Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

30 NGOs call on Google to drop plan for a Cloud region in Saudi Arabia

May 27, 2021
Groups call on Google to drop out of Saudi project over human rights concerns

© Getty Images

The Hill of 26 May 2021 reports that a coalition of more than 30 human rights and digital privacy rights groups called on Google to abandon its plans to establish a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia over concerns about human rights violations.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN America, wrote in their letter that Saudi Arabia’s record of tamping down on public dissent and its justice system that “flagrantly violates due process” made it unsafe for Google to set up a “cloud region” in the kingdom.

While Google publishes how it handles government requests for customer information and reports when requests are made through formal channels, there are numerous potential human rights risks of establishing a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia that include violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and association, non-discrimination, and due process,” the groups said. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/

The letter also pointed to Saudi authorities who have routinely sought to identify anonymous online dissenters and spy on Saudi citizens through digital surveillance. The groups also pointed to how they themselves are believed to have been put under surveillance by the Saudi government.

“Google has a responsibility to respect human rights, regardless of any state’s willingness to fulfill its own human rights obligations,” the letter continued, pointing to Google’s statement in which it expressed its commitment to human rights and to “improve the lives of as many people as possible.”

In order to address these concerns, the groups called on Google to conduct a “robust, thorough human rights due diligence process” and to “draw red lines around what types of government requests concerning Cloud regions it will not comply with” due to human rights concerns.

“The Saudi government has demonstrated time and again a flagrant disregard for human rights, both through its own direct actions against human rights defenders and its spying on corporate digital platforms to do the same,” the letter read. “We fear that in partnering with the Saudi government, Google will become complicit in future human rights violations affecting people in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region.”

https://thehill.com/policy/technology/555597-groups-call-on-google-to-drop-out-of-saudi-project-over-human-rights

Viet Nam: profile of human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh, arrested and charged

April 9, 2021

Responding to the arbitrary arrest of prominent Vietnamese human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh on 7 April , Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, said:  “The arrest of Nguyen Thuy Hanh is a blatant and politically-motivated attempt to silence one of the most respected human rights advocates in the country.  Nguyen Thuy Hanh is an inspiring activist who has worked tirelessly to support unjustly detained persons in Viet Nam. Despite police beatings and years of harassment, she has remained steadfast in her efforts to help and support those in desperate need. Vietnamese jails are notoriously overcrowded and fail to meet minimum international standards. It is a travesty that Nguyen Thuy Hanh is being targeted for her humanitarian work in support of unjustly detained prisoners. She should be celebrated and supported for this work – not punished. 

We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Thuy Hanh and to end their relentless attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful critics. Authorities must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.” [see also yesterday’s: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/08/worries-about-rsf-laureate-pham-doan-trang-jailed-in-vietnam/

Nguyen Thuy Hanh is a human rights defender from Ha Noi. She founded the 50K Fund in 2017, through which she fundraised support for the families of unjustly detained persons across Viet Nam.  In 2019 she won the Le Dinh Luong Human Rights Award an award given by the U.S.-based opposition party Viet Tan for her work supporting the families of prisoners of conscience.

She was arrested on 7 April 2021 and charged under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for “making, storing, or spreading information, materials or items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”, carrying a potential prison sentence of between five and 20 years.  

Nguyen Thuy Hanh is also a vocal advocate for human rights with a popular Facebook account, where she frequently discusses human rights issues. She has faced multiple instances of harassment in retaliation for her peaceful human rights activism. 

Nguyen Thuy Hanh nominated herself as an independent candidate for Ha Noi City in the 2016 National Assembly election. Since then, she has been subjected to harassment and intimidation on many occasions. Amnesty International recently called on the Vietnamese authorities to end their mounting crackdown on independent candidates and other critical voices ahead of the 2021 National Assembly election. 

In January 2020, when police raided the village of Dong Tam in Ha Noi, leading to a deadly conflict, Nguyen Thuy Hanh fundraised for the family of a village leader who was killed by security forces. In retaliation, her bank account was frozen, with her bank reportedly telling Nguyen Thuy Hanh that police forced them to do so.  

In June 2018, while engaging in a peaceful protest against the Law on Cybersecurity and the Law on Special Economic Zones, Nguyen Thuy Hanh was arrested and detained by police. She reported afterwards that she was severely beaten during the interrogation which resulted in injuries to her face.  Police have also interrogated Nguyen Thuy Hanh on her work relating to the 50k Fund on many occasions.   

Amnesty International’s 2016 report, Prisons Within Prisons, documented the widespread torture and other ill-treatment which prisoners of conscience are subjected to in Viet Nam. 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/04/nguyen-thuy-hanh-arrested-and-charged/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/award-12112019155718.html

New SG for Amnesty International: Agnès Callamard

March 30, 2021

On 29 March 2021 Amnesty International announced the appointment of Dr. Agnès Callamard, a leading international human rights expert, as its new Secretary General, effective immediately. 

Dr. Callamard has recently been the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. In that role, she led ground-breaking investigations including into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/09/agnes-callamard-calls-overturned-verdict-in-khashoggi-case-parody-of-justice/]

As Secretary General, Dr. Callamard will be the Chief Executive of Amnesty’s International Secretariat and the principal spokesperson of the global Amnesty movement, which has some 10 million supporters, and offices in more than 70 countries.

At a time when human rights are under unprecedented threat around the world, Dr. Callamard will lead, excite and rally the entire Amnesty movement to meet these challenges head-on,” said Sarah Beamish, Chair of the International Board, in announcing the appointment.  “The combination of her intellectual acuity, her deep global human rights experience, and her courageous voice makes her highly qualified to front our movement. We are delighted she has accepted this challenge to take us boldly into our next phase.

Where governments and corporations seek to silence those who speak out against their abuses, to obfuscate the truth, and to undermine or reject human rights norms, the rigorous investigations and uncompromising campaigns of Amnesty International are more vital than ever.” Agnès Callamard

  “I am honoured to take up the post of Secretary General and work alongside Amnesty’s supporters around the world so that together we defend and demand respect for all human rights for all,” Dr Callamard said. 

Dr. Callamard, a French national, has built a highly distinguished career in the international human rights and humanitarian sectors, working across NGOs, academia, and the United Nations. Alongside her role as a United Nations independent human rights expert, she held the role of Director of the Global Freedom of Expression Project at Columbia University. Previously, she has been the Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression organization ARTICLE 19 and was the founder and Executive Director of HAP International (the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership).

Dr. Callamard worked with Amnesty International from 1995-2001, including as Chef de Cabinet for then-Secretary General Pierre Sané.  She has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries and published extensively on human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression, refugee movements, and the methodology of human rights investigations.

See also 7 April interview: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/7/leaders-of-the-world-have-failed-us-qa-with-agnes-callamard

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/dr-agnes-callamard-appointed-as-secretary-general-of-amnesty-international/

Turkey: arrests and backsliding on femicide

March 22, 2021

Living close to Turkey, I follow the situation there perhaps with more worry than others. And nothing good seems to happen:

Turkish police detained three district heads of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and seven others in Istanbul on Friday over alleged links to militants, police said, two days after a court case began over banning the party.

Separately, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) co-chairman Ozturk Turkdogan was arrested by police at his home, IHD said, prompting human rights groups to call for his release. Turkdogan was then released on Friday evening, the association said.

Responding to the arrest today of Öztürk Türkdoğan, the president of Turkey’s Human Rights Organisation, Esther Major, Amnesty International’s Senior Research Adviser for Europe, said:

“The detention of Öztürk Türkdoğan is outrageous. With ink barely dry on the Human Rights Action Plan announced by President Erdoğan two weeks ago, his arrest reveals that this document is not worth the paper it is written on.

After over three years in jail without a conviction, one of Turkey’s highest-profile detainees, Osman Kavala, is “not optimistic” that President Tayyip Erdogan’s planned reforms can change a judiciary he says is being used to silence dissidents.
A philanthropist, 63-year-old Kavala told Reuters that after decades of watching Turkey’s judiciary seeking to restrict human rights, it was now engaged in “eliminating” perceived political opponents of Erdogan’s government.
Kavala was providing written responses via his lawyers to Reuters’ questions days after Erdogan outlined a “Human Rights Action Plan” that was said will strengthen rights to a free trial and freedom of expression. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/16/osman-kavala-and-mozn-hassan-receive-2020-international-hrant-dink-award/ and

Not surprisingly this is leading to reactions, such as a bipartisan letter penned by 170 members of the US Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which the lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to consider the “troubling human rights abuses” in Turkey.  “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and (the) free press,” the letter said. Dated 26 February but made public on 1 March, the letter asks Washington to formulate its policy regarding Turkey considering human rights, saying that the Erdogan administration has strained the bilateral relationship. 

On top of this Turkey has pulled out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women by presidential decree, in the latest victory for conservatives in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. The 2011 “Istanbul Convention| [SIC], signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation. Conservatives had claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society. The publication of the decree in the official gazette early Saturday sparked anger among rights groups and calls for protests in Istanbul. Women have taken to the streets in cities across Turkey calling on the government to keep to the 2011 Istanbul Convention.

Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairperson of the main opposition CHP party said abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed.” “Despite you and your evil, we will stay alive and bring back the convention,” she said on Twitter. Last year, 300 women were murdered according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.
The platform called for a “collective fight against those who dropped the Istanbul convention,” in a message on Twitter.
The Istanbul convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives on your command,” its secretary general Fidan Ataselim tweeted.

Kerem Altiparmak, an academic and lawyer specializing in human rights law, likened the government’s shredding of the convention to the 1980 military coup. “What’s abolished tonight is not only the Istanbul convention but the parliament’s will and legislative power,” he commented.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1822001/middle-east

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/turkey-outrageous-arrest-lawyer-makes-mockery-erdogans-human-rights-reforms

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1828581/middle-east

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-03-19/turkish-police-detain-pro-kurdish-party-officials-anadolu

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1818641/middle-east

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/24/turkey-erdogans-onslaught-rights-and-democracy

Celebrating International Women’s Day in 2021

March 8, 2021

This day leads to a plethora of statements and actions. Here a small selection focusing on women human rights defenders:

Credit: UN Women/Yihui Yuan.

Joan Kuriansky – a volunteer with The Advocates For Human Rightswrites: “Celebrating International Women’s Day in 2021 compels us to pause and examine the lessons of the past year- the COVID pandemic, economic distress and the surging mandate of Black Lives Matter. Each phenomenon has made so more visible the challenges that historically face women across the globe. Importantly, these forces have also made it clear how connected we are to each other whether in neighborhoods within miles of our home or across a continent and the extraordinary role that women play in making lives better and more just in every corner of the world. The UN and UNDP estimate that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line. Our upcoming workshop at the NGO CSW65 Virtual Forum will highlight the economic and other inequalities women face as a result of the pandemic. Register here: https://bit.ly/3dmVgSk Event link: https://bit.ly/2NhPoiL

Women have been in the forefront of promoting peaceful solutions to conflict -conflict that has often included the rape and violation of women, the death of those in combat and the destruction of communities. Women have been in the forefront of promoting peaceful solutions to conflict -conflict that has often included the rape and violation of women, the death of those in combat and the destruction of communities. The Soldiers Mother’s Committee in Russia and Chechnya [[https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/3371DC1A-42AE-44BF-E349-26987BF98314], or the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace founded by Leymah Gbowe or the 3 co-founders of Black Lives Matter have inspired all of us. And as we documented in our work with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, women have a key role to play in the post-conflict and peacebuilding process.], or the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace founded by Leymah Gbowe or the 3 co-founders of Black Lives Matter [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4f840e00-be5d-11e7-b953-f7f66015c2f3]have inspired all of us. And as we documented in our work with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, women have a key role to play in the post-conflict and peacebuilding process.

Women's World Summit Foundation (WWSF)

The WWSF introduces 60 Heroes out of 462 Laureates awarded with the WWSF Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life (1994-2020)

UN Women this year is celebrating women’s leadership in all its forms and calling for women and feminists across the world to claim their space in leadership and decision-making. Presently, only 7.4 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Despite progress and many broken records, women continue to be excluded in certain sports. Systemic barriers, gender bias, discrimination and gender stereotypes continue to hold women back from rising in STEM careers. Women and girls have been leading climate action and environmental movements, but men occupy 67 per cent of climate-related decision-making roles. 119 countries have never had a woman leader. Just 25 per cent of national parliamentary seats are held by women.

Around the world, the space for civil discourse and movements is shrinking. The media plays a critical role in amplifying women’s voices and stories and drawing attention to key issues. But, with women holding only 27 per cent of top management jobs in media organizations, More than one-third of women’s employment is in agriculture, increasing women’s access to land and providing better support for women farmers is, therefore, essential. The majority of negotiators, mediators, and signatories in peace processes are still men.

In news media, only 24 per cent of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news are women. In global news coverage of COVID-19, only one in five expert sources counsulted were women.

Amnesty International stated that across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), despite some limited reforms, women continue to face entrenched discrimination and daily violence amid the abject failure of governments to stamp out arbitrary arrests, abductions, assassinations, so-called “honour” killings and other forms of gender-based violence, said Amnesty International, marking International Women’s Day. ..Inadequate government action to protect women from gender-based violence and address impunity has long perpetuated this form of abuse.  As a first step, authorities must publicly condemn all forms of gender-based violence and dismantle discriminatory structures that facilitate such abuse – such as male guardianship,” said Heba Morayef.   “They must also ensure that the rights of survivors are protected, that survivors can safely access justice and that perpetrators are held to account. Survivors must be able to access adequate shelter, psycho-social support as well as legal and other services.”

All over the world, a female-driven political awakening is taking place. But this is met with prosecution by the State and persecution by self-vigilante groups. Their experiences are marred with patriarchal subordination, sexualised violence, threat and harassment. They face severe retribution and systematic abuse, even at the hands of the State. It is important to have an enabling environment for these soft targets who face heightened risks as compared to their male counterparts. International obligation requires the State to stop criminalising women defenders, write SHRUTIKA PANDEY & MRINALINI MISHRA in The Leaflet of 8 March 2021.

MRT of 8 March 2021 states that International Women’s Day is not celebrated, a struggle is commemorated – that has not ended- in favor of justice, peace and freedom of each one of them. In a strict sense, feminism seeks make gender issues visible. Under that idea, there should be no censorship or exclusion. Nevertheless, What about trans women? While it is true that some people do not agree that they are part of the feminist movement, the reality is that they also suffer from violence, harassment and discrimination. Therefore, they are in the same fight. With that said, we present to you 8 recognized trans women in history

The Media Line of 7 March writes that “Women face uphill climb to equality in the MENA region” Activists and human rights groups paint a daunting portrait of the equality landscape between the genders in the MENA region, as they prepare to mark International Women’s Day, March 8. The coronavirus epidemic, certainly, did not help the plight of women this past year. Still, going forward, the largest issues facing women in the Middle East were entrenched long before the pandemic hit.

In the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) countries, women’s rights defenders have it tough. While prominent Saudi women’s activist Loujain al-Hathloul was freed last month after almost three years in prison [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c], Samar Badawi [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/eaed8641-4056-4130-a5ff-fb7bf289cece], Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdelaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani remain in jail after their 2018 arrests on charges of advocating for women’s rights. “Those who are behind bars are the champions for the change that took place,” Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, told The Media Line, referring to women driving.

In UCANews of 8 March 2021 Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila writes that “Millions of women the world over suffer from discrimination, abuse, poverty, gender-based violence and human rights violations, of which enforced disappearance is one of the most cruel forms. Enforced disappearance, which motivated the international community to establish the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, especially affects women.  On this significant occasion, I remember the faces and voices of women I personally encountered from 50 countries that I visited during my almost three decades of advocacy for the cause of the disappeared. Many of them carried pictures of their loved ones. Some gave me every bit of information with the hope against hope to find light amidst the dark night of the disappeared.”

Euromed uses the occasion for a series of podcast. For our first episode, the story you are about to hear is that of Mozn Hassan, a woman human rights defender and the founder and executive director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a feminist organisation working in Egypt and the MENA region on gender equality and combatting violence against women. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/38B5C337-72F5-C4DE-BC95-95094B9E3939

[https://open.spotify.com/episode/0BLcZcwdDrab9guLW6fHVo]

https://www.woman.ch/campaign-17-days/meet-60-heroes-out-of-462-laureates-awarded-with-the-wwsf-prize-for-womens-creativity-in-rural-life-1994-2020/

https://un-women.medium.com/claiming-womens-space-in-leadership-6acc13946e2

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/mena-gender-based-violence-continues-to-devastate-lives-of-women-across-region/

https://www.ucanews.com/news/women-turn-grief-into-courage/91671#

What can human rights defenders expect from diplomatic support? – the case of the UK

February 25, 2021

On Wednesday 24 February 2021 Megan Thornberry writes about a report by the University of York and others concluding that human rights defenders have been at increased risk during pandemic, and calls for UK government to provide better protection.

There is a dearth of serious and quantitative research into how human rights defenders experience diplomatic support and interest in their work. So, this report – published by Amnesty International UK and the Center for Applied Human Rights, in collaboration with the Law Society of England and Wales, Peace Brigades International UK, Bond and other NGOs – is most welcome.

Research by the University’s Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) and Amnesty International UK shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 94 per cent of human rights defenders interviewed reported face threats, death threats, abuse, and harassment.

It is reported that only 6 per cent of these activists, including lawyers, journalists, women’s rights defenders, and LGBTQ+ activists, received support from the UK government.

Researchers interviewed 82 human rights defenders from seven countries about their experiences with UK government support:

  • 40% had contacted the UK government embassy as part of their work in the last two years, where as 70% had contacted other embassies
  • 75% could not recall a time in which their resident country’s UK embassy had spoken out in support of specific at-risk human rights defenders
  • 31% had been in contacted by their UK embassy seeking to further its knowledge about the struggles for human rights

The report highlights the increased threats to LGBTQ+ rights during the pandemic, as poor job security has driven many to return to unsafe and unaccepting hometowns in order to live with family. Particularly in countries such as Russia and the Philippines, this has placed LGBTQ+ activists at a higher risk of abuse. LGBTQ+ activists have also reported an increase in discrimination towards LGBTQ+ groups due to their being blamed for the pandemic.

Dr Piergiuseppe Parisi, a research associate at the Human Rights Defender Hub at CAHR and direct contributor to the report, said: “Human rights defenders are active agents of positive change. The UK should make sure that they are recognised as such, that they have the means to carry on with their crucial work and that they have access to rapid response protection mechanisms when they are in danger.”

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The UK government has pledged to stand up for human rights defenders around the world. We now need to see words turned into action. The UK’s voice has power. It’s time to use it and to be a world leader.”

https://nouse.co.uk/2021/02/24/human-rights-defenders-have-been-silenced-during-the-pandemic-says-york-report

Vietnamese Human Rights Defenders Targeted with Ocean Lotus Spyware

February 25, 2021

On 24 February 2021 a new Amnesty International investigation has identified a campaign of spyware attacks targeting Vietnamese human rights defenders (HRDs) from February 2018 to November 2020. Amnesty International’s Security Lab attributes these attacks to an attack group known as Ocean Lotus. The group has been active since at least 2014, targeting the private sector and HRDs. The spyware attacks investigated and identified by the Security Lab are the latest evidence of a crackdown on freedom of expression in Viet Nam and against Vietnamese activists outside the country.

Viet Nam’s history of Online Repression: Human rights are increasingly under attack both offline and online in Viet Nam. Over the past 15 years, repression linked to online activity has intensified, leading to a wave of harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and prosecution. Amnesty International has documented multiple cases of the arrest and prosecution of HRDs in Viet Nam in retaliation for their online expression since 2006. That year, former prisoner of conscience Truong Quoc Huy was arrested at an internet café in Ho Chi Minh City. Many activists and bloggers have been convicted for “conducting propaganda against the state.” Human rights blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 on such charges. Activists and bloggers also face frequent physical assaults by officials or government-connected thugs. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/70F07728-1E21-4D33-F0BE-460D5A188B9D] Police place activists under house arrest or briefly detain them to prevent them from participating in public events. The government also uses travel bans to prevent activists and HRDs from going abroad and engaging with the international community. In December 2020, Amnesty International published “Let Us Breathe”, a report documenting the widespread criminalization, online harassment and physical attacks faced by activists and bloggers and the rising numbers of individuals detained for peacefully expressing themselves online. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/01/facebook-and-youtube-are-allowing-themselves-to-become-tools-of-the-vietnamese-authorities-censorship-and-harassment/ ]

What is Ocean Lotus?

The cyber-security industry, comprised of individual and company-based researchers, routinely researches and publishes information about attack groups targeting companies and governments. The industry often gives informal names to groups they continuously track based on each group’s unique tactics and tools. Ocean Lotus (also commonly called APT32 or APT-C-00) is one of these groups. The first known Ocean Lotus attack happened in 2014. It targeted US-based NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Associated Press international news organization and two Vietnamese activists. This group was named Ocean Lotus in a report from the Chinese company Qihoo 360 in May 2015. In 2017, the American cyber-security company FireEye published a report linking the 2014 EFF and other attacks to this same Ocean Lotus. Over the years, Ocean Lotus has developed a sophisticated spyware toolkit comprised of several variants of Mac OS spyware, Android spyware and Windows spyware. They also strategically compromise websites in order to identify visitors and conduct further targeting. More recently, Ocean Lotus was found creating fake media websites based on content automatically gathered online. A significant part of the group’s activities is the targeting of HRDs and civil society. In 2017, the cyber-security company Volexity revealed that over 100 websites were compromised, including many belonging to human rights organizations from Viet Nam, in an attack campaign that they attributed to Ocean Lotus. Numerous other spyware attacks linked to Ocean Lotus against human rights organizations have also been reported, such as the targeting of the Cambodian human rights organization, LICADHO, in 2018. The cyber-security company FireEye describes Ocean Lotus’ operations as “aligned with Vietnamese state interests” based on the list of targeted companies and civil society groups they identified. In December 2020, Facebook published a threat report linking Ocean Lotus’ activities with a Vietnamese company named CyberOne Group. Although Amnesty International was unable to independently verify any direct connection between Ocean Lotus and Cyber One or with the Vietnamese authorities, the attacks described in this investigation confirm a pattern of targeting Vietnamese individuals and organizations.

Attacks against HRDs.

The investigation conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab revealed that two HRDs and a non-profit human rights organization from Viet Nam have been targeted by a coordinated spyware campaign. This spyware allows to fully monitor a compromised system, including reading and writing files, or launching other malicious programs. Bui Thanh Hieu is a blogger and pro-democracy activist who goes by the name “Nguoi Buon Gio” (The Wind Trader). He writes about social and economic justice and human rights. He is also critical of the Vietnamese government’s policies and actions regarding its relations with China, including the dispute over sovereignty in the South China Sea. Due to his writing and activism, the licence for an Internet Café he owned in Ha Noi has been revoked and he has been repeatedly subjected to reprisals. He was arrested along with activists Pham Doan Trang [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/fe8bf320-1d78-11e8-aacf-35c4dd34b7ba] and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh in 2009 and was kept in police custody for 10 days for“abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.” In January 2013, Bui Thanh Hieu reported on the trial of 14 dissidents in Viet Nam and was arrested and released a few days later. He has since left Viet Nam and has lived in exile in Germany since 2013. Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE) is a non-profit organization supporting Vietnamese refugees and promoting human rights in Viet Nam. It was established in 1997 in the Filipino capital of Manila as a legal aid office, before formally registering in the United States in 2007. The organization continues to operate out of Manila and has helped 3,000 Vietnamese refugees resettle in third countries. Since 2011, VOICE has operated an internship programme to equip Vietnamese people with knowledge, skills, and tools to become effective activists. The organization has faced reprisals from Vietnamese authorities several times. Staff at VOICE told Amnesty International that employees and interns have been harassed, banned from travelling, and have had their passports confiscated when they have returned to Viet Nam. Furthermore, state-owned media has run an unsubstantiated smear campaign against VOICE, claiming that the organization is a terrorist group. A blogger residing in Viet Nam has also been confirmed as an Ocean Lotus target by the Security Lab, but due to security concerns their name has been omitted. They are known to have spoken out publicly about the Dong Tam incident on 9 January 2020, when approximately 3,000 security officers from Ha Noi raided Dong Tam village and killed the 84-year-old village leader Le Dinh Kinh. Three police officers were also killed. The Dong Tam incident sparked a national outcry in Viet Nam. Activists and bloggers were at the forefront of the public debate online, prompting a nationwide crackdown on on-line expression by the government. VOICE and the two bloggers all received emails containing spyware between February 2018 and November 2020. These emails pretended to share an important document. They either contained spyware as an attachment or as a link. Once downloaded and launched on the victim’s computer, the spyware would then open a decoy document in line with what the email pretended to share to trick the victim in believing the file was benign. Screenshot of the email sent to VOICE in April 2020The spyware identified by the Security Lab were either for Mac OS or Windows systems. The Windows spyware was a variant of a malware family called Kerrdown and used exclusively by the Ocean Lotus group. Kerrdown is a downloader that installs additional spyware from a server on the victim’s system and opens a decoy document. In this case, it downloaded Cobalt Strike, a commercial spyware toolkit developed by the American company Strategy Cyber and routinely used to lawfully audit the security of organizations through simulated attacks. It allows an attacker full access to the compromised system including executing scripts, taking screenshots or logging keystrokes. Unlicensed versions of Cobalt Strikes have been increasingly used by attack groups, including Ocean Lotus, over the past three years.Example of Windows Spyware Infection Chain from one of the emails received The Mac OS Spyware was a variant of a malware family for Mac OS developed and used exclusively by Ocean Lotus, analysed by Trend Micro in April 2018 and November 2020. It allows the perpetrator to access system information, download, upload or execute files and execute commands.

Mary Robinson and the case of the Arab Princess

February 16, 2021

There’s a saying in show business that you can spend 20 years becoming an overnight star. In politics, the same is true in reverse, as the sad case of Mary Robinson and Princess Latifa of Dubai shows. Mary Robinson as former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a widely-honored human rights defender [with 9 awards to her name, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4E44A265-DF1A-45E2-8C6A-3294577EA211] was a much admired personality. For that reason I was reluctant to highlight her role in the sad case back in December 2018, although many human rights NGOs (including AI and HRW) did criticise her.

The former UN human rights Commissioner has been criticised for describing the daughter of Dubai’s ruler as “troubled” after she was reportedly forcibly returned to the kingdom after fleeing months earlier. Mary Robinson met with Sheikha Latifa on 15 December and photos released showed the two women smiling together in what appears to be a home. Ms Robinson, the former president of Ireland, told BBC’s Radio 4 the princess was a “vulnerable” woman with a “serious medical situation” for which she was receiving psychiatric care.

Immediately the highly publicised and bizarre meeting in December was panned by rights groups for being stage-managed by the Emirati ruling family (Ms Robinson is a personal friend of Sheikha Haya, a wife of the Dubai ruler.) Defending her comments, Ms Robinson released a statement saying: “I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”

Toby Cadman, a barrister instructed by Detained in Dubai to act on behalf of the princess, told Review: “I am extremely disappointed that she would lend herself to what has been interpreted as a whitewash. We have requested an independent assessment of [Princess Latifa’s] state of mind and her physical well-being. It’s up to the United Nations to be satisfied that she is not being detained against her will.” Then in January 2019 Mrs Robinson stated that she contacted Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights. On 18/02/2019 Former Irish president Mary Robinson said she has no regrets over getting involved in the case of a Dubai princess who had tried to flee the UAE.

Exactly one year on from Latifa’s dramatic capture at sea, rights groups told The Independent they were deeply concerned about her welfare and still had no knowledge of what happened to her between her March 2018 capture and December when she reappeared in Dubai. Pleas to the UAE for an independent delegation to be granted access to the royal to assess her, have gone unanswered. “Human Rights Watch is still calling for her to be able to travel to a third country where we and other monitors can be assured she is able to speak freely and independently without fear of retaliation,” Hiba Zayadin of HRW told The Independent.Ms Robinson is not equipped to make an evaluation of Latifa, who was in the presence of people who allegedly forcibly disappeared her,” she added.

Amnesty International put out a similar call. “There has been no reply from the UAE, which has never responded to anything regarding domestic human-rights abuses that Amnesty International has attempted to raise with them,” said Amnesty’s Devin Kenney.

Now, 16 February 2021, after new footage was shared by BBC Panorama, in which the 35-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai has confirmed that commandos drugged her as she tried to flee by boat and flew her back to detention and accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of holding her “hostage”, Mrs Robinson has stated that she feels “horribly tricked” by the family of Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, and has joined in calls for immediate international action in order to establish Princess Latifa’s current condition and whereabouts

Fortunately some of the worst rumours turn out not to be true e.g.that  Sheikha Latifa was killed during early 2019 through extreme physical torture by the female maids inside the palace.[https://www.weeklyblitz.net/news/fraud-racket-plays-new-trick-centering-a-murdered-princess/].

Robinson is rightly revered for her life’s work, and that work is not invalidated by her unacceptable interference in the case of Princess Latifa. But her reputation has been tarnished by this.

And on 25 February followed this https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/25/princess-latifa-letter-uk-police-investigate-sister-shamsa-cambridge-abduction

For those interested in the many articles about his case:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/dubai-paid-for-robinson-to-visit-runaway-princess-c3gnrv8cj
https://www.irishcentral.com/news/politics/former-irish-president-defends-decision-to-meet-princess-allegedly-detained-against-will
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/the-mysterious-story-of-princess-latifa-her-reported-escape-from-dubai-and-her-meeting-with-mary-robinson-37679044.html
https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/mary-robinson-visit-to-dubai-a-private-family-matter-says-princess-haya-895790.html
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/robinson-writes-to-un-human-rights-chief-wp2z8vc9j
http://www.midwestradio.ie/index.php/news/28421-mary-robinson-s-address-to-ireland-s-diplomats-today-will-take-place-behind-closed-doors
https://www.wsj.com/articles/mrs-robinson-and-the-missing-princess-11547078838
https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/mary-robinson-dubai-princess-latifa-escape-uae-sheikh-mohammed-haya-a8717081.html
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6586191/UAE-swaps-British-arms-consultant-centre-bribery-scandal-Dubai-princess.html was there a swap? https://scroll.in/latest/909621/christian-michels-family-to-move-un-after-claims-that-he-was-extradited-in-swap-for-dubai-princess
https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mary-robinson-cancels-appearance-dubai-festival-over-jailed-uae-activist-840835552
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/uae-injustice-intolerance-repression
https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/former-president-mary-robinson-has-no-regrets-over-dubai-princess-visit-905272.html
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/letter-robinson-sent-to-un-about-princess-latifa-visit-is-not-for-public-distribution-37833996.html
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6925547/Lisa-Bloom-calls-Dubai-rulers-HORSE-banned-Kentucky-derby-protest.html
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190629-reports-dubai-princess-left-crown-prince-husband-fled-uae/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/18/uae-release-latifa-shamsa-women-rights

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/28/the-tourists-who-flock-to-dubai-seem-happy-to-overlook-a-few-missing-princesses

Sri Lanka: damning UN report deserves follow up

January 28, 2021

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) must take urgent steps to address the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said Amnesty International, on 27 January 2021 following the release of a damning UN report on the country’s efforts to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the civil conflict.

Almost twelve years on from the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the report, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that the country’s persistent failure to address historic crimes is giving way to ‘clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations.’ [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/sri-lanka-lawyers-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists-arrested-threatened-intimidated/]

In February 2020, the Sri Lankan government announced that it would no longer cooperate with the UNHRCs landmark resolution 30/1, which promotes reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in the country, and would instead pursue its own reconciliation and accountability process. This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International

This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country. The seriousness of these findings highlights the urgent need for the UN Human Rights Council to step up its efforts in Sri Lanka,” said David Griffiths.

“For more than a decade, domestic processes have manifestly failed thousands of victims and their families. Given the government’s decision to walk away from resolution 30/1, and regression on the limited progress that had been made, the Human Rights Council must send a clear message that accountability will be pursued with or without the cooperation of the government.”

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to implement the report’s key recommendations to put in place more stringent oversight on Sri Lanka, including more robust monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions. 

UN member states should learn from past experience, and this time heed the early warning indicators identified by the UN’s top human rights official.” said David Griffiths

The OHCHR report, published on 27 January 2021, is available to download here:.  The Human Rights Council will meet for its 46th session from 22 February to 23 March, during which Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the UK – the current core group of states leading on Sri Lanka – are expected to present a resolution in follow-up to the OHCHR report.

Amnesty International published an assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, setting out clear expectations for HRC action, earlier this month. The High Commissioner’s report supports the call for more robust monitoring and reporting on the situation, as well as the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/01/sri-lanka-damning-un-report-stresses-need-for-urgent-international-action-on-accountability/

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

January 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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