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Letter to the UN, Security Council and Member States on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Middle East
United Nations
Dear Excellencies, We write to you ahead of the third UN-convened meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan on 30 June–1 July 2024 in Doha, Qatar (“Doha III”), to continue to discuss the international community’s approach to Afghanistan. More than one year since the first Doha meeting, there is growing concern that the international community lacks the necessary resolve to defend and advocate for the human rights of Afghan women and girls. Many Afghan women civil society have even called for a boycott of continued negotiations with the Taliban until women’s rights are restored. Doha III therefore offers a decisive opportunity to demonstrate to all Afghans that their human rights are not a bargaining chip, but the foundation on which the future of their country depends. Since the last Doha meeting in February 2024, the Taliban’s abuses against Afghan women and girls, already unparalleled globally and condemned by international experts as gender apartheid, have continued to deepen. The Taliban are not only continuing to impose new restrictions violating the rights of women and girls, now numbering 97, but steadily intensifying their enforcement of existing decrees. The space for women and girls to make their own decisions and live their lives gets smaller every day. This is a clear signal that the international community’s approach to Afghanistan has thus far failed to deter the Taliban from its systematic repression of women’s rights. The upcoming meeting in Doha is a critical moment for the UN, Security Council and international community to coordinate around one key message: the rights of Afghan women and girls are not negotiable.
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Joint NGO Letter to President Biden on the International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court
International Criminal Law
Middle East
United States
Dear President Biden: We write as organizations with a steadfast commitment to justice for grave international crimes and therefore to the success of the International Criminal Court (ICC). We urge your administration to oppose the threats and calls for punitive actions against the Court that several U.S. lawmakers have recently made. Acting on these calls would do grave harm to the interests of all victims globally and to the U.S. government’s ability to champion human rights and the cause of justice, which are stated priorities of your administration. Accountability is important for its own sake and protects against the commission of future atrocity crimes. Acting where it has jurisdiction and within its mandate as a court of last resort, the ICC works together with national authorities to ensure perpetrators of such crimes are held to account and that victims and affected communities find some measure of justice. While the United States is not an ICC member country, Republican and Democratic administrations have supported the Court in specific cases, and the U.S. has assisted arrest operations to bring justice to victims in central Africa. Your own administration has recognized the Court’s essential role to address serious crimes in Ukraine and Darfur. We are alarmed by threats that U.S. lawmakers have aimed at the Court in recent weeks including the letter sent on April 24 by Senators, threatening to sanction the ICC prosecutor’s “employees and associates,” if steps were taken to pursue arrest warrants against Israeli officials. On May 20, the ICC prosecutor requested warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israeli officials stemming from his ongoing Palestine investigation; ICC judges will assess the request to determine whether to issue warrants.
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Open letter on EU and several European states’ concerning decision to suspend and review of funding to Palestinian and Israeli NGOs

Europe
European Union
Middle East
We the undersigned are writing to you to raise concern regarding the decision by several European governments to suspend or review their funding to several Palestinian and Israeli civil society organizations. We are deeply concerned by these developments and call on your government to reverse any decision to halt such crucial funding. A reduction in funds to these groups and organizations erodes human rights protections across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and call into question your ability to credibly promote and protect universal human rights values across the Middle East and North Africa. Several European states, namely Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the European Commission have taken measures to suspend or review their funding to Palestinian and Israeli civil society organizations due to unfounded allegations of diversion of funding to terrorist organizations. These measures have intensified following the attacks by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October 2023, where members of Hamas and other armed groups committed summary killings, hostage-taking of civilians, and launching indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel.
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#CeasefireNow: Open Call for an Immediate Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and Israel to Prevent a Humanitarian Catastrophe and Further Loss of Innocent Lives

International Humanitarian Law
Middle East
United Nations
We have witnessed unfathomable death and destruction in the Gaza Strip and Israel. Thousands of people have been killed, injured, displaced, and nearly two hundred remain held hostage, including children and elderly. In Gaza, the UN has said that water, food, fuel, medical supplies, and even body bags, are running out due to the siege. The UN warned that people – particularly young children – will soon start dying of severe dehydration. Neighbourhoods have been destroyed and turned into complete rubble. Palestinians in search of safety have nowhere to go. Many of those who relocated from northern Gaza to the south after the relocation order by the Israeli army were reportedly bombed as they attempted to flee or once they arrived in southern Gaza.   The events of the last week have led us to the precipice of a humanitarian catastrophe and the world can no longer wait to act. It is our collective responsibility. On Sunday, October 15th, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator to the Occupied Palestinian Territory appealed to all parties to the conflict, and to Member States with influence, to urgently agree to a humanitarian ceasefire. Today, we put our voices together and call on all Heads of State, the UN Security Council, and actors on the ground, to prioritize the preservation of human life above all else. During this ceasefire, we call on all parties to unconditionally: Facilitate the delivery of lifesaving assistance, including food, medical supplies, fuel, and the resumption of electricity and internet to Gaza, in addition to safe passage of humanitarian and medical staff   Free all civilian hostages, especially children and elderly Allow humanitarian convoys to reach UN facilities, schools, hospitals, and health facilities in northern Gaza and commit to protecting them along with the civilians and staff inside them at all times Rescind orders by the Government of Israel for civilians to depart northern Gaza Allow patients in critical condition to be medically evacuated for urgent care The UN Security Council, the UN Secretary General and all world leaders with influence must take immediate action to ensure a ceasefire comes into effect. It remains our only option to avert further loss of civilian life and humanitarian catastrophe. Anything less will forever be a stain on our collective conscience. Civilians are not bargaining chips. Families need a chance to bury and mourn their dead. The cycle of violence against innocent civilians needs to stop.
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Civil Society Organizations Urge UN Member States to Vote in Favor of Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria

Middle East
United Nations
At the end of June, the UN General Assembly will be called to vote on a resolution to establish an independent institution to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in the Syrian Arab Republic, a milestone in the international community’s response to the Syrian conflict. Since 2011, more than 100,000 individuals have gone missing or been forcibly disappeared by Syrian authorities and other parties to the conflict, including armed groups such as ISIL. In 2021, Syrian families and survivors called for the creation of a new independent, humanitarian institution that will focus on victims’ inalienable right to know the truth about their loved ones. The call to establish such a new institution is supported by the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The independent institution will be the first-ever response to the Syrian conflict to be entirely imagined and developed by Syrian victims and survivors of enforced disappearance and families of missing persons. The efforts made by Syrian families need the broadest and strongest support possible. We, therefore, call on UN member states to support the families’ right to truth by voting in favor of the resolution. Voting for the resolution will constitute a major step towards bringing long-awaited answers to thousands of families who have been suffering loss and uncertainty. Progress on this issue is fundamental to families, communities and society as a whole. The international community must extend a hand of practical support and assistance to families and victims in need. The people of Syria deserve no less.
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Call for Urgent Debate on the women’s rights crisis in Afghanistan at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Human Rights Council
Middle East
Excellencies, We, the undersigned civil society organisations, urge you to call for and support an urgent debate at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council regarding the women’s rights crisis in Afghanistan. We further urge you to support a resolution responding to this crisis. Since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country, there has been an enormous deterioration in the recognition and protection of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, including with respect to the rights to non-discrimination, education, work, public participation, health, and sexual and reproductive health. The Taliban has also imposed sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement for women and girls. Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to expressly prohibit girls’ education. In the last few weeks, the situation has worsened dramatically, with a Taliban directive that women and girls must fully cover themselves in public, including their faces, and leave home only in cases of necessity. International investigations, witness testimony and video evidence indicate that women human rights defenders and others protesting against the restrictions and violations have been subject to home invasions, threats, abductions, enforced disappearances, and assaults with electric devices and chemical sprays. Read the Full Letter
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How the International Community is Failing the Syrian Torture Victims

Human Rights Treaties
International Criminal Court
Middle East
By Maftuna Saidova June 26th was the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In honor of this day, we should remember the victims who were tortured (and continue to be tortured) in Syrian detention centers and evaluate what is being done to hold the perpetrators responsible. Neither the Syrian government nor the international community has taken any significant steps to address or mitigate the violations happening in in Syria. Under the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the state–who should be responsible for protecting its citizens–has been acting as the perpetrator. Under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, those who are deemed as a threat to the government continue to be tortured in the detention centers. Moreover, the two mechanisms set out by the Convention Against Torture, meant to protect victims, have not been fully employed–leaving the victims defenseless against their own government. As a result, many Syrians continue to live in fear, knowing that their government could strip them of their rights at any moment. Under Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture, state parties to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, are required to, “ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.” Acts of “redress” can include reparations for the victims such as rehabilitation, compensation, and guarantees of non-repetition. However in this case the Syriangovernment is the perpetrator, which makes it highly unlikely that any types of reparations will be provided to the victims by the government. This is why the role of the international community is especially important for the Syrian victims. Under Article 9 of CAT, the international community has the power to refer Syria and Assad to the International Criminal Court and “afford one another the greatest measure of assistance in connection with criminal proceedings.” This would allow the victims of Assad’s regime to receive retribution and possibly rescue for those who are currently being interrogated without having to consider the sovereignty of the state itself. However, Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, have vetoed all UN attempts to refer Syria to the ICC which means that Assad and his brutal regime will stay in power and have the authority to continue their torture tactics on those who they consider as threats in the region. Unless these measures are implemented, the victims in these detention centers will continue to be tortured and the brutal regime in Syria will remain in power. Although universal jurisdiction can be used, as some lawyers have initiated to build a case against Assad in Germany, it will not be able to protect the victims including the women who are being shamed by their communities for the rapes they endured in the detention centers. More importantly, the failure to implement these mechanisms will result in the normalization of such violations around the world. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons\Press of the President of Russian Federation\CC BY 4.0
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Justice for Queer Iraqis is Not Optional

Iraq
Middle East
By Merrite Johnson Daesh’s crimes against queer Iraqis (or people perceived of being queer, or not sufficiently adhering to traditional gender norms) have been well-documented, including harassment campaigns, arbitrary executions, and forced disappearances. These crimes were also a tactic for building popular support for Daesh’s rule. Since the UN voted last year to create an international team to investigate crimes Daesh committed in Iraq, human rights advocates including the Global Justice Center have called repeatedly for the team to follow international laws and standards as they investigate all crimes, not just those of terrorism. Earlier this year, GJC published its analysis of Iraq’s national laws, which are woefully insufficient for achieving justice for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and gender-based violence. If Daesh crimes are going to be prosecuted in domestic Iraqi courts, there is a very real danger that these venues will shut out LGBTQ Iraqis from seeking justice. But Daesh isn’t the only group responsible for violence against LGBTQ Iraqis. A report published earlier this year by IraQueer found that 96% of LGBTQ respondents in Iraq have faced some form of violence over the past three years, and there have been documented killing campaigns against queer people in Iraq every year since 2003—well before the arrival of Daesh. The Iraqi government has completely failed to protect its queer citizens from harassment and violence; even worse, state forces have been active participants in targeted anti-LGBTQ violence alongside conservative militias. If the international community really is committed to justice, it must ensure not only that queer voices are included in Daesh prosecutions, but also that the Iraqi government is held to its obligations under human rights treaties like the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Now is the time to take action to prove that justice for queer people is not optional.
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Rebuilding Iraq Should Include Mental Health Care for Yazidi Survivors

Iraq
Middle East
Sexual Violence
Yazidi
By Maftuna Saidova The Yazidi community are an ethnic minority formerly located in northern Iraq. They are one of the groups who suffered under the brutal and inhumane control of ISIS. When ISIS captured Sinjar, they abducted thousands of Yazidi women and sold them into slavery within the lucrative sex trade created among ISIS fighters. Human rights activists and lawyers have demanded ISIS be held accountable for employing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as a weapon of war. According to OHCHR, SGVB can include “any harmful act directed against individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their gender,” including rape, sexual abuse, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, and sexual enslavement.  Although many Yazidi survivors are now free and Iraq has regained territorial control, adequate mental health treatment should be the priority of the Iraqi government as the treatment of the survivors is crucial for Iraq’s gradual rebuilding process. Sexual violence in the form of rape encapsulates more than just exploitation. For the Yazidis and other women who experienced rape in conflict, it means loss of power and dehumanization. Many survivors currently suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder as well as emotional trauma and social alienation. These women often feel shame for the gender based crimes forced on them. For this reason,  90% of the rescued Yazidi women are “in severe shock and psychological upset.”  Dealing with the mental trauma inflicted by Daesh is key for rebuilding their lives in Iraq.  Yet without individualized mental health treatment, many Yazidi women will find it difficult to move forward. Iraq continually fails to provide protection or resources for the survivors. Recently, Iraqi government was asked by the UN, under Resolution 2379, to lead a joint investigation on the war atrocities committed by ISIS. The ongoing investigations have prioritized institutional reforms  protecting victims of gendered violence from marginalization in their societies. Critics have argued that the mandate of the Resolution brings limited justice to the victims. Currently non-governmental organizations like Yazda and Nadia’s Initiative are focused on ensuring that the population in Sinjar is provided with the supplies and resources necessary to begin rebuilding while the investigation is taking place. But it is not enough. Although institutional reforms are an important step in rebuilding Iraq, they are insufficient for the women who need adequate treatment in dealing with the psychological and emotional consequences of living in sexual slavery.  Although institutional reforms are an important step in rebuilding Iraq, they are insufficient for the women who need adequate treatment in dealing with the psychological and emotional consequences of living in sexual slavery. 
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