FoRB on the Frontlines: In the face of government opposition

 In the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 9 December, CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region.

Fatima Atif is a human rights defender working in Pakistan:

“Pakistan has a population of over 210 million people, with a wide range of ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal identities. This diversity makes Pakistan a challenging place to live, particularly for those who are in minority and have limited say and access to decision and policy-making forums.

I have worked as a human rights defender in Pakistan for 15 years. I have regularly faced bullying and online harassment for my work, as well as for being a female Hazara activist. (Editor’s Note: The Hazara are a minority community in Pakistan who adhere to the Shi’a branch of Islam).

The security situation in the country is volatile and there are multiple rival armed opposition groups fuelling armed conflict in different regions of the country. In this tug of war, only innocent citizens have been brutally killed and victimized.

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Thousands of Eritreans of all faiths and none are detained without charge or trial in Eritrea. Join us as we protest for change.

Germano Nati Gojo, an Eritrean politician, was arrested at his home by security agents as he listened to the radio on his veranda. One agent stood outside the gate. The other entered and said: “Sir, we need you on a work-related issue”. Saying nothing, Germano Nati Gojo stood up, went to change his clothes and left with them. His two younger children, then aged 16 and 12, witnessed this. The family has not seen or heard from him in 17 years, despite inquiring.

His eldest son, Yona Germano Nati, addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2018.  He spoke of how his father had joined the struggle for independence of Eritrea in 1976, shared the story of his father’s enforced disappearance in September 2001, and described their poignant last meeting prior to the arrest, during which his father expressed his readiness to be jailed alongside his pro-reform colleagues who are now known collectively as the G 15.

Continue reading “Thousands of Eritreans of all faiths and none are detained without charge or trial in Eritrea. Join us as we protest for change.”

Li Heping’s Release – A Moment to Celebrate or a Continuing Case of Concern?

Li Heping’s reunion with his family on 9 May 2017 was a moment for celebration; the celebration of an innocent man’s reunion with his long-suffering family and the celebration of the end of a period of torture, interrogation and imprisonment. But the joy of Li Heping’s reunion with his family is tempered by continuing concerns for his safety, and the injustice of his situation.

Who is Li Heping?

Li Heping is one of China’s most experienced and high profile human rights lawyers. He began working on sensitive cases around 2002 and is well known for defending the human rights of religious minorities, including Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, as well as activists and victims of torture.

His work on these cases led to a confrontation with the state. A Chinese security agent reportedly once told him that, in the eyes of Beijing, Li had become “more dangerous than Bin Laden”. In September 2007, Li was abducted, stripped and tortured by security forces. He then had his lawyers’ license revoked in 2009, and continued to be consistently monitored.

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Enforced Disappearance: No Answers, No Accountability

Pictured: Widows Donatilda and Adalgiza

Ten years ago I sat in a small, hot room in Trujillo, Peru with a colleague and three women each clutching a folder. They held the folders as if they contained a fortune, and we leaned forward as one by one they carefully opened their folder to show us the precious contents. There were a few old photographs and scores of documents peppered with government stamps. When they finished, each woman closed her folder, looked at us, and said “I still don’t know where he is.”

The three women were talking about their husbands, victims of enforced disappearance. Some twenty years earlier the police had taken their husbands somewhere, making assurances to their young wives that they just needed to ask them a few questions and they’d soon be home. Days, then weeks, then years went by and their husbands did not return. The women went from police station to police station, then to the prisons, the hospitals and morgues but no one could tell them where they went, or rather, where they had been taken.

As we listened to them, I watched the way they treated the folders, holding them close to their chests, caressing the documents and photos as they showed them to us. I realised why the folders were so precious t them. It was because this was all they had left of their husbands. Without them, it was as if they had never existed at all.

Torturous Hope

Enforced disappearance is one of the cruellest human rights crimes.

There is the crime against the primary victim – who has disappeared – and this is compounded by the crime committed against their families and loved ones who endure years and even decades of wondering what has happened to them.

In the vast majority of these cases, the victim has been killed but the lack of a body or even information about their fate opens the door to hope that maybe they are out there somewhere. Hope, which is something we usually view as a positive thing, is distorted into a kind of torture as their families exhaust all their resources, financial as well as physical and emotional, to try to establish what has happened.

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