Human Rights First today released a new report analyzing Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban's close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government’s systematic assault on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media. The report, “No Society Without Civil Society,” comes as Orban’s far-right party Fidesz is threatening to shut down Central European University, the American university founded by philanthropist George Soros that was created to promote the values of an open society and liberal democracy.
“The U.S. government can't afford to sit on the sidelines and watch Orban drag Hungary back to its authoritarian past. Orban’s obsession with creating an illiberal state modeled on Vladimir Putin’s Russia is dangerous for Europe, and dangerous for the United States and NATO. It means institutionalized corruption, attacks on the free market, on internal critics, on independent media, and on minorities," said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, author of today’s report. "Almost every week brings a fresh new shock as the Fidesz government goes after its critics, whether they're lawyers, refugees, academics, or activists."
Based on a Human Rights First fact-finding mission earlier this month, the report details how independent media is being bought out or closed down, and individuals who criticize the government are routinely targeted. Local NGOs report they are often harassed via exhaustive tax audits.
This week’s news that Central European University is being targeted is a major assault on both academic freedom and democratic ideals in Hungary. The university provides post graduate education for students from more than one hundred countries. It is officially registered in New York, but as it is without a physical campus there, the Hungarian government argues it is operating in violation of the law. If parliament agrees by passing the proposed legislation, the university will be forced to cease operations until it can build a campus in the United States.
“Adding to civil society’s concern is the relatively warm—if also murky and controversial—relationship between President Trump and President Putin, which is likely to encourage further Fidesz-led attacks on civil society,” added Dooley. “Putin regards the Orban government as a vehicle for expanding its influence, while weakening the cohesion within the European Union and NATO. Activists have warned that Hungary is Russia’s door to the West.”
Today’s report recommends steps the U.S. government can take to protect Hungarian civil society and guard against the forces of far-right extremism and anti-democratic Russian influence including:
Published on Human Rights First website on March 30, 2017.
The imprisoned human rights defender Andrei Bandarenka will be released tomorrow, after the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ found him today not guilty of violating prison rules. If convicted, Bandarenka could have faced another year in prison, as requested by the prosecutor earlier today.
Andrei Bandarenka, former head of the Platform Innovation human rights NGO, was charged under Part 2, Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (“willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration”), after the prison authorities imposed on him a dozen penalties for alleged breach of internal regulations.
In particular, the prisoner was accused of lying on his bed in the daytime, which is prohibited by the prison rules. In a separate episode, he was penalized for talking during a walk in the prison yard.
The country’s leading human rights groups said shortly after Bandarenka faced charges that if convicted, the criteria applied for the definition of politically motivated judicial harassment would allow them to “qualify Bandarenka as a political prisoner.”
"We are pleased with the outcome of the trial, although I realize that the decision in Bandarenka's case was not taken by this judge, but by superior authorities," Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", said after the court hearing.
"It seems that at the last moment, for tactical reasons, the authorities decided not to aggravate the situation and canceled a prearranged sentence. Nevertheless, we continue to strongly criticize the existence of the Criminal Code Article 411, which allows subjectively and selectively, according to the will and desire of the administration of the prison system, or those who are behind it, to punish violators of prison rules by additional prison terms. The fact that Andrei Bandarenka will soon be free is due to both the Belarusian human rights defenders and the entire Belarusian society with an active civic stance.
We will seek the abolition of Article 411 as a shameful vestiges of the Soviet era," the human rights activist said.
Published on Viasna website on March 30, 2017.
A Taiwanese human rights advocate, Lee Ming-che, is detained in China, suspected of harming national security, according to Chinese government officials. Lee disappeared [BBC report] on March 19 after entering Macau. The Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council PRC [official website] reported that Lee is being held in accordance with legal principles, but the government has not released any details.
Rights groups and members of Lee's family are demanding [Reuters report] that the Chinese government either provide more information about the charges or release him and they further urge the government to permit Lee to see a lawyer and his family. Some activists believe this detention is linked to a new Chinese law which allows broader policing and surveillance laws for foreign non-governmental organizations in China.
China has faced continued international criticism for its treatment of human rights defenders, ranging from filing of arbitrary criminal charges, suspension or dismissal of law licenses, and disappearances. In February, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) [advocacy website] released its annual report, highlighting [JURIST report] intensified crackdowns on human rights defenders in China. In the report, the group alleged that human rights activities are being criminalized as political threats to national security. In December the UN called on China to investigate the disappearance [JURIST report] of human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, after he had been missing for two months. The same month China suspended the law license[JURIST report] of prominent human rights lawyer Li Jinxing, over his apparent allegedly unacceptable behavior in court while defending a client. In September China handed down a 12-year sentence [JURIST report] to prominent human rights lawyer Xia Lin.
Published on Jurist Twenty's website on March 29, 2017.
Police in Belarus arrested and beat an opposition activist Ales Lahvinets, causing him to be hospitalized for three days with multiple injuries, before a court sentenced him on March 27, 2017, to 10 days’ detention on fabricated hooliganism charges, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should immediately free Lahvinets, and promptly investigate allegations of ill-treatment of Lahvinets and his son in custody.
Police cracked down violently during several weeks of protests and in advance of the “Freedom Day” rally on March 25, arresting hundreds of people, including journalists and human rights activists.
“We are deeply concerned about Ales Lahvinets’ safety,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Belarus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The false charges and beating are completely outrageous and sadly emblematic of the latest vicious government crackdown in Belarus.”
A Human Rights Watch researcher attended Lahvinets’ March 27 court hearing in Minsk and interviewed him before the trial began.
Lahvinets is an outspoken opposition activist, former member of the opposition movement For Freedom and a regular critic of President Aliaksandr Lukashenka. He was one of many people whom police detained in the lead-up to the March 25 rally.
Lahvinets said that on March 23, at 12:25 p.m., five riot policemen in civilian clothing stopped him and his son Anton, 22, near their apartment building. Without identifying themselves, the men shoved both men toward a minivan parked nearby. When Lahvinets refused to go with them, the men forced him into the van.
“It was in the middle of the day, with lots of people out and about,” Anton Lahvinets told Human Rights Watch. “Dad and I started screaming that we were being kidnapped and for someone to call the police. Turns out, this was the police.”
The police forced Ales Lahvinets to lie face down on the van’s floor and pushed his son into a seat. A policeman sat on Ales Lahvinet’s back and punched him twice in the head. Lahvinet’s son saw his father’s glasses had fallen onto the floor and tried to give them back to him. One of the police shouted at Anton to stop and handcuffed him. The police also yelled at the men: “You sell-out bastards. You never learn.” When Ales Lahvinets tried to speak, one of the policemen threatened, “Be quiet or I’ll stop the car and really beat you the way I should.”
Ales Lahvinets said the police stopped the van at some point during the 20 minute ride, told his son to leave because they had “no order” to detain him, and drove off.
At about 1 p.m., the police took Lahvinets to the Maskouski district police station, where the policeman who had beaten him in the van instructed another policeman to handcuff him as tightly as possible. He hit Lahvinets several more times and told him: “I can beat you up so badly that you will piss yourself.” The police then forced the activist to lie face down on the ground for 15 minutes, searched him, took away his phone, and said that he was being charged with “hooliganism,” for allegedly swearing in public.
At about 3 p.m., the police took Lahvinets to the Maskouski district court for a hearing. Lahvinets started to feel dizzy and, suspecting he might have a head trauma from the beatings, demanded an ambulance. He was taken to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed a head injury, a fractured nose, and multiple bruises to his upper body, right arm, and knee.
During the three days Lahvinets spent in the hospital, two of the policemen who detained him remained with him, followed him to medical procedures, sat outside his ward, and insisted on being present during visits from his family.
Anton Lahvinets said that as soon as he was released from the van, he rushed to the nearest police station to file a report about his father’s detention. The police refused to register his complaint, contending that they had not taken his father into custody. They told him: “We didn’t do it. Other authorities did.”
During the March 27 court hearing, two policemen who detained Lahvinets testified that Lahvinets caused the injuries to himself by “banging his head against the car seat.”
Lahvinets’ son, who was allowed testify in court, said his father didn’t have access to a defense lawyer until 10 minutes before the hearing. At the hearing, the judge denied all defense motions, including requests to call witnesses to the men’s initial detention and introduce evidence to rebut police testimony. After a short recess, the judge found Lahvinets guilty of a misdemeanor for allegedly swearing in a public and sentenced him to 10 days detention under article 17.1 of the administrative code.
“The charges against Lahvinets were patently fabricated, but that did not seem to be an issue to the judge, nor did he question the incredulous claim that the injuries were self-inflicted,” Gorbunova said. “It was a sad demonstration that the Belarus courts can’t be relied on to protect people’s rights.”
In February and March, mass protests, sparked by the government’s decision to impose a “social parasites” tax on those officially unemployed for six months, swept through Minsk and several other Belarusian cities. In early March the government announced that it was postponing the tax for a year, but the protests continued.
Since mid-March, riot police and security services have detained, often violently, several hundred people, including at least 100 journalists and 60 human rights activists, in connection with the Freedom Day rally. The peaceful anti-government protest was held on March 25, the anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic. Some were released without charge, and many were charged with various offenses, such as hooliganism, resisting arrest, or participating in unsanctioned protests. At least 120 people have been fined or sentenced to detention for up to 25 days. Court hearings are ongoing.
On March 20, President Aliaksandr Lukashenka attributed the demonstrations to a “fifth column,” which he accused of acting with the support of “Western funds and foreign security services,” to “escalate tensions” in Belarus.
“Instead of addressing genuine public grievances, Belarusian authorities are responding to peaceful protests with a brutal crackdown,” Gorbunova said. “The authorities should immediately release all those held in connection with the peaceful protests, hold police and security services accountable for unjustified violence, stop interfering with professional activities of journalists, and respect the freedoms of assembly and speech.”
Published on HRW's website on March 28, 2017.
A coalition of ten human rights organizations today urged the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, a prominent economist, academic and human rights defender, who faces a verdict in his case on 29 March 2017. He has been imprisoned in solitary confinement since his arrest in August 2015.
The coalition further appeals to the UAE authorities to end the criminalization of peaceful expression, including dissent, and to respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Bin Ghaith is facing five charges based solely on his peaceful activities, including his posts on Twitter expressing peaceful criticism of the human rights records of the UAE and Egyptian governments and calls for greater respect for human rights, freedoms and accountability in both countries. His charges also relate to unplanned meetings that he had during his travels in the region with political activists whom the UAE government has claimed are members of banned “terror” organizations. The charges were brought under vague and broad provisions in the Penal Code, 2012 cybercrime law, and the 2014 counterterror law.
If convicted of these charges, Bin Ghaith could face a sentence of up to life imprisonment or even the death penalty when the Federal Criminal Court of Appeal issues its verdict on 29 March. Under legislation in force since November 2016, the conviction and sentence can be appealed to the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.
Bin Ghaith was arrested without a warrant on 18 August 2015 and neither he nor his family were informed of the reason for his arrest. The authorities held him in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location for nine months. He was allowed only intermittent contact with his family through telephone calls, which were monitored by officials, and he was not permitted to say where he was held. This treatment amounts to enforced disappearance and is absolutely prohibited under international human rights law.
He was not allowed visits with his family until after the start of his trial when he was moved to Al-Sadr Prison in Abu Dhabi until 18 May 2016, and his whereabouts became known.
During the first hearing on 4 April 2016, Bin Ghaith told the judge that he had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including beatings and sleep deprivation but, instead of ordering an independent investigation into his torture allegations, the judge turned off his microphone, silencing him.
Bin Ghaith was also denied access to a lawyer during his entire pre-trial detention period, despite repeated interrogations. He was only allowed to meet his lawyer for the first time at his second trial session on 2 May 2016, and, in the months that followed, officials restricted communication with his lawyer both inside and outside of court, further denying him the right to an adequate defence. Bin Ghaith’s trial has clearly failed to meet international standards for fair trial.
Since 2011, the UAE authorities have gone to great lengths to silence criticism of government conduct, mounting an unprecedented crackdown on peaceful dissent and closing groups perceived as being critical of the government. State Security officials have subjected activists and human rights defenders to harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and long prison sentences.
The actions of the UAE authorities at home contradict their rhetoric abroad. In a speech made at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 28 February 2017, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said that “the UAE remains deeply committed to promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…[and]…to promoting tolerance and acceptance.”
However, by continuing their prosecution of Bin Ghaith and by ignoring recommendations from independent human rights organizations and UN human rights experts, including those of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the UAE authorities are displaying complete disregard for their obligations under international human rights law and standards, including under the UN Convention against Torture, to which the UAE is a state party.
If the UAE authorities are serious about their commitment to human rights, they will immediately and unconditionally release Bin Ghaith and all other human rights defenders and respect their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The international community must stop looking the other way and hold the UAE authorities to their word.
The undersigned human rights organizations:
Published on the OMCT website on March 27, 2017.
A Lebanese activist was arrested on March 21, 2017, and faces charges over a Facebook post criticizing public officials, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrest and detention of the activist, Ahmad Amhaz, is incompatible with Lebanon’s human rights obligations. Lebanese authorities should immediately release him and stop bringing charges for criticizing public officials.
Amhaz’s lawyer and family told Human Rights Watch that he was detained on March 21, and transferred to Lebanon’s cybercrimes bureau, apparently for a February Facebook post in which he criticized Lebanon’s president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament. The lawyer said that authorities interrogated Amhaz without a lawyer present, and the general prosecutor charged him under articles 383, 384, and 386 of Lebanon’s penal code, which criminalize criticism of public officials. He remains in jail and faces up to two years in prison if convicted.
“Lebanese authorities have established a troubling pattern of arresting and charging those who criticize government officials,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should free Ahmad Amhaz and drop the charges against him, and parliament should repeal vague and overbroad laws that criminalize free speech.”
Amhaz, who participated in protests against a waste crisis in Beirut in 2015, is scheduled to appear on March 27, before an investigative judge, who will decide whether to release him. Seven human rights and media organizations issued a statement on March 24, condemning Amhaz’s arrest, and calling on Lebanon to repeal laws criminalizing defamation and criticism of public officials.
Lebanon’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression “within the limits established by law.” But the Lebanese penal code criminalizes libel and defamation against public officials and authorizes imprisonment of up to one year in such cases. Article 384 of the penal code authorizes imprisonment of six months to two years for insulting the president, the flag, or the national emblem.
Laws that allow imprisonment in response to criticism of individuals or government officials are incompatible with Lebanon's international obligations to protect freedom of expression. Such laws are a disproportionate and unnecessary response to the need to protect reputations, and they chill freedom of expression. In addition, “libel,” “defamation,” and “insult” are not well-defined in Lebanese law, and such vague and broadly worded provisions can be used to quell criticism of the actions or policies of government officials.
The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has held that “harassment, intimidation or stigmatization of a person, including arrest, detention, trial or imprisonment for reasons of the opinions they may hold, constitutes a violation” of the covenant, which Lebanon ratified in 1972. The committee has stated its disapproval of laws that criminalize insulting the head of state or national symbols. It has made clear that “in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high.”
Local and international human rights organizations have long documented Lebanon’s use of libel and defamation laws to penalize lawyers, journalists, and activists for opinions and statements that are protected under international human rights law. In December 2016, Lebanese authorities arrested Bassel al-Amine, a 21-year-old journalism student, for a critical Facebook post.
The Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom found in a 2016 report that Lebanese defamation laws were being used for “targeting activists and dissidents and … intimidating online journalists, bloggers and Internet users from speaking about certain subjects, thus paving the way for self-censorship and the chilling of speech.”
In October 2015, MARCH, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization working on freedom of expression, created a hotline, promising legal support to anyone summoned by Lebanon’s cybercrimes bureau for online expression.
The proliferation of such prosecutions and the threat of arrest reflect an urgent need for Lebanon’s parliament to remove criminal sanctions for libel, defamation, and criticism of public officials and symbols.
“Arresting someone for criticizing leading politicians serves no legitimate purpose but does undermine free speech in Lebanon,” Fakih said. “Lebanese authorities should guarantee the right to freedom of expression rather than attempting to quash criticism.”
This article was published on HRW's website on March 27, 2017.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Turkey.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the provisional release of Mr. Raci Bilici, Vice-President of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and Chairperson of IHD Diyarbakır.
According to the information received, on March 21, 2017, Mr. Raci Bilici was interrogated by the Public Prosecutor in the morning, before being heard by the Criminal Peace Judge on Duty in Diyarbakır in the afternoon. The court decided to release Mr. Raci Bilici on condition of judicial control. As a consequence, Mr. Raci Bilici is subjected to a travel ban and must check once a week at Diyarbakır’s police station.
The Public Prosecutor announced that he would pursue an investigation under the Anti-Terrorism Law (Law 3713 of April 1991) for Mr. Bilici’s alleged “relations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” punished by Article 314 of the Penal Code and submit an indictment to the court. The exact reasons for the charges remain unclear as the content of the case file remains confidential including for his lawyer pursuant to the Article 153.2 of the Turkish Criminal Code Procedure (No. 5271).
The Observatory recalls in particular that the Anti-Terrorism Law has been repeatedly used by the authorities as a tool to harass and imprison human rights defenders.
Mr. Raci Bilici’s arrest took place against the background of an increased repression against those who have expressed critical views of the current administration, including human rights defenders, following the July 15, 2016, failed coup, and in a particularly tense political climate, ahead of the constitutional referendum set to take place on April 16, 2017.
The Observatory fears that IHD’s monitoring of human rights violations triggered the arrest of Mr. Raci Balici. Indeed, IHD had recently provided information for a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) exposing human rights violations in South-East Turkey in relation to security operations conducted by the Turkish authorities between July 2015 and December 2016. IHD’s inputs have been crucial, since the OHCHR had been refused access by the Turkish authorities to the South-East region to investigate into allegations of massive destructions, killings and other serious human rights violations.
The Observatory welcomes the provisional release of Mr. Raci Bilici but condemns the harassment, including at the judicial level, targeting him and which only aims at sanctioning to his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon the Turkish judicial authorities to end all forms of harassment against Mr. Raci Bilici and to lift the travel ban in force against him.
This press release was published on OMCT's website on March 24, 2017.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) repeats its call to the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to conduct the trial of Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla in a civilian court, without interference, and in adherence with international norms of legal and transparent due process. The trial, postponed on 1 February 2017 and again on 13 February 2017, is presently scheduled to be held before a military tribunal on 23 March 2017.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell stated: ‘The IBAHRI implores the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to observe the recommendations found in the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 2003, to which Cameroon is a signatory. Decisively, Principle L provides that “Military Courts should not in any circumstances whatsoever have jurisdiction over civilians.” Attempts to conflate Barrister Agbor-Balla’s actions with those of a terrorist in order to justify the use of such military tribunals are disingenuous, shocking and wrong, and pose a clear threat to the independence of the judiciary.’
Barrister Agbor-Balla was arrested on 17 January 2017 and held incommunicado as a result of his involvement in protests and strikes by anglophone lawyers and teachers in West Cameroon against what they perceive as the marginalisation of the anglophone minority. The barrister was charged with a number of offences, including incitement to secession, civil war and revolution, and ‘Hostilities against the Fatherland’– some of which carry the death penalty on conviction. On the same day, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium over which Barrister Agbor-Balla presided was outlawed.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC reiterated: ‘The arrest of Barrister Agbor-Balla by military authorities that now intend to prosecute, judge and sentence him is deeply troubling to the IBAHRI and the international community. That the military tribunal may be held in closed session is further cause for alarm. It is for these reasons that the IBAHRI is again compelled to intercede on Barrister Agbor-Balla’s behalf, respectfully asking the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted fairly.’
She added: ‘We also draw the government’s attention to the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, as well as the UN’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, that have so far been denied to Barrister Agbor-Balla. These include his rights as an individual and a professional to personal liberty, free expression, association, protection from arbitrary arrest and the right to a fair trial.’
The reasons given by the military prosecutors for postponing the trial of Barrister Agbor-Balla are: a coinciding funeral for senior Cameroonian military officials (1 February 2017), and to allow prosecutors to produce an updated list of witnesses (13 February 2017). The trial is now scheduled for 23 March 2017.
This press release was published on the IBAHRI's website on March 23, 2017.
Bahrain: After 282 days of arbitrary detention, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s trial postponed once again
On March 22, 2017, Manama’s Fifth High Criminal Court postponed again Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s trial in the Twitter case, in clear contempt of international human rights standards. His arbitrary detention and judicial harassment are only meant to silence one of Bahrain’s most vocal human rights defenders, say the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT).
Arbitrarily detained since June 13, 2016, Nabeel Rajab is facing a series of charges and up to 18 years in prison. In the “Twitter case”, ongoing since April 2, 2015, Nabeel Rajab is accused of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State”, “disseminating false rumours in time of war”, “insulting a statutory body” and “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” in relation to Tweets denouncing the torture of detainees in the Kingdom’s Jaw Prison and human rights violations perpetrated by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition air strikes in Yemen. The thirteenth hearing is scheduled on May 17, 2017. In addition, Nabeel Rajab is facing charges of “spreading false information and malicious rumours about domestic matters with the aim of discrediting and adversely affecting the State’s prestige” in a separate case related to three televised interviews made in 2015 and 2016 in which Nabeel Rajab exposed Bahrain’s poor human rights record. The next hearing in that case is on May 3, 2017.
This press release was published on OMCT's website on March 23, 2017.
Human rights defenders working to draw attention to abuses associated with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory are being increasingly targeted as a result of their work, according to a new report from a United Nations human rights expert.
Michael Lynk - the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 - expressed deep concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“As human rights defenders – Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals – persist with their intrepid activism to investigate and oppose the regime of human rights violations that is integral to the occupation. All indications are that they will continue to be the prime targets of those who are intolerant of their criticisms, yet alarmed by their effectiveness,” Mr. Lynk said.
The Rapporteur noted with alarm that Palestinian human rights defenders have been subjected to attacks, arrest, detention, and threats to their lives and safety. “They have experienced sophisticated interference with their vital work, and have faced toxic denunciations aimed at silencing them and discouraging their supporters,” he continued.
Mr. Lynk also drew attention to the work of Israeli human rights organizations which call attention to human rights abuses that occur in the context of the occupation. He noted that these organizations “are enduring an increasingly hostile public atmosphere in Israel and from the settlement movement, stoked by the Israeli political leadership and the media, as well as obstructive legislation enacted or being considered by the Knesset.”
The Rapporteur emphasized the essential nature of the work of these defenders: “They provide invaluable advocacy, independent and reliable analysis, effective protection, the courage to investigate and protest, and offer both a progressive interpretation of existing rights as well as a vision of new rights in embryo. The work of these human rights defenders animates and enlarges the enjoyment of human rights for the rest of us.”
In his report, the Rapporteur also highlighted issues of pressing concern with respect to the human rights situation in the OPT. He noted with alarm the rapid pace with which the settlement enterprise has advanced since the start of 2017, referencing the announcement of the construction of 6,000 new housing units. He also expressed concern about the so-called “Regularization Bill”, noting that “removing one of the only domestic legal barriers to settlement construction moves Israel even further from compliance with international law.”
The Rapporteur further drew attention to the situation in Gaza, highlighting the fact that as the 10th year of the blockade begins, the situation is becoming ever more dire as infrastructure crumbles under the strain of a growing population and continued significant import and movement restrictions. Mr. Lynk also noted the decline in the number of exit permits granted at the end of 2016.
“The free movement of people would bring education, training, and increased skills to a part of the world that not only is in desperate need, but shows great resilience and potential for innovation,” the Rapporteur said.
Mr. Lynk called on the Government of Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, and to comply with Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed that settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law”. He also called on the Government of Israel to fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
This press release was published on the OHCHR's website on March 21, 2017.