December 31, 2011
Egyptian Military Raids NGO Offices in Cairo
The United Nations human rights office voiced alarm at reports that the Egyptian military has carried out raids against the offices of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in what would be the first documented incidents of their kind in the country’s recent history. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Egyptian soldiers attacked the offices of several NGOs yesterday in Cairo, the capital. The soldiers forced their way in, blocking entrances and exits, and seized computers and files. In some cases, employees had their mobile telephones confiscated.
Frej Fenniche, chief of OHCHR’s of the Middle Eastern and North Africa office, said it was the first time his office had heard of a similar raid being carried out against NGOs, noting that such events had not occurred even under the regime of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. “Such behaviour on the part of the authorities appears to be clearly designed to intimidate human rights defenders who have long been critical of human rights violations in Egypt, including under the previous regime,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for OHCHR, from Geneva yesterday. “The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on the Government to cease the use of such unnecessarily heavy-handed measures and to ensure that civil society organisations can carry out their important work without undue interference,” she added.
Egyptian authorities have reportedly blamed foreign-funded groups, including NGOs, for some of the political unrest which has rippled through Cairo and other cities since the ousting of Mr. Mubarak in February.
Mr. Fenniche noted that the local authorities had expressed concerns regarding the origins of the NGOs’ funds as well as information about their relationships with foreigners. “But this can be done according to the law,” he stated.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
December 29, 2011
China Convicts Another Human RIghts Activist
The United Nations human rights chief voiced her deep concern this week about the verdict and extremely harsh sentencing in the trial of leading activist Chen Wei, adding that it represents a serious setback for the protection and promotion of human rights in China. The verdict comes just one week after Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three year's in prison just before the end of his suspended sentence.
"The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Chen Wei indicates a further tightening of the severe restrictions on the scope of freedom of expression in China that has been seen over the last two years," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, adding that this verdict, along with that of Mr. Gao, are the latest examples of an escalating clamp-down on the activities of human rights defenders in China. "I call upon Chinese authorities to release any person detained for peacefully exercising his or her right to freedom of expression," Ms. Pillay said.
Mr. Chen was sentenced to nine years of prison for inciting subversion against the State because of his writings on various overseas websites for the defense of human rights. Mr. Chen, who was one of the student leaders in the 1989 Democracy Movement, has already spent more than five years in prison as a result of his peaceful activities as a dissident.
On Friday, UN human rights experts denounced the secret detention of Mr. Gao, who was first arrested in 2006 for his advocacy work against violations of human rights in the country. He was accused of subversion against State power but this has never been proven in a court of law. Mr. Gao has been secretly detained several times, and for the past 20 months has been detained in an unknown location. The UN human rights experts expressed their concern about Mr. Gao's health condition and urged Chinese authorities to release him immediately.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Protecting Civilians in South Sudan
South Sudan, the world's newest country, was urged this week to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Jonglei state after reports identified thousands of armed youth preparing to attack a rival community. "I am deeply concerned to learn of reports of this imminent large-scale attack on civilians in Jonglei State," said Special Representative for the Secretary-General to South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson. "The Government must act now if we are to avert a major tragedy."
Over the weekend, air patrols of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) identified thousands of armed Lou Nuer youth preparing to attack Murle communities near Likuangole in Jonglei state.
Ms. Johnson stressed that the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with the Government and added that UNMISS has reinforced its peacekeepers in key areas of Jonglei and is conducting continuous patrols to deter potential violence. "Time is now running out and the Government needs to redouble its efforts to prevent a tragedy and avert large-scale violence," Ms. Johnson said. "All South Sudanese people must now put peace and stability in their new and independent country above any other concerns and interests."
Over the past months UNMISS has consistently called for an end to ethnic violence in the region, and has deployed resources to prevent and mitigate conflict in the Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka communities. The Mission has also facilitated a reconciliation process between various communities, particularly the inclusive peace process led by the Sudan Council of Churches. UNMISS called on all communities in Jonglei State to put an end to the inter-communal violence and to actively and immediately engage in a reconciliatory peace process.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UNICEF Employee From Kenya is Killed in Nigeria
Another United Nations staff member died this week as a result of the suicide bombing that struck the world body’s offices in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, four months ago. Fred Simiyu Willis, an employee of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), died on 23 December in South Africa, where he had been on medical evacuation after the blast, the agency confirmed today. The Kenyan national had worked for the agency in Abuja since September 2004, serving as a health specialist focused on vaccine security, supply and logistics.
Mr. Willis’ passing takes the UN death toll from the terrorist attack on 26 August to 13, with 12 non-UN staff also killed.
Kate Donovan, a spokesperson for UNICEF, said the agency was deeply saddened by the death of Mr. Willis. “It’s a loss for the children of Nigeria and for all of us,” she said, noting that Mr. Willis’ efforts had helped to ensure immunization campaigns across the large African country. “Our deepest condolences go out to his family and to his colleagues. . . . He was a very highly valued member of the staff.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Human Rights Abuses in Côte d’Ivoire
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire today voiced deep concern about reports of numerous human rights violations by members of the country’s armed forces.
Members of the armed forces, known as FRCI, are accused of carrying out rapes, acts of torture, armed robberies and other abuses in several locations in recent weeks, according to Kenneth Blackman, a spokesperson for the mission (UNOCI). FRCI elements clashed earlier this week with locals in the southern town of Sikensi, and media reports indicate that four people were killed there, in part as a result of inter-ethnic tensions. Mr. Blackman told journalists in Abidjan that the mission noted that Ivorian authorities are taking additional steps to improve the security sector and to improve discipline within the FRCI. A military police unit has also been set up and a fund has been created to buy weapons, establish a reserve corps and renovate barracks and military camps.
He stressed that UNOCI will help authorities contribute to greater social cohesion and national reconciliation in the wake of the protracted crisis that followed the then incumbent Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after he lost a presidential run-off election to Alassane Ouattara late last year. Mr. Gbagbo was subsequently captured by Ivorian forces and has since been transferred to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), while Mr. Ouattara has become President and legislative elections have been held.
UNOCI is assisting in a disarmament drive, with youths encouraged to hand over their weapons voluntarily a centre in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Attécoubé. Joint patrols involving UNOCI and the FRCI have also been stepped up after the recent clashes in Sikensi and Vavoua, as well as Abidjan, the country’s largest city and commercial capital.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UN General Assembly President's End-of-Year Message
The General Assembly President today used his end-of-year message to urge greater consensus among United Nations Member States on issues ranging from UN reform and revitalization to sustainable development and global prosperity.
Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser commended the international community’s collective responses to the various global challenges faced throughout 2011, including the ongoing global financial crisis, the wave of popular protests that engulfed the Arab world and the impact of natural and man-made disasters on populations around the globe. “These developments in 2011 reinforce the relevance of the four key pillars we have identified to help us focus and channel our attention appropriately during the three remaining quarters of the Sixty-Sixth Session of the General Assembly,” Mr. Al-Nasser said in his message. The four key pillars are: the peaceful settlement of disputes; UN reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and promoting sustainable development and global prosperity.
“I urge all Member States to demonstrate the necessary will to generate utmost convergence and compromise that can lead to consensus in support of our common interests,” he added, noting that a full assessment of past challenges would better motivate the General Assembly’s deliberations and decisions in the New Year. In his statement, Mr. Al-Nasser emphasized that UN reform and revitalization were needed “now more than ever before” to reflect the ever-changing realities of the 21st century. At the same time, he called on States “to intensify efforts in the area of improving disaster preparedness and response” after the lessons learned from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, floods in Thailand and the Philippines, and the famine in the Horn of Africa. Pointing to the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June next year, he also stressed the need to implement measures to deal effectively with sustainable development issues.
Mr. Al-Nasser applauded the “hard, diligent, and collective work” already conducted by Member States during the current session and called on them to renew their efforts in 2012. “I urge all Member States to continue to support the work of the United Nations, including the General Assembly,” said Mr. Al-Nasser.
(UN Press Release)
December 28, 2011
Guantanamo Commander Proposes Restrictions on Attorney Client Communications
The Associated Press reported today that the Commander at Guantanamo Bay, Navy rear Admiral David Woods, recently gave a draft order to the detainees' lawyers setting forth new rules for attorney client communications. Pursuant to the draft order, a "privilege team" consisting of federal law enforcement officials would conduct a security review of all communications from the lawyers to their detainee clients before the clients would receive any communications. The detainees' lawyers have reportedly objected to this new rule because they say it is unnecessary since they already have security clearances and the practice would violate the attorney-client privilege. The detainees' lawyers have a very good argument that this proposed rule violates several legal principles.
The proposed order has not yet been finalized and signed. Because it is still in draft form, the order has not been released so it is not clear what other new rules it contains. One hopes that the Commander will re-think the proposed rules before they are finalized.
Samoa Has Cancelled Friday This Week
Talofa! The nation of Samoa has decided to cancel Friday this week. It says it is going directly from Thursday to Saturday because of new economic realities that make it advantageous to be a few hours ahead of its major trading partners in New Zealand and Australia rather than many hours in back of them (a change made to accommodate San Francisco shipping back in 1892).
Oh yeah, they will now also be the first country in the world to celebrate new years. Read more about it here.
Hat tips to Rex Wockner and Joe.My.God
December 27, 2011
Investigating Killings and Torture in Haiti
United Nations human rights officials urged authorities in Haiti to properly investigate and prosecute local police officers suspected of carrying out unlawful killings and acts of torture in the capital, Port-au-Prince, since last year.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights section of the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti (MINUSTAH) have issued two reports – one on a series of alleged killings by members of the Haitian National Police (known as HNP) and the other on the torture and murder of Serge Démosthène, who had been accused of a crime. The reports indicated that about 20 HNP members are implicated in the deaths of at least nine Haitians, with police accused of using illegal force in all cases and, in some instance, carrying out extrajudicial or summary executions.
Stressing that these cases “represent only a sample of the total cases of reported deaths at the hands of HNP officers in the course of the past year,” OHCHR and MINUSTAH said they are currently investigating allegations that up to70 police officers are implicated in more than 20 other killings in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. The report noted that while many police officers in Haiti “operate in what are sometimes very dangerous conditions,” the security of citizens and effective law enforcement depend on the appropriate behaviour of the HNP.
“It is urgent that the Government take action to prevent killings… by representatives of the HNP and ensure rapid and effective investigations where deaths do occur, with a view to punishing those police officers responsible or clearing their responsibility where the circumstances and legal justifications for lethal force exist,” the report stated. “Such action is essential not only to ensure protection of the rights to life and physical integrity of Haitian citizens, but also to reinforce public confidence and trust in an essential institution, such as the HNP.”
OHCHR noted that while criminal justice investigations were launched in some cases and accused police were suspended or detained, there were no criminal convictions in any of the incidents. In several cases, the suspended police officers resumed their functions even before the investigations into their actions were completed.
The other report dealt with the case of Mr. Démosthène, who was arrested along with Feckel Plaisimond on 15 June this year by police in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Mr. Démosthène and Mr. Plaisimond were allegedly tortured by police, the report contended, to make them confess their guilt in the killing of a bank director three days earlier. Twelve hours after being arrested, Mr. Démosthène was taken unconscious to hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Mr. Plaisimond was released from detention several months later. The report highlights the involvement of police officers based in Pétionville, the commissaire of that area, as well as the then public prosecutor of Port-au-Prince.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
US Decides to Allow Yemen's Leader to Enter US for Medical Treatment
In an eerie reminder of the events of 1979 when the US allowed the Shah of Iran to enter the US for cancer treatment despite misgivings regarding the consequences, the US has decided to allow the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to enter the US for medical treatment for injuries arising out of a bombing earlier this year. The US is concerned that allowing President Saleh to enter the US will anger those who want him held accountable for the deaths of protesters. The US government has stated certain conditions, including an itinerary and the requirement that President Saleh not bring a large entourage. The US hopes that its move will help smooth the way for the elections in Yemen scheduled for February rather than inflaming the opposition as it did in Iran in 1979. Only time will tell.
December 26, 2011
Iran Denies Involvement in September 11, 2011 Terror Attacks
Last Thursday, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a default judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran and other defendants in a lawsuit alleging, inter alia, that Iran assisted several of the 9/11 defendants in carrying out their terror attacks against the World Trade Center towers in New York and elsewhere.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are family members and legal representatives of the victims of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. They alleged that Iran provided material support to terrorists, including facilitating the 9/11 al Qaeda's operatives travel arrangements, and that Iran provided a safe haven for terrorists after 9/11.
The lawsuit is brought under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 USC 1602, and more particularly, the exception to foreign sovereign immunity for states that provide material support to terrorists. The Court determined that Iranian government has supported terrorism since its inception in the 1980s.
None of the defendants appeared in the lawsuit. The default judgment in Havlish v. Bin Laden (Dec. 22, 2011) may be found here and the findings of fact and conclusions of law may be found here (which lay out the relationship between Iran and various terrorist groups and persons, including Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Hizballah).
Yesterday, the Iranian government disputed the findings of the U.S. court. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, stated that the allegations were unfounded and without merit: "The United States has made repeated false claims about its illegitimate political goals to endanger international peace and security." Damages owed by Iran and the other defedants will now be determined by a U.S. magistrate judge, although collection of any such damages is very uncertain.
December 25, 2011
Cuba to release 2,900 prisoners
Just in time for the holidays, Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Friday that that the Cuban government will grant amnesty to 2,900 prisoners. Many of the prisoners are over the age of 60, have health issues, or are women or juveniles. Those who have been convicted of serious crimes will not be released, including the American, Alan Gross. President Castro indicated that the move was taken in anticipation of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in April.
Best wishes to all our readers for a very happy holiday season and a wonderful new year!
Cindy Buys and Mark Wojcik