Posts Tagged ‘AI’

2019 Nobel Prizes for Peace and Literature: encouragement and disappointment

October 11, 2019

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/07/ethiopia-a-progress-report-by-defenddefenders-made-public-on-7-may/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/08/human-rights-defender-daniel-bekele-now-commissioner-of-the-ethiopian-human-rights-commission/].

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said: “This award recognizes the critical work Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has done to initiate human rights reforms in Ethiopia after decades of widespread repression.” Since assuming office in April 2018, it has reformed the security forces, replaced the severely restricting charities and society law, and agreed a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea to end two decades of hostile relations. He also helped broker an agreement between Sudan’s military leaders and the civilian opposition, bringing an end to months of protests.

However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s work is far from done. This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far. He must urgently ensure that his government addresses the ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability and further human rights abuses. He should also ensure that his government revises the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which continues to be used as a tool of repression, and holds suspected perpetrators of past human rights violations to account. ..“ow more than ever Prime Minister Abiy must fully espouse the principles and values of the Nobel Peace Prize to leave a lasting human rights legacy for his country, the wider region, and the world.”

Interestingly enough on the same day Ethiopian human rights blogger Befeqadu Hailu received the International Writer of Courage award. The Ethiopian human rights blogger who has been jailed four times over his activism has been awarded a literary prize set up in memory of playwright Harold Pinter. The Zone 9 blogging collective, which Hailu founded in 2012 alongside other Ethiopian activists, aims to hold politicians to account and protect the country’s constitution against corruption. He is also the deputy executive editor of Addis Maleda newspaper, a columnist for Deutsche Welle Amharic Service and a part-time programme co-ordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project. Zone 9 bloggers were finalists of the 2016 MEA.

In the meantime the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee for Literature came in for widespread and harsh criticism for its ‘troubling choice’: of Peter Handke. Writers including Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Slavoj Žižek say the 2019 Nobel laureate ‘combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness’

Austrian author Peter Handk greets the press outside his house in Chaville near Paris, on Thursday.
Austrian author Peter Handke greets the press outside his house in Chaville near Paris, on Thursday after his win. Photograph: François Mori/AP

The Guardian of 10 October writes: “Twenty years before Peter Handke would become a Nobel laureate, he won another title. In 1999, Salman Rushdie named him the runner-up for “International moron of the year” for his “series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milošević”….The Austrian playwright, whose Slovenian heritage had inspired in him a fervent nationalism during the Balkans war, had publicly suggested that Sarajevo’s Muslims had massacred themselves and blamed the Serbs, and denied the Srebrenica genocide. Seven years after Rushdie’s scorching condemnation, in 2006, he would also attend war criminal Milošević’s funeral….

Handke is a troubling choice for a Nobel committee that is trying to put the prize on track after recent scandals,” said author Hari Kunzru, who has taught the laureate’s work to his students. “He is a fine writer, who combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness.” Kunzru said he believed that Handke would have won the Nobel earlier, “had he not decided to act as a propagandist for the genocidal Milošević regime. He added: “More than ever we need public intellectuals who are able to make a robust defence of human rights in the face of the indifference and cynicism of our political leaders. Handke is not such a person.

Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and longtime critic of Handke, told the Guardian: “In 2014, Handke called for the Nobel to be abolished, saying it was a ‘false canonisation’ of literature. The fact that he got it now proves that he was right. This is Sweden today: an apologist of war crimes gets a Nobel prize while the country fully participated in the character assassination of the true hero of our times, Julian Assange. Our reaction should be: not the literature Nobel prize for Handke but the Nobel peace prize for Assange.”

And in a statement issued on Thursday, novelist Jennifer Egan, president of literature and human rights organisation Pen America, said:  “We are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic,” .. “We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’ At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.”..

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https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/nobel-peace-prize-must-spur-prime-minister-abiy-ahmed-towards-further-human-rights-reform/

https://mailchi.mp/a7dbe1560660/hrf-in-the-washington-post-on-todays-nobel-peace-prize?e=f80cec329e

https://home.bt.com/news/showbiz-news/ethiopian-human-rights-blogger-scoops-prize-in-memory-of-harold-pinter-11364401760959

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/10/troubling-choice-authors-criticise-peter-handke-controversial-nobel-win

https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/10/10/20907919/nobel-prize-literature-2019-2018-controversy-peter-handke-olga-tokarczuk

Greta Thunberg receives Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience award

September 17, 2019

The politics required to take on this crisis simply doesn’t exist today,” Thunberg said, standing on a step to reach the microphone. “That is why every single one of us must push from every possible angle to hold those responsible accountable and to make the people in power act.” “Even though it is slow, the pace is picking up and the debate is shifting,” she said, before concluding: “See you on the street!

Earlier, Kumi Naidoo, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said that the organization was originally not going to give out the prize in 2019, following the unprecedented decision to withdraw it from Aung San Suu Kyi in late 2018. Amnesty rescinded the award from the Myanmar leader for “the shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for” over Suu Kyi’s “apparent indifference” to the suffering of the Rohingya population. But Naidoo was swayed by the impact Thunberg and other youth activists had already achieved and could achieve in future, adding that the U.K.’s Parliament declared a climate emergency after she met with British political leaders.

Naidoo added that the issue of climate change was increasingly a human rights issue, and touched upon every aspect of Amnesty’s work, from refugees to indigenous rights to the defense of rights defenders, with an ever growing number of environmental activists being killed. “These young, high school students are playing a very important role in educating their own parents.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/09/17/world/social-issues-world/swedish-activist-greta-thunberg-wins-amnestys-top-human-rights-award/#.XYD87yVS9TY

Has NSO really changed its attitude with regard to spyware?

September 17, 2019

Cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group has introduced a new Human Rights Policy and a supporting governance framework in an apparent attempt to boost its reputation and comply with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. This follows recent criticism that its technology was being used to violate the rights of journalist and human rights defenders. A recent investigation found the company’s Pegasus spyware was used against a member of non-profit Amnesty International. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/19/novalpina-urged-to-come-clean-about-targeting-human-rights-defenders/]

The NSO’s new human rights policy aims to identify, prevent and mitigate the risks of adverse human rights impact. It also includes a thorough evaluation of the company’s sales process for the potential of adverse human rights impacts coming from the misuse of NSO products. As well as this, it introduces contractual agreements for NSO customers that will require them to limit the use of the company’s products to the prevention and investigation of serious crimes. There will be specific attention to protect individuals or groups that could be at risk of arbitrary digital surveillance and communication interceptions due to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, or their exercise or defence of human rights. Rules have been set out to protect whistle-blowers who wish to report concerns about misuse of NSO technology.

Amnesty International is supporting current legal actions being taken against the Israeli Ministry of Defence, demanding that it revoke NSO Group’s export licence.

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Program Director for Amnesty Tech, said: “While on the surface it appears a step forward, NSO has a track record of refusing to take responsibility. The firm has sold invasive digital surveillance to governments who have used these products to track, intimidate and silence activists, journalists and critics.”

CEO and co-founder Shalev Hulio, counters: “NSO has always taken governance and its ethical responsibilities seriously as demonstrated by our existing best-in-class customer vetting and business decision process. With this new Human Rights Policy and governance framework, we are proud to further enhance our compliance system to such a degree that we will become the first company in the cyber industry to be aligned with the Guiding Principles.

https://www.verdict.co.uk/nso-group-new-human-rights-policy/

Following threats to NGO offices in Israel, human rights defenders demand investigation

August 1, 2019

On Wednesday, death threats were found spray-painted outside the offices of Amnesty International in Tel Aviv and ASSAF, an organization which advocates for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. (Photo: @AmnestyIsrael/Twitter)

Human rights defenders in Israel linked recent threats at three civil society organizations to the rhetoric and policies of the country’s government, which has worked to intimidate and suppress groups critical of its treatment of Palestinians and other marginalized people. Staff members at Amnesty Israel in Tel Aviv and the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) on Wednesday found death threats written in spray paint on walls outside the organizations’ offices. A box containing death threats and a dead mouse was found around the same time at the Elifelet Children’s Activity Center, which cares for refugee children.

“We have filed a complaint with the police and we see this as the result of the ongoing campaign of incitement against aid and human rights organizations, led by the government,” tweeted Amnesty Israel. Amnesty International denounced the threats as “deplorable and malicious acts” which must be investigated and unequivocally condemned by the government.

The Israeli authorities should take a strong stand by publicly condemning these acts and making clear that attacks against NGOs will not be tolerated,” said Philip Luther, the group’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Israeli authorities must also take steps to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organizations more generally are effectively protected and can carry out their work free from threats, intimidation, or harassment.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/ ]

…………”This is not the first time we are being threatened,” ASSAF wrote in a post on Twitter. “This is the result of the ongoing incitement campaign against aid and human rights organizations in Israel—with the encouragement and backing of politicians and public figures.” “You have to make sure this is the last time,” the group added, addressing authorities.

Aruanas: human rights defenders in fiction series playing in Amazon

July 17, 2019

Eco trip
Michael Pickard Michael Pickard writes in Drama Quarterly of 2 July 2019 about the Brazilian drama Aruanas, which charts the work of environmental human rights defenders who investigate the suspicious activities of a mining company in the Amazon rainforest. The Brazilian drama Aruanas  – launched two weeks ago worldwide – won’t be found on any of the major global streaming giants. Instead, it will be available on a standalone platform for anyone around the globe to download – because the subject matter demands this story not be restricted to viewers with the right kind of subscription. The 10-part Portuguese-language thriller, which is backed by more than 20 international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including WWF Brazil, Amnesty International, Global Witness, UN Environment, UN Women, Oxfam Brazil and the Rainforest Foundation. Greenpeace is a technical collaborator on the show.

Aruanas comes from a partnership between prodco Maria Farinha Films and Brazil’s Globo TV, which have created the fictional story about three idealistic women who set up an NGO to investigate the suspicious activities of a mining company operating in the Amazon. Bypassing traditional broadcast partners by making the series available at aruanas.tv – in more than 150 countries and 11 different languages – also means 50% of the download fee will go to initiatives designed to protect the Amazon rainforest. In Brazil, Globo will air the first episode on its domestic and international channels, which reach more than 100 million people, with the series then being made available on SVoD service Globoplay…

For the last 10 years, Maria Farinha Films has been built on producing documentaries and TV series focusing on social and environmental issues, tackling subjects including childhood obesity, refugees and LGBT rights. Climate change has been a cause long on its agenda but, as the company’s founder Estela Renner explains: “We wanted to do something long term, something that could stay for seasons,” she tells DQ following the London premiere of Aruanas. “There are so many seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and ER and you learn so much about hospitals and the dynamics that are involved. How about making a TV series that takes place in an environmental NGO? What better way to talk about the drama and activists and all issues there are to address – the oceans, oil, soil, air. That’s why we decided to jump into fiction.”

Renner wrote the series with her business partner Marcos Nisti, in collaboration with Pedro de Barros, and developed it alongside Globo. The story introduces Aruana, an NGO that receives an anonymous complaint about a mining company working deep in the Amazon rainforest. When the NGO’s contact is killed and the incriminating dossier is destroyed, its staff become determined to uncover what is going on.

……the series is not a lecture about climate change, nor does it present an unwaveringly positive representation of an NGO or condemn mining outright. “It’s not propaganda. You can see the activists doing stuff you wouldn’t recommend doing,” Renner says. “We found a way to build the layers of the series so we can see why mining can be important, because it develops a country, it creates jobs and it brings development sometimes.

“Even when Natalie interviews our villain, they have a battle where, for a while, you don’t know which side to take because both sides are right. But at the end of the season, we see this type of mining is wrong. You cannot mine and pollute the rivers, the soil, the air and people. You have to do it the right way.”

Renner also states that her NGO partners, which contributed no money to the production, were clear this would be a non-factual drama from the outset: “They were with us from the beginning but they also understood this is fiction. You have to put some salt and pepper in to make it interesting and edgy. All the organisations understood that and were happy. Because it’s  fiction, they knew they didn’t have to correct us. It’s important it’s fiction; it’s not a documentary.”

Filming took place across four months, with the cast and 190-strong crew travelling back and forth between the south-west city of São Paulo and the Amazon, where filming took place in Manacapuru, in the northern state of Amazonas in the centre of the rainforest.

……..
The decision to set the drama within an NGO and the world of its activists doubles as a mechanism for the organisation, in future seasons, to explore other aspects of climate change, looking at the oil industry and the oceans. Work is already progressing on a second season, which will explore a different type of environmental crime. But Renner says that despite Aruanas’ representation of the work of NGOs and their fight for a more equitable and sustainable world, her main priority is to entertain viewers with this high-stakes thriller.

“Chernobyl would be the perfect example because it’s super well done, super entertaining and when you finish watching it, it makes you think this power of destruction we have now is bad,” she says, referring to HBO and Sky Atlantic’s recent miniseries about the 1980s nuclear disaster.

“Maybe people can connect with NGOs and see what they’re doing. We didn’t want this to be too on the nose. We want to stay for several seasons through the characters and their lives, and it does have a happy ending. There are so many series with a dystopian future; dreaming collectively of a good future is important because it has power.”

Eco trip

Human rights defender Daniel Bekele now Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

July 8, 2019

As a further indication of the chances taking place in Ethiopia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/07/ethiopia-a-progress-report-by-defenddefenders-made-public-on-7-may/], the Parliament approved on 2 july 2019 the appointment of former NGO activist, Daniel Bekele, to serve as Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Daniel served in different organization including as Executive Director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/19/new-laws-are-being-introduced-in-kenya-to-restrict-human-rights-defenders/] and advisor at Amnesty International. Daniel who holds a Master’s Degree in International Law and legal Studies from Oxford university, has also been working as an independent consultant.

(In the 2005 parliamentary elections in Ethiopia, Daniel was actively involved in promoting human rights and independent election monitoring, as well as peace initiatives in the aftermath of the post-election crisis. However, he was arrested by the authorities and spent more than two years in prison. He was recognized as prisoner of conscience and in 2009 received the Alison Des Forges Award)

Ethiopia appoints Amnesty International advisor to lead commission

European governments should stop treating solidarity and compassion as a crime

May 15, 2019

Two recent cases of criminalization of human rights defenders in Europe helping people at sea:

Iuventa crew
Iuventa crew

On 13 May 2019 MarEx  reported that the crew of the rescue ship Iuventa operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet has received the Swiss Paul Grüninger human rights award for saving the lives of around 14,000 of men, women and children in the central Mediterranean. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/paul-grueninger-award

The award is seen as a statement against the criminalization of those helping people at sea and comes whilst the crew is under criminal investigations in Italy for “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” They face up to 20 years in prison and fines of 15,000 Euro ($16,900) per saved person. The prize money of 50,000 Swiss francs contributes to the defense.

The Iuventa was the first rescue vessel seized in Italy in August 2017. Captain Dariush was master of the Iuventa for three voyages off the Libyan coast: “We’re being charged for saving lives. This is absurd,” he said. “It is European politicians who block any safe way for people in need, so we had to act.

The crew says: “Although we have to stand trial, it is us who accuses Europe. We accuse European politicians of turning their backs on people in need. We accuse the E.U. of collaborating with regimes who violate human rights.” The Italian public prosecutor’s office has been investigating the crew for almost two years. Covert investigators claim to have observed the Iuventa crew cooperating with smugglers. However, the NGO claims that scientists at Goldsmiths, University of London have said there is no evidence for this. “They have compared the accusations of the Italian police with all available data, meteorological measurements, logbooks and recordings of the Reuters agency. In their study for Forensic Architecture, they conclude that the allegations are false.” The trial is expected to begin in autumn, and it is expected that charges will be brought against the 10 crew members. It is a precedent for Europe, says lead lawyer Nicola Canestrini: “This trial will show whether Europe can continue to stand for fundamental rights and solidarity in the world.

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Tom Ciotkowski is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 7,500 Euros on trumped up charges. In July 2018, he was observing French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food to migrants and refugees in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer. “Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested. He has committed no crime and is being unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police in Calais,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration Maria Serrano.

Tom’s case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that human rights defenders supporting migrants and refugees face at the hands of police in Calais. His case also reflects a wider European trend of criminalizing acts of solidarity, as a way of discouraging others from standing up for human rights. We need courageous, compassionate people like Tom more than ever

[BACKGROUND At the end of July 2018, Tom Ciotkowski was observing French riot police ID-checking volunteers who were trying to distribute food to migrants and refugees. He recorded on his mobile phone an official pushing and kicking a volunteer. When Tom complained about the behaviour of the police, an officer approached him and another female volunteer, who he hit with a baton. When Tom asked the officer for his identification number and told the policeman not to hit women, he was pushed hard by an officer and fell backwards over a metal barrier separating the pavement from the road. As Tom fell backwards, a passing lorry narrowly missed him. He was then arrested, put in custody for 36 hours and charged with contempt and assault (“outrage et violence”). In May 2019, Tom filed a complaint against the police officer who pushed him and against other officers who provided reports stating false facts against Tom to support his arrest and prosecution.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

MEA laureate Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike in Emirates

April 10, 2019

Award-winning rights human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, jailed in the UAE for “publishing false information”, has launched a in protest against prison conditions, International said Tuesday. Mansoor, whom says is a prisoner of conscience, has been on for over three weeks to protest detention conditions and his unfair trial in the UAE. the London-based group noted. For more on Mansoor see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/02/happy-new-year-but-not-for-ahmed-mansoor-and-nabeel-rajab-in-the-gulf-monarchies/

https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/jailed-uae-activist-mansoor-on-hunger-strike-amnesty-119040901441_1.html

The ISHR launched a campaign in support: https://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=97549cf8cb507607389fe76eb&id=229155ca04&e=d1945ebb90

Polish judges have become human rights defenders

April 8, 2019

Barbora Cernusakova (Amnesty International’s Poland researcher) posted in Euronews on 4 April 2019 a piece entitled “When Polish judges become human rights defenders”

“There is a danger when politics enters the judiciary,” warned Judge Sławomir Jęksa in his summing up of his decision to accept the appeal of a woman who had been charged for using offensive language at a rally. She had, he reasoned, not only been entitled to express herself in the way that she did, especially since she was expressing genuine concerns about the encroachment on human rights in Poland. Days after his ruling, Judge Jęksa found himself at the receiving end of just the sort of political interference of which he had warned. The Disciplinary Prosecutor started proceedings against him on the grounds that his ruling was an “expression of political opinions” and “an offence against the dignity of the office of the judge.”

Judge Jęksa does not have much faith in the disciplinary procedure which will take place in the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. The Disciplinary Chamber is a special body whose members were chosen by a body formed of politicians from the governing party. He is just one of several judges facing similar pressures. More than a dozen judges have faced disciplinary proceedings since last autumn. These may result in sanctions, including their dismissal from office.

Some of the more outspoken judges who publicly expressed their opposition to the government’s interference with the judiciary have even received death threats…..

This is all happening in the context of a wider smear campaign against judges that have upheld decisions in defence of human rights that began in 2017. Judges are constantly portrayed as “enemies of the people” who “damage the interests of Poland.” Pro-government media and social media accounts have gone as far as invading their privacy by regularly publishing their personal information, including details about their sick leave and their trips abroad.

Despite this, judges in Poland continue to organise and collectively resist the pressures from the government. “For the first time in our careers we have to stand our ground and show we are not just civil servants, but the authority that protects legal order,” Judge Dorota Zabłudowska told me.

But the ongoing struggle over the independence of the judiciary in Poland is not only about them. It is a fight for human rights that ultimately affects everyone in the country and indeed in Europe. In a significant move yesterday, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure to protect judges in Poland from political control. …The chilling effect of the abuse of this already flawed disciplinary system is real and this has now been called out by the Commission. Member states should back this step and call on Poland in the General Affairs Council next week to end the harassment and intimidation of judges.

This decision draws an important line in the sand and makes clear that interfering with the independence of the judiciary cannot and will not be tolerated. Allowing one member state to operate outside the rule of law would be to allow the entire system to be contaminated…

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/27/polish-ombudsman-adam-bodnar-winner-of-2018-rafto-award/

https://www.euronews.com/2019/04/04/when-polish-judges-become-human-rights-defenders-view

3 Saudi women human rights defenders released but for how long? And what about the others?

March 28, 2019

Amnesty International urges Saudi authorities to release activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef, outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris, March 8, 2019
Protesters called for the female activists’ release at the Saudi embassy in Paris last month – copyright REUTERS

Media just reported that Saudi Arabia has temporarily released three female human rights defenders facing charges related to human rights work and contacting foreigners. Two sources told Reuters that three women had been released, and more would be freed on Sunday.[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/saudi-arabia-persist-with-trial-for-women-human-rights-defenders/]

Amnesty International and UK-based Saudi rights organisation, ALQST, named the women as Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and Roqaya al-Mohareb. Saudi state media said the releases were only provisional. Lynn Maalouf from Amnesty welcomed the releases but said it should not be on a temporary basis. “They have been locked up, separated from their loved ones, subjected to torture and threats for simply peacefully calling for women’s rights and expressing their views,” she said.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-47731946