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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press briefing notes on Burundi, Yemen, Cambodia and Congo

23 October 2015

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 23 October 2015

(1) Burundi

We are extremely concerned at the rapidly worsening security and human rights situation in Burundi. According to our team on the ground, at least 198 people have been killed in Burundi since 26 April 2015, one third of them -- 63 people -- in the last three weeks alone.

We are particularly shocked at the deadly incident which took place on 13 October in the Bujumbura neighbourhood of Ngagara. At least nine civilians were reportedly summarily executed by police forces belonging to the API Unit (Appui pour la Protection des institutions, the Police Unit in charge of protecting state institutions), including a well-known cameraman of the National Radio and Television of Burundi (RTNB), Christophe Nkezabahizi, his wife, their two children and an IOM staff member living in the same compound, Evariste Mbonihankuye.

While police forces were searching houses in the area, members of the Nkezabahizi family were reportedly called out of their home, lined up and shot in cold blood. Reports suggest the IOM staff member was wearing his UN-ID but was still shot dead.

Despite previous reports of attacks against humanitarian personnel, this is the first time a humanitarian worker is killed by security forces since the beginning of the crisis.

This appalling incident was apparently triggered by an attack on three API police officers by unidentified armed youth in the same neighbourhood. One of the police officers was reportedly killed and another injured while the third managed to escape and called for help.

Four other people, including one minor, were also reportedly killed by the police in a separate incident at the same location on the same day. At least four houses were fired at, as evidenced by the many bullet holes in their walls and broken windows which were observed by our team on the ground. The houses were also reportedly looted by the police.

We welcome the establishment by the Attorney General of Burundi of a commission of enquiry to investigate the Ngagara incident and we call for this investigation to be transparent, impartial and in line with international and national human rights standards. We urge the authorities to issue clear instructions to all members of their security forces that acts such as this will be punished with the full force of the law.

(2) Yemen

In Taizz, on 21 October, according to information we have received, at least 15 civilians, including two children and one woman, were killed and 73 civilians, including 13 children and two women, were injured as a result of indiscriminate shelling by members of the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis, which targeted residential areas in Taizz that led to the partial destruction of civilian homes, shops, a clinic and a school. We stress that this may not be the full casualty toll, and that there are higher estimates.

According to a detailed eyewitness account, at around 4:15 pm, shells fired from Al Hawban area, controlled by the Houthis, targeted a number of residential areas in the Al-Dhaboaha neighborhood, hitting the Al-Mutahideen Clinic and five neighboring homes.

According to a second eyewitness report, at around 23:00 hrs the same day, a second round of shelling started. Some 18 shells in all were fired from the same Al-Hawban area, this time targeting residential neighborhoods in the city center. At least one shell hit the Hayel Saeed school, three shells hit the 26 September Street, at least one shell landed near a mosque in Al-Awadhi Street, two shells struck a residential area near the fish market, and more shells hit shops in the city’s central market. A total of at least seven shells also struck the Al-Akhwah and the Al-Rawdha neighborhoods.

Victims were taken to at least three different hospitals in the city.

We are concerned at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Taizz, which is being greatly exacerbated by checkpoints which were set up by the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis on the periphery of Taizz city in April. These checkpoints have been tightening their restrictions on the movement of the civilian population. Members of the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis have taken control of the eastern route into Taizz and have blocked the main supply routes from Sana’a, Aden, Ibb, and Lahj. Additionally, violent clashes have blocked off supply routes from Hudaydah.

Taizz’s civilian population is bearing the brunt of the siege as they struggle to meet their most basic needs, including potable water. The price of water has soared by 300% in the past week. According to reports received by OHCHR, members of the Popular Committees Affiliated with the Houthis and armed forces loyal to former President Saleh have also prevented local traders and residents from crossing check points with water, fruit and vegetables and other essential goods.

OHCHR is concerned with the deteriorating health situation in Taizz and the near collapse of the health system. At present, there are a total of six public and private hospitals that are partially functional in Taizz. Following the closure of Yemen International Hospital, the largest hospital in the city, smaller private hospitals with limited capacity have been overwhelmed with casualties caused by the fighting.

The on-going armed conflict in Yemen is taking a terrible toll on civilians. From March 26, 2015 to 16 October – so these figures do not include the Taizz casualties -- our Yemen Country Office has recorded 7,655 civilian casualties, including 2,577 killed and 5,078 wounded.

(3) Cambodia

We note the decision by the Cambodian Government not to proceed with its planned return of 13 Montagnards with refugee status back to Viet Nam this month. The Government of Cambodia has recognized their refugee claims and their return to Vietnam would constitute refoulement, and risks exposing the refugees to human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and torture. As a state party to the Refugee Convention and the Convention against Torture and as a country that adheres to the universal values laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights*, Cambodia is under an obligation not to return refugees to a country where they could be subjected to serious human rights violations.

The Government announced on Tuesday that it would extend a deadline for the return of the refugees until 10 January 2016. We call on the Government to ensure that the rights of these 13 individuals will be fully protected, including from all risk of refoulement.

We also urge Cambodia to comply with its obligations to register and consider all the remaining asylum claims of Montagnards who have left Viet Nam claiming religious, political and other persecution, more than 200 of whom have arrived in Cambodia over the past year. The Government this week extended a deadline until 6 February for all of them to return to Viet Nam or be forcibly sent back. We trust that this extension will give the Government time to reconsider their asylum requests in accordance with international standards, and that it would in any case not refoule the asylum seekers without the individual consideration of their claims that is their right. Both UNHCR and the OHCHR have written to the Cambodian Government over the past year urging that all individuals be allowed to pursue their asylum claims.

(4) Congo

We are concerned at the tense situation in Congo, where violent clashes between demonstrators and police officers have left at least four people dead and many others injured.

Over the past few days, groups opposed to the referendum on Congo’s Constitution, due to be held on 25 October, have been organizing demonstrations throughout the country. On 20 October, thousands of protesters gathered in several neighbourhoods of Brazzaville, and in the southern coastal town of Pointe Noire, erecting road blocks, burning tires, looting and preventing the movement of people and vehicles. Clashes between police and demonstrators were also reported.

We call on all sides to refrain from further inflaming this very explosive situation and urge them to establish a meaningful dialogue with the aim of solving their differences in a peaceful manner.

We are also concerned at a Government ban on public meetings, as well as reported arrests or restrictions on freedom of movement of some opposition figures. On 21 October, at least six leaders of the Front républicain pour le respect constitutionnel et l'alternance démocratique (FROCAD) were reportedly arrested in Brazzaville as they were about to give a press conference.

We urge the Congolese authorities to respect their international human rights obligations, including freedom of expression and assembly.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / [email protected])

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