Kerry denounces crackdowns on dissent

Authoritarian crackdowns on dissent damage the “long-term stability, security, and economic development” of the countries involved, according to the U.S. State Department’s newly-released 2013 Country Report on Human Rights.

The annual country-by-country index was released as the world marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but sixty years on “’more than one third of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule,” the report notes.

In his remarks launching the report today, John Kerry, US Secretary of State, denounced the suppression of dissent and singled out Syria for the regime’s egregious rights violations. He blasted North Korea over its human rights abuses, describing it as “an evil, evil place”.

Kerry paid tribute to the democracy advocates and rights activists struggling to expand political space and defend individual liberties.

“The truth is that some of the greatest accomplishments in expanding the cause of human rights have come not because of legislative decree or judicial fiat, but they came through the awesomely courageous acts of individuals,” he said, “whether it is Xu Zhiyong fighting for the government transparency that he desires to see in China, or Ales Byalyatski, who is demanding justice and transparency and accountability in Belarus, whether it is Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga (above), who is rapping for greater political freedom in Cuba, or Eskinder Nega, who is writing for freedom of expression in Ethiopia.”

“Every single one of these people are demonstrating a brand of moral courage that we need now more than ever,” said Kerry.

He said he was also “inspired” by the 86-year-old Russian human rights pioneer Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2004 Democracy Award, who has “spent a lifetime fighting for the basic rights that we take for granted here in the United States.”

The report notes that “transitioning democracies dealt with predictable setbacks in their quest for political change, and new democracies struggled to deliver effective governance and uphold rule of law.”

“Counteracting impunity for security forces will require these countries to invest in independent and effective judiciaries, civilian-controlled and responsible security forces, and transparent and accountable democratic government institutions,” it adds.

“The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also places where governments deny basic human rights to their nations’ people, and that is no coincidence,” said Kerry. “And it is particularly no coincidence in an age where people have access and want access to more information and the freedom to be able to act – to access information and to be able to act on the basis of that information. That is what has always characterized democracies and free people.”

Vietnamese court rejects dissident’s appeal

Credit: RFA

Credit: VOA

One of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents lost his appeal on Tuesday against imprisonment for tax evasion, as dozens of supporters protested outside the court against the communist state’s crackdown on dissent, according to reports:

Scores of police encircled the Hanoi People’s Court of Appeals, which upheld a two and a half year jail sentence for Catholic lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan, whose conviction in October was denounced by rights campaigners as politically motivated.

“The defendant did not show regret and took a disrespectful attitude towards the court,” said court president Nguyen Van Son, confirming the jail term and a fine of around US$57,000. The television feed to the court’s observation room was cut off immediately after the verdict. The lawyer earlier told the court he was “completely innocent,” of the charges against him.

“I am the victim of a political conspiracy. I object to this trial,” said Quan.

Quan’s lawyer Bui Quang Nghiem told the court that the tax evasion charges were a joke.

“If you want to try Le Quoc Quan for his activism, you don’t need to bring him to court for tax evasion,” he said.

The US Embassy in Hanoi has described Le Quoc Quan’s conviction as part of a “disturbing” trend of Vietnam’s communist authorities using tax laws to imprison people for peacefully expressing political views.

Quan was previously arrested in 2007 for three months on his return from a five-month Reagan-Fascell fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Human rights groups this week decried the regime’s broader crackdown on rights activists and dissidents.

“This looks like a shameful and personalized act of retaliation against human rights defenders,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Donors and other international actors who want to see reforms in Vietnam should publicly call for an immediate end to such blatantly abusive security force behavior.”

According to interviews and materials posted on nongovernment online sites by Nguyen Bac Truyen and others at the scene, Human Rights Watch notes:

…..on February 9, 2014, police and plainclothes security officers surrounded their house in Dong Thap province, and, after his Internet connection was cut, entered the premises, ransacked part of the house, and took him away for questioning. His fiancé said she was also detained for several hours. In an interview with Voice of America, Nguyen Bac Truyen described being blindfolded, handcuffed, and transported on the afternoon of February 9 to a police station where he was interrogated about supposed financial irregularities at a company he once owned, before being released on the morning of February 10 and sent to his fiancée’s parents’ home in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

China faults UN report on North Korea’s atrocities, rights abuses

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Chinese officials on Tuesday criticized a United Nations report that served notice to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that he might be personally held liable in court for crimes against humanity committed by state institutions and officials under his direct control, the New York Times reports:

Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called the report “unreasonable criticism,” raising questions as to whether Beijing will use its United Nations Security Council veto power to block any action on the matter.

“We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive toward improving a country’s human rights,” Ms. Hua said. “We believe that taking human rights issues to the International Criminal Court is not helpful to improving a country’s human rights situation.”

The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea called on the commission to identify “alleged individual perpetrators” and seek a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court.

Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Washington-based NGO, said in a statement that China would face increasing consequences for protecting North Korea.

“The price of unconditionally supporting a regime that has committed crimes against humanity is going to be higher,” he wrote.

Shin Dong-hyuk (above), the only prisoner known to have escaped from the North Korean gulag, has told The Telegraph that Pyongyang will simply ignore the UN findings.

“Unfortunately, the UN cannot do very much,” said 33-year-old Shin, whose remarkable escape to South Korea was detailed in “Escape From Camp 14.” nkgulag-300x202

“The horrible state that is North Korea does not take the UN seriously and history shows us that the organisation has not been able to do one thing to halt the problem in North Korea,” he added.

Accountability

“For the first time, a United Nations body has recognized that the government of North Korea is committing crimes against humanity and that its leaders should be brought to account,” said Roberta Cohen, joint chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

“It is now up to the world community to take action to protect those persecuted and bring the perpetrators to justice,” she told RFA. “The report is clear recognition that the Kim [Jong-un] regime’s systematic murder, abduction, torture, starvation, religious persecution and political imprisonment of its people must be brought to a halt.”

Far-right regime?

“The world is finally waking up to the fact that North Korea is a far-right state, in that the regime derives its right to rule from a commitment to military might and racial purity,” said Brian Myers, a South Korea-based North Korea expert.

“But for that very reason, the regime has never felt very embarrassed by criticism of its human rights record, and has reported sneeringly on that criticism to its own people. Perhaps it will realize that it cannot keep attracting investors and collaborators without making more of a pretence to progressive or leftist tendencies.”

North Korea’s leaders should be tried by an international court on charges of crimes against humanity, a United Nations commission reported on Monday, accusing the totalitarian regime of systematically eliminating, starving and enslaving its people.

“On one occasion, [a witness] was forced to bring a pile of bodies up the mountain and saw that rats had already gnawed of the flesh from their faces,” the report reads. “The witness estimates that at least 800 prisoners died every year from malnourishment, infectious diseases, and accidents at work.”

“We heard from ordinary people who faced torture and imprisonment for doing nothing more than watching foreign soap operas or holding a religious belief,” said Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge and head of the panel, before the UN Human Rights Council. “Women and men who exercised their human right to leave the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and were forcibly repatriated spoke about their experiences of torture, sexual violence, inhumane treatment and arbitrary detention. Family members of persons abducted from the Republic of Korea and Japan described the agony they endured ever since the enforced disappearance of their loved ones at the hands of agents of the DPRK.”

Experts say the commission adds new weight to previously documented reports of the regime’s human rights abuses.

“They’re ground-breaking in that it’s the first time that the United Nations as an institution has found that crimes against humanity are being committed against the people of North Korea,” said Jared Genser, an international human rights lawyer and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. “But of course it’s also unremarkable in the sense that those of us who have worked on North Korea human rights for many, many years are aware of the sheer weight of evidence coming out of North Korea over decades now … And so the real question now is, what next?” he said in an interview with BBC News

The 36-page summary report and 372-page annex detail a wide range of crimes against humanity and criticizes the regime’s political and security apparatus. The North Korean state employs surveillance, fear, public executions and forced disappearances “to terrorize the population into submission,” it adds.

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report asserts, although it stopped short of alleging genocide.

An unprecedented report based on a year-long investigation found violations of a scale and nature without “any parallel in the contemporary world”, recommending that the UN Security Council refer the country to the International Criminal Court or set up a special tribunal.

“Systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” said the report by the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, set up in March 2013 by the UN Human Rights Council.

“In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the commission constitute crimes against humanity. These are not mere excesses of the State; they are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded,” the report said.  ”The gravity, scale and nature of these violations revealed a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

“For the first time, the magnitude of what’s going on inside North Korea is coming to light,” says Lilian Lee, an officer for the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights:

Ms. Lee, who testified before the U.N. commission last year, said the report, by laying out details on labor camps, torture and inhuman treatment, will force the world to confront the issue.

Algeria: allow rights groups to visit

Algeria should uphold the values of the United Nations Human Rights Council by allowing UN human rights experts and international human rights nongovernmental organizations to visit the country, five human rights organizations said today.

Nassima Guettal is a founding member of the Front du Changement National – FCN (National Front for Change) and a member of the Ligue Algérienne de Défense des Droits de l’Homme – LADDH (Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights). Credit: Frontlinedefenders

“Algeria remains the only country among its neighbors that generally restricts access to human rights organizations,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Since 2011, our organizations have regularly visited Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia with few if any obstacles.”

The groups that are making the appeal to the Algerian government to allow human rights groups access to the country are Amnesty International, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Human Rights Watch and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) International Federation for Human Rights and World Organisation against Torture.

“Algeria should end the farce of refusing any scrutiny of its own human rights record while sitting on the Human Rights Council”, said Karim Lahidji, president of the FIDH, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“Granting visas to international human rights organizations and inviting UN human rights experts would signal a genuine commitment that the Algerian authorities will seriously engage with the UN Human Rights Council”, added Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the OMCT.

RTWT