Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

China-EU deal – what about human rights?

January 6, 2021

A long-awaited deal, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment includes provisions for settling disputes and outlines clear rules against the forced transfer of technologies — a practice in which a government requires foreign investors to share their technology in exchange for market access.

The EU previously said the agreement should increase the transparency of Chinese state subsidies and make sustainable development a key element of the relationship between the two trading blocs.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said “both sides had made tremendous efforts” at a press conference following Wednesday’s meeting and that they had “overcome difficulties” to conclude talks. It said the deal focuses on institutional opening up with market access as the key principle of the deal, which will mean more investment opportunities for businesses on both sides and “a better business environment”.

But the EU expressed concerns about “the restrictions on freedom of expression, on access to information, and intimidation and surveillance of journalists, as well as detentions, trials and sentencing of human rights defenders, lawyers, and intellectuals in China.” The EU’s diplomatic agency, the European External Action Service, has called for the immediate release of Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak in China and has been sentenced to four years in prison.

The issue of human rights could prove to be a sticking point for the deal clearing the EU Parliament, with critics drawing attention to reports of forced labour in some regions of China.

The stories coming out of Xinjiang are pure horror. The story in Brussels is we’re ready to sign an investment treaty with China,” Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian MEP for Renew Europe, said on Twitter. “Under these circumstances, any Chinese signature on human rights is not worth the paper it is written on”.

There could also be friction with the new US President-elect Joe Biden and his administration, as just weeks ago the EU proposed a trans-Atlantic dialogue to address “the strategic challenge presented by China’s growing international assertiveness.”

Amid concerns about the human rights situation in China, the EU said the seven-year-long negotiations were concluded in “principle” during a video conference involving Mr Xi, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel. German chancellor Angela Merkel – whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU – and French president Emmanuel Macron also took part in the discussions with the Chinese president, the EU said. Macron highlighted the “concerns” of EU countries regarding human rights and called for the “closure of internment camps”, according to the speech given by his office. He also pleaded in favor of “measures to ban forced labor” and called for “a visit of independent United Nations experts”.

According to the EU, the deal was negotiated after China pledged to continue ratifying the International Labor Organization’s rules on forced labor. “We are open for business but we are attached to reciprocity, level playing field and values,” Ms von der Leyen said.

French president Emmanuel Macron attends an EU-China video conference along with Chinese president Xi Jinping, German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and president of the European Council Charles Michel, at the Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France
French president Emmanuel Macron attends an EU-China video conference at the Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France (Sebastien Nogier, Pool via AP)

The video conference launches a ratification process that will take several months. To enter into force, the agreement will need to be ratified by the European Parliament, and the issue of human rights could be a sticking point.

https://www.chesterstandard.co.uk/news/national-news/18976931.leaders-eu-china-seal-long-awaited-investment-deal/

https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/30/eu-and-china-set-to-sign-historic-investment-deal-but-could-human-rights-concerns-scupper-

What to do about global spyware abuse?

January 6, 2021

Mohamed EL Bashir, a Public Policy & Internet Governance Strategist, wrote a lengthy but informative piece about the persistent problem of commercial spyware Abuse: “Reshaping Cyberspace: Beyond the Emerging Online Mercenaries and the Aftermath of SolarWinds“, in CircleID 5 January 2021.

The piece starts of with some concrete cases such as Ahmed Mansoor [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/] and Rafael Cabrera, [see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/world/americas/mexico-pena-nieto-spying-hacking-surveillance.html]. In 2018, a close confidant of Jamal Khashoggi was targeted in Canada by a fake package notification, resulting in the infection of his iPhone.

..Citizen Lab has tracked and documented more than two dozen cases using similar intrusion and spyware techniques. We don’t know the number of victims or their stories, as not all vectors are publicly known. Once spyware is implanted, it provides a command and control (C&C) server with regular, scheduled updates designed to avoid extensive bandwidth consumption. Those tools are created to be stealthy and evade forensic analysis, avoid detection by antivirus software, and can be deactivated and removed by operators.

Once successfully implanted on a victim’s phone using an exploit chain like the Trident, spyware can actively record or passively gather a variety of different data about the device. By providing full access to the phone’s files, messages, microphone, and video camera, the operator can turn the device into a silent digital spy in the target’s pocket.

These attacks and many others that are unreported show that spyware tools and the intrusion business have a significant abuse potential and that bad actors or governments can’t resist the temptation to use such tools against political opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders. Due to the lack of operational due-diligence of spyware companies, these companies don’t consider the impact of the use of their tools on the civilian population nor comply with human rights policies. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/20/the-ups-and-downs-in-sueing-the-nso-group/]

The growing privatization of cybersecurity attacks arises through a new generation of private companies, aka online mercenaries. This phenomenon has reached the point where it has acquired its own acronym, PSOAs, for the private sector offensive actors. This harmful industry is quickly growing to become a multi-billion dollar global technology market. These newly emerging companies provide nation-states and bad actors the option to buy the tools necessary for launching sophisticated cyberattacks. This adds another significant element to the cybersecurity threat landscape.

These companies claim that they have strict controls over how their spyware is sold and used and have robust company oversight mechanisms to prevent abuse. However, the media and security research groups have consistently presented a different and more troubling picture of abuse…

The growing abuse of surveillance technology by authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records is becoming a disturbing new, globally emerging trend. The use of these harmful tools has drawn attention to how the availability and abuse of highly intrusive surveillance technology shrink already limited cyberspace in which vulnerable people can express their views without facing repercussions such as imprisonment, torture, or killing.

Solving this global problem will not be easy nor simple and will require a strong coalition of multi-stakeholders, including governments, civil society, and the private sector, to reign in what is now a “Wild West” of unmitigated abuse in cyberspace. With powerful surveillance and intrusion technology roaming free without restrictions, there is nowhere to hide, and no one will be safe from those who wish to cause harm online or offline. Not acting urgently by banning or restricting the use of these tools will threaten democracy, rule of law, and human rights worldwide.

On December 7, 2020, the US National Security Agency issued a cybersecurity advisory warning that “Russian State-sponsored actors” were exploiting a vulnerability in the digital workspace software developed by VMware (VMware®1Access and VMware Identity Manager2 products) using compromised credentials.

The next day, on December 8, the cybersecurity firm FireEye announced the theft of its “Red Team” tools that it uses to identify vulnerabilities in its customers’ systems. Several prominent media organizations reported an ongoing software supply-chain attack against SolarWinds, the company whose products are used by over 300,000 corporate and government customers — including most of the Fortune 500 companies, Los Alamos National Laboratory (which has nuclear weapons responsibilities), and Boeing.

A malware called SUNBURST infected SolarWind’s customers’ systems when they updated the company’s Orion software.

On December 30, 2020, Reuters reported that the hacking group behind the SolarWinds compromise was able to break into Microsoft Corp and access some of its source code. This new development sent a worrying signal about the cyberattack’s ambition and intentions.

Microsoft president Brad Smith said the cyber assault was effectively an attack on the US, its government, and other critical institutions, and demonstrated how dangerous the cyberspace landscape had become.

Based on telemetry gathered from Microsoft’s Defender antivirus software, Smith said the nature of the attack and the breadth of the supply chain vulnerability was very clear to see. He said Microsoft has now identified at least 40 of its customers that the group targeted and compromised, most of which are understood to be based in the US, but Microsoft’s work has also uncovered victims in Belgium, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Spain, the UAE, and the UK, including government agencies, NGOs, and cybersecurity and technology firms.

Although the ongoing operation appears to be for intelligence gathering, no reported damage has resulted from the attacks until the publishing date of this article. This is not “espionage as usual.” It created a serious technological vulnerability in the supply chain. It has also shaken the trust and reliability of the world’s most advanced critical infrastructure to advance one nation’s intelligence agency.

As expected, the Kremlin has denied any role in recent cyberattacks on the United States. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the American accusations that Russia was behind a major security breach lacked evidence. The Russian denial raised the question of a gap of accountability in attributing cyberspace attacks to a nation-state or specific actor. Determining who is to blame in a cyberattack is a significant challenge, as cyberspace is intrinsically different from the kinetic one. There is no physical activity to observe, and technological advancements have allowed perpetrators to be harder to track and to remain seemingly anonymous when conducting the attack (Brantly, 2016).

To achieve a legitimate attribution, it is not enough to identify the suspects, i.e., the actual persons involved in the cyberattacks but also be able to determine if the cyberattacks had a motive which can be political or economic and whether the actors were supported by a government or a non-state actor, with enough evidence to support diplomatic, military, or legal options.

A recognized attribution can enhance accountability in cyberspace and deter bad actors from launching cyberattacks, especially on civilian infrastructures like transportation systems, hospitals, power grids, schools, and civil society organizations.

According to the United Nation’s responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts article 2, to constitute an “internationally wrongful act,” a cyber operation generally must be 1) attributable to a state and 2) breach an obligation owed another state. It is also unfortunate that state-sponsored cyberattacks violate international law principles of necessity and proportionality.

Governments need to consider a multi-stakeholder approach to help resolve the accountability gap in cyberspace. Some states continue to believe that ensuring international security and stability in cyberspace or cyberpeace is exclusively the responsibility of states. In practice, cyberspace is designed, deployed, and managed primarily by non-state actors, like tech companies, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), standards organizations, and research institutions. It is important to engage them in efforts to ensure the stability of cyberspace.

I will name two examples of multi-stakeholder initiatives to secure cyberspace: the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), which consisted of 28 commissioners from 16 countries, including government officials, has developed principles and norms that can be adopted by states to ensure stable and secure cyberspace. For example, it requested states and non-state actors to not pursue, support, or allow cyber operations intended to disrupt the technical infrastructure essential to elections, referenda, or plebiscites.

Cyberpeace Institute is a newly established global NGO that was one-year-old in December 2020 but has the important goal of protecting the most vulnerable and achieve peace and justice in cyberspace. The institute started its operations by focusing on the healthcare industry, which was under attack daily during the COVID 19 pandemic. As those cyberattacks were a direct threat to human life, the institute called upon governments to stop cyber operations against medical facilities and protect healthcare.

I believe that there is an opportunity for the states to forge agreements to curb cyberattacks on civilian and private sector infrastructure and to define what those boundaries and redlines should be.

SolarWinds and the recent attacks on healthcare facilities are important milestones as they offer a live example of the paramount risks associated with a completely unchecked and unregulated cyberspace environment. But it will only prove to be a moment of true and more fundamental reckoning if many of us, governments, and different multi-stakeholders played a part, each in their respective roles, in capitalizing and focusing on those recent events by forcing legal, technological, and institutional reform and real change in cyberspace.

The effects of the Solarwinds attack will not only impact US government agencies but businesses and civilians that are currently less secure online. Bad actors are becoming more aggressive, bold, reckless and continue to cross the red lines we considered as norms in cyberspace.

Vulnerable civilians are the targets of the intrusion tools and spyware in a new cyberspace wild west landscape. Clearly, additional legal and regulatory scrutiny is required of private-sector offensive actors or PSOAs. If PSOA companies are unwilling to recognize the role that their products play in undermining human rights or address these urgent concerns, then, in this case, intervention by governments and other stakeholders is needed. 

We no longer have the privilege of ignoring the growing impact of cyberattacks on international law, geopolitics, and civilians. We need a strong and global cybersecurity response. What is required is a multi-stakeholders’ courageous agenda that redefines historical assumptions and biases about the possibility of establishing new laws and norms that can govern cyberspace.

Changes and reforms are achievable if there is will. The Snowden revelations and the outcry that followed resulted not only in massive changes to the domestic regulation of US foreign intelligence, but they also shaped changes at the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the UN. The Human Rights Committee also helped spur the creation of a new UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy based in Geneva.

The new cyberspace laws, rules, and norms require a multi-stakeholder dialogue process that involves participants from tech companies, academia, civil society, and international law in global discussions that can be facilitated by governments or supported by a specialized international intergovernmental organization.

Sources and References:

http://www.circleid.com/posts/20210105-reshaping-cyberspace-beyond-the-emerging-online-mercenaries/

New Year, New Charges against Thai Protesters – the Lese-majesty law in Thailand

January 4, 2021

Thai authorities on 1 January 2021 made their 38th arrest of a pro-democracy activist in recent weeks under the country’s tough lèse majesté law as authorities crack down on the country’s unprecedented protest movement. That law, Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, forbids defamation of the king and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations.The law had been dormant since King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King  Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. The Thai government, though, is now using it to try to stamp out continuing protests calling for the government to resign, a new constitution and reform of the monarchy

Thailand’s authorities must stop targeting pro-democracy protesters with draconian legal action and instead enter into dialogue, according to the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly, who warned the country risks sliding into violence. Clément Voule said he had written to the Thai government to express alarm at the use of the fierce lese-majesty law against dozens of protesters, including students as young as 16.

It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said of the protests. “Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.

So far, 37 people face charges of insulting the monarchy for alleged offences ranging from wearing traditional dress deemed to be a parody of the royals to giving speeches arguing that the power and wealth of the king should be curbed.

Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok.
Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

Prominent protest leaders face an unusually high number of charges. This includes the student activists Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, (12 charges) and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (six charges) and the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa (eight charges), who have given speeches calling for the power of the royals to be curbed.

The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura
The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura speaks from a stage outside Bang Khen police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Protesters – who have faced various other charges over recent months, including sedition – declined to participate in a government reconciliation panel in November, rejecting it as an attempt to buy time. The recent cases come after months of demonstrations in which protesters have made unusually frank and public calls for reform to the monarchy.

Benja Apan, 21, one of 13 people facing charges over a demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok, said legal action was unlikely to deter protesters from coming out in the new year. “I actually think it will bring more people out, because it is not fair,” she said.

The human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to drop charges pressed on a number of activists for their role in the pro-democracy movement and to repeal, or at least amend, Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law. According to the campaign, at least 220 people, including minors, face criminal charges for relating to their actions in the pro-democracy movement. Activists are calling on government and monarchy reform, raising issues considered taboo and unprecedented in Thai society. Thailand must amend or repeal the repressive laws it is using to suppress peaceful assembly and the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.

Amnesty International is calling on people to take action and send a letter to the prime minister, calling on the Thai government to change their approach when handing the ongoing protests to protect human rights. Sample letter by AI’s campaign calls on Prayut to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all criminal proceedings against protesters and others charged solely for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
  • Cease all other measures, including harassment, aimed at dissuading public participation in peaceful gatherings or silencing voices critical of the government and social issues
  • Amend or repeal legislation in order to ensure it conforms with Thailand’s international human rights obligations on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and to train state officials to carry out their duties confirming to Thailand’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

On Saturday 19 December 2020 Maya Taylor in The Thaiger had already reported that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has expressed shock and dismay at Thailand’s use of its strict lèse majesté law against a 16 year old pro-democracy activist. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani has called on Thailand to refrain from using the law against those exercising their right to freedom of speech, as she expressed alarm that a minor was being charged under the law. “It is extremely disappointing that after a period of 2 years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and – shockingly – now also against a minor. We also remain concerned that other serious criminal charges are being filed against protesters engaged in peaceful protests in recent months, including charges of sedition and offences under the Computer Crime Act. Again, such charges have been filed against a minor, among others.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that detention of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression or other human rights constitutes arbitrary arrest or detention. We also urge the government to amend the lèse majesté law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR on the right to freedom of expression.”

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has played down the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ criticisms over the kingdom’s enforcement of the Lese Majeste law.

See also in 2019: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/thailand-amnesty-and-un-rapporteur-agree-on-misuse-of-lese-majeste/

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/pro-democracy-movement-making-little-headway-monarchys-powers-remain-untouched

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/27/un-thailand-protesters-royal-insult-law-lese-majesty

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/new-year-new-charges-thai-protesters-slapped-royal-defamation-charges

We start 2021 with a long-read about Non-violence and PBI

January 4, 2021


A new year for this blog should start with a bit of transparency: in 2020 there were 35.147 views by 19.777 visitors, which is an increase of approximately 15 % on 2019. Not too bad for a niche blog I think. A theme that does not get enough attention is in my view the principled non-violence of many human rights defenders as illustrated in “Non-violence is always the best choice” by Carl Kline in Brookinsgregister of 29 December 2020:

The year 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Peace Brigades International. Founded in 1981 at Grindstone Island in Ontario, Canada, PBI has practiced nonviolent accompaniment in numerous countries around the world.

The idea of peace brigades originated with Mahatma Gandhi, concerned about violence in India between various religious factions. Teams of unarmed volunteers would go into conflict situations as nonviolent, non-partisan actors, making contact with all groups to the dispute and helping mediate and resolve the conflict. If necessary, the volunteers were prepared to put their bodies in harm’s way to mitigate or stop the violence.

As the idea of PBI spread in the early ’80s, volunteers stepped forward, the depth of experience increased, more rigorous training developed for those in the field, and an international organization emerged with working groups in 12 countries. In 2020, projects were ongoing in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Indonesia, Mexico and Nepal.

PBI does not enter any conflict situation unless invited by a human rights organization in the host country. Volunteers spend their initial time in the country identifying their presence to all sides of the conflict and to government officials. They wear identifying clothing. They have an international network of others willing to respond at a moment’s notice with telegrams, email or letters to appropriate persons, letting them know the whole world is watching.

Their primary purpose is accompanying those human rights workers who are under threat of death. A volunteer is with them 24 hours a day. Oftentimes family members are accompanied as well, to school, to market, wherever they happen to go.

Having done this work for 40 years, PBI has compiled solid experiential evidence that nonviolent, non-partisan accompaniment works and violent conflicts can be lessened and sometimes resolved by the intervention of international nonviolent agents. In 40 years of accompaniment, none of the accompanied, or those who accompanied them, have been lost to violence. Many of the human rights defenders in the various countries have attributed their survival to PBI.

The Nonviolent Peaceforce had its beginnings in 2002 with a founding conference in India with representatives from 49 countries present. They began their first project in Sri Lanka in 2003. Today they are active in Iraq, the Phillipines, Myanmar and South Sudan.

Their mission statement reads: “Nonviolent Peaceforce is a global civilian protection agency based in humanitarian and international human rights law. Our mission is to protect civilians in violent conflicts through unarmed strategies, build peace side by side with local communities, and advocate for the wider adoption of these approaches to safeguard human lives and dignity. We are guided by principles of nonviolence, nonpartisanship, primacy of local actors, and civilian-to-civilian action.”

Both organizations, similar at their core, have matured to the point where they have reputations worldwide, especially among those served. They have enough history and experience they are here to stay.

On a more local level, there is a long history of conflict resolution programs in the public schools. Creative Conflict Resolution  began in New York state in 1972, started by a group of Quakers. At the time, it was called Children’s Creative Response to Conflict. As it grew and expanded its programs across the country, it came to Brookings in the early ‘90s and local volunteers established programs in schools across the state. After a training and installment of a peer mediation program in one South Dakota school, the principal lamented with a grin that he never saw problem cases in his office anymore. They all chose to go to mediation.

The spinoffs from these programs of conflict resolution, started early in the schools and homes, are many and long-lasting. It is clear that we can educate our way to a less violent culture, if only we make it as critical an educational mission as the three r’s.

As we begin a new year, it is clear we have choices. We don’t have to add to the war budget every year. It would be far more productive and encouraging to shift some of those funds to nonviolent alternatives, like PBI or the Nonviolent Peaceforce. Or why can’t we have conflict resolution programs in every school in the country.

This year, in 2021, we have a special opportunity to choose between violence and nonviolence. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is 50 years old. The new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons goes into effect on Jan. 22, 2021. 50 countries have now signed it. This treaty prohibits the use, development, testing, production, manufacturing, acquiring, possession, stockpiling, transferring, receiving, threatening to use, stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons. The U.S., along with other nuclear nations, will have a choice: sign on or be a rogue nation.

Can we see the mounting evidence? From our homes and schools to the international community, there is a better way!

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/26/pbis-right-to-defend-a-new-multi-media-awareness-campaign/

https://brookingsregister.com/article/non-violence-is-always-the-best-choice

Felix Vasquez, environmental defender, killed in front of family in Honduras

December 29, 2020

Reuters on 28 December 2020 reported that masked men armed with guns and machetes killed Felix Vasquez, a Honduran environmental rights defender, in front of his family, police said, the latest in a string of such attacks in the Central American country. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/two-more-defenders-killed-in-honduras/]

Police authorities immediately decided to initiate a corresponding investigation… we hope to have an answer soon,” police official Kevin Hernandez told journalists.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four people in 2018, according to data made available by advocacy group Global Witness. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

Vasquez, a member of the indigenous Lenca community which lives in the mountainous region near the border with El Salvador, had intended to run for Congress as a member of the opposition LIBRE party in 2021 elections.

Soon after a second land defender was killed: Adan Medina, 46, of the Tolupan indigenous community, was shot and killed by a group of men on Sunday after returning from work in the town of Candelaria, according to Noe Rodriguez, the president of a local indigenous federation. [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing/second-indigenous-activist-killed-in-honduras-in-past-week-idUSKBN29423E]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing-idUSKBN2921QK

Loujain Al-Hathloul Sentenced to over 5 Years Prison by Saudi Terror Court

December 29, 2020

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) posted on 28 the bad news that after 958 days in detention, Loujain AlHathloul was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in prison in court today by the Specialised Criminal Court (terrorism court).[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/26/loujain-al-hathlouls-trial-judge-transfers-her-case-to-even-worse-court/].

The sentence includes a suspension of 2 years and 10 months in addition to the time already served (since May 2018) which would see Loujain’s release in approximately two months. Loujain is also required to serve three years of probation during which time she could be arrested for any perceived illegal activity. She will also be placed on a 5 year travel ban.

After nearly three years in pre-trial detention and now 5 weeks of a rushed trial process in the Specialised Criminal Court, my sister Loujain was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in prison by the Specialised Criminal Court today. She was charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws. Loujain and my parents (who are her lawyers) were given little time to prepare so it is hard to understand how this trial process is a fair one. My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist. To be sentenced for her activism for the very reforms that MBS and the Saudi Kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy. My sister is the bravest person I know, and while we are devastated that she will have to spend even one more day in prison, our fight is far from over. We will not rest until Loujain is free,” said Lina AlHathloul.

The post includes a full timeline of the Specialised Criminal Court.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/28/saudi-rights-activist-loujain-al-hathloul-sentenced-to-almost-six-years-in-jail

Mary Rose Sancelan, victim of Red Tagging in Negros, buried

December 24, 2020

Carla Gomez and Nestor P. Burgos Jr. wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer of 24 December, 2020 “Goodbye, ‘people’s doctor” about the burial of Guihulngan City health officer Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband, Edwin. White balloons were released during the couple’s burial.

Our people’s doctor (Mary Rose) dedicated her life to end both the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of injustice. [But] our beloved martyr took eight bullets on our behalf; and her husband, Edwin, took five. Sadly, their son, Red Emmanuel, bears all the pain of the violent demise of his parents. Together, we accompany him in his quest for justice,” San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said during the funeral Mass at the Our Lady of Buensuceso Parish Church.

Mary Rose, Guihulngan’s health officer and chief of the city’s Inter-Agency Task Force Against Emerging Infectious Diseases, and her husband were on board a motorcycle on their way home to Carmeville on 15 Decemeer when they were shot by two men on board another motorcycle that drove alongside them.

The attack came about a year after Mary Rose expressed fears over her safety after she was red-tagged by a group called Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista (or “Kagubak,” loosely translated as Concerned Guihulnganons against Communists). She was the first on the list of Guihulngan residents whom the anti-communist vigilante group Kagubak accused of being supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The list, which was released in 2018, identified her as Ka JB Regalado, then spokesperson for the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the NPA.

Bishop Alminaza appealed to the faithful to wear white on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day “to express our desire for and commitment to peace, sanctity of life, human dignity and human rights, and our collective call to end the killings, the COVID-19 pandemic and the abuse of our common home.”

Alminaza said the International Criminal Court, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other agencies have more reasons to demand from the Philippine government accountability for the rampant human rights violations and the absence of the rule of law.

We can never speak of peace when the bloodbath continues. We are not Christians at all if we use violence in the name of enforced peace. Peace is real when we stop firing our guns, when we refuse to pull the trigger on a person’s life, and when we stop becoming enablers of injustice,” the bishop said. “It is sad that militarization defines our peace and order, not the security of our citizens. We call on our city to seriously work for justice among the citizens living in Guihulngan. We call upon our mayor and city officials to take to heart their utmost duty to protect the people in this city. We challenge our local government to not become a political hostage of this oppressive killing policy,” he added. The Sancelans’ relatives declined to issue any statement, saying they wanted to keep their mourning private.

In a pastoral message, Alminaza reiterated the need to end the killings in Negros. “Our island awaits the day when the blood from the pandemic of violence stops flowing. When will our priests in the diocese end burying victims of these orchestrated acts of terrorism?” he said. The killing of the Sancelan couple is among the 106 cases of extrajudicial killings recorded on Negros Island under the Duterte administration. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/22/the-killing-of-randy-echanis-and-zara-alvarez-put-the-philippines-under-more-pressure/]

As your pastor, I am taking the mantle of the cause of their martyrdom. We stress that merely speaking about this senseless violence in our midst is not enough. Our collective outrage should move us to collectively act against it,” Alminaza said.

https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1375308/goodbye-peoples-doctor#ixzz6hYa2GCLs

Ugandan Human rights defender Nicholas Opiyo arrested like a criminal

December 23, 2020

Colin Stewart posted on December 22, 2020 in 76Crimes.com the story of how on 22 December the Ugandan police seized highly respected human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo from a restaurant where he was eating, forced him into a van and drove away with him. He was recently released on bail: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/uganda-leading-rights-lawyer-released-on-bail/2093856

Nicholas Opiyo is confronted outside a magistrate court in 2018 after attempting to prosecute Uganda’s chief of police. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Opiyo)

In a message on its Facebook page, the Uganda Police Force stated that Opiyo was arrested by a “Joint Task team of Security and Financial Intelligence, on allegations of money laundering and related malicious acts. The investigations are progressing well and any new developments will be communicated in due course,” the message continued. “He remains in our custody at the Special Investigations Division.”

Opiyo, a strong ally of the LGBTI community in Uganda, is the executive director and lead attorney of Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights advocacy organization. As an attorney, he represented presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) after Wine’s arrest before a campaign rally on Nov. 18. That arrest sparked widespread violence. Opiyo said Wine was arrested on a coronavirus violation, but “the actual reason really is that it is part of the broader attempt to stifle opposition campaigns.” He noted that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was also holding political rallies during the same period, but without police interference.

The Chimp Reports news site reported:

National Unity Platform Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Bobi Wine claimed Opiyo was arrested because he was looking into the aftermath of the November 18th protests in which over 50 people were killed. The protests were sparked by the arrest of the candidate. Bobi Wine said Opiyo was “abducted by security from restaurant in Kamwokya [a section of Kampala, the capital of Uganda], alongside other lawyers investigating murders of 18th & 19th, Nov. Thrown into private van with tinted glasses and  driven at breakneck speed to unknown destination.”

The Uganda Police Force message about Opiyo was harshly criticized in hundreds of comments on Facebook, including remarks.

The website of Chapter Four Uganda states about Opiyo:

He is the recipient of German Africa Prize, 2017, Voices for Justice Award from Human Rights Watch, 2015 and the European Union Parliament Sakharov Fellows Prize, 2016. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/08/11/4-human-rights-defenders-receiving-the-alison-des-forges-award-2015/]

He was until March of 2017, a member of the Team of Expert to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association. He is also a visiting scholar at the Centre for African Studies, Stanford University, CA, USA and the Global Health Program at the University of San Francisco (UCSF), California, USA.

Nicholas is the Board Chair of Action Aid Uganda, a member of the Human Rights Advisory Board BENETECH, a Silicon Valley human rights and tech company based in Palo Alto in California and African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL), a Washington, DC-based think and action group.

On 29 December a group of UN experts expressed their concern: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1081072

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/23/uganda-detains-leading-lawyer-for-lgbt-rights-on-money-laundering-charges

MEA 2020 finalist Sizani Ngubane Dies

December 23, 2020

NGO CSW/NY/YouTube Sizani Ngubane, founder of the Rural Women’s Movement land rights group in South Africa. 23 December 2020 allAfrica.com

South African women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane (also known as uGogo) has died, according to the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) – an organisation of which she was the director and founder. This sad news was brought by AllAfrica.com on 23 December.

There were several attempts on Ngubane’s life during her 40 years of activism. At the time of her death she and her organisation , along with rights groups, were challenging the Ingonyama Trust in Pietermaritzburg High Court, Thomson Reuters reported in November 2020. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/]

Their work so far includes finding housing for evicted women and children, helping grow food on communal land for the hungry and sick, and campaigning for better legal protection of women’s land rights. Ngubane said the movement, which was launched in 1998, has now grown to 50,000 women.

She was in 2020 one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is referred to as the Nobel Prize for human rights.

The RWM statement, released via their Twitter account, read:

We are saddened to share that our Founder and Director, uGogo Sizani Ngubane has passed on. She transformed countless lives. A lifelong freedom fighter, first against the brutal apartheid regime, uGogo, alongside other rural women, would later charge forward towards the promises of democracy.

“Tirelessly working for women’s land rights and equality, uGogo also laboured against gender-based violence and other challenges facing rural women. Originating in a non-partisan, women-led peace building movement, we have become a leader-full movement inspiring countless across KZN, South Africa, and the globe.
She was really beyond a special person. Fearless. Creative. Kind. Determined like no other. An unwavering belief in others and an endless reservoir of empathy and ubuntu.

She will be missed deeply by all. Hamba kahle, Gogo.”

This tribute was followed by one from Nomboniso Gasa, in which she wrote: ” Mam’ Sizani Ngubane has died. She was a gentle giant. My heart’s breaking. Last time I spoke to her, she was fatigued from a govt hell-bent on destructive Bills, TCB & TKLB.
Can’t imagine Rural Women’s movement – which she found in 1990 – without her energy, courage and vision
.”

The Ennals Award ceremony was to be streamed live from Geneva on February 19, 2020, and the Martin Ennals Foundation said about Ngubane after it decided to recognise her work with a nomination: ” In South Africa, women face discrimination, the worst expression of which is widespread gender violence. In rural communities, they frequently have their land expropriated and are deprived of access to education and justice. Sizani Ngubane founded an organisation of more than 50,000 women from rural areas in her country and has fought successfully for over 40 years for the recognition of their rights.”

On hearing of her death, the MEA tweeted: ” A lifetime #HumanRights giant is gone. #SouthAfrica #WomenRights champion and #MartinEnnals finalist #SizaniNgubane has passed away. Generous, determined, loving, resilient, she was the very essence of a #HRD . She will be dearly missed.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202012230793.html

2020 Human Rights Day in Myanmar: arrest of human rights defenders

December 22, 2020

Khine Rola in the Irrawaddy of 22 December 2020 relates what happens when you demonstrate peacefully during international human rights day in Myanmar.

Rakhine State police have opened a case against three activists under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law over a human rights demonstration in the state capital, Sittwe, earlier this month.

The three – Ko Min Bar Chay (also known as Ko Than Hla), Ko Naing Naing Tun and Ma Khaing Mrat Thu from the Rakhine Youth New Generation Network — led other protesters to mark Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. The three were detained as they protested on Strand Road in Sittwe and released on bail later that evening.

However, Sittwe Township police chief, Major Zaw Naing, said the three organized the event without seeking approval from the authorities when he filed the charges on Monday. The three insisted that the event was too important to cancel because the authorities failed to grant approval. At the event, the activists held placards calling for human rights, women’s rights and to end terrorism.

The three suspects leave court on December 21. / Khine Rola / The Irrawaddy

Ma Khaing Mrat Thu said: “It was Human Rights Day and Myanmar has ratified the International Human Rights Declaration. What we organized was not a protest but a campaign. We are very sad that the government filed a lawsuit against us instead of appreciating the citizens who respect human rights.

Ko Zaw Zaw Min, a lawyer at the Arakan Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Association, said: “They just expressed their opinions on Human Rights Day. They should have freedom of expression. They marked the event to protect human rights. Treating such activities as a sensitive issue and taking legal action will only disrupt justice.” The next court hearing is scheduled for December 30.