Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

Sri Lankan priest Father Nandana Manatunga cares for relatives of disappeared

October 19, 2020

Quintus Colombage, for UCANEWS of 16 October 2020, reports on the role of Father Nandana Manatunga:

Sri Lankan priest gives succor to relatives of disappeared

Father Nandana Manatunga, a human rights defender and director of the Human Rights Office, was awarded the 2018 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. (Photo: HRO)

Sri Lanka has the dubious distinction of having the second-highest number of disappearances in the world. Thousands went missing during the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection of 1987-89. About 60,000 people were killed or disappeared during the youth-led insurrection.  Thousands were killed and disappeared during the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 when the country’s army defeated Tamil rebels. 

According to the UN, the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone, while other independent reports estimated the number of Tamil civilian deaths at more than 100,000. Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations.

Father Nandana Manatunga, 60, a well-known human rights defender and director of the Human Rights Office (HRO) in Kandy, has played an instrumental role in giving succor to the families of victims and providing a channel for them to tell their stories. His work has been internationally recognized and he was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2018.

Among those who attend monthly meetings of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances at Father Nandana’s office is D.G. Yashohammy, 78, a Buddhist from Wattegama. Her 22-year-old son was abducted by a group of men in military uniforms during the JVP insurrection.

This is the same story for all of us. Father Nandana has created a platform for all of us to tell our stories.

Ashoka Weerasinghe, whose son was abducted in 1989, said families could speak about their disappeared loved ones and release their trauma during the regular meetings and workshops. “These fairs and other programs have brought us together. We thank Father Nandana for giving us the opportunity to alleviate our grief. He spends at least half of his life on the work. The priest is a very happy person who is pleased to see us happy,” she said.

Tamils from the north and east join the program once a year. On the first Friday of the month, women gather at the HRO in Kandy. The teams from Kandy, Jaffna and Mannar gather in their own places. A revolving fund has been set up for each of these groups, providing financial assistance for those in need or who require legal aid.

The HRO was started in 2008 to work with people of different faiths. The office provides protection, legal aid, security, health and trauma counseling to victims of rape, torture, abduction and other serious rights violations. Father Nandana, who was ordained in 1986, said all these programs are implemented to heal the serious wounds of their minds.

We want to keep all these stories alive, otherwise the next generation will want to know what happened to them,” Father Nandana told UCA News.

“We have empowered victims and their families from different parts of the country and have challenged religious leaders to stand by the victims and campaign for reform of the police and the judiciary.

As a priest, I protect, promote and safeguard the rights of the victims of all human rights violations. It is my mission following the teachings of Christ. All religious leaders have a moral obligation to advocate for human rights.” 

———

https://www.ucanews.com/news/sri-lankan-priest-gives-succor-to-relatives-of-disappeared/89909

UN rapporteur calls on Spain to release jailed Catalan activist Jordi Cuixart

October 17, 2020

Jordi Cuixart is the head of Omnium Cultural, a Catalonian cultural association

Jordi Cuixart is the head of Omnium Cultural, a Catalonian cultural association

THE UN’s special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, has called for jailed Catalonian independence activist Jordi Cuixart to be freed.

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the civic leader’s imprisonment for his role in the 2017 independence referendum. Writing in The National, Cuixart reveals the grim reality of life in a Spanish prison, saying that he’s forced to spend 23 hours a day in a room measuring just eight square metres. However, the father of two young children makes clear that he would make the same choices as before.”

He was handed a nine-year sentence after being convicted of sedition. Unlike the other eight imprisoned, Cuixart is not a politician, he is the head of Omnium Cultural, a Catalonian cultural association.

Taking to Twitter, Lawlor said it was time for Cuixart to be freed. “In 2019, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found his detention to violate both the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and deemed it arbitrary. He should be released.”

https://www.thenational.scot/news/18801415.jordi-cuixart-un-rapporteur-calls-spain-release-jailed-catalan-activist/

Nicaragua: things getting worse and worse for human rights defenders: COVID-19 and foreign agents

October 17, 2020

The New Humanitarian of 2 September 2020 carried a special feature on Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega is making life increasingly hard for aid and human rights groups in Nicaragua even as poverty, malnutrition, and emigration due to political strife are on the rise, and as he is criticised for a dismissive and reckless response to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, a new law for the regulation of “foreign agents” was passed on 15 October.

“In Nicaragua, simply existing as a person carries a risk,” Ana Quirós, director of the Center for Information and Advisory Services in Health, or CISAS, told The New Humanitarian. “You do not need a particular reason to become a victim of violence, of repression, kidnapping or assassination. It is a general risk.

Quirós was deported and stripped of citizenship in November 2018 after the government accused CISAS, which had been working on health education and HIV prevention in Nicaragua with the support of several international aid groups and actors – including Medico International, Medicus Mundi, and the EU – of “participating in destabilising activities”.

Quirós said individuals still working with aid and civic groups in the country are under great threat, and that several people who had been working with CISAS in Nicaragua since it was banned had been forced to flee the Central American country.

It has been during this pandemic that the absence of the NGOs has been most strongly felt, especially for us working in health,” the CISAS director said. “The government hasn’t made any efforts regarding communication, training, education in health, and with regard to the other basic human rights of the population,” Quirós said. “The population is very unprotected, and is hungry for information and real knowledge about the risks and measures that one needs to take to prevent illnesses.

Forty years after Ortega led a socialist revolution to uproot the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua continues to be burdened by a host of humanitarian concerns, albeit as it isolates itself from international aid institutions.

Under the government leadership of Ortega and his influential wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America, while the violent repression of political opponents since April 2018 has generated a migration crisis proportionately comparable to that of Venezuela. After Ortega’s re-election in 2006, Nicaragua’s poverty rate fell, following a similar trend throughout Latin America, but an independent report published at the end of 2019 estimates that it has since soared, and that roughly a third of the population, or more than two million people, now live on less than $1.76 per day.

According to the World Food Programme, 17 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the rate at nearly 30 percent – similar to humanitarian crisis settings such as Somalia – in Nicaragua’s northern provinces, which form part of Central America’s dry corridor. In 2019, WFP provided assistance to 45,000 people in Nicaragua affected by the seasonal climate change-linked emergency.

Due to severe restrictions on free assembly and expression, it is probable that protection and humanitarian needs are under-reported in Nicaragua,” ACLED wrote in an email to TNH. “It is clear from current political violence and demonstration trends in Nicaragua – particularly amid the pandemic – that the situation requires urgent attention from international humanitarian actors.

Demonstrations initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform, which has since been scrapped. They later morphed into broader political unrest as the government responded with heavy-handed measures against student protesters, and as dissatisfaction grew at government corruption and the Ortegas’ increasingly autocratic rule.

The ensuing government crackdown led to the deaths of hundreds of people – the government set the number at 197, while human rights groups say it was at least 325 – and drove more than 103,000 people to seek asylum abroad. Most fled to neighbouring Costa Rica, where at least 400,000 Nicaraguans had already been living.

In July, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the ongoing repression in the country two years after the initial protests, listing a litany of government offences between March and June, including arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, and detentions, threats, and intimidation.

Line graph of demonstrations in Nicaragua, 2019-2020

Human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees,” Bachelet reported.

The crushing of the opposition included, in 2019, the revocation of the legal status of a number of civil society groups and local NGOs – the Nicaragua Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) and CISAS among them.

Here, one cannot organise trade unions or teachers. One cannot organise any group that is not under the auspice of the regime,” Monica Baltodano, director of the Popol Na Foundation, another of the banned groups, told the independent news site Confidencial last December.

….Vice-President Murillo told Nicaraguans that the country was under divine protection, while officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order not to scare patients. In July, 25 doctors were fired for signing a letter critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It asked simply that health workers should not be persecuted and that they be allowed to use PPE.

After the United States and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year, 65 of the 148 officially recognised political prisoners were released from prison in December. Further sanctions have been imposed since, including on a second son of the presidential couple. But international political pressure has routinely been countered by the message that Nicaragua will manage on its own.

International aid groups and agencies have also experienced government pressure as it attempts to influence and define their roles. Ever since Ortega resumed the presidency in 2007, the organisations have had to operate with increasing care, former aid workers familiar with the country told TNH.

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme was told by the government that it was no longer needed as an intermediary between donors and those executing development projects. Without providing further details, the authorities said the agency and its country chief were accused of “political meddling”, and of maintaining a “hidden agenda”.

UNDP told TNH at the end of July that its operations in Nicaragua were now “limited” and that it did not have a resident representative or a deputy representative. The UN agency did not respond to requests for further comment on the situation in the country.

In 2018, the government expelled a UN human rights team after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an immediate end to the persecution of political opponents and called for the disarming of masked civilians responsible for a string of killings and detentions. Soon after, two missions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigating violence during the anti-government protests were also thrown out.

As COVID-19 cases appear to mount, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional wing of the World Health Organization – has urged the government to take stronger measures to curb the spread of the virus.

PAHO continues to await authorisation to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has donated PPE to the health ministry, while repeatedly stating that the official COVID-19 data provided is incomplete.

In spite of donations from various international sources, doctors have argued that distribution of masks and other PPE items remains inadequate. As of 26 August, Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory estimated that 107 health workers in Nicaragua had died from the coronavirus…

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few international aid groups with a presence in Nicaragua, has offered its support to help with the release of what human rights groups estimate – following the protest crackdown – to be more than 6,000 political prisoners.

In a written statement to TNH, the organisation said: “The ICRC returned permanently to Nicaragua in 2018. We have been visiting detention sites since 2019, and in November 2019 renewed our host country agreement. We can develop our humanitarian action with openness, in dialogue with the authorities and civil society, according to our humanitarian principles and working methods.”

Last Thursday 15 October Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the law for the regulation of ‘foreign agents “. The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register. Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/09/02/Nicaragua-conflict-political-unrest-poverty-coronavirus

Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law

Journalism Under Fire – A Global Surge in Violations Against Journalists

October 16, 2020

On 14 Aya Wietzorrek posted a good overview piece on freedom of the press in the Organization for World Peace

…..Functioning as a “watch-dog” of these freedoms, journalism can be considered a public good, as it serves to inform citizens on political, economic, and social issues and ensures governance is transparent and accountable.

Acknowledging the many challenges journalism is currently facing…the focus of this article is on the everyday violations against journalists. This September, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO) published a report with findings revealing a “wider upward trend” in the use of unlawful violence by police and security forces against journalists over the last five years. Attacks were reported across 65 countries, and many of the tactics used, violate international laws and norms. Globally, journalists are facing censorship, surveillance, detention and physical attacks by law enforcement. The reported abuses against journalists include harassment, intimidation, beatings, being shot with non-lethal as well as lethal ammunition, sometimes even resulting in death.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, commented that around 1,000 journalists have been killed in the last decade – and that 9 in 10 cases “are unresolved”. The murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 in Malta, Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in Turkey and Francisco Romero Díaz in 2019 in Mexico are only a few examples. Horrified by the fates of their colleagues, these events have deterring effects for other journalists. Besides the attacks on journalists being a deeply concerning issue in their own right, such attacks thus also constitute a direct threat to civil society and democracy. In democratic states, with separate legislative, executive and judiciary branches, a free press is often considered to be the 4th pillar of democracy. According to Freedom House, however, elected leaders in many democracies have made direct attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen ones that provide favourable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles….

To intercept this upward trend of unlawful violence reported by UNESCO, and to ensure that journalists can serve society and do their job, we can improve and implement the following. Firstly, in terms of prevention, developing standard operating protocols and increasing training for law enforcement on the freedom of expression and appropriate behaviour in dealing with journalists – respecting their special status as ‘watch-dogs’ – is vital. Such training would include dialogues between law enforcement and journalists, to establish working relationship between the two groups, respecting the roles of each in society. It is imperative that national legal frameworks for police use of force align with the international standards of necessity and proportionality. Secondly, in terms of protection, countries should renew their international human rights pledges, review relevant domestic laws and practice and revise them as necessary, to ensure conformity with states’ obligations under the UDHR and ICCPR. These legislative frameworks should be subject to periodic review by independent expert bodies, such as Human Rights Watch for instance. Thirdly, as the Committee to Protect Journalists has pointed out in its “Global Campaign Against Impunity”, murder is the ultimate form of censorship and the statistic that justice is not served in 9 out of 10 murders, highlights that urgent action is needed on this front. In terms of prosecution, appointing national ombudsmen to hold police accountable for the unlawful use of force against journalists is key. The implementation of such ombudsmen and the strengthening of criminal law provisions should also operate to deter offences against journalists. Internationally, the freedom of press is only implicitly protected by Article 19.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and deserves to be explicitly mentioned and protected. The appointment of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists, as proposed by Reporters Without Border and 70 media groups and freedom of expression NGOs, would be a valuable appointment. This proposal was officially rejected in 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The creation of such a position would however help prevent resolutions and treaties from being largely empty words and would have the political weight, the capacity to move quickly and the legitimacy to coordinate with all UN bodies to implement change.

….. The international community has repeatedly stated the need for a more effective implementation of existing international and regional standards, yet the work still lies ahead of us. Governments should pro-actively (re-)establish their commitment to a free press and the protection of journalists as it is imperative that civil societies across the globe continue to defend right to freedom of expression. This is necessary for the enhancement of people’s lives and for the creation and maintenance of stable and healthy democratic societies.

Aya Wietzorrek

Aya Wietzorrek is a graduate in International Development from The University of Manchester and is currently a research intern in the Governance and Inclusive Development Group at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

.https://theowp.org/reports/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-unlawful-violations-against-journalists/

Final three nominees Human Rights Tulip 2020

October 15, 2020

Oct 15, 2020 | News |

After several rounds of deliberation, an independent jury of human rights experts decided on three candidates out of a shortlist of 13 candidates as the 3 final nominees:

Lilit Martirosyan

Lilit Martirosyan is Armenia’s first registered transgender woman. She is a LGBT activist who has been committed to equal rights for all, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, since 2009. Martirosyan is the founder and current president of the Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO, founded in 2016. The NGO is run by and for trans people and sex workers in Armenia and the South Caucasus.

Read the complete bio.

The Sudanese Professionals Association

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) is an umbrella association of 17 different Sudanese trade unions. The organization started in October 2012, though was not officially registered until October 2016 due to government crackdowns on trade unions.

In December 2018, the group called for the introduction of a minimum wage and participated in protests in the city of Atbara against the rising cost of living. In 2019 SPA was a driving force behind the Sudanese revolution.

Read the complete bio.

TZK’AT Network of Ancestral of Community Feminism

The TZK’AT Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism from Ixmulew is an organisation of indigenous women defending life, women’s rights, natural resources and territory, in different regions of Guatemala. The organisation was formed by 10 women human rights defenders in October 2015 with the aim of mentoring and supporting each other. All of them have suffered persecution, stigmatisation, death threats, territorial displacement, criminalisation and sexual violence.

Read the complete bio.

This year’s jury was chaired by Eduard Nazarski and included the following jury members:

  • Eduard Nazarski: former director of Amnesty International The Netherlands
  • Adriana van Dooijeweert: President at Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
  • Zohra Moosa: Executive Director at MamaCash
  • Danielle Hirsch: Director of Both ENDS
  • Antoine Buyse, Professor of Human Rights and Director at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
  • Ernst Hirsch Ballin: member of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), chair of the human rights committee

What’s next?

The winner of the Human Rights Tulip 2020 will be chosen by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok and will be announced at the end of November. The winner will receive the Human Rights Tulip during an award ceremony on International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

For more on this and similar awards for HRDs, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/06/pakistani-digital-activist-nighat-dad-recipient-of-2016-human-rights-tulip/

Human Rights Defenders issues in 75th Session of the GA’s Third Committee

October 14, 2020

On 8 October 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) extended its excellent alert service to the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly which is the principal human rights committee . This year’s session will run for seven weeks from 5 October to 20 November.

This year’s Third Committee is expected to consider approximately 60 resolutions on a range of topics. ISHR will be closely monitoring the work of the Third Committee as well as relevant developments in the plenary of the General Assembly and will report on key developments relevant to human rights defenders and civil society.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Third Committee is operating in a hybrid fashion, with some sessions held in person and others virtually. All interactive dialogues with Special Procedures and UN officials will be held virtually, as will negotiations on resolutions (informals). However, general debates and voting on resolutions will take place in person. 

Covid-19 restrictions will have a significant impact on civil society’s ability to engage with States in both formal and informal settings. Given this, it is vitally important that States reach out to and engage with civil society and specifically invite NGOs to participate in informals held to negotiate Third Committee resolutions. 

Formal meetings of the Third Committee can be watched live on the UN Web TV. Follow us on Twitter at @ISHRglobal using #UNGA75 for the latest updates.

Resolutions 

This year, due to the complexities of managing multiple consultations online, main sponsors of draft resolutions have been encouraged to streamline proposals, biennialise them or implement a ‘technical’ or ‘procedural’ rollover. They’ve also been encouraged to refrain from tabling new draft resolutions not previously negotiatied. We are yet to have a good sense of how widely States will follow this advice or, critically, what impact such limitations will have on gaining human rights advances this year.  

Finally, whilst all negotiations of resolutions will happen virtually, voting will be in person with explanations of position taking place in person or submitted in writing by the relevant State and included as part of the official record of the session. With restrictions in place, some missions may have smaller delegations working at the Committee and these, as well as traditionally smaller delegations, may find covering the various sessions challenging. It has yet to be seen how this might impact upon voted resolution outcomes, including on the participation of these delegations during the in-person voting of resolutions.   

Thematic
  • Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (Lead Sponsors: Mexico and Switzerland) – The Third Committee will consider a resolution on the right to privacy. In previous years this biennial resolution expressed concern that the right to privacy of those defending human rights can be undermined. ISHR hopes to see this language maintained in the text, as well as strengthened language on surveillance technologies, encryption and internet shutdowns, as well as the gendered impact of privacy regulations.
  • Treaty bodies (Lead Sponsor: Iceland) – The Third Committee will once again consider the biennial resolution on the ‘Human rights treaty body system’ at this session. The last resolution on this topic was adopted by consensus in 2018. The text of the resolution is not expected to change much. The resolution is significant because it recalls resolution 68/268 on “Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system”, encourages all stakeholders to continue their efforts for the full implementation of resolution 68/268, and reaffirms the formula contained in 68/268, which sets out how the allocation of meeting time and corresponding financial and human resources to the treaty bodies would be identified and requested by the Secretary-General. The negotiation of this resolution will take place in the context of the ‘2020 review’ of 68/268, which was initiated earlier this year and co-facilitated by Switzerland and Morocco. 
  • Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (Lead Sponsor: Finland) – This year  we’ll see the return of the biennial resolution on extra-judicial killings which seeks to ensure the protection of the right to life of all persons. This resolution historically includes a paragraph referring to groups that are vulnerable to extrajudicial killings. This paragraph urges States to protect against and investigate killings committed for reasons related to their activities as human rights defenders, or because of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ISHR together with other NGOs will be advocating to ensure this language is maintained.
  • Death Penalty (Lead Sponsor: Brazil) – The Third Committee will once again consider its biennial resolution on the death penalty. This resolution calls for States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty. In the previous two negotiations, Singapore has successfully introduced a hostile amendment to the resolution reaffirming the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems. Other delegations together with civil society groups have objected to this amendment, emphasizing that sovereignty requires compliance with international human rights commitments and the emerging customary norm that considers the death penalty as running foul of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  • Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (Lead Sponsors: France and Netherlands) – The broad scope of this resolution is expected to pay much needed attention to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on all forms of violence perpetrated against women, girls, adolescents and other marginalised  groups. ISHR supports the inclusion of references to human rights defenders in the text and will be advocating alongside other NGOs to ensure this language is maintained and strengthened.
  • Human rights defenders (various) – While there is no thematic resolution focused on human rights defenders this session, a number of resolutions include or are relevant to human rights defenders. ISHR will be advocacting to ensure language referencing human rights defenders is both maintained and strengthened across these resolutions. These resolutions include the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, Women and girls and the response to COVID-19 and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.    
Country situations

For the 18th year, Canada will present a resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran spotlighting the continued dismal human rights situation and lack of progress over the last year. The European Union will again lead on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, similarly underlining the lack of human rights progress. Ukraine will again present a resolution condemning Russia’s activities in Crimea (Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine). A resolution on the Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar is again expected to be led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic will be led by the USA and Saudi Arabia. 

On 6 October, Germany delivered a joint statement on Chinaon behalf 39 States. A similar statement was delivered on behalf of 25 States last year. The statement addressed widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet. The joint statement endorsed an unprecedented appeal from 50 UN Independent Experts for the creation of a UN mechanism for monitoring human rights in China. A recent global civil society appeal from over 400 organizations echoed the experts’ call.

Other key issues  

Some resolutions are expected to become battlegrounds regarding references to gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as has been the case in previous sessions of the Third Committee. While negotiations on some resolutions, including resolutions on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation and Intensification of efforts to end obstetric fistula may not be re-opened. Others that will be negotiated at this session include the resolution on Child, early and forced marriage, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and Women and girls and the response to COVID-19.

The Third Committee will consider the Human Rights Council Report which lays out resolutions and decisions taken by the Council through the year, including those just adopted and decided upon in Geneva this week.  No challenge to any part of the report is expected. 

Human Rights Council elections will take place on 13 October. ISHR is once again disappointed that this year all regions, save for the Asia Pacific region, have presented closed slates. In addition to this, the fourth candidate for the African region—Gabon—was only announced on 6 October, just one week before the election. ISHR has published ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking membership. These provide a quick ‘at-a-glance’ objective comparison of the candidates, focusing on their cooperation with the Council, their support for civil society, their engagement with UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures, among others. Together with 18 other NGOs, ISHR has also issued a public call for Member States to refrain from voting for any candidates who do not meet the membership criteria of upholding high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms. See latest: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/13/human-rights-council-election [“Saudi Arabia failed in its attempt to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the next three-year term starting on January 1, while China, Russia and Cuba were elected on Tuesday in a vote that caused an outcry among human rights defenders.“]

The Fifth Committee will consider the UN’s annual budget during its main session (October- December. In the meantime, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question (ACABQ) has published its report on the proposed programme budget for 2021. One concerning element is that the ACABQ has recommended that the Fifth Committee deny the majority of the Secretary-General’s resource request for additional funding for the treaty bodies on the basis that it (1) doubts that OHCHR actually requires more staff in order to prevent backlogs of reports and communications to the treaty bodies from accumulating (when backlogs of communications have been a major problem for the treaty bodies since 2017, and as the treaty bodies’ inability to meet during the pandemic has now resulted in major backlogs in both areas); and 2) that the Third Committee will be taking action on the matter of treaty body strengthening during its main session that may affect their resource needs (which ISHR understands to be incorrect). Delegations that support the work of the treaty bodies should advocate in the Fifth Committee for the full allocation requested by the Secretary-General. 

Overview of Reports and Dialogues with UN Experts

The UN Special Procedures – Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups – will report to the Third Committee and hold virtual interactive ‘dialogues’ with member States.  Several of this year’s reports reflect concerns about increased attacks on human rights defenders and emphasise the critical importance of creating and maintaining space for civil society. Click here for a list and schedule of dialogues.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/75/165): In her first report to the Third Committee, Mary Lawlor highlights that the global reaction to the pandemic has largely increased the threats to civic space and human rights defenders and often been characterized by ‘declarations of states of emergency that are not compliant with human rights obligations and by abuse of constitutional powers.’ Lawlor also sets out her priorities as mandate-holder which include focusing on those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, the most marginalized and vulnerable defenders such as women defenders, LGBTI defenders, and defenders working on the rights of migrants. Lawlor will also focus on reprisals against defenders cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, the issue of impunity, the impact of businesses and financial institutions on defenders’ work and strengthening existing mechanisms of protection. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (A/HRC/45/28): emphasises that effective participation by civil society is essential to the realization of people-centred sustainable development and strongly condemns acts of reprisal against critics and opponents of development projects including members of civil society organisations.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development (A/75/167): In this report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Saad Alfarargi, explores the international dimensions of financing for development policies and practices from the perspective of the right to development and notes that civil society organisations face severe barriers in participation and access to international negotiations and discussions for financing development.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (A/75/161): notes the grave risks that environmental defenders face in their work and emphasises on the need for protection for environmental defenders through effective and timely remedies.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/75/184): Clement N. Voule’s  report focuses on ‘Celebrating women in activism and civil society: the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association by women and girls’. The report notes that women are at the forefront of today’s most pressing global struggles and examines the gendered and intersectional barriers, reprisals and backlash faced by women to their full and equal enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Voule provides recommendations to promote an enabling environment for the rights of women to assemble and associate. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/75/185): The first report to the General Assembly of the new mandate holder, José Francisco Calí Tzay, summarizes the activities of the mandate since the last report of the previous mandate holder (A/74/149) and analyses the specific impacts on indigenous people of the COVID-19 pandemic, including harassment, attacks and killings of indigenous rights defenders. A presentation of the report and interactive dialogue will take place on 12 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (A/75/144): In her report on the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of domestic violence, Dubravka Šimonović notes the increase in domestic violence against women due to lockdowns imposed by governments to control the virus. Šimonović finds that state responses have largely been gender-blind, including funding cuts to civil society organisations and women’s organisations providing essential services such as crisis centres, helplines, shelters and safe accommodation. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 9 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (A/75/258):  Victor Madrigal-Borloz discusses the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) and gender-diverse persons including social exclusion and violence and the interaction with institutional drivers of stigma and discrimination. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 29 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/75/261): focused on the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom, highlighting the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society. The Special Rapporteur finds that threats to and restrictions on academic freedom limit the sharing of information and knowledge, an integral component of the right to freedom of expression. He reveals that academics and their institutions face social harassment and State repression for their research. The Special Rapporteur concludes with a set of recommendations to States, academic institutions, international organizations and civil society. 
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (A/75/147): proposes a preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on two particular aspects: data protection and surveillance. Concerns arise when surveillance apparatus traditionally employed for State security purposes is proposed or hurriedly deployed for a public health purpose. Necessity, proportionality and safeguards in law consistent with international law must exist when such surveillance measures are applied.
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: to be issued. 
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: to be issued.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights: to be issued.

For more information: Contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/third-committee-of-un-general-assembly-2018-will-consider-human-rights-issues/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-75th-session-third-committee

Brazilian Alessandra Korap Munduruku Wins 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

October 14, 2020

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has named Alessandra Korap Munduruku the winner of its 2020 Human Rights Award for her work defending the culture, livelihoods, and rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Indigenous peoples, including Alessandra’s Munduruku community, have faced tremendous challenges in Brazil in recent years—from gold miners and loggers illegally invading and exploiting Indigenous territories; to widespread fires in the Amazon; and an increased risk to the coronavirus; not to mention a combative president who’s proactively removed protections for Indigenous tribes and insulted them on numerous occasions.

As one of the key leaders and organizers of the Munduruku people, Alessandra has fought to stop construction projects and illegal mining that are infringing upon Munduruku territory, garnering international attention and support. She’s advocated for the demarcation of Indigenous lands and for Indigenous communities to be consulted on decisions that affect their territories. Alessandra has also played an important role in advancing the leadership of women in the Munduruku community and among other Indigenous tribes in Brazil through her involvement in the Wakoborûn Indigenous Women’s Association and the Pariri Indigenous Association. 

I’m humbled to be this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award winner,” said Alessandra Korap Munduruku. “To have the additional backing and support of Kerry Kennedy and her entire organization, especially during the pandemic, will make all the difference as we continue to fight for our rights, including the demarcation of our lands to ensure that Indigenous peoples have their autonomy, and for the fight of women who are also the strength of the resistance.

Throughout history, Indigenous peoples, including the Munduruku, have repeatedly been oppressed, silenced, and subjected to horrific human rights abuses,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Alessandra has heroically faced intimidation and violence for defending Indigenous rights across Brazil—including the ability to oppose projects and developments that affect her peoples and their livelihoods. She is a champion of women’s rights, Indigenous rights, and the foundational right of all human rights—civic space. Civic space protects the right to dissent, to advocate and to defend human rights, free of government reprisal. It is the keystone of a functioning democracy.”

Alessandra will be honored at a virtual ceremony on Thursday, October 22, at 6:00pm EDT. The event is free and open to the public. You can register here

Kerry Kennedy will present the award, followed by a keynote address from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the countless threats and challenges Indigenous peoples face around the world. Andrew Revkin, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, will then moderate a discussion on the pathways forward for Indigenous peoples in Brazil with an esteemed panel of experts:

  • Juarez Saw Munduruku, Chief of the Sawré Muybu village in Brazil 
  • Maria Leusa Cosme Kaba, a Munduruku women’s leader
  • Francisco Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Sebastião Salgado, Award-winning French-Brazilian documentary photographer 
  • Antonia Urrejola Noguera, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Christian Poirier, Program Director at Amazon Watch 
  • For more on the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/69FD28C0-FE07-4D28-A5E2-2C8077584068

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/rfks-ripple-of-hope-award-2020-to-kaepernick-fauci-and-other-us-leaders/

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/10/12/2106955/0/en/Alessandra-Korap-Munduruku-Wins-2020-Robert-F-Kennedy-Human-Rights-Award-for-Her-Work-Protecting-Indigenous-Peoples-in-Brazil.html

Panel: Re-Opening Civic Spaces in Times of Covid-19

October 13, 2020

Hafıza MerkeziAssociation for Monitoring Equal Rights and Netherlands Helsinki Committee kick-start a panel-series titled “Shrinking Democratic Space and International Solidarity”.

Through these panels, we wish to discuss the challenges and potentials ahead of the human rights movement, in light of both the ongoing erosion in democratic/civic spaces and the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic. In each panel we will couple one human rights defender from Turkey with one from abroad.

In the first panel of the series, we hope to start with a hopeful perspective on how we can re-open spaces in times Covid-19. We also wish to put forth a conceptual and comparative understanding on concepts such as shrinking civic spaces, authoritarianism and populism. The title of this first panel is “Re-Opening Civic Spaces in Times of Covid-19”.

We will welcome legal scholar, sociologist and human rights advocate César Rodríguez Garavito for this event. Murat Çelikkan, co-director of Hafiza Merkezi, will host the event as co-speaker.

Some of the specific issues and questions we want to focus are as follows;

  • How do concepts such as closing democratic/civic spaces relate to populism, authoritarianism, etc.
  • How has the situation evolved in recent years in terms of these processes?
  • What has been the impact of Covid-19 on top of all this?
  • During Covid times, what are the trends and practices in the global human rights movement that have the potential to push back against the populist tide?
  • How should we frame the debates about the future of human rights?

The first panel will take place on October 15th at 17.00-18.30 (GMT+3) and will be livestreamed to registered participants. Please register from here.

English-Turkish simultaneous translation will be provided during the event.

About speakers

César Rodríguez Garavito’s research focuses on the transformation of law and politics in the context of globalization. He is co-director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice in New York University School of Law. César is the founder of JustLabs and the Editor-in-Chief of OpenGlobalRights. He has been a visiting professor at New York University, Stanford University, Brown University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Pretoria (South Africa), the European University Institute, American University in Cairo and the Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil). He is a board member of WITNESS, the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, and the Business and Human Rights Journal. César is obsessed with inter-disciplinary research, social innovation, systems thinking, and anything that can get human rights and social justice practitioners to respond more strategically and effectively to complex challenges such as technological disruption, the climate crisis and populist authoritarianism. He has conducted research and advocacy in various regions of the world and has published widely on human rights, environmental justice, globalization and social movements.

Murat Çelikkan has worked as a journalist for 35 years in various positions such as reporter, editor, columnist and chief executive editor. Çelikkan has been an active member of the Turkish Human Rights Movement. He was a founding member and has been on the boards of the Human Rights AssociationHuman Rights Foundation of TurkeyCitizens Assembly and Amnesty International Turkey. He has worked on projects related to the Kurdish problem and media ethics, freedom of speech and assembly, refugees, identity politics and peace. Çelikkan is a graduate of Middle East Technical University. He is currently the Co-Director of Truth Justice Memory Center in İstanbul. He is also the producer of two feature films and the documentary Buka Barane. He has received the Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2018 Award and the 2018 International Hrant Dink Award.

The Indomitable Father Stan Swamy, defending the adivasis and the Dalits a cause of arrest

October 11, 2020

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn to enable vested interests to finish them off.The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy

A file photo of human rights activist Stan Swamy. Photo: PTI

Mari Marcel Thekaekara wrote in the Indian Wire of 10 October 2020 a detailed and personal piece about “The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy”

No, it’s not possible,” were my first thoughts when I heard that Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest and activist had been arrested – for the second time. His crime? He defended the rights of adivasis being exploited in their homeland Jharkhand.

Father Swamy has been accused of having links to a Maoist plot connected to the Bhima Koregaon case and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on Thursday night. The rights activist is one of the gentlest and kindest men I have ever met. So the entire premise – for anyone who knows him – is entirely ludicrous. Funny even, if it were not so tragic. He has Parkinson’s disease. His hand shakes when he raises a cup of tea to his lips. He speaks so softly, you have to strain to hear him.

Social activists hold a protest after the arrest of Father Stan Swamy by the NIA in the Bhima Koregaon case, in Ranchi, October 9, 2020. Photo: PTI

He assures his interrogators that he has no connection with Maoists. He believes in peaceful, non-violent protest. I believe him. Because I know that his integrity is above reproach.

I heard of Father Stan Swamy in the early seventies, because he was among the first people I knew who advocated living with the adivasi community in Jharkhand to understand their lives and their problems; to help find solutions and a way forward. I went there in the early seventies while still in college to write a story for our student magazine.

On a more personal note, Stan Swamy, introduced my husband, also named Stan, to the adivasi world. He shared Father Swamy’s hut in a Ho village in Jharkhand. My husband always told young activists:

“Gandhiji’s non violence was not merely moral or religious. It was strategic. Gandhi was a brilliant general. Oxymoronic though that sounds. He understood that the fight for freedom could not be won by violence because mere ordinary Indians, even if they poured out on the streets with justice on their side, with God on their side, could never win. Even if there were thousands or lakhs of people marching in protest, they could never match the might of the state. Before 1947, the British could bring out the artillery and finish us off. One wrong step could have changed the course of our history. But the entire world watched India’s non violent battle for independence, open mouthed. Non violence was a new word, a new tactic, made in India. The world sympathised and empathised. Gandhi’s strategic non violence was the most brilliant weapon in our war for Independence’

The same scenario is playing out today. And the average activist understands that putting ordinary villagers, adivasis, Dalits or women in the line of fire is counterproductive and unfair. We learnt this strategy from Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan.

In recent times, it has become the norm to equate the word activist with ‘anti-national’. But who is an activist? What do they do?

It’s quite simple. All over India, there are thousands of people who took up the cause of fighting for social justice for the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless. These people were inspired by the brightest and best minds in our country – from Gandhiji to Vinobha Bhave to JP.

Post Independence, when the battle for freedom was won, Gandhi urged his followers to go out and continue the fight for freedom. This time, it was to free the poorest from hunger and poverty, to teach and educate, to weave and spin, to spread harmony and peace. Thousands rallied to his call and Gandhi ashrams were filled with people determined to continue the freedom struggle on a new battlefield – India’s villages.

The sixties saw the rise of the Dalit movement. New leaders emerged. Gandhi raised the question of untouchability in the early days of the Independence movement, but his ‘Harijan’ epithet was subsequently dismissed  by Dalits as patronising. Dalit power became a clarion call, drawing inspiration from the African-American Black Panther movement. Dr B.R. Ambedkar showed the way.

The term activist gained popularity during the JP movement and during the fight against the Emergency in the mid seventies. After the Emergency, thousands of young patriots, drawing their inspiration from JPs charisma, accepted his challenge to go out and organise the poor, the under privileged and the vulnerable; to fight for their rights. This period saw a proliferation of human rights defenders, though the term was not used till later.

Women and men dedicated their lives to fighting for Dalit rights, adivasi rights, womens’ rights, farmers’ unions and fisherfolk movements. These activists evolved in their understanding of rights based movements. They often lived with the communities they worked with. They identified with the people and though many were middle class, they tried to live simpler lives than their parents, than the backgrounds and privileged upbringing they had been born into. They were pleased to be branded activists and wore the badge with pride.

From the fifties and sixties, when Gandhians prevailed, we moved into the seventies where a sea change took place. Global thinking wafted across the world to India. The 1968 student movement in France, Latin American thinking, Marxist ideology – all these gained ground and influenced grass roots workers. The focus changed from the passive Gandhian way – the giving of food, clothes, free education and medicine to changing unjust situations at the base. ’Daan’ or mere giving was now passe.  Activists were trained to encourage people to ask who was cheating them and why? So if people were encroaching on adivasi or Dalit land, it was time to establish basic human rights; time to equip people to defend themselves, to fight injustice – non-violently, the Gandhian way, and the strategic way.

Soon, womens’ groups began to take action against dowry deaths and acid attacks, and took to the streets and courts to protest and demand justice. Dalit groups found lawyers willing to fight caste atrocity cases in court. Adivasis had activists urging them to defend their ancestral millennia old homelands from dominant caste landlords who shamelessly cheated them and usurped their lands. Environmentalists and eco-warriors hugged trees and stopped forests from being denuded. A huge green movement began. The protest movements grew from strength to strength.

In reality, these people are defending human rights and saving the Earth for future generations. When it comes to central India and defending tribal land from powerful mining companies, the battle assumes David versus Goliath proportions.

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are tiny pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn them and to enable vested interests to finish them off.

The frail 83-year-old has trumped up charges levelled against him. Yet he has a core of steel, an indomitable strength that comes with moral conviction and a commitment to truth and to the powerless. As they took him to prison, Stan Swamy announced he would begin a fast. His fellow Jesuits who rushed to the prison with his medicines, say he has refused even a sip of water.

I kept asking why, they would arrest this gentle, kind man. Father Cedric Prakash, who is also a Jesuit and activist, said in a TV interview, “It’s to create a fear psychosis. If they can imprison an 83-year-old who has spent his life committed to the poor, who is safe?”

Asianet phoned to interview my husband Stan. People cautioned him, “You will draw attention to yourself. It can boomerang and have repercussions on your work in the Nilgiris.”

On 17 October: https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/13484/jesuits-worldwide-protest-against-imprisonment-of-elderly-priest-

https://thewire.in/rights/the-indomitable-spirit-of-father-stan-swamy

https://scroll.in/latest/975476/project-to-silence-dissent-all-india-catholic-union-demands-activist-stan-swamys-

UN expresses deep concern over Egypt using special terror courts to silence human rights defenders

October 9, 2020

Cairo accused of ‘gravely endangering’ activists and infringing on their fundamental rights by imprisoning them during pandemic

Egypt has jailed more than 60,000 dissidents (AFP/File photo) By MEE staff

The Middle East Eye of 8 October 2020 reported that the UN Human Rights Council said in a statement on Friday that Cairo was treating free speech as terrorism.

“Terrorism charges and exceptional courts are being used to target legitimate human rights activities, and have a profound chilling effect on civil society as a whole,” according to 10 international specialists, including the UN rapporteurs on counter-terrorism and extrajudicial killings.

The use of terrorism courts to target and harass civil society is inconsistent with the rule of law.

The statement came days after Egypt executed 15 political prisoners who had been in detention since 2014.

The UN experts slammed the terrorism courts, saying that they undermine defendants’ basic legal rights, including the presumption of innocence. The special courts were created in 2013 after a Sisi-led coup overthrew the elected government of then-president Mohamed Morsi.

Defendants do not enjoy the right to confer safely and confidentially with their lawyer,” said the experts. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/25/rafto-prize-for-2020-goes-to-the-egyptian-commission-for-rights-and-freedoms-ecrf/

“In addition, when the accused are put on trial from behind glass or inside metal cages, sometimes cut off from proceedings at the discretion of the presiding judge, they cannot effectively use their right to be present at their own trial.”

Egypt has embarked on a brutal crackdown on dissent since 2013, jailing more than 60,000 activists and imposing strict censorship measures on public discourse.

Sisi has consistently denied that there are political prisoners in Egypt, framing the crackdown as part of the fight against terrorism. After coming to power, he outlawed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and blacklisted it as a terror group.

On Thursday, the UN advocates cited the case of Bahey El-Din Hassan, director and co-founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, who was sentenced to 15 years in absentia in August over his criticism of the government. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/egypt-15-year-term-for-human-rights-defender-bahey-el-din-hassan/

“It is an act of reprisal, seemingly punishing [him] for his cooperation with the United Nations,” the statement said. 

“The exercise of free speech and human rights work are being treated as terrorism, and it appears that the Terrorism Circuit Court is being used to retaliate against human rights activity protected by international law.”

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https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-terrorism-courts-jail-activists-un-experts