The UN’s human rights chief has been weighing in on recent killings committed by State authorities, or by rogue members of State military forces, emphasizing that all Governments must strictly abide by international law and hold those who serve, accountable for any violations.
In a statement released on Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, welcomed the acknowledgement by the Government of Cameroon – following a national investigation – that members of its military were involved in the deaths of at least 13 people in a village in the country’s northwest region, as well as the announcement of new legal proceedings against them.
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, she condemned the execution of two prisoners under the age of 18 by Iranian authorities.
Violence and panic in Cameroon
Allegations began to circulate in February that three Cameroonian soldiers were involved in the killing of members of an armed separatist group, along with others, in the village of Ngarbuh, in the country’s northwest. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced there in recent years by clashes between national forces and separatists.
OHCHR was among a range of voices calling on the Government to ensure that its security forces conduct themselves in strict accordance with international law during all operations.
A commission established to investigate the killings found that two soldiers and a gendarme, aided by 10 members of a vigilante committee, stormed Ngarbuh and shot dead five members of the separatist group.
When the servicemen discovered that women and children had been killed as a result of the operation, they panicked and burned down houses to try to cover up their actions.
“I welcome the Government’s decision to set up a national commission of inquiry…to look into these killings,” said the OHCHR chief. “It is now essential that all those responsible for the deaths of the people in the village of Ngarbuh are held fully to account in a fair and transparent judicial process.”
Cameroonian authorities have said that legal proceedings are being initiated against the three servicemen and that they are continuing to search for the vigilante members.
Iran youth executions, ‘strictly prohibited’
Thousands of kilometers away in Iran, authorities in recent days carried out executions of two young prisoners in their respective detainment facilities in Kurdistan and Ardabil provinces, drawing sharp condemnation from Ms. Bachelet. Her comments follow the killing of Shayan Saeedpour in a prison in Kurdistan province on Tuesday, and of Majid Esmailzadeh, at a facility in Ardabil province last Saturday. Both prisoners were convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18-years-old, Ms. Bachelet said in a statement on Wednesday.
Given that they were child offenders at the time of their crimes, their executions are “absolutely prohibited under international human rights law”, she insisted, pointing out that “numerous” UN bodies have made it clear “time and time again”, that the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by people below the age of 18, at the time of the offence, is strictly prohibited.
Highlighting the recent death of a third person in custody in Iran, named as Danial Zeinolabedini, the High Commissioner noted that he too had been sentenced to death despite being under 18 at the time of his offence.
According to Ms. Bachelet’s statement, Mr. Zeinolabedini had been transferred from another facility where detainees were rioting against prison conditions and the failure of authorities to temporarily release them to prevent the spread of COVID-19.