[JURIST] A UN independent expert on Monday urged [press release] Myanmar [BBC profile] to address shortcomings in reforming its human rights situation. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar [official website] Tomas Ojea Quintana warned the country of the possibility that the current reformation process may be endangered by leaving areas of importance untouched, especially related to the states of Rakhine and Kachin. He noted that the situations in those states could escalate and detrimentally affect Myanmar's efforts. Quintana acknowledged that numerous improvements have been made but that there is room for improvements. He stressed that those responsible for the violence in Rakhine state must be brought to justice. In addition, he noted that those who were displaced by the fighting which began in June 2011 between rebels and government troops in Kachin state have to be cared for by providing humanitarian organizations with regular access.
Quintana made similar calls last month when he commended the lack of reform [JURIST report] that has been achieved in Myanmar. Concern over Myanmar's human rights record has been growing recently, as the country has attempted to normalize relationships with the US. In January the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) [official website] reported that more than 2,000 people have fled the growing violence [JURIST report] in the northern Myanmar state of Rakhine and Bangladesh, leaving aboard boats operated by smugglers in the Bay of Bengal. In October Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for an end to the sectarian violence in Myanmar [JURIST report] between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, calling on the government to do more to end the violence and protect the rights of the Rohingya, whose civil rights were effectively taken away with their citizenship in 1982. In August Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) [advocacy website] reported that Myanmar's army is still committing human rights abuses [JURIST report] against ethnic minorities in Karen state. Earlier that month HRW accused [JURIST report] Myanmar security forces of human rights abuses against a minority religious community. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also expressed concern [JURIST report] about both the continued violence in Myanmar and the country's human rights abuses committed in dealing with it.
[JURIST] A court in Bahrain on Monday acquitted human rights activist Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafda [official Twitter] on charges of spreading false news to harm the country's security on Twitter [media website]. The human rights activist informed Reuters [Reuters report] that after he spent a month in jail, the court finally overturned the charges against him. Al-Muhafda, the acting deputy head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) [advocacy website], was released on bail [JURIST report] in January pending the trial. He had been arrested in November [JURIST report] during an unauthorized protest. After being released without charges, Al-Muhafda was arrested again in December during a clash between protesters and the government in Manama, Bahrain's capital. He called the government to stop targeting human rights activists and to release outspoken Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab whose prison sentence was reduced by one year [JURIST report] in December.
Bahrain [JURIST news archive] has faced international scrutiny regarding its treatment of political prisoners. Earlier this month, the country's court of appeals overturned the acquittal [JURIST report] of Zainab al-Khawaja, who has been accused of insulting a government employee, and sentenced her to three months of imprisonment. Al-Khawaja is the daughter of prominent Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], and has served previous jail terms [JURIST report] for tearing up a picture of Bahrain's king, destruction of government property and organizing anti-government protests. Last month, Bahrain Higher Criminal Court acquitted two police officers [JURIST report] in the shooting death of a Shiite protester during the nation's pro-democracy protests in Manama that began in February 2011. The Court concluded the two police officers fired shots at Fadhel Matruk but did not intend to kill him. They had been sentenced to seven years [JURIST report] earlier for the same charges. Bahrain authorities banned all protests [JURIST report] effective October 2012. In December Bahrain's High Criminal Court of Appeals commuted death sentences [JURIST report] for two protesters, instead sentencing them to life imprisonment.
[JURIST] Prosecutors for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] announced [press release] Monday that they are dropping the crimes against humanity charges [case materials] against former Kenyan cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura [case materials] after encountering various issues with evidence and witness testimony. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda [official profile] cited three primary reasons for the withdrawal of charges. Bensouda explained that "several people who may have provided important evidence regarding Mr. Muthaura's actions, have died, while others are too afraid to testify for the Prosecution." The prosecution also expressed its disappointment that "the Government of Kenya failed to provide [the] Office with important evidence, and failed to facilitate ... access to critical witnesses who may have shed light on the Muthaura case." Bensouda also stated that the ICC "have decided to drop the key witness against Mr. Muthaura after this witness recanted a crucial part of his evidence, and admitted to us that he had accepted bribes."
The prosecution stressed that the dropping of claims against Muthaura should have no effect on the case against Kenyan president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, who was indicted with Muthaura for crimes against humanity arising from violence following Kenya's disputed 2007 presidential election, where an estimated 1,100 people were killed.
Concern surrounding the trial has been growing in wake of the Kenyatta's recent election as president [JURIST report]. Last week the ICC agreed to delay [JURIST report] until July the trials of Kenyatta and Muthaura. Last month Kenyatta and Muthaura asked [JURIST report] the ICC to review the decision to move forward with the trial. In December, Kenyatta and former cabinet minister William Ruto [case materials] announced [JURIST report] that they would be running together in the March elections despite the upcoming trials. In October the ICC called for complete cooperation [JURIST report] from the Kenyan government in the investigation and trial process. Journalist Joshua Arap Sang is also facing trial alongside Ruto for crimes against humanity. In June the ICC expressed its desire to start Kenyatta's and Ruto's trials simultaneously [JURIST report] to avoid any appearance of bias in the March 2013 presidential election.
[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [press release] the United Arab Emirates (UAE) [BBC profile] Monday to investigate claims of torture and ill-treatment made by many of the 94 defendants in a trial on state security charges. While several of the defendants have raised allegations of ill-treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement, judicial authorities have yet to investigate these claims. "This trial raises serious questions about the UAE's willingness to respect the fundamental right of all accused to receive a fair trial," said the Middle East director at HRW, Sarah Leah Whitson. The advocacy group implored UAE to immediately investigate all claims of abuse, and to deny the use of any evidence that may have been obtained through ill-treatment or coercion. HRW is also concerned that the court has denied trial access to a number of international observers and human rights groups. "The UAE authorities seem intent on keeping this trial as much under wraps as they can,'1; said Whitson. "If they are interested in ensuring a fair trial, they should allow international observers to attend the court sessions, not block their presence."
The UAE began the trial [JURIST report] of 94 people charged with plotting to overthrow the government last month. The group of defendants includes unnamed doctors, academics, lawyers and other professionals [Guardian report] arrested over the past year and accused of forming a secret network with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood [official website; JURIST news archive] and designs to raise money in a plotted coup against the Emirati ruling families. UAE authorities began arresting al-Islah members last March, when security forces arrested Ahmed al-Zaabi, a former judge, and Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi together at a Dubai gas station. They detained the chairman of al-Islah, Sheikh Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi, on April 20. In late April AI and HRW called on the UAE to stop the recent crackdown on political activists [JURIST report] by ending arrests and releasing those already in custody, expressing concern that the UAE is threatening to revoke prisoners' citizenship as a way of punishing them for expressing public dissent, an action that the advocacy groups contend violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. In July prominent human rights lawyer and al-Islah member Mohammed al-Roken, along with his son and son-in-law, were all detained [JURIST report] just a few days after the arrest of another prominent human rights lawyer, Mohammed Mansoori. A month later Al-Roken and Mansoori began a hunger strike [JURIST report] to protest their detentions. Both lawyers are reportedly among the 94 defendants now on trial.
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