Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

Human Rights Day 10 December 2019: an anthology

December 11, 2019

International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2019, was celebrated or observed all around the world and there is no way to report on every event. Stil to add flavour here a selection of some 14 smaller and bigger events – for more details follow the links provided (and for last year’s anthology see references at the end):

There was of course the annual statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Rightly, these young people are pointing out that it is their future which is at stake, and the future of all those who have not yet even been born. It is they who will have to bear the full consequences of the actions, or lack of action, by the older generations who currently run governments and businesses, the decision-makers on whom the future of individual countries, regions and the planet as whole depends…We have a duty to ensure young people’s voices are heard. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was a firm commitment by States to protect the rights of everyone – and that includes making it possible for future generations to uphold human dignity, equality and rights…..Climate harms will not be halted by national borders – and reactions based on hostile nationalism, or short-term financial considerations, will not only fail: they will tear our world apart. The struggles for climate justice and human rights are not a political quarrel. This is not about left or right: it is about rights – and wrongs… We need to mobilise across the world – peacefully and powerfully – to advance a world of rights, dignity and choice for everyone. The decision-makers understood that vision very clearly in 1948. Do they understand it now? I urge world leaders to show true leadership and long-term vision and set aside narrow national political interests for the sake of everyone, including themselves and all their descendants.

Pakistan: Human Rights Defenders asked the government to make serious efforts to provide fundamental rights. Human rights, labour rights and civil society activists called upon the government to make serious efforts for the provision of fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially the freedoms of association and expression, enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Addressing a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club to mark International Human Rights Day, PILER joint director Zulfiqar Shah, human rights activists Naghma Shaikh and Saeed Baloch representing the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network said the government should ensure the restoration of the freedom of expression and the freedom to association. They demanded that the government should bring in a law to protect the rights of human rights defenders as they stood up for the voiceless people…. They also demand fully restoring the freedom of expression, as it was a constitutional right of the people to express their thought. Access to the information right must be ensured, they said.

India: Activists say NHRC urgently needs to protect human rights defenders. The National Human Rights Commission should proactively protect the rights of ‘human rights defenders’, said activists at the national convention on rights of Dalit and Adivasi rights defenders in the capital on Tuesday. Human Rights Defenders appealed to the commission to proactively intervene in cases where the works of Dalit and Adivasi organisations were being obstructed. Activists said there were a growing attack on human rights defenders in India and said the need of the hour was collective action….On Human Rights Day, the convention highlighted the importance of the work of human rights defenders. Despite the country having national human rights institutions and over 160 state human rights institutions dealing with human rights, women, children, minorities, SCs, STs, right to information, persons with disabilities, and safai-karamcharis, these institutions have often failed to protect the human rights defenders, activists said. In addition to the usual challenges, women human rights defenders face gender-specific violations, such as rape and sexual violence which are used as tools for harassment, said activists. Caste discrimination has also presented a greater danger for women rights defenders belonging to the Dalit and Adivasi communities.

Cambodia: The Khmer Times reported that very differing opinions on the status of human rights in the Kingdom became apparent as various groups marked Human Rights Day at two venues in the capital. About 400 government officials and youth group members marked the day’s 71st anniversary at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Centre, while about 2,000 unionists and members of the public marked the day at Freedom Park.

Keo Remy, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, at the CKCC said the government has always paid attention to the rights of citizens. “Our leaders prioritise peace and stability,” Mr Remy said. “Youths can make the country chaotic because of the words democracy and human rights. That is why we focus on youths and stability.” while..

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, at Freedom Park said respecting the rights of workers has decreased over the years and it is a source of concern for many. “We see that respecting workers’ rights has decreased – investors do not pay attention to workers,” Mr Thorn said. “Investors need to consider the rights of workers.” He said garment factory workers are faced with decreasing salaries, overtime work, discrimination, short-term contracts, violence and imprisonment. The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights in a statement said the government has taken action to curb issues surrounding human rights, but it has not done enough. “We call on the government to encourage the celebration of Human Rights Day in Cambodia and acknowledge the benefit human rights have on society as a whole,” it said. “We implore the government to cease all arbitrary action and targetting of human rights defenders.” The CCHR also called for the charges against two former Radio Free Asia journalists and Kem Sokha to be dropped.

Palestine: the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported that Palestinians marked International Human Rights Day following a year of nonstop violence and widespread human rights violations by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), against the Palestinian population used, as a form of collective punishment and a method to control Palestinian society. These consistent and systematic policies by the occupation include, extrajudicial executions and issuance of discriminatory legislations, mass arrests campaigns, torture, administrative detention, and medical negligence against Palestinian political prisoners…..In 2019, the (IOF) continued its crackdown and repression of human rights defenders. Currently, Addameer faces gag orders against around 40 of the cases they represent, who are in interrogation. The gag order prohibits us from releasing any information to the public regarding their detention status, or face grave consequences.

Philippines: Groups under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (Ecuvoice) has submitted its first wave of reports on the human rights situation in the Philippines to United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday, Dec. 9. This is in line with Resolution 41/2 which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in July this year. “With the intensifying transgressions on the Filipinos people’s political rights and civil liberties, we are participating in this report-making process of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to pursue justice and accountability,” the convenor of Ecuvoice, Edita Burgos, said.

while

the international trade union movement was using international human rights day to call attention to the alarming attacks on human and labour rights defenders in the Philippines. The government’s targeting of trade unionists has been ramped up recently with fresh waves of arrests and violence. The international trade union movement is united in calling on the government to stop the attacks. The government is targeting labour activists through a practice known as red-tagging. By falsely identifying people who speak out against the government as associated to armed militia groups, the government purposely targets them with harassment and arrests and exposes them to violence and even murder….The International Labour Organization (ILO) has resolved to send a High-Level Tripartite Mission to the Philippines to investigate the human rights situation, but despite the urgency, the government has yet to receive the Mission. The international labour movement is undertaking solidarity events across the world to demand an end to the human rights abuses and the targeting of trade unionists. The ITUC has requested to meet with the representative of the Philippines to the EU on Human Rights Day and has outlined three key demands.

Turkey. Amnesty International Turkey and MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center have jointly conducted a Survey on Perception of Human Rights. The results of the survey have shown that when they hear the expression of “human rights”, 65.2 percent of the participants think of “right to life” first. While “freedom of expression” comes to the minds of 33.5 percent, the right to a fair trial ranks third with 22.1 percent. According to the survey participated by 2,651 people from 28 cities and conducted in a face-to-face manner, 82.1 percent of the society think that fundamental rights and freedoms are violated in Turkey. Of these people, 58 percent say that fundamental rights are occasionally violated and 42 percent say that they are frequently violated. 62.6 percent of the participants are of the opinion that fundamental rights and freedoms are restricted in Turkey. While 72 percent of the young participants think that fundamental rights and freedoms are restricted, this rate falls as the age of the participant gets older. For more detials see the full report.

China:  posted an interesting piece in China Digital Times on how the Chinese government defends if record on human rights and how others see this. Here one excerpt out of manY:

On Tuesday, International Human Rights Day, spokesperson Hua Chunying mounted a familiar defense of China’s rights record at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ regular press conference …and went on to note that the MoFA and State Council Information Office would host the “2019 South-South Human Rights Forum” this week “with a view to adding new dimensions and injecting impetus into exchange and cooperation in the field of human rights.” ….. At Hong Kong Free Press, the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s Omer Kanat commented on the ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ hailed by Hua Chunying,…… Among the enablers of Xi Jinping’s repression are states with disreputable recor[ds attracted to a possible exemption from universal standards that ‘human rights with Chinese characteristics’ affords. And again, if we could freely ask the populations who reside in these states how they feel about such a concept, there would be few advocates. Therefore, on Human Rights Day, we have a responsibility to defend those who defend universal values and be clear ‘never again’ has meaning. There is injustice everywhere and we must fight it. Uyghurs are among them, for example, the imprisoned Ilham Tohti, and in exile , Nury Turkel, Rushan Abbas, and Gulchehra Hoja, whose families have been detained and disappeared in East Turkestan because of their advocacy. The second ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ is opening in Shanghai for this year’s Human Rights Day. The dangerous fiction of the ‘Beijing Declaration’ that there are exceptions to the universality of rights should be firmly resisted.

Afghanistan ‘Human Rights’ should be more focused during peace talks. MENAFN (Afghanistan Times) reported that UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, in a gathering has expressed concerns regarding the human rights achievements, saying that these gains should be saved in the ongoing negotiation with the Taliban. He called on the National Security Council to consider perseverance of human and civil rights in talks with the Taliban, adding ‘Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s role is very important in the peace process, every voice that raise should be heard and rights of the victims should be observed.‘.. Moreover, head of AIHRC, Shaharzad Akbar has called on the Taliban to legislatively recognize the values of human rights. …There are massive concerns about the violation of achievements of human rights and freedom of speech in the peace negotiation with the Taliban militants. The Taliban has back in 1990 ruled Afghanistan with the sever restriction on girls and school students. The cultural Taboos and less freedom of women are one of the other key issues that have brought sever concerns from Afghan and foreign officials.

The NGO WITNESS used the occasion to publish its ANNUAL REPORT which looks at key successes from July 2018-June 2019 (fiscal year 2019). See the video clip:

Malaysia. “What happened to Harapan’s vow to improve human rights?” asks Jasmine Cho in an open letter:…’When Pakatan Harapan won a dramatic victory in the GE14 elections, they vowed to steer the country forward with human rights as one of their top priorities. However, since their win, we have seen a heavy regression in the area. The kind of regression that has gotten us worried about our present and our future as a modern, fair, and humane nation. From the Suaram 2019 report, several areas of abuse were glaring. One was the treatment of prisoners. The government has yet to abolish the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Crime Act 2015 and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985……….The list of human rights abuse is getting longer and the frustration we feel with our government is reaching boiling point. Malaysia is considered a modern and democratic country, so why are we so far behind when it comes to human rights? The government should stop pandering to the religious majority and stop focusing on external matters. The rights of the rakyat are being abused.

Netherlands/Sri Lanka. The Dutch Ambassador Gonggrijp spoke at an event for Human Rights Day 2019 organized by Equal Grounds Sri Lanka saying inter alia:

Sri Lanka has recently known a long period of conflict, during which human rights were under pressure. The reconciliation process after the end of the war has been slow. And I hear people say: what is the point of looking back, let’s move forward. To my opinion it is about recognition and human dignity. To that respect we should also recognize the progress that has been made: the Office on Missing Persons has been mandated to restore the rights of every Sri Lankan of any background, language or religion, to know what happened to their loved ones. And the work of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, as an independent entity, mirrors the country’s commitment to uphold human rights and civil freedoms. The Netherlands supports this and stands ready to help Sri Lankan institutions like these with capacity building and technical expertise…..

The policy of Netherlands is aimed at 1) abolishing the criminalization of homosexuality, 2) opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and 3) achieving wider social acceptance of gay people. In the Netherlands we have taken the first step of decriminalization a long time ago, but we are also still working on stopping discrimination and promoting acceptance. As I hope Sri Lanka will also take this first step in the near future, I also recognize that this will not solve all issues the LGBTI community is facing. It is key to inform people about the rights they have, regardless of their sexual orientation. To empower them to take responsibility, stand up or seek justice. It is also key to educate and make people from outside the community aware of the harassment and discrimination that people from the LGBTI community face. In order to also empower them to show solidarity and to take action if necessary. Every form of emancipation has been and still is a struggle. It starts with a ‘fight for your rights’. This is why this initiative of Equal Ground is so important, because – and allow me to quote again:

Mongolia / EU: Montsame reported that on the occasion of International Human Rights Day the Delegation of the European Union to Mongolia together with the Embassies of France and Italy presented European Union Human Rights Defenders’ Award (a national award!) to nine people, who are making their efforts to human rights protection…..Unfortunately, we are still observing human rights violations in many countries, especially gender and racial discrimination and discrimination in sexual orientation. Therefore, the EU Delegation to Mongolia, the Embassies of France and Italy and the Embassies of other countries are showing respect to human rights activists in Mongolia. Protection of human rights is one of main principles of the European Union, which defines its internal, and foreign policies and it is belonged to everyone. We will ever protect and encourage the people who endeavor for human rights, “ Ambassador of the European Union to Mongolia Traian Laurentiu Hristea said at the opening of the award presenting ceremony. The Ambassador also highlighted that the event will be traditionally held in the future.

MEXICO An indigenous activist who documented and denounced abuse committed by the military in Guerrero is this year’s winner of the National Human Rights Prize. Obtilia Eugenio Manuel was awarded the prize at Tuesday’s presidential press conference by National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) president Rosario Piedra Ibarra. The human rights chief said that among the military abuses that have been documented by Eugenio are the forced sterilization, sexual assault and sexual torture of indigenous women. Piedra also said the activist has received numerous threats and noted that she was abducted for four days earlier this year. ..“We don’t want one more rapist in our way,” Eugenio said, making a reference to the Chilean feminist anthem that has been performed around the world in recent weeks. Also at Tuesday’s press conference, Piedra recognized the human rights work of Margarito Díaz González and presented an award to his widow, Modesta Chávez de la Rosa. A former member of the Wirikuta security council and an advocate for environmental and indigenous rights, Díaz was murdered in Nayarit last year. Piedra recalled that the activist opposed the construction of a dam and other projects in San Luis Potosí and the development of Canadian-owned mines on sacred sites of the Huichol people.

 


If you are interested to compare with last year, see:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/10/human-rights-day-2018-just-an-anthology/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/11/human-rights-day-2018-anthology-part-ii/

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http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/216920-82-1-percent-of-society-think-that-fundamental-rights-and-freedoms-are-violated
https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2019/12/china-defends-record-on-international-human-rights-day/
https://menafn.com/1099401711/Afghanistan-Human-Rights-should-be-more-focused-during-peace-talks
https://ar2019.witness.org/
https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/503280
https://www.netherlandsandyou.nl/latest-news/news/2019/12/11/human-rights-day-2019
https://akipress.com/news:630675:EU_Human_Rights_Award_presented_to_nine_people_in_Mongolia/
https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/human-rights-prize-winner-documented-abuse-by-military/

EU continues to run a human rights award In the GCC Region

December 10, 2019

The European Union Delegation to the United Arab Emirates announced that the 11th Edition of its Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC Region – honoring local civil society organisations, public or private institutions, as well as individuals for their efforts in promoting general awareness of human rights and the rights of vulnerable groups in the GCC region – has gone to: the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (for its tireless efforts in protecting and supporting women and children, victims of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking) and the Special Olympics World Games Higher Committee (for its ground-breaking event in Abu Dhabi, promoting a spirit of inclusion and tolerance by raising awareness for persons with disabilities). Ahmed Mansoor (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/05/massive-call-in-support-of-ahmed-mansoor-at-his-50th-birthday-how-can-emirates-remain-deaf/) was of course NOT mentioned, neither by the EU nor Gulfnews.

https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/60476/announcement-chaillot-prize-2019_hr

https://gulfnews.com/uae/emirati-organisations-win-human-rights-chaillot-prize-1.68350864

Sweden charges ex-Ambassador to China over pressure on daughter of Gui Minhai

December 10, 2019

Last month I reported on Sweden standing up to China in giving an award to Gui Minhai [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/sweden-defies-chinese-threats-after-award-to-book-publisher-gui-minhai/] On 9 December 2019 the New York Times comes with a related story that is quite amazing: the former Ambassador to China, Anna Lindstedt, is accused of arranging unauthorized talks between the daughter of a detained bookseller and two men representing Chinese interests. She has even been charged with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power”. “In this specific consular matter, she has exceeded her mandate and has therefore rendered herself criminally liable,” Hans Ihrman, the deputy chief public prosecutor for Sweden’s National Security Unit, said in a statement on Monday. Mr. Ihrman said the charge of arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power was “unprecedented.” Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, said the two Chinese men who had offered to help free Mr. Gui instead pressured her to keep silent.

Credit…Leif R Jansson/TT, via Associated Press

A lawyer for Ms. Lindstedt, Conny Cedermark, said Monday in an email that no crime had been committed. “Arbitrary conduct in negotiation with a foreign power has a series of prerequisites,” he said, and none of them had been met in the case.

Mr. Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based publishers who were abducted and taken to China in 2015 after publishing books that were critical of the Communist Party elite, setting off international condemnation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/

Relations between Sweden and China have been strained since Gui Minhai was kidnapped in 2015, and tensions increased last month when the Swedish office of the writers’ group PEN said that it was awarding a literary prize to Mr. Gui. The prize is given annually to an author or publisher who is persecuted, threatened or living in exile. Three days later, the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm called the prize a “farce” and threatened consequences if members of the Swedish government were to attend the award ceremony. A week later, Amanda Lind, Sweden’s minister of culture, not only attended the ceremony but also awarded the prize, despite warnings from the Chinese ambassador that Ms. Lind and other government officials working in the area of culture would no longer be welcome in China. Late last month, China appeared to follow through on its warning, with SVT reporting that two Swedish films had been banned from screenings in China. Last week, after a seminar in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Swedish-Chinese relations, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, told the newspaper Goteborgs-Posten that China would limit trade with Sweden because of its handling of the Gui Minhai case.

Carter Centre: Human Rights Defenders speak out

December 10, 2019

At the occasion of international human rights day 2019, the Carter Center published “Human Rights Defenders: In Their Own Words“, a selection of participants at the 12th Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/22/carter-centre-wants-to-preserve-the-stories-of-human-rights-defenders/]:

  • “The right to defend human rights is a right already recognized. We have to be mindful and careful and state clearly that no one should be defamed, persecuted, prosecuted, or killed because they exercise their right to defend rights, regardless of their political position.”
    CLAUDIA SAMAYOA
    Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos
    Guatemala
    and
    ALEJANDRA SERRANO PAVÓN
    Environmental Law Alliance
    Mexico

  • “We believe that if people understand the concept of human rights and are able to apply it to their lives, then there will be more peaceful coexistence. Then government can cut down on the bills for buying arms and ammunitions. Then development can take place because everybody’s living peacefully and they’re able to go about their normal businesses fully.”
    HALIMAT JIBRIL
    Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN)
    Nigeria

  • “We have seen the rise of many youth-led movements around the world, and these young protesters are speaking out and standing up not just on the issue of environmental crisis, but also on land rights, on democracy. All of them are using the internet as a tool not just for communication but also for organizing and mobilizing these campaigns.  One concrete way we can support youth-led movements is to make sure that these internet tools remain accessible, safe, and truly empowering.”
    RAYMOND “MONG” PALATINO
    Global Voices
    The Philippines

  • “The Palestinian people, just like all people around the world, are seeking the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And when that is undermined in one part of the world, it is undermined everywhere. I feel like the Palestinian situation is just a microcosm of global injustice. If we can solve one, we can solve the other. But big problems require collective minds.”
    WESAM AHMAD
    Al-Haq
    Palestine

  • “Every time that we’ve had significant change in our country, religion has been at the heart of it. It’s been part of what motivates people. It speaks to our values. To neglect religion in thinking about human rights would be to neglect a huge part of the resources that we have in taking on the injustices we face.”
    COLLEEN WESSEL-MCCOY
    Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
    United States

  • “Solidarity is not about ‘me’; it’s about ‘we.’ It’s about just being there – not being ahead of somebody or behind somebody, but standing with them.”
    STACEY HOPKINS
    Activist
    United States

  • “The relationship we build between people is the greatest wealth we can have. It is beyond money. It goes beyond what you have in your bank account. When you have a good relationship with the people – your friends, your family, your colleagues – that is a good foundation to build a country.”
    HALIDOU NGAPNA
    Carter Center Human Rights House
    Democratic Republic of Congo

  • “In 1996, we embedded human rights into our three-year program. Immediately, we started seeing change. It was like a revolution. Community members started coming out and promoting their own rights, started talking about their responsibilities. This was possible because we talked about all the aspects of human rights – economic rights, cultural rights, political rights, and civil rights. After people understood human rights, we started seeing changes in deeply rooted cultural practices, including female genital cutting and child marriage. They started having dialogues around gender-based violence against women and girls. Women started taking political positions, because they now understood they have the right to vote, and the right to be elected. Things started changing.”
    GODFREY OCHIENG OKUMU
    Tostan International
    Senegal

  • “If you’re not indifferent, the world will be different. Challenging our own indifferences is extremely important.”
    RAMESH SHARMA
    Ekta Parishad
    India

  • “In 2015, our lives began to change completely. We lost our jobs; we lost our homes; we lost our country; we lost our dignity. But we did not lose hope, and we will never lose hope.”
    MUNA LUQMAN
    Food4Humanity
    Yemen

  • “The motto of our organization is taken from John 17:21, which says, ‘That all of them may be one.’ If all should be one, there should be no violence, there should be no quarrel, there should be no killing. For all of us to be one, there must be love. There must be peace. There must be unity. And there must be togetherness.”
    VICTORIA BOLANLE IHESIULOR
    Christian Association of Nigeria, Women’s Wing
    Nigeria

    https://www.cartercenter.org/news/features/p/human_rights/hrdf-in-their-own-words.html

Andrew Gilmour in the Financial Times about reprisals

December 10, 2019

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2019, Andrew Gilmour – the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights – wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times stressing that the UN must protect human rights defenders from government reprisals against them….

Within the global movement, it’s widely accepted that the onslaught on the human rights agenda is more ferocious now than ever before. ……..We estimate that, around the world, several hundred people have been punished for co-operating with the UN since 2016 when I was assigned responsibility for dealing with this issue. Reprisals can take many forms — I’ve been presented with countless stories of travel restriction, threats from security agents, internet abuse, arrest, imprisonment and even torture, rape, disappearance and killing. The aim is punishment and/or deterrence. And it often works. Despite the staggering courage of many human rights defenders, who persist in exposing violations notwithstanding their knowledge of the likely consequences, others understandably self-censor their actions and words.

For his annual report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/

…..Even though reprisals appear to be on the rise, however, there are grounds for optimism. More countries now take the issue seriously. They condemn such acts and warn against the scope of the problem, which many recognise has an impact on the global discourse on any matter related to human rights — development, the environment, protection of civilians in conflict settings and even preventing terrorism. When people are cowed into silence, governments and inter-governmental organisations are deprived of the full picture, and that makes their actions in any of these spheres less effective. Increased awareness that there is a growing problem with intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders is vital. But so is the courage to speak out on behalf of the victims of such actions, even if the perpetrators are hugely powerful, such as the Chinese authorities, whose efforts to silence almost anyone from speaking out are often draconian and can extend even into UN headquarters. There are many brave people who are ready to withstand the threats of their own governments and provide information to the UN, even when the price for doing so can be horrific. Surely everyone at the world body, starting with its member states, has a moral obligation to show at least a fraction of that courage and speak up in defence of those beleaguered front-line defenders. Such is the nature of the governments that carry out most reprisals that only a firm international response of solidarity can have any chance of halting this ominous trend.

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

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https://www.ft.com/content/e339fe22-1a66-11ea-81f0-0c253907d3e0

Rare: involvement by a UK bank in the Write for Rights campaign

December 9, 2019

The Co-operative Bank   Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
The Co-operative Bank Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Ed Horner of York Press reports that the YORK branch of a nationwide bank is supporting the annual Write for Rights campaign. The Co-Operative Bank is encouraging colleagues and customers to write letters of support for people facing injustice, here in the UK and around the world. Helen Naylor, branch manager in York, will be running an awareness event. The branch has chosen to highlight three issues to support, climate change, migrant women and young trans-people in the UK. There will also be a representative from the local Amnesty International group to support customers. The event will take place on December 10 from 10am-2pm at the Co-Operative Bank York branch in Feasegate. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/18/amnestys-write-for-rights-campaign-2019-launched-today-focuses-on-youth-activists/

Daughter’s murder motivated Norma Ledezma to hunt for Mexico’s disappeared

December 5, 2019

The former factory worker, who left school at 11 but has completed a law degree since becoming a campaigner and founded her organization Justice for our Daughters in 2002. She succeeded in getting the government to name a justice center for women was named after Paloma, who was 16 when she went missing. She has also helped locate some victims alive, including several who were being trafficked. Most, however, are never found.

…Collectives of mothers who have lost children have scoured the Mexican countryside armed with shovels following tips of where mass graves might hold their loved ones. About one in four of those listed as missing are women, though the government said earlier this year it was reviewing the data. Ledezma said the government had no strategy to fix the issue. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this year it said it would allow the United Nations to review reports on cases of disappearances.When her body was found, authorities did not run DNA tests on her, instead relying on clothing samples and the color of her nail polish. Ledezma could not bring herself to go into the room where her body lay. It was on the day of Paloma’s funeral that Ledezma decided to help those who seek justice for similar cases and she has pressed on despite threats from organized criminals. “I haven’t left the country because I have a debt to my daughter… I’ll be here until the last day”, she said.

CAFOD starts “messages to the brave” campaign

December 3, 2019

Send a message to the brave this Christmas, says CAFOD

Three Brazilian women protest in the Netherlands against Brazil’s rainforest destruction Photo: Ana Fernandez / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

Samantha Aidoo – Campaigns Engagement Manager at CAFOD – explains the Messages to the Brave campaign:

Indigenous governor Cristina Bautista from Northern Cauca, Colombia, was passionate about defending the rights of the Nasa people and protecting their land and territory. But her courage and determination came at great personal cost. On 29 October, the 42-year-old and four unarmed indigenous guards who were with her were killed in a brutal attack near their Tacueyó reserve. Five other people were injured. The organisation which Cristina and her colleagues were part of, ACIN – the coordinating council for 22 indigenous reserves in the area which is supported by CAFOD – is no stranger to tragedy.

Just a few weeks earlier, Glabedy Gómez who worked alongside ACIN, her daughter, Karina, and four other people were ambushed and killed on their way back from a political event. Karina, 32, strongly believed that debate and political participation were important paths for building peace in Colombia and had been campaigning to stand in a local election. It is people like Cristina and her colleagues – known as human rights defenders – who are responding most acutely to what Pope Francis referred to in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ as “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

Across the world, indigenous communities are trying to stop big businesses from fencing off their land, tearing down forests and polluting rivers in the pursuit of mining, logging or large-scale agribusiness. But community members who dare to speak out and organise others to do the same may be harassed, threatened or even killed. To anyone here who has been following the climate strikes, or perhaps even taken part in one, it may seem unfathomable that people speaking out for the environment, peace and human rights could pay with their lives, but that is exactly what is happening. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

..

Their courage is helping to keep greenhouse gases in check and preserve key values like peace and human rights, but these communities are often left defending “our common home” on their own. In many countries, corruption, a lack of political will, or simply the fact that they live in a remote place means that communities who speak out often have no legal protection and no recourse for justice. That’s why this Advent, CAFOD is inviting people across England and Wales to send Christmas cards to those facing threats and attacks around the world in Brazil, Colombia, Uganda or the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The Messages to the Brave campaign highlights the tireless work of men and women like Jose Batista Afonso from Brazil. Born in the countryside to rural worker parents, Jose grew up deeply connected to the land. He hadn’t planned to be a lawyer, but this changed after he saw rural leaders around him being routinely assassinated. Despite receiving death threats, for more than 20 years Batista has worked for the Pastoral Land Commission, defending the rights of landless communities in the Brazilian Amazon with support from CAFOD.

.. a simple card will show them that they aren’t alone in their fight to protect “our common home”, they have a community of people in the UK who are praying and standing with them. Perhaps members of the Fuerza Mujeres Wayuu women’s movement in Colombia, who have received more than six threats already this year, put it best when they say that together, we can “weave little by little for the future, a world more just than the one we had to live in”.

https://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/1331/send-a-message-to-the-brave-this-christmas-says-cafod

Save the date: 14 January 2020 Webinar on protection of human rights defenders in development

December 1, 2019

The Human Rights Funders Network announces a WEBINAR: “Uncalculated Risks: How funders can address threats to human rights defenders in development” to be held on 14 January 2020.

Sheryl Mendez of Freedom House, Katie Skartvedt and Greg Regaignon of Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, and Mark Fodor and Gretchen Gordon of the Coalition for Rights in Development, discuss how funders can use the report, Uncalculated Risks: Threats and attacks against human rights defenders and the role of development financiers, as a tool in their work.See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/uncalculated-risks-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-in-name-of-development/.More information (including a time and registration link) will be available soon!

Behrouz Boochani gives interview in New Zealand – finally out of Manus island

December 1, 2019

Boochani in 2018 outside an abandoned naval base on Manus Island where he was kept for three years. Photo/Getty Images

On 28 November, 2019 Sally Blundel inteviewed Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. The award winning refugee [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/04/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-major-literary-prize-putting-more-pressure-on-detention-policy/] was invited to New Zealand. Where he will be after his month-long visa expires, he cannot say, but he will still write, he says, this time a novel. “Because literature has the power to give us freedom. Because through literature we can challenge the power structure.”

In a quiet suburban Christchurch garden, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, poet and film-maker Behrouz Boochani, cigarette in hand, paces out three large steps. “We lived in a very small room, from here to here, four of us. On Manus you didn’t have privacy or space. Finding the time and quiet to write was the hardest thing.”

But find time he did, to write poems and articles, film a documentary on a smartphone and tap out an entire book, furtively sent paragraph by paragraph via What’sApp text messages, chronicling the squalid conditions, medical neglect, mental anguish, suicide, even murder, experienced by asylum seekers held on Manus Island under Australia’s “stop the boats” policy.

It is six years since Boochani was pulled from a sinking boat just days out of Indonesia and taken to Australia’s “offshore processing centre” on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It is just over a week since he left Port Moresby to fly to Auckland, taking a route that avoided Australia, to speak at Christchurch’s WORD book festival as a free man. “I got my freedom through literature,” he says.

Boochani knows the power of words. As a journalist in Iran in 2013, he reported on the arrest and detention of his colleagues on Kurdish-language magazine Werya in Ilam, north-west Iran. His fellow journalists were eventually released – they attributed their survival to Boochani’s article – but by then he was in danger. He fled, travelling through South-east Asia to Indonesia where, in July that year, he was among a group of 75 men, women and children who boarded an unseaworthy boat heading for Australia. The vessel’s bilge pump failed in rough seas. When rescued by the Royal Australian Navy, Boochani requested asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Instead, he and his fellow asylum seekers were incarcerated on Christmas Island before being transferred to the Manus Island detention centre as part of Australia’s “Pacific Solution II”.

………To write his book, he adopted a new routine, sleeping from 6pm until 11pm when everyone was too busy to note his absence. From 11pm, he would write under the blankets until 8am, then sleep until noon. In 2016, after the PNG Supreme Court declared the indefinite detention of asylum seekers to be unlawful, phones were no longer prohibited. Each night, he would sit outside, smoking, writing, absorbing as much of the natural environment as he could from his side of the prison fence. “For the prisoner who is alone, nature is so important,” he says. “Always, it is a place you can escape to – even the sky, they cannot take the sky away. But it is very harsh to look up at the many birds flying and knowing you cannot follow them.”

….

“If someone asked me to write this book again, of course I am able to write it, but I could not write it this way. When I describe starving, I was starving. When I describe the characters, those people were around me in prison. It is the same with the feelings. In that camp people rely on each other; there’s a culture of brotherhood because there is no space, but there’s also a kind of hatred because you are so tired of having so many other people around you. I have lost those feelings now, but in prison they were true feelings.”

Boochani in Christchurch. Photo/Getty Images

Through articles sent to the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Refugees Action Collective and the United Nations, and the support of a global network of writers, translators, academics and activists, including Australia’s Janet Galbraith, founder of online project Writing Through Fences, Boochani refused to let the thousands of asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru fade from public gaze. In 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Australia’s offshore processing centres as “unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to human rights” (New Zealand’s offers under National first, then Labour, to settle at least 150 detainees were rejected by successive Australian prime ministers).

……

Plea for release

But within the camp the book also drew attention to Boochani himself. This year, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for Australia’s creative professionals, sent an open letter to the Government of Scott Morrison urging Boochani’s release. Signed by prominent journalists and writers, including Tom Keneally Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Kate Grenville and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, it said, “We are deeply concerned for Behrouz Boochani’s welfare and safety. The success of his book and his status as a journalist have made him a target of the Manus authorities; a danger that has only increased with his rising profile.”

In June, WORD Christchurch programme director Rachael King invited Boochani to speak at a special festival event. Especially after the city’s March 15 mosque shootings, she explained, “it felt important to share the stories of refugees”.

With help from author Lloyd Jones, whose recent book The Cage is itself a dark parable about the human capacity for inhumanity, she was able to email her invitation directly to Boochani. Boochani was receptive to the idea. By then he was one of more than 300 people moved from Manus Island to Port Moresby. He was hoping to be part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal with the US (he was later accepted for this programme), but he wanted to wait until the Manus Island camp was finally closed.

“It would have been immoral for me to leave those people in Manus, to create a platform and have this privilege and this recognition, because it is about all our resistance – it was not only for me.”

In October, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, told Parliament “we’ve completely closed” the Manus Island facility. By then, only three asylum seekers were left on the island. The remaining detainees still in Papua New Guinea were in Port Moresby, including a reported 46 held in Bomana Prison.