Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Father SHAY CULLEN on the need to protect human rights defenders

April 7, 2021

Pope Francis supports human rights defenders

On 26 March, 2021 catholicprofiles.com gave the floor to Father Shay Cullen, a well respected human rights laureate [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/95256CE6-CDE8-DC2A-76AF-28026D673652]:

.. Prayer is a public way for a Pope to make a social and political statement of great importance.

We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis,” he said.  Pope Francis is very aware of the struggle and needs of these dedicated human rights activists fighting for justice and peace and the human dignity. Those standing for racial equality in the “Black Lives Matter” campaign and those fighting for women and children’s rights in the “Me Too Movement.”

He addressed all people – Christians, non-Christians, people of all religious beliefs or those with none at all – who have dedicated their lives serving humanity and giving unselfish service without seeking reward. They need and deserve our support when we can’t help the victims of abuse directly. They do the vital work for us defending victims of rights violations and courageously give their lives doing it. In the Philippines, 318 human rights workers and activists were killed between July 2016 and June 2020. As many as 110 lawyers were killed from 1972 to the present. Sixty-one of those killings have taken place since 2016. Also, 86 journalists and reporters have been killed since 1992.

They are accepting serious risks defending victims of abuse and violations of their human dignity and rights. The suffer hardship and abuse, rejection and imprisonment and death because of their work for human rights in supporting the downtrodden and abused victims. They are survivors themselves. They have that most fundamental love of others to uphold the dignity and rights of every human being…..

Many others have escaped to try and reach Europe in search of a new life. Pope Francis has prayed and appealed for European countries to open their borders to welcome the war refugees. Germany and some nations did. Canada has received thousands of refugees and many from Syria in recent years. However, the anti-asylum people and Neo-Nazis of Europe rose up and opposed any welcome and right-wing political parties grew to stop it and largely succeeded. Some Catholic countries slammed shut their doors with dark compassionless hearts and built fences to keep out the refugees, thousands of them homeless children. Too bad if Jesus of Nazareth and his parents were arrested at the Egyptian border and deported them to the cruel baby-killer King Herod for a death penalty, there would have been no Christianity.

Under international law, a person fleeing persecution seeking asylum has a right to reach the country of destination and choice by any means available to ask for protection, shelter and asylum. Many hard-hearted people see them as parasites, pests and vermin to be rejected. The newly proposed UK asylum law is suggesting to do just that by declaring asylum seekers who reach the UK as “illegals.”

There can be no “illegal” entry to a country by an asylum seeker. Many Germans escaping East Germany seeking asylum in the West during the Cold War would have to be declared illegal entry and returned to the communist East if such crossing the border seeking asylum was said to be illegal. Such escapes were cheered and encouraged. The proposed law by the UK wants to make illegal what under international law is right and legal and just. To deport an asylum seeker without due process and evaluation would be a violation of that refugee’s human rights, according to some UK human rights lawyers.   

More dictators and populist autocratic leaders have emerged in recent decades. Pope Francis’s prayer is badly needed in Myanmar as the people have shown courage and bravery in facing down the military that staged a coup six weeks ago. The defiance and resilience of the people and youth is inspiring and as many as 260 have been killed by the military, thousands more arrested and detained.

The cries and voices of the oppressed and imprisoned Uyghurs are being heard and supported by the human rights campaigners. They will be encouraged by the prayer and support of Pope Francis, a world-renowned voice for the voiceless and oppressed people. Many are calling for an end to what they call a genocide. Millions of Uyghurs are allegedly imprisoned in re-education camps by the communist regime and women forcibly sterilized, raped and killed, according to escaped witnesses interviewed on world media.

In every country where tyrants and dictators arbitrarily arrest and imprison their own people and kill them with impunity, the voice of protest denouncing the evil deeds can be heard. We are all challenged to join the prayer of Pope Francis and thousands of human rights defenders to campaign on social media and sign petitions in their support. If ever the tyrant’s goons come for us, may we have human rights defenders at our side.

https://www.catholicprofiles.org/post/pope-francis-supports-human-rights-defenders

David William McBride Is Nominated for Four International Human Rights Awards

April 6, 2021

This blog has a special interest in human rights awards and their laureates (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/02/digest-of-laureates-ready-this-blog-changes-orientation/)

Still, it is rare to see an item that so openly advances a candidate as in Newsfile Corp. of April 1, 2021. It states that recently, David William McBride was nominated for four international human rights awards: 2021 Distinguished Services to Humanism Award, 2021 FrontLine Defenders Award, 2021 Sydney Peace Prize, and 2021 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. These four awards have all made outstanding contributions to the development of international human rights and have a good reputation and recognition.

For the “FrontLine Defenders Award”, the “Sydney Peace Prize” and the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize (Council of Europe), see the Digest: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

From 2014 to 2016, McBride successively provided the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with information about the war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and reported the details in 2017. The following year, he was charged with five crimes related to national security, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. He was not guilty of every charge at the preliminary hearing in May 2019 and is still awaiting trial. In the same year, the “Brereton report” was released. The report found that the Australian Special Forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, and 2 of them were even tortured and killed. Severe condemnation of the incident was issued around the world. After the fact verification was announced, the Australian people and politicians began to call for the revocation of the prosecution against McBride. Previously, McBride stated that my duty is to “stand up and be counted”, and I did it. What has happened from now on is irrelevant in many ways. I did what I thought was necessary. My main enemy is not the command system, or even the police, but myself. When the reporter asked what he thought of the upcoming charges, McBride said, “They keep threatening me to go to jail. If I am afraid of going to jail, why would I become a soldier?”

The winners of the four awards will be announced around April.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/david-william-mcbride-nominated-four-095700067.html

ISHR annual report 2021 covering 2020: HRDs are the “essential workers”

April 6, 2021

published its latest annual report, outlining key impacts during the last year and its vision for 2021 and the years ahead . They have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the “essential workers” of our times, ISHR strives for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.

What did we achieve in 2020?

Here are just a few examples of our collective impact: 

Mary Lawlor calls on Bahrain to release Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on 60th birthday

April 6, 2021

A placard reads "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike" during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

A placard reads “Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike” during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, made the case for the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, before his 60th birthday this week. in a video message posted to Twittery.

Khawaja, who previously served as president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. “He’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others,” Lawlor said.  

He’s been given an unfair trial and details of his torture have been corroborated by an independent commission of inquiry.”  Lawlor said she had known Khawaja “for many years” and “witnessed his committed work for human rights in the Middle East”

The UN expert also noted that Khawaja’s case had been taken up by the European Union, the United Nations and other international organisations.

I urge the Bahraini government to finally release Abdulhadi in time for his 60th birthday on the 5th of April. His family have been fragmented and dislocated and have suffered greatly over the past ten years; it would be an honourable and compassionate act to allow them to reunite,” Lawlor concluded. 

Khawaja’s was one of the first high-profile arrests following the beginning of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that sparked a widespread government crackdown in Bahrain. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/09/12/bahrain-travails-of-a-family-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/un-expert-calls-bahrain-release-human-rights-defender-abdulhadi-alkhawaja

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/5023-bahraini-human-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja-turns-60-on-his-10th-anniversary-in-prison

Human rights lawyer Christof Heyns dies unexpectedly: tributes pour in

March 30, 2021

On 28 March 2021, respected human rights lawyer Professor Christof Heyns passed away, unexpectedly, aged 62.  

Most recently, Professor Heyns was the was the Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, and had also served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/dfa7df54-3cb2-465c-9655-d139b5486591.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/christof-heyns-discusses-new-un-comment-on-right-of-peaceful-assembly/

His friends and colleagues pay tribute to a giant of global human rights: 

The Centre for Human Rights CHR, in its tribute, called him their “founding father, a trail-blazer, and a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. He was our dynamic initiator-in-chief. He played a pioneering role in positioning the Centre as a pan-African centre of excellence. Constantly brimming with new ideas and grand schemes, plans and projects, he propelled the Centre into new directions and challenged it to explore different dimensions.  “To Christof, if something could be conceived, it could be achieved.”

On Monday, the CHR created a memorial page on Facebook in his memory which, within hours, contained hundreds of entries from all over the world. The reactions registered on Facebook, on WhatsApp groups and emails speak volumes about how highly Heyns the man, the mentor, the “rock star” and the lawyer was regarded.

Arnold Tsunga, chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

“The sudden demise of Professor Christof Heyns is a real tragedy to us as a community of human rights activists in southern Africa. As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee his contribution to production of General Comment Number 37 on the right to peaceful assembly is invaluable at a time when we are experiencing democratic regression and authoritarian consolidation globally. He is irreplaceable and shall be sorely missed. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Raenette Taljaard, former politician and independent analyst

“Prof Christof Heyns was one of South Africa and the world’s great thought leaders and moral authorities on human rights. Beyond his contribution to academia, his work as a UN Special Rapporteur stands as a towering tribute to the right to life in a world where algorithms and lethal autonomous weapons can make life and death decisions that are core to who we are as humanity. His work will live on in the many principled human rights fighters and public intellectuals that have had the privilege to encounter him and to be mentored by him. He will be greatly missed.”

Jason Brickhill, human rights lawyer and former director of the Constitutional Litigation Unit at the Legal Resources Centre 

“So very shocked and sad to hear that Christof Heyns has passed on. Such a gentle, wise and self-deprecating soul. I was lucky to be taught by him (about the African regional human rights system) and he supervised my master’s dissertation just over a decade ago.  “He did so much to advance human rights in very real, meaningful ways, especially with his work on the African regional system (he was a true pan-Africanist!) and on the right to life at the UN.  “He shared with me and other classmates his ‘struggle approach’ to human rights, which is still the foundation for how I think about the law’s role in the world. We will remember you, Christof, and carry with us the ideas that you shared.”

Faranaaz Veriava, head of the Basic Education Rights programme at SECTION27

“Around 1995 I was young and green in my first job, working in the Idasa Pretoria office. Ivor Jenkins, our director, talked me into meeting with a Moroccan delegation visiting the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria to discuss human rights law. Prof Christof Heyns hosted the delegation. I was probably terrible in that meeting but Prof Heyns was warm and encouraging and I became very interested in the work of the Centre. The next year I registered in the LLM programme at the centre which was a pioneering programme at the time for students all over Africa interested in human rights law. Later I would teach annually in that same programme. Much later, complete my doctorate through the UP law school and then teach at the law school myself. If Ivor Jenkins had not thrown me in at the deep end that day, I wonder if I would have any history with UP – a historically Afrikaans university – and that is now such a positive part of my life. RIP Prof Heyns, a warm and inspiring man and pioneer in human rights law.”

Alice Brown, former resident coordinator, Ford Foundation

“What sad news. I met Christof in the late 1980s through my work with the Ford Foundation. Christof was an innovative human rights academic who was a trailblazer for a number of important rights-focused training programs. In addition, in all my interactions with him over the years, I found him to be a very decent human being.”

Thuli Madonsela, former Public Protector, current law trust chair in social justice, University of Stellenbosch

“What a sad occasion. He was such a mensch, resolutely devoted to developing leaders to advance democracy and human rights in this continent. “The news of the passing of Christof Heyns hit me like a ton of bricks. I have known Christof for all my grown-up life.  “A quintessential professional, Christoff invested a lot in developing leaders that are anchored in a sound knowledge and values system regarding human rights and democracy. He was passionate about the African continent and building scholarship in the continent on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  “The country, the continent and the entire world is poorer because of Christof Heyns’ untimely passing, yet richer because of the legacy he leaves behind. It is said leaders do not die, they multiply. Christof leaves pieces of himself among the many scholars he nurtured and policymakers he touched. May his great soul Rest In Peace.” Christof Heyns and the Outlaws — the rock and roll band of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria. Formed in 2007, they always played at the annual Faculty Festival. (Photo: Yolanda Booyzen)

Bongani Majola, Chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission

“We deeply mourn the untimely passing of Prof Christof Heyns, a giant in the promotion of human rights. Empowering young people has always been his passion. I first met him in the late 1980s/early 1990s when he and I ran a project that sought to open opportunities for final-year law students from the then historically black universities to find placements in commercial law firms. At the time, it was hard for many black law graduates to be admitted to articles of clerkship and even harder – almost impossible to get placed in commercial law firms. 

“Another empowerment project that Christof Heyns employed significantly to empower the youth was the moot court competitions that he and his colleagues took beyond the borders of South Africa, the borders of SADC and beyond the boundaries of the African continent. Recently, he had taken the promotion of human rights to schools in the basic education environment, a project that he passed on to the South African Human Rights Commission once it had taken a firm hold among basic education schools. 

“He was a visionary who believed in investing in the youth in order to build a strong human rights culture. The country has lost a true human rights activist. He will be sorely missed.”

Edwin Cameron, former Constitutional Court judge

Really terribly shocked and saddened by Christof’s sudden death yesterday. He was a meticulous, conscientious, persistent, courageous fighter for justice and human rights.

Rose Hanzi, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

“Very very sad. Prof Heyns raised the African continent high with his contributions at the ACHPR [African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights] and UN.”

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International 

“So saddened to learn of the death of Prof Christof Heyns. Many of you may know him. He was my teacher and I suspect a few others on this group. What a dedicated Human Rights Activist he was. Beyond teaching, he will be remembered for drafting the General Comment on Freedom of Assembly … he was until his death after a heart attack while hiking a member of the HRC. MHSRIP”

Steven LB Jensen, Danish Institute for Human Rights

“Oh no, this is so sad and shocking news. I met him twice – first in Lund for a two-hour conversation just the two of us and again at the Danish Institute for a meeting on collaborations between our institutions. He was a wonderful person and so easy to engage with. He will be sorely missed by many all around the world.” DM/MC

From Amnesty International staff:

Dr. Agnès Callamard, the new Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Christof Heyns was a brilliant human rights lawyer and thinker, gentle person…He leaves behind such an extraordinary legacy.” 

Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said: “A mighty baobab has fallen! The untimely death of renowned human rights law expert, Professor Christof Heyns, is a devastating loss. In Africa the Baobab Tree is considered a symbol of power, longevity, presence, strength and grace. Professor Heyns was a baobab in the human rights world. A giant in his field, he fought hard for a just world. As Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, he was involved in a number of critical initiatives. His contributions included: Chair of the UN independent investigation on Burundi, leading on the drafting of UN human rights guidelines on peaceful assembly and the use of less lethal weapons. He also served as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Hamba Kahle Professor Heyns, Ke a Leboga, Enkosi, Ngiyabonga, Thank you for your service to humanity. You have left indelible footprints and we salute you!”

Sam Dubberley, Amnesty International’s Head of Crisis Evidence Lab, said: “Christof’s support for establishing a hub of Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria was unequivocal. He gave time, advice and space for this project to emerge, and welcomed the Amnesty team on every visit to Pretoria despite his always frantic schedule. Christof made everyone feel valued, and was a source of energy and sage advice. How he will be missed.” 

Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director of Amnesty International, said: “Words fail me to express the profound sense of loss with the sudden passing of Professor Heyns. Like many, I had the privilege of working with him and benefited much from his wisdom, mentorship and guidance. He was a rare breed, one of Africa’s great legal minds, a passionate human rights defender and a kind, passionate, humble person. He nurtured and cultivated a cadre of human rights experts and activists in Africa, including by transforming the human rights centre at the University of Pretoria into a world class institution that produced Africa’s leading human rights scholars and practitioners. His publications on various human rights issues in leading academic journals are testament to his brilliance, wisdom and dedication. He was a true pan-Africanist, as exemplified in his work to champion and strengthen the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. His passing is also a great loss to Amnesty International. As [recently] as last week we were working with Professor Heyns on the draft report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the use of force by law enforcement officials in Africa. We shall strive to ensure his last vision [is seen] to fruition. Rest in peace dear brother!”

Rasha Abdul-Rahim, Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “It was devastating to hear of the passing of Professor Heyns. All my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Not only was Christof a renowned human rights expert, he was fiercely justice-focused and an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. Christof wrote the seminal Human Rights Council report that put the human rights risks of autonomous weapons systems on the agenda. He was always extremely generous with his expertise and time. This is a huge loss for the human rights movement, and we will miss him deeply.” 

Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser on Amnesty International’s Law and Policy Programme, said: “I worked most closely with Professor Heyns on The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death in 2016. It’s a practical tool for human rights defenders and advocates around the world seeking accountability for unlawful killings; and it is now a small, but important, part of Christof’s vast legacy. As well as his importance as a brilliant legal mind, scholar and activist, I will remember Christof for actually embodying human rights values: being an incredibly warm, generous and considerate human being. His death is a tremendous loss for the human rights movement, and an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends.”

Simon Crowther, legal advisor at Amnesty International, said: “Christof was a legal giant who approached his work with kindness, humility, humour and immense intelligence. He will be greatly missed.” 

Anja Bienert, Senior Programme Officer at Amnesty International Netherlands, said: “I first met Christof in 2013 and immediately felt connected to him: his sharp mind, the careful and perfectly articulated thoughts on the many pressing human rights issues, but more importantly, his warm and welcoming personality, with whom it was a pleasure to discuss. Since then, he was an ongoing source of inspiration to me and a great ally in the fight for greater protection of human rights. He constantly strove not just to write excellent publications, but to have a real impact for the respect of human rights across the world. We will miss him incredibly. It will be our mission to uphold his great legacy in the field of human rights.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/christof-heyns-tribute/

2021 Per Anger Prize to South African housing rights defender Zikode

March 30, 2021

S’bu Zikode, co-founder of Abahlali baseMjondolo movement speaking at the Poverty Scholars Program: Poverty Initiative Strategic Dialogue, November 13, 2010. Image by Michael Premo,  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Nwachukwu Egbunike reported on 29 March 2021 in Global Voices that Sibusiso Innocent Zikode – an advocate for homeless people in South Africa – has won the 2021 Per Anger Prize.

For more on the Per Anger Prize and its previous laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/1E4D13EA-630A-4935-A4EF-674A51561F86

Zidoke was the co-founder, 16 years ago of Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu phrase that roughly translates as “the people of the shacks”), a South African movement that has been working to resist “illegal evictions and campaign for the right to housing for all,” especially for shack dwellers. The movement grew from a protest organised from the Kennedy Road informal settlement in the eastern city of Durban in early 2005 and expanded to Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town.

Zikode has said that “a shack without water, electricity, and sanitation is not worth calling a home,” according to a press statement from the Living History Forum. “On the contrary, it means life-threatening circumstances that are particularly harsh towards women, children, and minority groups,” says Zikode.

The housing problem and the attendant lack of sanitation have exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic among the disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in South Africa.

South Africans are still divided along the lines of those with homes and the homeless, the shack dwellers. However, the 2004 “sequence of popular protest against local governments” across South Africa led to the emergence of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), “an autonomous shack dweller’s movement,” according to Richard Pithouse, scholar in political and international studies at the Rhodes University, South Africa. AbM “emerged from this grassroots ferment and has since issued a compelling demand for organisational autonomy, grassroots urban planning and the right to the city,” says Pithouse.

In May 2005, residents of six shack settlements and local municipal flats in Durban had organized a protest of over 5,000 people demanding access to land, adequate housing, toilet facilities, and the end of forced evictions.

Nigel C. Gibson, British activist and scholar states that the protesters “presented a memorandum of 10 demands that they had drawn up through a series of meetings and community discussions.” This led AbM, in early 2006, to “organize a boycott of the local government elections scheduled for March of that year,” says Gibson.

But AbM’s fight for the vulnerable did not go down well with many.

In September 2009, the AbM movement’s original home in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban was attacked by armed men, in full view of the police. The attackers were searching for Zikode, whom they threatened to kill.

The attacks which were reportedly carried out by “people associated with the local branch of the ANC” (African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party), left two people dead, many injured and 30 shacks destroyed.

In the aftermath, S’bu Zikode went into hiding, and the police arrested 13 AbM members.

Human rights group, Amnesty International described the attack as “apparently politically motivated violence.”

Nonetheless, violence directed at AbM has neither deterred its leaders nor the movement. Rather, they have strengthened their resolve to continue fighting for the rights of vulnerable South African shack dwellers to live a dignified life.

https://globalvoices.org/2021/03/29/south-african-shack-settlement-activist-wins-the-2021-per-anger-prize/

https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/durban-shack-dwellers-activist-sbu-zikode-awarded-international-prize-for-human-rights-be0e48e6-c665-4746-90b9-20ae56687816

https://www.groundup.org.za/article/swedish-award-offers-some-protection-says-activist-living-in-the-shadow-of-death/

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

Belarus: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders!

March 22, 2021

On 18 March, 2021 a Joint NGO Statement on Belarus was published: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders:

The Belarusian authorities are conducting a targeted campaign of intimidation against civil society in an effort to silence all critics of the government. Following the disputed presidential election on 9 August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest the announced result. Peaceful protests continue and reprisals against protesters continue too, with frightening regularity and increasing severity. Riot police have used unlawful force, detaining thousands of people. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread. Over 33,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations or voicing their dissent and an increasing number are being prosecuted under trumped up criminal charges and handed prison sentences. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d]

Human rights defenders have played an invaluable role in documenting these violations, providing legal assistance, and advising people of their rights. The Belarusian authorities are now escalating pressure on human rights defenders by imposing unfounded criminal charges, opening bogus criminal investigations, and conducting raids and searches in retaliation for these defenders’ legitimate human rights work. Some are in pre-trial detention or under house arrest and there are allegations they have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities have compelled lawyers for most of these activists to sign non-disclosure agreements that bar them from sharing any information about the investigation.

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

In January 2021, authorities targeted the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, and its director, Syarhei Drazdouski, and lawyer, Aleh Hrableuski, are now under house arrest and in pretrial detention, respectively. The Office is a well-respected NGO that has been supporting people with disabilities by offering them legal advice and advocating for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus visited the office and the homes of Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski simultaneously (allegedly to inspect the scene of the crime). They removed computers, phones, and some documents. They also took statements from both men.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department published a message on its official website launching a process of verification into the activities of the members of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a part of an investigation into “possible inappropriate acquisition of funds received in the form of charitable contributions and international support in the period from 2020 to the present for the purpose of providing assistance to Belarusian citizens with disabilities”.

Siarhei Drazdouski commented in a Facebook post on 3 February:

“Allegedly we were financially supporting people accused of taking part in protest actions. In fact, we advised several victims [of human rights violations] – both people with disabilities and without – to seek help from lawyers.”

Allegations of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

On 2 February 2021, Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski were questioned for seven hours at the Financial Investigations Department. Their lawyers were not allowed to accompany them, and they were subjected to ill-treatment.

According to Syarhei Drazdouski, the interrogators, who did not introduce themselves, openly called him a “criminal, a fraudster, a liar and an accomplice.” While the interrogation was mostly conducted politely, several times other staff members came in and insulted and aggressively swore at him.

Aleh Hrableuski reported that, when he continued to refuse to give them the information they demanded, he was restrained, forcibly stripped naked and made to sit naked on a chair and not raise his eyes. Investigators eventually released him.

On 3 February 2021, both men were taken for questioning again, but this time Hrableuski was remanded in custody and Drazdouski was put under house arrest. Their lawyers were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, as is increasingly the practice in Belarus, and very little information is available about the charges against them.

Viasna

On 16 February 2021, the Belarusian authorities carried out raids simultaneously throughout the country on the homes of staff and offices of Human Rights Centre Viasna, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the independent trade union REP. The raids were carried out in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk, and Brest as part of unfounded criminal proceedings under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order), which the authorities have launched to target civil society activists, journalists, and human rights monitors. According to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the investigation is aimed at “establishing the circumstances of the financing of protest activities”. (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/24/fake-letter-tries-to-discredit-viasna-in-belarus/]

Dzmitry Salauyou, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was among those whose homes were searched on 16 February. Special forces and officers from the Department for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption, a police unit also involved in the harassment of protesters, broke down the door to his flat to enter and carry out the search. They confiscated computers and telephones and demanded that his wife tell them the password for her mobile phone. They threatened that if she did not comply, she would go to prison, and their 13-year-old child would be put in state custody. Dzmitry Salauyou was detained and alleges that he was beaten by special forces in the mini-bus on the way to the pretrial detention centre. Subsequent medical reports documented head trauma consistent with being hit on the head, increased intracranial pressure, and suspected damage to cervical vertebrae.

On 18 February, he was sentenced to 12 days’ detention on administrative charges for holding an “illegal picket.” The conviction was based solely on the fact that the building in which Dzmitry Salauyou lives has a concrete frieze depicting Belarus’ historical coat of arms, Pahonia, which has been adopted as one of the symbols of the protest movement. According to the judge, the Pahonia is considered a symbol of protest and could be considered evidence of “staging a one-person picket”. Dzmitry Salauyou told the court that the frieze had been installed when the house was built about eight years ago.

On 1 March, the day following his release, Dzmitry Salauyou was detained at Minsk airport as he was trying to leave the country with his family. The Investigative Committee interrogated him at their offices as a suspect in a criminal case under Article 342(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training or other preparation of individuals to take part in group actions that gravely violate public order’), which carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. He was released but is under travel restrictions. Both Dzmitry Salauyou and his lawyer were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Other Members of Viasna Accused of Criminal Offences

Marfa Rabkova, the youth coordinator of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was arrested on 17 September 2020, and has been in pretrial detention ever since. On 25 September, she was charged under Article 293(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training and other preparation of people for participation in mass riots’), which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. On 11 February 2021, she was also charged under Article 130(3) of the Criminal Code, (‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord committed by a group’), and under Article 285 (2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’) which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment.

Andrei Chepyuk, a volunteer for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Minsk, was detained on 2 October 2020 and on 9 October he was charged under Article 293(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (participation in mass disorder). On 28 January 2021, it became known that he is also charged under Article 285(2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’). He is being held in pretrial detention centre No.1 in Minsk.

Tatsyana Lasitsa, an activist who volunteers for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Homel, was detained on 21 January. She had assisted with the legal defense of people detained and fined for their participation in protests. She has been charged under Article 342 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘organization or participation in group actions that gravely violate public order’). She is being held in the pretrial detention centre in Homel.

Leanid Sudalenka, the director of the Homel branch of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was detained on his way to the office on 18 January 2021. He has been charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (‘organizing and preparing actions that gravely violate public order or active participation in such actions’). Sudalenka had provided legal assistance to dozens of Homel region residents who were detained and charged for their participation in post-election protests. He is being held in pretrial detention in Homel. In 2019 he was awarded two prizes for his human rights work over 20 years, the French prize Freedom Equality and Brotherhood, and a National Belarusian Prize as Human Rights Defender of the Year.

We call on the Belarusian authorities:

  • To abide by their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.
  • To fully respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and ensure that everybody has the right to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and government bodies and to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • In line with these obligations, to release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsyana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Syarhei Drazdouski, and Aleh Hrableuski immediately and unconditionally as they have been detained for their legitimate human rights work, drop charges against them and ensure their right to a remedy for unfounded criminal prosecution.
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and carry out prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by Syarhei Drazdouski, Aleh Hrableuski, and Dzmitry Salauyou
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to reasonable accommodations and the right to effective access to justice on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural accommodations in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stage.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/18/joint-statement-belarus-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders

Turkey: arrests and backsliding on femicide

March 22, 2021

Living close to Turkey, I follow the situation there perhaps with more worry than others. And nothing good seems to happen:

Turkish police detained three district heads of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and seven others in Istanbul on Friday over alleged links to militants, police said, two days after a court case began over banning the party.

Separately, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) co-chairman Ozturk Turkdogan was arrested by police at his home, IHD said, prompting human rights groups to call for his release. Turkdogan was then released on Friday evening, the association said.

Responding to the arrest today of Öztürk Türkdoğan, the president of Turkey’s Human Rights Organisation, Esther Major, Amnesty International’s Senior Research Adviser for Europe, said:

“The detention of Öztürk Türkdoğan is outrageous. With ink barely dry on the Human Rights Action Plan announced by President Erdoğan two weeks ago, his arrest reveals that this document is not worth the paper it is written on.

After over three years in jail without a conviction, one of Turkey’s highest-profile detainees, Osman Kavala, is “not optimistic” that President Tayyip Erdogan’s planned reforms can change a judiciary he says is being used to silence dissidents.
A philanthropist, 63-year-old Kavala told Reuters that after decades of watching Turkey’s judiciary seeking to restrict human rights, it was now engaged in “eliminating” perceived political opponents of Erdogan’s government.
Kavala was providing written responses via his lawyers to Reuters’ questions days after Erdogan outlined a “Human Rights Action Plan” that was said will strengthen rights to a free trial and freedom of expression. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/16/osman-kavala-and-mozn-hassan-receive-2020-international-hrant-dink-award/ and

Not surprisingly this is leading to reactions, such as a bipartisan letter penned by 170 members of the US Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which the lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to consider the “troubling human rights abuses” in Turkey.  “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and (the) free press,” the letter said. Dated 26 February but made public on 1 March, the letter asks Washington to formulate its policy regarding Turkey considering human rights, saying that the Erdogan administration has strained the bilateral relationship. 

On top of this Turkey has pulled out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women by presidential decree, in the latest victory for conservatives in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. The 2011 “Istanbul Convention| [SIC], signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation. Conservatives had claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society. The publication of the decree in the official gazette early Saturday sparked anger among rights groups and calls for protests in Istanbul. Women have taken to the streets in cities across Turkey calling on the government to keep to the 2011 Istanbul Convention.

Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairperson of the main opposition CHP party said abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed.” “Despite you and your evil, we will stay alive and bring back the convention,” she said on Twitter. Last year, 300 women were murdered according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.
The platform called for a “collective fight against those who dropped the Istanbul convention,” in a message on Twitter.
The Istanbul convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives on your command,” its secretary general Fidan Ataselim tweeted.

Kerem Altiparmak, an academic and lawyer specializing in human rights law, likened the government’s shredding of the convention to the 1980 military coup. “What’s abolished tonight is not only the Istanbul convention but the parliament’s will and legislative power,” he commented.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1822001/middle-east

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/turkey-outrageous-arrest-lawyer-makes-mockery-erdogans-human-rights-reforms

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1828581/middle-east

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-03-19/turkish-police-detain-pro-kurdish-party-officials-anadolu

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1818641/middle-east

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/24/turkey-erdogans-onslaught-rights-and-democracy

Sandra Aceng, profile of a woman human rights defender from Uganda

March 19, 2021

In February 2021 Defenddefenders announced Sandra Aceng as Human Rights Defender of the Month Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists. “After Uganda’s January [2021] elections, many female politicians joined parliament. We want to increase their online visibility. For example, most of the profiles on Wikipedia  are on men, so we need to close the gender digital divide,” Sandra says.

After Uganda’s January [2021] elections, many female politicians joined parliament. We want to increase their online visibility. For example, most of the profiles on Wikipedia are on men, so we need to close the gender digital divide.

Having grown up in the digital age, the 27-year-old is a digital native and mainly focuses on defending women’s rights online. Her employer WOUGNET empowers women through the use of ICT for sustainable development. Their three main pillars are information sharing and networking, gender and ICT policy advocacy, and providing technical support to WOUGNET staff, beneficiaries, and members. As a Programme Manager, Sandra analyses internet and ICT policies to ensure that they are gender inclusive. She has noticed that oppressive patriarchal structures are shifting and perpetuating online. Part of her work is to document women’s rights violations and gather evidence, but she has also learned that it’s not enough to just talk about statistics. To truly understand the problems, it is important to talk to the victims and listen to find out what they face, she says.

Having experienced some forms of online gender-based violence (GBV) herself, she knows how stressful and draining it can be. On top of receiving non-consensual content, she also felt pressure to keep quiet, women are not supposed to complain, she says. As a WHRD, she is used to the subtle pressure that women not abiding by patriarchal gender norms experience. A continuous trickling of seemingly small questions can be rather stressful: “Why are you so loud and outspoken as a woman? When will you get married? How will you take care of your family if the authorities come for you? These kinds of questions make me feel uncomfortable, they make me wonder if I am doing the right thing,” Sandra shares, “but if we want online GBV to end we also need to end these harmful gender stereotypes. Establishing women’s rights is a slow process and keeping quiet won’t speed it up.”

Why are you so loud and outspoken as a woman? When will you get married? How will you take care of your family if the authorities come for you? These kinds of questions make me feel uncomfortable, they make me wonder if I am doing the right thing.

There is still a lot of work ahead of Sandra and her fellow Ugandan women’s rights activists. She recently researched digital rights violations during the COVID-19 pandemic and struggled to find female interviewees. Female journalists reporting on politically sensitive topics experienced reprisals like rape, but due to stigma and worries how this will affect their future, they were not willing to speak out. While male journalists on the other hand expressed themselves freely: men are often perceived as bold and brave, making it easier to speak out on reprisals and rights violations they endured.

But the more women speak out, the easier it gets, Sandra is convinced. “It really motivates me when I see that other women have faced the same kind of challenges with online violence, and they have dealt with it. Whatever I go through, it’s not the end of life. Hearing other stories helps me to keep working hard, to be a better version of myself and to go beyond the difficulties.” Fighting the digital gender divide is Sandra’s way to make sure that it gets easier for women to speak out and be loud.

https://defenddefenders.org/human-rights-defender-of-the-month-sandra-aceng/