Central European University and Scholars at Risk

Academics worldwide express solidarity with Professor Ayse Gül Altinay

On May 21, 2019, the Istanbul 25th Heavy Penal Court sentenced Sabancı University professor Ayşe Gül Altınay to two years and one month imprisonment on a charge of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization as a non-member.”

The charge against Professor Gül Altınay is in relation to her endorsement of a petition criticising state and military actions in predominantly Kurdish areas of southeast Turkey. The petition, organised by a group known as “Academics for Peace,” was issued in January 2016 and initially signed by 1,128 scholars from 89 Turkish universities, as well as more than 300 scholars from outside the country. The petition demanded an end to fighting between Turkish forces and members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and called on the government to allow independent observers into the region, to end curfews, and renew peace efforts. Following the petition’s publication, a number of the signatories have faced criminal investigations and prosecutions.

On hearing her sentence Professor Gül Altinay issued the following statement:

“Every individual, every family living in this geography has suffered from past wars, migrations and experiences of violence.
In terms of the cycle of violence that trauma studies alert us to, we live in a challenging, vulnerable geography.
Yet, what we make of these past experiences of pain is up to us...
Are we going to turn our pain into more violence, hate, pain and injustice, or into steps that multiply life, beauty, love, peace and justice?

This is the main question that shapes my work and my life.

I firmly believe that we all have new steps we can take towards healing the traumas that have been transmitted from one generation to the other, and to break out of the cycles of violence that we are living through.”

Remembering Bob Bernstein 1923-2019

The Board and staff of the Sigrid Rausing Trust extend their deepest sympathy to the family and colleagues of Bob Bernstein, a former member of the Sigrid Rausing Trust board, who passed away on May 27th.

Bob Bernstein became President and CEO of Random House publishers in 1966. He took a particular interest in dissident literature publishing Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, Václav Havel, Jacobo Timerman, Xu Wenli and Wei Jingsheng, alongside authors like Truman Capote, William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. In 1973, Bernstein established the Fund for Free Expression, the parent organization of Helsinki Watch which was established to monitor the former Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accords. In 1988, the series of "Watch Committees" created throughout the 1980s—Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Middle East Watch—merged to become Human Rights Watch. Bernstein served as the Chair of Human Rights Watch from 1978 to 1998, later becoming Founding Chair Emeritus. Bernstein was also a board member and Chair Emeritus of Human Rights in China.

The energy and dedication which he brought to bear on the causes which the Sigrid Rausing Trust supports, will be much missed.

Associazione 21 Luglio
Published 31st May 2019

Associazione 21 Luglio secure legal and political support to protect 73 Roma families evicted from the municipality of Giugliano

On the 5th of April 2019, the municipality of Giugliano (a small town close to Naples) issued an urgent ordinance for the removal of a community of 450 Roma people of Bosnian origin that had been living in Giugliano for over 30 years. This was done without a plan for rehousing the families.

On the morning of 10 May 2019, law enforcement agencies carried out the forced eviction of all the families living in the settlement. SRT Grantee Associazione 21 Luglio, who has been closely monitoring the situation, documented that the 73 families who were forcibly removed from their homes and schools, have settled in an abandoned industrial zone with no shelter, clean water or sanitary facilities. They also noted that both prior to and during the eviction operation, the Roma people were verbally threatened with removal of their local registration and that their children would be taken into care should they not leave the area.

Associazione 21 Luglio have been lobbying the municipal and regional governments, and the Department for Civil Protection to take action to mitigate the very serious risks to which the 73 families are exposed. They have gained support through petitions and press conferences and have taken MPs to the site, gaining wide media coverage. In addition to this, Associazione 21 luglio supported three people in lodging an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in partnership with the European Roma Rights Center. The Court has applied urgent measures under Rule 39, asking the Italian Government to provide temporary accommodation for the minors involved and their parents, without separating them, thus recognising the right to family unity (ECHR press release). A further 43 people have agreed to apply to the Court with their cases.

The mayor of Giugliano has promised to make funds available to the families, to be used for rental of accommodation. Associazione 21 Luglio, together with the MPs, is asking the Mayor to set up temporary emergency facilities, to accommodate the families and continues to monitor the situation.

University College London - UCL
Published 24th May 2019

The Sigrid Rausing Trust has awarded a gift of £5m to The UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology and UK Dementia Research Institute

This gift will fund a Neurogenetic Therapies Programme to build on advances in understanding the genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases, significantly speeding up their translation into effective treatments.

Sigrid Rausing, Founder and Trustee of the Trust, says: “We were persuaded to make this grant by the references we requested and received from the medical community, which highlighted not only the undoubted expertise of the UCL team, but also, more generally, its collaborative approach to science. Global collaboration and open access should be a given for all publicly funded research, and the same goes for research supported by charitable gifts. Our aim was to support the most effective research into the highly complex syndrome of dementia, and we very much hope that our grant to UCL will help to unravel the mysteries of this most devastating condition.”

The programme will develop and test promising new genetic therapies for neurodegenerative and dementia-causing diseases like Alzheimer’s. This is the first step towards the creation of a dedicated, specialist integrated Centre for Genetic Therapies for Neurodegeneration at UCL, to accelerate the development of novel therapies and run clinical trials as soon as ideas come to fruition.

Medical Justice
Published 15th May 2019

Medical Justice Gain High Court Backing to Review Controversial ‘Migrant Removal’ Policy

On 14th March, Medical Justice was granted permission for a judicial review of the Removal Notice Window, a removals policy enforced by the Home Office under which migrants are given between 72 hours and seven days’ notice that they face being removed at some point during the next three months, without further warning. The policy is designed in such a way that detainees don’t have the time and opportunity to access legal representation and that results in the Home Office having free rein to deport individuals without effective oversight from the courts - even if that removal is unlawful.

Medical Justice, a charity with volunteer clinicians networked with solicitors, barristers, detention centre visitors and ex-detainees who expose and combat human rights abuses in UK immigration removal centres, campaigned for a suspension of the policy. Mr Justice Walker granted the injunction on all Removal Notice Window proceedings until the policy could be reviewed for its lawfulness. He stated, “…there appears to be grounds for real concern about access to justice…” Such concerns are shared by other civil society organisations, including the Law Society and the Immigration Lawyers’ Practitioners Association who are in full support of the review which will be heard on 19th and 20th June 2019.

Medical Justice is represented by the Public Law Project and Charlotte Kilroy QC.

Read the Medical Justice press release here.

Women’s Link Worldwide

Published 17 April 2019
President of Rwanda orders release of women and girls jailed over abortion

In early April 2019, Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, pardoned 367 women convicted for “pregnancy-related crimes.” Among them was Valentine, whose case had been accompanied by Trust grantee Women’s Link Worldwide. Valentine was at home alone when she went into labour, and her baby died. She was subsequently charged with infanticide and sentenced to life imprisonment during a trial where she had no legal representation. Her sentence was later reduced to 10 years following the intervention of Women’s Link Worldwide. Valentine walked free under the presidential pardon last week.

In August 2018, the government of Rwanda revised its penal code, which had previously imposed severe prison sentences on anyone having an abortion or assisting someone to have one. Abortion is now allowed in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage, or when the pregnancy poses health risks to the mother or fetus. The new law stipulates that abortion can be carried out after consultation with a doctor while in the past, the final decision was taken by courts.

Civil society hailed the presidential pardon as an important step forward for women's rights in the country. Women’s Link Worldwide has been working with partner organisations in Rwanda to increase access to sexual and reproductive rights and acknowledge the injustice of criminalising poor women who do not have access to proper medical care.

National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Published 25 March 2019
Kenya Appeal Court allows registration of LGBT organisation

On 22 March 2019, Kenyan Court of Appeal ruled that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) should be allowed to officially register as a national NGO.

Of the five-judge bench, three judges dismissed an appeal by the NGO Coordination Board, which sought to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Kenyans the right to associate.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission brought a successful challenge before the Kenya High Court in 2015 after the NGO Coordination Board refused to register the organisation on the basis that it was for gay and lesbian people. The Court ruled that under Articles 27 and 36 of the Constitution of Kenya, every person has the right to freedom of association irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Speaking after the ruling on Friday, Njeri Gateru, Executive Director of SRT grantee NGLHRC, said:
‘The judges have chosen to stand by the constitution that allows for like-minded persons to meet and organise, formally. The ruling only brings inclusivity and sets a positive precedent for other rights organisations, in Kenya and around Africa.’

This victory follows the 2018 Court of Appeal victory in Kenya on the unconstitutionality of forced anal examinations to ‘prove’ same-sex conduct. A ruling in a constitutional case led by NGLHRC challenging the lawfulness of Sections 162, 163 and 165 of the Kenyan Penal Code, laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy, is expected on 24 May 2019.

Sections 162, 163 and 165 of the Kenyan Penal Code, which were introduced into the law books during the British colonial rule over 100 years ago make it a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison to ‘have carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and for consenting adult men to engage in ‘gross indecency’ with up to 5 years in prison. Such laws are widely used to stigmatise, harass and discriminate against LGBT people.

Attack on the offices of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (Serbia)

On 11th March, the hallway leading to the offices of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia (grantee since 2018, current grant £75,000 over one year) was marked with the graffiti messages “Ratko Mladić” and “No divisions”, while the office doors were covered in spray-paint and stickers with photographs of 8 prominent women in Serbian history and the writing “A source of pride and a true Serbian woman, you are unworthy of her shadow” (see pictures attached).

This is not the first time the Youth Initiative has been under attack. In January 2017, after organising a small protest at an event organised by the ruling party where an ICTY convicted war criminal was invited to speak, some of the organisation’s activists were physically attacked. Misdemeanour charges were brought against nine of those activists for disturbing public order, and last summer eight of them were convicted and fined. Following the event the Youth Initiative was defamed in the press. The organisation brought a criminal complaint against the far-right newspaper The Informer, which had published an article with the headline ‘War against foreign mercenaries’ and called the organisation ‘domestic traitors’. In July 2018, the editor of the newspaper was convicted of hate speech.

Peru offers public apology to K.L. for violating her reproductive rights

Seventeen years after SRT grantees DEMUS and CLADEM first filed a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, on behalf of a young Peruvian girl, the state of Peru has offered her a public apology. The petition challenged the refusal of Peruvian public health officials to offer seventeen-year-old KL a therapeutic abortion after her 14-week foetus was diagnosed with anencephaly in 2001. Her baby died four days after delivery. Although Peruvian law allows for abortion when the life of the mother is threatened, K.L. was denied an abortion due to a lack of clear regulations. In 2005, the UNHRC ruled that denying access to therapeutic abortion is a violation of Peru’s domestic laws. This was the first time an international human rights body held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion.

“I express public apologies for a State reluctant to fulfil its responsibilities, for not acting, for not defending you - a girl yesterday and a woman today. How many more K.L. are we going to allow? It takes a change in public policies, which awakens attitudes towards life in hearts and conscience; it means committing ourselves to girls, adolescents and women, which does not mean bureaucracy or taking responsibility away from us. The human rights of women cannot be left pending,” Minister of Justice, Vicente Zevallos, said during a public ceremony marking International Women’s Day.

Center for Justice and Accountability

Published 4 March 2019
Assad government held liable by a US Court for Marie Colvin’s death

On 22 February 2012, war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed when the media centre from where she was reporting in Homs, came under rocket attack. Former SRT grantee, Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), led a five-year investigation into her death, and in 2016, they filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Washington, DC against the Syrian government on behalf of Marie Colvin’s sister Cathleen Colvin and her three children, with the support of co-counsel Sherman and Sterling LLP.

The investigation looked into Colvin’s killing but also the wider history and policies of Syrian government targeting and killing journalists. The investigation revealed that Colvin was specifically targeted by the Syrian government, who managed to attain her whereabouts through intercepted satellite calls and informants, and then deliberately ordered the artillery assault on the media centre where she was working.

CJA and Sherman and Sterling were able to litigate against the Syrian government and file the wrongful death complaint under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows claimants to sue designated state-sponsors of terrorism, such as the government of Syria, for the extrajudicial killing of US citizens in US courts for compensation and punitive damages.

The Court awarded $300m in punitive damages, and also ordered Syria to pay $2.5m in compensation to Colvin’s sister and $11,836 in funeral expenses. The amount of punitive damages was a higher figure than usual due to the fact that Marie was targeted as a journalist. Whilst it is unlikely that the Syrian government will voluntarily pay the sum of money directly, the court could freeze any Syrian assets held in the US and liquidate them.

When ruling on the damages, Judge Amy Berman Jackson declared that, “by perpetrating a directed attack against the media centre, Syria intended to intimidate journalists, inhibit newsgathering and the dissemination of information, and suppress dissent. A targeted murder of an American citizen, whose courageous work was not only important, but vital to our understanding of warzones and of wars generally, is outrageous.”

Cathleen Colvin, Marie’s sister, said, “It is my greatest hope that the court’s ruling will lead to other criminal prosecutions, and serve as a deterrent against future attacks on the press and on civilians. Marie dedicated her life to fighting for justice on behalf of the victims of war and ensuring that their stories were heard.”

Hafiza Merkezi

Published 27 February 2019
Joint press statement by 10 human rights NGOs against efforts to destroy civil society in Turkey

On February 27th, 10 human rights organisations, including the Truth Justice Memory Center, made a joint press statement in response to the recent allegations levelled against 16 civil society figures in Turkey. You may read the full statement below:

In response to the absurd allegations levelled against Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, who are both imprisoned pending trial, as well as 14 other civil society figures, all of whom are accused of “attempting to overthrow the government”, we, the undersigned human rights organizations, call for the escalating crackdown on and criminalization of civil society to end.

For the last five days, alleged details of an indictment against these 16 civil society actors have been leaked through the mainstream media in Turkey in a coordinated campaign of misinformation. According to purported leaks from the indictment, which has yet to be seen by lawyers representing the accused, the allegations focus on the 2013 Gezi Park protests, an overwhelmingly peaceful protest movement that was suppressed by the government amidst widespread police violence.

A much larger group of civil society figures continue to be investigated under the auspices of the same investigation. Those under investigation and those facing indictment are neither responsible for the Gezi Park protests, which ought to be considered as a matter of freedom of expression, nor for any crimes. The court should reject any indictment based on absurd conspiracies and which lack any meaningful evidence, and Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, who have been imprisoned for 16 and 3 months respectively, should be immediately released.

This latest assault on civil society comes at a time when human rights defenders and other civil society activists increasingly face detention, prosecution and imprisonment simply for exposing human rights violations and for demanding truth, justice and means of redress.

The seventh hearing of the “Büyükada” trial of 11 human rights defenders will be held next month. No evidence has been presented in this trial to substantiate the trumped-upcharges of terrorism, which are based solely on the human rights activism of the accused.

Today, human rights defenders Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin are in court accused of producing ‘terrorist propaganda’ by participating in a solidarity action with the now closed Özgür Gündem newspaper. Journalists who worked for Özgür Gündem are also facing a campaign of judicial harassment. Two months ago, Şebnem Korur Fincancı was convicted of producing ‘terrorist propaganda’ and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for signing the ‘Peace Petition’. This conviction is pending an appeal at a regional appeals court. However, in previous rulings these appeals courts have wholly failed to prove themselves to be independent of the government. Human rights defender Eren Keskin, who acted as co-editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem in an act of solidarity with the newspaper, is also being tried in over 100 cases. Meanwhile, 129 individuals from Academics for Peace have been sentenced to imprisonment. 25 of these individuals will be imprisoned if the regional appeals court upholds their convictions. Their appeals are ongoing.

Both the solidarity with Özgür Gündem and Academics for Peace trials are among those being used by the government to supress and silence hundreds of civil society activists in Turkey. This situation has emerged just as the courts have been handing down ever harsher prison sentences for similar acts of legitimate and peaceful dissent.

International treaties to which Turkey is a state party place a special emphasis on the important role played by human rights defenders, civil society and a free press in ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The effective protection of the freedom, security, dignity and physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders is also a precondition for the right to defend human rights.

International law also insists that the fundamental responsibility for protecting human rights defenders belongs to the state. The state is ultimately responsible for protecting all rights enjoyed by human rights defenders: from the rights to freedom of thought and expression to the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

We, the undersigned organizations, stand united against these efforts to destroy independent civil society in Turkey, call for an end to the orchestrated campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment of civil society activists in Turkey and once again remind the authorities of their obligations to protect human rights defenders under international law.

Civil Rights Defenders
Association for Monitoring Equal Rights
Truth Justice Memory Center
The Rights Initiative
Human Rights Association
Human Rights Agenda Association
Reporters Without Borders
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
Citizens’ Assembly Turkey
Amnesty International

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

Published 22 February 2019
Continued detention of the family of UK-based Bahraini human rights defender

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei was granted refugee status in the UK in 2012 in recognition of the dangers he faced in Bahrain because of his work as a human rights defender while in the country and continued work with SRT grantee the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD). In 2017, Mr Alwadaei’s brother-in-law, Sayed Nizar, mother-in-law, Hajer Mansoor, and cousin, Mahmood Marzooq – were sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly planting fake bombs. They have all been subjected to ill-treatment whilst in prison, due to their family ties to Sayed Alwadei.

The final appeal court ruling in the cases of these family members is due to be issued on 25 February 2019. On 7th January 2019, The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released its opinion in relation to the cases of Hajer, Sayed and Mahmood. The Working Group found their ongoing detention to be in contravention to international human rights law, arbitrary and an act of reprisal due to their relationship with Sayed Alwadaei. It urged the Bahraini government to release the victims immediately and grant them their right to compensation.

According to Amnesty International, Hajer Mansoor has increasing health issues and has been denied access to medical care while in prison.
In a statement to Reuters, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said: “It’s difficult for me to live freely when I know that others are imprisoned because of my actions. I just hope that this important decision influences the Bahraini authorities to end the torment of my family and grant their release.”

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention opinion:

Royal College of Art

Published January 28 2019

The Sigrid Rausing Trust has awarded a gift of £15 million over three years to the Royal College of Art. The one-off gift will enable the internationally renowned art and design university to launch GenerationRCA, an ambitious five-year campaign programme to transform its campuses, research and curriculum.

The RCA’s new academic vision builds on the university’s reputation for working across disciplines, and will involve an integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics into its creative arts curriculum. The RCA will also create a significant scholarship endowment fund, new faculty positions and a new masters course. The gift from the Sigrid Rausing Trust will enable the creation of a new state-of-the-art building, designed by internationally acclaimed architects Herzog & de Meuron. The new building, situated alongside the existing campus, will provide some 15,500sqm of studios, workshops, labs and research centres.

Dr Sigrid Rausing, Chair of the Sigrid Rausing Trust, said:
“The Royal College of Art has an impressive record of teaching, innovation and inter-disciplinary collaboration, with ambitious plans for the future. I am delighted to make this gift, which will help the College build the infrastructure it needs to enable a new generation of students to develop creative ideas and concepts within the public sector.”

Dr Rausing joined the Council, the governing body of the RCA, in summer 2018.

About the RCA

Established in 1837, the RCA is a specialist and research-intensive postgraduate university based in Battersea, London. The RCA employs around 1,000 professionals - spanning professors, researchers, art and design practitioners, advisers and visiting lecturers- from around the world and offers 30 academic programmes.

The RCA's approach is founded on the premise that art, design creative thinking, science, engineering and technology must all collaborate to solve today's global challenges.

In 2018, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales became Royal Visitor of the College. The Prince of Wales succeeded His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, who was Royal Visitor for 50 years.

The RCA runs joint programmes with Imperial College London and the Victoria & Albert Museum. InnovationRCA, the university's centre for enterprise, entrepreneurship, incubation and business support, has helped over 50 RCA business ideas become a reality and led to the creation of over 600 UK jobs.

The RCA opened the Burberry Material Futures Research Group in 2018 to invent sustainable materials, transform consumer experience and advance manufacturing; and the Intelligent Mobility Design Centre, supported Hyundai Kia, to lead the research agenda at the intersection of people, mobility and technology.

The RCA’s alumni include: Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Chris Ofili, Tracey Emin, Sir James Dyson, Sir Ridley Scott, Christopher Bailey, Sir David Adjaye, Thomas Heatherwick, Monster Chetwynd and Asif Kapadia.

All queries to be sent to the Communications Manager, Eve Marlow, at

Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM)

Published January 14 2019
Historical ruling on enforced disappearances in Mexico

On 20 December 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Right found the Mexican state guilty of the enforced disappearance of three civilians, and ordered to investigate their whereabouts and provide psychological support to their family members.

The case of Alvarado Espinoza et al vs Mexico is the first case of state-led human rights violations to be brought before the Inter-American Court since the country militarised its battle against drug cartels a decade ago.

Last year, during the Inter-American Court’s 123rd Regular Session in Costa Rica, SRT grantee Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM) represented the families of Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes, who were taken by a group of soldiers in the state of Chihuahua in 2009. CEDEHM and other organisations had initially filed a lawsuit on the Alvarado case with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights in 2010. The Commission issued its background report six years later and then forwarded the case to the Inter-American Court because of Mexico’s failure to comply with the recommendations, including the duty of investigating the disappearance of the Alvarados.

The ruling may pave the way for further discussions on the enactment of the Law on Internal Security, which since 2017 has further militarised public security in the country, allowing the army to intervene in any situation deemed a threat to public security.

End Violence Against Women

Published December 17 2018
Attitudes towards sexual consent

On 6th December 2018, YouGov published a survey commissioned by SRT Grantee, End Violence Against Women, about attitudes towards sexual consent in the U.K. Around 4,000 people were interviewed for the survey, which sought to assess how public attitudes to sexual consent might influence the level of support survivors receive from families and friends, and conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.

The results highlighted a generational divide, whereby 35% of over 65s believe that non-consensual sex did not constitute rape, compared to only 16% of 16-24 year olds. A third of those surveyed believe rape hasn’t taken place if a woman is pressured but there is no physical violence involved. One third of the men surveyed believe that non-consensual sex with a woman who had flirted on a date would also not constitute rape.

The research shows that confusion and myths about rape are still very common. Over the last two decades women’s rights campaigners have sought to increase public understanding that most rapes take place between people who already know each other, rather than between strangers and that the law is unequivocal – sex without consent is rape, whatever the relationship

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, spoke on The Today Programme on Radio 4 on 6th December and said: “we were shocked by the findings [to see] just how entrenched some really unhelpful and outdated attitudes towards rape and sexual violence are. The most common form of rape, which is where people know each other, is really not considered by lots of people to be real rape. That’s very problematic because those same people are serving on juries and they’re making decisions about whether or not to convict people.”

Women Transforming the World

Published December 3 2018
Final judgement in Sepur Zarco case

SRT grantee, Women Transforming the World (MTM), reported that an appeal against the Sepur Zarco Case convictions was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala yesterday.

During the internal armed conflict from 1960 to 1999 the Guatemalan military was responsible for the rape and enslavement of women in an indigenous community near the Sepur Zarco outpost. Between 2011 to 2016, 15 female survivors fought for the soldiers to be held to account. In February 2016 the High Risk Tribunal A convicted two of those soldiers, Esteelmer Reyes Girón and Heriberto Valdezo, of crimes against humanity and sentenced them respectively to 120 years and 240 years in prison.

The court had also granted 18 reparation measures to the survivors and their community, which the State must now provide.

The National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG) and the Community Research and Psychosocial Action Team (ECAP) are the two other SRT grantees that provided support to Sepur Zarco survivors.

International Refugee Assistance Project

Published November 28 2018
Successful lawsuit in support of detained Iraqis

On 21st November, SRT grantee, the International Refugee Assistance Project, working with partner organizations, won a class action lawsuit in support of a group of Iraqis at risk of deportation from the US. We estimate that over 100 detained Iraqis may be released within the next thirty days because of the court order.

In July 2017, District Court Judge, Mark Goldsmith, ruled that the government was not allowed to deport any of the detainees without providing them with the opportunity to plead their case to an immigration court. Many of the detainees were Chaldean Christians or had served in the U.S. military, and would subsequently face torture or death if they returned to Iraq.

The Iraqi detainees were represented at both hearings by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, who are a partner advocate of the International Refugee Assistance Project. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union challenged claims made by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the Iraqi authorities were willing to accept the detainees back into the country. They also argued that as there was no proof that deportation was imminent, keeping the Iraqis detained indefinitely was a violation of a Supreme Court decision, and that the remaining detainees should therefore be released.

The court ordered the release of class members who have been detained for more than six months within thirty days, unless the court determines that release is not required in individual circumstances.

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said: ‘Today’s decision is about accountability. Judge Goldsmith made it clear that ICE is not above the law’.

Becca Heller, co-founder and executive director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, was pleased to announce: ‘Thanks to this decision and the incredible work of our team of partner advocates, we hope to see many detained Iraqis go home to their families while the lawsuit continues.’


Published November 14 2018
Legal victory protects NHS patients’ confidential information

A deal allowing the Home Office to request patient data from the NHS to target people for deportation has been scrapped following a legal challenge by SRT grantee Liberty and others.

The memorandum of understanding between the Department of Health, NHS Digital and the Home Office was created in November 2016, and gave the Home Office access to confidential patient information to aid immigration enforcement. It allowed the Home Office to request access to certain non-clinical information including patients’ last known address. It was drawn up in secret, without consulting NHS staff, medical organisations or the public, but was raised in January 2017 by former head of NHS Digital, Kingsley Manning.

Migrants’ Rights Network, represented by Liberty and Matrix Chambers, took legal action against the arrangement on the grounds that it violated patient confidentiality, discriminated against non-British patients and left seriously unwell people fearful of seeking medical care. Under the pressure of the legal challenge, the government announced in May 2018 that the arrangement would be suspended, and would only apply to people who had committed serious crimes.

On Friday 2nd November, NHS Digital confirmed to the court that it will completely withdraw the data-sharing deal made between itself, the Department of Health and the Home Office.

Lara ten Caten, lawyer for Liberty, said: ‘This secret data-sharing deal undermined every principle our health service is built on, showing contempt for confidentiality and forcing people to choose between self-medicating and detention and possible deportation. This stand-down by the government is a huge victory for everyone who believes we should be able to access healthcare safely – and particularly for doctors and nurses who had become complicit in the Government’s hostile environment against their will. This triumph shows that if we stand up to xenophobic policies, we can and will dismantle them.’

Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan

Published October 29 2018
Kyrgyz Supreme Court overturns designation of human rights groups’ work as ‘extremist’

Bishkek, 23rd October 2018: The Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan has granted a petition by SRT grantee Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan, challenging a lower court’s designation of reports on migrants’ rights by Bir Duino and Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) Memorial as ‘extremist’ and banning the activities of ADC Memorial.

In its decision on 5th January 2017, the Oktyabrski District Court in Bishkek had declared a report submitted by ADC Memorial and Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan to the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers as ‘extremist material’, and subsequently banned all activities by ADC Memorial in Kyrgyzstan. Bir Duino’s lawyers argued that the Kyrgyz authorities had not notified either ADC Memorial or Bir Duino of the lower court’s decision, and that the right of the two organisations to defend themselves in court and to appeal the decision within legally established deadlines was therefore violated.

The Supreme Court reinstated the period of appeal for the January 2017 decision and annulled the decision of the Oktyabrski Court in its entirety, thus lifting the ‘extremist materials’ designation at least temporarily, and reinstating the right of ADC Memorial to carry out its activities in Kyrgyzstan. The matter was remanded to the Oktyabrski Court for reconsideration.

Tolekan Ismailova said, ‘Yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan evidences the incipience of the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in Kyrgyzstan. The practice of power structures, like the offices of the General Prosecutor and the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, with the abusive implementation of Article 299 Part 2 of the Penal Code of Kyrgyzstan against independent NGOs, activists, bloggers and ethnic minorities must be abandoned. Bir Duino welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court and congratulates its partners and colleagues in the reinstatement of their rights and good name’.

Platform for Independent Journalism

Published October 03 2018
Court rejects appeals against life sentences in Altans’ case

2nd October 2018: Jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, his brother, professor of economics and newspaper columnist Mehmet Altan and their co-defendants have given their final defense statements before a Regional Court of Justice in what marked the second hearing in the appeal process. The Altans are Board members of SRT grantee Platform for Independent Journalism (P24).

At the end of the hearing, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeals against the aggravated life sentences given in February by the trial court, and ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case. The case is now headed for the Supreme Court of Appeals.

In February, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul had sentenced the Altans and five of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment for ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ as per Article 309 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK). The first appeal hearing was on 21 September, when the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, requesting that all six defendants be given aggravated life sentences on the same charge.

In addition to P24, opposition MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu and a representative from English PEN monitored the hearing.

Stating that his detention was in violation of the constitution, Mehmet Altan said the aggravated life imprisonment given by the trial court was also a violation of the same kind and added that the trial court’s refusal to implement the Constitutional Court ruling marked a first in the history of law in Turkey. Altan said that the appellate court’s ruling for his release was proof that he was detained despite not being guilty.

Addressing the court following Altan, his lawyer, Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, said the trial court neglected the evidence and denied the defense the right to interrogate witnesses in court. Çalıkuşu said that the appeal trial also included similar unlawful practices. She explained: ‘The witness was supposed to be heard at court, but no summons was issued for the witness. We [the defense] found out in the first appeal hearing on 21 September that the witness was already heard on 19 September. This is in violation of the procedures laid out by the law.’

Full coverage of the Court’s decision is available on P24’s website at

British Future/Hope Not Hate

Published October 02 2018
Largest-ever public consultation on immigration shows lack of public trust

Urgent action is needed to restore public trust on immigration, according to a new report from the largest-ever public consultation on the issue. New polling by ICM for the National Conversation on Immigration, coordinated by SRT grantees British Future and Hope Not Hate, finds that only 15% of people feel the government has managed immigration competently and fairly; 13% of people think MPs tell the truth about immigration; and 17% trust the government to tell the truth about immigration.

However researchers also found a strong contrast between polarised online and media debates and the balanced views on immigration expressed by those they spoke to. While people do want the government to have more control over who can come to the UK and voice concerns about pressures on public services and housing, most of them also recognise the economic and cultural benefits of migration to Britain.

The National Conversation held over 130 meetings in 60 locations across every nation and region of the UK, as well as carrying out ICM polling and an open online survey. In total, 19,951 people took part.

The new report makes over 40 recommendations to national and local government, business and civil society. including an annual ‘Migration Day’ in Parliament, where ministers are held accountable for their performance against a three-year immigration strategy that replaces the net migration target. The report also advises that the government should start rebuilding trust on immigration by engaging with the public through an official National Conversation on Immigration, run by the Migration Advisory Committee.

The full report is available here.

Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa

Published September 13 2018
IHRDA and partners obtain a ground-breaking decision in child rape case against Cameroon

Banjul, 4th September 2018: The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) has issued a ground-breaking decision in favour of the plaintiffs in Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and Finders’ Group Initiative (on behalf of TFA, minor) v. Republic of Cameroon. The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), an SRT grantee, provided legal representation in the case.

In its decision, the Committee urged Cameroon to pay ‘TFA’, a victim of rape, compensation for damages worth 50 million CFA (approximately US$90,000), in addition to other structural remedies. This is the first case of sexual violence against a minor decided at the regional level in Africa.

TFA was raped by a wealthy and prominent man in Bamenda in north-west Cameroon in 2012, when she was 10 years old. Despite compelling medical evidence that TFA had been raped, the Cameroon authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into the incident or prosecute the perpetrator. IHRDA and Finders’ Group Initiative (FGI) approached the Committee in November 2015, alleging several violations of rights protected under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other international legal instruments. The plaintiffs appeared before the Committee in Khartoum, Sudan, in December 2017 to argue the case.

The Committee found Cameroon in violation of several obligations, notably protection against child abuse and torture, and non-discrimination. Besides the financial compensation to TFA, the Committee has called on Cameroon to immediately ensure that the perpetrator is prosecuted and punished, and to put in place a series of structural measures for the elimination of all forms of violence against children, including enactment and implementation of relevant legislation, training of the authorities, creation of specialised mechanisms, as well as public sensitisation and education.

IHRDA and their partners praised the decision, which they describe as ‘a major plus to child rights jurisprudence in Africa’.
Full press release from IHRDA’s website:

Women’s Legal Centre

Published September 10 2018
Court rules that South African government must legally recognise Muslim marriages

31st August 2018: The Western Cape High Court has issued a judgment declaring that the South African government must recognise Muslim marriages enacted under Sharia law as legally valid within 24 months. The case was brought by SRT grantee the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC).

Religious marriages have no legislative framework governing them in South Africa and are not legally recognised as marriages. As a result there are no legislative protections for people married in religious (including Muslim) ceremonies. This has far-reaching implications for Muslim women who enter into religious marriages, as they do not have the protections offered to women in civil marriages (such as the right to spousal assets or maintenance if the marriage dissolves). Religious or cultural tribunals lack the enforcement powers to ensure rulings are implemented.

The judgment found that the lack of recognition and protection of women in Muslim marriages amounts to discrimination, and that the State’s failure to recognise Muslim marriages is ‘not a single instance, but rather a systemic failure by the State to provide recognition and regulation, potentially affecting millions of people around the country.’ Bearing this in mind, the Court found that in failing to enact legislation the State has failed in its constitutional duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of those who enter into Muslim marriages, and that it is unreasonable for the State not to enact such legislation when it has the ability to cure systemic rights violations.

WLC said in a statement, ‘We hope to see the fruits of this judgment in the coming months, and that the State will enact legislation without delay that brings to an end over two decades of systemic human rights violations suffered by Muslim women who entered into unrecognised Muslim marriages.’

Center for Human Rights in Iran/Justice for Iran

Published August 20 2018
Human rights groups call on the Iranian authorities to stop targeting activists’ families

Beirut, 9th August 2018: Three human rights organisations, including two SRT grantees, have called on the Iranian authorities to stop harassing and threatening the families of activists and journalists. The Center for Human Rights in Iran and Justice for Iran issued a press release along with Human Rights Watch condemning the authorities’ use of intimidatory tactics.

The government-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has a history of showing Iran’s critics and their family members on national TV, where they are forced to make ‘confessions’ or public statements meant to discredit them and their causes. On 27th July, Iranian state TV’s ‘20:30’ programme featured an interview with Mina Alinejad, the sister of Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, in which she publicly denounced her sister for her advocacy against Iran’s compulsory hijab laws. During the interview, Mina Alinejad said she was appearing on TV of her own free will, but Masih later claimed that Iranian authorities have pressured her family to denounce her on state television.

In March 2018, the BBC filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Council against Iranian authorities for their campaign of harassment against BBC Persian staff. The harassment included the arrest and intimidation of employees’ family members based in Iran. A BBC public statement detailed examples of harassment that family members of staff have received in Iran; in one instance, the press statement said, ‘a senior producer’s elderly mother was called in for questioning in Tehran by one of the many intelligence agencies. She was told that her son could have a car accident in London if he continued working for the BBC’.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said, ‘A government that preys on the bonds of family in order to lash out at its critics is a government that has no respect for the rights of its citizens – or common decency’.

Women’s Link Worldwide

Published August 3 2018
Supreme Court of Spain orders the Spanish state to compensate Angela Gonzalez for the murder of her daughter

Madrid, 20th July 2018: The Spanish Supreme Court has ordered the state to compensate Ángela González with 600,000 euros for its responsibility in the death of her seven-year-old daughter Andrea, who was murdered in 2003 by her father during an unsupervised custody visit ordered by a judge. Despite having reported her violent ex-husband before the authorities in more than 40 occasions, the system failed to protect her daughter. Angela has been represented by SRT grantee Women’s Link Worldwide since 2011.

Ángela Gonzalez said, ‘After fifteen years, the justice system finally gives me back my dignity. I hope that this Supreme Court ruling will help the justice system never again entrust any of our sons and daughters to an abusive father’.

In the decision, the Supreme Court recognised that Angela had suffered ‘a clear situation of discrimination, both before and after the death of her daughter’. It also established Spain’s obligation to comply with the 2014 decision of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that condemned Spain for failing to protect Ángela and her daughter.

Spain has avoided complying with the CEDAW decision for four years, citing the absence of mechanisms that would allow for the application of international rulings. The Supreme Court has now overturned this position and indicates that in the absence of a specific channel in the Spanish legal system that obliges compliance with international rulings, the judicial procedure used by Ángela and Women’s Link Worldwide has been adequate to demand compliance.

Gema Fernández, attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide, said, ‘This ruling represents a major step forward in protecting the rights of women victims of violence and their children. It is a historic sentence for Ángela because for the first time, a Spanish court agrees with her. It also has a very positive impact on our democracy by recalling that the State has an obligation to comply with international standards and ensure that human rights are respected’.

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP

Published July 24 2018
US Court finds in favour of Iranian refugees unlawfully denied resettlement

San Jose, California, 11th July 2018: the US District Court for the Northern District of California has sided with plaintiffs in Doe v. Nielsen, which challenges the mass denial of status to Iranian religious minority refugees who travelled to Vienna at the invitation of the US government under the Lautenberg Amendment. The denials left the applicants stranded in Vienna with uncertain futures. The Court’s decision orders the government to disclose individual reasons for the mass denials to allow plaintiffs meaningfully to request a review of their case and to reopen and process any cases where the denial was baseless.

The plaintiffs were represented by SRT grantee the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and Latham Watkins LLP.

The Lautenberg Amendment facilitates the admission as refugees to the US of certain vulnerable groups, and persecuted religious minorities from Iran became eligible in 2004. Under this programme, US residents submit an application on behalf of qualified refugee applicants in Iran. Applicants must then pass an initial screening and, if successful, travel to Austria to continue the processing of their application.

The programme was historically successful, with nearly 100% of the applicants resettling in the US. However, in February 2018, nearly 90 Iranian Christians, Mandeans, and other religious minorities who had already travelled to Austria received notices of denial that stated only that they were being denied ‘as a matter of discretion’. Many of them had been waiting for nearly a year in the hope that they would be able to reunite with family members and safely practice their religious beliefs in the US.

In the Court order, Judge Beth Labson Freeman wrote, ‘[The Department of Homeland Security] retains an enormous amount of authority and discretion to adjudicate refugee applications, but they do not have the discretion to violate the law’.

Mariko Hirose, Litigation Director of IRAP, said, ‘We are heartened that the Court recognized that the government cannot simply violate the explicit, heightened protections that Congress gave to this group of refugees.’

Hope Not Hate

Published July 23 2018
Member of banned far-right group found guilty of plot to murder Labour MP

18th July 2018: A member of a banned far-right group has been found guilty of ‘preparing an act of terrorism’ and ‘making threats to kill’ after the plot was exposed by a source working with SRT grantee Hope Not Hate. Jack Renshaw planned to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper and a female police officer.

Two other men were also found guilty of membership of the banned neo-Nazi organisation National Action after Hope Not Hate provided evidence to the police.

The whistle-blower, Robbie Mullen, was a former member of National Action who leaked the details of the plot to Hope Not Hate in July last year.

Hope Not Hate deputy director Jemma Levene said, ‘This case should remind everyone of the ongoing threat posed by the British far right. While numerically small and splintered, the British far right is growing in violence. [The] case should also be a timely reminder about how anti-Semitism continues to be at the very heart of this movement. Renshaw was convicted earlier this year for vile anti-Semitic speeches. He told the court that he wanted to kill Rosie Cooper because she was the local representative of the Jewish-controlled state.

Society owes a debt of gratitude to Robbie Mullen for the brave work he’s undertaken, at great sacrifice to himself.’

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights/Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research

Published June 13 2018
Germany issues international arrest warrant for senior Syrian intelligence officer

Berlin, 8th June 2018: German prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant for the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence, Jamil Hassan, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The testimonies of 24 Syrian torture survivors and activists contributed to the arrest warrant.

The claimants were supported in bringing their criminal complaints by SRT grantee the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), together with Syrian lawyers Anwar al-Bunni (of SRT grantee the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression).

In addition to Jamil Hassan, the criminal complaints name 26 other high-level officials in the Syrian intelligence services and military. The allegations include crimes against humanity and war crimes. One of the criminal complaints was filed by activists of the group supporting the work of ‘Caesar’, a former employee of the Syrian military police who documented systematic torture in government detention facilities. ECCHR prepared and filed the complaints together with the Syrian torture survivors, lawyers and activists.

Wolfgang Kaleck, General Secretary of ECCHR, said, ‘The arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan is a milestone and an important step for all affected by the Assad's torture system – for the survivors, for the family members and also for those who are still held in the government-run detention facilities all over Syria’.

Anwar al-Bunni said, ‘This decision in Germany confirms that justice must be respected as a principle and will not be ignored for any political reason. It is also a victory for the survivors who have been waiting for justice for a long time.’

Equality Now/Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa

Published May 24 2018
African human rights groups sue Sierra Leone for upholding policy that violates the right to education of pregnant girls

Banjul, 17th May 2018: SRT grantees Equality Now and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), along with several Sierra Leonean human rights organisations, have filed a legal case at the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria, seeking to lift the ban on pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams in Sierra Leone.

The case also seeks to hold the government of Sierra Leone to account for its failure to respect, protect, and fulfil the girls’ right to education.

The 2015 Ebola crisis caused a rise in rape, abuse and poverty in Sierra Leone, which in turn triggered an increase in teenage pregnancies. The government implemented the ban just before schools reopened after the crisis, claiming that allowing pregnant girls to attend school would expose them to ridicule, stop them from doing well in class, and encourage other girls to become pregnant. IHRDA, Equality Now and their partners have been advocating for the ban to be lifted since its inception, arguing that it constitutes gender discrimination.

IHRDA Executive Director Gaye Sowe believes successful litigation of this case will serve as a precedent for other countries with similar contexts. Judy Gitau- Nkuranga of Equality Now said, ‘Today marks the beginning of the realization of rights for girls in Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS court is finally seized of the injustices suffered by girls in Sierra Leone’.

ECOWAS confirmed the case has been filed and has given the Sierra Leonean government 30 days to respond.
Full story from IHRDA’s website:


Published May 17 2018
UK government apologises for its role in the abduction and torture of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar

17th May 2018: The British government has apologised to Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar for the UK’s role in their 2004 abduction, torture, and rendition to Libya. Former SRT grantee Reprieve has worked on Belhaj and Boudchar’s case for a number of years.

The apology, delivered on 10th May 2018 in Parliament by the Attorney General Jeremy Wright, comes in a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May to the family. It follows a mediation with the government and a personal meeting between the Attorney General and the couple, in which they described their ordeal.

The apology is unprecedented in scope for a ‘war on terror’ case. It says that the couple’s ‘harrowing experiences… [are] deeply troubling’, and that the UK government ‘believes [their] accounts’ of their abduction and torture. The apology accepts that the UK’s actions ‘contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering’, and that UK officials wrongly ‘sought information about and from’ Mr Belhaj during his detention and torture in Gaddafi’s Libya.

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s counsel to the family, said, ‘This is not just Abdul-Hakim and Fatima’s victory. It is a victory for everyone who opposes injustice, secret detention, and torture. We are gratified by today’s apology and respect the sincere spirit in which it was given.’
Abdul-Hakim Belhaj said, ‘I welcome and accept the Prime Minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the Attorney General my thanks and goodwill. For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice. Now, at last, justice has been done.’

Fatima Boudchar said, ‘I thank the British Government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the government’s apology […] by today’s settlement I look forward to rebuilding my life with dignity and honour, and living free from the weight of these events with my husband and our five beautiful children.’

Justice for Iran

Published April 30 2018
New evidence reveals deliberate desecration and destruction of multiple mass grave sites in Iran

30th April 2018: New evidence including satellite imagery, photo and video analysis show that the Iranian authorities are deliberately destroying suspected or confirmed mass grave sites associated with a 1988 massacre in which thousands of prisoners detained for political reasons were forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed, according to a report released by Amnesty International and SRT grantee Justice for Iran today.

Criminal cover-up: Iran destroying mass graves of victims of 1988 killings reveals that the Iranian authorities are bulldozing, constructing buildings and roads, dumping rubbish or building new burial plots over mass grave sites. These tactics are destroying evidence that could be used to establish the truth about the scale of the crimes and obtain justice and reparations for the victims and their families.

At one site in the northern city of Tabriz, the authorities have poured concrete over more than half of an area suspected to be a mass grave. Satellite images obtained by Amnesty and Justice for Iran show drastic changes to the area between June 2016 and September 2017. In another example from Qorveh in Kurdistan province, the authorities bulldozed gravestones and commemorative signs put up by grieving family members in July 2016, saying the land had been designated for ‘agricultural’ purposes.

Justice for Iran estimates that there may be more than 120 locations across Iran that contain the remains of the victims of the 1988 massacre.

Shadi Sadr, Executive Director of Justice for Iran, said, ‘These are crime scenes and must be protected as such until proper and independent forensic investigations are carried out to identify the remains and the circumstances of what happened to the victims. These horrific crimes must be properly investigated and all those responsible for committing, ordering and concealing [them] brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.’

The full report is available here.

Civitas Maxima

Published April 24 2018
Liberian warlord sentenced to 30 years in prison in landmark case

19th April 2018: The Liberian warlord Mohammed Jabbateh was sentenced today to 30 years in prison, marking an important milestone for justice in Liberia. Thirty years is the maximum sentence he could have received and one of the longest prison sentences for immigration fraud in US history. SRT grantee Civitas Maxima and its sister organisation the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) have collaborated with US authorities on the investigation since 2014.

On 18th October 2017, a Philadelphia jury convicted Jabbateh of fraud and perjury for lying on his US immigration application about his connection to war crimes. According to the indictment, Jabbateh personally committed, or ordered his soldiers to commit, acts of violence, torture, cannibalism and human rights abuses in the First Liberian Civil War (1989- 1997). However he lived freely in Philadelphia for decades afterwards, until his arrest in April 2016.

During the three-week trial, prosecutors brought in more than 15 witnesses from Liberia to tell their stories of atrocities committed by Jabbateh and fighters under his command. This was the first time that victims of the First Liberian Civil War had the chance to testify in front of a criminal judge.

Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, said, ‘Astonishingly, Liberian victims have been denied justice in their own country so they had to find access to justice elsewhere. The Jungle Jabbah case is an expression of these efforts. [This] is the first in a series of cases tried outside of Liberia that we have been working on, which show that impunity does not have to be the norm.’

Civitas Maxima and the GJRP will be leading outreach campaigns and monitoring the upcoming trials of alleged Liberian war criminals expected to happen in 2018 and 2019. They have launched a crowdfunding campaign for the continued support of Liberian victims in their fight for justice.

Center for Justice and Accountability

Published April 23 2018
Former Sigrid Rausing Trust grantee brings civil case against Syrian government for the death of journalist Marie Colvin

Washington DC, 9th April 2018: Former SRT grantee the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA ) and Shearman & Sterling LLP, acting on behalf of the family of journalist Marie Colvin, have requested that the federal court in Washington, DC enter default judgment against the Syrian government for her assassination. The motion makes public for the first time evidence showing the regime’s crimes, including statements from high-level defectors and confidential Syrian government documents.

Marie Colvin was killed by artillery fire in February 2012 while reporting for the Sunday Times from the besieged city of Homs in Syria. The evidence made public on 9th April includes:

  • Testimony from a Syrian intelligence defector providing a meticulous account of how the regime planned the attack that killed Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik.
  • The world’s first view of nearly 200 confidential documents from Syria’s military and security agencies, revealing not only how the regime adopted a policy of targeting journalists, but also how senior Syrian officials set in motion the crackdown on dissent in 2011 that led to Syria’s civil war.

CJA attorney Scott Gilmore said, ‘The evidence unsealed today leaves no doubt that the Assad Regime methodically planned the attack that killed Marie. Insider witnesses, audio-visual recordings, and nearly 200 documents secretly smuggled out of Syria confirm that Marie’s assassination was part of a greater plan by the Assad Regime to silence opposition and neutralize the media.’

Plaintiff Cathleen Colvin, Marie Colvin’s sister, said, ‘My sister was killed for exposing the Assad Regime’s brutality, but her work lives on. We submit this evidence to seek justice for Marie – and for the thousands of Syrian victims of torture and murder who have not yet had their day in court. We hope our case will inspire the international community to finally bring Syria’s war criminals to justice.’

CJA was a grantee of the Sigrid Rausing Trust between 2007 and 2016.

Disability Action

Published April 23 2018
Former SRT grantee Disability Action launches project on history of disability rights in Northern Ireland

21st April 2018: Former Sigrid Rausing Trust grantee Disability Action has today launched the Visible? project, a history of disability rights in Northern Ireland told through the voices of those who were involved in the movement. The project was funded in full by SRT.

The Visible? project can be viewed on Disability Action's website.

Death Penalty Project

Published April 05 2018
All prisoners serving life sentence in Belize to be re-sentenced following major decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice

At least 44 prisoners currently serving life sentences in Belize will be re-sentenced following an important judgment by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). After considering reforms to the Belize Criminal Code, the CCJ has found that judges have discretion to impose a fixed-term sentence for individuals convicted of murder, instead of life imprisonment or the death penalty. SRT grantee the Death Penalty Project provided pro bono legal assistance in this case.

The appellants, Gregory August and Alwin Gabb, had initially been sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This sentence was struck down by the Belize Court of Appeal in November 2016 as ‘inhuman’ and a violation of a right to a fair trial. As a result, the Belize government brought in legislative reforms which hold that, when sentencing a person to life imprisonment, the judge must impose a minimum term. Once this has been served, the prisoner becomes eligible to have their case reviewed by a Parole Board for possible early release.

In considering the new legislation, however, the CCJ found that life imprisonment was just one possible punishment for individuals convicted of murder and that a lesser fixed-term sentence could be imposed instead. This means that each prisoner currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment in Belize must now be provided with another sentencing hearing to determine the proportionate punishment in their case.

Amanda Clift-Matthews, Legal Director of The Death Penalty Project and In-house Counsel, said, ‘This is a phenomenal and important decision by the Caribbean Court of Justice which affects not just prisoners currently serving life sentences in Belize but future prisoners who may come before the courts. No longer is the judge constrained with a choice between life imprisonment or death.’

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

Published March 22 2018
Wife of UK-based Bahraini human rights defender sentenced to jail in absentia

21st March 2018: A Bahraini criminal court has convicted and sentenced Duaa Alwadaei, the wife of human rights defender Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, to two months in prison for allegedly insulting a public official. Sayed Alwadaei is the Director of Advocacy at SRT grantee the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

Duaa’s conviction comes after she exposed ill-treatment committed by Bahraini security forces when she was interrogated at Bahrain International Airport in October 2016. Duaa told Human Rights Watch that during her interrogation she was physically mistreated, insulted and warned that her family would be imprisoned if she exposed her ill-treatment and her husband’s activities continued.

Duaa had been warned ‘not to speak out’ about the incident, having been threatened with further interrogations and fabricated criminal charges that could lead to a three-year prison sentence. Duaa’s then 18-month-old son, who was with her at the time, was forcibly separated from his mother and only reunited with her when the interrogation began. Duaa told Human Rights Watch that her son was visibly ‘terrified’ during the interrogation.

Duaa’s trial was held in absentia because she lives in London. Her mother, Hajer Mansoor Hassan, brother Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, and cousin Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor have also been subjected to unfair trials and are serving sentences ranging from three to six years in prison. Sayed Alwadaei believes these convictions are part of a campaign of reprisals for his highlighting of human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said, ‘This is how the Bahraini authorities respond to protests in London and Bahrain […] Political exiles, Bahraini or Russian, should be able to live peacefully in the UK without fear of reprisals against them or their families’.

Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)

Published March 06 2018
Inter-American Court makes historic ruling on human rights and the environment

February 2018: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has confirmed for the first time that states must respect the rights to life and personal integrity in relation to environmental protection. The ruling came in response to Colombia’s consultation on states’ obligations to protect human rights from damages to the marine environment in the Greater Caribbean.

SRT grantee the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) presented observations on Colombia’s consultation and participated in a hearing before the Inter-American Court.

The Court concluded that a healthy environment is an autonomous right, ‘fundamental to the existence of humanity’. It also recognised the impact of climate change on the effective enjoyment of human rights, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, such as indigenous peoples, children, and those living in extreme poverty. The Court established that states’ obligation to respect the rights to life and personal integrity, in relation to environmental protection, implies that they must:

• Avoid causing ‘significant’ environmental damage in and outside their territory, for which they must regulate, supervise and monitor activities that could cause harm;
• Assure, among other things, the realization of effective and independent environmental impact studies, as well as mitigation and contingency plans for potential damages;
• Cooperate with other states and provide them with information regarding risks to their natural environment;
• Apply the precautionary principle to protect the rights to life and personal integrity due to serious and irrevocable environmental degradation, even when scientific uncertainty exists; and
• Guarantee the rights to public participation, access to information related to potential environmental harms, and access to justice in decision-making that could affect the environment.

Astrid Puentes Riaño, co-executive director of AIDA, said, ‘We celebrate this decision, which will undoubtedly serve as a global example and a fundamental legal tool for those of us who work for environmental and climate justice’.

End Violence Against Women Coalition/Southall Black Sisters

Published February 22 2018
Supreme Court rules police failings in John Worboys case breached victims' human rights

21st February 2018: A historic ruling by the Supreme Court has confirmed that the police must properly investigate rape to ensure victims’ human rights are protected. SRT grantees the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition and Southall Black Sisters intervened in the case along with two other women’s rights groups.

The Metropolitan Police sought to challenge the High Court’s landmark ruling in a case brought by victims of the serial rapist John Worboys, which established that the police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate serious violence against women, and when they fail to meet this duty they can be held accountable in the courts.

EVAW, Southall Black Sisters and their colleagues are now calling on the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary to read the full judgment, which makes clear the State has a responsibility to have effective and enforceable laws on rape and sexual violence.

Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, said, ‘This judgment amounts to a vindication of the rule of law itself, and it will have far-reaching ramifications, not just for abused and raped women, but for all other vulnerable and powerless groups who are forced to look to the police for protection and some semblance of justice in the face of serious crimes of violence.’

Rachel Krys, co-director of the EVAW Coalition, said, ‘This is an extremely significant ruling which demands the police do their job properly, especially when a serious and very harmful crime has been committed. We hope that this ruling will be a wake-up call to the police and the whole justice system, they must acknowledge they have a duty to ensure women are protected and rapists can’t act with impunity.’

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Published February 21 2018
Activists in Malawi welcome passing of landmark Act on HIV/AIDS prevention

13th February 2018: Activists and civil society organisations from Malawi and across southern Africa have welcomed the passage of the new HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Management) Act, which came into force on 1st February. SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) provided legal and advocacy support to the campaign in support of the bill.

The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Act has been a standing item on the Malawian parliament’s agenda for almost 10 years. Previous versions of the bill contained provisions that were inconsistent with international good practice and violated fundamental human rights, including making HIV testing and treatment mandatory for select populations on a discriminatory basis, and provisions criminalising HIV exposure and transmission. Following advocacy from civil society organisations in Malawi and the wider region, including SALC, the new Act is free of these provisions.

Edna Tembo, Executive Director of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi (COWLHA), said, ‘We are greatly indebted to the parliamentarians for passing the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Act that will ensure that all Malawians, especially women and girls living with HIV, have equal access to quality HIV and AIDS services that are provided in an environment free of stigma and discrimination and in which human rights are protected’.

SALC’s director Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh said, ‘The democratic leadership shown by Members of Parliament, and the HIV Committee in particular, during various stages of Act’s development sets an excellent example for law-makers in the region, particularly in their conscientious consideration of the concerns of affected populations, activists, and civil society’.

Humanitarian Law Center

Published February 02 2018
Humanitarian Law Center and its founder Nataša Kandić nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

1st February 2018: Two United States Congressmen – US Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Rep. Eliot Engel – today nominated SRT grantee the Humanitarian Law Center and its founder Nataša Kandić for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

Ms Kandić founded the Humanitarian Law Center (Fond za humanitarno pravo) in Belgrade in 1992 to document human rights violations committed during the conflicts associated with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. More than 25 years later, the Humanitarian Law Center still advocates for justice for victims of war crimes and works to counter the extreme nationalism and strained ethnic tensions that remain in the Western Balkans.

More recently Kandić has campaigned for the establishment of a regional truth and reconcilition commission (RECOM) to investigate historic human rights abuses comitted during the Balkan conflicts and memorialise the victims.

The two Congressmen stated in their nomination letter that the ‘thorough documentation of these crimes by the HLC became essential for the provision of justice, both at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and in the war crimes chambers in regional countries’. The letter also notes that the HLC has continued working in a hostile environment in Serbia, but that it is ‘safe to assume’ that its efforts ‘deterred additional human rights violations’.

The Humanitarian Law Center said, ‘We are honoured by the nomination, which encourages us to continue our efforts’.

The full text of the nomination letter is available here.

SIHA Network

Published January 17 2018
Somaliland government passes first ever anti-rape law

11th January 2018: After seven years of debate, the Somaliland parliament has passed a bill outlawing rape – the first law addressing gender-based violence in the state’s history. SRT grantee SIHA has worked on sexual violence in Somaliland since 2010, and its 2015 research on gang rape in Somaliland was one of very few advocacy papers tracking the escalation of sexual violence in the country. The research provided evidence for its members to undertake advocacy and has been crucial in bringing the issue to public and government attention.

SIHA’s report, The Other War: Gang Rape in Somaliland, documented the lives of women and girls in Somaliland, looking at gender relations and the inherited images of women’s subordination. It raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence, and helped strengthen civil society and government efforts to address the issue, in particular the absence of justice for victims and impunity for perpetrators.

In the past, local traditional law in Somaliland required a perpetrator of rape to marry his victim, causing great distress to victims and their families. Under the newly-passed law, however, convicted rapists will face up to 30 years’ imprisonment.

The bill has been agreed in the lower house of parliament, but still needs approval from the upper house. If it gets final approval, it is hoped that the president will sign it into law at the beginning of March 2018.

In a statement today, SIHA said, ‘With this overt victory for women both nationally in Somaliland and globally, SIHA calls on the Upper House of Elders (Guurti) and the Government’s final approval through the President of Somaliland to assent to the law and put it into effect as soon as possible […] SIHA remains committed to reproaching all forms of violence against women and girls, recognizing the need for long-term, persistent messaging to drive change in Somaliland and the Horn of Africa region.’

Global Justice Center

Published January 10 2018
Global Justice Center mourns the loss of its founder Janet Benshoof

SRT grantee the Global Justice Center has announced the death of its founder and leader, Janet Benshoof. Janet's family announced her passing on 18th December. She was 70 years old.

“Janet dedicated her life to fighting for justice and equality,” said her family. “It gives us great comfort to know that her fighting spirit will be carried on by the Global Justice Center and all those whose lives she touched.”

A full statement on Janet’s life and work is available here.

Death Penalty Project

Published January 04 2018
Kenyan Supreme Court declares mandatory death penalty unconstitutional

December 2017: In a landmark judgment that will affect thousands of prisoners, the Supreme Court of Kenya has ruled that the mandatory death penalty violates fundamental human rights. SRT grantee the Death Penalty Project has been litigating this issue in Kenya for over 10 years, arguing that depriving judges of discretion over whether to impose a death sentence violates the right to a fair trial and amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of life.

Prior to the judgment, any person convicted of murder, or robbery with violence, in Kenya would automatically receive the death penalty, without any consideration of the individual circumstances of their case. The judgment means that new sentencing procedures will now have to be adopted in serious criminal proceedings in Kenya. For the first time judges will be able to exercise discretion over whether the death penalty should be imposed, taking into account all mitigating factors, such as the mental health of the offender, the circumstances of their offence and good character evidence, to ensure that the sentence imposed is proportionate.

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director of the Death Penalty Project, said, ‘Over the past twenty years there has been a significant global movement away from the mandatory death penalty, recognising it as a cruel and inhuman punishment incompatible with fundamental human rights. Kenya will be the 13th country where we have successfully challenged the constitutionality of this archaic law. The decision will have a huge impact, not only on the thousands of prisoners it immediately affects in Kenya, but we hope it will also pave the way for further reform of the death penalty within Kenya and the Africa region more widely.’

Physicans for Human Rights/TRIAL International

Published December 15 2017
Justice for child victims in historic Congo rape trial

13th December 2017: In a landmark ruling, 11 Congolese militia members were convicted today of crimes against humanity for murder and the rape of 37 young children, including toddlers, in Kavumu in eastern DRC. SRT grantees Physicians for Human Rights and TRIAL International provided technical support in the case.

Following 17 days of hearings and witness testimony, the court of Bukavu ruled that the militia members had carried out the rapes under the leadership of the provincial MP Frederic Batumike. The 11 accused who were found guilty of sexual violence, including Batumike, were all sentenced to life imprisonment. In addition to the rape of young girls, the militia members were convicted of membership of an armed group, and the murder of individuals who had criticised the militia’s activities.

The militia group, Djeshi ya Yesu (Army of Jesus), committed the rapes in the belief they would give them supernatural powers to protect them from their enemies.

After years seeking justice, survivors and their families indicated that they were relieved and satisfied by the verdict. Each victim of rape will receive $5,000 in compensation, while the families of murdered individuals have each been awarded $15,000.

Karen Naimer, director of the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones at Physicians for Human Rights, said, ‘This trial demonstrated that justice can be served in the Congo, when an investigation is effectively carried out and evidence is methodically collected – even when the accused wield significant power and are highly organized. It is now the responsibility of Congolese authorities to ensure that such exemplary investigative and prosecutorial measures are adopted nationally to rigorously pursue other cases of sexual violence.’

Daniele Perissi, head of the DRC Program at TRIAL International, said, ‘The range of expertise and numerous forms of evidence presented in this case have exposed the militia and its hierarchy. The systematic nature of the crimes was crucial in order for them to be recognized as crimes against humanity.’

Physicians for Human Rights

Published November 24 2017
International tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia finds Ratko Mladic guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity

22nd November 2017: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague today sentenced former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic to life in prison for his role in genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity carried out during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. SRT grantee Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which conducted multiple mass grave investigations across the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s for the Tribunal, greeted the verdict as a victory for international justice and for the victims of Mladic’s crimes.

Among his crimes, Mladic was convicted for his role in organising a campaign of genocide against non-Serbs across the former Yugoslavia; orchestrating the four-year siege of the city of Sarajevo; and carrying out the multi-day massacre in 1995 of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. Indicted in 1995, Mladic remained a fugitive for 16 years until his arrest in May 2011. He was transferred to the ICTY and his trial began in 2012. Among the 377 witnesses who appeared in court was William D Haglund, PhD, director of PHR’s international forensic programme from 1998 until 2006. Dr Haglund oversaw PHR’s work in the former Yugoslavia and was appointed the United Nations’ senior forensic advisor.

PHR’s director of international policy and partnerships, Susannah Sirkin, said, ‘After more than two decades, today’s verdict offers a measure of justice for all those who suffered from Mladic’s unconscionable crimes […] Amid conflicts and even immediately afterward, the painstaking work of gathering evidence can sometimes feel futile. But it’s those efforts that often yield the most important outcomes. This verdict shows that their work, and the work of all those who document such egregious crimes, is necessary in the global fight against impunity.’

The ICTY is scheduled to shut down later this year.

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

Published November 16 2017
Court finds that Hungarian authorities’ cover-up of a violent police interrogation violated European Convention on Human Rights

10th November 2017: The European Court of Human Rights has determined that the Hungarian authorities violated the fundamental human rights of a Roma man by covering up a coercive police interrogation.

The victim, a client of SRT grantee the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), was arrested and taken to a police station in 2010. On his release, he filed charges against the Hungarian authorities claiming that during the 12 hours of his arrest and interrogation he was assaulted and humiliated by six police officers and two security guards in order to coerce a plea agreement. The officers allegedly told the man that they ‘do not even care if you drop dead. At least there will be one less Gypsy.’

A few hours after his release from police custody, the man was hospitalised. According to clinical evidence from the hospital, he sustained injuries to the skull, nose, shoulder, hip, arm, hand and thigh. An investigation based on his allegations was terminated by the prosecutor's office, which maintained that it could not be established beyond reasonable doubt that the assault had, in fact, been committed by the suspects.

Assisted by the HCLU, the injured party applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), claiming a violation of the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and the principle of non-discrimination. Former SRT grantee the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) intervened in the case, requesting that the Court take into account the existence of institutional racism in the country.

The ECtHR's judgment held that the Hungarian government had failed to refute the plaintiff's claim that his injuries had been caused at the police station. The court also ruled that the investigation conducted by the Hungarian authorities had not been effective, nor had it involved an examination of the potential racist motives of the abuse.

Southall Black Sisters

Published November 03 2017
Court of Appeal finds that gender segregation can amount to unlawful sex discrimination

In a landmark judgment on 13th October, the UK Court of Appeal has found that ‘separate but equal’ treatment based on gender at a school can amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. SRT grantee Southall Black Sisters (SBS) intervened in the case along with Inspire.

The Court had been asked to consider gender segregation at the Al-Hijrah school, a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school in Birmingham in which boys and girls are completely segregated from the age of nine. The Court found that the school’s policy of strict segregation was discriminatory since it had an adverse impact on the quality and effectiveness of the education given by the school to both the girls and boy pupils respectively, and could not be justified under one of the exceptions set out in the Equality Act.

The dissenting judgment of Lady Gloster went further: she concluded that the school’s policy was particularly detrimental for girls in that it reinforced the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles which accord them different and unequal status.

Pragna Patel of SBS said, ‘We very much welcome the judgment and its recognition that gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms.’

Situation deteriorates for NGOs in Poland

Published October 20 2017

Last week the Polish president, Andrezej Duda, signed into law a reform that allows the government to create a ‘National Institute of Freedom’ and a ‘National Centre for Civil Society Development’. These bodies, which will report directly to the Prime Minister’s office, will centralise the distribution of EU and government funds to non governmental organisations. The heads of these bodies are to be appointed by the government. Local activists have expressed concerns that there will be no transparency in how the funds will be distributed, no requirement for an open call for applications, and no apparent legal recourse to challenge the law.

The timing of the new legislation coincides with police raids on two women’s domestic violence shelters on the 4th October. Police entered the offices of the BABA Association and Women’s Rights Centre and took their computers as part of an ongoing investigation into possible corruption amongst members of the Ministry of Justice. There are fears that the police investigation is a retaliation for criticisms made by both organisations of the government, and their support for the women’s protest movement, although this has not been substantiated. The computers contained a secure database with details of all the women who reported incidents of domestic violence to both shelters, raising concerns about the confidentiality of that data.

To date the EU has not taken a position on the creation of the ‘National Institute of Freedom’, focusing its attention more to the judicial and constitutional problems faced in Poland

SRT grantee the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights anticipates that smaller NGOs dependent on state funding will be hit hardest, and the government could use the funds to support government-organised NGOs (GONGOs) and right wing groups.

Medical Justice

Published October 16 2017
High Court rules government redefinition of torture in immigration detention policy is unlawful

A group of seven unlawfully detained torture victims, supported by SRT grantee Medical Justice, has successfully challenged the government’s redefinition of torture in immigration detention policy. A High Court ruling found that the Home Office’s narrowing of the definition of torture in its flagship policy lacked ‘a rational or evidence base’. The Home Office may now face dozens of unlawful detention claims.

The seven detainees included victims of sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, homophobic attacks, a child abused by loan sharks, and a young man kidnapped and abused by the Taliban. The Home Office narrowed the definition of torture used in the new ‘Adults at Risk’ policy, excluding the seven from being recognised as torture victims.

The judge stated that the definition of ‘torture’ intended for use in the policy would require medical practitioners to ‘reach conclusions on political issues which they cannot rationally be asked to reach’.

The Home Office admitted it unlawfully detained the seven claimants and applied the policy wrongly in 57% of 340 cases in its initial 10 weeks of implementation, describing this as a ‘bedding in’ issue.

One of the claimants, Mr PO, who was unlawfully detained and suffered mental health deterioration while in detention, said, ‘[…] I hope that the decision will benefit other survivors of torture held in immigration detention and it will prevent the Home Office from implementing a policy that will hurt vulnerable individuals in the future.’

A Medical Justice spokesperson said, ‘[…] For those detainees excluded by the narrower definition of torture, the policy required specific evidence that detention is likely to cause them harm. Not only does the policy lack effective mechanisms for obtaining such evidence, it also encourages a ‘wait and see’ approach where vulnerable people are detained and allowed to deteriorate until avoidable harm has occurred and can be documented.’

TRIAL International

Published October 09 2017
Swiss authorities investigate Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle for war crimes

Geneva, 25th September 2017: Former Syrian Vice President Rifaat Al-Assad is being investigated for war crimes by the Swiss authorities, following a criminal complaint in 2013 by SRT grantee TRIAL International.

The uncle of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, Rifaat Al-Assad was in command of the Defense Brigades (the country’s elite commando troops) in the 1980s. Under his leadership, the Brigades are suspected of participating in the massacres of several thousand people at Tadmor prison and in the town of Hama. No one has been prosecuted for their alleged crimes, which included executions, torture, rape, and looting. Rifaat Al-Assad, in exile since 1984, has travelled freely for years and accumulated a large personal fortune in Europe.

Four years after its submission, the case is with the Office of the Swiss Attorney General (OAG); however TRIAL is concerned it is now at a stalemate, despite the significant amount of evidence provided. The complainants’ lawyers have publicly challenged the OAG on behalf of their clients, all of whom are victims of abuse by the Syrian regime. They allege ‘grave shortcomings’ in the case’s procedure, including ‘cancellation of hearings, the refusal to arrest or hear the suspect […] and even attempts to bury the case altogether’.

Benedict de Moerloose, the lawyer in charge of the investigation at TRIAL, said, ‘We have accumulated damning evidence showing Rifaat Al-Assad’s responsibility in the massacres of Tadmor and Hama. The evidence also points at the unbounded brutality of his troops and his wish to purely and simply root out the opposition’.

Philip Grant, TRIAL’s director, said, ‘The sluggishness of the OAG goes against Switzerland’s international commitments – an irony given it is the depositary of the Geneva Convention. Besides, it sends a dangerous message to today’s belligerents in Syria. It must be absolutely clear to them that they are not beyond the reach of justice.’

Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association/European Human Rights Advocacy Centre

Published September 29 2017
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and EHRAC argue state responsibility for death of woman murdered by her ex-husband

September 2017: SRT grantees the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) have filed a femicide case with the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The case, which is the first-ever Georgian case of femicide sent to CEDAW, accuses the Georgian state of failing to prevent the murder of a woman on the grounds of her gender and failing adequately to investigate the crime.

The case relates to a Georgian woman, Bela D, who married her husband in 2004. A few years after the birth of their son in 2007, Bela’s husband began to abuse her physically and psychologically, and as a result she moved out of the family home with her children in September 2013. Her husband continued his physical and psychological abuse, finally stabbing Bela to death with a kitchen knife in March 2014.

Prior to her death, Bela had contacted the police four times (the last time just four days before her murder) asking for protection. In spite of this, the police and the Prosecutor's Office did not take any action to protect her. Bela’s husband was later convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to seven and a half years’ imprisonment, the minimum sentence stipulated under the law.

GYLA and EHRAC assert in their submission to CEDAW that the Georgian state bears responsibility for its failure to protect Bela from domestic violence and, ultimately, murder.

Jess Gavron, EHRAC’s Legal Director, said, ‘[Cases such as Bela’s] highlight ongoing gaps and failings in the law enforcement approach to violence against women in Georgia. We hope that judgments finding the State responsible will contribute to the implementation of a robust, comprehensive framework to tackle violence against women in Georgia, so that women who report domestic violence do not have to die to be taken seriously.’

Ana Natsvlishvili of GYLA said, 'Winning this case will set an important precedent of holding the state accountable for its failure to properly address gender-motivated crimes. It will also send an important message to all law-enforcement agents to take their duties particularly seriously - their failure to act costs lives to other people! This must end.'

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

Published September 21 2017
Family members of Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy’s Director of Advocacy face sentencing after five-minute hearing

18 September 2017: A Bahraini High Court is preparing to sentence the mother-in-law, brother-in-law and cousin of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at SRT grantee the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), in a trial criticised by UN experts and human rights bodies. Their trial today was postponed to 30 October for sentencing, after a court hearing which lasted only five minutes. If found guilty they face a prison term.

Security officers arrested Alwadaei’s brother-in-law Sayed Nazar Alwadaei, mother-in-law Hajar Mansoor Hasan, and cousin Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor in March 2017. They have been charged with ‘planting fake bombs’.

Hajar and Nazar were interrogated extensively regarding Alwadaei’s human rights work. After days of detention without official charges, the three were presented with terrorism charges which Amnesty International believe were based largely on coerced confessions. Security officials interrogated Hajar for three periods each lasting around 11 hours. Officers allegedly forced her to stand for extended periods and verbally abused her. Hajar fainted and collapsed, and was transferred to hospital on the first day of interrogations. The Public Prosecution’s forensic doctor found a needle mark on Hajar’s arm consistent with her hospitalisation.

Hajar told the court she is innocent and asked to be allowed to greet her son and nephew, her co-defendants. The defence lawyers requested that the torture allegations of the defendants be added to the case file. They also requested their release on bail. The judge refused all defence requests.

BIRD has obtained police forensic reports which analysed the fake explosives the family is accused of having set off in January 2017. The reports found no DNA, fingerprints or other physical evidence tying the defendants to the bombing. In a statement on 18 September, they said that they ‘wholly condemn the arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, torture and unfair trial of Hajar, Nazar and Mahmood, who are being punished for [Alwadaei’s] work as a human rights campaigner.’

Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

Published September 07 2017
OCCRP investigation uncovers $2.9 billion money-laundering scheme

A joint investigation by several international media outlets including the Guardian, along with SRT grantee the Organized Crime and Corruption reporting Project (OCCRP), has uncovered a huge money-laundering operation centring on Azerbaijan.

The scheme, known as the ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat’, handled US$ 2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies registered in the UK. Between 2012 and 2014, Azerbaijan’s ruling elites channelled the money through the companies’ Estonian bank accounts. The companies’ true owners were hidden behind unknown offshore shareholders.

Yaqub Eyyubov, one of the country’s most powerful politicians, got millions of dollars through the system in the accounts of a company his family controlled in Hungary, and also used it to pay his family’s medical expenses. Others used millions to purchase football clubs, high-end travel agencies, and luxury cars. Significant amounts were funnelled to prominent Europeans who then worked to improve Azerbaijan’s image abroad.

Reporters for OCCRP previously exposed the Russian Laundromat, a fraudulent scheme that moved more than $20 billion out of the Russian Federation, and other, smaller, laundromats operating in Ukraine. The two laundromats are connected. Some 33 companies in the Azerbaijani Laundromat also appear in the Russian version.

OCCRP said, ‘Experts believe there are $2 trillion in global illicit flows that must be laundered each year. Laundromats like this one are likely springing up all the time in every major developing economy. Setting up and servicing these financial fraud vehicles is itself a billion-dollar business. And national law enforcement doesn’t have the tools to unmask these global schemes. It looks like Laundromats are here to stay.’

Full report from OCCRP website:

American Civil Liberties Union

Published August 30 2017
Psychologists who designed CIA torture programme agree to historic settlement with victims

New York, 17 August 2017: In a landmark case, SRT grantee the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has announced a settlement in its lawsuit against the two psychologists who designed and implemented the agency’s torture programme. A jury trial was due to begin on 5 September.

The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the family of Gul Rahman, who froze to death in a secret CIA prison. The three men were tortured and experimented on using methods developed by the CIA-contracted psychologists, James Mitchell and John ‘Bruce’ Jessen. In addition to torturing prisoners themselves, Mitchell and Jessen trained other CIA personnel in their methods. In 2005, they founded a company that the CIA contracted with to run its entire torture programme, including supplying interrogators for the agency’s secret ‘black site’ prisons. The government paid the company $81 million over several years.

The plaintiffs sued Mitchell and Jessen in October 2015 under the Alien Tort Statute – which allows federal lawsuits for gross human rights violations – for their commission of torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes.

ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said, ‘This is a historic victory for our clients and the rule of law. This outcome shows that there are consequences for torture and that survivors can and will hold those responsible for torture accountable. It is a clear warning for anyone who thinks they can torture with impunity.’

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security project, said, ‘Our clients’ groundbreaking case has changed the legal landscape. It showed that the courts are fully capable of handling lawsuits involving abuses committed in the name of national security’.

The full terms of the settlement agreement are confidential.

European Human Rights Advocacy Centre/Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group

Published August 14 2017
Georgia’s denial of legal gender recognition to trans man to be challenged before European Court

1st August 2017: A Georgian trans man, Mr D, has lodged an application before the European Court of Human Rights, challenging Georgia’s refusal to change the gender marker in his official documents. Mr D is represented by SRT grantees the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG).

Mr D’s application to change the gender marker in his official records was refused by the Georgian authorities, who argue that he must undergo gender reassignment surgery before being allowed to do so (such surgery is not provided by the state healthcare system). Without documents reflecting his acquired gender, Mr D is subjected to humiliating treatment and verbal abuse whenever he has to show his identity documents, and is unable to obtain a permanent job or effectively participate in the upbringing of his children.

The Court recently ruled in a French case that the requirement to undergo gender re-assignment surgery for legal gender recognition is in breach of the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). Mr D similarly argues a breach of his right to respect for his private and family life, in that he should not be required to undergo such a surgery.

Ramute Remezaite and Joanne Sawyer of EHRAC said, ‘Georgian law fails to clearly regulate the manner in which trans people can obtain legal gender recognition, with inconsistent and arbitrary consequences, as in Mr D's case. We hope that by litigating this case before the European Court, the position for trans people seeking legal recognition in Georgia will be clearer and simpler in the future.’

Keti Bakhtadze of WISG said, ‘Stigma, unemployment and poverty present further obstacles for trans people in accessing the tools they need to seek legal gender recognition, creating a vicious circle, which is extremely difficult to overcome.’

Citizen Lab

Published August 03 2017
Mexican journalists targeted by spyware technology

2nd August 2017: A report released by SRT grantee Citizen Lab has shown that lawyers acting in a high-profile murder case in Mexico were targeted by spyware of a kind only sold to governments. Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña received text messages containing links to ‘Pegasus’ spyware created by the Israeli cyberarms dealer NSO group.

Salas and Peña are representing family members of Nadia Vera and Rubén Espinosa, an activist and journalist, who were tortured and murdered in July 2015 alongside three acquaintances. Vera and Espinosa had been critical of the then-governor of the Mexican state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, and had received numerous threats in the course of their work. They fled Veracruz to Mexico City, hoping the distance would protect them; however they, along with three other people present at the scene, were brutally murdered.

Protests followed the Mexico City Attorney General’s investigation into the murder, which was widely perceived as inadequate (the case was ruled to be a robbery). The families of the victims contracted Salas and Peña to push for an investigation. In September and October 2015, Salas and Peña received text messages containing links which, if clicked on, would have allowed the operators to surreptitiously track their movements, phone calls, emails and text messages, as well as record their voices and take pictures.

Citizen Lab has detailed 21 cases of the use of NSO Group products in Mexico against government opposition officials, human rights groups, journalists and now lawyers. The attempt to infect the lawyers uses attack infrastructure seen in previous attacks.

Ron Deibert, Director of Citizen Lab, said, "[W]e fully expect to find more cases of the abuse of NSO Group technology, not just in Mexico but in other jurisdictions ".

American Civil Liberties Union/International Refugee Assistance Project

Published July 25 2017
US court blocks deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals

Detroit, 24th July 2017: Following intervention by SRT grantees the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a US federal court has again blocked the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals who could face persecution, torture, and death if returned to Iraq.

The ACLU previously obtained a temporary order that blocked the removal of the Iraqis – many of whom have been in the US for decades – until they have a meaningful opportunity to seek protection from removal. That order was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on 24th July. Today’s ruling grants the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction, which extends the prohibition of removal until the court can fully consider the case.

The case, Hamama v. Adducci, was filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US District Court/Eastern Michigan District. In addition to the ACLU and IRAP, the nationwide class-action lawsuit was brought by CODE Legal Aid, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and the law firm Miller Canfield.

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, said, ‘ICE does not dispute that Iraq is a dangerous place for our clients, yet at every turn it has insisted to deport our community members into danger, tear their families apart, and deny them their day in immigration court. We're heartened that the court has once again recognized our country's commitment to fundamental fairness.’

Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said, ‘This ruling continues to block the government from recklessly sending these individuals into harm’s way. The court’s action could literally save lives.’

The ruling is available here.

More information from the ACLU’s website:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Published July 12 2017
Summary: Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab sentenced to two years in prison

On July 10 the Bahraini Court sentenced the human rights defender and the President of SRT grantee the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab to two years in prison in absentia. The Court convicted him on charges of ‘publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state.’ The charges relate to media interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 in which he criticised the Bahraini authorities. Rajab did not attend the trial due to poor health.

The trial and verdict is the culmination of more than a year of pre-trial detention in poor conditions which have caused Rajab severe health problems, resulting in his hospitalisation for several months. His prosecution was marked by serious violations of his right to a fair trial, including the right to communicate freely with his counsel and the right to he heard in person. International observers were not allowed to attend the proceedings.

Rajab is still awaiting trial in a parallel case relating to tweets and retweets he sent about the war in Yemen, and faces imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said, ‘Debating human rights on TV is not a crime and putting our president, a peaceful activist, behind bars, is just outrageous. The Bahraini government is using the Court to silence him.’

Full press release and further information from the Bahrain Center’s website:

European Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Published July 05 2017
Summary: Hungary becomes the first country in the EU to adopt a ‘foreign agent’ law

27 June 2017: Hungary's Law on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad comes into effect today. This is the first time an EU country has introduced legislation requiring NGOs to register if they receive foreign funding. SRT grantee the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) is conducting advocacy around the new law and has written a briefing raising awareness of its implications.

The law, adopted on 13 June, introduces a new status, ‘organisation supported from abroad’, which applies to all Hungarian associations and foundations that receive funding from any foreign sources above 7.2 million HUF (approx. €23,500) in a tax year. These organisations must notify the court to be registered as an ‘organisation supported from abroad’. They must indicate their status on their website, publications and press materials, and the status will also be published in the Hungarian Civil Society Organisation Registry and on the electronic portal of the Ministry of Human Capacities.

Organisations receiving foreign funding will also have additional reporting requirements on their foreign resources – they will have to report on each transaction they have had with donors who have contributed at least 500,000 HUF (approx. €1,600) per tax year, and provide donors’ names, locations and other information. Failure to comply with the law will result in high fines and possibly termination.

In other regions, similar laws have resulted in limited access to funding, not only because of the laws, but also due to parallel campaigns by governments condemning foreign funding recipients. Such an environment also makes the labelled organisations vulnerable to further restrictive legal measures.

ECNL’s director, Katerina Hazi-Miceva Evans, said, ‘this is an unprecedented action within the EU. It sets a negative example, and we are already seeing early warning signs of similar rhetoric emerging in other countries in the neighbourhood. The changing environment requires a coordinated and robust approach from all players, including not just CSOs, but the EU, donors, and the public’.

Civitas Maxima

Published June 12 2017
Summary: Ex-wife of former Liberian president arrested and charged with torture

London, 5th June 2017: The Metropolitan Police have today charged Agnes Taylor with torture for her alleged involvement in atrocities committed by her ex-husband Charles Taylor’s rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, during the first Liberian Civil War. SRT grantee Civitas Maxima, along with its partner organisation the Global Justice and Research Project, provided the initial information to the UK authorities which led to the police investigation.

Agnes Taylor, now living in Dagenham, was charged with complicity in the rape and torture of seven women in Liberia between 1989 and 1991. She claimed asylum in the UK in 1999 and at the time of her arrest was working as a senior lecturer at Coventry University.

Charles Taylor’s invasion of Liberia with the National Patriotic Front in 1989 triggered the civil war, and he was subsequently Liberian President between 1997 and 2003. He was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2012 of planning, aiding and abetting crimes committed by Sierra Leonean rebels, including murder, rape and acts of terrorism, and is currently serving a 50-year sentence. However to date he has never been held accountable for the crimes he committed in Liberia.

This landmark case marks the second time someone formerly associated with the National Patriotic Front has been charged with crimes committed during Liberia’s civil wars. The first case involved front line Commander Martina Johnson, who was arrested in Belgium in September 2014 for her alleged role in wartime atrocities.

It is the fourth time since 2014 that the collaborative work between Civitas Maxima and its partners in Africa has led to information being passed to European authorities resulting in the arrest of an alleged perpetrator of international crimes.

International Refugee Assistance Project/American Civil Liberties Union

Published June 01 2017
Summary: US appeal court affirms suspension of President Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’

New York, 25th May 2017: The Fourth Circuit appeal court has today issued a ruling affirming the suspension of President Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ executive order in the case IRAP v. Trump, brought by SRT grantees the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and the American Civil Liberties Union along with the National Immigration Law Center. The judges ruled by 10-3 that the ban is unconstitutional.

IRAP brought the case in March 2017 on the grounds that the ‘Muslim ban’ violates the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of equal treatment under the law, as well as violating federal laws.

This ruling comes after oral arguments were heard at a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia on 8th May. In his order, Chief Judge Gregory stated that, ‘in text, [the executive order] speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

A federal court in Maryland blocked part of President Trump’s executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries to the US in March, just before the order was due to take effect. If implemented, the policy would have affected the vulnerable refugees IRAP works with daily and their ability to seek safety in the United States.

Becca Heller, IRAP’s Director, said, ‘Once again, the courts have confirmed that the Muslim Ban is discriminatory and harmful. The President cannot simply slap the words “national security” on an unconstitutional policy and get away with it. We will fight this ban for as long as it takes.’

Citizen Lab

Published May 25 2017
Summary: Citizen Lab researchers uncover major disinformation and cyber-espionage campaign

Toronto, 25 May 2017: SRT grantee Citizen Lab has released a report uncovering a major disinformation and cyber-espionage campaign with hundreds of targets in government, industry, military and civil society.

According to the report, titled Tainted Leaks: Disinformation and Phishing with a Russian Nexus, the campaign’s targets include a former Russian prime minister, ambassadors, CEOs, and officials from at least 39 countries, as well as the UN and NATO. The campaign is linked to the planting of disinformation within ‘leaks’ of stolen materials, a tactic in which real materials are seeded with carefully constructed fakes designed to achieve a propaganda end. Citizen Lab researchers refer to this tactic as ‘tainted leaks’.

The investigation began with a single targeted phishing operation against journalist David Satter. After successfully tricking Satter, the operators stole his personal information. The information later emerged, with falsehoods added, in a tainted leaks campaign on a Russia-linked website. The tainted leaks were designed to discredit prominent critics of the Russian government, like Alexei Navalny, by falsely indicating they received foreign funding.

In analysing the attack on Satter, Citizen Lab determined that it was part of a much larger campaign with at least 218 targets. Many of these were prominent officials from countries including the US, Ukraine, Austria, and Turkey, or members of civil society including academics, activists, journalists, and representatives of NGOs.

Citizen Lab does not conclusively link the campaign to a particular Russian government entity; however many elements overlap with groups previously identified as Russia-affiliated. This overlap includes operations associated with the successful breach in 2016 of the email account of John Podesta, the former chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Adam Hulcoop, Research Fellow, at Citizen Lab, said , ‘The scope and range of the targets makes it clear that this was a large-scale operation, and would have needed to be supported by substantial analytical resources in order to process the stolen material.’

The report is available here.

Hafiza Merkezi

Published May 18 2017
Summary: Hafiza Merkezi director sentenced to 18 months in prison for participation in freedom of speech campaign

Istanbul, 16th May 2017: Murat Çelikkan, co-director of SRT grantee Hafiza Merkezi, was today sentenced to 18 months in prison at the Istanbul Penal Court for his participation in the Özgür Gündem Editor-in-Chief on Watch campaign.

One of the main pro-Kurdish newspapers in Turkey, Özgür Gündem was shut down by the government last year for printing ‘terrorist propaganda’ and its editors were charged with ‘supporting and executing the decisions of a terrorist organization though not being a member of it’. Between May and August 2016 56 journalists and activists took part in the ‘Editor-in-Chief on Watch’ campaign, which was launched to support freedom of speech and freedom of the press and to avoid further legal action against Özgür Gündem’s editors. Of those who joined the campaign, 50 were prosecuted.

Çelikkan’s sentence was not reduced or deferred as ‘[he] didn’t show sufficient remorse with his attitudes in the trial’.

Professor Beyza Üstün, who also lent her support to the Editor-in-Chief on Watch campaign, was sentenced at the same time to 15 months in prison.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Published May 18 2017
Summary: Imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab writes article for New York Times

18th May 2017: Nabeel Rajab, director of SRT grantee the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has written an article for the New York Times criticising US policy towards Bahrain. Rajab has been detained for more than 10 months for Tweets he sent about the Bahraini government's involvement in the Yemen war. If convicted he faces up to 18 years in prison.

The article is available here.

Public Fund ‘Open Line’

Published May 11 2017
Summary: Kyrgyz President signs legislation providing greater protection for victims of domestic violence

29 April 2017: In a landmark decision, Kyrgyzstan has adopted legislation to better protect victims of domestic violence. In 2015 SRT grantee Open Line was part of the working group that first drafted the amended law. It has since led on the communications used by a nation-wide women’s rights campaign to lobby the Kyrgyz president. Using creative television, radio and online tools – including interactive videos – Open Line is now ensuring that people across the country find out about and understand the changes in the law, especially the two thirds who live in rural areas.

Domestic violence is extremely prevalent in Kyrgyzstan, with a quarter of married women experiencing abuse according to official figures. Discussing domestic violence is largely considered taboo and a breach of family honour, and women have few escape routes. Kyrgyz human and women’s human rights groups including Open Line have been campaigning for improved victim protection since 2009, but proposed changes to the law stalled when the government was overthrown in 2010. Parliament later revisited the issue and the law was finally passed this year.

The new legislation, which was approved by President Almazbek Atambayev on 28 April, substantially revises Kyrgyzstan’s existing domestic violence laws. New protections ensure that:

• Police will be required to respond to every reported incident of domestic abuse, where previously they were unable to investigate or press charges unless the victim herself filed a report;
• Every victim will now receive a ‘protection order’: a document ensuring protection for the victim and helping prevent reprisal by the offender or their relatives for a minimum of three days. Previously in order to get a protection order a victim had to prove in court that the violence had take place;
• Intimidation of relatives of victims has been criminalised;
• Child victims of domestic abuse will receive quicker referral to child welfare specialists, and
• Doctors uncovering evidence of physical abuse of children will now be required to immediately report this without notifying the child’s parents.
• The legislation also criminalises ‘economic violence’, in which the victim is prevented from seeking work and kept at home against her will.


Published May 02 2017
Summary: Mexican organisation GIRE receives award for its work on women’s reproductive rights

SRT grantee Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE), which is based in Mexico, has received the 2017 Gilberto Bosques Human Rights Award. This prestigious award is presented by the German and French Embassies in Mexico, and celebrates Mexican organisations or individuals that work to promote and defend human rights in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

GIRE’s receiving this award is significant because it recognises that women’s reproductive rights are part of the broader human rights field and linked to core issues of freedom and violence. It also highlights the ongoing impunity for violations of women’s human rights in Mexico.

Gilberto Bosques served as the General Consul of Mexico in France from 1939 to 1944. He used his position to help those fleeing the Francoist and Nazi regimes, offering them residence and Mexican nationality. The Gilberto Bosques Award was created in 2013 as a way to celebrate his legacy and commitment to human rights.

Gulf Center for Human Rights

Published April 20 2017
Summary: 88 human rights groups condemn detention of UAE human rights defender

88 international and local human rights organisations , including a number of SRT grantees, have today called for the immediate release of Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender and a member of the Advisory Board of SRT grantee the Gulf Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.

Mansoor, who received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015, has been detained since his arrest by the UAE authorities on 20 March 2017 and is facing speech-related charges that include using social media websites to 'publish false information that harms national unity.'

On 28 March 2017 UN special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, along with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said that Mansoor’s 'outstanding work in the protection of human rights and the advancement of democracy, as well as his transparent collaboration with UN mechanisms, is of great value not only for the UAE but for the whole region.'

The UN experts said they feared that his arrest 'may constitute an act of reprisal for his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, for the views he expressed on social media, including Twitter, as well as for being an active member of organisations such as the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), and an active supporter of others, including Human Rights Watch’.

The full text of the statement is available here.

St Antony's College, Oxford

Published April 11 2017
Summary: St Antony's College writes to Hungarian Ambassador in support of threatened Central European University

11th April 2017: SRT grantee St Antony's College, Oxford has today written to the Hungarian Ambassador to the UK in support of the Central European University (CEU - also a Trust grantee). The CEU could be forced out of Hungary due to new government legislation targeting 'foreign-linked' universities. St Antony's College's full statement is below:

‘St Antony’s College Oxford, expresses its shock and dismay at legal changes which threaten the entire future of the Central European University. The attempt to undermine and destroy a leading academic institution, which has brought so much benefit to the people of Hungary and Europe as well as to international scholarship, is wrong-headed, illiberal and deeply damaging to the interests of Hungary. We urge the Hungarian government to reconsider its position and initiate an amendment of that legislation, and we offer our full support to the President and Rector of CEU, Professor Michael Ignatieff, and all his colleagues.’

MiningWatch Canada/Institute for Policy Studies

Published April 10 2017
Summary: El Salvador becomes first country to ban metal mining outright

San Salvador, 29 March 2017: El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly has voted to become the first country in the world to ban mining for gold and other metals, with 69 of the country’s 84 legislators voting in favour. SRT grantees MiningWatch Canada and the Institute for Policy Studies provided support to the Salvadoran groups advocating for the ban.

The vote follows more than a decade of protest over mining projects by foreign companies causing damage to El Salvador’s vulnerable environment (it has the second-worst deforestation in the hemisphere after Haiti, and 96 percent of its surface water is contaminated). In one case, the government has been involved in a seven-year arbitration suit, which was originally brought against it in 2009 by Canadian firm Pacific Rim Mining, then carried on by OceanaGold when it acquired Pacific Rim in 2013. The company claimed that the Salvadoran government must issue it a mining permit for the El Dorado project in northern El Salvador. The community and the national government disagreed.

The US$250 million suit was finally decided in October 2016, when the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank Group ruled against the company, finding that it had not met mining law requirements and owes El Salvador US$8 million. The company has still not paid, but the tribunal ruled this week that it must begin paying interest on what it owes.

Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada said, ‘It is clear that the
Salvadorans have opted for water over gold […] OceanaGold must pay the $8 million to El Salvador and should immediately put a halt to all efforts to mine in the country out of respect for this decision.’

Manuel Pérez Rocha for the Institute for Policy Studies said, “It is amazing what this small country has achieved against tremendous odds. It is an inspiration for countries throughout the region.”

Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM/Greek Council for Refugees

Published April 10 2017
Summary: European Court rules in favour of undocumented workers’ rights

Brussels, 31 March 2017: The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Greece has failed in its duty to protect migrant workers from labour exploitation, and must properly investigate their abuse and punish those responsible. Greece must now pay each applicant participating in the Court proceedings up to 16,000 euros in compensation. SRT grantees PICUM and the Greek Council for Refugees, and former grantee the AIRE Centre, provided joint legal analysis and assistance in the case.

The case arose from an incident in April 2013 where 150 people were shot at, and 30 severely injured, after they demanded their wages as agricultural workers in the strawberry fields in Manolada, Greece. Working 12-hour days under the watch of armed guards, the workers were not paid even the promised salary of 22 euros per day, for seven hours’ work, plus overtime. They lived in roughly built huts without toilets or running water.

While those that were seriously injured were granted temporary residence permits, the majority of the workers received nothing. Some were detained and deported.

Several of the workers took their case to a national court, which acquitted the employers and armed guards of human trafficking charges in 2014. The employers were found guilty of grievous bodily harm and unlawful use of firearms, but their only punishment was to pay the victims that took the case forward 43 euros each. The case was then brought to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

PICUM director Michele Levoy said, “We are very pleased that the Court has recognised the rights of all workers, and that governments have an obligation to prevent labour exploitation and provide justice to victims. Undocumented workers are exploited across Europe. They should be able to report abuse without fearing they will be arrested or deported, and be paid – at least – their due wages. A worker is a worker, regardless of residence status.”

Full statement from PICUM and the AIRE Centre:

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Published April 03 2017
Summary: South Africa to appear before International Criminal Court over failure to arrest President Al Bashir of Sudan

On 7 April 2017, South Africa will appear before the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to argue why the Court should not make a finding of non-compliance against the country for its failure to arrest President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan when he attended an African Union Summit in Johannesburg in June 2015. SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) led efforts to have President Bashir arrested at the time of his visit, and has subsequently made legal interventions in the case.

In March 2005, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to refer the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the ICC. In March 2009 and July 2010 the ICC issued warrants of arrest against President Al Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur, but neither of the two warrants of arrest against him has so far been enforced. President Al Bashir is the first sitting President to be wanted by the ICC, and the first person to be charged by the ICC for the crime of genocide.

SALC sought leave to make amicus curiae submissions before the Chamber in January 2017. This application was opposed by the South African government, who argued that SALC is not a neutral party and that such submissions should focus only on points of international law. However, despite the government’s objection, SALC was admitted to make its submissions.

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, SALC's Executive Director, said, “SALC’s submissions clearly demonstrate that South Africa had both domestic and international legal obligations to arrest and surrender President Bashir to the ICC when he arrived in the country in 2015. However, the facts show that South Africa flouted these obligations by actively facilitating President Bashir’s escape, or, at the very least, by failing to comply with its duty to arrest and surrender him to the ICC”.

The hearing will be broadcast live on 7th April and can be viewed at:

End Violence Against Women Coalition/Southall Black Sisters

Published March 27 2017
Summary: Women’s rights groups defend right to hold police to account in the Supreme Court

13th March 2017: the Metropolitan Police and Home Office have sought a Supreme Court ruling saying police cannot be sued for failures that left violent serial rapist John Worboys free to continue his crimes. SRT grantees the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Southall Black Sisters, along with NIA and Rape Crisis England & Wales, are intervening via their solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn to press the court to uphold women’s human rights, including the right to protection from gender-based violence, which imposes a duty on the police to conduct adequate investigations into serious crimes of violence against women.

Worboys, known as the ‘black cab rapist’ committed more than 100 rapes and sexual assaults on women between 2002 and 2008. He used identical methods over many years but, despite many women reporting him, police failings meant he was not caught. Two of the women raped by Worboys, who had reported the crimes at the time of the offences in 2002 and 2007, sued the Metropolitan Police at the High Court alleging serious failings in the police investigations. The High Court’s landmark ruling established that the police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate serious violence against women, and when they fail to meet this duty they can be held accountable in the courts.

The government and police are seeking to overturn the High Court findings, which have been upheld by the Court of Appeal, by appealing to the Supreme Court.

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, said, “Our experience shows how police failures in investigating crimes of violence against women are too many, too frequent and often too basic. This is compounded by an inadequate complaints system that severely restricts women’s access to protection, justice and equality. If the Rotherham child abuse cases and the Hillsborough disaster have taught us anything it is the need to ensure that police conduct is held up to scrutiny like any other state institution. There should be no immunity for the police when dealing with violence against women and girls.”

Breaking the Silence

Published March 13 2017
Summary: Israeli State Attorney's Office withdraws demand that Breaking the Silence reveal the identity of soldiers who testified about Operation Protective Edge

1st March 2017: The Israeli State Attorney's Office has withdrawn its request requiring SRT grantee Breaking the Silence to hand over material relating to investigations into human rights violations by the Israeli military in Gaza, including the identity of the soldiers who testified. Breaking the Silence, represented by lawyers Michael Sfard and Gaby Lasky, argued at a court hearing last year that the identities of its testifiers should be protected.

The State Attorney and the Military Police Investigation Unit took Breaking the Silence to court in May 2016 to require the organisation to disclose the identities of soldiers who testified about their service in Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in July-August 2014. This request, if agreed by the court, would have effectively ended Breaking the Silence’s ability to continue working, as it would no longer have been able to guarantee the security of its sources. The request came soon after a series of unprecedented physical, legal and media attacks against the organisation by members of the Knesset and pro-settler organisations during late 2015 and early 2016.

Michael Sfard said, “We are pleased that the State Attorney eventually respected the moral and legal obligation of the organization to maintain the confidentiality of the soldiers who testified before it and that they have made concessions on this issue. From the onset, we have argued that organizations like Breaking the Silence enjoy the privilege of journalistic immunity, a violation of which would be dangerous not only to the organization but to all of Israeli society. Essentially, our argument has been accepted.”

Yehuda Shaul, Co-Founder of Breaking the Silence, said, "We will continue to protect the identity of soldiers in the face of all political and cynical attempts intended to silence and intimidate soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories against speaking out about the reality of the occupation."

Gulf Center for Human Rights

Published March 06 2017
Summary: Gulf Center for Human Rights seeks to challenge UK government in court over obligation to comply with international law

SRT grantee the Gulf Center for Human Rights has been granted leave to challenge the UK government in court over its international legal obligations.

In October 2015, the government removed an obligation from the Ministerial Code on government ministers to comply with international law. In spite of criticism by senior legal figures, Theresa May reissued the Code in December 2016 without restoring this obligation.

The Gulf Center relies on international advocacy to hold the Gulf States to account and to protect human rights defenders, but this would become more difficult if Western governments diminished their own commitment to international law and the separation of powers. The Center has also relied in the past on the international law and the courts to hold Western governments to account when they prioritised economic ties with Gulf States over human rights.

The Gulf Center applied to the High Court for judicial review of the decision via solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn. The Court initially rejected the request on the grounds that the Code could not be judicially reviewed, whilst recognising that the case was “interesting” and “brought for good motives”. The Center was granted permission to appeal this ruling on 4 January 2017. A full hearing at the Court of Appeal will now follow.

Daniel Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn said, “Ensuring ministerial accountability for complying with the UK’s international law obligations is more important than ever and the ministerial code was an important part of that. It is very welcome that the lawfulness of the changes and the explanations given for them will now be properly tested.”

Melanie Gingell of the Gulf Center said, “It is good news that we will have a full court of appeal hearing. Our work relies on countries such as the UK abiding by their international law obligations, and this was a worrying and symbolic change.”Coverage from the Gulf Center’s website:

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights/FIDH/Reporters Without Borders

Published February 24 2017
Summary: Human rights organisations ask European Commission to suspend Poland’s EU voting rights

International human rights organisations, including SRT grantees the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, FIDH and Reporters Without Borders, have called on the European Commission to take decisive measures in response to Poland’s “disregard” for the rule of law. Since taking office in 2015, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice Party has introduced policies aimed at curbing civil liberties and reducing the independence of the media, civil
service and judiciary.

The human rights organisations, along with more than 20 Polish NGOs, have signed an open letter asking the European Commission to launch the third stage of the rule of law procedure, which would mean the triggering of measures under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU).

Article 7 was established 16 years ago in an attempt to hold member states to account for human rights violations, but to date has not been used. If triggered it would impose sanctions on the affected country and suspend its EU voting rights. A decision to trigger Article 7 must be approved by four
fifths of EU Member States.

The open letter’s signatories write that “a recommendation from the Commission to activate Article 7 TEU is at this stage is the only way to continue to hold Poland to account for its failure to respect its obligations under the Treaties”. The NGOs also emphasise that it “would send a strong signal to other Member States” that no one can undermine the founding
values of the European Union without a strong response from the EU.”

The signing organisations also note that recommending resort to the Article 7
procedure will send “a strong signal to civil society in Poland that the Commission stands by its side in its fight for a society in which democracy,the rule of law, human rights and the other values protected under Article 2 TEU are upheld”.

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Published February 16 2017
Summary: WILPF declines to participate in 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

SRT grantee the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), one of the first NGOs to be granted consultative status with the United Nations in 1948, will not take part in the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61). WILPF believes that the absence of women from countries affected by the recent US travel ban undermines the basic premise of the CSW as being an inclusive and participatory process and threatens its legitimacy.

WILPF's statement is available here.

CEDEHM/FIDH/World Organisation Against Torture

Published February 13 2017
Summary: Human rights defender killed in Mexico days after visit by UN Special Rapporteur

February 2, 2017: SRT grantee Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM) has coordinated a statement signed by more than 50 human rights organisations expressing concern at the recent murder of a human rights activist and calling on the Mexican government and the international community to take action. Grantees FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture were also signatories.

Juan Ontiveros Ramos, an environmental and indigenous rights activist, was abducted by armed men on 31st January 2017 and his body found the following day. On 20 January he had attended a meeting with members of CEDEHM and the Alianza Sierra Madre (Sierra Madre Alliance) along with governmental authorities, to discuss threats against the indigenous Raramuri people and their ownership of their ancestral lands. In October 2015 Ramos had also given video to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at a meeting to implement precautionary measures.

Ramos’s murder came a week after the visit to Mexico of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst. In his closing report on the visit, Mr Forst said, “During my visit to Chihuahua, I became acquainted with the situation facing human rights defenders, who protect the rights of the Raramuri indigenous population, in particular the risks caused by organized crime and their lack of protection from the authorities […] I call upon both the federal and state authorities to ensure that all crimes against defenders of the rights of the peoples of the Sierra Tarahumara are duly investigated.”

In their statement, the human rights groups express their indignation at the kidnapping and murder of Juan Ontiveros Ramos and demand that the Mexican state “immediately take measures to ensure timely investigation and security of the indigenous communities of the Sierra Tarahumara, and allow the return of displaced families and guarantee their right to defend human rights.” They have also coordinated an Urgent Action with Amnesty International asking activists to write to the Mexican government.

Full text of the NGOs’ statement (in Spanish only):

The UN Special Rapporteur's report is available here.

Global Justice Center

Published February 03 2017
Summary: Trump widens scope of ‘gag rule’ restricting NGOs’ ability to provide health and family planning services

23rd January 2017: President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order expanding the reach of a policy which restricts the services and information foreign NGOs can provide if they receive US government global health funding.

Since 1973, the Helms Amendment has barred any US foreign aid from being used to perform or provide information about abortion. These restrictions apply to all US aid, including humanitarian aid to women and girls raped in war, which violates their rights to necessary medical care under the Geneva Conventions. The Global Gag Rule extends the reach of Helms by limiting what foreign organisations receiving US global assistance funds can do even with their non-US funds, and restricts the information and counselling that women can receive.

SRT grantee the Global Justice Center undertakes research and advocacy to promote the enforcement and implementation of international human rights law and particularly women’s rights. The organisation has campaigned against Helms and the Gag Rule since 2010, and in 2015 successfully lobbied the EU to require that its humanitarian aid funding “not be subject to restrictions imposed by other partner donors”, including the Helms Amendment and recognize abortion as protected care under the Geneva Conventions.

President Trump’s Executive Order widens the Gag Rule from its previous iterations to apply not only to family planning assistance given by the United States, but too all global health assistance provided by the US, which includes funds from the State Department, USAID, Department of Health and Human Services (including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Health), Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Department of Defense.

The expansion of this rule will also have sweeping consequences for organisations working on a broad range of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, ultimately limiting women’s ability to access vital maternal health, family planning, HIV treatment and education services. According to Akila Radhakrishnan, Vice President and Legal Director of the Global Justice Center, 13% of maternal deaths around the world are from unsafe abortion, and the reintroduction and expansion of the rule is likely to lead to an increase in such deaths.

Safe Passage

Published January 18 2017
Summary: Court rules that unaccompanied child refugee must be brought to the UK to reunite with his remaining family

London, January 2017: In a potentially precedent-setting legal judgment, the High Court has ordered that an unaccompanied child refugee must be brought to the UK to be reunited with his British aunt. SRT grantee Safe Passage brought the case on the child’s behalf along with law firm Bhatt Murphy.

The boy, Dawit, is a 14-year-old refugee from Eritrea who was separated from his mother and brother as they tried to cross by sea from Egypt to Sicily in April 2016. His mother and brother later drowned making the crossing separately. Dawit was taken to a reception centre in Rome, where he was identified by volunteers working for Safe Passage.

Dawit’s lawyers wrote to the UK Home Office in September 26 describing his “compelling case” for resettlement and explaining that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Home Office did not respond to their request or to two follow up requests sent in October.

The High Court found that the Home Office had failed to fulfil its obligations to Dawit under the Dublin III regulation, which rules that “in the absence of a family member, a sibling or a relative […] the Member State responsible shall be that where the unaccompanied minor has lodged his or her application for international protection, provided that it is in the best interest of the minor”.

Dawit is expected to arrive in the UK shortly, where he will live in north London with his aunt. Safe Passage believe that his case will act as a precedent for other unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Rabbi Janet Darley of Citizens UK, which founded Safe Passage, said, “The courts have given the government legal, but also moral direction in how they should approach this serious and desperate issue.”

Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy said, “This case sends a very clear message to European governments and the European commission: effective systems must be established so that the rights to family reunification in the European regulations and directives are accessible for children.”

Bahrain Center for Human Rights/Gulf Center for Human Rights

Published January 12 2017
Summary: Human Rights defender Nabeel Rajab released on bail and rearrested

10th January 2017: Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, co- founder and director of SRT grantee the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been released on bail after more than six months’ detention and almost immediately rearrested.

Rajab appeared before a court on 28 December 2016 on charges in relation to his tweets publicising reports of ongoing torture in Jaw Prison and criticising Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen. The court ordered his release on bail. This decision, however, was almost immediately overturned by the public prosecutor, who according to SRT grantee the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy ordered Rajab’s continued detention for seven days, citing further investigation into other charges relating to televised interviews from 2015 and January 2016 (the basis of his initial arrest in June 2016). On 5 January his detention was renewed for a further 15 days.

Rajab continues to be held in solitary confinement. He has suffered from poor health in prison, including heart problems, has been denied access to proper care, and has been held in solitary confinement for the vast majority of his pre-trial detention. In addition, on 21 December, he was interrogated in connection with a letter published in his name in the French newspaper Le Monde which urged Paris and Berlin to reassess their relationship with the Gulf states. He also faces a pending charge of “intentionally broadcasting false news and malicious rumours abroad impairing the prestige of the state” following the publication of an op-ed on 5 September 2016 in the New York Times. The charge carries an additional one-year prison sentence if convicted.

Nabeel Rajab’s next hearing is scheduled for 23 January 2017 and he remains banned from travelling.

CIEL/AIDA/Mining Watch Canada/SOMO

Published January 06 2017
Summary: World Bank divests from company engaged in controversial Colombian mining project

20th December 2016: The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, has decided to divest from Canadian mining company Eco Oro Minerals over the company’s pursuit of a controversial mining project in Colombia. SRT grantees the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Mining Watch Canada and SOMO provided support to local activists in the case.

Eco Oro’s Angostura gold mining project is located in the Santurbán Páramo, an ecosystem of high-altitude wetlands that provides water to millions of people in Colombia and shelters hundreds of threatened species. Colombian law prohibits mining in the páramos, but 24 percent of the Santurbán region remains unprotected because it has not been officially designated a páramo.

The IFC made its decision after the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, an independent accountability mechanism of the World Bank, published a report concluding that the IFC’s investment did not adequately consider the environmental and social impacts of the Angostura project. In 2012 local campaigning group the Committee for the Defense of Water and the Páramo de Santurbán, with support from organisations including the SRT grantees listed above, presented a complaint to the Ombudsman which led to the report. IFC’s decision was also shaped by intense public opposition, led by the grantees, to Eco Oro’s plan to sue Colombia under a bilateral investment treaty.

Carlos Lozano Acosta of AIDA said, “IFC’s divestment is a strong political and financial strike against mining in the Santurbán páramo. The Colombian government must reflect on its permissive attitude toward large-scale mining in the páramo, which is illegal.”

Carla Garcia Zendejas of CIEL said, “After intense public pressure, the IFC has finally got the message and by divesting, amplifies it further. The decision to divest strengthens the Colombian State’s duty to protect water and regulate in the public interest. We applaud this decision by the IFC, which will have repercussions for all Colombians.”

Full press release from CIEL’s website:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights/ Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy/English PEN/Foundation for Freedom of the Press/Gulf Centre for Human Rights/FIDH/International Service for Human Rights/Reporters Without Borders/World Organisation Against Torture

Published December 21 2016
Summary: 52 human rights organisations sign letter to UN High Commissioner in support of Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab

20th December 2016: Bahraini and international human rights organisations, including nine SRT grantees, today sent a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, and copying in Special Rapporteur on Free Expression David Kaye, and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michele Forst. The letter urges the office of the High Commissioner to call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release detained human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and drop the charges against him.

Mr Rajab is being tried on charges regarding tweets and retweets addressing torture in Bahrain’s Jau Prison, as well as criticizing Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen. He is also charged with “undermining the prestige of the state” for his open letter which was written during his time in detention and was published in the New York Times on 4 September 2016. In the letter, he states that he was threatened into silence after being released from detention in July 2015. If convicted, Rajab faces up to 15 years in prison.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM)

Published December 16 2016
Summary: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to examine three cases of forced disappearance

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has for the first time asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to investigate a case of forced disappearance linked to the Mexican “War on Drugs”. SRT grantee Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM) provided legal representation to the victims’ families at the national and international levels, and presented the case at the Inter-American Commission along with two other human rights organisations.

Cousins, Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes were detained without an arrest warrant by military personnel in Ejido Benito Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on December 29, 2009. They have not been seen since, and their families have not had any news of them since 2013. The military claimed at first that they had detained the Alvarados when searching for suspected criminals, but later denied having them in custody at all.No one has so far been brought to justice for their disappearance, although their families filed lawsuits with both local and national authorities.

The IACHR has been critical of the Mexican government’s failure to investigate the case, claiming in June 2015 that “the investigations related to military personnel [were] not being followed”. Before referring the matter to the Inter-American Court they recommended that the national authorities investigate the matter again and ensure that those responsible were prosecuted.To date the national authorities have failed to do this.

CEDEHM and their partner organisations said in a statement, “Almost seven years have passed since these events, and the relatives of Nitza Paola, Rocío Irene and José Ángel Alvarado, and the organizations that have supported them, hope that this case helps not only to obtain integral redress, but also results in structural measures that impact the 28,000plus cases of disappeared individuals in Mexico […] to guarantee the truth, justice and redress for all these cases.”

The IACHR press statement is available at:

The full statement by CEDEHM and their partner NGOs (in Spanish only) is available at:

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Malawi Court rules in favour of women illegally deprived of their land

8 December 2016, Malawi: the High Court of Malawi has ruled in favour of two women who claim they were forcibly deprived of the land which provided their only source of livelihood. SRT grantee the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) provided legal support in the case.

Mary (57) and her widowed mother Idesi (87) inherited the land in 2006 when Mary’s father died, and used it to grow and sell sugar cane. In 2010 the head of their village, in collaboration with the Dwangwa Cane Growers Trust, allocated the land to a neighbour, Mr Madikhula, without Mary or her mother’s consent. Mary and her mother were not aware that the government had acquired and leased their land to Dwangwa, and were never consulted.

In August 2013 Mary took her case to the Magistrate’s Court, who ruled that the land belonged to Mary as she had inherited it under customary law. Mary then started working the land again. However, Mr Madikhula maintained that the land belonged to him and commenced an action in the High Court in 2013. Three months later, the court served Mary with an injunction. As a result, Mary and her mother were unable to use their land to support themselves and their families.

On 24 August 2016 the High Court ordered the couple to produce documentary evidence that the land was leased to them. No such evidence was submitted. On 2 December, the High Court ruled that the Magistrate’s Court that gave the land to Mary and her mother was competent to hear customary land matters. The High Court accordingly dismissed the case and ordered Mr Madikhula to pay costs.

Brigadier Siachitema of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said, “This increasing phenomenon of land seizure by national elites has devastating consequences on vulnerable groups, especially women and children, including the loss of livelihood and chronic food insecurity. Although it does not set a precedent, the High Court decision sends a clear message to national elites that property grabbing will not be tolerated.”

Open Line

Published December 02 2016
Summary: Kyrgyz President signs bill criminalising underage marriage

November 2016: The Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev has signed into law a bill criminalising child marriage in unregistered religious ceremonies, which remain widespread in Kyrgyzstan. The new law classifies marriage to a minor as a criminal offence, and sets out a sentence of three to five years in prison for clergy and parents who allow underage marriage to take place. SRT grantee Open Line campaigned in favour of the bill along with other Kyrgyz women’s rights NGOs.

Child marriages take place in Kyrgyzstan in ceremonies known as nike. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Akyikatchy (Ombudsman) of the Kyrgyz republic, around 12.7 % of Kyrgyz women and girls aged 15 to 49 were married underage.

Due to a low level of legal awareness, many women do not realise that the nike ceremony does not give them any legal rights to inherit property or to claim state financial support in the event of divorce or their husband’s death.

In May 2016 Kyrgyzstan’s mostly male parliamentary body rejected a draft law to criminalise nike, tabled by a female MP. Open Line campaigners appealed to each dissenting parliamentarian individually, explaining the impact of nike on the lives of girls, and united with other NGOs to raise public awareness. The draft law eventually passed on the second reading, and the President signed it into law on 18th November 2016.

Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

Published November 24 2016
Summary: Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion launches new research on statelessness in the Syrian context

24th November 2016: SRT grantee the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion has published new research into the risk of statelessness among Syrian refugees.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, as many as 4.8 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and over a million have travelled to Europe. The overwhelming majority of these refugees hold Syrian nationality and face no immediate risk of statelessness. Moreover, children born in exile inherit Syrian nationality automatically, by operation of the law, if their father is a Syrian citizen. However, a small proportion of the refugees are already stateless (i.e. are not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law). Others, particularly children born in exile, are at risk of statelessness due to the operation of Syria’s nationality law or difficulties documenting their connection to Syria and right to nationality.

In collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council and with funding from NWO-WOTRO, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion has conducted an assessment of the risk of new cases of statelessness arising among Syrian refugees and their children and the particular vulnerabilities of stateless refugees from Syria. Their research focused on the countries neighbouring Syria which are hosting the greatest numbers of refugees: Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

A specific goal of the project was to inform the development of a “toolkit” to help organisations engaged in the refugee response to better understand the intersections between their work and statelessness, and to share good practices, innovations and practical steps that they can take to ensure the effective protection of stateless people and contribute to the longer-term prevention and reduction of statelessness. The toolkit and accompanying report will be launched this week with events taking place in London, Oslo and The Hague.

The toolkit can be found here.
The report is available here.

Death Penalty Project

Published November 15 2016
Summary: Belize Court of Appeal declares life imprisonment without parole violates basic human rights

9th November 2016: The Belize Court of Appeal has found mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole breaches fundamental human rights. SRT grantee the Death Penalty Project assisted the local legal team in Belize and instructed UK barristers pro bono to advise on the case.

The decision followed a referral of Gregory August’s case at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to the Belize Court of Appeal. August was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012 for a murder committed when he was just 19 years old. In Belize, prisoners convicted of murder are not eligible for parole, regardless of the severity of their crime, their behaviour in prison or their potential for rehabilitation. This means the prisoner’s sentence can only be reduced if the Governor General grants mercy – a process which lies purely at the grace and favour of the government and without any clear guidance as to what the prisoner must do in order to be released.

In its judgment on 4th November, the Court of Appeal held that process to be “far from satisfactory”. It also took note of the fact that the Belize Advisory Council, the mercy committee in Belize, rarely functioned and had not once recommended early release for any life term prisoner, meaning that August’s sentence was effectively irreducible because it was highly unlikely that clemency would ever be exercised in his favour. Nor was August given any opportunity to present mitigating factors which might justify the judge imposing a less harsh sentence, which was a breach of his right to a fair trial. Given August’s young age at the time and the circumstances of the offence, the sentence of life imprisonment without parole was declared “grossly disproportionate” and “inhumane”.

The Court re-sentenced August to 30 years imprisonment, which means he becomes eligible for release after serving 15 years. The Government of Belize will now have to consider whether it wishes to appeal the Court’s decision.

European Network on Statelessness/Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

Published November 10 2016
Summary: Important victory for stateless children in Norway

7 November 2016: The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security has instructed the immigration authorities to align their practice with Norway’s international obligations, taking an important step towards ensuring that no child born in Norway remains stateless. This follows advocacy by UNHCR and the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), with campaigning and technical support provided by SRT grantees the European Network on Statelessness and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion.

As highlighted by UNHCR in the report Mapping statelessness in Norway from October 2015, historically Norway has largely ignored its obligations under UN conventions on statelessness. Among other issues, children born stateless in Norway without lawful residence have been unable to acquire Norwegian nationality – in direct violation of article 1(2) of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961.

On 28 October 2016 the Ministry of Justice and Public Security issued a new instruction to the immigration authorities that stateless people born in Norway have the right to acquire Norwegian citizenship as long as they were living in Norway at the time of the application and had continuously resided there for three years previously. Stateless children under the age of 18 born in Norway may be granted Norwegian citizenship even earlier if the child or their parents have resided in the country lawfully.

The new instruction has come after close engagement with the Norwegian authorities by the UNHCR and the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), the latter having received expert support from the European Network on Statelessness, including through its Stateless Kids campaign.

Marek Linha of NOAS said, “Norway’s example shows that a combined advocacy effort can lead to a positive change even in a political environment where restrictions of the rights of migrants are high on the agenda. The new instruction issued by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security to the immigration authorities represents a very important step towards ensuring that no child born in Norway is left without nationality.”

Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa

Published October 31 2016
Summary: IHRDA reaches historic settlement in child rights case against government of Malawi

Banjul, 27 October 2016: SRT grantee IHRDA has set a new precedent in African child rights litigation by reaching a settlement in a case against the government of Malawi before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC). The agreement was reached at the ACERWC’s 28th Ordinary Session in Banjul, The Gambia.

In 2014 IHRDA filed a communication before the ACERWC, challenging the definition of “child” in Malawi’s Constitution. The Constitution defines a child as a person under the age of 16, in contravention of article 2 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which defines a child as every person below the age of 18. As a result of this discrepancy, people aged between 16 and 18 have not been afforded protection as per Malawi’s international obligations.

In recognition of this, the government of Malawi has informed the ACERWC that it has already begun the process of instituting a constitutional amendment to bring its law into conformity with the Charter, and has proposed an amicable settlement of the case with a view to formally committing itself to the necessary reforms.

According to the settlement agreement, Malawi commits “to do everything within its power to amend its Constitution and all other relevant laws to be in compliance with article 2 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child by 31 December 2018”, and to report periodically to the ACERWC on “the progress it has made to implement this Agreement”. It also commits to taking interim measures to protect children in Malawi while the law reform process is completed.

IHRDA said, “The move by the Government of Malawi to resolve the contentious case amicably is the first of its kind in the history of the ACERWC, and sets a good example for the region of a State’s proactive response.”

Institute for Policy Studies/CIEL/Mining Watch Canada

Published October 25 2016
Summary: World Bank arbitration body dismisses mining company’s claim against government of El Salvador

14 October 2016: The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s arbitration body, has ruled that mining company Pac Rim Cayman LLC’s lawsuit against the Salvadoran government is without merit, and hence that El Salvador will not have to pay the company the $250 million that it sought. SRT grantees the Institute for Policy Studies, CIEL and Mining Watch Canada have been involved in international advocacy around the case. Mining Watch has also been providing support to local organisations in El Salvador, and CIEL has conducted legal analysis.

In 2009, Pac Rim Cayman brought an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) case against El Salvador at the ICSID. The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, sued El Salvador for alleged losses of potential profits as a result of not being granted a mining concession for a gold project. The government of El Salvador did not issue the concession because the company did not meet key regulatory requirements.

Civil society groups praised the communities in El Salvador that have opposed Pac Rim and have rallied the public and government to oppose new mining projects despite heavy pressure from the company. They expressed deep concern that El Salvador had to pay over $12 million to fund its defense in a case where the mining company never fulfilled all the legal or environmental requirements for a mining license. Saying "water is worth more than gold," the communities and Salvadoran civil society organisations have emphasised that large scale mining would destroy their water sources and their plans for community development.

Jen Moore, Latin America Programme Coordinator at Mining Watch Canada, said, “This ruling is a relief, but it is not a win. This already costly suit should never have been able to take place. For seven years, it has put a chill on policymaking that could respect the decision of Salvadorans to prohibit metal mining and protect local communities and the environment.”


Published October 17 2016
Summary: UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demands release of British-Iranian national

13 October 2016: The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has called on Iran to immediately release and compensate Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national held in Iran since 3 April 2016. SRT grantee Redress filed a claim with WGAD on Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s behalf in June 2016.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe visited her family in Tehran in March 2016 with her two-year-old daughter Gabriella. Iranian authorities arrested her at Tehran’s Khomeini Airport as she was about to return home to the UK. Since then she has been held in detention, spending at least 45 days in solitary confinement. Gabriella also remains in Iran with her grandparents, since the Iranian authorities confiscated her British passport. Last month Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison following a secret trial.

REDRESS’s complaint to WGAD argued that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention, separation from her daughter and subjection to incommunicado detention and solitary confinement breached of Articles 7, 9, 10, 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and constituted arbitrary detention and torture.

In its official Opinion adopted in August 2016, an advanced unedited version of which was released on 6 October 2016, WGAD asked Iran to “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Ms Ratcliffe without delay”, and called for her immediate release and compensation. WGAD also urged Iran to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arbitrary detention and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of her rights. It referred the case to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

REDRESS’ Director Dr Carla Ferstman said, “We are delighted that the WGAD has sent a powerful and unequivocal message to Iran. We will be even more delighted when this young mother and her two-year-old child are back in Britain. […] The WGAD has made clear that Ms. Ratcliffe was discriminated against as a dual UK-Iranian national. The UK Government must act swiftly and with determination to address this injustice.”

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Published October 13th 2016
Summary: Polish court rules that the right to say goodbye to a dying person is a legally protected interest

Poland, 12th October 2016: A first instance court has ruled in a case brought by the family of a deceased prisoner that the right to say goodbye to a dying person is a legally protected interest. The family sought apologies and damages for the “moral injury” they suffered after the prison made it impossible for them to say goodbye to their family member who was dying in a prison hospital. The court ordered the prison to issue an official apology and ruled that the State Treasury should pay compensation. SRT grantee the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case.

HFHR’s brief underlined the importance of prisoners’ right to maintain contact with families and loved ones. Both the European Prison Rules and the UN Nelson Mandela Rules stipulate that information about an inmate’s death, serious illness or transfer to hospital should immediately be passed to their close family unless an inmate requested otherwise.

The court decided that the right to say goodbye to a dying prisoner is a legally protected personal interest within the meaning of the Civil Code, based on a number of sources including the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. The court ruled that the prison administration is obliged to notify the family of an inmate’s deteriorating health if an inmate is unable to do so themselves (in the case in question, the inmate was receiving strong narcotic painkillers) or if such notification cannot be delivered in due time.

HFHR lawyer Michał Kopczyński said, “This is a landmark ruling. It
confirms that the presence of a loved one at a dying person’s side and the last goodbye are given legal protection as a personal interest”.

The /amicus curiae/ brief (also in Polish) is available here.

International Service for Human Rights/Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Published October 7th 2016
Summary: NGOs ask international bodies to intervene on Maldives human rights abuses

In the first case filed with the UN on behalf of former members of a national human rights institution, SRT grantee the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has asked the UN Human Rights Committee to authoritatively rule that there is a legal right to submit information to the UN and that restrictions on this right amount to serious breaches of international law. Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood, former Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), brought the case assisted by ISHR.

The HRCM was prosecuted in 2015 by the Supreme Court in the Maldives following a submission they made to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. The report focused on human rights issues including access to justice and the independence of the judiciary. The Court ruled that the HRCM’s report was unlawful, biased and undermined judicial independence, and ordered the HRCM to follow a set of guidelines designed to restrict its work and its ability to communicate with the UN.

Tholal and Mahmood said they were seeking a ruling from the Committee because they want the HRCM’s right to communicate freely with international human rights mechanisms to be firmly preserved in law and practice.

ISHR’s Legal Counsel Madeleine Sinclair said, “The decision of the Supreme Court to restrict the activities and independence of the Commission is incompatible with the right of safe and unhindered communication with UN bodies, and the prohibition against reprisals for exercising that right. Such a decision by an arm of government is a clear breach of international law.”

The Maldives has also been threatened with suspension from the Commonwealth at a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). SRT grantee the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative emailed a submission on the deteriorating situation to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s political division on 19 September 19th 2016. CMAG has moved the Maldives onto their formal agenda for March 2017, and threatened that suspension from the Commonwealth would be considered at that meeting if there was no improvement in the situation.

International Service for Human Rights/Conectas/Center for Legal and Social Studies/Gulf Center for Human Rights/International Commission of Jurists

Published September 28 2016
Summary: Human rights NGOs call on States to urgently address Egypt's systematic repression of human rights defenders and organisations

Eight human rights organisations from around the world, including SRT grantees International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Conectas, Gulf Center for Human Rights, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the International Commission of Jurists, have called on the UN Human Rights Council to take urgent action to protect human rights defenders in Egypt.

In their joint oral statement to the Council, the groups highlighted Egypt’s incompatibility with the Vienna Declaration and Programme for Action, a UN consensus document that enshrines the universal nature of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and makes clear that the “administration of justice, […] especially an independent judiciary and legal profession in full conformity with applicable standards contained in international human rights instruments, are essential to the full and non-discriminatory realization of human rights”. The statement further condemned the failure of the government of Egypt to protect civil society.

The statement follows the freezing of assets and bank accounts of a number of the country's leading organisations earlier this month. Five human rights defenders – Bahey el din Hassan, Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, Mostafa El-Hassan, and Abdel Hafiz Tayel – and three human rights NGOs – Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Center for the Right to Education – are accused of using ‘foreign funds’ for illegal purposes.

The Human rights NGOs have called on the government of Egypt to close Case no. 173, known as the ‘foreign funding case’, and to immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders.

ISHR Programme Manager Pooja Patel said, “Egyptian human rights defenders need the support of this Council, particularly those States that have repeatedly expressed their commitment to protecting human rights defenders. We urge States to demonstrate their genuine leadership in this regard.”

The full statement can be found here.

International Refugee Assistance Project

Published September 22 2016
Summary: Syrian refugees refused exit permits from Turkey because they have university degrees

22nd September 2016: At least 1,000 Syrian refugees who have been granted resettlement to third countries are being denied exit permits by the Turkish government because they have educational degrees. SRT grantee the International Refugee Assistance Project has been working with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and members of the United States Congress, as well as the media, to raise the profile of this issue and ensure that these refugees do not suffer due to Turkish policy.

Becca Heller, the director and co-founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project, said, “We work with thousands of refugees who wait years to be approved for resettlement in extremely treacherous circumstances. To yank the promise of safety away at the last minute of the process is inhumane and a gross violation of international law.”

A recent piece in The Guardian details the situation.

Lawyers for Human Rights

Published September 22 2016
Summary: South African courts confirm right to nationality of stateless child

6th September 2016: The Supreme Court of Appeal (confirming an order of the North Gauteng High Court) has confirmed the right to South African citizenship of a child born in South Africa to Cuban citizens, setting an important precedent for other stateless children. The family were assisted in their legal case by SRT grantee Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

Daniella was born in Cape Town in 2008. Her parents had come to South Africa on a treaty programme allowing engineers to work there on a special permit. After Daniella was born, they discovered that the Cuban government considers those who work outside Cuba for more than 11 months to be “permanent emigrants” who cannot pass on their nationality to any child born outside Cuba. However, because Daniella’s parents are not South African, she was not a citizen of South Africa either.

Section 2(2) of the Citizenship Act states that all children born in South Africa who would otherwise be stateless should be considered South African citizens by birth. Daniella’s parents first applied for her on this basis, but the Department of Home Affairs refused to recognise her citizenship, claiming that she was not stateless. In a later meeting between LHR and the Department, they confessed that they had resolved not to implement Section 2(2) because “too many people would apply for citizenship”.

Lawyers for Human Rights then applied to the High Court for recognition of Daniella’s pre-existing right to citizenship in terms of Section 2(2). On 6th September 2016 the Supreme Court of Appeal confirmed the High Court’s decision, and ordered the Department for Home Affairs to declare Daniella a South African citizen by birth, issue her with an identity number and birth certificate, and make regulations to facilitate the implementation of section 2(2) of the Citizenship Act within the next 18 months to allow other stateless children to apply for citizenship.

Liesl Muller, head of the Statelessness Project at Lawyers for Human Rights, said, “Ultimately, the implementation of this provision will not only benefit Daniella, but will bring an end to the fights for recognition of the most vulnerable children in our society.”

More information about the case can be found here.

Death Penalty Project

Published September 14 2016
Summary: Zimbabwe constitutional court declares life without parole to be cruel and inhuman punishment

13th September 2016: The Zimbabwe Constitutional Court has declared life sentences without the possibility of parole to be both cruel and inhuman punishment and a violation of human dignity. In the opinion of all eight judges, the “unavoidable cruelty of incarceration”, without a prisoner being able to believe in the realistic possibility of his eventual liberation, would “unnecessarily aggravate and dehumanise the delivery of corrective justice”.

SRT grantee the Death Penalty Project provided expert legal assistance to local lawyer Tendai Biti and Zimbabwean NGO Veritas in the case. This included drafting heads of arguments and submissions, and the provision of legal resources and material.

The applicant, Obediah Makoni, who has spent more than 20 years behind bars after being sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 19, recently challenged the country’s parole regime which excluded all life sentence prisoners, meaning that under his sentence he had no real prospect of ever being released.

In a landmark decision on 13 July 2016 the constitutional court ruled that periodic reviews of detention and rehabilitation programmes with a view to reintegration into society must be provided equally to prisoners serving indefinite terms of imprisonment. It held that any imprisonment that continued unreasonably – that is, beyond the duration of detention necessary to fulfil the aims of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation – was liable to be quashed by the courts. Consequently, the parole regime must be interpreted as applying to all long-term prisoners and not just those with fixed-term sentences.

The Court ordered that a full inquiry and report by the Parole Board be prepared to determine Mr Makoni’s aptitude and suitability for parole.

This decision adds to the increasing number of jurisdictions worldwide in which sentences that are irreducible – such as being passed for natural life or without parole – have been found to contravene fundamental human rights.

The text of the Constitutional Court’s ruling is available here.


Published September 13 2016
Summary: American ex-drone operators file legal brief in support of Yemeni drone victim’s lawsuit

8th September 2016: Brandon Bryant, Lisa Ling and Cian Westmoreland, all of whom have worked on the Obama Administration’s drone programme, have filed a legal brief in support of Faisal bin ali Jaber, a Yemeni environmental engineer whose family members were killed in a 2012 US drone strike. Mr Jaber is jointly represented by SRT grantee Reprieve and law firm Lewis Baach pllc. The three ex-drone operators are represented by attorneys at the Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR).

Mr Jaber’s brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed died in an August 2012 strike on their village. Salem was an anti-al Qaeda imam who is survived by a widow and seven young children; Waleed was a 26 year-old police officer with a wife and infant child. Mr Jaber is seeking an official apology and declaration of error for his relatives’ deaths.

Leaked intelligence indicates that US officials knew they had killed civilians shortly after the strike on Mr Jaber’s family. In July 2014, the family was offered a plastic bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked US dollar bills at a meeting with the Yemeni National Security Bureau (NSB). The NSB official who had requested the meeting told a family representative that the money came from the US and that he had been asked to pass it along.

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, Reprieve US attorney for Mr Jaber, said, “Unlike Western victims of drone strikes, Faisal has not received an apology. He simply wants the US Government to tell the truth and say sorry – it is a scandal that he has been forced to turn to the courts for this most basic expression of human decency.”

Refugee Action

Published September 08 2016
Summary: UK government announces £10 million in new funding towards English classes for Syrian refugees

4th September 2016: The UK Home Office has today announced that it is committing £10 million in new funding towards English language classes for Syrian refugees arriving in the UK under the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). SRT grantee Refugee Action has led the campaign for improved access to English classes for refugees, and is now calling for other refugee groups to receive the same assistance.

The government committed last year to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees under VPRS by 2020. According to the latest figures, around 2,800 Syrians have arrived since the start of the scheme and have settled in over 100 local authority areas. The new funding for English classes will give all adults arriving under VPRS 12 additional hours of lessons per week, on top of the classes already provided by local authorities. The Home Office has been working with Refugee Action to provide guidance to local councils on language tuition.

Refugee Action’s ‘Let Refugees Learn’ campaign resulted in a report published in 2016, also titled Let Refugees Learn, which made various recommendations including creating a fund specifically to support refugees learning English, ensuring equal access to language classes for women, providing asylum seekers with the right to access free English language learning, and ensuring language support for refugees within their communities.

Refugee Action’s Chief Executive Stephen Hale said, “We are delighted that the Government is responding to our ‘Let Refugees Learn’ Campaign with an investment of £10 million so that Syrian refugees in the UK can access the classes and support they need to learn English. This will help individuals and families to make friends, find work and fully integrate into their local communities, and benefit all in Britain […] We [now] call on the Government to make sure that all refugees rebuilding their lives here have the opportunity to learn the language of their new home.”

The Let Refugees Learn report is available here.

Citizen Lab

Published August 30 2016
Summary: Citizen Lab uncovers cyber-attack against prominent UAE-based human rights defender

Toronto, August 25th 2016: SRT grantee Citizen Lab, together with US-based mobile security firm Lookout Security, has uncovered a sophisticated cyber-attack targeting human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor. A report into the attack, The Million Dollar Dissident: NSO Group’s iPhone Zero-Days used against a UAE Human Rights Defender, is being published today.

Ahmed Mansoor is an internationally recognised human rights defender based in the United Arab Emirates. On August 10th and 11th, he received text messages on his iPhone promising “secrets” about detainees tortured in UAE jails if he clicked on an included link. Mansoor sent the messages to Citizen Lab who recognised the links as belonging to NSO Group, an Israel-based “cyber war” company that sells government-exclusive “lawful intercept” spyware. NSO is owned by an American venture capital firm, Francisco Partners Management.

The ensuing investigation, a collaboration between researchers from Citizen Lab and Lookout Security, determined that the links led to a chain of so-called “zero-day exploits” that would have installed sophisticated spyware on Mansoor’s phone. Once infected, the phone would have been capable of employing its camera and microphone to monitor activity in its vicinity, recording internet calls, logging chat messages, and tracking Mansoor’s movements. Citizen Lab believes that based on the costs involved and prior targeting of Mansoor, the UAE government is probably responsible for the attack.

Once the researchers confirmed the presence of what appeared to be zero-days, they quickly notified Apple to share their findings. Apple responded by releasing a patch which closes the vulnerabilities that NSO appears to have been exploiting.

Bill Marczak, Senior Researcher at Citizen Lab, said, “We had been tracking what appeared to be NSO’s infrastructure for several months, but had not seen any spyware that talked to it until Mansoor forwarded us the links he received. Activists like Mansoor are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for targeted digital attacks – the advanced threats they face today will face us all tomorrow.”

The full report is available here on Citizen Lab’s website.

Human Rights Data Analysis Group/Forensic Architecture

Published August 23 2016
Summary: New report exposes ill-treatment and undocumented killing of detainees in Syrian prisons

19th August 2016: Amnesty International has today released a report titled ‘It breaks the human’: Torture, Disease and Death in Syria’s Prisons, which details the appalling conditions and high mortality rate in Syrian prisons between 2011 and 2015. The report was conducted in collaboration with SRT grantees the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and Forensic Architecture.

The report provides harrowing accounts of ill-treatment of detainees in Syrian prisons since the start of the conflict in March 2011. It explores the cases of 65 torture survivors detained by the Syrian military and security services, who describe appalling abuse and inhuman conditions in the prisons where they were held. Many report seeing prisoners dying in custody and dead bodies being left in cells. The report also publishes HRDAG’s estimate of the number of killings that occurred. Their evidence suggests 17,723 people – more than 300 per month on average – have died in custody in Syria since the conflict began.

To accompany the report, HRDAG has released a technical memo explaining its methodology, its sources, and the implications of its findings. It used data from four sources to find a total of 12,270 fully documented, identifiable people killed while in detention. Its team of scientists then used multiple systems estimation to estimate the number of undocumented killings in the prisons during the same time period. With estimated total (documented and undocumented) deaths at 17,723, this means that, in effect, 25 percent of the killings in detention were unreported.

Forensic Architecture assisted Amnesty in creating a virtual 3D reconstruction of Saydnaya using architectural and acoustic modelling and descriptions from former detainees. The model aims to bring to life the daily terror experienced by prisoners and their appalling detention conditions.

HRDAG’s Executive Director Megan Price said, “The estimate of 17,723 killings is a conservative estimate. It’s likely that this is an underestimate because of strict criteria we used to classify killings and the extreme difficulty of collecting information about what happens in detention centers.”

Full report from Amnesty International’s website:

HRDAG’s technical memo is available here:

Association for the Prevention of Torture

Published August 17 2016
Does torture prevention work? APT launches results of four-year research project

17th August 2016: A four-year academic research project has found that global torture prevention measures, such as the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, are effective in reducing torture and ill-treatment. The project, commissioned by SRT grantee the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), is the first systematic analysis of the effectiveness of torture prevention.

The project was carried out independently under the lead of Dr Richard Carver (Oxford Brookes University, UK) and Dr Lisa Handley (USA). Assisted by a team of researchers, Carver and Handley carried out primary research in 16 countries, looking at torture and prevention mechanisms over a 30-year period (1984-2014). Data was analysed using a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques. The findings have been set out in a book, Does Torture Prevention Work? published by Liverpool University Press.

Since APT was founded in 1977 national, regional and international mechanisms have been established for monitoring of places of detention, and more than 80 States have joined the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. However it was unclear whether these monitoring bodies were effective, or what other measures contribute to reducing the risk of torture and ill-treatment.

The study shows that prevention measures do work, although some are much more effective than others. Most important are the safeguards that should be applied in the first hours and days after a person is taken into custody. Notification of family and access to an independent lawyer and doctor has a significant impact in reducing torture. The consistent investigation of torture, effective prosecution of torturers and the creation of independent monitoring bodies are also vital in reducing torture.

APT said, “The results of the research will be of great relevance for governments, National Preventive Mechanisms, civil society organisations, National Human Rights Institutions, the UN and regional torture prevention bodies, and will help inform more effective strategies and polices against torture.”

Full coverage from APT’s website:
The book is available from Liverpool University Press.

Al Mezan

Published August 11 2016
Summary: Al Mezan condemns continued death threats to staff members and calls on the international community to intervene

11th August 2016: SRT grantee Al Mezan has today released the following statement:

“Staff members of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) have been subjected to a protracted campaign of intimidation, harassment, and threats since last year. Yesterday, a senior staff member of Al Mezan received a death threat via email directed to himself and to his family with recent pictures of his house from a close range. These attacks follow a similar pattern of threats against our colleagues at Al-Haq and seem to target NGOs that work on issues of accountability and access to justice for Palestinians. Al Mezan strongly condemns these malicious attacks on human rights defenders who work to promote human rights and international law by using peaceful and legal methods, and calls on the international community to intervene and bring them to an end.

Since late 2015, a protracted campaign has been waged against Al Mezan. Suspicious email messages, Facebook posts, telephone calls to staff, donors and friends have been frequent occurrences, carrying threats and false allegations about the integrity of Al Mezan and our staff members. More recently these messages have contained direct death threats. These attacks have intensified when our staff members were working on international litigation, including reporting to the International Criminal Court, and international advocacy focusing on accountability for serious violations of international law by the Israeli military. These interventions show that Al Mezan staff members are under close surveillance, using highly advanced capabilities. So far, Al Mezan has chosen to deal cautiously and privately with these attacks. However, with these recent, direct death threats to staff and to their families, Al Mezan has decided to go public.

This pattern of attacks follows a wave of hostility towards human rights NGOs involved in advancing accountability in what Israel considers as 'lawfare'.

Al Mezan strongly condemns the threats directed at our staff members, human rights defenders who work with a large number of human rights organizations, and intergovernmental bodies locally and internationally. This smear campaign of false allegations and threats seems to be aimed at undermining Al Mezan's credibility and standing within our society and with partners and at distracting us from our human rights mission and work. This campaign does not and will not scare Al Mezan. To the contrary, Al Mezan will continue to carry out our professional work on our promotion and protection mission using legitimate human rights and international law tools.

Al Mezan calls on the international community, especially human rights defenders mechanisms at the United Nations, European Union, and on the national level, and on international human rights organizations to condemn these unwarranted attacks and take concrete measures to challenge and stop them.”

Coverage from Al Mezan's website:

Human Dignity Trust

Published August 11 2016
Summary: Belize scraps colonial-era law prohibiting consensual gay sex

11th August 2016: A law in Belize that disproportionately affects gay men was ruled unconstitutional yesterday by the country’s Supreme Court. Section 53 of Belize’s Criminal Code, an old British colonial law, banned ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’, thereby making consensual gay sex between adult men in private illegal. While convictions under Section 53 were rare, the law carried a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

In handing down the judgment, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin agreed that Section 53 amounts to a violation of the constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, equality, freedom of expression and non-discrimination on grounds of sex. He found that there was no justification in the form of ‘public morality’ and the law was therefore declared void to the extent it can be applied to same-sex activity.

The case is the culmination of years of work by a Caribbean-led coalition of LGBT activists, academics and legal experts. The individual claimant is Caleb Orozco, a Belizean gay man and head of Belizean LGBT rights organisation UNIBAM. SRT grantee the Human Dignity Trust acted as an ‘Interested Party’ in support of his case. Today Mr Orozco said, “This is the first day of my life in which it is legal for me to be me. This is a history-making judgment for Belize, the country which I am proud to call home. […] In striking down Section 53, Belize has also rejected a poisonous remnant of colonial rule. We have reaffirmed ourselves as a society built on dignity and respect for all our people. This is a proud day.”

Téa Braun, Legal Director of the Human Dignity Trust, said, “This is a great victory for human rights and the rule of law. Intimacy in private between two adults of their own free will should not be a matter for the law. […] Caleb Orozco is a hero and a trailblazer. The Human Dignity Trust is immensely proud to have worked alongside him and his legal team.”

Full coverage from Human Dignity Trust’s website:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Published August 10 2016
Summary: Concern grows for health of imprisoned human rights defender Nabeel Rajab

11th August 2016: SRT grantee the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned about the deteriorating health of its president, leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who has been detained since 13th June. Rajab, the founder of BCHR and Founding Director of SRT grantee the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, is facing up to 15 years in prison for a number of charges related to tweets and retweets concerning torture allegations at Jau Prison and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Rajab’s wife reports that on 5th August Bahraini authorities postponed his urgent hospital appointments until early September. He was due to attend a consultation with specialists to discuss operations to remove gallstones and treat an ulcer on his back. According to information received by BCHR, the ulcer has now worsened and is bleeding, probably due to the poor conditions in detention. The authorities have also postponed a further consultation with a blood disease specialist to discuss Rajab’s low white blood cell count (a condition had not experienced prior to his detention). On 28th June he was transferred to hospital on an emergency basis due to an irregular heartbeat (his only access to specialist medical treatment since his arrest).

Since 13th June Rajab has been held in solitary confinement in extremely poor and unsanitary conditions at West Riffa police station. The toilet and shower are filled with potentially disease-carrying sludge, and there is little or no water in the bathroom. BCHR believes that the poor conditions in which Rajab is being held are causing his deteriorating health.

BCHR is deeply concerned about Nabeel Rajab’s wellbeing. They are calling on the international community to press for his basic human rights to be respected, for his immediate and unconditional release, and for an end to the Bahraini government’s reprisals against human rights defenders. They have shared a Twitter hashtag, #ReleaseNabeel, and a Facebook page to raise awareness of the case.

Full coverage from BCHR’s website:

TRIAL International/World Organisation Against Torture

Published August 03 2016
Summary: Civil society groups condemn growing human rights crisis in Burundi

Geneva, 26th July 2016: A coalition of Burundian NGOs, with the support of SRT grantees TRIAL International and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) along with three other human rights groups, has submitted a report condemning a resurgence in extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and cases of torture in Burundi.

During the 58th session of the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT), which is taking place from 25 July to 12 August 2016, Burundi will exceptionally be examined by experts from the Committee following the deterioration of the human rights situation there, triggered by a deep-rooted political crisis which began in May 2015 following a failed coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza. In the unrest which followed, over 400 people have been killed and 260,000 have fled the country.

Civil society has provided experts with an alternative report describing the alarming situation in Burundi since its last review by the Committee in 2014, and in particular the worsening situation in light of the 2015 political crisis. The report documents numerous violations of the UN Conventions, such as the increased use of torture, poor treatment during arbitrary arrests and detention, restrictions on free expression, and a significant increase in extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances.

The signatories are also concerned by the lack of investigations into these violations and the culture of impunity prevailing throughout the country. The report calls on the Burundian government to put a stop to the violations, prosecute those responsible, and guarantee compensation for victims.

Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice/Physicians for Human Rights

Published July 25 2016
Summary: International Criminal Court sentences Jean-Pierre Bemba to 18 years in prison for crimes against humanity

21st June 2016: the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sentenced the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to 18 years’ imprisonment. Bemba is the third person to be convicted by the court and is so far the highest-level official to be tried.

Bemba’s trial involved the largest number of witnesses for sexual violence in any ICC case to date, with over 5,200 victims participating in the case proceedings. SRT grantees Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and Physicians for Human Rights provide support and advocacy for victims of sexual violence carried out during the CAR conflict.

Bemba was convicted by the ICC on 21st March 2016 of two counts of crimes against humanity including murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes including murder, rape and pillaging. He was convicted in his capacity as leader of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) for crimes committed in 2002-2003 in the Central African Republic (CAR). MLC troops supported the CAR’s then-President Ange-Félix Patassé’s efforts to suppress an attempted coup led by the former head of the CAR army. MLC forces entered the CAR in October 2002 and launched a campaign of rape, pillaging and murder against the civilian population.

Brigid Inder, WIGJ’s Executive Director, said, “This is the first sentencing decision by the ICC for an individual convicted of crimes of sexual violence as well as the first sentence issued for an individual charged with command responsibility […] Formal justice on its own is never enough to provide reconciliation and recovery for individuals and communities who have experienced the commission of crimes, but is irreplaceable as a public acknowledgement of wrongdoing and harm.”

Bemba has appealed against his conviction.


Published July 21 2016
Summary: Knesset approves NGO ‘foreign donations’ bill

11th July 2016: the Israeli Knesset has voted 57-48 to approve a controversial bill requiring non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to publicly report if they receive more than 50 percent of their annual budget from foreign governments.

NGOs affected by the law will be required to declare their sources of funding in all publications, including letters to government and public officials, and in reports to the registrar of non-profit associations. Those that fail to abide by these regulations will be fined 29,200 shekels (US$7,540).

Human rights organisations believe the Bill is targeting them because of their criticism of the Israeli government’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 25 of the 27 Israeli organisations affected by the Bill are human rights groups.

In June 2016, three UN human rights experts urged members of the Knesset not to approve the NGO Bill. The experts expressed grave concern that the legislation would chill the speech of human rights NGOs by subjecting them to harsh penalties for violations and delegitimising them publicly.

SRT grantee Adalah said, "It is […] clear that the purpose of the law is to mark human rights groups that offer alternative positions and critique government policy. Financial assistance from international sources is acceptable and necessary in places and regimes where there are serious problems of human rights violations."

Center for Justice and Accountability

Published July 19 2016
Summary: Center for Justice and Accountability files lawsuit against Bashar al-Assad for murder of journalist Marie Colvin

11th July 2016: SRT grantee the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and pro bono co-counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP have filed a lawsuit in a US court against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the murder of American journalist Marie Colvin. A veteran reporter for the UK Sunday Times, Colvin was killed by Syrian artillery while covering the siege of the city of Homs. CJA's investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting she was deliberately targeted by the Assad regime.

Colvin travelled to Syria in February 2012 to cover the Assad regime's siege of opposition neighbourhoods. Hours after her last broadcast, Syrian officials launched a targeted rocket attack on the media centre in Homs, killing Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik. The attack wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, Syrian interpreter Wael al-Omar, and French journalist Edith Bouvier.

CJA and Shearman & Sterling have filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against the Syrian government, on behalf of Marie's surviving family members-including her sister, Cathleen Colvin, and her niece, Justine Araya-Colvin. Cathleen Colvin said, "This case is about carrying on Marie's work. We are seeking truth and justice not just for her, but for thousands of innocent Syrians tortured or killed under the Assad dictatorship. We hope our case will clear a path to bring those responsible to justice."

Full coverage from CJA’s website:


Published July 11 2016
Summary: FORWARD responds to Economist article advocating a partial lifting of the ban on FGM

On 18th June 2016 the Economist published an article titled Female Genital Mutilation: An Agonising Choice, which advocated lifting the blanket ban on FGM in the UK and legalising the ‘least nasty’ forms of the practice. The full article can be found here.

SRT grantee FORWARD, which has worked on ending FGM for over 30 years in the UK and Africa, released a statement condemning the article and urging that the full ban on FGM be maintained.

FORWARD said: “The article is misleading on many levels: firstly FGM is a human rights abuse, like any other human rights abuse there can be no ‘lesser’ form which could ever be acceptable. […] Stating that less harmful forms of FGM have no lasting implications on women and girls is also wholly incorrect. If women who have undergone Type 1 or 2 FGM and not the most severe form of Type 3 were consulted then the physical and also psychological implications of all forms of FGM would become evident. There are also numerous studies which have documented the effect of all types of FGM on a woman’s health and wellbeing for the rest of her life. To state that a lesser form of FGM would be better is to undermine the suffering of millions of women worldwide.

[…] As an organisation that speaks directly to and works alongside FGM affected communities and grassroots organisations, FORWARD knows that massive strides have been made in countries outlawing the practice, and can see the impact of actions being taken by the communities affected by FGM in changing attitudes and behaviour. It may take a while to see the effects of these changes in behaviour reflected in statistics that are collected over many years, but to dismiss that they may be happening suggests a lack of knowledge.”

Full response from FORWARD’s website:

Center for Justice and Accountability

Published July 07 2016
Summary: US court finds Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nunez guilty of murder of Victor Jara

Orlando, 27th June 2016: a jury has found Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nunez liable for the torture and murder of the Chilean musician Víctor Jara, who was killed during General Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in 1973. The court ordered Barrientos to pay $28 million in damages.

SRT grantee the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and legal firm Chadbourne & Parke filed a civil suit against Barrientos in September 2013 on behalf of Mr Jara’s family, alleging his responsibility for Jara’s torture and execution. Jara was one of thousands of intellectuals, political leaders and perceived supporters of the Allende government detained en masse at Chile Stadium during the early days of the coup. His torture and death came to symbolise the suffering of all those detained, tortured, and killed at the stadium, many of whom have yet to be identified.

Eyewitnesses testified that Barrientos, a former senior military officer in Chile who has since moved to the USA, was at the scene of Jara’s death and had boasted of killing him.

Victor Jara’s widow Joan Jara said, “It has been a long journey seeking justice for Victor’s death. His songs continue to be sung today, and inspire both artists and those who seek social justice. For Victor, art and social justice were one and the same. Today, there is some justice for Victor’s death, and for the thousands of families in Chile who have sought truth. I hope that the verdict today continues the healing.”

CJA’s Director C. Dixon Osburn said, “We believe that perpetrators of the worst human rights crimes should be held to account, no matter how long it takes or where they try to hide […] We hope that the verdict today provides some measure of justice and accountability for those who have fought so hard to see this day.”

Full coverage from CJA’s website:

Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

Published July 01 2016
Summary: Israel recognises its first Sudanese refugee

23rd June 2016, Israel: Sudanese national Mutasim Ali has finally been awarded refugee status, seven years after entering Israel, four years after submitting his asylum application, after six legal appeals, and being detained for 14 months in Holot detention facility.

Mutasim is a survivor of the genocide in Darfur, and is the first Sudanese person to gain refugee status in Israel. He is coming to the end of his first year in law school. He said, “I will continue to contribute to Israeli society and the refugee community in Israel. I intend to use the status granted to me to improve the situation in Darfur, until I can safely return to my homeland. I call on the Israeli government and the international community to act to halt the bloodshed in Darfur and in other regions in Sudan."

SRT grantee Hotline for Refugees and Migrants has been assisting for the past four years with Mutasim’s struggle to receive refugee status, which has now been granted in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention. This decision puts an end to the uncertainty and fear of deportation or detention for Mutasim. Mutasim’s lawyer and Director of the Hotline’s Legal Department, Asaf Weitzen, said "It is so moving that after all the hardship, after such a prolonged period of uncertainty and detention and after endless legal proceedings, Mustasim was finally granted the legal status he deserves. I hope this is a sign of things to come."

End Violence Against Women

Published June 28 2016
Summary: End Violence Against Women Coalition responds to Stanford rape case

Rachel Krys, co-director of SRT grantee End Violence Against Women Coalition, has written an opinion piece in Newsweek on the Stanford rape case that saw a white male student Brock Turner, convicted of rape and sentenced to six months in prison.

In the article “Stanford Rape Case: Why young men need to read the statement of Brock Turner's victim”, Krys explains that the 12-page victim statement - which has since been published in full and gone viral - can provide boys and young men with an insight into the impact that sexual violence has on women and girls. According to Krys, “the statement gives us a better understanding of why up to 85 percent of rapes in the UK are never reported and how devastating sexual violence is for victims.”

The article also discusses the statement made by Brock Turner’s father in the hope of a lenient sentence for his son, and says that this echoes many high-profile cases in the UK “where we’re asked to spare a thought for the reputation of the man who is accused.”

The article also expresses concerns over the growing number of high-profile assault cases on female students, which places a huge responsibility on education institutions to take appropriate action to address the problem, and has led to sexual violence taskforces being introduced in the US and UK to help tackle the problem.

Reporters without Borders / IFEX

Published June 22 2016
Summary: Human rights defender and journalist arrested in Turkey on charges of “terrorist propaganda”

20th June 2016, Istanbul, Turkey: Authorities have arrested well known free speech advocate Erol Önderoglu, alongside head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey Sebnem Korur Fincani and journalist and writer Ahmet Nesin, on charges of “terrorist propaganda” for participating in a solidarity campaign for the Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem.

Erol Önderoglu has worked for over two decades as the Turkish representative of the press freedom group and SRT grantee, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and is also a board member of SRT grantee IFEX. The three are among 44 journalists and activists who have served as co-editor of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper for a day to protest the government's persistent judicial harassment of the newspaper and its staff. To date, prosecutors have opened criminal investigations into at least 37 participants in the campaign. The three are being held in pre-trial detention and as yet a trial date has not been set.

Zainab al-Khawaja

Published June 08 2016
Summary: Bahraini authorities release human rights defender Zainab al-Khawaja from prison

31st May 2016, Bahrain: Zainab al-Khawaja has been released from prison on “humanitarian grounds” and in the interests of her 17-month-old son whom she kept with her throughout the imprisonment.

Opposition activist al-Khawaja was first imprisoned in March of 2016. In spite of her release the original charges stand, and there is a threat that she could be returned to prison. She was sentenced to a total of three years and one month in prison on a variety of charges, including two sentences for ripping a picture of Bahrain’s monarch and one year in prison for allegedly “insulting” a police officer.

This is an update of previous coverage of Zainab al-Khawaja’s arrest, which was published on 18th March 2016.

Civitas Maxima / Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l'Homme / International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) / Human Rights Data Analysis Group

Published June 03 2016
Summary: Former Chadian President Hissène Habré convicted of atrocities in landmark trial

30th May 2016, Dakar, Senegal: The former Chadian President and dictator Hissène Habré has been convicted of torture, rape, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to life in prison by the Extraordinary African Chambers, which Habré has refused to recognise. It is a landmark trial making Habré the first former head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by the courts of another country.

The trial against Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, began in July, 2015. 90 witnesses testified that he had thrown thousands of people into secret jails where they were tortured and killed. Testimony included that of expert witness Patrick Ball, Director of Research at SRT grantee Human Rights Data Analysis Group, regarding the very high rates of prison mortality in Habré’s prisons during his reign. Survivors described the appalling prison conditions where cells were so crowded that prisoners lay on the dead bodies of those who had suffocated or died of disease. Files of Habré’s political police that were recovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001 revealed the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention, and 12,321 victims of human rights violations, which became a major component of the trial.

Women were kept as sexual slaves, and Alain Werner, the director of SRT grantee Civitas Maxima, who represented some of the victims, said that one of the most important aspects of the trial was Habré’s conviction for personally raping Khadija Zidane four times. “They were just women in the middle of the desert with soldiers, abused for a very, very long period of time,” Werner said. “Women suffered so much under Habré. It puts the whole sexual violence aspect back in the middle of the case.”

SRT grantees Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), along with other African and international organisations, are founding members of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré, which has been working tirelessly for justice from the beginning of the legal procedures over 15 years ago. They will also be collaborating for the second phase of the trial on damages, for the appeal which will go into 2017 and for the follow-up work on transitional justice in Chad.

Reed Brody, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch, also a member of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré, said “This verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalise their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end. Today will be carved into history as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors brought their dictator to justice.”

This is an update on previous coverage of the trial involving SRT grantee TrustAfrica on 13th May 2016.

Access Now

Published: May 25 2016
Summary: Nigerian Senate withdraws controversial social media bill

17th May 2016, Abuja, Nigeria: A “Frivolous Petitions Bill” aimed at preventing citizens from posting on social media has been withdrawn by the Nigerian Senate after failure to win enough votes and staunch opposition by Nigerian civil society groups.

Officially named “an act to prohibit frivolous petitions; and other matters connected therewith”, and popularly called the “Social Media Bill”, it was considered to be an attempt to prevent Nigerians from discrediting public officials and would have imposed penalties of up to $10,000 and two years in jail.

Nigerian civil society groups, who rallied around the hashtag #notosocialmediabill, pressured lawmakers in the Nigerian Senate to drop the bill before it could be passed along to the House of Representatives. A coalition of groups, including SRT grantee Access Now, delivered a letter to the Senate stating objections to the bill and outlining the potential negative implications on free expression and the economy. Fittingly, the Senate confirmed withdrawal of the bill in a tweet.

Social media has become a crucial outlet for a new generation of Nigerians who are keen to demand more accountability and transparency in government. “This is a victory for Nigeria and free expression in the digital age,” said Deji Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “At a time when Africa’s largest democracy has committed to fighting corruption and combating Boko Haram, the bill would have criminalized reporting by journalists and prevented citizens from holding their officials accountable.”


Published: May 24 2016
Summary: Observing the Lebanese municipal elections from a gender perspective

8th May, 2016: Lebanon has begun its first round of municipal elections as thousands cast their votes in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and Baalbek-Hermel. This is the first electoral process in Lebanon since 2009 due to the stalemate between the two main political camps, which has resulted in postponement of parliamentary and presidential elections on a number of occasions. This has given the municipal elections a new-found importance, as under the current conditions the Lebanese perceive it as their only avenue to influence the political process.

SRT grantee Fe-Male, together with other Lebanese women’s rights NGOs and with the support of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, have been observing and monitoring all polling stations to evaluate the impact of various aspects of the electoral process on women and men’s access to their right to vote and their choice of candidate. Election observation is a valuable tool for improving the quality of elections and can help promote and protect the civil and political rights of citizens. Fe-Male believes that collecting statistical data can be particularly helpful in analyzing women’s participation and assessing whether trends are moving in a positive direction.

Fe-Male’s observations so far lead it to believe that women’s effective participation in the Lebanese elections have been hindered by the current majoritarian electoral system, the lack of a specific quota for women, and by family dynamics and pressures. It aims to publish its observations and findings after the elections are completed on 28th May 2016. It hopes to suggest future practical steps to reform electoral laws and render electoral processes more democratic, transparent and gender-sensitive.


Published May 13 2016
Summary: Landmark trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré takes place before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar, Senegal

The trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré, accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, began in July 2015 before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal. The alleged crimes were committed during Habré’s regime from 1982 to 1990, when an estimated 40,000 people are reported to have died or disappeared.

SRT grantee TrustAfrica has enhanced independent coverage of the Habré trial through their International Criminal Justice (ICJ) Fund which worked closely with a consortium of civil society organisations and Senegalese law graduates. The ICJ Fund trained a group of law graduates from the Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD) in Dakar to monitor, document and provide daily reports on the proceedings in both French and English across various platforms. The work of these students provides an invaluable resource to ensure there is an independent platform of informed actors who can provide accurate and timely analysis of the proceedings, and share this information in Africa and beyond.

The trial ended on February 11 2016, after testimony from 93 witnesses, and on May 30, 2016 judges at the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system will deliver their verdict. This is the first time a former African Head of State is facing justice in another African country. It is also one of the first occasions that an African court is operating under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The New York Times has called the case “a milestone for justice in Africa.”

Information on Extraordinary African Chambers:

Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD)

Published May 05 2016
Summary: Anti-FGM film wins Gold World Medal at 2016 New York Festival

2nd May 2016, New York: Needlecraft, a short animated film on female genital mutilation (FGM), has won the Gold World Medal at the 2016 New York Festival, which honours the best TV and films. It was created by British filmmaker Ruth Beni and her production company Animage Films, in collaboration with SRT grantee FORWARD, and was inspired by the Guardian newspaper’s work with FGM survivors. It beat competition from the BBC, CNN and broadcasters from over 50 countries to win the award.

The film describes how FGM affects more than 125 million girls from 29 countries around the world, and animation was used by the filmmaker to respect the dignity and anonymity of the survivors while still depicting the full impact of the practice. Ruth Beni said, “I thought that something so harrowing had to be told in a very beautiful way so the facts could be palatable.”

FORWARD works primarily with women and girls in African diaspora communities to tackle the practice of FGM in the UK through community engagement, youth activism and advocacy. The film has been shown in UK schools and been so successful that a second version, entitled My Body, My Rules, has been made and sent out to 50 schools in the UK. Another version, the Story of Ghati and Rhobi, has been made for distribution in Africa and is currently being used by schools and communities in Tanzania.

All three films produced by Animage are available on the FORWARD website:

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel

Published April 25 2016
Summary: New report reveals significant increase in solitary confinement in Israeli prisons

Israel, March 2016: SRT grantee Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI) has released a new report, ‘Politics of Punishment’, which analyses the use of solitary confinement in Israeli prisons. The report shows a significant increase in the numbers held in solitary confinement, which almost double from 390 to 755 between 2012 and 2014. International human rights law views solitary confinement as a form of torture and calls for significantly reducing and ending its use. These figures reinforce concerns that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) is using solitary confinement on a regular basis, rather than as a measure of last resort.

The IPS employs three forms of solitary confinement; however it only keeps data pertaining to one form, which revealed the scope of its use and the way it is used. In July 2015, the data revealed that 117 prisoners were subjected to solitary confinement, including two minors, with seven held in solitary confinement for more than five years and 63 for more than six months. Some were kept there for nothing more than an administrative IPS decision. This contradicts the affirmation by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in 2011 that solitary confinement exceeding 15 days constitutes torture or cruel degrading treatment or punishment, and the adoption of the amended version of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners prohibiting prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement.

Adv. Ola Shtiwi, Coordinator of Policy Change at PHRI’s Prisoners and Detainees Department and author of the report, said, “There is no disputing the obligation of the state and all of its institutions to protect prisoners and care for their health. Many have already come to the realisation that solitary confinement only causes prisoners harm and that it is their duty to ban its use. The decision to go on using solitary confinement despite its extensive ill effects suggests that it is not used as a means of ensuring protection and security for prisoners, as claimed, but as a means of oppression”.

Humanitarian Law Center

Published April 14 2016
Summary: Belgrade court issues first judgment awarding compensation to victims of war crimes in Kosovo

Belgrade, Serbia, April 2016: The First Basic Court in Belgrade has delivered a judgment obliging the Republic of Serbia to pay compensation totalling 25.9 million dinars (approximately £170,000) to 24 close relatives of 14 women and children who were killed in front of their own homes in Podujevo, Kosovo, in March 1999 by members of the Ministry of Interior unit "Scorpions". SRT grantee Humanitarian Law Center represented the families of the victims.

On 28 March 1999, members of the "Scorpions" unit removed women and children from their homes in Podujevo and shot them with automatic rifles in the yard of the house of the Gashi family, killing Sala Bogujevci (39 years old), her sons Shpend (13) and Shpetim (10); Shefkate Bogujevci (43), her daughter Nora (15) and her mother-in-law Shehide (67); their cousin Nefise Llugaliu (55), her daughter-in-law Fezdrije (21), Fitnete Duriqi (36) and her four children – Dafina (9), Arber (7), Mimoza (4) and Albin (2); as well as her mother-in-law Isma (69). Five children – Saranda, Fatos, Jehona, Lirije and Genc Bogujevci - survived the shooting, having received severe injuries.

Five people were found guilty of committing these crimes in earlier criminal proceedings, but the victims’ families have had to engage in a long civil suit seeking reparation. This is the first judgment in Serbia awarding compensation on the basis of established responsibility of the Serbian state for crimes committed by its forces against Albanian civilians during the armed conflict in Kosovo. The state’s responsibility is founded on the provision of Article 172 of the Law on Contracts and Torts, according to which the state is liable for the damage caused to third persons by its organs, in the performance of their duties or in relation thereto.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Published April 06 2016
Summary: “Panama Papers” Expose Secret Offshore Companies of Politicians and Public Officials Around the World

Washington, DC, April 3rd, 2016: The “Panama Papers” are an unprecedented leaked cache of 11.5 million financial records from the database of the world’s fourth biggest, but little-known offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The investigation was carried out by SRT grantee the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and about 370 journalists from more than 70 countries.

The investigation examined the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and the offshore financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials from around the world. It is not illegal to own an offshore company and many of those named in the “Panama Papers” have not used their offshore entities for wrongdoing. However, the use of offshore entities by political leaders and criminals raises questions about the impact of financial secrecy havens on national treasuries and the rule of law. ICIJ highlights, for example, a pattern of covert manoeuvres by banks, companies and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffling $2 billion through banks and shadow companies, which led to Russian officials denouncing the investigation before it went public. The account holders include people and companies blacklisted by the US government with links to drug lords, terrorist organisations and rogue nations.

The ICIJ is a project of the Center for Public Integrity and a global network of investigative reporters. Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ, said, “This is the biggest cross-border investigation in journalism history, using a data set that is the largest of its kind”. ICIJ’s stories have triggered official inquiries, high-profile resignations and policy changes around the world.

Full details from ICIJ's website:

Bento Rodrigues

Published April 04 2016
Summary: Brazilian dam bursts with devastating human and environmental consequences

On 5th November 2015 a tailings dam, holding waste from an iron ore mine, burst flooding the village of Bento Rodrigues in the state of Minas Gerais in the central region of Brazil. Thousands of tonnes of toxic waste flowed out, destroying houses, farmland, and rivers and leaving at least 17 people dead and 350 families homeless. The environmental impact of this disaster will take years if not decades to overcome. Fishing and agricultural communities have had their livelihood destroyed, and local residents and indigenous communities their homes wiped out. The water of the Rio Doce, which supplied most of the 3.2 million people that live in its basin, "no longer has any use, being unfit for irrigation, animal and human consumption," according to the director of the Water and Sewage Service of Baixu Guandu in the neighbouring state of Espirito Santo. An estimated 9 million tonnes of fish have been found dead on the banks of the river.

The iron ore mine was owned by Samarco, a joint venture between BHP Billiton Ltd, an Anglo-Australian mining company, the largest in the world, and Vale, a Brazilian company and the third largest in the world. In December the assets of both companies were frozen following a judicial ruling that Samarco could not cover the estimated damage costs of US$5 billion demanded by the government. Following several attempts to challenge government compensation demands the two companies agreed in March 2016 to set up a fund of US$1.5 billion. However, state and federal prosecutors have challenged this compensation agreement signed with the government as it undermines the rights of the victims of the disaster at a number of levels. The agreement allows the mining companies to set up a private foundation that will oversee each compensation claim on an individual basis, which will give them the ability to negotiate a victim’s compensation. Any victims willing to challenge the compensation will have to take them to court with lawyers funded by the companies.

SRT grantee Justica Global, launched a report in January 2016, setting out its findings on the extensive human rights violations caused by the disaster. The organisation has also denounced both companies to both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights following both the disaster and the subsequent failure to provide minimum adequate compensation for victims. On 25th November, Justiça Global and Conectas, another SRT grantee, took the United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs on human rights and the environment as well as on human rights and hazardous substances to visit the disaster site. The UN human rights representatives stated that the disaster was a “tragic example of the failure of businesses to adequately conduct human rights due diligence to prevent human rights abuses”.


Published March 30 2016
Summary: Ongoing crackdown on Egyptian NGOs is criticised by leading international organisations

Egypt, March 2016: A five-year investigation into the funding and registration of independent human rights groups in Egypt has gathered pace in recent months, with fears that it could soon result in criminal charges. Human rights workers have been summoned for questioning, banned from travel, and have experienced attempts to freeze their personal funds and family assets.

The investigation began in July 2011 into the funding of local and foreign groups and has already led to convictions and the closure of the Egyptian offices of five international NGOs in 2013. Under Egyptian law, human rights defenders could be charged for working without official registration or accepting foreign funding without governmental authorisation. An amendment to the penal code, passed in 2014, calls for a sentence up to life imprisonment for the latter charge.

The latest wave of allegations has led 14 international organisations, including SRT grantees Euromed Rights, FIDH, IFEX, International Service for Human Rights, and the World Organisation Against Torture, to express concern over the situation. They said the Egyptian authorities should halt their persecution of these groups and drop the investigation, which could threaten human rights defenders with up to 25 years in prison. They also want authorities to lift the gagging order prohibiting media outlets from publishing anything on the case other than statements issued by the presiding judges until the investigations are complete.

Michel Tubiana, President of EuroMed Rights, said, “Instead of shutting down the last vestiges of civil society, Egypt should welcome scrutiny of its human rights record and take on board the constructive criticisms of local NGOs. The authorities should engage in an open and genuine dialogue with its rights movement.”

Equality Now

Published: March 23 2016
Summary: Ethiopian government ordered to pay $150,000 to victim of abduction, rape and forced marriage

9th March 2016: In a landmark ruling, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has ordered the Ethiopian government to pay $150,000 compensation in the case of Woineshet Zebene Negash, who was abducted, raped and forced into marriage at age 13.

In March 2001, Aberew Jemma Negussie and accomplices broke into Woineshet's house and raped her. Woineshet was rescued and her rapist was arrested. However, they were released on bail and Negussie abducted her again and hid her in his brother's house. She managed to escape more than a month later, but only after she was forced to sign a piece of paper, which would later be used against her in court, as a “marriage contract”.

In July 2003, in the first Ethiopian case in which accomplices were also charged and convicted for abduction, Negussie was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for abduction and rape. The four accomplices were sentenced to eight years each. However, later that year the sentence was overturned by an appeals court and all five perpetrators were released.

Since the case could not be re-tried in Ethiopia and as all other local avenues to justice were exhausted, a complaint was then filed in 2007 by SRT grantee Equality Now with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Woineshet.

Nine years later – and 15 years since Woineshet was raped - the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights found that the Ethiopian government did not protect her from violence and also failed to provide a "decent system of justice," and that it should implement “escalated and targeted measures” to deal with "marriage" by abduction and rape.

Faiza Jama Mohamed, the Director of Equality Now, said, “the disposability of girls in Ethiopia and around the world needs to end. We cannot be free until every sexist penal code is changed and every single girl is protected from violence".

Full report from Faiza Jama Mohamed:

Zainab Al-Khawaja

Published: March 18 2016
Summary: Human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja detained with her 15-month-old son

Bahrain, March 14th 2016: Bahraini security forces have raided the house of prominent human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja and arrested her with her 15-month-old son. Zainab Al-Khawaja is the daughter of prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who established SRT grantees the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, and has been serving a life sentence in prison since 2011. She is also the sister of Maryam Al-Khawaja, the co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, who expressed fears that Zainab’s arrest may be linked to her own campaigning against human rights violations by some members of the Bahraini royal family. Maryam Al-Khawaja has also been charged with “assaulting police officers” while being searched.

Zainab Al-Khawaja has already spent almost a year and a half in prison. She is now facing a prison sentence of three years and one month and a 3,000BD fine linked to various court cases against her, including tearing up a photograph of the King. If the fine is not paid, her prison term will be extended by around a year and a half.

According to Amnesty International, Zainab Al-Khawaja’s convictions are “for nothing more than tearing up photos and seeking to visit her father in prison. If this arrest means the start of her prison sentence, she will be a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression.”

Zainab Al-Khawaja is currently being held in Isa Town women’s prison. In a recent family prison visit she expressed concerns over her baby’s health due to poor detention conditions (see

In a joint statement issued on 14 March, SRT grantees the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Bahrain Centre for Human rights, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and others have called for Zainab Al-Khawaja’s immediate and unconditional release.

Sistema Scotland

Published: March 14 2016
Summary: Scottish Government awards £2.5 million to Sistema Scotland

Scotland, March 11th 2016: The Scottish Government Minister responsible for Culture, Fiona Hyslop, has announced a further £2.5m investment into the continuing work of SRT grantee Sistema Scotland. This will expand the Scottish Government’s support for Sistema's Big Noise orchestra programme to 2020, taking total Scottish Government funding for Sistema Scotland to more than £4 million since 2012/13. This four-year funding package will support the existing three Big Noise centres in Raploch, Govanhill, and Torry to sustain and develop their intensive, immersive and long-term work with children and young people in some of the most disadvantaged communities.

Sistema Scotland currently works with more than 1,500 children and young people, and today’s funding package will enable it to work with at least an extra 700 young people, aiming to transform their lives, opportunities and prospects by engaging them in Big Noise youth orchestras. Richard Holloway, Chairman of the Sistema Scotland Board, said, “We are delighted by this incredible support from the Scottish Government. It fully endorses the social transformation work done by Sistema Scotland and the Big Noise Centres in the communities they serve.”

Further information from Sistema Scotland's website:

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture

Published: March 10 2016
Summary: Human Rights Activists attacked in North Caucasus

North Caucasus, 9th March, 2016: A group of masked men, armed with baseball bats and “sharp objects”, has attacked a minibus carrying nine people, including foreign and Russian journalists as well as Russian human rights defenders. The delegation were dragged from the bus and beaten before their minibus was set alight. Five of the party have been taken to hospital. The group was travelling between Ingushetia and Chechnya as part of a tour organised by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture to document human rights violations.

Shortly after this attack a group of masked men, armed with automatic weapons, was seen to enter the offices of the Joint Mobile Group – a Chechen human rights organisation set up by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and other human rights groups – where they ransacked the offices. Staff of the Group, who were not present at the time, monitored the attack through security camera footage. They are currently unable to visit the offices to assess the damage.

International human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and SRT grantee Frontline Defenders, have denounced the attacks and called on Russian authorities to immediately investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement from Human Rights Watch can be found here:

The story has also been covered in international news sources such as The Guardian:

Human Rights Data Analysis Group

Published: March 08 2016

March 2016: Patrick Ball from SRT grantee Human Rights Data Analysis Group discusses how he and his colleagues attempt to measure undocumented police homicides in the United States in the most recent edition of Granta:

Berta Caceres

Published: March 04 2016
Summary: Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner Berta Cáceres found murdered

La Esperanza, Intibuca, Honduras, March 3rd, 2016: Berta Cáceres, one of the leading indigenous activists and environmental rights campaigners in Honduras, has been found shot dead in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca.

As co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), Berta was involved in high-profile campaigns against dams, illegal loggers and plantation owners. This included pressurising the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam, which earned her the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.

As recently as 20th February, Berta attended a COPINH march in Rio Blanco where she and other participants faced threats as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the Honduran company DESA. As a result of her work Berta had received many threats against her life but was determined to continue campaigning. In an interview in 2015 she said, “we must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.”

SRT grantee the Fund for Global Human Rights, who themselves provide a grant to COPINH, have demanded a thorough and immediate investigation of the circumstances surrounding Berta’s death. Ana Paula Hernández, Program Officer for Latin America, stated, “It is imperative that the government of Honduras thoroughly and immediately investigate Berta’s murder, and bring those responsible to justice. This tragedy follows a pattern that has made Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world for environmental justice and land rights activists.”

Full press release from the Fund for Global Human Rights:

NGO Bill in Israel Threatens Human Rights Organisations

Published: March 04 2016
Summary: Israeli human rights groups express concern about pending NGO Bill

Pending legislation in Israel to restrict foreign government funding to NGOs could have serious consequences for many human rights organisations in the country. It would require NGOs that receive 50% or more of their funding from foreign governments to state that fact in all of their publications, written reports to Knesset members and decision-makers, at any hearing or discussion involving a written protocol, and in any oral discussion held in a place where public officials work. For organisations that conduct litigation or engage in public advocacy, this would mean identifying themselves as foreign-supported throughout their regular work.

According to SRT grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “The alleged objective of the bill is to promote greater transparency of organizations whose funding comes from ‘foreign government entities’ due to fear that these interfere in the internal affairs of the country. In fact, all NGOs receiving donations, and contributions from foreign political entities in particular, have long been subject to strict transparency requirements.” Many human rights organisations interpret the bill as an attempt to silence organisations that are critical of government policies both by delegitimising their work and making their jobs more difficult. ACRI points out that “The freedom to criticize the government and to monitor and assist those who are harmed by government activities are essential practices of democracy.”

The bill passed the first reading in the Knesset on 9 February 2016 and is awaiting further discussion.

SRT grantee, Adalah, has drafted a short paper highlighting a number of pending pieces of legislation of concern to the human rights community in Israel. The paper is available here:

Breaking the Silence and Impunity Alliance

Published: March 01 2016
Summary: Victory in the landmark Sepur Zarco case as Guatemalan court finds two former military members guilty of the murder, rape and sexual enslavement of indigenous women

Guatemala City, February 26th 2016: Two former senior military officers have been found guilty of crimes against humanity involving murder, sexual slavery and other atrocities committed at the Sepur Zarco military base in Guatemala. Of the two accused, Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Giron, former commander of the Sepur Zarco base, was given prison sentences totaling 120 years and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig was given sentences totalling 240 years.

The history of the case goes back to 1982 when Guatemala’s armed forces repeatedly attacked the small village of Sepur Zarco, capturing and killing or disappearing male Q’eqchi’ campesino leaders who were seeking to obtain legal titles to their lands. For the six months after the disappearances and executions of male community leaders, soldiers raped many of the widows, often in front of children, and subjected them systematically to sexual and domestic slavery. In some cases these practices continued for up to six years.

With the support of a network of feminist organisations called Breaking the Silence and Impunity Alliance (Alianza Rompiendo el Silencio y la Impunidad), an SRT grantee, a process was initiated to bring the case to trial. More than 20 victims from Sepur Zarco testified in court about the abuses they suffered at the hands of the Guatemalan army between 1982 and 1988. The presiding judge Yassmin Barrios said that rape had been deliberately used at Sepur Zarco as a weapon aimed at destroying the local indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community. The case is historic for being the first known example of the prosecution in a national court of the crime of sexual slavery during armed conflict as a violation of international humanitarian law. Paula Barrios, director of Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM), one of the member organisations of Breaking the Silence and Impunity Alliance, said, “This sets a precedent at national and international level because the women survivors of sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery are in front of a national court witnessing the hearings where those responsible for the crimes are being judged”.

View photos from the trial

Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)

Published February 23 2016
Summary: Justice after 33 years for family of forcibly disappeared anti-apartheid activist

Johannesburg, 8 February 2016: after 33 years, the South Africa National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has announced that it will charge four former security policemen with the murder and kidnapping of anti-apartheid activist Nokuthula Simelane. This will be the first prosecution of apartheid-era perpetrators since 2007.

Nokuthula Simelane was abducted, tortured and forcibly disappeared by members of the Security Branch of the former South African Police in 1983. She was a 23-year-old university graduate who was a courier for Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, moving between Swaziland and South Africa. Her remains have never been found. Her family has been denied the right to bury their daughter and has been pursuing justice with assistance from SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

In 1996 a police docket was opened on the case. In 2001 the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted some of the perpetrators amnesty for Nokuthula’s abduction. None of the perpetrators applied for amnesty for her murder. Years of negotiations and correspondence with the NPA yielded no official action. Pleas for an inquest were denied and requests to institute criminal proceedings against the suspects who did not apply for amnesty were refused.

Left with no alternative, the family filed papers before the High Court in May 2015, seeking to compel the National Director of Public Prosecution (NDPP) to make a decision with regards to prosecution. Despite having filed a notice to oppose the case, the NDPP brought the family to the negotiating table and decided to prosecute four of the suspected perpetrators for the murder and kidnapping of Nokuthula. Angela Mudukuti, International Criminal Justice Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, commended the NDPP for “a bold step, one that his predecessors were either unwilling or unable to take”; however she added that “no one should have to wait for 33 years before justice is done”.

Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM)

Published February 17 2016
Summary: Peruvian government pays out compensation in historic UN human rights abortion case

Peru, December 2015: Nearly a decade after the original complaint was filed with the UN Human Rights Committee, the Peruvian government has agreed to pay compensation to a woman who had critical abortion access denied and her human rights violated. The case was brought to the Committee by SRT grantee the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights, along with the Centre for Reproductive Rights and the Counselling Centre for the Defence of Women’s Rights.

In 2001, the foetus of a 17-year-old Peruvian girl was diagnosed with anencephaly at the public hospital in Lima. Anencephaly is a fatal birth defect where the foetus lacks most or all of the forebrain. Doctors told her that continuing the pregnancy would put her life and health at risk and she was recommended to have an abortion, which was legal in Peru under such circumstances. However the hospital refused the termination on the grounds that the State had not provided clear regulations for providing the service. The pregnant girl had no choice but to carry the pregnancy to full term and breastfeed the baby for the four days that it lived. It was a decision that went on to have serious mental and physical consequences to her health.

It marked the first time that a UN human rights body held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion services. The Committee stated that Peru had violated the victim’s rights under several articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In a press statement in December, Centre for Reproductive Rights Chief Executive Officer Nancy Northrup said that while compensating the victim was important, more still needed to be done regarding access to reproductive health services. “It’s time for Peru to clarify and implement its safe abortion guidelines and continue improving access to critical reproductive health services for all women and girls,” she said.

Refugee Consortium of Kenya

Published: February 11 2016
Summary: Kenyan court finds separation of refugee children from their parents unconstitutional

Kenya, 18th December 2015: In 2014, SRT grantee Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) went to court seeking orders to declare the separation of refugee children from their parents during the “Usalama Watch” security operation as unconstitutional. On 18th December 2015, a verdict was delivered in favour of RCK and the court ordered that the 48 children, on whose behalf the petition was brought, be re-united with their parents.

Operation “Usalama Watch” (security watch) was launched on 5th April 2014 by the Kenyan government, ostensibly for purposes of preserving national security. The operation involved the rounding up of hundreds of foreign nationals including refugees and asylum seekers, particularly in Nairobi County. One of the outcomes of the operation included the separation of children from their parents, which caused suffering to the children left behind and was the reason that RCK filed the petition.

A blanket condemnation of refugees and asylum seekers is against the basic foundations of human rights envisioned in Kenya’s constitution and Refugees Act 2006. The court found that RCK had succeeded in proving that the Kenyan government had violated the rights of the children. The court also noted that the government had failed to clearly demonstrate the connection between the insecurity in the country and the presence of urban refugees, and therefore the restrictive measures taken led to further infringement of the rights of the children. The court ordered for the children to be re-united with their parents, and an award of 50,000 KES (£340.00) to be paid to each of the 48 children affected.

Closing Space for Civil Society

Published: February 11 2016

In June 2015, more than 80 funders, civil society actors, and government representatives met in Berlin to discuss the closing space for civil society in a workshop organised by SRT grantees Ariadne and the International Human Rights Funders Group together with the European Foundation Centre. Many donors and civil society organisations are finding that their work is being constrained by legislation that restricts the registration, operation, and funding of non-governmental organisations. More than 100 such laws have been proposed or enacted in countries across the globe since the beginning of 2012. The goal of the Berlin meeting was to understand the drivers of this trend and to strategise about how the philanthropic community can respond in the interest of protecting its own work and that of beneficiary organisations.

The full report from the meeting was released at the end of January 2016 and is available here. In addition to providing an overview of the problems faced by organisations, it attempts to provide practical actions that donors can consider taking in response to this issue.

The Sigrid Rausing Trust has been watching this trend and trying to help grantees respond to the increasing pressure under which they find themselves. SRT's Director of Programmes, Julie Broome, said, “We are concerned about the security of our grantees and about their ability to continue fulfilling their missions in the current environment in certain countries. Freedom of association is a protected right under international law, and while there are permissible restrictions, in some cases the restrictions imposed seem excessive or arbitrary. We will be looking to this report and working with other donors to try to identify solutions.”

Center for Justice and Accountability

Published: February 11 2016
Summary: US Judge Grants Extradition of Salvadoran Colonel Accused in 1989 Jesuit Massacre

North Carolina, 5th February 2016: Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank has today approved the extradition to Spain of Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, El Salvador’s former Vice Minister of Public Security, to stand trial for his role in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper, and her daughter at the University of Central America in El Salvador. This extradition decision is the culmination of work led by SRT grantee the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and its partners in El Salvador and Spain.

CJA filed the Jesuits Massacre Case in Madrid in 2008 against former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani Burkard and 14 former military officers and soldiers who ordered the murders. However, most military officials had been protected from extradition and prosecution because of El Salvador's blanket amnesty law. Colonel Montano has been detained in the US since October 2013, and on April 8, 2015 the US government filed a request seeking his extradition to Spain. Once Colonel Montano is extradited, he will face a criminal trial in Spain before a three-judge panel of the Spanish National Court, which will be the biggest undertaking in CJA’s history.

Colonel Montano was one of four top commanders of the Salvadoran military at the time of the killings, and Father Ellacuría was targeted for his attempt to broker peace between the government and rebel forces of the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front. Magistrate Judge Swank verified that Colonel Montano and his fellow co-conspirators “commissioned” the Atlatcatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Armed Forces to carry out the order to kill Father Ignacio Ellacuría, and to leave no witnesses.

Salvadorans have waited to see these military officials held accountable. Carlos Martín Baró, plaintiff in CJA's Jesuits Massacre Case in Spain and brother of Father Ignacio Martín Baró, one of the murdered priests, said, "The fact that Colonel Montano may face trial in Spain won’t heal the pain but is a victory for all people who seek justice."

Full press release from CJA's website:

Women’s Link Worldwide

Published: November 09 2015
Summary: Spanish court finds in favour of a lesbian couple denied fertility treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation

Spain, October 2015: SRT grantee Women's Link Worldwide filed a lawsuit in June 2015 on behalf of a lesbian couple for damages incurred when the couple’s public hospital advised it would no longer provide IVF treatment for one of the women. This was the result of an administrative decision taken by the Spanish Ministry of Health excluding assisted reproductive treatments in the public health system for all women without a male partner.

The Spanish court found in favour of the couple in October 2015 and condemned the actions of both the Hospital Fundación Jiménez Díaz, for denying the treatment, and the Local Health Authority for discrimination. The court has now set a clear precedent, and Women’s Link is determined to ensure that the decision is thoroughly implemented to avoid this type of discrimination in future.

This couple will now have the opportunity to create the family they want, and Women’s Link are celebrating the success in court on behalf of all women who want to access assisted reproductive treatment, including single women and those in same-sex relationships.


Published: August 07 2015
Summary: Bosnian war crimes court issues landmark ruling allowing rape victims to claim for financial compensation

Sarajevo, 24th June 2015: The Bosnian war crimes court has issued two landmark rulings ordering compensation to wartime rape victims and sentencing former Bosnian Serb soldiers who raped women in the 1992-1995 war to 8 and 10 years in jail. These cases mark the first time Bosnian war crime victims have been awarded compensation through criminal proceedings.

Bosnian Serb leaders have feared a wave of compensation claims and therefore courts and prosecutors have until now redirected victims through civil procedures. This meant that victims had to reveal their often protected identities and received no legal or financial assistance from the state. In consequence, many victims avoided this course of action and have endured more than two decades knowing their attackers remain at large and may never be brought to justice.

In both cases, SRT grantee TRIAL provided legal assistance to the victims. Adrijana Hanušić, TRIAL’s legal adviser, said, “the victims now have reason to hope that legal practice will change, making it possible to compensate the victims and bring criminals to justice in a single trial.” They hope that these judgments will encourage more victims of wartime rape to come forward and put additional pressure on prosecutors and courts to implement the already existing legal provisions. Ms Hanušić said, “Money will not erase the pain caused by the perpetrators, but it is nevertheless a very important day for the victim. For her, justice has been fully served: she has both won her right to justice and compensation, and felt satisfaction through experiencing public recognition for her suffering.”

International Service for Human Rights

Published: August 05 2015
Summary: UN adopts policy to combat reprisals and intimidation against promoters of human rights

Geneva, 26th June 2015: A group of UN bodies responsible for monitoring human rights has adopted a policy to combat intimidation and reprisals, known as the San Jose Guidelines. They have agreed to implement the Guidelines following sustained advocacy and submissions by various groups including SRT grantee International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). This is in response to cases of intimidation and reprisals arising in the context of their work reviewing various countries’ human rights records.

Madeleine Sinclair, program manager and legal counsel at ISHR, said “Human rights defenders and others who provide information and testimony to the treaty bodies continue to be subject to threats. These Guidelines mark a potentially important contribution to ensuring that defenders can access and communicate safely with the treaty bodies, free from attacks and reprisals, and to ensuring that States are held to account when such incidents occur.”

The Guidelines build on a number of policies already devised by individual UN treaty bodies and emphasise the responsibility of States to avoid acts of intimidation or reprisals and to protect those who become a victim for seeking to cooperate with such bodies. The Guidelines themselves speak of the treaty bodies’ “uncompromising stance against reprisals and their increasing efforts and commitment to prevent them” as well as the underlying responsibility of States to “prevent, protect against, investigate and ensure accountability and to provide effective remedies to victims of such acts or omissions.”

The Guidelines envision proactive, reactive and preventative measures, and they provide for the appointment of a focal point in each treaty body to coordinate implementation of the policy. “We urge all treaty bodies to appoint focal points and begin implementing the Guidelines without delay”, Ms Sinclair said. “ISHR welcomes the adoption of these important Guidelines, which recognize the primary duty of the State to prevent and ensure accountability for reprisals but also the obligations of the UN to protect those who contribute to its important work.”

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Published: July 28 2015
Summary: Justice is upheld in Haiti as Court finds former Mayor guilty of violent crimes

21st July 2015: The Court in Haiti has found former Mayor of the small town of Les Irois, Jean Morose Viliena, guilty of violent crimes after an eight-year fight for justice. In 2007, Viliena and several associates broke into the Boniface family home where they murdered Eccliasiaste Boniface because his brother David, a human rights worker, had helped a women file a complaint against the Mayor for harassment. They were also responsible for sending death threats, burning down houses, beating and shooting people.

The Mayor had connections in the political and justice system of Haiti and therefore the case has come up against repeated obstacles. Bureau Des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), partner of SRT grantee Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), began supporting the victims in 2012. After a long and difficult process, a trial was set for April 2015 but was postponed after BAI announced there would be international legal observers present. After more delays the trial finally started in early July and resulted in the judge sentencing the defendants to seven years in jail. Viliena has not yet been arrested but police have instructions to jail him as soon as he is found.

This case establishes a precedent that political violence can be prosecuted despite the perpetrators' power and connections. This is of particular importance with Haiti currently preparing to run elections for a number of Senate seats.

Following the Court’s decision, our grantee partners spoke with David Boniface by phone. He said, "I thank all of you for your support and hard work throughout this process. I congratulate you on a job well done. It is the first time that I have seen something like this happen, from the beginning to the end, we worked hard and we won. Thank you for keeping me alive."

Update: Transgender Equality Network Ireland

Published July 27 2015
Summary: Republic of Ireland passes Gender Recognition Legislation based on self-determination

Dublin, 15th July 2015: The Gender Recognition Bill has today completed passage through the Oireachtas and is expected to come into operation before the end of this summer. The Republic of Ireland is the fourth country in the world to specifically introduce legislation based on transgender self-determination, joining Argentina, Denmark, Malta and most recently Colombia.

SRT grantee Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) has lobbied on this issue for some years. TENI Chair Sara R Phillips said, "This is a historic moment for the trans community in Ireland. Today is the first day we will be seen as who we truly are. Dr Lydia Foy's twenty-two year journey has finally come to an end."

This is an update of our earlier coverage of this news story on June 8th 2015.

Full coverage from TENI’s website:

Equal Opportunities Initiative

Published July 23 2015
Summary: European Court finds Bulgarian electricity company guilty of racial discrimination

16th July 2015: In the first case on anti-Roma discrimination to come before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the Bulgarian electricity company CHEZ Razpredelenie Bulgaria AD has been condemned by judges for “offensive and stigmatizing” practices that violate European anti-discrimination laws.

For 15 years CHEZ had been placing electricity meters as high as seven metres above the ground and out of reach of consumers in districts where most customers are Roma. Although supposedly for reasons of safety and to prevent interference, the residents of the affected districts challenged the practice as illegal and a public statement that all residents are untrustworthy. In its findings, the Court confirmed that documents pointed to deliberate targeting of Roma communities.

Ms Nikolova, although not Roma, is a local shopkeeper from the mostly Roma district of Gizdova, in the Bulgarian town of Dupnitsa. She brought the legal case to the Bulgarian Anti-Discrimination Commission after receiving a large bill and being unable to read the meter. The Sofia Administrative Court sent 10 questions to the Court of Justice under the EU Race Discrimination Directive and this judgment answers those questions, returning the case to the Sofia Administrative Court for resolution.

Ms Nikolova is being represented before the Sofia Administrative Court by lawyer Daniela Mihailova from SRT grantee Equal Opportunities Initiative in Bulgaria. Ms Mihailova said, “The judgment is an important step in the fight of Roma people for fair and equal treatment. Roma in Bulgaria face organized discrimination by companies and officials. This ruling sends a clear message to the Bulgarian courts and Government. The law is a strong tool to end discrimination against Roma people and we will use it.”

Physicians for Human Rights

Published July 20 2015
Summary: Physicians for Human Rights calls for investigation into American Psychological Association’s Role in US Torture Programme

10th July 2015: SRT grantee Physicians for Human Rights today called for a criminal investigation into the American Psychological Association's (APA) role in the torture of terrorism suspects. PHR’s call follows the release of a new independent report confirming that the APA colluded with the Bush administration to enable psychologists to design, implement, and defend a programme of torture.

The APA commissioned an independent review by David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, in November 2014 after detailed allegations emerged in New York Times reporter James Risen’s book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. The book documented secret coordination between APA and US officials to support the spurious legal and ethical justification for the Bush administration’s torture programme, which relied on health professional monitoring of abusive interrogations to claim that they were “safe, effective, and legal.”

PHR have called for a federal commission into the role that the APA, individual psychologists, and other health professionals played in the torture programme, with full subpoena powers and the authority to refer individuals for criminal investigation and prosecution. In addition they echoed calls for the APA to initiate an independent analysis of the internal structures and processes that led to collusion, and to adopt policies prohibiting psychologists’ involvement in interrogations and other activities that are inconsistent with the profession’s “do no harm” ethic.

Donna McKay, PHR’s Executive Director, said, “The corruption of a health professional organization at this level is an extraordinary betrayal of both ethics and the law, and demands an investigation and appropriate prosecutions. Rather than uphold the principle of ‘do no harm,’ APA leadership subverted its own ethics policies and sabotaged all efforts at enforcement.”

Humanitarian Law Center

Published July 17 2015
Summary: Serbian government supports RECOM initiative to investigate war crimes in the former Yugoslavia

Belgrade, 6 July 2015: Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić has met with representatives of the RECOM Coalition, an initiative
advocating the establishment of an intergovernmental commission –
the Regional Commission to Establish all the Facts about War Crimes
(RECOM) – which will investigate war crimes and other serious human
rights violations committed in the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. The RECOM Coalition was co-founded by SRT grantee the
Humanitarian Law Center.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the importance of determining the
number of victims of war crimes in order to achieve reconciliation in the Western Balkans, and announced that the government would support the formation of RECOM. The extrajudicial body will investigate all allegations of war crimes and other gross human rights violations in connection with the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Coordinator of the RECOM Coalition, Nataša Kandić, explained
that the establishment of RECOM served the interests of all
post-Yugoslav societies and their political agendas, not just those
of the victims – but most of all served the interests of future

Kandić said, “RECOM has the potential to contribute directly to
the creation of a new culture of respect for all the people who lost
their lives or disappeared during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.
With the support of all the states of the former Yugoslavia and their government, the Initiative will establish the names of each victim, rather than just their numbers, and collect data on specific detention sites, instead of haggling over the number of prisons or camps on each side – and will be using these facts for educational purposes, and to put in place safeguards against the repetition of crimes.”

Press release from the Humanitarian Law Center’s website:
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European Human Rights Advocacy Centre

Published June 25 2015
Summary: European Court delivers landmark judgment against Azerbaijan in forced displacement case

23rd June 2015: In its judgment in the case of Sargsyan v Azerbaijan, the European Court has found that Azerbaijan violated the property rights of an Armenian refugee who was forced to flee his home during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The claimants were represented by SRT grantee the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and the Armenian NGO Legal Guide.

Minas Sargsyan fled to Armenia with his family in 1992 following bombing by Azerbaijani forces in the Shahumyan region. He applied to the European Court in 2006 to seek redress for his enforced displacement. The Court found today that the family’s inability to return to their village or to be compensated for the loss of their land and property breached both their property rights and their right to respect for their family life. The Court also found that the State had failed to create a mechanism which would allow the family to have their property rights restored and that there were no effective remedies available. It called on the Azerbaijani government to establish a mechanism which would allow displaced persons to have their rights restored and to obtain compensation.

The Court also delivered a judgment in Chiragov v Armenia, a parallel case concerning Azerbaijani refugees who were displaced during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It found that Armenia had violated the same Articles of the European Convention with respect to the nine applicants in the case.

Professor Philip Leach, EHRAC’s Director, said, “Over a million people, both Armenian and Azerbaijani, have been displaced by the conflict, and these judgments are significant in establishing that the two governments must take action to secure the rights of internally displaced people and refugees. After 27 years of conflict, the Court is sending a resounding message that it’s time for the hostile rhetoric to stop and for the rights of the civilian victims of the conflict to be actively upheld.”

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Published June 24 2015
Summary: Fugitive Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir allowed to leave South Africa despite court order for his arrest

Pretoria, 15th June 2015: President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan has left South Africa despite an order by the North Gauteng High Court for his arrest. President Bashir was in the country to attend an African Union summit.

Bashir faces charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. He has so far evaded liability in the face of two arrest warrants issued by the ICC, despite the obligation on ICC states parties, including South Africa, to execute the warrants.

An interim court order on 14th June compelled the South African government to take all necessary steps to prevent Bashir from leaving the country until the Court had handed down a final order. However, the government confirmed shortly after the final order was issued on 15th June that President Bashir had been allowed to leave the country contrary to the Court’s decision. The government argues that Bashir was protected by diplomatic immunity while attending the African Union summit, and could not therefore have been arrested.

SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) brought the case to the High Court along with Advocate Isabel Goodman and attorney Moray Hathorn of Webber Wentzel. Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, SALC’s Director, said, “Being an organisation committed to the rule of law, SALC is encouraged by the Court’s order and the independence of the judicial process. The rule of law, however, is only as strong as the government which enforces it. Home Affairs have allowed a fugitive from justice to slip through its fingers, compounding the suffering of the victims of these grave crimes.”

SALC is now considering pursuing contempt proceedings against the South African government.

Transgender Equality Network Ireland

Published June 08 2015
Summary: Irish State to accept trans people’s own declaration as legal proof of their gender

Dublin, 3rd June 2015: the Irish Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, TD, has announced that transgender people in the Republic of Ireland will no longer require medical or psychiatric testimony to have their gender recognised by the state, or to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. For those aged 18 or over, the application process under the new Gender Recognition Bill will now be based on self-declaration. The Bill will also no longer contain the controversial “forced divorce” clause, which would have required a married trans person to divorce their spouse in order to have their gender recognised. SRT grantee Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), which has lobbied on these issues for some years, welcomed the government’s announcement.

In April 2015, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a comprehensive resolution on trans human rights. In relation to legal gender recognition, the Assembly called on Member States to “develop quick, transparent and accessible procedures, based on self-determination.” Only a small number of countries, including Malta, Argentina, Denmark and now Ireland, have so far adopted legislation of this kind.

There will be no change to the provisions for applicants aged 17 or under. A Court process will be required involving supporting medical statements before an application for a gender recognition certificate can be made.

TENI Chief Executive Broden Giambrone said, “TENI applauds the Government for this hugely significant move. Ireland has now taken its place as an international leader in this human rights area. The Government has shown great vision and conviction in ensuring the rights of trans people. This legislation will significantly improve the lived realities of trans people in Ireland.”

The necessary changes to the Gender Recognition Bill will be carried out when the Bill goes to Committee Stage from 17th June.

Full coverage from TENI’s website:


Published June 02 2015
Summary: Court dismisses case against German government over alleged complicity in drone attacks

27th May 2015– The Administrative Court of Cologne has dismissed the claim brought against the German government by three Yemeni citizens concerning the use of US military base Ramstein in drone attacks. The claimants were represented by SRT grantees ECCHR and Reprieve, who are now considering lodging an appeal.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber brought the claim along with his relatives Ahmed Saeed bin Ali Jaber and Khaled Mohmed Naser bin Ali Jaber. The claimants survived a drone strike in Yemen in August 2012 in which they allege Ramstein played a central role (as the site of a satellite relay station connecting drone operators in the US with drones in targeted countries including Yemen – a claim which was supported by experts including a drone operator). Two of their relatives died in the attack and several others have suffered ongoing trauma.

The court accepted the argument that Germany had an obligation to protect lives and declared the lawsuit admissible. Furthermore the judge also acknowledged it was “plausible” that Ramstein had been used to carry out drone strikes, but said there were no sufficient legal grounds on which to prevent the US from using the base. However she allowed the claimants the opportunity to appeal the decision.

ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck said after the hearing, “Today’s decision allows the German government to continue to play the innocent […] With this strategy the government cannot and will not be able to meet its obligation to prevent human rights violations committed by the USA via German territory.”

Faisal bin Ali Jaber said, “I had hoped that today the Court would restore Yemen’s faith in the West’s commitment to the rule of law, and that the German government would put a stop to its role in these illegal and immoral operations. But we will not give up: it is – quite simply – a matter of life or death for us.”

Full coverage from ECCHR website:

Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)

Published May 15 2015
Summary: Colombian Council of Narcotics agrees to suspend aerial spraying of harmful chemicals

Bogota, 14th May 2015: the Colombian Minister of Justice and Chair of the Council of Narcotics, Yesid Alvarado Reyes, has announced the Council’s decision to suspend the spraying of illegal drug crops with glyphosate and other harmful chemicals, and to refocus the fight against drugs elsewhere.

SRT grantee the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) provided legal and technical advice on the case. AIDA and other environmental organisations working in Colombia had previously collected over 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for the spraying to be suspended. The petition highlighted the need to protect the environment and human health from damage caused by the spraying, which is done over forests, homes, farms and water sources. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that glyphosate may cause cancer in humans, and independent studies have documented other serious health effects such as skin diseases and problems during pregnancy. The spraying has also allegedly caused damage to biodiverse ecosystems, water sources and food crops, and forced families off their lands.

On Wednesday 13th May, in preparation for the Council’s decision, AIDA co-organised a debate on glyphosate spraying at the Memorial Center in Bogota which was followed by more than 2,500 people online.

AIDA’s Co-Director Astrid Puentes said, “Today we succeeded for Colombia, and our region. We achieved our goal for the thousands of people in Colombia who for years have been demanding the protection of their lands [and] a halt on sprayings, who today see a possibility of a change […] The implementation of the suspension is not an easy task, though it is a huge step in the right direction.”


Published May 13 2015
Summary: Appeal court upholds guilty verdict against former Guatemalan Police Chief for extrajudicial killings

Geneva, 12th May 2015: Former Guatemalan Police Chief Erwin Sperisen has been found guilty by the Geneva Court of Appeal of 10 extrajudicial killings and sentenced to life imprisonment. Sperisen had originally been found guilty of seven murders in June 2014, but he and the Prosecutor appealed the original decision.

Sperisen was again convicted of the seven killings that occurred while his forces were regaining control of Pavon prison in Guatemala in 2006. The appeal judges also found him guilty of participating in the execution of three escapees from El Infiernito prison (for which he had been acquitted at his original trial). The Court found enough evidence that Mr Sperisen organised and supervised a death squad. Sperisen’s conviction follows those of several other individuals also sentenced for the same crimes to long prison terms in Guatemala.

SRT grantees TRIAL and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), who had filed the initial complaint that prompted the opening of a criminal investigation, welcomed the Court’s decision. Philip Grant, Director of TRIAL, said, “The sentence passed is proof that the justice system is able to prove the involvement of the State and its representatives in serious human rights violations, and bring them to justice. We hope that Erwin Sperisen’s conviction will set an example, particularly to the Spanish authorities, who must now prosecute his immediate superior, former minister Carlos Vielman, for the same acts.”

Gerald Staberock, Director of OMCT, said, “This decision sends a clear signal to the Guatemalan authorities, who must do everything in their power to guarantee victims access to impartial justice and to put an end to the endemic impunity that is enjoyed by torturers and the perpetrators of serious human rights violations.”

Full press release from TRIAL’s website:

Associazione 21 Luglio

Published April 29 2015
Summary: Italian publishing house found guilty of anti-Roma discrimination

16th February 2015: The Civil Court in Rome has found the Italian publishing house Gruppo Editoriale Simone guilty of discrimination against Roma and Sinti people for publishing a text accusing “Gypsies” of being criminals.

The book in question, published by Simone in 2011, is a textbook for trainee lawyers. In the section explaining Article 712 of the Italian penal code, relating to “goods of suspect origin”, the author defines this term as items sold by “panhandlers, Gypsies and well-known persons with a criminal record”.

The case against Simone was initiated in June 2012 by SRT grantee Associazione 21 Luglio and the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) on behalf of Dzemila Salkanovic, a Roma woman who alleged that the publication “insulted her personal dignity” by criminalising her on purely ethnic grounds. The court found in Ms Salkanovic’s favour, ordering Simone to withdraw the publication and pay her EUR 1,000 in compensation.

21 Luglio and ASGI welcomed the Court judgment in a joint statement, saying, “Associating the term “gypsy” with the commission of crimes against property effectively spreads a negative stereotype […] according to which the Roma are criminals by the mere fact of being Roma. This stigmatises the entire Roma and Sinti communities, with an obvious effect on the social lives of those belonging to them.”

Full story from Associazione 21 Luglio’s website (in Italian):

Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

Published April 29 2015
Summary: Israeli government announces plans for indefinite detention of asylum seekers who refuse to leave Israel for a third country

On 31st March 2015, Israel’s Ministry of Interior announced that it will begin jailing asylum seekers who refuse to leave Israel for a “third” country (that is, a country which is not their homeland). Asylum seekers detained in the Holot detention facility whose asylum application was rejected, or who did not submit an asylum application, and are offered the chance to leave but refuse will be detained indefinitely in Saharonim prison. Israel has not disclosed the identity of the countries with which it has reached agreements, the guarantees contained in the agreements for the safety of those deported, or what was given to those countries in exchange for accepting asylum seekers from Israel.

According to SRT grantee the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, at least 14 asylum seekers have thus far been told to leave or face the likelihood of indefinite detention, including a number suffering from serious psychiatric problems.

The Hotline, together with fellow Israeli human rights organisations, has written an urgent formal letter to the Minister of Interior and the Attorney General stressing that the new policy violates Israel's international obligations, Israeli law and previous High Court rulings.

In its correspondence with the Attorney General, the Hotline sets out evidence collected for its recently published report on the fate of asylum seekers who were pressured into “voluntarily” leaving Israel, including to Uganda and Rwanda. Interviews revealed that those sent to Rwanda were not given any long-term status, and were required to leave to Uganda within a few days.

In a related development, the Hotline reported on 21st April that three asylum seekers who left Israel for a third country in the past year have been executed by the Islamic State in Libya for being Christians. The men, all Eritreans (one of whom was a relative of a Hotline staff member), had travelled to Libya because they did not receive assistance in the country they were sent to after leaving Israel.

Article from International Business Times on Eritrean Christians executed by Islamic State:

Center for Justice and Accountability

Published April 28 2015
Summary: US Supreme Court upholds ruling convicting Somali warlord of crimes against humanity

10th March 2015: The US Supreme Court has upheld a ruling awarding four men of Somali origin $21 million in damages for torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights abuses committed by former Somali Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Mohamed Ali Samantar. The men – Bashe Yousuf, Aziz Deria, Buralle Mahamoud, and Ahmed Gulaid – were represented by SRT grantee the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA).

CJA's case against Samantar was filed in 2004. In 2012, Samantar accepted responsibility for crimes committed against the civilian population during the 1969-1991 Siad Barré military dictatorship. After the regime collapsed, Samantar fled Somalia and settled in Virginia where he has lived for the past 18 years. CJA’s case marked the first time that any Somali government official had been held accountable for the atrocities committed during this regime.

A US District Court Judge ruled in favour of CJA's clients after their attorneys presented evidence demonstrating the atrocities committed by Samantar. Despite accepting liability, Samantar petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear his case, claiming immunity for acts he says were taken in his official capacity. Today's Supreme Court ruling follows an affirmation by the US State Department that the Somali Federal Government does not seek immunity for Samantar.

CJA’s Executive Director Dixon Osburn said, “This decision marks the end of an 11-year quest for justice for those harmed by General Samantar and soldiers under his command. It is also a major victory for human rights since it preserves the Fourth Circuit's opinion that egregious human rights abuses cannot be considered "official acts" shielded by sovereign immunity”.

CJA client Aziz Deria said, "I truly rejoice to know that Samantar cannot escape the pronouncement of the court of law. My late father, Mohamed Iid; my younger brother, Mustafa; and my cousin, Yusuf, were pulled from our family's home and murdered under General Samantar's orders just because of their clan. The Supreme Court's decision today gives me hope that justice for all Somalis is possible."

Full coverage from CJA website:

Published April 27 2015
Summary: UN Human Rights Committee tells Russia to acknowledge hate crimes against LGBT people

2nd April 2015: The UN Human Rights Committee has for the first time told Russia to take into account homophobia or transphobia as a motive in the investigation of crimes against LGBT people. The Committee issued its concluding observations based on the seventh periodic report of the Russian Federation. A section of the document was dedicated to a list of issues and recommendations relating to the rights of LGBT individuals.

As a result of this UN ruling, the provisions of the Russian Criminal Code recognising hatred of any “social group” as an aggravating circumstance in crimes can now be used to protect the rights of LGBT people. Law enforcement agencies and the courts must now specifically investigate the motive of attacks on people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In addition to the recommendations dealing with hate crimes, the Human Rights Committee has urged the Russian Federation to make a public declaration about the inadmissibility of any form of social stigmatisation of homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender, as well as discrimination or hate speech directed against Russian citizens because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The committee recommended that Russia allow freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for LGBT people, and repeal the state and federal laws prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” as reinforcing negative stereotypes of LGBT people, and restricting their rights.

Kseniya Kirichenko of Russian LGBT rights organisation Coming Out said, “The recommendations are truly of historical significance for the protection of the rights of LGBT people and LGBT human rights defenders. Until now the main obstacle for the effective investigation of crimes committed based on homophobia or transphobia was a problem of non-recognition of LGBT people as a social group. This fact was used to refuse to initiate criminal proceedings or to qualify attacks as minor offences. Now we have a serious argument that can lead to the formation of a new judicial practice, and we intend to refer to the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee in our cases in St. Petersburg”.


Published February 13 2015
Summary: Panama suspends construction of Barro Blanco dam over non-compliance with environmental and human rights assessment

Panama City, 10th February 2015: Panama's National Environmental Authority (ANAM) has temporarily suspended the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam over non-compliance with its Environmental Impact Assessment. The dam was approved by the UN Clean Development Mechanism despite risks of flooding to the territory of the indigenous Ngäbe Buglé communities.

SRT grantees the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) have been providing legal support and working with local partners to bring attention to the human rights violations associated with the case.

ANAM's decision was triggered by an administrative investigation that found failures including shortcomings in the agreements with affected indigenous communities, inadequate negotiation processes, the absence of a management plan for the protection of rock engravings and other archaeological findings, repeated failures to manage sedimentation and erosion, poor waste management, and logging without permission.

Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney at CIEL, said, "Panama has taken a critical first step toward protecting the rights of the Ngäbe communities, which have not been adequately consulted on the Barro Blanco project. But much more work is needed. As an urgent matter, Panama should recognize its obligations to protect human rights in climate actions, such as Barro Blanco, by supporting the call for human rights protections in the UN climate regime."

Maria Jose Veramendi Villa, Senior Attorney at AIDA, said, "Any dialogue between the affected communities, the Government and the company has to be transparent, in good faith, respectful of the communities' rights, and include guarantees so that the communities can participate equally and the agreements are fully respected. In this dialogue, the State must take into account all human rights violations that have been denounced by the communities since the project was approved."

Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH)

Published January 22 2015
Summary: Two Algerian nationals to be tried in France for torture and enforced disappearance

Paris, 6th January 2014: The investigating judge at the High Court in Nimes has issued a final order to send to trial two alleged Algerian torturers residing in France, Hocine and Abdelkader Mohamed. Both are accused of torture and enforced disappearance committed as part of an armed militia group in the Relizane region of Algeria during the 1991-2002 civil war. SRT grantee FIDH filed a complaint in 2003 against the Mohamed brothers along with the League of French Human Rights (LDH), and is representing the seven Algerian victims acting as civil parties to the trial.

This order is the latest development in over 10 years of judicial proceedings. The Nimes Court opened a judicial investigation after FIDH and LDH filed a complaint in October 2003. Hocine and Abdelkader Mohamed were charged accordingly and put under judicial supervision. Thanks to the judicial investigation, decisive testimony was collected against the brothers, and in July 2013 the Public Prosecutor of Nimes called for their indictment before the Criminal Court.

In 2005 Algeria adopted the National Peace and Reconciliation Charter, which prohibited public mention of the civil war and made it impossible to open any judicial proceedings to establish responsibility for crimes committed during this period.

Patrick Baudouin, FIDH Honorary President and Coordinator of the Litigation Action Group, said, “This is the first time ever that Algerians are going to be judged for crimes committed during the “black decade” in Algeria.”

Committee Against Torture

Published December 18 2014
Summary: Office of human rights organisation in Chechnya burnt down in suspected arson attack

13th December 2014: The Grozny office of the Joint Mobile Group, a human rights organisation which works with NGOs from other Russian regions, has been burnt down in an alleged arson attack. The Committee Against Torture is a founding member of the Group and is still a part of the organisation. The Committee reports on its website that police officers who arrived at the scene of the fire apprehended two staff members of the Group without a convincing reason, and took away their mobile phones (leaving them without communication for several hours) and some office equipment. The men were later released and their phones returned to them, but the office equipment was retained.

The incident follows the criticism by the chair of the Committee against Torture, Igor Kalyapin, of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov for his demands for collective punishment of the families of Islamist rebels who carried out an attack in Grozny on 4th December, in which 14 police officers and some civilians were killed along with some of the rebels themselves. Kalyapin made a formal complaint about Mr Kadyrov in Moscow last week. Kadyrov then publicly accused him of “backing criminals”.

Threats have been made against Mr Kalyapin because of his human rights work, and he was pelted with eggs during a press conference on 12th December. A rally “against terrorism” was held in Grozny on 13th December (the day the fire was started) at which protesters held banners demanding Kalyapin’s deportation and accusing him of being in the pay of the United States.

Chechen police deny harassing the Joint Mobile Group’s staff and claim that the fire was accidental.

More information from the Committee Against Torture’s website:

Statement from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International:


Published December 18 2014
Summary: Brazilian National Truth Commission releases report into human rights abuses committed under military regime

10th December 2014: Brazil’s National Truth Commissionhas presented its final report to President Dilma Roussef. The Commission spent over two years investigating crimes against humanity committed between 1946 and 1988, with particular focus on those that took place under the country’s military regime between 1964 and 1985. The report marks an important step towards the acknowledgement of the extra-judicial executions and torture committed by the regime against political opponents and members of armed opposition groups.

Over 400 people were killed or disappeared in Brazil between 1964 and 1985, and many others arrested and tortured. The report names members of the military involved in acts of torture, and stresses that the country’s “amnesty law” (introduced initially to pardon political prisoners but subsequently interpreted to protect torturers) does not protect those responsible for crimes against humanity.

SRT grantee Conectas made seven recommendations to the Commission, all of which were included in the final report. Another grantee, CEJIL, took the case of 69 victims of disappearance to the Inter-American Court along with two other NGOs in Gomes Lund and Others. The court’s ruling challenged the validity of Brazil’s amnesty law and ordered an investigation into the killings of a group of armed opposition activists in the Araguaia region by the military between 1972 and 1974. It was on the recommendation of the Inter-American Court in the same case that the Brazilian government set up the Truth Commission.

Viviana Krsticevic, CEJIL’s Executive Director, said, “The report is a milestone in the search forthe truth about the crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship. Its release occurs at a key moment in the history of Brazil, which is one of the few countries that still have not faced criminal charges against those who were linked to disappearances, torture and executions. We hope that the debatesurrounding the adoption of the report will encourage society, the judiciary and state institutions to support the search for justice for victims of crimes against humanity in Brazil."

US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence releases report into CIA’s use of torture

Published December 18 2014

9th December 2014: after over five years of investigation, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has released a redacted executive summary of its 6,000-page report on the CIA’s rendition, secret detention and torture programme. The summary is available at In her foreword to the report, Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said:

“I have attempted throughout to remember the impact on the nation and to the CIA workforce from the attacks of September 11, 2001. I can understand the CIA's impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community's actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review.

Instead, CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”

“It is my sincere and deep hope that through the release of these Findings and Conclusions and Executive Summary that U.S. policy will never again allow for secret indefinite detention and the use of coercive interrogations. As the Study describes, prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques "do not produce intelligence," "will probably result in false answers," and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored. We cannot again allow history to be forgotten and grievous past mistakes to be repeated.”

“President Obama signed Executive Order 13491 in January 2009 to prohibit the CIA from holding detainees other than on a ‘short-term, transitory basis’ and to limit interrogation techniques to those included in the Army Field Manual. However, these limitations are not part of U.S. law and could be overturned by a future president with the stroke of a pen. They should be enshrined in legislation.

Even so, existing U.S. law and treaty obligations should have prevented many of the abuses and mistakes made during this program. While the Office of Legal Counsel found otherwise between 2002 and 2007, it is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman, and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.

While the Committee did not make specific recommendations, several emerge from the Committee's review. The CIA, in its June 2013 response to the Committee's Study from December 2012, has also already made and begun to implement its own recommendations. I intend to work with Senate colleagues to produce recommendations and to solicit views from the readers of the Committee Study.”

“The Committee Study, including the now-declassified Executive Summary and Findings and Conclusions, as updated is now final and represents the official views of the Committee. This and future Administrations should use this Study to guide future programs, correct past mistakes, increase oversight of CIA representations to policymakers, and ensure coercive interrogation practices are not used by our government again.”


The report confirms that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA amounted to torture:

“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water ‘baths’. The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because "we can never let the world know what I have done to you." CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee's] mother's throat.’” [Report Findings and Conclusions, page 11]

The report further establishes that the use of such techniques did little to provide effective intelligence or strengthen national security:

“The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees [...] For example, according to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody.* CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were usually subjected to the techniques immediately after being rendered to CIA custody. Other detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques. While being subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.” [Report Findings and Conclusions, page 2]

The work of a number of the Sigrid Rausing Trust’s grantees has contributed to the findings of the Committee, including ACLU, whose litigation under the Freedom of Information Act about the CIA’s torture programme, and the subsequent destruction of evidence, was one of the catalysts for the investigation. Links to our grantees’ coverage of the case are below:


Published December 15 2014
Summary: European Court prioritises detention case of human rights defender in Azerbaijan

26th November 2014: the European Court of Human Rights has decided to give priority to the case of Intigam Aliyev, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, following his arrest by Azerbaijani authorities on 8 August 2014. Mr Aliyev is represented by SRT grantee the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) in collaboration with his lawyers in Azerbaijan.

Mr Aliyev has submitted over 130 applications to the European Court, and violations have been found in more than 30 of his cases. However, in recent months, Azerbaijan has been experiencing a widespread crackdown on civil society. In May 2014 Mr Aliyev was charged with abuse of power and forgery. In July his bank account was frozen and in August he was charged with conducting illegal business, tax evasion and abuse of authority under the Azerbaijani Criminal Code. Several searches of his home and office have also been conducted. He was arrested in August and has since been held in detention.

Mr Aliyev’s application argues violations of his right to liberty (Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights), his right to privacy (Article 8) and the right to freedom of association (Article 11). He also argues that the proceedings against him are intended to prevent him from litigating Strasbourg cases (many of which are high-profile cases relating to election irregularities and property acquisition by the state).

Amnesty International have recognised Mr Aliyev as a “prisoner of conscience”, and UN special rapporteurs have also expressed their alarm “at the wave of politically-motivated repression of activists in reprisal for their legitimate work in documenting and reporting human rights violations.” On 18 September 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the urgent release of Mr Aliyev, as well as other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.


Published December 12 2014
Summary: Inter-American Commission declares admissible case of gay man tortured by police in Peru

25 November 2014: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has ruled that the case of a young gay man who was tortured by police in Perú is admissible, allowing the case to be examined on merit. Luis Alberto Rojas was stripped, robbed, and raped with a truncheon by police officers in 2008 in the city of Trujillo, where he had been detained arbitrarily, allegedly due to his sexuality. Mr Rojas complained about the abuse he suffered, but the Peruvian legal system closed the case.

Mr Rojas believes that the Peruvian government violated his most fundamental rights, including the right to personal integrity, personal liberty, equality before the law, and protection of honour and dignity, all of which are enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. SRT grantee Redress brought his case to the Inter-American Commission along with two Peruvian partner organisations, after exhausting all avenues for justice in Perú. Perú had argued that the case was not admissible, but the organisations submitted arguments to show why this was not true.

In 2012, following a report submitted by REDRESS and its partners to the UN Committee Against Torture, the Committee urged Peru to take "effective measures to protect the LGBT community from attacks, abuse and arbitrary detention and ensure that all acts of violence are promptly, effectively and impartially investigated and prosecuted, perpetrators brought to justice and victims provided with redress.”

Commenting on the admission of his case, Mr Rojas said: “It has filled me with hope of finding the truth and obtaining justice six years after the events.”

Media Legal Defence Initiative/Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Published December 11 2014
Summary: African Court delivers landmark ruling on criminal libel

9th December 2014: In its first judgment on a free speech issue, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has ruled that imprisonment for defamation violates the right to freedom of expression while criminal defamation laws should only be used in restricted circumstances.

The court handed down judgment today in the case of Konaté v Burkina Faso. The case was brought on behalf of Lohé Issa Konaté, a journalist from Burkina Faso who was jailed for a year for newspaper reports in which he accused a prosecutor of corruption. The judgment is binding on African Union member States, where imprisonment for libel is common, and will have major implications for media freedom across the continent.

Mr Konaté, who edits the newspaper L’Ouragan (’the Hurricane’), was represented by SRT grantee Media Legal Defence Initiative, whose legal team included John Jones QC and Steven Finizio. They argued that the Court should rule not only that Mr Konaté’s rights were violated – he had excellent sources for his report, which he was prevented from bringing before the local courts – but that no journalist should ever be imprisoned for defamation. This argument was supported by a coalition of interveners, including SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), who stated that defamation disputes should be handled under civil law and that criminal prosecutions should be brought only in matters such as incitement to violence.

Nani Jansen of MLDI said, “This is a very good outcome. The African Court has aligned itself with consistent case law from the European and Inter-American Court by declaring that criminal defamation can only be resorted to under restricted circumstances. Justice has been done for our client, Mr Konaté. We are very pleased with the result.”


Published November 14 2014
Summary: UK government forced to release policies on surveillance of lawyers

7th November 2014: The UK government has been forced to release secret policies showing GCHQ and MI5 have for years advised staff that they may “target the communications of lawyers,” and use legally privileged material “just like any other item of intelligence.”

The disclosure comes in response to a case brought in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) by the al Saadi and Belhadj families, who were subjected to rendition and torture in a joint CIA-MI6 operation in 2004. Both families – assisted by SRT grantee Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day – have brought litigation about the kidnappings. The families allege that, by intercepting their privileged communications with Reprieve and Leigh Day, the government has infringed their right to a fair trial.

The government documents show that there is a real risk that private lawyer-client material intercepted by the agencies was allowed to “taint” the case brought in the High Court against the government by the victims of the 2004 rendition operation, which included four children aged 12 and under and a pregnant woman among its victims. Although there is no indication that the documents released last week contain any material that is a risk to national security, the government had previously claimed three times that they could not disclose them on this basis.

Richard Stein of Leigh Day said, “After many months’ resistance, the security services have now been forced to disclose the policies which they claim are in place to protect the confidential communications between lawyers and their clients. We can see why they were so reluctant to disclose them. They highlight how the security services instruct their staff to flout these important principles in a cavalier way. We hope the Tribunal will tell the government in no uncertain terms that this conduct is completely unacceptable.”

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Published November 14 2014
Summary: Botswana High Court asserts right of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to register their own organisation

14th November 2014: The Botswana High Court has ruled that the Department of Labour and Home Affairs must register the LGB rights organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO). The case was brought by 20 people who argued that the government’s refusal to register the organisation violated their constitutional rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and equal protection under the law. They were represented by lawyers Dow and Associates and SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

The applicants applied to register LEGABIBO under the Societies Act in February 2012. In March 2012, the Department of Civil and National Registration rejected the application on the basis that the Botswana Constitution “does not recognise homosexuals” and that the organisation’s objectives are contrary to section 7(2) of the Societies Act. LEGABIBO appealed to the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, but the appeal was rejected. They then took the case to the High Court.

Anneke Meerkotter of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said, “The judgment emphasises the importance of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in a democracy. The judgment will benefit not only the prospective members of LEGABIBO, but any minority group which seeks to uphold its right to freedom of association in Botswana in the future. Importantly, the judgment emphasises that it is not a crime to be homosexual or attracted to someone of the same sex. The court finding is important not just for activists in Botswana but throughout Africa.”

Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO Coordinator, said, “We are overjoyed at the outcome of the case. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals have long strived to be able to form an organisation which can support them and be their voice on matters that affect them.”

Southern Africa Litigation Centre/Lawyers for Human Rights

Published October 31 2014
South African Constitutional Court rules that the police service must investigate crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe

Johannesburg, 30th October 2014: The South African Constitutional Court has unanimously ruled that the South African Police Service (SAPS) must investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated in Zimbabwe in 2007.

The so-called “Zimbabwe torture case” was brought by SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum (ZEF) to compel South Africa to abide by its domestic and international legal obligations to investigate and prosecute high-level Zimbabwean officials accused of crimes against humanity. SALC and ZEF were represented by SRT grantee Lawyers for Human Rights.

In 2008, ZEF and SALC submitted a dossier of evidence to the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and SAPS, detailing state-sanctioned torture in Zimbabwe. They hoped the authorities would initiate investigations, but turned to the courts after SAPS and the NPA refused to investigate.

In May 2012, the North Gauteng High Court set aside the decision of the NPA and SAPS not to initiate an investigation into state-sanctioned torture in Zimbabwe. The High Court ruled that the South African authorities had not acted in compliance with their obligations and held that the decision was unlawful and unconstitutional. On appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal in November 2013, the Court agreed with SALC and ZEF and ordered the authorities to investigate the crimes against humanity detailed in the dossier. SAPS then launched an appeal at the Constitutional Court, but the Court ruled that investigations must be initiated.

Nicole Fritz, SALC’s Executive Director, said, “South Africa’s highest court has set an important precedent: South Africa will not be a safe haven for perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes. The judgment represents a clear appreciation for the role of international criminal law and its importance to our domestic justice system.”


Published October 16 2014
Summary: Victims and relatives of Beslan seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights

15th October 2014: a group of 447 victims and bereaved relatives have taken the Russian government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its conduct during the Beslan siege in 2004. Around 300 of the applicants are being represented by SRT grantee the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and the Russian NGO Memorial.

The three-day siege at School No.1 in Beslan, North Ossetia began on 1st September 2004. A group of Chechen and Ingush militants occupied the school and took over 1,100 people hostage, demanding recognition of Chechen independence. Russian forces stormed the school on the third day and 331 people were killed, of whom 179 were children.

On 14th October the ECHR held a Chamber Hearing at which Russia’s obligations under the Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Life) were publicly scrutinised. The applicants and their representatives argued that Russia failed to take adequate measures to prevent the attack, given the detailed information available to the authorities about the specific threat on that day. They also maintained that the investigation into the loss of life failed to justify the use of indiscriminate weapons (such as grenade launchers, flame throwers and tanks); and that the use of lethal force and the planning of the rescue operation did not minimise risk to the lives of the hostages.

Professor Philip Leach, EHRAC’s director, said, “This case cannot undo the immeasurable suffering which the families endured during the siege, and in the ten subsequent years, but we hope the outcome will provide a measure of justice to them – an acknowledgement that the Russian authorities failed in their obligation to protect life in the prevention of the attack and in the conduct of the rescue operation, that they used disproportionate and indiscriminate force, and that the investigation into the loss of life has been completely inadequate.”

ECCHR/Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Published October 10 2014
Summary: UK court rules that Bahraini prince is not immune to prosecution for his alleged role in torture of prisoners

7th October 2014:The British High Court has today ruled that Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain is not immune from prosecution for his alleged involvement in the torture of political prisoners.

Prince Nasser is the son of the King of Bahrain and regularly visits the UK, where his three children were born. As chair of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee, he represented Bahrain at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. At that time, SRT grantees the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights called on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to block the Prince’s entry into the country. They sent the FCO and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) a dossier summarising publicly available information, including witness statements from Bahraini opposition members, about allegations of torture.

A Bahraini refugee in the UK known as “FF”, who had himself been detained and tortured, instructed his solicitors to write to the CPS asking for the Prince to be arrested and prosecuted while he was here for the Olympics. However the CPS replied stating that the Prince had immunity from arrest and prosecution. FF applied for a judicial review of this decision on 26 October 2012. The case was due to be contested in court on 7th October 2014, when the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) withdrew the decision that the prince was immune.

FF’s solicitor, Sue Willman of Deighton Pierce Glynn, said, “The UK has a duty under the Convention against Torture and under its own laws to investigate, arrest and prosecute those who are alleged to have committed acts of torture abroad. They should be applied to all, regardless of the UK’s economic interests.”

Andreas Schueller, ECCHR’s legal advisor, said “The DPP’s decision on immunity was contrary to international law. The UK must not avoid diplomatically sensitive investigations and must now consider launching a serious investigation.”

Full story from ECCHR’s website:

Human Rights Data Analysis Group

Published October 03 2014
Summary: Release of “Yellow Book” confirms human rights abuses by military during Salvadoran civil war

El Salvador, 29th September 2014: A document has today been released listing the names of Salvadoran citizens identified as “enemies” by the armed forces during the country’s 12-year civil war (1979-1992), during which hundreds of people were victims of human rights violations including torture, forced disappearance, and illegal imprisonment.

The document, known as the Yellow Book, was created by the Salvadoran armed forces during the war and identifies nearly 2,000 people who were deemed “delinquent terrorists” by the military during the 1980s. It includes labour leaders, human rights advocates, politicians, and other civilians, along with corresponding photographs and notes on their alleged connections to suspect organisations including unions, political parties and rebel groups. The list includes El Salvador’s current President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who is a former guerrilla leader.

The release of the document is a collaboration by SRT grantee HRDAG, the Unfinished Sentences project, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the National Security Archive.

HRDAG analysis suggests that many civilians named in the document were targeted for extrajudicial punishment by the military. By analysing the names against reports of human rights violations registered by Salvadoran human rights organisations and the UN Truth Commission from 1980 to 1992, HRDAG has determined that 43 percent of the names in the Yellow Book correspond with the names of victims in the databases.

Patrick Ball, executive director of HRDAG, said, “Our work with the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the National Security Archive supports the public’s call for the Salvadoran Armed Forces to open their archives. The truth about the military’s intelligence operations – and the violence that resulted – has long been hidden. It’s time for accountability.”

Detailed information about HRDAG’s data analysis is available at www.unfinishedsentences.organd, along with related analysis and declassified US documents.

Asylum Access

Published September 18 2014
Summary: Ecuador’s Constitutional Court strikes down restrictive refugee law

12th September 2014: Following advocacy by SRT grantee Asylum Access, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court has today struck down key provisions of a restrictive refugee law.

Executive Decree 1182, which became law in 2012, imposed serious barriers for refugees seeking safety in Ecuador, including a requirement that refugees file paperwork within 15 days of arrival – often just days after receiving a death threat or seeing a family member murdered. The decree also required refugees to prove they were individually targeted for persecution, rather than fleeing generalised violence. Most refugees were unaware of the 15-day filing requirement, and the government provided no notice at the border. Refugees who failed to file on time were denied legal status, leaving them unable to work and at risk of deportation back to sometimes life-threatening danger.

Asylum Access presented a constitutional challenge to Decree 1182 in October 2012. The Court’s recent decision is in response to this, as well as to a similar challenge presented by the University of San Francisco.

Following the Court’s decision, refugees now have three months to file petitions for legal status, and 15 to 30 days to appeal a denial (up from 3 – 5 days under Decree 1182). The decision also extends protection to refugees fleeing generalised violence.

Asylum Access Global Policy Director Jessica Therkelsen said, “Ecuador has historically led Latin America on refugee rights. Decree 1182 marked an unfortunate detour from this leadership, and a contravention of Ecuador’s obligations under international law [...] the court’s decision marks a big step in the right direction and restores Ecuador to the path of leadership on this important regional human rights issue.”

FIDH/Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights

Published September 17 2014
Summary: Human Rights Groups call on the ICC to investigate torture and enforced disappearance in Mexico

15th September 2014: SRT grantees FIDH and the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), along with another Mexican NGO, have today presented a report to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court describing torture, imprisonment and enforced disappearances carried out by the armed forces and state security forces in Baja California, Mexico, between 2006 and 2012.

In 2006, as part of then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s strategy in the “War on Drugs”, the military were granted unrestricted policing powers. The new report claims that military forces arrested civilians in their homes without a legal warrant, subjected them to acts of torture in military facilities, forced them to sign blank sheets of paper for false confessions, and placed drugs and arms in their possession as “evidence”. No high-ranking military or police officials have faced criminal charges for crimes committed against civilians, including acts of torture.

This is the second report presented to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor by FIDH and CMDPDH on crimes against humanity committed in Mexico as part of the so-called “War on Drugs”. The organisations believe there is sufficient evidence to indicate that crimes falling under ICC jurisdiction were committed in Mexico, but there has yet to be an investigation or prosecution for any of these crimes. They have therefore requested that a preliminary examination be conducted as laid down in Article 15 of the ICC Statute. This will determine whether or not an investigation is warranted.

Paulina Vega, Vice President of FIDH and a member of CMDPDH’s Board, said, “Given the lack of response on the part of the Mexican authorities to the victims’ clamour for justice, there is no other remedy than the ICC to ensure that the grave crimes committed in Mexico are not left unpunished”.

Re: Common

Published September 12 2014
Summary: £190 million of funds frozen in UK and Switzerland in OPL 245 oil block bribery case

11th September 2014: £190 million of funds in the UK and Switzerland have been frozen at the request of the Italian authorities as part of the continuing investigation into the corrupt deal for the OPL 245 oil block in Nigeria. SRT grantee Re:Common and former grantee Global Witness, who have been investigating the deal for several years, both welcomed the news.

Subsidiaries of Italian oil giant Eni and Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay the Nigerian government US$1.1billion for the oil block in 2011. The government then paid the same amount to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company owned by former oil minister Chief Dan Etete. Etete had awarded the block to his own company when he was oil minister under corrupt Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. Eni have said in a statement that they “continue to deny any illegal conduct.”

The funds frozen today are thought to be proceeds held by Malabu and its middleman Energy Venture Partners.

Nigerian anti-corruption activist Dotun Oloko, who was instrumental in bringing the bribery to light, said, “The freezing of $190m in proceeds from the OPL 245 oil deal is good news for the people of Nigeria, many of whom live in poverty despite the country’s oil wealth. $1.1bn was diverted from the public purse; this needs to be recovered as well as get to the bottom of the role companies and individuals played in this heist.”

Antonio Tricarico, Re:Common’s programme director, said, “The naming of Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s new CEO, its outgoing CEO Paolo Scaroni, and Roberto Casula, its chief development, operations and technology officer, as suspects in the Italian bribery investigation should raise concerns in Italy about ethics standards in state-owned companies [...] Bold action against alleged mismanagement by ENI managers is urgently needed.”

Gulf Center for Human Rights/Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Published September 02 2014
Summary: Human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja arrested and detained in Bahrain

31st August 2014: Leading human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja has been arrested and imprisoned while on a personal visit to Bahrain.

Maryam al-Khawaja with her father (©Gulf Center for Human Rights)

Ms Al-Khawaja, a Danish-Bahraini national who is co-director of SRT grantee the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), travelled to Bahrain on 29th August to visit her father, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is on hunger strike in Jaw Prison. She was arrested shortly after leaving the plane, and was held incommunicado at the airport for 13 hours before being interrogated on charges of “assaulting a police officer” and “insulting the king”. She was refused permission to meet with her lawyer before the interrogation.

Ms Al-Khawaja is currently being held at Isa Town women’s prison pending investigation of the charges against her. She has been placed in a cell with two convicted criminals, and her family has not so far been able to visit her.

The officials who held Ms Al-Khawaja at the airport claimed that she was not allowed into the country because she is no longer a Bahraini citizen. She has not been presented with any evidence to support this. She began a hunger strike in protest, but reportedly ended this after two days out of concern for her father, whose health is very fragile.

GCHR is extremely concerned for Ms Al-Khawaja’s wellbeing in detention, particularly considering the history of abuse to which her family has been subjected. Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, suffered severe torture following his arrest in 2011 for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. Ms. Al-Khawaja’s uncle is also in prison and her sister Zainabhas been subjected to repeated arrest, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights and Bahrain Center for Human Rights (of which Ms Al-Khawaja is former Acting Director) are calling for Ms Al-Khawaja’s immediate release and for all charges against her to be dropped.

Further information from the Gulf Center for Human Rights:
Maryam al-Khawaja’s twitter account:
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights:
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy:
Amnesty International:

Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights

Published August 13 2014
Summary: Al Mezan employee killed by Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza

SRT grantee Al Mezan announced on 10 August 2014 that its staff member Anwar Al Zaaneen, 41, was killed in a missile strike by the Israeli military as he spoke with a water maintenance crew near his house in the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Anwar died from wounds he sustained in this attack at around 4.40pm on Sunday 10th August.

According to investigations by Al Mezan, at approximately 1.20 pm on 10th August, Anwar was hit by a missile fired from an Israeli drone while he was speaking with a water maintenance crew from the Beit Hanoun municipality. He was checking when the water supply to his house would be connected as his family had been displaced for some weeks. He had just reached the crew on his motorcycle when the attack occurred. Anwar and the two water technicians – Majdi Yousef Shabat, 41, and Sofyan Abu Harbeed, 40 – were injured. Anwar's injuries were reported as critical and he died following surgery at the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Several other Al Mezan employees have lost family members during the recent crisis. Coordinator Adnan Hajar lost two brothers - a professor and an engineer – as well as his nephew. Accountant Wael Ahmad also lost two brothers, a headmaster at an UNRWA school and a teacher. Researcher Alaa Matar lost 11 cousins in the al-Sheja’iyah neighbourhood, and his own home was also destroyed. Lawyer Mervat An Nahhal’s house was severely damaged when the neighbouring house was bombed.

In their statement, Al Mezan expressed their deep concern at the Israeli military’s attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip and asked the international community to provide immediate protection for civilians in Gaza, including by insisting on credible and prompt investigations into attacks such as the one that killed Anwar Al Zaaneen.

Women’s Link Worldwide

Published August 11 2014
Summary: UN holds Spanish state responsible for death of seven-year-old girl killed by her father

Madrid, 4th August 2014: The UN has today condemned the Spanish state for failing to protect a seven-year-old girl killed by her father. This is the first time that Spain has been condemned by an international body in a case of domestic violence.

Angela Gonzalez, who brought the case to the UN with the help of SRT grantee Women’s Link Worldwide, separated from her husband in 1999 after several years of abuse. She filed more than 30 complaints against her husband and went to court several times to try and put a stop to his threats and harassment. This was not successful, and Angela’s daughter Andrea was shot dead by her father in 2003 while on an arranged custody visit. Her father then committed suicide. Angela appealed unsuccessfully to the Spanish state to assume responsibility for her daughter’s murder. Having exhausted all other avenues, she went to the UN.

In its judgement, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) ruled that Andrea’s death was a result of state negligence.

Women’s Link attorney Paloma Soria, who worked on Angela’s case, said, “[Angela] went to court to denounce all episodes of violence, harassment and persecution, but all systems failed. In campaigns against gender violence, victims are told to report and seek help. Angela's case shows that it is important to have a coordinated response from the State. Nevertheless, the judicial authorities did not act because they considered that such a measure hindered the 'right' of the aggressor to visitation with his daughter".

Spain now has six months to submit a report to CEDAW setting out the steps it has taken to comply with the committee’s decision.

Text of the UN judgement from Women’s Link’s website (currently in Spanish only):


Published August 01 2014
Summary: Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemns Chile for use of antiterrorist legislation against the indigenous Mapuche people

29th July 2014: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) today condemned the Chilean government for human rights violations against members of the indigenous Mapuche community in the case of Catriman Norin and others vs. Republic of Chile. SRT grantee FIDH represented five of the eight claimants in the case.

Following the return of democracy to Chile in 1990, the Mapuche were faced with repeated refusals by the Courts to recognise their land rights. Investment projects in forestry, hydroelectric installations, and roads were implemented without prior consultation and contributed to stripping the Mapuche of their land. Public protests organised by the Mapuche were criminalised by the authorities, who in some cases applied the Anti-Terrorist Act against Mapuche leaders and members.

The IACHR ruled that the conviction of the claimants for alleged terrorist acts was a violation of the principle of legality and the right to presumption of innocence. The Court also found that the convictions constituted a violation of the principles of equality and non-discrimination, as well as the right to defence and the right to appeal criminal convictions. As a result, the convictions were found to be arbitrary and incompatible with the American Convention.

Jimena Reyes, Head of FIDH’s Americas Office, said, "This decision recognises that it is illegal to criminalize the Mapuche’s quest for their ancestral land, and opens the path for conviction in other cases of criminalization of social protest throughout the continent, which is unfortunately widespread".

Urgent Action Fund – Africa

Published July 24 2014
Summary: Kenyan high court allows transgender rights organisation to register as an NGO after three-year legal battle

24th July 2014: The Kenyan high court has today ruled that the transgender rights organisation Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA) must be allowed to register as an NGO. The group was previously denied permission to register by the Kenyan NGO Co-ordination Board because three transgender women listed in the application - Audrey Mbugua, Maureen Muia and Annet Jennifer - did not have names that “reflected their gender”.

TEA, which receives funding from SRT grantee Urgent Action Fund Africa, took the NGO Co-ordination Board to court in 2011 for discrimination and violation of their fundamental human rights. In his ruling today, Justice George Odunga stated that the board’s decision had no legal basis and that in failing to register TEA, they had acted in a manner that was “was unfair, unreasonable, unjustified and in breach of rules of natural justice.” He also found that Ms Mbugua, Ms Muia and Ms Jennifer had provided sufficient evidence that they had legally changed their names via deed poll.

The board has been ordered to register TEA immediately and provide compensation for all legal costs incurred. Urgent Action Fund Africa has provided resources and advisory support for TEA’s case, and recently also supplied an emergency protection grant when one of TEA’s leaders came under attack.

UAF-Africa said, “TEA’s win today not only sets a precedent for other marginalised groups seeking recognition in Kenya, but sets an example in the region.”

Corner House/Re:Common

Published July 15 2014
Summary: Italy's largest company investigated for its alleged role in corrupt Nigerian oil deal

4th July 2014: Financial police have raided the headquarters of Italy's largest company, the oil giant Eni, as part of a new investigation into its alleged role in the corrupt OPL 245 oil deal. The OPL 245 deal has been investigated for several years by former SRT grantee Global Witness, current grantees Corner House and Re:Common, and the Nigerian anti-corruption campaigner Dotun Oloko.

In 2011, subsidiaries of Eni and Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay US$1.1billion for the Nigerian oil block OPL 245. Eni and Shell paid the Nigerian government, which then paid the same amount to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company owned by former oil minister Chief Dan Etete. Etete had awarded the oil block to his own company when he was oil minister under corrupt Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

The details of the deal were undisclosed until middlemen acting for Malabu sued for unpaid fees. Evidence in the court cases between the middlemen and Malabu revealed the exact payments and arrangements between the parties and showed that the Nigerian government had effectively acted as a "straw man". The High Court in London ruled in July 2013 that Etete was the real owner of Malabu.

Shell and ENI have denied paying money to Malabu, stating that their payments went to the Nigerian government. However court evidence has revealed that they knew that the money was going to Malabu and that Shell had negotiated directly with Etete over "iced champagne". Eni officials allegedly attended a meal with Etete at a five-star restaurant in Milan.

Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness, said, "The Italian authorities' decision to investigate Eni's role in the corrupt OPL 245 oil deal is excellent news for the people of Nigeria. They deserve to know how $1.1bn was diverted away from the public purse."

Bahrain Center for Human Rights/Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Published July 07 2014
Summary: Prominent Bahraini human rights activist released from prison

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, was released from prison on 24th May 2014 after completing his two-year term.

Mr Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison in 2012 for calling for and participating in “illegal gatherings” and “disturbing public order”. His sentence was reduced to two years on appeal. He was considered by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his imprisonment as “arbitrary”. Mr Rajab said, “I was isolated from other prisoners of conscience and put in a remote building with three foreigners who were convicted of prostitution-related charges. It felt almost like a solitary confinement. I got access to my family twice a month and the most painful action taken by authorities during my imprisonment was after the death of my beloved mother when they prevented me from participating in her condolences ceremony.”

According to Amnesty International, Bahrain’s authorities have repeatedly used legislation to punish peaceful protesters taking part in unauthorised gatherings. Under the country’s penal code, gatherings of more than five people can be criminalised if those assembled were deemed to do so with the intention to commit a crime or any acts aimed at undermining public security.

Nabeel Rajab’s colleague, human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, has been in prison since June 2011 serving a life sentence, following a “grossly unfair” trial according to human rights observers. Mr Al-Khawaja and Mr Rajab co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Despite losing their leaders to detention, both Centres have not only survived but grown. “They managed to put lot of efforts to fill the gap of not having me and my colleague Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. I think we are now in a better position to continue our peaceful work to further support and protect human rights defenders in our region,” Nabeel Rajab noted. “I will continue my peaceful work in the field of human rights with a solid determination to reach our prosperous future.”

Full story from BCHR’s website:


Published July 03 2014
Summary: Belarusian human rights defender freed from prison after three years

21st June 2014: Ales Bialiatski, a prominent human rights defender who is President of Viasna Human Rights Centre of Belarus and Vice President of SRT grantee FIDH, was released from prison on 21st June after nearly three years in detention.

Mr Bialiatski was arrested in August 2011 on the grounds of “large-scale tax evasion” and sentenced in November 2011 to four and a half years’ imprisonment. These charges were based on his use of personal bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania to support his organisation’s human rights work in Belarus. The accounts were opened as the Belarusian authorities had refused to register the organisation since 2003, and he was therefore unable to open a Belarusian account in the name of Viasna. During his time in prison Mr Bialiatski was forced to do hard labour, and lost a large amount of weight as well as several teeth.

Immediately after Mr Bialiatski’s arrest FIDH launched an international campaign to secure his release, using the website Last March they also launched a campaign called #ForFreedom to accelerate the release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders throughout the world, and in June 2014 they called for Mr Bialiatski’s immediate, unconditional release in an address before the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Karim Lahdiji, President of FIDH, said, “Ales is free again, at last, bringing great hope to all human rights defenders who are still incarcerated throughout the world. We will continue our fight for all of them so that they too may be free, and for the political prisoners still in jail in Belarus.”

Mr Bialiatski said, “It is the support I received from all of you, all the national and international intervention from the day I was arrested that made it possible for me to be released today”.


Published July 03 2014
Summary: Muslim Council of Britain issues new guidance condemning female genital mutilation

19th June 2014: the Muslim Council of Britain, in conjunction with SRT grantee FORWARD and the Muslim Spiritual Care Provision in the NHS, has for the first time issued explicit guidance stating that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is incompatible with Islam.

The guidance, which will be distributed at 500 mosques and community centres in the form of a flyer as well as online, states that FGM is against Islamic teachings and that it can cause serious damage to physical and mental health, fertility problems, complications in childbirth, and even death. It also informs the reader of the legal implications in the UK of carrying out the practice, which can carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

FORWARD Trustee and Fellow at the Royal Society for Public Health Dr Yunes Teinaz said, “FGM is practised contrary to the teachings of Islam and is prohibited in the UK and most EU countries. Many girls could be saved from their cruel fate, if there was more awareness among the community of the consequences of FGM. Let us make this possible by the joint work of FORWARD, MCB and religious leaders to build awareness about the negative consequences of FGM in the communities. We will continue to welcome any and every opportunity to raise our voices and to campaign against this illicit practice.”

Full press release from FORWARD’s website:


Published June 13 2014
Summary: Swiss court convicts former Guatemalan police chief of extrajudicial killings

6th June 2014: The Criminal Court in Geneva today sentenced former Guatemalan Chief of Police Erwin Sperisen to life in prison for seven extrajudicial executions carried out in 2006.
Seven years ago, a coalition of NGOs including SRT grantee TRIAL denounced Sperisen to the judicial authorities for atrocities committed between 2004 and 2007. The coalition lobbied Geneva's prosecuting authorities for an investigation into Sperisen, a dual Swiss-Guatemalan national who lives in Geneva. TRIAL also provided evidence material and witness statements to the prosecuting authorities. On August 31st 2012 Sperisen was arrested on the orders of Geneva's Attorney General.

During the preliminary hearings, Sperisen appeared 11 times before Geneva's Attorney General. 14 witnesses travelled from France, Guatemala and Spain and four rogatory commissions (international legal assistance requests) were sent to Austria, Spain and Guatemala. The investigation convinced the Geneva Prosecutor of Sperisen's criminal responsibility. In January 2014, he decided to bring the accused before Geneva's Criminal Court for the murder of 10 people in Guatemala, including the summary execution of seven detainees during a military operation at Pavón prison in September 2006, as well as that of three inmates who escaped from the Infiernito prison in 2005.

Following a three-week trial and two days of deliberation, Sperisen was convicted of the Pavon prison killings. He was acquitted of participation in the executions at El Infiernito prison, although the Court acknowledged the Guatemalan police’s involvement.

Philip Grant, the Director of TRIAL, said, "Today's ruling shows that the ideal of justice pursued by so many, in Switzerland and in Guatemala, can be achieved. Despite the distance, despite the complexity of the case and despite intimidation, the determination of the many actors, here and there, has enabled justice to be served. The fight against impunity and for human dignity are the winners of today's verdict."


Published June 09 2014
Summary: Judge orders US government to release Guantanamo force-feeding videotapes to prisoner's lawyers

23rd May 2014: A federal court judge today ordered the US government to produce 34 videotapes showing Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab being forcibly dragged from his cell and being force-fed. Mr Dhiab was cleared for release by the Obama Administration in 2009, but he remains in Guantánamo after more than a decade without charge or trial. He is being assisted by SRT grantee Reprieve.

In total, there are 136 videos of Mr Dhiab being subjected to the ‘Forcible Cell Extraction’ process, which has been carried out on average three times a week for a year. Judge Gladys Kessler has required the government to hand over the 34 tapes which relate specifically to him being force fed.

The court also ordered the government to produce Mr Dhiab’s medical records, which should allow the court to make a proper assessment of the impact of force-feeding on Mr Dhiab's declining health.

Today's hearing marked the first time the US government has been ordered to give detainees' lawyers videotapes of force-feedings.

Cori Crider, strategic director of Reprieve, said, "It is very encouraging that the rule of law is finally coming to Guantanamo, so that perhaps Mr. Dhiab’s situation can be resolved. While the photographic evidence of his abuse is secret, it will at least allow the judge to see what is happening to him.”


**Published June 05 2014
Summary: African Commission adopts landmark resolution on protection of LGBTI rights

22nd May 2014: African civil society organisations and human rights defenders have welcomed the adoption by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of the resolution Protection Against Violence and other Human Rights Violations Against Persons on the Basis of their Real or Imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. The resolution was adopted at the Commission’s most recent session in Angola from 28th April to 12th May 2014.

This landmark resolution is the strongest document to date from the African Commission recognising the need for the protection of the human rights of LGBTI people. It acknowledges that human rights violations based on people’s real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity breach the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and calls on States Parties to “ensure that human rights defenders are able to work in an environment free from stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities.” It also urges States to end impunity for acts of violence and abuse against LGBTI people.

SRT grantee AMSHeR has lobbied the African Commission for some years for a resolution on the human rights of LGBTI people (along with other African LGBTI groups including SRT grantee UHAI). Joel Gustave Nana, AMSHeR’s executive director, said, “The Commission in its mandate to promote and protect the human rights of all, has, by passing this resolution, heard the strong call of those who are subjected to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression across Africa […] African civil society organisations, activists and human rights defenders call on all African States to immediately take action to end this violence and wide-ranging human rights violations by aligning legislation, policies and institutional frameworks with the standards set, through this Resolution, by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

Strategic Initiative for the Horn of Africa (SIHA)

Published 20 May 2014
Summary: SIHA condemns sentencing of pregnant woman to death for apostasy

SRT grantee the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) has strongly condemned the decision by a Sudanese court to sentence Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant Sudanese woman charged with apostasy and adultery, to 100 lashings and execution by hanging. SIHA has been publically and privately advocating on Meriam’s behalf since February.

Meriam will remain at Obdurman Women’s Prison along with her 20-month-old son until she gives birth to her new baby, which is due within a month. While in custody, Meriam has allegedly been denied regular contact with legal advisers, been refused medical care, and has suffered beatings, denial of food, and aggressive interrogations. The Sudanese Criminal Code mandates that Meriam be permitted to breastfeed her baby for two years; the flogging and execution will take place after this period. Meriam is thus facing another two years of prison along with her son, who has been forced by Sudanese officials to remain incarcerated with Meriam because Meriam’s husband is non-Muslim, and is therefore considered unsuitable to care for his child.

SIHA has called on human rights defenders, international institutions, and the media to demand Meriam’s immediate and unconditional release and the dropping of the charges of adultery and apostasy.

SIHA’s Regional Director, Hala Al-Karib, commented, “This is a dark and shameful day for Sudan's justice system [...] As women activists and rights defenders, SIHA supports Meriam’s courage and solid stance. Her honesty and integrity today has in many ways defeated her oppressors. Regardless of the next steps which will be taken, Meriam has exposed the weakness and the discriminatory nature of Sudan legal system and SIHA will continue to be an active participant in advocating on her behalf.”

CEJIL/Mexican Commission for Defence and Promotion of Human Rights

Published May 20 2014
Summary: Mexican Congress agrees historic reform of Military Code of Justice

On 30th April 2014, the Mexican Congress approved amendments to the Military Code of Justice, establishing for the first time restrictions on the use of military courts. Cases of human rights violations against civilians must now be tried in the civilian court system rather than by military tribunals. This reform comes in response to four cases brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2009-10, the first of which was litigated by SRT grantee CMDPDH (Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights). SRT grantee the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) was involved in litigation of the other three cases along with two other human rights organisations.

The reform was approved unanimously by the Senate on 24th April and by the Chamber of Deputies on 30th April.

As Mexico’s military court proceedings are held largely in secret, critics allege that military personnel are able to commit serious human rights violations, including murder, torture and rape, with impunity. Well-known cases include the rape of indigenous women from Guerrero state by soldiers in the early 2000s, and the forced disappearance in the 1970s of indigenous men, also from Guerrero. The victims have sought justice for years but have not been able to hold their alleged attackers to account. The Mexican government issued an apology for both cases in 2011 following an order from the Inter-American Court.

Viviana Krsticevic, CEJIL’s Executive Director, said, "This reform bill is a significant step forward for the human rights agenda in Mexico and is an example of what can be achieved through a democratic process of discussion".

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Published May 19 2014
Summary: International Criminal Court reopens investigations into alleged torture of Iraqi detainees by British military

13th May 2014: the International Criminal Court in The Hague has decided to reopen preliminary investigations into the liability of British military officials for the torture of detainees in Iraq.

This decision follows a criminal complaint lodged in January 2014 by SRT grantee the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) along with the Birmingham-based legal charity Public Interest Lawyers. The complainants called for investigations to be opened into the liability under international criminal law of senior members of the British military, as well as former defence heads and Secretaries of State within the Ministry of Defence, for the systematic torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees by members of the British military between 2003 and 2008.

Over the past few years more than 400 former Iraqi detainees have contacted PIL with accounts of abuse and degrading treatment by British soldiers. While these accusations are publicly known and have been the subject of a number of state commissions of inquiry, British authorities have to date failed to conduct the appropriate criminal proceedings.

ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck said, “The reopening of the investigation represents a milestone for Iraqi victims and for international criminal law. The double standards must come to an end. Those who violate human rights must be brought to justice regardless of how powerful they may be”.

Full press release from ECCHR’s website:

AIDS-Free World

Published May 19 2014
Summary: Caribbean’s highest court agrees to hear challenge to discriminatory immigration laws

9th May 2014: The Caribbean Court of Justice has allowed the case of Maurice Tomlinson v. The State of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago to proceed to trial. The case challenges the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad, which are the only two countries in the Western Hemisphere to prohibit the entry of LGBT people and other ‘prohibited classes’, including people with disabilities.

The claimant, Mr Tomlinson, is an openly gay Jamaican attorney who regularly works with marginalised groups across the Caribbean in his capacity as SRT grantee AIDS-Free World’s Legal Advisor. AIDS-Free World initiated the case against Belize and Trinidad because the laws of both countries make it impossible for Mr Tomlinson to work with vulnerable groups or attend regional meetings without knowingly breaking the law. The claim was first initiated with the Jamaican government, which refused to act on its own citizen’s behalf. It was next taken to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction over all the members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In its judgment, the Court acknowledged that there was a strong case to be made that the mere existence of these laws are evidence of prejudice. They also argued that the case raises important questions around the relationship between the domestic laws of individual countries and the treaty obligations they hold as members of the Caribbean Community. Decisions of Caribbean Court of Justice are binding across CARICOM countries.

UNAIDS has its regional headquarters in Trinidad. This case originally came to light because AIDS-Free World and other HIV and LGBTI activists would be unable to attend UNAIDS meetings without breaking the law. AIDS-Free World are therefore calling for UNAIDS to relocate until the country’s discriminatory immigration law is changed.

American Civil Liberties Union

Published May 15 2014
Summary: Appeal Court rejects US government’s claims that ‘targeted killing’ programme is protected by official secrecy

21st April 2014: the Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit has rejected the US government’s claim that it cannot release information about its so-called ‘targeted killing’ programme as it is protected by official secrecy. SRT grantee the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued the case before the Second Circuit panel in October 2013.

In ordering the release of a 2010 legal memorandum analysing the potential targeted killing of an American citizen, as well as other information about records that the government has previously refused to describe, the Second Circuit became the first court to order the release of a document related to the targeted killing programme. The court held that as the government had given repeated public assurances that the programme is lawful, and had disclosed a "white paper" summarising its legal conclusions, it had waived its right under the Freedom of Information Act to keep secret its legal analysis authorising the killing of US citizens.

In January 2013, the district court agreed with the government that it could keep secret all its documents related to the targeted killing programme. However the judge expressed serious misgivings about the result, writing, “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The case will now go back to the district court, where the government must defend its withholding of documents that it has thus far refused to publicly describe.
Jamell Jaffer of the ACLU said, "This is a resounding rejection of the government's effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing programme."
Blog post about the case from the ACLU’s website:

European Coalition for Corporate Justice

Published April 24 2014
Summary: European Parliament adopts important new rules on corporate transparency and accountability

15 April 2014: The European Parliament has adopted new legislation requiring companies to disclose the steps they take to prevent damage to human rights and the environment as a result of their work. This decision, which was passed by a majority of 599 to 55, follows years of advocacy by SRT grantee the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) and other organisations. It represents a significant step forward for corporate social responsibility, as it has not previously been mandatory for companies to supply this information.

6,000 large EU-based companies will now be required to provide information on the risks they pose to human rights and the environment (including in their supply chains), as well as on corruption, diversity and social issues. However the number of affected companies was lowered during negotiations between the European Council and Parliament, and only about a third of the number foreseen in the original proposal will now be covered. EU member states will also be allowed to grant exemptions to certain companies.

Jerome Chaplier, Coordinator of ECCJ, said, “This is an important step forward. The reform recognises that the environmental and human rights impacts of companies are of key concern for society as a whole. It will empower people to access information on how they might be affected by business operations, and enable shareholders to hold the management accountable for negative impact. However, we regret that the original proposal has been weakened so much.”

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Published April 15 2014
Summary: France opens judicial investigation targeting Qosmos for complicity in acts of torture in Syria

11 April 2014: the Prosecutor of the Paris Court has today announced its decision to open a judicial investigation into French ICT firm Qosmos for complicity in acts of torture in Syria. This news comes 18 months after SRT grantee the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with fellow human rights organisation Ligue des Droites de l’Homme (LDH), filed a complaint denouncing the alleged implication of French companies, in particular Qosmos, in the selling of surveillance material to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

This is the second time that French judicial authorities have agreed to investigate the alleged involvement of an ICT company which sold surveillance material to an authoritarian regime. An investigation was opened in May 2012 into the alleged implication of the French technology company Amesys in acts of torture in Libya.

Qosmos, a company specialising in Deep Packet Inspection (technology designed for real-time analysis of digital data), has been called into question several times for supplying the Syrian regime with electronic surveillance equipment. The DPI technology allows intelligence services in repressive regimes to keep track of dissidents more easily, notably by intercepting live electronic communications.

The armed conflict in Syria has led to between 100,000 and 150,000 deaths (mainly civilians), the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of people, and a large number of enforced disappearances. Victims of repression at the hands of Assad’s regime include human rights defenders and activists, in particular cyber-activists who have been singled out because of their efforts to communicate and denounce human rights violations.

More information about the case from FIDH’s website:


Published April 11 2014
Summary: Women’s rights groups urge investigation into alleged mistreatment of pregnant indigenous women in southern Mexico

2nd April 2014: Women’s rights groups in Mexico, including SRT grantee the Reproductive Information Group (GIRE), have appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the alleged neglect and mistreatment of pregnant indigenous women by the public health system.

Activists working in southern Mexico report that they have encountered at least 20 cases of women being turned away from hospitals while in labour and being forced to give birth outside. Photo and video footage of some of these incidents has been posted on social media sites. Health officials claim that the cases are isolated and unavoidable due to overcrowding and lack of resources at some health centres, but some women’s rights activists believe that the cases represent a pattern of substandard care.

The problem came to national attention in 2013, when a photo was shared in social and print media showing a Mazatec woman who had just given birth on a lawn outside a health centre in the village of San Felipe Jalapa de Diaz. The picture encouraged other women to come forward with similar stories, including an 18-year-old woman who gave birth in the bathroom of a shelter next to a hospital, having allegedly been refused medical care.

Most of the publicly-known cases are from Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest regions, which already suffers from high rates of obstetrical problems and maternal deaths.

The Commission heard the women's rights groups' presentation on the individual cases, and requested that the State implement the necessary measures to deal with these and prevent them from recurring in the future.

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Published April 11 2014
Summary: Botswana government ordered to provide HIV treatment to non-citizen prisoners

18th March 2014: In an important legal victory in Botswana, the country’s High Court has ordered the government to provide HIV treatment to all non-citizen prisoners.

Prior to the court order, the government supplied non-citizen prisoners with treatment for opportunistic infections but not for HIV, leading to a significant deterioration in their health. Non-citizen prisoners were expected to pay for HIV treatment themselves. The Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) sued the government to secure treatment, along with two foreign prisoners living with HIV. They were assisted in the case by SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

The two prisoners and BONELA argued that the denial of critical medical treatment to non-citizen prisoners violated their fundamental rights, which were guaranteed under Botswana’s Constitution. In addition the prisoners used current medical evidence to show that not only would their lives be at risk without HIV treatment, but that other prisoners would also be at greater risk of contracting HIV and other opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis.

Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, said, “The order will have to be immediately implemented by government and will ensure that the government meets its obligations under the Botswana Constitution and under international and regional law. More importantly, it shows that the government has no legitimate justification for putting prisoners’ lives at serious risk by denying them HIV treatment.”

Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team/Center for Justice and Accountability

Published March 14 2014
Summary: First reburial of civil war victims takes place in Somaliland

9th March 2014: With the help of SRT grantee the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF), the government of Somaliland has reburied 45 victims from Somalia's ethnic conflict of the 1980s, setting a precedent for other African nations and affirming the right to a dignified burial.

The reburial - the first of its kind since Somalia emerged from civil war - took place at the Hargeisa cemetery in the capital of the autonomous state of Somaliland. Muslim sheikhs wrapped the 45 sets of remains in shrouds and watched as they were buried in individual graves.

The victims, all men, are assumed to have been members of the Isaaq clan, which opposed the rule of former Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. The men were among many who were taken in for questioning by police in 1984 and never reappeared. According to estimates, over 60,000 people were killed during the repression in northern Somalia.

EPAF had previously exhumed the victims from three mass graves and gathered evidence which may help to identify them. EPAF’s Director Jose Pablo Baraybar, who helped to manage the reburial ceremony, predicted that it will strengthen Somaliland's efforts at nation-building and have an "illustrative impact" on other countries.
EPAF was invited to work in Somaliland after Mr Baraybar received an award in 2010 from SRT grantee the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA).

CJA has pursued a case against Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former general in Barre's army who led the repression in the north of Somalia and now resides in Virginia. A US court levelled a fine of $21 million on Mr Samantar in 2012.

Full story from the Advocacy Project:

Human Dignity Trust

Published January 29 2014
Summary: Northern Cyprus becomes the last country in Europe to decriminalise homosexuality

27th January 2014: The parliament of Northern Cyprus has voted to repeal a law dating from the British colonial period which criminalises gay sex between consenting adults and punishes them with up to five years in prison.

The decision is still to receive presidential endorsement, but President Derviş Eroğlu is expected to give his assent within the next two weeks. If it becomes law, it will mean that no states in Europe, Australasia or North America now criminalise homosexuality.

SRT grantee the Human Dignity Trust and the LGBT organisation Queer Cyprus launched a case at the European Court of Human Rights last year arguing that the continuing criminalisation of consenting sexual acts in Northern Cyprus is a breach of international law. The European Convention of Human Rights required Northern Cyprus to decriminalise, and the Court would have forced the law to be changed.

Cyprus legalised gay sex between consenting adults in 1993, but due to its division into separate Greek and Turkish states, many criminal laws inherited from the British colonial era – including the ban on homosexuality – remained in force in the North.

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Published January 29 2014
Summary: ECCHR urges investigation into UK military abuses against Iraqi detainees

On 10th January 2014 SRT grantee the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), together with Birmingham-based law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), delivered a 250-page complaint including several thousand pages of additional documents to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, requesting action on the alleged abuse and mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by UK military forces.

Over 400 Iraqi former detainees have brought allegations to PIL of grave mistreatment committed by UK forces between 2003 and 2008. ECCHR and PIL believe that the systemic abuse of detainees during the UK’s presence in Iraq meets the threshold for war crimes, and that the ICC should therefore open formal investigations into those UK officials ‘most responsible’ for the abuses, in particular former Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon and former Minister of State for Service Personnel Adam Ingram.

In 2006, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC declined to open a formal investigation into UK military abuses in Iraq, concluding that there were reasonable grounds to believe the war crimes of wilful killing and inhuman treatment had been committed by UK forces, but that they were not of sufficient gravity to justify a formal investigation. At that time, the OTP assumed only four to 12 victims of wilful killing and a limited number of victims of inhumane treatment, “totalling in all less than 20 persons”. However, they explicitly stated that their decision not to investigate could be reconsidered in light of new information.

Full story from ECCHR’s website:

Strategic Fund for Turkey

Published December 13 2013
Summary: Roma rights activists awarded first-ever Raoul Wallenberg Prize

Strasbourg, 2nd December 2013 – The first-ever Council of Europe Raoul Wallenberg Prize has been awarded to Elmas Arus, a Roma film director from Turkey. Ms Arus is the Director of the Association for Zero Discrimination, a Turkish Roma rights NGO set up and run with funding from the Strategic Fund for Turkey, which is supported by SRT.

Between 2001 and 2010, Ms Arus and a group of volunteers from her university visited more than 400 Roma neighbourhoods in 38 cities in Turkey. They produced 360 hours of documentation, and created an hour-long documentary on the challenges faced by the different Turkish Roma groups. Subsequently, Ms Arus established the Association for Zero Discrimination, which has strengthened the struggle of Rome associations in Turkey for recognition of discrimination their community faces: there are now over 200 Roma associations in Turkey. Her work played a crucial role in the elaboration of the Turkish government’s ‘Roma opening’ initiative of 2009, which aimed to improve conditions for Roma.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said, “The hard work carried out by Elmas Arus, with courage and perseverance, is a truly impressive contribution to the fight against deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination suffered by Roma populations all over our continent.”

The prize of 10,000 euros will be awarded on 17 January 2014 at the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg.


Published November 21 2013
Summary: Last British resident of Guantanamo Bay speaks publicly for the first time

19th November 2013: Shaker Aamer, the last British resident of Guantánamo Bay, has spoken publicly for the first time as part of a recording made by the American news programme 60 Minutes. The programme was broadcast in the US on 17th November.

Mr Aamer has been imprisoned at Guantánamo for 11 years without charge, despite being cleared for release by two successive US administrations. He was not pictured on camera during the programme but was heard speaking about the conditions in which he and other prisoners are being held. He said, “You cannot walk even half a metre without being chained. Is that a human being? That's the treatment of an animal."

Mr Aamer has British residency, and his British wife and children live in south London. However the US has threatened to send him to his birthplace, Saudi Arabia, when he is released. The UK Foreign Office has indicated that his case is a high priority and that they support his immediate return to the UK.

SRT grantee Reprieve is representing Mr Aamer. Clive Stafford-Smith, Reprieve’s founder and Director, said, “CBS's show gives a very rare and very shocking glimpse inside Guantánamo Bay. Everyone in the prison – the guards and the men – is suffering horribly, day after day. Obama must fulfil his promise to close the prison and Shaker Aamer must come home to his family in the UK, which is what David Cameron has said he wants."


Published November 14 2013
Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules in favour of Chilean torture survivor

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found in favour of Leopoldo García Lucero, an ally of Salvador Allende who was subjected to enforced disappearance, detention, physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment in Chile under the Pinochet regime. The court awarded Mr García Lucero £20,000 in compensation and ordered Chile to complete a criminal investigation into his case. Mr García Lucero, who now lives in the UK, was represented by SRT grantee Redress.

This is a landmark judgement as it is the first time the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has decided the case of a living survivor of human rights violations under General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS, said, “We welcome the judgment, as it recognises that torture survivors in exile today, like Mr García Lucero, still have the right to justice and reparation, despite being outside of the country and regardless of the passage of time. The judgment offers some hope to the many who may find themselves in the same situation. These are particularly vulnerable victims who have been denied justice for many years.”

Mr García Lucero said, “No amount of money will ever be able to compensate the suffering that my family and I have endured, but I am glad that the judgment recognises that Chile could have done more for victims like us. I also hope the judgment will help prevent similar events from happening in the future, and that Chile finds and punishes those responsible for my torture and exile before I die, so I can live to see justice done.”

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network

Published November 08 2013
Summary: Sudanese human rights activist assaulted and detained by police for refusing to cover her hair

Amira Osman, a Sudanese engineer and women’s rights activist, has been assaulted and detained by ‘Public Order police’ in Khartoum after refusing to cover her hair.

On 27th August 2013 Ms Osman was approached by a police officer who demanded that she cover her head with a scarf. When she refused, she was physically assaulted, forced to sit on the floor,