Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie accepts PEN Pinter prize: wants to speak out

October 16, 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie accepts PEN Pinter prize with call to speak out. Arguing that authors have a duty to ‘call a lie a lie’, the Nigerian novelist also names human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as the 2018 International Writer of Courage.  in the Guardian of 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pictured at the Women in the World Summit in 2017.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pictured at the Women in the World Summit in 2017. Photograph: Matteo Prandoni/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock

The Nigerian novelist was described by the Jury as “sophisticated beyond measure in her understanding of gender, race, and global inequality”. In her acceptance lecture at the British Library, Adichie said that while writers should not necessarily speak out on political issues, she did not believe “that art is a valid reason for evading the responsibilities of citizenship – which are to think clearly, to remain informed, and, sometimes, to act and speak”.

…The award-winning novelist revealed how she has been criticised in Nigeria for speaking out about its law criminalising homosexuality, and for her efforts to start a “much-needed conversation” about women’s rights in the country….

Adichie said that she did not choose to speak out about social issues because she is a writer. “But my writing gave me a platform to speak about issues that I have always cared about,” she said. “I do not want to use my art as an armour of neutrality behind which to hide. I am a writer and I am a citizen, and I see my speaking out on social issues as a responsibility of citizenship. I am struck by how often this speaking out is met, in Nigeria, not with genuine engagement, whether to agree or disagree, but with a desire to silence me. A journalist once helpfully summed it up for me: people don’t like it when you talk about feminism, they just want you to shut up and write.”

At the ceremony, Adichie named the lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as this year’s International Writer of Courage, a title awarded by the PEN Pinter winner each year. Abulkhair, a founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia .

Waleed Abulkhair pictured in 2012.
Pinterest Waleed Abulkhair pictured in 2012. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Waleed has dedicated his life to holding the Saudi authorities accountable for human rights abuses,” said Adichie. “He has dedicated his life to speaking out, to supporting the victims of those abuses. Waleed, like Harold Pinter, has shown a lucid dedication to telling his truth. But rather than being lauded for this dedication, Waleed has paid a heavy price – 15 years behind bars.” She said she was deeply proud to share the prize with Abulkhair, “and I hope that this small act of solidarity will bring him some comfort, and will remind him that his struggle has not been forgotten, nor will it be in vain.”

Previous recipients of the International writer of courage include Bangladeshi publisher and writer Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, also known as Tutul; and Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/09/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-accepts-pen-pinter-prize-with-call-to-speak-out

Jestina Mukoko’s 150.000 $ triumph in Zimbabwe: gives hope to all torture victims

October 8, 2018

In a rare case of triumph over impunity, the Zimbabwean High Court, on 27 September 2018, ordered the state to pay $150 000 to Jestina Mungareva Mukoko, a pro-democracy campaigner and Director of Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP). In a Deed of Settlement endorsed by the High Court, the defendants have been ordered to pay $100.000 to Jestina in respect of her claims while a further $50.000 will be paid as a contribution towards her legal costs (before 31 October 2018).

This exceptional decision was welcomed by many NGOs, including the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

My good friend and long-time Zimbabwean human rights defender Arnold Tsunga said the following: “I think it’s a very good resolution of the case. The damages are significant but the case was also quite serious including the torture meted out on Jestina that the damages seem to fit the case. In a way it’s a double benefit in that the abduction and torture resulted in criminal case against her collapsing and on top of that she gets paid. Hopefully the security sector have learnt a lesson. It is also good that the judiciary is getting stronger and confident to pronounce itself this way“. Especially the latter is an important outcome!

ackground Information (Jestina Mukoko Triumph: The Facts):
Jestina was abducted by some unidentified armed men from her home in Norton on 3 December 2008, and her whereabouts together with two ZPP employees Broderick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo, who were also abducted later in December 2008 remained unknown until December 24, 2008, when they first appeared before the Harare Magistrates Court, after weeks of being held incommunicado and being tortured. In court, Jestina and her colleagues and dozens of other pro-democracy campaigners were accused by government of plotting to topple Robert Mugabe’s administration through recruiting people to undergo military training in neighbouring Botswana. After her release from a torturous three months stay in prison, Mukoko with the assistance of her lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, a member of ZLHR, took legal action against the state.

In September 2009, the Supreme Court granted a permanent stay of prosecution in favour of Jestina due to the violation of several of her fundamental rights by state security agents as she had been subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment including simulated drowning, being locked in a freezer and being subjected to physical assaults as her tormentors tried to make her confess to plotting to overthrow the administration of Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe.

In 2017, the High Court ruled that those who had illegally arrested her could be held liable in their own individual capacities and the case culminated in lengthy protracted negotiations that have led to this outcome. During this time, Jestina was called different names such as ‘regime change agent, reactionary and other unprintable words in a bid to delegitimise her legitimate human rights activism. She was portrayed as a criminal, a tag which remains today but this settlement in the court vindicates her and her work in defending human rights.

Jestina Mukoko herself added the following piece on the Significance of my case” (which I reproduce almost in full as it is such a good lessons learnt):

..The patrimonial settlement cannot atone for the trauma and suffering that I suffered and went through at the hands of the state security agents who were ruthless, merciless and very evil. It will not make for lost time as my liberty and all other human rights accorded to me by virtue of my being human was unjustifiably curtailed nor will it provide solace for my traumatised family – my mother, son, brothers, sisters in law, extended family, friends and other peace loving citizens.

However, it is a victory for the rule of law, constitutionalism and a mortal blow to impunity. The High Court’s decision is proof that the justice system is still able to prove the involvement of the state and its representatives in gross human rights violations, and bring them to account, with justice being done for the victims like myself.

It sets a landmark precedent and shows that the state actors can be held accountable for their illegal conduct. It also sends a message to the overzealous enforcers of orders and in this case very illegal orders to violate a plethora of my rights that they will be held responsible for their actions and this can even be in their personal capacity.

I hope my story will inspire many other victims. To some extent, justice has now been done and this case will stand as an example in the continuing fight against impunity for state crimes and excesses.

My resort to litigation and the subsequent victory in court sends a strong signal that state sponsored crimes cannot go unpunished.

It is also an encouragement to human rights defenders that the dangers of their work will not be in vain. I hope this case will embolden younger activists to pursue social justice in the comfort that they can rely on this case to hold the state or anyone accountable who may threaten their liberties. It is also a vindication of the advocacy work done by all human rights activists and those who have invested in promoting and protecting human rights that even though the fruits of this cumbersome and often arduous journey may come late , they eventually come. This is a victory for everyone who has been in the trenches with me and who has walked this risky journey of human rights work.

I hope that this victory will set an example, particularly to the Zimbabwean authorities, who must now prosecute the perpetrators of abductions and enforced disappearances which is a heinous crime.

The High Court’s decision sends a clear signal to the Zimbabwean authorities, who must do everything in their power to guarantee victims access to impartial justice and to put an end to the endemic impunity that is enjoyed by torturers and the perpetrators of serious human rights violations.

This settlement comes at a time when the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence set by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has started its work to establish the facts around the circumstances that led to the death of six people on 1 August 2018 in Harare after members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces opened fire against protesters. It must be established whether the force used by members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces was proportionate to the threat posed by unarmed protesters. It must also be established whether in doing so they overstepped their mandate and therefore should be held liable or the state vicariously liable. This case must form the basis for national rejection of all forms of impunity and the same principles must be followed by the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence.

In conclusion, I, Jestina through the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which plays a critical role in documenting human rights abuses, will continue to join hands with other civil society organisations such as ZLHR to champion human rights in the post-Robert Mugabe era without fear or favour. The journey to full implementation of the Constitution and compliance with the supreme law of the land continues.

https://www.zoomzimbabwe.com/2018/10/05/high-court-awards-jestina-mukoko-150000-in-damages-for-state-torture/

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/08/zimbabwe-celebrates-by-arresting-2-women-per-day-over-the-last-two-years/

Indigenous human rights defenders up against mining giant BHP

October 8, 2018

 AGM Protest Credit: London Mining Network
AGM Protest Credit: London Mining Network

Independent Catholic News of 4 October 2018 carries the following story on the London Mining Network 12-20 October 2018:

“I am Misael Socarras Ipuana, of the Wayuu People. I live in the north of Colombia, in the peninsula of La Guajira, in the community of La Gran Parada. I am a human rights defender, indigenous communicator, director, cultural expert and leader of my community. I am 48 years old, married according to the traditions of my people to Moncia Lopez Pushaina. I have six children, for whom I struggle daily to give them a better future, free of contamination and mining. We want to be autonomous in our territories, free and able to enjoy Mother Nature without restrictions or fear.”

Misael is one of the five human rights and environmental defenders joining the London Mining Network for a week of action 12-20 October around the annual shareholder meeting of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company. He will be speaking at events, meeting anti-coal campaigners in County Durham and holding BHP executives to account.

The London Mining Network, which highlights justice, peace and environmental issues related to extractive industries, is supported by religious and missionary groups with experience of the problems in countries where they work. Most of the world’s biggest mining companies, and many smaller mining companies, are listed on the London Stock Exchange, and on its Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

Communities all over the world are rising against mining violence and building alternatives that offer truly-sustainable futures, assert people’s rights and are deeply rooted in custodianship of land and water. This week of action will be an opportunity to explore this resurgence. They call for the UK government to commit to a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights to end corporate impunity.

As the world’s largest multinational mining company, Anglo-Australian-owned BHP’s AGM is an important moment to build these arguments. BHP’s record of forced displacement, dispossession and catastrophic environmental damage stretches back decades. The company is so powerful it is seldom held to account for this devastation, while indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant communities are hardest hit.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/28/2018-latin-america-still-the-graveyard-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/35749

Joint Statement by NGOs: Ukraine should address attacks against Human Rights Defenders

October 8, 2018

On 3 October 2018 a number of NGOs published a Joint Statement on Ukraine deploying the many attacks against Human Rights Defenders:

More than 50 attacks on activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine have been recorded by local human rights organisations in just the last nine months, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders said today. Those under attack include people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, protect the environment, and campaign against corruption. 

The organisations criticised the lack of effective investigations into these incidents and of prosecutions of those responsible, which heightens the risk to human rights defenders and sends a message that the authorities tolerate such attacks and assaults. Recently, the prosecutor general suggested that civil society activists brought the attacks on themselves <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/09/27/7193378/&gt;  for criticising the authorities, giving an impression that human rights defenders can be openly targeted.

In most cases, the attacks have targeted individuals or groups that campaign against corruption in the local community, shine a light on the operation of local government and businesses, or defend people’s rights. The purpose of such attacks is clear: to silence activists and human rights defenders and to discourage others from speaking out against injustice and standing up for human rights. 

Two recent examples of the kind of vicious attacks that have yet to be effectively investigated took place on 22 September, in Odessa and Kryvyi Rih. Oleh Mikhaylyk, an anti-corruption activist, was shot in Odessa, in southern Ukraine, and remains in the hospital. Mikhaylyk had campaigned with the Syla Lyudei (People’s Power) movement against illegal construction in Odessa. Three hundred kilometers away, in Kryvyi Rih, unidentified assailants broke into the home of Artem Moroka after he criticised the local police on Facebook. The assailants severely beat him, breaking his nose, Moroka told Ukrainian human rights monitors.

In June, an environmental activist, Mykola Bychko, was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a village in Kharkiv region. Villagers found Bychko hanged in the woods near the village of Eskhar on June 5. The local police initially started a suicide investigation, but have yet to investigate the possibility that he was killed in connection with his activism. At the time, Bychko was documenting the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby waste treatment plant.  A lawyer representing Bychko’s family questioned the conduct of the local police for ignoring the possibility that this was an intentional killing, and for allegedly intentionally delaying the investigation. The lawyer told Freedom House that police lost relevant evidence from the site where Bychko’s body was found, such as the rope from the improvised gallows. The authorities have also not pursued allegations that Bychko had received threats related to his documentation work, such as questioning people from the waste treatment plant. 

On July 31, an unidentified assailant threw acid on Kateryna Handzyuk, a local council member who monitored police activities, in Kherson. ……….

The Ukrainian authorities should take effective steps to prevent further threats and attacks against activists and human rights defenders, and ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into such threats and attacks and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials. 

The Interior Ministry, the National Police, the prosecutor general’s office, and other relevant institutions should explicitly recognise the important work of human rights defenders in protecting human rights and uncovering corruption. The authorities should publicly denounce any threats and attacks against human rights defenders. They should take decisive measures to ensure that government critics can work in a safe and enabling environment in which they can exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and conduct their activities without fear of reprisals. 

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://freedomhouse.org/article/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5092012018ENGLISH.pdf

 India: attacks on human rights defenders abound under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act

October 7, 2018

I recently wrote about India’s shameful place in the list of countries that practice reprisals [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/22/attack-on-human-rights-defenders-in-india-are-an-attack-on-the-very-idea-of-india/]. On 5 October 2018 this was followed by a joint statement by a large number of UN experts (Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Ivana Radacic (Chair), Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane (Vice Chair), Ms. Elisabeth Broderick, Ms. Alda Facio, Ms. Melissa Upreti, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomy (Vice-Chair), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara, Mr. Setondji Adjovi, Working group on arbitrary detention) saying that India uses terrorism charges as a pretext to silence human rights defenders

The UN human rights experts did so in the context of terrorism charges – under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – laid against 10 human rights defenders working with India’s poorest and most marginalised communities, including the Dalits, and urged authorities to ensure their cases are promptly heard in line with international law. All were arrested in June in connection with investigations into a public meeting organised a day before the 200th anniversary of the commemoration of a battle at Bhima-Koregaon, an important cultural event and a symbol of Dalit empowerment. Police subsequently claimed that the human rights defenders had links with ‘unlawful organisations’. “We are concerned that terrorism charges brought in connection with the commemoration of Bhima-Koregaon are being used to silence human rights defenders who promote and protect the rights of India’s Dalit, indigenous, and tribal communities,” the UN experts said. “We are very concerned about the charges against the human rights defenders and the continuing detention of nine of them,” the UN experts said. “All have been active in peacefully defending human rights, including those of marginalised and minority communities, political prisoners, and women, and their arrests appear to be directly related to their human rights work.

 

In June2018 Front Line Defenders listed as some of these:

 

 

Surendra Gadling <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/surendra-gadling> a human rights lawyer and General Secretary of the Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers (IAPL).

Rona Wilson <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/rona-wilson&gt;  is a member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), which has campaigned against the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other repressive laws.

Sudhir Dhawale <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/sudhir-dhawale&gt;  is a Dalit rights activist and the editor of the Marathi magazine ‘Vidrohi’.

Shoma Sen <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/shoma-sen&gt;  is a professor at Nagpur University and a long time Dalit and women’s rights activist.

Mahesh Raut  <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/mahesh-raut&gt; is a land rights activist working with Gram Sabhas in the mining areas of Gadhchiroli.

On 5 July 2018, Front Line reported that human rights lawyer Advocate Sudha Bhardwaj released a statement refuting the false allegations and defamatory statements levelled against her by Arnab Goswami, news anchor and managing director of Republic TV. In a program that aired on 4 July 2018, Arnab Goswami alleged that the human rights defender was linked to Maoists. (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/sudha-bhardwaj). Sudha Bhardwaj firmly denied that the letter was written by her, and refuted the false allegations as defamatory and hurtful. She also expressed incredulity at the fact that the source of the letter had not been revealed, and that the letter had surfaced at the studio. She believes that the malicious and fabricated attack on her is a result of a press conference she had addressed in Delhi on 6 June 2018, condemning the arrest of Advocate Surendra Gadling. Front Line adds that This smear campaign comes as a part of an ongoing crackdown against human rights lawyers in India, especially those who work with Adivasi people and Dalits. Front Line Defenders condemns the smear campaign against human rights defender Sudha Bhardwaj, which it considers to be in retaliation to her legitimate and peaceful human rights work. Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the security of Sudha Bhardwaj, particularly as the inflammatory allegations may motivate judicial harassment or other forms of retaliation.  

—–

https://www.jurist.org/news/2018/10/un-experts-decry-india-terrorism-charges-against-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23686&LangID=E

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org

 

 

in Memoriam Vitaly Safarov, Georgian Human Rights Defender

October 7, 2018

Vitaly Safarov.
1 OCTOBER 2018

Front Line Defenders is deeply saddened by the death of human rights defender Vitaly (Vito) Safarov, who passed away on 30 September 2018 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Vitaly first got involved in human rights work in 2013 when he became a trainer in a multicultural camp for children in Georgia. He then worked for the Georgian NGO “Centre for Participation and Development” as a trainer of youth programs. For the past two years, Vitaly was a part of the Tbilisi Shelter Initiative that provides human rights defenders from across the region with a safe space, rest, medical aid and capacity-building programs. He accompanied defenders from different countries and backgrounds on a daily basis, helping them to adapt during their stay in Tbilisi and to benefit from the Shelter’s programs.

Svetlana Anokhina, journalist from Dagestan, who stayed at the Tbilisi shelter commented: “He took care of me during my three-month stay. When I arrived, I was told: here is Vitaly and he is your case manager. 20 minutes later, he became simply Vito to me. If someone asked what he meant to me and I could not explain, I responded: “Just imagine that you have a younger brother who you would call when you are having Internet connection problems; or if you need to go somewhere but you are too tired; or if you are in a hospital and don’t know who you should turn to; or if you are just feeling bad. Vitaly always responded in such a way to these problems that he would leave you feeling much better”.

Front Line Defenders’ Protection Coordinator and Board member of Tbilisi Shelter, Maria Chichtchenkova said: “At Front Line Defenders we were privileged to collaborate with Vitaly Safarov on many projects for human rights defenders at risk. He was especially involved in our work on digital security. He had a deep commitment to working with and for HRDs of all cultures, being himself of Jewish and Yazidi roots. He had a great sense of humour, which was sometimes quite dark, but he always showed incredible kindness and tenderness to people. One of our colleagues referred to him as “Vito, defender of defenders” and that’s exactly who he was.

Vitaly Safarov will be missed and remembered by so many people.

Third Committee of UN General Assembly 2018 will consider human rights issues

October 5, 2018

With the last session of the the Human Rights Council having been considered fruitful by civil society [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/29/in-spite-of-or-because-of-the-us-absence-the-39th-human-rights-council-considered-a-relative-success/], the focus is now on New York. This week, the UN General Assembly’s principal human rights committee – the Third Committee – kicked off its deliberations (Tuesday 2 October, running through to 21 November 2018).  This is a key moment in the year for UN member States to take action in support of the respect of human rights globally, through the negotiation and adoption of resolutions focused on thematic or country situations.   The ISHR provides the following insight:

Over 50 Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, chairs of working groups and treaty bodies will present findings and recommendations to the Committee, and engage in interactive dialogues with member States.  These reports and exchanges should inform the focus and shape of negotiated resolutions. 

The Committee will consider over 60 resolutions, this year focusing on a range of issues from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to the rights of indigenous peoples, and the human rights situation in Syria.  Once adopted, resolutions will pass to the UN General Assembly plenary for confirmation in early December. 

While opportunities for civil society to interact with the Third Committee are more limited than those available at the Human Rights Council, NGOs can attend formal sessions, follow them on  UN Web TV and engage informally with individual member States.  For more on the Third Committee see here.  

ISHR will be working to see the inclusion of positive references to human rights defenders and civil society space, in Third Committee resolutions.  We will be monitoring the Third Committee closely, as well as the General Assembly plenary meetings, and reporting on key developments. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @ISHRglobal and at #UNGA73for the latest updates.

Also, note that the ISHR will be hosting two side events during the Third Committee session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/09/civil-society-participation-at-the-un-subject-of-ishr-event-on-17-july/]

The first event will be about implementing commitments on human rights defenders, and it will be held on Tuesday 23 October at 1:15 p.m-2.45pm. The location of the event is to be confirmed. See here for updates.

ISHR’s second event will focus on treaty bodies and the importance of ensuring transparent elections. ISHR aims to facilitate dialogue about ways to improve treaty bodies and election processes moving forward. Time and date for this event to be confirmed. See here for updates.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-73rd-session-agenda-third-committee

Iranian Human Rights Defenders in trouble

September 27, 2018

On 21 September 2018 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH/ OMCT) petitioned the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to seek the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh. Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent defender and 2012 laureate of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, was arrested on June 13, 2018 at her home in Tehran. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/30/human-rights-defender-nasrin-sotoudeh-on-hunger-strike-in-iran/ ].. On September 16, 2018, Ms. Sotoudeh was informed that she would be denied her family visitation rights if she and her female visitors – including her daughter – did not wear a full hijab. Ms Sotoudeh has refused the condition and was denied the right to see her daughter on September 17, 2018.
The Observatory urges the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Sotoudeh and to cease all acts of harassment and other abuses against her and all human rights defenders in Iran, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and with international human rights standards and international instruments to which Iran is a State party.

The semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Thursday 27 September that another human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi, has been granted a three-day leave from prison to visit her ailing father.

However, the recent terror attack in Iran may be expected to prompt the Guards to compensate by cracking down on domestic detractors and perceived opponents of their mission of defending and principles of the Islamic revolution. Certainly, some prominent figures within the Iranian activist and expatriate communities have been quick to raise alarms about the likelihood of this outcome. For instance, the Center for Human Rights in Iran quoted the Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi as saying of last Saturday’s attack, “Such actions lead to the justification of state violence and the arrest of many opponents in the name of fighting terrorism.” Meanwhile activists echoed the sentiment, saying, “Terrorism and violence in any form should be condemned in the strongest terms [but] such acts of violence should not become an excuse for state violence to suppress peaceful opposition.

Murder of Dutch IKON journalists in 1982 in El Salvador revisited

September 25, 2018

In the Dutch media a lot of attention is being paid at the moment to the 35-year old story of the IKON journalists who were killed in El Salvador in 1982. Some years ago I started to write up ‘human rights stories’ that I had been closely involved in, with the idea that some day they would be of interest. This seems a good moment to ‘publish’ for the first time the chapter on my involvment with the case of the IKON journalists:

1982 IKON journalists killing and El Salvador

…On 17 March 1982, three months before I took up my post as thea first director of the new Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), the world – and especially the Netherlands – were shocked by the kiliing of a team of television journalists of the TV channel IKON in El Salvador. The very uncivil conflict there had already costs thousands of people their lives including the internationally known cases of the 4 American nuns and the progressive bishop Oscar Romero 1980. The USA under Reagan had clearly changed course and was openly supporting the Duarte regime against the left-wing rebels. The Dutch government – especially its ‘atlanticist’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans van de Broek[1]– was caught between its desire to appease the US government and to respond to the public outcry back home. The compromise reached was that the Dutch Ambassador from a neighbouring country (Jan Willem Bertens) was exceptionally allowed to undertake an investigation on Salvadoran territory, but – if no evidence of government involvement was found – that would be the end of the affair. The fact-finding mission by the Dutch Ambassador did not find any strong evidence; the report was left with the Salvador government and submitted to the Dutch parliament.

One of the first visitors to SIM was Yata Matsuzaki who was the partner of one of the journalists killed and on behalf of the families – who were not convinced by the inconclusive Bertens report. She asked me to take on the case and see whatever else could to done to keep the matter alive. There was even some money set aside for this by the families which was very useful as later – when the Dutch Minister Van der Stoel queried whether this kind of activity (i.e. second-guessing him) was within SIM’s mandate – I was able to refer to the fact that SIM was supposed to find externally funded projects and this had been one of them.

In fact, I had to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find ways to keep the case alive but fortunately the UN had just establish a “Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”and I submitted the case there. With the help of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in NY I also tried to obtain copies of relevant telexes from the US State Department but most was blacked out.

This involvement with El Salvador led SIM to start a project on how to count human rights violations in general (with initial focus on Central America) and we tried to solve difficult issues such as killings by non-state actors and defining indirect victims. One of the persons helping in El Salvador was Marianella Garcia Villas who had come to SIM in early 1983. I offered to help her with obtaining political asylum in the Netherlands, but she insisted on going back as she was most needed there.  I felt not just sad and shocked but also ‘guilty’ when soon after her return she was murdered.

Then in May 1984 three Dutch parliamentarians (one from each main party) accepted to go on a mission to Central America (and the USA see picture) and I was asked to join as an independent ‘expert’. It became a memorable trip, including a shooting incident on the road in Nicaragua, but what crowned it was that in El Salvador I got a chance to meet with the Prosecutor’s office that was in charge of the IKON investigation. They kindly showed me the file and I was shocked to see that it contained almost nothing and especially that the report by the Dutch Ambassador – 2 years later! – had not been translated into Spanish.

Upon arrival in Schiphol airport, there was a well-attended press conference and when there were questions about the IKON investigation the parliamentarians agreed that I should answer as an independent expert. The journalists had clearly not forgotten their colleagues and fielded many questions. When asked what the Dutch government should do now, I replied that it is was time to re-open the investigation and that my colleagues on the mission representing a majority in parliament were well placed to formally ask for it, which they promptly said they would. When soon afterwards a majorly in parliament adopted a motion requesting this, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not pleased and initially refused to carry out the motion. However, as this was not worth a government crisis the Prime Minster Lubbers engineered a compromise under which the Dutch government would follow up and at least translate the text.

In 1993 a Report of the Truth Commission of the United Nations on El Salvador concluded that the journalists had been killed in a planned ambush, that Reyes Mena was responsible and that El Salvador so far had failed to do research in order to sentence and punish those responsible. That same year an amnesty law was passed in El Salvador,…

and now (September 2018) I can add a final chapter:

A team of the Dutch television programme Zembla has traced the former colonel of the Salvadoran army, Mario Reyes Mena, who ordered the killings. The now 79-year-old Reyes Mena has been living in the United States for four years. Zembla found him through his three adult children, who are active on social media.

When confronted he claimed that the amnesty pronounced by the government of El Salvador covers his actions. However this amnesty law was cancelled in 2016. In August 2017, the investigation into the murders was already reopened administratively. Two Salvadoran human rights organizations, ‘Fundación Comunicándonos’ and ‘Associacíon de Derechos Humanos’, urged the Salvadoran judiciary to carry out the investigation and the ensuing prosecution.Gert Kuiper, de brother of one of the killed journalists has also started a procedure against the colonel and the Dutch Ambassador in El Salvador supports the move.

It is not known where we stand with this investigation but interesting is to note that in November 2017 another former Salvadoran army colonel, Inocente [SIC] Orlando Montano, was extradited from the USA to Spain to face charges relating to the 1989 killings of the 6 Jesuits priests.

Killings cannot have happy endings but justice is the next best thing.

[1]He succeeded in May 1982 the socialist Van der Stoel whose initial reaction to the killing had been more forceful.

Sources:

https://nltimes.nl/2018/09/25/investigation-ongoing-dutch-journalists-murders-el-salvador-1982

https://nos.nl/artikel/2251835-brein-achter-moord-op-ikon-journalisten-opgespoord.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/former-el-salvador-colonel-extradited-to-spain-over-1989-of-jesuits

Laureates of the 2018 Right Livelihood Award announced

September 24, 2018

The Laureates of this year’s Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, have been announced this morning at the International Press Centre at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, Sweden.  This years’ Honorary Award goes to anti-corruption champions Thelma Aldana (Guatemala) & Iván Velásquez (Colombia). The three cash awards go to civil and human rights defenders Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair (Saudi Arabia), the farmer Yacouba Sawadogo (Burkina Faso), known as “the man who stopped the desert”, and the agronomist Tony Rinaudo (Australia). See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/28/saudi-arabia-imprisoned-waleed-abu-al-khair-receives-another-human-rights-award/https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/mohammad-fahd-al-qahtani; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/abdullah-al-hamid/

The Laureates’ trailblazing work for accountability, democracy and the regeneration of degraded land gives tremendous hope and deserves the world’s highest attention. At a time of alarming environmental decline and failing political leadership, they show the way forward into a very different future,” comments Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. For more on the award see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/right-livelihood-award

The Award presentation will take place on 23 November at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, followed by public events and high-level meetings in Geneva, Zurich and Berlin.