Posts Tagged ‘non-refoulement’

Shocking case of refoulement from Spain

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022, Statewatch along with 13 other human rights organisations condemned the deportation from Spain to Algeria of Mohamed Benhalima, a human rights activist who faces a serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment in the North African state.

The organisations strongly condemn the deportation by Spain of Algerian activist Mohamed Benhalima, in the evening of 24 March 2022, despite the risks of torture and serious human rights violations he faces in Algeria, and therefore in blatant violation of Spain’s international obligations on non-refoulement. The authorities had been made aware, through civil society and legal appeals, that Mr Benhalima faces a high risk of torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trial in Algeria, where such violations are increasingly common against prisoners of opinion and peaceful activists.

Mohamed Benhalima is an Algerian citizen and a former Army corporal turned whistleblower, who exposed corruption among Algeria’s high-ranking military officials in 2019. He left Algeria after receiving information that his name was on a list of wanted military officials at risk of detention by the Algerian army for their participation in the Hirak, a mass pro-democracy protest movement.

He sought asylum in Spain on 18 February 2020 and again on 18 March 2022; Spain refused him asylum both times. On 14 March 2022, authorities opened an administrative file of expulsion for infringement of Art. 54.1.a. of Immigration Law 4/2000, alleging that Mr. Benhalima took part in “activities contrary to public security or which may be harmful for Spanish relationships with foreign states”.

Spanish authorities justified the opening of an expulsion file based on Mr. Benhalima’s alleged association with political opposition group Rachad, which was listed as a terrorist group by Algeria on 6 February 2022. Spanish authorities claimed that Rachad’s objective was to infiltrate radical youth into Algerian society to protest against the Algerian government, and concluded that the activist was a member of a terrorist group.

Authorities did not provide any proof of violent action or speech or any other action taken by the activist that would fall under a definition of terrorism in accordance with the definition proposed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism. Authorities also do not appear to have considered a context in which Algerian authorities have been increasingly levelling bogus terrorism and state security charges against peaceful activists, human rights defenders and journalists since April 2021. On 27 December 2021, UN Special Procedures warned that the definition of terrorism in the Algerian Penal Code was too imprecise and undermined fundamental rights. They stated that the procedure for registration on the national terrorist list did not comply with international human rights standards and expressed concern that it could give rise to abuse.

On 24 March around 7pm, Mr. Benhalima’s lawyers were notified of the resolution of expulsion and promptly filed a request for an interim suspensive measure at the National Court of Spain, which was rejected; however, it was revealed later that the activist was already on his way to Algeria at the time.

On 21 March 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) submitted a non-public report to the Spanish government stating that Mr. Benhalima’s asylum request should be studied thoroughly in a regular procedure and not rejected expediently, arguing that the fear of torture was credible and that Algeria’s criminalisation of peaceful opposition was internationally recognised.

On 27 March, Benhalima appeared in a video broadcasted on Ennahar TV, in which he “confesses” to the crimes of conspiracy against the state, and states that he was not treated badly in custody. However, the undersigned organisations call into question the reliability of such statements which might be the result of duress. In addition, Benhalima had himself released a video from the retention centre in Valencia, before his deportation to Algeria, in which he warns that such videos would not be genuine and would show that he “was subjected to severe torture at the hands of intelligence services.”

In January and March 2021, in Algeria, Mohamed Benhalima was sentenced in absentia to a total of 20 years in prison for charges including “participation in a terrorist group” (Article 87bis 3 of the Penal Code) and “publishing fake news undermining national unity” (Art.196 bis) among other charges. The overly broad formulation of both articles has been used by Algeria repeatedly to criminalise fundamental freedoms. In one of the verdicts, issued on 9 March 2021, the judge sentenced Benhalima to 10 years in prison for his online publications, including videos exposing corruption in the army, a form of peaceful expression, which is protected under the right to freedom of expression.

Spanish authorities additionally motivated the expulsion based on Mr. Benhalima’s close relationship with Mohamed Abdellah, another Algerian whistleblower and former member of the military, who also sought refuge in Spain in April 2019 and was forcibly returned on 21 August 2021 using Art. 54.1.a. of Law 4/2000, in similar circumstances and for the same motives.

Mohamed Abdellah, currently detained in the military prison of Blida, stated in court on 2 January 2022 that he had been subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment upon his return to Algeria, including prolonged solitary confinement in a cell with no light and physical abuse, according to a witness who attended the hearing. He was also deprived of access to a lawyer.

Despite the strong similarities between both cases providing a compelling precedent about the actual risk of torture and ill treatment of activists and whistleblowers, notably former members of the military, in Algeria, the Spanish government showed its determination to forcibly return someone where their physical and psychological integrity was not guaranteed. In doing so, Spain flouted critical international law obligations under which nobody should be returned to a country where they would be in danger of suffering torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Signatures

  • MENA Rights Group
  • Justitia Center for legal protection of human rights in Algeria
  • World Organisation Against Torture
  • Red Jurídica
  • CIHRS
  • Amnesty International
  • Irídia, Center for Human Rights
  • Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie
  • Al Karama
  • Statewatch
  • Spanish Commission for Refugees – CEAR
  • Euromed Rights
  • Alianza
  • ActionAid

https://www.statewatch.org/news/2022/march/spain-forsakes-international-obligations-in-appalling-refoulement-of-algerian-whistleblower/

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/4/6/rights-defenders-slam-spains-deportation-of-algerian-dissident

UNHCR dismayed by deportation of Cambodian refugees by Thailand

November 23, 2021

When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), feels the need to speak out publicly – as it did on 22 November 2021 – it must be serious: It said that it deplored Thailand’s deportation of a Cambodian refugee, which occurred only ten days after the authorities deported two other Cambodian refugees. This action contravenes the principle of non-refoulement, which obliges States – including Thailand – not to expel or return people to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.

On 19 November, the Cambodian refugee was arrested. UNHCR immediately notified the authorities of the individual’s refugee status and urged the Government not to return the individual to Cambodia over serious concerns for the safety of the refugee. The refugee was held in a detention centre in Aranyaprathet overnight and deported to Cambodia the following day, on 20 November.

We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution. Given recent developments, we are very concerned about the safety of UNHCR recognised Cambodian refugees in Thailand,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

We urge the Royal Thai Government to refrain from deporting recognized refugees and to abide by its international obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement. UNHCR continues to offer its full support to the Government in ensuring the protection of those in need in Thailand,” she added.

UNHCR is seeking urgent clarification from the Thai authorities regarding the circumstances leading to this most recent deportation and the fate of those returned in Cambodia. UNHCR exhorts Cambodian authorities to uphold international human rights standards and to allow human rights organisations access to the deportees.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/11/three-democratic-voice-of-burma-journalists-and-two-activists-risk-refoulement-by-thailand/

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2021/11/619ba8da4/unhcr-dismayed-deportation-third-cambodian-refugee-thai-authorities-month.html

Three Democratic Voice of Burma journalists and two activists risk refoulement by Thailand

May 11, 2021

The DVB made on 10 May 2021 the following emergency statement :

Three senior DVB’s journalists and two activists, who escaped to Thailand after the
military crackdown in Burma, were arrested by the police on Sunday, May 9th in
Chiang Mai, Thailand. They were arrested during a random search by the police
and charged for illegal entry into Thailand.
DVB strongly urges the Thai authorities to not deport them back to Burma, as their
life will be in serious danger if they were to return. They have been covering the
demonstrations in Burma until March 8 – the day the military authority revoked
DVB’s TV license and banned DVB from doing any kind of media work.
We also appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok
to intervene to help guard their safety. We request the international community to
help call the Thai authorities to waive their deportation.
Thank you in name of all DVB journalists,
Aye Chan Naing, Executive director and chief editor DVB

See also: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/myanmar-democratic-voice-of-burma-journalist-jailed/

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00174/thailand-prevent-pushbacks-establish-protection-mechanisms-for-refugees-fleeing-myanmar.htm

Profile in Persecution: Hasan Radhi AlBaqali

March 3, 2021

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) posted on 18 the following profile on Hasan Radhi AlBaqali who was a 28-year-old security personnel at a private company when he was arrested by Omani authorities on 22 February 2016 at Muscat Airport Oman based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. During his detention, he was subjected to torture and to several human rights violations. Recently, his health condition has been deteriorating, and he has not been provided with adequate medical care. He is currently held in Jau Prison.

At the end of 2012, Hasan left Bahrain into exile. While being in exile between 2012 and 2016, he was convicted in absentia with: 1) Disturbing the peace, 2) rioting, 3) placement of objects resembling explosive devices, 4) arson, 5) possession and fabrication of combustible or explosive materials, 6) possession of arms, 7) travelling to Iran to receive military training, and 8) membership in a terrorist cell. Consequently, he was sentenced in absentia to nearly 100 years in prison. It is believed that Hasan’s conviction was due to his peaceful participation in the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.

On 22 February 2016, airport security officers at Muscat Airport Oman arrested Hasan based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. Then, he was turned over to Bahraini security forces, who put him aboard one of their private planes, drugged him via several injections which knocked him unconscious, and flew him back to Bahrain. His personal belongings including phone, money, passport, and national ID card were taken from him en route and have not since been returned to him or his family. After arriving in Bahrain, Hasan was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) building in Adliya.

From the date of arrest till the next day, 23 February, Hasan was subject to enforced disappearance until 10 p.m. of 23 February when he was able to call his family, telling them that he was in the CID building. The family received this call after multiple attempts to reach him through the Omani Embassy and through several human rights organizations.

Hasan was interrogated for 15 days between the CID and Building 15 of Jau Prison, where he was tortured by National Security Agency (NSA) officers and CID officers in order to give a false confession. He was beaten on his head, neck, and stomach, subjected to electric shocks to his testicles, placed naked in a cold room and submerged in cold water, deprived from sleep, and threatened with his life and wife. As a result, he confessed to the charges attributed to him. During this period, Hasan’s lawyer was unable to attend the interrogations, and Hasan was unable to meet his parents. Instead, he was able to only call them four times during this entire period, where the duration of each call was less than one minute.

Hasan was prevented from attending his trial, and he was brought to court once but was forced to remain in the police vehicle outside under the pretext that there were not enough police officers present to guard him inside the courtroom. Consequently, he was convicted in November 2016 of attempting to kill a policeman, although he was outside Bahrain when this incident happened. Therefore, he was sentenced to an additional 7 years in prison. Hasan appealed his sentence, and on 2 February 2017, the Appeals Court reduced his sentence from seven years to five years. On 15 May 2018, in an unfair mass trial that involved 138 individuals, the Bahraini Fourth High Criminal Court convicted Hasan of: 1) training to the use of firearms and explosive devices for terrorist purposes, (2) possession of firearms without a license and using them for purposes contrary to safety and public order for terrorist aims, and (3) the charge of joining a terrorist group, Zulfiqar Brigades, whose purpose violates the provisions of the constitution. Consequently, he was sentenced to another 7 years in prison, in addition to the revocation of his nationality.

In November 2016, following the issuance of the seven-year sentence against him, Hasan was subjected to a second and more severe round of torture. He was beaten on his head, stomach, and waist, and he was repeatedly electroshocked on his testicles. This torture led to a severe deterioration in Hasan’s health. He suffered from loss of focus due to frequent head injuries, severe injury to his testicles as he began to urinate blood, and chronic abdominal pain.

At that point, the Office of the Public Prosecutor (PPO) ordered that he be examined at Salmaniya hospital. The decision may have been motivated by the fact that Hasan’s sister filed complaints with both the Office of the Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit. An examination at the hospital on 19 November 2016 found that he had suffered “testicular trauma,” with edematic swelling of the left testicle and epididymis to more than one third larger than the normal size. He was removed from the hospital and returned to prison before he could complete a proper course of treatment, and the family has not been given full access to his hospital records. The PPO insists that the medical records should stay under their custody and that if the family wants any medical information they should seek it through the prosecutor’s office. Throughout this second round of interrogations, Hasan was also denied access to an attorney, was not allowed to receive visits from his family, and his phone calls to family were limited to a single minute.

Recently, Hasan’s health has been deteriorating since the injuries sustained from torture were not treated properly. He was seeing blood in his urine and feces as well as feeling severe pain in his stomach, kidneys, and bladder. In light of this, in the beginning of January, he was taken to an appointment in the Military Hospital and did the PCR test ahead of a surgery for varicose in his testicles which was scheduled for the third week of January 2021. However, instead of being returned to Building 14 and placed in isolation, he was taken to solitary confinement in the isolation building, Building 15 of Jau Prison. He was not informed of the steps to be followed ahead of the surgery, leaving him with no knowledge about his situation. Additionally, he was not given any medication to ease the pain he was feeling. Finally, within the closed cell, he could not know day from night and as such could not pray. These conditions took a psychological toll on Hasan since the pain, coupled with the isolation and lack of knowledge about his fate, brought him to the point of hysteria. Furthermore, he had been prohibited from contacting his family since his transfer, therefore making him forcibly disappeared. He was only able to call them on 16 January after going on a hunger strike in order to pressure authorities to grant him the right to call. In that call, he explained to them what occurred over the last two weeks and requested that they contact governmental bodies in order to alleviate his suffering. Although the family did contact the Ombudsman Office, because they are not routinely informed about his medical situation, they could not provide all the relevant information.

Hasan’s arrest, confiscation of his belongings, torture, unfair mass trial, denial of medical treatment, and enforced disappearance violate both the Bahraini Constitution as well as international obligations to which Bahrain is party, namely, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since Hasan was arrested for political reasons and given that his conviction depended on forced false confessions, we can conclude that he is arbitrarily detained by Bahraini authorities.

Accordingly, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on Bahraini authorities to uphold their human rights obligations by investigating all allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, and denial of proper medical treatment to ensure accountability. ADHRB also demands that Hasan be provided with the required medical treatment for all the injuries and health problems resulting from torture within safe and healthy conditions. ADHRB reiterates its demand for Bahraini authorities to release Hasan immediately, along with all political prisoners that were tried based on confessions taken under torture.

China responds regarding the return of refugees to North Korea

June 3, 2013

With regard to the defectors sent back from Laos via China to North Korea – on which I reported a few days ago – it is interesting to note the reaction by China which has expressed anger at the criticism by two UN High Commissioners (for human rights and refugee): “We hope that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN does not make irresponsible remarks based on unspecified news,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, but also appeared to distance itself from the repatriation by saying the refugees had passed through the country with “valid documents and visas”. “In the whole process, China has not received a request by any party to assist in the repatriation of these persons“.

via China rebukes UN agency over North Korean refugees – Yahoo!7.

 

Forced return to North Korea: Laos and China seem not to know the concept of non-refoulement

June 2, 2013

Nine North-Korean defectors, aged 15 to 23, entered Laos through China on 9 May 2013 and were caught by Laotian authorities on 16 May. They were sent back home on Tuesday 28 May via China. [Under North Korean law, defectors face a minimum of five years of hard labour and as much as life in prison or the death penalty in cases deemed particularly serious]  UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, urged Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine defectors and the conditions of their return, which apparently violated international law, UN deputy spokesperson

Logo of United Nations Refugee Agency.Version ...

said. “The High Commissioner’s office is dismayed that the governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of that group, all of whom are reported to be orphans” The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Thursday in a statement that it is trying to locate the defectors and expressed concern that they did not receive a chance to have their asylum claims assessed.

via UN protests return of N Korean defectors | News24.