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Human Rights Watch continued to work closely with three casework groups composed of members of 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 bipartisan 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. 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 three-fold. Most important, their letters and faxes 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 these important incidents of violence and intimidation. Finally, copies of letters are sent to both 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 in turn can bring additional attention to human rights violations.

The Congressional Friends

of Human Rights Monitors

The Congressional Friends of Human Rights Monitors, which was formed in 1983, was composed of thirty-four senators and 119 members of the House of Representatives. The five members of the steering committee for the group were Sen. Dave Durenberger, Sen. James Jeffords, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Rep. Tony Hall and Rep. Constance A. Morella.

In 1994, the committee's primary focus was on writing urgent action letters about time-sensitive cases of death threats, attacks, and unwarranted arrests of human rights monitors. Letters from the groups describing these concerns were transmitted via fax to relevant government officials.

In Guatemala, the Congressional Friends wrote letters to President de Léon Carpio expressing concern over attacks and acts of intimidation against several activists. A January letter noted that human rights activist Mario Polanco, from the Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, GAM), was seriously injured when he was attacked by armed men after leaving a human rights demonstration. In addition, other activists from GAM and the Council of Ethnic Communities human rights group (Consejo de Comunidades Etnicas Runujel Junam, CERJ) received death threats and threatening phone calls. In a follow up letter in June, the Congressional Friends reiterated their concern over the ongoing harassment of monitors in Guatemala. This letter placed particular emphasis on the death threats against members of the Chel Human Rights Commission and the threats and accusations against activists from the widows' human rights group, Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala (CONAVIGUA). The Congressional Friends requested that the government carry out an investigation into the attack on Mario Polanco and bring those responsible to justice. The group also urged that every effort be made to see that those found responsible for the death threats and acts of intimidation against the other activists were held accountable for their actions. Harassment of human rights activists in Guatemala continues, but recent reports indicate that the level of intimidation against the activists specifically named by the Congressional Friends in their letters may have declined.

In Rwanda last March, the Congressional Friends wrote to then-President Juvenal Habyarimana expressing concern over attacks against two prominent human rights activists. The letter noted that activist André Katabarwa was gravely injured in a grenade attack while activist Monique Mujawamariya was repeatedly harassed by militia members of the MRND political party; on one occasion she was threatened with knives and on another, while she was driving, her car was stoned and the windows were smashed. The Congressional Friends called on the Rwandan government to conduct investigations into the attack against Katabarwa as well as the threats and attacks against Mujawamariya. The group also urged that those found responsible be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Monique Mujawamariya continued to be targeted because of her human rights activism until her escape from Rwanda last April, soon after the onset of the genocide campaign.

The Congressional Friends wrote to Brazilian officials in March to express its concern over the death threats against several Catholic priests working on human rights issues. The priests had long been active with the church-based human rights group Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT) and had been threatened on a number of occasions because of their human rights activities. The Congressional Friends urged the government of Brazil to investigate the death threats against them and to hold accountable those found responsible for issuing the threats. The group also expressed its concern for the physical security of these activists; a few weeks after the letter was transmitted, Father Ricardo Rezende was provided police protection by the government. Threats against human rights activists continued, however, and in late spring, the names of three Catholic priests and a town councillor promoting human rights were included on a "hit-list" of people under threat of being killed. When the Congressional Friends group learned that the activists were in danger because of their work to defend the rights of peasants, it sent another letter to the Brazilian government. It again requested protection for these activists, and reiterated the necessity for a full scale investigation and prosecution of those found responsible for threatening their work.

In Burma, the Congressional Friends wrote to the Foreign Minister on behalf of five National League for Democracy (NLD) activists who were arrested after providing information to foreign officials and the international media about human rights conditions. The Congressional Friends noted to the Burmese government that the activists had engaged in legitimate human rights work and urged the government to drop the charges against them and release them from jail. The group also conveyed its concern over the physical safety of these activists while in solitary confinement. None of the activists were subject to torture, though all five were convicted on political charges and sentenced to from seven to fifteen year's imprisonment. The Congressional Friends wrote again to the Burmese Foreign Minister in October, conveying serious concern over the convictions of these activists, particularly in light of the minister's recent U.N. speech confirming the Burmese government's commitment to uphold the standards enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The group urged the Burmese government to reconsider the conviction of these activists and to commute their sentences.

In Cuba, the Congressional Friends expressed concern over the conviction of Cuban Committee for Human Rights (CCDH) leader Rodolfo González González. The letter indicated that González had been arrested, tried, and convicted after transmitting reports on human rights violations to the special observer of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Congressional group viewed the seven year sentence González faced as particularly severe and expressed its belief that he was targeted because of his participation in legitimate, peaceful human rights activities. The Congressional Friends urged the Cuban government to release him from prison immediately and unconditionally.

Another arrest about which the Congressional Friends expressed concern was that of Tunisian human rights lawyer Mohammed Nejib Hosni. The letter to President Ben Ali noted that Hosni was well known for his human rights advocacy both in Tunisia and abroad, and in addition to his arrest had been subjected to police surveillance and harassment for over a year. Considering that Hosni was arrested on civil charges, his pre-trial detention without a court date and six-week confinement without access to lawyers was highly irregular. The Congressional Friends expressed its concern that the charges may have been filed in an attempt to discourage Hosni from continuing his human rights activities and urged the Tunisian government to release him from prison immediately and unconditionally.

In Georgia, the Congressional Friends wrote to condemn the abuses against Tbilisi-based human rights worker Giorgi Khostaria. It noted several incidents in which Khostaria, who at the time was working as the defense lawyer in a high-profile death penalty case, was subjected to beatings, illegal arrest, and harassment by the government's militia. In one incident he was forcibly taken by officers to the militia station where he was interrogated, beaten, and later released without charges. Khostaria continued suffering from injuries after the attack. The Congressional Friends urged the government to investigate the harassment and abuse, and to prosecute those found responsible. It also requested that the government make every effort to ensure that those working for human rights in Georgia may carry out their activities unimpeded.

The Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists

The Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists was formed in 1988 and is composed of sixteen senators and seventy-six representatives. The members of the steering committee were Sen. William Cohen, Sen. Bob Graham, Rep. Jim Leach, and Rep. John Lewis.

During the year, the Committee condemned murders, attacks, and arbitrary arrests of writers and journalists, as well as acts of censorship against reporters and publications.

In South Africa, the Committee denounced the January killing of photographer Abdul Shariff during an attack in which assailants opened fire on African National Congress leaders. Two other reporters, Charles Moikanyang and Anthea Warner, were shot and wounded as well. The Committee expressed its serious concern that South African police had not been available in the township of Katlehong to protect journalists during what had been an official visit. Following an international outcry over this incident, the South African government appointed an official commission of inquiry. The Congressional Committee urged the government to note the findings of the investigation and prosecute fully those found responsible.

In Mexico, the Committee expressed serious concern after news editor Jorge Martín Dorantes was shot to death by unknown assailants in June. Because there were suspicions that Dorantes may have been targeted because of his investigative reports on controversial issues involving local officials, the Committee urged the government to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation. It also requested that the findings of the investigation be made public and that those found responsible be held accountable.

In Bangladesh, the Committee conveyed its concern over official attempts to censor and silence the press by criminalizing views considered to be religiously insensitive. The writer Taslima Nasreen was criminally charged after making a statement deemed insulting to Islam, and editors from the newspaper Janakantha were similiarly charged and arrested after publishing an editorial based on their interpretation of the Qu'ran. In addition, religious leaders held public, and at times violent, rallies denouncing these writers. During some demonstrations, protesters called for Nasreen's death. The Congressional Committee called on the government of Bangladesh to condemn publicly threats of violence against the writers and to prosecute those found responsible for issuing death threats. Finally, the Committee urged the government to drop the charges which appear to stem solely from the writers attempts to express their views.

The Committee also wrote to Cuban authorities after several foreign journalists were held up by armed men in April. The journalists had been en route to interview a political dissident when the assailants, who identified themselves as police, ordered them out of their car and robbed them of $50,000 worth of video equipment. The Committee called the theft an act of intimidation against journalists in Cuba and urged the authorities to take all necessary measures to investigate the incident and see that the journalists' belongings were returned.

In Indonesia, a letter to several officials denounced the June revocation of publishing licenses for three highly respected news publications. The closures followed coverage in each periodical of controversies surrounding government officials. The Committee protested the government's order and noted that hundreds of workers would meanwhile lose their jobs. It stated that the license revocations stemmed from legitimate reporting and therefore urged the government to rescind the closure orders immediately and without condition.

In Mauritania, the Committee again wrote to express its concern over attempts to silence views critical of government policy. On several occasions, publication of the newspaper Le Calame was suspended and issues were seized by the government. The newspaper's publisher said that one of the confiscated editions contained critical remarks about a government appointee, as well as condemnations of a discriminatory government action against an ethnic minority. The Committee urged the government to cease efforts to block publication of the newspaper and to ensure that all seized copies were returned to the newsstands and made available for public review. The Committee urged the government to allow future editions of the paper to be published and distributed without interference.

The Congressional Committee expressed concerns in Israel and the occupied territories over attacks against the press in Jericho, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. In two separate incidents foreign reporters were shot with rubber bullets. On another occasion, soldiers beat a Palestinian cameraman on his way home from work, after he showed them his press credentials. The Congressional Committee also reported that soldiers entered the home of a Palestinian camerawoman, assaulted a journalist with her, ransacked her house, and tried forcibly to confiscate her camera. The Committee urged investigations into these attacks and requested that those found responsible be held accountable for their actions. It also urged that every effort be made to guarantee the safety of journalists as they carried out their legitimate activities.

The highly publicized arrests of two Kenyan journalists who were found guilty of criticizing a high court decision in an article, was addressed in an appeal for their release by the Congressional Committee. The Committee denounced the charges, the due process violations of the journalists' trial, and their incarceration in a detention camp known for its ill-treatment of prisoners. The Congressional Committee wrote that Bedan Mbugua and David Makali had been "unfairly tried and convicted based on the expression of their views." It urged the government to reverse the conviction and release the two journalists immediately and unconditionally.

In Korea, the Committee protested the imprisonment of Park Chi-Kwan, an editor charged under the National Security Law for publishing and carrying a North Korean novel. Following police searches of his home and office, in which computer diskettes and 200 copies of the novel were confiscated, Park was incarcerated. The committee expressed concern that, in the case of Park, the National Security Law had been interpreted to justify the restriction of the non-violent expression of his views. It urged the government to drop the charges against him and release him from prison.

Finally, in Pakistan, the Congressional Committee wrote of its concern over the charges of blasphemy against five Ahmadi journalists. It noted that journalists in the Ahmadiyya community were frequently prosecuted for the expression of their religious views, and that these writers faced long sentences if convicted. The Congressional Committee contended that the journalists' right to express their views was protected by the internationally recognized right of free expression. It urged the Pakistani government to drop all charges against the journalists immediately and unconditionally.

The Congressional Working Group on International Women's

Human Rights

The Congressional Working Group on International Women's Human Rights, which was formed in April 1994, was composed of eighteen Senators and thirty-three members of the House of Representatives. It was created to promote accountability for violations of women's rights worldwide. The three members of the steering committee for the group were Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Jan Meyers and Rep. Joe Moakley.

In 1994, the Working Group denounced violations of women's human rights in five countries.

In May, the Working Group wrote to the Prime Minister of Thailand regarding the illegal trafficking of Burmese women and girls into Thailand for forced prostitution. The Working Group called on the Thai government to investigate and prosecute rigorously allegations of Thai police involvement in trafficking and forced prostitution. The letter also expressed concern over discriminatory police raids on brothels that trigger further violations of the rights of the Burmese women and girls by Thai government agents. The Working Group urged the Thai government to implement a comprehensive program to protect the thousands of Burmese women and girls who are currently in Thai brothels and to prevent continued trade in human beings across Thai borders.

In Peru, the Working Group expressed its deep concern over the arbitrary detention of community activist Santosa Layme Bejar by members of the anti-terrorism branch of the police. The letter noted that at least 200 people who have been arrested under Peru's anti-terrorism laws were falsely charged. The Working Group urged the government to release Bejar; to ensure the humane treatment of all those who are detained; and to grant access to visits by family members and legal counsel.

In Bangladesh, the Working Group questioned the legitimacy of criminal charges that the government filed against feminist author Taslima Nasreen. Its letter also noted the public death threats against Nasreen by religious extremists and the government's failure to denounce publicly such threats. The Working Group urged the President of Bangladesh to uphold the right to freedom of expression by investigating and prosecuting those who advocate violence against Nasreen for her feminist views. In addition, the government was also urged to rescind the warrant for Nasreen's arrest.

In July, the Working Group wrote to the Kenyan Government regarding a armed police crack down against a peaceful meeting of the Kenya League of Women Voters. The letter called the actions of the police a violation of the fundamental rights to security of the person, freedom of speech and association, equal protection of the law and due process. The Working Group urged the government to investigate fully the incident and to ensure that police and other officials who were involved are held to account.

In Mauritius, the Working Group protested the repeated calls for violence against feminist writer Lindsey Collen by religious extremists. The Government of Mauritius not only failed to condemn such intimidation, but instead fueled harassment against her by calling her book Rape of Sita blasphemous and an outrage to public morality. Subsequently, the government banned Collen's book. The Working Group urged the Mauritian government to guarantee Collen's right to freedom of expression by lifting the ban on her book; to condemn the campaign of intimidation by religious extremists; and to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

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