Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

It is not just NSO – Loujain Al-Hathloul sues Spyware Maker DarkMatter

December 17, 2021
Laptop with broken screen

As announced on 9 December 2021, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit to on behalf of Saudi human rights defender Loujain Al Hathloul against spying software maker DarkMatter and three of its former executives for illegally hacking her iPhone to secretly track her communications and whereabouts.

AlHathloul is among the victims of an illegal spying program created and run by former U.S. intelligence operatives, including the three defendants named in the lawsuit, who worked for a U.S. company hired by United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the wake of the Arab Spring protests to identify and monitor activists, journalists, rival foreign leaders, and perceived political enemies.

Reuters broke the news about the hacking program called Project Raven in 2019, reporting that when UAE transferred the surveillance work to Emirati firm DarkMatter, the U.S. operatives, who learned spycraft working for the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies, went along and ran DarkMatter’s hacking program, which targeted human rights activists like AlHathloul, political dissenters, and even Americans residing in the U.S.

DarkMatter executives Marc Baier, Ryan Adams, and Daniel Gericke, working for their client UAE—which was acting on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)—oversaw the hacking project, which exploited a vulnerability in the iMessage app to locate and monitor targets. Baier, Adams, Gericke, all former members of U.S. intelligence or military agencies, designed and operated the UAE cybersurveillance program, also known as Project DREAD (Development Research Exploitation and Analysis Department), using malicious code purchased from a U.S. company.

Baier, who resides in UAE, Adams, a resident of Oregon, and Gericke, who lives in Singapore, admitted in September to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and prohibitions on selling sensitive military technology under a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

Companies that peddle their surveillance software and services to oppressive governments must be held accountable for the resulting human rights abuses,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “The harm to Loujain AlHathloul can never be undone. But this lawsuit is a step toward accountability.

AlHathloul is a leader in the movement to advance the rights of women in Saudi Arabia [see also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c].


DarkMatter intentionally directed the code to Apple servers in the U.S. to reach and place malicious software on AlHathloul’s iPhone, a violation of the CFAA, EFF says in a complaint filed in federal court in Oregon. The phone was initially hacked in 2017, gaining access to her texts, email messages, and real-time location data. Later, AlHathloul was driving on the highway in Abu Dhabi when she was arrested by UAE security services, and forcibly taken by plane to the KSA, where she was imprisoned twice, including at a secret prison where she was subject to electric shocks, flogging, and threats of rape and death.

“Project Raven went beyond even the behavior that we have seen from NSO Group, which has been caught repeatedly having sold software to authoritarian governments who use their tools to spy on journalists, activists, and dissidents,” said EFF Cybersecurity Director Eva Galperin. “Dark Matter didn’t merely provide the tools; they oversaw the surveillance program themselves.

While EFF has long pressed for the need to reform the CFAA, this case represents a straightforward application of the CFAA to the sort of egregious violation of users’ security that everyone agrees the law was intended to address.

“This is a clear-cut case of device hacking, where DarkMatter operatives broke into AlHathloul’s iPhone without her knowledge to insert malware, with horrific consequences,” said Mukund Rathi, EFF attorney and Stanton Fellow. “This kind of crime is what the CFAA was meant to punish.” In addition to CFAA violations, the complaint alleges that Baier, Adams, and Gericke aided and abetted in crimes against humanity because the hacking of AlHathloul’s phone was part of the UAE’s widespread and systematic attack against human rights defenders, activists, and other perceived critics of the UAE and KSA.

The law firms of Foley Hoag LLP and Boise Matthews LLP are co-counsel with EFF in this matter.

EFF also welcomed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that spyware vendor NSO Group, as a private company, did not have foreign sovereign immunity from WhatsApp’s lawsuit alleging hacking of the app’s users. Courts should similarly deny immunity to DarkMatter and other surveillance and hacking companies who directly harm Internet users around the world.

For the complaint:
https://www.eff.org/document/alhathloul-v-darkmatter

For more on state-sponsored malware:
https://www.eff.org/issues/state-sponsored-malware Contact: Karen Gullo

https://www.eff.org/press/releases/saudi-human-rights-activist-represented-eff-sues-spyware-maker-darkmatter-violating

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/12/eff-court-deny-foreign-sovereign-immunity-darkmatter-hacking-journalist

Justin Bieber urged to cancel performance in Saudi Arabia

November 11, 2021

On December 5, 2021, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber is scheduled to perform at the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2021, a state-sponsored music festival funded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has contacted Mr. Bieber and his team, urging him to cancel his performance and refuse the Kingdom’s efforts to whitewash its appalling human rights record. Instead, HRF has asked him to use his global influence to issue a statement in support of human rights in Saudi Arabia, just as his colleague Nicki Minaj did when she cancelled her 2019 performance in Saudi Arabia, following a letter from HRF.

It would be disastrous for Justin Bieber, an artist with a vast global following, and who is idolized by millions, to be used as a pawn by MBS’ murderous regime,” said HRF President Céline Assaf-Boustani. “Instead of giving into MBS’ plot to launder his image, as other artists have done since MBS’ ascent to power, Mr. Bieber should follow the lead of his fellow artist Nicki Minaj, who boldly shut down MBS and refused to perform for him.”

Saudi Arabia is not a democracy. It is an absolute monarchy whose de facto dictator, MBS, brutally silences anyone who dares to criticize his policies or calls for reform. Since the beginning of his rule in 2017, MBS has spearheaded a brutal crackdown on dissidents, many of whom have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, sentenced, and tortured to death. Among the groups that his crackdown has targeted are women, who are treated like second-class citizens, the LGBTQ+ community, and other minority groups.

Should he follow through with the performance, Mr. Bieber, who has shown support for the LGBTQ+ community throughout his career, will be profiting off a regime that executes LGBTQ+ individuals for the “crime” of being who they are. In April 2019, for example, five gay men were beheaded after they confessed to crimes under torture. Mr. Bieber has also supported the Black Lives Matter movement and the advancement of civil rights and social justice in the United States, indicating that he wants to use his artistic gifts to “serve this planet and each other,” and to help those who feel helpless in the face of “suffering, injustice, and pain.” 

As someone who has articulated a commitment to civil rights and social justice, Mr. Bieber should stay true to his words and use his platform to raise awareness about the atrocities being perpetrated every day in Saudi Arabia, especially against members of the LGBTQ+ community,” added Assaf-Boustani. “This performance would stand in stark contrast to the core values he claims to subscribe to. Music is not just a business, but also an influential art form that should not be purchased by a brutal dictatorship.”

The Formula 1 event at which Justin Bieber is scheduled to perform, is one of many events that is integral to the Saudi regime’s “Vision 2030” plan. Vision 2030 is a massive undertaking designed to project an image of modernism and prosperity to the rest of the world, and a critical component of it includes the funding of sporting and entertainment industries. This plan, along with a major public relations campaign abroad, has the clear intention of whitewashing the crimes of MBS’ dictatorship, and preventing any form of democratic reforms from taking hold in the country. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/25/cristiano-ronaldo-and-lionel-messi-resist-big-money-to-advertise-for-saudi-arabia/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/12/more-sports-washing-with-anthony-joshua-and-tyson-fury-clash-set-for-saudi-arabia-in-august/

HRF also sent letters to A$AP Rocky, David Guetta, Tiësto, Jason Derulo, and Mohamed Hamaki regarding their participation in the event.

Read HRF’s letter to Justin Bieber

https://mailchi.mp/hrf.org/hrf-to-justin-bieber-cancel-performance-in-saudi-arabia?e=f80cec329e

Abdul Rahman Al-Shamiri, after 15 years, released in Saudi Arabia

September 28, 2021

Abdul Rahman Al-Shamiri [m3takl/Twitter]Abdul Rahman Al-Shamiri

facebook sharing button

On 24 September 2021 the Middle East Monitor reported that the ALQST and the Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account quoted sources as saying that Al-Shamiri was released “following the expiry of his sentence.”

Al-Shamiri is a retired Saudi academic who worked at Umm Al-Qura University, he was also a consultant in the kingdom’s Shura Council for years.

He was arrested in 2007, and sentenced to a 15-year prison term on charges including “disobeying the ruler”.

In December 2003, Al-Shamiri was one of the signatories of a reform document sent to the Saudi monarch at the time, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, demanding Saudis be allowed to participate in the political system. The document was followed by others, including one which demanded the release of three rights defenders, including the late Abdullah Al-Hamid.

Human Rights Defenders issues in the 48th session of he UN Human Rights Council

September 13, 2021

The International Service for Human Rights (HRC) published again it – as usual – very useful Guide to the next (48th) Session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 September to 8 October 2021. Here is an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda directly affecting human rights defenders. Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC48 on Twitter, and look out for their Human Rights Council Monitor and during the session. [for last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 29 September, the Assistant Secretary General Ilze Brands Kehris for Human Rights will present the Secretary General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals. ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. We continue to call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela, Egypt, Burundi, Lao and China,  

During the 48th session, Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution on cooperation with the UN. The draft resolution aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to put an end to acts of intimidation and reprisals. ISHR urges all delegations to support the adoption of the draft resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020. The study examines trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study found that public advocacy and statements by high level actors condemning reprisals can be one of the most effective tools to prevent and promote accountability for reprisals, particularly when public pressure is sustained over time. The study also found that, overall, the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including in relation to retaliation against individuals or groups in connection with their engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/]

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Environmental Justice

It’s high time the Council responds at this session to the repeated calls by diverse States and civil society to recognize the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and establish a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. ISHR joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group of the resolution on human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) as they work towards UN recognition of the right to environment so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, can live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment. Furthermore, ISHR also joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on States to establish a new Special Rapporteur on climate change at this session. This new mandate is essential to strengthen a human rights-based approach to climate change, engage in country visits, undertake normative work and capacity-building, and further address the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. [see also the recent Global witness report: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

Other thematic reports

At this 48th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
  2. Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights 
  3. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences 
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  6. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  7. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  8. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including with the:

  1. High Commissioner on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations
  2. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  3. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent 

Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

ISHR has joined 50 civil society organisations to urge UN Member States to ensure the adoption of a robust resolution to establish a Fact-Finding Mission or similar independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority at the upcoming 48th regular session of the HRC.  We expressed profound regret at the failure of the recent HRC special session on Afghanistan to deliver a credible response to the escalating human rights crisis gripping the country, falling short of the consistent calls of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures and civil society organisations, and does not live up to the mandate of the HRC to effectively address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations. The Council must establish a Fact-Finding Mission, or similar independent investigative mechanism, with a gender-responsive and multi-year mandate and resources to monitor and regularly report on, and to collect evidence of, human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties. 

China 

It has now been three years since High Commissioner Bachelet announced concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims – including mass arbitrary detention, surveillance and discrimination – in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. During the intervening three years, further substantial and incontrovertible evidence has been presented indicating crimes against humanity in the region. ISHR joins a 300+ strong coalition of global civil society that continues to call for accountability for these and other violations, including in Tibet and Hong Kong, by the Chinese authorities. At this session, ISHR highlights that arbitrary detention is – as has been noted by the Special Procedures – a systemic issue in China. Chinese authorities are long overdue in taking any meaningful action in response to the experts’ concerns, such as ceasing the abuse of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. ISHR reiterates its calls from the 46th and 47th sessions for a clearly articulated plan from OHCHR to ensure public monitoring and reporting of the situation, in line with their mandate and with full engagement of civil society, regardless of the outcome of long-stalled negotiations for High Commissioner access to the country. This would be a critical first step for future, more concrete actions that would respond to demands of victims, their families and communities, and others defending human rights in the People’s Republic of China. 

Burundi

We request the Council to continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. The Council should adopt a resolution that acknowledges that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way, as all the structural issues identified by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. The Council should adopt an approach that focuses on continued independent documentation on the situation of human rights in Burundi which should be carried out by the CoI, or a similarly independent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi. The Council’s approach should also ensure that there is follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular, on justice and accountability. See joint letter released ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session.

Egypt

Despite Egypt’s assurances during the UPR Working Group in 2019 that reprisals are unacceptable, since 2017, Egypt has been consistently cited in the UN Secretary General’s annual reprisals reports. The Assistant Secretary-General raised the patterns of intimidation and reprisal in the country in the 2020 reprisals report, as well as UN Special Procedures documenting violations including detention, torture and ill-treatment of defenders. In her latest communication to the Government, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders highlighted the arbitrary detention of 12 defenders, including three targeted for their engagement with the UN: Mohamed Al-Baqer, human rights lawyer and Director of the Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms, arbitrarily detained since 29 September 2019; Ibrahim Metwally, coordinator for the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Egypt, arbitrarily detained since 10 September 2017; and Ramy Kamel, Copitic rights activist, arbitrarily detained since 23 November 2019. Both States and the HRC Presidency should publicly follow up on these cases. Furthermore, in light of Egypt’s failure to address concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, ISHR reiterates our joint call with over 100 NGOs on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation. 

Nicaragua

The human rights crisis in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated since May 2021. Given the reported lack of implementation of resolution 46/2 and the absence of meaningful engagement with the UN and regional mechanisms by the Government, stepping up collective pressure has become vital. We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of a cross-regional group of 59 States on 21 June 2021. This is a positive first step in escalating multilateral pressure. Further collective action should build on this initiative and seek to demonstrate global, cross-regional concern for the human rights situation in the country. In her oral update, the High Commissioner stressed ‘as set out in [the Council’s] latest resolution, I call on this Council to urgently consider all measures within its power to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua. This includes accountability for the serious violations committed since April 2018.’ We call on all States to support a joint statement at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, urging the Government to implement priority recommendations with a view to revert course on the ongoing human rights crisis, and indicating clear intention to escalate action should the Nicaraguan Government not take meaningful action.

Saudi Arabia

While many of the WHRDs mentioned in previous joint statements at the Council have been released from detention, severe restrictions have been imposed including travel bans, or making public statements of any kind. Most of the defenders have no social media presence. Furthermore, COVID-19 restrictions and the G20 Summit in November 2020 coincided with a slow down in prosecutions of those expressing peaceful opinions and a decline in the use of the death penalty. However, throughout 2021 the pace of violations has resumed. This has included fresh new waves of arrests of bloggers and ordinary citizens, often followed by periods of enforced disappearance, lengthy prison terms issued against human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, and abuse in prison, including deliberate medical neglect. In addition, despite announcing the halt of the death penalty against minors, the Saudi government recently executed someone who may have been 17 at the time of the alleged offense, and the number of executions in 2021 is already more than double the total figure for 2020. Saudi Arabia has refused to address the repeated calls by UN Special Procedures and over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Venezuela 

With the environment becoming all the more hostile for civil society organisations in Venezuela, the Council will once again focus attention on the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming session. On 24 September, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission will provide its second report to the Council building on its findings of likely crimes against humanity committed in the country. ISHR looks forward to making an oral statement during the dialogue with the Mission. In addition, the High Commissioner will provide an oral update on the situation in the country and the work of her office in-country, on 13 September. The Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures will present her report following her in-person visit to the country in February 2021. Finally, it’s expected that the report of the Secretary General on reprisals will include cases related to Venezuela. During all these opportunities to engage, States should remind Venezuela of the need to implement UN recommendations; engage with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Mission; and organise visits for Special Rapporteurs already identified for prioritisation by OHCHR. 

Yemen

ISHR joined over 60 civil society organisations to use the upcoming session of the HRC to establish an international criminally-focused investigation body for Yemen, and simultaneously ensure the continuity of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) through an ongoing or multi-year mandate. In their last report, “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land”, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) underscored Yemen’s “acute accountability gap”, concluding that the international community “can and should” do more to “help bridge” this gap in Yemen. They recommended that the international community take measures to support criminal accountability for those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and egregious human rights abuses. In particular, they supported the “establishment of a criminally focused investigation body” (similar to the mechanisms established for Syria and Myanmar) and “stressed the need to realize victims’ rights to an effective remedy (including reparations)”.  Such a mechanism would facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, and lay the groundwork for effective redress, including reparations for victims. 

Other country situations:

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 13 September 2021. The Council will consider updates, reports and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s written update on Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism, and an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner and enhanced interactive dialogue on the Tigray region of Ethiopia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and oral update by OHCHR on the extent of civilian casualties
  • Oral update by OHCHR and interactive dialogue on Belarus
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the progress made in the implementation of the Council’s 30th Special Session resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, and presentation of the High Commissiner’s report on allocation of water resources in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the Philippines

#HRC48 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 48th session held on 30 August the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes six panel discussions. States also announced at least 20 proposed resolutions. Read here the 87 reports presented this session. 

Appointment of mandate holders

  1. The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  2. a member of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises from Latin American and Caribbean States; 
  3. a member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, also from Latin American and Caribbean States (an unforeseen vacancy that has arisen due to the resignation of a current member).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 48th session

At the organisational meeting on 30 August the following resolutions inter alia were announced (States or groups leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Human rights situation in Burundi (EU)
  2. Human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) 
  3. Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights  (Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Uruguay) 
  4. Human rights situation in Yemen (Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands) 
  5. Elimination of child, early and forced marriage (Argentina, Canada  Italy, Honduras, Montenegro, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, Zambia, Netherlands) 
  6. Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (African Group) 
  7. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  8. From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  9. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  10. Human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, UK, USA)
  11. Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia – mandate renewal (Japan) 
  12. Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights (Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Turkey)
  13. Technical assistance and capacity building to Yemen (Arab Group)
  14. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Czech Republic, Botswana, indonesia, Peru, Netherlands)
  15. Right of privacy in the digital age (Germany, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Austria, Mexico) 
  16. The question of the death penalty (Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Moldova, Switzerland) 

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Namibia, the Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Belgium, Paraguay, Denmark, Somalia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Latvia, Singapore and Sierra Leone.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Six panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Biennial panel discussion on the issue of unilateral coercive measures and human rights
  2. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
  3. Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples on the theme “Situation of human rights of indigenous peoples facing the COVID-19 pandemic, with a special focus on the right to participation” (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  4. Half-day panel discussion on deepening inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and their implications for the realization of human rights (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  5. High-level panel discussion on the theme “The tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training: good practices, challenges and the way forward” (accessible to persons with disabilities
  6. Panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, with a particular focus on achievements and contemporary challenges (accessible to persons with disabilities)

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

https://ishr.ch/

International abductions are becoming ‘mainstream’ human rights defenders find

July 15, 2021

Shawn Utley reports in the Madison Leader Gazette of July 14, 2021 on a Freedom House “webinar” about the alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad.

A newly released Justice Department indictment charging four Iranian intelligence operatives with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist who had criticized the Iranian regime, dramatically underscores how transnational abductions are becoming the new “normal” for repressive regimes around the world, two human rights activists said Wednesday.

“It’s a horrific attempt to silence dissent,” Saudi activist Lina Alhathloul said during a Freedom House “webinar” about the alleged Iranian plot to lure Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad to a third country so she could be forcibly rendered to Iran.

Her sister, prominent women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, was abducted in Dubai in 2018 and flown to Saudi Arabia, where she was thrown in prison and tortured under the direction of a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, according to U.S. officials and the accounts from the Alhathloul family.

This is very much a moment when we see this phenomenon is becoming mainstream,” added Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House, “It’s becoming something that dozens of governments around the world use to control exiles and diaspora members. Countries do it because they can get away with it and because the consequences are not there.”

The comments came during a Freedom House-sponsored panel dedicated to the growing threat of the transnational repression trend, as detailed in a recent report and video from the group, and to the new season of Yahoo News “Conspiracy land” an eight-episode podcast that uncovered new details about the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

As was noted in the panel discussion, there are striking parallels between the Saudi plot to assassinate Khashoggi and the alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Alinejad. Both targeted journalists who, after criticizing their governments, had moved to the United States to live in exile. Khashoggi had excoriated the harsh crackdowns by MBS, including the detention of Loujain Alhathloul. Alinejad had criticized the corruption and repressive measures of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP via Getty Images)
Jamal Khashoggi. (Getty Images)

Both plots involved extensive surveillance on U.S. soil. In Khashoggi’s case, Saudi operatives recruited spies inside Twitter to steal personal data about regime critics and later used sophisticated spyware to hack the phones of one of those critics who was in extensive contact with the Saudi journalist. In Alinejad’s case, Iranian intelligence operatives used private investigators to follow, photograph and video-record the Iranian-American journalist and members of her family in Brooklyn, according to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who on Tuesday brought the indictment against the Iranian operatives, all of whom reside in Iran..

https://wmleader.com/general-other/103482/iranian-kidnapping-plot-shows-that-transnational-abductions-are-becoming-mainstream-human-rights-activists-say/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/08/today-the-reach-of-repressive-leaders-knows-no-bounds-borders-or-country-lines/

https://freedomhouse.org/article/iran-plot-kidnap-american-writer-highlights-threat-transnational-repression

https://nltimes.nl/2021/08/14/attack-pakistani-human-rights-activist-foiled-rotterdam

Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah released in Saudi Arabia

June 28, 2021

Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were arrested in August 2018 as part of a government crackdown against dissent.

Nassima al-Sadah, left, and Samar Badawi were held in detention for nearly three years [AFP & EPA]
Nassima al-Sadah, left, and Samar Badawi were held in detention for nearly three years [AFP & EPA]

“Human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah have been released following the expiry of the 3-year sentences against them,” ALQST for Human Rights said in a tweet on 27 June 2021. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/23/saudi-arabia-uses-women-to-spruce-up-its-image-2-efforts/

See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/eaed8641-4056-4130-a5ff-fb7bf289cece

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/27/saudi-arabia-releases-two-prominent-womens-rights-activists

30 NGOs call on Google to drop plan for a Cloud region in Saudi Arabia

May 27, 2021
Groups call on Google to drop out of Saudi project over human rights concerns

© Getty Images

The Hill of 26 May 2021 reports that a coalition of more than 30 human rights and digital privacy rights groups called on Google to abandon its plans to establish a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia over concerns about human rights violations.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN America, wrote in their letter that Saudi Arabia’s record of tamping down on public dissent and its justice system that “flagrantly violates due process” made it unsafe for Google to set up a “cloud region” in the kingdom.

While Google publishes how it handles government requests for customer information and reports when requests are made through formal channels, there are numerous potential human rights risks of establishing a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia that include violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and association, non-discrimination, and due process,” the groups said. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/

The letter also pointed to Saudi authorities who have routinely sought to identify anonymous online dissenters and spy on Saudi citizens through digital surveillance. The groups also pointed to how they themselves are believed to have been put under surveillance by the Saudi government.

“Google has a responsibility to respect human rights, regardless of any state’s willingness to fulfill its own human rights obligations,” the letter continued, pointing to Google’s statement in which it expressed its commitment to human rights and to “improve the lives of as many people as possible.”

In order to address these concerns, the groups called on Google to conduct a “robust, thorough human rights due diligence process” and to “draw red lines around what types of government requests concerning Cloud regions it will not comply with” due to human rights concerns.

“The Saudi government has demonstrated time and again a flagrant disregard for human rights, both through its own direct actions against human rights defenders and its spying on corporate digital platforms to do the same,” the letter read. “We fear that in partnering with the Saudi government, Google will become complicit in future human rights violations affecting people in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region.”

https://thehill.com/policy/technology/555597-groups-call-on-google-to-drop-out-of-saudi-project-over-human-rights

Dictators hire U.S. firms to clean up their images.

May 14, 2021
Image without a caption

Kathy Kiely published on 7 May 2021 in the Washington Post a very enlightening piece showing that “Representing countries with bad records on press freedom is big business.”:

….But even if Biden’s ambition to reestablish the White House as a champion of human rights is a welcome break from the Trump administration’s dictator-coddling, his efforts to pressure countries on freedom of expression are being systematically undermined in Washington, where some nations that are the worst offenders have powerful advocates. Representing those countries is a lucrative business here in the home of the First Amendment.

Sadly, there are far too many examples in the Justice Department’s foreign-agent registration database to present a complete list here. So my research assistant, Missouri journalism student Elise Mulligan, and I decided to focus on a few countries with pressing image problems when it comes to press freedoms.

 Saudi Arabia: The oil-rich kingdom deserves top rank here for the enormity of both the fees and the crime involved. A few big-name influencers dropped the Saudis as clients immediately after the brazen October 2018 murder of journalist and Washington Post contributing op-ed writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But others made a different choice. Since Khashoggi’s death, some two dozen U.S. firms have picked up more than $73 million in fees for representing Saudi interests, according to reports they have filed with the Justice Department. Chief among them was the kingdom’s longtime main lobbying firm, Qorvis, which said in a statement at the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance that “we take the situation seriously” and would “wait for all the facts to become known.”

Here are some facts that have since become known: Saudi officials have acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed by a team of government agents sent to force the journalist to return to the kingdom and that his body was afterward dismembered. Five of the 15 hit men were convicted but have since had their death sentences commuted. And U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder.

Meanwhile, the crown prince continues to have his reputation as a visionary world leader burnished with news releases like the one prepared in January by Edelman hailing Neom, the futuristic city the prince has ordered up on the Red Sea. (Edelman took in $6.7 million from the Saudis since Khashoggi’s murder before completing its latest contracts in January, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, filings.) Or in a Hogan Lovells-produced release crediting the crown prince for “new efforts to combat extremist ideology and shut down hate speech.” This about a country that routinely makes female journalists the targets of misogynistic trolling campaigns.

Qorvis has collected more than $28 million from the Saudis since Khashoggi’s murder, filings with the Justice Department show. Firm President Michael Petruzzello has said the $18.8 million Qorvis reported receiving from the Saudis six months after the journalist’s death was for work “billed over several years and recently paid all at once.” But since then, the firm has picked up another $9 million working for the Saudis. It also has a contract to do work for the kingdom’s oxymoronically named Human Rights Commission. A bit of context: While the Saudis recently released from prison several female activists (who had asked for, among other things, the right to drive), the women are not permitted to leave the country.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/09/will-loujain-al-hathloul-be-released-on-thursday-11-february/]

Even more jaw-droppingly, some U.S. lobbying firms are producing materials flacking the Saudis’ humanitarian work in Yemen, such as a note from a Hogan Lovells partner to Capitol Hill staffers about “how the Kingdom of Saudi is leading regional efforts related to the current cease-fire and COVID mitigation in Yemen,” and a Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck flier for a Saudi-sponsored Capitol Hill conference on “protecting innocent lives” in Yemen by eradicating land mines. That all seems a bit like offering a Band-Aid to someone whose leg you just cut off, given the Saudi role in escalating Yemen’s civil war. According to the United Nations, the conflict has killed at least 233,000 people and left children starving.

The Philippines: Over the past few years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been busy shuttering his nation’s largest broadcaster and conducting an infamous campaign of online and legal harassment against much-lauded journalist and entrepreneur Maria Ressa (who just added the UNESCO press freedom prize to honors from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the National Press Club and many more). [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/28/maria-ressa-of-the-philippines-winner-of-unescos-guillermo-cano-world-press-freedom-prize-2021/]

At the same time, the blue-chip communications and public relations firm BCW Global has collected fees of more than $1 million for providing assistance to the nation’s central bank, headed by a Duterte ally. The work includes a glossy 70-page pamphlet (including plenty of photos of Duterte) touting the Philippine economy to investors, as well as news releases that highlight the accomplishments of “President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team”  and his “reform agenda.” All of that is intended to encourage investment in a country whose leader has drawn widespread condemnation for encouraging thousands of extrajudicial killings.

China: Global rainmakers Squire Patton Boggs continue to represent Beijing’s interests in Washington for a retainer of $55,000 a month, according to the firm’s most recent contract, dated last July. The firm’s January filing with the Justice Department reported payments of $330,000 from the Chinese Embassy for the previous six months of work, which included advice on “U.S. policy concerning Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet,” among other places where Beijing has been trying to muzzle dissidents, and “matters pertaining to human rights,” according to the firm’s latest filing with the Justice Department’s foreign-agent registration database.

Chinese officials have been sanctioned by the U.S. government for human rights abuses against the country’s Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and against Buddhists in Tibet, among other concerns. They’re also no friend to journalists, unsurprisingly: The prison sentence handed to Hong Kong news publisher Jimmy Lai became the latest headline in China’s crackdown on press freedom. The most recent report from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China documents the expulsions of at least 18 foreign correspondents and numerous attempts to intimidate reporters working in Hong Kong and mainland China. Most concerning are the detentions of Chinese nationals, some of whom have been held for months with no word about the charges against them or their condition.

Of course, it is hopelessly silly to be writing any of this with an expectation that it’ll change this behavior. Anyone can lip-sync the patronizing lecture on realpolitik that Washington’s foreign policy establishment deploys to edify the ignoramus idealist who thinks Americans should stand up for our own values.

Former senator Norm Coleman — who, as a senior adviser for Hogan Lovells (post-Khashoggi murder take from Saudi Arabia: $6.8 million, according to records the firm has filed with the Justice Department), has been working his Hill contacts on the Saudis’ behalf — delivered a version of this lecture in interviews immediately after Khashoggi’s disappearance. The murder was “not a good deal at all” and “there needs to be accountability,” he said, but the “strategic relationship” between the Americans and the Saudis must be maintained: Iran must be contained. Israel must survive.

There are variations on this theme for almost every bad actor on the world stage: The Philippines is a strategic base for U.S. operations in South Asia. China? Think of all those customers for our soybeans and our movies! And, at various times, Washington has tried to enlist all three countries as allies in the war on terrorism.

But if we can’t stand up for free speech, life and liberty, what, exactly, are we fighting for? May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, which the United Nations has set aside to celebrate the work of journalists in promoting democracy, accountability and the rule of law. It seems a fitting moment to consider how socially and politically acceptable it has become in this country is to undermine all those things.Advertisement. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/

The firms that lobby for Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and China did not respond to repeated requests for comment. It would be interesting to ask them how they square their work for those clients with the work they like to highlight: accounts such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alzheimer’s Association (Qorvis); campaigns for worthy causes, such as the video Edelman made for Ikea to support equal rights for women (sadly lacking in Saudi Arabia). But it’s worth pointing out this work because these clients, along with other reputable brands that these lobbying firms represent — for instance, Major League Baseball’s commissioner’s office and the California State Teachers Association (Hogan Lovells) and Coca-Cola (BCW) — might want to think twice about being in the same stable as thugs like Rodrigo Duterte and Mohammed bin Salman.

It takes more than a president to support democracy. We all need to examine our wallets as well as our consciences and consider how each of us are standing up for it. Or — wittingly or unwittingly — are not.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/dictators-crush-dissent-then-they-hire-these-us-firms-to-clean-up-their-images/2021/05/07/679bcb54-adec-11eb-ab4c-986555a1c511_story.html

New NGO launched in UK to defend human rights in Saudi Arabia

May 13, 2021
Mohammed bin Salman Editorial credit: Matias Lynch / Shutterstock.com

On 12 May 2021 5Pillars (RMS) announced the creation of a new NGO to deal with human rights in Saudi Arabia. The UK-based Standing Against Nefarious & Arbitrary Detention (SANAD) was aunched in an online conference, which focussed on human rights in Saudi Arabia, especially the freedom to criticise the regime and violations perpetrated against those who have been detained, imprisoned or even disappeared.

Bilal Ithkiran, the SANAD CEO, said the organisation would “seek to identify anyone who has been detained for criticising the regime and those who have been denied due process or have had their rights violated.

He said SANAD hopes, via peaceful means, to develop an optimistic society that looks to the future in a professional manner.

Dr Sue Conlan, a human rights activist and lawyer, said SANAD aims to establish human rights in Saudi Arabia through media awareness and to collaborate with other similar organisations and bring about legal and civil proceedings where appropriate.

“We aim to build databases on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and collate evidence and initiate legal proceedings against anyone involved in perpetrating human rights violations in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Dr Saeed Al Ghamdi, an academic and chair of the trustees, said the organisation has launched “to support the the oppressed and push back the oppressors.” He said that the “human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is passing through a very difficult and painful time.”

He added that “the courts are dictated to by the regime” resulting in “prolonged sentences for a stance, an opinion, a tweet or a word they’ve said.”

Abdullah Al Ghamdi, a board member of SANAD, said the path ahead will be “difficult but it is not impossible.” But Al Ghamdi, whose mother is currently being unlawfully detained, ended on an optimistic note saying: “Victory will belong to those who are patient, resilient and steadfast.”

Finally, Fahad Al Ghuwaydi, who has been detained on three occasions in Saudi Arabia for his activism, said the Saudi government’s abuses can be broken down into four phases.

He said: “As a previous detainee myself, I know too well these four phases. I know all too well how they will follow you. How they will follow an individual before they’re detained. I know too well what happens inside the prisons and I know too well how you are denied your most basic of rights as a detainee. I also know too well the obsession that the detainee suffers after they are released from prison.”

Al Ghuwaydi concluded by demanding “the decreasing of pressure upon the people. We demand the release of the political detainees, who were detained oppressively.”

Amnesty International says repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly have intensified in Saudi Arabia.

“Among those harassed, arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and/or jailed were government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, relatives of activists, journalists, members of the Shi’a minority and online critics of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Amnesty says on its website.

“Virtually all known Saudi Arabian human rights defenders inside the country were detained or imprisoned at the end of the year. Grossly unfair trials continued before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and other courts. Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes. Migrant workers were even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic, and thousands were arbitrarily detained in dire conditions, leading to an unknown number of deaths.”

https://5pillarsuk.com/2021/05/12/human-rights-organisation-launches-in-uk-to-safeguard-rights-in-saudi-arabia/

More sports washing with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury clash set for Saudi Arabia in August

May 12, 2021

BT.com reports on 11 May 2021 that the all-British showdown between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury to determine the undisputed heavyweight champion is set to take place on one of the first two Saturdays in August in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn.)

“August 7, August 14,” Hearn said on Sky Sports when asked about a date for Joshua-Fury. “It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia. I don’t mind giving that information, Bob Arum’s already done it.

Joshua avenging the only defeat of his professional career against Ruiz in Saudi Arabia attracted plenty of criticism from campaigners, who accused the Middle East country of trying to “sportswash” its human rights record. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/11/new-low-in-saudi-sports-washing-fifa-leader-stars-in-saudi-pr-video/

Responding to Hearn’s revelation that Joshua-Fury is on course to take place in Saudi Arabia, Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said in a statement to the PA news agency: “It comes as no surprise that Saudi Arabia is once again set to use a major sporting event as a means to sportswash its atrocious human rights record.

“By staging this high-profile fight, Saudi Arabia is yet again trying to shift the media spotlight away from its jailing of peaceful activists like Loujain al-Hathloul, its grisly state-sanctioned murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its indiscriminate bombing of civilians in neighbouring Yemen

“Simply put – Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman wants people around the world to be talking about sport in Saudi Arabia, not the dissidents being locking up after sham trials or the people being tortured in Saudi jails.   

“When he fought in Saudi Arabia in 2019 it was disappointing that Anthony Joshua ducked the issue of human rights, and this time we hope he and his opponent can speak out in the build-up to the fight.

A few well-chosen words about human rights from Joshua and Fury would mean a lot to Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered human rights defenders, helping to counteract the intended sportswashing effect of this boxing match.”

https://www.bt.com/sport/news/2021/may/anthony-joshua-and-tyson-fury-clash-set-for-saudi-arabia-in-august-eddie-hearn