Posts Tagged ‘HRW’

US NGOs react furiously to visa restrictions imposed on ICC investigators by Trump administration

March 16, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new visa restrictions in a press briefing on Friday. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Human rights defenders expressed outrage on Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the Trump administration is revoking or denying visas for any International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel who try to investigate or prosecute U.S. officials or key allies for potential war crimes. The move, Pompeo confirmed is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the war in Afghanistan. There was an immediate and almost unanimous outcry by the key human rights NGOs in the USA:

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU‘s Human Rights Program (the ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud, who were all detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008): “This is an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day,” Dakwar said. “It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” He encouraged ICC member countries to “publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”

Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, noted that this is just “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.” Visa bans, as Balson pointed out, are “powerful tools typically reserved for the most serious of human rights abusers.” But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC—an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under international law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The move is “is highly indicative of [the administration’s] culture of disregard for rights abuses,” said Balson. “Throwing roadblocks in front of the ICC’s investigation undermines justice not only for abuses committed in Afghanistan, but also for the millions of victims and survivors throughout the world who have experienced the most serious crimes under international law.

Pompeo’s announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by U.S. civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan….”These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” Pompeo added. “Implementation of this policy has already begun.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/15/blatant-effort-intimidate-and-retaliate-pompeo-imposes-visa-ban-icc-staff-probing-us

Sudan belongs on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council

February 19, 2019

On 31 January 2019, the NGO wrote that over the last month, dozens of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and academics have been arbitrarily arrested, not only during street protests, but also at their homes and places of work. That same day Sudanese security forces detained Nazim Siraj, a doctor and human rights defender who has been active in different youth groups and who has been the coordinator for “Accidents Street”, an initiative providing free medical treatment and rehabilitation to Sudanese citizens, including to victims of human rights abuses.

On 30 January 2019, writer and human rights lawyer Kamal Al jazouli was arrested from  his office. On 28 January 2019, security forces detained human rights defender and economist Sedgi Kabalo at his house and took him to an unknown place. Journalist and member of the Sudanese Journalist’s Network, Adel Ibrahim, remains in detention in an unknown location since his arrest on 15 January. 

On 13 January 2019, doctor and woman human rights defender Heba Omar Ibrahim was arrested and pressured by police officers to reveal the names of other human rights defenders working in the health sector.

—–

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/29/human-rights-council-should-create-independent-fact-finding-group-sudan

https://www.albawaba.com/news/sudan-protests-enter-3rd-month-1254860

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/location/sudan

Novalpina urged to come clean about targeting human rights defenders

February 19, 2019

In an open letter released today, 18 February 2019, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and five other NGOs urged Novalpina to publicly commit to accountability for NSO Group’s past spyware abuses, including the targeting of an Amnesty International employee and the alleged targeting of Jamal Khashoggi. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “Novalpina’s executives have serious questions to answer about their involvement with a company which has become the go-to surveillance tool for abusive governments. This sale comes in the wake of reports that NSO paid private operatives to physically intimidate individuals trying to investigate its role in attacks on human rights defenders – further proof that NSO is an extremely dangerous entity.

We are calling on Novalpina to confirm an immediate end to the sale or further maintenance of NSO products to governments which have been accused of using surveillance to violate human rights. It must also be completely transparent about its plans to prevent further abuses.

This could be an opportunity to finally hold NSO Group to account. Novalpina must commit to fully engaging with investigations into past abuses of NSO’s spyware, and ensure that neither NSO Group nor its previous owners, Francisco Partners, are let off the hook.”

The signatories to the letter are:

  • Amnesty International
  • R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
  • Privacy International
  • Access Now
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law and Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/spyware-firm-buyout-reaffirms-urgent-need-for-justice-for-targeted-activists/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2019/02/open-letter-to-novalpina-capital-nso-group-and-francisco-partners/

Turkey, not a good place to be a lawyer or a judge

February 7, 2019

On 6 February 2019 is became known that a public prosecutor has sought the maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each of 33 lawyers on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to their alleged links to the faith-based civic Gülen movement, the T24 news website reported on Tuesday. On Tuesday the trial of 53 defendants, 52 of whom are lawyers, continued at the Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court.

[Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown as a result of which more than 150,000 people were removed from state jobs while in excess of 50,000 others were jailed and some 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.]

According to data compiled by independent monitoring site The Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative, 555 lawyers have been arrested since July 15, 2016 and 1,546 were under prosecution as of January 24, 2019. Two hundred sixteen lawyers have been sentenced to a total of 1,361 years in prison. Some of the arrested lawyers were reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment. Fourteen of the detained or arrested lawyers are presidents or former presidents of provincial bar associations.

A report titled “Incarceration of Turkish Lawyers: En Masse Arrests and Convictions (2016-2018)” previously revealed that lawyers have particularly been targeted simply due to the identity or affiliations of their clients, all this spite of the basic principles of the independence of lawyers. [see e.g. https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/basic-principles/ and also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/09/independence-of-the-legal-profession-subject-of-side-event-on-16-march-2017/]

Judiciary

And it is not limited to lawyers. A Turkish court sentenced a judge who previously won an award for human rights to 10 years in prison over links to the network Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday. Murat Arslan, who has been detained for 22 months, was convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organisation, after prosecutors charged him with use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock, Anadolu said. Arslan has denied the charges and said any evidence that he had used the app was “fabricated”, Anadolu said.

The government says the outlawed app was widely used by followers of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the attempted coup that saw rogue soldiers commandeer tanks and aircraft, attacking parliament and killing some 250 unarmed civilians. The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a decision that prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/turkey-angry-after-pace-havel-prize-is-awarded-to-jailed-judge/]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/18/european-commission-states-that-turkey-is-taking-major-steps-away-from-the-eu/

Torture

In the meantime Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the 2018 winner of the Hessian Peace Prize for her work documenting human rights abuses in Turkey, said torture had become systematic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/05/turkish-human-rights-defender-and-forensic-doctor-sebnem-korur-fincanci-honoured/]

Korur Fincancı was one of more than 1,000 Turkish academics who signed a 2016 petition calling for peace after a two-year ceasefire between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down and security forces used tanks and artillery to crush attempts by the militants to seize towns and cities across the mainly Kurdish southeast. Now the head of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for signing the petition and for her contribution to a report prepared by her foundation on the Turkish military’s activities in the southeastern town of Cizre. 

……The figures show an alarming trend that Korur Fincancı said pointed to systematic rights violations. “In the year 2017, more than 5,000 people across Turkey applied for legal aid from the Human Rights Association on the basis that they’d been tortured. More than 500 applied to representatives of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey to be diagnosed … for torture,” she said.  The number of applicants remained high in 2018, with more than 2,600 people who said they had been tortured applying for legal aid and 558 applying for treatment in the first 11 months of the year.

Fincancı

….Korur Fincancı she said the fight against torture must extend beyong medical treatment to preventative measures, and that means educating the public.

…Meanwhile, security forces have opened 26,000 cases against suspects they say resisted arrest. “After police launch cases against them, people become hesitant to open (torture) cases … or the withdraw them. Thus the judiciary protects the police, the use of torture with legal repercussions becomes more entrenched, and the police believe they are doing their duty under this protection,” said the doctor.

With the introduction of emergency rule after the coup, the purge and arrest of public officials has come to be counted as part of a struggle against terrorism, providing another layer of protection for security officers who commit torture and other infractions. “And this arrangement applies to civilians – it’s the same as telling security officers we are in a state of civil war and their actions will be ignored,” Korur Fincancı said. “And that’s a very dangerous situation.

State of emergency

Anyway, ending the state of emergency in Turkey has not ended repressive rule under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Human Rights Watch observed on 17 January 2019 in its World Report 2019. Prolonged and arbitrary jailing of critics on bogus terrorism charges has become the norm in Turkey. Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2018 took place in a climate of media censorship and with some members of parliament and one presidential candidate jailed. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) retained control of a weakened parliament through a coalition. And with the election, in which Erdoğan was reelected, Turkey’s presidential system of governance, approved in a 2017 constitutional referendum, entered fully into force. “Any hope that the end of the state of emergency six month ago would mark a return to respect for human rights has been dashed,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Erdoğan government’s hounding of its critics and opponents has dismantled Turkey’s rule of law framework and turned justice on its head.

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/turkey-sentences-detained-judge-who-won-human-rights-award-to-10-years–anadolu-says-11141758
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/turkey-state-emergency-ends-not-repression
https://ahvalnews.com/torture/award-winning-rights-activist-says-torture-systematic-turkey

Other members of the UN’s Khashoggi investigation team named

January 26, 2019

The United Nations’ human rights office in Geneva confirmed on Friday a Reuters report that three-member team of international experts would conduct an inquiry into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/26/u-n-rapporteur-agnes-callamard-to-investigate-kashoggi-murder/]. The other two panel members – in addition to Agnes Callamard – are British barrister Helena Kennedy and Duarte Nuno Vieira, a pathology expert and professor at the department of legal and forensic medicine and ethics and medical law at Coimbra University, Portugal.

The trio will visit Turkey from Jan 28-Feb 3 and plan to report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June, it said.

There was no word on whether the panel would seek access to Saudi Arabia or whether the kingdom would cooperate. The Saudi diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond to inquiries. On 29 January Human Rights Watch stated that the team has in fact requested to visit Saudi Arabia. HRW added that” Once Callamard presents her findings to the Human Rights Council, UN member states should explore avenues for holding to account everyone responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, from the operatives who dismembered him with a bone saw to any officials who ordered or organized the killing.”

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/un-names-members-of-international-inquiry-on-khashoggi-murder-11166718

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/29/un-rights-expert-independently-investigates-khashoggi-murder

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Tajik human rights defender Faiziniso Vohidova died

January 7, 2019

Radio Free Europe (RFE) announced on 4 January 2019 that Faiziniso Vohidova, a Tajik lawyer who defended dissidents for decades, died at the age of 55.

Faiziniso Vohidova in 2016
Faiziniso Vohidova in 2016

Faiziniso Vohidova was a graduate of Moscow State University and started her career as a lawyer in 1995. She was one of the last lawyers in Tajikistan who provided legal assistance to opposition figures, journalists, and victims of torture. Steve Swerdlow, researcher with Human Rights Watch, called Vohidova’s death “a huge loss for Tajikistan” and described her as a brave “lawyers’ lawyer.

[Vohidova] was an amazing combination of fierce intellect, sharp wit [and] principle. [For] duration of Tajikistan’s independence she has been part of that small group of activists and lawyers who have sought to make it live up to the democratic pronouncements written in its Constitution,” Swerdlow wrote on Twitter, adding that she was “unafraid to take on the toughest battles, fight for justice till the end, no matter what the odds.”

Rajabi Mirz, an independent journalist and rights defender in Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that Vohidova was “the last pillar” of those challenging the authorities in Tajikistan. “She was one of the few who cared about Tajikistan’s future,” Mirzo said.

https://www.rferl.org/a/faiziniso-vohidova-tajik-lawyer-who-defended-dissidents-for-decades-dies-at-55/29691242.html

In spite of Khashoggi, Riyadh wants to be the capital of media….

December 18, 2018

TRT World carries an interesting piece about Riyadh being celebrated as “capital of media”. The piece gives a detailed account of the Khashoggi affair and rightly wonders how this sits with having a media event.

People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018 (Reuters)

The event, which will take place on December 19, almost three months after Khashoggi’s killing, comes following the Council of Arab Information Ministers’ decision to choose Riyadh as the Arab Media Capital last May, according to a statement by the Media and Communication sector of the Arab League.

….For years the Saudi Arabian government has been accused of human rights violations, including imprisoning human rights defenders and silencing its critics. However, human rights organisations have been increasingly expressing their concerns since the crown prince’s takeover in 2015, saying that the limited freedom of expression under his father King Salman has been completely shut down. Three Saudi princes living in the Europe, all critics of the Saudi government, disappeared between 2015 and 2017.  Human Rights Watch reported in May 2018 that the kingdom arbitrarily detained thousands more people in a six-month period, without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings.

“[MBS] wants to control the whole scene: He’s a transformer, he wants to have a monopoly on the narrative, on the ideas that are being exchanged in Saudi Arabia. And right now he does have total control,” Khashoggi was quoted as saying in March 2018, in an article by the Columbia Journalism Review.  “The American media should not see the cup half full—see only the reform. Yes, he’s fulfilling a promise to purge radicalism in Saudi Arabia. At the same time however, he’s not allowing any form of expression, except expression that supports him,” he said.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/19/novak-djokovic-and-rafael-nadal-have-a-chance-to-score-a-point-for-human-rights-defenders/]

https://www.trtworld.com/mea/arab-league-to-celebrate-riyadh-as-capital-of-media-amid-growing-pressure-22560

And in the Philippines the killing of human rights defenders also continues with Benjamin Ramos

November 8, 2018

FOR THE PEOPLE. Benjamin Ramos is hailed for his work as a lawyer for marginalized sectors. Photo from the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers' Facebook page

Benjamin Ramos is hailed for his work as a lawyer for marginalized sectors. Photo from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers’ Facebook page

On Wednesday, 7 November many NGOs condemned the murder of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, which comes amid continuous violence against human rights defenders in the Philippines.  Ramos, the secretary-general of the Negros Occidental arm of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), was shot dead by riding-in-tandem assailants on Tuesday night, 6 November in Kabankalan City. A known human rights defender, Ramos represented political prisoners, farmers, and other members of marginalized sectors in his career as a pro-bono lawyer. Among those he worked with were the Mabinay 6, including youth leader and University of the Philippines Cebu alumna Myles Albasin. They were arrested in March 2017 in Mabinay, Negros Oriental, following an alleged clash with government troops.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expressed concern that Ramos’ death is the latest in the “growing incidents of injustices reported.’ We call on the government to act with urgency in pinning down the perpetrators of this violence and proceed with active measures that would protect the safety of human rights defenders who continue to serve this country’s most vulnerable and marginalized,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

NUPL, in a statement, said “beastly attacks by treacherous cowards cannot go on.” Not a few of our members have been attacked and killed before while literally practicing their profession and advocacies in the courts, in rallies, in picket lines, in urban poor communities, and in fact-finding missions,” NUPL said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, tagged the incident as “a blow to the human rights movement in the country” which has suffered from threats, including from President Rodrigo Duterte himself. We demand an impartial investigation into Ramos’ murder and the many other attacks against lawyers in the Philippines and that the authorities bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Carlos Conde of HRW Asia Division.

I condemn the murder of a fellow member of the Bar. I am outraged at the thought that his advocacy could have caused his own murder or might justify it. His murder is inexcusable and must be investigated, and the perpetrators, brought to justice,” Chel Diokno national chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG)said in a statement.

In 2017 alone, Ireland-based Front Line Defenders recorded 60 deaths in the Philippines. Since 2001, there have been at least 613 documented killings. To see some of my earlier posts on the Philippines, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/philippines/

Facing death threats, human rights groups have repeatedly called on the government to recognize their role in society by passing the human rights defenders’ protection bill

https://www.rappler.com/nation/216116-groups-condemn-lawyer-benjamin-ramos-murder-attack-against-human-rights-movement

Where is the international support for Canada in its row with Saudi Arabia

August 27, 2018

The tension between Saudi Arabia and Canada began when Canada’s Global Affairs Twitter account tweeted this 3 August 2018 statement concerning human rights abuses: Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in , including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful activists.

The excessive response by Saudi Arabia and the various issues at stake have been sufficiently described  in the media (see several links below) but what is most disturbing is what one commentator called “Not a shred of solidarity was on offer anyway: it was all just a dispute between “friends” and “allies.” Weak EU response with obviously no support from the Trump government, has left the Canadian government close to mulling a kind of apology “Canada will of course continue to “speak out,” Trudeau said last Wednesday, but he also said this of Saudi Arabia: “This is a country that has some importance around the world. It is making progress when it comes to human rights.” There is no need for mediation,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “…Canada has made a mistake and needs to fix it.” Al-Jubeir’s views were then immediately expanded by former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird in an interview broadcast by the Saudis’ own Al-Arabiya network.

On 9 August a number of Canadian organizations expressed their support to Canada for its recent position on the detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. “and urged the international community to join Canada in calling for the unequivocal respect of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”

With Russia and quite of few other countries coming out openly to express solidarity with Saudi Arabia it is time to ask where the like-minded solidarity is and what international NGOs do to support courageous Canada??

[with exception for HRW https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/08/saudi-arabia-punishes-canada-criticizing-human-rights-defenders-arrests and AI https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/08/saudi-arabia-international-community-must-speak-up-for-human-rights-defenders-after-canadian-ambassador-expelled/]

———

http://www.mediafiledc.com/saudi-canadian-duel-takes-place-on-multiple-platforms/

https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/08/11/saudi-arabia-picks-a-pointless-fight-with-canada

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canada-owes-no-apology-to-the-saudis/

https://www.macleans.ca/politics/worldpolitics/the-trudeau-government-is-losing-its-human-rights-battle-with-the-saudis-and-missing-a-huge-opportunity/

https://interpares.ca/news/joint-statement-canadas-support-women-human-rights-defenders-saudi-arabia