Call for proposals to organize human rights film festivals 2018/19

February 14, 2018

To promote the screenings of human rights cinema worldwide, Movies that Matter offers grants to human rights film events in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, especially in countries with limited resources and freedom of press. These events can take various forms, such as human rights film festivals, LGBT film festivals and mobile cinema projects. Please note that Movies that Matter does not support film production. You can apply on-line. The deadline is 15 April 201§8

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/19/supporting-film-festivals-on-human-rights-in-2018/

https://www.moviesthatmatter.nl/english_index/international/support_programme


Another one bites the dust…the future of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

February 13, 2018

David Petrasek, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, wrote on 8 February 2018 an interesting piece under the title: “Another one bites the dust—what future for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?” (Openglobalrights.org) and wondered whether the early departure—yet again—of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t suggests it’s time to re-think the office’s priorities and strengthen its mandate (rather than more activism).

After the announcement in December 2017 by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan that he would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wrote that “while most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/].

The piece is worth reading and poses well the difficult dilemma:

Petrasek states: Zeid’s untimely departure therefore begs the question—is the job do-able? In fulfilling the mandate, must the UN’s top human rights official so annoy governments that they cut short her or his tenure? Is that a price worth paying? It would certainly strengthen the High Commissioner’s position if they were given a single six or seven-year term, getting out from under the Damoclean sword of renewal at four years.

Zeid has been a prominent and eloquent spokesperson in defense of human rights,..Clearly, this won him few friends among powerful countries, the US included. But it’s less clear that his outspokenness made much difference. It’s worth asking: should the High Commissioner prioritize speaking out even if the cost of doing so is to lose the political support necessary to fulfil her or his full mandate? The High Commissioner is not only the UN’s human rights conscience. She or he is also tasked with co-ordinating the UN’s myriad human rights activities, pursuing an active—and perhaps less public—human rights diplomacy, and leading efforts to reform often overlapping, outdated and cumbersome UN procedures.

The idea for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was put forward by civil society in the lead up to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Many functions were suggested for inclusion in the High Commissioner’s mandate, but the non-negotiable core demand was simple—the High Commissioner must have an overarching duty to promote and protect human rights anywhere.The High Commissioner was, therefore, a giant leap forward—personified in the post was the UN’s general human rights mandate, grounded in the UN Charter. She or he was now able to act whenever and wherever rights were at risk.

This general protection mandate has produced real results: High Commissioners have put neglected crises on the global agenda; there’s been a much-needed shift to the field of human rights staff, and the High Commissioner has amplified the voices of local human rights defenders.

Yet, today the High Commissioner’s voice is often only one amongst many. There are almost 60 independent human rights monitors (“Special Rapporteurs”) .. in 1993, there were barely a dozen. Similarly, today UN human rights inquiries are investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in five countries, and eight investigations have concluded in the past decade. The Council regularly meets in emergency session, there is an International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council often (if inconsistently) includes human rights concerns in its resolutions, a rare occurrence in 1993. The Security Council has also authorized the deployment of over 1,000 human rights staff to UN peacekeeping missions. They too issue reports and statements of concern, as increasingly does the UN Secretary-General.

In short, the gap identified in 1993 has narrowed considerably, at least as concerns the UN pointing a finger at human rights abusers.

But other gaps remain and widen. The growth in UN human rights mechanisms has not been accompanied by an obvious growth in their efficiency or effectiveness. Indeed, multiple and overlapping procedures are weighing down what should be a nimble and responsive system. Further, although at least since the late 1990s High Commissioners have prioritized putting staff in the field, more than half remain in Geneva and New York; in contrast, the UN Refugee Agency has 87% of its staff in the field. This imbalance seriously undermines the Office’s ability to pursue an effective human rights diplomacy. And the relative weakness and underfunding of the High Commissioner’s Office means it is hard-pressed to co-ordinate UN system-wide approaches. It has been over a decade since it has proposed any significant reforms.

The conclusion might seem obvious—the High Commissioner should spend less time speaking out and more time strengthening and reforming both his Office and the UN human rights system. A less public profile, in this view, might produce less resistance to much-needed reform—diplomacy succeeding where activism fails.

Flickr/UN Geneva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-Some Rights Reserved)


Of course, it’s not that simple. Many states are reluctant to see the UN’s human rights efforts strengthened, regardless of what the High Commissioner is saying or not. And though a more ‘diplomatic’ approach might suit some states, it will at the same time alarm civil society and activists who look to the High Commissioner for leadership. Even if states might ignore denunciations from Geneva or New York, an activist High Commissioner undoubtedly gives comfort and support to beleaguered human rights defenders.

There are no easy answers to the question posed. Perhaps it’s simply unfortunate but necessary that the High Commissioner’s mandate is a poisoned chalice—do the job well, and you’re unlikely to be re-appointed. However, given the many changes since 1993, it is worth reflecting more deeply on how this mandate might be credibly pursued so that High Commissioners depart when the job is done, not when states determine their time is up.

A single, lengthier term is one proposal, but others might be considered, including better co-ordination between the High Commissioner and the Council’s independent experts to leverage more diplomatic space. The current High Commissioner will depart in August and the key players are already politicking to appoint a successor. If she or he is not to meet a familiar fate, then now is the time to re-think priorities and strengthen the mandate.

 

(David Petrasek was formerly Senior Policy Director and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Amnesty International. David has worked on human rights and conflict resolution issues with the UN, foundations and NGOs for over 25 years.)

https://www.openglobalrights.org/another-one-bites-the-dust-what-future-for-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights/?lang=English


Dreams about a referendum to end the mullahs’ regime in Iran?

February 13, 2018

 on 13 February, 2018 carries an article: “Calls in Iran for UN-Sponsored Referendum

Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi. (AFP)

Following calls by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to hold a popular referendum to end political gridlock within the country, 15 prominent human rights defenders and activists from several groups issued Monday a statement demanding that a referendum indeed be held in the country , but adding that it should be done under the sponsorship of the United Nations. [Rouhani had originally made the proposal to hold a popular referendum during a speech marking the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Sunday.]

One of the signatories, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the activists’ statement is an answer to the popular demands and calls voiced by demonstrators in the last protests that erupted across Iran against the dire internal situation “Iranians want to peacefully transfer authority from a Wilayet el-Faqih regime to a secular parliamentary democratic system,” she said. The activists’ statement had accused the authority of exploiting religion, hiding behind religious concepts, ignoring public opinion, violating people’s rights and freedoms and being greatly incapable of solving the political, social and economic crises in the country. However, Ebadi said that the activists’ statement was “independent” from the president’s speech.

She said that the 15 activists who signed the statement include Iranian film directors Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, lawyer Nisreen Stouda, of Iran’s Human Rights Defenders Center in Tehran, lawyer Narges Mohammadi, political activist Hassan Shariatmadari, political figure Abulfadl Qadiani and human rights activist Mohammad Nourizad.

—–

Interesting to note is that at the same time there was a conference in Tehran (as reported by the Tehran Times) in which Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of the High Council for Human Rights  in Iran, has said that Iran is seeking close cooperation with the United Nations on issues related to human rights. “Islamic Republic is willing to work with international HR bodies, especially Human Rights Council,” Larijani told the conference attended by a number of foreign diplomats based in Tehran.

According to the newspaper ..”Double standards and selective approaches should be avoided in the area of the human rights. The special rapporteurs are obliged to be professional and neutral and avoid their political motivations affect their mission. Unfortunately, the special rapporteurs to Iran have mostly refrained to respect these principles and made claims far from realities. The special rapporteurs should have methodology and should not simply publish what they receive from unreliable sources. There are impediments to hold a constructive talks on the issue of human rights at the international level. The first impediment is double standards which are destructive. The second is using the human rights as tool to reach political motivations and the third is terrorism and supporting terrorists as defenders of human rights.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/02/02/larijani-brothers-iran-attack-un-rapporteur-and-human-rights-defenders/

https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1173806/calls-iran-un-sponsored-referendum
http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/421204/Tehran-says-seeking-co-op-with-UN-on-human-rights

Mo Ibrahim Prize 2017 to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

February 12, 2018

After twice skipping a winner, the 2017 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has been awarded to Liberia’s former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Sirleaf, the continent’s first elected female president, left office in late January, after overseeing the first democratic transfer of power in Liberia since 1944. The 79-year-old Nobel laureate came to power in 2006, just two years after the end of a 14-year civil war that saw more than 250,000 people killed and another million displaced. During her two terms in office, Sirleaf tackled the spread of Ebola in the West African nation, developed the economy and championed the cause of women. Opponents said she did not do enough to tackle corruption while in office.

In their citation, the prize committee commended her “exceptional and transformative leadership” in leading the recovery efforts, strengthening democratic institutions and improving human rights.

The prize is special in that it gives large amounts of money for life to former African leaders. See: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ibrahim-prize-for-achievement-in-african-leadership

http://mo.ibrahim.foundation/prize/

Africa’s most prestigious leadership award goes to the continent’s first elected female president

NB I apologize for an erroneous post of 21 November 2017 attributing the Ibrahim Prize (2017) to former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires. He received it in 2011!


Enough break-ins is enough say Ugandan human rights defenders

February 12, 2018

I wrote earlier about the suspiciously high rate of break-ins in the human rights community in Kampala [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/14/uganda-ngo-offices-regularly-ransacked-coincidence/]. The Ugandan Observer of 12 February writes: “Angry human rights workers camp at Old Kampala police

Police has called for calm and patience from furious staff of human rights awareness and promotion forum-Uganda (HRAPF), who’d staged a protest at Old Kampala police station following a second break-in into their offices last week. Nearly two years after the first break-in on May 22, 2016 – leading to the brutal murder of the security guard on duty Emmanuel Arituha; last week on February 9, HRAPF offices in Kampala were again broken into by unknown assailants.

Some of HRAPF staff and partners in a meeting with police station DPC

Armed with placards, HRAPF staff camped at Old Kampala police station to demand for the immediate conclusion of the investigations into the now rampant breaking into NGO offices. Following a meeting with senior police officials at the station, police acknowledged the need for quicker investigations and promised to provide armed guards to the NGO until the investigations are concluded. For the first break-in investigations, police officials reportedly said the file had been called to the CIID headquarters but will be recalled to the station to conclude investigations. 

A matrix organised by the by National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda (NCHRDU), shows that at least 24 premises of Non-governmental organisations and civil societies have been broken into since 2012.

…..

Organisations such as the Uganda Land Alliance, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the Anti-Corruption Coalition have suffered break-ins in similar fashion and, despite timely reports to the police on all occasions, investigations have been unsatisfactory and the follow up insufficient.

This is the latest in a series of attacks against civil society organisations which, regardless of the motivations of the assailants, points to the increasing lack of protection provided to human rights defenders in Uganda, said Jjuuko.

http://observer.ug/news/headlines/56884-angry-human-rights-workers-camp-at-old-kampala-police.html

https://76crimes.com/2018/02/09/unchecked-criminals-hit-ugandan-civic-groups/


New: the Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship launched

February 12, 2018

The Scottish newspaper the National reports that a human rights fellowship has been launched in Scotland:

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance welcomed the move

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance welcomed the move
 Two international human rights defenders will come to Scotland for three months to study under a new research fellowship. Participants will soon be invited to apply for the scheme which will combine study at the University of Dundee with the opportunity to build relationships and share expertise with Scottish human rights and equality organisations. The Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship will be a partnership between the Scottish Government and the University of Dundee, supported by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and campaign groups Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International, Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and Beyond Borders.

The Scottish Government said it is part of on-going work to promote human rights. Equalities Secretary Angela Constance MSP said: “Across the globe there are people defending basic human rights that everybody should be able to take for granted. From standing against torture, arbitrary detention and discrimination, to campaigning for access to housing, health care, education, food and water. “Often this requires great self-sacrifice in the face of persistent difficulties, abuse and even threats to personal safety. As a country that firmly believes in human rights and equality, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them and offer practical help where we can. “This fellowship provides a place of safety so participants can carry out research, develop new skills, build networks and return better equipped to continue their work fighting for the fundamental rights we need to demand for each other.”

The initial 2018 fellowship, with two recipients visiting from September, will cost £35,000.

Professor Nick Fyfe, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Dundee, said: “We are proud to be the host partner for the Human Rights Defenders Fellowship.“With significant expertise in human rights and an interdisciplinary approach championed by our Institute for Social Sciences Research, we are confident that the fellows will find a strong and welcoming community of human rights researchers ready to help them make the most of the three months they will spend working with the Scottish Government, Scottish universities and Scottish civil society organisations.


Asma Jahangir, one of the world’s most outstanding human rights defenders, dies at age 66

February 11, 2018

 

 

 

Prominent Pakistani human rights defender and lawyer Asma Jahangir has died at the age of 66. She reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest and was taken to hospital, where she later died.

She was one of the most recognized and honored human rights defenders with over 17 human rights awards, including the Martin Ennals Award in 1995, whose film on her work shows a much younger Asma, fearless in spite of threats on her life:

I met her for the first time in 1993 at the 2nd World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, where she deeply impressed me by standing up and openly criticizing her fellow NGO representatives for having tried to prevent former President Jimmy Carte from speaking at the NGO forum. This principled stand was a hallmark of her life as Pakistani human rights lawyer and as UN Special Rapporteur. In many instances she was able to give sound advice on cases of other human rights defenders in difficulty. For earlier posts on Asma see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/asma-jahangir/

Asma Jahangir’s career in short:

  • Trained as a lawyer and worked in Pakistan’s Supreme Court from age 30
  • A critic of the military establishment
  • Jailed in 1983 for pro-democracy activities
  • Put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice
  • Co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and of the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan (together with her sister Hina Jilani)
  • Co-founder of the Women’s Action Forum, set up to oppose law that reduced a woman’s testimony in court to half that of a man’s
  • The first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association
  • Winner of 17 human rights awards and the French Legion of Honour
  • Served twice as UN special rapporteur: on freedom of religion and on later on Human Rights in Iran

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai called Ms Jahangir a “saviour of democracy and human rights”.

A prominent Pakistani lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, tweeted that Ms Jahangir was “the bravest human being I ever knew” and that the world was “less” without her.

A long interview with Asma you can find here: https://asiasociety.org/interview-asma-jahangir,

A 2017 interview can be found on the website of the RLA: https://vimeo.com/225966475

—-

https://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21736994-pakistans-loudest-voice-democracy-and-human-rights-was-66-obituary-asma-jahangir-died


Pakistan: summary justice by the police is widespread

February 10, 2018

On 4 February 2018 the Pakistani newspaper The News on Sunday carried the story “Punjab police has a history and reputation of staging fake police encounters. Has anything changed?

A solution for speedy justice
Fake police encounters are said to be more rampant in Punjab province and some urban centres of Sindh, including Karachi. If one takes the case of Punjab, one finds such encounters to be a popular and preferred method of ‘dispensing justice’ adopted by the police. Police encounters have been staged for long but their number is said to have skyrocketed during the tenures of Shehbaz Sharif as the chief minister of Punjab. This has led to the perception that he has full trust in this method of controlling crime and patronises police officers known as encounter specialists. Prized postings and out-of-turn promotions for such officers strengthen this perception.

After tracing the history of police encounters in Punjab the article states that “Killings through police encounters got an exponential boost after Shehbaz Sharif came to power in Punjab in 1997. It was in July 1999 that BBC carried a news story that 850 suspected criminals had been killed by the police in encounters since the PML-N government had taken over in the province. The fact that 20 of them had been killed in just one week in May 1999 had disturbed human rights defenders all over the world. This killing spree was also observed during his second tenure that started in 2013. In 2015 alone, 440 suspects were killed in police encounters in Punjab.

Ejaz Butt, a crime reporter based in Lahore, recalls the time when he says police was said to have been asked by the Shehbaz Sharif government to decimate the top 10 gangsters of the city. He says police would stage encounters without any fear and hold press conference a day before with the criminals in handcuffs. “The officers would tell reporters to ask questions from criminals, saying they would be killed in shootout the next day,” he adds. The need for this clean-up operation was felt when the trader community of the city became fed up with excessive demands for extortion money and paid assassins who were operating everywhere.

Butt says the encounter experts are very much clear about who to shoot down. “The criminals who have fired at policemen, raped female inmates during robberies, killed abducted children even after getting ransom, molested minors, indulged in multiple murders, including those of witnesses are not spared,” he adds. He says they opt for this method as it is difficult to establish these crimes in courts and letting them go will make them commit the same crime again.

Every time there is an encounter there is a judicial inquiry but most of the time fake encounters are hard to establish. Why is it so? Butt explains the reason is that “encounter specialists are also expert in making the encounter plan and executing it. They prepare a sketch of the crime scene beforehand and fire bullets at police van with unlicensed weapons, claimed to be owned by the criminals. Besides, there is no eyewitness because all the roads and pathways leading to the venue of the encounter are blocked for public before it is carried out.”

Sarmad Saeed Khan says the fake encounters are not probed properly because they are done at the behest of the government. “Not even a single fake encounter can be staged by a police officer on his own”. He says not “every police officer is ready to take these orders and only those agree who get the blessings of the government”.

Though these police officers got out-of-turn promotions, he says, “the Supreme Court reversed these which is a good step. But despite this, these officers obey unlawful orders from the government to kill people in encounters. These dreaded officers are also used to pressurise political opponents whenever needed,” he adds.

If there are any demands for investigation, complainants are warned that they can be taken as those attackers if they keep on demanding an inquiry. Moreover “The problem unfortunately is that even the blood relatives disassociate themselves from such cases and disown the deceased due to the stigma attached to them.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/solution-speedy-justice/#.Wnni02Z7GV4

 


After 3 year gap, EU and Azerbaijan meet again but human rights remain precarious

February 10, 2018

Federica Mogherini and Elmar Mammadyarov in Brussels on 9 February 2018. [Council]

The weekly program Just Asia, full of news

February 10, 2018

This week’s ‘television programme’ Just Asia (9 February 20018) covers a number of important issues:
Burma: the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner warning that the government’s persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority has the potential to spark regional conflict. “It is sometimes said that today’s human rights violations will become tomorrow’s conflicts.”  Also this week, the Associated Press confirmed at least five mass graves found in Rakhine, through multiple interviews and time-stamped cell phone videos. The graves are the newest piece of evidence suggesting genocide.
Indonesia: the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, ended 7 February. Among the Commissioner’s various meetings, two important ones were the civil society meeting hosted by Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the meeting with victims of human rights violations hosted by the National Commission on Human Rights. Local groups are hopeful that the high profile visit will significantly influence human rights development in Indonesia. Moreover, Mr. Zeid ended his visit with the announcement that his office would soon send a mission to West Papua to learn about the human rights situation there. (with an interview with Mr. Bedjo Untung, a Survivor of the 1965-1966 massacre)
The Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s political allies are proposing to amend the Constitution, to change the country’s presidential form of government to a federal one. While focusing on political changes, the current constitutional debate is silent on constitutional rights. Philippines’1987 Constitution includes the Bill of Rights and many provisions relating to social justice. These are the culmination of a people’s aspirations after suffering for years under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Any debate on constitutional change must therefore include discussion on the protection of constitutional rights.
Nepal, Plain clothes police arrested 14 year old Sandip Prasai on 1 February, and accused him of being a thief and a drug addict. Sandip was admitted to a hospital on February 4, where the doctors said there are no visible signs of injuries on his body, but he has suffered from panic attacks. Activists are calling on the government to investigate the incident and suitably punish the officers involved in beating a juvenile.
The bulletin can be watched online at www.alrc.asia/justasia and AHRC TV YouTube.
see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/just-asia-just-continues-with-its-human-rights-television/
https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/16/amila-sampath-the-man-behind-the-video-service-of-just-asia/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDPQ5KwOu0o&feature=youtu.be