Posts Tagged ‘Alkarama’

Emirates at the UPR in Geneva: two sides of the same medal?

January 23, 2018

Sometimes it hard t believe that media have observed the same meeting. Here the case of the Emirates (UAE) which was the subject of a UPR session on 22 January 2018. The Middle East Eye says that “At UN meeting, rights groups slam UAE for arbitrary detention“, while The National sees that “UAE strategy will advance human rights in Middle East, Gargash tells UN council”.

Portrait of UAE founder Zayd Bin Sultan Nahyan at UAE’s culture exhibition at the Palace of Nations, Geneva (MEE/Amandla Thomas-Johnson)
Amandla Thomas-Johnson's picture Amandla Thomas-Johnson reports that Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash strongly denied allegations that the country practises arbitrary detention. Gargash, who led a high-level delegation to a peer-review process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which each UN-member state undergoes every five years. “I would like to affirm that the UAE does not arrest or detain any person arbitrarily,” he said. “A person is immediately informed of the accusations against them. Everything that takes place is in line with our laws and done with concrete safeguards against arbitrary detention and arrest.
The remarks from the senior Emirati diplomat starkly contrasted with the opinion of four UN Special Rapporteurs – independent experts mandated to look into human rights violations – who in 2016 called on the UAE to respect the rights of several foreign nationals who were arbitrarily detained. Gargash’s comments came amid a quick-fire session held at the human rights conference room, with over 100 country-delegates given just over a minute each to speak. Rights organisations that took part in the UPR process by submitting documents detailing alleged human rights abuses, had mixed responses to the session;
  • Safwa Aissa, Executive Director of the Geneva-based International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, said of the session: “It’s not bad, but we wanted something better, especially from European countries. We had met with many countries beforehand and made them aware of the situation in the countries.”
  • Similarly, Julia Legner from Geneva-based Alkarama Foundation said: “It was slightly disappointing. I was expecting harsher criticism, given that it’s a peer review by states. It’s clear that some states will always congratulate the UAE.” “There could have been stronger comments on the total silencing of civil society, the crackdown on freedom of expression, which has reached a limit where there is no human rights defenders operating from within the UAE.” Responding to Gargash’s claim that arbitrary detention is not practised, she said: “We beg to differ and we have evidence.”
  • Toby Cadman, an international human rights barrister, said that while the UPR is “an important process,” it often has “the appearance of the Eurovision Song Contest of International Justice whereby friendly States, regional, diplomatic and trade partners pat each other on the back rather than offer constructive criticism and call for change”. “The UAE UPR was indicative of that approach today. There is a real need for fundamental reform in the UAE criminal justice and penal system.” 

David Haigh, who is bringing a legal case against UAE authorities for his arbitrary arrest and torture, criticised Gargash’s comments as untruthful. “I was arbitrarily detained for 15 months before I was charged. In the judgments against me one of the UAE courts confirmed that I had complained of arbitrary detention,” Haigh told MEE after the session. “Of course there is arbitrary detention.” Haigh, who has now established a foundation and law firm to assist others who suffer injustice in the UAE, said arbitrary detention happens “time and time again”.

 

Advancing human rights is a critical factor in ensuring stable societies and promoting development, ..The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said that as a model nation for youth in the region, the UAE had sought to strengthen human rights and legal safeguards within the review framework overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights….In the context of a region where extremism creates division and polarisation, Mr Gargash said advancing human rights was a “powerful antidote” to pernicious forces.

“The promotion of tolerance and the rejection of extremism is fundamental to the advancement of human rights in the UAE and the wider region,” he told a packed chamber at the Palais des Nations. “Piece by piece, we have developed a comprehensive strategy to advance the cause of human rights in the UAE.” The UAE will establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles and guidance of the reporting process before the end of the year, he said. In responses to contributions from the floor, Dr Gargash said the country would also study joining additional protocols and extending invitations to special rapporteurs…

In response to allegations based on reporting about pre-trial detention, Dr Gargash said there was no detention without an arrest warrant…“The UAE is a bastion of stability where people from about 200 nationalities live peacefully in social and religious harmony. We are committed to finding the right balance between protecting our legitimate need for security and preserving our reputation as an open society.”….

He also pointed to the UAE’s role as the world’s largest donor of official development assistance as a proportion of its national income….

In its submission, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recognised considerable developments in the UAE in the past four years. “UAE’s efforts in combating trafficking are marked as a good example,” the office said. “This included the Adoption of Federal Act Law No 1 of 2015, which provides protection for victims of trafficking, and the 2012 and 2015 Amendments of Federal Law No 51 of 2006 on combating trafficking.” It also hailed the progress in raising the status of women. “The National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women in the UAE for 2015-2021 … provides a framework for government, private sector and civil society organisations to establish work plans to increase women’s presence and empowerment mainly in the economic sector in the UAE.”

Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, tours Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, around UAE culture exhibition (MEE/Amandla Thomas-Johnson)

Cultural diplomacy: Earlier in the day, Gargash had been the focus of attention as he hosted the director-general of the UN in Geneva, Michael Moller, around a new cultural exhibition the UAE had officially opened minutes before the human rights session began a floor above. Spread over two floors and including mock Bedouin tents and a photo exhibit, women took centre-stage at the UAE’s latest efforts at cultural diplomacy, with a troop of women clad in sequined abayas performing a fashion show for onlookers. But The Middle East Eye said that “UAE’s efforts at cultural diplomacy came under fire by Julia Legner, at Alkarama”:  “It’s part of the propaganda machine of the UAE, trying to portray an image of culture and tolerance and inclusion and progress. They’re using it as a chance to cover up the dark side.” 

For my earlier posts on the UAE, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/uae/

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/un-meeting-uae-heavily-criticised-rights-groups-arbitrary-detention-888227605

https://www.thenational.ae/world/gcc/uae-strategy-will-advance-human-rights-in-middle-east-gargash-tells-un-council-1.697809

Alkarama human rights award 2015 for Omani MP Talib Al Ma’amari

December 3, 2015

On 8 December 2015 at 18:00, Alkarama will present its 2015 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders in the Arab World to Talib Al Ma’amari a Member of the Omani Parliament who stands up for human rights.  The event will be held at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva (Switzerland). “Talib Al Mamari is a prisoner of conscience and a courageous human rights defender. By his unwavering non-violent fight against harmful environmental policies in Oman, he has become a model in the region as a dedicated militant who is genuinely close to the citizens’ concerns. Alkarama is proud to honour him,” says Mourad Dhina, Executive Director at Alkarama. The ceremony will be live-streamed on: http://www.youtube.com/AlkaramaHR/live.

Read the rest of this entry »

Algerian government fails to prove accusation against human rights defenders held in Italy

September 17, 2015

On 15 September 2015, the Turin Court of Appeal ruled to release Algerian human rights defender Mr Rachid Mesli, who has been under house arrest since 22 August 2015, and to allow him to leave the country, as reported by Front Line Defenders.

 

The human rights defender was released before the end of the 40 day period during which the Algerian government could submit a formal request for extradition. The Court recognised Rachid Mesli’s important and peaceful work in the defence of human rights, as well as the high risk of torture he would face if returned to Algeria. While the court is yet to make its final decision on the extradition warrant, the release order highlighted that, according to the information received, Rachid Mesli’s human rights activities were not in any way related to terrorism.

On 22 August, the Italian court placed the human rights defender under house arrest following three days in detention in Aosta prison. Rachid Mesli was arrested on 19 August 2015 (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/29390) as he travelled to Italy on holiday with his wife and son. The arrest occurred as a result of an arrest warrant issued by the Algerian authorities in April 2002 on terrorism-related charges.

[Rachid Mesli is the Legal Director of Alkarama, an independent human rights organisation based in Geneva that works to assist victims of extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention in Arab states. And this is not first effort by the Algerian government see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/mourad-dhina-algerian-head-of-the-human-rights-organization-alkarama-detained-in-france/]

Interesting tot note Front Line Defenders’ call on Interpol to ensure the legitimacy of all warrants issued by its members and to put in place safeguards so that the system cannot be abused in order to target human rights defenders.

New and updated information on Reprisals in the Arab World

May 20, 2015

On 14 May 2015, the Geneva-based NGO Alkarama provided the United Nations Secretary General with a report on the state of reprisals in the Arab world especially in Oman, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This topic – as argued in this blog many times [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/] – is one of the most urgent facing the human rights movement. If  human rights defenders suffer from harassment and intimidation for their cooperation with the UN, it would completely undermine the work of UN experts, Special Rapporteurs, Treaty bodies and the UPR. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted several resolutions (e.g. Resolution 24/24) calling upon States to enact laws and policies to protect HRDs at the national level, to prohibit all forms of intimidation or reprisal against HRDs, and to appoint a UN focal point to whom people who have suffered from retaliation for their cooperation with the UN could turn to.

In its new report Alkarama raises cases of reprisals in:

Oman, where the retaliation against human rights defenders has become systematic. Said Jadad, a prominent activist and advocate for democracy in his country was arrested in December 2014, three months after meeting with the Special Rapporteur on the rights and freedom of peaceful assembly and association during his visit to the country in September 2014. After 12 days in secret detention, during which he was questioned about his “ties with international NGOs working for the protection of human rights”, Jadad was set free only to be arrested again on 21 January 2015. On 8 March 2015, he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for “harming the State’s prestige”. In August 2014, Omani journalist and human rights activist Mohammad al Fazari was summoned by the Royal Police, for “reasons that concern him personally”. He was subsequently detained in secret for five days, before the authorities confiscated his identity documents and imposed a travel ban in December.

Syria, where two human rights defenders, Jadia Abdallah Nawfal, Director of the Syrian Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights, and Omar Al Shaar, Editor-in-chief of the Day Press News’ English section, were arrested on 31 October upon their return from Beirut where they attended human rights conferences and workshops. After numerous UN Special Procedures holders intervened with the Syrian authorities on their behalf in November, they were both set free on 18 December 2014. [Also in Syria, Alkarama informed Ban Ki-moon of the 23rd postponement of the hearing of Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression and his colleagues, Hussayn Gharir and Hani Zitani before the Anti-Terrorism Court, despite the call from both the UNSG and  UN Special Procedures for their release. What is more, on 9 June 2014, a presidential amnesty was issued pardoning all individuals charged with “promoting terrorist acts,” but Mazen Darwish and his colleagues were excluded from the pardon, as highlighted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in February. Finally, Alkarama reported the continuous secret detention of Khalil Matouk, a human rights lawyer – who defended, amongst others, Mazen Darwish and his colleagues – and Director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, whose case was raised by the UNSG in 2014. Arrested in October 2012, he has been, since March 2013, detained incommunicado at an Air Force Intelligence Branch, despite a UN call for his release.]

Egypt, where the case of Alkarama’s Country Representative Ahmed Mefreh, which was raised by the UNSG in his 2014 report, saw new developments. In September 2013, an arrest warrant was issued accusing him of “being a member of an armed organisation,” as a reprisal for his work as a human rights defender documenting then the killing of 985 peaceful demonstrators in Rabaa Adawiya and Nahda squares in Cairo. Today, Mefreh is being prosecuted in absentia with 49 other people on trumped-up charges including: “joining an illegal group aiming at impeding the enforcement of the Constitution and the law; disrupting institutions; hampering personal rights guaranteed by the Constitution; damaging national unity and social peace while pursuing terrorist goals to overthrow the authorities; assaulting police forces and public facilities; and disrupting the public order.”

Saudi Arabia, where the authorities continue to crackdown on human rights activists. Alkarama updated Ban Ki-moon on the cases of Fawzan Al Harbi, Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Fahad Al Qahtani, all founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Associations (ACPRA). ACPRA, an NGO founded in 2009 to document cases of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, suffered from reprisals by the authorities for having provided the UN with information, often via Alkarama. On 19 November 2014, after having been accused of “spreading false information about the Saudi government,” Fawzan Al Harbi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and subjected to a 10-year travel ban. Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Al Qahtani, who were sentenced in March 2013 respectively to 10 and 11 years of imprisonment by the Criminal Court of Riyadh for having provided “false information as evidence to official international apparatuses such as the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council,” continue to be detained despite a call from several UN Special Procedures for their release.  Fadhel Al Manasif, a Saudi human rights defender was sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court to 15 years plus a travel ban of the same length after his prior sentence, and a fine of US$ 26,666 for charges that included “breaking allegiance with the king” and “being in contact with foreign news agencies in order to exaggerate news and harm the reputation of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people”.

It is important to recall that, because not all victims are able to advocate their own case, or because they fear further reprisals, we should never forget that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg, as Ban Ki-moon highlighted in his last reprisals report,” says Inès Osman, Legal Coordinator at Alkarama. “The international community needs to stand by these women and men and fight against impunity for these unacceptable acts of reprisals. These individuals do not only ‘cooperate with the UN,’ they embody the fight for a world in which all people can demand their rights without fear.” T

For more information or an interview, please contact the media team at media@alkarama.org

FOCUS: Reprisals Continue in the Arab World as Civil Society Space Shrinks – Alkarama Foundation.

Alkarama award ceremony for Palestinian human rights defender Shireen Issawi on 11 December

December 1, 2014

Palestinian Lawyer Shireen Issawi to Receive 2014 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, the Geneva-based NGO Alkarama will present the 2014 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders to Shireen Issawi, prominent lawyer and human rights defender from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The event will be held on 11 December 2014 at 18:30 at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva (Switzerland).

Yemeni journalist Shaye receives the 2013 Alkarama Award

October 26, 2013

Abdulelah Haidar Shaye Alkarama 2013On 26 October 2013, the Geneva-based Alkarama human rights organisation announced that Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haidar Shaye will receive the 2013 Alkarama Award for human rights defenders.  The Director of Alkarama’s Legal Department, Rachid Mesli, said that Shaye was awarded the prize because he personifies the struggle against human rights abuses in Yemen and for his courageous investigative reporting in this regard. Since last year, the Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders is presented every year to a human rights defender or organization in recognition of their contribution to the protection and the promotion of human rights in the Arab world.

via Saba Net – Yemen news agency.

Two prominent Saudi Human Rights Defenders heavily sentenced

March 12, 2013

KSA_Riyadh_QahtaniAlHamid_After_Hearing_Credits_SultanAlfifi

Last Saturday, two distinguished human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia were sentenced to jail in Riyadh for establishing an unlicensed human rights organization. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Abdullah Al-Hamad (or Hamid) established the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) in 2009. The organization’s mission is to promote human rights awareness within the Kingdom. ACPRA called for political representation of Saudi citizens and creation of laws to protect minorities. The organization also worked on documenting human rights abuses within the Kingdom. Despite multiple efforts to license ACPRA, the organization’s petitions were rejected and the group was eventually banned by Saudi authorities. The two men were sentenced to 10 and 11 years in prison on accusations including the rather illiberal sounding “breaking allegiance to the King”, “disseminating false information through foreign entities” and “forming an unlicensed organization“. This trial and the ensuing heavy sentence are clearly linked to them exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and association.

Alkarama awards on 7 December in Geneva: here already the trailer

November 23, 2012

The Ceremony of the Alkarama Award will be held on Friday 7 December 2012 at 18h30 in Geneva at Centre International Conférences, Genève
This year, the laureates are two human rights defenders from the Gulf region:
– Dr Mohamed Abdullah Al Roken, United Arab Emirates
– Dr Saud Mukhtar Al Hashimi, Saudi Arabia.

For more information: http://www.alkarama.org
award@alkarama.org
+41 22 734 10 06

 

Mourad Dhina, Algerian head of the human rights organization Alkarama detained in France

January 20, 2012

On 17 January 2012, the Geneva-based Alkarama group, which campaigns for human rights in Arab countries, said its executive director Mourad Dhina was arrested and detained in France at Paris-Orly airport. Alkarama spokesman Michael Romig said Dhina appeared before a French magistrate on Tuesday to hear Algeria’s extradition request on decades-old terrorism charges and was then returned to custody. This a complex case with heavy political overtones.Dhina was a former top official in the Islamic Salvation Front (le ‘FIS’), the organisation which was poised to win the Algerian elections in 1992, which then led to an army crackdown and a decade-long bloody civil war, with severe violations from both sides.

Dhina has lived in Switzerland for 20 years, but – contrary to some press statements – he was not a recognized refugee. He is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained physicist who worked at CERN. He became an opponent of the Algerian government following the coup d’état of January 1992 that banned the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), starting the Algerian Civil War. After being spokesman for the Coordination Committee of the FIS, he became head of the Executive Office of the FIS from October 2002 to October 2004, and in 2006 he discretely left the party, but more because he regarded it as ineffective than because he disapproved of its violent methods. In 2007, he co-founded Rachad , an organisation dedicated to overthrowing the Algerian government through mass nonviolent resistance. He rejects any reconciliation with the present regime. According to Le Matin de Dimanche  of 15 October 2006  his position is: “There was a putsch in Algeria in 1992, so I find armed resistance legitimate. I said and I’ll say it again.”

According to a Wikipedia entry he was accused by the former French minister Charles Pasqua of having links with arms dealers, and therefore he left Saint-Genis-Pouilly, Geneva in 1993. When he was sentenced in absentia to twenty years imprisonment in his country he replied “I am honored to have been condemned by tyrants. History, one day, will prove me right”

Because the Algerian Embassy in Bern regularly asked for his extradition, Mourad stated in the same 2006 interview in le Dimanche de Dimanche: «Nous n’avons pas de documents pour voyager. Nous ne pouvons pas quitter la Suisse». In spite of this he appears to have travelled several times through French territory without having been arrested. So, why was he now arrested? And what is the likelihood of him being extradited? Clearly his vehement opposition and use of television aimed at Algeria must anger the Government but that would not be the right ground for extradition. But the timing seems to indicate that there might be such a link. If it is the old charges of terrorism, then it will depend op the strength of the evidence. In this context it is pity that Dhina’s taking distance from the FIS was not accompanied by a clear condemnation of human rights violations also by the FIS itself. Even if one qualifies the Algerian conflict as a civil war, it does not condone violation of humanitarian law by any party. Let’s see what happens!