Archive for the 'HRW' Category

Many NGOs join to demand release of human rights defenders in Algeria

May 23, 2022

38 NGOs, including HRW and AI, ask Algeria to end the repression of human rights and the “immediate” release of detainees. They have launched a campaign calling on Algeria to end the repression of Human Rights and demand the immediate release of people detained in the country for exercising their freedom of expression. “The campaign calls on all relevant individuals, organizations and parties to contribute to collectively demanding an end to the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Algeria using the label At least 300 people have been arrested since the beginning of 2022, and until April 17, in the country for exercising their right to free expression, peaceful assembly or association, according to human rights defender Zaki Hannache. “The arrests and sentences of peaceful activists, independent trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders have not decreased, even after the protest movement was closed,” they said in a statement. The organizations have given the example of the hunger strike of the Algerian activist, Hadi Lassouli, to protest against his arbitrary imprisonment, as well as the case of Hakim Debazi, who died in custody on April 24 after being placed in preventive detention on April 22. February for social media posts. “Those suspected of criminal responsibility for serious human rights violations must be brought to justice in trials with due guarantees, and the authorities must provide victims with access to justice and effective reparations,” they have requested. This awareness campaign will be carried out until the anniversary of the death of Kamel Eddine Fejar, a human rights defender who died in custody on May 28, 2019 after a 50-day hunger strike. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was “concerned” last March at the increase in fundamental restrictions in the country, including an increase in arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, as well as members of civil society and political opponents. “I call on the government to change course and take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of its people to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” she said in a statement from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

https://www.indonewyork.com/breaking/38-ngos-including-hrw-and-ai-ask-algeria-to-end-the-repression-of-human-h30616.html

NGOs condemn arbitrary arrest of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong

May 15, 2022

NOGs (such as Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Foundation) have condemned the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, as well as the lawyer Joseph Zen, the singer Denise Ho and the scholar Hui Po-Keung, for having maintained contacts with foreign forces in Hong Kong.

HRW Senior China researcher Maya Wang, said that “the arrest of a 90-year-old cardinal is the latest example of the city’s human rights freefall in recent years.

The four, along with former lawmaker Cyd Ho, who is already in jail, were part of the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund, which provided medical, legal and psychological help to protesters arrested during the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Kong.

Denise Ho, Margaret Ng, and others affiliated with Stand News, an independent pro-democracy online publication, were previously arrested by national security police in December 2021 under allegations of publishing “seditious” and “inflammatory” materials. Denise Ho formerly served on the board of Stand News, but stepped down in November 2021. Meanwhile, the 612 Humanitarian Support Fund ceased operations in October 2021 after national security police and Chinese state-backed media requested information on its beneficiaries and donors.

Maya Wang has specified that Hong Kong has “long been a regional leader in openness and respect for the rule of law, but now competes for the first places in Asia for repression and political prisoners.”

The people of Hong Kong have been unequivocal in their demand for human rights, and governments around the world should be unequivocal in their response to that call,” concluded the HRW researcher.

https://mailchi.mp/hrf.org/hong-kong-hrf-condemns-arbitrary-arrest-of-denise-ho-and-colleagues?e=f80cec329e

Ola Bini, a Swedish internet activist and human rights defender, will be in a Quito court. A trial to watch.

May 10, 2022

Jason Kelley and Veridiana Alimonti in EFF of 9 May 2022 report on the continuing saga of Ola Bini:

In preparation for what may be the final days of the trial of Ola Bini, an open source and free software developer arrested shortly after Julian Assange’s ejection from Ecuador’s London Embassy, civil society organizations observing the case have issued a report citing due process violations, technical weaknesses, political pressures, and risks that this criminal prosecution entails for the protection of digital rights. Bini was initially detained three years ago and previous stages of his prosecution had significant delays that were criticized by the Office of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. An online press conference is scheduled for May 11th, with EFF and other organizations set to speak on the violations in Bini’s prosecution  and the danger this case represents. The trial hearing is set for May 16-20, and will most likely conclude next week. If convicted, Bini’s defense can still appeal the decision.

What’s Happened So Far

The first part of the trial against Ola Bini took place in January. In this first stage of testimony and expert evidence, the court repeatedly called attention to various irregularities and violations to due process by the prosecutor in charge. Human rights groups observing the hearing emphasized the flimsy evidence provided against Bini and serious flaws in how the seizure of his devices took place. Bini’s defense stressed that the raid happened without him present, and that seized encrypted devices were examined without following procedural rules and safeguards.

These are not the only problems with the case. Over two years ago, EFF visited Ecuador on a fact-finding mission after Bini’s initial arrest and detention. What we found was a case deeply intertwined with the political effects of its outcome, fraught with due process violations. EFF’s conclusions from our Ecuador mission were that political actors, including the prosecution, have recklessly tied their reputations to a case with controversial or no real evidence. 

Ola Bini is known globally as someone who builds secure tools and contributes to free software projects. Bini’s team at ThoughtWorks contributed to Certbot, the EFF-managed tool that has provided strong encryption for millions of websites around the world, and most recently, Bini co-founded a non-profit organization devoted to creating user-friendly security tools.

What  Bini is not known for, however, is conducting the kind of security research that could be mistaken for an “assault on the integrity of computer systems,” the crime for which he was initially investigated, or “unauthorized access to a computer system,” the crime for which he is being accused now (after prosecutors changed the charges). In 2019, Bini’s lawyers counted 65 violations of due process, and journalists told us at the time that no one was able to provide them with concrete descriptions of what he had done. Bini’s initial imprisonment was ended after a decision considered his detention illegal, but the investigation continued. The judge was later “separated” from the case in a ruling that admitted the wrongdoing of successive pre-trial suspensions and the violation of due process.

Though a judge decided in last year’s pre-trial hearing to proceed with the criminal prosecution against Bini, observers indicated a lack of solid motivation in the judge’s decision.

A New Persecution

A so-called piece of evidence against Bini was a photo of a screenshot, supposedly taken by Bini himself and sent to a colleague, showing the telnet login screen of a router. The image is consistent with someone who connects to an open telnet service, receives a warning not to log on without authorization, and does not proceed—respecting the warning. As for the portion of a message exchange attributed to Bini and a colleague, leaked with the photo, it shows their concern with the router being insecurely open to telnet access on the wider Internet, with no firewall.

Between the trial hearing in January and its resumption in May, Ecuador’s Prosecutor’s Office revived an investigation against Fabián Hurtado, the technical expert called by Ola Bini’s defense to refute the image of the telnet session and who is expected to testify at the trial hearing.

On January 10, 2022, the Prosecutor’s Office filed charges for procedural fraud against Hurtado. There was a conspicuous gap between this charge and the last investigative proceeding by prosecutors in the case against Hurtado, when police raided his home almost 20 months before, claiming that he had “incorporated misleading information in his résumé”. This raid was violent and irregular, and considered by Amnesty International as an attempt to intimidate Ola Bini’s defense. One of the pieces of evidence against Hurtado is the document by which Bini’s lawyer, Dr. Carlos Soria, included Hurtado’s technical report in Bini’s case file.

Hurtado’s indictment hearing was held on February 9, 2022. The judge opened a 90-day period of investigation which is about to end. As part of this investigation, the prosecutor’s office and the police raided the offices of Ola Bini’s non-profit organization in a new episode of due process violations, according to media reports.

Civil Society Report and Recommendations

Today’s report, by organizations gathered in the Observation Mission of Bini’s case, is critical for all participating and to others concerned about digital rights around the world. There is still time for the court to recognize and correct the irregularities and technical weaknesses in the case. It points out key points that should be taken into consideration by the judicial authorities in charge of examining the case.

In particular, the report notes, the accusations have failed to demonstrate a consistent case against Ola Bini. Irregularities in court procedures and police action have affected both the speed of the procedure and due process of law in general. In addition, accusations against Bini show little technical knowledge, and could lead to the criminalization of people carrying out legitimate activities protected by international human rights standards. This case may lead to the further persecution of the so-called “infosec community” in Latin America, which is made up primarily of security activists who find vulnerabilities in computer systems, carrying out work that has a positive impact on society in general. The attempt to criminalize Ola Bini already shows a hostile scenario for these activists and, consequently, for the safeguard of our rights in the digital environment.

Moreover, these activists must be guaranteed the right to use the tools necessary for their work—for example, the importance of online anonymity must be respected as a premise for the exercise of several human rights, such as privacy and freedom of expression. This right is protected by international Human Rights standards, which recognize the use of encryption (including tools such as Tor) as fundamental for the exercise of these rights.

These researchers and activists protect the computer systems on which we all depend, and protect the people who have incorporated electronic devices into their daily lives, such as human rights defenders, journalists and activists, among many other key actors for democratic vitality. Ola Bini, and others who work in the field, must be protected—not persecuted.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/technologists/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/10/when-digital-rights-and-cybercrime-collide#

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/05/eff-and-other-civil-society-organizations-issue-report-danger-digital-rights-what

New program director of Human Rights Watch generates interest

May 7, 2022

In 1 May 2022 the Times of Israel reported that “Sari Bashi, a longtime activist with the organization who is married to a Palestinian, to head up programming at HRW amid search for successor to departing director Kenneth Roth” {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/27/after-almost-30-years-kenneth-roth-will-leave-human-rights-watch/]

I’m thrilled, honored, humbled and grateful to announce that next month, I will begin my appointment as @hrw’s new Program Director, supervising our research and investigations as we reorient ourselves to strengthen the broader human rights ecosystem and meet today’s challenges,” Bashi tweeted on Friday.

In the past, Bashi, a lawyer by training, co-founded and directed Gisha, an organization that pushes for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. From 2015 to 2018 she served as the director of Israel-Palestine for HRW, and returned to the organization last year as a special adviser.

A year ago, HRW issued a sweeping 213-page report accusing Israel of apartheid. Israel rejected the report, calling its “fictional claims… both preposterous and false,” and accusing HRW of having “a long-standing anti-Israel agenda.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/10/israeli-government-sponsored-app-goes-after-hrw-for-apartheid-categorisation/]

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

In recent years, Bashi, a US native, has been open about her relationship with a Palestinian man originally from Gaza, and the struggles they have faced to live in the same place. They lived together for a few years in the United States as well as in South Africa, and have based their lives in Ramallah, she said, since they are unable to live together in Israel.

The reaction was quick in coming. On 2 May Just the News stated: “A powerful nongovernmental organization with a massive budget and an alleged ideological bias against Israel will continue targeting the Jewish state after it completes a major leadership change now underway, according to experts and lawmakers who spoke to Just the News.” “Unfortunately, the extremely biased attitude toward Israel which Kenneth Roth represented in Human Rights Watch will, most probably, be cemented with the appointment of Sari Bashi,” said Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a think tank. “Throughout her career, Ms. Bashi has constantly demonstrated her lack of objectivity and overwhelming animus towards the state of Israel.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-israeli-to-become-new-programs-director-of-human-rights-watch/

https://justthenews.com/accountability/whistleblowers/experts-human-rights-watch-continue-targeting-israel-after-leadership

After almost 30 years Kenneth Roth will leave Human Rights Watch

April 27, 2022
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during an interview
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018. © 2018 Reuters/Pierre Albouy

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has announced that he plans to step down at the end of August 2022, Human Rights Watch said on 26 April. Roth has led the organization since 1993, transforming it from a small group of regional “watch committees” to a major international human rights organization with global influence.

I had the great privilege to spend nearly 30 years building an organization that has become a leading force in defending the rights of people around the world,” Roth said. “I leave Human Rights Watch with confidence that a highly talented and dedicated staff will carry on that defence with great energy, creativity, and effectiveness.

Under Roth’s leadership, Human Rights Watch grew from a staff of about 60 with a $7 million budget, to 552 covering more than 100 countries and a nearly $100 million budget.

Roth began his human rights career as a volunteer, working on nights and weekends while serving as an attorney and a federal prosecutor. He joined Human Rights Watch in 1987 as deputy director. At the time, the organization consisted of Helsinki Watch, formed in 1978 to support dissident movements in Eastern Europe; Americas Watch, founded in 1981; and Asia Watch, formed in 1985. Shortly after Roth joined, the organization created Middle East Watch and Africa Watch. Early in his tenure, Roth moved the organization toward a single identity as Human Rights Watch…

Roth recognized the need for real time documentation of atrocities to generate immediate pressure to end them. That led to the creation of a group of specially trained researchers who could provide a surge capacity to the organization’s regular country researchers.

Roth also embraced new possibilities to bring perpetrators to justice. As Human Rights Watch researchers meticulously documented abuses, the organization pressed the United Nations Security Council, then in a more cooperative moment, to create international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Human Rights Watch research was used to build some of the cases, and staff testified at both UN tribunals. Human Rights Watch also played a prominent role in establishing the International Criminal Court, fending off pressure from the US government seeking to ensure immunity for its own forces.

Ken’s fearless passion for justice, his courage and compassion towards the victims of human rights violations and atrocity crimes was not just professional responsibility but a personal conviction to him,” said Fatou Bensouda, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. “He has indeed been a great inspiration to me and my colleagues.”

Today, amid the horrific abuse taking place in Ukraine, an infrastructure is in place to hold perpetrators accountable.

Roth also created special teams to address the needs of certain marginalized people, including women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, refugees, people with disabilities, and older people. He also oversaw the development of specialized programs on poverty and inequality, climate change, technology, and corporate social responsibility. In addition, he initiated a program to address human rights in the United States.

Roth changed the way that Human Rights Watch directed its advocacy. The organization began focusing mainly on US foreign policy. Roth globalized the organization’s advocacy, establishing offices in Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, Johannesburg, and Sydney. He also spearheaded the organization’s work with the United Nations, with dedicated advocates in New York and Geneva.

After the 9/11 attacks, Human Rights Watch documented and exposed the use of “black sites” where US officials interrogated and tortured terrorism suspects. Under Roth, Human Rights Watch pressed the US government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for issuing the orders. Eventually the US Senate issued the Torture Report confirming Human Rights Watch’s findings and denouncing the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture.

Ken Roth turned Human Rights Watch into a juggernaut for justice,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He has inspired a generation of human rights defenders to fight for a better world. During the so-called ‘war on terror,’ Ken went to Guantanamo and brought to bear his acumen and stature in exposing the farce of the military commission process. No organization and no leader have had a greater impact in human rights on a global scale.

Human Rights Watch’s communication strategy evolved dramatically under Roth. The organization began by writing reports. Over time, it also began producing shorter and quicker reports and built a strong multimedia capacity, so that videos, photos, and graphics now routinely accompany the organization’s publications and sometimes are the publication itself. The organization also embraced social media. The organization has amassed nearly 14 million followers on the major social media platforms. Roth himself has more than half a million Twitter followers.

In his nearly 30 years at the helm of Human Rights Watch, Roth traveled the world, pressing government officials of all stripes to pay greater respect to human rights. He met with more than two dozen heads of state and government along with countless ministers and made investigative or advocacy trips to more than 50 countries. Whenever he could, he also met with communities affected by human rights violations. During his early years with the organization, he conducted fact-finding investigations himself, including in Haiti, Cuba, Israel-Palestine, Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion, and Serbia after the US bombing. In recent years, he has been especially concerned with addressing atrocities during the Syrian war as well as Chinese government repression in Xinjiang.

Roth inevitably earned many enemies. Despite being Jewish (and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy), he has been attacked for the organization’s criticism of Israeli government abuses. The Rwandan government was particularly vitriolic in its criticism of Roth after Human Rights Watch, which had issued a definitive account of the genocide, also reported on atrocities and repression under President Paul Kagame.

The Chinese government imposed “sanctions” on him and expelled him from Hong Kong when he traveled there to release the annual World Report in January 2020, which spotlighted Beijing’s threat to the global human rights system. Roth responded to these and many other criticisms by noting that the organization employs the same fact-finding methodology and applies the same human rights principles in every country where it works.

Roth has written extensively on a range of human rights issues. In addition to writing the introduction to the World Report since 1990, he has published more than 300 articles including in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs. I quoted him often in this blog: see e.g. : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/kenneth-roth/

Roth plans to write a book drawing on his personal experiences about the most effective strategies for defending human rights. “I am leaving Human Rights Watch but I am not leaving the human rights cause,” Roth said.

Human Rights Watch will conduct an open search for Roth’s successor. Tirana Hassan, chief programs officer, will serve as interim executive director.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/26/kenneth-roth-step-down-human-rights-watch

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2022-04-26/head-of-human-rights-watch-to-resign-after-nearly-3-decades

Human Rights Defender Angkhana Neelapaijit in Thailand harassed

April 14, 2022
Photo captured on a security camera of the alleged assailant, a woman wearing a mask and a black t-shirt.
Photo captured on a security camera of the alleged assailant, a woman wearing a mask and a black t-shirt. © 2022 Private

The authorities in Thailand should urgently investigate an incident intended to intimidate a prominent human rights defender, Human Rights Watch said on 13 April, 2022.

On April 12, 2022, at about 6 a.m., an unidentified assailant threw a pair of 9-inch-long scissors at the house of Angkhana Neelapaijit in Bangkok, making a hole in her front door. Security camera footage showed what appeared to be a woman wearing a face mask and a dark t-shirt with the Thai numeral 9 standing in front of the house, throwing the scissors, and then running away. Angkhana, 66, is a former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and a newly appointed member of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/0D5DED3E-F79F-4AB4-8261-F6A19486F062

Violent acts intended to intimidate a well-known figure like Angkhana not only pose a threat to her and her family, but send a spine-chilling message to the entire Thai human rights community,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai government should respond immediately by undertaking a serious investigation to ensure that everyone responsible for this incident is held accountable.”

Angkhana told Human Rights Watch that she and her family felt vulnerable after the Justice Ministry canceled her protection under the government’s witness protection program on April 1. The authorities claimed the service was no longer needed because Angkhana’s life would no longer be in danger after the Department of Special Investigation ended its investigation of the enforced disappearance of her husband, the prominent human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/17/where-is-somchai-a-brave-wifes-17-year-quest-for-the-truth/]

The Thai government should not ignore this disturbing incident, which appears to be a response to Angkhana’s effective human rights advocacy,” Pearson said. “Foreign governments and the United Nations should press the Thai government to urgently act to protect Angkhana and other human rights defenders in the country.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/13/thailand-prominent-rights-defender-harassed

Major NGO offices in Russia now closed

April 9, 2022

On 8 April 2022, the Russian government closed the offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs such as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Friedrich Ebert Foundation. This decision has been taken “in connection with the discovered violations of the Russian legislation.

On 11 March, Russia’s media regulator had already blocked access to Amnesty International’s Russian-language website.

Human Rights Watch had maintained an office in Russia for 30 years. The action was announced just days after an appeals court upheld the liquidation of Russia’s human rights giant, Memorial. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/12/it-had-to-happen-russian-authorities-move-to-shut-down-memorial/]

Human Rights Watch has been working on and in Russia since the Soviet era, and we will continue to do so,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This new iron curtain will not stop our ongoing efforts to defend the rights of all Russians and to protect civilians in Ukraine.”

Reacting to the news, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Amnesty’s closing down in Russia is only the latest in a long list of organizations that have been punished for defending human rights and speaking the truth to the Russian authorities. In a country where scores of activists and dissidents have been imprisoned, killed or exiled, where independent media has been smeared, blocked or forced to self-censor, and where civil society organizations have been outlawed or liquidated, you must be doing something right if the Kremlin tries to shut you up.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/08/russia-government-shuts-down-human-rights-watch-office

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/08/moscow-shutting-down-amnesty-human-rights-watch-in-russia-a77290

EU – China Summit on 1 April should not be a joke

March 30, 2022

European Union leaders should announce specific policy responses to the Chinese government’s atrocity crimes, Human Rights Watch said today, 30 March 2022. A virtual summit between the EU and China is scheduled for April 1, 2022.

The summit takes place at a time of heightened tensions between the EU and the Chinese government, which retaliated against Lithuania for its relations with Taiwan, baselessly sanctioned EU bodies and European research institutions, and has not condemned Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The Chinese government’s disregard for international human rights norms mirrors its domestic track record of grave abuses without accountability.

The EU’s foreign policy chief has pointed with alarm to the Chinese government’s ‘revisionist campaign’ against universal human rights and institutions,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Brussels should revise its approach to match the magnitude of that threat.”

In a March 18 joint letter from 10 nongovernmental organizations to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, Human Rights Watch cited Chinese authorities’ deepening assault on human rights, including crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities in Xinjiang, and heightened repression in Tibet and Hong Kong. Human rights defenders across the country – including the citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, the Uyghur intellectual and Sakharov Prize laureate Ilham Tohti, the Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, and many others – remain arbitrarily detained. {see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/37AE7DC4-16DB-51E9-4CF8-AB0828AEF491, and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/25/gui-minhai-10-years-jail-sentence-in-china/

While the EU has taken important steps in reaction to these developments, including some targeted sanctions and strong condemnations of Beijing’s abuses at the United Nations, these efforts lack the consequences to bring significant change. The rights groups urged Michel and von der Leyen to use their time with the Chinese leaders to announce further steps to counter Beijing’s abuses, and cautioned them against calling for yet another round of the bilateral human rights dialogue, which after 37 rounds has proven unable to secure concrete progress.

Stronger, better coordinated action is also supported by the European Parliament, which has remained a staunch critic of the Chinese government’s crackdown and has repeatedly denounced its abuses. Beijing responded by sanctioning several members of the European Parliament. In response, the European Parliament froze consideration of a bilateral trade deal and called for a new, and more assertive, EU strategy on China, including further targeted sanctions and closer coordination with like-minded partners. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/21/china-eu-investment-deal-off-the-rail/]

Presidents Michel and von der Leyen should go beyond words of condemnation at the summit if they want to deter Chinese government violations now and in the future,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Bolder steps are needed to counter Beijing’s crimes against humanity and anti-rights agenda, and EU leaders should announce their determination to pursue them.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/18/joint-ngo-letter-ahead-eu-china-summit

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/30/eu-no-business-usual-china-summit

Premier League Football and human rights: continuing saga

March 25, 2022
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020.
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020. © 2020 AP Images

The English Premier League should immediately adopt and implement human rights policies that would prohibit governments implicated in grave human rights abuses from securing stakes in Premier League clubs to whitewash their reputations, Human Rights Watch said 0n 23 March 2022. The ban should be extended to state entities that they control, abusive state leaders, and individuals funding or otherwise assisting in serious abuses. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/human-rights-compliance-test-for-football-clubs/

On March 14, 2022, media reported that a consortium led by a Saudi media group closely connected to the Saudi government had expressed interest in purchasing Chelsea Football Club. This reinforces the urgent need for the Premier League to adopt policies to protect clubs and their supporters, before any sale takes place, from being implicated in efforts to whitewash rights abuses. The Premier League’s approval of the sale of Newcastle United to a business consortium led by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a government-controlled entity implicated in serious human rights abuses, was conducted in an opaque manner and without any human rights policy in place. The Premier League should reconsider the approval of the Newcastle United sale. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/]

Allowing Newcastle United to be sold to a business consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, an institution chaired by a state leader linked to human rights abuses, has exposed the farcical inadequacies of the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As another consortium with Saudi government links eyes acquiring Chelsea, the Premier League should move fast to protect the league and its clubs from being a fast-track option for dictators and kleptocrats to whitewash their reputations.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, on March 15, to express concerns over the Newcastle United decision and to raise further concerns about the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in facilitating human rights abuses.

The October 7, 2021 Premier League statement announcing the sale said that the league had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.” The league did not disclose what these assurances were, nor explain how they would be legally binding. Instead, the Premier League appears to have acquiesced to the notion that the Public Investment Fund is separate from the Saudi state, even though its chairman is the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, its board members are nearly all currently serving ministers and other high-level officials, and it is a sovereign wealth fund that reports to the government’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs…

Human Rights Watch has significant concerns around the role of the investment fund itself in facilitating human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch wrote to the fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who, according to a LinkedIn page attributed to al-Rumayyan and various media reports, was managing director of the fund between 2015 and 2019, on December 21, 2021, and again on March 15 requesting his response to allegations of serious human rights violations associated with the fund. He has not responded. Al-Rumayyan is also Newcastle United’s new nonexecutive chairman.

Human Rights Watch has reviewed internal Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim filed by a group of Saudi companies against a former intelligence official. The documents showed that in 2017, one of Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers ordered al-Rumayyan, then the fund’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the fund as part of an anti-corruption campaign. There is a risk that these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process.

..

The Premier League has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harm. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe. This gap has allowed Saudi Arabia to employ its “sportswashing” strategy in the Premier League.

On March 3, the Premier League said it was considering adding a human rights component to its owners’ and directors’ test as it reviews its governance and regulations, and Masters told the Financial Times that this had come under “a lot of scrutiny” and league officials were looking to see if “we need to be more transparent and whether those decisions should be approved by an independent body.” The Premier League should also investigate the allegations of involvement of the fund’s and al-Rumayyan’s involvement in abuses, including Khashoggi’s murder, and publish its findings.
 
Potential purchase of Chelsea FC by Saudi-led consortium
The Saudi-led consortium that has reportedly made a £2.7bn bid to purchase Chelsea is being spearheaded by the Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG), one of the largest publishing companies in Middle East, headed by a prominent Saudi media executive, Mohammed al Khereiji. The company owns more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News, and Arab News – media outlets with an apparently pro-Saudi government bias – and has its headquarters in Saudi Arabia where there are almost no independent media. Al- Khereiji is the only name mentioned in any reports regarding the Chelsea bid, and it is unclear who else is involved in the consortium.

While the media company has reportedly gone out of its way to deny any direct links to the Saudi government, it has repeatedly been reported that the group has longstanding close ties to former and current Saudi rulers. Between 2002 and 2015, three of King Salman’s sons chaired it. The position was then filled by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan, who is reported to have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, until 2018, when he was appointed culture minister. Prince Badr is also chairman of the Misk Art Institute, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s non-profit Misk Foundation.

In 2020, Al-Khereiji who holds several high-level positions, was appointed board chairman of MBC Media Solutions, a commercial advertising and sales unit created in partnership between MBC Group, a media conglomerate owned by the Saudi government, and Engineer Holding Group (EGH), the media company’s parent company which al-Khereiji also heads.

Given how closely connected the media company is to Saudi state-controlled entities, how little independence the Saudi-based media outlets under its control have, and how much influence it wields – it claims it has a combined monthly reach of 165 million people – it contributes heavily to promoting the image of the Saudi government.  

The Saudi government has gone all-out in the past years to bury its human rights abuses under public spectacles and sporting events,” Ahmed said. “Until there is real accountability for these abuses by the Saudi leadership, those silently benefiting from the kingdom’s largess risk being an accomplice in whitewashing their crimes.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/23/english-premier-league-urgently-adopt-human-rights-policy

UN experts urge Bangladesh to end reprisals against human rights defenders

March 17, 2022

On 14 March 2022 a group of UN human rights experts today called on Bangladesh to immediately cease reprisals against human rights defenders and relatives of forcibly disappeared persons for their activism and co-operation with international human rights bodies and UN mechanisms.

Following the announcement of sanctions imposed by the United States of America against top Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials on 10 December 2021, Bangladeshi authorities have reportedly launched a campaign of threats, intimidation and harassment against relatives of forcibly disappeared persons, human rights defenders, and civil society actors. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/12/bangladesh-chains-of-corruption-strangle-nation-asian-human-rights-commission/

In the period between December 2021 and February 2022, the homes of at least 10 relatives of forcibly disappeared individuals were reported to have been raided late at night.

During the raids, relatives were intimidated, threatened and forced to either sign blank sheets of paper or pre-written statements indicating that their family member was not forcibly disappeared and that they had deliberately misled the police. This is unacceptable,” the experts observed.

The experts noted with concern the increasingly challenging situation relatives, human rights defenders and civil society are facing in Bangladesh. Repeated accusations by senior Government officials against some civil society organizations of providing “false information” to the UN mechanisms risk undermining the civil society’s key role.

Bangladesh must ensure that relatives and human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of threats, intimidation or reprisals of any kind,” the experts stressed. They expressed their concern that the reported reprisals may have a chilling effect and deter others from reporting on issues of public interest, including human rights, and from cooperating with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms.

Since 2009, the RAB has reportedly been involved in the perpetration of the majority of cases of enforced disappearance in the country, as noted in several reports by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.**

“Bangladeshi authorities are obliged under international law to promptly launch ex officio, independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these serious allegations, complemented by a thorough and comprehensive search for disappeared persons. At the same time, the RAB and other security agencies should not be shielded from scrutiny and criminal responsibility.”

The experts also reiterated their request to the Government of Bangladesh to take effective steps to protect and uphold the rights of victims and their families to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence.

On 17 March HRW stated that the Bangladesh government should meaningfully respond to United Nations concerns regarding grave allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killings in the country.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/17/bangladesh-stop-flouting-un-rights-concerns