Posts Tagged ‘AI’

Joint Statement by NGOs: Ukraine should address attacks against Human Rights Defenders

October 8, 2018

On 3 October 2018 a number of NGOs published a Joint Statement on Ukraine deploying the many attacks against Human Rights Defenders:

More than 50 attacks on activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine have been recorded by local human rights organisations in just the last nine months, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders said today. Those under attack include people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, protect the environment, and campaign against corruption. 

The organisations criticised the lack of effective investigations into these incidents and of prosecutions of those responsible, which heightens the risk to human rights defenders and sends a message that the authorities tolerate such attacks and assaults. Recently, the prosecutor general suggested that civil society activists brought the attacks on themselves <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/09/27/7193378/&gt;  for criticising the authorities, giving an impression that human rights defenders can be openly targeted.

In most cases, the attacks have targeted individuals or groups that campaign against corruption in the local community, shine a light on the operation of local government and businesses, or defend people’s rights. The purpose of such attacks is clear: to silence activists and human rights defenders and to discourage others from speaking out against injustice and standing up for human rights. 

Two recent examples of the kind of vicious attacks that have yet to be effectively investigated took place on 22 September, in Odessa and Kryvyi Rih. Oleh Mikhaylyk, an anti-corruption activist, was shot in Odessa, in southern Ukraine, and remains in the hospital. Mikhaylyk had campaigned with the Syla Lyudei (People’s Power) movement against illegal construction in Odessa. Three hundred kilometers away, in Kryvyi Rih, unidentified assailants broke into the home of Artem Moroka after he criticised the local police on Facebook. The assailants severely beat him, breaking his nose, Moroka told Ukrainian human rights monitors.

In June, an environmental activist, Mykola Bychko, was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a village in Kharkiv region. Villagers found Bychko hanged in the woods near the village of Eskhar on June 5. The local police initially started a suicide investigation, but have yet to investigate the possibility that he was killed in connection with his activism. At the time, Bychko was documenting the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby waste treatment plant.  A lawyer representing Bychko’s family questioned the conduct of the local police for ignoring the possibility that this was an intentional killing, and for allegedly intentionally delaying the investigation. The lawyer told Freedom House that police lost relevant evidence from the site where Bychko’s body was found, such as the rope from the improvised gallows. The authorities have also not pursued allegations that Bychko had received threats related to his documentation work, such as questioning people from the waste treatment plant. 

On July 31, an unidentified assailant threw acid on Kateryna Handzyuk, a local council member who monitored police activities, in Kherson. ……….

The Ukrainian authorities should take effective steps to prevent further threats and attacks against activists and human rights defenders, and ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into such threats and attacks and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials. 

The Interior Ministry, the National Police, the prosecutor general’s office, and other relevant institutions should explicitly recognise the important work of human rights defenders in protecting human rights and uncovering corruption. The authorities should publicly denounce any threats and attacks against human rights defenders. They should take decisive measures to ensure that government critics can work in a safe and enabling environment in which they can exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and conduct their activities without fear of reprisals. 

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://freedomhouse.org/article/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5092012018ENGLISH.pdf

Eswatini or Swaziland? As long as human rights defenders can do their work…

September 21, 2018

Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) saying that it must bring an end to the long record of human rights violations that have blighted the country for more than four decades. The Southern African kingdom – which is under the near total control of King Mswati – has a longstanding record of human rights violations, including the routine suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as widespread forced evictions. Swazis will today elect new members of parliament that will form the new government for the next five years.

This election represents a golden opportunity for an incoming government to comprehensively address longstanding human rights issues,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

On 8 August 2017, King Mswati approved the Public Order Act, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for their use of unnecessary or excessive force against protesters or public gatherings. The government continues to ban opposition parties, while political activists are regularly put in jail for trying to organize and speak out against the status quo. Eswatini will only become a thriving nation when human rights are respected for all, without discrimination, added Deprose Muchena.

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/02/swaziland-ngo-welcomes-release-of-hrds-with-new-hope-for-independence-of-the-judiciary/

Where is the international support for Canada in its row with Saudi Arabia

August 27, 2018

The tension between Saudi Arabia and Canada began when Canada’s Global Affairs Twitter account tweeted this 3 August 2018 statement concerning human rights abuses: Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in , including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful activists.

The excessive response by Saudi Arabia and the various issues at stake have been sufficiently described  in the media (see several links below) but what is most disturbing is what one commentator called “Not a shred of solidarity was on offer anyway: it was all just a dispute between “friends” and “allies.” Weak EU response with obviously no support from the Trump government, has left the Canadian government close to mulling a kind of apology “Canada will of course continue to “speak out,” Trudeau said last Wednesday, but he also said this of Saudi Arabia: “This is a country that has some importance around the world. It is making progress when it comes to human rights.” There is no need for mediation,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “…Canada has made a mistake and needs to fix it.” Al-Jubeir’s views were then immediately expanded by former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird in an interview broadcast by the Saudis’ own Al-Arabiya network.

On 9 August a number of Canadian organizations expressed their support to Canada for its recent position on the detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. “and urged the international community to join Canada in calling for the unequivocal respect of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”

With Russia and quite of few other countries coming out openly to express solidarity with Saudi Arabia it is time to ask where the like-minded solidarity is and what international NGOs do to support courageous Canada??

[with exception for HRW https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/08/saudi-arabia-punishes-canada-criticizing-human-rights-defenders-arrests and AI https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/08/saudi-arabia-international-community-must-speak-up-for-human-rights-defenders-after-canadian-ambassador-expelled/]

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http://www.mediafiledc.com/saudi-canadian-duel-takes-place-on-multiple-platforms/

https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/08/11/saudi-arabia-picks-a-pointless-fight-with-canada

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canada-owes-no-apology-to-the-saudis/

https://www.macleans.ca/politics/worldpolitics/the-trudeau-government-is-losing-its-human-rights-battle-with-the-saudis-and-missing-a-huge-opportunity/

https://interpares.ca/news/joint-statement-canadas-support-women-human-rights-defenders-saudi-arabia

 

Farewell message from Amnesty’s Salil Shetty

July 17, 2018

I announced Salil’s successor on 22 December [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/amnesty-announces-kumi-naidoo-as-next-secretary-general-effective-august-2018/]. The farewell message by the departing Secretary General, Salil Shetty, is worth sharing as it contains some general thoughts on the state of the human rights movement:

..

As some of you would know, after eight great years with Amnesty International, I am moving on. My time as Secretary General formally drew to a close on 8 July after the annual gathering of our global leadership in Poland. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your important and generous support through this period – a turbulent time in the world at large, and a crucial transformation process internally.
 
It is difficult to sum up eight years in a pithy way, but as we look back on the so-called Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict, spiralling refugee numbers, the social impact of government policies in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and the rise of popular authoritarians in many countries, it is clear that we have lived – and continue to live – through very challenging times. The voices of those who stand up against oppression and the abuse of power are more isolated but more important than ever. And Amnesty has played a vital role in supporting these voices.
 
We have seen much fruit from the work in virtually every region of the world we have done together during this period – from the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty to some important breakthroughs on corporate accountability, from another 10 countries abolishing the death penalty to the release of innumerable prisoners unjustly detained. We have built a new body of work on technology and human rights, ready to confront important new challenges ahead. We have also seen some crucial steps forward on women’s rights and have good reason to hope for much more progress in the coming months and years. Above all, it has been a privilege to work with so many extraordinary people from every part of the world. I will treasure the memories of so many courageous activists I have met during my time with Amnesty.
 
For me, the biggest source of hope has always been people at the local level who refuse to accept injustice. During the past eight years we have had a strong focus on building a truly global human rights movement, particularly by rebalancing the centre of gravity from our traditional strongholds in the richer countries of the world towards a more distributed centre with a much stronger voice for the global south. The growth of Amnesty’s membership in key southern powerhouses such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, has been very encouraging, and gives us stronger foundations for the future.
 
……..
I am delighted to hand over to my successor, Kumi Naidoo from South Africa, who will take up the reins on 15 August. Kumi is a well-respected activist and leader in the international NGO sector, having previously led Greenpeace International and CIVICUS. …


Best,

Salil Shetty

The bravest World Cup team in Russia….

June 7, 2018

On 7 June 2018, one week before the opening of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, Amnesty International comes with a marvelous contribution: a team of 11 Russian human rights champions who routinely put their lives on the line to defend human rights in Russia. A new campaign, Team Brave, will profile a human rights defender from each of the 11 regions hosting World Cup matches to raise awareness of their important work, and you can send messages of solidarity to show these brave individuals that they are not alone.

As World Cup excitement builds, we want to highlight the work of the inspiring men and women who risk their lives and freedom to fight for human rights in Russia. The lineup of Team Brave includes activists who have fought to end torture in police stations, protect the environment, defend LGBTI rights and sex workers’ rights, and support victims of domestic violence – they are the real champions in Russia,” said Inga Kelekhsaeva, Russia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

The lineup of Team Brave includes activists who have fought to end torture in police stations, protect the environment, defend LGBTI rights and sex workers’ rights, and support victims of domestic violence – they are the real champions in Russia:
  • Grozny: Oyub Titiev, the head of the NGO Memorial’s office in Chechnya imprisoned under bogus charges since January 2018
  • Sochi: Andrei Rudomakha, an environmental human rights defender who was brutally attacked in 2017
  • St Petersburg: Irina Maslova, who founded a movement to defend the rights of sex workers.
  • Volgograd: Igor Nagavkin, who worked on fighting torture and corruption in the Volgograd region until he was arbitrarily detained in October 2016.
  • Rostov-on-Don: Valentina Cherevatenko, a women’s rights activist
  • Kaliningrad: Igor Rudnikov, an independent journalist investigating cases of corruption until his arbitrary detention in 2017.
  • Samara: Oksana Berezovskaya, who runs an LGBTI rights organization
  • Nizhny Novgorod: Igor Kalyapin, who founded the Committee Against Torture
  • Kazan: Yulia Fayzrakhmanova, an environmental human rights defender
  • Yekaterinburg: Aleksei Sokolov, who fights torture and other abuses in the prison system
  • Saransk: Vasiliy Guslyannikov, the founder of the NGO Mordovian Republic Human Rights Centre

Many of these human rights defenders have faced harassment, intimidation, physical attacks, smear and in some cases have been arbitrarily detained simply for carrying out their vital work.

As part of the Team Brave campaign, Amnesty International is asking supporters to take action for three of the human rights defenders featured, who remain in prison to date or whose assailants remain at large.

Oyub Titiev has been detained for almost six months on fabricated charges because of his human rights work. Environmental human rights defender Andrei Rudomakha was brutally assaulted in 2017 by unknown assailants for documenting illegal construction work on the Black Sea coast, and his attackers still walk free. Igor Nagavkin has spent more than a year and a half in pre-trial detention on trumped-up charges for his work defending prisoners’ rights and combatting torture and corruption.

The Russian authorities cannot continue to intimidate and harass every critic into silence. With the eyes of the world on Russia, they must decide what they want the legacy of this World Cup to be. There can be no winners in Russia until human rights defenders are recognized, protected and free to do their important work unobstructed and without fear of reprisals.”

[On 29 May, FIFA took the important step of launching a complaints mechanism for human rights defenders and media representatives to report rights violations and committed to supporting human rights defenders and freedom of the press in relation to FIFA’s activities. With the 2018 World Cup taking place amidst a crackdown on human rights by the Russian authorities, FIFA commitments and mechanisms will be put to the test. Amnesty International has urged the Football’s governing body to be ready to confront the Russian authorities and use all of its leverage to effectively protect human rights defenders and stop the 2018 World Cup providing the backdrop for a renewed wave of oppression.] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/24/fifa-expresses-concern-about-chechen-human-rights-defender-but-to-whom/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/06/russia-the-bravest-world-cup-team-youve-never-heard-of/

Saudi Arabia still steering in the wrong direction

May 19, 2018

Saudi authorities detained seven women human rights defenders since 15 May 2018, say Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. “Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” HRW Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement. Among the detained women are Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi blogger, and Lujain al-Hathloul, a women right’s activist who had been arrested previously and held for 75 days for attempting to drive back into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the government is trying to silence critics, particularly those who champion women’s rights reforms.  “While it’s not clear why they were arrested, today we have seen Saudi press reports come to suggest that these women are traitors and have been arrested because they are undermining the national unity of the country,” Begum told Al Jazeera.

Amnesty International condemned the commentary of the arrests as a “chilling smear campaign” and an “extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders” in the country.

[Since 2011, nearly 30 activists and dissidents have been convicted in Saudi courts, many of whom received sentences of up to 15 years, according to HRW.]

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/175098-180519-saudis-detain-women-s-advocates-ahead-of-driving-ban-lift

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/saudi-arabia-arrests-women-rights-activists-180519075533018.html

For some of my earlier posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/

later: http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/05/24/saudi-driving-activist-released-after-crackdown-say-campaigners

Human rights defenders in Pakistan in targeted campaign of digital attacks

May 17, 2018

Activists in Pakistan are under threat from a targeted campaign of digital attacks, which has seen social media accounts hacked and computers and mobile phones infected with spyware, a four-month investigation by Amnesty International reveals.

In a report titled ‘Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan’, released on Tuesday, 15 May 2018, Amnesty reveals how attackers are using fake online identities and social media profiles to ensnare Pakistani human rights defenders online and mark them out for surveillance and cyber crime.

We uncovered an elaborate network of attackers who are using sophisticated and sinister methods to target human rights activists. Attackers use cleverly designed fake profiles to lure activists and then attack their electronic devices with spyware, exposing them to surveillance and fraud and even compromising their physical safety, Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International, said. “Our investigation shows how attackers have used fake Facebook and Google login pages to trick their victims into revealing their passwords. It is already extremely dangerous to be a human rights defender in Pakistan and it is alarming to see how attacks on their work are moving online,” he said.

https://dailytimes.com.pk/240689/investigation-uncovers-sinister-hacking-campaign-targeting-activists-in-pakistan/

https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/pakistan-human-rights-under-surveillance

 

For some of my other posts on Pakistan see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/pakistan/

2018: Latin America still the graveyard for environmental human rights defenders

April 28, 2018

This blog has on several occasions drawn attention to reports that show that Latin America is among the deadliest places to be a human rights defender [e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/06/latin-america-philippines-most-dangerous-places-for-human-rights-defenders/]. An infographic – published on 27 March 2018 by Latin America Press – summarises criminalization of land & environmental rights defenders in Latin America.

 
http://www.lapress.org/objetos/informe/48PI_criminalization-defenders-of-the-land.pdf
In 2016/17 an Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay. AI concludes that environmental leaders are under constant threat. Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/]

The report, A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay, outlined the three “ingredients” both countries use to undermine the efforts of human rights defenders. First, they delegitimize activists through smear campaigns. Second, they apply laws and regulations that allow for forced evictions. And, third, they misuse the criminal justice system to prosecute activists for unfounded reasons.

Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said in a press release.

The report included examples of how these ingredients combine on the ground. For example, Amnesty International highlighted the case of community activists working to protect their home in Peru’s Cajamarca region from the gold and copper Conga mining project. On 26 April 2013, police arrested 16 protesters on trumped up charges of abduction and coercion. The state prosecutor sought 30-year prison sentences. But the evidence presented was secondhand and so spotty and contradictory that a court dismissed the case in 2017.

In Paraguay, the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People was evicted from their ancestral lands by a court order following a dispute with local businessman German Hultz. The community was forced onto a nature reserve where they struggle to survive because hunting and fishing is not allowed. During the court proceedings leading up to the eviction, their opponents stigmatized the indigenous community by referring to them as a “gang of criminals.”

On 24 April 2018, Front Line reported that on 19 April 2018, Olivia Arévalo Lomas, a woman human rights defender and spiritual leader of the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous peoples, was killed by unknown assailants just a few feet from her home in the community of ‘Victoria Gracia’, in Peru. The defender was shot in the chest and died instantly. Her body was left on the street in full view of her local community (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/olivia-arevalo).  The killing of Olivia Arévalo Lomas comes after a spike in violence, threats and intimidation against members of FECONAU communities in Ucayalí, such as Santa Clara de Uchunya. In the past six months, several members of FECONAU have been subjects of attacks. A representative of FECONAU, Edinson Mahua, was shot at close range and narrowly escaped serious injury, while community leaders in Ucayalí have received anonymous death threats. 

In the meantime Colombia has seen a spike in assassinations of human rights defenders in 2018, according to study by Colombian NGO Somos DefensoresA total of 46 human rights leaders have been killed so far this year, up from 26 in the same period last year; paramilitary groups were responsible for three of the killings, four were murdered by guerrilla groups and another four were killed at the hands of security forces. The investigative body also recognized a total of 132 acts of aggression against public defenders so far this year. Of the registered acts, there were 12 attacks, 66 death threats and one case of forced disappearance. The provinces in which the aggression occurred were predominately in areas at the heart of the country’s conflict, with Cauca, Antioquia and Norte de Santander figuring heavily in the statistics.

The UN has said it is “extremely concerned” about the increase in violence surrounding social leaders while Inspector General Fernando Carrillo has “urged” authorities to “assume their commitments to defend the lives of social leaders.” While the government has attempted to reel in the varying armed criminal groups responsible for a lot of these acts — as seen with the 2016 peace deal with the FARC guerrilla organisation, and ongoing peace negotiations with the ELN rebel group — it has clearly failed to provide basic security, and protect human rights defenders, rural community leaders and other social activists.

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https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-activists-amnesty-international-2563882266.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/peru/recipe-criminalization-defenders-environment-territory-and-land-peru-and-paraguay

https://colombiareports.com/killing-of-human-rights-leaders-in-colombia-more-than-doubles-study/

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latin-america-infographic-summarises-criminalization-of-land-environmental-rights-defenders-in-the-region

UN Human Rights Council should strengthen impact on the ground, say NGOs

April 24, 2018

The assault on human rights in the UN is starting to hurt

April 1, 2018

Success in passing the “win-win resolution” in the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/26/chinas-win-win-resolution-gets-the-votes-in-the-un-council/], is just the visible part of a larger and more ominous assault on the human rights system as it has been built up (however incomplete and painstaking) over the last decades. Julian Borger in the Guardian of 27 March 2018 (“China and Russia accused of waging ‘war on human rights’ at UN”) describes how the two countries lobbied to cut funding for human rights monitors and for a senior post dedicated to human rights work. This all seems to fit very well with the trend started in 2016 and which I tried to describe in early 2017 in a series of posts, of which the last one was: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/.

The funding of the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva has also been cut. The current high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has announced that he will be stepping down this year and not seeking another term in the post, explaining to his staff that the lack of global support for protecting human rights made his job untenable. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Last week, Zeid was due to address the UN security council on plight of civilians in Syria but before he began, Russia called a procedural vote to stop him speaking on the grounds that the council was not the proper forum for discussing human rights. “The fifth committee has become a battleground for human rights,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, was quoted in the Guardian. “Russia and China and others have launched a war on things that have human rights in their name.”

China has real political momentum at the UN now,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said. “It is now the second biggest contributor the UN budget after the US, and is increasingly confident in its efforts to roll back UN human rights activities. It is also pushing its own agenda – with an emphasis on ‘harmony’ rather than individual rights in UN forums. And a lot of countries like what they hear.”

A western diplomat at the UN conceded that human rights were losing ground at the UN, in part because China had become a more assertive voice, prepared to lead lobbying campaigns, and because Beijing is increasingly leveraging its vast and growing investments in the developing world to win votes for its agenda at the UN.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/27/china-and-russia-accused-of-waging-war-on-human-rights-at-un

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/03/a-new-low-for-the-un-security-council-as-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-the-table/