The Ukrainian authorities must make real progress towards eliminating torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials in line with the country’s international obligations, Amnesty International said ahead of the signing of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement.
"Irrespective of the future of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, the EU must go on pushing Ukraine to comply with its international obligations. Ukraine is an important member of the European and international community. The country’s authorities have voluntarily signed up to all major international human rights agreements – the absolute ban on torture among them," said Heather McGill, Ukraine researcher at Amnesty International.
The Association Agreement offers enhanced cooperation in trade, energy, banking and many other areas, and is based on common values, including "democracy and rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, [and] good governance".
The EU had made the eradication of "selective justice" a pre-requisite for signing the agreement on 28 November in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, which currently holds the EU Presidency. It is expected that the Ukrainian authorities will allow Yuliya Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister and leader of the opposition party All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland", to travel to Germany for treatment for a back injury.
Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for exceeding her official powers by signing a gas deal with Russia at an unfavourable price.
"The case of Yuliya Tymoshenko highlights the lack of fair trials and poor prison conditions in Ukraine, but the political significance of her case should not be allowed to overshadow the systemic problems that deprive thousands of Ukrainians of their rights every day," said Heather McGill.
"Every year thousands of Ukrainians are beaten by the police to extract confessions for crimes that they may not have committed, only to be sent to prison after unfair trails. In the absence of an effective police complaints mechanism, their complaints are frequently ignored."
"The eradication of torture and other ill-treatment requires legislative changes as well as systemic reforms to the criminal justice system. The Ukrainian government has taken important steps, but until each and every allegation of torture is promptly, effectively and independently investigated, and the perpetrators are brought to justice, torturers will continue to act with impunity."
Amnesty International’s document, Ukraine and the EU: Time to put people first, outlines progress made so far and points out next steps.
The new Criminal Procedural Code that came into force in November 2012 stipulates that confessions made to police outside the court are no longer admissible in court and introduces limited jury trials for crimes that carry life imprisonment. Oleksandr Bondarenko was the first to benefit from this reform in October this year when a court of three jurors and two judges in the north-eastern town of Sumy acquitted him of the murder of two elderly women and released him immediately. The court rejected the prosecution’s case as it was based on a confession gained under torture However, the victim’s earlier complaint about the torture was rejected by the prosecutors, and no-one has yet been brought to justice.
But the new code failed to protect two 16-year-old boys in Ternopil, in western Ukraine, from suffering police abuse. Yaroslav Gizhovskiy was detained and beaten repeatedly by police officers for failing to present them with identification documents. A week later OleksandrKovtun was beaten by the same police officers as he returned home with his mother. An investigation is under way, but the police officers allegedly responsible for the beatings are still on active duty.
"These cases show the long road Ukraine has to go to ensure accountability for ill-treatment by police officers. It is imperative that the Ukrainian authorities set up an independent and effective mechanism to investigate promptly and adequately allegations of torture and other-ill-treatment in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights’ standards as soon as possible," Heather McGill said.
"The new Criminal Procedural Code provides for a State Investigation Bureau to investigate crimes by officials, including law enforcement officers, so that perpetrators of torture are brought to justice, and victims are offered redress."
"Any delay in setting up such a bureau is unacceptable – and may cost lives. The ongoing impunity for torture and other ill-treatment in Ukraine continues to erode trust in the country’s authorities – both within Ukraine itself and around the world."
Ukraine must make progress to end torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, AI said ahead of the signing of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement.Media Node: Ukraine Amnesty International Index Number: EUR50/014/2013 Story Location: Ukraine 45° 45' 48.3696" N, 34° 32' 27.6576" E “Irrespective of the future of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, the EU must go on pushing Ukraine to comply with its international obligations. Ukraine is an important member of the European and international community. The country’s authorities have voluntarily signed up to all major international human rights agreements – the absolute ban on torture among them. ” Source: Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s researcher on Ukraine. URL: Ukraine and the EU: Time to put people first Description: Document, 19 November 2013 URL: Ukraine: Police crisis escalates after clash with Kyiv protestors Description: News Story, 13 July 2013 URL: Ukraine: Make the police accountable and stamp out torture Description: News Story, 11 April 2013 URL: Ukraine: Don’t stop halfway: Government must use new Criminal Procedure Code to end torture Description: Document, 11 April 2013
The execution of a Pakistani man in Indonesia on Sunday, carried out in secret, is a shocking and regressive step, said Amnesty International.
According to media reports, Muhammad Abdul Hafeez, 44, was executed by firing squad in the early hours of Sunday morning. Hafeez is the fifth person to be put to death this year since Indonesia resumed executions in March after a four year hiatus. A further five individuals are believed to be at imminent risk of execution.
"This latest death by firing squad highlights the deplorable and retrograde trend in Indonesia to shroud executions in secrecy. The complete lack of transparency is not only devastating for the individuals and their families; it can also prevent last minute appeals for a stay of execution," said Papang Hidayat, Indonesia Researcher at Amnesty International.
"Such actions fly in the face of the Indonesian government’s commitment to uphold human rights. We urge the authorities not to carry out any other death sentences. Anymore executions would also further undermine the government's efforts to protect Indonesian nationals that face the death penalty overseas."
"With these clandestine executions it appears the government is also trying to prevent a full and informed public debate on the use of the death penalty," said Papang Hidayat.
Muhammad Abdul Hafeez was arrested at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on 26 June 2001 for allegedly smuggling 900 grams of heroin into Indonesia. He was sentenced to death by the Tangerang District Court on 28 November 2001.
The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the threshold of the "most serious crimes" as prescribed under international law.
Amnesty International is not aware that the families or representatives of the five individuals executed this year were informed in advance.
There are at least 130 people under sentence of death in Indonesia. Around half of those on death row, many of whom are foreign nationals, have been convicted of drug-related offences. So far in 2013 at least eight people have been sentenced to death. At least 12 people were sentenced to death in 2012.
Death sentences in Indonesia are carried out by firing squad. The prisoner has the choice of standing or sitting, and can decide whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold or hood. Firing squads are made up of 12 people, three of whose rifles are loaded with live ammunition, while the other nine are loaded with blanks. The squad fires from a distance of between five and 10 metres.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.
The execution of a Pakistani man in Indonesia on Sunday, carried out in secret, is a shocking and regressive step.Media Node: Indonesia At a Glance:
- There are at least 130 people under sentence of death in Indonesia.
- Around half of those on death row, many of whom are foreign nationals, have been convicted of drug-related offences.
- So far in 2013 at least eight people have been sentenced to death. At least 12 people were sentenced to death in 2012.
- Death sentences in Indonesia are carried out by firing squad. The prisoner has the choice of standing or sitting, and can decide whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold or hood.
- Firing squads are made up of 12 people, three of whose rifles are loaded with live ammunition, while the other nine are loaded with blanks.
The international community must keep up pressure on the Sri Lankan government to address its human rights crisis, Amnesty International said as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo draws to a close.
“Sri Lanka may well regret having hosted the Commonwealth summit which has proved a PR disaster for the government. Most of the focus has rightly been on the country’s appalling human rights record," Steve Crawshaw, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International, said from Colombo.
“The challenge for the international community is now to keep up the pressure on the Sri Lankan government. Those responsible for past violations, including war crimes, must be held accountable, and ongoing human rights violations stopped irrespective of rank - victims and survivors must see justice done. The past week has provided clear examples of the government’s repressive tactics.”
Backing the call already made by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, the UK prime minister, David Cameron, said that, if no credible domestic investigations are carried out by March next year, there should be an international inquiry.
Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius, who boycotted CHOGM over Sri Lanka’s human rights situation, stressed that Sri Lanka must cooperate with such an inquiry.
“The strong words by Mauritius, the UK and others have bolstered calls for an international investigation into credible war crimes allegations. But we need action, not just words. The upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in March can and must establish the international inquiry that is long overdue,” said Crawshaw.
The Commonwealth today confirmed that Sri Lanka will serve as the organization’s Chair for the next two years, as well as on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the body charged with monitoring human rights in member states.
“By awarding Sri Lanka the chairmanship for the next two years and membership of the organization’s human rights oversight body, the Commonwealth has confirmed its failure to address the country’s human rights crisis," said Crawshaw.
“It beggars belief that a country with Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record can be accorded this honour.”
The international community must keep up pressure on the Sri Lankan government to address its human rights crisis as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) draws to a close.Media Node: CHOGM concludes Story Location: Sri Lanka 7° 50' 29.814" N, 80° 51' 33.75" E “Sri Lanka may well regret having hosted the Commonwealth summit which has proved a PR disaster for the government. Most of the focus has rightly been on the country’s appalling human rights record” Source: Steve Crawshaw, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International, said from Colombo Date: Sun, 17/11/2013 URL: Sri Lanka’s misguided attempt to ‘win the world’ Description: Blog, 15 November 2013 URL: The dangers of reporting on human rights in Sri Lanka Description: Feature, 15 November 2013 URL: Sri Lanka: Commonwealth must not turn a blind eye to civil society crackdown Description: News story, 13 November 2013 URL: Human rights in Sri Lanka Description: Briefing, 5 November 2013 URL: Sri Lanka: Report exposes the government’s violent repression of dissent Description: News story/report, 30 April 2013
“Everything was hopeless.”
This is how Rahul* summed up his first stint as a migrant worker in Qatar when he recently spoke to Amnesty International.
Stuck more than 2,000km from his native India, in a land where he couldn’t speak the language, he faced the worst predicament of his working life.
A gleaming site with a dark back-story
About 50 minutes drive north of Doha, at the heart of Qatar's gas industry, lies the Ras Laffan Emergency and Safety College (RLESC) campus, which was formally inaugurated by the Prime Minister on 12 November. The training facilities include a 120-seat auditorium, conference rooms, a 300-seat dining hall, and a parade ground with VIP stand.
But the shiny new campus obscures a tale of misery. For Rahul and his co-workers at a company called Krantz Engineering, the time they spent helping to build the college, and the months immediately afterwards, was a dark period in their lives.
In July 2012 the men’s pay suddenly stopped. Their employer repeatedly assured them that the salaries were coming, and that they should still keep working, but the pay never arrived. They faced stiff financial penalties if they did not come to work, even though they were not being paid.
By November 2012, most of the men had stopped working and asked to go home with the salaries they deserved.
But at the beginning of 2013, they found themselves still stranded in Qatar, without work or pay for months on end, with no way to get home, struggling for food and at constant risk of arrest. Their predicament relentlessly deteriorated, but despite numerous pleas to their employer and the Qatari authorities to let them go home with their salaries, no help was in sight.
By February 2013, after seven months without pay and unable to go home, several men said they were having suicidal thoughts.
No way out
The Krantz Engineering employees wanted to change jobs or leave Qatar – the repeated promises they would eventually receive their back-pay had long since worn thin. As the months slipped by, some of the workers even asked their company to be sent home without pay.
But there were bureaucratic as well as practical hurdles that made escaping this situation far more difficult than it might seem.
Because of Qatar’s ‘sponsorship’ system, which regulates the way migrant workers are recruited and employed, the workers’ continued presence there was tied to their employer – meaning they could not just seek another job in Qatar.
At the same time, Krantz Engineering was withholding their passports, so even if they could muster the airfare to get home by themselves, they could not simply catch the next flight out of Doha.
There was also a practical consideration that weighed heavily on the minds of many of the workers.
As Rahul explained, most, if not all, had been lured to work for Krantz because the promised wages were so much higher than what they could expect back home. In the process of moving to Qatar, many had accrued debts that they now had to pay off – above and beyond the costs of obtaining an exit permit from the Qatari authorities and paying for a flight back home.
Flights home and other bureaucratic costs are supposed to be covered according to the contracts signed by migrant workers in Qatar. But just like the promised wages, those pledges often fall flat.
All of this conspired to mean that Rahul and his colleagues were forced to languish in their accommodation, without pay for months on end. After April 2013, food deliveries from the company stopped. During all this time most of the men lacked formal residency status in Qatar, because Krantz had not arranged for them to be issued. Several were arrested as a result.
One of Rahul’s colleagues, a 31-year-old Indian heating and ventilation supervisor, described the ordeal to Amnesty International earlier this year: "It has been horrible. I don’t know why I came here. I consider this to be the worst phase of my life. My father passed away while I was struggling here; I couldn’t leave to see him for the last time even after begging [the Ministry of Interior], crying and falling at their feet.”
After multiple visits to demand action from various Qatari courts and state institutions, Rahul vented his frustration to Amnesty International in April 2013:
“I am writing this email after lots of pain and struggle….I have complained in several places like [the] Labour Court, Indian Embassy, High Court, CID [Ministry of Interior] and National Human Rights Council but [have not received a] positive response from anyone…I don’t have money to eat food [for the] last 5 days as I didn’t get [paid for the] last nine months.”
Rahul was finally able to obtain an exit permit after Amnesty International put him in touch with Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, who in turn worked with the Ministry of Interior to speed up the process. He was finally able to leave in May this year, but only after Krantz Engineering coerced him into signing a letter saying he had been paid nine months of outstanding wages. He has yet to receive a penny of what he is owed.
The last three desperate former Krantz Engineering workers finally flew home from Qatar in July 2013, a year after their pay was stopped.
But, for Rahul and many of the workers, the exploitation they faced is still taking its toll. In order to pay off the debts he accrued while working for Krantz, Rahul had no choice but to return to Qatar – this time with a different employer – where he is still trying to earn back some of the money he lost.
The dark side of migration
The case of the Krantz Engineering workers is just one of many disturbing examples highlighted in a new report by Amnesty International, The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup. The report finds Qatar’s construction sector rife with abuse, with workers employed on multi-million dollar projects frequently suffering serious exploitation.
“Behind the often complex contractual chains linked to employment in Qatar lie the widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers – in some cases amounting to forced labour,” said James Lynch, Researcher on Gulf Migrants' Rights at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International’s findings have highlighted the inadequacy of the Qatari government’s existing arrangements to protect migrant workers.
The organization urges the Qatari government to enforce existing labour protections – which many employers flout routinely. It is also calling for an overhaul of the ‘sponsorship’ system, which leaves migrant workers unable to leave the country or change jobs without their employers’ permission.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the individual’s identity.
About 50 minutes drive north of Doha, at the heart of Qatar's gas industry, lies the Ras Laffan Emergency and Safety College, a shiny new campus that obscures a tale of misery.Media Node: RLESC Qatar Krantz Engineering compound Qatar tickets VIDEO: Exploited and struggling to survive in Qatar At a Glance:
Migrant workers in Qatar
- There are some 1.35 million foreign nationals working in Qatar
- Migrant workers now make up some 94 per cent of the total workforce in the country
- 90% had their passports held by their employers
- 56% did not have a government health card, essential to access public hospitals
- 21% “sometimes, rarely or never” received their salary on time
- 20% got a different salary than had been promised
- 15% worked in a different job to the one promised
Source: Survey of 1,189 low-income workers in Qatar,carried out in 2012 by a study funded by the Qatar National Research Fund.Amnesty International Index Number: MDE22/010/2013 Story Location: Qatar 25° 53' 49.038" N, 51° 32' 33.7272" E “It has been horrible. I don’t know why I came here. I consider this to be the worst phase of my life. My father passed away while I was struggling here; I couldn’t leave to see him for the last time even after begging [the Ministry of Interior], crying and falling at their feet” Source: A 31-year-old Indian former Krantz Engineering employee “Behind the often complex contractual chains linked to employment in Qatar lie the widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers – in some cases amounting to forced labour ” Source: James Lynch, Researcher on Gulf Migrants' Rights at Amnesty International URL: Stop the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar Description: Sign the petition URL: Qatar: End corporate exploitation of migrant construction workers Description: News story/report, 17 November 2013 URL: 'Treat us like we are human: Migrant workers in Qatar' Description: Document, 17 November 2013
China’s reported decision to abolish "re-education through labour" (RTL) camps nationwide will be little more than a cosmetic measure unless the authorities tackle the deeply entrenched abuses of the country’s overall detention system, Amnesty International.
"‘Re-education through labour’ camps are just one piece in the intricate network of arbitrary detention centres used by the Chinese government to punish individuals who exercise their human rights in ways the authorities find threatening," said Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher at Amnesty International.
"While abolishing the RTL system is a big step in the right direction, the reality is that the authorities are finding new ways to punish the same types of people, including sending them to other types of arbitrary detention, such as the so-called ‘brain washing centres’ and ‘black jails’."
"Without a fundamental change in policies that drive the punishment and targeting of individuals such as petitioners, human rights activists and Falun Gong members, there is the very real risk that the Chinese authorities will abolish one system of arbitrary detention only to expand the use of others."
For years, the Chinese authorities have used a sprawling network of upwards of 300 RTL camps to detain hundreds of thousands of dissidents. Many individuals are sent multiple times to RTL and spend many years in these camps, without charge or trial.
China’s state news agency Xinhua today broke the news about the plans to close the labour camps. Their abolition is part of a raft of reforms announced by China’s Communist Party, including gradually restricting the range of crimes subject to the death penalty.
China’s reported decision to abolish "re-education through labour" camps nationwide will be little more than a cosmetic measure unless the authorities tackle the deeply entrenched abuses of the country’s overall detention system.Media Node: China Story Location: China 40° 21' 27.7056" N, 91° 24' 22.5" E “‘Re-education through labour’ camps are just one piece in the intricate network of arbitrary detention centres used by the Chinese government to punish individuals who exercise their human rights in ways the authorities find threatening. ” Source: Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher at Amnesty International. URL: China detains photographer who exposed labour camp abuses Description: News, 14 June 2013
The release of several prisoners of conscience in Myanmar today is a positive step, but time is running out for the government to keep its promise to release everyone imprisoned for peaceful activism by the year’s end, Amnesty International said.
Myanmar today announced the release of 69 political prisoners, including several prisoners of conscience.
"Today’s release is of course welcome, but the fact remains that there are many imprisoned for peaceful activism still behind bars in Myanmar. President Thein Sein has promised to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year, but time is running out for the government to show that this was not just empty words," said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.
"We continue to receive reports of peaceful activists and human rights defenders being harassed and at risk of imprisonment for nothing but expressing their opinions. This has to end immediately, otherwise releases like the one today will be meaningless."
Among those released today is the prominent Karen women human rights activist Naw Ohn Hla, who was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour in August 2013 after peacefully protesting a copper mining project in August 2013. She was given a conditional release.
"Naw Ohn Hla should never have been locked up in the first place, and the fact that she has been given a conditional release and is still facing other charges is not good enough. She and others like her should be released unconditionally," said Isabelle Arradon.
During a visit to the United Kingdom in July this year, President Thein Sein announced that by the end of 2013 there would be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.
However, among those still behind bars are Dr Tun Aung, a Rohingya Muslim serving 17 years in prison for his peaceful activities when trying to halt communal violence last year, and Kyaw Hla Aung, a prominent human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained since 15 July 2013 and is currently on trial facing a lengthy prison sentence.
"Dr Tun Aung and Kyaw Hla Aung – along with all prisoner of conscience in Myanmar – must be released immediately. They are behind bars for nothing but their peaceful activism and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression," said Isabelle Arradon.
"Myanmar must ensure that, throughout its transition and beyond, there is space for civil society and for human rights defenders to work free from harassment and threat of criminalisation."
The release of several prisoners of conscience in Myanmar today is a positive step, but time is running out for the government to keep its promise to release everyone imprisoned for peaceful activism by the year’s end.Media Node: Myanmar Story Location: Myanmar 20° 2' 56.58" N, 95° 37' 30" E “Today’s release is of course welcome, but the fact remains that there are many imprisoned for peaceful activism still behind bars in Myanmar. President Thein Sein has promised to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year, but time is running out for the government to show that this was not just empty words. ” Source: Isabelle Arradon, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International. URL: Myanmar: Arrests continue amid promise to release all prisoners of conscience Description: News, 17 July 2013
Egyptian lawyer Abdel Nasser Ahmed Mohamed Alsayed still struggles to live with the memories of the day he was forced out of his house in Old Cairo.
It was March 2009. Riot police showed up, beat him and threw his belongings out the window. Lorries then took his furniture, books and everything he worked hard for to ‘6 October City’ and dumped them on the street.
The Egyptian authorities gave Abdel Nasser a small flat, 45 kilometres outside Old Cairo, but he never got a contract so he now faces being evicted again.
But nearly five years on, as he sits in front of a United Nations Committee in Geneva today, Abdel Nasser feels that someone is finally listening to his side of the story.
"We were seen in the eyes of the government as having neither opinions nor rights, and treated as subjects that can be repressed, as if we were not humans who have rights and views," he told Amnesty International.
Skyscrapers vs homes
Abdel Nasser’s experience is tragically common in Cairo after the government in 2008 issued a development plan known as "Cairo 2050" – renamed "Cairo 2052" after the uprising in 2011 – aiming to modernize the city.
Many believe the plan ignores the real problem facing millions when it comes to housing in Cairo and it is simply a way to justify clearing out slums to make way for lucrative housing developments.
Amnesty International said the plan could lead to mass forced evictions.
"The Egyptian authorities are not addressing poverty. The plan will uproot thousands of Egypt’s poorest from their jobs and social networks, and dump them in new cities, without job opportunities and services," said Nicholas Piachaud, Campaigner on North Africa at Amnesty International, who is attending the UN session in Geneva.
Twelve million Egyptians currently live in informal settlements, many driven there by a crisis in affordable housing.
For them, every day is a struggle for dignity. Some communities live under unstable cliffs or high-voltage power lines. Some even live in graveyards.
Marwa Fouad is one of them. When Amnesty International met her in 2010, she lived in the burned-out remains of her home in the informal settlement of Al-Duwaqa.
As her home went up in flames after an accident, she had to throw her twin babies from the balcony to save them, praying that her neighbours below would be able to catch them. The babies survived.
When her pleas for temporary shelter and alternative housing were ignored by the Neighbourhood Authority, she had no other choice but to move back into the ruins of her home.
Nearly five years after he was forced out of his home, Abdel Nasser will finally have an opportunity to be heard.
Today, Egyptian government representatives are in Geneva, where they are sitting in front of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to answer questions about the country’s human rights situation.
Egypt has told the Committee that its national housing programme will deliver thousands of new homes. However, questions remain over whether Egypt’s poorest will be able to afford them, and whether supply will truly meet demand.
"The truth is that there are no quick fixes for Egypt’s housing crisis. But immediate measures could be taken. The Egyptian authorities could, for example, pass a law prohibiting forced evictions and ensure any plans affecting communities are brought to those communities for consultation and participation," said Nicholas Piachaud.
The fact that human rights activists have the chance to speak to the UN is a good sign. But there are fears the Egyptian authorities might soon curtail such opportunities too.
Even while the government is telling the UN about their human rights achievements, they are preparing new laws to restrict protesters and human rights organizations, including those working in slums. One of those is a draft counter-terror law that, human rights activists say, would shut down their ability to criticize the government.
One activist told Amnesty International: "I could be arrested just for speaking here."
As Egypt sits in front of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to answer questions about the country’s human rights situation, activists talk about the country's housing crisis.Media Node: Egypt Story Location: Egypt 26° 52' 34.8384" N, 27° 56' 57.1884" E “The Egyptian authorities are not addressing poverty. The plan will uproot thousands of Egypt’s poorest from their jobs and social networks, and dump them in new cities, without job opportunities and services. ” Source: Nicholas Piachaud, Campaigner on North Africa at Amnesty International, who is attending the UN session in Geneva. “We were seen in the eyes of the government as having neither opinions nor rights, and treated as subjects that can be repressed, as if we were not humans who have rights and views. ” Source: Abdel Nasser Ahmed Mohamed Alsayed, Egyptian lawyer. URL: Egypt: State-sanctioned pattern of excessive use of force by security forces Description: News, 14 October 2013
The reduction of a death sentence to life imprisonment for a convicted drug trafficker in Singapore is a landmark step, but must now be followed by continued reforms, Amnesty International said today.
Yong Vui Kong, a 25-year old Malaysian man, has been on death row in Singapore since he was arrested on drug charges six years ago . A High Court in Singapore today reduced his death sentence to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.
“This is a landmark ruling, and possibly the first time in history that someone sentenced to death under Singapore’s draconian drugs laws has had their sentence commuted,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s East Asia Research Director.
Under Singapore’s laws at the time of his sentencing, Yong Vui Kong’s possession of 47g of heroin amounted to drug trafficking and warranted the mandatory death penalty, which is prohibited under international law.
Legislative amendments to abolish the mandatory imposition of the death penalty under certain circumstances of murder and drug trafficking were adopted by the Singaporean Parliament on 14 November 2012.
“Yong Vui Kong should never have had to suffer through six years on death row for a non-lethal offence which doesn’t warrant a death sentence under international law. He must also be spared the 15 cane strokes, which is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”
Following the legislative amendments, Yong Vui Kong was among 34 prisoners whose cases were pending review. Only four people had their death sentences commuted in 2013 so far, but Yong Vui Kong’s is the first drug-related case.
“It is now up to the Singapore authorities to build on today’s ruling and start a genuine debate on the death penalty, with the view to its eventual abolition. Hopefully other commutations will follow and the moratorium on executions established in 2012 will be extended indefinitely. Singapore should put an end to mandatory death sentences for drug crimes once and for all,” said Rife.
The reduction of a death sentence to life imprisonment for a convicted drug trafficker in Singapore must now be followed by continued reforms, Amnesty International said.Media Node: singapore Twitter Tag: singapore Story Location: Singapore 1° 6' 2.25" N, 104° 3' 35.1108" E “It is now up to the Singapore authorities to build on today’s ruling and start a genuine debate on the death penalty.” Source: Amnesty International's Roseann Rife URL: Singapore: The death penalty - A hidden toll of executions (Report, 15 January 2004)
The Azerbaijani authorities must halt their crackdown on freedom of expression, Amnesty International urged today as a journalist and a writer who criticized the government were jailed on trumped-up charges.
"Azerbaijan's ruthless and relentless attack on any dissenting voices in the media continues apace with these shameful convictions and jail sentences, which appear to be based on offences fabricated by the prosecution," said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International.
Rashad Ramazanov, a writer and blogger who spoke out against the authorities in his posts on Facebook and YouTube, was sentenced to nine years in prison on dubious drug charges.
Also today, pro-opposition newspaper editor Sardar Alibeyli was handed a four-year prison sentence on charges of "hooliganism".
"Rashad Ramazanov and Sardar Alibeyli are prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and they must be immediately and unconditionally released," said John Dalhuisen.
Today's jail sentences come amid a continuing and widespread crackdown on government critics in Azerbaijan, including media workers, NGOs and human rights activists.
Amnesty International believes that there are at least 18 prisoners of conscience in the country, many of them jailed for speaking out against the authorities in the media.
Rashad Ramazanov was arrested on 9 May 2013 and taken to the Organized Crime Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where officials claimed to have found 9.05 grams of heroin in his trouser pocket. He denied the charges and insisted that the drugs had been planted on him.
The writer's family and lawyer were not notified of his whereabouts for four days and, when his lawyer was finally allowed to meet him on 17 May, he saw that Rashad had serious and extensive bruises on his head.
Rashad Ramazanov told his lawyers that he had been severely beaten several times while he was held in custody by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Police have denied the claims. There has been no official investigation into them.
His wife, Konul Ismayilova, told Amnesty International that he had been beaten to punish him for his criticism of President Ilham Aliyev and his family, and in order to force him to confess.
"By law, Rashad Ramazanov should have been transferred to an Investigative Detention Centre within 24 hours of the court decision ordering him to serve three months of pre-trial detention, but he was inexplicably kept at the Ministry of Internal Affairs for 11 days," said John Dalhuisen.
Requests for Rashad Ramazanov to undergo medical examination were ignored by investigators, while the only witnesses in his trial were the officials who detained him.
“We have nothing to apologise for, and though we are suffering, we are not guilty of anything,” Konul Ismayilova told Amnesty International.
Sardar Alibeyli, the editor of newspaper Nota Bene and its accompanying news site PS Nota, was detained on 31 July 2013 after a man claimed that he had beaten him and struck his face with a stone.
The man accusing Sardar Alibeyli subsequently changed his account, but this was ignored by the court.
None of the defence witnesses were permitted to give evidence during his trial, while Sardar Alibeyli, who denies the charges, said he did not recognize the man who accused him.
The journalist's arrest came after his newspaper had been highly critical of the government and provided a platform for other government critics, including political exiles.
"With this wave of arrests and convictions, Azerbaijan's government is sending a clear and ominous message that dissent will not be tolerated," said John Dalhuisen.
In the months before and after the 9 October presidential election, there has been an increasingly repressive media environment and a continuing crackdown on civil society and political activists in Azerbaijan.
The prosecution of journalists has been accompanied by increasing pressure against opposition and independent newspapers.
Mounting compensation claims, freezing of bank accounts and bans on the sale of critical newspapers in kiosks in the underground system has resulted in two of the most popular opposition newspapers, Azadliq and Yeni Musavat, to halt publication of their daily issues in the past week.
“Ilham Aliyev’s recent re-election appears to have done nothing to reduce the Azerbaijani authorities’ enthusiasm for persecution and censorship. These new cases and the squeeze on the two leading opposition newspapers sadly confirms the Aliyev regime’s determination not just to beat – but to silence – all political opposition,” said John Dalhuisen.
Azerbaijani authorities urged to halt crackdown on freedom of expression as journalist and writer who criticized the government are jailed on trumped-up charges.Media Node: azeri Twitter Tag: azerbaijan Story Location: United Kingdom 46° 3' 30.4632" N, 47° 55' 20.5068" E See map: Google Maps “Azerbaijan's ruthless and relentless attack on any dissenting voices in the media continues apace with these shameful convictions and jail sentences.” Source: Amnesty International's John Dalhuisen
The UN Security Council must not give in to political pressure to defer Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial at the International Criminal Court for a year, Amnesty International said ahead of a scheduled vote on Friday.
Earlier this month, Rwanda, a Security Council member, circulated a draft resolution seeking the deferral. It is due to be put to a vote on Friday.
“The victims of the post-election violence in Kenya have waited long enough for justice,” said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
“It would be a shame if Security Council members prioritized the personal interests of political leaders over those of victims of crimes against humanity.
“Deferring the trial sets a dangerous precedent for international justice – paving the way for future trials to be derailed for political interests.”
Following the Westgate Mall attack in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, between 21 and 24 September, the ICC granted Deputy President Ruto’s application for postponement of the trials to allow him to deal with the ensuing crisis. The Court has also said it will allow both accused to be absent from Court in exceptional circumstances
“Clearly, the ICC has been properly adjudicating over and managing the trials as provided for under the Rome Statute. There is no reason, therefore, for the Security Council to interfere and politicise ICC trials,” said Tawanda Hondora.
Kenyatta’s trial, which was due to take place on 12 November 2013, has also been postponed until 5 February 2014.
“In these circumstances, a Security Council resolution would be precipitous and ill-advised,” said Tawanda Hondora.
“African leaders displayed their commitment to international justice when they signed the Rome Treaty stating that no-one, not even a head of state, is exempt from criminal responsibility. They should not renege upon this now by calling for a deferral.”
Compromises or political trade-offs will seriously undermine the international justice system and entrench impunity for heads of state accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
“The Security Council turned down a previous deferral request by Kenya in 2011 and rejected a request in May this year. We expect them to do the same now, in the interests of the victims of crimes under international law committed in Kenya and around the world” said Tawanda Hondora.
The UN Security Council must not give in to political pressure to defer Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial at the International Criminal Court for a year, Amnesty International said ahead of a scheduled vote on Friday.Media Node: UNSC Kenya ICC Story Location: Kenya 2° 19' 37.1856" S, 37° 50' 12.8904" E “The victims of the post-election violence in Kenya have waited long enough for justice. It would be a shame if Security Council members prioritized the personal interests of political leaders over those of victims of crimes against humanity.” Source: Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International Date: Wed, 13/11/2013 URL: UN: Victims’ right to justice must take priority at talks over ICC trials on Kenya Description: News, 30 October 2013 URL: Why Kenya's President must face ICC Description: CNN blog by Amnesty's Netsanet Belay, 31 October 2013 URL: Kenya: African Union’s request for the United Nations Security Council to defer the trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto Description: Open letter, 30 October 2013
A series of amendments to a bill regulating the work of non-governmental organizations in Kenya will, if passed, dramatically undermine freedom of expression and human rights in the country, Amnesty International said today.
"The level of control Kenyan authorities are trying to impose on NGOs is shameful. These organizations play a critical role in helping communities realise basic human rights through provision of services such as health and education," said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.
"A cap on the external funding they can receive would have a devastating impact on their capacity to help those in most need."
Proposed amendments to the Public Benefits Organizations (PBO) Act would, include limits on the level of external funds an organization can receive and give the Regulatory Authority broader powers over registering NGOs and granting them permits.
They would also increase government control over NGOs. The amendments are expected to be tabled in Parliament in the coming weeks.
"Instead of continuing to limit space for debate and criticism, authorities in Kenya should engage in discussions with activists and society at large to find ways for human rights to become a reality for all," said Sarah Jackson.
The PBO Act is not the only legal regime under which civil society organizations can register in Kenya. However, opting out of registration is likely to bring its own administrative difficulties, and the amendments lack any provision for voluntary deregistration as a PBO.
Media and police reforms
Kenya’s Parliament has also recently debated a Media Bill which would severely restrict freedom of expression and human rights.
The Kenya Information and Communications Bill, passed on 31 October, proposes the establishment of a state-controlled tribunal to scrutinize the work of journalists and impose hefty fines for violations of the Code of Conduct. The bill awaits presidential assent, and there are indications that President Uhuru Kenyatta may oppose it in its current form.
The National Police Service Act and National Police Service Commission Act Amendment Bills provide for greater political oversight of police force hiring and vetting processes. They also allow for wider police use of firearms. The bills were due for debate in Parliament this week.
"The package of bills being brought before parliament is just a veiled attempt by the authorities to silence any kind of criticism of the worrying state of human rights in Kenya," said Sarah Jackson.
A series of amendments to a bill regulating the work of non-governmental organizations in Kenya will, if passed, dramatically undermine freedom of expression and human rights in the country.Media Node: Kenya bills Story Location: Kenya 1° 5' 2.1228" S, 38° 29' 45.9384" E “The level of control Kenyan authorities are trying to impose on NGOs is shameful. These organizations play a critical role in helping communities realise basic human rights through provision of services such as health and education. ” Source: Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.
Youth activist Courtney Clay describes her involvement with Amnesty International's Human Rights Friendly Schools project in Bermuda - one of more than 90 such initiatives taking place around the world.
My name is Courtney, I am 18 years old and I just finished my high school studies in the Human Rights Friendly School Warwick Academy in Bermuda. I have been involved with Amnesty International for about two years. I am a board member and the youth representative of Amnesty International Bermuda.
Françoise Wolffe, the human rights education coordinator at Amnesty International Bermuda, caught my interest on Amnesty International’s work two years ago. When Françoise presented the Human Rights Friendly Schools project, I saw an opportunity to reach out to and expose young people in my school to human rights. The layout was very clear, and we were familiar with Amnesty International. Of course, it was a new project and getting everybody involved was a challenge, but it all came together when we created the Project Working Group. The principal of the school was very enthusiastic about the project and teachers volunteered to support it; which really helped ensure that human rights were incorporated into the curriculum.
Getting older students involved was the main challenge because they were in a different part of the school and were focused on studying for their exams. School assemblies became the place where we could talk about human rights concerns and reach the whole-school community and inform them about the project. We also wanted to modernise our institution (created in the 17th century). We wanted to change the old punishment system, ensuring that it was more fair, and to raise awareness about human rights with a particular focus on discrimination and bullying. I realised that people don't look at bullying as discrimination because they are used to it. Sometimes you are so accustomed to what you experience that you do not realise it is against your basic rights. We reminded school members to be mindful of others.
Now, we think twice about our actions, we are all more aware of what we are doing and there is more accountability of our actions and how it affects others.
We started to see the mentality of students changing as we also pay more attention to what is happening around us instead of focusing on what we already know. Overall, members of the school community have begun to think collectively and globally. We realized that we have rights and stand for them while respecting and being interested in others.
When I told my family I was going to support Amnesty International, they were excited that I was getting involved in something bigger than myself. I can confidently say that I am now more mindful of the little things. I gained the courage to stand up for my rights and the rights of others. I have become less judgmental, I understand that everyone has a different way of living and I respect that. I am more conscious about the world as well as what is happening in Bermuda. Because I now know, I am more interested, I understand and I can promote human rights better.
To people who are thinking of implementing this project, I would like to say that I think it is important to talk about human rights in the school because this is the only time you are around so many people who are your own age and this can raise many issues. When you are in school you can still learn and gain plenty of knowledge, skills and tools which will then help you understand how to support your community in the current world. Once you have the knowledge you are more confident, and then more comfortable to educate others.
I will continue to promote and defend human rights, including when studying fashion design and moving to Italy!
Youth activist Courtney Clay describes her involvement with Amnesty International's Human Rights Friendly Schools project in Bermuda - one of many such initiatives taking place around the world.Media Node: Human Rights Education Story Location: Bermuda 32° 18' 0.1692" N, 64° 46' 28.3152" W “We wanted to modernize our institution (created in the 17th century). We wanted to change the old punishment system, ensuring that it was more fair, and to raise awareness about human rights with a particular focus on discrimination and bullying.” Source: Youth activist Courtney Clay, Amnesty International Bermuda “We started to see the mentality of students changing as we also pay more attention to what is happening around us... members of the school community have begun to think collectively and globally. We realized that we have rights and stand for them while respecting and being interested in others. ” Source: Courtney Clay URL: Human Rights Friendly Schools project Description: Read more about Amnesty International's Human Rights Friendly Schools Project URL: Human rights education changes lives in Africa Description: Feature, 30 May 2013 URL: Lessons well learnt – New guide promotes global human rights education Description: Feature, 8 October 2012 URL: Becoming a Human Rights Friendly School: A guide for schools around the world Description: Report, 14 September 2012
When world leaders disembark in Colombo for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week, they will have to look beyond newsstands to find out what is really going on in Sri Lanka.
Because in the South Asian country, only a few dare to write the truth, since the consequences for criticizing the government and its policies are, simply, too terrifying.
Sandya Eknaligoda knows exactly how dangerous it can be.
Her husband, journalist and cartoonist Prageeth, has been missing for nearly four years.
The last time she saw him, on 24 January 2010, he was leaving home to participate in a public event in support of the opposition candidate for the presidential elections, which were due to take place two days later.
"When I come back this evening, I will help you with your insurance paperwork," he told her before walking out the door.
But, when he never made it back that evening, Sandya knew something was very wrong.
‘I felt that something had happened’
Prageeth had already been abducted by men in a white van in August 2009 and released a day later. Since then, he and Sandya had agreed he would call her if he thought he would arrive back home later than 9pm. But that evening he never called, and his mobile phone rang out, unanswered.
"I felt that something had happened. I started to get scared. I went to see friends but was not able to find any information," Sandya told Amnesty International.
The following day, she went to the police to report her husband missing. But no investigation was initiated.
The police didn't want to accept the report, and suggested people were just trying to get publicity by saying they are disappeared.
A week later, with Prageeth still missing, Sandya went to the police headquarters, to the local human rights commission and reached out to anyone else who would listen.
An international campaign got under way, calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate and reveal his whereabouts.
Nearly four years since his enforced disappearance no one knows what happened to him. Hearings into his case continue.
"Looking for Prageeth has become my religion. I will never leave this campaign until the day I find him or get justice for him. Sometimes you get scared, when you notice you are being followed or when people say you are being followed. But for me, the desire to find Prageeth is larger than any fears," Sandya said.
Punished for thinking differently
Sandya believes her husband was abducted because of his criticism of the authorities and because of his research into allegations that the Sri Lankan army used chemical weapons in the north of the country in 2008, a year before the end of the lengthy internal armed conflict.
The offices of Lanka-e-News, the website he worked for, was targeted in an arson attack in February 2011 which left them mostly destroyed. The website’s founder and editor, Sandaruwan Senadheera, now lives in exile after repeated death threats prompted him to flee the country.
Human rights organizations including Amnesty International say that stories such as Prageeth’s are common in Sri Lanka.
Journalists who dare to criticize the authorities have been arrested and tortured. Some have even been killed and many have fled the country, fearing for their lives.
According to media freedom activists, at least 15 media workers have been killed since 2006 and more than 80 journalists have gone into exile since 2005.
In most cases, those responsible for the abuses never face justice.
"Things will only change if heads of government who go to [CHOGM] raise these issues. They should put pressure on [Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda] Rajapaksa on human rights issues. If that doesn't happen and the heads of government who go there fail to address these issues and hand him the [Chair] of the Commonwealth, then the situation will not change," Sandya said.
When world leaders disembark in Colombo for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week, they will have to look beyond newsstands to find out what is really going on in Sri Lanka.Media Node: Sri Lanka journalists At a Glance:
- According to media freedom activists, at least 15 media workers have been killed since 2006 and more than 80 journalists have gone into exile since 2005.
- In most cases, those responsible for the abuses never face justice.
Commonwealth leaders must use their summit in Colombo this week to pressure the Sri Lankan authorities to end their alarming crackdown on civil society, Amnesty International said.
Sri Lankan military this morning blocked scores of family members of disappeared people from attending a human rights vigil in Colombo, the latest move to stifle freedom of expression and assembly ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on 15-17 November.
“It may be astonishing to some that even on the eve of CHOGM, the Sri Lankan government feels free to abuse rights at the heart of the Commonwealth charter. But such government repression of civil society was expected. Commonwealth leaders must not just turn a blind eye,” said Steve Crawshaw, Director of the Office of the Secretary General who is in Colombo representing Amnesty International around CHOGM.
“Sri Lanka is trying to use CHOGM to whitewash its despicable human rights record and hide ongoing abuses under the carpet. The government must not be allowed yet again to get away with this.”
Today the army stopped scores of family members of disappeared people, who were travelling by bus from Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority northern province to attend the Samagi human rights festival in Colombo. Samagi is an “alternative CHOGM” organized by human rights groups.
“This is a blatant attempt by the authorities to stifle people’s right to peaceful protest. It fits a familiar pattern in Sri Lanka, where the government has in recent years done everything in its power to silence dissent,” said Crawshaw.
“It is notable that the Commonwealth has been shamefully silent throughout this, and has yet to condemn the human rights violations that are still so clearly business as usual for Sri Lanka.”
The Sri Lankan authorities have taken measures to prevent public protests in Colombo during CHOGM. Meanwhile, the government has intensified a crackdown on critics and dissenting voices in the build-up to the summit, with opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders among those have been harassed or threatened.
International human rights experts have also been barred from entering the country. The International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) had to cancel a planned meeting this week after its representatives and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, were denied entry to the country.
“These developments have confirmed what Amnesty International has long argued. Given Sri Lanka’s atrocious human rights record and its refusal to address ongoing violations, the country should not have been allowed to host CHOGM in the first place,” said Crawshaw.
“The Commonwealth and those attending the summit must use the coming days to highlight and condemn ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Under no circumstances should Sri Lanka be handed the chair of the organization for the next two years.”
During a recent visit to the country, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi PIllay expressed dismay that the surveillance and harassment of Sri Lankan civil society "appear[ed] to be getting worse". Local human rights groups have documented a range of other measures taken by the government against civil society ahead of CHOGM. These include the closing of all universities across the country, restrictions on journalists’ freedom of movement; banning a range of planned civil society meetings; and threatening deportation of visiting parliamentarians, including from Australia and New Zeeland, for engaging with domestic civil society.
Commonwealth leaders must use their summit in Colombo this week to pressure the Sri Lankan authorities to end their alarming crackdown on civil society.Media Node: Sri Lanka CHOGM crackdown Story Location: Sri Lanka 6° 56' 45.1536" N, 80° 5' 25.1952" E “It may be astonishing to some that even on the eve of CHOGM, the Sri Lankan government feels free to abuse rights at the heart of the Commonwealth charter. But such government repression of civil society was expected. Commonwealth leaders must not just turn a blind eye. ” Source: Steve Crawshaw, Director of the Office of the Secretary General Date: Wed, 13/11/2013 URL: Do you approve of this? Description: Blog, 5 November 2013 URL: Human rights in Sri Lanka Description: Briefing, 5 November 2013 URL: Commonwealth must stop Sri Lanka stifling human rights efforts Description: News, 16 October 2013 URL: Sri Lanka: Banning Commonwealth summit protests a blatant attempt to silence criticism Description: News, 10 October 2013 URL: Sri Lanka: Report exposes the government’s violent repression of dissent Description: News/report, 30 April 2013
The Sudanese authorities must drop ‘indecent behaviour’ charges against two activists who risk being sentenced to flogging in a trial that opens tomorrow, Amnesty International said today.
The organization is calling for the charges to be immediately and unconditionally dropped.
"Yet again the Sudanese authorities are exploiting their legal system to harass and intimidate activists," said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.
"The public order laws being used in this case do not specify what is meant by ‘indecent behaviour’ so the security forces are using their discretion to arrest and punish whoever they want to."
On 21 October Najlaa Mohammed Ali , a lawyer and a human rights activist, and Amin Senada, an activist, were travelling by car to Port Sudan, when two armed men stopped the car, claiming to be from Sudan’s Public Order Police.
They accused Amin Senada of placing his hand on Najlaa Mohammed Ali’s shoulder and ordered the two to accompany them to the Public Order Department. The two were later charged with ‘indecent behaviour’ under Article 152 of Sudan’s Criminal Code, part of a broader set of laws known as the public order regime, which impose corporal punishment and fines for what is seen as immoral behaviour. Such charges can result in corporal punishment of up to 40 lashes.
"It appears that the charge is a response to Najlaa’s activism, including her participation in countrywide demonstrations that took place in September," said Sarah Jackson.
Amnesty International is calling on the Sudanese authorities to abolish the penalty of flogging, which violates the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
"Thousands of people, mainly women, are at risk of flogging in Sudan after being arrested for what is arbitrarily deemed ‘indecent behaviour’. This law is highly arbitrary and discriminatory, and needs to be repealed," said Sarah Jackson.
Amnesty International is urging the Sudanese authorities to repeal or radically revise Article 152 of the Criminal Code as soon as possible to bring it in line with Sudan’s obligations under international human rights law.
Article 152 states: "(1) Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person's religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place."
In August this year, the case of Amira Osman Hamed, a Sudanese women’s rights activist charged under Article 152 for not wearing a headscarf, attracted international attention. Her trial has repeatedly been delayed.
The Sudanese authorities must drop ‘indecent behaviour’ charges against two activists who risk being sentenced to flogging in a trial that opens tomorrow.Media Node: Sudan Story Location: Sudan 16° 56' 40.974" N, 34° 48' 16.8768" E “Thousands of people, mainly women, are at risk of flogging in Sudan after being arrested for what is arbitrarily deemed ‘indecent behaviour’. This law is highly arbitrary and discriminatory, and needs to be repealed. ” Source: Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.
The Bulgarian authorities must do more to prevent xenophobic hate crimes, Amnesty International urged today amid a rise in racist attacks that has left migrants living in fear.
In the most recent attacks this weekend a Malian teenager was attacked close to a mosque in the capital Sofia, while a Bulgarian man of Turkish origin was left in a coma hospitalized after being beaten up by skinheads.
"There is an alarming and dangerous rise in xenophobic feeling in Bulgaria and the onus is on the authorities to prevent it, but instead many recent government statements risk inflaming the situation," said Barbora Cernusakova of Amnesty International, who will discuss the issue with Bulgarian government officials in Sofia tomorrow.
"Migrants and refugees in Bulgaria are living in a climate of fear and all attacks against these vulnerable groups must be urgently and thoroughly investigated."
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants coming into Bulgaria this year, mainly from Syria, prompting several anti-immigrant protests organized by far-right groups.
Xenophobic rhetoric has also entered mainstream politics, with Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev saying last month: "There is no country that has ever benefitted from the fact that there are refugees on its territory."
Recent xenophobic attacks include the stabbings of an 18-year-old Malian boy on Sunday and a 17-year-old Syrian national last week.
On 9 November, Metin, a 28-year-old Bulgarian man of Turkish descent, was beaten up after being mistaken for an immigrant. His wife Minka told Amnesty International the family are now too scared to remain in the hostel where they live.
"My daughter and I found him after he had been beaten. He was laying on the ground covered in blood. I recognized him by his bag," she said.
Minka said the attack was sparked by the stabbing of a 20-year-old Bulgarian woman in Sofia last week, over which an Algerian suspect has been arrested.
Bulgaria's President and Prime Minister today condemned xenophobia, but the government is simultaneously taking measures to stop refugees entering the country.
Defence Minister Angel Naydenov has pledged to take "very serious measures in the direction of a clampdown" at the country's southern border with Greece and Turkey.
"Rather than taking action against migrants, many of whom have legitimate claims to asylum, the Bulgarian authorities should ensure that asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants feel welcomed and do not fear living in Bulgaria," said Cernusakova.
The Bulgarian authorities must do more to prevent xenophobic hate crimes, Amnesty International urges amid a rise in racist attacks.Media Node: bulgaria Twitter Tag: bulgaria Story Location: United Kingdom 43° 17' 7.6308" N, 25° 8' 51.738" E See map: Google Maps “Migrants and refugees in Bulgaria are living in a climate of fear and all attacks against these vulnerable groups must be urgently and thoroughly investigated.” Source: Amnesty International's Barbora Cernusakova
In the blink of an eye, ‘Attiyeh’s worst nightmare came true.
On 21 November 2012, his 13-year-old son Mahmoud was killed when he was struck by a missile fired by an Israeli drone as he walked to a shop down the road from his home in the al-Manara area of Gaza City. He was carrying nothing but a coin in his hand to buy a pen for his little sister.
"When they found Mahmoud’s body and took him to hospital, the doctor opened his hand, which was closed in a fist, and found that he was clutching the coin," ‘Attiyeh Abu Khousa told Amnesty International delegates who examined the site of the missile strike a few days later.
The missile struck Mahmoud on a wide road with good visibility from above. Israeli aerial surveillance should have been able to see that he was a child. Witnesses said there were no evident military targets in the vicinity at the time.
Mahmoud was killed on the last day of an eight-day conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces had launched Operation "Pillar of Defense" on 14 November 2012 by killing the leader of the military wing of Hamas, following unlawful attacks by both sides in the preceding days.
Within just over a week, more than 165 Palestinians, including more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities, and six Israelis, including four civilians, were killed. A ceasefire was reached on the evening of 21 November.
The Israeli military has not commented on the killing of Mahmoud in one of 18 strikes documented by Amnesty International in which civilians in Gaza were killed by Israeli drone-fired missiles during that tragic week.
Tens of thousands of Gazans fled their homes during the conflict. While the majority of these families were able to return to their homes after the ceasefire, they still struggle with the trauma of having had to flee, often under fire. And hundreds of families in Gaza remain displaced because their homes were destroyed in the conflict. A year on, most have been unable to rebuild because of the continuing Israeli restrictions on the import of construction materials into Gaza.
Indiscriminate rockets from Gaza
In Israel, too, civilians bore the brunt of the conflict. Palestinian armed groups fired more than 1,500 rockets and mortars during the eight days. The vast majority of these weapons were indiscriminate, meaning that they were not capable of being directed at military targets and therefore their use violated international humanitarian law.
David Amsalem and his family will never forget the morning of 15 November 2012. His wife phoned him at work at 8am to assure him that things were calm. But 15 minutes later, everything changed when a rocket fired from Gaza struck his apartment block in Kiryat Malachi, killing his 24-year-old son, Itzik.
"As soon as the alarm warning rang, our youngest son pushed my wife out of the apartment, but Itzik got delayed. My wife shouted ‘Itzik, Itzik!’ Our neighbour entered to get him out and he was also killed. Itzik was struck in a direct hit…In the week after the event, while we were sitting in mourning, hundreds of rockets fell,” he told Amnesty International.
The neighbour was father of three Aharon Smadja, 49. Mother of three Mirah Scharf, 25, was also killed in the same attack.
A year on from the conflict, neither side has conducted independent and impartial investigations into the allegations of violations.
Israel’s Military Advocate General has received scores of complaints from Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, including cases of civilians who were killed in attacks which may well have been war crimes, but has yet to open a single criminal investigation to Amnesty International’s knowledge.
The Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip has not conducted investigations of any kind into violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups during the conflict. In addition to the four Israeli civilians unlawfully killed by indiscriminate rockets, there is evidence that several Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed by Palestinian rockets.
The lack of accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, goes well beyond the November 2012 conflict. It is systemic, and fuels fears among Palestinians and Israelis alike that civilians will again bear the brunt of any future rounds of fighting.
Israeli violations in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continue on a daily basis, including regular use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians posing no threat to Israeli forces. Since late February, Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have sporadically fired rockets and mortars towards civilian communities in Israel.
"The fear of more bloodshed hangs like a dark cloud over men, women and children who feel trapped in a cycle of violations fuelled by a climate of impunity," said Deborah Hyams, Researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories at Amnesty International.
And if the fear of more deadly attacks wasn’t bad enough, those living in Gaza have to contend with the disastrous effects of Israel’s continuing land, sea and air blockade of the territory, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt. Gazans lack safe drinking water, face 12-hour power outages on a daily basis, and many struggle to access basic necessities such as adequate food and medicines.
These hardships were compounded on 1 November this year when Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down due to lack of fuel, further jeopardizing vital health and sanitation services.
"The world has forgotten Gaza, its women and children. The blockade is as bad as the war; it's like a slow death for everyone in Gaza. We are paying the price for disputes between different powers. Isn't that shameful? The world has lost its humanity," ‘Attiyeh Abu Khousa told Amnesty International last week.
"The world continues to look the other way when it comes to the blockade on Gaza, which collectively punishes 1.7 million civilians. This stark violation of international law has been allowed to continue for more than six years," said Deborah Hyams.
"Unless Israeli and Palestinian leaders demonstrate political will to protect civilians –on both sides – the cycle of violations will become a recurring nightmare. And unless the international community ensures that ending human rights abuses and impunity for crimes under international law are prioritized, a just and enduring resolution of the conflict will remain elusive."
As a Gazan woman whose daughter was killed in the November 2012 conflict told Amnesty International last year, "We are sick of living in fear. Do you think we want to live like this? No, we want to live in peace."
Eight-year-old Muhammed Ibrahim ‘Ashour was cut into pieces when a missile fired by an Israeli drone hit him as he played in his garden in al-Zaytoun, Gaza City, on 20 November 2012.
Five other children and his 80-year-old grandfather were injured by shrapnel from the missile.
Three days after the attack, Amnesty International delegates visited the family and surveyed the scene of the strike, including the missile remnants, cube-shaped shrapnel embedded in trees in the garden, and cube-shaped holes in water tanks.
There was no evidence that the premises had been used for any military purposes, and even if the Israeli military presumed that the garden had been used for military purposes at some point, the children playing there should have been visible to Israeli surveillance aircraft.
"There was no one there except the children and their grandfather," Muhammed Rizq ‘Ashour, the uncle of the boy who was killed, told Amnesty International. "What did these children do? What was their crime? They were just playing in the garden. Even during a war, children want to play. They should have been visible to the Israeli [surveillance] drones in the sky above. We want to know why a missile was fired at these children."
In the blink of an eye, ‘Attiyeh’s worst nightmare came true. On 21 November 2012, his son Mahmoud, 13, was killed by a missile fired by an Israeli drone in the al-Manara area of Gaza City.Media Node: Israel/Gaza Israel/Gaza 2 At a Glance:
- 14 November 2012 marked the start of an eight-day conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.
- Within just over a week, more than 165 Palestinians, including more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities, and six Israelis, including four civilians, were killed.
- Tens of thousands of Gazans fled their homes during the conflict, with hundreds still displaced because their homes were destroyed.
- A ceasefire was reached on the evening of 21 November.
- A year on from the conflict, neither side has conducted independent and impartial investigations into the violations.
A new report by Amnesty International finds Qatar’s construction sector rife with abuse, with workers employed on multi-million dollar projects suffering serious exploitation.
As construction is set to begin on the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums, the report, The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup, unpicks complex contractual chains and reveals widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers - in some cases amounting to forced labour.
"It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
"Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers."
In Qatar, migrant construction workers often work for small and medium sized enterprises sub-contracted to major companies who in some cases fail to ensure they are not exploited.
"Companies must ensure that migrant workers employed on construction projects linked to their operations are not being abused. They should be proactive and not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention. Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods," said Salil Shetty.
The report, based on interviews with workers, employers and government officials, documents a range of abuses against migrant workers. These include non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation. Researchers also met dozens of construction workers who were prevented from leaving the country for many months by their employers – leaving them trapped in Qatar with no way out.
"The world’s spotlight will continue to shine on Qatar in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup offering the government a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region," said Salil Shetty.
Amnesty International’s findings have highlighted the inadequacy of the government’s existing arrangements to protect migrant workers. Amnesty International urges the government to enforce existing labour protections– which many employers flout routinely. It is also calling for an overhaul of the ‘sponsorship’ system, which leaves migrant workers unable to leave the country or change jobs without their employers’ permission.
The report also sheds light on current practices within the construction industry, in which some managers consider it normal to violate labour standards. Discriminatory attitudes towards migrant workers in Qatar – many of whom come from South or Southeast Asia – are common. Amnesty International researchers heard a manager of one construction firm referring to the workers as "the animals".
Amnesty International found that some of the workers who had suffered abuses were working for subcontractors employed by global companies, including Qatar Petroleum, Hyundai E&C and OHL Construction.
The organization contacted several major companies with regard to cases it had documented. Many expressed serious concerns about Amnesty International’s findings and some said that they had carried out investigations. One company said it had upgraded its inspection regime as a result.
The findings give rise to fears that during the construction of high-profile projects in Qatar, including those which may be of integral importance to the staging of the 2022 World Cup, workers may be subjected to exploitation.
In one case, the employees of a company delivering critical supplies to a construction project associated with the planned FIFA headquarters during the 2022 World Cup, were subjected to serious labour abuses.
Nepalese workers employed by the supplier said they were "treated like cattle". Employees were working up to 12 hour days and seven day weeks, including during Qatar’s searingly hot summer months.
Amnesty International is calling on FIFA to work with the Qatari authorities and World Cup organizers as a matter of priority to prevent abuses.
"Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar. FIFA has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup," said Salil Shetty.
"Qatar is recruiting migrant workers at a remarkable rate to support its construction boom, with the population increasing at 20 people an hour. Many migrants arrive in Qatar full of hopes, only to have these crushed soon after they arrive. There’s no time to delay - the government must act now to end this abuse."
The report identifies cases that constitute forced labour. Some workers interviewed by Amnesty International were living in fear of losing everything; threatened with penalty fines, deportation or loss of income if they did not show up to work even though they were not being paid.
Faced with mounting debts and unable to support their families back at home, many migrant workers have suffered severe psychological distress with some even driven to the brink of suicide.
"Please tell me - is there any way to get out of here? ... We are going totally mad," one Nepalese construction worker, unpaid for seven months and prevented from leaving Qatar for three months, told Amnesty International.
The organization has documented cases where workers were effectively blackmailed by their employers in order to get out of the country. Researchers witnessed 11 men signing papers in front of government officials falsely confirming that they had received their wages, in order to get their passports back to leave Qatar.
Many workers reported poor health and safety standards at work, including some who said they were not issued with helmets on sites. A representative of Doha’s main hospital stated earlier this year that more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit in 2012 having fallen from height at work. Ten per cent were disabled as a result and the mortality rate was "significant".
Researchers also found migrant workers living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning, exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks. Several camps lacked power and researchers found one large group of men living without running water.
The organization called on the Qatari government to seize the opportunity to lead the way regionally on protection of migrant workers’ rights.
"Unless critical, far-reaching steps are taken immediately, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who will be recruited in the coming years to deliver Qatar’s vision face a high risk of being abused," said Salil Shetty.
Amnesty International carried out interviews with approximately 210 migrant workers in the construction sector, including 101 individual interviews, during two visits to Qatar in October 2012 and March 2013. The organization also engaged with 22 companies involved in construction projects in Qatar, including in meetings, telephone calls and written correspondence. Researchers held at least 14 meetings with Qatari government representatives, including from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Labour.
The report forms part of Amnesty International’s work on labour exploitation of migrant workers. In 2011 the organization documented abusive practices by Nepalese recruitment agencies in its report False Promises: Exploitation and forced labour of Nepalese migrant workers. The report found that agencies were using deceptive practices to traffic migrant workers for exploitation and forced labour in the Gulf States and Malaysia, and called on the Nepalese government to improve protection of its migrant workers.
A new report by Amnesty International finds Qatar’s construction sector rife with abuse, with workers employed on multi-million dollar projects suffering serious exploitation.Media Node: qatar qatar map VIDEO: Exploited and struggling to survive in Qatar At a Glance:
Migrant workers in Qatar
- There are some 1.35 million foreign nationals working in Qatar.
- Migrant workers now make up some 94 per cent of the total workforce in the country.
- 90% had their passports held by their employers
- 56% did not have a government health card, essential to access public hospitals
- 21% “sometimes, rarely or never” received their salary on time
- 20% got a different salary than had been promised
- 15% worked in a different job to the one promised
Source: Survey of 1,189 low-income workers in Qatar,carried out in 2012 by a study funded by the Qatar National Research Fund.Amnesty International Index Number: MDE22/010/2013 Story Location: Qatar 25° 14' 31.3692" N, 51° 9' 8.4384" E “It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive. ” Source: Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “Please tell me - is there any way to get out of here? ... We are going totally mad. ” Source: Nepalese construction worker, unpaid for seven months and prevented from leaving Qatar for three months. URL: Stop the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar Description: Sign the petition URL: The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup Description: Read the report URL: Exploited and struggling to survive in Qatar Description: Feature, 17 November 2013 URL: 'Treat us like we are human: Migrant workers in Qatar' Description: Document, 17 November 2013 URL: False Promises: Exploitation and forced labour of Nepalese migrant workers Description: News Story, 12 December 2011
A sharp increase in the use of the death penalty in Iraq has brought the number of known executions to the highest in the decade since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with at least seven prisoners sent to the gallows yesterday, sparking fears that many more death row prisoners are at risk, Amnesty International said.
"Iraq’s increased use of the death penalty, often after unfair trials in which many prisoners report having been tortured into confessing crimes, is a futile attempt to resolve the country’s serious security and justice problems," said Phillip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"In order to actually protect civilians better from violent attacks by armed groups, authorities in Iraq must effectively investigate abuses and bring those responsible to justice in a system that is fair, without recourse to the death penalty."
At least 132 people have been executed in Iraq so far this year – the highest number since the country reinstated capital punishment in 2004. However, the true number could be higher and the Iraqi authorities have yet to publish full figures.
Previously, only in 2009 (at least 120 executions) and in 2012 (at least 129) were the figures of known executions comparable to this year’s total, but each time for the whole calendar year.
"The stark rise in executions witnessed in 2012 has only gotten worse in 2013. The government apparently refuses to accept that the death penalty does nothing in deterring attacks by armed groups against civilians in Iraq or other serious human rights abuses," said said Phillip Luther.
Death sentences are often handed down after deeply unfair trials, where prisoners do not have access to proper legal representation and "confessions" to crimes are frequently extracted through torture or other ill-treatment.
In recent statements announcing the execution of 23 prisoners in September and 42 in October, the Iraqi Ministry of Justice misleadingly states that all death sentences are reviewed and confirmed by the Court of Cassation before executions take place.
But the Court of Cassation regularly fails to address the admission by trial courts of contested evidence, including withdrawn “confessions” and allegations of coercion and torture, when approving death sentences at the review stage. The generally paper-based procedure fails to give defendants a genuine review.
"For justice to prevail in Iraq the authorities have a long way to go to address the flaws in their criminal justice system, investigate claims of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, and, where applicable, grant re-trials in full compliance with international fair trial standards," said Phillip Luther.
"The authorities in Iraq must stop their reliance on the death penalty, by immediately declaring a moratorium on executions as a first step and commuting all death sentences to prison terms."
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty – the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life.
A sharp increase in the use of the death penalty in Iraq has brought the number of known executions to the highest since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with at least seven prisoners sent to the gallows yesterday.Media Node: Iraq VIDEO: Iraq's lethal confession culture At a Glance:
Death penalty in Iraq
- At least 7 prisoners were sent to the gallows in Iraq yesterday, sparking fears that many more death row prisoners are at risk.
- At least 132 people have been executed in Iraq so far this year – the highest number since country reinstated capital punishment in 2004.
- However, the true number could be more than 150 and the Iraqi authorities have yet to publish full figures.
The decision by Spain’s high court to extradite an asylum-seeker to Kazakhstan, despite compelling evidence that it would place him at risk of torture, violates international law and must be reversed immediately, Amnesty International said.
Spain’s high court (Audiencia Nacional) today approved the extradition request for Aleksandr Pavlov, 37, the former head of security for the Kazakhstani opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov, who fled the Central Asian country in 2009.
"Kazakhstan’s record of torture and ill-treatment has been well documented. Aleksandr Pavlov is at real risk of such abuse if he is sent back there. Spain has an absolute obligation under international law to stop this from happening," said Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.
"If Spain extradites Aleksandr Pavlov, it will be in the full knowledge that he is likely to come to harm. Anything that happens to him in Kazakhstan will be the result of their actions."
The final decision over Aleksandr Pavlov’s extradition will now go to the Spanish Council of Ministers, which has the power to disregard the court’s position.
"The Spanish government should not transfer Aleksandr Pavlov to Kazakhstan, even if the Kazakhstani government provides diplomatic assurances that Pavlov will not be tortured, otherwise ill-treated or given an unfair trial on return. The Kazakhstani authorities’ track record shows that such pledges are hollow," said Julia Hall.
Pavlov was arrested in Spain in December 2012 after his name was placed on Interpol’s wanted list at the request of Kazakhstani authorities. Kazakhstan then requested his extradition. The extradition was initially authorized by the Second Criminal Section at the Audiencia Nacional on 23 July, and was confirmed by the court’s plenary today.
In Kazakhstan, Aleksandr Pavlov was charged with "expropriation or embezzlement of trusted property" and "plotting a terrorist attack". He and his lawyer claim these accusations are fabricated.
Amnesty International has monitored a number of cases against Kazakhstani political and civil society activists in which criminal prosecution was linked to their dissenting views and their links to Mukhtar Ablyazov. These cases have been marred by fair trial violations, and it is widely believed that political influence has played a role in reaching final judgments resulting in convictions.
Mukhtar Ablyazov, Pavlov’s former employer, fled Kazakhstan in 2009 and was recognized as a refugee in the UK in 2011. He is currently detained in France awaiting a decision on his own extradition to Ukraine or Russia. If sent to either country, he would be in danger of onward transfer to Kazakhstan, where he, too, would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
On 31 May 2013, Mukhtar Ablyazov’s wife and daughter were illegally expelled from Italy and forcibly transferred to Kazakhstan in violation of Italian and international law.
Tatiana Paraskevich, another associate of Mukhtar Ablyazov, is detained in the Czech Republic and is also in imminent danger of extradition to Ukraine or Russia – where she would be at risk of onward transfer to Kazakhstan and serious human rights violations.
Torture and ill-treatment are routine interrogation methods in Kazakhstan and are also used to discipline convicted prisoners.
Under international law, all states are under an absolute obligation not to return anyone to a country where he or she would be at real risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations or abuses.
The decision by Spain’s high court to extradite an asylum-seeker to Kazakhstan, despite compelling evidence that it would place him at risk of torture, violates international law and must be reversed immediately.Media Node: Aleksandr Pavlov Story Location: Spain 40° 9' 15.2892" N, 4° 2' 34.6884" W “Kazakhstan’s record of torture and ill-treatment has been well documented. Aleksandr Pavlov is at real risk of such abuse if he is sent back there. Spain has an absolute obligation under international law to stop this from happening. ” Source: Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counter-terrorism and human rights. URL: Spain: Torture risk for dissident if extradited Description: Urgent Action, 25 July 2013 URL: Cynical subversion of justice in the name of security: Returns to torture in Central Asia Description: Report, 3 July 2013