North Korean soldier defects across DMZ

By Eugene Whong


Radio Free Asia (01.08.2019) – – A North Korean active-duty soldier crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) Wednesday night in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) into South Korea in an apparent defection.


South Korea’s Joint Chiefs (JSC) of Staff Thursday said in a press briefing that the soldier was detected by thermal imaging at 11:38 p.m. near the Imjin river, which flows from the North to the South in the central and western part of the Korean peninsula.


At first, South Korean security forces were unable to identify what they had detected, but confirmed it was a person at 11:56 p.m. and troops stationed nearby took the soldier into custody.


“The person that we took into custody is an active-duty soldier, and he expressed his desire to defect to South Korea,” said JCS Chief Kim Joon-rak during the briefing.


“Currently, identification and other related procedures are underway, so we will provide detailed information separately,“ he said.


South Korea’s KBS News quoted a JSC official as saying “it was the first time since 2010 that a defector came by way of the Imjin.”


It was the second time a North Korean crossed the DMZ with the intention to defect in eight months. On December 1, 2018 a North Korean soldier crossed over the armed land border in the eastern part of the peninsula.


One year prior to that event, a North Korean solider ran south through the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, getting shot by other North Korean soldiers. Despite being wounded, he successfully made it to the South, where South Korean guards found him. He was later taken to the hospital for gunshot wounds to an elbow and shoulder.


While defections by soldiers are rare, more than 30,000 North Koreans have made their way to South Korea in recent decades, and women make up the overwhelming majority. According to statistics kept by the South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, in 2017 71% of all registered defectors living in the South were women.

European companies get rich in China’s ‘open air prison’

Volkswagen, Siemens and more are making money in Xinjiang, where minorities are being herded into detention camps.

By Benjamin Haas

The New York Times (21.08.2019) – – Many people around the world may just now be learning that around a million Uighur Muslims and other minorities have been locked up in extrajudicial internment camps in the region of Xinjiang, in western China. There is a reason for that: Xinjiang is remote and the Chinese government has expended considerable effort to keep the news hidden, from harassing foreign journalists to seizing family members of activists to censoring information within its own borders.

Herbert Diess, however, should have no excuse.

Mr. Diess is the chief executive of Volkswagen, which opened a plant in Xinjiang in 2013 that employs almost 700 local workers and can make up to 50,000 cars a year. In an interview with the BBC in April, Mr. Diess said he was not aware of the system of camps or the Muslim minorities subject to mass detention, even though his company’s factory is within a 90-minute drive from four such detention centers. (The company issued a new statement saying it did, in fact, know about the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and was committed to human rights.)

What excuse do the other chief executives and board presidents use?

I have found that about half of the largest 150 European companies had some presence in Xinjiang, an area that Amnesty International has described as “an open-air prison.” Their investments merit far more scrutiny from both regulators and the public, and European governments need to form standards for companies dealing with Xinjiang.

At the top of the list of companies that deserve a thorough review is Siemens. This large German conglomerate collaborates on advanced technologies in automation, digitization and networking with China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, a state-owned military contractor that has developed a policing app used in Xinjiang that, according to Human Rights Watch, has led some people to be sent to the camps.

The Spanish telecommunications firm Telefónica has a joint venture with China Unicom that appears to use big data for tracking people. The company markets the software as a way to deliver location-based ads or monitor public transportation use, and while it says the data is anonymous, I reviewed an internal presentation that appears to have shown ID numbers unique to each cellphone user. It is easy to see how such software could be used by the authorities in Xinjiang to track minorities in real time, and it has already been deployed in the region, according to a presentation.

Other investments are less immediately tied to abuses of the Uighur population. KfW, a German state-owned bank, provided 100 million euros ($111 million) in funding for the construction of a subway line that opened in 2018 in the regional capital, Urumqi, built with components from ABB, a Swiss engineering firm, and Airbus Defense and Space, the European aircraft manufacturer. Unilever and Nestlé both buy tomato products from a state-owned company in Xinjiang that could end up in the ketchup in kitchens across Europe. Neither company responded to questions about how products from Xinjiang are used.

While this research did not uncover any direct relationship between European companies and the internment camps, conversations with executives in Germany showed that most headquarters have little understanding of how their businesses operate in Xinjiang.

The Chinese government has long pushed to develop its far-flung western regions, partly to shore up their links with the rest of the country and partly in the hopes that economic development will depress religious observance and quell the desire for basic freedoms. In some cases, European companies have been pressured to start operations in Xinjiang as conditions for expansion elsewhere in China. Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, is just one example. It opened stores in Xinjiang only after receiving “strong advice” from Chinese officials. Other European executives told me that they had received similar messages.

But China’s desire for investment gives foreign companies with ties in the region — and European governments — real power. Now they need to use it.

The European Union should enact laws that set standards for companies operating in Xinjiang and punish those that fail to live up to European ideals of human rights, with audits on whether camp labor was involved in any part of their supply chains, where profits end up in China and how products and technology are used.

If all European Union members fail to agree on regulations, the charge should be taken up by national parliaments, especially in countries like Germany with extensive business in Xinjiang. These standards should apply to any European company, not just the large multinationals, and would have powerful ramifications beyond just Xinjiang.

Companies found to be flouting these standards could be barred from bidding for government contracts as an initial measure, with fines and government-appointed monitors as additional punishments. The European Union also needs to immediately impose export bans on technology that could be used in the repression of dissidents and religious minorities.

Business leaders and politicians frequently bristle at the idea of directly confronting China on its human rights abuses, worried that a firm stance could jeopardize future deals. But while China may issue statements condemning such actions and threaten to stop buying products from critics, it’s unlikely that Beijing is ready for another economic fight amid a slowing economy and a trade war with the United States.

European exports could take a hit or Chinese regulators may begin investigations into European companies as a punitive measure. But such actions would only further isolate China, a country that knows it needs all the stable economic relationships it has. While plenty of diplomatic protests and bombastic editorials in state-run newspapers are sure to follow such a move, President Xi Jinping cannot afford to further destabilize the economy over a political spat with the European Union, which is China’s largest trading partner.

This confluence of circumstances is exactly why the European Union must act now to stand up for its values and leverage its economic relationship with China to pressure it to end one of the most egregious human rights violations in the world today. Feigning ignorance is no longer an option.

IRAN: Four women prisoners executed by hanging in 1 week

Call against the death penalty in Iran

WUNRN (23.07.2019) – Two women were hanged at the Central Prison of Urmia at dawn on Tuesday, July 23, 2019.


According to an informed source, the two women had been previously given one month to attract the agreement of the victim’s parents but they had not managed to do so, and their death penalties were carried out.


The two women hanged on July 23, 2019, were identified as Arasteh Ranjbar and Nazdar Vatankhah who had already spent 15 years in prison on the charge of murder and complicity in murder, respectively. They were transferred to solitary cells Monday morning, July 22, to be prepared before being sent to the gallows.


With these two women, the number of women executed during six years of the current Iran presidency reaches 93.


The Iranian regime has recently further stepped up executions and executed at least four women in the past week, alone.


Maliheh Salehian from Miandoab was hanged on July 16, 2019, on charges of murder in the central prison of Mahabad.


On July 17, 2019, another female prisoner, Zahra Safari Moghadam, 43, was hanged in the Prison of Nowshahr, in northern Iran.


Some 3,700 persons have been executed in Iran in the past six years under Rouhani. The Iranian regime is the world’s top record holder of per capita executions. It deploys the death penalty as a tool for maintaining its grab on power and for silencing a disgruntled populace the majority of whom live under the poverty line, while unemployment is rampant in the country and there is no freedom of speech.


Rule 61 of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) reads, “When sentencing women offenders, courts shall have the power to consider mitigating factors such as lack of criminal history and relative non-severity and nature of the criminal conduct, in the light of women’s caretaking responsibilities and typical backgrounds.”


The Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran condemns the hanging executions of the two women by the mullahs’ regime since they are victims of misogynist laws and policies of the clerical regime and their destruction of the economy. The NCRI Women’s Committee urges international organizations defending human rights and women’s rights to intervene and stop the death penalties in Iran.

Post-election Ukraine. More of the same or a new human rights agenda?

13 steps to a human rights and reform agenda


In an article by Halya Coynash published on the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the author lists a number of priority steps to be taken towards a real human rights and reform agenda. The full article also addresses other issues.


KHPG (22.07.2019) – – Over recent weeks, the Human Rights Agenda Platform, a coalition of several prominent human rights groups invited all political parties taking part in the elections to give answers to questions regarding 13 vital steps towards real reforms. They met with five political parties: Servant of the People; European Solidarity; Holos; Syla I Chest and Samopomych, with four of these (not including Zelensky’s Servant of the People) providing answers to the questions on reforms put.


Assuming that the exit polls are borne out by the results, meetings were held with representatives of three parties that will be in the new parliament: Servant of the People; European Solidarity and Holos.


Some of the 13 steps require only political will, while other reforms have not really begun yet.


  1. Pass amendments, drawn up by the Constitutional Commission, to Section II of the Ukrainian Constitution on protecting human rights and civil liberties.


  1. Revoke the Moratorium on buying and selling agricultural land and adopt a law on sale of land.


This may sound small, but it is not. For the past 18 years, owners of plots of agricultural land have been prevented from selling their own property due to a ‘temporary’ moratorium that keeps being extended. The moratorium was purportedly aimed at protecting those who received plots of agricultural land after the Soviet kolkhozes (collective farms) were dissolved. The owners certainly do not feel protected. Around 60% of them are 50 or older, and in very many cases, where the owners do not have heirs or cannot work the land themselves, the ability to sell or obtain fair rent for the land would significantly improve their standard of living


  1. Demonstrate that Ukraine is willing to fight impunity by ratifying the Rome Statute  of the International Criminal Court; the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and by adopting Draft Law No. 9438 on war crimes.  The latter was finally passed in its first reading in June this year, but over five years after the beginning of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine, this is much too slow (see: How many victims needed for Ukraine to finally prosecute for war crimes?)


  1. Continue judicial reform and adopt amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code on trial by jury.


  1. Begin reform of the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] and deprive the SBU of functions it should not have and bring its activities into line with international standards, including by developing a mechanism for parliamentary oversight.


  1. Make amendments to the administrative and criminal codes on mechanisms for ensuring liability for discrimination and hate crimes.


  1. Prepare and adopt a law envisaging that the law enforcement bodies report to parliament once a year on the scale and results of the use of investigative operations.


  1. Legislative support for penitentiary reforms on protecting the rights of prisoners.

This would presumably include measures to ensure the removal of Article 391 of the Criminal Code.  This appalling relict from Soviet times makes it possible for Ukrainian prisoners to have up to three years added to their prison sentence for the most trivial of misdemeanours and gives dangerous scope for abuse. Draft Bill No. 9228, drawn up on the initiative of the Reanimation Program of Reforms and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group was tabled in the Verkhovna Rada on 19 October 2018.  2018, yet has still to be considered.


  1.  Introduce amendments simplifying the current system for registering place of residence.


  1.  Adopt a national model for transitional justice and support the draft bill On the Principles of State Policy on Human Rights in Conditions Linked with the Consequences of the Armed Conflict.  This was drawn up by human rights groups in cooperation with the Human Rights Ombudsperson.


  1. Regulate at legislative level the legal status and social guarantees for people illegally imprisoned in Russia and occupied Crimea, as well as those who are held captive in occupied Donbas.


  1. Made changes to the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson to improve the procedure for electing such an Ombudsperson as well as on guaranteeing their independence. Also introduce independent specialised Ombudspersons, for example, on information.


  1. Create institutional mechanisms for permanent cooperation, regardless of the political situation and begin quarterly meetings between parliamentary factions and the Human Rights Agenda


Members of the Human Rights Agenda earlier presented an analysis of all the parties’ programs from the point of view of human rights.


UKRAINE: UK to contribute 100,000 pounds to establishment of criminal court in Hague to deal with MH17 case

The United Kingdom continues to support Australia and the Netherlands in their call on Russia to accept responsibility for the downing of flight MH17.


UNIAN (17.07.2019) – – Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom Jeremy Hunt says that his country will contribute 100,000 pounds to the establishment of a criminal court in The Hague to deal with the downing of flight MH17 over Donbas in July 2014.


“I support the efforts of the Joint Investigation Team and the Dutch authorities to deliver justice for those who died. This is why we are making a financial contribution of £100,000 to the establishment of the specialist criminal court in The Hague to help ensure that the families and friends of the victims receive answers, and that those responsible are held to account for this appalling crime,” he said in a statement on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.


“A terrible tragedy took place five years ago today when flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. 298 innocent people, including 10 British people, lost their lives. I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those who died,” he said.


Hunt also says that his country continues to support Australia and the Netherlands in their call on the Russian government to accept state responsibility for the downing of flight MH17. “It is high time Russia cooperated fully with the prosecution and, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2166, provided any assistance requested,” he said.

Note: HRWF hails this move of the UK and wonders if the EU will contribute to the establishment of this special international court.

Belarus: UN human rights experts denounce execution

OHCHR (01.07.2019) — — Belarus must halt the executions of individuals who have submitted complaints to the Human Rights Committee, UN human rights experts said today upon being informed about the execution of Aleksandr Zhilnikov whose case is being examined by the Committee.

The Human Rights Committee, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, strongly condemn Belarus for its continued use of the death penalty, following local news reports that the country had defied the Human Rights Committee’s requests for a stay of execution for Aleksandr Zhilnikov. To date, Belarus has disregarded every Committee request for interim measures not to execute individuals while their cases were under the Committee’s consideration. The Committee’s procedure known as interim measures aims to stop the State from taking any action that would have irreparable consequences. Non-compliance with that procedure constitutes a serious violation by Belarus of its international obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus acceded in 1992.

“By not complying with the requests of the Committee to stay execution until the allegations of due process violations are examined, Belarus not only shows disrespect to the Committee, it also shows lack of respect toward the right to life itself”, said Yuval Shany, Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Committee and one of the Special Rapporteurs on new communications and interim measures.

“Capital punishment may only be carried out after a legal process that gives all possible safeguards, including those provided for in international human rights law, to ensure a fair trial and pursuant to a final judgement”, said Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions. “We remind Belarus that the only thing that distinguishes capital punishment from arbitrary execution is full respect for stringent due process guarantees.”

Mr. Zhilnikov became the 14th person whose execution was carried out despite his pending case before the Human Rights Committee, in disregard of the Committee’s request to halt the execution while the independent experts examined his allegations of human rights violations. He was initially sentenced to life in prison, however upon re-trial was sentenced to death in 2018. His pending complaint before the UN Human Rights Committee alleges that he was tortured in detention, denied access to legal assistance, and was subjected to an unfair trial.

“It is time for Belarus to show political will and leadership on the question of the death penalty and review its retentionist stand. The official line that the death penalty should be maintained until a majority of the population supports its abolition should be reconsidered. It is up to the Government to lead the debate and actively work to change mentalities in favour of abolition,” said Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.

Belarus remains the last country in Europe and Central Asia that applies the death penalty. In its last report on the Republic of Belarus published in November 2018 (available in English and in Russian), the Human Rights Committee emphasized that Belarus “should consider establishing a moratorium on executions as an initial step towards legal abolition of the death penalty and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, commute all pending death sentences to imprisonment and increase efforts to change public perception about the necessity of maintaining the death penalty”.

Despite Mr. Zhilnikov’s death, the Human Rights Committee will, per its usual practice, fully examine his case.


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