UN rapporteur calls on Spain to release jailed Catalan activist Jordi Cuixart

October 17, 2020

Jordi Cuixart is the head of Omnium Cultural, a Catalonian cultural association

Jordi Cuixart is the head of Omnium Cultural, a Catalonian cultural association

THE UN’s special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, has called for jailed Catalonian independence activist Jordi Cuixart to be freed.

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the civic leader’s imprisonment for his role in the 2017 independence referendum. Writing in The National, Cuixart reveals the grim reality of life in a Spanish prison, saying that he’s forced to spend 23 hours a day in a room measuring just eight square metres. However, the father of two young children makes clear that he would make the same choices as before.”

He was handed a nine-year sentence after being convicted of sedition. Unlike the other eight imprisoned, Cuixart is not a politician, he is the head of Omnium Cultural, a Catalonian cultural association.

Taking to Twitter, Lawlor said it was time for Cuixart to be freed. “In 2019, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found his detention to violate both the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and deemed it arbitrary. He should be released.”

https://www.thenational.scot/news/18801415.jordi-cuixart-un-rapporteur-calls-spain-release-jailed-catalan-activist/


UN Office in Israel being curtailed through visa denial

October 17, 2020

Israel, which was angered in February by the UN listing companies with activities in illegal Israeli settlements, has granted no visas to UN rights staff for months, the agency said Friday. “Visa applications have not been formally refused, but the Israeli authorities have abstained from issuing or renewing any visas since June,UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told AFP in an email.

He stressed that Israel had not formally refused any of the office’s visa applications, but had simply not acted on new requests or requests for renewal. Nine international staff members (including country director James Heenan) had been forced to leave so far after their visas were not renewed. And “three newly appointed international staff have not been able to deploy because they have not received their visas,” he said. Only three international staff members of the agency still have valid visas to work in the country.

This, Colville lamented, was creating a “highly irregular situation and will negatively impact on our ability to carry out our mandate.

Israel has not provided an official explanation, but the blockage comes after the UN rights office in February released a list of over 100 companies with activities in Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. And in June, the country reiterated its decision to “freeze ties” with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office.

Colville stressed that the UN rights agency’s offices in Israel and the Palestinian territories remained open, with 26 national staff members and the remaining three international staff onsite. The remainder of the international staff were working remotely, he said, adding that this was not having a big impact on operations yet, since remote work had become a norm in many places anyway due to the ongoing pandemic. “We continue to hope that this situation will be resolved soon, and we are actively engaged with various relevant and concerned parties to that end,” Colville said.

Forcing [out] human right monitoring groups is part of a clear strategy that aims to muzzle documentations of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians,Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

Shakir, who is currently based in Amman after being expelled from Israel after claims he supported calls for a boycott, said it is part of a wider trend in which other human rights activists are being denied entry due to their criticism of Israel’s human rights record.

However, Shakir said that if Israel’s goal was to silence criticism it had failed, as human rights activists continue to do their work as “strongly” as before.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/16/israel-stops-issuing-visas-to-un-human-rights-workers


Nicaragua: things getting worse and worse for human rights defenders: COVID-19 and foreign agents

October 17, 2020

The New Humanitarian of 2 September 2020 carried a special feature on Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega is making life increasingly hard for aid and human rights groups in Nicaragua even as poverty, malnutrition, and emigration due to political strife are on the rise, and as he is criticised for a dismissive and reckless response to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, a new law for the regulation of “foreign agents” was passed on 15 October.

“In Nicaragua, simply existing as a person carries a risk,” Ana Quirós, director of the Center for Information and Advisory Services in Health, or CISAS, told The New Humanitarian. “You do not need a particular reason to become a victim of violence, of repression, kidnapping or assassination. It is a general risk.

Quirós was deported and stripped of citizenship in November 2018 after the government accused CISAS, which had been working on health education and HIV prevention in Nicaragua with the support of several international aid groups and actors – including Medico International, Medicus Mundi, and the EU – of “participating in destabilising activities”.

Quirós said individuals still working with aid and civic groups in the country are under great threat, and that several people who had been working with CISAS in Nicaragua since it was banned had been forced to flee the Central American country.

It has been during this pandemic that the absence of the NGOs has been most strongly felt, especially for us working in health,” the CISAS director said. “The government hasn’t made any efforts regarding communication, training, education in health, and with regard to the other basic human rights of the population,” Quirós said. “The population is very unprotected, and is hungry for information and real knowledge about the risks and measures that one needs to take to prevent illnesses.

Forty years after Ortega led a socialist revolution to uproot the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua continues to be burdened by a host of humanitarian concerns, albeit as it isolates itself from international aid institutions.

Under the government leadership of Ortega and his influential wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America, while the violent repression of political opponents since April 2018 has generated a migration crisis proportionately comparable to that of Venezuela. After Ortega’s re-election in 2006, Nicaragua’s poverty rate fell, following a similar trend throughout Latin America, but an independent report published at the end of 2019 estimates that it has since soared, and that roughly a third of the population, or more than two million people, now live on less than $1.76 per day.

According to the World Food Programme, 17 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the rate at nearly 30 percent – similar to humanitarian crisis settings such as Somalia – in Nicaragua’s northern provinces, which form part of Central America’s dry corridor. In 2019, WFP provided assistance to 45,000 people in Nicaragua affected by the seasonal climate change-linked emergency.

Due to severe restrictions on free assembly and expression, it is probable that protection and humanitarian needs are under-reported in Nicaragua,” ACLED wrote in an email to TNH. “It is clear from current political violence and demonstration trends in Nicaragua – particularly amid the pandemic – that the situation requires urgent attention from international humanitarian actors.

Demonstrations initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform, which has since been scrapped. They later morphed into broader political unrest as the government responded with heavy-handed measures against student protesters, and as dissatisfaction grew at government corruption and the Ortegas’ increasingly autocratic rule.

The ensuing government crackdown led to the deaths of hundreds of people – the government set the number at 197, while human rights groups say it was at least 325 – and drove more than 103,000 people to seek asylum abroad. Most fled to neighbouring Costa Rica, where at least 400,000 Nicaraguans had already been living.

In July, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the ongoing repression in the country two years after the initial protests, listing a litany of government offences between March and June, including arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, and detentions, threats, and intimidation.

Line graph of demonstrations in Nicaragua, 2019-2020

Human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees,” Bachelet reported.

The crushing of the opposition included, in 2019, the revocation of the legal status of a number of civil society groups and local NGOs – the Nicaragua Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) and CISAS among them.

Here, one cannot organise trade unions or teachers. One cannot organise any group that is not under the auspice of the regime,” Monica Baltodano, director of the Popol Na Foundation, another of the banned groups, told the independent news site Confidencial last December.

….Vice-President Murillo told Nicaraguans that the country was under divine protection, while officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order not to scare patients. In July, 25 doctors were fired for signing a letter critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It asked simply that health workers should not be persecuted and that they be allowed to use PPE.

After the United States and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year, 65 of the 148 officially recognised political prisoners were released from prison in December. Further sanctions have been imposed since, including on a second son of the presidential couple. But international political pressure has routinely been countered by the message that Nicaragua will manage on its own.

International aid groups and agencies have also experienced government pressure as it attempts to influence and define their roles. Ever since Ortega resumed the presidency in 2007, the organisations have had to operate with increasing care, former aid workers familiar with the country told TNH.

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme was told by the government that it was no longer needed as an intermediary between donors and those executing development projects. Without providing further details, the authorities said the agency and its country chief were accused of “political meddling”, and of maintaining a “hidden agenda”.

UNDP told TNH at the end of July that its operations in Nicaragua were now “limited” and that it did not have a resident representative or a deputy representative. The UN agency did not respond to requests for further comment on the situation in the country.

In 2018, the government expelled a UN human rights team after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an immediate end to the persecution of political opponents and called for the disarming of masked civilians responsible for a string of killings and detentions. Soon after, two missions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigating violence during the anti-government protests were also thrown out.

As COVID-19 cases appear to mount, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional wing of the World Health Organization – has urged the government to take stronger measures to curb the spread of the virus.

PAHO continues to await authorisation to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has donated PPE to the health ministry, while repeatedly stating that the official COVID-19 data provided is incomplete.

In spite of donations from various international sources, doctors have argued that distribution of masks and other PPE items remains inadequate. As of 26 August, Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory estimated that 107 health workers in Nicaragua had died from the coronavirus…

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few international aid groups with a presence in Nicaragua, has offered its support to help with the release of what human rights groups estimate – following the protest crackdown – to be more than 6,000 political prisoners.

In a written statement to TNH, the organisation said: “The ICRC returned permanently to Nicaragua in 2018. We have been visiting detention sites since 2019, and in November 2019 renewed our host country agreement. We can develop our humanitarian action with openness, in dialogue with the authorities and civil society, according to our humanitarian principles and working methods.”

Last Thursday 15 October Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the law for the regulation of ‘foreign agents “. The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register. Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/09/02/Nicaragua-conflict-political-unrest-poverty-coronavirus

Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law


Two more defenders killed in Honduras

October 16, 2020

Arnold Joaquín Morazan was shot dead in his home in Guapinol, a small low-income community on Honduras’s north coast, earlier this week in what is being reported as a murder by local media.

Morazán Erazo belonged to the Guapinol environmental group, whose imprisoned activists were recently shortlisted for the EU’s Sakharov Prizefor freedom of thought. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/guapinol-activists/]

On 27 September 2020, in the central Honduran city of Comayagua, two unidentified individuals on a motorcycle shot Almendares, a local freelance journalist, three times and then fled the scene; bystanders brought the journalist to a local hospital, and he was then transferred to the Escuela Universitario hospital in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where he died yesterday morning, according to news reports and a report by Honduran free expression organization C-Libre.

“Honduran authorities must do everything in their power to conduct a credible investigation into the killing of journalist Luis Alonzo Almendares, determine whether it was related to his work, and prosecute those responsible,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Violence against journalists is happening with terrifying frequency in Honduras, and impunity prevails in almost all cases. The government must act urgently to show that the killers of journalists will be held to account.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/22/honduran-defender-iris-argentina-alvarez-killed-by-private-security-guards/

https://euobserver.com/foreign/149771


Journalism Under Fire – A Global Surge in Violations Against Journalists

October 16, 2020

On 14 Aya Wietzorrek posted a good overview piece on freedom of the press in the Organization for World Peace

…..Functioning as a “watch-dog” of these freedoms, journalism can be considered a public good, as it serves to inform citizens on political, economic, and social issues and ensures governance is transparent and accountable.

Acknowledging the many challenges journalism is currently facing…the focus of this article is on the everyday violations against journalists. This September, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO) published a report with findings revealing a “wider upward trend” in the use of unlawful violence by police and security forces against journalists over the last five years. Attacks were reported across 65 countries, and many of the tactics used, violate international laws and norms. Globally, journalists are facing censorship, surveillance, detention and physical attacks by law enforcement. The reported abuses against journalists include harassment, intimidation, beatings, being shot with non-lethal as well as lethal ammunition, sometimes even resulting in death.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, commented that around 1,000 journalists have been killed in the last decade – and that 9 in 10 cases “are unresolved”. The murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 in Malta, Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in Turkey and Francisco Romero Díaz in 2019 in Mexico are only a few examples. Horrified by the fates of their colleagues, these events have deterring effects for other journalists. Besides the attacks on journalists being a deeply concerning issue in their own right, such attacks thus also constitute a direct threat to civil society and democracy. In democratic states, with separate legislative, executive and judiciary branches, a free press is often considered to be the 4th pillar of democracy. According to Freedom House, however, elected leaders in many democracies have made direct attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen ones that provide favourable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles….

To intercept this upward trend of unlawful violence reported by UNESCO, and to ensure that journalists can serve society and do their job, we can improve and implement the following. Firstly, in terms of prevention, developing standard operating protocols and increasing training for law enforcement on the freedom of expression and appropriate behaviour in dealing with journalists – respecting their special status as ‘watch-dogs’ – is vital. Such training would include dialogues between law enforcement and journalists, to establish working relationship between the two groups, respecting the roles of each in society. It is imperative that national legal frameworks for police use of force align with the international standards of necessity and proportionality. Secondly, in terms of protection, countries should renew their international human rights pledges, review relevant domestic laws and practice and revise them as necessary, to ensure conformity with states’ obligations under the UDHR and ICCPR. These legislative frameworks should be subject to periodic review by independent expert bodies, such as Human Rights Watch for instance. Thirdly, as the Committee to Protect Journalists has pointed out in its “Global Campaign Against Impunity”, murder is the ultimate form of censorship and the statistic that justice is not served in 9 out of 10 murders, highlights that urgent action is needed on this front. In terms of prosecution, appointing national ombudsmen to hold police accountable for the unlawful use of force against journalists is key. The implementation of such ombudsmen and the strengthening of criminal law provisions should also operate to deter offences against journalists. Internationally, the freedom of press is only implicitly protected by Article 19.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and deserves to be explicitly mentioned and protected. The appointment of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists, as proposed by Reporters Without Border and 70 media groups and freedom of expression NGOs, would be a valuable appointment. This proposal was officially rejected in 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The creation of such a position would however help prevent resolutions and treaties from being largely empty words and would have the political weight, the capacity to move quickly and the legitimacy to coordinate with all UN bodies to implement change.

….. The international community has repeatedly stated the need for a more effective implementation of existing international and regional standards, yet the work still lies ahead of us. Governments should pro-actively (re-)establish their commitment to a free press and the protection of journalists as it is imperative that civil societies across the globe continue to defend right to freedom of expression. This is necessary for the enhancement of people’s lives and for the creation and maintenance of stable and healthy democratic societies.

Aya Wietzorrek

Aya Wietzorrek is a graduate in International Development from The University of Manchester and is currently a research intern in the Governance and Inclusive Development Group at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

.https://theowp.org/reports/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-unlawful-violations-against-journalists/


Trump’s human rights diplomacy: Estrangement over Engagement.

October 15, 2020

Ryan Kaminski and Grace Anderson wrote in Just Security of 14 October 2020 a scathing assessment of US human rights policy under Trump, Here some large extracts, but it is worth reading in full:

At the launch of the first virtual session of the United Nations General Assembly last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought center stage to question one of the most historic documents put forward by the U.N. shortly after its inception: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pompeo presented the findings of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights via videotape during a U.N. event that took place the same week [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]

Although jarring, the Commission’s conclusions should have come as no surprise: They are simply the culmination of the Trump administration’s downward trajectory on protecting human rights and engaging on these issues specifically at the U.N.

Just this month, for example, the U.S. microphone at the U.N. Human Rights Council was silent on the situation in Belarus, where massive protests have taken place against the country’s authoritarian leader. Nor did the United States take the floor when the Human Rights Council discussed combating global racism during an urgent debate requested by hundreds of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights advocates, as well as the family of George Floyd. Moreover, the Trump administration’s recent self “report card” on human rights in the United States, posted online by the U.N. in September, is the shortest ever submitted from the United States, and it is unnecessarily combative, and conspicuously cherry-picked.

The practice of the Trump administration turning its back on rights at the U.N. goes well beyond the Human Rights Council.

Last December, the administration torpedoed a U.N. Security Council session on human rights in North Korea for a second year in a row. Its actions broke with years of precedent in which U.S. ambassadors of varying political stripes lobbied Security Council members to debate Pyongyang’s atrocious rights record. In 2019, the United States effectively kneecapped its own effort, despite having support from key allies and partners on the Security Council to move forward.

Recent budgetary moves by the Trump administration are another example of this worrying trend. In September, the State Department again served notice that it would be flouting the will of Congress by “reprogramming” $28 million for the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Over the past three years, the Trump administration has unilaterally withheld nearly $60 million in assessed contributions to OHCHR, an especially disdainful action given the bipartisan congressional support for the office.

Another area of concern is the Trump administration’s absentee track record of filling openings on U.N. human rights treaty bodies. These treaty bodies are official assemblies of international rights experts tasked with holding governments accountable for implementing the human rights accords they have ratified. They are effectively incubators and accelerators for the maintenance of international law and norms central to fundamental freedoms and human dignity. Yet, in a break with precedent from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, Trump has not even nominated a candidate to sit on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The absence of American presence on the Committee, as well as other unsung, yet influential, bodies, represents a sorely missed opportunity.

The Committee, for example, works to ensure compliance among its 182 State parties and has taken decisive action on issues at the heart of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy priorities, such as grilling China on atrocities committed against ethnic Uyghurs in its territory….

Worse than stonewalling special procedures and limiting visits, Trump administration officials have in certain cases even gone on the offensive against these U.N. watchdogs. After an official U.S. visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, originally authorized by the Obama administration, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley claimed the expert’s findings were inaccurate, offensive and wasteful. This was a missed opportunity for the United States to constructively address scrutiny of its rights record like any other advanced democracy; instead the administration reflexively attacked an independent rights watchdog.

Constructive U.S. engagement with U.N. special procedures helps set a positive example and bolsters U.S. credibility, especially when the United States calls on regimes violating rights to not hide from these exact same investigations. This year, for instance, Pompeo called out Cuba, via Twitter, for not responding to communications from the U.N. special rapporteurs on combating trafficking and modern slavery.

The picture is not entirely gloomy, however.

One potential bright spot for the Trump administration’s human rights engagement at the U.N. is the State Department’s prioritization of U.N. Human Rights Council reform…butt reform is a function of engagement, not withdrawal. Thus, the administration’s 2018 decision to give up its seat on the Human Rights Council has proven ineffective, unsurprisingly, in accomplishing meaningful reform. In fact, research from the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights found active U.S. membership on the Human Rights Council was a “game-changer,” resulting in a significant drop in anti-Israel resolutions and “scrutiny of many of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

Conversely, the U.S. absence from the Council, together with attempts to strong-arm U.N. institutions through funding cuts, has abetted China’s growing assertiveness in the U.N. system. Even the Heritage Foundation has acknowledged the “concerning” trend of China’s upward trajectory in the U.N. system.

The Trump administration also acknowledged this new reality when the State Department established an unusual new envoy posting charged with countering Chinese influence at the U.N. and other international organizations. But this move falls well short of the United States adopting an overarching strategic policy on China’s growing U.N. influence. This month, the Trump administration awkwardly tweeted support for action by the U.N. Human Rights Council on China, all the while warming the bench in its ongoing boycott.

Overall, sustained pushback against human rights work at the U.N. by the United States has become yet another cornerstone of the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine. As Pompeo stated unequivocally at the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights: “Many [human rights] are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Critics of the Commission are right to be concerned. Whether leaving critical human rights positions unfilled, undercutting U.N. human rights bodies by withholding funds, or attacking U.N. independent rights advocates, Eleanor Roosevelt’s warning more than 60 years ago is more salient than ever: “Without concerted citizen action to uphold [universal human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

—-

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/kenneth-roth-speaks-plainly-on-international-human-rights-china-a-violator-and-us-unprincipled/


Final three nominees Human Rights Tulip 2020

October 15, 2020

Oct 15, 2020 | News |

After several rounds of deliberation, an independent jury of human rights experts decided on three candidates out of a shortlist of 13 candidates as the 3 final nominees:

Lilit Martirosyan

Lilit Martirosyan is Armenia’s first registered transgender woman. She is a LGBT activist who has been committed to equal rights for all, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, since 2009. Martirosyan is the founder and current president of the Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO, founded in 2016. The NGO is run by and for trans people and sex workers in Armenia and the South Caucasus.

Read the complete bio.

The Sudanese Professionals Association

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) is an umbrella association of 17 different Sudanese trade unions. The organization started in October 2012, though was not officially registered until October 2016 due to government crackdowns on trade unions.

In December 2018, the group called for the introduction of a minimum wage and participated in protests in the city of Atbara against the rising cost of living. In 2019 SPA was a driving force behind the Sudanese revolution.

Read the complete bio.

TZK’AT Network of Ancestral of Community Feminism

The TZK’AT Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism from Ixmulew is an organisation of indigenous women defending life, women’s rights, natural resources and territory, in different regions of Guatemala. The organisation was formed by 10 women human rights defenders in October 2015 with the aim of mentoring and supporting each other. All of them have suffered persecution, stigmatisation, death threats, territorial displacement, criminalisation and sexual violence.

Read the complete bio.

This year’s jury was chaired by Eduard Nazarski and included the following jury members:

  • Eduard Nazarski: former director of Amnesty International The Netherlands
  • Adriana van Dooijeweert: President at Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
  • Zohra Moosa: Executive Director at MamaCash
  • Danielle Hirsch: Director of Both ENDS
  • Antoine Buyse, Professor of Human Rights and Director at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
  • Ernst Hirsch Ballin: member of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), chair of the human rights committee

What’s next?

The winner of the Human Rights Tulip 2020 will be chosen by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok and will be announced at the end of November. The winner will receive the Human Rights Tulip during an award ceremony on International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

For more on this and similar awards for HRDs, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/06/pakistani-digital-activist-nighat-dad-recipient-of-2016-human-rights-tulip/


Human Rights Defenders issues in 75th Session of the GA’s Third Committee

October 14, 2020

On 8 October 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) extended its excellent alert service to the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly which is the principal human rights committee . This year’s session will run for seven weeks from 5 October to 20 November.

This year’s Third Committee is expected to consider approximately 60 resolutions on a range of topics. ISHR will be closely monitoring the work of the Third Committee as well as relevant developments in the plenary of the General Assembly and will report on key developments relevant to human rights defenders and civil society.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Third Committee is operating in a hybrid fashion, with some sessions held in person and others virtually. All interactive dialogues with Special Procedures and UN officials will be held virtually, as will negotiations on resolutions (informals). However, general debates and voting on resolutions will take place in person. 

Covid-19 restrictions will have a significant impact on civil society’s ability to engage with States in both formal and informal settings. Given this, it is vitally important that States reach out to and engage with civil society and specifically invite NGOs to participate in informals held to negotiate Third Committee resolutions. 

Formal meetings of the Third Committee can be watched live on the UN Web TV. Follow us on Twitter at @ISHRglobal using #UNGA75 for the latest updates.

Resolutions 

This year, due to the complexities of managing multiple consultations online, main sponsors of draft resolutions have been encouraged to streamline proposals, biennialise them or implement a ‘technical’ or ‘procedural’ rollover. They’ve also been encouraged to refrain from tabling new draft resolutions not previously negotiatied. We are yet to have a good sense of how widely States will follow this advice or, critically, what impact such limitations will have on gaining human rights advances this year.  

Finally, whilst all negotiations of resolutions will happen virtually, voting will be in person with explanations of position taking place in person or submitted in writing by the relevant State and included as part of the official record of the session. With restrictions in place, some missions may have smaller delegations working at the Committee and these, as well as traditionally smaller delegations, may find covering the various sessions challenging. It has yet to be seen how this might impact upon voted resolution outcomes, including on the participation of these delegations during the in-person voting of resolutions.   

Thematic
  • Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (Lead Sponsors: Mexico and Switzerland) – The Third Committee will consider a resolution on the right to privacy. In previous years this biennial resolution expressed concern that the right to privacy of those defending human rights can be undermined. ISHR hopes to see this language maintained in the text, as well as strengthened language on surveillance technologies, encryption and internet shutdowns, as well as the gendered impact of privacy regulations.
  • Treaty bodies (Lead Sponsor: Iceland) – The Third Committee will once again consider the biennial resolution on the ‘Human rights treaty body system’ at this session. The last resolution on this topic was adopted by consensus in 2018. The text of the resolution is not expected to change much. The resolution is significant because it recalls resolution 68/268 on “Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system”, encourages all stakeholders to continue their efforts for the full implementation of resolution 68/268, and reaffirms the formula contained in 68/268, which sets out how the allocation of meeting time and corresponding financial and human resources to the treaty bodies would be identified and requested by the Secretary-General. The negotiation of this resolution will take place in the context of the ‘2020 review’ of 68/268, which was initiated earlier this year and co-facilitated by Switzerland and Morocco. 
  • Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (Lead Sponsor: Finland) – This year  we’ll see the return of the biennial resolution on extra-judicial killings which seeks to ensure the protection of the right to life of all persons. This resolution historically includes a paragraph referring to groups that are vulnerable to extrajudicial killings. This paragraph urges States to protect against and investigate killings committed for reasons related to their activities as human rights defenders, or because of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ISHR together with other NGOs will be advocating to ensure this language is maintained.
  • Death Penalty (Lead Sponsor: Brazil) – The Third Committee will once again consider its biennial resolution on the death penalty. This resolution calls for States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty. In the previous two negotiations, Singapore has successfully introduced a hostile amendment to the resolution reaffirming the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems. Other delegations together with civil society groups have objected to this amendment, emphasizing that sovereignty requires compliance with international human rights commitments and the emerging customary norm that considers the death penalty as running foul of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  • Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (Lead Sponsors: France and Netherlands) – The broad scope of this resolution is expected to pay much needed attention to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on all forms of violence perpetrated against women, girls, adolescents and other marginalised  groups. ISHR supports the inclusion of references to human rights defenders in the text and will be advocating alongside other NGOs to ensure this language is maintained and strengthened.
  • Human rights defenders (various) – While there is no thematic resolution focused on human rights defenders this session, a number of resolutions include or are relevant to human rights defenders. ISHR will be advocacting to ensure language referencing human rights defenders is both maintained and strengthened across these resolutions. These resolutions include the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, Women and girls and the response to COVID-19 and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.    
Country situations

For the 18th year, Canada will present a resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran spotlighting the continued dismal human rights situation and lack of progress over the last year. The European Union will again lead on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, similarly underlining the lack of human rights progress. Ukraine will again present a resolution condemning Russia’s activities in Crimea (Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine). A resolution on the Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar is again expected to be led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic will be led by the USA and Saudi Arabia. 

On 6 October, Germany delivered a joint statement on Chinaon behalf 39 States. A similar statement was delivered on behalf of 25 States last year. The statement addressed widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet. The joint statement endorsed an unprecedented appeal from 50 UN Independent Experts for the creation of a UN mechanism for monitoring human rights in China. A recent global civil society appeal from over 400 organizations echoed the experts’ call.

Other key issues  

Some resolutions are expected to become battlegrounds regarding references to gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as has been the case in previous sessions of the Third Committee. While negotiations on some resolutions, including resolutions on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation and Intensification of efforts to end obstetric fistula may not be re-opened. Others that will be negotiated at this session include the resolution on Child, early and forced marriage, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and Women and girls and the response to COVID-19.

The Third Committee will consider the Human Rights Council Report which lays out resolutions and decisions taken by the Council through the year, including those just adopted and decided upon in Geneva this week.  No challenge to any part of the report is expected. 

Human Rights Council elections will take place on 13 October. ISHR is once again disappointed that this year all regions, save for the Asia Pacific region, have presented closed slates. In addition to this, the fourth candidate for the African region—Gabon—was only announced on 6 October, just one week before the election. ISHR has published ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking membership. These provide a quick ‘at-a-glance’ objective comparison of the candidates, focusing on their cooperation with the Council, their support for civil society, their engagement with UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures, among others. Together with 18 other NGOs, ISHR has also issued a public call for Member States to refrain from voting for any candidates who do not meet the membership criteria of upholding high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms. See latest: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/13/human-rights-council-election [“Saudi Arabia failed in its attempt to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the next three-year term starting on January 1, while China, Russia and Cuba were elected on Tuesday in a vote that caused an outcry among human rights defenders.“]

The Fifth Committee will consider the UN’s annual budget during its main session (October- December. In the meantime, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question (ACABQ) has published its report on the proposed programme budget for 2021. One concerning element is that the ACABQ has recommended that the Fifth Committee deny the majority of the Secretary-General’s resource request for additional funding for the treaty bodies on the basis that it (1) doubts that OHCHR actually requires more staff in order to prevent backlogs of reports and communications to the treaty bodies from accumulating (when backlogs of communications have been a major problem for the treaty bodies since 2017, and as the treaty bodies’ inability to meet during the pandemic has now resulted in major backlogs in both areas); and 2) that the Third Committee will be taking action on the matter of treaty body strengthening during its main session that may affect their resource needs (which ISHR understands to be incorrect). Delegations that support the work of the treaty bodies should advocate in the Fifth Committee for the full allocation requested by the Secretary-General. 

Overview of Reports and Dialogues with UN Experts

The UN Special Procedures – Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups – will report to the Third Committee and hold virtual interactive ‘dialogues’ with member States.  Several of this year’s reports reflect concerns about increased attacks on human rights defenders and emphasise the critical importance of creating and maintaining space for civil society. Click here for a list and schedule of dialogues.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/75/165): In her first report to the Third Committee, Mary Lawlor highlights that the global reaction to the pandemic has largely increased the threats to civic space and human rights defenders and often been characterized by ‘declarations of states of emergency that are not compliant with human rights obligations and by abuse of constitutional powers.’ Lawlor also sets out her priorities as mandate-holder which include focusing on those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, the most marginalized and vulnerable defenders such as women defenders, LGBTI defenders, and defenders working on the rights of migrants. Lawlor will also focus on reprisals against defenders cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, the issue of impunity, the impact of businesses and financial institutions on defenders’ work and strengthening existing mechanisms of protection. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (A/HRC/45/28): emphasises that effective participation by civil society is essential to the realization of people-centred sustainable development and strongly condemns acts of reprisal against critics and opponents of development projects including members of civil society organisations.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development (A/75/167): In this report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Saad Alfarargi, explores the international dimensions of financing for development policies and practices from the perspective of the right to development and notes that civil society organisations face severe barriers in participation and access to international negotiations and discussions for financing development.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (A/75/161): notes the grave risks that environmental defenders face in their work and emphasises on the need for protection for environmental defenders through effective and timely remedies.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/75/184): Clement N. Voule’s  report focuses on ‘Celebrating women in activism and civil society: the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association by women and girls’. The report notes that women are at the forefront of today’s most pressing global struggles and examines the gendered and intersectional barriers, reprisals and backlash faced by women to their full and equal enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Voule provides recommendations to promote an enabling environment for the rights of women to assemble and associate. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/75/185): The first report to the General Assembly of the new mandate holder, José Francisco Calí Tzay, summarizes the activities of the mandate since the last report of the previous mandate holder (A/74/149) and analyses the specific impacts on indigenous people of the COVID-19 pandemic, including harassment, attacks and killings of indigenous rights defenders. A presentation of the report and interactive dialogue will take place on 12 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (A/75/144): In her report on the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of domestic violence, Dubravka Šimonović notes the increase in domestic violence against women due to lockdowns imposed by governments to control the virus. Šimonović finds that state responses have largely been gender-blind, including funding cuts to civil society organisations and women’s organisations providing essential services such as crisis centres, helplines, shelters and safe accommodation. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 9 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (A/75/258):  Victor Madrigal-Borloz discusses the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) and gender-diverse persons including social exclusion and violence and the interaction with institutional drivers of stigma and discrimination. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 29 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/75/261): focused on the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom, highlighting the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society. The Special Rapporteur finds that threats to and restrictions on academic freedom limit the sharing of information and knowledge, an integral component of the right to freedom of expression. He reveals that academics and their institutions face social harassment and State repression for their research. The Special Rapporteur concludes with a set of recommendations to States, academic institutions, international organizations and civil society. 
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (A/75/147): proposes a preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on two particular aspects: data protection and surveillance. Concerns arise when surveillance apparatus traditionally employed for State security purposes is proposed or hurriedly deployed for a public health purpose. Necessity, proportionality and safeguards in law consistent with international law must exist when such surveillance measures are applied.
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: to be issued. 
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: to be issued.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights: to be issued.

For more information: Contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/third-committee-of-un-general-assembly-2018-will-consider-human-rights-issues/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-75th-session-third-committee


Brazilian Alessandra Korap Munduruku Wins 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

October 14, 2020

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has named Alessandra Korap Munduruku the winner of its 2020 Human Rights Award for her work defending the culture, livelihoods, and rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Indigenous peoples, including Alessandra’s Munduruku community, have faced tremendous challenges in Brazil in recent years—from gold miners and loggers illegally invading and exploiting Indigenous territories; to widespread fires in the Amazon; and an increased risk to the coronavirus; not to mention a combative president who’s proactively removed protections for Indigenous tribes and insulted them on numerous occasions.

As one of the key leaders and organizers of the Munduruku people, Alessandra has fought to stop construction projects and illegal mining that are infringing upon Munduruku territory, garnering international attention and support. She’s advocated for the demarcation of Indigenous lands and for Indigenous communities to be consulted on decisions that affect their territories. Alessandra has also played an important role in advancing the leadership of women in the Munduruku community and among other Indigenous tribes in Brazil through her involvement in the Wakoborûn Indigenous Women’s Association and the Pariri Indigenous Association. 

I’m humbled to be this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award winner,” said Alessandra Korap Munduruku. “To have the additional backing and support of Kerry Kennedy and her entire organization, especially during the pandemic, will make all the difference as we continue to fight for our rights, including the demarcation of our lands to ensure that Indigenous peoples have their autonomy, and for the fight of women who are also the strength of the resistance.

Throughout history, Indigenous peoples, including the Munduruku, have repeatedly been oppressed, silenced, and subjected to horrific human rights abuses,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Alessandra has heroically faced intimidation and violence for defending Indigenous rights across Brazil—including the ability to oppose projects and developments that affect her peoples and their livelihoods. She is a champion of women’s rights, Indigenous rights, and the foundational right of all human rights—civic space. Civic space protects the right to dissent, to advocate and to defend human rights, free of government reprisal. It is the keystone of a functioning democracy.”

Alessandra will be honored at a virtual ceremony on Thursday, October 22, at 6:00pm EDT. The event is free and open to the public. You can register here

Kerry Kennedy will present the award, followed by a keynote address from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the countless threats and challenges Indigenous peoples face around the world. Andrew Revkin, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, will then moderate a discussion on the pathways forward for Indigenous peoples in Brazil with an esteemed panel of experts:

  • Juarez Saw Munduruku, Chief of the Sawré Muybu village in Brazil 
  • Maria Leusa Cosme Kaba, a Munduruku women’s leader
  • Francisco Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Sebastião Salgado, Award-winning French-Brazilian documentary photographer 
  • Antonia Urrejola Noguera, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Christian Poirier, Program Director at Amazon Watch 
  • For more on the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/69FD28C0-FE07-4D28-A5E2-2C8077584068

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/rfks-ripple-of-hope-award-2020-to-kaepernick-fauci-and-other-us-leaders/

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/10/12/2106955/0/en/Alessandra-Korap-Munduruku-Wins-2020-Robert-F-Kennedy-Human-Rights-Award-for-Her-Work-Protecting-Indigenous-Peoples-in-Brazil.html


Panel: Re-Opening Civic Spaces in Times of Covid-19

October 13, 2020

Hafıza MerkeziAssociation for Monitoring Equal Rights and Netherlands Helsinki Committee kick-start a panel-series titled “Shrinking Democratic Space and International Solidarity”.

Through these panels, we wish to discuss the challenges and potentials ahead of the human rights movement, in light of both the ongoing erosion in democratic/civic spaces and the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic. In each panel we will couple one human rights defender from Turkey with one from abroad.

In the first panel of the series, we hope to start with a hopeful perspective on how we can re-open spaces in times Covid-19. We also wish to put forth a conceptual and comparative understanding on concepts such as shrinking civic spaces, authoritarianism and populism. The title of this first panel is “Re-Opening Civic Spaces in Times of Covid-19”.

We will welcome legal scholar, sociologist and human rights advocate César Rodríguez Garavito for this event. Murat Çelikkan, co-director of Hafiza Merkezi, will host the event as co-speaker.

Some of the specific issues and questions we want to focus are as follows;

  • How do concepts such as closing democratic/civic spaces relate to populism, authoritarianism, etc.
  • How has the situation evolved in recent years in terms of these processes?
  • What has been the impact of Covid-19 on top of all this?
  • During Covid times, what are the trends and practices in the global human rights movement that have the potential to push back against the populist tide?
  • How should we frame the debates about the future of human rights?

The first panel will take place on October 15th at 17.00-18.30 (GMT+3) and will be livestreamed to registered participants. Please register from here.

English-Turkish simultaneous translation will be provided during the event.

About speakers

César Rodríguez Garavito’s research focuses on the transformation of law and politics in the context of globalization. He is co-director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice in New York University School of Law. César is the founder of JustLabs and the Editor-in-Chief of OpenGlobalRights. He has been a visiting professor at New York University, Stanford University, Brown University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Pretoria (South Africa), the European University Institute, American University in Cairo and the Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil). He is a board member of WITNESS, the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, and the Business and Human Rights Journal. César is obsessed with inter-disciplinary research, social innovation, systems thinking, and anything that can get human rights and social justice practitioners to respond more strategically and effectively to complex challenges such as technological disruption, the climate crisis and populist authoritarianism. He has conducted research and advocacy in various regions of the world and has published widely on human rights, environmental justice, globalization and social movements.

Murat Çelikkan has worked as a journalist for 35 years in various positions such as reporter, editor, columnist and chief executive editor. Çelikkan has been an active member of the Turkish Human Rights Movement. He was a founding member and has been on the boards of the Human Rights AssociationHuman Rights Foundation of TurkeyCitizens Assembly and Amnesty International Turkey. He has worked on projects related to the Kurdish problem and media ethics, freedom of speech and assembly, refugees, identity politics and peace. Çelikkan is a graduate of Middle East Technical University. He is currently the Co-Director of Truth Justice Memory Center in İstanbul. He is also the producer of two feature films and the documentary Buka Barane. He has received the Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2018 Award and the 2018 International Hrant Dink Award.