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Iran: UN experts demand stay of execution for two women LGBT rights activists

“We strongly condemn the sentencing of Ms. Sedighi-Hamadani and Ms. Choubdar to death and call on authorities to stay their executions and annul their sentences as soon as possible,” they said in a statement.

‘Corruption on earth’

Iran’s legal system explicitly prohibits homosexuality, which under the country’s penal code is punishable by death.

The women were convicted on charges of “corruption on earth” and “trafficking”.

While the judicial decision and sentencing order are not public, the experts were informed that the charges concerned speech and actions in support of the human rights of LGBT persons who face discrimination in Iran based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Reports revealed that the trafficking charges were related to the women’s efforts to assist persons at risk to leave Iranian territory.

“Iranian judicial authorities prosecuted human rights defender Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani and Elham Choubdar in August 2022 and notified them on 1 September 2022 that they had been convicted and sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolution Court of Urumieh,” the statement read.

Concern over defenders’ treatment

The experts have expressed concerns to the Iranian Government that the two women may have been arbitrarily detained, ill-treated, and prosecuted on the discriminatory basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including criminalization of LGBT people whose human rights they were supporting through speech and peaceful action.

To date, no response has been received.

“Authorities must ensure the health and well-being of both women, and promptly release them from detention.”

Mahsa Amini protests

The appeal comes as the country is engulfed in protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by so-called morality police, on 13 September, for allegedly violating strict dress codes.

Demonstrations on behalf of the 22-year-old woman who died in police custody have been met with violence and communications restrictions affecting phones and internet service,

Arrests and detention

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard arrested Ms. Sedighi-Hamedani on 27 October 2021 near the Iranian border with Türkiye.

From October to December last year, she was held in a detention centre in Urumieh where she was forcibly disappeared for nearly two months following her arrest and subjected to abuse and discrimination.

“We urge Iran’s authorities to investigate the alleged ill-treatment of Ms. Sedighi-Hamadani while in detention, her enforced disappearance for 53 days, and the failure of judicial authorities to ensure due process in both women’s cases, which may also have violated their right to a fair trial, among other human rights,” the UN experts said.

Ms. Choubdar was arrested at a late but unknown date.

End the death penalty 

The experts called on Iran to “repeal the death penalty, and at a minimum reduce the scope of its application to only criminal actions that meet the threshold of the most serious crimes”.

“Authorities have an international obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders in Iran can conduct peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of persecution or reprisals, including those working on sensitive issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity,” the 22 signatories said.

About the experts 

The UN experts are closely monitoring the situation and remain in contact with Iranian authorities.

Click here to see which experts endorsed the statement. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

Guinea: UN pledges support for justice and accountability, as stadium massacre trial begins

Alongside the deaths, during the opposition rally protesting military rule on 28 September, women and girls were raped, after security forces blocked off exits to the stadium in Conakry, before opening fire. Some protesters were shot dead, or brutally attacked with knives, while others were trampled to death.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he took note of the start of the trials, saying the families of the dead and those who witnessed the events that day, “have waited for justice for so many years.”

Support for justice

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, Mr. Guterres reaffirmed the commitment of the UN to support efforts aimed at upholding justice and accountability.

“He calls on the authorities to ensure that the trials are conducted in accordance with due process of law, so that perpetrators are held accountable, and victims receive reparations.”

Guinea’s former military ruler, Moussa Dadis Camara, is in the dock, along with ten other officials, all charged with having responsibility over the soldiers who allegedly carried out the massacre and other crimes on the day.

“The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to further ensure that human rights are respected throughout the country’s political transition process”, said the statement. “He reiterates the solidarity and support of the United Nations to regional efforts to accompany a return to constitutional order in Guinea.”

‘Sexual mutilation and slavery’

The acting UN human rights chief, Nada Al-Nashif, also welcomed the start of proceedings, noting that many of the 156 who disappeared or were killed during what had been a peaceful rally, had been tortured to death, with their corpses buried in mass graves.

The head of OHCHR added that at least 109 girls and women had suffered sexual violence, “including sexual mutilation and sexual slavery.”

The UN Commission of Inquiry in 2009, concluded that there was a “strong presumption that crimes against humanity were committed” and that “there are reasonable grounds to suspect individual criminal responsibility”.

13-year wait

Hundreds of people were killed and injured, and hundreds of women raped at the 28 September Stadium in 2009, in Conakry, Guinea. Photo: IRIN
Hundreds of people were killed and injured, and hundreds of women raped at the 28 September Stadium in 2009, in Conakry, Guinea. Photo: IRIN, by IRIN

“Victims and relatives have been waiting for 13 years for truth, justice and reparations. Today’s opening of this long-awaited judicial process is a crucial step for Guinea in its fight against impunity,” Ms. Al-Nashif said.

In the aftermath of the events, the UN Commission of Inquiry with the support of the UN Human Rights Office was mandated to establish the facts and circumstances of the event, and to identify those responsible and make recommendations.

“Since 2009, we have been advocating for fair and independent trials. We call on all the authorities involved to ensure that this important trial is conducted in a victim-sensitive manner, and in accordance with international standards and due process,” the acting High Commissioner added.

“Accountability is essential for wounds to heal and for reconciliation,” she stressed.

‘Only the beginning’: ICC Prosecutor

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, addressed survivor groups and others in the courtroom on Monday in Conakry, before proceedings began, and said “on this important day, I applaud the people of Guinea, the survivors, and those who lost loved ones.”

The start of the trial, “is only the beginning”, he added. “My office will be watching closely. Presumption of innocence is critical for justice. This trial rests not only on the shoulders of the judges and parties. It is the collective responsibility of the people of Guinea.”

Iran: UN condemns violent crackdown against hijab protests

OHCHR said it was very concerned about the continued violent response to the protests, as well as communications restrictions affecting phones, the internet and social media, Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva. 

Ms. Amini, 22, was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” in the capital, Tehran, on 13 September, for allegedly not wearing a hijab in full compliance with mandatory requirements.   

She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at a detention centre and died three days later from a heart attack, according to the authorities.  

Ms. Shamdasani said the Iranian Government had so far failed to launch an “adequate investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Ms. Amini’s death.  

Wave of demonstrations 

Since her death, thousands have joined anti-government demonstrations throughout the country. 

Security forces have responded at times with live ammunition, and many people have been killed, injured and detained in the protests. 

“Due in part to restrictions on telecommunications, it is difficult to establish the precise number of casualties and arrests,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

Violent response to protests 

On Saturday, State media put the number killed at 41, she added. However, non-governmental organizations monitoring the situation have reported a higher number of deaths, including of women and children, and hundreds injured across at least 11 provinces.  

“We are extremely concerned by comments by some leaders vilifying protesters, and by the apparent unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

“Firearms must never be used simply to disperse an assembly. In the context of assemblies, they should only be used in cases of an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.”   

Number of arrests unknown 

Meanwhile, reports indicate that hundreds of people have also been arrested, including human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists, and at least 18 journalists. The Government has not announced the overall number of arrests.  

Ms. Shamdasani reported that in the province of Gilan alone, the police chief said 739 people, including 60 women, had been detained during three days of protests. 

OHCHR called on the authorities to ensure the rights to due process and to release all who have been arbitrarily detained.  

‘Persistent impunity’ for violations 

“We are concerned that the disruption to communications services has serious effects on people’s ability to exchange information, to carry out economic activities and to access public services,” she continued. 

“This undermines numerous human rights, notably the right to freedom of expression. We call on the authorities to fully restore Internet access.” 

OHCHR also expressed concern over “the persistent impunity with respect to human rights violations in Iran”, including the recurring deaths of protesters due to the alleged use of lethal force by security forces in November 2019, July 2021, and May of this year. 

“Our Office reiterates our call upon the Iranian authorities to fully respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Ms. Shamdasani. 

‘Dire’ and deteriorating pattern of rights abuse continues in Ukraine

Highlighting a wide range of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the report notes multiple cases of “willful killings”, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence.

“Hostilities continue to kill and injure civilians as well as destroy and damage civilian infrastructure”, said Head of HRMMU, Matilda Bogner, indicating that hostilities “not only endanger the lives of civilians, but also leave them living in degrading conditions and undermine their rights to health, education, housing, food and water”.

Litany of abuse

Since the Russian invasion of 24 February, the mission has recorded 5,996 civilian deaths, including 382 children, together with 8,848 injured, noting that the actual figures are much higher, as complete information from conflict zones cannot be obtained.

According to HRMMU, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention were widespread in territory controlled by Russian armed forces or affiliated armed groups, as well as cases of torture and ill-treatment of civilian detainees.

“The prohibition of torture and arbitrary deprivation of life is absolute and applies in conflict and non-conflict settings to all persons,” said Ms. Bogner. “Perpetrators must be held accountable, and victims and their relatives must enjoy their rights to remedy and truth”.

HRMMU also documented cases of rape, including of one girl; sexual violence used as torture or ill-treatment against men; forced public stripping – and other forms of sexual violence, such as forced nudity, unwanted sexual touching, sexual abuse and threats of sexual violence.

Prisoners of war

The report also found that Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) were subjected to torture or cruel and degrading treatment.

“Such mistreatment…appears to be systematic, not only upon their capture, but also following their transfer to places of internment both in territory of Ukraine occupied by the Russian Federation and in the Russian Federation itself,” said the HRMMU chief, calling it “a grave violation of international humanitarian law” that Russia must address.

Meanwhile, some Russian POWs were tortured and ill-treated by Ukrainian armed forces as well.

There must be timely and effective investigations into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and sexual violence,” she continued, adding that “regardless of their affiliation,” perpetrators need to be “duly prosecuted”.

‘Shrinking civic space’

Hostilities have severely impacted the rights of persons with disabilities and the elderly, the majority of whom are women, leaving them without healthcare, adequate housing, heating, water and electricity.

Furthermore, some journalists, media workers, and bloggers have been killed in areas controlled by the Russian military or affiliated armed groups.

The report emphasized that freedom of expression, including access to media, has been restricted in occupied areas.

“We are concerned that the shrinking civic space and highly restrictive environment in areas occupied by the Russian Federation deter people from reporting the human rights violations they have experienced or witnessed,” said Ms. Bogner said.

A twelve-year-old girl stands in front of her school which was destroyed in an air strike during the conflict in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
A twelve-year-old girl stands in front of her school which was destroyed in an air strike during the conflict in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Recommendations

The report made recommendations to both Governments and the international community and called for their swift implementation to improve human rights in the country, better protect civilians, and strengthen accountability.

Ms. Bogner assured that HRMMU would “continue to document and report the facts on the ground and give a voice to victims”.

“We consider this to be an essential part of seeking to prevent further violations and hold those responsible accountable for the violations already committed”.

ILO welcomes first global agreement on professional footballers’ rights

“Free, independent, strong and representative employers’ and workers’ organizations, together with trust, commitment and respect by the governments for the autonomy of the social partners are key conditions for effective social dialogue in football,” said Guy Ryder, head of the International Labour Organization (ILO), at the signing ceremony at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Standing united

The agreement creates a new international bargaining framework between the World Leagues Forum (WLF) – representing 44 national professional football leagues comprising some 1,100 clubs – and FIFPRO, the global footballers’ union – representing more than 60,000 professional football players as employees in the international football industry, through 66 national player unions in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.

Employer and employee representatives signed the Global Labour Agreement (GLA) for professional footballers (the sport is referred to as soccer in the United States), agreeing to take greater responsibility in finding collective solutions to the challenges facing the industry.

The pact acknowledges that collectively agreed upon standards, will improve labour relations in the professional game, and improve the multi-billion dollar sport’s viability and growth.

Setting ground rules

The agreement will provide a platform for discussing rules for protecting players’ health and safety along with a commitment to improve the representation and involvement of domestic leagues, their member clubs and players’ unions.

Moreover, it recognizes the need for greater representation and consideration for women’s football – including issues related to domestic competitions, clubs, and players.

Negotiations may also include issues such as employment standards, concussion management, measures to tackle discrimination and racism – including on social media – and other forms of abuse.

Under the GLA, ILO may be asked to provide expert advice in areas where it has expertise, including implementation of the agreement.

Football has the power to inspire and unite people of all nationalities and walks of life, irrespective of gender and ethnicity,” upheld the ILO chief, adding that the players “need to be protected by the fundamental principles and rights at work.”

More on the agreement

The GLA follows the fundamental principles and rights at work set out by ILO in the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which was amended in 2022.

It is also in line with the Points of Consensus of the ILO Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the World of Sport (2020).

Specific reference is also made to the ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)  and the ILO Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98) .

The International Labour Organization has welcomed the signing of the first ever Global Labour Agreement (GLA) covering the working conditions and rights of professional football (soccer) players.

© Marcel Crozet
The International Labour Organization has welcomed the signing of the first ever Global Labour Agreement (GLA) covering the working conditions and rights of professional football (soccer) players.

South Sudan violence proliferating, warn independent rights experts

Women and girls continue to be gang-raped and survivors have been described as “zombies, physically and emotionally dead”, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights in the world’s youngest nation.

Police the peace

In an alert, Commission chairperson, Yasmin Sooka, said that it was critical for the international community to monitor the country’s peace agreement, along with other reforms – including of the armed forces and the constitution.

Transitional justice bodies are also urgently needed, as per an agreement made four years ago by the country’s Government, the Commission noted.

Without these steps, we are likely to see millions more South Sudanese displaced or crossing borders, creating havoc for neighbouring countries and aid agencies,” Ms. Sooka said.

According to South Sudan’s 2018 peace agreement, elections have been postponed until late 2024.

Death threats

But conditions must be peaceful for a national poll to happen and South Sudanese people “who have questioned the government or exposed atrocities have received death threats, been detained or tortured”, the rights commission explained.

The panel noted that none of the three proposed transitional justice bodies agreed in 2018 have been created, namely the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, the Hybrid Court or the Compensation and Reparation Authority.

The independent rights panel – which was established by the Human Rights Council in 2016 – said that “women raped by armed forces while collecting firewood are threatened with death if they report it”.

Often, the police are too ill-equipped to do their job; “they cannot arrest a soldier who is better armed and protected the Commission said in a recent statement.

A child carries empty jerry cans to fill with water from a nearby tap providing untreated water from the Nile river in Juba, South Sudan.

© UNICEF/Phil Hatcher-Moore
A child carries empty jerry cans to fill with water from a nearby tap providing untreated water from the Nile river in Juba, South Sudan.

Justice denied

In a further illustration of the lack of justice for survivors, the rights investigators noted that in Unity State and rural parts of Western Equatoria, “there is no formal court to deal with serious crimes like murder and rape, only customary courts”.

During a visit this month to Western Equatoria, the Commission described seeing “very young girls with babies around military bases” and hearing “multiple accounts of soldiers from both government and opposition forces abducting women”.

Speaking at a Global Survivors Forum in New York at the weekend, hosted by Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, to examine best practice for reparations for sexual violence, inquiry Commissioner Andrew Clapham said: “Survivors in South Sudan, particularly those of repeated incidents of sexual violence, tell us again and again that criminal accountability is the only way to guarantee their safety and peace for the country. That’s why setting up the Hybrid Court is non-negotiable.”

Australia: Groundbreaking decision creates pathway for climate justice on Torres Strait Islands

The Committee issued its ground-breaking decision after examining a joint complaint filed by eight Australian nationals and six of their children – all indigenous inhabitants of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig, four small, low-lying islands in the country’s Torres Strait region.

The Islanders claimed their rights had been violated as Australia failed to adapt to climate change through upgrading seawalls on the islands and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among other necessary measures.

“This decision marks a significant development as the Committee has created a pathway for individuals to assert claims where national systems have failed to take appropriate measures to protect those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of their human rights,” Committee member Hélène Tigroudja said. 

Masig Island in the Torres Straits

© 350 Australia
Masig Island in the Torres Straits

Cultural damage

In their complaint, the Islanders claimed that changes in weather patterns had direct, harmful consequences on their livelihood, culture, and traditional way of life.

They indicated to the Committee that severe flooding caused by the tidal surge in recent years has destroyed family graves and left human remains scattered across their islands, arguing that maintaining ancestral graveyards and visiting and communicating with deceased relatives are at the heart of their cultures.

Moreover, the most important ceremonies, such as those for coming-of-age and initiation, are only culturally meaningful if performed in the community’s native lands.

Land degradation

The Islanders argued that changes in climate have triggered heavy rainfall and storms, degrading land and trees.

This, in turn, has reduced the amount of food available from traditional fishing and farming.

For example, on Masig Island, the rising sea level has caused saltwater to seep into the soil and coconut trees to become diseased, subsequently killing off the fruit – an important part of the Islanders’ traditional diet.

Government failure

Considering the Islanders’ close, spiritual connection with traditional lands, and their cultural integrity dependence on the health of surrounding ecosystems, the Committee found that Australia’s failure to take timely and adequate measures to protect the Islanders from climate change, had violated their rights to enjoy their own culture and to be free from arbitrary interferences with their private life, family and home.

“States that fail to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the adverse effects of climate change may be violating their human rights under international law,” Ms. Tigroudja stated.

In the same decision, the Committee also indicated that despite Australia’s series of actions – such as new seawalls for the four islands by next year – additional timely and appropriate measures were required to prevent potential loss of life.

Storm surge on Masig Island in the Torres Straits

© 350 Australia
Storm surge on Masig Island in the Torres Straits

Remedies

The Committee decided that, under the Covenant, robust national and international efforts are needed to mitigate the effects of climate change, which otherwise may be a violation of the right to life.

To remedy the situation, the members asked Australia to compensate the indigenous Islanders for the harm suffered, engage in meaningful consultations with their communities to assess their needs, and take measures to continue securing the communities’ safe existence on their respective islands.

War crimes have been committed in Ukraine conflict, top UN human rights inquiry reveals

The finding came in the first report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which was set up in March this year, at the request of Human Rights Council Member States.

Much of the Commission’s work focused on investigations in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy, where allegations of the most serious rights violations were made against Russian, or Russian-backed forces, early in the war.

Thorough investigation

Commission chairperson Erik Møse said that investigators visited 27 towns and settlements and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. They also inspected “sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture”, as well as remnants of weapons.

Based on the evidence gathered so far during the Commission’s existence, we found out after having carried out the investigations in these four areas just mentioned, we found that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” he told journalists in Geneva.

That conclusion is in line with findings published earlier this year by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

It documented unlawful killings – including summary executions of civilians – in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, by Russian armed forces while they controlled these areas in late February and March.

Brutal executions

Other key findings from the report include the surprisingly “large number of executions” in 16 towns and settlements, where “common elements” of the crimes included “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”.

The report, delivered to the Human Rights Council earlier on Friday, also documented how explosive weapons had been used by the Russian Federation forces, “without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in populated areas”.

“We were struck by a large number of executions and other violations by Russian forces, and the Commission received consistent accounts of torture and ill-treatment.”

Sexual violence, including against children

Horrific allegations of sexual violence against Ukrainian communities – including children – were also found to be based in fact.

“The Commission investigated cases of sexual gender-based violence. It documented cases in which some Russian Federation soldiers made such crime,” said Commissioner Jasminka Džumhur.

Ukrainian forces were also responsible for human rights violations, said Commissioner Pablo de Greiff: “We have found two instances of ill-treatment of Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian soldiers, and we mentioned this in our statement. We have found obviously significantly larger numbers of instances that amount to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) visits Bucha, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) visits Bucha, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

UN experts strongly condemn death of Mahsa Amini, ‘victim of Iran’s sustained repression’

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the death of Ms Amini,” they said in a statement.

“She is another victim of Iran’s sustained repression and systematic discrimination against women and the imposition of discriminatory dress codes that deprive women of bodily autonomy and the freedoms of opinion, expression and belief”, the experts added.

Stop lethal force

The experts also denounced violence by Iranian security forces directed against peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in cities across the country, who have been marching and demanding accountability for Ms. Amini’s death.

They urged the Iranian authorities to avoid further unnecessary violence and to immediately stop the use of lethal force in policing peaceful assemblies.

Arrest by ‘morality police’

Ms. Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police on 13 September, and according to news reports, was badly beaten while being taken into custody, which Iranian authorities have denied, claiming instead, that she died of a heart attack.

She reportedly fell into a coma at the Vozara Detention Centre and died in hospital on Friday, 16 September.

“We strongly condemn the use of physical violence against women and the denial of fundamental human dignity when enforcing compulsory hijab policies ordained by State authorities,” the experts said.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to hold an independent, impartial, and prompt investigation into Ms Amini’s death, make the findings of the investigation public and hold all perpetrators accountable”.

Uniting for women

Since Friday, thousands have taken to the streets in cities throughout Iran – including Tehran, Ilam, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Mahabad, Saqez, Sanandaj, Sari and Tabriz – to demand accountability for the young woman’s death and demanding an end to violence and discrimination against women in Iran, particularly their compulsory veiling.

The peaceful protests have been met with excessive use of force, including birdshot and other metal pellets fired by Iranian security forces, the experts said.

According to news reports, at least eight people, including a woman and a 16-year-old, have been killed during the protests, with dozens more injured and multiple arrests by security forces.

Authorities cut power

Since Monday, prolonged internet disruptions have been reported in Tehran, Kurdistan provinces, and other parts of Iran – the third widespread internet shutdown recorded there over the past 12 months.

“Disruptions to the internet are usually part of a larger effort to stifle the free expression and association of the Iranian population, and to curtail ongoing protests.

“State mandated internet disruptions cannot be justified under any circumstances,” the experts said, warning against a further escalation of crackdown against civil society, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters.

They pointed out that over the past four decades, “Iranian women have continued to peacefully protest against the compulsory hijab rules and the violations of their fundamental human rights” and urged the authorities to heed their legitimate fundamental human rights demands.

Iran must repeal all legislation and policies that discriminate on the grounds of sex and gender, in line with international human rights standards,” the independent experts underscored.

The experts

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures.

They are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

Click here for the names of the experts who signed onto this statement.

‘Tragedy beyond measure’: UN Women

Later on Thursday, the UN gender empowerment agency, UN Women, issued a statement relating to the death of Ms. Amini, saying that “the death of any young person, any young woman, is a tragedy beyond measure. The circumstances surrounding this series of events, are cause for particular concern.”

The agency said that although the precise causes and circumstances of her death were unclear, “What is clear is that she was detained and treated in violation of the most basic human rights. The incident also underscores the abuses experienced by women and girls worldwide.”

Ethiopia: Civilians again mired in intractable and deadly war, Human Rights Council hears

In their first, extensive report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia said that they believed that crimes against humanity had also been committed in the on-off war that erupted in the northern region in November 2020.

Worst rights violations

Serious rights violations in Tigray were “ongoing”, the report maintained, noting that fighting resumed last month, breaking a five-month ceasefire.

Extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare” have happened in Ethiopia since the earliest days of the conflict, the Council heard.

Citing information from “credible sources”, Commission chairperson Kaari Betty Murungi – who like the two other members of the panel is an independent UN-appointed rights expert – said that there had been an “escalation” in drone attacks by Government forces that used explosive weapons “with wide area effects in populated areas”, since hostilities resumed.

“Our investigation indicates that their use has exposed civilians to new and heightened risks,” she said. “We have received reports of drone strikes in Tigray in the last four weeks, which have allegedly killed and injured civilians, including children.”

Turning to Tigrayan forces, Ms. Murungi insisted that they had also likely committed serious human rights abuses “which amount to war crimes”.

These included “large-scale killings of Amhara civilians, rape and sexual violence, and widespread looting and destruction of civilian property in Kobo and Chenna in August and September 2021.

“During their searches of homes in Kobo, for example, Tigrayan forces looked for weapons and pulled many men from their homes, executing them, often in front of their families.”

Desperate conditions

Today, international humanitarian access into Tigray continues to be blocked, despite the dire situation there, Ms. Murungi said.

There were reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government and its allies “looted and destroyed goods indispensable for the survival of the civilian population in Tigray, killing livestock, destroying food stores, and razing crops while also implementing severe restrictions on humanitarian access to Tigray”, she added, noting that for more than a year, six million people had been denied access to electricity, internet, telecommunications and banking.

This denial and obstruction of access to basic services, food, healthcare and aid relief “amount(ed) to the crimes against humanity of persecution and inhumane acts”, the Commission chairperson insisted.

Starvation ‘tactic’

“We also have reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government is committing the war crime of using starvation as a method of warfare,” the top independent rights expert continued, noting that Tigrayan forces had reportedly looted humanitarian aid.

According to the latest dire humanitarian data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), conflict and displacement in northern Ethiopia has left more than nine million people in need in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions, while severe drought is affecting millions more in the south.

Citing OCHA, Ms. Murungi said that that the combined effect of the Federal government’s measures had left 90 per cent of the population in acute need – an 80 per cent increase since the beginning of the conflict.

“Most of the population in Tigray must now survive on limited and nutritionally inadequate diets,” she said, adding that there had also been “an increase in child marriages and child labour, human trafficking, and transactional sex as desperate means for survival”.

A child sits inside a vehicle burned out during fighting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.

© UNICEF/ Christine Nesbitt
A child sits inside a vehicle burned out during fighting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.

Tigrayan women and girls not spared

According to the Commission chairperson, rape and crimes of sexual violence had happened “on a staggering scale” since the earliest days of the conflict, “with Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and regional militias targeting Tigrayan women and girls with particular violence and brutality”.

Tigrayan forces had also committed rape and sexual violence against Amhara women and girls and Eritrean refugees, Ms. Murungi said, highlighting the devastating long-term impacts for the survivors that included trauma, unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection.

‘Unfair and biased scrutiny’

Rejecting the report’s findings, the Ethiopia delegation repeated its claim that the federal government had been subjected to “unfair and biased scrutiny” at the Council for more than a year.

Addis Ababa was engaged in responding to an “insurrectionist armed group that has endangered the territorial integrity of the country”, the Council heard.

The international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia was established after the Human Rights Council adopted resolution S-33/1 on 17 December 2021.

It mandated a panel of three human rights experts – appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council – “to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict”.

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