Andrew Anderson steps down as head of Front Line Defenders

January 29, 2023

On 27 January 2023, it was announced that Andrew Anderson is stepping down as Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, after two decades of leading the organisation’s work to support and protect human rights defenders at risk.

Andrew joined the organisation as Deputy Director in 2003 and has since 2016 served as its second Executive Director.

This February marks my 20th anniversary with Front Line Defenders, an organisation I have been honoured to lead. I think it is a good time for others to take on the leadership of this exceptional organisation,” said Andrew Anderson. “I am confident I am leaving an organisation that is in excellent shape with a hugely dedicated and talented staff team, a strong new Strategic Plan for 2023-27, robust funding and a track record of delivery on behalf of human rights defenders at risk.”

Last year, the organisation delivered another record of over 1,000 protection grants to the most at risk HRDs around the world, including in severe crises such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran and Myanmar. With over 100 defenders in attendance, the 2022 Dublin Platform last October was again a brilliant manifestation of the range and diversity of human rights defenders we are providing support to.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/andrew-anderson-the-dangerous-game-of-sportswashing/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/repressive-governments-and-ophelia-compete-to-prevent-hrds-to-travel-to-dublin/

Front Line Defenders expanded significantly in size and scope during Andrew’s tenure as Executive Director, further establishing the organisation as a trusted and central partner for HRDs at risk globally In 2018 the organisation was awarded the UN Prize for Human Rights.

The Board of Front Line Defenders has asked Olive Moore to take on the role of Interim Director, supported by the organisation’s management team. Olive has served as Deputy Director of Front Line Defenders since 2020, prior to which she held a range of roles working on human rights and humanitarian issues for Trócaire, Amnesty International, The World Bank and the Irish Government.  

The Board will oversee a competitive, international recruitment process for a new Executive Director of Front Line Defenders to take forward the organisation’s work to support and protect human rights defenders.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/andrew-anderson-former-executive-director


Suspicious Death of Investigative Journalist John Williams Ntwali in Rwanda

January 24, 2023
John Williams Ntwali.
John Williams Ntwali. © Private

Human Rights Watch and others demand that the Rwandan authorities allow an effective, independent, and transparent investigation into the suspicious death of John Williams Ntwali, a leading investigative journalist and editor of the newspaper The Chronicles. Ntwali was regularly threatened due to his work as a journalist exposing human rights abuses in Rwanda and had expressed concern about his safety to Human Rights Watch and others.

John Williams Ntwali was a lifeline for many victims of human rights violations and often the only journalist who dared report on issues of political persecution and repression,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There are many reasons to question the theory of a road accident, and a prompt, effective investigation, drawing on international expertise, is essential to determine whether he was murdered.

News of Ntwali’s death emerged in the evening of January 19, 2023. Police asked Ntwali’s brother to identify his body at Kacyiru Hospital morgue, telling him that Ntwali had died in a road accident the night of January 17 to 18. The police told the New Times website that Ntwali died in a motorbike accident in Kimihurura, Kigali, on January 18 at 2:50 a.m., but to date, have not provided details of the accident such as a police report, its exact location, or information on the others involved. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any reports about an alleged accident coming to light until the evening of January 19.

Ntwali was regularly threatened and attacked in the pro-government media for his investigative reporting. He played a leading role in covering and bringing attention to the plight of Kangondo neighborhood residents, who are in a long-standing dispute with authorities over land evictions. Recently, he also published videos on his YouTube channel about people who had suspiciously “disappeared.” His last video, posted on January 17, was about the reported disappearance of a genocide survivor who had spoken out about being beaten by police officers in 2018.

Ntwali was also one of only a few journalists independently covering high profile, politicized trials of journalists, commentators and opposition members, and posting videos about their conditions in prison. In June 2022, he told Human Rights Watch about the torture wounds he had seen on some of these critics and opponents. He also told Human Rights Watch:

I don’t know what’s going to happen to me after CHOGM [the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which took place in Kigali in June 2022]. I’m told that after CHOGM, they won’t play around with us anymore. I’ve been told five or six times. I receive phone calls from private numbers. Some [intelligence] people have come to my house twice to tell me. NISS [National Intelligence and Security Services] has told me: ‘If you don’t change your tone, after CHOGM, you’ll see what happens to you.’

On July 12, he told a friend he had survived a number of “staged accidents” in Kigali. “He was telling me about ordeals and threats he faces for his journalism,” his friend told Human Rights Watch.

Given these circumstances, Rwanda has a legal obligation to ensure a prompt, effective investigation that is capable of determining the circumstances of Ntwali’s death and identifying those responsible, with a view to bringing them to justice. An effective investigation must be independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent, conducted in full compliance with the Revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death).

Because Rwandan authorities have consistently failed to ensure credible investigations into and accountability for suspicious deaths of political opponents or high-profile critics, such as Kizito Mihigo in February 2020, foreign experts such as the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions should be involved in the investigation, Human Rights Watch said. All Rwandan authorities should fully support and cooperate with the investigation, and the Commonwealth, which Rwanda currently chairs, should publicly call for such an investigation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/16/call-for-independent-investigation-into-rwandan-singer-kizito-mihigos-death/

Rwandan authorities have long targeted Ntwali. He was arrested in January 2016, in the lead up to the 2017 elections, and accused of raping a minor. Judicial officials later changed the charge to indecent assault and eventually dropped the case for lack of evidence.

At the time, Ntwali had been investigating several sensitive issues, including the death of Assinapol Rwigara, a businessman and father of would-be independent presidential candidate Diana Rwigara, whose candidacy to the 2017 elections was later rejected. The police said that Assinapol Rwigara died in a car accident in February 2015, but his family contested the authorities’ version of events.

Ntwali had also been arbitrarily arrested several other times and his website was blocked by a government regulator, apparently in retaliation for his reporting that was critical of the government.

“It is an embarrassment for the Commonwealth and a problematic message about its values that the country that presides over it is a place where the suspicious deaths of journalists and activists can be swept under the carpet,” Mudge said. “Rwandan authorities should not only not harm journalists but should be actively protecting them, and Rwanda’s partners should be holding the government to account in full for its obligations under international human rights law.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/20/rwanda-suspicious-death-investigative-journalist

https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/john-williams-ntwali-rare-rwandan-journalist-critical-govt-dies-2023-01-20/


Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko shot dead in eSwatini

January 23, 2023

On 22 January 2023 Freedom Under Law (FUL) said that the news that eSwatini human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko has been gunned down in cold blood comes as no surprise. The eSwatini government said Maseko was brutally shot and killed by unknown criminals at his home in Mbabane on Saturday night. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/03464020-c1e6-11ea-a3f7-933e766692a6

A ceaseless and fearless human rights lawyer, an outspoken critic of the regime in his beloved eSwatini, Thulani had all too long suffered at the hands of a heedless regime. But he lived by the motto: ‘My head is bloody, but unbowed … I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul’.

“Sadly, and to the shame of those engaged in the administration of justice in his country, all too often he was a lone beacon of light,” FUL chair judge Johann Kriegler said. He said no-one could be misled by the cynical message of condolence put out on behalf of the eSwatini government.

His passing has not only left his family bereft of a loved one; his country has been left the poorer, its human rights conscience brutally stifled.

FUL said in paying tribute to Maseko that it respectfully suggested it would be fitting if the Law Society of eSwatini were to mark his passing by observing January 21 every year as a day of mourning his death and rededication to the rule of law. “To his widow and family we express our grateful condolences. They have paid a bitter price on behalf of all who try to serve the principles for which their dear one lived.

According to the eSwatini government, Maseko was shot by “unknown criminals”. “[His] demise is a loss to the nation, and his footprints as a human rights lawyer are there as proof of his contributions to the country. He will be surely missed,” it said in a statement.  Spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo said the country’s security forces had assured the government that they were already at work looking for the killers and would not rest until they have been brought to book. “Government also wants to warn against speculations and insinuations, peddled particularly on social media platforms in instances like these. Again, government distinctively disassociates… and the country’s authorities from these heinous acts.”

Maseko chaired the Multi-Stakeholders Forum, a collaboration of political parties and civil society groups working to amplify calls for democratic reforms. 

In 2018, Maseko took Swaziland’s King Mswati III to court for changing the country’s name. He had argued that the resources to be channelled to the name change should rather go towards improving living standards of the poor, according to reports by City Press. In 2014, Maseko was sentenced to two years in prison, with the editor of news magazine The Nation, Bheki Makhubu, for contempt of court over articles critical of the government and judiciary. The Nation published articles co-authored by the two men which were critical of the chief justice and suggested that he may have abused his powers. See also: https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/lawyers/thulani-maseko/

A very impressive group of NGOs and individuals co-signed a statement condemning his killing: https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/eswatini-condemnation-of-assassination-of-renowed-hrd-thulani-maseko

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2023-01-22-human-rights-lawyer-thulani-masekos-murder-is-no-surprise-says-freedom-under-law/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/25/eswatini-activist-rights-lawyer-brutally-killed

https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/human-rights-lawyer-thulani-maseko-shot-dead-outside-home-in-eswatini-20230122

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-thulani-maseko


Harvard comes to its senses: rescinds decision on Roth

January 20, 2023
Roth poses after an interview with Reuters in Geneva
Picture January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Following the shocking decision not to award a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch (HRW), [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2023/01/10/pro-israel-lobby-in-usa-seems-to-control-harvards-human-rights-centre/], the Kennedy School at Harvard University said on 19 January that it has reversed its decision.

In the case of Mr. Roth, I now believe that I made an error in my decision not to appoint him as a Fellow at our Carr Center for Human Rights… We will extend an offer to Mr. Roth to serve as a Fellow. I hope that our community will be able to benefit from his deep experience in a wide range of human rights issues,” Elmendorf said.

The decision not to award a fellowship to Roth, first reported by The Nation, drew criticism from some alumni, the American Civil Liberties Union and HRW itself. Freedom of expression advocacy group PEN America said the decision “raises serious questions about the credibility of the Harvard program itself.”

Roth in a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday said he was “thrilled” that Elmendorf had rescinded his decision.

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/harvard-school-reverses-course-will-extend-fellowship-human-rights-advocate-2023-01-19/


Breaking news: Laureates of the MEA for 2023 announced

January 19, 2023

Today the three Martin Ennals Award Laureates 2023 were announced !

The 2023 Laureates — Delphine Djiraibé (Chad), Feliciano Reyna (Venezuela), and Khurram Parvez (Jammu and Kashmir) — have each dedicated over 30 years of their lives to building movements which brought justice for victims, accountability from leaders, or medicines to the marginalized. They have made human rights real for thousands of people in their communities, despite the ongoing, sometimes life-threatening, challenges they endure.  For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/043F9D13-640A-412C-90E8-99952CA56DCE

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Delphine Kemneloum Djiraibé was one of the first female lawyers in Chad and a pioneer of the human rights movement in one of the poorest countries in the world, fraught with corruption and human rights abuses. Convinced that her role is to “challenge the power”, Delphine has advocated on behalf of victims and the democratic process for over 30 years. She was a key figure in bringing the former dictator Hissène Habré to justice. Djiraibé heads the non-governmental organisation Public Interest Law Center (PILC), which trains volunteers and accompanies citizens seeking justice for violations of their rights. In recent years she has been particularly active in combating gender-based violence and is in the process of establishing the first women’s counselling center in Chad, which will include an emergency shelter for women affected by domestic violence. See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/5B701F71-12FD-B713-9F99-5E09B9AFD6DA

After the death of his partner Rafael from AIDS in 1995, Feliciano Reyna, then an architect, founded Acción Solidaria to provide much needed medication and treatment to Venezuelans living with HIV & AIDS. Feliciano and Acción Solidaria began advocating for access to health for the marginalised LGBTQI population in a country where healthcare was on the decline and corruption on the rise. They created the first national AIDS Help Line in Venezuela and ran a national awareness campaign on HIV & AIDS, which aired on TV and in movie theaters, and received radio and magazine coverage. Feliciano Reyna went on to found CODEVIDA, a coalition of Venezuelan organisations promoting the rights of Venezuelan citizens to health and life. As he put it: “We walked directly into the complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela”. Despite ongoing threats, since 2006, he has worked closely with UN mechanisms to defend human rights in his country. In 2019 his advocacy was instrumental in establishing the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela. 

At the age of 13, when Khurram Parvez witnessed the shooting of his grandfather during a protest demonstration against the molestation of women outside his house in Kashmir, he chose to “not incite violence and become part of some revenge” , but rather to become a “nonviolent activist“. He founded the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and is the Chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For 15 years he has travelled to the most remote parts of the region to sit with victims of abuse, collect documentation and report on their stories. Under his leadership, the JKCCS has been highly effective in translating the protections guaranteed in international human rights law into local realities. Despite continued attacks on his right to freedom of expression by the Indian government, being jailed in 2016 and losing a leg to landmines, Khurram relentlessly spoke the truth and was an inspiration to civil society and the local population. In November 2021, he was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on politically motivated charges. He remains detained without trial in India.  See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/81468931-79AA-24FF-58F7-10351638AFE3

You can watch them take questions from the press at the Club Suisse de la Presse, livestreamed on February 14th, 2023 from 12h CET.

A celebration of the Laureates 2023 will take place on 16 February at the Salle communale de Plainpalais in Geneva, at 6:30pm. The event is open to the public and livestreamed from the Martin Ennals Foundation’s website and Facebook page. Sign-up to the Ceremony


Mongolian human rights defender Munkhbayar Chuluundorj gets support from over 100 NGOs

January 18, 2023

On 12 January 2023, over 100 Groups urged world leaders to jointly press for all charges against Mongolian writer and activist Munkhbayar Chuluundorj to be dropped and for him to be freed.

We urge the Mongolian government to immediately release Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj who was arbitrarily arrested in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, by the General Intelligence Agency (GIA) of Mongolia on February 17, 2022.

Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj is an award-winning Mongolian journalist, poet, and human rights activist known for defending the linguistic, cultural, and historical identities of Southern Mongolians.

Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj was detained in Ulaanbaatar on politically motivated charges related to his public criticism of the Mongolian government’s close ties with China and the shrinking rights in Southern Mongolia. His arrest and sentencing took place amid China’s increasingly severe policies in Southern Mongolia that aim to remove learning in the Mongolian language for several key subjects. …

Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj was sentenced to 10 years in prison on June 28, 2022, for “collaborating with a foreign intelligence agency” against the People’s Republic of China. On December 21, 2022, the Supreme Court of Mongolia heard his appeal and upheld the lower court’s original decision. There is no evidence linking Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj to the charge and his lawyer, Ms. Baasan Geleg, has dismissed the national security charge against him as entirely baseless.

In September 2022 two handwritten letters from Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj – penned in the detention center in June 2022 – were received by the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center. In the letters, he pleaded his innocence and detailed how he believed the evidence against him had been fabricated in relation to his work to better the conditions of Mongolians.

Land-locked Mongolia is highly dependent on China for imports and there has been an increase in economic influence, including vast loans via Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, in recent years that have pushed Mongolia into major indebtedness to China. These debts are further exacerbated by a program of cultural propaganda such as the establishment of Confucius Institutes, television and radio broadcasts, and cultural centers.

Growing concern about the Mongolian state’s harassment, intimidation, and reprisals against human rights defenders is growing. In October 2022, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights raised the issue of human rights defenders and recommended Mongolia put in place protection safeguards and ‘urgently investigate cases in which human rights defenders are criminalized’. Later in the same month, the Japanese “Parliamentary Support Group for Southern Mongolia” published a statement regarding the sentence of Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj.

Rights groups are calling on like-minded governments – both jointly and bi-laterally – and the UN Human Rights Council to call for the immediate release of Mr. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj.

https://www.nchrd.org/


Meet Volya Vysotskaia, a Belarusian human rights defender

January 12, 2023

Meet HRF Freedom Fellow Volya Vysotskaia, a Belarusian human rights activist who exposes repression and torture by state officials. 

Vysotskaia is currently part of the 2022 Freedom Fellowship, a programme of the Human Rights Foundation, a one-year program that provides hands-on, expert mentorship across seven critical areas: leadership, movement-building, organizing, fundraising, media, mental health, and digital security.

On September 27, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus announced that five people would be tried in absentia — Vysotskaia is one of them. She has since been denied information about the trial, and her request to appear virtually was rejected. Should she return to Belarus, a country where torture and inhuman treatment is routine, officials will likely detain her.

Learn more about Vysotskaia’s case.

Q: Can you tell us about your activism protecting democracy in Belarus?

A: From August 2020 to October 2021, I was an editor of the Telegram channel, the “Black Book of Belarus.” Our work “de-anonymized” or identified law enforcement officers and other government authorities who committed human rights violations, hiding behind their high-power statuses. We published the pictures and personal data of riot police officers, prosecutors, judges, and other officials to hold them accountable for their repression of Belarusian citizens demanding democracy and freedom. 

Q: What led to the criminalization of the Black Book of Belarus’ editors and readers? 

A: In October 2020, a special service agent infiltrated our team and leaked information about members. Previously, he was part of the special operation that hijacked a Ryanair flight in May 2021 to imprison Sofia Sapega, another team member. After we uncovered the agent, my team and I were chased down in Vilnius, and dozens of people in the Telegram group were also imprisoned. 

Q: What is unique about your criminal case? 

A: The case brought against my four colleagues and me is the first trial in absentia in the country’s history. We have been accused of “exasperation of enmity” and “social disagreement,” as well as illegal actions relating to private life and personal data. The Belarusian KGB has also added us to the list of individuals engaging in “extremist activities.” Belarusian courts recognize almost all civil society organizations as extremists, but we will be the first to be tried and sentenced without the opportunity to defend ourselves. 

Belarusian authorities are undoubtedly denying us the right to a fair trial. Notably, I was denied access to information about my criminal case, and I never met the lawyer assigned to me, nor did the lawyer ever respond to my calls. 

Q: What is the scope of legal harassment against Belarusian pro-democracy activists in exile? 

A: The Lukashenko government changed the criminal procedural law back in July and invented a special proceeding for trying in absentia those who are engaged in “anti-state activities,” and living in exile. The addendum of this new procedural law provides that defendants are no longer aware of the content of their cases. It is sufficient for the legislative body to post this information on official websites, which clearly violates Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Q: What should the international community learn from your case? 

A: The violations of the right to a fair trial, among other rights, didn’t start in Belarus with our case. It just brings back the attention of the international community to the fact that the repressions in Belarus haven’t stopped. They continue every day. The power, the judicial system, and the independence of Belarus with Lukashenko are fake. The regime represses and scares the Belarusians inside the country, and while the international community doesn’t react to the severe violations of human rights, the regime spreads its attention to those living in exile. Because silence allows them to do that.

The international community has to learn that there have to be efficient mechanisms for bringing perpetrators to trial until they destroy whole nations, as well as to guarantee the defense for the victims of violations. International justice can’t be built on the international ignorance of injustice. Being concerned doesn’t stop dictators.Repression in Belarus. HRF condemns the actions of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime and stands with Volya and all Belarusians who speak truth to power, even when their lives are at risk

The Freedom Fellowship is a one-year program that gives human rights advocates, social entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders from challenging political environments the opportunity to increase the impact of their work. Through mentorship and hands-on training sessions, fellows develop critical skills and join a growing community of human rights activists.

https://hrf.org/category/freedom-fellows/


Pro-Israel lobby in USA seems to control Harvard’s human rights centre

January 10, 2023

Kenneth Roth wrote in the Guardian of 10 January 2023 “I once ran Human Rights Watch. Harvard blocked my fellowship over Israel. I was told that my fellowship at the Kennedy School was vetoed over my and Human Rights Watch’s criticism of Israel”.

Kenneth Roth said Harvard’s move was a reflection of ‘how utterly afraid the Kennedy School has become of any criticism of Israel’.

. ..If any academic institution can afford to abide by principle, to refuse to compromise academic freedom under real or presumed donor pressure, it is Harvard, the world’s richest university. Yet the Kennedy School’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, vetoed a human rights fellowship that had been offered to me because of my criticism of Israel. As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern.

Soon after I announced my departure from Human Rights Watch [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/27/after-almost-30-years-kenneth-roth-will-leave-human-rights-watch/], the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy reached out to me to discuss offering me a fellowship. ..

.. in anticipation of my stay at the school, I reached out to the dean to introduce myself. We had a pleasant half-hour conversation. The only hint of a problem came at the end. He asked me whether I had any enemies.

It was an odd question. I explained that of course I had enemies. Many of them. That is a hazard of the trade as a human rights defender.

I explained that the Chinese and Russian governments had personally sanctioned me – a badge of honor, in my view. I mentioned that a range of governments, including Rwanda’s and Saudi Arabia’s, hate me. But I had a hunch what he was driving at, so I also noted that the Israeli government undoubtedly detests me, too.

That turned out to be the kiss of death. Two weeks later, the Carr Center called me up to say sheepishly that Elmendorf had vetoed my fellowship. He told Professor Kathryn Sikkink, a highly respected human rights scholar affiliated with the Kennedy School, that the reason was my, and Human Rights Watch’s, criticism of Israel.

That is a shocking revelation. How can an institution that purports to address foreign policy – that even hosts a human rights policy center – avoid criticism of Israel. Elmendorf has not publicly defended his decision, so we can only surmise what happened. He is not known to have taken public positions on Israel’s human rights record, so it is hard to imagine that his personal views were the problem.

But as the Nation showed in its exposé about my case, several major donors to the Kennedy School are big supporters of Israel. Did Elmendorf consult with these donors or assume that they would object to my appointment? We don’t know. But that is the only plausible explanation that I have heard for his decision. The Kennedy School spokesperson has not denied it.

Some defenders of the Israeli government have claimed that Elmendorf’s rejection of my fellowship was because Human Rights Watch, or I, devote too much attention to Israel. The accusation of “bias” is rich coming from people who themselves never criticize Israel and, typically using neutral sounding organizational names, attack anyone who criticizes Israel.

Moreover, Israel is one of 100 countries whose human rights record Human Rights Watch regularly addresses. Israel is a tiny percentage of its work. And within the Israeli-Palestinian context, Human Rights Watch addresses not only Israeli repression but also abuses by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In any event, it is doubtful that these critics would be satisfied if Human Rights Watch published slightly fewer reports on Israel, or if I issued less frequent tweets. They don’t want less criticism of Israel. They want no criticism of Israel.

The other argument that defenders of Israel have been advancing is that Human Rights Watch, and I, “demonize” Israel, or that we try to “evoke repulsion and disgust”. Usually this is a prelude to charging that we are “antisemitic”.

Human rights advocacy is premised on documenting and publicizing governmental misconduct to shame the government into stopping. That is what Human Rights Watch does to governments worldwide. To equate that with antisemitism is preposterous. And dangerous, because it cheapens the very serious problem of antisemitism by reducing it to criticism of Israel. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/04/amnesty-joins-debate-on-apartheid-versus-palestinians-but-reactions-debase-struggle-against-real-antisemitism/

The issue at Harvard is far more than my own academic fellowship. I recognized that, as an established figure in the human rights movement, I am in a privileged position. Being denied this fellowship will not significantly impede my future. But I worry about younger academics who are less known. If I can be canceled because of my criticism of Israel, will they risk taking the issue on?

The ultimate question here is about donor-driven censorship. Why should any academic institution allow the perception that donor preferences, whether expressed or assumed, can restrict academic inquiry and publication? Regardless of what happened in my case, wealthy Harvard should take the lead here.

To clarify its commitment to academic freedom, Harvard should announce that it will accept no contributions from donors who try to use their financial influence to censor academic work, and that no administrator will be permitted to censor academics because of presumed donor concerns. That would transform this deeply disappointing episode into something positive.

See also the reaction by Gerald L. Neuman: https://hrp.law.harvard.edu/staff-reflections/hks-kenneth-roth-and-the-message-to-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jan/10/kenneth-roth-human-rights-watch-harvard-israel


Sports washing: autocracies can afford more big events

January 10, 2023

I have been paying attention to the phenomenon of sports washing on several occasions in the past. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/. It pleases me to see that the Economist on 19 November 2022 underpinned this concern by showing that over the last years autocratic regimes have increased their share of the pie.

According to data compiled by Adam Scharpf, of the University of Copenhagen, and two colleagues, the share of international sporting events hosted by autocracies fell from 36% in 1945-88 to 15% in 1989-2012. Since then, it has rebounded to 37%. Although the total number of democracies in the world has also declined from the post-cold-war high, only a few recent autocratic hosts are lapsed democracies.

Ironically, this trend stems largely from democratic decision-making. Studies have shown that big sporting events tend to be bad deals for host countries. Cities have to build costly stadiums that are rarely used afterwards, and that fail to spark economic development in surrounding areas. As a result, governments accountable to their taxpayers have become less enthusiastic about being the host. This year’s Winter Olympics wound up in Beijing almost by default, after all four cities in democratic countries that had bid backed out. The only alternative was Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Autocrats, in contrast, are free to squander public funds. The main threat they face as hosts is that protesters or the press will highlight human-rights violations. But rather than encouraging reform, the international spotlight seems to lead such regimes to become even more repressive in the run-up to sporting events.

Using “repression scores” calculated by other scholars that measure how much violence states inflict on their citizens, Mr Scharpf has shown that hosts of the Olympics and football tournaments tend to crack down two years before opening ceremonies. Once the world starts watching, they ease off. All this is illustrated by graphics.

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/11/17/international-sporting-events-are-increasingly-held-in-autocracies


Applications for the 2023 Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) of the ISHR: deadline 10 January

January 5, 2023

The International Service for Human Rights in Geneva (ISHR) calls for applications for a new hybrid version of the Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP). This intensive course will take place remotely between 17 April and 7 June and will be followed by an in-person training from 14 to 24 June 2023 in Geneva. The course equips human rights defenders with the knowledge and skills to integrate the UN human rights system into their existing work at the national level in a strategic manner. It also provides an opportunity for participants to prepare for and engage in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN with the aim to create change back home. Find out why you should join HRDAP23 from Bonnie, one of our HRDAP 2022 Alumni:

So if you are a human rights defender keen to use the UN to push for change at home, get a taste of the programme here and apply before 10 January 2023!


Apply before 10 January 2