Portrait of Anuja Pathak of PBI in Guatemala

July 2, 2022

Anuja Pathak was in Guatemala for a year, escorting threatened rights activists for International Peace Brigades. (Credit: Geneva Solutions/ML)

Michelle Langrand in Geneva Solutions of 1 July 2022 did a lengthy portrait of Anuja Pathak, the 27-year-old who had just returned from spending one year in Guatemala as an international observer for Peace Brigades International (PBI). The NGO provides protection to threatened human rights defenders in different Latin American countries and other regions by stationing volunteers whose presence is meant to discourage attacks. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/04/we-start-2021-with-a-long-read-about-non-violence-and-pbi/

Along with other young volunteers, Pathak was sent to Guatemala to accompany indigenous and peasant rights groups persecuted for resisting mining, hydroelectric and farming projects in their lands. The Central American region, and particularly Guatemala carry a history of violent repression against land rights defenders. In 2020, the country ranked seventh worldwide in killings of environmental activists, according to the NGO Global Witness.

Pathak and her colleagues were based in Guatemala City, the national capital, and would oversee several organisations. Most of them were a six or eight hours ride away in the rural regions of Verapaces. The volunteers would make weekly visits and were on call 24/7 in case they were contacted by one of the NGOs.

“I’m a light sleeper,” Pathak says, in between laughs. Taking a more serious tone, she tells of the emergencies that they’re expected to handle citing the example of the Association of Neighbours of Chicoyogüito, Alta Verapaz (AVECHAV) – an organisation that she grew fond of.

Massacred and kicked out of their lands by the army in the 1980s, the group is still fighting to recover their territory. One night, the volunteers got a call, Pathak remembers.

“Members of AVECHAV had tried to take over one piece of land, and they had been arrested and taken into custody for trespassing, including children,” she explains.

“It’s a complex situation because we don’t support the fact that they trespassed, but we have to make sure that their rights are respected.”

The volunteers then call the police to obtain information and activate their network of organisations and embassies in order to raise the alarm, all in the hopes that international attention will deter authorities from abusing those in custody.

In the remote rural areas where these rights groups are based, impunity is rampant and criminalisation of human rights defenders has been institutionalised. One of the other organisations PBI supports, the Peasant Committee of Altiplano (PCA), has over 300 members with arrest warrants on them and seven in prison, according to their own figures. The Q’eqchi’ indigenous group has been in a land dispute with the government and business landowners for over 100 years.

Imelda Teyul, leader of PCA, gave a chilling account last month in Geneva about the harassment and abuse she and other members went through when they visited their imprisoned colleagues.

Pathak’s job was to accompany some of the defendants during their trials. “A lot of times you go to court, and you just wait for hours. I think I went to more court hearings that were postponed than those that went through. It’s part of the process of criminalisation in order to cause frustration,” she says, sharing the feeling.

In recent years, Guatemala has passed increasingly restrictive laws against civil society. The latest, the law of NGOs, gives the government the power to shut down any organisation that uses external funds to “alter public order”. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/25/almost-200-international-organizations-denounce-attacks-against-peaceful-resistance-to-escobal-mine-in-guatemala/

“It’s obviously a law that seeks to restrain the work of organisations,” Pathak stresses. It has also made it harder for organisations like PBI. Set up in the 1980s and inspired by Gandhi’s non-violence movement, PBI follows a non-partisan approach and abstains from making public statements.

“We would take measures in order to mitigate these risks, for example, by being very careful to always present clearly the work of PBI to avoid confusions.”

Questioning international aid

Brought up in Birmingham by Swiss and Indian parents, Pathak was drawn to the world of international aid. Before going to Guatemala, she worked in Tunisia, Lebanon and Palestine with refugee and minority rights organisations. She had also volunteered in refugee camps in Calais and Greece.

“In the jungle refugee camp, there was a massive feeling of community, and people supported each other, whereas other camps organised by the UN or other international organisations have a different feeling,” she says.

Through her different experiences, Pathak found herself interested in grassroot organisations, the topic of her bachelor’s degree thesis from the University of Leeds, and questioning the role of big international organisations in conflict-affected zones.

“The field of international development is crazy in the sense that we have countries supporting other countries, while also causing issues in those countries. It is ultimately based on racism and unequal wealth distribution. I was curious to understand how international organisations could change those power dynamics, rather than exacerbate them,” she reflects.

In Guatemala, Pathak got to experience a more horizontal approach, where the international organisation is only there to support local actors. “What will I take from this experience is the importance of a collaborative approach with different organisations and embassies and how that’s the only way to make changes,” she says.


Who are human rights defenders?

July 2, 2022

On 30 June 2022 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights uploaded this video clip outlining the basic issue of human rights defenders:

In crisis, civic space is the ‘most crucial – and valuable’ element of building resilience. @ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet says, “a vibrant civic space is a lever of a stable, secure society. Yet, we continue documenting attacks against defenders and journalists, off-line and online, worldwide.”


CIVICUS STATE OF CIVIL SOCIETY REPORT 2022

June 29, 2022

This year’s report published at the halfway point of 2022 shines a light on a time of immense upheaval and contestation. The report finds hope, however, in the many mobilisations for change around the world: the mass protests, campaigns and people’s movements for justice, and the many grassroots initiatives defending rights and helping those most in need.

The report identifies five key current trends of global significance:

  1. Rising costs of fuel and food are spurring public anger and protests at economic mismanagement
  2. Democracy is under assault but positive changes are still being won
  3. Advances are being made in fighting social inequality despite attacks
  4. Civil society is keeping up the pressure for climate action
  5. Current crises are exposing the inadequacies of the international governance system.
  1. Governments around the world are failing to protect people from the impacts of massive price rises worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Public anger at a dysfunctional economic system, poverty and economic inequality and corruption is rising. Mass protests are the result. In Sri Lanka, widespread protests against economic mismanagement led to resignation of the prime minister. In Iran people are demanding fundamental change as food prices soar. In Kazakhstan over 200 people were killed with impunity following protests over fuel price rises. But people will continue to protest out of necessity even in the many countries where fundamental freedoms are repressed and state violence is inevitable.
  1. Institutions and traditions of democracy are under increasing attack. Coups are imperilling hard-fought gains. The military has gained power in multiple countries, including Burkina Faso and Sudan. In several others, including El Salvador and Tunisia, elected presidents are removing democratic checks on power. Entirely fraudulent elections have been held in countries as different as Nicaragua and Turkmenistan. Autocratic nationalists have triumphed in elections in countries including Hungary and the Philippines. But at the same time there have been successful mobilisations to defend democracy, not least in theCzech Republic and Slovenia, where people voted out political leaders who fostered divisiveness in favour of fresh and broad-based alternatives. Progressive leaders promising to advance social justice have won power in countries such as Chile and Honduras. In many contexts, including Costa Rica andPeru, a prevailing sentiment of dissatisfaction is leading to a rejection of incumbency and willingness to embrace candidates who run as outsiders and promise disruption.
  1. In politically turbulent times, and despite severe pushback by anti-rights groups, progress has been achieved in advancing women’s and LGBTQI+ rights. The USA, where neoconservative forces are emboldened, is ever more isolated on sexual and reproductive rights as several other countries in the Americas, including Colombia and Mexico, have eased abortion restrictions following civil society advocacy. Opportunistic politicians continue to seek political advantage in vilifying LGBTQI+ people, but globally the normalisation of LGBTQI+ rights is spreading. Most recently, the people of Switzerland overwhelmingly voted in favour of an equal marriage law. Even in hostile contexts such as Jamaica important advances have come through civil society’s engagement in regional human rights systems. But when it comes to fighting for migrants’ rights, only Ukrainian refugees in Europe are being received with anything like the kind of compassion all such people deserve, and otherwise the dominant global sentiment is hostility. Nonetheless, a new generation is forging movements to advance racial justice and demand equity for excluded people.
  1. A young and diverse generation is the same social force that continues to make waves on climate change. As extreme weather gets more common, the brunt of the climate crisis continues to fall disproportionately on the most excluded populations who have done the least to cause the problem. Governments and companies are failing to act, and urgent action on emissions cuts to meet the size of the challenge is being demanded by civil society movements, including through mass marches, climate strikes and non-violent civil disobedience. Alongside these, climate litigation is growing, leading to significant legal breakthroughs, such as the judgment in the Netherlands that forced Shell to commit to emissions cuts. Shareholder activism towards fossil fuel firms and funders is intensifying, with pension funds coming under growing pressure to divest from fossil fuels.
  1. Russia’s war on Ukraine is the latest crisis, alongside recent conflicts in the Sahel, Syria and Yemen, among others, to expose the failure of global institutions to protect people and prevent conflict. The UN Security Council is hamstrung by the veto-wielding role of Russia as one of its five permanent members, although a special session of the UN General Assembly yielded a resolution condemning the invasion. Russia has rightly been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council, but this peak human rights body remains dominated by rights-abusing states. If the UN is to move from helping to prevent crises rather than trying to react to them, effective civil society engagement is needed. The world as it stands today, characterised by crisis and volatility, needs a UN prepared to work with civil society, since civil society continues to seek and secure vital progress for humanity.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/26/10th-edition-of-civicuss-state-of-civil-society-report-2021/

See also the IPS post: https://www.ipsnews.net/2022/06/five-takeaways-2022-state-civil-society-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-takeaways-2022-state-civil-society-report


FIDH celebrates 100th anniversary

June 23, 2022

The International Federation for Human Rights – bringing together 192 member organisations in 117 countries, FIDH – turns 100 this year. The centenary will be celebrated by a series of events showcasing the Federation’s accomplishments and looking ahead to remain on the front-line defending human rights.

One-hundred years ago, in 1922, against the backdrop of the post-WWI period, the French and German human rights associations and 20 other national associations joined forces to found the International Federation for Human Rights. Over its rich, century-long history, FIDH has fought to build a fair and equitable world.

Celebrating our centenary means laying the groundwork for our next 100 years.” Alice Mogwe, FIDH president

Our strength lies in our ability to remain relevant: by adapting to changes without ever straying from our mission,” declared Alice Mogwe, FIDH president. “Our tenacious commitment to universal respect for human rights – driven by passionate people from all over the world – is firmly rooted in each and every one of the organisations which make up our Federation. This once-in-a-century celebration is an opportunity to pay them the tribute they so richly deserve and to project ourselves into our future: conceiving and defending the rights of tomorrow.”
Climate change, growing inequalities, threats to democracy and to our personal data, discrimination against vulnerable populations: the challenges of this new century are already very real. What new rights are needed to meet these new challenges? And how to implement them? FIDH will tackle these issues by engaging young people through an online platform, #AskTheFuture, which will receive proposals from people from all over the world.

This platform will complement a major academic initiative undertaken in partnership with the universities of Sceaux Paris Saclay, Paris Panthéon Sorbonne 1, the Law Clinic of Geneva and the University of Geneva. From 20 May to 8 December, a dozen lectures will be held in Paris, Brussels and Geneva. They will be hosted by leading academics, FIDH experts, and other speakers who think, fight and, together, redefine human rights.

In culmination of the celebrations, a gala at the City Hall of Paris will take place on 23 October at the invitation of Mayor Anne Hidalgo, in the presence of European dignitaries and over 150 human rights defenders from around the world.

On 24 October, FIDH World Congress will open with a full day of round tables – again at the Paris City Hall. This four-day congress will bring together activists from every continent on the major issues of tomorrow: universalism of rights in the light of human diversity, extreme poverty, common goods for the benefit of humanity, and the intersection of rights and the climate crisis.

FIDH is active on a worldwide scale and, as such, is associated this year with the Fortnight of International Solidarity in Brussels at the beginning of October, as well as with Geneva’s Human Rights Week at the end of November.

On this occasion, FIDH is organising a travelling photo exhibition developed with the Magnum agency, the screening of films produced by the Mobile Film Festival, and consultative workshops for young people, in collaboration with the Brussels and Paris city halls. Several major events are also planned in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Finally, major art installations will be exhibited in Brussels and Paris with the generous support of artists from the MTART agency.

Our centenary programme reflects FIDH and the diversity of its values: boldness, creativity, solidarity, the emphasis on civil society, and our federative model – key to our unique approach among the major international organisations.” Eléonore Morel, FIDH executive director

Learn all about the centenary, including FIDH’s history, on the dedicated website: https://fidh100.org/

For some earlier posts on the FIDH, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/category/organisations/fidh/

https://www.fidh.org/en/about-us/What-is-FIDH/1922%E2%81%A0-2022-fidh-turns-100


50th session Human Rights Council: issues directly affecting Human Rights Defenders

June 22, 2022

A bit belatedly this overview for the 50th session:

The 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 June to 8 July 2022, will consider issues including sexual orientation and gender identity, violence and discrimination against women and girls, poverty, peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression, among others. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations including in Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Eritrea, Israel and OPT, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela, among many others. With “HRC50 | Key issues on agenda of June 2022 session” the ISHR provided again its indispensable guide. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda that are the most relevant to HRDs [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/guide-to-49th-session-of-human-rights-council-with-human-rights-defenders-focus/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/15/results-49th-session-human-rights-council-as-seen-by-ngos/

Thematic areas of interest

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Business and human rights

Despite their vital work to protect the environment and combat climate change, Indigenous peoples as well as land and environmental defenders continue to be attacked. New data shows an alarming pattern of violence and harassment as a precursor to lethal attacks against defenders. 

In 2020, Global Witness registered the killings of 137 land and environmental defenders in just five of the most dangerous countries for them: Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico and the Philippines. However, a new dataset from the ALLIED Data Working Group, a coalition in which ISHR takes part, focused on these countries has for the first time documented what is often hidden – the non-lethal attacks, including threats, harassment, smear campaigns and stigmatisation that are a precursor to the shocking number of deaths we see each year.

The findings highlight the urgent need for States to monitor, collect data, report on the situation of these defenders, and address the root causes of attacks against them. ISHR urges all States to make a commitment to the systematic monitoring of attacks on indigenous, land and environmental defenders in their countries, and to take stronger action, together with civil society and relevant UN Special Procedures, to address the root causes of attacks in the debate with the Working Group due to take place on 21 June 2022. 

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law, and they undermine the UN human rights system.

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue, including:

  • Requesting that the Secretary General prepare an annual report on cases and trends of reprisals;
  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • The appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

Despite this, ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.

During the 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text was adopted by consensus for the first time since 2009 and invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again the resolution listed key trends, including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. The President should also update the Council on actions taken by the President and Bureau to follow up on cases and promote accountability under this item.

Due to the lack of a general debate under item 5 at HRC 50, ISHR encourages States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals during the interactive dialogues on the relevant countries on the agenda at this session or in the context of thematic interactive dialogues where relevant.

During the organisational meeting held on 30 May, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

The mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is up for renewal for the second time at this session. We will be following this closely and call on all States to support the mandate and contribute to the Council’s efforts to combat violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other thematic reports

At this 50th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders and the High Commissioner, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  • The Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary of arbitrary executions
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
  • The Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change
  • The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises
  • The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
  • The High Commissioner on State responses to pandemics 

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including;

  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • The Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members
  • The Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers

Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

Together with WHRDs from the country and civil society organisations from all regions, ISHR calls on States to lead and support an Urgent Debate at HRC50 on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country, there has been an enormous deterioration in the recognition and protection of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, including with respect to the rights to non-discrimination, education, work, public participation, health, and sexual and reproductive health. The Taliban has also imposed sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement for women and girls. Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to expressly prohibit girls’ education.

The world’s worst women’s rights crisis demands a response and it would be unacceptable for the June session of the HRC, traditionally the session focused on gender-related issues, to pass without some meaningful action on the issue. I

The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the update on Afghanistan on 15 June 2022. 

China 

The High Commissioner’s visit to China failed to adequately address widespread and systematic violations in the country, express solidarity with victims and defenders, or pave the way for meaningful monitoring of China’s human rights crisis across the Uyghur and Tibetan regions, Hong Kong and mainland China. The High Commissioner’s end of mission statement failed to address strong, specific concerns or make substantive, concrete recommendations to the governmen. The broad concerns issued in a light language do not match the scope and gravity of human rights violations across the country that have been thoroughly documented by UN experts and civil society and that could amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.

States should call on the High Commissioner to immediately publish her OHCHR report on the Uyghur region, with clear, compelling recommendations to the government, and present her findings in a briefing to the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner should also ensure that the established annual meeting and working group for dialogue with the authorities are of public nature, include specific substantive recommendations to the government, and involve substantial consultation with a diverse set of independent civil society groups. China should also follow suit on promises for subsequent visits by the OHCHR by granting prompt unfettered access to Hong Kong and the Tibetan region. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/06/09/disappointment-with-un-high-commissioners-visit-to-xinjiang-boils-over/

Burundi

The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) concluded its work at the 48th HRC session in October 2021 while a new resolution establishing a mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi was adopted, resolution 48/16. The resolution tasks the mandate with monitoring the human rights situation in the country, making recommendations for its imp­ro­ve­ment, and re­por­ting to the Human Rights Council. During the 50th HRC session, the newly nominated Special Rapporteur on Burundi will present their first oral update on 29 June 2022.

Egypt

Notwithstanding the launch of a national human rights strategy, the fundamental purpose of which is to deflect international scrutiny rather than advance human rights, there has been no significant improvement in the human rights situation in Egypt since the joint statement delivered by States in March 2021 at HRC46. Emblematic recent examples include: Ayman Hadhoud’s death in the custody of Egyptian security forces following his enforced disappearance over two months ago and the execution of seven people in Egypt on 8 and 10 March 2022 following trials in which the defendants were forcibly disappeared, tortured, and denied their right to a lawyer.

In response to the Egyptian President’s announcement of “reactivating the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee” on 26 April 2022, Egyptian human rights organisations submitted a proposal for a fair and transparent process to release political prisoners in Egypt. Yet, recent harsh sentences in unfair trials against peaceful critics demonstrate further the lack of political will of the Egyptian authorities to address the crisis of arbitrary detention in Egypt. ISHR joined more than 100 NGOs from around the world in urging the HRC to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. 

Israel and oPT

This session, the COI on the oPt and Israel established in 2021 will present its first report to the HRC. Civil society from around the world had welcomed the historic resolution establishing the standing Commission of Inquiry to address Israel’s latest and ongoing violations against the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, while also addressing the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid. The interactive dialogue with the CoI comes in the context of mounting recognition of Israel’s establishment and maintenance of an apartheid regime by Israel over the Palestinian people as a whole. During HRC49, the SR on the oPT called on the international community to accept and adopt his findings as well as the “findings by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations that apartheid is being practised by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and beyond.” In its 2019 concluding observations, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that Israel’s policies violated Article 3 of ICERD pertaining to segregation and apartheid on both sides of the Green Line. In 2022, the Human Rights Committee concluding observations on Israel emphasized the “pre-existing systematic and structural discrimination against non-Jews”.

While some States continue to seek to undermine the mandate of the CoI and effective accountability mechanisms to put an end to Israel’s apartheid regime, CSOs support the CoI’s methodological approach to fulfill its vital mandate. We call on States to engage with the substance of the mandate of the CoI during the interactive dialogue, express support for this important accountability mechanism and ensure it has sufficient resources to discharge its mandate.

Russia 

Together with a coalition of international and regional NGOs, as well as numerous Russian civil society organisations, ISHR urges the Council to establish an independent international monitoring and reporting mechanism on Russia. In the context of the systematic repression of civil society organisations, severe restrictions on press freedoms and independent media, severe restrictions and criminalisation of many forms of free expression, association, assembly and peaceful protest, and the propagation of huge volumes of misinformation, a Special Rapporteur is necessary to ensure that the international community receives vital information about the human rights situation on the ground. 

Sudan

The Council will hold a debate with the High Commissioner and Expert on Sudan on 15 June 2022.

The Sudanese Women Rights Action documented from March to April 2022 the violations against women protesters, including arrests, injuries, and sexual violence. Their report also highlighted the economic and humanitarian situation in conflict areas and in the country in general. The report shows that “the coup leaders are using increasing violence against women protesters, including arrests, fabricated charges, direct lethal violence in protests, and sexual violence. The civic space is shrinking across Sudan, where human rights groups and WHRDs are not able to work freely and safely. Surveillance on internet, communication, movement, and offices of many groups led them to work from underground. The economic conditions and the fragile political situation is increasing women insecurity, as the peace process failed to end violence conflict areas. Women in Sudan are living in constant fear of violence with growing threats of the collapse of the state.”

In light of this context, ISHR urges all States to support the adoption of a resolution that ensures continued attention to Sudan’s human rights situation through enhanced interactive dia­logues at the Council’s 52nd and 53rd regular sessions. While the Expert’s mandate is ongoing, a resolution is required for the Council to hold public de­bates and continue to formally discuss the situation. A resolution at the Council’s 50th session would ope­ra­tio­nalise resolution S-32/1, which in its operative paragraph 19 called upon “the High Commis­sioner and the designated Expert to monitor human rights violations and abu­ses and to continue to bring information thereon to the attention of the Human Rights Council, and to advise on the further steps that may be needed if the situation continues to deteriorate.”

Venezuela

On 29 June, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on her report on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. The Council requested her to provide in this report a detailed assessment of the implementation of the recommendations made in her previous reports. Implementation of recommendations and improvements in the human rights situation on the ground remains a critical question as HRC mandates for OHCHR and the international investigative body for Venezuela expire in September. Venezuelan civil society groups continue to show evidence of a lack of any substantive human rights reform in the country, of a lack of meaningful cooperation by the State and – in fact – of regression in key areas such as judicial independence and civic space. ISHR urges States at the upcoming session to express support for the work of OHCHR in the country, and encourage the Office to speak clearly to realities on the ground. In addition, States should signal their support for the continuance of the work of the HRC’s fact-finding mission to the country through an extension of the Mission’s mandate at HRC51. 

The adoption of the report of the third cycle UPR on Venezuela will also take place on the 29 June or 1 July.  

Other country situations

The Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s annual report on 14 June 2022. The Council will hold debates on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Interactive Dialogues with the High Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogues with the High Commissioner on Ukraine
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
  • Interactive Dialogue with the International commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Belarus
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Central African Republic 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates: 

  1. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
  2. Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  3. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  4. Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, member from African States
  5. Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  6. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  7. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from Eastern European States
  8. Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, member from Western European and other States

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 50th session

At the organizational meeting on 30 May the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Elimination of discrimination against women (Mexico), mandate renewal 
  2. Freedom of expression (Brazil, Canada, Fiji, Sweden, Namibia, Netherlands) 
  3. Elimination of female genital mutilation (Africa Group)
  4. Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico), mandate renewal 
  5. Human rights situation in Sudan (United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, United States)
  6. Human rights situation in Syria (Germany, France, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United States, United Kingdom)
  7. Mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity  (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay), mandate renewal 
  8. Casualty recording and the promotion and protection of human rights (Liechtenstein, Croatia, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone) 
  9. Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  10. Access to medicines and vaccines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand)
  11. Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (NAM)
  12. Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers (Hungary, Australia, Botswana, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand)
  13. Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms (Ecuador, Peru)
  14. Human rights in Belarus, mandate renewal (European Union)
  15. Human rights in Eritrea, mandate renewal (European Union) 
  16. The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protest (Switzerland, Costa Rica)
  17. Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (OIC) 
  18. Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (Canada), mandate renewal 
  19. Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (Austria, Honduras, Uganda), mandate renewal
  20. Human rights and international solidarity (Cuba)
  21. Social Forum (Cuba)

Read the calendar here

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Togo, Syrian Arab Republic, Iceland, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Lithuania, Uganda, Timor-Leste, Republic of Moldova, South Sudan, Haiti and Sudan.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Panel discussion on the root causes of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar 
  2. Panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality
  3. Panel discussion on good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
  4. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
  5. Panel discussion on the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by people in vulnerable situations
  6. High-level panel discussion on countering the negative impact of disinformation on the enjoyment and realization of human rights
  7. Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity-building

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC50 on Twitter, and look out for its Human Rights Council Monitor. During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched. 

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc50-key-issues-on-agenda-of-june-2022-session/


Cambodia: Quash Convictions of ‘ADHOC 5’

June 22, 2022
201808asia_cambodia_adhoc
© 2018 ADHOC

The Cambodian authorities should quash the baseless criminal convictions of four members and one former member of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Human Rights Watch said on 22 June 2022. On June 21, 2022, four of the defendants, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, and Ny Chakrya appealed a May 23 appeals court ruling upholding their convictions to the Cambodian Supreme Court.

From the very beginning, the Cambodian authorities have sought to unjustly punish the ADHOC 5 as a way to intimidate all civil society activists from criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donor agencies should urge the authorities to drop these cases and end all repression of human rights defenders.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/11/even-landmark-un-decision-does-not-change-cambodias-treatment-of-human-rights-defenders/

In April 2016 the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit arrested ADHOC members Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, along with the former ADHOC member Ny Chakrya, who was then deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee, and accused them of making false statements regarding a criminal case against the then-opposition leader Kem Sokha.

The five activists spent 14 months in pretrial detention. During their criminal trial, the prosecution failed to present any of the witnesses mentioned in the case or provide any credible evidence to substantiate the charges.

On September 26, 2018, the Phnom Penh municipal court convicted Vanda, Sokha, Soksan, and Mony of “bribery of a witness” (article 548 of Cambodia’s criminal code) and Chakrya of being an accomplice (articles 28 and 548). All five received suspended five-year prison terms, minus 14 months of time served.

On October 24, 2018, the defendants appealed the guilty verdicts to the Court of Appeal. The prosecutor’s office also filed an appeal, seeking to have the defendants serve the remainder of their suspended sentence in prison. The Court of Appeal denied both appeals on May 23, 2022.

The ADHOC 5 case arose during a broader government crackdown on civil society and the political opposition, specifically on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which the government-dominated Supreme Court later dissolved in a politically motivated ruling.

The former CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, continues to face unsubstantiated, politically motivated treason charges brought in September 2017. While he is no longer detained, his trial only recommenced in January, after being suspended for two years ostensibly because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government deemed his case to not be a “priority”. The allegations against Sokha are based on the government’s groundless claim that the CNRP fomented a “color revolution” to overthrow the government.

Human Rights Watch has documented the situations of more than 50 current political prisoners in Cambodia, including both those in pretrial detention and those serving prison sentences following politically motivated convictions. They include political opposition members, human rights defenders, land and environmental rights activists, and journalists.

“The Cambodian authorities should recognize that every day the ADHOC 5 case persists, the greater this travesty of justice inflicts harm to the government’s reputation,” Robertson said. “The only way for justice to be served is for the prosecutor to quash the convictions and provide the defendants with an appropriate remedy for the years of hardship the case caused them.”

see also: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/the-khmer-5/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/22/cambodia-quash-convictions-adhoc-5


Today event by ISHR on Resisting police violence

June 22, 2022

Register here for this on-line event. When we think of police violence, the images that are conjured up are of Black men being targeted and tortured at the hands of law enforcement. 
Demanding justice and accountability for victims of systemic racism, Wednesday 22 June
16:00 – 18:00 CET

While these images are important, they tell only a part of the story. What are the harms that we are not seeing?  How are those harms felt more broadly by communities that are impacted directly and those who witness its affects as the humdrum of terror running automatically in the background? And, how are human rights defenders using the United Nations as a tool to expose these violations and seek justice for victims? 

This event, organised by the UN Anti-Racism Coalition, will address these questions and expand the definition of what it means to be directly impacted by police and State-sanctioned violence. The aim is to highlight and recognise the broader and deeper impacts of systemic racism. 


SPEAKERS: 

Ana Paula Oliveira, Bruna da Silva, Vanessa Francisco Sales, human rights defenders from Brazil 

María Mercedes Manjarrez, human rights defender from Colombia  

Esther Mamadou, human rights defender from Spain  

Ejim Dike, human rights defender from Nigeria  

Adrienne Hood, human rights defender from the United States 

MODERATOR: Iki Yos, Caribbean, afrodiasporic-transborder artist, performer, and anti-racist activist You are welcome to join this discussion, which will be held in English with simultaneous interpretation in Spanish, French and Portuguese. Click here to register to the event and here for more information. 

Download flyer in English,FrenchSpanish and Portuguese


New report: You Tube also needs scrutiny

June 22, 2022

In June 2022, Paul M. Barrett and Justin Hendrix of NYU’s STERN Centre for Business and Human Rights came with a very timely report: “A Platform ‘Weaponized’: How YouTube Spreads Harmful Content— And What Can Be Done About It“. We know less about YouTube than the other major social media platforms. YouTube, with more than 2 billion users, is the most popular social media site not just in the United States, but in India and Russia as well. But because of the relative difficulty of analyzing long-form videos, as compared to text or still images, YouTube has received less scrutiny from researchers and policymakers. This in-depth report addresses the knowledge gap.

Like other major platforms, You Tube has a dual nature: It provides two billion users access to news, entertainment, and do-it-yourself videos, but it also serves as a venue for political disinformation, public health myths, and incitement of violence.

——————————————————————-

YouTube’s role in Russia illustrates this duality. Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, YouTube has offered ordinary Russians factual information about the war, even as the Kremlin has blocked or restricted other Western-based social media platforms and pressured foreign journalists in the country to silence themselves. But for years before the brutal incursion, YouTube served as a megaphone for Vladimir Putin’s disinformation about Ukraine and its relations with the West. Despite its heft and influence, less is known about YouTube than other major social media sites.

Does YouTube send unwitting users down a ‘rabbit hole’ of extremism?

In response to reports that the platform’s own recommendations were “radicalizing” impressionable individuals, YouTube and its parent, Google, altered its recommendation algorithm, apparently reducing the volume of recommendations of misinformation and conspiratorial content. But platform recommendations aren’t the only way people find potentially harmful material. Some, like the white 18-year-old accused of shooting and killing 10 Black people in a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store, seek out videos depicting violence and bigotry. These self-motivated extremists can find affirmation and encouragement to turn their resentments into dangerous action.

A social media venue with global reach

Roughly 80% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the United States, and because of language and cultural barriers, the platform’s content moderation efforts are less successful abroad than at home. The report explores how YouTube is exploited by Hindu nationalists persecuting Muslims in India, right-wing anti-vaccine advocates in Brazil, and supporters of the military junta in Myanmar.


In Part 2, we examine YouTube’s role as the internet’s vast video library, one which has contributed to the spread of misinformation and other harmful content. In 2019, for example, YouTube reacted to com-
plaints that its recommendations were pushing impressionable users toward extremist right-wing views.
The company made a series of changes to its algorithms, resulting in a decline in recommendations of conspiratorial and false content. But recommendations are not the only way that people find videos on YouTube. A troubling amount of extremist content remains available for users who search for it. Moreover, YouTube’s extensive program for sharing advertising revenue with popular creators means that purveyors of misinformation can make a living while amplifying the grievances and resentments that foment partisan hatred, particularly on the political right.

In Part 3, we turn our attention to YouTube’s role in countries outside of the U.S., where more than 80%
of the platform’s traffic originates and where a profusion of languages, ethnic tensions, and cultural variations make the company’s challenges more complicated than in its home market. Organized misogynists in South Korea, far-right ideologues in Brazil, anti-Muslim Hindu nationalists, and supporters of Myanmar’s oppressive military regime have all exploited YouTube’s extraordinary reach to
spread pernicious messages and rally like minded users. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/02/bbc-podcast-on-the-framing-of-video-monk-luon-sovath/]


Recommendations to the U.S. government

Allocate political capital to reduce the malign side effects of social media: President Biden’s off-the-
cuff expressions of impatience with the industry aren’t sufficient. He ought to make a carefully considered statement and lend his authority to legislative efforts to extend federal oversight authority. Former President Obama’s recent speech at Stanford about disinformation provided a helpful foundation.
Enhance the FTC’s authority to oversee social media: Some of the issues raised in this report could
be addressed by a proposal we made in a February 2022 white paper—namely, that Congress should
authorize the Federal Trade Commission to use its consumer protection authority to require social media companies to disclose more data about their business models and operations, as well as provide procedurally adequate content moderation.

To YouTube:
Disclose more information about how the platform works: A place to start is explaining the criteria
algorithms use to rank, recommend, and remove content—as well as how the criteria are weighted relative to one another.
Facilitate greater access to data that researchers need to study YouTube: The platform should ease
its resistance to providing social scientists with information for empirical studies, including random samples of videos.
Expand and improve human review of potential harmful content: YouTube’s parent company, Google,
says that it has more than 20,000 people around the world working on content moderation, but it declines to specify how many do hands-on review of YouTube videos. Whatever that number is, it needs to grow, and outsourced moderators should be brought in-house.
Invest more in relationships with civil society and news organizations: In light of their contribution to the
collapse of the advertising-based business model of many U.S. news-gathering organizations, the platforms should step up current efforts to ensure the viability of the journalism business, especially at the local level.

The NYU Center for Business and Human Rights began publishing reports on the effects of social media on democracy in the wake of Russia’s exploitation of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. We initially advocated for heightened industry self-regulation, in part to forestall government intervention that could lead to First Amendment complications. As the inadequacy of industry reforms has become clear, we have supplemented our calls for self-regulation with a proposal for enhancement of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection
authority to oversee the industry.

In Part 4, we offer a concise version of the FTC proposal, as well as a series of recommendations to YouTube itself. The report does not address the problem of YouTube hosting potentially harmful videos aimed at children and teenagers. This persistent phenomenon deserves continued scrutiny but is beyond the scope of our analysis.

VIEW FULL REPORT

https://bhr.stern.nyu.edu/blogs/2022/6/10/report-a-platform-weaponized-how-youtube-spreads-harmful-content-and-what-can-be-done-about-it


Film “THE STORY WON’T DIE” about Syrian protest art

June 18, 2022

THE STORY WON’T DIE is an inspiring, timely look at a young generation of Syrian artists who use their work to protest and process what is currently the world’s largest and longest ongoing displacement of people since World War II. The film is produced by Sundance Award-winning producer Odessa Rae (Navalny). Rapper Abu Hajar, together with other celebrated creative personalities of the Syrian uprising, including post-rock musician Anas Maghrebi, members of the first all female Syrian rock band Bahila Hijazi and Lynn Mayya, breakdancer Bboy Shadow, choreographer Medhat Aldaabal, and visual artists Tammam Azzam, Omar Imam and Diala Brisly, use their art to rise in revolution and endure in exile in this new documentary reflecting on a battle for peace, justice, and freedom of expression. It is an uplifting and humanizing look at what it means to be a refugee in today’s world, and offers inspiring and hopeful vantages on a creative response to the chaos of war.

The Human Rights Foundation organised the New York Premiere of THE STORY WON’T DIE on Friday, June 17 at Cinema VillageThe screening was followed by a Q&A with award-winning filmmaker David Henry Gerson and the film’s co-producer Abdalaziz Alhamza.

https://mailchi.mp/hrf.org/you-are-invited-june-15th-screening-of-the-dissident-288999?e=f80cec329e


UN and NGOs denounce ODHIKAR’s deregistration in Bangladesh

June 16, 2022

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and 11 international and regional rights organisations have demanded that the government must immediately cancel its decision to deregister rights organisation Odhikar and allow the rights organisation to function without fear of reprisal.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a press briefing in Geneva statement on Friday, ‘We are concerned by the Government of Bangladesh’s decision not to approve the renewal of registration for Odhikar, a prominent and respected human rights organisation in the country’.

She said, ‘We urge the government to immediately reconsider this decision, and to ensure that Odhikar has the ability to seek full judicial review of any such determination. We are further concerned that this decision will have a chilling effect on the ability of civil society organisations to report serious human rights violations to UN human rights mechanisms.’

Odhikar has documented and reported on rights violations for many years to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Procedures mandate holders and human rights treaty bodies, she mentioned in the briefing available on the website of the UN body.

Intimidation and reprisals against Odhikar have been documented since 2013, and appear to have intensified, with accusations of ‘anti-state’ and ‘anti-government’ activities, she added.

‘There has been increased surveillance of its activities in recent months. The UN Secretary-General has also raised concerns about reprisals against Odhikar over the past decade for cooperating with the UN,’ she said.

On June 5, 2022, the bureau sent a letter to Odhikar, denying its application for renewal of registration. Odhikar’s application for renewal of its registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau under the Prime Minister’s Office has been pending since 2014, she said, adding that Odhikar’s bank account was also frozen in 2014. ‘We call for Odhikar to be permitted access to its banked funds pending reconsideration of the renewal application,’ said the UN official.

Eleven international and regional human rights organisations, meanwhile, in a joint statement called on the government to immediately reverse the decision to deregister Odhikar.

Human rights defenders should be allowed to conduct their work without fear of reprisals, intimidation, and harassment from the authorities,’ read the statement issued by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Capital Punishment Justice Project, Elios Justice at Monash University, Human Rights First, International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearance, International Federation for Human Rights, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights and World Organisation Against Torture. {See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/17/un-experts-urge-bangladesh-to-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/]

The rights organisation in the statement said this latest development appeared to be part of a pattern of reprisals by the government against human rights organisations groups and defenders following the US sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion on December 10, 2021. [See https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/21/bangladesh-sanctions-seem-to-work/]

On 14 June 2022 Forum Asia in a strong statement said: FORUM-ASIA expresses its solidarity with Odhikar and calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately recall the decision of rejecting Odhikar’s renewal application thereby ensuring it to carry on their human rights work. FORUM-ASIA reiterates its earlier call to repeal the Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016 as it imposes restrictions on civil society organisations’ ability to access resources.

The same day, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said they “are extremely alarmed by the decision of the government to arbitrarily revoke the registration of Odhikar, a leading human rights organisation in Bangladesh. This move is another blow to civil society and human rights defenders who have been facing systematic repression by the Sheikh Hasina regime.

http://www.humanrights.asia/opinions/AHRC-ETC-004-2022/

https://www.newagebd.net/article/172898/un-11-intl-orgs-slam-odhikar-deregistration