Injustice for Woman Human Rights Defender, Loujain al-Hathloul

By: Katherine Davis

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – After being detained over peaceful activism for more than two years, Loujain al-Hathloul now stands trial before Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal court.

Saudi Activist Loujain al-Hathloul Stands Trial Before a Specialized Court That Hears National Security and Terrorism Cases. Photo Courtesy of CNN and Walid al-Hathloul.

The jailed Saudi women’s rights activist, who ignited the movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia, has been accused of activities that “undermine the kingdom’s security, stability, and national unity”. Since her arrest, the United Nations, other human rights organizations, and activists have called for the immediate and unconditional release of al-Hathloul as well as many other women human rights defenders across the region. 

Al-Hathloul was arrested in March of 2019 while driving in the United Arab Emirates. After her arrest, she was sent to Saudi Arabia and was arrested again in a sweep that targeted ten women’s right-to-drive activists. She and the other women were accused of violating Royal Decree 44a. This violation leaves the women facing terrorism charges that can be punishable by three to twenty years imprisonment. Without warning, al-Hathloul’s trial commenced December 10.

Her brother, Walid al-Hathloul, claims that his sister has not had access to a lawyer and was not aware of the charges against her. Other family members say she has been subjected to electric shocks, whipping, and sexual harassment during her detention.

The Saudi government denies all allegations of torture. A Saudi official told CNN in November, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s judiciary system does not condone, promote, or allow the use of torture. Anyone, whether male or female, being investigated is going through the standard judiciary process led by public prosecution while being held for questions, which does not in any way rely on torture, either physical, sexual, or psychological.”

On December 10, the United Nations released a statement, calling for the immediate release of al-Hathloul. In the statement, Elizabeth Broderick, the chairperson of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, commended al-Hathloul for being a dedicated woman human rights defender, “who has greatly contributed to advancing women’s rights in a country where gender discrimination and stereotyping are deeply entrenched in the fabric of society.”

Other organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Free Saudi Activists Coalition, have also called for the immediate release of al-Hathloul. Human Rights Watch urges all countries in the Middle East and North African region to guarantee and protect women’s rights and calls on governments around the world to call for the release of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf, said, “the only just outcome for this trial would be the immediate and unconditional release of Loujain al-Hathloul. She is not a criminal – she is a human rights defender who is being punished simply for daring to advocate for change.”

For further information, please see:

21 WFMJ – Detained Women’s Rights Defender, Loujain al-Hathloul, put on Trial by Saudi Arabia on Human Rights Day – Dec. 11, 2020

Aljazeera – Saudi Activist al-Hathloul Appears in Court, UN Calls for Release – Dec. 10, 2020

Amnesty International – Saudi Arabia: Loujain al-Hathloul Must be Unconditionally Released – Nov. 24, 2020

BBC News – Lourjain al-Hathloul: Saudi Activist’s Trial ‘Moved to Terrorism Court’ – Nov. 25, 2020

CNN World – Saudi Women’s Rights Activist Loujain al-Hathloul goes on Trial in Riyadh – Mar. 13, 2019

Human Rights Watch – Is Saudi Arabia Serious About Clemency for Women Rights Activists? – Nov. 10, 2020

Human Rights Watch – Together We Must Protect and Support WHRDs in Middle East and North Africa – Dec. 11, 2020

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights Faces Resistance Against Authority

By: Hannah Gavin

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – The African Court on Human and People’s Rights has been facing difficulty in recent months as nations have growingly been unwilling to co-operate with the court.

Logo of the Coalition for an Effective African Court of Human and People’s Rights. Photo courtesy of the Coalition.

The nations of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania all recently withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to file cases with the court directly. These nations join several other African nations that have either revoked the right for individuals to file or are not complying with the court’s decisions. The reasons for the revocations are due to decisions by the court that these nations view as too harsh and unfavorable. The International Director for Research and Policy from Amnesty International discussed the matter by stating, “The decision by countries to hit back at the court for decisions they disagreed with is extremely worrying. African states must refrain from using political muscle against institutions whose very purpose is to ensure justice is available to everyone, regardless of their government’s politics.”

In addition to nations outright denying the court’s decisions, many have also opted to ignore its obligations. The court requires that nations submit periodic reports so that they may keep track of potential arising violations. Only six of the thirty nations had submitted reports. An additional six nations had never submitted a single report. These actions already presented many concerns to human rights before the COVID-19 pandemic, since the pandemic these have become grave threats. Many countries have used excessive force, arrests, and strict restrictions to curb the effects of the virus. Specifically, people who were already of limited resources are being hit especially hard.

Some of those that are historically underprivileged include the elderly and those with disabilities. These at-risk groups are often targets of human rights violations. To combat this, two protocols dictating rights for these marginalized groups were adopted by the African Union. However, several years after their adoption, the protocols have yet to be ratified.

These restrictions have raised alarms for the African and international communities, as going against the implicit purpose of the court. By restricting access to fair proceedings, individuals who are victims of these crimes may be unable to seek help. More egregiously, nations that perpetrate such abuses will be left with citizens struggling to find legal support. Many diverse nations make up the African continent, without the assistance of the court to regulate severe human rights abuses, many nations risk slipping from democratic societies into despotisms.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Africa: Regional human rights bodies struggle to uphold rights amid political headwinds – 21 Oct. 2020

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Court Coalition Discussions: States Withdrawals from Article 34(6) of the African Court Protocol – 1 May 2020

Domestic Violence in Jammu and Kashmir due to India’s Revocation of its Special Status

By: Kanalya Arivalagan

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

KASHMIR, India – In Kashmir, there was an increased surge in domestic violence due to the shutdown. This shutdown, however, was caused by India revoking its semi-autonomous status in August 2019.

A Police Checkpoint in Jammu and Kashmir. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

The former state of Jammu and Kashmir is a region of land that was divided unevenly between India and Pakistan, with India receiving the larger portion. It is also the biggest Muslim-majority state in India in which it had its special status of semi-autonomy under Article 370 of the Constitution of India since 1947. However, after the revocation, India placed its federal forces in parts of Kashmir, installed a communications blockade, cut access to public transportation, and closed markets.

During the 2016 and 2017’s shutdown, there was more than 3,000 domestic violence in addition to general violence against women per year. Now, in 2020, the Kashmiri women are in the middle of both a global pandemic and a military lockdown from India without any resource available to help guide them during this time.

The total internet blackout along with lack of communication access caused confusion, which continued to worsen as India’s security forces came into the region. The women’s commission for domestic violence became defunct in the past three years resulting in no proper resource for women facing such violence. In the entire Kashmir valley, there is only one women’s police station and the male’s police stations are not trained to be able to work with domestic violence victims. Furthermore, even if the women come to the male officers for help, they often dismiss it as a family matter.

Furthermore, Shah Faisal, state director of the Human Rights Law Network, stated that these women also lack access to medical help because “many out-patient departments in public and private hospitals have closed” due to Kashmir losing its special status. Now, amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, it is ill-advised to go to the hospital because of the possibility of getting infected.

For example, one of the many women facing domestic violence under these especially frightful circumstances is Rafiqa, 39, who had to turn to a local religious leader to seek the help she needs. Her husband beat her, abused her, and this violent abuse became much worse after he lost his job last year in 2019. Due to the shutdown and the lack of access to internet/mobile lines, Rafiqa couldn’t even reach her parents for help. Similarly, another survivor, Sameena, 29, suffered harsh abuse that even resulted in rape by her husband. Such series of abuse was so horrific that she ended up suffering a miscarriage due to the severe violence. She could only turn to her parents for support.

It should be noted this pain might be eased by the decision of the high court of Jammu and Kashmir in April 2020 which directed the lower courts to treat the matter of domestic violence as an urgent issue. However, with the lockdown and lack of access to the internet as well as the mobile and landlines, India’s actions are a violation of human rights for the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. As Mr. Mehak, a journalist, penned, “[e]ach individual has the right to life and as such no instance of domestic or any other sort of violence with any person discrete of gender, social group or any other classification is insupportable and intolerable.”

For further information, please see:

The New York Times – India Revokes Kashmir’s Special Status, Raising Fears of Unrest – 05 Aug. 2019.

The New Humanitarian – Nowhere to Turn for Women Facing Violence in Kashmir – 09 Jul. 2020.

Deccan Herald – Coronavirus Lockdown Leads to Spurt in Domestic Violence Cases in Kashmir – 23 Apr. 2020.

Greater Kashmir – Spike in Domestic Violence – 02 Sep. 2020.

IACHR Expresses Concern over the Human Rights of U.S. Sex Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On November 13, 2020, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release expressing concern over the human rights of U.S. sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cat Hollis, Founder of the Haymarket Pole Collective. Photo Courtesy of OPB.

The statement called for the U.S. government to strengthen its guarantees that individuals engaged in sex work would maintain their environmental, economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly during the pandemic’s containment and mitigation measures. The IACHR reiterated its belief that the discrimination and stigma facing sex workers in the United States pose a great risk to human rights and dignity and must be eliminated.

In its press release, the IACHR drew on information from reports indicating that sex workers throughout the United States have experienced increased violence, discrimination, and poverty during the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and social-distancing measures instituted in most U.S. states have severely decreased opportunities for income through sex work, leaving these workers unable to cover the costs of basic needs and essential services. When reaching out for help, individuals engaged in sex work have been met with dwindling opportunities for housing, a lack of accessible healthcare, and exclusion from many social assistance programs.

Sex work is criminalized in most U.S. states, leaving sex workers dangerously excluded from State registration systems, social services, and necessary healthcare provisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these unstable conditions, leaving sex workers especially vulnerable to the virus and its larger effects. Businesses providing sex work were banned from receiving U.S. Small Business Administration Loans, which offered relief to businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic because of a stipulation excluding live performances or services of a “prurient sexual nature.”

Spurned by the U.S. government, sex workers and the businesses that employ them have been forced to turn elsewhere for assistance. The Haymarket Pole Collective, an Oregon based group that advocates for Black and Indigenous strippers and other strippers of color, recently received a grant from the Oregon Health Authority. The $600,000 grant will be used to fund relief and wellness kits which will include mail-in COVID-19 infection test kits, in addition to other necessities.

The work of the Haymarket Pole Collective addresses the impact of sex work discrimination on minorities, which are often disproportionally affected by situations of emergency or social unrest. In its statement, the IACHR expressed fears that minority populations within the sex work community face rapidly increasing prejudice and discrimination during the pandemic. In particular, the IACHR highlighted the uniquely hostile situation of transgender sex workers who often lack government identification documentation aligned with their gender identity or expression. As a result, transgender sex workers “are exposed to the dual denial of various essential services, including health.” The IACHR called on the U.S. to guarantee that transgender individuals receive adequate care policies and health services respectful of their gender identity. 

Finally, the IACHR noted the increased potential for police violence against sex workers as tensions around the pandemic continue to grow. The IACHR urged the U.S. to implement training programs for police officers, medical officials, and social services personnel regarding the social, economic, and human rights of sex workers. If properly implemented, these trainings could provide sex workers with greater access to social welfare systems and allow for more accurate reporting on situations of sexual slavery, labor exploitation, and human trafficking.

For further information, please see:

American Psychological Association – How COVID-19 impacts sexual and gender minorities – 29 June 2020

Amnesty International – Include Sex Workers in the COVID-19 Response – 28 July 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: IACHR calls on States to guarantee the human rights of women engaged in sex work in the context of the pandemic – 13 Nov. 2020

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Program providing COVID-19 relief to Oregon sex workers meets overwhelming demand – 14 Nov. 2020

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health – COVID-19 Prevention and Protecting Sex Workers: A Call to Action – 14 Oct. 2020

After Nearly 8 Years, Adeel Muhammad and Ramzan Muhammad Receive the Justice They’ve Been Waiting For

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – The case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania has received substantial notoriety since December 2012. Both men were living in Romania studying at Lucian Blaga University when the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) submitted an application to the prosecutor’s office to deem the two men “undesirable” in Romania. Adeel Muhammed had been in Romania for three months, Ramzan, almost four years; both men are Pakistani nationals.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice in Romania. Photo Courtesy of Romania Journal.

The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) accused the two men of being national security threats. They were charged with engaging in activities capable of endangering national security under Article 85 §1 of the Romanian Emergency Ordinance (OUG); and also, OUGs 194/2002, sections of 51/1991, and section 44 of 535/2004; all relating to the status of aliens and safeguarding national security. The prosecutor’s office believed these charges were safe under Article 1 Protocol No. 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the basis that Romania’s national security was at risk, therefore expulsion was necessary.

The document presented to the Court of Appeals by the prosecutor’s office alleged a connection between the men and al-Qaeda and their involvement in activities that threatened Romania’s national security. During the hearing, the two men were never informed of the charges brought against them because the document presented by the prosecutor’s office was deemed classified. The Court determined the classified documents were admissible as evidence because of their pertinence and conclusiveness under Article 167 of the Romanian Code of Civil Procedure.

The men submitted a request for legal assistance, which the court rejected claiming that since they had failed to file before the trial began, they were unable to request legal assistance. Judgment was delivered on the same day and the men were informed that they were going to be placed in administrative custody awaiting deportation.

After the trial, in a press release, the SRI published detailed information about the case. This included the names of the men and the alleged accusations outlined in the classified documents.

The two men hired lawyers and appealed to the High Court of Cassation and Justice. They submitted a claim for breach of OUG 194/2002 Article 85 §4 in the failure to advise them of the claims; and that even though the accusations had been deemed “classified,” the SRI published them all in a subsequent press release. They submitted documents from their university as proof of good conduct. They also requested the Court obtain their bank statements showing that they weren’t financing terrorist organizations. This was necessary because neither of their lawyers held the proper certificate that allowed them to view the classified documents.

Citing Article 305 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the High Court accepted the university’s good conduct reports but rejected the request to obtain bank statements. The High Court later dismissed the case citing that based on the classified documents, it was clear that the Court of Appeals had issued a correct judgment. Adeel and Ramzan both left Romania at the end of December.

Nearly eight years after Adeel and Ramzan left Romania, the Grand Chamber of the European Commission on Human Rights issued a judgment in favor of them. It was determined that the procedural limitations imposed on the men were a violation of their Article 1 Protocol No. 7 right for procedural safeguards relating to the expulsion of aliens.

The decision was based on a multitude of questionable tactics applied by the Court of Appeals and the High Court. The Grand Chamber noted that the domestic courts never gave clear and concrete reasoning for not allowing the men to obtain knowledge as to the charges against them nor did they assess the need to withhold the information. The Chamber also stated that it was never determined that the facts provided in the Prosecutor’s claims were verified or credible. The Grand Chamber took aim at the press release acknowledging the contradictory nature of withholding the information only to release it to the public the next day. They did not believe that the press release was an appropriate way for the men to learn of the accusations against them.

The Grand Chamber further explained that Court of Appeals only provided the men the numbers of the legal provisions, not names of the laws under which the charges were brought. Neither the Court of Appeals nor the High Court informed them of their Article 1 Protocol No. 7 procedural rights or made them aware of any domestic laws or safeguards that might have aided in their defense. The mention of obtaining lawyers was never addressed during the trial, and the Grand Chamber noted that the courts failed in suggesting lawyers with the proper certification to read the classified documents.

The limitations imposed by the courts counteracted the basic rights allotted under the ECHR and significantly disadvantaged the men throughout the trial. The judgment called for Romania to pay 10,000 euros to each man and 1,365 euros jointly for costs and fees.

For further information please see:

ECHR – Grand Chamber, Case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania (Application no. 80982/12) – 15 Oct. 2020

ECHR – Press Release – Violation of Convention in view of significant limitations imposed on applicants’ right to be informed of reasons for expulsion – 15 Oct. 2020

Strasbourg Observers – The case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania: the first Grand Chamber judgement on Article 1 of Protocol Nr. 7 ECHR procedural safeguards with regard to expulsion of aliens) – 29 Oct. 2020

Romania Journal.ro – Supreme Court Refers To The Court of Justice Of the EU The ‘Bule Gala’ File, Trial Procedures Suspened – 23 Apr. 2019