Archive for the 'EU' Category

EU finally moves on law to protect media from legal abuse (SLAPPs)

April 28, 2022

I have devoted posts to this important issue before [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapps/]. Let us not forget that Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing 40 lawsuits when she was murdered. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/70b0bee4-9af2-40c6-a11e-5b9ad159b96f

Andrew Rettman writing in the EUObserver of 27 April 2022

Independent media should have less to fear in future from malicious lawsuits, after the EU Commission put forward a new law to shield them.

Billionaires, big corporations, and autocrats have, in recent years, resorted ever more frequently to so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in order to try to gag adversaries.

But if EU states and MEPs back the commission’s proposed anti-SLAPP directive, then judges will soon get a fresh mandate to throw out bogus cases — and compensate their victims.

With these measures we are helping to protect those who take risks and speak up when the public interest is at stake,” EU values commissioner Věra Jourová said in Brussels.

We promised to defend better journalists and human rights defenders,” she said. “The new law does that,” Jourová said.

The directive lists criteria which individual judges can, using their discretion on a case-by-case basis, use to decide whether litigation is genuine or abusive.

These include seeking disproportionately huge financial damages or launching multiple cases at the same time, for instance.

The anti-SLAPP law applies to non-EU or “third” countries, giving European judges leeway to annul vexatious judgments against EU nationals if they are doled out in London, for example.

It is delimited to civil cases “with cross-border implication”. This is because EU competences do not cover national and criminal media laws in member states under the terms of Europe’s treaties. It means a Polish journalist or LGBTI rights activist, for example, who is sued by a Polish entity would normally not be covered.

But the “cross-border” element has been drafted by Jourová’s lawyers in a canny way so that if their case arguably had relevance beyond their national borders then the EU law would kick in.

EUobserver has faced three lawsuits in the past three years that were designated as SLAPPs by leading pro-free media NGOs.

The first saw a Luxembourg-based firm sue us in Belgium about an article on disinformation in Malta — an archetypal example of a “cross-border” lawsuit falling under the directive.

The second saw a Belgian firm sue EUobserver in Belgium, but as the story covered VIP-jet leasing security for EU and Nato heads of state from all over Europe this would also be covered under the cross-border clause.

The final one, which is ongoing, involves a Belarusian firm suing EUobserver in Belgium over an article about alleged money-laundering in Cyprus, but this would also likely fall under both the “third-country” and “cross-border” provisions, NGO experts told this website Wednesday in a flash analysis.

The commission “did the best it could do”, given its jurisdiction, Julie Majerczak, from the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders, said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a big step forward — two years ago we were nowhere on this,” she added…

There were at least 438 SLAPP cases in 24 member states in 2021 targeting 978 people or entities, the commission noted. Journalists in Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Slovenia were being routinely targeted, Reporters Without Borders said. Journalists in Italy and environmental activists in France and Spain were also notable victims, it added.

https://euobserver.com/rule-of-law/154815

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/europe/116496/brussels_unveils_groundbreaking_proposal_to_prevent_and_penalise_slapp_lawsuits_#.Ymqx_5LP1TZ

https://eutoday.net/news/human-rights/2022/slapps-european-commission-seeks-to-tackle-abusive-lawsuits-against-journalists-and-human-rights-defenders

2021 ProtectDefenders.eu Annual Report

April 20, 2022

“The Human Rights Movement at a Crossroad”

On 14 April 2022, ProtectDefenders.eu published its 2021 annual report:

Throughout 2021, the EU human rights defenders mechanism, ProtectDefenders.eu, has delivered life-saving support and multi-faceted assistance to nearly 8,700 of the most at-risk human rights defenders and grassroots human rights organisations around the world – 23% more than in 2020. The EU HRD mechanism’s strategic, flexible, and efficient support has mitigated the ravages suffered by the human rights defence community last year, amid the pervasive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most critical global and geopolitical environment for human rights defence work reported since the creation of ProtectDefenders.eu in 2015.

Despite this extremely adverse situation, ProtectDefenders.eu has continued to mobilise protective support to individuals at risk, and to provide comprehensive assistance to organisations and movements confronting security threats. The support of ProtectDefenders.eu has helped human rights defenders and grassroots human rights groups to strengthen their resilience and protection globally, particularly in the most difficult contexts, making a significant contribution to their ability to continue their work.

Last year, the activities of the EU HRD mechanism have been impacted by an unprecedented increase in requests for urgent materially protective support from defenders and communities: ProtectDefenders.eu has had to respond to, among other severe crises, the dismantling and repression of civil society in Belarus, the consequences of the coup d’état in Myanmar on civil society and HRDs, and the collapse of Afghanistan as the Taliban took over its government. Thus, significant efforts were made to reach these most difficult countries and the most at-risk groups of defenders, who have absorbed an unprecedented level of the support delivered by the EU HRD mechanism. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/28/the-eu-human-rights-defenders-mechanism-a-short-overview/

In a quickly evolving context, creative and flexible solutions and adaptations have been implemented, and this year the consolidation of the ProtectDefenders.eu consortium has given rise to new spaces to explore the privileged positioning of the EU HRD mechanism in the international community in support of defenders. This is illustrated by the launch of the first HRD resettlement stream by the government of Canada in partnership with ProtectDefenders.eu, the articulation of a comprehensive response in Afghanistan through new programmes in partnership with the EU, and the steps taken towards a more comprehensive and collective approach to advocacy on issues of common interest.

ProtectDefenders.eu has continued to provide a comprehensive, holistic and effective emergency protection for HRDs at the greatest risk, including 24/7 support, and to invest in the resilience and capacity of human rights organisations to continue their work in adverse environments – notably through lifeline and core-funding grant-making to local actors, including communities defending rights. ProtectDefenders.eu has also ensured that international temporary relocation capacities remain operational and accessible for HRDs and members of their families, and has taken a significant step in strengthening regional relocation structures through the Shelter Initiatives program. Furthermore, and despite the prevailing limitations created by the pandemic, capacity-building activities have continued to provide access to knowledge about reinforced protection strategies for the community of defenders. Similarly, ProtectDefenders.eu has strengthened its support to individual HRDs and NGOs through its reactive and protective advocacy work to HRDs at risk through urgent interventions, reports, and related proactive steps, mobilising the international community in an effort that has led to multiple success stories throughout the world.


This coordinated implementation, coupled with a holistic and complementary approach between partners, actions, strategies, and programmes, continues to step up the practical support available to HRDs at risk and local human rights NGOs in a timely and comprehensive manner; the vast majority of HRDs accessing ProtectDefenders.eu’s support have reported enhanced security and protection, and highly positive outcomes. Although the extreme situation in 2021 has pushed the mandate and resources of the EU HRD mechanism to the limit, ProtectDefenders.eu has managed to maintain and generate a consistently noticeable and positive impact on the HRD community at highest risk.

The 2021 ProtectDefenders.eu Annual Report is introduced by Victoria Fyodorova, a woman human rights defender from Belarus, Jamila Afghani, a WHRD from Afghanistan, Josep Borrell, Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, and Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on Human Rights.

Click to read and download the 2021 ProtectDefenders.eu Annual Report

EU’s Report on Human rights 2021

April 20, 2022

On 19 April 2022 the EU published its 2021 report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World.l

INTRODUCTION: In 2021, in a context characterised by a prevailing global pandemic and a sustained trend of rising authoritarianism, the EU stepped up its work to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the world and strengthened its tools.

On the eve of the Human Rights Day on 10 December 2021, the EU launched the Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/17/eu-launches-a-e1-5-billion-6-year-plan-to-promote-human-rights-and-its-defenders/].

This annual report on human rights and democracy monitors the implementation of the EU Action Plan by presenting the progress achieved to date.

One landmark achievement is the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (EUGHRSR). In 2021, the EU adopted restrictive measures targeting persons and entities from China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Russia, involved in serious human rights violations and abuses. The EU imposed sanctions in the case of Alexei Navalny’s arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as sanctions against the Wagner group and its members. In December, the Council adopted a decision prolonging for one year the existing sanctions.

Throughout the year, the EU took the lead in UN human rights fora on initiatives aimed at addressing human rights violations and abuses in Afghanistan, Belarus, Burundi, DPRK, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Myanmar. The first EU strategic dialogue with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in October 2021 was an opportunity to share updates on global human rights issues, to discuss priorities and to build a stronger partnership for more effective multilateralism and rules-based international cooperation. As a staunch advocate of multilateralism, the EU also remains vigilant in the defence and advancement of universal human rights and the integrity and functionality of the global human rights system.

Pursuing its political priority towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, the EU reinforced its ambition through the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the EU External Action 2021-2025 (GAP III). The EU remained committed to preventing and combatting all forms of gender-based violence and engaged as an Action Coalition leader in the Generation Equality Forum, as well as in the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies.

In 2021, the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child5 was also adopted. It was developed with contributions from over 10,000 children and proposed new actions to support children and contribute to the protection and promotion of their rights.

In 2021, the EU further expanded its concrete support to civil society organisations and human rights defenders, especially environmental, land and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders, women human rights defenders and labour rights defenders, who remained under severe pressure around the world. The 23rd EU-NGO Human Rights Forum organised on 7-8 December 2021 focused on ‘Rebuilding better: a human-rights based recovery from the pandemic’. The EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism ProtectDefenders.eu (EUR 35 million for 2015-2022) has supported nearly 53,000 human rights defenders at risk and their families since its launch in 2015. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/28/eu-by-far-biggest-funder-of-human-rights-defenders/]

In a global context of democratic backsliding, supporting democratic electoral processes remained a cornerstone of EU engagement worldwide. Despite the restrictions linked to the pandemic and political and security circumstances, in the second half of 2021 the EU successfully deployed Election Observation Missions to Zambia, Kosovo, Iraq, Venezuela, Honduras, and The Gambia.

Download document (PDF | 3.31 MB | Report of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy)Download document (PDF | 3 MB | Country Updates)

EU – China Summit on 1 April should not be a joke

March 30, 2022

European Union leaders should announce specific policy responses to the Chinese government’s atrocity crimes, Human Rights Watch said today, 30 March 2022. A virtual summit between the EU and China is scheduled for April 1, 2022.

The summit takes place at a time of heightened tensions between the EU and the Chinese government, which retaliated against Lithuania for its relations with Taiwan, baselessly sanctioned EU bodies and European research institutions, and has not condemned Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The Chinese government’s disregard for international human rights norms mirrors its domestic track record of grave abuses without accountability.

The EU’s foreign policy chief has pointed with alarm to the Chinese government’s ‘revisionist campaign’ against universal human rights and institutions,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Brussels should revise its approach to match the magnitude of that threat.”

In a March 18 joint letter from 10 nongovernmental organizations to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, Human Rights Watch cited Chinese authorities’ deepening assault on human rights, including crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities in Xinjiang, and heightened repression in Tibet and Hong Kong. Human rights defenders across the country – including the citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, the Uyghur intellectual and Sakharov Prize laureate Ilham Tohti, the Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, and many others – remain arbitrarily detained. {see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/37AE7DC4-16DB-51E9-4CF8-AB0828AEF491, and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/25/gui-minhai-10-years-jail-sentence-in-china/

While the EU has taken important steps in reaction to these developments, including some targeted sanctions and strong condemnations of Beijing’s abuses at the United Nations, these efforts lack the consequences to bring significant change. The rights groups urged Michel and von der Leyen to use their time with the Chinese leaders to announce further steps to counter Beijing’s abuses, and cautioned them against calling for yet another round of the bilateral human rights dialogue, which after 37 rounds has proven unable to secure concrete progress.

Stronger, better coordinated action is also supported by the European Parliament, which has remained a staunch critic of the Chinese government’s crackdown and has repeatedly denounced its abuses. Beijing responded by sanctioning several members of the European Parliament. In response, the European Parliament froze consideration of a bilateral trade deal and called for a new, and more assertive, EU strategy on China, including further targeted sanctions and closer coordination with like-minded partners. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/21/china-eu-investment-deal-off-the-rail/]

Presidents Michel and von der Leyen should go beyond words of condemnation at the summit if they want to deter Chinese government violations now and in the future,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Bolder steps are needed to counter Beijing’s crimes against humanity and anti-rights agenda, and EU leaders should announce their determination to pursue them.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/18/joint-ngo-letter-ahead-eu-china-summit

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/30/eu-no-business-usual-china-summit

EU by far biggest funder of human rights defenders

February 28, 2022

The European Union (EU) provided roughly €10 billion to support non-government organisations (NGOs) in its partner countries over the past seven years (2014-2021) EU High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell said in a statement in celebration of World NGO day, 26 February.

Josep Borrell

File Photo: EU s High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell. Photo courtesy of European parliament website.

With these allocations, the EU represents the world’s largest provider of support to local NGOs in partner countries, Borrell noted. He also stated that it has been a leading donor for the protection and support of human rights defenders, with 53,000 defenders and their families taken care of through the website ProtectDefenders.eu since 2015. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/17/eu-launches-a-e1-5-billion-6-year-plan-to-promote-human-rights-and-its-defenders/

On World NGO Day, we honour all civil society actors who, every day, are at the forefront of the fight for human rights, the respect of democratic values and the rule of law. The EU commends their role in supporting and giving a voice to the most vulnerable as well as their essential contribution to building peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

Today, with the unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation, international peace and the rule of law are under attack. The EU stands firmly by the Ukrainian and Russian people along with their civil society and youths, whose future and voices are threatened by President Putin’s disregard of democracy, human rights, and international rules,” Borrell stated.

Borrell added that countries that curtail NGOs’ activity through legal and administrative measures hamper universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. See e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/foreign-agents/

Nicaragua: death in detention and sham trial

February 21, 2022

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s 49th session, which begins on February 28 in Geneva, presents an opportunity to send a powerful message to the Ortega-Murillo government that these human rights violations will not be tolerated. Governments should support a strong resolution on Nicaragua, demanding the release of all detainees subjected to arbitrary detention and prosecutions and establishing an independent mechanism to investigate rights violations.

Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Acting Director, Americas Division of HRW, describes the latest in the Nicaraguan Government’s Attempts to Tighten its Authoritarian Grip:

Nicaragua’s courts are scheduled to hold a sham trial of seven government critics and opposition leaders, all arbitrarily imprisoned since June 2021. It’s the latest in a slew of trials of people detained on absurd charges months on end.

This week’s trial epitomizes Nicaragua’s mockery of justice: A joint trial, with no due process, on charges of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity,” in most cases based solely on the defendants’ exercise of their right to free expression, that will most likely result in swift convictions for all.

Since February 1, at least 14 detainees have been found guilty of “undermining national integrity” during closed-door trials at “El Chipote” prison, rather than at public courthouses, as Nicaraguan law requires. Each trial has lasted just a few hours and has resulted in swift convictions and sentences of several years in prison.

Announcing the trials on January 31, the Attorney General’s Office called the detainees “criminals and thieves.” Authorities had suspended the trials in October 2021 without offering a clear reason.

Between May and November 2021, the government unleashed a wave of arbitrary arrests to pave the way for President Daniel Ortega’s reelection to a fourth consecutive term. Nicaraguan authorities arrested at least 40 critics, including student and business leaders, campesino representatives, defense lawyers, journalists, activists, and seven presidential candidates. More than 130 others were detained earlier and remain in detention.

Criminal proceedings have lacked basic due process. In many cases, detainees were held incommunicado for weeks or months at El Chipote, some in prolonged solitary confinement. When allowed visits, families described abusive conditions, including repeated interrogations and insufficient food.

On February 12, Hugo Torres died in detention. Torres a 73-year-old former companion of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, had been arbitrarily arrested in early June and accused of “treason.”

Prosecutors have based serious accusations solely on claims that the accused had given interviews to media outlets, shared WhatsApp messages, participated in meetings, or signed letters calling for free elections, demanding international condemnation of government abuses, or expressing support for sanctions against Nicaraguan officials.   

These trials contribute to President Ortega’s mounting record of abuse. Given the lack of judicial independence of Nicaraguan courts, this would provide victims the possibility of being heard by an independent body with a chance to holding perpetrators accountable.

Other inmates also are in dire straits, according to family members and rights defenders, who say the prisoners are malnourished, losing weight, teeth and memory, and getting weaker by the day.

Many are facing a serious risk to health and life,” the former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Antonia Urrejola, said on Twitter.

Ortega, who secured a fourth consecutive term in November elections, has faced widespread criticism from rights groups, opposition figures and international observers who decried the vote as “a sham”.

On Monday, the European Union’s external affairs spokesman, Peter Stano, sent “deep condolences” to Torres’s family and called for an independent investigation into his death. “We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners … subjected to inhumane detention conditions” in Nicaragua, Stano tweeted.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/24/vilma-nunez-human-rights-defender-who-stays-in-nicaragua/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/14/nicaraguas-ultimate-sham-trial

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/14/calls-grow-for-nicaragua-to-release-jailed-opposition-figures

Call for Applications for the 30th Lorenzo Natali Media Prize

February 18, 2022

The Lorenzo Natali Media Prize has announced that it is open for applications. The European Union’s journalism award is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and awards journalists reporting on themes such as inequality, poverty, climate, education, migration, employment, digital, healthcare, peace, democracy, and human rights.

Imaged sourced:Imaged sourced: Natali Prize

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, said, “The Lorenzo Natali Media Prize celebrates its 30th anniversary. Democratic backsliding that we have witnessed during the pandemic, hybrid threats, disinformation and shrinking space for civil society are all worrying
phenomena, which brave journalists tackle. As showcased at the Summit for Democracy in December, the EU is a firm supporter of fundamental freedoms and those who defend them, often with high personal risk. The Lorenzo Natali Media Prize is a symbol of our support to those who give voice to the voiceless and bring truth to light.
”:

The submission should be made online in one of the five accepted languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or German). Applications can be submitted from today until 31 March 2022. Submissions can be entered online here.

For more on this and other media awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/D49ECF35-4B42-444D-B4FA-F7ACE2BF65BC

A Grand Jury of international renowned journalists and specialists in international development from around the world will choose the winners in each category. Each winner will receive €10,000. The winner of the Best Emerging Journalist category will also be offered work experience with a media partner. The winners will be announced at the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize Award Ceremony during the 2022 European Development Days between 14 – 15 June 2022.

https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/15/225198.html

EU Rule of law enforcement: road is now free

February 17, 2022
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 28, 2015.
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 28, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

The decision on February 16, 2022 by the Court of Justice of the European Union to allow EU institutions to tie funding to EU states to respect for the rule of law clears the way for strong action by the European Commission, Human Rights Watch said. The EU Court’s ruling dismissed the actions brought by Hungary and Poland against the new conditionality mechanism.

The EU Court has sent a clear signal that EU funds should be used in ways that uphold rather than undermine Europe’s democratic values,” said Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU Commission should now act swiftly and demonstrate that defending the rule of law is at the top of its agenda.”

In December 2020 the EU adopted a regulation creating a new conditionality mechanism to protect the EU budget from rule of law breaches by an EU member state. A last-minute deal among EU member states obliged the Commission to wait for a ruling by the EU Court of Justice before finalizing the guidelines for applying the conditionality mechanism. Hungary and Poland brought legal action before the EU Court seeking to annul the rule of law conditionality mechanism in March 2021, initiating that process…

The court’s ruling confirms that “compliance by the Member States with the common values on which the European Union is founded (…) such as the rule of law and solidarity, justifies the mutual trust between those States.” The Court added that the EU “must be able to defend those values.”

The European Commission should demonstrate its stated commitment to protect the rule of law and democratic values in the EU by swiftly initiating procedures provided by the regulation, Human Rights Watch said. It should seek to suspend, reduce, or prevent new agreements to provide EU funds to a member state if it finds that the state has failed to respect the rule of law.

In applying the conditionality mechanism, the European Commission should ensure that a broad range of breaches to EU’s democratic values could lead it to recommend cutting funds to EU member states. These should include attacks on the independence of the judiciary, as well as state interference with media and civil society. The Commission should also seek to ensure that EU funding cannot be used to promote intolerance or discriminatory policies, including against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and other minorities.

The Commission should also ensure that carrying out this procedure does not punish EU citizens for the actions of their governments, including by negatively affecting their economic and social rights. The Commission should conduct human rights impact assessments to determine the risk that people’s rights would be harmed by any decision and should divert rather than cut funding as required, to ensure that beneficiaries’ rights are not affected.

Hungary and Poland, the two EU countries that initiated legal action against the regulation, are already facing scrutiny for their poor rule of law records under the Article 7 procedure – the EU treaty provision dealing with governments that flout EU values, which can ultimately lead to the suspension of their voting rights in the Council. Hungary is among the largest recipients of EU funding per capita, and Poland is the largest overall net recipient.

Poland’s government has eroded judicial independence and ignored recent EU Court of Justice decisions. It also used its politically compromised constitutional tribunal to undermine women’s rights and the binding nature of EU law. LGBT and women’s rights activists face threats and harassment. In Hungary, restrictive laws target civil society groups, and the government or its supporters control most media outlets. A June 2021 law banned discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation, putting health providers, educators, artists, and broadcasters at risk of sanctions.

EU member states also have a serious responsibility to ensure that all member states respect EU’s democratic values and the rule of law. On February 22 they will hold a hearing on the situation of the rule of law in Poland under the Article 7 procedure. But since Article 7 was triggered in 2017 on Poland and in 2018 on Hungary, other EU member states have failed to take further action to hold those two governments to account.

..Proceedings under Article 7 should remain the cornerstone of the action against the erosion of EU values in countries like Hungary and Poland. The EU is equipped with the tools needed to stand up against member states that disregard the EU’s own democratic values, Human Rights Watch said. What has been missing is political will by the EU Commission and by leading EU member states to take decisive action and to hold states responsible for abuses to account.

The EU Court ruling underscores that EU institutions can fight back against the erosion of the rule of law within the bloc, but much depends on the European Commission quickly building on this momentum,” Dam said. “Tying EU money to EU values and strengthening scrutiny of rule of law abuses should go hand in hand to demonstrate that EU membership and respect for the rule of law are inseparable.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/european-judges-demonstrate-in-poland-against-the-muzzle-law/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/16/eu-top-court-approves-linking-eu-funds-rule-law

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/16/poland-hungary-lose-legal-challenge-against-eu-rule-of-law-tool

NGOs protest harassment of Ambika Satkunanathan in Sri Lanka

February 17, 2022

On 14 February 2022 FIDH published a joint statement to support Sri Lankan human rights defender Ambika Satkunanathan:

We the undersigned human rights organizations, express our deep concern about the statement issued by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry on February 4, 2022, in which the government denounced testimony given by Ambika Satkunanathan, a leading human rights lawyer, to the European Parliament on January 27. The government statement clearly constitutes an act of harassment and intimidation. We condemn the Sri Lankan government’s tactics to intimidate human rights defenders, and express our full solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, a well-known, respected and courageous human rights defender. Targeting her for providing accurate testimony about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka to the European Parliament is completely unacceptable, and sends a chilling message to all Sri Lankan civil society, especially those in the north and east, who are already operating under considerable duress under the current administration.

Sri Lanka’s international partners, including the European Union, should publicly condemn the Sri Lankan government’s statement and express solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, who has been targeted for her international engagement, and increase their efforts to engage with Sri Lankan civil society at large.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement contains numerous false claims in an attempt to disparage and delegitimize a distinguished human rights advocate, placing her at risk of physical danger in retribution for her brave work. The government’s claim that her testimony was “reminiscent of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] propaganda that once stoked hatred among communities,” and that “such allegations need to be refuted in the interest of social harmony” Is particularly insidious and dangerous.

The government’s statement mirrors its repeated practice of falsely equating human rights defenders and human rights advocacy with those pursuing “terrorism.” The statement’s language aligns these baseless allegations with vague and frequently abused provisions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), exposing Ms. Satkunanathan to a heightened risk of threats, attacks and persecution.

Ms. Satkunanathan was a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka before that body’s independence was compromised under the current administration and led the first national study on Sri Lanka’s prisons. Prior to that, she was for many years a legal consultant to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is the author of an important recent report on abuses committed during the so-called “war on drugs.”

We are concerned that the government’s statement seeks to place the blame on human rights defenders if the European Union determines that Sri Lanka failed to meet its human rights commitments under GSP+, the preferential tariff system. The European Union should remind the Sri Lankan government that the responsibility to uphold its international human rights obligations rests with the government. The government’s treatment of human rights defenders reflects its lack of respect for international human rights law.

We support Ms. Satkunanathan’s testimony to the European Parliament, which accurately described a situation already reported by the United Nations and many domestic and international human rights organizations. The government’s response contains numerous false statements, including:

- The government claims to be “engaged in long standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the UN Human Rights Council.” On the contrary, in February 2020, soon after taking office, the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew Sri Lankan support from consensus resolutions of the council, repudiating commitments made by the previous government. Special Procedures mandate holders of the Council issued a statement on February 5, 2021, noting that their recommendations, including on torture, the independence of the judiciary, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, minority rights, counterterrorism, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of assembly and association, had been ignored.

- The government claims to be “strengthen[ing] rule of law, access to justice and accountability.” However, President Rajapaksa campaigned on a platform of protecting “war heroes” from prosecution, and has appointed individuals implicated in war crimes to senior government posts. His presidential commission on “political victimization” has sought to interfere in judicial proceedings and block trials and investigations in human rights cases implicating the president’s associates and the president himself. The president pardoned Sunil Ratnayake, one of very few members of the armed forces ever convicted of human rights violations, who murdered eight Tamil civilians including children.

- The government denies that civic space is shrinking, as Ms. Satkunanathan described in her testimony. Yet under the current government, many human rights defenders have said that they are subjected to continual government intimidation, intrusive surveillance, and attempts to block their access to funds. In her most recent update to the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet wrote that, “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.” The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in his end-of-mission statement last December documented government intimidation of civil society and a “shrinking civic space.”

- The government claims there is no “concrete evidence of discrimination against minorities.” In fact, for nearly a year the government banned the burial of people said to have died with Covid-19, causing immense distress to the Muslim community without any medical justification in what is only but one example of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Such burials are now permitted only at a single remote site. In January 2021 High Commissioner Bachelet found that, “Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalized and excluded in statements about the national vision and Government policy… Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is increasingly scapegoated.” The High Commissioner’s findings are in line with reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used almost exclusively against members of the Tamil and Muslim communities. The government continues to deny efforts to commemorate war victims belonging to the Tamil community.

- The government denies Ms. Satkunanathan’s description of alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the context of Sri Lanka’s “war on drugs.” However, these abuses are widely documented. In September, High Commissioner Bachelet said, “I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.”

The Sri Lankan government’s statement attacking Ambika Satkunanathan for her testimony to the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights exemplifies threats faced by human rights defenders, particularly when they engage with foreign and international forums, and it further shows the government’s refusal to address the ongoing serious human rights violations taking place in the country. Instead of trying to silence those who seek to defend human rights, the government should give serious consideration to their input and contributions, and take urgent action to ensure that they can work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals.


https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/sri-lanka/sri-lanka-organisations-express-solidarity-with-human-rights-defender

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambika_Satkunanathan

Myanmar: one year after the coup – only getting worse

February 2, 2022
A crowd of protesters wearing face masks, holding up an image of a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi.

On 1 February last year, the military seized power over Myanmar/Burma by overturning the election results and detaining State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The military is still controlling power by force and uses brutal violence against human rights defenders, civil society groups, and journalists in order to silence all forms of protest and dissent. More than 1,500 people have been killed by the military and over 8,000 people have been arrested.

The coup prompted mass protests and more than 1,500 people have been killed by the military. Over 8,000 people have been arrested in the harsh crackdowns. In a series of charges, Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to several years in prison. Most recently, five new corruption charges against her were announced and in all she faces up to 164 years in jail. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/30/rohingya-human-rights-leader-mohibullah-murdered-in-bangladesh-refugee/

Despite the military’s brutal response, people have come together to fight the dictatorship. Nationwide protests, boycotts, strikes, and coordinated civil disobedience movements have taken place. Journalists across the country have continued their work despite severe attacks by the military.  

A new report by Athan looks at how the military coup has affected journalists’ work and press freedom in the country. Throughout the country’s history, military coups have led to severe attacks on press freedom and the 2021 coup is no exception.  Since the launch of the coup, 141 journalists have been arrested and 13 have been sentenced to prison. On 10 December, photojournalists Ko Soe Naing and Ko Zaw Tun were arrested while taking photos of a nationwide silent strike. Ko Soe Naing was tortured to death at the interrogation centre four days later. Just a couple of weeks after that, editor of the Federal Journal, A Sai Kay (Aka) Sai Win Aung, was shot dead by the military in Lay Kay Kaw.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/11/three-democratic-voice-of-burma-journalists-and-two-activists-risk-refoulement-by-thailand/

According to Athan, the attacks on press freedom since the 2021 military coup have been the worst the country has seen.  “Journalists and news media require continuous support to sustain local media and its journalists in order to secure journalists’ careers and their safety, and to enable an environment for journalistic professionals and the industry,” says a representative from Athan about the report. 

On the one-year anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar, the High Representative on behalf of the European Union and the Foreign Ministers of Albania, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have made the following declaration:

….The European Union is deeply concerned by the continuing escalation of violence and the evolution towards a protracted conflict with regional implications. Since the military coup, the situation has continuously and gravely deteriorated. A large part of the population is now in a highly precarious situation, experiencing poverty, food shortages, displacement, and violence. ..

The European Union condemns in the strongest terms continuing grave human rights violations including torture, sexual and gender-based violence, the continued persecution of civil society, human rights defenders, and journalists, attacks on the civilian population, including ethnic and religious minorities by the Myanmar armed forces. Therefore, the EU calls for full accountability of the leaders responsible for the coup as well as of the perpetrators of violence and human rights violations. The EU also reiterates its firm demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners arbitrarily detained in relation to the coup and the return to power of democratically elected leaders.

As a matter of priority, the EU reiterates its calls for an immediate cessation of all hostilities, and an end to the disproportionate use of force and the state of emergency. The military authorities must ensure rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access to all displaced persons and people in need, in all parts of the country. The European Union will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence and reiterates its call for the full and immediate respect of international humanitarian law…

In view of the escalating violence in Myanmar, increased international action is required in line with the already existing EU arms embargo on Myanmar. Since the military coup on 1 February 2021, the EU has imposed targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military, its leaders, and entities. In the absence of any swift progress of the situation in Myanmar, the EU stands ready to adopt further restrictive measures against those responsible for undermining democracy and the serious human rights violations in Myanmar.

It is a failed coup,” said Yanghee Lee, co-founder of the Special Advisory Group on Myanmar and former UN special rapporteur for human rights in the country in a CNN report of 1 February. “The coup has not succeeded in the past year. And that is why they are taking even more drastic measures to finish out the coup.” He reported on problems for human rights defenders already in 2015, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/19/myanmar-backsliding-by-prosecuting-human-rights-defenders-instead-of-perpetrators/

https://edition.cnn.com/2022/01/31/asia/myanmar-coup-anniversary-resistance-junta-intl-hnk-dst/index.html