After Torture Report, Rights of Victims and Accountability for Perpetrators Must Not Be Denied

By David Tolbert*

Torture ReportWith the publication of the much-delayed US Senate Intelligence Committee’s partial report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, at long last the truth is out. Put simply, the abuses it details are sickening. The report documents a period of lawlessness by the US Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that officials at the highest levels of the US government committed very serious and atrocious crimes, including systematic torture in violation of the UN Convention on Torture (of which the United States is a party) and US law.

The Senate report corroborates the findings of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in a series of reports dating back to 2008, as well as other rights groups: that the systematic practice of torture against detainees in secret overseas prisons was approved and overseen at the most senior levels of the US government. Moreover, as Senator Dianne Feinstein aptly notes in the report’s foreword, these practices were in direct “violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”

While we have known for over a decade about many of the details of illegal US detention and interrogation practices, the “Torture Report” establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the US government engaged in widespread and brutal use of torture and other criminal acts against a long list of individuals without a shred of due process or even the semblance of justice.

The full 6,700-page report has not been released yet, but its lengthy, heavily redacted executive summary nonetheless paints a repulsive picture of criminal and immoral practices far beyond what had been previously made known to the public. It also exposes the facile lie that torture somehow disrupted terror plots or saved American lives. The report, based on over 5 million pieces of evidence sourced from the CIA itself, decisively debunks this claim, and under the weight of direct evidence the CIA’s contorted claims fall like a house of cards. Moreover, it establishes in clear terms that the CIA’s torture program was perpetuated through misinformation to the public, Congress, and even the White House. Continue reading

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Calls for Prosecution of CIA Officials

Court HammerIn a statement made yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, welcomed the publication of the summary of the Feinstein report on crimes of torture and enforced disappearance of terrorist suspects by the CIA during the Bush-era.

“The summary of the Feinstein report […] confirms what the international community has long believed – that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law”, said the Special Rapporteur.

Ben Emmerson added that it is now time to take action and bring to justice the individuals listed in the report, irrespective of the fact that the policies revealed in the report were authorised at a high level within the US Government.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted that international law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture and therefore that CIA officers who physically committed acts of torture bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct

“This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes”, he said.

For Ben Emmerson, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes. Moreover, he said, former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the programme should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.

The Special Rapporteur concluded that torture being a crime of universal jurisdiction, the perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, he added that the primary responsibility for bringing those responsible to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

UN Condemns Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea

North Korea Human RightsYesterday, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a recent UN Commission of Inquiry report detailing crimes against humanity in North Korea and recommended that the Security Council discuss the report and consider a referral to the International Criminal Court.

The North Korea resolution passed by a vote of 111 to 19, with 55 abstentions. China and Russia voted against the resolution.

While the resolution passed overwhelmingly, North Korea had made recent diplomatic overtures seemingly to try to affect the vote, such as by offering for the first time to engage with the UN human rights rapporteur on North Korea and participating in the Universal Periodic Review process at the UN Human Rights Council.

The Commission of Inquiry report declared that North Korea’s human rights situation “exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror”.

The report documented massive crimes against humanity in North Korea, including deliberate starvation, forced labor, executions, torture, rape, and infanticide, among other crimes – most of them committed in North Korea’s political prison camp systems.

The report concluded that the bulk of the crimes against humanity were committed “pursuant to policies set at the highest levels of the state.”

The commission of inquiry report was based on interviews with dozens of people who had fled and detailed abuses. North Korea has accused people who cooperated with the commission of inquiry of lying.

Rights-Compliant Investment Needed to Keep SEZs Fair for All

by Vani Sathisan*

resident-thanlyin-township

A resident of Thanlyin township sits inside her home after officials posted an eviction notice in February 2013.

The village elder from Mutu, a small village near Dawei, in southern Myanmar, held out the 30 complaint letters residents had sent to Tanintharyi Region Chief Minister U Myat Ko.

The letters sought to highlight alleged human rights violations related to the development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and requested that adequate compensation be paid to those affected.

In Mutu and neighbouring villages, farmers and fishermen lamented the displacement of communities, loss of livelihoods and culture, and forced relocations due to the development of the Dawei SEZ and related infrastructure. Some told us they were being charged with trespassing on government land because they had refused to leave their homes after their land had been confiscated.

While the Dawei SEZ has been stalled for some time, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will visit Myanmar – his first official overseas trip – and is expected to hold talks aimed at reviving the project.

But the complaints emanating from Dawei are not isolated incidents. Amid the euphoria of the investment gold rush, Myanmar faces an epidemic of land disputes exacerbated by the development of SEZs. Continue reading

Human Rights Defender Executed in Iraq

Samira Saleh Al-Naimi

Samira Saleh Al-Naimi

Last week, the so called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) has executed lawyer and human rights defender Samira Saleh Al-Naimi.

Reports confirmed that on the evening of 22 September 2014, a group of masked armed men who belong to

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ISIS opened fire and killed her in a public square in the very heart of Mosul, Iraq. She was kidnapped by ISIS from her home last week after she described as “barbaric” the widespread damage that ISIS inflicted on ancient features of her city.

In reaction to this tragic news, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights has condemned in the strongest terms the execution of Samira Saleh Al-Naimi and urged the UN and relevant international institutions to:

1. Carry out an immediate, impartial and thorough investigation into the execution of Samira Saleh Al-Naimi and other crimes committed by ISIS with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in line with local laws and international standards;

2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Iraq are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free from all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Samira Saleh Al-Naimi was a prominent lawyer and human rights defender and famous for her activities that include defending detainees and supporting the disadvantaged families in the city.

Event: “Conflicts between Human Rights”

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University is organizing a symposium on “(How) Should the European Court of Human Rights Resolve Conflicts between Human Rights?”

Date: 16 October 2014gent

Venue: Human Rights Center, Ghent University, Convention Center Het Pand (Zaal Rector Vermeylen), Onderbergen 1, Ghent, Belgium.

The Symposium aims to evaluate the legal reasoning of the European Court of Human Rights in conflicting rights cases and to propose novel methodological tools and frameworks for the judicial resolution of conflicts between human rights in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In order to tackle these challenges, a number of renowned scholars have been invited to present their views on how (specific) conflicts between human rights ought to be resolved. First, a small number of scholars will set the stage for the debate by outlining their general approaches, frameworks and tests for the judicial resolution of conflicts between human rights in the ECHR context. Following these general presentations, a larger number of panels will address specific types of conflicts. To ensure productive and spirited debate, the participants in the specific panels have been asked to present their views on how certain pre-selected ECtHR cases should be (or should have been) resolved.

In order to increase the practical relevance of the Symposium and to offer the speakers useful feedback on the practicality of their advocated approaches, a number of (former) ECtHR Judges have been invited to comment on the practicality and feasibility of the proposed approaches.

Download the full programme here.

Registration: If you would like to attend the event, please register before 10 October 2014 by sending an e-mail to the attention of Stijn Smet.

Takfiris Want to Create a “House of Blood”

Zaid al Hussein

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, addressed the Human Rights Council. Amongst the issues he addressed in his lengthy speech, the High Commissioner lashed out at the Islamist Takfiri group who recently murdered US journalist James Foley and hundreds of other defenceless victims in Iraq and Syria.

The massacres, beheadings, rape and torture attributed to the group “reveal only what a Takfiri state would look like, should this movement actually try to govern in the future,” said Zeid, the first Muslim and Arab to serve as UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.

For him, the jihadist militants who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria are intent upon creating “a house of blood”.

Zaid’s speech to the UN’s 47-member council came a week after it held an emergency session on the jihadists, deciding to send a fact-finding mission to Iraq to document the extent of their abuses.

If you wish to read the Commissioner’s full speech, click here.

A Wrong Turn for Human Rights

by David Tolbert*

A Palestinian woman reacts upon seeing her destroyed house in Beit Hanoun town

Gaza, August 2014

The world has plunged into a period of brutality, with impunity for the perpetrators of violence. Syria is suffering untold civilian casualties as a divided United Nations Security Council sits on the sidelines. Gaza was pummeled to dust yet again with the world watching on. Iraq is in flames, with no end in sight. Atrocities are mounting in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which are also being swept by an epidemic of sexual violence. Even Europe is not immune: a civilian aircraft was shot down over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, and officials were prevented from investigating.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more than a decade after the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), shockingly little is being done to stop these abuses, and the prospects of the victims ever getting justice, let alone bringing the perpetrators to account, seem ever more remote.

For many years, the world seemed to be progressing toward greater recognition of human rights and demands for justice. As democracies emerged in Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, these issues assumed increasing importance. Although wars, conflicts, and atrocities continued, the global powers tried, and occasionally managed – albeit chaotically and usually late – to stop the killing. Continue reading

Brazil: Extra-Time For Human Rights?

by Natacha Bracq of Global Rights Compliance LLP

Maracana 2014

Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, February 2014, (c) ME /Portal da Copa

Although it is considered to be the world’s seventh wealthiest country, Brazil’s human rights record is faltering at best. However, this year’s 2014 FIFA World Cup has brought some overdue international attention, as well as stirring up large internal protests. The contrasts could not be starker. Despite its impressive economic development and the enormous expenditure associated with the World Cup, government corruption, poor public services and police violence continued to blight the lives of ordinary Brazilians and have given rise to understandable public outrage. For over a year, Brazil has experienced waves of protests with around a million people on the streets. However, as tens of thousands of tourists descended upon the 12 hosting cities, little appears to have been done to answer Brazilians’ call for justice or improvements. Given the police and military conduct, one might be mistaken for believing that the authorities care little for responses, except those that are accompanied by tear gas and violence.

Reporter Brasil (a Sao Paulo based NGO) identified six main categories of human rights abuses that are associated with the hosting of the World Cup: the right to decent work, the rights of children and adolescents, the right to protest, the rights of stakeholders, housing rights, and the rights of immigrants and temporary workers. Tellingly, rather than amending laws to address societal need, the Brazilian Congress instead enacted the General Law of the World Cup that, in the main, restricted rights guaranteed by the Constitution and other legislation. The changes mainly serve the interests of FIFA and its sponsors, meanwhile doing nothing to address the country’s human rights record. Continue reading

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its ninth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions over the last two months.

The newsletter also highlights the visit of students from the Law Faculty of the University of Essex. The Panel was given the opportunity to brief students on its mandate, work and case-load.

An outreach campaign was also recently organized by meeting with the Coordinator of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija in northern Mitrovica on 26 June 2014 to brief on the activities of the Panel and, inter alia, in furtherance of the public outreach campaign in the northern Mitrovica region.

The HRRP’s mandate is to review alleged human rights violations by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in

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the conduct of its executive mandate. The Panel will look into whether a violation of human rights occurred or not and formulate recommendations for remedial action.