Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Documentary film Arica gets attention from United Nations Human Rights Council

September 15, 2021

On 2 June 2021 Davide Abbatescianni wrote in Cineuropa about Lars Edman and William Johansson’s film which documents the devastation caused by a Swedish mining giant in a Chilean desert town

Over 30 years after Swedish mining and smelting giant Boliden shipped almost 20,000 tons of toxic mining waste to the Chilean desert city of Arica, a group of Special Rapporteurs from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) led by Dr Marcos Orellana have made allegations of ongoing human rights abuses, as exposed in Lars Edman and William Johansson’s documentary Arica [+]. The feature was presented at last year’s IDFA and is set to continue its festival run in Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium.

Exposure to the waste led to numerous cases of cancer, birth defects and serious diseases. Currently, the Chilean government estimates that around 12,000 people were exposed to the toxins. The UNHRC has advised the Swedish government that “urgent measures should be taken to repatriate the hazardous wastes to Sweden and/or ensure the disposal of the hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner”.

Particular criticism is aimed at Boliden Mining, which the body accuses of “intimidating and threatening behaviour” towards human rights defenders – namely, the legal team representing the victims in Arica. They allege that such an approach, adopted by Boliden following the decision by the Swedish court of appeal not to hear the Arica case on the grounds that Boliden’s actions took place too long ago to be tried under Swedish law, was “a deliberate attempt to produce a wider, chilling effect of silencing and intimidating other lawyers and human rights defenders”. The United Nations’ action has been welcomed by victims and campaigners, including community campaigner Rodrigo Pino Vargas, who said: “For over 30 years, we have seen our families and our neighbours suffer the consequences of this Swedish waste. We have buried our children and been forced from our homes. We will not stop until our voices are heard and the damage is repaired. Even when we win in court, we find nothing but broken promises. For the first time, the intervention of the United Nations gives us hope that our human rights will be upheld. The people of Arica demand that immediate action be taken to meet our health needs and that the toxic waste be returned to where it belongs – in Sweden.”

The acclaimed documentary, shot over the course of 15 years, sheds light on a shameful case of modern colonialism. After losing their case in 2018 with a sentence that ultimately sided with Boliden, rejecting the Chilean judges’ verdict on the firm’s responsibilities and decriminalising their misdeeds, another appeal was lost in 2019. As of today, the Swedish Supreme Court has not granted Arica’s victims the right to appeal, and Boliden is threatening to sue their lawyers to make them pay the legal costs, a sum close to $5 million.

Producer Andreas Rocksén commented: “When Lars and William began filming 15 years ago, their intention was to ensure that the voices of the people in Arica, affected by the waste that came from under the soil where they grew up, would be heard. What has happened since has surpassed any expectations: their story is being heard around the world, and yet those same people in Arica are still fighting for justice. We will continue to amplify their voices as best we can and applaud all the different initiatives aimed at seeing their human rights upheld.”

Meanwhile, political pressure in Sweden is mounting as the country prepares to host the Stockholm+50 event, marking 50 years since the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Arica was produced by Swedish independent studio Laika Film & Television, and was co-produced by Belgium’s Clin d’Oeil Films, Chile’s Aricadoc, Norway’s Relation04 Media and the UK’s Radio Film Ltd. Its world sales are entrusted to Swiss outfit Lightdox.

https://www.cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/405513

New book: The vitality of human rights in turbulent times

September 14, 2021

“If attention is directed towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a different set of views of the cathedral emerges says Gráinne de Búrca on 9 September 2021 about her book “Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era“.

Cover for 

Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era

In the book, she examines a number of human rights campaigns around the world and their degree of success as well as their limitations. “I argue that even in a very turbulent and difficult era when human rights are under challenge from all sides, human rights approaches not only retain vitality and urgency for activists, but have also delivered substantive results over time. I suggest that if attention is directed away from a predominant focus on a handful of prominent Global North NGOs, and towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a fuller set of views of the cathedral—of the landscape of human rights—emerges. The book advances an experimentalist theory of the effectiveness of human rights law and advocacy which is interactive (involving the engagement of social movements, civil society actors with international norms, networks and institutions), iterative (entailing ongoing action) and long-term (pursuing of social and fundamental changes that are rarely rapidly achieved).

Yet there is little reason for complacency or sanguinity. These are highly challenging times for human rights, and for human rights defenders, activists and advocates everywhere. The tide of illiberalism continues to surge around the world, and liberal democracy is in an increasingly unhealthy state. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing inequalities, corporate power continues to grow and to elude governmental control, while powerful new alliances of religious and political actors have been moving not only to repress the rights of disfavored communities and constituencies, but also to try to reshape understandings of human rights in highly conservative, exclusionary and illiberal directions. Repression of civil society, and of freedom of assembly, expression and protest continues apace, with the number of killings of environmental and other activists growing each year.

At the same time, long-standing critiques of human rights from the progressive left have become popular and mainstream, with influential books in recent years deriding the weaknesses, failures and dysfunctions of human rights, and their complicity with colonialism and neoliberalism. Many of these critiques have been powerful and important, and several have prompted reflection and proposals for reform on the part of human rights practitioners and scholars

But several of the most prominent critiques go beyond a call for rethinking or reform. They argue that the age of human rights is over, that its endtimes are here, that human rights law and the human rights movement are ill-suited to address the injustices of our times, that the failure of human rights approaches to seek or bring about structural change or economic justice highlights their deeply neoliberal character or companionship, and that human rights advocates should perhaps no longer seek to preserve human rights, but should make way instead for more radical movements.

In my book, I argue that some of the more damning critiques are exaggerated and partial. Like the proverbial view of the cathedral, several of the sharpest criticisms focus only or mainly on one particular dimension of the human rights system, and tend to caricature and reduce a complex, plural and vibrant set of movements to a single, monolithic and dysfunctional one. At the same time that the most pessimistic of the critics are writing obituaries for human rights, multiple constituencies around the world are mobilizing and using the language and tools of human rights in pursuit of social, environment, economic and other forms of justice. From #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice and Indigenous movements to reproductive rights marches in Poland, Argentina, and Ireland, to protest movements in Belarus, Myanmar, Nigeria and Chile, the appeal of human rights at least for those seeking justice (even if not for academic critics) seems as potent as ever.

None of this is to suggest that human rights advocates should not constantly scrutinize and reevaluate their premises, institutions and strategies. On the contrary, hard-hitting critiques of human rights for failing to tackle structural injustices and economic inequality have helped to galvanize change and a reorientation of priorities and approaches on the part of various relevant actors and institutions. Human rights activists and movements should exercise vigilance to ensure that they serve and are led by the interests of those whose rights are at stake, that they do not obstruct other progressive movements and tactics, and that their approaches are fit for the daunting and profoundly transformative challenges of these pandemic times, including accelerated climate change, digitalization, ever-increasing inequality and illiberalism. With attention to these risks and dangers, the diverse and heterogeneous array of actors that make up the international human rights community have an indispensable role to play, in a turbulent era, within the broader framework of progressive social, economic, environmental and cultural movements.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/grainne-de-burca/

11 human rights defenders you need to follow on Instagram

September 14, 2021

Amnesty has collaborated with 11 artists, creatives and campaigners to illustrate the four basic freedoms on social media Four basic freedoms outlined in 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been reimagined as Freedom to Explore, Be, Imagine and Rebel

We [want to] inspire a new generation to know their rights – and claim them – Sacha Deshmukh

Amnesty International UK has collaborated with 11 artists to help a new generation of human rights defenders to better understand the four fundamental freedoms that every person has a right to.

Outlined in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was based on four basic freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

But many young people today are unaware of the human rights they are entitled to, despite living at a moment in history when many of these basic freedoms are at risk of being taken away.

Now Amnesty has reimagined these four tenets for a modern audience, redefining the broad categories as the:

  • Freedom to Explore
  • Freedom to Be
  • Freedom to Imagine
  • Freedom to Rebel

Over the coming weeks, artists, creatives and campaigners will be sharing their interpretations of what these freedoms mean to them on Instagram.

Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, said:

From the pandemic to the climate crisis to conflicts unfolding across the planet – we live in a world of unprecedented uncertainty. But there is hope.

“Sixty years after Amnesty International was founded, we are collaborating with 11 fantastic artists, creatives and campaigners to reimagine the four basic freedoms – inspiring a new generation to know their rights and claim them.

“Knowledge is power and at a time when many basic human rights are under threat, these artists are vital beacons of hope for their followers – and the wider world.”

11 artists who want to change the world for the better

  • Basma Khalifa (she/her @basmakhalifa) is a Sudanese multi-disciplinary creative and hosts the ‘Unpretty Podcast’ which discusses perceptions of beauty through the lens of people of colour. Basma has worked with BBC1, BBC3, Facebook, Apple and Vice. 
  • Das Penman (they/she @das.penman) Das started their Instagram page during lockdown as a means of creative expression but it has since grown into a safe space for discussions about politics, mental health and everything in between. Das combines a passion for drawing with current affairs to create the “Daisy Mail”, a round-up of news stories to help followers stay informed.
  • Jacob V Joyce (they/them @jacobvjoyce) is a non-binary artist with a focus on queer and decolonial narratives. Joyce’s work ranges from afro-futurist world building workshops to mural painting, comic books, performance art and punk music.
  • Joy Yamusangie (they/them @joyyamusangie) specialises in illustration, experimenting with a range of processes to produce mixed media pieces. Joy explores themes of memory, intimacy, race and culture from a personal perspective.
  • Bee Illustrates (they/them @beeillustrates) is a queer illustrator who uses their art to educate, empower and inform people on a range of topics including mental health, LGBTQ+ and anti-racism.
  • Radam Ridwan (they/them @radamridwan) is a queer non-binary multi-disciplinary artist of Indonesian heritage. Radam’s work centres on QTIPOC empowerment and has been published internationally with features in VICE, Vogue Italia, gal-dem and Gay Times.
  • Tahmina Begum (she/her @tahminaxbegum) is a journalist and has featured in HuffPostUK, Women’s Health, I-D, Dazed, Refinery29, Glamour, The Independent, Metro, The i and gal-dem.  She covers a wide scope of topics centring around the lives of Muslim women and women of colour.
  • Jaz O’Hara (she/her @theworldwidetribe) is a motivational speaker, podcaster and the founder of The Worldwide Tribe, an organisation supporting refugees and asylum seekers globally.
  • Anshika Khullar (they/them @aorists) also known as Aorists is an award-winning Indian, non-binary transgender artist with an interest in intersectional feminist narratives.  In addition to their editorial and literary projects, Anshika has appeared as a guest speaker and created video content for the Tate.
  • Antony Amourdoux (he/him @antony_amourdoux) was a Great British Bake Off 2018 contestant and remains a passionate baker. Antony was born in Pondicherry, India, where he learned to bake with his father. He supports a number of causes including LGBTQ rights.
  • Jess (she/her @thechroniciconic) campaigns about the unseen injustices around disability, mental health and neurodiversity by sharing both her lived experience and the voices of others. Jess’ goal is to destigmatise and normalise conversations on these subjects.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/know-your-freedoms-11-human-rights-defenders-you-need-follow-instagram-right-now

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

Recommendations

As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

Reed Brody about the death of Hissene Habre

September 1, 2021

A bit of a special post: On 28 August 2021, Reed Brody, [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/21/the-dictator-hunter-works-from-home/] wrote on Facebook a post about the death of the former dictator of Chad Hissene Habre. Reed’s deep involvement in his case makes his observations worth a read:

A lot of people have asked me how I felt about the death in Senegal of the former dictator of Chad Hissene Habre, on whose prosecution I spent 17 years. https://www.nytimes.com/…/africa/hissene-habre-dead.html For me, especially in later years, the effort was much more about using the case to promote transformation and giving the victims a means to claim their dignity than about the person of Hissène Habré.At Habré’s trial, Kaltouma Deffalah, one of the survivors of sexual slavery, testified defiantly that she felt “strong, very courageous because I am before the man who was strong before in Chad, who …doesn’t even speak now, I am really happy to be here today, facing him, to express my pain, I am truly proud.” It was a sentiment expressed, in one way or another, by many of the survivors who testified.Since Habré was sentenced to life in prison in 2016, his victims have been campaigning to get reparations, as awarded by courts in Chad and Senegal. In fact, on the morning of his death, I was having a phone conference with the victims’ Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina [ see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/179E3C5C-9175-1B42-99C9-1004DDBC850E]and other lawyers on how to kick-start the stalled procedures, particularly at the African Union ( background here – https://www.hrw.org/…/hissene-habres-victims-continue…) That said, it is a strange feeling that he’s dead. I used to imagine that Habré and I were sitting across a chessboard in a strategic battle, trying to anticipate the other’s moves. Back in 2004, I asked the French journalist Christian Millet, who maintained friendly contact with Habré, what he thought the former dictator’s strategy was against us. And Millet responded: “Il vous attend dans sa grotte.” He is waiting for you in his cave, a reference to his days as a rebel fighter in the rocky desert of northern Chad. Habré was playing this chess game with the black pieces, waiting for us to over-extend. That is how as president of Chad, with French and American help, he defeated Libya’s Moemmar Qaddafi whose troops had occupied part of his country.In Senegal, we were in Habré’s cave, where he had used the millions he looted from the Chadian treasury to build himself a network of protection that included politicians, religious figures and journalists . But in the end, the tenacity and perseverance of his victims, the evidence of his massive crimes ( thousands of killings, systematic torture, sexual slavery ) , and the courage of some Senegalese leaders such as then-justice minister Aminata Toure, overcame Habré’s home-field advantage, and he was powerless to prevent his conviction in an exemplary and transparent trial.In his one written declaration to the investigating judges, Habré said that I was “an enemy… who has never hidden his aggressive and outrageous hostility, a specialist in forgery and lies.” How do I feel now? I’m grateful that Habré lived long enough to face justice and the accusatory gaze of his victims.”

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)

August 23, 2021

On 12 August 2021, The open Society Foundations published a piece on a grantee of the Open Society Foundations: Rights Tracker a project to measure the rights’ performance of governments
Data can motivate change. This is the mantra of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), a nonprofit research group that has launched Rights Tracker to measure the rights performance of governments. Open Society’s Borislav Petranov spoke to Anne-Marie Brook of HRMI about this initiative. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/human-rights-measurement-initiative-hrmi/

Tell us more about the Rights Tracker. Why do you think a tool like this is needed? How do you hope people will use it?

Our vision is a world where countries are competing to see who can treat people the best. Leaders and other decision-makers already have lots of statistics on things like GDP growth. In producing the Rights Tracker we want to make sure they also have robust data on how countries are treating people.

Advocates, journalists, government officials, and others can all think of the Rights Tracker as a set of independent scorecards on how well countries are doing. My hope is that they will take the opportunity to re-think the way they have always done things and consider how data can lead to new approaches to achieving their goals.

For example, human rights advocates and journalists often do incredible work documenting specific human rights violations. The stories they tell can be very powerful, but they could be made even more powerful by pairing them with data. For instance, they might want to highlight that a particular story is just one example of a much more systemic pattern of human rights violations.

All of us who have been to school know that receiving a report card can be both nerve-wracking and exciting. What have I done well on? Where could I do better that I might not have already thought of? We want our data to be helpful tools for improvement.

In creating a tool like this, what is your greatest ambition? And what is your largest concern?

Our greatest ambition is a world where all people are able to live their lives to their fullest potential, and HRMI is no longer needed!

In the more foreseeable future, we want to measure all rights set out in international human rights law, for all countries in the world, and for the data to be actively used every day, in every country, to help bring about improvements in the lives of people.

My largest concern is for the safety of human rights defenders worldwide, many of whom are contributing their knowledge to our dataset via our annual expert survey. I have incredible admiration and respect for these brave people who often put their own safety, and that of their families, at risk in order to stand up for what is right. At HRMI we take data security extremely seriously and do all we can to magnify the voices of these people, in spaces they may not otherwise be able to reach while protecting their anonymity.

A lot of the concerns about indices and rankings have focused on perceived difficulties in applying methodologies that will produce reliable results: how is HRMI handling this challenge?

It is very important to us that the country scores we produce are equally well accepted by the academic measurement community (who peer-review our methodologies) and human rights practitioners, who need to see that our country scores accurately represent what they see happening on the ground. So far, we are getting the thumbs up from both groups.

To achieve this, we use co-design techniques—particularly for the ongoing development of our expert survey and the Rights Tracker. For example, every year we run user testing sessions via Zoom, where we ask a user to speak out loud to one of the HRMI team as they interact with our tools. It is incredible how much we learn from this “fly on the wall” experience. Everyone who participates in one of these sessions is helping to co-design these key products.

Our economic and social rights methodology is equally innovative. The SERF (Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment) index methodology we use—developed by HRMI co-founder Susan Randolph, and her colleagues—has won two important prizes, including the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Ideas for Improving World Order.

Looking ahead, how do you see this work developing? 

We have two key priorities looking ahead:

  • To achieve global coverage with our expert survey. We already have a sprinkling of countries across every region of the world, and we are now filling out the gaps region by region, as funding is secured. All countries in the Pacific region are already included, and our current focus is on completing coverage across Asia. Next year we will be adding India and China, at which point we will be covering over half the world’s population. We already have global coverage of the five economic and social rights we measure.
  • To build the momentum of HRMI data being used for impact. We work hard to equip civil society and journalists with accessible data tools. We also expect to see significant data uptake by the private sector. Our data can feed into ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investment analysis, geopolitical advisory services, and international policy consulting. Watch this space!

https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/q-and-a-how-does-your-government-score-on-rights

Positioning China as THE threat, overlooks the bigger issues within democracies

August 7, 2021

Zack Beauchamp in VOX of 28 July 2021 makes a strong but perhaps controversial plea that “In the fight for democracy’s future, Indian and American politics is more important than anything China is doing“:

Donald Trump and Narendra Modi shaking hands while standing in front of US and Indian flags.
Donald Trump and Narendra Modi.

One of the emerging tenets of the Biden presidency is that the United States and China are locked in ideological conflict over the fate of democracy.

In March, during his first press conference as president, he declared that “this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.” In April, during his first address to a joint session of Congress, he labeled this struggle “the central challenge of the age” — and that China’s Xi Jinping is “deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world.”

More recently, in last week’s CNN town hall, he warned that Xi “truly believes that the 21st century will be determined by oligarchs, [that] democracies cannot function in the 21st century. The argument is, because things are moving so rapidly, so, so rapidly that you can’t pull together a nation that is divided to get a consensus on acting quickly.”

Inasmuch as there is a Biden doctrine, the notion that the US needs to protect democracy from China’s authoritarian model is at the center of it. “Biden’s administration [is] framing the contest as a confrontation of values, with America and its democratic allies standing against the model of authoritarian repression that China seeks to impose on the rest of the world,” Yaroslav Trofimov writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Biden’s thinking captures an important insight: that the struggle over democracy’s fate will be one of the defining conflicts of the 21st century. But his analysis is crucially flawed in one respect: China is not an especially important reason why democracy is currently under threat — and centering it is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous.

In countries where democracy is at real risk of collapse or even outright defeated — places like India, Brazil, Hungary, Israel, and, yes, the United States — the real drivers of democratic collapse are domestic. Far-right parties are taking advantage of ethno-religious divides and public distrust in the political establishment to win electorally — and then twist the rules to entrench their own hold on power. Leaders of these factions, like former US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aid and abet each other’s anti-democratic politics.

More traditional authoritarian states, even powerful ones like China or Russia, have thus far played at best marginal roles in this struggle.

“Much of the recent global democratic backsliding has little to do with China,” Thomas Carothers and Frances Brown, two leading experts on democracy, write in a recent Foreign Affairs essay. “An overriding focus on countering China and Russia risks crowding out policies to address the many other factors fueling democracy’s global decline.”

This misdiagnosis has real policy stakes. Leaning into competition with China could lead the US to excuse anti-democratic behavior by important partners, like Modi or the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, in a manner reminiscent of US relations with anti-communist dictators during the Cold War. Moreover, too much emphasis on competition with China could distract from the place where Biden has the most power to affect democracy’s fate — the home front, an area in which voting rights advocates increasingly see him as indefensibly complacent.

There are real problems associated with China’s rise. Its increasing military belligerence, predatory economic practices, and horrific human rights abuses in places like Xinjiang are all very serious concerns. But the fact that China is the source of many real issues doesn’t mean it’s the source of democratic erosion worldwide — and positioning it as such will do little to advance the democratic cause.

Democracies are rotting from within, not without

In his public rhetoric, Biden often argues that the US needs to prove that democracy “works” — that it can “get something done,” as he said last week — in order to outcompete the Chinese model.

While he hasn’t spelled out the nature of this competition all that precisely, the concern seems to center on Chinese policy success: that its rapid economic growth and authoritarian ability to make swift policy changes will inspire political copycats unless democracies prove that they can also deliver real benefits for their citizens.

“I believe we are in the midst of an historic and fundamental debate about the future direction of our world,” the president wrote in a March letter outlining his national security strategy. “There are those who argue that, given all the challenges we face, autocracy is the best way forward. And there are those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting all the challenges of our changing world.”

But at this point, the fear of Chinese political competition is mostly hypothetical. While the Chinese government and state media frequently tout the superiority of its political model to American-style democracy, there’s little evidence that these efforts are all that influential globally — and certainly not in the countries where democracy is most at risk.

A look back at the Soviet Union, the last major challenge to the hegemony of liberal democracy, is telling. ln ideological terms, there’s no comparison: Soviet communism was a far more powerful model than Chinese authoritarian state capitalism is today.

CHINA-BEIJING-XI JINPING-JULY 1 MEDAL-AWARD CEREMONY (CN)
Xi Jinping.

Marxist ideals inspired revolutionary Communist movements and governments around the globe, successfully toppling Western-backed governments in countries ranging from Cuba to Vietnam to China itself. By contrast, there are vanishingly few foreign governments or even political parties today openly vowing to emulate modern China. While the Soviets had the Iron Curtain in Europe, modern China’s most notable client state is North Korea — perhaps the most isolated and mistrusted government on the planet.

In the countries that observers worry most about — established democratic states experiencing “backsliding” toward authoritarianism — Chinese influence is minimal at best.

In backsliding democracies, authoritarian-inclined leaders win and hold power through the electoral system for domestic reasons. Corruption scandals in India and Hungary, violent crime in the Philippines, a racist backlash against America’s first Black president: These are some of the key factors in the rise of authoritarian populists, and they weren’t created or even significantly promoted by China.

Elected authoritarians still bill themselves as defenders of democracy while in power — even after they start undermining the electoral system with tactics like extreme gerrymandering and takeovers of state election agencies. Their political appeal isn’t grounded in an overt rejection of democracy in favor of a Chinese model, but rather a claim to be taking democracy back from corrupt elites in the name of the “true” people, typically defined in ethno-nationalist terms.

The ideology driving modern democratic decline is vastly different from the sort that China promotes at home and through official state media. It represents a home-grown challenge inside the democratic world, rather than an externally stoked, Cold War-style threat.

That’s not to say China does nothing to undermine democracy outside its borders. It has, for example, exported surveillance technology and provided training in “cybersecurity” for foreign officials that amount to teaching them tools for controlling public opinion — underscoring its role as a global pioneer in using technology to repress dissent.

Yet even in this area, China’s influence can easily be overstated. Backsliding countries typically do not ban websites outright or arrest online dissidents in the way China does. Instead, they rely on spreading misinformation and other more subtle uses of state power. When they do use more traditional authoritarian tools, they often don’t need China’s help in doing so — as shown by recent reporting on Israel’s NSO Group, a company with close links to the Israeli state that sold spy software to India and Hungary (whose governments allegedly used it to surveil journalists and opposition figures).

In his recent book The Rise of Digital Repression, Carnegie Endowment scholar Steven Feldstein attempts to systematically document the use of digital tools and tactics for undermining democracy around the world. He found that while such practices were indeed becoming more widespread, this is largely due to domestic factors in authoritarian and backsliding countries rather than Chinese influence.

“China really wasn’t pushing this technology any more so than other countries were pushing advanced technology or censorship technologies,” he told me in an interview earlier this year. “What I saw — when I spoke on the ground to intelligence officials, government officials, and others — was that there were many other factors at play that were much more determinative in terms of whether they would choose to purchase a surveillance system or use it than just the fact that China was trying to market it.”

The problem with blaming China for democracy’s crisis

Biden and his team recognize that many of the challenges to democracy have domestic roots. But in casting the rise of anti-democratic populism as part of a grander ideological struggle against an authoritarian Chinese model, they conflate two distinct phenomena — and risk making some significant policy errors.

Again, an analogy to the Cold War is helpful here. One of the most grievous errors of America’s containment policy was its repeated willingness to align itself with anti-communist dictators. The perceived need to stop the expansion of Soviet influence consistently trumped America’s commitment to democracy — with horrific consequences for the people of Iran, Argentina, Indonesia, and Bangladesh (to name just a handful of examples from a very long list).

The more China is treated like the new Soviet Union — the principal ideological threat to democracy whose influence must be curtailed — the more likely the US is to repeat that mistake.

Take India, for example. In the past six months, Biden has courted Modi’s government as a potential counterweight to China. “There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than one between the U.S. and India. We are the world’s two leading democracies,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a July 28 press conference in New Delhi.

Yet this is an Indian government that has assailed the rights of its Muslim citizens, strong-armed US social media companies into removing critical posts, and arrested a leading protest figure. Earlier this year, V-Dem — a research group behind the leading academic metric of democracy — announced that India under Modi was an “electoral autocracy,” rather than a true democracy. It’s easy to see how an emphasis on China could lead to these problems getting swept under the rug.

“There has long been a bipartisan consensus in Washington that India is a critical ally in its attempt to check Chinese influence in Asia,” the Indian intellectual Pankaj Mishra wrote in a June Bloomberg column. “In overlooking the Modi government’s excesses, Biden probably counts on support from a US foreign policy establishment invested more in realpolitik than human rights.”

If you take the notion that democracy’s crisis is emerging from within seriously, then it follows that very best thing that Biden could do for democracy’s global future has nothing to do with China or even foreign policy. It’s arresting creeping authoritarianism at home.

Black Voters Matter Protest
Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) are arrested during a protest to support voting rights outside of Hart Senate Office Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021.

Biden has acknowledged this at times, writing in his March letter that his global strategy “begins with the revitalization of our most fundamental advantage: our democracy.” And yet that urgency hasn’t translated into action — legislation necessary to safeguard American democracy from the GOP’s increasingly anti-democratic politics appears stalled out. Biden, for his part, has refused to publicly endorse more aggressive action to break the logjam — like abolishing the filibuster for voting rights bills.

The New York Times recently reported that “in private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression’” — an implausible claim that reflects an administration that, according to activists, has “largely accepted the Republican restrictions as baked in and is now dedicating more of its effort to juicing Democratic turnout.”

Shoring up American democracy after the recent attacks it has suffered should be the top priority of any US government concerned with democracy’s global fate. But for all of Biden’s lofty language about out-competing China and winning the future for democracy, there’s a striking lack of urgency when it comes to the perhaps the most important backsliding country — his own.

In this sense, China has very little influence over the future of democracy globally. The key battles are happening not in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait, but in the legislatures of New Delhi and Washington. If there really is to be a grand struggle for democracy’s survival in the 21st century, it needs to start there.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/22590777/biden-china-democracy-voting-india-doctrine

Saturday Mothers charged in Istanbul

August 7, 2021

On 12 July 2021, the case against the 46 human rights defenders and activists, which includes the families of the disappeared and supporters continued at the Istanbul 21st Criminal Court of First Instance. They were charged with violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations for “unarmed participation in an unauthorised assembly and refusal to disperse after warnings” (Article 32 of the Law 2911). The case was filed following the violent arrest of the 46 people and one minor by the police during the 700th gathering of the Saturday Mothers/People on 25 August 2018.

On 18 November 2020, an Istanbul court of first instance filed a lawsuit against 46 people who were arrested on 25 August 2018 during the violent police intervention at the 700th gathering of Saturday Mothers/People in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square.

On 25 August 2018, police forcibly dispersed the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigil and detained 47 protesters, including families of the victims of enforced disappearances in the 90s. The detained protesters were released from police custody later that day.

About the situation:

On 12 July 2021, the case against the 46 human rights defenders and activists, which includes the families of the disappeared and supporters of Saturday Mothers/People, continued at the Istanbul 21st Criminal Court of First Instance. They were charged with violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations for “unarmed participation in an unauthorised assembly and refusal to disperse after warnings” (Article 32 of the Law 2911). The case was filed following the violent arrest of the 46 people and one minor by the police during the 700th gathering of the Saturday Mothers/People on 25 August 2018.

On 18 November 2020, an Istanbul court of first instance filed a lawsuit against 46 people who were arrested on 25 August 2018 during the violent police intervention at the 700th gathering of Saturday Mothers/People in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square.

On 25 August 2018, police forcibly dispersed the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigil and detained 47 protesters, including families of the victims of enforced disappearances in the 90s. The detained protesters were released from police custody later that day.

Cumartesi Anneleri/İnsanları: Saturday Mothers/People is a human rights group, comprised of human rights defenders and families of victims of enforced disappearance in Turkey in the 1990s. They began organising weekly vigils at Galatasaray Square after the detention of Hasan Ocak on 21 March 1995 and the subsequent discovery of his tortured body in a common grave. Human rights defenders and the families of the victims gathered in Galatasaray Square for the first time on 27 May 1995, demanding an end to enforced disappearances, seeking information on the whereabouts of those who have disappeared and justice for the victims. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturday_Mothers

In the meatime in Malta, two Turkish mothers who were jailed and separated from their young sons for using forged passports have been freed as Court overturned their prison sentence. The women, Rabia Yavuz, 27, and Muzekka Deneri, 29, have been fighting to be reunited with their sons – aged two and four – after being sentenced to six months in prison. 

The two women were freed on Friday afternoon after having ear.lier this week filed an appeal against the ‘disproportionate and excessive’ punishment. They admitted to using fake travel documents, saying they could not return to their country because of political persecution. Moreover, the two women, who were separated from their sons, are in the process of applying for asylum.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/saturday-motherspeople-court-second-hearing

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/court-to-decide-whether-to-free-turkish-mothers-today.891802

Results of 47th session of the Human Rights Council

August 7, 2021

The ISHR and 17 other organisations (see below for their names) share reflections on the key outcomes of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

GENDER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

MIGRANTS RIGHTS

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

ARMS TRANSFERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

ALGERIA

While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

BELARUS

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

CHINA

The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

COLOMBIA

We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally

ETHIOPIA

The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

ERITREA

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.

NICARAGUA

We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

PALESTINE

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population […] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid.” We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.”

THE PHILIPPINES

While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

SYRIA

We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VENEZUELA

In the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.

*American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc47-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

Team 29, prominent legal defense group in Russia, folds under state pressure

July 24, 2021

Tanya Lokot on 21 July 2021 in Global Voices wrote about the closure of Team 29:

For almost seven years, Team 29 (Komanda 29), a group of independent lawyers, attorneys, advocacy experts and journalists, has fought for the rights of Russian activists, political prisoners, and other citizens. On July 19, the group announced it was shutting down its operations in order to protect its staff and clients from possible criminal prosecution. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/13/russian-human-rights-defenders-try-technology-and-gaming-innovations/

The decision to suspend their work comes after Russia’s internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Team 29’s website—allegedly, for publishing content produced by Spolecnost Svobody Informace (Freedom of Information Society), a Prague-based non-profit organisation which the Russian state had labelled as an “undesirable organisation” earlier in June 2021.

In a July 18 post on their Telegram channel, Team 29 said the Russian prosecutors had “conflated” the group with the Czech NGO (implying they were the same organisation), a charge that Team 29 denies.

While its lawyers plan to appeal the allegations as “arbitrary and contrived”, the group decided to act swiftly out of an abundance of caution to prevent further criminal charges against its staff, collaborators and supporters.

Under these circumstances, the continued activity of Team 29 poses a direct and obvious threat to the safety of many people, and we cannot ignore this risk. We are making the difficult decision to suspend the activity of Team 29. The attorneys and lawyers will continue to work on their client’s cases in a purely private capacity, unless the defendants refuse their services given the current situation.

We are closing all of the Team 29 media projects and purging the archive: all (!) texts, guides, reports, investigations, legal explainers, stories of political prisoners, court documents, interviews, podcasts, our literary project, our social media posts—the existence of this content online can be construed as “disseminating materials of an undesirable organisation” according to the logic that was used to block our website.

In their Telegram statement, the group also implored its supporters to delete any direct links or reposts of their content, as these could be interpreted as participating in the activity of an “undesirable organisation”. However, mentioning the organisation or sharing opinions about the situation was not illegal, according to the team.

Additionally, Team 29 said it was shutting down its crowdfunding efforts, and would refund subscribers for any funds that were unspent.

The founder of Team 29, Saint Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov, is himself currently under investigation and facing felony charges for his work defending Russian journalist Ivan Safronov who is accused of treason. Though he now heads Team 29, Pavlov was previously the inaugural president of the Czech NGO, but hasn’t been involved with the Freedom of Information Society in any official capacity for the past five years.

Though it’s their digital footprint that is facing pressure from the authorities, Team 29 is best known for their legal support and human rights work in Russia. Writing on his own Telegram channel, Ivan Pavlov argued that it was this work on the ground, defending Russian citizens, that got Team 29 in trouble:

Our authorities have done everything to criminalize the activity and even our very name, Team 29. This is a peculiar sort of recognition of the effectiveness of our work and a compliment from our procedural opponents, who once again have been exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior.

Founded in 2014 by Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and freedom of information advocate, Team 29 has long been a thorn in Kremlin’s side. After authorities blacklisted Pavlov’s previous organisation, Institute for the Development of the Freedom of Information, as a “foreign agent”, Team 29 was born.

Since then, the group of defense lawyers, attorneys and reporters has taken on some of the most high-profile political cases in the country, including the trial of scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev on treason charges, the court battle around the designation of Alexey Navalny’s political movement and anti-corruption organisation as “extremist,” and the case of Karina Tsurkan, a former energy executive who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges in December 2020.

Apart from defending political prisoners and activist groups in court, Team 29 has also published legal advice guides (archival link), spearheaded creative anti-corruption investigations, and even provided legal representation for a whistleblower from the infamous “troll factories” who took their Internet Research Agency to court in a labour dispute.

In an interview to independent Russian news website Meduza, Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer formerly with Team 29, said that the latest events were likely “a cumulative effect” of all of their high-profile work. He said both he and Pavlov have received threats implying they were “like a bone in the throat not only for investigators, but also other people and state agencies”, so “that is why the decision was made to bomb us with everything they have”.

Despite the closure of their website, the group said its individual group members would continue their ongoing legal defense work as private individuals. According to Ivan Pavlov‘s Telegram post, Team 29 was “never a formal organisation, but rather a collective of like-minded people” and that “as long as there are people, there will be new ideas and new projects”.