HRC’s Members Response Action to COVID-19

By Katya Alkhateeb

updated 29 June

Updated monthly, in this issue you will find most of the HRC’s members COVID-19 work across different department in the University of Essex, including various types of

Initiatives:

  • Neli Demireva and Dr. Afia Afenah (Department of Sociology) have started a new project on discrimination against inter-ethnic couples during Covid-19. It will address how the current pandemic might influence the social fabric of our modern-day societies, and what impact it might have on relations between different ethnic groups.
  • Tara Van Ho and Dr. Anil Yilmaz Vastardis, (School of Law), secured GCRF@Essex funding jointly with University of Rosario for a project looking into the experiences of the workers in the informal economy in Colombia during the pandemic with a view to provide input to the work of the Mayor of Bogota and the public health authorities of the national government on this issue. The official title for the project is: “Precarious Work and Access to Healthcare and Social Security in Colombia: Targeted Measures During the Covid-19 Global Emergency”. This is part of a larger collaboration we have with University of Kent (for more information, see here).
  • HRC member Carla Ferstman and HRC Director Dr. Andrew Fagan (School of Law) are co-editing an online publication which examines a wide range of human rights and legal issues raised by COVID19. The project was initiated by Carla and draws upon expertise across the school and HRC. We aim to publish this important contribution in early July.
  • As the global human rights community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, the HRC and Essex Human Rights, Big Data and Technology project have partnered with the Permanent Mission of Denmark, the Permanent Mission of Netherlands and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN in Geneva, Universal Rights Group, Geneva Academy, Geneva Rights Platform, World Jewish Congress, The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ferney-Voltaire and Geneva Internet Platform to provide a new Webinar/Webchat discussion forum entitled RightOn. RightOn provides a regular series of publicly accessible webinars which explore an exciting range of topical human rights issues, including many of those raised by COVID-19. HRC Director, Dr Andrew Fagan contributed to the very first RightOn webinar of RIGHT ON: FIGHTING ONLINE HATE SPEECH AND FAKE NEWS IN A GLOBAL CRISIS. HRC Member, Professor Geoff Gilbert contributed to HOW TO PREVENT COVID-19 BECOMING A HUMANITARIAN DISASTER IN THE CONTEXT OF CONFLICT SITUATIONS, REFUGEE AND IDP POPULATIONS?

Blogs:

Webinars:

Podcasts:

Spotlight on Clive Stafford Smith OBE

Part 2 of 2

Each month, the HRC Blog features a significant figure from the Human Rights community to go under the Spotlight, answering questions put by students from the University of Essex.  This month, we feature Clive Stafford Smith OBE.  Part 1 covered questions about the death penalty and COVID19.   

 

NINTCHDBPICT000589082437Note from the Editor: This week is a particularly poignant one for Clive as it would have been the 60th birthday of Edward Earl Johnson, who was wrongfully executed in a Mississippi gas chamber in 1987 at the age of 26.   Edward’s tragic case came to the world’s attention through the documentary, Fourteen Days in May, which captured Clive’s attempts to halt the execution and followed Edward’s last few days and very final moments.  I would urge anyone interested in human rights and justice to watch this powerful documentary and support the work of Reprieve , the organisation Clive founded to give free legal support to the most vulnerable and forgotten people in this world. 

I would like to thank Clive for spending some of his precious time in answering our questions and for his inspiration to those of us joining the growing global human rights defence team.

 

About Clive

Clive Stafford SMithClive Stafford Smith is the founder of ‘Reprieve’ and a well known human rights lawyer.  He has spent his career fighting against the death penalty in America, only taking cases of those who could not afford a lawyer, assisting in the representation over 400 prisoners and preventing their execution in 98% of cases.  Clive is also known for his work in representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, successfully suing the US government to gain access to the facility, and helping to secure the release of some 80 detainees to date, with seven clients still there.  In addition to visiting and representing the detainees, Clive tracked down the families of ‘disappeared’ prisoners across the Middle East, prompting some unwelcome ‘interest’ from US allies, including the Jordanian Secret Police, who detained him in 2004.  In 2000, Clive was awarded an OBE for ‘humanitarian services’ and has won a raft of awards in the field of human rights.

 

Students’ Questions Answered

Clive was gracious enough to allow the students at Essex an opportunity to send him  some questions about his experiences and ongoing work in the field of human rights.  Clive answered questions on a range of topics.  In this second part, we explore the topics of Guantanamo Bay,  criminal justice reform and the decolonisation of the curriculum.  Clive also has some wise words of advice for our human rights students.

 

COUNTER-TERRORISM  & GUANTANAMO BAY

Clive&HonorBound

Clive at the entrance to Guantanamo Bay

Q: What challenges does the use of new technologies in counter-terrorism measures create for human rights activists?

A: There is no such thing as a challenge, only an opportunity.  But certainly the Drone Age means that we kill people around with world with some degree of impunity.

And for those of you who have read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, it is notable that his first law of robotics (coined in 1950, shortly after the first use of a nuclear bomb) states: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Sad to say, like the Manhattan Project and nuclear weapons, the military is in charge of most AI being used in drones, and the only use is to kill people. Again, we have the world upside down.

 

Q: To what extent do you believe that removing the human element in extrajudicial executions through the use of unmanned drones in the war on terror has led to an increase in human rights violations and blow-back on western powers?

A: This is indubitably true, as it has lowered the threshold for warfare (we can kill people in Waziristan without risk of American body bags – indeed while our “drone pilots” are drinking coffee in Nevada). We have also ignored hundreds of years of the developments of the law against assassination, and are going around the world killing people.

And that is just the Americans and the British. In turn, we encourage others, like the Russians (in Salisbury) and the deranged President Duterte (in the Philippines).

 

Q: Does the Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board still exist and does it still operate?  And what are the prospects for those already cleared for release being allowed to return to their home countries during Trump’s tenure..…Abdul Latif Nasser being one.

A: The “review processes” in Gitmo have always been a sham – “kangaroo courts” in the words of UK Justice Steyn. Nobody has been cleared since Trump became president so it does not matter that the PRB still exists in theory.  Nobody is going to be released by Trump, based on his midnight tweets. It is back to the middle ages, when a king could just lock you up without trial based on his fiat.

 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Black Lives Matter Black Friday

Q: With the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement garnering an unforeseen amount of international pressure for racial justice, civil rights activists are championing for total criminal justice reform in the US.  If this were to occur, in what context would you see this happening? What would be your primary goals in the implementation of a ‘just’ criminal justice system?

A: By and large I would encourage people not to tinker with the machinery of death and incarceration. It is anathema. I would no more send someone I love to prison, no matter what they did, than I would thrash my 11 year old child. Prison solves nothing at all.

Yes, there are some dangerous people. Many of them are currently policemen with guns, but others are those who start wars, and there are people who commit serious offences like murder. But if you think you would never murder, you need to ask yourself why? Is it because you are somehow morally superior (like the Klan?) or is it because you had many benefits that others do not have?

There are other solutions to our societal problems, but for that you may have to wait for my next (thrilling) book…

 

DECOLONISING THE CURRICULUM

UDHRQ: Many people are calling for the de-colonisation of the educational curriculum in Europe and America.  Do you believe the same is necessary in the theory and practice of human rights in order to provide genuinely universal implementation?

A: It is not so much de-colonisation that we need, as de-mystification. What we are taught in schools and in life is just nonsense on many levels. People were not “men of their times” they were barbarians. As are we today in many ways. The more interesting issue is whether we cannot look at ourselves today and identify the way in which we, as a society, are just mad.  Obviously racism is mad.

I challenge everyone to come up with at least one practice that you see around you where the overwhelming majority of the world (or your country) thinks it is totally right and justified, but you think they are all a bit deranged. Racism is not good enough as there are lots of people who think that is insane. So you have to go much further afield. If you can’t think of any, then I fear you are a subject of indoctrination in the same way as the people were who burned the witches in Salem.

One example might be the idea that Britain should have closed borders and clutch close to our breasts all the benefits we have from pillaging other countries, just because we happened to get away with it and now say we are “British”. But in my world there are many examples. I sit watching the world around me with bemusement.

At a very simple level, human rights are about humans. They are not about British people or Americans.  It is telling in this regard that the US has not ratified one human rights convention that is enforceable in a US court; just as it is telling that the British think that “parliamentary supremacy” means that Priti Patel can tell us how nasty we should be to other people (rather than supremacy over a nasty executive, originally perhaps King Charles 1).

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

Campaignagainstarms tradeQ: With economic interests at the heart of international relations, what are the prospects for holding the states with the biggest pockets accountable for human rights violations?  And if existing mechanisms are not working to provide that accountability, what can we do as human rights advocates to make real change?

A: “Accountability” does not mean prosecuting people and putting them in prison. On one level, that makes us as unpleasant as them. Rather, it means bringing power to the powerless, and putting a stop sign up to abuses. That is remarkably easy, partly because you and I are not afraid of anyone, and politicians are afraid of everyone.

Power is not just about law, which is only one tool in our tool box. It is as much about the court of public opinion. So those of us who are privileged – which includes everyone who has the spare time to read me rambling on – just has to do what my mother told me to do, which is to get between the haters and the people who are being hated, and just say ‘No’.

 

FINDING NEW TACTICS THAT WORK

social mediaQ: As a Human Rights Lawyer, one needs to keep on transforming ways to keep the cause alive but sometimes bringing change is difficult.   How have the tactics changed over the years to today, when social media has become such an important tool for mobilizing causes?

A: You’d be bored to death if you did the same things all the time, but the rules actually remain the same. The most important rule is that we are Brer Rabbit and the when they misbehave the government plays Brer Fox (as do the other bad guys). That means that the government is very big and quite strong, but not terribly clever; whereas you are small, rather clever, and a teeny bit arrogant. So all you have to worry about is getting a bit ahead of yourself.

Our job is persuasion. Another flaw the liberals have is that they are too pious and take themselves too seriously.  Humour is a much more persuasive tool than piety.  And we have to remember that we are trying to persuade people who speak different languages.

There is good in everyone but you have to find it. An example would be a capital jury trial: the jurors can only get on the case if they promise that they can impose the death penalty so you are foolish if you preach to them that the death penalty is immoral. It also does not work to quote Shakespeare as I once did (“The Quality of Mercy is not Strain’d”). On the other hand, in the US the chances are they are Christian, which means that the death penalty is really about Matthew chapter 5, verse vii: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Translated to a juror, this means that if you do as the prosecutor wants and show no mercy, you get eternal damnation; if you do as I suggest and show mercy, you go to heaven. Your choice.

 

HIGHS, LOWS AND SOME WISE WORDS

Cliveypoo_opt-150x150Q: What has been your greatest achievement and your biggest failure or regret throughout your career?

A: Hard to say here. I have learned huge amounts from people I have represented, and also been able to hand back lives to a fair number of people who were being tormented by one government or another. That is cool, but I don’t think of it as an achievement, so much as a privilege.

On the other side of the ledger, notwithstanding losing six clients to the chamber (including Edward Earl Johnson – you can watch that miserable failure online.  My greatest failure by far is the fact that I advocated life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty in the 1980s at a time when life generally meant 7 to 10 years.  Jurors would vote death because they were afraid of parole and so I wrote a fairly influential article about how we should have “truth in sentencing” so that life meant life – purely to avoid the death penalty.

Taking the fact that there are now 206,000 people serving LWOP in the US, and that they each serve at least 25 extra years each, I recently calculated that my bright idea had caused perhaps a total of 1,954 MILLION days of additional prison misery for people.

I don’t beat myself up about this too much. I think it was an astoundingly stupid thing to advocate, but the best I can do is never to allow another of my clients to suffer LWOP.

 

Q: Do you have any unfulfilled burning ambitions left?

A: I am not sure I have any “ambitions” – that is an odd word.  I do have lots and lots of things I want to do. And they change every day as there are fascinating things all around. I just wish there were 72 hours in the day.

 

Q: What advice do you have for any students embarking on a career in human rights?

A: I am afraid I have a full lecture (rant!) on this, and we will have to share it sometime. But in a word, never accept the foolish rules society (and your teachers!) foist upon you.  Do not ask yourself, for one thing, how you can ‘get’ a job – rather, think how you can create the job you want to do.  I have never had a real job in my life and I do not plan to have one. Instead, I have always created the job I want, and raised the money to fund it.  When you think how much time you waste on other things like Latin and Maths (I have never found a Roman to talk to, and while I did Further Maths A level it has no relevance to my life), it is astounding that we spend so little time working on creating a job we’d like to do.

 

 

 

International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Lauren Ng and Pauline Canham

This week’s stories in focus

Protests against Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank as Coronavirus cases rise again

00a34a9b-8dba-4d9a-a2bc-66fe9f1eed93Thousands rallied in Jericho on 22 June to protest against the plan by Israel to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley.  Those protesting included Nickolay Mladenov, the Middle East UN peace envoy and diplomats from several nations including Britain.  More than 1,000 European MPs, including 240 from the UK, have signed a letter opposing Israel’s plans, which would result in the extension of Israeli authority to 30% of the West Bank, including  235 Israeli settlements considered illegal under international law.  The West Bank and Gaza are those areas considered by Palestinians as a future independent state and if the annexation goes ahead, it would leave Palestinian areas significantly fragmented and some Palestinians effectively living in Israeli enclaves with no rights.

47 human rights experts have released a joint statement calling on the international community to oppose what they call “a 21st century apartheid” that “incites wars, economic devastation, political instability, systematic human rights abuses and widespread human suffering.”  Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is emboldened in his plans by the support of the Trump administration and is trying to push it through before the possibility that the White House might change hands later this year.

Meanwhile, cases of coronavirus are on the rise again in the West Bank, since restrictions were lifted in May.  This week saw the number of cases double as the Palestinian Health Minister warned that a second wave could be “more dangerous than the first.”  As a result of a jump in cases and fears of a new emergence of the virus, some areas including the city of Hebron have gone back into lockdown.   Israel have so far reported 308 fatalities and 3 in the Palestinian territories.  Netanyahu is urging people to adhere to social distancing guidelines and has given the police the power to impose a fine, equivalent to $146, to anyone not wearing a mask in public

US Supreme Court bans LGBTQ employment discrimmination

LaurenPicOn June 15 this year, the US Supreme Court made a sweeping decision prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity under federal law. The title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex among other things, now protects LGBTQ employees in its discriminatory clause. The decision was written by Judge Neil Gorsuch, nominated by the Trump administration, and will undeniably cause tensions among the judicial conservatives and Republican nominees.

While the bill has expanded LGBTQ civil rights protection in some states, it is expected to face challenges in the Republican-controlled Senate. Although 33 states offer some form of protection against LGBTQ workers, only 22 states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This leaves 17 states with no protection at all and thus, vulnerable to harassment and abuse in the workplace.

Nevertheless, this ruling remains significant – it is the first time the court has spoken about legal protections for transgender rights.  This issue comes shortly after Trump confirmed his administration would continue to rollback health care protections for transgender people, which is due to take effect on August 18th and will undoubtedly become a legal battlefield in the upcoming months.  Following the court’s ruling, and as per tradition, Trump immediately went to Twitter to thunder back, avowing:

These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!”

It is expected this decision will have ramifications for the health discrimination rule of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The HHS has maintained that the implications of the court’s new ruling will likely not affect their rule as the “binary biological character of sex… takes on special importance in the health context”, which “might not be fully addressed by future [job discrimination] rulings”.  However, legal scholars have countered and stated that the HHS’s argument holds little weight as the legal opinion confirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity is included in category of ‘sex’; thus, leaving the healthcare rule on shaky ground.

 

Other stories making the headlines around the world

 

Americas

Europe

Middle East

Asia

Africa

World

Spotlight on Clive Stafford Smith OBE

Part 1 of 2

Each month, the HRC Blog features a significant figure from the Human Rights community to go under the Spotlight, answering questions put by students from the University of Essex.  This month, we feature Clive Stafford Smith OBE.  This is part 1 of 2.

 

About Clive

Clive Stafford SMithClive Stafford Smith is the founder of ‘Reprieve’ and a well known human rights lawyer.  He has spent his career fighting against the death penalty in America, only taking cases of those who could not afford a lawyer, assisting in the representation over 400 prisoners and preventing their execution in 98% of cases.  Clive is also known for his work in representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, successfully suing the US government to gain access to the facility, and helping to secure the release of some 80 detainees to date, with seven clients still there.  In addition to visiting and representing the detainees, Clive tracked down the families of ‘disappeared’ prisoners across the Middle East, prompting some unwelcome ‘interest’ from US allies, including the Jordanian Secret Police, who detained him in 2004.  In 2000, Clive was awarded an OBE for ‘humanitarian services’ and has won a raft of awards in the field of human rights.

 

Students’ Questions Answered

Clive was gracious enough to allow the students at Essex an opportunity to send him  some questions about his experiences and ongoing work in the field of human rights.  Clive answered questions on a range of topics.  This first part focuses on the Death Penalty and the impact of COVID 19

DEATH PENALTY

HangingQ: Due to the racial bias in its administration, historic links have been made comparing the death penalty in the US to lynching methods previously used in the South. From your experience working on capital punishment within the US criminal justice system, in what ways would you agree that the death penalty is a “direct descendant of lynching”, and in what ways would they differ?

A: First, it must be said that the US has a direct form of lynching today, which is the assassination programme, a simple case of “execution without trial” (which is what lynching was). The archetype of this is the case we have pending of Bilal Abdul Kareem, an African American comedian-turned-war-correspondent who is in Syria, and who the US has tried to killed five times to date. So there is more than one form of US death sentence.

But in terms of the death penalty as it is more commonly conceived, it is only a system of societal control, the same as lynching. The underpinnings of lynching involve a racism that seeks to play poor white people (the KKK and their ilk) against (primarily) poor black people to prevent them seeking common cause – a demand for equality.  Likewise, it is ludicrous to think that the death penalty solves anything.  Instead, it is a way to pretend that we are solving the manifest problems in society (crime, which is mainly rooted in poverty, the proliferation of guns, drugs, and a lack of healthcare) by blaming a small number of disproportionately black ‘criminals’ and executing them.  Of course, this does nothing to solve the problems.

At the same time as with lynching, where the ‘victim’ was generally a white woman (who might only have been the object of a cat-whistle, but might have been raped by someone), we use the death penalty to value people differently.  As Justice Brennan wrote in his dissent in the McCleskey case:

At some point in this case, Warren McCleskey doubtless asked his lawyer whether a jury was likely to sentence him to die. A candid reply to this question would have been disturbing. First, counsel would have to tell McCleskey that few of the details of the crime or of McCleskey’s past criminal conduct were more important than the fact that his victim was white. Petitioner’s Supplemental Exhibits (Supp. Exh.) 50. Furthermore, counsel would feel bound to tell McCleskey that defendants charged with killing white victims in Georgia are 4.3 times as likely to be sentenced to death as defendants charged with killing blacks. Petitioner’s Exhibit DB 82. In addition, frankness would compel the disclosure that it was more likely than not that the race of McCleskey’s victim would determine whether he received a death sentence: 6 of every 11 defendants convicted of killing a white person would not have received the death penalty if their victims had been black, Supp. Exh. 51, while, among defendants with aggravating and mitigating factors comparable to McCleskey’s, 20 of every 34 would not have been sentenced to die if their victims had been black. Id., at 54.  Finally, the assessment would not be complete without the information that cases involving black defendants and white victims are more likely to result in a death sentence than cases featuring any other racial combination of defendant and victim.  Ibid. The story could be told in a variety of ways, but McCleskey could not fail to grasp its essential narrative line: there was a significant chance that race would play a prominent role in determining if he lived or died.

I was privileged to represent Warren in his last appeal, and it is indubitably true that he died because the US could not face the fact that he was being killed due to the colour of his skin.

 

clivequote-1024x512

 

Q: Your decades’ long work seeking to counter the death penalty in the US will have exposed you to the depth and extent of racism in the United States. How do you think the human rights community can contribute to the struggle to denounce and overcome racism in the US?

A: First, British people should take a look in the mirror.  At least the US talks about racism and tries to confront it.  The British don’t, and the comments I have heard from British people in the past BLM-weeks have been sad. “I believe all life matters,” is a refrain you would never hear in the US, any more than you would go to the funeral of someone’s child and hear someone say, “I believe the life of my own child matters too.”

Also, the British legal system is rife with racism yet nobody talks about it.  At current rates, it would take 100 years for there to be proportional BAME parity among QCs and judges (and 50 years for women).  Almost three quarters (74%) of judges went to private schools.

That said there are real problems in the US, a country that was built on slavery (much as the wealth of Britain was made, in large part, on the same dreadful practice).  Yet at least in the US we have the tools to combat it.  We can question jurors about racism (Turner v. Murray) – there is no questioning at all in the UK.  We can challenge racism in all the stages of the legal process (Rose v. Mitchell, McCleskey v. Kemp) – it is unheard of in the UK. We can challenge the racial decision making by jurors (Tharpe v. Sellers) – it is a crime to speak to jurors about their service in the UK. And so forth.

But the real issue is that we need people who are making the effort. That means you.

 

Q: What kind of practical obstacles have you faced in your journey of bringing justice to those facing the death penalty?

A: There are many. Some of the rules of the US Supreme Court are just fatuous for their failure to take into account reality.

 

2012 Kris&Marita

Marita and Kris Maharaj

When I started doing capital trials, I had just graduated Columbia Law School, and most of my colleagues had gone to firms on Wall Street where they were paid $1,000 an hour to waste their lives representing corporations over money. We were paid $1,000 for an entire capital case.  And when the clients were on death row, they were meant to represent themselves – they could only have lawyers if they had volunteers…

 

 

And then there is the issue of innocence – the US Supreme Court has held that “mere” innocence is not enough to release someone from death row (Herrera v. Collins).  This is why Kris Maharaj – my British client sentenced to death 33 years ago, now 81 years old – remains in prison despite the magistrate judge finding that he is innocent by “clear and convincing evidence” last September 13th – nine months ago.

But there are many other reasons.  One is the standard of proof.  While people say they must find a person guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”, my not very scientific studies suggest that judges think this means around 83% sure – which we may translate as saying they are aiming to convict one innocent person in every six cases, or one million of the 6 million Americans who are in prison or facing it. (As Robin Hood reminds us, if you aim that low, you always miss.)

Sad to say, similar problems permeate the British system too.

 

Q: How does the approach to working on behalf of detainees in certain black sites/ secret prisons differ from cases of prisoners facing the death penalty and is one more challenging than the other?

A: Part of the problem with black sites is that you cannot get to your client, there is no rule of law, and they have no legal rights.  So that is much more challenging.  But at the same time, we have got 740 of the 780 people out of Guantánamo largely through publicity, as generally public opinion favours those being held without trial more than it favours those being held on death row after an unfair trial.

 

 

COVID 19

Coronavirus_greenQ: How has the COVID19 pandemic, considering government responses to the outbreak in particular, impacted upon detention centres like Guantánamo Bay and US death row prisons?

A: Prisons are, in the words of the Washington Post, “petri dishes of the virus.”  My clients cannot “social distance” from anyone.  The best example is Kris Maharaj: 81 years old, held now in a dormitory with 45 other old men, locked in their in “quarantine” now they have had 4 men test positive, which means you are locking him in with the virus, in beds that are 3 feet apart, 24/7.  We got him off formal death row in 2002, but now the State of Florida is intent on executing him by Covid 19, before we can get him out of prison.

 

Q: Do you think lockdown measures have caused attitudes to change towards detention or have helped to raise awareness about the conditions experienced by detainees?

A: No. I think people think they have had it like prison which is nonsense.

 

Q: How has Reprieve’s work been impacted by the COVID19 pandemic?

A: I can really only speak for myself. It is busier than ever and actually I have generally found I waste lots of time travelling when I can get much more done by staying home. The only thing I really miss is being able to go to Guantánamo and see the clients in person, but at least I can talk to them regularly on the phone.

 

Part 2 of our Spotlight with Clive Stafford Smith OBE will cover the topics of counter-terrorism, The US Criminal Justice system and the ‘de-mystification’ of the curriculum.

 

 

International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Amita Dhiman and Julia Kedziorek

 

Focus on ‘Black Lives Matter’

BLM1The ongoing protests in America since the killing of George Floyd, a 36 year old black man, over the use of a fake $20 note, has brought into focus the excessive use of force against protestors by the U.S. government.   From the use of tear gas to the use of paintball guns, a variety of methods have been used to disperse the crowds. Though tear gas is known as a “non-lethal” form of crowd control, the gas used to disperse protesters is dangerous because, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘‘[it contains]  chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs and skin’’.   Its use is prohibited under International Law;   the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925 banned “the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases” in warfare but did not specify which gases.  The U.S. did not ratify this agreement until 1975 and reserved the right to use it in “situations where civilian casualties can be reduced or avoided”.

Amnesty International has conducted an investigation over the excessive use of tear gas by 22 countries during any kind of protests in their country.  The militarized response to the protests in the US has reinforced the calls for change in policing approaches, a call which has finally been heard by the President, as he announced an Executive Order to curb police misconduct on 16 June.

BLM2Across the U.S., the authorities have been cracking down on and detaining protesters. One such protester was Devaughnta Williams, a New York City janitor who, due to his essential worker status, was exempt from curfew.  He was arrested along with 250 others and spent a week in jail.   Protestors are being held in cramped and unsanitary conditions in overcrowded jails, risking further the spread of COVID-19.  Human Rights Watch has urged that the prison populations must be reduced and custodial arrests must be made only if necessary during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Focus on Covid-19

corona-covid-19-covid-corona-app-app-program-software-application-contactThis week, the UK Government announced its abandonment of its contact-tracing app, after three months of work, due to its lack of compatibility with Apple technology.  Instead it was announced on Thursday that a new app will be introduced based on the Google-Apple model being used in other countries.

Many states including Germany have recently launched a mobile phone application to trace people who have come into contact with infected patients.  The new technology raises questions around the right to privacy as in many cases the method of data storage is unknown.  The applications sometimes require people to take so-called ‘selfies’, which they then send in along with GPS information.

Amnesty International reviewed 11 mobile phone apps from various countries mapping Kuwait, Bahrain and Norway as the most dangerous for privacy reasons.  In Qatar, where the new tracking app was made mandatory, many issues relating to its accuracy and efficiency were raised.  Bahrain’s ‘Be Aware’ app enters users into a game show where they can win a monetary prize if they are found at home obeying lockdown.

This type of incentive raises questions about the monitoring of personal geometric and biometric data without safeguards. Norway stopped their mobile phone app over privacy concerns and it’s clear that governments must balance the need to trace the spread of coronavirus without intrusive data collection.

Other stories making the news around the world

International

Africa

Asia

Europe

Middle East

North America

 

Might or right: The devastating impact of US sanctions on the rights of Iranian citizens amidst the Covid-19 outbreak

by Hetal Doshi & Sankalp Udgata

Much has been said about the insensitivity of the Trump administration’s approach to tackling the outbreak of COVID-19, but little compares to Trump’s unswerving decision to continue economic sanctions against Iran amidst this global pandemic. The spread of coronavirus has been nothing less than a catastrophe for the people of Iran.  As COVID-19 rips through country after country, Iran’s experience has been particularly devastating with more than 182,525 confirmed cases and 8,659 declared deaths (as of 11 June 2020).  With no end to this pandemic in sight for the foreseeable future, the Iranian government is facing the unique challenge of providing medical equipment to doctors alongside access to food, basic medical facilities, and isolation centres to patients while, at the same time, trying to uplift the already crippled economy.

It is undisputed that a great deal of the suffering of the Iranian people lies within the responsibility of their own government. Nevertheless, the re-imposition of severe economic sanctions in 2018 by the United States after it unilaterally withdrew its participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (i.e. the nuclear deal), has had devastating impacts on the economy and has severely undermined humanitarian trade with Iran.

The damage done to Iran’s economy by US sanctions left it ill-prepared for the COVID-19 crisis. The gross domestic product of Iran shrank by 9.5 percent, oil exports were down by 80 percent, and inflation is now nearly 40 percent. Now, with the spread of coronavirus in Iran increasing at an unprecedented rate, sanctions are contributing to a shortage of testing kits, medical devices, and hygienic supplies required to prevent further spread.

Impact of ‘Inhuman’ Sanctions on the Right to Health  of Iranian Citizens’

While the United States government continues to insist that it has created exemptions for humanitarian imports into its sanctions regime, broad sanctions against Iranian banks, coupled with aggressive rhetoric from US officials and a lack of clarity on how secondary sanctions will be imposed, have drastically constrained Iran’s ability to finance such humanitarian imports. A Human Rights Watch report also states that, in practice, these exemptions have failed to offset the strong reluctance of US and European companies and banks to risk facing the legal and financial risks associated with exporting or financing exempted humanitarian goods, such as vital medicines and medical equipment.

DT signing EO sanctions

 

The consequence of such sanctions has resulted in impairing the ability of Iranian people to secure their right to health and access to essential medicines.  Health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights and is recognized under Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  In July 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran stated that the sanctions and banking restrictions will unduly affect food security and the availability and distribution of medicines and pharmaceutical equipment. The continuance of these sanctions has resulted in nothing less than gross violations of the human rights of Iranian citizens.

Extra Territorial Application of the Right to Health

The question of the extra-territorial application of the right to health has always been debatable. The ICESCR does not contain any provision on the jurisdictional or territorial applicability of the treaty. However, CESCR General Comment No. 14 declares that all states must take steps to prevent violations of the right to health (Article 12) in other countries. Thus, under ICESCR the USA has an obligation to ensure that its actions take due account of the right to health of citizens of other countries.

The US is in direct breach of these obligations, as the brunt of the economic sanctions on Iran is being faced directly by Iranian people.   Iranian suppliers of equipment like respiratory masks and ventilators are out of stock, and the Iranian government is struggling to import the raw materials that it needs to manufacture antiviral drugs amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic. These sanctions, as discussed above, have crippled the economy of Iran and prevented the import of health care equipment required to control this pandemic. This has direct effects on the availability and quality of health care facilities which form an essential element of the right to health, thus resulting in a clear violation of this right.

Coronavirus_patients_at_the_Imam_Khomeini_Hospital_in_Tehran,_Iran_--_بخش_ویژه_بیماران_کرونا_در_بیمارستان_امام_خمینی_تهران_--_March_1,_2020

It is important to note that in the case of Iran v. USA the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has held, in its order on provisional measures, that US Sanctions are detrimental to the humanitarian needs and rights of Iranian citizens, and its exemptions do not help with assurances to the contrary.  Instead of adhering to the order, the United States government decided to terminate the 1955 U.S.-Iran Treaty of Amity, which was the basis of the relief granted by the ICJ.  This was announced on the same day in which the ICJ passed the order.

The paradoxical stance of the US Administration

The contradictory stance of the US government is further evident as, despite sanctions being exempt on humanitarian goods, the US Treasury Department had previously prosecuted medical companies for selling small amounts of medical supplies to Iran. While Iran’s dire circumstances have prompted calls from around the world for the United States to roll back its deep economic sanctions on the country, the US has instead imposed new sanctions amid the increasing cases of COVID-19 which will further add to Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation.

With hospitals overrun and Iranian doctors struggling to procure necessary equipment, the US must be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A global pandemic requires a global response, not a piecemeal one based on local politics.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Photo.HetalHetal Doshi is a law student at the National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi, India.  She can be reached at hetaldoshi.hvd@gmail.com.

 

Photo.SankalpSankalp Udgata is a law student at the National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi, India.  He can be reached at sankalp.udgata123@gmail.com.