UN Calls on Cambodian Government to Release Detainees

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA — In May 2016, the government of Cambodia detained five human rights defenders. The government alleges that these individuals criminally assisted a woman in making false claims while under investigation by the Cambodian Anti-Corruption Unit. On January 25, 2017, two human rights experts called on the Cambodian government to release the detainees, as the charges against them were ruled “arbitrary” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo

Cambodia is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly prohibits the “use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.” In May 2016, UN human rights experts sent a joint urgent appeal to the Cambodian government on the status of the five detainees. The request has yet to be addressed.

Experts are concerned about a lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature as well as conflicts between Cambodia’s political parties. In September 2016, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern on this topic, noting that there is a high degree of intimidation and opposition between the country’s political groups.

Despite an international call for action, the Cambodian government has yet to respond and continues to detain the five human rights activists.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Cambodia: UN experts call for immediate release of five human rights defenders – 25 January, 2017

JURIST – UN rights experts call for immediate release of 5 human rights defenders in Cambodia – 25 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Drop Farcical Investigation of Human Rights Defenders – 7 February, 2017

UN – International Convention on Civil and Political Rights – 19 December, 1966

The Deadliest Region for Human Rights Activist: Latin America

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

DUBLIN, Ireland — Latin America is the deadliest region for human rights and environmental activists, according to Ireland based group Front Line Defenders. The group released a report in early January citing “extreme violence” as the most worrying issue.

Mary Lawlor, Executive Director of Human Rights Defenders (courtesy of the Irish Independent).

According to the report, 156 human rights activists’ died globally due to violence or detention in the first 11 months of 2015 – 15 percent higher than the previous year. 88 of the killings took place in Latin America, with 54 deaths occurring in Colombia alone. 15 percent of the deaths in Latin America were defenders of LGBT rights.

The report called defending human rights in Latin America “extremely dangerous”, and noted ongoing criminalization of human rights and peaceful protest movements.

Some of the most targeted activists are those fighting for environmental rights, indigenous populations and LGBT rights.

“Extreme violence is being used more frequently and in more countries, while fabricated prosecutions and unfair trials have become the norm in many parts of the world,” said Mary Lawlor, the head of Front Line Defenders, speaking at the report’s launch in Dublin.

Ms. Lawlor also accused international reactions to human rights violations as weak in an editorial in the Irish Times. She called for Ireland and the EU to be strong in speaking up for human rights defenders, even in those countries where they have political and strategic interests.


For more information, please see:

Herald Sun – Killings of human rights defenders rise – 6 January 2016

Independent – Human rights activists ‘face new heights of violence’ – 6 January 2016

Irish Times – Latin America most dangerous place for human rights activists – 6 January 2016

Reuters – Killings of human rights defenders rise, LatAm fares worst: report – 6 January 2016 

Inside Costa Rica – Latin America is the deadliest region for human rights, environmental activists, group says – 7 January 2016

Latin One – Latin America Dubbed the ‘Deadliest Region for Human Rights Advocates’ – 7 January 2016

Irish Times – We must stop the killing of those who stand up for human rights – 8 January 2016


Independent Candidate, Liu Ping, Reports Being Beaten

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China –  Liu Ping was detained by local authorities on March 6 for running as an independent candidate in China’s Jiangxi province.

Liu Wang was detained and abused in prison following an attempt to run against the Communist Party as an Independent candidate (Photo Courtesy of The Hindu).

Liu was detained by security who worked from her former employer, Xinyu city Steel Group, which is state owned.

Following her detention Liu was taken to a “black jail”, the common name for an unofficial prison, where she was aggressively strip searched and beaten.

According to the China Human Rights Defenders, “her belongings were confiscated, and she was held temporarily in a black jail…her captors forced Liu into a car and drove her back to Jiangxi.”

After being driven to a secret location, while blindfolded, Liu was strip-searched by three women who left her virtually naked and with little food.

While in this location, Liu was forced to stay in a windowless room equipped with padded walls and surveillance cameras where she was monitored daily.

When Liu confronted her captors about the condition she was being kept in, she was beaten until she fell to the ground.

Liu was returned home on March 19 after she became sick.

Since being returned, Liu has endured surveillance cameras being placed at her home and negative treatment of her family members by authorities.

The treatment of Liu was caused by the strong following she had obtained during her candidacy as an independent candidate  for district People’s Congress.

Chinese authorities have reportedly warned that independent candidates do not exist and any person desiring to run for election for the People’s Congress will have to obey legal procedure.

Wang Songlian, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, described  the arrest of Liu as another example of detentions made annually shortly after the yearly meeting of the National’s People Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Wang asserts that this meeting typically leads to detention of people identified as troublesome to the government. Despite the regularity of these meetings and the subsequent detentions, Wang has express the opinion that “…this year is more serious than previous years.”

Interestingly, Liu was detained the National People’s Congress was focused on passing a revision to the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law which would require authorities to detain citizens in official detention centers rather than black jails.  The amendment would also require that family members of detainees to be informed of the detention within twenty-four hours.

Parties opposing the Communist Party are banned in China, with the exception of a few “democratic parties”, leading those who try to run against the ruling party to be subjected to lengthy prison terms.

Elections take place every five years and is responsible for appointing two million lawmakers at the county and township levels in over 2,000 counties and 3,000 townships.


For more information, please see:

The Hindu – Activist’s “Disappearance” Exposes China’s Legal Limits – 27 March 2012

Radio Free Asia – Independent Candidate Stripped, Beaten – 27 March 2012

The New York Time – Activist Said to be Missing in China – 19 March 2012

Uganda Struggles with Gay Rights as LGBT Advocate Wins Human Rights Award

By Tamara Alfred

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Earlier this month, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan woman, won the 2011 Martin Ennas Award for Human Rights Defenders.  The award is given annually by 10 of the world’s leading human rights NGOs and has been referred to as the Nobel prize for human rights.  Nabagesera is the founder and executive director of the LGBT rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda.

The situation for Uganda’s LGBT community is extremely difficult, with numerous documented cases of discrimination, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture and other ill-treatment based solely on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Activists who work to expose such abuses are frequently targeted.

Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone publishes a list of the 100 “Top Homos” calling for the people to be hanged. (Photo Courtesy of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.)

In late January, Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was murdered after the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone published a list of Uganda’s 100 “Top Homos” and called for the people named in the list to be hanged.  Nabagesera’s name also appeared on the list.

“I’ve lived my life fighting openly for gay rights in Uganda, and I’ve had to pay a price for that,” Nabagesera previously told Amnesty International.  “I’ve been evicted from house to house; my office has been evicted; I can no longer move on the streets openly; I’ve been attacked.”

Currently, homosexuality is a criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.  On Tuesday, Parliament voted to reopen a debate over a bill that seeks to expand on the criminalization of homosexuality and make it punishable by the death penalty.

The legislation was first proposed in October 2009 by Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati.  The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee suggested that the penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” should be the same as for “defilement,” a crime that is punishable by death.  The bill could mandate the death penalty or life in prison for people who are identified as gay, or caught engaging in homosexual acts.

The bill had failed at the end of the previous legislative session after an international outcry directed at the nation.  Both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the bill, and more than 1.6 million people around the world signed a petition urging the Parliament to let the bill die.

However, the speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga announced Tuesday that the legislature was interested in saving the bills from the previous parliament.

MP Barnabus Tinkasimire backed the bill, saying, “the anti-gays Bill is overdue because the spirit of my ancestors tell me that they lived without these practices [homosexuality]…We can’t afford to stay with such ills in our society and when it comes before the floor, we shall all pass it and support it.”

Bahati had previously said that the bill is aimed at stamping out western-imported immoral behaviors from society, protecting the moral fabric of the nation, saving the traditional family and buttressing legislation against ‘gayism.’

Uganda is not the only African nation currently dealing with gay rights.  Various other countries, including Ghana and Malawi, have passed laws making homosexuality illegal, while some in Zimbabwe are seeking to have gay rights included in the constitution.

For more information, please see:

Advocate.com – Ugandan Parliament Revisits Kill-The-Gays Bill – 25 October 2011

AllAfrica.com – Zimbabwe: Prime Minister Criticised for Supporting Gays – 25 October 2011

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News – “Kill the Gays Bill” returns, passage could be “imminent” – 25 October 2011

The New York Times – Uganda: Anti-Gay Bill Is Revived – 25 October 2011

Bikya Masr – Uganda gay activist wins human rights award – 15 October 2011

Silencing the Women’s Rights Movement in Iran

Courtesy of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

This report examines the Islamic Republic’s attempt to dismantle the women’s rights movement leading up to and following the June 12, 2009 presidential election. Members of the movement – from part-time volunteers to world-renowned human rights defenders – have been faced with a stark choice – cease their activism in order to protect themselves, their families and livelihoods, or continue their activism at the risk of facing criminal allegations, arbitrary arrest and detention, interrogation, torture and even death. Many have fled the country.

Please Click Here to Read.

United Nations Condemns Iran’s Human Rights Violations

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On November 20 the United Nations rebuked Iran for numerous human rights violations. The violations allegedly took place in the wake of the disputed presidential election. The UN’s condemnation came int he form of a draft resolution approved by members of the UN committee on human rights. The resolution passed by a vote of seventy four to forty eight with fifty nine countries abstaining.

A resolution condemning Iran for their treatment of their own citizens is not rare for the UN. However, the current resolution expressed particular concern for the increase of human rights violations that followed President Mahomoud Ahmedinejad’s disputed re-election. Those who abstained from the vote were reportedly concerned with singling out specific countries for condemnation.

In a similar vote last year, Iran garnered slightly more support. Among those who removed their support from Iran was Saudi Arabia, who had voted “no” in 2008. This decision appears to be linked to Saudi Arabia’s displeasure with Iranian support for a Shi’ite rebellion in Yemen. The rebellion has reportedly spilled over onto Saudi territory.

The resolution expressed “particular concern at the response of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran following the Presidential election of 12 June 2009 and the concurrent rise in human rights violations.” Among the violations listed by the UN were “harassment, intimidation and persecution, including by arbitrary arrest, detention or disappearance, of opposition members, journalists and other media representatives, bloggers, lawyers, clerics, human rights defenders, academics, (and) students.”

Iran’s disputed election lead to street rallies that broke out after the vote. Protesters claimed that Ahmedinejad’s re-election came as a result of a rigged vote. Four thousand individuals were arrested. Among them were one hundred forty senior reformers and journalists who were later shown on television in mass trials. They were charged with seeking an overthrow of the regime.

Iran’s UN ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, protested against the measure. He alleged that the resolution, introduced by Canada, showed the country’s “ill intentions.” He also criticized bringing such resolutions to the assembly as they have “created an atmosphere of confrontation and polarization.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – UN Blasts Iran’s Human Rights Violations – 21 November 2009

BBC – UN Condemns Iran’s Response to Post-Election Unrest – 21 November 2009

New York Times – In Draft Resolution, United Nations Rebukes Iran For Rights Violations Since Election – 20 November 2009

Reuters – UN Panel Condemns Iran For Post-Election Crackdown – 20 November 2009

China’s “All-Out Attack” Against Lawyers

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW YORK, United States – The Chinese government has closed down a legal aid center in Beijing and has disbarred 53 lawyers in an all-out effort to silence the country’s human rights defenders.

Last Friday, Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau officials raided and closed a nongovernmental legal research center, Open Constitution Initiative (OCI).  OCI takes on “officially sensitive” cases for groups and individuals whose fight for justice is hindered by China’s political system.

The officials claimed that OCI was closed down for failure to pay taxes and for improper registration, but OCI believes that the forced closure was politically motivated.  Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said, “The attack on OCI marks a new low in the Chinese government’s campaign against human rights defenders.  This is precisely the kind of organization whose work the government should value….”

Among the 53 lawyers who were disbarred included an eminent civil rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, who has represented high-profile Tibetan monks and victims of slave labor rings.  Other lawyers, whose works include representing HIV/AIDS patients and peasants in land disputes, have been taken by the police, handcuffed and beaten.  There are also reports of law firms being forced to close.

China attack rights lawyers Chinese petitioners whose legal channels have been frustrated (Source: AP)

The Beijing Justice Bureau announced that lawyers’ licenses were revoked because the individuals had failed to apply for re-registration.  However, critics argue that the Chinese government is intentionally removing means through which Chinese citizens can obtain legal assistance.  Furthermore, Beijing Bureau of Legal Affairs issued a notice to lawyers telling them to be “cautious” in defending suspects linked to the recent riots in Urumqi. 

Tang Jitian, whose license has been revoked and is under house arrest, said, “Some authorities don’t like those lawyers who speak for the people.  They think we are enemies…What police and the authorities are doing is destroying Chinese law.”

Human Rights in China and its executive director Sharon Hom also voiced their concerns saying, “This suppression will inevitably lead to…creating greater disadvantages for already persecuted groups and greater social instability.”

Human Rights Watch is urging the Chinese government to make a choice since “eliminating legal aid, banning legal research, and hobbling lawyers” will only hurt the Chinese society.

For more information, please see:

Guardian – China accused of ‘all-out attack’ on lawyers – 8 June 2009

The Huffington Post – China’s Civil Rights Lawyers: The New Enemies of the State – 20 July 2009

Human Rights Watch – China: Cease Attacks on Rights Lawyers – 17 July 2009

Police Target Transgender Community in Bangalore, India

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGALORE, India – Police evicted more than 100 working class transgender people, also known as hijras, last week. Human Rights Watch and other groups believe that these acts are part of a bigger scheme by police to actively cleanse Bangalore of transgenders, basing their campaign on incidents reported in national newspapers. The news reported that a gang of hijras kidnapped children, castrated them and forced them into prostitution. Police allegedly arrested the perpetrators.

“Of course, all reports of child abuse should be thoroughly investigated,” said Dipika Nath, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “But authorities are also responsible for sorting out fact from prejudice – and there is no excuse for targeting an entire community for retaliation.”

Following the news stories, the police inspector of Bangalore issued a notice to about 40 homeowners requiring them to evict all hijras occupying their homes. The police targeted the Dasarahalli neighborhood, a place known for having a large number of hijra inhabitants. Almost 100 hijra residents lost their homes, some lost their security deposits, and some lost their belongings.

Hijra victims stated that claims by the police are unfounded and the reported kidnappings are being used as justification for the evictions. Police say that it is the homeowners that are evicting their tenants. However, the leading national newspaper, The Hindu, obtained a copy of the eviction notice served upon the hijra tenants by the police.

“Because of prevailing myths that hijras habitually kidnap young boys, reports of the arrest of two hijras on criminal charges are a convenient excuse to target the entire community without arousing public outcry,” said Nath.

Last month, police arrested five hijras in Bangalore and charged them with extortion. The hijras were beaten and sexually abused. Forty-one human rights defenders were also arrested for protesting their arrest.

On October 20th, Deputy Commissioner of Police in Bangalore was quoted by a national newspaper, Daily News and Analysis, as calling for a “drive against the city’s eunuch menace.” “Eunuch” is a derogatory term for hijras.

For more information, please see:

The Hindu – Hijras Face Further Harassment – 13 November 2008

Human Rights Watch – India:  Stop ‘Social Cleansing’ in Bangalore – 18 November 2008

Times of India – Conflicts Surface Over Sex-Change Racket – 12 November 2008

UPDATE: Uzbek Critic Sentenced

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – According to rights group Human Rights Defenders Initiative, Uzbek dissident Yusuf Juma has been sentenced to five years forced labor for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer (see prior Impunity Watch article here).  He was charged with the crimes in December after conducting a protest against Islam Karimov’s third bid for president.  While being held prior to trial, his family claims that he was tortured.

His son Bobur, who had also been arrested during the protest, was given a suspended sentence of three years after admitting to the charges.  A family member said that Bobur only confessed after being beaten, and after authorities told him that without his confession, his father would be sentenced to 20 years.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Uzbek poet ‘sentenced over demo’ – 15 April 2008

Impunity Watch – BRIEF: Family of Uzbek Critic Say He Is Being Tortured by Government – 12 April 2008