Posts Tagged ‘human rights groups’

Pakistani blasphemy laws and minorities

November 6, 2014

Nasir Khan, November 6, 2014


This unthinkable and horrifying news of the breaking of the legs of  a working-class Christian couple and burning them alive by a large mob of Muslims in Pakistan shows the utmost inhuman acts in the name of religion in general and blasphemy laws of Pakistan in particular. (For details, see:
http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-147-2014) It is also important to see that this was an extreme example of that social and moral degradation that prevails in Pakistan. The morbid disregard shown by some extremist or even some ordinary Muslims for crimes against the members of any religious minority, such as Christians, Ahmadis or Hindus, etc. is not frowned upon by many Muslims but is rather viewed as an act of devotion to God and the Prophet. Such is the lower depth of depravity that prevails in Pakistan and very many indoctrinated ignorant  people  rejoice over such acts of  unspeakable savagery in that  country.

But there is little ground to criticise only the ‘uneducated’ or ‘brainwashed’ people; many ‘educated’ people including many lawyers also support such blasphemy laws. For instance, in 2011 Mr Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, a secular leader and opponent of the unjust blasphemy laws, was killed by his own bodyguard because he had spoken against the ill-treatment of Christians and advocated the repeal of the blasphemy laws. It may come as a somewhat surprise to many people in the world that many people in Pakistan had zealously demonstrated in favour of the murderer and among such demonstrators were the Pakistani lawyers who wanted to stand by the murderer and protect the blasphemy laws!

Pakistani rulers and legislators imposed the blasphemy laws in a country where Muslim populace was religious but never morbidly extremist or intolerant of other faiths or viewpoints. However, the introduction of the blasphemy laws changed things drastically. They strengthened further the hands of the rightist and obscurantist forces in the land. Such laws could easily be used and exploited in matters that had nothing to do with religion as such. For instance, they provided a pretext, a cover-up to those who to settle their private conflicts or disputes could readily accuse their opponent of having said anything derogatory about matters covered by the blasphemy laws. Thus any Christian or the follower of any other minority faith can be falsely accused by anyone; it has been happening regularly. Once charged, their fate was sealed. There was little any such accused people could do to prove their innocence because the charge of blasphemy had already tilted the balance of justice against them. To the outside world such things may seem too primitive and stupid for a country in these times. But that’s how the things are in Pakistan. And the injustices ordinary innocent people suffer especially the religious minorities are getting worse in Pakistan.

What can the international community do to stop this savagery in Pakistan? Let me leave this question for consideration to other writers and activists also. In this context, I appeal to all human human rights organisations, individuals who defend human rights and political activists for their help and solidarity for a common struggle against the most frightening crimes committed in Pakistan against the ordinary people belonging to various religious minorities. As long as the present blasphemy laws are on the statute book such brutal crimes as we saw in the case of the inhuman murder of this Christian couple will not stop. The minorities of Pakistan are extremely vulnerable and they need our help and protection. There are many things that need to be done; to demand the repeal of the blasphemy laws in one of them because these laws are a flagrant violation of human rights and a sickening misuse of Islam, a great and noble religion of compassion and toleration. This matter should also be brought before the organs of the United Nations. All civilised people around the world have a moral responsibility to raise their voice against the violations of basic human rights under the blasphemy laws and the victimisation of religious minorities in Pakistan.

(The server to Humanrights.Asia for the link seems out of order now. But the tragic news can be read on this link: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article33445)

Rights Groups Condemn Ruling on Bagram Detainees

May 27, 2010

Willam Fisher, Inter Press Service  North America

NEW YORK, 26 May (IPS) – Human rights advocates are expressing shock at a federal court ruling that detainees held by the United States in Afghanistan do not have the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. federal court – and dismay that their path to a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court may be blocked.

A lawyer for the detainees, Tina Foster, warned that if the precedent stood, U.S. President Barack Obama and future presidents would be able to “kidnap people from other parts of the world and lock them away for the rest of their lives” without ever having to prove their case in court.

Continues >>

MILITARIZATION WITH IMPUNITY: A Brief on Rape and Murder in Shopian, Kashmir

September 11, 2009

International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK)
http://www.kashmirprocess.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JULY 19, 2009

MILITARIZATION WITH IMPUNITY:
A Brief on Rape and Murder in Shopian, Kashmir

http://www.kashmirprocess.org/shopian

From

Dr. Angana Chatterji, Convener IPTK and Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies
Advocate Parvez Imroz, Convener IPTK and Founder, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
Gautam Navlakha, Convener IPTK and Editorial Consultant, Economic and Political Weekly
Zahir-Ud-Din, Convener IPTK and Vice-President, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
Advocate Mihir Desai, Legal Counsel IPTK and Lawyer, Mumbai High Court and Supreme Court of India
Khurram Parvez, Liaison IPTK and Programme Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society

Enclosed, please find our brief on the events and investigative process in Shopian, Kashmir, connected to the brutalization and death of Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan in end May 2009, in which the state security forces have been implicated.

While investigations have emphasized the procedural conduct of the police in their handling of the investigation, they failed to focus on the actual crimes that were committed, or the conduct of state institutions. The investigations in Shopian have not focused on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators or on addressing structural realities of militarization in Kashmir that foster and perpetuate gendered and sexualized violences, and undermine rule of law and justice. The investigations have instead concentrated on locating ‘collaborators’ and manufacturing scapegoats to subdue public outcry. ‘Control’ rather than ‘justice’ has organized the focus of the state apparatus, including all processes related to civic, criminal, and judicial matters.

What is the ‘truth’ of the matter, who are in the know, and what is being shielded?

We were compelled to write this brief to mark the inability of the state apparatus to deliver justice. We urge civil society institutions and international human rights groups and those working with issues of social justice to seek accountability.

In writing this, we have visited, and been in contact with, the family of Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan, and civil society leaders and organizations in Shopian, and in Srinagar. We are grateful for the collegiality extended us, and especially to those that placed themselves at risk to offer us insight.

Full Report (PDF)

Coverletter
Photos and Video
Map
Shopian-related Civlian Injuries and Death (PDF)
Extended Bibliography

U.S. government withholds information about Bagram detainees

August 16, 2009

By Danielle Kurtzleben, Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (IPS) – The U.S. government continues to withhold even the most basic information about prisoners in the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a New York-based legal rights organisation.

An April 2009 ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents and information about the detainment of prisoners at Bagram has yielded dead ends with both the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The ACLU wants the Obama Administration to make these records public, including information about “the number of people currently detained at Bagram, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention, as well as records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as ‘enemy combatants.’”

Continued >>

POLITICS: Rights Groups Appeal For UN Investigation of Rendition

August 7, 2009

By William Fisher, Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Aug 6 (IPS) – Charging that the U.S. government was complicit in the forced disappearance of an influential Muslim scholar four years ago, human rights groups in the U.S., the U.K., and Switzerland have asked the U.N. to investigate.

In a letter to the U.N., the organisations say Mustafa Setmariam Nassar, a Spanish citizen, was arrested by Pakistani officials and handed over to U.S. officials in Oct. 2005 and has not been heard from since.

The letter was sent to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, Martin Scheinin, and the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the London-based legal charity Reprieve, and Alkarama in Geneva.

Continued >>

Rallies Around U.S. To Demand Accountability for Torture

June 23, 2009

June 22, 2009 at 22:48:24

by David Swanson Page 1 of 1 page(s)

www.opednews.com

Thursday, June 25, 2009, has been designated Torture Accountability Action Day by a large coalition of human rights groups planning rallies and marches in major U.S. cities, including a rally in Washington, D.C.’s John Marshall Park at 11 a.m. followed by a noon march to the Justice Department where some participants will risk arrest in nonviolent protest if a special prosecutor for torture is not appointed.

http://accountability4torture.com

Events are planned in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco, CA; Pasadena, CA; Thousand Oaks, CA; Boston, MA; Salt Lake City, UT; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Las Vegas, NV; Honolulu, HI; Tampa, FL; Philadelphia, PA; and Anchorage, AK, with details available online:
click here />

In Washington, D.C., groups will maintain literature tables from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at John Marshall Park, 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.  A rally will begin at 11 a.m. with speakers including:
* Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law;
* Njambi Good, Director of Counter Terror with Justice Campaign, Amnesty International USA;
* Enver Masud, Founder and CEO of The Wisdom Fund, recipient of the 2002 Gold Award from the Human Rights Foundation for his book “The War on Islam”;
* Max Obuszewski, member of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance;
* Marcus Raskin, Cofounder of the Institute for Policy Studies;
* Patricio Rice, torture survivor;
* Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Cofounder of the Partnership for Civil Justice;
* Kevin Zeese, Director of VotersForPeace.US, Board Member of VelvetRevolution.US.
With performances by Jordan Page, Tha Truth, and David Ippolito.

Participants will march at noon to the Department of Justice, where some but not all of the participating organizations will engage in nonviolent resistance if the Attorney General has not yet agreed to appoint a special prosecutor for torture.  (Some of the organizations sponsoring the day of rallies do not engage in civil disobedience.)


In Pasadena, Calif., at 12 p.m. PT citizens will submit a formal judicial misconduct complaint against 9th Circuit Judge Jay Bybee, former Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel: Courthouse steps, Chambers Courthouse, 125 South Grand Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105.

Statement of Purpose:
The highest officials in our government have trampled on our traditional ideals of making America a nation of laws, not of men, by illegally narrowing the scope of torture and authorizing waterboarding, walling, and other inhumane interrogation techniques. In doing so, they have violated the Anti-Torture Act, the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.

In order to enforce our laws and restore the free society that our forefathers envisioned, citizens must demand accountability for abuses of the laws pertaining to torture. In the tradition of the Civil Rights movement, change will not occur unless citizens stand up for their rights under the law.

Torture Accountability Action Day Is Sponsored By:
Action Center for Justice
After Downing Street
Amnesty International
Bryn Mawr Peace Coalition
BuzzFlash
Coalition for Peace Action
Code Pink
Consumers for Peace
Democrats.com
Eldoradans Against Torture
Global Exchange
High Road for Human Rights
Hip Hop Caucus
Historians Against the War
IndictBushNow
Individuals for Justice
Marcus Raskin
National Accountability Network
National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
NJ Peace Action
NJ People’s Organization for Progress
Northern Virginians for Peace and Justice
Polygraph Radio
Peace Action
Peace and Justice Forums Billings Montana
Portland Peaceful Response Coalition
Progressive Democrats of America
Project Vote Count
School of the Americas Watch
Senior Action Network
The Torture Abolition Survivors Support Coalition
US Labor Against War
Veterans for Peace
War Criminals Watch
Washington Peace Center
We Are Change LA
Witness Against Torture
World Can’t Wait

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Take action — click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Prosecute Torture

Click here to see the most recent messages sent to congressional reps and local newspapers

David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press and of the introduction to “The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George W. (more…)

Leading Rights Groups Call On Obama To Release Prisoner Abuse Photos

June 1, 2009

ACLU Calls On Court To Adhere To Mandate Requiring Release Of Abuse Photos

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU, June 1, 2009

NEW YORK – Several of the nation’s leading human rights and civil liberties organizations sent a letter to President Obama today urging him to release photos depicting the abuse of detainees by U.S. personnel overseas.

The letter, signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and dozens of other groups, calls on the president to reconsider his decision to block the release of the photos. It states, “The hallmark of an open society is that we do not conceal information that reflects poorly on us – we expose it to the light of day, so that wrongdoers can be held accountable and future abuses prevented.”

“The disclosure of these photographs serves as a further reminder that abuse of prisoners in U.S.-administered detention centers was systemic,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “Some of the abuse occurred because senior civilian and military officials created a culture of impunity in which abuse was tolerated, and some of the abuse was expressly authorized. It’s imperative that senior officials who condoned or authorized abuse now be held accountable for their actions.”

Also today, the ACLU asked a federal appeals court to uphold its earlier ruling that the government must release the photos. On May 28, the government filed a motion asking the court to recall its mandate ordering their release, and today the ACLU filed its opposition to that motion.

“The public has an undeniable right to see these photos. As disturbing as they may be, it is critical that the American people know the full truth about the abuse that occurred in their name. The government’s decision to suppress the photos is fundamentally inconsistent with President Obama’s own promise of transparency and accountability,” said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU. “The government has failed to show any good cause for the court to recall its mandate that the photos be released, and we are confident the court will uphold its original order.”

In September 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the government to turn over the photos in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The Obama administration originally indicated that it would not appeal that decision and would release the photos, but abruptly reversed its commitment to do so shortly before the agreed-upon deadline.

In addition to Jaffer and Singh, attorneys on the case are Judy Rabinovitz of the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Jenny Brooke Condon of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

More information about the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuit, including today’s filing, is online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia

The full text of the letter to President Obama is below and available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/39709res20090601.html

Continued >>

Rights Groups Slam Bid to Suppress Abuse Pics

May 15, 2009
by William Fisher | Antiwar.com, May 15, 2009

President Barack Obama’s decision Wednesday to object to the planned release of photos showing abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn quiet praise from the military and some in Congress – and outspoken scorn from human rights advocates, a number of legal scholars and religious leaders, and many on the left of his Democratic Party.

The release, originally scheduled for May 28, was ordered by a federal appeals court in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Obama Justice Department initially indicated it had run out of legal options and would comply with the court order.

But Wednesday, the president made a 180-degree U-turn and ordered his lawyers to go back to court to appeal the decision. It is likely the case will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

At a press conference, Obama said that, “Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated.”

However, he argued that “the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

“These photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib,” Obama added, in an apparent contradiction.

Photographs released in 2006 of detainees being abused and humiliated at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq sparked widespread outrage and led to convictions for several prison guards and the ouster of the prison’s commander. The Pentagon shut down the prison in the wake of the scandal but it reopened under Iraqi control earlier this year.

It is being widely reported in the U.S. press that two factors played significant roles in the president’s turnabout.

One was objections from top military leaders, concerned that release of the images would inflame the Muslim world at the moment when the U.S. is planning to draw down its troops from Iraq and initiate a new counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

The second factor is Obama’s scheduled Jun. 4 speech in Egypt; some in the administration were reportedly worried that the photos would blunt the president’s message of reconciliation with the Muslim community by providing fresh fodder for the anti-U.S. press in the Middle East.

Those said to be making this case to the White House include Robert Gates, the secretary of defense; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander; Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq; and Gen. David McKiernan, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Some influential members of Congress have also been urging Obama not to release the photos. They include Senator Lindsay Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina and a long-time military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve; and Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut. Graham is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Lieberman is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The two senators wrote to Obama on Mar. 7, “Releasing these old photographs of detainee treatment now will provide new fodder to al-Qaeda’s propaganda and recruitment operations, undercut the progress you have made in our international relations, and endanger America’s military and diplomatic personnel throughout the world.”

Support for the Obama decision has also came from some veterans’ groups. David Rehbein, the national commander of the American Legion, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that nothing good can come from the release of the photographs.

“Other than self-flagellation by certain Americans, riots and future terrorist acts, what else do people expect will come from the release of these photographs?” he asked.

But this reasoning has failed to impress human rights groups and some religious leaders, many on the Left of the Democratic Party, and some spokesmen for the Right.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The Obama administration’s effort to suppress the photos is disappointing, particularly because President Obama has made a very public commitment to government transparency.”

“These photos would provide further evidence that abuse was systemic rather than aberrational and further evidence that abuse was the result of policy. The public has a right to see these photographs, and the Obama administration has no legal basis for withholding them,” he said.

Human Rights First argues that releasing the photos is vital. The group says it has set up a nonpartisan inquiry to “evaluate the full cost of abuses, look at how we got there, and come up with safeguards so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Larry Cox, said, “Today’s decision to hold the torture photos only points more firmly to the urgent need for an investigation to expose, prosecute and finally close the book on torture. The American people have been lied to, and government officials who authorized and justified abusive policies have been given a pass.”

Criticism of Obama’s decision also came from some conservatives.

Bruce Fein, chairman of the American Freedom Agenda and a senior Justice Department official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, told IPS, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. To maintain that the more grisly the abuses or torture revealed by the photos, the greater the urgency of secrecy to prevent infuriating foreigners is a page from George Orwell’s 1984.”

Some religious leaders are also critical of Obama’s decision. Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “President Obama promised to make his administration ‘the most open and transparent in history.’ It is unfortunate that he appears to have chosen to backpedal on that promise on the issue of U.S.-sponsored torture.”

“Not only should he allow the release of these photos, but he should also move to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on our use of torture since 9/11,” Killmer said.

Legal scholars are also expressing opposition to Obama’s decision. Typical is Prof. Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois law school.

He told IPS, “This tragic, misguided, and unprincipled reversal seems to be consistent with the fact that instead of getting a real ‘change’ on policies under the Obama administration, the American people are experiencing continuity across the board with those of the discredited and criminal Bush administration when it comes to international law, human rights, and U.S. constitutional law related thereto.”

A similar view comes from Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild. She told IPS, “President Obama’s about-face on releasing the photos belies his commitment to transparency. Those who authorized the mistreatment depicted in the photos have not been punished. By refusing to make the photos public, the administration is withholding evidence that could be used to bring the real culprits to justice.”

Criticism of the Obama decision has also become viral among liberals in the blogosphere, For example, Cenk Uygur, writing in the left-leaning Huffington Post, said, “This is an unbelievable moment. Dick Cheney’s PR offensive over the last month actually worked. Barack Obama just crumbled and will follow Cheney’s command to not release the new set of detainee abuse pictures.”

(Inter Press Service)

Israel: End Ban on Human Rights Monitors

February 23, 2009

IDF Denies Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem Access to Gaza

Human Rights Watch, February 22, 2009

Israel’s refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn’t want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there. If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to allow us in?

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(Jerusalem) – Israel continues to obstruct independent investigations into allegations of laws of war violations by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas military forces in Gaza by preventing independent human rights monitors from entering Gaza, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem said today. After submitting applications for permission to enter via the Erez crossing in January 2009, the groups faced continued delays from the IDF unit reviewing the applications. In February, the IDF told Human Rights Watch that it had rejected its application. The Israeli military denied B’Tselem’s first request to enter Gaza and has failed to respond to a second.

“Israel’s refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn’t want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to allow us in?”

Human Rights Watch requested permission to enter Gaza on January 5. After weeks of delay, the IDF rejected the application on February 9, on the grounds that Human Rights Watch “was not registered with the [Israeli] Ministry of Social Affairs.” On all previous occasions, including several times in 2008, Israeli authorities permitted Human Rights Watch staff to enter and leave Gaza via the Erez crossing. The IDF never previously suggested such a requirement for access to Gaza, and Human Rights Watch is not aware of any such Israeli law or regulation. The IDF has not responded to Human Rights Watch’s requests for clarification.

Israel does not allow Jewish citizens of Israel, other than security forces, to enter Gaza on the grounds that their security would be at risk. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on January 20 requested permission from the IDF to allow the organization’s fieldwork director (a Palestinian citizen of Israel) to enter Gaza. The IDF refused the request nine days later. B’Tselem submitted an additional request on January 29 for entry for three staff members and an international consultant. The Israeli military has not responded to this request.

Human Rights Watch and other international human rights groups were able to enter Gaza via Egypt in late January to carry out initial investigations. The international researchers left Gaza just before February 5, when Egypt had announced it would close the Rafah crossing. The IDF had told Human Rights Watch that because its researchers had entered Gaza through Rafah, they would not permit the researchers to exit through Erez.

B’Tselem has not managed to gain access for its Israeli or West Bank staff, or for international consultants. Only the organization’s two field researchers, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, have been able to conduct research on the ground.

“Israel puts itself in the same league as Burma, North Korea, and Syria in keeping out independent human rights monitors,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem. “The people of Israel deserve to know the truth about the conduct of our forces in Gaza. It is also in Israel’s best interest that the full picture comes out.”

The IDF prevented journalists from entering Gaza during the 22-day military operation, called “Operation Cast Lead,” even after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling on January 2 ordered the state to allow entry to members of the Foreign Press Association.

Since the escalation of fighting in Gaza on December 27, 2008, both Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have documented serious violations of international humanitarian law by Israel and Hamas. On January 10, Human Rights Watch exposed Israel’s unlawful use of white phosphorus in civilian areas, an allegation the IDF initially denied but now claims to be investigating. B’Tselem has expressed grave concern over violations of the principles of proportionality and distinction, including the deliberate targeting of civilian installations, such as government ministries and the Palestinian Legislative Council. Both organizations have, for over two decades, documented violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Article 6 of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration ensures that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, “To know, seek, obtain, receive, and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In addition, the apparent blanket denial of access to Gaza by human rights groups violates the right to freedom of movement. Although human rights law permits restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons, the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat.

Guantánamo ‘is within Geneva conventions’

February 21, 2009

• Inquiry ordered by Obama carried out by US admiral
• Inmates just need time to talk and pray, report says

A Pentagon review ordered by President Barack Obama into conditions at Guantánamo Bay has concluded that prisoners are being treated in line with international standards demanded under the Geneva conventions, according to US officials.

Admiral Patrick Walsh, the vice-chief of naval operations who carried out the inquiry, is to hand over the 85-page report to Obama this weekend. Human rights groups said they feared the review ordered by Obama could turn out to be a whitewash.

The Pentagon report looked into various allegations of abuse. But Walsh’s report contains only two major recommendations for improving the prisoners’ lives: allowing them more opportunities to communicate with one another and to pray together.

Obama promised on the day of his inauguration to close the Guantánamo detention centre, which has become synonymous worldwide with human rights abuses, within a year. Since his announcement he has faced criticism, mainly from former members of the Bush administration, saying closure of the camp was not that easy. Walsh’s conclusions are basically the view espoused by the Pentagon over the last few years, which is that the international image of Guantánamo is based on the treatment and condition of prisoners when they first began to arrive seven years ago.

The camp since then has been well run, the Pentagon claims, insisting it is no worse and, in many ways, better than maximum security prisons on the US mainland. But defence lawyers for the 245 prisoners still held tell a different story: one of prisoners who have suffered severe psychological damage from force-feeding, beatings and being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Walsh concludes, according to the official, that force-feeding, in which prisoners are strapped to a chair while a tube is pushed through a nostril into their stomach, is necessary to fulfil the Geneva conventions’ demand to preserve life.

Among recommendations, he suggests that prisoners be allowed to pray and spend recreation time together in groups of at least three.

Given that a prominent part of Obama’s campaign platform was to close Guantánamo, it is unlikely he will renege on that promise. The Pentagon report is only one of several that Obama has ordered. The Justice Department is conducting one of its own into evidence against each prisoner and the new attorney-general, Eric Holder, is to visit Guantánamo on Monday.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights who represents many of the detainees, expressed concern that the review might turn into a whitewash, and that she had higher expectations of the new administration.


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