Punishing "Moral Crimes" in Afghanistan

afghan women protest

Afghan Young Women for Change (YWC) activists, holding placards which read "where is justice?", take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Afghanistan in Kabul on April 14, 2012.

Despite enormous improvements to women’s livelihoods in the decade since the fall of the Taliban, much action is needed by the Afghan government and the international community.

For example, women in Afghanistan face some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, more than half of all girls in the country do not attend school, and many women are forced into marriage shortly after puberty.

To make matter worse, women can face the prospect of being jailed for reporting violence perpetrated against them as reported in Human Rights Watch’s new report, detailing the detention of 400 women and girls imprisoned in the country for “moral crimes”.


Sri Lankan Report Doesn't Fully Address War Crimes

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.

I’ve been waiting for months for the final report from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (often referred to as the “LLRC”).  The commission had been appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to examine events during the last seven years of the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers (the war ended in May 2009 with the government’s victory over the Tigers).

The Sri Lankan government has used the existence of the commission to say that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka wasn’t needed.  On Dec. 16, the Sri Lankan government released the LLRC’s final report.  I have to say that I’m disappointed with the report.


Bangladesh Must Take Action to Protect Women Against Fatwa Violence

Human Rights Watch has released a statement insisting that the Bangladeshi government take action without delay to enforce the orders from the Supreme Court to stop illegal punishments such as whipping, lashing, or public humiliations of women.

The issue became especially urgent when a local self-appointed group in Shariatpur district in the Dhaka division ordered 100 lashes in January 2011 for Hena Akhter, an adolescent girl, for an alleged affair, though by most accounts she had reported being sexually abused instead. She collapsed during the lashing and ultimately died. Since Akhter’s death, the local media has reported at least three suicides of girls following similar punishments.

The High Court division of the Supreme Court issued its judgment in the case on July 8, 2010, criticizing the Bangladesh government for not protecting its citizens, especially women, from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. Saying that the punishments contravened constitutional guarantees of the rights to life and liberty, the court directed the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible and to take preventive steps with awareness campaigns in schools, colleges, and madrasas. It instructed the Ministry of Local Government to inform all law enforcement and local government officials that extrajudicial punishments are criminal offenses.


Turkish Troubles: Freedom of Expression Endangered in Turkey

Journalists and activists participate in a rally calling for the freedom of press in central Ankara. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey, as almost any observer (or indeed, Turkish citizen), will tell you, is a country of remarkable contradictions.  For someone like myself, who has known and loved the country for so many years, these contradictions can be painful.  On the one hand, Turkey enjoys a vibrant and wildly creative culture, a strong economy, outstanding universities, and electoral politics that – despite many flaws – have been able to adapt to real political change.  Yet, despite these remarkable achievements, Turkey’s record on freedom of expression has, in many ways, suffered real decline.

Problems range from the banning of websites to lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech and debate.  Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan seems to file lawsuits almost weekly, normally at critical journalists, in what seems to be a concerted effort to use civil courts to limit political criticism and serious journalistic scrutiny.  More broadly, anti-terrorism laws have been used to attack peaceful dissent.


Urge Your Representative TODAY to Demand Accountability for Sri Lanka Crimes

For new developments on Sri Lanka and updates on this action, follow me on Twitter.

UPDATE (July 30): Our action is working! We almost got one new co-signer per hour within the first 24 hours of the start of our action, collecting 22 additional signatures. Even more important, due to the traction we got on this topic over the last days, the deadline to sign on was extended to next Friday, August 6Thursday, August 5! Please keep urging your representative to sign and spread the word. Thanks to everyone who has already done so.

After a US State Department official called for reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka last week, US lawmakers are now taking concrete action to hold the State Department to its own word (unfortunately the State Department seems to support the insufficient domestic investigation into the war crimes). Currently, a congressional sign on letter is circulating at Capitol Hill, gaining support to identify those responsible for the crimes committed in the final stage of

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Sri Lanka’s civil war. The letter, sponsored by Representatives Jan Schakowsky and James McGovern, urges Secretary Clinton to publicly call for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka. We urgently need your help in asking your representative to sign on. To achieve the highest impact with this congressional letter and keep up the pressure for true accountability, we must collect enough signatures now.

Last year, activists like you spearheaded the global Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka campaign, leading to the release of tens of thousands of civilians who were detained after the end of the war. Now we need your help again. Please take action today by asking your representative in the House to sign the congressional letter, demanding an international investigation. The letter will be closed this Friday, July 30, so please urge your representative now!

Here‘s how you can take action:

  1. Take action online, urging your House representative to sign on to the letter.
  2. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202 224-3121 and ask for your representative. Tell him about the letter and encourage him to support it.
  3. If your representative has a Facebook page or twitter account, encourage him through these platforms to sign on (for an example how to do this on twitter, follow our lead).


Indigenous Colombians Struggle to Survive

Women in the Embera Katío community in Aguasal, Chocó Department, Colombia

Women prepare food in the Embera Katío community in Aguasal, Chocó Department, Colombia

The indigenous community of Colombia is in serious danger of extinction if their human rights continue to be ignored and violated.  Amnesty International’s new report details a startling increase in attacks against indigenous peoples across the country leaving many communities struggling for survival.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of America, 114 men, women and indigenous children were killed and thousands were forcibly displaced in 2009. Among other violations against indigenous peoples are forced disappearances, threats, physical abuse of women, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the persecution of indigenous leaders.

These injustices threaten the very existence of such communities and it is imperative that the Colombian government respond. The Minister of Colombia, Valencia Cossio, recently stated, “The report [of Amnesty International] erroneously assumed that ‘internal armed conflict’ and ‘paramilitaries’ are to blame for the violence, and they do not face the fact that indigenous communities have been displaced and killed by the FARC and emerging criminal groups. ”

However, Human Rights Watch has continued to document great tolerance by the military for paramilitary atrocities. According to Human Rights Watch, the phrase “sixth division” is a common phrase in Colombia when referring to paramilitary groups in the country. At its most wrenching, there is collaboration between the military and paramilitaries of Colombia that according to Human Rights Watch includes:


We're Going to #CloseGitmo!

closegitmoAnother January 11th  Guantanamo  anniversary has come and gone, and still 198 men are detained at the facility (and hundreds more at Bagram). Over the last year there has been some progress, but not with the kind of momentum that we had hoped for last January.  Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Executive Order that President Obama drafted to have the Guantanamo Detention Facility closed within a year, but unfortunately, the detention facility is still open.  The military commissions process continues. And some in the Obama Administration seem to be flirting with the idea of indefinite detention (just in a US-based facility vs. Gitmo). The failed Bush-era policies on torture and indefinite and illegal detention sadly continue to linger on.  And thus the need for our important human rights work continues!

Last week on January 11th, we launched 10,000 Against Torture, a project to demonstrate to the White House and Congress, that Americans want both security AND respect for the rule of law. Over the next weeks, we’ll be doing weekly actions calling for the closure of Gitmo (in a way that respects human rights!) and accountability for these failed policies on torture and indefinite detention.

To mark the missed deadline tomorrow, we’ll be joining MoveOn, ACLU, Human Rights Watch and artists like Coldplay, Tom Morello, and others, by using Twitter and Facebook to get everyone online talking about closing Guantánamo.

Join us by taking action online today, January 21 and tomorrow, January 22:

  • Tweet messages with the “#closegitmo” hashtag (if you follow the  Amnesty USA, you can re-tweet messages that we will be posting)
  • Spread the word! Our goal is to make #closegitmo a top trending topic, and our success depends on reaching many people in a short amount of time to jump-start the conversation. Help us deliver this important message by asking others to join us (especially those with large followings online!)

Written by Njambi Good, Director of Counter Terror with Justice (CTWJ) campaign for Amnesty International USA

Sri Lanka: international investigation still needed

Human Rights Watch said something on Sri Lanka yesterday at the UN Human Rights Council that bears repeating:

“Additionally, the Council should establish an independent international investigation into violations of international humanitarian law during the fighting between the government and the LTTE.”

Amnesty International has been calling for such an investigation for some time.  Thousands of civilians were killed in the last stages of the fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Amnesty has received testimonies that both the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE were responsible for severe violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes, during the fighting.  The Sri Lankan government had promised the UN in a joint statement in late May to investigate those violations, but since then nothing has been done by the Sri Lankan government to fulfill those promises.  Yesterday, a UN official said that the UN was concerned about the lack of progess on this issue, among others in Sri Lanka.  The UN should establish an international investigation now.

Documenting Housing Demolitions for Dummies

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad. Photo credit goes to Patrick Fort/AFP/Getty Images.

A few days ago we published a new report on housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Here is a little background info about how to conduct such a project.

1. Becoming aware of the problem
In my case, that meant reading the news. IRIN published an article this past January, describing the frightening scale of housing demolitions in N’Djamena. A few weeks before, Amnesty International had published a comprehensive report on human rights violations in connection with the attack by armed opposition groups on N’Djamena in February 2008. It included a chapter on housing demolitions and forced evictions. This is the key passage for me in the report:

Official figures from the N’Djaména municipal government state that 1,798 compounds were destroyed in 11 different neighbourhoods. It would appear however that there were evictions beyond those 11 neighborhoods. For example, Amnesty International documented extensive housing destruction in the neighbourhood of Farcha, which does not appear on the list of neighbourhoods provided to Amnesty International delegates by municipal officials. (…) The municipal government’s figures are clearly inadequate. Beyond the incomplete figure of 1,798 compounds destroyed in 11 neighbourhoods, no official figures have been gathered. There are no figures indicating the number of buildings in each compound and no information as to how many people lived in each house and/or compound.

Now compare a Human Rights Watch press release (yes, these are two different documents):

According to documents from the office of the mayor of N’Djamena obtained by Human Rights Watch, municipal authorities destroyed 1,798 homes in 11 neighborhoods in the capital during the 30-day state of emergency that ended on March 15. Human Rights Watch saw hundreds of demolished structures in two neighborhoods in the capital that were not included in the official figures, making it likely that the total number of homes destroyed exceeds 2,000. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 10,000 people have been left homeless by the mass evictions. Many of those Chadians who fled N’Djamena following the February coup attempt returned to find that their homes had been destroyed.

2. Analyzing satellite images
In order to provide some of the missing information described in the above quoted excerpts, we ordered satellite images from N’Djamena from 3 different points in time: January 2008, November 2008 and January 2009. We compared and analyzed the images and thus clearly documented the shocking pace of housing demolitions: In a 12-month period, the government had demolished 3,700 homes and businesses, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.

3. Sending in the research troops
While the satellite images could provide us with hard numbers of homes demolished, they could not tell us which demolitions were clearly illegal. Our investigators on the ground gathered additional evidence, took photographs and collected testimonies. For example, they learned that the residents in the neighborhood of Chagoua 2 had lodged a complaint in court, which ruled that planned demolitions should cease, pending a final decision. Despite this order, the mayor of N’Djamena continued to demolish the houses.

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Another story our researchers collected is about two business owners: Abakar Sakin, a motorcycle mechanic, and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako, an auto mechanic, had operated their businesses in the 6th block in the neighborhood of Farcha for 25 years and 23 years respectively. Abakar Sakin employed four others and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako employed five. They were given less than 48 hours notice before their homes, where they operated their businesses, would be destroyed. They lost everything associated with their trades and have received no compensation.

4. Publishing the Results and Taking Action
The analysis of the satellite images combined with on the ground investigations allowed us to show a very clear – and distressing – picture of the scale of housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena. Our brief report (pdf) gives a good summary of our findings, and you can also find more information on the Science for Human Rights project’s website. And if you feel as angry as me about this outrageous human rights violation, let the Chadian government know.

Shia Muslims Still Face Inequality in Saudi Arabia

A new report by Human Rights Watch, entitled “Denied Dignity”, outlines how Shia Muslims of Saudi Arabia struggle against “systematic discrimination”.  The Shia community, which comprises about 10% to 15% of the Saudi population, faces “unfavourable treatment” in areas including religion, education, employment, and the justice system.

A recent Human Rights Watch report highlights an incident this past February where Shia Muslims clashed with religious police in the holy city of Medina. The report found that at this incident, “Security forces shot a 15-year-old pilgrim in the chest, and an unknown civilian stabbed a Shia religious sheikh in the back with a knife, shouting ‘Kill the rejectionist [Shia].’ This led to a number of demonstrations in the Eastern Province and to many protestors also being arrested.  Additionally, the report mentions how communal Shia prayer halls in the city of Khobar were closed in July of 2008 and how in 2009 many Shia religious and community leaders were arrested.

In the report’s press release, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch said:

 All the Saudi Shia want is for their government to respect their identity and treat them equally. Yet Saudi authorities routinely treat these people with scorn and suspicion. 

While Human Rights Watch recognized some efforts toward religious tolerance made by King Abdullah the monarch of Saudi Arabia, they stated that “the discrimination by state institutions has not ended” and that domestically no progress has been made towards promoting or implementing religious tolerance. In the same press release Human Rights Watch also demanded that a commission be established for the equal sharing of holy places by all Muslims especially in the holy cities of Mekka and Medina.

The BBC and both Human Rights Watch cite religious differences to be main source of the tension and subsequent inequality between the religious groups.

At the end of the press release, Whitson called on the Saudi government to change its ways and honor the vows for religious tolerance that King Abdullah made in his speeches in Madrid and New York in 2008,

The Saudi government has long regarded its Shia citizens through the prism of Wahhabi dogma or state stability, branding them as unbelievers or suspecting their national loyalties. It is time for a new approach that treats Shia as citizens with equal rights.

Sana Javed contributed to this post.