Archive for the 'books' Category

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie accepts PEN Pinter prize: wants to speak out

October 16, 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie accepts PEN Pinter prize with call to speak out. Arguing that authors have a duty to ‘call a lie a lie’, the Nigerian novelist also names human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as the 2018 International Writer of Courage.  in the Guardian of 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pictured at the Women in the World Summit in 2017.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pictured at the Women in the World Summit in 2017. Photograph: Matteo Prandoni/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock

The Nigerian novelist was described by the Jury as “sophisticated beyond measure in her understanding of gender, race, and global inequality”. In her acceptance lecture at the British Library, Adichie said that while writers should not necessarily speak out on political issues, she did not believe “that art is a valid reason for evading the responsibilities of citizenship – which are to think clearly, to remain informed, and, sometimes, to act and speak”.

…The award-winning novelist revealed how she has been criticised in Nigeria for speaking out about its law criminalising homosexuality, and for her efforts to start a “much-needed conversation” about women’s rights in the country….

Adichie said that she did not choose to speak out about social issues because she is a writer. “But my writing gave me a platform to speak about issues that I have always cared about,” she said. “I do not want to use my art as an armour of neutrality behind which to hide. I am a writer and I am a citizen, and I see my speaking out on social issues as a responsibility of citizenship. I am struck by how often this speaking out is met, in Nigeria, not with genuine engagement, whether to agree or disagree, but with a desire to silence me. A journalist once helpfully summed it up for me: people don’t like it when you talk about feminism, they just want you to shut up and write.”

At the ceremony, Adichie named the lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as this year’s International Writer of Courage, a title awarded by the PEN Pinter winner each year. Abulkhair, a founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia .

Waleed Abulkhair pictured in 2012.
Pinterest Waleed Abulkhair pictured in 2012. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Waleed has dedicated his life to holding the Saudi authorities accountable for human rights abuses,” said Adichie. “He has dedicated his life to speaking out, to supporting the victims of those abuses. Waleed, like Harold Pinter, has shown a lucid dedication to telling his truth. But rather than being lauded for this dedication, Waleed has paid a heavy price – 15 years behind bars.” She said she was deeply proud to share the prize with Abulkhair, “and I hope that this small act of solidarity will bring him some comfort, and will remind him that his struggle has not been forgotten, nor will it be in vain.”

Previous recipients of the International writer of courage include Bangladeshi publisher and writer Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, also known as Tutul; and Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/09/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-accepts-pen-pinter-prize-with-call-to-speak-out

How can companies take concrete actions to protect human rights defenders?

September 19, 2018

Published a few days ago by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and the International Service for Human Rights, this new guidance was commissioned by the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, seeking to encourage companies to focus on an increasingly inescapable agenda.

‘Shared space’ under pressure

..Data from around the world shows there is a concerted attack in many countries on the essential freedoms and the rule of law on which business and civil society depend. And the defenders and organisations who expose the risk of abuse by companies in their operations and supply chains are under particular attack. Business and civil society operate in and benefit from a ‘shared space’ defined by common, fundamental elements. The rule of law and freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential to the realisation of all human rights, to good governance and accountable institutions. These elements are also critical to stable, profitable and sustainable business environments in which companies thrive and economies prosper. Yet this shared space is as much an ideal as it is a reality.

The strength of the shared space is tested by a history and legacy of mistrust between elements of civil society and business, especially between multinational corporations in certain industries and local communities in the Global South. This mistrust is reflected in actions, whether intentional or inadvertent, by individual companies and even entire industries to undermine civic freedoms and to undercut human rights defenders. It shows up in conflicts and confrontations in almost every region. Yet standards and practices have evolved over the last two decades to encourage or require companies to respect human rights – however incompletely and inconsistently. Moreover, engagement and consultation of companies with local communities and stakeholders are leading to solutions in conflicts in ways that encourage further progress. ‘The time is now for responsible business to act to defend civic freedoms and protect human rights defenders’, said Michael Ineichen, Programme Director at ISHR…

Guidance for companies

But why, when and how should business engage on this urgent agenda? This guidance represents a major step forward towards business action. It is a practical guide to realistic action by responsible companies, investors, industry associations and business leaders. It is informed by pragmatism and the principles of freedom and fair play. It is also the result of over 90 interviews with business leaders, investors, civil society advocates and other international experts who gladly offered their insights.

The document elaborates on why business should be compelled to join civil society and human rights defenders in resisting the crackdown on their work by:

  • Providing the complementary normative framework, business case and moral considerations which all encourage companies to support civic freedoms and defenders under threat;
  • Elaborating on the main elements of the business case to protect defenders, namely the business interest to secure the shared space, to manage operational and reputational risks, to build competitive advantage, and to secure a social license to operate;
  • Outlining a decision framework that is both analytical and operational to determine whether and how to act in various circumstances.

Authored by Bennett Freeman, a leader and innovator in the business and human rights  field for two decades, the guidance intends to further push the thinking and debate on how we can forge new alliances to counter the attacks on civic freedoms and human rights defenders and hold open these precious shared spaces. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and the International Service for Human Rights look forward to deeper and more powerful collaboration with business and stronger alliances with civil society partners through the publication of this guidance.

Download the full guidance – Shared space under pressure: business support for civic freedoms and human rights defenders

Download an executive summary – Shared space under pressure: Executive Summary

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/09/2017-9-business-can-be-better-allies-of-human-rights-defenders/

Human Rights in crisis? – here the last word (before the summer!)

August 1, 2018

This blog (among many other sources) has dedicated quite a few posts to the mood of crisis that has engulfed the human rights movement, especially at international level. The international human rights regime as we have known it for the last decades is indeed under pressure, from autocratic regimes, from populist leaders and – let us be honest – from quite a few ‘normal’ people. Below you find a small selection earlier blog posts on this theme of crisis. On  30 May 2018 the MEA organized in Geneva a public event “Human Rights in a Changing World”. At this 25th Anniversary event, the leaders of the 10 international NGOs on the MEA Jury and several laureates had wide ranging discussions both in private and in public. The MEA has now produced a summary for public consumption which I have published separately earlier this day [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/report-of-meas-25thanniversary-event-human-rights-in-a-changing-world-30-may-2018/ ]

July 31 July 2018, Kathryn Sikkink published an interesting piece that has some elements in common with findings of the MEA event referred to above. The title is: “Rethinking the notion of a human rights crisis”, with as summary that “The frame of constant crisis has negative implications for human rights, especially when questions of legitimacy arise. But hope—based on empirical evidence of human rights progress—should give advocates the motivation to keep working.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

There is an epidemic of pessimism surrounding human rights today. To name but a few examples, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested that there has never been so much suffering since World War II, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner has claimed that there have been no marked decreases in human rights violations in the same time period, and international relations scholar Stephen Hopgood has argued that we are witnessing the “end times of human rights.”

Such a pessimistic mindset is understandable because of the worrisome situations that human rights activists face every day. The idea of peril and crisis, however, points not only to the present moment but also implies some knowledge about trends and change over time; it suggests that human rights were not challenged before, and that the situation is now worse.

I recognize that many alarming human rights situations exist in the world today, and I am particularly worried about the current situation in the United States, but I am not persuaded that the state of human rights globally is now worse than it has been before. Instead, let us consider how the frame of constant crisis itself could have negative consequences for human rights.

My recent book, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century, proposes that pessimistic claims need to be submitted to rigorous examination, both historical and statistical. This debate matters because of the inadvertent effects the frame of crisis and peril may have on perceptions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of human rights activism.

Historically, human rights progress has occurred as a result of struggle, and has often been spearheaded by oppressed groups. Where it has occurred, human rights progress has not been at all inevitable, but rather contingent on continued commitment and effort. Some activists and scholars fear that if they admit there has been progress, people will grow complacent and disengaged.

A recent survey of 346 individuals currently or previously working in the field of human rights found that this work is associated with elevated levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. One source of this appears to be negative self-appraisals about human rights work. These findings suggest that one of the most difficult parts of being a human rights activist is the doubt about whether you are contributing to positive change. A frame of excessive crisis thus may not only contribute to the impression that the human rights movement has historically been ineffective, but it could also diminish the motivation and well-being of activists.

By their very definition, human rights are needed when things are bad. I worked at a small human rights organization, the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time that is now seen by some as the golden age of human rights activism. Yet we never felt like human rights goals were easily within our reach. How could we, when the Argentine government was disappearing thousands of its citizens; the Salvador government, with the heavy support of the US government, was massacring people; and the world had ignored the recent genocide in Cambodia?

Some of the current pessimism also suggests that human rights activists were popular at some point in the past and are now denigrated. But human rights activists have never been popular in the countries where they work. Repressive governments have a long history of attacking and vilifying human rights groups, through smear campaigns and other repressive tactics. Human rights organizations often defend the rights of unpopular minorities such as political leftists in Latin America, the Roma in Europe, and transgender people in the US.

The fact that the fight for human rights has always faced significant opposition should not discourage us. The longer history of human rights offers a positive message that can help sustain us in the context of our current struggles. In Evidence for Hope, I explore what changes have taken place over time, using the best data I can find on what many of us would agree to be good measures of diverse human rights.

Looking at this data carefully, issue by issue, we see that some situations are worsening—such as the absolute number of refugees displaced by war or economic inequality within many countries. Nevertheless, there are many more positive trends, including a decline in genocide and politicide, a shrinking number of people killed in war, decreasing use of the death penalty, and improvements in poverty, infant mortality, and life expectancy, as well as advances in gender equality, the rights of sexual minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities.

So why is it that so many people believe human rights violations in the world are getting worse rather than better? The short answer is that we think the world is worse off because we care more and know more about human rights than ever before. The media and human rights organizations have drawn our attention to an increasingly wide range of rights violations around the world. Their success in doing so sometimes inadvertently causes people to think that no human rights progress is occurring. Discouraging results are also generated because we compare our current situation not to the past but to an imagined ideal world, and thus we always fall short.

My point here is not to suggest that the situation for human rights defenders is improving in the world. I mainly want to remind readers that human rights defenders have long been on the front line, and we should be cautious in suggesting that there was a better period for human rights in the second half of the twentieth century that has now been eroded in the twenty-first century. Some of the threats—particularly those involving invasive laws about registration and funding—are indeed new and threatening, while other challenges have been almost a constant for civil society human rights organizations over time.

Nothing about how new or old these challenges are or about any trends in fundamental human rights detracts from acknowledging the frightening challenges groups and individuals face, nor do they negate the urgent need to strategize about how to respond to these challenges. Yet, what I hope is that some information about historical trends, as well as a more focused look at data, may be useful as part of an action-oriented discussion of promising tactics and how to address these challenges.

The stakes in this human rights debate are high. Anger, hope, and the knowledge that you can make a difference in the world give people the energy to keep working. Knowing more specifically how human rights groups have made a difference can teach us more about effective strategies and tactics to use in the future.

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Report of MEA’s 25thAnniversary event: Human Rights in a Changing World (30 May 2018)

August 1, 2018

And here is finally the Discussion Summary (in full) of the Martin Ennals Award 25thAnniversary event “Human Rights in a Changing World” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/24/mea-at-25-high-level-anniversary-panel-looks-at-human-rights-in-crisis/].  

 Introduction

On 30 May 2018, the Martin Ennals Foundation convened a meeting of leaders of the ten organizations that make up the Martin Ennals Jury, together with some former MEA laureates, to discuss current human rights priority issues. This, the first such meeting, took place in the context of the 25thanniversary of the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders.  The document below attempts to capture the main elements discussed and draws some conclusions.

Discussion

Three issues were scheduled to serve as the agenda:  (1) influencing authoritarians, (2) countering populism, and (3) effective human rights action. We focus on the five main points raised throughout the discussion.

  1. Human rights are increasingly the target of populist and/or authoritarian leaders as they demonize “others” to build support;

Not all authoritarians are populists, and not all populists are authoritarians. The initial discussion looked at the phenomenon of populists who build support by using messages and approaches that give cause for major human rights concerns.  Populist leaders who end up trampling human rights are often those most eager to remove constraints on their own power by weakening the institutions that can challenge them: the judiciary, media, parliaments, and civil society, especially Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).

Authoritarians are increasingly willing to stand up for their approaches, using justifications such as the need for economic development, the rejection of “Western” or “liberal” models, or the protection of national identity.  This is the case for countries where the population have little say in the choice of their leaders (e.g. China); nominal say (e.g.  Russia or Venezuela); or even where the population can vote freely (e.g. Hungary or USA).

The blaming or demonization of marginalised groups is a principal tool in the authoritarians’ arsenal. These groups can include religious or ethnic minorities, or even the targeting of criminals by extrajudicial means. But currently overshadowing all is the way that irregular immigrants have become the focus especially in Europe and the US of attempts to find a scapegoat for the problems that preoccupy the wider population.

The concerns among the population that provide the breeding ground for authoritarian leaders to reject more traditional democratic politics are linked to a variety of issues in the spheres of economic insecurity and law and order, as well as cultural displacement and loss of identity.  Populists have tapped into these concerns, but rather than looking at the deeper complexities they have created resonance with simple, compelling messages that appeal to emotion more than to reason.

The manner in which populists have built support by attacking marginalised groups includes a discourse to deny them certain basic rights. Statements that in the past were seen as reminiscent of fascism and thus politically unacceptable are now part of the political dialogue and supported or at least ‘accepted’  in many countries that were considered “liberal democracies”. Regardless of who is in power, suggesting denial of basic rights to certain groups is now common currency even in many democracies.

Immigration, and in particular “uncontrolled” or “illegal” immigration, is a particular target for populist leaders.  Human rights advocates who stand up for these people’s rights are now more easily accused of working against the national interest. Disconcertingly, blaming such an identifiable “other” time and again appears a simple but effective tool. Politicians focusing on complex causes face an uphill battle. Human rights organizations trying to protect the “other” may find their messages not just ineffective, but providing arguments for populists to use against them.

The result is that human rights, and human rights activists and organizations, are seen by significant numbers of people in many countries as serving effectively to support those who threaten their livelihood, safety and cultural values. Thus, human rights, as a concept, come under attack when associated with protecting “undesirables”.

While “human rights” as a concept may be easily misunderstood, or intentionally manipulated, views tend to be more supportive once specific rights are acknowledged and advanced. This applies particularly to a broad range of economic and social rights issues that resonate with a wider cross-section of the population: corruption, land rights, labour rights, and environmental degradation.  These issues tend to be underrepresented as human rights concerns and more effort should be made to show the connections. It was stressed that young people especially are willing to work on these issues.

A recurring theme in the discussion was that while there may be support for particular rights such as LGBT or land rights, this would not usually be translated into supporting the overarching human rights architecture in general. Messaging by human rights organizations often involves conceptual messages, which have been ineffective in the past. However, the new, and more dangerous, element is rather than just being ineffective, these messages can provide arguments in the opposite direction for populists.

The conclusion that presents itself is that those working on any particular topic will have to be much more aware of the wider context in which they work. While trying to draw attention onto specific issues, it is important to remain credible in the eyes of the wider public. This means that as human rights organizations decide where and how to focus their activities, the balance of issues worked on needs to be considered as part of the perception that the organization wants to build.

For those organizations with very specific mandates, and so a limited choice of issues to focus on, it is even more important to find approaches that do not provide arguments that can be used by those working against them.

  1. Naming and shaming needs to take into account that certain approaches can reinforce populist leaders

 

“Naming and shaming” has long been one of the main tools to press for human rights.  However, given the success of the populist messages, some leaders have been able to justify human rights violations and even use criticism to make their point to supporters. This is particularly so when the criticism associated human rights with the least “desirable”.

Even though authoritarians may feel no compunction to stand behind their methods or even boast about them, they still are sensitive to their reputations. They often mobilize significant resources to thwart or stop human rights defenders, which shows that they still think arguments in favour human rights are important enough to be dangerous for them.

There is no reason to conclude that public shaming is no longer effective, but it needs to be carefully tailored to each situation. Failure to do so can play directly into the hands of the authoritarian leader who may claim the criticism as a badge of honour. Populists are sensitive to being ridiculed; humour at their expense can be powerful. In any case the planned message needs to be carefully analysed to determine how the message could be used to their benefit by those it seeks to challenge.

Sanctions against Individuals

The use of personal sanctions and restrictions on autocrats and their cohorts is increasing and is found often to have considerable impact.   However, where this can trigger counter-measures it is important for unintended consequences such as reprisals against human rights defenders to be factored into the equation.

 

  1. Public communication

There was broad agreement about the importance of moving beyond the traditional ways of communicating human rights concerns and articulating advocacy. The human rights narrative mainly resonates with those most familiar with, and supportive of, the issues.  Messages are often legalistic and technical, limiting their appeal to a wider audience. In the current fractured political dialogue, when the objective is seen as supporting an “other” a new level of hostility can result.

The most effective communications are on issues that the recipient can identify with. This makes normative and conceptual work very hard to get the wider public people excited about. They are more likely to react to messages where they see themselves as potentially affected. This is what makes the demonization of “others” so effective.  Action against migrants or minorities does not strike people as something that can happen to them. Even when talking about civil and political rights, it is still possible to see the most serious violations such as torture and enforced disappearance as something that happens to others.

It may well be easier to mobilise people around social justice issues like corruption, land rights, labour rights, and pollution. There is a general sense that economic, social, and cultural rights are not sufficiently addressed. Countering populists will need messages in language that appeal to populist followers’ values, interests and indeed emotions. Here it is important to offer constructive solutions to move the debate forwards rather than condemning what is wrong. Furthermore, there is a need to work in alliance with broader elements of civil society such as social movements, and so tap into sources of wider support. Effective use of visual and social media is indispensable.

Dialogue with autocrats

Governments are not monoliths. There are different interests and views within autocratic states that can be utilized when dealing with them. It is important to weigh the trade-offs in any such interaction; while dialogue can be opened up it needs to be able to lead to action. There are risks that autocrats could use the fact of dialogue to legitimise their actions. At the same time, they may go along but with no intent to move forward – e.g. dialogue that only involves the foreign ministry is usually a sign that little will happen. As a rule, dialogue should go hand in hand with public communication that creates pressure. The ‘diplomacy’ must have a public component.

 

  1. Non-state actors/business and human rights

Non-state actors can play powerful roles influencing the state primarily for their own benefits, and so contributing directly or indirectly to infringement of human rights. The business sector, notably multinational enterprises, is considered a clear priority in this regard. Effective action to ensure compliance is still limited by gaps in normative rules; where such enterprises may be vulnerable to reputational risk, strengthened regulation should help ensure that they are competing on a level playing field.

There is a multitude of pressure- and leverage points. One that drew particular attention is the notion that the eventual cost to companies resulting from a lack of early engagement with the local population may be exponentially higher than had they consulted at the start. Involvement at the early planning process by all sides can reduce the risk of project failure or excessive costs later on. Other leverage points include banks/financial institutions, shareholder activism, and associated business partners such as suppliers who may have reputational concerns.

Overall, the thrust of engaging with the business sector in the sphere of human rights must be to shift the emphasis from focusing on transparency to seeking accountability.

 

  1. Supporting local action for human rights

Much of the discussion looked at recent changes in the West as to how human rights are viewed, whereas the global South continues to face the challenges it always has.  Furthermore, certain changes that originated in the West such as funding restrictions on political activity, and anti-terrorism legislation have inspired new methods to restricts human rights defenders  in countries with more structural human rights problems.

Reassuringly, experience shows that even in countries with structurally problematic human rights records there are networks of committed human rights activists. While they may be small in numbers, their commitment and drive allow them to keep human rights concerns on the agenda. Many of these activists feel unsupported when facing the resources, restrictions, and wrath of their own governments. However, this commitment to human rights by an engaged minority is a clear counterweight to populism and human rights abuses more widely.

Thus, a key message arising out of the discussion is the importance of supporting local activists and networks. Supporting them is a critical function of the international human rights movement. The work for human rights defenders cannot be seen in isolation from the causes they espouse, which in turn enables international human rights organisations to connect with broader social movements.

Rules vs implementation

While there may still be a need for developing norms and standards in certain areas (as with regard to business and human rights), the overall emphasis must increasingly be on implementation and enforcement of existing rules. This requires a more comprehensive approach that moves from identifying where norms are violated, to a systematic approach to keeping pressure on governments in question until there is change. This will involve increased coordination between international actors and those working locally.

 

In conclusion

Convening the leaders of all the MEA jury organizations together with former laureates was a first. It gave a unique opportunity to discuss the state of human rights and human rights action in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly contested world. The analysis differed in nuance only, the overall findings and conclusions had a large degree of consensus. While these outcomes may not in themselves offer ground-breaking new insights, that fact of the shared orientation and commitment is remarkable and encouraging in the face of the formidable challenges in front of us.

You can see and hear the public debate led by BBC’s Lyse Doucet on the MEA website: http://www.martinennalsaward.org (viewed by hundreds of people)

Inventivity of evil: how states restrict HRDs access to the UN in 10 case studies

June 27, 2018

In a new report entitled “The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations” the ISHR outlines the many different ways States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to reprisals, physical threats and attacks. ‘States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’.

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.’

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to cooperate with the UN are well documented.  ‘These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

DRAMATIC ESCALATION OF HRDS KILLED IN RECENT YEARS

June 21, 2018

On Wednesday 20 June 2018, Dublin based international human rights organisation, Front Line Defenders along with the HRD Memorial Network, launched a major new report on the killing of human rights defenders (HRDs) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The report, Stop the Killings, analyses the root causes of killings of HRDs in 6 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines, which between them have accounted for 80%  HRDs killed in the last three years. 

In its Annual Reports for the last 4 years, Front Line Defenders has reported the killing of 879 HRDs. These were not random killings but the targeted elimination of those working to improve their own communities.  The use of lethal violence to silence those who defend the rights of the most vulnerable has become widespread, and is endemic in a number of countries. In its 2017 Annual Report, Front Line Defenders reported the killing of 312 HRDs in 27 countries; the true figure is certainly higher. Two-thirds of those killed were working on the environment, land rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, often in remote, rural areas.

Among the key drivers of killings and violence against HRDs detailed in the report are::

  • state failure to recognise the legitimacy and importance of the work of HRDs;
  • smear campaigns against HRDs by the state and/or its agents;
  • economic policies which prioritise the ruthless exploitation of natural resources over the protection of the environment and the land;
  • rights of peasant communities and indigenous peoples;
  • lack of effective systems to document and investigate attacks on HRDs and provide protection;
  • collusion by the state and/or its agents in the killing of HRDs.

The report was launched by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Agnes Callamard, at a special side event during  Human Rights Council proceedings on Wednesday 20 June 2018.

The full text of the report can be downloaded from: https://share.riseup.net/#VWzkKTN4f-156VE4dc-r_Q

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/05/front-lines-2017-report-confirms-worst-expectation-over-300-hrds-killed/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/15/documenting-the-killings-of-environmental-defenders-guardian-and-global-witness/

 

ISHR: new report on reprisals and restrictions against NGO participation in the UN

June 8, 2018

There are many different approaches States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report of 30 May 2018 [The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations] outlines what these are and provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter reprisals and restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies’. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report, ‘The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations‘ documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to physical threats and attacks.

States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’. Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to coöperate with the UN are well documented.

These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

I have published many posts on the issue of reprisals [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/] starting with https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

Death of international human rights regime declared premature by professor Nye

May 24, 2018

Joseph S. Nye, a professor at Harvard, in a piece of 10 May 2018 entitled “Human rights and the fate of the liberal order“, takes issue with those who despair of the current slide of the human rights system as we know it. The piece is certainly worth reading in total:
Image courtesy Pawel Ryszawa via Wikimedia Commons.

Many experts have proclaimed the death of the post‑1945 liberal international order, including the human-rights regime set forth in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The cover of Foreign Policy recently displayed the white dove of human rights pierced by the bloody arrows of authoritarian reaction.

According to ‘realist’ international relations theorists, one cannot sustain a liberal world order when two of the three great powers—Russia and China—are anti-liberal. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa argue that the era when Western liberal democracies were the world’s top cultural and economic powers may be drawing to a close. Within the next five years, ‘the share of global income held by countries considered “not free”—such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—will surpass the share held by Western liberal democracies’.

There are several problems with this argument. For starters, it relies on a measure called purchasing power parity, which is good for some purposes, but not for comparing international influence. At current exchange rates, China’s annual GDP is $12 trillion, and Russia’s is $2.5 trillion, compared to the United States’ $20 trillion economy. But the more serious flaw is lumping countries as disparate as China and Russia together as an authoritarian axis. There is nothing today like the infamous Axis of Nazi Germany and its allies in the 1930s.

While Russia and China are both authoritarian and find it useful to caucus against the US in international bodies like the United Nations Security Council, they have very different interests. China is a rising power that is highly intertwined with the international economy, including the US. In contrast, Russia is a declining country with serious demographic and public health problems, with energy rather than finished goods accounting for two-thirds of its exports.

Declining countries are often more dangerous than rising ones. Vladimir Putin has been a clever tactician, seeking to ‘make Russia great again’ through military intervention in neighbouring countries and Syria, and by using cyber-based information warfare to disrupt—with only partial success—Western democracies. A study of Russian broadcasting in Ukraine found that it was effective only with the minority that was already Russia-oriented, though it was able to produce polarising and disruptive effects in the political system. And the revival of Cold War–style information warfare has done little to create soft power for Russia. The London-based Soft Power 30 index ranks Russia 26th. Russia has had some success cultivating allies in Eastern Europe, but it is not part of a powerful authoritarian axis such as existed in the 1930s.

China is different. It has announced its willingness to spend billions to increase its soft power. At meetings in Davos in 2017 and Hainan in 2018, Xi Jinping presented China as a defender of the existing international order, but one with Chinese rather than liberal characteristics. China does not want to overturn the current international order, but rather to reshape it to increase its gains.

It has the economic tools to do so. It rations access to its huge market for political purposes. Norway was punished after the dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Eastern Europeans were rewarded after they watered down European Union resolutions on human rights. And Singaporean and Korean companies suffered after their governments took positions that displeased China. The Chinese government’s massive Belt and Road Initiative to build trade infrastructure throughout Eurasia provides ample opportunities to use business contracts to wield political influence. And China has increasingly restricted human rights at home. As Chinese power increases, the global human-rights regime’s problems will increase.

But no one should be tempted by exaggerated projections of Chinese power. If the US maintains its alliances with democratic Japan and Australia, and continues to develop good relations with India, it will hold the high cards in Asia. In the global military balance, China lags far behind, and in terms of demography, technology, the monetary system and energy dependence, the US is better placed than China in the coming decade. In the Soft Power 30 index, China ranks 25th, while the US is third.

Moreover, no one knows what the future will bring for China. Xi has torn up Deng Xiaoping’s institutional framework for leadership succession, but how long will Xi’s authority last? In the meantime, on issues such as climate change, pandemics, terrorism and financial stability, both an authoritarian China and the US will benefit from cooperation. The good news is that some aspects of the current international order will persist; the bad news is that it may not include the liberal element of human rights.

The human-rights regime may face a tougher environment, but that is not the same as a collapse. A future US administration can work more closely with the EU and other like-minded states to build a human-rights caucus. A G10, comprising the world’s major democracies, could coordinate on values alongside the existing G20 (which includes non-democracies such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia), with its focus on economic issues.

Others can help. As Kathryn Sikkink points out in her new book, Evidence for hope, while US support has been important to human rights, the US was not always very liberal during the Cold War, and the origins of the regime in the 1940s owed much to Latin Americans and others. Moreover, transnational rights organisations have developed domestic support in numerous countries.

In short, we should be concerned about the multiple challenges to liberal democracy during the current setback to what Samuel P. Huntington called the ‘third wave’ of democratisation. But that is no reason to give up on human rights.

Academics want UN Treaty Bodies to become ‘fit for purpose’

May 9, 2018

The Geneva Academy’s new publication Optimizing the UN Treaty Body System outlines a series of recommendations related to the functioning of United Nations Treaty Bodies (UN TBs) to prepare for the upcoming review of UN TBs by the UN General Assembly in 2020. ‘While the last words will remain with states and TBs members, this report can provide a basis for negotiations and the blueprint for future changes’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, co-coordinator of the Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020.

This work is the outcome of a three-year consultative process to collect academic inputs and ideas via the creation of an academic network of independent researchers, a call for papers, a series of regional consultations, annual and expert conferences, as well as ongoing interactions with key stakeholders: states, treaty bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other parts of the UN. ‘The issue of TBs’ reform is almost as old as the system itself: many proposals that are on the table today were already formulated before. Our academic contribution takes these proposals out of their political context by analysing them, their relevance, their likelihood to be implemented and the possible need for updates’ adds Felix Kirchmeier.

The final objective of the publication and of the entire process is to make the TB system ‘fit for purpose’ by outlining measures to optimize its functioning, effectiveness and efficiency while safeguarding its key protection role and maintaining the existing legal framework.

‘While the publication provides several detailed recommendations, it notably call for a consolidated state report and a single review, or a semi-consolidated state report and two clustered reviews; the implementation of incremental changes in the TBs working methods; and a consolidation of TBs’ structure in terms of membership, as well as financial and substantial support’ underlines Kamelia Kemileva, Executive Manager at the Geneva Academy and co-coordinator of the Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020.

The 45-page study contains many interesting ideas and I copy here only one of particular interest which is to improve the system’s accessibility and visibility:

To meet its purpose, TB output must be accessible and visible. Many contributors expressed concern on this account. Modern technology offers easy solutions, some of which have been implemented but could be taken further.

Contributors unanimously welcomed the webcasting of country examinations and consider it an important improvement. However, they recommended that webcasts should be broadcast and archived in all working languages, as well as the language in which the review is held – the only one that is available at the moment. They also suggested that webcasts should be easier to access via links on the OHCHR home page in each country and via each committee’s session web page.

Many contributors also called for a readily accessible, up-to-date, comprehensive database of TB jurisprudence. It was noted that information on TB findings is currently hard to find (when available), that the database is incomplete, and that decisions are not always available in all UN official languages. Accessing and understanding TB jurisprudence remains a challenge for all stakeholders – whether they are victims of human rights violations, TB members, states, national and regional human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations, or scholars.

Contributors recommended that more user-friendly fact sheets and jurisprudence summaries should be prepared to disseminate TB findings and other important developments.

To increase visibility, contributors proposed maintaining dedicated pages on social media platforms. This would bring TBs’ work to the attention of larger audiences, assist Committees to update information on their activities, and create followers. More generally, the system’s achievements and impact on rights-holders should be better documented and publicized.

(my earlier posts on TBs include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/06/the-outcome-of-the-treaty-body-strengthening-process-workshop-on-9-may-2014-in-geneva/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/18/on-24-october-there-is-a-side-event-in-ny-on-the-implementation-of-human-rights-treaty-body-recommendations/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/17/treaty-bodies-case-law-database-saved-and-resurrected-by-un/)

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https://www.geneva-academy.ch/news/detail/121-optimizing-the-un-treaty-bodies-system

ISHR Annual Report 2017: how the Service serves

May 2, 2018

On 1 May 2018 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published its 2017 annual report (“Time for ambition, cause for hope”), outlining its impacts during 2017 and vision for 2018 and the years ahead.

 

Here are just a few examples of major achievements:

  • Through its Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme, ISHR helped defenders from across the world develop networks of support and influence, build energy and resilience, and become even more effective advocates for national-level change.
  • In consultation with LGBTI persons and organisations from all regions, and with input from eminent legal experts from across the world, ISHR developed and launched the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10.
  • Following a three year campaign undertaken in partnership with the Burkina Faso Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network, in June ISHR secured the adoption of a national law on the protection of defenders in Burkina Faso.
  • ISHR provided human rights defenders with international and regional advocacy platforms by supporting them in giving evidence and testimony at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul.
  • ISHR provided defenders with comprehensive and practical guidance to leverage the UN, with a new manual on engaging with the Third Committee of the General Assembly in English, Spanish and French, and a fully revised manual on navigating the UN Committee on NGOs in Arabic, Spanish, French and English.
  • ISHR also provided defenders with access to the most up-to-date information and advice via social media in Chinese, French, English and Spanish.

[for some of my earlier posts on the ISHR: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ishr/]

For the future the ISHR says:

We’ll leverage the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to strengthen the recognition and protection of human rights defenders under international and regional law, and through the development and effective implementation of corporate policies on defenders.(eg, https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/17/20th-anniversary-un-work-on-human-rights-defenders-assessed-by-ishr/) We’ll ensure that national mechanisms for the protection of defenders are adapted and respond to the particular risks faced by women human rights defenders.  Our Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme will substantially strengthen the skills, networks, resilience and impact of defenders working on women’s rights, LGBTI rights and in restrictive environments.  Additionally we’ll provide human rights defenders from across the world with an innovative online e-learning platform, giving them access to training and tactical support and linking them with a community of practice and solidarity. And through our Human Rights Defender Fellowship Programme, we will provide at least three defenders at risk with up to six months of intensive training and strategic advocacy support.