Tag Archives: amnesty international

Irish court rules against anti-abortion laws

The Belfast High Court, in a judicial review case, found laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the fetus and sexual crime are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told Belfast High Court that women’s human rights were being breached by current laws: “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal fetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion could be jailed for life.

The judicial review was taken by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was joined by Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal fetal diagnosis. She had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region.

Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign said: “Today’s High Court decision is a hugely significant step towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.

Teggart continued, “Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must be brought into the 21st century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency.” 

Ewart said, “I hope that today’s ruling means that I, and other women like me, will no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.”

“I, and many women like me have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.

“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”

Record number of UN countries call for moratorium on executions

A record number of countries this week backed a key United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty globally.

Amnesty International said 117 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favor of the resolution at the UNGA plenary session in New York, while 38 voted against and 34 abstained. This was the fifth time a resolution on the issue was voted on by the UNGA. At the last vote in December 2012, 111 states voted in favor, 41 against and 34 abstained. 

“The record vote in favor is yet another indication that global support for the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past. This vote sends an important signal that more and more countries are willing to take steps to end the use of the death penalty once and for all,” said Chiara Sangiorgio, death penalty expert at Amnesty International. 

“The strong cross-regional support evident in today’s vote shows that ending the use of capital punishment is a truly global goal issue. The international community recognizes the death penalty as a human rights issue, and has opened up space for new dialogues on the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” 

Since 2007 there have been five resolutions calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty at the UNGA, with support increasing each time. Six more countries supported this week’s resolution compared to last time a similar vote took place in 2012. 

New votes in favor came from Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Niger and Suriname. Also, Bahrain, Myanmar, Tonga and Uganda moved from opposition to abstention. Papua New Guinea went from abstention to a vote against the resolution. 

Although UNGA resolutions are not legally binding, they carry significant moral and political weight. 

“This result is also a wake-up call for those 38 countries that still voted against the resolution. They are increasingly isolated in their support for this horrendous punishment.  The death penalty does not serve any legitimate purpose and is a stain on their human rights records,” said Chiara Sangiorgio. 

Amnesty International, in a news release this week, urged all countries that still retain the death penalty — the United States is one — to immediately establish a moratorium on executions, commute all death sentences and abolish the death penalty for all crimes. 

Some background 

When the UN was founded in 1945 only eight of the then 51 UN member states had abolished the death penalty. Today, 95 of the UN’s 193 member states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and, in total, 137 have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. 

The UNGA resolution was first adopted as a draft by the Third Committee of the UNGA on Nov. 21 November, with 114 votes in favor, 36 against and 34 abstentions. The adoption of five resolutions since 2007 on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty has generated momentum to renew the commitment to the abolition of the death penalty. 

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

New coalition forms to push for end to capital punishment

With the country’s final executions of 2014 are scheduled to take place in Georgia, Missouri and Texas this week, a new coalition has launched a campaign to push for an end to capital punishment.

The goal — to mobilize the 90 million Americans who support ending capital punishment — was announced early on Dec. 9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The coalition includes civil rights, religious, human rights and libertarian organizations and the movement is called the “90 Million Strong Campaign.”

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is coordinating the effort. An announcement said the coalition is responding “to a shockingly high number of death row exonerations, botched executions and an increase in government secrecy surrounding the practice.”

The campaign also “comes at a time when the nation is still grappling with significant questions about fairness, particularly when it comes to race, in the criminal justice system.”

In the last decade, six states have abolished capital punishment. Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia either don’t have the death penalty or have not carried out executions in at least five years.

Since 1973, including last month’s freeing of the longest-serving innocent prisoner, 149 people have been exonerated from Death Row.

Amnesty report documents human rights concerns in Ferguson

Amnesty International has released On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, which documents the human rights concerns witnessed first-hand by observers while in Ferguson Aug. 14-22. The report also outlines a series of recommendations that need to be implemented with regard to the use of force by law enforcement officers and the policing of protests.

Amnesty released the report in advance of its Midwest conference, which is taking place in St. Louis this weekend.

In August, after the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Amnesty dispatched a human rights delegation to monitor protests and the police response.

“What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights as a human being — and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on W. Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force.”

What happened between Michael Brown and Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson remains uncertain, due to conflicting reports. Brown was unarmed and as such it calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified. Amnesty’s report urges the Missouri Legislature to amend the statute that authorizes the use of lethal force to ensure that the use of lethal force by law enforcement would be limited to those instances in which it is necessary to protect life.

The report also details the impact of city, county and state law enforcement and officials’ responses on the rights of individuals in Ferguson to participate in peaceful protest.

Amnesty International documented a number of restrictions placed on protestors, including the imposition of curfews, designated protest areas and a “five-second” keep walking rule. Intimidation of protesters is also included in the report, which details the use of heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade weapons as well as questionable protest dispersal practices, including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and long range acoustic devices.

“This is about accountability,” Hawkins said in a news release. “The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America. That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state and federal levels.”

The mistreatment of journalists and observers is another area of focus highlighted in the report. At least 19 journalists and members of the media were arrested by law enforcement while others were subjected to tear gas and the use of rubber bullets.

In the report, Amnesty renewed its recommendation that the Department of Justice conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the death of Michael Brown, implement a DOJ-led review of police tactics and practices nationwide and release nationwide data on police shootings.

The report calls for Congress to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

Amnesty International: Prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prison is inhuman

The U.S. government’s practice of holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement in a federal super-maximum security prison amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is in violation of international law, according to Amnesty International, the global human rights group.

Amnesty, in a new report titled “Entombed: Isolation in the U.S. Federal Prison System, documented the severity of conditions that prisoners face in the maximum facility near Florence, Colorado, that is known as ADX Florence.

“You cannot overestimate the devastating impact long periods of solitary confinement can have on the mental and physical well-being of a prisoner. Such harsh treatment is happening as a daily practice in the U.S., and it is in breach of international law,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director.

The report deals with the physical and psychological impact of confining inmates to solitary cells for 22-24 hours a day. The conditions in ADX have led to some prisoners practicing extreme self-harm or committing suicide. Symptoms resulting from being held in isolation for extended periods include anxiety, depression, insomnia, hypertension, extreme paranoia, perceptual distortions and psychosis.

ADX Florence has a capacity for 490 male inmates. Most prisoners there have been convicted of serious offenses in prison such as assault, murder or attempted escape; others have been convicted of terrorism offenses.

Prisoners spend a minimum of 12 months in solitary confinement before becoming eligible for a reduction in the restrictions of their detention. Amnesty said that the reality is many prisoners spend much longer in isolation. One study produced by lawyers found the average length of time an inmate would spend in isolation was 8.2 years.

Most inmates are held in cells with solid walls and a barred, air-lock style chamber in front of a solid metal door, to ensure they have no contact with other prisoners. One small slit of a window allows them a view of the sky or a brick wall.

Furniture in the cells is made of poured concrete and consists of a fixed bunk, desk and a stool, as well as a shower and a toilet. Meals and showers are taken inside the cells and medical consultations, including mental health checks, are often conducted remotely through teleconferencing.

Amnesty’s report details several examples of a prisoner’s mental health deteriorating dramatically whilst in solitary confinement.

In September 2013 a prisoner with a history of mental illness hanged himself in his cell after reportedly spending more than a decade at ADX with only intermittent mental health care. He suffered psychotic symptoms which had allegedly been ignored in the days before his death.

There are now worrying signs that the U.S. government plans to expand its use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Plans for Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, a new supermax prison, include provisions for solitary confinement, replicating the system at ADX.

“This is the ultimate form of warehousing prisoners and the idea that the US government is planning to expand the practice in the face of international concern is truly worrying. The use of such forms of solitary confinement goes beyond legitimate correctional measures and strays into cruel and inhuman treatment,” said Guevara-Rosas.

“The U.S. government must ensure that solitary confinement is only ever used in exceptional circumstances as a last resort and should never be used for prolonged or indefinite periods of time. No prisoner who has a mental illness or who is at risk of mental illness should ever be held in solitary confinement.”

Amnesty International visited the ADX facility in 2001, but since then all visit requests have been denied. Information in the report has been gathered through a range of sources including court documents available through lawsuits and other information provided by attorneys representing ADX inmates, as well as policy directives issued by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The practice of prolonged solitary confinement is not limited to ADX. Amnesty International’s report notes that other federal facilities also confine prisoners in prolonged isolation in Special management units.

In some cases prisoners are held in isolation even before they have stood trial. The Metropolitan Correction Centre in New York, also known as “Little Gitmo,” is used to house pre-trial detainees in solitary confinement for months or even years before they face trial. Detainees have little access to natural light and no provision for outdoor exercise.

British intelligence reveals policy for mass surveillance of Facebook, Twitter, more

Britain’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal a secret government policy justifying the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google user in the United Kingdom, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty and other human rights groups published the policy, described in a statement by Charles Farr, director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, following a legal challenge against the British government.

The document reveals that GCHQ — the British Government Communications Headquarters — believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept web searches by British residents or communications between British residents.

“British citizens will be alarmed to see their government justifying industrial-scale intrusion into their communications,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s senior director for law and policy. “The public should demand an end to this wholesale violation of their right to privacy.”

The government’s approach, which had to date not been made explicitly clear, defines almost all communications via Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as all web searches via Google, to be “external communications” because they use Web-based “platforms” based in the USA.

The distinction between “internal” and “external” communications is crucial. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which regulates the surveillance powers of public bodies, “internal” communications may only be intercepted under a specific warrant.

These warrants should only be granted where there is some suspicion of unlawful activity. However, an individual’s “external communications” may be intercepted indiscriminately, even where there are no grounds to suspect any wrongdoing.

“The security services consider that they’re entitled to read, listen and analyze all our communications on Facebook, Google and other US-based platforms,” said James Welch, legal director of Liberty in the UK.

“If there was any remaining doubt that UK snooping laws need a radical overhaul there should be no longer. The agencies are operating in a legal and ethical vacuum; why the deafening silence from our elected representatives?”

By defining the use of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media as “external communications”, British residents are being deprived of essential safeguards.

But the government’s approach may also give room for GCHQ to intercept all communications in and out of the UK. The documents suggest that: 

• GCHQ is intercepting all communications – emails, text messages and communications sent by “platforms” such as Facebook and Google – before determining whether they fall into the “internal” or “external” categories.

• The government considers that almost all Facebook and other social media communications and Google searches will always fall within the “external” category, even when such communications are between two people in the UK.

• Classifying communications as “external” allows the government to search through, read, listen to and look at each of them. The key restriction on what they do with communications that they classify as “external” is that they cannot search through such communications using keywords or terms that mention a specific British person or residence. 

• Even though the government is conducting mass surveillance — intercepting and scanning through all communications in order to work out whether they are internal or external — they consider that such interception “has less importance” than whether a person actually reads the communication, which is where the government believes “the substantive interference with privacy arises”. 

• The government believes that, even when privacy violations happen, it is not an “active intrusion” because the analyst reading or listening to an individual’s communication will inevitably forget about it anyway. 

The document’s publication follows revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the UK’s global digital surveillance activities.

It was obtained by rights groups Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pakistani organization Bytes for All, as part of an ongoing lawsuit seeking to establish the extent to which the UK government has been monitoring their online activity.

Charles Farr is the government’s key witness in the case, which will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in July. Farr’s analysis is the first time the government has openly commented on how it can use the vague legal framework provided by RIPA to scoop up posts and tweets through its mass surveillance program, TEMPORA.

China wants the world to forget, but many remember the Tiananmen Square massacre 25 years ago

On June 4, Chin and his husband solemnly marked the anniversary of one  of the most significant protests of the 20th century — the 25th anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations in China’s Tiananmen Square and the bloody government assault that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed citizens.

Chin observed the anniversary during a candlelight vigil in Golden Gate Park organized by an LGBT Asian-Pacific Islanders group. Similar remembrances took place June 3–4 around the world, with the exception of in China.

“We remember, people all over the world remembered, but China is seeing to it that people there forget,” said the gay student activist. “We know the history of Stonewall. Twenty-five years later, we still don’t know the whole truth of what happened in Tiananmen Square.”

For Chin, the 33-foot-tall Goddess of Democracy that demonstrators built in Tiananmen Square is as important a symbol of freedom as the rainbow Pride flag. “I hope that someday it can be rebuilt again in Tiananmen Square,” Chin said. The statue, which was made of foam, plaster, papier-mâché and metal, drew people to the square for those days in early June in Beijing.

China has never issued a full accounting of what happened, but journalists have estimated that as many as a million people, including about 100,000 students, were engaged in the pro-democracy, anti-corruption demonstrations that spring in Beijing. They were seeking reform, calling for changes to the authoritarian regime. 

On May 20, 1989, the government imposed martial law.

On June 3–4, tanks and armored personnel carriers reached Tiananmen Square, followed by tens of thousands of troops armed with automatic weapons that were used on unarmed marchers and onlookers. Reports put the number of people killed at somewhere between 200 and 2,600. 

The incident of the lone man standing in the path of the column of tanks occurred the day after the crackdown, the day the square still was being cleared of the wounded and their bicycles. The identity of the Tank Man is not known, though there has been speculation. His fate also is not known — some say he was detained and later executed, but others maintain he went on to live a quiet life in China.

Today, a relaxation of some restrictions on basic rights has coincided with rapid socio-economic change in China. But the government remains “an authoritarian one-party state. It places arbitrary curbs on expression, association, assembly and religion; prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations; and maintains party control over all judicial institutions,” according to the watchdog group Human Rights Watch. 

The government censors the press, the Internet and academic research and justifies human rights abuses as necessary to preserve “social stability,” said Ken Roth, executive director of HRW. Populations are involuntarily relocated and rehoused on a massive scale, and repressive policies are carried out against ethnic minorities in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet.

Protests do take place in China — HRW estimates as many as 300–500 protests occur each day.

But no protests have reached the scale or captured the attention of the rest of the world as the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago. That’s in large part due to government crackdowns — human rights activists in the country often face imprisonment, detention, torture, intimidation, house arrest and commitment to psychiatric institutes.

Amnesty International reported that in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, China detained at least 60 people in an effort to suppress any commemoration of the victims of the June 3–4 assault. Among the detainees was a student activist in 1989 and a former political aide to the late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, who opposed the government crackdown in Tiananmen.

According to Amnesty, 18 activists were criminally detained, 20 activists were placed under house arrest, 10 activists were forced to relocate, another 10 activists were missing but believed to be detained and 12 were questioned by police.

Chinese authorities “have gone further when compared to past years, including the 20th anniversary, with more people criminally detained,” said William Nee, AI’s China researcher. But, Nee said, “Authorities’ suffocating grip on freedom of expression will not stop people in China and around the world from remembering the victims.”

Amnesty, like many other human rights groups, has called on the Chinese government to publicly acknowledge the human rights violations that occurred in the Tiananmen crackdown, to launch an independent inquiry into what took place in the square, to compensate the families of the victims and to cease harassment and persecution of those seeking to commemorate or speak out about the protests.

The White House, on June 4, also called on the Chinese government to account for those killed, detained or reported missing 25 years ago.

Press secretary Jay Carney, in a statement, said the United States urges the Chinese government to guarantee “universal rights and fundamental freedoms” to all its citizens and “will always speak out in support of the basic freedoms the protesters at Tiananmen Square sought.”

NYPD to stop using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton announced on May 12 that the police department would stop confiscating unused condoms from suspected sex workers for use as evidence of prostitution.

Bratton said, “The NYPD heard from community health advocates and took a serious look at making changes to our current policy as it relates to our broader public safety mission.”

The NYPD said condoms could still be confiscated for use as evidence in sex-trafficking crimes.

Lambda Legal, a civil liberties group, said called the announcement a great step in the right direction. Lambda and other civil rights groups have argued that the police practice has undermined efforts to protect people against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

But Lambda pressed for further action, writing to Bratton: “We urge Commissioner Bratton to remove all uses of condoms as evidence of sex work in any setting — including trafficking — because using condoms as evidence can motivate human traffickers to keep the people they traffick from using condoms at all.”

Lambda also has sought reform in Albany, writing recently to the New York Senate: “Using condoms as evidence of criminal conduct further exposes communities that have historically been both hard-hit by HIV and subjected to intense police scrutiny. The practice disproportionately affects transgender women, who experience such a high rate of false targeting by police as sex workers in New York City that it was the subject of a 2005 campaign by Amnesty International.”

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Amnesty calls on China to release those detained over Tiananmen Square observances

Chinese authorities must immediately release all those detained for trying to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, urged Amnesty International, following a spate of detentions in the past week. 

At least five prominent activists have been detained in Beijing, while several others have been questioned by police, as the authorities attempt to suppress critics ahead of the 25th anniversary on June 4.  

“These latest detentions show how far the authorities are prepared to go to silence those that seek to remember the 1989 crackdown,” said Anu Kultalahti, China researcher at Amnesty International.

 “Twenty-five years on the authorities have once again chosen the path of repression rather than accept the need for an open discussion about what happened in 1989.” added Kultalahti.

On Tuesday, Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights lawyer, was criminally detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels” after he attended a weekend seminar in Beijing that called for an investigation into the June 4 crackdown.

Four other activists who also took part in the event — Xu Youyu, Liu Di, Hao Jian and Hu Shigen — have been detained on the same grounds. Under Chinese law, police can now hold all five activists until after June 4.  

“All those detained for attempting to mark the 25th anniversary must be released immediately and unconditionally. The persecution of those trying to remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown must end,” said Kultalahti.

There are increasing concerns for a leading Chinese journalist that covered the 1989 crackdown and has campaigned for justice since. Gao Yu was last heard from on April 24. 

Several other prominent activists have been questioned by police in an attempt to deter them from speaking out. 

This includes Zhang Xianling whose son, Wang Nan, was killed in 1989.  Zhang, along with other Tiananmen Mothers, has spent the last two decades fighting for justice for the victims of the 1989 crackdown.

Hundreds if not thousands of people were killed or injured during the military crackdown against protestors in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

The 1989 crackdown remains an official taboo in China. Attempts to commemorate, discuss and demand justice for what happened are forcefully curbed, with no public discussion allowed.