Archive for the 'books' Category

Ethiopia: a progress report by DefendDefenders made public on 7 May

May 7, 2019

In a new report launched 7 May 2019, Turning the Page: Rebuilding Civil Society in Ethiopia, the regional NGO DefendDefenders examines the challenges faced by Ethiopian human rights defenders amid the ongoing reform process and makes concrete recommendations for rebuilding a robust and inclusive civil society ahead of elections planned for 2020. Despite some positive developments, serious gaps remain, the report concludes and rights-based organisations in the country currently lack the capacity to keep pace with these developments. This report outlines several avenues donors and international organisations can use to help effectively rebuild civil society in Ethiopia, such as capacity-building activities, and areas of focus like psychosocial support.

I believe that the role of HRDs and civil society is prescient in ensuring that ideals of democracy and open civic space are not only achieved in Ethiopia, but offer a roadmap to other African countries,” says Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “This report should not only highlight the many achievements of Ethiopia in the last year, but also acknowledge the uneasy road ahead and make concrete recommendations to mitigate potentially negative outcomes.

After a 13-year crackdown on civil society (hundreds of killings and the arrest, arbitrary detention, and torture of thousands of peaceful protesters), amid internal pressure, Dr. Abiy Ahmed was appointed as the new Prime Minister In April 2018 and began a series of reforms aimed at opening political and civic space in the country. This has been accomplished by releasing thousands of political prisoners and granting them amnesty, and accepting previously banned groups back into the Ethiopian political mainstream, in addition to the appointment of prominent women to positions of power within the government. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/12/human-rights-defender-yared-hailemariam-back-in-his-homeland-ethiopia-after-13-years/]

However, concerns remain over the top-down nature of the reforms, as well as gaps in the economic, security, health, and legal sectors. This report also contains a detailed analysis of the new Civil Society Organisations Proclamation, with commentary on the provisions that mark an improvement, as well as remaining concerns.

Questions over how to achieve accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations remain, with concerns regarding civil society’s lack of capacity to effectively support such endeavors, as well as the state’s ability to constructively handle this process.

While the majority of the country’s media remains state-owned, small publications and online outlets have flourished since the reform process began. The ongoing liberalisation of the media sector raises concerns over the rise of online hate speech spurred by ethnic nationalism.

Women HRDs remain at risk in the country, with rigid social norms often preventing their active participation in public life or human rights organisations. Women also often lack access to justice, especially in cases of female genital mutilation and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as access to positions of power in the government.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexual minority (LGBT+) HRDs remain a critically unaddressed group within Ethiopia’s burgeoning human rights movement, partially rooted in the country’s religious and conservative value systems, in addition to lack of prior experience and sensitisation. Mainstreaming LGBT+ organisations into the wider rebuilding of Ethiopian civil society will be paramount to addressing these gaps.

Forthcoming elections scheduled for May 2020 offer a critical test for the country with questions over what role civil society will be ready to play ahead of, and during, a free and fair poll, and whether there is sufficient capacity to conduct effective democratic sensitisation campaigns and monitor polls.

A properly functioning national coalition of HRDs is paramount to effectively rebuild civil society, however, issues remain with regard to the inclusion of previously marginalised groups. If these efforts are successful, Addis Ababa also bears the potential to become an important Ubuntu Hub City for HRDs from across Africa, with welcoming policies regarding migration, refugee rights, and institutional support from international organisations and diplomatic missions. For more information, please contact communications@defenddefenders.org.

Turning the Page: Rebuilding Civil Society in Ethiopia

Report “Indigenous World 2019” launched on 24 April in NY

April 24, 2019

On 24 April 2019, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, IWGIA released The Indigenous World 2019, an extensive yearbook presenting a comprehensive, global overview of the developments indigenous peoples experience. The book documents an increasing trend towards the harassment and criminalization of indigenous peoples and communities. It also highlights the rising tensions between states and indigenous peoples, shrinking civil society space, loss of land rights and lack of access to justice for indigenous peoples to enjoy their rights.

“Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the world’s population, yet they represent 15% of the world’s poorest, and in 2017, half of the approximately 400 environmental and human rights defenders killed. The numbers for 2018 are as-yet-unknown, but this troubling trend hasn’t seemed to stop,” Julie Koch, IWGIA Executive Director, says. “We need to do more to protect, learn from and support indigenous peoples and their traditional, sustainable practices as key actors in ensuring a safer and more equitable world.”

In 2018, there has been an increase in the documentation and reporting of illegal surveillance, arbitrary arrests, travel bans preventing free movement, threats, dispossession and killings of indigenous peoples. We have witnessed instruments meant to protect indigenous peoples being turned against them, through the use of legislation and the justice system, to penalize and criminalize indigenous peoples’ assertion of their rights. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/08/08/9-august-international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples-un-experts-see-increasing-murder/]

The intensification and exploitation of natural resources is leading to a global crisis for indigenous peoples’ rights,” Koch says. Many indigenous peoples live in the Earth’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots and are often called the “guardians of the forest”. Several studies have shown that tree cover loss is significantly reduced on indigenous land compared to non-indigenous controlled land.

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

Tensions are rising between states and indigenous peoples

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index launched on 18th of April

April 20, 2019

Published every year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is well known, its influence over governments is growing. Many heads of state and government fear its annual publication. [for 2018 see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/30/world-press-freedom-index-2018-is-out-colorful-but-disheartening/]

The Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region. (It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country or region.)

Along with the Index, RSF calculates a global indicator and regional indicators that evaluate the overall performance of countries and regions (in the world and in each region) as regards media freedom. It is an absolute measure that complements the Index’s comparative rankings. The global indicator is the average of the regional indicators, each of which is obtained by averaging the scores of all the countries in the region, weighted according to their population as given by the World Bank.

The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries and regions is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. Click here for more information

The press freedom map, which is distributed in print and digital versions, offers a visual overview of the situation in each country and region in the Index. The colour categories are assigned as follows: good (white), fairly good (yellow), problematic (orange), bad (red) and very bad (black).

https://rsf.org/en/ranking

Hurst Hannum wants a “radically moderate approach” to human rights

April 20, 2019

Hurst Hannum in his Fletcher School office
Hurst Hannum. Photo: Alonso Nichols
A piece by Taylor McNeil in TuftsNow of 19 April 2019 is about Hurst Hannum and his latest book Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach (Cambridge University Press). Disclaimer: he and I are old acquaintances but have not seen each other for decades. I agree with much of what he says.

Hannum, a Fletcher School professor of international law, argues for bringing human rights back to the center of law and politics, while at the same time trying to define their role more carefully. Too often, he says, human rights are linked to just about everything, from punishing international crimes to seeking redress for nefarious corporate behavior and environmental degradation. “Human rights have come to mean almost anything to anyone,” Hannum said. “If something means everything, it means nothing. What we risk losing is a much narrower but more universal approach, focusing on the basic rights—civil, political, economic, social, and cultural—that government should be responsible for.

Since the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set forth as “a common standard of achievement” every country in the world has ratified at least one human rights treaty, and most have ratified a half-dozen or more. Hannum is aware that implementation leaves much to be desired, but said that “continued emphasis on ensuring those rights that a country has already recognized is most likely to be the best way forward.”

….“While the contemporary world may seem bleak, apartheid is gone, authoritarian regimes have largely disappeared from eastern Europe and Latin America, and rights are more widely respected in countries as different as South Korea, Nepal, Tunisia, Taiwan, and Mongolia,” he said. “Many of these changes can be attributed at least in part to greater awareness of and demands for human rights, even though progress is often slow and difficult.” ..

Beginning with the Carter administration in the late 1970s, human rights became a focal point for U.S. foreign policy, “although they were never the only or most important factor in determining policy,” Hannum said. Since the Clinton presidency, the U.S. has focused increasingly on promoting democracy, not human rights per se. Hannum thinks that’s a mistake. “Obviously, democracy and human rights are related—all of the things that go into making a democracy are human rights,” he said. “But since the end of the Cold War, we’ve been pushing democracy as the solution to all problems, and it turns out that it’s not.” 

Unrealistic expectations of what democracy or a free-market economy can achieve “may help to explain the recent success of nationalists and populists, who often define democracy simply as elections, ignoring the essential human rights components of freedom of assembly, association, and expression that give such elections legitimacy,” Hannum said.

He also takes aim at human rights advocates who claim more for human rights than they can deliver—especially those who “confuse human rights with outsiders intervening in all sorts of way to fix other countries,” he said. “Human rights are about persuading governments to institute reforms within their own countries, not about imposing them from the outside.”

While he fully understands the desire to expand human rights efforts to deal more directly with contemporary problems, “we can achieve more if the goals are modest,” Hannum said. Of course, he knows that “Let’s try to achieve moderate success!” is not going to be a popular rallying cry, but he argues that such an approach seems radical these days “only because it seeks to retain the consensus and universality on which human rights are based.”

https://now.tufts.edu/articles/reviving-human-rights

Council of Europe’s Dunja Mijatović presents her first annual report

April 9, 2019

Dunja Mijatović

Dunja Mijatović

Today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, presented her first annual activity in a debate before the Parliamentary Assembly of the organisation. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/03/dunja-mijatovic-starts-her-term-as-council-of-europe-commissioner-for-human-rights/]

While the report covers a variety of the most pressing human rights issues in the Council of Europe member states, the Commissioner highlights migration, women’s rights, human rights of persons with disability, the protection of human rights defenders and the safety of journalists as the most recurrent topics of her work.

Migration is among the most pressing human rights issues on my agenda”, she says. “National authorities should improve the treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and put human rights and the principle of responsibility sharing at the centre of their migration and asylum policies”.

The International Service for Human Rights launches its 2019 report.

April 8, 2019

With this video Phil Lynch announces the launch of ISHR’s 2019 annual report.

Here a few examples of the major achievements:

  • We provided intensive training and strategic advocacy support to over 230 defenders from around the world, equipping them with the expertise and networks to use the international human rights system to achieve national-level change.
  • We strengthened national and international law and jurisprudence on the recognition and protection of defenders, including women human rights defenders and migrant rights defenders.
  • We focused attention on the situation of defenders in highly restrictive environments, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, increasing political pressure for the release of arbitrarily detained defenders, extracting a political cost for attacks and reprisals against them, and highlighting cases in the international and national press.
  • We met with the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, heads of State and foreign ministers from across the world, pressing each of them to prioritise the recognition and protection of defenders.
  • We worked with powerful and influential multinational corporations to secure their high-level commitment to respect and protect defenders, even defenders who oppose and protest against their activities.
  • We partnered with national actors in a wide range of countries – from Guinea to Jamaica, from Colombia to Tunisia, and from Mali to Mongolia – to secure a safe and enabling environment for defender’s vital work.
Please download and read the fill report.
Download here

Launch of the Fragile States Index 2019 on 10 April in Geneva

April 1, 2019

The Fund for Peace and the The New Humanitarian (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/the-new-humanitarian/) will launch on Wednesday 10 April 2019, 18:15 – 20:00 CET their  FRAGILE STATES INDEX 2019 in the Maison de la Paix, Geneva.

Following a tumultuous year around the globe, Cameroon, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela are among the countries that have fallen furthest down the Fragile States Index (FSI).

The event is to discuss the findings of the 15th FSI and its relevance to the humanitarian sector at the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP). The event, jointly convened between the Graduate Institute, The New Humanitarian, and Fund for Peace, will feature a briefing on the FSI and its findings for 2019 and a panel discussion on the changing humanitarian focus on fragile states and the role of the media in chronicling the immediate and long-term impact of social, political, and economic pressures on lives and livelihoods around the world.

The FSI annually highlights the current trends in social, economic and political pressures that affect all states, but can strain some beyond their capacity to cope. Linking robust social science with modern technology, the FSI is unique in its integration of quantitative data with data produced using content-analysis software, processing information from millions of publicly available documents. The result is an empirically-based, comprehensive ranking of the pressures experienced by 178 nations. The Index is used by policy makers, civil society, academics, journalists, investors, and businesses around the world.

For those not in Geneva: the live stream of the event on website.

 

Major study: Do UN Communications Make a Difference for Human Rights Defenders?

March 28, 2019

Do UN Communications Make a Difference for Human Rights Defenders? asked Janika Spannagel in her new study on the “The Effectiveness of Individual Casework on Human Rights Defenders: An Empirical Study of the UN Special Procedure Cases 2004-2015

After her first study [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/26/first-quantitative-analysis-of-16-years-outgoing-communications-by-special-rapporteurs-on-human-rights-defenders/], the University of York has now made public this follow up, which makes fascinating reading for anyone with serious interest in the protection of human rights defenders. Thew full paper is downloadable (see link below) and clarifies many of the tricky issues that this study has to cover. While the highest impact for intervention is always desirable, there remains the ethical and ‘political’ question of intervening even when there is little hope of improvement because the offending regime does not seem to care..’crime should not pay after all’ [On 3 June 2014, that question became the motivation for continuing my blog: https://gr.linkedin.com/in/hans-thoolen-b6648b7]

Despite a growing body of literature on the UN special procedures, we still know very little about the effectiveness of one of its core instruments, namely the use of communications to raise individual cases of human rights abuse with the government concerned. Focusing on the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, this working paper explores new data to answer the controversially discussed question of whether or not communications generally make a difference in the situations of individual defenders.

The first part of this paper analyses data obtained from a survey of involved advocates, assessing the UN mandate’s impact on a random sample of cases among the Special Rapporteur’s communications between 2004 and 2015. The second part is concerned with external factors that may impact the further development of a case, suggesting alternative explanations of – but also possible conditions for – the medium term effectiveness of communications. For this purpose, the author uses a logistic regression to analyse a sample of almost 500 cases in order to investigate possible explanations for improvement or deterioration among cases addressed by the Special Rapporteur.

The systematic analysis of impact assessments provided by involved advocates convincingly suggests that individual casework is very often effective in providing protection to defenders whose cases are raised. However, the study of predictors of positive case developments also shows that the effectiveness of individual casework is highly contextual and therefore requires strategic adaptation and creative responses.

Implications for Practice
  • In considering only direct impact, the finding that the Special Rapporteur’s individual casework very often positively influences defenders’ situations provides an important argument for continued, or even increased, support for the special procedures’ communications activity.
  • Based on the sample cases, it can be concluded that international attention paid to cases with business involvement did not result in any substantial improvements in the medium term. The recently increased efforts by the Special Rapporteur to raise cases with companies directly, rather than only through the government concerned, may prove more effective.
  • Regime type matters with regard to case development, although only as an indirect effect on the predictive value of certain variables. This includes the previous violations, a country’s aid dependency, and a forthcoming UPR process. Such variables should be taken into account when considering the potential impact of a communication on a certain case.
  • The Special Rapporteur often refers to ‘follow-up’ on cases, however, rarely if ever does this reflect repeat communications regarding the same violation against a given defender. In reality, further communications serve instead to highlight new violations against the individual involved. The data suggests that these – often ‘high profile’ – defenders have a very low chance of seeing their situation improved. This finding makes the case for a more detailed assessment of the likely added value that repeated mentions by the Special Rapporteur can or cannot provide.
  • The main leverage in terms of possible impact relies on the selection of cases. However, both the ethical implications and multiple purposes of casework should be acknowledged and respected. While a focus on increased impact can be useful, the documentation function and more indirect protection effects should also be taken into account during case selection.
  • What remains unclear in the dataset is the extent to which ‘improvements’ in a defender’s situation following a communication also reflect a restored ability to carry out their work, and to what extent the experience of violations, or the continued threat thereof, inhibits this. Further research into the effects of case-specific improvement on defenders’ ability to effect change is needed.

https://www.gppi.net/2019/03/26/do-un-communications-make-a-difference-in-the-situations-of-human-rights-defenders

This working paper is available for download from the University of York Human Rights Defenders Hub.

“The Boy At The Back Of The Class” gets upgraded

March 24, 2019

The founder of a London human rights organisation (Making Herstory) has won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 for her story about a Syrian child refugee. Onjali Q. Raúf won the award for her The Boy At The Back Of The Class, which tells the story of Ahmet, a nine-year-old Syrian boy who moves to a new school after fleeing his war-torn homeland, won best story.

The Boy At The Back Of The Class was inspired by the children she met while working in refugee camps. The story follows the arrival of Ahmet, separated from his family, in a strange new world. When none of the grown-ups seem to be able to help him, Ahmet’s new school friends “come up with a daring plan, embarking on a seemingly madcap adventure”. The Waterstones prize judges said: “Told with heart and humour, it’s a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense”.  James Daunt, Waterstones Managing Director, said: “It is, notwithstanding its urgent contemporary relevance, a book that is funny, generous and vivid. It is a joy to read, and we recommend it unreservedly.”

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/culture/arts/syrian-child-refugee-story-wins-waterstones-childrens-book-prize-2019/

FIDH dares to publish a report on ‘key human rights issues of concern’ in Kashmir

March 17, 2019

On 15 March 2019 the International Federation for Human Rights and its partner organizations Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) published a briefing note detailing key human rights issues of concern in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir. I use the term dare in the title as wading in to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is always tricky and leads rot furious reactions from governments and media.

Human rights violations began to be formally reported in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir in 1990 in the midst of counter-insurgency operations by the Indian Army to contain an armed struggle against Indian rule. These military operations were marked by excessive and disproportionate use of force. Since 1990, more than 70,000 people have been killed, more than 8,000 have been subjected to enforced disappearances, several thousands have been arrested and detained under repressive laws, and torture and other acts of inhuman and degrading treatment against protestors and detainees have been routinely used by Indian security forces.

ILLUSTRATION: MIR SUHAIL QADRI.

The NGOs have demanded full and unfettered access to Jammu & Kashmir to UN bodies and representatives, foreign and domestic human rights organizations, and foreign and local journalists. The groups also called for establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of all human rights violations perpetrated in Jammu & Kashmir, as recommended in the report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir through diplomatic missions in New Delhi and Islamabad.

The note details “continuing crime of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, torture used as punitive action, systematic impunity for grave crimes, use of arbitrary and administrative detentions to curb dissent, military operations threatening human rights, rights to freedoms of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion or belief being curbed, human rights defenders under threat, sexual violence used a tool of repressions, lack of safeguards continue to place children in danger,” among other crimes.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/09/30/parveena-ahangar-and-parvez-imroz-in-kashmir-awarded-rafto-prize-2017/