Posts Tagged ‘Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders’

Bahrain: human rights protected but on paper only

March 12, 2018

“The use of the judiciary in Bahrain to target human rights defenders and other activists” is a side event organised by CIVICUS and FIDH in co-operation with Americans for Human Rights & Democracy in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and co-sponsored by ISHR.

It will take place on 13 March 2018 at 11:00 to 12:30 at Room XXIV. The event will address the politicisation of the judiciary to criminalise human rights defenders.

The context in which this event takes place should be well-known by now [see e.g.], but some recent events can be added:

On 21 February human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, BCHR President and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to 5 years in prison under trumped-up charges in relation to tweets denouncing the torture against detainees at Jaw prison and exposing the killing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. “This surrealistic verdict”, writes IFEX,  “after a trial that was by itself a mockery of justice, illustrates once again the current crackdown on any dissenting voice in Bahrain, where scores of critics are currently jailed’.

Also the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) and BCHR reiterate their call to the Bahraini authorities to immediately release him, as well as all detained human rights defenders.

Perhaps the most damning information comes from the Bahraini Government itself (8 March 2018) when it responded to the statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights  which had been ‘negative’ in his  written review on the annual report on Bahrain. Dr. Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said in a statement that the review contained inaccurate information such as harassment of human rights defenders and other deleterious comments on the recent legal actions taken by Bahrain. ..They deliberately and unfairly side with malicious elements who have suspicious political agendas and sectarian tendencies and who want to inflict harm on the Kingdom of Bahrain and demean its achievements in the field of human rights, he said. “This is crystal clear from their support for the discourse of hatred and internal violence groups and for this reason, the Kingdom of Bahrain totally rejects the content of this statement with all the wrong and unacceptable descriptions it has given to the state.
Bucheeri said that Bahrain’s constitution stipulates the right to freedom of opinion and expression in an unquestionable manner and in a way that guarantees everyone’s right to express their opinion and disseminate it by word, writing or otherwise, but within the legal framework and without inciting division or sectarianism or undermining national security.
He called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make concerted effort to understand the reality of human rights and the great challenges facing the Kingdom of Bahrain which faces terrorist acts aimed to destabilize its security and stability.
The kingdom, he explained, confronts a phenomenon of violent extremism and it is the duty of the Office of the High Commissioner to do its best to double check the credibility of the information it obtained and to seek such information only from neutral, objective and non-politicized sources…

Somewhere in a prison in the Emirates is Ahmed Mansoor but authorities claim not to know where

February 27, 2018

 Two Irish lawyers attempt to reach human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who is held incommunicado in United Arab Emirates, but in vain.

Today the Martin Ennals Foundation reports that on 26 February 2018, two lawyers from Ireland approached the Ministry of the Interior in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to try to gain access to distinguished human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who has been detained since 20 March 2017 for his human rights activities. Mansoor, who received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015, is a member of the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

Given the widely documented use of torture and solitary confinement by UAE authorities, and the lack of any independent information regarding Mansoor, there are grave fears for his safety. Numerous organisations have expressed concern that he may be tortured and subject to ill treatment in detention.

See also:

In Abu Dhabi, the Irish lawyers approached the Ministry of the Interior headquarters, which is the authority controlling and running prisons. The Ministry referred the lawyers to the police, who are not responsible for prisons. The police then advised them to approach the Al-Wathba prison, which they did, only to be told Mansoor is not being held there. The inability of the authority responsible to provide any information on Mansoor is remarkable given that he has been detained for almost a year.

The mission was mandated by GCHR, the Martin Ennals Foundation, Front Line Defenders, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).


Ahmed Mansoor was arrested by a dozen security officers at his home in Ajman in the pre-dawn hours of 20 March 2017 and taken to an undisclosed location. The security officials conducted an extensive search of his home and took away all of the family’s mobile phones and laptops, including those belonging to his young children. The family had no information about Mansoor until a statement was issued on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 29 March 2017 saying that he was in detention in the Central Prison in Abu Dhabi. Since his arrest, his family were allowed to visit him only twice – on 3 April and 17 September 2017, and he has had no access to a lawyer.

In their public statements, the UAE authorities have said that Mansoor is accused of using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.” On the day of his arrest, the UAE’s official news agency, WAM, announced that he was arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and detained pending further investigation on charges of “using social media [including Twitter and Facebook] sites to publish false and misleading information that harms national unity and social harmony and damages the country’s reputation” and “promoting sectarian and hate-incited agenda”. The statement classified these as “cybercrimes,” indicating that the charges against him may be based on alleged violations of the UAE’s repressive 2012 cybercrime law, which authorities have used to imprison numerous activists and which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had used Twitter to call for the release of activist Osama Al-Najjar, who remains in prison, despite having completed a three-year prison sentence in 2017 on charges related to his peaceful activities on Twitter; as well as prominent academic and economist Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, arrested in August 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in 2017. Both men have been convicted of charges related to peaceful messages they posted on the social media platform Twitter. Mansoor had also used his Twitter account to draw attention to human rights violations across the region, including in Egypt and Yemen. He had also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab Summit who met in Jordan in March 2017 to release political prisoners in their countries.

As a result of his selfless and tireless efforts to defend the rights of migrants and Emirati nationals in the UAE, he had become a thorn in the side of the UAE authorities and consequently the object of years of government harassment and persecution.

Since his arrest, a group of United Nations human rights experts have called on the UAE to release Mansoor, describing his arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.” They said they feared that his arrest “may constitute an act of reprisal for his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, for the views he expressed on social media, including Twitter, as well as for being an active member of human rights organizations.” The experts include special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, along with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The lengths the UAE authorities will go to silence Mansoor are shown by their efforts to hack his iPhone. In a widely documented case, the UAE were exposed after Mansoor’s suspicions were raised and he contact the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto in Canada. Citizen lab released the following report:

Mansoor, along with Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq, and Hassan Ali al-Khamis were arrested in April 2011 and charged with “publicly insulting” UAE rulers. On 27 November 2011, a panel of four judges of the Federal Court found all five men guilty and sentenced Mansoor to three years in prison, and the others to two years. The four men were released the next day, after the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, issued a pardon.

For more information: or visit

Travel bans against human rights defenders remain popular in the Middle East

November 10, 2016

Travel bans on human rights defenders are popular with all kind of autocratic regimes but seem to enjoy special status in the Middle East. The video clip above (part of a joint campaign by AI and HRW) focuses on Egypt and so does the statement by 6 other NGOs issued on 9 November.  They strongly condemn the travel ban against Malek Adly, prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer and director of the Lawyers Network of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). But there is more: Read the rest of this entry »

OSCE and Human Rights Defenders at the Warsaw meeting: no smooth sailing

September 28, 2016

The Diplomat wrote under the title “OSCE Manages to Irritate Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Human Rights Advocates, Too” a good piece summarizing the situation at the latest annual human rights conference (officially the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting), taking place from 19-30 September 2016, in Warsaw.

Most attention should go to the recurring reprisals against HRDs and in particular (when they are out of reach through exile) against their family: Read the rest of this entry »

Ongoing harassment of Odhikar and Adilur in Bangladesh

June 1, 2016


Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - croppedreports that on 25 May 2016, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh (ACC) questioned human rights defender Mr Adilur Rahman Khan over an allegation of involvement of the human rights organisation Odhikar in money laundering. Similarly the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the OMCT and FIDH called on 26 May for urgent intervention to step up campaigns in his support.

Adilur Rahman Khan []  is an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and founder and Secretary of Odhikar. The human rights organisation was established in 1994 with the aim to advance the civil, political, social and economic rights of the citizens of Bangladesh, and to create a wider monitoring and awareness-raising system on the abuse of these rights. Odhikar also carries out advocacy to address the current human rights situation in the country, provides trainings for human rights defenders and conducts fact-finding missions in rural areas of Bangladesh. Adilur was a Final Nominee for the MEA in 2015.

As the links below show it is clearly a case of administrative and judicial harassment against the human rights organisation Odhikar and its Secretary in a further attempt to sanction and silence their human rights activities.

[On 25 May 2016, the ACC’s Deputy Director Mr Jalal Uddin Ahmed questioned Adilur Rahman Khan over Odhikar’s alleged involvement in money laundering as a part of an investigation opened in 2013. The Deputy Director informed the human rights defender that the inquiry into the allegation related to the the sum of € 97 000 that the ACC supposed had been deposited to the Standard Chartered Bank account of Odhikar, as part of money laundering activities. Adilur Rahman Khan denied all accusations made against Odhikar. He explained that the sum of €97 501,07  available on the organisation’s bank account was part of a contribution made by the European Union (EU) to help Odhikar implement a three-year project titled ‘Education on the Convention against Torture (CAT) and Official Protocol to the CAT Awareness Program in Bangladesh’, from 2012 to 2014.]
BANGLADESH: Families demand return of their disappeared dear-ones within the month of Ramadan

Also on 27 May the Asian Human Rights Commission published a press release about the members of families of 19 disappeared victims who once again took to the street 26 May 2016. They formed a “human chain” in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka to demand the return of their loved ones within the month of Ramadan. Prominent human rights defenders, members of the civil society, and academic scholars joined the families to express solidarity.


for other posts on Odhikar see:

Kyrgyzstan today: Parliament rejects foreign agents bill!

May 12, 2016

Kyrgyz parliament

Bishkek (AKIpress)

In 2013 it was feared that Kyrgyzstan would follow the bad example of Russia with regard to introducing a foreign agent law even if the President had his doubts. []. On 13 April 2016 the Observatory published an urgent appeal to the lawmakers to reject the bill.[Kyrgyzstan: Parliament must reject discriminatory bill targeting NGOs / April 13, 2016 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT]. Today AKI press agency reports the good news that the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan rejected the bill.  Only 46 MPs voted for the bill and 65 MPs voted against it




Russia: closing offices and attacking human rights defenders

March 17, 2016

An update on the situation human rights defenders in Russia is unfortunately needed too frequently. Recently the Martin Ennals Foundation condemned the attacks on its 2013 Laureate, the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) which is known for its courageous work in opening legal cases on behalf of victims of torture in Chechnya. On March 9th, they were travelling together with journalists and the group was physically attacked, their confidential notes stolen, and the vehicles they were in burned. Their offices in Ingushetia were also attacked. The international and local media have reported (see list at bottom of the post). This is part of an ongoing pattern of threats and intimidation directed against JMG.

Now, Human Rights Watch and others report that yesterday (16 March) Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, one of the founders and participants of the Joint Mobile Group, was attacked as he was leaving his hotel in Grozny. They also pelted him with eggs, and threw flour and bright antiseptic liquid on him, which stained his face and clothes.  “The attack on Igor Kalyapin shows again that it’s open season on human rights defenders in Chechnya,” said Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities’ utter failure to hold anyone to account for a series of vicious attacks in recent years is like a bright green light for further attacks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Statement on Human Rights Defenders that the Observatory would have delivered orally to the UN (if time had allowed)

March 4, 2016

Severe time restraints made that several NGOs could not make their oral statement on 4 March 2016 during the Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the UN Human Rights Council [see:].

Here follows the text of the statement that the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, would have delivered:

Read the rest of this entry »

Alarming criminalisation of human rights defenders in Latin America

February 27, 2016

The criminalization of human rights defenders in the context of the extraction of natural resources and megaprojects is becoming a very worrisome phenomenon in Latin America, denounces the Observatory in a report published today in Mexico. Entitled “The criminalization of human rights defenders in the context of industrial projects: a regional phenomenon in Latin America”, this document points to the role of businesses, civil servants, public prosecutors, judges, and the State. The report issued by OMCT and FIDH (in the context of their Observatory for Human Rights Defenders) on 25 February 2016 describes the specific cases of human rights defenders criminalized in eight Latin American countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru).


The report especially stresses two core issues common to all the countries studied: Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defenders in India: democracy is not enough

February 23, 2016

India is often called the largest democracy on earth and it does merit praise for sticking to a fair degree of rule of law in spite of severe problems such as security and poverty. Still, regular and reliable reports on the fate of human rights defenders in India give us pause to think. What follows is a collection of just some recent cases, illustrating the well-argued piece by Srishti Agnihotri (a lawyer appearing in Trial Courts and the Delhi High Court, involved in research and advocacy on women and children) under the title “Who is defending the defenders in India: Human Rights” on 22 February 2016.

The article starts by mentioning the attack on Soni Sori (see more below on her). Reports suggest that oil paint mixed with chemicals was thrown on her face by unknown assailants. This attack, … and other reports of intimidation of persons such as lawyers and journalists working in the Jagdalpur area raises the question of the safety of human rights defenders and shows that there isn’t enough being done by the State machinery to defend the defenders….

Srishti Agnihotri then makes the interesting point that “it is not necessary to be correct to qualify as a human rights defender”. E.g. the criticism of Human Rights Defenders on a particular development project may not be legally correct. However, this does not and should not disentitle them to the protection of the State against violence and reprisals. The reason for this will become clear when we examine the role human rights defenders play in a society.

These Defenders face problems, in many parts of the world, and India is not an exception. Often the work being done by human rights defenders brings them in conflict with vested interests such as the land mafia, the mining lobby, or other corporations. A case in point is the story of Satyendra Dubey, an officer in the Indian Engineering Service, who lost his life due to exposing corruption in a highway construction project. At other times, the advocacy done by them requires them to be critical of the State action including in areas where there is considerable unrest….

This gives room for propaganda that human rights defenders or NGOs are ‘anti-development’ or even ‘anti-national’. It leads to them facing the wrath of more draconian security legislations, or attacks on them by vested interests. It is very easy to make the mistake of thinking ‘Why should we use state resources to protect those who are critical of the State? The obvious answer, is that the State may not always be correct. Given the great power state and corporate entities enjoy, their ability to make mistakes if unchecked is also correspondingly large. A hard reckoning of the work done by human rights defenders shows that they act as an essential check and balance on the State, and throw light on existing state-industry nexus, to protect the rights of people. The State derives its legitimacy from an implicit contract with its citizens, which necessitates a mechanism to check that the State adheres to this contract, and this is a function carried out by the human rights defenders. In this sense, human rights defenders are necessary for a healthy functioning democracy.


While there are general laws that can be (and are) used to protect these defenders, but those working for the enactment of a special law argue that the role of the law is also to play a certain ‘normative, expressive and educative’ function. By this, they mean that a special law to protect human rights defenders will also confer legitimacy on the work that they are doing, and create an enabling environment where they may do so peacefully.

Of course, the enactment of a special law is not adequate to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. It has to go hand in hand with better law and order, better legal services in areas where these defenders work, transparency in governance, toleration of dissent by the State machinery, and continued proactive action by the Focal Point for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, at the National Human Rights Commission.

This focal point is involved in providing assistance to such Rights defenders, and following alleged violations of their rights. Although there has been greater collaboration between the NHRC and Human Rights defenders, much needs to be done to ensure that defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment.

The Times of India of 10 February 2016 takes to task the State of Chhattisgarh – echoing Amnesty India  – that it should do more to protect a woman journalist, Malini Subramaniam, in Bastar. “This attack is another indicator of the increasingly hostile atmosphere in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Chhattisgarh,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, Campaigner at Amnesty International India. Malini herself said: “This is not an attack on me as a person but as a journalist reporting incidents on the ground, something that they don’t want“. [The statement said, a group of over 20 people gathered outside the home of journalist Malini Subramaniam on February 7. They urged her neighbours to stone her house and chanted slogans suggesting that she was an agent for Maoist armed groups. Later that day, an anti-Maoist group released a public statement accusing her of presenting a distorted picture of Bastar and promoting Maoist ideology.]

On 21 February 2016 Saurav Datta in Catchnews poses the question “Why is Chhattisgarh govt scared of human rights defenders?“.  Isha Khandelwal, Shalini Gera and Nikita Agarwal, all in their late 20s, keep looking furtively behind their backs while packing her bags from Jagdalpur in western India’s Chhattisgarh district. They are afraid that a posse of policemen may descend upon them and subject them to custodial torture. They also fear that that they would be implicated under various provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act, a law roundly criticised by civil liberties activists as being dangerously oversweeping in its scope and ambit. The moot question here is – why should be a ragtag coalition of lawyers, operating on a shoestring budget, be subjected to state repression? The piece then goes into the background of the Indian system of legal aid and how the state administration undercuts all this in practice.

Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - croppedhas covered a lot cases in India including in the State of Chhattisgarh such as those of Malini Subramaniam and the members of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group mentioned above ( and


Front Line – on 22 February 2016 – also reported the attack on human rights defender Soni Sori who was assaulted on 20 February by three unidentified men as she travelled from Jagdalpur to her home. The perpetrators halted the vehicle and threw a black substance on her face, resulting in intense burning and her hospitalization. She is a human rights defender who advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples in India, with a focus on women’s rights. She works in Chhattisgarh, where the long-term conflict between Maoists and government security forces has greatly affected the indigenous people in the area.  During the attack, the perpetrators threatened to carry out a similar assault on the daughter of Soni Sori, lest the human rights defender halt the efforts she had undertaken to bring justice against a high-ranking police official from the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. Soni Sori had recently been attempting to file a complaint against the police official in relation to their involvement in an alleged extra-judicial killing in the Mardum area of Bashar. In July 2015, the police official in question allegedly called for the “social exclusion” of the human rights defender and members of her family. [Soni Sori has previously been targeted by the authorities on several occasions and]

On 8 January 2016, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), called on the Indian government to release on bail and stop the ongoing judicial harassment of Mr. Ajimuddin Sarkar.  Mr. Sarkar is a renowned human rights defender who has investigated cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the police and Border Security Forces (BSF), and who has been instrumental in denouncing several other human rights violations in Murshidabad district. He was arbitrarily arrested on 22 September 22 and only on 8 December, 2015 released on bail, since the de facto complainant filed an affidavit stating that she did not bring any allegation of rape against Mr. Sarkar and she had no knowledge of the related criminal case against him.  Mr. Sarkar is currently receiving medical treatment, both physical and psychological, as his mental and physical health conditions deteriorated significantly during the past months in detention.[The Observatory recalls that it is not the first time Mr. Sarkar has been intimidated, judicially harassed and ill-treated by the police – see background information].

See also my earlier:

Sources: (first published at

Why is Chhattisgarh govt scared of human rights defenders?