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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press briefing notes on Bahrain, Kosovo and Mexico

30 September 2011

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
30 September 2011

(1) Bahrain
We are concerned about the harsh sentences handed down this week by the Court of National Safety in Bahrain to 20 medical staff, two leaders of a teachers’ association and at least 32 other individuals. The sentences range from three years’ imprisonment to the death penalty. The Court also upheld the sentences of 21 others. For such harsh sentences to be handed down to civilians in a military court with serious due process irregularities raises severe concerns.

We call on the Government to ensure that every detained person is charged with a recognizable criminal offence and has enough time to prepare a defence case.

The Government has announced that all cases will be referred to civilian courts in October. While we welcome this announcement, it is unclear how appeals by those who have been convicted in military courts will be handled in the civilian courts.

(2) Kosovo
We are concerned that a key witness in a war crime case in Kosovo was this week (Wednesday) found dead in a park in Germany. While the circumstances of his death remain to be confirmed, German police have reportedly said that Agim Zogaj hanged himself in the park in Duisburg in western Germany. Zogaj was a key witness in the case against former Kosovo Liberation Army Commander Fatmir Limaj and nine others, who were last month charged with various counts of war crimes allegedly committed in 1999 at a detention centre in the village of Kleçkë/Kleèka.

While the exact reasons behind his apparent suicide are difficult to ascertain, this case adds to our longstanding concerns about witness protection in Kosovo.
We call for an effective and independent witness and victim protection system inside Kosovo to be put in place. Only an effective and well-resourced witness and victim protection system in Kosovo will help render justice to the victims and end impunity regarding past violations.

(3) Mexico
We are deeply concerned about the recent killings of, and other brutal attacks against, journalists in Mexico, illustrating increasing insecurity in general and the exceptionally vulnerable situation of journalists in particular, as well as the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression in the country.

The most recent journalist to be killed was María Elizabeth MACÍAS, an employee of the Nuevo Laredo newspaper Primera Hora, whose decapitated and mutilated body was found last Saturday (24 Sept). Her postings on internet-based social networks were often critical of violent groups. Alongside her body was a handwritten message allegedly signed by the Zetas drug cartel saying that she had been killed in retaliation for her postings. Eleven days earlier (13 Sept), a man and a woman were found dead, hanging from an overpass in Nuevo Laredo with a handwritten message saying "this is what will happen to internet users.” It is clear that such killings are designed to send a chilling message to silence reports on drug gang violence and to challenge campaigns led by the authorities to promote anonymous reporting of criminal activities.

In September alone, in addition to the above, the UN human rights office in Mexico has publicly condemned three other murders of journalists. Other gruesome killings have also continued to take place in Mexico. On 27 September, five severed heads were found inside a bag alongside boards with messages on them in Acapulco, Guerrero.

On 20 September, two trucks containing the bodies of 23 men and 12 women, who had been tortured and murdered, were abandoned in a busy street in Veracruz City. The UN human rights office in Mexico is monitoring this case and checking into reports that journalists were threatened at gunpoint at the Veracruz morgue.

We understand the challenge the Mexican Government is facing in its fight against rising violence. However, we are also extremely concerned at the prevalent impunity regarding these killings, and the many other similar crimes committed in recent years. We are particularly concerned that some of these crimes appear to have been committed with the cooperation or acquiescence of state agents.

We urge the Mexican authorities to launch immediate full and impartial investigations into these events. We also remind them of their obligation to protect all people in Mexico from the threats to the enjoyment of their fundamental rights, particularly their right to life, to security and integrity of the person, and to freedom of expression.

For more information or media requests, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or press officers Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / [email protected]) and Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]).

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