Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

At least 78 human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2021

January 17, 2022

On 13 January 2022, Reuters and others reported that at least 78 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2021 according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), adding that more cases were still being verified.

Violence against human rights defenders, environmentalists and community activists – known collectively in Colombia as social leaders – has become a big challenge for President Ivan Duque’s government amid international criticism and demands that it do more to stop the killings.

The government accuses left-wing guerrillas from the National Liberation Army, ex-members of the FARC rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal, and criminal groups, some comprised of former right-wing paramilitaries, of attacking activists as they seek control of drug trafficking networks and illegal mining areas.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it received 202 reports human rights leaders killed in Colombia last year. Of these 78 were confirmed as killed, 39 cases were still being verified, and 85 were inconclusive.

The Colombian Ombudsman documented 145 murders of social leaders and human rights defenders during 2021. See: https://www.parisbeacon.com/29669/.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/about-80-rights-defenders-killed-colombia-2021-un-2022-01-13/

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/latin-america/1642096591-un-78-human-rights-activists-killed-in-colombia-during-2021

Ground breaking conviction of Syrian torturer in Germany

January 17, 2022
Group of framed portraits
Photos of Syrians who have been detained or disappeared set up by Families for Freedom, as part of a protest in front of the court in Koblenz, July 2, 2020. © 2020 Alexander Suttor

The conviction of a former Syrian intelligence officer for crimes against humanity by a German court is a ground-breaking step toward justice for serious crimes in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. The judgment is a meaningful moment for civilians who survived torture and sexual abuse in Syria’s prisons.  

On January 13, 2022, a German court delivered its judgment in the trial of Anwar R., a former member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, one of the country’s four main intelligence agencies commonly referred to collectively as the mukhabarat. Anwar R. is the most senior former Syrian government official to be convicted for serious crimes in Syria.  

German prosecutors accused Anwar R. of overseeing the torture of detainees in his capacity as head of the investigations section at the General Intelligence Directorate’s al-Khatib detention facility in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251.” 

The judges found Anwar R. guilty of committing crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. Following the verdict in the case, Anwar R. has one week to appeal.  

More than 10 years after the violations were committed in Syria, the German court’s verdict is a long-awaited beacon of hope that justice can and will in the end prevail,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Other countries should follow Germany’s lead, and actively bolster efforts to prosecute serious crimes in Syria.”  

Human Rights Watch issued a question and answer document and a feature article on the trial and how it is situated in the larger context of the Syrian conflict on January 6, 2022. The trial against Anwar R. and Eyad A., who was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in February, began in April 2020 and was the first anywhere in the world for state-sponsored torture in Syria. Eyad A.’s appeal against his conviction remains pending. 

Syrian survivors, lawyers, and activists have been central to making this trial a reality, not only pressing for justice but laying the groundwork that makes justice possible, Human Rights Watch said.  

More than 80 witnesses testified, including former detainees, former Syrian government employees, German police investigators, and experts in Syrian affairs. The testimony included well-documented accounts of torture and sexual abuse in Branch 251, descriptions of mass graves, and details of Syria’s government policy to violently crack down on peaceful protesters in 2011. Several of the witnesses were able to identify Anwar R. in the courtroom.  

One of the major challenges of this trial was witness protection. Several witnesses living in Germany and other European countries cancelled their appearance in court out of fear for their lives and safety, or that of their families. Several witnesses, some who were also victims, testified that they feared a risk to themselves and their families given their role in the trial. German authorities should ensure that witnesses and victims are sufficiently informed about their rights to protective measures, including to appear anonymously before the court. 

Tens-of-thousands of people have been detained or disappeared in Syria since 2011, the vast majority by government forces using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout the country. The Syrian government continues to detain and forcibly disappear thousands of people. 

Many of those detained have died from torture and horrific detention conditions. Comprehensive justice for these and other unchecked atrocities in Syria has been elusive. Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court. And in 2014, Russia and China blocked efforts at the United Nations Security Council to give the court a mandate over serious crimes in Syria. 

The trial of Anwar R. and Eyad A. is possible because Germany’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain of the most serious crimes under international law. That allows for the investigation and prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims. Universal jurisdiction remains one of the few viable pathways to justice for crimes committed in Syria.  

Germany has several elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes in Syria. It has above all a comprehensive legal framework, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with prosecuting such crimes. Countries with universal jurisdiction laws should establish specialized war crimes units within law enforcement and prosecution services, and ensure that such units are adequately resourced and staffed. 

Germany’s trial against Anwar R. is a message to the Syrian authorities that no one is beyond the reach of justice,” Jarrah said. “The Koblenz case has shown that with other avenues blocked, national courts can play a critical role in combating impunity.” 

The first such reaction came immediately, see: https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/human-rights/after-german-conviction-of-syrian-official-focus-may-turn-to-swedish-trial-of-iranian/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/13/germany-conviction-state-torture-syria

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/north-africa-middle-east/syria/syria-landmark-ruling-offers-hope-to-regime-s-victims

https://www.ecchr.eu/en/case/first-criminal-trial-worldwide-on-torture-in-syria-before-a-german-court/

Front Line Defenders looking for Head of Protection

January 17, 2022

Front Line Defenders is looking for a Head of Protection.

The Head of Protection (HoP) is a critical senior leadership role in the organisation, managing a large global team and directing crucial organisations trategy on HRD protection in countries and regions. The HoP has overall responsibility for the management, sustainability, cohesion and well-being of the Protection Team. Together with Protection Team Managers, they provide and support the strategy and direction of timely and appropriate responses to human rights defenders at risk globally, ensuring holistic and effective protection support.

The HoP holds a strategic overview of the trends, challenges and responses for HRD protection, and shapes our organizational position through ensuring this is reflected in strategy, communication and representation, and our various holistic protection responses. The Head of Protection is also part of the organisation management team, directly supporting the Directors in the strategy, planning, management and evaluation of the all aspects of the organisation.

Deadline: 17th January 2022

Download the full advert here.

Follow the Announcement of the Martin Ennals Laureates 2022 on 19 January

January 17, 2022
Webinar banner

The 2022 Martin Ennals Award Laureate Announcement will be live-streamed at a press conference, announcing the 2022 Laureates on Wednesday 19 January at 11am CET. More on this awards and it laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/043F9D13-640A-412C-90E8-99952CA56DCE

Media requests can be shared at media@martinennalsaward.org. To register, follow link below:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_C–uTIoFQAumucPTbGOeeQ

You can follow the livestreaming on the MEF website for general audience: https://youtu.be/UgvIli5X-T8

Nominations for Rafto Prize 2022 now open

January 14, 2022
Raftoemblem Test

You can now nominate a candidate for the Rafto Prize, meant for a person or an organization who stands up for human rights and democracy. Annual deadline is 1 February. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/A5043D5E-68F5-43DF-B84D-C9EF21976B18

  • A candidate should be active in the struggle for the ideals and principles underlying the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • A candidate’s struggle for human rights should represent a non-violent perspective.
  • A candidate may be a person or an organization, and two or more candidates may share the prize.

Deadline for nominations: 1 February 2022. Nominations received after 1 February will be taken into consideration for the Rafto Prize the following year.

For questions regarding nominations, please contact the Secretary of the Committee, Liv Unni Stuhaug, e-mail: livunni.stuhaug@rafto.no

Nominate a candidate

First planeload of Afghan human rights defenders has landed in Ottawa

January 13, 2022
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Dec. 10, 2021. Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Six months after the federal government promised to help thousands of Afghan women leaders, human- rights activists and journalists flee to Canada, the first planeload has landed.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced the arrival of 252 Afghan refugees on Tuesday, including the first 170 admitted through a special program for people the government deems to be human-rights defenders.

It is a privilege to welcome today this cohort of Afghan refugees, who face persecution as a result of their work to protect the human rights of others,” Mr. Fraser said in a statement.

“I am grateful for their work to document and prevent human rights abuses and proud that they now call our country home.”

The Liberal government launched the special program in July after weeks of criticism from angry Canadian veterans upset Ottawa wasn’t doing more to help Afghans facing possible Taliban reprisals for having worked with Canada in the past.

Mr. Fraser’s office said the 170 who arrived through the special program had been referred to Canada by the Ireland-based human-rights organization Front Line Defenders, which has been working to identify those most at risk.

The Liberals have promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, but nearly all of those are expected to be people living in UN camps in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

With Monday’s arrivals, the government says it has so far resettled about 6,750 Afghan refugees in Canada. Fraser suggested last month that it could take up to two years for the government to meet its promise of bringing in 40,000 Afghans.

Veterans and refugee groups aren’t the only ones who have lamented the pace of the government’s efforts when it comes to helping Afghans escape to Canada, with opposition parties also joining the chorus of criticism in recent months.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-first-afghan-human-rights-activists-arrive-six-months-after-ottawas/

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has shut down

January 11, 2022

On 10 Jan 2022 one of Egypt’s last independent human rights organisations has closed down, according to a statement by the group, citing government persecution. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/C6490073-ED93-793A-C5DB-3C931BB470D3

Egypt’s government has engaged in a widespread crackdown on dissent for years that has stifled many of the country’s civil society groups and jailed thousands

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [ANRI], an Egyptian organisation, was founded in 2003 by a team of lawyers and activists. It documented violations against citizens, journalists and political prisoners in Egypt and the region. It also followed the increasing government intimidation and targeting of human rights workers and others. But laws that made many of ANHRI’s operations illegal have forced the organisation to shut down, Executive Director Gamal Eid said in the statement on Monday. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/31/egyptian-human-rights-defender-gamal-eid-assaulted/. As a lawyer, Eid represented some of the most prominent secular detainees. A court ordered his assets frozen and has banned him from travelling since 2016.

He said the group’s workers had been arrested, intimidated and physically assaulted by security forces.

We continue to be lawyers who have a conscience, and as individual, independent human rights defenders will work side by side with the few remaining independent human rights organisations, independent human rights defenders and the entire movement calling for democracy,” he wrote.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/10/egypt-leading-rights-group-closes-citing-government-persecution

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/egyptian-rights-group-closes-cites-government-persecution/2022/01/10/7348be54-7226-11ec-a26d-1c21c16b1c93_story.html

Iranian dissident Poet Baktash Abtin dies of Covid in arbitrary detention

January 10, 2022

On 8 January 2022 the Iranian poet Baktash Abtin died in Tehran after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison. Abtin, who died after being put into an induced coma while hospitalized, is the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On January 1, Kian Adelpour died after going on hunger strike to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial.

This is a preventable tragedy and more prisoners’ deaths are inevitable because there is no accountability in the Iranian government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Abtin was imprisoned in Iran because the government wanted to muzzle him with a jail cell; the state killed him.” Abtin had been serving a five-year prison sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.

A group of main NGOs had addressed a joint letter to Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei on 7 January repeating their call that Abtin be given access to the best possible medical care as he battles for his life. In addition, we urge that: he and all those unjustly detained for their writing or expression be immediately and unconditionally released; that authorities refrain from summoning political prisoners to serve their sentences while the conditions inside Evin and other Iranian prisons remain unsafe; and that any who do contract COVID-19 or other serious illnesses while in jail be granted speedy access to all needed medical care or a medical parole on humanitarian grounds.

While offering condolences to Abtin’s family and friends, the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) where Abtin, 48, was a board member, released a statement on January 8 on the “injustice that was committed against Abtin”: “Baktash Abtin is alive because the spirit of freedom-seeking and the fight against tyranny and injustice is alive,” said the statement.

Fellow IWA board member Reza Khandan Mahabadi was also sentenced to five years in prison and Keyvan Bajan to three years and six months. An international chorus has condemned the IWA writers’ imprisonment, with dozens of high-profile writers and artistic figures including Nobel laureates calling for the writers’ acquittal.

At least 11 writers are known to be either currently imprisoned or living with an unserved prison sentence hanging over their heads in Iran as they await an appeal or to be summoned to jail, according to a list compiled by CHRI.

In an interview with CHRI in May 2019 after his trial, Abtin forcefully said the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was for statements published by the IWA, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, who were murdered in 1998 as part of a concerted state policy to eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran.

“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” Abtin told CHRI. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/07/joint-ngo-letter-khamenei-baktash-abtins-condition

Qatar: where is human rights defender Noof Al-Maadeed?

January 4, 2022

A screenshot of Noof Al-Maadeed from her YouTube video entitled “The Return of #Noof_AlMaadeed to Qatar 2021”, posted on October 6, 2021

Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of he Gulf Center for Human Rights posted on 29 December 2021 the case of Noof Al-Maadeed, a 23-year-old Qatari woman.

When she faced domestic violence from members of her family, including her father, and government institutions failed to provide her with any protection, she fled her country to Britain after using her father’s phone without his knowledge to obtain permission to travel. In a television interview on August 4, 2020, she spoke of her November 26, 2019 escape from Qatar to Britain, via Ukraine.

Upon arriving in Britain, she applied for asylum. During her stay in Britain, Al-Maadeed introduced herself as a defender of Qatari women’s rights and explained how male guardianship prevents women from working or traveling without a male family member’s consent, as well as how women victims of domestic violence are left with little protection.

Al-Maadeed withdrew her application for asylum in Britain after receiving assurances from the Qatari authorities that she would be protected if she returned to her home country. On October 6, this year, Al-Maadeed posted on her Instagram account a video in which she explained the details of her return from London on September 30 to the capital, Doha, where she arrived the following day.

What happened next is incomprehensible. Qatari authorities, who pledged to protect her, as it should with to all citizens, reneged on all their promises and left her alone trying to survive domestic abuse. In a video posted on her Twitter account on October 12, Al-Maadeed said that she had been subjected to three failed assassination attempts by her family. She also described her father’s coming into the lobby of the hotel where she was staying, despite being one of her main opponents and the reason for her running away from home. Perhaps the following tweet, dated October 12, honestly sums up the torments she suffered upon her return: https://platform.twitter.com/embed

My family, and those who I count as my own, want to slaughter me.

Shortly thereafter, she posted the following tweet: “Sheikh Tamim is the only one who can stop the danger to my life with his own hands.” On October 13, Al-Maadeed completely disappeared from social media, and her whereabouts have not yet been known. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, on whom Al-Maadeed relied for protection and pleaded for support, was not able to provide the necessary protection for a citizen who did not commit any violation and voluntarily returned to her country based on many promises from the authorities that they’ll keep her safe.

Since her disappearance, there have been conflicting reports, with regards to what has happened to the 23-year-old. According to some reports, Al-Maadeed was killed by her family, while others reported her forcible detention in a psychiatric hospital under heavy sedation, Meanwhile, the Qatari government refuses to provide documented information to prove that she is alive, which raises many suspicions.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights cannot confirm any of the above-mentioned reports but holds the authorities, who have pledged but failed to protect Noof Al-Maadeed, responsible for any harm done to her. At present, all information indicates that Al-Maadeed is facing serious risk to her life and freedom. If not killed, then it is a fact that she may be facing a lengthy incommunicado detention, which puts her life at imminent risk.

The GCHR, once again calls on the international community, particularly UN institutions, and governments with influence in Qatar—including members of the European Union—to take immediate action to pressure the Qatari authorities to ensure that Al-Maadeed is safe and can live freely in Qatar.

The government of Qatar cannot continue to ignore international opinion that is searching for the truth, and its absolute silence will be a sure condemnation, as it bears full responsibility for preserving the safety of its citizens, including Nouf Al-Maadeed.

Kadyrov – How to make a mockery of the term Human Rights Defender

January 3, 2022

The head of the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, long accused of grave human rights abuses, has been named “distinguished human rights defenders” by the regional human rights ombudsman.

Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, at a ceremony in Grozny on December 30 that was not attended by Kadyrov, said the Kadyrov family had made an “enormous contribution…to securing human rights and strengthening the state.

A video of the ceremony was posted on the Internet by Grozny state television.

In addition to Kadyrov, the medals were awarded to his father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, and his mother, Aimani Kadyrova.

Akhmad Kadyrov was president of Chechnya from 2003 until his assassination in May 2004.

Earlier in the month, Kadyrov’s daughter, Aishat Kadyrova, who serves as Chechnya’s culture minister, was awarded the medal For the Defense of Human Rights.

Russian and international human rights monitors have for years accused Ramzan Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/19/human-rights-defender-in-chechnya-oyub-titiev-sentenced-to-4-years/

https://www.rferl.org/a/chechnya-kadyrov-human-rights/31634524.html