Archive for the 'Human Rights Council' Category

Sad symbolic number reached in Mexico: 100,000 disappeared.

May 17, 2022

The 100,000 officially registered disappearances in Mexico illustrate a long-standing pattern of impunity in the country, indicating the tragedy continues daily, UN human rights experts warned.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) on 17 May 2022 expressed grave concern about the growing numbers registered by Mexico’s National Register of Disappeared Persons

There are now over 100,000 people in Mexico’s national register of the “disappeared.” The UN says organized crime is among the leading causes of missing people in the country. Human rights organizations and relatives of the missing have called on the government to step up investigations and conduct searches more effectively

In the last two years the numbers have spiked from about 73,000 people to more than 100,000 — mostly men.

Mexico has seen spiralling violence since the war on drugs began in 2006, with over 350,000 people having died since then. Last year, the country of more than 129 million people saw 94 murders a day on average.

It’s incredible that disappearances are still on the rise,” Virginia Garay, whose son went missing in 2018 in the state of Nayarit, told news agency Reuters. “The government is not doing enough to find them,” said Garay, who works in a group called Warriors Searching for Our Treasures that seeks to locate missing loved ones.

Civil society groups that help try and locate missing people stress that many families do not report disappearances because of distrust in the authorities. The actual figure of missing people is therefore believed to be much higher than the official data.

Organized crime has become a central perpetrator of disappearance in Mexico, with varying degrees of participation, acquiescence or omission by public servants,” a report by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, released last month, said.

“State parties are directly responsible for enforced disappearances committed by public officials, but may also be accountable for disappearances committed by criminal organizations,” the report added.

The missing people include human rights defenders, some of whom went missing because of their own involvement in the fight against disappearances.

According to the UN committee, over 30 journalists have also disappeared in Mexico between 2003 and 2021. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/31/more-killings-of-journalists-in-mexico-in-2022/

https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2022/05/mexico-dark-landmark-100000-disappearances-reflects-pattern-impunity-un-experts

https://www.dw.com/en/mexicos-number-of-disappeared-people-rises-above-100000/a-61820055

Karla Avelar speaks out in Diversity in Adversity campaign

April 28, 2022

Episode 4: People who work to end violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) face multiple forms of risk. They can be targeted for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and for being human rights defenders as well.

Karla Avelar is trans woman human rights defender from El Salvador who has been working since the 1990s to defend the rights of LGBTI persons, people with HIV and other marginalised groups. After being subjected to two and a half years in prison, where she was tortured, sexual assaulted and denied access to medical treatment, she began to work more intensely for the rights of LGBTI persons. She began by calling for appropriate provision of HIV medications and greater access to justice within El Salvador. In 2008 she founded COMCAVIS trans, El Salvador’s first organisation for trans women with HIV. In 2013, she was the first trans woman to appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. After multiple threats to her own life and that of her mother, she applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2017, where she now lives and continues her work. She was a finalist of the MEA in 2017 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/16/trans-defenders-karla-avelars-life-is-under-constant-threat/]

Diversity in Adversity is a joint campaign by Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. It will feature interviews with 10 SOGI rights defenders from all over the world; ordinary people engaged in extraordinary work. For more on this campaign, visit: https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-proc…

Sudan: providing information against sexual violence to the UN equals “leaking state secrets”

April 26, 2022

Mat Nashed in Al-Jazeera of 18 April 2022 reports how Sulima Ishaq’s work against sexual violence is now being used against her.

On March 28, Volker Perthes told the United Nations’ Security Council that Sudanese government forces had raped 16 female protesters since last December’s anti-coup protests. He added that as UN envoy for Sudan, he was working with the Combating Violence Against Women (CVAW) Unit under the Ministry of Social Affairs and civil society to mitigate sexual violence in the country.

The next week, Sulima Ishaq, head of the unit, was interrogated by security services. Her lawyers say she is being investigated for accusations of “leaking state secrets” to the UN envoy under Article 47 of the country’s criminal act.

The information I gave to the [UN] had already been broadcasted on television channels and media outlets,” Ishaq, who is now worried that she’ll go to prison on trumped-up charges, told Al Jazeera over the phone. “But because the information was presented to the Security Council and the [coup forces] are afraid of getting sanctioned, they are [targeting] me now.”

In March, a Khartoum office – belonging to a commission investigating a June 3, 2019 incident in which security forces reportedly murdered at least 120 people to break up a sit-in – was raided by security forces.

According to Emma DiNapoli, a legal officer focusing on Sudan for Redress, a London-based non-profit advocating an end to torture worldwide, activists cooperating with the organisation have recently reported more security officers stalking them outside their homes. In some cases, this has resulted in unlawful arrests.

None of our partners has had arrest warrants issued against them, but I think there is a general sentiment that there is higher surveillance,” DiNapoli told Al Jazeera. “Even if they are not really being surveilled, [the arrests] are having a chilling effect.”

However, experts and rights groups say Ishaq’s case represents an escalation of a broader campaign to intimidate activists and put human rights defenders on high alert.

Kholood Khair, manager of Khartoum-based think-tank Insight Strategy Partners, told Al Jazeera that the coup government is trying to make an example out of Ishaq. The authorities, she said, are particularly irked since Ishaq is a civil servant, which gives her allegations more credibility in the eyes of the international community.

In Sudan, rape victims are traditionally harassed by the public and even punished by the police, so the number of people coming forward to Ishaq was seen as a big deal, Khair explained.

“Sulima was trying to highlight that rape is a weapon of war and a weapon of repression and the number of cases [documented] shows that it is a state tactic … not a case of just individual rapists,” she said.

Mohamed Osman, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said activists have always feared that they could be targeted for documenting human rights violations against protesters. He cited the recent arrests of journalists, lawyers and doctors who appear to have been targeted for tracking unlawful arrests and killings in the country.

But the targeting of a high-profile person like Ishaq suggests that security forces are even more sensitive to scrutiny following the United States’ decision to impose sanctions on the Central Reserve Police last month, said Osman. The US cited the unit’s excessive force against protesters – including the use of live ammunition – as the reason for the decision.

Ishaq told Al Jazeera that she wished the UN envoy had been more subtle by not mentioning her unit at the Security Council meeting, given the level of repression in Sudan. “I feel that the way [the information] was stated was a little bit insensitive,” she said.

In response, Fadi Al Qadi, the spokesperson for the UN envoy, told Al Jazeera that “the special representative to the secretary-general did not name any individual in the Security Council as a source”.

And now, an atmosphere of fear is slowly enveloping the country, causing dissidents, activists and civil society to beef up personal security and take more precautions to protect themselves and sources from the eye of the authorities.

One of them is Nabil Adeeb, the septuagenarian human rights lawyer heading the investigation into the June 2019 massacre.

After government forces stormed the tribunal’s office, there were fears that evidence could be compromised and that the names of witnesses – who provided testimonies that possibly implicated specific security branches in the massacre – could be exposed.

“Our records are secure and we know that nobody would be able to access them, but we are concerned that if we resume our activities in the same place then we might expose the investigation to unwanted people since the office could be bugged,” he said.

Adeeb  – who is also Ishaq’s lawyer – told Al Jazeera that she is currently being charged for defaming the security forces under Sudan’s cybercrime law, an accusation he believes has little merit.

He is concerned that Ishaq could still face more harassment and graver accusations for simply doing her job from the state, which should naturally be helping her instead. Ishaq too fears that the worst is yet to come.

”I think that I will be scapegoated to kick out Volker [from Sudan],” she said.  “I will then be charged for jeopardising national security for providing [him] with sensitive information.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/4/18/sudan-investigates-social-worker-fo-leaking-state-secrets-to-un

Suspension of membership UN Human Rights Council finally operationalised

April 8, 2022

(Credit: UNTV)

It was big news that Russia was stripped of its seat in the Un human Rights Council.

In March 2014 in one of my first blog posts I argued for making better use of the possibility to suspend member states (be it in the context of reprisals): “The resolution establishing the new Human Rights Council – replacing the previous Commission – states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” And one of the novelties touted was that the General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. 

The chilling effect that reprisals can have – especially when met with impunity – is potentially extremely damaging for the whole UN system of human rights procedures and will undo the slow but steady process of the last decades. Taken together with the above-mentioned seriousness of the aggravating character of reprisals, a powerful coalition of international and regional NGOs could well start public hearings with the purpose of demanding that States that commit reprisal be suspended.

If States can lose their right to vote in the General Assembly if they do not pay their fees for several years, there is in fact nothing shocking in demanding that States, who persecute and intimidate human rights defenders BECAUSE they cooperate with the United Nations, are not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the UN human rights body.” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]

UN members voted on Thursday 7 April to strip Russia from its seat at the Human Rights Council, over alleged civilian killings in the region around Kyiv, Ukraine. The proposal, presented at a UN General Assembly emergency session in New York, was backed by 93 countries. Russia, China, Belarus, Syria and Iran were among the 24 countries to vote against, while 58 countries, including India, Brazil and South Africa abstained.

Introducing the US-led resolution, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, ​​Sergiy Kyslytsya, told fellow members that suspending Russia’s right to sit on the Council, was “not an option, but a duty”.

This is the second time in the history of Human Rights Council (HRC) since its creation in 2006 that a sitting member has been kicked out. The first one was Libya, when late former dictator Muammar Gaddafi led a deadly crackdown on protests in 2011, only to be reinstated eight months later. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/07/05/amnesty-and-hrw-trying-to-get-saudi-arabia-suspended-from-the-un-human-rights-council/

This is the first time a permanent member of the UN Security Council has been removed from any UN body.

Countries react

Taking the floor, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, echoed Russia’s comments and said the move was politically driven. Belarus dubbed it an attempt to “demonise” Russia. Warning that they would abstain, several countries including India, Egypt, Senegal, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, argued it was too soon to vote on such a proposal and that investigations into the allegations should be conducted beforehand.

In a statement published on its website, Russia’s permanent mission in Geneva called the decision “an unlawful and politically motivated step, the sole purpose of which – to exert pressure on a sovereign state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy”.

Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said after the vote that Russia had already withdrawn from the council before the assembly took action, apparently in expectation of the result. By withdrawing, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said Russia avoided being deprived of observer status at the rights body.

See also the Geneva Solutions piece: https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/what-does-russia-s-suspension-mean-for-the-human-rights-council

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/un-votes-russia-out-of-the-human-rights-council-over-alleged-gross-violations-in-ukraine

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115782

Chinese approach to international human rights

April 4, 2022

China appears regularly in this blog, usually in a less than flattering role. For some recent examples, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/. So, it could be useful to see the official ‘view’ from a country that is so sensitive on the issue of human rights [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/]. You will not see a reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, of course:

On 28 February, 2022 the Chinese foreign Minister urged “sound development of global human rights” Wang issued his call at the high-level segment of the 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which he attended via video link.

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a speech calling on the international community to uphold equity and justice to promote the sound development of the global human rights cause.

He said that ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights by all is an unremitting pursuit of humanity, while protecting human rights is the shared cause of all countries.

China believes that all parties should act as true practitioners of human rights, staunch guardians of people’s interests, positive contributors to common development, and firm defenders of equity and justice, said Wang.

Wang noted that respecting and protecting human rights is the unremitting pursuit of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and China will continue to steadfastly pursue a human rights development path that meets the trend of the times and suits its national conditions.

We will continue to uphold a human rights philosophy that puts people front and center, develop the whole-process people’s democracy, promote common prosperity for all, and safeguard the human rights of the Chinese people at a higher level,” said Wang.

China will continue to take an active part in UN human rights endeavours by making China’s voice heard and contributing China’s part to this worthy cause, he added.

Wang refuted false information about the affairs of China’s Xinjiang and Hong Kong, saying they had been hyped up with ulterior motives, and adding that China is ready to engage in human rights exchanges and cooperation with all countries on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

We do not accept self-styled ‘lecturers’ on human rights and reject stoking bloc confrontation in the name of human rights,” said the foreign minister.

http://www.china.org.cn/china/node_7076505.htm

Myanmar: no impunity for the military leaders

March 23, 2022

On 23 March 2022 the above-mentioned NGOs issued a Joint Press Release: “Hold the Myanmar military accountable for grave crimes”

UN must explore all possible ways to prosecute Myanmar military leaders and hold them accountable for genocide and atrocity crimes” said Human Rights Defenders from Myanmar in an online event as they engaged with the UN Human Rights Council following a series of reporting on Myanmar during the Council’s 49th Regular Session.

Nearly 14 months after the military launched its nationwide campaign of violence and terror in an attempt to illegally seize power, the military has killed over 2,000 people, including women and children and detained over 12,000. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/02/myanmar-one-year-after-the-coup-only-getting-worse/

Having so far failed to impose its rule over the territory and population, the military continues to intensify its cruel and brutal attacks against the people of Myanmar with indiscriminate airstrikes, shelling, massacres, burning down of villages, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence. In addition, the military continues to block humanitarian aid to over 880,000 displaced people across the country while attacking medical facilities and medical and humanitarian workers.

Despite the brutal violence, the Myanmar people have continued to resist the military, steadfastly demonstrating their courageous will and defense of their democracy.

Over 400,000 civil servants who have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement refuse to work under the military, while others carryout general strikes and street protests. Boycott of military products and refusal to pay electricity bills continues and self-defense forces and formation of new autonomous local administrations alongside the existing parallel administrations in ethnic areas mar the military’s desperate attempts to assert administrative and territorial control.

Responding to calls made by civil society organizations for the UN to explore avenues to prosecute Myanmar military leaders and hold them accountable for grave crimes in Myanmar, His Excellency Aung Myo Min, National Unity Government’s Minister for Human Rights expressed his support during the online event, stating, ‘The UN Secretary-General should explore the feasibility of the establishment by the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council of an ad hoc tribunal to support accountability for alleged violations of international law in Myanmar.’

Following Minister Aung Myo Min’s remarks, Marzuki Darusman of Special Advisory Council for Myanmar and Former Chairperson of the Indpendent International UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar stated during the event, ‘To complement the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, that has been in operation for the last few years, it is only logical that an entity needs to be set up that is precisely a jurisdiction that would allow the IIMM – that was established by the Human Rights Council – to undertake its next step, and that is, on the basis of preparing the ground for criminal prosecution, for the Council to decide on a jurisdiction where those prosecutions can take place.’

Human Rights Defenders also called on the UN to seek pathways for accountability.
‘International community must rally to end cycle of impunity enjoyed by the military, and call on the Human Rights Council to explore all options to establish a jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar military for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and stand with the people of Myanmar in their defense of democracy,’ said Khin Ohmar of Progressive Voice.

‘We welcome US designating the brutal violence committed against the Rohingya as genocide, but this must translate into action to hold the perpetrators accountable. Failure to act on the grave crimes being committed against the people of Myanmar, past and present, will only serve to embolden the military junta,’ said Razia Sultana of RW Welfare Society.

‘The military junta continues to conduct fierce airstrikes against civilians in Karen State, as well as in Karenni, Chin, and Sagaing with total impunity. CSOs and other human rights organizations have already provided, and continue to provide, the necessary evidence of atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military to UN bodies. It is time for active steps to be taken by the Human Rights Council to ensure that justice mechanisms move forward without delay.’ said Naw Htoo Htoo of Karen Human Rights Group.

‘Myanmar military is burning villages to the ground, conducting mass scorched earth campaigns in towns such as Thantlang, Chin State and using rape as a weapon of war. Without concrete action to stop this military’s campaign of terror, including an arms embargo and targeted sanctions, whole villages will continue to be reduced to ashes,’ said Salai Za Uk of Chin Human Rights Organization.

‘The price of inaction is surely clear to the Members of the Human Rights Council, which has documented military’s crimes for over 15 years. Through its various mandates and mechanisms such as the Fact-Finding Mission and Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, the Council has amassed vast amounts of evidence of Myanmar military’s atrocities including the genocide against Rohingya. It is time for the Council to build on this work and explore all possible avenues to hold the military leaders accountable through criminal prosecutions,” said FORUM-ASIA.

The online Side Event during the 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council “Justice and Accountability for Myanmar: Expectations and Possibilities”, which took place on 22 March 2022 can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/progressivevoice/videos/2137679243064231

***

For a PDF version of this press release, click here

India sinking in civic freedoms survey

March 21, 2022

While the world’s attention is understandably focused on the war in Ukraine, other major countries should not stay outside the limelight, e.g. India (conspicuously absent in the condemnation of the aggression) which continues to flaunt human rights. [See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/28/anti-terror-laws-in-india-keep-being-used-against-human-rights-defenders/].

On 10 March 2022, The Wire in New Delhi reported that India has been added to CIVICUS’ watchlist of countries that have seen a “rapid decline” in civic freedoms by an independent monitor, highlighting the drastic measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to silence critics of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India and Russia were added to CIVICUS Monitor’s Watchlist. CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories.

India has remained a “repressed” nation in the ‘People Power Under Attack 2021’ report by the CIVICUS Monitor, along with 48 other countries including Afghanistan, Russia and Hong Kong. Its rating was first downgraded in 2019, “due to a crackdown on human rights activists, attacks on journalists and civil society groups, and the assault on civic freedoms in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir”.

This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

In its report, CIVICUS highlighted several developments that it saw as cause for concern.

In January, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids on Madurai-based human rights watchdog, People’s Watch. The raid came against the backdrop of 6,000 other civil society organisations, including Oxfam, losing their foreign funding licenses under the controversial Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are among the civil society groups that have had to close their offices in India.

Meanwhile, scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws. They include the 15 human rights defenders linked to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon incident who have been accused of having links with Maoist organisations, based on evidence believed to be “fabricated”.

Waiting for bail, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who remained in custody since October 2020 in the Elgar Parishad case under UAPA, died in July last year. [Update on this case: The death of Jesuit priest and Adivasi rights activist Stan Swamy in judicial custody will “forever remain a stain on the human rights record of India”, says a new brief by the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The group had formally adopted its opinion on Swamy’s death during its 92nd session on November 16, last year but made its comments public just this week. The Working Group transmitted to the Indian Government a communication concerning Swamy on May 12 last year, but did not receive any response. India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]. In its communication, the Working Group urged the Government to prioritize the use of non-custodial measures at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the pretrial phase, in the current context of a global pandemic. Furthermore, its source submitted that placing Father Swamy in prison increased his risk of contracting COVID-19 and thus put his life at risk. The failure of the Government to heed these prescient warnings led to his avoidable death in custody, the opinion states.] [https://theleaflet.in/un-working-group-asks-india-to-accord-stan-swamys-family-with-compensation-and-reparations-under-international-law/]

Further, at least 13 activists who were arrested under the UAPA for their work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 remain in detention. The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions ensure that those detained under the law are held in pre-trial detention for long periods.

“The office raids and foreign funding bans are part of the government’s strategy to harass and silence their critics,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor. “The use of broadly worded anti-terrorism laws against activists, journalists, academics, and students, reflect a multi-year decline in the state of civic and democratic freedoms in the country.”

Journalists have continued to be targeted in India for their work in recent months and there have also been concerns about the widespread surveillance of activists, journalists and others critical of the Modi government following the Pegasus spyware expose.

The government must release all human rights defenders detained and come clean about its surveillance of activists and journalists as well as establish an independent and effective oversight mechanism to monitor all stages of interceptions of communications,” said Henri Tiphagne, national working secretary of HRDA – India.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, 21 members of European Parliament stated, “We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament, are writing to express our concern over the treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs) in India.” “We have followed cases of HRDs being jailed for their peaceful work, targeted under anti-terror laws, labeled as terrorists, and facing increasing restrictions on their ability to safely mobilize and access funds due to restrictive legislation. We are especially concerned about the safety of unjustly jailed defenders with emphasis on 15 HRDs accused in what is known as the Bhima Koregaon case and 13 defenders currently in jail for their campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”

They expressed worry that the prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez remained in detention under the UAPA in one of the most overcrowded and unsanitary prisons in the country for his documenting of rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Echoing calls by UN experts, they viewed their case as emblematic of the way the Indian government “continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms in the country.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/23/india-arrests-khurram-parvez-again/]

See also 31 March: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/31/human-rights-watch-submission-universal-periodic-review-india

https://thewire.in/rights/for-rapid-decline-in-civic-freedoms-india-added-to-civicus-monitors-watchlist

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

20 Years later, Guantanamo’s legacy still there

March 16, 2022

On the 20th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay Kasmira Jefford of Geneva Solutions looks at the legacy of the so-called “war on terror”. She does so in conversation with UN special rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. From camps in north-eastern Syria, where thousands are detained without legal processes, to China where detention camps are posing under the guise of “education facilities” – secret detentions and enforced disappearances are still happening every day under the banner countering terrorism. Here some lengthy extracts:

In 2010, UN experts from four different working groups and special procedures joined forces to produce one of the most comprehensive studies to date on widespread systematic torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and secret detentions taking place across the world and condemning the wide range of human rights violations committed by countries.

In a follow-up report presented on Wednesday at the Human Rights Council 49th session, the special rapporteur said 10 years on, these practices are still rife and deplored the “abject failure” by states to implement the recommendations of the 2010 study.

GS News: In 2010, UN experts published a milestone study on secret detentions. What does your follow-up report show?

Fionnuala Ni Aolain: The 2010 report was unusual because it involved… four special procedure mechanisms coming together and identifying each in their collective way the scale of the problem of systematic torture and rendition of persons across borders, and systematic disappearances, arbitrary detention, and secret detentions. The [follow-up] report we’ve just published does a stock-taking and assesses whether or not the recommendations of the special experts were implemented. And possibly the single most depressing thing about that review is that the annex lists every single person who was named in the 2010 report – hundreds of names who were rendered, tortured, or both – and not a single individual received an adequate remedy [for the violation of human rights they experiend]. There was no accountability, no person was ever charged with crime for any of those acts.

The second part of the follow up report focuses on what that culture of impunity enabled. And what I find is that the culture of impunity, fostered and enabled by the “war on terror” as it was called essentially has created and enabled the conditions in which other places of mass detention have emerged. The report focuses on two of them : Xinjiang, China, and the situation in [in detention camps] in northeast Syria.

One of the observations you make is that ‘secret’ detention has evolved in the past two decades to encompass more complex forms of “formally lawful” or legalised transfer. Can you explain?

In the evolution that we’ve seen…dark-of-night arrivals into places like Poland and Lithuania and other countries that were accepting these rendition flights stopped because the global heat, if you want, on that kind of rendition was simply too high. It just became intolerable and unacceptable for states who were cooperating in enabling torture and rendition to continue to do it. But there’s been this transition into this ‘lawful transfer’. These are diplomatic assurances, [for example], where one state offers an assurance to another state that they will not torture the person who’s transferred into their custody.

But as the report makes clear, if you have to provide an assurance that you’re not going to do that, it tells you that there’s something fundamentally dysfunctional about the legal system that’s producing the assurance  – and there’s a fundamental question about the trustworthiness of the assurance if it happens. And what we know in practice is that so many of those assurances are not worth the paper they are written on. People have had the worst kinds of practices meted out to them under the cover of diplomatic assurance. And there have been no consequences for states in breaking those assurances.

One of the issues you raise in the report is the lack of a globally agreed definition on terrorism or acts of terrorism. Why has it been so complex to agree upon a definition?

Part of what happened is that 9/11 spawned this culture where everybody agree that terrorism was a bad thing but nobody ever defined it. …What we see in practice is the systemic abuse of counterterrorism across the globe. We see it in multiple countries. Over 67 per cent of all the communications the mandate has sent since 2005 have involved the use of a counterterrorism measure against a civil society actor. So this tells you that actually, they’re doing really bad counterterrorism.

We have to understand that, in fact, there’s a structural endemic problem. And in many countries, states’ security is governed by counterterrorism. The example I often use is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, when women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was jailed on terrorism charges and processed through a Special Criminal Court. So this shows terrorism being everything and nothing.

…….

In your annual report presented to the General Assembly in October last year, you said that efforts to improve counter terrorism measures are in fact damaging human rights. Would you say that counterterrorism is incompatible with the respect of human rights?

Security is a human right. It’s found in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Our most fundamental right that enables us to have other rights is the right to be secure. So I don’t think they’re incompatible and I don’t think the drafters of the Universal Declaration thought they were incompatible. I grew up in Northern Ireland in a society which was, in many ways, defined for decades by counterterrorism law. The problem is that expansive counterterrorism law, which is what we have, is imprecise – and vague counterterrorism law is fundamentally incompatible with the rule of law.

The fundamental idea contained in the rule of law is that if you are to be charged with an offence by the state, that you know precisely what acts you engaged in that are likely to make you subject to the course of power of the state. And the fundamental problem with terrorism is that it really, in so many countries, kind of injures that the concept of the rule of law, because it’s not precise. A reasonable individual could not know what kind of actions they would engage in would implicate the use of a state or measure against them. So I don’t think it’s incompatible but unfortunately, we have very few examples of good practice.

One of the key examples you highlight in your report are the camps in northeast Syria where thousands of people – the majority women and children – are being detained. You describe this as “a human rights black hole”. What can or should be done immediately for these people who are living in desperate situations?

You have thousands, almost over 60,000 men and  women being held in detention centres, prisons, who have never been through any legal process; the idea that we would hold people in these conditions is simply abhorrent. And then we turn to look at the conditions in those camps. The special rapporteur on torture and I have found that the conditions in the camps reach the threshold of torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment under international law. So the fact that they are there is also unacceptable. But the bottom line is that we have states, mostly western states, who simply will not take back their nationals including children, who refuse.

So, there’s a large-scale political solution that’s required to fix the challenge in northeast Syria, which involves all of the significant parties to the conflict. However, in the short run, the only international law compliance solution to the situation in these camps is the return of women and children to their countries of nationality. We have some states who have made active and ongoing efforts to do so and some who have made no effort.

https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/twenty-years-after-guantanamo-mass-detention-a-worrying-legacy-of-war-on-terror

Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

March 12, 2022

The Human Rights Council on 11 March held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. With thanks to Reliefweb, here an extract:

Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said last year she had presented a report detailing the shocking scale of killings of human rights defenders across the world – in almost a third of the Member States of the United Nations. Words of support had been heard from States at her presentation, saying they would work with her to stop this scourge – to date, she had received no invitations from any States as to ways to discuss how to stop these killings, and she had received more communications on killings. Human rights defenders who worked against corruption were often attacked for exposing or researching abuse of power, graft, bribery, fraud and other related malpractices, and these attacks took many forms. Governments and business targeted anti-corruption fighters as they feared exposure. Corruption was deeply rooted in some societies and could not be rooted out overnight, but States needed to publicly recognise the work of human rights defenders, and openly combat attacks against them.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers said the international community should work to better support human rights defenders and protect them from retaliation. Human rights defenders played a vital role all across the globe. States should end impunity for those seeking to stifle the voices of human rights defenders, and work better to protect them, amplifying their voices in the United Nations system. Human rights defenders protected and fought for the core values of the international community; they should be given an enabling environment. Corruption was, as the Special Rapporteur’s report said, a human rights issue, and national legislators were obliged to defend those investigating it. Work needed to continue to create an environment where human rights defenders and all civil society workers could operate without fear of violence and reprisals, which would further reinforce democratic and legislative institutions.

Speaking in the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders were European Union, Lithuania (on behalf of a group of countries), Australia (on behalf of a group of countries), Liechtenstein, Germany, Paraguay, Philippines, Egypt, UN Women, Norway (on behalf of a group of countries), Sierra Leone, Montenegro, Slovenia, Iraq, Cuba, France, Venezuela, Luxembourg, China, Burkina Faso, India, Namibia, Marshall Islands, Lesotho, Armenia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Russian Federation, Cambodia, Indonesia, Peru, Morocco, Algeria, Togo, Ireland, Belarus and Uruguay. Tunisia, United States, Belgium, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Niger, Czech Republic, Albania, Botswana, Malta, Vanuatu, Italy, Georgia, Mauritania, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Republic of Moldova, Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam, Iran and Pakistan.

Also speaking were SUHAKAM, Morocco National Human Rights Institution, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, American Association of Jurists, Sociedade Maranhense de Direitos Humanos, International Service for Human Rights, Dominicans for Justice and Peace – Order of Preachers, World Organisation Against Torture, Oidhaco, Bureau International des Droits Humains – Action Colombie, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Peace Brigades International, and Il Cenacolo.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Israel, Lithuania, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Cuba, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-holds-interactive-dialogue-special-rapporteur-situation-human