After Christchurch: reflecting on how the internet is exploited by extremists

March 18, 2019

Although strictly speaking not about human rights defenders and not really giving new insights, this long piece in the Huffington Post of 16 March 2019 is worth reading in full because it is a good overview of how the internet and extremist aspirations go hand-in-hand. For those who want to read it in full:

Mass Shooters Have Exploited The Internet For Years. New Zealand Took It To A New Level. – The Christchurch massacre was built on existing far-right memes that fueled a live-streaming gunman’s viral aspirations

Read the rest of this entry »


Jamal Khashoggi murder: the plot thickens

March 18, 2019

On 17 March 2019, the New York Times reported that the Crown Prince (MBS) authorised a clandestine campaign against Saudi dissenters and human rights defenders well before Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

The Rapid Intervention Group was authorised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, a royal court insider, US officials told the NYT [File: Reuters]
The Rapid Intervention Group was authorised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman US officials told the NYT [File: Reuters]

More than a year before the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, approved a secret campaign to silence dissenters, the New York Times has reported. The campaign included surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudis, said the report published on Sunday citing the US officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the effort. American officials referred to it as the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, the Times said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/]

…..At least some of the clandestine missions were carried out by the members of the team that killed and dismembered Khashoggi in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, suggesting his murder was part of a wider campaign against dissidents, the report said, citing the US officials and associates of some Saudi victims. These members were involved in at least a dozen operations beginning in 2017, the officials said, including forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries.

According to the New York-based newspaper, the Rapid Intervention Group has been involved in the harassment of arrested prominent human rights activists and women’s rights defenders, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Iman al-Najfan.

Alia al-Hathloul says that al-Qahtani attended several such sessions to torture her sister. He also threatened to kill Loujain and throw her body into the sewers, Alia says. According to the newspaper, the women were beaten, subjected to electric shocks, waterboarding, and threatened with death and rape during the interrogations. Loujain’s sister says that at first the Saudi authorities did not send the arrested women to jail, but in a secret location in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. According to US intelligence assessment, the brutal interrogations prompted university professor al-Najfan to attempt suicide. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/saudi-arabia-persist-with-trial-for-women-human-rights-defenders/]

Saudi officials declined to confirm or deny that such a team existed, or answer questions from the Times about its work.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/mbs-approved-intervention-dissidents-nyt-report-190318075621971.html


Sri Lanka and the UN Human Rights Council: a Tale of Two Stories

March 18, 2019

One at the political level: On 17 March it was reported that a Sri Lankan parliamentarian – who will be a member of a delegation to be sent to the UN Human Rights Council next week – has slammed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on his island, calling it “an atrocious piece of writing containing lies, half lies and highly contestable statements”. Sarath Amunugama, a senior former minister said the Sri Lankan delegation would be meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to take up their complaints in person.

The report, released last week, said Sri Lanka had made “virtually no progress” on the investigation of war crimes, and also raised several other issues, including concerns over on-going reports of abduction, torture and sexual violence, institutional failures within the criminal justice system, ongoing harassment of human rights defenders since 2015 and the military’s continued occupation of civilian land. Amunugama though claimed the report was “methodologically incorrect” and contained “totally unwarranted statements”.

His comments come after less than a day after Sri Lanka’s ministry of foreign affairs agreed to the co-sponsoring of a roll-over UN resolution, the president Maithripala Sirisena said he wanted it stopped.  Sirisena also said that the delegation he would be sending to Geneva would argue that Sri Lanka should be allowed to ‘solve its own problems’.

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And the other more ‘scientific’, fact-based approach of Verité Research which is engaged in a four-part series on government progress in fulfilling commitments in Resolution 30/1.


Iran’s election to a UN ‘Gender Equality’ body should not obscure the real work

March 18, 2019

UN Commission on the Status of Women opening session, March 2019. Photo: Li Muzi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Anne Marie Goetz in Open Democracy of 13 March 2019 goes in more depth on what the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York can do and points our that  “Never before has social protection – pensions, health insurance, social security, child benefit, parental leave – been addressed by the CSW. Achieving progress on these issues is threatened by both religious and market fundamentalisms – though a number of states including Lebanon, Namibia, and Uruguay are resisting this backlash.“…

The US, Bahrain and Malaysia have reiterated during this week’s CSW discussions that the family – not the state – is the main source of social protection for many women. This is what I’d call a ‘family fallback’ approach which, combined with cuts to public services, requires women to expand their mothering roles to pick up the slack. Some countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, defend this maternal focus as a national cultural preference. The US is now among those supporting this view, arguing that any proposals on women’s rights should only be applied ‘as nationally appropriate’. This allows the notion of ‘national sovereignty’ to trump global standards on gender equality.

But the US position is so extreme that Shannon Kowalski, advocacy and policy director at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told me it’s expected that “major fractures will emerge” even with its conservative friends. Few developing countries can stomach the Trump government’s drift towards abstinence as the foundation of family planning.

Moreover, the US’s refusal to participate in the 2018 Global Compact for Immigration discussions has alienated countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia, which have proposed, for instance, that social security benefits earned by immigrant women should be portable and redeemable when they return home.

A diverse counter-movement against the current global ‘illiberal drift’ is also visible at this year’s CSW. The ‘Buenos Aires Group’, consisting of many South American states (notably Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), has emerged as a defender of LGBTIQ rights and a skeptic about privatisation of public services. This year Tunisia and Lebanon, in the Arab states group, and South Africa, Namibia, Liberia and Cape Verde in the ‘Africa Group’ of countries, are championing progressive positions on women’s rights as well. This support from the Global South vitally shows that the gender equality agenda is not just the concern of the usual suspects in the North – Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and the EU.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/religious-and-market-fundamentalisms-threaten-gender-equality-un-summit/


Equatorial Guinean human rights defender Alfredo Okenve gets house arrest instead of award ceremony

March 17, 2019

Alfredo Okenve, a leading rights activist in Equatorial Guinea, was arrested at Malabo's airport on Friday night

AFP reported on 16 March 2019 that Alfredo Okenve, a leading human rights defender in Equatorial Guinea was arrested in the capital Malabo after travelling there to receive an award for his work, his NGO and a police source said Saturday. Okenve had arrived in Malabo on Thursday, a day ahead of a ceremony at the French Institute where he was to receive the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law from French and German ambassadors. He was arrested at Malabo airport on Friday night when he was about to board a flight to Madrid after the cancellation of the awards ceremony earlier in the day.

A leading figure in the country’s civil society movement, Okenve is one of the leaders of the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID-GE), which said he had been flown back home to the port city of Bata and placed under house arrest. The authorities “prevented him from flying to Spain,” said Mariano Nkogo, who is also a senior figure within the NGO. He said a military plane had been chartered to fly Okenve back to Bata.

His arrest was also confirmed by a police officer at the airport and by the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) whose members have been previously targeted in a crackdown by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the West African state for 39 years.

Friday afternoon’s award ceremony was cancelled after the Guinean government sent a formal note to the envoys’ representatives saying it did not recognise the award, a regional diplomatic source said. “Due to the lack of transparency in the awarding of this prize, the government of Equatorial Guinea cannot recognise its validity,” said the note, a copy of which was seen by AFP. The French and German embassies then postponed the ceremony. [for more on this award – authorities take note! – see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/franco-german-prize-for-human-rights-and-the-rule-of-law]

In late October, Okenve was seized and beaten by unidentified men who left him in a remote area of Bata. He then went to Madrid to seek medical care, only returning home in mid-February.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/08/cartoonist-ramon-esono-ebale-freed-in-equatorial-guinea/


FIDH dares to publish a report on ‘key human rights issues of concern’ in Kashmir

March 17, 2019

On 15 March 2019 the International Federation for Human Rights and its partner organizations Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) published a briefing note detailing key human rights issues of concern in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir. I use the term dare in the title as wading in to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is always tricky and leads rot furious reactions from governments and media.

Human rights violations began to be formally reported in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir in 1990 in the midst of counter-insurgency operations by the Indian Army to contain an armed struggle against Indian rule. These military operations were marked by excessive and disproportionate use of force. Since 1990, more than 70,000 people have been killed, more than 8,000 have been subjected to enforced disappearances, several thousands have been arrested and detained under repressive laws, and torture and other acts of inhuman and degrading treatment against protestors and detainees have been routinely used by Indian security forces.

ILLUSTRATION: MIR SUHAIL QADRI.

The NGOs have demanded full and unfettered access to Jammu & Kashmir to UN bodies and representatives, foreign and domestic human rights organizations, and foreign and local journalists. The groups also called for establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of all human rights violations perpetrated in Jammu & Kashmir, as recommended in the report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir through diplomatic missions in New Delhi and Islamabad.

The note details “continuing crime of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, torture used as punitive action, systematic impunity for grave crimes, use of arbitrary and administrative detentions to curb dissent, military operations threatening human rights, rights to freedoms of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion or belief being curbed, human rights defenders under threat, sexual violence used a tool of repressions, lack of safeguards continue to place children in danger,” among other crimes.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/09/30/parveena-ahangar-and-parvez-imroz-in-kashmir-awarded-rafto-prize-2017/


Pakistan: a bad country for religious tolerance

March 17, 2019

Nothing new but it being a Sunday here in Crete, where lots of people go to church, one is struck by the continuing religious intolerance in certain parts of the world. Here two short items  relating to Pakistan, both from March 2019:
reports that on 6 March 2019 human rights defender Afzal Kohistani was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Gami Ada, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Afzal Kohistani was a human rights defender who had been campaigning against “honour killings”, or choar, in the Kohistan region of Pakistan. He had been the central figure seeking justice for the killing of five young women and three young men in 2012 and 2013.

The 2012 and 2013 “honour killings” were linked to a video, which went viral after it appeared online in 2012. It showed five young women singing and clapping, while two young men performed a traditional dance during a local wedding in Palas, a remote area in Kohistan. The mixing of genders is considered a serious violation of tribal norms in Kohistan and the young people were killed as a result of the “dishonour” they had brought on their families and community…..Prior to his death, Afzal Kohistani had received numerous death threats for seeking to bring the perpetrators of the Kohistan killings to justice. The human rights defender and his family were forced to leave their home in 2012 and had been in hiding for the past seven years. A few days prior to being killed, the human rights defender had written to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in Hazara seeking police protection but his request never received a response. The Supreme Court’s orders for the provincial government to provide the human rights defender with protection were also not heeded. (for more detail see the link below).[ One of my first posts in 2013 concerned https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/09/28/pakistan-and-rights-of-women-unbearable/]

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A story in the Business Standard of 17 March refers to the a protest rally in Geneva by living in parts of Europe  objecting to “Islamists misusing blasphemy law to harass Christians in Pakistan”. The protesters walked from Palais Wilson, to ‘Broken Chair’ in front of the UN, during the 40th session of the

They demanded that the government must abolish the ‘dangerous’ law misused by the state and non-state actors to target the minorities. Frank John, of Drumchapel Asian Forum in Glasgow, said: “We are unhappy with the functioning of the government in because the mindset of ‘maulvis’ (Islamic hardliners) towards Christians is immoral. Every day, atrocities are being committed against our children, especially girls, which is not acceptable. Our girls are being kidnapped by misusing PPC 295C and they are converted into ” He added: “.. If we have an altercation with any person, they put us under PPC 295C. This is a and needs to be abolished.”

Dr Mario Silva, Executive of for Rights and Security said: “Pakistan systematically discriminates against minorities. Christians are particularly targetted by the law. Christian persecution is a real threat to democracy and it’s a real threat to human rights. It’s something the community needs to take a look at. He added, “The state has a responsibility to protect its minorities rather destroying them. They have to go against the perpetrators of crimes against Christians. There are attacks on Christians, suicide bombings are taking place and the government is doing nothing to investigate the persecution of Christians in the country.” Criticising the law, he said: “Blasphemy law should in fact never be a part of any democratic system of government because blasphemy law is meant to target minorities…..” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/24/pussy-riot-freed-in-russia-but-the-bigger-issue-is-blasphemy-laws-everywhere/]

Christians make up less than two per cent of the population in Pakistan. Their numbers are decreasing as many of them are migrating to other countries for their safety.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-afzal-kohistani-shot-dead-seeking-justice-“honour-killings”
https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/islamists-misusing-blasphemy-law-to-harass-christians-in-pakistan-activists-119031700034_1.html

Good Breaking news: Azerbaijan pardons many opposition leaders and critics

March 16, 2019

The ink on an EU report (March 15) concluding that human rights in Azerbaijan remain in need of improvement, is hardly dry and there is a surprise announcement that Azerbaijan’s strongman-resident has ordered the release of more than 400 people, including opposition politicians and pro-democracy youth activists who were listed as political prisoners by international human rights groups. True, the EU report comes ahead of the upcoming EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council, scheduled to take place on 4 April in Brussels, but there must be other reasons.

Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Fuad Qahramanli and Gozal Bayramli, deputy leaders of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, are among the pardoned, according to a statement on the presidential website. Pro-opposition youth activists Ilkin Rustamzada, Qiyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov will also be released. The pardoned are to be freed within 24 hours. At least 43 human rights defenders, journalists, political and religious activists remained wrongfully imprisoned in Azerbaijan last year, according to Human Rights Watch. Whether all of these are freed is not yet clear.

It would be wonderful if this blog can finally turn attention elsewhere after some 30 posts concerning Azerbaijan (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/azerbaijan).

https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/eu-report-human-rights-azerbaijan-remain-need-improvement/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-16/azerbaijan-s-president-orders-release-of-politicians-activists

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/9/328344/World/International/Azerbaijan-strongman-pardons-jailed-activists,-opp.aspx

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/azerbaijan


CIVICUS publishes report on Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

March 16, 2019

WHRDs PolicyBrief

Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing”

In recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

Download the Report

My blog contains many posts about woman human rights defenders and especially about awards given to them. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog and use “woman human rights defenders” as search term.


US NGOs react furiously to visa restrictions imposed on ICC investigators by Trump administration

March 16, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new visa restrictions in a press briefing on Friday. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Human rights defenders expressed outrage on Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the Trump administration is revoking or denying visas for any International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel who try to investigate or prosecute U.S. officials or key allies for potential war crimes. The move, Pompeo confirmed is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the war in Afghanistan. There was an immediate and almost unanimous outcry by the key human rights NGOs in the USA:

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU‘s Human Rights Program (the ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud, who were all detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008): “This is an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day,” Dakwar said. “It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” He encouraged ICC member countries to “publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”

Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, noted that this is just “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.” Visa bans, as Balson pointed out, are “powerful tools typically reserved for the most serious of human rights abusers.” But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC—an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under international law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The move is “is highly indicative of [the administration’s] culture of disregard for rights abuses,” said Balson. “Throwing roadblocks in front of the ICC’s investigation undermines justice not only for abuses committed in Afghanistan, but also for the millions of victims and survivors throughout the world who have experienced the most serious crimes under international law.

Pompeo’s announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by U.S. civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan….”These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” Pompeo added. “Implementation of this policy has already begun.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/15/blatant-effort-intimidate-and-retaliate-pompeo-imposes-visa-ban-icc-staff-probing-us