Wednesday, August 20, 2014

UN Calls On Azerbaijan To Stop Persecuting And Release Activists

Leyla Yunus (left), the head of Peace and Democracy İnstitute and a fierce critic of Azerbaijan's poor rights record, was arrested on July 30.


UN human rights experts have condemned the increased prosecution of human rights activists in Azerbaijan and urged Baku to "reverse the trend of repression."

In a statement issued by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the experts said they are "appalled" by several incidents in which Azerbaijani officials use surveillance and interrogation to arrest and sentence rights activists "on the basis of trumped-up charges."

They said the "criminalization of rights activists must stop" and that those who have been unjustly detained be "immediately freed," including Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and Intigam Aliyev.

The group of experts is made up of the UN's special rapporteurs on human rights defenders (Michel Forst), freedom of peaceful assembly and association (Maina Kiai), and freedom of opinion and expression (David Kaye).

HRW Calls For Release Of Dozens Of Iranian Prisoners


Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Iranian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally" release immediately dozens of prisoners jailed in the northern city of Karaj.

In a 59-page report released on August 19, the New York-based organization reviewed the cases of 189 people locked up in three prisons in Karaj, located 50 kilometers west of the capital, Tehran.

The group concluded that in 62 cases, prisoners had been arrested, convicted, and sentenced "solely because they exercised fundamental rights such as free speech and rights to peaceful assembly or association."

In dozens of other cases, including 35 prisoners sentenced to death on death row for terrorism-related offenses, HRW suspects "egregious due-process violations that may have tainted the judicial process."

HRW Calls For Azerbaijan's Suspension From Transparency Group


A prominent rights group says Azerbaijan is increasing pressure on activists and should be suspended from an international coalition that promotes openness in the oil and gas industries.

Human Rights Watch said Azerbaijani government pressure may soon force independent organizations involved in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to close.

It said oil-producing Azerbaijan, which helped found EITI and sits on its governing board, is "squeezing activists to the breaking point while claiming ... that it's a leader on open civic participation and good governance."

"Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy," Human Rights Watch said on August 14.

It said pressure on groups involved in EITI includes the freezing of bank accounts and is part of a broader crackdown that has escalated since a 2013 presidential election. 

UN Special Rapporteur Urges Iran To Address Rights Violations

RFE/RL's Radio Farda

A United Nations human rights envoy has urged Tehran to address human rights issues highlighted in a UN report

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN's special rapporteur on Iran, said the report and its recommendations were aimed at helping to improve the human rights situation in the country. 

Shaheed told RFE/RL that the sooner Tehran "begins to see these reports are designed to help the government and the people, the sooner they begin to address the challenges the country faces."

Iran has dismissed the report, saying it's based on Western norms and fails to take Iran's Islamic culture into consideration.

Tehran in June urged the UN to review the report.

The March 13 report highlighted a rise in executions, pressure on minorities, and the lack of independence of Iran's judiciary.

For his report, Shaheed interviewed more than 100 rights defenders, lawyers, and members of ethnic and religious minorities inside and outside of Iran.

Amnesty Calls For Release Of Azerbaijani Dissident, Amid Health Concerns


Rights group Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus amid reports her health has been rapidly deteriorating.

Amnesty said in an August 12 statement that authorities have refused to provide Yunus with medical assistance or medication for diabetes and kidney disease.

The group said Yunus has been complaining of pains and weakness but that prison authorities have refused to hospitalize her.

Yunus, a 57-year-old fierce critic of Azerbaijan's poor rights record, was arrested on July 30. She was charged with high treason, spying for Armenia, illegal business activities, documents forgery, and fraud.

Her husband, Arif Yunus, 59, was also reportedly arrested on August 5, charged with treason and fraud, and put under police surveilance.

Amnesty called for the couple to be "immediately and unconditionally" released and for Leyla Yunus to be given urgent medical treatment.

Belarusian Rights Activist Sentenced To Three Years In Prison

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

A Belarusian court on August 12 convicted human rights defender Andrey Bandarenka on charges of hooliganism and assault and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Bandarenka is accused of assaulting people in three different incidents. He denies the charges.

He is the leader of Platform Innovation, a group involved in defending the rights of inmates in Belarusian prisons.

Bandarenka, 41, has been in police custody since his arrest in Minsk in April. His trial began in July.

Amnesty Says No Justice For Afghan Civilian Deaths In U.S.-NATO Attacks

A demonstration at a Kabul university to protest Afghan civilian deaths.

Bruce Pannier

Amnesty International has released a report documenting the inability of the families of Afghan civilians killed in attacks by U.S. and other foreign forces to obtain justice.

The report, titled "Left In The Dark," calls on the Afghan government to ensure that accountability for unlawful civilian killings is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States. 

David Griffiths, Amnesty's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region, told RFE/RL that the report contains three key conclusions -- that Afghan civilians have nowhere to turn for justice; that the military justice system of foreign forces does not ensure accountability for these cases; and that the failure to properly address the grievances of Afghan civilians leaves behind "a dangerous legacy of resentment."

Amnesty interviewed 125 Afghan civilians who give firsthand accounts of air strikes and raids that left civilians injured or killed between the years 2009 and 2013.

Amnesty said it had documented attacks that left scores of Afghan civilians dead, including pregnant women and children. It said some of these attacks could qualify as war crimes.

Amnesty notes, however, that foreign forces have made improvements in distinguishing combatants from civilians in recent years and points out that the Taliban is overwhelmingly responsible for Afghan civilian deaths.

"Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured since 2001," Griffiths said, "but they have no access to the military justice system of the countries -- and we’re talking specifically about the U.S. in our report -- and so they have nowhere to turn. In nine out of the 10 cases that Amnesty International investigated...[the families or victims] said that they had not been interviewed by any military investigators at any stage."

Soldiers Protected

Agreements signed between the Afghan government and foreign governments, particularly the United States, prevent foreign soldiers from being brought before Afghan courts.

Amnesty also details initial denials of wrongdoing from foreign officials, both military and civilian, as well as official statements that Amnesty said misrepresented the facts of the incidents.

Relatives recounted to Amnesty not only encountering obstacles in trying to see the guilty parties punished but having in some instances to bring the bodies of their slain kin to the offices of local officials before international forces admitted there had been wrongful deaths.

"There was a harrowing case in September 2012," Griffiths said. "A large group of women were collecting firewood in the mountains in Noorlam Valley in Laghman Province and they were hit by an air strike. Seven women were killed and seven were seriously injured.... Immediately after the attack, there was no acknowledgement that civilians had been killed and so villagers had to resort to taking the bodies of these women and girls to the provincial governor's office to show them, to give them proof of what had happened.

"And while the U.S. and ISAF reportedly investigated the case and gave an apology," Griffiths continued, "there was no thorough investigation. They did not make an effort to meet with the victims and their families."

The watchdog also said it had found that local officials and police were often not informed of the attacks and raids and so could not render timely assistance to affected civilians.

"The U.S. military justice system does not ensure accountability," Griffiths said. "We're aware of just six cases in five years in which criminal prosecution for unlawfully killing Afghans civilians have taken place. And so with the withdrawal of international forces on the horizon at the end of this year, we feel that it is very important to raise these issues and to highlight the lack of accountability for civilian casualties in advance of that so that the U.S. and other international forces do not leave behind this legacy of impunity and resentment."

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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