Human Rights Watch continued to work closely with three casework groups composed of members of the United States Congress: the Congressional Friends of Human Rights Monitors, the Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists, and the Congressional Working Group on International Women's Human Rights. All three groups are nonpartisan and bicameral.
Human Rights Watch initiated the formation of these groups to enable concerned members of Congress to write letters to governments that commit or condone violations against human rights monitors, writers and journalists, or gender-based abuses of women's human rights. Human Rights Watch supplies the groups with information about appropriate cases of concern; the groups, in turn, determine which cases they would like to pursue.
The goals of the congressional casework groups are threefold. First, their letters help to pressure governments to end their persecution of human rights monitors, writers and journalists, and women - abuses which are either committed or routinely tolerated by governments. Second, members of the congressional groups are informed about important incidents of violence and intimidation. Third, copies of the letters are sent to U.S. ambassadors in the relevant countries to inform them about cases of concern and to local press from the countries in question so that they can consequently bring additional attention to human rights violations.
The Congressional Friends of
Human Rights Monitors
Human Rights Watch helped to form the Congressional Friends of Human Rights Monitors in 1983 to support and protect our persecuted colleagues. Letters on their behalf have condemned killings, "disappearances," assaults, harassment, and threats, calling for arrest and prosecution of those responsible. During 1997, the group consisted of twenty-five senators and one hundred members of the House of Representatives. Steering committee members were Sen. James Jeffords, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Rep. Tony Hall, and Rep. Constance A. Morella. In the four letters sent in 1997, the group voiced concern over events in Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Turkey. In Mexico, visits by foreign human rights workers were cut short when the monitors were expelled after government officials claimed that the visitors had the wrong type of visa. In Colombia, there was an attack on the home of two rights activists, Drs. Mario Calderón Villegas and Elsa Constanza Alvarado Chacón of the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) in May; both monitors were killed, as was Dr. Alvarado's mother. The Congressional Friends expressed their outrage and deep concern over the attack and the consistent persecution of human rights advocates in Colombia.
The Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists
In 1997, the Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists was made up of sixty-seven representatives and fifteen senators, and was headed by Sen. Bob Graham, Rep. Jim Leach, and Rep. John Lewis. The committee wrote to the heads of state in Argentina, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, and Turkey, focusing on cases in which freedom of expression was threatened, restricted, or otherwise impaired. In Argentina and Iran, journalists and writers were murdered, while in Nigeria, the state ordered the execution of authors who were accused of being "conspirators against the state." In Turkey, Ertu rul Kürkçü and Ay enur Zarakolu-respectively an editor and a publisher of a Turkish translation of a Human Rights Watch report-were tried for "defaming and belittling" the state security service. In Kyrgyzstan, a defamation case was brought against a newspaper editor, Ryspek Omurzakov.
In October, Argentine Minister of Foreign Relations Santos Goñi responded to a letter sent by the Committee regarding the brutal murder of photojournalist José Luis Cabezas. He noted that because of the investigation, "many police officers have been expelled from the police force of the province of Buenos Aires (where the homicide took place) and are being investigated for alleged direct or indirect involvement in criminal activities that could have led to this crime." Minister Goñi further stated his government's commitment to assure press freedom.
Early this year, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Bruton of Ireland responded to a letter sent by the committee regarding the July 1996 murder of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, who had reported on Dublin's criminal underworld. Mr. Bruton echoed the committee's condemnation of the crime and pledged to do everything possible to bring Ms. Guerin's murderer to justice and protect press freedom in Ireland.
Group on International Women's Human Rights
The Congressional Working Group on International Women's Human Rights, which was formed in April 1994 to promote accountability for violations of women's rights worldwide, is a bipartisan group composed of twenty senators and thirty-two members of the House of Representatives. The four members of the working group's steering committee are Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Rep. Joe Moakley, and Rep. Constance A. Morella. In 1997 the group wrote letters of protest to King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal on the case of a Tibetan woman refugee who was gang-raped after crossing into Nepal from Tibet and to Minister of Labor Assad Hardan of Lebanon on the abuse of an Ethiopian domestic worker.
Every year Human Rights Watch honors human rights monitors from around the world for their commitment to the defense of human rights. In challenging the worlds powerful human rights abusers, they are often at grave risk. We work closely with them to conduct investigations and devise strategies to end abuses. For 1997, the people we honored were:
Fatos T. Lubonha was born in Tirana in 1951. He graduated from Tirana University in theoretical physics in 1974 and was arrested in the same year and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for "agitation and propaganda against the state" because of his political writings. In 1979, while serving his first sentence, he was charged again and sentenced to another ten years in prison and labor camps. He was released in 1991 with most of Albania's political prisoners and co-founded Albania's first ever human rights group (Forum for the Defense of Human Rights, which later became the Albanian Helsinki Committee).
Since then, he has been one of Albania's most outspoken human rights activist, Unlike most former political prisoners, and many of Albania's intellectuals, Lubonja openly criticized the authoritarian government of Sali berisha. Since 1994 he has been both editor and publisher of Pepjekja ("Endeavor"), Albania's leading critical social/political journal. He is the author of three books, including a novel he wrote while in prison. In 1997 Fatos served as spokesman of the Forum for Democracy, a coalition of organizations and political parties united in opposition to the government of Sali Berisha.
Dr. Lao Mong Hay
Dr. Lao Mong Hay is the Executive Director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, one of the first non-governmental organizations created to stimulate debate on democracy and human rights in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge era. Founded in November 1991 shortly after the Paris Accords, the Institute has taken on such diverse and high-profile projects as producing a weekly television round-table on controversial public issues of the day, training provincial police leaders and the diplomatic corps in human rights and international law, and conducting grassroots education in electoral democracy.
Dr. Lao and the Institute have come under government pressure, particularly with regard to their educational television programming, a novelty in a country with little tradition of independent journalism and where the broadcast media have been dominated by political factions. In October the Information Ministry cancelled Dr. Lao's panal discussion show on state-run TVK. The move came in retaliation for Lao Mong Hay's criticism of Cambodia's record on democracy following the July 5-6 coup. Many outspoken democracy activists and politicians left the country after the coup, but Dr. Lao Mong Hay decided to remain, in Phnom Penh and outspoken.
Prior to assuming the leadership of the Institute, Dr. Lao was director of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, a unique government-supported agency dedicated to mine clearance and mine education that grew out of the United Nations peace-keeping mission. In that capacity, Dr. Lao urged the Cambodian government to take a leading role in the campaign to immediately ban the production, stockpiling and use of landmines worldwide, a cause recently awarded the Nobel Prize. Human Rights Watch is honored to have him as a member of the advisory board of the Arms Project since 1996.
Except for a six-month period between September 1993 and March 1994, Wei Jingsheng, China's most prominent dissident, has spent most of his adult life in prison. Now forty-eight, he was first jailed in 1979 for his participation in the Democracy Wall movement. His famous essay, "The Fifth Modernization," argued that in addition to four kinds of modernization advocated by Deng Xiaoping, China also needed democracy. That essay was followed by another calling Deng an autocrat. For these words, Wei Jingsheng was sentenced on October 16, 1979 to fifteen years in prison.
His recently-published collection of prison letters, The Courage to Stand Alone, makes it clear that his treatment in prison was always harsh. He spent long periods in solitary confinement, and his health deteriorated sharply. In late 1993, he was released in what was widely interpreted as an attempt by China to deflect human rights criticism in pursuit of its ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. Wei immediately went back to advocating political reform, meeting with activists, journalists, and others, and writing for foreign and domestic publications.
On April 1, 1994, he was again taken into custody, and after a delay of eighteen months was convicted of "counterrevolution." In November, the Chinese government released Wei on medical parole.
Dr. Muhamad Mugraby
Dr. Muhamad Mugraby, a Lebanese attorney with a busy corporate and commercial law practice in Beirut, is also a well-known defender of human rights in his country. He has long championed the independence of the judiciary, not only in Lebanon but regionwide. In 1967, he introduced civil rights and civil liberties as courses at the Lebanese University School of Law, where he taught for many years. He is also an outspoken critic of Syria's increasingly tight grip on Lebanon, and believes that human rights in Lebanon cannot be restored without addressing the harmful impact of the ubiquitous Syrian role in the country's affairs.
As a human rights lawyer and activist, Dr. Mugraby has focused on some of the most serious human rights problems in Lebanon, such as incommunicado detention, torture, and the expanding use of military courts to try civilians. He is not afraid to take on politically sensitive cases. He has represented property owners and tenants in the old city of Beirut who have challenged unlawful practices of Prime Minister Hariri's Solidere- the multi-billion-dollar real estate company - carrying out the controversial physical reorganization of downtown Beirut. In March 1997, he made formal written complaints to Lebanon's public prosecutor about the unlawful detention of two Lebanese who "disappeared" in January and in March, were transferred into Syrian custody, and held incommunicado in Damascus. Both demarches called on Lebanese authorities to investigate these cases, and prosecute the perpetrators and their accomplices.
Dr. Mugraby holds degrees from the Lebanese University School of Law, and Columbia University Law School, where he was an International Law Fellow from 1963-65 and where he earned two masters degrees and a doctorate. He is a member of the International Bar Asociation and the International Association of Lawyers.
Carlos Rodriguez is a distinguished lawyer, teacher, and writer who has dedicated his talents to the defense of human rights in Colombia. Educated at the prestigious Javeriana University in Bogota and the Complutense University of Madrid, he began his professional career in 1974. He is a founding member of one of Colombia's most effective human rights groups, the Colombian Commission of Jurists. There, he has pioneered the international dimension of human rights work in Colombia, heading up the team that finally made Colombia a priority at the regular meetings of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva and at the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Largely through his efforts, the high commissioner set up for the first time an office in Bogota to pressure the Colombian government to protect human rights.
Rodriguez has also played a key role in landmark cases in the defense of human rights in Colombia. As a member of the group looking into the 1990 Trujillo massacre, he helped persuade the government to accept responsibility for the killings of 109 people by an army major and his paramilitary allies. Rodriguez continues to work on other important cases, including the Villatina massacre, the Caloto massacre, and the Los Uvos massacre, all of which involved the direct participation of state agents with paramilitary groups.
REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Dieudonne Been Masudi Kingombe
As Director of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (CDH) in Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonne Been Masudi Kingombe oversees and coordinates the work of a team of three full time investigators, and half a dozen volunteers. During the infamous Mobutu era, the CDH, which was founded by a group of lawyers in 1992, assumed a pivotal role in exposing abuses, in pressing for accountability, and in mediating between victims and the authorities. The Center's reports also exposed the corruption and ineptitude of the judiciary, and denounced national and regional politicians for relying on ethnic manipulation to consolidate their hold on power.
With the advent of the government of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, the Center, as before, spearheaded the local human rights community's efforts to denounce the far-too-familiar abuses perpetrated by the agents of the new government. On July 31, 1997 Center staff visited detainees held at the headquarters of the new political police. In a scathing, two page open letter to the minister of interior after that visit, CDH denounced the arbitrary detention of 89 individuals, and the torture and beatings some of them had suffered. In the days that followed, most of them, including high-profile political detainees, were released.
Been Masudi is also the inspiration behind the "Concertation," the umbrella forum of all human rights organizations in Lubumbashi that act together to raise human rights cases with government and military officials.
Marina Pisklakova founded the Moscow Crisis Center for Women in July 1993, to focus on domestic violence and set up one of the first domestic violence hotlines in Russia. It takes up to 250 calls a month. Marina has emerged as a leader in the fight against violence against women in Russia. She has also done work on sexual violence more generally and on trafficking of Russian women into domestic work and prostitution throughout Europe. She was also one of the cofounders of the Russian Association of Crisis Centers for Women.
Marina is currently involved in two major efforts: To open the first shelter for battered women in Russia, and to develop pilot programs to coordinate the law enforcement, medical and nongovernmental response to violence against women.
Angelina Acheng Atyam
Angelina Acheng Atyam, a nurse-midwife and mother of six, is the vice chair of the Concerned Parents Association, a group of Ugandan parents who came together to demand action when their daughters, 139 girls from the St. Mary's School, were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in October 1996. For years in the northern part of Uganda the Lord's Resistance Army has been stealing children for use in their rebel army in their attempt to overthrow the Ugandan government. Children as young as eight-years old have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, virtually enslaved, and sometimes killed by the rebel army. Angelina's daughter was fourteen when she was abducted, and remains in rebel captivity today.
The Concerned Parents have worked tirelessly to secure the release of their daughters, and all children in rebel captivity, encouraging other families to speak out about the abductions of their children. Families have been reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisals. Angelina and the Concerned Parents have made it clear, by their own example, that families do not have to watch silently as their children are stolen from them. They have shown that they do not have to tolerate the intolerable. The Concerned Parents have succeeded in bringing national and international attention to their cause, and have raised their concerns with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and at high-level meetings between representatives of the governments of Uganda and Sudan. Although they were drawn into the turmoil surrounding the conflict in the north only when their own children were stolen from them, the Concerned Parents have become a powerful voice for all children in rebel captivity.
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