- The Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights warned this week of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe amid the current economic crisis, with austerity budgets undermining social rights and putting vulnerable groups at greater risk. On Wednesday, British PM Cameron accused the European court of human rights of having a “corrosive effect” on people’s support for civil liberties; highlighting controversial rulings undermine the public confidence in the rights court.
- A group known as the Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission urged the US and Russia to start preparatory talks immediately to remove tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases in Europe as a step towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The group stated that nuclear weaponry has “virtually no military utility, incur significant financial costs and security risks, including terrorist capture, and create political friction between NATO and Russia”.
- On Monday, twenty-five of the EU’s twenty-seven member states agreed to join into a fiscal treaty to help overcome the financial crisis and enforce budget discipline. The Czech Republic and the UK refused to sign, citing “constitutional reasons” and “legal concerns” about the use of the EU institutions in enforcement as reasons.
- Nearly two dozen aligned opposition groups in Armenia decided to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections jointly, angry at the system of proportional representation. The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) re-stated its intention to bring down the current President.
- On Sunday, Greece dismissed a German plan to install an EU budget commissioner with oversight of its economy and veto powers as “laughable”. Under the plan, European institutions would have direct control over Greece’s budget decisions in what would amount to an extraordinary depletion of a member state’s independence in conducting its own affairs.
- On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Spain to protest the charges against “superjudge” Baltasar Garzon, who controversially investigated the mass killings by the Francoist dictatorship and corruption in the ruling People’s Party in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.
- Five centre-right parties in Slovenia formally named conservative Janez Jansa as PM-designate on Wednesday; almost two months after a snap election ousted the Social Democrats from power but produced no outright winner. Jansa was confirmed as PM on Saturday.
- The government in the Netherlands announced plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face starting next year. A government coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week that would charge offenders fines of up to 390 Euros ($510 USD).
- Around sixty-seven percent voted to join the European Union in a referendum vote on Sunday afternoon in Croatia. Less than half the voting population was said to have turned out for the vote, prompting an anti-EU group to say the vote was invalidated.
- The PM in Turkey was angered over the possible passing of the Armenian genocide denial bill in France, saying that they “murdered freedom of thought” and warned the French President of retaliatory measures if it is implemented. The bill was passed late last Monday, with Armenian blessing. On Friday, security forces reportedly killed five Kurdish insurgents after discovering them hiding in a cave in the southeastern province of Batman; while prominent journalists charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government were denied released from custody in a controversial trial on media freedom.
- The President of Georgia denied opposition claims on Tuesday that he wants to stay in power as the PM when his term expires next year, saying his country “can have no Putin”.
- The UN refugee agency voiced their concern this week over the plight of asylum-seekers, including some minors, held in two detention centres in Ukraine. More than 100 people are reportedly challenging their detention or have complained that they were denied the right to apply for asylum.
- The PM of Romania fired his foreign minister last Monday allegedly for calling anti-government protesters “inept violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations. On Tuesday, a new foreign minister was sworn in amid continued protests; while the PM called for unity on that the country’s national Day of Unity. On Wednesday, the constitutional court overturned a government plan to hold local and parliamentary elections on the same day, further unsettling the current centrist government. On Saturday, hundreds protested against a plan to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast gold mine, saying it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and be environmentally damaging. On Monday, the Supreme Court sentenced former PM Adrian Nastase to two years in prison for corruption, though Nastase denies any wrongdoing; while the main opposition group were winning in opinion polls around the country, as protests continued to rock the ruling PDL party.
- Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava and several other towns in Slovakia on Friday in protest at a major corruption scandal ahead of the March elections. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
- On Friday, Norway apologized for the arrest and deportation of Jews during the Second World War on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some 772 Norwegian Jews and refugees were deported to Germany during the war with only around 34 survivors.
- Four former Yugoslav soldiers were sentenced to up to four years in Montenegro for war crimes committed against ethnic Croatian prisoners of war during the 1991-5 Croatian conflict. The four were charged with torturing prisoners in a makeshift prisoner camp. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war crimes court upheld a 31-year prison sentence against Radomir Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb police officer convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
- Occupy London protesters in the United Kingdom marked 100 days since beginning last Monday, but were forced into retreat in a new office building. On Friday, Occupy activists attempted to disrupt a debate in Davos for the World Economic Forum, calling on delegates to leave the stage and join them in protest; while Occupy protesters in London were evicted by police from the vacant property they had occupied earlier in the week.
- PM Putin of Russia warned last Monday of the damage of ethnic tensions in the country and vowed he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions. On Tuesday, the government purchased 60 Iveco armored vehicles from Italy, with plans to spend some $30 billion on new military equipment, including 120 helicopters. On Wednesday, the Central Election Commission registered Mikhail Prokhorov as a Presidential candidate; while current President Medvedev announced he might run for President again following Putin’s anticipated return to the Presidency. On Friday, election authorities formally disqualified the founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, from running in the March 4th Presidential election. On Saturday, some 15,000 people reportedly attended a rally in the Russian Urals in support of PM Putin’s bid for the Presidency. On Sunday, the Yabloko opposition party said that the office of a regional newspaper that it publishes have been destroyed in an attack with a Molotov cocktail; while “For Fair Elections” demonstrators displaying a white ribbon or other symbols on their vehicles circled around the Garden Ring in Moscow in protest of the flawed parliamentary vote. On Tuesday, the opposition drafted their protest demands, including the annulment of the December 2011 parliamentary elections and the dismissal of the chief election official. On Thursday, activists say they have come under pressure and scare tactics from police and security services ahead of their next big protest against Putin’s likely return to the presidency; the Russian state-run arms exported Rosoboronesksport reported $11 billion in sales from the 2011 year, despite billions in lost sales from the UN embargo on Libya; and the Deputy PM expressed his wish to see the country’s children play with toy guns and tanks made in Russia rather than the West, giving a “command” for manufacturers to create toy versions of Russian weapons and military equipment. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Moscow shouting “Russia without Putin” and calling for a rerun of disputed parliamentary elections; while an international commission has developed a new proposal that would allow NATO and Russia to share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks to try and allay fears of the planned US missile shield in Europe neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
- At least 8 alleged Islamist militants, four Russian servicemen and possibly a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the North Caucasus region on Tuesday; while five suspected Islamist rebels and four Russian servicemen were killed in a clash in the Republic of Dagestan. On Friday, Russian security forces allegedly killed three militants, including the regional leader of an insurgent group, in a shootout in a private home in the village of Ekazhevo; while other reports claimed that Russian security forces and militants killed some 12 people.
- Police in Belarus have reportedly arrested well-known human rights activist Aleh Vouchak and charged him with hooliganism on Tuesday.
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?