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Universality vs Relativism: a well-written piece

November 14, 2022

On 11 Luigi Berinde posted a blog: `”Relativism’s Implications on Universal Human Rights” which is well worth reading. Its language is easy to understand and puts the question into a clear perspective.

I have always felt strongly about this question as demonstrated in my article, “The international human rights movement: not perfect, but a lot better than many governments thinkpublished in Yuwen Li, NGOs in China and Europe (Ashgate, 2011), pp 287-304.

Here for easy retrieval the piece in full:

If you consider yourself to be a supporter of human rights and all of its technicalities, then you are surely aware of the document that formally brought forth legislation about human rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations by a vote of 48-0-8 on December 10, 1948. 

Per its name, the main goal of the Declaration was to universalize human rights and to ensure that every human, no matter where in the world, has the same basic human rights. 

This inherent goal of the Declaration (its aim of universal human rights), has been a source of debate in the philosophical realm for quite some time. This blog will bring forth one particular view relating to the debate, as well as its implications. 

Relativism

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In the realm of philosophy, there exists a concept of relativism. (Or, more specifically, cultural relativism; in this blog, I shall be using these terms synonymously.)

Rather than plainly stating what relativism is, I am going to show you one of the many ways the concept was devised. 

The Earth is big. On our big Earth, there are seven continents. Throughout these seven continents, there are hundreds of states and nations. In these states and nations, billions of people exist. Most of the people within these nations align with a specific cultural identity. Whether it be American, French, Japanese, or Swiss, all humans have a unique cultural identity.  

Moreover, cultures have different forms of expressions. One culture is not necessarily like another (for what is right in one culture could very much be wrong in another). 

Therefore, there is no possible way that an objective set of rules could ever exist. What is correct is relative to the culture and society of where that expression is happening.  

If you followed along and agreed with all of the statements just made, then you are stepping into the realm of relativism. 

More on Relativism

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Relativism is the view that what is “right” and “wrong” is solely dependent on one’s culture. What is correct in the United States could very much be wrong in another nation.

A finite example of this is gratuity, or “tipping,” after a meal in a restaurant.  In the United States, it is acceptable to tip your server after a meal at a restaurant. In Japan, this would be disrespectful. 

In the eyes of relativism, both of these customs are correct. Moreover, they are equally correct—one is not more “right” than the other. 

Additionally, cultural relativism not only says that cultural customs are equally correct but the moral codes of every culture is equally correct also. In other words, no culture is better than another—no culture is more correct. 

However, this characteristic of cultural relativism brings forth another one of its characteristics: there is no such thing as moral progress. 

To say that something has “progressed” is to say that it has become better, meaning that before its progression, it was flawed. This goes against cultural relativism because relativism states that every culture is inherently correct—there is no need to progress. Therefore, rather than saying a culture has “progressed,” relativists say that a culture has simply changed its ways and its moral code. (This is different from progression because it does not imply a culture has advanced for the better due to some arbitrary standard.) 

Cultural relativism, at least at first, might be an appealing outlook on life. After all, who are we to tell different cultures what is right and what is wrong? Every culture and society should be allowed to have their own rules and social norms. It sounds immoral to enforce the United State’s social norms onto other nations.

Relativism’s Implications on Human Rights

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The big implication that follows from relativism (as it relates to human rights) can be broken down as follows: (i) if cultural relativism is correct, every culture is equal and correct; (ii) if every culture is equal and correct, no culture has authority or agency over another; (iii) enforcing universal human rights would not align with all cultures in the world; (iv) if no culture/society has the agency to tell another what to do, and enforcing universal human rights would require telling other cultures what to do, universal human rights cannot exist.

Despite this argument coming to the conclusion that universal human rights cannot exist, we all are very much aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—something that does indeed exist. However, we must note that the argument above does not apply to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

This is due to the fact that the Declaration holds no legal obligation as it is solely a declaration, not a treaty. Nations are not forced to follow it. Instead, they are encouraged to follow it. (However, this is not to say that the Declaration is not followed.)

Therefore, the argument that universal human rights cannot exist still stands. However, the argument’s basis is founded on  the premise that relativism is true and correct—and that might not be the case. 

Universalism

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Before we carry on with our discussion of relativism, I would like to point out another view: universalism. As it relates to politics, universalism, unlike relativism, states that universal human rights can and should exist. 

Universalism is the direct opposite to relativism in the world of politics. It claims that social norms across all cultures are fundamentally similar, hence why it would be possible to universalize (and legislate) human rights. 

Objections to Relativism

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Having now formulated a basic understanding of relativism (as well as its counter: universalism), we can now move on ahead and consider some of the theory’s big objections.

First, let us consider the objection of “no cultural progress”. The lack of cultural progress in relativism, as aforementioned, is formulated from the basis that all cultures are equally correct, with no culture being “better” or “worse.” Due to this, no culture can progress as it would imply it was not “good” in the past. Rather than progressing, a culture merely changed its practices and moral codes.

Therefore, under relativism, one would not be able to say that modern-day Germany is better than Nazi Germany, even though we know it is. Relativism would suggest that moral code of Nazi Germany is just as correct as the moral code of modern Germany; one is not better than the other.

Moreover, under relativism, one could not say that the abolishment of slavery was progress for the United States; we merely changed our ways. 

This, as one would obviously assume, is a big pill to swallow. Most would agree that modern-day Germany and the modern-day USA are better than they were many years ago. However, to say this would be to reject relativism, thereby stating that some cultures and social norms indeed are better than others. 

Another objection to relativism comes from the fact that most people align with multiple different cultures. For example, everyone in the United States lives under the cultural code of the United States. However, we also follow cultural norms that are more local—such as the cultural codes of what city/state we live in. In cases like these, relativism gives no true guidelines on what one should do. 

A famous example of this objection comes from the case Wisconsin vs. Yoder. This case was between the state of Wisconsin and an Amish family that lived in Wisconsin. 

In Wisconsin, legislation requires that every family sends their children to get educated until the age of 16. However, Amish customs say that no child needs education after 8th grade. Thus, a dilemma formulated between one culture and another—the culture of Wisconsin and the culture of the Amish. 

In the end, the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in favor of the Amish family, citing the 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights. 

This however, is just one example of conflicting cultural social norms. What is one supposed to do when their culture does not align with another culture they are a part of? Relativism does not say.

Besides the two mentioned objections to relativism, many more exist. Therefore, it is quite clear that relativism is not a perfect theory nor a perfect view of life. However, despite the objections to the view, many have still aligned with the theory.

Conclusion

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As there are many attractions and objections to relativism, one is, perhaps, able to see why the concept of universal human rights has been a heated source of debate. 

Whether or not there will ever be a treaty formulated that legally binds nations into following basic human rights is unknown. However, what we do know is that this issue is not one that is as obvious as people might believe at first. [editor comment: what about the UN Conventions?]

Perhaps, in the future, if there is diplomatic debate on this topic, a treaty could very well be created. This treaty will ensure that no human ever on this planet gets mistreated. However, until that day, we solely have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a very good starting point for a treaty on human rights. 

from:

UAB Institute for Human Rights Blog

The 2022 “Human Rights Defenders Movement at a Crossroad” video report published

October 11, 2022

In September 2022, more than thirty human rights defenders from all over the world took the floor in a moment of a global backlash against the grass-roots movement for human rights and democracy. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/20/2021-protectdefenders-eu-annual-report/

The conference “The Human Rights Defenders’ Movement at a Crossroad“ featured the testimonies and experiences of a great diversity of grassroots activists coming from all backgrounds, including Yvette Mushigo (Synergie des Femmes pour la Paix et la Réconciliation des Peuples des Grands Lacs d’Afrique, DRC); Ukei Muratalieva (Nazik Kyz, Kyrgyzstan); Rocío Walkiria Santos Reyes (CEHPRODEC, Honduras); Yasmine Shurbaji (Families for Freedom, Syria); and Monika Maritjie Kailey (Komunitas Masyarakat Adat Marafenfen, Aru Islands, Indonesia).

With the participation of the United Nations Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor; the French Ambassador at Large for Human Rights, Delphine Borione; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders and Justice Operators, Commissioner Joel Hernández García; the Human Development, Migration, Governance, and Peace Unit Acting Director at the European Commission, Chiara Adamo.

“We call on the EU and the Member States to ensure the effective, timely, relevant and comprehensive implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders”.

Read the keynote by Cristina Palabay (KARAPATAN Alliance, The Philippines)

Look around this room and you will see so many different nationalities full of patient, committed, resilient people working to defend human rights. That is hope” – UNSR on HRDs, Mary Lawlor.

You can see all the photos of the conference “The Human Rights Defenders Movement at a Crossroad” in the gallery here.

https://mailchi.mp/protectdefenders/bulletin-pdeu-conference-2022?e=ccacd47b1a

Global Witness report 2021: continued disaster

October 5, 2022

Stuti Mishra in the Independent of 29 September 2022 summarises and analyses the report “A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide” by Global Witness

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2022/09/27/13/10185902.jpg?quality=75&width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quot; alt="<p>A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru (EPA)

More than 1,700 environmental defenders have been killed around the world in the last decade with one death reported every other day on average…The report titled A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide, released by Global Witness, reveals the increasing threats environmental activists are facing as the climate and biodiversity crisis worsens.

The research states that a total of 1,733 people have been killed over the past 10 years trying to protect their land and resources. That is an average of one defender killed approximately every two days over 10 years.

The report shows Brazil has been the deadliest country for environmental defenders with 342 lethal attacks reported since 2012 with over 85 per cent of killings within the Brazilian Amazon.

The data found within the report also shows that over half of the attacks over the 10-year period have taken place in three countries — Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines — with around 300 killings reported in these countries.

Mexico and Honduras witnessed over 100 killings while Guatemala and India saw 80 and 79 respectively, remaining one of the most dangerous countries. The report also reports 12 mass killings, including three in India and four in Mexico.

Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings in 2021, totalling 54 killings, up from 30 the previous year. Almost half of those killed were again Indigenous people while over a third were forced disappearances, including at least eight members of the Yaqui community.

The report also reveals that over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America. In Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, a big majority of 78 per cent of these attacks occurred in the Amazon.

Meanwhile, the biggest increase in lethal attacks was witnessed in Brazil and India in 2021 with 26 deaths reported in Mexico, up from 20 and 14 in India, up from four.

Both Colombia and the Philippines saw a drop in killings to 33 in 2021 from 65, and 19 from 30 in 2021 respectively. Yet overall they remain two of the countries with the highest numbers of killings in the world since 2012.

2021 Highlights from Global Witness report

  • Around 200 Land and Environmental Defenders were killed in 2021 – nearly four people a week
  • Over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America
  • Nearly 40 per cent of all attacks reported were against Indigenous people
  • Mexico recorded the highest number of killings in 2021
  • Brazil and India both saw a rise in lethal attacks in 2021
  • 50 of the victims killed in 2021 were small-scale farmers
  • Around 1 in 10 of the defenders recorded killed in 2021 were women, nearly two-thirds of whom were Indigenous [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo remained the country with the highest number of attacks — eight defenders were killed there in 2021. All eight of these killings were in Virunga National Park, which remains extremely dangerous for the park rangers protecting it.

The organisation began collecting data on attacks against those defending land and the environment in 2012 and found that the control and use of land and territory is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened. Much of the increasing killing, violence and repression is linked to territorial conflicts and the pursuit of economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources from the land, it states. The research has also highlighted that Indigenous communities in particular face a disproportionate level of attacks — nearly 40 per cent — even though they make up only 5 per cent of the world’s population.

However, the research found that the figures also do not capture the true scale of the problem, as tightened control on media has led to severe underreporting in some countries where environmental defenders are most vulnerable. Research has also found that few perpetrators of killings are rarely ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments to properly investigate these crimes.

While a majority of these attacks are not properly investigated or reported on, a big proportion of these attacks were linked to sectors like mining and infrastructure, including large-scale agribusiness and hydroelectric dams.

Many authorities ignore or actively impede investigations into these killings often due to alleged collusion between corporate and state interests, the report says.

All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

They play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritising profit over human and environmental harm.

a spokesperson for Global Witness said

With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems,” a spokesperson for Global Witness said, adding that the organisation makes an “urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.”

Apart from killings, the report also reveals a number of tactics being used to silence them, like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalisation – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported.

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/decade-defiance/

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/global-witness-report-environment-defenders-threat-b2176247.html

CIVICUS STATE OF CIVIL SOCIETY REPORT 2022

June 29, 2022

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

The report identifies five key current trends of global significance:

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

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

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

New report: You Tube also needs scrutiny

June 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

A social media venue with global reach

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


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

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


Recommendations to the U.S. government

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

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

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

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

VIEW FULL REPORT

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

Emirates’ claim to improve its legal system are nonsense

June 7, 2022

Human Rights Watch on 5 June 2022 published a detailed piece showing that wide-ranging legal changes introduced by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late 2021 fail to address the long-standing and systematic restrictions on citizens’ and residents’ civil and political rights. The new laws maintain previous provisions and include new ones that pose grave threats to fundamental human rights.

As reported by the state news agency WAM in November, the legal changes include amendments to over 40 laws including on crime and punishment, cybercrimes, and drugs, aiming “to strengthen economic, investment and commercial opportunities, in addition to maximizing social stability, security and ensuring the rights of both individuals and institutions.” While the changes allow for a moderate broadening of personal freedoms, the new legal framework retains severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association, and assembly.

While the UAE government and its state-controlled media outlets trumpeted these new legislative changes as a massive step forward for economic and social freedoms, they will further entrench government-imposed repression,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE government has chosen to squander an opportunity to improve freedoms across the board and instead has doubled down on repression.”

Human Rights Watch conducted a comprehensive legal analysis of two of the new laws, the crime and punishment law and the cybercrimes law, to identify any changes related to the rights to free expression and free assembly. Both laws went into effect in January 2022.

The laws continue to prohibit criticism of rulers and speech that is deemed to create or encourage social unrest, imposing severe penalties for vaguely defined charges. They maintain provisions that criminalize defamation and both verbal and written insults, whether published or made in private, as prosecutable offences. New provisions criminalize “false” and “misleading” information, sharing information with foreign groups or countries, and “offending foreign states.” Protests and demonstrations would still be prohibited.

UAE authorities have also spied on international journalists, activists, and even world leaders using sophisticated Israeli and EU-produced spyware, or with the help of former US intelligence officials. Some of those whose communications and devices were targeted by the government surveillance and who are residents of the UAE, were subsequently arrested and abused in detention. Among them is the prominent Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]. A UAE court sentenced Mansoor to 10 years in prison in May 2018 following a grossly unfair trial, partly based on private email exchanges and WhatsApp conversations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/05/massive-call-in-support-of-ahmed-mansoor-at-his-50th-birthday-how-can-emirates-remain-deaf/ and https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A

The UAE authorities should take immediate steps to bring the penal code and cybercrime law into line with international and regional standards on free speech and individual freedoms, Human Rights Watch said. The UAE has not ratified the ICCPR, article 19 of which outlines the right to freedom of opinion and expression. But it is a state party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Article 32 of the Arab Charter ensures the right to information, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, and article 24 guarantees the right to freedom of political activity, the right to form and join associations, and the right to freedom of assembly and association.

The UAE cannot market itself as a reformist and tolerant state while introducing new laws that increase its already alarming levels of repression and censorship,” Page said….

The piece further provides a detailed analysis of penal and Cybercrimes Law.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/05/uae-sweeping-legal-reforms-deepen-repression

International Service for Human Rights: annual report 2022 (2021)

May 8, 2022

The last 18 months have been deeply challenging from a human rights perspective, with the COVID pandemic exposing and exacerbating inequalities, human rights defenders continuing to face deadly threats and choking restrictions to their work, and some governments working to undermine the accessibility and effectiveness of human rights mechanisms and multilateral processes.  But it’s also been a period over which sparks have been lit on key issues which we must now nurture and ensure fires of progress that long burn bright. 

ISHR invites you to discover our latest annual report, outlining our key impacts during the last year and our vision for 2022 and the years ahead.

What did we achieve in 2021?

Here are just a few examples of our collective impact:  Together with human rights defenders fighting racism, we celebrated the establishment of a historic expert mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in law enforcement, as well as a commission to inquire into the root causes of conflict and violence against the Palestinian people. Together with defenders promoting women’s rights, we were inspired by the widespread mobilisation and calls for accountability in cases of sexual harassment and assault, as well as the release from arbitrary detention of a number of prominent women human rights defenders. Together with defenders working on the environment and the climate crisis, we commended the landmark recognition under international human rights law of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, as well as the mandating of a new UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change. Together with defenders working to make governments accountable, we rejoiced in seeing an increased number and diversity of persons prepared to speak up and take action against widespread and systemic violations in States including China, Egypt, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, while in other States in Africa, Asia and Latin America progress was made in the legal recognition and protection of defenders. See more achievements by clicking on the two videos below and visiting our website!

For other annual reports of 2021, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2021/

Announcing the launch of its 2022 Annual Report

State of human rights in Pakistan 2021

May 7, 2022

On 2 May 2022 – for the 30th year – the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has put forward its review of the state of human rights in the country and the measures that should be taken to reduce human rights violations in the country. The main takeaway from the report is that there were blatant and unrelenting attempts to crack down on dissent, with at least nine journalists having faced harassment in an attempt to silence them in their work. As happens every year, violence against women took every possible form: from rape to domestic abuse to horrific murders to honour killings. The report has noted that 478 honour killings were reported in the country in 2021, although the number is almost certainly much higher with many never reaching the press, and over 5000 cases of rapes were reported by the media. Overall, violence in the country appeared to have increased quite dramatically. The HRCP has especially noted the case of Nazim Jokhio, and the mob lynching of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot. These are but just a few examples of the disturbing trend of increased violence in the country. Just a few months back, research had revealed how many of these cases of violence are perpetrated by young people. The past few years we have watched in horror as Pakistani society has increasingly grown more violent — bringing nightmare-inducing optics straight to our phones. This is a direct result of the extremist tendency prevalent in society, an inevitable consequence of consistent state policies.

The report has also noted the way the previous government used ordinances to push through laws, some of them highly detrimental to freedom of expression. The HRCP has also noted that religion was used multiple times over the years to try and stop various acts of legislation from being passed. One of the most difficult issues human rights defenders in Pakistan have faced over a number of years has been that of missing persons or enforced disappearances. In 2021, says the HRCP, the highest number of enforced disappearances was reported to have been in Balochistan, with the government having failed to resolve concerns of families of the missing despite sit-ins in Islamabad.

From missing persons to the Gujjar and Korangi nullah evictions to sectarian violence to violence against transgender persons — the HRCP’s State of Human Rights 2021 is a timely reminder to the current government that it must do better on all these counts and more. It is on the Shehbaz Sharif led government to ensure that media freedom is upheld, there are no more arbitrary anti-journalism laws, and journalists are not harassed for doing their jobs. The incumbent government must not make the mistake of taking human rights issues lightly during its tenure. This report card on human rights by the HRCP comes out every year but each successive government has failed to take suggestions from rights activists seriously. It is hoped that with a change in government there will finally be a change in how citizens’ rights are treated and that all citizens from all communities and regions in the country can feel safe and less vulnerable to injustice and state or non-state violence.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/asma-jahangir-memorial-lecture-at-second-anniversary-of-her-death/

The Chair of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is Hina Jilani.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/954916-state-of-human-rights
https://www.latestly.com/agency-news/world-news-address-human-rights-violations-seriously-hina-jilani-to-pak-government-3654179.html

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) 2021 Annual Report

May 1, 2022

In the face of the multiple crises of our time, ECCHR continues to stand for human rights and climate justice. To outline the scope of our aims, Joshua Castellino, a member of the ECCHR Advisory Board, authored a piece for its Annual Report that clearly emphasizes how we must think collectively about the future. For us, “collectively” means that our actions as human rights lawyers are to be guided by global solidarity and cooperation.

In her series Contagion – Colour on the Front Line (whose pieces she and the Autograph Gallery allowed us to reproduce in this report), Aida Silvestri uses cocoa, tea, tobacco, sugar and coffee to draw a connection between colonial exploitation and those who were carelessly exposed to danger during the pandemic while providing largely low-paid services with almost no protection.

This post follows other references to annual reports 2021: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2021/

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FIFA World Cup: the human rights plans of host cities

April 17, 2022

On 5 April 2022, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) and a leading international law firm (Clifford Chance) have released a report that provides a perspective on the human rights plans of the cities vying to host the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup matches. The Promise of a Positive Legacy: The 2026 FIFA World Cup Host City Candidates’ Human Rights Plans provides an overview of the diverse and wide-ranging plans published by the cities to address the human rights impact of hosting the international event for each of 22 candidate cities in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The collaborative work by CSHR [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/27/new-global-center-for-sport-and-human-rights-created-to-address-abuses/] and Clifford Chance is an independent report recognising highlights from each city’s human rights strategy, providing a view across numerous human rights factors addressed by the cities, including anti-discrimination, human rights-related environmental impact, and workers’ and housing rights. The report recognises proposed initiatives to advance human rights promotion and protection at a city-by-city level, highlighting commitments made in the respective candidate city bids. It also identifies opportunities for ongoing dialogue and peer-learning within and among the cities and stakeholders.

CSHR experts worked with a team of 13 Clifford Chance lawyers from New York, Washington, DC and London to review and analyse submissions from all 22 cities, from three countries, over nearly a three-month period. The report’s release comes in the run up to FIFA, the world’s governing body of football, selecting the host cities and will complement FIFA’s assessment of the cities’ human rights plans.

The Promise of a Positive Legacy includes a compelling colour-coded heatmap that offers an at-a-glance view of where cities have placed the greatest emphasis on human rights issues most salient to their own contexts.

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The report: The Promise of a Positive Legacy: The 2026 FIFA World Cup Host City Candidates’ Human Rights Plans

Download Here

https://www.sporthumanrights.org/news/cshr-and-clifford-chance-release-report-on-2026-fifa-world-cup-host-city-candidates-human-rights-plans/