Archive for the 'books' Category

New EU Toolkit on Women Human Rights Defenders

July 8, 2020

On 7 July 2020 Front Line Defenders made public the toolkit on woman HRDs, a companion to the EU Guidelines of Human Rights Defenders (2004) which provide practical actions for EU staff in Brussels and in human rights defenders’ (HRDs) home countries to support and protect HRDs.

While useful, the Guidelines do not contain recommendations or actions that consider the varied experiences of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) with regard to gender, sexuality, race, class, family life, etc. This EU Toolkit on WHRDs provides practical steps for the EU to better meet the needs of WHRDs, from a gendered, intersectional perspective.

You can Download the EU Toolkit on WHRDs here.

As outlined in the UN Resolution on Women Human Rights Defenders, WHRDs experience violence in differentiated ways because of the work they do and who they are, as women. The UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs reports that “women defenders often face additional and different risks and obstacles that are gendered, intersectional and shaped by entrenched gender stereotypes and deeply held ideas and norms about who women are and how women should be.” In addition, there are many economic, social, cultural and geographical factors that affect how WHRDs experience violations. These factors include class, religion, age, language, sexual orientation, location, race and ethnicity. The UN calls all actors to develop specific gendered protection measures, and the inclusion of WHRDs in their design and implementation. The need for the toolkit has arisen because many protection measures are difficult to access for WHRDs as they face not only societal barriers to their work, but also in accessing the international community. The toolkit will help bridge that divide.

Following consultations with international WHRD networks, the EU Office of Front Line Defenders drafted a Toolkit for diplomats on how to address the specific protection needs of women human rights defenders at risk. It was presented to the EU Council Working Group on Human Rights, bringing together the EU institutions and diplomats from the 28 Member States, in Helsinki in October 2019, and shared again on occasion of the preparation of the Guidance Note for Delegations and Embassies by the EU Council Working Group on Human Rights. There are plans to have it tested in collaboration with WHRDs and diplomats in one or two countries per continent; the goal is to have this Toolkit adopted as an annex to the EU Guidelines on HRDs.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/eu-toolkit-whrds

Michel Forst about the security risks faced by Human Rights Defenders

July 7, 2020

Human rights defenders reconnect us to what makes the essence of humanity” says Michel Forst, the former UN Special Rapporteur in his foreword to the updated Guidelines on security and protection for grantees by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF).

Jalila, Mohamadou, Paulo and Lita are all human rights defenders who work in difficult areas. In forgotten places, where the State does not operate anymore or where conflicts rage on. They provide support to women victims of sexual violence; they advocate for transitional justice; they visit peaceful protesters who have been arbitrarily detained. They bring human rights to the darkest, most isolated places. They are the voices for those whose voices have been stolen. Each and every day these ordinary women and men brave countless risks to be close to those they defend. Because they defend human rights they are targeted by those who benefit from human rights violations. Each day they must reinvent themselves and their most trivial routines. Jalila turns her phone off while having discussions with other defenders; Lita makes sure she travels back home while the sun is still high; and Paulo frequently changes the passwords to his social media accounts. When traveling outside his village, Mohamadou leaves instructions for his family as preparation for the possibility of being arrested and taken to jail.

Each day these four defenders feel in their own minds and bodies what it means to defend human rights in complex settings and thousands of other human rights defenders face the same situation on the ground. They cannot depend on protection from the State or constant protection from their own communities, so they bear the heavy responsibility of protecting themselves, staying safe alone. Some are fortunate to have the support of their organizations and movements but must still practice self-protection. Sometimes this individual responsibility feels like a burden and can have lasting and severe consequences on their psychological, physical and social well-being.

Former Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, Michel Forst, with human rights defenders during a consultation on the situation in the MENA region (Photo: NHRF’s grantee partner, Gulf Centre for Human Rights).

In recent years, a number of initiatives across the globe have contributed to support defenders and to provide them with a set of concrete tools to mitigate risks. Defenders have been building solidarity networks and strategic alliances, they have developed risks analysis and digital security trainings. Women human rights defenders and indigenous communities have helped understand the necessity to develop collective and holistic approaches to security. Some States have developed laws and mechanisms to better protect defenders as a response to the current deterioration of the situation of HRDs. Over the past five years, I have heard and learnt about many good practices on protection, and I am pleased with the efforts of the NHRF to provide these guidelines as a resource to help identify and navigate these initiatives.

….Defenders often represent the last remaining hopes for those whose are left behind, who are excluded and despised by their societies. … it is imperative that we strengthen our support to these heroes. It is not only a matter of justice, it is for the sake of our common future, for our humanity. We must defend and stand and act in solidarity with these selfless, indomitable people.

Main photo: Mónica Orjuela/NHRF.

https://nhrf.no/article/2020/human-rights-defenders-reconnect-us-to-what-makes-the-essence-of-humanity-michel-forst

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/17/protection-internationals-next-e-learning-course-on-security-starts-19-february/

Good practice examples abound in new UN report on civil society

June 15, 2020

Participation, promotion and protection are the three watchwords that should guide the UN’s work on and with civil society, says a newly-released UN report.  Offering examples of good practice within the UN system -which provide a baseline for a new UN strategy on civil society- and a range of  recommendations, the report is timed to inform decision-making at the 44th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. 

On 31 May 2020 the ISHR discussed the new report of the UN on civil society: with countless recent examples of restrictive and repressive measures taken to silence or discredit civil society actors, the UN’s new report drawing together examples of some good practices across the UN, is timely. Re-stating the vital contribution of civil society actors, the report goes on to cite examples of good practices of UN entities engaging with and protecting civil society. The report recommendations – aimed at encouraging improvement across the UN system as well as by States – echo several which ISHR has consistently voiced .

ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw said that good practice examples to inspire reform by the UN and States were valuable: ‘In days where we’ve seen journalists being arrested in Minneapolis and an increasing number of defenders murdered in Colombia – as just two such examples – we need States and UN bodies to revise and strengthen their practice to ensure the voice of civil society is heard and safeguarded.’…

The report contains examples where discussion between different stakeholders has been formalized and where their input is part of the process from policy inception to implementation,’ noted Openshaw.

One such example is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), created by the UN General Assembly which styles itself as ‘a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners’. ‘This example of civil society having a seat at the table in recognition of the experience and expertise they bring to the issue makes more evident the lack of such opportunities in other spaces, particularly in human rights bodies,’ said Openshaw.

The report also highlights clear gaps. One of the key findings is the absence in 2/3 of UN mechanisms of means to contest restrictions on civil society participation or access to information. Whilst the report makes no explicit reference to Covid-19, having sought input prior to the onset of the pandemic, it does contain recommendations that speak to shifts in practice the pandemic has engendered.It notes how the impact of any modifications should be assessed to ensure civil society is not disadvantaged or disproportionately affected. This is one of several recommendations ISHR and other civil society have been making over time.

It’s great to see that the UN has reflected the recommendations of civil society groups such as ISHR, who have experience working with defenders and engaging with UN and regional organisations,’ noted Openshaw. ‘It’s but one example of civil society expertise adding value.’

The need for the UN to improve and make more consistent its work to promote, engage with and safeguard civil society has been a long-term call. The Secretary General made such a recommendation in his 2018 report on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and again in his recent Call to Action for Human Rights. This new UN report was as a result of the request made by the Human Rights Council in 2018

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-three-key-principles-should-guide-uns-work-civil-society-says-new-report

Along with the full report, the UN has produced a one-pager summarizing key report recommendations.

Trump issues new sanctions on the ICC and human rights defenders

June 12, 2020

On 11 June 2020 Visiting Fellow William Burke-White posted on the website of Brookings an informative piece “Order from Chaos” in which he reviews the danger of Trump’s new sanctions on the International Criminal Court and human rights defenders. It is worth reading and studying in full….:

In March, the Appeal’s Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized an investigation of potential war crimes alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago in Afghanistan, including those by the United States. While the U.S. military under President Obama did conduct investigations of its activities in Afghanistan, there remain concerns that those investigations did not go far enough up the chain of command and did not adequately include conduct by the U.S. intelligence community. In a post on this blog just after the decision, I argued that the Trump administration’s threats to prevent such a case may have actually pushed the court toward such an investigation.

William Burke-White

Today, the Trump administration issued unprecedented sanctions against the ICC, as well as the international lawyers and human rights investigators involved in the case. This sanctions regime is fundamentally misguided. It will do little to stop the ICC’s investigation, erodes the U.S. longstanding commitment to human rights and the rule of law, and may undermine one of the most powerful tools in the U.S. foreign policy arsenal — economic sanctions.

What emergency? In a moment of real national emergencies — ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic, to police misconduct, to the highest unemployment rate in a generation — the fact that President Trump, in an executive order on June 11, “declare[d] a national emergency to deal with” the threat posed by the ICC investigation in Afghanistan seems almost farcical. An underfunded court with relatively little to show for two decades of work trying to end impunity would likely be surprised to learn that, in Trump’s view, it has the power to “impede the critical national security and foreign policy work of United States Government and allied officials, and thereby threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Admitting that a duly authorized investigation of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan constitutes such a threat is both a recognition of the power of international law and a suggestion that the U.S. has something to hide.

Of course, declaring a national emergency is a necessary precondition for the sanctions imposed on the ICC and its officials. While the U.S. has had a complicated history with the ICC — from President Bill Clinton’s signing of its founding treaty to President George Bush’s early efforts to undermine the court — the new sanctions go further than any past U.S. actions in their direct attack on the ICC and its staff. Bush’s “unsigning” of the Rome Statute was largely symbolic. So, too, was the American Service members Protection Act that threatened to invade the Netherlands to rescue any U.S. citizens that might be prosecuted in The Hague.

In contrast, today’s sanctions directly target individual international lawyers and investigators working for a legitimate international organization undertaking lawful actions under its statute. More specifically, today’s sanctions seize the property of to-be-designated ICC officials who undertake investigation or prosecution of U.S. personnel and any other foreign nationals who are deemed to have assisted such efforts. So too, the new sanctions prohibit the entry into the United States of such individuals and their immediate family members.

The sanctions language is sufficiently broad that it could, in theory, apply to a victim or witness who provided information incidental to the court’s investigation or an academic whose scholarship the court relied upon in framing a legal argument. This new sanctions regime draws strong parallels to those imposed by the U.S. in the past against terrorist groups, dictators, and human rights abusers. Those same sanctions are now turned on international lawyers and human rights defenders.

The sanctions imposed today on ICC officials are unlikely to achieve Trump’s objective of blocking the investigation of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan. If anything, the sanctions will redouble those efforts. Unlike most corrupt dictators or terrorist organizations, individuals who choose to work for the ICC or in international human rights more generally are motivated by conscience, not wealth. They rarely have significant assets in U.S. bank accounts or meaningful real property for the U.S. to seize. Similarly, the foreign victims of crimes in Afghanistan who might testify before the ICC are not likely to have assets subject to seizure.

Hence, the threat of such a seizure under this new sanctions regime will do little to deter investigation or cooperation. Even blocking ICC employees from entering the U.S. will have minimal impact. Effective investigation of crimes in Afghanistan more than a decade ago does not require on-the-ground presence in the U.S. today. In fact, given the moral compass of most human rights advocates and international criminal prosecutors, treating them like terrorists under this new sanctions regime will more likely be a call to action under the law than an effective threat.

This new sanctions regime is a direct affront to international human rights and, particularly, individuals who have dedicated their lives to enforcing international law and ending impunity. President Trump has a long history of attacking international institutions that he doesn’t like. His recent criticisms of the World Health Organization are case in point. This new attack on the ICC is, however, different because it targets not just another international institution, but also the individuals who work for that institution. As such, it is an effort to directly sanction human rights defenders and officials of international justice for doing their jobs. The new sanctions regime seeks to punish those individuals, working for an international organization created by a treaty the United States signed in 2000, and undertaking a legal investigation authorized by a panel of international judges. It flies in the face of every U.S. and international effort to protect human rights defenders and offers a powerful example for despots around the world to follow suit.

Other, better tools

Finally, the use of U.S. sanctions against ICC personnel is a dangerous step toward undermining one of the most powerful and important tools of U.S. foreign policy — international sanctions. In a world where the use of force is difficult and often ineffective, carefully crafted and strategically applied sanctions are a key tool of U.S. power. For sanctions to work, however, they must be used judicially and viewed as broadly legitimate. Overuse of sanctions creates incentives for actors to find work-arounds to avoid the pain. Sanctions that are seen as illegitimate fail to garner international cooperation for enforcement and compliance. Applying tough sanctions against the personnel of an international organization undermines their efficacy and legitimacy for times when they could actually advance U.S. national security.

So, what should Trump have done instead? Simply investigate and prosecute any crimes that the U.S. may or may not have committed in Afghanistan years ago. The Rome Statute of the ICC makes clear that the court is a backstop to national prosecutions and that it will not investigate or prosecute when national governments have held themselves and their soldiers accountable. If the U.S. did nothing wrong in Afghanistan, it could simply submit to the ICC evidence of a genuine investigation with respect to both military and intelligence agency activities that reached that conclusion. And if there are violations of the laws of war in Afghanistan that have yet to be adequately investigated and prosecuted, then the U.S. has a legal and moral duty to ensure that those perpetrators are held accountable. To do so would uphold the rule of law and provide a concrete step toward renewing America’s human rights leadership.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/us-ngos-react-furiously-to-visa-restrictions-imposed-on-icc-investigators-by-trump-administration/

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/671723-icc-must-up-its-game-to-survive-after-us-onslaught

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/671723-icc-must-up-its-game-to-survive-after-us-onslaughthttps://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/un-regrets-us-presidents-sanctions-on-icc/1874839

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/12/icc-denounces-unprecedented-attacks-trump-administration

Nina Lakhani’s “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” reviewed

June 10, 2020

COHA

COHA of 9 June 2020 published a Book Review by John Perry of “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet,” by Nina Lakhani.

They build dams and kill people.” These words, spoken by a witness when the murderers of environmental defender Berta Cáceres were brought to trial in Honduras, describe Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the company whose dam project Berta opposed. DESA was created in May 2009 solely to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric scheme, using the waters of the Gualcarque River, regarded as sacred by the Lenca communities who live on its banks. As Nina Lakhani makes clear in her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, DESA was one of many companies to benefit from the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, when the left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and replaced by a sequence of corrupt administrations. The president of DESA and its head of security were both US-trained former Honduran military officers, schooled in counterinsurgency. By 2010, despite having no track record of building dams, DESA had already obtained the permits it needed to produce and sell electricity, and by 2011, with no local consultation, it had received its environmental licence.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/03/anniversary-sparks-arrest-in-investigation-of-berta-caceres-murder/].

..Lakhani quotes a high-ranking judge she spoke to, sacked for denouncing the 2009 coup, as saying that Zelaya was deposed precisely because he stood in the way of this economic model and the roll-out of extractive industries that it required. The coup “unleashed a tsunami of environmentally destructive ‘development’ projects as the new regime set about seizing resource-rich territories.” After the post-coup elections, the then president Porfirio Lobo declared Honduras open for business, …….

Lakhani’s book gives us an insight into the personal history that brought Berta Cáceres to this point. She came from a family of political activists. As a teenager she read books on Marxism and the Cuban revolution. But Honduras is unlike its three neighbouring countries where there were strong revolutionary movements in the 1970s and 1980s. The US had already been granted free rein in Honduras in exchange for “dollars, training in torture-based interrogation methods, and silence.” At the age of only 18, looking for political inspiration and action, Berta left Honduras and went with her future husband Salvador Zúñiga to neighbouring El Salvador. She joined the FMLN guerrilla movement and spent months fighting against the US-supported right-wing government. Zúñiga describes her as having been “strong and fearless” even when the unit they were in came under attack. But in an important sense, her strong political convictions were tempered by the fighting: she resolved that “whatever we did in Honduras, it would be without guns.”

Inspired also by the Zapatista struggle in Mexico and by Guatemala’s feminist leader Rigoberta Menchú, Berta and Salvador created COPINH in 1993 to demand indigenous rights for the Lenca people, organising their first march on the capital Tegucigalpa in 1994. From this point Berta began to learn of the experiences of Honduras’s other indigenous groups, especially the Garífuna on its northern coast, and saw how they fitted within a pattern repeated across Latin America….

In Río Blanco, where the Lenca community voted 401 to 7 against the dam, COPINH’s struggle continued. By 2013, the community seemed close to winning, at the cost of activists being killed or injured by soldiers guarding the construction. They had blocked the access road to the site for a whole year and the Chinese engineering firm had given up its contract. The World Bank allegedly pulled its funding, although Lakhani shows that its money later went back into the project via a bank owned by the Atala Faraj family. In April 2015 Berta was awarded the Goldman Prize for her “grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

…….

The horrific events on the night of Wednesday March 2 are retold by Nina Lakhani. Armed men burst through the back door of Berta’s house and shot her. They also injured Gustavo Castro, who was visiting Berta; he waited until the men had left, found her, and she died in his arms. ,,,By the first anniversary of Berta’s death the stuttering investigation had led to eight arrests, but the people who ordered the murder were still enjoying impunity. Some of the accused were connected to the military, which was not surprising since Lakhani later revealed in a report for The Guardian that she had uncovered a military hit list with Berta’s name on it. In the book she reports that the ex-soldier who told her about it is still in hiding: he had seen not only the list but also one of the secret torture centers maintained by the military.

Nina Lakhani is a brave reporter. She had to be. Since the coup in Honduras, 83 journalists have been killed; 21 were thrown in prison during the period when Lakhani was writing her book. She poses the question “would we ever know who killed Berta Cáceres?” and sets out to answer it. Despite her diligent and often risky investigation, she can only give a partial answer. Those arrested and since convicted almost certainly include the hitmen who carried out the murder, but it is far from the clear that the intellectual authors of the crime have been caught. In 2017 Lakhani interviewed or attempted to interview all eight of those imprisoned and awaiting trial, casting a sometimes-sympathetic light on their likely involvement and why they took part.

….

In September 2018, the murder case finally went to trial, and Lakhani is at court to hear it, but the hearing is suspended. On the same day she starts to receive threats, reported in London’s Press Gazette and duly receiving international attention. Not surprisingly she sees this as an attempt to intimidate her into not covering the trial. Nevertheless, when it reopens on October 25, she is there. The trial reveals a weird mix of diligent police work and careful forensic evidence, together with the investigation’s obvious gaps. Not the least of these was the absence of Gustavo Castro, the only witness, whose return to Honduras was obstructed by the attorney general’s office. Castillo, though by then charged with masterminding the murder, was not part of the trial. Most of the evidence was not made public or even revealed to the accused. The Cáceres family’s lawyers were denied a part in the trial.

The who did what, why and how was missing,” says Lakhani, “until we got the phone evidence which was the game changer.” The phone evidence benefitted from an expert witness who explained in detail how it implicated the accused. She revealed that an earlier plan to carry out the murder in February was postponed. She showed the positions of the accused on the night in the following month when Berta was killed. She also made clear that members of the Atala family were involved.

When the verdict was delivered on November 29 2018, seven of the eight accused were found guilty, but it wasn’t until December 2019 that they were given long sentences. That’s where Nina Lakhani’s story ends. By then Honduras had endured a fraudulent election, its president’s brother had been found guilty of drug running in the US, and tens of thousands of Hondurans were heading north in migrant caravans. David Castillo hasn’t yet been brought to trial, and last year was accused by the School of Americas Watch of involvement in a wider range of crimes. … Daniel Atala Midence, accused by COPINH of being a key intellectual author of the crime as DESA’s chief financial officer, has never been indicted.

...And a full answer to the question “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” is still awaited.

http://www.coha.org/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-on-the-life-death-and-legacy-of-a-courageous-honduran-indigenous-and-environmental-leader/

Norwegian Human Rights Fund Annual report 2019

April 21, 2020

From the Preface written John Peder Egenæs and Sandra Petersen of the Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF):

…..2019 will stand out as an important year for the Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF) in terms of growth and development. … We believe that the seeds of change planted by grantees every day will result in a robust and forceful defense for future generations. As this annual report demonstrates, our grantees and local human rights defenders are continuing to stand up and fight for a future of equality and dignity for all. For some, their work centers on ensuring that vulnerable workers have safe and dignified work environments, for others it’s providing psychosocial support for families of the disappeared and seeking justice for victims of torture and others are leading movements for gender equality. Establishing links, coordinating and collaborating on the local and national levels to create better working conditions for civil society and human rights defenders are crucial to strengthening the work and moving it forward. For this work, we support grantees who build networks and equip and empower defenders with the tools and skills needed for their work; who advocate for positive laws or the prevention of restrictive laws to protect or enable a thriving civil society; and others who provide relief, support and legal representation for human rights activists in cases of arbitrary arrests, detention or when they’re facing threats. Our grantees’ work is interlinked and reinforcing; success in one struggle impacts and can lead to success in another. Their work is driven by the needs on the ground and thus it comes in many forms, but the efforts to contribute to make positive and structural changes and the realization of human rights are shared by all. In 2019, the Norwegian government led an adoption of a new resolution on environmental human rights defenders – a critically important response during one of the most dangerous and even deadly points in recent history for human rights defenders, especially those who fight for natural resources, the rights of indigenous peoples and against environmentally detrimental megaprojects. …… Working together with our partners, we are able to see the reality of the dire situation for people on the front lines working for change, which leads us to seek to increase our support to and solidarity with their work. During 2019, the NHRF created strategic partnerships that increased the financial base for the years to come. We know this will be indispensable for local and front-line human rights defenders and for investing in the realization of human rights for the most vulnerable and marginalized. With these increased resources and with support from our partners, we will continue to invest and sow seeds that we believe will lead to long-term positive change…

 

Click to access NHRF-AR-2019-OL-20April-compressed-file.pdf

2020 World Press Freedom Index is out…

April 21, 2020

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index has come out with as title: “Entering a decisive decade for journalism, exacerbated by coronavirus”. [For last year’s: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/the-2019-world-press-freedom-index-launched-on-18th-of-april/]

 

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, annualy compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), shows that the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse and reliable information.

This 2020 edition of the Index, which evaluates the situation for journalists each year in 180 countries and territories, suggests that the next ten years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism: a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes); a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees); a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies); a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media); and an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism).

These five areas of crisis – the effects of which the Index’s methodology allows us to evaluate – are now compounded by a global public health crisis.

“We are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that affect its future,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor. What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030? The answer to that question is being determined today.”

There is a clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and a country’s ranking in the Index. Both China (177th) and Iran (down 3 at 173rd) censored their major coronavirus outbreaks extensively. In Iraq (down 6 at 162nd), the authorities stripped Reuters of its licence for three months after it published a story questioning official coronavirus figures. Even in Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary (down 2 at 89th), had a “coronavirus” law passed with penalties of up to five years in prison for false information, a completely disproportionate and coercive measure.

“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious “shock doctrine” – to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” Deloire added. “For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfil their role as society’s trusted third parties, which means they must have the capacity to do so.”


Evolution of some countries ranked since 2013

The main findings of the 2020 Index: Norway tops the Index for the fourth year in a row in 2020, while Finland is again the runner-up. Denmark (up 2 at 3rd) is next as both Sweden (down 1 at 4th) and the Netherlands (down 1 at 5th) have fallen as a result of increases in cyber-harassment. The other end of the Index has seen little change. North Korea (down 1 at 180th) has taken the last position from Turkmenistan, while Eritrea (178th) continues to be Africa’s worst-ranked country.

Malaysia (101st) and the Maldives (79th) registered the biggest rises in the 2020 Index – 22nd and 19th, respectively – thanks to the beneficial effects of changes of government through the polls. The third biggest leap was by Sudan (159th), which rose 16 places after Omar al-Bashir’s removal. The list of biggest declines in the 2020 Index is topped by Haiti, where journalists have often been targeted during violent nationwide protests for the past two years. After falling 21 places, it is now ranked 83rd. The other two biggest falls were in Africa – by Comoros (down 19 at 75th) and Benin (down 17 at 113th), both of which have seen a surge in press freedom violations.

https://rsf.org/en/2020-world-press-freedom-index-entering-decisive-decade-journalism-exacerbated-coronavirus

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020

Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

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

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

Click to access EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

Human Rights in Africa in 2019: rage

January 16, 2020

There was rage across the African continent last year, says Human Rights Watch in its annual report, with no sign of cooling down in 2020. In Sudan and Guinea, there were manifestations of frustration with entrenched leadership.  In Zimbabwe, protests mostly about economic conditions.  While in rural Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they were about the rights of communities displaced by conflict. But the public outrage is good to see, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) at its Johannesburg report unveiling. Africa Advocacy director for HRW Carine Kaneza Nantulya says ordinary citizens took the spotlight this year.v”We’ve seen, I think, the average men and women of the African continent taking agency, being agents for their own for the changes they wanted to see, which we saw an increase of peaceful protest in different countries,” she said. “The second takeaway is that we’ve also seen a backsliding from government in terms of political and civic space.”

That has taken the form of outright police aggression and repression, as seen in Southern Africa, says the group’s Southern Africa researcher, Dewa Mavhinga. “We expected more from southern African leaders, including President Ramaphosa of South Africa, based on their commitment and promises to fulfill people’s rights across the region, “ he said.   “But we saw that there was a constriction of space for human rights defenders in countries like Zimbabwe,” Mavhinga told VOA.

But there was also a glimmer of hope, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for his reform agenda and for his reconciliatory moves with arch-enemy Eritrea, noted HRW’s Africa deputy advocacy director, Babatunde Olugboji. “He’s done quite a few great things in Ethiopia, he’s released political prisoners and is actually reforming some repressive laws,” he said. “He sort of made peace with Eritrea. So things are moving in the right direction, mostly,” said Olugboji.   “There’s still a lot to be done in Ethiopia,” he added.

He pointed to an event few people could have predicted at this time last year: the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after a 30-year rule marked by oppression,  human rights abuses, and  attempted genocide in the Darfur region.

Human Rights Watch issues World Report 2020 (covering 2019)

January 15, 2020

On 14 January 2020 Human Rights Watch published it 30th annual World Report (entitled 2020 but covering events in 2019). From the preface:

It summarizes key human rights issues in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2018 through November 2019. In a keynote essay, Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth examines the increasingly dire threat to the global system for protecting human rights posed by the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping. Deepening and increasingly sophisticated domestic repression show that China’s leaders view human rights at home as an existential threat. That, in turn, has led Beijing to see international laws and institutions for the defense of human rights as an existential threat. As a result, Chinese authorities seek to censor criticism of China overseas, mute attention to human rights in its global engagements, and weaken global rights mechanisms. At stake is a system of governance built on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect—that regardless of official interests, limits exist on what states can do to people. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/]

Noting that global institutions are built in part “on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect, that regardless of the official interests at stake, there are limits to what states can do to people,” Roth concludes that China is not simply a new and emerging power finding its place, but a country that poses an existential threat to the international human rights system.

The rest of the volume consists of individual country entries, each of which identifies significant human rights abuses, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, United States, China, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.

The book reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff undertook in 2019, usually in close partnership with human rights activists and groups in the country in question. It also reflects the work of its advocacy team, which monitors policy developments and strives to persuade governments and international institutions to curb abuses and promote human rights.  As in past years, this report does not include a chapter on every country where Human Rights Watch works, nor does it discuss every issue of importance. The absence of a country or issue often simply reflects staffing or resource limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.

The factors we considered in determining the focus of our work in 2019 (and hence the content of this volume) include the number of people affected and the severity of abuse, access to the country and the availability of information about it, the susceptibility of abusive forces to influence, and the importance of addressing certain thematic concerns and of reinforcing the work of local rights organizations.

The World Report does not have separate chapters addressing our thematic work but instead incorporates such material directly into the country entries. Please consult the Human Rights Watch website for more detailed treatment of our work on children’s rights; women’s rights; arms and military issues; business and human rights; health and human rights; disability rights; the environment and human rights; international justice; terrorism and counterterrorism; refugees and displaced people; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights; and for information about our international film festivals.

(The book was edited by Danielle Haas, senior editor at Human Rights Watch, with assistance from Naimah Hakim, Program associate. Grace Choi, director of publications and information design, oversaw production of visual elements and layout.)