ISHR joined Sudan Women Rights Action, Nora Center for Combating Sexual Violence and MENA WHRD Coalition in calling on the Human Rights Council to support Sudanese women human rights defenders in their struggle for democratic transition, gender equality, peace, and protection from violence.
Today marks two years since Saudi woman human rights defender (WHRD) Loujain Al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018. While several WHRDs also arrested in May 2018 have been provisionally released, Loujain and dozens of other women’s rights activists are still in prison. The trials have been stalled: they were referred to court in March 2019 and their scheduled hearing in April 2019 was postponed with no reason. The trials only recommenced in February 2020 and their last scheduled hearings in March 2020 were postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Others have not yet been tried.
The Saudi government has taken measures to implement some of the activists’ demands: lifting the ban on driving for women, and some restrictions of the male guardianship system, although the patriarchal and oppressive system is not entirely dismantled yet.
So why is the Saudi government detaining the same activists who were at the forefront of the campaigns against the male guardianship system and the right to drive for women?
Because of their activism. The women’s rights activists are being used to amplify the Saudi’s government message to its citizens: ‘Keep quiet and obey us. If you demand your rights, you will get punished’.
Several of the women’s rights activists were tortured and sexually assaulted. They told the Prosecution about their torture but it has so far failed to hold those responsible accountable.
For example, former senior advisor to the Royal Court, Saud Alqahtani, was physically present during some of the women’s torture and he threatened to kill one of the women. Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, found credible evidence warranting further investigation into al-Qahtani’s involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi prosecutor publicly stated that al-Qahtani had demanded the abduction of Khashoggi on the grounds he was a threat to national security. However, he was never charged and remains free.
In 2019, the UN Human Rights Council shed an unprecedented spotlight on the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. In March 2019, 36 States led by Iceland demanded the release of the activists and accountability for the murder of Khashoggi. In June 2019, the Council’s experts documented Saudi Arabia’s State responsibility for the murder of Khashoggi. In September 2019, 25 States led by Australia called on Saudi Arabia to adhere to its Council membership obligations and take concrete steps to improve its human rights record. During the same debate Lina Al-Hathloul called on the Council to help her hold those who tortured her sister accountable, and secure her immediate and unconditional release.
In April 2020, Saudi Arabia introduced some partial criminal justice revisions. In October 2020, Saudi Arabia is seeking re-election to the Council. In November 2020, it plans to host the G20 in Riyadh. It seems the Saudi government is eager to present itself as a ‘reformer’ and is seeking acknowledgement from the international community.
States need to use their leverage and this window of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of all the women’s rights activists and accountability for their torture.
It is the least they can do to support the brave activists who sacrificed their freedom, physical and psychological integrity for gender equality.
ISHR, as part of the Coalition of Free Saudi Activists, has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women’s rights activists detained since May 2018. The Coalition released today an advocacy toolkit for States and businesses.
Contact: Salma El Hosseiny: [email protected]
Photo: Gulf Center for Human Rights
To commemorate the International Safe Abortion Day, ISHR joined 372 organisations as well as women human rights defenders working to prevent maternal deaths, including through ensuring safe abortions, to demand free, safe and accessible abortion for everyone, NOW!
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
ISHR joined 74 civil society organisations from across the world in urging Egypt to release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy, and to ensure that, pending his release, he is granted immediate and regular access to his family and lawyers, provided with adequate healthcare, and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Beyond the discrimination and indignation that ordinary women suffer, indigenous women in Africa continue to be marginalised and denied the full recognition and protection of their rights. Decisively, the long-awaited National Human Rights Institutions’ (NHRIs) Forum organised by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) convened on 8 and 9 April 2021 to discuss the role of NHRIs in promoting the realisation of indigenous women’s rights in Africa. The Forum was convened ahead of the 68th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The result of the deliberations was a final draft Statement on the “Rights of indigenous women in Africa” that will be submitted to the ACHPR.
The Martin Ennals Foundation has granted Yu Wensheng, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer, the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. Lawyer Yu was among the three finalists to the Award selected by a jury of ten global human rights organisations - among which ISHR -, along with Loujain AlHathloul from Saudi Arabia and Soltan Achilova from Turkmenistan.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.
In an online discussion organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Uyghur camp survivor Gülbahar Jalilova shared her story of long-term arbitrary detention. Her testimony echoes mounting evidence of human rights violations that call for systematic UN monitoring and public reporting.
Operating in a context of persistent insecurity and aggravated by the Covid19 crisis, human rights defenders in Burkina Faso are exposed to many risks. The law on the protection of defenders and its implementing decree were adopted in 2018, but its implementation and use remain a challenge for defenders.
Members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights met in March 2021 to prepare two ‘Lists of Issues’ to guide their respective reviews of the People’s Republic of China.