IL Newswire

Rising tensions and human rights violations in the ongoing Myanmar conflict

According to UNHCR, almost half a million of Rohingya refugees have already been forced to flee their country as a result of what is considered the “most serious humanitarian and human rights crisis in Rakhine State since October 2012”.  

History

Tensions between Rakhine’s Buddhists and the Rohingya People go back decades. Since Myanmar’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, different ethnic minority groups have been in conflict with one another, attempting to gain autonomy from the central government and its army.                                                                                                                                         

The conflict re-ignited in the course of the country’s march towards democracy, starting in 2011 after five decades of military rule. After suspected Rohingya militants attacked and killed nine border posts in October 2016, the government blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for the violence and as a result, started what was referred to as a “legitimate counterinsurgency operation”. The crisis only deepened after the August 2017 attacks carried out by the ARSA group, which has since been declared a terrorist organization by the Myanmar government.

War crimes and Human Rights violations

Numerous violations of human rights have been committed since the conflict escalated in 2016 by armed government forces, the so-called Tatmadaw as well as nationalist groups such as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, which is the largest nationalist organization that promotes Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim hate speech.  Abuses of fundamental human rights as well as vast discrimination practices continue to be inflicted on the Rohingya population, and are further exacerbated and legitimized by the effective denial of their citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Restrictions on movement and limited access to health care and education have caused higher levels of poverty, worsening living conditions and dangerous overcrowding.

War crimes such as extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, and arson as well as airstrikes have been carried out throughout the region against the Rohingya People, who are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. The Government of Myanmar refuses to use the Rohingya name to refer to this population. Nationalist Buddhists refer to them as “Bengali,” which implies illegal migrant status in Myanmar, while the leader of the National League for Democracy, Minister of Foreign Affairs and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi labels them the “Muslim Community in Rakhine State”.  

Rohingya villages have been burnt down, as satellite imagery proves, and independent journalists as well as humanitarian agencies have been prevented from providing aid through restrictions on travel imposed by the government. A journalist of the Myanmar Times was fired after he had reported on allegations of rape by government forces. Amnesty International has pointed out that armed groups use child soldiers, impose arbitrary “taxes” on civilians and both government forces and ethnic armed groups use landmine-like weapons, planting antipersonnel landmines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and has demanded that, “All sides to the conflict must end the pattern of violations and abuses against civilians, and the Myanmar authorities must end the cycle of impunity by investigating and prosecuting violations by all sides to the conflicts.”  

According to Amnesty International, the Myanmar Army has been acting with "near total impunity" for decades. Even after recommendations to seek UN assistance, the Myanmar government has not only refused to enable UN-established, independent investigations into the violence against the Rohingya, but has also denied all kinds of sexual violence. 

With the Myanmar government's refusal to grant access to humanitarian aid organizations as well as UN officials, the brutal killings and violence against the Rohingya minority will continue and those who are left will be forced to flee their homes.

Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly now endorsed by over 1,500 current and former lawmakers from 120 countries

  

The international Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, in short UNPA, is now endorsed across party lines by more than 1,500 current and former members of parliament from over 120 countries.

The campaign's appeal for the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly that was signed by the lawmakers calls for "a gradual implementation of democratic participation and representation on the global level" and states that "to ensure international cooperation, secure the acceptance and to enhance the legitimacy of the United Nations and strengthen its capacity to act, people must be more effectively and directly included into the activities of the United Nations and its international organizations."

"This is an important milestone," said Andreas Bummel, the campaign's coordinator. "The support of a UN Parliamentary Assembly by such a broad group of parliamentarians from all the world's regions shows once again that it is high time for the United Nations to consider this project," he emphasized. 

"If it comes to democratizing the world organization and global cooperation, it is no longer possible to ignore the proposal for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. This is a success of the campaign and of the numerous parliamentarians whose support the campaign could mobilize", commented Jo Leinen, a member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the campaign's parliamentary advisory group.

 

Nomsa Tarabella-Marchesi from South Africa‘s National Assembly was the 1,500th member of parliament to endorse a UNPA

The 1,500th lawmaker who signed the appeal for a UNPA last week was Nomsa Tarabella-Marchesi from South Africa. "The UN would benefit from involving elected representatives in its deliberations. After all, in many cases it's them who are needed to help implement UN policy at the national level, especially if it comes to the Agenda 2030. A UN Parliamentary Assembly would also provide for democratic oversight of the UN's operations, including playing a meaningful role vis-à-vis the Security Council. This additional layer of accountability would increase the world organization's democratic character," Mrs. Tarabella-Marchesi said.

European lawmaker Soraya Post who recently supported a pro-UNPA motion in the European Parliament said that "we as peoples of the world must be be able to directly influence the UN's political agenda and its implementation. It is a matter of our human rights and their full realization".

Signatories include the president of the Pan-African Parliament, Roger Nkodo Dang from Cameroon, and the chairpersons of the parliamentary committees on foreign affairs in Belgium and India, Dirk van der Maelen and Shashi Tharoor, respectively. 

Numerous lawmakers who signed the appeal occupy important executive positions today. Among them are Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, the EU's commissioner for the digital economy and society, Mariya Gabriel from Bulgaria, the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, Sweden's minister for international development cooperation, Isabella Lövin, the EU's foreign minister and vice-president of the EU's commission, Federica Mogherini, Argentina's vice-president, Gabriela Michetti, or Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

With more than 100, the highest number of current members of parliament who endorse the campaign come from Germany, followed by Canada with over 50 and Sweden with over 40. Other countries with more than 10 current parliamentarians include Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, India, Italy, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland. More than 50 individual members of the European Parliament are on record as well.

The establishment of a UNPA has been supported by the European Parliament, the Latin-American Parliament and the Pan-African Parliament, among others.

Apart from members of parliament, the campaign has also been endorsed by numerous former UN officials, distinguished scholars, cultural innovators, representatives of civil society organizations, and many committed citizens from all walks of life.

More information here: http://en.unpacampaign.org/10151/

Nelson Mandela International Day

Image from libya360.wordpress.com

Image from libya360.wordpress.com

Every year on July 18, Nelson Mandela Day is celebrated to commemorate the hard work and trying times Mandela faced to end apartheid in South Africa and to becoming the first black president of South Africa. The Mandela Foundation wants to advocate for his ideals, particularly the significance of a single, thoughtful act, and the positive change achieved through collective action sustained by individuals working for the global good. It was created to inspire people, especially young people, to act with gratitude and work to achieve equality globally.

Nelson Mandela International Day was declared in 2009 by a unanimous vote in the UN General Assembly on the anniversary of his birthday. This year’s Nelson Mandela Day, which would have been Mandela’s 99th birthday, is themed around #ActionAgainstPoverty. Poverty is not only a global feat, but it is also specific to South Africa. The Nelson Mandela Foundation wants to tackle it due to South Africa’s dire poverty problem, which includes the fact that 63% of South African children alone living in poverty.

Initially, one goal of Nelson Mandela Day was to prompt all participants to dedicate 67 minutes on the day—a minute for every year Mandela spent working towards equality—towards some form of community service. There has been a shift by the organizers from advocating for 67 minutes on July 18 alone, to encouraging a wider goal of 67 minutes of community service every day. You can volunteer at your local homeless shelter, clean up litter, donate your unwanted items, but the general idea is to act thoughtfully in order to make a positive impact. The smallest effort, the simplest good deed, commemorates Nelson Mandela’s legacy, because it is an effort that aims to better the world.

“TAKE ACTION. INSPIRE CHANGE. MAKE EVERY DAY A MANDELA DAY.”

For more information, visit mandeladay.com.

19th Anniversary of the Signing of the Rome Statute of the ICC


Reuters

Reuters

17 July 2017 marked 19 years since the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was signed, thereby formally creating the Court and giving hope to the millions who'd been victims of atrocity crimes. The day is celebrated as "The Day of International Criminal Justice," named as such because the ICC is the only international court capable of holding the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide accountable. With its creation in 1998 and start of functioning in 2002, the ICC sent a strong signal to existing and would-be perpetrators worldwide that atrocity crimes would no longer go unpunished.

Since its creation, the ICC has successfully begun several investigations into accounts of war crimes from around the world. The most recent and prominent include the trial of the Lord's Resistance Army leader Dominic Ongwen in last year; the trial against the former president of Cote d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo; and Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additionally, there has been progress in establishing national and regional courts to try atrocity crimes in the countries they were committed, which is a success for the ICC as it is meant to be a court of last resort and should only hold trials when the national courts fail to do so. With these newly established national courts, there would be a deeper commitment to international criminal justice.

However, it is hard not to consider the obstacles facing the ICC, as well, with some even believing these roadblocks to be more daunting now than in the past several years of the ICC's existence. The Court is meant to be independent but must rely on its member states to fund its investigations and trials. This raises questions about how independent the Court can truly be. Adding to that issue is that fact that the Court relies on the UN Security Council to refer cases in countries that are not ICC member states in order to have jurisdiction in these countries. Because of the deadlock among the Permanent 5 members of the Security Council as of late, certain members can prevent countries from being tried when it is in their national interests. This leads to the ICC having no ability to try perpetrators from these non-member states, and thus must rely on the Security Council heavily. This practice greatly reduces the ICC's ability to independently ensure accountability for atrocity crimes.

19 years after its creation, it is clear that the ICC has had tremendous successes while facing critical obstacles throughout its history. Whether the Court's system is perfect is not the question at hand, however. The creation of the ICC remains one of the most crucial and credible steps the international community has taken towards ensuring justice and accountability for atrocity crimes wherever they may occur. Such dedication will only serve to improve the realm of international criminal justice in the future.

"The Islamic State Is Not Dead Yet"

The Islamic State’s loss of control over their de facto capital, Mosul, has greatly hindered their ability to fulfill their goals of harboring foreigners and exploiting resources. But the United States should not get comfortable with the possibility of the Islamic State’s ultimate defeat. The conditions that led to the initial rise of extremism in the Middle East, poor politics and poor economics, are still very prevalent.

In order to most effectively setback the Islamic State, a U.S.-led coalition consisting of 68 countries has been gathering funds to begin a stabilization/peacebuilding process, facilitated by the United Nations. However, implementation is difficult due to regional conflicts (i.e. like the civil war in Syria), and the alienation of twenty-five million Sunni Muslims by their governments between Baghdad and Damascus, which is seen by the Islamic State as the perfect source of recruitment and support.

While the leaders in the Middle East are more likely to make decisions that will perpetuate the problems of extremism, the U.S. has the opportunity to support and mobilize efforts that will move Iraq in a stabilizing direction. To do so, the U.S. needs to invoke Iraqi Primxe Minister Haider al-Abadi’s “functioning federalism.” It gives Iraqis the responsibility to govern their own lives by giving them the resources to create security, services, and schools for themselves. While Sunnis have historically opposed federalism, they are now increasingly in favor of it, making this a promising option for the future of Sunnis in Iraq.

The first step to implementing functioning federalism is to implement a law that regulates Iraq’s militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The law would place the Shiite militia under state control, and out of politics and Sunni areas. Additionally, the Sunni PMF that is fighting against the Islamic State must stay on state payroll and be responsible for securing their territories.

The Trump Administration should then push for Iraq’s Sunni neighbors to engage with Baghdad to advance regional integration while promoting Sunni communities’ ambitions.

The Kurds also pose difficulties. The Kurdish region’s leader, Massoud Barzani, has called for a referendum on independence of the Kurds in September. They have also seized control of 70% of territories in Northern Iraq that are in dispute with the Arabs. In response to the Kurds’ desire for independence, the U.S. should negotiate a deal that allows the Kurds control over oil in their regions without the use of federal troops, and create a compromise over the disputed oil-rich territory of Kirkuk.

It was made clear after the U.S.’ departure from Iraq in 2011 that Iraqis mostly did not want a presence by the U.S. Now, however, there may be a slight desire to use the U.S.’ intelligence and counterterrorism efforts (not our troops) as support to move towards a more stable future.

For the original piece by New York Times op-ed contributor Antony J. Blinken, click here.

"At the UN, a New Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Is Adopted by 122 Nations"

by Maria Luisa Gambale - July 7, 2017

Delegates applause approval of the new treaty on July 7. Image from theatlantic.com.

Delegates applause approval of the new treaty on July 7. Image from theatlantic.com.

Nuclear buildup and threat of nuclear war became a front-page item this past week, after Kim Jong Un’s declaration of a successful intercontinental ballistic missile test, confirmed on July 4 by United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Such headlines — proclaimed on America’s Independence Day — remind the public of the ever-present specter of nuclear destruction. But the public remains largely unaware that a new legally binding treaty prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons was adopted by more than half of United Nations member countries on July 7, days after the North Korea launching.

The treaty was approved in a UN chamber in New York by 122 yes votes; no, from Netherlands; and one abstention, Singapore. At first, the treaty’s adoption was announced by consensus, but the Netherlands, an accredited member of the conference to negotiate the treaty, asked for a formal poll so that it could declare its no vote.

“The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years,” since the use of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 at the end of World War II, said Elayne Whyte Gómez, a Costa Rican diplomat who led the treaty discussions. She called it “the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty to be concluded in more than 20 years.”

The world’s nine nuclear-weapons possessing countries boycotted negotiations on the treaty, even though the treaty enables them to join at any point.

A July 7 statement from Britain, France and the United States released after the treaty’s adoption clarified their position, saying: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons.”

Whyte, when asked by reporters about the statement, said: “Of course, if we only consider the current international situation whether to act or not to act, you can always choose not to act but then you have to take responsibility for your action and your inaction.”

The Netherlands’ position was explained after the vote, noting among other qualifications, that the country could not sign “any instrument that is incompatible with our NATO obligations, that contains inadequate verification provisions or that undermines the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

The new treaty will be open for signature on Sept. 20 at the UN and will enter into force 90 days after 50 nations have formally ratified or acceded to it.

The disconnect between support of the treaty by 122 countries and lack of support by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — couldn’t have been more jarring in a week of active nuclear threats coming from Asia.

None of the permanent-five members mentioned the new treaty in their remarks to the media on July 5, as they reacted to North Korea’s latest move. Nor did UN Secretary-General António Guterres publicly remark on the relevance of the new nuclear weapons treaty amid the North Korean menace early in the week.

The most Guterres said, through a statement, was “we want to acknowledge the overwhelming support” of the nuclear ban treaty. The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs representative, Izumi Nakamitsu, attended talks leading to the treaty’s adoption. (On July 7, Guterres said he “welcomes” the treaty’s approval.)

“The strenuous and repeated objections of nuclear armed states is an admission that this treaty will have a real and lasting impact,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).  

The UN Conference to Negotiate Ban on Nuclear Weapons began discussions in March and continued on and off through July 7, a total of four weeks of meetings in New York. Without the participation of the nine open nuclear powers in the conference as well as Japan and most NATO member countries, negotiations have been led by non-nuclear countries. Perhaps because of this fact, writing the treaty went smoothly and consensus was achieved in relatively short time.

The core group of nations behind the treaty includes Austria, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and Thailand. Most nations of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Southeast Asia were also behind it.

Janet Fenton of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and vice chairwoman of Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, emphasized, “in some ways it’s a good thing that the nine nuclear power states are not participating, it’s allowed for a non-adversarial style of conversation.”

The US led the boycott of 40 countries, which included most NATO members and parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, told the press at the UN in March, “(we) would love to have a ban on nuclear weapons, but in this day and time we can’t honestly say we can protect our people by allowing bad actors to have them and those of us that are good trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.”

Haley, flanked by ambassadors from France and Britain, went on to say that North Korea would be enjoying a last laugh if the rest of the world got rid of their nuclear weapons first. 

The new treaty is a paradigm shift that emphasizes humanitarian concerns, with a strong focus on gender and indigenous rights. It also focuses on human rights, through such examples as victims’ assistance provisions. The treaty interacts with, and specifically mentions, the NPT, which entered into force in 1970 but has been decidedly ineffective in reducing nuclear stockpiles; and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which remains in limbo because it has not been ratified by the nine recognized nuclear powers.

Indeed, new categories of nuclear weapons is the latest alarming trend, say advocates of the nuclear ban treaty, and Russia and the US are both modernizing cold war arsenals as they reduce the number of their weapons overall, some experts note.

Among the nuclear-armed nations, Pakistan and India have never signed the NPT or CTBT, so they are not obliged to meet those treaties’ rules and inspections, which is also the case for Israel and North Korea. (The US signed and ratified the NPT and signed but never ratified the CTBT.)

The new treaty is designed to provide stronger legal basis for acceptance and enforcement of those treaties, as well as to generally expand the potential for a nuclear weapons free world in the public mind.

Whytethe lead negotiator, said that the mandate of the resolution was “to achieve, as soon as possible, a legally binding instrument, which would serve to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” The treaty text itself articulates that “the right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited.”

It is meant to have immediate effect on the activities and abilities of nuclear power states, specifically on their ability to move weapons systems around the world and to obtain uranium. Concern about impact of the treaty caused the US to circulate a letter to its NATO allies in October 2016, two months before the UN General Assembly authorized the treaty negotiations.

The letter encouraged US allies to “vote ‘no’ on any vote at the UN First Committee” — part of the General Assembly — “on starting negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty.”

The letter argued that nuclear deterrence is a critical component of NATO’s defense strategy, and that “(t)he effects of a nuclear weapons ban treaty could be wide-ranging and degrade enduring security relationships,” and complains that a ban would “stigmatize” nuclear weapons — doing exactly what the new treaty intends, its advocates emphasized.

The letter confirms the treaty’s intent to limit “nuclear-related transit through territorial airspace or seas.” Also at stake was the ability to threaten other countries with the possibility of nuclear attack.

Boycotting of the treaty by certain countries is a “classic sign of someone who has lost the argument,” said Rob Green, an ex-Royal British Navy commander, at a press briefing. Green added that nuclear deterrence “has nothing to do with security” and is “unprovable that it has prevented war.”

In paragraphs of the treaty detailing the “catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons,” a strong emphasis was put on “disproportionate impact” on women and girls, as well as on indigenous people. Fenton of WILPF explained that the effect on females extends to development of nuclear weapons, with early studies on harms of nuclear radiation using healthy young men as test subjects. Later studies have shown these tests do not adequately reflect the health risks for women, young children and reproductive systems.

Indigenous Statement to the treaty negotiations signed by numerous organizations outlines the stance of the world’s native people: “Indigenous communities have borne the brunt of these deadly experiments (test explosions). Our land, our sea, our communities, and our physical bodies carry this legacy with us now, and for unknown generations to come.”

Given the massive push to adopt the treaty by July 7, compromises were reached that some supporters found unacceptable but did not prevent their endorsement. Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of WILPF, detailed dissatisfactions in a bulletin recently.

Of particular concern was the continuation of the “inalienable right” of states parties to “peaceful uses” of nuclear energy, given that prevention of environmental catastrophe is a core element of international law relied on in the treaty.

“Nuclear weapons, whether through production, use, or testing, have a far greater potential to harm the environment than other forms of banned weapons,” said Ray Acheson, the director of Reaching Critical Will. “Unfortunately, the paragraph reaffirming the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s ‘inalienable right’ to nuclear energy for ‘peaceful purposes’ is still there. It’s an unnecessary, legally unsound, and frankly offensive paragraph, but at least it does not detract from the categorical banning of nuclear weapons that this treaty provides.”

In Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Acheson expounded on the relationship between nuclear energy and proliferation opportunities.

“All nine nuclear-armed states have used nuclear reactors to create plutonium for their nuclear weapons,” Acheson wrote, listing overlap explored by Britain, France, North Korea and Iran. “The new ban treaty is borne from the urgent need to prevent the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would result from a nuclear detonation. It must not, then, reflect a ‘right’ to a technology that can also have devastating radioactive impacts.”

Yet eliminating this provision was difficult, as the NPT entices non-nuclear powers away from nuclear armament by offering development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Nuclear weapon free zones also explicitly allow for “the use of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes.”

The new treaty, invariably compared to the NPT, bans use of nuclear weapons, whereas the NPT does not. And the new treaty bans assisting and encouraging others countries to use them, unlike the NPT. Advocates of the new treaty repeatedly noted the failure of the NPT to lead to full global denuclearization as the impetus to creating a new treaty.

Challenges implementing the new ban include a willingness for legislatures to ratify the treaty and for the public to pressure leaders, said Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute.

But citizens around the world are pressuring their governments to engage in negotiations for a total nuclear ban, marking a line ever more clearly between governments who believe in nuclear strategy and a public that doesn’t.

As Fenton of WILPF said, “If you look at the world in terms of democratic decision-making, we’re on the right side.”

Click here to see the original article.

Is International Human Rights Law Under Threat?

Image from UNWatch.org UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein delivered the following speech at the Law Society in London. 26 June 2017 Earlier this month, Britain’s Prime Minister called for human rights laws to be overturned if they were to "get in the way" in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, Theresa May said there was a need "to restrict the freedom and movement of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not evidence to prosecute them in full in court." For an increasingly anxious public, shaken by the recent and dreadful terrorist attacks, her remarks no doubt reflected real anger and frustration, but they also seemed intended to strike a chord with a certain sector of the electorate, and it is this expectation that truly worries me. British Government officials would probably claim the comments should be understood in the context of a tough electoral campaign, and would presumably try and reassure us quietly that the government’s support for human rights remains steadfast and unchallengeable.  Whatever the intention behind her remarks, they were highly regrettable, a gift from a major Western leader to every authoritarian figure around the world who shamelessly violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism. And it is not just the leaders.  A few days ago, citing Prime Minister May, a former Sri Lankan rear admiral delivered a petition to the President of the Human Rights Council. He demanded action be taken against my Office for “forcing” Sri Lanka to undertake constitutional reforms, and for exerting pressure on them to create a hybrid court to try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – when in reality, he claimed, all they had engaged in was fighting terrorism.  My first question: Why is international human rights law such an easy target? Why is it so misunderstood, so reviled by some, feared by others, spurned, attacked?  My second: If the Prime Minister meant what she said, which universal rights would the UK be willing to give away in order to punish people against whom there is insufficient evidence to justify prosecution? What, exactly, are the rights she considers frivolous or obstructive? The right to privacy? The right to liberty and security of person? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion and belief? The principle of non-refoulement? The prohibition of torture? Due process?  And why are we fighting the terrorists in the first place, if not to defend both the physical well-being of people and the very human rights and values the Prime Minister now says she is willing, in part, to sacrifice - in order to fight the terrorists? And where would it stop? Foregoing some rights now may have devastating effects on other rights later on. If we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, the eventual complete unwinding of human rights would transform us – both states and international organizations. To quote Nietzsche: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster".  We would be in danger of becoming virtually indistinguishable from the terrorists we are fighting.  So why did Prime Minister May said this?  At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.  And for good reason. To recognise that even a criminal has rights is the basis of enlightened thought, a principle enshrined in common law. It lies at the very core of human civilization, and distinguishes us from a primeval horde wrapped only in retribution and cruelties. I believe, like so many others, that criminals, too, have fundamental rights, because whatever evil they have wrought, they remain human beings. Frequently their pathological behaviour has been influenced by trauma inflicted on them by others. Let me take one, perhaps extreme, example.  In Iraq, there are people who argue for the killing of as many child soldiers of Da’esh as possible, and would perhaps even support torturing them, given how monstrous their actions have been. But in Sierra Leone, many child followers of Foday Sankoh, who were once hacking off the limbs of other small children, have now largely been rehabilitated, in no small measure due to the efforts of the UN. They were children even while they were terrorists – and they have to be seen as children first.  I seek in the course of this short lecture to examine some of these attacks on international human rights law, on international law generally. You have honoured me with the request that I speak to the legacy of Hugo Grotius. What would Grotius say today, were he to be brought back to life for a few moments? Would he be surprised, almost 400 years after publication of his treatise On the Law of War and Peace, by the overall achievement? The extent of the current backlash? The struggle? Or perhaps he would not be at all surprised by any of it.  While promoting an international "society" governed by law, not by force, he well may have been surprised it took a further 300 years of treaty-making and immense bloodletting, capped by two world wars, before humanity embraced a system of international law. Or, put another way, reason alone had proven itself to be insufficient.  Only the death of some 100 million people in two world wars and the Holocaust could generate the will necessary for a profound change. Humanity had fallen off a cliff, survived, and, having frightened itself rigid, became all the wiser for it. The prospect of nuclear annihilation also sharpened post-war thinking. And soon after, States drew up the UN Charter, reinforced international law – codified international refugee law, further elaborated international humanitarian law, and created international human rights law and international criminal law.  It is precisely these bodies of international law that are now endangered.  While I ought to, in this lecture, examine all the threats to public international law, from Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea to the almost enthusiastic derogation by European powers of their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or the seemingly deliberate bombing by major state actors of facilities protected under IHL – such as clinics and hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – I shall confine myself for the sake of brevity to those principal threats directed against international human rights law, and pay special attention to the absolute prohibition on the use of torture. In doing so, I hope to illustrate how they are symptomatic of a broader cynicism emerging in defiance of international law more generally.  Let me first return to the struggle against terrorism, and how it is being exploited by governments the world over to roll back the advances made in human rights. The curtailing of the freedoms of expression and association – which threatens to wipe out dissent completely in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey – is closing what is left of a democratic space, and all under the banner of fighting terrorism. And this contagion is spreading, fast.  When I emphasise this point, and highlight the excesses of government action, I am sometimes accused of showing sympathy with the terrorists, which is outrageous. I wish to be clear. I condemn terrorism unreservedly. It can never be justified, on the basis of any grievance, real or perceived.  The Da’esh, Al Qa’eda, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Boko Haram manifestation does have a distinct ideology, and it must be dismantled at the source. If it is to be fought from a security perspective, through intelligence networks and military force, the actions must also be extremely precise. In other words, the arbitrariness and imprecision that are the hallmarks of target selection on the part of terrorists require a diametrically opposite reaction from states. The laser-like application of the law, consistent with universal human rights standards and guarantees, is the only workable antidote if this struggle is ever to be successful.  The detention, and in some cases torture, of individuals whose association with a terrorist group is non-existent but who are nevertheless charged under a vaguely-worded counter-terrorism law – simply because they have criticized the government – is not just wrong, it is dangerous and entirely self-defeating.  It transforms not only one individual, falsely charged, into a person who hates the state, but also their families, friends, possibly even their communities. Some may even go further than simple hatred. Arbitrary detention serves the terrorists, not the state; it fuels recruitment. And yet arbitrary detentions are commonplace in those states grappling with terrorism. In fact, if you believe the rhetoric of many governments, every lawyer or journalist is almost by definition a terrorist, particularly if they are human rights-focused. Present company included!  Moreover, given that prisons often become factories for converting petty criminals into violent extremists, the lawful deprivation of liberty ordered by Courts should be reserved for the most serious offenses, and non-custodial remedies sought for lesser offenses. This is not what is happening.  Instead, we see in the United States a renewed resort to very long prison sentences for those convicted of drug offenses. And rather than focus on potentially violent individuals driven by Takfiri ideology, or any other extreme ideology, the Trump Administration is pursuing its executive orders on the travel bans all the way to the Supreme Court, despite their being struck down as unconstitutional in the lower courts.  Likewise, in the weeks following the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris, in November 2015, the French authorities took broad aim and closed down 20 mosques and Muslim associations, while also undertaking some 2,700 warrantless house searches. In the United Kingdom, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 constituted one of the most sweeping mass surveillance regimes in the world, permitting the interception, access, retention and hacking of communications without a requirement of reasonable suspicion. Refugees and migrants were increasingly viewed as Trojan horses for terrorists.  Hysteria raged in political circles across Europe, and the terrorists must have been grinning. When it came to the management of the public's reaction, instead of adopting a common-sense approach, fever set in.  To overcome terrorism, governments must be precise in the pursuit of the terrorists. Pretending to seal off borders -- with or without walls decorated with solar panels -- is an illusion, and a nasty one. Migrant children should not be detained. There should be no refoulement. Nor should there be collective push back, or decisions taken at borders by police officers, instead of judges. Or indeed, returns to countries that are manifestly not safe.  The EU deal with Turkey, in our view, has failed on several of these key points; most especially when it comes to the right of every asylum seeker to individual assessment. Taken together with the emergency measures being rushed through a number of European parliaments, which also derogate from the 1951 Refugee Convention, Europe – as a sentinel for the observation of refugee and human rights laws worldwide – finds itself enmeshed in gross hypocrisy.  The demagogues and populists across Europe and in many other parts of the world, as well as the tabloids in this country, have for years remorselessly stoked xenophobia and bigotry – the fuel that gave rise to these unwise policies. And this seemed to be paying off, with a windfall of popular support gathering in their favour. After the referendum here in the UK, dominated as it was by the whipped-up fear of foreigners and foreign institutions, came the outcome of the US election, and the populist bandwagon seemed to be on an unstoppable roll.  The default condition of the human mind is, after all, fear. Primordial fear. That innermost instinctive mechanism protecting us from harm, from death. An emotion every extremist, skilled populists included, seeks to tap or stimulate. By manipulating it, and obliterating deductive reasoning drawn from knowledge, they more easily mould the movements they lead, and their political ambitions are well-served – at least for a while.  The emotional mechanism in the mind of a human rights defender works rather differently. To do good in our lives, and not just to some, but to all; to defend the human rights of all – this requires a continuous investment of thought, where the natural prejudices lying deep within each of us must be watched out for and rejected every day of our lives. The default flow in the minds of humanity may be reptilian; but the internal battle to overcome it is profoundly human. To think of all, to work for all: these are the two fundamental lessons learned by those who survived the two world wars – whether we speak in relation to the behaviour of individuals or states. And they are etched into the UN Charter.   The two words “human rights” were not placed in the preamble of the UN Charter by its final author, Virginia Gildersleeve, as a literary flourish. They were written into the text – almost at the beginning, in the third line – because human rights was viewed as the only choice possible for that first beat of a new pulse. Because on 26 June 1945, the day of the Charter's signing, killing on a scale hitherto unknown to humans had only just come to an end, with cities across the world pulverized and still smoking, monuments to immense human malevolence and stupidity.  Only by accepting human rights as the cornerstone could the rest of the edifice – success in economic development, durable peace – become possible. It is a point that even today – perhaps especially today – needs to be absorbed by the numerous political actors who only see human rights as a tiresome constraint. Indeed, many people who have enjoyed their rights since birth simply do not realise what these principles really mean. Like oxygen, they lie beyond our daily sensory perception, and only when suddenly deprived of it do we fathom their enormous significance.  To advocate for the universal rights of every human being, every rights holder, is another way of saying that only by working together, do we – as humans and as states – have a hope of ridding ourselves of the scourges of violence and war.  Tragically, the nativistic reflexes once again being peddled by populists and demagogues still seem to work. They sell supremacy and not equality, sow suspicion rather than calm, and hurl enmity against defined categories of people who are vulnerable – easy scapegoats, and undeserving of their hatred. This brand of politician seems more intent on profiting from the genuine fear of specific constituencies than promoting care for the welfare of the whole.  Thankfully, change is afoot. The populist or nationalist-chauvinistic wave in the western world, which crested in the US, has broken for now, dashed against the ballot boxes of Austria, the Netherlands and France. There may yet be other waves. Nevertheless, in Europe, the anti-populist movement, as some have called it, is now up and running.  In other parts of the world, threats to international law and the institutions upholding them are thus far unaffected by these recent, more positive developments.  The US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions. It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party.  Last year, it was also reported that nine Arab states – the coalition led by Saudi Arabia fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict.  The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats. Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law.  In this context, most worrisome to me is the persistent flirtation by the President of the United States, throughout his campaign and soon thereafter, with a return to torture. We are now told the US Army field manual will not be redrafted, and the US Secretary of Defence is guiding the White House on this.  For now there is little danger of a return to the practice of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques", a euphemism that dupes no-one. The mood in the US could of course change dramatically, if the country were at some stage to experience a gruesome terrorist attack. And, mindful of how the American public has, over the last ten years, become far more accepting of torture, the balance could be tipped in favour of its practice – and destroy the delicate position the Convention Against Torture is in.  It is worth recalling that the Convention against Torture, ratified by 162 countries, is the most unyielding of any existing instrument in international law. Its prohibition on torture is so absolute, it can never be lifted – not even during an emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.” And yet, notwithstanding its broader recognition as jus cogens, and the crystal clarity of Article 2 of the Convention, the existence of so many surviving victims of torture, who remain unacknowledged, unsupported, denied justice or redress, forms a living testimony to the dreadful persistence of torture worldwide.  While only a small number of states appear to practise torture systematically, as part of state policy, 20 countries (and they are listed on our website) do not recognize the competence of the Committee Against Torture under Article 20. Accordingly, they refuse a priori any scrutiny of the alleged widespread violations.  A much larger number of states are host to isolated – or not so isolated – acts of torture and ill-treatment. Disturbingly, states in this group are simply not taking their obligations seriously enough. The levels of impunity are very high, given that most of those individuals who are found culpable face only administrative sanctions; and so-called evidence obtained under torture remains, in many states, admissible in court.  There are also a number of states – and this group may possibly be increasing – which, while having no record of practising torture, are nevertheless acquiescing to it by, for example, disregarding the principle of non-refoulement as contained in Article 3 of the Convention.  Another large majority of states parties also fully or partially disregard their obligations under Article 14 of the Convention for the redress and rehabilitation of victims, no matter where the torture occurred or by whom it was perpetrated.  Eleven years ago, noticeable progress was made with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, which enables preventive visits to be made by the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture to any place of deprivation of liberty, at any time. Some fifty national preventive mechanisms have been created, and the Sub-Committee has conducted 54 visits. However, many national preventive mechanisms are under-resourced and not empowered to deliver real results.  The fragility of the Convention is underscored by the fact that no country abides by all of its terms. No country would admit publicly that it engages in torture, but abundant evidence shows that torture is systematically practised by at least some states – that first category I referred to earlier.  It would seem all governments have been participating in a theatrical pretence of conforming with the Convention. And this may be more crucial than we initially realise, because it implies a sense of shame. Consider the alternative.  The president of the Philippines has spoken openly about extra-judicial killings. And the president of the United States of America has said that torture could be necessary in certain circumstances. There is no longer any pretence. They are breaking long-held taboos. If other leaders start to follow the same rhetorical course, undermining the Convention with their words, the practice of torture is likely to broaden, and that would be fatal. The Convention would be scuttled, and a central load-bearing pillar of international law removed.  The dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.  Today, the 26th of June, is the international day in support of victims of torture, and earlier I participated in a panel at King's College organised by the International Bar Association to raise awareness about the absolute prohibition of torture, and the need for the legal profession to take a far more active role in preventing its use.  Human progress never glides; it will always stagger and sometimes even temporarily collapse. The common effort, for a common cause, within a common frame of understanding and regulation, will always be attacked by those more committed to the pursuit of narrower personal or national interests. These extreme practitioners of the assertive, thin agenda are apt to dismiss many of today’s international laws and post-war institutions as anachronisms. And because, to the non-lawyer, the system of international law is so complicated, the human rights system so indecipherable to many lay-persons, it is hard to rally the general public, who may not see any immediate threat to themselves.  This brings me to the central threat to human rights today: indifference. The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery.  Some politicians, for whom economic, social and cultural rights mean little, are indifferent to the consequences of economic austerity. They view human rights only as an irritating check on expediency – the currency of the political world. For others, indifference is not enough. Their rejection of the rights agenda is expressed in terms replete with utter contempt for others, a parade of meanness.  Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. It is so hard for us now in the UN to generate the sums needed for humanitarian action worldwide. Our appeals for funds for the most destitute are rarely met at levels over 50%; the final figure is often far less.  What is happening to us?  My hope lies not primarily with governments, but with those people who reject all forms of terrorism, reject extreme, discriminatory counter-terrorism, and reject the populisms of the ideological outer limits. My hope lies with those who choose to elect more enlightened political leaders. My hope also lies with the most courageous of us: the human rights defenders, often victims of violations themselves who, armed with nothing beyond their minds and voices, are willing to sacrifice everything, including seeing their children and families, losing their work, even their lives, to safeguard rights – not just their own, but the rights of others.  How stunningly beautiful is that? I am moved by them. We should all be. It is they who ensure we retain our equanimity, and it is they, not us, who bear the greater burden of defending this crucial part of our system of international law. It is they who will save us, and we in turn must invest every effort in protecting them.  I don’t think Grotius would be surprised by any of this.  The reptilian urge of the human brain is not easily overcome, and humanity will for centuries remain untrustworthy and unreliable. Our behaviour, and the behaviour of states, will long require legal scaffolding to keep what we recognize as human civilization in place. Grotius would be grateful we are still fighting, standing up, for his international society and perhaps even crack a wry smile when thinking just how prescient he was, those four centuries ago.  I thank you for your attention.

Image from UNWatch.org

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein delivered the following speech at the Law Society in London.

26 June 2017

Earlier this month, Britain’s Prime Minister called for human rights laws to be overturned if they were to "get in the way" in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, Theresa May said there was a need "to restrict the freedom and movement of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not evidence to prosecute them in full in court." For an increasingly anxious public, shaken by the recent and dreadful terrorist attacks, her remarks no doubt reflected real anger and frustration, but they also seemed intended to strike a chord with a certain sector of the electorate, and it is this expectation that truly worries me.


British Government officials would probably claim the comments should be understood in the context of a tough electoral campaign, and would presumably try and reassure us quietly that the government’s support for human rights remains steadfast and unchallengeable. 

Whatever the intention behind her remarks, they were highly regrettable, a gift from a major Western leader to every authoritarian figure around the world who shamelessly violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism. And it is not just the leaders. 

A few days ago, citing Prime Minister May, a former Sri Lankan rear admiral delivered a petition to the President of the Human Rights Council. He demanded action be taken against my Office for “forcing” Sri Lanka to undertake constitutional reforms, and for exerting pressure on them to create a hybrid court to try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – when in reality, he claimed, all they had engaged in was fighting terrorism. 

My first question: Why is international human rights law such an easy target? Why is it so misunderstood, so reviled by some, feared by others, spurned, attacked? 

My second: If the Prime Minister meant what she said, which universal rights would the UK be willing to give away in order to punish people against whom there is insufficient evidence to justify prosecution? What, exactly, are the rights she considers frivolous or obstructive? The right to privacy? The right to liberty and security of person? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion and belief? The principle of non-refoulement? The prohibition of torture? Due process? 

And why are we fighting the terrorists in the first place, if not to defend both the physical well-being of people and the very human rights and values the Prime Minister now says she is willing, in part, to sacrifice - in order to fight the terrorists? And where would it stop? Foregoing some rights now may have devastating effects on other rights later on. If we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, the eventual complete unwinding of human rights would transform us – both states and international organizations. To quote Nietzsche: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster".  We would be in danger of becoming virtually indistinguishable from the terrorists we are fighting. 

So why did Prime Minister May said this?  At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights. 

And for good reason. To recognise that even a criminal has rights is the basis of enlightened thought, a principle enshrined in common law. It lies at the very core of human civilization, and distinguishes us from a primeval horde wrapped only in retribution and cruelties. I believe, like so many others, that criminals, too, have fundamental rights, because whatever evil they have wrought, they remain human beings. Frequently their pathological behaviour has been influenced by trauma inflicted on them by others.

Let me take one, perhaps extreme, example.  In Iraq, there are people who argue for the killing of as many child soldiers of Da’esh as possible, and would perhaps even support torturing them, given how monstrous their actions have been. But in Sierra Leone, many child followers of Foday Sankoh, who were once hacking off the limbs of other small children, have now largely been rehabilitated, in no small measure due to the efforts of the UN. They were children even while they were terrorists – and they have to be seen as children first. 

I seek in the course of this short lecture to examine some of these attacks on international human rights law, on international law generally. You have honoured me with the request that I speak to the legacy of Hugo Grotius. What would Grotius say today, were he to be brought back to life for a few moments? Would he be surprised, almost 400 years after publication of his treatise On the Law of War and Peace, by the overall achievement? The extent of the current backlash? The struggle? Or perhaps he would not be at all surprised by any of it. 

While promoting an international "society" governed by law, not by force, he well may have been surprised it took a further 300 years of treaty-making and immense bloodletting, capped by two world wars, before humanity embraced a system of international law. Or, put another way, reason alone had proven itself to be insufficient. 

Only the death of some 100 million people in two world wars and the Holocaust could generate the will necessary for a profound change. Humanity had fallen off a cliff, survived, and, having frightened itself rigid, became all the wiser for it. The prospect of nuclear annihilation also sharpened post-war thinking. And soon after, States drew up the UN Charter, reinforced international law – codified international refugee law, further elaborated international humanitarian law, and created international human rights law and international criminal law. 

It is precisely these bodies of international law that are now endangered. 

While I ought to, in this lecture, examine all the threats to public international law, from Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea to the almost enthusiastic derogation by European powers of their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or the seemingly deliberate bombing by major state actors of facilities protected under IHL – such as clinics and hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – I shall confine myself for the sake of brevity to those principal threats directed against international human rights law, and pay special attention to the absolute prohibition on the use of torture. In doing so, I hope to illustrate how they are symptomatic of a broader cynicism emerging in defiance of international law more generally. 

Let me first return to the struggle against terrorism, and how it is being exploited by governments the world over to roll back the advances made in human rights. The curtailing of the freedoms of expression and association – which threatens to wipe out dissent completely in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey – is closing what is left of a democratic space, and all under the banner of fighting terrorism. And this contagion is spreading, fast. 

When I emphasise this point, and highlight the excesses of government action, I am sometimes accused of showing sympathy with the terrorists, which is outrageous. I wish to be clear. I condemn terrorism unreservedly. It can never be justified, on the basis of any grievance, real or perceived. 

The Da’esh, Al Qa’eda, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Boko Haram manifestation does have a distinct ideology, and it must be dismantled at the source. If it is to be fought from a security perspective, through intelligence networks and military force, the actions must also be extremely precise. In other words, the arbitrariness and imprecision that are the hallmarks of target selection on the part of terrorists require a diametrically opposite reaction from states. The laser-like application of the law, consistent with universal human rights standards and guarantees, is the only workable antidote if this struggle is ever to be successful. 

The detention, and in some cases torture, of individuals whose association with a terrorist group is non-existent but who are nevertheless charged under a vaguely-worded counter-terrorism law – simply because they have criticized the government – is not just wrong, it is dangerous and entirely self-defeating. 

It transforms not only one individual, falsely charged, into a person who hates the state, but also their families, friends, possibly even their communities. Some may even go further than simple hatred. Arbitrary detention serves the terrorists, not the state; it fuels recruitment. And yet arbitrary detentions are commonplace in those states grappling with terrorism. In fact, if you believe the rhetoric of many governments, every lawyer or journalist is almost by definition a terrorist, particularly if they are human rights-focused. Present company included! 

Moreover, given that prisons often become factories for converting petty criminals into violent extremists, the lawful deprivation of liberty ordered by Courts should be reserved for the most serious offenses, and non-custodial remedies sought for lesser offenses. This is not what is happening. 

Instead, we see in the United States a renewed resort to very long prison sentences for those convicted of drug offenses. And rather than focus on potentially violent individuals driven by Takfiri ideology, or any other extreme ideology, the Trump Administration is pursuing its executive orders on the travel bans all the way to the Supreme Court, despite their being struck down as unconstitutional in the lower courts. 

Likewise, in the weeks following the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris, in November 2015, the French authorities took broad aim and closed down 20 mosques and Muslim associations, while also undertaking some 2,700 warrantless house searches. In the United Kingdom, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 constituted one of the most sweeping mass surveillance regimes in the world, permitting the interception, access, retention and hacking of communications without a requirement of reasonable suspicion. Refugees and migrants were increasingly viewed as Trojan horses for terrorists.  Hysteria raged in political circles across Europe, and the terrorists must have been grinning. When it came to the management of the public's reaction, instead of adopting a common-sense approach, fever set in. 

To overcome terrorism, governments must be precise in the pursuit of the terrorists. Pretending to seal off borders -- with or without walls decorated with solar panels -- is an illusion, and a nasty one. Migrant children should not be detained. There should be no refoulement. Nor should there be collective push back, or decisions taken at borders by police officers, instead of judges. Or indeed, returns to countries that are manifestly not safe. 

The EU deal with Turkey, in our view, has failed on several of these key points; most especially when it comes to the right of every asylum seeker to individual assessment. Taken together with the emergency measures being rushed through a number of European parliaments, which also derogate from the 1951 Refugee Convention, Europe – as a sentinel for the observation of refugee and human rights laws worldwide – finds itself enmeshed in gross hypocrisy. 

The demagogues and populists across Europe and in many other parts of the world, as well as the tabloids in this country, have for years remorselessly stoked xenophobia and bigotry – the fuel that gave rise to these unwise policies. And this seemed to be paying off, with a windfall of popular support gathering in their favour. After the referendum here in the UK, dominated as it was by the whipped-up fear of foreigners and foreign institutions, came the outcome of the US election, and the populist bandwagon seemed to be on an unstoppable roll. 

The default condition of the human mind is, after all, fear. Primordial fear. That innermost instinctive mechanism protecting us from harm, from death. An emotion every extremist, skilled populists included, seeks to tap or stimulate. By manipulating it, and obliterating deductive reasoning drawn from knowledge, they more easily mould the movements they lead, and their political ambitions are well-served – at least for a while. 

The emotional mechanism in the mind of a human rights defender works rather differently. To do good in our lives, and not just to some, but to all; to defend the human rights of all – this requires a continuous investment of thought, where the natural prejudices lying deep within each of us must be watched out for and rejected every day of our lives. The default flow in the minds of humanity may be reptilian; but the internal battle to overcome it is profoundly human. To think of all, to work for all: these are the two fundamental lessons learned by those who survived the two world wars – whether we speak in relation to the behaviour of individuals or states. And they are etched into the UN Charter. 

 The two words “human rights” were not placed in the preamble of the UN Charter by its final author, Virginia Gildersleeve, as a literary flourish. They were written into the text – almost at the beginning, in the third line – because human rights was viewed as the only choice possible for that first beat of a new pulse. Because on 26 June 1945, the day of the Charter's signing, killing on a scale hitherto unknown to humans had only just come to an end, with cities across the world pulverized and still smoking, monuments to immense human malevolence and stupidity. 

Only by accepting human rights as the cornerstone could the rest of the edifice – success in economic development, durable peace – become possible. It is a point that even today – perhaps especially today – needs to be absorbed by the numerous political actors who only see human rights as a tiresome constraint. Indeed, many people who have enjoyed their rights since birth simply do not realise what these principles really mean. Like oxygen, they lie beyond our daily sensory perception, and only when suddenly deprived of it do we fathom their enormous significance. 

To advocate for the universal rights of every human being, every rights holder, is another way of saying that only by working together, do we – as humans and as states – have a hope of ridding ourselves of the scourges of violence and war. 

Tragically, the nativistic reflexes once again being peddled by populists and demagogues still seem to work. They sell supremacy and not equality, sow suspicion rather than calm, and hurl enmity against defined categories of people who are vulnerable – easy scapegoats, and undeserving of their hatred. This brand of politician seems more intent on profiting from the genuine fear of specific constituencies than promoting care for the welfare of the whole. 

Thankfully, change is afoot. The populist or nationalist-chauvinistic wave in the western world, which crested in the US, has broken for now, dashed against the ballot boxes of Austria, the Netherlands and France. There may yet be other waves. Nevertheless, in Europe, the anti-populist movement, as some have called it, is now up and running. 

In other parts of the world, threats to international law and the institutions upholding them are thus far unaffected by these recent, more positive developments. 

The US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions. It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party. 

Last year, it was also reported that nine Arab states – the coalition led by Saudi Arabia fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict. 

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats. Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law. 

In this context, most worrisome to me is the persistent flirtation by the President of the United States, throughout his campaign and soon thereafter, with a return to torture. We are now told the US Army field manual will not be redrafted, and the US Secretary of Defence is guiding the White House on this.  For now there is little danger of a return to the practice of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques", a euphemism that dupes no-one. The mood in the US could of course change dramatically, if the country were at some stage to experience a gruesome terrorist attack. And, mindful of how the American public has, over the last ten years, become far more accepting of torture, the balance could be tipped in favour of its practice – and destroy the delicate position the Convention Against Torture is in. 

It is worth recalling that the Convention against Torture, ratified by 162 countries, is the most unyielding of any existing instrument in international law. Its prohibition on torture is so absolute, it can never be lifted – not even during an emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.” And yet, notwithstanding its broader recognition as jus cogens, and the crystal clarity of Article 2 of the Convention, the existence of so many surviving victims of torture, who remain unacknowledged, unsupported, denied justice or redress, forms a living testimony to the dreadful persistence of torture worldwide. 

While only a small number of states appear to practise torture systematically, as part of state policy, 20 countries (and they are listed on our website) do not recognize the competence of the Committee Against Torture under Article 20. Accordingly, they refuse a priori any scrutiny of the alleged widespread violations. 

A much larger number of states are host to isolated – or not so isolated – acts of torture and ill-treatment. Disturbingly, states in this group are simply not taking their obligations seriously enough. The levels of impunity are very high, given that most of those individuals who are found culpable face only administrative sanctions; and so-called evidence obtained under torture remains, in many states, admissible in court. 

There are also a number of states – and this group may possibly be increasing – which, while having no record of practising torture, are nevertheless acquiescing to it by, for example, disregarding the principle of non-refoulement as contained in Article 3 of the Convention. 

Another large majority of states parties also fully or partially disregard their obligations under Article 14 of the Convention for the redress and rehabilitation of victims, no matter where the torture occurred or by whom it was perpetrated. 

Eleven years ago, noticeable progress was made with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, which enables preventive visits to be made by the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture to any place of deprivation of liberty, at any time. Some fifty national preventive mechanisms have been created, and the Sub-Committee has conducted 54 visits. However, many national preventive mechanisms are under-resourced and not empowered to deliver real results. 

The fragility of the Convention is underscored by the fact that no country abides by all of its terms. No country would admit publicly that it engages in torture, but abundant evidence shows that torture is systematically practised by at least some states – that first category I referred to earlier. 

It would seem all governments have been participating in a theatrical pretence of conforming with the Convention. And this may be more crucial than we initially realise, because it implies a sense of shame. Consider the alternative. 

The president of the Philippines has spoken openly about extra-judicial killings. And the president of the United States of America has said that torture could be necessary in certain circumstances. There is no longer any pretence. They are breaking long-held taboos. If other leaders start to follow the same rhetorical course, undermining the Convention with their words, the practice of torture is likely to broaden, and that would be fatal. The Convention would be scuttled, and a central load-bearing pillar of international law removed. 

The dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real. 

Today, the 26th of June, is the international day in support of victims of torture, and earlier I participated in a panel at King's College organised by the International Bar Association to raise awareness about the absolute prohibition of torture, and the need for the legal profession to take a far more active role in preventing its use. 

Human progress never glides; it will always stagger and sometimes even temporarily collapse. The common effort, for a common cause, within a common frame of understanding and regulation, will always be attacked by those more committed to the pursuit of narrower personal or national interests. These extreme practitioners of the assertive, thin agenda are apt to dismiss many of today’s international laws and post-war institutions as anachronisms. And because, to the non-lawyer, the system of international law is so complicated, the human rights system so indecipherable to many lay-persons, it is hard to rally the general public, who may not see any immediate threat to themselves. 

This brings me to the central threat to human rights today: indifference. The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery. 

Some politicians, for whom economic, social and cultural rights mean little, are indifferent to the consequences of economic austerity. They view human rights only as an irritating check on expediency – the currency of the political world. For others, indifference is not enough. Their rejection of the rights agenda is expressed in terms replete with utter contempt for others, a parade of meanness. 

Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. It is so hard for us now in the UN to generate the sums needed for humanitarian action worldwide. Our appeals for funds for the most destitute are rarely met at levels over 50%; the final figure is often far less. 

What is happening to us? 

My hope lies not primarily with governments, but with those people who reject all forms of terrorism, reject extreme, discriminatory counter-terrorism, and reject the populisms of the ideological outer limits. My hope lies with those who choose to elect more enlightened political leaders. My hope also lies with the most courageous of us: the human rights defenders, often victims of violations themselves who, armed with nothing beyond their minds and voices, are willing to sacrifice everything, including seeing their children and families, losing their work, even their lives, to safeguard rights – not just their own, but the rights of others. 

How stunningly beautiful is that? I am moved by them. We should all be. It is they who ensure we retain our equanimity, and it is they, not us, who bear the greater burden of defending this crucial part of our system of international law. It is they who will save us, and we in turn must invest every effort in protecting them. 

I don’t think Grotius would be surprised by any of this. 

The reptilian urge of the human brain is not easily overcome, and humanity will for centuries remain untrustworthy and unreliable. Our behaviour, and the behaviour of states, will long require legal scaffolding to keep what we recognize as human civilization in place. Grotius would be grateful we are still fighting, standing up, for his international society and perhaps even crack a wry smile when thinking just how prescient he was, those four centuries ago. 

I thank you for your attention.

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari to Travel Ban Case

The United States Supreme Court on Monday allowed parts of President Trump’s Travel Ban to go into effect, and agreed to hear oral arguments on the case in the fall. The Court said the ban applies to individuals who lack a “bona fide” relationship with any person or entity in the US. They said individuals accepted as students to US universities or as employees of US companies, for example, will not be subject to the ban. Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in part, with Justice Samuel Alito and newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch joining. He argued the compromise the Court issued puts a difficult burden on the government for deciding what constitutes a bona fide relationship, and many litigations on the matter could result.

Earlier in 2017 US courts struck down Trump’s ban on multiple occasions, repeatedly challenging its constitutionality. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the executive order “speaks with vague words of national security but in context drips with religious intolerance.” The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the President did not offer sufficient justification to ban entry into the US--for what would end up being more than 180 million people--on the basis of nationality. Additionally, the 9th Circuit said the President exceeded his statutory authority with this executive order based on the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Click here to read the SCOTUS' Per Curiam decision.

UN's Second Annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

On Tuesday the United Nations held their second annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. There was a panel discussion held in the ECOSOC Chamber at the UNHQ that brought together representatives from all over the world to discuss the tools required to deter and ultimately eliminate sexual violence in armed conflicts. The event was hosted by Argentina and moderated by Argentinian Representative Martin Garcia Moritan. Collectively, the speakers spoke similarly about the problems and solutions that needed to be identified to begin the elimination and persecution of perpetrators of sexual violence.

We are now seeing a manifestation of the legitimizing of the issue of sexual violence as a threat to national peace and security by the international diplomatic community. This allows it to become a regular point of interest in international peace and security discussions. This recent shift greatly signifies the duty international diplomats have to protect victims and further prevent victimization. It emphasizes political will as an essential mechanism for positive change within this issue.

The speakers repeatedly reinforced the importance of remembering the consequences of sexual violence lie far beyond the incidents themselves. Victims are stigmatized by their communities, suffer physical and mental damage, and even become pregnant. They are too frequently filled with shame and guilt, which are emotions that should be left for the attackers.

The stigma experienced by victims of sexual violence must end. Individuals who fall victim to sexual violence are often too scared of stigmatization by their community to come forward about their victimization. The panelists discussed how vital safe spaces are for victims of sexual violence. Facilitating an environment to allow victims the opportunity to safely come forward about their attacks will begin to alleviate the common problem of crimes of sexual violence going unreported. If victims are empowered to speak up as opposed to being shamed, then more crimes will be reported and perpetrators will be deterred.

A few speakers discussed procedures performed in their home countries that were suggested as possible remedies. For example, the permanent resident of Colombia spoke about a Constitutional amendment that was ratified in Colombia that called for stronger inquiries and investigations into sexual violence with regard to peace and impunity. The representative from Japan said there was a smaller investigative team that is funded by a small number of donor to investigate crimes of sexual violence. The representatives from Spain, Australia, and the European Union all stated the important role their countries have already given to the issue of sexual violence.

Another vital step to eliminating the problem of sexual violence in conflict is to improve judicial processes that deal with these crimes. Judiciaries need to be more efficient and provide clear procedures. The judges reviewing these cases must be appropriately trained and the victims must feel safe to adequately recall the events that took place. A reoccurring theme in the panel was the important link between accountability and prevention. Adequate accountability entails a judicial system that can tackle such cases and punish perpetrators sufficiently. A “hybrid judiciary” was suggested by a representative from the Central African Republic, that provides a combination of efforts by the ICC, the UN, and NGOs on the ground.

The panel played an important role in addressing the long-lasting consequences of sexual violence in armed conflicts and the solutions that states and international bodies should strive to achieve. This panel accentuated the common interests and goals a multitude of powerful nations have, which offered some optimism to an issue that usually only brings about dismay.  

More information about the event can be found here.

ICC Calls for Immediate Arrest of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi


Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in 2011, after his arrest warrant was filed.  Ammar El-Darwish/Reuters

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in 2011, after his arrest warrant was filed.  Ammar El-Darwish/Reuters

On 14 June, the International Criminal Court (ICC) called for the arrest of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity of murder and persecution. Gaddafi, son of notorious Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has been detained since he allegedly committed these crimes during the 2011 uprising that pushed his father out of power in 2011. Last week, however, the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Battalion militia freed Gaddafi under the pretense of an "amnesty law," a move that has been condemned by the UN-backed government in Libya and by the international community in general. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda declared that Libya is obligated to turn Gaddafi over regardless of any supposed amnesty law.

Beyond Gaddafi's past crimes, experts worry that his release will renew political strife in Libya. According to field research done by the BBC, Libyan citizens that had fought for the 2011 revolution may see Gaddafi's freedom as a betrayal of their own, and they may see fit to renew protests. However, others have said that Libya's chaotic turn since Muammar Gaddafi's relinquishing of power may be stabilized with the younger Gaddafi's return. In fact, Gaddafi's lawyer implied that Gaddafi could have a pivotal role in national reconciliation efforts, but it is unknown whether he plans to do so, or whether such efforts would be balanced for both sides to the conflict. Some have questioned why Gaddafi's release was even publicly discussed, as his whereabouts are currently unknown, as well as his intentions.

Although it remains unclear how Gaddafi's return will affect political tensions in Libya, the ICC's warrant for his arrest still stands and remains resolute. Additionally, if Gaddafi does indeed plan to re-enter Libyan politics, he has many other political powers to contend with in the country, leaving him at a relative disadvantage.

Morocco: Political Strife Between Government and Popular Movement Grows


Nasser Zefzafi [Youssef Boudlal/Reuters]

Nasser Zefzafi [Youssef Boudlal/Reuters]

Since October 2016, Moroccan citizens have staged countless massive protests in an effort to secure more jobs, better economic development, and improved accountability of the national justice system. Morocco’s political strife originated during the Arab Spring in 2011, in which the death of Mohamed Bouazizi was a major catalyst in sparking widescale protests throughout the Middle East. Similarly, the situation in Morocco intensified in October 2016 when Moroccan authorities seized merchandise amounting to $11,000 worth of merchandise from Mouhcine Fikri, a local fish vendor. When Fikri pursued his property into a garbage truck, authorities knowingly turned on the truck’s compactor, crushing Fikri to death and further igniting tensions.

Fikri’s death occurred in the Rif, a mountainous region in Morocco that has had a history of conflict since 1921, when the region’s tribal leader Abd el-Krim declared it to be independent from Spain. A bloody war between the French and Spanish colonial powers and the indigenous Berber tribes followed soon after el-Krim’s declaration. The Berber tribes eventually surrendered to the French, followed by the return of the region to Morocco in 1956.

Widely circulated footage of Fikri’s death, along with the historically high tensions in the Rif, instigated the al-Hirak al-Shaabi movement, otherwise known as “The Popular Movement,” last October. Since then, the group has conducted waves of protests. The Popular Movement’s leader, Nasser Zefzafi, was arrested days after he criticized a cleric leading a midday prayer at a mosque in Al-Hoceima. 71 protestors have also been detained from 26 to 31 May alone, including other leaders of the grassroots movement. A number of detainees were denied access to their lawyers, and defendants claimed to have been beaten and threatened by police upon arrest. Government officials have claimed they are open to a dialogue with the movement and welcome reform.

However, recent changes in the Moroccan government make such a dialogue unlikely. In 2011, Morocco established a parliamentary constitutional monarchy and is currently being led by King Mohammed VI, who shortly after taking the throne promised Moroccan citizens an end to corruption and poverty, as well as an improvement in the country’s human rights record. Despite these declarations of positive reforms, officials quickly did away with these promises by arresting and abusing prominent members of the opposition, despite the latter being legitimately dissatisfied with the economic and political state of the country. 

International law permits the use of force by police only when absolutely necessary and when all other alternative forms of policing have been exhausted. Therefore, the right to assembly and peaceful protest must be respected by authorities.  Additionally, international law states that individuals should be guaranteed the right to counsel, the notification of one’s rights, and prohibits degrading and inhuman treatment (i.e. threats and physical assault) by authorities. The international community has expressed concern about the carrying out of criminal procedures in Morocco, with reports from Al Jazeera and Amnesty International indicating that Morocco is violating international law with its actions.

Since the arrests, the Popular Movement has protested under the slogan “One nation, one people against deprivation and humiliations, united for freedom, dignity and social justice.” The message has somewhat shifted to a denouncement of the violent crackdown by authorities on the peaceful protestors and continues to call for more mobilization.

"Libya: A second chance?"

Henry Smith, Former Director of Saferworld, presents six lessons we can take from the inadequate international support that powered the current post-Gadhafi Libyan situation:

Lesson 1: Any measures taken to form some kind of settlement should be recognized as a small step towards peace, not a final solution. The possibility of a power-sharing and peaceful solution between the government and military power in Libya must be met with cautionary tales of past efforts to stabilize the region. The implementation of an interim government in 2011 sent a signal to both internal and external actors that a legitimate government had been set up and a settlement had been agreed upon when it had not. The hint of any settlement was hastily deemed an overarching solution, and the resulting domestic and international pressures led any and all attempts to create peace and stability to fall apart.

Lesson 2:  Prioritize long-term political dialogue, reconciliation, and negotiation over short-term state building. Public pressure and support is necessary in establishing the legitimacy of committed actors who will surely complete challenging and crucial tasks. A political settlement offers a foundation that is more sustainable than short-term efforts.

Lesson 3: Do not forget to integrate the people of the nation with the political process. It allows them to hold their policy makers accountable. Effective grassroots mobilization includes the voices of youth, women, and other marginalized groups. These people can serve as active actors in positive reconciliatory processes for a new system of government. The Libyan government failed to educate or include their people of their form of government after 2011, and it led to the Libyan people feeling disconnected from an elite class that was perceived to have made up their government.

Lesson 4: Those involved in a settlement must have a role in post-war international support—regionally and UN mandated. Engagement from an international coalition, which included the U.S. and the U.K., was set up to oust Gadhafi, and following his fall, focused only on short-term goals, as opposed to long-term peacebuilding and stabilization. The lack of U.S. engagement has brought forth a newly found effort by Egypt, which will likely bring about new approaches to a settlement. Additionally, an official UN mission could solidify an effective transition of government.

Lesson 5: lasting stability can only be encouraged, and certainly not rushed. Strategic goals can only be developed gradually, and while short-term goals are important, they are simply less effective.

Lesson 6: Armed groups must first be seen as legitimate political actors who need to be transitioned away from violence, and second, be recognized in settlement reconciliation and state-building efforts because they are already accepted as an integral part of Libyan power structures and society. Efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate (DDR) armed groups have failed in the past. They label these groups as “outsiders” and hold them to international scrutiny, when they have often rallied public support for serving as a form of protection for communities and governments.

Overall, a successful transition of government in Libya requires a multitude of forces: greater dialogue for public ownership, knowledge of the difficulty of politics, patience, consideration of policy-making beyond the use policy-makers, the possibility of different outcomes, and transitioning armed actors into nonviolent actors.  Success in Libya greatly depends on external support and learning from the mistakes of short-term thinking.

Click here for the original article.

U.S. Threatens Withdrawal from Human Rights Council


UN Ambassador Nikki Haley addressing the Human Rights Counsel in Geneva. Magali Girardin/European Pressphoto Agency.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley addressing the Human Rights Counsel in Geneva. Magali Girardin/European Pressphoto Agency.

The United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on Tuesday that the U.S. is considering pulling out of the UN’s Human Rights Council due to its choice to act on what Haley calls an “anti-Israel bias” in reference to the disparity between the number of resolutions placed on Israel versus the far fewer number of resolutions placed on other states on the 47-member Council who are known to be human rights violators. The U.K. and Israel have previously accused the Council of this “bias” as well.

She explicitly referred to a total of five resolutions placed against Israel in March, as compared to human rights violators like Venezuela, who received zero.

Haley outlined reforms the U.S. wants to see in the Human Rights Council that would allow the U.S. to remain a member of the Council. She first called for an acknowledgment by the Council of the “anti-Israel bias.” She also proposed reforms on the process in which nations join the Council. She says by making voting much more competitive, the problem of human rights violators joining will be alleviated. A number of other human rights organizations and groups have been critical of the Council’s procedures for membership and its lack of enforcement of its resolutions. After all, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and others are members of the Human Rights Council but are human rights violators.

However, a withdrawal from the Council by the U.S. could be detrimental to the validity of their constitutional protections, could result in financial setbacks that would hinder the Council’s ability to operate at full capacity, and it has been reported that the number of resolutions against Israel would actually be lower with the United States remaining the Council.

For now, it seems that the United States’ position on the Human Rights Council has moved from a firm threat to withdraw to at least the consideration of positive reform.

Threats and Violence Against Media Hurt Freedom of Speech in Kenya


A police officer aims tear gas at in the direction of reporters covering an anti-corruption protest in Kenya. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

A police officer aims tear gas at in the direction of reporters covering an anti-corruption protest in Kenya. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa released a joint report on 30 May detailing the litany of abuses against and attempts to repress journalists in Kenya. According to the report, which was the result of 92 interviews with journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists, government officials have allegedly been responsible for widespread intimidation and physical abuse of those working in the media, with at least 23 reporting being physically attacked for their work. HRW and ARTICLE 19 also reported at least 16 direct death threats against journalists for their work in the past couple years, although investigations into whether these threats have turned into any tangible violence are ongoing.

The abuses are apparently an effort to coerce media workers to stop discussing issues which cast an unfavorable outlook on the Kenyan government, such as government corruption and the 2007-2008 post-electoral conflict in the country. However, having a thorough knowledge of such issues is integral for Kenyan voters to make an informed choice during the upcoming general elections this August. According to Otsieno Namwaya, the Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, for the elections to be "credible and fair," the media must be able to "report on pressing issues of national interest without fear of reprisals." If the Kenyan leadership neglects to ensure the safety of those in the media who publicly discuss the government's flaws, it could reduce the legitimacy of the elections' results and potentially renew violence in the country. Therefore, Namway asserts that it is even in the government's best interest to ensure the safety of journalists and other media workers.

Beyond societal pressure, Kenya also has the legal responsibility to protect journalists' safety and freedom of speech. As a Member State of the UN, Kenya is party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and therefore must ensure its citizens enjoy the right to freedom of speech as granted in Article 19. Kenya has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which seeks to protect human rights throughout the African continent. Even if Kenyan authorities are not directly responsible for committing or ordering the abuses, the government is still responsible for protecting journalists' right to freedom of expression under these international legal frameworks and therefore must uphold this duty. HRW has therefore called upon Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to condemn the attacks and seek justice for those who have already become victim to the violence.

You can find the joint report by Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, "'Not Worth The Risk': Threats To Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections,” here.

Displacement and Violence Against Aid Workers in CAR at Worst Levels Since 2013

In what the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA) has called the worst level of displacement in the Central African Republic since civil war broke out in 2013, a cumulative 440,000 civilians had been forcibly displaced by the end of April due to renewed conflict in the country. Officials from OCHA have estimated that an additional 100,000 people could be displaced by the end of May, a number that becomes ever more likely as militia violence continues to spread to several prominent cities in the country.
 
On 18 May, the UN Deputy Special Representative in the Central African Republic, Diane Corner, reported that at least one armed militia group in the country had access to heavy weapons, such as mortars and grenade launchers, as well as “more sophisticated military tactics,” and that the groups were using these weapons during increasingly frequent attacks. The groups have targeted several towns in the past two weeks using enhanced equipment, including Bria, Bangassou, and Alindao, inflicting incredible damage on civilians. In what Social Affairs Minister Virginie Baikoua called a “catastrophe,” the recent militia attacks and looting in the town of Bria resulted in more than 41,400 of the city's 47,500 residents fleeing to the nearest UN base for shelter, equaling almost 90 percent of the city's population.
 
The renewed sectarian and ethnic-based violence in the country has resulted in a reported 300 deaths since only 8 May, including those of at least six UN peacekeeping officials. According to Corner, the majority of those deaths occurred during the recent attack on the UN mission in Bangassou, where anti-Balaka fighters “pinned down” peacekeepers before directly targeting Muslim civilians in the city.

The situation prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to release a statement on 16 May condemning the attack on Bangassou and others, noting with particular alarm that violence was spreading into previously peaceful regions of the CAR.
 
As such, Ms. Baikoua joined the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, in expressing their mutual unease with the renewed violence, declaring that civilians have been “paying the highest cost” during the recent attacks. Earlier this month, Ms. Baikoua and Ms. Rochdi jointly praised regional humanitarian agencies for stepping in to assist the several thousands of displaced and injured civilians desperately in need of aid due to the attacks, but also acknowledged that it would be difficult to maintain such a tremendous response while the conflict continued. For the foreseeable future, civilians inside and near these violent regions remain at great risk.

This blog post was originally written for the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect "RtoP Weekly" for week 22-26 May. Access the Coalition's listserv archive here.

Yemen: Looming Attack on Hodeidah Would Worsen Humanitarian Crisis


A boy carries water in plastic containers outside of Hodeidah, Yemen. (AFP/Getty Images)

A boy carries water in plastic containers outside of Hodeidah, Yemen. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, currently held by Houthi rebels, is seen as a strategic interest in the war between the rebels and the Saudi-led coalition, the latter of which supports Yemen's deposed government. With sources alerting the UN and other humanitarian agencies of an impending attack on Hodeidah by the Saudi coalition, these organizations have warned of the terrible impacts such an attack would have on the civilians there.

Yemen is currently in the throes of an enormous humanitarian crisis due to the years-long conflict, as over 17 million civilians are facing famine with little pathway to food security. The UN has estimated that several billions of US dollars are needed to mitigate the crisis, but only 15 percent of the current $2 billion USD appeal has been funded so far. As of now, Hodeidah is one of the only main ports capable of receiving desperately needed food and supplies into the country. Therefore, humanitarian officials have warned that an attack on the Houthi-held city would dramatically worsen the already precarious situation for not only the citizens of Hodeidah but for all Yemenis that rely on the city for food imports and humanitarian assistance. Alexander Ventura, head of Yemen's mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), has stated that the country's healthcare system and medical services are "on the verge of collapse." It is possible that enhanced conflict in Hodeidah would push these services past their breaking point.

Furthermore, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently doubled its estimates on the number of people in the city that would be displaced should an attack occur, increasing the number to over 400,000. Such a large outpouring of people from Hodeidah would create chaos and make it even harder for humanitarian assistance to make it into the city, according to Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies. The situation would be catastrophic to the newly displaced as well as the already 270,000 internally displaced civilians inside the city. 

IOM recommends peace talks between the Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition, if only because a ceasefire is the only way to ensure the safety of civilians in Hodeidah and Yemen as a whole. “Humanitarian action alone can never bring the peace all people in Yemen deserve. [IOM] advocates for dialogue and peace talks, rather than the use of military force, which puts the lives of Yemenis and humanitarians in extreme danger," Abdiker asserted.

Humanitarians have called upon the international community to pressure the Saudi-led coalition to avoid escalation of the conflict in Hodeidah, adding that providing humanitarian assistance to Yemen rather than weapons would be crucial to resolving the crisis. It remains to be seen if the coalition will conduct an attack on the city, but even if it does not, Yemen is still in critical need of humanitarian aid to even hope for a resolution of the crisis.

UN: Increasing Concern Over Violence in Central African Republic


CAR President Touadera addressing the UN General Assembly. Photo from the United Nations.

CAR President Touadera addressing the UN General Assembly. Photo from the United Nations.

Due to the worsening conflict in the Central African Republic in recent months, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of thousands, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein expressed extreme concern for civilians and peacekeepers in the country on 16 May. 

Although the sectarian-based clashes began in 2013, the violence had not affected the relatively more urban regions of CAR, including the capital, Bangui. According to High Commissioner Zeid, the relative peace in these areas was "hard-earned," making the current spread of violence into previously untouched areas that much more troubling. The latest spate of attacks against the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) also indicates a bleak future for the peacekeepers stationed there, as May of this year has already become the deadliest month to date for the mission since its founding in 2014. 

The UN Security Council has condemned the recent increase in violence, stating that attacks against peacekeepers could amount to war crimes, and called upon the CAR government to investigate the incidents. Indeed, President Faustin-Archange Touadera has warned the militias to end the violence at risk of punishment, but it remains to be seen how effective his efforts will be in ending the attacks. President Touadera had appealed to the UN on 15 March for urgently needed funding and support to help the CAR government stabilize security in the country, but the situation has not improved since then.

‘This is a democracy’: Int’l court may be next for Duterte (AP)


MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged Tuesday that allegations he induced extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs could be raised to the International Criminal Court after an impeachment case failed in the House of Representatives.

“Yeah, he can go ahead. He is free to do it. This is a democracy,” Duterte said in reaction to a lawmaker saying he was considering bringing a case against the Philippine leader to the court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The impeachment complaint killed by a House committee Monday accused Duterte of multiple murders and crimes against humanity for adopting a state policy of inducing police and vigilantes into killing more than 8,000 suspected drug users and dealers outside the rule of law. The complaint also accused him of corruption, unexplained wealth, and taking a “defeatist stand” against China’s in the territorial row in the South China Sea.

The dismissal of Rep. Gary Alejano’s complaint was widely expected since the House is dominated by Duterte allies. But the president’s critics hope the procedure could bolster a lawsuit filed against him by a Filipino lawyer before the ICC for alleged extrajudicial killings by showing that domestic efforts to stop Duterte have failed.

The dismissal of the complaint, filed in March, bars any new impeachment case against Duterte until next March.

Since taking office in June, Duterte’s war on drugs has killed 7,000 to 9,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts, according to human rights groups. The government refutes that, releasing data on May 2 showing nearly 4,600 people have been killed in police anti-drug operations and homicides found to be drug-related.

For more information, please see this report