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Editors' Picks

We are still here - Women on the front lines of the Syrian conflict.

Almost 3 million refugees fled to Syria’s neighboring countries. Today, Human Rights Watch released the report „Women on the Front Lines of Syria’s Conflict“. According to HRW the 47 page report 47-page report profiles 17 Syrian women who are now refugees in Turkey. Through written and photographic portraits, the report documents ways in which the conflict impacts women in particular. Women profiled in the report experienced violations by government and pro-government forces as well as by armed groups opposed to the government such as Liwa’al-Islam and extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). Some female activists and humanitarian aid providers said they had been threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and tortured by government or armed opposition forces. All six former detainees profiled in the report experienced physical abuse or torture in detention; one woman was sexually assaulted multiple times. Other women said they had been victims of discriminatory restrictions on their dress and movement. Several women were injured or lost family members in indiscriminate attacks on civilians by government forces.“ 

The download the full report please go to Human Rights Watch’s publication section.

Pro-democracy march in Hong Kong defies Beijing

More than half a million people took to the streets of Hong Kong yesterday to demand greater democracy in their city-state, which is largely controlled by Beijing.

The march and sit-in, which were for the most part peaceful, demanded free elections for the territory’s chief executive position.

As police warned protestors, most of them young, that they were in violation of the law, they continued to chant „change comes from the people“ in Cantonese. Many banners read „say NO to communist China“.

The police arrested 511 people for unlawful assembly and obstructing the police.

While protest organisers spoke of record crowd numbers, they also insisted that this was only a rehearsal for much larger sit-ins planned for later in the year. They said these will go ahead if Beijing does not allow Hong Kong, a former British colony, to have free elections.

At the end of last month more than 800,000 locals voted in an informal vote to make the elections more democratic. Beijing called this vote illegal.

Three weeks earlier, Beijing released a white paper which asserted severe authority over Beijing, which caused a backlash in the city-state. Hong Kong had been promised a „high degree of autonomy“ when it was returned to Chinese sovereignty by the British in 1997, and the paper was clearly in violation of this.

Image: Getty Royalty Free

US secret court gave NSA permission to spy on 193 countries and major organizations

The Washington Post reports, US-Secret Service NSA has been authorized to spy almost each government and the most important international organizations except Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which belong to the so-called „Five Eyes“ group. 

According to documents revealed by Edward Snowden the secret court FISC authorized the NSA to spy on 193 countries including organizations such as the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

Even if the NSA does not necessarily spy on the entire list of countries and organizations, the list depicts the potential reach of the NSA says Jameel Jaffer from civil rights organization ACLU. 

On June 30th the Washington Post published the list of foreign governments and organizations authorized for surveillance. According to their research this „exhibit lists the 193 foreign governments as well as foreign factions, political organizations and other entities that were part of a 2010 certification approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. These are the entities about which the NSA may conduct surveillance, for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence. Each year a new certification must be approved by the court to permit such surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.“


Thirty asphyxiate on overcrowded boat bound for Italy

About 30 bodies have been found on a migrant boat bound for Italy, among around another 560 refugees crowded onboard travelling between North Africa and Italy.

The refugees likely died of asphyxiation, according to the navy and coastguard.

Although not the first time the Italian coastguard have found immigrants dead on overcrowded boats, they have never found such a number at one time.

Over the weekend the number of migrants arriving in Europe by boat this year tipped over 60,000. The largest number ever was 63,000 in 2011 as a result of the Arab Spring, but numbers are expected to be much higher this year.

Libyan human rights activist murdered on election day

A human rights activist who had been a prominent figure in Libya’s Arab Spring revolution in 2011 was killed at her home yesterday during the general election.

Salwa Bugaighis was killed by a gunman who broke into her home in Benghazi, also wounding a security guard and abducting her husband, who is still missing.

It is believed the couple had just returned from voting when the gunman attacked.

Earlier in the day, Bugaighis has been speaking on phone on live television denouncing militants who had attacked army troops positioned at a polling station near her home.

Bugaighis, a lawyer, helped lead the charge during the February 2011 revolution. She later resigned from the first rebel administration, accusing it of excluding female members.

An activist for women’s rights, she opposed women being forced to wear the hijab, which brought her into conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremist. She also championed a campaign to set minimum quotas for female representation in parliament, which was successful.

Hanan Salah of Human Rights Watch said yesterday that „the killing seems intended to silence critics and muzzle dissent.

„Her conviction that dialogue is the only way out for Libya is now forever silent.“

Earlier this year Bugaighis and her family left Libya after one of her three children had been threatened by gunmen. The returned just months ago ready to continue campaigning.

30 years after the UN convention on banning torture - Amnesty's campaign to stand with victims of torture

Today, all over the world, Amnesty International’s members and activists are taking to the streets to ask governments to take action. 

On International Day in Support of Victims of Torture the idea is to stand in solidarity with anyone who has suffered torture, and to demand that governments stop this barbaric practice and make sure torture survivors get justice.

On this occasion Amnesty is publishing personal stories of people who have been tortured. Here is one of them, the story of Moses Akatugba from Nigeria:

„Aged 16, Moses was awaiting the results of his secondary school exams when his life changed forever. On 27 November 2005, the Nigerian army arrested and charged him with stealing three phones and various other items.

Moses describes being shot in the hand and soldiers beating him on the head and back. He was taken to an army barracks, and shown the body of a dead man. When he was unable to identify who it was, he was beaten again.

If Moses had been allowed to call a lawyer – or even just his mother – it could have protected him from being tortured. But for the first 24 hours, nobody knew where he was.

Moses was moved to Epkan police station in Delta State and says police severely beat him with machetes and batons; tied and hanged him for several hours in interrogation rooms and used pliers to pull-out his finger and toe nails in order to force him to sign two confessions.

At his trial, the investigating officer failed to show up. Moses was convicted solely on the basis of the victim’s statement and the two confessions he made while being tortured.

After eight years in prison, Moses was sentenced to death by hanging. Today, Moses is traumatized, his life hanging in the balance.“

The international campaign and ways to take immediate action can be followed here.


Jews and Roma blocked from running in Bosnia and Herzegovina election

With only four months until the next general election in Bosnia and Herzegovina, minorities still do not have the right to run for election.

Despite the 2009 European Court of Human Rights ruling that it is discriminatory for the constitution to prevent minorities from running for presidency or the upper house of parliament, the law has not been changed since.

As a result, candidates with Jewish or Roma backgrounds are not eligible to be elected.

Human rights groups, including Minority Rights Group International and Human Rights Watch, have mounted a campaign to have the ruling changed in time for the October election. The campaign particularly supports the case of a Bosniak from the Republika Srpska who has been prevented from running for high office.

Amnesty International launches “Panic Button” app for activists in danger

A new Panic Button app, to give human rights defenders urgent help from their own networks when facing attack, kidnapping, or torture is now available for public download on Google Playstore, announced Amnesty International yesterday. 

Amnesty says „The ‘Panic Button’ mobile app for Android, developed by Amnesty International in collaboration with iilab, activists, tech experts and volunteers from around the world, transforms a user’s smart phone into a secret alarm which can be activated rapidly in the event of an emergency, alerting fellow activists to the danger their colleague faces so that they can get help faster.“

“The aim of the Panic Button is to increase protection for activists around the world who face the ever present threat of arrest, attack, kidnap and torture,” said Tanya O’Carroll, Technology and Human Rights Officer for Amnesty International. 

“We have long known that the first hours after somebody’s arrest are the crucial window of opportunity for a network to make a difference to their colleague’s release—whether it be flooding the police station with calls, arranging a protest, or mobilizing lawyers and organizations like Amnesty International for a campaign of international pressure.” 

“This is an essential tool for activists, human rights defenders, students and lawyers. Everyone who might face danger in their work needs to have Panic Button on his or her phone.”  

Illustration by panicbutton

Purchasing cigarettes could be be banned for Britons born after 2000

In an attempt to protect future generations from the negative health effects of smoking, British doctors will vote this week on whether to campaign for a permanent ban on the sale of cigarettes to people born after the year 2000.

The British Medical Association is set to vote on a motion which, if successful, would see doctors lobby the government for this permanent ban.

The vote will take place at the association’s annual general meeting on Tuesday.

According to the Guardian, the British Medical Association has previously lobbied successfully for a ban on smoking in public places and smoking in cars with children.

The idea behind the ban is that the next generation should not suffer the same widespread smoking-related deaths of the 20th century.

The vote is sure to ignite debate about restrictions on liberty versus the right to good health for all citizens.