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Press briefing note on Libya, Nicaragua, Malawi and Guatemala

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Liz Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 4 September 2018
Subject: (1) Libya, (2) Nicaragua, (3) Malawi and (4) Guatemala


Since the outbreak of violence in the Libyan capital Tripoli on 26 August, at least 21 civilians have been killed, including two women and two children, with a further 16 people injured. The parties to the conflict have been firing indiscriminately and using weapons with wide-area effects -- including rockets, tank shells and artillery -- in densely populated residential areas. We call on all parties to put an end to indiscriminate attacks and to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects.

We are also concerned about the impact of the conflict on groups in vulnerable situations, including migrants and internally displaced people. Some of the nearly 8,000 arbitrarily detained migrants are trapped in detention centres in areas where fighting has been taking place, without access to food or medical treatment.

Others have been released, but have not been able to access safety and essential services. Some of the migrants released from official detention centres are reported to have subsequently been taken into captivity by armed groups and are being forced to work for them.

On 2 September, at least two displaced Tawerghan men died and five women were injured when the al-Fallah IDP camp was shelled.Hundreds of families have been displaced in recent fighting, with some sheltering in schools. Others are believed to remain trapped in areas of active hostilities without electricity, water and food. We are also concerned by reports of pillage and looting.

According to information received by UNSMIL, humanitarian aid workers were shot at on Saturday, 1 September, while seeking to evacuate civilians trapped in an area near Khilat al-Firjan. The al-Kaniyat armed group is also alleged to have confiscated three ambulances from the Ambulance and Emergency Services.

We call on all parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate, unimpeded and safe access of humanitarian aid and aid-workers to civilians in need. We urge the warring parties to respect and protect personnel engaged in humanitarian relief, and to cease all attacks on medical transport and units, as well as to facilitate the safe and voluntary movement of civilians wishing to leave areas of active hostilities.


We deeply regret the Nicaraguan Government’s decision to expel a team from the UN Human Rights Office, which came a day after we published a report into human rights violations and abuses committed in the country since April.

The protection of victims in Nicaragua is increasingly challenging given the limited access and oversight by the international community. In recent weeks, individuals and groups associated with the protests have increasingly faced criminalization and arrest. There have also been smear campaigns by Government-aligned media, including labelling protesters as “terrorists” and “coup mongers”, unjustified dismissals and widespread threats.

Our four-person team left Nicaragua on 1 September but we will continue to monitor the country’s human rights situation remotely, in line with the UN Human Rights Office’s global mandate to promote and protect human rights for all, and we will continue to be a voice for the victims.

At the same time, we remain ready to support the Nicaraguan State to fulfil its international human rights obligations. To that effect, we will continue to cooperate with regional human rights mechanisms and the international community.

Our report and its recommendations provide, we believe, an important tool to help Nicaragua overcome its current deep political and social crisis, strengthen its  institutions, and to help in the search for truth and accountability.


We are concerned about an increasing number of threats and intimidation against human rights defenders and activists in Malawi, with several incidents reported over the past few weeks, including against women, ahead of next year’s general elections.

On 30 August 2018, a group of men attacked the offices of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in the capital city of Lilongwe asking for its Executive Director, Timothy Ntambo. The men reportedly demanded Ntambo’s home address and beat up a guard, who was left with broken teeth and in need of medical treatment. Later the same evening, a petrol bomb was thrown at the gate of the offices, causing an extensive fire. The incident is particularly worrying as it is reminiscent of a similar pattern of violence against the Centre that occurred in 2011 – a year marked with heightened attacks against civil society.

Several members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition have also reportedly been intimidated and threatened over the past few weeks. In Zomba, in southern Malawi, thugs went to the house of one human rights defender last week demanding to see him in a threatening manner.  The Executive Director of Youth and Society, Charles Kajoloweka, received death threats after his NGO issued an anti-corruption press statement on 24 August. This is not the first time he has received death threats on account of his work. He has made a police complaint, but we understand that there have been no protection measures put in place for him.

We are also concerned about an emerging pattern of threats and violence against women Members of Parliament and electoral candidates. One female MP’s car was torched in Mangochi in the south of the country in August, while another was blocked from entering parliament in April and faced further intimidation and threats over the past two months.

We urge the authorities to ensure that attacks and threats against human rights defenders are thoroughly investigated and that the crucial work carried out by civil society actors is protected, in line with the Government’s international human rights obligations. It is particularly important in a pre-electoral context that an enabling environment is created for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.


We are concerned that Guatemala’s decision not to renew the mandate of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity, which expires on 3 September 2019, may represent a significant setback in the still much-needed work to investigate, prosecute and ultimately dismantle the criminal networks that continue to operate in Guatemala.

Over the past 10 years, the Commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, has worked hand in hand with the Guatemalan justice system to make important strides in the fight against impunity and corruption in the country.

We urge the Government to ensure that the announced transfer of CICIG’s powers to national institutions does not result in a weakening of ongoing and future corruption probes. 

We note also that in recent days, police have reportedly questioned several prominent human rights defenders, raising concerns regarding possible intimidation tactics against dissident voices.   Our Guatemala office will continue to monitor this situation closely.

The UN Human Rights Office reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the State and civil society on strengthening human rights and the rule of law in Guatemala.


For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - +41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Liz Throssell - + 41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org or Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org

2018 is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.

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