Posts Tagged ‘Antony Blinken’

Next logical step: US Rescinds ICC Sanctions

April 4, 2021

ICC permanent premises
Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera/Human Rights Watch

US President Joe Biden’s cancellation of punitive sanctions targeting the International Criminal Court (ICC) removes a serious obstacle to the court’s providing justice to the victims of the world’s worst crimes, Human Rights Watch said on 2 April 2, 2021. Biden revoked a June 2020 order by then-President Donald Trump authorizing asset freezes and entry bans to thwart the ICC’s work. This was expected after an appeal by many NGOs, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/19/large-group-of-ngos-call-on-biden-administration-to-repeal-icc-sanctions/

In announcing the repeal of the executive order, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “[t]hese decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective.” The State Department also lifted existing visa restrictions.

“The Trump administration’s perversely punitive sanctions against the ICC showed stark contempt for the victims of grave international crimes and the prosecutors who seek to hold those responsible to account,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “In removing this unprecedented threat to the global rule of law, President Biden has begun the long process of restoring US credibility on international justice through the ICC.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/02/us-rescinds-icc-sanctions

Annual State Department report 2020: complete change of tone

March 31, 2021

On Tuesday, March 30, 2021, the 2020 edition of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was released by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The Secretary of State is required by law to submit an annual report to the U.S. Congress on “the status of internationally recognized human rights” in all countries that are members of the United Nations. This annual report, called the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices but commonly known as the Human Rights Report (HRR), provides information that is used by Congress, the Executive Branch, and courts in making policies and/or decisions; thus accurate information on human rights conditions is critical. The HRR also informs the work at home and abroad of civil society, human rights defenders, lawmakers, scholars, immigration judges and asylum officers, multilateral institutions, and other governments.

The country reports are prepared by U.S. diplomatic missions around the world, which collect, analyze, and synthesize information from a variety of sources, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the media. The reports do not attempt to catalogue every human rights-related incident, nor are they an effort by the U.S. government to judge others. Instead, they claim to be factual in nature and focus on a one-year period, but they may include illustrative cases from previous reporting years.

Conor Finnegan for ABC News on 30 March 2021 compared the report with those of the Trump administration:

Blinken launched the department’s 45th annual human rights report Tuesday which The report covers 2020 and found a further deterioration for human rights in many countries, particularly as governments used the coronavirus pandemic to curb their citizens’ rights.

The first report under the Biden administration also included changes that eliminated the conservative take of the Trump years, like ending former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “hierarchy” of rights and re-introducing a section on women’s reproductive rights that will be published later this year.

When human rights defenders “come under attack, they often look to the United States to speak up on their behalf. Too often in recent years, these defenders heard only silence from us,” Blinken said. “We are back for those brave advocates as well. We will not be silent.

In particular, Blinken “decisively” repudiated Pompeo’s “Unalienable Rights Commission,” a panel of academics that said in a report last July that freedom of religion and right to property were the most important human rights. While Pompeo touted the report and said it would lay a foundation for future administrations, critics accused it of minimizing minority rights. Blinken essentially jettisoned the report, saying Tuesday, “There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others. Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]

Human rights are increasingly under threat around the world, Blinken said, saying the trend lines “are in the wrong direction.”

In particular, he highlighted what he called the Chinese government’s genocide of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province, attacks on civil society and political opposition in Russia, Uganda and Venezuela and on pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, war crimes in Yemen, atrocities “credibly reported” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and abuses by the Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

While the report doesn’t touch on Myanmar’s coup and the military’s bloody crackdown on protests, because they happened in 2021, Blinken took time to again condemn the events. But after weeks of steadily increasing U.S. sanctions that have not deterred the ruling junta, he had no specific answer on what else the U.S. could do to change the darkening trajectory there.

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the "2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" at the State Department in Washington on March 30, 2021.
Mandel Ngan/Pool/ReutersMandel Ngan/Pool/ReutersU.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the “2020 Country…

Chinese officials and state-run outlets have increasingly raised U.S. race relations to say American officials are in no position to criticize Beijing — comparing Uighur slave labor in Xinjiang to Black slaves in the U.S. South.

We know we have work to do at home. That includes addressing profound inequities, including systemic racism. We don’t pretend these problems don’t exist. … We deal with them in the daylight with full transparency, and in fact, that’s exactly what separates our democracy and autocracies,” he said, adding that open reckoning gives the U.S. “greater legitimacy” to address other countries’ records, too.

The Biden administration will use all tools available to impose consequences on human rights abusers and encourage better behavior, Blinken said, including the new Khashoggi policy that imposes visa restrictions on officials that target or harass their countries’ dissidents.

Standing up for human rights everywhere is in America’s interests, and the Biden-Harris administration will stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners,” he said.

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/blinken-swipes-trump-administration-unveiling-human-rights-report/story?id=76770342

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

State Department hands out 21 International Women of Courage Awards 2021

March 9, 2021

At a virtual ceremony on 8 March 2021 (international women’s day) US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hosted First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. It was live streamed on www.state.gov. For more on this award and its laureates of previous years, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/A386E593-5BB7-12E8-0528-AAF11BE46695

This year includes an honorary award for seven women leaders and activists from Afghanistan who were assassinated for their dedication to improving the lives of Afghans:

Fatema Natasha Khalil, an official with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission who was killed, along with her driver, in June 2020 by an IED in Kabul, on her way to her office.

General Sharmila Frough, the head of the Gender Unit in the National Directorate of Security (NDS) was one of the longest-serving female NDS officers, having served as chief of the anti-kidnapping division and working undercover combating criminal networks. General Frough was assassinated in an IED explosion targeting her vehicle in March 2020 in Kabul.

Maryam Noorzad, a midwife who served remote locations in Wardak and Bamyan provinces before working for Médecins Sans Frontières Kabul PD13 hospital. On May 12, 2020, three gunmen attacked the maternity ward of the hospital, but Maryam refused to leave her patient, who was in labor. Maryam, her patient, and the newborn baby were killed in the delivery suite.

Fatima Rajabi, a 23-year-old police officer originally from Ghazni province and a member of the anti-narcotics division. She was traveling to her home village in Jaghori district in a civilian minibus in July 2020 when the Taliban stopped the vehicle and took her captive. Two weeks later, the Taliban killed her and sent her remains, which had gunshot wounds and signs of torture, to her family.

Freshta, daughter of Amir Mohamed, a 35-year-old prison guard with the Office of Prison Administration. She was walking from her residence in Kandahar City to a taxi on her way to work when she was murdered by an unknown gunman on October 25, 2020.

Malalai Maiwand, a reporter at Enikas Radio and TV, was shot and killed, along with her driver, by a gunman on December 10, 2020, in an attack on her vehicle in Jalalabad. Malalai was not the first in her family to be targeted. Five years earlier, her mother, an activist, was also killed by unknown gunmen.

Freshta Kohistani, a 29-year-old women’s rights and democracy activist, was assassinated by unknown gunmen near her home in Kapsia province on December 24, 2020. Kohistani regularly organized events advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan and used social media as a platform for her messaging.

The other 2021 awardees are:

Belarus – Maria Kalesnikava

Ahead of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, Belarusian women emerged as a dominant political force and driver of societal change in Belarus due in no small part to Maria Kalesnikava. After authorities jailed or exiled the three most popular male opposition candidates, Maria and her partners mounted a historic and sustained challenge to the 26-year rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Maria continues to be the face of the opposition inside Belarus, courageously facing imprisonment in the aftermath of the disputed election. Despite her detention, Maria continues to keep the democratic movement alive inside Belarus and serves as a source of inspiration for all those seeking to win freedom for themselves and their countries.

Burma – Phyoe Phyoe Aung

An emerging leader who is likely to play a role in shaping the country in the coming years, Phyoe Phyoe Aung is the co-founder of the Wings Institute for Reconciliation, an organization that facilitates exchanges between youth of different ethnic and religious groups. Her work promotes peacebuilding and reconciliation and enables a vital dialogue on federalism and transitional justice. She organized a 2015 protest march from Mandalay to Yangon that was violently suppressed by the Myanmar Police Force as it neared Yangon, and she and her husband were arrested and imprisoned. Phyoe Phyoe was released in April 2016 after 13 months as part of a broad pardon of political prisoners facing court trials. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/11/finalists-runners-up-front-line-defenders-award-human-rights-defenders-2016-announcement/#more-7981

Cameroon – Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe

Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, courage, and perseverance through adversity in promoting human rights in Cameroon and Central Africa. She has been an outspoken voice among civil society actors, often sacrificing her personal safety, in the push for a peaceful solution to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. She has called for an end to human rights abuses committed by separatists and security forces in the Northwest and Southwest regions and by security forces in the Far North. Maximilienne has also spoken out against the increased constraints placed on civil society, journalists, and political opposition by the Government of Cameroon. Her commitment to promoting human rights has been unwavering despite the intimidation, threats, and assault she has endured.

China – Wang Yu

Wang Yu was one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers until her arrest and imprisonment following China’s nationwide persecution of lawyers and rights advocates during the “709 crackdown.” She had taken on multiple politically sensitive cases, representing activists, scholars, Falun Gong practitioners, farmers, and petitioners in cases involving a wide array of issues, including women’s and children’s rights, and the rights to religion, freedom of expression, assembly, and association. She is now under an exit ban and has been harassed, threatened, searched, and physically assaulted by police since she began to take on rights abuse cases in 2011. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/02/another-chinese-human-rights-lawyer-wang-yu-spontaneous-video-confession/]

Colombia – Mayerlis Angarita

Mayerlis Angarita has courageously advanced peace and human rights in Colombia, often at great personal risk. Her work has improved the security, livelihoods, and resilience of countless women leaders, conflict victims, and her community. Finding healing in storytelling after her own mother was forcibly disappeared during Colombia’s conflict, she founded the civil society organization “Narrate to Live,” which now serves over 800 women victims of conflict. Additionally, after the most recent attempt on her life, she engaged the highest levels of the Colombian government to advance a comprehensive action plan to prevent violence against women leaders in her community. Her constructive engagement across 27 government entities, civil society, and the international community has been key to the plan’s success and propelled it to become a model for human rights defender protection throughout Colombia.

Democratic Republic of the Congo – Julienne Lusenge

Since 1978, Julienne Lusenge has been the leading female activist in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) fighting against gender-based violence (GBV) and the promotion of the rights of women and girls in conflict situations. In 2000, she created Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integral Development, the DRC’s foremost organization defending the rights of women and girls against impunity for GBV. Julienne’s vocal testimony has contributed to the adoption of international agreements such as UN 1820, which recognizes sexual violence as a weapon of war. Julienne has touched the lives of millions of women across the DRC, harnessing the attention of the international community to acknowledge and act on the extent of sexual violence shattering DRC’s communities.

Guatemala – Judge Erika Aifan

Judge Erika Lorena Aifan is a trial judge working in the High-Risk Criminal Court with responsibility for high-impact crimes. She has presided over high-profile corruption and war atrocity cases, leading to defamation and threats of violence against her. Despite these challenges, Judge Aifan persisted as a Guatemalan judge independent of political influence. She has demonstrated determination and fortitude in upholding the rule of law in Guatemala. Despite the strong opposition she has faced throughout her tenure, Judge Aifan has become an icon in Guatemala in the fight against corruption, efforts to increase transparency, and actions to improve independence in the justice sector.

Iran – Shohreh Bayat

When Shohreh Bayat boarded her flight on her way to the 2020 Women’s Chess World Championship, she had no idea she might be seeing her native Iran for the last time. Shohreh, the first female Category A international chess arbiter in Asia, was photographed at the Championship without her hijab visible, which is compulsory in Iran. Within 24 hours, the Iranian Chess Federation – which Shohreh had previously led – refused to guarantee Shohreh’s safety if she returned to Iran without first apologizing. Fearing for her safety and unwilling to apologize for the incident, Shohreh made the heart-wrenching decision to seek refuge in the UK, leaving her husband – who lacked a UK visa – in Iran. In that moment, Shohreh chose to be a champion for women’s rights rather than be cowed by the Iranian government’s threats.

Nepal – Muskan Khatun

Muskan Khatun has been instrumental in bringing about new legislation criminalizing acid attacks and imposing strong penalties against perpetrators in Nepal. When Muskan was 15, she was critically injured in an acid attack after she rejected a boy’s romantic propositions. With the help of a social worker, Muskan lobbied for stronger legal action against the perpetrators of acid attacks under duress of threats and the strong social stigma associated with acid attack victims. She went before a parliamentary committee, wrote a letter to Nepal’s Prime Minister, and eventually met with him in person, to request a stronger law. Within a year of her attack, Nepal’s President issued an ordinance with harsh penalties for acid attacks and regulations on the sale of acids, a testament to Muskan’s significant advocacy.

Somalia – Zahra Mohamed Ahmad

For more than 20 years, Zahra Mohamed Ahmad has been at the forefront of defending human rights in Somalia, especially for its most vulnerable groups. As an accomplished lawyer, Zahra began providing legal aid, for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors, women on remand status, and women in pre-trial detention. Zahra is the founder of and legal advisor for the Somali Women Development Center, an organization that reports on human rights violations and cases of abuse; supports survivors through legal assistance; established Somalia’s first free hotline service to combat SGBV; and operates one-stop centers for SGBV survivors, mobile legal clinics, family care centers, safe spaces for women and girls, and community child protection centers for internally displaced children.

Spain – Sister Alicia Vacas Moro

A registered nurse, Sister Alicia Vacas Moro ran a medical clinic in Egypt for eight years, helping 150 low income patients a day treat their maladies. She then moved to the biblical town of Bethany to help an impoverished Bedouin community, especially women and children. She set up training programs for women that provided them with previously unavailable economic opportunities, and established kindergartens in Bedouin camps, providing an educational foundation for children. In an environment shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sister Alicia also assisted traumatized refugees and asylum seekers, a job she continues to perform on a larger scale in her current role as the regional coordinator for the Comboni Sisters in the Middle East. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck northern Italy, she flew to Italy to assist and treat fellow sister nuns, undeterred by extreme danger to herself.

Sri Lanka – Ranitha Gnanarajah

Ranitha Gnanarajah, a lawyer, continues to fight for and defend the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable communities in the country, despite threats and challenges by the state. Ranitha has dedicated her career to accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearances and prisoners detained often for years without charge under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act by providing free legal aid and related services. As an individual personally affected by the conflict and based on her extensive experience working with victims and their families, Ranitha has demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication to justice and accountability, especially for Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations.

Turkey – Canan Gullu

Canan Gullu has been an activist and organizer for 31 years and is the president of the Turkish Federation of Women’s Associations, an umbrella organization of women’s NGOs; she leads186 branches and 52,500 members. Canan has been a steadfast champion of gender equality, working to promote women’s participation in governance, labor force, and education. In 2007, the Turkish Federation of Women Associations established the first emergency hotline for victims of violence in Turkey, which continues its operations. Over the past two years, Canan launched an education and advocacy campaign focused on failures in the Turkish government’s implementation since 2012 of the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Canan’s activism has been critical to educating the public about the convention and reinforcing the need to combat gender-based violence, which quelled some politicians’ calls for Turkey’s withdrawal.

Venezuela – Ana Rosario Contreras

As president of the Caracas Nurses’ Association, Ana Rosario Contreras has been on the front lines in the fight for the rights of healthcare professionals, patients, and labor unions. Contreras’ fierce activism has generated widespread support from the Venezuelan people and is at the center of the civil-political movement pushing for democratic change. In a climate where the government routinely jails, tortures, harasses, threatens, or restricts the movement of its opponents, Contreras defends citizens’ rights at great personal risk. She has advocated for labor rights and has worked tirelessly to ensure that healthcare workers could receive a subsidy through Interim President Juan Guido’s Health Heroes program..