News in Brief 04 March 2016 (AM) – Geneva

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UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that without encryption tools, lives may be at risk. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

FBI's phones fight with Apple is a "gift" to dictatorships, says UN human rights chief

A legal bid by US investigators to force IT giant Apple to unlock data on its phones is a potential risk to people's freedoms all over the world, the UN's top human rights official said Thursday.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein made his comments as the FBI pushes for access to encrypted data on phones linked to the San Bernardino killings in California last year.

The UN human rights chief warned that if judges ruled in favour of the FBI, it could be "a gift to authoritarian regimes" and criminal hackers.

"Encryption tools are widely used by human rights defenders, journalists, whistle-blowers and political dissidents facing persecution and harassment … without encryption tools, lives may be endangered."

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein strongly condemned the San Bernardino killings in December last year, in which 14 people were killed by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik.

But the Human Rights Commissioner said that there was no certainty that unlocking the attackers' phones would help the investigation.

Instead, he warned, it may end up enabling a multitude of other crimes all across the world.

Burundi refugees top 250,000 amid ongoing tensions

More than a quarter-of-a-million people from Burundi are now refugees as a result of ongoing violence and uncertainty there.

Announcing the development on Friday, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, warned that the situation could get worse.

Here's UNHCR's Melissa Fleming:

"The tensions in Burundi are still high and still driving people from the country…we fear that number will continue to grow…there may be less fighting but there is a real state of fear in the country."

Those fleeing to neighbouring countries report human rights violations in the country, linked to elections for a controversial third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza.

To date, the humanitarian appeal for Burundi is only three per cent funded.

Women MPs see slow progress in world's parliaments

Women's participation in parliaments around the world saw worryingly low progress last year, the UN said Friday.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the number of female MPs in 2015 rose by just 0.5 per cent, to nearly 23 per cent of all seats available.

At this rate, IPU’s Kareen Jabre said, the Sustainable Development Goals on equality will not be reached.

She said that the Americas continue to have the highest proportion of female parliamentarians – at 27.2 per cent.

"This is thanks to the implementation of quotas and I would say, quotas with teeth in some countries, such as Mexico and El Salvador, you have sanctions for non-respect of quotas."

Sub-Saharan Africa also saw increases in women MPs, particularly in Ethiopia and Tanzania, as did the Arab world, where the proportion is now more than 17 per cent.

Bucking the trend, the number of female speakers of parliament jumped from 43 to 49, out of the 273 posts available.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 2'48"

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