What is the UN Saying on Syria?

Sunjeev Bery on Sky News Arabia

Sunjeev Bery on Sky News Arabia

Yesterday, I joined the team at Sky News Arabia for a live discussion of the latest report on Syria by an independent UN panel. Special thanks to Sky News producer Arwa Sawan, reporter Joseph Khawly, and anchor Amer Abdel Aziz for giving Amnesty International USA an opportunity to share our analysis of the grave human rights situation.

The report (PDF) is a catalog of violence, suffering, and geopolitical developments, focusing on events between January 15th and May 15th of this year. It was produced by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

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Gaza Blockade: Still Operational, Still Violating Human Rights

gaza blockade white house

One of our postcard actions in front of the White house

This morning, Amnesty International USA delivered thousands of signed postcards to the White House.  The postcards call on President Obama to push for an end to Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. For over five years, the 1.6 million Palestinians of Gaza have lived under an Israeli military blockade that has left more than one million Palestinians dependent on international humanitarian aid.

The postcards, signed by thousands of Amnesty International supporters and members across the US, call attention to Israel’s near ban on exports from the Gaza Strip.  The Gazan economy has been effectively crippled by this export ban and other aspects of the blockade.

As a result, massive numbers of Palestinians now live in a state of permanent unemployment.  Our 2012 human rights report documents that over 70 percent of Gaza’s residents now depend on humanitarian aid.  While imports into Gaza have increased since mid-2010, they are still far below the levels allowed before the blockade began in 2007.

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Send a Tweet, Free a Prisoner

Just one week after a global Twitter campaign by Amnesty International, Palestinian Waleed Hanatsheh walked free from an Israeli prison.  Israeli officials had jailed him without charge or trial for periods totaling some 5 years of his life.  But after facing the public spotlight, those same Israeli officials let Hanatsheh go home.

In this online campaign, Amnesty International members and staff targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (@IsraeliPM), the Israeli Defense Forces (@IDFSpokesperson), and the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC (@IsraelinUSA):

Since the 1960s, Amnesty International members have been using whatever form of communication it takes to reach governments, politicians, corporations and other targets. From mailing letters to prison cells (yes, we still do this!) to taking our demands in person to embassies, Amnesty International members have helped release tens of thousands of prisoners over the years.

The Internet has become more important to our advocacy in recent years, but does it actually work?  Can electronic messages impact governmental policies or help free prisoners in far flung countries?

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Nabeel Rajab: Why Did the U.S. State Department Drag Its Feet?

Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab

On August 16th, Bahraini political activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in jail for his peaceful role in protests critical of Bahrain’s monarchy.  He had already been in prison since July 9th, when he was convicted of libel after sending a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s Prime Minister.

But despite all of this, the US State Department did not publicly call on its military ally to release Nabeel Rajab until after his three year sentence had already been handed down.

Why did the US State Department wait so long to come to Nabeel Rajab’s defense?

There were plenty of missed opportunities along the way. One such moment was on August 1st, when Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner testified (see pg 16) at a congressional hearing focused on Bahrain.  In his written testimony (pg 4), Assistant Secretary Posner called on the Government of Bahrain to “drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly.”

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Will Bahrain’s King Stop Imprisoning Peaceful Critics?

Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab repeatedly has been targeted and abused by the authorities for his peaceful activism.

Update: Nabeel Rajab was found guilty today August 16, of taking part in an “illegal gathering” among other charges in relation to a protest in the capital this past February.

Just this afternoon, 19 Members of Congress sent a letter urging Bahrain’s King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa to release Nabeel Rajab, a man imprisoned for a tweet.

Nabeel is one of the “Bahrain 14” – 14 political activists sentenced to everything from three months to life in prison simply for engaging in nonviolent speech, expression, or association. Seven of the 14 have been given unbelievable life sentences in prison for their activism.

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Will Congress Put Bahrain in the Human Rights Spotlight?

Bahraini boy with tear gas cannisters

Bahraini Shiite boy crouches by pile of tear gas canisters collected by protesters (AFP/Getty Images)

Against a backdrop of ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, the US Congress is about to hold a high-level public hearing today on events in the country.  Organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the hearing will focus attention on whether or not Bahrain’s government has actually followed through on the promises it made to end human rights abuses and hold violators accountable.

The hearing comes at a key time. In April of this year, Amnesty International issued an important report demonstrating the Bahraini authorities’ failure to implement human rights reforms. Indeed, Bahraini courts have continued to sentence activists to prison simply for criticizing the government.

These prisoners of conscience include Nabeel Rajab, who faces 3 months in jail for tweets that the government didn’t like.  Doctors and medical workers have also been sentenced to prison following comments they made to the international media.  And then there is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a political activist who is now imprisoned on a life sentence. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Update: Bahrain Keeps Ridiculous Charges Against 11-Year-Old Boy

Ali Hassan Bahrain

Ali Hassan has been spared a prison sentence for now but will be subject to government monitoring for a year. (AFP/GettyImages)

Despite an outpouring of global concern, news reports indicate that the Government of Bahrain has still not dropped its charges against 11 year old Ali Hassan.

As I wrote earlier this week, Bahraini police arrested the young boy in mid-May on a street that is both near his home and the site of a protest.  The police denied him access to a lawyer for 23 days of his nearly one month of detention.

Amnesty International is confirming the details of yesterday’s court decision regarding the young boy’s sentence.  According to news reports, the Government of Bahrain has allowed Ali to live at home, but is requiring him to be subjected to government monitoring for a year. The reports also indicate that the original charge of “illegal gathering” and disturbing “public security” has still not been dropped.

On the one hand, the young boy appears to have been spared the worse case scenario of several years in jail.  This demonstrates the power of the global human rights spotlight, in which worldwide concern for Ali put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to keep him out of prison.  But at the same time, Ali appears to still be facing criminal charges.

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Will Bahrain Convict an 11-year-old “Protester”?

Ali Hassan Bahrain

Ali Hassan could face jail time for allegedly "participating in an illegal gathering."(Photo Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/GettyImages)

This Thursday, an 11-year-old boy will find out if the Government of Bahrain truly considers him a security threat.

Young Ali Hassan was arrested by Bahraini police on May 13th on a street near both his home and the site of a protest. He was detained for 23 days before being allowed to see a lawyer, and he spent nearly a month in jail before being released.

He has been charged with “participating with others in an illegal gathering of more than five people, in order to disturb public security by way of violence.” The Guardian reports that if found guilty, Ali could be sentenced to up to three years in prison (take action here).

The case has drawn international media attention, with articles in CNN, the Associated Press, Time, RealClearPolitics, BBCAFP, The Independent, The Telegraph, and others.  Once again, the Government of Bahrain is in the spotlight for violating human rights.

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Egypt’s Generals Retake Power

Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egyptian elections

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi (portrait) celebrate in Cairo's Tahrir square on June 18, 2012. PATRICK BAZ/AFP/GettyImages

Over the last four days, a stunning succession of events has cast doubt on whether Egypt will transition to an accountable system of government:

  1. Egypt’s Supreme Court nullified recent parliamentary elections.
  2. Egypt’s military disbanded Parliament and assumed legislative powers.
  3. Egypt’s Minister of Justice expanded the military’s powers to arrest civilians.

All of this happened on the eve of this weekend’s runoff elections for the presidency.  On Saturday and Sunday, voters went to the polls to choose between two presidential candidates — Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi has claimed victory, and Egyptian media are also reporting that to be the case. Whoever wins the presidency will take office without a parliament, a constitution, or defined presidential powers, and will have to negotiate with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) –  the military leadership. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Hamas Must End the Death Penalty

Trapped between a crushing Israeli blockade and human rights violations at home, the 1.6 million Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip face many challenges in their daily lives.  In our 2012 Annual Report, Amnesty International catalogues the list, from a humanitarian crisis created by the Israeli blockade to detention and torture by Hamas security forces.

There are reports that at least one of the four “confessed” to the crime of murder after being tortured.

Meanwhile, Palestinian armed groups have used the Gaza Strip to fire indiscriminate rockets and mortars into southern Israel.  Daniel Viflic, aged 16, died in 2011 after a school bus in which he was travelling was struck by a missile fired from Gaza.

The latest news is that four Gaza Palestinians are facing execution after being given the death penalty by Hamas military and criminal courts.  There are reports that at least one of the four “confessed” to the crime of murder after being tortured.  The family of Na’el Jamal Qandil Doghmosh has stated that when they saw him after two months in prison, his nails had been torn out and there were burns and bruises on his body.

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