Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

UN Action on Reprisals: Towards Greater Impact

May 6, 2021

Janika Spannagel on 29 Apr 2021 announced the publication of this new report of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). A virtual event to launch ISHR’s new quantitative analysis of the scope and impact of UN action to combat intimidation and reprisals will take place later today at 16h00 Geneva time

Full Study

The ability of the UN human rights system to function depends on the testimonies of thousands of human rights defenders and victims from across the world who engage with UN mechanisms every year. However, interactions with the UN often come with risks for activists – many face reprisals from their home countries, ranging from severe, violent retaliation to equally effective administrative hurdles to their work in human rights. 

Some of these reprisal cases are raised by UN bodies with the responsible government and reported in annual reports by the UN Secretary-General. However, what becomes of the affected individuals’ cases after the UN’s involvement remains largely unclear. 

This study aims to both establish a clear understanding of which reprisal cases are raised by UN communications, and to shed light on the question of their effectiveness in improving individuals’ situations.

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


Download the fully study.

The project was funded by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and conducted jointly with their New York office between November 2020 and March 2021.

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https://www.gppi.net/2021/04/29/un-action-on-reprisals

World Press Freedom Day celebrated in Brussels

May 6, 2021

Differenceday.com of 5 May 2021 reports on how World Press Freedom Day was celebrated in Brussels as Difference Day

At a time when independent and free media reporting is more essential than ever, press freedom continues to be under threat. In a declaration ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Monday, EU High Representative Josep Borrell states that journalists continue to experience harsh working conditions with increasing financial and political pressure, surveillance, arbitrary prison sentences or violence for doing their work.

According to the UNESCO Observatory, 76 journalists were killed since 2020, while many more were arrested, harassed or threatened worldwide. Of particular concern is gender-based violence targeting women journalists.

Press freedom is a fundamental value for the European Union underpinned by many recent initiatives. Media freedom and the safety of journalists are key priorities of the new Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan and of the European Democracy Action Plan.

In 2020, more than 400 journalists benefited from the EU mechanism for protection of Human Rights Defenders, while the EU took important actions to support journalists, independent media and the fight against disinformation in the context of the pandemic in many regions.

The EU is determined to do more, in Europe and abroad, the declaration continues. The EU will continue coordinating with international organisations and mechanisms and pioneer new approaches. One example is the European Commission’s proposal for a Digital Services Act aimed at holding the major platforms accountable to make their systems fairer, safer and more transparent.

EU will also continue its action to counter disinformation and seek with all partners effective means to support sustainable business models for independent media.

Press freedom means security for all,” the declaration concludes.

The World Press Freedom Day on 3 May was declared by United Nations General Assembly in 1993. The day raises awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and reminds governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Freedom of expression implies the respect for opinions of others. In Brussels the day is commemorated annually as Difference Day because it recognises the difference in people and their convictions.

“To celebrate freedom of expression is to celebrate diversity,” the Free University of Brussels and other organisers of Difference Day in Brussels stated. In the past, investigative journalism has been in the focus of the event. This year the attention is drawn to women journalists behind the news and on the front line.

The Brussels Times

Journalists and HRDs pay the price of authoritarian impunity

May 6, 2021

Regan Ralph on 2 May 2021, in Open Democracy, writes: “When authoritarians get a free pass, activists pay the price”. It is a rich piece.

Much ink has been spilled about US president Joe Biden’s non-response to the confirmation by US intelligence services that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. Most of it, like Joseph S. Nye, Jr.’s recent article ‘Biden and Human Rights’, focuses on the political consequences.

The real price of authoritarian impunity, however, is paid by the victims. Pulled punches – like refusing to sanction the crown prince – endanger the lives of brave individuals standing up for democratic values. If the Biden administration is to deliver on its promise to “stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, [and] the rule of law”, it must make protecting the lives of activists a priority.

In 2020, 50 journalists were killed worldwide. For activists and advocates, the numbers are even grimmer – at least 331 human rights defenders in 25 countries were murdered. Countless others were detained, beaten, and threatened with worse. Women, especially, are singled out for sexualized violence and harassment. And the number of human rights activists killed, harassed, or thrown in jail is steadily rising. According to UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, 1,300 peaceful activists were murdered between 2015 and 2019.

Like journalists, frontline activists are targeted by the powerful institutions they publicly criticize. Last month marked five years since the murder of Honduran environmental justice advocate Berta Caceres. She was gunned down in her home on the night of 2 March 2016, after a years-long campaign of harassment and intimidation. Caceres was killed because of her peaceful struggle against the Agua Zarca dam project, which threatens the land and livelihoods of indigenous Lenca communities in western Honduras. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/]

Investigations into Caceres’s murder indicated an elaborate web of co-conspirators, including high-level government officials, former military personnel, and top executives at Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA)—the company building the dam. Seven men, hired by DESA executives, were convicted in 2018 for Caceres’s murder. DESA’s president, a former military intelligence officer, will stand trial next month. He is indicted as the “intellectual author” of the assassination.

These brutal murders are tragedies. They also reveal the costs incurred when we indulge authoritarians as they crack down on voices of dissent.

Not long ago, it seemed that the price of oppression was on the rise. There was a growing consensus that brutal, autocratic actions would isolate a country from the international community. Powerful actors on the world stage, including the US State Department, could and did support the right of independent voices to criticize abuses of power and call for accountability.

Then the new authoritarians came to power. In countries across the world, illiberal and autocratic strongmen granted each other the gift of impunity and permission to silence critics without consequence. Human rights advocates watched with grim resignation as former president Donald Trump’s administration excused gross rights violations and embraced abusive regimes.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day

The now-defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), for example, was established in 2006 with political and financial support from the United States and the United Nations. It scored groundbreaking victories against corrupt and abusive political and military figures. In 2015, Joe Biden, then US vice-president, helped keep the CICIG alive while the then Guatemalan president Perez Molina – later imprisoned on corruption charges – tried to shut it down. But in 2019, when the Guatemalan government dismantled the CICIG, there was nary a peep from Washington.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day. As the Trump administration turned a blind eye, the Egyptian government cracked down on critics, harassing or jailing thousands of activists and journalists. Local advocates say President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been emboldened by the lack of consequences over his government’s flagrant disregard for human rights.

Civil society activists are vulnerable wherever they live and travel. Khashoggi’s murder shows the lengths to which an unchecked authoritarian will go to silence critics. This is what happens when heavyweight governments like the United States abdicate their moral leadership—frontline advocates everywhere in the world pay the price. It is unfathomably cruel to valorize the bravery of human rights advocates on the one hand and refuse to hold their murderers accountable on the other.

US leadership should offer the kind of moral suasion that will effectively counter and curtail attacks on human rights defenders. Others, including Khashoggi’s own colleagues at The Washington Post, have outlined the immediate actions Biden can take to hold Saudi Arabia’s crown prince accountable. But beyond sanctions for egregious violations, the Biden administration must do more to proactively support the thousands of courageous individuals who risk their lives to promote democracy and justice.

First, the administration should consistently apply the human rights norms it espouses—at home and abroad. Second, it must lend political and, where appropriate, financial support to those building democratic movements and institutions, especially when their efforts are attacked. Last, it should explore the creation of a novel global security compact, following the collective protection model pioneered by local activists. The safety of human rights defenders anywhere is the concern of governments everywhere, and policymakers must take measures to ensure that all civil society actors can carry out their vital work in safety.

The schoolyard teaches us that bullies don’t back down when they get what they want; instead, they demand more. It’s time to stand up to autocratic bullies and hold them accountable for their actions. The lives of countless brave activists may depend on it.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/when-authoritarians-get-free-pass-activists-pay-price/

Rita Aciro winner of the 2021 EU’s Human Rights Defenders’ Award in Uganda

May 1, 2021

Noelyn Nassuuna in KFM of 30 April 2021 reports that Ugandan women’s rights activist Rita Aciro is the winner of the 2021 European Union Human Rights Defenders’ Award.

The award is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognise a human rights defender in Uganda for their outstanding contribution.

Aciro, the Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network was recognised for her outstanding work to advance the role of girls and women in all aspects of life in Uganda. For last year’s see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/19/eus-ugandan-human-rights-defenders-award-2020-to-aime-moninga/

Speaking during the award ceremony last evening, the Germany Ambassador to Uganda Matthias Schauer said human rights need to be defended all over the world especially for disadvantaged groups.

While receiving the award, Aciro said it was an honour of the invisible Human Rights Defenders in homes, and public spaces who never have the spot light yet do an incredible job in giving a voice to women and girls.

Sonita Alizadeh, Afghan-born rapper, receives 2021 Normandy Freedom Prize

April 29, 2021

The Normandy Freedom Prize invites young people aged 15 to 25 in France and around the world, to reward each year a person or an organization engaged in an exemplary fight in favour of freedom. The online vote open to 15-25 year olds around the world to elect the 2021 Freedom Prize closed on April 26. Sonita Alizadeh, 25 years old, rapper born in Afghanistan, was named the laureate of this third edition of the Freedom Prize thanks to the votes of more than 5,000 young people from all over the world. For more on this award and its laureates see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/fef9ddd0-5b73-11e9-aba0-2ddd74eff7fa

Sonita Alizadeh is a rapper who was born in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. At the age of 9, her parents planned to sell her as a bride but because of the war, her family fled to Iran and the planned marriage fell through. In Teheran, an NGO provided her with access to education and a cleaning job. When Sonita stumbled upon a song by the rapper Eminem, it is a real breakthrough. She began writing to tell her story and to speak out against forced marriage and the plight of millions of children around the world. Her first single, “Brides for Sale” garnered worldwide attention. Having moved to the United States, she now studies law to become a lawyer and to return to her country to defend Afghan women and children.
 

The reaction of Nadia Khiari alias Willis from Tunis, president of the international jury for the Freedom Prize 2021

I am proud to accompany the youth jury for the Prix Liberté. It is essential to sensitize the young generation to the defense of freedoms whatever they may be and to involve them in the construction of equality and the rights of every woman and man in the world. This requires awareness and teaching of what is happening elsewhere but also in France. Young people need to be heard because they are just like adults, victims of suffering and indifference.”

https://normandiepourlapaix.fr/en/actualites/sonita-alizadeh-laureate-2021-freedom-prize

Shelter City Netherlands: Call for Applications for September 2021

April 29, 2021

Justice and Peace Netherlands is launching a new call for applications for at risk human rights defenders to participate in Shelter City. The deadline for applications is 14 May 2021 at 23:59 CEST (Central European Time). Please be aware that special conditions apply because of the COVID-19 situation (see conditions below).

Shelter City provides temporary safe and inspiring spaces for human rights defenders at risk where they re-energise, receive tailor-made support and engage with allies. The term human rights defender is intended to refer to the broad range of activists, journalists and independent media professionals, scholars, writers, artists, lawyers, civil and political rights defenders, civil society members, and others working to advance human rights and democracy around the world in a peaceful manner.

From September 2021 onwards, several cities in the Netherlands will receive human rights defenders for a period of three months. At the end of their stay in the Netherlands, participants are expected to return with new tools and energy to carry out their work at home.

Journalists’ Safe Haven Initiative

Justice and Peace aims to promote the safety of journalists, and in particular women journalists, worldwide so that they can build new strategies and continue their important work for freedom of expression in their country of origin. With the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Peace will be able to provide two additional temporary safe spaces per year in The Hague for journalists at risk and provide them with tailor-made support.

Shelter City and COVID-19

Please note that the current situation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) may pose certain challenges to the stay of human rights defenders in the Netherlands in 2021. These challenges can include:

  • Limitations and/or changes in the programme that we can offer human rights defenders during their stay in the Netherlands;
  • New measures and restrictions (including a lockdown) taken by the Dutch government;
  • Cancellation of flights to/from the Netherlands;
  • Postponement of return to the home country after 3 months because of travel restrictions;
  • Participants might be requested to self-quarantine for 5-10 days upon arrival in the Netherlands (the Shelter City programme will be adapted accordingly) and to take other preventive measures due to COVID-19 (including a COVID-19 test before travelling to the Netherlands).

Please consider these potential challenges carefully before applying to the programme.

Applicants must fulfil the following conditions:

In order to be eligible to the Shelter City programme, applicants must meet the following conditions:

  1. They implement a non-violent approach in their work;
  2. They are threatened or otherwise under pressure due to their work;
  3. They can be relocated for a maximum period of 3 months. Limited spots are available for people who are not able to stay for the full 3 months;
  4. They are willing and able to return to their country of origin after 3 months;
  5. They are willing to speak publicly about their experience or about human rights in their country to the extent that their security situation allows;
  6. They have a conversational level* of English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs);
  7. They are willing and able to come to The Netherlands without the accompaniment of family members;
  8. They have a valid passport (with no less than six months of validity) or be willing to carry out the procedures for its issuance. Justice and Peace covers the costs of issuing a passport and/or visa (if applicable);
  9. They are not subjected to any measure or judicial prohibition to leaving the country;
  10. They are willing to begin their stay in The Netherlands around September 2021.

Note that additional factors will be taken into consideration in the final round of selection, such as the added value of a stay in the Netherlands as well as gender, geographic, and thematic balance. Please note that we can only accept human rights defenders currently residing in a third country under exceptional circumstances.

To apply or submit the application of a human rights defender, please fill in the form by clicking ‘Apply Now’ below. Application forms must be completed by 14 May 2021, at 23:59 CEST (Central European Summer Time). An independent commission will select the participants.

Note that the selected human rights defenders will not automatically participate in Shelter City as Justice and Peace is not in control of issuing the required visas to enter the Netherlands.

For last year’s call see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/24/new-call-for-applications-for-human-rights-defenders-at-risk-to-participate-in-shelter-city-netherlands/

Apply now for Shelter City 2021

For more information, please contact us at sheltercity[at]justiceandpeace.nl.

UN experts demand release of Nigerian atheist from one-year detention

April 29, 2021

Seven UN human rights experts on Thursday 29 April 2021 demanded the release of a Nigerian atheist and humanist, Mubarak Bala, who has been detained without charge by the police for a year over alleged blasphemy.

The experts’ demand add to calls by many human rights groups, including Amnesty International, in the last one year for the release of the activist who faces death penalty if convicted under the law being operated in many parts of Northern Nigeria.

Mr Bala who is the president of Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna State on April 28, 2020 over his Facebook post considered to be critical of Islam. His post reportedly caused outrage among Muslims in many parts of highly conservative northern part of the country.

The detainee whose arrest was prompted by a petition by a lawyer, S.S Umar, backed by some Islamic figures, was later transferred to the neighbouring Kano State.

His whereabouts remained unknown to his family and lawyer for many months before he was later granted access to them.

Delivering judgment in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed on his behalf, a judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Inyang Ekwo, on December 21, 2020, declared Mr Bala’s detention illegal and ordered his immediate release.

The court also ruled that the denial of his ability to choose his own legal representation, constituted gross infringements of his rights to personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of thought, expression and movement.

It awarded damages of N250,000 damages in his favour.

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/458323-alleged-blasphemy-un-experts-demand-release-of-nigerian-atheist-from-one-year-detention.html

https://punchng.com/un-group-kicks-as-atheist-spends-one-year-in-illegal-detention/

Maria Ressa of the Philippines winner of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2021

April 28, 2021

UNESCOA screenshot of Maria Ressa during a UNESCO online dialogue on press freedom in 2020.

On 28 April 2021 UNESCO named investigative journalist and media executive Maria Ressa of the Philippines as the recipient of its 2021 press freedom award. For more on this and other UNESCO awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/8F8DB978-CD89-4CFB-1C26-D5FEE5D54855

For over three decades, Ms. Ressa has been involved in many initiatives to promote press freedom and currently manages the online outlet, Rappler. Her work however, also made her a target for attacks and abuse, UNESCO – the UN agency tasked with defending press freedom – said in a news release.

Ms. Ressa was chosen for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize following the recommendation of an international jury of media professionals.

Maria Ressa’s unerring fight for freedom of expression is an example for many journalists around the world. Her case is emblematic of global trends that represent a real threat to press freedom, and therefore to democracy”, Marilu Mastrogiovanni, Chair of the Prize’s international jury and an investigative journalist from Italy, said.

The award ceremony will take place on 2 May in Windhoek, Namibia, during the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference. It will be streamed online.

Hosted by UNESCO and the Government of Namibia, the 2021 World Press Freedom Day Global Conference will be held from 29 April to 3 May under the theme of information as a public good, and will focus on topics such as transparency of online platforms and the importance of media and information literacy.

The conference will also tackle ways to promote and support independent media struggling to survive a crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when national and local media everywhere face financial instability and other pressures threatening their survival and their journalists’ jobs. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/04/1090792

UNPO: reprisals on the rise

April 22, 2021

On 20 April 2021, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has told the United Nations that “threats to participation at and cooperation with the United Nations which minority and indigenous communities are presently facing, represent not only matters of individual concern, but also raise concern about whether the United Nations itself will be able to achieve its responsibilities under Article 1 of the UN Charter to ‘respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.’”

In a submission to the United Nations Reprisals Office, the unit within the UN’s human rights infrastructure that deals with instances where UN Member States have targeted or threatened human rights defenders for their work with the United Nations, the UNPO provided information to inform an upcoming UN Secretary General report on reprisals. Sewe also my ‘old’ post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

The UNPO submission highlighted how cooperation with the United Nations is becoming increasingly difficult for minority and indigenous rights defenders given the extent of reprisals that such activists face from authoritarian states and the general closing off of space at the United Nations for these activists, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The submission included a selection of individuals cases of threats and reprisals that have occurred in the year between April 2020 and April 2021 as a result of UN-related work of people associated with members of the UNPO, noting however that there are many more such cases that the UNPO was asked not to disclose. The cases included:

  • Family members of disappeared Hmong children in Laos who have been threatened by local authorities because of a case at the UN trying to push the government to find the children;
  • A Khmer Krom activist whose efforts to seek review of his unlawful detention in Vietnam were stymied by the strong possibility that the government would increase the severity of charges against him related to his unlawful arrest;
  • A Iranian Baluch refugee in Turkey, whose family members are repeatedly interrogated and coerced by the security forces in Iran whenever he engages with the United Nations; and
  • A Khmer Krom activist who was recently arrested for doing little more than distribute the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam, a country that refuses to recognize the existence of indigenous popualtions.

The submission further highlighted that these individual cases were indicative of a broader and growing trend for UN Member States to target those who seek to engage with the UN system; a trend which is exacerbated by the failure of states in UN cost countries to adequately protect diaspora communities and other human rights defenders.

Loujain Al-Hathloul wins Europe’s Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize

April 20, 2021

The Council of Europe has given its annual human rights award to the Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul who was released last month after nearly three years in prison

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Monday 19 April 2021 awarded its human rights prize to Loujain Al-Hathloul who is the recipient of several awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c

For more on the Vaclac Havel Human Rights prize and its laureates see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/7A8B4A4A-0521-AA58-2BF0-DD1B71A25C8D.

https://www.dw.com/en/loujain-al-hathloul-wins-vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize/a-57248168