Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

​International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk Launched Officially

September 8, 2020

On September 7, 2020 IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) announced that an ​International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk has been launched officially in Venice.

To activate the film community’s collective response to cases of filmmakers facing severe risk, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, International Film Festival Rotterdam and the European Film Academy have joined forces in establishing the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk.

With civil society in danger around the world, filmmakers are increasingly struggling to make their voices heard. Over the past few years, the world has seen a growing number of filmmakers being threatened, arrested, imprisoned and even killed in an attempt to silence them.

In these critical situations, the international film community could make a difference in supporting campaigns for the freedom of these filmmakers or pressuring authorities for their release. As the response of the film community has so far been deeply fragmentized, more co-ordinated action is needed.

On the side of the Venice Film Festival, “Join the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR)” saw Marion Döring (Director, European Film Academy), Mike Downey, (Chairman, European Film Academy), Vanja Kaludjercic (Festival Director, International Film Festival Rotterdam), Orwa Nyrabia (Artistic Director, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) and Marjan van der Haar (Managing Director, International Film Festival Rotterdam) unite at the festival’s Spazio Incontri. To the invited festival attendees—film professionals and journalists—they explained the ICFR’s idea and activities:

The mission of the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk is to advocate for and to act in solidarity with filmmakers at risk. The Coalition will respond to cases of persecution or threats to the personal safety of these filmmakers and will defend their right to continue their work, by mobilizing the international film community.

Activities will include:

  • Advocacy
  • Accessing the support system
  • Monitoring and observatory.

That there is scope may be clear from the following examples:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/26/sad-story-continues-saba-sahar-afghanistans-first-female-film-director-shot/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/update-to-monas-campaign-for-her-sister/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/02/filmmaker-and-human-rights-defender-shady-habash-dies-in-egyptian-pre-trial-detention/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/04/500-signatories-demand-release-of-indian-filmmaker-sarangi/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/06/26/human-rights-film-makers-kidnapped-in-sulu-philippines/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/06/20/more-known-about-hrd-du-bin-in-detention-in-china-thanks-to-hu-jia/

https://www.idfa.nl/en/article/135007/international-coalition-for-filmmakers-at-risk-launched-officially-in-venice?utm_source=IDFA+Newsletters&utm_campaign=6cdd331ab2-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_09_08_08_07&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_32b31333b2-6cdd331ab2-70115329

7 September to become Munir Day in Indonesia?

September 8, 2020

The Jakarta Post of 7 September reports on a proposal by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to designate  7 Sepember as national human rights defenders day, coinciding with the date of the assassination of prominent human rights activist Munir Said Thalib. “Dedicating Sept. 7 as national human rights defenders day could further promote the idea of providing support and protection for human rights activists in the country,” Komnas HAM commissioner Choirul Anam said in a statement on Monday. Human rights activists have persistently faced violence, harassment and criminalization to date, Choirul said. “Munir himself was a person who pioneered protection of human rights defenders in Indonesia.” Munir, the cofounder of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), was murdered with arsenic on Sept. 7, 2004, aboard a Garuda Indonesia plane on his way to the Netherlands to pursue a master’s degree in international law and human rights. Pressures have been mounting for years from the public and rights activists for law enforcement to prosecute the murder’s mastermind, who remains unknown to this date.[SEE: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/09/10/an-exceptional-number-of-ngos-90-demand-justice-for-munir-in-indonesia/]

Amnesty International Indonesia said Munir’s murder was indicative of the wider culture of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of attacks against human rights defenders in the country. The lack of full accountability and the political will to resolve the case contributes to an ongoing climate of fear among human rights defenders, said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid.We call on President Joko Widodo, who has made a public pledge to resolve the case, to take decisive and concrete action. This process can be started by conducting a review of past criminal proceedings into Munir’s murder, including alleged violations of international human rights standards,” Usman said. In September 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made a public pledge to resolve the case of Munir’s murder. But the Indonesian authorities have yet to publish the report into the investigation, in violation of Presidential Decree No. 111/2004 on the establishment of the fact-finding team on Munir’s killing, which obligates the government to make the report public.  This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title “In light of Munir’s murder, Sept. 7 proposed as ‘national human rights defenders day’ – National – :

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/09/07/in-light-of-munirs-murder-sept-7-proposed-as-national-human-rights-defenders-day.html

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/09/07/human-rights-activists-urge-komnas-ham-to-treat-munirs-murder-as-extraordinary-case.html

https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/the-thinking-behind-the-man-called-munir/

German Judges give their human rights award to Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

September 6, 2020

Radio Farda reported that the German Judges Association (DRB) has awarded its Human Rights Prize to the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who is currently on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison in protest to the conditions of political prisoners. For more information on this and other awards see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/german-association-of-judges-human-rights-award

Nasrin Sotoudeh has become a symbol of the Iranian civil rights movement through her courage and tireless commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” the presidents of the German Judges Association said on Wednesday. Barbara Stockinger and Joachim Lüblinghoff stated that now more than ever, Ms. Sotoudeh needs wide international support, and that they wanted to honor her “highly impressive commitment in Iran and to bring her fate to the public attention”.

The 57-year-old lawyer and rights activist began a hunger strike at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on August 11 to protest the “unfair” and “illegal” conditions of political prisoners in Iran. She has demanded the release of political prisoners to protect them from the spread of coronavirus in prisons.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/24/list-of-lawyers-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/. Iranian authorities have freed tens of thousands of prisoners since the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, but have refused to grant furlough to political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience, including Sotoudeh.

Sotoudeh, an international award-winning lawyer and rights activist, was been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison and 148 lashes on several charges, including conspiracy against national security, spreading lies and disturbing public opinion.

Earlier this year, Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike to protest the maltreatment of political prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. She previously staged a 49-day hunger strike in prison in 2012 while she was serving another sentence for her human rights work. On Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde expressed deep concern about Sotoudeh’s health and said she wanted to reiterate the EU’s call for her sentence to be reviewed. In a statement on August 28, the American PEN association called for the immediate release of Sotoudeh and other political prisoners, as well as an end to judicial and legal harassment of her and her family. 

HRC45: key issues for human rights defenders

September 6, 2020

Based on the as usual excellent preview by the ISHR: “HRC45 | Key issues on the agenda of September 2020 session”,  I am able to provide an overview of issues that are specially relevant for human rights defenders:

Summary: The Human Rights Council’s 45th session will take place from 14 September to 6 October 2020. The Council will consider issues including reprisals, rights of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, among others. It will present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Yemen, China, the United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Philippines, Venezuela, Burundi and Myanmar, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

If you want to stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC45 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Modalities for civil society participation in HRC45

NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, with active designations in Geneva, will be given the opportunity to deliver video-statement insofar as interactive dialogues are concerned, pending further decision from the Council at the opening of HRC45 on 14 September, and additionally for panels and the adoptions of UPR outcomes as set out in HRC decision 19/119. It won’t be possible to hold “official” side events during the 45th session (online or in-person). Any events happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered independent events and won’t be publicised in the Bulletin of Informal meetings by the Secretariat. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information, and an additional explainer by HRC-net.

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 25 September, the new Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, will present the Secretary General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. We call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/31/ishrs-2020-report-on-reprisals-to-the-un-secretary-general/]

The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela.

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends, such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

Other thematic issues

At this 45th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates with Special Procedure mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  2. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  3. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
  3. Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons 

Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

In light of worsening restrictions in Hong Kong and ongoing repression against Uyghur, Tibetan and other ethnic groups and those defending them, ISHR welcomes the joint statement from July and urges countries to step up action at HRC45 to improve the UN’s monitoring and reporting on China. This echoes the unprecedented press release by over 50 Special Procedures experts calling for urgent and ‘decisive measures’. ISHR expects opportunities for States to increase scrutiny, and for civil society who seek to keep the UN informed, to include:

  • interventions in dialogue with the UN WGAD and UN WGEID
  • responses to the Secretary General’s reprisals report, where China is regularly a ‘top violator’
  • reactions to the findings of the UN Independent Expert on Older Persons, following her December 2019 country visit

USA

The High Commissioner will present her first oral update to the Council on the preparation of the report on systemic racism and police brutality, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and of other Africans and people of African descent, as well as government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests. The High Commissioner will also provide an update on police brutality against Africans and people of African Descent.

ISHR joined 144 families of victims of police violence and over 360 civil society organisations to endorse this letter sent on 3 August to the UN High Commissioner, detailing expectations from the report and the process for its preparation, including an “inclusive outreach to communities of colour and the creation of meaningful, safe, and accessible opportunities for consultation”. On 19 August 2020, the High Commissioner responded to the letter. Read the response here.

ISHR urges all States to support the five recommendations presented by families of victims of police violence and civil society to the High Commissioner, in their national and joint statements at the Council under General Debate Item 9.

Background information: The report was mandated by the resolution adopted following the urgent debate at the Council in June 2020 on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the US and elsewhere. Though the urgent debate prompted by the African group initially called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry on the US and other countries, due to acute diplomatic pressure from the US and its allies, the Council finally decided to instead mandate the High Commissioner with preparing the report, and to include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.

In June 2020, ISHR joined the calls made by the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Michael Brown and over six hundred human rights organisations from over 60 countries in requesting the Council to mandate a commission of inquiry for the situation of racism and police brutality in the United States. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the UN Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent had also voiced their support for the international commission of inquiry. They have urged the Council to ensure the following outcomes from the debate:

  1. the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States; and
  2. the creation of a thematic international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, with a focus on systemic racism rooted in legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

They stressed that “both measures described above are necessary and cannot be substituted for one another”. The experts “expressed serious concern that extreme pressure by certain powerful and influential countries—including countries that publicly voiced support for the need to take action in the face of systemic racism—has operated to dilute the strength of the planned consensus resolution of the Urgent Debate.”

Saudi Arabia

Women human rights defenders have been in prison for over two years, only because they demanded that women be treated equally as men. No one has been held accountable for their torture. While the Council has sustained pressure on Saudi Arabia in 2019, it is essential that this scrutiny continues as the situation on the ground has not improved. ISHR calls on all States to jointly call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the WHRDs and drop the charges against them; and implement the bench-marks set out in the two joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019, underlining that should these benchmarks not be met, more formal Council action would follow.

Saudi Arabia is running for Human Rights Council elections in October 2020 and hosting the G20 in November 2020. These all provide windows of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of the women human rights defenders and all those detained for exercising their rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

Venezuela

The time has come for the fact-finding mission on Venezuela, created by the Human Rights Council last September, to report to the Council. ISHR has joined 85 national, regional and international organisations calling for the renewal and strengthening of the mandate, to keep the pressure on Venezuela. National NGOs have highlighted the ongoing human rights violations in the country as evidence that the new mandate should include an exploration of the root causes of these violations; a preservation of evidence to allow for processes to hold individual perpetrators to account, and a focus on gender-based violence. Oral statements from OHCHR will also be presented this session as will – potentially – a second resolution focusing on technical cooperation. The fact-finding mission’s report is due to be published on 15 September, with the interactive dialogue with States due the following week.

Philippines

The Anti-Terrorism Law passed earlier this month complements the Duterte Administration’s arsenal of tools, giving it the ability to label, detain and eliminate government critics using a vague definition of ‘terrorism’. In the prevailing climate of impunity and attacks against human rights defenders, this law granting the government excessive and unchecked powers will further jeopardise the safety of defenders.

This law passed in the context of ongoing violations against defenders in the country, with recent instances of judicial harassment of defenders and targeting defenders with smear campaigns. It is the most recent example of the government’s worsening human rights record. The recent report of the UN High Commissioner highlights widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, silencing of independent media and critics, and stark and persistent impunity.

ISHR joined the calls by civil society and UN Special Procedures for an independent investigation mechanism into the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Burundi

ISHR joined more than 40 partners in a civil society call made public ahead of the 45th session, urging States to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi.

Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the death of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern. Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiyeduring at his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system.

As of today, the Commission of Inquiry remains the only independent mechanism mandated to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. It should avoid a scenario where re-establishing the CoI’s mandate would be necessary after a premature discontinuation, because of a renewed escalation of human rights violations and abuses. The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation.

Egypt

The ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. All of the individuals that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner have written about since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention by these courts.

ISHR urges States to call on Egypt to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their human rights, to stop using pre-trial detention as a punishment, and to take immediate measures to guarantee their rights to contact their families on a regular and continuous basis and to ease sending and receiving letters, food and medical supplies to them.

Background information: Seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. They stated that “Despite [] repeated communications by UN experts over arbitrary detention of individuals, human rights defenders and activists, the Egyptian Government has not changed its laws of practice”. The government’s response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address key concerns raised by States and to engage constructively with the Council. For example, the government refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks against defenders, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders. The government claimed that no one is detained for exercising their rights, despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/egypt-15-year-term-for-human-rights-defender-bahey-el-din-hassan/]

Other country situations

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 14 September 2020. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Nicaragua 
  • Oral updates by the High Commissioner, and an Interactive Dialogue on the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the HC on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, and an Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic 
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities 
  2. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, member from African States and member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  3. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member form Latin American and Caribbean States
  4. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from African States
  5. Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, member from Asia-Pacific States
  6. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan (if renewed).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 45th session

At the organisational meeting on 31 August the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Special Rapporteur on hazardous waste mandate renewal (African Group)
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent mandate renewal (African Group)
  3. From rhetoric to reality – a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  4. Technical assistance and capacity building in Sudan (African Group)
  5. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  6. Human rights and terrorism (Egypt, Mexico)
  7. The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany, Spain)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity building in Yemen ((Yemen)
  9. Local government and human rights (Chile, Egypt, South Korea, Romania)
  10. The human rights situation in Yemen (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg)
  11. Independent expert on the human rights situation in Somalia (Somalia and the United Kingdom)
  12. Technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey)
  13. Accountability for ensuring women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian settings (Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Sweden)
  14. Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms (Ecuador, Peru)
  15. Rights of the Child (EU, GRULAC)
  16. Human rights situations in Burundi (EU)
  17. IGWG Private military and security companies mandate renewal TBC (South Africa)
  18. Elimination of discrmination against women and girls in sport (South Africa)
  19. Inequalities in and amongst States in the realization of human rights (South Africa)
  20. National human rights institutions (Australia)
  21. Contribution of Human Rights Council to prevention of human rights violations (Norway, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Uruguay)
  22. Safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia)
  23. Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence mandate renewal (Switzerland, Argentina, Morocco)
  24. Enforced disappearances mandate renewal (France, Argentina, Morocco, Japan)
  25. Women, peace and security (Spain, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Namibia, Tunisia, Finland)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Kyrgyzstan, Guinea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Kenya, Armenia , Guinea-Bissau, Sweden, Grenada, Turkey, Kiribati and Guyana. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR and publishes briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Turkey and Guinea to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples. Theme: Protection of indigenous human rights defenders
  2. Biennial panel discussion on the right to development. Theme: COVID-19 and the right to development: we are all in this together
  3. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms. Theme: Gender and diversity: strengthening the intersectional perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-key-issues-agenda-september-2020-session

 

Turkish human rights defenders shocked by honorary doctorate for ECtHR president Spano

September 5, 2020

This post has been written by Harry Hummel, the Senior Policy Advisor of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, with many thanks:

This week, European Court of Human Rights president Robert Spano visited Turkey. A high profile event in the country. In the face of government denial of the massive human rights violations it is committing, the voice of the European Court has an extraordinary importance. Human rights defenders therefore expressed unease about the programme of the visit, which included talks with authorities, an address to the Justice Academy and the acceptance of an honorary doctorate at Istanbul university, but no encounters with civil society human rights workers. One of the oldest human rights organisations in Turkey, the IHD, wrote: <https://ihd.org.tr/en/ihd-open-letter-to-robert-spano-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/>

Universities in Turkey are controlled by the Board of Higher Education that was established in the aftermath of the 12 September 1980 coup d’état. Universities in Turkey do not have scientific or administrative autonomy whatsoever. In the past university rectors were elected by academics serving that university but now they are being appointed by the president himself, the head of the executive branch, following changes introduced during the latest state of emergency period. Furthermore, İstanbul University that we learnt was presenting you with an honorary doctorate dismissed hundreds of academics through the state of emergency decree laws and it is one of the institutions that has virtually become the symbol of the state of emergency.

Dear President, you will see young judges and public prosecutors before you at the Justice Academy of Turkey where you are going to teach. During the state of emergency between 2016 and 2018 more than 4,200 judges and prosecutors were dismissed from their posts while more than 8,000 judges and prosecutors were inaugurated. These figures indicate that 45% of all judges and prosecutors on active duty have three years of professional experience or less. Moreover, complaints lodged by thousands of judges and prosecutors are still pending before judicial authorities for the deliverance of a ruling.

Dear President, we do see the will to maintain communication with Turkish authorities in spite of all these negative developments. Turkey, however, is not merely composed of the political power itself. There stand before your court, on one side, the political power alleged to have violated rights and on the other side the victims of those rights violations.  Turkey has a quite developed and dynamic web of civil society organizations working in the field of human rights in spite of all these setbacks. In order for your visit to Turkey to genuinely be beneficial, your lending an ear to these civil society organizations that make the voices of rights victims be heard bears vital significance. We can list the following as examples: women’s organizations that have been defending the Council of Europe İstanbul Convention at a time when withdrawal from the Convention was on the agenda, Saturday Mothers who have long been searching for their children lost under custody and whose right to assembly has been prohibited, bar associations that objected to Law No. 7249 introducing multiple bar associations and regulations that went against the right to defense, and associations of lawyers who advocate for justice and rights, who are imprisoned to this end, who go on hunger strikes. We believe that it is not late to organize a public meeting with the press during which you can answer questions by civil society organizations.

Mixed feelings were expressed in particular about  the honorary doctorate. Former Istanbul University professor Mehmet Altan wrote an open letter to Spano <https://www.expressioninterrupted.com/open-letter-to-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/> :

“The people who will be giving you an honorary doctorate are the very people who dismissed me and many other academics. Under normal circumstances, of course it would be pleasing to hear that you will be visiting Turkey. Unfortunately that’s not the case.”

The concerns about the doctorate were taken up by international human rights NGO Article 19 <https://www.article19.org/resources/open-letter-article-19-urges-president-spano-to-decline-honorary-degree/> :
ARTICLE 19 urges you to decline the offer of an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University due to the role of the University in the crackdown on the crackdown on civil society and purges of Turkish academia by the Turkish authorities.

More than 120,000 individuals <https://soe.tccb.gov.tr/> were dismissed through decree laws after the 2016 failed coup attempt, including more than 5,000 academics. While the process for these dismissals was not transparent, the Spokesman for the Council of Higher Education has previously confirmed in interviews that the management of the universities were responsible <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-38906141?ocid=socialflow_twitter>  for preparing the lists of academics to be dismissed by decree. University rectors from other universities interviewed by the BBC in 2017 stated <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-39055854>  that they prepared the dismissal lists in cooperation with the Intelligence services, using criteria defined by the government. 192 <http://bianet.org/english/print/183432-4-811-academics-from-112-universities-discharged-by-5-statutory-decress> academics <http://bianet.org/english/print/183432-4-811-academics-from-112-universities-discharged-by-5-statutory-decress>  were dismissed from Istanbul University by emergency decrees. Istanbul University itself dismissed at least 95 academics, <http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/176960-95-academic-suspended-in-istanbul-university-yok-suspends-4-rectors>  without due process or the opportunity for review. The consequences for those dismissed were devastating, as documented <https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/14/turkey-government-targeting-academics>  by Human Rights Watch.  Those dismissed from their academic positions were blacklisted, unable to find other work and had their passports cancelled. While the hundreds of academics who were dismissed for signing a peace petition had their criminal convictions overturned by the Constitutional Court, they still face unemployment as they were unable to return to their positions.

We also point out that the news about your acceptance of this honorary degree, as the Court’s most senior judge and particularly during an official visit, has raised huge concerns within Turkish civil society, undermining their trust and public confidence in the Court. We therefore respectfully urge you to decline the honorary degree you have been offered by Istanbul University.

In his speech accepting the honorary doctorate <https://echr.coe.int/Documents/Speech_20200904_Spano_Honorary_Doctorate_Istanbul_ENG.pdf> , Spano explained that accepting these kind of honors is part of the usual protocol for Court visits to Council of Europe member states:

It has long been a tradition as a matter of protocol that Presidents of the Court accept to be awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa during their official visits to Member States of the Council of Europe. Such offers have not been refused. In this regard the Court must always be seen to be independent and impartial and not making distinctions between Member States.

On this basis, I accept this award from this very prestigious institution which has been in existence for centuries as it will also give me, a former academic, an opportunity to stress the fundamental role of academic freedom and free speech in a democracy governed by the rule of law. These are core values which lie at the heart of the European Convention on Human Rights, a constellation of rights and fundamental freedoms which require that Government in all their actions be balanced and proportionate. In short, the Convention does not tolerate extremes.

The concerns of civil society are fueled by mixed feelings more generally <https://verfassungsblog.de/the-ecthr-and-post-coup-turkey-losing-ground-or-losing-credibility/>  about the approach of the Court in addressing the delaying and evading tactics of the Turkish authorities. In his open letter <https://www.expressioninterrupted.com/open-letter-to-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/> , Mehmet Altan thanks the Court for a verdict against his own imprisonment. The verdict led to his release after a lot of legal wrangling by Turkish courts about its implementation. His dismissal has not been corrected however, a decision about this is lingering before inadequate Turkish appeal procedures (as are tens of thousands of other cases) which the Court however considers a ‘domestic remedy’ that needs to be exhausted before it can take up the issue. In the letter, he also mentions the case of his brother Ahmet Altan:

“The very section of the Court that you presided had given priority status to the application of Ahmet Altan, whose novels have been published in 23 countries, and who, even despite the Covid-19 pandemic has remained behind bars in Silivri Prison for the past four years. Even though the court is very much familiar with the file’s content, unfortunately we have been waiting for that priority to come into effect for the past four years.”

Whether the visit of Spano to Turkey has had a positive effect, will likely be also measured against progress in the case of Osman Kavala, a human rights defender who the Court has said should be released. His situation is under review by the Committee of Minissters, the Council of Europe’s supervisory body for execution of Court judgements. The Committee just this week repeated its call for his immediate release <https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/implementing-echr-judgments-council-of-europe-urges-turkey-to-release-osman-kavala> .

See also:

https://ahvalnews.com/robert-spano/echr-should-call-spanos-resignation-after-turkey-visit-human-rights-defender-fincanci?language_content_entity=en and

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/european-court-of-human-rights-president-degrades-court-with-turkish-award

European rights court president draws further ire by posing with members of Turkey’s ruling party

Medical negligence in Egypt’s prisons alarming: another victim

September 4, 2020

Ahmed Abdrabbu (L) and his wife
Ahmed Abdrabbu, left, and wife were arrested at Cairo International Airport on 23 December 2018 (Twitter/@nosaybaahmed)
On 2 September 2020 the Middle East Eye reported that – according to the Committee for Justice (CFJ )- Egyptian human rights defender Ahmed Abdrabbu became the latest of some 1,000 prisoners to die amid medical negligence since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi assumed presidency.

The Tora prison, also known as “the Scorpion“, has been repeatedly denounced by rights groups and described as “degrading” by Human Rights Watch. “Authorities there have denied inmates contact with their families or lawyers for months at a time, held them in degrading conditions without beds, mattresses or basic hygienic items, humiliated, beaten, and confined them for weeks in cramped ‘discipline’ cells – treatment that probably amounted to torture in some cases,” HRW said in a report in 2016.

According to Abdrabbu’s family, the publisher was arrested on 23 December 2018 at Cairo International Airport and was later charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation” and working to “undermine the constitution”, accusations commonly used by Egyptian authorities against opponents of the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. His wife, who was with him at the time, was released in June 2019 and is currently serving parole, his daughter Nusaiba wrote on Twitter.

According to Mehreh’s CFJ, which tracks deaths in Egyptian prisons, including those as a result of Covid-19, almost 1,000 prisoners have died in custody since July 2013. The majority of those deaths were because of medical negligence, Mefreh told MEE. In its biannual report, CFJ documented the deaths of 51 prisoners as a result of denial of medical care in detention facilities during the first half of 2020, including 17 people who died of Covid-19. Those whose deaths were attributed to medical negligence in recent years include former President Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian-American prisoner Mustafa Kassem, film director Shadi Habash, and former Muslim Brotherhood MP Essam El-Erian. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/02/filmmaker-and-human-rights-defender-shady-habash-dies-in-egyptian-pre-trial-detention/]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/update-to-monas-campaign-for-her-sister/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-political-prisoner-father-american-citizen-dies-jail

New shocking report by AI re prisoners’ abuse in Iran

September 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torture epidemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One man who was subjected to electric shocks recounted:

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

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

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

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

Enforced disappearances

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vloggers selling their souls to boost image of Arab regimes

September 2, 2020

Mat Nashed in Ozy.com of 1 september 2020 addresses a major but often neglected issue: The Secret Weapon of Arab Regimes — Influencers and Vloggers. It is an excellent piece worth reading in full (see below). I have several times drawn attention to anti-human rights celebrity endorsements [e.g. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/] and sports washing [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/]/

Read the rest of this entry »

ISHR’s 2020 report on reprisals to the UN Secretary-General

August 31, 2020

In order for the international human rights system to function to its fullest potential, human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives regarding situations on the ground. However, many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN. Although this study by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) dates back to 3 may 2020 , I still want to refer to it because reprisals is one of the most importatnt topics covered regularly in this blog [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/%5D

Photo: FlickR / Looking4poetry

ISHR’s new report to the UN Secretary-General demonstrates the need for the UN and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN. The report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the annual report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights, aka the ‘Reprisals Report’. ISHR’s report outlines developments in the international and regional systems, and documents a number of cases.

ISHR’s submission presents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals. Cases of reprisals featured in the submission range from States dangerously maligning defenders to killing them. In Venezuela, increased monitoring of the situation by the UN has been met with increased risk, stigmatization and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In the Philippines, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. Defenders in Honduras, India, Thailand, Cuba, and Yemen continue to be threatened and harassed. In Russia and Cameroon, defenders who engaged with the UN have been refused entry to the country. Defenders working on China continue to be smeared and discredited and there continues to be no investigation into the death of Cao Shunli, who was jailed and died in custody for trying to provide information to the UN. Defenders in Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, remain in jail because they dared engage in international advocacy.  Other countries cited in the report include The Bahamas, Brazil, Burundi, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States.

The report includes follow-up information on a large number of cases, demonstrating that incidents of reprisals and intimidation are very rarely, if ever, adequately resolved. ‘One only needs to look at the cases that remain unresolved year after year, to know that something more must be done by the UN on follow-up. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators are emboldened’, said Madeleine Sinclair, New York Office Co-Director and Legal Counsel.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘States must use the opportunity of the interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report in September, as well as Item 5 debates, to raise specific cases and hold their peers accountable’, said Sinclair.

The submission also highlights ISHR’s new study, ‘Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities’The study responds to the challenge of severe intimidation leading to ‘self-censorship’ and proposes methodological approaches to strengthen the future capacity to measure and understand how intimidation tactics – both blunt and subtle – effectively inhibit human rights reporting and action, thus reinforcing impunity for States’ abuses. Among these is the dire need for better data. ‘As a starting point, the UN needs to harness its vast data collecting power to systematically track cooperation with its diverse human rights mechanisms so as to be able to track deterioration or improvements from year to year,’ said Sinclair. The study proposes that this, combined with data on human rights abuses, would enable the identification of countries where there is high abuse and low cooperation as well as those with high abuse and high cooperation. Best practice research can then extract lessons learned from countries with high levels of abuse and high levels of cooperation that may assist countries where intimidation has been more successful in sustaining inhibition.

Links: 

Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN in the field of human rights, Submission to the UN Secretary-General on recent developments, cases and recommendations, May 2020.

Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities, March 2020.

——

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-un-and-states-can-and-must-do-more-prevent-and-address-reprisals-0

 

Bill Browder speaks about “his’ Global Magnitsky Act

August 29, 2020

The Human Rights Foundation published on 27 August this interview with Bill Browder in which international legal associate Michelle Gulino speaks with Browder about just how and why he’s become a thorn in Putin’s side, what makes the Kremlin such a threat to democracy and why Magnitsky legislation is so critical to address this threat, and finally, Sergei’s legacy and his message of resilience.On November 16, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer of global financier Bill Browder, was murdered for uncovering a $230 million corruption scheme by officials within Russia’s Interior Ministry. Bill became a thorn in Putin’s side after he began a campaign to seek justice for Sergei through the Global Magnitsky Act, which implements visa bans and asset freezes against serious human rights abusers and corrupt officials.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/29/european-court-rules-on-sergei-magnitskys-death/ and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/08/the-case-for-smart-sanctions-against-individual-perpetrators/