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Iran's government should withdraw new regulations that severely limit the independence of the Iranian Bar Association and would give the government control over a lawyer's right to practice, Human Rights Watch said today.
Revised implementing regulations (bylaws) to the law establishing the independence of the Bar Association would give the Judiciary, whose head is appointed by the Supreme Leader and which oversees the Justice Ministry, the decisive role in approving lawyers' licensing applications. The Bar Association has exercised that right for the last 50 years, and the 1955 law establishing the bar's independence says that the law cannot be changed without the bar's approval.
"This so-called reform would allow the government to hand-pick the lawyers who are allowed to practice," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "What we see here is a naked effort to intimidate Iranian defense lawyers at a time when the government is detaining hundreds of people without charge."
On June 17, the head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, approved revisions to the bylaws of the 1955 law establishing the independence of the Iranian Bar Association. The revised bylaws take effect immediately and do not require approval by parliament or any other government body. Two provisions gravely undermine the bar's independence, giving the government the ability to deny political critics and human rights defenders the right to practice as lawyers.
According to senior Iranian lawyers, the head of the Judiciary has no power to make such changes in the bylaws without consulting the Bar Association. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Laureate and prominent human rights defender, told Human Rights Watch that Shahroudi is "well aware" that he has no legal authority to decree these changes. "He seems to have approved this bylaw [change] under political pressure," she said.
Article 11 sets up a five-member committee to make decisions on bar membership or renewal. Three of the members will be appointed by the head of the Judiciary, while the other two, appointed by the Bar Association's board of directors, must also have the Judiciary chief's approval.
Article 17 states that the "deputy to the head of the Judiciary or an official representative of the Judiciary will be responsible for the accreditation of the licenses to practice law."
In recent years, Iranian authorities have filed what appear to be politically motivated complaints against outspoken human rights lawyers such as Ebadi and Seyyed Mohammad Seyfzadeh, and pressured the Bar Association to take action against such members. Lawyers have told Human Rights Watch that until now, the Bar Association has resisted such requests.
The Judiciary approved the bylaws' revisions less than a week after Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election, and in the midst of a government crackdown on peaceful protesters and dissidents. With media restrictions as well as the detention of hundreds of prominent activists and writers and several well-known human rights lawyers, critics have been severely hampered in their ability to voice objections to the law and its dangerous consequences
The 1955 law that established the independence of the Bar Association also gave it an exclusive role in granting and revoking licenses to practice law without interference of the Justice Ministry. This law exists in essentially the same form today, and prohibits interference by the Judiciary in the process. According to the 1955 law, any amendments to the law or its implementing regulations must have Bar Association approval.
Nasrin Sotoodeh, a Tehran-based lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that enforcement of this law would put lawyers like herself at grave risk. If they attempt to practice law without a license, she said, they face "hefty punishments." Sotoodeh said:
"We are at risk of imprisonment. All lawyers who belong to the Bar Association have announced their readiness to submit objections and petitions to the Court of Administrative Justice [Divane Edalate Edari]. Additionally, in a meeting of human rights defenders we decided that groups of five to 10 people each day would submit petitions to annul the new bylaws to show how broad the opposition is in the legal community. The court will know that it is not just the Bar Association that is unhappy with this change."
On July 6, security officers arrested Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights lawyer and founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), at his office in Tehran. A colleague of Dadkhah told Human Rights Watch that Dadkhah's arrest came as he and other lawyer colleagues met to review the new bylaws. Dadkhah's daughter, Malihe, along with Sara Sabaghian, Bahareh Dowaloo, and Amir Raiisian, were also arrested and taken to an unknown location.
On July 4, Bahman Keshavarz, former chair of the Bar Association, wrote in the daily Etemad that:
"We can certainly expect that every lawyer who says too much or accepts undesirable clients can expect to wake up in the morning and find that his license has been revoked. Intellectuals will be punished for their thoughts, and will not be able to retain suitable counsel because all of the lawyers with the courage to work on their cases have been or will be disbarred. Blacklisted politicians will search for independent and courageous lawyers, but will not be able to find them. Even more heart-wrenching is the situation of people who confront serious judicial proceedings but will have no refuge."
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that lawyers have the right to form "self-governing" professional associations to "protect their professional integrity" which shall be able to "exercise its functions without external interference." An attempt by the Nigerian government to take over that country's bar association, including the regulation of its members, was found by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to be a violation of the basic right of freedom of association.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
The Honduran foreign minister said his government is in contact with the family of the teen who died and "has requested that ORR and HHS carry out an exhaustive investigation of the case... and, if there is any responsibility, apply the full weight of the law."
After the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday confirmed that a 17-year-old Honduran in the United States without a parent or guardian died in government custody earlier this week, CBS Newsrevealed another recent death.
"CBS News learned that a 4-year-old child from Honduras in HHS custody died in March after being hospitalized for cardiac arrest in Michigan," according to the outlet. "The child, whose death has not been previously reported, was 'medically fragile,' HHS said in a notification to lawmakers at the time."
Meanwhile, CNNobtained the congressional notice for the 17-year-old, who was under the care of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and placed at Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services in Safety Harbor, Florida, on May 5.
As CNN detailed:
The teen was taken to Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor Wednesday morning after being found unconscious. He was pronounced dead an hour later despite resuscitation attempts.
The minor's parents and sponsor have been notified, according to the notice. An investigation by a medical examiner is underway and ORR said it will continue to receive more information on the death from the care provider.
CBS News reported that a U.S. official said there was "no altercation of any kind" involved in the teenage boy's death.
Honduras' foreign minister, Eduardo Enrique Reina, wrote in a series of tweets Thursday night that his government "regrets and offers its condolences for the death of the 17-year-old," whom he identified.
The Honduran government "is in contact with the family and has requested that ORR and HHS carry out an exhaustive investigation of the case... and, if there is any responsibility, apply the full weight of the law," he said, adding that the death "underscores the importance of working together on the bilateral migration agenda on the situation of unaccompanied minors, to find solutions."
HHS said Friday that it "is deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our heart goes out to the family, with whom we are in touch."
The ORR Division of Health for Unaccompanied Children "is reviewing all clinical details of this case, including all inpatient healthcare records," which "is standard practice for any situation involving the death of an unaccompanied child or a serious health outcome," HHS continued. "A medical examiner investigation is underway. Due to privacy and safety reasons, ORR cannot share further information on individual cases of children who have been in our care."
\u201cAsked about the 17-year-old migrant child who died in U.S. custody in Florida, White House Press Sec. Karine Jean-Pierre says a medical investigation is underway:\n\n\u201cOur hearts go out to the family ... I haven\u2019t actually spoken to the president about this.\u201d\u201d— The Recount (@The Recount) 1683917903
The Tampa Bay Timesreported that Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the District Six Medical Examiner Office, "said further details of the boy's death could not be released due to the ongoing investigation" while "the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office confirmed the active case and declined to release records."
The newspaper also noted that the death "is complicated by an ongoing dispute between the federal government and Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration, which in December 2021 announced that Florida will no longer license shelters that house migrant children."
DeSantis, a Republican expected to challenge former President Donald Trump for their party's 2024 presidential nomination, has gained national attention for his hostility toward migrants, from a widely condemned bill he signed into law on Wednesday to his role in flying South Americans to Martha's Vineyard last year.
Although the DeSantis administration's shelter decision enables Florida facilities "to operate without a license or state oversight," the Times explained Friday, HHS said that ORR still requires the sites to meet licensing standards and conducts its own monitoring and evaluation "to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care."
The newly revealed deaths are rare, relative to the number of unaccompanied minors that enter the country. According to CBS: "Over an eight-month span in 2018 and 2019, six children died in U.S. custody or shortly after being released, including a 10-year-old girl who died while in the care of ORR. Her death was the first of a child in U.S. custody since 2010, officials said at the time."
\u201cThis death of a migrant CHILD in federal custody always mattered to the public under Trump. Under this administration, it hardly registers. Shameful.\u201d— Aura Bogado (@Aura Bogado) 1683907979
Reporting on both Honduran children's deaths comes as the U.S. government rolls out controversial migrant policies in response to the expiration of Title 42, which was invoked by the administrations of both Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden to deport millions of asylum-seekers under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
After Biden's policies were announced last month, the International Refugee Assistance Project said that it "welcomes the expansion of family reunification parole programs and refugee processing in the Americas, but strongly opposes doing so as a trade-off for limiting the legal rights of people seeking asylum in the United States."
On Thursday, the ACLU, the civil liberties group's Northern California branch, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and National Immigrant Justice Center filed a legal challenge to the asylum ban in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
"The Biden administration's new ban places vulnerable asylum-seekers in grave danger and violates U.S. asylum laws. We've been down this road before with Trump," said Katrina Eiland, managing attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "The asylum bans were cruel and illegal then, and nothing has changed now."
"All Californians should be relieved that this permit request has been withdrawn for the foreseeable future," said one Friends of the Earth project manager.
In what green groups on Friday called "a victory for environmentalists, scientists, and vulnerable agricultural communities across California," state officials announced a day earlier that a controversial release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Central Valley has been suspended.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) said Thursday that Oxitec, a U.S.-owned, U.K.-based biotechnology company that develops genetically engineered (GE) insects, withdrew a research authorization application to conduct a field pilot test of a new type ofAedes aegypti, a mosquito species that in its natural form can spread dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro and yellow fever viruses, and other disease agents.
Oxitec, which touts its GE mosquitoes as "an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides," planned to study the insects' efficacy at reducing the current Aedes aegypti population in Tulare County.
"The withdrawal of Oxitec's application is a victory for California residents and wild species," Rebecca Spector, West Coast director at Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. "This withdrawal is in line with leaders from our state Legislature who demanded a more comprehensive review of the impacts of these genetically engineered mosquitoes before the approval of this permit."
\u201cVICTORY: The @CA_PesticideReg announced yesterday the withdrawal of a permit request for a mass release of experimental #GE #mosquitoes in the Central Valley.\ud83e\udd9f\ud83d\udeab\nThe withdrawal halts the controversial proposed release of billions of GE insects. More \u2935\ufe0f\nhttps://t.co/kj7b76nFyx\u201d— Center for Food Safety (@Center for Food Safety) 1683922287
According to the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE), which opposed what it called a "risky insect mass release":
The withdrawal of the biotech corporation Oxitec's request halts the controversial proposed release of billions of genetically engineered insects. Scientists and other experts in the field have raised concerns about Oxitec's proposal to release genetically engineered mosquitoes due to inadequate scientific review and lack of appropriate and relevant regulations, pressuring the company to disclose data critical to assessing potential public health and environmental impacts...
In separate letters to DPR earlier this year, scientists and legislators urged DPR to deny the Oxitec permit because of concerns about risks posed to human health, wildlife, and vulnerable ecosystems, and the lack of regulations to control billions of genetically engineered mosquitoes released into an open-air environment.
"All Californians should be relieved that this permit request has been withdrawn for the foreseeable future," FOE senior project manager Dana Perls said in a statement. "Significant scientific research on genetically engineered mosquitoes is still needed to understand the potential public health and environmental threats associated with the release of this novel genetically engineered insect."
\u201c\u201cSignificant scientific research on genetically engineered mosquitoes is still needed to understand the potential public health and environmental threats associated with the release of this novel genetically engineered insect.\u201d\n\n#GMO \n\nhttps://t.co/5L6pftDfR0\u201d— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action)) 1683921661
Last November, California state Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-44)said that "there are too many unknown factors when it comes to how [GE mosquitoes] could affect our biodiversity in the long run, including how this might influence populations of birds, bats, fish species, and other insects."
An unusually wet winter and subsequent spring snow melt and flooding have led to elevated levels of standing water and ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, leaving Central Valley officials worried about the spread of diseases.
\u201cThe recent flooding that has impacted most of California has created a dangerous breeding ground for mosquitoes. \nCal OES wants everyone to enjoy the warmer weather but also be aware of the dangers that may come from mosquitoes. To learn more visit: https://t.co/hOaFgGeanr\u201d— California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (@California Governor's Office of Emergency Services) 1683906472
"It's kind of unprecedented, the level of probably mosquito production we're gonna see this year with all the water," Michael Cavanagh, district manager of Kings Mosquito Abatement District, toldKFSN. "So there's a natural link, I think, to potential disease transmission, the West Nile virus and some of the other diseases that mosquitoes carry."
The "further development of oil, gas, and coal should have no space in African countries," says a new letter. "We need to shift to clean energy projects that are people-centered and would benefit local communities first and foremost."
More than three dozen progressive advocacy groups implored East African leaders this week to stop funding fossil fuel projects and instead ramp up investment in renewable energy production and other green economic initiatives.
"The promotion and/or further development of oil, gas, and coal should have no space in African countries," says a new open letter from 41 East African civil society organizations to the region's heads of state. "We need to shift to clean energy projects that are people-centered and would benefit local communities first and foremost. We need to promote approaches that strengthen energy access and land rights for all Africans, while ensuring the protection of nature and our common goods."
The letter came amid the 10th East African Petroleum Conference and Exhibition (EAPCE). The theme of the three-day summit, held from Tuesday through Thursday in Kampala, Uganda, was "East Africa as a hub for investment in exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources for sustainable energy and socioeconomic development."
"Instead of seemingly doubling down on fossil fuels, we urge East African leaders to prioritize the adoption of safe and sustainable renewable energy."
In their letter, published on Wednesday, local climate justice campaigners wrote that "while we appreciate your efforts to promote energy access and socioeconomic development for East Africans, we are worried that your focus on exploiting the region's petroleum resources stands to undermine your goals."
Signatories drew attention to the connections between fossil fuel extraction, on the one hand, and ecological disasters, violent conflicts, and increased impoverishment and unemployment in affected territories, on the other.
"It has been variously demonstrated that oil and gas exploitation is more harmful than useful to local communities," the letter states. "Oil exploitation harms nations' ecological balance through causing forest loss, biodiversity destruction, as well as air, water, and soil pollution. This destruction hurts livelihoods, increases poverty, worsens climate disasters, and increases public as well as household expenditure on health, disaster management, and others."
"This does not translate into socioeconomic development, especially for the oil and gas host communities," wrote the signatories. They also expressed concerns about "the conflicts that arise due to natural resources exploitation by multinationals in Africa."
\u201cThe @IPCC_CH warns that global warming of 1.5\u00b0C or more will lead to severe and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems. Investing in renewable energy can help prevent this. East African leaders at #EAPCE23ug should take note.#ClimateCrisis\u201d— Rise up Movement (@Rise up Movement) 1683803694
Furthermore, "the exploitation of oil and gas has economic impacts as it causes land loss with insufficient compensation being given to local communities and Indigenous peoples," the letter continues. "It also accelerates land grabs and negatively impacts economic sectors such as farming, fishing, tourism, and others through the pollution of soils and waters, stopping fisherfolks' access to fishing areas, degradation of national parks, and others. In addition, international oil companies take advantage of the naivety of local communities and rarely respect their commitments to ensure prosperity."
"While oil companies often make big promises about creating jobs for locals, available evidence indicates that the oil, gas, and mining sectors only employ about 1% of Africa's labor force," notes the letter. "Meanwhile, the continued investment in oil and gas stands to result in job losses in the agriculture, fishing, clean energy, tourism, and other sectors."
"Oil and gas exploitation, and the climate change it is fueling, is a threat to 60-70% of Africa's workforce," the signatories wrote, alluding to the vast majority of people who are employed in agriculture. "We request that you protect these workers by investing in renewable energy instead of oil and gas."
"Africa has significant renewable energy potential, which if developed, can position the continent to lead the global green energy transition."
Continuing to prioritize investment in oil and gas over wind, solar, and other green sectors threatens to leave East Africa riddled with environmentally hazardous stranded assets, the groups warned, citing the International Energy Agency's "projections of declining demand for fossil fuels" in the coming years.
"No African country has addressed energy poverty by investing in coal, oil, and gas," the letter points out. "Nigeria, which is one of Africa's largest oil producers, has the highest number of people in the world without access to power."
Signatories argued that more of the same can be expected if the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to sell huge tracts of land in the Congo Basin rainforest to fossil fuel giants or if the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is built. Shipping the region's petroleum resources abroad, the letter observes, enriches corporations such as France's TotalEnergies while failing to meet the energy needs of local residents.
The letter also stresses that Africa's "immense renewable energy potential"—including abundant solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal resources—remains largely "untapped," with just 9% of the continent's power generated from those sources in 2020. One reason for this is that "investments in renewable energy in Africa are limited." According to the letter, only 2% of the clean power investments made globally over the past two decades have focused on Africa. "This needs to change," the signatories emphasized.
"To enhance sustainable energy access and promote socioeconomic progress," the groups made the following recommendations:
"It's concerning that regional leaders should meet to discuss how to build new oil projects when the world is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy," Dickens Kamugisha, CEO of the Uganda-based Africa Institute for Energy Governance, said Friday in a statement. "In its 2021 World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated that oil demand is expected to level off in the mid-2030s and decline in 2050."
"Yet East African countries are borrowing huge amounts of money to invest in oil and gas," said Kamugisha. "How will they recoup the monies that are invested? East Africans are poor and should not be straddled with assets that could become stranded. Governments should avoid investing in coal, oil, and gas."
Despite bearing little historic responsibility for the climate crisis, East Africans are also particularly vulnerable to extreme weather disasters, as Jimmy Ufoy from the Ituri region in the DRC lamented.
"The Congolese Red Cross says that at least 411 died in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the flooding" this week, said Ufoy. "It was, therefore, disturbing to see the DRC speak of bilateral engagement with Uganda to develop hydrocarbons and access to the EACOP to transport crude oil."
Last June, African activists urged officials to reject the IEA's call for nations across the continent to swiftly extract and export their fossil gas reserves before the world scales up its shift to clean energy sources.
Rather than follow the IEA's recommendation—which came just months after the Paris-based agency said that expanding coal, gas, and oil production is incompatible with maintaining a livable planet—African policymakers should focus on "implementing sustainable renewable energy solutions" as quickly as possible, the activsts said.
On Friday, Charity Migwi, regional campaigner at 350Africa.org, reiterated that "Africa has significant renewable energy potential, which if developed, can position the continent to lead the global green energy transition."
"Instead of seemingly doubling down on fossil fuels, we urge East African leaders to prioritize the adoption of safe and sustainable renewable energy," said Migwi.