonstrations began in Nicaragua, initially against planned pension reforms but which have evolved into protests against President Daniel Ortega’s government. 

The violence that has to date left an estimated 280 people dead and 1830 injured has been overwhelmingly perpetrated by the State and by pro-government armed elements.  Those killed include at least 19 police officers.  

Police, armed elements and other violent groups have carried out so-called “clean-up operations” in different parts of the country, forcibly removing barricades erected by demonstrators and local communities. At least 12 people were killed over the weekend, including two when shots were fired at the Divina Misericordia Church in Managua where student demonstrators had sought refuge after the university premises they had been occupying came under attack.  

The violence is all more horrific as armed elements loyal to the government are operating with the active or tacit support of and in coordination with the police and other state authorities. UN Human Rights Office staff on the ground report that a wide range of human rights violations are being committed, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and denying people the right to freedom of expression. There has been incitement to hatred and smear campaigns, including against human rights defenders. The backdrop for all these violations is the absence of rule of law and due process.

We are extremely concerned that two human rights defenders, Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, could be victims of enforced disappearance. Police detained them on Friday at Managua airport and since then the authorities have not informed their families as to where they are, despite judicial requests. We call on the Nicaraguan authorities to provide immediate information on their whereabouts, and allow us and other human rights organisations access to all prisons and other detention facilities where those detained are believed to be held.

We are observing an emerging and disturbing practice of human rights defenders and people who have merely taken part in protests being criminalized. For example, the police publicly accused Medardo Mairena of the murder of several officers and branded him a “terrorist”. On Monday, the Nicaraguan Congress adopted a law on money-laundering and terrorism, with a very broad definition of terrorism, which raises concerns that it could be used against people taking part in protests. 

Amid the increasing climate of fear and mistrust, there are growing concerns that violence will intensify as Nicaragua prepares to mark Liberation Day on Thursday, 19 July, in commemoration of the overthrow of the Somoza regime in 1979 by the Sandinistas. 

The appalling loss of life must stop – now. It is imperative that the Nicaraguan State, which has obligations under international human rights law to guarantee the right to life and security of the population, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and takes concrete steps as soon as possible to end the crisis and find a peaceful solution.

(2) Mali

We are deeply concerned about a surge in violence perpetrated across communal lines in the Mopti region of central Mali. In recent weeks, UN human rights staff in the country have documented an alarming trend of civilians being driven from their homes, either after being directly targeted themselves, because of the community they belong to, or after deadly attacks on members of their community in neighbouring villages. 

Since the beginning of the year, the Human Rights and Protection Division of MINUSMA, the UN peace-keeping mission in Mali, has documented 99 incidents of intercommunal violence resulting in at least 289 civilian deaths. Seventy-six of these incidents – some 77 per cent of the total – have occurred in the Mopti region alone, 49 of them since 1 May.

MINUSMA has documented, in particular, an escalation of attacks allegedly carried out by Dozos (traditional hunters) and elements of Dogon militias against villages or parts of villages occupied primarily by members of the Fulani (Peulh) community. While these attacks are said to be motivated by a desire to root out individuals linked to the violent extremist group, Jama’at nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), in reality, they have increasingly been indiscriminately targeting members of the Fulani (Peulh) community. 

In one such attack, on 1 July, 16 Fulani (Peulh) civilians were allegedly killed by Dogon militia elements in a village called Bombou, some of them reportedly shot inside the local mosque, where they had sought refuge from the attack, while others were burned alive inside their homes. The victims included several elderly people and a 13-year-old child. In another case, a MINUSMA human rights investigation team concluded that, on 23 June, a large group of armed elements, identified by eyewitnesses as Dozos, stormed part of another village, called Koumaga, killing 24 male Fulani (Peulh) civilians, including six boys.

Dogon and Bambara communities have themselves in turn been targeted by JNIM and Fulani (Peulh) militias. Between 7 and 10 July alone, MINUSMA documented five attacks on civilians from these communities in the Djenné and Koro areas, resulting in at least seven deaths. In most cases, the victims were killed while out farming. MINUSMA has documented other similar attacks in recent weeks, raising concerns they are part of a deliberate attempt to intimidate farmers and undermine the food security of these communities. 

This escalating violence in parts of Mopti region has led to widespread displacement of a civilian population already vulnerable due to a lack of protection and basic social services provided by the State. In one particularly troubling situation, an estimated 3,000 displaced members of the Fulani (Peulh) community who have sought refuge in Birga-peulh village (in the Koro area) have been surrounded by Dogon militia and reportedly prevented from leaving the village to seek food and other essential items. 

We commend the Government of Mali for the efforts it has already taken to intervene in the cycle of violence in Mopti region, and urge it to continue to take measures to prevent further grave violations and abuses of human rights in the region, including those committed by government forces, as a matter of urgency.

(3) Kashmir

“Nefarious conspiracy”, “Pakistan-authored report”, “fallacious”, “mala fide” – these are some of the accusations levelled by numerous Indian media outlets against the UN Human Rights Office for our publication last month of the first-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir.

The report was developed through remote monitoring, after the Indian and Pakistani authorities failed to grant us unconditional access to the region. Since the report was published, we have been deeply disappointed by the reaction of the Indian authorities, who dismissed the report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated” without examining it and responding to the very serious concerns about the human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir as laid out in the report.

In recent days, a surprising number of Indian media organizations have seized unquestioningly upon a claim by someone reported to be a Canada-based imam of Pakistani descent, named Zafar Bangash, that the High Commissioner was in constant contact with him, with the inference being that Mr Bangash influenced the content of the report. This is totally untrue. The High Commissioner has never spoken with Mr Bangash, and we are not aware of receiving any information from him, let alone using it, although it is possible he sent an email or letter and received a polite acknowledgment, as is the case with thousands of letters and emails sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the face of this and numerous other misrepresentations of the report, we would like to set the facts straight.

The report contains 388 footnotes that detail all the sources that were used:  these include official sources such as the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha – India’s parliament – as well as the Supreme Court of India, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, the Union Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Army Staff and even a former Vice President. Accusations that we used unverified information are thus rather puzzling. The report also draws on reliable information from reputable civil society organizations and the Press Trust of India, and these are all clearly cited in the footnotes.

Some Indian media outlets have even gone so far as to claim that a photograph of the High Commissioner with three individuals from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir taken outside the Human Rights Council room in Geneva is – I quote -- “clear proof of the ISI’s [Pakistan’s intelligence agency] involvement.” The unsupported conclusion that this photo indicates complicity is tendentious and – along with other such wild claims -- appears designed to discredit the report while avoiding any real examination of, and reflection on, its contents. Individuals often ask to be photographed with the High Commissioner, and he often politely obliges.

We are disturbed by the sustained attempts to distract and divert the focus away from the human rights violations on both sides of the Line of Control. The UN Human Rights Office has a global mandate and works independently, with a well-established methodology, in its public reporting. Ultimately, our goal in drafting this report was to assist the States and others to identify and address human rights challenges and to give a voice to all Kashmiris who have been rendered voiceless amid the deep political polarization. This is not about politics. It is about the human rights of millions of people in Kashmir. And we will continue to try to engage with Indian and Pakistani authorities on this and other important human rights issues, and press for access to both Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact: Liz Throssell - + 41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org or Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@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 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.

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Rupert Colville,
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