Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Turkey: Independent monitors must be allowed to access detainees amid torture allegations

Amnesty International has gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centres in the country.

The organization is calling for independent monitors to be given immediate access to detainees in all facilities in the wake of the coup attempt, which include police headquarters, sports centres and courthouses. More than 10,000 people have been detained since the failed coup.

Continue reading Turkey: Independent monitors must be allowed to access detainees amid torture allegations

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Hungary erects border fence to plug migrant flow

Hungarian Defence Force prepared to begin border fence construction Photo: Gergely BOTÁR/Prime Minister’s Office

In a dry clearing of woodland in southern Hungary, there is the drone of wood-chippers and rumble of earth movers. Dozens of men are clearing the ground for what Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, believes will be a solution to the country’s worsening migration crisis: a 175km steel and barbed wire fence along its flank with Serbia.

More than 80,000 migrants have crossed this stretch of land into Hungary — and the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone — so far this year, placing the country on the route of a trail that begins as far away as the fields of Kunduz in Afghanistan and the bombed-out streets of Aleppo in Syria.

But Hungary’s Balkan borderlands are now set to become the choke point for what has become Europe’s most heavily travelled migration route. Many expect the €20m fence — which should be finished by November — to trap thousands in neighbouring countries such as Serbia and Macedonia, where migrants say they face police violence and extortion.

The fence has attracted criticism from migrant rights groups, the UN’s refugee agency and the European Commission. Serbia’s government, which was not notified of the plans in advance, reacted with alarm to the decision to seal the border but has pledged to boost border security co-operation.

“I am not sure whether the fence between Serbia and Hungary will help that country protect itself against mass influx of asylum seekers,” said Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s minister of the interior. “However, we cannot interfere with decisions of neighbouring countries that are within their exclusive competence.”

Mr Orban, who has linked unmanaged immigration to terrorism, insists border security is a national obligation. But since the plan to build the fence was announced, the numbers detected crossing the border have only increased, sometimes reaching more than 1,500 a day.

Even though the vast majority of those have left to try to reach Germany and other more prosperous countries, daily arrivals are straining Hungary.

The surge has become especially noticeable outside train and bus stations in towns such as Szeged in the country’s south, where city authorities have set up a makeshift help centre complete with fresh water taps, stocks of sandwiches and power sockets for migrants to charge their phones.

But not all are so welcoming. Anti-immigrant vigilantes have begun patrols along the border, in search of migrants who have escaped the attention of border police who use heat-seeking cameras, dogs and sometimes helicopters to monitor the area.

Hungary border fence map Migration
Local police say many of the migrants they round up are reported by local residents and farmers.

Just a few kilometres away, on the other side of the planned fence, dozens of Afghan migrants appear at an abandoned brick factory near the town of Subotica to receive food from Pastor Tibor Varga, who runs the Eastern European Mission, a Christian charity.

“I don’t know what will happen with this fence; I don’t think it will help Hungary stop the situation. It may mean more people being trapped here in Serbia and I don’t know how that will end,” says Pastor Varga.

One of the men at the factory, which migrants call “the jungle”, is Muhammed Bilal, a network engineer, who says he left Kunduz in Afghanistan because of violent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis.

Mr Bilal and his friend Tlha Jan from Jalalabad have travelled for more than a month in the hope of reaching Germany. Mr Jan says Bulgarian police stole his phone and $500 in cash before breaking his ribs and beating his feet with hammers. His toes are black and swollen.

“Now our journey has gotten more dangerous,” says Mr Bilal. “This morning, a person told us the Hungarian government plans to make a fence along the border. But that takes time; we will get across in the next few days.” he adds.

Hungarian ministers say the country has less than 3,000 residential places for asylum seekers, while the number arriving this year alone is more than 20 times that figure.

Very few applications for asylum are completed as most abscond to continue their journey. Lawmakers in Budapest last week approved measures that could see asylum applicants pushed back to neighbouring countries such as Serbia.

But Amnesty International has warned that illegal migrants deported from Hungary face multiple human rights violations in Balkan countries.

Although the new rules and the planned fence have yet to stem the flow of migrants, observers say the government’s rhetoric has hardened the public’s attitude towards migrants.

A recent poll commissioned by conservative magazine Heti Válasz, showed 63 per cent of respondents believe immigration poses a threat to Hungary’s security.

Opinion polls also indicate another trend: since Mr Orban announced the planned border fence, support levels for his governing Fidesz party have risen at the expense of the radical rightwing Jobbik party, ending an eight-month trend of declining approval ratings.

Ukraine: Overwhelming new evidence of prisoners being tortured and killed amid conflict

Overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes, including torture and summary killings of prisoners, serve as a stark reminder of the brutal practices being committed on a near-daily basis in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.

The 36-page report – Breaking Bodies: Torture and summary killings in eastern Ukraine – provides compelling evidence of frequent and widespread prisoner abuse by a broad range of captors on both sides of the conflict.

Former prisoners described being beaten until their bones broke, tortured with electric shocks, kicked, stabbed, hung from the ceiling, deprived of sleep for days, threatened with death, denied urgent medical care and subjected to mock executions.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, said:

“In the shadow of eastern Ukraine’s still smouldering conflict, our on-the-ground research shows that accounts of detainee torture are as commonplace as they are shocking. More than 30 former prisoners held by both sides gave us consistent and harrowing accounts of their captors’ abuse.

“Prisoners on both sides have been beaten and subjected to mock executions. We have also documented summary killings of those held by separatist groups. It is a war crime to torture or deliberately kill captives taken during conflict.

“Pro-Kiev and separatist forces alike must put an end to these crimes and ensure that all fighters under their control are aware of the consequences under international law of abusing prisoners amid an armed conflict. The Ukrainian authorities must investigate all allegations of war crimes and other abuses, open files and collect evidence of abuses by separatist forces and bring to justice all those responsible for perpetrating such heinous acts.”

FILE - Armed pro-Russian separatists escort a column of Ukrainian prisoners of war in central Donetsk, Ukraine in 2014.

Out of 33 former prisoners interviewed by Amnesty, 32 described severe beatings or other serious abuse being meted out by separatist and pro-Kiev groups. All of them were held captive at some point between July last year and April this year. Amnesty conducted most of the interviews in March, April and May of this year.

Amnesty corroborated the victims’ testimonies against additional evidence, including x-rays of broken bones, hospital records, photographs of bruises and other injuries, scars, and missing teeth. Two of the victims were still nursing their wounds in hospital at the time of their interviews.

Of the former prisoners Amnesty interviewed, 17 had been held by separatists and 16 by pro-Kiev military and law enforcement officials, including the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

Amnesty has also identified at least three recent incidents where separatist fighters summarily killed at least eight pro-Kiev fighters. This is based on eyewitness testimony, hospital records, evidence posted on social networks and media reports. In an interview with a journalist, one separatist armed group leader openly admitted to killing captive Ukrainian soldiers, which is a war crime.

Most of the worst abuses take place in informal places of detention. This typically occurs during the initial days of captivity, and groups outside the official or de facto chain of command tend to be especially violent and lawless.

The situation on the separatist side is particularly chaotic, with a variety of different groups holding captives in at least a dozen known locations.

On the pro-Kiev side, a report by a former prisoner held by Right Sector, a nationalist militia, was especially disturbing. Using an abandoned youth camp as an ad hoc prison, Right Sector has reportedly held dozens of civilian prisoners as hostages, brutally torturing them and extorting large amounts of money from them and their families. Amnesty has alerted the Ukrainian authorities to these specific allegations but has not received a response.

Amnesty has found that both sides are arbitrarily holding civilians who have not committed any crime, but who sympathize with the opposing side. The organisation spoke to civilians who were detained and beaten merely for having photographs from the EuroMaydan protests on their mobile phones, or for having telephone numbers of separatist contacts.

John Dalhuisen said:

“In some cases, these civilians are detained as currency for prisoner exchanges, but it also may be simply to punish them for their views. This is a disturbing and illegal practice that must be stopped immediately.”

Amnesty is calling on relevant UN agencies and experts to undertake an urgent mission to Ukraine to visit all detention sites for prisoners held in connection with the conflict – including unofficial places of detention.

Those that should take part include the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Working Groups on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, and the Special Rapporteur on torture.

Amnesty releases anti-spying program for activists

Webcam

Amnesty International has released a program that can spot spying software used by governments to monitor activists and political opponents.

The Detekt software was needed as standard anti-virus programs often missed spying software, it said.

Amnesty said many governments used sophisticated spying tools that could grab images from webcams or listen via microphones to monitor people.

It wants to see more regulation of the spying software used by governments.

“These spying tools are marketed on their ability to get round your bog-standard anti-virus,” said Tanya O’Carroll, an adviser on technology and human rights at Amnesty International.

The makers of spying software did extensive testing to ensure that the way they infected and lurked on a computer did not trigger security alerts, she added.

You can download the software from HERE

Free of charge

Detekt has been developed over the past two years to spot the few telltale signs spying programs do leave. The intense scan it carries out on a hard drive means a computer cannot be used while Detekt is running.

Four separate rights groups – Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International and Digitale Gesellschaft – have worked together to create the spyware spotter, which is available free of charge.

The group is now looking for help to keep Detekt up to date and expand the range of spying programs it can catch.

The first version of Detekt has been written to run on Windows computers because the people most often being monitored use that software, said Ms O’Carroll.

Many repressive governments had been using spying software for some time and the programs were becoming increasingly popular with democratically elected governments too, said Ms Carroll. Spying software has been found on the computers of activists in Bahrain, Syria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Germany, Tibet, North Korea and many other nations.

“It’s easier to name the countries that are not using these spying tools than those that are,” she said.

The trade in spyware used by governments is now a market worth about £3bn ($5bn) a year, said Ms O’Carroll, adding it was time for this trade to be better regulated.

Prof Alan Woodward from the University of Surrey, who advises governments on security issues, wondered how easy it would be for Amnesty and its partners to maintain Detekt.

“It’s not really their core business,” he said. “Are they going to keep updating the software because the spyware variants change daily?”

He also questioned how useful it would be against regimes that used specially written software rather than commercial versions that were well known and documented.

“If a technique is known about widely, those regimes will assume it’s going to be ineffective and use another approach,” he said.

Hidden code

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un Kim Jong-un’s North Korea has been accused of using spyware to keep an eye on critics

Claudio Guarnieri, the German security researcher who created Detekt, said there was a growing roster of firms producing spying software.

“People think the uses of spyware by governments are isolated cases. They are not,” Mr Guarnieri told the BBC. “Their discovery is isolated.

“Spyware is becoming the final solution for surveillance operations to overcome encryption.

“The real problem is nobody really asked the public whether that’s acceptable and some countries are legitimising their use without considering the consequences and inherent issues.”

‘Strength in numbers’

The software is spread in booby-trapped attachments on email messages, by seeding malware on compromised sites or with fake messaging software, said Mr Guarnieri.

Karl Zetterlund, a senior researcher at security firm Sentor, said the needs of law enforcement were understandably different to those of the average cyberthief.

“Criminals are mainly interested in information that can somehow generate money. Law enforcement spyware may only need to collect a few pieces of identifying information, such as a net address, from the computer,” he said.

“Generally, policeware may be better at hiding, as normal malware often aims for strength in numbers and spreading is more important than passing under the radar.”

There had also been cases in the past, he said, when computer security companies collaborated with governments to ignore spyware they found planted on machines.

British-Iranian woman given one-year jail term for attending men’s volleyball

Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman who was arrested in Tehran after trying to attend a men’s volleyball match, has been sentenced to one year in jail. Amnesty International has called the ruling “appalling.”

 

A court in the Iranian capital of Tehran handed down a one-year jail sentence to a British-Iranian woman, her lawyer said on Sunday.

Ghoncheh Ghavami, a 25-year-old law gradute from London, England, was first arrested on June 20 at Azadi or “Freedom” Stadium in Tehran, after attempting to attend a men’s volleyball match between Iran and Italy.

Women are banned from attending male-only matches in Iran. According to human rights organization Amnesty International, Ghavami tried to enter the stadium with around a dozen other women in protest against the ban.

ghavami2 3041630b

 

Female photographers inside the complex were also ordered to leave, though none were arrested. Iranian officials claim the ban is to protect women from lewd behavior among male fans.

Ghavami was released within just a few hours, only to be re-arrested days later.

According to her family, Ghavami spent at least 41 day in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin prison before going on trial last month. Amnesty international said Ghavami also began a two-week hunger strike over her detention.

Her lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, who has not been allowed to visit his client, said the court has found Ghavami guilty of “propagating against the ruling system.”

British-Iranian, Ghoncheh Ghavami

‘Prisoner of conscience’

The British Foreign Office said on Sunday that it had “concerns about the grounds for this prosecution, due process during the trial and Miss Ghavami’s treatment whilst in custody.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron had previously raised Ghavami’s case with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in September at the UN Gerneral Assembly in New York, where he underlined “the impact that such cases had on iran’s image in the UK.”

Amnesty International has also voiced outrage over Ghavami’s sentence, calling the court judgment “appalling.” Kate Allen, the rights group’s director for Britain said,

“It’s an outrage that a young woman is being locked up simply for peacefully having her say about how women are discriminated against in Iran,” the Amnesty director for Britain, Kate Allen, describing Ghavami as a “prisoner of conscience.”

Allen called on Iranian authorities to quash the sentence, demanding Ghavami’s immediate and unconditional release.

Volleyball World Cup in Poland

International outrage

A Facebook page demanding Ghavami’s release has also gained more than 22,500 “likes” since the page was created on September 6.

Prior to her jail sentence, protesters had demanded Ghavami’s release at the Volleyball World Cup in poland in September, with many carrying banners and placards reading slogans such as, “Goncheh only wanted to watch volleyball” and “Let Iranian women in the stadium.”

Iran’s treatment of political prisoners, women and religious minorities has come under fire on several occasions recently. Just last week, several diplomats at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva condemned the arrests and harassment of journalists, forced confessions and lack of access to fair trials in the country.

Russia: A year on, Putin’s ‘foreign agents law’ choking freedom

The “foreign agents law” is part of a raft of repressive legislation brought in since Putin’s return to the presidency.

A restrictive “foreign agents law” adopted a year ago is choking independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia, Amnesty International said today.

“One year after came into force, the record of the foreign agents law is a grim one. More than a thousand NGOs have been inspected and dozens have received warnings. Several of the most prominent human rights groups have been fined and some forced to close,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.

The “foreign agents law” is at the centre of a raft of repressive legislation that has been brought in since Putin’s return to the presidency.

Putyin demokráciát aláásó intézkedései ellen tiltakozó aktivistát állítanak elő Moszkvában, még 2007-ben. (ALEXANDER MEMENOV / AFP)

Enacted by the Russian authorities on 21 November 2012, it requires any NGO receiving foreign funding and engaging in what it defines very loosely as “political activity” to register as an “organization performing the functions of a foreign agent”.

It has a wide reach affecting NGOs working on civil and political, social and economic rights, as well as environmental issues and discrimination, including against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

As the Winter Olympic Games to be held in the Russian city of Sochi approach, Amnesty International’s members and supporters from around the world are campaigning to highlight Russia’s increasingly deplorable human rights record.

“The ‘foreign agents law’ was designed to stigmatise and discredit NGOs engaged in human rights, election monitoring and other critical work. It is providing a perfect pretext for fining and closing critical organisations and will cut often vital funding streams,” said John Dalhuisen.

Tüntetés New Yorkban. Hasonlót Moszkvában nehéz lenne elképzelni (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Russian NGOs have unanimously and vocally refused to be branded “foreign agents”. The unannounced mass “inspections” of some 1,000 organizations during the spring and autumn of 2013 were widely publicized by media aligned with the Russian authorities.

The “inspections” were followed by persecution of several NGOs and their leaders through administrative proceedings and the courts, and more cases are expected to follow.

The team of election watchdog Golos (“Voice”) decided to disband their organization after the law was used to impose hefty fines on them and suspend their work for several months. They tried in vain to challenge the punitive measure in court before giving up.

One year after came into force, the record of the foreign agents law is a grim one. More than a thousand NGOs have been inspected and dozens have received warnings. Several of the most prominent human rights groups have been fined and some forced to close. – John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.

 

The Kostroma Centre for Support of Public Initiatives suffered the same fate and closed because it could not pay the huge fine imposed on it.

Egy nem engedélyezett tüntetés résztvevőit viszik el a rendőrök 2012 decemberében Moszkvában (AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)

The LGBTI film festival Bok o Bok (“Side by side”) paid the fine and closed down. It had officially ceased to exist by the time it won its appeal and could no longer claim the money back.

This week alone, five Moscow-based NGOs, Memorial, Public Verdict, “For Human Rights” movement, Jurix and Golos, were in court trying to fend off the pressure exerted on them by the authorities’ under the so-called “foreign agents law”.

Court hearings on their cases have been postponed; numerous other NGOs across Russia have been in court since April for the same reason.

“If we have to close down, thousands of people across Russia will suffer. If other NGOs are forced to close down – tens of thousands will suffer. Civil society will be doomed. – Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the Russia-wide movement “For Human Rights””

Graffiti Moszkvában, 2013-ban (VLADIMIR ASTAPKOVICH / RIA NOVOSTI)

Since the “foreign agents law” came into being:

•        At least 10 NGOs have been taken to court by the Russian authorities for failing to register as an “organization performing the functions of a foreign agent”.

•        At least five other NGOs across Russia have been taken to court following the “inspections” for purported administrative violations such as the failure to present requested documents.

•        At least 10 Russian NGO leaders have been ordered to comply with the “foreign agents law”.

•        And at least 37 NGOs have been officially warned that they will be in violation of the law if they continue to receive foreign funding and engage in arbitrarily defined “political activities”. This includes publishing online materials on human rights in Russia and not registering as “foreign agents”.

(ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

Russian NGO leaders have told Amnesty International about their frustrations with the law.

The rights group “Alliance of Women of the Don” advises local people on issues affecting their everyday lives – family, labour, housing, pensions. The organisation is facing a court case next week for refusing to register as a “foreign agent”.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of and we have nothing to feel guilty for. We are proud of our work. The closure of our organization will affect so many people,” said Valentina Cherevatenko, leader of the Alliance.

Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the Russia-wide movement “For Human Rights” told Amnesty International: “If we have to close down, thousands of people across Russia will suffer. If other NGOs are forced to close down – tens of thousands will suffer. Civil society will be doomed.”

“The ‘foreign agents law’ violates Russia’s national and international obligations to safeguard the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression.  It should be repealed immediately,” said John Dalhuisen.

Ukraine: Mounting evidence of war crimes and Russian involvement

This image shows six probable 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzers pointed southwest.
This image shows six probable 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzers pointed southwest.

Ukrainian militia and separatist forces are responsible for war crimes, Amnesty International said today. The organisation accused Russia of fuelling separatist crimes as it revealedsatellite images indicating a build-up of Russian armour and artillery in eastern Ukraine.

Despite a fragile cease-fire, the situation on the ground remains fraught with danger and Amnesty International calls on all parties, including Russia, to stop violations of the laws of war. 

“All sides in this conflict have shown disregard for civilian lives and are blatantly violating their international obligations,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, who travels to Kyiv and Moscow in the coming days.

 

“Our evidence shows that Russia is fuelling the conflict, both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the East. Russia must stop the steady flow of weapons and other support to an insurgent force heavily implicated in gross human rights violations.”

Amnesty International researchers on the ground in eastern Ukraine have documented incidents of indiscriminate shelling, abductions, torture, and killings.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the fighting in Ukraine, but satellite imagery and testimony gathered by the organization provide compelling evidence that the fighting has burgeoned into what Amnesty International now considers an international armed conflict. 

Our evidence shows that Russia is fuelling the conflict, both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the East.- Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty

The images show new artillery positions being established just inside the Ukrainian border between 13 and 29 August, including what appear to be 122-mm Howitzer D-30 artillery units in firing positions pointed toward the west. Two of the positions have a support vehicle and what looks like bunkers. On 29 August, six armoured amphibious vehicles (likely BRDM-2s) can be seen.

Another similar artillery position can be seen in a field northeast of the first, also within Ukrainian territory. Imagery from 26 August 2014 shows six relatively advanced self-propelled howitzers (likely 2S19 Msta-S 152-mm) in firing positions facing southwest at Ukrainian army locations.

Between 26 and 29 August 2014 the artillery has been moved into a west facing firing position still within Ukraine. On August 29 the imagery shows what look like numerous military vehicles in the area along the tree line and in the neighboring field.

“These satellite images, coupled with reports of Russian troops captured inside Ukraine and eyewitness accounts of Russian troops and military vehicles rolling across the border, leave no doubt that this is now an international armed conflict,” said Shetty.

 

Amnesty International researchers on the ground in eastern Ukraine interviewed eyewitnesses fleeing from fighting near Alechevsk, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Krasny Luch, Lisichansk, Lugansk, Rubeznoe, Pervomaisk and Slovyansk. Researchers also interviewed Ukrainian refugees in the Rostov region of Russia.

Civilians from these areas told Amnesty International that the Ukrainian government forces subjected their neighbourhoods to heavy shelling. Their testimonies suggest that the attacks were indiscriminate and may amount to war crimes. Witnesses also said that separatist fighters abducted, tortured, and killed their neighbours.

In an illustrative incident, residents of Slovyansk told Amnesty International that separatist fighters kidnapped a local pastor, two of his sons and two churchgoers, and requested a US$50,000 ransom for their release. By the time the local community managed to collect the requested ransom, the witnesses said, the captors had killed all of the men.  

Amnesty International has also received credible reports of abductions and beatings carried out by volunteer battalions operating alongside regular Ukrainian armed forces.

For example, on 23 August a security guard in Oleksandrivka, Luhansk region was seized by several dozen armed men who arrived in vehicles flying Ukrainian flags. At least one was marked “Battalion Aidar” (a militia group operating in the Luhansk region).

Witnesses said his captors accused him of collaborating with separatists, beat him with rifle butts and held him incommunicado until 27 August, when his family were informed he was being held in another town, in the local office of Ukraine’s state security service.

Amnesty International is calling on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct an effective investigation into allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and bring to justice individuals responsible for war crimes. Commanders and civilian leaders may also be prosecuted for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility if they knew or should have known about the crimes and failed to prevent them or punish those responsible.

“Civilians in Ukraine deserve protection and justice,” Salil Shetty said.

 

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