Archive for the 'Freedom House' Category

Joint Statement by NGOs: Ukraine should address attacks against Human Rights Defenders

October 8, 2018

On 3 October 2018 a number of NGOs published a Joint Statement on Ukraine deploying the many attacks against Human Rights Defenders:

More than 50 attacks on activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine have been recorded by local human rights organisations in just the last nine months, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders said today. Those under attack include people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, protect the environment, and campaign against corruption. 

The organisations criticised the lack of effective investigations into these incidents and of prosecutions of those responsible, which heightens the risk to human rights defenders and sends a message that the authorities tolerate such attacks and assaults. Recently, the prosecutor general suggested that civil society activists brought the attacks on themselves <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/09/27/7193378/&gt;  for criticising the authorities, giving an impression that human rights defenders can be openly targeted.

In most cases, the attacks have targeted individuals or groups that campaign against corruption in the local community, shine a light on the operation of local government and businesses, or defend people’s rights. The purpose of such attacks is clear: to silence activists and human rights defenders and to discourage others from speaking out against injustice and standing up for human rights. 

Two recent examples of the kind of vicious attacks that have yet to be effectively investigated took place on 22 September, in Odessa and Kryvyi Rih. Oleh Mikhaylyk, an anti-corruption activist, was shot in Odessa, in southern Ukraine, and remains in the hospital. Mikhaylyk had campaigned with the Syla Lyudei (People’s Power) movement against illegal construction in Odessa. Three hundred kilometers away, in Kryvyi Rih, unidentified assailants broke into the home of Artem Moroka after he criticised the local police on Facebook. The assailants severely beat him, breaking his nose, Moroka told Ukrainian human rights monitors.

In June, an environmental activist, Mykola Bychko, was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a village in Kharkiv region. Villagers found Bychko hanged in the woods near the village of Eskhar on June 5. The local police initially started a suicide investigation, but have yet to investigate the possibility that he was killed in connection with his activism. At the time, Bychko was documenting the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby waste treatment plant.  A lawyer representing Bychko’s family questioned the conduct of the local police for ignoring the possibility that this was an intentional killing, and for allegedly intentionally delaying the investigation. The lawyer told Freedom House that police lost relevant evidence from the site where Bychko’s body was found, such as the rope from the improvised gallows. The authorities have also not pursued allegations that Bychko had received threats related to his documentation work, such as questioning people from the waste treatment plant. 

On July 31, an unidentified assailant threw acid on Kateryna Handzyuk, a local council member who monitored police activities, in Kherson. ……….

The Ukrainian authorities should take effective steps to prevent further threats and attacks against activists and human rights defenders, and ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into such threats and attacks and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials. 

The Interior Ministry, the National Police, the prosecutor general’s office, and other relevant institutions should explicitly recognise the important work of human rights defenders in protecting human rights and uncovering corruption. The authorities should publicly denounce any threats and attacks against human rights defenders. They should take decisive measures to ensure that government critics can work in a safe and enabling environment in which they can exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and conduct their activities without fear of reprisals. 

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://freedomhouse.org/article/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5092012018ENGLISH.pdf

Turkey: outcry over detention of human rights Defenders – even Russia joins in

June 23, 2016

An academic and two journalists who play a key role in Turkey’s human rights movement have been jailed pending investigation into spurious allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda. Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Boarder, Front Line, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program of FIDH and OMCT), among others, have raised serious concern and demanded their immediate release.

Ahmet Nesin, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Erol Önderoğlu at the court house in Istanbul hours before being jailed pending investigation into spurious allegations of “making terrorist propaganda.” 
Ahmet Nesin, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Erol Önderoğlu at the court house in Istanbul hours before being jailed pending investigation into spurious allegations of “making terrorist propaganda.” © 2016 private

An Istanbul court on 20 June, 2016, accepted a prosecutor’s request for them to be placed in pretrial detention on suspicion of having committed terrorist offenses. They are Erol Önderoglu, who is the Turkey representative of Reporters Without Borders and a journalist with the independent news website Bianet; Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, an academic at Istanbul University’s forensic medicine department and head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey; and Ahmet Nesin, a writer and journalist.

The decision to demand the detention of Önderoğlu, Fincancı, and Nesin is a shocking new indication that the Turkish authorities have no hesitation about targeting well-known rights defenders and journalists who have played a key role in documenting the sharp deterioration in human rights in the country,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Director. “

The three were among 44 journalists, writers, and activists who participated in a solidarity campaign for media freedom in which each of them acted as a symbolic co-editor-for-a-day at the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem in Istanbul. The government sees the newspaper as hostile to it and as a result has placed it under immense pressure.

Jailing a world-renowned journalist and human rights defender such as Erol sends a very powerful signal of intimidation to the entire profession in Turkey. It’s a new, unbelievable low for press freedom in Turkey,” Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at RSF, told CPJ. At least 14 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey on December 1, 2015, when CPJ last conducted its annual census of journalists jailed around the world. [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/turkey-fair-trial-human-rights-lawyers-expression-l4l/]

Front Line Defenders has more information on these individuals: Sebnem Korur Fincanci (https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/sebnem-korur-fincanci)  who also received the International Hrant Dink Award for her human rights work. Erol Önderoğlu (https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/erol-onderoglu)  and Ahmet Nesin (https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/ahmet-nesin).

While the NGO reactions are expected, more remarkable is the reaction from Russia which (in the good company of the USA, the UN and the EU) has condemned the crackdown on Turkey’s press freedom: Read the rest of this entry »

The case for ‘smart sanctions’ against individual perpetrators

May 8, 2015

On 5 May Daniel Calingaert, Executive vice president of Freedom House, contributed an interesting piece to The Hill, in which he argues in favor of ‘targeted sanctions’ against leading individuals who have committed serious human rights violations or engaged in corruption. “Holding torturers and kleptocrats to account” certainly makes some excellent points including the realistic one that countries should be “strong and confident enough both to cooperate with authoritarian governments where prudent and to still hold their human rights abusers and corrupt officials to account“.

 Here the piece in full:

“On May 5, the European Union’s Court of Justice will hear a complaint by the head of Iran’s state broadcaster, Mohammad Sarafraz, and the news director of its English-language channel, Hamid Reza Emadi. The EU imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on them because they broadcast forced confessions by tortured or mistreated political prisoners. Sarafraz and Emadi want the restrictions lifted. But even if they lose their case, they can park their money in the United States, because they aren’t on a U.S. sanctions list.

Their case shows that sanctions hurt human rights abusers and corrupt officials, as intended. And that’s a key selling point for the bipartisan Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S. 284/H.R. 624) being debated on Capitol Hill. The bill, based on Russia-specific sanctions legislation adopted in 2012, would begin to hold human rights abusers and corrupt officials to account around the world by denying them U.S. visas and access to our financial system.

Aside from the Russia-specific sanctions, executive orders have imposed sanctions on human rights abusers in Iran (though the U.S. sanctions list for Iran is significantly shorter than the EU’s) and on seven Venezuelan officials. Targeted sanctions on human rights abusers should be expanded worldwide, because authoritarian rulers and their lieutenants are driving a global decline in respect for human rights. According to Freedom House’s ratings, media freedom has fallen to its lowest point in 10 years, and political and civil rights overall have deteriorated for nine consecutive years.

Targeted sanctions as envisioned by the Global Magnitsky Act could start to turn this trend around. It would build on current policy of condemning human rights abuses and supporting human rights defenders by actually going after the perpetrators of abuses. Perpetrators are usually shielded by their government and expect to evade justice. If a penalty loomed over their head, they may think twice about committing their crimes.

By imposing consequences on individual abusers, the Global Magnitsky Act would force authoritarian rulers into a difficult choice: either to protect the most repugnant officials and thereby expose the cruelty of their regimes or to cut loose the officials who do their dirty work and keep them in power.

A Global Magnitsky Act also targets high-level corruption — the Achilles heel of authoritarian regimes. While human rights might seem a bit abstract to ordinary citizens, corruption is all too real. Citizens understand what’s wrong with corrupt officials getting rich at the public’s expense while everyone else struggles to make ends meet.

Corruption often fuels human rights abuses. Because corrupt officials stand to lose their ill-gotten gains if they leave office, they will go to ever-greater lengths to hold onto power. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was a prime example. As he and his family amassed enormous wealth, he tightened media restrictions, selectively prosecuted opposition figures and increasingly manipulated elections.

Under the Global Magnitsky Act’s targeted sanctions, no country would be singled out. And it would apply to countries like China and Saudi Arabia that tend to escape criticism for their human rights abuses because of U.S. economic or security interests.

The executive branch would decide whom to sanction. But it would have to listen to Congress’s input and explain its decisions. And chances are that governments with an extensive apparatus of repression would end up with more than seven officials on the sanctions list.

If passed, a Global Magnitsky Act probably will elicit some angry responses, like Venezuela’s cryabout “a new escalation of aggression” and “extraordinary threat” from the United States. But authoritarian governments can’t give an honest response, because they can’t admit that they harbor officials responsible for human rights abuses and large-scale corruption. If China’s leadership were sincere, it ought to welcome a Global Magnitsky Act for reinforcing President Xi Jinping’s policy of cracking down on corrupt officials and stemming their flow of assets abroad.

The prospect of angry reactions shouldn’t discourage the introduction of the Global Magnitsky Act. The United States always meets resistance when it champions human rights, because authoritarian governments prefer to avoid responsibility for their violations. We shouldn’t let their officials abuse their power and then benefit from our legal protections.

And we shouldn’t accept their insistence that we look away from human rights abuses as the price for economic or security cooperation. The Global Magnitsky Act would focus pressure on the perpetrators, not commercial relations. We should use our influence and engage authoritarian governments on our terms. We can be strong and confident enough both to cooperate with authoritarian governments where prudent and to still hold their human rights abusers and corrupt officials to account.”

Holding torturers and kleptocrats to account | TheHill.

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/human-rights-defenders-and-anti-corruption-campaigners-should-join-hands/

 

Human rights defenders participate in MP4Freedom campaign

April 2, 2014

US-based NGO Freedom House, in cooperation with the Lithuanian Parliament and Belarusian human rights defenders, launched on 26 March 2014 the MP4Freedom initiative inviting Lithuanian MPs to become “godparents” of political prisoners in Belarus.As neighbors, Lithuanians should care about the future of the Belarusian nation,” said Petras Austrevicius, deputy speaker of the Seimas, who championed the initiative on behalf of the Lithuanian Parliament.  “The idea behind this initiative is to encourage Lithuanian MPs to engage on the issue personally by becoming ‘godparents’ of political prisoners in Belarus.”

To make this initiative effective, Lithuanian MPs should address the Belarusian authorities and demand the release of political prisoners,” said Marina Lobava, the mother of a political prisoner Eduard Lobau. “MPs can write to the heads of detention facilities requesting information about the health of a particular political prisoner. They can also help by contacting the International Red Cross and facilitating its visits to prisons. International advocacy in the EU to keep the political prisoners issue on the foreign policy agenda towards Belarus is also necessary.”

Under this campaign, the participating Lithuanian parliamentarians, who represent the governing and opposition political parties alike, take the responsibility to follow the cases of particular political prisoners in Belarus, meet with their relatives, and speak publicly both at Lithuanian and international venues on human rights violations in Belarus. There are currently 10 political prisoners in Belarus, according to the Human Rights Center Viasna.

Freedom House, the Lithuanian Parliament and human rights defenders launch initiative to support Belarusian political prisoners | Belarus: civil society under attack | Freeales.fidh.net.

2014 heralds the age of images in human rights work

December 28, 2013

To illustrate the increased use of video and images in the human rights world, just scroll down and get a feel of the amount and variety through some examples, mostly from the end of this year:

Human Rights Watch produced an end-of-year 2013 overview.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is announces the latest issue of its weekly video news bulletin (episode number 10).

Amnesty International used a slick production to get attention for the fate of Syrian refugees in Europe (not explaining why other regions are not targeted by the way).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used this video to address the world on Human Rights Day 2013;

Inspirational resilience: Celebrating Human Rights Defenders in Eurasia | Freedom House.

On Human Rights Day, US-based Freedom House recognized the work of HRDs in the Eurasia region with a slide show on: Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan.

The International Service for Human Rights in Geneva presents its work with a video.

Human Rights First used YouTube to announce its fundraising live stream for the end of the year.

There are of course many more examples, quite a few referred to in this blog over the years, such as those of the MEA: http://www.martinennalsaward.org/ but  a special mention should be made of

the organisation Witness in the USA which has pioneered the use of video cameras in the hands of human rights defenders.

When the internet some 25 years ago made it possible to send and ‘publish’ almost unlimited amounts texts, the original euphoria in the human rights movement (whose main weapon is after all documentation) was quickly dampened somewhat when it also led to information overkill. Something similar is bound to happen with images which can now be ‘published’ and transmitted as easily as documents (but without the free-text search capacity). On the other hand there will be new possibilities and different ways of getting the human rights ‘stories’ across, especially on mobile devices used increasingly by younger generations.
The True Heroes Foundation – of which I am a founding Board member – wants to follow and use this development in a way that Human Rights Defenders derive maximum benefit from the new information and communication technology. It hopes to do so by making stories and images of HRDs the most eminent entry point for those seeking information on human rights in the near future. Keep following this blog and the website www.trueheroesfilms.org in the coming year for ….I am afraid …yet MORE information!!
With these thoughts, I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST FOR 2014.
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