Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty’

Breaking news: Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo freed in Myanmar

May 7, 2019

All the mainstream media (here Al Jazeera) are reporting that today the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed from Myanmar jail.

Earlier on Tuesday, Myanmar said it will release 6,520 prisoners in an amnesty, according to a statement from the president’s office.  President Win Myint pardoned thousands of prisoners in two mass amnesties last month. It is customary in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.

We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement. “Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.” Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/jailed-reuters-journalists-freed-prison-myanmar-190507024627552.html

Murder of Dutch IKON journalists in 1982 in El Salvador revisited

September 25, 2018

In the Dutch media a lot of attention is being paid at the moment to the 35-year old story of the IKON journalists who were killed in El Salvador in 1982. Some years ago I started to write up ‘human rights stories’ that I had been closely involved in, with the idea that some day they would be of interest. This seems a good moment to ‘publish’ for the first time the chapter on my involvment with the case of the IKON journalists:

1982 IKON journalists killing and El Salvador

…On 17 March 1982, three months before I took up my post as thea first director of the new Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), the world – and especially the Netherlands – were shocked by the kiliing of a team of television journalists of the TV channel IKON in El Salvador. The very uncivil conflict there had already costs thousands of people their lives including the internationally known cases of the 4 American nuns and the progressive bishop Oscar Romero 1980. The USA under Reagan had clearly changed course and was openly supporting the Duarte regime against the left-wing rebels. The Dutch government – especially its ‘atlanticist’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans van de Broek[1]– was caught between its desire to appease the US government and to respond to the public outcry back home. The compromise reached was that the Dutch Ambassador from a neighbouring country (Jan Willem Bertens) was exceptionally allowed to undertake an investigation on Salvadoran territory, but – if no evidence of government involvement was found – that would be the end of the affair. The fact-finding mission by the Dutch Ambassador did not find any strong evidence; the report was left with the Salvador government and submitted to the Dutch parliament.

One of the first visitors to SIM was Yata Matsuzaki who was the partner of one of the journalists killed and on behalf of the families – who were not convinced by the inconclusive Bertens report. She asked me to take on the case and see whatever else could to done to keep the matter alive. There was even some money set aside for this by the families which was very useful as later – when the Dutch Minister Van der Stoel queried whether this kind of activity (i.e. second-guessing him) was within SIM’s mandate – I was able to refer to the fact that SIM was supposed to find externally funded projects and this had been one of them.

In fact, I had to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find ways to keep the case alive but fortunately the UN had just establish a “Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”and I submitted the case there. With the help of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in NY I also tried to obtain copies of relevant telexes from the US State Department but most was blacked out.

This involvement with El Salvador led SIM to start a project on how to count human rights violations in general (with initial focus on Central America) and we tried to solve difficult issues such as killings by non-state actors and defining indirect victims. One of the persons helping in El Salvador was Marianella Garcia Villas who had come to SIM in early 1983. I offered to help her with obtaining political asylum in the Netherlands, but she insisted on going back as she was most needed there.  I felt not just sad and shocked but also ‘guilty’ when soon after her return she was murdered.

Then in May 1984 three Dutch parliamentarians (one from each main party) accepted to go on a mission to Central America (and the USA see picture) and I was asked to join as an independent ‘expert’. It became a memorable trip, including a shooting incident on the road in Nicaragua, but what crowned it was that in El Salvador I got a chance to meet with the Prosecutor’s office that was in charge of the IKON investigation. They kindly showed me the file and I was shocked to see that it contained almost nothing and especially that the report by the Dutch Ambassador – 2 years later! – had not been translated into Spanish.

Upon arrival in Schiphol airport, there was a well-attended press conference and when there were questions about the IKON investigation the parliamentarians agreed that I should answer as an independent expert. The journalists had clearly not forgotten their colleagues and fielded many questions. When asked what the Dutch government should do now, I replied that it is was time to re-open the investigation and that my colleagues on the mission representing a majority in parliament were well placed to formally ask for it, which they promptly said they would. When soon afterwards a majorly in parliament adopted a motion requesting this, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not pleased and initially refused to carry out the motion. However, as this was not worth a government crisis the Prime Minster Lubbers engineered a compromise under which the Dutch government would follow up and at least translate the text.

In 1993 a Report of the Truth Commission of the United Nations on El Salvador concluded that the journalists had been killed in a planned ambush, that Reyes Mena was responsible and that El Salvador so far had failed to do research in order to sentence and punish those responsible. That same year an amnesty law was passed in El Salvador,…

and now (September 2018) I can add a final chapter:

A team of the Dutch television programme Zembla has traced the former colonel of the Salvadoran army, Mario Reyes Mena, who ordered the killings. The now 79-year-old Reyes Mena has been living in the United States for four years. Zembla found him through his three adult children, who are active on social media.

When confronted he claimed that the amnesty pronounced by the government of El Salvador covers his actions. However this amnesty law was cancelled in 2016. In August 2017, the investigation into the murders was already reopened administratively. Two Salvadoran human rights organizations, ‘Fundación Comunicándonos’ and ‘Associacíon de Derechos Humanos’, urged the Salvadoran judiciary to carry out the investigation and the ensuing prosecution.Gert Kuiper, de brother of one of the killed journalists has also started a procedure against the colonel and the Dutch Ambassador in El Salvador supports the move.

It is not known where we stand with this investigation but interesting is to note that in November 2017 another former Salvadoran army colonel, Inocente [SIC] Orlando Montano, was extradited from the USA to Spain to face charges relating to the 1989 killings of the 6 Jesuits priests.

Killings cannot have happy endings but justice is the next best thing.

[1]He succeeded in May 1982 the socialist Van der Stoel whose initial reaction to the killing had been more forceful.

Sources:

https://nltimes.nl/2018/09/25/investigation-ongoing-dutch-journalists-murders-el-salvador-1982

https://nos.nl/artikel/2251835-brein-achter-moord-op-ikon-journalisten-opgespoord.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/former-el-salvador-colonel-extradited-to-spain-over-1989-of-jesuits

Amnesty International’s Annual ‘Write for Rights’ campaign focuses on freedom of expression

November 30, 2015

world map

During the annual Write for Rights campaign, from 4-17 December, hundreds of thousands of Amnesty International supporters and activists around the world will send letters, emails, SMS messages, faxes and tweets calling for the release of activists jailed for peaceful dissent, supporting victims of torture and pointing a spotlight on other human rights abuses. “Our campaign promises exciting, uniting and effective activism bringing together people from all different walks of life,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International on 27 November when launching this year’s campaign. Amnesty-Internationa

2014 was a record-breaking year for the campaign, with hundreds of thousands of people in more than 200 countries and territories sending 3,245,565 messages offering support or calling for action on the cases of 12 individuals and communities experiencing human rights abuses. More than a million messages have been sent in support of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi since the campaign raised his case.

The annual campaign has achieved some victories such as:

  • On 28 May 2015, the Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan pardoned and released Nigerian torture survivor Moses Akatugba.
  • The 2013 campaign led to the release of three prisoners of conscience: Cambodian housing rights activist Yorm Bopha, community leader from Myanmar Tun Aung and Russian protester Vladimir Akimenkov.

The 2015 Write for Rights campaign illustrates the growing pressure on freedom of expression, calling for the release of several people jailed or facing trial as a price for peaceful dissent:

  • Uzbekistan: Muhammad Bekzhanov, the world’s longest-imprisoned journalist (together with Yusuf Ruzimuradov from the same paper, jailed at the same time in 1999).
  • Malaysia: Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque or “Zunar”, who faces a long prison sentence under the Sedition Act for tweets criticizing the country’s judiciary.
  • Myanmar: Phyoe Phyoe Aung, leader of one of Myanmar’s largest students unions, one of 54 students and protesters jailed after protests on 10 March 2015.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Peaceful youth activists Yves Makwambala and Fred Bauma, arrested at a press conference and awaiting trial accused of forming a criminal gang and attempting to overthrow the government.
  • Saudi Arabia: Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, currently serving a 15-year prison sentence followed by a 15-year travel ban and a fine for his peaceful activism. Before his imprisonment, he defended many victims of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, including Raif Badawi, who was supported by last year’s campaign.

 

A factsheet is available from AI with more details about Write for Rights and the cases highlighted by this year’s campaign: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/write-for-rights/.

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/john-legend-writes-for-amnesty-internationals-write-for-rights-campaign/

Source: WORLD’S BIGGEST HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON ABUSES

Human rights defenders call for release political prisoners during Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus

April 25, 2014

Libereco, a Swiss-German human rights organisation, called on Lukashenka to grant amnesty to the Belarusian political prisoners on the occasion of the Ice Hockey World Championship, The statement on Libereco’s website reads that nine people remain under arrest for political reasons in Belarus. They are former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich, Ales Bialiatski, activists Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Andrei Haidukou, Eudard Lobau, Vasili Parfiankou, Artsiom Prakapenka and Yauhen Vaskovich.

Interesting to note that the appeal to Lukashenka was signed by Christoph Strässer, the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy; Read the rest of this entry »

Louis Joinet (“Luis le Juste”) finally and rightly honored in France

March 26, 2014

It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that a great human rights defender from France, Louis Joinet, is honored with a colloque on the topic “Is sovereignty still the basis of international law?”. It coincides with the publication of his book: “Mes raisons d’Etat” [‘My reasons of state’ or better ‘How I saw the national interest].

Had he been fluent in English (he picked it up too late in life) he would have been probably one of the most famous human rights experts in the world. His nicknames range from “Louis le Juste” to “the Obstinate”. He played a major role within the French state apparatus as from the 1960s. One of the founders of the ‘Syndicat de la magistrature‘ in 1968 (sometimes called the ‘red judges’), he became the first director of the National Commission on Informatics and Freedoms [Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés]. He served five different Prime Ministers during the 1980s as advisor. It was during those days that I met him regularly to set up and run a number of Committees dealing with the military regimes in the Southern Cone of Latin America (e.g. SIJAU, SIJADEP). We travelled often to the region and on many occasions I saw returned refugees come up to Louis to embrace and thank him for the support he gave them in exile.

In the meantime during 33 years he was an expert in various UN bodies, travelling all over the world. Most pronounced was his leading role in the Sub-commission for Human Rights and the Protection of Minorities (now renamed and relegated to a research role for the new Council), where he spearheaded a great many and daring innovations, concerning many  issue including disappearances, torture, international crimes and amnesty. His popularity with (certain) States suffered, but most NGOs considered him to be a hero.

Together with his late and much-beloved wife Germaine he had a less-known but rewarding social life that includes assisting young street criminals and a passion for circus and street theater. His musical talent is illustrated in the picture below from my private collection, where he is seen playing the accordion with Argentinian Leandro Despouy watching (August 1988).

1988 Aug Subcommission party in Prevessin Louis Joinet Leandro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The colloque in Louis honor is taking place on 27  Mars  2014, 18h30, at  Université  Panthéon-‐Assas, Centre  Panthéon,  Salle  des  Conseils, in the series of lectures under Professor Olivier de Frouville.

The book “Mes raisons d’Etat. Mémoires d’un épris de justice” is published by La Découverte: http://www.editionsladecouverte.fr/catalogue/index-Mes_raisons_d_etat-9782707178459.html

 

Pussy Riot freed in Russia but the bigger issue is blasphemy laws everywhere

December 24, 2013

Demonstrators wear "Free Pussy Riot" balaclavas as they protest at the security fence surrounding the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013

(Pussy Riot’s members with their distinctive coloured balaclavas)

The two remaining members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose incarceration sparked a global outcry, have been released under an amnesty law, but Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina dismissed the amnesty as a publicity stunt before the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.They both promised to continue their vocal opposition to the government. The women were jailed in August 2012 after performing a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. Alyokhina’s first words and actions after being freed serve as a sign that this fight is likely to go on. The case divided Russia with many feeling the women were being too harshly treated and made examples of as part of attempts to clamp down on opposition to the government. But others felt their actions were a gross offence to the Orthodox faith. The act was seen as blasphemous by many others e.g. in Greece here and was condemned by several Orthodox Churches. However, their conviction for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” was criticised by rights groups [AI declared them prisoners of conscience], celebrities [such as Sting, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Yoko Ono ], anti-Putin activists and foreign governments.

This should make us look again a the issue of blasphemy in general. The crime of criticizing a religion is not always called blasphemy; sometimes it is categorized as hate speech (even when it falls well below any sensible standard of actually inciting hatred or violence) because it supposedly insults the followers of a religion. These crimes—of expressing ‘blasphemy’ or offending religious feelings—are still a crime in 55 countries, can mean prison in 39 of those countries, and are punishable by death in six countries.

Recently, Ireland and the Netherlands started the process of removing some or part of their blasphemy laws. The arguments in these debates have universal validity.

Human Rights First and other NGOs have reported on human rights abuses caused by the use of blasphemy laws around the world.  These laws are often vague and can be subject to abuse, either by the authorities or citizens who can accuse a fellow citizen of blasphemy with a personal complaint to the prosecutor. The concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards, which protect the rights of individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Those accused of blasphemy are frequently threatened or attacked even before any investigation. People take to the streets and violence stoked by religious extremists ensues. Blasphemy laws have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities. Blasphemy laws enable governments to restrict freedom of expression, thought, and religion. Application of the laws can result in devastating consequences for religious minorities. This has been the case for Christians in Pakistan and Egypt, Ahmadi followers in Indonesia, and non-believers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In many instances, officials fail to condemn abuses or to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. And the police often fail to stop violence against religious minorities or to protect those endangered on account of such laws.

In the past few years, several bodies of the United Nations have examined the relationship between freedom of expression and hate speech, especially in relation to religious issues. After extensive consultation with governments and civil society, the Rabat Plan of Action was published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2012. This document outlines how blasphemy laws are problematic.  Since 2011, a new process dubbed the Istanbul Process was launched as a result of resolutions adopted at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. The idea is to combat religious intolerance without restricting freedom of speech but whether that is possible is a big question.

Lessons of the Debate Over Ireland’s Blasphemy Law | Human Rights First

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/Blasphemy_Cases.pdf.

http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/12/netherlands-scraps-blasphemy-law–but-seeks-a-way-to-replace-it

BBC News – Pussy Riot: Russia frees jailed punk band members.

American Civil Liberties Union sees Snowden as a Human Rights Defender!

December 20, 2013

Whether Edward Snowden is a human rights defender or a criminal has been much debated and was also reported on in this blog. He was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize and received the Netizen’s award from the NGO Reporters without Borders. Now the highly respected American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), through its Executive Director Anthony Romero, has taken a clear stand and his article of 17 December 2013 is provided here in full:Snowden photo

Edward Snowden is a Patriot

Read the rest of this entry »

Write for Rights – Amnesty International’s main campaign starts on 6 December

December 2, 2013

Write for Rights is one of Amnesty International’s major global campaigns

Write for Rights” is one of Amnesty International’s major global campaigns. AI is capable of getting its own outreach and does not need my blog but I want to refer to it anyway as it is such a quintessential human rights action model.   Read the rest of this entry »

Amnesty criticizes Vietnam with regard to HRDs, especially those using the internet

November 11, 2013

Authoritarian Vietnam has stepped up an alarming crackdown on domestic dissent even as it seeks a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International says on 7 November. Vietnam is using a raft of draconian legislation to clamp down on a growing number of citizens who seek to question the party’s stranglehold on power. “Vietnam is fast turning into one of Southeast Asias largest prisons for human rights defenders and other activists” said Amnesty researcher Rupert Abbott to AFP.Amnesty-Internationa Read the rest of this entry »

Bradley Manning not a Prisoner of Conscience for Amnesty International ?

June 4, 2013


480px-bradley_manning_us_army_0

(Bradley Manning – (c) US Army)

With the trial of Bradley Manning coming up, there is a wide-ranging and not always educating discussion raging on LinkedIn and other fora about why he is not a ‘prisoner of conscience’ for AI. Two of the few more substantive but not very flattering statements – in the absence of a formal reply by AI of course – are reported here, but I should point out that the authors are even more scathing about HRW or other large NGOs: Read the rest of this entry »