Archive for the 'AI' Category

Following threats to NGO offices in Israel, human rights defenders demand investigation

August 1, 2019

On Wednesday, death threats were found spray-painted outside the offices of Amnesty International in Tel Aviv and ASSAF, an organization which advocates for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. (Photo: @AmnestyIsrael/Twitter)

Human rights defenders in Israel linked recent threats at three civil society organizations to the rhetoric and policies of the country’s government, which has worked to intimidate and suppress groups critical of its treatment of Palestinians and other marginalized people. Staff members at Amnesty Israel in Tel Aviv and the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) on Wednesday found death threats written in spray paint on walls outside the organizations’ offices. A box containing death threats and a dead mouse was found around the same time at the Elifelet Children’s Activity Center, which cares for refugee children.

“We have filed a complaint with the police and we see this as the result of the ongoing campaign of incitement against aid and human rights organizations, led by the government,” tweeted Amnesty Israel. Amnesty International denounced the threats as “deplorable and malicious acts” which must be investigated and unequivocally condemned by the government.

The Israeli authorities should take a strong stand by publicly condemning these acts and making clear that attacks against NGOs will not be tolerated,” said Philip Luther, the group’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Israeli authorities must also take steps to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organizations more generally are effectively protected and can carry out their work free from threats, intimidation, or harassment.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/ ]

…………”This is not the first time we are being threatened,” ASSAF wrote in a post on Twitter. “This is the result of the ongoing incitement campaign against aid and human rights organizations in Israel—with the encouragement and backing of politicians and public figures.” “You have to make sure this is the last time,” the group added, addressing authorities.

China’s cyber-dissident Huang Qi get 12 years jail

July 30, 2019

Quite a few mainstream media have paid attention on 29 July 2019 to the sentening of human rights defender Huang Qi, often referred to as the country’s “first cyber-dissident”, to 12 years in jail. Huang Qi is the founder of 64 Tianwang, a news website blocked in mainland China that covers alleged human rights abuses and protests. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/06/14-major-ngos-call-for-immediate-release-of-chinese-human-rights-defender-huang-qi/

He had been found guilty of intentionally leaking state secrets to foreigners. The statement, from Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court, added Mr Huang would be deprived of his political rights for four years and had also been fined $2,900. Huang has kidney and heart disease and high blood pressure. And supporters have voiced concern about the consequences of the 56-year-old remaining imprisoned.

This decision is equivalent to a death sentence, considering Huang Qi’s health has already deteriorated from a decade spent in harsh confinement,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. The press-freedom campaign group has previously awarded Huang its Cyberfreedom Prize. It has now called on President Xi Jinping to “show mercy” and issue a pardon.

Amnesty International has called the sentence “harsh and unjust”. “The authorities are using his case to scare other human rights defenders who do similar work exposing abuses, especially those using online platforms,” said the group’s China researcher Patrick Poon.

And in December 2018, a group of the United Nations’ leading human rights experts also pressed for Huang to be set free and be paid compensation. According to Reporters Without Borders, China currently holds more than 114 journalists in prison.

https://www.jurist.org/news/2019/07/chinese-journalist-huang-qi-sentenced-to-12-years-for-allegedly-leaking-state-secrets/

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-49150906

FOR SAMA also wins award at Durban International Film Festival 2019

July 25, 2019

On 25 July 2019 the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) announced that the Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award 2019 has gone to: For Sama directed by Edward Watts and Waad al-Kateab. The film earlier won Galway’s: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/16/31st-galway-film-festival-honors-for-sama-as-best-human-rights-film/

40th Durban International Film Festival award winners 2019

41st UN Human Rights Council: what the NGOs see as its result

July 16, 2019

On 12 july 2019, ISHR published what key civil society organisations thought of the just finished 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Civil society organisations welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council’s 41st session, including the extension of the SOGI mandate, adopting the first resolution on the Philippines and extending its scrutiny over Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belarus and Ukraine. This session witnessed heightened scrutiny of Council members by shedding light on the situations in Saudi Arabia and China. It missed an opportunity, however, to ensure that human rights are not sidelined in Sudan.

16 leading human rights organisations (see below) expressed regrets that Council members seek to use their seats to shield themselves and others from scrutiny. They called on States to stand with victims of human rights violations. They welcomed the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly association, that the Council stood up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls, and that it continued to address the threat posed by climate change to human rights. They also welcomed the reports on Venezuela, called on the High Commissioner to immediately release the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements, and on all States to pursue accountability for victims of intimidation and reprisals.

Full statement below:

By renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), the Council has sent a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It reaffirmed that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity. We welcome the Core Group’s commitment to engage in dialogue with all States, resulting in over 50 original co-sponsors across all regions. However, we regret that some States have again attempted to prevent the Council from addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.

This Council session also sent a clear message that Council membership comes with scrutiny by addressing the situations of Eritrea, the Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows the potential the Council has to leverage its membership to become more effective and responsive to rights holders and victims.

The Council did the right thing by extending its monitoring of the situation in Eritrea. The onus is on the Eritrean Government to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its membership obligations.

We welcome the first Council resolution on the Philippines as an important first step towards justice and accountability. We urge the Council to closely follow this situation and be ready to follow up with additional action, if the situation does not improve or deteriorates further. We deeply regret that such a resolution was necessary, due to the continuation of serious violations and repeated refusal of the Philippines – despite its membership of the Council– to cooperate with existing mechanisms.

We deplore that the Philippines and Eritrea sought to use their seats in this Council to seek to shield themselves from scrutiny, and those States [1] who stood with the authorities and perpetrators who continue to commit grave violations with impunity, rather than with the victims.

We welcome the written statement by 22 States on China expressing collective concern over widespread surveillance, restrictions to freedoms of religion and movement, and large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We consider it as a first step towards sustained Council attention and in the absence of progress look to those governments that have signed this letter to follow up at the September session with a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

We welcome the progress made in resolutions on the rights of women and girls: violence against women and girls in the world of work, on discrimination against women and girls and on the consequences of child, early and forced marriage. We particularly welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls under its new name and mandate to focus on the intersections of gender and age and their impact on girls. The Council showed that it was willing to stand up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls by ensuring that these resolutions reflect the current international legal framework and resisted cultural relativism, despite several amendments put forward to try and weaken the strong content of these resolutions.

However, in the text on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, long standing consensus language from the Vienna Declaration for Programme of Action (VDPA) recognising that, at the same time, “the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgment of internationally recognized human rights” has again been deliberately excluded, disturbing the careful balance established and maintained for several decades on this issue.

We welcome the continuous engagement of the Council in addressing the threat posed by climate change to human rights, through its annual resolution and the panel discussion on women’s rights and climate change at this session. We call on the Council to continue to strengthen its work on this issue, given its increasing urgency for the protection of all human rights.

The Council has missed an opportunity on Sudan where it could have supported regional efforts and ensured that human rights are not sidelined in the process. We now look to African leadership to ensure that human rights are upheld in the transition. The Council should stand ready to act, including through setting up a full-fledged inquiry into all instances of violence against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country.

During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, States heard loud and clear that the time to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is now  for the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We recall that women human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily detained despite the calls by 36 States at the March session. We urge States to adopt a resolution at the September session to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country.

We welcome the landmark report of the High Commissioner on the situation for human rights in Venezuela; in response to the grave findings in the report and the absence of any fundamental improvement of the situation in the meantime, we urge the Council to adopt a Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism in September, to reinforce the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner and other actors to address the situation.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This mandate is at the core of our work as civil society and we trust that the mandate will continue to protect and promote these fundamental freedoms towards a more open civic space.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. We acknowledge some positive signs of re-engagement in dialogue by Belarus, and an attempted negotiation process with the EU on a potential Item 10 resolution. However, in the absence of systemic human rights reforms in Belarus, the mandate and resolution process remains an essential tool for Belarusian civil society. In addition, there are fears of a spike in violations around upcoming elections and we are pleased that the resolution highlights the need for Belarus to provide safeguards against such an increase.

We welcome the renewal of the quarterly reporting process on the human rights situation in Ukraine. However, we also urge States to think creatively about how best to use this regular mechanism on Ukraine to make better progress on the human rights situation.

The continued delay in the release of the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements established pursuant to Council resolution 31/36 in March 2016 is of deep concern.  We join others including Tunisia speaking on behalf of 65 states and Peru speaking on behalf of 26 States in calling on the High Commissioner to urgently and fully fulfill this mandate as a matter of urgency and on all States to  cooperate with all Council mandates, including this one, and without political interference.

Numerous States and stakeholders highlighted the importance of the OHCHR report on Kashmir; while its release only a few days ago meant it did not receive substantive consideration at the present session, we look forward to discussing it in depth at the September session.

Finally, we welcome the principled leadership shown by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in pursuing accountability for individual victims of acts of intimidation and reprisals under General Debate Item 5, contrasting with other States which tend to make only general statements of concern. We call on States to raise all individual cases at the interactive dialogue on reprisals and intimidation in the September session.

[1]States who voted against the resolution on the Eritrea: Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, India, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Philippines and Pakistan.
States who voted against the resolution on the Philippines: Angola, Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Hungary, Iraq, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the Philippines.

*Statement delivered by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) on behalf of: DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ); Center for Reproductive Rights; ARTICLE 19; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Human Rights House Foundation; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Franciscans International; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

For the preview of the the 41st session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-human-rights-council-starting-on-24-june/

http://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc41-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Star power and human rights: food for thought by Kate Allen

July 11, 2019

The issue of star power for or against human rights has been referred to regualry in this blog. See e.g. my older post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/02/10/star-power-and-human-rights-a-difficult-but-doable-mix/ and the recent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/nicki-minaj-did-the-right-thing-and-cancelled-her-performance-in-saudi-arabia/

On 11 july 2019 Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director, published a thoughtful piece on this topic in Metro:

Nicki Minaj’s on-off concert in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has once again shone a spotlight on the thorny business of artists who agree to perform in countries with abysmal human rights records. Was she right – finally – to call it off? Should she ever have agreed to play in a country where women are treated as second-class citizens, where same-sex relations are forbidden, and where a whole host of other basic rights are denied? It sounds like a no-brainer – don’t go. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Musicians like Minaj are understandably keen to play in front of their fans in all sorts of countries, including Saudi Arabia. After all, they’re in the entertainment industry. If the popular demand’s there, you satisfy the demand. And ordinary Saudi fans of Minaj’s raunchy brand of pop (of which there are apparently a surprising number) aren’t themselves the people responsible for institutional human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia, so why punish them? Artists – and their management and publicity teams – will very likely go back and forth on this. Do we play? Is it worth the reputational risk? At Amnesty, we don’t believe in telling artists to ‘boycott’ this or that country.

Instead, number one, we say: ensure you are not, in any way, contributing to existing human rights violations through a specific performance. Madonna’s dancers at Eurovision Madonna’s dancers wore Israel and Palestine flags. If, for example, you’re a singer asked to play a concert in a stadium that’s just been built on land which has seen local people’s houses illegally destroyed, then playing there would be a form of complicity in the act of forced dispossession. Similarly, if the catering company at one of your foreign shows is an abusive employer, then you shouldn’t be party to this abuse by using them.

Number two: when agreeing to play in a country with a very poor human rights record (and we’re talking about scores of countries, not just obvious ones like Saudi Arabia, China or North Korea), you should be prepared to use your influence for good. Raise human rights issues directly where you can. Speak about cases publicly. Advocate for them after you’ve left the country. While the match was never played due to injury, tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic agreed to play in Jeddah last year and we asked them to tweet their support for human rights defenders who’d recently been jailed in the country. Similarly, this May, we called on the boxer Amir Khan – also hired for a well-paid exhibition bout in Jeddah – to go with his eyes firmly open and with a preparedness to speak about human rights issues wherever possible. There’s often a degree of fuzziness – perhaps unavoidable – in this. Madonna was criticised by some people for agreeing to perform at the recent Eurovision in Tel Aviv. For sure, Israel’s human rights record is dire, not least through its half-century military occupation of the West Bank. But others praised her for including both Palestinian and Israeli flags in her show.

At the end of the day, it’s unrealistic to expect singers or sports stars to act as celebrity arms of the United Nations. That’s not their job. But they don’t operate in a vacuum either. They need to understand the reputational risk of accepting big money from hosts with dire human rights records. And that risk is compounded if they make no effort to address some of the grim realities of where they go. Nicki Minaj says she’s now ‘educated’ herself about how women and LGBTI people are oppressed in Saudi Arabia, and how basic freedom of expression is denied. Minaj is an expressive performer free to speak her mind. It would be great if she continues speaking out on Saudi human rights issues.

https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/11/celebrities-arent-the-un-but-can-use-concerts-to-defend-human-rights-10176034/?ito=cbshare

NGOs ask EU to intervene for human rights defender Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan

July 10, 2019

On 11 June 2019 NGOs wrote a joint Letter to High Representative Mogherini regarding detained Human Rights Defender Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan. His is a wellknown case, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/23/fury-about-us-award-for-askarov-in-kyrgyzstan-backlash-or-impact/

Human rights defender Daniel Bekele now Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

July 8, 2019

As a further indication of the chances taking place in Ethiopia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/07/ethiopia-a-progress-report-by-defenddefenders-made-public-on-7-may/], the Parliament approved on 2 july 2019 the appointment of former NGO activist, Daniel Bekele, to serve as Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Daniel served in different organization including as Executive Director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/19/new-laws-are-being-introduced-in-kenya-to-restrict-human-rights-defenders/] and advisor at Amnesty International. Daniel who holds a Master’s Degree in International Law and legal Studies from Oxford university, has also been working as an independent consultant.

(In the 2005 parliamentary elections in Ethiopia, Daniel was actively involved in promoting human rights and independent election monitoring, as well as peace initiatives in the aftermath of the post-election crisis. However, he was arrested by the authorities and spent more than two years in prison. He was recognized as prisoner of conscience and in 2009 received the Alison Des Forges Award)

Ethiopia appoints Amnesty International advisor to lead commission

Today: World Refugee Day 2019

June 20, 2019

Many are the initiatives on this day. UNHCR lists just a few ways that you can take action right now and spread this message even further:

Sometimes good news fall on the right day: a French court acquitted Tom Ciotkowski, a British human rights defender who documented police abuse against migrants and refugees and volunteers who were helping them in Calais. Amnesty International France’s Programme manager on Freedoms, Nicolas Krameyer said: “Today’s decision, delivered on World Refugee Day, is not only a victory for justice but also for common sense. Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who did nothing wrong and was dragged through the courts on trumped up charges”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/]

EuroMed Rights focuses on the current practice of stopping people from disembarking ships/boats on the Mediterranean Sea shoreline, particularly in Tunisia. In many aspects, this situation is emblematic of the obstacles faced by refugees in obtaining protection and access to rights in the Euro-Mediterranean region. It is also emblematic of the unfailing solidarity with refugees of local organisations and individuals.

Freedom United issues a call to close Libyan slave markets.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is featuring stories of survival—a collection of video testimonies and first-hand accounts from people who have risked everything for a chance at safety. As an organisation working with refugees and people on the move, we know that nothing—not a wall, or even an ocean—will ever stop people who are simply trying to survive.

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https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/france-acquittal-of-young-man-for-showing-compassion-to-refugees-in-calais-shows-solidarity-is-not-a-crime/

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/world-refugee-day-deadlock-at-sea-obstacles-to-the-right-of-asylum-the-tunisian-case?e=1209ebd6d8

https://www.freedomunited.org/

https://www.msf.org/refugees-around-world-stories-survival-world-refugee-day

1 million people demand that Iranian government release Nasrin Sotoudeh

June 13, 2019

“The cruel sentence handed down to Nasrin Sotoudeh for defending women’s rights and standing up against Iran’s discriminatory and degrading forced veiling laws has sent shock waves around the world. The injustice of her case has touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people who, in a moving display of solidarity, have raised their voices to demand her freedom,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

We hope the support for Amnesty International’s campaign shows Nasrin Sotoudeh that, despite having to face an agonizing ordeal, she is not alone. Her continued detention has exposed the depths of the Iranian authorities’ repression on an international stage. Today we are sending them a clear message: the world is watching and our campaign will continue until Nasrin Sotoudeh is free.

As of 10 June, 1,188,381 people had signed Amnesty International’s petition.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/more-than-1-million-people-join-global-campaign-to-demand-iranian-government-release-nasrin-sotoudeh/

Two welcome paroles in Russia and Zimbabwe but justice is still to be done

June 11, 2019

Having reported earlier on the Oyub Titiev case in Russia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/19/human-rights-defender-in-chechnya-oyub-titiev-sentenced-to-4-years/] and that of the seven human rights defenders arrested in Zimbabwe [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/four-zimbabwe-human-rights-defenders-detained-at-at-the-mugabe-airport-on-their-return-from-foreign-trip/], I am now happy to report some progress:

Responding to news that Shali City Court in Chechnya has granted parole to the imprisoned human rights defender Oyub Titiev after almost one-and-a-half years behind bars, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said: “We have been calling for Oyub Titiev’s immediate and unconditional release since his detention. The real agenda behind his criminal prosecution on trumped up charges was to stop a human rights defender from doing his lawful human rights work….In spite of overwhelming evidence that the case against him had been fabricated, the authorities in Chechnya crudely abused the justice system to convict an innocent man. Today the court decided to at least partially amend the gross injustice by releasing Oyub in ten days time.” But if justice is to prevail, Oyub Titiev’s conviction should be quashed, and he must be given access to an effective remedy, including compensation, for his unlawful imprisonment.  “This decision comes just days after prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was detained and charged with supplying drugs amid allegations that he was framed, held incommunicado and beaten in custody. He is currently under house arrest and we call on his allegations against the authorities to be immediately investigated.”

High court Judge Justice Army Tsanga ordered for the release of the two activists seized at the Robert Mugabe International Airport upon arrival from Maldives. The state is alleging that the accused are members of the civil society organizations who connived with their accomplices went to Maldives where they underwent a training workshop by a Serbian non-governmental organisation called Center for Applied Non-Violent Action Strategies (Canvas) with intend to subvert a constitutionally elected government.

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https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/russia-titievs-parole-a-welcome-step-but-not-justice/

Breaking: Five Zim ‘Terrorists’ Out On Bail