Statement launched by the Regional Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa.
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Journalist and WHRD Wini Omer could face the death penalty after allegations including prostitution and espionage.
The Sudanese authorities continue to violently suppress women human rights defenders. Recently, authorities have been trying to control the activities of WHRDs within the confines of their own private homes. On 20 February, the public order police burst in two a meeting between Wini Omer and her colleagues. They were arrested without any warrants and were taken to the Public Order police station.
The police accused Wini & her friend of ‘running a brothel’ and later accused them of ‘drinking alcohol’, although alcohol testing results proved the accusation wrong (Alcohol is banned to all Muslim citizens in Sudan).
WHRD Wini Omer stated that she & her colleagues were in a regular meeting. She was detained for five days, her laptop was confiscated and she was later banned from leaving the country.
On July 24, the Public Order Court held the first hearing of Wini Omer and set another hearing on 6 August to hear witnesses.
The WHRD is known for her dedication to defending human rights and advocating women’s rights and is a 2017 Mandela Washington fellow. The Sudanese authorities have previously targeted her in the past. In December 2017, she was arrested by the Public Order police for violating Article 152, relating to wearing a ‘scandalous’ outfit.
It is clear that the Sudanese authorities are using public order to target WHRDs and restrict their movement. In 2016, more than 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging as a result of prosecutions under public order, according to the stats of the “No to Women’s Oppression” initiative. The public order law explicitly discriminates against women, as most of its provisions are related to women’s agency: such as ‘indecency’, ‘scandalous outfits’, “women’s places’, women’s behavior, and so on.
These provisions are also implemented in a derogatory manner aimed restricting women’s presence in the public sphere, and to limit their mobility and social activity. There is a clear monopoly of legitimate legal procedures under the public order, whereby detainees are not allowed to defend themselves or to assign a lawyer, and the accused are brought to the court without being specifically informed of the charges against them. In all public order trials, the complainant and the witness are the same police officer. All of the aforementioned is a clear and gross breach of the principles of guaranteeing the right to a fair trial. It is also undeniable that the Sudanese government has exploited this law as a patriarchal tool to target women human rights defenders. This is evidenced by the escalation of the Sudanese authorities in their application of the provisions of the Public Order Law in response to the request of the US Deputy Secretary of State to review the Public Order Law and amend certain provisions.
The authorities are trying to take the case to a very dangerous path. The authorities are trying to charge WHRD Wini Omer with espionage, if convicted, she may face the death penalty.
The Regional Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa is in solidarity with WHRD Wini Omer and condemns the Sudanese authorities for targeting her.
The Coalition demands the Sudanese authorities to:
-Drop all charges against WHRD Wini Omer and ensure her safety along with her physical and psychological wellbeing.
-Revoke the travel ban against and end all of forms of persecution against her.
-End all forms of harassment against the WHRD Wini Omer, as she has mentioned that she was provoked, insulted and ridiculed during her presence in the police station.
– Review laws, specifically the Criminal Code to ensure that the dignity and rights of women are a priority.
The Regional Coalition also demands the International Community to:
-Urge the Sudanese authorities to drop all charges against WHRD Wini Omer
-Urge the Sudanese authorities to repeal article 152 of the Criminal Code and to make it compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
– Pressure on the Sudanese authorities to repeal Article 152 of the Criminal Code concerning wearing the uniform so as to become compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The WHRD IC is deeply concerned about the recent detention of eight Turkish human rights defenders and two IT trainers and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. Among those who were detained from a human rights workshop are prominent members of the women’s rights movement, which is a clear attempt to destabilize and demoralize women who engage in legitimate and important activism to defend and promote human rights.
Those detained included some of Turkey’s leading women human rights defenders and human rights defenders carrying out crucial human rights work and two internationalIT trainers. They are: Idil Eser, Director of Amnesty International Turkey; İlknur Üstün, Women’s Coalition; Günal Kurşun, lawyer, Human Rights Agenda Association; Nalan Erkem, lawyer, Citizens Assembly, Nejat Taştan, Equal Rights Watch Association; Özlem Dalkıran, Citizens’ Assembly; Şeyhmuz Özbekli lawyer; Veli Acu, Human Rights Agenda Association; Ali Gharawi and Peter Steudtner both IT consultants delivering the training.
The detention took place on 5 July after Turkish police raided a hotel in Büyükada, Istanbul where the group was holding a capacity building workshop for human rights defenders. All ten individuals were held incommunicado for more than 28 hours.
The day after, on 6 July, lawyers were told that their detention had been extended for seven days, an extended period applicable for terrorism related investigations under Turkey’s state of emergency. It could be extended for a further seven days on request of the prosecutor before being brought before a judge. All are being investigated for membership of an ‘armed terrorist organization’’.
“This new low by the government demonstrates they will not shy away from going to extreme lengths to criminalize dissenting voices. The international community must not remain silent” stated one of the members of the WHRD IC from Turkey who requests to be anonymous due to security reasons.
In November 2016 the WHRD International Coalition released a statement expressing grave concern about the attacks on women human rights defenders in Turkey.
These detentions are yet another mark on an increasingly tarnished human rights record in Turkey. It is not acceptable for the international community to continue to remain silent before the onslaught on human rights and against those who dare make a stand in Turkey. President Erdoğan is presently meeting with world leaders at the G20 Summit in Hamburg – they must hold him to account for this deliberate attack which is a grotesque abuse of power.
For further info see Free Rights Defenders – Hak Savunucularına Dokunma
By Laura Carvajal, Urgent Action Fund – Latin America
Throughout Latin America, women defenders of nature and the environment have organized themselves in diverse and creative ways to resist a hostile context of aggression and to transform an unsustainable extractive model that destroys their territories and ways of life.
Since the 1990s, Latin America has become the region that receives the highest figures of foreign direct investment for the extractive sector. In this period the extractive frontier has expanded so rapidly, generating pressure on diverse strategic ecosystems such as watershed headwaters, the Amazon jungle, moors, glaciers, high Andean lagoons, among others. In addition, along the continent large projects of road and energy infrastructure have been built. These projects are imposed in the territories of peasant communities, Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples, generating irreversible socio-environmental impacts and incurring serious human rights violations.
This model, which perpetuates historical inequalities and violence in the continent, has used strategies such as land deprivation, militarization and legislation in the service of the international financial systems. It restricts the right to participation, association, freedom of expression and protest, while allowing corruption, invasion and violent acquisition of peasant lands and ancestral territories. Faced with the legitimate resistance that comes to protect the territories, social protest has been brutally repressed, and defenders, such as Berta Cáceres, indigenous Lenca leader of Honduras, have been persecuted, criminalized and murdered. Thus, criminalization, which aims to frighten organizations and communities, to neutralize their struggles, also has specific ways of operating towards women. This phenomenon, ranging from harassment, verbal assaults, indictments and campaigns of defamation, to the legal prosecution and imprisonment seeks to delegitimize their work and punish them for questioning the established gender roles. They are singled out by presidents, corporate workers, religious fundamentalists, their community or their companions of being ‘witches’, ‘infants’, ‘bad wives’, ‘party women’ while questioning and trying to nullify their leadership.
In Ecuador, in the midst of the peaceful protest crackdown in August 2015, women from the community of were violently detained, beaten in their womb and threatened with rape. Today 5 of them are tried and two have been sentenced to 4 years in prison. In Chile, Mapuche women, like Lonko Juana, Machi Millaray Huichalaf, political and spiritual authorities have been imprisoned, physically and sexually abused; Machi Francisca Linconao is still deprived of her liberty for a crime that she never committed, while her life and health are at risk.
Extractive projects have a specific impact on women, exacerbating violence against them and discrimination in terms of participation, access to land and health. Women defenders face specific risks, due to the magnitude of the powerful interests they confront, by questioning and destabilizing systems of oppression based on gender, race and class. For them, the spectrum of actors that can attack them is broad, as they not only confront business and state actors, but they are also vulnerable within their families, communities and organizations, when patriarchal practices naturalize violence towards them. In recent decades, there have been more than 23 feminicides of HRDs, who have raised their voices against mining projects, dams and monocultures, among others.
Sexual violence constitutes one of the main forms of violence against women and is a weapon for the dispossession of their territories. In Guatemala, in Santa Cruz Barillas and Estor-Izabal, in the context of declaration of states of siege and forced evictions respectively, indigenous women, who resisted extractive industries, were raped and sexually harassed by security agents.
However, within the framework of their work in defense of the environment and nature, women have developed various actions that have allowed the positioning of their demands and particular perspectives. In many occasions, they have been able to temporarily stop or paralyze extractive undertakings that threaten their territories as in La Puya and Santa Cruz Barillas- Guatemala, in Santa Barbara- Honduras, in Cajamarca- Peru, in Río Bueno- Chile, and Ituzaingó-Argentina, among others.
In Latin America, women´s struggles are heterogeneous depending on the local and national context and the nature of the threats they face in their territories. Women have organized autonomously, regionally, inter-ethnically; they have created organizations of environmental protection, networks and through young, feminist, antiracist, art and cultural groups. They have generated significant transformations in the personal and the collective spheres and have built new practices towards other forms of protection and integral security.
WHRDs and activists demand freedom from repression and violence, fear, land dispossession and environmental degradation. Now more than ever, they hope for inter-movements political action and international solidarity and commitment.
“Pay attention. Stand up with and for us. Our fates are connected, and what happens to us can happen to you!” – Berta Caceres, 2010.
Today we celebrate International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are women who defend human rights, and all persons who defend the rights of women and girls and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. They are leaders in the protection of human rights, including in the areas of health, education, justice, employment, corporate accountability and environmental protection, and ensure state and non-state actors are held accountable for human rights violations and abuses.
However, instead of being applauded, encouraged and recognised as key agents of change, WHRDs more often than not are attacked, threatened, intimidated, imprisoned, harassed and even killed. Particularly, when WHRDs challenge gender stereotypes, structures of power and profit, and patriarchal cultural and religious norms and values. For example, when they work on issues such as sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, transitional justice, environmental rights or indigenous people’s rights.
International WHRDs day has been celebrated since 2006. States’ international commitments to protect the rights of WHRDs to promote and protect human rights stretch back even further to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and crucially, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998). Nonetheless, these rights have not been fully realised and accountability for violations is worryingly insufficient.
It is urgent that governments around the world publicly recognise WHRDs as legitimate and vital actors in advancing the implementation of all human rights. They must also acknowledge and send a clear signal that challenging deep-seated, discriminatory and unjust patriarchal structures and gender stereotypes is crucial for the realisation of a peaceful and just world without discrimination, oppression or exploitation.
In order for WHRDs to carry out their important work free from harassment, intimidation and violence, and to meaningfully participate in the development and monitoring of relevant policies and programmes for the advancement of gender rights and the rights of women and girls, as well as social and environmental justice, all governments must:
On this day of mobilisation, we also ask all state and non-state actors, from politicians to business leaders, as well as ordinary citizens, to bring international attention to the following urgent cases (which are representative of the challenges being faced by WHRDs worldwide) using their personal and professional platforms and channels:
For further information, please contact the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD-IC) through our website: http://www.defendingwomen-defendingrights.org/contact/
This article appeared in the Huffington Post written by Semanur Karaman. We re-post it here.
The Gulf State of Bahrain is known for its extravagance. Gloating over multi-million dollar investments in tourism, sports and banking, the kingdom does not shy away from showing off with the Grand Prix races, or celebrity visitors the likes of Kim Kardashian. This alone, makes the Kingdom look like a miracle of some sort to many who associate the Middle East with subsequent failures, instability and conflict.
Read the full post here – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/semanur-karaman/visionary-defiant-and-res_b_12523172.html
The “Right Livelihood” Award, known as the Alternative Nobel prize was awarded to Nazra for Feminist Studies. Feminist activist and woman human rights defender Mozn Hassan and Nazra received this award for the work they conducted on several issues – including and not limited to – combating sexual violence against women in the public sphere and provision of various support services to survivors of these crimes, supporting women’s right to participate in the political sphere and guaranteeing the inclusion of their rights in the constitution and Egyptian legislation, supporting young feminist initiatives in their work on different issues, and supporting women human rights defenders and shedding light on the violations they encounter and urging the Egyptian state to undertake necessary measures to ensure a real and effective participation of women in the public sphere, and exercise their fundamental right to bodily integrity.
It is worth mentioning that the “Right Livelihood” award known as the Alternative Nobel was founded in 1980 to recognize and support the courageous work of individuals and groups that present unusual and innovative solutions in the face of several important issues that face our world today. Approximately 166 individuals and groups received this award from 68 countries, where in Egypt both Dr. Ibrahim AboElEish – Applied Chemistry Scientist – and Sekem Foundation received it in 2003, and the Architect Hassan Fathy received the founding award in 1980. Nazra for Feminist Studies values this recognition, and asserts its continuation in moving forward to achieve its vision and objectives represented in ensuring a safe public space for women in Egypt, where they exercise all their fundamental rights, and also asserts that what Nazra has accomplished is a continuation and sustainability of what the Egyptian Feminist Movement has accomplished in almost 100 years,in addition to the current role worthy of recognition of our dear partners on the local, regional and international levels.
We also note that feminist activist and woman human rights defender Mozn Hassan will not be able to travel and receive this award due to a travel ban that was issued against her by an order from the general prosecutor within the context of her inclusion in Case 173 for 2011 commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding Case”.
More prominent human rights defenders have been interrogated, charged and jailed in Bahrain in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, according to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).
On 15 August, women’s rights defender and President of the Women’s Petition Committee (WPC), Ghada Jamsheer, who is also a writer and blogger, was detained upon arrival from London, the United Kingdom at Bahrain’s airport in Manama. She arrived at 8pm local time and has not been released, but local reports indicate she has been moved from the airport. It is believed that she is being held in connection to sentences imposed on her for exercising her right to free expression on twitter. As of 19 August 2016, she has not been released and has not been granted the right to speak to a judge in order to request community service as an alternative to serving a prison sentence. She is believed to be held at Isa Town Detention Centre for Women, where she was held during a previous arrest in the same case in 2014.
Read more here.
This letter is directed to Dr. Willy Mutunga, Chief Justice of Kenya and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya to demand an end to Police and Judicial Harassment of Ruth Mumbi and Bunge la Wamama following their Campaign to Prevent Maternal Deaths.
Dear Doctor Mutunga,
We urge you to devote your full attention to an alarming case of police and judicial harassment against Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Kenya. Ms. Ruth Mumbi and members of the women’s social movement Bunge la Wamama (BLM) advance women’s human rights and raise awareness about the disturbing rates of un-investigataed maternal deaths at a maternity hospital in Huruma. Due to this important work, they have endured a 5 year long persecution, including evident police and judicial harassment.
On Wednesday April 20th , 2016 Ms. Mumbi and other WHRDs were arrested by the police and remanded at the court of Makadara. Reportedly, the court had issued warrants for their arrest upon Ms. Mumbi and her colleagues’ inability to appear in Court on December 4 th , 2015. This single case of inability to appear occurred due to circumstances that were well beyond their control.
The WHRDs were originally charged at the Makadara Magistrate court with the crime of “inciting public to cause violence” (Criminal Case 953/2011). The case has dragged on in court for 5 years, with the prosecution providing repeated pretexts to postpone the matter when the accusers failed to show up in court, which the court willingly accepted. It must be noted that with the exception of December 4 th , 2015, the accused, namely Ms. Mumbi and her colleagues, have always dutifully attended in court, frustrating as it may be when justice is delayed. It is thus of great concern that the court would find it prudent, in this instance, to take the very punitive action of ordering the arrest of the accused, thereby indicating the selective application of justice.
The case and ensuring injustice faced by the WHRDs are a direct result of their human rights work in a Nairobi informal settlement. In 2011, Ms. Mumbi and colleagues documented several deaths at a local health facility. They organized a campaign to alert state authorities of repeated cases of maternal mortality that had not been investigated. On February 28 2011 police disrupted a peaceful protest during which the organizers were arrested, beaten and some were sexually abused. They were held at the local police station until March 1 st , 2011, when they presented in court. The WHRDs reported that they were detained in appalling and inhumane conditions. Unable to raise the exorbitant bail, they were detained at Langata Women Prison until March 2 nd , 2011 when partner organizations posted bail for them.
Ruth Mumbi and BLM are conducting vital work to give voice to disenfranchised women in informal settlements and throughout Kenya; empower and educate communities about their rights; and promote justice and accountability in the public sector, thus strengthening human rights and the rule of law in Kenyan society. Their work is informed by a commitment to the rights of women and the conviction that No woman should die while giving birth. Giving life to a human being in a safe, dignified and respectable way is a basic human right. As a society it is our obligation to guard this right and ensure that women can access it.
The work of Ms. Mumbi as a WHRD has won international recognition. In 2013 she was a finalist of the Frontline Defenders International Human Rights Award, and was granted a human rights fellowship at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York. She is also receiving the continuous support of Peace Brigades International. It is both unacceptable and deplorable that at the local level, where their work has contributed to highlighting the plight of marginalised women living in poverty, Ms Mumbi and her colleagues should be harassed and criminalised.
Dr. Mutunga, we honour your relentless struggle and immense contribution to justice and democracy. We trust that you will exercise genuine concern in this case, ensure that the matter is speedily concluded or dismissed. We would hope that your response sends a strong message that the rights of all Women Human Rights Defenders are fully respected, and their valuable work in Kenyan society is recognized and celebrated.
Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
The Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York
Global Fund for Women
JASS (Just Associates)
The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC) strongly condemns the violent response by the police in light of the protests in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato Province, Philippines.
Since March 30, 2016, more than 6,000 farmers from various municipalities of North Cotabato Province have been holding a protest to demand rice subsidies from the government following foot shortages caused by drought.
When farmers asked for rice, the government responded with bullets.
On April 1 the local governor ordered the police to disperse the barricade, and in the process, police used water cannons, batons, and open fire against the non-violent protestors. The attack led to 2 confirmed dead (one of whom was a woman farmer), over 100 wounded (including children), and many are missing or detained. Among the detained, there are 34 women, 3 of whom are pregnant and 4 of whom are minors. Bai Ali Indayla, Secretary General of KAWAGIB Alliance for the Advancement of Moro Human Rights, was on the frontlines of this barricade as a part of the chief negotiating committee on behalf of the farmers.
After the police attack, protesters, including Bai Ali Indayla, sought refuge in the Spottswood, United Methodist Church, Kidapawan City. PNP-Region 12 and other units of state forces surrounded the church and prevented anyone from leaving the church compound. Support groups bringing food were barred and intimidated. Bai Ali was wounded during the violent dispersal, as she was pushed by riot policemen and hit by a water cannon.
Karapatan, a human rights organization in the Philippines, of which Bai Ali and her organization KAWAGIB are members, reported that a national fact-finding and humanitarian mission would be conducted April 4-6 on the Kidapawan incident. We call on the government of the Phillipines to provide all necessary conditions for Karapatan to conduct their human rights investigation in a conducive manner, free from harm or hindrance.
The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition condemns the attacks perpetrated by State agents against the farmers, including women and human rights defenders. We call on the Government of the Philippines to end the gross and violent attack of the peaceful protestors. We demand the release of those unlawfully arrested and detained and accountability for the violations perpetrated against the protestors.
The Philippines is a notoriously dangerous country for WHRDs defending their land, culture and livelihood. The WHRDIC realizes the meaningful and committed efforts of WHRDs in Philippines in defending their most fundamental rights under extreme risk. We call on our international community to join us in solidarity with these non-violent protestors mobilizing for their fundamental human rights.
We Demand Justice for Berta and Call on the Honduran Government and the International Community to Stop Violence against Women Human Rights Defenders
“I have been persecuted not just for political leadership but also for being a woman, for being Lenca. In this country it’s not the same being a male leader and being a female leader. And that comes with a very heavy weight.” – Berta Cáceres
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was a Woman Human Rights Defender (WHRD) and prominent Lenca indigenous and feminist activist in Honduras. In the morning of March 3rd, 2016, Berta Cáceres was murdered in her sleep, in her home in Intibucá, Honduras.
Ms. Cáceres was the General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) and a member of Honduras’ National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders. Berta led the struggle for the rights of the Lenca indigenous peoples and against the construction of a hydroelectric project, Agua Zarca, by the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA). The regional Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the Dutch development bank FMO and Finnfund from Finland finance the project and Voith-Hydro (Siemens) supply the project’s equipment. Following this and other murders and violent attacks, FMO and Finnfund have announced their intention to withdraw from Agua Zarca project.
This political assassination is intended to silence the people’s opposition to a destructive and profit-driven model of development that has been violently imposed by corporate and state authorities. Berta was murdered because she confronted the country’s economic and political elites in the struggle for life, justice and the environment. She was constantly attacked due to her human rights work and also for being an indigenous woman.
Berta’s life was in grave danger for a long time and she has received countless death threats. She was subjected to attacks, threats and sexual harassment from people associated with DESA as well as arbitrary arrests and criminalization by Honduran State officers and entities. For this reason, Berta was granted precautionary protection measures by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in 2009.
“They have threatened me with death. I have received threats by cell phone. Sexual harassment from the security guards of these companies. I have received threats against my family, against my daughters, against my son.” (Berta Cáceres, May 2014, Jacobin)
The WHRDIC warns that Berta’s assassination is symptomatic of the global backlash against WHRDs. Struggles for land and territory entail particular risks due to confronting powerful corporate actors. Indigenous women worldwide lead struggles to protect their territories and to counter the exploitation and abuse of people and nature. They confront “profit over people” paradigms as well as ingrained social structures of patriarchy and white supremacy.
“I think it may be easier to confront the transnationals and the army than it is to confront the patriarchy, because that we encounter everywhere.”
When women take leadership, they challenge gender norms and often contest the patriarchal culture perpetuated by communities, states and corporations. As a result, WHRDs are subjected to gender-specific and sexual violence and intimidation. Threats against their families and loved ones are intended to force them to abandon their critical work for rights and justice.
With lethal violence is on the rise worldwide, states have the responsibility to act for the gender-specific integrated security and safety of WHRDs. States have the opportunity today to express true commitment to WHRDs in two key processes in the United Nations. Member States of the United Nations can endorse and fulfil their obligations on protection measures, currently debated in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and negotiated at the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council around the Resolution on Human Rights Defenders.
The WHRD IC reiterates that protection measures for Human Rights Defenders cannot be detached from gender-specific analysis, informed by an intersectional framework of race, ethnicity, class and sexual identity.
“We (compañeras from COPIHN) have not accepted the notion that we first had to fight against transnationals, and later against racism, and lastly against violence against women. We all experience multiple forms of domination – women being the most affected – so the fight must also be multiple and diverse, recognizing these multiple forms of domination.”
We celebrate the clarity and coherence of Berta’s voice and political action; her enormous generosity towards people and nature; her rebellious integrity to resist powerful institutions and the profit-driven, patriarchal and racist ideologies that justify them. We stand together in creating alternatives to global systems of economic and patriarchal domination and exploitation of human lives and natural resources. In the spirit of feminist solidarity, we reaffirm our commitment to Berta’s vision that ties together human life, social equality and environmental justice.
We Call on the Government of Honduras
We Call on DESA, FMO and Finnfund
We Call on the Governments of the Netherlands and of Finland
We Call Upon Civil Society Organizations Worldwide