Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Human Rights Defenders issues on the agenda of 43rd Human Rights Council

February 24, 2020

On 17 February 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published – as usual – its excellent “HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session”. Here some excerpts that relate directly to human rights defenders in the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from 24 February to 20 March 2020.  If you want to stay up-to-date: with all issues follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders. The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders. In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. [for some of my ealrier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]. During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France.
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway.

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

Country-specific developments

China Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/joint-letter-by-22-states-to-human-rights-council-re-chinas-uighurs/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Saudi Arabia The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation. [for other posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

Egypt The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council’s attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/ ]

India The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/]

Burundi. At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/

Sri Lanka. Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

Other country situations:

    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
    • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
    • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
    • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine
    • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic);
  2. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia;
  3. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  6. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  7. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  8. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Some resolutions werealready announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  3. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  4. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  5. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  7. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  9. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  10. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  11. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00.

NOTE: The UN’s liquidity crisis is having a serious impact on this session and the next one (44th in June) and ISHR – jointly with 26 other NGOs – have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/20/lack-of-funds-forces-lack-of-oversight-by-un/]

For more information contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseinyATishr.ch 

For a survey of the 42nd session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/02/result-of-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

See also CIVICUS advisory on this Council session: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/4282-advocacy-priorities-at-43rd-session-of-un-human-rights-council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-key-issues-agenda-march-2020-session

Changes in the governance of the Martin Ennals Foundation

February 23, 2020

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

Having just reported on the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2020 [ https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/22/huda-al-sarari-is-the-laureate-of-the-2020-martin-ennals-award-for-human-rights-defenders/], I should add that the Martin Ennals Foundation has undergone several changes in its managment. A new Chairman, Philippe Currat, a well-known Geneva lawyer (see: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/boards/philippe-currat/), takes over from Dick Oosting (Oosting is a former Amnesty International staff member who worked closely with Martin Ennals himself as deputy SG). At the same time a new vice-chair was appointed: Barbara Lochbihler, a prominent human rights expert from Germany who last year completed ten years in the European Parliament and is now a member of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances. Since last summer, Isabel de Sola is the new director (see: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/boards/isabel-de-sola/). Together with a new team at the Ville de Genève, good progress was made to redesign the award ceremony of 19 February. This year’s finalists are offered so-called ‘residencies’ to benefit from their presence in Geneva and Switzerland as well as to be able to share their experiences more widely. First steps were taken to open up local educational activities. Communications have been significantly upgraded.

Dick Oosting said that the hand-over marks a broader process of change in the way that the foundation operates. In sharpened its strategy in several ways: by developing activities and profile in Geneva; by exploring the scope for more sustained work with past laureates and finalists; by working more closely with the jury organizations; and by strengthening overall communications.

Philippe Curat was present at the press conference of this year and stated: “The Martin Ennals Foundation is particularly proud to honour and support three resilient women human rights defenders this year, our laureate Huda Al-Sarari, as well as our two finalists Sizani Ngubane and Norma Librada Ledezma for their achievements. We hope that the award will shed a light on their achievements, and strengthen protection mechanisms around them”.

About us

 

Arpilleras making a come back as’ blankets that protect’

February 22, 2020

The success of ‘Art For Resistance: Quilts Of Women Human Rights Defenders’ was a wake up call to do everything in our power to protect the human rights of women. (Photos courtesy of Protection International)

Under the title “The blanket that protects Yvonne Bohwongprasert in the Bangkok Post of 19 February 2020 writes about these quilts as an art form to address human rights and encourage society to stand up and collectively fight for a social cause that impacts people from all walks of life.

Art For Resistance: Quilts Of Women Human Rights Defenders” was one such event with a powerful social message: “Have I done anything today to protect the rights of women?” The social-awareness event, which was launched in 2018, had a record 54 participants — two of whom happened to be men — sharing their personal stories of fighting for human rights in various sectors of society on colourful quilts they stitched together on their own. Besides the exhibition, there was a panel discussion on the situation of women human-rights defenders in a pseudo-democratic Thailand.

The idea of quilts to raise awareness on the issue came from the colourful quilt squares Chilean women used to tell their stories of life under the Pinochet dictatorship, which routinely violated human rights. Despite the lives of these women having been darkened by poverty and oppression, their vibrant and visually captivating denouncements were a strong tool of resistance. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpilleras/

Protection International (PI) Thailand and the Canadian embassy in Thailand, played a vital role in staging this year’s event. PI representative Pranom Somwong said: “Each quilt tells a story of injustice and the fire in each woman to overcome her struggles by acquiring a relentless spirit to seek justice for their families and communities“.

 

A quilt inspired by Buku FC, a Deep South female football club made largely of Muslim women and a few men and LGBT individuals. Rumman Waeteh, left, and Suhaida Kutha, right, created the work. YVONNE BOHWONGPRASERT

Huda Al-Sarari is the laureate of the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders

February 22, 2020

On 19 February 2020 the Martin Ennals Foundation announced that is has granted Huda Al-Sarari, Yemeni lawyer and human rights defender, the 2020 Martin Ennals Award. Huda was among three women human rights defenders selected as finalists for the Award by a jury of ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations, along with Sizani Ngubane, South Africa, and Norma Librada Ledezma, Mexico. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/breaking-news-mea-has-3-women-hrds-as-finalists-for-2020/]

The 2020 Martin Ennals Award ceremony, co-hosted with the City of Geneva, was held on Wednesday 19 February, and for the first time in the history of the Award, all three finalists are women. “Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are subject to the same risks as every human rights defender, but as women, they also face certain forms of violence and violations due to their gender. WHRDs are often stigmatized and ostracized by community leaders, faith-based groups and even family members”, said the Mayor of the City of Geneva, Sandrine Salerno.

Huda Al-Sarari is a Yemeni lawyer and human rights defender who graduated from Aden University. She also holds a masters in Women’s Studies and Development from the Women’s Centre at Aden University. Since 2015, Huda investigated, exposed and challenged the enforced disappearances that occurred as a result of secret prisons run by foreign governments in Southern Yemen where thousands of men and boys have suffered from arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. She collected evidence on more than 250 cases of the abuse taking place within those prisons and succeeded in convincing international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to take up the cause. “Being a human rights defender in Yemen is extremely challenging, and being a woman makes this even more difficult. In a male-dominated society, I have to prove myself maybe ten times more than a man”, explains Huda. Despite the threats, defamation campaigns and sacrifices she and her family endured, Huda continues to stand alongside the families of those who have disappeared.

Receiving the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders means the world to me. It gives me great strength and emboldens me to continue this fight for justice”, she says. “I believe the Award will be incredibly important in drawing attention to the continual plight of victims of arbitrary detention, abuse and torture in Yemen”, she concluded.

As Chair of the Martin Ennals Award Jury, I myself added that “We commend Huda for the work that she conducted, not only against the backdrop of the ongoing Yemeni civil war, but also, in a country where women still struggle to express their political and civil rights. Huda’s legacy is crucial as her thorough investigations and search for accountability will serve to bring justice for human rights violations occurred during the conflict.

For more on this and other awards for human rights defenders see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/martin-ennals-award-for-human-rights-defenders. The Martin Ennals Jury is composed of 10 of the world’s leading human rights organisations. See: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/about-us-about-the-martin-ennals-award/

Turkey: who will defend the human rights defenders?

February 16, 2020

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International, wrote on 14 February 2020 a moving piece on the detention and suffering of her fellow human rights defenders in Turkey.

Some moments in life are forever etched in our minds. Everyone recalls where they were when they heard their favourite rock star died, or how they felt around the birth of a child. For me, 6 June and 5 July 2017 are two dates that will forever be on my mind. They are the days when I learned that my friends and colleagues, human rights defenders, had been detained by Turkish police…On 6 June 2017, I was in Istanbul on a work visit, meeting with journalists and lawyers ahead of the start of the trial of two writers. It had almost been a year since the attempted and bloody military coup of July 2016. The Turkish government had responded with a sweeping crackdown on dissenters from all backgrounds, which was continuing to gather pace. I was with the editor of a small newspaper when I heard that my colleague Taner Kılıç had been detained. I will never forget the sinking feeling during those first moments. Trying to make sense of the nonsensical is always difficult. Knowing about the crackdown had not prepared me for how I’d feel when someone I knew was caught up in it.

…..

It was around 8pm on 5 July when I saw several missed calls from a colleague in Turkey. When I rang back, I learned that Amnesty’s Director in Turkey, Idil Eser, and nine others were in detention after being arrested  while attending a workshop on the island of Buyukada. My friend and sister Ozlem was among them. I recall vividly the ensuing hours, making frantic calls to whoever I could think of to try and find out where they were and what was going on. How could people be arrested for attending a human rights workshop? It made no sense.

…….

This week, I will be in Istanbul for the verdict in the case of Taner and the Buyukada 10. If found guilty of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, they could face up to 15 years behind bars. At the last hearing in November, I was in the courtroom when the state prosecutor requested that Taner and five of the Buyukada 10 – Idil, Ozlem, Gunal, Nejat and Veli – be convicted, and recited those initial absurd allegations that had been destroyed under the weight of the evidence their defence had provided. This included the allegation that Taner had the secure messaging app ByLock on his phone. Since the coup attempt the authorities have used this allegation against tens of thousands of people to try to prove they were part of an armed terrorist organization. In Taner’s case it was proven to be baseless, including by the state’s own reports to the court. In fact, after 10 hearings in the case, all the accusations made against them have been shown, one by one, to be entirely baseless. How is it possible that the state is still asking for the convictions of our colleagues and friends? The situation facing them is not unique. Their situation is in many ways emblematic of the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey. On Tuesday, another landmark verdict is expected in the case of Osman Kavala and 15 others accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to support their claim, the prosecution has nevertheless sought life prison for them… [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/29/turkey-defies-european-court-on-kavala-and-undergoes-upr-review/]

I have been in that courtroom for this trial ever since it began. Each time, the absurdity of the prosecution and the complete lack of evidence of any crime having been committed – let alone under terrorism laws – struck everyone in attendance as reserved to the pages of a nightmarish novel. When I walk into the Istanbul courtroom next week, I know there is only one outcome that could deliver justice.  Taner, Ozlem, Idil, Nala. Seyhmus, Ilknur, Ali, Peter, Veli, Gunal and Nejat must all be acquitted. For defenders of human rights, for our friends, for human rights in Turkey, this is the only way just end to this long saga.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/who-will-defend-the-defenders/

New academic study of UN human rights treaty system calls for online databases on impact

February 16, 2020

Christof Heyns (University of Pretoria; Member of the UN Human Rights Committee.) and Frans Viljoen (Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria) reported on 11 February 2020 in Global Rights on the progress being made in a new, global academic study to answer the question “What difference does the UN human rights treaty system make, and why?”.

An comprehensive research project on the impact of the treaty system, which started some years ago, is now being expanded into a global study….The first steps of the study were taken two decades ago by a team of researchers coordinated from the University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR). …..The researchers documented numerous instances of impact, and we were in a position to draw general conclusions, published as a book and an article. This included that the evidence showed that the treaty system has had an enormous impact on the protection of human rights on the ground, in particular through the—recognized or unrecognized—incorporation of treaty norms into domestic law.

The following factors were found to be among those that have enhanced its impact: a strong domestic constituency for specific treaties; national action plans; and the windows of opportunity that comes with a change to democracy. We also laid strong emphasis on a greater emphasis on the role of national human rights institutions in mediating impact, and for them to do follow-up.

Factors found to have limited the impact of the system included the following: concerns for State sovereignty; a lack of knowledge of the system; the absence of a robust domestic human right culture; ineffective coordination between governmental departments; an ad-hoc approach to reporting; federalism; reprisals against human rights defenders; a preference for regional systems; and weak follow-up by treaty bodies.

We reported a rallying cry from many far-flung countries that ‘Geneva is very far’—not only in terms of geography but also in terms of accessibility and psychological ownership. And we proposed that the treaty bodies should consider holding some of their meetings away from  UN headquarters in Geneva.

Now, twenty years later, we are reviewing the same 20 countries, again with the help of researchers based in the respective countries, and again in collaboration with the OHCHR. We are asking the same questions. This study is now nearing completion, and we plan to publish it in the middle of next year, this time, with Professor Rachel Murray from Bristol University as co-editor. The data from the more recent study is still coming in. So far, the results provide further evidence of the strong impact of the system in most countries. However, a systematic analysis will only be possible once all the data has been gathered.

In the meantime, some of the issues identified up in the earlier study have been taken up within the system. There is for example a much stronger recognition of the role of national implementation and monitoring mechanisms. The Disability Rights Convention adopted in 2007, explicitly calls for creation of national ‘focal points’ and the designation of national human rights institutions to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the Convention….

The need to ‘bring the system closer to the ground’  is now recognized by a range of NGOs in preparation for the 2020 review of treaty bodies. The idea of treaty body meetings outside Geneva was advanced again by Heyns and Gravett in a blog two years ago, also on the basis of the regional experience, and the first such meeting for a UN treaty body is now being planned for 2020.

During the course of these two studies, we became very aware of the importance of getting a clear picture of the impact of the system, but also of the limitations of what we were doing. With only 20 countries covered, the sample size is quite limited; and, providing a snapshot at a particular moment in those countries means they are quickly overtaken by events. Following wide consultation, we are currently in the process of setting up an online database, where information on the impact of the system in all UN member states will be posted. The 20 country studies mentioned above, as well as the supporting documentation, will for a start be posted on a website. In the meantime, clinical groups are being formed at universities around the world, where international students are gathering the relevant information on their home countries, to be posted on the website. We anticipate that up to 50 new countries will be covered per year and ones covered earlier will be updated. In an era of crowd-sourcing, contributions from all interested parties—NGOs, individual researchers etc.—will be solicited.

This will be a large-scale and long-term research project, but hopefully it will help to allow the collective wisdom of people anywhere in the world to ensure that the treaty system remains as effective and as responsive to the needs of our time as is possible. It is also intended, in some way, to be a response to the lament that ‘Geneva is very far’ and to ensure that the treaty system is brought closer to the actual rights-holders, even if only virtually.

The treaty system has played a pivotal role in developing the substantive norms of the global human rights project over the last six decades. The future of the treaty system depends on whether it will continue to lead the way on substance, but more is required: it will have to enhance its visibility and broaden its ownership to a global audience, and treaty norms will have to find their way into domestic law and practices. This is the gap that the new study aims to help fill.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/17/treaty-bodies-case-law-database-saved-and-resurrected-by-un/

https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-difference-does-un-human-rights-treaty-system-make/

TrialWatch finds its feet in 2019

February 15, 2020

TrialWatch logo

Photo courtesy of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

A year ago this January, I flew out of Sarajevo to join the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR), ready to start work on CHR’s new program, TrialWatch. ….Since the TrialWatch program was new, I did not know what to expect. In Bosnia, I had dedicated the past several years to advocating for wartime victims seeking justice. Many of these men and women had spent decades pounding on the doors of institutions that had long consigned them to oblivion. As I entered the ABA lobby on my first day, I wondered what it would be like to instead focus on defendants vulnerable to abuse of their rights. What I found was that the experience and ethos of TrialWatch were uncannily similar to those of my work in Bosnia. We aim to ensure that people are not forgotten.

…..

Criminal prosecutions are one weapon in the ever-expanding arsenal of those who seek to derail human rights. Through TrialWatch, CHR sends monitors to proceedings at which they are often the only independent observers. These are remote, dilapidated courtrooms outside the capitals, places where no one would expect a monitor to show up. Our presence can make a significant difference.

In Algeria, for example, CHR sent a monitor to observe the trial of Ahmed Manseri, a human rights defender prosecuted for defamation for claiming that he had been tortured by the authorities. The monitor traveled through multiple checkpoints to reach the city of Tiaret in northern Algeria, some 300 kilometers from the capital of Algiers. The judge, aware of CHR’s interest in the case, treated Manseri differently from all others in court that day, giving Manseri’s lawyers adequate time to conduct questioning, providing Manseri himself with an opportunity to speak, spending several hours on the hearing (as opposed to the five to 15 minutes afforded other defendants), and ultimately acquitting Manseri. When we spoke to Manseri and his lawyer after the trial, they relayed that Manseri may not have gone home that day if the monitor had not been in court. This is CHR’s work: ensuring that people facing the greatest risks are not forgotten, that their voices are heard, and that relevant institutions take their experiences and claims seriously. In some cases, as in Algeria, making an appearance is just as important as the final report.

Prisoners
More than 100 defendants were convicted as part of a mass trial with respect to an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea. Photo provided by the ABA Center for Human Rights.

In other cases, documentation is critical. If we do not record the abuses that occur in the courtroom, they will be lost in a labyrinthine system with no recourse for defendants. In Equatorial Guinea, CHR monitored the trial of over a hundred individuals prosecuted in connection with an alleged coup attempt. In court, our monitors observed egregious fair trial violations, such as the repeated use of confessions induced by torture, the intervention of military officials in the judicial process, and the imposition of time limits on defense questioning. The defendants were ultimately convicted—some to what were functionally life sentences.

As Equatorial Guinea is a relatively closed country—its doors wide open to oil behemoths but shut to most others—CHR was the only outside entity to send observers to the trial. The information we acquired proved helpful for embassies and other organizations tracking the proceedings. Human Rights Watch, for example, employed CHR’s report to produce a video on the trial that was widely disseminated in Equatorial Guinea via WhatsApp. Meanwhile, CHR’s report was raised before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, after which the committee condemned military interference in civilian trials. Correspondingly, defense lawyers have used the report’s conclusions in advocating for their imprisoned clients. Without the valuable data gained from simply sitting in the courtroom, these various opportunities for impact would have been lost and—again—the defendants forgotten.

 


TrialWatch followed a case in Guatemala of a human rights defender named Abelino Chub, shown here with an unidentified woman. Chub was held in pretrial detention for two years. Chub was being prosecuted on allegations he had burned down trees and fields on a plantation operated by Cobra Investments, a banana and palm company. He was ultimately acquitted. Photo provided by the ABA Center for Human Rights

The overarching goal of ensuring that defendants receive the necessary support motivates the TrialWatch team to grapple with these challenges, as do the inspiring monitors with whom we work. One of TrialWatch’s objectives is to democratize trial monitoring—to place the tools to observe trials in the hands of affected communities. Dedication and a willingness to learn are the only requirements. In a recent case, two different entities within the prosecution appeared to be at odds. One entity had withdrawn the charges, and the other seemed to still be pursuing the case. CHR’s enterprising trial monitor brought a copy of the withdrawal document across town to the latter entity’s office. The office claimed to have never seen this document—or at least to have never been directly confronted with it—and stated that it would cease work on the case. At the moment, the office no longer appears to be pursuing the charges.

In another example, a CHR monitor who is not a lawyer but passionate about press freedom issues agreed to travel to a remote province in Cambodia—a nine-hour bus ride—on Christmas day to observe the start of a trial in which two journalists were being prosecuted for incitement. Though the trial did not in fact proceed that day, the monitor was able to document valuable information, such as the judge ordering defense counsel not to contact the U.S. embassy: a troubling and noteworthy development. That my job entails working closely with these monitors—such a perseverant, diverse group of individuals—makes it all the more worthwhile.

Lastly, one of the most ironic features of trial monitoring is that there is frequently no trial to monitor. In many countries, authorities use criminal charges and detention as a punishment in itself: the trial in such cases is not of consequence. By imprisoning defendants pending trial, deferring substantive proceedings in the vein of Godot, states can avoid scrutiny while still harassing defendants and stifling their work. Through TrialWatch, we have been able to document and respond to this phenomenon.

In India, for example, CHR monitored habeas corpus proceedings brought by journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who had been arrested on sedition charges for posting Facebook videos in which he criticized the ruling party. When the judge presiding over the case released Wangkhem on bail, the authorities rearrested and imprisoned him on national security grounds. CHR subsequently issued a preliminary report concluding that Wangkhem’s detention was inconsistent with international law. Soon thereafter, he was released, having spent 132 days behind bars.

Similarly, in Nigeria, CHR monitored proceedings against Omoyele Sowore, a journalist who had been charged with treason. Awaiting trial, Sowore remained imprisoned by the state security services despite the presiding court’s order to release him. Amal Clooney, the co-founder of TrialWatch, made a public statement calling for Sowore’s release, bolstering the international uproar and placing pressure on the state. Approximately a month later, Sowore was released.

Defendants languishing in detention, sometimes for years on end, are the most at risk of being forgotten. Seeing these individuals go free in part because of our work is one of the most rewarding aspects of TrialWatch. I am proud to lead the program at the ABA Center for Human Rights and look forward to my second year.

If you are interested in signing up to be a TrialWatch monitor, please fill out this form.

 

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/volunteer-trial-monitors-are-helping-secure-human-rights-around-the-globe

UK’s human rights policy after Brexit

February 13, 2020

With Brexit a number of commentaries have appeared about the UK‘s human rights stance in the future. Here two examples:

Maria Arena wrote on 3 February 2020 in Feature about the Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), saying it will continue to keep a critical eye on the EU’s external policies while playing a constructive role in upholding international law and human rights standards. She is the Chair of the Subcommittee. It reads almost as of no Brexit has taken place……

The issue of business and human rights is currently one of the most high-profile areas of attention, with a focus on moving towards more responsible business conduct globally, through the introduction of new voluntary standards as well as compulsory company due diligence. Compulsory due diligence at EU level was a key European Parliament demand during the previous parliamentary term and we are determined to deliver on this. There is also a clear need to face up to new challenges and threats such as climate change. Migration linked to serious human rights violations and conflicts continues to be a global challenge. DROI members are keen to continue their task of scrutinising all new EU policy developments, particularly the recently announced EU human rights sanctions regime; legislation repeatedly called for by Parliament.

As the Subcommittee’s chair, I am also determined to look for new and more effective ways to protect human rights defenders. I must emphasise right at the outset: the Subcommittee cannot do this alone. This is a task for Parliament as a whole. One of our biggest challenges is upholding European ambitions on universal values and human rights standards, against the backdrop of a weakened multilateral system. We need to work towards safeguarding and improving the EU’s credibility in the world as an actor that recognises human rights and a rules-based international system as a strategic interest, not as a distraction from other foreign policy objectives.

..There can be no progress without injecting human rights into the policy debates about development, empowering women and civil society, as well as contributing to a stable and democratic neighbourhood for the EU….Citizens’ expectations are clear: people across the EU want us to stand up for universal values and deliver active and effective EU external action that protects and promotes human rights. I will never side with those who say that security or economic interest should trump human rights. …“One of our biggest challenges is upholding European ambitions on universal values and human rights standards, against the backdrop of a weakened multilateral system”

……
The EU should not shy away from establishing redress and complaints mechanisms. We need to deliver true and measurable improvements on the ground before granting trade preferences and should raise the bar on implementing international commitments with our partners. I also think we should be more ambitious about understanding the full environmental and human rights impact of our trade relations and perhaps be more vigilant about inward investment to the EU.

Benjamin Ward, UK Director (Acting) & Deputy Director, Europe & Central Asia Division of HRW, wrote in Euronews of 3 February 2020 that “Britain Should Stick To Its Principles For Brexit Success

https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/feature/committee-guide-2020-droi-ambitious-and-vigilant

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/05/britain-should-stick-its-principles-brexit-success

Brazil remembers Sister Dorothy Stang murdered 15 years ago

February 13, 2020

Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is pictured in a 2004 file photo in Belem, northern Brazil.  (CNS/Reuters)

12 February 2020 was the 15th anniversary of Sr. Dorothy Stang‘s assassination in the Amazon region of Brazil. The nun was 73 when she was murdered on 12 February, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. She had lived in the country for nearly four decades and was known as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest. The U.S.-born nun is remembered as a crusader for the poor and the landless and for her love of the land and the Amazon forest.

Lise Alves, for the Catholic News Service, wrote about her on 12 February 2020:

She taught me how to be a missionary in Brazil; she was my mentor,” Sr. Rebeca Spires told Catholic News Service. Spires, who, like Stang, is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, said the first thing Stang gave her was Brazil’s land statute. “She was all about doing things within the law,” said Spires.

…She said that, in the early 2000s, Stang started to pressure public officials to combat land invasions by ranchers and large landowners, who wanted to take away areas occupied by smaller farms. The officials “became extremely irritated with her, with her persistence,” Spires said. “Although threatened with death, Dorothy never failed in her life’s mission, to fight for the poor of the land, so that they had their rights guaranteed and a dignified life,” read the statement issued by the Brazilian bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission to mark Stang’s death.Mary Cohen, a lawyer in Belem and a member of the Brazilian bishops’ justice and peace commission, was president of the human rights commission at Brazil’s lawyer association when Stang was in Anapu. Cohen remembered Stang’s determination, as the nun pushed and pressured government agencies into taking action. “She once slept on the steps of the INCRA (Institute for Agrarian Reform) so they would talk to her. She had a lot of determination, and that invigorated all of us,” said the lawyer. That determination made many people in the region angry. Trying to reduce the tension between landowners and peasants and their advocates, the lawyer’s association gave Stang a human rights award two months before she was killed.

We thought that more media attention and recognition of her work would keep her safe, that they (landowners and ranchers) would be deterred. We were wrong,” said the lawyer. And although Stang’s assassination made international headlines and caused worldwide commotion, those who continue her work say the threats today to the landless and their advocates are even greater. “There are still a lot of people being threatened, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s life,” Sr. Jane Dwyer, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur who worked closely with the murdered nun, told CNS.

Dwyer, who still lives in Anapu, told CNS she was uneasy about giving interviews over the telephone. She said that, since 2015, 19 landless, small-scale farmers had been assassinated over land conflicts in the area. “Nineteen in the last five years,” she said. “Of the 19 assassinations, in only one did authorities bring someone to justice,” added Spires, who works with the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council in Belem. Cohen said those who speak out today against the rich and powerful in the region continue to be threatened. “Her successor, Father Amaro (Jose Amaro Lopes de Souza), continues to be threatened, and when they were unable to scare him off, they accused him of extortion and inciting violence among landless peasants,” she said…

“The synod document is titled ‘Querida Amazonia’ (Beloved Amazonia), which … embodies what Sister Dorothy spoke of her entire life: ‘Dear Amazon, we are here to defend you, to protect you. Dear people of the Amazon, we are here to help you in your fight, in your resistance, in the recognition of your rights.'”

Magnitsky law spawns cottage industry of sanctions lobbying

February 13, 2020

Congress passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to punish Russian officials accused of beating to death a whistleblower who publicized government corruption. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/29/european-court-rules-on-sergei-magnitskys-death/]

A decade later, the law has unwittingly spawned a multimillion-dollar lobbying cottage industry. Predictably, a number of lobbyists are gunning to remove Magnitsky penalties on their questionable clients, just as with other such sanctions laws. President Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, for example, is defending an Israeli billionaire accused of pillaging Africa, while Trump’s 2016 Tennessee state director, Darren Morris, has joined with New York law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in representing an Iraqi businessman sanctioned for allegedly bribing politicians.

But a unique facet of the Magnitsky law and subsequent amendments has created a whole new opening for more creative lobbying. Unlike similar laws blocking sanctioned parties’ US assets and banning travel to the United States, Magnitsky requires that US officials consider information from credible human rights organizations when weighing whether to apply sanctions. “That’s a pretty revolutionary provision,” said Rob Berschinski, the senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First. “Effectively, the US government has created an open inbox in which literally anyone can petition for sanctions — no matter what their motive is, no matter what the credibility of their information is.

Berschinski’s organization is among those taking advantage of the provision, lobbying for additional Magnitsky sanctions on Saudi officials responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Trump administration designated 17 Saudi officials in November 2018, but not Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed by the CIA and UN investigators to have ordered the crime.

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (click above to read the law)

“The point here is, yes, 17 people were designated under Global Magnitsky,” said Berschinski, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor under President Barack Obama. “No, they are not the people who were ultimately responsible for directing the crime, and the people who were ultimately responsible need to be held accountable.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the only Gulf target of sanctions lobbying. In recent months, lawyers for Kuwaiti private equity firm KGL Investment and its former CEO, Marsha Lazareva, have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to threaten Kuwait with Magnitsky sanctions if it does not drop embezzlement charges against her. Working on the account are big names, including President George H.W. Bush’s son, Neil Bush; former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; and ex-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, until she joined Trump’s impeachment team. But the Lazareva camp has also consistently sought to portray her defenders as “human rights activists,” notably working with Washington nonprofit In Defense of Christians and former human rights lawyer Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in its efforts.

Recent Magnitsky Act lobbying
Lobbying to remove sanctions Lobbying to add sanctions
Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan for Israeli businessman Dan Gertler Crowell & Moring and others on behalf of KGL Investment (sanctions on Kuwait)
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman / Morris Global Strategies for Iraqi businessman Khamis Khanjar Human Rights First (sanctions for killers of Jamal Khashoggi)
Venable / Sonoran Policy Group for Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic (Sonoran terminated December 2018) Schmitz Global Partners / Jefferson Waterman International (JWI) on behalf of fugitive Bulgarian businessman Tzvetan Vassilev (JWI terminated August 2019)
Source: Department of Justice / Congress

Lazareva’s champions insist she was railroaded by a corrupt judicial system and that lobbying for human rights sanctions — even if it’s spearheaded by corporate interests with deep pockets — is perfectly legitimate. To date, at least five US lawmakers have also joined the call for an investigation into Kuwait under the Magnitsky law.

“The global Magnitsky sanctions are a critical tool available to human rights NGOs to hold foreign governments accountable in cases of corruption and injustice,” said Peter Burns, government relations director for In Defense of Christians, or IDC. “IDC has advocated for their implementation in a variety of human rights and religious freedom contexts. One such case is that of Orthodox Christian businesswoman Marsha Lazareva, who is imprisoned in Kuwait on bogus corruption charges. The United States must become more effective at holding our friends, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait, accountable for religious freedom violations.”

“Are there actors out there that I’m aware of that may not have kind of the purest motives in bringing case files? Sure. But I have confidence in the integrity of the underlying decision-making system within the US government.”

IDC said it’s not getting paid for its Lazareva advocacy. But the army of lobbyists urging sanctions on Kuwaiti officials has, however, raised concerns about the integrity of the Magnitsky process.

“Are there actors out there that I’m aware of that may not have kind of the purest motives in bringing case files? Sure,” Berschinski told Al-Monitor. “But I have confidence in the integrity of the underlying decision-making system within the US government.”

This isn’t the first time lobbyists have sought to use Magnitsky in such a fashion. Back in 2017, lobbyists for fugitive Bulgarian businessman Tzvetan Vassilev sought sanctions on Bulgaria after being charged with money laundering and embezzlement. At the time, Lloyd Green, a Justice Department official under President George H. W. Bush, warned against potential abuses of the law. The Magnitsky Act … was not designed to become a sword and shield for those alleged to have committed crimes in systems that afford due process,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Hill at the time. It “should not be allowed to become a cudgel wielded by non-citizens as they seek to beat our allies into submission.

Berschinski said Human Rights First was aware of both the Vassilev and Lazareva campaigns and had declined to get involved. He declined to speculate, however, on whether such lobbying campaigns undermine the voices of traditional human rights organizations. “My sense is that at the end of the day, the US government officials who are actually making the call are making the decision on whether to designate or not on the basis of a solid evidentiary basis,” he said.

Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/01/magnitsky-sanctioned-lobbying-hire-cottage-industry.html#ixzz6Cc6LK5Tp