Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

Manusher Jonno Foundation honours 10 unsung rights defenders in Bangladesh

January 19, 2020

The Bangladesh Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) honoured 10 individuals who worked silently for protecting human rights, such as preventing child marriage and violence against women and marginalised communities, at different parts of the country. The organisation handed over the awards titled “Manusher Jonno Human Rights Awards 2020” at a ceremony in Dhaka.

The awardees are: Beli Begum of Gaibandha; Rehana Begum and Maloti Rani of Dinajpur; Saleha Begum, Halima Khatun and Nurjahan Begum of Kushtia; Khairuzzaman Monnu of Sirajganj; Anowara Begum of Kishoreganj; Hedayetul Aziz of Brahmanbaria and Chanchal Kanti Chakma of Khagrachhari. Rights activists urged the government to give more emphasis on protecting rights and ensuring justice for poor and marginalised communities. They also demanded more budget allocation in this sector, according to a press release.

About the awardees, MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said these 10 individuals stood up for what is right. “They are working selflessly without any concern for recognition or rewards to build a just and humane society,” she and announced tshe will continue efforts to honour such unsung heroes. [for a previous event: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/28/young-human-rights-defenders-honored-by-awards-in-bangladesh/]

Judith Herbertson, country representative of DFID Bangladesh, said the struggle to protect, promote and strengthen human rights is real and constant. “Where human rights are not adequately protected, there follows a cycle of insecurity, instability, suffering, and poverty. Human rights are more than just principles enshrined in international law. They are the bedrock of successful and progressive societies,” she said.

After the award-giving ceremony,  several discussions on various topics — including global context of human rights and inclusion of marginalised people in national politics — were held. Distinguished personalities, researchers, NGO officials, politicians and several hundred rights activists from across the country took part in the discussions, added the press release.

https://www.thedailystar.net/city/news/mjf-honours-10-unsung-rights-defenders-1854313

Dutch government critical of pro-Israel lobby “NGO Monitor”

January 17, 2020

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok

The Israeli government’s attacks on human rights defenders are aided by organisations such as NGO Monitor, which in particular lobby European authorities to cease funding such human rights groups. The Dutch minister added that “the government is familiar with the accusations by NGO Monitor against a broad group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations, as well as with criticism of the conduct of NGO Monitor itself”, citing a September 2018 report by the Policy Working Group. “This research shows that many of NGO Monitor’s accusations are based on selective citations, half-facts and insinuations, but not necessarily on hard evidence”, Minister Blok added. “These accusations have contributed to a climate in which human rights organisations have come under increasing pressure”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/01/following-threats-to-ngo-offices-in-israel-human-rights-defenders-demand-investigation/]

In response to a separate question, the Dutch foreign minister noted that, “to the best of the government’s knowledge, NGO Monitor…focuses exclusively on organisations and donors who are critical of Israeli policy in the territories occupied by Israel”.

 

Dutch government criticises pro-Israel lobby group NGO Monitor’s ‘half-facts and insinuations’

Amani Ballour, Syrian paediatrician, awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize

January 16, 2020

© Stine Heilmann

Amani Ballour © Stine Heilmann

Dr. Amani Ballour, a paediatrician from Syria who ran an underground hospital in Eastern Ghouta in 2012-2018 and is now a refugee in Turkey, has been awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize for her personal courage, bravery and commitment in saving hundreds of lives during the Syrian war. For more on this and two other awards with Wallenberg in their name, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/raoul-wallenberg-prize-council-of-europe]

Human rights and personal dignity are not a peacetime luxury. Dr. Amani Ballour is a shining example of the empathy, virtue and honour that can flourish even in the worst circumstances: in the midst of war and suffering,” said Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe On 15 January 2020

A young paediatrician just out of university, Dr Ballour started as a volunteer helping the wounded and ended up, several years later, managing a team of some 100 staff members at the subterranean hospital, the ‘Cave’, in her hometown near the Syrian capital. “The Cave became a beacon of hope and safety for many besieged civilians. There, Dr Ballour risked her own safety and security to help those in the greatest need. She and others acted day after day to save the lives of so many people, including children suffering the effects of chemical weapons,” the Secretary General added.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/syrian-doctor-who-ran-underground-children-s-hospital-receives-wallenberg-prize

Call for nominations for the 2020 Rafto Prize

January 15, 2020

Rafto

The Bergen-based Rafto Foundation encourages everyone with an interest in or knowledge of human rights to make a nomination for the 2020 Rafto Prize. Read more about the formal criteria and how to nominate online at Rafto.no. (see link below).  Deadline for nominations is 1st February.  For more on this and similar awards go to: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/rafto-prize .

The dates for the 2020 Rafto Prize events are:

  • Announcement of the Rafto Prize: 24 September
  • The Rafto Conference: 7 November
  • The Award Ceremony: 8 November.

For last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/26/the-rafto-prize-2019-to-refugee-rights-defender-rouba-mhaissen-from-syria/

https://www.rafto.no/the-rafto-prize-1/nominasjoner

DefendDefenders seeks Communications Officer for office in Kampala

January 15, 2020

DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) is a regional NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, that seeks to strengthen the work of human rights defenders throughout the sub-region by reducing their vulnerability to the risk of persecution and by enhancing their capacity to effectively defend human rights. DefendDefenders works in Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. DefendDefenders is seeking a highly motivated, self-starting, detail oriented, and well organised Communications Officer to support and promote the work of the organisation. The Communications Officer will be responsible for developing and distributing content on the organisation’s work and maintaining its public profile. The successful candidate must be able to work effectively under pressure, be a good team player, and be willing to travel occasionally, as required.

Apply by email in a single submission with the following documents: a letter of motivation, a CV, and two references, as well as unedited writing sample between 1000-1500 words, on the human rights situation in one of our mandate countries, to jobATdefenddefenders.org no later than Sunday 19 January 2020.

https://www.brightermonday.co.ug/job/communications-officer-6kr6pg

Human Rights Watch issues World Report 2020 (covering 2019)

January 15, 2020

On 14 January 2020 Human Rights Watch published it 30th annual World Report (entitled 2020 but covering events in 2019). From the preface:

It summarizes key human rights issues in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2018 through November 2019. In a keynote essay, Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth examines the increasingly dire threat to the global system for protecting human rights posed by the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping. Deepening and increasingly sophisticated domestic repression show that China’s leaders view human rights at home as an existential threat. That, in turn, has led Beijing to see international laws and institutions for the defense of human rights as an existential threat. As a result, Chinese authorities seek to censor criticism of China overseas, mute attention to human rights in its global engagements, and weaken global rights mechanisms. At stake is a system of governance built on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect—that regardless of official interests, limits exist on what states can do to people. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/]

Noting that global institutions are built in part “on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect, that regardless of the official interests at stake, there are limits to what states can do to people,” Roth concludes that China is not simply a new and emerging power finding its place, but a country that poses an existential threat to the international human rights system.

The rest of the volume consists of individual country entries, each of which identifies significant human rights abuses, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, United States, China, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.

The book reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff undertook in 2019, usually in close partnership with human rights activists and groups in the country in question. It also reflects the work of its advocacy team, which monitors policy developments and strives to persuade governments and international institutions to curb abuses and promote human rights.  As in past years, this report does not include a chapter on every country where Human Rights Watch works, nor does it discuss every issue of importance. The absence of a country or issue often simply reflects staffing or resource limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.

The factors we considered in determining the focus of our work in 2019 (and hence the content of this volume) include the number of people affected and the severity of abuse, access to the country and the availability of information about it, the susceptibility of abusive forces to influence, and the importance of addressing certain thematic concerns and of reinforcing the work of local rights organizations.

The World Report does not have separate chapters addressing our thematic work but instead incorporates such material directly into the country entries. Please consult the Human Rights Watch website for more detailed treatment of our work on children’s rights; women’s rights; arms and military issues; business and human rights; health and human rights; disability rights; the environment and human rights; international justice; terrorism and counterterrorism; refugees and displaced people; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights; and for information about our international film festivals.

(The book was edited by Danielle Haas, senior editor at Human Rights Watch, with assistance from Naimah Hakim, Program associate. Grace Choi, director of publications and information design, oversaw production of visual elements and layout.)

Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2019 is out: 304 HRDs killed

January 14, 2020

The most dangerous and deadly sector of human rights defenders remains land, environmental and indigenous rights, according to the Global Analysis report 2019 by Front Line Defenders. 304 people across 31 countries were targeted and killed last year and the document starts by listing their names.

Front Line Defenders said this was due to “the profit driven exploitation of natural resources, combined with corruption, weak governments and poverty“. Speaking to RTÉ News, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, Andrew Anderson, described the scale of the killings as “horrific” ..almost one person a day is being killed around the world because they are working “peacefully to defend land rights, environmental rights” and to “hold the powerful to account”.  “The true scale of the problem is probably much higher” he said.

In the cases for which the data is available, the report found:

  • 85% of those killed last year had previously been threatened either individually or as part of the community or group in which they worked
  • 13% of those reported killed were women
  • 40% of those killed worked on land, indigenous’ peoples and environmental issues

Last year saw mounting pressure on activists defending LGBTI rights, as well as women’s rights and migrants’ rights. Female activists faced online smear campaigns, trolling and defamation to intimidate, shame or harass in order to push women activists out of online spaces. The statistics show that 13% of human rights defenders killed in 2019 were women. The report also notes some positive developments, including the male guardianship system being revoked in Saudi Arabia, women from the Sulaliyat tribe in Morocco being able to inherit and own land, and Sudan removing a law where women could be arrested if found dancing, wearing trousers or mixing with men who were not their relatives.

With massive protests in Iran, Hong Kong and Chile, Front Line Defenders said that 2019 was characterised by waves of public uprisings of “remarkable magnitude”, which demanded change of how people are governed. However, it said there were restrictions on freedom of expression and authorities often invoked “security” as a justification to ban all peaceful demonstrations Physical assaults, defamation campaigns and digital attacks were major issues.

Internet shutdowns, restricting access or blocking communication tools, such as social media, were common. Messaging app WhatsApp, which is popular for organising and communications, became a “serious threat” when it was used against human rights defenders in a number of cases.

As the role of human rights defenders ranged from organising and mobilising to monitoring and documenting human rights violations, the human rights organisation said it provided more than 620 protection grants to activists at risk in 2019.

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/

https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2020/0114/1107280-front-line-defenders/

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/jan/14/300-human-rights-activists-killed-2019-report

Malala Yousafzai, a lot more awards than the UN thinks

January 13, 2020

On 27 Pakistani human rights defender Malala Yousafzai has been declared as “the most famous teenager in the world” by the United Nations in the ‘Decade in Review‘ report of the UN. In recognition of her efforts for children’s rights which started before she was shot in the head by Taliban militants, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. According to the UN review reportThe attack made waves around the world and was widely condemned. On Human Rights Day that year, a special tribute to Malala was held at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, pushing for action to ensure every girl’s right to go to school, and to advance girls’ education as an urgent priority,”.

Malala’s activism and profile have only grown since the assassination attempt. She won several high-profile awards, including the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (alongside Indian social reformer Kailash Satyarthi), and became a UN Messenger of Peace in 2017, with a special focus on girls’ education,” the report added. Recently the 22-year-old was also chosen by Teen Vogue as its cover person for its last issue of the decade.

Just to make sure the record is correct, Malala has in fact received at least the following 10 awards:

2013   Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards

2013   Index on Censorship Awards

2013   Simone de Beauvoir Prize

2013   Tipperary Peace Prize

2013   Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

2013   Ambassador of Conscience Award

2013   Anna Politkovskaya Award

2014   Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award

2014   Nobel Peace Prize

2014   Liberty Medal

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/12/1053481

 

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai declared as “the most famous teenager in the world”: UN

Saudi Arabia finds that celebrities are easier to buy than human rights NGOs

January 13, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Amnesty International has released a joint statement, along with Transparency International and Civicus, [https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior30/1649/2020/en/] explaining why it will not be engaging in this year’s C20 process, a cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the annual G20 summit, which  started yesterday with a three-day “kick-off meeting”.

“The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government – which makes a mockery of the whole process,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. “The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights, as well as homosexuality, and tortures and executes critics.”

Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency in December 2019. It has recently invested in expensive PR campaigns to improve its image, and hosted several high-profile sporting events which draw international visitors [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/]. But behind this carefully cultivated façade, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is as appalling as ever. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the journalist and peaceful critic Jamal Khashoggi. More than a year after his murder in October 2018, there has been no justice or accountability for his death. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/saudi-arabia-continues-to-buy-celebrities-this-time-for-the-mdl-beast-festival/]

The country’s leading women’s rights activists remain behind bars and on trial for their promotion of women’s rights in the country. Scores of other individuals, including human rights defenders, have been serving lengthy prison terms for their peaceful activism or have been arbitrarily detained for up to a year and a half without charges. The Saudi Arabian authorities have also carried out executions following unfair trials and routine torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

The Saudi-led C20 process has already failed to guarantee the C20’s fundamental principles. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process is led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, and cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory. Since the Saudi authorities ban political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, there is no way the C20 meetings can be the free and open discussions they are designed to be.

The full statement is available here

Acquitted journalist Santosh Yadav about his ordeal in India

January 10, 2020

In a blog post by Kunal Majumder, CPJ India Correspondent on 8 January 2020, Indian freelance journalist Santosh Yadav says “I feel like a weight has been lifted’ as Chhattisgarh court ends four-year legal nightmare.

Freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, left, with human rights defender Shalini Gera and CPJ India Correspondent Kunal Majumder, during a convention on journalist safety in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in February 2019. A court on January 2 acquitted Yadav of several charges, ending a four-year legal battle. (CPJ)

Freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, left, with human rights defender Shalini Gera and CPJ India Correspondent Kunal Majumder, during a convention on journalist safety in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in February 2019 (CPJ)

On January 2, 2020 freelance journalist Santosh Yadav got his life back when the National Investigation Agency court in Jagdalpur acquitted him of charges of helping Maoists militants. The ruling marked the end of a legal nightmare that lasted over four years for Yadav, who says that he was threatened and beaten in custody, before being released on bail under restrictive conditions.

Yadav’s ordeal started in September 2015, when police in India’s Chhattisgarh state arrested him on accusations of aiding and abetting Maoist militants. The journalist’s colleagues and his lawyer, who spoke with CPJ at the time, said they believed the arrest was in connection to his reporting on alleged human rights abuses by police.

The journalist, who at the time was a contributor to the Hindi-language newspaper Navbharat in Bastar district, was charged with 28 counts including associating with a terrorist organization, supporting and aiding terrorist groups, taking part in a Maoist-led ambush against security forces, rioting with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, attempt to murder, public mischief and criminal conspiracy. He was held in pre-trial detention for one and a half years. Yadav told CPJ that during that time, police beat him regularly and threatened to have him killed. When he was released on bail, the court imposed several restrictive measures.

The day after the January 2 ruling that exonerated Yadav, the journalist spoke with CPJ about his struggle during the four years since his arrest. Here some excerpts from this interview :

Congratulations. So does this court ruling mean you are a free man?

Yes, all charges have been dropped. The judge said that I’m innocent and have been exonerated of all charges. He added that there is no evidence to prove the police charge that I’m a Maoist.

Prior to your 2015 arrest, had police contacted you about your reporting? Were there any signs or warning that police were unhappy with your journalism?

There were numerous incidents when local police officials would express displeasure over my reporting. I never thought it was anything serious. However, before my arrest, police started picking me up from my home at random hours, once at 3 a.m. They would threaten to arrest me, kill me. They even offered money in exchange for information on Maoists. They would keep me in lock-up the whole day and release me in the evening. I had a feeling that my life was at threat. I informed several journalists and human rights defenders including Malini Subramaniam [one of CPJ’s 2016 International Press Freedom Awardees], Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal that the police might arrest me.

……..
Previously, you told CPJ and other outlets that you were beaten and threatened even inside jail. Could you describe your time in prison?

I was beaten repeatedly, especially when I would go for bathing. I even started a protest fast, which several prisoners supported. The prison guards retaliated by beating us with batons. At that point, I didn’t know if I would live or die. After beating me mercilessly, I was stripped and put in solitary confinement for 11 days. Then they moved to me Kanker jail. [Kanker is 122 miles from Yadav’s hometown of Darbha.] Even there I was beaten up. The prison guards singled me out for my protests in the Jagdalpur jail and targeted me…

……..