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UN human rights experts call for independent probe into Philippines violations
by UN Special Procedure Holders, agencies
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
 
7 June 2019
 
UN human rights experts today called on the United Nations to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines, citing a sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights.
 
“Given the scale and seriousness of the reported human rights violations we call on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into the human rights violations in the Philippines,” said the independent experts, referring to the body made up of 47 UN Member States elected by the UN General Assembly.
 
“We have recorded a staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings in the context of the so-called war on drugs, as well as killings of human rights defenders. Very few independent and effective investigations have taken place, independent media and journalists are threatened, the law has been weaponised to undermine press freedom, and the independence of the judiciary is undermined,” the experts said.
 
“We are extremely concerned over the high number of killings which are being carried out across the country in an apparent climate of official, institutional impunity.
 
“In the past three years, we have repeatedly brought to the attention of the Government cases alleging a range of gross human rights violations, such as extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, including of children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, trade union and land right activists.
 
Those cases also included allegations of arbitrary detention, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, gender-based violence against women human rights defenders, attacks against the independence of judges and lawyers, freedoms of expression and of assembly, as well as people’s right to food and health.
 
Sadly these cases are just the tip of the iceberg with many more cases being reported regularly.
 
“It is time for the Human Rights Council to take action against these sustained attacks on human rights defenders and independent watchdog institutions,” the experts said.
 
They stressed that, in many incidents the alleged perpetrators of killings are members of the armed forces, paramilitary groups or individuals linked to them.
 
“Instead of sending a strong message that these killings and harassment are unacceptable, there is a rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country and ongoing intimidation and attacks against voices who are critical of the Government, including independent media, human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists,” said the experts.
 
The President has himself publicly intimidated human rights defenders, United Nations Special Rapporteurs and even the Supreme Court judges. He has publicly degraded women through sexist statements and has incited violence against alleged drugs pushers and others. He has also threatened to bomb the schools of the Lumad indigenous peoples on the island of Mindanao.
 
“The Government has shown no indication that they will step up to fulfil their obligation to conduct prompt and full investigations into these cases, and to hold perpetrators accountable in order to do justice for victims and to prevent reoccurrence of violations. There are now thousands of grieving families in the Philippines. We call on the international community to do everything possible to ensure there will be no more.”
 
The experts also expressed serious concerns about the decision of the Philippines to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. “This is the last of many actions demonstrating that the Government is seeking to evade scrutiny and reject accountability,” they said, noting repeated personalised attacks on independent international actors and undermining their credibility.
 
Independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council have raised their concerns with the Government of the Philippines on 33 occasions over the last three years.
 
* The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected the call for an investigation.
 
7 June 2019
 
Ghastly detention conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya. (OHCHR)
 
We are deeply concerned about the ghastly conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held in detention in Libya – with some 22 having died of tuberculosis and other illnesses in the Zintan detention facility since September 2018 – as well as ongoing reports of disappearances and human trafficking after people were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard.
 
So far this year, a total of more than 2,300 people have been picked up off the coast of Libya and put in detention facilities. And the Libyan Coast Guard reports that since 30 April, it has delivered hundreds of people to a facility in Al-Khoms, which is under the oversight of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). This includes 203 people who were delivered there on 23 May.
 
However, the Al-Khoms facility reports that there are currently only 30 migrants present. This is particularly worrying given reports that migrants are being sold for forced labour or to smugglers promising transit to Europe. There are also reports that some women have been sold for sexual exploitation. We have long documented the kinds of horrific abuses to which migrants and refugees are subjected in Libya.
 
We urge the Government of National Accord to immediately launch an independent investigation to locate these missing people. The Libyan Coast Guard and the DCIM must ensure that they are accountable for every person in detention, and that their human rights are respected.
 
We remind the Government that when a person dies in custody, there is a presumption of State responsibility. Libya has a heightened duty of care to protect the lives of individuals deprived of liberty, including providing them with the necessary medical care.
 
During a recent visit to the Zintan Detention Centre, where 654 refugees and migrants are held, we found them severely malnourished, lacking water, locked in overcrowded warehouses reeking with the smell of rubbish and waste from overflowing latrines.
 
Those held in the facilities reportedly receive only one meal of 200 grams of plain pasta per day. Some 432 Eritreans detained in the facility – 132 of them children – reportedly receive only half of this amount. More than 60 people suffering from tuberculosis are locked in a separate isolation hangar. Thirty others have been moved to the Gharyan Detention Centre, south of Tripoli, very close to the current frontline. They have reportedly been sent there to die because there are no burial facilities for Christians in Zintan.
 
The conditions at Zintan Detention Centre amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and may also amount to torture.
 
Some 3,400 migrants and refugees remain detained in Tripoli, according to UN figures.
 
We appeal to the authorities in Libya and the international community to ensure that migrants and refugees held in such detention facilities are immediately released, that evacuation, resettlement and voluntary humanitarian return options urgently expanded, and alternatives to detention are developed. http://bit.ly/2KakKVk
 
June 2019
 
Saudi authorities slammed for sentencing teen to death, by Megan Specia (New York Times, agencies)
 
A Saudi teenager held for more than four years without charge faces possible execution for acts he is accused of having committed when he was as young as 10, according to human rights groups tracking his case.
 
A death sentence for 18-year-old Murtaja Qureiris, would be what human rights groups called one of the most egregious violations of legal protections for children in the world.
 
“There are few more serious breaches of international law than the execution of a child,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, one of the rights groups. She said that in seeking the death penalty for Mr Qureiris, “the Saudi regime is advertising its impunity to the world.”
 
The defendant was arrested at age 13 and has been in jail since. The charges against him, some from three years before the arrest, are related to his participation in anti-government protests and include possessing a firearm and joining a terrorist organisation.
 
The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, which has been monitoring the case for years, said last week that it had confirmed for the first time that the Saudi prosecutor’s office charged Mr Qureiris in August 2018 in connection with participation in the protests and recommended that he be executed.
 
The Saudi human rights group also said Mr Qureiris had been held for years without charge, first in solitary confinement and without access to a lawyer, before he was coerced into a confession.
 
Amnesty International confirmed that the prosecutor’s office sought the death penalty for Mr Qureiris when he was first brought to trial in August 2018.
 
Executions — often by beheading — are common in Saudi Arabia, and rights groups say they typically come after years of imprisonment, torture and a sham trial. But it would be extraordinary even for Saudi Arabia to behead a defendant accused of acts committed while still a child.
 
Saudi Arabia’s monarchy has long defended its heavy use of the death penalty. Responding to questions in 2017 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights about executions, the Saudi government said the death penalty “can only be imposed for the most serious offenses and subject to the strictest controls” after due process.
 
But rights groups say the death penalty is sought for minor offenses and punishment of minority groups and activists who defy the government.
 
“There should be no doubt that the Saudi Arabian authorities are ready to go to any length to crack down on dissent against their own citizens, including by resorting to the death penalty for men who were merely boys at the time of their arrest,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director.
 
She said it was “appalling” that Saudi authorities were pursuing the death penalty for charges that include taking part in protests while still a child.
 
Mr Qureiris, a member of the country’s Shiite minority, was detained in September 2014, according to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, which published a detailed report on the case on Thursday.
 
The Saudi monarchy adheres to a conservative version of Islam known as Wahhabism, which is ingrained in the country’s social norms, government and court system. And the government has often been accused of persecuting Shiites in Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly Sunni.
 
CNN published videos of Mr Qureiris leading a crowd of other children at a bike protest in 2011. He was 10 at the time. It was the height of the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, and protests had engulfed the largely Shiite eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Those protests often ended in bloodshed or mass arrests.
 
The defendant’s first court session was in August 2018, nearly four years after he was detained. It was held at the country’s Specialised Criminal Court, an anti-terror court first established in 2008 that has increasingly been used to prosecute human rights activists and protesters. His next hearing could be within weeks.
 
At least three other young men — Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdulla al-Zaher — who were also underage at the time of their alleged crimes, have been sentenced to death and are currently awaiting execution, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
 
Earlier this year, the Saudi state-run news agency reported the mass execution of 37 men. At least 33 of them were Shiites. The men had been put to death for “their adoption of extremist, terrorist ideology and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord,” the news agency reported.
 
The executions drew condemnation from the United Nations and demands by rights groups for Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to be held accountable.
 
Ms Maalouf said: The Saudi Arabian authorities have a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters — including children — from the country’s persecuted Shia minority.
 
The mass execution this past April was the largest since January 2016, when Saudi Arabia executed 47 men for purported terrorism offenses, including an outspoken Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had criticised the kingdom’s treatment of its Shiite minority.
 
In the first five months of 2019, according to a report from Amnesty International, the Saudi authorities have executed at least 110 people. http://bit.ly/2ZhSkfz


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Public markets selling Ugandan Girls for as little as $14
by Freedom United, agencies
Uganda
 
June 2019
 
Christine Nambereke left Uganda for Oman last September, thinking we she was on her way to a good-paying job as a domestic worker. When she returned to Uganda this May, she was dead.
 
She’s just one of 16 Ugandans who have died in the Middle East in the past year. All of them died of unnatural causes and reported being abused.
 
For years there have shocking reports from migrant workers about domestic slavery in the Middle East. And now eastern Uganda is becoming a hotspot for recruiting women and girls, effectively bought in what Ozy calls public slave markets.
 
Ozy reports: '' At fast-spreading weekly markets, some women are promised jobs in the Gulf only to be sold once they get there, while others — many of them girls between the ages of 10 and 18 — are directly and publicly “bought” as slaves in Uganda and then resold in the Middle East, according to Ugandan authorities, Interpol, independent experts, legislators, victims and their families.
 
The public sale of women started at Arapai, eastern Uganda’s second-largest market located 180 miles northeast of the capital Kampala, in January 2018, says Edina Nagudi, the local government’s officer in charge of the region’s markets.
 
It began with the auction of around five girls on each day of the market, but the number rose to 20 within two months, she says. The practice quickly spread to other regional markets such as Chapi and Sire. At Arapai alone, up to 50 girls are now auctioned in a day, says Nagudi. Overall, more than 9,000 girls and young women are estimated to have been bought at these markets since last year — for as little as 50,000 shillings ($14), according to Betty Atim, a member of Parliament''.
 
Officially, Uganda bans its citizens from seeking work in most Middle Eastern countries. But the ban hardly works when Ugandans are promised well-paying jobs abroad, often triple what they could make at home.
 
The Ugandan government is coming under pressure to address the problem. Thus far, the Ugandan police say they plan to raid the eastern Uganda markets where girls are being sold. The country’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has also sent a team to Uganda’s east to conduct an investigation on the slave markets.
 
Even the archbishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, is charging the government with failure to tackle the problem. “The government should ensure that the rights of children are respected and the act of selling them in markets is brought to an end,” he said.


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