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Urgent Interventions

Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: OMCT intervention on violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
53rd session ( 30 July – 17 August 2001)
Item 2: Question of the violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Thank you Mr. Chairperson,

In compliance with the decision adopted during the Commission’s last period of sessions OMCT will not intervene on country situations already being dealt with by the Commission. OMCT regrets, however, that the Sub-Commission will be deprived of recent information regarding countries where some of most serious human rights violations in the world take place.

OMCT would like to bring to the attention of the Sub-Commission the grave human rights violations linked to the repression of certain groups’ right to freedom of expression and freedom of association which are currently taking place in the following countries:

Mr. Chairperson,

OMCT would like to draw your attention to the situation in Malaysia, which has recently been the stage for a wave of arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions of demonstrators and human rights defenders, who are attempting to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association. These arrests and detentions are conducted under the auspices of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which contains provisions that are clearly incompatible with International standards on arrests and detention. The ISA grants the Malaysian police the power to perform systematic arrests of any persons considered to be presenting a threat to state security, the definition of which is highly elastic. Detainees can be held for an initial period of 60 days without being charged or tried, which can then, with the Minister of Home Affairs’ approval, be extended by consecutive two-year periods, ad infinitum.

This power has been exercised frequently since early April 2001 in a spiralling series of demonstrations, arrests, detentions and subsequent demonstrations. On April 10thand 11th, 2001 six prominent pro-reform activists were arrested under the ISA, for participating in the organisation of a rally to commemorate the second anniversary of the conviction of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. The arrest of a further four activists occurred before the end of April, under the ISA, for the same reasons. Four of the ten activists were released in early June and four activists have been sentenced to two years imprisonment, with the other two still reportedly being held in police custody. Two students were then arbitrarily arrested on July 5th and 6th, for having participated in a demonstration against the ISA. They were released after 23 and 10 days detention respectively. At a demonstration comprising an estimated 1500 persons, held on July 15th to commemorate the 100th day of detention of the afore-mentioned activists, 41 demonstrators were arbitrarily arrested under the Police Act Section 27 (5), including four children and 10 women. The children were released the same day, but the adults were released on bail on July 16th, and still face legal proceedings in October.

In most of these incidents, the authorities have made use of the ISA to violate activists and peaceful demonstrators’ rights to the freedom of expression and association, often using excessive and disproportionate force during the arrests and detention and also violating the detainees rights to legal assistance, family visits and due process.

Mr. Chairperson,

The situation in Cameroon is also a cause for grave concern. At the end of March 2001, the floor above ACAT Cameroon’s offices was set on fire and it is believed that their offices were the target of this act. OMCT was informed of the arrest and detention on April 26th, of 10 persons engaged in organising a rally being held to mourn all the victims of the Operational Command in Duala. They were released on bail on May 8th. These two examples are symptomatic of the current human rights situation in Cameroon.

In its May 2001 resolution on the human rights situation in Cameroon, the European Parliament expressly called on the Cameroon government not to hinder the activities of human rights defenders and local organisations working on cases of torture, disappearances and extra-judicial executions allegedly perpetrated, according to reliable sources, by the Operational Command set up in February 2000 to combat large-scale banditry in certain parts of the country.

This resolution focuses notably on threats and acts of intimidation perpetrated against human rights NGOs investigating these gross human rights violations or individuals speaking out against them. During the Commission on Human Rights, several international NGOs expressed their grave concern about this situation and called on the International community and the Cameroon authorities to ensure that Human Rights Defenders and local organisations be protected and supported.

In numerous countries, violations of freedom of expression and association have specifically targeted Human Rights Defenders.


Human Rights Defenders are particularly at risk concerning violations of their freedom of expression and association.

In the 2000 report “Human Rights Defenders on the Front line” now also available in Spanish, the OMCT and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the context of the Observatory for the protection of Human Rights Defenders devoted several studies to the freedom of association which is at the heart of the work of Human Rights Defenders as Mrs. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders noted in her first report. The right to form, join and participate in NGOs, the freedom to meet and assemble peacefully, the right to seek and publish information, the right to solicit, receive and utilise resources, the right to fight against Human Rights violations and be effectively protected are all enshrined in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1998 and are an essential condition for the effectiveness of the work of local NGOs.

Mr. Chairperson,

In many countries, in theory, the setting up of associations is submitted to a system of declaration and a refusal decision must be motivated. However, the authorities often act as if the creation of associations depended on prior authorization.

We would like to take the example of Tunisia where associations in contradiction with the law can be declared non-existent and those persons who are considered to have broken the law face one to six months in prison. In a recent report, the government’s utilization of the courts to impede human rights activity has been denounced. On June 21, the Tunis Appeals Court affirmed a lower court decision voiding the internal elections of the Tunisian Human Rights League, which brought into the executive committee a dynamic group of activists determined to expose and denounce abuses. Methods such as the temporary closure of the offices or the suspension of all the activities of organizations are used to impair the work of Human Rights Defenders. The organisations face problems in renting premises, as the owners refuse to sign contracts because of harassment and pressure or are obliged by law to accept the enrolment of any person who accepts its principles and decisions. The recent cases of Mrs Sihem Ben Sedrine, spokesperson of the National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia (CNLT), who was arrested after raising the issue of corruption and the sanctions taken against Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui after he denounced the lack of independence of Tunisian Justice are an illustration of the increased pressure put on Human Rights Defenders.

Mr Chairperson,

The funding argument is often used by governments to lead a smear campaign against Human Rights Defenders being perceived as serving Western interests. In Egypt, a clause that requires the prior consent of the authorities for any foreign funding has been included in the new legislation on associations. Several organizations are facing legal proceedings and arrests and are even threatened with prohibition because they have solicited, received or used resources for promoting and protecting human rights. Mr Hafez Abu Saada was arrested in 1998 for receiving funds from abroad without prior authorization for the funding of a legal aid programme. Mr Saad Edin Ibrahim, director of the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Developmental studies was arrested on 30 June 2000, accused of propagating false information deemed to be harmful to the image of Egypt, after receiving a grant from the European Commission. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison on 21 May 2001, together with 27 other people belonging to NGOs. The case of Dr. Nawel Saadoui also shows serious obstacles to freedom of expression and freedom of thought. In a recent development, the decision of an Administrative Court taken on 1 July has cleared a path for the legal existence of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), a member of OMCT and FIDH, which should be welcomed.

Mr Chairperson,

An international inquiry mission of the Observatory for the protection of Human Rights Defenders visited Guatemala in late May. It issued a press release on 5th June in which it established that during the past year there has been an increase in the number of aggressions suffered by Human Rights organisations, in particular those involved in the fight against impunity. The systematic character of these aggressions, such as ransacking of offices and harassment of members, and the fact that they occur in an organised manner, demonstrate that they cannot be attributed to the common delinquency.

The OMCT recalls that in its concluding observations issued 4 days ago, the Human Rights Committee recommended Guatemala to adopt all necessary measures, in terms of protection and prevention for the social actors, in particular members of the judicial authorities, lawyers, human rights activists and trade unionists so that they are able to carry on with their activities.

Thank you for your attention.

Geneva, August 2001
Michael Anthony
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