Sunday, February 25, 2018
a few special UN sessions in response to the acute humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it still has not demonstrated a political appetite to stop its arms sales to the most active warring parties in the Yemen war: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Swedish parliament is due to discussits governmental policies on Swedish arms exports, on the 28th of February – and anti-militarization Swedish groups are demanding that Sweden halts all its arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.Despite Sweden leading
In the course of the ongoing war in Yemen human rights groups have documented serious attacks committed by both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis against civilian sites. These attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes. While the Houthis grew their military power ever since they overtook Sana’a on September 2014, with the support of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi-led coalition’s military activities in Yemen were only possible because of their weapon supplies from several western countries - including Sweden.
The Yemen Data Project reveals that since 2015, nearly one-third of Saudi air raids hit non-military sites; such as schools, hospitals, weddings, funerals among many other civilian targets. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both documented dozens of unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes. And yet, Sweden has not taken any steps to, at least, investigate how its weapons might be used in violating the international humanitarian law and hence continues risking its complicity in these war crimes.
Sweden is among the world's top 30th biggest arms producers and both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are some of its main customers. According to the Swedish prominent 135-years-old anti-militarization group, Svenska Freds, the Swedish arms trade to Saudi Arabia has been ongoing since 1998; with a quick suspension in 2015 following a brief diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The greater amount of the trade has occurred in the last seven years. Between 2010 and 2016, the arms sales to Saudi Arabia was worth almost 6 billion Swedish kronor.
Additionally, the United Arab Emirates was able to buy Swedish weapons in 2016 after the Swedish administrative authority, National Inspectorate of Strategic Products (Inspektionen för strategiska produkter) granted a permission for arms trade to the United Arab Emirates for an amount of nearly 11 billion Swedish kronor, which is one of the largest grants of all time.
Prior to that deal, between 2010 and 2016, Sweden exported arms to the UAE worth 2,12 billion kronor. Saab Group (the Swedish aerospace and defence company) recently opened its office in the capital Abu Dhabi end of 2017 – a clear sign of Sweden’s desire to expand its activities in the region.
The Swedish foreign minister, Margot Walltröm has faced criticism at the Swedish parliament in late 2016 by Sweden’s Left Party, over Sweden’s role in peace-building and arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. During that hearing, questions were raised about Sweden’s role in investigating committed war crimes and what initiatives the minister intended to take to introduce a national arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.
In response to these questions, the Swedish government has been working on presenting a proposal to tighten arms exports that could come into effect as a law in April of this year. However, this proposition does not deliver an absolute prohibition on arms trade to countries involved in armed conflict with possible war crimes committed.
As both a Swedish-Yemeni citizen and an awardee of Svenska Freds’ Eldh-Ekblads Peace Prize for 2017, I take Sweden’s role in the war in Yemen very seriously. At the end of 2016 I urged Sweden to suspend its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition and today I urge them again to do so. In the coming Swedish parliament debate on the arms exports, Svenska Freds group plans to demonstrate in front of the parliament to demand a halt on all arms trade related to the war in Yemen. And I raise that demand as well.
The ongoing war in Yemen has produced the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II and has the potential to get worse. A Recently published UN report shows how throughout 2017 alone there has been widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties involved in the conflict. Both Norway and Finland have reviewed or suspended their arms trade with members of the Saudi-led coalition. Sweden should do the same. Sweden has long stood for peace and conflict resolution and it should use its efforts to help find a solution, not add fuel to a burning fire.
Saudia Arabia, a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), continues its crackdown on human rights.
The HRC, consisting of 47 Member States elected by a majority of the members of the United Nations General Assembly by direct and secret ballot, is the highest international body dealing with human rights issues around the globe.
The General Assembly is supposed to consider candidate Member States’ contributions to the protection of human rights, as well as voluntary pledges and commitments when applying for council membership. But Saudi Arabia was elected twice in succession despite its well-documented and ongoing human rights violations.
In October 2016, Saudia Arabia was elected as an HRC member for the second successive time, despite a lack of elections or secret ballot nor an assessment of the nation's human rights record. The council distributes seats geographically and the Asia-Pacific States, with four out of 13 seats vacant, presented Saudi Arabia as one of its four candidates. Therefore, Saudi Arabia was able to keep its seat until the end of 2019 without having to undergo due process and faced zero accountability for its human rights violations to date.
The international human rights community reacted with disappointment and condemnation to Saudi Arabia's re-election to the HRC due to its role in the war in Yemen. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition war against Houthis rebels in Yemen. The coalition's airstrikes have killed and injured thousands of civilians, including children.
In addition to its violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia continues to target human rights defenders inside the country. In fact, the rights situation in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy, has markedly deteriorated with a renewed crackdown against human rights defenders since the accession of Mohammad bin Salman as Crown Prince in June 2017. The environment for human rights defenders has become increasingly dangerous as authorities systematically target them on a daily basis.
Writers, academics, online activists and clerics have been among those arrested in recent months. In one week alone in September 2017, more than 20 prominent human rights defenders were detained following a wave of house raids and arrests.
Human rights organisations targeted
On 25 January, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in the capital city of Riyadh sentenced rights defenders Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Madhi Al-Attawi to 14 and seven years in prison respectively, over rights-related activities. Al-Otaibi and Al-Attawi are founding members of the Union for Human Rights which monitors and advocates for the respect of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
In 2013, they were summoned with two other founding members of the organisation by the public prosecutor in Riyadh and ordered to freeze their activities. Due to serious threats from authorities, Al-Otaibi and Al-Attawi agreed to fully close their organisation but were still referred to the SCC and continued to work as human rights defenders in their personal capacities.
The two were charged with a number of accusations including setting up a human rights organisation prior to obtaining an official permit and spreading petitions deemed harmful to ”the reputation of the Kingdom and its justice and security institutions” on the internet.
The Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA) was also targeted by authorities. All its founding members were arrested and tried on a range of fabricated charges. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, who is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence, was convicted in March 2013 on a number of charges including membership in an unlicensed organisation (the ACPRA), incitement against the kingdom, as well as cooperation with the HRC as stated in the indictment.
Women rights activists targeted
Saudi Arabia prohibited women from driving until recently when a royal decree issued in September 2017 permitted women to drive starting in June of 2018. Despite the conservative kingdom's pledges to reform, discriminatory rules against women still exist. For example, the male guardianship system requires women to have the consent of a male relative guardian to travel outside the country, apply for a passport, get married or to even rent their own places.
Women who call for reform and campaign to end the guardianship system are silenced and often face interrogations and arrests for engaging in online advocacy work. On the day of royal decree announcement to repeal the ban on women driving, authorities phoned several prominent women’s rights defenders to warn them against making comments on the decision or they would face legal consequences.
Activist Noha Al-Balawi, a college student from the city of Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia, was arrested on 23 January for speaking out online on Saudia Arabian politics as well as supporting of women's rights. On 5 February, Al-Balawi's detention was extended another month.
According to some reports, Al-Balawi was arrested for publishing a YouTube video in which she criticised Saudi Arabia's relations with Israel. However, the International Federation for Human Rights reported that she was questioned about her rights activism:
The authorities questioned her on tweets and videos she had posted, including on a video in which she supports the driving campaign for women and shows solidarity with the prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia. She was also questioned about her connections with the successful campaign on women’s right to drive, and with the women’s rights and human rights movement in Saudi Arabia generally.
On 22 February 2018, reliable sources confirmed to the GCHR that Al-Balawi has been released after 29 days of arbitrary detention.
By Yang Sheng
The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee made public its proposal on amendment to the country's Constitution Sunday.
The proposal includes addition of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era to the Constitution and removing the expression of term limits for the country's President and Vice-President, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Removing the constitutional restriction to two terms is a significant decision made by the CPC to serve its historic mission in the new era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"Especially in the period from 2020 to 2035, which is a crucial stage for China to basically realize socialist modernization, China and the CPC need a stable, strong and consistent leadership. So removal of the section of the clause about the presidency in the Constitution is serving the most important and fundamental national interest and the Party's historic mission," Su said.
In a two-stage development plan of China, drawn up by President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, the first stage is "from 2020 to 2035" which is "to see that socialist modernization is basically realized"; and the second stage from "2035 to the middle of the 21st century," China will develop "into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful."
"The decision has been made after careful consideration, and this is an adjustment to serve China's current situation and future development, which is consistent with Chinese political characteristics and goals," a Chinese scholar who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Sunday.
The trinity of the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission has positive meaning, the expert said. "In order to achieve the great goal from 2020 to the middle of the 21st century, China needs a centralized and unified leadership; otherwise the decentralization of authority will impact realization of the great goal."
On Saturday, Xi stressed the important role of the Constitution.
"No organization or individual has the power to overstep the Constitution or the law," Xi said while presiding over a group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Xinhua reported.
The CPC Central Committee also proposed writing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the country's Constitution. The proposal was made public on Sunday, Xinhua reported.
The proposed Constitutional amendment requires the approval of the National People's Congress, which is scheduled to hold its annual session in March.
The CPC Central Committee also proposed listing the supervisory commission as a new State organ in the Constitution.
According to the proposal, supervisory organs will be listed together with administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the State, all of which are created by the people's congress to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised.
Supervisory commissions, the supervisory organ of the State, will be made up of national and local commissions, according to the document.
China has established supervision commissions in every county, city and province now that the last remaining county, Daxin in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, set up its supervision commission on Sunday, Xinhua reported.
The new nationwide supervision commissions incorporate existing supervisory, corruption prevention and control agencies within the government and procuratorates and are in charge of three major duties: supervision, investigation and punishment.
Guo Yong, director of the Center for Anti-corruption and Governance of Tsinghua University, said that "the country's reform on supervisory commissions has multiple significance. It strengthens the Party's leadership on anti-corruption, and it covers everyone who executes public authority," not just Party members."
The National Supervisory Commission will oversee local commissions and answer to the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee.
The supervisory commissions will "independently exercise their power of supervision and not be subject to interference by any administrative organ, public organization or individual," said the proposal.
By Hayley Miller
“I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice,” the former first lady tweeted.
Former first lady Michelle Obama announced new details Sunday about her much-anticipated memoir.
Becoming, scheduled for a Nov. 13 release, will offer “deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling” about Obama’s incredible life as “one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era,” according to the book’s website.
“I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice,” Obama tweeted Sunday. “I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be.”
“Becoming is an unusually intimate reckoning from a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same,” the publisher said.
The former first lady is scheduled to embark on a U.S. and international book tour, with dates to be announced at a later date. You can sign up for information about the tour dates here. Obama’s first book, American Grown, was published in 2012 and chronicled the White House cooking and nutrition initiatives she spearheaded as first lady. Her husband, former President Barack Obama, is set to publish a new memoir in the spring of 2019.
EU Warns Pakistan of Consequences If Christian Mother Asia Bibi, Sentenced to Death, Is Not Released
By Stoyan Zaimov
A representative of the European Union has warned the government of Pakistan that unless it secures the freedom of Christian mother of five Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, it will suffer economic trade consequences.
The EU Cooperation in Pakistan website reported earlier in February that Jan Figel, the special envoy of EU for the promotion of religious freedom around the world, recently told the Pakistani government during a visit to the country that the outcome of Bibi's case is going to be directly linked to trade favors the EU bestows upon Pakistan.
The trade favors in question refer to the Generalized System of Preferences plus status, which in 2013 was awarded to Pakistan, allowing it duty-free access to the EU markets, including 20 percent exports to EU markets at zero tariffs and another 70 percent at preferential rates.
Ending its GSP plus status poses a severe threat to Pakistan's sinking economy, the article explained.
"The EU communicator stressed the need to resolve Asia Bibi case because Italy, one of the EU strategic partners, is pushing hard to parallel the renewal of GSP plus status with the release of Asia Bibi, an internationally known Christian victim of false blasphemy charges languishing in the Pakistani prison for the last eight years," it noted.
Bibi's legal ordeal began in 2009, after Muslim co-workers accused her of blasphemy for praising Jesus Christ and allegedly insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The mother of five denied the charges, but was found guilty and sentenced to death in November 2010. Her case has drawn major international attention and outrage from human rights groups.
She has languished in prison following several appeals and hearings, with her fate still uncertain.
Christian lawyer Naeem Shakir explained that the case is also very important to Islamic hardliners in Pakistan, who want her to serve as an example of the consequences of breaking blasphemy laws.
"The plight of Bibi has had a dampening effect on minorities. Their grief cannot be addressed because of religious retrogressive and extremist groups," Shakir said.
The EU's meetings on GSP plus status for Pakistan have reportedly focused in part on Bibi. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, prime minister of Pakistan, has been directly told that Bibi's freedom will play a notable role on the outcome.
"The EU countries have started believing that Pakistan's Supreme Court, appeasing certain political and fundamental forces of Pakistan, is intentionally delaying the hearing of Asia Bibi. In his several recent speeches, Justice Saqib Nisar, the Chief Justice of Pakistan has urged Pakistani courts for speedy trials of pending cases, but still, he is not bringing Asia's case before the Judges for determining her fate," the EU Cooperation in Pakistan article stated.
"During Islamabad dharna (sit-in), the TLY gathering was continuously shouting for hanging Asia Bibi, and it is known to all that some very close parliamentarians of the ruling party were supporting that anti-blasphemy protest."
Pakistan was listed in January as No. 5 on Open Doors USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith, with blasphemy accusations cited as one of the major sources of oppression.
The EU has, meanwhile, sought to honor Bibi in other ways. In 2017, she was nominated for the Sakharov Prize, a prestigious religious freedom award.