Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

New book: The vitality of human rights in turbulent times

September 14, 2021

“If attention is directed towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a different set of views of the cathedral emerges says Gráinne de Búrca on 9 September 2021 about her book “Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era“.

Cover for 

Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era

In the book, she examines a number of human rights campaigns around the world and their degree of success as well as their limitations. “I argue that even in a very turbulent and difficult era when human rights are under challenge from all sides, human rights approaches not only retain vitality and urgency for activists, but have also delivered substantive results over time. I suggest that if attention is directed away from a predominant focus on a handful of prominent Global North NGOs, and towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a fuller set of views of the cathedral—of the landscape of human rights—emerges. The book advances an experimentalist theory of the effectiveness of human rights law and advocacy which is interactive (involving the engagement of social movements, civil society actors with international norms, networks and institutions), iterative (entailing ongoing action) and long-term (pursuing of social and fundamental changes that are rarely rapidly achieved).

Yet there is little reason for complacency or sanguinity. These are highly challenging times for human rights, and for human rights defenders, activists and advocates everywhere. The tide of illiberalism continues to surge around the world, and liberal democracy is in an increasingly unhealthy state. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing inequalities, corporate power continues to grow and to elude governmental control, while powerful new alliances of religious and political actors have been moving not only to repress the rights of disfavored communities and constituencies, but also to try to reshape understandings of human rights in highly conservative, exclusionary and illiberal directions. Repression of civil society, and of freedom of assembly, expression and protest continues apace, with the number of killings of environmental and other activists growing each year.

At the same time, long-standing critiques of human rights from the progressive left have become popular and mainstream, with influential books in recent years deriding the weaknesses, failures and dysfunctions of human rights, and their complicity with colonialism and neoliberalism. Many of these critiques have been powerful and important, and several have prompted reflection and proposals for reform on the part of human rights practitioners and scholars

But several of the most prominent critiques go beyond a call for rethinking or reform. They argue that the age of human rights is over, that its endtimes are here, that human rights law and the human rights movement are ill-suited to address the injustices of our times, that the failure of human rights approaches to seek or bring about structural change or economic justice highlights their deeply neoliberal character or companionship, and that human rights advocates should perhaps no longer seek to preserve human rights, but should make way instead for more radical movements.

In my book, I argue that some of the more damning critiques are exaggerated and partial. Like the proverbial view of the cathedral, several of the sharpest criticisms focus only or mainly on one particular dimension of the human rights system, and tend to caricature and reduce a complex, plural and vibrant set of movements to a single, monolithic and dysfunctional one. At the same time that the most pessimistic of the critics are writing obituaries for human rights, multiple constituencies around the world are mobilizing and using the language and tools of human rights in pursuit of social, environment, economic and other forms of justice. From #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice and Indigenous movements to reproductive rights marches in Poland, Argentina, and Ireland, to protest movements in Belarus, Myanmar, Nigeria and Chile, the appeal of human rights at least for those seeking justice (even if not for academic critics) seems as potent as ever.

None of this is to suggest that human rights advocates should not constantly scrutinize and reevaluate their premises, institutions and strategies. On the contrary, hard-hitting critiques of human rights for failing to tackle structural injustices and economic inequality have helped to galvanize change and a reorientation of priorities and approaches on the part of various relevant actors and institutions. Human rights activists and movements should exercise vigilance to ensure that they serve and are led by the interests of those whose rights are at stake, that they do not obstruct other progressive movements and tactics, and that their approaches are fit for the daunting and profoundly transformative challenges of these pandemic times, including accelerated climate change, digitalization, ever-increasing inequality and illiberalism. With attention to these risks and dangers, the diverse and heterogeneous array of actors that make up the international human rights community have an indispensable role to play, in a turbulent era, within the broader framework of progressive social, economic, environmental and cultural movements.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/grainne-de-burca/

11 human rights defenders you need to follow on Instagram

September 14, 2021

Amnesty has collaborated with 11 artists, creatives and campaigners to illustrate the four basic freedoms on social media Four basic freedoms outlined in 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been reimagined as Freedom to Explore, Be, Imagine and Rebel

We [want to] inspire a new generation to know their rights – and claim them – Sacha Deshmukh

Amnesty International UK has collaborated with 11 artists to help a new generation of human rights defenders to better understand the four fundamental freedoms that every person has a right to.

Outlined in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was based on four basic freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

But many young people today are unaware of the human rights they are entitled to, despite living at a moment in history when many of these basic freedoms are at risk of being taken away.

Now Amnesty has reimagined these four tenets for a modern audience, redefining the broad categories as the:

  • Freedom to Explore
  • Freedom to Be
  • Freedom to Imagine
  • Freedom to Rebel

Over the coming weeks, artists, creatives and campaigners will be sharing their interpretations of what these freedoms mean to them on Instagram.

Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, said:

From the pandemic to the climate crisis to conflicts unfolding across the planet – we live in a world of unprecedented uncertainty. But there is hope.

“Sixty years after Amnesty International was founded, we are collaborating with 11 fantastic artists, creatives and campaigners to reimagine the four basic freedoms – inspiring a new generation to know their rights and claim them.

“Knowledge is power and at a time when many basic human rights are under threat, these artists are vital beacons of hope for their followers – and the wider world.”

11 artists who want to change the world for the better

  • Basma Khalifa (she/her @basmakhalifa) is a Sudanese multi-disciplinary creative and hosts the ‘Unpretty Podcast’ which discusses perceptions of beauty through the lens of people of colour. Basma has worked with BBC1, BBC3, Facebook, Apple and Vice. 
  • Das Penman (they/she @das.penman) Das started their Instagram page during lockdown as a means of creative expression but it has since grown into a safe space for discussions about politics, mental health and everything in between. Das combines a passion for drawing with current affairs to create the “Daisy Mail”, a round-up of news stories to help followers stay informed.
  • Jacob V Joyce (they/them @jacobvjoyce) is a non-binary artist with a focus on queer and decolonial narratives. Joyce’s work ranges from afro-futurist world building workshops to mural painting, comic books, performance art and punk music.
  • Joy Yamusangie (they/them @joyyamusangie) specialises in illustration, experimenting with a range of processes to produce mixed media pieces. Joy explores themes of memory, intimacy, race and culture from a personal perspective.
  • Bee Illustrates (they/them @beeillustrates) is a queer illustrator who uses their art to educate, empower and inform people on a range of topics including mental health, LGBTQ+ and anti-racism.
  • Radam Ridwan (they/them @radamridwan) is a queer non-binary multi-disciplinary artist of Indonesian heritage. Radam’s work centres on QTIPOC empowerment and has been published internationally with features in VICE, Vogue Italia, gal-dem and Gay Times.
  • Tahmina Begum (she/her @tahminaxbegum) is a journalist and has featured in HuffPostUK, Women’s Health, I-D, Dazed, Refinery29, Glamour, The Independent, Metro, The i and gal-dem.  She covers a wide scope of topics centring around the lives of Muslim women and women of colour.
  • Jaz O’Hara (she/her @theworldwidetribe) is a motivational speaker, podcaster and the founder of The Worldwide Tribe, an organisation supporting refugees and asylum seekers globally.
  • Anshika Khullar (they/them @aorists) also known as Aorists is an award-winning Indian, non-binary transgender artist with an interest in intersectional feminist narratives.  In addition to their editorial and literary projects, Anshika has appeared as a guest speaker and created video content for the Tate.
  • Antony Amourdoux (he/him @antony_amourdoux) was a Great British Bake Off 2018 contestant and remains a passionate baker. Antony was born in Pondicherry, India, where he learned to bake with his father. He supports a number of causes including LGBTQ rights.
  • Jess (she/her @thechroniciconic) campaigns about the unseen injustices around disability, mental health and neurodiversity by sharing both her lived experience and the voices of others. Jess’ goal is to destigmatise and normalise conversations on these subjects.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/know-your-freedoms-11-human-rights-defenders-you-need-follow-instagram-right-now

Human Rights Defenders issues in the 48th session of he UN Human Rights Council

September 13, 2021

The International Service for Human Rights (HRC) published again it – as usual – very useful Guide to the next (48th) Session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 September to 8 October 2021. Here is an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda directly affecting human rights defenders. Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC48 on Twitter, and look out for their Human Rights Council Monitor and during the session. [for last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 29 September, the Assistant Secretary General Ilze Brands Kehris for Human Rights will present the Secretary General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals. ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. We continue to call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela, Egypt, Burundi, Lao and China,  

During the 48th session, Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution on cooperation with the UN. The draft resolution aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to put an end to acts of intimidation and reprisals. ISHR urges all delegations to support the adoption of the draft resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020. The study examines trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study found that public advocacy and statements by high level actors condemning reprisals can be one of the most effective tools to prevent and promote accountability for reprisals, particularly when public pressure is sustained over time. The study also found that, overall, the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including in relation to retaliation against individuals or groups in connection with their engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/]

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Environmental Justice

It’s high time the Council responds at this session to the repeated calls by diverse States and civil society to recognize the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and establish a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. ISHR joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group of the resolution on human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) as they work towards UN recognition of the right to environment so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, can live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment. Furthermore, ISHR also joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on States to establish a new Special Rapporteur on climate change at this session. This new mandate is essential to strengthen a human rights-based approach to climate change, engage in country visits, undertake normative work and capacity-building, and further address the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. [see also the recent Global witness report: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

Other thematic reports

At this 48th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
  2. Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights 
  3. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences 
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  6. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  7. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  8. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including with the:

  1. High Commissioner on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations
  2. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  3. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent 

Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

ISHR has joined 50 civil society organisations to urge UN Member States to ensure the adoption of a robust resolution to establish a Fact-Finding Mission or similar independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority at the upcoming 48th regular session of the HRC.  We expressed profound regret at the failure of the recent HRC special session on Afghanistan to deliver a credible response to the escalating human rights crisis gripping the country, falling short of the consistent calls of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures and civil society organisations, and does not live up to the mandate of the HRC to effectively address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations. The Council must establish a Fact-Finding Mission, or similar independent investigative mechanism, with a gender-responsive and multi-year mandate and resources to monitor and regularly report on, and to collect evidence of, human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties. 

China 

It has now been three years since High Commissioner Bachelet announced concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims – including mass arbitrary detention, surveillance and discrimination – in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. During the intervening three years, further substantial and incontrovertible evidence has been presented indicating crimes against humanity in the region. ISHR joins a 300+ strong coalition of global civil society that continues to call for accountability for these and other violations, including in Tibet and Hong Kong, by the Chinese authorities. At this session, ISHR highlights that arbitrary detention is – as has been noted by the Special Procedures – a systemic issue in China. Chinese authorities are long overdue in taking any meaningful action in response to the experts’ concerns, such as ceasing the abuse of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. ISHR reiterates its calls from the 46th and 47th sessions for a clearly articulated plan from OHCHR to ensure public monitoring and reporting of the situation, in line with their mandate and with full engagement of civil society, regardless of the outcome of long-stalled negotiations for High Commissioner access to the country. This would be a critical first step for future, more concrete actions that would respond to demands of victims, their families and communities, and others defending human rights in the People’s Republic of China. 

Burundi

We request the Council to continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. The Council should adopt a resolution that acknowledges that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way, as all the structural issues identified by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. The Council should adopt an approach that focuses on continued independent documentation on the situation of human rights in Burundi which should be carried out by the CoI, or a similarly independent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi. The Council’s approach should also ensure that there is follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular, on justice and accountability. See joint letter released ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session.

Egypt

Despite Egypt’s assurances during the UPR Working Group in 2019 that reprisals are unacceptable, since 2017, Egypt has been consistently cited in the UN Secretary General’s annual reprisals reports. The Assistant Secretary-General raised the patterns of intimidation and reprisal in the country in the 2020 reprisals report, as well as UN Special Procedures documenting violations including detention, torture and ill-treatment of defenders. In her latest communication to the Government, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders highlighted the arbitrary detention of 12 defenders, including three targeted for their engagement with the UN: Mohamed Al-Baqer, human rights lawyer and Director of the Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms, arbitrarily detained since 29 September 2019; Ibrahim Metwally, coordinator for the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Egypt, arbitrarily detained since 10 September 2017; and Ramy Kamel, Copitic rights activist, arbitrarily detained since 23 November 2019. Both States and the HRC Presidency should publicly follow up on these cases. Furthermore, in light of Egypt’s failure to address concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, ISHR reiterates our joint call with over 100 NGOs on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation. 

Nicaragua

The human rights crisis in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated since May 2021. Given the reported lack of implementation of resolution 46/2 and the absence of meaningful engagement with the UN and regional mechanisms by the Government, stepping up collective pressure has become vital. We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of a cross-regional group of 59 States on 21 June 2021. This is a positive first step in escalating multilateral pressure. Further collective action should build on this initiative and seek to demonstrate global, cross-regional concern for the human rights situation in the country. In her oral update, the High Commissioner stressed ‘as set out in [the Council’s] latest resolution, I call on this Council to urgently consider all measures within its power to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua. This includes accountability for the serious violations committed since April 2018.’ We call on all States to support a joint statement at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, urging the Government to implement priority recommendations with a view to revert course on the ongoing human rights crisis, and indicating clear intention to escalate action should the Nicaraguan Government not take meaningful action.

Saudi Arabia

While many of the WHRDs mentioned in previous joint statements at the Council have been released from detention, severe restrictions have been imposed including travel bans, or making public statements of any kind. Most of the defenders have no social media presence. Furthermore, COVID-19 restrictions and the G20 Summit in November 2020 coincided with a slow down in prosecutions of those expressing peaceful opinions and a decline in the use of the death penalty. However, throughout 2021 the pace of violations has resumed. This has included fresh new waves of arrests of bloggers and ordinary citizens, often followed by periods of enforced disappearance, lengthy prison terms issued against human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, and abuse in prison, including deliberate medical neglect. In addition, despite announcing the halt of the death penalty against minors, the Saudi government recently executed someone who may have been 17 at the time of the alleged offense, and the number of executions in 2021 is already more than double the total figure for 2020. Saudi Arabia has refused to address the repeated calls by UN Special Procedures and over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Venezuela 

With the environment becoming all the more hostile for civil society organisations in Venezuela, the Council will once again focus attention on the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming session. On 24 September, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission will provide its second report to the Council building on its findings of likely crimes against humanity committed in the country. ISHR looks forward to making an oral statement during the dialogue with the Mission. In addition, the High Commissioner will provide an oral update on the situation in the country and the work of her office in-country, on 13 September. The Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures will present her report following her in-person visit to the country in February 2021. Finally, it’s expected that the report of the Secretary General on reprisals will include cases related to Venezuela. During all these opportunities to engage, States should remind Venezuela of the need to implement UN recommendations; engage with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Mission; and organise visits for Special Rapporteurs already identified for prioritisation by OHCHR. 

Yemen

ISHR joined over 60 civil society organisations to use the upcoming session of the HRC to establish an international criminally-focused investigation body for Yemen, and simultaneously ensure the continuity of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) through an ongoing or multi-year mandate. In their last report, “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land”, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) underscored Yemen’s “acute accountability gap”, concluding that the international community “can and should” do more to “help bridge” this gap in Yemen. They recommended that the international community take measures to support criminal accountability for those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and egregious human rights abuses. In particular, they supported the “establishment of a criminally focused investigation body” (similar to the mechanisms established for Syria and Myanmar) and “stressed the need to realize victims’ rights to an effective remedy (including reparations)”.  Such a mechanism would facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, and lay the groundwork for effective redress, including reparations for victims. 

Other country situations:

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 13 September 2021. The Council will consider updates, reports and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s written update on Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism, and an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner and enhanced interactive dialogue on the Tigray region of Ethiopia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and oral update by OHCHR on the extent of civilian casualties
  • Oral update by OHCHR and interactive dialogue on Belarus
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the progress made in the implementation of the Council’s 30th Special Session resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, and presentation of the High Commissiner’s report on allocation of water resources in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the Philippines

#HRC48 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 48th session held on 30 August the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes six panel discussions. States also announced at least 20 proposed resolutions. Read here the 87 reports presented this session. 

Appointment of mandate holders

  1. The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  2. a member of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises from Latin American and Caribbean States; 
  3. a member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, also from Latin American and Caribbean States (an unforeseen vacancy that has arisen due to the resignation of a current member).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 48th session

At the organisational meeting on 30 August the following resolutions inter alia were announced (States or groups leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Human rights situation in Burundi (EU)
  2. Human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) 
  3. Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights  (Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Uruguay) 
  4. Human rights situation in Yemen (Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands) 
  5. Elimination of child, early and forced marriage (Argentina, Canada  Italy, Honduras, Montenegro, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, Zambia, Netherlands) 
  6. Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (African Group) 
  7. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  8. From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  9. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  10. Human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, UK, USA)
  11. Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia – mandate renewal (Japan) 
  12. Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights (Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Turkey)
  13. Technical assistance and capacity building to Yemen (Arab Group)
  14. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Czech Republic, Botswana, indonesia, Peru, Netherlands)
  15. Right of privacy in the digital age (Germany, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Austria, Mexico) 
  16. The question of the death penalty (Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Moldova, Switzerland) 

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Namibia, the Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Belgium, Paraguay, Denmark, Somalia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Latvia, Singapore and Sierra Leone.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Six panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Biennial panel discussion on the issue of unilateral coercive measures and human rights
  2. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
  3. Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples on the theme “Situation of human rights of indigenous peoples facing the COVID-19 pandemic, with a special focus on the right to participation” (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  4. Half-day panel discussion on deepening inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and their implications for the realization of human rights (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  5. High-level panel discussion on the theme “The tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training: good practices, challenges and the way forward” (accessible to persons with disabilities
  6. Panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, with a particular focus on achievements and contemporary challenges (accessible to persons with disabilities)

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

https://ishr.ch/

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

Recommendations

As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

Two lawyers from Belarus share Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

September 10, 2021

Belarusian lawyers Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak will receive the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021. The Award will be presented at a ceremony co-hosted by Lawyers for Lawyers and the Amsterdam Bar Association in the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam on 18 November 2021. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0

By awarding Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak the Lawyers for Lawyers Award, the jury wants to highlight the important work of both lawyers who bravely represented Belarusian human rights defenders and opposition leaders and are paying a high price for their work. With this Award, the jury also wants to raise awareness of other Belarusian lawyers who have been subjected to pressure, harassment and intimidation in connection to their professional activities especially in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections”.

Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak laureates Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

Maksim Znak                                                                                     

Maksim Znak represented Viktor Babaryko, a potential candidate in the presidential elections who was not allowed to formally register. He also provided legal assistance to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former candidate for the presidency who is now in exile, and Maria Kolesnikova, Coordination Council co-leader. On 9 September 2020, Mr. Znak was arrested for allegedly having committed the offence of “calls to actions seeking to undermine national security” in violation of Article 361(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. In February 2021, additional charges were added, including “conspiracy to seize state power” and “organising extremism”. On 6 September 2021, Mr. Znak was sentenced to 10 years in prison during a closed-door-trial. His sentencing is another indication of the challenging working environment in which Belarusian lawyers must operate.

Liudmila Kazak

Liudmila Kazak is a human rights lawyer who has defended political prisoners, human rights defenders, and journalists, including the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova. On 24 September 2020, she was detained. The next day, the court held Kazak administratively liable for disobeying police officers based on testimony given by anonymous masked witnesses who appeared via Skype and claimed to be the arresting officers. She was sentenced to a fine under article 23.4 of the Belarusian Administrative Code and released on 26 September 2020. On 11 February 2021, she was notified of a pending disciplinary proceeding against her before the Qualification Commission for legal practice in the Republic of Belarus. On 19 February 2021, the Qualification Commission disbarred Ms. Kazak. Ms. Kazak appealed the decision, but, on 15 April 2021, a district court upheld Ms. Kazak’s disbarment. On 17 June 2021, an appellate court upheld the district court decision.

For 2019 award, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/lawyers-for-lawyers-award-to-turkish-human-rights-defender-selcuk-kozagacli-on-23-may/

Post 9/11: where did ‘human rights’ go?

September 8, 2021

LUNCH BRIEFING 9/11 Twenty Years On
Tuesday 28 September, 12:30-13:30
Auditorium A1A, Maison de la paix, Geneva, and online

Two full decades have elapsed since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of these events, the world has entered a period characterised by a number of dynamics, which have persisted and shaped significantly the configuration of the global order. What is the nature of these transformations, notably the militarisation of international relations, the securitisation of social affairs, the rise of cultural and religious tensions and the crisis of democracy? Has the post-COVID-19 moment in turn ushered the end of the post-11 September world? Ultimately, what historical meaning can we ascribe to legacy of ‘9/11’?

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Professor of International History and Politics, and Chair of the Department of International History and Politics at the Graduate Institute. Previously the Associate Director of the Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, he is the author of a trilogy on the post-11 September era and recipient of the 2021 International Studies Association (ISA) Global South Distinguished Scholar Award.

The Lunch Briefing will be moderated by Julie Billaud, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology.

On cue Imogen Foulkes wrote on 7 September 2021 a post for Swissinfo “When the world became a ‘human rights free zone’ September 11, 2001″.

No one will forget the shock of that day. It’s hard even now, two decades later, to describe how it felt to watch something so unimaginable, so horrific. When I returned to my newsroom that evening, a colleague said to me “well, Imogen, that’s it, our world has changed forever”. I was still so focused on the immediate event that I didn’t quite understand him, and it took me a while to realise how right he was.

Our world did change forever that day; from smaller inconveniences around how we travel, to fears over how safe we are, to prejudices and intolerance towards groups perceived as a threat, to sweeping changes in security laws.

In the latest episode of our Inside Geneva podcast, we look at those changes, and the consequences, in particular for human rights. Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the World Organisation Against Torture, tells me: “I want my government to fight terrorism. I want those who did 9/11 or whatever terrorist attacks to be brought to justice.” But he also regrets the fact that the 9/11 attacks, which he describes as “a denial of the very values of human rights”, led to – in his view – “another attack on human rights, through counterterrorism”. 

Looking back now, with all the knowledge we have of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and so on, it is quite hard to remember that in the first months and even years after 9/11, none of us, not even human rights defenders, were quite aware of how the “war on terror” was being fought.

Once that war was being conducted in earnest in Afghanistan, I remember getting a hint, off the record, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who told me that they were aware of detainees being transferred from Bagram airbase, but had no idea where they were being taken. It is the ICRC’s role, under the Geneva Conventions, to visit those detained during conflict, a role which was, for a while at least, impossible to fulfil.

Fionnuala ní Aoláin, currently UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, also joins us on the podcast. Her position, she points out, was not created until five years after 9/11, and, she says “in that absence lies the story of a human rights free zone”, during which “the United States moved to engage in practices of torture, of rendition, or the establishment of a black hole where people were held arbitrarily”. 

Governments have argued that extraordinary measures are necessary to counter extraordinary threats. Certainly no political leader wants a 9/11 type attack on his or her watch. And, many opinion polls show, the public are prepared to compromise some fundamental human rights standards in the name of defeating terrorism.

A 2016 study by the ICRC found that, among millennials in industrialised countries, many agreed that torture was justified if it led to information that could save lives. Strikingly, among young people living in conflict zones, or under repressive regimes, a large majority remained opposed to torture.

This shift in opinion is a concern for ní Aoláin, who points out that some governments have taken to justifying increasingly repressive laws in the name of the war on terror. “Right now, in…Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, we see governments saying that human rights defenders are terrorists, that eco warriors are terrorists, that women’s rights defenders are terrorists.”

Interestingly, ní Aoláin comes from Belfast. She grew up with terror attacks, and counterterrorism measures. She believes that “actually it is counterproductive to security to violate human rights”, a point of view Staberock agrees with. He remembers research done in Northern Ireland in which senior security officers admitted that preventive detention had been a disaster, not just from a human rights perspective, but from a security perspective because “it made the cause much broader, it made the problem much bigger…by victimising people, you weaken the cause”.

Both ní Aoláin and Staberock believe the term “terrorist” is too widely used, and that it can become a convenient slogan for governments to introduce all sorts of legislation which would otherwise not easily be justifiable.

Staberock argues that “the best answer to terrorism is to demask it as killings. Not allow it to hide behind ideology. Demask it in an ordinary criminal process, bring people to justice, punish them, stick to your rules”.

The first shots in the war on terror were fired, 20 years ago, in Afghanistan. Today, in that same country, we are watching a humanitarian and foreign policy disaster unfold. As western diplomats made a panicked dash for the airport, they left millions of Afghans to live, again, under the Taliban, the very “terrorist” group the US and its allies entered Afghanistan to defeat.

So have we learned anything from the last 20 years? Do listen to Inside Geneva to find out more, but I’ll leave you with these final thoughts from ní Aoláin.

“We appear not to have learnt any lessons,” she says. “What we appear to be doing is betraying civil society, leaving women, human rights defenders and girls…when we conveniently decide that we’ve had enough and it’s time for us to leave.”

But, as a human rights defender herself, she is not deterred: “If you fight for human rights you’re always pushing big rocks up mountains, and you watch them fall down, and you push the same rocks up the mountain again. I think those of who work on human rights in the context of counterterrorism are looking at an enormous big rock.”

http://view.com.graduateinstitute.ch/?qs=03593ae72d465f424c62524fcb3b0674a1400adcb8708ad99947e5c2a73185ef84f12eb7b35f47251d236364d73d73396f7f3d03e7c28892b24b62800c3fbf2a0ccfc7e543a7d5d02fcd6e2c5427714a082f2ab63c8151e4

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/response-to-9-11—counterterrorism-attack-on-human-rights/46906238

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/09/blacklisting-terrorist-groups-911-wars

Nominees for Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2021 announced

September 7, 2021

The selection panel of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, which rewards outstanding civil society action in the defence of human rights in Europe and beyond, has announced the shortlist for the 2021 Prize. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/7A8B4A4A-0521-AA58-2BF0-DD1B71A25C8D

Meeting today in Prague, the panel – made up of independent figures from the world of human rights and chaired by Rik Daems, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) – decided to shortlist the following three nominees, in alphabetical order:

Maria Kalesnikava (Belarus)
The nominee is one of the opposition leaders in Belarus and a member of the Coordination Council. She was the head of the campaign headquarters of former presidential nominee Viktar Barbaryka. She is one of the three female symbols of the Belarusian opposition and its people’s struggle for civil and political liberties and fundamental rights. The nominee was abducted in Minsk in September 2020 and has been detained since then. She was charged with undermining national security. She tore her passport at the border to prevent being removed from Belarus. The nominee is at serious risk for her safety and life. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/beff3c8d-0e20-4e88-9efb-cdfcb4c26f40]

Reporters Sans Frontières
The nominee is a leading INGO that safeguards the freedom of expression and information. Since 1985, RSF has provided emergency support to thousands of journalists at risk around the world and obtained the release of several detained journalists. RSF systematically takes steps to ensure investigation and legal proceedings against those responsible of the murder of journalists and supports democracy by rolling back disinformation. [see: https://http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/B4EE0687-54AB-9CB3-AD6E-EA1A03C7D73B]

Germain Rukuki (Burundi)
The nominee is a human rights defender who has been campaigning in the human rights field for years (in particular, against torture and the death penalty). Since 2015, human rights defenders and organisations in Burundi have been facing a shrinking space and have been targeted by the authorities. In this context, the nominee was sentenced in 2018 to 32 years in prison in what the international community considered to be a pretext to silence his voice and criminalise his human rights work. Subsequently, a Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to 1 year in 2021 and he was released. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/03/germain-rukuki-burundi-human-rights-defender-out-of-jail/

I would like to thank all those who put forward nominations for the 2021 Prize,” said PACE President Rik Daems. “Fundamental rights and freedoms must be defended and preserved with strength and vigilance. They can never be taken for granted and it takes a lot of courage and determination to uphold them. The three selected candidates’ commitment to the values which were dear to Vaclav Havel and which Council of Europe stands for deserves our appreciation and recognition.

https://pace.coe.int/en/pages/havelprize

UN Experts urge EU to take the lead on protecting human rights defenders in context of business

September 7, 2021

The European Union has a chance to set an example for the entire world by protecting people who risk their lives standing up for human rights in the context of business activities, said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, joined by the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry; and Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

The European Union legislative initiative on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence “must include safeguards for human rights defenders,” they stated on 6 September 2021.

The European Union, as the world’s largest single market, has a golden opportunity to advance the safety and security of human rights defenders who are working around the globe to build more just societies, often at great personal risk,” Lawlor said. “A robust, binding regime in the EU covering companies of all sizes would provide a powerful model for other parts of the world.”

Human rights defenders often risk their lives confronting violations along supply chains, Lawlor said. “Parent companies must carry out human rights and environmental due diligence throughout their supply chains to ensure human rights defenders are not subjected to reprisals from their subsidiaries, sub-contractors and suppliers,” she said. “The EU must ensure that where such retaliation happens, these companies can be held accountable.”

In the 10 years since the Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, business compliance has remained extremely low. In the same period, increasing numbers of human rights defenders have been killed for their work. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has recently developed guidance setting forth expectations that businesses address risks to defenders and that States address this as part of their own mandatory human rights due diligence regulations.

People who stand up for human rights related to environmental protection, community land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, poverty, minorities and business accountability – often intertwining issues – are most at risk of being attacked or killed.

Where human rights defenders come under attack in the context of business activities it is a clear sign of other underlying human rights issues.” Lawlor said. Potential risks for human rights defenders should be seen as a key component of companies’ due diligence duty to identify and assess human rights risks connected to their projects, and must be specifically included in the expected EU proposal.

Business enterprises must also be obliged to consult with defenders under the EU initiative, and the door should be kept open for defenders to bring issues to companies’ attention at every stage within business projects,” Lawlor said. “

“Now is the time for the EU to give new life to its founding principles by delivering a strong law that could help reduce the number of lives lost in defence of human rights,” Lawlor said.

https://www.miragenews.com/golden-opportunity-for-eu-to-take-global-lead-626609/

UAE’s new human rights institute: sounds like a joke

September 3, 2021

On 2 September 2021 Deutsche Welle reports on “UAE’s new human rights institute: Real change or ‘image washing’?” State media has trumpeted the creation of a new human rights body set to work in line with global principles. But the UAE’s critics say the move is audacious and a joke.

THe UAE has been heavily criticized for the way it treats international laborers and human rights defenders [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/15/mary-lawlor-calls-again-on-uae-to-release-prominent-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

The United Arab Emirates announced earlier this week that it would set up an independent national human rights organization. The new institution will open an office in Abu Dhabi and, according to the UAE’s state media, “aims to promote and protect human rights and freedoms” in accordance with the local and international laws and guidelines.

The new organization — official name: UAE National Human Rights Institution — already has a hotline that anyone can call if they wish to report human rights abuses.

DW tried calling the number over two days this week. Even though local media said the hotline was active, several attempts failed. Either the calls were not answered or the connection was dropped. DW has reached out to the UAE Embassy in Berlin for further information on the new institution, but has yet to receive a response.

This is just another tactic, part of the UAE’s decade-long whitewashing campaign to make themselves look like a tolerant, respectful and open country,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who focuses on abuses in the Gulf states.

But the situation on the ground is very different,” she told DW. “In fact, there is absolutely no room for dissent in the UAE. There have been no independent civil society groups there since 2012 and so many people have been jailed. There is a lot of fear of retaliation for speaking out and a high level of censorship, even amongst UAE-based international journalists and academics.” 

Other human rights organizations and media watchdogs have come to similar conclusions.

Reporters Without Borders has highlighted the lack of independent media and the UAE’s draconian cybercrime law from 2012. It ranks the country 131st in the world for press freedom out of 180.

UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor (was arrested in 2017 [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A]

Amnesty International maintains a long list of “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE, “including well-known human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor,” who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for posts on social media about human rights violations in the UAE.

In June, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders called on the UAE to release a number of people who had been imprisoned since 2013 for speaking out against the government.

“They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to,” said Mary Lawlor.

Social media users in the Middle East were also critical about the announcement of the human rights organization. “The UAE and human rights don’t really go together,” one Twitter user wrote.

This is the joke of the season,” UK-based researcher Fahad al-Ghofaili, quipped on the same website.

The UAE has said the new body will be set up in line with the so-called Paris Principles.

Those standards, officially adopted by the United Nations in 1993, essentially outline how a national human rights institution’s leadership should be selected, how it will be funded and staffed and how it can cooperate with both civil society organizations and the government, but also remain independent.

Alexis Thiry, a legal adviser at Geneva-based legal advocacy organization MENA Rights Group, told DW it was too early to know if the new UAE organization would be sticking to the Paris Principles, as promised. This was because the rights group had not yet been able to read a publicly available version of the law, UAE Federal Law number 12 of 2021, that enabled the creation of the institution, said Thiry.

It is difficult to have an opinion about the forthcoming independence of the [institution] and its compliance with the Paris Principles,” he explained. “At this stage, it is also too early to comment on the performance of the institution since its members have yet to be appointed, to our knowledge.”

Despite its modern outward appearance, the UAE is regularly criticized about its human rights record

When a new institution like this is formed, it often applies for accreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to see if it is adhering to the Paris Principles. The MENA Rights Group often provides assessments to the Global Alliance, which has 118 member organizations from around the world.

From the information the legal advisory group did have, it seemed that the UAE’s new law would be similar to those in neighbouring countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. All of these countries already have national human rights institutions. But according to the Geneva-based lawyers, none of the national human rights institutions in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar or Saudi Arabia fully comply with the Paris Principles.

However, if the UAE’s attempts at creating this institution are really genuine, then organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty would welcome that, activists said. In promotional materials, UAE media said the institution “would seek to cooperate and deal with the UN and concerned international bodies.”

It will be interesting to see if the UAE are now willing to engage with external organizations,” Human Rights Watch researcher Zayadin noted.

Despite multiple attempts asking UAE authorities to respond to allegations of abuse inside the country, and to get access to prisoners there, Zayadin said her organization has never received any response from the government.

A very first step towards a genuine commitment to improving human rights in the country would be to allow international, independent monitors access to the country,” said Zayadin. “An even more important step would be to release from prison all those who have been unjustly detained simply for exercising their right to free expression and association.”

https://www.dw.com/en/uaes-new-human-rights-institute-genuine-or-joke/a-59061415

European Court of Human Rights calls probe into murder of Natalia Estemirova ineffective

September 1, 2021

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch wrote on 31 August 2021 “Justice for Murder of Chechen Rights Defender Remains Elusive”

Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of Natalia Estemirova, Chechen human rights defender murdered in July 2009. It found that Russia had violated their obligations to protect her right to life by “fail[ing] to investigate effectively [her] abduction and killing.” [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BA7B3FCE-AFE7-4B72-9156-EA257B3BC205]

Natalia – Natasha to me and many others – was a colleague and very close friend. I last saw her 36 hours before the murder, while staying at her place in Grozny, as I always did when in Chechnya. We’d spent a week interviewing people whose homes police had torched because of their alleged involvement with militants, and whose relatives had been rounded up, disappeared, or killed by security officials.

We said goodbye just past midnight on July 14. When I woke up later that morning, Natasha had already left for an early meeting, so I went to the airport without getting to see her again. The next day, armed men pushed her into a car as she was running to catch a bus to the city center. They drove her into neighboring Ingushetia and shot her near the forest.

In 2011, having lost hope for an effective investigation by Russian authorities, Natasha’s family filed a complaint with the European Court, alleging a violation of her right to life because Russian authorities failed to protect human rights defenders in Chechnya, Chechnya’s leadership repeatedly threatened Natasha, and her abduction was apparently carried out by security officials.

Ten years later, the court ruled today that Russia had failed to investigate but also held that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that state agents had murdered Natasha.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/15/ngos-remember-10th-anniversary-of-natalia-estemirovas-murder/]

The ECHR noted that Russian authorities promptly opened a probe into Estemirova’s killing and identified a suspect, but emphasized that Moscow’s failure to provide full materials of the case made the court “unable to conclude that the investigation had been carried out thoroughly.” It noted some contradictions in the expert evidence led it to doubt that the investigation had been effective.

The victim’s sister, Svetlana Estemirova, alleged in her appeal that state agents were behind the killing but the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the evidence didn’t support the claim.

The court required Russia to pay 20,000 euros ($23,600) to Estemirova’s sister and urged Russian authorities to track down and punish the perpetrators of her murder.

I had very high hopes and it would be an understatement to say that I’m disappointed,” Natasha’s daughter Lana, who was 15 when she lost her mother, told me today.

The lack of sufficient evidence the court cited is a direct result of Russia’s brazen determination to protect the perpetrators of this outrageous murder. Natasha was killed for fearlessly exposing abuses by Chechen authorities. An effective investigation would leave no doubt about official involvement in her murder.

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/ap-top-news/2021/08/31/europe-court-russian-probe-into-activist-murder-ineffective

https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56609/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/31/justice-murder-chechen-rights-defender-remains-elusive