Document - The Wire, September 2007. Vol. 37, No. 8
September 2007 Vol. 37. No.
AI Index: NWS
Peace talks ignore
The international community’s
renewed interest in the Middle East peace process has sparked a
flurry of initiatives to try to resuscitate it, but human rights
developments on the ground are not moving so fast.
The international community
was spurred into action after Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement)
wrested control of security installations and other institutions
from the Fatah party, led by the Palestinian Authority (PA)
President Mahmoud Abbas, following months of inter-factional
clashes in the Gaza Strip.
Major international donors,
notably the USA and the EU, who had suspended aid to the Hamas-led
PA government in early 2006, have now resumed financial aid to the
emergency government set up by President Abbas in the West Bank.
They have also tightened sanctions on Hamas, which has become the
de facto administration in the Gaza Strip.
President Bush announced that
the USA will convene an international conference later this year to
revive the long-stalled Middle East peace process. Former UK Prime
Minister Tony Blair, who was appointed as the envoy of the Quartet
(UN, USA, EU and Russia), is tasked with helping revive the
Palestinian economy, which has been virtually paralysed by
stringent Israeli blockades and restrictions on the movement of
people and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Meanwhile, following meetings
with his Palestinian counterpart, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert has announced his intention to allow the PA to establish a
Palestinian state in the OPT.
The optimism of these
initiatives, however, is in stark contrast to the deteriorating
human rights situation.
In the West Bank, Israeli
settlements and related infrastructure continue to be built and
extended, in violation of international law. Some two million
Palestinians remain subject to rigorous restrictions on their
freedom of movement between towns and villages, making even the
most basic activities of daily life difficult or
In the Gaza Strip, 1.5
million Palestinians have been trapped by a stringent blockade
since early June, when the Israeli authorities sealed the crossing
points between Gaza and the outside world. No one is allowed to
leave Gaza, except the most urgent medical cases, and even the flow
of basic food and medical and humanitarian aid into Gaza has been
The blockade on exports from
Gaza has reduced production in many factories by around 80 per cent
and closed others entirely. This is disastrous for a community
where two thirds of the population is already dependent on aid and
lives below the poverty line.
The internal security and
law-enforcement situation in the Gaza Strip is also a major cause
for concern. The end of the frequent and bloody Fatah-Hamas armed
clashes and abductions of both Palestinian and foreign nationals by
armed gangs has brought much-needed respite. However, President
Abbas’ decision to suspend the operation of PA security forces and
judicial institutions in the Gaza Strip has left the population
with no formal law enforcement. Hamas is filling this gap. It has
established its own security and law enforcement apparatus, with no
appropriately trained personnel and without adequate accountability
mechanism or safeguards.
international conference must ensure from the outset that all
concerned parties understand respect for human rights and
international law as a fundamental obligation.
Human rights are not a
bargaining chip to be used by one side or the other to extract
The subordination of
fundamental rights to political considerations and the application
of double standards of accountability have been a major cause of
the failure of past peace processes. The same mistakes should not
be allowed to undermine the prospect of sustainable peace and
More than a year after José
Jiménez Colmenares was shot dead during a peaceful demonstration in
Oaxaca City, Mexico, his killers remain at liberty. No one has been
charged with his murder, despite the fact that demonstrators handed
over gun shell casings and several suspects – including two state
police officers – to the authorities on the day he died.
The prosecuting authorities
failed to preserve the crime scene and released the suspects. José
Jiménez Colmen’s wife said she was told to come back when she had
collected sufficient evidence to prosecute.
In mid-2006, what began as a
strike by teachers over pay and conditions escalated into
widespread demonstrations? A popular support movement – the Popular
Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) – was formed to support the
teachers. The response of the authorities triggered a political and
public security crisis which has continued into 2007.
At least 18 people were
killed in the unrest. Scores more were injured and hundreds were
detained and ill-treated. Many of those detained were charged on
the basis of fabricated evidence and convicted following unfair
Across Oaxaca, human rights
violations committed during the upheavals in 2006 are being
compounded by a failure to bring those responsible to justice and a
systemic disregard for the rights of victims and their
"One grabbed me and threw me
to the ground, shouting: ‘You thought you were a real
revolutionary, no? A real rebel. Now you are going to know what
that means…’" said Rosalba Aguilar Sánchez, describing how she was
detained on 25 November 2006 by Federal Preventive Police in
central Oaxaca City.
Reports say 140 people were
detained on that day, after a peaceful APPO demonstration ended in
The National Human Rights
Commission found that at least 13 of those detained were tortured
by State Judicial Police and Federal Preventive Police.
The response of the
authorities to the demands for justice by the victims of human
rights violations has been characterized by inertia, incompetence
and obstruction. Journalists, relatives and human rights defenders
who have tried to pursue cases and expose the truth have been
At every stage of the
investigative and judicial process the quest for truth has been
thwarted. In most cases crime scenes were not preserved and
evidence was not gathered promptly.
Not all protests were
peaceful, and the authorities have a duty to maintain public order
and protect the public. However, such challenges do not diminish
their obligation to uphold national and international human rights
law. Nor can they excuse impunity for human rights
For more cases of
violations and impunity, and a full list of AI’s recommendations to
the Mexican authorities on tackling such impunity, bringing
policing into line with international standards, and ensuring fair
trials,see Mexico: Oaxaca –
clamour for justice(AMR
Arms trade treaty must have
human rights at its heart
India has reportedly been in
negotiations since late 2006 to supply military helicopters to
Myanmar. This transfer, if it goes ahead, would undermine an EU
Arms Embargo on Myanmar.
At the same time, the
irresponsible transfer of arms to Sudan and its neighbours has been
a significant and continuing factor in the human rights catastrophe
in Darfur and eastern Chad.
A high proportion of
violations and abuses of human rights and international
humanitarian law around the world are committed by military and law
enforcement personnel and armed groups, using a wide range of
easily available weaponry. While many governments have recognised
this problem, there are powerful opponents of the proposed Arms
Trade Treaty (ATT) who can still block progress.
India is one such potential
blocker. A recent report produced by AI and Saferworld, Indian
helicopters for Myanmar: making a mockery of the EU arms embargo?,
outlined concerns about the potential transfer from India to
Myanmar of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which is highly
likely to contain components, technology and munitions originating
from EU member states and the USA.
The Indian government’s
reaction to the report was confused. The first response, which came
from an anonymous official, stated that the Indian government "does
not attach much credence to reports by Amnesty International". The
second more "senior" unnamed source, from the defence ministry’s
armaments production wing, admitted to the press agency AFP that:
"The matter is delicate: 90 per cent of the ALH is European, and
its transfer would be in breach of the embargo. It’s a Catch-22
situation for us." Some three hours later an official reaction from
Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Navtej Sarna rejected the report
as "completely baseless".
Some transfers to Sudan have
already flown in the face of a UN embargo requiring all member
states to take measures to prevent arms reaching those fighting in
Darfur – transfers of military equipment to the Sudanese armed
forces have mainly been from China and Russia.
Detailed eyewitness accounts
given to AI confirmed the continued presence of the Russian Mi-24
attack helicopters at Geneina, El Fasher and Nyala, and Chinese A-5
"Fantan" jet fighters were seen parked at Nyala airport, Darfur,
between January and March 2007. These aircraft are specifically
designed to be used for ground attack operations. Both China and
Russia are aware of the UN reports accusing the Sudanese government
of repeatedly violating the UN arms embargo by moving such military
equipment into Darfur for offensive operations and without UN
This is why an ATT is so
crucial. Campaigners around the world are celebrating a significant
victory after more than 90 governments participated in the UN
consultation process on the ATT.
countries’ submissions to UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the
Control Arms campaign has coordinated more than 100 People’s
Consultations around the world, where people shared their views on
what the ATT should include.
The work of global civil
society has been a major contributing factor in the success of the
treaty process so far.
This October, states will
resume the debate on an ATT at the UN before a group of government
experts starts, in early 2008, to deliberate on the feasibility,
scope and parameters of such an instrument. The golden rule
essential to an effective treaty is: no arms transfers should be
authorized that will contribute to serious violations of human
rights and international humanitarian law.
For further information see
AI documentsIndian helicopters
for Myanmar: Making a mockery of the EU arms
continuing to fuel serious human rights violations in
Darfur(AFR 54/019/2007). To take
action, visit the Control Arms
"I did it for a laugh," a
senior police officer told journalists. "I wasn’t beating them for
any particular reason but because I wanted us to have a bit of
fun." He was describing the ill-treatment of two migrants in
detention in Athens, June 2006.
The two migrants were
detained in Omonia police station in central Athens, beaten by
police officers and forced to slap each other repeatedly. The
incident was recorded on a video which was circulated a year later,
in June 2007. In this case, the officers involved have been
suspended, an investigation launched, and some charges pressed. But
other similar videos exist and there are reports that the number of
cases of ill-treatment in Greece is on the rise.
A young Moldovan woman, for
example, held at a police station in Athens in June 2007 for three
hours, has detailed how she was ill-treated.
She and her family had been
residing legally in Greece for the past four years. She told AI
that on 8 June she was arrested at home by police officers who
searched the house and demanded to see her and her father’s
residence permits. She was then taken to the general police
headquarters of Attica in the centre of Athens and questioned about
the whereabouts of her former partner.
She said she was then taken
to another office by three female police officers, one of whom beat
her around the head. The officers forced her to strip to her
underwear and face the wall. She was then struck again and one
officer pulled out clumps of her hair.
Following this, she was taken
back to the first office where she was interrogated again about her
former partner. One of the officers grabbed her arm while another
kicked her. She said that they threatened to destroy her residence
permit and one of them told her: "We’ll bring your parents here too
and they will go through what you have. You will appear before a
court as a defendant and we will send you back to your country
along with your parents."
Around three hours after the
beginning of her ordeal she was released. She was admitted to
hospital with head pains, nausea and dizziness. She was X-rayed and
given a neck brace as a result of her injuries. She lodged a
complaint against the officers for bodily harm, threats and
blackmail, but no steps have been taken to investigate the incident
and bring the officers to justice.
While the investigations that
do occur in Greece are welcome, many other reports of ill-treatment
AI urges the Greek
authorities to initiate independent investigations into all
allegations of ill-treatment immediately. The perpetrators must be
brought to justice and victims receive reparations. Police officers
also need to be fully trained in the proper treatment of
Write to the Ministry of
Public Order, urging the authorities to uphold their international
legal obligations and to investigate the allegations of
ill-treatment immediately – bringing the perpetrators to justice
and giving victims reparations.
Send letters to: Byron
Polydoras, Minister of Public Order, P. Kanellopoulou 4, 10177
Athens, Greece. Fax: +302106988176.
Sexual violence in Sierra
Leone – time to repair the damage
Six years after the end of
the conflict in Sierra Leone, little has been done to ensure that
the survivors of sexual violence receive justice, acknowledgement
of their suffering or reparations which would enable them to
rebuild their lives.
All parties to the
11-year-long war committed abuses, including rape, sexual slavery,
forced pregnancy and other crimes of sexual violence against an
estimated quarter of a million women and girls.
For the victims of these
crimes, sexual violence was not a single event but a violation
which has continued. Having been systematically targeted during the
war, their physical and psychological wounds have been compounded
by stigmatization and discrimination in the years since hostilities
They have employed many
strategies to survive, both during the conflict and in the years
that have followed. Many survivors felt too ashamed of their
experiences of sexual violence to return to their own towns and
villages; others live in silence, unable to share their painful
memories out of fear that they will be rejected by family members
and lose their economic security. In addition, because many of the
women and girls are identified as former "rebel wives", they are
discriminated against, isolated and excluded from their
communities. As a result they have difficulty obtaining food,
shelter, work and healthcare; they are effectively prevented from
reintegrating into society.
The desire of these women and
girls for justice and reparations is simply to enable them to
become economically independent – to provide for themselves and
their children and begin to re-establish their lives free from
fear, stigma and discrimination.
The Sierra Leone government
has not addressed the physical and psychological effects of the
crimes that have been committed against so many women and girls.
Neither has it provided justice, recognition of the crimes, or
effective rehabilitation programmes, without which they cannot even
begin to rebuild their lives and those of their
If reparations for women and
girls in Sierra Leone are to tackle the complex social and
individual effects of sexual abuse, they must be part of a wider
strategy to prevent future violence, address the deep-seated
discrimination against women, promote equality and improve women’s
Sierra Leone’s Truth and
Reconciliation Commission has recommended specific measures for
ensuring that victims of sexual abuse receive reparations which
would enable them to begin to address the damage that has been done
to them. The survivors themselves need to be active participants in
establishing a reparations programme which genuinely meets their
report,Sierra Leone: Getting
reparations right for survivors of sexual
violence(AFR 51/005/2007), examines
the social and individual impact of sexual violence, and calls on
the government, with the support of non-governmental and
international bodies, to implement a comprehensive and effective
There is a long road ahead
for Sierra Leone’s victims of sexual violence. A meaningful
reparations programme, which genuinely involves the survivors of
these crimes, can provide a stepping stone to help restore their
dignity so they can use their proven survival skills to take an
active role in moving on from these terrible
News in Brief
Ethiopia – human rights
Prisoners of conscience
Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie remain in prison nearly two
years after their arrest in November 2005. They were among tens of
thousands of protesters detained in the aftermath of elections in
May 2005. During the violent protests against the results, nearly
200 people were shot dead by security forces and more than 700
others were wounded.
Daniel Bekele, policy manager
of ActionAid in Ethiopia, and Netsanet Demissie, founder and
director of the Organization for Social Justice, were defendants in
a recently concluded trial of some 76 people, who included leaders
of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy as well as
journalists and human rights defenders. Thirty-eight defendants
were convicted of "outrages against the Constitution" in July and
sentenced to life imprisonment. However, four days later, on 20
July, they were pardoned and released at the instigation of the
Prime Minister after they signed a letter apologizing for
"mistakes" in the protests and promising to respect the government.
At least one of them later claimed that the statement was signed
The verdict on Daniel Bekele
and Netsanet Demissie is due to be announced on 8
On 13 June the UK’s Law
Lords ruled that the family of Baha Mousa – a 26-year-old Iraqi
hotel receptionist who died on 15 September 2003 after being
tortured over a period of 36 hours while detained by British troops
in Basra, southern Iraq – was entitled to an independent, impartial
and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding his
death. Since then, the case has been remitted to a lower court to
decide whether the investigations carried out to date have met
these standards. SeeWorldwide
China – prisoner of
conscience severely beaten
Prisoner of conscience Chen
Guangcheng was severely beaten on 16 June by six other prisoners
who were encouraged by prison guards, because he refused to have
his head shaved. He told his wife on 19 June that he was being
punished for "being disobedient" because he insisted on appealing
against his sentence to a higher court. He thinks he may have a
broken rib following his beating but he has been denied medical
Blind since birth, Chen
Guangcheng needs the help of his wife and lawyer to file his
appeal, but visits from them are restricted to 30 minutes a
A self-taught lawyer, he was
helping villagers take legal action against the authorities who had
allegedly forced women to have abortions in order to meet
government birth quotas. In August 2006 he was sentenced to four
years and three months in prison for "damaging public property and
gathering people to block traffic".
AI is concerned that Chen
Guangcheng may be at risk of further torture and other
Advocate of peaceful reform
Kamal al-Labwani was sentenced on 10 May to a 12-year prison term
for "scheming with a foreign country… with the aim of causing it to
attack Syria". The charge relates to his visit to Europe and the
USA in 2005 where he met human rights organizations and government
officials and called for a process of peaceful democratic reform in
Syria. Kamal al-Labwani was previously imprisoned for three years
for his involvement in the "Damascus Spring" peaceful reform
movement. AI deplores the sentence, which followed an unfair trial
during which evidence showing that Kamal al-Labwani has repeatedly
opposed any advocacy of US aggression against Syria was ignored.
On 18 July, just before 4am
and only minutes before he was scheduled to be executed, Sina
Paymard, an 18-year-old musician - was granted a 10-day stay of
execution to allow time for his family and the family of the murder
victim to reach a financial settlement aimed at providing
compensation (diyeh- blood money) to the
family of the victim.
Following the stay of
execution, the family of Sina Paymard managed to collect the
US$160,000 demanded by the family of the victim. However, at the
time of writing, over three weeks later, the family of the victim
have yet to accept the blood money. Sina Paymard’s lawyer has
reported that the family of the victim may now want the execution
to go ahead, and that a court will make a final ruling.
For more information
seeIran: End child
In June Lima’s Penal Court
sentenced two policemen to eight years’ and four years’
imprisonment for "torture leading to death" of Ricardo Huaringa
Felix. The court also ordered the two men to pay compensation to
Ricardo Huaringa Felix’s family.
Jailed for non-violent
Mehmet Desde was imprisoned
on 8 June solely on the basis of his non-violent political beliefs.
He was convicted following an unfair trial, largely on the basis of
statements allegedly extracted under torture. He was sentenced to
30 months’ imprisonment but will serve 75 per cent of this. AI
considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.
On 25 December 2006, the 9th
Chamber of the Court of Cassation, Turkey’s highest court, upheld
the March 2006 convictions of Mehmet Desde and four others for
"membership of an illegal organization", and of three more people
for "supporting an illegal organization". The convictions relate to
the men’s alleged connection with the Bolshevik Party (North
Kurdistan/Turkey), a small, non-violent political party. During
their trial the men denied being members of the group.
The evidence used to convict
the eight men consisted mainly of statements allegedly extracted
from some of them under torture, as well as the discovery of legal
journals in their possession, and leaflets and stickers in the name
of the Bolshevik Party (North Kurdistan/Turkey). The eight were
detained between 9 and10 July 2002.
The decision by the Court of
Cassation is all the more disturbing in view of the fact that a
separate case against four police officers accused of torturing
Mehmet Desde when he was first detained in 2002 is still
AI regards the final verdict
against the eight as evidence of a continuing pattern of unfair
trial proceedings which blights Turkey’s criminal justice
Please write, calling on the
authorities to release Mehmet Desde immediately, to conduct a full
and prompt investigation into all allegations of torture and other
ill-treatment of detainees, and to end the use of evidence
extracted under these circumstances.
Send appeals to: Minister of
Justice Mr Fahri Kasirga, Adalet Bakanligi, 06659 Kizilay, Ankara,
Turkey. Fax: +90 312 419 3370. Salutation: Dear Minister
Karim Amer, a 23-year-old
Egyptian blogger and former al-Azhar University student, was
sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on 22 February for
criticizing Egypt’s al-Azhar religious authorities, the Egyptian
President and Islam.
AI considers Karim Amer to be
a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned on account of the peaceful
expression of his views.
A Misdemeanor Court in
Alexandria, North Egypt, jailed Karim Amer for writing internet
blogs about Islam, the Egyptian regime and the sectarian riots
which took place between Muslims and Christians in Alexandria in
October 2005. The court found that his writings were "inciting
strife and defaming Muslims on the internet by describing the
prophet of Islam and his comrades as murderers, which disturbs
national peace"; and "insulting the President of the Republic by
writing on the internet".
He received three years’
imprisonment on the first charge and one year’s imprisonment on the
second. On 12 March the Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence. He
lodged a further appeal to the Court of Cassation on 21 April but
no hearing has yet been scheduled.
Karim Amer is now in Borg
Al-Arab prison in Alexandria. He was held in solitary confinement
for 65 days, reportedly in order to force him to give up his views
about Islam. He is allowed regular visits by his family and
lawyers. Since July he has also reportedly been allowed daily
outdoor exercise and exchanges of letters with his mother. He plans
to study literature at Alexandria University from October, if
allowed by the prison director.
Please write to the President
of Egypt, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of
prisoner of conscience Karim Amer.
Send appeals to: Mohammad
Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, ‘Abedine
Palace, Cairo, Egypt. Fax: +20 223 901 998.
Please also send expressions
of solidarity to: Abdel Karim Nabil Soliman Amer, Borg Al-Arab
Prison, Alexandria, Egypt.
Eight men, all members of the
Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), are currently serving
prison sentences in Morocco on charges of "undermining the
monarchy". They were arrested after participating in peaceful
demonstrations, during which slogans referring to the monarchy,
including "no more taboos, more freedom", were chanted.
AI considers them to be
prisoners of conscience, held solely for their participation in
non-violent demonstrations during which opinions were expressed
Thami Khyati, Youssef Reggab,
Oussama Ben Messaoud, Ahmed Al Kaateb and Rabii Raïssouni were
arrested in the city of Ksar El Kebir after participating in
demonstrations on 1 May marking International Workers Day. They
were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000
dirhams (about US$1,000). On 24 July, a court of appeal extended
their prison sentence from three to four years.
Mehdi Berbouchi and
Abderrahim Karrad were arrested in the city of Agadir after
demonstrating on 1 May and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and
a fine of 10,000 dirhams. Their claim that they were threatened and
ill-treated during arrest and interrogation was not investigated
adequately by the court. Their sentence was confirmed on
Following a sit-in in
solidarity with the seven men above, 10 further AMDH members were
arrested in June in Beni Mellal and charged with the same offence.
Political activist Mohamed Boughrine was sentenced to one year in
prison, three men received suspended prison sentences and six were
acquitted. On 9 August, after an appeal by the prosecution, the 10
men received harsher sentences – Mohamed Boughrine’s prison
sentence was increased to three years. The other nine were
sentenced to one year’s imprisonment but remained free pending
appeal before the Court of Cassation.
Several people, including
journalists and political activists, have been prosecuted and in
some cases sentenced to prison terms in recent years, after
peacefully expressing views on the monarchy, still a taboo subject
in many discussions.
Please write to the Moroccan
authorities, urging them to release immediately and unconditionally
the eight men.
Send appeals to: His
Excellency Mohamed Bouzoubâa, Minister of Justice, Ministry of
Justice, Place Mamounia, Rabat, Morocco. Fax: +212 37 72 37 10.
Salutation: Your Excellency
Journalist denied freedom of
Lee Si-woo, a photojournalist
and peace campaigner, was arrested on 23 April on charges under the
vaguely worded South Korean National Security Law (NSL). The
charges relate to information he reported as a freelance
journalist. AI believes he is a prisoner of conscience, detained
solely for exercising his right to freedom of
Lee Si-woo published
information on the US military presence in South Korea. His news
reportage was based on information obtained legally through the
government and the military, through Freedom of Information
Lee Si-woo’s trial before the
Seoul Central District Court began on 4 July.
Lee Si-woo is accused of
"disclosing national/ military secrets" and propagating the
ideology of "an enemy state" – in other words, of supporting North
The authorities have
specified that the military secrets they accuse Lee Si-woo
disclosing include reports on
anti-personnel mines clearance and landmine casualties in South
Korea, which Lee had examined in 2002 for the Korean Campaign to
Ban Landmines. His investigation was reportedly given the go-ahead
by the South Korean government and was funded by an organization
supported by the government. No questions were raised about the
legality of the reports at the time, and many of the sources he
used to gather information are freely available on the
He has published books and
collections of his photographs, focusing on the anti-personnel
mines which remain in the de-militarized zone separating South and
North Korea (known as the Civilian Passage Restriction Line), and
on the presence of the US-led UN Command in South Korea.
Following his detention, Lee
Si-woo went on hunger-strike for more than 40 days, and is still
said to be weak. He reportedly has difficulty standing and has to
use a wheelchair. He appears to have received adequate access to
medical care, and reportedly receives regular visits from his
family, lawyer and local activists.
Please write, calling for the
immediate and unconditional release of Lee Si-woo, and urging the
government to abolish the National Security Law or fundamentally
review it so as to bring the law into line with international
Send appeals to: Minister of
Justice Jeong Song-jin, Ministry of Justice, Gwacheon Government
Complex, 1 Jungang-dong, Gwacheon 427-725, Gyeonggi Province,
Republic of Korea. Fax: +82 2 2110 3079. Email: email@example.com
Salutation: Dear Minister Jeong
Activists mobilize through
Cousin Zilala, the dynamic
new Executive Director of AI Zimbabwe, knows exactly how he wants
to mobilize people to defend human rights in his troubled country –
through the theatre. While visiting the International Secretariat
in London in June, he spoke to the Wire about his plans.
"Theatre is one of the best
community mobilization tools," he said. "It looks at how people
live, then mirrors their actions, attitudes, emotions and
behaviours on stage to stimulate discussion and action. The
community is then given the opportunity to tell their problems,
which feeds back into the play."
Cousin Zilala described one
example of many from his 17 years of using theatre to promote human
"In 1998 I created a play
based on a real story where a man had raped his deceased brother’s
two daughters aged eight and t12. The case was not reported to the
police because the family wanted to preserve its name.
"The uncle was walking
scot-free for two years until I contacted a theatre group to act
out the story in Mutare, in the community where the rapes had taken
place. Members of the audience confessed that they knew about the
rape, that it was real. They then helped the police with the
investigation and the man was brought to justice."
Cousin’s voyage to such
theatre began in the early 1990s when he gained a diploma in
theatre for development. He then used this knowledge while
co-ordinating a cultural exchange programme for young people
between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe.
In 1995 he joined the
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association. "At this point", he said, "I
realized that I had always been in theatre to work for human
rights. My art is a tool – human rights is the content."
So successful was his work
that he organized a competition of human rights plays across the
country to feed into the development of a human rights education
curriculum. "Unfortunately, just as the curriculum was launched in
1999, the political situation deteriorated rapidly and the project
Several times he narrowly
escaped attacks. "One evening in 2000 I was speaking in a hall in
Kariba. Members of the ruling party shouted out ‘let’s beat him
up’, and turned off the lights. People were crying… I managed to
The following year he
joined the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre as the Deputy
Director and initiated a programme called Theatre for Human Rights
and Political Tolerance, where they
developedchirwirangwe(partnership) between the
theatre and local communities. Cousin Zilala hopes that such
partnerships can be used to build AI’s impact in
However, he acknowledges the
enormity of the challenges facing him and his fellow human rights
activists. "In Zimbabwe today, freedom of movement, association,
choice, expression and many other political freedoms are under
siege… Inflation is skyrocketing… People are starving… There are
organized human rights violations against human rights defenders
and the opposition. Given this situation, the strengthening of AI
cannot be delayed."
Cousin Zilala’s final words
revealed his defiance and determination. "We have only one
Zimbabwe," he said. "We won’t surrender it."
Picture caption: Theatre
for Human Rights and Political Tolerance
The dream of a world free of
executions could be in reach with a big push from the UN General
A clear endorsement of a
global moratorium on executions by the UNGA would be a significant
boost to the campaign. It would carry considerable moral weight and
be an invaluable lobbying tool when calling on retentionist states
AI is supporting an EU
initiative – with an alliance of states from other regions – to
table a resolution on a moratorium on executions at the UNGA 62nd
session in New York in October 2007.
There is an unmistakable
trend towards worldwide abolition – we are at the tipping point –
with 130 countries having abolished the death penalty in law or
practice. We must take advantage of the momentum.
In 2006, only 25 countries
carried out executions, of which 91 per cent took place in China,
Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the USA. In the Americas, only the
USA has carried out executions since 2003. Europe is almost a death
penalty-free zone – with Belarus as the ugly exception. In Africa,
only six states carried out executions in 2006. In Rwanda, the
parliament passed legislation in July 2007 to abolish the death
Globally, AI statistics show
a decline in the number of reported executions, dropping to 1,591
in 2006, compared with 2,148 the year before. It is important to
note, however, that the real figures for both years are certainly
higher than the numbers AI has been able to verify, as many
governments carry out the death penalty in a secretive manner and
issue no official information.
Many governments and
international organizations have led and supported international
initiatives to achieve world-wide abolition. In 2005, the then UN
Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution which called upon
all states that still maintain the death penalty to abolish it
"completely and, in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on
executions". More recently, more than 90 countries have signed a
statement at the UNGA 61st session (2006) also "calling upon states
that still maintain the death penalty to abolish it completely and,
in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on
The UNGA is composed of all
UN member states. Therefore, a call by this key body for a
moratorium, as a first step towards abolition, would be an
important international milestone. The resolution itself would not
prevent a state carrying out an execution, but it would carry a
heavy moral and political weight of united international
The resolution is within
reach – but it is important the draft has as many co-sponsors as
possible across all regions, both to ensure its adoption and to
carry political weight.
You can join AI’s campaign
for a resolution on a global moratorium at the UNGA; sign the World
Coalition against the Death Penalty petition and write to your
government to support the resolution.
www.worldcoalition.org and www.amnesty.org/campaign/
October’s issue of the Wire
will look at the death penalty in more detail.
Guantánamo detainees sent
back to Saudi Arabia
Jumah al-Dossari, who is
believed to have attempted suicide at least 13 times while in US
custody, was among a group of 16 Saudi Arabian nationals
transferred from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia in July
Just three months before his
release, he had described his despair at his continued detention in
a letter to his lawyer: "I can say that life and death, here in
Cuba, are equal, but death has become my greatest hope to end my
misery, suffering and sad life."
His brother-in-law, who spoke
to Jumah al-Dossari on the phone after his return, told the media
that: "His mother, brother and sister have seen him in Riyadh and
they say he is well and he was very pleased to see them... For five
years, he was there, but now he has come back and that is great...
We are very happy... He called me and I talked with him – his
health seems better than before because he is back."
More than 50 Saudi Arabian
nationals remain in Guantánamo. Up to 77 others have been released
from Guantánamo and returned to Saudi Arabia. All were detained
upon arrival in Saudi Arabia but most are believed to have now been
AI youth activists from South
Africa to South Korea came together in a creative celebration of
International Youth Day at AI’s International Council Meeting in
The activists created a giant
origami bird of peace representing freedom in support of prisoner
of conscience Zmitser Dashkevich. The Belarusian youth opposition
leader, imprisoned for expressing his views, symbolizes the
harassment and intimidation faced by young activists around the
Young people at the forefront
of social activism are often the first to be silenced. In Belarus,
AI has observed an increasing number of arrests of youth activists.
In the run up to the last presidential elections – and indeed since
– many students have been expelled from universities as a result of
their political activities.
The origami bird was nearly
two metres high and will soon be flying to the capital, Minsk,
calling for Zmitser Dashkevich’s release. The action is just one
part of a campaign that has seen 6,500 paper birds sent to
Young people are a powerful
voice with a key role to play in the promotion and protection of
human rights – bringing a fresh perspective, creativity and energy
to campaigning, both locally and globally. This action, based
around the simple act of turning folded paper into a powerful
symbol, has created a global consciousness among young activists of
their unique potential to create change.
ACT NOW to support Zmitser
Write to the Belarusian
authorities demanding the immediate and unconditional release of
prisoner of conscience Zmitser Dashkevich and all other young
activists. Urge them to stop the obstruction, harassment and
intimidation of civil society activists promoting human rights in
Send appeals to: President
Alyaksandr G Lukashenka ul Karla Marxa 38, 220016 Minsk,
Belarus.Fax: +375175260610. Salutation: Dear President
Despite the UN Security
Council Resolution 1769, authorizing the deployment of a
peacekeeping force, attacks on civilians in Darfur continue. Until
the attacks cease and a full peacekeeping force is deployed, the
international community must not look away. On 16 September, AI
will join a large coalition of organizations calling again for the
urgent and full deployment of peacekeepers.
At AI’s 2007 International
Council Meeting held in Morelos, Mexico, in August, delegates were
invited to build a shared picture of what AI could be, by adding
their own piece of the puzzle to a giant jigsaw.