Archive for the 'HRF' Category

NEWS: UN expert, Agnes Callamard, says Saudi Arabia is responsible for ‘extrajudicial’ killing of Khashoggi and calls it ‘international crime’.

June 19, 2019

The UN rapporteur believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime [File: Sedad Suna/EPA-EFE]
The UN rapporteur believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime [File: Sedad Suna/EPA-EFE]

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 says UN extrajudicial executions investigator Agnes Callamard in her report which was released on Wednesday 19 June 2019. She said Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible”. Al Jazeera published the Executive Summary (see below), while Rob Berschinski of Human Rights First calls on Congress to pursue accountability for his murder. “Callamard’s report underscores that there will be no justice for Jamal Khashoggi unless Congress steps up. Saudi leaders have made it clear that they intend to get away with murder. President Trump has made it clear that he values arms sales over the killing and dismemberment of a U.S. resident. Congress must make it clear that it will not let this stand,”. He added that “the Senate has passed aunanimous resolution that found, based on U.S. intelligence, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Republican and Democratic House leaders have called for accountability. Now is the time for action, not words.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/18/jamal-khashoggi-murder-the-plot-thickens/

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Executive summary

State Responsibilities

1.   Mr. Khashoggi’s killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible. His attempted kidnapping would also constitute a violation under international human rights law. From the perspective of international human rights law, State responsibility is not a question of, for example, which of the State officials ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s death; whether one or more ordered a kidnapping that was botched and then became an accidental killing; or whether the officers acted on their own initiative or ultra vires.

2.   The killing of Mr. Khashoggi further constituted a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (thereafter VCCR) and of the prohibition against the extra-territorial use of force in time of peace (customary law and UN Charter). In killing a journalist, the State of Saudi Arabia also committed an act inconsistent with a core tenet of the United Nations, the protection of freedom of expression.  As such, it can be credibly argued that it used force extra-territorially in a manner “inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

3.   Further, the circumstances of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi may constitute an act of torture under the terms of the Convention Against Torture, ratified by Saudi Arabia. Finally, the killing of Mr. Khashoggi may also constitute to this date an enforced disappearance since the location of his remains has not been established.

Individual liability

4.   The Special Rapporteur has determined that there is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi Officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s.  She warns against a disproportionate emphasis on identifying who ordered the crime, pointing out that the search for justice and accountability is not singularly dependent on finding a smoking gun and the person holding it. The search is also, if not primarily, about identifying those who, in the context of the commission of a violation, have abused, or failed to fulfill, the responsibilities of their positions of authority. 

Duty to investigate and consular immunity

5.   The Special Rapporteur has found that both the investigations conducted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to meet international standards regarding the investigation into unlawful deaths.

6.   Saudi officials were present in the Saudi consulate and residence in Istanbul from 6 to 15 October during which time they presumably investigated the killing. However, the Special Rapporteur was not provided with any information regarding the evidence they may have collected during this period. The Saudi Public Prosecution made public a few of their findings on 15 November but the statement was light on details, limiting itself to a few general allegations. Other statements regarding the actions and responsibilities of specific individuals were a welcomed step. However, the Special Rapporteur notes that some of the individuals allegedly referenced in these statements and the identity of 11 perpetrators currently on trial do not match. Further, the Saudi authorities have yet to disclose the whereabouts of the remains of Mr. Khashoggi.

7.   The Special Rapporteur found that under the terms of the VCCR, Saudi authorities were under no legal obligation to grant access to the Consular premises to the Turkish investigators. However, Saudi Arabia was under an international obligation to cooperate with the Turkish authorities in the investigation of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. Such cooperation necessarily demanded that they gave access to the consulate to the Turkish authorities in a prompt and effective fashion and in good faith. Consular immunity was never intended to enable impunity. 

8.   The Special Rapporteur found credible evidence pointing to the crime scenes having been thoroughly, even forensically, cleaned. These indicate that the Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and that it may amount to obstructing justice. 

9.   Turkish investigators, accompanied by Saudi investigators, only had access to the Consulate on the 15th October for 6 hours and to the Consul’ residence on 17th October for around thirteen hours, where they also had to search the whole consular vehicle fleet. Their scientific and forensic inquiries were limited to “swabbing” and they were not allowed to drain a well located in the residence. The limitations imposed by Saudi Arabia on the Turkish investigation cannot be justified by the need to protect Consular operations.

10.  Turkish investigators decided not to search the Saudi Consulate without proper authorization from the Saudi authorities. The Special Rapporteur found that this was the appropriate way to proceed: creating an exception to the VCCR grounded inviolability of the Saudi Consular premises for the purpose of an investigation would have been unnecessary and disproportionate.

11.   She also found that Turkey’s fear over an escalation of the situation and retribution meant that the consular residences or consular cars were also not searched without permission even though they are not protected by the VCCR.

12.   The Special Rapporteur regrets that it appears no international body or other State came forward with an offer to “mediate” between the two parties to negotiate prompt and effective access to the crime scene.  This could have been done to also help de-escalate the crisis, protect equally the VCCR and human rights, and address as well the fear of retaliation. Instead, it appears that other Member States pondered rather only their own national and strategic interests. The United Nations either considered it had no evident means of intervention or elected not to intervene. In retrospect, it is evident that the ultimate casualty of these considerations was justice and accountability for Jamal Khashoggi.

Duty to protect and to warn

13.   On the basis of credible information at her disposal, the Special Rapporteur has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that either Turkey or the United States knew, or ought to have known, of a real and imminent or foreseeable threat to Mr. Khashoggi’s life. There was credible evidence to suggest that, had Mr. Khashoggi returned to Saudi Arabia, or been lured there, he would have been detained, possibly disappeared, and harmed. These risks were not linked to his life or presence in his countries of residence, namely the US or Turkey.  She did not secure credible evidence that US authorities had intercepted the Saudi Crown Prince’s communications or that such intercepts had been assessed before the time of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

14.   The killing of Mr. Khashoggi has highlighted the vulnerabilities of dissidents living abroad, and the risks they are facing of covert actions by the authorities of their countries of origin or non-State actors associated to them. The States of the countries where they have found residence or exile are under an obligation to respect their human rights, and protect them against violence by the States of the countries they have escaped from.  This obligation should entail, namely:

(a)   The duty to protect is triggered whenever Governments know or ought to know of a real and immediate threat or risk to someone’s life;

(b)   Such an obligation to protect includes, but is not limited to, a duty to warn the individual of an imminent threat to their life

(c)   The obligation to protect, including the duty to warn, is imposed on all Governments agencies and institutions, and thus includes Intelligence Agencies

(d)   The obligation to protect applies regardless of the status of citizen or alien on the territories of the State.

(e)   The obligation to protect, including the duty to warn, demands that risks assessment take into account whether some individuals may be particularly at risk because of their identity or activities, such as journalists or human rights defenders.

(f)    The obligation to protect, including the duty to warn, may be triggered extra-territorially, whenever States exercise power or effective control over individual’s enjoyment of the right to life.

Duty to prosecute and reparations

15.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken timid steps towards addressing its State responsibilities in terms of prosecution and reparation. But these stop short of what is required under international law. The accountability gap is all the more worrying given that it concerns a crime that has received an unprecedented level of attention and outcry internationally, including official public condemnation the world over.

16.  The on-going trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 suspects in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, while an important step towards accountability, fails to meet procedural and substantive standards. The trial is held behind closed doors; the identity of those charged has not been released nor is the identity of those facing the death penalty. At the time of writing, at least one of those identified as responsible for the planning and organizing of the execution of Mr. Khashoggi has not been charged. 

17.  The Government of Saudi Arabia has invited representatives of Turkey and of the permanent members of the Security Council to attend at least some of the hearings.  However, the Special Rapporteur has been told that this trial observation was conditional upon agreement to not disclose its details. Trial observation under those conditions cannot provide credible validation of the proceedings or of the investigation itself. It is particularly concerning that, given the identity of the observers, the institution of the UN Security Council itself has been made complicit in what may well amount to a miscarriage of justice. 

18.  In view of her concerns regarding the trial of the 11 suspects in Saudi Arabia, the Special Rapporteur calls for the suspension of the trial.

19.  To date the Saudi State has failed to offer public recognition of its responsibility for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and it has failed to offer an apology to Mr. Khashoggi’s family, friends and colleagues for his death and for the manner in which he was killed. The Special Rapporteur obtained information regarding a financial package offered to the children of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi but it is questionable whether such package amounts to compensation under international human rights law. 

20.  The restructuring of the Intelligence Services announced by King Salman is insufficient. There has been no subsequent information elaborating on the impact of the restructuring (or any other measures) on the decision-making, training, and codes of ethics of the Security Agencies, to name a few issues of concern.  Instead, one would expect the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to demonstrate non-repetition including by releasing all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion and belief; investigating all allegations of torture and lethal use of force in formal and informal places of detention; investigating all allegations of enforced disappearances and making public the whereabouts of individuals disappeared. It should also undertake an in-depth assessment of the actors, institutions and circumstances that made it possible for the execution of Mr. Khashoggi to be carried forward and identify the reforms required to ensure non-repetition.

Universal jurisdiction

21.  The Special Rapporteur believes that the killing of Mr Kashoggi constitutes an international crime over which States should claim universal jurisdiction. The killing of Mr. Khashoggi is a violation of a jus cogen norm. It violates the VCCR and the prohibition against the extraterritorial use of force in times of peace. The circumstances of the execution may amount to an act of torture under the Convention Against Torture. It is a continuing case of enforced disappearance since the remains of Mr. Khashoggi have not been located. It concerns a journalist in self-imposed exile. His execution has an enduring international impact.

Accountability

22.  The Special Rapporteur is concerned that legal accountability for the execution of Mr. Khashoggi is being made difficult to obtain. The trial underway in Saudi Arabia will not deliver credible accountability. Turkey has not initiated proceedings yet and hopes for credible accountability are weak in a country with such a track record of imprisonment of journalists. Jurisdictional challenges and the impossibility of conducting a trial in absentia mean that a trial in the US will face many challenges. The Special Rapporteur makes a number of proposals for how some of these issues may be addressed while warning that no one proposal on its own will deliver credible accountability.

23.  The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the search for accountability and justice should include other means, including political, diplomatic, financial, symbolic. Actions to celebrate and recall the life of Jamal Khashoggi have an important part to play in ensuring public accountability for his execution.


https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/un-khashoggi-report-call-action

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/khashoggi-executive-summary-callamard-report-190619105102019.html

Nominations are now open for the 2018 Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award.  

April 10, 2018

Human Rights First announced that nominations are now open for the 2018 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award.  The winner will receive a trip to the United States to engage in advocacy, as well as a $25,000 prize. For more on this and similar awards: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/roger-n-baldwin-medal-of-liberty. Last year: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/15/roger-n-baldwin-medal-of-liberty-2016-to-janvier-murairi-bakihanaye-of-the-drc/

The nomination form, and the full list of past awardees of the Baldwin Medal is available on the award webpage of Human Rights First. Deadline is 10 May 2018

Nominations can be made by an individual or an organization. Nominees will be judged based on the following criteria:

  • The nominee’s work is unique or particularly distinctive;
  • The nominee’s work has been effective in advancing human rights in a country other than the United States;
  • The nominee faces risk or insecurity as a result of their work; and
  • The nominee would benefit significantly from receiving the Baldwin Award, in the form of enhanced protection, or in any other way.

For further information about the award or the nomination process, please contact Zahava Moerdler at Moerdlerz@humanrightsfirst.org or (212)-845-5272.

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-calls-nominations-29th-annual-roger-n-baldwin-medal-liberty-award

Trans defender’s Karla Avelar’s life is under constant threat

May 16, 2017

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, wrote the following piece “Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats” in the Huffington Post of 13 May 2017 (in full below). Karla (El Salvador) is one of the three finalists of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/26/breaking-news-three-human-rights-defenders-selected-as-finalists-for-the-2017-martin-ennals-award/].  An rise in deadly violence against transgender women in El Salvador prompted the United Nations on Friday to call for an investigation into crimes against sexual minorities in the conservative Central American country. So far this year, seven transgender women have been killed in El Salvador, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights [http://www.reuters.com/article/us-elsalvador-violence-lgbt-idUSKBN189018]

CARLOS CRUZ, COMCAVIS TRANS
Karla Avelar, advocating despite the danger.

Six times in two years. Human rights activist Karla Avelar has been forced to move home six times in the last two years after being physically threatened by individuals she believes are gang members and for her work as a human rights defender in El Salvador.

She’s a leading advocate for the human rights of LGBT people, founder and head of COMCAVIS TRANS, an organization known for its work for transgender people for nearly a decade. It’s dangerous, unpopular work, and Avelar is regularly targeted and threatened.

A couple of weeks ago she was forced to move home when people tried to extort from her possible prize money for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award, for which she is a finalist. The award’s winner will be decided and announced in October, but news of her nomination has prompted these latest threats.

It hasn’t been an easy life. She was shot in two separate incidents, spent five traumatic years in jail and has been a constant target of abuse for being a transgender woman. Avelar told my colleague Mariel Perez-Santiago at her office in San Salvador last year how she had been raped by more than a hundred men on her first day in prison, and that the attacks continued with the complicity of prison staff.

She became a formidable advocate for the rights of trans people in and out of prison, helping to win important reforms in the prison where she used to be an inmate. Thanks to her campaigning, transgender women are now separated from men in different wards, and human rights organizations are allowed access to the prisoners to educate them about their rights. She also represented El Salvador’s LGBT civil society at the country’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva.

Her advocacy has led to international recognition including becoming a finalist for this year’s Martin Ennals Award. “Transgender persons, and the wider LGBT community, face widespread hostility and social rejection in El Salvador,” said the Martin Ennals organization in a statement. “Crimes against them are almost never brought to justice, which results in a climate of impunity. Sadly, this treatment of transgender people can be seen well beyond El Salvador. We aim to highlight Ms. Avelar’s bravery in continuing her work. We are encouraged that the authorities contacted her after the media coverage of the latest threats. This needs to be followed up with judicial proceedings against those responsible and, most importantly, effective protection for Karla Avelar.”

Her profile has meant that the threats against her are receiving attention, and the Attorney General’s office has been in touch with her to discuss issues of her safety. But for Avelar and others in El Salvador’s LGBT community the risks are daily and grave. She estimates around 600 cases of unsolved murders of LGBT people in the country over the last 25 years.

“Sadly, these most recent threats against me are not surprising and are part of a broader and systematic pattern of persecution of members of the LGBT community in El Salvador,” said Avelar. “I will not be silenced by these threats, but the Salvadoran government must guarantee my safety and that of all human rights defenders and activists, who work tirelessly to monitor and urge respect for the human rights of the most vulnerable.”

Forced to leave her home again and again, she’s asking for protection as well as international visibility. Making her more famous won’t guarantee her safety but we can try to help by sharing her story with whoever we know, by showing that we’re watching, and by saying that she should be protected and never be forced to move again.

Source: Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats | HuffPost

Europe also sees shrinking space for human rights defenders

April 4, 2017

On 4 April 2017 Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, wrote about “The Shrinking Space for Human Rights Organisations“. The new EU ‘alert site I referred to yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/03/protectdefenders-eu-launches-new-alert-website-but-no-single-stop-yet/] showed in 2016 some 86 reported violations in the European (and Central Asian) region, mostly detention and judicial harassment. Also the recent CIVICUS findings of the narrowing space for civil society points in this direction. An example could be Hungary as illustrated by reports of Human Rights Watch (2016), Human Rights First (2017) and Amnesty International (2016/17); the issue of academic freedom is not directly related but part of the restrictive trend [see links below].

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Low key launch of 2016 State Department Human-Rights Report raises questions

March 4, 2017

The Voice of America (3/3/17: Tillerson in Background as State Department Issues Human-Rights Report) and other media reported on the low-key way in which the US State Department launched the 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 22, 2017.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 22, 2017.

Sources:

Tillerson in Background as State Department Issues Human-Rights Report

http://gantdaily.com/2017/03/03/tillerson-skips-release-of-annual-human-rights-report/

Trump Administration would like to delegate security checks to dictators?

February 11, 2017

Trump’s executive order may be stalled in the courts for the moment but at some point in time a more restrictive policy towards refugees will come into being. One feature that is worrisome is that the administration expects to make more use of vetting by the very governments the refugees are trying to flee: “we look at how well these various countries can vet people.”  That is what B. Shaw Drake of Human Rights First points out in his piece “Under Trump’s “Extreme Vetting,” Should Dictators Vet the Refugees they Create?“(10 February 2017):HRF logo

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Bahrain to continue executions in spite of serious torture allegations

February 3, 2017

On 31 January 2017 Human Rights Watch published this video:

Two Bahrainis appear to be at imminent risk of execution despite the authorities’ failure to properly investigate their allegations of torture. Both Mohamed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa have disavowed confessions that they allege were the result of torture and that were used as evidence in a trial that violated international due process standards.

The January 15, 2017 executions of three other Bahrainis in a similar case have raised concerns that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will approve the executions of Ramadan and Moosa, who face the death penalty for a February 2014 bombing that resulted in the death of a policeman. Human Rights Watch analysis of their trial and appeal judgments found that their convictions were based almost exclusively on their confessions, which both men retracted.

See also: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-s-dooley-testifies-bahrain-congressional-committee

 

Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty 2016 to Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the DRC

December 15, 2016

On 13 December 2016 Human Rights First convened its annual Human Rights Summit: American ideals. Universal values, at the Newseum in Washington D.C. in the context of International  Human Rights Day. During the Summit Human Rights First awarded the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty to anti-slavery activist Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Murairi was selected for his work on behalf of vulnerable rural populations to combat contemporary forms of slavery in the mining sector in the DRC. (The Roger Baldwin Medal  is given in alternating years by the ACLU to US citizens). HRF logo

It also presented the 2016 Beacon Prize, awarded annually to an individual or organization whose work embodies the best in the tradition of American leadership on human rights, to Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Inc., in recognition of her pioneering leadership in the fight to end modern slavery.

Source: Human Rights First Hosts Annual Human Rights Summit | Human Rights First

Bodies of disappeared human rights lawyer Kimani and his client found in Kenya

July 3, 2016

A lawyer, Willie Kimani, his client, Josphat Mwenda and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, were last seen returning from a traffic court hearing at Mavoko Law Courts on 23 June 2016. Many feared that they were abducted. Now, on 1 July 2016 their bodies have been found. Kimani was a lawyer with NGO International Justice Mission in Kenya. Kimani had been representing Mwenda in a case he had brought against the police after he was shot by them during a traffic stop.

Kenyan lawyers held a protest http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000207020/lawyers-stage-protest-outside-ig-boinnet-s-office-over-missing-lawyer-client-and-taxi-driver-civil-societies-condemn-disappearance on 30 June, and petitioned the police inspector general for information regarding the men’s whereabouts.

We are deeply saddened by reports of the murders of Kimani, his client, and his taxi driver, and offer our condolences to their families and colleagues who continue to incur great risk fighting for justice and accountability,” said Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “It’s vital for the future of Kenya that its human rights lawyers are able to operate without fear of violence, and that the killers be swiftly brought to justice.”

Police should not hesitate to interrogate and arrest their own officers when there is cause,” said Namwaya of HRW. “This case stands as a clear threat to the legal profession and all those who push for police accountability in Kenya.”

http://www.hrw.org/africa/kenya

[http://www.knchr.org/Portals/0/PressStatements/Joint%20Press%20Release%20-Disappearance%20of%20Willie%20Kimani%20et%20al.pdf]

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-demands-justice-murder-human-rights-lawyer-kenya

Monday 25 April: what will happen in Egypt?

April 25, 2016

Brian Dooley, Director of Human Rights First’s Human Rights Defenders Program, wrote in the Huffington Post that today, Monday 25 April 2016, could be a watershed day for Egypt‘s military leader. This day is a national holiday Egypt which marks the 1982 withdrawal of Israeli troops from Sinai. President Sisi‘s agreement to hand over the two uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia may put a spark into the constantly simmering discontent in the human rights movement.

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