Archive for the 'HRW' Category

Human Rights in Africa in 2019: rage

January 16, 2020

There was rage across the African continent last year, says Human Rights Watch in its annual report, with no sign of cooling down in 2020. In Sudan and Guinea, there were manifestations of frustration with entrenched leadership.  In Zimbabwe, protests mostly about economic conditions.  While in rural Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they were about the rights of communities displaced by conflict. But the public outrage is good to see, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) at its Johannesburg report unveiling. Africa Advocacy director for HRW Carine Kaneza Nantulya says ordinary citizens took the spotlight this year.v”We’ve seen, I think, the average men and women of the African continent taking agency, being agents for their own for the changes they wanted to see, which we saw an increase of peaceful protest in different countries,” she said. “The second takeaway is that we’ve also seen a backsliding from government in terms of political and civic space.”

That has taken the form of outright police aggression and repression, as seen in Southern Africa, says the group’s Southern Africa researcher, Dewa Mavhinga. “We expected more from southern African leaders, including President Ramaphosa of South Africa, based on their commitment and promises to fulfill people’s rights across the region, “ he said.   “But we saw that there was a constriction of space for human rights defenders in countries like Zimbabwe,” Mavhinga told VOA.

But there was also a glimmer of hope, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for his reform agenda and for his reconciliatory moves with arch-enemy Eritrea, noted HRW’s Africa deputy advocacy director, Babatunde Olugboji. “He’s done quite a few great things in Ethiopia, he’s released political prisoners and is actually reforming some repressive laws,” he said. “He sort of made peace with Eritrea. So things are moving in the right direction, mostly,” said Olugboji.   “There’s still a lot to be done in Ethiopia,” he added.

He pointed to an event few people could have predicted at this time last year: the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after a 30-year rule marked by oppression,  human rights abuses, and  attempted genocide in the Darfur region.

Human Rights Watch issues World Report 2020 (covering 2019)

January 15, 2020

On 14 January 2020 Human Rights Watch published it 30th annual World Report (entitled 2020 but covering events in 2019). From the preface:

It summarizes key human rights issues in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2018 through November 2019. In a keynote essay, Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth examines the increasingly dire threat to the global system for protecting human rights posed by the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping. Deepening and increasingly sophisticated domestic repression show that China’s leaders view human rights at home as an existential threat. That, in turn, has led Beijing to see international laws and institutions for the defense of human rights as an existential threat. As a result, Chinese authorities seek to censor criticism of China overseas, mute attention to human rights in its global engagements, and weaken global rights mechanisms. At stake is a system of governance built on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect—that regardless of official interests, limits exist on what states can do to people. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/]

Noting that global institutions are built in part “on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect, that regardless of the official interests at stake, there are limits to what states can do to people,” Roth concludes that China is not simply a new and emerging power finding its place, but a country that poses an existential threat to the international human rights system.

The rest of the volume consists of individual country entries, each of which identifies significant human rights abuses, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, United States, China, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.

The book reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff undertook in 2019, usually in close partnership with human rights activists and groups in the country in question. It also reflects the work of its advocacy team, which monitors policy developments and strives to persuade governments and international institutions to curb abuses and promote human rights.  As in past years, this report does not include a chapter on every country where Human Rights Watch works, nor does it discuss every issue of importance. The absence of a country or issue often simply reflects staffing or resource limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.

The factors we considered in determining the focus of our work in 2019 (and hence the content of this volume) include the number of people affected and the severity of abuse, access to the country and the availability of information about it, the susceptibility of abusive forces to influence, and the importance of addressing certain thematic concerns and of reinforcing the work of local rights organizations.

The World Report does not have separate chapters addressing our thematic work but instead incorporates such material directly into the country entries. Please consult the Human Rights Watch website for more detailed treatment of our work on children’s rights; women’s rights; arms and military issues; business and human rights; health and human rights; disability rights; the environment and human rights; international justice; terrorism and counterterrorism; refugees and displaced people; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights; and for information about our international film festivals.

(The book was edited by Danielle Haas, senior editor at Human Rights Watch, with assistance from Naimah Hakim, Program associate. Grace Choi, director of publications and information design, oversaw production of visual elements and layout.)

Dakar Rally starts on 5 January in Jeddah but HRDs in jail

January 4, 2020

Annual reports 2019: Tanzania mostly a bad year

December 31, 2019

And here the last of my selected annual reports of 2019:

..Should the country’s human rights defenders have any New Year resolutions of ensuring some notable rights violations are brought to an end, they must brace to encounter setbacks and frustrations from what is happening on the ground. Concerns on declining press freedom, the ban on political rallies, the push for an arrangement that would ensure a free and fair elections are some of the issues that continued to test the commitment of authorities in ensuring respect for human rights principles…

While it is true that there were many incidents which activists have described as blatant violations of human rights and the rule of law, the most recent is the ‘kidnapping’ of rights activists Tito Magoti and Theodory Faustine. Their earlier absence in the public eyes sent people into a frenzy which forced the police to clarify that it was they who ‘arrested’ the two. Mr Tito Magoti and Mr Theodory Giyan face three counts of leading a criminal gang, possession of a computer programme designed to commit an offence and money laundering. The former is a Public Affairs’ officer with the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) while the latter is associated with a digital solutions company, iPF Softwares. They are both at Segerea Remand prison awaiting their case scheduled on January 7, 2020 for mentioning.

..Journalists and the press, in general, were neither spared from the wreck of 2019 violations of people’s basic freedoms. According to the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), a local press freedom advocacy group, incidents of violations of press freedom, including threats and interference in editorial independence, increased in Tanzania from eight in 2015 to 28 cases in 2019. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/journalist-kabendera-in-tanzania-now-suddenly-held-on-economic-charges/]

..Perhaps the serious blow to the country’s human rights landscape came from the government’s decision to withdraw its declaration it made under Article 34(6) of the Protocol establishing the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) which gives individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) a direct access to the court once the national judicial mechanisms have been exhausted. The decision came soon after the African Union rights body condemned massive human rights violations by authorities, especially reluctance to investigate serious human rights breaches like that of the disappearance of freelance journalist Azory Gwanda. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/06/tanzania-wants-to-withdraw-right-to-complain-to-african-court/]

..Meanwhile, the political parties continued to raise the alarm; that they were operating under stringent conditions in the past three years as the government’s ban on political rallies remained in force. The year 2019 also witnessed the passing of amendments into the Political Parties Act which Tanzania’s political observers described as draconian.

.. Amidst these negative developments, nonetheless, there was also some positive steps taken by the government to try expressing its commitments to issues pertaining to human rights and good governance. This includes the revival of the State human rights and good governance commission. Since the stepping down of the former chairman, renowned lawyer Bahame Tom Nyanduga and his commissioners, the CHRGG remained inactive, making many of its tasks taken over by independent rights organisations which are blaming authorities over alleged failures to uphold the principles of human rights and the rule of law . President John Magufuli finally sworn-in the new CHRGG commission and asked the officials to go and help people whose rights are violated. President Magufuli’s directives to the commission were timely, to say the least, as they came immediately before Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released scathing reports on the human rights situation in Tanzania. Launched on October 28, 2019, the two organisations expressed concerns the state of human rights in Tanzania.

..Other human rights-related concerns in 2019 were the frequent anti-human rights statements made by senior government officials which are often followed by cracking down on individuals and organisations.

Rights activists have also expressed uneasiness with the rhetoric, often coupled with arbitrary arrests and threats to deregister nongovernmental groups, which they think has stifled independent reporting by journalists and public discussion on human rights violations and abuses including in the context of the upcoming elections. “Tanzania should show true commitment to protecting and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression and association. The authorities need to put a stop to harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists, and opposition members,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

COP25: climate defenders also needed to be shielded

November 28, 2019

Tomorrow, 29 November, 2019, young people will gather at locations around the world for a Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike. On 2 December, United Nations delegates, world leaders, business executives, and activists will meet at the 25th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid to discuss ways to protect the environment. Participants in these events should also discuss ways to protect the protectors: the individuals and groups targeted around the world for their efforts on behalf of the planet.

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

Human Rights Watch’ Omar Shakir loses his appeal in Israeli Supreme Court

November 6, 2019

On 5 November 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the appeal against the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to uphold a deportation order against Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, who is accused by the State of supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The Court ruled that Shakir must leave the country in 20 days. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/].  In the meantime his expulsion is immenent: https://imemc.org/article/human-rights-watch-director-expelled-today/

HRW stated “Omar Shakir’s Expulsion Would Send Chilling Message“. The Israeli NGO “Human Rights Defenders Fund” issued the following statment on the case:

The Court dismissed the claim raised by Shakir’s lawyers Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, according to which he did not violate the law that authorizes the exclusion from Israel of those who call for or support boycotting Israel or an area under its control (Amendment no. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law, 2017). The Court also rejected a request to suspend proceedings until a new Israeli government is formed following the September elections and could consider whether to proceed with the deportation.

The constitutional claims raised in the appeal were not directly addressed by the Court, which stated that the constitutionality of Amendment no. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law will be examined in a separate petition currently pending before the High Court of Justice.

The Court further dismissed the claim that Shakir did not call to boycott Israel, but was merely fulfilling HRW’s long-held mandate in calling businesses not to contribute to human rights violations in the OPT. Head of the panel of judges, Justice Neal Hendel, adopted the State’s position and asserted that Shakir’s Tweets throughout the years, including the ones he posted on behalf of HRW regarding corporate responsibility in the OPT, all amount to active and consistent promotion of boycott activity.

One of the more disconcerting aspects of the Court’s decision is the conflation of Shakir’s independent activities prior to joining HRW with actions taken more recently in his capacity as a researcher at HRW, such as HRW reports shared on his social media, as indication that there is “enough evidence to show substantial, coherent and consistent involvement of Shakir in promoting boycott, in violation of the law.” 

The most disturbing component of the ruling is the Court’s holding that the law’s application extends to those who use boycott to promote the protection of human rights in the OPT, in accordance with international law:

“[…] the subjective aim of Amendment no. 28 […] validates that a call to boycott Israel may be included within the meaning of the law, even if its reasoning is founded on the protection of human rights or on the norms of international law. In fact, it seems that the possibility of disguising a call for boycott under a human rights discourse will devoid Amendment no. 28 of its content and harm its objective aim — fighting the boycott movement. These aims demonstrate that [the text of the law] is not only limited to boycott that is based on political opposition to Israel’s control of the territories, but also includes boycott that is based on the identification of the Israeli control in the territories as a violation of international law.”   
Following that statement, the Court held that since Shakir’s activity regarding corporate responsibility in the OPT is based on his entire opposition to the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the OPT, his work constitutes illegal support of boycott in violation of Israeli law.

In addition, the Court stated that HRW is not considered to be a “BDS organization” and reassured that its activity will not be harmed by the decision to deport one of his representatives. Furthermore, the Court dismissed the petitioners’ concerns by stating that the current decision will not affect other human right defenders and organizations who will want to enter Israel.

Nonetheless, HRDF views this ruling as a dangerous precedent that reflects the shrinking space for human rights advocates who defend human rights in the context of the occupation.

Following the decision, Adv. Sfard stated: “Today, Israel has joined countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea, who have also deported Human Rights Watch representatives in attempt to silence criticism against human rights abuses committed in their territory. The Supreme Court’s decision gives Israel a dangerous and anti-democratic veto power over the identity of the representatives of international organizations operating in Israel and in the OPT. Today they deport Omar, and tomorrow they will deport other representatives, foreign journalists and anyone who opposes the government policies in the occupied territories.”

Adv. Schaeffer Omer-Man added: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling not only lends legitimacy to Israel’s attempts to mask its disapproval of Human Rights Watch’s activities condemning settlement activity in the OPT by deporting Omar Shakir, but it threatens to deepen the already pervasive self-censorship by Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders who are more vulnerable than ever to persecution for legitimate advocacy against Israeli violations of international law.”

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth stated: “The Supreme Court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights. If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there is no telling whom it will throw out next.”
 
HRDF stands in solidarity with Omar Shakir and Human Rights Watch. The decision to deport Shakir on grounds of support for boycott is only one measure in the ever-growing efforts of the Israeli authorities in recent years to delegitimize human rights defenders, silence political expression and shut down the work of human rights organizations who report human rights abuses in the OPT.

The law on which the Court’s ruling relies is only one of a long line of legislation passed in recent years designed to delegitimize and sanction human rights defenders and organizations, block their funding, impose obstacles to their work, and create a chilling effect on Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations.

The State’s and the Court’s insistence on separating Shakir’s work from HRW is artificial and its purpose is solely to conceal the harsh and far-reaching ramifications of this decision, which will enable the state to dictate and censor the work of human rights organizations who monitor and report human rights abuses in Israel and in the OPT. The international community must not be affected by this attempt to separate between HRW and its employee, Omar Shakir, as giving in to such tactics would harm the solidarity and support that all human rights defenders deserve.

(contact the HRDF team with any questions you might have: noa@hrdf.org.il)

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https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/05/israel-supreme-court-greenlights-deporting-human-rights-watch-official

https://mailchi.mp/18f35a27e33d/update-israeli-supreme-court-dismisses-appeal-against-the-deportation-of-human-rights-watch-israel-and-palestine-director-omar-shakir?e=51113b9c0e

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/israel-opt-amnesty-staff-member-faces-punitive-travel-ban-for-human-rights-work/

Israel: deportation of Omar Shakir must be halted and the work of human rights defenders protected

 

Kenya: human rights defenders active in outreach during October 2019

November 2, 2019

Lebanon losing its free haven status for human rights defenders?

October 14, 2019

Human Rights Watch sees a tiny light at the end of the Uzbek tunnel

October 13, 2019