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Keeping power in check: this week in human rights Open in fullscreen

Lana Asfour

Keeping power in check: this week in human rights

Khalida Jarrar was arrested in the middle of the night [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 10 April, 2015

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Blog: A weekly digest of the main human rights issues across the Arab world: week 4-10 April, 2015.


Iraq: mothers committed suicide when their children starved to death


In a week filled with bad news for human rights, one of the more disturbing stories has to be this one.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed
reported that several women in Iraq's Anbar province have committed suicide because their children died of starvation or disease due to food and medicine shortages.

The shortages are the result of rival blockades imposed by the Islamic State group (IS), and Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization militias.

Liqaa Wardi, a member of the Committee for the Displaced in Iraq's parliament, called on the government to send urgent food aid to Anbar. Around 48 refugee children in trapped areas have died because of the blockades.

The government has deliberately neglected these areas, said Wardi, because it accuses locals of collaborating with IS.

Syria: Barrel bombs and snipers add to Yarmouk's living hell

The already terrible situation for thousands of civilians in this Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus has deteriorated into an unimaginable hell since the Islamic State group (IS) overran the camp last week.

The UN Security Council described conditions in Yarmouk as "beyond inhumane" and demanded humanitarian access to the camp.

Thanks to a crippling two-year government seige and to fighting between government forces and rebel groups, the camp was already suffering severe food and water shortages, as well as a total loss of electricity since 2013. 

Thousands of residents who have not been able to flee the camp are now caught between IS fighters and the government's barrel bombs and snipers. The Syrian government's use of barrel bombs in civilian areas all over the country has been criticised by several human rights organisations.

"In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday. "A refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp. The residents of Yarmouk - including 3,500 children - are being turned into human shields," he said.

"To know what it is like in Yarmouk, turn off your electricity, water, heating, eat once a day, live in the dark, live by burning wood," said one Yarmouk resident quoted by UNRWA.

Yemen: Houthis used excessive force, while the conflict takes toll on children

As fighting in Yemen continues and spreads, and the Saudi-led coalition air strikes against rebel forces begin their third week, there have been reports that Houthis and government security forces have used excessive force.

They fired on 1000 demonstrators without warning, killing at least 4 and injuring more than 70 in Taiz, Yemen's third largest city. A similar allied force also fired on around 100 protestors in al-Turbba, killing 3 and wounding at least 10 more.

"Yemen’s spiraling conflict is causing a calamitous breakdown in law and order," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Security forces in control, whatever side they are on, have responsibilities to uphold and protect people’s rights and to take action against their members who commit abuses."

Meanwhile, as if the impending humanitarian and malnutrition disaster brought on by the war were not enough, UNICEF has warned that the conflict in Yemen is taking its toll on children in particular. Up to a third of fighters in armed groups are children, said Julien Harneis, Unicef’s representative in Yemen.

As for the Saudi-led air strikes, they have come under criticisim for violations of human rights law and humanitarian law, after they hit a camp for displaced persons in northern Yemen on 30 March, killing at least 40 civilians and wounding many more. The World Health Organisation said they hit a the camp's medical facility, a market and a bridge.

Egypt: witnesses in Shaimaa al-Sabbagh case go on trial

Poet and human rights activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed by security forces at a protest in January in a case that typifies Egypt's crack-down on expressions of dissent.

This week, 17 witnesses who have testified about Sabbagh's brutal killing are being tried for breaking a 2013 law that forbids unauthorised demonstrations.

They could end up serving five years in jail and a hefty fine. Among them is Azza Soliman, a human rights lawyer who witnessed the killing by accident.

Israel imprisons Palestinian lawmaker

In a case that is full of due process violations, Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian human rights activist and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was sentenced to six months administrative detention by an Israeli military commander.

Her lawyers said her West Bank home was raided at 1 am. She was arrested, moved to an Israeli settlement then to two military bases, interrogated all morning, then transferred to a prison in Israel.

HRW points out that under Israeli law, the military can detain any Palestinian without charge or trial if it can convince a military judge that the evidence provides “reasonable grounds to believe” that the person poses a “danger to security.”

But the military is under no obligation to share that evidence with detainee. A military judge can approve a military order to detain someone for up to six months, and the detention can be indefinitely renewed.

There are approximately 400 Palestinian administrative detainees who have "no fair opportunity to contest the evidence against them", HRW says.

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