News (handpicked)

Foreign Office accused of hindering human rights lawyers in Gaza Strip

British lawyers attempting to build a war crimes case against Israel have been blocked from entering the Gaza Strip because the Foreign Office has refused to support their work, the Guardian has learned. A number of the lawyers, who have travelled to the region on fact-finding trips, could not get into the Palestinian territory because they cannot cross the border without letters from the British government authorising their visits.

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The Dysfunctional Human Rights Council

The Bush administration — which disdained the United Nations only slightly more than it disdained the hard work of diplomacy — chose to boycott the United Nations’ highly dysfunctional Human Rights Council. The Obama administration has decided to run for a seat on it. That may be the best chance to shape up this international embarrassment, but it won’t be easy.

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Exporting torture, importing justice

Last month's announcements that Britain and Spain had launched criminal investigations of torture allegations arising out of US interrogation practices had a certain poetic justice. The Bush administration from the outset sought to exploit gaps in legal protections for foreign nationals beyond US borders in its torture policies. Yet now it is precisely foreign investigations and international law that may well force the US to launch an investigation of its own. Globalisation is often criticised for allowing the powerful to avoid legal obligations through outsourcing. But here globalization may work in the other direction, bringing international pressure to bear on the powerful to compel it do what it would rather not.

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European court of human rights: Courting disaster

The European court of human rights is under threat. No one actually says so, but it is hard to see how it can survive in effective form many years beyond its 50th birthday next month. It is jeopardised not only by its British critics and recalcitrant member countries like Russia that blithely ignore its rulings. It is jeopardised by its own lumbering bureaucracy, the backlog of cases (100,000 or more) and the variable quality of the judges. This rapid increase in demand and inadequate expansion of supply stem from the expansion of Europe after 1990, when the old core of west European nations with well-established legal systems was diluted by the new democracies, eager to join a club that is, among other things, a precondition of EU membership.

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I was abducted by the LRA

Chased out of their native Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army has filtered west into Congo, where in the past two months they have killed 900 civilians and displaced another 150,000, according to the UN. They are notorious for the forced conscription of children as soldiers and sex slaves. One of these children was Richard Mitambwoko, 17, who was kidnapped from his school last year. He recounts what happened

It was 7 September last year when the LRA came to our village. I lived in Duru, which is 90km from the town of Dungu in the north-eastern corner of Congo.

They came into our classroom and locked the doors behind them. I was in my second year of secondary school. There were 58 of us in the class – we were all terrified. We tried to escape through the windows, but the soldiers caught us and tied us up. It wasn’t just our class though, they did the same to the entire school.

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La pena de muerte pierde terreno

Pese al aumento en el número de ejecuciones, el informe de Amnistía revela que cada vez son menos los países que recurren a ella. La pena de muerte tiene las horas contadas. Cada vez son menos los Estados que hacen uso de ella para castigar los delitos más graves. Así lo revela el  el último informe de Amnistía Internacional sobre la aplicación de la pena capital en el mundo durante 2008.

Según cifras recopiladas por la organización internacional, 2.390 personas fueron ejecutadas en 2008, 1.252 más que en 2007. Y otras 8.864 fueron sentenciadas a muerte frente a las 3.347 del año anterior. De los 25 países que aplicaron la pena máxima durante 2008, China fue el más prolífico. Aunque estos números indican un incremento global en el número de ejecuciones, la secretaria general de AI, Irene Khan, asegura que hay motivos para ser optimistas. "Las buenas noticias son que las ejecuciones sólo son llevadas a cabo por un reducido grupo de países, lo que demuestra que estamos avanzando hacia un mundo libre de pena de muerte", ha dicho.

Así, AI aplaude que sean sólo 59 los países que siguen incluyendo en sus leyes la pena capital, y menos de la mitad recurrieron a ella en 2008. Khan proclama, rotunda, que la lapidación, la decapitación y la muerte por descargas eléctricas "no tienen espacio en el siglo XXI".

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Forced to fish: Cambodia's sea slaves

Promised better-paid jobs across the border in Thailand, Cambodian men are being kidnapped by gangs of traffickers and sold onto illegal fishing boats that trawl the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. For two years Chorn Theang Ly was kept at sea under armed guard. He describes how his quest for a better life turned into a nightmare.

I live in the village of Anlong Khran in Cambodia. One day a man came to the village and said we should go to Thailand as we would have a much easier life there. Here, we work in rice fields, growing our own rice and vegetables. We make up to $200 a year. The man said we would make a lot more than that in Thailand.

He took a dozen of us over the border. We paid him 7,000 Thai baht for this – 3,000 for the transport plus a month’s worth of our pay. He said we would work on the riverbank, in factories, and have a much better life.

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Hammarberg: Netherlands should review policies towards migrants and asylum seekers


“The policies towards migrants and asylum-seekers require further review". This was emphasised by Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, when presenting today his report on the Netherlands. The report addresses also issues on children’s rights, integration, actions against discrimination and intolerance, and anti-terrorism measures.

While recognizing progress, the report calls for an improvement of the safeguards for asylum-seekers. The Commissioner voiced also concern about the plans to process more applications through an enhanced accelerated procedure. “A fast procedure is certainly suitable for clear-cut cases, but it can be detrimental to all others and is clearly unsuitable for vulnerable groups such as victims of violence and unaccompanied children.”

The Commissioner recommends assessing the current immigration laws regarding the provisions for family reunification and formation, stressing that “tests, fees and age requirements must not amount to a disproportionate obstacle.“

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