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The start of the new year has seen a dangerous turn for the worse for human rights defenders in the Americas. In the last 2 weeks alone, Front Line Defenders has documented a number of cases of killing, attempted killing, attacks and death threats to human rights defenders throughout the region.
Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned about the apparent increase in violence and intimidation against human rights defenders in the Americas region. As the region continues to deal with the legacy of the past and makes strides towards justice and accountability, it is more important than ever to ensure the safety and security of human rights defenders working on the front lines of securing political, social, cultural, economic and other human rights for the people of the region.
You can read more about these cases on the Americas page at www.frontlinedefenders.org and you can stay updated on news about human rights defenders around the world by signing up for the Front Line Defenders e-bulletin via the website.
On 30 January 2012, Uzbek dictator Karimov, in power since 1990, celebrated his 74th birthday. As is usual under authoritarian regimes, the president's birthday in Uzbekistan is an occasion for the grateful population to demonstrate its loyalty and gratitude in well orchestrated events reported by the state-owned media.
Last night 100 + people listened riveted to James Kofi Annan, a human rights defender from Ghana who works against child slavery. James, himself was sold by his father, when he was just 6 years old, to work as a slave in the fishing industry.
His first memory on arrival is being thrown off the boat and being told he had to find a way to get back to boat - he was too young to know how to swim, but managed not to drown.
James worked from 5am to 8pm at night on the boats. He was beaten every day and shamefully abused - hunger and torture became his daily companions. The slave owners preferred young children because they were easier to control .
Of the 6 children who worked with James, 3 died. Some children drowned when they were forced to go and untangle nets There was never a choice between saving a fishing net or saving a child. The fishing net cost US$200, the child US$40 for 2 years slavery.
After a few unsuccessful attempts, James finally escaped when he was 13 years old. His mother was delighted to see him but his father was very angry, because the income derived from James had been cut off.
Adam Shapiro in Bahrain - "She can’t recall how many times she has breathed in the tear gas of the riot police or hid in a home"
It is Friday night in Bahrain. The interior of the franchise coffee house is the same as it is anywhere in the world, with necessary local flourishes added for flavor. In addition to standard fare cappuccinos and cakes, are added Shish Taouk wraps and other such efforts at appealing to a local palette. But that is where any similarity ends between this coffee house and its sisters in New York, London or Dubai.
At tables scattered throughout the cafe, there are hushed conversations over coffee whilst smartphones and laptops are being held and everyone tries to keep an eye on what is going on outside. Across the street, two riot police SUV are parked in an empty lot off a roundabout adjacent to a Bahraini village with their headlights fixed on the first row of homes. One policeman in full riot gear stands outside the vehicle and stares ahead, monitoring the flow of cars into the village.
Back inside the café, Zainab Al-Khawaja conducts her work as a human rights defender and opposition activist on the front lines.
Even though I knew Abdulhadi, our friend and former colleague was tortured, it was truly awful to read about the barbaric treatment he got. The Bahrain Independent Committee (BICI) forensic team included details of his treatment in the report launched yesterday.
Yes we knew he had been beaten so badly that he had to have a 4 hour operation on his face.He had four broken bones.
But what we didn't know, was that in hospital, he had been blindfolded and shackled to the bed for about seven days . When he asked the hospital staff to loosen the cuffs, they refused.The doctor told him that he needed three weeks of care but he was taken to Al Qurain Prison a week later. We didn't know he spent two months in solitary confinement in a small cell measuring approximately 2.5m x 2m.
Eight days after his surgery,the beatings started again. Masked guards cursed him and hit him in his head and hands, causing swelling. . He was also beaten on the soles of his feet (falaka) and on his toes. He was sexually abused and threatened with execution.
The drive out to the military court building took us on a main road bypassing villages and eventually newly built apartment buildings.
We were about 20 minutes outside of downtown Manama, and heading to a military base in order to visit with Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, father of Zainab Al Khawaja who was driving fast in the hope of getting to see her father. We were late on the road because Zainab was at the appeal hearing of her husband who was sentenced to a 5-year prison term.
At the military court building, Abdulhadi and his 13 other co-defendants are brought into two rooms where family members are allowed to spend 3 hours with them every two weeks. They are allowed to bring clothes, books, food and other things to the men, most of which is permitted to be taken back to the prison. When Zainab and I arrived, colleagues from other human rights organizations had already tried to get in to see Abdulhadi but had been turned away. I checked in with the military police guards and headed to the door where Zainab was waiting. She opened and I rushed in in front of her, and headed straight for her dad, standing at the front of the room.
Adam Shapiro reports from Bahrain on Day 1 of mission "Perhaps even the torture chambers are on hold this week".
Front Line Defenders reports from Belarus on trial of Ales Bialiatski -Today I was particularly proud of a guy from my country.
The trial started today at 10.00 and lasted till 17.30, the interrogation of Ales by both sides is finished and tomorrow they will interrogate the witnesses.
Ales is doing well, he is smiling and he was really happy to see all his friends in the courtroom.
Busy week. Started in Geneva for speech at PBI 30th anniversary conference. I really admire PBI. Their accompaniment and advocacy programme for human rights defenders is very effective. Met some old friends.
Next day went to Beijing. Plane was cancelled but managed to get rerouted. There are 66,600 taxis in Beijing, but you can never get one – ‘black’ taxis were my saviour! Was told you haven’t experienced ‘proper’ Beijing unless you go to Wangfujing Shopping Street and eat fried scorpion on a stick..hmmm….
Went to Peking University to give talk on the role of international NGOs in the protection of human rights defenders and our work to protect human rights defenders globally. The students asked loads of questions and showed great interest. Had a great lunch with our ex Peking University interns who are delightful. Went to a village outside Beijing on Saturday which was very vibrant and colourful. The population is mainly composed of rural migrant workers and their families, and a bustling market was in full swing when we were there. Off to Strasbourg early on Wednesday morning for a round table in the Council of Europe on human rights defenders.
Tara Madden reports from Goma - “We work in total insecurity – how can we think of our own well-being?”
I'm sitting by Lake Kivu in Goma. The water lapping peacefully against the shore is in stark contrast to the horrific stories of sexual violence told by a group of 18 women human rights defenders this morning. They were contributing to a discussion on the risks faced by women human rights defenders in the North Kivu province.
One of the women human rights defenders had accompanied a woman victim of rape from their village in the mountains to the hospital this morning. They had killed her husband. She had been raped by seven men in the field where she grew crops. She was four months pregnant.
The same women human rights defender whose work is to accompany and assist victims of rape said her name is known to those who commit these rapes. But they haven't been able to put her face to the name yet.
“The rural areas are the most dangerous.