Archive for the 'FIDH' Category

No end to NSO’s Pegasus trouble

April 5, 2022

TechCrunch of 5 April 2022 reports that Investigators say they have found evidence that a Jordanian journalist and human rights defender’s iPhone was hacked with the Pegasus spyware just weeks after Apple sued the spyware’s maker NSO Group to stop it from targeting Apple’s customers.

Award-winning journalist Suhair Jaradat’s phone was hacked with the notorious spyware as recently as December 5, 2021, according to an analysis of her phone by Front Line Defenders and Citizen Lab that was shared with TechCrunch ahead of its publication. Jaradat was sent a WhatsApp message from someone impersonating a popular anti-government critic with links to the Pegasus spyware, compromising her phone. According to the forensic analysis, Jaradat’s iPhone was hacked several times in the preceding months and as far back as February 2021.

Apple had filed a lawsuit against Israeli spyware maker NSO Group in November 2021, seeking a court-issued injunction aimed at banning NSO from using Apple’s products and services to develop and deploy hacks against its customers. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/21/nsos-pegasus-spyware-now-really-in-the-firing-line/…But so far the case has gotten off to a slow start after the first judge assigned to the case recused herself, with no decision on the case likely to be made any time before June.

Jaradat is one of several Jordanians, including human rights defenders, lawyers and fellow journalists whose phones were compromised likely by agencies of the Jordanian government, according to Front Line Defenders and Citizen Lab’s findings out Tuesday.

Among the others targeted include Malik Abu Orabi, a human rights lawyer whose work has included defending the teachers’ union, which in 2019 led the longest public sector strike in the country’s history. Abu Orabi’s phone was targeted as early as August 2019 until June 2021. Also, the phone of Ahmed Al-Neimat, a human rights defender and anti-corruption activist, was targeted by the ForcedEntry exploit in February 2021. The researchers said the hacking of Al-Neimat’s phone is believed to be the earliest suspected use of ForcedEntry.

Another Jordanian journalist and human rights defender’s phone was targeted, according to the researchers, but who asked for her identity not to be disclosed.

Meanwhile, on 5 April 2022, AFP reported that Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri, who is in Israeli detention, filed a complaint in France Tuesday against surveillance firm NSO Group for having “illegally infiltrated” his mobile phone with the spyware Pegasus.

Hamouri, who also holds French citizenship, is serving a four-month term of administrative detention ordered by an Israeli military court in March on the claim he is a “threat to security”.

He is one of several Palestinian activists whose phones were hacked using the Pegasus malware made by the Israeli company NSO, according to a report in November by human rights groups. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/palestinian-ngos-dubbed-terrorist-were-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

On Tuesday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Human Rights League (LDH) and Hamouri filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor.  It accused NSO of “having illegally infiltrated the telephone of rights defender Salah Hamouri,” they said in a statement sent to the AFP bureau in Jerusalem. 

Obviously, this is an operation that is part of a largely political framework given the harassment Hamouri has been subjected to for years and the attacks on human rights defenders in Israel,” attorney Patrick Baudouin, honorary president of the FIDH, told AFP.

https://www.securityweek.com/palestinian-lawyer-sues-pegasus-spyware-maker-france

https://citizenlab.ca/2022/04/peace-through-pegasus-jordanian-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

Naty Castro, human rights defender in the Philippines arbitrarily detained

March 10, 2022

On 8 March 2022 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests an urgent intervention in the Philippines.

The Observatory has been informed by Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan) about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Dr. Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro, a public health practitioner and human rights defender. Ms. Castro has worked in the poorest and most marginalised areas in the Philippines as a community-based health worker. She has also worked for the defence of community rights of the indigenous Lumad and is a former National Council member of Karapatan.

In February 18, 2022, officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA) arbitrarily arrested Ms. Castro at her residence in San Juan City, Manila. The members of the PNP and PA presented an arrest warrant issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, in January 2020, on charges of “kidnapping” and “serious illegal detention” (Criminal Case No. 6527), filed by public prosecutor Genesis Efren in March 2019. Ms. Castro, together with 540 other individuals, is being accused of kidnapping and detaining an unknown individual in Barangay Kolambungan, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur Province, on December 29, 2018.

Following her arrest, Ms. Castro was taken to the San Juan City Police Station and then moved to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City to undergo medical examination. She was subsequently brought to the PNP’s headquarters in Camp Crame. However, neither her family members nor legal counsels were allowed to have contact with her, and their requests to bring her medicine for hypertension and diabetes were dismissed.

On the same day in the afternoon, Ms. Castro was flown to the island of Mindanao without her family or legal representatives being informed. On February 19, 2022, the authorities held Ms. Castro incommunicado. Only after multiple calls from her family and legal representatives, the PNP disclosed that Ms. Castro was being held at the Bayugan City Police Station in Agusan del Sur Province.

On the afternoon of February 20, 2022, Ms. Castro’s family and legal counsel were able to visit her and bring her medicines. On February 22, 2022, the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City ordered her transfer to the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail, where she was still being detained pending trial at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

Ms. Castro’s lawyers filed a petition for bail and a motion to dismiss the charges against her. Both requests were pending before the court at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders notes that since November of 2020, Ms. Castro has been a victim of red-tagging. Her name and picture have been circulated on social media platforms in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Province, falsely accusing her of being a “communist”, a “terrorist”, and a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Human rights defenders in the Philippines have been subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrary detention. Karapatan members have been subject to frequent harassment, criminalisation, and attacks, including the killing of Ms. Zara Alvarez and the arbitrary detention of Teresita Naul, Alexander Philip Abinguna, Nimfa Lanzas, and Renayn Tejero. Ms. Naul was released on October 28, 2021, after 18 months of arbitrary detention. Mr. Abinguna and Mses. Lanzas and Tejero remain detained. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/27/william-zabel-human-rights-award-2021-to-philippines-ngo-karapatan/

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/philippines-arbitrary-detention-of-rights-defender-and-health

NGOs express great worries about human rights situation in Russia at UN Human Rights Council

March 5, 2022

UN Human Rights Council should take urgent action to address the dire human rights situation in Russia say NGOs in a Joint Letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/27/anti-war-human-rights-defenders-in-russia/

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council:

Excellency,

As the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council gets underway, and Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, we, the undersigned civil society organisations, would like to draw your attention to the dire human rights situation within the Russian Federation, and urge all states to bring this neglected country situation onto the agenda of the Human Rights Council.

A year after last year’s joint statement on the situation in Russia, authorities there have further intensified the already unprecedented crackdown on human rights. A fully-fledged witch hunt against independent groups, human rights defenders, media outlets and journalists, and political opposition, is decimating civil society and forcing many into exile.

The gravity of this human rights crisis has been demonstrated in the last few days by the forcible dispersal of anti-war rallies and pickets across Russia with over 6,800 arrested (as of 2 March  2022), attempts to impose censorship on the reporting of the conflict in Ukraine and to silence those media and individuals who speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including through blocking media websites, threats of criminal prosecution under “fake news” and “high treason” charges and other means.

In a shocking development, the authorities moved to shut down “Memorial,” one of the country’s most authoritative human rights organizations. At the end of December, courts ruled to “liquidate” the group’s key legal entities, International Memorial Society and Human Rights Center Memorial, over alleged persistent noncompliance with the repressive legislation on “foreign agents.” On 28 February, the Supreme Court upheld this decision, despite an article 39 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights ordering the Russian authorities to halt liquidation proceedings.

The December rulings came at the end of a particularly terrible year for human rights in the country, during which authorities threw top opposition figure Alexei Navalny in prison, banned three organizations affiliated with him as “extremist,” launched criminal proceedings against several of his close associates, doubled down on Internet censorship, and designated more than 100 journalists and activists as “media-foreign agents”.

Recent months also saw a dramatic escalation of repression in Chechnya, where Russian law and international human rights obligations have been emptied of meaning. With the Kremlin’s tolerance or acquiescence, the local governor, Ramzan Kadyrov has been eviscerating all forms of dissent in Chechnya, often using collective punishment. In December 2021, Kadyrov opened a brutal offensive against his critics in the Chechen diaspora, by having the police arbitrarily detain dozens of their Chechnya-based relatives. It continued in January with the abduction and arbitrary detention on fabricated charges of Zarema Musaeva, mother of human rights lawyer Abubakar Yangulbaev, and death threats issued against the Yangulbaev family and some prominent human rights defenders and journalists. 

This is a country situation urgently requiring the Council’s attention. We urge the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution expressing serious concern about the human rights violations and abuses occurring in Russia, requesting the High Commissioner to monitor and report on the situation, and appointing a dedicated Special Rapporteur to address the human rights situation in Russia.

Yours sincerely,

Signed:

  1. Human Rights Watch
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Human Rights House Foundation
  4. International Federation for Human Rights
  5. International Service for Human Rights
  6. Human Rights Centre Memorial (Russia)
  7. Civic Assistance Committee (Russia)

There was also a statement was delivered by Yulian Kondur and the International Charitable Organization Roma Women Fund ‘Chiricli’ in the name of Minority Rights Group (MRG) and other organizations at the Human Rights Council’s Urgent Debate, held on Friday 4 March 2022, on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian Aggression. They called on authorities and aid actors to ensure that Roma, minorities and marginalised peoples are granted equal access to protection and safety when seeking refuge, including those without identity documentation.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/04/joint-letter-united-nations-human-rights-council-human-rights-situation-russia

Human rights work seen as a market

February 27, 2022

For a rather unusual look at human rights as a “market”see the following:

On 25 February 2022 the annual “Human Rights Organizations Global Market Report 2022 report has been added to ResearchAndMarkets.com’s offering.

The global human rights organizations market is expected to grow from $16.60 billion in 2021 to $17.47 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.3%. The growth is mainly due to the companies rearranging their operations and recovering from the COVID-19 impact, which had earlier led to restrictive containment measures involving social distancing, remote working, and the closure of commercial activities that resulted in operational challenges.

The market is expected to reach $20.53 billion in 2026 at a CAGR of 4.1%.

The human rights organizations market consists of revenue generated through human rights services by entities that are engaged in promoting causes associated with human rights either for a broad or a specific constituency.

Establishments in this industry address issues such as protecting and promoting broad constitutional rights and civil liberties of individuals and those suffering from neglect, abuse, or exploitation, promoting the interests of specific groups such as children, women, senior citizens, or persons with disabilities, improving relations between racial, ethnic, and cultural groups, and promoting voter education and registration.

The main types of human rights organizations are nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, governmental organizations and international organizations. Governmental human rights organizations are run by government bodies and are involved in the protection of human rights and the reduction of human rights violations.

The different modes of donation include online, offline. The organization locations can be domestic, international and have various applications in areas such as all humans, children, women, disabled, LGBTQ, others.

Asia Pacific was the largest region in the human rights organizations market in 2021. North America was the second largest region in the human rights organizations market. The regions covered in this report are Asia-Pacific, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, South America, Middle East and Africa.

The rise in hate crimes is expected to drive the human rights organizations market. Hate crime is a form of criminal violence upon a person or property, caused in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.

As per the annual report of FBI published in 2019, physical attacks against individuals have risen, accounting for 61% of the 7,120 cases reported by law enforcement authorities nationally as hate crimes in the USA. Government and non-governmental organizations aim to curb the abuses that challenge people’s human rights, which further aids in the growth of the human rights organizations market. Increasing attacks against human rights defenders are anticipated to hinder the human rights organization market. Attacks against human rights organizations that strive to safeguard human rights are rising at an alarming rate.

For instance, in 2019, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center has tracked around 572 attack cases that were related to business-related activities. These attacks cause a sense of fear and timidness among individuals who work for human rights protection and challenges human rights protection activities, which thereby impedes the growth of the market. See alsO: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/18/business-network-on-civic-freedoms-and-human-rights-defenders-launches-new-website/

Organizations and human rights defenders are working towards protecting the digital human rights of individuals.

Companies” mentioned in the report inlcude:

  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Human Rights Without Frontiers International
  • Physicians for Human Rights
  • Anti-Slavery International
  • Global Rights
  • UN Watch
  • European Centre for Minority Issues
  • International Federation for Human Rights

For more information about this report visit https://www.researchandmarkets.com/r/a3tco8

NGOs protest harassment of Ambika Satkunanathan in Sri Lanka

February 17, 2022

On 14 February 2022 FIDH published a joint statement to support Sri Lankan human rights defender Ambika Satkunanathan:

We the undersigned human rights organizations, express our deep concern about the statement issued by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry on February 4, 2022, in which the government denounced testimony given by Ambika Satkunanathan, a leading human rights lawyer, to the European Parliament on January 27. The government statement clearly constitutes an act of harassment and intimidation. We condemn the Sri Lankan government’s tactics to intimidate human rights defenders, and express our full solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, a well-known, respected and courageous human rights defender. Targeting her for providing accurate testimony about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka to the European Parliament is completely unacceptable, and sends a chilling message to all Sri Lankan civil society, especially those in the north and east, who are already operating under considerable duress under the current administration.

Sri Lanka’s international partners, including the European Union, should publicly condemn the Sri Lankan government’s statement and express solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, who has been targeted for her international engagement, and increase their efforts to engage with Sri Lankan civil society at large.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement contains numerous false claims in an attempt to disparage and delegitimize a distinguished human rights advocate, placing her at risk of physical danger in retribution for her brave work. The government’s claim that her testimony was “reminiscent of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] propaganda that once stoked hatred among communities,” and that “such allegations need to be refuted in the interest of social harmony” Is particularly insidious and dangerous.

The government’s statement mirrors its repeated practice of falsely equating human rights defenders and human rights advocacy with those pursuing “terrorism.” The statement’s language aligns these baseless allegations with vague and frequently abused provisions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), exposing Ms. Satkunanathan to a heightened risk of threats, attacks and persecution.

Ms. Satkunanathan was a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka before that body’s independence was compromised under the current administration and led the first national study on Sri Lanka’s prisons. Prior to that, she was for many years a legal consultant to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is the author of an important recent report on abuses committed during the so-called “war on drugs.”

We are concerned that the government’s statement seeks to place the blame on human rights defenders if the European Union determines that Sri Lanka failed to meet its human rights commitments under GSP+, the preferential tariff system. The European Union should remind the Sri Lankan government that the responsibility to uphold its international human rights obligations rests with the government. The government’s treatment of human rights defenders reflects its lack of respect for international human rights law.

We support Ms. Satkunanathan’s testimony to the European Parliament, which accurately described a situation already reported by the United Nations and many domestic and international human rights organizations. The government’s response contains numerous false statements, including:

- The government claims to be “engaged in long standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the UN Human Rights Council.” On the contrary, in February 2020, soon after taking office, the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew Sri Lankan support from consensus resolutions of the council, repudiating commitments made by the previous government. Special Procedures mandate holders of the Council issued a statement on February 5, 2021, noting that their recommendations, including on torture, the independence of the judiciary, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, minority rights, counterterrorism, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of assembly and association, had been ignored.

- The government claims to be “strengthen[ing] rule of law, access to justice and accountability.” However, President Rajapaksa campaigned on a platform of protecting “war heroes” from prosecution, and has appointed individuals implicated in war crimes to senior government posts. His presidential commission on “political victimization” has sought to interfere in judicial proceedings and block trials and investigations in human rights cases implicating the president’s associates and the president himself. The president pardoned Sunil Ratnayake, one of very few members of the armed forces ever convicted of human rights violations, who murdered eight Tamil civilians including children.

- The government denies that civic space is shrinking, as Ms. Satkunanathan described in her testimony. Yet under the current government, many human rights defenders have said that they are subjected to continual government intimidation, intrusive surveillance, and attempts to block their access to funds. In her most recent update to the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet wrote that, “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.” The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in his end-of-mission statement last December documented government intimidation of civil society and a “shrinking civic space.”

- The government claims there is no “concrete evidence of discrimination against minorities.” In fact, for nearly a year the government banned the burial of people said to have died with Covid-19, causing immense distress to the Muslim community without any medical justification in what is only but one example of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Such burials are now permitted only at a single remote site. In January 2021 High Commissioner Bachelet found that, “Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalized and excluded in statements about the national vision and Government policy… Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is increasingly scapegoated.” The High Commissioner’s findings are in line with reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used almost exclusively against members of the Tamil and Muslim communities. The government continues to deny efforts to commemorate war victims belonging to the Tamil community.

- The government denies Ms. Satkunanathan’s description of alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the context of Sri Lanka’s “war on drugs.” However, these abuses are widely documented. In September, High Commissioner Bachelet said, “I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.”

The Sri Lankan government’s statement attacking Ambika Satkunanathan for her testimony to the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights exemplifies threats faced by human rights defenders, particularly when they engage with foreign and international forums, and it further shows the government’s refusal to address the ongoing serious human rights violations taking place in the country. Instead of trying to silence those who seek to defend human rights, the government should give serious consideration to their input and contributions, and take urgent action to ensure that they can work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals.


https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/sri-lanka/sri-lanka-organisations-express-solidarity-with-human-rights-defender

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambika_Satkunanathan

Anti-terror laws in India keep being used against human rights defenders

January 28, 2022

On 26 January 2022 four major NGOs made a strong joint statement on India:

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of 18 human rights defenders under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in reprisal for their advocacy work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019. Thirteen of those arrested under the UAPA are currently in Rohini, Tihar, and Mandoli jails, New Delhi. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the human rights defenders arrested, and the dismissal of all charges against them.

The CAA has been widely criticized by activists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, students and the international community for being openly sectarian and discriminatory against Muslims. After the CAA’s adoption, protesters across the country took the street to voice their concerns against the legislation, which goes against India’s Constitutional principles of secularism and equality. Police authorities responded by arresting human rights defenders and activists who spoke up against the CAA. Most of them were student activists and human rights defenders from the minority Muslim community.

The arrests of human rights defenders began in February 2020 and are still ongoing. Many of them had multiple First Information Reports (FIR) registered against them and were charged with serious offenses, including under UAPA. Of those arrested, only five human rights defenders – Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and Md. Faizan Khan – were released on bail. Thirteen others – Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Tahir Hussain, Saleem Malik, Mohd. Saleem Khan, Meeran Haider, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Shifa Ur Rehman, Athar Khan, and women human rights defenders Ishrat Jahan and Gulfisha Fatima– remain in jail. Despite prolonged incarceration, the trial for their case has not commenced yet.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/01/eu-human-rights-committee-condemns-indias-arrest-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/

On 24 January 2022, a Delhi court framed charges against human rights defender Sharjeel Imam while rejecting his application for bail. The charges include Sections 124A (“sedition”), 153A (“promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153B (“imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration”), 505 (“statements conducing to public mischief”), along with Section 13 (“punishment for unlawful activities”) of the UAPA.

Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, and Gulfisha Fatima have reported custodial violence and torture by the Delhi police. There has been no effective investigations into these allegations or responsibility taken for their treatment. Shifa Ur Rehman, who has been in detention since 26 April 2020, suffers from severe kidney disease and has been denied access to adequate medical care in prison.

We express our deep concern over the harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders that appear to be in retaliation to their peaceful activism and the legitimate expression of dissent against a discriminatory law. Despite the risks, human rights defenders have raised their voice for those oppressed by the CAA and in support of the Constitutional values that represent India.

We call on the Indian authorities to protect those defending human rights values and principles enshrined in national laws and to uphold international human rights commitments. We stand in solidarity with those who cannot speak out due to their incarceration, threats by Indian authorities, or due to a prevailing sense of fear. The treatment of these human rights defenders highlights a pattern of perpetrated abuse and violence, which is also exerted through legal mechanisms. This is especially concerning given India’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and its pledge to preserve and protect human rights.

We urge the relevant authorities in India to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arrested for protesting against the CAA, dismiss all charges, and cease all forms of harassment against them.
2. Guarantee under all circumstances that the arrested human rights defenders are not subjected to any form of torture and other ill-treatment while in police custody, and guarantee their access to adequate medical care and treatment.
3. Initiate a thorough judicial review of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in genuine consultation with independent civil society organizations and human rights defenders, with a view to aligning these laws with India’s obligations under international human rights law.
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions—including police and judicial harassment.

Please inform us of any actions that may be taken with regard to the above case.

-FIDH
· Civicus:
· Front Line Defenders
· World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-ongoing-targeting-of-18-human-rights-defenders-under-anti

Ground breaking conviction of Syrian torturer in Germany

January 17, 2022
Group of framed portraits
Photos of Syrians who have been detained or disappeared set up by Families for Freedom, as part of a protest in front of the court in Koblenz, July 2, 2020. © 2020 Alexander Suttor

The conviction of a former Syrian intelligence officer for crimes against humanity by a German court is a ground-breaking step toward justice for serious crimes in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. The judgment is a meaningful moment for civilians who survived torture and sexual abuse in Syria’s prisons.  

On January 13, 2022, a German court delivered its judgment in the trial of Anwar R., a former member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, one of the country’s four main intelligence agencies commonly referred to collectively as the mukhabarat. Anwar R. is the most senior former Syrian government official to be convicted for serious crimes in Syria.  

German prosecutors accused Anwar R. of overseeing the torture of detainees in his capacity as head of the investigations section at the General Intelligence Directorate’s al-Khatib detention facility in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251.” 

The judges found Anwar R. guilty of committing crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. Following the verdict in the case, Anwar R. has one week to appeal.  

More than 10 years after the violations were committed in Syria, the German court’s verdict is a long-awaited beacon of hope that justice can and will in the end prevail,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Other countries should follow Germany’s lead, and actively bolster efforts to prosecute serious crimes in Syria.”  

Human Rights Watch issued a question and answer document and a feature article on the trial and how it is situated in the larger context of the Syrian conflict on January 6, 2022. The trial against Anwar R. and Eyad A., who was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in February, began in April 2020 and was the first anywhere in the world for state-sponsored torture in Syria. Eyad A.’s appeal against his conviction remains pending. 

Syrian survivors, lawyers, and activists have been central to making this trial a reality, not only pressing for justice but laying the groundwork that makes justice possible, Human Rights Watch said.  

More than 80 witnesses testified, including former detainees, former Syrian government employees, German police investigators, and experts in Syrian affairs. The testimony included well-documented accounts of torture and sexual abuse in Branch 251, descriptions of mass graves, and details of Syria’s government policy to violently crack down on peaceful protesters in 2011. Several of the witnesses were able to identify Anwar R. in the courtroom.  

One of the major challenges of this trial was witness protection. Several witnesses living in Germany and other European countries cancelled their appearance in court out of fear for their lives and safety, or that of their families. Several witnesses, some who were also victims, testified that they feared a risk to themselves and their families given their role in the trial. German authorities should ensure that witnesses and victims are sufficiently informed about their rights to protective measures, including to appear anonymously before the court. 

Tens-of-thousands of people have been detained or disappeared in Syria since 2011, the vast majority by government forces using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout the country. The Syrian government continues to detain and forcibly disappear thousands of people. 

Many of those detained have died from torture and horrific detention conditions. Comprehensive justice for these and other unchecked atrocities in Syria has been elusive. Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court. And in 2014, Russia and China blocked efforts at the United Nations Security Council to give the court a mandate over serious crimes in Syria. 

The trial of Anwar R. and Eyad A. is possible because Germany’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain of the most serious crimes under international law. That allows for the investigation and prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims. Universal jurisdiction remains one of the few viable pathways to justice for crimes committed in Syria.  

Germany has several elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes in Syria. It has above all a comprehensive legal framework, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with prosecuting such crimes. Countries with universal jurisdiction laws should establish specialized war crimes units within law enforcement and prosecution services, and ensure that such units are adequately resourced and staffed. 

Germany’s trial against Anwar R. is a message to the Syrian authorities that no one is beyond the reach of justice,” Jarrah said. “The Koblenz case has shown that with other avenues blocked, national courts can play a critical role in combating impunity.” 

The first such reaction came immediately, see: https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/human-rights/after-german-conviction-of-syrian-official-focus-may-turn-to-swedish-trial-of-iranian/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/13/germany-conviction-state-torture-syria

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/north-africa-middle-east/syria/syria-landmark-ruling-offers-hope-to-regime-s-victims

https://www.ecchr.eu/en/case/first-criminal-trial-worldwide-on-torture-in-syria-before-a-german-court/

Harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and other Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh

December 21, 2021

On 14 December 2021 a Statement Bangladesh: Stop Harassment of Human Rights Defenders” was published by Forum Asia, FIDH and other NGOs: “Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system”, eleven rights groups said.

On December 15, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka will continue the examination of prosecution witnesses in the case brought against Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary-General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, for charges brought against them in Case No. 1 of 2013 under the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 (amended in 2009), in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of at least 61 people by security forces and law-enforcement agencies in May 2013. Khan and Elan face up to ten years in prison. See also; https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/88F17E2F-F919-580F-2FDA-59B8E24ACBF6

The government should stop using vague laws to silence human rights defenders and start holding perpetrators of abuses to account, ” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Odhikar’s findings not only should have led to investigations and reforms, but also should have been welcomed by the government as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights.

Following Odhikar’s 2013 report, Khan and Elan were arbitrarily detained for respectively 62 and 25 days until they were both released on bail. On February 14, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Odhikar’s appeal to quash the case on its legal merits. On September 12, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka resumed the trial in the case against the two while their review petition is still pending hearing before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, contravening the right to a fair trial. On October 5, November 9, and November 24, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka started to examine prosecution witnesses in the case.

We express our deepest concern over the ongoing harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, which is manifestly a form of reprisals against Odhikar for their legitimate human rights work, including for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms in documenting enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture in Bangladesh.

It is further a matter of great concern that since 2013, attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment against Odhikar and its staff and management have been incessant. Odhikar is also facing serious difficulties to conduct its work due to violations of the right to freedom of association, since its registration has not been renewed by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh and is still pending since 2015. Moreover, all of its bank accounts have been frozen and the organization has been forbidden from receiving funding from foreign or international sources, impacting its operations considerably.

The trial against Khan and Elan resumes in a context where human rights in Bangladesh are under attack from all sides. Human rights violations committed by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture remain pervasive throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Authorities regularly crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against these violations, including through the use of the Digital Security Act – 2018, the Special Powers Act – 1974, and other draconian laws. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/02/adilur-rahman-khan-speaks-out-against-torture/

Cases such as these question the Bangladeshi government’s commitment to protecting human rights. The international community, including the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Bangladesh, should monitor the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan and take a clear stand to ensure that the government of Bangladesh respects the rights of the two defenders to a fair and public trial and, more generally, guarantees the right to defend human rights and puts an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Our organisations call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

This trial is in reality an indictment of the authorities and a crucial test case for the country’s judiciary to be closely watched by the international community,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, speaking on behalf of the Observatory. “The true culprits are those responsible for extra-judicial killings not those who report on it. Prosecuting human rights activists will not stifle dissent but will isolate Bangladesh from the international community.

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, i

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-government-must-act-to-address-rule-of-law-crisis

Interpol: UAE Major General and Chinese Public Security Official are not good candidates for Interpol!

November 16, 2021

INTERPOL is going to have its General Assembly on the 23 – 24 November 2021 in Lyon. The election of both its President and a member of the Executive Committee look terrible. Already in 2017 there was a problem: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/20/interpol-headed-by-chinese-police-official-human-rights-defenders-fearsome/. (The former chairman of Interpol Meng Hongwei was also a ministry of public security official, serving as vice-minister. However, Meng’s Interpol term ended prematurely in 2018 when he disappeared during a visit to China and was later jailed for 13 years on bribery charges, amid Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign targeting millions of officials.)

Several prominent members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have warned that the appointment of the Emirati official Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi to the position of president of Interpol would “undermine the mission and reputation” of the global police organisation. In a letter sent to the European Commission president, three MEPs urged European Union (EU) states to elect an Interpol chief that comes “from a country with an established criminal justice system and longstanding respect for human rights”.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), the French League for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights are also concerned about the candidacy of Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi call to reject him.

Ahmed Al-Raisi has been Inspector General of the UAE’s Interior Ministry since 2015 and is also in charge of the UAE police force. Under his leadership, forces have carried out repeated and systematic arbitrary detentions and tortured prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders with complete impunity. One of the most emblematic cases concerns human rights defender Ahmed Mansour. Winner of the 2015 Martin Ennals Award and member of the GCHR steering committee, Ahmed Mansour has been imprisoned since March 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in 2018 for, according to the authorities, criticising the Emirati government and tarnishing his country’s image on social networks. Since 2017, he has been held in solitary confinement in Al-Sadr prison, in a 4m2 cell, without access to medical, hygiene, water or sanitary facilities. The inhumane conditions of Ahmed Mansour’s imprisonment have been the subject of several appeals without any favourable response from the Emirati authorities. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]

According to reports of several NGOs, torture is used systematically in detention centres in order to obtain confessions of guilt or testimonies against other detainees, particularly in the prisons of Al-Razeen, Al-Wathba and Al-Sadr. In addition, some prisons, such as Al-Awair prison and the Al-Barsha police detention centre, are overcrowded and unsanitary, making it extremely difficult to comply with social distancing and recommended hygiene practices in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic….In addition, prisoners are regularly denied medication and medical treatment for pre-existing health problems or illnesses developed during detention. Several UN experts have condemned these practices and expressed their concerns to the UAE authorities in recent years, but the authorities have not changed their practices.

Such inhumane treatment is recurrent in the UAE and is in flagrant contravention of international law and the Nelson Mandela Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners. While Major General Al-Raisi is, by virtue of his office, responsible for investigating complaints of abuse by the police and security forces in his country, none have been conclusively investigated. In the absence of any enforceable accountability mechanisms in the UAE, the GCHR has filed a complaint in France, against General Major Al-Raisi for acts of torture. Unfortunately, Interpol did not listen: https://www.businessinsider.com/interpol-president-uae-official-accused-of-torture-elected-2021-11

Another problematic candidate is Hu Binchen, the deputy director-general of the Chinese Ministry of international cooperation department, who is one of three candidates vying for two seats as Asia delegates on the committee.

The 13-member executive committee oversees the work of Interpol’s general secretariat and helps set future policy. Interpol controls a number of databases containing identifying details of people and property, which assist in global policing. It also operates the system of red notices, which are requests “to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition”.

However, there are long-running concerns over governments or authorities misusing the system to track down dissidents. While there are clear rules against the use of red notices on refugees, high-profile cases have shown countries are repeatedly able to obtain red notices, against Interpol policy.

Activists and advocacy groups, as well as 50 members of an international cross-party group of legislators, the Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China, have lodged their objections at Hu’s potential election to the committee, noting alleged attempts by China to use the red notice system to target exiled Uyghur activists.

“By electing Hu Binchen to the executive committee, the general assembly would be giving a green light to the PRC government to continue their misuse of Interpol and would place the tens of thousands of Hong Kong, Uyghur, Tibetan, Taiwanese and Chinese dissidents living abroad at even graver risk,” said the letter from the Alliance, citing the July detention of Uyghur activist Idris Hassan in Morocco.

Allowing Interpol to be used as a vehicle for the PRC government’s repressive policies does great harm to its international standing.”

The human rights group Safeguard Defenders said the Chinese ministry’s international cooperation department, in which Hu is a senior official, oversaw operations named Sky Net and Fox Hunt, chasing down fugitives overseas. It alleged “teams were sent by the ministry “to intimidate and harass ethnic Chinese to force them to return to China ‘voluntarily’”. In a report also released on Monday, Safeguard Defenders said there had been a tenfold increase in the issuance of Chinese red notices between 2000 and 2020.

A later development is that 259 organizations, call on INTERPOL to immediately ban the Myanmar military junta from representing Myanmar as a member of INTERPOL. They demand that the military junta is excluded from the upcoming 89th INTERPOL General Assembly and all benefits and future cooperation that membership entails. [see: https://www.forum-asia.org/?p=36143]

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/litigation/open-letter-to-the-representatives-of-the-member-states-of-the

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/eu-lawmakers-say-uae-police-chief-would-undermine-interpols-reputation

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/15/chinese-official-seeks-interpol-role-sparking-fears-for-dissidents

https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/china-s-nominee-to-interpol-committee-opposed-by-lawmakers-from-20-countries-121111600231_1.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/20/uae-nominee-interpol-ahmed-naser-al-raisi-torture-claims

https://www.thestar.com/news/world/europe/2021/11/22/interpol-election-raises-rights-concerns-about-fair-policing.html

Chinese Journalist Zhang Zhan at imminent risk of death

November 6, 2021

On 4 November 2021 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in China.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) about the imminent risk of death of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan, who has been detained since May 2020 as a reprisal for her coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic from February 2020 until her arrest. Ms. Zhang is a former lawyer whose licence was suspended in retaliation for her activism and a well-known and outspoken journalist on the situation of human rights in China. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/06/china-eu-deal-what-about-human-rights/

According to the relatives of Zhang Zhan, the journalists’ life is at imminent risk of death as a result of the partial hunger strike she started in June 2020 to protest her arbitrary detention and later her sentencing. The mother of Zhang Zhan was allowed to have a videocall with her daughter on October 28, 2021, after which she reported that the journalist weights less than 40 kg, is unable to walk unassisted and cannot raise her head without assistance. Her health is extremely poor, as she suffers from severe malnutrition, a gastric ulcer and swollen legs and feet. During her detention, she has been restrained and force-fed via a nasal tube.

The relatives of Zhang Zhan have been consistently denied their right to visit the journalist and only been allowed to communicate with her by video calls on two occasions, on October 28 and February 2021, and by a phone call on August 2021. Moreover, Zhang Zhan’s mother requested the Chinese security police the permission to visit the journalist in prison to persuade her to abandon the hunger strike. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, she had not received a reply.

The Observatory recalls that Zhang Zhan was hospitalised in a prison hospital between July 21 and August 11, 2021 due to her deteriorating health conditions. During her hospitalisation, she was tied to a hospital bed and force-fed by prison authorities. On August 11, she was transferred back to the Shanghai Women’s Prison, where she remained detained at the time of this Urgent Appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that on May 14, 2020, Zhang Zhan went missing in Wuhan, Hubei Province, one day after releasing a video that criticised the government’s measures to contain the virus, claiming the authorities were being negligent. Zhang Zhan had travelled to Wuhan from her home in Shanghai in early February 2020 to report from the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. She reported numerous stories, including the detention of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability, via her WeChat, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.

After seven months of pre-trial detention, on December 28, 2020, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Court found Zhang Zhan guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law) and sentenced her to four years in prison. The court rejected the application filed by Zhang Zhan’s lawyers to request bail, live streaming of the trial, and a time extension of the proceedings. Their requests to have the defense witnesses appear in court to present exculpatory evidence was also rejected by the court. Zhang Zhan attended her trial in a wheelchair because of her poor health.

The Observatory is deeply concerned about the health conditions and risk of death of Zhang Zhan and urges the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and grant her immediate access to adequate and comprehensive medical treatment.

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/china-journalist-zhang-zhan-at-imminent-risk-of-death

https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/china/human-rights-watch-calls-for-immediate-release-of-chinese-journalist-who-reported-on-covid.html