UN Experts urge EU to take the lead on protecting human rights defenders in context of business

September 7, 2021

The European Union has a chance to set an example for the entire world by protecting people who risk their lives standing up for human rights in the context of business activities, said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, joined by the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry; and Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

The European Union legislative initiative on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence “must include safeguards for human rights defenders,” they stated on 6 September 2021.

The European Union, as the world’s largest single market, has a golden opportunity to advance the safety and security of human rights defenders who are working around the globe to build more just societies, often at great personal risk,” Lawlor said. “A robust, binding regime in the EU covering companies of all sizes would provide a powerful model for other parts of the world.”

Human rights defenders often risk their lives confronting violations along supply chains, Lawlor said. “Parent companies must carry out human rights and environmental due diligence throughout their supply chains to ensure human rights defenders are not subjected to reprisals from their subsidiaries, sub-contractors and suppliers,” she said. “The EU must ensure that where such retaliation happens, these companies can be held accountable.”

In the 10 years since the Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, business compliance has remained extremely low. In the same period, increasing numbers of human rights defenders have been killed for their work. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has recently developed guidance setting forth expectations that businesses address risks to defenders and that States address this as part of their own mandatory human rights due diligence regulations.

People who stand up for human rights related to environmental protection, community land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, poverty, minorities and business accountability – often intertwining issues – are most at risk of being attacked or killed.

Where human rights defenders come under attack in the context of business activities it is a clear sign of other underlying human rights issues.” Lawlor said. Potential risks for human rights defenders should be seen as a key component of companies’ due diligence duty to identify and assess human rights risks connected to their projects, and must be specifically included in the expected EU proposal.

Business enterprises must also be obliged to consult with defenders under the EU initiative, and the door should be kept open for defenders to bring issues to companies’ attention at every stage within business projects,” Lawlor said. “

“Now is the time for the EU to give new life to its founding principles by delivering a strong law that could help reduce the number of lives lost in defence of human rights,” Lawlor said.

https://www.miragenews.com/golden-opportunity-for-eu-to-take-global-lead-626609/


UAE’s new human rights institute: sounds like a joke

September 3, 2021

On 2 September 2021 Deutsche Welle reports on “UAE’s new human rights institute: Real change or ‘image washing’?” State media has trumpeted the creation of a new human rights body set to work in line with global principles. But the UAE’s critics say the move is audacious and a joke.

THe UAE has been heavily criticized for the way it treats international laborers and human rights defenders [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/15/mary-lawlor-calls-again-on-uae-to-release-prominent-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

The United Arab Emirates announced earlier this week that it would set up an independent national human rights organization. The new institution will open an office in Abu Dhabi and, according to the UAE’s state media, “aims to promote and protect human rights and freedoms” in accordance with the local and international laws and guidelines.

The new organization — official name: UAE National Human Rights Institution — already has a hotline that anyone can call if they wish to report human rights abuses.

DW tried calling the number over two days this week. Even though local media said the hotline was active, several attempts failed. Either the calls were not answered or the connection was dropped. DW has reached out to the UAE Embassy in Berlin for further information on the new institution, but has yet to receive a response.

This is just another tactic, part of the UAE’s decade-long whitewashing campaign to make themselves look like a tolerant, respectful and open country,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who focuses on abuses in the Gulf states.

But the situation on the ground is very different,” she told DW. “In fact, there is absolutely no room for dissent in the UAE. There have been no independent civil society groups there since 2012 and so many people have been jailed. There is a lot of fear of retaliation for speaking out and a high level of censorship, even amongst UAE-based international journalists and academics.” 

Other human rights organizations and media watchdogs have come to similar conclusions.

Reporters Without Borders has highlighted the lack of independent media and the UAE’s draconian cybercrime law from 2012. It ranks the country 131st in the world for press freedom out of 180.

UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor (was arrested in 2017 [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A]

Amnesty International maintains a long list of “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE, “including well-known human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor,” who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for posts on social media about human rights violations in the UAE.

In June, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders called on the UAE to release a number of people who had been imprisoned since 2013 for speaking out against the government.

“They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to,” said Mary Lawlor.

Social media users in the Middle East were also critical about the announcement of the human rights organization. “The UAE and human rights don’t really go together,” one Twitter user wrote.

This is the joke of the season,” UK-based researcher Fahad al-Ghofaili, quipped on the same website.

The UAE has said the new body will be set up in line with the so-called Paris Principles.

Those standards, officially adopted by the United Nations in 1993, essentially outline how a national human rights institution’s leadership should be selected, how it will be funded and staffed and how it can cooperate with both civil society organizations and the government, but also remain independent.

Alexis Thiry, a legal adviser at Geneva-based legal advocacy organization MENA Rights Group, told DW it was too early to know if the new UAE organization would be sticking to the Paris Principles, as promised. This was because the rights group had not yet been able to read a publicly available version of the law, UAE Federal Law number 12 of 2021, that enabled the creation of the institution, said Thiry.

It is difficult to have an opinion about the forthcoming independence of the [institution] and its compliance with the Paris Principles,” he explained. “At this stage, it is also too early to comment on the performance of the institution since its members have yet to be appointed, to our knowledge.”

Despite its modern outward appearance, the UAE is regularly criticized about its human rights record

When a new institution like this is formed, it often applies for accreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to see if it is adhering to the Paris Principles. The MENA Rights Group often provides assessments to the Global Alliance, which has 118 member organizations from around the world.

From the information the legal advisory group did have, it seemed that the UAE’s new law would be similar to those in neighbouring countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. All of these countries already have national human rights institutions. But according to the Geneva-based lawyers, none of the national human rights institutions in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar or Saudi Arabia fully comply with the Paris Principles.

However, if the UAE’s attempts at creating this institution are really genuine, then organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty would welcome that, activists said. In promotional materials, UAE media said the institution “would seek to cooperate and deal with the UN and concerned international bodies.”

It will be interesting to see if the UAE are now willing to engage with external organizations,” Human Rights Watch researcher Zayadin noted.

Despite multiple attempts asking UAE authorities to respond to allegations of abuse inside the country, and to get access to prisoners there, Zayadin said her organization has never received any response from the government.

A very first step towards a genuine commitment to improving human rights in the country would be to allow international, independent monitors access to the country,” said Zayadin. “An even more important step would be to release from prison all those who have been unjustly detained simply for exercising their right to free expression and association.”

https://www.dw.com/en/uaes-new-human-rights-institute-genuine-or-joke/a-59061415


European Court of Human Rights calls probe into murder of Natalia Estemirova ineffective

September 1, 2021

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch wrote on 31 August 2021 “Justice for Murder of Chechen Rights Defender Remains Elusive”

Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of Natalia Estemirova, Chechen human rights defender murdered in July 2009. It found that Russia had violated their obligations to protect her right to life by “fail[ing] to investigate effectively [her] abduction and killing.” [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BA7B3FCE-AFE7-4B72-9156-EA257B3BC205]

Natalia – Natasha to me and many others – was a colleague and very close friend. I last saw her 36 hours before the murder, while staying at her place in Grozny, as I always did when in Chechnya. We’d spent a week interviewing people whose homes police had torched because of their alleged involvement with militants, and whose relatives had been rounded up, disappeared, or killed by security officials.

We said goodbye just past midnight on July 14. When I woke up later that morning, Natasha had already left for an early meeting, so I went to the airport without getting to see her again. The next day, armed men pushed her into a car as she was running to catch a bus to the city center. They drove her into neighboring Ingushetia and shot her near the forest.

In 2011, having lost hope for an effective investigation by Russian authorities, Natasha’s family filed a complaint with the European Court, alleging a violation of her right to life because Russian authorities failed to protect human rights defenders in Chechnya, Chechnya’s leadership repeatedly threatened Natasha, and her abduction was apparently carried out by security officials.

Ten years later, the court ruled today that Russia had failed to investigate but also held that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that state agents had murdered Natasha.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/15/ngos-remember-10th-anniversary-of-natalia-estemirovas-murder/]

The ECHR noted that Russian authorities promptly opened a probe into Estemirova’s killing and identified a suspect, but emphasized that Moscow’s failure to provide full materials of the case made the court “unable to conclude that the investigation had been carried out thoroughly.” It noted some contradictions in the expert evidence led it to doubt that the investigation had been effective.

The victim’s sister, Svetlana Estemirova, alleged in her appeal that state agents were behind the killing but the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the evidence didn’t support the claim.

The court required Russia to pay 20,000 euros ($23,600) to Estemirova’s sister and urged Russian authorities to track down and punish the perpetrators of her murder.

I had very high hopes and it would be an understatement to say that I’m disappointed,” Natasha’s daughter Lana, who was 15 when she lost her mother, told me today.

The lack of sufficient evidence the court cited is a direct result of Russia’s brazen determination to protect the perpetrators of this outrageous murder. Natasha was killed for fearlessly exposing abuses by Chechen authorities. An effective investigation would leave no doubt about official involvement in her murder.

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/ap-top-news/2021/08/31/europe-court-russian-probe-into-activist-murder-ineffective

https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56609/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/31/justice-murder-chechen-rights-defender-remains-elusive


Reed Brody about the death of Hissene Habre

September 1, 2021

A bit of a special post: On 28 August 2021, Reed Brody, [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/21/the-dictator-hunter-works-from-home/] wrote on Facebook a post about the death of the former dictator of Chad Hissene Habre. Reed’s deep involvement in his case makes his observations worth a read:

A lot of people have asked me how I felt about the death in Senegal of the former dictator of Chad Hissene Habre, on whose prosecution I spent 17 years. https://www.nytimes.com/…/africa/hissene-habre-dead.html For me, especially in later years, the effort was much more about using the case to promote transformation and giving the victims a means to claim their dignity than about the person of Hissène Habré.At Habré’s trial, Kaltouma Deffalah, one of the survivors of sexual slavery, testified defiantly that she felt “strong, very courageous because I am before the man who was strong before in Chad, who …doesn’t even speak now, I am really happy to be here today, facing him, to express my pain, I am truly proud.” It was a sentiment expressed, in one way or another, by many of the survivors who testified.Since Habré was sentenced to life in prison in 2016, his victims have been campaigning to get reparations, as awarded by courts in Chad and Senegal. In fact, on the morning of his death, I was having a phone conference with the victims’ Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina [ see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/179E3C5C-9175-1B42-99C9-1004DDBC850E]and other lawyers on how to kick-start the stalled procedures, particularly at the African Union ( background here – https://www.hrw.org/…/hissene-habres-victims-continue…) That said, it is a strange feeling that he’s dead. I used to imagine that Habré and I were sitting across a chessboard in a strategic battle, trying to anticipate the other’s moves. Back in 2004, I asked the French journalist Christian Millet, who maintained friendly contact with Habré, what he thought the former dictator’s strategy was against us. And Millet responded: “Il vous attend dans sa grotte.” He is waiting for you in his cave, a reference to his days as a rebel fighter in the rocky desert of northern Chad. Habré was playing this chess game with the black pieces, waiting for us to over-extend. That is how as president of Chad, with French and American help, he defeated Libya’s Moemmar Qaddafi whose troops had occupied part of his country.In Senegal, we were in Habré’s cave, where he had used the millions he looted from the Chadian treasury to build himself a network of protection that included politicians, religious figures and journalists . But in the end, the tenacity and perseverance of his victims, the evidence of his massive crimes ( thousands of killings, systematic torture, sexual slavery ) , and the courage of some Senegalese leaders such as then-justice minister Aminata Toure, overcame Habré’s home-field advantage, and he was powerless to prevent his conviction in an exemplary and transparent trial.In his one written declaration to the investigating judges, Habré said that I was “an enemy… who has never hidden his aggressive and outrageous hostility, a specialist in forgery and lies.” How do I feel now? I’m grateful that Habré lived long enough to face justice and the accusatory gaze of his victims.”


Today is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, also in Nepal 

August 30, 2021

Enforced disappearance refers to the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by agents of the State, or those acting with State authorization or support, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Once largely the product of military dictatorships, it has become a global problem, according to the UN, with hundreds of thousands of people “disappeared” in more than 80 countries. Impunity remains widespread.

While strictly prohibited under international human rights law, the SG, Mr. Guterres said enforced disappearance continues to be used across the world as a method of repression, terror, and stifling dissent.

Paradoxically, it is sometimes used under the pretext of countering crime or terrorism. Lawyers, witnesses, political opposition, and human rights defenders are particularly at risk,” he added. 

Having been removed from the protection of the law, victims, who can include children, are deprived of all their rights and are at the mercy of their captors. 

They are frequently tortured and know that it is unlikely anyone will come to their aid.  Some are even killed. 

Enforced disappearance deprives families and communities of the right to know the truth about their loved ones, of accountability, justice and reparation,” the Secretary-General said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the agony and anguish of enforced disappearance, by limiting capacities to search for missing persons and investigate alleged enforced disappearance.”

It was established by the UN General Assembly, which adopted a resolution in December 2010 expressing deep concern about the rise in incidents in various regions, and increasing reports of harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances, or relatives of people who were disappeared.

The resolution also welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which calls for countries to take measures to hold perpetrators criminally responsible.

“The Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances is indispensable in helping to tackle this cowardly practice. But it requires the will and commitment of those with the power to do so,” the Secretary-General said. “States must fulfil their obligations to prevent enforced disappearance, to search for the victims, and to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.”

Mr. Guterres reiterated his call for countries to ratify the Convention, and to work with the UN Committee that monitors its implementation, as well as the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, which assists families in determining the fate of their loved ones.

On this day Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a statement that the government of Nepal should promptly enforce Supreme Court rulings and permit the regular courts to try cases of enforced disappearance and other grave international crimes. On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, August 30, 2021, thousands of Nepali families are no closer to knowing the truth of what happened to their missing loved ones than they were when the country’s armed conflict ended 15 years ago.

Nepal’s Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered the government to investigate gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the conflict from 1996 to 2006, and to conduct a meaningful, effective transitional justice process to establish the truth and provide justice for thousands of cases of serious abuses.

The Nepali government stands in blatant violation of express orders of the Supreme Court by failing to conduct a credible, timely transitional justice process,” said Mandira Sharma, senior legal adviser for South Asia at the ICJ.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/17/where-is-somchai-a-brave-wifes-17-year-quest-for-the-truth/

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/30/nepal-stop-stalling-enforced-disappearance-inquiries


Mubarak Bala wins Humanist International 2021 Freedom of Thought Award

August 27, 2021

In recognition of his efforts and contributions to promote humanist values in Nigeria, the General Assembly of Humanists International awarded Mubarak Bala with the 2021 Freedom of Thought Award during its General Assembly. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/29/un-experts-demand-release-of-nigerian-atheist-from-one-year-detention/

Born in Kano state, northern Nigeria, in 1984 and a chemical engineer by training, Mubarak Bala is a prominent member of the Humanist movement. As President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, he has played a vital role in the Humanist community in Nigeria.

Bala has been working to promote freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria and has been an outspoken religious critic in the conservative northern region, where open religious opposition is unusual. He has campaigned for the decriminalization of apostasy and blasphemy laws in states that implement Sharia in northern Nigeria. In addition he has engaged in human rights education and raised awareness on the importance of freedom of thought and conscience to peace, progress and stability in the region. He has organized meetings and conferences to enlighten the local populace especially those inclined to religious extremism and radical Islam due to indoctrination, lack of understanding or misinformation about freedom of religion or belief.

Bala has been held in detention since his arrest on 28 April 2020. Held for 15 months without any charge, Bala now faces charges of public disturbance in connection with Facebook posts deemed “blasphemous” he is alleged to have published in April 2020. In addition to being arbitrarily detained for 15 months, there have been several other violations of his rights to a fair trial, which include denying Bala access to his legal counsel until October 2020, failing to comply with a Federal High Court order to release Bala on bail, and consistent attempts to obstruct Bala’s legal team.

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented: “Mubarak Bala is an honorable humanist who has experienced great hardship and persecution in his realization of a life lived true to his values. Today he is a prisoner of conscience, whose thoughts are freer than he himself.”

The award was accepted on his behalf by his wife Amina Ahmed during the General Assembly of Humanists International on 15 August, commenting the award with these words:

On behalf of my husband Mubarak Bala, I really want to thank humanists all over the world for this wonderful honour. This award has really shown that the world still cares for Mubarak, and that Mubarak has not been forgotten. This is to show that humanity is above all regardless of religion and belief. I thank Humanists International for your utmost support and care for Mubarak’s family. We don’t know how to thank you enough, all I can say is thanks a zillion! And I know this is indeed a phase which will come to pass soon. I also want to thank the Humanists Association of Nigeria who has struggled these past months for Mubarak’s release. You have all really shown so much love and care for Mubarak and we really appreciate it.


Amnesty accuses Nicaragua of using enforced disappearance as the new tactic for repression

August 26, 2021
Amnesty International Logotype

The enforced disappearance of people is the latest tactic that authorities in Nicaragua have adopted to silence any criticism or dissenting voices, Amnesty International said in a new report released on 25 August 2021. Where are they? Enforced Disappearance as a Strategy of Repression in Nicaragua documents the cases of 10 people detained for their activism or for exercising their right to freedom of expression who have been subjected to enforced disappearance, despite being in the custody of the Nicaraguan authorities. 

Daniel Ortega’s government of is implementing a new strategy to try to silence those who speak out. By disappearing opponents, activists and journalists, Ortega is showing his fear of criticism and complaints,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

The 10 cases we have documented demonstrate a new pattern of detentions followed by enforced disappearances and bear strong similarities to the cases of dozens of others who may be in the same situation. We demand that Daniel Ortega’s government immediately release all those detained for exercising their rights.” 

Since the beginning of the human rights crisis in Nicaragua in April 2018, there has been no end to reports of harassment against people identified as opponents of the government, human rights defenders, journalists, victims of human rights violations and their families.

The new phase of the repressive strategy of President Ortega’s government, which is highlighted by the detention of a new group of people identified as opponents of the government, began on 28 May 2021. From then until 2 August, more than 30 people were deprived of their liberty, adding to the more than 100 people who were already in prison just for exercising their human rights.

After analysing the cases of 10 individuals, Amnesty International concluded that – in light of the Nicaraguan state’s international human rights obligations – their detention, followed by the concealment of their whereabouts, constitutes the crime of enforced disappearance. The cases documented were those of Daysi Tamara Dávila, Miguel Mendoza, José Pallais, Suyen Barahona, Víctor Hugo Tinoco, Félix Maradiaga, Ana Margarita Vijil, Violeta Granera, Jorge Hugo Torres and Dora María Téllez.

The 10 documented cases are not isolated cases and occur in a context where there are repeated reports of other situations that have important similarities. Therefore, the cases analysed likely represent just a small sample of a longer list of victims.

In all of the documented cases, as of 2 August (the closing date of the investigation), the authorities had not officially disclosed the exact location of the detainees – a requirement under international law. In most cases, the only information received about their possible location has been provided verbally by police officers at the gate of the Judicial Assistance Directorate Evaristo Vasquez Police Complex (Dirección de Auxilio Judicial Complejo Policial Evaristo Vásquez, DAJ), known as the “New Chipote” (Nuevo Chipote), after family members insisted. However, mere statements by police officers in charge of the entrance of a detention centre are not sufficient, official and credible proof of the whereabouts and conditions of the detainees.

Both the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Police have issued public statements acknowledging the detentions. However, in none of them do they mention the place of detention. Furthermore, the families have not been able to visit the detainees, their legal teams have not had access to interview them, and the judicial authorities have not responded to calls to authorise the entry of family members and lawyers.

The information available to Amnesty International shows that the families and legal representatives of the 10 detainees submitted more than 40 applications, petitions and appeals to different authorities, requesting access to their files, medical examinations for the detainees, interviews with their lawyers, family visits, and immediate release, among other requests. Unfortunately, these appeals have been ineffective and, in most cases, left unanswered by the authorities.

Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law and one of the most serious human rights violations because it implies the violation of multiple human rights. It is defined as a lawful or unlawful deprivation of a person’s liberty by state agents, or by other actors with the acquiescence or tolerance of the state, without subsequently acknowledging that the detention took place, or, if acknowledged, withholding information about the fate or whereabouts of the person deprived of liberty.

“This week will mark 90 days since the most recent detentions began, but the authorities continue to refuse to provide official information on the whereabouts and conditions of detention,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas. “The families deserve to know for sure if their loved ones are alive and where they are being held. The anguish they’re experiencing is yet another form of punishment under the repressive policies of Daniel Ortega’s government.”

Where are they? Enforced Disappearance as a Strategy of Repression in Nicaragua (Research, 25 August 2021)


Protect cultural human rights defenders in Afghanistan, says UN rights expert

August 23, 2021

While understandably all eyes are on the risks faced by those who are in the first line of sight of the Taliban such as human rights activist and women human rights defenders, a piece in India Blooms of 19 August 2021 about the “cultural disaster”, that may follow the fall of Kabul, is worth noting. The UN Special Rapporteur Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, urged countries to provide urgent assistance to human rights defenders, including those working on women’s and cultural rights, as well as artists, trying to flee the country.

It is deplorable that the world has abandoned Afghanistan to a fundamentalist group like the Taliban whose catastrophic human rights record, including practice of gender apartheid, use of cruel punishments and systematic destruction of cultural heritage, when in power, is well documented,” she said.

The independent rights expert called for all forms of culture and cultural heritage to be protected, as well as those who defend it, and implored cultural and educational institutions everywhere to extend invitations to Afghan artists, cultural workers and students, especially women and members of minorities, to enable them to continue their work in safety.

It is not enough for foreign governments to secure the safety of their own nationals”, said Ms. Bennoune. “They have a legal and moral obligation to act to protect the rights of Afghans, including the rights to access to education and to work, without discrimination, as well as the right of everyone to take part in cultural life.”

The Special Rapporteur said she was gravely concerned at reports of gross abuses by the Taliban, including attacks on minorities, the kidnapping of a woman human rights defender, the killing of an artist, and the exclusion of women from employment and education.

Bennoune recalled that the Taliban’s own cultural officials in 2001 had attacked the country’s national museum, destroying thousands of the most important pieces, as well as banning many cultural practices, including music. 

Afghan cultural rights defenders have worked tirelessly and at great risk since then to reconstruct and protect this heritage, as well as to create new culture. Afghan cultures are rich, dynamic and syncretic and entirely at odds with the harsh worldview of the Taliban,” she said. 

Governments which think that they can live with ‘Pax Taliban’ will find that this is grave error that destroys Afghan lives, rights and cultures, and eviscerates important advances that had been made in culture and education in the last two decades with international support and through tireless local efforts.” 

Bennoune said such a policy will harm Afghans most but will also set back the struggle against fundamentalism and extremism, and their harmful effects on cultures, everywhere in the world, threatening the rights and security of all.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/expert-meeting-on-cultural-rights-defenders/

https://www.indiablooms.com/world-details/SA/30852/protect-human-rights-defenders-in-afghanistan-says-un-rights-expert.html


The trial and tribulations of Chinese human rights defender Liu Bing to avoid deportation from Germany

August 23, 2021

Finbarr Bermingham in the South China Morning Post of 19 August 2021 tells the harrowing story of Liu Bing who narrowly escaped imminent deportation, for now.

Liu Bing was active in dissident groups in China for almost a decade until he fled the country in May 2019. He was set to be deported next week. Photo: Twitter

Liu Bing was active in dissident groups in China for almost a decade until he fled the country in May 2019. He was set to be deported next week. Photo: Twitter

A Chinese human rights activist facing imminent deportation from Germany to China has won a stay, after authorities granted him an appeal against a rejected application for political asylum. Liu Bing was set to be deported to China next Thursday, where he claimed that he would “definitely face long-term detention without trial” for taking part in political protests before he fled the country.

But lawyers who recently began working on his behalf secured an adjournment in his exit on Wednesday, meaning Liu will be free to leave the detention centre where he is being held in the North Rhine-Westphalia region on Tuesday, while his appeal is heard.

Reached by phone in his single room at the detention centre, where he is equipped with a refrigerator, television and cooker, Liu confirmed he took part in protests in China, including those commemorating the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

If I am sent back to China, I will definitely face long-term detention without trial, because this kind of thing is very common in China. They don’t need the police, and I don’t need any court decision, they can treat a person at will. I will be detained,” he said.

Liu said he is in a “terrified state”, and that his “family members [in China] may not understand or support my participation in political activities”.

Liu was active in dissident groups in China for almost a decade, including the Open Constitution Institute, a protest movement calling for the rule of law in China. He fled China after being pictured taking part in a meeting with other political activists in Xiamen in May 2019.

It has been reported that other dissidents involved in the Xiamen meeting – including Ding Jiaxi, Xu Zhiyong and Dai Zhenya – were arrested in the subsequent months.

After leaving China, Liu first went to Thailand, then Serbia, before finally arriving in Germany, where he was initially held in a refugee camp in Frankfurt, before being released to begin an application for political asylum. After his application was rejected, he fled once more to the Netherlands, where he again tried to gain political asylum. However, he was arrested in June for breaching the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which states that if a person’s asylum application is rejected in one EU country, they cannot apply in another, and was sent back to Germany where he has remained in detention since.

Campaigners working with Liu have said that his lack of understanding of the German legal system and language meant he did not initially realise that an appeal was possible – nor was he aware of a process by which an asylum seeker could request the process be restarted. Both clauses have now been triggered.

“For the first case, he didn’t have a lawyer, he didn’t ask for one. He’s from China, where many people don’t have a strong concept of the legal system or the rule of law,” said a spokesperson for the International Society for Human Rights, which is working with Liu.

His case has been promoted by a number of high-profile German politicians, including MEP Reinhard Buetikofer, who took to Twitter to say: “Germany must stop deportation of Chinese activist Liu Bing.”

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator for the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an NGO, said it would be a “tragedy” for Liu to be deported.

“He faces an almost certain fate of immediate detention, followed by torturous interrogations and a sham trial. The German authorities must put a stop to this right now,” Nee said. A spokeswoman for the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said that “for privacy and data protection reasons, we do not comment on individual cases within the asylum procedure in general”.

Data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees showed that between 2012 – when Xi Jinping became the general secretary of the Communist Party – and 2020, the number of asylum seekers from China rose by 602 per cent, from 15,362 to 107,864.

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3145685/chinese-human-rights-activist-avoids-imminent-deportation


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council

August 23, 2021

Courtesy of Reliefweb, here the reference to “States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor” (A/76/143), posted 19 Aug 2021 Originally published 19 July 2021.

Summary

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, analyses the situation of human rights defenders in long – term detention, serving sentences of 10 years or longer. The Special Rapporteur draws attention to underlying factors that contribute to the phenomenon of detaining human rights defenders for lengthy periods as a result of their legitimate human rights activities. The report contains examples of individual cases of human rights defenders serving long-term prison sentences. She makes recommendations to relevant stakeholders to halt and reverse these trends and suggests ways to prevent this from happening in the future. [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/20/special-rapporteur-mary-lawlor-starts-new-website/]

1. Introduction

  1. In December 2015, woman human rights defender Lodkham Thammavong was 1 of some 30 people who protested outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok to express their concern over the Lao Government’s alleged human rights violations.
  2. Three months later, when she returned to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, she and two other human rights defenders, Soukane Chaithad and Somphone Phimmasone, were arrested by Lao police.
  3. The Special Rapporteur has received credible information that they were not informed of the charges against them and no arrest warrants were presented at the time of arrest or afterward. Ms. Thammavong and the others were reportedly forced to make false confessions, paraded on national television to apologize for being traitors and denied their rights to legal representation.
  4. A year later, in March 2017, after an unfair trial, Ms. Thammavong was found guilty of “treason to the nation, propaganda against the State, and gatherings tied at causing social disorder”. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mr. Chaithad and Mr. Phimmasone were also convicted on the same charges, and given 16 and 20 years, respectively.
  5. At the time of writing, Ms. Thammavong is currently being held in Tan Piao Prison, located around 60 km from Vientiane, making family visits difficult. She is said to be lacking access to water and still has had no access to legal counsel.
  6. Unfortunately, such attacks on human rights defenders are not rare. Hundreds of human rights defenders across the world are serving long prison sentences after being convicted on fabricated charges following unfair trials. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, were denied adequate legal representation.
  7. The Special Rapporteur has monitored numerous cases of defenders serving more than 10 years in prison, and of many other defenders facing charges for which they could be sentenced to similarly long terms. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, have been sentenced under vague and ill-defined charges often relating to treason, subversion or terrorism.
  8. Many are held in harsh conditions, and/or have been forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Some suffer from ill health and are deprived of adequate medical attention. Some are also denied regular access to their families. Some are at risk of being sentenced to death, and some have died in jail while serving long sentences.
  9. In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, intends to show that the issue of the long-term detention of human rights defenders is extensive, that there are many commonalities in the methods used to unjustly jail them and that many Member States – including some who are members of the Human Rights Council, or who aim at being a member – consistently deny they are holding defenders in jail. She advises States on how to prevent further such attacks on defenders and recommends that all human rights defenders be immediately and unconditionally released from jail.
  10. The full extent of this problem is not known. Human rights defenders are serving long terms in detention on every continent, but there are very likely many more cases than those featured in the present report that have not been brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention.
  11. The cases included here are only those where consent has been obtained directly from the defenders themselves, or from their families or representatives. Many other cases are also known to the Special Rapporteur, but are not included in the report for various reasons, including where it was not possible to obtain consent or where highlighting cases would risk making the situation of the defenders worse. Some defenders were jailed so long ago that their cases have faded from public view and no longer feature in many advocacy efforts. This can also make consent and information more difficult to obtain.
  12. There is a wide range of defenders serving long terms in detention. Some are labour leaders, some are lawyers, others are journalists. Some are jailed for defending article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlines the right for people to vote in elections. Others are targeted for peacefully advocating for democratic reform, or for exposing deficiencies in governance. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that peacefully defending these and other rights that States have promised to safeguard is never a crime.
  13. Some defenders have been targeted and jailed in reprisal for their engagement, or intended engagement, with United Nations mechanisms. Some are famous, winners of international awards for their work, with prominent international profiles, while others are relatively unknown, even within their country. Some hold dual nationalities and are citizens of countries other than the one in which they are jailed.
  14. Some defenders have been convicted in mass trials and some have been sentenced in absentia. Some defenders sentenced to long terms in jail are living in exile, unable to return to their country for fear of arrest. Others are kept in long periods of pretrial detention, not knowing if or when they will face charges that could send them to prison for long terms.
  15. Other defenders are seized and nothing is heard from or about them for many years. Not all are held by Governments. Some, like Syrian woman human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh, are believed to have been taken by militia groups. There has been no news of her current whereabouts for years.
  16. Other human rights defenders sentenced to long terms in jail die in custody. Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov was unjustly sentenced to prison in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, and he was still in prison 10 years later with serious medical problems. Despite appeals from the mandate holder, the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to the authorities for his release on health grounds, he died in detention in 2020.
  17. The Special Rapporteur notes there is often a flurry of attention and activity around a case when a human rights defender is arrested or convicted, sometimes accompanied by intense international media coverage and advocacy from foreign governments and United Nations mechanisms. But even with the most prominent defenders, attention typically fades over the years as fresh cases demand the attention and resources of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent United Nations experts and interested Governments.
  18. Many defenders serving long sentences feel forgotten or abandoned.
  19. The effect of the long-term detention of defenders can be devastating – to themselves, to their families, to their communities and to the civil societies to which they belong. Just fighting a legal case can exhaust a defenders’ resources, and that of their NGO. Indeed, this damage to them and their work is often the motivation for their being targeted.
  20. States will recall that in her first report to the General Assembly in 2020 (A/75/165), the Special Rapporteur outlined her priorities for the mandate, which included a focus on “defenders serving long terms in prison”. She believes States should have confronted this enduring problem long ago. Some States have ignored years of appeals to stop jailing human rights defenders and still refuse to release those they currently hold in detention.
  21. The Special Rapporteur is instructed under the mandate to study developments and challenges on the right to promote and protect human rights and seek, receive and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders, and to recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders.
  22. One simple piece of advice for States to better protect human rights defenders is not to put them in prison for long terms for peacefully defending the rights of others.
  23. Many States sentence human rights defenders to long terms in prison because they want to, and because they can. They want to because they are unhappy with defenders exposing corruption, pointing out human rights violations or highlighting other deficiencies in governance.
  24. Jailing defenders does not always silence them, and some continue to defend rights while in detention, but States often use this method of attack against human rights defenders to crush peaceful dissent.
  25. States can do this because they ignore international treaties they have committed to, often with negligible international consequences. They enable themselves to jail human rights defenders by passing vague laws, often in the name of national security or countering terrorism, by staging sham trials that fail meet international standards, by torturing defenders into making false confessions and by lying about the work of human rights defenders.
  26. Some States contest that those jailed are not defenders but subversives, traitors or terrorists. The Special Rapporteur knows the difference, and she respectfully reminds States that her long years of experience in identifying who is a human rights defender – and who is not – is partly why she was entrusted with this mandate. The Special Rapporteur is keen to discuss individual cases with States to better explain why those in detention referred to in the present report are human rights defenders.
  27. Despite the many detailed cases regularly presented to Member States of human rights defenders currently serving long jail terms, the Special Rapporteur notes that in response to her call to Member States for submissions to the present report, not one State acknowledged holding any human rights defender in long-term detention.
  28. Many States have for many years used this method of attack against human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur’s predecessors in this mandate have, since the mandate was established 20 years ago, repeatedly recommended that States not use unfair trials or security legislation as a pretext for jailing, or otherwise attacking, human rights defenders.
  29. In 2001, Hina Jilani, the first mandate holder on the situation of human rights defenders, in her first report to the then Commission on Human Rights, stated that: “The situation of human rights defenders … and their sentencing after unfair trials will be a matter of serious concern for the Special Representative” (E/CN.4/2001/94, para. 89 (f)).
  30. Despite regular, detailed updates to Member States from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders over many years about this unjust practice, defenders are still routinely subjected to unfair trials, after which many are sentenced to long terms in prison.
  31. In her most recent report to the Human Rights Council, presented earlier this year (A/HRC/46/35), the Special Rapporteur focused on the killing of human rights defenders. She identified a lack of political will from Member States to hold the perpetrators accountable as a key driver of the murders. In the case of long-term detention of defenders, it is less the absence of political will to prevent this abuse, but rather the active presence of a political will in States to target defenders.
  32. Some representatives of Member States have told the Special Rapporteur, in response to her raising the case of an unfair trial, that they cannot interfere in their countries’ independent judicial process. While the Special Rapporteur respects the principle of judicial independence, she cannot be silent when a criminal justice system falls short of international standards and is used to unjustly jail human rights defenders.
  33. In 2003, Ms. Jilani told Member States: “When human rights defenders are arrested, detained and/or prosecuted under security legislation, the process should be fully transparent. The charges on which the arrest and detention are based should be made public and explained in a sufficiently complete manner that the veracity of their substance can be independently verified” (A/58/380, para. 71).
  34. Many States are still failing this test of transparency and continue to consign human rights defenders to long years of misery in prison.
  35. While those mechanisms which enable long-term, unjust detention, including torture, unfair trials and the gross misrepresentation of the work of those peacefully defending the rights of others, should be addressed, the fundamental reason that defenders are held in long-term detention is because of the political will in States to do so.
  36. Targeting human rights defenders with long jail terms is never acceptable, and it is a red line no State should cross. It is immoral, illegal, inexcusable and dishonourable. This practice exposes States’ lack of resolution to fulfil the international standards they have committed to uphold. Consigning those who peacefully defend human rights to prison raises serious questions about States’ intentions to abide by the international agreements they have signed.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/states-denial-long-term-detention-human-rights-defenders-report-special-rapporteur