Bachelet and UN Rapporteurs at GA’s Third Committee 2019

October 18, 2019

In the Third Committee of the General Assembly this week UN experts and HC Bachelet said that freedom of peaceful assembly, global refugee protection, women’s civil liberties and the well-being of human-rights defenders are values under siege. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/13/third-committee-of-the-ga-also-has-a-lot-to-do-with-human-rights-defenders/]

We are witnessing an increase in xenophobia, hate speech, push-backs on women’s equality and the rights of minorities,” warned Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also highlighting the ever-widening gaps in global wealth and access to resources. Moreover, underfunding has hampered the growing workload of the entire treaty body system, she said. Committees do not have adequate resources to carry out inquiries into grave or systematic violations. This results in a “credibility crisis” for all treaty bodies — and a denial of justice for the victims of human-rights violations.

Among the day’s three other briefers was Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, who focused on the issue of human-rights based solidarity in global refugee protection. The current refugee “crisis” was not caused by large numbers of refugees, but rather by States’ unwillingness to accept refugees into their countries — evading their responsibilities. Moreover, the rise of extremist political parties is complicating the issue, he said, as the “alternative right” and other racist civil society groups target any kind of solidarity with refugees. Echoing those words, the Russian Federation’s delegate noted that certain extremist political parties are impeding the entry of refugees into the European Union, and that the Independent Expert’s report lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of foreign interference in internal State affairs.

In his presentation, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human-rights defenders, highlighted that 431 defenders were killed in 2017 and 2018. With that in mind, combating impunity is not only a legal obligation of States, but also a moral one. He further noted that “98 per cent of the killings of rights defenders remain unpunished” and that unless impunity is ended, the violence against them will continue. A zero-tolerance policy towards such attacks must be adopted, and the lack of political will — and of State recognition of rights defenders — addressed. Reacting to those comments, several delegates raised questions about digital attacks on human-rights defenders, with Germany’s representative underscoring that female defenders of human rights often face particular threats, such as the publication of private information. Mr. Forst responded that he has found research by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression helpful in this context, with a particular focus on advocating for social network businesses to provide better protections. To concerns raised by an observer for the State of Palestine and the representative of Georgia, he noted that his subsequent report will make specific proposals to assist defenders living in fragile States, as well as those living in conflict or post-conflict situations. On defenders who live in isolated areas, he said they are often not given sufficient attention by the international community. Ambassadors should leave their capitals and go into these far-flung areas to see where these defenders work, he said. Those who work on sexual and reproductive health and rights often bear the brunt of attacks, while those working on gender identity are harassed and threatened

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé, also presented his report.

View Original


Documentary on Discovery series explores ‘Why We Hate’

October 18, 2019

A counter-protester gives a white supremacist the middle finger. The white supremacists responds with a Nazi salute. Charlottesville August 12, 2017.

A counter-protester gives a white supremacist the middle finger. The white supremacists responds with a Nazi salute. Charlottesville August 12, 2017. (Photo: Evan Nesterak)

writes in Citizen Truth of 17 new documentary series titled “Why We Hate” which premiered Sunday on the Discovery Channel and explores “one of humanity’s most primal and destructive emotions – hate.” Directed by Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir and produced by Hollywood veteran Steven Spielberg, the six-part docuseries aims to help people understand their own minds to prevent hatred from spreading.

Pollard made no bones about the subject matter’s relation to America today, telling NPR: “If you think about where we are in the United States with Trump as president, the idea that he demonizes people from other countries, specifically Mexico — that’s another way to sort of separate us from them.” He then went on to compare it to the worst outcomes for such divisiveness: genocide, as with the Holocaust in Germany during World War II, and Cambodia.

The isolation of disadvantaged persons and groups can also lead to extremism, Pollard believes — referencing skinheads and gang members who are seeking a family to belong to. This appeals to the tribal nature of humans, which in turn leads to contempt towards outsiders.

Co-director Gandbhir insists that hate “is something that we all have in common. It is not unique to one society or one group of people.” “Why We Hate” manages to show a wide variety of how hate is manifested, such as: a campaign in Colombia to reunify a bitterly divided country from the decades of war between government forces and FARC guerrillas; a de-radicalized white American man who now works to reform white supremacists; pro- and anti-Trump activists; the Israeli and Palestinian conflict; easily angered soccer hooligans and survivors of the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar….Surely in our culturally and politically divisive times, this is a timely subject to tackle and learn more about.

Timely New Documentary Series Explores ‘Why We Hate’


Another setback for the credibilty of the UN Human Rights Council: Venezuela wins seat

October 18, 2019

There was some hope [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/06/why-costa-rica-should-be-in-the-un-human-rights-council-rather-than-venezuela/] but in the end Venezuela won its UN human rights council seat despite being a serial violator. To make matters worse the other seat for Latin America went to Brazil, whose far-right leader has expressed contempt for the concept of human rights.

Activists have responded with outrage after Venezuela won a fiercely contested vote for a seat on the UN’s human rights council on Thursday, despite its well-documented record of human rights abuses.

Opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders are often jailed, while security forces loyal to Maduro commit abuses with impunity. “The inclusion of Venezuela and Brazil to the human rights council marks a backwards step in the advancement of human rights in the region,” said Rodolfo Montes de Oca, a lawyer at Provea, a Venezuelan rights group.

Maduro’s regime will probably be emboldened by his country’s new post at the UN. “They can say they were elected to the human rights council and from there have a voice to push back on their critics,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a thinktank. “It’s shameful, a travesty,” said Vanessa Neumann, Guaidó’s ambassador to the UK, who added that the vote will do little to silence Maduro’s critics. “Ultimately the march of history’s harsh judgment on Maduro and his regime will not be stopped by this.”

Earlier this year, the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, issued a scathing report on Venezuela, which described widespread cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and withholding food and medicines from civilians.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/17/venezuela-un-human-rights-council-activists-outraged


Disappearance of Lao Rights Defender Od Sayavong – another Sombath Somphone?

October 17, 2019

Lao democracy advocate Od Sayavong reads a statement at a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, June 16, 2019.

Lao democracy advocate Od Sayavong reads a statement at a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, June 16, 2019.
Roseanne Gerin of Radio Free Asia reported on 2 October 2019 that UN Rights experts had expressed concern over disappearance of Lao human rights defender Od Sayavong, who went missing in Thailand months after meeting with a U.N. special rapporteur. Three special rapporteurs and four members of the U.N.’s Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, part of a body of independent human rights experts under the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, urged Bangkok to clarify the steps it has taken to locate Od and ensure the safety of other vulnerable Lao human rights defenders in the capital, according to a news release.

Od, 34, who had been recognized as a refugee by the U.N. refugee agency and openly criticized his country’s government online and in public protests, was last seen at his home in Bangkok on Aug. 26. A week later a colleague reported his disappearance to the Thai police, but authorities have not provided information about his whereabouts, the news release said.

If an enforced disappearance occurred in part as a reprisal for Od’s engagement with the U.N. system, it would be a violation of his human rights, requiring immediate action,” said Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, met with Od and other Lao human rights defenders in Bangkok in mid-March prior to a visit to Laos.in the printed news release. “Everyone should have unhindered access to and communication with the U.N. in the field of human rights.

Michel Forst, U.N. special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, called Od a “vocal advocate on human rights, corruption, and environmental issues in the Lao PDR, a country with a track record of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.”

In a 6 September statement, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) called on Thai authorities to immediately investigate the activist’s disappearance.

He also had called for the release of three Lao workers sentenced to lengthy jail terms in April 2017 for criticizing their government while working in Thailand, and for a U.N. investigation into the disappearance of rural development expert Sombath Somphone in December 2012. Prior to his abduction a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane, Sombath criticized government-negotiated land deals that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with inadequate compensation for their losses. The Lao government has failed to make headway on resolving Sombath’s case, despite repeated commitments that it will do so. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/04/sombath-somphone-third-anniversary-of-his-disappearance-in-laos/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/us-rights-experts-express-concern-10022019161459.html


AIV report on Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights

October 16, 2019

 

Being a Dutchman I should be a bit modest about government reports, but this one by the independent Advisory Council  on International Affairs about “Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights” is worth a read. It was published on 19 August 2019.

Seventy years ago – on 10 December 1948 – the member states of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the first document in which the international community recognised and affirmed the ‘inherent dignity and […] the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’. The Universal Declaration is not a binding treaty, but it is universally accepted as a moral and legal standard for human rights.

The foundations of the Universal Declaration had been laid seven years before by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His ‘Four Freedoms’ speech outlined his vision of a world in which everyone could rely on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and the freedom from fear. Roosevelt was keenly aware that these four freedoms were inseparable. Without basic needs such as food and security, freedom of speech is of limited value. Freedom of expression is in turn necessary in order to demand social and economic justice. This understanding found expression after the end of the Second World War in the Universal Declaration, which laid down both civil and political rights (art. 1-21) and social, economic and cultural rights (art. 22-27).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the source of a network of legally binding human rights treaties to which all countries in the world have committed themselves in one way or another. Together they form the multilateral human rights system, whose significance should not be underestimated. Human rights treaties and the national laws based on them have made the rights and freedoms of hundreds of millions of people all over the world visible and tangible, helping them to speak out for better living conditions, and to be and develop themselves. This global achievement must be cherished and defended, if necessary in the face of opposition.

At the same time, unremitting poverty, hunger, economic inequality, environmental degradation, war and violence compellingly expose the fallacy that human dignity can be achieved simply by signing legally enforceable national and international agreements. True universality of human rights also requires sustained and popular support for development processes, both at home and abroad. Development is a precondition for the achievement of human rights, and human rights are necessary for development.

Human rights and development cooperation have long been seen – wrongly – as separate policy fields. Moreover, Western governments and human rights organisations in particular have traditionally prioritised the promotion of civil and political rights. Social, economic and cultural rights are also part of the treaty-based human rights system, but they have not always received the attention they deserve. Human rights, including environmental rights, are inherently inseparable. Interaction between development and human rights organisations did not commence until the 1980s, and it remains an ongoing challenge. Major multilateral actors such as the World Bank still seem reticent about making human rights a central focus of their programmes.

The Netherlands’ foreign policy is not yet truly integrated either. Its human rights policy focuses on traditional civil rights, while its development policy prioritises the creation of social, economic and environmental conditions conducive to development. In the AIV’s opinion, this compartmentalised approach is understandable from a historical perspective but it weakens the impact of policy and is counterproductive. The AIV welcomes the initiatives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation have taken to foster harmonisation, but the relationship between the two policy fields, as set out in the Human Rights Report 2017 and the policy document Investing in Global Prospects: For the World, For the Netherlands, rests, on balance, on weak foundations.

The AIV believes the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a practicable worldwide framework for a coherent (integrated) approach to sustainable development and human rights. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are concrete social, economic and environmental goals, and achieving them can also deliver many human rights goals in these fields. The 2030 Agenda also recognises that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties are the framework in which the SDGs must be achieved. The SDGs therefore recapitulate and reaffirm the reciprocal relationship between human rights and sustainable development, as originally articulated by President Roosevelt. The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs therefore provide a unique opportunity to realise this close association, both in theory and in policy and practice. The Netherlands must not miss this opportunity. Overcoming the major social, economic and climate-related challenges facing the world requires urgent action at a time when international solidarity is coming under heavy pressure.

The acceptance of the SDGs, including by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, makes it easier to implement the traditional foreign policy priority of promoting human rights. The AIV believes the SDGs and human rights can strengthen each other in a variety of areas.

Opening for dialogue

The SDGs provide an opportunity for the Netherlands to engage with countries that are reticent about, or even dismissive of, the traditional human rights dialogue, which tends to be narrowly legalistic and sometimes cursory and ritualised. The goal of human dignity is a good starting point, as it is a universally recognised and widely held ambition. Both sustainable development and human rights are aimed at achieving human dignity. The SDGs, moreover, stress the overarching principle of ‘leaving no one behind’. They also require a discussion of issues that are directly related to social, economic and environmental rights, such as good healthcare, education, clean drinking water, food security, gender equality, good working conditions and housing. Human rights in many of these areas are already laid down in international treaties. Talks can be held on how they can be achieved in tandem with the SDGs.

Support

The leaders of the UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda unanimously. The SDGs’ legitimacy is also founded on the willingness of many countries to report voluntarily to the High-level Political Forum that oversees the SDGs’ progress. Support for the multilateral human rights system can be strengthened, with the help of the SDGs, by giving human rights greater prominence. With hundreds of millions of people facing inequality, suffering extreme poverty and living in fear, it is no surprise that they rarely make a priority of pressing for their other human rights. By means of an integrated rights approach to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, it can be made clear that human rights make a tangible contribution to improving the daily living conditions of citizens. This can create and foster public support for human rights.

Oversight and monitoring

Both the SDG process and the human rights tools are aimed at measuring and assessing the action taken and results achieved, as well as collecting information and data. Currently, however, these processes often occur separately from each other. Knowledge and insight would probably be enhanced if more information were shared and used jointly. Integration of SDG and human rights data would also lighten the burden of the many international reporting requirements imposed by the 2030 Agenda and human rights treaties. The requirements are particularly onerous for countries with less well developed civil services. The data and reporting requirements, however, create a source of basic information that governments need to pursue meaningful and effective policy. The integration of SDG and human rights data and reports would therefore have a welcome multiplier effect and could significantly improve national problem analysis, planning and policy.

In view of the above, the AIV has drawn up the following policy recommendations. For each one, a number of suggestions are included on how foreign policy could be made operational.

1. INTEGRATE DEVELOPMENT, HUMAN RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY.

Dutch foreign policy should consistently promote and invoke sustainable development as a necessary condition for human rights, and human rights as a condition for development. Achieving the SDGs requires a comprehensive, rights-based approach to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development processes. The close substantive relationship and interaction between these dimensions cannot be ignored.

The AIV believes that the Netherlands’ development, human rights and environmental policies can be strengthened by increasing their coherence. The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs provide a good framework for deepening this integration. Policy on foreign trade and development cooperation is already explicitly situated in the 2030 Agenda framework, but the human rights dimension of the policy should be better elaborated. Conversely, the annual Human Rights Report could explain how various priority issues contribute to the SDGs. A human rights-based approach to sustainable development must be established and made binding at intraministerial and interministerial level. Ideally, there should be just one overarching policy framework.

The indivisibility of human rights requires foreign policy to focus more consistently on both political and civil rights on the one hand and social, economic, cultural and environmental rights – both individual and collective – on the other. An important step to strengthen coherence with domestic human rights policy would be ratification of the optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Priority 4 of the Netherlands’ human rights policy – support for human rights defenders – must provide sufficient scope to support advocates of social, economic, cultural and environmental rights.

In its capacity as a donor, the Netherlands can urge multilateral development organisations such as the World Bank to put human rights at the heart of their development programmes.

The AIV recommends that both the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Foreign Affairs take part in parliamentary debates on human rights policy.

2. USE AGENDA 2030 TO STRENGTHEN THE MULTILATERAL HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM.

There is a risk that some countries will use the SDGs, with their emphasis on collective social, economic and environmental rights, to undermine the legal obligations laid down in international human rights treaties. This requires vigilance from the Netherlands during international consultations. In bilateral and multilateral talks it must consistently emphasise that, when it comes to achieving the SDGs, human rights – with their established international minimum standards – are the cornerstones of countries’ explicit and enforceable obligations.

In the UN Human Rights Council, international financial institutions, the European Union, the Council of Europe and elsewhere, the Netherlands must consistently draw attention to the indivisible relationship between respect for human rights and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities show, binding treaties can be effective instruments to establish and implement specific human rights. Other instruments include UN declarations (e.g. on human rights defenders), resolutions (e.g. the 2030 Agenda), Global Compacts (e.g. on business and on migration) and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The AIV recommends that the Netherlands determine whether one or more specific socioeconomic rights, such as the right to clean drinking water and the right to a healthy environment, can be further elaborated with the aid of these human rights instruments.

3. IMPROVE SUPERVISION OF AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 2030 AGENDA AND ESTABLISH A LINK WITH INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS.

To make a success of the 2030 Agenda, a transparent and straightforward system of verifiable supervision and accountability is needed. There is still a great deal to be achieved in this area, and the Netherlands could play a leading role. The Netherlands should ask the UN Secretary-General to make proposals to streamline and lighten the burden of reporting to the High-level Political Forum and the UN Human Rights Council. The Netherlands can highlight the intertwined nature of human rights and the SDGs by consistently referring to the 2030 Agenda in its own recommendations for the Universal Periodic Review.

The Netherlands can ask the UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee to identify ways to enhance the SDGs’ international policy coherence. It should also urge signatories of human rights treaties to address the SDGs in the national reports that they are required to issue.

The Netherlands could also mobilise financial and human resources to help less developed countries build capacity to collect and interpret data and prepare SDG and human rights reports. Moreover, the Netherlands could also help national human rights bodies and civil society organisations improve national reporting obligations.

Within the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), the Netherlands could make proposals for the further refinement and operationalisation of the SDG indicators. To that end, it could use human rights indicators developed to measure, for instance, inclusion, gender and other forms of equality, and non-discrimination, drawing on the expertise of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The AIV welcomes the involvement of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights in the preparation of the third SDG report to be submitted to the House of Representatives. The Institute should be permanently involved in both the SDG report and the Voluntary National Reviews that the Kingdom of the Netherlands submits to the High-level Political Forum.

4. MAKE TACKLING INEQUALITY WITHIN AND BETWEEN COUNTRIES A STANDARD TOPIC IN INTERNATIONAL CONSULTATIONS.

The AIV recommends that the Netherlands draw attention to inequality in various international forums. At the High-level Political Forum at the level of heads of state and government in September 2019, the Netherlands could organise a prominent side event on income and capital inequality and its relationship with the SDGs, working in a broadbased partnership with one or more like-minded countries (North and South), multilateral organisations (World Bank, ILO), non-governmental organisations (Oxfam, Transparency International) and multinational businesses and banks. The Netherlands could subsequently organise similar side events during, for instance, the UN General Assembly and the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.

5. PROMOTE THE REFORM OF GLOBAL GOVERNANCE.

In the AIV’s opinion, the Netherlands, with its exceptionally open economy and strong international orientation, should actively promote international policy coherence and global governance. The global partnership necessary to achieve the SDGs can only work on the basis of equality. The Netherlands must work internationally to give emerging and developing countries a stronger voice in multilateral organisations and partnerships216 This applies particularly to their say in the composition of the executive boards of the main international financial institutions. Global governance also includes the network of SDG partners.

6. MAINTAIN THE NETHERLANDS’ LEADING ROLE ON BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS.

The Netherlands should pursue a stronger relationship between business, human rights and the SDG agenda. Eliminating ‘business and human rights’ as a human rights policy priority must not be allowed to diminish the Netherlands’ international prominence in this area. Cooperation with the business community on achieving the SDGs should be strengthened in both human rights policy and foreign trade and development policy.

If the private sector is to play a major part in achieving human rights and the SDGs (for example those in the area of climate change and the environment), government must actively oversee how business fulfils that role. The AIV recommends that the government prepare a second national action plan on business and human rights in order to clarify the relationship between human rights, business and the SDGs, further flesh out states’ duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, and identify instruments that encourage businesses to help achieve the SDGs while respecting human rights.

In addition to encouraging businesses to self-regulate (through international responsible business conduct agreements), the Netherlands should retain the option of binding regulations as a policy tool to deal with companies that lag behind on human rights. It should make an active, constructively critical contribution to the exploratory talks on a business and human rights treaty currently being held in the UN Human Rights Council. After all, international agreements help create a level playing field for national and multinational businesses alike.

7. MAKE COMBATING ‘SHRINKING CIVIC SPACE’ AN INTEGRAL PART OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEVELOPMENT POLICY.

Civil society organisations play an indispensable role in the SDG partnership. That is why the Netherlands’ human rights and development policy should include targeted activities to prevent deliberate government action, either political or financial, to shrink civic space. The Netherlands should publicly highlight the importance of independent civil society organisations and human rights defenders more often. The European Commission should be urged to do the same.

Measures should therefore be taken to strengthen the embassies’ knowledge and capacity regarding human rights and attacks on civil society. Dutch embassies in countries where human rights organisations are under fire should implement the EU directives on human rights defenders, which are based on the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ support for civil society organisations should be strategic and flexible, preferably using long-term core financing (rather than short-term project financing). The Netherlands should not support civil society organisations established by repressive governments.

8. ACTIVELY INVOLVE YOUNG PEOPLE IN IMPLEMENTING THE 2030 AGENDA.

The Netherlands should press for a special representative in the UN system to focus attention on the interests of future generations. Acting on a proposal by the UN Secretary-General (see chapter I), the Netherlands could encourage the High-level Political Forum for the 2030 Agenda to make the rights of future generations a standard item on its agenda.

The annual SDG report submitted to the House of Representatives includes a section on young people written by the National Youth Council. This is undoubtedly a positive move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the AIV believes the Dutch government should make far more use of young people’s ability to promote action on the SDGs. It should be standard practice for youth organisations to be involved in Dutch policymaking on the 2030 Agenda and have a say in related policy fields, such as education, climate change and sustainable development, health and equality. By guaranteeing young people a seat at the table, including at line ministries and in local government, government would increase knowledge and awareness of human rights and sustainable development among new generations.

9. STRENGTHEN THE COORDINATION AND COHERENCE OF NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ACTION ON THE SDGS.

Responsibility for coordinating internal and external SDG policy rests with the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. This can create the impression that the Netherlands’ primary focus in implementing the 2030 Agenda lies abroad. But the 2030 Agenda must be implemented in every country, including the Netherlands. The Netherlands’ international efforts on the SDGs will be convincing only if it puts its own house in order. This is a responsibility of the government as a whole.

The annual SDG progress report submitted to the House of Representatives should include a standard section on SDG efforts, including human rights, in the Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba). Although the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands are an integral part of the Netherlands, their specific development and human rights challenges do not receive the attention they deserve from the European Netherlands. The annual SDG report should also consider the coordination of SDG policy between the four countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands (the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten).

Given the overwhelming importance of the 2030 Agenda to society as a whole, the AIV calls on the prime minister to accentuate the Netherlands’ European and international profile on the SDGs and human rights in the run up to the High-level Political Forum at the level of heads of state and government in September 2019, for example by hosting the side events referred to in recommendation 4.

 

https://aiv-advice.nl/b08


How social media companies can identify and respond to threats against human rights defenders

October 15, 2019

global computer threats

Image from Shutterstock.

Ginna Anderson writes in the ABA Abroad of 3

..Unfortunately, social media platforms are now a primary tool for coordinated, state-aligned actors to harass, threaten and undermine advocates. Although public shaming, death threats, defamation and disinformation are not unique to the online sphere, the nature of the internet has given them unprecedented potency. Bad actors are able to rapidly deploy their poisoned content on a vast scale. Social media companies have only just begun to recognize, let alone respond, to the problem. Meanwhile, individuals targeted through such coordinated campaigns must painstakingly flag individual pieces of content, navigate opaque corporate structures and attempt to survive the fallout. To address this crisis, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube must dramatically increase their capacity and will to engage in transparent, context-driven content moderation.

For human rights defenders, the need is urgent. .. Since 2011, the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR) has ..noted with concern the coordination of “traditional” judicial harassment of defenders by governments, such as frivolous criminal charges or arbitrary detention, with online campaigns of intimidation. State-aligned online disinformation campaigns against individual defenders often precede or coincide with official investigations and criminal charges.

……

While social media companies generally prohibit incitement of violence and hate speech on their platforms, CHR has had to engage in additional advocacy with social media companies requesting the removal of specific pieces of content or accounts that target defenders. This extra advocacy has been required even where the content clearly violates a social media company’s terms of service and despite initial flagging by a defender. The situation is even more difficult where the threatening content is only recognizable with sufficient local and political context. The various platforms all rely on artificial intelligence, to varying degrees, to identify speech that violates their respective community standards. Yet current iterations of artificial intelligence are often unable to adequately evaluate context and intent.

Online intimidation and smear campaigns against defenders often rely on existing societal fault lines to demean and discredit advocates. In Guatemala, CHR recently documented a coordinated social media campaign to defame, harass, intimidate and incite violence against human rights defenders. Several were linked with so-called “net centers,” where users were reportedly paid to amplify hateful content across platforms. Often, the campaigns relied on “coded” language that hark back to Guatemala’s civil war and the genocide of Mayan communities by calling indigenous leaders communists, terrorists and guerrillas.

These terms appear to have largely escaped social media company scrutiny, perhaps because none is a racist slur per se. And yet, the proliferation of these online attacks, as well as the status of those putting out the content, is contributing to a worsening climate of violence and impunity for violence against defenders by specifically alluding to terms used to justify violence against indigenous communities. In 2018 alone, NPR reports that 26 indigenous defenders were murdered in Guatemala. In such a climate, the fear and intimidation felt by those targeted in such campaigns is not hyperbolic but based on their understanding of how violence can be sparked in Guatemala.

In order to address such attacks, social media companies must adopt policies that allow them to designate defenders as temporarily protected groups in countries that are characterized by state-coordinated or state-condoned persecution of activists. This is in line with international law that prohibits states from targeting individuals for serious harm based on their political opinion. To increase their ability to recognize and respond to persecution and online violence against human rights defenders, companies must continue to invest in their context-driven content moderation capacity, including complementing algorithmic monitoring with human content moderators well-versed in local dialects and historical and political context.

Context-driven content moderation should also take into account factors that increase the risk that online behavior will contribute to offline violence by identifying high-risk countries. These factors include a history of intergroup conflict and an overall increase in the number of instances of intergroup violence in the past 12 months; a major national political election in the next 12 months; and significant polarization of political parties along religious, ethnic or racial lines. Countries where these and other risk factors are present call for proactive approaches to identify problematic accounts and coded threats against defenders and marginalized communities, such as those shown in Equality Labs’ “Facebook India” report.

Companies should identify, monitor and be prepared to deplatform key accounts that are consistently putting out denigrating language and targeting human rights defenders. This must go hand in hand with the greater efforts that companies are finally beginning to take to identify coordinated, state-aligned misinformation campaigns. Focusing on the networks of users who abuse the platform, instead of looking solely at how the online abuse affects defenders’ rights online, will also enable companies to more quickly evaluate whether the status of the speaker increases the likelihood that others will take up any implicit call to violence or will be unduly influenced by disinformation.

This abuser-focused approach will also help to decrease the burden on defenders to find and flag individual pieces of content and accounts as problematic. Many of the human rights defenders with whom CHR works are giving up on flagging, a phenomenon we refer to as flagging fatigue. Many have become fatalistic about the level of online harassment they face. This is particularly alarming as advocates targeted online may develop skins so thick that they are no longer able to assess when their actual risk of physical violence has increased.

Finally, it is vital that social media companies pursue, and civil society demand, transparency in content moderation policy and decision-making, in line with the Santa Clara Principles. Put forward in 2018 by a group of academic experts, organizations and advocates committed to freedom of expression online, the principles are meant to guide companies engaged in content moderation and ensure that the enforcement of their policies is “fair, unbiased, proportional and respectful of users’ rights.” In particular, the principles call upon companies to publicly report on the number of posts and accounts taken down or suspended on a regular basis, as well as to provide adequate notice and meaningful appeal to affected users.

CHR routinely supports human rights defenders facing frivolous criminal charges related to their human rights advocacy online or whose accounts and documentation have been taken down absent any clear justification. This contributes to a growing distrust of the companies among the human rights community as apparently arbitrary decisions about content moderation are leaving advocates both over- and under-protected online.

As the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression explained in his 2018 report, content moderation processes must include the ability to appeal the removal, or refusal to remove, content or accounts. Lack of transparency heightens the risk that calls to address the persecution of human rights defenders online will be subverted into justifications for censorship and restrictions on speech that is protected under international human rights law.

A common response when discussing the feasibility of context-driven content moderation is to compare it to reviewing all the grains of sand on a beach. But human rights defenders are not asking for the impossible. We are merely pointing out that some of that sand is radioactive—it glows in the dark, it is lethal, and there is a moral and legal obligation upon those that profit from the beach to deal with it.

Ginna Anderson, senior counsel, joined ABA CHR in 2012. She is responsible for supporting the center’s work to advance the rights of human rights defenders and marginalized dommunities, including lawyers and journalists at risk. She is an expert in health and human rights, media freedom, freedom of expression and fair trial rights. As deputy director of the Justice Defenders Program since 2013, she has managed strategic litigation, fact-finding missions and advocacy campaigns on behalf of human rights defenders facing retaliation for their work in every region of the world

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how-can-social-media-companies-identify-and-respond-to-threats-against-human-rights-defenders


Lebanon losing its free haven status for human rights defenders?

October 14, 2019


Third Committee of the GA also has a lot to do with human rights defenders

October 13, 2019

The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee will run for eight weeks from 1 October to 21 November this year. The International Service for Human Rights, which follows the UN human rights bodies diligently, put out an Alert for this 74th Session on 1 October 2019.

The Third Committee brings together a wide array of Special Procedures mandate holders, including Special Rapporteur, independent experts, and chairs of working groups that are mandated by the Human Rights Council to discuss some of the most pressing human rights concerns and present findings and recommendations to the Third Committee. These findings should in turn play a role in shaping the focus of resolutions negotiated at this session.

Third Committee is expected to consider approximately 60 resolutions on a range of topics, including:

  • the advancement of women
  • the rights and protection of children
  • the rights of refugees
  • the elimination of racism
  • self-determination
  • and social development, amongst others.

ISHR will be closely monitoring the work of the Third Committee as well as relevant developments in the plenary of the General Assembly and will report on key developments. Follow them on Twitter at @ISHRglobal using #UNGA74 for the latest updates.

Overview of Key Resolutions  

  • Human Rights Defenders (Lead Sponsor: Norway) – This year Norway will present the biennial resolution on human rights defenders. One year after the twentieth anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, implementation of the Declaration unfortunately remains far from adequate in a number of States. ISHR therefore welcomes the resolution’s continued focus on the Declaration’s implementation and urges States to ensure that the resolution includes calls for concrete activities and mechanisms to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the Declaration and previous resolutions on human rights defenders.
  • Terrorism and Human Rights (Lead Sponsors: Mexico and Egypt) – The Third Committee will consider a resolution relating to Terrorism and Human Rights. Previous resolutions on the topic have condemned terrorist acts as criminal and unjustifiable, and expressed concerns about their detrimental effects on the enjoyment of all human rights. The resolution is the result of the combination of two previously separate resolutions on the “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism” and the “Effects of Terrorism on the Enjoyment of Human Rights” led by Mexico and Egypt, respectively. Civil society remains concerned that the combined resolution compromises language on State obligations to protect human rights by prioritising the impact of terrorism on human rights. ISHR hopes that language in the original resolution led by Mexico is not compromised and that this resolution upholds State responsibility and the rights of victims.
  • Safety of Journalists (Lead Sponsors: Greece, Argentina, Austria, Costa Rica and France) – A resolution on the safety of journalists is expected to be advanced at this session. ISHR will be watching this negotiation closely and hopes the resolution will be used to expand, rather than restrict, space for civil society and strengthen protections for human rights defenders.

Several country resolutions are expected again this session. For the 17th year, Canada will present a draft resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran spotlighting the continued dismal human rights situation and lack of progress over the last year. The European Union will again lead on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, similarly underlining the lack of human rights progress. Ukraine will again present a draft resolution condemning Russia’s activities in Crimea. Resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar and Syria are also expected to be led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Saudi Arabia respectively.

ISHR remains concerned that China will again attempt to insert the seemingly harmless language of ‘win/win’ language in resolutions, which in fact focuses only on intergovernmental dialogue and cooperation, rather than actual human rights violations or accountability. This language risks shrinking space for civil society and roll back human rights norms across a number of resolutions.

Several resolutions are expected to become battle grounds regarding references to gender, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, including resolutions on the Improvement of the situation of women and girls in rural areas, Violence against women migrant workers, Rights of the Child, The girl child, The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation,

Elections for the Human Rights Council are set to take place in mid-October as part of the General Assembly. ISHR is once again disappointed that this year a number of regions have presented closed slates. ISHR has published ‘scorecards‘ for each of the States seeking membership. These provide a brief overview of their human rights records, cooperation with civil society, past roles in the Council, and past engagement with UN human rights mechanisms.

Overview of Reports and Dialogues with UN Experts: 

The UN Special Procedures – Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups – will report to the Third Committee and hold interactive ‘dialogues’ with member States. Several of this year’s reports reflect concerns about increased attacks on human rights defenders and emphasise the critical importance of creating and maintaining space for civil society. Click here for a list and schedule of dialogues.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders – Combatting the currently widespread impunity for human rights violations that target human rights defenders is, according to Special Rapporteur Michel Forst’s report (A/74/159), “an essential prerequisite to guarantee human rights and to advance towards equal societies that are free from fear and violence.” He outlines a regulatory framework on the right to access to justice, including due diligence in investigations and elaborates on the de facto and legal barriers to access to justice. He offers essential guidelines for ensuring due diligence in the investigation of such violations. Good practices implemented by States and civil society are also described. He will present his report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 15 October 2019 at 3pm.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran – At least 32 Iranians have been arrested as a result of viral social media campaigns against compulsory veiling laws, such as the #whitewednesdays and “Girls of Revolution Street.” Human rights lawyer and defender Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 148 lashes and 38 years in prison last March for defending some of these women. BBC Persian staff have suffered reprisals for engaging with UN human rights mechanisms. These are only some of the attacks on human rights defenders that Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman flags in his report (A/74/188), which calls on Iran to stop violating the rights of human rights defenders through intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, deprivation of liberty, among other arbitrary sanctions. The Special Rapporteur will present and discuss his report on 23 October 2019 at 10am.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – In his report (A/74/181), Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz exposes the ways in which socio-cultural norms and discriminatory laws continue to marginalise and exclude LGBTI persons. In order to become fully inclusive of LGBTI individuals, he stresses that States cannot overlook the “vital role” of partnerships with civil society. He cites a number of partnerships in the fight against HIV/AIDS as particularly strong examples of this. Independent Expert Madrigal-Borloz will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue on 24 October 2019 at 10am.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism – How can States truly integrate human rights into the global fight against terrorism that is increasingly shaped by elusive norms of ‘soft law’? According to Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin’s report (A/74/335), one of the keys is for States to engage with and create space for civil society, non-governmental organisations, and human rights defenders to participate in the shaping of these counter-terrorism norms. Her report maps out how civil society access to these processes can be transformed from “ad hoc and inconsistent” to consistent and meaningful, ensuring that soft-law counter-terrorism norms are not at odds with human rights. The Special Rapporteur’s report will be presented and discussed on 16 October 2019 at 10am.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd clarifies the obligations of States and businesses under a human-rights based approach to climate change in his report (A/74/161). These obligations include providing strong protections for environmental and environmental defenders who work on issues relating to climate change. In addition, the report examines how UN human rights mechanisms can be empowered to better address climate change. The Special Rapporteur will present his report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 24 October 2019 at 3pm.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief – Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed expresses alarm in his report (A/74/358) about the rise of anti-Semitism around the world and the ways in which the underreporting of these hate crimes and lack of mechanisms to monitor them enable anti-Semitic hate crimes. The report finds that a lack of Jewish civil society engagement with UN human rights monitors only exacerbates this issue and calls on States to work more closely with Jewish communities and organisations to create mechanisms that fill this void. Special Rapporteur Shaheed ends his report with the recommendation that the Office of the UN Secretary-General appoint a senior-level focal point specifically responsible for monitoring and engaging with Jewish communities on this issue. He will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue on 17 October 2019 at 3pm.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences – In her report (A/74/137), Special Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonović stresses the need to address mistreatment and violence against women in reproductive health services from a human rights perspective. The report therefore calls for the creation of human rights-based accountability mechanisms and greater State collaboration with civil society organisations to address violence and mistreatment in reproductive and obstetric care. The Special Rapporteur will present her report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 4 October 2019 at 10am.

ISHR Events

Ending impunity for violations against Human Rights Defenders: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/09/panel-against-impunity-for-abuses-against-human-rights-defenders-new-york-on-16-october/

  • Book Launch – ISHR will also be hosting a launch of Hurst Hannum’s new book ‘Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach’ on 18 October at 1:15-2:30pm. Please contact Marina Wilbraham at m.wilbraham@ishr.ch if you are interested in attending. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/]
  • Venezuela on the Brink: The urgency of an appropriate international response to the crisis, where Eleanor Openshaw will be discussing the implications of Venezuela being re-elected to the Human Rights Council. 2 October at 10am in the Church Center, 777 UN Plaza.
  • Breakfast reception to mark the launch of URG’s new yourHRC.org Guide to the 2019 Human Rights Council Elections, where Madeleine Sinclair will be discussing ISHR’s ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council for 2020- 2022. October 10 at 8:30 am in Conference Room 6, UNHQ.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-74th-session-third-committee


Human Rights Watch sees a tiny light at the end of the Uzbek tunnel

October 13, 2019


Remembering Andrew Blane, an Amnesty icon

October 13, 2019

Andrew with his dear friend, the Nobel prize winning Joseph Brodsky, clowning around at Morton Street where he became a longtime tenant. (Photo: Sharon Woolums)

The Villager (Sharon Woolums) writes about the memorial for Andrew Quarles Blane, who died on 6 September 2019 at the age of 90. The memorial was held on 6 October at Grace Church. A Greenwich Villager since 1965, Andrew quintessentially represented all the best of the Village then and now. Best known for his contribution to Amnesty International (AI), which he joined in 1969, Andrew was one of nine delegates to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for Amnesty in 1977.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, spoke of Andrews’ deep sense of justice, humanity and empathy leading to his contributions for the Human Rights Movement — for the release of Prisoners of Conscience, the abolition of torture and the death penalty. Andrew was elected vice chair of the International Executive Committee (IEC) by the International General Assembly from 1979-1985. Known for his patience, warmth, kindness, generosity and humor, Andrew mentored many young activists. Egeland characterized Andrew as politically liberal and a progressive, but a traditionalist in lifestyle.

Nate Schenkkan, director of Special Research at Freedom House, spoke of Andrew’s involvement at the U.N. Convention against Torture and his reaction to Abu Ghraib: “Torture to him was…an assault on their soul,” Schenkkan said. Saga Blane spoke of her father’s steadfast moral compass, his pure and incorruptible heart, and his idealism which left all who came in contact with feeling seen and valued.

Andrew spent his childhood in Guatemala. His family moved back to their home state of Kentucky, where he graduated from Centre College. In 1950, he enrolled in Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Billed as a “dynamic lay evangelist” Andrew traveled the South speaking to gatherings of students. He earned a masters degree’s in divinity at Cambridge University in 1957 and a doctorate in Russian history from Duke University.

Andrew’s comprehensive biography came out in 1993. He taught Russian history at the City University of New York until his retirement. David Hawk, former executive director of AI USA in 1974, commented, “Andrew was an enormously gentle but profound intellect and committed advocate.” Out of Morton Street came the birthplace of Amnesty’s U.N. office and the Artist for Amnesty Project. With Southern charm, Andrew opened his pull-out couch welcoming traveling asylum seekers, dissidents and friends. Andrew is survived by his wife of 36 years, Dr. Jaana Rehnstrom, their children, Eliot Blane of Manhattan, Saga Blane/Jake Jeppson of Brooklyn and grandson, Finn Blane Jeppson.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the newly-formed Andrew Blane Memorial Fund for Human Rights Defenders at andrewblane.com.

Remembering Andrew Blane, a Greenwich Villager who earned Nobel Peace Prize