- Relatives of inmates on a hunger strike in Kyrgyzstan picketed a pretrial detention centre on Wednesday to demand their relatives’ demands be met. The protesters are calling upon reviews for the inmates’ cases, who they claim have been sentenced for crimes they didn’t commit. On Tuesday, the Kyrgyz Parliament elected a new speaker, Asylbek Jeenbekov, who announced he is against dissolving Parliament and would resist any calls for its dissolution, and supports the law that prohibits any review or amending of the constitution prior to 2020.
- On Tuesday, violent clashes occurred between residents of the town of Sulutepe, Azerbaijan who were protesting the demolition of their homes and a state oil company’s employees and police. The security regime claims the lands were illegally occupied and should be evacuated. On Wednesday, residents of a coastal village clashed with police after border guards tried to prevent local fishermen from casting their nets beyond a two-mile limit and arrested them.
- Last Monday the government of Nepal decided not to renew the mandate of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the only branch of the UN watchdog in South Asia. Rights groups are claiming that the Nepali government’s constitutional promise to constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate grave violations of human rights has failed to materialise and that impunity is widespread.
- Kim Jong Il, leader of North Korea since the mid-nineties, died on the weekend after reportedly suffering a stroke on his private train amid much speculation of a future without the “Dear Leader”. The country appeared to enter what many called an “enforced mourning” period, publicly grieving in the streets at his death. His 27 year old son, Kim Jong Un has been named as his successor with quick Chinese endorsement, though some speculate that the military may not support him. On Monday, the North test-fired a missile off its eastern coast, as South Korea’s government went into “emergency mode” amid fears that Kim’s death could further destabilise relations; the United States announced it remained open to engagement with North Korea if it took steps towards denuclearization; while Kim Jong-un visited his late father’s body to pay respects and the state media began pledging loyalty to the new leader. By Wednesday, many humanitarian groups began voicing their concern that the death of Kim Jong-Il could worsen the dire food situation in the country, after the US postponed a decision on potential aid.
- On Wednesday, police allegedly sealed off the village of Wukan in China, including cutting off all food supplies, in an attempt to quell an uprising of protesters demonstrating over government land seizures and the death of a village leader in police custody last week. The protests continued for the rest of the week. On Friday, the Beijing city government announced that it would tighten control over popular micro-blogs, giving users three-months to register with their real names or face legal consequences; while the government reportedly sent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, whose whereabouts have been unknown for the last year, back to jail, after allegedly withdrawing his probation. On Sunday, protesting villagers in Wukan demanded that central leaders defuse their grievances and vowed to take the protests into a second week unless those leaders step in. On Monday, the villagers threatened to march on a local government office in protest, and hunkered down with rocks and rice at makeshift barricades to block police. On Tuesday, thousands besieged a government office and blocked a highway to demand a halt to a planned coal-fired power plant over concerns of pollution in the town of Haimen in Guangdong province; while officials offered concessions to the villagers in Wukan if they would give up their protesting, as talks were scheduled for Wednesday morning.
- Cambodia and Thailand agreed on Wednesday to withdraw their troops from a disputed border region near the Preah Vihear temple. The International Court of Justice ordered both sides to remove their troops in July after earlier fighting left 18 dead and tens of thousands displaced, but neither side complied.
- The sodomy trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia officially closed this week, with the judge setting January 9th for the verdict. The trial, which many allege was brought about only after the Anwar-led opposition won historic gains in the March 2008 parliamentary elections, is expected to have major implications in the expected upcoming elections.
- On Wednesday, the US defence secretary announced that US troops in Afghanistan were winning the conflict against the Taliban as he addressed the troops in an operating base in the country; international forces remained concerned about the country’s depleting security forces, who have a reported 30-40% non-re-enlistment rate at the end of their 3 year contracts; and an ISAF service member was killed in a bomb attack in the south. On Thursday, officials re-opened the notorious Ghazi Stadium, home to executions, stoning and mutilations by the Taliban from 1996-2001, to sports after a US-funded refurbishment; while President Karzai called upon Afghans to lead any peace negotiations to end the war in their country after reports that Qatar had agreed to set up an unofficial Taliban embassy; and Human Rights Watch called upon the American military to halt plans to expand the Afghan Local Police force program until significant reforms were made in training, supervision and accountability. On Friday, a series of explosions rocked western Kabul after a police station was targeted by attackers with no reported injuries. On Saturday, an ISAF service member was killed by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan; and four armed insurgents were reportedly killed during operations by the police, National Army and coalition forces in Kabul, Kunduz, Kandahar, Helmand and Maidan Wardak provinces. On Sunday, a key government negotiator announced that the Taliban is willing to open a political office outside the country, in a step towards holding face-to-face peace talks with the government; two militants opened fire on a bus carrying Afghan army training officers, killing five and wounding nine; an ISAF service member was killed by a roadside bomb in Kabul; three Afghan soldiers and two policemen were killed in an attack by at least three suicide bombers on an army recruitment centre in Kunduz; and ISAF air strike killed at least three alleged insurgents in eastern Nangarhar province as they were laying a roadside bomb overnight; and Afghan and coalition forces killed or detained several alleged insurgents in northern Kunduz. On Monday, a senior Taliban commander denied that the group held secret talks with American officials after the United States announced that talks had reached a turning point. On Tuesday, Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed two alleged insurgents and detained another nine during operations in several provinces. On Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed five Polish soldiers in Ghazni City; a suicide bomber was killed by Afghan National Police in Khost province; four armed insurgents were killed in a police operation in Helmand Province; and one civilian was killed by a homemade mine in Helmand.
- A senior monk, who is a vocal critic of the government in Burma/Myanmar, has reportedly been ordered to leave his monastery in Rangoon because of a speech he gave at a pro-democracy event for Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy. The monk has allegedly refused to obey the order and said that he will stay until forced out. The International Atomic Energy Agency is again seeking access to sites in the country, which rejected allegations by an exile group last year that it was trying to develop atomic weapons. On Saturday, the government announced plans to bring an end to a series of conflicts with ethnic rebels within three years, ordering troops to halt all offensives against Kachin militias and discussing ceasefire agreements with numerous groups. On Thursday, a local aid group in the north reported that tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Kachins are facing food shortages and health problems, and that some of the displaced who attempted to cross into China were ordered to return to the conflict zone. On Wednesday, a woman was killed and another injured in an unknown explosion at the country’s biggest university.
- The government of Bangladesh has reportedly announced an inquiry into a recent spate of killings and disappearances in the country, after at least seven bodies were found in the last eight days, and more than 40 people disappeared between January 2010 and November 2011. Local human rights groups allege that most victims are opposition political activists. On Sunday, a violent clash broke out between police and opposition party activists gathered to mark the 40th Independence anniversary, killing at least one person in Dhaka.
- Officials in Pakistan alleged this week that NATO forces knew they were opening fire on Pakistani forces, even apologizing to Pakistani officers, throughout the friendly fire incident that killed 24 Pakistani troops in November; though the two forces have officially re-established military contact with each other. On Wednesday, gunmen on a motorcycle killed three Shi’ite Muslims in a suspected sectarian attack in Quetta; helicopter gunships attacked three suspected militant hideouts in Orakzai, killing six insurgents; and gunmen set fire to a NATO tanker in Kalat. On Friday, a pro-Taliban religious group in the north announced that it is mediating between the government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group. On Sunday, tens of thousands protested in support of the military and condemning the US for the NATO attacks in Lahore; while militants set off explosives at a girls’ high school in Khyber, partially damaging the building. On Monday, a senior government official reported that the President had returned home after nearly two weeks overseas seeking medical treatment.
- Police in Indonesia’s Aceh province raided a punk-rock concert and detained 65 fans, cutting off Mohawks and stripping away body piercings and any other “inappropriate” clothing or accessories because of the perceived threat to Islamic values in the conservative region. Those detained are reportedly to receive 10 days of “rehabilitation”, training in military-style discipline and religious classes.
- On Thursday, the Philippines declared a 19 day unilateral Christmas truce with Maoist guerrillas despite intensified attacks, including some 6 from that day alone. On Wednesday, the government asked the United States to give it at least a squadron of second-hand F-16 fighters to help upgrade its territorial defences and plans to spend 40 billion pesos ($941 million) over the next five years to upgrade its military.
- On Friday, at least 13 people were killed in violent clashes between police and demonstrators in an oil town in western Kazakhstan after police tried to clear the town’s main square, where workers have been protesting for higher wages and better working conditions for more than six months. An opposition activist was arrested for 15 days for protesting against the violence the following day. On Saturday, police allegedly opened fire on rioters who stopped a train, killing one person in the central city of Shetpe. The President responded by declaring a 20-day state of emergency in the province, amid mounting pressure on him to relax the rigid authoritarian system he has built. On Sunday, journalists were stopped from travelling to the region, and all telephone connections were reportedly cut. On Tuesday, many again took to the streets demanding to know who ordered police to fire on protesters in Aktau, the capital of the western Mangistau region. On Wednesday, it was reported that members of a newly established public commission set to investigate the deadly shootings in the region have been prevented from visiting the cities of Zhetibai and Zhanaozen by police; while the Kazakh ambassador to the US said that amateur video showing the police shoot at unarmed protesters as they flee is “shocking” and that the government is planning an investigation.
- On Friday, Russia signed a deal to provide India with 42 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets that will be assembled locally in India. On Monday, politicians forced the closure of Parliament in protest against a Siberian trial calling for a version of the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, to be banned. On Tuesday, the cabinet approved a landmark anti-corruption bill draft that had been the focus of nationwide demonstrations, though the draft was already rejected by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. A new report released by the country’s Human Rights Commission claims that more 1,500 people have died in official custody in the country over the past year, a large number from torture while in custody.
- One of the two rival PMs in Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, has announced that he has the support of the country’s parliament, following last week’s decision by the governor-general and Supreme Court to reinstate Michael Somare. O’Neill had Somare removed from office by a parliamentary vote in August while he was outside the country seeking medical treatment. On Monday, a historic bill aimed at guaranteeing seats for women in Parliament failed to get the required 73 votes to become law, after less than 70 of the 109 MPs attended the sitting; while the Governor-General reversed his decision to reinstate Michael Somare, claiming he received bad legal advice. On Tuesday, O’Neill claimed his government was in total control of the country, though Somare issued a statement saying he remained the PM, despite O’Neill’s parliamentary control.
- The panel probing the end of Sri Lanka’s 25 year war has concluded on Friday that the military did not deliberately target civilians, even though a “considerable” number were killed in the crossfire and urged the prosecution of soldiers found guilty of misconduct. The panel said it could not establish the number of civilian casualties, nor could it determine who was responsible for shelling hospitals, and urged that the families of those hurt or killed be compensated for their loss. A new report by the International Crisis Group claims that more than two years after the end of the civil war, women in the north and east of the country still suffer from sexual violence, poverty, and displacement.
As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.
The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:
1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions
2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices
3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.
I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.
Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.
Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.
Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.
The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.
The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.
The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.
The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.
More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.
Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?