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Press briefing notes

Press briefing notes on France / Racism, Albinism, Cambodia protests and Human Rights Day

15 November 2013

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights : Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 15 November 2013
1) France / Racism
2) Albinism
3) Cambodia protests
4) Human Rights Day

1) France / Racism

We condemn the racist attacks that have been taking place against French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira over the past few weeks, including the front cover of a weekly paper published on Wednesday which carried her picture with the caption “Cunning as a monkey, Taubira gets the banana back.”

The underlying racist intent of this play on words could not be more clear, despite the magazine’s protestations that they were just using two common French expressions, the second of which is used colloquially to describe someone who is very happy.

This is the latest in a series of similar episodes targeting Ms Taubira. Last month, a local Front National candidate compared the Minister to a monkey in a TV documentary that was broadcast on October 17. A week later, in the town of Angers, several demonstrators, including children, who were protesting against gay marriage, waved banana peels at Ms Taubira and shouted "Monkey, eat your banana!"

This utterly unacceptable abuse of a prominent politician, on the basis of her colour, is a stark manifestation of the rising racism, xenophobia and intolerance aimed at members of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as migrants, in many European countries.

We welcome the prompt and unequivocal condemnation of the racist attack on Ms Taubira by the Government and many other politicians and commentators in France. Political leaders have a particular responsibility to lead the way in fighting racism, xenophobia and gender discrimination.

We reiterate the recommendations by UN human rights mechanisms, including by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for France to step up its efforts and to use all possible means to counter the tide of racism and xenophobia.

Back in July, we expressed our concerns about very similar racist attacks against Italian Minister of Integration, Cécile Kyenge, including remarks by Deputy Senate Speaker Roberto Calderoli comparing her to an orang-utan.

We strongly condemn these blatantly racist comments and acts, which are utterly unacceptable whether aimed at politicians, footballers or, less visibly on a daily basis, at ordinary citizens.

2) People with albinism

We welcome the adoption on November 5 of the first resolution on people with albinism by the main regional human rights body in Africa. In the text, the African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights calls on States to take all necessary measures to ensure the effective protection of individuals with albinism, to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to increase education and public awareness.

The resolution, which notes with concern reports of systematic attacks against people with albinism, also calls on States to ensure accountability through impartial, speedy and effective investigations, prosecution of perpetrators and access to appropriate remedies for victims.

The African Commission´s decision, which comes shortly after the adoption of a second resolution on people with albinism by the Human Rights Council on 24 September 2013, is a very positive and much-needed step forward.

We remain deeply concerned about the overall situation of people with albinism. We continue to receive alarming reports about attacks and discrimination against them in several African countries.

We urge all African States to implement the resolution effectively, and to take specific measures to protect and preserve the rights to life and security of people with albinism.

3) Cambodia protests

We are seriously concerned about violent clashes which took place in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district on November 12.

The clashes started after striking garment workers were prevented from walking to the Prime Minister's residence where they were planning to stage a demonstration. One bystander was shot dead and many others seriously injured during the clashes that followed involving demonstrators, civilians who were not initially taking part in the protest, and armed municipal police and gendarmerie forces.

The police were seen beating individuals with truncheons, and shooting live ammunition and rubber bullets from close range.

Most of the 38 people arrested during the clashes have now been released. However two minors (aged 14 and 17) reportedly remain in custody.

This latest incident is of particular concern following previous clashes which took place in September near Phnom Penh’s Monivong Bridge, where police and gendarmerie forces fired into a crowd at a roadblock, resulting in one death and several injuries.

We are following up with the concerned authorities and urging them to launch a prompt and thorough investigation into these clashes and to ensure full accountability for members of security forces found to have used disproportionate and excessive force. We also urge them to ensure that the minors who have been arrested are treated in a manner appropriate to their age and in accordance with international human rights standards.

While we urge protestors to ensure that the demonstrations remain peaceful, we also call on the authorities to ensure that freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is fully respected. These are all rights enshrined in the international human rights treaties Cambodia has ratified, which it has a legal obligation to respect.

4) Human Rights Day

We will be marking Human Rights Day this year with two events – one in Geneva on 5 December, and another in New York on 10 December.

Here, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 5 December, we will host a day of discussions on a range of pressing human rights issues with leaders in various fields. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, will join High Commissioner Navi Pillay in a discussion over access to the Web and the balance between security and privacy online. The discussion will be moderated by prominent TV presenter Tim Sebastian, former host of the BBC’s Hardtalk programme.

Laura Boldrini, the President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, will engage with us on the importance of ensuring the participation and inclusion of all individuals, regardless of their background or status, in the economic and political life of a State. A former journalist and UN official, Ms. Boldrini has championed a wide range of human rights issues, including the rights of minorities, migrants and refugees, as well as campaigning against violence against women, gender stereotyping and racism.

Hina Jilani, former Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will weigh in with panel discussions on protecting the space for human rights defenders and building a vision for an effective human rights system through 2033 and beyond.

The panels will include civil society representatives from Zimbabwe, Colombia and Tunisia, as well as Ms. Safak Pavey, the first woman with a disability to be elected to the Turkish Parliament.

Musician Salif Keita, from Mali, will also perform on the day. Known as the "Golden Voice of Africa", Mr. Keita was born with albinism. In 2005, he founded the Salif Keita Global Foundation to raise awareness about albinism.


For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 / [email protected] ), Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / [email protected] )

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