Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Belarus’ opposition movement wins EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

October 22, 2020

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is welcomed by supporters, during a rally, by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is welcomed by supporters, during a rally, by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.   –   Copyright  Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP

The European Parliament (EP) has chosen Belarus’ opposition movement as the winners of this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. EP President David Sassoli recognised an “initiative of brave women” in his speech including opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, musician and political activist Maryia Kalesnikava, and political activists Volha Kavalkova and Veranika Tsapkala.

He also gave honourable mentions to political and civil society figures and the founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA, Stsiapan Putsila, among others.

They “embody the defence of freedom of thought” that the prize represents, he added. For more on this and similar awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449

The ongoing political demonstrations in Belarus against the government and Alexander Lukashenko were sparked in the wake of the country’s presidential election in August.

The prize will be awarded in a ceremony at the European Parliament on 16 December.

This year’s finalists see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/21/three-nominees-for-european-parliaments-sakharov-prize-announced/

https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/22/belarus-democratic-opposition-wins-2020-sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/eu-awards-human-rights-prize-to-belarus-opposition/2020/10/22/30161d04-1451-11eb-a258-614acf2b906d_story.html

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

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

Two more defenders killed in Honduras

October 16, 2020

Arnold Joaquín Morazan was shot dead in his home in Guapinol, a small low-income community on Honduras’s north coast, earlier this week in what is being reported as a murder by local media.

Morazán Erazo belonged to the Guapinol environmental group, whose imprisoned activists were recently shortlisted for the EU’s Sakharov Prizefor freedom of thought. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/guapinol-activists/]

On 27 September 2020, in the central Honduran city of Comayagua, two unidentified individuals on a motorcycle shot Almendares, a local freelance journalist, three times and then fled the scene; bystanders brought the journalist to a local hospital, and he was then transferred to the Escuela Universitario hospital in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where he died yesterday morning, according to news reports and a report by Honduran free expression organization C-Libre.

“Honduran authorities must do everything in their power to conduct a credible investigation into the killing of journalist Luis Alonzo Almendares, determine whether it was related to his work, and prosecute those responsible,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Violence against journalists is happening with terrifying frequency in Honduras, and impunity prevails in almost all cases. The government must act urgently to show that the killers of journalists will be held to account.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/22/honduran-defender-iris-argentina-alvarez-killed-by-private-security-guards/

https://euobserver.com/foreign/149771

Trump’s human rights diplomacy: Estrangement over Engagement.

October 15, 2020

Ryan Kaminski and Grace Anderson wrote in Just Security of 14 October 2020 a scathing assessment of US human rights policy under Trump, Here some large extracts, but it is worth reading in full:

At the launch of the first virtual session of the United Nations General Assembly last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought center stage to question one of the most historic documents put forward by the U.N. shortly after its inception: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pompeo presented the findings of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights via videotape during a U.N. event that took place the same week [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]

Although jarring, the Commission’s conclusions should have come as no surprise: They are simply the culmination of the Trump administration’s downward trajectory on protecting human rights and engaging on these issues specifically at the U.N.

Just this month, for example, the U.S. microphone at the U.N. Human Rights Council was silent on the situation in Belarus, where massive protests have taken place against the country’s authoritarian leader. Nor did the United States take the floor when the Human Rights Council discussed combating global racism during an urgent debate requested by hundreds of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights advocates, as well as the family of George Floyd. Moreover, the Trump administration’s recent self “report card” on human rights in the United States, posted online by the U.N. in September, is the shortest ever submitted from the United States, and it is unnecessarily combative, and conspicuously cherry-picked.

The practice of the Trump administration turning its back on rights at the U.N. goes well beyond the Human Rights Council.

Last December, the administration torpedoed a U.N. Security Council session on human rights in North Korea for a second year in a row. Its actions broke with years of precedent in which U.S. ambassadors of varying political stripes lobbied Security Council members to debate Pyongyang’s atrocious rights record. In 2019, the United States effectively kneecapped its own effort, despite having support from key allies and partners on the Security Council to move forward.

Recent budgetary moves by the Trump administration are another example of this worrying trend. In September, the State Department again served notice that it would be flouting the will of Congress by “reprogramming” $28 million for the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Over the past three years, the Trump administration has unilaterally withheld nearly $60 million in assessed contributions to OHCHR, an especially disdainful action given the bipartisan congressional support for the office.

Another area of concern is the Trump administration’s absentee track record of filling openings on U.N. human rights treaty bodies. These treaty bodies are official assemblies of international rights experts tasked with holding governments accountable for implementing the human rights accords they have ratified. They are effectively incubators and accelerators for the maintenance of international law and norms central to fundamental freedoms and human dignity. Yet, in a break with precedent from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, Trump has not even nominated a candidate to sit on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The absence of American presence on the Committee, as well as other unsung, yet influential, bodies, represents a sorely missed opportunity.

The Committee, for example, works to ensure compliance among its 182 State parties and has taken decisive action on issues at the heart of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy priorities, such as grilling China on atrocities committed against ethnic Uyghurs in its territory….

Worse than stonewalling special procedures and limiting visits, Trump administration officials have in certain cases even gone on the offensive against these U.N. watchdogs. After an official U.S. visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, originally authorized by the Obama administration, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley claimed the expert’s findings were inaccurate, offensive and wasteful. This was a missed opportunity for the United States to constructively address scrutiny of its rights record like any other advanced democracy; instead the administration reflexively attacked an independent rights watchdog.

Constructive U.S. engagement with U.N. special procedures helps set a positive example and bolsters U.S. credibility, especially when the United States calls on regimes violating rights to not hide from these exact same investigations. This year, for instance, Pompeo called out Cuba, via Twitter, for not responding to communications from the U.N. special rapporteurs on combating trafficking and modern slavery.

The picture is not entirely gloomy, however.

One potential bright spot for the Trump administration’s human rights engagement at the U.N. is the State Department’s prioritization of U.N. Human Rights Council reform…butt reform is a function of engagement, not withdrawal. Thus, the administration’s 2018 decision to give up its seat on the Human Rights Council has proven ineffective, unsurprisingly, in accomplishing meaningful reform. In fact, research from the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights found active U.S. membership on the Human Rights Council was a “game-changer,” resulting in a significant drop in anti-Israel resolutions and “scrutiny of many of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

Conversely, the U.S. absence from the Council, together with attempts to strong-arm U.N. institutions through funding cuts, has abetted China’s growing assertiveness in the U.N. system. Even the Heritage Foundation has acknowledged the “concerning” trend of China’s upward trajectory in the U.N. system.

The Trump administration also acknowledged this new reality when the State Department established an unusual new envoy posting charged with countering Chinese influence at the U.N. and other international organizations. But this move falls well short of the United States adopting an overarching strategic policy on China’s growing U.N. influence. This month, the Trump administration awkwardly tweeted support for action by the U.N. Human Rights Council on China, all the while warming the bench in its ongoing boycott.

Overall, sustained pushback against human rights work at the U.N. by the United States has become yet another cornerstone of the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine. As Pompeo stated unequivocally at the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights: “Many [human rights] are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Critics of the Commission are right to be concerned. Whether leaving critical human rights positions unfilled, undercutting U.N. human rights bodies by withholding funds, or attacking U.N. independent rights advocates, Eleanor Roosevelt’s warning more than 60 years ago is more salient than ever: “Without concerted citizen action to uphold [universal human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

—-

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/kenneth-roth-speaks-plainly-on-international-human-rights-china-a-violator-and-us-unprincipled/

Book Launch 20 October: A Practical Anatomy of the Human Rights Council

October 10, 2020

Book Launch: A Practical Anatomy of the Human Rights Council
authored by one of the persons who knows best this institution: Eric Tistounet, Chief of the #HRC Branch at #OHCHR.
This book is the outcome of a six-month #researchfellowship at the Geneva Academy.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 12:30 PM UTC+02
Online and at Villa Moynier (120B Rue de Lausanne, Geneva)

Human Rights First to Present Saudi Organization ALQST with William D. Zabel Human Rights Award

October 7, 2020

On 6 october 2020 Human Rights First announced that it will present Saudi human rights organization ALQST with its annual William D. Zabel Human Rights Award, in recognition of its unwavering commitment to human rights in Saudi Arabia and around the world. For more on this award, which was renamed in 2018: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/984CA015-FE02-4992-8AED-4EB1AEC7D0EE

Human Rights First has tremendous respect and admiration for the work of ALQST for Human Rights and its founder, Yahya Assiri,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “Their work documenting human rights violations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the face of escalating pressure on human rights defenders couldn’t be more important, especially in an environment where information on these abuses is difficult to come by. In the present climate, where Saudi leaders can kill their critics with impunity, the work of Yahya Assiri and ALQST is critical.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/28/3-saudi-women-human-rights-defenders-released-but-for-how-long-and-what-about-the-others/]

ALQST is one of the most active and trusted organizations that consistently monitors and documents human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, where escalating repression in recent years has decimated civil society and criminalized human rights activists. Through its extensive network of local sources, ALQST has unparalleled access to developments on the ground. Its analysis and reports are relied upon by international NGOs, media outlets and others amplifying the voices of Saudi human rights defenders and their messages among the international community. In the run-up to this year’s G20 summit in November, due to be hosted by Saudi Arabia, ALQST has been at the forefront of calls for governments and businesses not to turn a blind eye to the Saudi authorities’ egregious rights violations.

This award sends a message that all the heroes who have courageously defended human rights in the country, for which they have often paid the highest price, have not been forgotten. We take this occasion to reiterate our call for their immediate and unconditional release.”aid ALQST founder Yahya Assiri. [see also: /https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/yahya-assiri/]

The award is typically presented to recipients at an in-person award dinner and ceremony in New York. However, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights First will instead host a virtual event on October 21 to honor ALQST. The event will showcase ALQST’s work and feature an interview between Mr. Assiri and CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-present-saudi-organization-alqst-prestigious-william-d-zabel-human

Interview with Sarah Bireete, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance Uganda

October 3, 2020

The Business and human rights resource Centre on 18 august 2020 published an interview with Sarah Bireete, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), Uganda

Sarah Bireete – Personal Archive

Sarah Bireete is an energetic human rights defender from Uganda, who is currently busy setting up a working group on civic space research in the country, while also running the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog. We sat down with her to explore her views on trust between business and civil society, and how multinational companies should respond to a growingly heavy-handed response to protests in the country.

Hi Sarah! Please tell us about you and your work!

I am a lawyer, a Human rights activist, and the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog in Uganda. I also have my own social media channel, Good Morning Uganda, followed by over 20000 followers.

How are businesses in Uganda affecting civic space and human rights in general? Are they cooperating well with civil society or is there something that could be improved?

The first thing is that international companies should observe the laws of the country in which they operate and the international law and best practice. But the practice is that most international companies that come from democratic countries, where they respect people’s rights, when they come to Uganda they tend to be blind to people’s rights, especially labour rights, people’s protection, especially in risky sectors like the flower farms. We have had experiences in the country where women worked with no protection against the pesticides, and they experienced health hazards, which made them unable to fend for families.

One of the most shocking experiences was from the flower sector, where one of the embassies was protecting an irresponsible investor from their country against the labour rights of local people. It was really amazing that ambassador called the HRD directly, and threatened them to keep quiet about labour rights of ordinary women working on flower farms.

Enno Schröder Flower farm around Kampala, Uganda

In the oil sector as well, most multinational companies are ignoring the basic human rights, the right to property, clean environment, fair and prompt compensation. Civil society believes that most of them are not helpful as they are not upholding practices that are respected in their own countries and are not following best practices established by international processes, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. We are struggling with this, because we expect multinational companies to come in with an upper hand, and improve practice in oil governance in the country. What we expect is a partnership with developed countries, in line with international protocols governing diplomacy, and with companies based in this countries – this would help us improve the welfare of the people in the least developed countries. We don’t expect big companies to come in and negatively affect people and shrink space for civil society.

Is there trust between multinational companies and civil society in Uganda? Can multinational companies help civil society protect and expand civic space in some way?

Trust between civil society and multinationals gets eroded when we see them coming in to exploit the most vulnerable of our people.

Multinational companies come into the country and give work to mainly low wage workers – they have limited knowledge, they are vulnerable, they need to make a living for their families – and then they get exploited by people that we would expect would have higher protection standards. This erodes people’s trust because it appears as though they are just trying to exploit the situation, instead of trying to improve the welfare of society they’re coming into. But in the context of the business and human rights approach, we as civil society need to work a lot with these companies to show them that they shouldn’t lower standards – they should maintain the same standards as in their countries of origin.

Multinational companies should also work with civil society actors to help us push back against the government if it is shrinking civic space and to push the government to help improve the welfare of the people, as they make profit.

We have seen more attacks on journalists and opposition figures in Uganda in the past year, and more heavy-handed response to protests – how should have the business community reacted?

When there is unrest in the country, the companies will not be able to do their business they came to do. When people are not happy and are agitated, they will not deliver at their place of work. So these businesses need to come into the country, and make human rights a condition for them doing business in a country: that would ensure human rights are observed. In their conversations, they should tell the government that if they continue to violate human rights, they might suspend business there.

We expect multinationals to say to government ‘these are not the standards we expect to work in. They cannot make profit when country is not governable, so they should help improve the situation and tell government that they cannot violate human rights because it will make situation worse for everyone.

North Korean defectors irked by repeated investigations in South Korea

October 1, 2020

Hanawon. Korea Times file
Hanawon. Korea Times file

On 1 October 2020 Kang Seung-woo for the Korean Times reveals a pattern of harassment of North Korean defectors in South Korea: “North Korean defectors irked by repeated human rights investigations

It seems that North Korean defectors are plagued by repeated questioning by South Korean organizations into human rights conditions in their former country. When those who defect from the totalitarian state arrive in South Korea, they have to face three rounds of interrogation, being forced to answer almost identical questions repeatedly and suffering emotional distress in the process. The three interrogations are made by the unification ministry’s Center for North Korean Human Rights Records, the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul. In fact, until last year, there were four institutes investigating into the human rights situation in the North (by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), a non-governmental organization).

According to the unification ministry, the number of North Korean defectors coming into the South recorded an all-time low in the second quarter this year, at 12, due to the North’s tightened border control amid the coronavirus pandemic. The government is also aware of the difficulty that the defectors face. “It is no doubt that North Korean defectors are forced to repeat stories of their past bitter memories of human rights violations,” a ministry official said.

In order to prevent suffering from repeated questioning, the government this year reduced the number of defectors undergoing these interviews by 30 percent compared to previous years, although it did not disclose exactly how many people are subject to the interrogations. In addition, the government canceled its contract with the NKDB, which refused to accept the reduction in the number of research subjects.

However, some claim that the government should come up with more reliable and detailed investigation results.  See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/08/un-archive-on-north-korean-human-rights-violations-to-be-established-in-geneva/

Human rights defender’s profile: Leon Dulce from the Philippines

September 30, 2020

human rights defender

On 24 September.2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published the human rights defender’s story of Leon Dulce from the Philippines. Leon Dulce is the National Coordinator for Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, an organisation that prevents environmental exploitation and protects marginalised communities from harm caused such exploitation. Working closely with different networks and alliances, his responsibilities include legislative advocacy, undertaking fact-finding investigations, facilitating grassroots dialogues, and engaging with government agencies.

Hi Leon, tell us about yourself and how you decided to defend human rights

I am Leon Dulce, a 31 year-old environmental defender from the Philippines.  Choosing the path less travelled in protecting our right to a balanced and healthful ecology was a confluence of factors throughout my life, from the formative influence of my parents, both development workers, to my exposure to student activism in the University of the Philippines.  The life-changing decision to be a full-time activist came in 2011 when I decided to join the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) to be one of its youth organisers. I haven’t turned back ever since.

How does defending rights affect your personal life?

Being an environmental defender has shaped my worldview to live with simplicity, to tap your inner humanity, to be conscientious of your work knowing the lives of people and our planet itself are at stake. I echo the words of Albert Einstein, “Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.”

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At the 2017 International Human Rights Day protest mobilisations in the Philippines. Photo credit to Kalikasan PNE

What continues to inspire you to defend human rights?

We continue to be inspired by the living, breathing victories of people power in working towards a better world. We have seen that it is possible for corporations to be shuttered down and made to pay reparations, murderous generals put in jail, and fascist dictators to be toppled and held to account, all at the hands of people power.

Businesses should realise that the whole of society benefits from a premium investment in due diligence for our rights, environment, and climate. When nobody is left behind, everyone is on board to push through with building the cogs and wheels of society.

There are no shortcuts, especially with multiple conflicting interests over natural resource-rich environments where the powerful can easily override the marginalised.

Are you encountering any threat because of your work, and if so, what could be done at national / international level to help you work in safer conditions?

We have been repeatedly tagged as enemies of the State in a worsening crackdown on human rights defenders by the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. Our office has been constantly harassed and almost raided by the police last year. Our members on the ground have been murdered in the dead of the night.

We hope the international community joins us in urging the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines. We hope the inquiry would lead to greater action from UN experts and member States to hold the Duterte regime to account.

What is your hope for the future? 

I hope to live in that better world, a just and humane society in harmony with nature and climate, before I come to the end of my days.

What was the human rights problem you were addressing? 

We are campaigning with local indigenous Tuwali communities to close down the 10,266-hectare Didipio gold-copper mine of Australian-Canadian corporation Oceanagold. This mining project has figured in a long history of civil-political and socio-economic rights violations against the indigenous communities in the remote mountain villages of Kasibu Municipality since it acquired a contract over the mineralised lands it currently operates on in Nueva Vizcaya province in 2006.

Why did you decide to choose this UN mechanism to help you solve it? 

We decided to engage with the UN Special Procedures hoping that a communication from UN Special Rapporteurs would pressure the Duterte government to take action, even in spite of its bristling stance against the UN.

If the Special Rapporteurs respond with a country visit, whether formal or academic, it would create high-profile attention for the Tuwali people’s struggles against Oceanagold. It would be a show of solidarity that would raise the morale of the defenders on the ground.

What happened at the UN?

On 13 February 2019, a total of nine Special Procedures mandate holders sent a joint communications letter to the Duterte government echoing the human rights concerns we raised.

Later, on 30 April 2020, Special Rapporteurs would cite this communication once again in urging the Duterte government to respect indigenous people’s rights in response to an earlier violent dispersal of the Tuwali protester’s ongoing barricade against the mine.

What was the impact on the ground? 

We believe the intervention from the UN experts is a significant factor in making the Duterte government think twice from railroading then the impending renewal of Oceanagold’s contract agreement.

The UN Communication helped create the momentum that led to the provincial government’s issuance of a restraining order against the Oceanagold mine, and the community organisations’ launching of a people’s barricade enforcing this restraint through direct action.

Do you have any tips for other defenders using this mechanism? 

Crucial to our success in engaging the UN Special Procedures is in how we strategically located it within an interplay of various advocacy tactics. The UN intervention fed into the direct action of organised communities of defenders, and helped galvanise a broad support network from churches, local governments, and civil society.

The intervention was also leveraged in a communications and lobbying strategy that exposed the national government’s collaborationism with irresponsible big businesses, discouraged their usual ‘rubber-stamping’ for these mining corporations, and deterred full-on reprisals against the defenders.