Posts Tagged ‘asylum seekers’

Urgently seeking professors to stop the Anti-Soros bill in Hungary

May 9, 2018

On 9 May 2018, Hungary’s (remaining) civil society issued the Professors Solidarity Call below, signed by 77 professor until now and asking for more signatories. It concerns the so-called “Stop Soros” bill, to be voted by the Hungarian parliament very soon, which will have a devastating impact on both Hungarian civil society and the asylum seekers and refugees that are already in a dire state. That Victor Orban is behind an ‘anti-Soros bill’ is the more remarkable as he himself was the beneficiary of a Soros scholarship [in 1988 a dissident Hungarian university graduate wrote a letter to George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist, asking for help obtaining a scholarship to Oxford University. In the letter, which has recently resurfaced, the young Viktor Orban said he wanted to study the “rebirth of civil society”. He got the scholarship.– the Economist 7 April 2018].

(see also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/)

PROFESSORS’ SOLIDARITY DECLARATION AND CALL FOR ACTION IN DEFENCE OF THE HUNGARIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE AND THE HUNGARIAN CIVIL SOCIETY

We, 77 university professors and academics from 28 countries around the world, express our solidarity with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the independent Hungarian civil society, which currently faces an imminent existential threat.

The so-called “Stop Soros” bill, to be voted by the Hungarian Parliament in mid-May 2018, will have a devastating impact on both Hungarian civil society and those vulnerable human beings that cannot count on anyone else’s support. The new legislation will allow the government to simply ban the activities of organizations assisting refugees and migrants in a fast and arbitrary process. Activities such as legal aid to asylum-seekers, reporting to the UN or the EU, holding university lectures about refugee law or recruiting volunteers will be rendered illegal, if these are performed by civil society actors who dare to criticise government practices. Practices, which are equally condemned by the EU and the international community.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) is an outstanding human rights organization, well-known and respected for its professionalism around the world, not only by civil society, but by academia, state authorities and the judiciary as well. The HHC has massively contributed to the promotion of refugee law education and legal clinics on various continents. We all personally know and highly respect their work. States should be proud of such NGOs, instead of aiming to silence them.

Strong and independent civil society organisations are as indispensable for democracy and the rule of law as strong and independent universities. If NGOs such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are threatened, democracy is threatened. If a prestigious organization, winner of various international human rights awards, can simply be banned from providing legal aid to refugees, if a globally reputed voice of human rights can be silenced with an administrative measure in an EU member state, then further dramatic anti-democracy measures are likely to follow. There is a real risk that the Hungarian example will be increasingly copied elsewhere, and soon it may be too late to stop the domino effect.

We call on our governments to express, without delay, their vivid discontent with Hungary’s legislation aiming at annihilating independent civil society. We call on universities around the world to do the same and actively demonstrate their solidarity with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the entire threatened Hungarian civil sector. We call on the European Union to prove to the world its credibility as a guardian and global promoter of fundamental rights, and immediately take action to prevent this flagrant human rights violation from happening on its own territory.

Signatures (in alphabetical order) at the end of the document: https://www.helsinki.hu/wp-content/uploads/Professors-solidarity-call-HHC-HU-NGOs-2018.pdf

https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21739968-election-april-8th-hungarys-prime-minister-looks-unbeatable-viktor-orban-set

Ahmed H. personifies the real danger of populist anti-terror measures!!

March 19, 2018

During an electoral campaign dominated by anti-migrant rhetoric, a Hungarian court has upheld a shocking verdict of terrorism against a Syrian citizen (Ahmed H.) and the symbolism is lost on no one [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/28/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-in-last-council-statement-does-not-mince-words/]. On 19 March 2018, Maxim Edwards (a journalist writing on Central and Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet space – currently assistant editor at OCCRP in Sarajevo) published a fascinating insight into how ill-defined terrorism laws and anti-immigrant hype (in Hungary in this case) can lead to upholding a verdict of terrorism against a Syrian refugee.

Ahmed H. in the courtroom during the second-instance trial. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International / Anna Viktória Pál.

For Hungary to achieve anything in the next four years, we must not let in a single migrant” began Viktor Orbán in a speech earlier this month. ..

For Budapest, migration means terrorism — a commonsensical link reinforced daily by pro-government media and initiatives such as the state’s Public Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism. Leaflets for the May 2015 referendum on acceptance of refugees featured maps of “no go areas” across western Europe and shocking statistics about “murder by migrant.”

And now, the government has its very own case study. Last Wednesday, a Hungarian court upheld a verdict against a Syrian citizen accused of a terrorist act carried out at the Serbian border in 2015. After already spending two and a half years behind bars, Ahmed H. has been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and a ten year ban on entering Hungary.

 .

……

This was due to the elastic definition of terrorist acts in the Hungarian criminal code. Article 314A defines terrorism as, among other things, “coercing a government agency, state, or international body to do or not to do something”. Consequently, Ahmed’s alleged demand by megaphone that the Hungarian border police open the gates was enough to convict him of an act of terrorism.

(Ahmed was also charged with illegal entry into Hungary as part of a mass riot, an administrative violation which carries a minimum sentence of five years. He did not contest the charge that he threw objects at the police, which alone cannot constitute a terrorist threat even in the most elastic of interpretations.)

….
In a final twist to this story, Ahmed’s other relatives made it to an EU country, where they now live in safety. Ahmed H. himself, probably one of the only people in the crowd at Röszke who could legally enter Hungary, had succeeded in his errand — at the cost of over ten years of his life.

Please read the full story that contains lots of interesting detailshttp://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/03/19/trials-ahmed-h/

250 NGOs address letter to Hungarian parliament regarding restriction on the work of human rights defenders

February 20, 2018

Bulgaria: 200 European Human Rights Organizations Protest in Hungary

More than 250 (!) human rights organizations protested today against the new laws proposed by the Hungarian Parliament aimed at limiting the work of NGOs helping refugees in the country. “We express our solidarity with civil society and all human rights defenders in Hungary – the brave people who are fighting for a more honest society,” reads part of the open letter  published by Amnesty International [the list can be consulted via the link below]. Today, parliament is going to discuss legislative changes that will impose new restrictions on non-governmental organizations in the country. It is expected that many of them will even be banned. According to the bills published last week on Parliament’s website, these organizations will be required to pay a 25% tax on all their foreign funding, and their workers will be banned from accessing refugee centers near the country’s borders.

The affected NGOs will also have to register with the Ministry of the Interior, which in turn will have the right to impose fines or deny them the right to work legally in Hungary. But to approve the changes, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government needs a two-thirds majority, which is not currently in parliament.

On 15 February 2018 the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe had already addressed the issue in a tough statement :

I am seriously concerned at the legislative package recently announced by the Hungarian government under the name “Stop Soros”. If adopted by Parliament, it will introduce further arbitrary restrictions to the indispensable work of human rights NGOs and defenders in Hungary. In a letter I sent to the Hungarian Parliament in May 2017, I set out my concerns regarding the then draft law on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad, which stigmatised a large number of organisations pursuing lawful activities in the field of human rights and introduced far-reaching restrictions on freedom of association in contravention of international human rights standards. I regret that instead of addressing those pressing human rights concerns, the Hungarian government appears now intent on intensifying stigmatisation and restrictions against NGOs working specifically on migration-related issues.

While I have not yet seen the final text of the proposed legislative package – changes to an earlier version I had examined were announced only the day before yesterday to make it “significantly stricter” – I am alarmed that it will aggravate the situation of freedom of association in Hungary even further. I understand that the changes made this week introduce mandatory licences for NGOs with a goal “to ensure that it is only possible to organise, support or finance migration in Hungary while in possession of a licence, which would be issued by the Minister of Interior following an assessment of the related national security aspects”. NGOs failing to abide by this requirement could be subject to sanctions, including a fine and ultimately dissolution. In addition, any such NGO that receives any amount of funding from abroad would be required to pay a 25% tax on such foreign funding.

The package also foresees the creation of “immigration restraining orders” that can be used to prevent any person deemed to “support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national” from accessing an 8-km zone from external borders – or even the entire Hungarian territory for non-nationals. Considering the context in which the proposed measures were conceived, there is an obvious risk that arbitrary restrictions may be applied on the freedom of movement of persons involved in refugee assistance at the border.

These proposed measures raise particular concerns because of the likelihood that they will be applied to organisations and individuals who carry out activities in the field of protecting the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees that should be fully legitimate in a democratic society. Unfortunately recent public declarations of the Hungarian government referring to organisations which may come under the effect of the package only reinforce these concerns. In particular, the proposed package (which the government itself has named “Stop Soros”) follows a series of legal measures and stigmatising government rhetoric targeting entities funded or otherwise linked to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, which carry out professional and important work in Hungary, including in the field of human rights.

Finally, I am alarmed at the escalating rhetoric used by the Hungarian government to portray NGOs and immigrants as a threat to national security. This discourse is stirring up among the population fears and intolerance towards foreigners and mistrust towards civil society organisations.

The proposed package of laws introduces administrative and financial burdens that constitute restrictions on freedom of association which cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society and are therefore at variance with international human rights standards. The package as a whole is stigmatising and is bound to have a chilling effect on NGOs but also their donors and individuals who work for or with them. I call once more on Hungary to refrain from penalising, stigmatising or putting at any disadvantage whatsoever NGOs, including those working in the field of migration, and to restore an enabling environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders.

The next day the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labeled the law an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association. It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing…

See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/02/in-solidarity-with-civil-society-in-hungary/

http://www.novinite.com/articles/188074/200+European+Human+Rights+Organizations+Protest+in+Hungary

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-concerned-about-proposed-additional-restrictions-to-the-work-of-ngos-in-hungary

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-law-un/hungary-anti-immigration-bill-an-assault-on-human-rights-u-n-idUSKCN1G0102

 

26 June: Torture issues in Hong Kong and Thailand

June 26, 2017

This week, to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, celebrated annually on 26 June, Just Asia has a special report on Hong Kong’s plan [not sure but still…] to withdraw from the UN Convention against Torture.  The reason for such a withdrawal is a misguided attempt to address the rise in torture protection claimants in Hong Kong and block “fake” refugees, as well as solve the issue of illegal workers. In the video report Just Asia speaks to three prominent persons in the city to discuss their views. Puja Kapai is the Director of Hong Kong University’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law; Mark Daly is a human rights lawyer with Daly and Associates; as is Patricia Ann Ho. The three discuss how such a withdrawal will impact Hong Kong’s international standing, Hong Kong’s human rights protections, and whether it will truly make a difference to the city’s numerous torture claimants. [for other Just Asia posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/just-asia/]

In the same context of anti-torture work in Asia, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists issued today a statement calling on Thailand to finally follow through on commitments to prevent torture and ill-treatment. They regret repeated delays to the finalisation and passage of Thailand’s Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act……Similarly, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists urge Thailand to move ahead with its commitment to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which obligates authorities to establish a National Preventive Mechanism.. as well as to allow such visits by an international expert body. Such independent scrutiny is critical to prevent torture and other ill-treatment, including through implementing their detailed recommendations based on visits. Authorities should also act immediately on the commitment made at Thailand’s Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2016, to inspect places of detention in line with the revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules….

Acts of torture and other ill-treatment in Thailand have rarely been investigated in a prompt, impartial, independent and efficient manner, as required by the Convention against Torture, and perpetrators of such acts have seldom been held to account. Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists urge authorities to ensure that such investigations are undertaken into all credible reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The scope, methods and findings of such investigations should be made public. Where sufficient, admissible evidence is gathered, perpetrators should be prosecuted in fair trials in civilian courts.

Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists also notes with concern the criminal prosecution or threats of prosecution—often under criminal defamation provisions—of victims of torture, their family members, and human rights defenders who have raised allegations of torture, including with a view to seeking redress. The organizations urge that such threats, investigations, charges, prosecution or other proceedings against these persons be are withdrawn and charges dropped, and that authorities take steps to create an enabling environment for freedom of expression in which people are able to seek redress and raise concerns about torture publicly without fear of reprisal or recrimination….

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/thailand/]

http://reliefweb.int/report/thailand/thailand-amnesty-international-and-international-commission-jurists-call-thailand

 

Azerbaijani human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus allowed to leave for the Netherlands

April 19, 2016

Two of Azerbaijan‘s most prominent human rights defenders have arrived in the Netherlands after the authorities in Baku suddenly granted them permission to leave.

Leyla and Arif Yunus in happier times
Leyla and Arif Yunus 
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reported on 19 April 2016 that Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif, were greeted by their daughter, Dinara Yunus, who lives in the Netherlands, upon landing at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on April 19, according to Dutch media reports. Welcoming the two, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said Leyla and Arif Yunus, who are seeking asylum in the Netherlands, “had put their own safety and happiness at stake in the struggle for democracy and human rights“.

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UN Rapporteur urges Nauru to revoke measures that affect human rights defenders and asylum seekers

May 25, 2015

Credit: OHCHR
Where possible I like to extend coverage to countries that normally do not figure highly in the news. This press statement of 22 May 2015 from the UN Human Rights Office provides the occasion to zoom in on the Pacific island of Nauru.

Voicing concern over recent amendments to the Criminal Code in Nauru which “unduly restrict” freedom of expression, a United Nations expert on the issue today urged the Government to revoke such measures to fulfil its human rights obligations. “These new laws could be used to muzzle dissenting opinions and deter human rights defenders, academics, journalists, students, politicians and civil society members”, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, warned.

Ambiguous and imposing harsh penalties, the amended Criminal Code also includes up to seven years in prison for a wide range of legitimate expression, according to Mr. Kaye. Nauru has also curtailed the freedom of press. It imposed a prohibitive $6,500 fee for a single entry visa for foreign journalists in 2014.

Nauru should allow free space for expression without fear of criminal prosecution,” he said, adding that “it should lift all restrictions to access internet and social media, and facilitate access to the media in the country.” Since April, the authorities have blocked access to social media and internet to prevent pornography and “cyberbullying” and to protect the national culture. These restrictions, however, are “designed to prevent asylum seekers and refugees in the country from sharing information on their situation,” stressed the independent expert.

United Nations News Centre – UN rights expert urges Nauru to revoke measures that could ‘muzzle’ dissent.

Russian human rights defenders update: Tatiana Kotlyar and Elena Ryabinina

May 12, 2014

On 30 April 2014, an investigative officer in Russia ordered the psychiatric assessment of human rights defender Ms Tatiana Kotlyar in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation into the allegations that she falsely allowed dozens of migrants to illegally register her own apartment as their place of residence. [Tatiana Kotlyar is the deputy of Obninsk city council and is the chair of the Kaluga movement “For Human Rights”, which specialises in the protection of minority rights, including the rights of Roma and migrants. Since 2011, Tatiana Kotlyar has been allowing dozens of migrants to register her apartment as their place of residence for free. The Investigative Officer Zimin ordered the psychiatric examination, even though Tatiana Kotlyar has no history of psychiatric difficulties and has never received psychiatric treatment. Front Line believes that the decision may be linked to the fact that the human rights defender did not require payment for providing residence registration for more than a hundred people.]  For actions see: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/25865/action

In the meantime Front Line Defenders informs us of the death of Elena Ryabinina, a much admired Russian human rights defender, on 4 May 2014 in Moscow, aged 59. Since 2002, Ryabinina had been fighting for the rights of refugees seeking asylum from Central Asian countries. She was renowned for the compassion, enthusiasm, and optimism with which she worked to achieve better rights for refugees and asylum seekers. She must have saved dozens of Uzbeks and Tajiks who sought asylum. Although she did not have formal legal training, Ryabinina developed an impressive knowledge of asylum laws, and consulted and defended people seeking political and religious asylum. She worked with the Civic Assistance Committee and the Memorial Human Rights Center and headed the Right to Asylum program at the Institute for Human Rights.


Saudi Arabia criticises Norway over human rights record: that is news..

April 30, 2014

Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed. The gulf state and other islamic countries called for all criticism of religions and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal  in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country. Russia also called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status. All this happened when Norway submitted itself to scrutiny during the current session of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review.

The criticism may sound incongruent for those who know how often Russia and Saudi Arabia figure in reports from human rights defenders, including ib this blog, but – as the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Børge Brende, in Geneva told Norway’s NTB newswire prior to the hearing –  “… that is the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia criticises Norway over human rights record – News – The Independent.

Memorandum for the African Union-European Union Dialogue on Human Rights

November 20, 2013

On 19 November Human Rights Watch published a lengthy Memorandum on priorities it wants the African Union & the European Union to address in their upcoming Dialogue on Human Rights. In view of its length I give only

HRW_logo

the headings and a reference to the full document, except of course for the section specifically dealing with Human Rights Defenders.

New UNHCR report “Beyond Proof” looks at the Credibility Assessment in Asylum procedures in the EU

June 17, 2013

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ...

Human Rights Defenders are involved in asylum claims in many ways. The asylum seeker may be a victim of persecution or the people who help them are human rights defenders. Anyway the new UNHCR report “Beyond Proof – Improving Credibility Assessment in EU Asylum Systems” should be a relevant tool for all of them:

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