Archive for the 'HRF' Category

The Emirates: not a Paradise for Human Rights Defenders

April 29, 2015

y, Director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First, wrote a good peace in the Huffington Post about the Emirates which he recently visited : “Trouble in Paradise: How U.S. Ally UAE Crushes Dissent” (28 April 2015). Here some excerpts:
PRINCE SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN
Backed by an impressively lavish lobbying and PR machine — more expensive than any other middle eastern country — the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is eager to show that it’s a safe and stable business environment, and a dependable U.S. military ally….Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Defense Secretary Carter in Washington last Monday to discuss, according to him, “new steps to enhance the already deep security between the U.S. and the UAE.”

Sheikh Mohammed ..is also head of the feared state security system and in recent months, the attacks on dissidents have intensified. In November 2014 the UAE cabinet announced a list of 83 “terrorist organizations.” (these included two American NGOs: the Council on Islamic-American Relations and the Muslim American Society.}

Previously tolerated local civil society organizations have been disbanded, including the Association of Teachers and the Association of Jurists, whose former head, Dr. Mohammed al Roken, is now in prison after being convicted in a mass unfair trial in 2013. Only a tiny handful of dissidents are currently in the country and out of jail including Ahmed Mansoor, just announced as a Final Nominee for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award 2015. Nearly all peaceful dissent in the UAE is silenced, both on and offline. Abuse of migrant workers’ rights persists, and no labor union is allowed to exist to protect them.

Meeting me in secret this week in the UAE, human rights activists told me there is now a zero tolerance policy for peaceful criticism of the Emirati regime. “It’s got so much worse in the last few years,” said one. “Ten years ago arrests without warrants or disappearances happened but they were rare. Now they’re common.” Even relatives of political prisoners have been targeted in recent months, some hit with arbitrary travel bans that prevent them from leaving the country.

They blame Sheikh Mohammed’s state security for tampering with official government files holding their ID and other information. They said that dates of birth have been changed so that adults are officially registered as children, or other details modified, making it impossible for them to get drivers licenses and other essential documents. This administrative harassment has sent people into an endless bureaucratic loop, preventing them from getting or renewing passports, applying for school, opening bank accounts, and generally operating normal lives. The denial of a security clearance amounts to a denial of a job. Many activists are unable to support themselves financially, some are sleeping rough.

It’s a soft repression but very effective,” one activist told me. “State security basically runs the country, no matter who the official government is. It’s unaccountable, omnipotent, and scares everyone.

Three sisters who were summoned to a police station in Abu Dhabi in mid-February have not been heard from since. The three women are sisters of Issa Khalifa al-Suwaidi, a political prisoner who is serving 10 years in jail. …Crushing dissent in the UAE is typically done in the name of anti-terrorism.

When they meet next month, President Obama should look beyond UAE’s fancy PR campaign and ask Sheikh Mohammed why peaceful critics are in jail, why their lawyers are intimidated from representing them and their witnesses harassed, and why the UAE thinks the best way to fight terrorism is with repression.

Trouble in Paradise: How U.S. Ally UAE Crushes Dissent | Brian Dooley.

Broad coalition of NGOs at UN condemns Egypt’s treatment of women human rights defenders

March 23, 2015

During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report on Egypt in the UN Human Rights Council on 20 March 2015 the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (for the composition see below), made a forceful statement about the terrible situation of women human rights defenders in that country.

“The systematic judicial harassment faced by many women human rights defenders is highlighted through the emblematic case of the seven women defenders2 arrested on 21 June 2014 for protesting peacefully against the Protest and Public Assembly Law (No. 107), who faced arduous hassles including prolonged pre-trial detention. Their sentence was finally reduced to two years of imprisonment and two years of surveillance by the appeals court in December 2014. [The seven are: Ms. Sanaa Seif, Ms. Yara Sallam, Ms. Hanan Mustafa Mohamed, Ms. Salwa Mihriz, Ms. Samar Ibrahim, Ms. Nahid Bebo and Rania El-Sheikh]

Furthermore, we strongly condemn the killing of Shaimaa ElSabbagh during a peaceful protest on 24 January 2015. She was taking part in a gathering to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 25 January revolution. We call on the Egyptian government to ensure a prompt, independent and effective investigation to identify the perpetrator and hold them to account. In this connection, we are deeply concerned that Azza Soliman from the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), who was witness to the incident and testified before the Prosecutor’s Office, is now targeted as a suspect and charges have been brought against her under the public assembly law.

Finally, we express our continued dismay over sexual violence against women in online and offline public spaces. Though a national strategy to combat violence against women has been announced, we emphasise the need for it to be comprehensive and holistic with involvement of all relevant ministries and stakeholders, as well as adequate budget allocation. During the UPR, the government highlighted a new amendment to the Penal Code article 306, which addresses sexual harassment. This amendment is far insufficient in its scope as it only considers sexual harassment a crime if the intent of the perpetrator is proven to be related to obtaining sexual benefits…”

The Coalition members:  Amnesty International, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, Coalition of African Lesbians, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights First, Information Monitor (INFORM), International Federation for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia-Pacific (IWRAW-AP), Isis International, ISIS Women’s International Cross- Cultural Exchange, Just Associates (JASS), The Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), MADRE, Nazra for Feminist Studies, Peace Brigades International, Rainbow Rights Project Inc, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, WOmen’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), World Organisation against Torture (OMCT).

What Human Rights Day means in Bahrain and how the EU made it worse

December 11, 2014

On 9 December, on the eve of Human Rights Day, Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced to 4 years and 4 months in two separate court hearings in Bahrain. Front Line, Human Rights First and others have reported extensively on this courageous human rights defenders [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/zainab-al-khawaja/] .

She was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment for “sabotaging properties belonging to the Ministry of Interior” and “insulting a public official” to three months’ imprisonment and fined 3,000 Bahraini Dinar (approx. 6,400 Euro) for “tearing up a photograph of the King”.

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped also shockingly reports that on the same day as her sentencing, the European Union presented a human rights award to Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights and the Ombudsman of the Ministry of the Interior! Although this concerns a relatively unknown regional award (the Chaillot Prize is presented annually by the Delegation of the European Union in Riyadh http://www.ambafrance-bh.org/Press-release-Delegation-of-the.) the state press has been making the best of it [http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=391213] and it is hard to see this as in line with the EU policy on Human Rights Defenders.

Human Rights First annual summit on 9-10 December 2014

October 28, 2014

 

HRF logo organises on 9-10 December 2014 its annual Human Rights Forum. It takes place in the Newseum in Washington DC, USA. Several panels are of direct relevance to human rights defenders, such as:

  • Show Them the Money: What are the Lifelines for Civil Society in a Sea of Restrictions? More and more governments – and not only authoritarian ones – are finding ways to close the space for independent civil society groups, especially those critical of government policies.  As part of this effort, governments have developed sophisticated methods to undermine the credibility of international –especially American – support for local human rights and democracy organizations. Russia and Egypt are leading the way; each has passed laws restricting access by independent civil society groups to foreign funding, which is essential to their existence. How should the U.S. government and other donors respond to these coordinated efforts to restrict human rights and democracy activists? Given the legal landscape, is foreign funding for NGOs even possible anymore?
  • Progress and Backlash in the Global Struggle for LGBT Equality Human rights advocates often describe achieving full equality for LGBT people as the next chapter in the struggle for universal human rights.  For many years, this movement appeared to be one of steady gains, but we are now facing a moment of profound backlash.  LGBT citizens of Russia, India, and Nigeria have seen a sharp curtailment of their rights. In many cases, this is part of a larger attack on civil society, marked by laws and policies aimed at limiting freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other basic rights.  The countries in question may see themselves as in conflict with the West and its values; support for such laws is often driven by anti-Western sentiment.  How can the United States respond to this development in ways that will improve the lives of LGBT people worldwide?
  • NGOs as the Enemy Within? Human rights defenders face particular challenges when their societies mobilize for war.  In such circumstances, questioning government policies can be characterized as disloyalty or siding with the enemy.  Human rights defenders become targets of defamation, persecution, and violence.  The universal values they are seeking to uphold are themselves called into question and undermined. Does the U.S. government have a role in preserving the rights of activists espousing what may be deeply unpopular points of view in times of public fear and conflict?

 

 

For more information and to enroll: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/event/human-rights-summit

Sudan HRD Ryan Boyette to Receive Human Rights First Award

October 12, 2014

HRF logo will honor Ryan Boyette, a human rights advocate based in Sudan, with its 2014 Human Rights First Award. Boyette is recognized for his courageous work documenting and drawing international attention to the ongoing attacks against civilians by the Sudanese government in conflicts largely hidden from worldview. The organization will present the Award at its annual gala on 22 October in New York. Human Rights First’s CEO Elisa Massimino stated: “We are inspired by Ryan’s commitment to keep the eyes of the world on the human rights crisis in southern Sudan.” Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights First disappointed by Nomination of new Ambassador to Bahrain

September 12, 2014

The travails of the Al-Khawaja family in my previous post [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/bahrain-travails-of-a-family-of-human-rights-defenders/] are unlikely to end soon if it depends on US policy towards Bahrain according to Brian Dooley of Human Rights First.  Following the 10 September Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on the nomination of William Roebuck to be Ambassador of the United States of America to Bahrain, he issued the following statement: Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defender Maryam Al Khawaja stopped at Bahrain airport; may appear in court tomorrow

September 1, 2014

HRF logo today (1 September 2014) expressed fears for leading human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja, who landed at Bahrain airport last night on a visit home and has been held by Bahraini authorities. Reports state that al Khawaja, a Danish citizen, was immediately detained and will be held at the airport until tomorrow. Bahrain is consistently revealing itself as a place where voices on human rights are not welcome,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “In the last two months, a U.S. diplomat, a member of Congress, and the NGO Human Rights First have either been kicked out of or not allowed into the country. Now Maryam has been taken into custody and will appear in court tomorrow after trying to visit her family, including her father who is on hunger strike in prison there. Lets hope the United States, United Kingdom, and other governments  will respond to whats happening to her with more than just an awkward silence.

For more information please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb[at]humanrightsfirst.org.

via Leading Bahrain Human Rights Defender Stopped at Airport, May Appear in Court Tomorrow | Human Rights First.

Nominations deadline for 25th Annual Roger Baldwin Medal on 15 March

February 14, 2014

New York based Human Rights First is now accepting nominations for the 2014 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty which recognizes an individual or organization who demonstrates exceptional commitment to advancing human rights. Named in honor of the principal founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and the International League for Human Rights, the Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award was established in 1989. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the award and it will focus areas such as human trafficking, religious freedom, LGBT rights, refugee protection, and defense of civil society. The winner will be selected by a jury and will receive a $25,000 prize.  The award will be presented at a ceremony during Human Rights First’s annual Human Rights Summit in Washington, D.C. in December 2014. Nominations are due on March 15, 2014.
More information on this award and past awardees can be found at: <http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/our-work/human-rights-defenders/baldwin-award> .

For more on other human rights awards see THF’s Digest of international human rights awards: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/

Neil Hicks replies to criticism in Al-Monitor on Egypt’s post Morsi human rights situation

February 12, 2014

Howe complex the situation in post-Morsi Egypt is can be illustrated by the letter sent to Al-Monitor by Neil Hicks, one of the most experienced international human rights workers to be found today. As a member of the independent US-based Working Group on Egypt he responds to Wael Nawara’s criticism of the this Working Group’s recommendations on US policy toward Egypt, published on 4 February. Neil Hicks – who works for Human Rights First – in his reply of 7 February neatly outlines the views from an international human rights perspective, under the title: “The US Working Group is right on Egypt”:One of the most perplexing aspects of the months of instability in Egypt that have followed the removal of President Mohammed Morsi from office on July 3, 2013, is the number of prominent Egyptian liberals who have shown themselves to have a somewhat selective commitment to liberal principles, Read the rest of this entry »

Star power and human rights: a difficult but doable mix

February 10, 2014

RED-FACED. Jennifer Lopez performing for the leader of 'one of the world's most repressive regimes,' according to Human Rights Watch. Photo by Agence France-Presse/Igor Sasin

 (Jennifer Lopez performing for the leader Turkmenistan. (c) Agence France-Presse/Igor Sasin)

In quite a few earlier posts in this blog I have drawn attention to stars and celebrities who either support dictators or simply do not care that their actions do. So, I was quite happy to see a thoughtful piece by Jo Biddle of Agence France-Presse on 9 February 2014 analyzing this issue a bit more in-depth, with actress Scarlett Johansson as the “poster girl of Israeli apartheid”, Dennis Rodman in North Korea, and Kim Kardashian expressing her love of Bahrain. I would add, Mariah Carey who thinks nothing of singing for Gaddafi or the Angolan President, while Jennifer Lopez (picture above) did the same in Turkmenistan.

The author rightly states that when celebrities wander into complex foreign policy issues, it can be a minefield, leaving diplomats and human rights campaigners scrambling for damage control. The article mentions exceptions such as Bob Geldof, Bono, George Clooney or Angelina Jolie Read the rest of this entry »