Archive for the 'human rights' Category

World Refugee Day 2017: Seven must-read stories by IRIN

June 21, 2017

 
 Yesterday, 20 June, was World Refugee Day 2017. Kristy Siegfried, IRIN’s Migration Editor, wrote an excellent ‘summary’ with a selection of 7 short stories ensuring that the problem is not viewed from a euro-centric position.

In recent years, it’s become an annual ritual on World Refugee Day for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, to declare that levels of forced displacement have reached an “unprecedented high”.  This year is no exception. As of the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million people worldwide forcibly displaced from their homes by war, violence, or persecution. That figure encompasses 40.3 million people displaced within their countries’ borders (IDPs) and 2.8 million asylum seekers, as well as 22.5 million refugees. While 2016 was another record year for forced displacement, the increase from 2015 was only 300,000. That may not sound like cause for celebration, but when you consider that the figure in 2015 jumped by 5.8 million from the previous year, it is something of an improvement.

……

In 2016, just as in 2015, more than half of refugees (55 percent) came from just three countries, but South Sudan has replaced Somalia as one of those countries. Syria and Afghanistan remain in the top two spots. Contrary to public perceptions in the West, the vast majority of refugees (84 percent) are still being hosted in the developing world. The top three host countries at the end of 2016 were Turkey, Lebanon, and Pakistan (although Uganda is likely to enter the top three this year as it continues to absorb the majority of South Sudanese refugees).

IRIN’s coverage of refugees and forced displacement is year-round and not dependent on how many boats arrive in Italy or Greece. Below is a selection of our 2017 work designed to highlight more recent developments and the wide range of issues facing refugees around the globe today:

Fleeing a broken Venezuela

Blocked by Trump, unwanted by Kenya, Somali refugees face new crisis as famine looms

Closure of conflict camps test CAR reconciliation

Barefoot flight from Mosul

Jordan looks to turn refugee crisis into economic boom

Pushed out of Pakistan into worn-torn Afghanistan, refugees are told to be ‘patient’

Hardening European policies keep refugee children apart from their families

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/17/unhcr-launches-2015-world-refugee-day-with-celebrity-support/

Source: IRIN | Seven must-read stories this World Refugee Day

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, speaks very freely at the United Nations Association of the USA

June 21, 2017

In a little-noted speech at the Leadership Summit of the United Nations Association of the USA (Washington, D.C., 12 June 2017) Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, tackles populism and does not mince his words.  After viewing a Chaeli video [see e.g. https://www.worldofchildren.org/honoree/michaela-chaeli-mycroft/] to illustrate the message that “we can all make a difference for human rights. Every day, everywhere, at school or the workplace, commuting, or on holiday. It starts with each of us taking concrete steps to exercise our rights and our responsibility to protect and defend the rights of others“, Gilmour describes how after 3 decades of progress for human rights we have come up against a serious backlash, one that takes many forms but all of them counter to the values of rights, freedoms and tolerance. The text is worth reproducing as a whole: Read the rest of this entry »

Greece prevents EU criticism of human rights in China

June 20, 2017

The European Union – when criticizing countries by name in the UN Human Rights Council – does so with unanimity. It was the first time that the European Union did not make a statement in the Human Rights Council regarding rights violations in specific countries, including China as it was blocked by one of its member countries: Greece! A spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens called it “unproductive criticism.” The NYT reports that a spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry (who requested anonymity) said in a telephone interview:  “When the stability of a country is at stake, we need to be more constructive in the way we express our criticism” …“because if the country collapses, there will be no human rights to protect.” It was an odd explanation, commented the NYT, considering that China’s stability does not appear to be at risk. Unless the stability at stake was referring to Greece?!

In its struggle for economic recovery, Greece is indeed increasingly courting Chinese trade and investment. China’s largest shipping company, known as China COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake last year in the Greek port of Piraeus. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has visited China twice in two years. And China will be the “country of honor” at Greece’s annual international business fair in September in the port of Thessaloniki.

In the previous Human Rights Council session in March, the European Union statement pointed to China’s detention of lawyers and human rights defenders [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/19/letter-from-legal-experts-on-detained-lawyers-in-china/]. Human Rights Watch said it was “shameful that Greece sought to hold the E.U. hostage to prevent much-needed attention to China’s human rights crackdown.”

 

New York Times profiles Saudi defender Manal al-Sharif

June 19, 2017

Manal al-Sharif, an activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, in Central Park during a tour for her new memoir. Credit Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Manal al-Sharif was 14 when she burned her brother’s Back Street Boys cassettes, then her mother’s fashion magazines. She gave up drawing human figures and reading her prized Agatha Christie novels — forbidden, she had learned, under the puritanical strain of Islam sweeping through her native Saudi Arabia at the time. All kinds of things were forbidden for women and girls, she had also learned: no plucking your bushy eyebrows, no parting your hair fashionably to the side, no revealing your face in public. The one thing she could not destroy was a plastic bag of family photographs that her mother had stashed in her bedroom. She found them, years later, after her mother had died. There was a photo of herself, in a red dress for Eid; another of her mother, in a calf-length skirt she had stitched herself; another of her dad, barechested, for the hajj. “I’m so happy she hid them from me,” Ms. al-Sharif said the other day, scrolling through the images she had uploaded on her phone. “I thought we didn’t have any.”

Ms. al-Sharif, 38, has undergone a radical change of heart since those Salafi firebrand days. She is now best known for challenging the laws and mores that keep women down in Saudi Arabia, including what she considers the kingdom’s infantilizing restrictions on the right of women to drive. Her first book, “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening,” published this week by Simon & Schuster, is a memoir of her political coming of age. It is equally a portrait of tumult and tyranny in Saudi Arabia over the last four decades — and the kingdom’s vexing relationship with the United States……..

..

…………..She lives in Australia now, with her husband, a Brazilian, and their 3-year-old son. She has applied for the Saudi government to recognize her second marriage and has yet to receive it. Exile is frustrating. “When you’re there you don’t just talk. You take action,” she said. “I feel little bit helpless now, being outside.”

And then there’s her firstborn son. He lives in Saudi Arabia, with his father. Ms. al-Sharif visits as often as she can. He asks her all kinds of questions about all kinds of things, like whether to talk to a girl.

“I say: ‘Abdalla, you’re a very intelligent boy. I’ll give you two answers. An answer that I believe in. And an answer that’ll keep you away from trouble,’” she said.

He is now 12, and she hopes he will one day read the book and understand her choices. “It tells my whole story.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/

Putting the ‘record straight’ on the UN Human Rights Council

June 19, 2017

Earlier this month I referred to a speech by Ms Haley about the USA considering withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/07/us-ambassador-nikki-haley-on-what-has-to-change-in-the-un-human-rights-council/]. A lot has been written about this but a good, concise piece was in the Economist of 3 June 2017. In particular getting the ‘facts’ right about the relative improvements in recent years:

..Yet the council is a lot better than the commission was, and is still improving. The most important difference is the system of “universal periodic reviews” that all members of the UN are subjected to, at a rate of about 40 a year. The number of special rapporteurs, most of them truly independent, has risen, too. Since 2011 there have been investigations into human-rights abuses in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya and North Korea, as well as Gaza. The council has steadfastly monitored the horrors in Syria and played a helpful role in Myanmar, Colombia and (after a poor start) Sri Lanka.

The disproportionate focus on Israel is lessening. From 2010 to 2016 only one special session was held on Israel/Palestine, down from six in the previous four years, says the council’s spokesman. The share of time spent on Item 7 has halved, to 8%.

The quality of members may improve, too, as regional groups are a bit less willing to shield their own. Last year Russia lost its seat, receiving 32 votes fewer than Hungary, and two fewer than Croatia. In the past few years Belarus, Iran, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Syria have failed to be elected or have withdrawn their candidacies. None of the nine worst human-rights offenders, as ranked by Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO, (Syria, Eritrea, North Korea, Uzbekistan, South Sudan, Turkmenistan, Somalia, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea) has ever been elected to the council. In a telling moment in 2014, a forcefully critical resolution on Sri Lanka was passed.

Things started to change in 2010, says Marc Limon, a British former official in the council, who now heads the Universal Rights Group, a Geneva-based think-tank, when a clutch of independent-minded countries, including Mauritius, Mexico and Morocco, began to vote more freely, often for American-backed resolutions. Before then, members of the 57-strong Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) and the African Group (whose members often overlapped and later reconfigured as the Like-Minded Group) “virtually controlled the council”, he says. Anti-Westerners have recently been defeated or forced to compromise on several issues. A resolution to exempt blasphemy from free-speech protections was fended off against the wishes of the Like-Minded. The same group failed to block a resolution to appoint an independent expert to investigate discrimination against gay and transgender people.

American diplomacy under Barack Obama was a big reason for the shift….

Source: The UN Human Rights Council will be weaker if America leaves

BBC investigation on Arab States and import of cyber-surveillance tools

June 16, 2017

On 15 June 2017 the BBC came out with a special report on “How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states’A dancer tucks his Apple iPhone next to his traditional Omani dagger during a welcome ceremony in Muscat, Oman (5 November 2016).

A year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper [Dagbladet Information] has uncovered evidence that the UK defence giant BAE Systems has made large-scale sales across the Middle East of sophisticated surveillance technology, including to many repressive governments. These sales have also included decryption software which could be used against the UK and its allies. While the sales are legal, human rights campaigners and cyber-security experts have expressed serious concerns these powerful tools could be used to spy on millions of people and thwart any signs of dissent. The investigation began in the small Danish town of Norresundby, home to ETI, a company specialising in high-tech surveillance equipment. ETI developed a system called Evident, which enabled governments to conduct mass surveillance of their citizens’ communications. A former employee, speaking to the BBC anonymously, described how Evident worked. “You’d be able to intercept any internet traffic,” he said. “If you wanted to do a whole country, you could. You could pin-point people’s location based on cellular data. You could follow people around. They were quite far ahead with voice recognition. They were capable of decrypting stuff as well.”

 

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

A video clip accompanying the article is to be found on the website of the BBC (see link below) and it features Ahmed Mansoor, the 2015 Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/21/ahmed-mansoor-mea-laureate-2015-arrested-in-middle-of-the-night-raid-in-emirates/]

One early customer of the new system was the Tunisian government. The BBC tracked down a former Tunisian intelligence official who operated Evident for the country’s veteran leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. “ETI installed it and engineers came for training sessions,” he explained. “[It] works with keywords. You put in an opponent’s name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.” The source says President Ben Ali used the system to crack down on opponents until his overthrow in January 2011, in the first popular uprising of the Arab Spring. As protests spread across the Arab world, social media became a key tool for organisers. Governments began shopping around for more sophisticated cyber-surveillance systems – opening up a lucrative new market for companies like BAE Systems. In 2011, BAE bought ETI and the company became part of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. Over the next five years, BAE used its Danish subsidiary to supply Evident systems to many Middle Eastern countries with questionable human rights records (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria).

 

“I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said more than 90% of the most active campaigners in 2011 have now vanished,” says Yahya Assiri, a former Saudi air force officer who fled the country after posting pro-democracy statements online.  “It used to be that ‘the walls have ears’, but now it’s ‘smartphones have ears,‘” says Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi women’s rights activist who also now lives abroad. “No country monitors its own people the way they do in the Gulf countries. They have the money, so they can buy advanced surveillance software.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/]

Manal al-Sharif
Manal al-Sharif says Gulf states have the money to buy advanced surveillance equipment‘Responsible trading’

….The BBC has obtained a 2015 email exchange between the British and Danish export authorities in which the British side clearly expresses concern about this capability with reference to an Evident sale to the United Arab Emirates. “We would refuse a licence to export this cryptanalysis software from the UK because of Criteria 5 concerns,” says the email. [“Criteria 5” refers to the national security of the UK and its allies.]…Despite British objections, the Danish authorities approved the Evident export…..

…….Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake is one of the few European politicians prepared to discuss concerns about surveillance technology exports. She says European countries will ultimately pay a price for the compromises now being made. “Each and every case where someone is silenced or ends up in prison with the help of EU-made technologies I think is unacceptable,” she told the BBC. “I think the fact that these companies are commercial players, developing these highly sophisticated technologies that could have a deep impact on our national security, on people’s lives, requires us to look again at what kind of restrictions maybe be needed, what kind of transparency and accountability is needed in this market before it turns against our own interest and our own principles.

Source: How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states – BBC News

https://twitter.com/hashtag/freeahmed

Principles on the Role of Judges and Lawyers in relation to Refugees and Migrants

June 11, 2017

An interesting and timely document that deserves more attention than it is getting:

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has published a set of Principles on the Role of Judges and Lawyers in relation to Refugees and Migrants.

The Principles were developed by the ICJ on the basis of consultations with senior judges, lawyers, and legal scholars working in the field of international refugee and migration law (including at the 2016 Geneva Forum of Judges & Lawyers), as well consultations with States and other stakeholders on a draft version during the March 2017 Human Rights Council session, and other feedback.

The Principles seek to help judges and lawyers, as well as legislators and other government officials, better secure human rights and the rule of law in the context of large movements of refugees and migrants. They are intended to complement existing relevant legal and other international instruments, including the New York Declaration, as well as the Principles and practical guidance on the protection of the human rights of migrants in vulnerable situations within large and/or mixed movements being developed by the OHCHR.

The Principles address the role of judges and lawyers in relation to, among other aspects:

  • determinations of entitlement to international protection;
  • deprivation of liberty;
  • removals;
  • effective remedy and access to justice;
  • independence, impartiality, and equality before the law;
  • conflicts between national and international law.

The Principles, together with commentary, can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here: ICJ Refugee Migrant Principles 2017.

The ICJ formally launched the published version of the Principles at a side event to the June 2017 session of the Human Rights Council (click here for details), where their importance and utility were recognised by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, as well as representatives of UNHCR and the OHCHR. The ICJ had earlier released the final text in connection with the Thematic Session on “Human rights of all migrants” for the UN General Assembly Preparatory Process for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be held in Geneva 8-9 May 2017, where in an oral statementthe ICJ was able to highlight the potential utility of the Principles in the development of the Compact.

More information about the process of development of the Principles, including the list of participants to the 2016 Geneva Forum, is available here. The consultations, preparation and publication of the Principles was made possible with the financial support of the Genève Internationale office of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. For further information, please contact ICJ Senior Legal Adviser Matt Pollard, matt.pollard(a)icj.org

Source: Principles on the Role of Judges and Lawyers in relation to Refugees and Migrants | ICJ

Human Rights Watch urges Turkey to release Amnesty’s country head

June 9, 2017

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday 8 June 2017 called on Turkish authorities to immediately release Taner Kılıç, chair of the board of Amnesty International’s Turkey section, who has been under detention since June 6. It is heartening to see the two biggest NGOs coming to each other’ rescue from time to time. In February this year AI Israel co-signed a statement deploring the decision not to allow Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch to take on his post [“We stand in solidarity with him and our colleagues at HRW.”  – see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/26/israel-denies-work-permit-to-human-rights-watch-and-continues-harassment-of-hrds/]

The anti-terror unit of the Izmir police on Tuesday detained lawyer and human rights defender Kılıç together with 22 other attorneys as part of a witch-hunt targeting people linked to the Gülen movement. “Turkey should release Taner Kılıç, who is a tireless defender of human rights, known for his support for Amnesty International over many years,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Detaining Kılıç on suspicion of terrorist offenses looks like a tactic aimed at discrediting his legitimate human rights work.”

Kılıç is a founding member of AI Turkey and has been chairman of its board of directors since 2014. He has also played a strong role in advocating for refugee rights as a lawyer and with domestic nongovernmental groups and others working on these issues. The European Union on Thursday expressed concern about the recent detention of Taner Kılıç.

(According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 28, 154,694 individuals have been detained and 50,136 have been jailed due to alleged Gülen links since the failed coup attempt.

Source: Human Rights Watch urges Turkey to release Amnesty’s country head | Turkey Purge

Justice and Peace NL increasingly active for human rights defenders

June 8, 2017

The Hague Training Course on Security
https://en.justiceandpeace.nl/agenda/the-hague-training-course-on-security-3
From 21 June to 30 June 2017, Justice and Peace Netherlands organises the 7th edition of the ‘The Hague Training Course on Human Rights Defenders and Security’ (THTC).[see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/30/2nd-the-hague-training-course-for-human-rights-defenders-security-now-open-for-application/ and also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/02/the-hague-defenders-days-from-5-to-10-december-2016/]

Shelter City, Call for applications
https://sheltercity.nl/new-call-for-shelter-city/
Justice and Peace is launching a new call for Human Rights Defenders to participate in the Shelter City Initiative. <http://en.justiceandpeace.nl/human-rights-defenders-and-security/shelter-city-initiative> The Shelter City Initiative offers human rights defenders a possibility for rest and respite by letting them escape temporarily from a threatening situation. Shelter City offer a safe space to human rights defenders at a moment where they are particularly vulnerable and their security can no longer be guaranteed at home.  Meant for human rights defenders who might be helped with a short relocation programme, because they are threatened or under intense pressure due to their work.

Applicants must fulfil the following conditions:

  1. The applicant must be a human rights defender (HRD) in the broad sense of the word (lawyers, members of NGOs, poets or artists can all apply, as long as their work promotes Human Rights or he/she fights against human rights violations)
  2. The HRD is threatened or otherwise under intense pressure and can be helped by a short period of time abroad
  3. The HRD should be able and willing to return to the country of origin after 3 months
  4. The HRD should be willing to speak out in public and speak basic English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs)
  5. The HRD should be willing/able to come alone
  6. The HRD has to be willing to come to the Netherlands around September 2017

Note that additional factors will be taken into consideration in the final round of selection, such as the added value of a stay in The Netherlands (giving priority to those working at grass-roots level), the possibility for the HRD to make use of the new contacts and knowledge after they return, and gender and geographical balance. HRDs who are already relocated in a third country will only be accepted under exceptional circumstances.

To apply or submit the application of a human rights defender, please e-mail sheltercity@justiceandpeace.nl. You will then receive an application form. Application forms must be returned before 25 June 2017. An independent commission will select the participants. Note that the selected human rights defenders will not be automatically allowed into the shelter programme as Justice and Peace is not in control of issuing the required visas to enter The Netherlands. For more information, please contact us at sheltercity@justiceandpeace.nl.

Campaign: Are we all human rights defenders? Join us
https://en.justiceandpeace.nl/news/are-we-all-human-rights-defenders
Every individual can make a change. No matter your age, gender, beliefs, education, profession, social situation or background. It doesn’t matter at what scale. You are a potential change maker, willing to help others. We are all human rights defenders.


News from the HRC34: Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders extended

June 8, 2017

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Right Defenders – Michael Forst – was extended for a period of three years. The draft of this resolution was submitted by Norway and adopted without a vote.  Hostile amendments to the resolution were submitted by the Russian Federation and China. All of these amendments were rejected.

  • Amendment L.43 sought to have the term Human Rights Defenders removed from the text. Such a motion undermines the importance of the work of Human Right Defenders and seeks to remove a well established term that has been mainstreamed within UN resolutions.
  • Amendment L.44 proposed the removal of the term Women Human Rights Defenders. In response several delegations emphasized the double violence that Women Human Right Defenders face due to their gender and their work and thus the importance of this term. They also recalled that part of the Special Rapporteur’s mandates is to focus on the violence specifically directed to Women Human Right Defenders and as such the term is key to the completion of the mandate.

Download the resolution

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/23/norwegian-resolution-un-human-rights-council-defenders-amendments/

Source: HRC34: Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders extended | AWID