NGOs make renewed call for the release of Dr. al-Singace as his protest hits 200 days
LRWC joined 20 other NGOs in a letter on 7 October calling for the release of Dr Abduljalil al-Singace and calling on United Nations and European Union authorities to raise his case with the Government of Bahrain. Publication of the letter marked the 200th day since Dr. al-Singace first refused solid food in protest of the treatments of inmates at Jau Prison. Dr. al-Singace is an academic (former professor of mechanical engineering), blogger and human rights defender. He was most recently arrested on 17 March 2011 for peacefully exercising rights to expression and assembly. He was charged with ‘plotting to topple the government’ and was unlawfully convicted by the military National Safety Court and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Dr. al-Singace has been subjected to prohibited treatment, which has caused increasingly grave health problems. Authorities allowed his temporary release on 2 November to attend his mother’s funeral.
NGOs and European Members of Parliament urge for withdrawal of charges against Nabeel Rajab
On 19 November, LRWC joined 20 other international human rights organizations in an open letter calling for the withdrawal of all charges against prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and removal of order that prevents him from leaving Bahrain. The joint letter supported another letter endorsed by 80 Members of the European Parliament also calling on the Bahraini government to immediately lift the travel ban and drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab. Mr. Rajab is President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division. Nabeel Rajab has been prosecuted and jailed for peacefully advocating for human rights in Bahrain. Since 2012, LRWC has been sending communications to the Government of Bahrain, to UN monitoring bodies and Special Procedures and others exposing the prosecutions and detentions of Mr. Rajab as arbitrary and unlawful. Nabeel Rajab recently emailed to say, “Thanks every one for the great work and help. I admire, appreciate and feel very grateful for your solidarity and support. God bless you all.” LRWC communications can be viewed on the LRWC Bahrain page.
LRWC’s Cambodia monitor, Catherine Morris, visited Cambodia for several days in late October 2015 and visited with human rights defenders and journalists.
Judicial harassment of Mr. NY Chakrya
Ms. Morris’ visit was timed to coincide with a scheduled court hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 21 October 2015 for an investigation hearing of Mr. NY Chakrya on charges of “public defamation,” “slanderous denunciation”, and “publication of commentaries to put pressure on jurisdiction” (Art. 305, 311, and 522 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, respectively). Together, the three offenses are punishable by up to a year-and-a-half in prison, plus fines. The charges were related to a 12 May 2015 press conference organized by the human rights organization, ADHOC, in Siem Reap, during which Mr. Ny Chakrya, along with ADHOC lawyer Ms. Pouk Yarann, condemned the judicial decision and announced a formal complaint against a prosecutor and a judge for procedural irregularities leading to the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. VEN Lorn and Mr. BEOURN Sok, two community activists involved in a land dispute in Siem Reap Province. On 20 May 2015, Ny Chakrya filed a complaint against Investigating Judge KY Reuthy and Siem Reap Deputy Prosecutor SOK Keobandit with the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, which reportedly has not acted on the complaint. On 2 June 2015, Sok Keobandit and Ky Reuthy filed a criminal complaint against Ny Chakrya. On 8 October 2015, the Phnom Penh Court issued a subpoena to attend an in camera hearing by the investigating judge on 21 October, but Ny Chakrya was allowed only to take a photograph of the subpoena. Due to lack of proper service, the 21 October 2015 hearing was adjourned pending proper service.
Independence of the Bar in Cambodia
Ms. Morris also sought a meeting in Phnom Penh with the President of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) to follow up on matters raised in a late-2014 letter from LRWC and the Netherlands-based NGO Lawyers for Lawyers. Ms. Morris also planned to discuss with the BAKC the cases of human rights lawyers Ny Chakrya along with ADHOC lawyer Ms. POUK Yarann, who since 22 June 2015 have been under investigation by the BAKC in conjunction with their conduct of ADHOC cases. Ms. Morris was unable to meet with Mr. Chakrya and did not receive a response to her request for a meeting with the BAKC president. The BAKC is not considered to be functionally independent from the Cambodian government.
TWU v. Law Society of Upper Canada
Trinity Western University v The Law Society of Upper Canada, 2015 ONSC 4250. TWU is pursuing an appeal of the judgment of the Ontario Divisional Court. A number of organizations and agencies have filed applications for status as intervenors. The Ontario Court of Appeal, we are told, will be hearing those applications on 11 December 2015. LRWC is among those who are seeking intervenor status, and LRWC proposes to make submissions regarding various sources of international law that, it will be argued, will assist the Court of Appeal.
Ontario passes anti-SLAPP law
Ontario enacted the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015, designed to protect against strategic lawsuits, commonly referred to as SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). SLAPPs have been used by wealthy litigants to silence critics through baseless but costly lawsuits directed towards depleting the resources of opponents. LRWC, the Canadian Centre for Law and Democracy and others explained the need for anti-SLAPP legislation in Canada in a joint report for the 2nd Universal Periodic Review of Canada and again in a letter supporting the Ontario Anti-SLAPP law.
Canada’s failure to reduce emissions
A shorter version of the LRWC article Canada’s Failure to Reduce Emissions: Unlawful or Above the Law?, examining the Dutch Urgenda decision, was published by the Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, November/December 2015 issue.
Sixteen-year-old son of illegally detained human rights lawyers detained.
LRWC responded by letter to the illegal abduction and arrest of the 16-year-old son of detained human rights lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun. Claims by Chinese authorities—who arrested the child, Bao Zhuoxuan, on 9 October—that he is under house arrest in the home of his grandparents in Mongolia have not been confirmed. Bao Longjun was reportedly on the way to the home of a family friend in San Francisco. The abduction and detention of the child was clearly intended to force the parents to make inculpatory statements to protect their son. In fact, shortly after the arrest of Bao Longiun, videos were released online showing each of the parents tearfully pleading for mercy for their son. The parents were arrested on 9 July and have been held incommunicado at unknown locations since. All attempts by lawyers to communicate with the parents or to obtain particulars of charges against them have been refused. Chinese authorities accuse Wang Yu and Bao Longjun of ‘inciting subversion of state power’; Bao Longjun is also accused of ‘picking quarrels’ and ‘provoking trouble.’ LRWC communications on these cases, including: a report to the Special Rapporteur on the Independence, oral statement to the UN Human Rights Council and letters can be accessed on the China page of the LRWC website.
Committee against Torture reviews China’s compliance
On 17-18 November the Committee against Torture conducted the sixth periodic review of China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture. In addition to concerns about the use of torture, the Committee questioned the recent crackdown on human rights lawyers and other critical issues including the defective judicial system, lack of judicial independence, lengthy pre-trial detention and arbitrary detention. China’s representative responded by attempting to “mislead and confuse” or by referring to statutory provisions that do not determine practice in China. A representative of the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) attended and reported on the proceedings as part of their advocacy for the human rights lawyers, advocates, paralegals, and legal office support staff targeted in the nationwide wave of arrests, detentions, disappearances since 9 July 2015. CHRLCG submissions on the UPR of China report noted that China’s vague definition of torture fails to prevent or protect individuals from torture and demeaning treatment. CHRLCG recommendations included: enactment of laws to specifically define torture and create an independent judicial mechanism to review, determine and remedy torture complaints and abolition of ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’, a type of incommunicado detention amounting to disappearance. According to the CHRLCG update of 30 October, of the 36 lawyers still in detention since the crackdown began, the whereabouts of 33 are unknown and the state claims they are detained ‘at a designated location’. Past experience indicated that such people are the most vulnerable to torture and other dangerous and prohibited treatment. LRWC has published a report, three letters and an oral intervention to the Human Rights Council on the crackdown. A recent report, Plight and Prospects: The Landscape for Cause Lawyers in China, mentions some of this work. LRWC continues to monitor the deteriorating circumstances of persecuted human rights lawyers and advocates in China and hopes to cooperate with the CHRLCG to free those still imprisoned. The Committee’s report is not yet available.
Colombia at the Crossroads: The Struggle for Peace and Justice in Colombia, 30 October
Colombia Caravana participants Justice Brent Knazan of the Ontario Court of Justice (Toronto) and lawyer Heather Neun (Vancouver) launched the IV International Colombia Caravana report, along with seven regional reports and the recently completed judges’ report. Justice Knazan and Ms. Neun presented at a mid-day event at Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, co-hosting with the Law Students Social Justice Action Network. Neun showed a clip of a documentary film about a leading human rights collective, called Gotas que Agrietan la Roca, and she and Justice Knazan spoke about their experiences in Colombia. They also met separately with students interested in working in international human rights law advocacy and solidarity work.
LRWC co-sponsored an evening presentation at Simon Fraser Harbour Centre in Vancouver with Amnesty International, CoDevelopment Canada and the International Commission of Jurists Canada. Heather Neun and Justice Brent Knazan shared their insights as delegates to the Fourth International Colombia Caravana in August 2014. These presentations were followed by human rights defender Berenice Celeita’s heart-rending account of the situation in her country, where indigenous peoples and farmers are being pushed off the land for the benefit of massive development projects promoted largely by foreign companies, including many from Canada. As a forensic anthropologist from Cali, Colombia and President of Asociacion Para la Investigacion y Accion Social, Berenice has first-hand experience of the life-threatening risks taken by those who struggle to uphold the law and defend human rights in Colombia and has herself been the target of death threats and surveillance.
Lawyer Mohammed Allan released after a year of administrative detention without charges
LWRC sent a letter on 21 October raising its concern over the treatment of Palestinian lawyer Mohammed Allan, who was held in administrative detention from November 2014 to 19 August 2015, and most recently since 16 September 2015. On 16 June 2015, Mr. Allan began a hunger strike against his unlawful detention. The Israeli Prison Service sought an order to force-feed him; it was denied. He was transferred to an intensive care unit, where he fell into a coma. On 19 August, he was released by an order of the Israel High Court based on medical reports indicating serious and potentially permanent brain damage. Re-arrested on 16 September after his health showed signs of improvement, Mr. Allan resumed his hunger strike. LRWC’s letter pointed out that the arrest and detention without charge is contrary to Israel’s international law obligations. Israel has used administrative detention to detain a wide range of people without charge. LWRC urged Israel to release Allan, ensure any trial meets standards of due process under domestic and international law, and end the practice of administrative detention. On 4 November the second six-month administrative detention order expired and Mohammed Allan was released first to the Thabet Hospital and then to his home in Einabus.
Court dismisses constitutional challenge of Sedition Act
On 6 October 2015, the constitutional challenge of Malaysia’s repressive colonial-era Sedition Act 1948 brought by law lecturer Azmi Sharom was unanimously dismissed by a five-judge panel of the Federal Court. Mr. Sharom brought the challenge after he and many human rights advocates including lawyers, politicians and others were charged with sedition for peacefully and knowledgeably speaking out on issues of public interest. Use of the Sedition Act to jail and silence government critics has been revived in Malaysia during the past few years with prosecutions launched against lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists whose work has questioned or may question the legitimacy of actions promoted by the government. LRWC has sent communications opposing the prosecution of lawyers Eric Paulsen, N. Surendran and internationally known Karpal Singh. In 2001, LRWC successfully opposed an earlier prosecution of Karpal Singh with an extensive brief outlining the illegitimacy of using sedition to prevent lawyers from speaking on behalf of their clients. In 2013 LRWC made an oral statement to the UN Human Rights Council calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act.
Waleed Abu al-Khair nominated for the American Bar Association award
LRWC, FIDH, the Union Internationale des Avocats and Lawyers for Lawyers are nominating wrongly jailed lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair for the inaugural 2015 ABA Human Rights Award.
WGAD says detention of nine human rights defenders is arbitrary
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in its 26 October 2015 Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2015) concluded that the detention of Waleed Abu al-Khair and eight other Saudi nationals “is arbitrary, being in contravention of articles 9, 10, 19 and 20 of the UDHR” (para. 85) and recommended immediate release and compensation. The WGAD noted a “continued crackdown on human rights activists in Saudi Arabia” carried out in “reprisal for their work at protecting and defending human rights.”(para. 70) The WGAD has yet to release its determination of the Petition filed in April 2015 by LRWC and others regarding the illegality of the trial, conviction and sentencing of Waleed Abu al-Khair. The above noted Opinion dealt only with the pre-trial detention of Waleed Abu al-Khair. Amnesty International has started a Free Waleed Petition.
Disciplinary Panel refers M. Ravi matter to the Court of Appeal
The legal Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) in Singapore on 23 November 2015 has found a “sufficient cause of gravity for disciplinary action” (Disciplinary Tribunal Report (DT 4/2015, para. 97)) against M. Ravi, a prominent human rights lawyers. This decision has been made although two physicians have testified that M. Ravi’s mental and “rational judgment condition was comprised” and that he had “little or no control over his actions”(para. 89). Given the fact that M. Ravi pled guilty to all four charges of misconduct against him, the DT concluded that this clearly establishes a “prima facie case of misconduct”. As a result, the DT found that a sufficient gravity case existed warranting the case to be referred to the Court of the Three Judges for a decision on discipline. The DT concluded that, had M. Ravi not pled guilty, the DT would have found that the complaints against M. Ravi were “not the most serious acts” (para. 85). LRWC sent letters to the Law Society of Singapore and to the DT asking that M. Ravi’s practice certificate be renewed and that the proceedings against M. Ravi be resolved in accordance with both M. Ravi’s rights to continue practicing law and the rights of Singaporeans to be represented by a lawyer in politically sensitive cases including those involving the death penalty. The Government of Singapore (the People’s Action Party-PAP) has used legal proceedings to imprison and/or impoverish effective advocates whose work did or might expose the PAP to criticism, including lawyers and elected representatives, since the Republic of Singapore was created in 1965. The decision of the Law Society of Singapore on the re-issuance of M. Ravi’s practice certificate has not been released.
NGOs call for release of human rights defender Bassel Khartabil
LRWC and 35 other international human rights organizations issued a press release on 7 October 2015 calling for the release of Syrian freedom of expression advocate Bassel Khartabil, who has been arbitrarily detained since 12 March 2012 and is now feared to have been disappeared as of 3 October 2015 and possibly sentenced to death by an incompetent court for ‘spying for a foreign state’. A software engineer, Bassel was imprisoned for working to increase online access and provide research and education about history, as part of a crackdown on free expression in Syria. Bassel has been subjected to illegal detention, incommunicado detention, denial of access to counsel, denial of fair trial rights, and an unfair trial by a military court lacking in independence and jurisdiction. The Press Release is available in English, French and Arabic.
Lawyer Mazen Darwish thanks LRWC for giving him hope and saving his life
LRWC received an email from Human rights lawyer Mazen Darwish, released on 10 August 2015 saying, “I can’t find enough words to express my grateful and thanks for all you have done. Because of those efforts I’m still alive.” Darwish, a lawyer, journalist and the founder and president of the Syrian Centre for Media and Expression, was arrested along with staff members Hussein Ghrer and Hani al-Zaintani on 16 February 2012. They were subjected to illegal treatment and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined in January 2014 that the three were arbitrarily detained. In February 2015 LRWC had joined 70 other NGOs calling for their release. Hussein Ghrer and Hani al-Zaitani were released on 17 July and 18 July 2015, respectively.
A member of LRWC visited Thailand in October and November 2015 to meet with human rights defenders and to monitor court hearings in two cases involving human rights defenders.
Harassment of UK human rights defender Andy Hall continues. Since 2013, Mr. Hall has been subjected to judicial harassment by the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd, (Natural Fruit), which has continued to press two criminal defamation and two civil defamation cases against him because of his research exposing labour rights violations for a 2013 report by Finnwatch entitled Cheap Has a High Price. The first criminal defamation case was dismissed in both the court of first instance and on appeal; however, on 25 November 2015, the Thailand Supreme Court gave Natural Fruit and the Public Prosecutor leave to appeal the acquittal. On 19 October 2015, a member of LRWC was among several monitors to attend a formal indictment and plea hearing on the second criminal case involving charges of criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act; this hearing was adjourned until 18 January 2016 because the plaintiff had failed to properly serve documents on Mr. Hall.
Tungkum Limited harassment of community activists in northeast Thailand
From 22-25 October, a LRWC member travelled to Loei Provincial Court in Northeast Thailand at the request of Protection International to observe four days of a trial of a military colonel and his father, a retired military official, who are charged with plotting a 15 May 2014 attack against dozens of activists from Nanongbong village. Evidence given at trial to date alleges that hundreds of armed, masked men violently detained villagers at three village roadblocks for several hours while a convoy of several trailer trucks entered the compound of the Tungkum Limited (TKL) gold mine and exited with loads of gold ore. The trial continues in Loei on 8, 19 and 20 December 2015. TKL has also charged a number of community-based human rights defenders with criminal defamation.
Tahir Elçi, President of the Diyarbikar Bar Association shot dead as he called for peace
Internationally known human rights and criminal law specialist Tahir Elçi was killed in Diyarbikar on 28 November with a single shot to the head following a press conference where he had again called for an end to violence. His last words were reported as, “may wars, clashes and armed operations stay away from this place.” Tahir Elçi was an extraordinarily effective and courageous lawyer who represented many people before domestic courts on criminal matters and who took many politically sensitive cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on behalf of victims of clashes between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and the Turkish Army. One such case, Ozkan and others v Turkey, which involved 32 people whose village was destroyed in 1993 during a military campaign against the PKK, resulted after many years in the ECtHR awarding damages of £850,000 against Turkey for gross human rights violations. As a result of his advocacy, Tahir Elçi was himself threatened and taken into custody. In 2003 the ECtHR found that he had been tortured by Turkish authorities while in detention and awarded damages of £70,000. Mr. Elçi was again arrested on 20 October 2015 and released on conditions and under judicial supervision. The arrest occurred after a televised interview in which Mr. Elçi called for an immediate end of the conflict and a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue, stating that the PKK was not a terrorist organization, but rather an armed political movement with political demands and a lot of supporters. LRWC, L4L and Fair Trial Watch sent a letter on 22 October protesting the arrest and criminal investigation and rejecting as illegitimate the justification offered by authorities, namely the existence of reasonable grounds to suspect Tahir Elçi of ‘making propaganda for, or promoting a terrorist organization’. LRWC, L4L, IAPL, IDHAE, Day of the Endangered Lawyer, SIHRG, Republikanischer Anwältinnen, Vereinigung Berliner Strafverteidiger, BHRC, Law Society of England and Wales, Deutscher Anwaltverein and others have joined to publish an homage to Tahir Elçi in a Turkish newspaper.
Wednesday 9 December 2015, 6:00 – 9:00 pm, Room C300, UBC Robson Square, 800 Robson St., Vancouver. Register for this free event at: http://www.allardprize.org/international-human-rights-film-screening-panel-discussion
This film screening and panel discussion on combating crimes of sexual violence will feature a screening of the globally acclaimed film, Fighting the Silence followed by a panel discussion about accountability for crimes of sexual violence domestically and internationally with panelists Femke van Velzen, Director of the film, and UBC law professors Janine Benedet, Associate Dean, Academic Affairs & Co-Director of the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, and Nicole Barrett, Executive Director, Allard Prize Initiatives, and Former War Crimes Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The evening is co-hosted by the Allard Prize for International Integrity and the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies. A reception will follow.
GUANTÁNAMO’S CHILD: Ten years of litigation with Dennis Edney Q.C.
Tuesday Friday 8 January 2016, 12:30 pm Room 106 Allard Hall University of BC.
Dennis Edney Q. C. will review and explain the efforts of himself and co-counsel Nate Whitling over the past decade to secure Omar Khadr’s release, first from Guantánamo Bay, then from a maximum security prison in Canada. Legal victories include three successful Supreme Court of Canada judgments and Omar’s release on bail pending the US appeal from the decision of the Gitmo Military Tribunal. Mr. Edney and Mr. Whitling were recently included as two of the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers (Criminal/Human Rights) by Canadian Lawyer Magazine. The event is co-sponsored by UBC Law Students Social Justice Action Network, LRWC and the Free Omar Khadr Campaign
Guantánamo’s Child, voted “Audience Choice” at the Calgary Film Festival and one of the 10 top favourites at the Toronto Film Festival, will be shown at Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver on the evening of 8 January 2016.
LRWC participated in the third UN Forum on Business and Human Rights from 16-18 November 2015. LRWC has been concerned about business involvement in many abuses of human rights defenders including community-based human rights defenders in several countries. LRWC’s research director, Catherine Morris, attended the forum as a LRWC delegate. The focus of the forum was to discuss and assess the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs) by governments and businesses. Included among the panels were discussions of: State National Action Plans (NAPs) for implementation of the GPs; the drafting of a treaty on business and human rights; and concerns about protection of human rights defenders and community activists.
Catherine Morris receives Victoria Bar Association Volunteer Award: On 5 November 2015, LRWC member Catherine Morris received the Victoria Bar Association Volunteer Award for 2015 in part for her participation in LRWC’s work on the rule of law through promotion of international human rights. Catherine Morris has served LRWC as a Director, President of the Board of Directors, Monitor for Cambodia and other countries in Southeast Asia, as the LRWC representative to the UN Human Rights Council, as a hard-working member of many committees and currently as LRWC’s Research Director. Catherine has authored and presented many oral interventions to the UN Human Rights Council, co-authored and edited comprehensive guidebooks on international human rights law and authored numerous reports and petitions to UN human rights monitoring bodies, letters and briefs to state authorities and briefs on international law provisions. LRWC has greatly benefitted not only from the quantity and excellence of Catherine’s work, but also from her always-intelligent analyses of human rights issues, constant support and good humour.
LRWC MEMBERS CONTRIBUTING PRO BONO IN OCTOBER & NOVEMBER
Thank you to LRWC members and volunteers working pro-bono during October and November 2015 on letters, research, writing, investigations and advocacy: Clive Ansley, Miranda Cheng, Tara Cox, Gail Davidson, Nicole Esligar, Caitlin Fraser, Daniel Frederiks, Kim Hawkins, James Mitford, Catherine Morris, Renee Mulligan, Charlotte Munk, Gavin Magrath, Heather Neun, Rohan Shah, Avi Sharma, Mark Stevens, Ben Sutherland, Grace Woo, Alice Xu.
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