Submissions to UN address free expression restrictions in Nigeria, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia

The International Publishers Association (IPA) found widespread censorship in Nigeria, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. In submissions to the UN Human Rights Council, the IPA recommended ways to support the governments of these three countries to improve their records on freedom of expression.

Overall, the IPA found that the freedom of expression recommendations previously accepted by these states in 2009 were not implemented. IPA called on Malaysia and Saudi Arabia to sign and quickly ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to signal the intent to respect freedom of expression in the future. While Malaysia should be commended for implementing the freedom of expression recommendations accepted in 2009, in practice, freedom of expression in Malaysia has not yet improved. And Saudi Arabia has not met the commitments it made in 2009.

Mr Bjørn Smith-Simonsen, Chair of IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said: “We invite the countries under UPR review at the UN Human Rights Council to keep their word and genuinely implement the freedom of expression recommendations they accepted four years ago and we call on Malaysia and Saudi Arabia to sign the ICCPR as soon as possible”.

Read IPA’s submission on Malaysia.
Read the joint submission on Nigeria by CPJ, IPA and PEN.
Read IPA’s submission on Saudi Arabia.

About each IPA Submission:

The submission on Malaysia found restrictions on the freedom of expression and freedom to publish including the 1984 Printing Press and Publications Act (PPPA) and a list of 1,517 banned books on the Home Ministry website, including Peter Mayle’s Where Did I Come From? and Irshad Manji’s Allah, Liberty & Love – Courage to Reconcile Faith & Freedom.

Saudi Arabia’s Basic Law does not guarantee freedom of expression but provides that the State protects human rights “in accordance with the Sharia”. Freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia is also severely limited by the Press and Publications Law, which includes a list of banned topics. Other freedom of expression restrictions include: De facto travel bans on human rights defenders, severe restrictions on freedom of association, and arrests of human rights activists.

In a joint submission on Nigeria, PEN International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and IPA identified ongoing threats of harassment and murder of journalists in the country from both government and anti-government forces. Nine regions in Nigeria have adopted Sharia law, despite clear conflicts with the federal constitution, and censorship in these states is rampant.

About the UN Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group:

The UN Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group reviews the human rights record of each member of the UN every four years. In October 2013, Nigeria, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia will report on human rights in their respective countries and receive recommendations from members of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

UN: عدد اللاجئين السوريين بلغ 1.1 مليوناُ

أعلنت مفوضية الأمم المتحدة العليا لشؤون اللاجئين UNHCR، الأربعاء، أن عدد اللاجئين السوريين المسجلين أو ممن ينتظرون تسجيل أسمائهم ضمن لوائح اللاجئين بلغ مليونا ومائة وأحد عشر ألفا بما فيهم اللاجئين في دول شمال أفريقيا، وذلك منذ اندلاع الأزمة في سوريا قبل نحو عامين.

CIHRS documents acts of reprisals carried out against defenders from the Gulf region for cooperating with the UN

Today, 12 March 2013, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) released a report entitled “Cut off from the World: Systematic Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders in the Gulf Region for Engaging with the United Nations” documenting attacks and acts of intimidation and defamation carried out by the governments of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Oman against human rights defenders for their cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms throughout the last two years, particularly during the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in September 2012.

The report provides an overview of the existing repressive laws in those countries that criminalize work in the field of human rights, including engagement with international human rights mechanisms. It also documents cases of reprisals and physical attack against Ahmed Mansoor, a well known rights activist and blogger in the UAE and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA advisory committee, as well as the government affiliated media smear campaign against him and other regional and international NGOs for their participation at the proceedings of the 21stsession of the HRC. In this context, it is important to note that on 4 March 2013, the trial of 94 activists commenced in the UAE before the Federal Supreme Court– almost one year since the crackdown on and arrest of activists started amid several concerns that the detainees were subjected to alleged torture and other forms of ill-treatment while held in undisclosed locations in arbitrary detention. The defendants face charges of committing crimes against national security and attempting to overthrow the ruling regime.

CIHRS believe that the acts mentioned in this report indicate a systematic retributive campaign to impede the works of human rights defenders in the Arab Gulf region and prevent the UN Human Rights Council from accessing independent accounts of on-ground human rights situation in these respective countries.

We view, with equal worry, the particular rise in aggression by government controlled media outlets in a number of Gulf monarchies, especially Bahrain and the UAE, whereby government affiliated writers and media establishments are used as tools to foster an environment of animosity against the working civil society in the country and reputable independent regional and international human rights organizations working to document cases of human rights violations within those countries.

We further believe that the current escalation to the crackdown against the defenders stems from the lack of accountability with regards to the majority of previously reported cases of reprisals, as mentioned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during a panel discussing the same topic at the human rights council’s 21st session.

The report further shed light on a similar smear campaign which targeted almost all of Bahrain’s civil society delegation as well as a number of the regional and international NGOs participating at the session. This was in addition to the death threats and legal harassment against human rights defender Mohamed Al Maskati, President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, and legal charges against Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha, Head of the Monitoring Unit and Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, for their participation at the UN session. The report also highlights Bahrain’s record of previous reprisals against activists who engage with the UN rights mechanisms.

In Oman, a crackdown against most of the activist community in the Sultanate was initiated in the end of May 2012 and has currently resulted in prison sentences varying from 6 to 18 months against 35 activists and defenders on charges such as illegal gathering, defaming the Sultan, and violating the Cyber crimes law. Among the activists imprisoned is Mukhtar Al Hinaei, founding member of the Omani Group for Human Rights, a well known activist, blogger and journalist, who was initially targeted and questioned for his involvement with international human rights organizations and mechanisms, including providing information to the UN Special Procedures in May 2012.

On 9 March 2013, the Riyadh Criminal Court sentenced Dr. Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani, one of the most prominent rights advocates in Saudi Arabia and co-founder of Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), to 10 years in prison in addition to ordering another 10 year travel ban against him. Among the charges leveled against him is using ‘false’ facts and information “as evidence to official international apparatuses (the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations).” This is in addition to using charges like “cooperating with international entities and organizations” to imprison and bring legal charges against other activists.

These acts of reprisals, some occurring inside the premises of the UN, should be immediately and seriously examined by the Human Rights Council, other relevant UN bodies, and UN member states with the view of ensuring non-reoccurrence and full protection for the human rights defenders involved. CIHRS asks that the Council, its Bureau and the Office of the President, take strong and concrete steps against governments who continue to target activists and NGOs for cooperating with its mechanisms. Indeed, committing a pattern of such acts should automatically trigger reconsideration of a state’s membership within the UN Human Rights Council, and strongly inform future elections for membership to the body. Additionally, such acts should serve as strong signals for the pressing need to reconsider the criteria for membership of states at the Council.

UN: Palestinian militants likely killed Gaza baby

FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2012 file photo, Jihad Masharawi weeps while he holds the body of his 11-month old son Ahmad, at Shifa hospital following an Israeli air strike on their family house, in Gaza City. A U.N. report indicates an errant Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, likely killed the baby of Masharawi during fighting in the Hamas-ruled territory last November. The death of Omar al-Masharawi, became a symbol of what Palestinians see as Israeli aggression during eight days of fighting that killed more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis. (AP Photo/Majed Hamdan, File)JERUSALEM (AP) — An errant Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, likely killed the baby of a BBC reporter during fighting in the Hamas-ruled territory last November, a U.N. report indicated, challenging the widely believed story behind an image that became a symbol of what Palestinians said was Israeli aggression.

The Cairo Institute and Lawyers for Justice in Libya discuss the challenges facing human rights in Libya

On Friday, 8 March 2013, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) held a side event entitled “The Long Road Ahead: The Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in Libya” as part of the activities of the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, currently convened in Geneva.

The speakers at the side event were Elham Saudi, director of LFJL and Mariam Elhadri, UN advocacy officer of LFJL.  The event was chaired by Paola Salwan Daher, UN advocacy representative at CIHRS.

The side event opened with a short film documenting LFJL’s Rehlat Watan tour, part of its Destoori (My Constitution) project, during which LFJL members visited 37 different communities in Libya in order to discuss with and inform local residents about the constitution-making process and to foster a sense of ownership among Libyan citizens for their new constitution.  The film covered a selection of human rights issues raised by those LFJL met on the tour , focusing on minority rights, women’s rights, torture, and impunity.

The presenters discussed each of these topics further throughout the remainder of the side event.  Elhadri pointed out that ethnic, political, cultural, religious, and economic minority groups are all facing difficulties – and in some cases severe violations to their basic rights – in the wake of the Libyan revolution.  She referenced how many members of the Tebu minority were stripped of their Libyan citizenship under Gadhafi and how this continues to have serious repercussions on their rights as a minority group in Libya. She also pointed to the recent destruction of Sufi religious sites in Libya as evidence that the right to freedom of religion and belief must be clearly protected in the new Libyan constitution.

As for the situation of women’s rights in Libya, Saudi explained that while most challenges facing women stem from cultural rather than legal problems, women still faced legal obstacles including the ability to pass on Libyan nationality to their children.  She referred to the removal of a woman who was giving a speech before the General National Congress for not wearing a headscarf as a clear example of the cultural discrimination faced by women in the country.

Saudi went on to discuss the ongoing use of torture in the country, pointing out that a culture of acceptance of such practices reveals the need for awareness-raising and trainings to inform Libyans about the meaning of torture and its repercussions.  Elhadri also pointed out that Law 38 of 2012 was passed to grant amnesty for abuses committed in the name of the revolution, yet it does not specify whether torture and other international crimes are intended to be covered by this amnesty.  She asserted that a draft bill to criminalize torture is currently being discussed but that the presence of Law 38 may leave the status of such a law unclear.

The side event concluded with LFJL and CIHRS urging the member states of the Human Rights Council to strengthen the human rights component of the resolution on Libya, which was passed at the 19th session of the Council in March 2012 and is set to be reviewed and voted on again at the current session.  While the Libyan government seems to be showing political will to promote human rights and to collaborate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, it remains paramount that the resolution strengthen the role of the OHCHR in relation to Libya, including by granting it a clear mandate to monitor and report on the situation of and challenges to human rights in Libya, in order to enable the OHCHR to more effectively support the transitional process in Libya.

Rebels free 21 UN captives in southern Syria

A U.N. peacekeeper from the Philippines UNDOF force works at the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Saturday, March, 9, 2013. Syrian rebels freed 21 U.N. peacekeepers on Saturday after holding them hostage for four days, ending a sudden entanglement with the world body that earned fighters trying to oust President Bashar Assad a flood of negative publicity. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)BEIRUT (AP) — Rebels in southern Syria freed 21 U.N. peacekeepers on Saturday after holding them hostage for four days, driving them to the border with Jordan after accusations from Western officials that the little-known group had tarnished the image of those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.