Archive for the 'awards' Category

Kenya’s Human Rights Defender of 2019 is Wilfred Olal of the Social Justice Working Group

December 13, 2019

The Defenders’ Coalition and HRD Working Group in Kenya announced the winners of the Human Rights Defender of the Year 2019. The awards are a local initiative to honour, promote and protect the work of HRDs in the Kenya.

Wilfred Olal and the Social Justice Working Group are the winners of the Human Rights Defender of the Year 2019. Wilfred is the coordinator of the Dandora Community Justice Centre and Convener of the Social Justice Centres Working Group. He began his work in human rights in 2005 when he joined The Bunge la Mwananchi social movement. He started as a member then rose to the position of national coordinator. The movement is an advocacy for the expansion of civic space and a campaign on the right to protest against corruption and impunity. In 2014, Wilfred and other HRDs decided to set up social justice centres to advocate for social justice and human rights in informal settlements of Nairobi. He started the Social Justice Centres Working Group (SJCWG) in Mathare, then later Dandora. SJCWG advocates and fights for the promotion of human rights in all spheres through documentation, monitoring, reporting of cases of human rights violations and holding community dialogues within their areas of advocacy. Today, SJCWG is a consortium of 28 social justice centers mainly based in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa’s informal settlements.

Benazir Mohammed and the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya won Upcoming Human Rights Defender of the Year while Denis Nzioka, Peninah Mwangi and the late Onyango Oloo won the Munir Mazrui Lifetime Achievement Award. The Human Rights Defenders Awards ceremony was hosted by the French Embassy in Nairobi, with the support from the Belgian, Dutch, German and Swedish Embassies and Haki Africa – a national human rights NGO based in Mombasa, Kenya.

https://www.peacebrigades.org/en/news/human-rights-defenders-awards-kenya

Human Rights Day 10 December 2019: an anthology

December 11, 2019

International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2019, was celebrated or observed all around the world and there is no way to report on every event. Stil to add flavour here a selection of some 14 smaller and bigger events – for more details follow the links provided (and for last year’s anthology see references at the end):

There was of course the annual statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Rightly, these young people are pointing out that it is their future which is at stake, and the future of all those who have not yet even been born. It is they who will have to bear the full consequences of the actions, or lack of action, by the older generations who currently run governments and businesses, the decision-makers on whom the future of individual countries, regions and the planet as whole depends…We have a duty to ensure young people’s voices are heard. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was a firm commitment by States to protect the rights of everyone – and that includes making it possible for future generations to uphold human dignity, equality and rights…..Climate harms will not be halted by national borders – and reactions based on hostile nationalism, or short-term financial considerations, will not only fail: they will tear our world apart. The struggles for climate justice and human rights are not a political quarrel. This is not about left or right: it is about rights – and wrongs… We need to mobilise across the world – peacefully and powerfully – to advance a world of rights, dignity and choice for everyone. The decision-makers understood that vision very clearly in 1948. Do they understand it now? I urge world leaders to show true leadership and long-term vision and set aside narrow national political interests for the sake of everyone, including themselves and all their descendants.

Pakistan: Human Rights Defenders asked the government to make serious efforts to provide fundamental rights. Human rights, labour rights and civil society activists called upon the government to make serious efforts for the provision of fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially the freedoms of association and expression, enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Addressing a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club to mark International Human Rights Day, PILER joint director Zulfiqar Shah, human rights activists Naghma Shaikh and Saeed Baloch representing the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network said the government should ensure the restoration of the freedom of expression and the freedom to association. They demanded that the government should bring in a law to protect the rights of human rights defenders as they stood up for the voiceless people…. They also demand fully restoring the freedom of expression, as it was a constitutional right of the people to express their thought. Access to the information right must be ensured, they said.

India: Activists say NHRC urgently needs to protect human rights defenders. The National Human Rights Commission should proactively protect the rights of ‘human rights defenders’, said activists at the national convention on rights of Dalit and Adivasi rights defenders in the capital on Tuesday. Human Rights Defenders appealed to the commission to proactively intervene in cases where the works of Dalit and Adivasi organisations were being obstructed. Activists said there were a growing attack on human rights defenders in India and said the need of the hour was collective action….On Human Rights Day, the convention highlighted the importance of the work of human rights defenders. Despite the country having national human rights institutions and over 160 state human rights institutions dealing with human rights, women, children, minorities, SCs, STs, right to information, persons with disabilities, and safai-karamcharis, these institutions have often failed to protect the human rights defenders, activists said. In addition to the usual challenges, women human rights defenders face gender-specific violations, such as rape and sexual violence which are used as tools for harassment, said activists. Caste discrimination has also presented a greater danger for women rights defenders belonging to the Dalit and Adivasi communities.

Cambodia: The Khmer Times reported that very differing opinions on the status of human rights in the Kingdom became apparent as various groups marked Human Rights Day at two venues in the capital. About 400 government officials and youth group members marked the day’s 71st anniversary at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Centre, while about 2,000 unionists and members of the public marked the day at Freedom Park.

Keo Remy, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, at the CKCC said the government has always paid attention to the rights of citizens. “Our leaders prioritise peace and stability,” Mr Remy said. “Youths can make the country chaotic because of the words democracy and human rights. That is why we focus on youths and stability.” while..

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, at Freedom Park said respecting the rights of workers has decreased over the years and it is a source of concern for many. “We see that respecting workers’ rights has decreased – investors do not pay attention to workers,” Mr Thorn said. “Investors need to consider the rights of workers.” He said garment factory workers are faced with decreasing salaries, overtime work, discrimination, short-term contracts, violence and imprisonment. The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights in a statement said the government has taken action to curb issues surrounding human rights, but it has not done enough. “We call on the government to encourage the celebration of Human Rights Day in Cambodia and acknowledge the benefit human rights have on society as a whole,” it said. “We implore the government to cease all arbitrary action and targetting of human rights defenders.” The CCHR also called for the charges against two former Radio Free Asia journalists and Kem Sokha to be dropped.

Palestine: the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported that Palestinians marked International Human Rights Day following a year of nonstop violence and widespread human rights violations by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), against the Palestinian population used, as a form of collective punishment and a method to control Palestinian society. These consistent and systematic policies by the occupation include, extrajudicial executions and issuance of discriminatory legislations, mass arrests campaigns, torture, administrative detention, and medical negligence against Palestinian political prisoners…..In 2019, the (IOF) continued its crackdown and repression of human rights defenders. Currently, Addameer faces gag orders against around 40 of the cases they represent, who are in interrogation. The gag order prohibits us from releasing any information to the public regarding their detention status, or face grave consequences.

Philippines: Groups under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (Ecuvoice) has submitted its first wave of reports on the human rights situation in the Philippines to United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday, Dec. 9. This is in line with Resolution 41/2 which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in July this year. “With the intensifying transgressions on the Filipinos people’s political rights and civil liberties, we are participating in this report-making process of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to pursue justice and accountability,” the convenor of Ecuvoice, Edita Burgos, said.

while

the international trade union movement was using international human rights day to call attention to the alarming attacks on human and labour rights defenders in the Philippines. The government’s targeting of trade unionists has been ramped up recently with fresh waves of arrests and violence. The international trade union movement is united in calling on the government to stop the attacks. The government is targeting labour activists through a practice known as red-tagging. By falsely identifying people who speak out against the government as associated to armed militia groups, the government purposely targets them with harassment and arrests and exposes them to violence and even murder….The International Labour Organization (ILO) has resolved to send a High-Level Tripartite Mission to the Philippines to investigate the human rights situation, but despite the urgency, the government has yet to receive the Mission. The international labour movement is undertaking solidarity events across the world to demand an end to the human rights abuses and the targeting of trade unionists. The ITUC has requested to meet with the representative of the Philippines to the EU on Human Rights Day and has outlined three key demands.

Turkey. Amnesty International Turkey and MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center have jointly conducted a Survey on Perception of Human Rights. The results of the survey have shown that when they hear the expression of “human rights”, 65.2 percent of the participants think of “right to life” first. While “freedom of expression” comes to the minds of 33.5 percent, the right to a fair trial ranks third with 22.1 percent. According to the survey participated by 2,651 people from 28 cities and conducted in a face-to-face manner, 82.1 percent of the society think that fundamental rights and freedoms are violated in Turkey. Of these people, 58 percent say that fundamental rights are occasionally violated and 42 percent say that they are frequently violated. 62.6 percent of the participants are of the opinion that fundamental rights and freedoms are restricted in Turkey. While 72 percent of the young participants think that fundamental rights and freedoms are restricted, this rate falls as the age of the participant gets older. For more detials see the full report.

China:  posted an interesting piece in China Digital Times on how the Chinese government defends if record on human rights and how others see this. Here one excerpt out of manY:

On Tuesday, International Human Rights Day, spokesperson Hua Chunying mounted a familiar defense of China’s rights record at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ regular press conference …and went on to note that the MoFA and State Council Information Office would host the “2019 South-South Human Rights Forum” this week “with a view to adding new dimensions and injecting impetus into exchange and cooperation in the field of human rights.” ….. At Hong Kong Free Press, the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s Omer Kanat commented on the ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ hailed by Hua Chunying,…… Among the enablers of Xi Jinping’s repression are states with disreputable recor[ds attracted to a possible exemption from universal standards that ‘human rights with Chinese characteristics’ affords. And again, if we could freely ask the populations who reside in these states how they feel about such a concept, there would be few advocates. Therefore, on Human Rights Day, we have a responsibility to defend those who defend universal values and be clear ‘never again’ has meaning. There is injustice everywhere and we must fight it. Uyghurs are among them, for example, the imprisoned Ilham Tohti, and in exile , Nury Turkel, Rushan Abbas, and Gulchehra Hoja, whose families have been detained and disappeared in East Turkestan because of their advocacy. The second ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ is opening in Shanghai for this year’s Human Rights Day. The dangerous fiction of the ‘Beijing Declaration’ that there are exceptions to the universality of rights should be firmly resisted.

Afghanistan ‘Human Rights’ should be more focused during peace talks. MENAFN (Afghanistan Times) reported that UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, in a gathering has expressed concerns regarding the human rights achievements, saying that these gains should be saved in the ongoing negotiation with the Taliban. He called on the National Security Council to consider perseverance of human and civil rights in talks with the Taliban, adding ‘Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s role is very important in the peace process, every voice that raise should be heard and rights of the victims should be observed.‘.. Moreover, head of AIHRC, Shaharzad Akbar has called on the Taliban to legislatively recognize the values of human rights. …There are massive concerns about the violation of achievements of human rights and freedom of speech in the peace negotiation with the Taliban militants. The Taliban has back in 1990 ruled Afghanistan with the sever restriction on girls and school students. The cultural Taboos and less freedom of women are one of the other key issues that have brought sever concerns from Afghan and foreign officials.

The NGO WITNESS used the occasion to publish its ANNUAL REPORT which looks at key successes from July 2018-June 2019 (fiscal year 2019). See the video clip:

Malaysia. “What happened to Harapan’s vow to improve human rights?” asks Jasmine Cho in an open letter:…’When Pakatan Harapan won a dramatic victory in the GE14 elections, they vowed to steer the country forward with human rights as one of their top priorities. However, since their win, we have seen a heavy regression in the area. The kind of regression that has gotten us worried about our present and our future as a modern, fair, and humane nation. From the Suaram 2019 report, several areas of abuse were glaring. One was the treatment of prisoners. The government has yet to abolish the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Crime Act 2015 and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985……….The list of human rights abuse is getting longer and the frustration we feel with our government is reaching boiling point. Malaysia is considered a modern and democratic country, so why are we so far behind when it comes to human rights? The government should stop pandering to the religious majority and stop focusing on external matters. The rights of the rakyat are being abused.

Netherlands/Sri Lanka. The Dutch Ambassador Gonggrijp spoke at an event for Human Rights Day 2019 organized by Equal Grounds Sri Lanka saying inter alia:

Sri Lanka has recently known a long period of conflict, during which human rights were under pressure. The reconciliation process after the end of the war has been slow. And I hear people say: what is the point of looking back, let’s move forward. To my opinion it is about recognition and human dignity. To that respect we should also recognize the progress that has been made: the Office on Missing Persons has been mandated to restore the rights of every Sri Lankan of any background, language or religion, to know what happened to their loved ones. And the work of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, as an independent entity, mirrors the country’s commitment to uphold human rights and civil freedoms. The Netherlands supports this and stands ready to help Sri Lankan institutions like these with capacity building and technical expertise…..

The policy of Netherlands is aimed at 1) abolishing the criminalization of homosexuality, 2) opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and 3) achieving wider social acceptance of gay people. In the Netherlands we have taken the first step of decriminalization a long time ago, but we are also still working on stopping discrimination and promoting acceptance. As I hope Sri Lanka will also take this first step in the near future, I also recognize that this will not solve all issues the LGBTI community is facing. It is key to inform people about the rights they have, regardless of their sexual orientation. To empower them to take responsibility, stand up or seek justice. It is also key to educate and make people from outside the community aware of the harassment and discrimination that people from the LGBTI community face. In order to also empower them to show solidarity and to take action if necessary. Every form of emancipation has been and still is a struggle. It starts with a ‘fight for your rights’. This is why this initiative of Equal Ground is so important, because – and allow me to quote again:

Mongolia / EU: Montsame reported that on the occasion of International Human Rights Day the Delegation of the European Union to Mongolia together with the Embassies of France and Italy presented European Union Human Rights Defenders’ Award (a national award!) to nine people, who are making their efforts to human rights protection…..Unfortunately, we are still observing human rights violations in many countries, especially gender and racial discrimination and discrimination in sexual orientation. Therefore, the EU Delegation to Mongolia, the Embassies of France and Italy and the Embassies of other countries are showing respect to human rights activists in Mongolia. Protection of human rights is one of main principles of the European Union, which defines its internal, and foreign policies and it is belonged to everyone. We will ever protect and encourage the people who endeavor for human rights, “ Ambassador of the European Union to Mongolia Traian Laurentiu Hristea said at the opening of the award presenting ceremony. The Ambassador also highlighted that the event will be traditionally held in the future.

MEXICO An indigenous activist who documented and denounced abuse committed by the military in Guerrero is this year’s winner of the National Human Rights Prize. Obtilia Eugenio Manuel was awarded the prize at Tuesday’s presidential press conference by National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) president Rosario Piedra Ibarra. The human rights chief said that among the military abuses that have been documented by Eugenio are the forced sterilization, sexual assault and sexual torture of indigenous women. Piedra also said the activist has received numerous threats and noted that she was abducted for four days earlier this year. ..“We don’t want one more rapist in our way,” Eugenio said, making a reference to the Chilean feminist anthem that has been performed around the world in recent weeks. Also at Tuesday’s press conference, Piedra recognized the human rights work of Margarito Díaz González and presented an award to his widow, Modesta Chávez de la Rosa. A former member of the Wirikuta security council and an advocate for environmental and indigenous rights, Díaz was murdered in Nayarit last year. Piedra recalled that the activist opposed the construction of a dam and other projects in San Luis Potosí and the development of Canadian-owned mines on sacred sites of the Huichol people.

 


If you are interested to compare with last year, see:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/10/human-rights-day-2018-just-an-anthology/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/11/human-rights-day-2018-anthology-part-ii/

—————

http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/216920-82-1-percent-of-society-think-that-fundamental-rights-and-freedoms-are-violated
https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2019/12/china-defends-record-on-international-human-rights-day/
https://menafn.com/1099401711/Afghanistan-Human-Rights-should-be-more-focused-during-peace-talks
https://ar2019.witness.org/
https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/503280
https://www.netherlandsandyou.nl/latest-news/news/2019/12/11/human-rights-day-2019
https://akipress.com/news:630675:EU_Human_Rights_Award_presented_to_nine_people_in_Mongolia/
https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/human-rights-prize-winner-documented-abuse-by-military/

EU continues to run a human rights award In the GCC Region

December 10, 2019

The European Union Delegation to the United Arab Emirates announced that the 11th Edition of its Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC Region – honoring local civil society organisations, public or private institutions, as well as individuals for their efforts in promoting general awareness of human rights and the rights of vulnerable groups in the GCC region – has gone to: the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (for its tireless efforts in protecting and supporting women and children, victims of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking) and the Special Olympics World Games Higher Committee (for its ground-breaking event in Abu Dhabi, promoting a spirit of inclusion and tolerance by raising awareness for persons with disabilities). Ahmed Mansoor (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/05/massive-call-in-support-of-ahmed-mansoor-at-his-50th-birthday-how-can-emirates-remain-deaf/) was of course NOT mentioned, neither by the EU nor Gulfnews.

https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/60476/announcement-chaillot-prize-2019_hr

https://gulfnews.com/uae/emirati-organisations-win-human-rights-chaillot-prize-1.68350864

Sweden charges ex-Ambassador to China over pressure on daughter of Gui Minhai

December 10, 2019

Last month I reported on Sweden standing up to China in giving an award to Gui Minhai [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/sweden-defies-chinese-threats-after-award-to-book-publisher-gui-minhai/] On 9 December 2019 the New York Times comes with a related story that is quite amazing: the former Ambassador to China, Anna Lindstedt, is accused of arranging unauthorized talks between the daughter of a detained bookseller and two men representing Chinese interests. She has even been charged with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power”. “In this specific consular matter, she has exceeded her mandate and has therefore rendered herself criminally liable,” Hans Ihrman, the deputy chief public prosecutor for Sweden’s National Security Unit, said in a statement on Monday. Mr. Ihrman said the charge of arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power was “unprecedented.” Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, said the two Chinese men who had offered to help free Mr. Gui instead pressured her to keep silent.

Credit…Leif R Jansson/TT, via Associated Press

A lawyer for Ms. Lindstedt, Conny Cedermark, said Monday in an email that no crime had been committed. “Arbitrary conduct in negotiation with a foreign power has a series of prerequisites,” he said, and none of them had been met in the case.

Mr. Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based publishers who were abducted and taken to China in 2015 after publishing books that were critical of the Communist Party elite, setting off international condemnation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/

Relations between Sweden and China have been strained since Gui Minhai was kidnapped in 2015, and tensions increased last month when the Swedish office of the writers’ group PEN said that it was awarding a literary prize to Mr. Gui. The prize is given annually to an author or publisher who is persecuted, threatened or living in exile. Three days later, the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm called the prize a “farce” and threatened consequences if members of the Swedish government were to attend the award ceremony. A week later, Amanda Lind, Sweden’s minister of culture, not only attended the ceremony but also awarded the prize, despite warnings from the Chinese ambassador that Ms. Lind and other government officials working in the area of culture would no longer be welcome in China. Late last month, China appeared to follow through on its warning, with SVT reporting that two Swedish films had been banned from screenings in China. Last week, after a seminar in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Swedish-Chinese relations, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, told the newspaper Goteborgs-Posten that China would limit trade with Sweden because of its handling of the Gui Minhai case.

Igor Levit wins the 2019 Beethoven Prize for human rights

December 9, 2019

The International Beethoven Prize is awarded to artists who place themselves in the service of human rights, peace, freedom, combating poverty and inclusion [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/beethoven-prize-for-human-rights]. Igor Levit, 32, is hailed by critics and audiences as one of the finest pianists today, a master not only at the keyboard but also at his smartphone. His 32,000 Twitter followers look forward to his almost daily comments on social and political issues. “Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism and hostility to human beings are dangerous, often life-threatening and deplorable attitudes. They do not deserve to be jazzed up to the status of legitimate opinions,” the pianist tweeted for instance in November.

Levit’s opinions have attracted much attention beyond the concert hall. At a time when only few artists take a clear political stand, such positioning runs the risk of alienating part of the public or provoking storms of online hostility. In this sense, Levit stands out. His media presence extends to television talk shows; for example, “Words, rage, contradiction — prevent hate, tolerate opinions?” was the topic of a recent TV discussion he was invited to take part in….At the national convention of Germany’s Greens Party, Igor Levit played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the official anthem of the European Union. In 2018, he returned his Echo Klassik out of protest against the Echo prize awarded to rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang, whose texts include anti-Semitic and misogynous content. But before or during concert performances, Levit will make a statement “only if absolutely necessary and if I feel an absolute emotional urgency to do so.

Levit has performed at the #Unteilbar demonstration in Berlin on behalf of social inclusion, as well as at the Fridays for Future strikes — and wears a button of the youth movement protesting climate change at concert appearances. He dedicated his recent Opus Klassik award to the victims of a terror attack in the city of Halle. In a recent interview with the newsweekly Die Zeit, Levit said, “I don’t just want to be the man striking the keys.” Critics even see a statement in his choice of repertory.

For last year’s award, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/15/venezuelan-pianist-gabriela-montero-wins-the-2018-beethoven-prize/

Daughter’s murder motivated Norma Ledezma to hunt for Mexico’s disappeared

December 5, 2019

The former factory worker, who left school at 11 but has completed a law degree since becoming a campaigner and founded her organization Justice for our Daughters in 2002. She succeeded in getting the government to name a justice center for women was named after Paloma, who was 16 when she went missing. She has also helped locate some victims alive, including several who were being trafficked. Most, however, are never found.

…Collectives of mothers who have lost children have scoured the Mexican countryside armed with shovels following tips of where mass graves might hold their loved ones. About one in four of those listed as missing are women, though the government said earlier this year it was reviewing the data. Ledezma said the government had no strategy to fix the issue. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this year it said it would allow the United Nations to review reports on cases of disappearances.When her body was found, authorities did not run DNA tests on her, instead relying on clothing samples and the color of her nail polish. Ledezma could not bring herself to go into the room where her body lay. It was on the day of Paloma’s funeral that Ledezma decided to help those who seek justice for similar cases and she has pressed on despite threats from organized criminals. “I haven’t left the country because I have a debt to my daughter… I’ll be here until the last day”, she said.

Behrouz Boochani gives interview in New Zealand – finally out of Manus island

December 1, 2019

Boochani in 2018 outside an abandoned naval base on Manus Island where he was kept for three years. Photo/Getty Images

On 28 November, 2019 Sally Blundel inteviewed Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. The award winning refugee [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/04/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-major-literary-prize-putting-more-pressure-on-detention-policy/] was invited to New Zealand. Where he will be after his month-long visa expires, he cannot say, but he will still write, he says, this time a novel. “Because literature has the power to give us freedom. Because through literature we can challenge the power structure.”

In a quiet suburban Christchurch garden, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, poet and film-maker Behrouz Boochani, cigarette in hand, paces out three large steps. “We lived in a very small room, from here to here, four of us. On Manus you didn’t have privacy or space. Finding the time and quiet to write was the hardest thing.”

But find time he did, to write poems and articles, film a documentary on a smartphone and tap out an entire book, furtively sent paragraph by paragraph via What’sApp text messages, chronicling the squalid conditions, medical neglect, mental anguish, suicide, even murder, experienced by asylum seekers held on Manus Island under Australia’s “stop the boats” policy.

It is six years since Boochani was pulled from a sinking boat just days out of Indonesia and taken to Australia’s “offshore processing centre” on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It is just over a week since he left Port Moresby to fly to Auckland, taking a route that avoided Australia, to speak at Christchurch’s WORD book festival as a free man. “I got my freedom through literature,” he says.

Boochani knows the power of words. As a journalist in Iran in 2013, he reported on the arrest and detention of his colleagues on Kurdish-language magazine Werya in Ilam, north-west Iran. His fellow journalists were eventually released – they attributed their survival to Boochani’s article – but by then he was in danger. He fled, travelling through South-east Asia to Indonesia where, in July that year, he was among a group of 75 men, women and children who boarded an unseaworthy boat heading for Australia. The vessel’s bilge pump failed in rough seas. When rescued by the Royal Australian Navy, Boochani requested asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Instead, he and his fellow asylum seekers were incarcerated on Christmas Island before being transferred to the Manus Island detention centre as part of Australia’s “Pacific Solution II”.

………To write his book, he adopted a new routine, sleeping from 6pm until 11pm when everyone was too busy to note his absence. From 11pm, he would write under the blankets until 8am, then sleep until noon. In 2016, after the PNG Supreme Court declared the indefinite detention of asylum seekers to be unlawful, phones were no longer prohibited. Each night, he would sit outside, smoking, writing, absorbing as much of the natural environment as he could from his side of the prison fence. “For the prisoner who is alone, nature is so important,” he says. “Always, it is a place you can escape to – even the sky, they cannot take the sky away. But it is very harsh to look up at the many birds flying and knowing you cannot follow them.”

….

“If someone asked me to write this book again, of course I am able to write it, but I could not write it this way. When I describe starving, I was starving. When I describe the characters, those people were around me in prison. It is the same with the feelings. In that camp people rely on each other; there’s a culture of brotherhood because there is no space, but there’s also a kind of hatred because you are so tired of having so many other people around you. I have lost those feelings now, but in prison they were true feelings.”

Boochani in Christchurch. Photo/Getty Images

Through articles sent to the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Refugees Action Collective and the United Nations, and the support of a global network of writers, translators, academics and activists, including Australia’s Janet Galbraith, founder of online project Writing Through Fences, Boochani refused to let the thousands of asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru fade from public gaze. In 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Australia’s offshore processing centres as “unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to human rights” (New Zealand’s offers under National first, then Labour, to settle at least 150 detainees were rejected by successive Australian prime ministers).

……

Plea for release

But within the camp the book also drew attention to Boochani himself. This year, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for Australia’s creative professionals, sent an open letter to the Government of Scott Morrison urging Boochani’s release. Signed by prominent journalists and writers, including Tom Keneally Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Kate Grenville and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, it said, “We are deeply concerned for Behrouz Boochani’s welfare and safety. The success of his book and his status as a journalist have made him a target of the Manus authorities; a danger that has only increased with his rising profile.”

In June, WORD Christchurch programme director Rachael King invited Boochani to speak at a special festival event. Especially after the city’s March 15 mosque shootings, she explained, “it felt important to share the stories of refugees”.

With help from author Lloyd Jones, whose recent book The Cage is itself a dark parable about the human capacity for inhumanity, she was able to email her invitation directly to Boochani. Boochani was receptive to the idea. By then he was one of more than 300 people moved from Manus Island to Port Moresby. He was hoping to be part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal with the US (he was later accepted for this programme), but he wanted to wait until the Manus Island camp was finally closed.

“It would have been immoral for me to leave those people in Manus, to create a platform and have this privilege and this recognition, because it is about all our resistance – it was not only for me.”

In October, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, told Parliament “we’ve completely closed” the Manus Island facility. By then, only three asylum seekers were left on the island. The remaining detainees still in Papua New Guinea were in Port Moresby, including a reported 46 held in Bomana Prison.

Four jailed Iranian human rights lawyers win European Bar award

November 29, 2019

IRAN -- Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is seen in Tehran on November 1, 2008.

Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is seen in Tehran on 1 November 2008.

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) has bestowed its annual Human Rights Award to four lawyers from Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh, Addolfattah Soltani, Mohammad Najafi and Amir Salar Davodi. Shirin Ebadi will receive the award on behalf of the jailed lawyers from CCBE President José De Freitas.

The CCBE is a professional organization that represents Law Societies from 45 different countries and over one million lawyers. Previous recipients of the award include Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) and Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev. For more on this and other awards for lawyers see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ccbe-human-rights-award

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights defender who has been in prison since summer of 2018 for her peaceful activities defending women’s rights to choose their dress style. Although there is no written law in Iran for compulsory hijab, the police and courts spend considerable resources to force women to use the veil. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/13/1-million-people-demand-that-iranian-government-release-nasrin-sotoudeh/]

Abdolfattah Soltani who co-founded the Defenders Of Human Rights Center along with his colleagues, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and others served as the attorney defending the family of Iranian-Canadian photo journalist Zahra Kazemi. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/22/iranian-human-rights-defender-abdolfattah-soltani-released-from-jail/

Mohammad Najafi performed various human rights related work and defended protestors who were arrested during a mass uprising in early 2018.

Amirsalar Davoudi was sentenced to 30 years in prison, 111 lashses and substantial monetary fine for his work. One of the charges included “collaborating with the enemy sate” which was brought against Davoudi for doing an interview with the Voice of America’s Persian section.

A statement from the CCBE urges Iran “to take all the necessary measures to release these four human rights lawyers and to guarantee that all lawyers in the Islamic Republic of Iran are able to perform their professional duties without fear of reprisal, hindrance, intimidation or harassment.

https://en.radiofarda.com/a/jailed-iranian-lawyers-win-human-rights-award/30297336.html

First High Note Global Prize goes to Cyndi Lauper for her work with LGBTQ youth

November 28, 2019

Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper will receive the inaugural High Note Global Prize from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the High Note Global Initiative.

For her decades of activism with LGBTQ youth, Cyndi Lauper will be awarded the inaugural High Note Global Prize presented by the United Nations Human Rights and the High Note Global Initiative at her annual Home for the Holidays concert December 10, according to Rolling Stone. For more on this award: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/high-note-global-prize

The High Note Global Initiative stated: “In 2008, Lauper co-founded True Colors United after learning that while 10% of American youth identify themselves as LGBTQ, up to 40% of American youth experiencing homelessness do so. The organization works to prevent and end youth homelessness, focusing on the unique experiences of LGBTQ youth. In 2008, Cyndi Lauper co-founded True Colors United, a nonprofit organization that implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the unique experiences of LGBTQ young people, who make up to 40% of the youth homelessness population in America.

The 2019 High Note Global Prize will be presented during the High Note Honors segment of Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays at the Novo Theater at LA Live on December 10th. The award will be presented to Lauper by Kesha during the concert in Los Angeles. In 2008, Lauper cofounded True Colors United (named for her smash hit song about celebrating otherness), which “implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the unique experiences of LGBTQ young people,” according to its website.  In addition to Kesha, additional celebrities supporting Cyndi at the Novo Theater on UN Human Rights Day include, Billy Porter, Brandi Carlile, Belinda Carlisle, King Princess, Charlie Musselwhite, Henry Rollins, Perry Farrell with Etty Lau Farrell, Justin Tranter, K. Flay, Emily Estefan, Shawn Wasabi, comics Carol Leifer and Lily Tomlin, U.K. comedian Gina Yashere, Margaret Cho, and Carson Kressley. Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Mariah Carey, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Dua Lipa, Kacey Musgraves, RuPaul, and Tegan and Sara are among the artists who have donated items and experiences for a charity auction with 100% proceeds supporting True Colors.

The prize was created by David Clark, founder of the High Note Global Initiative, which celebrates artists whose work intersects with human rights issues. The award was announced in 2017: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/08/new-human-rights-award-music-to-our-ears/

Cyndi Lauper to Be Honored with Inaugural UN Human Rights Award for Work Helping LGBTQ Youth

https://www.advocate.com/music/2019/11/26/cyndi-lauper-awarded-1st-human-rights-prize-work-lgbtq-youth

Al-Haq named 2019 recipient of Human Rights and Business Award

November 27, 2019

On 26 November 2019 in Geneva, at the annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Human Rights and Business Award Foundation named Al-Haq as recipient of the 2019 Human Rights and Business Award.  An independent Palestinian organization based in Ramallah (West Bank), Al-Haq “Law in the Service of Man” was founded in 1979 “to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.  Al-Haq documents and monitors violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Occupied Palestinian Territory and works to stop violations against Palestinians whether by Israel, by the Palestinian Authority, or by others including companies.

For more on the award, started in 2018, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/human-rights-and-business-award

In recent years Al-Haq has done ground-breaking work drawing attention to how certain companies operating in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including firms doing business with or in Israeli settlements, are involved in human rights abuses and breaches of international humanitarian law, notably the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Board members of the Human Rights and Business Award Foundation – Christopher Avery, Regan Ralph and Valeria Scorza – said in a joint statement today: “Al-Haq does exceptional work in difficult circumstances, using international law as the basis of its research and advocacy.  It is encouraging that an increasing number of human rights defenders in the Middle East are giving attention to the behavior of companies – Al-Haq is a recognized leader in this development.”

The foundation’s Advisory Network members who nominated Al-Haq for the award praised the organization for:

  • its professionalism, meticulous research and resolute advocacy;
  • its wide network of field researchers in communities across Occupied Palestinian Territory who closely monitor business activities and their impact on people;
  • its contributions to the treaty on business and human rights being drafted at the UN; and
  • its capacity-building activities – helping other NGOs in the Middle East develop their work on human rights concerns relating to business.

Al-Haq has previously received awards for its work, including:

1989   Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize

1990   Reebok Human Rights Award

2009   Geuzenpenning

2011   PL Foundation Prize (Poul Lauritzen Award)

2018   Prix des droits de l’homme de la Republique Francaise

Al-Haq and its staff have been targeted for their human rights work.  The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders [Observatory] has repeatedly raised concerns about attacks and threats against Al-Haq, including multiple death threats against Al-Haq’s General Director Shawan Jabarin and against its representative before the International Criminal Court.  In July 2019 the Observatory issued an urgent appeal after 4IL – the official site of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs – published an article accusing Shawan Jabarin of “terrorism”, which led to death threats against him on its public platforms.  “4IL platform’s online visitors launched into an incitement to violence and hate speech against Al-Haq, including calling for Mr. Shawan Jabarin’s killing.  These comments were not filtered nor regulated by 4IL moderators.”  The Observatory has also called attention to cyber-attacks against Al-Haq; the hacking of Al-Haq staff e-mail, land-line phones and mobile phones; and a smear campaign sending to Al-Haq’s European donors false allegations against the organization, allegations purported to have been from Ernst & Young and an alleged official of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – the firm and the PA confirmed that these allegations were false and unfounded.  It should be noted that Shawan Jabarin was banned from international travel by Israel between 2006 and 2012. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2011/11/30/israel-refuses-to-let-hrd-shawan-jabarin-travel-to-receive-award-in-denmark/]

Al-Haq’s research and advocacy on concerns about business involvement in abuses of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law, listed on its website particularly in this section, has included:

  • Al-Haq has called on companies to pull out of the Jerusalem Light Rail project insofar as it runs through Occupied Palestinian Territory, connects Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land, fragments Palestinian land, and restricts free movement of Palestinians. For example, see Al-Haq’s Feb 2019 and May 2019 statements about Canadian company Bombardier.  Companies that withdrew from bidding for the Light Rail project include Bombardier, French firms Alstom and Systra, German firm Siemens, and Australian firm Macquarie.  In 2012, the UN Human Rights Council had expressed its “grave concern” at “The Israeli decision to establish and operate a tramway between West Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev, which is in clear violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions” (Resolution 19/17, paragraph 4e).
  • A 2019 submission to the UN working group developing a draft treaty on business and human rights, and continued advocacy and analysis in that regard.
  • A 2019 submission to the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee in support of a treaty on the right to development.
  • Raising concerns in a 2019 statement about Airbnb and a 2019 letter to Booking.com, that by listing properties in Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory, these firms are transgressing international law.
  • 2018 advocacy and research on Ireland’s Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, to prohibit the import of settlement products and services to Ireland.
  • Al-Haq’s advocacy, including a 2018 joint briefing paper, calling for corporate accountability in situations of armed conflict to be included in the International Law Commission’s (ILC’s) draft principles on the protection of the environment. The principles adopted by the ILC in 2019 did include such a principle.
  • A 2018 joint communication to the International Criminal Court about the alleged pillage of Palestinian natural resources by private actors including Israeli and multinational corporations.
  • A 2018 letter to Honda Motor Co., highlighting Honda’s complicity (through its Israeli affiliate Mayer) in violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated in Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. Honda failed to respond to these concerns when invited to do so by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
  • Raising concerns in 2018 about Chinese company Hubey Pengdun Group, in relation to its partnership with a winery based in an Israeli settlement in Occupied Palestinian Territory: “Grapewashing the Occupation: The Case of the Chinese Hubey Pengdun Group”.
  • Responding to German multinational HeidelbergCement in 2017 about its quarries in Occupied Palestinian Territory, expropriating natural resources in contravention of international law. In June 2015 Norway’s largest pension fund KLP had excluded HeidelbergCement from its investment portfolio, due to its operations in the occupied West Bank.
  • A 2015 letter calling on the Dutch Government to prevent the export of dogs by Dutch firms to the Israeli security forces, given their use to attack and intimidate Palestinian civilians. The letter includes links to videos of dogs attacking a 53-year old woman and a 20-year-old boy.
  • A 2013 report on the discriminatory appropriation of water in the occupied West Bank (for sale to Israeli settlers) by Mekorot, the national water company of Israel: “Water For One People Only: Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory]”.

Al-Haq