Posts Tagged ‘Equatorial Guinea’

TrialWatch finds its feet in 2019

February 15, 2020

TrialWatch logo

Photo courtesy of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

A year ago this January, I flew out of Sarajevo to join the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR), ready to start work on CHR’s new program, TrialWatch. ….Since the TrialWatch program was new, I did not know what to expect. In Bosnia, I had dedicated the past several years to advocating for wartime victims seeking justice. Many of these men and women had spent decades pounding on the doors of institutions that had long consigned them to oblivion. As I entered the ABA lobby on my first day, I wondered what it would be like to instead focus on defendants vulnerable to abuse of their rights. What I found was that the experience and ethos of TrialWatch were uncannily similar to those of my work in Bosnia. We aim to ensure that people are not forgotten.

…..

Criminal prosecutions are one weapon in the ever-expanding arsenal of those who seek to derail human rights. Through TrialWatch, CHR sends monitors to proceedings at which they are often the only independent observers. These are remote, dilapidated courtrooms outside the capitals, places where no one would expect a monitor to show up. Our presence can make a significant difference.

In Algeria, for example, CHR sent a monitor to observe the trial of Ahmed Manseri, a human rights defender prosecuted for defamation for claiming that he had been tortured by the authorities. The monitor traveled through multiple checkpoints to reach the city of Tiaret in northern Algeria, some 300 kilometers from the capital of Algiers. The judge, aware of CHR’s interest in the case, treated Manseri differently from all others in court that day, giving Manseri’s lawyers adequate time to conduct questioning, providing Manseri himself with an opportunity to speak, spending several hours on the hearing (as opposed to the five to 15 minutes afforded other defendants), and ultimately acquitting Manseri. When we spoke to Manseri and his lawyer after the trial, they relayed that Manseri may not have gone home that day if the monitor had not been in court. This is CHR’s work: ensuring that people facing the greatest risks are not forgotten, that their voices are heard, and that relevant institutions take their experiences and claims seriously. In some cases, as in Algeria, making an appearance is just as important as the final report.

Prisoners
More than 100 defendants were convicted as part of a mass trial with respect to an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea. Photo provided by the ABA Center for Human Rights.

In other cases, documentation is critical. If we do not record the abuses that occur in the courtroom, they will be lost in a labyrinthine system with no recourse for defendants. In Equatorial Guinea, CHR monitored the trial of over a hundred individuals prosecuted in connection with an alleged coup attempt. In court, our monitors observed egregious fair trial violations, such as the repeated use of confessions induced by torture, the intervention of military officials in the judicial process, and the imposition of time limits on defense questioning. The defendants were ultimately convicted—some to what were functionally life sentences.

As Equatorial Guinea is a relatively closed country—its doors wide open to oil behemoths but shut to most others—CHR was the only outside entity to send observers to the trial. The information we acquired proved helpful for embassies and other organizations tracking the proceedings. Human Rights Watch, for example, employed CHR’s report to produce a video on the trial that was widely disseminated in Equatorial Guinea via WhatsApp. Meanwhile, CHR’s report was raised before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, after which the committee condemned military interference in civilian trials. Correspondingly, defense lawyers have used the report’s conclusions in advocating for their imprisoned clients. Without the valuable data gained from simply sitting in the courtroom, these various opportunities for impact would have been lost and—again—the defendants forgotten.

 


TrialWatch followed a case in Guatemala of a human rights defender named Abelino Chub, shown here with an unidentified woman. Chub was held in pretrial detention for two years. Chub was being prosecuted on allegations he had burned down trees and fields on a plantation operated by Cobra Investments, a banana and palm company. He was ultimately acquitted. Photo provided by the ABA Center for Human Rights

The overarching goal of ensuring that defendants receive the necessary support motivates the TrialWatch team to grapple with these challenges, as do the inspiring monitors with whom we work. One of TrialWatch’s objectives is to democratize trial monitoring—to place the tools to observe trials in the hands of affected communities. Dedication and a willingness to learn are the only requirements. In a recent case, two different entities within the prosecution appeared to be at odds. One entity had withdrawn the charges, and the other seemed to still be pursuing the case. CHR’s enterprising trial monitor brought a copy of the withdrawal document across town to the latter entity’s office. The office claimed to have never seen this document—or at least to have never been directly confronted with it—and stated that it would cease work on the case. At the moment, the office no longer appears to be pursuing the charges.

In another example, a CHR monitor who is not a lawyer but passionate about press freedom issues agreed to travel to a remote province in Cambodia—a nine-hour bus ride—on Christmas day to observe the start of a trial in which two journalists were being prosecuted for incitement. Though the trial did not in fact proceed that day, the monitor was able to document valuable information, such as the judge ordering defense counsel not to contact the U.S. embassy: a troubling and noteworthy development. That my job entails working closely with these monitors—such a perseverant, diverse group of individuals—makes it all the more worthwhile.

Lastly, one of the most ironic features of trial monitoring is that there is frequently no trial to monitor. In many countries, authorities use criminal charges and detention as a punishment in itself: the trial in such cases is not of consequence. By imprisoning defendants pending trial, deferring substantive proceedings in the vein of Godot, states can avoid scrutiny while still harassing defendants and stifling their work. Through TrialWatch, we have been able to document and respond to this phenomenon.

In India, for example, CHR monitored habeas corpus proceedings brought by journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who had been arrested on sedition charges for posting Facebook videos in which he criticized the ruling party. When the judge presiding over the case released Wangkhem on bail, the authorities rearrested and imprisoned him on national security grounds. CHR subsequently issued a preliminary report concluding that Wangkhem’s detention was inconsistent with international law. Soon thereafter, he was released, having spent 132 days behind bars.

Similarly, in Nigeria, CHR monitored proceedings against Omoyele Sowore, a journalist who had been charged with treason. Awaiting trial, Sowore remained imprisoned by the state security services despite the presiding court’s order to release him. Amal Clooney, the co-founder of TrialWatch, made a public statement calling for Sowore’s release, bolstering the international uproar and placing pressure on the state. Approximately a month later, Sowore was released.

Defendants languishing in detention, sometimes for years on end, are the most at risk of being forgotten. Seeing these individuals go free in part because of our work is one of the most rewarding aspects of TrialWatch. I am proud to lead the program at the ABA Center for Human Rights and look forward to my second year.

If you are interested in signing up to be a TrialWatch monitor, please fill out this form.

 

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/volunteer-trial-monitors-are-helping-secure-human-rights-around-the-globe

Equatorial Guinean human rights defender Alfredo Okenve gets house arrest instead of award ceremony

March 17, 2019

Alfredo Okenve, a leading rights activist in Equatorial Guinea, was arrested at Malabo's airport on Friday night

AFP reported on 16 March 2019 that Alfredo Okenve, a leading human rights defender in Equatorial Guinea was arrested in the capital Malabo after travelling there to receive an award for his work, his NGO and a police source said Saturday. Okenve had arrived in Malabo on Thursday, a day ahead of a ceremony at the French Institute where he was to receive the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law from French and German ambassadors. He was arrested at Malabo airport on Friday night when he was about to board a flight to Madrid after the cancellation of the awards ceremony earlier in the day.

A leading figure in the country’s civil society movement, Okenve is one of the leaders of the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID-GE), which said he had been flown back home to the port city of Bata and placed under house arrest. The authorities “prevented him from flying to Spain,” said Mariano Nkogo, who is also a senior figure within the NGO. He said a military plane had been chartered to fly Okenve back to Bata.

His arrest was also confirmed by a police officer at the airport and by the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) whose members have been previously targeted in a crackdown by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the West African state for 39 years.

Friday afternoon’s award ceremony was cancelled after the Guinean government sent a formal note to the envoys’ representatives saying it did not recognise the award, a regional diplomatic source said. “Due to the lack of transparency in the awarding of this prize, the government of Equatorial Guinea cannot recognise its validity,” said the note, a copy of which was seen by AFP. The French and German embassies then postponed the ceremony. [for more on this award – authorities take note! – see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/franco-german-prize-for-human-rights-and-the-rule-of-law]

In late October, Okenve was seized and beaten by unidentified men who left him in a remote area of Bata. He then went to Madrid to seek medical care, only returning home in mid-February.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/08/cartoonist-ramon-esono-ebale-freed-in-equatorial-guinea/

Cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé freed in Equatorial Guinea

March 8, 2018

Good news is rare but deserves attention, especially when it seems to be the result of an international campaign: the global #FreeNseRamon coalition:
An Equatorial Guinean court on 7 March, 2018 released an artist imprisoned on dubious charges for nearly six months, 18 human rights groups including PEN America said today. The prosecution dropped all charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist whose work is often critical of the government, after the police officer who had accused him of counterfeiting $1,800 of local currency admitted making the accusation based on orders from his superiors.  [Esono Ebalé, who lives outside of his native Equatorial Guinea, was arrested on 16 September, 2017, while visiting the country to request a new passport. Police interrogated him about drawings critical of the government, said two Spanish friends who were arrested and interrogated alongside him and were later released. But a news report broadcast on a government-owned television channel a few days after the arrest claimed that police had found 1 million Central African francs in the car Esono Ebalé was driving. On 7 December, he was formally accused of counterfeiting. The charge sheet alleged that a police officer, acting on a tip, had asked him to exchange large bills and received counterfeit notes in return.]“It is a huge relief that the prosecution dropped its charges against Ramon, but they should never have been pressed in the first place,” said Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers-in-Prison Committee. “We urge the authorities to guarantee his safe return to his family, allow him to continue creating his hard-hitting cartoons, and ensure that Equatorial Guinea respects the right to freedom of expression.”

Ramon’s release from prison is a testament of the power of collective work of hundreds of artists, concerned citizens, and NGOs,” said Tutu Alicante, director of EG Justice, which promotes human rights in Equatorial Guinea. “But we must not forget that dozens of government opponents who are not as fortunate fill Equatorial Guinea’s jails; thus, the fight against human rights violations and impunity must continue.”

(The human rights groups are Amnesty International, Arterial Network, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Asociación Profesional de Ilustradores de Madrid, Cartoonists Rights Network International, Cartooning for Peace, Committee to Protect Journalists, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jonathan Price and Paul Mason, Doughty Street Chambers, UK, EG Justice, FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Freemuse, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, PEN America, PEN International, Reporters without Borders, Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.)

(see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/cartooning-for-peace-award/)

https://pen.org/press-release/equatorial-guinea-artist-freed-prison/

https://freedomnewspaper.com/2018/03/07/press-release-amnesty-international-equatorial-guinea-artist-freed-from-prison/

 

And the Nominees Are……Oscars for Human-Rights !!

February 28, 2014

Regular readers of this blog know that I like the idea of holding  celebrities accountable (most recently: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/star-power-and-human-rights-a-difficult-but-doable-mix/).   The reason is that there is a mutually reinforcing (and for many profitable) interaction between the stars and the media (which in turn feed on the interest of the public). Celebrities’ views on all kind of issues – including human rights –  can hardly be called private. Their social media are virtual industries and influence millions globally. So it seems a good idea to have an annual look at which celebrities have advanced and which have harmed the cause of human rights around the world. Halvorssen and Leigh Hancock ( of the Human Rights Foundation) have done exactly that in the Atlantic on 27 February 2004 and linked it to the upcoming Oscars night on Sunday. 

(Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

The list of celebrities deserving recognition for their accomplishments in the field of human rights or those who should be ashamed for supporting human-rights violators, is long and contains many video links. Like the real Oscars, the list is slanted in terms of geopolitical interest and I think that if all major international human rights organisations would get together to agree on a list if would be more balanced, but that is probably wishful thinking. Still, the Human Rights Foundation deserves credit for this creative initiative. and here is the summary:

The Nominees for Outstanding Work in the Field of Human Rights Read the rest of this entry »

First mission of the new UN independent expert Gustavo Gallon to Haiti

September 22, 2013

 

Haiti - Justice : First mission of the new UN independent expert

Haiti Libre on 22 September welcomes the visit by Gustavo Gallón, the new Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, appointed by the UN Council of Human Rights in June 2013 [replacing Michel Forst, who had completed his term], will visit Haiti from 23 September to 1October 2013.

During this first visit, I will monitor the reality for the Haitian both in Port-au-Prince and outside of the capital and for that I will be traveling to at least one of the other departments […] Read the rest of this entry »