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 1-8 May, 2015.
5 min read
07 May, 2015
Palestinian students under pressure for political views (Getty)
Crushing campus politics

The success of the Hamas-affiliated group in Birzeit University's student council election was the most recent indicator of the group's increasingly vocal support base which is growing within the West Bank.

It is also on student campuses where Palestinian Authority security services have been cracking down on this challenge to their grip on power.

At least four Hamas affiliated students have been detained over the past six months, with two reporting to human rights groups they were beaten during their detention.

Following the student council election on April 22, Palestinian authorities arrested and detained or summoned for interrogation 25 students from Birzeit and other universities, according to Sahar Francis, director of the Palestinian prisoners' rights organisation Addameer.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority told Human Rights Watch that no arrests were ever made for political affiliation - but rather "these people have been arrested for the criminal charge of incitement of sectarian violence and other criminal charges".

No evidence to substantiate these allegations has yet been provided.

Only kilometres away, in the Silwan district of East Jerusalem, members of the Israeli Ateret Cohanim settlement group invaded and occupied a housing block while the Palestinian family living there were away visiting relatives this week.

According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, approximately 20 settlers, accompanied by armed guards and undercover Israeli troops, took control of the building and smashed down the doors to the families' apartments.

Settler groups have previously occupied dozens of Palestinian families' homes in the Silwan district.

The Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya is also set to be demolished after Israel's High Court of Justice rejected a petition for an interim freeze on demolition orders issued against residents' homes.

Justice Solberg's decision means that, at any moment, the Civil Administration can demolish all homes in the village.

The residents, some 250-350 people depending on the season, will be left homeless in harsh desert conditions.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

In the United States, lawmakers are starting to reassess the vast surveillance powers assumed by the government following the September 11 attacks.

In France, meanwhile, they are rushing in the opposition direction on the back of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The parliament in Paris has voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would grant the authorities the most intrusive domestic spying abilities ever, with almost no judicial oversight.

There was scant room for debate in France's political climate following the killings by Islamist militants that left 17 people dead.

The government says it wants to respond to developments in communication and bring modern surveillance techniques within the law - but it has failed to satisfy a broad spectrum of critics from civil liberties groups to major internet providers.

The new powers include the tapping of mobile phones, sifting of emails and placing of secret microphones.

The loose definitions of who might be legitimate targets has also raised concerns that the authorities may be empowered to snoop, not just on violent militants but also those deemed a threat to power - such as investigative journalists or civil society activists.

Death on the Mediterranean

Raw video footage has emerged showing the perilous reality for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

People are shown jumping from an overcrowded inflatable vessel in an incident in which five people are believed to have died.

In a separate incident on an inflatable boat the night previously, some 40 others are believed to have perished.

The number of people believed to have lost their lives on the Mediterranean this year alone is more than 1,700, some 17 times higher than the number of people who died from January to April 2014.

Children in the crossfire

Children are being killed or maimed in airstrikes launched by the Sudanese government in the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan, reports Human Rights Watch.

The research, which focuses on the impact of the conflict on children, also finds that an aid blockade is causing a health and education crisis in the conflict-affected region.

"Children are literally being blown to pieces by bombs and burned alive with their siblings," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"They are unable to get sufficient food, basic health care, or education, and the situation is only getting worse."

War has defined the lives of children across the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states of Sudan, especially since fighting broke out in 2011 following disputed elections.

Research by Human Rights Watch and local human rights organisations has found a pattern of indiscriminate bombardment by the Sudanese air force of towns and villages, often hitting homes, farms, and health and education facilities.

Compensation for Guantanamo detainees

A retired associate justice of the US Supreme Court has said the government should compensate detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay, after authorities determined that they did not pose a threat to the United States.

"I by no means suggest that every Guantanamo detainee, such as those who have been convicted by a military commission, is entitled to compensation," Stevens told the group Lawyers for Civil Justice in Washington.

"But detainees who have been deemed not a security threat to the United States and have thereafter remained in custody for years are differently situated."

There are still 57 inmates in Guantanamo who have been approved for transfer, of 122 people still be held in the prison.

Stevens linked his statements to the decision by the US government to eventually pay $20,000 to Japanese Americans after World War II, which was accompanied by an official apology for actions "motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership".

Free Raif

A year has passed since Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was imprisoned for advocating free speech in the kingdom.

The liberal activist was sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes for expressing his views.

His wife has called on Saudi Arabia's royal family to grant him an "amnesty", allowing him to leave the country and rejoin his young family in Canada.

al-Araby al-Jadeed
supports the campaign to see Raif freed and united once again with his wife and children.

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.