Archive for the 'Amnesty international' Category

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/

After two years, justice for 14 woman human rights defenders in Poland

October 30, 2019

It was 11 November 2017 at the Independence Day march in Warsaw. For some years now this annual event, organised to mark Poland’s independence, had been tainted by the presence of some nationalist groups advocating “Europe will be white or deserted,” displaying racist and fascist symbols, while marching holding flares and throwing firecrackers on the streets of Warsaw. In 2017, these women decided it was time to act. As they unfurled a banner reading “Fascism Stop,” their peaceful protest against hate caused fury among the marchers. Video footage shows people reacting by kicking, spitting and screaming at them. They were called “sluts,” “lefty scoundrels” and “whores.” They were pushed, jostled, grabbed by the neck and dragged onto the pavement, suffering bruises and cuts. One of the women lost consciousness after being dropped on the ground and needed medical help. The authorities initially closed the investigation into the attacks with an absurd justification. But after the women appealed in February 2019, a judge ordered the investigation into the violence to be re-opened. However, adding insult to injury, the women were themselves charged with obstructing a lawful assembly and fined. And so their battle for justice began…..

Tomasz Stepien
The women being attacked at the Independence Day march in 2017.Tomasz Stepien

One by one the women stood up, said their full names and stated proudly that they wanted to be found ‘not guilty.’ Kinga, the last of them to speak, explained bluntly and movingly what compelled her to stand against hate on that night: ‘My grandfather was wounded in the battle of ’39. My mother went to the Uprising. My stepfather was in the home army in Kielce. My grandmother worked in a hospital. They are now dead and I am happy because I would not like them to see what is happening today.’

As the judgement was announced, suddenly I heard relieved sighs around the room. I turn to my colleague asking “what did he say?” and she confirmed: “They are not guilty! They are not guilty!” The judge upheld their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and, significantly, he told the women, “You were right.” As he finished, the room burst into a round of applause in celebration.

This case started with injustice but has finished with justice, and a message that fascism and hatred will not be tolerated in Poland.

https://www.euronews.com/2019/10/29/the-day-justice-was-finally-served-in-poland-for-vindicated-anti-fascist-campaigners-view

Egypt: all you can think of: widespread arrests, torture allegations, cyber attacks

October 19, 2019

On 18 October 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Egypt to immediately release scores of citizens who have been arrested in connection with recent anti-government demonstrations in several cities. Civil society groups report more than 2,000 people were detained before, during and after the protests on 20 September, which prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to express concern about reports of lack of due process. On Friday her office reported that the arrests are continuing, with a number of well-known and respected civil society figures affected, some of whom have been accused of terrorism. “Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights”, spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.

The abduction, arbitrary detention and torture of human rights defender and journalist Esraa Abdelfattah is another indication that Egyptian authorities are stepping up brutality against human rights defenders in a bid to ‘terrorize’ critics and opponents, said Amnesty International today. Esraa Abdelfattah was assaulted and abducted by security forces in plainclothes on 12 October. The next day she described to the Supreme State Security Prosecution how she was tortured by officers who beat her, attempted to strangle her and forced her to stand for nearly eight hours. “Esraa Abdelfattah’s account of torture, coming just days after the prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah described a similar ordeal in custody, is an alarming indication that Egypt’s authorities are stepping up their use of brutal tactics to crack down on human rights defenders,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah as well as his lawyer, Mohammed El-Baqer are currently being held at the Tora Maximum Security Prison, south of Cairo. Both have been accused of belonging to a terrorist group, funding terrorism, spreading false news that undermines national security and “using social media to commit publishing offices”, the UN human rights office said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/]

On 28 September the High Commissioner had already urged the “authorities to radically change their approach to any future protests’.

More than 2,000 people were detained, including lawyers, human rights defenders, political activists, university professors and journalists on 20-21 September, she said. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed that there no citizen in Egypt is arrested or prosecuted for carrying out legitimate activities or criticizing the Egyptian government, but for violating the law. He added that the right to peaceful demonstration is guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and the law. Hafez stressed that the OHCHR report was based on undocumented information, which only leads to falsehoods as the allegations contained in it are based on wrong ideas, and this hasty judgment reflects a lack of professionalism. He added that any actions taken against any person is done in accordance with the law and through sound legal procedures, all carried out with transparency and clarity.

In addition on 3 October 2019 it was reported in the New York Times that a series of sophisticated cyberattacks targeting Egyptian journalists, academics, lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists has been traced to Egyptian government offices, a cybersecurity firm has found. The attackers installed software on the targets’ phones that enabled them to read the victims’ files and emails, track their locations, identify who they contacted and when, according to a report to be published Thursday by Check Point Software Technologies, one of the biggest cybersecurity companies in the world, with headquarters just south of San Francisco and in Tel Aviv.

The cyberattack began in 2016, according to the Check Point report. The number of victims is unknown but Check Point identified 33 people, mostly well-known civil society and opposition figures, who had been targeted in one part of the operation. “We discovered a list of victims that included handpicked political and social activists, high-profile journalists and members of nonprofit organizations in Egypt,” said Aseel Kayal, a Check Point analyst.

CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

2019 Nobel Prizes for Peace and Literature: encouragement and disappointment

October 11, 2019

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/07/ethiopia-a-progress-report-by-defenddefenders-made-public-on-7-may/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/08/human-rights-defender-daniel-bekele-now-commissioner-of-the-ethiopian-human-rights-commission/].

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said: “This award recognizes the critical work Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has done to initiate human rights reforms in Ethiopia after decades of widespread repression.” Since assuming office in April 2018, it has reformed the security forces, replaced the severely restricting charities and society law, and agreed a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea to end two decades of hostile relations. He also helped broker an agreement between Sudan’s military leaders and the civilian opposition, bringing an end to months of protests.

However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s work is far from done. This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far. He must urgently ensure that his government addresses the ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability and further human rights abuses. He should also ensure that his government revises the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which continues to be used as a tool of repression, and holds suspected perpetrators of past human rights violations to account. ..“ow more than ever Prime Minister Abiy must fully espouse the principles and values of the Nobel Peace Prize to leave a lasting human rights legacy for his country, the wider region, and the world.”

Interestingly enough on the same day Ethiopian human rights blogger Befeqadu Hailu received the International Writer of Courage award. The Ethiopian human rights blogger who has been jailed four times over his activism has been awarded a literary prize set up in memory of playwright Harold Pinter. The Zone 9 blogging collective, which Hailu founded in 2012 alongside other Ethiopian activists, aims to hold politicians to account and protect the country’s constitution against corruption. He is also the deputy executive editor of Addis Maleda newspaper, a columnist for Deutsche Welle Amharic Service and a part-time programme co-ordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project. Zone 9 bloggers were finalists of the 2016 MEA.

In the meantime the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee for Literature came in for widespread and harsh criticism for its ‘troubling choice’: of Peter Handke. Writers including Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Slavoj Žižek say the 2019 Nobel laureate ‘combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness’

Austrian author Peter Handk greets the press outside his house in Chaville near Paris, on Thursday.
Austrian author Peter Handke greets the press outside his house in Chaville near Paris, on Thursday after his win. Photograph: François Mori/AP

The Guardian of 10 October writes: “Twenty years before Peter Handke would become a Nobel laureate, he won another title. In 1999, Salman Rushdie named him the runner-up for “International moron of the year” for his “series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milošević”….The Austrian playwright, whose Slovenian heritage had inspired in him a fervent nationalism during the Balkans war, had publicly suggested that Sarajevo’s Muslims had massacred themselves and blamed the Serbs, and denied the Srebrenica genocide. Seven years after Rushdie’s scorching condemnation, in 2006, he would also attend war criminal Milošević’s funeral….

Handke is a troubling choice for a Nobel committee that is trying to put the prize on track after recent scandals,” said author Hari Kunzru, who has taught the laureate’s work to his students. “He is a fine writer, who combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness.” Kunzru said he believed that Handke would have won the Nobel earlier, “had he not decided to act as a propagandist for the genocidal Milošević regime. He added: “More than ever we need public intellectuals who are able to make a robust defence of human rights in the face of the indifference and cynicism of our political leaders. Handke is not such a person.

Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and longtime critic of Handke, told the Guardian: “In 2014, Handke called for the Nobel to be abolished, saying it was a ‘false canonisation’ of literature. The fact that he got it now proves that he was right. This is Sweden today: an apologist of war crimes gets a Nobel prize while the country fully participated in the character assassination of the true hero of our times, Julian Assange. Our reaction should be: not the literature Nobel prize for Handke but the Nobel peace prize for Assange.”

And in a statement issued on Thursday, novelist Jennifer Egan, president of literature and human rights organisation Pen America, said:  “We are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic,” .. “We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’ At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.”..

——

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/nobel-peace-prize-must-spur-prime-minister-abiy-ahmed-towards-further-human-rights-reform/

https://mailchi.mp/a7dbe1560660/hrf-in-the-washington-post-on-todays-nobel-peace-prize?e=f80cec329e

https://home.bt.com/news/showbiz-news/ethiopian-human-rights-blogger-scoops-prize-in-memory-of-harold-pinter-11364401760959

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/10/troubling-choice-authors-criticise-peter-handke-controversial-nobel-win

https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/10/10/20907919/nobel-prize-literature-2019-2018-controversy-peter-handke-olga-tokarczuk

Panel against impunity for abuses against human rights defenders. New York on 16 October

October 9, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 16 October 2019
1:15 pm – 2:30 pm
UN Headquarters, New York
Room CR-11

This event is organised by Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights with the kind sponsorship of the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations.

Event with panellists:

  • Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Radya Al-Mutawakel, Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, Yemen
  • Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice Myanmar, Myanmar

Moderated by:

  • Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International

Welcoming remarks by:

  • Ambassador Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway

Please RSVP by 11 October.

Download the flyer here