Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
United Nations

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights "Deeply Concerned" by Reports of Violations in Iranian Government's Response to Protests

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights
November 19, 2019
Press Release

BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Iran; (2) China/Hong Kong SAR, (3) Nicaragua; (4) United States; (5) Israel / oPT

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva

Date: 19 November 2019


(1) Iran

(2) China/Hong Kong SAR

(3) Nicaragua

(4) United States

(5) Israel/oPT


1) Iran

We are deeply concerned by reported violations of international norms and standards on the use of force, including the firing of live ammunition, against demonstrators in Iran during the protests that began on Friday and have continued into this week. We are especially alarmed that the use of live ammunition has allegedly caused a significant number of deaths across the country.

While the fact that there have been some deaths has been acknowledged by the authorities, including by Ayatollah Khamenei, it has been extremely difficult to verify the overall number. However, Iranian media and a number of other sources suggest dozens of people may have been killed and many people injured during protests in at least eight different provinces, with over 1,000 protesters arrested. Overall, protests have reportedly been held in 40 or more towns and cities across the country, but again details have been hard to verify because of the shutdown of the internet late on Saturday.

We urge the Iranian authorities and security forces to avoid the use of force to disperse peaceful assemblies and in cases in which an assembly is violent to restrict the use of force to the greatest extent possible, especially actions that are likely to cause serious injury or loss of life. This includes issuing clear instructions to the security forces to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force, including ensuring that firearms are used only in cases of an imminent threat to life or of serious injury and only when less extreme measures are insufficient to address such a threat.  

We also urge protesters to carry out demonstrations peacefully, without resorting to physical violence or destruction of property.

As Iran is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we call on the Iranian authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression, and the right to peaceful assembly and association, as laid down in the Covenant, which is a binding international treaty.

We also call on the Government to immediately re-establish Iranians’ access to the internet, as well as other forms of communication, which allow for freedom of expression and access to information.

While noting the serious economic challenges the country is experiencing, including in the context of sanctions imposed by the United States, we urge the Iranian Government to engage in meaningful dialogue with various actors in the country about the socio-economic challenges the population is facing, and to collectively work with a cross-section of society towards a sustainable resolution to these issues.

As so many other popular protests across the world have illustrated all too clearly in recent weeks and months, simply responding with harsh words and an iron fist raises  a significant risk not only of violating international norms and standards but also of seriously aggravating the situation to everyone’s disadvantage, including the Government’s.

Protests of this nature and on this scale are an indication of deep-rooted and often well-founded grievances, that cannot simply be brushed aside.


2) China/Hong Kong SAR

We have been following with deepening concern the situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region over the past few months. We are gravely concerned about the increasing violence by groups of young people engaging in the protests who are clearly very angry, with deep-seated grievances.

The vast majority of the people of Hong Kong have been exercising their right of freedom of assembly peacefully and in accordance with the law – and the authorities have by and large respected the exercise of this right. The resort to extreme violence - including against the police force – by some engaged in the protests is therefore deeply regretted and cannot be condoned. We would appeal to all engaging in protests to renounce and condemn the use of violence.

With regard to the current situation at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, we urge the authorities to do all they can to de-escalate the situation, to address the humanitarian situation of those inside which is clearly deteriorating, and facilitate a peaceful resolution.

At this juncture, we are deeply concerned at the risk of further escalation of violence in Hong Kong. We therefore urge the Government to strengthen its efforts to bring together all sectors of society, including student groups, business community, political leaders, community leaders and others in a truly inclusive dialogue in order to find peaceful solutions to the grievances raised by a significant number of Hong Kong citizens.  

Accountability for violence is also key – both in the case of individuals who have broken the law and committed acts of violence, but also in the case of allegations of excessive use of force by the police.

The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to advise and support constructive efforts by the Government of Hong Kong to resolve the crisis peacefully and through dialogue.


3) Nicaragua

We are very concerned by the situation of 13 people who as a form of protest entered a church in Nicaragua, which was subsequently encircled and sealed off by police. We are equally troubled that another group of opposition members was detained after bringing purely humanitarian aid to them, and who have been accused of serious criminal charges as a result.

On 14 November, eight relatives of jailed political opponents and another woman started a hunger strike inside the San Miguel church in Masaya, calling for the release of 130 individuals allegedly detained in the context of the protests. The same day, they found themselves surrounded by the police inside the church, together with the priest and three other people. The police cut water and electrical services off and prevented anyone from entering the church and delivering humanitarian supplies, including insulin for the priest, who has diabetes.

The same night, a group of at least 13 members of the opposition were detained after delivering some water to the people surrounded by the police. Their lawyers claim that their due process guarantees have not been respected. Prominent human rights defenders, such as Amaya Coppens and Olga Valle, are among the 13 persons detained. Coppens is a Belgian-Nicaraguan medical student leader who had been detained in the context of the protests for eight months and who was released on 11 June 2019 under the Amnesty Law. Her detention could be considered an act of reprisal for speaking up about the human rights situation in Nicaragua and reaching out to UN officials and mechanisms. She had recently met with the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva.

On Monday, the 13 members of the opposition and three other political opponents were charged with trafficking of weapons. We are very concerned that these apparently trumped-up charges may constitute a renewed attempt to stiffle dissent.

We were also informed on Monday that other eight people started a hunger strike inside the catedral of Managua, demanding the release of all individuals detained in the context of the protests. A doctor and an 11-year old child were accompanying  them. Dozens of pro-government elements entered the cathedral hours later and reportedly intimidated and attacked them with stones, as well as the priest and a nun seemingly, with the acquiescence of police officers, who had surrounded the premises.

We urge the authorities to ensure the rights of those inside the church, in particular by refraining from interfering with the provision of food, water and medical assistance. Everyone should be allowed to exercise the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without fear of being attacked. We also call for the release of all those who may be arbitrarily detained and ensure that their fundamental legal safeguards are respected.

The Government must end the persistent repression of dissent and the ongoing pattern of arbitrary arrests and refrain from criminalizing and attacking human rights defenders, political opponents and any other dissenting voices. We reiterate our readiness to support the Nicaraguan State to fulfil its international human rights obligations and go back to the country if access is granted.


4) United States

We are very concerned by the recent US presidential pardons for three US service members accused of war crimes. These three cases involve serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), both proven and alleged, including the shooting of a group of civilians and execution of a captured member of an armed group.

International Humanitarian Law establishes the obligation to investigate violations and prosecute war crimes. By investigating these allegations, and initiating and completing criminal proceedings, the US military justice system has been complying with these obligations under international law.

The full pardons in two cases, and the order directing promotion in the third case, run against the letter and the spirit of international law which requires accountability for such violations. The pardon terminating pending criminal proceedings in the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn is particularly troubling, as it cuts short the regular judicial process.

Victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law have the right to a remedy. This right includes equal and effective access to justice, the right to the truth, and to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct, rather than see them absolved of responsibility.

While pardons exist in international law, and can properly address issues of injustice or unfairness, in the present cases no circumstances have been advanced to suggest anything other than simply voiding the otherwise proper process of law in the cases. These pardons send a disturbing signal to military forces all around the world.


5) Israel / oPT

As part of the UN Secretariat, we continue to follow the longstanding position of the United Nations that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law.

A change in the policy position of one State does not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council.