To mark the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women (Beijing plus 20) during the current session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, JBI’s director Felice Gaer writes when and why private violence against women has become an issue of concern to States parties to the Convention against Torture on the blog of the World Organization against Torture.
The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) welcomed the decision of the UN Security Council today to add the situation in North Korea to its agenda and to hold its first-ever formal discussion of the severe human rights violations perpetrated by the government.
The Security Council's action today demonstrated overwhelming acknowledgement by its members that the widespread, systematic human rights abuses perpetrated by the North Korean government for decades constitute a threat to international peace and security and are a legitimate concern of the Security Council. The Council's decision followed the adoption by other UN intergovernmental bodies of resolutions condemning the North Korean government's unparalleled brutality, as documented in the February 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), an independent body created by the UN Human Rights Council. In resolutions adopted by large margins at the Human Rights Council in March and at the UN General Assembly on December 18, UN Member States endorsed the findings of the Commission of Inquiry and called on the UN Security Council to consider them as well.
The Security Council meeting today began with a procedural vote by the Council's 15 members on the question of whether to add the situation in North Korea to its agenda, without prejudice to the existing agenda item on North Korea in the context of non-proliferation. The decision was adopted with the support of eleven of the Council's fifteen members, and over the objections of China and Russia. It was not subject to a veto, as it concerned a procedural matter.
Following the vote, Council members were briefed on the situation in North Korea by representatives of the UN Department of Political Affairs and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During the discussion that followed, several Permanent Representatives voiced their horror at the scale and severity of the abuses documented by the Commission of Inquiry, among them its finding that up to 120,000 North Korean citizens remain in incommunicado arbitrary detention in a political prison camp system in which gross human rights abuses are regularly committed.
In her remarks, US Ambassador Samantha Power raised the case of Kim Young-soon, a former detainee in one such political prison camp, who testified that she and other prisoners were deliberately subjected to near starvation by prison camp authorities. Reflecting on the gravity of these abuses, which the Commission of Inquiry found to amount to crimes against humanity, Ambassador Power and several other Security Members stressed the need for the Security Council to consider referring the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court. At the same time, Member States stressed the need for the Security Council to receive regular briefings on the human rights situation in the future, based on information gathered by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which will open a field office in Seoul, South Korea in March 2015. Member States also called on the North Korean government to curb its abuses, beginning by closing its political prison camps, and to provide unfettered access to the country to human rights monitors and humanitarian groups.
JBI has long called on UN Member States and agencies to devote greater attention to North Korea’s appalling human rights record and to press the regime to curb its widespread violations (see past posts on these efforts here (UNSC discussion), here (UNGA resolution), here (Commission of Inquiry report), and here (conference calling for creation of Commission of Inquiry)). In recent weeks, JBI worked in close collaboration with other human rights groups, including the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), to advance the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry report at the UN General Assembly and Security Council. JBI and HRNK's joint activities included facilitating meetings in New York between diplomats and North Korean former political prisoners Mrs. Kim Young-soon and Mr. Jung Gwang-il, providing them with an opportunity to share their personal experiences and to stress to UN Member States the importance of promptly implementing the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations.
The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) welcomes the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s publication today of the executive summary of a study of the detention and interrogation program carried out by the CIA from 2001- 2009.
JBI has long called for the public release of the Committee’s study, in keeping with its commitment to ensuring that counterterrorism measures are effective and consistent with human rights and civil liberties. In May 2013, for example, JBI called for the declassification and prompt release of the entire 6,700-page report.
JBI deeply regrets the report’s findings. In particular, the report finds that the CIA brutally interrogated and held detainees in extremely harsh conditions of confinement that were “far worse than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.” It finds inaccurate the CIA’s repeated claims that these brutal interrogation techniques were necessary to acquire “otherwise unavailable” actionable intelligence that “saved lives.”
We welcome President Obama’s statement in response to the release of the report that the practices it documents “were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests” and “did significant damage to America’s standing in the world.” We welcome his pledge to “make sure we never resort to those methods again.”
We also appreciate the personal conclusion reached by Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein in the foreword to the report released today, echoed on the Senate floor by Senator John McCain, that some of these brutal interrogation methods documented in the report amounted to torture. JBI has repeatedly expressed unequivocal opposition to the use of torture by interrogators representing our nation. We have also called on the United States to fully comply with its international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In November and March 2014, respectively, the independent expert committees that oversee the implementation of these two treaties evaluated the record of the United States. Both committees called for the publication of the Senate committee report and for the United States to ensure that abuses revealed in the reports are effectively investigated.
JBI called on members of the Senate and the Executive Branch to take steps in response to these troubling findings in order to ensure that the United States never again violates its domestic and international obligations to prevent and prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Said JBI Director Felice Gaer, “I commend the release of this report as well as the statements made today by Senators Feinstein and McCain affirming the need for steps to be taken to ensure that its appalling findings – that the US government failed to prevent the use of torture by those acting in its name, as well as to detect and eliminate it promptly – will spur meaningful reforms to ensure that such actions are never again taken.”
After the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry report (COI) on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) was released, JBI brought a number of experts on the country together with diplomats and representatives of non-governmental organizations on February 27, 2014 to discuss the extensive and unprecedented COI report and how it might be received and implemented at the United Nations. The meeting paid special attention to the inter-governmental bodies, agencies, programs and Secretariat based in New York, which received unusual attention in the report’s recommendations.
As discussion on the follow up to the COI gets underway at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, JBI has released a summary of the meeting and the viewpoints and suggestions made under the Chatham House Rule. Key points are summarized below, and the complete summary is available here.
The Commission of Inquiry’s report provides a sweeping analysis of the depth and breadth of rights abuses being inflicted upon the North Korean people over decades. It contains detailed descriptions and testimonies with evidence of longstanding crimes. With the publication of this report, the Commission of Inquiry, a UN mechanism, has officially recognized the severe and systematic crimes that have been ongoing in North Korea for the past 60 years. In doing so, the report eliminates the possibility for any in the international community to claim ignorance of the situation there.
To maintain the momentum generated by the COI report, and elevate its status, States can take some of the steps outlined below in their relations with other States, at the UN and with the broader public.
• While formulating a long-term response to the human rights situation in North Korea, States can take measures to signal that “business as usual” is no longer an option for governments or the UN following the publication of the COI report, which found there were systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity whose “gravity, scale and nature … reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” The COI report provided unprecedented detail on a wide range of issues including the right to food.
• The Human Rights Council’s annual resolution on North Korea offers the first and key venue for explicitly endorsing the COI’s recommendations and findings, in particular that crimes against humanity are being committed. At a minimum, the Human Rights Council’s resolution should offer a means of continuing fact-finding and analysis on human rights in North Korea in 2014 and beyond. The resolution is expected to be adopted at the end of March 2014.
• Members of the Security Council should identify avenues in which to discuss the findings and recommendations of the COI. The Security Council previously has only discussed North Korea in the context of its development and testing of nuclear and ballistic weapons; any Security Council discussion of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the government would represent a significant step forward.
• The text of the General Assembly’s annual resolution on North Korea can be strengthened so that, at a minimum, it specifically endorses the COI’s findings.
• While a consensus was considered important to maintain at the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, it might become necessary to take a vote on the resolutions so that the COI’s new findings and the report itself will be clearly reflected in the resolutions.
• Member States should encourage discussions to reflect on the application of the Secretary-General’s “Rights Up Front” action plan to the context of North Korea and how it should mesh with other concepts and priorities, including claims for humanitarian space and access, disarmament and security concerns, and geopolitical dynamics. This would ensure that the UN Secretariat and UN agencies take the COI report into account in their work.
With the release of a new State Department report on religious
freedom around the world, the U.S. government revealed the shocking
fact that 116 members of the Baha’i faith are unjustly imprisoned in Iran
solely for their beliefs. Among them, sadly, are seven prominent Baha’i leaders
unfairly incarcerated since 2008.
Prior to their arrest, the two women and five men ranging in
ages from 40 to 80 — Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid
Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm — worked together to
attend to the basic spiritual needs of Baha’is in Iran such as marriages,
divorces and Baha’i children’s spiritual education. After five years of
confinement, it is time for members of the international community to demand an
end to this injustice.
In an effort to call attention to the plight of the Baha’is in
Iran, members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on March 12, S.Res.75 and H.Res.109 condemn the state-sponsored persecution of
Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i minority, which contravenes Iran’s international
obligations as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international
instruments. Additionally, the resolutions call on the president and secretary
of State to demand the immediate release of prisoners held solely on account of
their religion and to sanction Iranian officials directly responsible for
serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Baha’i community in
JBI Associate Director Christen Broecker recently
contributed a guest post to the website IntLawGrrls on the UN Committee against Torture’s
adoption, on November 16, of an authoritative interpretation of the content and
scope of the right to redress for victims of torture and cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment. The General Comment, which is particularly notable for its
victim-centered approach to the right to redress, is the first interpretive
statement by a UN human rights treaty body aimed at clarifying this area of
international law. In her post, Broecker analyzes some of the key
aspects of the Committee’s General
Comment No. 3, which draws from and
consolidates decades of the Committee’s jurisprudence on the right to redress.
The Committee against Torture is an expert committee that monitors
the implementation of the UN Convention against Torture by its 153 States
parties. One of its 10 expert members is
JBI Director Felice Gaer, who has served on the Committee since 1999.
Despite warnings that attending the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
summit in Tehran would legitimize the regime’s abusive behavior at home and
abroad, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has decided to go. He seeks to meet
with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Responding to criticisms of Ban’s plans, his
spokesman argued that to skip the summit “would be a missed opportunity.”
It will be Ban’s first visit to Iran. On Friday, Iran’s top
tourism official, H.M. Ajabi, told local press (IRNA) that the NAM summit
offers a great opportunity for “boosting Iran’s tourism industry” and the
Tehran Times reports that Ban has been invited to attend a meeting of the Human
Rights Committee of the Iranian parliament. Below are key sightseeing
opportunities in Iran that the secretary-general should not miss if he is to be
ready for this encounter:
Evin Prison: This is Iran’s best-known
site of cruel and prolonged torture, particularly of political prisoners, and
secret executions. Among the prisoners there were Fariba Kamalabadi and
Mahvash Sabet, two of the seven imprisoned leaders of the Baha’i faith, Iran’s
largest religious minority. American journalist Roxana Saberi met them while
also detained in the notorious jail; she can help Ban identify them, should he
seek their long-overdue release.
University of Tehran: On June 14, 2009, after widespread protests
against the announced results of Iran’s presidential election, security forces
broke open the gates of Tehran University and stormed campus dorms,
indiscriminately arresting, beating and shooting students with pellet guns.
Five students were reportedly killed and others seriously injured.
Authorities reportedly buried the dead within hours, without notifying their
family members. Student leaders currently imprisoned include Bahareh
Hedayat, who called for holding security forces accountable. Ban might ask
for her to be released to offer a guided tour.
The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) published a new advocacy briefing note on Human Rights in Iran, part of a new series of JBI Human Rights Papers.
Since it seized power in 1979, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been engaged in committing a range of human rights violations against the Iranian people. During and since the violent crackdown surrounding the June 2009 flawed presidential elections, Iran’s widespread and systematic pattern of human rights violations has intensified and increased. Iranian authorities admit to arresting more than 4,500 protesters during the crackdown and a death toll of 37. Many protestors were subjected to violations of due process, arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. These and other tactics have been used to silence human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and lawyers, and to discriminate against women, and religious, ethnic and other minorities.
On April 10-11, AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea convened an expert conference, “Hidden Gulag,” which called for closing down the extensive North Korean political prisoner camp system. The conference launched a groundbreaking 200-page report by David Hawk pointing to over 150,000 persons incarcerated in these “kwan-li-so” camps, based on eyewitness testimony of former prisoners, guards, and satellite images of the camps. JBI Director Felice Gaer, who moderated a conference panel on “Seeking Legal and International Human Rights Remedies,” commended the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, whose message to the Conference expressed interest in “setting up a more detailed method of inquiry such as a [UN] Commission of Inquiry” to investigate the government-run camps and hold those responsible accountable.
(JBI Director Felice Gaer moderates conference panel on “Seeking Legal and International Human Rights Remedies”)
The conference, “Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Political Prisoner Camp System,” took place in Washington DC and featured eye-witness analyses of former North Korean political prisoners; U.S., South Korean and Japanese government officials; human rights experts, including specialists on the dismantling of Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Union’s “Gulag ”; and Korea specialists. A Washington Post editorial, calling the conference “unprecedented,” argued that governmental indifference to these camps is “inexcusable.”
On December 23, JBI sent an open letter to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka urging him to take urgent action to safeguard the rights and physical integrity of Belarusian journalists, human rights defenders, and former presidential candidates, particularly Andrei Sannikov and Vladimir Neklayev, who were detained along with more than 600 others by Belarusian security forces on December 19 and 20, 2010. JBI expressed particular concern that both Sannikov and Neklayev appear to be in urgent need of medical attention, which they have not received.
The next session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place in Geneva from September 14-October 2, 2015. The Council is expected to consider human rights conditions in countries including Syria, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Somalia, and Cambodia. Council members will observe a panel discussion on the human rights situation in North Korea and hear an update on the work of the new office in Seoul established by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow up on the work of the 2013-2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea. They will also consider a report by the High Commissioner on human rights abuses perpetrated by the terrorist group Boko Haram and the reports of “special procedures” (independent experts and working groups) on thematic issues including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and contemporary forms of slavery. The Council will also consider the outcome of the second “Universal Periodic Review” of the human rights situation in a number of countries, including the United States. This will be the last session of the United States’ second three-year term of membership on the Council. Like all States that have served two consecutive terms, the United States is ineligible to serve on the Council next year, in 2016, but it has already indicated its intention to seek an additional three-year term beginning in 2017, elections for which will be held in autumn 2016.