Archive for the 'OHCHR' Category

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

Belarus an ‘absolute catastrophe” says human rights defender Ales Bialiatski

March 9, 2021

Pip Cook in Geneva Solutions of 9 March 2021 published a rich, detailed interview with Belarus human rights defender Ales Bialiatski [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6CF69C2A-4101-6782-F0AB-53A307E9F7B2]

Ales Bialiatski laying flowers at a memorial to Aliaksandr Taraikouski, a protester who was killed during a demonstration on August 10, 2020. Credit: HRC Viasna

On February 16, Ales Bialiatski’s home and the offices of his human rights organisation Viasna in Minsk were raided by police. He was targeted along with more than 40 other human rights defenders, journalists and their relative in towns across the country, with reports of officials using excessive force while seizing phones, computers and credit cards.

Bialiatski, one of Belarus’ most prominent human rights defenders, says the authorities were looking for any evidence of organisations or journalists “financing” peaceful protests against the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko. The raids are the latest development in the government’s brutal crackdown on mass protests which have been ongoing in the country since Lukashenko claimed victory in a rigged election last August. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ales-bialiatski/]

The authorities have recently opened a criminal case against Viasna and Bialiatski himself. A former political prisoner who spent nearly three years jailed in Minsk, he says that, by the time this article is published, he may once again be behind bars.

Millions of people want change, and the answer of the government is repression,” says Bialiatski, speaking to Geneva Solutions from the Right Livelihood Foundation offices in Geneva. He and Viasna received the prestigious award in 2020.

Seven months on from the election, more than 33,000 people have been detained, and there are widespread reports of police brutality, arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, and torture of detainees.

The human rights situation in Belarus is, in Bialiatski’s words, “an absolute catastrophe”. “The situation is quite horrible because it’s not only human rights defenders that suffer,” he explains. “It’s all levels of society. Anybody who can think.”

Over half a year since the first protests broke out in the capital Minsk, he says the authorities are still tightening their grip on personal freedoms and carrying out grave human rights violations, targeting activists, journalists and anyone who opposes the regime. But the people of Belarus are not giving up.

What’s going on in Belarus? The government’s crackdown in Belarus follows mass protests in the country last summer after a fraudulent election in which Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator”, claimed to have won 80 per cent of the vote. The poll is widely accepted to have been rigged to extend his 25-year rule, prompting the largest demonstrations in the country’s history.

Elections in Belarus have never been considered free and fair by many international observers. Bialiatski has been working to advocate for democratic freedoms in the country since his early twenties, when the country was still under Soviet rule.

He founded Viasna in 1996, five years after Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union and two years after Lukashenko came to power. The organisation’s initial aim was to help thousands of protesters arrested during mass pro-democracy rallies after Lukashenko brought in sweeping constitutional reforms that consolidated his authoritarian rule.

“[My colleagues and I] thought that this work would finish in a few years because the problem would disappear,” says Bialiatski. “But it’s been 25 years and there’s still work to do. It’s never ended. Unfortunately, the human rights situation never got better.”

Accusations of rigged elections, brutal suppression of civil rights and corruption have been hallmarks of Lukashenko’s half a century in power. However, Bialiatski says last year’s poll acted as a catalyst. It was then that Belarusian society finally “woke up” and demanded change.

Breaking the silence. In the run-up to elections in Belarus in 2020, a number of opposition figures became extremely popular, including former members of Lukashenko’s government and Sergei Tikhanovskya, a well-known blogger who travelled the country interviewing former loyal supporters of the ruler about why they had turned against him.

Although Lukashenko jailed or exiled many of his opponents, he did not see Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya – who ran in the place of her husband when he was imprisoned – as a significant threat. However, Tsikhanovskaya became hugely popular, gaining the support of fellow opposition figures and attracting large crowds of supporters to her rallies.

Events in 2020 drastically impacted the Lukashenko’s loyal following and damaged his reputation. The country’s already dire economic situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, which the ruler has fervently denied, refusing to bring in restrictions and joking that the virus could be fought with vodka and work in the country’s potato fields. “Lukashenko was laughing into the world’s face and denying the existence of the virus, while people all around were dying,” says Bialiatski.

Tsikhanovskaya was widely expected to win the vote in a landslide. Although independent polling is illegal in Belarus, making it difficult to measure her lead in the run up to the election, some independent exit polls conducted outside polling stations in foreign embassies on election day showed her to have received 79.69 per cent of the vote while Lukashenko received just 6.25 per cent.

When the government announced it had won 80 per cent of the vote, claiming that Tsikhanovskaya had received less than 10 per cent, Belarusians realised the election had been rigged. “It was an open lie in the face of the people,” says Bialiatski. “Of course there were rallies – nobody believed the result.”

“The very first mass protests on the street were a result of despair and disappointment and disagreement with this injustice that had happened in the country,” he adds.

Thousands of people took to the streets across the country to peacefully protest the result, but they were met with a brutal crackdown from authorities. In Minsk, which saw the worst of the violence, police and the army deployed water cannons, stun grenades and rounds of rubber bullets against protesters. Police vans were reportedly driven into crowds and hundreds were injured, with journalists and independent observers apparently targeted.

As reports circulated of extreme violence against protesters, including systematic torture of detainees by police and security forces, thousands more Belarusians rallied. Over 200,000 people took part in the largest protest in the country’s history, and there were hopes that the pressure may finally topple Lukashenko.

However, the result was an even more brutal crackdown, in which thousands were injured and arrested. “Unfortunately, the peaceful protests didn’t lead to a change of government as was hoped and expected,” says Bialiatski. “Instead, daily repressions started against different people at different layers of society, at different organisations and activists.”

Crackdown on human rights and freedom of speech. According to Viasna, over 2,300 criminal cases have been opened against human rights defenders and activists since the protests erupted in August 2020. In February alone, during the latest spate of arrests, a further 511 people were detained, 102 people received sentences and 49 people imprisoned.

There is currently a criminal case open against Viasna and Bialiatski himself for inciting “public disorder” through allegedly financing ongoing protests by paying the huge fines imposed on protesters. He says the latest raids in which police seized phones, laptops and credit cards were an attempt to collect evidence. “This is considered as financial proof against the regime,” he explains. “They are not allowing us to exercise our human rights protection work, which is our right.

“We are working all the time on the edge of the knife because [we] don’t know when this criminal case will take force and [we] will be sentenced for it,” he says.

It’s not just activists who are being targeted. According to Viasna, there are currently 258 political prisoners in the country, including journalists and bloggers. On 17 February, two journalists, Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, both of the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel, were convicted of violating public order and sentenced to two years in prison for covering the protests.

“They are looking for ‘criminals’ among those who help political prisoners and write about the struggle of Belarusians for freedom,” wrote Tsikhanovskaya on Twitter in response to the latest raids. Tsikhanovskaya was forced to flee to Lithuania following last year’s elections.

“But in search of criminals, they should look into the offices of the riot police, the GUBOPiK (interior ministry directorate) and all those responsible for the repression.”

A number of Bialiatski’s colleagues are incarcerated in the country’s jails, imprisoned for as little as sending food parcels to jailed protesters. A former political prisoner himself who spent nearly three years behind bars from 2011-2014, Bialitksi knows all too well how terrible the conditions in Belarus’ prisons can be. With widespread reports of detainees being tortured and subjected to brutal treatment, he says he’s deeply concerned for their welfare.

“How people are treated in Belarusian jails is not a humane way to treat people,” he says. “I really hope that my colleagues and my friends can survive it and I really hope that one day they will be released.”

Pressure from the international community. Last summer’s crackdown prompted western countries to impose sanctions on Minsk, but Lukashenko has refused to resign, bolstered by diplomatic and financial support from long-standing ally Russia. Tikhanovskaya, who remains in Lithuania after the country rejected the Belarusian authority’s request for her extradition, is leading a campaign to encourage external pressure on Belarus in the hope that tougher measures against the regime may succeed in toppling Lukashenko.

Her efforts could be paying off. In December, the EU imposed a third round of economic sanctions against key individuals and companies in Belarus, while in February the Biden administration expanded the list of senior officials in the country who are no longer welcome in the United States.

Tikhanovskaya has also created a Coordination Council, effectively a government in waiting, which is headed by Bialiatski. The council is drafting a new constitution and keeps in contact with key figures in Belarus to ensure that the exiled opposition does not become detached from those who are keeping up the pressure on Lukashenko from within.

The situation in Belarus is also being closely watched by the United Nations. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet recently presented her report on the aftermath of August’s elections to the 46th session of the Human Rights Council at the end of February. Bachelet warned of a “human rights crisis” in the country and called for an immediate end to the policy of systematic intimidation used by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters and for the release of political prisoners.

Viasna has supported a number of other rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling on the Human Rights Council to establish a new mechanism on Belarus. Bialiatski explains that the situation in the country must be kept high up on the international agenda if there is any hope of bringing down Lukashenko’s regime.

“It is very important to continue to exercise international pressure on Belarus, pointing out that human rights have to be preserved in the country,” he says. “This help of international society is required today – not tomorrow, today. Because tomorrow it might be too late.”

Hope for the future. Bialiatski says it is impossible to predict what the coming weeks, and even days, will bring to the people of Belarus. He says the latest crackdown has had a “very, very intimating result. People are scared. ”

“One thing is for sure,” he continues. “The administrative and criminal charges, and punishments and sentences against the activists and human rights defenders will get harsher. This I can guarantee. The current power is continuing to tighten the screws.

“I ask myself often how long the people can continue to bear this pressure, and if they will continue to bear it much longer.”

There are hopes that the spring could bring another wave of protests in Belarus. Speaking during a trip to Finland last week, exiled opposition leader Tikhanovskaya said she expected mass protest against Lukashenko to start up again soon after a lull in public demonstrations due to the authorities brutal suppression.

Bialiatski shares some of her cautious optimism. “The crisis has not gone, we are not beyond it,” he says. “The disagreement, disapproval and unhappiness of the people is so strong that I think there will be another breakout soon.”

He says that it is only a matter of time before Lukashenko loses his grip on Belarus – be it a result of peaceful protests, international pressure or the deteriorating economic situation in the country, although most likely a combination of all three. “This is the first time we have clearly seen that the current regime is in the minority and this gives us a significant certainty that the regime, the current power, cannot stay much longer,” he says.

After spending most of his life tirelessly working to uphold human rights in the face of relentless persecution at the hands of the Belarusian authorities, Bialiatski has managed to retain faith that his country will one day become a free democracy. What gives him hope that this could finally be the turning point in Belarus’s history? The country’s young people, he says, who have led the movement against Lukashenko.

“These young people in Belarus who strive for a change have totally different values ​​to Lukashenko and his entourage,” he says. “And it’s difficult to change the minds of young people. They are born with it. They will keep on fighting. ”

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/belarus-human-rights-defender-says-crackdown-on-freedom-an-absolute-catastrophe

Egypt decade after Arab spring: Amnesty and UN express concern over detention

January 27, 2021

The human rights organization Amnesty International published a scathing report on 25 January 2021 decrying the inhumane conditions in Egyptian prisons. The report comes a decade after the Arab Spring uprising.

The report detailed the experiences of 67 individuals in detention, 10 of whom died in custody and two who died shortly after being released. It was carried out primarily between February 2020 and November 2020 and focused on 16 prisons. It found that:

  • Prisoners were kept in squalid conditions and received unhealthy food;
  • There was no proper access to health care, which may have resulted in death;
  • Overcrowding, poor ventilation and limited access to water and toilets led inevitably to outbreaks of coronavirus.

The report also found that some prisoners were deliberately denied access to health care due to their political affiliations. Activists, politicians and human rights defenders were denied basic treatments available to other inmates. There was also evidence of prison authorities “targeting prisoners critical of the government and denying them adequate food or family visits,” Markus Beeko, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany, asserted. According to UN estimates, there are 114,000 people incarcerated in the north African country.

On 22 January 2021 Mary Lawlor also deplored the arrest and prolonged pre-trial detention of  human rights defenders and bloggers, and their  accusation of being members of a terrorist organisation, continuing Egypt’s practice to intimidate and criminalise human rights defenders, journalists and their families.

I am extremely concerned by the seemingly unrelenting efforts of the Egyptian authorities to silence dissent and shrink civic space in the country, despite repeated calls from UN mechanisms and the international community,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur said she was disturbed by the detention since 2018 of human rights defender and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan, also known as ‘Mohamed Oxygen’, on charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “misuse of social media” in retaliation for his posts and videos reporting on human rights issues. He was granted conditional release by the Cairo Criminal Court in November last year but was attached to a new case on charges of joining a terrorist organisation and kept in detention. He remains in pre-trial detention in Al-Aqrab Prison, south of Cairo.

Lawlor said that human rights defenders such as researcher and post-graduate student Patrick Zaki, who was arrested in February last year, have endured repeated renewals of detention without trial. “Pre-trial detention should only be used as the exception to the rule, rather than the default approach,” said Lawlor.

Not only are these human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors unduly targeted for their legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, they are wrongfully accused of belonging to terrorist organisations and portrayed as a national security threat under vague legal provisions,” the Special Rapporteur said. “This is an issue which I and a number of UN experts have previously communicated our concern about to the Egyptian authorities.

The Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In the meantime also a tiny sparkle of good news: Egypt’s Administrative Court overturned on Thursday a 2016 decision by Cairo governorate to close El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/25/ai-germany-award-goes-to-egypts-nadeem-center-for-torture-victims/.

Ten years after the Tahrir square protests in Cairo, Egypt’s human rights record is disastrous. On the occasion of the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, several international campaigns are calling for the release of imprisoned activists writes Sofian Philip Naceur in Qantara.de Violent, authoritarian and extremely paranoid: since his bloody takeover in 2013, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has restored a regime whose brutality far outstrips even the reign of long-term ruler Hosni Mubarak. Hopes for real political and social change after the mass uprising that forced Mubarak out of office after 30 years in power have faded away, leaving a disillusionment that is omnipresent.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/arab-spring-information-technology-platforms-no-longer-support-human-rights-defenders-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa/

Countless people who, before and after the 2011 revolt, campaigned in various ways for “bread, freedom and social justice” in Egypt, are today intimidated and politically inactive, or have fled the country to live in exile. Tens of thousands, however, remain imprisoned in Egypt for political reasons, paying a hefty price for their activism and courage.

Egyptian opposition figures are using the current media attention around the tenth anniversary of the “25 January Revolution” to highlight the fate of those currently in prison for their political engagement. Some have been sentenced to heavy jail terms, while others are subjected to pre-trial detention lasting years by the Egyptian security forces and the country’s judiciary. European opposition politicians are also participating in corresponding campaigns.

Eight politicians from Germany’s left-wing party – Die Linke – have signed a solidarity statement calling for the immediate release of all political detainees, which explicitly highlights the fate of six detained leftist activists, journalists and trade unionists. Although the campaign specifically highlights six individual cases, it expresses solidarity not only with Egyptian leftists, but with all those “who are resisting Sisi’s dictatorship”. In addition to journalist Hishem Fouad, who advocated for striking workers and independent trade unions long before 2011, the German politicians are also calling for the release of novelist Ayman Abdel Moati, lawyer and trade union activist Haitham Mohamadeen and trade unionist Khalil Rizk. All four are detained on flimsy, terrorism-related charges.

https://www.dw.com/en/egypt-amnesty-slams-inhumane-prison-conditions/a-56331626

https://en.qantara.de/content/human-rights-violations-in-egypt-demanding-president-sisi-free-his-political-prisoners

english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/1/399358/Egypt/Egypt-court-overturns-closure-of-human-rights-NGO-.aspx

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-amnesty-condemns-prison-conditions

https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/27/the-social-media-myth-about-the-arab-spring

https://www.yenisafak.com/en/news/academic-urges-new-era-for-political-prisoners-in-egypt-3559752

Five individuals now listed as foreign agents in Russia

January 11, 2021

On 8 January, 2021 RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service reports on a worrying development in Russia: On 28 December, Russia said it had placed five people — three journalists who contribute to RFE/RL and two human rights activists — on the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Previously, only foreign-funded NGOs had been placed on the registry, in keeping with Russia’s passage of its controversial “foreign agents law” in 2012. The law was later expanded to include media outlets and independent journalists [SEE: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/russias-foreign-agents-bill-goes-in-overdrive/]

The three listed individuals affiliated with RFE/RL are Lyudmila Stavitskaya and Sergei Markelov, freelance correspondents for the North Desk of RFE/RL’s Russian Service; and Denis Kamalyagin, editor in chief of the online news site Pskov Province and a contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

Prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/06/25/russian-ngo-for-human-rights-forcibly-evicted-from-offices/]was also named to the registry, as was activist and Red Cross worker Daria Apakhonchich.

On December 29, the ministry expanded the list again, adding the Nasiliu.net human rights center, which deals with domestic violence cases. The additions bring the total number of individuals or entities listed to 18, the majority of them affiliated with RFE/RL.

Two international rights organisations have expressed concerns:

The UN Human Rights Office regrets the inclusion of the five individuals in the foreign agents list, which targets human rights defenders and journalists and appears to be aimed at limiting their freedom of expression and speech,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, said in a comment to RFE/RL on January 8.

The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media added in a separate comment that the move “narrows the space for freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and free flow of information in the Russian Federation.

The Justice Ministry did not explain on what grounds it included the recent additions of the five individuals and one entity to the registry.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based rights group, called the law “devastating” for local NGOs, saying more than a dozen had been forced to close their doors.

RFE/RL has said it is “reprehensible” that professional journalists were among the first individuals singled out by Russia as “foreign agents.”

The Council of Europe also has expressed concerns over situation, saying that the foreign agent law in general — “stifles the development of civil society and freedom of expression.”

https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-foreign-agents-list-united-nations-regrets/31038877.html

New Year, New Charges against Thai Protesters – the Lese-majesty law in Thailand

January 4, 2021

Thai authorities on 1 January 2021 made their 38th arrest of a pro-democracy activist in recent weeks under the country’s tough lèse majesté law as authorities crack down on the country’s unprecedented protest movement. That law, Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, forbids defamation of the king and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations.The law had been dormant since King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King  Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. The Thai government, though, is now using it to try to stamp out continuing protests calling for the government to resign, a new constitution and reform of the monarchy

Thailand’s authorities must stop targeting pro-democracy protesters with draconian legal action and instead enter into dialogue, according to the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly, who warned the country risks sliding into violence. Clément Voule said he had written to the Thai government to express alarm at the use of the fierce lese-majesty law against dozens of protesters, including students as young as 16.

It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said of the protests. “Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.

So far, 37 people face charges of insulting the monarchy for alleged offences ranging from wearing traditional dress deemed to be a parody of the royals to giving speeches arguing that the power and wealth of the king should be curbed.

Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok.
Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

Prominent protest leaders face an unusually high number of charges. This includes the student activists Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, (12 charges) and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (six charges) and the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa (eight charges), who have given speeches calling for the power of the royals to be curbed.

The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura
The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura speaks from a stage outside Bang Khen police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Protesters – who have faced various other charges over recent months, including sedition – declined to participate in a government reconciliation panel in November, rejecting it as an attempt to buy time. The recent cases come after months of demonstrations in which protesters have made unusually frank and public calls for reform to the monarchy.

Benja Apan, 21, one of 13 people facing charges over a demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok, said legal action was unlikely to deter protesters from coming out in the new year. “I actually think it will bring more people out, because it is not fair,” she said.

The human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to drop charges pressed on a number of activists for their role in the pro-democracy movement and to repeal, or at least amend, Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law. According to the campaign, at least 220 people, including minors, face criminal charges for relating to their actions in the pro-democracy movement. Activists are calling on government and monarchy reform, raising issues considered taboo and unprecedented in Thai society. Thailand must amend or repeal the repressive laws it is using to suppress peaceful assembly and the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.

Amnesty International is calling on people to take action and send a letter to the prime minister, calling on the Thai government to change their approach when handing the ongoing protests to protect human rights. Sample letter by AI’s campaign calls on Prayut to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all criminal proceedings against protesters and others charged solely for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
  • Cease all other measures, including harassment, aimed at dissuading public participation in peaceful gatherings or silencing voices critical of the government and social issues
  • Amend or repeal legislation in order to ensure it conforms with Thailand’s international human rights obligations on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and to train state officials to carry out their duties confirming to Thailand’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

On Saturday 19 December 2020 Maya Taylor in The Thaiger had already reported that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has expressed shock and dismay at Thailand’s use of its strict lèse majesté law against a 16 year old pro-democracy activist. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani has called on Thailand to refrain from using the law against those exercising their right to freedom of speech, as she expressed alarm that a minor was being charged under the law. “It is extremely disappointing that after a period of 2 years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and – shockingly – now also against a minor. We also remain concerned that other serious criminal charges are being filed against protesters engaged in peaceful protests in recent months, including charges of sedition and offences under the Computer Crime Act. Again, such charges have been filed against a minor, among others.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that detention of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression or other human rights constitutes arbitrary arrest or detention. We also urge the government to amend the lèse majesté law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR on the right to freedom of expression.”

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has played down the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ criticisms over the kingdom’s enforcement of the Lese Majeste law.

See also in 2019: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/thailand-amnesty-and-un-rapporteur-agree-on-misuse-of-lese-majeste/

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/pro-democracy-movement-making-little-headway-monarchys-powers-remain-untouched

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/27/un-thailand-protesters-royal-insult-law-lese-majesty

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/new-year-new-charges-thai-protesters-slapped-royal-defamation-charges

John Legend Receives High Note Global Prize 2020 from UN

December 11, 2020

John Legend has become the 2020 winner of the High Note human rights prize. For more on this award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/748829a0-11fb-11ea-a6e6-0b8b95100eab.

For first one see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/28/first-high-note-global-prize-goes-to-cyndi-lauper-for-her-work-with-lgbtq-youth/

I believe in the power of music to inspire us, to connect our hearts, to give voice to feelings for which words alone won’t suffice, to wake us up out of complacency, to galvanize and fuel social movements,” the singer said upon accepting his award. “Artists have a rich tradition of activism. We have a unique opportunity to reach people where they are, beyond political divisions, borders, and silos. And it’s been my privilege to use my voice and my platform to advance the cause of equity and justice.” See: <a href="http://<iframe src="//content.jwplatform.com/players/Ge9Alkkq-zFOPDjEV.html" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" scrolling="auto">//content.jwplatform.com/players/Ge9Alkkq-zFOPDjEV.html

Over his 20-year career, Legend has been closely involved with a variety of causes. In 2007, he started the Show Me Campaign to improve access to education, while the Bail Project has advocated for ending mass incarceration and making it easier for released prisoners to find work by removing criminal background checks from job applications. In his High Note Global Prize speech, he touched on his most recent campaign, #FreeAmerica, which is aimed at broad criminal justice reform.

He went on to highlight his most recent campaign, #FreeAmerica, which works toward criminal justice reform. “As a citizen of the United States, and of the world, I know that for far too long our most essential systems have served to perpetuate inequity and injustice,” he shared. “In order for us to create a just world those systems need to change.”

With this award we celebrate a multitude of advocates, generations of movement leaders who have put their shoulder to the wheel of progress,” he concluded. “I don’t stand here absorbing these accolades for myself. I stand here grateful for their ideas and their energy and honored that I can amplify their voices by using my platform.”

https://latestnewspost.com/news/entertainment/tv-shows/john-legend-receives-united-nations-human-rights-high-note-global-prize/

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/john-legend-united-nations-human-rights-high-note-global-prize-1101344/

Max Richter’s ‘VOICES’ to be broadcast for Human Rights Day by 34 countries

December 9, 2020

A unique global broadcasting event, to coincide with UN Human Rights Day on 10 December, will promote a message of unity through music with the first-ever radio broadcast of Max Richter’s VOICES, incorporating text from the historic 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.

This special performance, produced by BBC Radio 3 and co-conceived by Richter and his creative partner Yulia Mahr, will be broadcast by 37 EBU radio channels from 34 countries, the EBU announced on 7 December 2020.

VOICES is inspired by the opening statement from the Declaration: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” A decade in the making, the piece premiered in London in February 2020, weeks before the pandemic brought unprecedented changes to the lives of citizens worldwide. With months of uncertainty still on the horizon, the recording’s uplifting messages of community and hope have particular resonance. 

Max Richter and Yulia Mahr said, “Thinking back now to the premiere of VOICES in February feels like visiting another world. In these strange and anxious times, it is a great privilege to be able to mark Human Rights Day by presenting the work again, despite the pandemic. We are thrilled about the partnership with the UN Human Rights office and the collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and the EBU, which have made it possible to perform our work once more. In this challenging time in human history, the text of the Declaration is more important than ever.”

Víctor Fernández, Chief, Communications Section, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “Collaborating with Max Richter, BBC Radio 3 and the EBU on Human Rights Day was a natural way for the United Nations Human Rights Office to promote the global human rights message through high quality music. 

“VOICES is a musical interpretation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and music, like human rights, is universal. Both have the power to unite, to inspire and to promote peace and understanding. This concert on BBC Radio 3, broadcast via the EBU, helps ensure that the principles enshrined in the Declaration reach a wide audience.”

This is the second time that the EBU has collaborated with Richter. During Easter 2020, as the world was closing down, EBU radio channels across Europe presented the composer’s eight-hour work – Sleep – to audiences in 20 countries as a moment of hope in unprecedented times. VOICES will continue that tradition.  

The BBC Radio 3 broadcast of VOICES will be presented by Elizabeth Alker and features soprano Grace Davidson; violinist Viktoria Mullova as soloist; British actor Sheila Atim as the narrator; the Tenebrae choir; the Max Richter ensemble – with Richter himself on keyboards and electronics; and conductor Robert Ziegler.

https://www.ebu.ch/news/2020/12/37-ebu-radio-stations-to-broadcast-max-richters-voices-for-un-human-rights-day

UN Office in Israel being curtailed through visa denial

October 17, 2020

Israel, which was angered in February by the UN listing companies with activities in illegal Israeli settlements, has granted no visas to UN rights staff for months, the agency said Friday. “Visa applications have not been formally refused, but the Israeli authorities have abstained from issuing or renewing any visas since June,UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told AFP in an email.

He stressed that Israel had not formally refused any of the office’s visa applications, but had simply not acted on new requests or requests for renewal. Nine international staff members (including country director James Heenan) had been forced to leave so far after their visas were not renewed. And “three newly appointed international staff have not been able to deploy because they have not received their visas,” he said. Only three international staff members of the agency still have valid visas to work in the country.

This, Colville lamented, was creating a “highly irregular situation and will negatively impact on our ability to carry out our mandate.

Israel has not provided an official explanation, but the blockage comes after the UN rights office in February released a list of over 100 companies with activities in Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. And in June, the country reiterated its decision to “freeze ties” with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office.

Colville stressed that the UN rights agency’s offices in Israel and the Palestinian territories remained open, with 26 national staff members and the remaining three international staff onsite. The remainder of the international staff were working remotely, he said, adding that this was not having a big impact on operations yet, since remote work had become a norm in many places anyway due to the ongoing pandemic. “We continue to hope that this situation will be resolved soon, and we are actively engaged with various relevant and concerned parties to that end,” Colville said.

Forcing [out] human right monitoring groups is part of a clear strategy that aims to muzzle documentations of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians,Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

Shakir, who is currently based in Amman after being expelled from Israel after claims he supported calls for a boycott, said it is part of a wider trend in which other human rights activists are being denied entry due to their criticism of Israel’s human rights record.

However, Shakir said that if Israel’s goal was to silence criticism it had failed, as human rights activists continue to do their work as “strongly” as before.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/16/israel-stops-issuing-visas-to-un-human-rights-workers

Book Launch 20 October: A Practical Anatomy of the Human Rights Council

October 10, 2020

Book Launch: A Practical Anatomy of the Human Rights Council
authored by one of the persons who knows best this institution: Eric Tistounet, Chief of the #HRC Branch at #OHCHR.
This book is the outcome of a six-month #researchfellowship at the Geneva Academy.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 12:30 PM UTC+02
Online and at Villa Moynier (120B Rue de Lausanne, Geneva)

UN rights chief urges Iran to release jailed Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders, citing COVID-19 risk

October 7, 2020

Home

According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), conditions in Iranian prisons, suffering from chronic overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, have worsened during the pandemic. Shortage of water and inadequate protective equipment, testing, isolation and treatment have led to a spread of coronavirus among detainees, reportedly resulting in a number of deaths. 

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined the responsibility of States to ensure health and well-being of all individuals under their care, including those in prisons. 

Under international human rights law, States are responsible for the well-being, as well as the physical and mental health, of everyone in their care, including everyone deprived of their liberty,” she said in a news release, on Tuesday 6 October 2020.  

People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk,” she added. 

In February, the Iranian judiciary issued directives on temporary releases to reduce the prison population and avoid further spread of the virus, benefiting some 120,000 inmates, according to official figures, said OHCHR, adding that the measures appear to have been suspended, and prisoners have been required to return in large numbers.  

In addition, people sentenced to more than five years in prison for “national security” offences were excluded from the schemes. 

As a result, most of those who may have been arbitrarily detained – including human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists, and others deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or exercising other rights – have been placed at a heightened risk of contracting the virus, added the Office. 

“I am disturbed to see how measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been used in a discriminatory way against this specific group of prisoners,” said High Commissioner Bachelet. 

One of the most emblematic cases is that of prominent lawyer and women’s rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was given a combined prison sentence of over 30 years on charges related to her human rights work. Her life is believed to be at considerable risk as she suffers from a heart condition, and has been weakened by a long hunger strike.  

Once again, I urge the authorities to immediately release her, and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice,” said Ms. Bachelet 

Over the years, she has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the Government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/]

The High Commissioner also voiced concerns over persistent and systematic targeting of individuals who express any dissenting view, and the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights. 

“It is disheartening to see the use of the criminal justice system as a tool to silence civil society,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1074722