Transparency International: Corruption and killing human rights defenders go hand in hand

January 25, 2022

On 25 January 2022 important Research by Jon Vrushi and Roberto Martínez B. Kukutschka of Transparency International (which just published it 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index) shows a perhaps not surprising but undoubted link between human rights and corruption. They say: Corruption enables both human rights abuses and democratic decline. In turn, these factors lead to higher levels of corruption, setting off a vicious cycle.

…While all states have a responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all people, the presence of corruption can weaken a government’s ability to do so by undermining the overall functioning of the state – from the delivery of public services, to the dispensation of justice and the provision of safety for everyone.

More specifically, the duty to respect means that the state must not act in violation of human rights, for example, by using violence against peaceful demonstrators. Corruption can undermine this obligation when, for example, the government instrumentalises the police or judiciary to unfairly detain, arrest or intimidate opponents or dissidents. Corruption in law enforcement can jeopardise people’s safety and victims’ access to justice. On the one hand, corruption in law enforcement can drive human right violations such as ill-treatment or torture in the hands of officers including in detention settings or through police practices. In other cases, corruption might permeate the administration of justice including by slowing investigations into human rights violations and affecting due process.

What is more, corruption and impunity contribute to an unsafe climate for human rights defenders to operate in. Having examined the data collected by Frontline Defenders, we found that out of the 331 cases of murdered human rights defenders in 25 countries in 2020, 98 per cent of those deaths occurred in 23 countries with high levels of public sector corruption, or a CPI score below 45. Moreover, at least 20 of all cases were registered as killings of human rights defenders dealing with anti-corruption issues.

The second state obligation, to protect, means that governments should ensure that no one infringes the rights of its people. Corruption can also undermine this obligation. Organised criminal groups routinely murder journalists and human rights defenders and the state often fails to protect their safety. Similarly, private actors can rely on bribery and/or personal connections to ensure that the state turns a blind eye to human rights abuses. If the state fails to prevent a company, which has made a large campaign donation, from polluting a water source on which people depend on and puts their health at risk, the state is effectively failing in its obligation to protect.

Finally, corruption can directly undermine a government’s ability to fulfil its human rights obligations to take positive actions to guarantee the enjoyment of basic human rights. When states allow the embezzlement of public funds meant to be spent on providing healthcare or when rigged public procurement processes fail to deliver the necessary goods and services for education, states fail in their responsibility to fulfil the rights to health and education.

While all three obligations are equally important, state failure to respect human rights can lead to catastrophic consequences for democracy and the rule of law, as it can subvert fundamental rights which are critical for government accountability, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association. This, in turn, makes it harder to keep corruption in check and can lead to a vicious cycle of corruption, human rights abuses, and democratic decline.

The graph below shows how corruption and abuse of civil liberties go hand-in-hand. The civil liberties score, a dimension of the Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit, contains indicators on freedom of expression, association, assembly, personal safety and access to justice, among others. What we observe is that there is a strong and positive correlation between good governance and the respect of human rights and that very few countries have managed to establish effective control of corruption without also respecting human rights. This relationship holds even when controlling for the level of development (see Annex).

Corruption and breaches of civil liberties

Corruption, civil liberties and rule of law

Keeping corruption out of the public eye is essential to ensure that those who participate in it face no consequences. Restricting freedoms of expression, association and assembly is thus a popular tactic to weaken societal checks on corruption, reducing the chances of being denounced for engaging in corruption and facing consequences. Simultaneously, this helps to perpetuate corrupt networks and practices. To ensure they face no legal consequences, in some cases corrupt officials also capture the judiciary and independent oversight institutions. To prevent loss of their privileges, corrupt and their cronies often resort to oppressive measures, curtailing civil liberties.

Take Nicaragua, for example, where President Daniel Ortega has ruled since 2007 and the country has experienced democratic decline, along with restrictions to fundamental freedoms and rampant corruption. Nicaragua is one of the significant decliners on the 2021 CPI, having dropped from a score of 29 in 2012 to 20 in 2021.

Nicaragua now ranks in the bottom 20 countries on the Index. At the same time, Nicaragua’s scores on V-Dem’s “Freedom of Expression”, “Freedom of Association” and “Access to Justice” indicators have dropped to record low levels. Corruption in the justice system and total capture of the courts by the executive means that human rights abuses go unchecked, providing no access to justice or remedy for victims in the country. At the same time, politically motivated corruption charges against opposition figures.

further impinge on political rights and liberties while government officials face virtually no accountability for acts of corruption. This climate of total impunity allows the government to further restrict fundamental rights, like freedom of expression, association and assembly. In some cases, they become direct attacks.

In 2019, one of the oldest newspapers in Nicaragua, El Nuevo Diario, reported that it was forced to close after authorities prevented it from obtaining newsprint and ink. Furthermore, between March and July 2020, Nicaragua’s Observatory of Aggressions on the Independent Press reported 351 attacks including unjust prosecutions, arbitrary detentions and harassment of media workers and their families. Human rights abuses continue, including bans on protests, attacks on freedom of expression, and the stigmatisation and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders.

Attacks on checks and balances as well as on civil liberties do not only occur in countries with systemic corruption and weak democratic institutions, but also in consolidated democracies. Hungary serves as a cautionary tale where following corruption and full capture of the state, the country has fallen to the lowest score in the Freedom in the World Index since the end of the communist regime in 1989. The abuse of media, civic space and the judiciary by democratic governments alleged to be involved in corruption has also been prevalent in Czechia, Slovenia and Brazil, among others.

What is more, not everyone is equally able to challenge corruption. Repressive officials or those seeking to silence anti-corruption campaigners are less likely to fear being held to account when they target individuals from marginalised groups. People from discriminated groups are therefore more exposed to potential backlashes and human rights abuses when they try to make their voices heard. The enhanced level of danger also applies to anti-corruption campaigners who champion the cause of discriminated groups, such as Transparency International’s chapter in Guatemala, which seeks to uncover and challenge acts of collusive corruption between state officials and mining companies that harm Indigenous Peoples.

Transnational corruption as enabler of human rights abuses

Various actors in the top-scoring countries are all too eager to help authoritarian and kleptocratic regimes clean their reputations – not just their money.

The case of Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom shows this corrupt backscratching at work. The heavy-handed response to protests in the country in early January made international headlines, echoing events of the Zhanaozen massacre from 10 years ago. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s president at that time turned to the UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair to help him with his image. In a leaked letter Blair reportedly advised and provided Nazarbayev with talking points on how to handle critical questions about Zhanaozen. Months later, the government jailed an opposition leader for allegedly orchestrating the events. Blair continued to defend Kazakhstan’s regime on various occasions.

More international coordination is needed to ensure that foreign dictators and western enablers do not circumvent anti-money laundering and sanctions regimes.

Transnational corruption enables human rights abuses and exacerbates repression by allowing autocrats to:

  1. Enjoy looted funds and reward cronies. Without the help of professional enablers like complicit bankers, lawyers, accountants, real-estate brokers etc, kleptocrats would not be able to enjoy their funds and pay off those who support them. In turn this means that they can stay in power by buying support and dispensing patronage to cronies.
  2. Launder their reputation abroad. By employing western public relations firms, lobby professionals and even funding universities kleptocrats and autocrats ensure that little pressure will come to bear from the international community on their human rights abuses record.
  3. Evade accountability. By hiding their financial transactions, autocrats make it almost impossible for law enforcement or judicial bodies, at home or abroad, to find traces of their malfeasance, ensuring they stay in power and unscathed. They can also bypass sanctions regimes, such as those aimed directly at human rights abusers through the Global Magnitsky Act or similar legislation.

In 2017, the Azerbaijani Laundromat investigations found how a network of slush funds financed Azerbaijan’s bribe-induced foreign policy and reputation. Three Spanish delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) are suspected of benefiting from the Laundromat. In return, they allegedly watered down the human rights body’s criticism of events in Azerbaijan under the country’s repressive authoritarian regime. In 2021, authorities in Germany expanded their previous investigations into the Azerbaijani Laundromat. Another (now former) German parliamentarian is under investigation for similar reasons. Transnational corruption schemes allowed the Azerbaijani government to conduct a type of caviar diplomacy, bribing abroad and shoring up support from cronies at home.

Effects on democracy and corruption

Civil and political rights including freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, as well as access to justice are integral to healthy democracies. They guarantee the participation of citizens and groups in democratic and policy processes and can help keep corruption in check. The current wave of autocratisation is not primarily driven by coups and violence, but rather by efforts to undermine democracy gradually. The descent into authoritarianism usually begins with violations to people’s civil and political rights, attacks on civil and political rights, efforts to undermine the autonomy of oversight undermining election management bodies, and trying to control or directly attack the media to help disseminate the regime’s ideology while supressing criticism.

The case of Belarus, which this year fell 6 points in the CPI score this year, perfectly illustrates the limits of this top-down model and how the apparent successes in controlling corruption can quickly prove illusory where they are subject to the whims of a dictator or a regime that does not allow criticism, opposition or political competition. The country also serves as a cautionary tale for similar regimes.

While examples of successful top-down anti-corruption reforms exist in countries like China, Cuba and Singapore. These efforts are few and far apart. Furthermore, some of the most successful anti-corruption reforms that started with top-down interventions, eventually had to incorporate more bottom-up approaches to ensure their sustainability. Hence, sustainable anti-corruption strategies go hand in hand with the protection of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.

For these reasons, in its Strategy 2030, Transparency International recognises that corruption cannot be countered without fundamental human freedoms to organise, associate, access information and speak up as well as a free and independent media.

To end the vicious cycle of corruption, human rights violations and democratic decline, people should demand that their governments:

  1. Uphold the rights needed to hold power to account. Governments should roll back any disproportionate restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly introduced since the onset of the pandemic. Ensuring justice for crimes against human rights defenders must also be an urgent priority.
  2. Restore and strengthen institutional checks on power. Public oversight bodies such as anti-corruption agencies and supreme audit institutions need to be independent, well- resourced and empowered to detect and sanction wrongdoing. Parliaments and the courts should also be vigilant in preventing executive overreach.
  3. Combat transnational forms of corruption. Governments in advanced economies need to fix the systemic weaknesses that allow cross-border corruption to go undetected or unsanctioned. They must close legal loopholes, regulate professional enablers of financial crime, and ensure that the corrupt and their accomplices cannot escape justice.
  4. Uphold the right to information in government spending. As part of their COVID-19 recovery efforts, governments must make good on their pledge contained in the June 2021 UNGASS political declaration to include anti-corruption safeguards in public procurement. Maximum transparency in public spending protects lives and livelihoods.

The Berlin-based nongovernmental organisation surveys business leaders and experts to assign scores to 180 countries and territories on their perceived levels of public sector corruption. Using a scale from 0 to 100 (with 100 being very clean and 0 ranking as highly corrupt), the 10th annual report found that two-thirds of countries scored below 50. The average score was 43 out of 100. Overall, the fight against corruption is having mixed results – with some nations making gains and others falling behind. “Since 2012, 25 countries significantly improved their scores, but in the same period 23 countries significantly declined,” the report said.

It also found that despite increased momentum to end the abuse of anonymous shell companies, many high-scoring countries with relatively clean public sectors continue to enable corruption. A shell company does not have a physical location, employees, products or revenue. It is used to store money, help facilitate tax avoidance and, in some cases, deal in illegal activity such as money laundering. Some high-ranking countries such as Switzerland have been called tax havens in part due to their tolerance of shell companies.

Iranian Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi sentenced to another 8 years prison and more than 70 lashes

January 25, 2022

On 24 January 2022 the prominent rights defender Narges Mohammadi, already serving time at Iran’s notorious Gharchak Prison, has been sentenced to another eight years in prison and more than 70 lashes, according to a tweet by her Paris-based husband. [winner of 5 human rights awards, see:]

Mohammadi’s new conviction was after a 5-minute trial, her husband Taghi Rahmani wrote. He stated she also had a two–year ban on “communication,” but that she has not contacted the family and he did not know the details of the trial or the new sentence.

The prominent activist’s latest conviction comes as the authorities intensify their efforts to squash growing dissent in Iran by imprisoning activists and human rights attorneys after grossly unfair trials, shooting to kill protesters in the street, imposing death sentences on dissidents and protesters, and causing the death of political prisoners by egregiously neglecting their medical needs. See e.g.

One by one, the Iranian authorities are trying to silence the voices of dissent in Iran, through imprisonment, torture, and even death,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “The Iranian government fears these brave individuals because they speak truth to power and their voices carry great authority in Iranian society,”

Outrage at the government’s actions—not only the unjust imprisonments but also the treatment of political prisoners—is growing both inside and outside Iran’s prisons.

Seven political prisoners in Evin Prison’s Ward 8 went on a hunger strike on January 16, 2022, to protest the death of Baktash Abtin, who died after contracting COVID-19 in Iran’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons, where even the most rudimentary precautions against the spread of the virus are not followed. They include: Sadegh Omidi, Peyman Pourdad, Moin Hajizadeh, Mehdi Dareyni, Hamid Haj Jafar Kashani, Aliasghar Hassani-Rad, and Mahmoud Alinaghi. The latter three were transferred to an unknown prison on January 23. See:

In solidarity with the hunger strikers, Shakila Monfared began a hunger strike in Gharchak Prison for women on January 17; Sina Beheshti joined the hunger strike on January 17 in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary; and Mohammad Abdolhassani joined the hunger strike on January 17 in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary.

Meanwhile, British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori, who is being held in Iran on unsubstantiated spying charges, began a hunger strike in Evin Prison on January 23, to bring “global attention to the plight” of those unfairly held by Iran.

Outside Iran, In Vienna, journalist Jamshid Barzegar, began a hunger strike on January 18 in solidarity with hunger strikers in Iran, in front of the hotel where the nuclear talks are being held in Vienna. He has been joined by more than a dozen Iranian activists abroad. Former American hostage Barry Rosen was on hunger strike from January 16-24 in Vienna “to demand the release of all hostages being held by Iran.” Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese former hostage in Iran, joined the hunger strikers in Vienna on January 21.

These names are only part of a larger, rapidly growing group. A list from January 24 was published on Twitter that included names of more than 40 activists hunger-striking outside prison to demonstrate solidarity with the hunger strikers and protest the government’s actions.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, responding to a question on hunger strikers in Vienna at January 24 press conference in Tehran, said: “These matters are not very important. What’s important is to reach a reliable and stable agreement that satisfies Iran’s interests.”

Mohammadi has proved to be a particular thorn in the authorities’ side, refusing to be silent either in prison or during her brief periods of release between convictions. She had already been serving a 30-month sentence at Gharchak Prison after she organized a sit-in at Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward to condemn the killing of hundreds of protesters by state security forces during the November 2019 protests, and the unjust execution of wrestler Navid Afkari.

“Narges Mohammadi is only one of many individuals behind bars in Iran because of their peaceful dissent and the willingness of a judiciary to do the bidding of a brutal and unlawful security state,” Ghaemi added.

Human Rights Cities…

January 25, 2022

Human Rights Careers carried an unattributed post: “What Are Human Rights Cities?” I reproduce it here in full as it gives some interesting points:

Urbanization is on the rise. According to the United Nations Population Fund, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns or cities. By 2030, that number could reach 5 billion people. This is significant because inequality often slices cities into divisions of wealth and poverty. A human rights approach can address this problem and promote cities as spaces of equality, inclusion, and empowerment. When different stakeholders in a city – the local government, civil society, and private sector – come together to adopt human rights principles and laws, a human rights city is born.

The history of human rights cities

The impact of cities on human rights is not new considering how cities can be home to high levels of poverty, inequality, environmental decay, and so on. The organization the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning (formerly known as the People’s Decade for Human Rights Education and still known by the abbreviation PDHRE) launched the more formal understanding of human rights cities. It was just after the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria, which represented a reinvigorated commitment to implement human rights instruments. The PDHRE’S Human Rights Cities initiative sought to mobilize communities to engage in dialogue and take action on improving life and security for people based on a human rights standard.

The first Human Rights City

Rosario is the biggest city in the central Argentinian province of Sante Fe and the third-most populous city in the country. Tourists are drawn to its centuries-old architecture in the neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco styles, as well as its many museums. Football legend Lionel Messi is from Rosario. In June of 1997, more than 100 people, including groups representing women, children, the academic community, and indigenous people, met with the municipality at City Hall. The executive director of PDHRE was there, too. The groups signed a proclamation committing to turn Rosario into a “human rights sensitive city” that would promote equity, peace, and respect for human rights.

Rosario drew up plans to implement the proclamation. All sectors of society were represented on a Citizen’s Committee, which began analyzing how human rights violations were connected and initiating neighborhood dialogues about a human rights framework. A sub-committee looked at the government’s obligations under international law and solutions to poverty, violence against women and the LGBTQ community, police brutality, poor education, and more. Human rights experts, educators, lawyers, and media members made a supporting volunteer group while trainings were held for and by police, judges, business people, teachers, and others. Specific principles guided the process: transparency, participation, accountability, reciprocity, and a commitment to eliminate poverty.

Other Human Rights Cities

Other areas embraced the concept of human rights cities. In 2000, Saint-Denis in France adopted the European Charter for the Safe Guarding of Human Rights in the City. In 2009, Gwangju in South Korea established a human rights municipality and in 2011, held the 1st World Human Rights Cities Forum. The event is held annually and is an essential gathering for the human rights cities movement. The forum defined human rights cities as “both a local community and a socio-political process in a local context where human rights play a key role as fundamental values and guiding principles.”

There are currently human rights cities in Asia, Africa, Europe, Canada, the United States, and Latin America. Examples include Timbuktu, Mali; Nagpur, India; Nuremberg, Germany; Madrid, Spain; Seattle, United States; and Winnipeg, Canada.

How do cities become “human rights cities?”

There is no standardized process for a city to become a “human rights city.” According to the Human Rights Cities Network, an online platform that promotes the development of human rights cities, there are two processes: an informal one and a formal one. The informal process is when a city promotes human rights at a local government level without officially labeling itself a “human rights city.” These cities embrace concepts like sustainability (“going green”), welcoming refugees, being inclusive to all genders and sexualities, and so on. The success of these cities varies widely; cities often make big promises they don’t keep. Some cities have embraced human rights agendas and implemented norms, but haven’t adopted broader declarations. Chicago, Illinois is one example. The City Council passed a resolution in 2009 supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For the formal process, a city announces itself as a “Human Rights City” and makes an official commitment. They often adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as their norm of governance and establish a process where the community and municipality cooperate on implementing a human rights approach. Implementing a specific human rights framework for governance sets true human rights cities apart from cities that enjoy a human rights label, but aren’t going to take real action. Every city’s process looks a bit different based on relevant issues, government structure, and so on. The key is that policies and governance center residents’ human rights as described in the UDHR.

See also (but not clear how it links to this):

The benefits of human rights cities

When taken seriously, human rights cities rely on a framework based on human rights principles like equality, participation, transparency, and accountability. This framework is essential because it guides decision-making on every level, ensuring a systemic shift in how cities conduct business. We can see these principles in the Gwangju Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City (2014):

  • Non-discrimination and affirmative action
  • Social inclusion and cultural diversity
  • Social justice, solidarity, and sustainability
  • Effective institutions and policy coordination
  • Human rights education and training
  • Participatory democracy and accountable governance

Let’s consider that last principle more closely: participatory democracy and accountable governance. Democracy, which is a structure that gives power to the people either directly or through elected representatives, creates the best environment for human rights to flourish. Why? Governance guided by a democratic human rights approach doesn’t allow an elite group to call the shots with no participation or accountability from the rest of the community. All city residents – not just a few – are involved in public policy-making and given the space to voice their interests and ideas. If the government fails in its responsibilities, mechanisms allow people to hold them accountable and prioritize (and empower) the most vulnerable. That’s an essential benefit to human rights cities.

Challenges that face human rights cities

Enforcing a human rights approach is arguably the biggest challenge facing human rights cities. It’s a problem consistent with human rights law and practice in general. While the United Nations represents the closest thing to a global enforcer, its powers are severely limited. The institution can draw attention to human rights progress and violations, but its ability to hold States and abusers accountable has earned the UN much criticism. There’s even less oversight of private actors like multinational corporations. Most enforcement falls to individual States and local governments, which often have scant resources or weak political will for strong human rights policies.

The lack of a standardized definition for human rights cities (an issue that Deklerck Jasmien discusses in their thesis Human Rights Cities: “Walking the Walk” or “Talking the Talk”) also makes enforcement a very tricky prospect. There aren’t clear measurements that determine whether human cities are successful. These limitations make it difficult to hold human rights cities responsible for their actions (or lack of actions) regarding human rights. This isn’t to say all human rights cities are doomed to fail. Some cities are better than others at establishing monitoring procedures and enforcement mechanisms, but again, without a clear definition and recognized standards, human rights cities won’t achieve the level of success supporters hope for.

Are human rights cities worth it?

While the values behind human rights cities aren’t new, the implementation is fairly recent. Is it worth the effort? Are the cities working? Let’s look at the city of Gwangju for a case study. Gwangju, South Korea has a history of oppressive governments. In 1980, government troops attacked university students demonstrating against the martial law government. A group of citizens armed themselves in what became known as the Gwangju Uprising. The event is recognized as a symbol of resistance against authoritarianism. Given the area’s history and track record of democratic movements, making Gwangju a human rights city made sense to many progressive residents. Human rights ordinances were established in 2007 and 2009. In 2010, the government established a human rights department. In 2011, the first World Human Rights Cities Forum took place.

According to a 2019 conference paper, human rights indicators show a steady improvement in the city’s human rights levels. Achievements in human rights education (which includes HRE for all government officials) are considered the city’s biggest wins. Issues remain, especially in housing, public safety, and school violence. The paper also points out problems with collaboration between the government’s different departments.

Gwangju has a blend of successes and limitations. That’s likely true for all human rights cities. Is the idea of the “human rights city” worth attempting? It is if it’s taken seriously. Human rights principles like democracy and accountability are essential to the long-term health and success of cities, which are home to billions. The Sustainable Development Goals can’t be achieved without cities, but cities first need to embrace a human rights approach.

Rights Arcade – a game to help human rights education

January 24, 2022

This International Day of Education, Amnesty International has launched Rights Arcade, a free human rights game app which aims to educate the next generation of human rights defenders about rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Rights Arcade is designed to strengthen the human rights movement through action-oriented education. The games will boost players’ knowledge about human rights and encourage people to take action on human rights issues.  

One of Rights Arcade’s key features is a self-paced approach that allows players to learn, reflect and take action at their own pace while navigating through the game’s stories.

This game has been designed to empower and encourage people everywhere, but especially younger audiences, to learn about human rights in an engaging manner,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

Young people are pivotal in setting the human rights agenda, today and for the future. Reaching them in the spaces they inhabit, or with which they engage regularly, is key to enabling new generations of activists and empowering them to fight for, and protect, human rights – now and in the future.”

The players take a human rights journey through the experiences of three real-life people: Ahmed Kabir Kishor, a cartoonist unjustly charged under the Digital Security Act in Bangladesh [see:] Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist sentenced to four years in prison for reporting about Covid-19 in China [see:]; and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a student activist facing more than 25 charges for protesting in Thailand [see:].

The game’s stories, which are fictionalized experiences inspired by real world events, are driven by a player’s choices.

The player gets to play the role and navigate the experiences of the three central characters, making decisions based on their own understanding of human rights and unpacking how human rights concepts apply in daily life.

People around the world will be able to access a collection of three games currently available in four languages: English, Simplified Chinese, Thai and Korean.

Rights Arcade can be downloaded on iOS and Android devices, ensuring its accessibility in regions with poor internet connectivity.

Rights Arcade will be regularly updated to accommodate learning in more languages, and with new game offerings in the months and years to come.

Some rich and famous people favour money over rights

January 24, 2022

Tara Everton and Jenny Wang posted in the human Rights Foundation a diatribe “Ignorance and Reluctance of the Rich and the Famous” which is well worth reading in full:

In a recent episode of the podcast “All-In,” Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire venture capitalist, stakeholder of the Golden State Warriors, and Chairman of Virgin Galactic, commented that “nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs… Of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.” 

Palihapitiya has joined the growing list of wealthy Western elites, including Elon Musk, Ray Dalio, Craig Smith, and more, who have openly turned a blind eye to the suffering of millions of people living under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s repression. 

The reason for doing so is simple: to remain in the good graces of the CCP to line their own pockets.

The world is witnessing the Chinese government’s belligerence and disregard for human dignity. In the past several decades, China’s authoritarian regime has tightened its grip on power by conducting mass crackdowns on Chinese human rights defenders, spearheading an unprecedented 21st century genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and implementing incessant policing in Tibet and Hong Kong. Despite the regime’s ongoing abysmal human rights record, highly influential entrepreneurs, business tycoons, and elites have all too willingly stayed silent.

Greed and lust for access to the Chinese market have made profit-driven elites eager to acquiesce to the CCP’s authoritarian ideals. When these figures harbor these types of views – and express them so casually on prominent platforms – human rights are in grave danger. 

The blatant ignorance of Western elites and billionaires is stunning. For example, founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, brazenly disregarded the testimonies and evidence coming out of Xinjiang about the genocide, and recently opened a Tesla showroom in the region. Similarly, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, has shamelessly fawned over the Chinese government’s mass crackdowns toward achieving “common prosperity,” and even claimed that the United States should follow suit — a stance that has garnered him praise from Chinese state media. Most recently, Craig Smith, CEO of Burton Snowboards’ China subsidiary, showed concerning indifference to the Uyghur genocide by stating that he has no problem doing business in Xinjiang  — even after sharing that he is well-aware of the reports about genocide.

Palihapitiya’s recent brazen remarks are just one example out of far too many. 

Palihapitiya and his fellow tycoons are trained in social combat. Palihapitiya, in response to the resulting backlash, “recognized” he came across “lacking empathy,” citing his personal experience as a refugee and concern for all human rights. The Golden State Warriors subsequently tried to publicly distance themselves from Palihapitiya – while still dancing around using direct verbiage about China and the Uyghur genocide. All too similarly, Dalio took to social media soon after his fumble to admit he “answered sloppily” to questions about China. Elites are quick to undergo damage control – yet the real damage has already been done.

With the power of celebrity and money comes responsibility. Businessmen and elites could undoubtedly make a dent in the CCP’s growing control just as corporate divestment campaigns did to help bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. These individuals can speak up, but egregiously, they are reluctant and choose not to. Driven instead by financial gain, they uncritically whitewash the Chinese regime’s abuses and in turn, act as agents of influence for Xi Jinping. 

They choose money over morals. However, you do not have to – and you should not. Connect with your government officials. Policymakers and legislators need to engage with civil society groups and independent experts to ensure their foreign policies and economic negotiations are not complicit to the Chinese government’s crimes. Call your elected officials to stress their moral and legal obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil fundamental human rights. Shop responsibly. There’s a 1 in 5 chance that your clothes are linked to Uyghur forced labor. Consider supporting brands that have publicly committed to ending such forced labor, and urge your favorite brands to disclose not only how products are made but also who makes them. Support activists. The CCP actively intimidates and pressures brave individuals outside of China who stand up for human rights. Follow them on social media, donate to their campaigns, and support organizations that provide platforms for their activism. 
Human rights are not a “luxury belief,” and complicity is not “below [your] line.” As a concerned global citizen, do what you can to stand up to the Chinese regime. We can do better than the billionaires. Full stop.

That it can be done differently is shown inter alia by:

Breaking News: 3 laureates of the Martin Ennals Award 2022 announced today

January 19, 2022

This morning, 19 January 2022, at a virtual press conference in Geneva three driving forces of the human rights movement were announced as the Laureates of the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. For more on the Martin Ennals Award and its laureates, see:

Pham Doan Trang is a leading journalist, editor and democracy advocate in Vietnam, where
the Communist Party has left little room for opposition voices to flourish. She directed several
independent media outlets to raise awareness amongst Vietnam’s citizens of their fundamental
rights galvanising many other journalists and human rights defenders to speak up. She was one
of the most hunted activists in her country before being arrested in October 2020. On 14
December 2021, Pham Doan Trang was sentenced to nine years in prison for “conducting
propaganda against the state”. There are growing concerns about her health. [see also:]

Dr. Daouda Diallo is a trained pharmacist-turned-human rights activist in Burkina Faso. The
founder of the civil society coalition CISC, he dedicatedly documents human rights violations in
a country rocked by violent crossfires between government forces, local paramilitary groups
and Islamist factions. He carries the torch for justice and accountability to victims of the violence
and their families. Dr. Diallo’s message of unity amongst different ethnic groups and faiths.

Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja is a charismatic architect of Bahrain’s human rights movement and
a leader of the 2011 protests calling for democracy and greater freedom in the Gulf region. Al-
Khawaja is not only an activist, but also a social entrepreneur who founded some of the first
human rights research and defence organizations in the region, which still exist today. He
inspires future generations in Bahrain to continue to fight despite his now decade-long
imprisonment. See also:

You can relive the conference here:

It was also announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Award Ceremony is postponed until 2 June 2022. “As a city of human rights, Geneva is committed to supporting international cooperation
on critical issues. Throughout the pandemic, many organizations have persisted in their human rights
missions, demonstrating tremendous resilience. In this spirit, we are proud to co-organise another
edition of the Martin Ennals Award
”, said Member of the City Executive Alfonso Gomez. (

AS Chair of the Martin Ennals Award Jury, I mentioned that the Jury had selected “three galvanizers of the human rights movement and that courage is the connecting dot between them ”.

Conservation deaths in 2021 – you can help

January 19, 2022 on 30 December 2021 made a tentative list of deaths of environmental human rights defenders

  • Between the pandemic, natural disasters worsened by human activities, and violence against environmental defenders, 2021 was another year of significant losses in conservation.
  • The following is a list of some of the deaths that occurred in 2021 that were notable to the conservation sector.

On 10 January 2022, the following shocking addition can already be made: 14-year old Breiner David Cucuame – who was part of Cauca Self-Defense Groups, a territory contested by drug traffickers and other illegal groups – was murdered on Friday 14 January. The killer El Indio is a defector from the former guerrilla FARC []

This list acknowledges some of the deaths in 2021 that are significant to the broader conservation community. In case Mongabay missed a death that occurred in 2021 that’s notable in conservation, it asks to reach out via this form.

  • 6 Congolese rangers: Six Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) rangers working at Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were killed in an ambush by a local militia group in January. They were: SuruMwe Burhani Abdou, 30; Alexis Kamate Mundunaenda, 25; Reagan Maneno Kataghalirwa, 27; Eric Kibanja Bashekere, 28; Innocent Paluku Budoyi, 28; and Prince Nzabonimpa Ntamakiriro, 27. More.
  • Ann Croissant, 81 (United States): An environmental activist, educator, and botanist who worked to protect native plants like Brodiaea filifolia in California’s San Gabriel Mountains via the Glendora Community Conservancy, which she founded in 1991. More.
  • Aruká Juma, 88 (Brazil). Aruká Juma, the last of the Juma people in Brazil, died of Covid-19. More.
  • Bob Scholes, 63 (South Africa). A professor of systems ecology at Wits who served as the Director of the Global Change Institute (GCI) and was one of the world’s leading scientists on climate change. More
  • Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, 99 (Canada): The landscape architect sometimes known as the ‘Queen of Green’, Oberlander embraced sustainable design before it was fashionable and was an advocate for rewilding. More.
  • Dave Courchene Jr., 71 (Canada): A Manitoba elder also known by his spirit names Nitamabit and Nii Gaani Aki Inini, Courchene Jr. founded the Turtle Lodge Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Education and Wellness to “exchange intergenerational knowledge, revitalize language, train youth leaders and find environmental solutions to climate change.”. More.
  • David Wake, 84 (United States). An authority on salamanders who grew alarmed by the disappearance of many amphibians. Wake founded AmphibiaWeb. More.
  • Deb Abrahamson, 66 (United States): An Indigenous environmental activist who campaigned against mining pollution and uranium contamination on Indigenous lands. Abrahamson was active in the Standing Rock protests and the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women coalition.. More.
  • Debra Ann Jacobson, 69 (United States): A lawyer and environmentalist who helped cofound the Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment and served in leadership roles in the local and state Sierra Club groups. Jacobson spent nearly 20 years working on clean energy and other issues at the U.S. Department of Energy. More.
  • Dongria Kondh or Penny Eastwood, 65 (United Kingdom): A founding member of Treesponsibility and founder of The Source Partnership, Kondh spent 30 years working to slow climate change through tree planting and other initiatives. More.
  • Edward O. Wilson, 92 (United States). A prominent biologist and prolific author who help raise global awareness and understanding about biodiversity and conservation. Lovejoy is credited with coining the term “biological diversity”, developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, and being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis. While Wilson’s research on ants was highly influential in scientific circles and won numerous recognitions, he was mostly widely known for his accessible writing, including articles and best-selling books which introduced concepts like biodiversity to the masses. More.
  • Elsie Herring, 73 (United States): An environmental activist who sued a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods in 2014 for pollution from their industrial hog farms eventually winning a $550 million judgement in 2018 (which was later reduced to $98 million). More.
  • Estela Casanto Mauricio, 55 (Peru). A human rights defender who founded the Asháninka community of Shankivironi in the Perené valley of Junín in Peru. Mauricio was murdered in March 2021. More.
  • Francisco “Paco” Javier Valverde Esparza, 48 (Mexico). A conservationist who dedicated his life to protect the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise and most threatened marine mammal. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Gonzalo “Gonza” Cardona Molina, 55 (Colombia): A conservation biologist who worked to protect the yellow-eared parrot and other critically parrots in the Colombian Andes. Cardona was murdered in January while doing a bird count. More.
  • Greg Lasley, 71 (United States). Wildlife photographer and naturalist who served in leadership role in several ornithology organizations and published dozens of articles on birds. More.
  • Guillermo Guerra, 60 (Peru). A logistics specialist at Project Amazonas and Margarita Tours. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Ian Lemaiyan, 31 (Kenya). A rhino conservationist and anti-poaching patrol pilot who died in a plane crash in February 2021.More.
  • Javiera Rojas, 43 (Chile): A Chilean environmental activist who opposed dams was foundered murdered in Calama city. More.
  • Jene McCovey, 69 (United States): A Yurok elder who was a fierce advocate for Indigenous rights, environmental rights, and social justice. McCovey played an important role in taking down the Klamath Dams and protecting the Headwaters Forest from logging. More.
  • Jesús Choc Yat, 57 (Guatemala). A Mayan spiritual guide who was found dead with signs of torture. More.
  • Karapiru AWA, 70s (Brazil). After a violent ambush that killed most of his family in the Brazilian Amazon, Karapiru wandered the forests of eastern Brazil for a decade alone. Karapiru later became a holder of traditional knowledge and an activist for Indigenous rights in Brazil. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • LaFanette Soles-Woods, 63 (United States): An environmental justice activist who fought pollution from landfills near her community in Florida. More.
  • Paul J. Crutzen, 87 (Germany). A meteorologist and atmospheric chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work the formation and decomposition of atmospheric ozone, including the effects of chlorofluorocarbon chemicals (CFCs). Crutzen popularized the term Anthropocene to describe the our current epoch where humanity has a substantial impact on the planet. More.
  • Pentti Linkola, 87 (Finland). Founder of the Finnish Nature Heritage Foundation which works to preserve the few ancient forests still left in southern Finland. More.
  • Peter Gorrie, 71 (Canada): An environmental journalist who reported on Canadian tar sands and other issues for multiple newspapers in Canada. More.
  • Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 99 (United Kingdom). The husband of Queen Elizabeth II who was the royal consort from 1952 until his death in 2021. Philip was an avid conservationist, helping found the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1963 and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1961. He went on to serve as President of WWF-UK from 1961 to 1982 and President of WWF International from 1981 to 1996. More.
  • Rafael “Rafa” Gallo (Costa Rica). A prominent figure in the world’s river rafting community, Gallo founded Rios Tropicales in 1985 and became defender of the free-flowing Pacuare River against efforts to dam the popular whitewater river. Gallo also established the International Rafting Federation and was Board Chair at the International Whitewater Hall Of Fame. More.
  • Rizki Wahyudi, 25 (Indonesia). A forest ranger at Mount Palung National Park in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Wahyudi was killed in the Sriwijaya plane crash off Java in January 2021. More.
  • Rory Young (Zambia). The co-founder and CEO of Chengeta Wildlife was killed in an ambush on patrol in Burkina Faso in April 2021. More.
  • Sharon Begley, 64 (United States). Science journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Reuters. More.
  • Sharon Matola, 66 (Belize): The biologist, environmentalist, and zookeeper who founded the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. Matola was sometimes known as the “Jane Goodall of jaguars” and the “Jane Goodall of Belize. More.
  • Shirley McGreal, 87 (United States): Founder of the International Primate Protection League who campaigned to prevent wildlife trafficking. More.
  • Solomon Chidunuka (Zambia). Senior Wildlife Warden who oversaw the North Luangwa Area Management Unit, Zambia’s only area protecting black rhino. Solomon was a Tusk Conservation Award winner. More.
  • Sunderlal Bahuguna, 94 (India). An environmentalist best known for leading Chipko movement in the 1970s and the anti-Tehri dam Movement in the 1990s. Bahuguna inspired a generation of environmentalists. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Tom Lovejoy, 80 (United States). A prominent and influential conservation biologist who helped catalyze a global movement to save life on Earth as we know it. Lovejoy is credited with coining the term “biological diversity”, developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, and being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis. More.

Groups like the The Thin Green Line Foundation, The International Ranger Federation and The Game Rangers’ Association of Africa keep tallies on conservation and wildlife rangers who have died, including the Ranger Roll of Honor.

International Press Institute: in 2021 45 journalists died doing their work

January 19, 2022

A total of 45 journalists died in 2021 while practicing their profession, with Mexico being the most dangerous country in the world for reporters, the International Press Institute (IPI) reported today in Vienna.

Seven Mexican journalists were assassinated this year for their work, with which the Latin American country once again leads the annual list of dead reporters. India and Afghanistan follow, each with six journalists killed, ahead of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with three.

In 2020, 55 journalists died around the world, eleven of them in Mexico. See also:

According to the IPI, a global network of media owners and editors, the safety of journalists remains a global challenge. For this reason, the Institute “urges the authorities to end impunity for these crimes and to guarantee the protection of journalists, who must be able to carry out their work freely and safely.”

Of the 45 journalists killed, 40 were men and five were women, the IPI detailed. Twenty-eight of them were killed for their work, three died while working in a conflict zone and two when covering internal disturbances in a country.

In eleven cases the causes of the deaths are still being investigated, while a journalist drowned while covering the rescue of an elephant from a river in India, showing how dangerous the profession can be.

The number of journalists killed this year is the lowest recorded by the IPI since 1997. However, the IPI emphasizes that the decrease in the number of journalists killed and assassinated is not an indication of the good state of press freedom in the world.

Waves of violence against the press can lead to self-censorship when journalists avoid certain topics that put their lives in danger,” says IPI.

This is made even worse in a climate of impunity in which murderers must not answer for their actions. IPI stands in solidarity with the families and colleagues of all journalists killed for their work in 2021 and demands that those responsible be held accountable for their actions” the statement concludes.

New Interpol President faces torture complaint from Ahmed Mansoor

January 19, 2022

On 18 January 2022 the Guardian reported on a legal move against Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi made by the lawyer of human rights defender Ahmed Mansour, jailed in the UAE

Maj Gen Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was elected in November to a four-year term as head of Interpol. See:

William Bourdon, a lawyer for the Emirati human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansour, said he filed the complaint against al-Raisi in a Paris court under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Mansour, a laureate of the MEA, is serving a 10-year sentence in the UAE for charges of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE” and its leaders in social media posts. See:

Separately, lawyers for two Britons who had accused al-Raisi of torture filed a criminal complaint Tuesday with investigative judges of the specialised judicial unit for crimes against humanity and war crimes of the Paris Tribunal.

Al-Raisi was elected for a four-year term as Interpol president in November. He has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in torture and arbitrary detentions in the UAE.

Al-Raisi announced his trip to the Lyon headquarters in a Twitter post on Monday, saying: “with the start of the new year, I begin today my first visit to Lyon, France, as the president of Interpol”. Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock welcomed al-Raisi “on his first official visit as president” in his own Twitter post. “Al-Raisi’s presence on French territory triggers the universal jurisdiction of French courts and immunity can not be invoked,” said Rodney Dixon, a lawyer for the two Britons, Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad.

Hedges, a doctoral student, was imprisoned in the UAE for nearly seven months in 2018 on spying charges and said he had been subjected to torture and months of solitary confinement. Ahmad, a football fan, says he was tortured by the UAE security agency during the 2019 Asia Cup.

They filed a torture complaint against al-Raisi with the prosecutors of the Paris Tribunal in October. That complaint is pending, Dixon said. The criminal complaint that was filed on Tuesday directly with the judges of the tribunal – with al-Raisi on French territory – means that the French judges “should immediately open an investigation into claims against him,” Dixon said. See also:

“According to French law, an open investigation could lead to al-Raisi’s detention for questioning while he is on French territory, either now or whenever he returns,” Dixon said.

It was not clear how long al-Raisi would remain in Lyon. Interpol officials did not respond to phone calls or emails by the Associated Press asking about his whereabouts on Tuesday.

Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in US Foreign Policy

January 19, 2022

On 13 January 2022 Brian Dooley devoted a blog post for Human Rights First to the US’ State Department’s efforts to draft HRD Guidelines:

Ten years ago, I testified in the US Congress for Human Rights First on why the US government should issue guidelines to its embassies on engaging with human rights defenders.

We then spoke to State Department bureaucrats in many months of negotiations too soporific to recount here, and by March 2013 they finally produced some useful guidelines for US diplomats, modelled largely on those adopted by European countries a decade before.

It’s a great idea – US government officials were offered specific advice on how and why to engage with Human Rights Defenders, and the hope was that the guidelines would set minimum standards for US embassies all over the world. 

Engagement with human rights defenders by US diplomats tends to patchy – some embassies do it well, others hardly do it at all. HRDs in countries which are antagonistic to Washington tend to enjoy relatively easy access to US diplomats who share their criticism of the local government, whereas HRDs in countries ruled by dictators who are allies of the US complain about a lack of support from US embassies.

The guidelines encouraged officials to maintain regular contact with HRDs, or possibly to attend their trials or visit them in detention, and otherwise explore ways to support and protect them. All good in principle, but the State Department failed to adequately encourage its embassies to implement the suggestions. 

So five years ago I was back in the US Congress, testifying that the guidelines “haven’t been properly promoted or widely translated …[and that] protecting HRDs is too important a job to do half-heartedly.”

Those US guidelines were pretty good, but the problem was so few people ever heard about them. When I mentioned them to human rights NGO staff, to officials of other governments, to human rights defenders, to people in the UN, to American ambassadors in the Middle East, even to State Department officials in the Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor, I was generally met with a “Huh?”

The good news is that, after more years of advocacy by ourselves, Earthrights, and others, the State Department has now released updated guidelines, complete with an assurance that “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to putting human rights and democratic principles at the center of our foreign policy.” All nice enough, though these commitments to support HRDs should be institutionalized long term and not dependent on a particular administration.

The content is strong, advising sensible courses of action including that US officials “Encourage investigations and prosecution of those who harass and attack human rights defenders,” and that US officials  “seek the consent of human rights defenders before taking any actions on their behalf and take precautions in communicating with them online and offline.”

The guidelines could act a great starting point for US officials at any embassy who want to connect with local civil society and activists. The challenge is to prevent these new standards from getting left on the shelf like the last ones. 

To guard against that, we and others are hoping Congress will pass legislation aimed at keeping the State Department focused on protecting HRDs, including requiring US embassies to post the guidelines on their websites in relevant languages in an invitation to local HRDs to engage with them.

This engagement and support is currently horribly inconsistent. For instance, last week the US embassy in Niger issued a short public statement in support of local HRDs, which is great. But the US embassy in Cairo has for years been mortifyingly silent about the extensive attacks on local HRDs by Egyptian authorities.

The US government should use its power much more often to protect human rights defenders, not least at a  local level where its embassies can offer much more consistent support to human rights defenders, and not just in countries that are adversaries of the US, but with its allies too.

See e.g.