Category Archives: civil society

Documentation, Local Prosecutions Advance Accountability for War Crimes in Syria

The UN Security Council meets on the situation in SyriaCredit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe
The UN Security Council meets on the situation in SyriaCredit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The UN Security Council meets on the situation in Syria
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Germany recently began its first prosecution for alleged war crimes in Syria, joining the several States and private actors seeking accountability for atrocities committed in the ongoing conflict in Syria. [The New Arab] Despite the lack of a final peace agreement, human rights experts are encouraging State governments to take steps to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity through domestic trials, such as the one that just commenced in Germany, or before an international court, such as the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal. [BBC; Reuters] Additionally, other entities have been actively collecting evidence of international crimes for any future trials that may take place, which may prove helpful to local prosecutors taking on cases such as the one in Germany. [New Yorker; Fox News] While political and practical challenges could continue to impede a referral to the ICC or creation of a special tribunal, these trials and documentation efforts demonstrate progress towards accountability. Read more

Rwanda Withdraws Access to African Court for Individuals and NGOs

Credit: Wouter Engler via Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wouter Engler via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wouter Engler via Wikimedia Commons

The government of Rwanda has announced it will no longer allow individuals and non-governmental organizations to directly file complaints against it with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR). [Ministry of Justice Press Release] The decision comes as the African Court is set to decide a claim against Rwanda by a leading opposition politician, Victoire Ingabire, who alleges her imprisonment for genocide denial was unfair and politically motivated. [AfCHPR Press Release; HRW] Rwanda deposited the withdrawal on February 29, just over three years after it first deposited the declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government asserts that the withdrawal is intended to prevent exploitation of the individual complaint procedure by criminals, particularly individuals who took part in the 1994 genocide and have subsequently fled the country. [Ministry of Justice Press Release] The Protocol does not outline a withdrawal process, and the Court has yet to make a decision on the validity of the withdrawal or how it will affect pending cases against Rwanda. Only eight African Union (AU) countries have submitted declarations allowing individual complaints to the Court, and Rwanda is the only State to withdraw, potentially reducing the number of AU countries where individuals and NGOs have direct access to the Court to seven. Read more

Increased Oppression of Chinese Human Rights Defenders Draws International Criticism

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
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Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard 0

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Human rights monitors have expressed alarm at China’s ongoing crackdown on those critical of the government. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, recently drew attention to the Chinese government’s continued oppression of human rights defenders and government critics, specifically referring to a wave of arrests and harassment of civil society actors that began after the implementation of a controversial National Security Law last July. [OHCHR Press Release: China 2016; OHCHR Press Release: China Security Law 2015] Some 250 human rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists have been arrested in the ensuing eight months, and an additional 15 human rights lawyers were arrested last month, a majority of whom face charges of subversion of state power and could face between 15 years to life in prison. Among those arrested are some of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, including Li Heping and Wang Yu, both known for defending activists and political dissidents. [Guardian; Reuters] Mr. Zeid echoed human rights organizations in calling on China to release those lawyers who were arrested for performing their professional duties. [OHCHR Press Release: China 2016; Amnesty: Activists; Human Rights Watch]

The High Commissioner also stressed the crucial role of civil society and public participation in ensuring national security and the rule of law. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the Chinese government to ensure that its national security efforts do not oppress the rights of public interest workers to exercise their freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and has, therefore, criticized China’s ongoing treatment of human rights defenders as threats to the country’s peace and security. The oppression in China is part of an increasing global trend to use national security measures to dilute the power and freedom of human rights workers. Accordingly, Mr. Zeid urged governments to recognize and respect the importance of human rights and public participation in ensuring national security and upholding the rule of law. [OHCHR Press Release: China 2016] Read more

ACHPR Publishes Guidelines on Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.57.34 PM

ACHPR Principles and GuidelinesThe African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has released new principles intended to guide its Member States in implementing counter-terrorism and security measures that comply with regional and international human rights norms. As African States increasingly face real and practical challenges posed by terrorism, the Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples’ Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa (Principles and Guidelines) aim to explicitly define governments’ human rights obligations in this context and encourage States respond to security threats in ways that: prioritize victims’ needs, address the root causes of extremism, recognize the need to regulate modern developments including the use of private contractors and rendition, and include a commitment to implementing their human rights obligations. [ACHPR Press Release] Although the ACHPR adopted the Principles and Guidelines in May 2015, they were officially released on January 29, 2016. Read more

UN Working Group Holds Julian Assange Has Been Arbitrarily Detained

Julian AssangeCredit: By Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina, via Wikimedia Commons
Julian AssangeCredit: By Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina, via Wikimedia Commons

Julian Assange
Credit: Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina, via Wikimedia Commons

In a controversial decision, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s detention, house arrest, and subsequent seclusion in Ecuador’s London embassy constitute  arbitrary detention which the governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom should redress. [OHCHR Press Release: Assange] The independent experts’ opinion, released on February 5, 2016, finds violations of Mr. Assange’s rights to due process, liberty, equal protection, and humane treatment in the restrictions imposed on him pending his extradition to Sweden, where authorities want to interview him concerning an allegation of rape made against him in 2010. See WGAD, Opinion No. 54/2015 concerning Julian Assange (Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), UN Doc. A/HRC/WGAD/2015, 4 December 2015. It further recommended that Sweden and the United Kingdom facilitate Mr. Assange’s freedom of movement, end his arbitrary detention, and afford him the right to compensation. [OHCHR Press Release: Assange]

 Mr. Assange was first detained for 10 days in isolation at Wandsworth Prison in London, then placed under house arrest for 550 days before he jumped bail and claimed asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom in 2012. [OHCHR Press Release: Assange] The British government had the embassy under 24-hour surveillance for more than three years. Mr. Assange alleged that he is being arbitrarily detained in the embassy by the threat of arrest and extradition to Sweden, which he fears will lead to his extradition to the United States on potential charges related to his work with WikiLeaks. [BBC News; Reuters] Sweden and the United Kingdom argued that Mr. Assange voluntarily restricted himself to the confines of the embassy to evade lawful arrest. [OHCHR Press Release: Assange]

A number of critics have argued that the Working Group’s logic is unconvincing with regard to whether Mr. Assange’s current “self-imprisonment” in the Ecuadorian embassy can be considered a deprivation of liberty, let alone arbitrary detention. [The Guardian: Editorial; EJIL: Talk!; Head of Legal; The Guardian: Opinion] While the British government announced its plans to challenge the opinion, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has released numerous statements publicizing the Working Group’s decision, including a video.

The Working Group’s majority opinion emphasizes the following facts: Mr. Assange has been charged with no crime in Sweden, both governments have failed to recognize that he has been granted asylum by Ecuador, his liberty has been restricted for more than five years in connection with a criminal case that has not moved beyond the pre-investigation stage and in which Mr. Assange has not been afforded appropriate opportunities to participate, he has been denied an opportunity to challenge his ongoing detention, and British law now bars extradition where the person has not been charged with a crime. See WGAD, Opinion No. 54/2015 concerning Julian Assange (Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Read more

AU-EU Meetings Emphasize Cooperation to Protect Human Rights

Participants in the Human Rights DialogueCredit: Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Rwanda
Participants in the Human Rights DialogueCredit: Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Rwanda

Participants in the Human Rights Dialogue
Credit: Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Rwanda

In November 2015, representatives of African and European intergovernmental organizations and civil society gathered in Rwanda for the 11th African Union – European Union (AU-EU) Human Rights Dialogue, a platform for sharing experiences concerning human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Participants in the Human Rights Dialogue, which was held in Kigali on November 24, 2015, included the Hon. Justice Augustino S. L. Ramadhani, President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR); Hon. Madam Zainabu Kayitesi, Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); Ambassador Gary Quince, Head of the EU Delegation to the AU; Ambassador Michael Ryan, Head of the EU Delegation to Rwanda; and other AU and EU staff working on human rights issues. The outcome document summarizes previous and future areas of cooperation between the AU and EU, including protecting the freedom of expression, migrants’ rights, human rights and business, and the abolition of the death penalty. See European Union External Action Service, Joint Communiqué. Read more

African Commission and NGOs Review Human Rights Concerns at November Session

Participants in the NGO ForumCredit: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Participants in the NGO ForumCredit: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

Participants in the NGO Forum
Credit: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

During its most recent session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) welcomed two new commissioners; examined four States’ human rights records; heard activity reports from its special mechanisms; and focused particular attention on the rights of women, implementation of ACHPR decisions, its relationship with non-governmental organizations and with national human rights institutions, and the intersections between international humanitarian law and human rights standards. The 57th Ordinary Session took place from November 4 to 11 and 18, 2015 in Banjul, the Gambia and the agenda included consideration of the periodic reports of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. Prior to the session, members of civil society gathered in Banjul for the NGO Forum and 31st African Human Rights Book Fair. Read more

Burundi: International and Regional Bodies Urge Dialogue, Fear Mass Violence

Security Council meeting
The situation in Burundi
The UN Security Council considers the situation in Burundi.

The UN Security Council considers the situation in Burundi.
Credit: UN Photo

Amid an ongoing human rights and political crisis in which hundreds have lost their lives, civil society and human rights bodies are calling on Burundian authorities to avoid inciting violence, put a stop to attacks against advocates and journalists, and cooperate with monitoring efforts. On November 12, 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution condemning the killings and human rights abuses in Burundi and threatening possible sanctions against responsible parties. [The Guardian] The resolution came at the same time as the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) met to discuss moving peacekeepers from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo to Burundi. [The Guardian] The international and regional actions seek to end a spate of violence and repression that began in April 2015 surrounding the re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza in a vote boycotted by the opposition. [VOA News] The political unrest, which has led to over 240 killings and an estimated 200,000 displaced, now threatens to devolve into civil war and mass atrocities that some are warning could resemble the 1994 Rwandan genocide. [VOA News] Read more

Six United Nations Human Rights Bodies Meet in November 2015

The Human Rights Committee during its 115th SessionCredit: UN Treaty Body Webcast
The Human Rights Committee during its 115th SessionCredit: UN Treaty Body Webcast

The Human Rights Committee during its 115th Session
Credit: UN Treaty Body Webcast

During the month of November 2015, six United Nations human rights mechanisms will meet in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, Committee Against Torture (CAT), Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT), and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will each be holding sessions, during which they will review States’ compliance with the relevant human rights standards, consider individual complaints, and discuss best practices. Video of the public portions of these sessions is available on UN Treaty Body Webcast or UN Web TV. Read more

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