UN Human Rights: Notes On Central African Republic, Malaysia And Ukraine

Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave the following press briefing on Central African Republic, Malaysia and Ukraine:

1) Central African Republic
Although the security situation seems to have recently improved in some parts of the Central African Republic, we are very concerned about the critical situation prevailing in Boda, a town located some 190 km west of the capital.

According to a team of five human rights monitors deployed by OHCHR at the beginning of the week, large numbers of Christian and Muslim civilians in Boda and surrounding villages have suffered tremendously from the recent fighting and the deterioration of their living conditions, and tensions are running very high.

Boda is currently divided into a Muslim area and a non-Muslim area. Some 11,000 Muslim civilians are stranded in four neighbourhoods and at risk of further attacks by surrounding anti-Balaka elements. A buffer zone under the control of French forces, known as Sangaris, separates the two communities.

Representatives of the Muslim community told our team they feel threatened and want to leave Boda as soon as possible. However they are unable to move out, as their neighbourhoods are surrounded by hostile areas. Anti-Balaka elements have also set up numerous checkpoints along the only paved road in the town.

The trapped civilians’ situation is made even worse by the fact that they cannot engage in any kind of economic activity. In addition, anti-Balaka elements are reportedly forbidding civilians from selling food to Muslims. Even local vendors from neighbouring villages are said to have been threatened by anti-Balaka after Muslim civilians bought food from them under Sangaris’ protection.

The Christian civilians, and in particular those displaced by last month’s clashes, are also living in very difficult conditions.

In Boda, unlike in other towns visited by the team, Muslim elements were reportedly the first to attack after ex-Seleka forces left on January 29. Upon hearing that anti-Balaka armed elements had assaulted Muslim communities elsewhere in the country, they attacked the non-Muslim area of the town, burning most shops and houses in the central Christian neighbourhood. The Muslim community in Boda is reported to have been better armed than in other areas due to their traditional involvement in the gold and diamond trade.

The fighting reportedly killed at least 80 people and displaced thousands of Christian civilians and other non-Muslim civilians. As a result of the destruction of their neighbourhoods, most of them went to two sites for internally displaced people in Boda, or fled to the bush. They live in very difficult conditions and told our team about cases of children dying from malaria in the bush. They said they are now waiting for the departure of Muslims so they can go back to their homes and rebuild their roofs before the rainy season starts.

Anti-Balaka elements told our team that if Muslims don’t leave Boda shortly, in particular before the beginning of the rainy season, they would attack them.

We’ve brought our concerns about the real danger of a further explosion of violence in Boda to the attention of the international forces present in the country. However, they are clearly extremely stretched. This underlines the urgency of the Secretary-General’s call on March 3 to the international community to strengthen peacekeeping efforts by sending 10,000 troops and 1,800 police personnel.

In response to questions:

Our team also visited several towns in the western part of the country, including Mbaiki, Yaloke and Bossemptele. Visits continue today. Over the last six weeks, in all locations visited, the Muslim community has either left completely (Yaloke, Boali, Bossemptele, Mbaiki), or has regrouped in a safe haven and is waiting and wanting to leave (Boda).

The road axis Bangui–Mbaiki–Boda is characterised by the same pattern of destruction of Muslim properties, forced displacement of the Muslim population, emptied villages, destroyed or absent state structures (Gendarmerie, administrative authorities, public hospitals).

The total lack of law and order is illustrated by the horrendous murder of the Muslim deputy mayor of Mbaiki on February 28. Mr. Dido was killed by a mob of youngsters. He was one of the few remaining Muslims of Mbaiki (less than 10). The original 2,000 Muslim residents had been evacuated some weeks prior. Mr. Dido was stabbed to death with a spear, decapitated and mutilated.

The MISCA contingent apprehended 22 suspects, including a man with a blood-stained machete and a woman holding Mr. Dido’s genitals in her hands. Once MISCA finalised the arrest, they handed them over to the Gendarmerie but due to the absence of detention facilities in Mbaiki, the Gendarmerie released all suspects as their identities and places of residence had been established. As far as we know, the public prosecution had not been informed of the case. The surviving family of Mr. Dido was transferred by MISCA to a safe location in Bangui on 1 March.

2) Malaysia
We are seriously concerned about the conviction of a prominent Malaysian lawyer and Member of Parliament, Mr. Karpal Singh under the country’s 1948 Sedition Act. Mr. Singh was found guilty of sedition on 21 February 2014 and is due to be sentenced on 11 March.

Mr. Singh was charged with sedition after suggesting at a press conference in 2009 that it was possible to bring a legal challenge against a decision by the Sultan of the Malaysian state of Perak to dismiss the then Chief Minister. The prosecution in the case argued that Mr. Singh’s words had the tendency to create hatred towards the Sultan.

Mr. Singh, who is also the chairperson of Malaysia’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, faces a fine of up to 5,000 Malaysian Ringgit (approximately 1,500 US dollars) and/or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment. If he is fined more than 2,000 Malaysian Ringgit or sentenced to more than a year in prison, he could be disqualified from his membership of parliament.

The 1948 Sedition Act is not in conformity with international human rights law. Using this law to limit freedom of expression and opinion could stifle enjoyment of these rights in Malaysia.

Lawyers must also be able to discharge their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance or improper interference of any sort and should be entitled to express views in their professional capacities on matters concerning the law.

We urge the Government of Malaysia to review Mr. Singh’s conviction and to repeal the Sedition Act – something which the Prime Minister had, in 2012, publicly undertaken to do.

3) Ukraine
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović arrived in Ukraine late last night to conduct a preliminary assessment of the human rights situation following developments in the country since November 2013. He will be joined by a team of five other OHCHR staff from Geneva over the weekend in addition to the two staff we already have on the ground.

During his eight-day visit, Mr. Šimonović plans to meet authorities in Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv and Simferopol, as well as the Ombudsman, and civil society organisations at central and regional levels. Mr. Šimonović will also liaise with regional organizations active in Ukraine, especially the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and the Council of Europe.

Mr. Šimonović, OHCHR’s most senior human rights official in New York, will seek to identify existing and potential human rights challenges and to advocate for the protection of human rights, including those of minorities, as well as for accountability for recent human rights violations. Mr. Šimonović will present a report with recommendations for follow-up actions to the High Commissioner upon his return.

He will address the media on 14 March 2014. Further details will be available closer to the date.

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