Bahrain shows again how important it is to contribute to the Secretary-General’s reprisals report

April 28, 2017

NGOs and human rights defenders have until the end of May to submit cases of reprisals to the UN Secretary-General’s report, covering the period June 2016 to May 2017. The Call for submissions to the Secretary General’s annual report on cooperation with the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights – more frequently referred to as the ‘reprisals report’ – will be made public soon. Please send your submission to reprisals@ohchr.org.  For some of my earlier posts on reprisals see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

The report consists of a compilation of cases of intimidation and reprisals due to cooperation with the United Nations organisations and its specialised agencies in the field of human rights, including cases in relation to the Human Rights Council, its Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures; Human Rights Treaty Bodies; the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, its field presences and Human Rights Advisers; United Nations Country Teams; human rights components of peacekeeping missions and other parts of the Secretariat or specialized agencies working in the field of human rights.

When submitting cases please ensure consent has been obtained from the alleged victim or his/her family and this is clearly indicated in your email; meaning 1) the victim or his/her family has been informed and has understood the possible security risks, and 2) the victim or his/her family has agreed to have his/her case included in the reprisals report;   Mention is made of whether or not the alleged act of reprisal has been referred to in any official UN publication (UN report, press release, public statement, video of UN conference etc.) and, if so, the reference to this publication, including document symbol number where relevant, is provided.  The report also contains a section on follow-up. Hence information in follow-up to cases included in the 2014 (A/HRC/27/38), 2015 (A/HRC/30/29) and 2016 (A/HRC/33/19) reports is also welcome. This information could for instance concern continued acts of reprisal or indicate measures that have been taken by the relevant State to investigate or prevent future reprisals from occurring. Please note that also for follow-up information the three requirements mentioned above must be adhered to.

Bahrain shows again how important this exercise is: According to Front Line Defenders there is a clear pattern of preventing HRDs to attend to the human rights sessions: From 24 to 25 April 2017, twenty-two human rights defenders in Bahrain were interrogated by the Bahraini authorities. All defenders received police summonses on 21 April 2017 to appear before the office of the General Prosecutor. Most of the human rights defenders who were summoned for interrogation received confirmation that the Public Prosecutor has issued travel bans against them. The interrogations, which lasted on average 3 to 7 minutes, were in relation to allegations that the human rights defenders had attended an illegal gathering in Diraz village sometime between 2016 and 2017. Ebtisam Al-Saegh and Hussain Radhi were among the twenty-two human rights defenders who were summoned, interrogated and later received confirmation that they were subject to a travel ban. In a separate case on 20 April 2017, Sharaf Al-Mousawi was prevented from traveling to attend a meeting on development in Lebanon. The  interrogations precede the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session which will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, on 1 May 2017. 

 Ebtisam Al-Saegh   is a Bahraini human rights defender who works for the organisation Salam for Human Rights and Democracy. Hussain Radhi   is a human rights defender who works for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Sharaf Al-Mousawi   is President of the Bahrain Transparency Society, a non-governmental organisation  promoting transparency and the elimination of corruption in Bahrain. The organisation is also a partner organisation of Transparency International.

 On 25 April 2017, the Public Prosecution interrogated Hussain Radhi after he received a summons on 21 April 2017 by the Bahraini security forces. He was interrogated for three or four minutes and accused of participating in an illegal gathering; allegations which he denies. While returning from a trip on 20 April 2017, Hussain Radhi  was informed upon his arrival at the airport in Bahrain that on 14 April 2017, a travel ban had been issued against him by the Public Prosecution. 

 Twenty-one other human rights defenders faced the same situation between 21 and 25 April 2017. On 24 April, Ebtisam Al-Saegh was also interrogated for three minutes after waiting for a couple of hours at the office of the Public Prosecutor. A Police force made up of six vehicles came to her home on 21 April and delivered a summons for interrogation at the Public Prosecutor’s office. The human rights defender then inquired with  the Bahraini Immigration and Visas Office about her ability to travel and was informed that she faced a travel ban by order of the Public Prosecutor. Among the other human rights defenders who were  interrogated, and informed that they are banned from travel, are Abdulnabi Al-Ekri , Mohammad Al-Tajer , Enas Oun , Rula Al-Safar , Jalila Al-Salman , Zainab Al-Khamis , and Ahmed Al-Saffar . All 22 human rights defenders were accused of participating in illegal gatherings between October 2016 and January 2017 in the village of Diraz. All denied the charges and several noted that it would be impossible for them to even enter Diraz as it is blocked by checkpoints manned by security forces. The human rights defenders seem to believe that the summonses and interrogations were used to justify the travel bans  ahead of the upcoming UPR session in Geneva, Switzerland, in an attempt to deter their legitimate and peaceful work to protect and promote human rights in Bahrain and participate in international human rights mechanisms as is their right. 

In November 2016 <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/ebtisam-al-saegh-summoned-interrogation&gt; , several human rights defenders, including Ebtisam Al-Saegh and Hussain Al-Radhi, were interrogated and prevented from traveling ahead of that month’s Human Rights Council session.

Source: Call for contributions to Secretary-General’s reprisals report | ISHR


Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, on Human Rights Defenders in Annual Report 2016

April 27, 2017

Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, devoted a short chapter to Human Rights Defenders in his Annual Report covering 2016 (Chapter 3 V p. 59 – 61):

Human rights defenders

The situation of human rights defenders and the responsibility of states to ensure a safe and enabling environment for their work remained at the forefront of the Commissioner’s attention in 2016. The Commissioner organised and participated in round tables and side events, and in two inter-mechanism meetings, related to the role and the situation of human rights defenders in various parts of Europe. He also published thematic documents relating to the important role and contribution of human rights defenders with respect to the protection of human rights. As part of his continued monitoring, the Commissioner published several statements on the situation of human rights defenders in various regions of Europe. Moreover, the Commissioner intervened before the European Court of Human Rights as a third party in three cases relating to human rights defenders: Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan; Svetlana Khusainovna Estemirova v. the Russian Federation; and Khalid Bagirov v. Azerbaijan (for further information on third party interventions, see chapter 6 of his report). In March, the Commissioner issued statements about a series of violent attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs in Chechnya and Ingushetia in the North Caucasus. The Commissioner contacted the Russian authorities indicating the need for immediate protection of those who had come under attack, and for a prompt and thorough investigation with a view to holding those responsible to account.

Round table on missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe

On 30 June and 1 July, the Commissioner organised in Strasbourg a round table with human rights defenders on missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe. In addition to human rights defenders from more than 20 different European countries, the event was attended by experts in the eld, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Henrikas Mickevičius. During the round table, the participants discussed the recommendations contained in the Commissioner’s Issue Paper Missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe. The participants also exchanged important information on issues relating to missing persons, victims of disappearances and transitional justice in European countries affected by these issues. In particular, they raised the importance of establishing the truth, instituting efficient and effective domestic legal and institutional frameworks, and combating impunity through prosecution and punishment of those responsible for enforced disappearances, and the necessity to provide support and reparation for victims. The round table was also aimed at reviewing the situation of human rights defenders working on those issues, including obstacles that human rights organisations and defenders face in carrying out their activities and possible ways to overcome them.

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Human Rights Watch granted Israeli work permit in the end

April 27, 2017

On 26 February 2017 I referred to the refusal of a work permit for the HRW office in Israel. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/26/israel-denies-work-permit-to-human-rights-watch-and-continues-harassment-of-hrds/]. Now the Israeli authorities have reversed the Interior Ministry’s decision. They have granted a one year work visa to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch (HWR), upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.

We welcome this opportunity to work in Israel and Palestine alongside vigorous national human rights organisations,” said Iain Levine, executive deputy director for programme at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities do not always agree with our findings, but, in facilitating the ability of our staff to carry out our research and documentation, they have taken an important step to safeguard the principle of transparency and demonstrate their openness to criticism.”

Source: Ekklesia | Human Rights Watch granted Israeli work permit


Interview with Natasha Latiff about women’s rights in Afghanistan

April 27, 2017

On 30 October 2016 the ISHR published this video interview with Natasha Latiff who is the founder and executive director of Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights (SAHR). Following an ISHR training for human rights defenders held in Geneva in June, she spoke to ISHR about her organisation’s work on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Breaking news: three Human Rights Defenders selected as Finalists for the 2017 Martin Ennals Award.

April 26, 2017

Today, 26 April 2017, the Martin Ennals Foundation announced that the following 3 human rights defenders have been selected as the Finalists for the  2017 Martin Ennals Award. This award is considered to be the main of award of the whole international human rights movement as the Jury (see below) is composed of leading human rights NGOs.

FreeThe5KH (Cambodia)

FreeThe5KH are five Human Rights Defenders who have been in pre-trial detention for almost one year. This is linked to their work with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). International bodies like the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and UN Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly called for their immediate and unconditional release, and a stop to judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia based on their legitimate human rights work. This comes in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia.

On behalf of the Khmer Five, Thun Saray, President of (ADHOC) comments: “It is an immense honour for the five HRDs to be selected as finalists. 28 April will mark their one year in arbitrary detention on the basis of their legitimate human rights work. The increased attacks against HRDs and activists has had a tremendous impact on those working to promote and protect human rights in Cambodia. This Award is symbol of encouragement for every courageous Cambodian, who continues to speak out against injustices and human rights violations. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone that has supported the nomination.

Karla Avelar (El Salvador)

Karla Avelar, a transgender woman in El Salvador, grew up on the streets of San Salvador, suffering discrimination, violence, exploitation, and rape. She was imprisoned when she defended herself, and then regularly abused by fellow prisoners with the knowledge and even participation of the prison authorities. These terrible experiences have forged her into a powerful advocate. With three others, she founded COMCAVIS TRANS, which was created to represent, defend, and promote the human rights of LGBTI persons, with a focus on those living with HIV, as she does. She works to change legislation and the authorities’ practices, by holding them publicly to account. Notably her advocacy helped prompt the authorities to segregate LGBTI prisoners for their own safety, and allow for the standard HIV treatments provided by the Ministry of Health.

She said,” I want to thank Martin Ennals, the jury, and those who nominated me for this important award. Although today I am in danger, and sure that my struggle is risky, my eagerness for justice and equity motivates me. I will continue to push the State to accept reforms and legislation proposed by civil society to allow the LGBTI community to fully enjoy their human rights.”

Mohamed Zaree (Egypt)

Mohamed Zaree is the Egypt Country Director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), responsible for CIHRS’s legal research, media outreach and national advocacy. CIHRS’s work was influential in the Arab world particularly Egypt, which resulted in death threats to its director. This forced the CIHRS executive director and regional staff to move abroad to continue their work. Mohamed chose to stay and is now banned from travel. He is a legal scholar coordinating research to challenge laws designed to limit NGOs activities working on human rights, such as freedom of expression and assembly. He is widely seen a unifying figure bringing together the human rights community in Egypt to advocate with a common approach.

He stated “Our hopes were high following the Egyptian revolution in 2011; we don’t know how the situation has instead deteriorated to such an extent. Today, we are battling human rights violations that are worse than before 2011, and challenging the normalization and acceptance of these atrocities. Killing almost 1000 citizens in few hours, arresting almost 40,000 others, innocents dying in Egyptian prisons; is not the norm and we will not allow it to become so. We human rights defenders are fighting these abuses at risk of indefinite imprisonment. 

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs:

  • Amnesty International,
  • Human Rights Watch,
  • Human Rights First,
  • FIDH – Int’l Federation for Human Rights,
  • World Organisation Against Torture,
  • Front Line Defenders,
  • International Commission of Jurists,
  • EWDE Germany,
  • International Service for Human Rights,
  • HURIDOCS

The Award will be presented on October 10th 2017 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.

For further information, please contact: Michael Khambatta +41 79 474 8208 khambatta[at]martinennalsaward.org or visit www.martinennalsaward.org


Sunny Maldives: Murder of human rights defender and blogger Yameen Rasheed tip of the iceberg

April 25, 2017

The Maldives normally create images in our mind of luxury holidays. This is a false image [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maldives/]. On Sunday, 23 April 2017, a prominent blogger and social media activist, Yameen Rasheed, was found in the stairwell of his residence in the country’s capital Malé with multiple stab wounds to his head, neck and body. Mr. Rasheed died of his injuries. The UN, Front Line and others expressed deep alarmed by Mr. Rasheed’s killing and urge the authorities to ensure that the investigation into the murder is prompt, thorough and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Mr. Rasheed had in December reported to the Maldives Police Service that he was receiving targeted death threats following the publication of his photo along with those of others on an anonymous Facebook page, but he complained that he had to follow up for three days just to get a confirmation that his complaint had been registered. Mr. Rasheed’s killing comes in the context of what appears to be an upsurge in arrests and prosecutions of the political opposition.

Yameen Rasheed [see his profile: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/yameen-rasheed]  was a prominent human rights defender and social media activist in Maldives. Through his blog The Daily Panic, he was an outspoken critic of government corruption and was vocal against impunity for crimes against journalists and attacks of freedom of expression  committed by radical Islamist groups. Yameen Rasheed was a close friend of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, another well known Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate, who was abducted and disappeared in 2014. Since 2014, Yameen Rasheed had been working to obtain justice for Rilwan, and was recently coordinating with Rilwan’s family to file a case against the Maldives police on the investigation of Rilwan’s death. In 2015, he was arrested along with 200 other activists and imprisoned for three weeks after taking part in a pro-democracy rally in the capital.

Maldives has a troubling history of attacks targeting human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers. On 5 June 2012, blogger, LGBT activist and journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed, also known as Hilath, was stabbed by radical Islamists. On 8 August 2014, prominent HRD Ahmed Rilwan went missing and has not been heard of since then. On 4 September 2015, human rights lawyer Mahfooz Saeed [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-mahfooz-saeed] was brutally attacked by two unidentified men, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/07/mahfooz-saeed-lawyer-of-maldives-ex-president-stabbed/. 

It would seem therefore that the groundbreaking legal proceedings (October 2016), which the ISHR has brought to the UN Human Rights Committee have a lot of merit. It was requested to rule that the Maldives violated international law by restricting human rights defenders from submitting information to the UN.

In what is the first case filed with the UN on behalf of former members of a national human rights institution, ISHR has asked the UN Human Rights Committee to authoritatively rule that there is a legal right to submit information, evidence and reports to the UN and that restrictions on this right, or reprisals for exercising this right, amount to serious breaches of international law. The case could have wide-ranging implications, as a number of countries seek to criminalise or prosecute people to prevent them from exposing human rights violations at the UN.

Assisted by ISHR, Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood, former Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), have filed a communication with the UN’s Human Rights Committee to highlight the Maldives’ failure to ensure their right to share information freely with the UN without reprisal. The HRCM was prosecuted in 2015 by the Supreme Court in the Maldives following a submission made by the HRCM on human rights in the Maldives to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review….The Court ruled that the HRCM’s report was unlawful, biased and undermined judicial independence, and ordered the HRCM to follow a set of guidelines designed to restrict the HRCM’s work and its ability to communicate with the UN.

Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood said they were seeking a ruling from the Committee because they want the HRCM’s right to freely communicate with international human rights mechanisms to be firmly preserved in law and practice. ‘If the HRCM is not able to communicate freely with the UN, its ability to carry out its mandate is severely undermined. This case isn’t just about the HRCM of 2010. Rather it’s about the far reaching implications such reprisals will have on the independence and integrity of NHRI’s everywhere,’ they said.

‘The decision of the Supreme Court to restrict the activities and independence of the Commission is incompatible with the right of safe and unhindered communication with UN bodies, and the prohibition against reprisals for exercising that right. Such a decision by an arm of government is a clear breach of international law,’ Ms Sinclair of ISHR said. Background to the case can be found here.

A copy of the Communication can be found here.

Source: OHCHR Press Briefing Notes – South Sudan, Maldives | Scoop News

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-groundbreaking-legal-proceedings-filed-against-maldives


Video interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU from Uganda

April 25, 2017

On 24 April 2017 the ISHR published this interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU, grants administrator at UHAI EASHRI and transgender activist in Uganda. Cleopatra was featured in “Pearl of Africa“, a movie shown at the Geneva international Film Festival and Human Rights Forum and spoke  about the challenges she faces in her struggle to have transgender rights recognised in her country. More information on UHAI-EASHRI: http://www.uhai-eashri.org

Tomorrow, 26 April, MEA will announce its three Finalist for 2017

April 25, 2017

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) will announce its three Finalists for 2017 on Wednesday 26 April at 11:00 Geneva time. If you want to find out while on the go see: Social media
@martinennals
#Ennals 2017
https://www.facebook.com/MartinEnnals/

Please share this widely.

For last yea’s announcement see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/27/breaking-news-final-nominees-2016-martin-ennals-award-tohti-zone-9-bloggers-razan-zaitouneh-annoucement/


Video of the “Defending Human Rights is not a Crime” meeting now available

April 24, 2017

This 5 minute video of the ProtectDefenders.eu 2016 Annual Beneficiaries’ Meeting, held in Brussels on the 29 November 2016 is now available on Your Tube. The motto was “Defending Human Rights is not a crime – #DefendersNotCriminals”.


US pushes for ‘historic’ human rights debate at Security Council but achieves little

April 20, 2017

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting. Rick Bajornas/UN Photo

The United States led on Tuesday 18 April what it (and not many others) dubbed a ‘historicU.N. Security Council meeting on the link between rights abuses and conflict, but it had to drop a push for the broad issue of human rights to become a fixed item of the Security Council’s agenda when it appeared that at least six members would oppose it [Russia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Bolivia were against the move and Senegal’s support was uncertain]. The United States, council president for April, did not risk the measure being put to a rare procedural vote, which requires nine in favour, and vetoes cannot be used. The opposing council members say rights discussion should be confined to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council – which Washington accuses of being anti-Israel and has threatened to quit – and the 193-member U.N. General Assembly third committee. Here is some of the analysis:

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