Archive for the 'Amnesty international' Category

43rd session HRC: UN Secretary General launches Call to Action on human rights

February 25, 2020

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends the High Level Segment of the 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Violaine Martin
On 24 February 2020, with human rights under attack, António Guterres unveiled a blueprint for positive change. People’s basic human rights – their birth-right – are “under assault”, he said as he launched a Call to Action aimed at boosting equality and reducing suffering everywhere. “Human rights are our ultimate tool to help societies grow in freedom,” he told Member States on the opening day of the UN Human Rights Council’s 43rd session in Geneva. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/]

In his speech he detailed a seven-point blueprint for positive change and issued an appeal for solidarity. “People across the world want to know we are on their side,” he said. “Whether robbed of their dignity by war, repression of poverty, or simply dreaming of a better future, they rely on their irreducible rights – and they look to us to help uphold them.” Echoing the call for change, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that although threats to human rights, development and peace were on the rise, so were the practical, actionable solutions to these issues.

In his pledge to utilize the full weight of his office and the UN family to fulfil the Call to Action, Mr. Guterres highlighted the enduring value of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Highlighting the document’s proclamation that human rights are ‘humanity’s highest aspiration’, Mr. Guterres insisted that all States had a responsibility to protect and promote people’s “dignity and worth”. National sovereignty “cannot be a pretext for violating human rights”, Mr. Guterres insisted, while also maintaining that greater equality “strengthens States and societies, thereby reinforcing sovereignty”.

Positive change is possible, the UN chief insisted, recalling his own experience living under dictatorship in Portugal, which finally gave way to a democratic movement when he was 24 years old. Other “human rights struggles and successes inspired us”, the UN chief said, noting how these had secured the end of apartheid in South Africa and colonial rule. One billion people have also been lifted out of poverty in a generation, he continued, and there have also been major advances in improving access to drinking water, along with big declines in child mortality. ..

Chief among these challenges are several protracted, unresolved conflicts that have left families trapped in war-torn enclaves, “starved and bombed in clear violation of international law”, he said.  Human trafficking also affects “every region of the world”, the UN chief noted, leaving women and girls “enslaved, exploited and abused”, unable to realise their potential.  Journalists and civil society are also under threat, with activists jailed, religious groups and minorities – including indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees and the LGBTI community – persecuted under “overly broad definitions of national security”.

Global hunger is also increasing, Mr. Guterres said, before highlighting a series of 21st century issues linked to huge problems that affect all countries: the climate crisis, population growth, urbanization and the dark underbelly of technological progress. “People are being left behind. Fears are growing. Divisions are widening,” he said. “Some leaders are exploiting anxieties to broaden those gaps to breaking point.”

Introducing his Call to Action blueprint, Mr. Guterres explained that its aim was to “transform the ambitions of the Universal Declaration into real-world change on the ground”.

Heading the seven-point protocol is a call to put human rights at the core of sustainable development – a reference to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to by the international community in 2015 under the Agenda 2030 banner. “The vast majority of the goals and targets correspond to legally binding human rights commitments made by every Member State,” Mr. Guterres said. “When we help lift people out of abject poverty – when we ensure education for all, notably girls – when we guarantee universal healthcare…we are enabling people to claim their rights and upholding the core pledge of the 2030 Agenda to leave nobody behind.”

Among the other priorities, the UN Secretary-General highlighted that much more needs to be done to prevent violence against women. “Violence against women is the world’s most pervasive human rights abuse,” he said, in a call to “every country” to support policies that promote gender equality, repeal discriminatory laws…ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights, and strive for women’s equal representation.

Turning to 21st century challenges, Mr. Guterres reiterated that the climate crisis was “the biggest threat to our survival”. It has already threatened human rights around the world and would continue to do so in future, he noted, before underscoring people’s right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable planet that the Call to Action is designed to achieve. Young people will be empowered to participate in this process, the UN chief insisted, so that they do “not simply speak, but to participate and shape decisions that will affect their future”.

Finally, on the challenges posed to human rights by new technology, Mr. Guterres explained that progress in this field “are too often used to violate rights and privacy through surveillance, repression and online harassment and hate”. Facial recognition and robotics should never be used to deepen inequality, he insisted, while also reiterating his call for online-ready human rights norms such as the Internet Governance Forum.

Following this announcement Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director, said: “…We hope this will translate to a genuine, effective and coordinated UN response to address ongoing human rights crises around the world – from the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the systematic targeting of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and the mass internment of almost one million Uighurs in China – and to hold states to account. “We welcome any initiative that seeks to put human rights front and centre at the UN across its operations. To ensure the success of this initiative, the Secretary-General must lead by example in his willingness to speak up when abuses are taking place, and must ensure adequate funding for the protection of human rights within the UN. Mr. Guterres has described his new initiative as a call for action. Now we need to see the action.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/02/1057961

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/un-action-plan-on-human-rights-bold-leadership/

Turkey: who will defend the human rights defenders?

February 16, 2020

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International, wrote on 14 February 2020 a moving piece on the detention and suffering of her fellow human rights defenders in Turkey.

Some moments in life are forever etched in our minds. Everyone recalls where they were when they heard their favourite rock star died, or how they felt around the birth of a child. For me, 6 June and 5 July 2017 are two dates that will forever be on my mind. They are the days when I learned that my friends and colleagues, human rights defenders, had been detained by Turkish police…On 6 June 2017, I was in Istanbul on a work visit, meeting with journalists and lawyers ahead of the start of the trial of two writers. It had almost been a year since the attempted and bloody military coup of July 2016. The Turkish government had responded with a sweeping crackdown on dissenters from all backgrounds, which was continuing to gather pace. I was with the editor of a small newspaper when I heard that my colleague Taner Kılıç had been detained. I will never forget the sinking feeling during those first moments. Trying to make sense of the nonsensical is always difficult. Knowing about the crackdown had not prepared me for how I’d feel when someone I knew was caught up in it.

…..

It was around 8pm on 5 July when I saw several missed calls from a colleague in Turkey. When I rang back, I learned that Amnesty’s Director in Turkey, Idil Eser, and nine others were in detention after being arrested  while attending a workshop on the island of Buyukada. My friend and sister Ozlem was among them. I recall vividly the ensuing hours, making frantic calls to whoever I could think of to try and find out where they were and what was going on. How could people be arrested for attending a human rights workshop? It made no sense.

…….

This week, I will be in Istanbul for the verdict in the case of Taner and the Buyukada 10. If found guilty of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, they could face up to 15 years behind bars. At the last hearing in November, I was in the courtroom when the state prosecutor requested that Taner and five of the Buyukada 10 – Idil, Ozlem, Gunal, Nejat and Veli – be convicted, and recited those initial absurd allegations that had been destroyed under the weight of the evidence their defence had provided. This included the allegation that Taner had the secure messaging app ByLock on his phone. Since the coup attempt the authorities have used this allegation against tens of thousands of people to try to prove they were part of an armed terrorist organization. In Taner’s case it was proven to be baseless, including by the state’s own reports to the court. In fact, after 10 hearings in the case, all the accusations made against them have been shown, one by one, to be entirely baseless. How is it possible that the state is still asking for the convictions of our colleagues and friends? The situation facing them is not unique. Their situation is in many ways emblematic of the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey. On Tuesday, another landmark verdict is expected in the case of Osman Kavala and 15 others accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to support their claim, the prosecution has nevertheless sought life prison for them… [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/29/turkey-defies-european-court-on-kavala-and-undergoes-upr-review/]

I have been in that courtroom for this trial ever since it began. Each time, the absurdity of the prosecution and the complete lack of evidence of any crime having been committed – let alone under terrorism laws – struck everyone in attendance as reserved to the pages of a nightmarish novel. When I walk into the Istanbul courtroom next week, I know there is only one outcome that could deliver justice.  Taner, Ozlem, Idil, Nala. Seyhmus, Ilknur, Ali, Peter, Veli, Gunal and Nejat must all be acquitted. For defenders of human rights, for our friends, for human rights in Turkey, this is the only way just end to this long saga.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/who-will-defend-the-defenders/

Killing of Marielle Franco’s murder suspect does not end queries

February 12, 2020

In response to the recent death of Adriano da Nóbrega, a former policeman suspected of involvement in the murder of human rights defender Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Silva, Amnesty International Brazil’s Executive Director, Jurema Werneck, said:

After almost two years of investigation into the death of Marielle and Anderson, we demand transparency from the authorities. It is essential for Brazilian society to have full confidence in the efforts to find out who carried out these cruel murders…The information circulating today, like many of the leaks that have occurred since October last year, just sends a public message that the authorities are trapped in doubt.

“Events related to the investigations raise more questions than answers. For almost two years now the whole world has been looking closely at Brazil, waiting for the truth. While we understand the need for confidentiality, this cannot be confused with a lack of transparency…To guarantee justice for Marielle is to guarantee the rights of all human rights defenders to do their work with dignity and security, defending a fairer society.

Adriano da Nóbrega was killed on Sunday 9 February after he fired on police officers trying to arrest him in Northern Brazil. Nóbrega is thought to have led a paramilitary group suspected of ordering the murder of Marielle Franco.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/marielle-franco-one-year-after-her-killing-in-rio/.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/brazil-killing-marielle-franco-murder-suspect-raises-more-questions-answers

Sri Lankan Government accused of embarking on process to silence critics

January 22, 2020

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MENAFN in the Colombo Gazette of 13 January 2020 reports that the new Government in Sri Lanka, headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has been accused of embarking on a strategy to “militarize and securatize” Sri Lanka unleashing a chilling process of repression targeting critics and human rights defenders. Two human rights groups, the International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka (ITJP) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) said that with the help of activists in Sri Lanka (who cannot be named for their own safety) they have documented 69 incidents of intimidation and threats both before and after the elections which have targetted journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, plaintiffs, academics and opposition figures. In some cases the threats have been so serious the individuals have fled the country.

The report also illustrates how Gotabaya Rajpaksa has spread his tentacles across the government by appointing many members of his former army regiment to positions of authority and has increasingly militarized the policing and intelligence functions. Those involved in investigating past crimes including fraud have been removed from their posts.

Individuals previously accused of corruption or alleged to be involved in war crimes are now in office again – the ‘deep state’ is out in the open, occupying positions of authority,’ said Bashana Abeywardene of JDS, adding that it’s cast a pall of silence over once outspoken journalists, trades union activists and human rights activists.

On 16 January Amnesty International echoes this in https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa37/1678/2020/en/

Saudi Arabia finds that celebrities are easier to buy than human rights NGOs

January 13, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Amnesty International has released a joint statement, along with Transparency International and Civicus, [https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior30/1649/2020/en/] explaining why it will not be engaging in this year’s C20 process, a cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the annual G20 summit, which  started yesterday with a three-day “kick-off meeting”.

“The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government – which makes a mockery of the whole process,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. “The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights, as well as homosexuality, and tortures and executes critics.”

Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency in December 2019. It has recently invested in expensive PR campaigns to improve its image, and hosted several high-profile sporting events which draw international visitors [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/]. But behind this carefully cultivated façade, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is as appalling as ever. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the journalist and peaceful critic Jamal Khashoggi. More than a year after his murder in October 2018, there has been no justice or accountability for his death. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/saudi-arabia-continues-to-buy-celebrities-this-time-for-the-mdl-beast-festival/]

The country’s leading women’s rights activists remain behind bars and on trial for their promotion of women’s rights in the country. Scores of other individuals, including human rights defenders, have been serving lengthy prison terms for their peaceful activism or have been arbitrarily detained for up to a year and a half without charges. The Saudi Arabian authorities have also carried out executions following unfair trials and routine torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

The Saudi-led C20 process has already failed to guarantee the C20’s fundamental principles. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process is led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, and cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory. Since the Saudi authorities ban political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, there is no way the C20 meetings can be the free and open discussions they are designed to be.

The full statement is available here

Annual reports 2019: Amnesty International

December 29, 2019

The 3rd annual report comes from Amnesty International which this year looks at some of the positive highlights, many won by human rights defenders:

[The first two annual reports in this blog are: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/annual-reports-2019-civicus-global-report/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/28/annual-reports-2019-huridocs-harnessing-the-power-of-human-rights-information/]

With inequality, injustice and hate speech seemingly ever more prevalent across the globe, you’d be forgiven for thinking 2019 has been a bad year for human rights. Yet, AI says that we have also seen some significant wins. Activists the world over have been galvanised to stand up and fight for our human rights – and thanks to their relentless campaigning we achieved some striking leaps forward. Here are some highlights…

January 

Legal abortion services were finally available to women in Ireland, following an historic referendum in May 2018 that marked a huge victory for women’s rights. It was the result of years of dedicated work by activists, including Amnesty International, to encourage a powerful conversation that helped catalyse the abortion debate in Ireland. This ultimately led to greater protection for those people who need an abortion there, and paved the way for the same inspiring progress in Northern Ireland later in the year.

As a tribute to Julián Carrillo, an environmental rights defender killed in October 2018, we launched Caught between bullets and neglect, a digest on Mexico’s failure to protect environmental human rights defenders. Just a few hours after the launch, two suspects in Julián’s murder were arrested, showing the immediate impact Amnesty’s work can have on justice.

The Angolan Parliament approved a revision of the Criminal Code to remove a provision widely interpreted as criminalizing same-sex relationships. They even took a step further, by criminalizing discrimination against people based on sexual orientation – the first country in 2019 to make this move, and a hearteningly radical move for an African nation.

February

After spending 76 days in detention in Thailand, refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was able to return to his home in Melbourne on 12 February. The Bahrain-born footballer had been detained upon arrival in Bangkok on 27 November 2018, due to an erroneous Interpol red notice, and faced the threat of extradition to Bahrain. A campaign launched by Amnesty and other groups to free the footballer, who is a peaceful and outspoken critic of the Bahraini authorities, grew into the #SaveHakeem movement. The campaign spanned three continents, engaging footballers, Olympians and celebrities, and drawing the support of more than 165,000 people.

Following international attention and campaigning by Amnesty, Saudi authorities overturned a call by the Public Prosecution to execute Saudi woman activist Israa al-Ghomgham for charges related to her peaceful participation in protests. Israa al-Ghomgham still faces a prison term, and Amnesty continues to campaign for her immediate and unconditional release.

March

In Ukraine, an International Women’s Day rally organized by human rights defender Vitalina Koval in Uzhgorod, western Ukraine, went ahead peacefully, with participants protected by police. The event marked a major change for the region, after similar rallies organised by Koval in previous years had been targeted by far-right groups, with police singularly failing to protect participants from violence.

AFRICOM admitted for the first time that its air strikes have killed or injured civilians in Somalia, after the release of Amnesty’s investigation The Hidden US War in Somalia: Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes in Lower Shabelle. Following this report, US military documents came to light confirming that the US authorities knew of further allegations of civilian casualties resulting from many of their air strikes in Somalia.

Gulzar Duishenova had been championing disability rights in her country Kyrgyzstan for years. In March 2019, her persistence paid off when Kyrgyzstan finally signed up to the Disability Rights Convention. Amnesty supporters wrote nearly a quarter of a million messages backing her.

And in Iraq, just days after Amnesty and other NGOs raised the alarm about a draft cybercrime law that would seriously undermine freedom of expression there, the Iraqi parliament chose to withdraw the bill, confirming to Amnesty that its “concerns have been heard”.

April

In April, love triumphed when a ban on all LGBTI events in Ankara, Turkey, was lifted by the administrative appeals court. “This is a momentous day for LGBTI people in Turkey, and a huge victory for the LGBTI rights activists – love has won once again,” said Fotis Filippou, Campaigns Director for Europe at Amnesty International.

The District Court of The Hague issued an interim ruling in favour of Esther Kiobel and three other women who took on one of the world’s biggest oil companies, Shell, in a fight for justice. Esther has pursued the company for more than 20 years over the role she says it played in the arbitrary execution of her husband in Nigeria. Amnesty has shared over 30,000 solidarity messages with Esther Kiobel, and is supporting her Kiobel vs Shell case in The Hague. As a result of this hearing, the court in October 2019 heard for the first time the accounts of individuals who accuse Shell of offering them bribes to give fake testimonies that led to the ‘Ogoni Nine’ – who included Esther Kiobel’s husband – being sentenced to death and executed.

President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, announced that his government would introduce legislation to abolish the death penalty.

May

Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after passing an historic law on 17 May, with the first same-sex weddings taking place on 24 May. Together with LGBTI rights groups from Taiwan, Amnesty had campaigned for this outcome for many years. We are now working to end all discrimination against LGBTI people in Taiwan.

Qatar promised more reforms to its labour laws ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Human rights pressure also played a role in FIFA’s decision to abandon plans to expand the 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 teams, which would have involved adding new host countries in the region. Amnesty worked together with a coalition of NGOs, trade unions, fans and player groups, calling attention to the human rights risks of the expansion, including the plight of migrant workers building new infrastructure.

June

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of schoolchildren were honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award 2019. The Fridays for Future movement was started by Greta, a teenager from Sweden who in August 2018 decided to miss school every Friday and instead protest outside the Swedish parliament, until it took more serious action to tackle climate change.

In a long overdue move, Greece passed legislation to recognize that sex without consent is rape, and Denmark’s government committed to doing the same. This development is testament to the persistence and bravery of survivors and campaigners for many years, and creates real momentum across Europe following 2018 Amnesty’s review of outdated legislation in 31 European countries and other barriers to accessing justice for rape survivors.

From 1 June 2019, contraceptives and family planning clinic consultations became free of charge in Burkina Faso. The change was seen as a response to our 2015 My Body My Rights petition and human rights manifesto calling for these measures to be put in place. With financial barriers removed, women in Burkina Faso now have better access to birth control, and more choice over what happens to their bodies.

July

In a momentous and inspiring day for human rights campaigners, the UK parliament voted through a landmark bill on 22 July to legalize same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The bill also forced the UK government to legislate for abortion reform in Northern Ireland, including decriminalization on the basis that a Northern Ireland Executive (government of NI) did not return in three months.

Also in July, in a US Congressional hearing, a senior Google executive gave the clearest confirmation yet that the company has “terminated” Project Dragonfly, its secretive programme to develop a search engine that would facilitate the Chinese government’s repressive surveillance and censorship of the internet. This followed Amnesty’s #DropDragonfly campaign, and hundreds of Google staff speaking out.

On 22 July, 70-year-old human rights defender and prominent Palestinian Bedouin leader Sheikh Sayyah Abu Mdeighim al-Turi was released from prison in Israel, after spending seven months in detention for his role in advocating for the protection of Bedouins’ rights and land. Sheikh Sayyah thanked Amnesty International and all those who took action on his behalf: “I thank you all very much for standing up for the right of my people and the protection of our land. While I was in prison, I felt and heard your support loud and clear, and it meant the world to me.”

August

Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who was sentenced to death and held in arbitrary detention for more than five years after publishing a blog on caste discrimination, finally walked free.

In August, Saudi Arabia announced major reforms easing some of the major restrictions imposed on women under its repressive male guardianship system, including allowing them the right to obtain a passport which should make it possible for them to travel without permission from a male guardian. The changes also grant women in Saudi Arabia the right to register marriages, divorces, births and deaths and to obtain family records. While we welcome these changes, people campaigning for women’s rights remain in prison, and we must do all we can to fight for their freedom.

September

Syrian national Ahmed H. was finally allowed to return home, after being imprisoned and then held in immigration detention in Hungary for more than four years. He had been arrested on terrorism charges after being caught up in clashes on the Hungarian border. At the time he was helping his elderly parents, who were escaping Syria and were crossing into Hungary as refugees. An amazing 24,000 people joined the #BringAhmedHome campaign, calling on Cyprus to allow Ahmed to return to his family.

A court in Tunis acquitted 18-year-old activist Maissa al-Oueslati, after she faced trumped-up charges that could have resulted in her imprisonment for up to four years. Maissa and her 16-year-old brother had been arbitrarily detained by police earlier in the month for filming a protester threatening to set himself on fire in front of a police station.

October

At midnight on Tuesday 22 October 2019, after a last-minute effort by the DUP to overturn the bill, same sex marriage became legal in Northern Ireland, while abortion was decriminalised. All criminal proceedings were dropped, including those against a mother who faced prosecution for buying her 15 year-old daughter abortion pills online.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said it was the beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland, in which the nation was freed from oppressive laws that police people’s bodies and healthcare. “Finally, our human rights are being brought into the 21st century. This will end the suffering of so many people. We can now look forward to a more equal and compassionate future with our choices respected.”

November

Kurdish-Iranian award-winning journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani arrived in New Zealand to attend a special WORD Christchurch event on a visitor’s visa sponsored by Amnesty International. It was the first time Boochani, known for his work reporting on human rights abuses from within the Australian government’s refugee detention centres, had set foot outside Papua New Guinea since he was detained on the country’s Manus Island in 2014.

Humanitarian volunteer Dr Scott Warren was found not guilty by a court in Arizona of charges linked to helping migrants on the US-Mexico border. In a similar case, Pierre Mumber, a French mountain guide who gave hot tea and warm clothes to four West African asylum seekers in the Alps, and was acquitted of “facilitating irregular entry”.

December

Alberto Fernández is inaugurated as President of Argentina on 10 December. As president-elect, Fernández announced he would push for the legalization of abortion as soon as he took office, saying: “It is a public health issue that we must solve.”

The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights said that 47 major fossil fuel and carbon-polluting companies could be held accountable for violating the rights of its citizens for the damage caused by climate change. The landmark decision paves the way for further litigation, and even criminal investigations, that could see fossil fuel companies and other major polluters either forced to pay damages, or their officials sent to jail for harms linked to climate change.

The regional Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Court of Justice rejected a 2015 ban imposed by the government of Sierra Leone preventing pregnant girls from sitting exams and attending mainstream school – and ordered the policy to be revoked with immediate effect.

Thailand: Amnesty and UN Rapporteur agree on misuse of lese-majeste

December 23, 2019

Thailand: Amnesty International published a special 30-page report “They Cannot Keep Us Quiet” on Wednesday 11 December 2019. It is sub-titled “The criminalization of activists, human rights defenders and others in Thailand.” It was released hours after David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, after meetings on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on what he called misuse of laws prohibiting defamation of the monarchy. “Thai authorities are waging a campaign to criminalise and punish dissent by targeting civil society and political activists who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” the Amnesty report said.

Mr Kaye said at a media briefing: “Lese-majeste provisions have no place in a democratic country. I urge the authorities of Thailand to take steps to revise the country’s Criminal Code and to repeal the law that establishes a justification for criminal prosecution.

And both singled out the refusal of the regime to back bail for dissident Jatupat Boonpatararaksa, better known as Pai Daodin.

https://wellstonjournal.com/un-envoy-amnesty-denounce-regime-ways.html

UN envoy, Amnesty denounce regime ways

New Amnesty report: Governments failing women human rights defenders

December 1, 2019

Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women's Day 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women’s Day 2019 © Ema Anis for Amnesty International

Governments around the world are failing to protect women human rights defenders from increasing attacks, Amnesty International said on 29 November 2019, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. In a new report –Challenging power, fighting discrimination” – based on interviews with 23 activists across 21 countries, Amnesty highlights how women human rights defenders continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalised and even killed for their campaigning.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination: if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power…All over the world, women human rights defenders are speaking out against injustice, abuse and discrimination, often because they have experienced it first-hand…..They are central to human progress: they fight for human rights and against patriarchy and racism, while pushing for ground-breaking reforms on so many fronts. Governments must live up to their commitment to ensure these activists can operate freely and safely.

In recent years, campaigners working on the rights of women, LGBTI people and other marginalised groups have come under growing pressure from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups. Women campaigning on these issues tend to be the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world.

Sexual violence

The report highlights several cases in which violence, including sexual violence as a form of torture, was used against women human rights defenders to silence them. In Bahrain, Ebtisam El-Saegh, an activist with the human rights organisation SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, was sexually assaulted, badly beaten, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated while in detention in 2017. El-Saegh told Amnesty: “I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’.”

In Egypt, Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender woman human rights defender was arrested in March this year following her involvement in peaceful protests in Cairo. She faced trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.’ While in detention, she was subjected to a forced anal examination and other forms of sexual assault. Even though she was undergoing gender affirming treatment, Malak was placed in an all-male detention facility which put her at increased risk of sexual violence. She was eventually released in July this year.

Smear campaigns

Women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns which vilify their “deviant behaviour” and are designed to fuel hostility against them. After rescuing migrants from the central Mediterranean Sea in June 2019, Carola Rackete, the Italian captain of the rescue boat Sea-Watch 3, was repeatedly insulted by the Italian Minister of Interior who called her a pirate and a criminal. His slurs were followed by vicious verbal attacks by others who incited sexual violence against her while also targeting her gender and appearance.

In Mauritania, Mekfoula Brahim, a woman human rights defender who has campaigned for an end to female genital mutilation, was branded an apostate in 2016 Facebook posts after defending a blogger sentenced to death for criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. The slur exposed her to the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ACT3011392019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/governments-failing-protect-women-activists-increasing-attacks-new-report

http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/353494

Afghanistan: human rights defenders targeted but fearless

November 26, 2019

Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency must immediately release two human rights defenders it detained after they exposed alleged sexual abuse against children. Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, both well-known human rights defenders from Logar province, were arbitrarily detained by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on 21 November 2019 when they were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul.

The two human rights defenders began receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, on Facebook after they gave interviews to The Guardian and Afghanistan’s TOLO News about the existence of a paedophile ring in the area. The human rights defenders uncovered more than 100 videos of the alleged abuse. Some of the victims of abuse have been murdered, according to The Guardian. “This is the latest case where human rights defenders have been targeted by the authorities for carrying out their important work. Faced with threats from both the state and non-state actors, they are operating in some of the most hazardous conditions anywhere in the world. There is impunity for attacks on these brave defenders, who have little to no protection.”

One day before he disappeared, Musa Mahmudi told a fellow Afghan human rights defender that he feared for his safety and that the NDS was planning to arrest him. He added that he was worried that he was under surveillance. Musa Mahmudi said that he had also received death threats, accusing him of “dishonouring the people of Logar.” In August 2019, Amnesty International published a briefing entitled, Defenceless Defenders: Attacks on Afghanistan’s Human Rights Community,” where the organization detailed how the Afghan government has persistently failed to investigate attacks on human rights defenders – sometimes accusing them of ‘fabricating’ their claims, declining to offer them protection; telling them to arm themselves instead. [on 26 november: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-president-orders-probe-into-alleged-pedophile-ring/30293787.html] and then; https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-releases-activists-who-exposed-alleged-pedophile-ring/30294906.html

The same day AI continued with its series of 16 omen human rights defenders from Afghanistan16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]. Untill December 10, their stories will be published one a day.

Day two: Maria Raheen

I am the director of the Journalism and Mass Communication Unit at Balkh University. I also head a non-governmental organization that works on human rights. For 20 years, as a women’s rights activist, I have pushed to address issues that prevent women from accessing their rights, not only in Balkh but also in other neighbouring provinces such as Samangan, Jowzjan, and Faryab.

One of my achievements is the establishment of the first private university in Balkh – Taj Higher Education Institute, which offers medicine, economy and law. Similar to Kabul, Herat and Kandahar, Balkh has some developments and achievements in terms of women’s rights. However, the province is still well known for the presence of armed groups, the local mafia and warlords, who have no respect for human rights. Due to existing challenges and the weak rule of law, self-censorship is embedded in the day-to-day lives of people in Balkh.

I am no stranger to tolerating injustices, especially when it is a matter of saving my life and my family’s lives. It gets challenging especially when it involves former war commanders who are now elected representatives of the area and, who would not hesitate to exert their power to commit crimes.

I hope in future like-minded women will join hands for the women’s revolution in Afghanistan, to reclaim the rights that we are entitled to.

Day one: Khawar Amiri

I am the Head of the Literacy Department of the Directorate of Education in Khost Province and have worked for many years as a mediator for women’s issues. As most women of Khost Province are illiterate, and some districts are yet to establish schools for girls, through the Literacy Department, I have conducted courses for women and girls above the age of 14 to enable their basic reading and writing skills. As a well-known human rights defender, I have worked in solving many of women’s issues through the Committee on Elimination of Violence against Women and tribal Jirgas (councils), with help of the police.

Women in Khost are exposed to discrimination and violence. Girls’ education is till grade six, after which they are sent off to marriage or asked to stay home. Forced marriages, being sold off, physical violence, lack of access to inheritance rights are some of the issues women face on daily basis.  Women don’t work in government posts in Khost, as most of the positions are held by men. Women are discouraged from applying for government positions as their posts are given to men and justified with unlawful reasons for not being appointed.

I have intervened in many cases of women being abused, sometimes solving the case with the help of local elders and at times through direct mediation. One of my biggest successes is organizing a Master’s Degree programme for women in Khost to study in India, funded by the US Embassy. Despite being threatened and attacked, I am continuing my activism.

I hope women are independent, have security, and have equal opportunities for studies, get to live a life free from violence. 

You can send a solidarity message to all of the 16 WHRDs in Afghanistan, or any one of them, and let them know that they are not alone. Please email your thoughts in a personal message to AfghanDefenders@amnesty.org and AI will share them with the activists.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/afghanistan-release-hrds-now/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/16-days-of-activism-afghanistan-whrds/

Amnesty’s Write for Rights Campaign 2019 – launched today – focuses on youth activists

November 18, 2019

Amnesty International launched its Write for Rights campaign which this year champions children’s rights and youth activists. “This year Write for Rights, Amnesty’s flagship human rights campaign, champions youth activists who are taking on the world’s biggest crises,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “From those campaigning for climate and environmental justice, to those challenging inequality, poverty, discrimination and political repression, young people have emerged as a powerful force for change who deserve the world’s support.”

Every December people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and postcards for those whose human rights are under attack, in what has become the world’s biggest human rights event.  Amnesty International is hoping to break last year’s Write for Rights record of nearly six million messages of support for activists and individuals from 10 countries whose human rights are under attack. [for last year’s campaign see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/24/amnesty-starts-again-its-write-for-rights-campaign/]

Write for Rights 2019 features youth human rights defenders and individuals from in Belarus, Canada, China, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines and South Sudan.

Launching two days ahead of Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, a day to promote children’s rights, several of the featured activists had their rights violated as children.

They include José Adrián, who was 14 when he was brutally beaten by police on his way home from school in Mexico. He is now demanding reparations for his treatment and for the police to stop arbitrary detentions in the state of Yucatán. Among the other cases are:

  • Grassy Narrows Youth, a group of youth activists from an Indigenous community in north-western Ontario who have suffered one of Canada’s worst health crises. Their community has been devastated by 50 years of mercury contamination of their fish and river system. The Grassy Narrows youth are urging the government to address the mercury crisis once and for all, including by providing specialized health care and compensation for all;
  • Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder, two volunteer rescue workers from in Lesvos, Greece, who face up to 25 years in prison for their humanitarian work helping spot refugee boats in distress;
  • Yasaman Aryani, who defied her country’s discriminatory forced veiling laws and now must serve 10 years behind bars. Amnesty is campaigning for her immediate release;
  • Marinel Ubaldo, a youth activist from the Philippines who is urging her government to declare a climate emergency and protect future generations from the devastating impacts of climate change after her home was destroyed by typhoon Haiyan.

“The Write for Rights campaign epitomizes the ideals that Amnesty International was founded on – it’s about individuals helping other individuals. We are urging people to get behind these incredible young people who are campaigning for justice, equality and freedom,” said Kumi Naidoo.

“As we know from our work over the past five decades, writing letters works. Not only can it help free prisoners of conscience, but it makes a huge emotional difference to the people we support and to their loved ones.”

Monica Benício, the partner of Marielle Franco, a local politician in Brazil who was killed last year and was featured as part of the last Write for Rights, said of the campaign: “It helps me to get up in the morning and see some meaning, knowing that there is this big global network of affection.  All these demonstrations of love and affection are helping us to mobilize, to demand justice, to pressure for investigation and above all to fight so that there will be no more Marielles.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/write-for-rights-2019-puts-youth-activism-in-the-spotlight/