A preview of what to look out for at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council from 27 February – 24 March 2017. This selection of what is most relevant to human rights defenders is based on the excellent overview provided by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR): Read the rest of this entry »
This is the last post in my “2017 series“.
Amnesty International (AI) on Tuesday 21 February 2017 released its Annual Report 2016/17. It contains a summary of an international human rights survey that discusses the role “rhetoric of fear, blame and hate” have played in rolling back human rights around the world. AI analyzed major political leaders that identify as anti-establishment, such as US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, arguing that their rhetoric has led to dangerous impacts on policy. AI’s conclusion is for individuals to come together and push governments to respect human rights, stating, “we cannot rely on governments to protect our freedoms, and so we have to stand up ourselves.” AI said that inspiration should be found in the “civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa,” or things as recent as the International Women’s March and pro-democracy protests in Gambia. Beyond localized efforts, AI said that “global solidarity is crucial if we are to protect each other from those governments quick to portray dissent as a threat to national security and economic development.”
Last month the 2017 World Report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a surge in populist leaders in Europe and the US threatens human rights while inviting autocratic abuse in other nations [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/20/2017-3-hrw-reminds-world-of-continuing-repression-of-minorities-and-their-defenders/].
In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein unleashed a scathing criticism of Western “demagogues,” accusing them of spreading populist xenophobia and racism.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]
Itai Peace Dzamara
It’s been almost two years since Zimbabwean journalist and activist Itai Peace Dzamarawas dragged from a barbers’ chair by five armed men while he was getting a haircut. Dzamara, the leader of a pro-democracy movement called “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, had long been considered an enemy of the state by the Zimbabwean government. Just two days before his abduction he had delivered a speech at an opposition rally in Harare, calling for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. If this were a movie, justice would have been done long ago. Dzamara would have been returned to his wife and children, and the men who abducted him held accountable. But this isn’t Hollywood. This is Zimbabwe, where basic rights and freedoms have been trampled on throughout the long years of Robert Mugabe’s reign. As Itai Peace Dzamara and his family know, anyone who dares to speak out is a target for intimidation, harassment and arrest, and there’s no happy ending in sight. Despite a court ruling ordering state security agents to investigate Dzamara’s disappearance, there were gaps in the investigation and his whereabouts remains a mystery. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/05/itai-dzamaras-disappearance-worrying-for-all-human-rights-defenders-in-zimbabwe/]
Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Honduras has the highest number of killings per capita of environmental and land activists in the world. The vast majority of these killings go unsolved and unpunished. One story that really stands out in this deadly context is that of Berta Cáceres. Berta was the leader and co-founder of an organisation that was campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric project on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities in Honduras. In the early hours of 2 March 2016, she was murdered in her own home. Berta knew that she was putting her life in danger, but she was willing to take the risk to stand up for indigenous communities. Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Despite the stark warning that her death served, environmental activists in Honduras say that stopping their work is not an option – no-one else will defend their communities and rights. They continue Berta’s work every day, reminding us that we should never take freedom for granted. It is essential that Berta’s assassination is solved, to show that there is a price to pay for attacking and killing environmental activists. Berta’s story ended in tragedy, but we will not stop fighting until we are sure that other activists will not meet the same fate. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]
Sirikan Charoensiri, also known as “June”, is a young lawyer who has bravely stood up for human rights during a dark period of military rule in Thailand. In June 2015, she was on hand at a peaceful protest by pro-democracy student activists in Bangkok to monitor the situation and provide legal representation, if necessary. She now finds herself facing sedition charges and a potential trial in a military court alongside her clients. She also faces charges in two additional cases relating to her defence of the student activists and could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. As the Thai authorities have escalated their crackdown in the name of security, people who stand up for human rights in the country are increasingly falling foul of a government intent on silencing dissent. As June herself put it: “There is now an environment where risk is visible and imminent.” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/international-day-of-women-human-rights-defenders-agents-of-change-under-pressure/]
Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. In Iran, human rights defenders and other peaceful critics are subject to relentless harassment. Over the past year, those jailed after shockingly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts including lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians. Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi knows better than most how vengeful the Iranian authorities can be towards anyone who dissents. She is currently serving a total of 22 years in prison for speaking out against issues such as Iran’s prolific use of the death penalty and acid attacks on women. What makes her situation even worse is that she is critically ill and cannot receive proper medical care in prison. Just as cruelly, the authorities have at times denied her access to her young children, who had to leave Iran to live with their father in France after she was jailed. Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. We will continue to fight until she is free.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/12/retaliation-against-iranian-human-rights-defender-for-meeting-with-ashton/]
Itai, Berta, Sirikan and Narges are just a handful of the outstanding human rights defenders around the world who deserve recognition, but have instead been silenced by forces of cruelty, injustice and repression.
In 2013 I reported on human rights defender, Lena Hendry, in Malaysia who was charged with showing the film “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, a film on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/09/18/human-rights-worker-in-malaysia-to-appear-in-court-tomorrow-for-screening-the-film-no-fire-zone/#more-3469]. Now Front Line reports on 21 February 2017, that the human rights defender was convicted by the Magistrate’s Court in Kuala Lumpur [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/lena-hendry]. On 21 February 2017, Lena Hendry was found guilty by a magistrate’s court in Kuala Lumpur for screening “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” under Section 6 of the Film Censorship Act 2002. She is currently on bail and intends to appeal the court’s decision. Her sentencing is scheduled for 22 March 2017.
Lena Hendry is the former Programme Coordinator for Pusat KOMAS, a human rights organisation established in 1993 in Malaysia. This organisation works to empower indigenous peoples, poor people in urban areas, workers, and civil society organisations through the use of popular media. [On 10 March 2016, The Magistrates’ Court of Kuala Lumpur acquitted Lena Hendry of the charges but on 21 September 2016, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur reversed Lena Hendry’s aquittal following an appeal issued by the prosecution.
Front Line Defenders condemns the conviction of Lena Hendry, as it believes that the charges brought against the human rights defender are directly linked to her legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights, in particular in exposing human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Front Line Defenders urges the Malaysian government to repeal provisions of the Film Censorship Act 2002 that allow unnecessary and arbitrary government interference in the showing of films in Malaysia.
The UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, has published his report (A/HRC/34/52) which covers the period of his first mandate:June 2014 and March 2017 [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/michel-forst/ ].
In his report Michel Forst, provides a detailed summary of the activities he carried out during his first mandate, including statistics and trends based on the communications that he sent to States, his visits to a number of countries, the dialogues established with the authorities of various States, and the close cooperation developed with key stakeholders in the protection of human rights worldwide. The Special Rapporteur also presents the work in progress and the challenges and issues on which he plans to focus during his next mandate. The report includes suggestions for diversifying working methods, broadening the scope of cooperation with other key actors, and enhancing the visibility and accessibility of his mandate. Human rights defenders and the promotion of their work and their protection will remain at the core of the Special Rapporteur’s work.
After spending the past three years travelling around the world and documenting the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur is more appalled than ever to see attacks against them multiplying everywhere, assailing bloggers, indigenous peoples, journalists, community leaders, whistle-blowers and community volunteers. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has become convinced that the incidents in question are not isolated acts but concerted attacks against those who try to embody the ideal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a world free from fear and want. The Special Rapporteur is concerned by the lack of response to observations that have been made repeatedly since the establishment of the mandate.
We must be bolder and more creative in order to face up to threats that weigh heavily on civil society as a whole and on every individual fighting for fundamental rights and freedoms. The Special Rapporteur has also noted that intolerance thrives in part because people know little about their rights or the role of those who protect them. In that regard, it is more vital than ever to make the language of human rights accessible to all in order to ensure that civil society continues to enforce accountability.
As defenders face unprecedented attacks intended to undermine the legitimacy, credibility and sincerity of their commitment, it seems essential to quickly establish links between the specific actions undertaken by the Special Rapporteur and the pledges made at the United Nations when he was appointed in 2014. As populist, nationalist and fundamentalist movements of all kinds multiply, the Special Rapporteur remains convinced that more can be done under his mandate and that his office must continue to serve as a watchdog, a warning mechanism and a crucial resource for thousands of people. [Here he echoes sentiments expressed by others and referred to in this blog, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/12/we-must-find-new-ways-to-protect-human-rights-defenders-and-to-counter-the-anti-human-rights-mood/ and the links to other such articles at the end of the post]
The report also identifies those areas in which, in view of the possible renewal of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur intends to become more involved so that his work remains relevant and responds as effectively as possible to defenders’ expectations.
I refer as source here not directly to the UN but draw attention to an excellent documentary service provided by RELIEFWEB:
This blog tries to stick as much as possible to the core issue of human rights defenders and leaves general activism (even when inspired by human rights concerns) to other blogs. Now I want to make an exception for a personal Call for Action issued on 12 February 2017 by my good friend and well-known human rights defender, Reed Brody [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reed-brody/], who has earned his nickname The Dictator Hunter:
He passionately feels that we should all do more to stop Trump (and his admirers in Europe). Here the full text:
A letter from America to my friends abroad
Many of you are watching events in the United States and asking what is going on – and what you can do.
Yes, this is the most dangerous moment for the US and for the world in my lifetime. A US president with total disregard for the foundations of a constitutional democracy – checks and balances, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, the protection of minorities, reasoned debate – has near-complete control over the official levers of power: the executive branch (including the CIA, FBI, NSA), both houses of Congress, and perhaps soon the judiciary.
On the other hand, I have never witnessed in my country the kind of mobilization we are seeing today. The nationwide Women’s Marches were the largest demonstrations in US history, but it was only the beginning. Each day brings new acts of resistance. When the “Muslim ban” was announced (a crude and cruel measure only designed to stoke fear and portray the president as the people’s protector), people spontaneously flooded the airports around the country, New York taxi drivers went on strike. When Uber tried to profit from the strike, 200,000 customers deleted their Uber accounts. Bodegas in New York closed to protest the ban. All around the country, citizens are packing elected officials’ town hall meetings, flooding Congress with petitions, postcards, and phone calls. The premier legal organization challenging Trump’s actions, the American Civil Liberties Union, raised $24 million in the days following the Ban. This week, 1,200 people crowded into my neighborhood synagogue to organize the next stages of the resistance in Brooklyn, and the same thing is happening all over the country. Everything is political. Sports. Oscars. Consumer choices. Companies are being forced to take stands, and many of them, particularly in high-tech and globalized industries, are opposing the president.
It’s important to remember that WE are the majority. We are also the large majority in the places that matter most to the economy – New York, California, Washington DC, in almost all the nation’s cities.
This epic battle for the soul of my country is just beginning. The outcome is uncertain. The next terrorist attack, and the one after, will surely test us even more.
Ultimately it will be Americans who decide the fate of the US but there are many ways you can help.
-Protest, protest protest! People marched around the world marched with us on January 21, but it can’t stop there. The more organized protests at US embassies and symbols of US power the better.
– Don’t give Trump the respect he doesn’t deserve. This week, the speaker of the House of Commons said that he would oppose having Trump address Parliament. Over 1.8 million Brits have signed a petition against any Trump visit. When Trump visits the UK, or anywhere, let him know how the people of the world feel.
-Demand that your leaders stand up to Trump. Angela Merkel reminded Trump of the US’s obligations under the Refugee Convention. François Hollande has been outspoken. (Unlike Spain’s Rajoy who offered to be an “intermediary” for Trump in Europe and Latin America).
-Like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, leaders should publicly welcome all people from all countries and specifically assure nationals of the 7 “banned” countries that they will be allowed in.
-Ask your country to rebuke Trump’s measures which violate international law such as the Muslim ban in international fora such as the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. The ACLU and other groups are already challenging these actions before the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights.
-Remind non-US companies that they also have obligations, as US law professors did when they wrote to European air carriers https://www-cdn.law.stanford.edu/…/Stanford-Law-Professors-… to ensure the rights of travelers.
-Academics, experts, companies and even countries can join litigation in the US with “amicus curaie,” or “friends of the court” briefs. The legal attack on the Muslim ban has been joined https://lawfareblog.com/litigation-documents-resources-rela… by hundreds of technology companies, professors, cities and states, but it would be important for foreign voices to be heard on this and (probably) forthcoming cases.
-Boycott Trump products. Like a third-word kleptocratic dictator (and I know a thing or two) Trump is openly mixing the public and the private. Hit him where it hurts – his brand, his ego and his pocketbook. Phone numbers of his hotels are here https://twitter.com/billmckibb…/…/829412430157602816/photo/1 A list with retailers that do business with the Trump family and whose boycott is sought by #GrabYourWallet ( as in Grab her Pussy) here
-Join the over 5 million people who have signed Avaaz’s Global Open Letter to Donald Trump. https://secure.avaaz.org/cam…/…/president_trump_letter_loc/…
-Watch the daily TV show Democracy Now on the internet – it’s where progressives in the US get their news and connect to all the struggles here and abroad. https://www.democracynow.org/
Even if you live abroad, you can join and give your support to the groups that are defending our liberties like the Center for Constitutional Rights, Planned Parenthood, Democracy Now, the ACLU. The Nation’s Katha Politt lists some groups here https://www.thenation.com/…/you-might-not-be-in-the-mood-t…/ Here is a longer list http://www.advocate.com/…/24-trump-fighting-charities-need-… –
-If the travel ban, or some version of it, is reinstated, we will need volunteers and volunteer lawyers at airports around the world to help stranded travelers and to communicate with volunteers at US airports .
Trump (“Only America first”) doesn’t care about what the rest of the world thinks, but the US political and economic establishment on whose acquiescence he depends does care. Make clear that a racist islamophobic US government will not enjoy the same status and goodwill.
Most important, don’t let what happened in the US happen in your country!! Trump “won” the US election (just as Brexit prevailed) by building the fear of foreigners and because too many people (white working class) did not see the political system as working for them. The Democratic Party essentially imposed a candidate who many saw as the embodiment of an out-of-touch elite. The same thing now threatens to happen in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Please don’t let it. We need you to make a better world together.
This documentary provides an insight into marriage equality movement in the USA. THE FREEDOM TO MARRY is an inspiring insiders’ look at the one the recent civil rights battles.
The historic Obergefell v. Hodges case represents the culmination of a decades-long struggle to guarantee the right of same-sex couples to marry. Among those leading the fight for justice is attorney and gay rights defender Evan Wolfson, who is considered by many the architect of LGBT marriage equality. Also profiled is human rights lawyer Mary Bonauto. In tracking the climactic countdown to the landmark Supreme Court decision, filmmaker Eddie Rosenstein manages to create a thrilling ambience.
THE FREEDOM TO MARRY was the Best Documentary and Best Editing winner at the Savannah Film Festival and recently picked up the Human Rights Prize at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2017.
The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights upgrades it armed conflict portalFebruary 18, 2017
The GENEVA ACADEMY are launching an updated version of its Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) portal, an online database that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). The updated version includes all conflicts that have emerged over the last five years and are still ongoing.
This version entails new and updated armed conflicts, as well as a map allowing visitors to search armed conflicts and parties to these conflicts via multiple filters. ‘The map offers visitors a more intuitive approach: they can visualize where conflicts take place and where parties to these conflicts are’ underlines Sandra Krähenmann, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy. ‘We clearly see, via the map, that while most armed conflicts are taking place in the Middle East and on the African continent,, parties to these conflicts are from across the world’ she adds.
As a legal reference source for a broad audience, RULAC is regularly updated to integrate new armed conflicts and developments. Today, RULAC monitors more than 13 situations of armed conflicts: 2 military occupations, 2 situations of international armed conflicts and 9 situations of non-international armed conflicts. These conflicts are taking place in 9 countries: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen.
For each armed conflict, RULAC provides the factual and methodological basis for its classification, and identifies the parties and the applicable international law. The portal also includes sections on the definition and categories of armed conflict under IHL and the legal framework governing armed conflicts.
While there are many different definitions of armed conflict used for different purposes, the question whether a situation of armed violence amounts to an armed conflict under IHL has important consequences. States involved in armed conflicts have rights and duties that do not exist in times of peace. The classification of situations of armed violence is fraught with difficulties. Many states deny that they are involved in armed conflicts, arguing instead that they are engaged in counter-terrorism operations. Others apply IHL to situations that do not amount to an armed conflict. Moreover, contemporary armed conflicts are increasingly complex due to the multitude of state and non-state parties involved. Based on open source information, RULAC provides an independent and impartial assessment that identifies situations of armed conflict under IHL. It is intended to assist other actors that may want to classify situations of armed violence for their purposes. By making such information available to a broad, non-specialist audience, including by using visual tools, the RULAC project strives to promote a more coherent approach classifying conflicts, and, ultimately, to foster implementation of the applicable legal framework, a key element for accountability and the protection of victims.
Camara Salimata SY, is the vice-president of Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (AFCF – Association of female family heads). She talked to ISHR about her work on women’s rights and political participation in Mauritania. She also highlights the risks and challenges facing her and calls for more respect from the African Commission and African States for their human rights obligations.
The interview above is only available in French