Archive for the 'AI' Category

PCIJ and Luistro receive Filipino human rights defenders award

May 29, 2020

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On 28 May 2020 Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) reported that Amnesty International Philippines has recognized the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Br. Armin Luistro for exposing inequalities and standing up for the vulnerable sectors of the society.

PCIJ—an independent, non-profit media agency—was named as the Ignite Awards’ most distinguished human rights defender in the group category. It produced investigative reports on President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, election spending of senatorial candidates, the government’s brutal drug war, the country’s congested jails, among others.

Luistro was conferred the most distinguished human rights defender in the individuals category. Aside from PCIJ and Luistro, Lorenzo Miguel Relente and Michael David Tan were the recipients of Young Outstanding Human Rights Defender and Art that Matters for Literature, respectively.

This season’s recipients come from varying rights backgrounds, from press freedom and right to education to gender equality and SOGIESC rights but they share one dedication, that is to the fight for basic rights of Filipinos,” Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines section director, said.

NGOs express solidarity with Amnesty staffer Abu Zeyad

May 26, 2020

IM: Adri Kemps: former director AI Netherlands and volunteer at Netherlands Helsinki Committee.

May 18, 2020

On 13 May 2020, Adri Kemps passed away at the age of 65. He was – from 1993 – 2001 – Director of Amnesty International Netherlands. Even after an infarct in 2015 he continued to be active in human rights work e.g. as an active volunteer at the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.  Adri was known for his cheerful character, optimistic outlook, but above all his passion, especially about human rights. He could be stubborn and persistent as well, but always engaging and a true gentleman. That combination brought him many successes, as the obituary written by his friend and long-time colleague Harry Hummel underlines.

Remembering the life of Adri Kemps (1955 – 2020)

…. Adri was part of a brilliant team, at the national office of Amnesty International. Human rights until that time were a concept only known to a group of foreign policy experts and to a minute fraction of the legal community. Amnesty in the Netherlands was hugely successful in popularizing the concept as a notion that stood above political struggle. Adri and his friends developed campaigns to mobilise public support to raise human rights issues in countries around the world. A new action method for Amnesty, that was viewed by many in the organization’s London headquarters as a suspect deviation. This group of volunteers was dominant in the Netherlands’ representation in Amnesty’s international decision-making bodies. By 1980, they formed the majority of the executive board of Amnesty Netherlands. A group of people aged 25 or younger leading an organization with a budget of millions and several dozen staff members, unthinkable in today’s professionalized civil society sector in the Netherlands.

At that time, Adri was part of the board for a couple of years. He was also engaged in setting up a number of other organizations working on international solidarity (as this was called). He soon left for Nicaragua, joining his partner Marijke (who he had met at Amnesty), and gradually carving out a role for himself in development work in that new location.

In the beginning of the 1990s, a much more mature man, he joined Amnesty Netherlands again as Executive Director. An exceedingly difficult job, he had to lead an organization that was professionalizing rapidly but still maintained some characteristics of the volunteer spirit. The period was a challenging time for human rights, and yet it was a high period for their national as well as international recognition. Adri skilfully utilized this for the benefit of the organization.

After yet another, shorter period living in Nicaragua, he returned to the Netherlands to head the Netherlands Fundraising Regulator (CBF). An entity that runs a certification scheme for fund-raising NGOs, independent from both government and civil society, yet a civil society body itself, and subject to diverse pressures and not easy to lead.

He started running into health problems, including a stroke now six years ago. During his recovery, he joined the Netherlands Helsinki Committee’s office, and stayed on to work on an increasingly broad range of assignments. His expertise and strategic and tactical insight helped the organization tremendously in its fund-raising efforts. He took on substantive activities as well – things important for the promotion and defence of a healthy society but that did not necessarily fall in the defined areas of work of the organization – a training on strategy development for fund-raising organizations in Ukraine, involvement in a study on political advertising on the internet.

He continued to be active in local social democracy in Haarlem, where he lived, and increasingly also in initiatives to recreate a sound environment and in addressing the climate crisis. The extreme political repression that has developed over the past years in Nicaragua, the country where he had lived for such a long time, affected him a lot. He spent time advising on initiatives to help local people and increase pressure on the government.

The maxim that to be a human rights activist, you must by definition be an optimist, definitely applied to Adri. His co-workers at the NHC remember him as a friendly, interested and cheerful colleague, bringing a lot of positivity and creativity to the workplace.

Adri (in the middle) at a meeting with Ukrainian civil society and government representatives, discuss effective government-civil society partnerships

https://www.nhc.nl/in-memoriam-nhc-expert-advisor-and-volunteer-adri-kemps/

Michael Ineichen leaves ISHR and a legacy

May 9, 2020

Michael Ineichen – ISHR programme director  – leaves the International Serivce for Human Rights and on 30 April 2020 he wrote a farewell note: “Leaving ISHR: thanks for 14 years of purpose, inspiration and learning”. He was often mentioned in this blog, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/michael-ineichen/. But fortunately he stays in Switzerland and in the human rights world: AI Switzerland.
 
Today, almost 14 years after joining “the service” I’m saying farewell to the International Service for Human Rights……I joined ISHR as an intern in 2006. Fresh off university, with a baby underway while fellow interns were spending their non-existent salaries on drinks by the lake. I was expecting to find a job, but found a purpose, a second family, and inspiration for a lifetime.

With my academic notion of “international human rights”, I knew very little of the reality experienced by the human rights defenders who struggle every day for more just, rights-respecting and equal societies. Back then, I was yet to be inspired by the courage, dedication, pain, doubt, joy and laughter of the many human rights activists I had the privilege of meeting over the years. I was yet to be appalled by the human rights violations and abuses of governments and unscrupulous companies, and the brazen efforts of some diplomats and governments to hide the truth from the eyes of the world, or somewhat reassured by the equally sustained efforts of others to create space for civil society and push for accountability.

In the last 14 years, there was not one week when I did not draw inspiration from one or more of the many human rights defenders ISHR works with. You are the reason this organisation exists. Among the stories which marked me the most, and which illustrates both the tremendous solidarity and deep frustration of engaging with international human rights mechanisms, is that of Chinese defender Cao Shunli.

She campaigned for something that most of us take for granted: independent civil society input into her government’s human rights report to the UN. As a result of her activism, she was blocked from travelling to Geneva, and – having been denied medical treatment – passed away in detention. Together with many civil society activists, I wanted to observe a moment of silence at the Human Rights Council in her memory. But the Chinese delegation was outraged, and interrupted the meeting for more than an hour. To this day, Cao Shunli’s death remains unaccounted for, and six successive Human Rights Council Presidents have failed to fully resolve this most emblematic case of reprisals. So much for the deep frustration. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/27/china-or-the-un-must-ensure-independent-investigation-into-death-of-cao-shunli/]

However, there’s also solidarity. Instead of stifling opposing views, with its heavy handed response even in the HRC, the Chinese delegation attracted massive attention to Cao Shunli and her struggle, and triggered an intense moment of global solidarity. Every member of civil society in the room was standing up – with Cao Shunli, and the human rights movement as a whole. Afterwards, every diplomat in Geneva knew Cao Shunli, and her story contributed significantly to the creation of a stronger UN response to reprisals. And, years later, Chinese human rights activists whom I’ve never met in my life look at me with a hint of recognition, saying “I know you. You’re the guy who stood up to our government, and made the UPR meaningful. We all watched behind the firewall.”

Hers is but one of the many stories I take with me, as I open a new chapter in my professional life. There are many others, happy and sad, of human rights defenders who have extended their trust to ISHR and myself. From Alphonsus to Ziad, I will always be grateful for the chance to reflect together on using the opportunities of international advocacy towards our common human rights struggle.  


I’ve seen times when donors trust in the track record, dedication and commitment of a civil society organisation like ISHR, or conversely when they insist on wasteful and narrow-minded administrative processes…..And I’ve seen how a strong focus on solidarity, well-being and passion can bring teams and an entire organisation to punch well above their weight. And finally, the last 14 years have been a period of immense personal growth – not always easy and smooth, but  I’ve grown as a father, husband and person. And I thank ISHR for being 100% supportive along the way.

As I look forward to opening a new chapter in my professional life by joining Amnesty Switzerland, I wish ISHR – Phil, the amazing team of staff, its dedicated board and the human rights defenders community it works with and supports – all the best for navigating these challenging times. You have and will continue to profoundly shape the human rights world, and I am proud and grateful to have been a part of the team.

Merci

https://www.ishr.ch/news/leaving-ishr-thanks-14-years-purpose-inspiration-and-learning

Amnesty accuses Facebook of complicity in Vietnamese censorship

April 22, 2020

On 21 April, Reuters reported that Facebook has begun to significantly step up its censorship of “anti-state” posts in the country. This follows pressure from the authorities, including what the company suspects were deliberate restrictions placed on its local servers by state-owned telecommunications companies that caused Facebook to become unusable for periods of time. The next day Amnesty International demanded that Facebook reverses immediately its decision.  “The revelation that Facebook is caving to Viet Nam’s far-reaching demands for censorship is a devastating turning point for freedom of expression in Viet Nam and beyond,” said William Nee, Business and Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International. “The Vietnamese authorities’ ruthless suppression of freedom of expression is nothing new, but Facebook’s shift in policy makes them complicit.

Facebook must base its content regulation on international human rights standards for freedom of expression, not on the arbitrary whims of a rights-abusing government. Facebook has a responsibility to respect freedom of expression by refusing to cooperate with these indefensible takedown requests.” The Vietnamese authorities have a long track record of characterizing legitimate criticism as “anti-state” and prosecuting human rights defenders for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The authorities have been actively suppressing online speech amid the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating repressive tactics in recent weeks.  “It is shocking that the Vietnamese authorities are further restricting its peoples’ access to information in the midst of a pandemic. The Vietnamese authorities are notorious for harassing peaceful critics and whistleblowers. This move will keep the world even more in the dark about what is really happening in Viet Nam,” said William Nee.

Facebook’s decision follows years of efforts by Vietnamese authorities to profoundly undermine freedom of expression online, during which they prosecuted an increasing number of peaceful government critics for their online activity and introduced a repressive cybersecurity law that requires technology companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor users’ posts. “Facebook’s compliance with these demands sets a dangerous precedent. Governments around the world will see this as an open invitation to enlist Facebook in the service of state censorship. It does all tech firms a terrible disservice by making them vulnerable to the same type of pressure and harassment from repressive governments,” said William Nee…

In a report published last year, Amnesty International found that around 10% of Viet Nam’s prisoners of conscience – individuals jailed solely for peacefully exercising their human rights – were jailed in relation to their Facebook activity. In January 2020, the Vietnamese authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on social media, including Facebook and YouTube, in an attempt to silence public discussion of a high-profile land dispute in the village of Dong Tam, which has attracted persistent allegations of corruption and led to deadly clashes between security forces and villagers.  The crackdown has only intensified since the onset of COVID-19. Between January and mid-March, a total of 654 people were summoned to police stations across Viet Nam to attend “working sessions” with police related to their Facebook posts connected to the virus, among whom 146 were subjected to financial fines and the rest were forced to delete their posts. On 15 April, authorities introduced a sweeping new decree, 15/2020, which imposes new penalties on alleged social media content which falls foul of vague and arbitrary restrictions. The decree further empowers the government to force tech companies to comply with arbitrary censorship and surveillance measures.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/10/28-ngos-ask-eu-parliament-to-reject-cooperation-deal-with-vietnam-on-11-february/

Re Facebook and content moderation see also the Economist piece of 1 February 2020: https://www.economist.com/business/2020/01/30/facebook-unveils-details-of-its-content-oversight-board

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/viet-nam-facebook-cease-complicity-government-censorship/

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Amnesty International

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by Amnesty International as posred on 8 April in Reliefweb: “Human rights defenders: We need them more than ever! States worldwide must protect Human Rights Defenders in the current COVID-19 crisis“:

At a time when some of our human rights have been restricted in order to implement public health measures, human rights defenders are more crucial than ever in our struggle to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that no one is left behind…..

Crisis like this one put these commitments to the test. It is paramount that states around the world recommit to protect and recognize those who individually or collectively take action to protect our human rights, including in the context of the pandemic. In particular, states must ensure that all measures restricting the right to defend human rights, including those imposing limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, are strictly necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health. The authorities must not use restrictions imposed during the pandemic to suppress relevant information uncomfortable for the government or use the situation as a pretext to crack down critics and human rights defenders. States must recognise that human rights defence is an essential activity during emergency periods and ensure that human rights defenders can exercise their work free from reprisals, intimidation or threats, so that together we can all face up to this crisis.

Human rights defenders, including those working in the field of research, health and social care, journalism and other areas, have been key in informing the public about the challenges posed by COVID-19 at all stages of the crisis. Their work is essential in ensuring states provide accessible and reliable information in a fair and transparent manner and can raise the alarm when measures are damaging or inadequate. Governments must ensure that those carrying out this role can continue to do so. They must respond by being accountable and open to scrutiny as well as by providing evidence-based and accurate information as the pandemic unfolds. Other activists, including women and LGBTI human rights defenders, trade unionists, environmental and land defenders, refugees and migrants’ rights defenders and indigenous rights defenders, are also helping the public understand the impact and implications of COVID-19 in their communities and how it affects different sectors of society, particularly the most marginalized and at risk.

Human rights defenders play a key role in watching that the measures taken by authorities do not infringe unduly on human rights – for example on the right to freedom of expression, on the right to privacy, or on the rights to health, housing and to an adequate standard of living – and speak out when this happens.

Human rights defenders raise the alarm and demand action when marginalized groups or individuals are being disproportionately affected or forgotten by the new measures, that is those historically discriminated against: people in the informal economy, people at risk of domestic violence, refugees and migrants, or people in detention, for example.

Human right defenders keep a check on the misuse of power of non-state actors. For example, they raise their voice against abuses by businesses and corporations, including when they fail to uphold labour and human rights standards in their responses to the pandemic, or when they shift the economic impact on workers, or when they fail to provide adequate protection from contagion for workers at risk.

Health and social care workers are at the frontline of this pandemic, continuing to deliver services despite the personal risks to them and their families, including contracting COVID19 while doing their jobs, working long hours, enduring psychological distress and fatigue. At the same time, thousands of individuals are volunteering to help those in need and provide crucial services. Many others, such as those involved in cleaning, sanitation and domestic work, in running transport systems, in the production of food, and other key workers, are also providing critical services, sometimes without adequate protection for themselves. All these individuals are not only doing their jobs, they are also protecting everybody’s right to health despite serious challenges and risks. They should be given with urgency adequate and quality tools, protection measures and any other support they need to carry out their work in safety.

Without all the individuals and collectives who defend our human rights worldwide, it would be almost impossible to tackle COVID-19 and save as many lives and livelihoods as possible. It is therefore not just states’ obligation, but it is in the interest of states and society at large to recognise, protect and enable human rights defenders to carry out their crucial work so that the harshest impact of the crisis can be mitigated and ensure that no one is left behind.

Recommendations

In the weeks since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a flourishing of solidarity and empathy towards people in need and those most at risk, including a revival of community initiatives and self-help groups. It is time for those in power to recognise and protect human rights defenders, who are precisely those leading the way in showing how to include all sectors of society in the effort against the pandemic. Human rights defenders have long led the way in delivering justice, equality and rights for all without discrimination, with their empathy, activism, passion and hope. They must be protected!

Authorities worldwide must send a clear, unequivocal message in all their communications stating that:

  • Human rights defenders are key allies to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore will be recognised and protected without discrimination at all times
  • Physical or verbal attacks against human rights defenders will not be tolerated and, where applicable, those responsible will be brought to justice in fair trials
  • Human rights defenders are key to overcoming the pandemic in a way that is inclusive and respectful of human rights, and therefore need to be included in any collective actions to tackle it
  • Those human rights defenders on the frontline of the pandemic must be given the necessary information, the tools and the protective equipment they need to carry out their human rights activities in safety

US section of Amnesty International has virtual meeting on Human Rights Defenders

April 9, 2020

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Amnesty International USA is holding its annual meeting on-line: “Under Siege: The Persecution of Human Rights Defenders Around the World and What You Can Do to Support Them!”
Human rights defenders around the world are routinely the target of death threats, smear campaigns, imprisonment, sexual violence, torture, and even assassination. Since 1998, over 3,500 human rights defenders have been killed worldwide. In 2018 alone, 321 human rights defenders were killed. Come and learn about very concrete ways that you can help protect Brave human rights defenders in such countries as Colombia, Saudi Arabia, & the Philippines. 30 April 2020 08:00 PM in Eastern Time (US)
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https://zoom.us/meeting/register/upIudOyprTwrYfg3Ewag_yYS_CPyyruu5Q

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

March 30, 2020

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020

Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

Click to access EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

Women human rights defenders in focus at 43rd Human Rights Council

February 27, 2020

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bachelet, taking part in a panel discussion, held at the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday 25 February 2020, said that the Beijing Declaration should be celebrated but noted that the Plan of Action agreed at the event is still unfinished. According to Ms. Bachelet, the risks of setbacks to women’s rights are real, and growing. ….”Women’s rights are threatened and attacked” on many fronts, she warned, adding that there over this period there has been “a backlash and the resurgence of gender inequality narratives based on age-old discrimination”. Ms. Bachelet also welcomed the speech delivered to the Human Rights Council by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday. As part of his Call to Action for human rights [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/25/43rd-session-hrc-un-secretary-general-launches-call-to-action-on-human-rights/], He called on every country to “support policies and legislation that promote gender equality, to repeal discriminatory laws, to end violence against women and girls and to strive for equal representation and participation of women in all areas”.

Against this backdrop the NGO side eventWomen human rights defenders radically transforming a world in crisis” is most timely.

Wednesday 4 March 2020, 11:00 – 12:00, Room XXVII Palais des Nations, Geneva. This event is co-hosted by ISHR, Amnesty International, Global Fund for Women, Urgent Action Fund, Mesoamerican Initiative of women human rights defenders, and Just Associates (JASS).

Panellists:

  • Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders
  • Nazik Awad, Sudan
  • Aurelia Martin Arzu Rochez, Honduras
  • Luz Mary Rosero Garces, Colombia
  • Fatima Bentaleb, France
  • Hasmida Karim, Indonesia

Moderator:

  • Zephanie Repollo, Just Associates (JASS)