International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

In focus

#EndSARS demonstrators killed while peacefully protesting against state brutality in Lagos, Nigeria

800px-Protest_against_the_Special_Anti-Robbery_Squad_(SARS)_in_Lagos,_NigeriaProtestors in Lagos came under fire from uniformed men this week as they joined thousands in demonstrations against police brutality. Witnesses described soldiers firing directly into the crowds of protestors, and Amnesty International tweeted that it had “received credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protestors at Lekki toll gate in Lagos”. Lekki, a wealthy suburb of Lagos, has been the epicentre of protests against the abuses perpetrated by the government’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

SARS was set up in 1992 to combat rising crime, armed gangs and robberies in particular. For 3 decades, there have been accusations of corruption, violence and extrajudicial killings by the unit. Recent protests were sparked by a video emerging of a man being killed in the street by the squad. The Nigerian government has been promising to disband the squad for several years but did not do so until last week. Despite the unit being dissolved, protests continued against what is seen as a wider problem of government and police brutality. The President’s directive to dissolve SARS does little to satisfy the demands of protestors, because the squad’s officers are set to be redeployed, rather than brought to justice.

The Director of Amnesty International Nigeria said “We call on the Nigerian authorities to listen to the demands of their people  and promptly, thoroughly, impartially, effectively and transparently investigate all cases of human rights violations by the police, including the unlawful killings of the #EndSARS protestors”. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said he was closely monitoring developments in Nigeria and called for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses”.

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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

In focus

Saudi Arabia’s bid to join Human Rights Council fails

China, Russia and Pakistan have been elected to the Human Rights Council for the next three years, while Saudi Arabia failed to win a seat in the 13th October vote, despite being the current chair of the G20.  A secret ballot in geographical areas decides the seats, with Asia Pacific the only contested region this time.  The UK and France were unopposed in their election to the council, representing Western Europe, and Russia and Ukraine were similarly unopposed for Eastern Europe.  Saudi Arabia lost out to Pakistan (who won the most votes for Asia), Uzbekistan, Nepal and China, though China’s share of the vote dropped by 20% compared to the last election in 2016.  China has come under widespread criticism for human rights abuses, most notably its treatment of the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang province, and brutality towards protestors in Hong Kong.

Saudi Arabia was the only country that competed unsuccessfully for the Asia Pacific seat that it last held in 2019.  The killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the imprisoning of women’s rights advocates and the catastrophic war in Yemen, all policies of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, have been cited as reasons for the lack of support for the Kingdom this time.

There were 15 seats available, with the remaining seats going to Ivory Coast, Gabon, Malawi and Senegal for Africa, and Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico representing the Latin American region.  President Trump pulled the United States out of the Human Rights Council in 2018, accusing the UNHCR of giving seats to human rights abusers.  US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said that the US has pressed for reform of the council, but “those calls went unheeded”, adding that the elections on 13th October only validated their decision to withdraw.

Rights groups have expressed their concern about allowing the worst of human rights violators to join the council.  UN director at Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, said “Serial rights abuses should not be rewarded with seats on the Human Rights Council”.   The executive director of independent Geneva based human rights group, UN Watch, said “Electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade”.  

 

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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

In focus

Amnesty International forced to cease operations in India

Amnesty_India_3Amnesty International says it has been forced to end its operations in India, after “reprisals” from the Modi government.  Amnesty’s bank accounts were frozen without warning, in what it calls a “witch-hunt” by the Hindu nationalist government against human rights NGOs.  Amnesty’s senior director of research, advocacy and policy, Rajat Khosla, claimed they have been faced with “an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner.”

Several raids have taken place on Amnesty offices since 2018 under accusations of money laundering – allegations the NGO strenuously deny.  The ministry of home affairs claim that Amnesty India has brought foreign funding into the country in a contravention of the regulations.  The ministry stated “the stand taken and the statements made by Amnesty International are unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth”.  Amnesty India’s executive director, Avinash Kumar, said that the Indian government is stoking a climate of fear, and ignoring “the human cost to this crackdown, particularly during a pandemic, and violates people’s basic rights.”

Fifteen international human rights organisations have condemned the move, pledging continued support for human rights defenders and NGOs critical of India’s nationalist government crackdown.  Human Rights Watch stressed the need for a “robust, independent, and vocal civil society” which it said is “indispensable in any democracy to ensure a check on government and to hold it accountable”.

Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International said “This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian Government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now.  However, this does not mark the end of our firm commitment to , and engagement in, the struggle for human rights in India.”

 

UK exploring options to send asylum seekers to detention centres overseas

ASCENSION_ISLAND_WIDEAWAKE_AIRFIELDThe Guardian revealed yesterday that it has seen documents that suggest Foreign Office officials have been asked by Downing Street to examine the possibility of sending UK asylum seekers to detention centres in Morocco, the Maldives and Papau New Guinea.  It has also come to light that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel has been looking at the idea of constructing detention centres on the islands of Ascension or St Helena, in a similar model to the Australian asylum processing centres on Naura and Manus.  Ascension and St Helena are part of an isolated British Territory in the South Atlantic. 

The Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, called the idea “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”.  Another option being considered is to accommodate asylum seekers on disused ferries anchored off Britain’s coast, converting them into processing centres.  One Conservative MP said that the UK needs to find a “civilised version” of the Australian model.  But experts familiar with Australia’s immigration system have warned that implementing such proposals could cause a “human rights disaster”.

 

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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

In Focus

UK government considers human rights ‘opt-out’ to speed up asylum seeker deportations

 

ECHRThe UK government is currently resisting requests by Brussels to give a formal undertaking to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as part of Brexit negotiations.   The areas of ‘opt-out’ being considered would, as well as making it easier to deport refugees and asylum seekers, protect British troops from legal action, following operations overseas.

The government also pledged, in the Conservative Party manifesto, to “update the UK Human Rights Act” , following Brexit, and claim the issue is a matter of UK “sovereignty”.  Meanwhile, evidence presented to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, this week, from ClearView Research, showed that 75% of black people in the UK “do not believe their rights are equally protected compared to white people”, 85% do not trust the police to treat them equally and 60% don’t feel that their health is equally protected by the NHS.

Human Rights Watch have said that the UK’s refusal to agree to respect European human rights law “risks EU cooperation on security and criminal justice” that helps to protect British citizens.  Civil rights organisation, Liberty, said that the government’s intention to ‘update’ the Act is “dangerously misguided” and is heading to an environment of “some rights for some people some of the time”

Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, dismissed the reports that the UK is planning to opt out of the ECHR, saying “such suggestions are for the birds”, adding that we should be focused on ‘streamlining’ our own laws.  David Lammy slammed the idea, saying that abandoning human rights would “make life in Britain less secure and hold our country back on the world stage”.

 

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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

In Focus

Huge fire destroys refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos

fire1597037372-0-400x230Almost 13,000 asylum seekers have been left homeless by a blaze, reportedly started by migrants unhappy at being isolated by COVID19 rules in the Moria camp.  Fires broke out in three places and were whipped up by strong winds which spread the flames quickly through the camp, the largest on Lesbos.  There are also reports that wildfires were already burning in the area and some suggest far right Greeks were involved with igniting the fire.  Lesbos project co-ordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Marco Sandrone, told the BBC that determining the cause of the blaze was difficult with “several different fires and protests erupting in the camp” but that it was a “time bomb that finally exploded”.

The camp was over four times its maximum capacity and had been criticised by aid agencies for its “appalling conditions”.  Thousands of people are now sleeping on the streets, with no protection from the elements and many families have lost the little belongings they had, fleeing with just the clothes on their backs.  NGOs have been prevented by police from transporting people to hospitals and a cordon has been set up around the camp, preventing aid workers from getting in.

Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a state of emergency had been declared for all of Lesbos and the EU commissioner for home affairs has offered to arrange funding for the transfer of 400 unaccompanied minors to the Greek mainland.  Meanwhile, the UNHCR  and Doctors Without Borders have offered their assistance while officials are seeking tents to accommodate the thousands displaced and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has pledged to take in 1,000 of the refugees.

Just the day before, campaigners had placed 13,000 chairs outside the German parliament building, in a symbolic protest at conditions at the Moria camp,  calling for its closure.  The camp is designed to hold just 2,800.  In total, there are 24,000 people in five camps on Greek islands that were built to house just 6,100.  There are no immediate reports of casualties.

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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

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UK provides military training to repressive states

UK_military_trainingThe UK is providing military training to 17 out of 30 countries on its Foreign Office human rights watch list.  From 2018 to 2020, UK armed forces assisted in the training of soldiers in the following states:

Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Columbia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.


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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham

In focus

Police violate human rights in their use of facial recognition technology

Facial_recThree senior judges in the UK Court of Appeal have ruled that Police in South Wales violated the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights, through the unlawful use of facial recognition technology.  The ruling comes after a legal challenge by civil rights group, Liberty, who took up the case of a man whose face was scanned as he was Christmas shopping in Cardiff in 2017 and attending an anti-arms protest in 2018.  Mr Bridges, who is a civil rights campaigner, had argued that his human rights were breached when his biometric data was used without his consent.

Facial recognition identifies people through distinguishable features on the face, and compares them with identities on watch lists such as criminal suspects, missing persons or people of interest.  Bridges had lost his original case at the High Court, but the Court of Appeal held that his right to privacy, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was violated as the police had been allowed too much discretion in applying the technology.  The Court also found that South Wales Police had failed to investigate racial and gender bias in their facial recognition algorithms.

Mr Bridges, who is a former Liberal Democrat councillor for Gabalfa in Cardiff, said that he did not set out to make a case on the issue, but after the protest at an arms fayre at Cardiff International Arena, where he felt the police were surveilling people to intimidate protestors, he decided to get in touch with Liberty.  The 37 year old, who used crowd-funding to pay for the legal costs, said “We have policing by consent in this country”.

Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding described the judgment as a “major victory in the fight against discriminatory and oppressive facial recognition” and civil rights campaign organisation, Big Brother Watch said it “should deter police from lawlessly rolling out other kinds of oppressive technologies”.     The Surveillance Camera Commissioner, an independent appointee of the Home Office, welcomed the judgement, saying the “use of this technology will not and should not get out of the gate if the police cannot demonstrate its use is fair and non-discriminatory.”

Meanwhile, South Wales Police, are playing the judgement down, reiterating their commitment to the “careful development and deployment” of the technology but  Daragh Murray,  Senior Lecturer here at the Essex Human Rights Centre, has said “It means that any use of facial recognition must be stopped until an appropriate legal basis is established.”

 

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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 Mnangagwa’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. Mnangagwa’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, Mnangagwa 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.

 

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