extrajudicial execution


  • Nobody has made any attempt to shield Yemeni civil society organisations from impact of armed conflict

    CIVICUS speaks to Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, an independent Yemeni human rights organisation. Mwatanais engaged with a number of issues, including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, women’s rights and the criminalisation of human rights defenders. It uses a variety of tools, including data collection through field visits and monitoring compliance with domestic legislation and international standards; advocacy and lobbying with domestic institutions and in international forums; legal support for victims; training of human rights activists; research and dissemination; and campaigning for public awareness.

    1. What have been the main recent impacts of the conflict on Yemen and Yemeni civil society?

    Since the Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) and their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the capital, Sana'a, on 21 September 2014, Yemen has entered a new phase of armed conflicts that escalated rapidly. On 26 March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led Arab Coalition of nine countries launched a military campaign against Houthis and Saleh forces, to support the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, with the United States providing intelligence and logistical support.

    Mwatana Organization has documented grave rights violations by the Saudi and Emirates-led coalition resulting in the killing of thousands of civilians, mostly women and children. This coalition has struck residential compounds, public markets, cultural and heritage sites, hospitals, schools, bridges and factories.

    We have also documented extensive violations by the Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) and their ally Saleh, especially in Taiz, including the use of landmines in different areas of the country. Furthermore, we have documented violations including extrajudicial executions by the forces of president Hadi and allied parties and armed groups.

    Both parties share responsibility in the indiscriminate shelling of civilians and civilian facilities, child recruitment and denial of humanitarian access, in addition to arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, tortures, violations against the freedom of speech and the disappearance of a free press, harassment of minorities and other grave violations. Civil society had only recently started to develop in Yemen, and all the progress that had been achieved was set back in the current inhospitable environment, characterised by high political instability and a lot of violence.

    Before 2011, civil society in Yemen had become fairly strong in the face of a number of violations committed by the Saleh regime. At that point the Saleh regime was the main violator of human rights, and organisations of different affiliations were able to unify against the abuses. But after the 2011 revolution and the ascent of the opposition, which became a partner in government, and because of the multiplicity of violators as well as the increasing political polarisation, the voice of these organisations was significantly diminished and they were not able to form any more alliances or even initiate any kind of joint work. It was clear that human rights organisations lacked minimal independence.

    In September 2014, when they forcefully seized the capital, Sana’a, and expanded into the neighbouring provinces, Houthi armed groups and their ally, former president Saleh, tightened their grip on President Hadi and his government. President Hadi then escaped to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and in March 2015 a Saudi-led coalition including other neighbouring countries launched a military operation in Yemen, and established armed groups to support President Hadi in the fight against the Houthis. All these political developments weakened Yemeni civil society to unprecedented levels. Rights violations against organisations and their staff increased exponentially and the scope of the work they were allowed to do dramatically decreased. Many human rights, humanitarian and development organisations were forced to reduce their activities and staff or close down altogether.

    1. How have the various forces involved in the conflict impacted on civil society?

    The first weapon wielded by conflicting parties against independent civil society organisations, and especially against human rights organisations, has been the orchestration of extensive incitement and smear campaigns through social media as well as their own private networks. By defaming independent human rights organisations, all conflicting parties have prejudiced the public against the work of such organisations and their employees. Mwatana Organization and its staff have been the victims of many of these campaigns launched by either Houthi- Saleh armed groups or by Saudi Arabia and the Hadi Government and their allies in Yemen.

    Many activists, including members of the Mwatana team, have been threatened and detained by all conflicting parties, because of their work. Countless restrictions have been placed on human rights, humanitarian and development-related activities in the field, to the extent that long procedures and several official permits are now required to carry out a single training activity – with a good chance that even after going through all the hassle the activity might end up not being authorised at all. The same is the case with a wide variety of studies and research. Many restrictions have also been imposed by all parties on traveling to and from Yemen.

    In addition, there are a number of dangers that stem from the armed conflict itself. Yemen is now ruled by a number of armed groups – the Houthi-Saleh armed groups, on one hand, and the Hadi government and the armed groups loyal to it, on the other. Armed conflict is taking place on many fronts, with an intensive airstrike campaign by the US-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Nobody has made any attempt whatsoever to shield civil society organisations or their staff from the impact of the armed conflict; in fact, many of them have been endangered while carrying out their duties.

    Violations of the freedom of expression are commonplace, and media diversity is lacking. In fact, civil society organisations lost an independent media outlet that had previously helped make their voice heard. As a result, social media have become the key outlet for many human rights and humanitarian organisations. However, conflicting parties are now trying to disable this platform as well, by using an army of trolls to defame any independent civil society work.

    As for human rights work more specifically, all parties are seeking to corrupt civil society by establishing their own biased organisations and deploying funds to deform civil society work and justify various human rights violations. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made considerable efforts to prevent the United Nations’ Human Rights Council from passing a resolution to establish an international mechanism to investigate violations by all warring parties in Yemen. After three years of sustained efforts by international and local human rights organisations and allied governments, however, the process came to a successful conclusion in September 2017, when a resolution was passed and an independent international group of experts was mandated to investigate abuses.

    1. What role is being played by outside forces, and what motivates these forces to be involved in the conflict?

    Unfortunately, outside forces have played a destructive role in Yemen, either through direct military intervention, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and its allies, or by supporting one of the warring forces, as has been the case of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, which have supported Saudi Arabia, and of Iran, which has backed the Houthis. The declared goal of the military operation launched by Saudi Arabia was “to reinstate President Hadi” but it has destroyed the country in the process. They have indiscriminately bombarded people, homes, schools, hospitals and monuments. Although it managed to expel Houthis from the southern governorates, the state is not yet functionally back in charge of these governorates. No state institutions, including a judiciary, have been activated, and no national army has been established. In comparison, the promotion of armed groups has not ceased, and worryingly, some of these are extremist and fundamentalist religious groups.

    Instead of promoting peace in Yemen, powerful nations like the United States, the United Kingdom and France have aligned to support Saudi Arabia either through considerable arms deals or through multi-faceted political support. One of the worst results of this was their lobbying against the establishment of an international mechanism for investigating violations committed by warring parties in Yemen.

    As for Iranian support of the Houthis, their intervention resembles a situation in which there is a mouse running around a residential building, and the building gets destroyed when searching for the mouse, and in the end neither is the building saved nor is the mouse ever found.

    After two years of war in Yemen, I can confidentially say that none of the internal or external warring parties have a clear vision of what to do next. The only undisputable fact of this war is that Yemen has become a humanitarian man-made catastrophe.

    1. What activities is Yemeni civil society still able to carry out? Does this vary by region?

    Despite all the obstacles facing civil society in Yemen, there are a number of human rights and humanitarian organisations that still struggle on the ground to play a variety of roles. A number of humanitarian organisations are working to deliver humanitarian aid and services to affected populations; human rights organisations keep working to document human rights violations; and development organisations are carrying on their educational and training programmes in territories ruled both by Saleh and Houthi armed groups and by Hadi and the armed groups that are loyal to him.

    1. What would it take to build peace in Yemen, and what roles could civil society play in this?

    To achieve peace in Yemen, all the warring parties would need to take steps to reduce pressure on civilians and build confidence. This includes ceasing human rights violations, releasing detainees, giving more space to humanitarian, human rights and media organisations to do their work, agreeing on a mechanism to pay salaries, re-activating the Hodeidah seaport, re-opening Sana’a airport, and fulfilling a variety of urgent humanitarian requirements.

    At the international level, arms deals with the warring parties must be stopped, and the priority of human rights issues must be established. Yemen also needs a new peace process with the international community playing an independent and stable role. Dialogue must bring in all parties on the ground, with no exclusions.

    1. What support does Yemeni civil society need, including from international civil society and the intergovernmental system, now that a UN resolution establishing a commission of inquiry has been passed?

    Civil society needs to build capacities in every aspect of their competence; it needs to ‘professionalise’ and reinforce its resource base with long-term projects. There is need of support for the construction of Yemen’s institutions, and capacity needs to be built so that institutions are able to respond to the deteriorating situation.

    • As a result of increasing restrictions on civil society, Yemen’s civic space rating was recently downgraded to the lowest category, closed, by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with Mwatana Organization for Human Rights through theirwebsite or Facebook page, or follow @mwatanaen and@RAlmutawakel on Twitter.


  • Philippines: UN investigation needed over ongoing extrajudicial executions

    Joint Letter from over 60 organisations to member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

    Re: UN Human Rights Council should urgently launch an independent international investigative mechanism on the human rights situation in the Philippines

    Your Excellency,

    We, the undersigned civil society organizations, write to express our continued grave concern over ongoing extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations in the context of the “war on drugs” in the Philippines, which continues to be fueled by incitement to violence and discrimination by the highest levels of government with near-total impunity. We urge your delegation to ensure that the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) responds robustly to the recent report on the situation in the Philippines by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when it convenes for its upcoming 45th session. Specifically, we urge you to actively work towards the adoption of a resolution establishing an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, with a view to contributing to accountability. This would be in line with clear calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a group of Special Procedures, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, and national and international civil society.

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on the Philippines, published on June 4, 2020, emphasized the need for “independent, impartial and effective investigations into the killings.”1 On June 25, mandate holders from 23 Special Procedures reiterated a previous call from 2019 for the HRC to “establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.”2 The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, during the interactive dialogue on the Philippines at the 44th session of the HRC, called on the HRC to consider options for international accountability measures.3 National, regional, and international civil society groups have also repeatedly called for an international investigation. The human rights situation in the Philippines meets the objective criteria or “guiding principles” supported by a large cross-regional group of States at the HRC to help the Council decide, in an objective and non-selective manner, when it should take action on the human rights situation in particular countries. The annex to this letter provides details of the status of the Philippines under each criterion.

    Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016, the human rights situation in the Philippines has undergone a dramatic decline. Extrajudicial executions committed in the context of the “war on drugs” continue to take place with total impunity. The High Commissioner’s report found, in line with previous findings from civil society, that the killings related to the anti-drug campaign were “widespread and systematic,” and that at least 8,663 people had been killed, with other estimates, including from the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, of more than triple that number.

    Attacks against human rights defenders and critics of the government – including activists, journalists, church leaders, trade union leaders, indigenous and peasant leaders and individuals who are members of groups affiliated with the political left – are frequent and persistent. Human rights defenders who have spoken out in the HRC against the “war on drugs” and other human rights violations have faced reprisals from the government. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “verified the killings of 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, between January 2015 and December 2019.”4 More recently on 17 August gunmen shot dead Zara Alvarez, a legal worker for the human rights group Karapatan, and on 10 August assailants brutally murdered Randall Echanis, a leader of the peasant group Anakpawis and longtime activist.

    The OHCHR also found that civil society organizations and the media faced constant intimidation, police raids, arbitrary arrests, criminal charges and prosecutions, and shutdowns.5 In June 2020, a Manila court convicted for libel journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr., both of the news website Rappler, which had been the subject of long-running harassment and threats from the Duterte government because of its reporting on the anti-drug campaign. Most recently, in early July, the Philippine Congress – most of whose members are allied with President Duterte – voted to deny the renewal of the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from President Duterte in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs.” The recently passed Anti-Terrorism Law will institutionalize the government’s abuse of power and will create an environment in which attacks on civil society and media will be perpetuated. In his 2020 State of the Nation Address, President Duterte once again reiterated his intention to reimpose the death penalty. Bills to reintroduce the punishment are currently being reconsidered before Congress.

    To date, there has been virtually no accountability for unlawful killings committed by police and their associates or for the other above-mentioned violations. As noted in the High Commissioner’s report, “persistent impunity for human rights violations is stark and the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable.”6 Families of victims express total helplessness in describing their inability to obtain justice for their loved ones, citing the enormous obstacles to filing cases, the continued difficulty of obtaining police or autopsy reports, and the immense fear of retaliation they experience. The climate of total impunity leaves police and other unidentified gunmen, widely believed to be associated with law enforcement agencies, able to commit further extrajudicial executions without consequence.

    President Duterte’s administration has undermined institutions that have attempted to address impunity at the national and international level and thwarted independent investigations, including in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The government’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, following the 2018 launch of a preliminary examination into crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Philippine government in the context of the “war on drugs,” shows yet another way in which the authorities have sought to evade accountability.

    Not only has the government sought to evade accountability, but the President and other high-level officials have continued to encourage killings and given assurances to perpetrators that they would enjoy impunity for such killings.7 The High Commissioner’s report found that rhetoric from the highest

    levels of the government has been pervasive and deeply damaging, and that “some statements have risen to the level of incitement to violence.”8

    During the interactive dialogue at the 44th session of the HRC, the Philippine Justice Secretary announced the creation of a government panel to review more than 5,600 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country.9 Unfortunately, the Philippine government has failed to ensure this panel will be independent or impartial, notably because it will be led by the Department of Justice and will have among its members the very agencies – including the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency – accused of being behind these human rights violations and directly implicated in the “war on drugs.” Any review findings by the panel must also be evaluated and finalized by other government agencies involved in the anti-drug campaign. The well-documented fears of retaliation experienced by victims and their families in the Philippines will further undermine the credibility of government-led reviews. Accordingly, it is our organizations’ assessment that this panel is the latest attempt by the Duterte administration to evade international scrutiny for violations rather than a sincere attempt to put an end to these human rights violations and foster national accountability.

    The HRC resolution A/HRC/41/2 on the Philippines adopted in July 2019 was an important first step to address the concerning human rights situation in the country, but a more robust response is necessary to deter further killings and other human rights violations and ensure a measure of accountability. In the absence of further Council action, the Philippine government will likely be emboldened to continue and escalate its violent anti-drug campaign and other serious rights violations, including reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations, while the pervasive fear among victims and their families will only increase. Given the failure of the Philippine authorities to stop or effectively investigate crimes under international law and punish those responsible, we urge your delegation to work towards the adoption of a resolution to ensure that the Philippines remains on the agenda of the HRC and to create an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into extrajudicial executions in the context of the “war on drugs” and other human rights violations committed since 2016. The creation of such a mechanism is the only credible next step that the HRC can take to address the ongoing human rights crisis in the Philippines.

    With assurances of our highest consideration,

    1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
    2. Aktionbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen
    3. Amnesty International
    4. Article 19
    5. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
    6. Asia Democracy Network
    7. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
    8. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    9. Asian Legal Resource Centre
    10. Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia
    11. Bahay Tuluyan
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    13. Center for International Law (CenterLaw)
    14. Center for Legal and Social Studies/CELS
    15. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
    16. Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines
    17. Child Alert Mindanao
    18. Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center
    19. Children’s Rehabilitation Center
    20. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    21. Civil Rights Defenders
    22. Coalition Against Summary Executions
    23. Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches
    24. Conectas Direitos Humanos
    25. Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation
    26. Dakila - Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism
    27. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    28. Dominicans for Justice and Peace
    29. Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) - Philippines
    30. Focus on the Global South
    31. Foundation for Media Alternatives
    32. Franciscans International
    33. Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Mother of God
    34. Free Legal Assistance Group
    35. Frontline Defenders
    36. Harm Reduction International
    37. Human Rights Watch
    38. In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend)
    39. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
    40. International Commission of Jurists
    41. International Drug Policy Consortium
    42. International Federation for Human Rights
    43. International Service for Human Rights
    44. Justice and Compassion Essential Ministries Team of the California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
    45. Kalitawhan Network
    46. Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)
    47. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
    48. Medical Action Group
    49. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
    50. Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NakPhil)
    51. Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines
    52. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
    53. Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
    54. Philippinenbüro e.V. (Cologne, Germany)
    55. Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
    56. Protection International
    57. Reporters Without Borders
    58. Resbak
    59. Rise Up for Life and for Rights
    60. Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns
    61. Tambayan Center for Children's Rights
    62. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)


  • Syria: Rights groups condemn extrajudicial execution of human rights defender and software engineer Bassel Khartabil

    The family of Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian-Palestinian software engineer and free speech activist, confirmed that he had been subjected to an extrajudicial execution in October 2015. The undersigned human rights organisations condemn the extrajudicial execution of Khartabil and call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

    On 1 August 2017, Noura Ghazi Safadi, Khartabil’s wife, announced on Facebook that her husband has been killed. She wrote: “Words are difficult to come by while I am about to announce, on behalf of Bassel's family and mine, the confirmation of the death sentence and execution of my husband Bassel Khartabil Safadi. He was executed just days after he was taken from Adra prison in October 2015. This is the end that suits a hero like him.”

    On 15 March 2012, Military Intelligence arrested Bassel Khartabil and held incommunicado for eight months before moving him to Adra prison in Damascus in December 2012. During this time he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. He remained in Adra prison until 3 October 2015, when he managed to inform his family that he was being transferred to an undisclosed location. That was the last time his family heard from him.

    His family subsequently received unconfirmed information that he may have been transferred to the military-run field court inside the Military Police base in Qaboun in Damascus. These courts are notorious for conducting closed-door proceedings that do not meet minimum international standards for a fair trial.

    Before his arrest, Bassel Khartabil used his technical expertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via the internet. He has won many awards, including the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for using technology to promote an open and free internet, and was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012 “for insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.”

    Since his detention, human rights groups at a national, regional and international level campaigned for his immediate and unconditional release. On 21 April 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detention a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and called for his release, yet the Syrian authorities still refused to free him.

    The signatory organizations express the deepest sorrow at the death of Bassel Khartabil and believe that his arrest and subsequent execution are a direct result of his human rights work and his efforts to promote freedom of speech and access to information.

    We urge the Syrian authorities to:
    • Immediately disclose the circumstances of the execution of Bassel Khartabil;
    • End extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrests, and torture and other ill-treatment;
    • Release all detainees in Syria held for peacefully exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association.

    1. Access Now

    2. Amnesty International (AI)

    3. Arab Digital Expression Foundation (ADEF)

    4. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

    5. Article 19

    6. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

    7. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    8. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

    9. English PEN

    10. Euromed Rights

    11. Front Line Defenders (FLD)

    12. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of

                Human Rights Defenders

    13. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    14. Hivos International

    15. Index on Censorship

    16. Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)

    17. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)

    18. Maharat Foundation

    19. Metro Centre to Defend Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan

    20. Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)

    21. PAX for Peace

    22. PEN International

    23. Sisters' Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)

    24. SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom

    25. Social Media Exchange (SMEX)

    26. Syrian Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights

    27. Syrian Center For Legal Studies and Researches

    28. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

    29. Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ)

    30. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)

    31. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State

    32. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the

                Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders