Archive for the 'Protection International' Category

Human Rights Defenders in National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights: Launch of Guide with public debate on 15 June

June 7, 2016

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) are planning a public discussion about how and why human rights defenders should be consulted in the development of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (NAPs) and protected by their provisions. This event will also launch ISHR and ICAR’s new guidance on this subject, situating NAPs in the broader contexts of extreme risks facing human rights defenders taking on business abuses. Wednesday 15 June 2016, 12h30 – 14h00, Palais des Nations, Geneva. (Room to be confirmed) Read the rest of this entry »

On-line training course for better protection of human rights defenders

April 9, 2016


With this short video clip, the Brussels-based NGO Protection International announces that one can now register for the online course “Security and protection management for human rights defenders and social organisations”mainly addressed to NGOs, social organizations and persons interested in the security work for HRD, their organizations and/or communities. The main aim is for human rights defenders to develop various skills, capacities and strategies to allow them to improve the level of security and protection, both for themselves and also for the people they work with. Read the rest of this entry »

A woman who defends human rights: Irene Petras in Zimbabwe

May 22, 2015

Irene-Petras

Irene Petras is the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). She told Protection International (on 14 April 2015) about the context in which human rights defenders must work in Zimbabwe.

Irene joined ZLHR in 2002 and has been its Executive Director since 2008. The organisation provides legal support services to the public through its in-house lawyers and its 200 members around the country. The organisation also engages in training and capacity building. The organisation meets with its members at least once a year to review their programmes and seeks to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe and the wider African region.

Protection International: What was your personal motivation to engage in the defence of human rights?

Irene Petras: When I first started working, I was employed in private practice in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. In my daily interactions with the justice delivery system, I found that there were a lot of barriers for human rights defenders to access this system, in terms of high legal fees and a lack of lawyers that would actually understand the work of the defenders. That motivated me to start working for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and really focus on this type of work.

It can be difficult at times to keep motivated. Particularly around election periods the work can be dangerous. The support and solidarity of other human rights lawyers keep me going. On the other hand, setbacks can also give me the motivation to continue and fight. At the moment, we have a new constitution (which came into effect in May 2013) with a lot of developments within the protection of accused persons and an expanded Bill of Rights. This has also renewed my energy as well as that of the organisation to focus more on protecting human rights defenders and promote social and economic rights, which were not constitutionally protected before.

PI: Can you say something about the context that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights work in?

IP: Of course, our members are lawyers who often work in the public eye due to the nature of the cases that they handle and the human rights defenders they represent. For this reason, they are subjected to surveillance, and have sometimes been assaulted or at times arrested and maliciously prosecuted whilst working on cases and interacting with people in various state institutions. There is a range of different ways that the lawyers have been targeted because of their work trying to defend human rights. For example, some have been arrested, charged with contempt of court or obstructing the course of justice, under a range of repressive laws. Of course, none of these prosecutions have been successful.

Criminalisation has become a force of habit for some of the state actors. Instead of rationalising their behaviour and seeing other people as human beings who are exercising their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, they immediately resort to violations and use of laws and measures that criminalise the work of defenders. As they are not prosecuted or punished for such behaviour, I believe that’s why they keep using these tactics.

In fact, however, such tactics don’t really work; our cases advocating for human rights defenders have been very successful and in almost every single case we have handled since the project started in 2003, our clients have been acquitted.

Even though we’ve not had many human rights defenders convicted, they keep getting arrested and criminalised in other ways. The logical explanation for this continuation is that criminalisation is a means of retaining in power and that actors use these methods to try and stop civil society from calling for transparency and accountability for the actions state actors take as public officials.

……

PI: Do you see a difference in the way that male and female defenders are criminalised in Zimbabwe?

IP: On a general level, all human rights work can be criminalised, whether a man or a woman does the work. Having said that, there have been additional burdens for women defenders.

Zimbabwe has a very patriarchal society so there is a lot of pushback on women human rights defenders. The public opinion is that these women shouldn’t be getting out on the streets to demand their social and economic rights or becoming involved in legitimate political activity. …

PI: How are Zimbabwean WHRDs and organisations responding to criminalisation? 

IP: There have been different strategies. A lot has been linked to improving rights literacy and the importance of women participating in the society, be it at local or at national level. It is also important to have the ability to access a safety and security system that will allow the women to continue their work when an emergency has passed. In case of such an emergency, you need to be prepared with a good legal, medical, psychosocial response, as well as a welfare system. So when you’re in custody for some time, someone can take care of the children while you’re away.

…….

PI: Is it possible to prevent being criminalised in a context like that of Zimbabwe?

IP: We try to make the cost of criminalisation so high, that the perpetrators (whether at state or non-state level) reform or choose not to use these strategies. You’re increasing the cost if there’s legal defence for defenders and you’re able to be successful in these cases. You do this as well by showing a pattern of selective use of repressive legislation and publicising those trends and the identities of people that perpetrate such acts. Naming and shaming makes clear that the defender is not actually a criminal, but someone whose fundamental rights are being suppressed in a very systematic manner…

“We may not be able to change the habits of adults, who are set in their ways, but there is an opportunity to change the mind-set of how young people view human rights and they can become a real force for good.”

…..

PI: Do you want to share your hopes and dreams for the future?

IP: I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t hopeful. There’s a joke that Zimbabweans are hopelessly hopeful. There is a very dedicated, vibrant human rights community in Zimbabwe with courageous people defending human rights. I hope that we continue to grow this network. You don’t want people to become so despondent that they give up. I think it’s important for us to continue and look for new ways of doing our work and how we can engage with people that we haven’t engaged with before….

More on her and other Women Who Defend Human Rights – Irene PetrasProtection International.

Woman human rights defender Mary Jane Real from the Philippines

May 14, 2015

As part of the series “THE WOMEN WHO DEFEND HUMAN RIGHTS”, published by Protection International, here is Mary Jane Real from the Philippines:

DSC_0060 - Copy

PI: Can you tell us a bit about how you have become a woman human rights defender?

MJR: I´ve been active in defense of human rights and women´s rights since I was a student… Around 2005, I started working with women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and became familiar with the term. At the time, Hina Jilani [former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders] helped to create the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) of which I became the coordinator. That’s how I formally transitioned into a WHRD. You can call yourself any name, but I personally find it strategic to call myself a human rights defender. Rather than talk about human rights in relation to people you advocate for or the communities you work with, the term ‘defender’ acknowledges that as an activist you also have rights that you can claim and assert for. I believe that’s critical, especially in the face of political repression and other challenges that are faced by defenders.

PI: What is the added value of having the word ‘woman’ in the term ‘woman human rights defender’?

MJR: I think, for myself, it’s important to claim that label. Gender inequality is structural and therefore, even within the human rights movement, you cannot take it for granted that women’s rights are already implicated in the term ‘human rights defender.’

One major challenge for WHRDs is dealing with lack of recognition. Even if women hold leadership positions, they still struggle to be acknowledged in the public space as critical actors. Linked to this lack of recognition is the issue of the protection that you need to do your work. To be acknowledged as a defender implies that you deserve protection and support. Unless a woman defender is recognised as a legitimate activist and defender of human rights, protection and support will always be one step remote from the risks that she faces. So, to add the word ‘woman’ to the term ‘woman human rights defender’ helps to ensure that protection of and support for women human rights defenders is in place.

PI: What are the main challenges that you and other women human rights defenders from the Philippines have to deal with? 

MJR: The Philippines is still a predominantly Catholic country with a government that is towing the line of the Catholic Church. One of the main issues that women human rights defenders are working on in the country is the issue of reproductive rights. If a country would value reproductive rights as part of women’s rights, there would not be a pressing need for WHRDs to work on the issue. However, today we still see stigmatisation and defamation (for example, publicly calling these women bad mothers and many other defamatory labels to try to ruin their reputation) as two common violations of the rights of WHRDs in the Philippines due to resistance from the Catholic Church.

I have noticed that the level of threats received by women defenders in the Philippines is not as high in, say, Latin America. The risks might not be as alarming as being arrested or getting killed. As a consequence, the public doesn’t realise that what happens in the Philippines are actually human rights violations and that the issue needs to be addressed.

LM: How should this issue be addressed? 

MJR: Well, one consideration in addressing the violations of the rights of women defenders should be the psychological implications. The psychological impact of these violations are not picked up in any of the urgent appeals or other documentation. Yet, if you talk to these women, they often talk about being burned out, about desperately trying to see family, about their struggle to balance their personal life and their wish to defend their rights. These psychological implications are not addressed at all.

PI: What would different forms of protection include?

MJR: Firstly, we cannot say that one can only be a human rights defender when they’re at risk. Secondly, when we respond to their risk, when can’t just focus on physical forms of risks and threats. The psychological aspects have just as much of an impact on the defenders and we need to respond to this aspect as well.

I think a better form of protection would look at all these different aspects of risks, physical and psychological, reactive and preventive, and protection for the short and the long term. For many of the women defenders, this also means protection for their families. In their case, often they’re expected to take care of the children.

PI: Do you think there is a role for the government in protection of women human rights defenders? Through a public policy, for example? 

MJR: Definitely, but I also think there is still a long way to go before we get there, particularly in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is more focused on promotion of human rights than on protection of human rights. This translates into a policy of non-intervention among member states.

It is therefore not surprising that the AICHR has not issued any statement on human rights issues involving states and that they have been reluctant in developing protection and redress mechanisms for human rights violations. As an intergovernmental body, AICHR reflects the human rights culture of the governments in Southeast Asia. That culture is not yet as robust and vibrant as in countries in Europe. There is an important role for civil society to advocate for governments to make protection part of state accountability.

PI: Is there anything that you would like to see changed for the next generation defenders?

MJR: I wouldn’t want the next generation to experience the same level of inequality that I have experienced in my lifetime, and my mother has experienced in her lifetime. I don’t want them to inherit those forms of discrimination and be apologetic about the fact that they are women defending human rights. I want them to be proud of the fact that they defend human rights and claim that space as a woman human rights defender.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – Mary Jane RealProtection International.

Woman Human Rights Defender María Martín about criminalization

March 8, 2015

maria1

As I announced in an earlier post [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/mea-laureate-2014/], Protection International has done a series of interviews with woman human rights defenders. Today is the turn of Maria Martin, a member of Protection International’s Policy, Training and Research Unit, who speaks about criminalization patterns and how it specifically seems to affects women human rights defenders even more than their male colleagues. Here are some extracts:

PI: What is criminalization?

MM: To explain it in simple terms, it’s the use of the criminal legal system to try to dissuade or obstruct the work of people who defend human rights. Often, instances of criminalisation are associated with other processes like stigmatisation or the application of administrative sanctions against human rights defenders. Nevertheless it remains important to be able to distinguish criminalisation apart from these other processes.

PI: So could you explain the difference between criminalisation and stigmatisation? 

MM: Stigmatisation consists of trying to affect the image that exists of a defender. This is often related to criminalisation because it can happen in connection to judicial processes or in detention. Then again, stigmatisation can also be a consequence of criminalisation. I mean, once criminal proceedings have started, the defender’s public image will be affected, which is precisely one of the effects of this criminalisation.

PI: What do you think the impact is of criminalisation on WHRDs

MM: ..Criminalisation does not only have a strong impact on the person that is subject to it and who faces detention, guilty verdicts or unjust processes. The organisations where WHRDs work are also highly affected, since the criminalisation of one defender obstructs the work of all defenders collaborating with her…

Families of criminalised women are also affected. In this respect the criminalisation of women tends to have a stronger impact than with men. This is due to the leading role that women often play in a family, providing support for their children, parents and other dependants.

If the woman is the income-provider of the family, the economic impact on the family can be very severe. Criminalisation may also have a psychological impact on a family, because they see their loved one illegitimately deprived of her human rights and freedoms.

To compare this to the criminalisation of a male activist, normally the male defender has a partner who attends to the children and supports them during the difficult process. In contrast, women defenders are often single parents and have to single-handedly bear family responsibilities in addition to their criminal charges.

PI: What can WHRDs do to combat criminalisation?

MM: I believe women defenders must first know what criminalisation is, and how to recognise it. Only then can they work towards a strategic response within the judicial system that prevents it from reoccurring. In other words, she can develop strategic responses to condemn attacks aimed at women defenders on the bias of incorrect legal norms. On the other hand, once a process of criminalisation has been set in motion, defenders can also take actions to identify and counter the negative impact criminalisation can have in their work, on their families and society in general.

One of the situations where I have seen such a response against criminalisation was by a women defenders’ organisation in the town of Barillas in the northern part of Guatemala. There, defenders were facing police and military interventions. Local women defenders started using different tactics in order to put an end to the government’s criminalisation norms in Barillas.

They carried out large-scale protests and made trips to remote parts in the region to make a conflict little known by national and international populations more visible. Through these actions the women succeeded in putting the issue on national and international agendas. This ultimately generated enough political pressure to paralyse such repressive actions by the state.

PI: What can other actors do to combat criminalisation?

MM: For other actors, the first step is to analyse actions of all stakeholders to see what exactly generates criminalisation and why, and what laws permit such practices to take place. As for governments, they can also fight criminalisation by prohibiting law enforcement officers or justice system officials to carry out norms and practices that favour or lead to criminalisation of defenders. One way of doing this could be implementing fines against police officers that have detained defenders illegally.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – María Martín – Protection InternationalProtection International.

Rehana Hashmi, woman human rights defender from Pakistan

January 14, 2015

Still taken from "Notes to our Sons and Daughters" Project © 2015 Alexis Dixon

Still taken from “Notes to our Sons and Daughters” Project © 2015 Alexis Dixon

Last December, Brussels-based Protection International launched a new campaign, ‘The Women Who Defend Human Rights.’ In this series of monthly interviews, figure talks with Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) about their work, challenges and every-day-life.

This month, the interview is with Rehana Hashmi from Pakistan. Rehana has been a defender of human rights since a young age. She is also the founder of two national networks that support women and helps them to take charge of their rights. Due to her work, she has received threats to the point that she has had to flee her native Pakistan. You can now read her full story on PI’s website: http://protectioninternational.org/2015/01/14/the-women-who-defend-human-rights-rehana-hashmi/

Friends wouldn’t pick up their phone when I would call..

Civil society calls on EU to intensify support for human rights defenders in the new EU Action Plan

December 16, 2014

Seven major NGOs (Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, PBI, Protection International and the World Organisation Against Torture) have made a joint appeal to the EU to improve the European Union‘s support to human rights defenders. This is done in the form of comments on the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. That there is a need for more cohesion was demonstrated by the recent faux pas of the EU in giving a human rights award to Bahrain which can hardly be in line with the recommendations [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/what-human-rights-day-means-in-bahrain-and-how-the-eu-made-it-worse/].

Effective and meaningful support to HRDs by the EU and its member states should aspire to [excerpts]: I draw attention especially to number 6!

1. Better protect

The EU can achieve better protection of HRDs – including better prevention of the risks associated with their work:

1. Institute a system for the centralised follow-up of all human rights defenders’ cases, and their treatment by the EU and Member states at headquarters and in delegations.

2. Ensure all staff in Delegations in diplomatic missions, and at headquarters, including at the highest level, are aware of the importance of working with and for HRDs, of the EU Guidelines and of the necessity to implement them fully, and of reporting back. Systematically train EU and member states’ staff at all levels on the full implementation of the EU HRD Guidelines;

3. Facilitate emergency measures such as relocation and emergency visas for HRDs, and ensure all staff are aware of procedures. Ensure the facilitation of visas for HRDs visiting decision-makers in the EU and member states in order to reinforce meaningful exchanges on how to support their vital work;

4. Monitor and provide systematic feedback to HRDs, civil society and the public on EU and member states’ actions on HRDs, encouraging meaningful public debate on how to reinforce their vital efforts;

5. Assist and support governments and promote participation of local civil society in developing and implementing public policies and mechanisms for the protection of HRDs; and/or in advocating for the amendment or abrogation of restrictive laws; and in the fight against impunity for human rights violations committed against HRDs;

6. Ensure that an annual Foreign Affairs Council meeting is dedicated to discussing EU efforts to pursue the release of HRD, journalists and others who exercise their rights peacefully. Foreign Ministers should adopt conclusions naming jailed rights advocates from around the world and call for their immediate and unconditional release.  Every three months PSC Ambassadors should take stock, in close collaboration with civil society, of EU efforts to pursue the release of jailed HRDs. EU delegations should be requested to clarify efforts they have undertaken, ahead of these meetings;

7. In the spirit of the EU Guidelines on HRDs, the EU and its member states should commit to documenting and reporting on effective best practices in support of HRDs, and working to reproduce them where relevant in future; organise annual regional workshops with civil society to exchange best practices and lessons learned, and build the capacity of HRDs, and of senior EU and member states’ diplomatic staff.

2. Reach out

EU policies in support of HRDs must also go beyond addressing their protection in emergency situations on an ad hoc basis. This means considering HRDs not only as victims of repression, but as key actors of change in their own country who can likewise provide a valuable contribution to the design of both EU and national policies and decision-making…

8. Implement burden-sharing between the EU and Member states, to ensure that human rights defenders in all regions of a country have access to, and contact with, the EU; that the responsibility for particularly logistically challenging tasks such as trial observation, prison visits or contacts with rural areas does not fall only on one diplomatic mission, and that continued buy-in on human rights issues by all is possible;

9. Actively support HRDs through a flexible combination of concrete actions and public diplomacy, on the basis of effective consultation with concerned HRDs, including public intervention whenever this can improve the security of HRDs at risk;

10. Conduct regular visits to HRDs outside large urban centres, and increase outreach to vulnerable, marginalised HRDs and women HRDs;

11. Clearly communicate the human rights priorities of EU country strategies to local HRDs to facilitate their work.

12. Systematically include meetings with HRDs when planning high level visits to third countries (including visits by member states’ representatives and Members of the European Parliament);

13. Translate the Guidelines on HRDs into local languages, and disseminate them amongst civil society, including different ethnic minority groups and indigenous communities.

3. Do no harm

The EU and its member states should evaluate all actions taken in regard to their compliance with human rights, and concretely monitor trade and development policies and programming to ensure they are consistent with EU and member states’ human rights commitments. The EU should offer HRDs recourse in case their human rights or those of the people they defend are violated. The ‘do no harm’ principle should be integrated in other actions foreseen in the revised Strategic Framework and Action Plan (under ‘trade’, ‘development’ etc…), which is why only key actions are proposed here:

14. Ensure the meaningful consultation/participation of HRDs, possibly through the development of a specific format for regular exchanges, in the preparation of EU and member states’ human rights dialogues, strategies, development programming, and in the context of EU trade and investment policy;

15. When debating national policy with third country governments, the EU should strive to facilitate dialogue between governments and HRDs (for example on security, development, health, etc), and ensure inclusion of HRDs and social organisations in decision-making on these issues;

16. Set up a complaint mechanism for HRDs who have become victims of human rights violations in the context of EU and member states’ policies and investments.

Intensifying the European Union‘s support to human rights defenders: Civil society proposals for the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy / December 16, 2014 / Statements / Human rights defenders / OMCT.

Women Who Defend Human Rights – a series by Protection International

December 12, 2014

 

Protection Int'I_logo_final_vertical_72dpiTo shine a light on the courageous work of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) worldwide, the NGO Protection International announces the launch of a series of interviews with women who defend human rights across the globe, from December and continuing in 2015, each month will see a new portrait of a WHRD.

alejandra

This month’s conversation is with Alejandra Ancheita, a leading human rights defender from Mexico and winner of the 2014 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Alejandra is the founder and executive director of The Project of Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights. To read the interview and watch the (Vimeo) video that goes with it go to Protection International’s website (see link below).
Other outstanding women lined up in the months to come include Rehana Hashmi (Pakistan), Eva Bande (Indonesia), María Martín (Spain), Porntip Honchai (Thailand).

Rehana Hashimi 
rehana

Eva Bande
eva


María Martín 
maria

 

Porntip Honchai
porntip

 

 

 


The Women Who Defend Human Rights – Alejandra AncheitaProtection International
.

Protection International Focuses on national protection mechanisms

December 3, 2014

Protection Int'I_logo_final_vertical_72dpiBrussels-based Protection International‘s Focus Report  provides detailed monitoring of developments in the field of national public policy on the protection of Human Rights Defenders. This year’s edition of Focus highlights the renewed interest in adopting legal instruments for the protection if HRDs in Latin America (in Honduras and Guatemala) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (in Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi and Mali).

The report (second year running) draws attention to the recent publication of guidelines on the protection of HRDs by OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The work of several Latin American civil society organisations (CSOs) that have presented cases concerning murdered HRDs before the regional mechanisms has been of great value. These efforts have led to the development of jurisprudence by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Finally, this edition includes contributions by external collaborators:

  • the Preface, prepared by Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders;
  • an analysis of advances in the field of protection in the Americas, by Jesús Orozco H., President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) and Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders;
  • an overview of the topic in Africa by Reine Alapini Gansou, the Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); and
  • contributions by representatives of local CSOs in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, countries that have pioneered the effective implementation of public policies for the protection of HRDs.
  • PI hopes to enrich the discussions on the adoption of appropriate policies in countries where they do not exist and to help authorities and civil society organisations implement them where they do.

For last year’s report: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/protection-international-publishes-focus-report-2013-on-policies-concerning-human-rights-defenders/

Focus 2014 Report:  http://files.flipsnack.com/ /embed.html?hash=fd152nkz0&wmode=window&bgcolor=EEEEEE&t=14174580301417458119

Protection International: 3rd online course Security and Protection Management for Human Rights Defenders

June 3, 2014

Protection Int'I_logo_final_vertical_72dpiBrussels-based NGO Protection International will be running the third edition of its online course “Security and Protection Management for Human Rights Defenders and Social Organisations”. The course will be in English, French and Spanish, in the period 14 July 2014 – 5 October 2014. For more information:  http://protectioninternational.org/2013/09/11/new-e-learning-course-on-security-and-protection-management-for-hrd-and-social-organisations/