Archive for the 'books' Category

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/)

———–

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.    

Annual reports 2017 by Front Line Defenders

April 28, 2018

On 23 April 2018 Dublin -based NGO “Front Line Defenders” published  two significant reports:

  1. Dispatches 2017 –  the annual publication about the significant challenges confronting human rights defenders (HRDs) and  efforts to provide the protection and support they so critically need;
  2. The Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk 2017, which documents hundreds of physical, legal, and social attacks on HRDs around the world in 2017.What stands out is the courage and resilience of the individual HRDs  who tirelessly continue their work to build more just and equal societies despite increasingly repressive environments. Almost every day a HRD is killed because of her or his peaceful work.

    Moreover, in October 2017, Front Line Defenders held its biannual Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, bringing together over 110 HRDs from 99 countries. To read the Platform Report, view video testimonies of fellow HRDs and see some photos from the event, click the link below to access the Platform page:

    In 2018, Front Line Defenders will be reviewing its work and setting priorities for the next four years, so please feel encouraged to send them any feedback on how you think it could be more effective.

—–

Dispatches-  https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/dispatches-2017

Annual Report-  https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/annual-report-human-rights-defenders-risk-2017

Dublin Platform  – https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/2017-dublin-platform

Reporters Without Borders: 2018 World Press Freedom Index makes sobering reading

April 26, 2018

Reporters Without Borders  (better known under its French acronym RSF) published its WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX 2018. The rankings you can find by clicking here READ MORE. The regional chapters below give a quick overview of the main trends, including the disturbing downward turn in the USA, the further sinking in ex-sovjet states and China’s nefarious example in Asia.

RSF INDEX 2018: JOURNALISM SORELY TESTED IN NORTH AFRICA

North Africa’s performance in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index reflects the different pressures to which journalists are exposed. Restrictive laws, reporting problems (especially at protests), and subjects that are off limits all prevent journalists from being free to provide independently reported and pluralist news and information.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: US FALLS AS CANADA RISES

Despite having strong constitutional protections to the contrary, the latest World Press Freedom Index findings on the US and Canada reveal two countries whose journalists and media workers face constant challenges to the very freedom to exercise their profession.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: MIXED PERFORMANCE IN LATIN AMERICA

The 2018 Index shows a slight overall improvement in respect for press freedom in Latin America but this should not divert attention from the continuing problems of violence, impunity, and authoritarian policies towards journalists in many Latin American countries.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: ASIA-PACIFIC DEMOCRACIES THREATENED BY CHINA’S MEDIA CONTROL MODEL

The Chinese model of state-controlled news and information is being copied in other Asian countries, especially Vietnam and Cambodia. North Asia’s democracies are struggling to establish themselves as alternative models. Violence against journalists is increasingly worrying in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: THE DANGERS OF REPORTING IN AFRICA

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA HAS MAINTAINED ITS THIRD PLACE IN THE RANKING BY GEOGRAPHICAL REGION, WITH A SLIGHTLY BETTER OVERALL INDICATOR THAN IN 2017. BUT THERE IS A WIDE RANGE OF SITUATIONS WITHIN THE REGION, AND JOURNALISTS ARE OFTEN THE VICTIMS OF INTIMIDATION, PHYSICAL VIOLENCE, AND ARREST.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: HISTORIC DECLINE IN PRESS FREEDOM IN EX-SOVIET STATES, TURKEY

THE FORMER SOVIET COUNTRIES AND TURKEY CONTINUE TO BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE WORLDWIDE DECLINE IN PRESS FREEDOM. ALMOST TWO-THIRDS OF THE REGION’S COUNTRIES ARE RANKED SOMEWHERE NEAR OR BELOW THE 150TH POSITION IN THE INDEX. THE REGION’S OVERALL INDICATOR HAS SUNK ALMOST AS LOW AS THAT OF MIDDLE EAST/NORTH AFRICA, THE REGION THAT IS LAST IN THE RANKING BY REGION.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: JOURNALISTS ARE MURDERED IN EUROPE AS WELL

The European model’s erosion, a trend visible in RSF’s most recent Indexes, has continued in the 2018 Index. The region has been shaken by two murders, as well as by threats to investigative reporters and unprecedented verbal attacks on the media. Even the countries at the top of the Index are affected by this alarming climate.

READ MORE

RSF INDEX 2018: MIDDLE EAST RIVEN BY CONFLICTS, POLITICAL CLASHES

The Middle East’s countries are yet again at the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Armed conflicts, terrorism charges against independent journalists and media, and growing online surveillance and censorship make reporting extremely dangerous for the region’s journalists.

READ MORE

 

https://rsf.org/en/rsf-index-2018-hatred-journalism-threatens-democracies

Has the Human Rights Movement failed? A serious critique.

April 25, 2018

The last year or so there has been a lot soul-searching within the broader human rights movement, questioning its relevance or even survival at a time of resurgent ‘anti-human rights’ attitudes in the superpowers (regression in China, USA, and Russia, with the EU vacillating between careful diplomacy and trade interest). A number of smaller countries have also taken enthusiastically to human rights bashing (just to mention Turkey, Philippines, Hungary, Venezuela and Burundi). In all these cases the leadership seems to imply that human rights are niceties that no longer have the support of the majority of their population, which could well be true due to the extent that their control over the media and relentless whipping up of populist feelings make this self-fulling.This blog has tried to monitor – at least illustrate – this phenomenon on many occasions [too many to list]. Now comes along an interesting piece written by professor Samuel Moyn of Yale university under the provocative title “How the Human Rights Movement Failed” (published on 23 April 2018 in the New York Times). The piece is a must read (in full) and I give the text below in green. Even if I disagree with some important parts, it remains a coherent and thought-provoking article (once you get over feeling offended by the idea that you are a plutocrat).

The key notion is expressed in the following quotes:

“.those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.”

and

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

Where I most disagree with the author is that there is lot more going on in the human rights movement than the defense of civil and political rights or playing along with elites. Either he does not know it or ignores it on purpose. The thousands of human rights defenders working in their own countries are fully aware of the realities on the ground and are often prioritizing social, economic, cultural and community rights [just a cursory sample of blog posts on environmental activists will show this: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/environmental-activists/]. International and regional NGOs mostly help and protect them! Also, the author seems to underestimate the potential attraction of the human rights cause in civil society (especially victims and young people), whose mobilization is still patchy. If the human rights movement can overcome its fragmentation and use media better this potential could turn tides. Say I!.

Here the piece in full/ judge for yourselves:

The human rights movement, like the world it monitors, is in crisis: After decades of gains, nearly every country seems to be backsliding. Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and other populist leaders routinely express contempt for human rights and their defenders. But from the biggest watchdogs to monitors at the United Nations, the human rights movement, like the rest of the global elite, seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from its difficulties.

Advocates have doubled down on old strategies without reckoning that their attempts to name and shame can do more to stoke anger than to change behavior. Above all, they have ignored how the grievances of newly mobilized majorities have to be addressed if there is to be an opening for better treatment of vulnerable minorities.

“The central lesson of the past year is that despite considerable headwinds, a vigorous defense of human rights can succeed,” Kenneth Roth, the longtime head of Human Rights Watch, contended recently, adding that many still “can be convinced to reject the scapegoating of unpopular minorities and leaders’ efforts to undermine basic democratic checks and balances.” 

That seems unlikely. Of course, activism can awaken people to the problems with supporting abusive governments. But if lectures about moral obligations made an enormous difference, the world would already look much better. Instead, those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was promulgated in 1948 amid the consolidation of welfare states in Europe and North America and which formed the basis of the human rights agenda, was supposed to enshrine social protections. But in the 1970s, when activists in the United States and Western Europe began to take up the cause of “human rights” for the victims of brutal regimes, they forgot about that social citizenship. The signature group of that era, Amnesty International, focused narrowly on imprisonment and torture; similarly, Human Rights Watch rejected advocating economic and social rights.

This approach began to change after the Cold War, especially when it came to nongovernmental advocacy in post-colonial countries. But even then, human rights advocacy did not reassert the goal of economic fairness. Even as more activists have come to understand that political and civil freedom will struggle to survive in an unfair economic system, the focus has often been on subsistence.

In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, both human rights and pro-market policies reached the apogee of their prestige. In Eastern Europe, human rights activists concentrated on ousting old elites and supporting basic liberal principles even as state assets were sold off to oligarchs and inequality exploded. In Latin America, the movement focused on putting former despots behind bars. But a neoliberal program that had arisen under the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet swept the continent along with democracy, while the human rights movement did not learn enough of a new interest in distributional fairness to keep inequality from spiking.

Now the world is reaping what the period of swelling inequality that began in the 1970s through the 1990s sowed.

There have been recent signs of reorientation. The Ford Foundation, which in the 1970s provided much of the funding that made global human rights activism possible, announced in 2015 that it would start focusing on economic fairness. George Soros, a generous funder of human rights causes, has recently observed that inequality matters, too.

Some have insisted that the movement can simply take on, without much alteration of its traditional idealism and tactics, the challenge of inequality that it ignored for so long. This is doubtful.

At the most, activists distance themselves from free-market fundamentalism only by making clear how much inequality undermines human rights themselves. Minimum entitlements, like decent housing and health care, require someone to pay. Without insisting on more than donations from the rich, the traditional companionship of human rights movements with neoliberal policies will give rise to the allegation that the two are in cahoots. No one wants the human rights movement to be remembered as a casualty of a justifiable revolt against the rich.

If the movement itself should not squander the chance to reconsider how it is going to survive, the same is even truer of its audience — policymakers, politicians and the rest of the elite. They must keep human rights in perspective: Human rights depend on majority support if they are to be taken seriously. A failure to back a broader politics of fairness is doubly risky. It leaves rights groups standing for principles they cannot see through. And it leaves majorities open to persuasion by troubling forces.

It has been tempting for four decades to believe that human rights are the primary bulwark against barbarism. But an even more ambitious agenda is to provide the necessary alternative to the rising evils of our time.

—–

Samuel Moyn is the author of “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.