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 21-27 February, 2015.
6 min read
26 Feb, 2015
Israel pounded Gaza over the summer (AFP)

Gaza is still waiting

"We have our dignity... Imagine that you cannot plan for tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow?"

So says Palestinian Salem Al Qudwa, an architect from the Gaza Strip. Al-Araby al-Jadeed caught up with him at the launch of Amnesty International's annual report, The State of the World's Human Rights, in London.

Amnesty issued a damning verdict on Israel's 50-day war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, saying that Israel "committed war crimes and human rights violations" leaving more than 1,500 dead, including 539 children.

The punishment did not stop with the end of the offensive, however. The blockade of Gaza, an effective siege of the territory that prevents normal life for Gazans, continues.

Qudwa pointed out that, despite the money pledged to, yet again, rebuild Gaza - the Strip is still in ruins.

Al-Araby's Zak Brophy interviews Salem al-Qudwa

"Thousands and thousands of people are still waiting, their shelters have been damaged totally... the promises [to aid in the rebuilding] are false, unfortunately," Qudwa said.

The British street artist Banksy travelled secretly to Gaza to see the destruction for himself, and released this satirical video of what he found.

And Israeli collective punishment of Palestinian populations is not limited to Gaza. Power was cut to the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, more than 700,000 people, on Monday.

The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) said that the outage happened because the Palestinian Authority (PA) had not paid its debt to the IEC.

Why can't the PA pay its debt? It joined the International Criminal Court and so had Palestinian tax revenue collected on the PA's behalf, some $175 million a month, frozen - by Israel - for the past three months.

Forced onto the streets

The conflict in neighbouring Syria has severely affected Lebanon, with a huge influx of refugees into the country.

One knock-on effect of this is the increased number of children having to fend for themselves on Lebanon's streets.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) commissioned a report, along with Unicef and Save the Children, into the growing plight, highlighting several worrying cases of children forced to work or beg, and others involved in drug dealing, gang activity and even prostitution.

The report found that 1,510 children were living or working on Lebanon's streets. Although 73 percent were from Syria, there were also Palestinian and Lebanese children.

Annamaria Laurini, from Unicef Lebanon, underlined the dangers faced by the children.

"Children on the streets are extremely vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse in their daily lives, as well as occupational hazards," Laurini said.

Kidnappings and barrel bombings

International media attention often sheds light on the plight of Western hostages held by the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis). However, less well known is the shocking stories of locals who have also been kidnapped by IS.

No sect or ethnic group appears to have been spared this tactic, including Sunni Arabs, a group IS claims to represent.

This week, London-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 22 Assyrian Christians had been abducted by IS in the province of Hasakeh, in north-eastern Syria. An initial report that said that between 70 and 100 had been kidnapped.

With the supply of Western hostages appearing to be drying up following IS' execution of several journalists and aid workers - more and more locals may now be taking their place.

The atrocities in Syria are not only committed by IS. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad may have laughed it off in an interview with the BBC last week, but barrel bombs are a real danger to Syrian civilians.

A report published this week by Human Rights Watch highlighted this, saying that the bombs, which are crudely made and consist of oil drums, gas cylinders or water tanks filled with explosives and scrap metal, have killed or injured thousands of civilians.

Several videos posted online highlight the terror that barrel bombs bring, and the sheer indiscriminate nature of this deadly weapon.

'Apologise and you'll be freed'

Sudan has elections on the horizon, where Sudanese voters will be able to choose who will lead their nation in the coming years.

The only problem is that everyone pretty much already agrees who is going to win - the incumbent of 25 years, Omar al-Bashir.

Now, Bashir's longevity isn't necessarily to do with his "popularity", and more to do with the constant crackdowns on the country's opposition.

On Monday, a judge refused to release two prominent opposition figures, Farouk Abu Issa and Amin Makki Madani, on bail. They had been arrested for signing an alliance of anti-government groups, something that the prosecutor interpreted as "a terrorist act" because it called for the fall of the regime "by any means".

Abu Issa and Madani have been handed an olive branch by Bashir. They can apologise for their "terrorist act" and they'll be free to go.

Things were to get worse on Tuesday, when police used tear gas and batons to disperse hundreds of protesters gathering for the burial of activist Soumaya Bushra al-Tayeb in Khartoum.

Tayeb had been wounded during a protest two weeks ago and eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Prisoner of conscience

An Amnesty prisoner of conscience, the Omani Saeed Jaddad, has had the verdict in his trial delayed until next month, the Omani Observatory for Human Rights has said.

Jaddad is accused of crimes including "undermining the prestige of the state" and "incitement against the government" for calling for political and social reforms, including calls made during a meeting he had with members of the European Parliament in 2013.

Oman's government has worked hard to present the country as a friendly tourist destination - and the ruling Sultan Qaboos is popular. However, he is known to be seriously ill, and the question of succession is troublesome. This makes the authorities quite sensitive to criticism.

In 2011, officials were able to placate demonstrators who participated in Arab Spring-style protests across the country, through a carrot and stick approach of government spending and a crackdown. That crackdown appears to be continuing.

'No to shale gas' in Algeria

Environmental issues often do not get reported on in the Arab world. Yet, in Algeria, a large protest was planned for Tuesday against plans recently announced to drill for shale gas in the country's southern desert.

State-owned Sonatrach reportedly plans to spend $70 billion in the region over the next 20 years, but locals remain opposed to the drilling. Demonstrations have been taking place over the past two months, but riot police decided to intervent on Tuesday, after opposition leaders and supporters gathered in central Algiers carrying anti-shale placards.

The police made a number of arrests.

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