Human Rights Updates

Urgent actions and news from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International PEN, Front Line Defenders and Survival International. Submissions and asks always welcome!

Colombia: Peasant farmers threatened, forcibly evicted

A leader of the peasant farmers of El Tamarindo, Northern Colombia, received a death threat on 25 March. Days before, several armed men, suspected to be paramilitaries, attacked and threatened peasant farmers of El Tamarindo following the forced eviction of 43 families from their land.

On 25 March Juan Martínez, a leader of the Association of Land Workers (Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo, ASOTRACAMPO) was in his home in El Tamarindo farm, Galapa municipality, Atlántico Department, when a woman involved with an armed group, suspected to be paramilitaries, threated “until today you are alive Juancito, we already have the people to kill you” (Hasta hoy está vivo Juancito, ya tenemos a la gente para que lo maten).

On 22 March 15 men armed with machetes, suspected to be paramilitaries, blocked the exit road of El Tamarindo farm. They stopped the car in which peasant farmers from El Tamarindo were travelling and tried to drag Juan Martínez out of the car and beat Rainil Marmolejo, also a member of ASOTRACAMPO, who was driving the car. One of the armed men said “be careful, because this is not going to stay like this”. Later that day one of the armed men threatened to burn the houses of the peasant farmers. On 21 March, 43 families of the El Tamarindo farm had been forcibly evicted from the Campo Natasha area following an order from the mayor of Barranquilla.

ASOTRACAMPO represents some of the families living in El Tamarindo. Since 2001 the El Tamarindo farm has been peacefully occupied by 130 families, who had been forcibly displaced in the course of the armed conflict. There have been repeated attempts to force them off the land in El Tamarindo, resulting in the forced eviction of some families in May, June, July and November 2013. On 30 October 2013 they had been declared military targets by the paramilitary group Rastrojos Urban Commands Barranquilla (Rastrojos – Comandos Urbanos Barranquilla).

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Urging the authorities to guarantee the safety, in strict accordance with the needs and demands of the families and supporters of El Tamarindo to continue their campaign for the recognition of their rights to the El Tamarindo land;
  • * Calling on them to order full and impartial investigations into the attack and threats by the armed men, to publish the results and bring those responsible to justice;
  • Reminding the authorities to guarantee the right to an effective remedy to victims of forced evictions and the right of forcibly displaced people living in El Tamarindo to resettlement in conditions of security and dignity in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

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Bahrain: Trial continues despite torture allegations

The trial of two women protesters for attempting to enter the Formula 1 circuit during a protest at the Bahrain Grand Prix last year resumed on 25 March. They told the court they had been tortured. One of them has already been sentenced to five years in prison in a separate case.

The trial of Nafeesa al-‘Asfoor and Rayhana al-Mousawi, which started on 12 December 2013, resumed on 25 March before the High Criminal Court in Bahrain. Both women are being tried on charges of “possession of explosives” and “planning to commit terrorist acts” under the anti-terrorism law, after they attempted to enter the Formula 1 circuit during a protest at the Bahrain Grand Prix last year. Both of them deny the charges. During a hearing on 12 January Rayhana al-Mousawi told the court that she had been tortured and forced to sign a “confession” during her interrogation. She also reportedly told the court that when she complained about her treatment before the Public Prosecution, a member of the prosecution office threatened that she would be sent back for more interrogation, unless she signed the incriminatory “confessions”. The judge apparently asked her to leave the courtroom rather than order an investigation into her torture allegations.

During their hearing on 25 March the defence witnesses provided their testimonies and the trial has been postponed until 16 April.

Both women have submitted formal complaints to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Ombudsman for the Ministry of Interior, to have their allegations of torture and other ill-treatment investigated. The SIU is said to have conducted an initial interview of both of them as victims of torture but no results have been made public yet and no one is known to have been brought to justice in connection with their torture allegations.

Please write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language:

  • Urging the authorities to ensure no statements marred by allegations of torture are used as evidence against Nafeesa al-‘Asfoor and Rayhana al-Mousawi in their trial, and drop any charges against them that stem solely from their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association;
  • Urging them to ensure there is a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into Nafeesa al-‘Asfoor and Rayhana al-Mousawi’s allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, publish the results and bring those responsible to justice.

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Egypt: 528 men sentenced to death after mass trial

An Egyptian court has sentenced 528 people to death, most in their absence, following a grossly unfair trial. It is the largest number of death sentences handed down in one case in recent years.

A court in the city of Minya, Upper Egypt, tried 545 people on charges ranging from “murdering a police officer”, “attempted murder of two police officers”, “setting fire to Mattay police station in the governorate of Minya and stealing firearms from it on 14 August 2013”, as well as “administering and belonging to a banned group”. On 24 March, the court sentenced 528 of them to death.

Although 118 of the defendants had been detained, defence lawyers have told Amnesty International that just 64 of them were present in court when the trial opened on 22 March, with a hearing that lasted less than 30 minutes. The prosecutor did not read out the charges, which is required under Egyptian law. The judge did not allow the defence to cross-examine any witnesses, and did not review evidence against the 528. The judge also rejected the defence’s request for additional time to review the 3,070 pages of case documents, stating he would deliver the verdict on 24 March. After some of the defence team argued with the judge, angered at the way he was handling the case, and called for a different judge to hear the case, he ordered armed guards to surround them.

The trial continued on 24 March in the absence of all the defendants, who were not brought to court by the security forces, as well as the defence lawyers, who were barred from attending by the court. The judge referred 528 of the defendants to the country’s highest religious official, the Grand Mufti, for his advice. Under Egyptian law, he must be consulted on all death sentences imposed by criminal courts, though his opinion is not legally binding on the court. The judge will formally issue his final decision on 28 April.

Please write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language:

  • Urging the Egyptian authorities to overturn the 528 death sentences handed down on 24 March and order retrials that rigorously adhere to international standards for fair trial without recourse to the death penalty;
  • Calling on them to commute all confirmed death sentences, and establish a moratorium on executions, as a first step towards abolition.

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Our Death Penalty Statistics Report for 2013 is out! Sadly, the US has maintained their spot in the top 5 executioners of the world. Learn more through the video and read more about it on our blog 

"The truth is that humans make mistakes – and in the case of the death penalty, the stakes are too high to allow for any chance of error."-Abraham J. Bonowitz, Delaware State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator

Mexico: Activist at risk after denouncing police abuse

A human rights activist and her family from San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora state, have faced repeated threats and intimidation by local police in reprisal for denouncing police abuses. Their safety remains at risk.

Martha Solórzano Martínez, a local activist from San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora state, on Mexico’s northern border has faced repeated threats from municipal police due to complaints she has made against police for abuse of power, corruption and ill-treatment. According to information received, on 25 February she organized a peaceful protest outside police headquarters in San Luis Rio Colorado after a young person was detained the day before by municipal police and beaten so severely that he was hospitalized. The police involved warned Martha Solórzano Martínez to keep quiet and not to file a complaint, telling her “Damn woman…I am going to throw you into the hands of the police and military” (Pinche vieja…te voy a echar a los policías y a los militares…). The municipal police commander refused to meet demonstrators and apparently threatened to “Get her out of the way with a beating (quitarla a chingadazos) if she participated in the protest. On 21 March Martha Solórzano Martínez called on the municipal president to support the local council’s condemnation of abuses by municipal police.

On 9 March 2012 Martha Solórzano Martínez’s son, Jorge Luis Zavala, was detained by municipal police for his alleged involvement in a violent incident. He was later convicted, however he and his family believe the case was fabricated in reprisal for Martha’s activism. Jorge Luis Zavala says that police stated on his detention “We know you. You’re the son of the busybody. Now we are going to fuck her” (Ya te conocemos, eres el hijo de la vieja grillera. Ahora si nos la vamos a chingar). He remains in prison pending appeal.

Jorge Luis Zavala was transferred 600km to the state capital without explanation on 1 March 2014. He and his mother have been informed by third parties that his life is at risk in the prison as a result of his mother’s human rights activism. Amnesty International is concerned that Martha Solórzano Martínez may also face reprisals.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Calling on the authorities to ensure the safety of Martha Solórzano Martínez, Jorge Luis Zavala and other members of their family, providing protection in accordance with their wishes;
  • Calling for a full, prompt and impartial investigation into threats and intimidation made against members of the family and for those responsible to be brought to justice;
  • Urging a full investigation of all allegations of human rights violations committed by members of the municipal police of San Luis Rio Colorado, for those under investigation to be suspended and for the results of the enquiry to be made public.

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Because domestic helpers work in private households, much of the abuse takes place behind closed doors. Workers told Human Rights Watch of working up to 18 hours per day for weeks on end without breaks, not being fed properly and surviving off leftovers, being forbidden from possessing a mobile phone or contacting their own families, and being unable to ever leave their employers’ homes unaccompanied. Some were paid wages as little as £100 (US$160) per month and sometimes even these meagre salaries were withheld.

UK: Migrant Domestic Workers Face Serious Abuse

Syria: Woman on trial for allegedly aiding displaced

A Syrian woman, Yara Faris, was arrested by Syrian State Security officers on 8 December 2013. She is held in ‘Adra Prison, waiting to be tried by the Anti-Terrorism Court for allegedly assisting in the distribution of food and aid to displaced people.

According to a local contact, Yara Faris was stopped at a State Security checkpoint close to her home in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya, on 8 December 2013. She did not have her ID on her at the time and returned home to collect it. While home, she apparently texted relatives to say she feared arrest. She was then seen being taken away by some of the people who operated the checkpoint.

Yara Faris was reportedly held at a State Security branch in Damascus for the first ten days of her detention. She was then brought before an investigating judge of a criminal court in Reef Dimashq (“Damascus countryside”), who decided to refer her case to the Anti-Terrorism Court and move her to ‘Adra prison, where she is detained. She is accused of “financing acts of terrorism” under Article 4 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law, apparently because she had been helping to provide food and assistance to internally displaced people who had fled the conflict elsewhere in the country. If she is prosecuted solely for providing humanitarian assistance to displaced civilians, Amnesty International would consider her a prisoner of conscience.

The investigating judge at the Anti-Terrorism Court recently decided not to question her, as she had already been questioned by the criminal court judge, but the case seems to be proceeding. Although she has access to her lawyers, her relatives have only been able to visit her twice: she has told them there is insufficient food for the large number of detainees at the prison. Only those who receive money from their families can obtain additional food.

Her husband, Maher Tahan, was subjected to enforced disappearance on 20 September 2012 when he returned with a delegation of the National Coalition for Democratic Change from an official visit to China.

Please write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language:

  • Calling on the Syrian authorities to drop the charges against Yara Faris that stem solely from her alleged involvement in providing humanitarian assistance;
  • Urging them to release her or charge her promptly with a recognizably criminal offence not related to her humanitarian activities and tried in an ordinary court in proceedings that comply with international standards;
  • Urging them to ensure that she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and is granted any medical attention she may require and sufficient food.

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Greece – A Historic Conviction But Not There Yet

(Source: humanrightswatch)

Q&A: Russia, Ukraine, and International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law


1. When did the law on occupation apply to the Russian presence in Ukraine?

2. Does applying occupation law to Russia affect the status of the territory that Russia occupies?

3.What law relating to occupation is binding on Russia and Ukraine?

4. What are the basic principles of international humanitarian law underlying military occupation?

5. What are the protection obligations of an occupying power toward the local population?

6. What obligations does Russia as an occupying power have with respect to the actions of Crimean authorities, as well as local forces such as the “Crimean Republican Army” and self-defense forces?

7. What are the obligations of an occupying power to provide for well-being of the population?

8. Must parties to a conflict provide humanitarian organizations access to prisoners-of-war and other detainees?

9. When can civilians be detained or taken prisoner by an occupying power?

10. What obligations exist concerning the property and resources of the occupied territory?

11. To what extent does international human rights law apply?

12. Do international human rights bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee still have jurisdiction over the situation in Crimea?

Manus Island Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers held at a detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, continue to be at risk following two nights of violence on 16 and 17 February which left one man dead and dozens of others seriously injured.

The Australian government is holding more than 1,300 asylum-seekers at a detention centre on Manus Island under harsh and humiliating conditions designed to pressure them to return to the countries they fled. Asylum seekers have protested peacefully against their indefinite detention and the conditions at the centre since December 2013. The protests descended into violence on 16 and 17 February, resulting in the killing of one asylum seeker – a 23 year old Iranian man Reza Berati - and injuries to at least 62 others. It is not clear what triggered the violence, but several witnesses have claimed that the injuries occurred when private security staff attacked asylum seekers with weapons including bats and machetes.

Asylum seekers who witnessed the attacks are at grave risk of retaliatory attacks or threats and intimidation, particularly as the investigation into the incident begins. Papua New Guinea has no witness protection program to ensure the safety of witnesses. Alleged perpetrators of the violence (guards and police from Papua New Guinea) continue to have access to the asylum seekers.

There are also concerns for the health and welfare of the asylum seekers. It is unclear whether those injured in the attacks are receiving the medical treatment they require, as healthcare facilities in the detention centre and in Papua New Guinea are limited.

Please write immediately in English or your own language:

  • Calling for the immediate removal to Australia of all the asylum seekers who witnessed or were injured in the violence for their safety and protection;
  • Urging the authorities to ensure that the asylum seekers receive appropriate medical treatment, including full rehabilitation and mental health services and have regular contact with family member and lawyers;
  • Calling on them to ensure that all asylum seekers have the ability to seek legal redress for any injuries sustained including access to lawyers;
  • Demanding an end of the offshore detention and processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia.

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