Comoros: UN Human Rights Chief calls for calm and urges the authorities to protect free assembly, uphold democratic principles

Geneva, 17 January, 2024.- As Comoros witnesses protests following Sunday’s presidential election and tensions mount, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk today urged the authorities to ensure the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and called on all to exercise restraint.

On Tuesday morning, several sources reported that hundreds of demonstrators, mostly young people, protested throughout the capital, Moroni. Security forces used tear gas to disperse them.

“As post-electoral tensions mount, it is paramount that the authorities ensure a safe environment, where all Comorians, including members of the political opposition, can freely express their views and exercise their right to peaceful assembly,” Türk said.

He also called on demonstrators not to resort to violence, after reports of pillaging in Moroni on Tuesday and incidents of arson against a number of public buildings in the islands of Moheli and Anjouan on election day.

“While deliberate damage to public infrastructure is not acceptable, authorities should ensure that those demonstrating peacefully can continue to do so freely and safely – as is their right,” the High Commissioner said. He also voiced concerns over reports of arrests and use of tear gas against peaceful protesters. In one incident, security forces reportedly used tear gas against women peacefully marching in Moheli on Monday.

Sunday’s presidential election took place following weeks of curtailed civic and democratic space, with reports of arbitrary detention, alleged enforced disappearance of detainees. A de facto ban on peaceful demonstrations and public political gatherings has been in place since 2019.

The High Commissioner called on the Government to steer the country towards a climate of democracy and pluralism by creating conditions for dialogue and putting an end to any human rights violations.

“I am worried that repression and the absence of pluralism in Comoros have been continuing for several years now,” said Türk. He also urged the authorities to release political prisoners detained arbitrarily, conduct thorough investigations into violations of civil and political rights in the pre-electoral period, and bring perpetrators to justice.

“A new chapter should begin for all the Comorians; one that is based on pluralism, freedom of expression, justice and accountability,” said Türk. “Otherwise, democracy will never be fulfilled.”

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