Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Human Rights in crisis? – here the last word (before the summer!)

August 1, 2018

This blog (among many other sources) has dedicated quite a few posts to the mood of crisis that has engulfed the human rights movement, especially at international level. The international human rights regime as we have known it for the last decades is indeed under pressure, from autocratic regimes, from populist leaders and – let us be honest – from quite a few ‘normal’ people. Below you find a small selection earlier blog posts on this theme of crisis. On  30 May 2018 the MEA organized in Geneva a public event “Human Rights in a Changing World”. At this 25th Anniversary event, the leaders of the 10 international NGOs on the MEA Jury and several laureates had wide ranging discussions both in private and in public. The MEA has now produced a summary for public consumption which I have published separately earlier this day [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/report-of-meas-25thanniversary-event-human-rights-in-a-changing-world-30-may-2018/ ]

July 31 July 2018, Kathryn Sikkink published an interesting piece that has some elements in common with findings of the MEA event referred to above. The title is: “Rethinking the notion of a human rights crisis”, with as summary that “The frame of constant crisis has negative implications for human rights, especially when questions of legitimacy arise. But hope—based on empirical evidence of human rights progress—should give advocates the motivation to keep working.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

There is an epidemic of pessimism surrounding human rights today. To name but a few examples, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested that there has never been so much suffering since World War II, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner has claimed that there have been no marked decreases in human rights violations in the same time period, and international relations scholar Stephen Hopgood has argued that we are witnessing the “end times of human rights.”

Such a pessimistic mindset is understandable because of the worrisome situations that human rights activists face every day. The idea of peril and crisis, however, points not only to the present moment but also implies some knowledge about trends and change over time; it suggests that human rights were not challenged before, and that the situation is now worse.

I recognize that many alarming human rights situations exist in the world today, and I am particularly worried about the current situation in the United States, but I am not persuaded that the state of human rights globally is now worse than it has been before. Instead, let us consider how the frame of constant crisis itself could have negative consequences for human rights.

My recent book, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century, proposes that pessimistic claims need to be submitted to rigorous examination, both historical and statistical. This debate matters because of the inadvertent effects the frame of crisis and peril may have on perceptions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of human rights activism.

Historically, human rights progress has occurred as a result of struggle, and has often been spearheaded by oppressed groups. Where it has occurred, human rights progress has not been at all inevitable, but rather contingent on continued commitment and effort. Some activists and scholars fear that if they admit there has been progress, people will grow complacent and disengaged.

A recent survey of 346 individuals currently or previously working in the field of human rights found that this work is associated with elevated levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. One source of this appears to be negative self-appraisals about human rights work. These findings suggest that one of the most difficult parts of being a human rights activist is the doubt about whether you are contributing to positive change. A frame of excessive crisis thus may not only contribute to the impression that the human rights movement has historically been ineffective, but it could also diminish the motivation and well-being of activists.

By their very definition, human rights are needed when things are bad. I worked at a small human rights organization, the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time that is now seen by some as the golden age of human rights activism. Yet we never felt like human rights goals were easily within our reach. How could we, when the Argentine government was disappearing thousands of its citizens; the Salvador government, with the heavy support of the US government, was massacring people; and the world had ignored the recent genocide in Cambodia?

Some of the current pessimism also suggests that human rights activists were popular at some point in the past and are now denigrated. But human rights activists have never been popular in the countries where they work. Repressive governments have a long history of attacking and vilifying human rights groups, through smear campaigns and other repressive tactics. Human rights organizations often defend the rights of unpopular minorities such as political leftists in Latin America, the Roma in Europe, and transgender people in the US.

The fact that the fight for human rights has always faced significant opposition should not discourage us. The longer history of human rights offers a positive message that can help sustain us in the context of our current struggles. In Evidence for Hope, I explore what changes have taken place over time, using the best data I can find on what many of us would agree to be good measures of diverse human rights.

Looking at this data carefully, issue by issue, we see that some situations are worsening—such as the absolute number of refugees displaced by war or economic inequality within many countries. Nevertheless, there are many more positive trends, including a decline in genocide and politicide, a shrinking number of people killed in war, decreasing use of the death penalty, and improvements in poverty, infant mortality, and life expectancy, as well as advances in gender equality, the rights of sexual minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities.

So why is it that so many people believe human rights violations in the world are getting worse rather than better? The short answer is that we think the world is worse off because we care more and know more about human rights than ever before. The media and human rights organizations have drawn our attention to an increasingly wide range of rights violations around the world. Their success in doing so sometimes inadvertently causes people to think that no human rights progress is occurring. Discouraging results are also generated because we compare our current situation not to the past but to an imagined ideal world, and thus we always fall short.

My point here is not to suggest that the situation for human rights defenders is improving in the world. I mainly want to remind readers that human rights defenders have long been on the front line, and we should be cautious in suggesting that there was a better period for human rights in the second half of the twentieth century that has now been eroded in the twenty-first century. Some of the threats—particularly those involving invasive laws about registration and funding—are indeed new and threatening, while other challenges have been almost a constant for civil society human rights organizations over time.

Nothing about how new or old these challenges are or about any trends in fundamental human rights detracts from acknowledging the frightening challenges groups and individuals face, nor do they negate the urgent need to strategize about how to respond to these challenges. Yet, what I hope is that some information about historical trends, as well as a more focused look at data, may be useful as part of an action-oriented discussion of promising tactics and how to address these challenges.

The stakes in this human rights debate are high. Anger, hope, and the knowledge that you can make a difference in the world give people the energy to keep working. Knowing more specifically how human rights groups have made a difference can teach us more about effective strategies and tactics to use in the future.

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Report of MEA’s 25thAnniversary event: Human Rights in a Changing World (30 May 2018)

August 1, 2018

And here is finally the Discussion Summary (in full) of the Martin Ennals Award 25thAnniversary event “Human Rights in a Changing World” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/24/mea-at-25-high-level-anniversary-panel-looks-at-human-rights-in-crisis/].  

 Introduction

On 30 May 2018, the Martin Ennals Foundation convened a meeting of leaders of the ten organizations that make up the Martin Ennals Jury, together with some former MEA laureates, to discuss current human rights priority issues. This, the first such meeting, took place in the context of the 25thanniversary of the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders.  The document below attempts to capture the main elements discussed and draws some conclusions.

Discussion

Three issues were scheduled to serve as the agenda:  (1) influencing authoritarians, (2) countering populism, and (3) effective human rights action. We focus on the five main points raised throughout the discussion.

  1. Human rights are increasingly the target of populist and/or authoritarian leaders as they demonize “others” to build support;

Not all authoritarians are populists, and not all populists are authoritarians. The initial discussion looked at the phenomenon of populists who build support by using messages and approaches that give cause for major human rights concerns.  Populist leaders who end up trampling human rights are often those most eager to remove constraints on their own power by weakening the institutions that can challenge them: the judiciary, media, parliaments, and civil society, especially Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).

Authoritarians are increasingly willing to stand up for their approaches, using justifications such as the need for economic development, the rejection of “Western” or “liberal” models, or the protection of national identity.  This is the case for countries where the population have little say in the choice of their leaders (e.g. China); nominal say (e.g.  Russia or Venezuela); or even where the population can vote freely (e.g. Hungary or USA).

The blaming or demonization of marginalised groups is a principal tool in the authoritarians’ arsenal. These groups can include religious or ethnic minorities, or even the targeting of criminals by extrajudicial means. But currently overshadowing all is the way that irregular immigrants have become the focus especially in Europe and the US of attempts to find a scapegoat for the problems that preoccupy the wider population.

The concerns among the population that provide the breeding ground for authoritarian leaders to reject more traditional democratic politics are linked to a variety of issues in the spheres of economic insecurity and law and order, as well as cultural displacement and loss of identity.  Populists have tapped into these concerns, but rather than looking at the deeper complexities they have created resonance with simple, compelling messages that appeal to emotion more than to reason.

The manner in which populists have built support by attacking marginalised groups includes a discourse to deny them certain basic rights. Statements that in the past were seen as reminiscent of fascism and thus politically unacceptable are now part of the political dialogue and supported or at least ‘accepted’  in many countries that were considered “liberal democracies”. Regardless of who is in power, suggesting denial of basic rights to certain groups is now common currency even in many democracies.

Immigration, and in particular “uncontrolled” or “illegal” immigration, is a particular target for populist leaders.  Human rights advocates who stand up for these people’s rights are now more easily accused of working against the national interest. Disconcertingly, blaming such an identifiable “other” time and again appears a simple but effective tool. Politicians focusing on complex causes face an uphill battle. Human rights organizations trying to protect the “other” may find their messages not just ineffective, but providing arguments for populists to use against them.

The result is that human rights, and human rights activists and organizations, are seen by significant numbers of people in many countries as serving effectively to support those who threaten their livelihood, safety and cultural values. Thus, human rights, as a concept, come under attack when associated with protecting “undesirables”.

While “human rights” as a concept may be easily misunderstood, or intentionally manipulated, views tend to be more supportive once specific rights are acknowledged and advanced. This applies particularly to a broad range of economic and social rights issues that resonate with a wider cross-section of the population: corruption, land rights, labour rights, and environmental degradation.  These issues tend to be underrepresented as human rights concerns and more effort should be made to show the connections. It was stressed that young people especially are willing to work on these issues.

A recurring theme in the discussion was that while there may be support for particular rights such as LGBT or land rights, this would not usually be translated into supporting the overarching human rights architecture in general. Messaging by human rights organizations often involves conceptual messages, which have been ineffective in the past. However, the new, and more dangerous, element is rather than just being ineffective, these messages can provide arguments in the opposite direction for populists.

The conclusion that presents itself is that those working on any particular topic will have to be much more aware of the wider context in which they work. While trying to draw attention onto specific issues, it is important to remain credible in the eyes of the wider public. This means that as human rights organizations decide where and how to focus their activities, the balance of issues worked on needs to be considered as part of the perception that the organization wants to build.

For those organizations with very specific mandates, and so a limited choice of issues to focus on, it is even more important to find approaches that do not provide arguments that can be used by those working against them.

  1. Naming and shaming needs to take into account that certain approaches can reinforce populist leaders

 

“Naming and shaming” has long been one of the main tools to press for human rights.  However, given the success of the populist messages, some leaders have been able to justify human rights violations and even use criticism to make their point to supporters. This is particularly so when the criticism associated human rights with the least “desirable”.

Even though authoritarians may feel no compunction to stand behind their methods or even boast about them, they still are sensitive to their reputations. They often mobilize significant resources to thwart or stop human rights defenders, which shows that they still think arguments in favour human rights are important enough to be dangerous for them.

There is no reason to conclude that public shaming is no longer effective, but it needs to be carefully tailored to each situation. Failure to do so can play directly into the hands of the authoritarian leader who may claim the criticism as a badge of honour. Populists are sensitive to being ridiculed; humour at their expense can be powerful. In any case the planned message needs to be carefully analysed to determine how the message could be used to their benefit by those it seeks to challenge.

Sanctions against Individuals

The use of personal sanctions and restrictions on autocrats and their cohorts is increasing and is found often to have considerable impact.   However, where this can trigger counter-measures it is important for unintended consequences such as reprisals against human rights defenders to be factored into the equation.

 

  1. Public communication

There was broad agreement about the importance of moving beyond the traditional ways of communicating human rights concerns and articulating advocacy. The human rights narrative mainly resonates with those most familiar with, and supportive of, the issues.  Messages are often legalistic and technical, limiting their appeal to a wider audience. In the current fractured political dialogue, when the objective is seen as supporting an “other” a new level of hostility can result.

The most effective communications are on issues that the recipient can identify with. This makes normative and conceptual work very hard to get the wider public people excited about. They are more likely to react to messages where they see themselves as potentially affected. This is what makes the demonization of “others” so effective.  Action against migrants or minorities does not strike people as something that can happen to them. Even when talking about civil and political rights, it is still possible to see the most serious violations such as torture and enforced disappearance as something that happens to others.

It may well be easier to mobilise people around social justice issues like corruption, land rights, labour rights, and pollution. There is a general sense that economic, social, and cultural rights are not sufficiently addressed. Countering populists will need messages in language that appeal to populist followers’ values, interests and indeed emotions. Here it is important to offer constructive solutions to move the debate forwards rather than condemning what is wrong. Furthermore, there is a need to work in alliance with broader elements of civil society such as social movements, and so tap into sources of wider support. Effective use of visual and social media is indispensable.

Dialogue with autocrats

Governments are not monoliths. There are different interests and views within autocratic states that can be utilized when dealing with them. It is important to weigh the trade-offs in any such interaction; while dialogue can be opened up it needs to be able to lead to action. There are risks that autocrats could use the fact of dialogue to legitimise their actions. At the same time, they may go along but with no intent to move forward – e.g. dialogue that only involves the foreign ministry is usually a sign that little will happen. As a rule, dialogue should go hand in hand with public communication that creates pressure. The ‘diplomacy’ must have a public component.

 

  1. Non-state actors/business and human rights

Non-state actors can play powerful roles influencing the state primarily for their own benefits, and so contributing directly or indirectly to infringement of human rights. The business sector, notably multinational enterprises, is considered a clear priority in this regard. Effective action to ensure compliance is still limited by gaps in normative rules; where such enterprises may be vulnerable to reputational risk, strengthened regulation should help ensure that they are competing on a level playing field.

There is a multitude of pressure- and leverage points. One that drew particular attention is the notion that the eventual cost to companies resulting from a lack of early engagement with the local population may be exponentially higher than had they consulted at the start. Involvement at the early planning process by all sides can reduce the risk of project failure or excessive costs later on. Other leverage points include banks/financial institutions, shareholder activism, and associated business partners such as suppliers who may have reputational concerns.

Overall, the thrust of engaging with the business sector in the sphere of human rights must be to shift the emphasis from focusing on transparency to seeking accountability.

 

  1. Supporting local action for human rights

Much of the discussion looked at recent changes in the West as to how human rights are viewed, whereas the global South continues to face the challenges it always has.  Furthermore, certain changes that originated in the West such as funding restrictions on political activity, and anti-terrorism legislation have inspired new methods to restricts human rights defenders  in countries with more structural human rights problems.

Reassuringly, experience shows that even in countries with structurally problematic human rights records there are networks of committed human rights activists. While they may be small in numbers, their commitment and drive allow them to keep human rights concerns on the agenda. Many of these activists feel unsupported when facing the resources, restrictions, and wrath of their own governments. However, this commitment to human rights by an engaged minority is a clear counterweight to populism and human rights abuses more widely.

Thus, a key message arising out of the discussion is the importance of supporting local activists and networks. Supporting them is a critical function of the international human rights movement. The work for human rights defenders cannot be seen in isolation from the causes they espouse, which in turn enables international human rights organisations to connect with broader social movements.

Rules vs implementation

While there may still be a need for developing norms and standards in certain areas (as with regard to business and human rights), the overall emphasis must increasingly be on implementation and enforcement of existing rules. This requires a more comprehensive approach that moves from identifying where norms are violated, to a systematic approach to keeping pressure on governments in question until there is change. This will involve increased coordination between international actors and those working locally.

 

In conclusion

Convening the leaders of all the MEA jury organizations together with former laureates was a first. It gave a unique opportunity to discuss the state of human rights and human rights action in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly contested world. The analysis differed in nuance only, the overall findings and conclusions had a large degree of consensus. While these outcomes may not in themselves offer ground-breaking new insights, that fact of the shared orientation and commitment is remarkable and encouraging in the face of the formidable challenges in front of us.

You can see and hear the public debate led by BBC’s Lyse Doucet on the MEA website: http://www.martinennalsaward.org (viewed by hundreds of people)

Senator de Lima – in detention in Philippines – receives her award

July 30, 2018

 PRIZE FOR FREEDOM. Liberal International gives the Prize for Freedom award to detained Senator Leila de Lima. Her son Israel and other members of her family receive the award on her behalf. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

On Saturday, 28 July 2018 Liberal International has given its ‘Prize for Freedom’ (as announced a year ago) to detained Senator Leila de Lima. Her son Israel and other members of her family receive the award on her behalf.  “Human rights are for all, or they are for nothing. The world is indeed watching, and Leila de Lima’s unjust detention will not be forgotten…. Senator Leila de Lima, you have received this prize for speaking truth to power,” Liberal International (LI) president Juli Minoves said during ceremonies held at the Novotel hotel in Quezon City on Saturday night. Minoves said this is the first time in almost a decade that the Prize for Freedom is being awarded outside of Europe. Fo more on this award and some 20 others with the word ‘freedom” in their name, see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/prize-for-freedom-liberal-intl

On Saturday, De Lima’s brother read her speech on her behalf: “I am extremely and unconditionally blessed, so much so that there is no room in my heart for regrets or second thoughts. No room for could haves, would haves, or should haves. I am where I am because I did the right thing.” Later in her speech, De Lima said that while dictators, oppressors, and abusers come and go, “we, the defenders of the people, can never rest.

In May Amnesty International (AI) Philippines, had recognized the detained Senator as the “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender” on its first-ever Ignite Awards for Human Rights. Time Magazine listed her as one of its 100 Most Influential People and Foreign Policy. Fortune Magazine in April 2017 ranked her as the 39th out of 50 of the World’s Greatest Leaders.

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/10/there-seems-to-be-no-limit-to-what-duterte-is-willing-to-say-and-may-get-away-with/

https://www.rappler.com/nation/208371-de-lima-family-receives-prize-for-freedom-award-liberal-international

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1014640/de-lima-2nd-filipino-to-receive-prize-for-freedom-award-after-cory-aquino

http://www.canadianinquirer.net/2018/05/29/ai-names-de-lima-as-most-distinguished-human-rights-defender/

 

Kenyan Lawyer, Allan Maleche, wins 2018 Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award

July 26, 2018

The International AIDS Society (IAS), amfAR and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation have announced that the Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award 2018 goes to a Kenyan lawyer, Allan Achesa Maleche, for his role in advancing human rights in the field of HIV and AIDS. Maleche received the award at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. For more information on this award: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/elizabeth-taylor-human-rights-award

Allan Maleche knows that the law is a powerful tool to protect human rights,” IAS President Linda-Gail Bekker said. “As a tireless crusader for the rights of people living with and affected by HIV and TB, Allan has achieved legal victories that have not only protected individuals. They have also led to smarter, more effective policies that reject stigma and discrimination and advance more humane and effective approaches to ending the twin epidemics of HIV and TB.”

“This award recognizes how critical rights-based approaches are to the HIV and TB responses. It is a wonderful honour that will inspire me and my colleagues in our continued work to protect the human rights of everyone affected by these epidemics,” the laureate said. He becomes the third winner of the award. The first winners of the award were Iranian physicians Arash and Kamiar Alaei in 2012, then Ugandan Physician and gay rights activist Paul Semugoma in 2014.

https://howafrica.com/kenyan-lawyer-allan-maleche-wins-the-2018-elizabeth-taylor-human-rights-award/

Some FACTS about refugee flows (which Hungary seems not to know)

July 26, 2018

UNHCR just published its Global Trends Report 2017 (see link below) and it contains some interesting facts, some myth-busting:
Fact 1:  85% refugees are hosted in the developing world (many of which are desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations). At the end of 2017, Turkey continued to be the country hosting the world’s largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million. Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people was a refugee under the responsibility of UNHCR.

 Fact 2: Two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries. Altogether, more than two-thirds of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries, namely:
1. Syrian Arab Republic (6.3 million)
2. Afghanistan (2.6 million)
3. South Sudan (2.4 million)
4. Myanmar (1.2 million)
5. Somalia (986,400)

Fact 3: Four out of five refugees remain in countries next door to their own. About 2.7 million people were newly registered as refugees during 2017. Crises in South Sudan and Myanmar caused new refugee numbers to grow. Most of them fled to neighboring countries or elsewhere in their immediate region. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 31 per cent of the global refugee population.

Still, Hungary found it necessary to pass legislation that criminalizes individuals and groups deemed to be supporting asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants. On 21 Jun 2018 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said: “Parliament’s decision is an attack on fundamental human rights and freedoms in Hungary. The constant stoking of hatred by the current Government for political gain has led to this latest shameful development, which is blatantly xenophobic and runs counter to European and international human rights standards and values.” …“To target those dealing with the most vulnerable, simply because they are foreigners, is truly disgraceful.”

The new legislation criminalizes a range of activities, including distributing information on migration-related matters, providing advice to migrants and refugees, and conducting human rights monitoring at borders. The authorities will be able to arrest, charge and immediately remove from Hungary’s border area with non-Schengen countries any lawyer, adviser, volunteer or legally resident family member suspected of helping a person to make an asylum claim or obtain a residence permit, or of providing other legal or humanitarian assistance. Under the legislation, individuals could face up to one year in prison and organisations could be banned. In addition, foundations that provide funding for NGOs that work on migrant issues could face charges. Hungarian authorities also announced this week that they would introduce a 25 per cent tax on funding for NGOs which “support immigration”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/18/excellent-background-piece-to-hungarys-stop-soros-mania/

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http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5b27be547/unhcr-global-trends-2017.html?utm_source=NEWS&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Opening_Global+Trends+report&utm_campaign=HQ_PS_EN_NEWS_B-JULY_180725_PROS_5

https://reliefweb.int/report/hungary/ 

Refugee defender Barbara Harrell-Bond died on 18 July 2018

July 25, 2018

Laura Hammond – Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London – wrote in IRIN the following obituary of Barbara Harrell-Bond who died on 18 july 2018. She was one of the most  prolific advocates of the rights of refugees all over the world. Tireless is often used but in her case an understatement. 

In the current international climate, refugees can use all the supporters they can get. But last week, refugees around the world lost an irreplaceable champion with the passing of Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond.

Barbara worked tirelessly for more than 35 years to improve protections for refugees, to ensure that their voices were heard not only in academic research but in real-world policy debates.

Barbara was never short of outrage at how badly refugees were being treated throughout the world. To her, fighting that injustice was the most important thing – it was all-consuming. Her research and teaching were inspirational to generations of scholars and practitioners of refugee and forced migration studies. Most memorably, she never shied away from speaking truth to power, taking on donor governments, UN bodies, large non-governmental organisations, and host governments alike. Indeed, her bold criticisms, backed by robust evidence, have inspired generations of scholars to follow her example and hold to account officials charged with assisting refugees.

I first met Barbara in 1988 while studying anthropology at the University of Oxford. I had spent the whole year studying subjects like witchcraft and totemism – things that can make people seem more exotic than understood – and I wanted to use my training in a more useful way. My tutor sent me along to meet Barbara. I stepped into her office and found a wonderful, diverse world of people who were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing – using academic research to try to make a positive difference in the world.

Trained as a legal anthropologist, she studied at Oxford under the supervision of eminent anthropologist Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard.

Her engagement with refugees and African studies came later, but her commitment to social justice was clear even from her 1967 dissertation, an ethnography of a deprived housing estate in the Oxford suburbs, Blackbird Leys. She went on to research law and dispute resolution in traditional courts in Sierra Leone.

Barbara’s work on refugees began in the early 1980s. She established the Refugee Studies Programme at Oxford (now known as the Refugee Studies Centre). Run by a tiny but dedicated team, this institution quickly became a crucial resource and meeting point for academics, practitioners, and refugees themselves. Barbara led the way in establishing refugee studies as an interdisciplinary academic field. At its centre: an agenda for influencing policy and bringing a refugee-centred focus to debates about asylum policy, social integration, and refugee assistance.

Barbara’s seminal 1986 book Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugeeswas based on research she and a band of Oxford students and local researchers conducted in what is now South Sudan. In it, she makes the very simple argument – she was the first to agree it should not have to be made – that refugees are not helpless victims, but always and everywhere have agency, resilience, and dignity, and that this must be the starting point for any assistance. Showing how badly wrong things can go when they fail to keep this basic truth in mind, this book – as well as Rights in Exile: Janus-Faced Humanitarianism (which she co-authored) – called to account those acting to aid and protect refugees. Her criticisms were always sharp, direct, and – most embarrassingly for their targets – meticulously substantiated with evidence. She did not suffer fools or egos gladly.

I worked for Barbara in 1989-1990, helping to put together material for training courses for people working with refugees. She had me working late into the night and on weekends. I remember working on New Year’s Day, stepping outside the office only to buy bread, salami, and Barbara’s cigarettes. When my work permit expired after a year, she somehow managed to get it extended through a connection in the British government’s Home Office – much to my surprise, as that was a regular target (along with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR) of her strident criticism.

These days I am less surprised; these organisations are sprinkled with people who were influenced by her, who carry with them a streak of critical boldness even as they work inside the belly of the beast.

Many years later, when we started a master’s degree in ‘Migration, Mobility and Development’ at SOAS, she told me that she was sorry we had focused on migrants of all kinds rather than focus exclusively on refugees, as she thought that the latter needed greater protection. She picked fights over this issue with many people, and she was not easy to get along with. At the same time, she was fiercely loyal to her friends, and we remained in regular contact over three decades, up to just a few weeks ago.

Barbara’s research and teaching were inspirational to generations of scholars and practitioners of refugee and forced migration studies. She was crucial in the founding of the Journal of Refugee Studies and the Forced Migration Review – respectively the world’s leading academic and practitioner publications on refugees and displacement. She also set up the Rights in Exile web portal that provides essential information and a network of experts who provide pro bono legal assistance to asylum seekers.

Barbara was also a founder of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, the leading professional association for scholarship on forced migration. The association will meet next week in Thessaloniki, Greece, where she was to have received yet another lifetime achievement award, and seen the launch of a new film about her life, Barbara Harrell-Bond: A Life Not Ordinary.

Barbara’s vision of refugee studies demanded being close to the regions and people with whom it is engaged. Disturbed by the idea of a refugee studies centre isolated in the ivory tower of Oxford, she worked with colleagues to establish the Refugee Law Project at the University of Makerere, Uganda, and refugee studies centres at Moi University in Kenya, the American University in Cairo, and others. Out of these centres have come many of the strongest and most interesting voices in refugee studies today, including academics who are or have been refugees themselves.

Her home in north Oxford was a hive of activity – every guest was pressed into voluntary service to contribute to scholarship or advocacy on refugee issues. Refugees found safe haven there. Stray academics found purpose in her fierce commitment to social justice.

When I now think about Barbara’s legacy, I realise that almost everyone I have collaborated with or respected in the field of refugee studies has a Barbara connection. In some cases she introduced us to each other. In other cases I feel a connection to someone and only find out much later that Barbara touched their lives in some way, in some part of the world – Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, India… Whether she introduced us to each other or not, having been in her orbit changed all of us and made us into a strong, subversive, passionate clan.

A few years ago I went to visit her again. She sat in her living room, which continued to be a cottage industry for refugee protection. Three student interns sat at computers. A fourth was cheerfully preparing lunch for everyone. They had all, like me all those years before, been seduced by Barbara’s passion.

http://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/07/18/appreciation-barbara-harrell-bond-refugee-advocate-and-researcher-1932-2018?utm_source=IRIN+-+the+inside+story+on+emergencies&utm_campaign=194a685f7e-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_WEEKLY_ENGLISH&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d842d98289-194a685f7e-75444053

https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/news/barbara-harrell-bond-obe-1932-2018

Nominations for the 2019 Dodd human rights prize open

July 23, 2018

The public is being invited to submit nominations for the human rights prize awarded biennially by the University of Connecticut. For more on the Thomas Dodd Human Rights Award see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/thomas-j-dodd-prize-in-international-justice-and-human-rights.

Nominations are being accepted online through 1 October.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/04/physicians-for-human-rights-gets-dodd-human-rights-award/

https://www.theday.com/statenortheast-news/20180721/public-invited-to-submit-nominations-for-dodd-human-rights-prize

Inventivity of evil: how states restrict HRDs access to the UN in 10 case studies

June 27, 2018

In a new report entitled “The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations” the ISHR outlines the many different ways States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to reprisals, physical threats and attacks. ‘States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’.

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.’

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to cooperate with the UN are well documented.  ‘These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

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

Human rights lawyer Felicia Langer died on 21 June 2018

June 24, 2018

Felicia Langer (born 9 December 1930 ) died on 21 June 2018. She was a German-Israeli attorney and human rights defender known for her defence of Palestinian political prisoners in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She authored several books alleging human rights violations on the part of Israeli authorities. She lived in Germany from 1990 and acquired German citizenship in 2008.In her writings, lectures and interviews she criticized the Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories, which she considered equivalent to an annexation. Langer furthermore considered the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as undermining the possibility of a two-state solution and demands the complete and unconditional retreat of Israel from the territories conquered in 1967 and a right to return for any descendant of the Palestinian refugees. In 1990, Langer received the Right Livelihood Award ” for the exemplary courage of her struggle for the basic rights of the Palestinian people.” In 1991, she was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Award. In July 2009, President of Germany awarded her the Federal Cross of Merit. The bestowal triggered a public controversy because of her attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more on human rights awards see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/

 on 23 June wrote in an Op ED in EurAsia Review Felicia Langer is highly respected and revered by the Palestinians like no other Israeli-German citizen. Only Yasser Arafat is more adored. Both the Palestinian Authority and the city of Tübingen, where she lived in exile, should set up a memorial place for this great German-Israeli woman…Felicia Langer is one of the few outstanding Israeli-German personalities who have sacrificed themselves to the legitimate concerns of the Palestinian people to the last breath, and whose memory should remember by all three peoples. Their tireless commitment to Palestinian justice and human rights should always be considered an inspiration and a societal obligation to their political actions.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felicia_Langer

https://www.eurasiareview.com/23062018-german-israeli-human-rights-lawyer-felicia-langer-passes-away-oped/