Nabeel Rajab writes: I write this from a Bahraini jail cell where I have been detained, largely in isolation, since the beginning of summer. This is not new to me: I have been here before, from 2012 to 2014, in 2015, and now again, all because of my work as a human rights defender.
Nor am I alone: There are some 4,000 political prisoners in Bahrain, which has the highest prison population per capita in the Middle East. This is a country that has subjected its people to imprisonment, torture and even death for daring to desire democracy. My close colleague Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was tortured and sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for his human rights work.
No one has been properly held to account for systematic abuses that have affected thousands. In 2015, I was arrested on new charges of “insulting a statutory body” and “spreading rumors during a time of war” for posts on Twitter. The police held me from April to July last year. I was released only after the king of Bahrain issued a pardon in an earlier case, also related to views I had expressed.
Despite the pardon, the 2015 charges and a travel ban remained in place, and I was threatened with further action. The head of the cybercrimes unit at the Criminal Investigation Directorate in Bahrain summoned me and my family to a meeting, where — in front of my children — he warned me that if I didn’t stop my advocacy work, I would face up to 15 years in prison. [Continue reading…]
Liz Ryan writes: The mass incarceration epidemic in the US has been getting much-deserved attention in recent years. What’s less well known is that some of the worst atrocities in the prison system are being committed against children—the US is the largest jailer of children in the world. With the looming presidential election putting prison reform in the spotlight, now is the time to reverse decades of bad policies.
Putting children in prison has a devastating impact on their families and communities, as well as on young people themselves. There are many examples of these atrocities in action. The Lincoln Hills youth facility in Irma, Wisconsin, is one of the largest youth prisons in the US. In the past 18 months, the facility has been the subject of federal and state investigations stemming from allegations of physical and sexual abuse, as well as guards using intimidation tactics to discourage youth from reporting incidents of pepper spray use, strangulation, and suffocation. In one incident, a boy’s toes were amputated after a staff member slammed a heavy door on his foot.
For the past several years, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, Connecticut’s largest youth prison, has been under multiple investigations by the Office of the Child Advocate for excessive use of isolation, overuse of restraints, inadequate suicide prevention, lack of appropriate staff support and training, inadequate and harmful crisis management, and scant available information on quality, public safety outcomes, and oversight. Last year, the Child Advocate’s office released video of staff members conducting face-down restraints on young people at the training school—which are illegal in Connecticut schools and treatment centers. [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: It is haunting, maddening even, to revisit the facts of Abu Zubaydah’s time in American custody more than 14 years after he was detained in Pakistan in the frenzied period following the Sept. 11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner known to have been waterboarded by the Central Intelligence Agency, loomed large in America’s imagination for years as the personification of evil.
On Tuesday, a small group of human rights advocates and journalists got a fleeting glimpse of Abu Zubaydah — the first since his detention — when he appeared before a panel of government officials to argue that he would not be a threat to the United States if he were released from the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba. The hearing, which civilians were allowed to watch part of from a live video feed, is an opportunity to reflect on the shameful tactics employed during years of national panic about terrorism and to reinvigorate efforts to close the prison.
George W. Bush’s administration believed that Abu Zubaydah, a bearded Saudi who wears a patch on his left eye, was the operations head of Al Qaeda. Mr. Bush singled him out in a 2006 speech, calling him a “senior terrorist leader,” and claiming that “the security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.” Abu Zubaydah and men like him, government officials argued, fully justified the facility at Guantánamo as well as a secret web of prisons run by the C.I.A. They also justified the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” otherwise known as torture, then eagerly embraced by some American intelligence officials.
Years later, it became clear that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t a top figure in Al Qaeda after all. It also became clear that he had willingly provided insights into terrorist groups when he was interrogated by F.B.I. agents, who treated him cordially. By the time he was turned over to the C.I.A., his knowledge about threats to the United States appears to have been largely exhausted. Yet agency personnel insisted on the need for torture, waterboarding him at least 83 times and subjecting him to other cruelty.
Never charged and never tried, Abu Zubaydah has also never been allowed to speak publicly about his ordeal. His American abusers have never been held to account. [Continue reading…]
Marc Parry writes: Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse.
Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups.
It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies.
By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mau work.
That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”
She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.”
What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: The threats have come via emails, phone calls, and once with flowers delivered directly to the front door.
Amid months of sustained intimidation, harassment and threats, Palestinian human rights defenders are coming forward to denounce a campaign that they say aims to “plant fear” into their efforts to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations.
“This is a very organised and advanced campaign,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a prominent Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organisation.
“The goal is to stop us [from] dealing actively with the [International Criminal Court], cooperating actively with the ICC,” Jabarin told Al Jazeera. “They want to plant fear on our side … when it comes to accountability [and] when it comes to our advocacy work.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: From a certain perspective, certainly the Kremlin’s, Vladimir Kara-Murza’s behavior in Washington could be seen as treasonous, a brazen betrayal of his homeland.
In a series of public meetings on Capitol Hill, Mr. Kara-Murza, a leader in the Russian opposition, urged American lawmakers to expand economic sanctions against the Russian government under a law known as the Magnitsky Act. That would hasten political change in Russia, he argued.
Back in Moscow a month later, in May 2015, the changes Mr. Kara-Murza detected were going on in his own body. Midway through a meeting with fellow dissidents, beads of sweat inexplicably dotted his forehead. His stomach churned.
“It all went so fast,” he recalled. “In the space of about 20 minutes, I went from feeling completely normal to having a rapid heart rate, really high blood pressure, to sweating and vomiting all over the place, and then I lost consciousness.” He had ingested a poison, doctors told him after he emerged from a weeklong coma, though they could find no identifiable trace of it.
While Mr. Kara-Murza survived, few others in his position have proved as lucky. He said he was certain he had been the target of a security service poisoning. Used extensively in the Soviet era, political murders are again playing a prominent role in the Kremlin’s foreign policy, the most brutal instrument in an expanding repertoire of intimidation tactics intended to silence or otherwise intimidate critics at home and abroad. [Continue reading…]
Amnesty International reports: The horrifying experiences of detainees subjected to rampant torture and other abuse in Syrian government prisons are detailed in a damning new report published by Amnesty International today (18 August), which estimates that more than 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria over the past five years – an average of more than 300 people each month, about 10 a day.
The 69-page report, ‘It breaks the human’: Torture, disease and death in Syria’s prisons, documents the cases of 65 torture survivors who’ve described appalling abuse and inhuman conditions in detention centres operated by various Syrian intelligence agencies and in one of Syria’s most notorious jails, Saydnaya Military Prison, on the outskirts of Damascus. Most said they had witnessed prisoners dying in custody – some beaten to death – and several former detainees described being held in cells alongside dead bodies.
The majority of survivors told Amnesty that abuse would begin instantly upon their arrest and during transfers, even before they set foot in a detention centre. Upon arrival detainees described a “welcome party” ritual involving severe beatings, often using silicone or metal bars or electric cables. These were often followed by “security checks”, during which women in particular reported being subjected to rape and sexual assault by male guards. [Continue reading…]
A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying.
All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.
Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalised deterioration in working conditions.
Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalisation that has radically altered the way we work.
In the post-war Fordist era of industry (pioneered by US car manufacturer Henry Ford), jobs generally provided stability and a clear career trajectory for many, allowing people to define their collective identity and their place in the world. Strong trade unions in major industrial sectors meant that employees could negotiate their working rights and conditions.
But today’s globalised workplace is characterised by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.
Now, it is not enough simply to work hard. In the words of Marxist theorist Franco Berardi, “the soul is put to work” and workers must devote their whole selves to the needs of the company.
For the economist Guy Standing, the precariat is the new social class of the 21st century, characterised by the lack of job security and even basic stability. Workers move in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. This shift has had deleterious effects on many people’s experience of work, with rising cases of acute stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, burnout, hopelessness and, in some cases, suicide.
The Guardian reports: A French human rights association and Muslim groups have said they will take legal action against the mayor of Cannes for issuing a decree banning burkinis from the resort’s beaches.
David Lisnard signed off on a ruling last month preventing women from wearing the full-body swimsuits in the Côte d’Azur town. The decree was introduced shortly after the Bastille day attack in Nice in July, where a delivery driver killed 85 people when he ploughed into crowds celebrating the French national holiday on the seafront.
The decree states that Muslim women wearing burkinis could be a threat to public order and will be cautioned and fined €38 (£33).
“Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order (crowds, scuffles etc), which it is necessary to prevent,” it says.
Thierry Migoule, the head of Cannes municipal services, said: “We are not talking about banning the wearing of religious symbols on the beach … but ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements which are at war with us.”
Lawyers, human rights groups and Muslim associations have described the decree as illegal and preposterous. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger jeopardized US efforts to stop mass killings by Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship by congratulating the country’s military leaders for “wiping out” terrorism, according to a large trove of newly declassified state department files.
The documents, which were released on Monday night, show how Kissinger’s close relationship to Argentina’s military rulers hindered Jimmy Carter’s carrot-and-stick attempts to influence the regime during his 1977-81 presidency.
Carter officials were infuriated by Kissinger’s attendance at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as the personal guest of dictator Jorge Videla, the general who oversaw the forced disappearance of up to 30,000 opponents of the military regime.
At the time, Kissinger was no longer in office after Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election, but the documents reveal that US diplomats feared his praise for Argentina’s crackdown would encourage further bloodshed. [Continue reading…]
Politico reports: President Barack Obama has to personally approve the killing of a U.S. citizen targeted for a lethal drone strike outside combat areas, according to a policy Obama adopted in 2013.
The president also is called upon to approve drone strikes against permanent residents of the U.S. and when “there is a lack of consensus” among agency chiefs about whom to target, but in other cases he is simply “apprised” of the targeting decision, the newly-disclosed document shows.
The presidential policy guidance on drone strikes, often called the drone “playbook,” was disclosed in an edited form Friday night in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
When Obama approved the guidance in May 2013, the White House issued a fact sheet about the policy, but declined to release the document itself — even in a redacted form.
However, a series of decisions from a federal appeals court in New York and from lower court judges have made it more difficult for the government to withhold legal and policy documents when many of the details in them have been disclosed elsewhere, such as in speeches or press releases. [Continue reading…]