Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Ravina Shamdasani

media@ohchr.org Oct 25 at 11:53 AM

Location: Geneva

Date: 25 October 2019


(1) Protests and unrest around the world

(2) Bolivia

(3) Iraq

(4) Chile

(5) Guinea

(6) Lebanon

1) Protests and unrest around the world

Current or very recent protests, some of which we will talk about today, include ones taking place in Bolivia, Chile, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq and Lebanon. And of course we have also seen major protests taking place earlier in the year in Algeria, Honduras, Nicaragua, Malawi, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as in a number of EU countries, including France, Spain and the UK. And this list is far from exhaustive.

Of course the reasons behind these protests are complex and varied, and it is important not to come to sweeping conclusions. There are common threads among many of the protests: populations that are fed up and angry, especially with socio-economic conditions, corruption, inequalities and the general widening gap between rich and poor.

These sentiments are exacerbated by growing mistrust of institutions of government, politicians and ruling elites. Some protests have been triggered by one or two specific developments, and have then metamorphosed into expressions of deep public dissatisfaction on a whole range of issues spanning the political, social and economic spectrum.

Some have been fanned by poor government responses or by excessive use of force against the initial protestors, which have brought tens of thousands more people onto the streets in solidarity with those who have been killed, injured or arrested by security forces who in many cases have failed to abide by international standards governing use of force, and tried to obstruct fundamental human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression.

2) Bolivia

We are concerned by reports of violence and excessive use of force in Bolivia following the elections last Sunday.

The uncertainty surrounding the results have triggered protests in several cities across the country, which have resulted in clashes between opposing groups, and between protesters and security forces. We have reports of police using force against protesters, including with tear gas, in a manner that may violate basic principles on the use of force.

According to the Special Force to Combat Crime, at least 80 people have been detained and 19 police officers have been injured during clashes. Preliminary data from the Ministry of Interior indicates that at least eight civilians have been injured in the context of confrontations.

We remind the authorities that the use of force during demonstrations should only be applied in exceptional circumstances, in accordance with applicable international norms and standards, including the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. All allegations of misconduct by security forces or acts of violence, should be investigated in a prompt thorough, independent and impartial manner

We urge demonstrators to express their grievances peacefully, without resort or incitement to violence.

We remind the authorities of their obligation to respect the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to distinguish between violent actors and peaceful demonstrators

We call on all actors, including political leaders and their followers, to exercise restraint in order to reduce tensions, and to urgently engage in a genuine and meaningful dialogue to address their political disagreement. Otherwise, there is a serious risk the situation will spiral out of control.

3) Iraq

The main protests in Iraq began on 1 October when young people frustrated by the lack of employment opportunities, lack of services, corruption and failures of government took to the streets.

Violence during the demonstrations, which continued until 9 October, caused at least 157 deaths and injured 5,494 people. A UN human rights report released by UNAMI on Tuesday (22 October), set out credible reports of violations of the right to life, including deliberate killings of unarmed protesters and the excessive use of force by units deployed to manage the demonstrations. The report also highlights concerns regarding the widespread use of repressive measures to limit publicly available information on the demonstrations as well as allegations of arbitrary arrests, threats and harassment. And it also called on all demonstrators to exercise their right to assembly in peaceful and non-violent ways, in keeping with the law.

The Government also issued its own Investigative Report on 22 October, and we urge it to act on the calls for accountability for perpetrators contained in both reports.

Large protests are expected in Iraq today, and indeed were already underway late yesterday. We urge calm on all sides, and in particular a carefully calibrated and proportionate response by security forces in full accordance with international standards, so the terrible toll of life and property during the protests at the beginning of the month are not repeated.  We are also concerned with the continued blocking of social media and intermittent blocking of the internet.

4) Chile

We have been closely monitoring the mounting crisis in Chile, including reports of human rights violations and abuses in the context of the recent protests and the declaration of a state of emergency. Our Office has received allegations of violations  of international norms and standards relating to the use of force by State security forces. We have also received reports of crimes committed by third parties.

The High Commissioner has thus decided to deploy a team of three human rights officers to the country from 28 October to 22 November to examine the allegations, meet with various actors and gather information on measures taken by the Government to address the situation. The mission team will be based in Santiago, but will be visiting cities throughout the country.

A number of parliamentarians have expressed their desire for the UN Human Rights Office to send a mission to the country, and the Government has extended its invitation as well.

During the visit, the team will seek to meet with Government officials, civil society representatives, victims, the National Human Rights Institution and other stakeholders to collect first-hand information on the events. In conjunction with our Regional Office in South America, the team will also look into the root causes of the protests, including issues relating to the enjoyment of economic and social rights in Chile.

5) Guinea

Our Office in Guinea has been following the protests that began in the country on 14 October and has engaged with the authorities, including on reports that at least nine people died and dozens more were injured during last week’s protests, and  that security forces have failed to comply with international norms and standards on the use of force when policing demonstrations. The Office has also followed the cases of leaders of the Front National pour la Defense de la Constitution (FNDC) who were arrested on 12 October in connection with the protest.

We are encouraged by the Government’s announcement of an investigation into killings and allegations of excessive use of force and call on them to ensure that investigations are prompt, thorough, impartial and conducted with a view to bring justice to the victims of human rights violations and abuses.

We are also concerned about the large number of detentions and call for the immediate release of all those detained for the exercise of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. We remind authorities that no one should be convicted for the exercise of their right  to promote inclusive participation in public affairs and to freedom of expression.

Yesterday’s mass protest in Conakry was reported to have taken place peacefully without any resort to the use of force by the authorities. We call on the Government to enable an inclusive and meaningful dialogue, to ensure that the right to political participation, freedom of peaceful assembly and expression are fully respected and protected. We also call on all Guineans to claim their rights without resort to violence.

Our office in Guinea will continue its engagement with the authorities, political leaders and civil society organizations to assist in preventing and addressing contentious issues through a human rights-based approach.

6) Lebanon

Lebanon has been experiencing its biggest spontaneous protests in over a decade, which have continued despite the package of reforms announced by the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic. Tens of thousands of peaceful protestors from all walks of life and confessions continue to unleash anger across the country against what they perceive to be decades of corruption and government mismanagement.

By and large, the conduct of security forces has been proportionate except during the night of 19 October when the UN human rights office in Lebanon documented over 100 cases of detention and ill-treatment. We understand most or all of the detainees have since been released. The Government has said it will continue to provide protection for peaceful demonstrators, while taking appropriate action against possible instigators of violence. The situation has been complicated by sporadic confrontations between protestors and politically motivated counter-protestors.

Between 17 and 24 October, four people were reportedly killed, and hundreds of injured people have been treated by the Lebanese Red Cross.

We are concerned about the dismissal of the General Manager of the National News Agency in Lebanon reportedly for covering the protests in the country. And we are looking into other cases of dismissal of employees for exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

We continue to monitor the unfolding events and we have reminded the Government of the inalienable rights of people to assemble and protest freely and peacefully, and of the need to restrict use of force to the greatest extent possible 

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville – + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Ravina Shamdasani – 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org or Marta Hurtado – + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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