Posts Tagged ‘FIDH’

Harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and other Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh

December 21, 2021

On 14 December 2021 a Statement Bangladesh: Stop Harassment of Human Rights Defenders” was published by Forum Asia, FIDH and other NGOs: “Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system”, eleven rights groups said.

On December 15, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka will continue the examination of prosecution witnesses in the case brought against Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary-General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, for charges brought against them in Case No. 1 of 2013 under the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 (amended in 2009), in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of at least 61 people by security forces and law-enforcement agencies in May 2013. Khan and Elan face up to ten years in prison. See also; https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/88F17E2F-F919-580F-2FDA-59B8E24ACBF6

The government should stop using vague laws to silence human rights defenders and start holding perpetrators of abuses to account, ” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Odhikar’s findings not only should have led to investigations and reforms, but also should have been welcomed by the government as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights.

Following Odhikar’s 2013 report, Khan and Elan were arbitrarily detained for respectively 62 and 25 days until they were both released on bail. On February 14, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Odhikar’s appeal to quash the case on its legal merits. On September 12, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka resumed the trial in the case against the two while their review petition is still pending hearing before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, contravening the right to a fair trial. On October 5, November 9, and November 24, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka started to examine prosecution witnesses in the case.

We express our deepest concern over the ongoing harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, which is manifestly a form of reprisals against Odhikar for their legitimate human rights work, including for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms in documenting enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture in Bangladesh.

It is further a matter of great concern that since 2013, attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment against Odhikar and its staff and management have been incessant. Odhikar is also facing serious difficulties to conduct its work due to violations of the right to freedom of association, since its registration has not been renewed by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh and is still pending since 2015. Moreover, all of its bank accounts have been frozen and the organization has been forbidden from receiving funding from foreign or international sources, impacting its operations considerably.

The trial against Khan and Elan resumes in a context where human rights in Bangladesh are under attack from all sides. Human rights violations committed by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture remain pervasive throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Authorities regularly crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against these violations, including through the use of the Digital Security Act – 2018, the Special Powers Act – 1974, and other draconian laws. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/02/adilur-rahman-khan-speaks-out-against-torture/

Cases such as these question the Bangladeshi government’s commitment to protecting human rights. The international community, including the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Bangladesh, should monitor the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan and take a clear stand to ensure that the government of Bangladesh respects the rights of the two defenders to a fair and public trial and, more generally, guarantees the right to defend human rights and puts an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Our organisations call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

This trial is in reality an indictment of the authorities and a crucial test case for the country’s judiciary to be closely watched by the international community,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, speaking on behalf of the Observatory. “The true culprits are those responsible for extra-judicial killings not those who report on it. Prosecuting human rights activists will not stifle dissent but will isolate Bangladesh from the international community.

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, i

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-government-must-act-to-address-rule-of-law-crisis

FIDH launches “SEE YOU IN COURT” campaign

September 29, 2021

The disastrous impact that multinationals have on the environment can no longer be denied. The human right to live in a healthy environment concerns us all, therefore, FIDH and its member organisations are launching coordinated legal actions across the world. The companies implicated and States which allow it to happen must be held accountable.

The first legal actions

It is time to recognize the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right and to hold companies accountable for their actions.

  • Environmental impact = human impact Because human rights and the environment are interdependent, it is crucial that States recognise the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right. Hundreds of organisations are fighting for a UN resolution to achieve international recognition of this.
  • Restoring a healthy environment to affected communities In the face of environmental disasters and human rights violations, the balance is still too often tipped in favour of the companies involved. Ensuring access to justice for those most affected and passing laws which hold multinationals accountable are also means to protect the planet.

https://seeyouincourt.fidh.org/?lang=en#

69 NGOs address worsening situation in Eswatini

July 22, 2021

On 21 July 2021 FIDH and many other NGOs addressed an open letter to the Government of Eswatini and the international community:

We, the undersigned 69 civil society organisations, are deeply concerned about the eruption of state violence in Eswatini. We stand in solidarity with the people of Eswatini in condemning the government’s violent repression of mass protests demanding democracy and economic justice.

We support the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s call urging the authorities to fully adhere to human rights principles and reminding them that peaceful protests are protected under international human rights law. We call on the Government of Eswatini to immediately cease its brutal crackdown against civilians, restore and maintain internet access, and engage in inclusive dialogue with pro-democracy groups and politicians.

We call on the international community, including the United Nations, African Union, Southern African Development Community, and individual governments, to demand that the Government of Eswatini respect human rights, allow a thorough, independent investigation of who authorised violence against protesters, including shoot to kill orders, and support a peaceful transition to a democratic form of government.

Reports out of Eswatini indicate that, since late June, the army and police forces have killed dozens of unarmed civilians and injured around 1,000 people, including by shooting indiscriminately at and wounding protesters. The government has reportedly imprisoned hundreds of people, many of them young people, and shut down internet access across the country for several weeks, which Amnesty International calls “a brazen violation of the rights to freedom of expression and information.” Reports further indicate that security
forces have sought to intimidate human rights defenders and activists with unlawful surveillance, imposed a curfew, and restricted public gatherings and petition deliveries to the government. This political crisis caused by state-sponsored violence risks creating a humanitarian crisis, as hospitals struggle to treat the influx of people injured by security forces, food and fuel supplies become limited, and people’s movement and ability to conduct basic commerce is restricted.

Specifically, we lend our support to the demands of civil society organisations, political organisations, and people’s movements within Eswatini calling for a long-term resolution to the current political crisis through an inclusive political dialogue, the total unbanning of political parties, a transitional authority, new democratic Constitution, and a multiparty democratic dispensation.In the immediate term, we join democracy defenders in Eswatini in the following demands, calling for action from the Government of Eswatini to cease violence, restore and maintain communications services, and provide urgently needed humanitarian support:

● The immediate cessation of the killing of civilians and the return of the army to the
barracks;

● The immediate restoration of civic services such as the rapid issuing of death
certificates for those killed in the past days;

● Mandatory independent pathologists to conduct post-mortems on the deceased;

● Urgent humanitarian support to the affected families, workers and citizens who
need basic necessities such as food, sanitary towels, baby food, etc.

● The provision of direct financial support to resuscitate affected small and medium
enterprises;

● The full and permanent restoration of internet and communication services and
peoples’ right to freedom of expression; and

● The urgent availability of vaccines to all emaSwati and the end of unnecessary
lockdowns.

As the Government of Eswatini, Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy, violates the human rights of residents, suppresses freedom of speech and assembly, and jails young people for demanding a brighter future, the international community cannot remain silent.

We call on partners in international civil society, regional governmental bodies, and diplomats to join us in amplifying the demands of the Eswatini people and seeking the protection of people’s human rights.

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/swaziland-eswatini-civilian-killings-must-stop-now

FIDH Launches Website Tracking Systematic Human Rights Violations in Belarus

June 28, 2021

SIARHEI LESKIEC / AFP

On 25 June 2021 the FIDH issued a press release announcing a new website on Belarus. Since May 2020, the administration of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, the de facto president of Belarus, has intensified repression, aiming to crush the country’s democratic movement. A new website launched by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) tracks, compiles, and presents detailed information on the human rights situation in the country, including on political prisoners, violations against vulnerable groups, and efforts to advance accountability for the regime’s crimes.

FIDH and its member organisation in Belarus, Viasna Human Rights Center, have been closely monitoring and documenting the human rights situation in Belarus over the past year. The website launched today is intended as a comprehensive resource compiling up-to-date data and statistics, and offering analysis and insight into violations, including from our local partners such as Viasna. The website tracks and provides detailed information on political prisoners—particularly human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and other human rights defenders, describes violations against vulnerable groups currently imprisoned by the regime—and details ongoing efforts to further accountability for the regime’s crimes.

The website has four main sections, updated daily, reflecting the most recent developments in four key areas: monitoring events and reactions, exposing crimes and furthering justice, defending human rights activists, and supporting vulnerable groups.

Monitoring events and reactions

On Monday, the EU approved new sanctions against 78 individuals and eight companies believed to support the crackdowns on the democratic movement and the forced landing of Ryanair flight with Raman Pratasevich on board late last month. The same day, the UK, Canada, and the US joined this initiative and introduced new sanctions. At the European Council yesterday, the EU also approved economic sanctions against parts of Belarus’ potash, oil, and tobacco exports, as well as telecommunication and banking sectors. We are monitoring this situation and will publish updates as soon as further information is available.

Exposing crimes and furthering justice

On 19 June, the law “On Amendments to the Laws on Ensuring the National Security of the Republic of Belarus” came into force. Among other provisions, it grants law enforcement the right to use military and special equipment to suppress riots and stipulates that officers not be liable for harm caused as a result of the use of force and weapons. This is one of a series of recent laws—including one that expands the definition of extremism—that threaten protesters’ lives and liberties, under the guise of ensuring public order and national security, and that violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. FIDH, which is on the Advisory Council of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, regularly issues statements analysing such laws, as well as communications to the UN Special Procedures, in order to further justice in the country.

Defending human rights activists

Many human rights defenders (HRDs) in Belarus face persecution due to their professional activity. To date, at least 21 of them have been charged with supposed crimes in an attempt to thwart their human rights activities. Most recently, on 18 June, lawyer Andrei Machalau, who was a defense attorney in many criminal cases against protests activists and HRDs, including TUT.by journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich, was disbarred for alleged violation of professional ethics. Machalau is one of at least 17 lawyers whose licenses have been revoked since May 2020. We endeavour to defend each and every one of them and gather the available information in a dedicated section of our website.

Supporting vulnerable groups

The current regime demonstrates a blatant disregard for human rights of children, women, pensioners, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protest movement, hundreds of representatives of these groups have been detained, and sometimes beaten, for simply displaying the white-red-white flag: the main symbol of the democratic movement. On Monday, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior proposed that the KGB add the white-red-white flag and slogan Zhyve Belarus (Long live Belarus) to the list of banned Nazi symbols. Should this initiative be approved, public use of such symbols could lead to administrative or even criminal liability—potentially devastating news for many minors, women, and other Belarusians who have galvanised the protest movement using these symbols. We will be following the situation and supporting those who may suffer restrictions on freedom of speech due to this and other legislation.

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/mobilising-for-justice-in-belarus-fidh-launches-website-tracking

Continued harassment of Mother Nature defenders in Cambodia

June 22, 2021

The Cambodian government should immediately drop baseless conspiracy and “insulting the king” charges against four environmental activists affiliated with the Mother Nature Cambodia environmental group and release the three in pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 16, 2021, the police arrested Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Seth Chhivlimeng, 25, in Phnom Penh, and Yim Leanghy, 32, in Kandal province, apparently for their documentation that raw sewage has entered the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace. On June 20, the court charged Ratha and Leanghy with “conspiracy” and lese majeste (“insulting the king”) under articles 453 and 437 bis of Cambodia’s penal code, and Chandaravuth with “conspiracy.” If convicted, they face between 5 and 10 years in prison, and fines of up to 10 million riels (US$2,500). The authorities also charged in absentia aSpanish national, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of Mother Nature Cambodia, who had been deported in 2015. Chhivlimeng was released without charge.

The Cambodian government has stepped up its campaign to silence activists peacefully advocating to protect the environment,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donors should call on the Cambodian authorities to drop their absurd charges against the environmental activists and publicly condemn any further clampdown on peaceful activism.”

An Interior Ministry spokesperson alleged that the authorities had proof that “rebellious” Mother Nature Cambodia had used foreign funding to try to topple the government, but did not make any evidence public.

This case followed earlier harassment of five Mother Nature Cambodia activists. On May 5, the Phnom Penh court convicted three environmental activists – Long Kunthea, 22, Phuon Keoraksmey, 19, and Thun Ratha, 29 – of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order,” articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code. The judge sentenced them to between 18 and 20 months in prison as well as a fine of 4 million riels ($1,000) for their peaceful activism protesting the authorities’ filling-in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tamok lake.

All three activists had been arrested in September 2020 and spent almost eight months in pretrial detention. Gonzalez-Davidson and Chea Kunthin, another activist, were also convicted in absentia and sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in prison. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/09/cambodia-arbitrary-arrest-of-mother-nature-activists/]

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on youth and environmental activists engaged in peaceful activism and protest. The government has often used draconian new laws to arrest and prosecute activists in an apparent attempt to silence their voices and shut down their activism.

In March 2020 and early 2021, the authorities arrested environmental activists affiliated with the Prey Lang Community Network along with a prominent environmentalist and lawyer, Ouch Leng, to stop their efforts to document illegal logging and deforestation within the Prey Lang forest.

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of nearly 70 current political prisoners, including members of the political opposition, youth and environmental activists, trade union leaders, and journalists who are awaiting trial or are serving prison sentences. Many other activists have fled Cambodia to seek refuge abroad.

Because of the higher risks of getting Covid-19 in prison, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly appealed to the Cambodian authorities to conditionally release pretrial detainees not held for violent offenses. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society groups have often criticized the government’s routine use of pretrial detention.

“Cambodia’s highly politicized courts mean that the environmental activists charged have no chance of getting a fair trial,” Robertson said. “Only international pressure on the Cambodian government holds out the possibility of saving these activists from unjust prison sentences.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/23/cambodia-free-environmental-activists

https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/06/cambodia-court-charges-environmental-activists-with-conspiracy-insulting-king/

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/cambodia-arbitrary-detention-and-judicial-harassment-of-mother-nature

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/06/cambodia-assault-on-environmental-defenders-escalates-as-four-more-charged-imprisonment/ 

History writing in Russia suppressed

June 10, 2021

A new FIDH report published on 10 June 20212 finds that human rights abuses targeting historians, activists, journalists, and NGOs working on historical memory of the Soviet past have become systematic since at least 2014. Legal impediments and implementation of laws designed to stifle free speech and freedom of association, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, censorship, public smear campaigns, and failure to provide effective remedies for past abuses are just some of the violations detailed.

In recent years, control over the historical narrative of the Soviet past has become an essential tool for consolidating authoritarian rule. Building Russia’s collective identity around Soviet victory in the Second World War, the current regime attacks historians, journalists, civil society activists, and non-governmental organisations that work to keep alive a historical memory of the Soviet past that focuses on identification of the perpetrators and victims of the likes of the Great Terror, Joseph Stalin’s 1937-38 campaign of deadly political repression.

The new FIDH report, Russia: Crimes Against History, catalogues these violations, analyses them from the viewpoint of international human rights law, and makes recommendations to national authorities and international organisations on how to improve the situation of so-called “history producers.”

Our report is the first comprehensive analysis of the issue of manipulation of historical memory in Russia from the vantage point of human rights law,” said Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk who conceived and co-authored the report. “Our findings show that the authorities have created a climate of fear and repression for all independent voices working on historical past in Russia, reminiscent of the worst practices of the Soviet period.”

Specifically, the report details how, in recent years, the government has methodically attempted to discourage independent work in the historical field while actively promoting its own “historical truth” that centers on Soviet victory in the Second World War.

In 2020, the official historical narrative was set in stone in the Constitution, which was amended contrary to domestic and international law. In the Constitution, Russia is presented as the “successor” regime of the Soviet Union, which must “honour the memory of the defenders of the fatherland” and “protect the historical truth.” This narrative is actively promoted by government institutions. On the other hand, the authorities have stigmatised and penalised internationally supported civil society organisations, such as International Memorial, with the likes of foreign agent laws; it has criminalised interpretations that diverge from the state’s interpretation of history through the adoption of “Exoneration of Nazism” and other memory laws; and it has organised show trials against independent historians like Yuri Dmitriev, who received a draconian 13-year sentence for his tireless work to identify and commemorate victims of the Great Terror. Seae also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/dunja-mijatovic-calls-on-russia-to-end-judicial-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders/

“The report is important not only for Russia,” remarked Valiantsin Stefanovic, FIDH vice president. “Its findings and recommendations could be applied to other countries in the region and around the world that manipulate historical memory. In Belarus for instance, we see a similar use of memory laws to crack down on the pro-democracy movement.”

The report formulates a number of recommendations, such as the establishment of legal guarantees and protections to safeguard the independence of historians’ work. It also proposes the official recognition of historians as human rights defenders by United Nations special procedures, in addition to the creation of a “historians’ day” by UNESCO.

NGO Statement remembers the one-year anniversary of the ban on the Maldivian Democracy Network

December 19, 2020

Today – 19 December 2020 – marks one year since the Government of the Maldives arbitrarily shut down the longest serving human rights group in the country, the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and arbitrarily confiscated all of its funds. Since then, the Government has not reversed any of its unconstitutional actions related to the dissolution of MDN.

We remind the Government of the Maldives that Article 30(b) of the country’s Constitution guarantees the right to establish societies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Article 43 affords everyone the right to fair administrative action that adheres to basic fairness and procedural propriety. MDN has been deprived of these rights through arbitrary action taken without due process.

An administrative decision was taken based on allegations of a criminal offence, depriving the organisation and the human rights defenders involved of their right to appeal in the criminal and civil processes initiated by the Government of the Maldives. The right to appeal is guaranteed by Article 56 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the organisation has not been given the right of reply or to defend itself against what is widely seen as a biased decision based on the interpretation of an academic research.

We are disappointed that the Parliament of the Maldives has refused to investigate the matter and hold the government accountable. We urge the Parliament not to use its mandate selectively, and call on it to conduct its affairs equally, uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Government of the Maldives, by taking arbitrary and unconstitutional actions to silence civil society, has set a dangerous precedent that has resulted in a violent witch-hunt of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. We call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to conduct a fair and open enquiry into these deplorable actions and stop the harassment of the human rights community in the Maldives, as several United Nations Member States recommended during the third Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives in November 2020[1].

Signed by:

The Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

CIVICUS

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) is a non-partisan civil society organisation based in the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland, operating under the Swiss civil code. MDN, registered  in the Maldives from 2006 until December 2019, was one of  the longest-running human rights groups in the country until the Government of  Maldives forcefully shut down the organisation.

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/26/maldives-mohamed-nasheed-from-human-rights-defender-to-president-to-exile/

[1] Recommendations made to the Maldives at the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review

Breaking: EU Court rules against Hungary’s foreign funding law

June 19, 2020

The EU Reporterof 19 June 2020 comes with the good news that on 18 June, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recognized that Hungary’s 2017 law “on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad” (i.e. receiving foreign funds) unduly restricts the freedom of movement of capitals within the European Union (EU) and amounts to unjustified interference with fundamental rights, including respect for private and family life, protection of personal data and freedom of association, as well citizens’ right to participate in public life. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) welcomes this decision and hopes it will put an end to the Hungarian government’s constant attempts to delegitimise civil society organisations and impede their work.

It concerns decision (Case C-78/18, European Commission v. Hungary, Transparency of Associations).

This decision is more than welcome! It strongly asserts that stigmatizing and intimidating NGOs receiving funding from abroad and obstructing their work is not accepted in the European Union,” said Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), member organisation of FIDH and of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network. “Today’s ruling is a victory not only for Hungarian civil society organisations, who have campaigned fiercely against this law since its adoption, but for European civil society as a whole. It is a clear reaffirmation of the fundamental role played by civil society in a democratic State founded on the rule of law.”

Hungary should now withdraw this anti-NGO law and conform with the CJEU’s decision,” added OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

https://www.eureporter.co/eu-2/2020/06/19/eus-top-court-rules-that-hungarys-anti-ngo-law-unduly-restricts-fundamental-rights

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: FIDH

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH): “COVID-19: States bear direct responsibility for the health of individuals in their custody” states a press release of 7 April 2020.

While the cases of COVID-19 are multiplying in prisons, detention centres and in places of custody, faced with the risk of a massive spread of the virus behind the walls, FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights) calls for urgent measures to be taken to preserve the health of detainees, and for the release of the most vulnerable, of those detained for minor crimes and on remand custody, and of those whose detention is contrary to international norms.
In times of crisis, governments have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable. Prison populations, confined to detention facilities that can easily become virus hotspots, are among those most vulnerable to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a particular risk where collective cells and overcrowding are the norm, where social distancing is impossible to achieve, where many detainees are awaiting trial, and where the prisons’ health services are unprepared.
Over the past weeks, throughout the countries and regions where the COVID-19 virus has spread, many prison inmates, staff and/or caregivers have tested positive for the virus. Hundreds of inmates with virus symptoms have been “confined”. Tensions in prisons have also increased in the context of the spread of the virus, in reaction to the overcrowding of prisons, to the lack of personal hygiene or health services, or to restrictions on visits —notably when those visits enabled adequate food supply-, or other activities.While every prison, detention centre and place of custody constitutes a potential epidemiological outbreak, the spread of the virus in places of detention will be inevitable unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate this risk.

Echoing concerns expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in its COVID-19 Statement of Principles, FIDH calls on governments to relieve congestion in prisons by releasing vast numbers of prisoners through various means, including temporary or early releases and amnesties; home detention and commutation of sentences.

Such measures should be consistent with States’ obligations under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (revised and adopted as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”) which detail measures aimed at ensuring adequate personal hygiene, health, and safety of prisoners.

We welcome the move by a number of countries, including Argentina, Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Tunisia and Turkey to begin releasing prisoners in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the virus. These efforts however have been inconsistent with many of these countries’ human rights obligations and with international institutions’ recommendations.

In countries like China, Egypt, Iran or Turkey, where the policies of mass incarceration of journalists, whistle blowers, human rights defenders, political prisoners or of civilians taking part in demonstrations are in flagrant contradiction with international human rights norms, prison releases have not included these persons.

States should thus follow specific priorities for the releases, that are guided by the vulnerablity of the individual detained as well as the motives for his or her detention. As such, priority should be given to the elderly, to pregnant women and to children, to those with underlying health conditions, as well as to administrative detainees, to individuals detained for minor or non-violent offences, and to detainees awaiting trial. In addition, prisoners of conscience, prisoners detained for expressing their opinions, human rights defenders, whistleblowers, and undocumented migrant detainees should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Governments should also ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic the human rights of all those who remain in detention are upheld. As such, measures adapting the conditions of detention, with regard to food, health, sanitation and quarantine measures, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the facilities, should be put in place, to guarantee decent living and health conditions for all detained persons.

Any restrictions imposed on detainees should be non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent. Measures should not, under any circumstances, justify absolute or solitary confinement. Confinement measures should enable confidential and through distance, meetings of inmates with their families, close companions and lawyers in a confidential manner, while respecting the WHO recommended physical distancing and handwashing protocols. Under the current COVID-19 circumstances, we also recommend that all detainees should have access to time outside of the confins of their cells and be able to utilise recreational spaces available.

Lastly, while States must be able to maintain order and security within prisons and detention centers, measures to prevent riots and restore security conditions in prisons should not empower authorities to resort to the excessive use of force.

Read more

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/covid-19-states-bear-direct-responsibility-for-the-health-of

Forgotten Kashmir: something has to be done

February 9, 2020

...After more than 70 years of terror, killings, torture, and disappearances, the international community must renew its efforts to end the conflict in Kashmir. In 2018 and 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released reports that documented a wide range of abuses – including kidnappings, the killing of civilians, and sexual violence – perpetrated by both sides in the conflict. The UN needs to take the lead in stopping Kashmir’s torment. ……The conflict has consumed resources that should have been used for development; instead, they were channeled to arms purchases or a regional race to develop weapons of mass destruction. Everyone, regardless of age, religion, or ethnicity, has suffered, whether as a result of displacement, family separation, loss of property, the death or disappearance of friends and close relatives, grinding poverty, or simply the prospect of a future as bleak and constricted as the present.The international community has, at times, attempted to mediate between India and Pakistan. The UN has adopted resolutions demanding a referendum on Kashmir’s future status. But, even though it has long been evident that there is no military solution to the conflict – temporary ceasefire initiatives have never resulted in a lasting agreement – India to this day has resisted a plebiscite. In 2003, Pakistan’s then-president, Pervez Musharraf, formulated a four-step approach to a political solution. Without insisting on a referendum, India and Pakistan would begin a dialogue; recognize Kashmir as the main source of bilateral hostility; identify and eliminate what was unacceptable to each side; and strive for a solution acceptable to both countries – and especially to the people of Kashmir. Subsequently, a ceasefire was declared, and high-level meetings took place, but, following a terrorist attack, India terminated the talks. In 2012, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried unsuccessfully to revive the process.

I have been personally engaged with the Kashmir issue for some time. Last year, I held meetings with senior politicians in Pakistan and India. I am well aware that India wants to treat the Kashmir conflict solely as a bilateral issue. But in that case, it should take the initiative in starting talks with Pakistan. If that does not happen, the international community must demand that the parties come together to negotiate a peaceful solution.

Again, it is not up to the UN or anyone else to impose a solution on the parties. The current situation is rooted in a highly complex mix of history and politics, and any viable settlement must reflect Kashmir’s unique circumstances. A major issue to be addressed is the “line of control” separating Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, which hinders the free movement of people, divides families, and impedes business and trade. And, of course, Kashmir’s future status is the main question that must be resolved. During my last visit to Kashmir, I saw firsthand the level of violence and the severity of human-rights violations. Conditions have deteriorated further since India repealed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in October 2019, dissolved it as a state, and reorganized it as two “union territories” – all enforced by the security forces with a wave of arrests, a ban on assembly, and an Internet and media blackout.At a time of war in Syria and Yemen, and heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, it is difficult to get the international community to focus on Kashmir. But it is crucial that the conflict not be allowed to spiral out of control, especially given that both countries are nuclear powers. Above all, the people of Kashmir deserve a ceasefire, reconciliation, and stability, and it is the duty of the UN to advance this goal. I urge the UN to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir. And I appeal to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to seize the initiative and help deliver a long-overdue and lasting peace to this region…

“The Indian government must immediately end all draconian restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Jammu & Kashmir, and fully reinstate communications”, FIDH and its member organization People’s Watch urged on 5 February 2020. In conjunction with its call, FIDH released a briefing note that highlights some of the human rights concerns that have remained unaddressed since 5 August 2019. For the past six months, the people of Jammu & Kashmir have been living under siege and denied their fundamental rights under the most draconian of measures. These grave violations of human rights must come to an end, and accountability must be established for the serious violations that have occurred since 5 August.Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General
Since the evening of 4 August 2019, internet communications, and initially telephone lines, have been cut in Jammu & Kashmir, effectively isolating residents from the rest of the world. Although phone lines were gradually reinstated and internet access restored in certain places, personal internet connections are limited to 301 government-approved websites through a very slow 2G connection. Although accurate figures are unavailable, thousands of arbitrary detentions have been reported since 5 August 2019, including hundreds of detentions under the abusive 1978 Public Safety Act (PSA). Many detainees, particularly youth and low-ranking political activists, have been transferred to jails outside of Jammu & Kashmir, the location of which is unknown in many cases. There have also been numerous reports of excessive use of force by army and police forces, including reports of deaths and injuries as a result of the improper use of pellet guns and teargas. The reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir has also resulted in a number of measures that will have long-term implications for the human rights situation in the region, including the disbanding of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) of Jammu & Kashmir – one of the few avenues for justice available to local people – at the end of October 2019. More than 500 cases of alleged enforced disappearances were pending before the SHRC at the time of its disbandment. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/17/fidh-dares-to-publish-a-report-on-key-human-rights-issues-of-concern-in-kashmir/]

Human rights violations of the gravest nature are nothing new in Jammu & Kashmir, and have gone unpunished for decades. But taking away the little autonomy the state had will only make the situation worse, especially when the people most affected by these changes have been denied their right to express their opinions. added Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch Executive Director

On 5 February the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requested an urgent intervention in the case of Mr. Miyan Abdul Qayoom, a human rights lawyer and President of Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association. Mr. Qayoom, 70,  suffers from multiple health conditions, including diabetes, double vessel heart disease, and kidney problems.
According to the information received, during the evening of January 29, 2020, Mr. Qayoom’s family received a phone call from Agra Central Jail’s authorities, in Uttar Pradesh State, informing them that Mr. Qayoom had been transferred to Sarojini Naidu Medical College after complaining of chest pain, breathlessness and his pulse rate had significantly gone down to 44pm, and asking them to visit him. On January 30, 2020, upon reaching Agra Central Jail, Mr. Qayoom’s relatives discovered that Mr. Qayoom had been taken back to the jail’s dispensary, even though his health condition had not improved.  On February 3, 2020, Jammu & Kashmir High Court Srinagar bench, after hearing the final arguments, reserved its judgement regarding Mr. Qayoom’s habeas corpus request. The scheduled date of the judgement was not known as of the publication of this Urgent Appeal…..
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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/united-nations-must-mediate-political-solution-in-kashmir-by-kjell-magne-bondevik-2020-02