Interesting example of how governments (here the EU) can work together to protect human rights defenders in a specific country (here Uganda). Since a few years there is an annual EU HRD Award to recognise and honour the achievements of an individual Human Rights Defender active in Uganda.
On Thursday 23 March 2017 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it extended, for a period of three years, the mandate of the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/22/un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-wraps-up-his-first-mandate/]
The press statement by the UN (see below) explains that there was quite a bit of wrangling on wording, but in the end the draft resolution (A/HRC/34/L.5) on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michael Forst, was adopted without a vote as orally revised, in the same terms as provided for by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 16/5. It urges again all States to cooperate with and assist the Special Rapporteur in the performance of his tasks, to provide all information and to respond to the communications transmitted to them by the Special Rapporteur without undue delay; and calls upon States to give serious consideration to responding favourably to the requests of the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries.
(here the detailed report on the failed efforts – mainly by Russia and China – to weaken the text:) Read the rest of this entry »
10 December is obviously International Human Rights Day, but there are several countries that have a different or additional Human Rights Day of their own. One of them is South Africa where 21 March is historically linked with 21 March 1960 and the events of Sharpeville (on that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the Pass laws – https://www.parliament.gov.za/project-event-details/2)
Boipelo Mokgothu in Traveller24 used the occasion on 20 March 2017 to publish a compilation of the 10 most inspirational women from historical figures till today:
Rather than depend exclusively on international tribunals, Werner believes that it is worth shifting the focus to the actual victims of war crimes, and working with them to compile the solid evidence that is needed to enable a prosecution to stand up in any court of law. Once the evidence is there, the cases can be prosecuted in any court that expressly outlaws crimes against humanity. It does not matter if the court is an international tribunal, a specially constituted war crimes court or even an ordinary domestic court.
The name, Civitas Maxima, which translates roughly as “the greater state”, is reference to the legal term in Latin that captures the notion that all civilized societies hold certain values in common. The implication is that any society, which considers itself civilized, will instinctively condemn international crimes such as crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far, Werner’s group has been investigating well over 10 cases, and at least three have led to actual arrests by national authorities since 2014. That may not seem much, but in fact, it represents a third of the extra-territorial arrests by national states for international crimes in 2014 and 2015. During that period, only eight extra territorial arrests by national authorities took place world-wide. One of Werner’s cases is currently being prosecuted in Switzerland; two are in Belgium. One of the accused, a naturalized American who held Belgian nationality and was arrested in Spain, died while in jail awaiting trial this spring. This was the first time ever a Western businessman was arrested for the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Werner did this in conjunction with a local Sierra Leone partner, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL). Most of the current public cases involve militia leaders who were responsible for atrocities during civil wars in Liberia.
Alain Werner as a lawyer is also representing victims of Hissène Habré, who was president of Chad from 1982 until 1990. The Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, convicted Habré last May on charges of rape, sexual slavery, and slaughtering members of opposing tribes. Werner had been working on the case since 2008, and it was typical of the kind of case that the ICC would have particular difficulty in dealing with, even if it had jurisdiction. …….“One of the major issues in international justice,” Werner says, “is the fact that politics always affects the process. The International Criminal Court tries to create the impression that it is independent, but so far it has been mainly driven by political factors.” The answer to this conundrum, Werner feels, is for more independent organizations with legal expertise similar to that of Civitas Maxima to take the lead in building convincing cases that will stand up in court, and which cannot be ignored. “Organizations that advocate and write reports, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are doing a great job,” he says. “But in the end, you badly need independent lawyers and trained investigators who can compile evidence that meets international standards.”
A key requirement, of course, is funding. Werner says, “If you work independently you have to come up with the funds on your own, and in our case that is complicated by the fact that we do not accept funding from governments.”
[Werner’s own involvement in prosecuting war crimes started with his work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003, including the trial of the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor…… In 2009, he went to Cambodia to represent victims in the case of the Khmer Rouge who had run the infamous S-21 concentration camp that fed into the “killing fields.” After that he joined an independent group, the Aegis Trust, which also runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda , and which had a small programme focused on helping victims gather evidence. The initiative ran out of funding after about two years, but by then Werner was already heavily involved in a number of cases involving victims of Charles Taylor’s operations in Liberia. Werner decided that he couldn’t abandon the work, and so he created Civitas Maxima]
Werner is also collecting evidence from victims of Ivory Coast’s current president, Alassane Ouattara, whose forces are accused of committing atrocities during the post-electoral violence of 2010 and 2011. His predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, is the first head of state to be tried for war crimes at the ICC for atrocities committed during the same period by his own forces. With both current and past president accused of war crimes, Ivory Coast is a particularly sensitive area…..
“We need to grow the concept,” he says. “Will Civitas Maxima continue to be successful, or will another independent take the idea and make it grow? I don’t know, but I am convinced that we really need this innovative approach. In the United States, you have a head of state saying that torture is fine and in the Philippines another one boasting about the fact that he has killed criminals. The climate is getting crazy. We absolutely need more fiercely independent lawyers to use their expertise to counter impunity for mass crimes.”
Ahmed Mansoor’s whereabouts are unknown © Martin Ennals Foundation
On 20 March, 2017, around midnight, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at his home in Ajman, UAE, by a large team of the Emirates’ security forces. The Government has finally confirmed that it is holding him, but until today we don’t know where. The reasons for his arrest remain unknown but might be linked to a series of tweets he posted on Twitter in recent days, calling for the release of UAE human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar or to a letter that he signed, along with other activists in the region, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in the Middle East ahead of an Arab League Summit scheduled to be held in Jordan on 29 March 2017.
Following a massive crackdown on human rights defenders in the UAE in recent years, Ahmed Mansoor is today widely respected as the only independent voice still speaking out through his blog and Twitter account against human rights violations from inside the country. He was the Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2015. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/07/the-link-to-the-full-mea-2015-ceremony-of-6-october/]. Mr. Mansoor has faced repeated intimidation, harassment, and death threats from the UAE authorities or their supporters, including arrest and imprisonment in 2011 following an unfair trial. Although pardoned and released later that year, the UAE authorities have arbitrarily imposed a travel ban on him. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/15/fly-emirates-if-the-emirs-let-you/]
In August 2016 Ahmed Mansoor was at the centre of a hacking scandal involving Apple’s iOS operating system [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]
REGISTER ONLINE: http://trueheroesfilms.org/training/
From the 24th of March until the 1st of April the Movies that Matter Festival takes place at Filmhuis Den Haag and ‘Theater aan het Spui’ in The Hague. The selected films and documentaries can be found here: Films – Movies that Matter Film Festival
On 2 February this year I wrote about human rights coming to football [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/fifa-governance-committee-starts-dealing-with-a-human-rights-policy/]. Now there is some progress to note on the Olympics: The Sports and Rights Alliance (SRA) reports that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has moved to incorporate human rights principles in its Host City Contract. This could help prevent major abuses by future Olympic hosts. The revised Host City Contract, developed with recommendations from a coalition of leading rights, athletes’ and transparency organizations, was finalized in January 2017, and will first apply to the 2024 Summer Olympics. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/26/coalition-of-human-rights-defenders-and-others-call-on-olympic-committee-to-change-its-ways/]
For the first time, the IOC has included explicit reference to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), which outline the human rights responsibilities of businesses, as well as references to anti-corruption standards. The Guiding Principles explain how commercial enterprises should assess human rights risks, take effective steps to avoid human rights problems, and ensure a remedy for abuses that occur in spite of those efforts.
“This is an important step by the IOC for the future,” said Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary. “Implementing the UN Guiding Principles across all major global sporting events could help break the cycle of human rights abuses, and this example from the IOC should be applied to all such events, starting now.”
The SRA’s mission is to ensure that sports bodies and mega-sporting events respect human rights, the environment, and anti-corruption requirements at all stages of the process. “Time after time, Olympic hosts have gotten away with abusing workers building stadiums, and with crushing critics and media who try to report about abuses,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “The right to host the Olympics needs to come with the responsibility not to abuse basic human rights.”
The revised contract requires host cities to “protect and respect human rights and ensure any violation of human rights is remedied in a manner consistent with international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and in a manner consistent with all internationally-recognized human rights standards and principles, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, applicable in the Host Country.”
“If implemented, the revised Host City Contract will help ensure that Olympic hosts respect ‘human dignity’ as required by the Olympic Charter,” said Brendan Schwab, head of UNI World Athletes. “This should have a ripple effect across all mega-sporting events such as the World Cup, and wherever abuses tied to sport still occur.”
[Key provisions of the revised Olympic Host City Contract include:
13. Respect of the Olympic Charter and promotion of Olympism
13.1. The Host City, the Host NOC and the OCOG undertake to abide by the provisions of the Olympic Charter and the IOC Code of Ethics and agree to conduct their activities related to the organisation of the Games in a manner which promotes and enhances the fundamental principles and values of Olympism, as well as the development of the Olympic Movement.
13.2. Pursuant to their obligations under §13.1, the Host City, the Host NOC and the OCOG shall, in their activities related to the organisation of the Games:
a. prohibit any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status;
b. protect and respect human rights and ensure any violation of human rights is remedied in a manner consistent with international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and in a manner consistent with all internationally-recognised human rights standards and principles, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, applicable in the Host Country; and
c. refrain from any act involving fraud or corruption, in a manner consistent with any international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and all internationally-recognised anti-corruption standards applicable in the Host Country, including by establishing and maintaining effective reporting and compliance.
13.3. The IOC, through its Coordination Commission referred to in §27, shall establish a reporting mechanism to address the obligations referred to in §13.1 and §13.2 in connection with the activities of the Host City, the Host NOC and the OCOG related to the organisation of the Games.
15. Sustainability and Olympic legacy
15.1. The Host City, the Host NOC and the OCOG undertake to carry out all activities foreseen under the HCC in a manner which embraces sustainable development and contributes to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.]
On 9 March 2017 the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, announced the appointment of Louise Arbour of Canada as his Special Representative for International Migration. The Special Representative will lead the follow-up to the 19 September 2016 High-level Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. Ms. Arbour will work with Member States, in partnership with other stakeholders, as they develop a first-ever global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration. She will lead United Nations advocacy efforts on international migration, provide policy advice and coordinate the engagement of United Nations entities on migration issues, particularly in implementing the migration-related components of the New York Declaration. She previously served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She is a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. From 2009 to 2014, Ms. Arbour was President and CEO of the International Crisis Group.
Louise Arbour smiles after having her star unveiled on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto on 8 June, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese (Canadian Press).
Talking about refugees, please note that the Sergio Vieira de Mello Lecture by Angelina Jolie on 15 March [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/27/angelina-jolie-gives-2017-sergio-vieira-de-mello-lecture-on-15-march-2017/] is ‘sold out’, but it will be streamed live on UN TV and UNHCR’s Facebook.
I was reading (belatedly) about the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, who in January 2017 intervened strongly in the case of the 5 Cambodian human rights defenders of ADHOC (#FreeThe5KH) who have been in detention since April last year. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/] Only then did I realize that the case had led a few months earlier to a landmark decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD): the first time that any UN body has referred to HRDs as a protected group.
On 21 November 21, 2016, the WGAD ruled that the ongoing detention of Mr. Ny Chakrya, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), and four staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Messrs. Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Ms. Lim Mony, was “arbitrary.” Following a submission made by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH partnership), the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) in June 2016, the WGAD’s Opinion No. 45/2016 ruled that the five human rights defenders (HRDs) “have been discriminated against based on their status as human rights defenders, and in violation of their right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law under article 26 of the ICCPR.” This is the first time ever that the WGAD – or any other UN mechanism receiving individual complaints – has referred to HRDs as a protected group that is entitled to equal legal protection under Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ruling also recognised the violation of the five HRDs’ “rights to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance and other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights.”
In addition, the WGAD found that the targeting of ADHOC staff members for having provided “legitimate legal advice and other assistance” violated the five HRDs’ right to freedom of association. It ruled that violations of fair trial rights (including the fact that the five were denied legal counsel from the beginning of their questioning), unjustified pre-trial detention, and statements made by the Cambodian authorities which denied the five the presumption of innocence – all of which contravene Cambodia’s international human rights obligations in respect to the right to a fair trial – are also serious enough to consider their ongoing detention as arbitrary. The WGAD concluded that “the deprivation of liberty of Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Monyand Ny Chakrya, being in contravention of articles 7, 9, 10, 11 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9, 10, 14, 22 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary.”
That Cambodian authorities are not impressed is shown by the continued detention of the 5 ADHOC HRDs and by the press release of 7 February 2017 calling for the cessation of the politically motivated criminal investigation of human rights defenders Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak. Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists signed the statement.