Posts Tagged ‘Sudan’

Today, 30 August, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance

August 30, 2019

Many NGOs pay today attention to the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Here the example of AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) which published the following on 27 August:

For each disappeared, more activists stand up! Stop enforced disappearances against human rights defenders

On 13 April 2015, Sandra Kodouda, a Sudanese human rights defender (HRD), was abducted in Khartoum, Sudan by a group of unidentified men. Three days later she returned home with a dislocated shoulder and clear signs of physical abuse. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/04/17/update-sandra-kodouda-in-sudan-injured-but-back-from-illegal-detention-by-niss/]

Some months later, on 10 December 2015, Burundian HRD Marie Claudette Kwizera was abducted in Bujumbura, Burundi by individuals believed to be members of the Burundian National Intelligence Service (SNR). Marie is still missing.  

The cases of Sandra and Marie are not unique – it was just one of the few cases of enforced disappearance of African HRDs that made the headlines. Every year, African activists disappear without a trace, and without any media coverage. More importantly, no investigation is carried out, and no accountability is ensured. The alleged perpetrators continue to walk the streets, or, in most cases, rule the country, without any repercussions. Meanwhile, the victims are often tortured and many are killed, or live in constant fear of being killed, and the family and friends of the victim are left in the agony of not knowing the fate of their beloved. 

In international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is abducted or imprisoned by state agents or by a third party with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, which place the victim outside the protection of the law. When used systematically, it constitutes a crime against humanity according to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED). 

Yet, it is a longstanding, systematic, and widespread tactic, often used by governments to silence HRDs, and as a strategy to spread terror within society. During the 1990s in Algeria, it is estimated that at least 7000 critical voices were abducted by government forces alone during the civil war. In Egypt, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms’ campaign, “Stop Enforced Disappearances”, has documented more than 1000 cases of enforced disappearances of HRDs under Al-Sisi’s regime. During the current revolution in Sudan, hundreds of peaceful protests were abducted, disappeared, allegedly by the security forces. The fate and whereabouts of most of the victims remains unknown.

Despite threats and reprisals, the families and the communities of the victim continue to stand up and call for justice. For instance, every year,  Burkinabe students commemorate Dabo Boukary, a student activist who disappeared during student protests in 1990. In Burundi, the impactful campaign “Ndondeza” (where are they?) continues to put pressure on the government and to call for justice. For each person that disappears, more activists stand up.

On 30 August, we commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. We call on states to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and to ensure accountability; to ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances; and to ensure adequate reparations to the survivors, and their families.

We continue to stand in solidarity with HRDs that have disappeared, been tortured, and/or killed. We continue to demand #JusticeForActivists.

For each disappeared, more activists stand up! Stop enforced disappearances against human rights defenders

41st UN Human Rights Council: what the NGOs see as its result

July 16, 2019

On 12 july 2019, ISHR published what key civil society organisations thought of the just finished 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Civil society organisations welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council’s 41st session, including the extension of the SOGI mandate, adopting the first resolution on the Philippines and extending its scrutiny over Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belarus and Ukraine. This session witnessed heightened scrutiny of Council members by shedding light on the situations in Saudi Arabia and China. It missed an opportunity, however, to ensure that human rights are not sidelined in Sudan.

16 leading human rights organisations (see below) expressed regrets that Council members seek to use their seats to shield themselves and others from scrutiny. They called on States to stand with victims of human rights violations. They welcomed the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly association, that the Council stood up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls, and that it continued to address the threat posed by climate change to human rights. They also welcomed the reports on Venezuela, called on the High Commissioner to immediately release the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements, and on all States to pursue accountability for victims of intimidation and reprisals.

Full statement below:

By renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), the Council has sent a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It reaffirmed that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity. We welcome the Core Group’s commitment to engage in dialogue with all States, resulting in over 50 original co-sponsors across all regions. However, we regret that some States have again attempted to prevent the Council from addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.

This Council session also sent a clear message that Council membership comes with scrutiny by addressing the situations of Eritrea, the Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows the potential the Council has to leverage its membership to become more effective and responsive to rights holders and victims.

The Council did the right thing by extending its monitoring of the situation in Eritrea. The onus is on the Eritrean Government to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its membership obligations.

We welcome the first Council resolution on the Philippines as an important first step towards justice and accountability. We urge the Council to closely follow this situation and be ready to follow up with additional action, if the situation does not improve or deteriorates further. We deeply regret that such a resolution was necessary, due to the continuation of serious violations and repeated refusal of the Philippines – despite its membership of the Council– to cooperate with existing mechanisms.

We deplore that the Philippines and Eritrea sought to use their seats in this Council to seek to shield themselves from scrutiny, and those States [1] who stood with the authorities and perpetrators who continue to commit grave violations with impunity, rather than with the victims.

We welcome the written statement by 22 States on China expressing collective concern over widespread surveillance, restrictions to freedoms of religion and movement, and large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We consider it as a first step towards sustained Council attention and in the absence of progress look to those governments that have signed this letter to follow up at the September session with a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

We welcome the progress made in resolutions on the rights of women and girls: violence against women and girls in the world of work, on discrimination against women and girls and on the consequences of child, early and forced marriage. We particularly welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls under its new name and mandate to focus on the intersections of gender and age and their impact on girls. The Council showed that it was willing to stand up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls by ensuring that these resolutions reflect the current international legal framework and resisted cultural relativism, despite several amendments put forward to try and weaken the strong content of these resolutions.

However, in the text on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, long standing consensus language from the Vienna Declaration for Programme of Action (VDPA) recognising that, at the same time, “the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgment of internationally recognized human rights” has again been deliberately excluded, disturbing the careful balance established and maintained for several decades on this issue.

We welcome the continuous engagement of the Council in addressing the threat posed by climate change to human rights, through its annual resolution and the panel discussion on women’s rights and climate change at this session. We call on the Council to continue to strengthen its work on this issue, given its increasing urgency for the protection of all human rights.

The Council has missed an opportunity on Sudan where it could have supported regional efforts and ensured that human rights are not sidelined in the process. We now look to African leadership to ensure that human rights are upheld in the transition. The Council should stand ready to act, including through setting up a full-fledged inquiry into all instances of violence against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country.

During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, States heard loud and clear that the time to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is now  for the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We recall that women human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily detained despite the calls by 36 States at the March session. We urge States to adopt a resolution at the September session to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country.

We welcome the landmark report of the High Commissioner on the situation for human rights in Venezuela; in response to the grave findings in the report and the absence of any fundamental improvement of the situation in the meantime, we urge the Council to adopt a Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism in September, to reinforce the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner and other actors to address the situation.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This mandate is at the core of our work as civil society and we trust that the mandate will continue to protect and promote these fundamental freedoms towards a more open civic space.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. We acknowledge some positive signs of re-engagement in dialogue by Belarus, and an attempted negotiation process with the EU on a potential Item 10 resolution. However, in the absence of systemic human rights reforms in Belarus, the mandate and resolution process remains an essential tool for Belarusian civil society. In addition, there are fears of a spike in violations around upcoming elections and we are pleased that the resolution highlights the need for Belarus to provide safeguards against such an increase.

We welcome the renewal of the quarterly reporting process on the human rights situation in Ukraine. However, we also urge States to think creatively about how best to use this regular mechanism on Ukraine to make better progress on the human rights situation.

The continued delay in the release of the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements established pursuant to Council resolution 31/36 in March 2016 is of deep concern.  We join others including Tunisia speaking on behalf of 65 states and Peru speaking on behalf of 26 States in calling on the High Commissioner to urgently and fully fulfill this mandate as a matter of urgency and on all States to  cooperate with all Council mandates, including this one, and without political interference.

Numerous States and stakeholders highlighted the importance of the OHCHR report on Kashmir; while its release only a few days ago meant it did not receive substantive consideration at the present session, we look forward to discussing it in depth at the September session.

Finally, we welcome the principled leadership shown by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in pursuing accountability for individual victims of acts of intimidation and reprisals under General Debate Item 5, contrasting with other States which tend to make only general statements of concern. We call on States to raise all individual cases at the interactive dialogue on reprisals and intimidation in the September session.

[1]States who voted against the resolution on the Eritrea: Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, India, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Philippines and Pakistan.
States who voted against the resolution on the Philippines: Angola, Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Hungary, Iraq, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the Philippines.

*Statement delivered by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) on behalf of: DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ); Center for Reproductive Rights; ARTICLE 19; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Human Rights House Foundation; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Franciscans International; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

For the preview of the the 41st session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-human-rights-council-starting-on-24-june/

http://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc41-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Guide to Human Rights Defenders issues at the 41st Human Rights Council starting on 24 June

June 14, 2019

Thanks to the – as always very complete and timely – “Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 41st session” (from 24 June to 12 July 2019) issued by the International Service for Human Rights. I am able to give a short guide to the main items that relate to human rights defenders. To Read the full Alert to the session online click here and stay up-to-date with @ISHRglobal and #HRC41 on Twitter.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity: The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) will be held on Monday 24 June at 11:00. The Council will consider the new thematic report of the mandate holder as well as the report of the country visits he made to Georgia and Mozambique. The Council will also consider the renewal of the mandate.

Business and human rights: The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with and consider several reports of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises on 26 June. The Working Group will present a report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the reports of country visits to Thailand and Kenya. The Working Group’s report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles integrates clear recognition that women human rights defenders play a vital role in challenging business-related human rights abuses as well as in promoting and protecting human rights in relation to business activity, including the right to an effective remedy. As a result of this work, women human rights defenders often face gender-specific risks including sexual violence, misogynist public shaming and online harassment. Among its recommendations, the Working Group calls on business enterprises to ensure the meaningful participation of women’s organisations, women human rights defenders and gender experts in all stages of human rights due diligence.

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights: The annual full day discussion on the human rights of women will take place on 27 and  28 June. The discussions will focus this year on violence against women in the world of work, the rights of older women and their economic empowerment. A panel focused on women’s rights and climate change will also be organised, focusing on climate action, best practices and lessons learned. States should place due consideration on the role of women human rights defenders and social movements in this regard, in line with the Human Rights Council resolution focused on environmental human rights defenders adopted in March 2019…
The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice which focuses on women deprived of liberty (including women human rights defenders in detention, facing travel bans, among other situations), and will consider their reports including a report on the country visits to Honduras and Poland. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on 27 June and will consider her report including the report of her visits to Canada and Nepal.

Reprisals:  In spite of a number of measures, reprisals not only continue, but grow. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, including specific cases, and for relevant governments to provide updates on cases to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. During the organisational meeting held on 7 June, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals. 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, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/ishr-on-reprisals-un-and-states-must-do-more-to-address-reprisals/]

Other key thematic reports: The Council will hold dedicated debates and consider reports of several mandates relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and the role of human rights defenders in that work area, in some instances involving the renewal of the mandate:

  • The Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers and on the right to health (including country visits report to Canada and Kyrgyzstan) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (mandate renewal, reports include country visits to Tunisia and Armenia) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and right to education on 26 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (including thematic report on surveillance companies and country visit report to Ecuador) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (including country visits reports to the UK and Laos) on 28 June

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (and country visit report to Niger) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on 28 June (mandate renewal)
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (and country visit to Nigeria) on 27 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on 24 June

Country-specific developments:

China: For more than a year, the international community has had access to credible reports and first-hand testimony of the harassment, surveillance, and mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Despite the consistent work of the UN human rights mechanisms to review China, ask questions, and make recommendations, there has been no serious or effective response. The Council should take urgent action to seek access, monitoring and reporting of the situation to inform future actions. ..ISHR urges States to act collectively to advance a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

Sudan: In response to the gross and systematic human rights violations occurring in Sudan, ISHR andother NGOs have urged Council Member States to urgently hold a Special Session on the human rights situation in Sudan. The Council should urgently establish an international fact-finding mission to document violations, identify perpetrators and push for accountability, in line with calls made by a group of Special Procedures including the Independent Expert on Sudan. Since 3 June, Rapid Security Forces, riot police and national security officers violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Khartoum as well as in different cities across Sudan. The MENA Women Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition reported that at least 113 people have died including women human rights defenders. Civil society documented cases of rape, attacks on hospitals, with hundreds injured and missing.  The Transitional Military Council is enforcing a ban on communication causing an internet black out. The High Commissioner has deplored the killings and proposed ‘the rapid deployment of a UN human rights monitoring team’ to Sudan.

Saudi Arabia: The June session provides an important opportunity for the Council to follow up on the joint statement delivered on behalf of 36 States [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/] .. Seven women’s rights activists have been provisionally released, but they are still facing trial, and other women human rights defenders are still in detention, with the human rights situation on the ground deteriorating markedly on other fronts, including through increased use of the death penalty and the authorities’ continuing crackdown on freedom of expression.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/28/3-saudi-women-human-rights-defenders-released-but-for-how-long-and-what-about-the-others/]
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions will present her findings of the investigation into the killing of Khashoggi. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/26/other-members-of-the-uns-khashoggi-investigation-team-named/%5D…..ISHR calls on States to advance a Human Rights Council resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country and calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders including the detained women human rights defenders and to drop all charges against them, including those provisionally released. ISHR considers the March joint statement as a first step towards more sustained and dedicated review by the Council in its efforts to hold its members accountable.

The Philippines: The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. Several NGOs callied on the Council to advance accountability for human rights violations by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings and this call was strongly endorsed by a group of independent UN experts who condemned a ‘sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights.’ [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/07/philippines-labour-rights-defender-dennis-sequena-shot-dead-while-meeting-with-workers/]

Egypt: Despite the Egyptian government’s assurances to the African Commission civil society faced restrictions, reprisals and intimidation for engaging or seeking to engage with the Commission. These restrictions and reprisals happened in a context where the Government of Egypt crushes dissent, discourages public participation in public affairs and punishes people who dare to claim basic human rights. Individuals and communities who engaged with the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing during her visit in September 2018 faced systematic reprisals. All other scheduled visits by the Special Procedures have been postponed as a result. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/egypt-denounced-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders-who-talked-to-visiting-un-delegation/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/reprisal-against-egyptian-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan/]. ISHR calls on States to condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisals for civil society engaging with the African Commission and with the Special Procedures, and recall Egypt’s obligations to prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals, investigate the allegations and provide victims with effective remedy.

Burundi: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing on 2 July. The closing of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is regrettable and worrying. In addition, ISHR remains seriously concerned over the breaches to due process observed in all of human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s legal proceedings since his arrest without warrant on 13 July 2017. [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

Other country situations: The High Commissioner will present her oral update to the Council on 24 June. The Council will hear reports on 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 with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus (mandate renewal) on 1 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea (mandate renewal) on 2 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar on 2 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue with the government of Sudan and OHCHR on 9 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and interactive dialogue with the team of experts on the situation in the Kasai region on 9 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation in Ukraine on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic on 10 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Venezuela on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar on 10 July
  • First oral update and enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua on 11 July
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia on 11 July

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports: During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Viet Nam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, North Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic and Cambodia.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 41st session: At the organisational meeting resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets); it is possible that more resolutions could be presented at this session. These include:

  • The human rights situation in Belarus (European Union)
  • Human rights of internally displaced persons (Austria, Honduras, Uganda)
  • Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  • Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay).
  • Elimination of discrimination against women and girls (Colombia, Mexico)
  • Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico)
  • New and emerging and digital technologies and human rights (Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Singapore)
  • Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women(Canada)
  • The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

There wil be again many side events at the Council, on which I will report separately.

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.
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 2019.

Human Rights Foundation announces its first 10 Freedom Fellows

May 22, 2019

Yesterday I referred to the new look of the Human Rights Foundation [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/human-rights-foundation-uses-2019-oslo-freedom-forum-for-rebranding/], here is a substantive new proframme. On 21 May 2019 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the creation of the Freedom Fellowship, a program that awards 10 human rights defenders, social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from authoritarian countries around the world with the unique opportunity to increase the impact of their work. HRF is partnering with the Center for Applied Nonviolent Tactics and Strategies (CANVAS), founded by Srdja Popovic. The fellows will work with HRF staff and a team of specialists to improve leadership, movement building, fundraising, marketing, and digital security.
The first ‘class’ comprises:

  • Rania Aziz , Sudanese activist organizing professional and youth groups in the country against the dictatorship of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. She is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an outlawed group of unions currently leading protests in the country.
  • Fred Bauma. Congolese human rights activist also known as “Congo’s Gandhi”. He is the leader of the pro-democracy youth group LUCHA, which advocates for nonviolent, community-level change and governmental reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/amnesty-internationals-annual-write-for-rights-campaign-focuses-on-freedom-of-expression/]
  • Vanessa Berhe, Eritrean free-speech and democracy activist. She is the founder of One Day Seyoum, a human rights organization that campaigns for the release of jailed Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye, and raises awareness around a continued crackdown on democratic ideals in Eritrea.
  • Andrei Bystrov, lawyer, historian and democratic activist from Moscow. He is a co-founder of the December 5 Party, a pro-democracy political party that was born out of the 2011 anti-Putin protests.
  • Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal is a student activist, publisher, and author who advocates for education reform in Thailand. He founded Education for Liberation of Siam, a student group that challenges the Thai military junta’s unjust actions in the country’s education system.
  • Rodrigo Diamanti, Venezuelan human rights activist and nonviolence expert. He founded the international NGO, Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, which has coordinated creative protests against Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship in more than 52 countries.
  • Edipcia Dubón, Nicaraguan pro-democracy and women’s rights advocate. She is the coordinator of Dialogue of Women for Democracy, a think tank that promotes open discussions about the challenges faced by women in Nicaragua.
  • Asma Khalifa, Libyan activist and researcher who has worked on human rights, women’s rights, and youth empowerment since 2011. She is the co-founder of Tamazight Women’s Movement, an organization working on gender equality and research on the indigenous women of Libya and North Africa.
  • Farida Nabourema, Togolese writer and democracy activist who began her career in activism when she was 13 years old. She co-founded the Faure Must Go movement, a hallmark of the Togolese struggle against Faure Gnassingbé’s oppressive rule.
  • Johnson Yeung, Hong Kong human rights advocate who works on freedom of assembly and expression, protection to HRDs, and capacity building to right-based CSOs. He is the chair of the board of the Hong Kong Civil Hub, which produces regular briefings on Hong Kong shrinking civic space, and builds solidarity around international rule of law and human rights communities.


In partnership with CANVAS, HRF launched the Freedom Fellowship in 2018 with a pilot opportunity for Jhanisse Vaca Daza, a civil society activist from Bolivia. During her Freedom Fellowship experience, Vaca Daza co-founded the Bolivian movement: Ríos de Pie (Standing Rivers), which has quickly gained a national following, becoming one of the leading nonviolent resistance movements in response to Evo Morales’ authoritarian regime. Vaca Daza will provide her insights from the past year as the manager for the Fellowship. “This is a truly diverse class of fellows, and they are going to learn as much from each other as from their mentors,” said Vaca Daza. “Anyone running a non-profit or civil society organization or start-up needs help and guidance with personal leadership, movement building, marketing and media strategy, fundraising, and digital security. My own experience was transformative, and I’m looking forward to bringing world-class expertise in each of these areas to 10 new Fellows.”

The Fellows will meet one another as a group for the first time at this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, which will be held from 27-29 May in Norway. There will be special programming curated to begin their Freedom Fellowship experience starting May 25. If you would like more information about the program, please contact: jhanisse@hrf.org.

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Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden

April 11, 2019

Last October, the Public Prosecution Authority of Sweden served Alex Schneiter and Ian H. Lundin, CEO and Chairman of Lundin Petroleum, with suspicion of aiding and abetting international crimes. Also, the company was informed of the prosecution’s intention to seek forfeiture of $400 million in criminally obtained benefits in case of a conviction. The suspects and their company have been given until June 15th to study the case files and to request for additional investigation. The trial is expected to open in the Autumn and may take a year in first instance.

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The case has the potential of becoming a landmark trial because of the novelty and complexity of the legal issues that the court will have to decide. In particular, with regard to the assessment of the individual criminal liability of the executives of Lundin, the determination of the applicable standards of proof, the question whether a lack of due diligence is sufficient for a finding of guilt, and the limits and overlap of individual criminal liability of corporate directors on the one hand and corporate criminal liability of organisations on the other. The Asser Institute intends to follow the trial closely, starting with the event  “Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden” on 23 May May 2019, when it will be hosting three subject experts to introduce the case itself, and to delve into the legal dimensions that are expected to make it a landmark war crimes case.

The meeting on 23 May starts at 16:00 at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut (R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22), The Hague. Netherlands.

The three speakers are:

  • Egbert Wesselink will provide an introduction to Sudan’s oil war, describe Lundin’s role in it, and examine the human rights responsibilities of the company and its shareholders.
  • Dr. Mark Taylor will discuss how the Lundin case sits in global developments regarding the criminal liability of corporations for human rights abuses in the context of conflicts.
  • Miriam Ingeson will give a Swedish perspective to the legal framework of the case and analyse the legal issues that it raises at the intersection between national and international law.
  • Moderator is Antoine Duval, Senior Researcher at the Asser Institute and the coördinator of the Doing Business Right project.

For some background material on the case and its wider context, see www.unpaiddebt.orgwww.lundinhistoryinsudan.com.

For full details, see https://www.ass…events/?id=3070<https://www.asser.nl/education-events/events/?id=3070> .

 

Civil Society meets in Belgrade concerned by attacks on rights defenders and media

April 9, 2019

In the context of the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which is taking place in Belgrade, from 8 – 12 April April 2019, a number of interesting contributions were made public [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/09/belgrade-call-presses-governments-to-protect-rural-human-rights-defenders/]. This is one of them, mostly an interview with Mandeep Tiwana of CIVICUS:

Civil Society Leaders Meet Amid Protests, Attacks on Rights” bReprint

Under the theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, ICSW 2019 “seeks to generate deep conversations among civil society leaders, social justice advocates, development practitioners, members of the philanthropic community, diplomats and others on emerging global challenges and how civil society should be responding to these,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ chief programmes officer.

Defence of democratic values, civic space and participation, along with citizen action, will be among the topics of discussion,” he told IPS in an email interview while en route to Belgrade. “Our message to governments is that the right to peaceful protest is a basic human right enshrined in constitutional and international law. Governments have an inherent responsibility to enable the right to peaceful protest as an integral element of the defence of democracy,” he added…

In country after country, democracy is under attack, with populist and right-wing movements gaining ground and democratic regression being witnessed even in countries historically considered bastions of democracy,” CIVICUS says.

“This year’s event in Serbia comes at a critical and opportune time for civil society and the world’s citizens to realise the power of unified, collective action to challenge a global trend that threatens our fundamental freedoms,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS’ Secretary General………

 

Media workers, in fact, often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, caught amongst the security forces and protestors as they try to report on turbulent events. CIVICUS said that the role of the media and their relationship with civil society will be a key topic of discussion at ICSW, alongside the focus on protecting rights campaigners.

CIVICUS is working in several ways to stop attacks on members of the media and civil society activists targeted for exposing rights violations or speaking truth to power,” Tiwana said. “We engage with a broad range of civil society organisations that support press freedom using several approaches ranging from in-depth participatory research and analysis to raising awareness of attacks on the media, strategic coalition building, and directly engaging decision-makers at the national and international levels.”

…..Ahead of the meeting, Serbia and four other countries have been added to a global watchlist of countries that have seen an “escalation in serious threats to fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months”, according to CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the world. Citizens of all five countries (Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Venezuela are the others) are experiencing increasing rights violations that “include killings, attacks on protesters, media restrictions and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders”.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/civil-society-leaders-meet-amid-protests-attacks-rights/

High Commissioner Bachelet presents her annual report: quite a list of problem areas

March 7, 2019

In the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, in presenting her annual report and oral update, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focused on explaining how inequalities in income, wealth, access to resources, and access to justice constituted fundamental challenges to the principles of equality, dignity and human rights for every human being. Inequalities affected all countries. Even in prosperous States, people felt excluded from the benefits of development and deprived of economic and social rights, leading to alienation, unrest and sometimes violence. To achieve the 2030 Agenda, the world’s States needed to advance on tackling inequalities – inequalities of resources, income, power, access to justice and with respect to the basic conditions for human dignity.

Inequalities were a driver of several of the global trends which were of greatest concern to the Human Rights Council and other inter-governmental bodies, the High Commissioner stressed. Involuntary and precarious migration was a case in point. She underlined that inequalities and the failure to give equal weight and respect to all human rights had the power to erode all three pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, development, and human rights. However, human rights provided hope. They bound humanity together with shared principles and a better future, in sharp contrast to the divisive, destructive forces of repression, exploitation, scapegoating, discrimination and inequalities. She then listed many specific situations:

In Sudan, for the past several months, people protesting harsh economic conditions, and bad governance, have been violently dispersed by security forces, sometimes using live ammunition…

In Zimbabwe, protests against austerity measures have also been met with unacceptable violence by security forces. The Government’s effort to launch a dialogue process in recent days is encouraging, but I am worried by reports of door-to-door raids, as well as intimidation and harassment of activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers representing those arrested.

In Haiti, protests also broke out last month over rising food prices and corruption. At least 41 people were killed and 100 injured. The government has announced measures to curb high prices, raise wages and fight corruption. Ensuring accountability – including for alleged cases of excessive use of force by police – and a constructive dialogue will also be essential.

In France, the “Gilets Jaunes” have been protesting what they see as exclusion from economic rights and participation in public affairs. We encourage the Government to continue dialogue – including follow-up to the national discussions which are currently underway – and urge full investigation of all reported cases of excessive use of force.

She then turned to:

The situation in Venezuela clearly illustrates the way violations of civil and political rights – including failure to uphold fundamental freedoms, and the independence of key institutions – can accentuate a decline of economic and social rights. ..

In the context of Nicaragua‘s very serious social and political crisis, the resumption of national dialogue could constitute a significant step to address the grave problems facing the country. These include increasing restrictions to civic space; persecution of dissenting voices; and crackdowns on press freedom, as well as austerity measures, and unemployment. ..

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the devastating impact of the occupation on economic and social rights is closely interlinked with violations of civil and political rights. …

..

I am shocked by the number of killings of human rights defenders around the world – some, reportedly, by State agents, and others, insufficiently protected by the State from attack by economic or other interests. Attacks on journalists, and media freedoms, are becoming increasingly widespread. Sound, independent information is the foundation of public participation in democratic governance. Restrictions on the civic space are being enacted by numerous States, across several regions. I remain very concerned about reprisals against victims, human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations who cooperate with the UN.

Today, allow me to voice my concern at the apparently arbitrary arrest and detention, and alleged ill-treatment or torture, of several women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. The persecution of peaceful activists would clearly contradict the spirit of the country’s proclaimed new reforms. We urge that these women be released.

In Turkey, I call on the authorities to view critical or dissenting voices – including human rights defenders, academics and journalists – as valuable contributors to social dialogue, rather than destabilizing forces. The recent prosecution of 16 civil society activists for “attempting to overthrow the government,” for their alleged roles during protests in 2013, is emblematic of many other trials lacking international due process standards.

In China, rapid development has lifted millions of people out of poverty – and yet in some areas, communities and individuals have been left behind. My Office seeks to engage on this issue with the Government for full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region…

In India, where there has also been significant poverty reduction in overall terms, inequality remains a serious issue. In addition, we are receiving reports that indicate increasing harassment and targeting of minorities – in particular Muslims and people from historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups, such as Dalits and Adivasis. It appears that narrow political agendas are driving the further marginalisation of vulnerable people. I fear that these divisive policies will not only harm many individuals, but also undermine the success of India’s economic growth story.

….The continuing movement of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States is a result of failure to ensure that development reaches everyone – with persistent violations of rights leading to profound inequalities. The comprehensive development plan being developed by Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and ECLAC is a welcome response to this challenge, very much in line with the Global Compact for Migration. In Mexico, too, the government is making efforts to move from an approach focused on detention and deportation of migrants to a new focus on protection of the rights of migrants, including opportunities for regularization, and alternatives to detention. In the United States of America, the new Migrant Protection Protocols which restrict access to asylum and other forms of human rights protection – and push migrants back across the border to wait for their proceedings without due process or safeguards– are a source of concern. A recent report by the Inspector General for the United States Department of Health and Human Services indicates that thousands more migrant children have been separated from their families than had been previously reported.

The Office has raised concerns with Australia about the imminent transfer of migrants from Manus Island and Nauru to new detention centres. Those people have been suffering for more than six years; more humane policies could, and should, be implemented….

I commend Germany‘s successful programmes to help migrants integrate into the economy and society, as well as legislation in several countries – including Finland, Portugal and Spain – which enable the entry and stay of migrants in vulnerable situations, based on human rights grounds. I am troubled about other aspects of European migration policies, particularly the number of fatalities in the Mediterranean. Another 226 deaths were recorded in the first two months of this year. With several NGO vessels forced to suspend operations by measures that essentially criminalise solidarity, the ancient responsibility of rescue at sea is increasingly falling on merchant vessels – which are often ill-suited to such a task. In addition, some governments have refused entry to ships.

..

In the Sahel, the Office has been implementing an innovative approach aimed at reducing the risk of harm to civilians during counter-terrorism operations. OHCHR is working with the G5 Sahel Joint Force operating in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to establish a Compliance Framework to guide military operations. A training programme is underway; standard operating procedures are being developed which aim to reduce civilian harm and ensure sensitivity to gender issues; and a network of legal advisors is being established within the Joint Force to ensure the operational application of international human rights and humanitarian law…I encourage Cameroon to also consider the benefits of such an approach….

In Myanmar, economic interests and activities appear to be a key factor driving both violence and displacement by the Myanmar military, together with the dehumanisation of the Rohingya, and long-term discrimination. I am concerned by the failure to take any meaningful measures towards the safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return of the Rohingya and others – in compliance with their rights to citizenship and other rights. …..

……

In Yemen, I am deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians, despite the current ceasefire. This remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The conflict has not just killed and injured thousands of civilians.

Amid these negative trends, there are some hopeful areas, in which far-sighted leadership seeks to advance civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, to ensure a convergence of positive and constructive forces.

In Ethiopia, reforms have sought to address a wide spectrum of human rights issues, including benefit to sustainable development. The depth and pace of Prime Minister Abiy’s political and economic reforms, and the appointment of women to senior positions, could open the path to a more inclusive and effective development model, providing hope for Ethiopia’s young population. My Office will continue to assist the Government to devise sound laws, mend grievances, and set up measures to prevent violence in areas of the country.

………

At this session, the Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders presents a report on the rising attacks on, and repression of, women’s human rights defenders in the context of today’s backlash against women’s human rights. It makes clear that women defenders face the same risks as men, but with additional threats shaped by a view that women should be bound to the service of a male-dominated society. Physical and sexual violence, public shaming – including on the Internet – and attacks on their families and children are among the tactics increasingly used to silence women activists.

Recently a group of 30 women leaders issued an Open Letter emphasising the “urgency and peril” of the current roll-backs to hard-won rights and freedoms. I fully share their concerns, and will continue to work against gender inequalities with all the energy and principle that I can muster.

….. Before closing today, I would like to add a few additional situations of increasing concern.

In Libya, escalating violence since the beginning of the year – in particular, hostilities in the city of Derna and in the south of the country – could spark an even more chaotic situation, given the increasingly fragmented political context and continuing lawlessness. Armed groups which fall outside of effective State command and control structures, but which are integrated into State institutions, continue to commit grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law throughout the country, in almost complete impunity. The number of civilians killed and injured in 2018, as documented by UNSMIL and OHCHR, was 40% higher than in 2017. Prevention measures should be considered a matter of urgency.

I remain concerned about the ongoing tensions in Kashmir, as shelling and firing on both sides of the Line of Control continue to contribute to loss of life and displacement. I encourage both India and Pakistan to invite my Office to monitor the situation on the ground, and to assist both States to address the human rights issues that must be part of any solution to the conflict.

In the Philippines, …..  I encourage the Philippines to adopt a public health approach, and harm reduction initiatives, that comply with human rights standards, as recommended to the 2016 General Assembly Special Session.  ……. The drug policies in place in the Philippines, and its lack of respect for rule of law and international standards, should not be considered a model by any country.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet takes her place to present her annual report before the UN Human right council members in Geneva. March 6, 2019.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet takes her place to present her annual report before the UN Human right council members in Geneva. March 6, 2019. (AFP)

Many media have picked on one more aspects of her speech. E.g. TRT World focused on:

Bachelet renewed her request to access China‘s Xinjiang region, where large numbers of the Uighur ethnic minority are reportedly being held in re-education camps. She also re-issued her requests for “full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” (A UN panel of independent experts has said there are credible reports that nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities are being held in Xinjiang, known as ‘East Turkistan’ by Uighurs who want a homeland separate from China. Beijing at first denied the allegation, but later admitted putting people into “vocational education centres”) [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/29/three-ngos-urge-you-to-nominate-ilham-tohti-for-the-rafto-prize/]

Bachelet also called on Saudi Arabia to release women activists allegedly tortured in detention after authorities accused them of harming the country’s interests. Human rights defenders have named 10 Saudi women held for their campaigning, voicing fears that they could face harsh sentences. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is preparing the trials of detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women’s rights activists, after completing its investigations, state news agency SPA said last Friday. “Today, allow me to voice my concern at the apparently arbitrary arrest and detention, and alleged ill-treatment or torture, of several women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia,” Bachelet said.

(European countries will urge Saudi Arabia on Thursday to release activists and cooperate with a UN-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the first rebuke of the kingdom at the Human Rights Council, diplomats and campaigners told Reuters.) [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/jamal-khashoggi/]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged the Philippine government to comply with international human rights standard in its brutal drug war, which she said lacks respect for the rule of law. Bachelet encouraged the Duterte administration to “adopt a public health approach, and harm reduction initiatives, that comply with human rights standards.” “The drug policies in place in the Philippines, and its lack of respect for the rule of law and international standards should not be considered a model by any country,” she said.


https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24265&LangID=E

https://www.trtworld.com/europe/un-human-rights-chief-paints-bleak-picture-in-annual-report-24708

https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1092840/un-human-rights-chief-urges-govt-to-respect-rule-of-law-in-drug-war?utm_expid=.XqNwTug2W6nwDVUSgFJXed.1

Sudan belongs on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council

February 19, 2019

On 31 January 2019, the NGO wrote that over the last month, dozens of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and academics have been arbitrarily arrested, not only during street protests, but also at their homes and places of work. That same day Sudanese security forces detained Nazim Siraj, a doctor and human rights defender who has been active in different youth groups and who has been the coordinator for “Accidents Street”, an initiative providing free medical treatment and rehabilitation to Sudanese citizens, including to victims of human rights abuses.

On 30 January 2019, writer and human rights lawyer Kamal Al jazouli was arrested from  his office. On 28 January 2019, security forces detained human rights defender and economist Sedgi Kabalo at his house and took him to an unknown place. Journalist and member of the Sudanese Journalist’s Network, Adel Ibrahim, remains in detention in an unknown location since his arrest on 15 January. 

On 13 January 2019, doctor and woman human rights defender Heba Omar Ibrahim was arrested and pressured by police officers to reveal the names of other human rights defenders working in the health sector.

—–

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/29/human-rights-council-should-create-independent-fact-finding-group-sudan

https://www.albawaba.com/news/sudan-protests-enter-3rd-month-1254860

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/location/sudan

Breaking news: MEA 2019 goes to Sudanese refugee activist caught up in Australia’s off-shore detention policy

February 13, 2019

The Jury of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders just announced that the 2019 Laureate is Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee activist being effectively detained on Manus island in Papua New Guinea as part of Australia‘s controversial policy of deterring arrivals. Read the rest of this entry »

MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat suffers under Australia’s endless detention policy

December 4, 2018

 wrote for Al-Jazeera about “Manus and the deepening despair of Australia’s endless detention policy”, saying that fellow refugees are the only lifeline for men who wonder whether they will ever escape the remote Pacific island where they have been held for more than five years under Australia’s harsh off-shore detention policies. His focus is on MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/finalists-mea-2019/]. As interviews with this man are difficult to come by, here the full story:

Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He's now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]
Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He’s now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea – Aziz Abdul Muhamat had agreed to meet me for an interview near the East Lorengau refugee transit centre at eight in the morning. The 25-year-old Sudanese man is a nominee for a global human rights prize – the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award – for his advocacy work on behalf of his fellow refugees on Manus Island. He has been a refugee on this remote Pacific island, part of Papua New Guinea, for more than five-and-a-half years.

But Muhamat wasn’t answering messages. Later, I would learn that it was because he’d been up until the early hours, giving words of hope to desperate men – men who have been self-harming. Men have been dousing themselves in petrol. Men suffering from depression, grief and anxiety, marooned on an island and withdrawn deep inside themselves.

‘Transition centres’

As of October, there were around 500 male refugees remaining on Manus. Perhaps another 100 were asylum seekers whose bid to be recognised as refugees had failed. Getting precise data on them – and whether they have moved to the capital, Port Moresby – from Australia’s government has been consistently hard for years. Luck was not on the side of these men when they tried to get to Australia from Indonesia, coming face-to-face with a new Australian policy to halt boat arrivals once and for all – and, according to the government, stop deaths at sea. From 2013, authorities began intercepting boats and taking those on board to Australia’s Christmas Island. Eventually, the refugees were flown to Manus or the tiny republic of Nauru. With the agreement of the government in Port Moresby, it was decided that the men on Manus would be housed in an Australian navy base. The detention centre was shut in late 2017 – its last remaining men violently ejected and moved on to “transition centres” – after a large cohort spent several weeks resisting the power, water, food and medicine cuts, gaining a sizeable amount of media coverage. For many, though, the only transition was to a deeper state of despair.

Muhamat was at the forefront of the refusal to leave the centre, borne from a glimpse of freedom when the men were suddenly reminded of the power that came from being able to make their own decisions on when to shower or sleep. “I never felt that I’m free in five-and-a-half years, except those 24 days,” he said. “I felt that people are calling my name, ‘Aziz’, instead of Q and K and zero, zero two.

Suicide attempts

Australia closed its main detention camp on Manus Island a year ago and the men now live in ‘transition centres’ with only rudimentary support; those at the East Lorengau centre protested against the conditions last month [Al Jazeera]

Having been moved from the prison-like detention centre, the refugees are now in poorly-serviced camps which they are free to leave. But most stay put. A much-vaunted “US deal” to allow these refugees to settle in the United States is their remaining hope, but for many, it is fading fast. More than 400 people formerly held in Nauru – where Australia detained families and children – and Manus Island have already been resettled in the US  The ones I’ve spoken to have jobs, rented apartments, cars – in short, new lives. Of course, they’re still scarred from their time in detention, but they’re off the islands. 

But many Iranians, Sudanese, Somalis and others are simply not being accepted by the administration of President Donald Trump under the deal struck by the government of his predecessor, Barack Obama. They have either been outright rejected, or have applied for resettlement and spent the year in vain waiting for replies.

A mental health crisis grips the remaining men. Suicide attempts and self-harm are rife. As the stress and anxiety increase, men like Muhamat and the Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Bouchani continue to work round-the-clock providing impromptu counselling to their grief-stricken friends and counterparts. Australia’s government has repeatedly promised that these men will “never” settle in Australia, lest “people smugglers” begin selling their product once more. The hope that came with news of the so-called US deal has for some become an unbearable disappointment. 

In the face of that, I’m struck at the incredible strength of character on display by many of the young men I met. “We tell these men, we give them false hope for them to go and sleep,” Muhamat said one afternoon as we sat in my hotel room. “We do it because we want to keep them positive, we want to keep them alive.” When asked if he needed to head back at any time to deal with the desperate messages coming up on his phone, he replied: “It’s OK, Behrouz is there.” 

The despair is as great as at any time in the past five-and-a-half years. For Muhamat, the day-to-day ritual of helping others over the years – liaising with journalists and lawyers, teaching English to other refugees, talking friends out of self-harm and suicide – has been part and parcel of survival. “As long as what I’m doing, people are getting a benefit out of it, I don’t actually feel that pressure,” Muhamat said. At the time of writing, a newly-elected independent member of parliament from Sydney is attempting to get a bill through the parliament which would see the evacuation of psychologically or physically ill men from Manus.

But glimmers of hope come and go on Manus. Later, I see a message from a refugee reporting a man’s attempted suicide, his second in two days. After he fails to hang himself, he tries another desperate act – overdosing on tablets and drinking shampoo.

https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/12/manus-deepening-despair-australia-endless-detention-policy-181203070732724.html