Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

TODAY: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women,

November 25, 2021

Women and girls everywhere continue to be subjected to multiple forms of gender-based violence, including femicide, online violence and domestic violence, UN and regional experts (for impressive list see below) said today. They call on States to exercise due diligence and to fight pushbacks on gender equality.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, they issue the following statement: [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]

“Although they represent more than half the world’s population, women and girls the world over are still at risk of being killed and subject to violence, intimidation and harassment when they speak out – for the simple fact of being women and girls. Violence against women and girls is the result of intersectional forms of social, political, economic, racial, caste and cultural discrimination perpetrated daily against women and girls in all of their diversity, including in the context of armed conflict, and States and the international community have the obligation mandated by international human rights law and standards to address this violence. Together, these forms of discrimination not only aggravate the intensity and frequency of violence but also sharpen the impunity that exists against it and increase societal and individual readiness to allow it.

Of particular concern is the fact that not only women and girls continue to be subjected to multiple manifestations of violence but that the spaces where this violence takes place have also multiplied. Nowhere is this more apparent than within online spaces, including social media. Governments, private companies and others may seek to hide their responsibilities behind the seemingly “borderless” nature of the internet. But human rights are universal and, as such, there is one human rights regime that protects the rights of women and girls offline as well as online, and that demands zero tolerance for violence against women and girls in the digital space. Violence against women and girls flourishes because those who seek to silence women and girls and facilitate their exploitation, abuse, maiming and killing are not firmly prevented from and held accountable for their actions.

It is unacceptable that in today’s world where humanity and life on this planet faces the existential threats of climate change and toxic pollution amidst a proliferation of conflict; the COVID-19 pandemic has killed at least 5 million people and infected at least 250 million worldwide in less than two years, also causing an increase in domestic violence against women, that women and girls are unable to participate fully in responding to these threats or in the search for solutions because they are discriminated, abused and continue to suffer violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and death on the basis of their sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. These global crises interact with and further deepen pre-existing inequalities as well as legal, institutional and policy gaps to eliminate gender-based violence against women and girls, which in many cases, worsen them. Indigenous women, internally displaced women, women with disabilities, lesbian and transgender women and women belonging to other vulnerable or marginalized groups are particularly affected by the failure of these policies to prevent such violence, as well as protect and assist survivors.

While a number of States, non-state actors and other stakeholders have stepped up their interventions and resource allocations to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women and girls, more effort in terms of both financial and non-financial interventions is needed to make these approaches truly transformative, particularly with regards to prevention, to avoid that policies remain ‘gender blind’, ‘gender exploitative’ or ‘race neutral’. Many of these policies do not disaggregate data based on social and racial constructs which discriminate, marginalize, exclude, and violate women and girls. These policies need to transform the prevailing social, economic and political systems that produce, nurture, and maintain gender inequality and drive violence against women and girls everywhere, through increased investment in their education and skills development, access to information, social services and financial resources, and support for positive representation and images in public discourse and social media. Collectively, they need to do more to challenge the patriarchal social norms and constructs of masculinity, femininity, racism and casteism that are based on extremely harmful stereotypes and which can cause psychological, physical, emotional and economical harm, including for women of colour, including those of African descent. These stereotypes pervade state institutions as evidenced by the lack of accountability for many cases before law enforcement and justice systems. States must also ensure access to comprehensive physical and mental care for survivors of gender-based violence, as part of the full range of quality sexual and reproductive health care that must be available for all.

Collective effort is required to stop the reversal of progress made in ending violence against women across the world and to counter the backlash against gender equality and the tenets of human rights-based legislation and governance. Those responsible for these regressive steps often begin by attempts to co-opt the justice system, change or issue new legislation and curtail fundamental rights and freedoms for women and girls, such as their freedom of thought, expression and association, their right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of thought and, in particular, their sexual and reproductive rights. All human rights are inalienable, interdependent and exist without a hierarchy, despite the efforts of some actors to sacrifice some of these rights at the expense of others, often in the name of their own cultural or religious norms and their particular perception of societal harmony.

Women and girls around the world need to be heard; their voices should not be silenced nor their experiences go unnoticed. Women will never gain their dignity until their human rights are protected. Women’s rights are human rights. Women and girls’ agency and participation in all processes that affect their rights and lives need to be promoted and protected at all costs. States should ensure and create an enabling environment for women to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and public participation free from intimidation and attacks. States must exercise their due diligence obligation and protect women human rights defenders, activists and women’s organizations who are regularly harassed, intimidated and subjected to violence for defending their rights and promoting equality. The level and frequency of violence against them should raise alarm bells everywhere. It is, and should be, a public policy and a human rights priority.

If we want to gauge the underlying health, security and prosperity of a society, we all need to address our duty to play a part in the respect and furtherance of women and girls’ rights. There will be no prosperity without ending violence against women and girls in the public as well as in the private sphere.

There will be no ending of violence against women and girls if we don’t recognize and protect the dignity, rights and security of women and girls everywhere and at all times.” ENDS

*The experts:

Platform of independent expert mechanisms on the elimination of discrimination and violence against women (EDVAW Platform): Reem Alsalem*, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; ****Melissa Upreti ****(Chair), **Dorothy Estrada Tanck **(Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and **Meskerem Geset Techane, ***Working Group on discrimination against women and girls*; ****Gladys Acosta Vargas, ***Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women;* Margarette May Macaulay******, ****Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights**; Iris Luarasi, President of the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence of the Council of Europe; Tatiana Rein Venegas**, President of the* Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention*; Maria Teresa Manuela, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa.*

Obiora Okafor*, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Vitit Muntarbhorn,*Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia*; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; **Victor Madrigal-Borloz, ***Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity*; ****Alioune Tine****, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali; **Sorcha MacLeod (Chair-Rapporteur), Jelena Aparac, Ravindran Daniel, Chris Kwaja, ***Working Group on the use of mercenaries*; Gerard Quinn****, ****Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities*; Livingstone Sewanyana*, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; ****Fionnuala Ní Aoláin****, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons;** Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; **Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Fernand de Varennes****, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic; **Nils Melzer, ***Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment*; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on debt, other international financial obligations and human rights; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation;****Elina Steinerte**** (Chair-Rapporteur), ****Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo**** (Vice-Chair), ****Ms. Leigh Toomey****, ****Mr. Mumba Malila****, ****Ms. Priya Gopalan****, Working Group on arbitrary detention;** Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Muluka Anne Miti-Drummond,Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association**; **Isha Dyfan, ***Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia* ; ****Luciano Hazan (****Chair-Rapporteur),**** Aua Balde ****(Vice-Chair),**** Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevicius**** and ****Tae-Ung Baik, ***Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances*; ****Alexandra Xanthaki, ***Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;* **Morris Tidball-Binz ***Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions*; Anais Marin, Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Surya Deva (Chairperson), Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Githu Muigai, Fernanda Hopenhaym, and Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on Business and Human Rights; David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Ms. Dominique Day (Chair), Ms. **Catherine S. Namakula (Vice-Chair), Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko,** Mr. Sushil Raj, Ms. Barbara G. Reynolds Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; **Irene Khan, ***Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

See also:

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/combating-violence-against-women-in-a-digital-age-utilising-the-istanbul-convention-grevio-general-recommendation-no-1-on-the-digital-dimension-of-vio

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/11/619e0ae14/refugee-women-lead-combating-gender-based-violence.html

“We Will Stop Femicide” winner of gender equality award 2021

November 23, 2021

On 23 November, 2021 urdupoint.com reported that the Turkish human rights Platform “We Will Stop Femicide” has received the international prize for gender equality (IGEP), the Finnish Cabinet said on Monday. For more on this and similar awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ef066ac0-e59c-11e7-8845-81361f38ae62

We Will Stop Femicide was founded in 2010 to provide legal help to Turkish women facing abuse at home. It has been chosen as the winner out of about 400 applicants.

We are proud to announce the winner of the #IGEP 2021, WE WILL STOP FEMICIDE PLATFORM, a non-governmental organization that does groundbreaking work combating violence against women in Turkey and whose work has a global relevance. Congratulations!” the award’s organizers posted on Twitter.

The prize was awarded in the Finnish city of Tampere to the founder of the organization, Gulsum Onal, by Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

“The work of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform includes decision meetings, educational activities, informative seminars, mass protests, and a variety of correspondence meetings. The association seeks to work with provincial and district assemblies to ensure gender equality nationwide in Turkey,” Marin said.

She further stressed the importance of a global effort to end violence against women and called on the international community to ensure protection of women‘s rights in all countries.

Nobel Peace Laureate Nadia Murad also attended the ceremony.

https://www.urdupoint.com/en/world/turkish-human-rights-activists-awarded-finnis-1407890.html

India arrests Khurram Parvez again

November 23, 2021

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India arrested on Monday, 22 November 2021 prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez after a day of extensive searches at his residence and office in Jammu and Kashmir capital Srinagar. He is an internationally recognized human rights defender, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/81468931-79AA-24FF-58F7-10351638AFE3

A family member told The Wire that Khurram’s residence in the city’s Sonawar locality was raided by NIA officials who were accompanied by local police and paramilitary troopers, on Monday morning. Another raid was carried out later in the day at his office in the Amira Kadal locality.

The raids were carried out in connection with a case (RC 30/2021) filed by the agency earlier this year.

Sources said the investigators confiscated Khurram’s mobile phone, laptop, some books and documents from his office and residence before taking him to the agency’s camp office in Srinagar’s Church Lane on Monday afternoon. “In the evening, we got a call to bring his clothes,” said a family member, adding that his wife and their son went to the office and handed his clothes to the officials there.

The NIA has not so far issued any statement on the arrest of Khurram, who is also the chairman of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. Sources said his family was handed the arrest memo on Monday evening and he is likely to be flown to New Delhi on Tuesday.

The United Nations said it was disturbed by the reports of Khurram’s arrest, “I’m hearing disturbing reports that  Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir & is at risk of being charged by authorities in #India with terrorism-related crimes. He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender,” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, tweeted. David Kaye, a former UN Special Rapporteur, said Khurram’s arrest under terrorism charges was “yet another extraordinary abuse in Kashmir.”

World Organisation Again Torture (OMCT), a Geneva based non-profit which works with groups across the world to fight for human rights, said it was “deeply concerned” by Khurram’s arrest, “We are deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody. We call for his immediate release,” OMCT said in a tweet.
One of the most prominent rights defenders from Kashmir, Khurram has extensively worked on documenting the abuses allegedly committed both by security forces and militants in Kashmir as coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a rights group based in Srinagar. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/human-rights-defender-khurram-parvez-reluctantly-released-in-india/

The JKCCS has published more than a dozen reports on human rights abuses in Kashmir and its last report, ‘Kashmir’s Internet Siege’ focused on the mass detentions and the reported breakdown of the judicial system in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/

Khurram’s last tweet on August 30 this year was about a programme organised by Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and its members countries across Asia who pledged “that truth will not be buried, disappeared won’t be ever forgotten & perpetrators will never be forgiven.”

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/prominent-human-rights-activist-arrested-by-india-s-top-anti-terrorism-agency/9b91bc37-0dd2-48d4-aedc-b020fb36ea54

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/valley-rights-activist-khurram-parvez-detained-by-nia/cid/1840157

https://thewire.in/rights/khurram-parvez-nia-arrest

https://www.reuters.com/world/india/un-criticises-disturbing-arrest-rights-activist-indian-kashmir-2021-11-23/

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/global-rights-bodies-call-for-release-of-kashmir-based-activist-khurram-parvez/article37640132.ece

The 3 nominees for the 2021 Tulip are known

November 22, 2021

The Netherlands ministry of foreign affairs sponsors since 2008 a human rights award, the Tulip [for more information on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144]

A committee of 5 human rights experts has selected a shortlist of 12 human rights defenders from among the nominees for 2021; since then an independent jury composed of 5 members has select 3 candidates from this shortlist. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will now choose a winner from the three remaining candidates:

Human rights activist and lawyer in Uganda

As a child, he grew up in the epicentre of a brutal war between the Lord Resistance Army and government forces. Today, working as a human rights lawyer, he is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. This is his story.

Nicholas Opiyo
Nicholas Opiyo.

As a human rights lawyer, Ugandan Nicholas Opiyo is not afraid to take on sensitive cases. He challenged the law that gave the police the right to ban public gatherings. He led the campaign for the enactment of a law criminalizing torture and drafted the initial bill that was enacted by parliament in 2012. He, alongside other brave Ugandan activists, successfully challenged Uganda’s anti-gay law in 2014. He has provided legal representation to the gay community in Uganda.

Nicholas is executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, an NGO that works to protect civil liberties and improve universal observance of human rights. He defends human rights activists who are being persecuted in Uganda. He also stands up for people who are in trouble with the government and lack the resources to defend themselves. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6743A94B-BA1A-AA2A-AC6C-592EBD981EDA

Surviving war

Nicholas grew up on the outskirts of the northern Ugandan city of Gulu. His village was repeatedly attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that used child soldiers. Unlike many young people abducted into the ranks of the rebels, he survived abductions.  The rebels kidnapped his father and sister, who managed to return after several months in captivity. To avoid being kidnapped, Nicholas walked several kilometres every day so he could sleep in the city. It was safer in a church compound or on the pavement in front of shops than in his village.

Government soldiers detained Nicholas’ father as part of an operation to eliminate traitors. The soldiers took all men 18 and older to a stadium where they were held for days without food. Looking through a crack in the stadium wall, Nicholas could see his father being beaten. Nicholas’ father was released after three days because he was innocent. Unable to forget these events, Nicholas decided to become a lawyer. ‘First I wanted to be a journalist so I could speak about [mistreatment],’ he said in an interview met Buzzfeed News. ‘But I thought … I can go to court and change things.’ 

Nicholas’ work often gets him in trouble with the state. He is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. In December 2020, in the run-up to the elections, he was arrested and imprisoned. Although he was charged with money laundering, the government presented no evidence. He spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in jail. Human rights activists see the charges against Nicholas as a way to hinder his work as a human rights lawyer. Even in jail, he used his time to talk to prisoners who sought advice. In fact, he says, his arrests give him the energy to do even more. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/23/ugandan-human-rights-defender-nicholas-opiyo-arrested-like-a-criminal/]

Nunca Más: they had to flee from Nicaragua, but their struggle continues

Banished from Nicaragua, a target of cyberattacks: despite all these setbacks, the activist collective Nunca Más is continuing to work for human rights in Nicaragua. This is their story.

Nunca Más
Nunca Más.

When Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua, his supporters said that there was no longer any reason for us to exist. That human rights work in Nicaragua was a thing of the past. But that can never happen! Anyone who exercises power is capable of abusing it.’ So said human rights defender Gonzalo Carrión Maradiaga in an interview with the Nicaraguan magazine Envío. For 14 years he had been legal adviser of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which combats impunity and human rights violations.

In December 2018 the Ortega government closed CENIDH by force. The human rights defenders on its staff were expelled from Nicaragua. Gonzalo and his colleagues fled to Costa Rica, where they continued their work and in 2019 founded Nicaragua Nunca Más. Nunca Más reports on torture and other human rights violations in Nicaragua, in the interests of justice and to discourage new violations. They offer legal and psychosocial support to victims and their family members, journalists and human rights defenders, and conduct human rights training courses. They also work at international level on behalf of victims of human rights violations. At the moment, justice cannot be sought through the Nicaraguan legal system, as it is under influence of the president. Nonetheless, gathering evidence is crucial to ensure justice for human rights violation in the future.   

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Under pressure

The Nicaraguan government have not been pleased with Nunca Más’ reports, and are subjecting the organisation to severe pressure. Its website has been the target of repeated cyberattacks. Extra digital security measures have enabled the collective to safeguard personal data and sensitive digital information. Despite these difficult conditions, including being forced to live far from their familiar surroundings, its human rights defenders are persisting bravely with their struggle. Gonzalo has not seen his wife or one of his daughters for 18 months. ‘But the time will come. One day I’ll go back,’ he said resolutely in the interview with Envío.

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Mari Davtyan, lawyer in Russia, opposes domestic violence

The Russian police do not always respond to domestic violence complaints. Sometimes their failure to act has fatal results. Lawyer Mari Davtyan has been working for years now to change this situation. This is her story.

Mari Davtyan
Mari Davtyan.

In December 2017 Margarita Gracheva’s husband chopped her hands off with an axe. She had asked the police for help several times in the preceding months – in vain. Mari Davtyan was Margarita’s lawyer. Now Mari is working on the case of three teenage sisters who killed their father on 28 July 2018, when they could no longer bear his many years of physical and sexual abuse. Their mother had reported the violence to the police, but was ignored. Domestic violence is seen in Russia as a ‘family issue’, and outside interference is viewed as meddling, Mari noted in an interview with Voice of America. Mari’s strong defence for the teenage sisters has sparked a debate in Russian society on domestic violence and conservative family values.

Since 2017 domestic violence is no longer a serious offence in Russia, but a misdemeanour. Perpetrators are fined, have to do community service or are served with a training order. They are only taken to court in cases of repeated violence or serious injuries. This law is meant to preserve the ‘unity of the family’; according to this logic, fathers don’t belong in jail. Mari has been fighting for years now to change this law, ‘because it has been proven dangerous for the safety of thousands of women in Russia’, Mari said in an interview with Marina Pisklakova-Parker of the Anna Center in Moskou. Fighting and winning cases like this has ‘helped the government understand that we are not dealing with violence in the right way,’ said Mari in an interview with the Washington Post. Growing numbers of people are putting pressure on the courts and government to reflect on how they are treating victims.

Mari is also the head and legal expert of the Consortium of Women’s NGOs, which works to protect victims of domestic violence in Russia. The organisation gives courses on women’s rights to lawyers and the police and helps victims with their legal cases. ‘We have more than 100 lawyers working with us today, this year we have more than 150 cases, and I think about 1,000 consultations with individual women,’ said Mari in an interview with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). She sees that women are becoming more confident and more often have the courage to seek her out. ‘They are finding the power to ask for help and they’re starting to understand what a healthy relationship should look like,’ she said in her interview with Voice of America.  

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/weblog

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/human-rights-tulip/shortlist-of-candidates-for-human-rights-tulip-2021

Magnitsky Human Rights Award 2021 to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

November 21, 2021

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has won an award in London for her bravery, as her detention in Iran continues. The West Hampstead mother received the Courage Under Fire prize at this year’s Magnitsky Human Rights Awards. For more on this award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/48a2fd20-eb63-11e8-a208-f9dcc4e84560

Redress, an NGO campaigning for the return of Nazanin, says the award “recognises the injustice Nazanin has suffered as a pawn of international diplomacy”.

It comes after ended his second hunger strike, this time for 21 days, to try and break the political impasse to bring Nazanin home.  

Nazanin was very pleased to hear of this award, for herself but also for all the others detained in Iran that you don’t get to hear about,” her husband Richard Ratcliffe said. The Iranian regime gets away with terrible crimes that thrive in darkness where accountability should be.” 

He added: “All our family are very proud of this award.”

Since Richard’s hunger strike, Boris Johnson has said it is “worth considering” paying a £400m historic debt to Iran by sending a plane full of cash to Tehran.

Nazanin, 43, mother of a seven-year-old girl, was arrested in Tehran in 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government – charges always denied and widely refuted. 

William Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, said: “Nobody should ever be put in a situation like this, but in spite of the pressure, she has proven how powerful she can be even in the most powerless situation.  Her hostage takers should understand that their crimes won’t go unpunished.” 

Accepting the “courage under fire” award on her behalf at the event in London on Thursday evening, Gabriella read her mother’s words.

https://www.impartialreporter.com/news/national/19727498.nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffes-daughter-makes-award-speech-behalf/

https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-wins-bravery-award-8500754

Greece’s mistaken deterrence: migrants and aid workers facing heavy prison sentences

November 17, 2021
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

A post by Marion MacGregor published on 15 November 2021in ‘Infomigrants’ brings out an awful truth which I have to face up to even though Greece is my adopted country. In the face of Turkey ‘weaponsing’ migrants, it is trying its hands at deterrence in the hope that it will diminish the pressure of inflows

Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those migrants who ended up being marked as migrant smugglers.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad is in prison, he says, because of something he was forced to do. The Somali is serving an impossibly long sentence of 142 years (!) after he was convicted last December for driving an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants to Greece. He says that he didn’t have a choice, because the smuggler hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun before abandoning the boat in rough seas. As 28-year-old Mohammad told journalists and members of the European Parliament who visited the prison last week, he “didn’t think saving people is a crime.”

In the same prison on the Greek island of Chios two men from Afghanistan, Amir Zaheri and Akif Rasouli, both in their 20s, are also serving sentences of 50 years for similar criminal offences. The men’s convictions and staggering prison terms show how far Greece is ready to go in order to stop migrants in their tracks.

On the day the smuggler abandoned them at sea between Turkey and Greece, Mohammad and nearly three dozen other migrants were only concerned about their lives. Mohammad says that he called the Turkish coast guard repeatedly, begging to be rescued. But when it arrived, the Turkish patrol boat circled the migrants’ dinghy sending water into the boat and gradually pushing it toward Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned, AP reports.

The survivors were finally rescued by the Greek coast guard, and Mohammad helped others onto the rescue boat. He admitted to having driven the boat after the smuggler left. It didn’t cross his mind that would lead to him being prosecuted as a smuggler.

It’s not possible that someone who comes to claim asylum in Greece is threatened with such heavy sentences simply because they were forced, by circumstances or pressure, to take over handling a boat,” one of the lawyers representing the three imprisoned in Chios, Alexandros Georgoulis, told AP. Greek authorities, he said, “are essentially baptizing the smuggled as the smuggler.”

From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland
From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland

Greek authorities have also accused aid workers and volunteers helping migrants in Greece of serious crimes. In one widely publicized case, the Syrian human rights worker Sara Mardini, a refugee herself, and an Irish volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering, human trafficking and other offenses. Due to face trial on the island of Lesbos alongside 22 other civil society activists later this week, Binder says he is “terrified.”

I’ve had a taste of life in prison on Chios. It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell,” Binder told The Guardian. “The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a campaigner with an Amnesty International group which plans to monitor the trial in Greece, says that this is not only happening there. “Human rights defenders across Europe are being criminalized … for helping refugees and migrants,” he told The Guardian. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/mary-lawlor-condemns-criminalization-of-those-saving-lives-in-the-mediterranean/

AP reports that, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and legal proceedings since 2016 against private entities involved in search and rescue.

I think it’s important to challenge these in the courts, to not at all sit back and accept that we should be cast as smugglers or spies because I offered CPR, (or) more often than not just a smile, to someone in distress,” Binder told the news agency. “It is preposterous that we should be cast as criminals. I don’t accept it….It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t deserve to drown in the sea.

Binder told The Guardian that he has not bought a return ticket to the UK, where he has been studying. He and Mardini face a maximum eight-year sentence, convertible into a fine. They are still under investigation for offences which could carry 25-year sentences if they are convicted.

In my view, the problem can only be tackled in a European context [see e.g. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration-and-integration_en%5D but it seems most member states cling to outdated notion of sovereignty.

Not directly related but possibly relevant is recent legislation in Greece, adopted on November 11, 2021, that makes it a criminal offence to spread “fake news.” Human Rights Watch said that the Greek government should immediately move to revoke the provision, which is incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom. “In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out on important issues of public interest, if the government claims it’s false,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The criminal sanctions risk making journalists and virtually anyone else afraid to report on or to debate important issues such as the handling of Covid-19 or migration or government economic policy.

While the trial began Thursday, it was almost immediately suspended. The court’s decision to adjourn, said 27-year-old Binder, a diver and German national, “is further proof of the absurdity of this case.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/11/18/drop-charges-greece-delays-trial-humanitarians-who-aided-refugees-sea

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/36487/greece-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-decades-in-prison

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-aid-worker-faces-trial-in-greece-41058865.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/17/greece-alleged-fake-news-made-crime

https://reliefweb.int/report/greece/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un-expert

https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/11/19/trial-of-aid-workers-in-greece-is-adjourned-amid-protests_5de29280-fde8-4c77-b7c2-ef878c497157.html

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja goes on hunger strike after ban on family calls

November 17, 2021

Jailed Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has started a hunger strike after being informed that he has been banned from receiving calls from family, his daughter Zaynab said on Tuesday 16 November 2021.

My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has started a hunger strike today. The prison administration informed him that he is not allowed to make any calls. Having had no visitation rights for the past two years, these calls were his only communication with us,” Zaynab al-Khawaja wrote on Twitter.

Khawaja, who turned 60 in April, is a prominent human rights defender and the former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. He has been in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4d45e316-c636-4d02-852d-7bfc2b08b78d

His case was one of the first high-profile arrests following the beginning of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that sparked a widespread government crackdown in Bahrain. Tens of thousands of people poured out onto the streets at the time, calling for democratic reforms, an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim population and, eventually, the end of the 245-year rule of the Khalifa monarchy.

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, has called for the release of Khawaja on his 60th birthday, but her calls have been unheeded. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/24/martin-ennals-award-laureates-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-their-imprisoned-fellow-award-winners/

“He’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others,” Lawlor said.  

Earlier this year, Khawaja’s other daughter, Maryam, told Middle East Eye that his family’s access to him had been sporadic.

You can never expect what’s going to happen; you might have a call this week but then next week there isn’t a call. So nothing is ever set in stone,” she said during an interview in February.

Maryam has herself become one of the most prominent voices internationally for the Bahraini democracy movement. It’s a profile that has forced her to live in exile due to a sentence she received in absentia for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

What we see today is what you could call a stalemate, but it goes beyond that because it’s a situation that cannot continue the way that is it. There is absolute control over everything with regards to public space, access to freedoms and so on,” she said at the time.

A report compiled in February by the London-based campaign group Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy for the 10th anniversary of the uprising said that, since 2011, at least 51 people had been sentenced to death in Bahrain.

According to the report, mass trials have become “commonplace” in the country, with 167 people sentenced in a single day in February 2019. Hundreds of activists have seen their citizenship stripped by the kingdom, with an estimated 300 currently denaturalised.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/bahrain-jailed-activist-abdulhadi-khawaja-hunger-strike-ban-family-calls

Poetry Challenge for Human Rights Defenders

November 16, 2021

Protection International, ProtectDefenders.eu and the Centre for Applied Human Rights of the University of York have been promoting a Human Rights Defenders Poetry Challenge:

This poetry challenge is for all activists and artists irrespective of previous experience with this form of art. As the global pandemic continues, we’d like to encourage those that work in support of human rights to take a moment to reflect on the past year, take a break from the current context in which we are situated and ponder about where we should be go from here.

We are accepting poetry of all styles (haiku, slam poems, free verse, limericks, etc.) and multimedia submissions are also welcome. Poems can be submitted in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swahili and Thai, and the top poems in each language will be published in a digital booklet. The top three poems overall will win a cash prize, the authors be granted free access to our e-learning course on preventative protection and security and they will also be invited to a virtual poetry reading with key stakeholders and celebrity guests. The Poetry Challenge is completely free to participate, with no submission or entry fees.

More detailed information about the poetry challenge can be found on Protection International’s website or within our sharable explainer document (available in all Poetry Challenge languages).

We have also prepared a social media kit including draft posts and graphics in multiple languages.

Contact Meredith Veit (meredith.veit@protectioninternational.org) or Tommaso Ripani (tommaso.ripani@protectioninternational.org) if you have any questions!

Deadline for submissions: 30 November 2021

Lawlor calls on Kyrgyzstan to stop harassment of human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev

November 12, 2021

Kyrgyzstan must investigate death threats against human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev instead of harassing him for making complaints against the police, said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders “It is extremely disturbing that authorities began laying criminal charges against Mr. Ruziev after he exposed police torture and ineffectiveness, when they should actually be investigating the death threats made against him,”

As director of the non-governmental human rights organisation Ventus, Ruziev defends victims of torture, domestic violence, and discrimination. In 2019, a police investigator, whom Ruziev exposed for committing torture, reportedly threatened to kill him. When the State Committee for National Security and the Prosecutor’s Office failed to investigate the threats, Ruziev took them to court, only to find himself facing seven criminal charges.

“Kyrgyz authorities must give Mr. Ruziev a fair trial and effectively investigate all allegations of threats and ill-treatment against him and other human rights defenders,” she said. The next hearing on Mr. Ruziev’s case will be on 11 November 2021.

Lawlor said she was also disturbed by reports that Mr. Ruziev was ill-treated while held in detention for 48 hours in May 2020, and denied access to his lawyer.

“Now I hear that his health is deteriorating, and complaints to the authorities about violations committed against him continue to fall on deaf ears,” she added.

In a report to the Human Rights Council earlier this year on threats and killings of human rights defenders, Lawlor warned: “when a human rights defender receives death threats, swift action must be taken to prevent the threats from escalating. Impunity fuels more murders.”

Lawlor is in contact with the authorities of Kyrgyzstan on this issue, and stressed that “Kyrgyzstan must do better to safeguard the environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work.”

Her call was endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

https://www.miragenews.com/investigate-death-threats-against-human-rights-664761/

It had to happen: Russian Authorities Move to Shut Down Memorial

November 12, 2021
On the night before the infamous “foreign agents” law came into force back in 2012, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ♥ USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial. 
On the night before the infamous “foreign agents” law came into force back in 2012, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ♥ USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial.  © 2012 Yulia Klimova/Memorial

On 12 November 2021Tanya Lokshina, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division Human RightsWatch, reported that the Russian authorities have moved to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent rights organization, an outrageous assault on the jugular of Russia’s civil society.

Memorial, which defends human rights, works to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and provides a platform for open debate, has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society.[ the winners of not less than 7 human rights awards, see : https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BD12D9CE-37AA-7A35-9A32-F37A0EA8C407]

On November 11, International Memorial received a letter from Russia’s Supreme Court stating that the Prosecutor General’s Office had filed a law suit seeking their liquidation over repeated violations of the country’s legislation on “foreign agents.”

A court date to hear the prosecutor’s case is set for November 25. According to Memorial, the alleged violations pertain to repeated fines against the organization for failure to mark some of its materials — including event announcements and social media posts — with the toxic and false “foreign agent” label, one of the pernicious requirements of the “foreign agents” law.

On November 12, Memorial Human Rights Center received information from the Moscow City Court that the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office filed a similar suit against them and a court hearing was pending.  

For nearly a decade, Russian authorities have used the repressive legislation on “foreign agents” to restrict space for civic activity and penalize critics, including human rights groups. Last year parliament adopted new laws harshening the “foreign agent” law and expanding it in ways that could apply to just about any public critic or activist. The amendments were but a fraction of a slew of repressive laws adopted in the past year aimed at shutting down criticism and debate. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/foreign-agent-law/

The number of groups and individuals authorities have designated as “foreign agents” has soared in recent months. This week the Justice Ministry included on the foreign agent registry the Russian LGBT Network, one of Russia’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights groups, which had worked to evacuate dozens of LGBT people from Chechnya. The ministry also listed Ivan Pavlov, a leading human rights lawyer, and four of his colleagues, as “foreign agent-foreign media.” See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/ngo-lgbt-network-and-5-human-rights-lawyers-branded-foreign-agents-in-russia/

Even against this backdrop, to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s human rights giants, is a new Rubicon crossed in the government’s campaign to stifle independent voices.

This move against Memorial is a political act of retaliation against human rights defenders. Russian authorities should withdraw the suits against Memorial immediately, and heed a long-standing call to repeal the legislation on “foreign agents” and end their crackdown on independent groups and activists.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/12/russian-authorities-move-shut-down-human-rights-giant#

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/11/17/memory-and-memorial-will-prevail-a75588