Category Archives: Human Rights

Azerbaijan blocks OSCE representative mandate

Harlem Désir, an influential figure who has worked fearlessly for the protection of the free press, will no longer serve as Representative on Freedom of the Media at OSCE after Azerbaijan and Tajikistan blocked the renewal of his mandate.

For the past three years Désir has been an outspoken representative at the OSCE (Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe). Nowadays his reappointment has been blocked by two of the worst-scoring countries in terms of world press freedom.

International press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said this was the most disruptive behaviour yet from Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.

“The work of the Representative on Freedom of Media is absolutely crucial to the protection of media freedom across the OSCE’s 57 Member States, especially in the worst offenders, including the two States that have now blocked Harlem Désir’s reappointment. They can now effectively evade OSCE scrutiny,” RSF’s Director of International Campaigns, Rebecca Vincent, said.

The blocking of Désir candidacy by the two OSCE participating states raises the question of whether countries with a dramatic record of undermining free press should be allowed to have such power in international fora.

“Azerbaijan has form for this, having behaved similarly disruptively at the Council of Europe for years. How long will these institutions allow themselves to be hijacked by States that don’t share their values?” RSF added.

Russian journalist Prokopyeva fine «unjustified»

“On Monday 6 July, a Russian court found prominent journalist, Ms Svetlana Prokopyeva, guilty on charges of justifying terrorism after having stated in a radio programme that a terrorist attack at an FSB building was linked to the social and political situation in Russia, and that the incident was a result of the State’s ongoing restrictions on political and civil liberties. She has been ordered to pay a substantial fine, which we consider unjustified” reads the statement by a spokesperson of the European External Action Service on the sentencing of journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva in Russia.

“The prosecution of Ms Prokopyeva is testimony to the ever-shrinking space for independent journalism and civil society in the Russian Federation over recent years. Incidents of intimidation, threats and violence against journalists are frequently reported, while the fundamental freedoms of expression and freedom of the media in the country are repressed and severely curtailed, including through politically-motivated arrests and court proceedings such as the one against Ms Prokopyeva. Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democratic societies, which can thrive only if citizens have access to reliable information and can make informed choices. We expect the Russian Federation to uphold its international and domestic obligations and ensure that journalists are able to work in a safe environment without fear of reprisal”.

“The EU reaffirms its determination to defend press and media freedom, as well as all human rights, within its borders and worldwide”.

EU-Georgia human rights dialogue

The EU and Georgia held the 13th round of their annual Human Rights Dialogue by video-conference on 2 July 2020. Reviewing developments since the previous dialogue in May 2019, the dialogue allowed as previously for an open, constructive exchange on the human rights situation in Georgia, on Georgia’s commitment to making sustainable progress in human rights protection and on the latest developments with the EU’s policy for the promotion and protection of democracy and human rights.

The sides stressed their commitment to the universality of human rights for all, regardless of religion or belief, ethnic origin, race, sex, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or other. The EU and Georgia welcomed progress on human rights protection in Georgia, and acknowledged the particular challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic to international human rights protection.

The EU reaffirmed its support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. The EU expressed concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, especially with regard to ethnic discrimination in particular towards ethnic Georgians, restriction of freedom of movement, including for health care and access to other social services, arbitrary detentions, violation of property rights and education in mother tongue, as well as about the persistent obstacles to the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes.

The EU and Georgia reaffirmed that the Russian Federation has an obligation to implement the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, and stressed the need for tangible results in the Geneva International Discussions in order to solve the security and human rights challenges of people affected by the conflict. The EU expressed deep concern about the complete closure of the administrative boundary line in Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia since September 2019, which has led to critical humanitarian consequences in Akhalgori district particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic. The sides underlined the importance of ending impunity in the cases of deprivation of life of Georgian citizens Archil Tatunashvili and Giga Otkhozoria. The EU and Georgia stressed the need for unhindered access by international humanitarian and human rights mechanisms of the relevant international organisations, as well as the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM), to both Georgian regions. The EU encouraged increased efforts in addressing the fate of missing persons with a view to giving closure. The EU reiterated its support to Georgia’s peace initiative “A Step to a Better Future” aimed at improving the socio-economic situation of conflict-affected people and at building confidence among the divided communities and welcomed its implementation

The EU welcomed the adoption of the constitutional amendments in Parliament on 29 June 2020 that establish a more proportional electoral system and will promote greater parliamentary pluralism. The EU raised the importance of adopting, with broad parliamentary support, ambitious electoral reform legislation arising from the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations as well as the importance of its timely adoption and effective implementation. Both sides agreed on the importance of maintaining a free and pluralistic media environment, and political pluralism as a prerequisite for the conduct of democratic elections, including in the context of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The parties agreed on the importance of the fundamental freedoms including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and committed to upholding them for all.

The EU welcomes progress on support to those belonging to ethnic minorities and ensuring civic integration processes in Georgia and encourages Georgia to continue efforts to improve the participation of women and representatives of those belonging to ethnic minorities in all areas of public life.

The EU recalled the importance of combating all forms of discrimination and of protection and better integration of those belonging to vulnerable groups including LGBTI persons. The EU welcomed Georgia’s efforts to continue ensuring the effective implementation of its anti-discrimination law and strengthening the policy framework. The EU also encouraged Georgia to progress on legislation and coordinated efforts to deliver real benefits in the lives of persons with disabilities.

The EU noted progress made in combatting domestic violence and all violence against women, hate crimes and discrimination, and ensuring victim-centred investigations. The EU recalled the importance of implementing commitments related to the Istanbul Convention.

The Georgian Inter-Agency Human Rights Council’s meaningful cooperation with civil society was recalled and the EU encouraged Georgia to continue integrating the voice of civil society into the policy making process. The valuable ongoing work of the Public Defender’s Office and the new State Inspectorate Service was also discussed and the important role of independent oversight bodies in holding governments to account and in shaping laws and policies.

The EU welcomed progress in the implementation of the Law on Occupational Safety to all sectors of the economy and again encouraged efforts to ensure that the labour inspectorate is transformed into a fully-fledged labour inspectorate. The EU welcomed the adoption of the Child Rights Code and progress with the Juvenile Justice Code as part of necessary efforts to address the situation of children in vulnerable situations and children in situations of extreme poverty. The EU stressed the importance of finalising the deinstitutionalisation process.

The EU noted the considerable progress made in and priority attached by Georgia to preventing torture and ill-treatment. The EU welcomed the ongoing reform of the penitentiary and crime prevention systems under the Ministry of Justice of Georgia and human-centred corona responses of the Special Penitentiary Service. The EU looked forward to the continued implementation of all recommendations of the Committee on the Prevention of Torture and of the National Preventive Mechanism.

The parties highlighted the importance of coordinated work to protect and promote human rights utilising national policy mechanisms, such as the National Human Rights Strategy and Action Plan. The parties also agreed to continue to identify ways to further strengthen their cooperation on human rights issues in multilateral fora, including the UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe and on the importance of strengthening multilateralism. The EU welcomed Georgia’s achievements under its Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The EU also welcomed Georgia’s continued active engagement in the “Good Human Rights Stories” initiative. In line with its policy of consulting civil society ahead of its meetings on human rights, the EU drew on the valuable input of Georgian and international NGOs and international and regional organisations active in Georgia.

The Georgian delegation was headed by Mr. Vakhtang Makharoblishvili, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs while the EU delegation was led by Mr Richard Tibbels, Head of Division in the European External Action Service. The dialogue took place back-to-back with the Justice, Freedom and Security Subcommittee meeting on 1 July. The next Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Georgia is scheduled to take place in Tbilisi in 2021.

EU €55M aid to Syria refugees

As part of the EU’s global response to the coronavirus outbreak, the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis has mobilised an additional €55 million for refugees from Syria and vulnerable persons in Jordan and Lebanon to fight the pandemic. It will provide critical and targeted support in key areas such as health, water, sanitation and hygiene. The newly adopted package brings the total assistance mobilised through the EU Trust Fund to over €2.2 billion since 2015, doubling the target originally set.

“Jordan and Lebanon are showing huge resilience and solidarity in hosting Syrian refugees. It is our duty to continue supporting them, especially in the current coronavirus pandemic situation. The EU will host the fourth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region on 30 June in direct support of the UN efforts for a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian conflict and to mobilise necessary financial support for Syria and neighbouring countries. The Conference will also continue to provide a unique platform for dialogue with civil society organisations from the region,” High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security  Josep Borrell, said.

“Our continued commitment to support Syrian refugees and partner countries like Jordan and Lebanon hosting them remains unwavering. We are responding today to the urgent needs in fighting the COVID-19 crisis with a substantial and targeted assistance package. Despite the European Union’s continued strong solidarity with partner countries, the needs of the Syrian refugees continue to be important and cannot be neglected. In this regard, the 2020 Brussels IV Conference will provide an opportunity for the international community to mobilise the necessary financial assistance” Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, commented.

COVID19: Russian colonel fallen from window

Russian police colonel has fallen from a window on the fifth floor of a Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients, Russian media reported. She died later in intensive care from fatal wounds. The incident comes after three physicians in Russia fell out of windows amid mysterious circumstances during the coronavirus outbreak.

The reports said the incident occurred at Moscow City Clinical Hospital No. 24 on the evening of May 30.

The woman, identified as 45-year-old Yulia B. newspapers, was described as a senior expert at the Forensic Center of the Interior Ministry.

According to the press reports the police colonel left her ward to go into the corridor, then “fell” from the fifth floor window, and landed on the grass below.

It was not clear what exactly happened. She had arrived at the hospital on May 23 after being diagnosed with the coronavirus.

“The 45-year-old Yulia B. *, who had fallen out of the window, was urgently intubated and transported to the intensive care unit, where they fought for her life for several hours. The victim was even connected to a ventilator, but she could not be saved. The patient died in intensive care from injuries. ” – a source in healthcare told KP.RU

According to available information, 45-year-old Yulia B. * worked as a senior expert in the forensic center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and was a lieutenant colonel of the police.

Image: illustration

EU expects Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov

Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic on May 13 upheld the life sentence of prominent human rights defender Azimjan Askarov. Mr Askarov was initially sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2010 on charges of allegedly organising mass riots and involvement in the killing of a policeman. Today’s hearing was Mr Askarov’s final opportunity to appeal his case and follows earlier unsuccessful appeals in the lower instance court.

The Court’s decision is not in line with the views adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee in March 2016. The Committee found that Mr Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his trial defence, and that his human rights had therefore been violated under a number of articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee called on the Kyrgyz Republic to take appropriate steps to immediately release Mr Askarov and quash his conviction. In addition, the European Union notes that Mr Askarov’s advanced age and poor health exposes him to significant risks in the global coronavirus pandemic. The European Union expects Kyrgyzstan to implement the UN Human Rights Committee’s opinion in order to fully comply with its international human rights obligations.

ALDE Baalen condemns China disinformation

The president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party Hans van Baalen issued a statement on China COVID-19 pandemic strategy used for political purposes. Van Baalen position received support of his party members.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, China has been using this public health emergency to deploy a global disinformation campaign. The campaign has targeted mainly Western countries and includes all sorts of disinformation intended to cover up the real number of people infected and build a new story deflecting the origins of the outbreak.

These disinformation hostilities are building distrust in the ability of democratic institutions to deliver effective responses to fight the pandemic.

Last week the European External Action Service (EEAS) published a report documenting narratives and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. They used notably soft language towards China following pressure from Chinese officials.

What’s more, China’s censorship machine has taken down any information that the government might consider fake, and many Internet activists and journalists have been detained.

“Renew Europe MEP Bart Groothuis initiated a cross party letter along with other MEPs from the Renew Europe Group to High Representative Josep Borrell, asking for clarification on allegations that the report by the EEAS was diluted at the request of the Chinese Government.

“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Russia are deploying a global disinformation campaign intended to position themselves as global leaders and undermine the trust on liberal democracies and their institutions.

“The EU needs to be vigilant and respond to these hostilities. The European External Action Service report on narratives and disinformation of COVID-19 is one step forward, however, the recent allegations regarding the softening of the content upon the request of the Chinese government are of deep concern. The EU cannot let an external country to influence in the information shared.

“The EU must find its position in this new global stage and it has all it takes to fight back and lead by example, but unity and cooperation of all member states and stronger liberal institutional powers are needed. The EU can be a leader on the global stage, but it needs to portrait itself as a true Union of liberal democratic states that tackle the crisis collectively, efficiently and transparently.

The fight against COVID-19 is a common fight. Authoritarian regimes that cover up and disguise information cannot be the leading example, but liberal democracies that safeguard civil liberties and share transparent and efficient information“.

Russia: pertinent threats to free press

“The European Union calls on the Russian authorities to condemn and investigate threats made by the Chechen government authorities against journalist Elena Milashina (pictured), and to ensure her safety.

“The EU condemns unequivocally all threats, verbal attacks or violence against journalists in pursuit of their work. Over recent years, we have seen that the space for independent journalism and civil society in the Russian Federation has decreased. Incidents of intimidation, threats and violence against journalists are frequently reported. We expect the Russian Federation to uphold its international and domestic obligations and to ensure that journalists are able to work in a safe environment without fear of reprisal.

“We also urge the Russian authorities to investigate fully the attack against Elena Milashina and lawyer Marina Dubrovina on 6 February, in order to bring those responsible to justice. We are concerned at other attempts to silence journalists, including the criminal prosecution of journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva, who is charged with justifying terrorism for her critical remarks concerning the Russian authorities and may face up to 7 years of imprisonment. The freedom of the media must be respected and the charges against her dropped.”

Assange detention degrades UK press freedom

The UK has dropped two places to 35th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF’s) 2020 World Press Freedom Index, published today. Although the UK government played a key role in promoting media freedom globally, its efforts were undermined by domestic developments, including the murder of Lyra McKee and active threats to the safety of journalists in Northern Ireland, and the detention of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who faces possible extradition to the US.

The sentencing of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to a disproportionate jail term of 50 weeks for breaking bail also marred the UK’s press freedom record in 2019, as did the Home Office’s decision to green light the US extradition request. Assange remained in custody at the high security Belmarsh Prison despite widespread international concern for his health and safety, including by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

“With coronavirus and other converging crises presenting unprecedented threats to press freedom globally, it is more important than ever for democratic states to lead by example. The UK should be performing better on the World Press Freedom Index, and must address these domestic concerns as a matter of priority. Concrete steps should be taken to ensure the safety of journalists in the wake of Lyra McKee’s murder, and Julian Assange should be released – and certainly not extradited to the US”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.

RSF also noted concern over problematic provisions of counter-terrorism and crime legislation adopted in 2019, as well as the pursuit by the London Metropolitan Police of the publication of leaked information from diplomatic cables as a criminal matter.

The Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country or region.

COVID19: Belgium releases 297 migrants

Belgium Immigration Office has released almost three hundred migrants from the closed reception centers in order to comply with the hygiene measures regarding the corona virus pandemic. That is what Minister of Asylum and Migration Maggie De Block (Open Vld) said, informing the Parliament about the decision. She added that the releases were made on a case-by-case basis and there are “no people who have committed crimes“, she assured among 297 released. All of them have exhausted legal procedures and did not obtain asylum, or any other legal status, allowing them to stay in Belgium, in reality from juridical point of view being irregular migrants.

The experts criticising the measure say that it is impossible to estalbish the past of the migrants in absence of population record in the majority countries of origin. In Africa more that 500 million people have no birth ceritificate, neither ID card, according to the World Bank. There is no opportuity to establish the past of people coming from failed states and war zones, making the decision of the Beglium government highly contraversial. None of the released has proven their rights for asylum in the European Union.

However the Minister preferred to switch the debate from security issues to pandemic dimension also emphasized that the various asylum centers in Belgium are taking measures against the further spread of the corona virus, in line with the rules that apply to all of the society.

The risk of contamination among asylum seekers is no higher than that of the rest of the population. I am a little annoyed by the people who assume that they are all spreaders of the virus. Stigmatization does not help anyone, especially in these exceptional times” De Block concluded.

The health risks are too great, we have to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” said MP Wouter De Vriendt. “Homeless people, asylum seekers, sans-papiers or others must be temporarily housed in vacant holiday parks, sports halls or Defence infrastructure as soon as possible, in the interests of everyone,” he added.

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