Center for Peace and Democracy (CPD)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Human Rights Watch honors human rights defenders

Efforts of Iran, Sudan and Uganda Activists Recognized

(New York, October 27, 2005) — Human Rights Watch’s highest honor in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award, will go to three courageous human rights activists from around the globe whose efforts illustrate major human rights challenges in the world today.

The three honorees for this year illustrate the limits of freedom of _expression in the Middle East, the massive “ethnic cleansing” and injustice in Darfur, Sudan, and the plight of HIV/AIDS affected women in Africa. Human Rights Watch’s global rights defender awardees for 2005 are:

* Omid Memarian, a journalist and web-blogger from Iran,
* Salih Mahmoud Osman, a lawyer and human rights activist from Darfur, and
* Beatrice Were, an advocate for the rights of women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Uganda.
“Our 2005 honorees exemplify the highest ideals of the human rights cause—courage, objectivity, and an unflinching commitment to justice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “They work relentlessly, often in dangerous environments, to bring abuses to light and to fight to preserve human rights in their regions.”
Human Rights Watch staff work closely with the Human Rights Defenders as part of our human rights investigations in more than 70 countries around the world. The 2005 Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners where the defenders will be honored will take place in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Chicago and Toronto. “All three of this year’s honorees send a powerful message to governments that serious human right violations must end,” said Roth. “They are an inspiration to all of us.”
Background on the 2005 Human Rights Watch Honorees: Beatrice Were, Uganda Beatrice Were is a leading Ugandan advocate for the rights of women and children affected by HIV/AIDS. One of the first Ugandan women to openly declare her HIV status, Ms. Were founded a grass-roots support organization, the National Community of Women Living with AIDS.
After she lost her husband to HIV/AIDS in 1991, Ms. Were gained first-hand knowledge of the problems of a widow living with AIDS. Having almost lost her property and children to her husband’s family, she became an activist to prevent other women suffering from this fate. Ms. Were also established the Memory Book project to help mothers with AIDS prepare their children for orphan-hood by recording family memories and talking openly about their HIV status. Ms. Were is a strong critic of U.S.-funded “abstinence-until-marriage” programs which censor factual and sexually explicit HIV/AIDS information for young people.
More information can be found at Omid Memarian, Iran Omid Memarian belongs to a new generation of human rights activists who creatively challenge political repression through the internet. He is a journalist, a web-blogger, and a civil society activist who has pushed the limits of freedom of _expression in Iran by using the internet, and who has been persecuted for his efforts. Mr. Memarian worked as a journalist in Iran for reformist newspapers until the Iranian government shut down these papers. He was arrested because of his defense of human rights in October 2004 and put in solitary confinement where he was tortured repeatedly and forced to make false confessions.
Following protests from the international community, including Human Rights Watch, Mr. Memarian was released in December 2004. Mr. Memarian has worked with Human Rights Watch online to expose arbitrary detentions, torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Iran.
More information can be found at Salih Mahmoud Osman, Sudan Salih Mahmoud Osman is a Darfur-based lawyer who works with the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) to contest torture and arbitrary detention. For twenty years he has defended and given free legal aid to Sudanese of all ethnicities and political stances, including those who have been persecuted by the government.
Mr. Osman was arrested and detained without charge or trial for seven months in 2004 by Sudanese security forces. He was released after going on a hunger strike. Mr. Osman continues to defend civil and political rights in Darfur and Khartoum, Sudan. In investigating ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur, Human Rights Watch worked closely with Mr. Osman, who took on this work at great personal risk to himself and his family.
Human Rights Watch Press release

USA: House amendment tilts playing field for death denalty

Radical Changes to the Federal Death Penalty May Soon Be Law
(Washington, October 27, 2005) -- The House has slipped an amendment into the Patriot Act Reauthorization Act that would dramatically skew federal death penalty cases in favor of the prosecution, Human Rights Watch said today.

The legislation would radically increase the number of federal crimes drawing the death penalty, allow judges to reduce juries deciding the death penalty to fewer than twelve persons, and allow the prosecutor to start afresh in trying to get the death penalty with a new sentencing jury any time even one juror resists imposing the death penalty in a capital case.
Under current federal law, the defendant is given a life sentence if a jury of twelve does not unanimously vote for the death penalty. Under this legislation, the prosecutor could re-impanel a new jury and try for death once again. “It’s a strange notion of justice indeed to give prosecutors multiple bites at the apple,” said Jamie Fellner, U.S. Director of Human Rights Watch. “Death penalty cases are already riddled with unfairness. Why would Congress want to make them worse?” Human Rights Watch said that the legislation would give dramatic power to a single juror who could hold out for the death penalty – and thus enable the prosecution to secure a new jury.
Juries in death penalty cases are already “death-qualified,” meaning that anyone who opposes the death penalty on moral, religious, or practical grounds is excluded from the jury. Yet another legislative provision passed by the House would tilt the trial in favor of death even further by permitting the judge to reduce the number of jurors below twelve, with no minimum number set. A smaller jury would make it even easier for prosecutors to secure a unanimous verdict in favor of death.
The House provisions would also triple the number of death penalty-eligible terrorism related crimes and allow the government to impose the death penalty even if the defendant had no knowledge or intent to kill. Under this legislation, an individual could be sentenced to death for providing financial support to a designated terrorist organization whose members caused the death of another, even if this individual did not know or in any way intend that the members engage in any specific acts of violence.
Rep. John Carter (R- Tex.) introduced these death penalty provisions as last minute amendments to the House version of the Patriot Act Reauthorization Act. They were passed by voice vote, without debate. The Patriot Act Reauthorization Act passed by the Senate contains none of these death penalty provisions.
A final version of the legislation is expected to emerge from conference with the Senate in the next one to two weeks and go to the floor of both the House and Senate for an up or down vote. “These provisions dramatically extend the reach of the federal death penalty and make it significantly easier for the prosecution to secure death, an inherently cruel penalty,” said Jennifer Daskal, U.S. Program Advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Such a radical change to the federal death penalty should not become law without public debate.”
The key provisions are in Title II of H.R. 3199. Section 231 (f) allows for the impaneling of consecutive juries in the penalty phase of a death penalty trial, and Sections 211 and 214 together add a long list of new federal death penalty eligible crimes that do not carry the intent requirement laid out in 18 U.S.C. § 3591(b).
The Senate version of the Patriot Act Reauthorization (S.1389) does not include these provisions. House and Senate negotiators have begun to meet to iron out the differences in the two bills. A final version will be voted on by named conferees and then sent back to the House and Senate for an up or down vote.
Senate conferees are Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Arlen Specter (R-PA). House conferees have not yet been named.
Human Rights Watch Press release
***Learn more about this topic in HREA's study guide on the right to life: