Gross human rights violations of Palestinians – by Palestinian security forces

Human Rights Watch has published an important report on the methods used by Palestinian security forces against dissidents in both Gaza and the West Bank. Arrested individuals have in a number of cases been illtreated and tortured.

In Gaza most of the victims have been activists for Fatah and in the West Bank they have primarily been Hamas supporters. In other words, the conflict between the two major Palestinian political groupings is now also reflected in mutual human rights violations.

Security forces on both sides have received foreign assistance, primiarly in order to prevent violence and chaus. Israel has developed close cooperation with the security structures of the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority which was established under the Oslo agreement.

Those who have aided the training of Palestinian security officials in order to promote  professional behaviour now need to react. Also Swedish authorities should convey a strong message that these criminal violations are absolutely unaccetable and must stop without delay.

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is no excuse for the systematic torture. The executive director of the Palestinian independent human rights organisation Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin,  made this point clear:

“The fact that Israel systematically violates Palestinians’ most basic rights is no reason to remain silent in the face of the systematic repression of dissent and the torture Palestinian security forces are perpetrating”.     




The genocidal campaign against the Rohingya must be stopped!

More than 600 000 Rohingya refugees are reported to have been forced to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh in recent months. Others are in hiding as internally displaced. They have all fled from an exceptionally brutal military campaign of ethnic cleansing in the province of Rakhine.

An unknown number have not managed to escape the pogroms and several hundred are estimated to have been killed. Refugees who have reached Bangladesh have told about killings also of small children in the hands of military forces and mob groups.

The Myanmar government describes the military activities as a legitimate response to some violent actions by a small extremist group. However, it is clear that there is no proportion between what this group has actually done and the ongoing atrocities against hundreds of thousands of members of this Muslim minority which has been discriminated for generations and deprived of their citizenship.

The vast majority of the victims are women and children who, in fact, are increasingly targeted by soldiers and other armed elements..

The brutality during this systematic campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing has gradually assumed genocidal proportions. We are faced with a situation that possesses all the earmarks of crimes against humanity.

It is extremely important that all organs of the United Nations as well as regional intergovernmental organizations respond effectively and with a greater sense of urgency to these atrocities.

The wave of uncontrolled violence must be made to stop; fleeing people given secure protection; and relief organizations equipped to provide support and safety in refugee camps and settlements. The international community must more generously contribute to the resources of the humanitarian organizations.

The seriousness of the situation has made a number of us who have previously served as human rights experts for the United Nations – as Secretary General Special Representatives or UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights – to jointly appeal to the Myanmar Government to put an end to the systematic campaign against Rohingya (see below).

This group of 17 experts from different parts of the world stated that all Rohingya – as a first step – must be allowed to return to their homes voluntarily, with dignity and safety guaranteed. Further, it must be officially recognized and confirmed through full implementation that they can no longer be denied nationality and citizenship rights.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called for an end of statelessness and implementation of the right of every person to a nationality. These principles must be enforced. It is an outrage that Rohingya living on their ancestral land have been denied these fundamental rights.

International presence is crucial in the present situation. The Secretary General Guterres has requested immediate and safe access for UN agencies and their non-governmental partners to all affected areas. This is imperative as the politically generated humanitarian crisis needs to be immediately addressed.

The UN Human Rights Council recently stated that the independent international fact-finding mission must be allowed to work unhindered so as to “establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces”.

This important signal about monitoring should serve as a sobering reminder that one day justice will have to be established by proper procedures. Indeed, the time has come for the Security Council to refer this matter to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, so that a proper investigation can be initiated and perpetrators of these crimes against humanity can one day be held accountable for this unconscionable violence.

Certainly, there is a risk that such an initiative in the Security Council might be blocked by a veto from one of the permanent members. However, even a full discussion on this issue in that very forum will have some impact and may encourage other initiatives by international forces to act against these massive crimes.

Silence cannot be an option.

Former United Nations Special Rapporteurs Call for End to Human Rights Abuses Against Rohingya









 The Palme Center has decided to make public a report on the human rights situation in Abkhazia, a disputed territory in the former Soviet Union. The report is based on thorough research and several field visits by myself and Magdalena Grono, an expert on post-Soviet conflicts, now working with the International Crisis Group.

The report states that the unresolved conflict has severe impact on the human rights of people living in the contested territory of Abkhazia, as well as of persons displaced by the 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz armed conflict.

The human costs of the continued conflict, playing out at Georgian-Abkhaz as well as Georgian-Russian levels, must be a serious consideration in all settlement efforts and dialogue, recommends the report.

A final settlement that would guarantee sustainable peace may continue to be elusive for some time, but a number of human rights problems can be addressed, and even resolved, before comprehensive political resolution is reached.  

Further international visits to Abkhazia on human rights issues would benefit both people affected by the ongoing conflict but also the broader climate for conflict settlement, in which humanitarian and human rights issues get easily politicized. Substantive apolitical dialogue on human rights issues with internationally recognised independent human rights experts should therefore be encouraged.  

The report is based on extensive research on both sides of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict divide, and especially in Abkhazia, over the course of nine months in 2016. They had full access to all relevant interlocutors – including authorities, civil society and ordinary people.

Their report is the first major assessment of the human rights situation in Abkhazia made by international, independent experts. The situation of ethnic Georgian returnees living in Abkhazia’s Gali district is one of the important aspects the report highlights.

This assessment, and an earlier version of their report, was initiated by the European Union and also circulated to relevant diplomats and international organisations. In view of its broader significance the authors have given the Palme Center the privilege of publishing the full and updated report. It will be an important contribution to ongoing efforts to address the conflict, including in the Geneva International Discussions, the conflict settlement forum in this case.

The full report can be found on the web site of Olof Palme International Center.

The Olof Palme International Center publishes the first independent report on human rights in Abkhazia

Military coup in Greece 50 years ago, democrats were betrayed – what did we learn?

Fifty years have now passed since the military takeover in Athens. The coup in the early morning of 21 April 1967 was indeed a shock for democrats all over Europe. How was it possible that a simple group of colonels could wipe out democracy in one of the oldest members states of Council of Europe?

The shock deepened when it became known that the Greek parliament was closed and the political parties dissolved, that strict media censorship had been introduced and that about 6 000 people, including politicians and journalists, had been taken prisoner, many of whom were tortured  during interrogation.

Though the colonels were political novices and made naïve – even ridiculous – statements, they were well prepared in military terms, got to grips quickly with the state machinery and launched their systematic terror skillfully. Obviously, the Greek army and security forces had not been kept under sufficient democratic control. Their links to colleagues in the United States became gradually more obvious.

As a young member of Amnesty International, I went to Athens soon after the coup in order to collect evidence about torture. I was immediately struck by the wide spread fear in the community. To testify to a foreign human rights organization involved a serious risk.

However, testimonies did come out and an interstate complaint was submitted at the end of 1967 by governments in Scandinavia and the Netherlands to the Commission of Human Rights within the Council of Europe. The Commission concluded that the European Convention had been violated and the Greek junta decided in 1969 to leave the organization in order to avoid the embarrassment of suspension.

However, torture continued and the colonels managed to stay in power for another five years, until July 1974. There were several reasons for this, a major one being that the solidarity with the Greek democrats – though strong in several countries – was not shared by everyone. The US government gave the junta political protection and the colonel’s Greece could therefore remain member of NATO.

The Greek democrats at the time appealed to European governments to try to convince Washington to stop supporting the junta, or at least demand an end to torture, but their requests were generally met with silence.

The succeeding democratic regime in Greece reined in the military and security forces and put the colonels and some of the most notorious torturers to trial. However, there was little discussion about the fact that the international community failed to stop the junta for years.

What did we learn?