Archive for the 'HRW' Category

Reprisal against Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed Soltan

May 12, 2019

On 10 May 2019, a number of NGOs issued a joint statement on the defamation campaign by Egypt against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan:

We, the undersigned organizations strongly condemn the defamation campaign by the Egyptian authorities against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan, 

 
Mohamed Soltan is a prominent human rights defender from The Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights advocacy group in Washington D.C. He spent nearly two years in prison in the case known as “Raba’ Operations Room,” in which authorities pressed politically-motivated charges in 2014-2015 against scores of critical journalists and political figures for “membership in an illegal group”, “publishing false news” and “planning to overthrow the ruling regime”, among other charges. Some of the charges do not constitute recognizable crimes under international law. In any case, the US State Department, and Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the casefile in April 2015, found that prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence to establish him as a suspect, let alone establishing Soltan’s individual criminal responsibility  for the alleged crimes. An Egyptian court sentenced him to life in prison in 2015.
 
In protest of his unjust detention by the Egyptian authorities, Soltan entered into an open-ended hunger strike and was supported by a worldwide campaign effort. The U.S. government intervened at the highest levels and successfully facilitated his release and return to the United States on May 30th, 2015. Since his release, Soltan has become a full-time human right advocate relentlessly defending democratic values and human rights.
 
The Freedom Initiative has worked diligently with Egyptian and international human rights organizations to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. The organization’s annual flagship event, the Egypt Advocacy Day, involved two award-winning actors who joined over 100 Egyptians and Egyptian Americans from over 25 U.S. states and six countries for meetings with members of the U.S. Congress and State Department. The aim of the meetings was to engage the Egyptian diaspora in the U.S. with their elected representatives on human rights and democratic governance issues in Egypt
 
In response, the Egyptian authorities have apparently unleashed a systematic defamation campaign against some of those who participated in the meetings and against the organizers, particularly the award-winning actors, The Freedom Initiative and Soltan. The Egyptian government,as well as privately owned newspapers, falsely accused him of being a convicted terrorist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and working on behalf of foreign agents. The defamatory statements were reported on government-sponsored media outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
 
The coordinated harassment of Soltan is part of a broader repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and is aimed to stigmatize human rights defenders, both nationally and abroad, and undermine the effectiveness of their work.
 
We stand in solidarity with Mohamed Soltan, The Freedom Initiative and all Egyptians who peacefully speak out against human rights abuses despite the hefty price. We urge the Egyptian government to respect its obligations under international human rights treaties and the Egyptian constitution, end the crackdown on critics, halt the persecution of human rights defenders and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions.
 
Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms
Amnesty International
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Egyptian Human Rights Forum
EuroMed Rights
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Freedom Initiative

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/egypt-reprisal-against-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan-for-human-rights-advocacy?e=1209ebd6d8

International Civil Society Week: counterterrorism used against human rights defenders

May 2, 2019

More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries took to the streets of Belgrade, Serbia in solidarity with those whose basic freedoms are at risk. They participated in the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which took place in Belgrade, April 8-12. I blogged about contributions to this meeting before [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/14/international-civil-society-week-2019-call-for-more-ngo-voice-in-the-un/]. Here another one: “Civil Society Under Attack in Name of Counterterrorism” b

Civil society has long played a crucial role in society, providing life-saving assistance and upholding human rights for all. However, counterterrorism measures, which are meant to protect civilians, are directly, and often intentionally, undermining such critical work. “Civil society is under increased assault in the name of countering terrorism,” Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism researcher Letta Tayler told IPS, pointing to a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions as among the culprits.

…..The newly approved Resolution 2462, passed at the end of March, requires member states to criminalise financial assistance to terrorist individuals or groups “for any purpose” even if the aid is indirect and provided “in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.” While the resolution does include some language on human rights protections, Tayler noted that it is not sufficient. “It is not sufficiently spelled out to make very clear to member states what they can and cannot do that might violate human rights on the ground,” she said…

Among the major issues concerning these resolutions is that there is no universal, legal definition of terrorism, allowing states to craft their own, usually broad, definitions. This has put civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) alike at risk of detention and left vulnerable populations without essential life-saving assistance. “I think it is irresponsible of the Security Council to pass binding resolutions that leave up to States to craft their own definitions of terrorism…that’s how you end up with counterterrorism laws that criminalise peaceful protest or criticising the state,” Tayler said.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Paul Scott echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The Security Council, by being overly broad, is just giving [governments] the tools to restrict civil society.”

According to Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organisation, 58 percent of its cases in 2018 saw HRDs charged under national security legislation.

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin .. noted that country’s counterterrorism laws are being used as a “shortcut to targeting democratic protest and dissent.”

…..

….The problem has only gotten worse since then, Paul noted. “The measures imposed by governments are unnecessarily broad and they prevent us from working in areas that are controlled by designated terrorist entities. What they have essentially done is criminalise humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Tayler highlighted the importance of the UN and civil society to monitor how counterterrorism resolutions such as Resolution 2462 are used on the ground. “While we would love to see amendments to this resolution, pragmatically the next best step is for all eyes—the eyes of civil society, the UN, regional organisations—to focus on just how states implement this resolution to make sure that overly broad language is not used by states to become a tool of repression,” she said…

Paul pointed to the need to educate both the public and policymakers on counterterrorism and its spillover effects as well as the importance of civil society in the global system.

Civil society is a key part of effective governance. We don’t get effective public services, we don’t get peace, we don’t get to move forward with the anti-poverty agenda if civil society actors aren’t strong and empowered,” he said…

NGOs urge Putin not to sign Russia’s “Sovereign Internet Bill”

April 28, 2019

Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019
Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019  Igor Russak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On 24 April 2019 nine major human rights, media and Internet freedom NGOs, called on Russian President Vladmir Putin, not to sign the so-called “Sovereign Internet Bill” as it will lead to further limitations of already restricted Internet and media freedoms in the country.

The bill (No. 608767-7) amends the laws “On Communications” and “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” and states its aim as enabling the Russian Internet to operate independently from the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency or foreign threat. On 16 April 2019, the Russian State Duma approved the bill in the third reading amid widespread domestic criticism, protests and online campaigning around the country, and on 22 April, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, approved it. If signed by President Vladimir Putin, the bill would enter into force on 1 November 2019.

The bill creates a system that gives the authorities the capacity to block access to parts of the Internet in Russia, potentially ranging from cutting access to particular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) through to cutting all access to the Internet throughout Russia.

The bill gives control over Internet network routing to the state regulator for Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, Roskomnadzor. It provides that the ISPs should connect with other ISPs, or “peer,” at Internet exchange points (IXes) approved by the authorities, and that these IXes should not allow unapproved ISPs to peer. The bill would also create a centralised system of devices capable of blocking Internet traffic. The bill requires ISPs to install the devices, which the government would provide free of charge, in their networks.

Under this system, Roskomnadzor would monitor threats to Russia’s Internet access and transmit instructions to ISPs through the special devices about countering these threats. Cross-border Internet traffic would be kept under close state control. The draft does not specify what the range of instructions would be, but they could potentially include partially or fully blocking traffic both between Russia and the rest of the World Wide Web, and within Russia. Nor does the draft explain how the new equipment will work, or what specifically it will do. It is clear, however, that blocking would result from direct interaction between the government and the ISP and that it will be extrajudicial and nontransparent. The public would not know what has been blocked and why.

The bill states that the new measures will be activated in the event of a ‘security threat’. The draft does not define security threats, and instead gives the government full discretion to decide what would constitute a security threat and what range of measures would be activated using the new system to address a threat.

The bill also states that Russian ISPs remain obligated to filter and block content in accordance with existing Russian law.

Further, the bill creates a national domain name system (DNS) – a system that acts as the address-book for the Internet by allowing anyone to look up the address of the server(s) hosting the URL of a website they are looking for. The bill would require Internet providers to start using the national DNS from 1 January 2021. Forcing ISPs to use the national system will give Russian authorities the ability to manipulate the results provided to the ISP outside the ISP’s knowledge and control. Authorities will be able to answer any user’s request for a website address with either a fake address or no address at all. This not only allows them to conduct fine-grained censorship but will also let the national DNS to redirect users to government-controlled servers in response to any DNS requests instead of to a website’s authentic servers.

These proposals are very broad, overly vague, and vest in the government unlimited and opaque discretion to define threats. They carry serious risks to the security and safety of commercial and private users and undermine the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

The bill contravenes standards on freedom of expression and privacy protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. Both treaties allow states to limit freedoms to protect national security but impose clear criteria for such limitations to be valid. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, commenting on the ICCPR, has reiterated that these limits should be “provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone,” and be predictable and transparent.

Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19 and other undersigned organisations are extremely concerned that the changes introduced in the bill threaten human rights and freedoms in Russia. Open, secure and reliable connectivity is essential for human rights online, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly, privacy and media freedom. The bill could pose a threat to the Internet’s rights-enabling features if access to the World Wide Web is wholly or partially cut off, or if arbitrary blocking and filtering of content is carried out. It would facilitate state surveillance and curb anonymity online. It also risks severely isolating people in Russia from the rest of the world, limiting access to information and constraining attempts at collective action and public protest. The Bill’s negative impact on the freedom of expression will also affect the rights of journalists and media to work freely.

The adoption of the bill should be seen in the context of other Russian legislation that severely undermines protection of freedom of expression and privacy online and fails to meet international human rights standards. These include:

. The 2016 ‘Yarovaya Law,’ which requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users’ communications activities, to disclose decryption keys at the security services’ request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government. It was adopted to allegedly counter ‘extremism’ but in practice, it creates a backdoor for Russia’s security agents to access Internet users’ data, traffic, and communications.

. In 2017, Federal Law 327-FZ made amendments to the ‘Lugovoi Law’ (Federal Law FZ-398, 2013) that gave the General Prosecutor or his/her deputies a right to block access to any online resource of a foreign or international NGOs designated ‘undesirable’; and, to ‘information providing methods to access’ the resources enumerated in the ‘Lugovoi Law’, i.e. including hyper-links to old announcements on public rallies not approved by local authorities.

. The recent March 2019 bills mandate blocking and penalizing websites that publish what authorities deem to be “fake news” and “insult” to authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian “society.”

The President of the Russian Federation should reject the bill. The Russian Government should also review other Internet related legislation, abolish the above listed laws and bring its legal framework to full compliance with international freedom of expression standards.

ARTICLE 19

Civil Rights Defenders

Committee to Protect Journalists

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN International

Reporters without Borders

https://www.ifex.org/russia/2019/04/24/sovereign-internet-bill/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/24/joint-statement-russias-sovereign-internet-bill

Israel: Deportation of Human Rights Watch’s staff member again on the table

April 18, 2019

The sea-saw surrounding Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch’ office [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/27/human-rights-watch-granted-israeli-work-permit-in-the-end/] continues with an Israeli court on 16 April 2019 upholding the Israeli government’s order to deport Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director. The ruling by the Jerusalem District Court comes in response to a lawsuit filed in May 2018 by the organization, and Shakir challenging the government’s decision to revoke Shakir’s work permit and the constitutionality of a 2017 law barring entry to Israel for people who advocate so-called boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements.

Asian football and human rights: still a long-term goal

April 7, 2019

That there is still a lot that needs to be done in the world of sports and human rights is illustrated in the piece by Minky Worden (director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch) in the Sydney Herald of 7 April 2019 (“Football leaders stand by as human rights abuses pile up”). Article 3 of the FIFA and AFC Statutes requires the AFC and its leaders “promote and protect
human rights”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

A too-rare sight ... Iranian women cheer their national team in an Asian World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006. Now women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter stadiums.
A too-rare sight … Iranian women cheer their national team in an Asian World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006. Now women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter stadiums.CREDIT:AP

Yet Sheikh Salman remained silent when Bahrain attempted to extradite Hakeem Al-Araibi, former national football player who had been accepted as a refugee in Australia, earlier this
year – despite strong statements by FIFA itself calling for his release. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/11/bahrain-feels-forced-to-drop-extradition-request-against-footballer-hakeem-al-araibi-who-is-on-the-plane-back-home/]

..He is not the only high-level football official who may not be acting in accordance with the policy. In 2018, 20 members of Afghanistan’s women’s national team made detailed allegations to the Guardian and to FIFA of sexual and physical abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the president of the Afghan Football Federation, Keramuddin Karim, and other officials. FIFA suspended Karim for two 90-day periods and during this time he has reportedly threatened witnesses in the case. He stands accused of sexual assault, physical attacks and intimidation…. The federation general secretary, Sayed Ali Reza Aghazada of Afghanistan, was suspended, yet was also just elected to the AFC’s powerful governing body, the executive committee.

Finally, Iran’s Football Federation president, Mehdi Taj, was elevated to AFC vice-president……….On Friday, before the AFC election, Iranian women filed an unprecedented FIFA ethics complaint against Mehdi Taj, for his role in presiding over their exclusion from stadiums for years. FIFA has said clearly in its second Human Rights Advisory Board report that the stadium ban for women violates FIFA’s statutes, which say such discrimination is “punishable by suspension or expulsion”.

The AFC football leaders from Bahrain, Afghanistan and Iran are bound by the FIFA code of ethics, the FIFA statutes and the FIFA human rights policy. FIFA has made admirable progress in implementing its new policy , and could even raise the bar for other sports federations. But FIFA’s reform efforts risk derailment if the sport’s leaders in Asia refuse to uphold the new global standards. FIFA’s Gianni Infantino, up for re-election unopposed himself this year, needs to find his voice to call out football federation leaders who are undermining reforms. It is time to hold accountable those who are threatening the “beautiful game” with ugly human rights abuses.

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/football-leaders-stand-by-as-human-rights-abuses-pile-up-20190407-p51bmp.html

In memoriam human rights defender Tejshree Thapa of Human Rights Watch

April 3, 2019

Human rights defender in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, sentenced to 4 years

March 19, 2019

News headlines today: Mar. 18, 2019

Oyub Titiev, the director of the local branch of Memorial, one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations, was convicted of marijuana possession, a charge his lawyers said was manufactured in order to punish Titiev for his work investigating and exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya, including extrajudicial killings. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/]

The guilty verdict against Titiev was expected by his colleagues and human right organizations, which have slammed the case as a show trial, filled with inconsistencies and fabricated evidence. “The guilty verdict against Oyub Titiev is gross injustice to him, a disgrace to Russian criminal justice system, and a further sign that Ramzan Kadyrov, the governor of Chechnya, will be emboldened to silence reporting on human rights abuses,” Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Natalia Estemirova, Titiev’s predecessor as director of Memorial’s Chechnya office, was kidnapped in Grozny and shot dead outside the city in 2009. In 2016, masked men attacked a group of journalists trying to enter Chechnya on a tour organized by the Committee to Prevent Torture, beating the reporters and setting their bus on fire. The same month, the head of the organization, Ilya Kalyapin was attacked in Grozny.

Memorial has long been a target of strongman Kadyrov, and repeatedly suffered attacks, and. Around the time of Titiev’s arrest, the organization’s office in a neighboring region was burnt down by masked men. One of Titiev’s colleague in Dagestan was beaten outside his home last March.

Good Breaking news: Azerbaijan pardons many opposition leaders and critics

March 16, 2019

The ink on an EU report (March 15) concluding that human rights in Azerbaijan remain in need of improvement, is hardly dry and there is a surprise announcement that Azerbaijan’s strongman-resident has ordered the release of more than 400 people, including opposition politicians and pro-democracy youth activists who were listed as political prisoners by international human rights groups. True, the EU report comes ahead of the upcoming EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council, scheduled to take place on 4 April in Brussels, but there must be other reasons.

Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Fuad Qahramanli and Gozal Bayramli, deputy leaders of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, are among the pardoned, according to a statement on the presidential website. Pro-opposition youth activists Ilkin Rustamzada, Qiyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov will also be released. The pardoned are to be freed within 24 hours. At least 43 human rights defenders, journalists, political and religious activists remained wrongfully imprisoned in Azerbaijan last year, according to Human Rights Watch. Whether all of these are freed is not yet clear.

It would be wonderful if this blog can finally turn attention elsewhere after some 30 posts concerning Azerbaijan (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/azerbaijan).

https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/eu-report-human-rights-azerbaijan-remain-need-improvement/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-16/azerbaijan-s-president-orders-release-of-politicians-activists

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/9/328344/World/International/Azerbaijan-strongman-pardons-jailed-activists,-opp.aspx

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/azerbaijan

US NGOs react furiously to visa restrictions imposed on ICC investigators by Trump administration

March 16, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new visa restrictions in a press briefing on Friday. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Human rights defenders expressed outrage on Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the Trump administration is revoking or denying visas for any International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel who try to investigate or prosecute U.S. officials or key allies for potential war crimes. The move, Pompeo confirmed is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the war in Afghanistan. There was an immediate and almost unanimous outcry by the key human rights NGOs in the USA:

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU‘s Human Rights Program (the ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud, who were all detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008): “This is an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day,” Dakwar said. “It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” He encouraged ICC member countries to “publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”

Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, noted that this is just “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.” Visa bans, as Balson pointed out, are “powerful tools typically reserved for the most serious of human rights abusers.” But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC—an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under international law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The move is “is highly indicative of [the administration’s] culture of disregard for rights abuses,” said Balson. “Throwing roadblocks in front of the ICC’s investigation undermines justice not only for abuses committed in Afghanistan, but also for the millions of victims and survivors throughout the world who have experienced the most serious crimes under international law.

Pompeo’s announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by U.S. civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan….”These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” Pompeo added. “Implementation of this policy has already begun.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/15/blatant-effort-intimidate-and-retaliate-pompeo-imposes-visa-ban-icc-staff-probing-us

See also later development: https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCAKCN1R328X-OCATP

IF Qatar has to share World Cup 2022, FIFA’s ethical standards must apply

March 12, 2019

A coalition of human rights groups (such as Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Congress, Transparency International and the World Players Association) has sent an open letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to confirm that any country chosen to share World Cup 2022 games with Qatar will meet world football’s new ethical standards. The possible expansion of the next World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is top of the agenda at a meeting of the FIFA Council in Miami on Friday, with Infantino keen on an idea that would mean Qatar having to share the World Cup with other nations in the Middle East.

That idea would need Qatar’s approval, which is far from certain as it has been locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June 2017, but the more neutral Kuwait and Oman have been suggested as possible co-hosts.

Experts on workers’ rights in the region have been highly critical of the controversial decision to award the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010 and are now equally concerned about the prospect of one or more countries in the region having to build stadiums and upgrade infrastructure in a hurry. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/fifa-human-rights-qatar-world-cup-2022-gianni-infantino-kuwait-oman-bahrain-egypt-saudi-arabia-a8818816.html