Thursday, May 2, 2019


The resumed conflict in Libya is creating another humanitarian disaster, due to the continuing attacks by the retired General and Commander of the East Army, Khalifa Haftar, on Tripoli. The violence started on 4th April 2019, when General Haftar ordered his Libyan National Army (LNA) to advance on the capital, which is the base of the country's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Let’s sum up the origins of the conflict, to better understand the serious humanitarian crisis we are currently witnessing. 

A long-lasting conflict: For almost 42 years, power and wealth in Libya were under the control of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and after his demise in 2011, it became a real challenge to create a new democracy. Lack of political consensus among the various political actors and their inability to resolve regional differences through peaceful national dialogue resulted in two parallel civil wars raging in the east and west of Libya. The civil war has been fuelled by detrimental foreign intervention, while the local actors have been justifying their conflicts under banners of fighting "terrorism" or standing up to a "counterrevolutionary forces". The most serious manifestation of Libya's disintegration over the past two years has been the emergence of two separate conflicting parliaments and governments, one operating in the east and one in the west. It is against this background of anarchy and fragmentation that the United Nations initiated a national dialogue back in September 2014. This resulted in a new Presidency Council, led by Fayez Sarraj, and the Government of National Accord. General Haftar has been opposing the GNA since its creation: he ordered the LNA to advance on the capital city Tripoli to take control of the Governemnt and reunite the country under him, generating a humanitarian crisis difficult to contain. The international community remains divided over the best course in Libya, with a coalition of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and the United Arab Emirates seeing Haftar as a possible source for stability after years of civil war. 

Fig.1 - Men who recently crossed
into Tunisia from Libya wait in line for
food in a United Nations displacement camp
 (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The humanitarian crisis: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned of a possible escalation of attacks targeting civilians and infrastructures, which could amount to war crimes. Activists fear that Tripoli’s population may face severe danger, namely the possibility that Haftar’s forces will use heavy weapons indiscriminately. They called on the international community – and particularly on countries that support Haftar – to pressure him to stop the attacks and resort to a peaceful solution, adding that if the attack continues, the cost will likely be paid only by civilian women and children in the capital. Moreover, the GNA has accused forces loyal to Haftar of recruiting children as fighters in their attack against the capital, since they were seen fighting as “mercenaries” among the LNA during the attack on Tripoli. 

A new refugees wave? There have been concerns that Libya could become a “new Syria”, with civil war leading to massive population displacement. Sarraj said Haftar’s foreign-funded forces are attacking civilian structures, roads, schools, houses, the airport and medical facilities: ambulances and hospitals. The clashes have displaced more than 18,000 people so far, according to the latest figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Giulia Mizzon


Monday, April 1, 2019


The new law against the LGBTQ community: The small and oil-rich kingdom of Brunei, a British colony until 1984 with a population of just 450,000 people, is rarely discussed in the news. Unfortunately, the country located on the island of Borneo is now at the center of a human rights crisis. The first week of April 2019, a law that will punish homosexual relations, adultery, sodomy and rape with death by stoning will be implemented and the punishment is said to be ''witnessed by a group of Muslims". The new penal code was announced in May 2014 by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who also acts as the country's prime minister. In announcing the change, government's website quoted the Sultan saying that his kingdom ''does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them''. The Sultan, who is one of the world’s richest leaders with a personal wealth of about $20bn and has held the throne since 1967, described the implementation of the new penal code as ''a great achievement'', as a form of ''special guidance'' from God and as ''part of the great history'' of Brunei. 

Demonstrators protest the punishment of women and LGBT people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan (David McNew/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest the punishment of women and LGBT people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan (David McNew/Getty Images)

The reaction of the international community: There has been no vocal opposition to the law in Brunei, where public criticism of state’s policies is extremely rare. However, the news sparked horror and shock all over the world. ''Brunei must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its Penal Code in compliance with its human rights obligations. The international community must urgently condemn Brunei's move to put these cruel penalties into practice.'' This is the statement by Rachel Choa-Howard, Brunei Researcher at Amnesty International, who continued: ''as well as imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, it [the law] blatantly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief, and codifies discrimination against women and girls.'' She added that some of the potential offences ''should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender''. The Human Rights Campaign Global Director, Ty Cobb, stated from the US that "we are facing a dangerous crisis as Brunei is close to implementing laws that impose state-sponsored torture and murder of LGBTQ people,'' and that ''it's absolutely crucial that the international community speaks out now and demand that the Sultan of Brunei stops these barbaric changes that threaten the lives of Brunei citizens. The Trump-Pence Administration must also immediately make clear that these outrageous human rights abuses will not be tolerated''. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Brunei will become the only country in Southeast Asia to punish gay sex with death if it pushes through with the law. He warned that implementation of the law ''will quickly drive the country towards human rights pariah status in the eyes of foreign investors, tourists, and international agencies''. Dede Oetomo, one of Indonesia's most prominent LGBTQ activists, said it would be a gross violation of international human rights if the changes went ahead: ''it is horrible. Brunei is imitating the most conservative Arab states'' he said. The UK’s international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said: ''no one should face the death penalty because of who they love. Brunei’s decision is barbaric and the UK stands with the LGBT community and those who defend their rights. LGBT rights are human rights''.

Homosexuality has been illegal in Brunei since British colonial rule, with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison, and the country has had the death penalty on the books since it was a British protectorate, but in practice executions are not typically carried out. The new laws also introduce amputation of hands or feet as a punishment for robbery. Alcohol is already banned, as are showy Christmas celebrations, and there are fines and jail sentences for having children out of wedlock and failing to pray on a Friday. Moreover, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offences, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane. 

Giulia Mizzon 


Tuesday, March 19, 2019


The news that the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoundeh was convicted on 12th March to 33 years in prison (38 if we count a previous sentence) and to 148 lashes shocked the entire world. Nasrin was accused of representing several women who took their hijabs off during a protest against the obligation of wearing it. By doing that, she also took a stand against the application of an additional note to Article 48 of the Criminal Code, which denies the right to appoint a trusted lawyer to defendants of certain crimes, including those against national security. Therefore, the judge accused her of "collusion against national security", "propaganda against the state", "incitement to corruption and prostitution" and "appearing in public without hijab". The news of her sentence was first released on Facebook by her husband Reza Khandan, after receiving a phone call from jail.

Image result for nasrin sotoudeh
Fig. 1 - Nasrin Sotoudeh (source: BBC)
Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most well-know lawyer in Iran. She has focused her entire career on the protection of human rights and she has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. Sotoudeh was arrested the first time in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, where she currently is. In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced Sotoudeh to 11 years in prison, in addition to barring her from practising law and from leaving the country for 20 years. Later that year, an appeals court later reduced her sentence to six years, and her practice ban to ten years. She protested against her unfair conviction and treatment in prison with several hunger strikes, especially when denied visits and phone calls from her family. 

Image result for nasrin sotoudeh iran
Fig.2 - A quote by Nasrin Sotoudeh (source:

The response to her sentence from the international community was immediate: the Center for Human Rights in Iran and the UN condemned her sentence and Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty said: “Jailing a human rights defender for her peaceful activities is abhorrent".

This was the hardest condemnation inflicted in recent years against human rights defenders in Iran, confirming that the authorities, encouraged by the complete impunity enjoyed by those responsible for human rights violations, are exacerbating the repression and Iran's reputation as oppressor of women's rights.

Giulia Mizzon

To sign the petition to free Nasrin, visit Amnesty's website