Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Refugees and migrants in camp conditions at high risk of COVID-19

March 30, 2020

Covid-19 spread leads to reactions and messages of solidarity

March 27, 2020

From the myriad of messages on the spread and impact of the Covid-19 virus, here a few excerpts:

On 27 March 2020, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons said that society has a duty to exercise solidarity and better protect older persons who are bearing the lion’s share of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Reports of abandoned older persons in care homes or of dead corpses found in nursing homes are alarming. This is unacceptable,” said  “We all have the obligation to exercise solidarity and protect older persons from such harm.” Older persons .. are further threatened by COVID-19 due to their care support needs or by living in high-risk environments such as institutions, the expert said. [https://reliefweb.int/report/world/unacceptable-un-expert-urges-better-protection-older-persons-facing-highest-risk-covid]

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Adrien-Claude Zoller, President of the small NGO ‘Geneva for Human Rights – Global Training’ issued a statement of solidiarity ith the marginalised who will suffer most:….As a human rights organisation, Geneva for Human Rights is deeply worried about the situation of the most vulnerable, of the unemployed and homeless, of those in extreme poverty, of people with disabilities, of women already assuming so many tasks, of the elderly, of those arbitrarily detained in overcrowded prisons, of minorities, migrants, internally displaced, refugees, and indigenous peoples. It is a matter of human dignity. Human rights are at stake.
Many Governments first denied, then de-dramatized the spread of the virus, before taking measures to contain it and limit the damage for their economy. Too often in these measures, the social impact of both the health and the economic crises is neglected. We all fully support efforts to eradicate the virus. At the same time, we should not forget the commitment of the international community to eradicate extreme poverty (‘Sustainable Development Goal’, Nr.1). We have to protect the most vulnerable.
….Countrywide lockdowns imply a limitation of human rights. Indeed, complying with these emergency rules, including home confinement, is a moral imperative, a matter of solidarity to slow down the spread of the virus in our communities, and to support those on the frontline, in particular health- and social workers. However, we should recall that measures derogating from human rights obligations in ‘public emergency which threatens the life of the nation’ have to be limited ‘to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation’. They have to be proportionate, limited in time, and in no way discriminatory (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 4, United Nations, 16 December 1966). In many countries, such derogations led to special powers attributed to the Executive branch. Still, the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination have to apply. Parliamentary control and the Rule of Law remain a must, as well as transparency and access to all the information. We are dismayed that in several ‘denying’ countries (e.g. China at the beginning of the pandemic, Brazil, Egypt, Turkey) journalists, physicians, health workers and human rights defenders, are targeted for having exposed the gravity of the situation and the fate of marginalized people…………

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The New Humanitarian looks at the expected impact on aid:  https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/03/26/coronavirus-international-aid

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The G20 seems to be aware as shown by a portion of their recent statement: “Enhancing Global CooperationWe will work swiftly and decisively with the front-line international organizations, notably the WHO, IMF, WBG, and multilateral and regional development banks to deploy a robust, coherent, coordinated, and rapid financial package and to address any gaps in their toolkit. We stand ready to strengthen the global financial safety nets. We call upon all these organizations to further step up coordination of their actions, including with the private sector, to support emerging and developing countries facing the health, economic, and social shocksof COVID-19.We are gravely concerned withthe serious risks posed to all countries, particularly developing and least developed countries, and notably in Africaand small island states, where health systems and economies may be less able to cope with thechallenge, as well as the particular risk faced by refugees and displaced persons. We consider that consolidating Africa’s health defense is a key for the resilience of global health. We will strengthen capacity building and technical assistance, especially to at-risk communities. We stand ready to mobilize development and humanitarian financing” [https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_Extraordinary%20G20%20Leaders%e2%80%99%20Summit_Statement_EN%20(3).pdf]

Four women human rights defenders with a mission

March 25, 2020

The Bandera County Courrier of 7 March 2020 referred to the following four women human rights defenders from four non-European countries who should serve as examples for the many who are tirelessly fighting for their rights.

Mexico: Norma Librada Ledezma

Norma Librada Ledezmas 15 – year-old daughter Paloma disappeared on2  March 2002 in Chihuahua, Mexico. 27 For days, the mother searched desperately for her daughter . The police did not give her any support. At the 29. March 2002 Paloma’s body was found. Ledezma is convinced that if the police had investigated earlier and more thoroughly, their daughter could have been saved. That day, the Mexican founded the organization “Justicia para nuestras hijas”, which means: justice for our daughters. This provides legal advice and support in cases of feminicide (murder of women). The same applies to human trafficking and kidnapping. Ledezma wants justice for the victims and the families affected. The Mexican has already supported more than 200 investigations into cases of feminicide and kidnapping. The death of her daughter Paloma is not an isolated case in Mexico. According to UN Women, around ten women are killed in Mexico every day. Ledezma has been able to improve the investigation of feminicides in the country with her work. The Mexican woman has also set up a public prosecutor’s office in Chihuahua that specializes in crimes against women as victims. For her commitment, Ledezma has been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award, an award for people and organizations who are committed to protecting human rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/05/daughters-murder-motivated-norma-ledezma-to-hunt-for-mexicos-disappeared/]

Norma Librada Ledezma
Norma Librada Ledezma Photo: Martin Ennals Foundation

India: Malti Tudu

Malti Tudu has a mission: she wants to end child marriage in her homeland, the state of Bihar, India. In the tribe the number of child marriages is particularly high. 74 percent of women get married under 18 year  For the young activist, one thing is certain: children should not be forced to marry. According to Unicef, child marriage violates the rights of girls and boys, with girls being affected five times more often. The married girls have to drop out of school. Teenage mothers also die more often than mature women from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Tudu has been fighting child marriage in Bihar for more than two years. The activist has partnered with other women. Together they educate the residents in the surrounding villages and try to prevent as many child marriages as possible. The women also get a lot of headwind in their actions. But Tudu remains persistent – with success. She has already saved several girls from getting married. In the meantime, she has become a role model for many young women in India. In recent years, more and more women have come together to fight child marriage in India. And there is progress: In the past ten years, the proportion of child marriages in India has gone from 50 percent to 27 percent.

Kenya: Christine Ghati Alfons

Christine Ghati Alfons, a young Kenyan, is fighting for the circumcision of girls to stop. That is not easy. Many in their homeland are still convinced that circumcised women have better chances of marriage and are better integrated into the community. Officially, genital mutilation has been official in Kenya since 2011 forbidden. Nevertheless, according to the United Nations, one in five women is still between 15 and 49 years in Kenya – the mutilation happens in private clinics or at home.

Christine Ghati Alfons.
Christine Ghati Alfons. Photo: private

Had her father not stood up for her then, Alfons would have been circumcised. His involvement broke a taboo in the community – and had consequences. He was killed because he wanted to protect his eight-year-old daughter. Alfons didn’t know anything about her father’s courage for a long time. Because all of her friends were circumcised, she wanted that too. The vehemence with which her mother forbade her surprised her. When they talked about the risk of contracting HIV during circumcision at school, Alfons decided against it. Only then did she learn from the mother why her father died. “I want to make my father proud,” says Alfons today. She is committed to girls who have no one to stand up for them. The 27 year-old founded the organization “Safe Engage Foundation ”with which she goes to the communities to talk to children, parents and teachers, to convince them of the cruelty. When genital mutilation occurs, the clitoris and labia become partially or completely away. In particularly severe cases, the entire external genitalia is cut off and sewn back up except for a hole the size of a matchstick. The circumcised women torture themselves throughout their lives with physical and psychological pain. Not only in Africa, but also in Asia and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia: Manal al Sharif

Manal al Sharif becomes famous in Saudi Arabia in 2011 with a shaky cell phone video that she films in an apparently banal activity: she is behind the wheel of a car. At the time, the autocratic monarchy was the last country in the world where women were prohibited from driving a car.

Manal al Sharif.
Manal al Sharif. Photo: Andreas Gebert / dpa

The eight-minute recording shows Sharif, an IT consultant, driving through the streets of the Saudi city of Khobar. She speaks to her friend and co-activist Wajeha al Huwaider, says things like: “We want change in our country” and: “A woman deserves the same rights as every man.” And she is optimistic. “Things will change – God willing.” A lot has happened since the video went viral. Initially, the Sharif admission jailed for eleven days. The repressive regime accuses her of “inciting public opinion against the state”. When she is released, she leaves the country because of death threats. But Sharif’s video fired the Saudi “Women2Drive” movement. And even after her emigration, the activist remains part of the movement, campaigning for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. 2018 the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – de facto the most powerful man in the country – allows women to drive. Nevertheless, he continues to take decisive action against critics of the Kingdom. According to Amnesty, some women’s rights activists, such as Loujain al Hathloul, have been detained for several years, relatives report torture. Sharif now lives in Sydney, has written a book about her experiences and is committed to Women in their country of origin…Manal al Sharif is now considered one of the most important women rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

These four women have a mission

2020 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights to Indonesian Bedjo Untung

March 25, 2020

Catholic priest Moon Kyu-hyun, chief of the Jury for the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, speaks during a press conference in the southwestern city of Gwangju on 20 March 2020, to name Indonesia’s Bedjo Untung, founder of the 1965 Murder Victims Research Foundation, the 2020 winner of the prize. The award commemorates the 1980 pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju. For more info see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/gwangju-prize-for-human-rights.

For 2019 see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/19/gwangju-human-rights-award-2019-to-philippine-carino-and-indonesian-choir/

https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesian-anti-communist-purge-victim-wins-gwangju-prize/87530

Viasna, Belarusian human rights defenders group, wins OSCE’s 2020 Democracy Defender Award

March 24, 2020

 

Belarussian Human Rights CentreViasna (‘Spring’) has received the 2020 Democracy Defender Award of the OSCE. The award honours a person or group for exceptional contributions to the promotion of democracy and the defense of human rights in the spirit of Helsinki Final Act principles and other OSCE commitments. It was established in 2016 to recognize the contribution civil society makes to defending and promoting democracy. Earlier, the award was received by the Russian movement “Golos”, the Serbian non-governmental organization CRTA, and the Ukrainian activist Oleksandra Matviychuk. “Human Rights Centre Viasna receives the award this year for its mission of defending human rights in Belarus and building a just, free and democratic society for all its citizens,” the OSCE statement reads.

According to Viasna Chairman Ales Bialiatski [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/22/good-news-ales-bialiatski-belarus-best-known-human-rights-defender-freed-from-prison/], the award is a clear signal to the Belarusian authorities as an incentive to serious reforms in the field of human rights and a substantial improvement of the situation with the rights and freedoms of Belarusian citizens. “..The repressions against the Belarusian human rights defenders will not stop our work in support of democracy and human rights in our country. We are grateful to the OSCE member countries that nominated HRC Viasna. We believe that the courageous and persistent efforts by human rights defenders in the OSCE region, in spite of the obstacles, will help make our world a better place,” he stressed.

Active from 1996, the organisation was founded on the principle of respect for human rights, and its main goal is to contribute to the development of civil society in Belarus. HRC Viasna conducts research on the state of civil society and rule of law in Belarus, with the aim of improving implementation of human rights obligations and commitments, the OSCE notes.

http://spring96.org/en/news/96213

Viasna as Democracy Defender: Belarusian human rights watchdog wins OSCE award

Putin’s new constitution would undo exactly the provisions that allowed Russia to join Council of Europe

March 24, 2020

reported on 23 March 2020 in the Eurasia Review that Adel Bashqawi, a Circassian human rights defender, has pointed out something that most have lost sight of: Vladimir Putin – by amending the Russian constitution as he proposes to do – is eliminating the provisions which allowed Russia to join the Council of Europe in 1994.

The full text of Bashqawi’s open appeal is given below:

In 1993, the Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted, recognized by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in 1994 as conforming to the principles of a democratic state governed by the rule of law. This conclusion was one of the grounds for Russia’s admission to the Council of Europe.

In January-March 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated amendments to the Constitution hastily adopted by the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, causing extremely negative reactions from Russian civil society, representatives of indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation, human rights defenders, and the expert community.

The proposed amendments to the Constitution of Russia, in particular the new version of Article 68 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, establish “The state language of the Russian Federation throughout its territory is the Russian language as the language of the state-forming nation, which is part of the multinational union of equal nations of the Russian Federation.”

This norm, in our view, introduces ethnic segregation and discrimination of its indigenous peoples and national minorities in Russia, dividing the multinational people of the Russian Federation and granting a special status to ethnic Russians as a state-forming nation. Other indigenous peoples of Russia and national minorities are established as of non-state-forming peoples, if fact determining them to the status of “second-class” peoples and citizens. These amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation alienate Russia from the principles of a democratic federal state governed by the rule of law with a republican form of government, European constitutional values and democratic norms, and directly contradict Russia’s obligations within the Council of Europe.

We ask the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to send a request to the Venice Commission on the compliance of the amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, in particular Article 68 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, with Russia’s obligations within the Council of Europe.

We also ask the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to send a monitoring mission of PACE to Russia to assess the situation of Russia’s indigenous peoples and national minorities, in the light of decisions taken in Russia on ethnic segregation and discrimination of its peoples.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/09/ruxit-a-real-possibility-and-bad-for-human-rights-defenders/

and https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/25/world/europe/council-of-europe-russia-crimea.html

Kremlin Gutting Constitutional Provisions That Allowed Russia To Join The Council Of Europe – OpEd

More on how COVID-19 affects human rights work..

March 20, 2020

The Corona virus relates to human rights in many ways.

One is of course that emergency measures are abused or used for other purposes. The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, indicates that emergency measures tend to become permanent and underlines ‘emergency or not, states must reach the same threshold of legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality for each measure taken’. Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director, Ken Roth, called upon states to ensure that COVID-19 is ‘reason to reaffirm, not abandon, everyone’s rights’. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/17/covid-19-emergencies-should-not-be-shortcut-to-silencing-human-rights-defenders/.

Another asepect is that the COVID-19 context makes it very difficult to operate for non-governmental organisations [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/20/covid-19-starts-to-affects-aid-and-civil-society/]. Florian Irminger, of Penal Reform International (PRI), in a piece in Medium on 19 March 2020 warns that …...charities will fall out of donations very quickly, at a time their services are more needed than ever. Right now, even the best intended of us tend to stop donations to charities. Foodbanks, shelters for victims of domestic violence, health charities or charities working with prisoners and their relatives will rapidly reach a cash-crisis.

Such service providing organisations will aim at being able to continue delivering their services to those most vulnerable of us. …..Organisations addressing human rights violations are more than ever needed to monitor situations in areas affected by COVID-19 outbreak…and …COVID-19 represents a high risk to populations in prisons. ……Detention facilities are always a risky place in regard to infectious deceases and are now more exposed than ever. Similarly for other human rights organisations, to be able to continue to operate where we are most needed right now means we must divert resources from other projects and invest in protecting their staff working in the frontlines….. COVID-19 must lead governments to empower and support civil society to continue its work. ..In a funding landscape for human rights and humanitarian NGOs largely based on project grants, civil society has little flexibility to adapt to external events hampering its ability to operate in certain territories and to deploy its staff. In other words, just like the for-profit-sector, not-for-profit organisations see their revenue decrease and have costs associated to a crisis like this one, but do not have reserves and little ability to divert costs associated to a specific project to address the new challenges.

Many private donors have already adapted their grant making. One of them, Ford Foundation, should be applauded for strengthening even further its flexibility on the use of resources by its grantees. Fritt Ord, a Norwegian foundation specialised in promoting freedom of expression, announced it would invest 40 million Norwegian kroner in its programmes, at a time the kind of human rights work it wishes to support will face financial difficulties.

PRI’s briefing note on COVID-19

View at Medium.com

COVID-19 starts to affects aid and civil society

March 20, 2020

The New Humanitarian is providing updates on how COVID-19 is disrupting aid efforts around the globe. As the coronavirus pandemic reaches new corners of the globe, its impacts are beginning to cascade on already stretched aid operations in crisis zones. The New Humanitarian is collecting updates about how the coronavirus is hitting aid responses in vulnerable communities – from refugee camps and disaster displacement sites, to border crossings and conflict zones. Border closures are squeezing relief supply channels in some areas. Elsewhere, lockdowns and quarantines are erecting roadblocks in front of other operations. The rapidly evolving outbreak is pushing aid groups to plan for new responses in communities already facing long-running crises – and forcing a re-think of how the sector operates when resources are stretched on a global scale.
The South Africa based NGO CIVICUS published on 19 March an Open letter urging donors to act to ensure civil society’s resilience against the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter reads in part:

As the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, ….Funds have been (rightly) redirected from planned activities to COVID-19 responses. Reserves – when they exist – are limited and will soon be depleted. Responding to these extraordinary challenges requires flexibility in how we use our grants.  …

We call on all donors and intermediaries providing essential support for civil society to adopt similar approaches by offering as much flexibility, certainty, and stability towards grantees and partners as possible. 

Here are five specific ways this can be done:

  •   Listen to grantee partners and together explore how you can best help them face the crisis, trusting they know best what is needed in their own contexts.
  •   Encourage the re-design and re-scheduling of planned activities and deliverables and provide clear guidance on how to seek approval for these changes.
  •   Support new and creative ways of creating a culture of solidarity and interaction while adhering to the physical distancing and other precautionary measures. 
  •   Offer greater flexibility by reconsidering payment installments based on actual needs, converting existing project grants into unrestricted funds, or adding extra funds to help build-up reserves or cover unexpected costs.
  •   Simplify reporting and application procedures and timeframes so that civil society groups can better focus their time, energy and resources in supporting the most vulnerable rather than on meeting heavy reporting and due diligence requirements.

CIVICUS will continue advocating for a robust civic space, including measures that enable civil society to mobilise with and for the groups most affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. In these critical times, we must nurture civic space and its resourceful actors by expanding relevance and resilience, not reducing it. We must also be mindful that the present moment could also be used as an opportunity by some actors to further restrict the civic space. …We must do whatever it takes to keep civil society alive, vibrant and resilient.  

The way we will deal with this pandemic will have profound and lasting implications on how we build the future of our world.  This crisis can be successfully dealt with through a global culture of solidarity and civic action, one underpinned by intense cooperation, trust and burden sharing. And your role, as funders and supporters of civil society, is fundamental to this outcome.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/17/two-high-commissioners-issue-rare-joint-statement-re-covid-19/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/open-letters/4346-open-letter-donors-and-supporters-must-act-to-ensure-civil-society-resilience-against-covid-19-pandemic

Two High Commissioners issue rare joint statement re Covid-19

March 17, 2020

On 12 March 2020 Michelle Bachelet and Filippo Grandi – the UN High Commissioners for respectively Human Rights and Refugees – issued a rare joint statement entiteled: “The coronavirus outbreak is a test of our systems, values and humanity“:

If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home. No country can tackle this alone, and no part of our societies can be disregarded if we are to effectively rise to this global challenge. Covid-19 is a test not only of our health-care systems and mechanisms for responding to infectious diseases, but also of our ability to work together as a community of nations in the face of a common challenge. It is a test of the extent to which the benefits of decades of social and economic progress have reached those living on the margins of our societies, farthest from the levers of power.

The coming weeks and months will challenge national crisis planning and civil protection systems – and will certainly expose shortcomings in sanitation, housing and other factors that shape health outcomes. Our response to this epidemic must encompass – and in fact, focus on – those whom society often neglects or relegates to a lesser status. Otherwise, it will fail.

The health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalised members of the community. Preventing the spread of this virus requires outreach to all, and ensuring equitable access to treatment. This means overcoming existing barriers to affordable, accessible health care, and tackling long-ingrained differential treatment based on income, gender, geography, race and ethnicity, religion or social status. Overcoming systemic biases that overlook the rights and needs of women and girls, or – for example – limit access and participation by minority groups, will be crucial to the effective prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

People living in institutions – the elderly or those in detention – are likely to be more vulnerable to infection and must be specifically addressed in crisis planning and response. Migrants and refugees – regardless of their formal status – must be an integral part of national systems and plans for tackling the virus. Many of these women, men and children find themselves in places where health services are overstretched or inaccessible. They may be confined to camps and settlements, or living in urban slums where overcrowding, and poorly resourced sanitation, increases the risk of exposure.

International support is urgently needed to help host countries step up services – both for migrants and local communities – and include them in national surveillance, prevention and response arrangements. Failure to do so will endanger the health of all – and risk heightening hostility and stigma. It is also vital that any tightening of border controls, travel restrictions or limitations on freedom of movement do not prevent people who may be fleeing from war or persecution from accessing safety and protection.

Beyond these very immediate challenges, the path of the coronavirus will also undoubtedly test our principles, values and shared humanity. Spreading rapidly around the world, with uncertainty surrounding the number of infections and with a vaccine still many months away, the virus is stirring deep fears and anxieties in individuals and societies. Some unscrupulous people will undoubtedly seek to take advantage of this, manipulating genuine fears and heightening concerns. When fear and uncertainty kick in, scapegoats are never far away. We have already seen anger and hostility directed at some people of east Asian origin. If left unchecked, the urge to blame and exclude may soon extend to other groups – minorities, the marginalized or anyone labelled “foreigner”.

People on the move, including refugees, may be particularly targeted. Yet the coronavirus itself does not discriminate; those infected to date include holidaymakers, international business people and even national ministers, and are located in dozens of countries, spanning all continents. Panic and discrimination never solved a crisis. Political leaders must take the lead, earning trust through transparent and timely information, working together for the common good, and empowering people to participate in protecting health. Ceding space to rumour, fear mongering and hysteria will not only hamper the response but may have broader implications for human rights, the functioning of accountable, democratic institutions.

No country today can wall itself off from the impact of the coronavirus, both in the literal sense and – as falling stock markets and closed schools demonstrate – economically and socially. An international response that ensures that developing countries are equipped to diagnose, treat and prevent this disease will be crucial to safeguarding the health of billions of people. The World Health Organization is providing expertise, surveillance, systems, case investigation, contact tracing, and research and vaccine development. It is a lesson that international solidarity and multilateral systems are more vital than ever.

In the long term, we must accelerate the work of building equitable and accessible public healthcare. And how we respond to this crisis now will undoubtedly shape those efforts for decades to come.

If our response to coronavirus is grounded in the principles of public trust, transparency, respect and empathy for the most vulnerable, we will not only uphold the intrinsic rights of every human being. We will be using and building the most effective tools to ensure we can ride out this crisis and learn lessons for the future.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2020/3/5e69eea54/coronavirus-outbreak-test-systems-values-humanity.html

In memoriam Leandro Despouy: Argentinean human rights defender at the global level

March 16, 2020

When a good friend and soul mate dies, it is sometimes difficult to write something meaningful. So it was when I learned that Argentine human rights lawyer Leandro Despouy – whom I have known since 1976  – had died on 18 December 2019 in Buenos Aires, after a two-year battle with cancer. He was born on 4 April 1947 in San Luis.

The Argentine media paid quite a bit of attention to his passing but (understandably?) focused on his place in Argentinean politics (in the Radical Party) and his institutional role as Head of the Auditoría General de la Nación from 2002 – 2016.  But Leandro Despouy was of great importance to the international human rights movement as it developed in the last quarter of the 20th century. I hope that this ‘obituary’ does some justice:

He started as a lawyer and university teacher before state terrorism (in the form of the far-right death squad Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, known as Triple A) pushed him into exile in 1975 to France. He stayed a refugee until 1983 when he was able to return to his beloved country where he was appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador for Human Rights by President Alfonsin. More about what he was able to do in that capacity follows below but I wanted to give special attention how remarkably active Leandro was during his exile. He did not succumb to porosity and made the best of his chances. Always upbeat and entrepreneurial he had great social skills.

Friends helped him with a part-time job (between 1975-1977) as professor of Political Economy at the Université de Paris VIII. In order to make ends meet he accepted many different part-time jobs, including (his favorite!) driving around fashion models and their clothes. The models were quickly enamored of this elegant Latino and sometimes donated suits making him the best dressed refugee in Paris. His own work situation improved when he became one of the assistants of well-known parliamentarian Nicole Questiaux for the 13th arrondissement in Paris and as from July 1981 for her replacement, Louis Moulinet.

Interestingly enough his first activist attention while in exile went to the repressive situation in Uruguay (he told me it was easier to keep politics out of it than in the case of his own country) and it was in that context that we set up SIJAU (Secretariat Internationale des Juristes pour l’Amnestie en Uruguay). Leandro – with the help of French lawyers like Joinet and Weil – managed to organise in December 1978 in the French Senate (!) an international conference that helped the opposition to unite and put pressure on Uruguay.

He undertook a similar effort on Paraguay with the creation of SIJADEP (Secretariat Internationale des Juristes pour l’Amnestie et Democratie en Paraguay).

Leandro was regularly in Geneva to follow up with the UN (and sleeping on my couch) and when the first UN mandate for disappearances was created he was briefly hired as a consultant by the then Director Theo van Boven. The Argentine Ambassador got wind of it and with ‘terrorist’ accusations this had to be terminated quickly.  In the summer of 1982 he did a short stint as Professor of Human Rights at the Centre International des Droits de l`Homme, in Strasburg, France.

Then comes the return to Argentina with the slow process of normalisation and the question of how to deal with the crimes of the recent past. From 1984-1989  he is General Director of Human Rights at the Ministry for Foreign Affaires and with it comes a series of opportunities at the international level. Here some examples:

President of the First International Conference of States Parties on the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987).

In 1983 Leandro becomes a Member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (later reduced to an advisory body for the new Human Rights Council). He plays a very active role, as Chairman and as:

  • Special Rapporteur of the Subcommission on disabled persons and human rights to study the connection between human rights, violations of fundamental human freedoms and disability which resulted in his final report, “Human Rights and Disabled Persons.” Which was adopted by ECOSOC resolution 1992/48 of March 1992
  • Special Rapporteur of the same on extreme poverty and human rights. Interim report adopted on 10 June 1994, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/19

In 2000 Leandro heads the Argentine Delegation at the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and from March 2001 to March 2002 he is President of this Commission (currently the United Nations Human Rights Council).

In 2002 in Argentina he becomes the President of the Auditor General’s office (a function reserved for a member of the opposition under the Argentine constitution) but continues to accept assignments of an international nature:

In 2003: he is appointed as Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, United Nations Human Rights Council (until 2009). In that capacity he and four other special rapporteurs asked in 2005 to be admitted to Guantanamo Bay to visit the prisoners held at the US naval base. He and one other was refused permission (see: https://newsarchive.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=608&LangID=E}

He remained a sought-after speaker at courses and conferences, such as those organized by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law of San Remo, the Committee of the International Red Cross, FLACSO Argentina ,Harvard University, the European Society of International Law, and the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.

In 1993 he becomes the Assistant Special Representative of the Secretary Generals of the United Nations and Organization of American States, in the context of the UN and OAS joint mission to Haiti.  Between 1999 and 2006 he regularly carried out Expert tasks mandated by a variety of UN agencies for short jobs in e.g.: Brazil, Paraguay, Equatorial Guinea, Colombia, Russia and Ecuador.

This is of course not a complete biography and any additional information would be most welcome. Leandro certainly deserves a lot more recognition at the international level. When Ben Whitaker died in 2014. Leandro was one of the first to honor his contribution [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/07/16/ben-whitaker-died-one-of-the-early-human-rights-defenders-at-the-international-scene/]. I hope this does the same for Leandro.