LRWC Newsletter: April – May 2019 Edition

LRWC Action News and Updates | Education Events | UN Human Rights Council Funding Crisis  | Annual General MeetingLRWC Members Working Pro Bono | LRWC Cooperating with other NGOs

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European Parliament passes resolution on human rights in Cameroon
On 16 April 2019, the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing concern regarding the deteriorating human rights situation and humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.  The resolution urges the Government of Cameroon to build a genuine and representative democracy and to uphold human rights and the rule of law. The resolution further calls for the establishment of an independent investigation into reports of human rights abuses by state forces and urges the Government to cooperate with the United Nations.

Launch of Canada/Cameroon Report on Cameroon Crisis
The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) will launch, “See the World through Their Eyes: Exposing the Human Rights Catastrophe and Evidence of Crimes against Humanity” on 3 June at the “Unfolding Catastrophe” conference at Concordia University. This unique, groundbreaking Canada-Cameroon report provides evidence, cites relevant international law and makes policy proposals to the international community and to Canada. The report will hopefully stimulate international pressure for a halt to ongoing atrocities and a peaceful and just resolution of long-standing inequities suffered by Anglophone Cameroonians. Since March 2017 LRWC has advocated for Anglophone advocates subjected to politically motivated prosecutions, arbitrary detention and unfair trials, through letters, oral statement to the Human Rights Council and helping organize education events about the Cameroon crisis in Canada. Felix Nkongo Agbor, CHRDA President (and LRWC member), met with several MPs while on a speaking tour of Canada organized by LRWC and others. LRWC (Gail Davidson, Sebastian Ennis, Rob Lapper) provided comments to a draft of the report. LRWC advocacy can be accessed on the Cameroon page of the LRWC website.

LRWC urges end to Senate delays in passing Bill C-262
LRWC (Gail Davidson, Catherine Morris) sent a letter dated 21 May 2019 to Canadian Senators expressing concern about procedural delays in the Senate that threaten to prevent the passage of Bill C-262, “An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” The House of Commons passed the Bill 30 May 2018 and then, in response to Senate delay, passed a unanimous resolution identifying Bill C-262 as one of two “critical pieces of legislation that have been duly passed by the House of Commons, and have been in possession of the honourable Senators for many months,”, and stating that “both bills should be passed into law at the earliest opportunity.” LRWC calls on the Senate to honour the democratic process and without further delay report the Bill to the Senate without amendment to enable third reading and announcement of the Senate’s decision to the House of Commons in time for Royal Assent before Parliament rises on 21 June. Senate hearings on Bill C-262 were held on 28-29 May.

LRWC pushes for full redress for Omar Khadr and retraction of MP’s inaccurate remarks
LRWC (Gail Davidson, Catherine Morris) sent a letter  dated 22 May 2019 to Canadian Member of Parliament Mark Strahl asking for the immediate retraction of his seriously inaccurate remarks about Omar Khadr to the House of Commons. The letter explained that Mr. Khadr has never been validly charged, tried, or convicted by an independent and impartial court as required by Canadian, US and international law. Rather, during more than 10 years of illegal detention in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay prisons, he was deprived of the protection of US and international law, subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and denied access to a properly constituted independent court to determine the legality of his detention, treatment and the accusations against him.  Canada has not yet fulfilled its obligations under the Convention against Torture to fully redress the torture and other ill-treatment to which Canadian officials contributed during Omar Khadr’s unlawful detention. The Committee Against Torture (CAT) continues to review Canada’s redress obligations which include an apology that restores the dignity of the victim, acknowledges the facts and accepts responsibility. LRWC and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group have filed two reports with CAT on the issue of redress for Mr. Khadr and continue to monitor Canada’s compliance.

The most recent Colombia Caravana report highlights ongoing issues for human rights defenders in Colombia. Columbia: Seeking Justice, building peace and the post-conflict illusion, was released by the VI International Caravana of Jurists on 26 March 2019. The report is based on a September 2018 visit of 20 experts to six regions in Colombia. Delegates on the trip observed that violence against human rights defenders and social movements has escalated and noted that human rights lawyers face a heightened risk because of their role defending human rights and advocating for accountability for violators. The report suggests that human rights defenders and lawyers are struggling to get adequate protection from the state. LRWC representatives under the leadership of LRWC Director Heather Neun, have been a part of previous visits to Colombia by lawyers to investigate and report on issues threatening the safety, security and independence of lawyers in Colombia. LRWC continues to support the Caravana work and monitor the situation of lawyers and other human rights defenders in Colombia.

LRWC advocating for release of Hong Kong democracy protestors
On 24 April 2019, LRWC sent a letter (Gail Davidson, Lois Leslie) to the Government of Hong Kong objecting to the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of nine democracy advocates for peacefully exercising rights to expression and assembly as lacking a legal basis and contravening international human rights law obligations to respect and enable rights protected by the UDHR and the ICCPR.. The nine democracy advocates were convicted on 9 April and sentenced on 23 April on vague and overly broad ‘public nuisance’ charges for their peaceful involvement in the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. LRWC requested the immediate release of the four advocates sentenced to imprisonment and proceedings to have all of the convictions and sentences overturned. LRWC also published Press Releases in English and Chinese, with the latter appearing in the Singtao Daily on 28 May. Three of the activists, Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming have filed appeals that will be heard by the Court of Appeal at a date not yet set. LRWC received feedback that our letter ‘lifted the depression’ felt following the convictions and sentencing.

LRWC and Parliament of Canada advocating for release of Nasrin Sotoudeh
On 3 April 2019, the Parliament of Canada issued an open letter calling on the Government of Iran to release Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights defender who has been detained in Iran’s Evin Prison since June 2018. The letter was spearheaded by the Canadian Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights, in particular Manitoba Senator Marilou McPhedran who has taken up Ms. Sotoudeh’s cause. Ms. Sotoudeh was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in March 2019.  The verdict of Ms.Sotoudeh’s appeal was released on 23 April 2019. Initially reports indicated that Ms. Sotoudeh’s 33-year jail sentence was final and she must serve 12 years but later the spokesperson of Iran’s judiciary stated that the sentence was not yet final and left room for an appeal. LRWC’s recent advocacy for Ms. Sotoudeh includes a letter on 13 March 2019 and participation in two joint oral statements to the UN Human Rights Council: one statement on 11 March 2019 and a second statement on 12 March 2019. The practice and sentences imposing flogging, whipping,  lashing and beating are prohibited by, inter alia, the: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7,  Convention Against Torture, Articles 2 and 16 and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.  LRWC is preparing a paper on international law prohibitions of flogging and other corporal punishment.

Jailed journalists freed in Myanmar
On 7 May 2019 Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed from prison following Presidential Amnesty after 599 days in detention. On 23 April 2019, Myanmar’s Supreme Court had rejected their final appeal. In 2017, the journalists were convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. They were prosecuted because of investigating the massacre by Myanmar security forces of Rohingya men and boys in Rakhine State. The UN Special Rapporteurs on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and Freedom of Expression, David Kaye stated that this case represents a larger theme of increasing curtailment of free expression and access to information in Myanmar. Lee and Kaye also raised concerns about the independence of the judiciary and Myanmar’s commitment to international human rights standards. LRWC participated in a joint oral statement to the 39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, welcoming the report of the of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and urging all States to accept its recommendations for investigation and prosecution of senior Myanmar military officials for ongoing war crimes and genocide. LRWC continues to monitor criminal proceedings against the Myanmar military officers in relation to the massacre. Other initiatives can be access on the Myanmar page of the LRWC website.

Canada grants asylum to Asia Bibi
Canada granted asylum to Asia Bibi who arrived in Canada in early May. Ms. Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in 2009. The Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned her conviction on 31 October 2018. The acquittal triggered violent protests across the country, calls for the death of Ms Bibi, her lawyer and the 3-member panel of justices hearing the appeal. LRWC advocacy for Ms Bibi included a letter to the Government of Pakistan on 8 November 2018 and a letter to Canada urging the Canadian government to provide asylum to Ms. Bibi and her family and to work with Pakistani authorities to ensure Ms. Bibi’s release and transfer to Canada was carried out safely. LRWC is grateful that Canada offered asylum to Ms. Bibi and her five daughters.

Lawyers continue to be targeted by the Philippine Government
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), an extraordinary pro bono human rights organization in the Philippines, is being targeted by the Duterte administration as being linked to an alleged plot to unseat President Rodrigo Duterte. A group of lawyers and law professors, including from LRWC, released a joint statement on 29 April criticizing the government move as “contrary to the basic rules of evidence, due process and fair play”. The statement says “dissent and criticism are an exercise of democratic rights. Political harassment undermines the rule of law and substitutes it with the law of rulers”. The signatories said they would “cooperate and collaborate in all fora to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks”. Since Duterte took office on 30 June 2016, 40 jurists have been murdered in the Philippines.

Eight women’s rights defenders temporarily released and 37 people executed
On 28 March 2019 three women were temporarily released almost a year after their arrests: Aziza al-Yousef, grandmother and former professor; Eman al-Nafjan, mother of four and linguistics professor; and Roqaya al-Muhareb. They still face unfair trials on illegitimate charges and the possibility of long prison sentences. On or about 2 May, five other arbitrarily detained women rights defenders were temporarily released,  Hatoon al-Fassi, Amal al-Harbi, Maysaa Almanea, Abeer Namnakani and Shaden al-Onaizi. Still in prison are Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada and Loujanal-Hathioul. Samar and Nassima were arrested in July 2018 and Loujainal in May 2018. LRWC remains gravely concerned about Samar and Nassima who are held incommunicado with no known charges. Concern for those still in prison was heightened by the execution on 23 April of 37 people convicted of trumped up charges in sham trials. Executions were carried out of individuals convicted on the basis of confessions extracted by torture, people who were children at the time of the alleged offenses and 14 men convicted for participating in demonstrations. During the March session of the Human Rights Council the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders raised concerns about the “crackdown” on women human rights defenders and 36 states, including Canada, made a joint statement calling on Saudi Arabia to release women’s’ rights defenders, including Samar Badawi. LRWC advocacy for Samar Badawi and other women rights defenders, (see the LRWC Saudi Arabia page), includes: letters sent in 2018 (6 June, 3, 20, and 25 August, 27 October, 23 November) and 2019 (February), one written and three oral statements to the September 2018 and March 2019 sessions of the UN Human Rights Council and a brief on Samar Badawi. LRWC has also called for Saudi Arabia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council. Fears for the detained women are based on the brutality of Saudi reprisals against human rights advocates, lack of persistent pressure from other states and the opacity of the Saudi courts and prisons.

LRWC submits update to WGAD on Waleed Abu al-Khair
Human Rights Watch put out a statement on 15 April 2019 demanding the release of human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was sentenced in 2014 to 15 years in prison for his peaceful human rights advocacy. Five years after his arrest, al-Khair is still behind bars. LRWC has advocated for his release since shortly after his arrest in April 2014. In April 2019, LRWC submitted an update (Gail Davidson) to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) detailing factors known about his treatment in prison since the Joint Complaint which resulted in the July 2018 WGAD decision. LRWC reported that Saudi authorities have subjected him to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and denial of necessary medical care and visits and communications with family and others. Saudi treatment of Abu al-Khair in prison violates a number of international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Nelson Mandela Rules. The WGAD determined, in July 2018 that the prosecution and conviction of Waleed Abu al-Khair lacked any legal justification and that the Specialized Criminal Court lacked the requisite independence to validly determine charges. The WGAD recommended he be immediately released and compensated. The WGAD had previously recommended immediate release after concluding in September 2015 that his arrest was unlawful.

New UN Report confirms two South Sudanese men kidnapped and murdered
South Sudanese opposition politician, Izbon Agrey Idri, and lawyer, Dong Samuel Luak were murdered by the South Sudanese National Security Service (NSS) on 30 January 2017, according to an April 2019 UN Report. The report states that the two men were kidnapped on 27 January 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya by the Internal Security Bureau of South Sudan, taken to President Salva Kiir’s farm in Luri, South Sudan and executed days later. Intelligence sources say that the bodies were subsequently dumped in the river. LRWC had sent letters (22 November 2018, 24 January 2018, and 1 June 2017) urging South Sudan to disclose the fate and whereabouts of Luak and Idri and to conduct an investigation into their enforced disappearances.

LRWC advocates for release of Dr. Fincanci and others endorsing the “Peace Declaration”
LRWC and Scholars at Risk (SAR) sent a call for action (Gail Davidson, Sebastian Ennis) on 21 May 2019 to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), four Special Rapporteurs and the WGAD outlining the arbitrary prosecution, conviction and detention of Dr. Fincanci and others for endorsing Academics for Peace’s petition in January 2016. The petition (Peace Declaration) stated, ‘we will not be part of this crime’ and called for an end to actions by Turkey that violates rights protected by international law and the Turkish Constitution. LRWC and SAR call on UN bodies to urge Turkey to immediately and unconditionally withdraw charges, vacate convictions and commute sentences against Dr. Fincancı and other signatories to the Peace Declaration, and to release all those detained as a result of proven or alleged endorsement. Of the 2,212 academics who signed the Peace Declaration, at least 533 have been charged and 151 sentenced to imprisonment.

Urgent action request sent to OHCHR regarding arbitrary detention of lawyers
LRWC and human rights defenders from 23 other organizations sent an urgent action request dated 20 May 2019 to the OHCHR and four Special Rapporteurs for remedial action regarding the arbitrary detention and long-term imprisonment of 18 lawyers from Halkın Hukuk Bürosu (HHB, the Peoples’ Law Office) and Ҫağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (ҪHD, the Progressive Lawyers Association) in violation of fair trial, due process and expression rights guaranteed by international treaties binding on Turkey and the Turkish Constitution.

LRWC asks for release of Eren Keskin
On 2 April 2019, LRWC wrote a letter (Brian Samuels, Gail Davidson) calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Eren Keskin and withdrawal of all charges against her. Ms Keskin is an internationally known rights lawyer. She is vice-president of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, the co-founder of the Legal Aid for Women Who Were Raped or Otherwise Sexually Abused by National Security Forces, an honorary member of the Paris Bar Council and winner of international awards for her peace and human rights advocacy. In retaliation for her lawful legal and human rights advocacy, she faces more than 100 prosecutions and a life-time in arbitrary detention.

Trump escalates threats against ICC
On 9 April 2019, LRWC sent a letter (Gail Davidson & Catherine Morris) to US President Donald Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo cautioning the US to withdraw and refrain from threats directed at or capable of restricting the ability of ICC judges, prosecutors, and other personnel to carry out their judicial, prosecutorial and administrative duties free from interference, harassment, threats or reprisals. The US threats, made 10 September 2018, 25 September 2019 and 15 March 2019, appear to be in response to the 20 November 2017 request of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) to proceed with an investigation of the Situation in Afghanistan since 1 July 2002 and the ongoing preliminary examination of crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since 2014.

US threats succeed?
On 12 April the PTC unanimously denied the OTP’s request to open an investigation, ironically citing the “interests of justice” as a factor prohibiting further investigation of known atrocities. After a decade-long preliminary examination, the Prosecutor sought authorization to investigate alleged crimes against humanity by the Taliban and alleged war crimes by Afghan National Security Forces, US military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Prosecutor had reported “a reasonable basis to believe that, at a minimum, the following crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction have occurred:…torture, outrages upon personal dignity and rape and other forms of sexual violence, by members of the US armed forces on the territory of Afghanistan and members of the CIA in secret detention facilities both in Afghanistan and on the territory of other States Parties, principally in the 2003- 2004 period.” The PTC decision also referred to the lack of cooperation the US (and Afghan) governments as a factor that limited the likelihood of success of investigation or prosecution. The decision has been widely criticized and it is not known whether there will be on appeal.

Canada asked to oppose US threats against ICC
LRWC sent a letter (Gail Davidson, Catherine Morris & Marjorie Cohn) on 12 April 2019 to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs stressing the urgent necessity for Canada to exercise concerted diplomatic means to object to threats by the US aimed at intimidating ICC judges, prosecutors and staff so as to prevent them from performing their critical duties under the Rome Statute.

LRWC denounces revocation of prosecutor’s US entry visa
On 16 April 2019 LRWC published a press release denouncing the most recent US threats against the ICC, including revoking the US entry visa of ICC Chief Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda.

LRWC asks all EU States to oppose US threats
On 26 April 2019, LRWC wrote a letter (Gail Davidson, Catherine Morris & Marjorie Cohn) to the European Union (EU) urging immediate steps by the EU and each EU member State to safeguard the independence and integrity of the ICC and ensure access to remedies by victims of war crimes in Afghanistan and in the territory of other States Parties. The letter asks for measures by EU member States to halt threats and reprisals by the US against the ICC and its personnel and recommends that EU member States make joint or several referrals of the Situation in Afghanistan to the OTP pursuant to Article 14 of the Rome Statute. Also recommended are measures to improve the effectiveness of the ICC including sufficient contributions to the ICC budget and an independent assessment of its effectiveness.

LRWC submits two joint submissions to the UN Human Rights Committee on Viet Nam
In advance of the UN Human Rights Committee review of Viet Nam, LRWC and Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) submitted two joint submissions, on 4 February and 30 April (Joshua Lam, Gail Davidson) about the dangers facing lawyers in Viet Nam. Lawyer Otto Volgenant from L4L attended the review on 11 and 12 March in Geneva and presented an oral statement. The joint submissions highlighted the continuing failure of Viet Nam to ensure fair trial rights and the right of lawyers to carry out their professional duties without intimidation or reprisals in the form of unfounded prosecutions and disciplinary actions and arbitrary detentions. On 28 March, the Committee issued its concluding observations on Viet Nam which included recommendations made in the joint submissions: to ensure fair trials, allow unhindered access to legal counsel of choice and ensure that lawyers are free to represent clients without  interference, pressure, restrictions or influence (at paras. 35, 36).


On 8 May, LRWC and the Canada-Philippine Solidarity for Human Rights, co-hosted In Defence of Justice in the Philippines: End Impunity, a talk by Attorney Edre Olalia, the President of the Manila-based National Union of People’s Lawyers. The event was held at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre in Vancouver. Atty Olalia explained the ongoing crisis created by President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ which since July 2016, has resulted in thousands of extra-judicial killings including the murder of 40 jurists.


Looming concerns about an unprecedented UN budget crisis could seriously affect the work of UN human rights treaty bodies.  All ten treaty bodies have been advised that some of their 2019 work sessions may be cancelled for financial reasons even though the committees are already overloaded and backlogged with monitoring work required by the treaties. According to a press release issued by the Chair of the Committee Against Torture, this is “an unprecedented consequence of some UN member States delaying payments due to the organisation.”  The US administration may be trying to withhold or slow walk the disbursement of its contributions to the UN Budget as continuation of its 2018 reprisals against the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), both of which have been the subject of political attack by the US administration. Last year, the US administration tried to withhold $27 million in contributions, the approximate amount that would have been spent on the OHCHR and the HRC. As of 20 May, the US had not contributed its assessed UN budget contributions. The four other permanent members of the Security Council have paid their 2019 assessments in full. Canada paid its assessment in full on 11 January. However, only 98 of the UN Member States have fully paid their assessments. LRWC notes that 23 of 47 States members of the Human Rights Council have not paid their assessments as of 20 May: Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo ,Egypt, Eritrea, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia, Uruguay. The Charter of the UN, Article 17, provides for General Assembly approval of the UN budget and obligates UN Member States “to bear the UN expenses as apportioned by the General Assembly.” States’ contributions to the UN budget are determined by the General Assembly based on a number of factors related to States’ capacity to pay. The US has been the largest contributor to the UN budget. The 2019-2021 assessment formula was established by General Assembly Resolution adopted by consensus of all Member States (including the US) on 22 December 2018.


The Annual General Meeting of LRWC and Lawyers’ Rights Watch (Legal Research) Canada was held on Friday, 10 May 2019 in Vancouver with members attending in person and by phone. Formal business conducted included approval of financial statements for 2018 and election of directors to serve until the May 2020. The meeting also featured presentations about LRWC past and future work: by:Catherine Morris about LRWC’s participation at the UN over the last year; Sebastian Ennis about LRWC advocacy for lawyers in Turkey;, and, Rob Lapper Q.C. about the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon. Elected to the Board of Directors of LRWC were Clive Ansley, Marjorie Cohn, Gail Davidson, Joshua Lam, Heather Neun, Brian Samuels Q.C., David F. Sutherland Q.C., and Grace Woo. Elected to the Board of Directors of LRW(LR)C were Joey Doyle, Sebastian Ennis, Rob Lapper Q.C., Gavin Magrath, Catherine Morris, Renée Mulligan, Margaret (Peggy) Stanier and Melissa Tessler. LRWC is grateful to the outgoing Directors for their invaluable support and input over the years on the Boards of Directors of LRWC and LRW(LR)C. People stepping down from the Boards this year are: Julius Grey, Monia Mazigh, Leo McGrady Q.C., Paul Schabas, Isabel Stramwasser, Maureen Webb and Angela Walker.


Hanna Bokhari, Maree Bullivant, Bill Chu, Gail Davidson, Joey Doyle, Marjorie Cohn, Paul Copeland, Sebastian Ennis, Tamara Friedman, Farhad Ghaseminejad, Joshua Lam, Rob Lapper Q.C., Catherine Morris, Renee Mulligan, Heather Neun, Felix Nknongho Agbor, Tina Parbhakar, Jenny Reid, Brian Samuels Q.C. and Melissa Tessler.


LRWC is mandated to “work with other human rights organizations to achieve [LRWC] purposes.” During April and May, LRWC worked in cooperation with many human rights organizations including the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, Canada-Philippine Solidarity for Human Rights, Centre for Human Rights in Africa, Free Omar Now Committee, Lawyers for Lawyers, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Scholars at Risk and the Union of Peoples Lawyers.


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