International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham and Beth Webb-Strong

 

Beirut blast: A catastrophe for a country already in crisis

beirut_blastThe catastrophic explosion in Beirut on 4th August comes at a time when Lebanon is already suffering an economic, political and health crisis of epic proportions.  Only the day before the blast, Human Rights Watch had submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council, stressing the need for the Lebanese Government to address the multiple crises that were already “endangering people’s basic rights”.

But immediate needs now turn to food, shelter, health care and electricity, all of which were already in short supply.  The huge explosion, which was felt 150 miles away in Cyprus, destroyed Beirut’s key grain silos and rendered the port, which is relied on for food imports into Lebanon, unusable.  The shock wave of the blast damaged thousands of homes, shattering windows and ripping doors from their hinges and destroyed hospitals, already under strain from COVID19 and a lack of funding.  Remaining hospitals have been inundated with the casualties but without electricity were unable to save many of the victims.

Anger has been growing over the last two years at government corruption, the city seeing pre-lockdown protests about a lack of basic services, including clean drinking water and electricity.   Daily power cuts have affected homes and businesses, with only two to four hours of electricity per day and the city plunged into darkness each night.

COVID19 exacerbated an already failing economy and thousands more saw their jobs cut by businesses forced to close during the coronavirus lockdown.  The country has also been inundated by Syrian refugees, adding 1.5 million refugees to the Lebanese 4.5 million population.  This has resulted in an estimation by Save the Children of more than half a million children struggling to survive without basic essentials.

Lebanese President Michel Auon has declared a state of emergency and many countries including the UK, France, United States and Iran have offered help.   The European Union are sending search and rescue assistance, and Emmanuel Macron is expected to fly in to the devastated city today.

 

#ZimbabweLivesMatter: Campaign Grows Against Human Rights Abuses

ZimbabwelivesmatterA campaign exposing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe has drawn attention across the globe this week. Twitter has been taken by storm by the #ZimbabweLivesMatter campaign, currently number 1 on the list of trending topics. The campaign hashtag was inspired by the BlackLivesMatter movement which ignited activists worldwide during May of this year. Tens of thousands of individuals have tweeted to raise awareness of the current crisis in Zimbabwe, criticising President Emmerson Mnanagwa’s government for corruption, poor handling of the economic crisis and human rights violations.

The campaign follows a number of arrests of activists, journalists and oppositionists, including Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist awaiting trial on charges for inciting violence. Chin’ono recently reported concerns of corruption surrounding the Zimbabwe government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mnanagwa’s government faces multiple charges of corruption. The health minister, Obadiah Moyo, was charged with criminal abuse of office in July following the alleged awarding of a $60 million contract to a company which sold COVID-19 medical supplies at inflated prices to the government.

Last week, a nominee for this year’s Booker prize, Tsitsi Dangarembga, was amongst those arrested in Harare at an anti-government protest. Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, has spoken out against ‘the persecution of these activists’, labelling government action ‘a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system and mockery of justice’.

Celebrities across the globe have joined opposition voices, highlighting the increased use of social media as a tool of exposure in today’s human rights activism climate. Political pressure is mounting for the African Union to address the government’s restrictions upon free speech and peaceful protests. Particular concerns have been raised regarding the use of the COVID-19 pandemic to justify a crackdown on political opposition. This week, Mnanagwa threatened to ‘flush out’ the ‘bad apples that have attempted to divide our people’. Measures restricting free movement such as overnight curfews have been implemented, masquerading as measures to protect public health.

 

Other stories making the headlines around the world

 

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Australasia