Archive for the 'books' Category

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/

CIVICUS publishes report on Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

March 16, 2019

WHRDs PolicyBrief

Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing”

In recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

Download the Report

My blog contains many posts about woman human rights defenders and especially about awards given to them. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog and use “woman human rights defenders” as search term.

Gulf Center publishes 2018 survey of human rights in the Middle East

March 12, 2019

A Bahraini woman sits near portraits of jailed political activists, in the village of Sitra, 12 February 2016
A Bahraini woman sits near portraits of jailed political activists, in the village of Sitra, 12 February 2016  MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) released its seventh annual report on human rights activism in 2018, entitled Breaking Boundaries. It remembers the women and men human rights defenders imprisoned for their work across the region, particularly in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The report features a summary and case updates of 145 women and men human rights defenders across the Gulf and neighbouring countries as well as the legal and political developments relevant to human rights in these countries. Additionally, it summarises GCHR’s research, advocacy and capacity-building activities with regional and international partners. [for my earlier post on the GCHR, see:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/gulf-centre-for-human-rights/]

In this 2018 report, GCHR recognises that despite increased restrictions on civic space and aggressive prosecution of human rights defenders, the boundaries crumbling since 2011 are worth celebrating. In the act of breaking these boundaries, solidarity networks nationally, regionally, and internationally have been nurtured and strengthened. With continued activism of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society, GCHR foresees that governments’ disrespect for human rights and freedoms in the region will be increasingly overturned.

The main focus of the report is to shed light on human rights activism. While governments intensified their harassment and prosecution of journalists, human rights defenders, online activists, and civilians, through the advocacy efforts of civil society on different fronts, the defence of human rights in the region has been met with international recognition, including many international awards for human rights defenders from across the Gulf and neighbouring countries.

The spotlight on governments, especially in the Gulf, unveiled the extent to which governments reject accountability to their people and commitment to human rights internationally. To mention a few examples: Bahrain denied the entry of United Nations experts along with extending travel bans on human rights defenders so they continue to miss UN Human Rights Council sessions. In Iraq, peaceful assembly was met with tear gas and live bullets to disperse the protests, leaving dozens killed and hundreds arrested. In Iran, well-known lawyers were among those sentenced to prison for defending women’s rights to reject forced hijab. And notoriously, Saudi Arabia arbitrarily arrested over 20 men and women who defend and advocate for women’s rights, even after the Kingdom formally lifted the driving ban on women.

Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of GCHR, says: “It is hard work to support human rights defenders and ensure their safety and security. Yet a success such as having the European Parliament formally and publicly denounce human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 and again in February 2019 shows the importance of diligence, solidarity and commitment to research- and evidence-based advocacy in the pursuit of defending human rights. Not to mention the attention facing Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council this month, where 36 States, including all EU Member States, called on 7 March 2019 for the release of detained women human rights defenders, sending a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold its members accountable.

GCHR presented a number of recommendations at the end of this report to governments, and the international community. Emphasis is placed on guarantees of a legal framework grounded in respect for human rights, especially for the freedom of expression and opinion, to protect the safety of journalists, media workers and online activists whom governments across the region relentlessly harassed, targeted, or prosecuted. Other recommendations are made to ensure the safety of civilians such as in conflict-zones, as well as in countries in transition where respect for freedom of association and assembly are essential for peace and justice.
To download the full report, follow the link.

https://www.ifex.org/middle_east_north_africa/2019/03/11/human-rights-activism/

New book on Theo van Boven’s crucial role in the development of the UN human rights system

March 7, 2019

cover
The Advent of Universal Protection of Human Rights – Theo van Boven and the Transformation of the UN Role

In this ‘biography’ Bertie Ramcharan tells the story of Theo van Boven’s dynamic and courageous leadership to develop UN protection. Van Boven has been a life-long scholar and practitioner of human rights. He served in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented The Netherlands in the UN Commission on Human Rights, served as an expert in its Sub-Commission on Human Rights, and also on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. He was the Director of the UN Human Rights secretariat from 1977 to 1982, and later served as Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, and as UN Special Rapporteur against Torture.

As Director of the UN Human Rights secretariat, Professor van Boven built up the protection capacity of the United Nations piece by piece and thereby transformed the UN’s role. He initiated every protection mechanism in use at the United Nations today. He was thus ‘the father‘ of the contemporary system of United Nations protection.

This book is a study of leadership and strategy. If one is to be able to deepen the protection capacity of the UN in the future, it is crucial to understand how the foundations were laid. This book, based on the personal papers of Professor van Boven and of the author, who was his Special Assistant, tells the story of his remarkable leadership of the UN Human Rights secretariat. Published by Springer – ISBN 978-3-030-02221-1

 

In 1982 Meulenhoff published Theo’s speeches on the occasion of his forced departure from the UN. In the preface I tried to explain the how and why.

https://www.springer.com/gb/book/9783030022204#aboutBook

Duterte: there is no ‘war’ on human rights defenders – only on criminals

March 2, 2019

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News, reported on 28 February 2019 that the Malacañang Palace on Thursday slammed as a “rehash of old issues” the latest report of The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders alleging that President Rodrigo Duterte was waging war against human rights defenders: While it is true that the President’s words may be hurtful to some quarters, including human rights defenders, they are actually zeroed in on those who mock and derail the President’s efforts towards creating a society free from drugs, crime and corruption,” ,,,,”We reiterate that there is no such thing as a war against human rights defenders. There is only one against criminals, including drug pushers, and their protectors.”

In its 40-page report, the Observatory said at least 76 land and environmental rights defenders, 12 journalists, and 8 labor rights activists were murdered from July 2016, when Duterte ascended to power, to November 2018. The title is: “Philippines: I’ll kill you along with drug addicts – President Duterte’s war on human rights defenders in the Philippines”. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/10/there-seems-to-be-no-limit-to-what-duterte-is-willing-to-say-and-may-get-away-with/]

The report also cited government’s alleged harassment of the Commission on Human Rights and the justice department’s pursuit of criminal charges against a number of Duterte’s political opponents who have taken strong pro-human rights views, such as Sen. Leila de Lima, currently detained on drug charges.

Spokesperson Panelo urged the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) to file their cases against the Philippine government to “settle this matter once and for all.” “File all cases and let’s be done with it. In the absence of this, the allegations will remain unfounded and politically motivated untruths aimed at shaming the Philippine government before the international community,” he said. “Sans this, the report is but recycled rubbish based on information peddled by the usual critiques of government, such as Karapatan, who must do so to remain relevant and to generate funds to exist from gullible sources abroad.

The President is facing complaints at the International Criminal Court over the drug war killings. He has ordered the country’s withdrawal from the tribunal.

http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/reports-and-publications/philippines/2019/02/d25257/

:https://thedailyguardian.net/opinion/red-tagging-a-vicious-form-of-fake-news/

https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/02/28/19/palace-no-such-thing-as-war-vs-human-rights-defenders

https://aliran.com/civil-society-voices/casualties-rise-in-dutertes-war-on-rights-defenders-new-report/

Amnesty launches report on Laws designed to silence human rights defenders

February 21, 2019

The report lists 50 countries worldwide where anti-NGO laws have been implemented or are in the pipeline
Governments around the world are stepping-up their attacks on civil society organisations and human rights defenders, according to a new Amnesty International report. On 21 February 2019 RTE Ireland summarizes it as follows: It says governments are creating laws that subject non-governmental organisations and their staff to surveillance, bureaucratic hurdles and the threat of imprisonment. The international human rights group says the global assault on NGOs has reached a crisis point as new laws curb vital human rights work. The report, Laws Designed to Silence: The Global Crackdown on Civil Society Organisations, lists 50 countries worldwide where anti-NGO laws have been implemented or are in the pipeline.
Amnesty International says these laws commonly include implementing ludicrous registration processes for organisations, monitoring their work, restricting their sources of resources and, in many cases, shutting them down if they do not adhere to the unreasonable requirements imposed on them.
[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/global-statement-on-the-20th-anniversary-of-the-un-declaration-on-human-rights-defenders/]
We documented how an increasing number of governments are placing unreasonable restrictions and barriers on NGOs, preventing them from carrying out crucial work,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “In many countries, organisations who dare to speak out for human rights are being bullied into silence. Groups of people who come together to defend and demand human rights are facing growing barriers to working freely and safely. Silencing them and preventing their work has consequences for everyone.”  SEE ALSO NAIDOO’S OP-ED: http://news.trust.org//item/20190220144717-jcwuf/
https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/global-assault-on-ngos-reaches-crisis-point/

https://www.rte.ie/news/2019/0221/1031852-amnesty_assault_on_ngos/

Latest report by Special Rapporteur on (women) human rights defenders is now available

February 17, 2019

“My report on women human rights defenders is out and will be officially presented on 28/02! All over the world women fight so human rights can be a reality for all of us. As a result, they face attacks. Leaders must recognize and protect them....”said UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst on Twitter on 11 February 2019

Human Rights Council 40th session
25 February–22 March 2019 Agenda item 3

A/HRC/40/60 – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Situation of women human rights defenders

Summary: In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, reviews the situation of women human rights defenders, covering the period since the issuance, in 2011, of the last report by the mandate holder on this topic (A/HRC/16/44 and Corr.1). He focuses in particular on the additional gendered risks and obstacles women human rights defenders face and recognizes their important role in the promotion and protection of human rights. The Special Rapporteur refers to the relevant normative framework for the work of women human rights defenders, describes the challenging environments in which they operate and analyses the impact of patriarchy and heteronormativity, gender ideology, fundamentalisms, militarization, globalization and neoliberal policies on the rights of such defenders. He also refers to the situation of specific groups of women human rights defenders.

The report contains recommendations and examples of good practices to support the building of diverse, inclusive and strong movements of women human rights defenders, and recommendations addressed to all stakeholders to ensure that women defenders are supported and strengthened to promote and protect human rights.

https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G19/004/97/PDF/G1900497.pdf?OpenElement

For some of my other posts on women human rights defenders see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/page/5/

26 February: lecture on populism and human rights by Michael Ignatieff in Geneva

February 10, 2019

The populist upsurge in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and in established democracies like the United States has exposed the political vulnerability of rule of law as a cornerstone of liberal democracy. It is not just in authoritarian populist states that the independence of judges and the authority of law have come under attack in the name of a majoritarian conception of democracy. This suggests that the rule of law has always stood in a relation of tension with other principles of democracy, including majority rule and an independent media. The lecture explores these renewed political pressures on rule of law using contemporary examples drawn from the US, the UK and Hungary. [for some of my posts on populism, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/populism/]

Tuesday 26 February 2019, 18:30 – 20:00 in the Auditorium IVAN PICTET | Maison de la Paix, Geneva

Michael Ignatieff is the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017). [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/08/11825/]

The lecture will be moderated by Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and Rector of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen Institute (IWM) in Vienna.

This event is organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

To register: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/events-1/past-events.html/_/events/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/2019/law-populism-and-liberal-democra

 

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

Another call for NGO action on Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders.

February 6, 2019

Every year the UN Secretary General publishes a Report on Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders. On 5 February 2019  (President of the Association of World Citizens) summarized it for Global Solutions, lists the main culprits and calls for more action by the NGO community.

Reprisals on Human Rights Defenders: Need for NGO Action

On 23 January 2019, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement listed States which had carried out reprisals or intimidation including killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests against individuals cooperating with the United Nations on human rights issues.  He said, “The world owes it to these brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information and to engage with the United Nations to ensure their rights to participate is respected.  Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.”  …“Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation of security.”…

The information (provided mostly by NGOs) is collected at the U.N. High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva and is evaluated to see if the information fits into a pattern of continuing human rights violations or if it is an individual event. 

Wadlow presents the States listed by broad geographic region rather than all together in alphabetical order as they are in the U.N. statement as other States in each region may also have human rights violation issues, often inter-related to the State named.  Thus, the list of States is only those which the U.N. is aware that there have been reprisals against individuals who have given information to the U.N. units. 

Middle East

 Bahrain,  Egypt,  Israel,  Saudi Arabia,  Morocco

Africa

 Cameroon,  Democratic Republic of Congo,  Djibouti,  Mali,  Rwanda,  South Sudan

Asia

 China,  India,  Maldives,  Myanmar,  Philippines,  Thailand

Latin America

Colombia,  Cuba,  Guatemala,  Guyana,  Honduras,  Trinidad and Tobago,  Venezuela

Europe

 Hungary,  Russian Federation

Central Asia

 Kyrgyzstan,  Turkmenistan

The impact and increasingly higher profile of human rights informants has left them more and more exposed to a high risk of harassment, repression, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial executions.  Governments are not the only actors.  Depending on the country, there can be gangs, militias, paramilitary and other non-governmental groups who also menace people thought to be giving information to the U.N. or to international human rights organizations

The publication by the U.N. of its list is done with the hope that governments themselves will take positive action to protect.  In some countries, internal security services or police-related “death squads” may act without the knowledge of the highest authorities of the State.  In other States, there is little repression that does not come on orders of the higher authorities. There is a need for representatives of NGOs and also the media to be alert, especially for violations in States which are not otherwise in the news. Active networking remains crucial.

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

https://globalsolutions.org/reprisals-on-human-rights-defenders-need-for-ngo-action/