Posts Tagged ‘civil war’

Erik-Aimé Semien: human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire

December 26, 2015


Erik-Aimé Semien is a lawyer and human rights defender at Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme, a non-governmental organisation that aims to achieve human rights progress through capacity building and constructive dialogue with the authorities. On 9 July 2015 he talked with the Intern national Service for Human Rights about his work. ‘What we want’, Eric explains, ‘is to make them understand why human rights are important for the progress of our nation’.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Eric was first drawn to human rights when Cote d’Ivoire plunged into civil war in 1999, following a military-led coup d’etat. What followed were ten years of violence and sectarian strife. ‘We are a country coming out of ten years of civil war, but the main problems are not yet solved. It was widespread frustration and a lack of democratic institutions that caused the war; and it is for overcoming frustration and the creation of democratic institutions that we continue to struggle.’

Eric explains that frustration is caused when there is a lack of transparency in government work, when the president favours his regional or ethnic group over others, when there is impunity for war crimes, and when voices critical of the government are excluded from debate.

Take the national TV, a public service paid for by public taxes. If you watch TV in Cote d’Ivoire, you will receive the impression that the perspective of the president of the republic is the only perspective there is. It was the same for the former president. This means that if you disagree with government policy, National TV will no longer interest you, for you will find no expression of your opinion. This begs the question, if you disagree, where can you go? To whom can you speak? The result is frustration. The media outlets need to be open to everybody, to civil society, to the opposition, to everybody.

In addition to advocating for more inclusive democratic institutions, Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme works to combat impunity. The war lasted ten years, but today, not only do many people on the winning side who committed human rights violations walk free, but they also enjoy appointments in the army and the administration.

‘After the war I think we should have a fair and equitable justice. What a victim wants is to see those who committed human rights violations behind bars. We organise victims and take their cases to court. We say to the judge, find out who did this and send them to prison. If they do this, it will release tension. The government recently set up a trust fund that provides financial compensation for victims. This is a positive step. But it needs to be accompanied by a clear message: whoever you are, in whatever position, you are not above the rule of law.’

One of the challenges Eric faces is a lack of awareness in the government of what human rights defenders are and what they do.

‘In Cote d’Ivoire certain authorities don’t have a clear idea of the role of civil society. They think we are causing a disturbance when all we want is the progress of our nation. But I have to admit that the situation is improving. Previously the authorities were closed but now they are much more open. They listen to us more and we are allowed to participate in meetings.’

One remarkable result of this increased openness on the government’s part is the adoption in June 2014 of a law that protects human rights defenders. ‘In the build up to the drafting of this law, we clearly explained why protecting human rights defenders was important. Many human rights NGOs were involved in the process. We had several meetings with parliament representatives and even at the national assembly. We had to explain who human rights defenders were and why protecting them is important. I am proud of Cote d’Ivoire that we have adopted this law, which is the only law of its kind on the African continent.’

The law, although still largely unknown, has already had a positive impact. In 2014 the leaders of a public assembly protesting the high costs of grocery goods were arrested. But the Observatioire Ivoirienne intervened and showed the prosecutor the law. The protesters were subsequently freed. ‘Now, whenever we have a problem with authorities, we can show them this law, and they will see that we are protected. This will make our work much easier and less dangerous. In a democracy, in a rule of law state, the government should engage with civil society. The role of civil society is that of counter balance. We don’t want to antagonise the authorities needlessly nor do we seek power. We would like to see change coming from the inside and genuinely inclusive democratic institutions and not just superficial engagement. I am proud of Cote d’Ivoire for the progress we have made, of which this new law is tangible proof, but we still have some way to go. The frustration that causes war needs to be eliminated for good.

Source: Erik-Aimé Semien: Human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire | ISHR

Salah Abu Shazam keeps hope for redress amid civil war in Libya

December 7, 2015

Torture is certainly practised in all societies, but the problem in Libya is the frequency of its occurrence,” explains Salah Abu Khazam, who founded and heads the Libyan Network for Legal Aid. “That’s because the Government is only concerned with its own security.” This comes from OMCT’s profile “Libya: Meet Salah: Keeping hope for redress in the absence of a State, amid a civil war“.

Salah doesn’t have it easy. He works in a country with two governments, non-existent police force, a defunct judicial system and no rule of law, where human rights defenders like him, prime targets of scores of armed groups, regularly get kidnapped or killed. Two volunteer human rights lawyers working for his organization were directly threatened, and chances are he himself is on the black list for promoting democratic ideals, gender equality, or any value opposed to those upheld by Islamist armed groups. Yet, he still gets up every morning thinking that Libya is going to become a better place: “The day will come when the culprits will be held accountable for their crimes and victims will receive reparation,”.

While most of his peers are in exile, Salah, 31, holds onto his country. He is proud to say he has rescued two people from death under torture, and a third one from a death sentence for having stolen a military vehicle. He is convinced no one can enjoy any wellbeing or lead a proper life while such violations are tolerated by the social and political system, until the universal values of human rights are enforced in Libya. One has to say, though, that the light at the end of the tunnel still seems very far at this stage.

After the 2011 attacks and uprising that led to the downfall of the Qadhafi regime after 24 years of dictatorship, many Libyan intellectuals and lawyers such as Salah engaged in the defence of human rights. With the backing of international NGOs including OMCT, Amnesty International, and the Red Cross a number of local networks and civil society organizations sprung up to better protect citizens from routine human rights violations. Yet this hopeful period of building up democratic institutions and restoring civil rights was short-lived as another wave of widespread violence overtook the country, home to the world’s 10th-largest oil-reserves, as numerous belligerents fuelled political, racial, ethnic, religious and interregional conflicts.

The country has been divided since June 2014, when a number of factions refused to accept the legislative election results and the establishment of a new Parliament, leaving Libya with two Governments: one recognized by the international community based in al-Bayda, and another loyal to the former General National Congress based in Tripoli. To make things worse, many regions have ties to Islamist groups while other areas are self-governing, and rival armed groups have spread across the territory, creating additional lines of fracture.

The result was complete chaos, with a collapse of state institutions and deteriorating economic, social and health conditions, which forced the European Union and United Nations Support Mission to Libya to leave the country. The escalation of violence since in August 2014 – when Islamist militias took over Tripoli and its civilian airport – was so ferocious that the UN Security Council called for the application of sanctions against violators of humanitarian and human rights law. The violence also led to at least 400,000 internally displaced Libyans and to hundreds of thousands migrant workers fleeing the country.

It is in this improbable context that Salah’s organization, founded in 2014 with OMCT’s help, has documented 90 torture cases, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and abuses. It has filed 15 complaints with local courts for torture, detention and extra-judiciary executions. It is working with other partners on how to use international mechanisms to seek redress for victims of torture in the face of an incompetent national judicial system. Society must free itself from passivity and dependence and participate collectively to demand the respect of its rights,” explains Salah.

– By Lori Brumat in Geneva

Source: Libya: Meet Salah: Keeping hope for redress in the absence of a State, amid a civil war / December 5, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

Like a Greek Tragedy: the story of the World’s Oldest Refugee – from Syria

February 14, 2014

This post is not about human rights defenders and not really about the treatment of refugees in Greece. It is simply such a story – published by Behzad Yaghmaian in the Globalist of 11 February 2014 –  that I could not resist sharing it. The original title is: “Syria’s Civil War and the World’s Oldest Refugee; A reflection on our collective failures as human societies“. Once you have read this, you will agree that Greece, Germany and the UNHCR should quickly find a solution on humanitarian grounds:

(Sabria Khalaf, 107-year old refugee of the Syrian civil war (c) Behzad Yaghmaian)

In her own words with English subtitles:

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Syria: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights does not mince words before General Assembly

February 16, 2012

While many of us are in despair over the inaction by the Security Council due to the exercise of a veto on geopolitical grounds, one high level official, Mrs Pillay, at least speaks out relentlessly, recently at the General Assembly of the UN in New York. The short video here embedded was uploaded by the UN:

States must “act now” to protect Syrian people, UN human rights chief tells General Assembly – YouTube.