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Human Rights Day 2010 – Focus on Human Rights Defenders

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, the international community celebrates Human Rights Day 2010.  The United Nations festivities will focus on human rights defenders and ending discrimination, as detailed in UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s message.

Worldwide, the 60th annual commemoration of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly 62 years ago today, focused particular attention on two activists: detained Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and detained WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  The Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony took place in Oslo today without the presence of Liu Xiaobo or his family members; instead, an empty chair marked his absence and reminded those in attendance that the laureate sits in prison, having been sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment for his role in the publication of Charter ’08, a call for peaceful democratic reform in China published two years ago today.

Similarly, while WikiLeaks‘ release of U.S. government documents providing confidential details on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. diplomacy prompted government efforts to shut off WikiLeaks’ funding and online presence, WikiLeaks  supporters demonstrated their opposition to such efforts and to Assange’s arrest in London this week.

Read Amnesty International’s profile of Liu Xiaobo here, and The New Yorker profile of Julian Assange here.

A brief history of the drafting and adoption of the UDHR can be found here.  For an animated depiction of the Declaration’s provisions, see Amnesty International‘s 1988 film.

For information on the state of human rights guarantees around the world, visit the Human Rights Conditions page.

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News Clips – October 3, 2010

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment
  • In Ecuador, a state of emergency remains in place following last week’s uprising of members of the military against President Correa’s government, prompting human rights defenders to call for a quick restoration of full civil liberties. [CEJIL] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the attack against Correa. [IACHR]
  • Germany today commemorates 20 years of reunification and will use its experience to assist the South Korean government in moving forward with unification of the Korean Peninsula. [New York Times; VOA]
  • The UN fact-finding mission into the Gaza flotilla incident has issued its report, concluding that Israel used “unlawful” and “unnecessary” violence in its interception of a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid in May and June of this year.  The report was adopted by the Human Rights Council. [UN; OHCHR]
  • The U.S. government has apologized for conducting medical experiments on Guatemalan prisoners, sex workers, psychiatric hospital patients, and soldiers from 1946 to 1948.  The tests purposefully infected approximately 1,500 Guatemalans with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases between 1946 and 1948.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage and regret, while Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom qualified the experiments as a “crime against humanity” and reserved the right to pursue legal redress. [CERIGUA; Reuters]
  • In Venezuela, a riot in the Tocoron prison, which is allegedly run by gang members, has claimed 16 lives. [Impunity Watch]  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has previously expressed concern regarding the overcrowding and conditions in Venezuelan prisons, and last week expressed its concern at the discovery of a child prostitution ring operating out of a Paraguayan prison. [IACHR]
  • Uganda has charged detained Kenyan human rights defender Al-Amin Kimathi with terrorism and murder due to his role in representing the six Kenyans being prosecuted for the Kampala World Cup bombing. [HRW]
  • Cuba may release more political prisoners if they agree to leave the country. [AP]
  • Seven years after Liberia’s civil war, Prince Johnson, a current Liberian senator and former warlord who participated in atrocities committed during the war, has been certified to run for the presidency in next year’s election.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia’s final report recommended that Johnson be banned from holding public office for 30 years and be prosecuted for crimes against humanity (p. 353). [AP]  The Special Court for Sierra Leone is managing the prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, in The Hague, for atrocities committed by Liberian and rebel forces under his direction in neighboring Sierra Leone, but the International Criminal Court has not opened an investigation into the crimes committed in Liberia during its civil war.
  • The UN Human Rights Council has confirmed that the right to water and sanitation is binding on States, as embodied in international treaties  [UN]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court begins a new term tomorrow with Justice Elena Kagan becoming the third woman on the court.  As quoted in the Washington Post, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, “When the schoolchildren file in and out of the court and they look up and they see three women, then that will seem natural and proper – just how it is.” Critics note that the the ideological divide among the 9 justices may be seen as partisan, in that each Supreme Court justice viewed as conservative was nominated by a Republican president and each justice viewed as liberal in his or her judicial philosophy was appointed by a Democratic president, which had not previously been true.  [Washington Post]  The Court’s docket this term will include cases related to immigration law, freedom of expression, criminal due process and other issues. [SCOTUSblog]  For an interesting commentary on the Roberts Court’s impact on American constitutional law thus far, see Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick’s article on Slate.
  • The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a report calling on Nepal to establish an independent body to receive and investigate citizen complaints, following its discovery that security forces are suspected of having committed dozens of extrajudicial killings since January of 2008. [UN]
  • As a series of teen suicides in the United States are attributed to school bullying on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, activist Dan Savage has initiated the It Gets Better Project on YouTube to offer messages of hope to LGBT teens. [ACLU]
  • The trial of former Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani for his alleged participation in the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 is set to begin tomorrow in federal court in New York City, drawing further criticism of the continued use of military commissions and detention abroad of terrorism suspects. [ACLU; HRW]
  • Indigenous Chilean prisoners have ended their hunger strike in protest of the terrorism charges levied against them in connection with their anti-poverty protests.  The end of the hunger strike was welcomed by the UN, but Human Rights Watch called on the Chilean government to amend its anti-terrorism laws and limit use of the military court system. [ UN; HRW]
  • Human Rights First urged the UNHCR to continue working to ensure equality and dignity in the treatment of LGBTI refugees, as governments and civil society met in Geneva to discuss the issue. [HRF]
  • The CIA has begun using armed drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an expansion of the highly controversial use of targeted killings. [Washington Post]
  • Bahrain has issued a travel ban against several human rights defenders, preventing them from leaving the country. [HRW]
  • Mexican mayors’ lives are at risk in the country’s ongoing battle against drug trafficking. [Washington Post]
  • Britain has legally recognized  Druidry, an ancient faith whose followers worship the natural world, as a religion by approving the Druid Network’s application to be registered as a religious charity.  [Huffington Post]
  • Liu Xiabobo, a likely contender for the Nobel Peace Prize and Chinese dissident, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion in connection with the publication of Charter 08, a proposal for peaceful democratic reform. [Washington Post]
  • One year after a massacre perpetrated by Guinea security forces claimed the lives of more than 150 people, the government has yet to prosecute the suspects, despite the ICC’s opening a preliminary examination. [HRW]
  • Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been convicted of spreading disinformation and falsifying maps, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia criticizes “disproportionate use of the law” against the press, activists and political leaders. [OHCHR; VOA]
  • The Thai government continues to invoke emergency powers to limit civil liberties, five months after anti-government protests were suppressed. [HRW]
  • Human Rights Watch calls for an investigation into a recent rash of police brutality and deaths in custody in Vietnam. [HRW]
  • In Zimbabwe, violence and arrests of activists have led to the disruption and suspension of community outreach meetings on Zimbabwean constitutional reform. [HRW]
  • The Global Migration Group, comprised of various intergovernmental organizations including the International Organization for Migration, urges States to ensure the fundamental rights of migrants in irregular situations. [OHCHR]
  • The Al-Jazeera network protested the arrest of two cameramen by NATO forces in Afghanistan. [Washington Post]  The cameramen were released two days later. [Al-Jazeera]
  • Following reports that Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was to be allowed to vote in upcoming elections and be freed from house arrest, it remains unclear what action the military government will take. [The Hindu; AP]

News Clips – September 20, 2010

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment
  • In a heartbreaking blow to Afghan hopes for peace, several U.S. soldiers are under investigation for murdering at least three Afghan civilians last year as part of a rogue “kill team” that was allegedly formed when a staff sergeant who had served in Iraq in 2004 joined the platoon stationed in Kandahar province. [Washington Post]
  • The French Senate has approved a ban on the use of full-face veils in public, subject to a fine of 150 Euros ; the legislation will now be reviewed by the Constitutional Council [Impunity Watch; BBC]
  • On Thursday, the U.S. state of Virginia will execute Teresa Lewis, following her conviction for the 2002 deaths of her husband and stepson; she will be the first woman to be executed in the state in 98 years and is reported to have “severe learning difficulties”. [Guardian]
  • Polish police have detained exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev, who was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2003, but Polish authorities have not determined whether he will be extradited to Russia, where he is sought on charges of armed revellion, murder and kidnapping. [BBC; RNW]
  • Italy and Libya’s joint agreement to intercept would-be migrants at sea has led to several incidents where Libyan patrols have fired upon Italian boats in the mistaken belief that they were carrying migrants. [Impunity Watch; Human Rights Watch]
  • Ecuador and Colombia have met to discuss the plight of the approximately 135,000 displaced Colombians living in Ecuador, due to ongoing violence [Impunity Watch; ADN]
  • Leading Russian gay rights activist, Nikolai Alekseyev, has been released after being held by Russian authorities for two days while they allegedly pressured him to withdraw a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights. [Radio Free Europe]
  • A U.S. citizen has been released from Iranian custody after inadvertently crossing Iranian border from Iraq while hiking; meanwhile, while Amnesty calls attention to 30,000 held in Iran without trial and prominent Iranian human rights activist Shiva Nazar Ahari has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. [Guardian; NYT; Amnesty]
  • The Philippine National Police will support the installation of a human rights desk in every police station, following torture accusations levied against the police. [Manila Bulletin]
  • In Kyrgyzstan, human rights reporter Azimjon Askarov has been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges the Committee to Protect Journalists says are completely unfounded. [CPJ]
  • Peruvian President Alan Garcia approved a repeal of recent Legislative Decree 1097, amidst fears that the law would provide amnesty for security forces members accused of human rights violations. [Peruvian Times]  The repeal was viewed favorably by the IACHR, which had criticized the decree. [IACHR]
  • Citing “the lack of the right to legitimate defence in Rwanda today”, a French court has rejected Rwanda’s request to extradite Eugene Rwamucyo, a doctor wanted for his alleged involvement in the Rwandan genocide. [RNW]
  • Hamas and UN Relief & Works Agency clash over human rights curriculum in schools. [NPR]
  • The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has released its annual report, Steadfast in Protest, provides a region-by-region analysis of government  protection (or repression) of the media and civil society (note that the Table of Contents is at the end of the 500-plus page report).  The report is choc-full of individual examples of human rights defenders who were subjected to harassment or prosecution, and instances of dissent which were stifled – particularly during elections – in 2009. [FIDH]
  • Human Rights Watch calls for the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry for Burma, to investigate past abuses by the military and armed groups.  [HRW]
  • The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on legislation, which has been approved by the House of Representatives, and which would repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gay and lesbian members of the military. [ACLU]
  • Kashmiri separatists protest curfew laws and Indian occupation in bloody battles with Indian troops, in which at least three protesters have lost their lives, while Human Rights Watch calls for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which protects members of the Indian military from prosecution and grants broad powers to use force and conduct warrantless arrests. [BBC; HRW]
  • UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing warns of the high rate of forced evictions in Kazakhstan. [OHCHR]
  • The IACHR has presented a case to the Inter-American Court involving Chilean courts’ denial of parental custody rights to a lesbian mother because of her sexual orientation.  Karen Atala’s petition is the first to be decided by the Commission relating to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. [IACHR]
  • UN expert calls on Sudanese authorities to investigate the September 2nd killing of dozens of civilians in North Darfur. [OHCHR]
  • A Reprieve investigator reports that the FBI has been deeply involved in the questioning and detention of individuals connected to the World Cup bombings in Kampala this year, the investigation of which has included the arbitrary detention of two Kenyan human rights defenders arrested in Uganda last week.  They had been working on behalf of three Kenyans subjected to extraordinary rendition and charged in Uganda for their alleged role in the Kampala World Cup bombings. [Huffington Post]
  • Organizations call for the immediate release of 19-year-old blogger being held incommunicado in Syria for nine months now.  [AFP; HRW]
  • Attacks against journalists threaten lives and freedom of expression in Mexico. [Impunity Watch]
  • The Costa Rican Supreme Court has ruled that the high crime rate in the country cannot justify arbitrary police checkpoints on public roads, which may be established only when there is substantiated evidence or actual notice of a crime having been committed. [CEJIL]
  • 18 protesters were injured, and one killed, in a confrontation between Peruvian police and protesters opposed to a dam and agricultural irrigation system which residents of Espinar fear would leave them without water. [Reuters; AlertNet]
  • In Thailand, planning for anti-government protests is underway as the fourth anniversary of the military coup approaches. [Democracy Now]

News Clips – May 23, 2010

May 23, 2010 Leave a comment
  • Human Rights Watch urges new British government to reform counterterrorism strategies and investigate British agents’ complicity in torture and rendition. [HRW] Related cases decided by the British courts and ECHR include A & Others (indefinite detention of foreign nationals), Gillan and Quinton v. UK (power to stop and search), and the control order cases Secretary of State for the Home Department v. E and AnotherJJ and Others, and MB and AF.
  • Spain’s Judge Baltasar Garzón is temporarily suspended pending trial on misconduct charges in connection with investigation of Franco-era crimes against humanity. [Guardian]  See more on this story here.
  • Egyptian President Mubarak decreed a two-year extension of emergency laws, in place since 1981, allowing extraordinary police powers in terrorism and drug cases. [Impunity WatchBBC]
  • The IACHR completed its visit to Honduras to follow up on the human rights situation following last year’s coup d’etat, and expressed deep concern regarding continuing violations.
  • French parliament will consider fining women in full veil, now that President Sarkozy’s government has forwarded legislation that would impose a $185 fine on women in burqa and/or require them to attend citizenship classes, as well as allowing police to require women to lift their veils to identify themselves. [Washington Post]
  • Charles Taylor’s war crimes trial will move to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon facilities in The Hague, due to scheduling difficulties at the ICC, which had been the venue for the trial since 2006, although theSpecial Tribunal for Sierra Leone continues to prosecute Taylor. [Impunity Watch]
  • report commissioned by Canadian mining company Goldcorp shows its subsidiary violated workers rights and failed to properly consult with indigenous community in Guatemala. Another study published this month reports that individuals living near the mine have potentially toxic levels of heavy metals in their blood and urine. [BBCPhysicians for Human Rights]  The mine is located in the San Marcos department of Guatemala and is the subject of a pending complaint before the Canadian government, alleging violations of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises [CIEL]. Mineral mining has become a very heated issue in Guatemala as indigenous communities fight for a say regarding the location, practices, and environmental impact of such mines.  Review more information by Mining Watch CanadaCOPAE,and NISGUA. See Guatemala’s law and regulations on mining here.
  • Malawi sentences gay couple to 14 years’ imprisonment, generating strong criticism. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the sentence “blatantly discriminatory” and urged reform of laws criminalizing homosexuality. [UN]
  • Six Somalis were sentenced to death by a Yemen court last week for the oldest international crime:piracy. [Impunity Watch]
  • The ACLU and other organizations filed a class action lawsuitFriendly House et al. v. Whiting, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, challenging the new Arizona immigration law as an unconstitutional infringement on federal powers and violating the constitutional amendments providing for equal protection, protection against unreasonable seizures and freedom of speech. [ACLU]
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