Archive for the 'EU' Category

After 3 year gap, EU and Azerbaijan meet again but human rights remain precarious

February 10, 2018

Federica Mogherini and Elmar Mammadyarov in Brussels on 9 February 2018. [Council]

Human Rights NGOs in Europe no longer the standard to follow!

January 27, 2018

In January 2018 the EU Fundamental Rights Agcncy (FRA) published a Report “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU“. Its conclusion is that the situation is getting more difficult. Also, on 26 January 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published an interview with Michel Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders said that the EU are setting a bad example by allowing some of its members to stifle human rights groups, which is encouraging crackdowns elsewhere in the world.

In the interview done by Umberto Bacchi, Michel Forst said that the EU has historically done a good job supporting and protecting rights advocates worldwide but the bloc’s authority is now being undermined from within. Officials in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and other countries pointed at recent laws in Hungary and Poland to justify their own regulations which may curb the independence of non-governmental organisations.

There is a need for European countries to be more coherent … not to teach human rights outside of Europe and then not respecting human rights inside Europe,” said Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. Charities in dozens of countries, from Angola to India and Tajikistan have faced restrictions targeting their funding and operations over the past two years, according to an EU report. The trend is part of a global backlash on civil society that has seen rights activists in some parts of the world criminalised or branded as troublemakers, Forst stated.

Last year, Hungary introduced a measure requiring NGOs that get money from abroad to register with the state, a bill that NGOs say stigmatizes them and is intended to stifle independent voices. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/]. Poland instead introduced legislation to set up a centralised authority controlling charities’ funding. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/02/backsliding-on-civic-space-in-democracies-important-side-event-on-3-march-in-geneva/%5D. As countermeasure, the EU should boost direct funding of rights groups operating within its borders, Forst said. “What is absurd for me is that the EU is funding organisations in Latin America, in Africa – which is good – but there is no more funding for EU NGOs,” he said. Money should be allocated from a dedicated fund and not channelled through governments, he said.

Besides Europe, Forst also singled out Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers held in offshore camps, adding it was “not a safe place” for human rights defenders due to pressure from the government. A December report by Pro Bono Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, two rights groups, found Australian NGOs were often pressured into “self-silencing” their advocacy work fearing funding cuts and political retribution.

(Global civil society) space is shrinking because it is shrinking in Europe, because it is shrinking in the Americas, in Australia,” said Forst.

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The FRA’s report finds that civil society organisations in the European Union play a crucial role in promoting fundamental rights, but it has become harder for them to do so – due to both legal and practical restrictions. This report looks at the different types and patterns of challenges faced by civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU. While challenges exist in all EU Member States, their exact nature and extent vary. Data and research on this issue – including comparative research – are generally lacking. The report also highlights promising practices that can counteract these worrying patterns.

European Parliament votes to restrict exports of surveillance equipment

January 22, 2018

Members of the European Parliament have voted to curb export of surveillance equipment to states with poor human rights records, following mounting evidence that equipment supplied by companies in Europe has been used by oppressive regimes to suppress political opponents, journalists and campaigners. MEPs in Strasbourg agreed on 17 January to extend EU export controls to include new restrictions on the export of surveillance equipment, including devices for intercepting mobile phones, hacking computers, circumventing passwords and identifying internet users. The proposals also seek to remove encryption technologies from the list of technologies covered by EU export controls, in a move which aims to make it easier for people living in oppressive regimes to gain access to secure communications which can circumvent state surveillance.

Dictators spy on their citizens using EU cyber-surveillance. This must stop. The EU cannot contribute to the suffering of courageous activists, who often risk their lives for freedom and democracy,” said MEP Klaus Buchner, European Parliament rapporteur. “We are determined to close dangerous gaps in the export of dual-use goods and call on member states to follow suit.”

The proposed changes to the EU dual use export control regime are likely to face opposition from the defence industry and governments, as the European Parliament, and the European Commission prepare to negotiate their implantation with Europe’s 28 member states.

European technology companies, including UK firms, have supplied equipment that  has been used for arresting, torturing, and killing people in Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Morocco, according to the European Parliament. An investigation by Computer Weekly revealed that the UK government had approved export licences to Gamma International (UK) to supply mobile phone interception equipment, known as IMSI catchers, to Macedonia, when the regime was engaged in a massive illegal surveillance operation against the public and political opponents.

And the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, has exported equipment capable of mass internet surveillance to countries that campaigners say regularly commit human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria. An overwhelming majority of MEPs supported reforms to the EU’s export control regime, which will require member states to deny export licences if the export of surveillance technology is likely to lead to a serious impact on human rights in the destination country. The proposed changes, backed by 571 votes to 29 against, with 29 abstentions, will impose tough requirements for EU governments.

Member states will be required to assess the likely impact of surveillance technology on citizens’ right to privacy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association, in the destination country before they grant  export licences – a significant step up from current levels of scrutiny.

The proposed rules contain safeguards, however, that will allow legitimate cyber-security research to continue. Companies exporting products that are not specifically listed will be expected to follow the OECD’s “due diligence” guidelines, if there is a risk they could support human-rights violations.

Improved transparency measures will require member states to record and make data on approved and declined export licences publicly available, opening up the secretive global trade in surveillance technologies to greater public scrutiny.

http://www.computerweekly.com/news/252433519/European-Parliament-votes-to-restrict-exports-of-surveillance-equipment

ProtectDefenders.eu held its annual meeting 2017

December 28, 2017

The Newsletter of December 2017 of ProtectDefenders.eu contains a report of the 2017 Annual Meeting. The highlights:

On the 8th of November, ProtectDefenders.eu held its second annual meeting, under the motto “Champions of change – Human rights defenders at the forefront of development and democracy“. More than 30 human rights defenders at risk from all regions of the world who have benefited from the project gathered in Brussels with representatives of international NGOs and European institutions. This unique meeting has successfully brought together grassroots activists working on the frontlines for change and leading experts on the protection of human rights defenders, universal and regional protection mechanisms, and representatives of various EU institutions implicated in the protection of human rights defenders and current development agenda.

The meeting highlighted the crucial role and impact of human rights defenders around the world as promoters of a sustainable development and engaged development actors in how to integrate the protection of human rights defenders as part of an effective development and protection agenda. The widespread attempts to de-legitimise human rights’ discourse and human rights defenders’ work worldwide were addressed, by promoting a positive narrative grounded on the universality and indivisibility of human rights and its contribution to more advanced and developed societies. Human rights defenders and high-level speakers shared strategies to enhance the protection of those who strive to defend human rights, and to develop a positive narrative on the human rights’ work, legitimising their work at the local level and taking back the human rights discourse to the centre of the international agenda.

To conclude the meeting, the twelve partner organisations of ProtectDefenders.eu have issued a public statement urging all national authorities to “publicly recognise the crucial role played by human rights defenders and protect them in all circumstances from any form of judicial harassment“. As stressed by Antoine Madelin, FIDH Director for International Advocacy and Chair of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, “Human Rights Defenders are the pillars of democracy and of the rule of law but are too often subjected to unfair criminal prosecution, in an effort to undermine their work in the defence of human rights.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/24/video-of-the-defending-human-rights-is-not-a-crime-meeting-now-available/

https://www.protectdefenders.eu/en/newsletter.html

European Parliament’s Sakharov prize awarded to Venezuela opposition

October 27, 2017

Only a week ago I mentioned the curiously collective award given to the South-Korean people [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/korean-people-win-friedrich-ebert-human-rights-award-for-candlelight-rallies/], and now the European Parliament has awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuela‘s opposition-dominated National Assembly, as well as to political prisoners in the country.

Opposition MP Freddy Guevara in Caracas (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Cubillos)

The National Assembly in Venezuela was nominated for the award by the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) parliamentary grouping along with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE group). MEP Jose Ignacio Salafranca said “they are brave people who, despite being beaten or imprisoned, are not afraid and do not give up, but fight for their freedom and for their dignity.” Fellow MEP Guy Verhofstadt said the award supported “the fight of democratic forces in favor of a democratic Venezuela and against the Maduro regime.”

For more on the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought: http://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/publicpage#/awards/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449/Sakharov-Prize-for-Freedom-of-Thought, where you can also learn more about the other two awards named after Sakharov.

Previous winners of the Sakharov Prize include Yazidi women [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/01/sakharov-prize-2016-went-ultimately-to-two-yazidi-women/] and Saudi blogger Raif Badawi [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/].

Source: Sakharov prize awarded to Venezuela opposition | News

Rouhani’s Iran disappoints massively on human rights

August 23, 2017

Those who held hopes that with the re-election of the ‘moderate’ President, Hassan Rouhani, things would also improve in Iran for the large number of human rights defenders in detention will be disappointed. In fact many of his supporters are frustrated by his failing to enact numerous reforms he promised, including the release of HRDs. Here some of the recent developments:

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.”

 

Five human rights defenders look towards the EU-China Summit

May 31, 2017

Lotte Leicht , director of Human Rights Watch’s Brussels office, wrote about “Five Names to Listen for at the EU-China Summit”. She writes that “under President Xi Jinping, whose senior officials arrive in Brussels this week for the European Union-China Summit, courageous human rights defenders, lawyers and academics in China have sustained an extraordinary body blow.”

Source: Five Names to Listen for at the EU-China Summit | Human Rights Watch

ProtectDefenders.eu seeks Head of Secretariat of its office in Brussels

May 8, 2017

ProtectDefenders.eu is the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism, established to protect Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) at high risk and facing the most difficult situations worldwide. The mechanism is implemented by a Consortium of 12 international NGOs with the support of the European Commission. The EU HRD mechanism began its operations on 1st October 2015 for a duration of 36 months. ProtectDefenders.eu is seeking to recruit an experienced manager (Head of Secretariat – HoS) to run the Secretariat of the mechanism in Brussels and to ensure coordination of the project implementation and all related financial and narrative reporting.

The mission of ProtectDefenders.eu is to:

  • operate a permanent and rapid response mechanism to provide emergency support and material assistance to human rights defenders in danger;
  • manage a support programme of temporary relocation for human rights defenders at risk to relocate inside their country, within their region or abroad in case of urgent threat;
  • support and coordinate an exchange platform for organisations and stakeholders working on temporary relocation for human rights defenders including through the EU Temporary Relocation Platform;
  • provide training, support and capacity-building to human rights defenders and local organizations;
  • monitor the situation of human rights defenders and advocate for a protection agenda for Human Rights Defenders at local, regional and international level;
  • promote coordination between organizations dedicated to support for human rights defenders, EU institutions and other relevant actors.

For earlier posts on this entity: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/protectdefenders-eu/ Read the rest of this entry »

ProtectDefenders.eu launches new alert website but no single stop yet!!

April 3, 2017

On 30 March ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by international civil society, launched its Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders, featuring a monitoring of alerts concerning violations perpetrated against individuals promoting Human Rights around the globe. The Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders is available on: ProtectDefenders.eu website.

It could be a most useful tool as quite a few key information providers coöperate (but not AI, HRW?). However, to be really useful as a single stop for this kind of information it is paramount that the site is as complete as possible (otherwise one would still have to go back to the websites of the individual organizations cooperating in the project). This is apparently not yet the case (or maybe definitions still differ from NGO to NGO). Front Line e.g. in its 2017 report (covering 2016) states that  281 HRDs were killed around the world [https://hrdmemorial.org/front-line-defenders-017-annual-report-highlights-killing-of-281-hrds-in-2016/], while a search on the new site shows only 39 killed in 2016 [https://protectdefenders.eu/en/stats.php?yearFilter=2016&regionFilter=&countryFilter=#mf]. That is 242 killings missing (without checking the annual reports of other cooperating partners) ! This issue is important as the announcement claims that the site wants to become “a source of reliable and updated information that should allow the identification of worrying trends and  encourage the coordination of adequate responses by decision-makers and authorities to counter the violations faced by defenders”. Read the rest of this entry »