Posts Tagged ‘HRW’

Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, HRW staff member, expelled from Algeria

August 21, 2019

Former Moroccan journalist Ahmed Reda Benchemsi. / Ph. DR

On 20 August 2019 Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced Algeria’s expulsion of former Moroccan journalist Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, who acts as its Middle East communications and advocacy director. In a statement, the NGO recalled that Benchemsi arrived in Algeria on August 1 on behalf of the organization. Police arrested him on August 9 around 2 pm, while he «was observing the 25th consecutive Friday pro-democracy demonstration in downtown Algiers». Authorities confiscated his phone and laptop and «ordered him to provide his passwords to unlock both devices, which he refused to do».

«Ahmed Benchemsi was in Algiers simply doing his job observing human rights conditions», executive director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth said. «His arbitrary arrest and mistreatment send the message that authorities don’t want the world to know about the mass protests for more democracy in Algeria», Roth added.

Benchemsi lawfully entered Algeria and revealed his professional affiliation at the request of the authorities, said HRW, recalling that the Moroccan had already made three trips to Algeria since 2017 on behalf of the organization. The Algerian authorities have not, at any time, informed Benchemsi of the charges he could be facing or the legal basis to confiscate and keep his passports, his telephone and his laptop, or to demand that he provides the passwords of the devices, he denounces. «Benchemsi’s mistreatment is a sobering reminder of the risks faced every day by Algerian human rights defenders exposing and reporting on government abuses», Roth concluded.

https://en.yabiladi.com/articles/details/82356/denounces-arrest-mistreatment-ahmed-reda.html

https://allafrica.com/stories/201908200439.html

Egypt: crackdown and new NGO law dont augur well

July 25, 2019

On 23 July 2019 FIDH, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) denounce the new crackdown and call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately end any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all peaceful activists, in particular political opponents and human rights defenders in Egypt, such as former member of Parliament and human rights lawyer Zyad al-Elaimy. At least 83 persons, including political opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders, have been arrested in Egypt over terrorist charges since June 25 for their alleged implication in a plot against the State.Human Rights Watch published the next day an elaborate report on Egypt’s New NGO Law which renews draconian restrictions and imposes disproportionate fines and bans links with foreign groups. Here some key elements but the ful lreport should be read:

UK joins small group of countries with specific guidelines on human rights defenders

July 19, 2019

The United Kingdom has recently published guidelines for the protection and support of rights defenders around the world. It joins a small group of countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Canada (although they differ – see the websites of these countries). There are also some mulitlateral ones such as the EU Guidelines.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/01/13/quick-reminder-of-the-eu-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/] and those of the OSCE.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/13/canada-joins-select-group-of-governments-with-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/02/swiss-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders-analyzed-by-civil-society/.

In the foreword to the publication Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, states: To demonstrate our commitment of continued support of human rights defenders globally, this document sets out why human rights defenders are important to us and acknowledges the risks they face in the pursuit of universal human rights. We hope it will give human rights defenders encouragement to know how we may be able to support them, including through our network of embassies and high commissions overseas. Whilst every situation may be different depending on local context, our values and commitments in providing support remain the same

Human Rights Watch was not impressed: While welcome, real support requires a willingness to speak out even when it carries political costs. The new guidelines praise the courageous work of human rights defenders in the face of risks including threats, intimidation, harassment, and detention. The guidelines rightly identify groups which are in greater danger, such as journalists, women, and LGBT activists, and express the UK’s commitment to support them “wherever they are in the world.” But when it comes to actually standing up for human rights defenders, the UK’s record is patchy. While it sometimes speaks out in private, it remains reluctant to do so publicly, even though doing so would raise the cost to states that seek to silence those who speak truth to power. The UK government has so far done very little about credible reports of the torture, sexual harassment, and assault of Saudi women activists currently on trial for defending human rights in their country. It has failed to hold Hungary to account for its efforts to clamp down on human rights groups and rule of law. And it has failed to criticize United Arab Emirates authorities for the unjust imprisonment of Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor on his peaceful calls for reform. The UK hopes that by publishing these guidelines, defenders might be encouraged to understand that the British government might be able to support them. But if the UK is really serious about this, it should be willing to speak out publicly on their behalf when they are in trouble, including when their safety is at risk in countries that are UK allies. In short, the UK’s new Prime Minister should make it a priority to protect and support human rights defenders no matter where they are in the world.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/19/will-next-uk-government-stand-human-rights-defenders

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/815986/UK-Support-for-Human-Rights-Defenders.pdf

In memoriam Chinese human rights defender Ji Sizun

July 15, 2019

Undated photo of award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun, who died of cancer at 71, weeks after the end of his prison term, July 10, 2019.

Undated photo of award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun, who died of cancer at 71, weeks after the end of his prison term, July 10, 2019. Courtesy of an RFA listener.

Award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun has died of cancer, pn 10 July 2019 weeks after the end of his prison term. He was 71. Ji, a self-taught legal activist from the southeastern province of Fujian, died of colorectal cancer on Wednesday afternoon at the Zhangzhou Xiangcheng Hospital in Zhangzhou city, his family said.

He had just finished serving a four-and-a-half year jail term for publicly supporting the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and had been held incommunicado and under close surveillance by the authorities since his “release” in April. His family members were denied permission to visit or speak with him until he was unconscious (!), and Ji’s body was sent directly for cremation after his death by the authorities. His sister said her brother had dedicated his life to human rights work, which was why he had never married. “He would say that his work was too dangerous, so he didn’t want to have a wife and child to care about him.”

Ji’s cancer was diagnosed while he was in prison, and he was offered treatment in a local hospital, according to Ji Zhongjiu, a lawyer who had tried to visit him there.

A source close to the case said Ji’s remains had been handed over to his local neighborhood committee, rather than to his family, sparking suspicions that Ji’s death may not have been entirely due to natural causes. “There are huge question marks over this whole thing … as for the family’s letter entrusting them with this task, the family are very confused about that,” the source said. “The letter was signed on June 12, and Ji suddenly died less than a month after they signed it, so clearly there are suspicions that the authorities have been playing god.” He said the family never wanted Ji to be cremated.

Earlier this year, Ji was awarded the fifth Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, for his contribution in promoting legal rights and education at the grassroots level in China. Cao died in March 2014 after she was denied medical treatment for months while in detention. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/human-rights-defender-ji-sizun-in-jail-awarded-5th-cao-shunli-memorial-award-for-human-rights-defenders/

The Chinese authorities should investigate the circumstances and causes of human rights activist Ji Sizun’s death, Human Rights Watch said.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/activist-death-07102019113636.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/10/china-account-activists-death

Joint letter by 22 States to Human Rights Council re China’s Uighurs

July 12, 2019

A Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang region
China is reportedly holding one million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, in internment camps in Xinjiang Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

UN ambassadors  – including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan – co-signed the letter released Wednesday and sent to the Human Rights Council president, Coly Seck, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

Rights groups and former inmates describe them as “concentration camps” where mainly Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are being forcefully assimilated into China’s majority ethnic Han society. The letter expresses concern “about credible reports of arbitrary detention… as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.” It calls on China to stop arbitrary detention and allow “freedom of movement of Uighurs and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.” The authors, who include ambassadors from across the EU as well as Switzerland, requested that the letter become an official document of the Human Rights Council, which ends its 41st session in Geneva on Friday. Chinese officials describe the camps as voluntary “vocational education centres” where Turkic-speaking Uighurs receive job training.

The letter may have been the only available option with China having enough support in the UN Council to vote down a formal resolution. See also: ttps://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-xinjiang-rights-idUSKCN1U721X?utm_campaign=trueAnthem:+Trending+Content&utm_content=5d28c3e00ca7240001cb2eef&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=twitter

On the same day Human Rights Watch commented: Most importantly, the joint letter sends a strong message that we are moving beyond the era of selectivity, and that no country, large or small, is exempt from the scrutiny of this Council. We understand that the joint letter remains open for additional signatures, and we encourage those delegations that have not yet signed to do so. We are particularly disappointed that OIC member states have not yet engaged meaningfully or credibly with the human rights situation affecting Muslims in Xinjiang, while they have spoken out on other situations. This risks fueling perceptions of double standards and politicization; supporting the constructive joint statement would be a useful step towards addressing such perceptions.

We also welcome China’s acceptance of a UPR recommendation to respond positively to a country visit request by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

We would suggest that China could benefit from technical assistance by drawing on the expertise of other UN Special Rapporteurs, such as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights while countering terrorism. Given that China has advanced the need to counter terrorism as its rationale for mass programs directed at Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang, the Special Rapporteur could offer useful guidance on whether there are more rights-respecting ways to counter terrorism than mass surveillance, detaining over a million Muslims, and stripping an entire population of its rights to freedom of religion, privacy, culture and expression.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/11/hot-news-ilham-tohti-chinas-mandela-wins-2016-martin-ennals-awad/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/11/more-than-20-ambassadors-condemn-chinas-treatment-of-uighurs-in-xinjiang

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/11/independent-reporting-xinjiang-abuses-requires-unfettered-access-not-stage-managed

Human rights defender Daniel Bekele now Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

July 8, 2019

As a further indication of the chances taking place in Ethiopia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/07/ethiopia-a-progress-report-by-defenddefenders-made-public-on-7-may/], the Parliament approved on 2 july 2019 the appointment of former NGO activist, Daniel Bekele, to serve as Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Daniel served in different organization including as Executive Director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/19/new-laws-are-being-introduced-in-kenya-to-restrict-human-rights-defenders/] and advisor at Amnesty International. Daniel who holds a Master’s Degree in International Law and legal Studies from Oxford university, has also been working as an independent consultant.

(In the 2005 parliamentary elections in Ethiopia, Daniel was actively involved in promoting human rights and independent election monitoring, as well as peace initiatives in the aftermath of the post-election crisis. However, he was arrested by the authorities and spent more than two years in prison. He was recognized as prisoner of conscience and in 2009 received the Alison Des Forges Award)

Ethiopia appoints Amnesty International advisor to lead commission

Reprisal against Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed Soltan

May 12, 2019

On 10 May 2019, a number of NGOs issued a joint statement on the defamation campaign by Egypt against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan:

We, the undersigned organizations strongly condemn the defamation campaign by the Egyptian authorities against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan, 

 
Mohamed Soltan is a prominent human rights defender from The Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights advocacy group in Washington D.C. He spent nearly two years in prison in the case known as “Raba’ Operations Room,” in which authorities pressed politically-motivated charges in 2014-2015 against scores of critical journalists and political figures for “membership in an illegal group”, “publishing false news” and “planning to overthrow the ruling regime”, among other charges. Some of the charges do not constitute recognizable crimes under international law. In any case, the US State Department, and Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the casefile in April 2015, found that prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence to establish him as a suspect, let alone establishing Soltan’s individual criminal responsibility  for the alleged crimes. An Egyptian court sentenced him to life in prison in 2015.
 
In protest of his unjust detention by the Egyptian authorities, Soltan entered into an open-ended hunger strike and was supported by a worldwide campaign effort. The U.S. government intervened at the highest levels and successfully facilitated his release and return to the United States on May 30th, 2015. Since his release, Soltan has become a full-time human right advocate relentlessly defending democratic values and human rights.
 
The Freedom Initiative has worked diligently with Egyptian and international human rights organizations to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. The organization’s annual flagship event, the Egypt Advocacy Day, involved two award-winning actors who joined over 100 Egyptians and Egyptian Americans from over 25 U.S. states and six countries for meetings with members of the U.S. Congress and State Department. The aim of the meetings was to engage the Egyptian diaspora in the U.S. with their elected representatives on human rights and democratic governance issues in Egypt
 
In response, the Egyptian authorities have apparently unleashed a systematic defamation campaign against some of those who participated in the meetings and against the organizers, particularly the award-winning actors, The Freedom Initiative and Soltan. The Egyptian government,as well as privately owned newspapers, falsely accused him of being a convicted terrorist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and working on behalf of foreign agents. The defamatory statements were reported on government-sponsored media outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
 
The coordinated harassment of Soltan is part of a broader repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and is aimed to stigmatize human rights defenders, both nationally and abroad, and undermine the effectiveness of their work.
 
We stand in solidarity with Mohamed Soltan, The Freedom Initiative and all Egyptians who peacefully speak out against human rights abuses despite the hefty price. We urge the Egyptian government to respect its obligations under international human rights treaties and the Egyptian constitution, end the crackdown on critics, halt the persecution of human rights defenders and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions.
 
Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms
Amnesty International
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Egyptian Human Rights Forum
EuroMed Rights
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Freedom Initiative

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/egypt-reprisal-against-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan-for-human-rights-advocacy?e=1209ebd6d8

International Civil Society Week: counterterrorism used against human rights defenders

May 2, 2019

More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries took to the streets of Belgrade, Serbia in solidarity with those whose basic freedoms are at risk. They participated in the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which took place in Belgrade, April 8-12. I blogged about contributions to this meeting before [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/14/international-civil-society-week-2019-call-for-more-ngo-voice-in-the-un/]. Here another one: “Civil Society Under Attack in Name of Counterterrorism” b

Civil society has long played a crucial role in society, providing life-saving assistance and upholding human rights for all. However, counterterrorism measures, which are meant to protect civilians, are directly, and often intentionally, undermining such critical work. “Civil society is under increased assault in the name of countering terrorism,” Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism researcher Letta Tayler told IPS, pointing to a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions as among the culprits.

…..The newly approved Resolution 2462, passed at the end of March, requires member states to criminalise financial assistance to terrorist individuals or groups “for any purpose” even if the aid is indirect and provided “in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.” While the resolution does include some language on human rights protections, Tayler noted that it is not sufficient. “It is not sufficiently spelled out to make very clear to member states what they can and cannot do that might violate human rights on the ground,” she said…

Among the major issues concerning these resolutions is that there is no universal, legal definition of terrorism, allowing states to craft their own, usually broad, definitions. This has put civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) alike at risk of detention and left vulnerable populations without essential life-saving assistance. “I think it is irresponsible of the Security Council to pass binding resolutions that leave up to States to craft their own definitions of terrorism…that’s how you end up with counterterrorism laws that criminalise peaceful protest or criticising the state,” Tayler said.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Paul Scott echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The Security Council, by being overly broad, is just giving [governments] the tools to restrict civil society.”

According to Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organisation, 58 percent of its cases in 2018 saw HRDs charged under national security legislation.

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin .. noted that country’s counterterrorism laws are being used as a “shortcut to targeting democratic protest and dissent.”

…..

….The problem has only gotten worse since then, Paul noted. “The measures imposed by governments are unnecessarily broad and they prevent us from working in areas that are controlled by designated terrorist entities. What they have essentially done is criminalise humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Tayler highlighted the importance of the UN and civil society to monitor how counterterrorism resolutions such as Resolution 2462 are used on the ground. “While we would love to see amendments to this resolution, pragmatically the next best step is for all eyes—the eyes of civil society, the UN, regional organisations—to focus on just how states implement this resolution to make sure that overly broad language is not used by states to become a tool of repression,” she said…

Paul pointed to the need to educate both the public and policymakers on counterterrorism and its spillover effects as well as the importance of civil society in the global system.

Civil society is a key part of effective governance. We don’t get effective public services, we don’t get peace, we don’t get to move forward with the anti-poverty agenda if civil society actors aren’t strong and empowered,” he said…

Israel: Deportation of Human Rights Watch’s staff member again on the table

April 18, 2019

The sea-saw surrounding Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch’ office [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/27/human-rights-watch-granted-israeli-work-permit-in-the-end/] continues with an Israeli court on 16 April 2019 upholding the Israeli government’s order to deport Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director. The ruling by the Jerusalem District Court comes in response to a lawsuit filed in May 2018 by the organization, and Shakir challenging the government’s decision to revoke Shakir’s work permit and the constitutionality of a 2017 law barring entry to Israel for people who advocate so-called boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements.

Asian football and human rights: still a long-term goal

April 7, 2019

That there is still a lot that needs to be done in the world of sports and human rights is illustrated in the piece by Minky Worden (director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch) in the Sydney Herald of 7 April 2019 (“Football leaders stand by as human rights abuses pile up”). Article 3 of the FIFA and AFC Statutes requires the AFC and its leaders “promote and protect
human rights”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

A too-rare sight ... Iranian women cheer their national team in an Asian World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006. Now women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter stadiums.
A too-rare sight … Iranian women cheer their national team in an Asian World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in 2006. Now women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter stadiums.CREDIT:AP

Yet Sheikh Salman remained silent when Bahrain attempted to extradite Hakeem Al-Araibi, former national football player who had been accepted as a refugee in Australia, earlier this
year – despite strong statements by FIFA itself calling for his release. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/11/bahrain-feels-forced-to-drop-extradition-request-against-footballer-hakeem-al-araibi-who-is-on-the-plane-back-home/]

..He is not the only high-level football official who may not be acting in accordance with the policy. In 2018, 20 members of Afghanistan’s women’s national team made detailed allegations to the Guardian and to FIFA of sexual and physical abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the president of the Afghan Football Federation, Keramuddin Karim, and other officials. FIFA suspended Karim for two 90-day periods and during this time he has reportedly threatened witnesses in the case. He stands accused of sexual assault, physical attacks and intimidation…. The federation general secretary, Sayed Ali Reza Aghazada of Afghanistan, was suspended, yet was also just elected to the AFC’s powerful governing body, the executive committee.

Finally, Iran’s Football Federation president, Mehdi Taj, was elevated to AFC vice-president……….On Friday, before the AFC election, Iranian women filed an unprecedented FIFA ethics complaint against Mehdi Taj, for his role in presiding over their exclusion from stadiums for years. FIFA has said clearly in its second Human Rights Advisory Board report that the stadium ban for women violates FIFA’s statutes, which say such discrimination is “punishable by suspension or expulsion”.

The AFC football leaders from Bahrain, Afghanistan and Iran are bound by the FIFA code of ethics, the FIFA statutes and the FIFA human rights policy. FIFA has made admirable progress in implementing its new policy , and could even raise the bar for other sports federations. But FIFA’s reform efforts risk derailment if the sport’s leaders in Asia refuse to uphold the new global standards. FIFA’s Gianni Infantino, up for re-election unopposed himself this year, needs to find his voice to call out football federation leaders who are undermining reforms. It is time to hold accountable those who are threatening the “beautiful game” with ugly human rights abuses.

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/football-leaders-stand-by-as-human-rights-abuses-pile-up-20190407-p51bmp.html