Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Sergio Vieira de Mello Lecture 2018 by Staffan de Mistura

March 8, 2018

Monday 19 March, 18:30 – 21:00, Staffan de Mistura, United Nations special envoy for the Syria crisis, will give the 2018 Sergio Vieira de Mello Lecture.

Staffan de Mistura is the United Nations special envoy for the Syria crisis. Having previously served as the head of the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has over thirty years’ experience of working in conflict-affected areas and within humanitarian agencies. The event is moderated by the journalist Sophie Shevardnadze and will take place at Auditorium Ivan Pictet at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva. Registration is required for this event. Register here

The annual lecture is organised by the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation and the Graduate Institute.

Last year: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/27/angelina-jolie-gives-2017-sergio-vieira-de-mello-lecture-on-15-march-2017/

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

——

37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

2017: a year to forget for human rights defenders – but don’t forget the human rights defenders

December 31, 2017

A bad year for human rights defenders comes to an end and it is fitting to so with drawing your attention (again) to Amnesty International‘s BRAVE campaign which has branded 2017 as a “bad year to be brave”. Since the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in December 1998, at least 3,500 activists have been killed – an average of 180 deaths a year – and the annual death toll shows no sign of diminishing. [e.g. in 2014, Front Line Defenders recorded 136 killings of human rights defenders; in 2016 that number had risen to 281 – and this year is set to be the deadliest year yet – see also my post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/13/stop-the-killings-you-can-help-front-line/].

In the Brave campaign Amnesty highlighted a number of high profile deaths in 2017:

Amnesty warned of a wider “open season” on activists – which has seen alarming numbers of people imprisoned, threatened, beaten and abused in attempts to silence them. [ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/06/amnesty-just-published-major-report-on-human-rights-defenders/]

Better forget this year and put our hope in 2018, but do not forget the human rights defenders themselves who are willing to pay the price as long as we pay attention…

have a good New Year…

2017 was a grim year for imprisoned technologists

December 29, 2017

Prison Hands

Since its founding, EFF has highlighted and defended cases of injustice and fearmongering perpetrated against innocent technologists. We advocate for unjustly imprisoned technologists and bloggers with our Offline project. In 2017, we continue to see fear being whipped up against those who oppose oppression with modern tools—as well as those who have done nothing more than teach and share technology so that we can all use and understand it better:

Dmitry Bogatov, software developer and math lecturer at Moscow’s Finance and Law University. Bogatov ran a volunteer Tor relay, allowing people around the world to protect their identities as they used the Internet. It was one part of his numerous acts of high-tech public service, which include co-maintaining Xmonad and other Haskell software for the Debian project. For his generosity, Bogatov has now spent over a hundred days in pretrial detention, wrongfully accused of posting extremist materials that were allegedly sent via through Tor server. Law enforcement officials around the world understand that data that appears to originate from a particular Tor machine is, in fact, traffic from its anonymised users. But that didn’t stop Bogatov’s prosecutors in Russia from accusing him of sending the data himself, under a pseudonym, to foment riots—and added new charges of “inciting terrorism” when a judge suggested the earlier charge was too weak to hold Bogatov in pre-trial detention.

Ahmed Mansoor, of the United Arab Emirates. Mansoor has been a tireless voice for victims of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, amidst the Arab uprisings, he was one of five Emirati citizens to be sentenced to prison for his social media postings. That case provoked international condemnation, and the group was soon pardoned. Mansoor was subsequently targeted with sophisticated government spyware on his iPhone; he recognised and passed on the malware link to experts, which led to the discovery of three previously unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS. In April, Mansoor was seized by the UAE authorities again. On the day of his arrest, the UAE’s official news agency saying that he had been arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and accused of using social media to promote sectarianism and hate, among other charges. Mansoor’s family did not hear from him for two weeks, and he has been denied access to a lawyer. Just a year ago, Apple was able to roll out a security fix to their users because of Mansoor’s swift, transparent, and selfless actions. Millions of people are safer because of Ahmed’s actions, even as his family fears for his own physical and mental safety. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/28/ahmed-mansoor-under-arrest-emirates-under-pressure/]

Alaa abd el-Fattah ran Linux installfests across the Middle-East and was a key online voice in the Egyptian uprising. Since then he has been jailed, in turn, by the democratically elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and then when Morsi was overthrown in a coup, by incoming President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Alaa’s appeal against a five year prison sentence for protesting—widely seen as a means to silence him on social media—was refused in November of this yearAmnesty and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have both condemned Alaa’s continuing imprisonment.

Another long-term case is that of Saeed Malekpour, who has been in jail in Iran since 2008. Malekpour returned from Canada to visit his sick Iranian father in October of that year, at a time when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was starting to target technologists and Internet experts. As an open source coder, Malekpour had written a free front-end image management utility for websites. The Guard found this software on a Farsi pornography site, and used it to as a pretext to seize Malekpour from the streets of Tehran, charge him with running the web site, and sentencing him to death. Malekpour’s death sentence has been anulled twice following international pressure, but a change of government in his home country of Canada risked reducing the level of support for Malekpour. A campaign to encourage the new Trudeau administration to continue to advocate for Malekpour, even as Canada seeks to normalize relations with Iran, seems to be working. One of Malekpour’s advocates, former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, has said that the Canadian government is now working on the case. The continuing monitoring of Malekpour’s life sentence is a small consolation, but better than the alternative.

Peter Steudtner and Ali Gharavi travel the world, teaching and advising Internet users on how to improve their privacy and digital security online (Ali was an advisor for EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defence project). The two were arrested in a raid by Turkish police on a digital security workshop in July in Istanbul, along with Amnesty Turkeys’ director, Idil Eser, and eight other human rights defenders. The two technology consultants have been accused of aiding terrorists, despite the long history of both as peaceful advocates for secure online practices. After months of detention, concentrated diplomatic and public pressure led to both being released to join their families in Germany and Sweden. We’re delighted that they are free, but their unjust prosecution—and that of their Turkish colleagues—continues in the Turkish courts. 

Bassel Khartabil, the Syrian free culture advocate. Before his arrest and torture in 2012, Bassel was the driving force behind countless projects to turn technology for the public good in his country. He founded a hackerspace in Damascus, translated Creative Commons into a Middle Eastern context, and built out Wikipedia and Mozilla for his fellow Syrians. Bassel’s generosity brought him notability and respect. His prominence and visibility as a voice outside the divided political power-bases of Syria made him an early target when the Syrian civil war became violent. Bassel was killed by the Syrian government in 2015, shortly after he was removed from a civilian prison and sent into the invisibility of Syria’s hidden security complexes.

 

https://personalliberty.com/grim-year-imprisoned-technologists-2017-review/

International Nuremberg Human Rights Award for Syrian photographer “Caesar”

October 1, 2017

“’Caesar’ and his colleagues were driven by a desire to ensure that the documented crimes against humanity would not go unpunished. To this end they took great risks upon themselves”, explains the jury statement. “In bestowing the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award on the ‘Caesar’ group, the jury also wishes to highlight the history of Nuremberg as the cradle of modern international criminal law.

When the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, it was “Caesar’s” job to photograph the corpses of Syrian soldiers and opposition forces and to systematically archive the images. He found the work increasingly difficult to bear. “I had never seen anything like it”, he later said in an interview with the French journalist Garance Le Caisne, whose persistence played a major part in ensuring that “Caesar’s” images found their way into the public domain.

“Caesar” decided to act rather than continue documenting in silence: over a period of roughly two years, he secretly copied his photographs onto USB sticks and smuggled them out of the country with the help of friends. His life was constantly at risk as a result.

In January 2014, “Caesar’s” photographs were published on the Internet and found to be “reliable” by an investigative commission of former chief prosecutors of international criminal courts. “Caesar” fled from Syria and by his own account is now living in Europe.

Because his life is still in danger, the photographer was not able to attend the award ceremony at Nuremberg Opera House. Garance Le Caisne accepted the award on his behalf.

Garance Le Caisne
Stadt Nürnberg/Christine Dierenbach

Source: International Nuremberg Human Rights Award for “Caesar”

Refugee Olympic Teams and Turkish pianist are given human rights awards

December 19, 2016

Human rights awards – one of my favorite topics [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/?s=human+rights+awards] – come  in many shapes and forms. Here two special ones: the first concerns a handicapped swimmer from Syria and other refugee related recipients (in Madrid) and the second a Turkish pianist (in Bonn).

Ibrahim Al Hussein - Human Rights Award Spain
Ibrahim Al Hussein receiving the Human Rights Award from the Spanish General Council the Bar © • IPC

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Martin Ennals Award 2016: relive the ceremony in 13 minutes or in full

October 15, 2016

For those who missed the amazing Martin Ennals Award ceremony in Geneva on 11 October here is the 13-minute summary

For those who would like to relive the whole event please go to: new MEA_logo with text

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ueCvkmTf59u

Summary and streaming are courtesy of THF

Right Livelihood Awards 2016 to Syrian, Egyptian, Russian and Turkish human rights defenders

September 22, 2016

 

Right Livelihood logoThe Laureates of this year’s Right Livelihood Award have been announced today – 22 September 2016 – in Stockholm, Sweden:

SYRIA CIVIL DEFENCE (Syria)

Syria Civil Defence (The White Helmets), ‘for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war’. It is the first time that a Right Livelihood Award goes to a Laureate from Syria.…for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war.

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This is what MEA Jury members say about Razan Zaitouneh, abducted in Syria in 2013

September 20, 2016

Jury members of the Martin Ennals Award speak about Razan Zaitouneh, one of three Finalists for the Martin Ennals Award 2016 . Razan Zaitouneh is a prominent human rights lawyer, activist, and journalist in Syria. Razan has dedicated her life to defending political prisoners and documenting crimes against humanity, whether committed by the Government or rebel forces. This video was uploaded on 25 April 2016. The MEA ceremony will take place in Geneva on 11 October. new MEA_logo with text

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/an-early-save-the-date-11-october-2016-martin-ennals-award-for-human-rights-defenders-in-geneva/

 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: “States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up”

September 14, 2016

Readers are forgiven for not remembering that in the 1980’s it was forbidden for UN officials to name and shame countries by name (with a few exceptions) and those that did usually paid a price for that (e.g. Theo van Boven in 1982 and the curtailing of terms for some High Commissioners). Now, in the span of one week the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has first named and shamed some politicians as dangerous demagogues (6 September 2016 in the Hague): Mr. Wilders. Mr. Trump, Mr. Orban, Mr. Zeman, Mr. Hofer, Mr. Fico, Madame Le Pen, and Mr. Farage. He followed this up in his opening statement at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council on 13 September 2016 with a forceful attack on countries that refuses to cooperate with his Office or other UN procedures: foremost Syria but also Venezuela, Turkey, Ethiopia, Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Mozambique, USA, Gambia, China, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Dominican Republic, Belarus, Eritrea, Iran, and Burundi. The non-cooperation by those in control of areas such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, and Nagorno-Karabakh was also singled out.

The part that underpins the ‘legitimacy’ of his interference is of special relevance: “Under international law, wrongful “intervention” – as prohibited in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter – is by nature coercive. And it should be obvious that my Office has no coercive power. No activity that we undertake can possibly be considered constitutive of a prohibited “intervention”. …We request access so we can better work to help bring your laws and practices in line with international agreements which you, the States drafted and ratified – and to assist you to comply with recommendations which you have publicly, and often fulsomely, accepted….Are human rights exclusively a national issue? Governments have the responsibility to uphold their human rights obligations and to respect the standards. But the human rights of all people, in all countries, also require – unquestionably ­– our collective attention. The Vienna Declaration, adopted unanimously 23 years ago, confirmed this..”

“Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us? I classify as refusals of access all unreasonable delays, elaborately ritualised and unreasonably prolonged negotiations, and responses to specific requests which seem to seek to fob us off with inadequate alternatives to real, fact-based assessment. Access delayed is access denied: two weeks is surely amply sufficient to secure a decision from all relevant officials. Claims that insecure conditions make it impossible to give my staff access are also less than acceptable. My staff work with great courage in some of the world’s most severely threatened communities, and will continue to do so when called upon – or at least, we could be the judge of that.

States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us. If access is refused, we will assume the worst, and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations. Our remote monitoring is likely to involve witness testimony, credible third-party reports and use of satellite imagery, among other techniques. Certainly, remote monitoring is a poor substitute for in-person observation by expert analysts. It makes it more difficult to verify and confirm the competing allegations of any party – including the Government. I regret that imprecision, and encourage all States to assist us to correct it, by permitting my teams unhindered access to events on the ground when requested.

The two texts follow below in toto; summarizing them would not do justice to the elaborate and courageous words of this High Commissioner, who seems not to be concerned about securing a second term. Moreover, the one in the Hague stands out by its eloquence!

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