Keeping power in check: this week in human rights

Keeping power in check: this week in human rights
Blog: A weekly digest of the main human rights issues across the Arab world for the week 20-24 April 2015.
6 min read
24 Apr, 2015
Amnesty lined up 200 black body bags in Brighton to highlight 'Britain's shameful response' [Getty]

Europe's sinking shame

The Mediterranean has become a mass grave. According to UNCHR 219,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean last year and at least 3,500 died trying. This month alone, more than 1,000 are believed to have died.

     War, poverty and persecution are what make desperate people take terrible risks...
- Amnesty UK's Refugee Programme Director

So far, this year has been the deadliest on record in the Mediterranean. Aid groups predict that if the crisis continues unabated, there could be 30,000 deaths at sea.

These figures, along with images, videos and survivor accounts are all shocking, but what is even more distressing is the lack of empathy being shown by those who have the power to do something.

European leaders have been accused of callous disregard for the lives of migrants.

"We have some serious concerns with the way in which many EU leaders have been characterising this as a fight against the evil criminal smugglers who are behind this crisis" Deputy Europe and Central Asia Director of Human Rights Watch told al-Araby al-Jadeed.


"Not doing enough to help right now is inhumane and indefensible, equivalent to pulling up the drawbridge while children, men and women die outside our walls," Amnesty International said.

The London-based human rights group has been extremely vocal in this ongoing tragedy.

On Wednesday Amnesty released a report urging European leaders to launch a humanitarian operation to end the "spiralling tragedy" and demanded the urgent provision of "adequate ships, aircraft, and other resources, patrolling where lives are at risk".

The group were also swift in releasing a statement on Thursday ahead of the emergency EU meeting, when it was revealed that nations want to "set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement, offering at least 5,000 places to persons qualifying for protection."

"The communique to talk about providing support for 5,000 individuals simply misses the point," said Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK. She condemned the draft agreement as "totally inadequate" and "almost beyond words".

These migrants are not just numbers. They are humans. They have names, stories and reasons. 

The UN's rights chief on Friday urged Britain to crack down on tabloid newspapers inciting racial hatred after a columnist for The Sun called migrants "cockroaches".

In a hard-hitting statement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Zeid Ra'ad Al Husein said Katie Hopkins had used language similar to that employed by some Rwandan media outlets in the run-up to the 1994 genocide, and by the Nazis in the 1930s.

He said the article was reflective of a "nasty underbelly of racism that is characterising the migration debate in an increasing number of EU countries".

Amnesty UK's refugee programme director, Steve Symond, said: "War, poverty and persecution are what make desperate people take terrible risks, not the vague prospect of rescue. You might get in a boat if you had ISIS on your back." Note to Katie Hopkins.

Abandoned at sea: Click here for larger image

Operation lost hope

Saudi Arabia believes it has achieved its military objectives in Yemen, has called an 'end' to airstrikes (yet airstrikes still continue) and renamed its operation Restoring Hope.

But exactly what hope is it referring to?

More than 700 people have been killed, including around 115 children, at least 64 of them victims of airstrikes. Nearly 150,000 Yemenis have fled their homes. The fighting has destroyed, damaged or disrupted homes, at least five hospitals, 15 schools, Yemen's three main airports, two bridges, two factories and four mosques, as well as markets, power stations and water and sanitation facilities.

And not to forget the airstrike that hit Oxfam's humanitarian aid warehouse - which had provided the building's coordinates to the coalition to prevent it being targeted.

"Yemen is a chronically poor country. There is a real problem with food security and food access, most of which is imported," said Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring, adding that fighting had achieved nothing and that the air raids caused further suffering to civilians.

Human Rights Watch has called the airstrike on Oxfam's warehouse an "apparent violation of the laws of war".

Oxfam has been working in the northern province of Saada for several years, building water networks to bring clean water to 70,000 people in rural communities through the generous support of the EU and Swiss government.

Before the escalation in violence, 10 million people were without access to clean water across the country.

"Destroying an aid group warehouse harms many civilians not even near the strike zone and threatens aid delivery everywhere in Yemen" Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.

Serious violations of the laws of war committed with criminal intent – that is, are deliberate or reckless – are war crimes. And I believe the targeting of the Oxfam warehouse definitely fits this description.

Time to apologise

The US president, Barack Obama, apologised and took "full responsibility" for all counterterrorism operations, after it was revealed that a US drone strike in January targeting an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan killed an American and an Italian who had been held hostage for years by the group.

While we are on the topic of US strikes, the UK-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported on Thursday that US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria have killed 2,079 people, since the start of the campaign against Islamic State militants last September.

But these numbers also include civilians - 66 of them, 10 children and six women included.

The US said it took reports of civilian casualties "seriously" and that it had a process to investigate each allegation.

Obama was quick to apologise for the errant strike. Perhaps he needs to move at that pace when it comes to the civilians his country is continuously killing with its air raids.

'A sad day in Egyptian history'

An Egyptian court Tuesday jailed Morsi to 20 years (AFP)

Amnesty International slammed the sentencing of former Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi, stating that the verdict against the country's first freely elected president points to a "sham trial".

In a statement published on Tuesday, the organisation called the sentencing a "travesty of justice" adding that it "once again demonstrates that the Egyptian criminal justice system appears to be completely incapable of delivering fair trials for members or supporters of the former president's administration and the Muslim Brotherhood."

Most of the Brotherhood's top leadership have already received heavy prison sentences in other trials, as well as hundreds of death sentences laid down for senior figures and lower level supporters over acts of violence carried out during protests against Morsi's removal.

At the same time, Mubarak and members of his inner circle have largely been acquitted of charges related to the killing of protesters during the uprising against his rule. Charges against Mubarak over the killings were dropped earlier this year.

From his exile in Turkey, top Brotherhood figure Amr Darrag called the Morsi ruling "a sad and terrible day in Egyptian history", saying the authorities had passed a life sentence on Egyptian democracy.

We'll be keeping our eye on human rights transgressions across the region and bringing you another weekly digest next Friday. If you want to share any information or bring our attention to any campaigns please tweet us at @alaraby_en.