Nobel Laureate Denis Mukwege under threat in Congo

August 5, 2020

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Denis Mukwege, says his family has been intimidated and threatened since he denounced the recent massacre in Kipupu in Mwenga territory in South Kivu of Congo. Mukwege, who is the founder and Medical Director of Panzi Hospital and Foundations, said in a statement on Monday 3 August 2020 that since 2012 and even after two assassination attempts, he had continued to receive death threats [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/breaking-news-see-which-other-awards-the-2018-nobel-peace-prize-laureates-won-already/].

Since my tweet on Sunday, July 26 denouncing the recent massacre in Kipupu in Mwenga territory in South Kivu, I have received various hate mails, and members of my family have been intimidated and threatened,” he said.

Since then[ 22 years ago], I have not ceased to campaign for the search for truth and the application of justice, without which we cannot hope for lasting peace,” he said.

While calling for peace, the Nobel Peace Prize Laurel made a case for the examination of the mapping report carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, adding that the report contained a compilation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides detailed from 1993 to 2003. “Without analyzing these crimes-which mark the history of the Congo-and without justice being rendered for these crimes, no people involved in these conflicts will be able to recover or live in peace,” he said. He further said it seemed that advocating for the creation of a special jurisdiction to try crimes in the Congo scares some people who pour out their hatred on social media by pitting one against the other, often on the basis of lies. However, he said reconciliation between peoples and the establishment of reparations for the victims could not be achieved without our relentless search for the truth. “No intellectual malfeasance, no threat, no intimidation, will prevent me from expressing myself on the reality of the atrocities experienced by the populations of my country and the consequences of which I treat every day in my hospital in Bukavu,” he said.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/12/djimon-hounsou-set-to-play-congolese-nobel-prize-winner-denis-mukwege-in-new-film/

Read more: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/my-family-under-threat-over-congo-massacre-tweet-peace-laureate-mukwege.html


Iranian Tehran Times on HRDs: a lot missing

August 5, 2020

My eye was drawn to a post in the Tehran Times of 4 August 2020 entitled: “Ex-diplomat urges intl. community not to keep silent over U.S. violation of human rights

Mohsen Pakaeen, the former Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan, has urged the international community not to keep silent over the United States’ violation of the human rights when the world is battling the coronavirus pandemic. The aricle then continues to list some international statements in support of lifting sanctions:

The international community must respond to the United States’ behavior and make this country fulfil its duties regarding respect for human rights,” Pakaeen told IRNA in an interview published on Tuesday. He also said, “In a situation in which all countries in the world and international institutions, even [the United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights, stress the necessity of removing sanctions on countries battling the coronavirus, we are witnessing the United States’ healthcare terrorism against our country.”

On March 31, a UN human rights expert called for lifting international sanctions against countries ranging from Iran to North Korea and Venezuela in coronavirus crisis, according to Reuters.

The continued imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and, to a lesser degree, Zimbabwe, to name the most prominent instances, severely undermines the ordinary citizens’ fundamental right to sufficient and adequate food,” Hilal Elver, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement.

In a letter to the G-20 economic powers on March 24, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for rolling back international sanctions regimes around the world.  Guterres said sanctions are heightening the health risks for millions of people and weakening the global effort to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Foreign Policy reported.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, also said on March 24 that “At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” .

The Tehran Times is known as an English-language mouthpiece of the regime {see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/13/dreams-about-a-referendum-to-end-the-mullahs-regime-in-iran/]. Its selectivity is almost amazing when one does a search on the term “human rights defenders” which yields 50 hits. None of them are about HRDs in Iran itself. The best it can do is – not surprisingly – reporting on the plight of HRDs in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Still, there would be enough to report on in Iran, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/iran/

https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/450879/Ex-diplomat-urges-intl-community-not-to-keep-silent-over-U-S


Human rights defender’s story: Maryam Al-Khawaja from Bahrain

August 3, 2020

On 17 July 2020 ISHR published this video of Maryam Al-Khawaja, who is a human rights defender from Bahrain/Denmark. She is the Vice-Chair of the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, a board member at ISHR, and a board member at CIVICUS.

see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maryam-al-khawaja/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-maryam-al-khawaja-bahrain


Roadmap to Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda 2020

August 3, 2020

Trough Reliefweb NGOWG posted on 14 July 2020 the following: In October 2020, women activists, peacebuilders, and human rights defenders along with UN Member States and agencies, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and the establishment of the WPS agenda.

20 years since the adoption of Resolution 1325, despite the fact that conflicts disproportionately impact the health, safety, and human rights of women and girls, they remain excluded from decision-making processes that determine their future. Specific provisions on women and gender were almost universally absent from ceasefire and peace agreements resulting from UN-led or co-led processes in 2018. Nearly five years since the three peace and security reviews in 2015, only 50% of the recommendations on WPS directed towards the UN have progressed, and only two recommendations out of 30 were fully implemented (S/2019/800). Meanwhile, within the very bodies tasked with protecting human rights and maintaining international peace and security, we have witnessed increasing and direct attacks on core principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, including as they apply to sexual and reproductive rights, and sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

As we highlighted in our Policy Brief 2018, the Security Council is far from meeting its WPS obligations 20 years since the inception of the agenda. Despite some progress, WPS is often tokenized and only addressed at the most superficial of levels.

  • The continued ad hoc and inconsistent implementation of the WPS agenda over the last two decades by the Security Council reflects a selective approach to WPS and a lack of accountability for meaningful implementation of the agenda. Without civil society briefers raising WPS issues in their statements, our analysis shows that there would be far fewer references to WPS and that those references would be less substantive. We found a clear correlation between civil society briefers raising specific WPS issues, and those issues being addressed by Council members.
  • The Security Council continues to make decisions based on information that is mostly gender-blind. Less than 10% of WPS references in reports of the Secretary-General could be considered “analytical” — failure to embed intersectional, gender-sensitive conflict analysis in reports of the Secretary-General is contrary to guidance provided on reporting and internal good practice.
  • Women’s experiences tend to be instrumentalized at the Security Council, and violations of women’s rights are used to illustrate the seriousness of specific conflict situations and justify certain Council actions, rather than to meaningfully promote protection of women’s rights. Women’s participation in peace and security processes is also instrumentalized by use of the argument that their participation is necessary in order to make peace processes more effective, rather than that women have a right to equal participation in all areas of decision-making.

Over the last 20 years, several studies have found that gender inequality is a key predictor of conflict and instability — gender inequality increases the likelihood of conflict, and countries with weak human rights standards “are more likely to have militarized and violent interstate disputes.” A recent analysis found that 79% of armed conflict in situations for which there is data on gender equality took place in contexts with medium, high or very high levels of gender discrimination. Relatedly, strong feminist movements are also predictors of, and contributors to, efforts that reduce gender inequality. Addressing gender equality, as well as inequality more broadly, is therefore essential to preventing conflict, and requires, at its core, protection and promotion of human rights and efforts to address discriminatory structures and institutions.

In addition, as has been widely recognized and as we highlighted in our article on why women’s rights must be central to responses to COVID-19, the current pandemic is amplifying existing gender, racial, economic and political inequalities, and impacting those most marginalized, including people with diverse SOGIESC, people with disabilities, the elderly, the poor, and the displaced. Women are impacted due to their role as primary caregivers or healthcare workers, and are often less likely to be able to meet their own needs due to structural inequalities. As for women and girls in conflict-affected communities, COVID-19 is likely to hit them harder — as recognized by the UN Secretary-General, there has been an alarming surge in gender-based violence (GBV); combined with restrictions to essential services, such violence compounds existing risks for women and girls. The current pandemic underlines why preventing all forms of GBV against women requires ensuring the autonomy of those who are targeted and the full scope of their human rights, as well as the importance of enabling them to lead and contribute to the solutions to the crisis, rather than only seeking to protect them from violence.

The upcoming anniversary of the WPS agenda must be a call to action to the UN, Security Council and Member States to redouble their commitment to fully implement and advance the WPS agenda, defend the full scope of human rights, and galvanize efforts to address clearly identified gaps.

As a coalition dedicated to peace, gender equality and women’s rights, we firmly believe that the following 6 principles should guide any action:

  • Every conflict and crisis has specific gendered dimensions; there is no situation in which gender equality and women’s rights are not relevant. We advocate for the systematic incorporation of gender analysis and WPS obligations, including as enshrined in the ten WPS resolutions, in all conflict and crisis work, particularly within the country-specific discussions on the Security Council’s agenda, not only in thematic discussions on WPS.
  • Gender equality and human rights are legal obligations in conflict-affected situations, and violation of these rights must be recognized as an early warning sign and a root cause of conflict. The WPS agenda is both a peace and security issue, and a critical part of the human rights agenda. We therefore advocate for a rights-based approach to addressing all dimensions of the WPS agenda and for clear and outspoken leadership by the UN, Security Council and Member States on the importance of gender equality and human rights in maintaining peace and security.
  • We cannot achieve sustainable peace without the full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership of diverse women in all levels of decision-making. There is no substitute for direct participation of women in all aspects of peace and security, yet civil society continues to be regularly consigned to observer or other ad hoc roles despite the Global Study on the Implementation of Security Council 1325 (2000) specifically calling for an end to this practice. In addition, although parity in representation is an important first step in addressing gender inequality, it is not the fulfillment of feminist leadership, nor is it a substitute for fully implementing all components of the WPS agenda. Ensuring meaningful participation also requires dismantling the barriers to participation for the majority of women, not just supporting a small number of women to reach leadership positions.
  • An intersectional approach to gender equality is fundamental to the WPS agenda, and to the NGO Working Group’s (NGOWG) work. We recognize that race, ethnicity, religion, class, SOGIESC, age, marital status, pregnancy status, disability, migratory status, geographic location, economic status and other characteristics can be sources of both oppression and resilience, and intersecting forms of discrimination reflected in structural barriers must be recognized and addressed in order to achieve gender equality and the vision of the WPS agenda. Yet women are primarily referred to as a monolithic group throughout the work of the Security Council — our analysis showed that the experiences of particular groups of women and girls comprised less than 7% of all references in outcome documents and 6% of all references in reports of the Secretary-General in 2019, reflecting little acknowledgment of the unique challenges they face. Enabling the participation of diverse women — representative of a range of backgrounds and identities, including women with disabilities, women of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities, as well as women of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds — is critical in order to ensure gender equality, and that “women” are not treated as a homogenous group.
  • Civil society, including conflict-affected communities, peacebuilders, women-led and women’s rights organizations, and human rights defenders, are an integral part of the WPS agenda. Ensuring full and meaningful participation of diverse civil society organizations and representatives requires timely, systematic, transparent, inclusive, and substantive consultation in formal and informal processes in order to ensure that any action addresses clearly identified gaps and delivers real change to communities affected by conflict.
  • Without real accountability, there can be no real progress. As was highlighted by all three peace and security reviews undertaken in 2015 and reinforced by the independent assessment commissioned by the UN in 2019, greater accountability of all actors, particularly senior UN leadership and Member States, is a requirement for real progress on the WPS agenda. This requires fundamental recognition that addressing gender inequality is both an international legal obligation and a collective responsibility of the UN. Prioritizing and resourcing for women’s human rights, establishing clear standards for performance and implementation, as well as raising the cost of failure to implement, are essential for driving forward the WPS agenda.

With the above principles in mind, below we share concrete recommendations on how the UN, Security Council and Member States can advance WPS in five key areas in advance of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1325.

1. Prevention of conflict. Take decisive action to prevent conflict, end violence and avert crisis, including by addressing gendered drivers of conflict and instability.
2. Women’s meaningful participation. Ensure women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and security.
3. Human rights defenders, peacebuilders and civil society space. Defend the legitimacy of the work of all human rights defenders and peacebuilders and their role in promoting peace and security, and effectively prevent and address attacks against them.
4. Gender equality and the human rights of all women and girls, including access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), must be central to maintaining international peace and security.
5. Accountability for implementation. In addition to ensuring implementation by Member States, promoting system-wide accountability of the UN for implementation of the WPS agenda.

http://Download report (PDF | 602.25 KB)


Absurd prosecution of the crew of the ship Iuventa continues in Italy

July 31, 2020

AI has started a campagiun to call on the Italian prosecutor to drop the absurd investigation against the crew of the rescue ship “Iuventa 10”. Despite having saved more than 14,000 lives, they are accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe

Three years after the baseless criminal investigation began, the Iuventa 10 crew remain in limbo with the threat of long jail terms hanging over them,” said Maria Serrano, Amnesty campaigner on migration.

[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe. Wrapped up with the fate of these ten men and women are the fates of hundreds of others and thousands of refugees and migrants they are helping.” .

We could no longer stand by and watch people disappearing in the Mediterranean mass grave. We chose to use our privilege to be eyewitnesses, reporters, and a safe harbour for thousands of people on the move,” said one of the Iuventa10

“It was, still is and will remain the task of all of to save human lives wherever possible, to offer protection to those who need it, to treat everyone with dignity and to fight with them for the world in which we want to live.”

Forensic Architecture reconstructionhttps://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-seizure-of-the-iuventa

BACKGROUND:

The Iuventa case is not an isolated one. Across Europe people standing in solidarity or assisting refugees and migrants have been threatened, smeared, intimidated, harassed and dragged through the courts simply for helping others. Authorities have misused and abused anti-smuggling laws to criminalize human rights defenders and punish solidarity.  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/1828/2020/en/

Fewer rescue assets had led to an increase of the death rate in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016 more than 50,000 women, men and children have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, where they are exposed to arbitrary detention, torture, extortion and rape.

The Iuventa case was the first judicial proceeding launched against a rescue NGO in Italy, following a smear campaign in which NGOs were stigmatized.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/italy-crew-of-rescue-ship-face-20-years-in-jail-on-third-anniversary-of-smuggling-investigation/


Tabassum Adnan from Swat, Pakistan, tries to work within the Jirga system

July 31, 2020

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Khalida Niaz in MENAFN (Tribal News Network) of 29 July 2020 tells the story of Tabassum Adnan from Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who has been nominated for the Women Building Peace Award in the US.

Tabassum is working for human rights, with particular emphasis on women rights, in Swat since 2010. He has the honour of being the founder of first women Jirga of Pakistan. For this effort, she won Nelson Mandela Award, International Woman of Courage Award and several other awards.

Tabassum said in a special interview with TNN that she has worked a lot on human smuggling, Swara, early marriages and share of women in ancestral property. She said she is now planning to work on the use of ice and other drugs by children to save their future.

‘When I arranged a sitting with women of my area, I realised that they are being denied their rights and they must have representation in the Jirga. Earlier, Jirgas only had male members and no one listened to the problems of women. A woman can better understand the problems of other women. I also used to raise voice for women’s rights by attending Jirgas of men,’ she told TNN.

Tabassum is the first woman in Pakhtun history who was invited to a Jirga of men which was hearing a case about alleged sexual abuse of a child in Swat. She said once a case of Swara (giving a girl in marriage to rival family as compensation to settle dispute) was given to her in which all the accused Jirga members were arrested. She said the family members of the arrested people were requesting her to forgive them, but she asked them to approach the court for this purpose. She said if the girl’s father has committed a crime then he, and not his daughter, must be punished for it. She said she also has a daughter and she can understand how the girls suffer due to this obsolete tradition.

The rights activist said she initially included eight such women in the Jirga who had the ability of public speaking and decision making. She said the number of women in the Jirga has increased now. She said her Jirga has resolved about 2,000 cases so far and many other cases are in process of being resolved.

About her personal life, Tabassum said she was born in Swat and then went to Qatar with her father. She said she returned to Swat for marriage and settled there. She said she started working for women’s rights after her divorce and set up Khwendo Jirga platform for women for resolution of their problems. She said she has three sons and a daughter.

Tabassum faced many hardships while carrying out her mission for women’s rights. Besides problems on local level, Jamia Ashrafia of Lahore also issued a fatwa (edict) against her by accusing her of spreading obscenity.

I never asked any woman to uncover herself. I only want to give them confidence to fight for their rights. There is no harm if a woman sitting in her home decides to raise voice for her rights,’ she said.

Tabassum said now men have also started contacting Khwendo Jirga for resolution of their domestic disputes involving women. She said men feel comfortable in discussing problems of women with women members of the Jirga. She said she is also the first woman member of Dispute Resolution Council of Swat Police Station where many women arrive for resolution of their problems. She said she also encourages young girls not to afraid and speak up for their rights.

The rights activist enjoys full support of family for her work, but she sometimes receives threats from those affected by the Jirga decisions. About major problems of women in Swat, she said the ratio of divorce is increasing and prostitution has also increased besides the property disputes. She said the practice of Swara has reduced significantly.

Tabassum said she gets more recognition abroad as compared to Pakistan. Although she got a certificate from the district police chief, but she complains of not receiving much encouragement from the government.

https://menafn.com/1100562913/Pakistan-How-Swats-Tabassum-got-nominated-for-international-award


Mary Lawlor calls death of human rights defender Askarov a stain on Kyrgyzstan’s reputation,

July 31, 2020

The death in prison of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, who for 10 years had unsuccessfully challenged his life sentence, shows a cruel disregard for human rights in Kyrgyzstan, says said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/26/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction/

I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Mr. Askarov’s death, despite multiple requests for his release on humanitarian grounds as his health deteriorated significantly in prison,”

Although the Kyrgyz Government shared detailed information on court proceedings and medical care afforded to Askarov, she criticized the government for not taking concerns about his health seriously.

“We learned in June that, in the midst of COVID-19, and despite his age and pre-existing conditions, Mr. Askarov did not qualify for early release under Kyrgyz law,” Lawlor said. “I now question whether more could have been done to protect his health.”

In the days before Askarov’s death, his lawyer made a number of urgent medical appeals to authorities after the 69-year-old fell ill with a cough, fever, aches and pains, and had difficulty eating and walking. It was only on 24 July 2020, when he had already been sick for 10 days, that he was transferred to a prison medical facility, where he died the following day.

“Mr. Askarov’s case should act as a reminder to all states of the serious and grave threat that prisoners in at-risk categories face during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. She stressed that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, or most at risk of the virus, should be released…

Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

https://akipress.com/news:646397:Death_of_human_rights_defender_Azimjan_Askarov_a_stain_on_Kyrgyzstan_s_reputation,_says_UN_expert/


Saudi-backed investors pull out of Newcastle deal

July 31, 2020

Many media outlets have reported on this (here Yahoo): the Saudi-backed consortium has withdrawn its bid for Newcastle United [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/

“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the group said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.”

The takeover bid had been condemned by Amnesty International and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, over Saudi’s human rights record, putting pressure on the Premier League not to give it the green light in its owners’ and directors’ test.

This is a victory for human rights and decency and clear defeat for Mohamed Bin Salman and his efforts to sportswash his human rights record,” said Cengiz in a statement.

“Let this defeat send a strong message to the leadership in Saudi Arabia that they will not be able to use their money to cover up their human rights record.”

The Premier League has not yet commented.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/saudi-backed-investors-pull-newcastle-deal-165956341–spt.html

https://www.sportsmax.tv/index.php/football/international/item/67063-newcastle-united-takeover-collapse-down-to-other-premier-league-clubs-staveley

https://www.startribune.com/saudis-newcastle-bid-ends-after-piracy-human-rights-issues/571956372/?refresh=true


Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack


Christof Heyns discusses new UN Comment on Right of Peaceful Assembly

July 30, 2020

On 29 July, 2020 Just Security published a lengthy interview of World Justice Project Executive Director Elizabeth Andersen with Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This is particularly important as a new new General Comment was issued just this week by the United Nations Human Rights Committee providing guidance on this topic at a critical moment, with protest movements on the rise across the globe, and many countries grappling with the appropriate response—something that has become even more complicated with the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions on large gatherings.

The audio podcast is available at WJP. For those who pefere to read there is text version in the link below. Here a teaser:

Christof Heyns [00:13:17] I think the main idea is that peaceful assemblies are a legitimate use of the public and other spaces. If one thinks on a very sort of practical level, streets are used for vehicles, but they also are used for marathons and for markets and so forth. And they’re closed off on a Saturday or whatever the case may be for that purpose. And peaceful assemblies, like these other social gatherings, are a legitimate use of space. So a number of domestic courts–Spain and Israel and others–have said the public space “is not only for circulation but it’s also for participation”. And I like that quote; even in the translation it comes across. So that’s the underlying idea. It is, as you say, part of democracy.

It is also part of the message of the General Comment that peaceful assembly is an individual right. So one should not in the first place think about the entire assembly exercising the right — and is it violent or is it not, or does it cause damage, and as a result that everybody’s responsible — the focus is on the individual. And even if there are some individuals in a larger group who are, in an isolated way, engaged in violence, this cannot be attributed to the group as a whole. Every individual has that right. As far as possible, they should be treated as individuals.

I think also the underlying philosophy is to say that the right of peaceful assembly should be dealt with by the authorities in a “content neutral” way. As you will know, this idea is strongly present in the US jurisprudence, for example. So the idea is, even if those who are engaging in assemblies are your political opponents or you don’t like their particular message for whatever reason, they are still allowed to do so. There may be some exceptions and maybe we can talk about that. But in principle, the approach should be content neutral.

People should be allowed also to exercise the right “within sight and sound” of their target. So by doing that, they can demonstrate to others that they feel strongly enough about this to gather around this. But they can also, for themselves, see what is the support that they have. So if you organize an assembly, if you think you’re going to have a million people and it’s only yourself who shows up, that’s a message to yourself about the popularity and the support for your idea. In fact, Gandhi had this idea that what he did were “experiments with truth”. And I think to some extent that’s true for peaceful assemblies today. It’s a way of testing ideas and then seeing what is the response. Putting your toe in the water, putting up a trial balloon. And in many cases, this can diffuse a situation. So the society as a whole can take note and they can internalize the fact that there are people who feel very strongly about a certain cause and then they can do something about it. So it’s almost the idea of precaution. Even if I’m not persuaded, now, I know that these people feel like that, and I can do something about it instead of it blowing up into a massive problem.

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Elizabeth Andersen [00:21:06] Well, it’s certainly an ambitious project you undertook and covers a lot of ground, with lots of standards and recommendations detailed. I think it’s interesting to think about how that all plays out in a concrete setting. And so you mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement and current protests, particularly here in the United States where I’m from. I’d be interested if you can share with our listeners how you see the Committee’s guidance helping us evaluate the response to that protest movement here in the United States. What’s appropriate? What’s not?

Christof Heyns [00:21:53] Well, I think a number of the themes of the General Comment are relevant in the United States and in other societies now as well. So the starting point is that this is an individual right. If there are members of a particular group of an assembly who are engaging in violence, this cannot be attributed to all members. In some cases, interventions are needed, not only permitted but actually required, if there is danger to the lives of people, for example, or to property. The state has a duty to protect, but that should be targeted as far as possible to the individuals concerned. These should be targeted interventions

I think the other overriding issue is the one of de-escalation. There are two approaches. One is to escalate the situation and to show superior force, so to speak. And, of course, if that’s done by the state, the other side also tries to show superior force, and it escalates. But the police themselves, and also the politicians, have a duty of de-escalation and to accommodate, to tolerate, some level of disruption, and to work towards preventing the situation from getting out of hand.

Perhaps more particularly, the General Comment also focuses on the use of military staff to do law enforcement – and I think much of that applies to paramilitaries as well. We don’t say this can never be done. But if it’s done, it is under exceptional circumstances, if there is no other way of doing it, and it should be on a temporary basis. And those who are involved must have the necessary training, including the human rights training, because, of course, the training of police and military staff differs very much. And then in the last place, they are bound by human rights standards. So the same standards that apply to the police also apply to military and paramilitary staff.

There’s also the issue of plainclothes police officers and the question of wearing identification. The General Comment emphasizes that law enforcement officials must wear clear identification. This is important for accountability purposes. If plainclothes police are used — and again, it’s not completely excluded, it may be the only way to have a positive intervention — before they use any force or arrest anybody, they have to identify themselves…..

https://www.justsecurity.org/71736/interview-with-christof-heyns-unhrc-general-comment-37-on-the-right-of-peaceful-assembly/