Posts Tagged ‘retaliation’

Steven Donziger: human rights defender now victim of judicial harassment

August 10, 2020

Steven Donziger, gestures during a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito, Ecuador.Rodrigo Buendia/Getty

Last September, I travelled from Western Canada to New York City to see the human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. Donziger cannot travel. He cannot even stroll the hallway of his Upper West Side apartment building on 104th Street without special court permission. He remains under house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet. Eight years ago, Donziger and a team of Ecuadorian lawyers, on behalf of Indigenous and farmer plaintiffs, won the largest human rights and environmental court judgment in history, a $9.5-billion US verdict against the Chevron Corporation for massive oil pollution in Ecuador’s Amazon basin.

Following the trial, Chevron removed its assets from Ecuador, left the country, and has refused to pay. The company now claims the Ecuador verdict was achieved fraudulently, and produced a witness, who told a US court that he possessed knowledge of a bribe. Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in Chevron’s favour, halting collection of the pollution fine in the US and placing Donziger in electronic chains in his home.

The details in this case really matter, so here the story in full:

Crime and punishment

Donziger, born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1961, graduated from Harvard Law in 1991, and founded Project Due Process, offering legal services to Cuban refugees. In 1993, Ecuador’s Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía (FDA), representing 30,000 victims of Chevron’s pollution, heard about Donziger and asked him to help win compensation for their lost land, polluted water, and epidemics of cancer and birth defects in a region now known as the “Amazon Chernobyl.”

Donziger originally filed the claim in New York, but Chevron insisted the case be heard in Ecuador, where the trial began in 1993.

Evidence showed that between 1964 and 1992, Texaco (now Chevron) dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and pits. Fifty-four judicial site inspections confirmed that the average Chevron waste pit in Ecuador contained 200 times the contamination allowed by US and world standards, including illegal levels of barium, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead, and other metals that can damage the immune and reproductive systems and cause cancer. According to Amazon Watch, by ignoring regulations, the company saved about $3 per barrel of oil, earning an extra $5 billion over 20 years.

In 2007, during the trial, Chevron stated that if the victims pursued the case, they faced a “lifetime of … litigation.” The plaintiffs persevered. Since the victims were dirt poor, Donziger and his team, with FDA support, devised an innovative solution to fund the case, offering investors a tiny portion of any eventual settlement.

In 2011, after an eight-year trial, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Two appeals courts and the nation’s Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation, confirmed the decision. Seventeen appellate judges ruled unanimously that Chevron was responsible for the contamination and owed Donziger’s clients $9.5 billion.

The lone witness

According to court documents, Chevron “refus(ed) to comply” with the judgment and began to make good on its threat for a “lifetime of litigation.” According to internal company memos, Chevron launched a retaliatory campaign to attack the victims, discredit Ecuador’s courts, and “demonize” Donziger.

Chevron hired one of the world’s most notorious law firms, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—previously censured by England’s High Court of Justice for fabricating evidence. Judges in California, Montana, and New York have censured and fined Gibson Dunn for such misbehavior as witness tampering, obstruction, intimidation, and what one judge called “legal thuggery.”

Using US RICO statutes designed to prosecute organized crime syndicates, the firm filed a “racketeering” case against Donziger. Judge Kaplan at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York—a former tobacco company lawyer widely viewed as being friendly to large corporations—agreed to hear the peculiar case. Kaplan claimed the Ecuador trial “was not a bona fide litigation” and insulted the victims, calling them “so-called plaintiffs.” Gibson Dunn lawyer Randy Mastro called the Ecuador courts “a sham.”

Prominent trial lawyer John Keker, representing Donziger, claimed the Kaplan trial was pure intimidation and called the proceedings a “Dickensian farce” driven by Kaplan’s “implacable hostility” toward Donziger.

On the eve of the trial, Chevron dropped its financial claims, allowing Kaplan to dismiss the jury and decide the outcome himself. Then Chevron unveiled their star witness—Alberto Guerra, a disgraced former Ecuadorian judge removed from the bench for accepting bribes. In a Chicago hotel room, Chevron and Gibson Dunn lawyers rehearsed Guerra for 53 days.

In Kaplan’s court, Guerra claimed that Donziger had approved a “bribe” to an Ecuadorian judge and had written the final court ruling for the judge, allegedly transferred on a computer thumb drive. No corroborating evidence was ever offered. Guerra later admitted lying about these facts, and a forensic investigation of the Ecuadorian judge’s computer proved that Guerra had lied.

The entire story now appears fabricated. Donziger’s lawyers have attempted to locate Guerra and depose him, but the star witness has not yet been found.

“Chevron’s case,” said Donziger’s lawyer Andrew Frisch, “rested on the testimony of a witness who was paid over $1 million.” Frisch stated that Kaplan’s rulings “have been contradicted in whole or in part by 17 appellate judges in Ecuador and 10 in Canada, including unanimous decisions of the highest courts in both countries.”

Nevertheless, without a jury, Kaplan accepted Guerra’s testimony and found that Donziger had committed fraud. Finally, Kaplan ordered Donziger to turn over his computer and cellphone to Chevron. Since this order violated attorney-client confidentiality, Donziger refused until the court of appeals could decide the issue.

Kaplan charged Donziger with “criminal contempt” for refusing his order. However, the order and the contempt charge were so outrageous that the N.Y. prosecutor’s office refused to accept the case. Kaplan defied the state authorities and appointed a private law firm, Seward & Kissel—with commercial ties to Chevron—to act as prosecutor, which, in turn, ordered Donziger be placed under “pretrial home detention.”

Legal thuggery

An unnamed New York Second Circuit judge—presumed by Donziger and his lawyers to be Kaplan—filed a complaint against Donziger with the bar grievance committee in New York, which then suspended Donziger’s law license without a hearing. However, bar referee and former federal prosecutor John Horan called for a hearing and recommended the return of Donziger’s law license. “The extent of his pursuit by Chevron is so extravagant, and at this point so unnecessary and punitive,” Horan wrote, “he should be allowed to resume the practice of law.” Donziger responded that, “Any neutral judicial officer who looks objectively at the record almost always finds against Chevron and Kaplan. The tide is turning and the hard evidence about the extreme injustice in Kaplan’s court will be exposed.”

This case appears to be about bullying. Chevron is one of the wealthiest corporations in the world. The plaintiffs are poor, Indigenous, and campesino people with scarce access to money or lawyers. “Donziger came to our rescue,” says FDA president Luis Yanza. How big can high-stakes corporate bullying get? Donziger’s lawyers estimate the oil giant has spent over $2 billion on 2,000 lawyers, public relations teams, and private investigators.

At the dinner party at Donziger’s, I met supporters from around the world, from Amazon Watch and Global Witness, journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates. “This case is not just about Steven’s fate,” said Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness in London. “I believe the injustice to him is intended to intimidate the rest of us, to chill the work of other environmental and corporate accountability advocates.”

American human rights attorneys Martin Garbus and Charles Nesson formed a support committee for Donziger with dozens of civil society leaders, including: Clive Stafford-Smith, founder of the prisoner-rights group Reprieve in London; Atossa Soltani and Leila Salazar, the founder and executive director of Amazon Watch; Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance working in the Amazon; renowned author John Perkins; and famed musician Roger Waters.

The tide may be turning for Donziger and the victims in Ecuador. In June 2019, Amnesty International asked the US Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation into Chevron’s and Gibson Dunn’s conduct, witness bribery, and fraud in the Ecuador pollution litigation

This past February, Prof. Ellen Yaroshefsky, director of the Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics at Hofstra University in New York, wrote that the Kaplan and Seward & Kissel prosecution of Donziger is flawed with conflicts of interest, financial ties to Chevron Corporation, and judicial bias.

In April, 29 Nobel laureates signed a letter stating, “(We) support Steven Donziger and the Indigenous peoples and local communities in Ecuador in their decades-long work to achieve environmental justice over pollution caused by Chevron…. Chevron and a pro-corporate judicial ally, US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, manufactured ‘contempt’ charges against Donziger. (Chevron’s) goal is to intimidate and disempower the victims of its pollution and a lawyer who has worked for decades on their behalf.”

A month later, more than 475 international lawyers, bar associations, and human rights advocates criticized Kaplan’s ruling for persecuting Donziger “based on false witness testimony provided by Chevron, personal animus, and… to protect Chevron from a valid foreign court judgment.” The letter, from the US National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, urges an end to the pretrial house arrest of Donziger, noting “such arbitrary detention sets a dangerous precedent for human rights attorneys in the United States and around the world.”

On May 27, 2020, the Newground investment firm in Seattle, Wash., placed two proposals on Chevron’s 2020 proxy call, asking for governance reforms to bring its Ecuador issues to resolution, and prevent future human rights and pollution liabilities. The proposals were supported by actor Alec Baldwin, musician Roger Waters, and Nobel laureate Jody Williams.

On July 16, the European Parliament wrote to the US Congress asking the Congressional Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties to investigate Chevron’s treatment of Donziger, which the EU Parliament found “not consistent with what has traditionally been the strong support in the United States for the rule of law generally and for protection for human rights defenders in particular.”

Late at night, in the Donziger home, after the supporters had left, Donziger and his wife Laura sipped wine. “We’re not giving up,” Donziger said. “The only fraud in this case has been conducted by Chevron. Modern nations have comity relationships, formally respecting each other’s court decisions. We’re reviewing enforcement actions in Canada, Australia, and other jurisdictions. Chevron owes the money, and they can’t just run, hide, and fabricate stories to avoid paying. They’re persecuting me to try to change the public narrative, but they’re guilty. They committed the crime, they hurt people, they were proven responsible in a court of law that they chose, and they owe the money.”

…..As I write this, in mid-July, Donziger has been in home detention for 345 days, almost a year, longer than any lawyer in US history has ever served for a contempt charge.

How Did a Lawyer Who Took on Big Oil and Won End up Under House Arrest?

Important side event in Geneva on ending reprisals coming up

September 12, 2018

On Wednesday 19 September (16:00-17:30 – Room XXIV, Palais des Nations, Geneva) the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is organizing a side event Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts.

This event seeks to provide a space for human rights defenders and experts to shed light on the nature and extent of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN; discuss and expand on the Secretary-General’s report; and to consider efforts to date to address reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN as well as ways to further develop and strengthen policies and practices to prevent and address reprisals.

Participants: 

  • Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights
  • Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • National human rights defenders

Moderator: Phil Lynch, Director of ISHR (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/)

The event is co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations and the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the Office of the United Nations.

Download the flyer here

some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

13 September starts the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council: reprisals high on the agenda

September 9, 2016

As usual, the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has published a preview of the main items coming up in the next (33rd) session of the Human Rights Council‘s starting on Tuesday 13 September 2016. It will finish on 30 September. For human rights defenders the focus on the question of reprisals is of great importance.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Other thematic issues are: enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and National Human Rights Institutions.

Reprisals

A highlight this session will be the opportunity for States to respond to the Secretary-General’s latest report documenting serious cases of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, and contribute to finding concrete solutions at panel discussion to be hosted by the core group of States on this topic (Hungary, Uruguay, Ghana, Ireland and Fiji). The Secretary General’s annual report on cooperation with the UN, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights – more frequently referred to as the “reprisals report” – will be presented at this session of the Council. The report covers the period from 1 June 2015 onwards.

Particular attention during HRC33 will be paid to Bahrain. According to allegations of travel bans against human rights defenders  documented by the President of the Human Rights Council, and communicated via the minutes of a recent meeting of the HRC Bureau [LINK], in which the President expressed concern about “the lack of appropriate action or adequate explanatory information from the concerned State” to the allegations.

The Secretary-General’s report consists of a compilation of cases of intimidation and reprisals due to cooperation with the UN organisations and its specialised agencies in the field of human rights, including cases in relation to the Council, its UPR and Special Procedures; Human Rights Treaty Bodies; the OHCHR, its field presences and Human Rights Advisers; United Nations Country Teams; human rights components of peacekeeping missions and other parts of the Secretariat or specialized agencies working in the field of human rights.

The Secretary General’s last report documented a significant number of cases in which people have been threatened, stigmatised, censored, restricted from travelling, detained, beaten, held in solitary confinement, disappeared, and tortured for their work to expose and pursue accountability for human rights violations at the UN. In many of the cases the threats and attacks have not been properly investigated nor have perpetrators been held to account. However, the report did note a range of positive developments aimed at preventing and promoting accountability for reprisals highlighting that:

In line with previous recommendations of the Secretary-General, States are encouraged to use the General Debate under Item 5 to address the cases documented. This should include in particular the States concerned, i.e. those mentioned in the report, who are expected by civil society to respond to the allegations and set out the steps taken to investigate them, hold the perpetrators to account and provide remedies to the victims.

Many of my earlier posts relate to reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/, including: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Working Group on Enforced Disappearances

The Working Group on Enforced Disappearances will present its report, summarising its activities over the last year and previewing its thematic study on enforced disappearances in the context of migration. Included in this is a short discussion of ‘individuals [who] migrate due to the disappearances of their relatives or loved ones or to avoid reprisals due to their work in searching and pursuing justice… and human rights defenders who are forced to migrate due to their work fighting enforced disappearances.’ The Working Group’s report also expresses serious concern as to ‘a pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders working on such cases. It calls upon States to take specific measures to prevent such acts and re-iterates the call for the UN to appoint a high-level official to combat reprisals as a matter of urgency and priority.

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

The mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will be renewed at this session. Among the likely ‘asks’ of the resolution are more resources to support their ability to respond to victims of arbitrary detention, the ability to raise awareness through reporting to the UN General Assembly and the mandate from the Council to embark on a thematic study.

National human rights institutions

National human rights institutions have a vital role to play in contributing to the national implementation of international human rights obligations. The annual report of the Secretary-General and High Commissioner sets out a range of steps and measures that both States and NHRIs should take in this regard. For States, such steps should include ensuring that the NHRI is broadly mandated (including in respect of economic, social and cultural rights), that it is adequately resourced, authorised to inspect places of detention, and protected from interference, intimidation and reprisals. For NHRIs, the report emphasises the importance of engaging and consulting closely with civil society, contributing to the protection of human rights defenders, and enhancing cooperation with international human rights mechanisms as a means of bridging the ‘implementation gap’.

Of special relevance for human rights defenders are also the country situations on the agenda of the 33rd Session:

Following the special session of the Human Rights Council on Burundi in December 2015, an interactive dialogue on the situation in Burundi is scheduled to take place on 27 September. From 13 to 17 June three human rights experts of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi conducted their second visit to Burundi to address the human rights concerns raised in the special session Human Rights Council resolution. The experts will present their final report to the Human Rights Council this session. The gravity of human rights violations and the level of State responsibility in Burundi is unacceptable. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/]

Given the deteriorating situation of human rights in Cambodia, and the impunity with which intimidation and violence against human rights defenders occur, a range of national and international organisations calls on the Council to adopt a resolution on the country. This step would acknowledge the backsliding over the last year; reiterate the Council’s expectations for meaningful cooperation, with the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR; and lay out benchmarks for the coming year, in light of the 2017 elections and the anniversary of the Paris Peace agreement, that would indicate clear progress achieved through the technical assistance and capacity-building mandate The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, scheduled for 28 September, is a chance for the international community to hear from, and respond to, Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith following her visits to the country and the communications she and other UN experts sent related to harassment and detention of NGO workers and the killing of well-known public figure Kem Ley. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/]

Individual interactive dialogues with mandate holders will be held in relation to Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia. Interactive dialogues on the High Commissioner’s reports and oral updates will be held on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, and Ukraine. The High Commissioner will present his reports on Cambodia and Yemen in a General Debate under Item 10. There will also be an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

The Council will adopt the UPR reports of 14 countries.

#HRC33 / Thematic areas of interest | ISHR

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc33-country-specific-developments

Council of Europe: draft resolution addresses reprisals with priority

December 9, 2015

An interesting read is the latest report to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly by Rapporteur: Ms Mailis REPS, Estonia, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The (draft) report is entitled: “Strengthening the protection and role of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States“.

[On 19 March 2013, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights appointed Ms Mailis as rapporteur, following the departure from the Assembly of the previous rapporteur, Mr György Frunda.]

The Draft resolution and draft recommendation (AS/Jur (2015) 37) were adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on 8 December 2015 and here are some highlights:

Read the rest of this entry »

Will the UN today adopt the strongest possible resolution on Human Rights Defenders? – ask over 100 NGOs

November 25, 2015

In a letter addressed to Member States, well over a hundred 100 international and national NGOs urged Members States to reject amendments intended to weaken the resolution on protection of human rights defenders, which will be adopted today, Wednesday, 25 November 2015 in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee.
The resolution, as drafted, includes robust protection measures for human rights defenders, including the need to combat impunity for violence against human rights defenders and to release defenders who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. With the recent attacks on human rights defenders in places such as Burundi where the prominent activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and members of his family have been systematically attacked, it is time for UN Member States to take strong action to prevent and punish reprisals. However, amendments, tabled by the African Group, China, and Iran seek to dramatically weaken the resolution on human rights defenders and delete entire paragraphs regarding the need for their protection.At a time when the work of human rights defenders has become extraordinarily dangerous and increasingly criminalized in many states, it is important for Member States to send a strong message on the need to protect human rights defenders.

The text of the draft follows in toto:

SUPPORT THE DRAFT RESOLUTION ON RECOGNIZING THE ROLE OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND THE NEED FOR THEIR PROTECTION

Excellencies,

We write to you as a group of human rights defenders and civil society organizations located across the world working at national, regional and international levels. We write in regard to the draft resolution entitled ”Recognizing the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection“ currently being advanced in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, and due to be adopted on Wednesday 25 November 2015.

We urge your government to support the abovementioned resolution and to reject amendments, tabled by the African Group, China and Iran, designed to weaken the text.

Among other things, the proposed amendments remove references to the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, delete or weaken language regarding the need for their protection, and delete whole paragraphs related to the need to combat impunity for violations and abuses against defenders and the need to ensure adequate procedural safeguards in judicial proceedings. A call for the release of defenders detained or imprisoned in violation of international human rights law, for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, is also proposed for deletion. In addition, the amendments introduce notions that States should only support and enable their work ‘as appropriate’, rather than in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other obligations arising under international human rights law

Human rights defenders make a vital contribution to the promotion and respect for human rights, democratic processes, securing and maintaining peace and security, and advancing development in our countries. However, in doing this work, defenders often face a range of violations and abuses at the hands of State and non-State actors. States must acknowledge the role of defenders and the specific risks they face, and commit to ensuring their protection.

Seventeen years ago, all States agreed to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including State obligations to protect all human rights defenders working on all human rights. This commitment has been reiterated and built upon in subsequent General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions. We are therefore extremely concerned to hear that the abovementioned delegations have objected to several core elements of the draft resolution.

Based on consultations with over 500 defenders from 111 States, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders found that in the vast majority of States the situation for human rights defenders is deteriorating in law and in practice. He concluded that a lack of awareness regarding their vital and legitimate work, combined with a lack of political commitment and weak institutional arrangements for their protection, is placing them, their organisations and families at elevated risk.

 

The resolution as drafted reflects a number of these findings and makes a series of recommendations for States and other actors. Importantly, this year’s text includes a key focus on the implementation of the resolution itself. This will hopefully prompt States and other actors to move beyond rhetoric in addressing the challenges faced by human rights defenders and take action to ensure the implementation of the calls in the resolution.

We urge all States to live up to their human rights commitments by supporting this resolution, by rejecting amendments designed to weaken it, and by taking concrete steps to protect human rights defenders.

Sincerely, (names of the NGOs)

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/reprisals-states-must-r… 

Crucial Side Event “Attacks and Reprisals against Defenders” tomorrow in Geneva

June 15, 2015

OMCT and FIDH (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) in cooperation with the ISHR organise on 16 June (16:00-17:30, room XXII, Palais des Nations – Geneva) a side event on Attacks and Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders, focusing on the issue of reprisals and accountability. As readers know by now, I believe that this is the topic which the human rights movement HAS TO TAKE more serious lest all progress of the last decades will be lost. My blog contains quite a few posts on reprisals (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/), but the key one is: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/.

The objectives of the side event are:  Read the rest of this entry »

New and updated information on Reprisals in the Arab World

May 20, 2015

On 14 May 2015, the Geneva-based NGO Alkarama provided the United Nations Secretary General with a report on the state of reprisals in the Arab world especially in Oman, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This topic – as argued in this blog many times [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/] – is one of the most urgent facing the human rights movement. If  human rights defenders suffer from harassment and intimidation for their cooperation with the UN, it would completely undermine the work of UN experts, Special Rapporteurs, Treaty bodies and the UPR. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted several resolutions (e.g. Resolution 24/24) calling upon States to enact laws and policies to protect HRDs at the national level, to prohibit all forms of intimidation or reprisal against HRDs, and to appoint a UN focal point to whom people who have suffered from retaliation for their cooperation with the UN could turn to.

In its new report Alkarama raises cases of reprisals in:

Oman, where the retaliation against human rights defenders has become systematic. Said Jadad, a prominent activist and advocate for democracy in his country was arrested in December 2014, three months after meeting with the Special Rapporteur on the rights and freedom of peaceful assembly and association during his visit to the country in September 2014. After 12 days in secret detention, during which he was questioned about his “ties with international NGOs working for the protection of human rights”, Jadad was set free only to be arrested again on 21 January 2015. On 8 March 2015, he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for “harming the State’s prestige”. In August 2014, Omani journalist and human rights activist Mohammad al Fazari was summoned by the Royal Police, for “reasons that concern him personally”. He was subsequently detained in secret for five days, before the authorities confiscated his identity documents and imposed a travel ban in December.

Syria, where two human rights defenders, Jadia Abdallah Nawfal, Director of the Syrian Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights, and Omar Al Shaar, Editor-in-chief of the Day Press News’ English section, were arrested on 31 October upon their return from Beirut where they attended human rights conferences and workshops. After numerous UN Special Procedures holders intervened with the Syrian authorities on their behalf in November, they were both set free on 18 December 2014. [Also in Syria, Alkarama informed Ban Ki-moon of the 23rd postponement of the hearing of Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression and his colleagues, Hussayn Gharir and Hani Zitani before the Anti-Terrorism Court, despite the call from both the UNSG and  UN Special Procedures for their release. What is more, on 9 June 2014, a presidential amnesty was issued pardoning all individuals charged with “promoting terrorist acts,” but Mazen Darwish and his colleagues were excluded from the pardon, as highlighted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in February. Finally, Alkarama reported the continuous secret detention of Khalil Matouk, a human rights lawyer – who defended, amongst others, Mazen Darwish and his colleagues – and Director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, whose case was raised by the UNSG in 2014. Arrested in October 2012, he has been, since March 2013, detained incommunicado at an Air Force Intelligence Branch, despite a UN call for his release.]

Egypt, where the case of Alkarama’s Country Representative Ahmed Mefreh, which was raised by the UNSG in his 2014 report, saw new developments. In September 2013, an arrest warrant was issued accusing him of “being a member of an armed organisation,” as a reprisal for his work as a human rights defender documenting then the killing of 985 peaceful demonstrators in Rabaa Adawiya and Nahda squares in Cairo. Today, Mefreh is being prosecuted in absentia with 49 other people on trumped-up charges including: “joining an illegal group aiming at impeding the enforcement of the Constitution and the law; disrupting institutions; hampering personal rights guaranteed by the Constitution; damaging national unity and social peace while pursuing terrorist goals to overthrow the authorities; assaulting police forces and public facilities; and disrupting the public order.”

Saudi Arabia, where the authorities continue to crackdown on human rights activists. Alkarama updated Ban Ki-moon on the cases of Fawzan Al Harbi, Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Fahad Al Qahtani, all founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Associations (ACPRA). ACPRA, an NGO founded in 2009 to document cases of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, suffered from reprisals by the authorities for having provided the UN with information, often via Alkarama. On 19 November 2014, after having been accused of “spreading false information about the Saudi government,” Fawzan Al Harbi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and subjected to a 10-year travel ban. Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Al Qahtani, who were sentenced in March 2013 respectively to 10 and 11 years of imprisonment by the Criminal Court of Riyadh for having provided “false information as evidence to official international apparatuses such as the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council,” continue to be detained despite a call from several UN Special Procedures for their release.  Fadhel Al Manasif, a Saudi human rights defender was sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court to 15 years plus a travel ban of the same length after his prior sentence, and a fine of US$ 26,666 for charges that included “breaking allegiance with the king” and “being in contact with foreign news agencies in order to exaggerate news and harm the reputation of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people”.

It is important to recall that, because not all victims are able to advocate their own case, or because they fear further reprisals, we should never forget that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg, as Ban Ki-moon highlighted in his last reprisals report,” says Inès Osman, Legal Coordinator at Alkarama. “The international community needs to stand by these women and men and fight against impunity for these unacceptable acts of reprisals. These individuals do not only ‘cooperate with the UN,’ they embody the fight for a world in which all people can demand their rights without fear.” T

For more information or an interview, please contact the media team at media@alkarama.org

FOCUS: Reprisals Continue in the Arab World as Civil Society Space Shrinks – Alkarama Foundation.

How utterly wrong a Chinese newspaper commentary can be…

May 14, 2015

Zhu Junqing, writing in the Shanghai Daily of 13 May 2015, is the prime example of how distorted the Chinese government’s view of the international human rights regime is. Under the title: “U.S. needs to work on own human rights record first before blaming others“, the author quite rightly points to the UN Human Rights Council findings on 11 May and the comments by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, which conclude that there a lot of human right problems remain unresolved in the USA (including excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies, racial, religious and sex discrimination, Guantanamo Bay detention, migrant rights, environmental issues and counterterrorism practices). Also he recalls correctly that the United States is one of the two countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is reluctant on other international instruments.

But then the article draws exactly the wrong conclusion. Instead of appreciating the UN’s courage to tackle a superpower, it call the USA the “ultimate human rights judge” (why??) and concludes that this “self-proclaimed human rights watchdog, needs to examine itself critically and improve its own human rights record before [!] blaming other countries for their violations”. Since “no country is perfect in its human rights record,” as Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying put it, “any country with human rights defects should work hard to resolve its own problems and improve its own human rights record before casting the first stone”.

Yep, that it the solution! Nobody criticizes anybody and we are all happy. The more obvious and consistent solution does not even get mentioned: IF the USA can be criticized, WHY is China so fearful and retaliates regularly against human rights defenders? [e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/china-in-the-un-human-rights-council-manages-to-silence-cao-shunli-as-well-as-ngos/ ].

China’s own extraordinary sensitivity to ‘interference’ of any level into what it considers its domestic affairs is well-known. I touched upon this hot’ topic’ in my own 2011 article “The international human rights movement: not perfect, but a lot better than many governments think” in the book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’ (exceptionally also published in Chinese!): Yuwen Li (ed), Ashgate, 2011, pp 287-304 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4).

Commentary: U.S. needs to work on own human rights record first before blaming others | Shanghai Daily.

High-level Legal Briefing and Debate on Reprisals on 20 November 2014 in Geneva

November 12, 2014

On Thursday, 20 November 2014, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) celebrates its 30th anniversary with the launch and discussion of two important legal reports:ISHR-logo-colour-high

The first is a memorandum of advice on the legal obligations of the Human Rights Council, its President and Bureau to combat reprisals prepared by Sir Nicolas Bratza and Prof Egbert Myjer (both formerly of the European Court of Human Rights – Egbert Myjer portrayed here on the left), together with the leading international law firm Freshfields. This is indeed a crucial area for the future of the whole human rights system as argued consistently in this blog : https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/]

 

The second study is a comparative research report on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders under national law.

The panelists are:

  • Sir Nicolas Bratza, report author and former President of the European Court of Human Rights

  • Maryam Al-Khawaja, Bahraini human rights defender

  • Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The debate is moderated by Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights

The event takes place in Room IX of the Palais des Nations, Geneva, from 15h00 to 16h15. The legal briefing is followed by ISHR’s 30th anniversary reception.

Invitation to a High-level Legal Briefing: 20 November 2014.

Important Report: “Keeping Defenders Safe: A Call to Donor Action”

November 8, 2014

I am sharing with you an important new report on the protection and security of human rights defenders entitled, “Keeping Defenders Safe: A Call to Donor Action”. The report was released this summer but did not get the attention it deserves. The report reviews existing responses to the security challenges that human rights defenders face, with a focus on the grant-makers who support work aimed at strengthening HRD protection and security. The author, Borislav Petranov, conducted more than 150 interviews with defenders and related stakeholders around the world, seeking to capture the viewpoints of activists on the ground.  Monette Zard prepared it for publication. The report’s conclusions suggest changes in focus and approach with recommendations that donors can implement individually as well as collectively to enhance the protection and security of HRDs. While it is not a roadmap or comprehensive analysis of protection mechanisms, it does recommend considered reflection on current policies and practices in the field:  Read the rest of this entry »