Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Monthly list of major threats to press freedom includes Covid-19 cases

April 2, 2020

One Free Press Coalition logo

There is a list – updated monthly – by the One Free Press Coalition of nearly 40 news organizations, which identifies the 10 most urgent cases threatening press freedom around the world. Understanding the COVID-19 requires unbiased journalists, whose work requires protection. Not only does the act of informing the public carry risk to one’s own health but, in many countries, risk of retaliation. In China, freelance video journalist Chen Quishi disappeared on February 6 after informing family of plans to report on a temporary hospital in Wuhan, where the virus originated. Beijing has since expelled journalists from outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post and demanded personnel information from Voice of America and TIME. Mohammad Mosaed, a reporter in Iran who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic, has been barred from practicing journalism and suspended from social media. Family members of imprisoned Egyptian journalist Alaa Abdelfattah were detained for protesting on behalf of prisoners who are vulnerable to the spread of the virus. An Azerbaijani journalist freed in mid-March described detention conditions allowing one shower per week, without soap, he told CPJ

 

See the full list below:

1. Mohammad Mosaed (Iran)

Journalist, who warned about pandemic, banned from work and social media.

Freelance economic reporter Mohammad Mosaed awaits a court date, after intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested and interrogated him in February regarding social media accounts critical of government. The criticism included lack of preparedness to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Until trial, authorities bar him from practicing journalism and suspended his social media accounts. Last year he endured 16 days in Evin prison for his tweets and was released on bail.

2. Maria Ressa (Philippines)

Editor facing potential detention, arrested again March 28.

Rappler editor Maria Ressa is scheduled for trial April 24, expecting a verdict on a cyber-libel charge brought by local businessman Wilfredo Keng regarding a May 2012 story. The relevant law took effect four months after the story in question was published. Depending how judges interpret the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act, Ressa could face six years in prison.

3. Alaa Abdelfattah (Egypt)

Family of jailed journalist protests prisons’ inaction to prevent COVID-19 threat.

While blogger Alaa Abdelfattah is held in Cairo’s Tora Prison, three of his family members face charges of unlawful protest, illegal assembly and obstructing traffic in their call to protect prisoners from the spread of coronavirus. They were released on bail exceeding $300 apiece. After reporting about politics and human rights violations, Abdelfattah has endured threats and been told he will never go free if he speaks of guards’ abuse.

4. Chen Qiushi (China)

Journalist covering coronavirus disappeared more than six weeks ago.

Freelance video journalist Chen Quishi has not been seen since February 6, when he informed family of plans to report on a temporary hospital. In late January, he had traveled from Beijing to the city of Wuhan in Hubei province and began filming and reporting on the coronavirus health crisis, according to his posts on YouTube. Friends running his Twitter account believe he is likely held in residential surveillance.

5. Claudia Julieta Duque (Colombia)

Journalist fears for her life, amid government-orchestrated threats.

After 19 years of persecution and legal censorship, award-winning journalist Claudia Julieta Duque told IWMF that she learned on February 29 about an ongoing criminal threat against her life. According to Duque, agents of the state institution in charge of protecting human rights defenders and at-risk journalists, called the National Protection Unit (UNP), were reportedly ordered to carry out intelligence activities to infiltrate Duque’s security scheme and threaten her welfare.

6. Martin Doulgut (Chad)

Imprisoned publisher undertook hunger strike while awaiting appeal.

No date has been set, following postponement of a March 12 appeal in the case of Martin Inoua Doulguet, publisher of Salam Info. He was found guilty on criminal charges of defamation and conspiracy in September, and sentenced to three years in prison. The privately owned quarterly newspaper reports on crime and politics in Chad, and Doulguet’s penalty includes a $1,675 fine and paying part of $33,514 in plaintiff damages.

7. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan)

Journalist serving life sentence prepares for final appeal.

On April 6, a Kyrgyz court is scheduled to hear the final appeal in the case of award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov. The ethnic Uzbek, who reported on human rights, has spent more than nine years imprisoned on trumped-up charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. The decade-long case has drawn persistent international condemnation, and Kyrgyzstan’s only imprisoned journalist’s health deteriorates.

8. Roberto Jesús Quiñones (Cuba)

Journalist subject to inhumane prison conditions.

Cuban journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones has spent more than six months behind bars, experiencing worsening treatment. Staff listen to all of his phone calls, have served him food containing worms, and upon learning of his secretly publishing from prison, suspended family visits and put him in solitary confinement. A municipal court in Guantánamo sentenced him to serve one year as a result of “resistance” and “disobedience” when police beat and detained him for covering a trial as a CubaNet contributor last April and his refusal to pay a fine imposed on him following this incident.

9. Ignace Sossou (Benin

Reporter experiences repeated retaliation for his work. 

On two different occasions last year, Benin courts delivered prison sentences to Ignace Sossou, a reporter for privately owned site Web TV. First was a one-month imprisonment and fine of $850 for publishing “false information” about local business dealings. Then an 18-month sentence and fine of $337 for defamation and disinformation in his reporting public statements made by Public Prosecutor Mario Mètonou.

10. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia)

Turkish and U.S. leaders continue pressuring for murdered journalist’s justice.

On March 25 Turkish officials indicted 20 Saudi nationals in the ongoing pursuit for answers surrounding Jamal Khashoggi’s brazen killing in Istanbul in 2018 and the Saudi crown prince’s role. That follows a March 3 news conference with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Representative Tom Malinowsk, and The Washington Post columnist’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, announcing that they are invoking procedures within the Senate Intelligence Committee to provide a congressional release of information from intelligence agencies.

https://time.com/5813095/press-freedom-threats-coronavirus-april-2020/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/katherinelove/2020/04/01/coronavirus-calls-for-journalists-safety-frontline-reporters-top-list-of-10-most-urgent-press-freedom-cases/?ss=leadership-strategy#29d1805e2bfc

Four women human rights defenders with a mission

March 25, 2020

The Bandera County Courrier of 7 March 2020 referred to the following four women human rights defenders from four non-European countries who should serve as examples for the many who are tirelessly fighting for their rights.

Mexico: Norma Librada Ledezma

Norma Librada Ledezmas 15 – year-old daughter Paloma disappeared on2  March 2002 in Chihuahua, Mexico. 27 For days, the mother searched desperately for her daughter . The police did not give her any support. At the 29. March 2002 Paloma’s body was found. Ledezma is convinced that if the police had investigated earlier and more thoroughly, their daughter could have been saved. That day, the Mexican founded the organization “Justicia para nuestras hijas”, which means: justice for our daughters. This provides legal advice and support in cases of feminicide (murder of women). The same applies to human trafficking and kidnapping. Ledezma wants justice for the victims and the families affected. The Mexican has already supported more than 200 investigations into cases of feminicide and kidnapping. The death of her daughter Paloma is not an isolated case in Mexico. According to UN Women, around ten women are killed in Mexico every day. Ledezma has been able to improve the investigation of feminicides in the country with her work. The Mexican woman has also set up a public prosecutor’s office in Chihuahua that specializes in crimes against women as victims. For her commitment, Ledezma has been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award, an award for people and organizations who are committed to protecting human rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/05/daughters-murder-motivated-norma-ledezma-to-hunt-for-mexicos-disappeared/]

Norma Librada Ledezma
Norma Librada Ledezma Photo: Martin Ennals Foundation

India: Malti Tudu

Malti Tudu has a mission: she wants to end child marriage in her homeland, the state of Bihar, India. In the tribe the number of child marriages is particularly high. 74 percent of women get married under 18 year  For the young activist, one thing is certain: children should not be forced to marry. According to Unicef, child marriage violates the rights of girls and boys, with girls being affected five times more often. The married girls have to drop out of school. Teenage mothers also die more often than mature women from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Tudu has been fighting child marriage in Bihar for more than two years. The activist has partnered with other women. Together they educate the residents in the surrounding villages and try to prevent as many child marriages as possible. The women also get a lot of headwind in their actions. But Tudu remains persistent – with success. She has already saved several girls from getting married. In the meantime, she has become a role model for many young women in India. In recent years, more and more women have come together to fight child marriage in India. And there is progress: In the past ten years, the proportion of child marriages in India has gone from 50 percent to 27 percent.

Kenya: Christine Ghati Alfons

Christine Ghati Alfons, a young Kenyan, is fighting for the circumcision of girls to stop. That is not easy. Many in their homeland are still convinced that circumcised women have better chances of marriage and are better integrated into the community. Officially, genital mutilation has been official in Kenya since 2011 forbidden. Nevertheless, according to the United Nations, one in five women is still between 15 and 49 years in Kenya – the mutilation happens in private clinics or at home.

Christine Ghati Alfons.
Christine Ghati Alfons. Photo: private

Had her father not stood up for her then, Alfons would have been circumcised. His involvement broke a taboo in the community – and had consequences. He was killed because he wanted to protect his eight-year-old daughter. Alfons didn’t know anything about her father’s courage for a long time. Because all of her friends were circumcised, she wanted that too. The vehemence with which her mother forbade her surprised her. When they talked about the risk of contracting HIV during circumcision at school, Alfons decided against it. Only then did she learn from the mother why her father died. “I want to make my father proud,” says Alfons today. She is committed to girls who have no one to stand up for them. The 27 year-old founded the organization “Safe Engage Foundation ”with which she goes to the communities to talk to children, parents and teachers, to convince them of the cruelty. When genital mutilation occurs, the clitoris and labia become partially or completely away. In particularly severe cases, the entire external genitalia is cut off and sewn back up except for a hole the size of a matchstick. The circumcised women torture themselves throughout their lives with physical and psychological pain. Not only in Africa, but also in Asia and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia: Manal al Sharif

Manal al Sharif becomes famous in Saudi Arabia in 2011 with a shaky cell phone video that she films in an apparently banal activity: she is behind the wheel of a car. At the time, the autocratic monarchy was the last country in the world where women were prohibited from driving a car.

Manal al Sharif.
Manal al Sharif. Photo: Andreas Gebert / dpa

The eight-minute recording shows Sharif, an IT consultant, driving through the streets of the Saudi city of Khobar. She speaks to her friend and co-activist Wajeha al Huwaider, says things like: “We want change in our country” and: “A woman deserves the same rights as every man.” And she is optimistic. “Things will change – God willing.” A lot has happened since the video went viral. Initially, the Sharif admission jailed for eleven days. The repressive regime accuses her of “inciting public opinion against the state”. When she is released, she leaves the country because of death threats. But Sharif’s video fired the Saudi “Women2Drive” movement. And even after her emigration, the activist remains part of the movement, campaigning for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. 2018 the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – de facto the most powerful man in the country – allows women to drive. Nevertheless, he continues to take decisive action against critics of the Kingdom. According to Amnesty, some women’s rights activists, such as Loujain al Hathloul, have been detained for several years, relatives report torture. Sharif now lives in Sydney, has written a book about her experiences and is committed to Women in their country of origin…Manal al Sharif is now considered one of the most important women rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

These four women have a mission

Human Rights Defenders issues on the agenda of 43rd Human Rights Council

February 24, 2020

On 17 February 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published – as usual – its excellent “HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session”. Here some excerpts that relate directly to human rights defenders in the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from 24 February to 20 March 2020.  If you want to stay up-to-date: with all issues follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders. The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders. In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. [for some of my ealrier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]. During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France.
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway.

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

Country-specific developments

China Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/joint-letter-by-22-states-to-human-rights-council-re-chinas-uighurs/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Saudi Arabia The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation. [for other posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

Egypt The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council’s attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/ ]

India The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/]

Burundi. At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/

Sri Lanka. Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

Other country situations:

    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
    • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
    • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
    • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine
    • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic);
  2. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia;
  3. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  6. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  7. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  8. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Some resolutions werealready announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  3. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  4. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  5. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  7. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  9. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  10. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  11. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

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. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00.

NOTE: The UN’s liquidity crisis is having a serious impact on this session and the next one (44th in June) and ISHR – jointly with 26 other NGOs – have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/20/lack-of-funds-forces-lack-of-oversight-by-un/]

For more information contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseinyATishr.ch 

For a survey of the 42nd session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/02/result-of-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

See also CIVICUS advisory on this Council session: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/4282-advocacy-priorities-at-43rd-session-of-un-human-rights-council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-key-issues-agenda-march-2020-session

Newcastle’s takeover bid from Saudi Arabia welcomed by many fans but it remains ‘sportswashing’

January 30, 2020

On Monday 27 January 2020, Football365.com carried the story about Amnesty International calling the take-over of footbal club Newcastle by Saudi Arabia a case of ‘sportswashing’. Two days later the BBC reported on the conflicting feelings within the supporters group.

A Saudi takeover of Newcastle United would be “sportswashing, plain and simple” according to human rights body Amnesty International.The Premier League club are in talks with two potential buyers, including a consortium which features the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia has recently engaged on a large scale in buying a positive image with events such as Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing match against Andy Ruiz, Spain’s Super Cup and the Dakar ralley.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/ ]

Amnesty sees this as an attempt to use sport to clean up its image, describing the country’s human rights record as “abysmal”.“ It’s not for us to say who should own Newcastle, but players, back-room staff and fans alike ought to see this for what it is – sportswashing, plain and simple,” Amnesty’s UK head of campaigns Felix Jakens said.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is considering a £340million bid by the consortium, which is led by Amanda Staveley a businesswoman and financier, who failed to buy the club two years ago.

(Premier League club Sheffield United are also owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. And Amnesty have also criticised Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners for “sportswashing” their country’s “deeply tarnished image” by pouring money into the Premier League champions. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/07/ahmed-mansoor-ten-years-jail-for-tweeting-and-a-street-named-after-you/)

Amnesty International labels Newcastle takeover bid ‘sportswashing’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51299845

see also: https://www.metro.news/deep-pockets-matter-more-to-fans-than-human-rights/1893025/

Dakar Rally: sports washing par excellence

January 15, 2020

AlKhaleej Today on 14 January 2020 carries an interesting post by Anthony Harwood, a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail, entitled: Dakar Rally opens dark new chapter in Saudi sportswashing“. Here some long excerpts listing some of the many sports events which Saudi Arabia has been buying, but with the main focus on the Dakar Rally. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/].

..But regrettable also that the organisers of the race, France’s Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have chosen not to say or do anything which might upset the host country, Saudi Arabia, and spark headlines around the world.  There was once a time when campaigners would call on sportsmen and women to boycott Riyadh when asked to play there, much as happened when “rebel tours” of South Africa were announced during the apartheid era. But that changed when the desert kingdom began offering huge sums of money that footballers, wrestlers, tennis players, snooker players and golfers were finding hard to turn down. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International realised that calling for a boycott was never going to work when the lure of the Saudi riyal was so great and promoters could point to how companies like House of Fraser, Gucci, Chanel and Starbucks are already trading in Saudi Arabia, so what’s all the fuss?  Instead, campaign groups asked that anyone who went to Riyadh spoke out while they were there about the country’s appalling human rights abuses….

As Ines Osman, director of the MENA Rights Group, said: “These activists, and countless others, have paid the price of their freedom for the state’s ‘social change’ narrative. Competitors and sports fans must speak up, as silence allows Riyadh’s soft power tactics to wash away human rights abuses, shutting down the voices of Saudi human rights defenders.” 

The term ‘sportswashing’ has entered the lexicon as a way to describe how countries such as Saudi Arabia use sport to wash away the stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.  To do this they lure sports stars and celebrities to their country with huge sums of money; only on Friday the manager of Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde, admitted that the only reason the Spanish Super Cup was being hosted in Riyadh was because of the money on offer.  Likewise, the British boxer, Anthony Joshua, got $86m to agree to last month’s world heavyweight title fight with Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia. 

..In November the Dakar director, David Castera, claimed there had been hesitation before choosing Saudi Arabia for the rally, but didn’t elaborate on what the “many guarantees” were which had held things up.  He also noted that Dakar was not the first sporting event to be held in Saudi, which of course is true, and is why the Saudis continue to spend a fortune attracting high-profile competitors: so it becomes normalised. 

The Saudi authorities have said they hope broadcasts of the race – showing the country’s beautiful expanses of desert, mountains and coastline – will provide a boost to its tourist industry. The sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, said accusations of sportswashing are wrong because his country was always criticised for “not opening up to the world”. What a crass thing to say. By opening up, we don’t mean gawping at the Saudi desert.  By opening up we mean having a transparent judicial system where a trial which allows the organisers of Khashoggi’s murder to escape punishment can be scrutinised.  By opening up we mean allowing a cross-party group of British members of parliament access to women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia, as well as their guards, following claims they have been tortured and sexually assaulted while in jail.  By opening up we mean allowing an examination of how the Saudi-led coalition have carried out unlawful attacks in Yemen, restricted access to humanitarian aid, carried out arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and child recruitment. 

It’s sad that not one of those drivers from 62 nations had so much as a pink armband between them when they set off from Jeddah on 5 January on what the Saudi media proudly call ‘Chapter 3’ in the race’s history.  If they don’t find their voices by the time they reach Riyadh on Friday – and I’m not holding my breath – the start of a five year contract to hold the race in Saudi Arabia will actually mark the most shameful stretch of the Dakar Rally’s history. 

For more of my posts on sports washing: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/

https://alkhaleejtoday.co/saudi-arabia/21704/Dakar-Rally-opens-dark-new-chapter-in-Saudi-sportswashing.html

Saudi Arabia finds that celebrities are easier to buy than human rights NGOs

January 13, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Amnesty International has released a joint statement, along with Transparency International and Civicus, [https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior30/1649/2020/en/] explaining why it will not be engaging in this year’s C20 process, a cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the annual G20 summit, which  started yesterday with a three-day “kick-off meeting”.

“The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government – which makes a mockery of the whole process,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. “The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights, as well as homosexuality, and tortures and executes critics.”

Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency in December 2019. It has recently invested in expensive PR campaigns to improve its image, and hosted several high-profile sporting events which draw international visitors [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/]. But behind this carefully cultivated façade, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is as appalling as ever. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the journalist and peaceful critic Jamal Khashoggi. More than a year after his murder in October 2018, there has been no justice or accountability for his death. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/saudi-arabia-continues-to-buy-celebrities-this-time-for-the-mdl-beast-festival/]

The country’s leading women’s rights activists remain behind bars and on trial for their promotion of women’s rights in the country. Scores of other individuals, including human rights defenders, have been serving lengthy prison terms for their peaceful activism or have been arbitrarily detained for up to a year and a half without charges. The Saudi Arabian authorities have also carried out executions following unfair trials and routine torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

The Saudi-led C20 process has already failed to guarantee the C20’s fundamental principles. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process is led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, and cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory. Since the Saudi authorities ban political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, there is no way the C20 meetings can be the free and open discussions they are designed to be.

The full statement is available here

The annual Oxi Day Courage awards

January 8, 2020

A small but interesting award that must be close to my heart (as I live in Greece) is the Oxi Day Courage Award. For more information see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/oxi-day-courage-awards.

Philip Chrysopoulos in GreekReporter of 27 October 2019 recalls the strategic importance of the the Greek resistance (“What if the Greeks Did Not Say “Oxi” on October 28, 1940?”).

October 28 is a Greek national holiday, but not without its share of criticism, as there are those who argue that it commemorates the country’s entry into a war instead of a victory or a liberation day, as is typically the case with such holidays. However, if Greeks did not say “Oxi” and avoided the war, it is entirely possible that the consequences for Greece and the world would have been far more devastating. Greece likely would have lost portions of its territory and definitely would have lost its national pride.

On the contrary, the proud “Oxi” uttered by Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas in the early morning of October 28, 1940, and a few hours later by the Greek people who went out on the streets celebrating, united the Greeks. The events of that historic night united the Greeks who had previously been divided into leftists and rightists, monarchists and republicans, communists and nationalists. The division was so intense that between 1922, the year of the Asia Minor disaster, and 1936, no government could remain in power for long. This brings us to 1940, where the man who said “Oxi” to the Italian ambassador was a dictator, who had been appointed prime minister by King George in early 1936 and who by August 4 of that year had established a military regime. Ioannis Metaxas was a monarchist who was accused of being a sympathizer of both the Nazis in Germany and the Italian fascists, yet he was a patriot first and foremost. But what would have happened if, on that night, Metaxas had said “yes” instead? The Greek prime minister was a highly educated military man and knew quite well that a war would cost Greece thousands of lives while causing tremendous damage. He could have surrendered and allowed the Axis forces to enter Greece in an easy and relatively bloodless occupation. France, under German rule since June of that year, was a good example of such a smooth occupation…..

In 2019 the laureate was Jamal Khashoggi [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/jamal-khashoggi/ ]

In 2018 it was Vladimir Kara-Murza, vice chairman of the Open Russia movement and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom.  Twice, in 2015 and 2017, he was poisoned with an unknown substance and left in a coma; the attempts on his life were widely viewed as politically motivated. Kara-Murza writes regular commentary for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, World Affairs, and other periodicals, and has previously worked as a journalist for Russian broadcast and print media, including Ekho Moskvy and Kommersant. He directed two documentary films, They Chose Freedom (on the dissident movement in the USSR) and Nemtsov (on the life of Boris Nemtsov).

In 2017 Ji Seong-Ho who lived through North Korea’s “Arduous March,” the propaganda term used by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea to describe the famine of the 1990s that killed an estimated 3.5 million people. He survived by eating grass and tree bark, and by foraging through garbage at street markets…In March 7, 1996, while jumping from one train car to another, he was so weak from malnutrition he passed out mid-jump. When he regained consciousness, he saw the back of the train disappearing down the track before realizing it had run over half of his body…Once able to walk on crutches, …In 2006, he and his brother escaped North Korea. Within a month of arriving in South Korea, he was provided prosthetics, and a few years later he founded a human rights activist group, NAUH (Now Action & Unity for Human Rights).  Ji has participated in several human rights symposiums and cultural events in a bid to improve North Korean human rights. Through his organization, Ji helps defectors plan escapes to South Korea and other countries and is involved in fundraising to secure financial stability for defectors. Ji is also involved in various activities reporting on the situation through Radio Free Asia broadcasts. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/29/north-korean-defector-ji-seong-ho-in-video-talk/]

https://www.oxidayfoundation.org/annual-celebration/the-oxi-day-award/

What if the Greeks Did Not Say “Oxi” on October 28, 1940?

Dakar Rally starts on 5 January in Jeddah but HRDs in jail

January 4, 2020

Saudi Arabia continues to buy celebrities, this time for the MDL Beast festival

December 27, 2019

Influencers, models, actors are given the will to promote the MDL beast in Saudi Arabia
Photographs through Daniele Venturelli / Getty

Jermaine Hoffman in Go Tech Daily of 23 Influencers, models, actors are given the will to promote the MDL beast in Saudi Arabia“. Another piece on the contoversial topic of celebrity endorsements [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/26/celebrity-endorsements-and-the-dubai-expo-on-the-one-hand-and-the-other/].

This past weekend, the MDL Beast music festival was held in the capital of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. Sold as the “biggest music event in the region,” it attracted some of the world’s greatest celebrities, including Winnie Harlow and Armie Hammer. It also attracted global controversy. Here’s an overview of what happened at the three-day festival, who was involved, and why people were upset.

J Balvin, Steve Aokie and David Guetta were placed as some of the great artists of the festival. Among the crowd were celebrities, influential artists and models who were invited to participate and promote MDL Beast on their personal social media platforms. Hollywood actors like Ryan Phillippe, Wilmer Valderrama and Armie Hammer attended, as well as models like Alessandra Ambrosio, Halima Aden, Imaan Hammam and Joan Smalls and Bollywood superstar Sonam Kapoor. Aden and Ambrosio later shared that they had been paid for an event post.

The festival was heavily portrayed on social media as a proud moment for Saudi Arabia – a “cultural shift”, according to Instagram’s contribution by Armie Hammer. These Western influencers and celebrities, however, are criticized for promoting Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination without mentioning human rights violations, and the festival itself gets resistance to whitening the image of Saudi Arabia.

[for some posts on Saudi Arabia see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/ ]

Phillip Picardi, the former editor of Teen Vogue and Out, spoke about the role of the festival in the country’s expanded tourism strategies. He wrote, “Extremely, deeply disappointed when I see people on my Instagram feed who have traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of their government image rehabilitation campaign.” Picardi later said, “Many headline reports are about displaying SA as changed and accepted, and trips seem to be coordinated with the government or tourist board. You really can’t “buy” this kind of news and what was your experience of who organized your trip and what can or cannot you say? “Among the people who commented on Armie Hammer’s social media posts were journalist Yashar Ali, who tweeted about the brutal assassination of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, in which the CIA closed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. that the “main movie / television star” was allegedly offered an eight-figure amount to refuse.

While celebrities continue to talk about those who have decided to attend and promote a musical event, others support the role of the festival in improving Saudi Arabia’s image. Musician and author Kristina Bazan (who has 2.2 million followers on Instagram) commented on the contribution of Diet Prada, arguing that they point only to negative aspects. It pointed out: “A month ago the visa law was changed in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government is trying to bring new energy and dynamism: social media have social resonance. How can we evolve as a globalized world and change things by boycotting areas that require new minds and ideas?

Modeled with more than 24 million Instagram followers, Emily Ratajkowski, aware of the power and resonance of social media, declined her paid invitation because of the discomfort she felt about the human rights record in Saudi Arabia. Diet Prada shared the statement they received from Ratajkowski about why she decided not to attend. “It is very important for me to clearly express my support for women’s rights, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to free press,” read the statement. “I hope that I will focus more on the injustices that are happening there.

Influencers, models, actors are given the will to promote the MDL beast in Saudi Arabia

The unsatisfactory ‘end’ to the Khashoggi investigation?

December 23, 2019

Main media (here BBC) have reported it but as I have devoted several posts to the Khashoggi case [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/jamal-khashoggi/], I wanted to be complete:

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death and jailed three others over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. The Saudi authorities said it was the result of a “rogue operation” and put 11 unnamed individuals on trial. A UN expert said the trial represented “the antithesis of justice”. “Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial,” Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard wrote on Twitter. (A report released by Ms Callamard concluded in June that Khashoggi’s death was an “extrajudicial execution” for which the Saudi state was responsible, and that there was credible evidence warranting further investigation that high-level officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were individually liable.)

The shadow cast by the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi has hung over Saudi Arabia’s international reputation for more than a year now. The ruling princes, especially the all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will be hoping Monday’s verdicts draw a line under the whole affair. That may be wishful thinking. The two most senior suspects – dubbed “the masterminds” – have walked free after a trial shrouded in secrecy.

At a news conference in Riyadh on Monday, Mr Shaalan said the public prosecution’s investigations had shown that “there was no premeditation to kill at the beginning of the mission”…Ms Callamard dismissed as “utterly ridiculous” the assertion that the killing was not premeditated, noting that in one of the purported audio recordings from the consulate two Saudi officials were heard discussing how to cut up and transport Khashoggi’s body just minutes before he entered the consulate.

A statement by the Saudi public prosecution said a total of 31 individuals were investigated over the killing and that 21 of them were arrested. Eleven were eventually referred to trial at the Riyadh Criminal Court and the public prosecutor sought the death penalty for five of them. Human Rights Watch said the trial, which took place behind closed doors, did not meet international standards and that the Saudi authorities had “obstructed meaningful accountability”.