Gwangju Human Rights Award 2019 to Philippine Carino and Indonesian choir

May 19, 2019

For those – like me – who missed the announcement  of the winners of the Gwangju human rights awards 2019, here a belated post.  [For more on this award see:http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/gwangju-prize-for-human-rights]. The winner is the Philippine human rights defender Joanna Carino.

This undated photo, released by the May 18 Memorial Foundation on April 15, 2019, shows Joanna Carino, a Philippine activist championing the rights of indigenous peoples. (Yonhap)

The Jury said “Carino has created a great sensation for her unyielding strife and sacrifice in fighting against suppression and made a favorable impression on many citizens and activists today.

The biennial special award went to Indonesia’s Dialita Choir, made up of women whose parents, relatives and friends were captured, tortured and exiled during the 1965-1966 communist purge in the Southeast Asian country. The members of Dialita co-initiate social change through singing performances. The award ceremony was on 18 May 2019 as part of events to mark the 39th anniversary of the democratic uprising. Hundreds of citizens were killed in the southwestern city during protests against the military junta of Gen. Chun Doo-hwan in May 1980.


Aachen Peace Prize to Ukrainian journalist Kotsaba severely contested

May 19, 2019

Ruslan Kotsaba Photo Mykola Vasylechko, RIA Novosti

This piece express grave doubt on the decision to award the 2019 Aachen Peace Prize to Ukrainian journalist and  blogger Ruslan Kotsaba because of a shocking anti-Semitic video posted by Kotsaba in 2011. People interested should judge for themselves, so here the full article:

The video certainly contains deeply offensive hate speech, yet it is by no means the only reason why the choice of Kotsaba seems bafflingly inappropriate. The award might possibly have seemed a little more understandable had it been given back in 2015, shortly after Kotsaba was arrested on ‘state treason’ charges.  His claim to a peace prize would still have been doubted by those familiar with his highly misleading reports on the war in Donbas, however his unwarranted prosecution and 14 months’ imprisonment  were over a video opposing mobilization.

It seems he was first nominated in 2015, but was not chosen.  In 2019, however, the Aachen Peace Prize general assembly decided that Kotsaba was an appropriate laureate for a prize given to a person or group “who campaigns for peace and a civic resolution of conflict”.

According to Lea Heuser, a member of the Peace Prize Executive Committee, Kotsaba was nominated by one of its members “who is familiar with the situation in Ukraine”.  This was almost certainly Andrej Hunko, a Bundestag deputy from the Linke Party, known for his ‘humanitarian mission’ to the self-proclaimed  ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and very one-sided statements about the conflict in Donbas. Hunko also campaigns actively for closer German relations with Russia and for recognition of Crimea as ‘Russian’.

Heuser explained that Kotsaba was first nominated on the basis of his claim to have become a pacifist after what he saw at the front (in Donbas).  She asserts that “he does not take one side in the conflict and advocates for concessions and dialogue”. It is also claimed on the peace prize’s website that Kotsaba “unlike most of his colleagues tried to objectively cover events in the east of Ukraine which he has called “a civic war and fratricidal”.

This has been the standard line taken by Hunko and other politicians, from various European far-right or left-wing parties, when visiting the so-called Donbas ‘republics’ or Russian-occupied Crimea.   Such visits are invariably used by their official hosts and by Russia as propaganda.  This is unsurprising since their guests can be relied upon to only criticize the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Kyiv.

While Kotsaba’s position is more complex, it would be very hard to describe his presentation of events in Donbas, Odesa, Crimea or in Ukraine in general as objective.

In some cases, he pushes toxic lies which are known to have prompted young men to go and fight in Donbas.  He invariably follows Russia’s lead in claiming that the people who died in the Trade Union building fire in Odesa on 2 May 2014 were deliberately burned to death by “Ukrainian radicals”.  Russia has repeatedly demonstrated that it is aware of the substantial research refuting such claims carried out by the 2 May Group, a respected bipartisan initiative formed by journalists, scientists and civic activists, and presented here in RussianEnglish and in German, as well as by the Council of Europe’s International Advisory Panel.  It is impossible to believe that Kotsaba is not aware that he is presenting a story that has been debunked.

Kotsaba’s coverage of the war in Donbas is equally one-sided.  He is certainly entitled to his own opinion on the conflict, however his claim that he is objectively presenting two sides of the story is simply untrue.

One of the most contentious areas is, of course, Kotsaba’s repeated assertion (for example, here)  that the conflict in Donbas is a civil war, and denial of Russia’s and Russians’ active role. Speaking on the Russian state-controlled Rossiya 24 channel on 27 June 2014,  Kotsaba claimed that he had not seen any Chechen fighters and assumes there are none. He does stress that he personally did not see any and this cannot be either proven nor refuted.  The problem is that, by the time he was saying this, there was ample video footage and witness accounts making it quite clear that there were a suspiciously large number of Chechens and other Russian citizens fighting in this alleged ‘civil war’.  Kotsaba has also chosen to ignore the fact that the war essentially began after heavily armed and trained fighters seized control of Sloviansk on 12 April 2014 under the leadership of (officially) former Russian military intelligence officer Igor Girkin.  He later admitted that his men had provoked the conflict in Donbas.  “The first shots, albeit in the air, were from the rebels, carried out by our unit”.  Girkin and the leader of ‘DPR’ were only hurriedly replaced by Ukrainians after the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 by a Russian BUK missile on 17 July 2014.

Kotsaba’s claim to Rossiya 24 that he had been invited by a local Luhansk television channel which was trying to follow journalist standards, sounds admirable but deviates seriously from the truth.  The first thing that happened when militants seized control of an area was that all Ukrainian channels were replaced by Russian, or pro-Russian channels.   Later in the interview, Kotsaba was asked why other Ukrainian journalists were not in these areas.  He claimed that this was that they still needed to develop to reach world standards and “tell the truth”.   Although some of the many journalists seized, tortured and / or imprisoned by the militants (Yehor Vorobyov; Dmytro Potekhin; Serhiy Sakadynskyv;  Nastya Stanko; Maria Varfolomeyeva and many others) post-dated this interview, there were already multiple accounts of other abductions, such as that of Viacheslav Bondarenko and Maxim Osovsky.  Two journalists Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk remained imprisoned now in ‘DPR’ precisely because they wrote the truth about life in the supposed ‘republic’.  Kotsaba is silent about them, as he is about other people held hostage.

Unlike Kotsaba, there are very many journalists and activists who have repeatedly given the lie to Kotsaba’s claim that the conflict in Donbas is a civil war.  These are only a few of the many indications of Russia’s major involvement that Kotsaba never addresses.

In August 2014, Wojciech Bojanowski from the Polish TVN 24 posted huge amounts of footage in Russia’s Rostov oblast, close to the militants-controlled part of the border with Ukraine. It clearly shows Russian armed personnel carriers, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons turning onto a road leading to the border.  Artyleria, wozy opancerzone i broń przeciwlotnicza. Ruchy Rosjan przed kamerą TVN24  (four separate clips)

Bojanowski acknowledges that there are no photos of the actual crossing, however there is a steady flow of vehicles to the border and shots taken by the militants where you can see, for example, a BTR-80a transporter which the Ukrainian military do not have.  The next day, Aug 19 Bojanowski reported further movement towards the border, with many trucks this time carrying tanks.  On Aug 22, NATO reported  that the Russian military had moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory and had been using them to fire at Ukrainian forces.

In 2018, the OSCE’s Monitoring Mission in Ukraine reported multiple examples of Russian military equipment being transported into Ukraine by night on dirt roads away from any border crossing (details here and in the links provided).

It was just days after the TV24 footage in August 2014 that the Russian newspaper Vedomosti asked: “Is Russia fighting in Ukraine, and if so, on what grounds?  If not, then who is lying in the freshly-dug graves, and who is giving testimony to the Ukrainian Security Service?”

More information about those first Russian military deaths here.  It is believed that an entire Russian paratrooper regiment from Pskov was probably killed in late August.

While Moscow has always denied this, young Russian soldiers have preferred to be imprisoned for having gone absent without leave rather than agree to fight in Donbas.

The amount of evidence confirming Russia’s decisive military role in the war is overwhelming.  Dr Igor Sutyagin, in a briefing paper for the Royal United Services Institute [RUSI] on Russian forces in Ukraine writes that the “first phase of large-scale incursions by regular Russian troops commenced on 11 August 2014 and has involved a substantial array of forces (see Table 1)”.  He put the figure for direct Russian military personnel as up to “10 thousand at the peak of direct Russian involvement in the middle of December 2014.”  All of this is on another country’s territory without any declaration of war.

Considerable evidence of shelling from Russia is mentioned by Sutyagin, and has since been set out in a report by the International Partnership for Human Rights, and also by Bellingcat in a report entitled ‘Putin’s undeclared war’.

Kotsaba does not mention or try to challenge any of the above-mentioned facts.  His narrative about civil war and the need for ‘dialogue’ is, accordingly, based on manipulation and deceit.

German peace prize to Ukrainian journalist Kotsaba is discredited by the Russian lies he parrots, not just his anti-Semitism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StopFake


Debate in Kenya: are human rights defenders always credible?

May 17, 2019

In Kenya (and other countries) there have been efforts in the media to cast doubt on credibility of human rights defenders, sometimes implying that they are just ‘guns for hire’, seek advantages for themselves or are bought to demonstrate. On 15 May2019  the Star in Kenya run an article on the topic:

Activists protest outside Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries over pollution

Activists protest outside Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries over pollution  Image: MAURICE ALAL

…However, sector players told the Star that while there are a few elements doing activism with ulterior motives and pursuing self-gratification, the movement in the country is sound, focused, selfless and professional. Popular activist Boniface Mwangi told the Star that “Kenyans suffer from Stockholm syndrome, falling in love with their oppressors and attacking those that fight for them”. “I find the notion of celebrity activism, mostly thrown at me, very offensive. I’m a pretty young person who is a photojournalist. I have been shot at, beaten, tortured and harassed many times while doing activism for causes that I don’t even benefit from,” he said on phone. He added, “In my latest arrest, the National Intelligence Service tracked me using my phone. That means they have all the information about me, including that of my alleged sponsors. They could have unleashed all this. All serious people who caused impact through their activism like Martin Luther King and Wangari Maathai were denigrated but praised later.”

Ndung’u Wainaina, a veteran human rights and governance activist, told the Star that rights activism in the country in the modern times is largely not based on foundational philosophy as was the case in the 80s and 90s. “It is true there are briefcase entities and individuals in the human rights defence world whose actions are not based on any value system or persuasion. They are out for self-gain,” Wainaina said. “There is a need for strong visionaries grounded on firm principles for effective activism,” he said. For example, he said, Prof Wangari Maathai became renowned as a crusader for environmental justice because of her consistency and ability to carve a niche for herself in that area.

But Al Amin Kimathi acknowledged that a pocket of dubious activism exists “but they are fringe, in a minority.” He said there are countless genuine activists pursuing issues that improve people’s lives at great personal cost. “Most of us earn our living doing all sorts of other things and put the earnings in our activism. That’s my situation. I work far away from media most of the time, giving myself as an example of so many colleagues,” he said, adding that the notion of celebrity activism is “a creation of the media obsessed with the stars.”

Hussein Khalid, the executive director of Haki Africa, a Coast-based human rights organisation, told the Star that the majority of activists in the country are driven by a passion for justice to the helpless rather than money and fame. “As a lawyer, I could make much more money and be more famous taking up big, high-profile cases. But I choose to remain at Haki Africa to serve the meek and poor in society,” he said. He dismissed the notion that most activists are shallow with a huge appetite for money and media attention.

Kenya National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders chairman Kamau Ngugi told the Star that like every sector, there are always rogue elements but “who are very few“. He said there has been a systematic agenda targeted at denigrating and criminalising the place of human rights activism and journalists in the country.

Demas Kiprono, campaign manager at Amnesty International, told the Star that genuine activism has been the cog for positive change and reforms in the country “which detractors are not happy about”. “The celebrity narrative is a counter-narrative created by those opposed to human rights in order to de-legitimise human rights work. They conveniently leave out the fact that activists have secured justice, dignity and a voice for the downtrodden in society,” he said.

https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2019-05-15-celebrity-activists-tainting-image-say-human-rights-defenders/


Breaking news: 2019 Front Line Defenders Award to 5 LGBTI Human Rights Defenders

May 17, 2019


Call for nominations for Aurora Prize 2020 now open

May 16, 2019


Nominations are open for the 2020 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. For more information on this and other awards see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/aurora-prize-for-awakening-humanity. Every year the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative grants a US $1,000,000 award to the Laureate who receives a unique opportunity to continue the cycle of giving by supporting the organizations that have inspired their humanitarian work. Read the rest of this entry »


Profile of Putla: a 75-year-old indigenous rights defender in Cambodia

May 16, 2019

….if you drive two and a half hours West of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, you reach a community consisting of five small villages with a total population of around 1,350 people. They are the last members of the indigenous Souy people, who until recently, lived peacefully on their ancestral land. This is where the indigenous rights defender Putla has lived most of her life – except when she was forced to move away by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Today, she is a 75-year-old woman whose skin has been tainted by the sun and from a hard life. She is a tiny woman, not more than 150 centimeters tall, and often dresses in the Souy people’s traditional black cloth. Putla is a woman who looks fragile at first sight – but this impression only lasts until she starts to speak, or until you look into her eyes. She has a strong and crisp voice, and her eyes reflect the hardships that she has endured in her life. She is a very warm woman who often finishes her tirades with heartfelt laughter. Read the rest of this entry »


Call for applications by human rights defenders at risk to participate in Shelter City, Netherlands

May 16, 2019

Please distribute this Call for temporary relocation in 2019 to human rights defenders who need it.

Justice and Peace Netherlands is launching a new call for human rights defenders at risk to participate in the Shelter City initiative around September 2019. The deadline to apply is 31 May 2019.  Shelter City offers human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk a possibility for rest and respite by letting them escape temporarily from a threatening situation. The initiative can benefit human rights defenders that are threatened or under intense pressure due to their work. Shelter City is an initiative coordinated by Justice and Peace Netherlands together with  municipalities in the Netherlands, local partners, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
How does Shelter City work?
Through temporary relocation, human rights defenders will be offered a shelter for 3 months in one of the Shelter Cities in the Netherlands, during which they can rest, continue their work in safety, build up capacity (including a one-week compulsory training on security), extend their network and raise awareness about the situation in their country. Activities can include meetings with NGOs and public authorities, public lectures, rest or leisure, treatment for work-related problems, continuing working on human rights in their country, raising awareness of human rights among the Dutch public or participating in local initiatives organised by the municipality and/or the host organisation. At the end of the programme, participants are expected to return with new tools and energy to carry out their work at home. A monthly stipend sufficient to cover costs of living, accommodation, health insurance, visa and return flight tickets to The Netherlands are provided. In addition, personal accompaniment is provided to the participant.
Who can apply for Shelter City?
For the purposes of Shelter City, the term HRD is intended to refer to the broad range of activists, journalists, scholars, writers, artists, political figures, lawyers, civil rights defenders, independent media professionals, civil society members, and others working to advance human rights and democracy peacefully around the world.
Applicants must fulfil the following conditions:
In order to be eligible to the Shelter City programme, HRDs must meet the following conditions:

  1. They implement a non-violent approach in their work;
  2. They are threatened or otherwise under pressure due to their work;
  3. They should be able to be relocated for a period of maximum 3 months. Limited spots are available for people who are not able to stay for the full 3 months;
  4. They are willing and able to return to their country of origin after 3 months;
  5. They are willing to speak publicly about their experience or about human rights in their country to the extent that their security situation allows;
  6. They have a conversational level* of English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs);
  7. They are willing and able to come to The Netherlands without accompaniment of family members;
  8. They have a valid passport (with no less than six months of validity) or be willing to carry out the procedures for its issuance. Justice and Peace covers the costs of issuing a passport and / or visa (if applicable);
  9. They are not subjected to any measure or judicial prohibition of leaving the country;
  10. They are willing to begin their stay in The Netherlands around September 2019.

To apply or submit the application of a human rights defender, please fill in the form by clicking ‘Apply Now’ below.Application forms must be completed by 31 May 2019, at 23:59 CET (Central European Time). An independent commission will select the participants.
Apply Now for Shelter City 2019 <https://form.jotformeu.com/91282390458361>
Note that the selected human rights defenders will not be automatically allowed into the Shelter City programme as Justice and Peace is not in control of issuing the required visas to enter the Netherlands. For more information, please contact us at sheltercity@justiceandpeace.nl

For last year’s call, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/13/shelter-city-netherlands-new-call-for-temporary-relocation-in-2019/


European governments should stop treating solidarity and compassion as a crime

May 15, 2019

Two recent cases of criminalization of human rights defenders in Europe helping people at sea:

Iuventa crew
Iuventa crew

On 13 May 2019 MarEx  reported that the crew of the rescue ship Iuventa operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet has received the Swiss Paul Grüninger human rights award for saving the lives of around 14,000 of men, women and children in the central Mediterranean. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/paul-grueninger-award

The award is seen as a statement against the criminalization of those helping people at sea and comes whilst the crew is under criminal investigations in Italy for “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” They face up to 20 years in prison and fines of 15,000 Euro ($16,900) per saved person. The prize money of 50,000 Swiss francs contributes to the defense.

The Iuventa was the first rescue vessel seized in Italy in August 2017. Captain Dariush was master of the Iuventa for three voyages off the Libyan coast: “We’re being charged for saving lives. This is absurd,” he said. “It is European politicians who block any safe way for people in need, so we had to act.

The crew says: “Although we have to stand trial, it is us who accuses Europe. We accuse European politicians of turning their backs on people in need. We accuse the E.U. of collaborating with regimes who violate human rights.” The Italian public prosecutor’s office has been investigating the crew for almost two years. Covert investigators claim to have observed the Iuventa crew cooperating with smugglers. However, the NGO claims that scientists at Goldsmiths, University of London have said there is no evidence for this. “They have compared the accusations of the Italian police with all available data, meteorological measurements, logbooks and recordings of the Reuters agency. In their study for Forensic Architecture, they conclude that the allegations are false.” The trial is expected to begin in autumn, and it is expected that charges will be brought against the 10 crew members. It is a precedent for Europe, says lead lawyer Nicola Canestrini: “This trial will show whether Europe can continue to stand for fundamental rights and solidarity in the world.

——–

Tom Ciotkowski is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 7,500 Euros on trumped up charges. In July 2018, he was observing French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food to migrants and refugees in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer. “Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested. He has committed no crime and is being unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police in Calais,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration Maria Serrano.

Tom’s case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that human rights defenders supporting migrants and refugees face at the hands of police in Calais. His case also reflects a wider European trend of criminalizing acts of solidarity, as a way of discouraging others from standing up for human rights. We need courageous, compassionate people like Tom more than ever

[BACKGROUND At the end of July 2018, Tom Ciotkowski was observing French riot police ID-checking volunteers who were trying to distribute food to migrants and refugees. He recorded on his mobile phone an official pushing and kicking a volunteer. When Tom complained about the behaviour of the police, an officer approached him and another female volunteer, who he hit with a baton. When Tom asked the officer for his identification number and told the policeman not to hit women, he was pushed hard by an officer and fell backwards over a metal barrier separating the pavement from the road. As Tom fell backwards, a passing lorry narrowly missed him. He was then arrested, put in custody for 36 hours and charged with contempt and assault (“outrage et violence”). In May 2019, Tom filed a complaint against the police officer who pushed him and against other officers who provided reports stating false facts against Tom to support his arrest and prosecution.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/


Essex university uses human rights award to raise awareness among youth

May 15, 2019

Students from Manningtree High School after winning the Human Rights Prize with Emma Berry, gallery manager at Art Exchange and Katya Al Khateeb from the university's Human Rights Centre
Students from Manningtree High School after winning the Human Rights Prize with Emma Berry, gallery manager at Art Exchange and Katya Al Khateeb from the university’s Human Rights Centre

Nothing world shocking but good to see how human rights awards can be used at the national level to inspire students:

The University of Essex’s annual Human Rights Prize is open to secondary schools and sixth form colleges and aims to highlight human rights issues and empower young people to stand up for others. Manningtree High School students spent a day on campus in December as part of the project. They heard bite-size lectures from human rights experts, visited a marketplace in the Hex – staffed by representatives from Amnesty International, Hope Not Hate and Refugee Action Colchester – and brainstormed ideas with visual artist Jane Frederick and poet Luke Wright.

They then split into smaller groups to develop their creative projects over the next ten weeks. The students’ final presentations, delivered to an audience at Essex Business School, showcased the campaigns staged in their own schools, which featured videos, photography, dance and poetry. A spokesman for Manningtree High School said: “As part of their work, the group planned in detail and decided to visit Highfields Primary to work with Year 5’s on human rights.,,On our return to the university, loaded with props and a well-rehearsed presentation, our students excelled.

https://www.harwichandmanningtreestandard.co.uk/news/17638711.manningtree-school-scoops-human-rights-award/


2019 Laureates of the Vaclac Havel Prize for Creative Dissent announced

May 15, 2019

Today, 15 May 2019, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the three recipients of the 2019 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. For more on this and other awards, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/vaclav-havel-prize-for-creative-dissent. The laureates are Ramy Essam, an Egyptian musician in exile, Rap Against Dictatorship, an anti-authoritarian musical group from Thailand, and Rayma Suprani, a Venezuelan political cartoonist. More on these exceptional artists: Read the rest of this entry »