The Middle East

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

Human Rights Violations in Tehran as COVID-19 Continues to Spread

By: Dianne Jahangani

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

TEHRAN, Iran – The world is currently at war. For the first time in history, all 195 nations have the same exact enemy. The only caveat is that this time, the enemy is invisible, which makes defeating it so much more difficult.

It seems as though the world has been put on pause. For the past few weeks, every single headline on every single news outlet is about COVID-19, ranging from how many people have been infected to how many people have died, or what progress has been made on finding a cure and what the United States government is currently doing to combat the unforeseen effects of this virus.

One would think that in a time of grief, nations would come together to help fight this virus. However, human rights violations have not subsided; in fact, some may argue they have gotten worse.

History has demonstrated that even if a leader is deemed to be unfavored, during times of war, the people will always support him to defeat the enemy, since many naturally look to their leader to protect them. However, in many cases, the leader does not act in the best interest of the people or the public, which leads to a significant increase in human rights violations. In fact, statistically speaking, during times of war, human rights violations typically exceed the average amount. This phenomenon is exactly what is currently occurring in Iran.

On March 31, the United Nations released a statement stating that history has shown that the effects of sanctions against a country include dramatic and detrimental impacts on economic, social, and cultural rights. The statement further emphasized that economic sanctions need to be lifted to prevent hunger crises in countries that have been hit hard by COVID-19.

Iran has become one of the worst effected countries by this pandemic, reporting over 58,000 cases and 4,000 deaths. Additionally, Iran is subject to many sanctions imposed by the United States, which further causes Iran’s economy to suffer. With this new outbreak, the United States does not have any plans to release Iran from its sanctions; however, understanding the reality of the difficulty COVID-19 has imposed on all countries, the United States has indicated that it would be more than willing to assist Iran in this time of crisis. Yet, on March 22, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran vocally expressed its strong opposition towards receiving aid and resources from foreign nations such as the United States, but still requested that the U.S. remove its sanctions. This refusal by Iran demonstrates the lack of political leadership within the country, further exacerbated by the rising death toll and number of cases increasing exponentially each day.

According to the Health Ministry, “one person dies in Iran every 10 minutes from the coronavirus, and someone is infected every 50 minutes.” Iran does not have enough medical supplies or resources to combat this virus on its own. By refusing to accept aid during the peak of the pandemic, the Iranian government is leaving its people vulnerable to the virus. This is a significant human rights violation.

According to the World Health Organization, international human rights law guarantees “everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it.” The Iranian government’s actions are directly contradicting the words of the World Health Organization. The number of infected and dead continues to rise in Iran due to the Supreme Leader and his affiliates pushing conspiracy theories, rather than analyzing concrete data to resolve the pandemic. In many of his public statements, Ayatollah Ali Khameni blames the U.S. for the outbreak of COVID-19, despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating in a White House briefing that “the whole world should know that humanitarian assistance to Iran is wide open … they’ve got a terrible problem there and we want that humanitarian, medical assistance to get to the people of Iran.”

Khameni publicly commented on his refusal to accept aid and medication, stating that he believes the virus is naturally structured to further spread amongst the Iranian people.

The Iranian government is violating human right laws as it continues to deprive its people of basic necessities such as medications, proper hospital care, and other such medical supplies. The fact is that people are dying every 10 minutes, and the government continues to deny foreign aid. The Iranian people have the right to life and the government is infringing upon this right.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – Trump grilled on punishing Iran sanctions amid coronavirus crisis- 3 Apr. 2020

Aljazeera – Iran leader refuses US help; cites coronavirus conspiracy theory – 23 Mar. 2020

France 24 – Iran’s Khamanei refuses US help to fight coronavirus, citing conspiracy theory– 22 Mar. 2020

TIME – Iran Leader Refuses U.S. Help to Fight COVID-19, Citing Conspiracy Theory – 22 Mar. 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer – Iran leader refuses U.S. help, citing coronavirus conspiracy theory – 22 Mar. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response – 19 Mar. 2020

Business Insider – The coronavirus has caused a full breakdown in Iran, with an unknown death toll, infected leaders, and massive burial pits visible from space – 17 Mar. 2020

ICC Authorizes Investigation into Afghanistan

By: Andrew Kramer

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On March 5, 2020, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) authorized the Prosecutor to begin investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan dating back to May 1, 2003.  All sides of the armed conflict may now be subject to investigation.

A crater caused by a car bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

This judgement amended a previous decision of Pre-Trial Chamber II, which had unanimously rejected the Prosecutor’s previous request for authorization to conduct an investigation on April 12, 2019.  Pre-Trial Chamber II determined that an investigation into the Situation in Afghanistan would not serve the interests of justice, and successful investigation and prosecution would be unlikely.  In the resulting appeal of this decision, the Appeals Chamber found that the Pre-Trial Chamber erred in considering the “interests of justice” factor.  According to the Appeals Chamber, the Pre-Trial Chamber should have addressed only whether there was a reasonable factual basis for the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation. Additionally, the Appeals Chamber found that the Prosecutor had indeed met that burden during the Pre-Trial proceedings.

This decision has drawn criticism from the United States government, who may now be the subject of prosecution in the Court.  The United States is not a state party to the ICC and has never been since the Court’s inception. While speaking with reporters in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the ruling a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body.”  Last year, the United States government revoked the visa of ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda after she indicated her intentions to pursue the case. Pompeo previously stated the United States would revoke the visas of any staff involved with prosecuting war crimes in Israel, as well.

The Appeals Chamber decision has furthered the Court’s goal of becoming a truly independent body, and holding any nation accountable for its actions, however upsetting the United States may cause allied nations to distance itself from the Court.  While other United States administrations have been cautiously neutral in supporting the ICC, the Trump administration has taken a firm stance against the Court and its legitimacy. The absence of any significant enforcement mechanism in the Court leaves the ICC only as powerful as the member nations deem it to be.  If the United States chooses to not comply with ICC demands, it may frustrate prosecution attempts with little recourse, and delegitimize the Court.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Appeals Chamber Decision on the Situation in Afghanistan – 5 Mar. 2020

International Criminal Court – ICC Appeals Chamber Authorises the Opening of an Investigation – 5 Mar. 2020

The New York Times – I.C.C. Allows Afghanistan War Crimes Inquiry to Proceed, Angering U.S. – 5 Mar. 2019

International Criminal Court – ICC Judges Reject Opening of an Investigation Regarding Afghanistan Situation – 12 Apr. 2019

Man In Turkmenistan Is Missing After Revealing Sexual Orientation

By: Melissa Berouty

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — According to Freedom House’s index of basic freedoms, Turkmenistan is rated below North Korea and only above Syria. Under Turkmen law, the government has the authority to regulate behavior in an attempt to “construct the model Turkmen citizen.” Turkmen authorities exercise its control by brutally punishing any form of religious or political expression that does not align with the Turkmen government. Additionally, the Turkmen government limits the nature of print and electronic media available to its citizens.

The Turkmen government has a long history of enforced disappearances, where individuals’ whereabouts or fates serving long sentences in Turkmenistan are unknown. For more than ten years, the Turkmen government has prohibited loved ones, lawyers, and the outside world access to the imprisoned. Prove They Are Alive, a campaign committed to ending enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan, has reported at least 121 cases of enforced disappearances. Of these 121 cases, many are suspected to be detained in the Ovadanepe prison, which has a reputation for extreme conditions.

On October 24, 2019, it was reported that Kasymberdy Garayev was feared to be missing after allegedly revealing his sexual orientation, under a pseudonym, on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In Turkmenistan, homosexual conduct is a criminal act that can result in up to a two-year prison sentence. Today, approximately sixty-eight countries have laws that criminalize homosexual conduct between consenting adults. According to Human Rights Watch, sentencing in these sixty-eight countries “range from fines to life imprisonment and even the death penalty.” Rachel Denber, the deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, expressed her extreme concern for Garayev stating that “given Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record, including enforced disappearances, we have every reason to fear for his safety and well-being.”

Kasymberdy Garayev is a 24-year-old cardiologist, who was employed at an elite clinic in Turkmenistan. On October 21, 2019, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty released a narrative, where Garayev allegedly reflected on his life in Turkmenistan stating that “since childhood, I knew that I was gay and it was hard for me to accept.” In 2018, Garayev was allegedly detained by Turkmen authorities upon a scheduled meeting with an online male love interest, which turned out to be a police officer. Here, Garayev allegedly stated that on the way to the police station, officers beat him, used a stun gun, and demanded that he make a statement on camera confirming his sexual orientation.

On October 24, 2019, Turkmen authorities allegedly requested Garayev’s presence for a background check.  From October 24, 2019 to November 6, 2019, Garayev’s whereabouts were unknown. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was also unable to locate Garayev’s family. According to Human Rights Watch, when an individual summoned by Turkmen authorities goes missing, “there is a real risk they could be the victim of an enforced disappearance.”

On October 31, 2019, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty released a video recording of Garayev2 speaking, where he disclosed his real name, expressed his fear of going missing, and begged for his family’s forgiveness.

During the time Garayev was feared to be missing, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the president of Turkmenistan, visited Rome. During Berdymukhamedov’s visit, several Italian LGBTQ+ activist groups urged Rome to speak out on Garayev’s disappearance. On November 6th, Italian Senator Monica Cirinna released a statement demanding the government press Berdymukhamedov on the details of Garayev’s disappearance. Later that day, Garayev returned home.

Since then, Garayev denies any communication with Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Garayev claims that the video farewell was recorded for a different purpose and sent mistakenly to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Additionally, after the release of Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty’s narrative, Garayev is no longer employed by the prestigious clinic in Turkmenistan where he once worked. Since Garayev’s alleged return home, several LGBTQ+ activist groups have started campaigns seeking to protect Garayev.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Turkmenistan: Gay Man Missing After Coming Out Online – 1 Nov. 2019

Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty – ‘If I Disappear, Forgive Me’: Missing Gay Turkmen’s Plea – 31 Oct. 2019

Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty – Gay man from Turkmenistan wants to make a statement to start a discussion – 21 Oct. 2019

Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty – The Turkmen President Is Alive, But What About His Prisoners? –  20 Aug. 2019

Human Rights Watch – Turkmenistan Events of 2018

Human Rights Watch –#OUTLAWED “THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME”

Egyptian Authorities Crackdown on Anti-Government Protestors

By: Alexandra Casey

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

CAIRO, Egypt — On September 20, 2019, anti-government protests were held in several Egyptian cities, violating the country’s ban on protesting without a permit. Protesters called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to step down following allegations of government corruption. Egyptian authorities have since detained more than 2,000 people in a government crackdown. This response is significant even in a regime that has long targeted dissenters.

Protestors in Cairo, Egypt. Photo Courtesy of NPR.

According to Amnesty International, authorities have arrested everyone from street protestors to prominent government critics and have accused detainees of breaking the country’s broad anti-terrorism laws, spreading fake news, protesting without a license, and joining an illegal organization. Many of the arrests appear to have no connection to the recent protests. After September 20, al-Sisi moved swiftly to rally support. He organized state backed demonstrations praising his current rule and had authorities set up check points to search all cell phones for signs of government criticism.

Prominent journalist and activist, Esraa Abdelfattah, was reportedly arrested by plain-clothes officers and beaten after refusing to unlock her cell phone. Aaron Boehm, a U.S. citizen who had recently arrived in Egypt for a University of Edinburgh study abroad program, was also detained after police officers stopped him in the street and searched his phone. Upon discovering that Boehm sent articles to his friends about the protests, he was put in a vehicle, blindfolded for about 16 hours and interrogated by authorities. While Boehm did not suffer physical abuse, he reported seeing signs of violence against detainees.

The sheer volume of arrests following the September 20 protests combined with al-Sisi’s meager gestures towards addressing citizens’ economic grievances suggest that while Egypt appears stable, unrest may lie just below the surface. Analysts say that al-Sisi’s promise to reinstate subsidies for staples such as rice and pasta will do little to rectify citizens’ disapproval.

Mass arrests have resulted in overcrowding of detention centers, and allegations of torture and ill treatment in detention centers has received attention from the United Nations Human Rights Office. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has also expressed concerns about significant due process violations.

In a statement to press, OHCHR spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, reminded the Egyptian government that “under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights.”

Shamdasani called for immediate release of those who have been arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights and prompt, effective investigation into the allegations of torture and mistreatment.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – U.N. rights office urges Egypt to free blogger, lawyer, journalist – 18 Oct. 2019

UN News – UN human rights office urges Egypt to immediately release detained protestors – 18 Oct. 2019

NPR – Major Crackdown In Egypt Sweeps Up Activists, Children and At Least 1 U.S. Citizen – 12 Oct. 2019

NY Times – Egypt’s Harsh Crackdown Quashes Protest Movement – 4 Oct. 2019

Reuters – More than 1,100 detained in Egypt after protests: rights monitors – 25 Sept. 2019