Archive for category News & Clippings
Canada’s national police directives clearly violate international law, which dictates that countries must not use information or evidence obtained through torture
We have said it before; and we shall say it again.
Countries must not use evidence or information obtained through torture. In any circumstances. Doing so is a clear violation of international law, especially those countries who have signed onto the obligations within the UN Convention Against Torture. The Convention, which Canada ratified in 1985, states:
Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
Yet, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has issued directives to both the Canadian Border Services Agency and the national police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), saying that they have the authority to use and share data and evidence that was likely obtained through torture.
Toews apparently has a short memory. Just six years ago, a federal commission recommended that Canada never share information with other countries if it is likely that it will cause or contribute to torture. This recommendation followed an investigation into the case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, who was detained in the U.S. after RCMP provided faulty information to the US authorities. Arar was rendered to his native Syria, where he was tortured and detained for about a year.
Arar’s case was among those mentioned in the hefty criticisms leveled against the Canadian government during this year’s review by the UN Committee against Torture. The Committee condemned Canadian ‘complicity’ in torture.
Canada joins others such as Denmark in the shameful club of countries that justify their use of information obtained through torture by clinging to the long-dismissed arguments of ‘ticking-time bombs’ and public safety.
And using information obtained through torture simply allows it to continue unabated.
The International Criminal Court has a new chief prosecutor.
(Update below – Update 1)
Sworn in just this summer, Fatou Bensouda will take the lead in the fight against the worst violators of human rights abuses around the world. The Gambian former judge is the first woman and first African to head the team of prosecutors, and only the second chief prosecutor the court has ever had. She follows Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentine human rights lawyer who led the group for nearly a decade.
In the years since the court’s opening, proceedings against individuals in seven “situations” are ongoing for charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Much of the courts work has been applauded in the last decade, especially considering that the Court was the first of its kind – a permanent court for international justice in which countries signed on through the Rome Statute. Just this year the court found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first trial defendant, guilty for conscripting and using children as soldiers in aggression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many called this a “major step in the global fight against impunity” [PDF].
However, some individuals and women’s rights organisations [PDF] have expressed disappointment that the court, in the most recent case, did not pursue charges directly related to sexual violence and rape.
Bensounda has been overwhelmingly and enthusiastically welcomed by those who know her skilled work as a deputy prosecutor to the ICC for the last eight years, and previous experience investigating atrocities during the Rwandan genocide as a legal advisor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She has previously spoken out very clearly on the need to pursue cases involving rape and sexual violence against women in armed conflict; as deputy investigator, she said:
The cases that are before the ICC today are helping to focus on the use of gender crimes and sexual violence as a weapon of war. That is what we are doing. In all our cases that we are investigating today, we have tried to bring focus to this particular serious crime of using violence, rape, sex, violence against women during the time of conflict as a weapon.
And in her interviews and public statements, Bensounda has almost never failed to mention the victims of the war crimes and atrocities that her work is driven by. In fact, Bensounda was a presenter at a symposium on “Providing Reparation and Treatment, Preventing Impunity” at the IRCT’s International Symposium on Torture in 2006. There, she spoke about the experiences and challenges of prosecuting international crimes, such as protecting witnesses in situations of ongoing armed conflict. [PDF of Symposium Abstracts]
And on 7 August, the Court released its first decision on reparations for victims, thus allowing for the victims of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to apply for reparations for the crimes. Brigid Inder, Executive Director of Executive Director of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, a human rights organisation focused on ensuring justice for women through the ICC, has said [PDF]:
This decision recognises that reparations is a key feature of the Rome Statute and therefore of the mandate of the ICC. Reparations is possibly the most tangible representation of the justice process for victims, especially for those who have had little access to or information about the formal legal proceedings.
We at the IRCT, along with many members of civil society, welcome the new leadership of Fatou Bensounda.
Update 1: Yesterday, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, a coalition of civil society0, legal experts on international justice, and lawyers that focus on gender-based violence cases within the International Criminal Court, has announced [PDF] that their executive director Brigid Inder has been appointed by Fatou Bensounda to be a special gender advisor to the prosecutor.
News roundup for the week includes: stories on solitary confinement in the US; Palestinian children in Israel detention; new Supreme Court decision in Mexico may stomp out impunity; Argentina’s torture problem.
An editorial at Al Jazeera notes that media and perhaps legislative consensus is growing around the issue of long-term solitary confinement as torture. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has previously stated that solitary confinement longer than 15 days can constitute torture. Some prisoners in the US detention system have been in some form or another of solitary confinement for as long as 40 years. The editorial also indicates that this form of punishment and cruel treatment may be more often applied to black prisoners, such as the infamous Angola 3.
Occupied Palestinian Territory:
Defence for Children International, an international children’s rights NGO, has released a staggering report on abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli detention. “The first 48 hours after a child is taken are the most important because that’s when the most abuse happens,” DCI’s lawyer Gerard Horten told Al Jazeera in an interview, echoing the findings of an upcoming IRCT report on children and torture in the Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Most children are detained for allegations involving throwing stones at Israeli troops. Some are as young as 12, and can be detained for months without access to a lawyer or their parents. A majority of those detained faced verbal threats or harassment, physical abuse, interrogation by officials, and were blindfolded and restrained. Read the full report here [PDF].
Human rights group in Mexico have celebrated a recent Supreme Court ruling that military human rights violations may be turned over to civilian, rather than military, courts. “The Supreme Court ruled Thursday to send the case of Jethro Ramses Sanchez, a 27-year-old auto mechanic who authorities say was tortured and killed by soldiers at a military base last year, to civilian court,” reports The Washington Post. Human rights groups say this ruling may be a blow to the consistent impunity for military human rights violations in Mexico.
Several torture cases in Argentina have been widely reported in the media recently. And just this week, a report emerged that there have been as many as 7,000 human rights violations in Argentine prisons. Some point to the lack of reform in the prison system since the military junta that ended in the 1980s and that was marked by several thousand extra-judicial killings and torture, the so-called ‘dirty war’. Read about a visit to many of the sites of the ‘dirty war’ by IRCT’s Brita Sydhoff here.
With a Republican VP running-mate finally named, the countdown to the U.S. election begins. But with only 85 days remaining, there is a glaring lack of debate on human rights and torture in America.
In the United States and beyond, newspapers are being filled with the ongoing policy discussions related to the U.S. presidential election. With less than three months to go, however, next to nothing has been said about America’s ongoing problem with torture.
Just this weekend, candidate Mitt Romney announced his choice for a vice-presidential running mate; it’s Paul Ryan, a Republican representative from Wisconsin and a “fiscal policy wonk”, as he’s most consistently described. It’s a pretty clear signal — this election is about the economy and the diverging ideologies of how to remove the U.S. from the ongoing recession.
And lost within these debates on domestic and economic policy is any discussion on torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the U.S.; the 80,000 prisoners detained in long-term solitary confinement, the rendition and torture programme of the Bush years, or the particular case of Bradley Manning.
Manning, 24, who is accused of supplying the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history to Wikileaks, was detained for more than eight months in conditions his lawyers describe as a “flagrant violation” of his rights, in a motion published this Friday.
According to the motion, Manning was subject to “cruel and unusual” treatment in military detention. He was forced to remain awake every day from 5:00 to 22:00, during which he could not lay down or lean against a wall or other support – “he had to sit upright on his rack without any back support”, his lawyer writes. Manning was also only permitted 20 minutes outdoors a day; any time outside of his cell he was forced to wear leg and arm restraints.
Following a 14-month investigation, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez described the treatment of Manning as torture.
These are also issues that also need to be addressed and raised during the next 85 days. When the media has gone so far as to debate a candidate’s treatment of his pet during the 1980s, and not yet raise the issue of torture, it’s a depressing sign of America’s depleted authority on human rights.
Let’s finally have this proper debate on torture in the U.S. So let these candidates know that we want them to tell us about their views – on long-term solitary confinement, on cruel treatment of Bradley Manning, and on impunity of those involved in the US rendition and torture programme. Ask them on Facebook, Twitter and townhall meetings.
Tessa, a US citizen living in Denmark, is Communications Officer at the IRCT.
“I fell on the ground repeatedly. He kept hitting me over and over again and asked the torturer to join him…”
This is the testimony of one of 13 opposition activists in Bahrain that were arrested and tortured following the demonstrations last year in the island nation. According to the testimony, the man who tortured those detained, is none other than Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the king and head of Bahrain’s Olympic committee.
Following demonstrations in the Persian Gulf nation during 2011’s Arab Spring, hundreds of opposition leaders and activists were arrested and charged with numerous crimes, including attempting to overthrow the regime. Allegations of torture in Bahraini detention facilities following the government crackdown were even corroborated by a regime-funded investigation. Abdulla Isa Al-Mahroo, Swedish citizen Mohammed Habib Al-Muqdad and 64-year-old Mohammed Hassan Jawad all reported that Prince Nasser in particular was present and/or fully participated in their torture and beating in detention.
The London 2012 Olympics begin tomorrow and, in common with other recent high profile international sports and entertainment events, has stoked the debate on the interplay between human rights and sports. In Bahrain earlier this year, the Formula 1 rally led to increased opposition protests andinternational calls for a boycott, yet it eventually took place unhindered. And just a few weeks ago, the EUFA Euro 2012 led to heated debate over the attendance of European political figures at the matches in Ukraine, where torture is systematically employed in police detention and where former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko remains detained on charges that many believe are politically motivated.
More than 200 nations will participate in the London games, with tens of thousands of athletes, coaches, political figures and an estimated four million visitors expected to descend on London over the next two weeks.
In the lead-up to the games, UK foreign minister William Hague warned that the British government would not issue visas for individuals or officials from regimes committing human rights abuses. Yet, so far, only one official – General Mowaffak Joumaa, head of Syria’s National Olympic Committee – is believed to have been denied a visa on these grounds.
The UK should apply this across the board – those who torture should not be allowed to attend the Olympic Games.
Click here to sign an Avaaz Community petition, calling on British and Olympic officials to ban Prince Nasser from attending the Olympics.
The trial against Ratko Mladic, the former Serbian Army general who stands accused of the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, begins at the Hague war crimes tribunal. As we’ve stated before, we hope that the trial, although it can never amend the horrendous crimes of Srebrenica, Sarejevo and other human rights violations of the Bosnian conflict, it may bring these crimes to light and bring justice to the victims – and most hopefully to their families. Bringing these crimes to light is of utmost importance, especially in a context such as Serbia where many still disbelieve or don’t acknowledge that the horrors of the conflict happened.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll recognise the name of this centre: the Interregional Nongovernmental Committee Against Torture, who has contributed to World Without Torture one several occasions about their work, particularly in Chechnya, against impunity, has recently faced increased and targeted harassment of their chairman Igor Kalyapin. Kalyapin has been interrogated by the Special Investigation Department, and learned that criminal proceedings have been initiated by the Federal Security Service. CAT is very concerned about this ongoing matter and invites all to write to the relevant Russian bodies to register your concern:
Moscow, 107031, Bolshaya Lubyanka st., 1/3
Fax: 007 (495) 914-26-32
The Investigational committee:
Fax 007 (495) 640-10-48
Moscow, 105005, Tekhnicheskiy pereulok, 2
Below, watch a video of Kalyapin when he was awarded the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders At-Risk
The Women’s Media Center project Women Under Seige has been mapping sexual violence and torture against women in Syria. Using crowdsourcing, anecdotal stories from the victims, doctors, witnesses themselves, allowing them to speak out against these horrific crimes, and use the data to map where, how and when this takes place. Stories coming from the besieged country are increasingly horrific. “[Sexual violence] appears to be widespread, not limited to any particular city, and often involves rape.”
The UEFA EURO 2012 kicks off today and the anticipation is thick.
This year, however, the traditional boisterous talk about the tournament has been accompanied by debates over human rights in one of the host countries, Ukraine.
It seems like a continuing trend – human rights debates that encircle international events when the spotlight is on a despotic host country. We’ve seen it in the South African World Cup, Bahrain’s Formula 1 and most recently Azerbaijan’s hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
As the EURO 2012 approaches (kick-off of the first match between Poland and Greece in Warsaw takes this evening), several European leaders have declared they will boycott the games. Most have decried the treatment of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who began a seven-year prison sentence last year after, what some have called politically-motivated charges of abuse of office and tax evasion. Many have criticised her treatment in prison, where she has also previously been on hunger strike, regarding abuse and a lack of medical treatment for her back pain.
While the actual benefit of a boycott remains to be seen, pro-democracy and Ukrainian boxer Vitali Klitschko views the event as vital for bringing international attention to the human rights problems there:
This tournament is the biggest sporting event in the history of Ukraine. It has to happen. It is even an excellent opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the maladministration in our country.
Moreover, others have pointed to the ongoing use of torture and inhuman treatment by the Ukrainian police force. Many have warned incoming tourists and football fans to be especially aware of their behaviour in the Ukraine during the matches – the mix of football, nationalism and alcohol has typically brought with it a handful of arrests.
Although against what he calls the “politicization of sports,” Klitschko has told Der Spiegel, “Athletes also need to be clear about what is happening in a country in which they are competing. Think about the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. At the time, regime opponents were tortured and killed by the military junta, in some instances in the very stadiums where the World Cup matches were later played.”
And what is happening in Ukraine often amounts to torture.
“They electrocuted him, until he passed out, and poured toxic liquid down his throat to revive him”
Check out this video from Amnesty International that describes ongoing allegations of torture committed by police officers in Ukraine.
In the two years since his death, he has been called the ‘Face of a Revolution’, his visage spray-painted across Egyptian city streets in the lead-up to Mubarak’s ouster.
Two year’s ago today, Alexandria policemen attacked Khaled Said in a local internet cafe. He was brutalised, tortured and killed. Authorities tried to hide the murder with improper forensic documents and an autopsy that ruled his death as asphyxiation; however, the impossibly hard work of activists, forensic specialists, Egyptian human rights organisations and his courageous family meant that he didn’t become yet another tragic victim of the Mubarak regime.
As we did then, on this two-year anniversary of his death, we would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Khaled Said.
Below is video that explains more of the story of Khaled Said, and the importance of forensic documentation of torture in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – essentially the world’s top human rights chief – is currently visiting Zimbabwe this week. On her first investigatory mission, Ms Pillay will spend one week in the Southern African country to follow-up on decades of allegations of severe and gross human rights violations, including torture and political violence during the 2008 elections. The government, of course, is denying that torture is practiced in Zimbabwe, despite testimonies to the contrary. Zimbabwe will again have elections this year – 2012.
Speaking of the United Nations, the UN’s Committee against Torture is winding down their semi-annual review of countries. This round included, among others, Canada, Cuba, and Albania. The Committee also requested Syria submit a report following a year-long clashes with protester and thousands of accusations of human rights violations and torture. Syria refused to come.
Finally, last week Al Jazeera reported that we – the IRCT – had sponsored a forensics expert to perform a second autopsy on a young man in Bahrain after his parents requested assistance and suspected possible torture. The Bahrain Public Prosecutor agreed to look further into the case, but we have officially called on him, Nayef Yousif, to not ignore the evidence presented in the autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Dr Sebnem Korur, a leading international expert, winner of the first International Medical Peace Award and an instrumental contributor to the Istanbul Protocol.
Many torture victims have historically used the protest method of hunger striking to fight for change
Guarded by the Bahrain Defence Force, Al-Khawaja has not consumed food in about three months in protest of his ongoing mistreatment – both torture at the hands of military and police officials, and judicial mistreatment by the military court that found him guilty and delivered a life sentence for his involvement in last year’s protests. He further accused authorities of force feeding him during recent weeks, an accusation that they, of course, deny.
Hunger strikes have a long history among political dissidents, detainees, and, the politically powerless to advocate or coerce authorities into policy changes. It can be both a powerful tool for enacting change, and, by its nature, can also be extremely dangerous and even deadly for its participants. Some famous examples of hunger strikers include:
• Mohandas Gandhi during the British rule of India;
• Irish republicans in particular have a long history of hunger striking; but this tactic was famously used during the early 1980s by Bobby Sands and other prisoners of the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Ten hunger strikers died in 1981;
• Among the longest and most deadly strikes were those that took place in Turkey, with the final wave beginning in 2000, over the government’s prison policy – the state was building new prisons that the protesters feared would be used for long-term solitary confinement for political dissidents, regardless of whether they had even been formally charged with a crime.
• At Guantanamo Bay, hunger strikes have been ongoing since 2005, when more than 120 detainees were on hunger strike at one point. Since then, this number has varied as the U.S. government has continued to force feed the strikers. It is unknown how many detainees remain on hunger strike today.
As hunger striking is often a tactic of absolute last resort, many torture victims have employed hunger strikes to protest their treatment and perhaps ongoing torture and detention.
Al-Khawaja is one such example; during his detention, which began in April of last year, he has been severely tortured by Bahrain authorities. In fact, his previous visit to the Bahrain military hospital where he is today was after such a severe beating in prison that he underwent surgery to have titanium plates inserted into the sides of his head.
Other U.S. prisoners, in California’s Pelican Bay Prison, have also engaged in limited hunger strikes in protest of long-term solitary confinement. They have since requested a formal ruling from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, who has previously deemed long-term solitary confinement as torture.
Detainees at Guantamao Bay have too used hunger striking to protest their treatment and ongoing detention. However, rather than trying or freeing the Guantanamo detainees, or ceasing the ongoing torture and ill-treatment there, the U.S. government has instead been force-feeding hunger strikers since 2005 – both a violation of patients’ autonomy and another form or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Force-feeding hunger strikers is often a highly controversial issue, none the least because it questions medical ethics and physicians adherence to set principles, such as ‘do no harm’, and requirements of patient consent. The World Medical Association has come out against force-feeding as it violates medical ethics, such as respecting patient autonomy, primary obligations to patients over employers, preventing maltreatment, and preventing harm. This is especially true in cases, such as in Guantanamo, where authorities are force-feeding hunger strikers well before the fast becomes life-threatening. Furthermore, the process of force-feeding itself – often inserting feeding tubes down an uncooperative patients’ nose or throat – can cause immense pain and suffering.
Most important to consider is that the vast majority of hunger strikers do not want to die. Death is not the goal, and a hunger strike is generally not considered suicide. It is a measure of last resort for an often powerless figure fighting for policy change, to end torture and mistreatment or for release from degrading and arbitrary detention.