Keeping power in check: this week in Human Rights

Keeping power in check: this week in Human Rights
6 min read
27 Mar, 2015
Blog: A weekly digest of the main human rights issues across the Arab world for the week 21-27 March, 2015.
Israel would prefer not to talk about how this happened [Getty]
Israel and US boycott Gaza inquiry

Both the US and Israel boycotted a session this week for the UN Human Rights Council as it met to discuss the war in Gaza last summer.

The 50-day onslaught killed 2,250 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Speaking in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Washington had "coordinated our refusal to participate with Israel".

The Bibi-Obama rift clearly only goes so deep.

The release of the findings from the UN investigation has been delayed after the head of the commission resigned last month under Israeli pressure. 

The incoming chairwoman, Mary McGowan Davis, said Israel had continued to bar access to the West Bank and Gaza and that investigators need more time to finish their report.
     We've seen a race to the bottom in Syria with rebel groups mimicking the ruthlessness of government forces

Israel is not the only party under the spotlight. Hamas and other Palestinian factions are also likely to be scrutinised for indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel.

This week Amnesty International reported that Palestinian rocket fire into Israel was illegal under international law, while noting: "Human rights violations by one party cannot justify violations by its opponents. This perverse logic has helped perpetuate the cycle of destruction."

However, the disproportionate use of force and ensuing disparities in death and destruction means that Israel is likely to come in for much more excoriating criticism.

Israel has tried to have the investigation shelved and the US has criticised the commission's work but the findings are due in early June and they will likely make very uncomfortable reading for Israel and its allies.

A race to the bottom in Syria

Abuses in Syria by rebel factions continue to undermine the cause of the opposition.

An extensive report published by Human Rights Watch, documents scores of attacks with car bombs, mortar bombs and rockets in heavily populated, government-controlled areas of Damascus and Homs between January 2012 and April 2014, and which continue into 2015.

"We've seen a race to the bottom in Syria with rebel groups mimicking the ruthlessness of government forces with devastating consequences for civilians," said Nadim Houry, the group's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

Primary schools, markets, funerals and town centres have all been targeted and none of the car bombs investigated destroyed military targets .

"In a fraction of a second I was squeezed in between the rooftop and the floor… I realised that my daughter who was sleeping next to us died," said a man describing the death of his wife and children following a suicide attack with an explosive-filled truck in Thabtieh, Homs countryside.

"I didn't want to go to the hospital before I made sure everybody is all right, but they forced me. In the hospital, I waited for them to come one after the other, hoping one of them would come in alive. But nobody did."

The opposition military groups are infamously divided so it would be wrong to tar them all with the same brush.

Declarations by some that all means are legitimate to fight the government, including the targeting of civilians living in areas under government control, carry no water in the laws of war and hurt the rebel cause.

In February 2014, the UN security council adopted Resolution 2139 demanding that "all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas". 

Like most Security Council resolutions regarding Syria, it stalled at the starting line.

Why such secrecy in UK 'anti-terrorism' trial?

In a secret trial in the UK courts, which came to a conclusion this week, British Muslim Erol Incedal was cleared of planning a terrorist attack.


Incedal was convicted of possessing a bomb manual in a year but acquitted this week in a retrial.

His defence argued Incedal had a "reasonable excuse" for possession of the manual. However, the public will never know what it was because of the secrecy that surrounded the trial.

The public was also barred from knowing who demanded the secret hearings and reporting restrictions on his case. Rumours abound the secrecy was insisted upon by the intelligence services.

At a time when the government is overhauling its 'counter-terrorism' laws to permit greater powers and more pervasive surveillance, the case sets a worrying precedent indeed.  

Paying the price for blogging in Oman

Earlier this year we highlighted the case of an Said Jaddad, a blogger and pro-democracy advocate on hunger strike in Oman in protest at his detention.

Since then he has been sentenced to three years in prison for his writings. The reasons given for his conviction, such as "undermining the prestige of the state" or inciting "illegal gathering" will ring a familiar tone for scores of other prisoners of conscience across the region.

Article 19 of Cyber Crimes Law penalises anyone who engages in the "production, publication, distribution, purchase, or possession of information technology that would prejudice the public order or religious values" and it was on this ticket that Jaddad was sent to jail.

The origins of the case go back to an open letter to US President Barack Obama in 2013 in which he expressed "dismay" over US policies regarding human rights in the Gulf region.

A Facebook post in which Jaddad compared a 2011 protest in Dhofar, Oman, to recent pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong didn't go down too well either.

But three years in jail... really?  

Human rights in Yemen

In this blog we have previously highlighted the human rights transgressions of the Houthis as they seized power in Sanaa, but the Saudi led coalition and their allies are also at serious risk of breaking international humanitarian law.

At least six children under the age of 10 were among a reported 25 people killed in Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes on a residential area on the first night of the campaign, according to Amnesty International.

"This high toll of civilian deaths and injuries in these attacks raises concerns about compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law," said Said Boumedouha, the deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

With the conflict intensifying in Yemen, it is the civilians who are likely to endure the brunt of the suffering.  

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 - See more at: /english/blog/2015/2/27/keeping-power-in-check-this-week-in-human-rights-4#sthash.XwmtTEoM.dpuf

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