Your chance to influence UN Special Rapporteur’s report on access to medicines and the right to health –



Add your voice today!
We would like to encourage you to add your voices to the UN Special Rapporteur‘s report on access to medicines and the right to health. Your voices will significantly contribute to integrating women’s human rights and a feminist perspective to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

Background Information

Pursuant the Human Rights Council resolution 17/14, Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, is working on a study on existing challenges with regard to access to medicines in the context of the right to health, ways to overcome them and good practices, to be presented to the Council at its twenty-third session in June 2013.

Add Your Voice

In preparation for this study, the questionnaire has been prepared by the UN Special Rapporteur to seek the views of relevant stakeholders on this important subject. It is an important opportunity for women in the Asia Pacific to critically inform the Special Rapporteur on the situation of access to medicines and the right to health in the region. Your contribution in sharing issues, persistent structural challenges, promising practices and innovative strategies will be crucial in informing the report.

To add your voice, please complete the questionnaire (click here to download) and submit it electronically to srhealth@ohchr.org by Friday, 12 October 2012.

 

For more information,http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/AccessToMedicines.aspx

Consultation on access to medicines and the right to health

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover invites all relevant stakeholders (States, UN agencies, national human rights institutions, civil society and community groups) to participate in the consultation on access to medicines and the right to health.

The objective of this consultation is to enable interested parties to submit information and comments to the Special Rapporteur, who was mandated by the Human Rights Council (resolution 17/14, para 11) to prepare a study on existing challenges with regard to access to medicines in the context of the right to health, ways to overcome them and good practices, to be presented to the Council at its twenty-third session in June 2013.

Your information will substantively inform the forthcoming study on access to medicines and the right to health.

Please make your submissions (in English, French or Spanish) by completing the relevant questionnaire below (in Word) and emailing it to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on srhealth@ohchr.org.

You can read the overview of the Special Rapporteur’s study on access to medicines here

Thank you for your submissions.

The closing date for all Government submissions is Friday, 14 September 2012.

Questionnaires for Governments: English – French – Spanish

The closing date for all submissions from pharmaceutical companies is Friday, 28 September 2012.

Questionnaires for pharmaceutical companies: English only.

The closing date for all submissions from international civil society organizations is Friday, 12 October 2012.

Questionnaires for international civil society organizations: English only.

 

AIl Demands Bahrain Free Prisoners of Conscience Following Verdict “Driven by Vindictiveness”


 

Thirteen Men Imprisoned for Exercising Human Rights in 2011 Anti-Government Protest Must Be Released Immediately

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Amnesty International today urged Bahraini authorities to overturn an appeal court decision upholding the convictions and sentences against 13 opposition activists and again demanded their immediate and unconditional release.

An Amnesty International trial observer was present in court on Tuesday when the High Criminal Court of Appeal in Bahrain upheld the convictions and sentences of the 13 men convicted last year by military courts on charges related to anti-government protests.

“Today’s court decision further engulfs Bahrain in injustice and shows once more that the Bahraini authorities are not on the path of reform, but are rather driven by vindictiveness,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

“Rather than uphold the sentences, which range from five years to life in prison for peacefully exercising their human rights, the Bahraini authorities must quash the convictions for the 13 men and release them immediately and unconditionally.”

The 13, including prominent activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and opposition political activist Ebrahim Sharif, were originally sentenced by a military court of appeal in June 2011 to a range of two years to life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”

On 30 April 2012, the Court of Cassation ordered their appeal be held before a civilian court. This process began on May 22 and ended with today’s verdict, which was announced in a session than lasted only three minutes.

All prisoners maintain their innocence.

Farida Ismail, Ebrahim Sharif’s wife, said: “I was expecting this outcome, as it is clear to us the government is not ready to be held accountable – its procedures continue as before.”

“There is not enough pressure from abroad. What happens next will depend on which steps are taken by the international community and what states do in the next Universal Periodic Review session. As for our government, it is clearly not ready for justice.”

Bahrain’s human rights record will be under scrutiny during the next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council in mid-September, when the Gulf state will have to confirm its acceptance or rejection of 176 peer recommendations presented to it during the previous UPR session in June.

“Bahrain cannot get a free pass at the UN Human Rights Council. We urge states to tell the Bahraini authorities that today’s verdict crosses a red line, and that they can no longer be considered credible partners,” said Sahraoui.

Amnesty International also repeated its call to Bahraini authorities to order an immediate and independent investigation into allegations made by defendants during previous court hearings that they had been tortured, sexually assaulted, and otherwise ill-treated while in detention in order to coerce “confessions” from them.

Fourteen opposition activists were originally arrested in 2011 after taking part in pro-reform protests in Manama. One of the men was later released. Many have alleged they were tortured during their first few days of detention while being interrogated by officers from the National Security Agency.

Some charges against three of the defendants were dropped on September 4.

Opposition activists who were arrested include: Hassan Mshaima’, Abdelwahab Hussain, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, Mohammad Habib al-Miqdad, Abdel-Jalil al-Miqdad, Sa’eed Mirza al-Nuri, Mohammad Hassan Jawwad, Mohammad Ali Ridha Isma’il, Abdullah al-Mahroos, Abdul-Hadi Abdullah Hassan al-Mukhodher, Ebrahim Sharif, Salah Abdullah Hubail al-Khawaja.

Al-Hur Yousef al-Somaikh has since been released, having served his sentence after the Court of Cassation reduced it to six months in prison.

Other prisoners of conscience currently held in Bahrain include:

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights is serving a three-year prison sentence for calling for and participating in ‘illegal gatherings.’ His appeal on this case is due to start on September 10.

Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the former president of the Bahrain Teacher’s Association (BTA), is serving a ten-year prison term imposed by a military court for using his position “to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process and inciting hatred of the regime,” among other charges. There is no evidence proving that he used or advocated violence.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

 

Stand up for the Tibet Pledge #mustread #mustshare


 

15 August 2012

Dear Friends,

This is a crucial moment. Please help us to double support for Stand Up for Tibet.

TsewangNorbu.jpeg

One year ago 29-year old monk Tsewang Norbu set light to himself and died in Tawu, eastern Tibet. Although not the first self-immolation in Tibet – Tapey, in February 2009 was followed two years later by Phuntsok in March 2011 –this was our first realization that those fiery protests were not isolated incidents, and that what we were witnessing unfold in Tibet was a tragedy of enormous proportions.

Unbelievably, there have now been almost 50 confirmed self-immolations in Tibet; a staggering 36 since 1 January 2012 and five in the past 10 days alone. At least 39 of all these protestors have died from their burns.

Something different is happening in Tibet. Over 60 years of occupation, periods of Tibetan resistance have been crushed by China’s military forces. But trying to stop individuals who are determined to set light to themselves must be akin to trying to stop grains of sand running through their fingers. And more than that, China is also now discovering that its military might is unable to prevent mass gatherings of Tibetans, whether they are praying for those self-immolating or engaging in more challenging acts of protest.

On Monday several Tibetans were brutally beaten, one possibly fatally, after a protest erupted in the immediate aftermath of the twin self-immolations by Tashi and Lungtok in Ngaba, Amdo. And as I write this message, a mass demonstration is taking place in Rebkong, Amdo, with several hundred Tibetans gathered outside the police station to protest against the unprovoked beating of four Tibetans by drunken police.

 

I’m writing to ask that you continue to stand with Tibet. Although we feel heartbroken by the news of each passing self-immolation, the Tibetan people need our support now more than ever. We mustn’t lose focus. Now is the time to double our efforts, in raising awareness and pressing for political action, because we’re making an impact. 
Tibetans in Tibet are not alone. They have your support and your pledge to Stand Up for Tibet. And the Tibet movement has made important progress towards our main objectives.

Rebkongprotest.jpg

* Tibet Groups around the world have delivered your pledge and worked hard to press governments to publicly express concernMany of the world’s most influential governments have spoken out, including at sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In early September, as the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council prepare to meet, we’ll be calling for an International Advocacy Day and will send you more details soon.

 

* Our demand for governments to act together for Tibet is gradually gaining traction. We were delighted to see that US Congressmen Frank Wolf and James McGovern wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week, calling for “stronger, more coordinated, visible international diplomatic steps with regard to the People’s Republic of China’s policies and practices towards Tibetans.” Read the full letter here.

* A number of key governments have strongly pressed China allow access to the region, including the European Union and Australia. China has agreed that the UN Human Rights Commissioner can visit Tibet as part of a wider visit to China, but no dates have been agreed. Online advocacy group Avaaz joined this campaign and nearly 700,000 people signed an appeal for governments to demand urgent access to Tibet.

* Tibet Groups have generated significant media coverage of the self-immolations, and made a huge effort to raise public awareness, staging coordinated actions and protests around the globe on a regular basis over the last 12 months.

On this anniversary of Tsewang Norbu’s self-immolation, I am writing to ask each and every one of you to undertake to get one more person to sign the Stand Up for Tibet pledge, and help us to double the support for Tibetans in Tibet to more than 100,000 people. Let’s respond to this rapid increase in self-immolations in Tibet with a huge increase in those pledging to take action, to help Tibetans realise their dreams for freedom and for the return of His Holiness to Tibet.

Many, many thanks for your support,

Alison Reynolds
Executive Director, International Tibet Network Secretariat

The second image shows protests in Rebkong, Tibet on 14 August 2012. The banner reads “The atrocity committed by the Administration’s People’s Armed Police to the masses”

 

Ghana: Of Women, Human Rights and Laws


English: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations ...

English: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Mavis Otinkorang, 4 June 2012

Laws are meant to regulate society and protect the human rights of all citizens. The 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution has clear provisions guaranteeing the fundamental human rights of all citizens.

Article 12 of the Constitution guarantees every person in Ghana‘s fundamental rights and freedoms and Article 17 provides protection against discrimination and enjoins the State to take steps to end all forms of discrimination on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, religion and creed, social and economic status. Article 35 (5) (6) enjoin the State to end all forms of discrimination through law reforms and affirmative action.

In addition to the Constitution, there are both national and international laws which address the issue affecting particular segments of the population. Examples are the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) and the Children Act 1998 (Act 560) protect the right of workers and children respectively.

Laws, instrument and Convention to improve Women?s Status and Promote Gender Equality

On women, laws have been paased over the years to improve their situation. These include the Intestate Succession Law PNDC Law 111(1985), Customary Marriage and Divorce Registration Law PNDC 112 (1985) and the Labour Act 651 (2003).

Amendments of some criminal laws, now contained in the consolidated Criminal Code, have provisions which protect women from harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation. These provisions have also broadened protection against sexual violence. The Children’s Act protects children from early marriage, and Matrimonial Causes Act supports women seeking divorce under both customary and ordinance marriages.

Ghana has also obligations under international human rights instruments such as the UN Chapter of 1945 and Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 1979.

Ghana also has obligations under regional instruments such as African Charter on Human and Peoples Right. The state is required to incorporate the provisions of these instruments into national laws.

In addition there are commitments arising from various UN conferences on women. The 1985 Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (NFLS), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (PfA) and the 2000 review on Beijing commitments known as the Beijing + 5 as well as, UN conferences such as the Vienna Human Rights Conference, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (1994), the Social Summit (1994), and the 2000 Mellennium Development Goals (MDGs) have clear provisions for improving the status of women and promoting gender equality.

Women continue to live with discrimination and biases

In spite of these laws and instruments, women continue to suffer bias and discrimination in Ghana. International Human Rights instruments have not been fully integrated and enforced within national law.

In addition, national laws do not go far enough and fail to address the requirement of a comprehensive review of all laws to ensure the repeal of discriminatory laws. Certain legal instruments such as the Bill on Property Rights are yet to become laws, although years have passed since the 1992 Constitution called for their passage.

As a result, women continue to contend with discrimination and practices in employment, marriage, divorce, and in access to resources such as land, labour, capital and technology.

For example, only a minority of women in formal employment enjoy protection from labour laws. Also, women continue to live with discrimination in relation to their rights and obligations in marriage and the grounds for divorce. Additionally, women, can be divorced under customary laws on grounds of witchcraft, stealing and adultery, while these are not grounds for divorcing a man.

Practices such as polygamy, though lawful under customary and religious laws, are discriminatory, unconstitutional and increase women?s insecurity and vulnerability in marriage life. Several men who are involved in acts of bigamy are not made to account for their actions even though the Criminal Code makes such acts unlawful.

Court decisions show that the law governing the distribution of marital property after divorce does not sufficiently take into account women?s non-monetary contributions to the acquisition of such property.

There are also critical issues of poor implementation of the law due to bias against poor women and men, lack of resources, low capacity, undue delays in court processes, entrenched patriarchal attitudes and systemic gender inequalities. Furthermore, there is limited or no access to legal processes as a result of problems of cost availability of services.

The few women are who are able to access the legal system find themselves dealing with an unduly formal and alienating environment. Very few women and men are fully aware of women?s rights under the law partly because of the poor performance of institutions tasked with legal education.

To ensure that the law becomes an effective instrument for gender justice, Ghanaian women are demanding that, among others that, government initiates a constitutional review process to ensure that all constitutional provisions promote the principle of fundamental human rights, freedoms, economic and social rights for all women and men on an equal basis.

Also, it is being demanded of government to complete the review of the entire body of laws in Ghana to ensure their conformity with the 1992 Constitution and obligations under International and Regional Human Rights Instruments.

While recorgnising the validity of polygamous marriages under customary and religious laws, the government and law enforcement agencies should ensure that the laws against bigamy are properly enforced.

Again, government should put in place policies and programmes which discourage polygamy and encourage monogamy, with the view to abolishing polygamy as a form of marriage in Ghana in the future.

The grounds for divorce under customary laws should be amended to make them uniform for both men and women.

Women?s non-monetary contributions to their household should be recognised and valued through equal distribution of property acquired during marriage and divorce and inheritance proceedings.

The Customary Marriage Registration Law should be reformed to enable either party to register a marriage, if it is established that the other party is obstructing registration without justification in order to protect the right of persons in customary law marriage.

Economically, government should by 2015 complete reforms of the entire social security system to expand its scope and coverage to ensure the meaningful protection for all citizenry. Specifically, women demand that the conception scope of social security be expanded to enable all citizenry of Ghana to enjoy unemployment benefit and pensions as taxpayers. This also implies a fundamental reform of the tax systems to broaden and strengthen the revenues base.

Also, that the coverage of Social Security benefits is expanded to include medical care, sickness insurance, family and maternity benefits and unemployment benefits.

That the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSINT) vigorously implements the changes in the current Social Security laws to extend coverage to all citizens irrespective of the nature and place of their work.

Government should by 2008 make and implement an Affirmative Action policy with legal backing to ensure the full integration of women in all spheres of public life.

Additionally, law enforcement institutions should vigorously implement laws passed to protect women?s rights including the prosecution of violations of such laws.

Also government by 2012 should enact and fully implement specifics laws and measures to promote and protect the rights of women and girls in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW) and all international and regional instrument regarding women?s rights and take steps to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW to enable women in Ghana to benefit from its provision.

Others are that, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) develops and implements a comprehensive programme to raise awareness about provisions of international, regional and national women?s rights laws and instruments, and inculcate in the general public respect for the rights of women.

Lastly, the Ministry of Education should activate Human Rights education from primary to tertiary levels of education.

There’s much to answer on human rights for India


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4th June 2012, Pioneer

India did not have many convincing replies to questions that it faced at a recently held UN human rights meet. Its representative was either evasive or simply did not respond to specific queries on caste and communal conflicts, says Suhas Chakma 

 

On May 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed India’s human rights record during the 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. In his introductory remarks, head of the Indian delegation, Attorney General GE Vahanvati discarded the role of the UN by stating that India has self-correcting mechanisms in place. India by and large stuck to its 22-page National Report which was lettered mostly with constitutional provisions and success stories but failed to highlight human rights problems.

While Sudan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines had only praise for India, a large number  of other countries raised questions including the status of the Prevention of Torture Bill, the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; ratification of the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances; ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; abolition or moratorium on death penalty; ratifications of the ILO Conventions number 138, 155, 169, 173 and 182; withdrawal of India’s reservation to Article 16 of the UN Convenation Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention; protection/rehabilitation to victims of trafficking; comprehensive anti-discriminatory legislation and adequate means of redress; prevention of caste violence and implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act; repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Queries were also raised over the prosecution of security forces responsible for human rights violations; reform of the law enforcement bodies; strengthening control over the police forces and sensitisation of Armed forces towards human rights; human rights in school curriculum; access to justice and improvement of the judicial system; National Human Rights Action Plan; restriction on internet freedom; poverty alleviation, food security, health, sanitation, nutrition and drinking water, maternal and child mortality; protection of religious minorities, repeal of the anti-conversion laws and the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill; status of the measures to address corruption; protection of the Human Rights Defenders and enactment of a law for protection of the HRDs; strengthening independence of National Human Rights Institutions; ratification of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; status of the NREGA; ratification of the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to communication procedures; allocation of more resources for enjoyment of economic and social rights especially in favour of vulnerable groups like women, children, poor people and minorities, etc.

It is not only the Western states but Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Maldives from Asia, and Botswana and Ghana from Africa also asked India to ratify the UNCAT. Argentina and Chile from Latin America recommended a moratorium on the death penalty.

Among the issues raised, the Indian delegation replied only to those relating to the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, prosecution of the security forces, refugees, human rights education, the Right to Information Act, torture, restrictions on internet, MNREGA, children with disabilities, HIV, human rights defenders, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the AFSPA, National Human Rights Action Plan, child labour, domestic violence, marriage and women’s equal right to property, socio economic caste census, sanitation and safe drinking water and India’s reservation to the CEDAW.

The responses of the Indian delegation were evasive and misleading. India was not only evasive on the question of prosecution of the security forces but also on combating caste violence. Mr Vahanvati did not directly answer questions relating to caste discrimination, but in his final remarks he stated, “India is an ancient country with strong social traditions. Some of these traditions may now be out of tune with modern values. They have to change. But in a democracy, these can only be done in an inclusive manner involving all through persuasion, education, and development. We are conscious of the need for change and promoting it through legislation and social awareness.”

The statement did not reflect the fact that the Union Government had to convene the State Home Ministers’ Conference on Effective Implementation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in New Delhi on April 17 to discuss non-implementation of the Power of Attorney reflected from high pendency and low conviction rate of the cases.

India justified many of its questionable measures on the grounds of “terrorism and armed insurgency”. Regrettably, there was no specific question relating to violence in India manifested in armed conflicts in 21 out of 28 States. Throughout the examination, India appeared to be a land of peace and not ‘India: Million Mutinies Now’ as described by VS Naipaul much before the Maoists multiplied the armed conflicts in the heart of Indian. In all these conflicts, women have been victims of multiple violations but not a single question was raised on violence against women in conflict situations.

Just the way coalition political compulsion has become the excuse at national level, at the UN the Union Government sought to hide itself on its inability to speculate on parliamentary process and federalism with respect to pro-human rights bills. While that is true of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, with respect to the Prevention of Torture Bill, it is the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which simply failed to introduce the Bill despite an all- party Parliamentary Select Committee submitting the draft in December 2010.

The Indian delegation also misled the UN on internet freedom. India’s delegation responded that the current restrictions imposed by the Information Technology Act deals with normally accepted restrictions on “cyber security and removal of illegal contents like child pornography” but did not respond to the pointed questions on the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which permit private censorship through the service providers.

During the UPR examination of India in 2008, 18 recommendations were made but India implemented only one recommendation — extending standing invitation to the Special Procedures mandate holders. On May 24, India made no commitment to enhance human rights legal framework in the country but has received over 80 recommendations to act upon in four years.

As the same recommendations pile up due to lack of action, India will increasingly face credibility crisis at the UN despite assertion that it is committed to protect and promote human rights of its citizens.

Constructive Engagement Still Elusive at India’s Second Universal Periodic Review at the UN


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Delhi, May 29, 2012

India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI).

Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture.

WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED. WGHR is also disturbed that India dodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made to India on the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court. The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended that India ratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012 On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption of India’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.”

For more information, contact:

* Miloon Kothari,
Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)
email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

* Vrinda Grover,
Lawyer –
email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

* Madhu Mehra,
Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD)
email: programmes@pldindia.org

The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organisations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org

Immediate Release- The United Nations Special Rapporteur expresses concern over extrajudicial executions in India


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW DELHI (30 March 2012) –– The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, called on the Government of India to continue to take measures to fight impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, concluded today his official visit to India, which took place from 19 to 30 March 2012.

Mr. Heyns praised the openness and willingness of the Government of India to engage, shown also by the fact that it was willing to host a mission dealing with the right to life, an area in which issues to be tackled are often complex in various countries.

“This, together with the generally high level of commitment by the Indian Government to human rights and the fact that there have recently been improvements in some respects in the loss of life, could provide a window of opportunity to take decisive steps to ensure the greater realization of the right to life,” stated Christof Heyns.

While recognizing the size, complexity, security concerns and diversity of India, the Special Rapporteur remains concerned that the challenges with respect to the protection of the right to life in this country are still considerable. “Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country. Where this happens, a scene of a shoot-out is created, in which people who have been targeted are projected as the aggressors who shot at the police and were then killed in self-defence. Moreover, in the North Eastern States, and Jammu and Kashmir the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force.”

The above is exacerbated by the high level of impunity that the police and armed forces enjoy, due to the requirement that any prosecutions require sanction from the central government – something that is rarely granted. “The main difficulty in my view has been these high levels of impunity”, stressed the Special Rapporteur.

Other areas of concern relate to the prevalence of communal violence, and, in some areas, the killing of so-called witches, as well as dowry and so-called “honour” killings, and the plight of dalits (‘untouchables’) and adivasis (‘tribal people’).

Christof Heyns proposed a number of provisional steps to be taken to address these concerns. In the first place, he called for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of respected lawyers and other community leaders, to further investigate all aspects of extrajudicial executions. This should entail a form of transitional justice.

“Institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission should establish to what extent the guidelines they provide on matters such as the use of lethal force by the police are in fact observed, as opposed to providing empty promises in practice,” underscored the Special Rapporteur, recommending the immediate repeal of the laws providing for the immunity from prosecution of the police and the armed forces, and in particular the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958.

“India should ratify a number of international treaties, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance,” he said. “India should also host missions by other United Nations independent experts, in particular those related to torture, enforced disappearances and counter-terrorism measures.”

The 12-day official mission by the Special Rapporteur was the first visit to India by an independent expert since that country extended an open invitation to UN Special Procedures in 2011, and the first mission to India by an expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s final conclusions and recommendations will be submitted as a comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council at a future session in 2013.

ENDS

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Mr. Heyns’ research interests include international human rights law and human rights law in Africa.

Read full statement below

Press Statement

JOINT STATEMENT of Srilankan Human Rights Defenders


සිංහල: ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජාතික කොඩිය தமிழ்: இலங்கைய...

සිංහල: ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජාතික කොඩිය தமிழ்: இலங்கையின் தேசியக்கொடி English: Flag of Sri Lanka Deutsch: Flagge Sri Lankas Esperanto: Flago de Sri-Lanko Italiano: Bandiera dello Sri Lanka Polski: Flaga Sri Lanki Română: Steagul Sri Lanki Русский: Флаг Шри-Ланки संस्कृत: श्रीलङ्का ध्वज Volapük: Stän Sri-Lankäna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Friends,

 

Greetings from HRDA!

 

We would like to share with you the Joint Statement of three Sri Lankan human rights defenders Messrs. Sunila Abeysekara, Nimalka Fernando and Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who have come most under attack by the state media in Sri Lanka in the past week, because of their active involvement with the on-going session of the UN Human rights Council in Geneva.

Kindly see the attachment herewith.

 

Thanks & Regards,

Pamelin

Secretariat – HRDA-India

 

JOINT STATEMENT – Srilankan Human Rights Defenders – Messers. Sunila , Nimalka and Dr. Saravanamuttu

 

Sri Lanka: A child is summarily executed


Footage of atrocity committed at the end of the government’s war with the Tamil Tigers is revealed

Callum Macrae

It is a chilling piece of footage that represents yet another blow for the beleaguered Sri Lankan government in its attempts to head off a critical resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.

The short clip dates from the final hours of the bloody 26-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the secessionist rebels of the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE.

A 12-year-old boy lies on the ground. He is stripped to the waist and has five neat bullet holes in his chest. His name is Balachandran Prabakaran and he is the son of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He has been executed in cold blood. Beside him lie the bodies of five men, believed to be his bodyguards. There are strips of cloth on the ground indicating that they were tied and blindfolded before they were shot – further evidence suggesting that the Sri Lankan government forces had a systematic policy of executing many surrendering or captured LTTE fighters and leading figures, even if they were children.

The footage – dating from 18 May 2009 and which seems to have been shot as a grotesque “trophy video” by Sri Lankan forces – will be broadcast for the first time on Wednesday night in a Channel 4 film, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished – a sequel to the controversial investigation broadcast last year which accused both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Last year, a special panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, suggested that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the last few weeks of the war – the vast majority as a result of government shelling, much of which was targeted on so called “No Fire Zones” set up by the government itself. But as international concern grew over the emerging evidence of appalling crimes against civilians, the Sri Lankan government, headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his powerful brother, the Defence Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, launched a counter-offensive. At its heart was a special inquiry appointed by the President, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

This, they insisted, would answer the international criticisms. When the LLRC finally reported last December, it did make important concessions – not least an admission that considerable numbers of civilians had died (a fact denied by the government until then). But it specifically denied that civilians had been targeted and rejected allegations of war crimes by the government. It thus failed entirely to deal with the evidence of blame pointing to the political and military leadership.

But still the criticisms have grown – and are likely to increase, following the new revelations in the Channel 4 film. In one incident, legally significant because it is well documented, two international UN workers leading the last UN overland food convoy became trapped near a temporary hospital in a village primary school in Uddiyakattu, in the first of the government’s No Fire Zones.

With the help of other civilians they began to dig bunkers to provide some protection from incoming shellfire. As was standard practice, one of the UN workers, an Australian called Peter Mackay, took precise GPS co-ordinates of the site, and these were supplied to the government. But if that had any effect, it was certainly not the desired one. Over the next couple of days the camp was subjected to a massive, sustained barrage of incoming shellfire, much of it falling directly on or near to the UN bunker. Dozens were killed – and many more horrifically injured. It was all photographed by the UN workers.

In a sense, it was just one relatively small incident in the ongoing carnage of the war, but it is potentially significant because it provides specific evidence linking the Sri Lankan government’s chain of command to knowledge of targeted attacks on civilians – attacks that appear to constitute war crimes.

As the barrage continued, the UN workers took turns to stand clear of the bunker where they could get line of sight to make frantic sat-phone calls to the Australian High Commi-ssion and other UN officials in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, pleading with them to get the government forces to stop the shelling. They were told these requests were passed on directly to both the then Sri Lankan army chief, General Sarath Fonseka, and the Defence Minister.

Shortly after these phone calls, the shelling shifted slightly away from the UN bunkers. But it continued to rain down on the No Fire Zone. In a sworn statement about the incident, Mr Mackay describes how the shelling was re-targeted: “Now the closest shells landed 100 metres from us, indicating that they could control the fire when they wanted to.”

That is likely to be significant in any future legal proceedings over command responsibility for war crimes because it amounts to specific evidence suggesting the Defence Minister and army chief had now at least a direct knowledge of the shelling of the No Fire Zone, and that while shelling was then ordered away from the actual UN bunkers, it continued to rain down on the No Fire Zone. It also represents evidence that the attacks killing civilians were accurately targeted.

Other new evidence – some of it emerging from a massive trawl of confidential diplomatic cables sent between the US embassy in Colombo and the US State Department in Washington – reveals just how calculated was another of the most awful features of this war: the deliberate denial of adequate humanitarian supplies of food and medicine to civilians trapped in those grotesquely misnamed No Fire Zones.

To justify this policy, the government systematically underestimated the number of civilians trapped in the zones. At the end of April 2009, for example,

Read more here

 

Mr. Minister, my name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist.


5 Feb, 2012,  Sunanda Deshapriya      

Tamil rebels in a pickup truck in Killinochchi...

Image via Wikipedia

An Open Letter to Srilankan Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

Mr. Minister, I don’t know whether you have seen the film called ‘my name is Khan. In it, the main character played by popular actor Shah Rukh Khan Repeats the lines ‘My name is Khan. I am not a terrorist’ at different points in the film, in order to affirm his innocence. I too am about to tell you a similar story. ‘My name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist’. This is my theme.

The story of ‘My name is Khan’ centres around the harassment a Muslim man with the name of Khan has to endure following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, USA. These attacks on the Twin Towers generated both fear and anger in the minds of the American people. Some extremist groups tried to unleash the feelings of anger against ordinary Muslim people living in the US. The film’s narrative is set against this background.

You are trying to do the same thing today. You are trying to use the fear and anger generated in the minds of the Sinhala people because of the brutality of the LTTE against those of us who have been advocating respect for human rights in Sri Lanka, including respect for the rights of the Tamil people of our country. When I say ‘you’ I do not only mean you as an individual, Mr. Minister. I include the entire gamut of people who do your bidding, including those media persons who sing your praises with no shame.

Do you know what baseless and venomous lies the media under your control has spread about me in the past few weeks? Have either you or your acolytes ever tried to behave in accordance with universally accepted media ethics and asked me for my comments on your revelations? Isn’t your talk about media ethics therefore to be understood as mere political hogwash?

In the film, Sameer, the young son of Khan and his wife Mandira is brutally killed by a gang of boys of his own age. This act of savagery became possible only because the feelings of anger and hatred that I described earlier had been let loose in their community. There can be nobody who watches this film whose heart and mind are not captivated by the tragedy of the child’s murder and the subsequent events. In the past weeks I too have read newspaper reports about your children. How disturbed you would have been after reading such stories? Can you imagine how many deaths my family, my children, have gone through as a result of the vicious campaign being carried out against me by you and the media that serves your will?

I fervently hope that one day you will be able to think about others as you think about yourself; this is the preaching of the Lord Buddha.

You talk over and over again about media ethics. You order news websites to be shut down because they are acting without respect for these ethics. You warn us that you will bring about a Code of Ethics for the Media that will be very special to Sri Lanka.

You are levelling charges against a group of journalists, accusing them of receiving money from the LTTE and carrying out a traitor’s agenda. You say that these media persons and journalists are now living abroad. You say they cannot be prosecuted because the Sri Lankan law does not permit it.

Mr. Minister, while your media people broadcast your words on this subject, they project images of me at various media freedom demonstrations on the screen behind them. With respect to which Code of Ethics are you displaying my photograph to illustrate baseless allegations? You say that it is because you cannot prosecute these persons who have obtained money from the LTTE under existing Sri Lankan law that you are not revealing their names. But your media institutions carry my photograph as an illustration to this statement. What is the intention behind this? Is it NOT to implicate me in your statement? Why is it that your acolytes have permission to do what you don’t dare to do? It must be that you think you do not need to be bound by any ethical standards because you are in power.

You advise the media about the use of language. Yet the media under your control continue to use the vilest forms of hate speech against me, shamelessly and without any proof to back up whatever they are saying. You reward these acolytes of yours with awards of media excellence.

Is it your theory and your practice that only your opponents should be held responsible for respecting media ethics? Is this how you devalue your own use of the media?

Wasn’t it your media that repeatedly broadcast the canard that at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September last year, the Maldivian President said that ‘Sunanda Deshapriya is a traitor to the nation’ even after it had been proved to be false and inaccurate? Where were the media ethics that you preach, then? The first ethical consideration of any journalist or media person is that of respect for the truth. Doesn’t the media under your control break this principle every day? Is the proverb ‘Practise what you preach’ not applicable to Ministers of this government?

Since a while ago I have publicly challenged your government to prove that I have received even one cent from the LTTE. The truth of the matter is that neither you nor your government nor anyone else holds on shred of evidence to prove this. If your government is capable of indicting members of the military and the Police for having accepted money from the LTTE, why should we believe that you are not able to do the same in the case of journalists who have received money from the LTTE? I accuse you of trying to unleash the same forces of extremism that Khan and Mandira faced on the murder of their son Sameer against me and all others working for the defence of human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka today.

It is no secret that I hold an extremely critical view of the Rajapakse regime. As Media Minister, you are obliged to defend my right to hold those views. Instead, you are engaged in taking away that space from us and terrorizing us. Please remember that the right to hold dissenting views is one of ethical bases of media freedom.

On ITN, in the ‘Athulanthaya’ (Interior) programme, you said something ridiculous: That because you cannot take these charges before the law, lacking evidence, you are instead placing them before the people. What does this mean? Why must you take information that has no basis and therefore would not stand scrutiny in a court of law into the public arena? Doesn’t this show us that you are trying to build a hate campaign against me in the minds of the people?

In June 2009, award-winning journalist and Secretary of the Working Journalists’ Association, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted and brutally assaulted because of a similar hate campaign. You who are levelling the most absurd of charges against media persons fighting for media freedom today, what have you done to bring the perpetrators of the attack on Jayantha to justice, almost three years after the attack? Tell us if there is even one example where you and your government have brought any of those responsible for killing, beating and harassing journalists and media persons to justice.

As Media Minister, you are raising against unfounded allegations against us. But the allegations we raise against you as media freedom fighters are completely factual.

When cartoonist and media activist Prageeth Eknaligoda was abducted three years ago, it is you who confidently told us that he would return in two weeks time.

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