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New shocking report by AI re prisoners’ abuse in Iran

September 3, 2020

Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials have committed, with the complicity of judges and prosecutors,  a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, against those detained in connection with the nationwide protests of November 2019, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.

The report, Trampling humanity: Mass arrests, disappearances and torture since Iran’s 2019 November protests, documents the harrowing accounts of dozens of protesters, bystanders and others who were violently arrested, forcibly disappeared or held incommunicado, systemically denied access to their lawyers during interrogations, and repeatedly tortured to “confess”. They are among the 7,000 men, women and children arrested by the Iranian authorities within a matter of days during their brutal repression of the protests.

Victims include children as young as 10 and injured protesters and bystanders arrested from hospitals while seeking medical care for gunshot wounds, as well as human rights defenders including minority rights activists, journalists, and individuals who attended ceremonies to commemorate those killed during the protests. Hundreds have since been sentenced to prison terms and flogging and several to the death penalty following grossly unfair trials which were presided over by biased judges behind closed doors, frequently lasted less than an hour, and systematically relied on torture-tainted “confessions”.

“In the days following the mass protests, videos showing Iran’s security forces deliberately killing and injuring unarmed protesters and bystanders sent shockwaves around the world. Much less visible has been the catalogue of cruelty meted out to detainees and their families by Iranian officials away from the public eye,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown.

Amnesty International has recorded the names and details of more than 500 protesters and others, including journalists and human rights defenders, who have been subjected to unfair criminal proceedings in connection with the protests.

Prison terms meted out to those convicted have ranged from between one month and 10 years for vague or spurious national security charges such as “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, “disrupting public order” and “insulting the Supreme Leader”.

Of these, at least three, Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi, were sentenced to death for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through acts of vandalism, and another, Hossein Reyhani, is awaiting trial on a charge carrying the death penalty.

More than a dozen known to Amnesty International have received flogging sentences, in addition to prison terms, and at least two have had their flogging sentences implemented.

The organization believes that the real number of individuals prosecuted and sentenced in connection with the November 2019 protests is far higher, given the large number of arrests carried out and the patterns of prosecution and sentencing in the country in cases of arbitrary arrests and detention involving intelligence and security bodies.

Amnesty International is urging member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the prolonged, systematic impunity for gross violations of human rights in Iran, including by supporting the establishment of a UN-led inquiry with a view to ensuring accountability and guarantees of non-repetition.

The organization is also urging all UN member states to forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release anyone who continues to be imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in connection with the November 2019 protests; quash all convictions resulting from unfair trials, including those that relied on statements obtained through torture or other ill-treatment; and hold those responsible to account.

Torture epidemic

Amnesty International’s research found that there was widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment by police, intelligence and security agents and prison officials against men, women and children, both during arrest and later in detention.

Prosecution and judicial authorities failed in their legal obligations to conduct independent and impartial inspections of detention facilities, including those run by security and intelligence bodies, and to ensure that legal provisions banning the use of secret detention and torture and other ill-treatment against detainees are respected.

Torture was used to punish, intimidate and humiliate detainees. It was also routinely used to elicit “confessions” and incriminating statements, not just about their involvement in the protests, but also about their alleged associations with opposition groups, human rights defenders, media outside Iran, as well as with foreign governments.

The organization’s research found that victims were frequently hooded or blindfolded; punched, kicked and flogged; beaten with sticks, rubber hosepipes, knives, batons and cables; suspended or forced into holding painful stress positions for prolonged periods; deprived of sufficient food and potable water; placed in prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks or even months; and denied medical care for injuries sustained during the protests or as a result of torture.

Other documented methods of torture included stripping detainees and spraying them with cold water, and subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and/or bombardment of light or sound; forcible extraction of the nails from fingers or toes; pepper spraying; forced administration of chemical substances; using electric shocks; waterboarding; and mock executions.

Information received by Amnesty International from primary sources also reveals that interrogators and prison officials perpetrated sexual violence against male detainees, including through stripping and forced nakedness, sexual verbal abuse, pepper spraying the genital area, and administering electric shocks to the testicles.

One victim from Khorasan Razavi province who was subjected to waterboarding told Amnesty International:

“They [my interrogators] would drench a towel in water and place it over my face. Then they would pour water slowly over the towel, which made me feel like I was suffocating… They would stop… until I started to feel better and then they would start torturing me this way again. They also punched, kicked and flogged me on the soles of my feet with a cable.”

One man who was subjected to electric shocks recounted:

“The electric shocks were the worst form of torture… It felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles. If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body…. The torture has had lasting effects on my mental and physical health. To this day, I still can’t sleep at night.”

A victim from Tehran province who was suspended from his hands and feet from a pole in a painful method his interrogators referred to as “chicken kebab” told the organization:

“The pain was excruciating. There was so much pressure and pain in my body that I would urinate on myself… My family know that I was tortured, but they don’t know how I was tortured. I feel choked with tears because there is no one here I can speak to.”

In all cases documented by Amnesty International, victims reported various forms of psychological torture to give forced “confessions”, including the use of degrading verbal insults and profanities; the intimidation and harassment of their family members; threats to arrest, torture, kill or otherwise harm their family members, including elderly parents or spouses; and threats to rape detainees or their female family members.

Enforced disappearances

Amnesty International’s research shows that many detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or even months while held in undisclosed locations run by the security and intelligence bodies including the ministry of intelligence or the Revolutionary Guards. Other detainees were held in overcrowded prisons or police stations, military barracks, sports venues and schools.

Distressed relatives told the organization that they visited hospitals, morgues, police stations, prosecution offices, courts, prisons and other known detention centres to enquire about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, but the authorities refused to provide them with information and threatened them with arrest if they kept seeking information or publicly spoke out about them.

In one case documented by Amnesty International, the authorities arrested a family member of two people who were forcibly disappeared for enquiring about their fate and whereabouts.

Amnesty International is aware of three ongoing cases of enforced disappearance, where the authorities continue to conceal their fate and whereabouts from their families. They include brothers Mehdi Roodbarian and Mostafa Roodbarian from Mahshahr, Khuzestan province.

On 11 September followed this: https://en.radiofarda.com/a/human-rights-organizations-call-for-un-investigation-into-suppressing-iranian-protesters/30833918.html

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/09/iran-detainees-flogged-sexually-abused-and-given-electric-shocks-in-gruesome-post-protest-crackdown-new-report/

 

UNEP FI: Tool for associating UN and financial sector

August 29, 2020

The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) was established in 1992 as a platform associating the United Nations and the financial sector globally. The need for this unique partnership arose from the growing recognition of the links between finance and environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges, and the role financial institutions could play for a more sustainable world.

UNEP FI works closely with 230 members from the banking, investment and insurance sectors, who have signed the UNEP FI Statement of Commitment. The membership is made up of public and private financial institutions from around the world, and is balanced between developed and developing countries. They recognize sustainability as part of a collective responsibility and support approaches to anticipate and prevent potential negative impacts on the environment and society.

UNEP FI Social Issues

UNEP FI is committed to exploring the intricacies between social issues, human rights and financial sector practices. UNEP FI aims to de-mystify the language and jargon surrounding the social agenda, and clarify how social issues relate to the activities of finance institutions.

The main objectives of the work stream include:

  • To develop and maintain an understanding of human rights and social issues and how they apply to financial institutions worldwide, so that financial sector professionals are equipped to make responsible decisions.
  • To produce internationally applicable guidance for finance sector organizations on identifying and addressing social issues relevant to their businesses, highlighting relevant international laws, standards and initiatives, and examples of best practice.

The UNEP FI Human Rights Guidance Tool for the Financial Sector is designed as an online signposting tool providing information on human rights risks for financial institutions.

Included in the tool finance practitioners will find:

  • background information on human rights and how they relate to finance
  • relevant international laws, standards and initiatives
  • key questions to assist in assessing human rights risks and impacts
  • issues relating to different industry sectors
  • key human rights topics
  • links to other relevant resources

The tool focuses specifically on human rights issues relevant to the assessment of business relationships and transactions. Links are also provided within each of the sector briefings to the broader environmental and social risk guidance provided by UNEP FI. Together these form part of the growing array of tools and guidance available to financial institutions to enhance their understanding of human rights risks.

This tool provides a framework for finance sector professionals to:

  • identify potential human rights risk in lending operations
  • assess the materiality of the human right risk
  • identify possible risk mitigants.

Financial institutions will want to use the tool to assess the human rights issues in their own business and its supply chain. They will also find it useful in reviewing other aspects of financial services provision, in addition to lending policies and practices. Whilst the tool is mainly addressed to lending managers, human rights are important in relation to all financial sector activity, so others will also find much of interest and relevance in it.

The Human Rights Guidance Tool has been fully revised in 2014. The tool was originally launched in 2007 and updated in 2011.


Table of Contents

Introduction

Key Issues and Questions

Human Rights Issues by Sector

Human Rights Issues by Topic

Resources

About this tool

 

https://www.unepfi.org/humanrightstoolkit/credits.php

Christof Heyns discusses new UN Comment on Right of Peaceful Assembly

July 30, 2020

On 29 July, 2020 Just Security published a lengthy interview of World Justice Project Executive Director Elizabeth Andersen with Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This is particularly important as a new new General Comment was issued just this week by the United Nations Human Rights Committee providing guidance on this topic at a critical moment, with protest movements on the rise across the globe, and many countries grappling with the appropriate response—something that has become even more complicated with the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions on large gatherings.

The audio podcast is available at WJP. For those who pefere to read there is text version in the link below. Here a teaser:

Christof Heyns [00:13:17] I think the main idea is that peaceful assemblies are a legitimate use of the public and other spaces. If one thinks on a very sort of practical level, streets are used for vehicles, but they also are used for marathons and for markets and so forth. And they’re closed off on a Saturday or whatever the case may be for that purpose. And peaceful assemblies, like these other social gatherings, are a legitimate use of space. So a number of domestic courts–Spain and Israel and others–have said the public space “is not only for circulation but it’s also for participation”. And I like that quote; even in the translation it comes across. So that’s the underlying idea. It is, as you say, part of democracy.

It is also part of the message of the General Comment that peaceful assembly is an individual right. So one should not in the first place think about the entire assembly exercising the right — and is it violent or is it not, or does it cause damage, and as a result that everybody’s responsible — the focus is on the individual. And even if there are some individuals in a larger group who are, in an isolated way, engaged in violence, this cannot be attributed to the group as a whole. Every individual has that right. As far as possible, they should be treated as individuals.

I think also the underlying philosophy is to say that the right of peaceful assembly should be dealt with by the authorities in a “content neutral” way. As you will know, this idea is strongly present in the US jurisprudence, for example. So the idea is, even if those who are engaging in assemblies are your political opponents or you don’t like their particular message for whatever reason, they are still allowed to do so. There may be some exceptions and maybe we can talk about that. But in principle, the approach should be content neutral.

People should be allowed also to exercise the right “within sight and sound” of their target. So by doing that, they can demonstrate to others that they feel strongly enough about this to gather around this. But they can also, for themselves, see what is the support that they have. So if you organize an assembly, if you think you’re going to have a million people and it’s only yourself who shows up, that’s a message to yourself about the popularity and the support for your idea. In fact, Gandhi had this idea that what he did were “experiments with truth”. And I think to some extent that’s true for peaceful assemblies today. It’s a way of testing ideas and then seeing what is the response. Putting your toe in the water, putting up a trial balloon. And in many cases, this can diffuse a situation. So the society as a whole can take note and they can internalize the fact that there are people who feel very strongly about a certain cause and then they can do something about it. So it’s almost the idea of precaution. Even if I’m not persuaded, now, I know that these people feel like that, and I can do something about it instead of it blowing up into a massive problem.

….

Elizabeth Andersen [00:21:06] Well, it’s certainly an ambitious project you undertook and covers a lot of ground, with lots of standards and recommendations detailed. I think it’s interesting to think about how that all plays out in a concrete setting. And so you mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement and current protests, particularly here in the United States where I’m from. I’d be interested if you can share with our listeners how you see the Committee’s guidance helping us evaluate the response to that protest movement here in the United States. What’s appropriate? What’s not?

Christof Heyns [00:21:53] Well, I think a number of the themes of the General Comment are relevant in the United States and in other societies now as well. So the starting point is that this is an individual right. If there are members of a particular group of an assembly who are engaging in violence, this cannot be attributed to all members. In some cases, interventions are needed, not only permitted but actually required, if there is danger to the lives of people, for example, or to property. The state has a duty to protect, but that should be targeted as far as possible to the individuals concerned. These should be targeted interventions

I think the other overriding issue is the one of de-escalation. There are two approaches. One is to escalate the situation and to show superior force, so to speak. And, of course, if that’s done by the state, the other side also tries to show superior force, and it escalates. But the police themselves, and also the politicians, have a duty of de-escalation and to accommodate, to tolerate, some level of disruption, and to work towards preventing the situation from getting out of hand.

Perhaps more particularly, the General Comment also focuses on the use of military staff to do law enforcement – and I think much of that applies to paramilitaries as well. We don’t say this can never be done. But if it’s done, it is under exceptional circumstances, if there is no other way of doing it, and it should be on a temporary basis. And those who are involved must have the necessary training, including the human rights training, because, of course, the training of police and military staff differs very much. And then in the last place, they are bound by human rights standards. So the same standards that apply to the police also apply to military and paramilitary staff.

There’s also the issue of plainclothes police officers and the question of wearing identification. The General Comment emphasizes that law enforcement officials must wear clear identification. This is important for accountability purposes. If plainclothes police are used — and again, it’s not completely excluded, it may be the only way to have a positive intervention — before they use any force or arrest anybody, they have to identify themselves…..

https://www.justsecurity.org/71736/interview-with-christof-heyns-unhrc-general-comment-37-on-the-right-of-peaceful-assembly/

Global Witness: 2019 worst year ever for land rights and environmental defenders

July 29, 2020

On Wednesday 29 July 2020 Global Witness revealed the highest number of land and environmental defenders murdered on record in a single year, with 212 people killed in 2019 for peacefully defending their homes and standing up to the destruction of nature. 2019 is thus the deadliest year since the advocacy group began compiling data in 2012. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

More than half the killings were in Colombia and the Philippines and indigenous people made up 40% of the victims, the Britain-based group said inn its report. It was a significant rise on 2018, when 164 killings were recorded.

The threat from mining and large-scale agriculture caused the most number of deaths, with these sectors also responsible for worsening climate change impacts, Global Witness said.

Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritise extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting people, and their land, at risk,” said Rachel Cox, a campaigner at Global Witness.

Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting climate-critical forests and ecosystems. When they take a stand against the theft of their land, or the destruction of forests, they are increasingly being killed,” she said.

Latin America accounted for more than two-thirds of all victims last year, with Colombia the deadliest country of all, with 64 killings.

In Asia, the Philippines had 43 killings compared to 30 the previous year, with six in India, three in Indonesia and one in Cambodia, according to Global Witness.

Many more were attacked, arrested, threatened and sued, said Global Witness, which recorded killings in 21 countries.

In the Philippines – which was the deadliest country in 2018 – “relentless vilification” of activists by the government and impunity for attackers may be spurring an increase in killings, it said.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte did not respond to requests for comment.

At least 119 activists and farmers have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to Global Witness, while local campaign groups put the figure at about 200.

Dozens of United Nations experts last month called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines, including killings of farmers and indigenous people.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the “downward spiral of the human rights situation”, and a new anti-terrorism bill could be used to target activists, they said.

“Days after the act was signed, the harassment of human rights defenders has visibly worsened,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Philippine human rights advocacy group Karapatan.

“While rural communities, including indigenous peoples, grapple with the impact of COVID-19, they are constantly hounded by military operations that benefit mining corporations encroaching on their ancestral land,” she said.

Two of the country’s biggest agribusiness brands – Dole Philippines and Del Monte Philippines – earlier this year said they would review their processes to better protect land rights.

But attacks against activists during coronavirus lockdowns signalled more violence worldwide, Cox said.

“Governments around the world have used the crisis to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and roll back hard-fought environmental regulations,” Cox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This a more worrying time than ever.”

ttps://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/global-witness-records-the-highest-number-of-land-and-environmental-activists-murdered-in-one-year-with-the-link-to-accelerating-climate-change-of-increasing-concern/

https://news.trust.org/item/20200728231459-86pra

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/dangerous-day-land-rights-defenders-killings-surge-200729022143251.html

Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev returns to prison

July 24, 2020

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Expert on Stalin atrocities Yury Dmitriyev. Photo: Igor Podgorny, 7×7-journal.ru

The Moscow Times of 22 July 2020 carries a detailed report by Evan Gershkovich on Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev who has spent decades calling attention to one of the darkest chapters in Russia’s history. He now faces up to 15 years in prison on sexual assault charges in a case his allies say has been trumped up to silence him. Acquitted of child pornography, Yury Dmitriyev now faces charges of sexual assault.

The Moscow Times profiled Dmitriyev in 2018:

Yury Dmitriyev normally hates Moscow. The concrete, the commotion, the pollution. As much as he can, he stays in Karelia, where he was born, raised and has spent his 62 years. In the northwestern region bordering Finland and the Baltic and White Seas, he can usually be found in the woods or in his study, writing.

Yet on a pleasant evening in mid-May, Dmitriyev, a prominent researcher of Soviet crimes, was happy to be in the metropolis. Accompanied by his elder daughter, Yekaterina Klodt, and his lawyer, Viktor Anufriyev, old friends greeted him with grins and tight hugs in a courtyard outside Teatr.doc, a progressive theater, ahead of a human rights awards ceremony.

One month earlier, Dmitriyev had been cleared of child pornography charges. Authorities had detained him in December 2016 after investigators found nude photos of his 11-year old adopted daughter; Dmitriyev said he took the photos to monitor her physical changes as she was prone to illness. From the outset, human rights defenders claimed that the case was fabricated to silence an outspoken activist.

If the arrest came as a shock to those who knew him, so too did his acquittal: Fewer than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia are cleared.

But authorities, human rights defenders now say, weren’t done with the historian just yet. Only a month after the awards night, a judge annulled the April decision, starting the trial anew.

Then, two weeks later, prosecutors brought additional charges to the table: This time they claimed that Dmitriyev had sexually assaulted his daughter. As of late June, the historian was back in jail facing another uphill legal battle, his freedom having been fleeting.

“The new charges are a chance for the prosecution to get it right,” Anufriyev said. “They failed the first time, so officials are giving them another chance to get the job done.”

Digging and documenting

Two decades ago, Dmitriyev discovered a set of mass graves in a Karelian forest containing the bodies of more than 9,500 victims of Josef Stalin’s Great Terror. Poring over KGB documents, the head — and sole employee — of Memorial’s Karelia branch spent the next 20 years documenting each victim’s story.

“What makes Yury unique is that he combines both the digging and the documenting,” said Sergei Krivenko, a colleague of Dmitriyev’s at Memorial and a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council. “Some people work on compiling books of names, some people search for the exact locations of the killings. No one has dedicated themselves to both the way Yury has.”

No one has dedicated themselves to both digging and documenting the way Yuri has.

Those who know Dmitriyev say he toiled everyday. “He’s been doing this work for the past 30 years, and I’m 33,” said Klodt, his elder daughter. “I’m so used to it that, for me, his work is no different than a dentist’s.”

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians say, the state has supported them in locating and memorializing the burial sites of the estimated 15 to 30 million victims of Stalin’s rule. At the location Dmitriyev discovered — Sandarmokh — local authorities helped build roads and erect monuments and aided with an annual gathering at the site.

But in recent years, human rights defenders say, the climate has become less hospitable. Those who spoke with The Moscow Times pointed to a resurgence in Stalin’s popularity as a significant reason: In June last year, Russians voted him the “most outstanding” person in history. In second place was President Vladimir Putin, who has accused the West of “excessive demonization” of the Soviet leader.

Others pointed to a surge in nationalism since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and got involved in Ukraine. “There were many foreigners killed at Sandarmokh — Norwegians, Poles, Finns and Ukrainians, including around 200 intellectuals,” Krivenko said. “This is a very important place for Ukrainians especially, and a delegation would visit the site annually.”

Dmitriyev organized the memorial visit every year on Aug. 5. He invited foreign delegations and led discussions, Krivenko said. After the events in Crimea and Ukraine, the discussions often turned to politics.

“I think this is why they went after him,” Krivenko said. He also pointed to an October 2016 decision to add Memorial to a register of “foreign agent” organizations that receive foreign funding. “I think this gave the local siloviki” — officials with ties to law enforcement — “a signal that they could go after us.”

Two months later, in December, Dmitriyev was first arrested.

Prison as a work trip

The day after the awards night, Dmitriyev was invited to speak with human rights students at the Sakharov Center, named after the Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist.

Klodt had come with him and complained that she wasn’t feeling well. “Maybe they should put you in prison for a year too so they can toughen you up,” her father joked.

Quick to laugh, thin and slightly disheveled, Dmitriyev presented an unimposing figure. But when the subject of his work came up, he turned deadly serious.

“I don’t fight the system. That’s a dead end, and I’m already old now,” he told The Moscow Times before the event. “I fight for memory. I fight so anyone who wants to can learn about their relatives, regardless of whether the government wants it or not. These people existed at some point. They worked and loved and had children. I’m for protecting the freedom of private life and of those memories.”

Without those memories, Dmitriyev continued, today’s generation cannot judge whether their government is laudable or acting improperly.

The people I dig up were in the same prison, walked the same halls and were behind the same bars.

“When a person knows the history of their family for multiple generations, they can understand what our state is doing right and what it’s doing wrong,” he said. “Called upon by the state to do this or that, they’ll say, ‘No, my great-grandfather was summoned in the same way and it ended badly for him. So maybe it’ll end badly for me as well.’”

Dmitriyev shrugged at the subject of his time in prison. “I don’t make a great tragedy out of that year,” he said. “I just think of it as a work trip. I’ve gained a better understanding of what my heroes — the people I dig up and write about — were thinking. They were in the same prison, walked the same halls and were behind the same bars.”

More difficult, he said, was being separated from his younger daughter. Dmitriyev himself was adopted, and at some point he decided he wanted to care for an orphaned child too. He hoped he’d be able to talk to her again by the end of the year. “It’s a humane policy by the prosecutor’s office,” he joked. Then he turned serious again: “I can handle it, I’m a tough person. But what about the child? She thinks everyone has abandoned her.”

Into the forest

After Dmitriyev was first arrested, the girl was taken in by her biological grandmother. Klodt said the family and the grandmother maintained regular communication. But when Dmitriyev was acquitted, Klodt said, the grandmother cut off all communication with the family. Then she sent a letter to the prosecution demanding the acquittal be overturned.

Anufriyev, Dmitriyev’s lawyer, believes that local authorities pressured her into writing the letter. He also says that the new charges of sexual assault are founded solely on a June 6 meeting between investigators and the girl during which, Anufriyev says, they coerced her into saying what they wanted. “They say they’re helping the child, but really they’re making her suffer,” he said.

Reached by phone, Tatyana Kordyukova, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, said she couldn’t comment on the case and referred The Moscow Times to the Investigative Committee. The Investigative Committee, in turn, did not respond to requests for comment.

On July 25, the retrial of the first case will begin. The Investigative Committee is currently researching the new charges, a process which could take months. The original charges carry up to 15 years in prison; the new charges up to 20.

This time, though, Anufriyev says Dmitriyev is better prepared. “After his last stint in prison, he now knows that we can fight and win this thing,” he said.

Klodt, too, is ready for the fight. “I’m not constantly hysterical like last time,” she said. “I understand that something needs to be done. I’m not giving up.”

His colleagues say they won’t give up either. When Dmitriyev was first arrested, human rights defenders, artists and writers across the country spoke out for him and wrote letters to Putin. Still, they are sober about the possible outcome.

“This is the atmosphere for us right now,” Krivenko said. He pointed to the case of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker accused of terrorism after he had refused to accept the annexation of Crimea, and Memorial colleague Oyub Titiyev, who is also in prison on charges widely believed to be fabricated.

“The only good thing from all this is that the president is showing us how it all happened in the 1930s — how people were blamed, how siloviki read signals from the top,” Krivenko said. “We used to study this in archives, now we see it in real life.”

During his short stint out of prison, Dmitriyev returned to work. Anatoly Razumov, a historian and one of Dmitriyev’s closest friends, stayed at his house from the night before the acquittal was overturned until June 19. The entire time, he says, Dmitriyev worked on a book he had to put off when he was first arrested.

In May, asked if he would return to his work or if he feared doing so would anger certain parties, Dmitriyev was unmoved. “If you’re afraid of wolves, you shouldn’t go into the forest,” he replied.


This article first appeared in The Moscow Times and is republished in a sharing partnership with the Barents Observer.

Frontline’s Guide to Secure Group Chat and Conferencing Tools

July 21, 2020

With teams increasingly working remotely during COVID-19, we are all facing questions regarding the security of our communication with one another: Which communication platform or tool is best to use? Which is the most secure for holding sensitive internal meetings? Which will have adequate features for online training sessions or remote courses without compromising the privacy and security of participants?

Front Line Defenders presents this simple overview which may help you choose the right tool for your specific needs.

FLD Secure Group Chat Flowchart

Download PDF of the flow chart

Note:

  • With end-to-end encryption (e2ee), your message gets encrypted before it leaves your device and only gets decrypted when it reaches the intended recipient’s device. Using e2ee is important if you plan to transmit sensitive communication, such as during internal team or partners meetings.
  • With encryption to-server, your message gets encrypted before it leaves your device, but is being decrypted on the server, processed, and encrypted again before being sent to recipient(s). Having encryption to-server is OK if you fully trust the server.

Why Zoom or other platforms/tools are not listed here: There are many platforms which can be used for group communication. In this guide we focused on those we think will deliver good user experiences and offer the best privacy and security features. Of course none of the platforms can offer 100% privacy or security as in all communications, there is a margin of risk. We have not included tools such as Zoom, Skype, Telegram etc. in this guide, as we believe that the margin of risk incurred whilst using them is too wide, and therefore Front Line Defenders does not feel comfortable recommending them.

Surveillance and behaviour: Some companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and others regularly collect, analyse and monetize information about users and their online activities. Most, if not all, of us are already profiled by these companies to some extent. If the communication is encrypted to-server owners of the platform may store this communication. Even with end-to-end encryption, communication practices such as location, time, whom you connect with, how often, etc. may still be stored. If you are uncomfortable with this data being collected, stored and shared, we recommended refraining from using services by those companies.

The level of protection of your call depends not only on which platform you choose, but also on the physical security of the space you and others on the call are in and the digital protection of the devices you and others use for the call.

See also:

Caution: Use of encryption is illegal in some countries. You should understand and consider the law in your country before deciding on using any of the tools mentioned in this guide.

Criteria for selecting the tools or platforms

Before selecting any communication platform, app or program it is always strongly recommended that you research it first. Below we list some important questions to consider:

  • Is the platform mature enough? How long has it been running for? Is it still being actively developed? Does it have a large community of active developers? How many active users does it have?
  • Does the platform provide encryption? Is it end-to-end encrypted or just to-server encrypted?
  • In which jurisdiction is the owner of the platform and where are servers located? Does this pose a potential challenge for your or your partners?
  • Does the platform allow for self-hosting?
  • Is the platform open source? Does it provide source code to anyone to inspect?
  • Was the platform independently audited? When was the last audit? What do experts say about the platform?
  • What is the history of the development and ownership of the platform? Have there been any security challenges? How have the owners and developers reacted to those challenges?
  • How do you connect with others? Do you need to provide phone number, email or nickname? Do you need to install a dedicated app/program? What will this app/program have access to on your device? Is it your address book, location, mic, camera, etc.?
  • What is stored on the server? What does the platform’s owner have access to?
  • Does the platform have features needed for the specific task/s you require?
  • Is the platform affordable? This needs to include potential subscription fees, learning and implementing, and possible IT support needed, hosting costs, etc.

The document then proceeds to give more detailed information related to each tool/service listed in this guide

Signal – https://signal.org/

Delta Chat – https://delta.chat/

Wire – https://wire.com/

Jitsi Meet – https://jitsi.org/jitsi-meet/

BigBlueButton – https://bigbluebutton.org/

Whereby – https://whereby.com

Blue Jeans – https://www.bluejeans.com/

GoToMeeting – https://www.gotomeeting.com/

Facetime / iMessage –https://www.apple.com/ios/facetime

Google Meet – https://meet.google.com/

Duo – https://duo.google.com/

WhatsApp – https://www.whatsapp.com/

Video calls, webinar or online training recommendations

Video calls recommendations: In the current situation you will undoubtedly find yourself organizing or participating in many more video calls than before. It may not be obvious to everyone how to do it securely and without exposing yourself and your data to too much risk:

  • Assume that when you connect to talk your camera and microphone may be turned on by default. Consider covering your camera with a sticker (making sure it doesn’t leave any sticky residue on the camera lens) and only remove it when you use the camera.
  • You may not want to give away too much information on your house, family pictures, notes on the walls or boards, etc. Be mindful of the background, who and what is also in the frame aside from yourself? Test before the call by, for example, opening meet.jit.si and click on GO button to get to a random empty room with your camera switched on to see what is in the picture. Consider clearing your background of clutter.
  • Also be mindful who can be heard in the background. Maybe close the door and windows, or alert those sharing your space about your meeting.
  • Video call services may collect information on your location and activity, consider using a VPN (see Physical, emotional and digital protection while using home as office in times of COVID-19 guide).
  • It is best to position your face so your eyes are more or less at the upper third of the picture without cutting off your head. Unless you do not want to reveal your face, do not sit with your back to a light or a window. Daylight or a lamp from the front is the best. Stay within the camera frame. You may want to look into the lens from time to time to make “eye contact” with others. If you are using your cellphone, rest it against a steady object (e.g. a pile of books) so that the video picture remains stable.
  • You may want to mute your microphone to prevent others hearing you typing notes or any background noise as it can be very distracting to others on the call.
  • If the internet connection is slow you may want to switch off your camera, pause other programs, mute the microphone and ask others to do same. You may also want to try sitting closer to the router, or connecting your computer directly to the router with an ethernet cable. If you share internet connection with others, you may ask them to reduce extensive use of internet for the duration of your call.
  • It it very tempting to multitask especially during group calls. But you may very soon realise that you are lost in the meeting and others may realize this.
  • If this is a new situation for you or you are using a new calling tool, you may want to give yourself a few extra minutes to learn and test it prior to the scheduled meeting to get familiar with options like turning on/off the camera and the microphone, etc.
  • If possible, prepare and test a backup communication plan in case you will have trouble connecting with others. For example, adding them to a Signal group so you can still text chat or troubleshoot problems on the call. Sometimes it helps to have an alternate browser installed on your computer or app on the phone to try connecting with those.

If you would like to organise a webinar or online training, you can use tools outlined above in the group communication. Some of best practices include:

  • Make sure that you know who is connected. If this is needed check the identities of all people participating by asking them to speak. Do not assume you know who is connected only by reading assigned names.
  • Agree on ground-rules, like keeping cameras on/off, keeping microphone on/off when one is not speaking, flagging when participants would like to speak, who will be chairing the meeting, who will take notes – where and how will those notes be written and then distributed, is it ok to take screenshots of a video call, is it ok to record the call, etc.
  • Agree on clear agendas and time schedules. If your webinar is longer than one hour, it is probably best to divide it into clear one-hour sessions separated by some time agreed with participants, so they have time to have a short break. Plan for the possibility that not all participants will return after a break. Have alternative methods to reach out to them to remind them to return, like Signal/Wire/DeltaChat contacts for them.
  • It is easiest to use a meeting service that participants connect to using a browser without a need to register or install a special program, one that also gives the webinar organiser the ability to mute microphones and close cameras of participants.
  • Prior to the call, check with all participants whether they have particular needs, such as if they are deaf or hard of hearing, if they are visually impaired or blind, or any other conditions which would affect their participation in the call. With this in mind, ensure that the selected platform will accommodate these needs and to be sure, test the platform beforehand. Simple measures can also improve inclusion and participation in your calls, such as turning on cameras when possible, as it can allow for lip-reading.
  • Encourage all participants to speak slowly and to avoid jargon where possible, as the working language of the call is most likely not everyone’s mother tongue language. Naturally, there will be moments of silences and pauses, embrace them. They can help to support understanding and can be helpful for participants who are hard of hearing, interpreters and will also aid assistive technology to pick up words correctly.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/guide-secure-group-chat-and-conferencing-tools

Annual Report 2019 of the Human Rights Foundation

July 14, 2020

Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, writes in the foreword that ‘since our launch 15 years ago, the Human Rights Foundation has created a global network of support for hundreds of the bravest and most influential dissidents in the world. These individuals dedicate their lives, often at great personal risk, to challenging authoritarian governments that violate the most basic rights of 4.18 billion people in 94 countries across the globe. In order to better serve these individuals and turn the tide toward a freer and more open world, we are challenging ourselves to significantly grow our reach and impact in 2020. .. the Human Rights Foundation exists to challenge tyranny and promote freedom in closed and closing societies. So how do we accomplish that?:

We engage in political prisoner legal advocacy

We educate a global audience through media and events that reach millions of people every month

We conduct research and analyses that change government policy across the world;

We produce high-impact reports and publications focusing on human rights and authoritarianism; and

We directly support individual activists and civil society organizations on the frontlines of democratic change

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/29/un-representative-in-south-korea-sees-balloon-actions-as-freedom-of-expression/

https://hrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2019-HRF-Annual-Report-digital.pdf

New EU Toolkit on Women Human Rights Defenders

July 8, 2020

On 7 July 2020 Front Line Defenders made public the toolkit on woman HRDs, a companion to the EU Guidelines of Human Rights Defenders (2004) which provide practical actions for EU staff in Brussels and in human rights defenders’ (HRDs) home countries to support and protect HRDs.

While useful, the Guidelines do not contain recommendations or actions that consider the varied experiences of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) with regard to gender, sexuality, race, class, family life, etc. This EU Toolkit on WHRDs provides practical steps for the EU to better meet the needs of WHRDs, from a gendered, intersectional perspective.

You can Download the EU Toolkit on WHRDs here.

As outlined in the UN Resolution on Women Human Rights Defenders, WHRDs experience violence in differentiated ways because of the work they do and who they are, as women. The UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs reports that “women defenders often face additional and different risks and obstacles that are gendered, intersectional and shaped by entrenched gender stereotypes and deeply held ideas and norms about who women are and how women should be.” In addition, there are many economic, social, cultural and geographical factors that affect how WHRDs experience violations. These factors include class, religion, age, language, sexual orientation, location, race and ethnicity. The UN calls all actors to develop specific gendered protection measures, and the inclusion of WHRDs in their design and implementation. The need for the toolkit has arisen because many protection measures are difficult to access for WHRDs as they face not only societal barriers to their work, but also in accessing the international community. The toolkit will help bridge that divide.

Following consultations with international WHRD networks, the EU Office of Front Line Defenders drafted a Toolkit for diplomats on how to address the specific protection needs of women human rights defenders at risk. It was presented to the EU Council Working Group on Human Rights, bringing together the EU institutions and diplomats from the 28 Member States, in Helsinki in October 2019, and shared again on occasion of the preparation of the Guidance Note for Delegations and Embassies by the EU Council Working Group on Human Rights. There are plans to have it tested in collaboration with WHRDs and diplomats in one or two countries per continent; the goal is to have this Toolkit adopted as an annex to the EU Guidelines on HRDs.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/eu-toolkit-whrds

Michel Forst about the security risks faced by Human Rights Defenders

July 7, 2020

Human rights defenders reconnect us to what makes the essence of humanity” says Michel Forst, the former UN Special Rapporteur in his foreword to the updated Guidelines on security and protection for grantees by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF).

Jalila, Mohamadou, Paulo and Lita are all human rights defenders who work in difficult areas. In forgotten places, where the State does not operate anymore or where conflicts rage on. They provide support to women victims of sexual violence; they advocate for transitional justice; they visit peaceful protesters who have been arbitrarily detained. They bring human rights to the darkest, most isolated places. They are the voices for those whose voices have been stolen. Each and every day these ordinary women and men brave countless risks to be close to those they defend. Because they defend human rights they are targeted by those who benefit from human rights violations. Each day they must reinvent themselves and their most trivial routines. Jalila turns her phone off while having discussions with other defenders; Lita makes sure she travels back home while the sun is still high; and Paulo frequently changes the passwords to his social media accounts. When traveling outside his village, Mohamadou leaves instructions for his family as preparation for the possibility of being arrested and taken to jail.

Each day these four defenders feel in their own minds and bodies what it means to defend human rights in complex settings and thousands of other human rights defenders face the same situation on the ground. They cannot depend on protection from the State or constant protection from their own communities, so they bear the heavy responsibility of protecting themselves, staying safe alone. Some are fortunate to have the support of their organizations and movements but must still practice self-protection. Sometimes this individual responsibility feels like a burden and can have lasting and severe consequences on their psychological, physical and social well-being.

Former Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, Michel Forst, with human rights defenders during a consultation on the situation in the MENA region (Photo: NHRF’s grantee partner, Gulf Centre for Human Rights).

In recent years, a number of initiatives across the globe have contributed to support defenders and to provide them with a set of concrete tools to mitigate risks. Defenders have been building solidarity networks and strategic alliances, they have developed risks analysis and digital security trainings. Women human rights defenders and indigenous communities have helped understand the necessity to develop collective and holistic approaches to security. Some States have developed laws and mechanisms to better protect defenders as a response to the current deterioration of the situation of HRDs. Over the past five years, I have heard and learnt about many good practices on protection, and I am pleased with the efforts of the NHRF to provide these guidelines as a resource to help identify and navigate these initiatives.

….Defenders often represent the last remaining hopes for those whose are left behind, who are excluded and despised by their societies. … it is imperative that we strengthen our support to these heroes. It is not only a matter of justice, it is for the sake of our common future, for our humanity. We must defend and stand and act in solidarity with these selfless, indomitable people.

Main photo: Mónica Orjuela/NHRF.

https://nhrf.no/article/2020/human-rights-defenders-reconnect-us-to-what-makes-the-essence-of-humanity-michel-forst

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/17/protection-internationals-next-e-learning-course-on-security-starts-19-february/

Good practice examples abound in new UN report on civil society

June 15, 2020

Participation, promotion and protection are the three watchwords that should guide the UN’s work on and with civil society, says a newly-released UN report.  Offering examples of good practice within the UN system -which provide a baseline for a new UN strategy on civil society- and a range of  recommendations, the report is timed to inform decision-making at the 44th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. 

On 31 May 2020 the ISHR discussed the new report of the UN on civil society: with countless recent examples of restrictive and repressive measures taken to silence or discredit civil society actors, the UN’s new report drawing together examples of some good practices across the UN, is timely. Re-stating the vital contribution of civil society actors, the report goes on to cite examples of good practices of UN entities engaging with and protecting civil society. The report recommendations – aimed at encouraging improvement across the UN system as well as by States – echo several which ISHR has consistently voiced .

ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw said that good practice examples to inspire reform by the UN and States were valuable: ‘In days where we’ve seen journalists being arrested in Minneapolis and an increasing number of defenders murdered in Colombia – as just two such examples – we need States and UN bodies to revise and strengthen their practice to ensure the voice of civil society is heard and safeguarded.’…

The report contains examples where discussion between different stakeholders has been formalized and where their input is part of the process from policy inception to implementation,’ noted Openshaw.

One such example is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), created by the UN General Assembly which styles itself as ‘a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners’. ‘This example of civil society having a seat at the table in recognition of the experience and expertise they bring to the issue makes more evident the lack of such opportunities in other spaces, particularly in human rights bodies,’ said Openshaw.

The report also highlights clear gaps. One of the key findings is the absence in 2/3 of UN mechanisms of means to contest restrictions on civil society participation or access to information. Whilst the report makes no explicit reference to Covid-19, having sought input prior to the onset of the pandemic, it does contain recommendations that speak to shifts in practice the pandemic has engendered.It notes how the impact of any modifications should be assessed to ensure civil society is not disadvantaged or disproportionately affected. This is one of several recommendations ISHR and other civil society have been making over time.

It’s great to see that the UN has reflected the recommendations of civil society groups such as ISHR, who have experience working with defenders and engaging with UN and regional organisations,’ noted Openshaw. ‘It’s but one example of civil society expertise adding value.’

The need for the UN to improve and make more consistent its work to promote, engage with and safeguard civil society has been a long-term call. The Secretary General made such a recommendation in his 2018 report on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and again in his recent Call to Action for Human Rights. This new UN report was as a result of the request made by the Human Rights Council in 2018

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-three-key-principles-should-guide-uns-work-civil-society-says-new-report

Along with the full report, the UN has produced a one-pager summarizing key report recommendations.