Tuesday, December 4, 2012

4 Middle East Stories and 1 African

Petitioners urged to act now against Uganda's 'death to gays' bill

By staff writers
23 Nov 2012

The Ugandan Parliament is set to pass a brutal law that could carry the death penalty for homosexuality, and campaigners are lobbying hard against it.

After a massive global outcry last year, Ugandan President Museveni blocked the bill's progress in the country's parliament.

But political unrest is mounting in Uganda, and religious extremists are hoping confusion and violence in the streets will distract the international community from a second push to pass what is being described as "a hate-filled law."

The critical time is the next 24 hours, human rights activists said yesterday afternoon (22 November 2012).
"Being gay in Uganda is already dangerous and terrifying," they explain. "LGBT Ugandans are regularly harassed and beaten, and just last year gay rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered in his own home."

Kato was a Christian. But sadly many church leaders in Uganda are either colluding with or remaining silent about the bill. There has also been a massive, community based misinformation campaign across the country, associating homosexuality with a whole range of heinous behaviours.

The draconian law which could impose life imprisonment for people convicted of same-sex relations, and the death penalty for “serial offenders”. Even NGOs working to prevent the spread of HIV can be imprisoned for activities deemed “promoting homosexuality”, which effectively means any support or work with LGBT people.

Uganda is currently in political turmoil, missing millions of aid money in a way that has embroiled the parliament in scandal. Anti-gay campaigners have perceived in this situation the ideal chance to slip in the shelved anti-homosexuality bill, dubbing it a "Christmas gift" to Ugandans.

Last time, an international petition condemning the gay death penalty law was delivered to the Ugandan parliament – spurring a global news story and enough pressure to block the bill for months.

When a tabloid newspaper published 100 names, pictures and addresses, of suspected gays and those identified were threatened, petition group Avaaz supported a legal case against the paper and won.

"Together we have stood up, time and time again, for Uganda’s gay community. Now they need us more than ever," declared Avaaz yesterday.

* International petition: 

Yemen conflict a 'human rights disaster', says report

By agency reporter
4 Dec 2012

A raft of gross and deeply disturbing abuses committed by an al-Qa’ida affiliate and Yemeni government forces during their struggle for the control of the southern region of Abyan in 2011 and 2012 must be the subject of impartial, thorough and independent inquiries, Amnesty International said in a new report out today.

Conflict in Yemen: Abyan’s Darkest Hour documents violations of the rules of war during the armed conflict between government forces and Ansar al-Shari’a (Partisans of al-Shari’a), an Islamist armed group affiliated to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

It also details horrific human rights abuses committed in the governorate of Abyan and other areas in the south of Yemen during the rule of the Islamist group between February 2011 and June 2012, including public summary killings, crucifixion, amputation and flogging.

“Abyan experienced a human rights catastrophe as Ansar al-Shari’a and government forces vied for control of the region during 2011 and the first half of 2012,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

”The Yemeni authorities must ensure that a commission of inquiry announced in September 2012 covers the truly shocking abuses committed. The tragedy of Abyan will haunt Yemen for decades to come unless those responsible are held to account and victims and their families receive reparations.”

Ansar al-Shari’a rapidly established control of the small city of Ja’ar in the governorate of Abyan in early 2011, at a time when the Yemeni authorities were brutally repressing protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit.

The armed group successfully attacked government forces and officials, looted banks and seized ammunition, heavy weapons and other military equipment from abandoned Yemeni military and police stations.
It quickly gained territory and by mid-2011 it controlled most towns and villages in Abyan, including the governorate’s capital, Zinjibar.

During its rule, it was responsible for widespread and disturbing human rights abuses including via 'religious courts', set up as part of the organisation’s governing structure. These frequently imposed cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments on alleged criminals, suspected spies working against Ansar al-Shari’a and people who transgressed cultural norms, including summary killings, amputations and floggings.

Saleh Ahmed Saleh al-Jamli, 28, was found guilty by a 'religious court' in Ja’ar of planting two electronic devices in two vehicles carrying Ansar al-Shari’a commanders.

The ruling obtained by Amnesty International said the devices had enabled US drones to kill the commanders in Zinjibar and claimed Saleh al-Jamli “confessed” to a judicial committee.

The 'religious court' ruled that Saleh al-Jamli be killed, and his remains crucified.

Amnesty International was also able to confirm that Ansar al-Shari’a had amputated the hand of at least one person suspected of theft – a young man the organisation met whose left hand had been amputated between June and September 2011 in a public square in Ja’ar.

He was arrested along with a couple of his friends by members of the armed group who accused them of stealing electric wires. The friends were eventually released. The youth, who is a member of a marginalised community widely referred to as al-akhdam (servants), said that his hand was amputated after he was tortured for five days without access to a lawyer or his family, without attending trial and without prior knowledge of the punishment.

Residents told Amnesty International that the amputated hand was suspended by a rope in the town’s market for all to see.

As these events were taking place Ansar al-Shari’a sought to tighten its grip on power through threats, intimidation and the enforcement of a highly repressive social and religious code.

The rights of women and girls in particular came under attack and severe dress codes were imposed, as was a strict separation of the sexes and restrictions at work and in schools.

A schoolteacher told Amnesty International that Ansar al-Shari’a had one female representative for each school to supervise the implementation of the armed group’s instructions.

Almost immediately after Ansar al-Shari’a took control of Abyan and extended its reach to other areas in the south, the Yemeni military launched several attacks to regain control, culminating in a major offensive on 12 May using air power and artillery. By the end of June 2012, government forces succeeded in driving the group out of Abyan and surrounding areas.

The toxic mix of fighting and human rights abuses meant an estimated 250,000 people from the southern governorates, particularly Abyan, were displaced.

Ansar al-Shari’a meanwhile used residential areas as its base, particularly in Ja’ar, recklessly exposing civilian residents to harm.

Scores of civilians, including children, were killed and many more injured as a result of air strikes and artillery and mortar attacks by government forces.

Yemeni government forces used inappropriate battlefield weapons such as artillery in civilian residential areas. In other attacks government forces appeared to fail to take necessary precautions to spare civilians.
While Ansar al-Shari’a were driven out of the cities and towns they controlled in June 2012, there remains a danger the group will re-emerge and that the armed conflict will resume.

This report is based on the findings of an Amnesty International fact-finding mission to Yemen in June and July 2012. Amnesty International interviewed residents, activists, journalists, witnesses, victims and relatives of victims from Abyan governorate, mainly in Aden and Ja’ar, and visited areas affected by the conflict, including Ja’ar, Zinjibar and al-Kawd.

Outrage at plans for military base on Mount of Olives

By staff writers
2 Dec 2012

Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular commentators have condemned plans by the Israeli government to build a military base on the Mount of Olives.

The area, which includes the site at which Jesus is believed to have been arrested, has sacred and historical significance in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is also in East Jerusalem, Palestinian land that is occupied by the Israeli army.

According to the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, the building will cover 42,000 square metres and house colleges for training Israeli soldiers. Israeli citizens have until mid-December to object to the plans, although momentum is building for an international campaign.

Israel's Ministry of the Interior declared, “The site that was eventually chosen is the optimal one, in view of its proximity to the university on the one hand and the possibility to contribute to the life of the city on the other”.
But Hagit Ofran of the Israeli group Peace Now insisted, “The location, at one of the most sensitive and disputed areas in Jerusalem, is a little more than provocative”.

She added, “One can’t think of Mount of Olives as real estate. It is important for the three monotheistic religions.”

At the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested prior to his crucifixion by the Roman imperial authorities. According to Luke's Gospel, the Mount of Olives was also the site of Jesus' final meeting with his disciples before his ascent to heaven.

There has been a Jewish cemetery on the Mount for over 3,000 years. A number of Jews have chosen to be buried in it in the belief that the resurrection of the dead will begin there when the Messiah comes.

Within Islamic teaching, a thin bridge will connect the Mount of Olives and the Haram A-Sharif (the Dome of the Rock mosque) at the end of days.

Ofran said, “On top of all this holiness, the Mount of Olives is under dispute between us and the Palestinians, and we will have to solve this dispute only through an agreement. Bringing the military academy to this spot is quite insensitive and if I may add, not so smart, of our government.”

Israeli peace campaigners have accused their government of fast-tracking the planning process for political reasons.

Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specialising in conflict resolution, said, “I have received a number of phone calls from foreign governments saying, ‘What can you possibly be thinking? You are engaged in an act of self-ostracism.'”.

British Quaker Hannah Brock, who has previously worked on human rights issues in Bethlehem, has worked with other campaigners to set up a petition calling on the Israeli government not to go ahead with the plans.
She points out that the site is on occupied land, and adds that she would oppose a military base by any army or government on such a sacred and sensitive site.

She told Ekklesia, “A military college is yet another poignant and potent reminder of the militarisation and militarism of this 'Holy Land': the threats of violence, the visibility of machines that can hurt, maim and kill people, and the willingness to use them. The contrast in this place where Jesus was gathered up to heaven couldn't be more stark.”

The petition against the plan can be found at A paper version of the petition can be printed at

Palestine upgrade 'brings obligations under international law'

By agency reporter
1 Dec 2012

Palestine's historic recognition as a non-member observer state of the United Nations brings with it obligations under international law, Amnesty International says.

The vote at the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday was decided by 138 votes in favour, 41 abstentions, and nine against.

Palestine is in a position to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other human rights and international humanitarian law treaties, bolstering accountability for human rights violations and crimes under international law.

"This would open the door for victims of human rights abuses to seek justice and empower them to claim their rights," said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
“In particular, it should advance efforts to ensure international justice for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by all sides in the 2008-2009 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.

"Palestine should promptly accede to the Rome Statute affirming that it accepts the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed since 1 July 2002. It should also accede to related treaties and agreements.

"The victims who suffered during the 2008-2009 conflict have waited too long for justice. Palestine should act quickly to ensure justice is no longer delayed," said Ms Brown.

Amnesty says it is concerned at reports that several states, including the United Kingdom and the USA, put pressure on Palestinian diplomats to renounce accountability mechanisms for crimes under international law.
“Victims’ access to justice is not something to be bartered away,” declared Ms Brown.

“This attitude is particularly alarming in light of reported violations of international humanitarian law committed in Gaza and Israel during recent hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups.”

Amnesty International has condemned the continuing failure by both the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza and by Israel to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations of suspected crimes committed during the 2008-2009 conflict.

The international human rights NGO has repeatedly urged Israel to lift completely its blockade on Gaza, which imposes a collective punishment on more than 1.4 million Palestinians in clear violation of international law.
"Withholding money or resources will exacerbate the humanitarian situation,” said Ms Brown. “Under international law, Israel, as the occupying power, is forbidden from using collective punishment and is responsible for the welfare of those occupied.”

In January 2009, in the aftermath of the 22-day conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, the Palestinian Authority submitted a declaration invoking Article 12 (3) of the Rome Statute to the ICC stating that it recognized the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes under international law committed during this armed conflict with the intention of enabling the Office of the Prosecutor to conduct a preliminary examination of those crimes.

On 3 April 2012, the Office of the Prosecutor concluded that it was unable to proceed with investigating and prosecuting these crimes unless the relevant UN bodies (in particular, the Secretary General and General Assembly) or the ICC Assembly of States Parties (made up of 121 states that have ratified the Rome Statute) decide that Palestine qualifies as a state within the meaning of the provision under which the Palestinian Authority had lodged the declaration.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called for the UN General Assembly to refer the Fact-Finding Mission’s report on the 2008-2009 Gaza-Israeli conflict to the UN Security Council so that it could consider referring that situation to the Prosecutor of the ICC to investigate crimes under international law committed by both sides.

Egypt’s new constitution limits freedoms and ignores rights of women

By staff writers
2 Dec 2012

The draft constitution approved by Egypt’s Constituent Assembly poses serious human rights problems, a number of NGOs have said.

Criticism has come from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others over the past 24 hours.

The draft falls well short of protecting human rights and, in particular, ignores the rights of women, restricts freedom of expression in the name of protecting religion, and allows for the military trial of civilians, Amnesty said on 30 November 2012.

“This document, and the manner in which it has been adopted, will come as an enormous disappointment to many of the Egyptians who took to the streets to oust Hosni Mubarak and demand their rights,” commented Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Freedom of religion is limited to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, potentially excluding the right to worship to other religious minorities such as Baha’is and Shi’a Muslims.

The constitution fails to provide for the supremacy of international law over national law, raising concerns about Egypt’s commitment to human rights treaties to which it is a state party.

Furthermore, the document fails to fully guarantee economic, social and cultural rights, such as protection against forced evictions - it also tolerates child labour.

Paradoxically demands for dignity and social justice were at the heart of the '25 January Revolution'.

“The process of drafting the constitution was flawed from the outset, and has become increasingly unrepresentative. We urge President Morsi to put the drafting and referendum process back on the right path, one that includes all sectors of society, which respects the rule of law – including the vital role of an independent judiciary – and results in a constitution that enshrines human rights, equality and dignity for all,” said Hadj Sahraoui.

Amnesty has expressed concern that the assembly - widely boycotted by opposition political parties and Christian churches - is not truly representative of Egyptian society. The body is dominated by the Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party. At the outset, the assembly only included seven women and their numbers have since dwindled.

Opposition political parties have withdrawn their members from the assembly, as have Christian churches, in protest at the assembly’s make-up and decisions.

They have voiced a number of concerns, including the lack of representation of young people, of a variety political parties, and the role Shari’a law has played – including in respect of women’s rights.

The assembly also faced criticism for not doing enough to enshrine the right to adequate housing – a key concern for the estimated 12 million Egyptians living in slums.

A decree issued last week by President Morsi gave the Constituent Assembly an additional two months to complete its work. However on Wednesday the body announced that it would finalise the text in a day. Yesterday, the draft was rushed through a plenary session of the assembly, with no time for real debate or objections from the members.

“The new constitution will guide all Egyptian institutions and it should set out the vision for the new Egypt – one based on human rights and the rule of law: a document which is the ultimate guarantor against abuse. The constitution must guarantee the rights of all Egyptians, not just the majority.” said Hadj Sahraoui.

“But the approved draft comes nowhere near this. Provisions that purport to protect rights mask new restrictions, including on criticism of religion. Women, who were barely represented in the assembly, have the most to lose from a constitution which ignores their aspirations, and blocks the path to equality between men and women. It is appalling that virtually the only references to women relate to the home and family.”

When asked about the lack of women’s rights in the draft constitution yesterday in a state television interview, President Morsi said women were citizens like all others. The President’s position mirrors the approach of the Constituent Assembly in ignoring the rights of women.

The vote to approve the constitution came ahead of a 2 December ruling on the assembly’s legitimacy by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which was widely expected to order the body’s dissolution.

President Morsi’s decree, which was announced on 22 November, prevents any judicial body from dissolving the assembly.

The decree, which also removed the Public Prosecutor, granted the president sweeping powers and stopped the courts from challenging his decisions, has sparked widespread anger and protests in Egypt.

Opposition groups plan to march to the presidential palace today (Friday), while the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a protest to support the President on Saturday.

The draft constitution now passes to a national referendum which must take place within 15 days. Any such referendum would require supervision by judges but Egypt’s Judges Club, an independent network of judges numbering some 9,500 members, has announced that its members will not take part.

Judges throughout the country are striking in protest at President Morsi’s decree, which they see as a threat to their independence.

“Instead of marking a return to order and the rule of law, the adopted text of the constitution has plunged Egypt into even greater chaos and deadlock,” said Amnesty's Hadj Sahraoui.

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