Activists Call Out 11 Muslim Member States to Repeal Death Penalty for Blasphemy

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

LOS ANGELES / WASHINGTON DC, Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – Eleven out of 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) still sanction the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, silencing their citizens and emboldening violence by non-state actors.


For the past 70 years, Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has condemned capital punishment for religious offenses, a global standard shared during our recent visit to the UN headquarters in New York.

As a prelude to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level meetings in mid-September, we led the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws, urging UN members to stand in strong support during two paramount resolutions calling for an end to the death penalty and extrajudicial killings.

We urge the insertion of language codifying the death penalty never being imposed as a sanction for non-violent conduct such as blasphemy and apostasy. The effort produced an encouraging response by Nigerian third committee officials who renewed their commitment to freedom of religion or belief by supporting embedded language in both the moratorium on the death penalty and a resolution on renouncing the death penalty for extrajudicial killings.

In the days that followed our visit, the world has witnessed the outrage of human rights activists and concerned global citizens with the death of Masha Amini, an Iranian Muslim woman who was arrested and subsequently died in the custody of Iranian morality police for a violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s compulsory hijab mandate.

Brutal cases like these will only cease when government officials in Iran, and other egregious human rights violators, listen to the cries of their people and uphold globally recognized human rights declarations. These include statutes supporting international religious freedom or belief, and the repeal of apostasy and blasphemy laws.

When most countries around the world and the majority of Muslim nations are taking concrete steps to abolish capital punishment for perceived religious offenses such as blasphemy and apostasy, some refuse to modernize their legislation, thus branding themselves as the worst violators of internationally recognized basic human rights.

This staunch obsession with upholding persecutory laws and implementing the harshest of punishments, violates religious freedoms – the right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief. This misinterpretation of scripture is an abuse of Islam, tarnishing the image of Muslims around the world and a disregard to Gods mercy, a belief that transcends faith orientation.

The multidisciplinary and multifaith delegation from the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Campaign urged UN members, including: Luxemburg, Canada, and Sri Lanka, to raise their voices loudly in favor of embedded international religious freedom language in two resolutions which will come up for a vote during the UNGA in November.

Penholders Australia and Costa Rica are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty which is only supported by the IRF Campaign with the addition of specific language ensuring the death penalty never be imposed for non-violent conduct such as apostasy or blasphemy.

Likewise, Finland, as penholder for the UNGA resolution on extrajudicial executions, is being asked by global advocates to add language on freedom of religion or belief, emphasizing the necessity for States to take effective measures to repeal laws currently allowing the death penalty for religious offences, such as criminalization of conversion and expression of religion or belief as a preventative measure.

Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is clear – everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief. Yet, 11 States today maintain the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy. We raise the voices of the voiceless, such as Pakistani woman Aneeqa Ateeq who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January 2022 after being manipulated into a religious debate online by a man who she romantically refused.

Also, an 83-year-old Somali man, Hassan Tohow Fidow, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy by an al-Shabaab militant court and subsequently horrifically executed by firing squad; and a 22-year-old Nigerian Islamic gospel singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who was sentenced to death for blasphemy because one of his songs allegedly praised an Imam higher than the Prophet.

As an outcome of our UN advocacy, we pray that the 11 Muslim member states—Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen– join in the common-sense repeal of the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a great step toward becoming civilized nations.

The majority of OIC member nations who do not sanction the death penalty for religious offenses should be regarded as examples of modernity and humanity and their path to restore and uphold basic human rights should be replicated.

The Qur’an says, “There shall be no compulsion in religion; the right way has become distinct from the wrong way.” (Qur’an 2:256). Likewise, we read passages like 18:26:, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord. Whoever wills – let him believe. And whoever wills – let him disbelieve,” and “whoever among you renounces their own faith and dies a disbeliever, their deeds will become void in this life and in the Hereafter (Qur’an 2:217).”

The holy book, which serves as a moral compass for the laws in OIC member nations, upholds the right to freedom of religion or belief which has been recognized by the OIC majority.

As has been recently witnessed in Iran, when civil society activates around globally recognized human rights, the world takes note. The OIC asserts its purpose “to preserve and promote the foundational Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity” and “to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, rule of law, democracy, and accountability”.

To that end, with the passage of both critical UN resolutions, OIC members will face the controversial and politically sensitive task of calling out other OIC colleagues who continue to violate human rights by imposing the death sentence upon individuals for exercising their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

We assert that it is a societal problem as much as it is a reflection of the deficiency of democratic values and principles.

Embedding international religious freedom language in both resolutions calling for the repeal of the death penalty will be strengthened with the strong support of the 46 OIC nations and other human rights champion nations in the days ahead.

We are encouraged by Saudi Arabian scholar, Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa of the Muslim World Alliance, who travels the world sharing the unanimously approved Charter of Makkah – a document affirming differences among people and beliefs as part of God’s will and wisdom.

Our collective voice must be unwavering in its call and commitment to repeal the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a primary step towards upholding theologies of love and compassion, building toward human flourishing.

Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv is co-chair IRF Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws; Soraya M. Deen, Esq. is lawyer, community organizer, founder, Muslim Women Speakers, and co-chair International Religious Freedom (IRF) Women’s Working Group

IPS UN Bureau

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Uyghur Violations a Litmus Test for Global Governance & Rules-based International Order

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Protesters in Washington, DC, march against the alleged killing of Uyghur Muslims. June 2022. Credit: Unsplash/Kuzzat Altay

NEW YORK, Oct 3 2022 (IPS) – This week is a momentous one for the world’s premier human rights body. At stake is a resolution to decide whether the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva can hold a debate on a recently released UN report.


The report concludes that rights violations by China’s government in its Xinjiang region ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity’.

Unsurprisingly, China’s government is doing everything in its power to scotch plans for a debate on the report’s contents. Its tactics include intimidating smaller states, spreading disinformation and politicising genuine human rights concerns – the very thing the Human Rights Council was set up to overcome.

The historic report, which affirms that the rights of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslim population are being violated through an industrial-level programme of mass incarceration, systemic torture and sexual violence, attracted huge controversy before it was released on 31 August 2022, minutes before the end of the term of the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

The report was supposedly ready in September 2021 but so great was the pressure exerted by the Chinese state that it took almost another year for it to be aired. Absurdly, the 46-page report includes a 122 page annex in the form of a rebuttal issued by China, rejecting the findings and calling into question the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Office of the High Commissioner has asserted that the report is based on a rigorous review of documentary evidence with its credibility assessed in accordance with standard human rights methodology. The report’s recommendations are pretty straightforward: prompt steps should be taken to release all people arbitrarily imprisoned in Xinjiang, a full legal review of national security and counter-terrorism policies should be undertaken, and an official investigation should be carried into allegations of human rights violations in camps and detention facilities.

Nevertheless, a proposed resolution to hold a debate on the report’s contents in early 2023 is facing severe headwinds. A number of states inside and outside the Human Rights Council, united by their shared history of impunity for rampant human rights abuses – such as Cuba, Egypt, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Venezuela – have already rallied to China’s defence in informal negotiations on the brief resolution.

What is most worrying is that China appears to be leaning on smaller states that make up the 47-member Human Rights Council by inverting arguments about politicisation of global human rights issues and projecting itself as the victim of a Western conspiracy to undermine its sovereignty.

If China were to have its way, it would be a huge setback for the Human Rights Council, which was conceived in 2006 as a representative body of states designed to overcome the flaws of ‘declining credibility and lack of professionalism’ that marred the work of the body it replaced, the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his ground-breaking In Larger Freedom report, lamented that states sought membership ‘not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others’.

Human Rights Council members are expected to uphold the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights. But our research at CIVICUS shows that eight of the Council’s 47 members have the worst possible civic space conditions for human rights defenders and their organisations to exist. In these countries – Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan – human rights are routinely abused and anyone with the temerity to speak truth to power is relentlessly persecuted.

Regimes that serially abuse human rights may be motivated to block findings of investigations being aired on the international stage, but the international community has a collective responsibility to the victims. Civil society groups are urging Human Rights Council members to stand firm on the call for a debate on the China report.

Human Rights Council member states that assert the importance of human rights and democracy in their foreign policy are expected to vote in favour. Nevertheless, the influence of regional and geo-political blocs within the Council mean that the issue will essentially be settled by the decisions of states such as Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Senegal, Ukraine and Qatar.

China will undoubtedly pressure these states to try to get them to oppose or abstain in any vote that seeks to advance justice for the Uyghur people.

The stakes are particularly high for China’s mercurial leader, Xi Jinping, who is seeking to anoint himself as president for a third term – after abolishing term limits in 2018 – at the Chinese Communist Party’s Congress, which begins on 16 October.

Recognition of the systematic abuses to which Xi’s administration has subjected the Uyghur people would be considered an international affront to his growing power.

If China were to prevail at the Human Rights Council, it would be another blow to the legitimacy of the UN, which is already reeling from the UN Security Council’s inability to overcome Russia’s permanent member veto to block action on the invasion of Ukraine. So much – for the UN’s reputation, and for the hope that human rights violators, however powerful, will be held to account – is resting on the vote.

Mandeep S. Tiwana, is chief programmes officer and representative to the United Nations at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

IPS UN Bureau

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Multi-Faith Team Urges Repeal of Blasphemy Laws– in the Name of Religious Freedom

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Independent UN human rights experts condemned the death sentence of a university lecturer charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, calling the ruling “a travesty of justice”. December 2019. Credit: UNICEF/Josh Estey

NEW YORK, Sep 12 2022 (IPS) – In nations lacking certain religious freedoms, the bold multi-faith membership of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable’s Campaign to Eliminate Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws, would be forbidden.


This archaic, and at times, violent fact is driving a biblical justice authority, an international activist and a team of culturally and religiously diverse advocates to raise their voices with member states, just before world leaders arrive for the high-level segment of the 77th UN General Assembly session which commences in New York City September 20.

The trip will highlight the twelve nations currently imposing the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy charges, calling for its immediate repeal.

Freedom of religion or belief is universally regarded as fundamental human right and is protected by international covenants and national constitutions alike.

However, courts continue to mete out unjustifiably long prison sentences and even death sentences to individuals for non-violent, victimless conduct such as committing blasphemy or apostasy.

Recently, Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala was sentenced to an unimaginable 24 years’ imprisonment for an allegedly blasphemous Facebook post he made expressing his disbelief in an afterlife.

Though the death penalty is not actually imposed upon a convicted individual in a vast majority of cases, the sentence itself relegates convicts to years and decades of prolonged imprisonment on death row, denial of medical care while in prison, withholding of legal counsel, and endless interrogation.

Pakistanis rally in support of Mumtaz Qadri who was convicted and executed for a blasphemy-motivated killing of a former governor, in Lahore, Pakistan, Feb. 2016. Credit: Voice of America

Previously, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman, languished on death row for eight years on charges of blasphemy simply for drinking water from a canteen while picking berries with a group of Muslim women.

After her release and acquittal in 2019, Asia was forced to flee her home country in fear of reprisal attacks by radical Islamists.

In 2014, a pregnant Sudanese woman Mariam Ibrahim – who was imprisoned on apostasy charges for her marriage to a Christian man, and as a woman born to a Muslim father – was forced to give birth to her second child while her legs remained shackled to the cell floor.

As a Christ follower, I am reminded of times when God revealed his heart for justice through stories like that of Esther, whom was strengthened to boldly intercede for an oppressed group of religious minorities.

The time is now for United Nations Member States to do the same, through their set own of convictions, in an effort to create communities of human flourishing and safety for those who are persecuted for freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking on Islam’s position on blasphemy, there is much evidence that Prophet Muhammad pardoned his worst critics. Blasphemy laws and inhumane punishments for blasphemy have no legitimacy in the Quran.

The Quran does not command Muslims to kill blasphemers.
Surah (verse) 4:140 of the Quran states – “If you hear people denying and ridiculing God’s revelation, do not sit with them unless they start to talk of other things…”

There is no reference to killing and or issuing fatwas.

Even where moratoriums on the death penalty exist, faith minorities and individuals who express views and perspectives deviating from those prescribed by the majority religion can be in tremendous danger.

Mauritania, which has upheld a moratorium on the death sentence since 1987, convicted blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir of apostasy and sentenced him to death as recently as 2014 for an article he wrote criticizing the use of Islam to justify the caste system in his country. Fortunately, Mkhaitir was released from prison in 2019.

In Pakistan, where the death sentence is often issued to perceived blasphemers – most often Christian and Ahmadi Muslim minorities – but not carried out– laws criminalizing apostasy and blasphemy embolden state and non-state actors alike to commit acts of violence against innocent civilians.

In July 2021, a police constable slashed and killed a man named Muhammad Waqas who had been previously acquitted of blasphemy charges; the perpetrator explicitly stated perceived blasphemy as the crimes’ impetus.

A few months later, in December 2021, a Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was lynched by a mob and had his body burned by an angry mob in the Pakistani city of Sialkot.

Kumara was a garment factory manager who had been accused of committing blasphemy after removing an Islamic poster from the factory’s walls to prepare for a renovation project.

These non-state actors, fortified by lackluster laws, pose a serious obstacle to human rights, free speech and dignity, creating a system where sometimes even state supported religious leaders call for the death penalty and other inhumane punishments.

A more recent and equally horrific incident occurred in Sokoto Nigeria, when young Christian college student Deborah Samuel Yakubu was stoned to death and set on fire by her very own Muslim classmates.

Days prior, Yakubu had angered the perpetrators by questioning why her school course’s WhatsApp chat was being used to discuss contentious religious affairs rather than focusing on academic issues.

Currently, twelve nations that maintain the death penalty for apostasy, blasphemy, or both; these include Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. * [New Penal Code implemented in 2022 in UAE removes hudud punishments – including apostasy from the penal code]

Additionally, approximately 40% of UN Member States – some of them holding seats in the Human Rights Council – criminalize apostasy and blasphemy, despite their lack of the death sentence for such ‘crimes’.

However, it is not without criticism and attention by human rights and religious freedom activists and even representatives of the United Nations who have emphasized the inhumanity of apostasy and blasphemy laws and called for their repeal.

This includes the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, and the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, and on extrajudicial killings, respectively.

Now, civil society is taking matters into its own hands.

Efforts to work toward the abolition of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy have been a bottom-up grassroots approach. Next week, a delegation of human rights and religious freedom advocates will travel to the United Nations to meet with representatives from the missions of numerous UN Member States, including Luxembourg, Canada, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Niger, and Australia.

Their goal is to increase support among UN Member States for the insertion of language in the UNGA Resolution on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions stating that “the death penalty should never be imposed as a sanction for apostasy, blasphemy, or other perceived religious offense.

As a capstone to the multifaith, multicultural and multidisciplinary United Nations advocacy fly-in, the group will host an issue briefing pointing to the critical proposed resolution language, calling for the immediate repeal of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy charges.

The briefing, which is open to the press, will spotlight survivors in their own voice. The development of pluralistic resilient communities which uphold basic human rights and allow for human flourishing amongst inevitable interdependent globalized societies depend on the undaunted actions those in power.

We call upon all Member States to join us in this fight toward international religious freedom by supporting the IRF Campaign’s resolution language today.” More info here.

Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv. is Co-Chair, International Religious Freedom Roundtable Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws

Soraya Marikar Deen, is a Lawyer, Community Organizer, International Activist; HumanRights & Gender Equity Advocate. She is also Co-chair Women’s Working Group @ Int. Religious Freedom Roundtable and Founder MuslimWomenSpeakers

IPS UN Bureau

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The Price of Bukele’s State of Emergency in El Salvador

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Human Rights

A group of alleged gang members is presented to the media by police authorities in El Salvador on Jul. 20 as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the war against gangs waged in this Central American country under a state of emergency. But families of detainees and human rights organizations warn that in many cases they have no links to criminal organizations. CREDIT: National Civil Police

A group of alleged gang members is presented to the media by police authorities in El Salvador on Jul. 20 as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the war against gangs waged in this Central American country under a state of emergency. But families of detainees and human rights organizations warn that in many cases they have no links to criminal organizations. CREDIT: National Civil Police

SAN SALVADOR, Aug 5 2022 (IPS) – The body of Walter Sandoval shows a number of dark bruises on his arms and knees, as well as lacerations on his left eye and on his head – signs that he suffered some kind of violence before dying in a Salvadoran prison, accused of being a gang member.


The evidence of the beating is clear in photographs that Walter’s father, Saúl Sandoval, showed to IPS.

Walter, 32, was one of those who died in Salvadoran prisons after being detained by the authorities in the massive raids that the government of Nayib Bukele launched at the end of March, under the protection of the decreed state of emergency and the administration’s fight against organized crime and gangs.

The young man, a farmer, died on Apr. 3, in the parking lot of the hospital in Sonsonate, a city in the west of the country where he was transferred, already dying according to the family, from the police station in Ahuachapán, a city in the department of the same name in western El Salvador.

He had been transferred to the police station after his Mar. 30 arrest in the Jardines neighborhood of the municipality of El Refugio, also in the department of Ahuachapán.

“They tortured him in the dungeons of the Ahuachapán police station,” his father told IPS.

He added that his son had been hanging out with friends, getting drunk. A few minutes later, a police patrol picked him up on charges of being a gang member, which the family vehemently told IPS was not true.

“He never received medical assistance, he died in the hospital parking lot,” the father added.

“They tortured him in the dungeons of the Ahuachapán police station. He didn’t receive medical assistance, he died in the hospital parking lot.” — Saúl Sandoval

He says the only explanation he has for why the police detained Walter is because “they wanted to get the day’s quota.” What he meant is that police officers are apparently supposed to arrest a specific number of gang members in exchange for benefits in their assigned workload.

Deaths like Walter’s, if the participation of police is confirmed, are the most violent and arbitrary expression of the human rights violations committed since the government began its plan of massive raids, in what it describes as an all-out war on gangs.

Since late March, the Salvadoran government has maintained a state of emergency that suspended several constitutional guarantees, in response to a sharp rise in homicides committed by gang members between Mar. 25 and 27.

In those three days, at least 87 people were killed by gang members, in a kind of revenge against the government for allegedly breaking an obscure under-the-table agreement with the gangs to keep homicide rates low.

The state of emergency has been in place since Mar. 27, extended each month by the legislature, which is largely dominated by the ruling New Ideas party. Since then, violent deaths have dropped to an average of three a day.

Among the constitutional rights suspended are the rights of association and assembly, although the government said it only applies to criminal groups that are meeting to organize crimes. It also restricts the right to defense and extends the period in which a person may be detained and brought before the courts, which is currently three days.

The government can also wiretap the communications of “terrorist groups”, meaning gangs, although it could already do so under ordinary laws.

After the state of emergency was declared, homicides dropped again to around two or three a day, and there are even days when none are reported.

But some 48,000 people have been arrested and remanded in custody, accused by the authorities of belonging to criminal gangs. And the number is growing day by day.

However, the families of detainees and human rights organizations complain that among those captured are people who had no links to the gangs, known as “maras” in El Salvador, which make up an army of a combined total of around 70,000 members.

On Jun. 2, rights watchdog Amnesty International stated in an official communiqué that “Under the current state of emergency, the Salvadoran authorities have committed massive human rights violations, including thousands of arbitrary detentions and violations of due process, as well as torture and ill-treatment, and at least 18 people have died in state custody.”

But President Bukele, far from being receptive to criticism, dismisses and stigmatizes the work of human rights groups, referring to their representatives as “criminals” and “freeloaders” who are more interested in defending the rights of gang members than those of their victims.

Walter Sandoval is one of the young men who have died with signs of torture in El Salvador's prisons under the state of emergency in force in the country since the end of March. The police captured him without any evidence linking him to gangs, said the young man's family - part of a pattern that has been documented by human rights organizations. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Sandoval family

Walter Sandoval is one of the young men who have died with signs of torture in El Salvador’s prisons under the state of emergency in force in the country since the end of March. The police captured him without any evidence linking him to gangs, said the young man’s family – part of a pattern that has been documented by human rights organizations. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Sandoval family

Silent deaths and torture

The local human rights organization Cristosal has documented nearly 2,500 cases of arrests which, according to the families, have been arbitrary, with no basis for their loved ones to have been detained under the state of emergency.

The organization has also monitored press reports and social networks and has carried out its own research to establish that, as of Jul. 28, some 65 people had died while detained in the country’s prisons or in police cells as part of the massive police raids.

Some of the deceased showed obvious signs of beatings and physical violence, as was the case with Walter and other cases that have been widely reported in the media.

The official reports of these deaths received by family members are vague and confusing, such as that of Julio César Mendoza Ramírez, 25, who died in a hospital in San Salvador, the country’s capital, on Jul. 15.

The official report stated that he had died of pulmonary edema, i.e., his lungs filled with fluid, but also stated that the case was “being studied.”

Suspicions that the deceased were victims of beatings and torture during their imprisonment are not ruled out by their relatives or by human rights organizations.

“The cause of death given to the relatives in the hospital sometimes differs from the legal medical examination, and that leads one to think that something is going on,” lawyer Zaira Navas, of Cristosal, told IPS.

She added: “There are also families who say they were told it was cardiac arrest, but the victims have bruises on their bodies, which is not compatible (with the official version).”

And in the face of doubts and accusations that beatings and torture are taking place under the watchful eye of the State, the authorities simply remain silent and do not carry out autopsies, for example, which would reveal what really happened.

Navas remarked that, even within the state of emergency, “the detentions are arbitrary” because the procedure followed is not legally justified and many people are detained simply because of telephone complaints from neighbors – with which other human rights defenders coincide.

Another problem is that among these 2,500 complaints by families, about 30 percent involve detainees who have chronic diseases or disabilities or were receiving medical or surgical treatment, according to Cristosal’s reports.

The prison staff do not allow family members of the sick detainees to bring their medication, although in a few rare cases they have authorized it.

“We have seen deaths because it is presumed that they have been tortured, beaten, etc., but there have also been deaths of people who have not been given the medication they need to take,” Henri Fino, executive director of the Foundation for Studies on the Application of Law (FESPAD), told IPS.

Regarding the dubious role played by the government’s Institute of Legal Medicine (IML), in charge of conducting the forensic examinations to inform families about the cause of deaths, Fino said that in his opinion it has no credibility.

Especially, he added, now that members of the so-called Military Health Battalion have been stationed since Jul. 4 at several IML offices, presumably to assist in various tasks, including forensic exams, given the shortage of staff.

“What collaboration can they (the military) provide, if they are not experts, and the only reason they are in the IML is to exercise oversight?” Fino said.

Media war

Some of the people who have died in jails or prisons, who were arrested under the state of emergency, were described by the local media as victims of arbitrary, illegal detentions, in contrast with Bukele’s propaganda war claiming that all the detainees are, in fact, gang members.

The press has highlighted the case of Elvin Josué Sánchez, 21, who died on Apr. 18 at the Izalco Prison located near the town of the same name in the department of Sonsonate in western El Salvador.

The media have referred to him as the “young musician”, because he had been learning to play the saxophone, and they have described him as a decent person who was a member of an evangelical church in the area.

But according to neighbors, Sánchez was well-known as an active gang member in his native El Carrizal, in the municipality of Santa Maria Ostuma, in the central department of La Paz.

“They saw him well-armed on farms in the area, along with other gang members, and he told the owners not to show up there anymore, or they would kill them,” a resident of that municipality, who asked not to be identified, told IPS.

Contradictions like this have strengthened local support for Bukele’s insinuations that the independent media are in favor of gang members and against the government’s actions to eradicate violence in the country.

In fact, opinion polls show that a majority of the population of 6.7 million support the president’s measures to crack down on the maras.

But even though Sánchez was recognized by neighbors as a gang member, his arrest should have been carried out following proper procedures and protocols, based on reliable information proving his affiliation to a criminal organization.

This is something the police do not usually do in these massive raids where it is impossible for them to have the evidence needed on each of the nearly 48,000 detainees.

Nor did the fact that he had been a gang member merit him being beaten to death, since his human rights should have been respected, said those interviewed by IPS.

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The Politics of the Hangman’s Noose: Judge, Jury & Executioner

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Young people take part in a pro-democracy demonstration in Myanmar. Credit: Unsplash/Pyae Sone Htun

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2022 (IPS) – A spike in state-sanctioned executions worldwide – including in Iran, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and more recently Myanmar – has triggered strong condemnations from the United Nations and several civil rights and human rights organizations.


As Covid-19 restrictions that had previously delayed judicial processes were steadily lifted in many parts of the world, says Amnesty International (AI), judges last year handed down at least 2,052 death sentences in 56 countries—a close to 40% increase over 2020—with big spikes seen in several countries including Bangladesh (at least 181, from at least 113), India (144, from 77) and Pakistan (at least 129, from at least 49).

Other countries enforcing the death penalty, according to AI, include Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Belarus, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), China, North Korea, Viet Nam and Yemen.

In military regimes, such as Myanmar, the armed forces play a triple role: judge, jury and hangman.

Dr Simon Adams, President of the Center for Victims of Torture, the world’s biggest organization that works with torture survivors and advocates for an end to torture worldwide, told IPS the recent execution of four pro-democracy activists by Myanmar’s military junta represents a sickening return to the “politics of the hangman’s noose”.

Arbitrary detention and torture have also been committed on an industrial scale, he said.

The military regime has detained over 14,000 people and sentenced more than 100 to death since the (February 2021) coup. While many governments around the world have condemned the recent hangings, it is going to take more than words to end atrocities in Myanmar, he pointed out.

“People are crying out for targeted sanctions on the Generals, for an arms embargo, and for Myanmar’s torturers and executioners to be held accountable under international law”, said Dr Adams, who also helped initiate the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where The Gambia is trying to hold Myanmar accountable for the genocide against the Rohingya.

The London-based Amnesty International (AI) said last May that 2021 “saw a worrying rise in executions and death sentences as some of the world’s most prolific executioners returned to business as usual and courts were unshackled from Covid-19 restrictions.”

Iran accounted for the biggest portion of this rise, executing at least 314 people (up from at least 246 in 2020), its highest execution total since 2017.

This was due in part to a marked increase in drug-related executions—a flagrant violation of international law which prohibits use of the death penalty for crimes other than those involving intentional killing, said AI.

Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, said last week the United States condemns in the strongest terms the Burma military regime’s executions of pro-democracy activists and elected leaders Ko Jimmy, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms.

“These reprehensible acts of violence further exemplify the regime’s complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law.’

Since the February 2021 coup, he pointed out, the regime has perpetuated violence against its own people, killing more than 2,100, displacing more than 700,000, and detaining thousands of innocent people, including members of civil society and journalists.

The regime’s sham trials and these executions are blatant attempts to extinguish democracy; these actions will never suppress the spirit of the brave people of Burma, (Myanmar), he added.

“The United States joins the people of Burma in their pursuit of freedom and democracy and calls on the regime to respect the democratic aspirations of the people who have shown they do not want to live one more day under the tyranny of military rule,” Blinken declared.

Condemning the execution of the four democracy activists by the military regime in Myanmar, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last week: “I am dismayed that despite appeals from across the world, the military conducted these executions with no regard for human rights. This cruel and regressive step is an extension of the military’s ongoing repressive campaign against its own people.”

“These executions – the first in Myanmar in decades – are cruel violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of a person, and fair trial guarantees. For the military to widen its killing will only deepen its entanglement in the crisis it has itself created,” she warned.

The High Commissioner also called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained, and urged the country to reinstate its de-facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty, as a step towards eventual abolition.

Meanwhile, in a statement released August 2, Liz Throssell, a Spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva said : “We deplore the hanging today of two men in Singapore and are deeply troubled by the planned execution of two others on 5 August.

The two, a Malaysian and a Singaporean, were hanged at Changi Prison this morning after they were convicted in May 2015 of drug trafficking and their appeals subsequently rejected.

Two other men, Abdul Rahim bin Shapiee and his co-accused Ong Seow Ping, are currently expected to be executed on Friday after Bin Shapiee’s family was notified of his fate on 29 July.

They were both convicted in 2018 of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and their sentences upheld on appeal. In the past, co-accused persons have almost always been executed on the same day.

“We urge the Singapore authorities to halt all scheduled executions, including those of Abdul Rahim bin Shapiee and Ong Seow Ping. We also call on the Government of Singapore to end the use of mandatory death sentences for drug offences, commute all death sentences to a sentence of imprisonment and immediately put in place a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty”, the statement said.

“The death penalty is inconsistent with the right to life and the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and there is growing consensus for its universal abolition. More than 170 States have so far abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice,” she noted.

Agnes Callamard, AI Secretary-General, said that “China, North Korea and Viet Nam continued to shroud their use of the death penalty behind layers of secrecy, but, as ever, the little we saw is cause for great alarm.”

The known number of women executed also rose from nine to 14, while the Iranian authorities continued their abhorrent assault on children’s rights by executing three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, contrary to their obligations under international law.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia more than doubled its number of executions, a grim trend that continued in 2022 with the execution of 81 people in a single day in March, according to AI

As well as the rise in executions seen in Saudi Arabia (65, from 27 in 2020), significant increases on 2020 were seen in Somalia (at least 21, from at least 11) South Sudan (at least 9, from at least 2) and Yemen (at least 14, from at least 5). Belarus (at least 1), Japan (3) and UAE (at least 1) also carried out executions, having not done so in 2020.

Significant increases in death sentences compared to 2020 were recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (at least 81, from at least 20), Egypt (at least 356, from at least 264), Iraq (at least 91, from at least 27), Myanmar (at least 86, from at least 1), Viet Nam (at least 119 from at least 54), and Yemen (at least 298, from at least 269), AI said.

In several countries in 2021, AI said, the death penalty was deployed as an instrument of state repression against minorities and protestors, with governments showing an utter disregard for safeguards and restrictions on the death penalty established under international human rights law and standards.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Sri Lanka: Why a Feudal Culture & Absence of Meritocracy Bankrupted a Nation

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

BROMLEY, UK, Jul 19 2022 (IPS) – Sri Lanka is officially bankrupt and a failed state in all but name. How did a country of 22 million people with a level of literacy on par with most of the developed world end up in such a dire position where the state coffers did not have the measly sum of 20 million dollars to purchase fuel to keep the country functioning beyond the next working day?


Whilst the vast majority of the population have concluded that the blame for this economic armageddon is due to the gluttony of corruption and greed, instigated and enabled by the Rajapaksa family , its acolytes and sycophantic nodding dogs, my own assessment is different.

It is a fact that vast sums , amounting to billions of dollars, were indeed stolen and moved overseas through various illegal networks by the Rajapaksa clan and their accomplices.

Many billions were also squandered on gargantuan white elephant vanity projects in order to glorify the Rajapaksa legacy. However, the seeds for the bankruptcy were sown when the country attained its independence from Great Britain in 1948.

Sri Lanka proudly proclaims itself as one of the oldest democracies in Asia which has had a functioning democracy since 1948. The democratic process has functioned like it should do and parliamentarians elected as they should be and the leaders who represent the aspirations and values of the people appointed as they should be.

Why then has the country reached this abyss?

For democracy to enrich the lives of the people and bring about economic prosperity, two essential and fundamental criteria have to be satisfied. The election of individuals based on merit and the adherence to a universal justice system.

In the absence of meritocracy and a universal justice system, democracy becomes meaningless – an utterly futile process which will not achieve what it is intended for.

Meritocracy is however an alien concept in Sri Lanka!

A universal justice system does not exist in Sri Lanka!

Meritocracy does not exist in Sri Lanka because the cultural DNA is that of a feudal society. Sri Lankan culture promotes race, religion, nepotism, old school connections, social connections, social influences, political influences and servitude (where one class of people are held in perpetual bondage or servants for life ) over and above the attributes and qualities of the individual.

That is a primitive mindset and a recipe for disaster.

In Sri Lanka, people are judged not by the content of their character but by their race, their religion, their socio-economic background, their family connections, the schools they attended, where they live, and who they know. (with apologies to the Rev Martin Luther King for using his words in a manner he did not intend)

When a society functions in such a feudal manner, such values permeate throughout and has a direct correlation with the workings of the justice system. The justice system replicates the culture and ultimately ends up being not fit for purpose.

If a justice system is unable to function based on facts and objectivity, the fabric of society slowly starts to tear apart because the checks and balances needed for a society to progress and for nations to grow, slowly start to dissipate.

Since 1948, Sri Lankan democracy has existed on the basis of nepotism, feudal, racial and religious criteria.

The feudal culture masquerading as democracy has elected the Senanayake family, the Bandaranaike family, the Premadasa family and the Rajapaksa family into the highest offices of the land.

The singular qualification that Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had was that he was the son of the father.

The singular qualification Prime Minister Mrs Bandaranaike had was that she was the wife of the husband

The singular qualification President Chandrika B had was that she was the daughter of the father and the mother

The singular qualification that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (now acting President) has is that he is the nephew of President JR Jayewardene.

The singular qualification that Sajith Premadasa has is that he is the son of the father

The singular qualification Gotabaya Rajapaksa has is that he is the brother of Mahinda

The singular qualification Namal has is that he is the son of the father

The singular qualification Basil has is that he is the brother of Mahinda and Gotabaya.

The singular qualification Thondaman had was that that he was the son of the father.

And this is called Democracy?

This is a banana republic in all but name where Nepotism is the ultimate passport to success – and all done through the ballot box !

This is a culture of entitlement masquerading as democracy , which in turn has given birth to a nation whose leaders are elected not by the content of their character but by their name and association.

It is the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts for what has been spawned is a society where quality has been superseded by mediocrity at best and incompetence at worst.

The end result is the economic armageddon that has destroyed the country.

When leaders of a nation are elected in such a manner, those who serve them and the very fabric of society itself replicates the structural fault line that promotes feudal nepotistic values. It becomes self-fulfilling, promotes mediocrity, encourages malpractice, and creates a culture of corruption.

The legal system, which on paper is there to oversee the rule of law, sadly becomes an extension of the structural fault line which then ensures that impunity and immunity against corruption , theft or even murder, becomes standard operating procedure.

Einstein’s definition of “insanity” is where he states that if we do the same thing over and over again, we end up with the same result. Sri Lanka’s sham democracy since 1948 has been exactly that. A culture based on feudal nepotistic values which enables the same results over and over again.

The people of Sri Lanka must break this vicious cycle if they are ever to escape from the death spiral they have created for themselves.

The critical mass of people who have recently demonstrated for structural change and the complete transformation of government and governance, have achieved more in the last few months than most of the corrupt incompetent deluded half-wits in parliament ever will.

A fundamental new approach to governance based on competence and the rule of law is a pre-requisite to stop Sri Lanka disintegrating into anarchy and chaos.

Does real democracy exist in Sri Lanka ? No !

Real democracy in Sri Lanka doesn’t exist because the culture prevents those with real ability and competence from being elected on merit alone. The vast majority of the electorate simply doesn’t understand that real democracy that provides a positive outcome is based on merit, first, second and last.

It is also unlikely that the majority of the electorate will understand this any time soon.

Can the country find a leader that replicates Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew ? It is imperative that it does find such a leader who leads by example and who creates a structural transformation of society itself where honesty, integrity and the adherence to the rule of law becomes sacrosanct .

However, does such a leader exists within the current crop of parliamentarians? If not within in parliament , then where ?

A leader who will also ensure that all those who have been culpable in this bringing about this catastrophe are forced to change their ways as well as bringing to justice those who have systematically looted and stolen the countries’ wealth – politicians and non-politicians .

Does a universal justice system exist in Sri Lanka – No !

A justice system in a secular democracy has to be independent of parliament. The justice system is meant to be independent of state machinery and should not be influenced by state operatives.

However, in Sri Lanka the parliament overrules and effectively instructs how the justice system should act which in turn makes the whole system corrupt and not fit for purpose.

The country has huge numbers of legal eagles with more qualifications than they have had hot dinners and who know the finer points of the law better than most in the world.

However, they are rendered impotent and toothless because they are beholden to the political masters they serve – either through choice or otherwise.

The corrosive and toxic nature of a feudal culture which promotes false values over merit and the rule of law ensures even the greatest minds of the land are reduced to corrupt sycophantic nodding ponies.

The legal system in Sri Lanka is also an organised money printing racket where the ordinary citizen or client is entirely at the mercy of the corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Those who operate within the system make the equivalent of monopoly money by effectively fleecing the unsuspecting and manipulating a system that is not fit for purpose.

As I write this , the elected leader of the country whose policies and incompetence were the catalyst for the economic meltdown, has fled overseas – the ultimate ” runner viruwa ” !

The man appointed as the acting leader of the nation is one whose party has a single seat in parliament – his own ! And that too not due to electoral votes but due to a corrupt system which enables ” grace and favour ” appointments to parliament.

Such is the abyss that Sri Lanka is in.

What truly beggars belief is that there are millions in the country who still believe that this corrupt rotten s–t show of a system can still be tweaked here and there and made to work.

It cannot and the saddest reality of all this is that millions of Sri Lankans will still cling to their delusional sense of self-importance and righteousness and even at this point where mass starvation is a real possibility, carry on repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

A country whose majority population follows the teachings of one of the greatest philosophers the world has known, is simply incapable of understanding some of the most basic lessons the great sage from Lumbini taught – honesty, integrity, introspection, reflection and truth !

If however, a NEW set of leaders with competence, honesty and integrity, whose primary purpose is to serve the people, can be found within parliament, within the Aragalaya movement , within the commercial sector or a combination of individuals from all three , there is still hope for Sri Lanka.

If however the same corrupt incompetent rotten thieves who still occupy positions of huge powers are allowed to maintain the status quo , the failed state that is Sri Lanka will descent into complete anarchy and bloodshed.

At the end of all that, arising out of the ashes, there will be a breakaway part of the country ………called Eelam !!!!!!!!

Charles Seevali Abeysekera, a semi-retired sales and marketing professional, has worked in the UK mailing industry for over 35 years. He also scribes a blog on current affairs as well as reflections and thoughts on his own life journey “

IPS UN Bureau

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