LRWC Newsletter: October – November 2017 Edition

LRWC Action News and Updates | UN Human Rights Council| International Criminal Court (ICC) Meeting | Notable Decision | Education/EventsLRWC Members Working Pro Bono in October and November

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Speaking the truth about rights violations lands Nabeel Rajab another jail sentence

On 22 November an appeals court upheld the two year prison sentence against human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, imposed on 10 July 2017 by the Manama Lower Criminal Court, under charges of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State” (Penal Code Art. 134).  The illegitimate charges were solely in relation to televised interviews during which Mr. Rajab spoke truthfully about Bahrain’s extensively documented abysmal human rights record. Mr. Rajab faces more charges of “insulting a statutory body” (Article 216 of the Penal Code), “disseminating false rumours in time of war” (Article 133) and “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” (Article 215), which allow sentences of to 15 years in prison. Those charges are related to tweets that cited the known torture of prisoners in the Kingdom’s Jaw Prison, where he is now being detained, and the human rights violations perpetrated by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition air strikes in Yemen.


Anglophone activists remain in detention

In a letter dated 30 October 2017, LRWC commended Cameroon for the recent release and withdrawal of charges for 55 Anglophones facing unfair trials before a military tribunal. However, LRWC estimates there are still 150 Anglophone activists who remain in detention. These activists face charges in connection to their advocacy for Anglophone rights and their public opposition of Anglophones being treated as second-class citizens by the central government.

Most of the arrests took place between December 2016 and March 2017, and since that time the protestors have been denied access to a fair trial by civilian courts. Instead, the cases are being determined by military tribunals. LRWC asks Cameroon to comply with its international law obligations and immediately release the Anglophone activists who remain in detention. LRWC also requests that the proceedings against the activists be discontinued, and that lawful prosecutions before civilian courts of all those suspected as perpetrators.


LRWC intervenes in two appeals at the Supreme Court of Canada

On 30 November and 1 December LRWC attended at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) to intervene in the twin appeals of Trinity Western University (TWU) and the Law Societies of BC and Ontario over their refusal to accredit TWU’s proposed law school. Accreditation was denied because of the discriminatory admission and discipline policies created by TWU’s mandatory Community Covenant.  Admission to the proposed law school would be restricted to students willing to be bound by the Covenant, which prohibits sexual intimacy (undefined) other than between a married man and women, requires students to report non-compliance by other students, and empowers disciplinary measures, including expulsion, for breaches.  Before the SCC, TWU claimed to be protected by, but not bound by, the Charter, and therefore not capable of committing Charter breaches. LRWC, intervening in both appeals on the application of international human rights law (IHRL) argued that as public bodies, the Law Societies were required by IHRL to protect and prevent infringement of rights violated by the Covenant, namely: to equality and non-discrimination; to privacy and family life; to hold and practice a belief contrary to the Covenant; to be free from coercion that would impair holding a belief of choice; and to equal access to education, particularly to education required for admission to the legal profession. LRWC’s factum noted that while rights to equality and non-discrimination, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and freedom from coercion are non-derogable, IHRL requires restrictions of the manifestation of religious beliefs when restrictions are necessary to protect the fundamental rights of others. LRWC’s Factum cited IHRL acceptance of a pressing social need to give special attention to historically disadvantaged members of the LBGTQ communities when considering the necessity of restrictions.

While this case ultimately included 27 interveners, LRWC was one of only 9 interveners granted leave by the initial Order of Justice Wagner, who specifically thanked LRWC for our factum. The LRWC pro bono team included: Gail Davidson and Lois Leslie (Factum research and writing); Gavin Magrath, Michael Mulligan, Peggy Stanier (Factum editing and input); Carolyn McCool, Ed Levy, David F. Sutherland, Omar Ha-Redeye, Audrey Boissonneault (submissions review and support); and Joey Doyle (IHRL research assistant). Appearing for LRWC at the SCC were Julius H. Grey (counsel of record and oral submissions), Gail Davidson, Gavin Magrath, and Audrey Boissonneault.

Other LRWC interventions on IHRL during 2017 included a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court of Cambodia (in Khmer) and a joint amicus brief to the Constitutional Court of Colombia (in Spanish).  Please consider supporting LRWC volunteers in making future interventions with a one-time or monthly donation using the links below.

Boyle-Coleman family rescued five years after being taken hostage

On 12 October 2017 all members of the Boyle-Coleman family–Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and their three infant children—were rescued in Pakistan and have since returned safely to Canada. Boyle and Coleman were taken hostage in Afghanistan by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in October 2012. Their three children were born in captivity. LRWC has been advocating for their release by a variety of means. The LRWC report Canadian Child Hostages Overseas: The Ultimate Commodity by Catherine Morris outlines the plight of the Boyle-Coleman family, and examines Canada’s duty to secure the safe release of Canadians who are victims abroad of hostage taking or other extra-legal detention or treatment. The report was released to government authorities in August 2017 and made available to media and the public on 11 September 2017. LRWC’s Catherine Morris delivered an oral statement, Address Gaps in Remedies for Victims of Hostage-taking and Extra-legal Detention, to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 22 September on the need for all States to ensure consular protection for victims of hostage-taking and extra-legal detention, citing the case of the Boyle-Coleman family as an instance where government action was urgently needed.

Canada must take action to comply with international law obligations

On 10 October 2017, LRWC and Lawyers without Borders/Canada filed a joint report for consideration on the 3rd Universal Periodic Review of Canada. The joint report recommends that to fully comply with its international human rights obligation, Canada must:

  1. Adopt effective mechanisms to supervise Canadian corporations operating extra-territorially and hold them accountable for human rights violations;
  2. Increase engagement in the Inter-American Human Rights system by ratifying the American Convention on Human Rights and other OAS human rights treaties;
  3. Take necessary legislative and policy measures to comply with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


LRWC calls for immediate release of Li Yuhan

LRWC has sent a letter on 9 November requesting that China immediately and unconditionally release human rights lawyer Li Yuhan and cease all investigations into her actions. Ms. Li was taken into custody on 9 October 2017. Ms. Li was first denied visits from her family and lawyer and was recently subjected to prohibited treatment that left her unconscious. Li Yuhan is a widely respected human rights lawyer in China, who is known for representing victims of the “709” crackdown. She has previously been targeted by the Shenyang Public Security Bureau for exposing police wrongdoing.  The arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, incommunicado detention and illegitimate criminal investigation of Li Yuhan are part of widespread and systematic attacks on some 300 human rights defenders by China that began in July 2015. LRWC continues to call on China to follow its international law obligations and ensure the release and compensation for victims of the “709”crackdown.


Report on the murder of Berta Cáceres

The International Expert Advisory Panel (GAIPE) created to investigate the death of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres has found evidence that there were high levels officials involved in her murder. Berta Cáceres received international acclaim for her work protecting indigenous land and became the target of persecution and death threats as a result. She was murdered on 3 March 2016 despite precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  The GAIPE report, Dam of Violence: the Plan to Kill Berta Cáceres, concluded that Honduran authorities failed to indict several high-level suspects, such as corporate executives and members of the State security forces. The report also revealed that the planning for Berta’s murder began at least four months in advance, and there was a prior attempt on her life that failed. GAIPE has made several recommendations including an exhaustive investigation into the criminal network responsible for the murders and the effective implementation of policies to protect government critics and opponents. LRWC has written several letters and two reports urging Honduras to investigate and punish unlawful killings and joined a delegation to Honduras in April 2016 to promote measures for accountability and future prevention. LRWC advocacy can be viewed here.


Palestinian lawyer Muhammed Allan remains in detention

Palestinian lawyer Muhammed Allan remains in prison after his initial arrest on 8 June 2017. He was detained without charges, and he began a hunger strike to protest his arrest. Mr. Allan ended the protest on 2 July, after he reached a deal with the Israeli Prison Service, but the details of the agreement have not yet been released. Mr. Allan has been accused of inciting violence against Israel by using Facebook posts, and his trial is set to proceed before the Israeli military court. Mr. Allan has been previously detained for a year by Israeli security forces, and was released in November 2015 after a sixty-six day hunger strike.  LRWC is concerned both with the treatment of Mr. Allan, but also with the use of military courts to try Palestinians in Israel. Over ninety-nine percent of the cases heard by military courts in the territories end in conviction. International human rights law prohibits the trial of civilians by military courts.  In a letter sent 11 October 2017, LRWC asks that Mr. Allan be released immediately, and that the Israeli government stop the use of military courts to prosecute Palestinian citizens. Other letters LRWC has written concerning the case of Muhammed Allan can be viewed here.


Rohingya Refugees continue to face violence and discrimination

Despite increased international attention, the Rohingya continue to face violence, discrimination, and displacement in Myanmar and its neighbouring regions. The flow of approximately 620,000 Rohingya out of Myanmar and into Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan since August, has heightened anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment in the region and forced fleeing Rohingya into precarious, overcrowded camps. Survivors describe systemic rape, murder, and destruction of homes and villages by the Myanmar military, which Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader DAW Aung San Su Kyi continues to deny.  In a 2 6 October 2017 statement (Catherine Morris, Megan Presnail, Gail Davidson), LRWC called for cessation of military action, humanitarian aid, cooperation with the Fact Finding Mission appointed by the Human Rights Council and compliance with international law. LRWC also applauded the appointment of a Canadian Special Envoy. In a 11 November 2017 briefing note, International law duties of neighbouring States to refugees and asylum seekers, by Catherine Morris, LRWC and Peacemakers Trust joined to  call on Myanmar and its neighbouring states to comply with international human rights obligations to stop, prevent and punish past, present and future violations against the Rohingya and to ensure adequate humanitarian aid.  Meanwhile, a November 2017, agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, raises concerns about what the Rohingya will have to prove to establish entitlement to return and that Rohingya people returning to Myanmar will continue to face violence and persecution as a result of exclusionary policies and systemic racism barring full citizenship rights in Myanmar and social equality.


No effective investigation of murder of over 70 lawyers in Quetta

LRWC sent another letter (Hanna Bokhari) on 12 October 2017 urging state officials to comply with their international law obligations to ensure a thorough, competent and effective investigation of the 8 August 2016 murder of lawyer Bilal Anwar Kasi and the bombing at a hospital in Quetta that killed 78 people and wounded 92 others. Most of the killed and injured were lawyers gathered to mourn the murder of their colleague. LRWC also asks that Pakistan implement recommendations made by the Quetta Inquiry Commission to ensure the safety of lawyers in Quetta and prevent future attacks. LRWC’s previous letters on these killings can be found here.

Men sentenced to death for objecting to discriminatory pamphlets

On 2 November LRWC (Hanna Bokhari, Gail Davidson) sent a letter asking Pakistan to set aside the blasphemy convictions and revoke the death sentences for Mubasher Ahmad, Glulam Ahmad and Ehsan Ahmad, who were sentenced to death on inappropriate charges after an unfair trial.  The three males and a teenager who was killed in custody, are members of the Ahmadi religion. They were arrested after objecting to the public display of pamphlets insulting to members of the Ahmadi faith. They were charged with blasphemy, personal injury and mischief. The personal injury charge was dismissed for lack of evidence, mischief convictions were entered (a broken bottle and glass countertop) in the absence of evidence or the personality of the perpetrator. All three men were convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death on scanty evidence that one or more of them “scratched the pamphlet having the name of the Holy Prophet and threw it in the drain”. The prosecutor successfully argued that their actions constituted blasphemy because the pamphlet contained religious text. LRWC is working to provide the UN Special Procedures with more information. LRWC member Hamid Bashani Khan is communicating with the trial lawyer in Pakistan.


Release Waleed Abu al-Khair and allow medical treatment

On 24 November 2017, LRWC, Lawyers for Lawyers and the Union Internationale des Avocats sent a joint letter (Gail Davidson, Maya Duvage) to Saudi Arabia asking for the immediate and unconditional release of Waleed Abu al-Khair. Mr. Abu al-Khair was sentenced in July 2014 to 15 years in prison in reprisal for his effective courtroom and media advocacy for human rights compliance and reform in Saudi Arabia. One of the charges was registering the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia in Ontario and using the organization to report on human rights. Since his arrest Mr. Abu al-Khair has received two human rights awards—the Law Society of Ontario Human Rights Award and the Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights International Prize. There have been many international calls for his release, including from former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. In October 2015 the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Mr. Abu al-Khair’s detention was arbitrary and recommended his immediate release and compensation.


Pre-trial release ordered for Amnesty/Turkey Director and seven others

On 25 October 2017, an Istanbul court ordered the pre-trial release of eight human rights defenders:  İdi l Eser, Director of Amnesty Turkey, Özlem Dalkıran, Günal Kurşun, Veli Acu, Ali Gharavi, Peter Steudtner, Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün. Mr. Nejat Taştan of the Equal Rights Watch Association and Mr. Şeyhmuz Özbekli, trainee lawyer and member of the Rights Initiative were released earlier. They were arrested on 5 July 2017 and accused of membership in “an armed organization with the purpose of committing the offences listed parts four and five of [the Penal Code].”  LRWC had sent a letter on17 July 2017 calling for their release and characterizing the charges as unsubstantiated.

Amnesty/Turkey Chair kept in detention on unsubstantiated charges

On 30 October LRWC sent a letter (Brian Samuels) requesting the immediate release of Amnesty Turkey Chair Taner Kiliç, and withdrawal of charges against him. He was arrested on 6 June 2017 and subsequently charged with membership in the “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization”. LRWC views the arrest and charges as politically motivated and unsupported by any evidence. Authorities apparently rely on allegations that a brother-in-law used to be an editor of the (now closed) Zaman newspaper, accused of being ‘Gülenist’. On 26 October, He had been denied pre-trial release. On 13 November 2017, six UN experts published a statement condemning Turkey’s widespread use of anti-terrorism laws to wrongly arrest, detain and prosecute “people voicing criticism of the Turkish Government and working to protect human rights.” The UN experts called for the “immediate release of all the human rights defenders and lawyers concerned in these cases” and withdrawal of terrorism charges. The detention and prosecution of Amnesty Turkey chair Taner Kiliç was cited as a case of concern.

Ramazan Demir receives 2017 International Bar Association (ABA) Human Rights Award

Turkish human rights lawyer Ramazan Demir is the recipient of the 2017 IBA Human Rights Award. Ramazan Demir has been jailed and prosecuted twice for providing legal representation in high profile cases to lawyers and journalists facing charges because of their legitimate professional activities. Clients have included members of the People’s Democratic Party subjected to arbitrary detention and people arrested in relation to the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013. LRWC published letters and joint letters outlining Demir’s rights on, 21 August 2014, 24 March 2016,  and 4 May 2016.  LRWC and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights published a report on rights to pre-trial release of Demir and other imprisoned lawyers on 28 June 2016. On 14 July 2016, LRWC members Catherine Morris and Paul Scambler were told they could not visit Mr. Demir in prison because there is no official reciprocal arrangement between Canada and Turkey for lawyers’ visits to prisoners. Ramazan received the Human Rights Award of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe in 2016.

Dr. İştar Gözaydın receives human rights award

The University of Oslo has given the 2017 Human Rights Award to Professor İştar Gözaydın, a Turkish academic and human rights activist. Dr. Gözaydın is the founder of the human rights NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and was the Head of the Department of Sociology at Gediz University before it was closed in July 2016. She was arrested as part of the Turkish government investigation into the failed coup attempt, and spent four months in jail from December 2016 to April 2017. In January 2017 LRWC wrote a letter to the Turkish government calling for her immediate and unconditional release.

Tahir Elçi remembered on the second anniversary of his death

On 28 November 2017, several events were held across Turkey to commemorate the second anniversary of the 25 November 2015 assassination of Tahir Elçi. Internationally known human rights and criminal law specialist Tahir Elçi was assassinated in Diyarbikar on 28 November 2015 during a press conference where he had called for an end to violence. Tahir Elçi was an extraordinarily effective and courageous criminal defense lawyer who took many politically sensitive cases to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of victims of clashes between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and the Turkish Army.  He was on judicial release when murdered after being arrested for calling for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue and stating that the PKK was not a terrorist organization. LRWC advocacy for Mr Elci can be viewed here. No suspects have been identified.


Stop the Crackdown on lawyers and journalists in Viet Nam

LRWC, under the leadership of Viet Nam Monitor Joshua Lam, is part of a coalition of civil society organizations to stop the political crackdown in Viet Nam against lawyers and other human rights defenders. In 2017, there have been confirmed reports of 25 activists who have been arrested, detained or exiled. The Government of Viet Nam has used unsubstantiated national security charges to justify this repression and criminalization of free expression and peaceful advocacy, and authorities continue to use tactics of harassment and arbitrary detention to silence dissent. These actions not only violate international human rights law, but also damage Viet Nam’s reputation around the world. The coalition aims to draw attention to the crackdown and provide support to detained activists and their families. As part of this campaign, LRWC and the coalition launched a social media ‘Thunderclap” action called #StoptheCrackdownVN, which launched on November 6, 2017 and ended up exceeding expectations, with 457 supporters collaborating on the action for a ‘social reach’ of 728,688 people.

Joint Civil Society letter to APEC

On 7 November 2017, LRWC, as part of the Stop the Crackdown coalition, wrote a joint letter (Joshua Lam, Gail Davidson and others) to the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ahead of their meeting in Da Nang Vietnam from November 11-12. The letter outlines the recent political crackdown that has taken place in Vietnam, where authorities have arrested or exiled over 25 peaceful activists or bloggers, including Tran Thi Nga and Nguyen Van Oai.  The coalition asked APEC leaders to urge the Vietnamese authorities to follow their international legal obligations and to stop the crackdown against human rights defenders.

WGAD advised of non-compliance in Nguyn Văn Đài case

Viet Nam has still not complied with the 8 June 2017 Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) Opinion to immediately release human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài.and compensate him for his arbitrary detention since December 2015. Đài is an internationally recognized human rights defender, lawyer, blogger, and activist, who co-founded the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, as well as the Brotherhood for Democracy in Viet Nam. His advocacy has been recognized by several awards, including the Deutscher Richterbund (German Association of Judges) Human Rights Award for 2017. The WGAD decision was based on the WGAD Petition and Annexes filed by LRWC, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, Lawyers for Lawyers, PEN International and Viet Tan in November 2016. A response to Viet Nam’s reply was filed in April 2017. On 29 November 2017, an update was filed with the WGAD outlining continuing violations against Nguyễn Văn Đài., including, a charge of ‘attempting overthrow of government’ added to the original illegitimate charge of ‘propaganda against the state’. LRWC continues to campaign against the government crackdown in Viet Nam against human rights defenders, activists, and lawyers like Nguyễn Văn Đài.


Human Rights Council election reform needed

On 16 October 2017, the UN General Assembly elected 15 states to three-year terms on the UN Human Rights Council: Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine.  Council consists of 47 members elected for 3-year terms as candidates from five regional groups each of which is entitled to a set number of seats: African (13); Asia-Pacific (13); Eastern European (6); Latin American and Caribbean (8); and, Western European and other States (7). All regions but Asia-Pacific ran clean slates—nominating the same number of candidates as available seats—thereby ensuring election of nominees. This practice makes a mockery of the requirement to consider when voting, candidates human rights record and pledges to uphold human rights laws and standards and handicaps the will and ability of Council to effectively promote the implementation and enforcement of human rights. It also allows the election of states with atrocious human rights records and the re-election of states that have committed serious human rights violations while on Council. Past examples include: Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, China, Egypt and Viet Nam. At the June and September sessions of Council, LRWC made four oral statements on the urgent need to reform Council elections and develop mechanisms to ensure that Council members comply with international human rights law and cooperate with UN bodies on human rights issues.


The 16th Session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the ICC is being held on 4-14 December in New York.  Toronto-based lawyer and LRWC member Melissa Tessler will attend 6-8 December. Issues before the ASP on those dates will include election of judges and discussions on activation of the crime of aggression.  Discussion is expected about the recent request by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda for permission to investigate US military personnel and members of the CIA over allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan. She has also asked for authorisation from the ICC’s judiciary to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and militant Haqqani network and war crimes by Afghan national security forces. Osgoode law profession Scott Craig has made written submissions asking that the investigation be expanded to include investigation of crimes by Canada.


Slavery, torture, forced labour lawsuit to proceed in BC

Araya v Nevsun Resources Ltd, 2017 BCCA 401. On 21 November 2017, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that a lawsuit brought by Eritreans alleging forced labour, slavery and torture practices at Nevsun’s Bisha Mine in Eriteria would be allowed to proceed to trial. The decision, rejecting Nevsun’s appeal and upholding the decision of the BC Supreme Court, marks the first time an appellate court in Canada has found that a Canadian corporation can be taken to trial in Canada for alleged violations of international law norms related to human rights. Madam Justice Newbury wrote that “torture (and I would add, forced labour and slavery) is ‘contrary to both peremptory norms of international law and a fundamental value of domestic law.’” The court allowed the tort claim for slavery as well as claims of crimes against humanity, forced labour, and torture. The court found that a fair, independent, and impartial proceeding would likely not be possible in Eritrea. The court also rejected Nevsun’s reliance on the Act of State Doctrine, which would have resulted in the company being immune from the suit because the case might touch on the actions of the Eritrean government. This ruling in Araya v Nevsun follows the BC Court of Appeal’s judgment in Garcia v Tahoe Resources earlier this year, which allowed a case to proceed for injuries suffered by protestors who were shot outside Tahoe Resources’ mine in Guatemala.


End Labour Exploitation Dinner

On 16 November, LRWC held a dinner with the West Coast Domestic Workers Association and Migrante BC to raise awareness about labour trafficking in British Columbia. The keynote speaker was Velma Valoria, a former Washington State Representative who was instrumental in passing legislation at state level to make human trafficking illegal. All proceeds from the dinner went to Leticia Sarmiento, who was forced into domestic servitude after being brought from Hong Kong illegally.


Clive Ansley, Hanna Bokhari, Pinder Cheema, Paul Copeland, Diana Davidson, Gail Davidson, Pearl Eliadis, Julius Grey, Omar Ha-Redeye, Joshua Lam, Lois Leslie, Ed Levy, Peggy Li, Renee Mulligan, Heather Neun, Gavin Magrath, Rasmeet Maher, Carolyn McCool, Catherine Morris, Michael Mulligan, Renee Mulligan, Heather Neun, Tina Parbahkar, Megan Presnail, Brian Samuels, Paul Scambler, Vani Selvarajah, Peggy Stanier, Cindy Song, Luiza Tiexiera.

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