Posts Tagged ‘Alicia Wallace’

A human rights defender’s story: Alicia Wallace from the Bahamas

February 17, 2021

On 15 January 2021 The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published a long interview with Alicia Wallace, a human rights defender from the Bahamas. Here it is in full:

“I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.”

The year is 2050. What does the world look like – in particular for women, Black people, LGBTI people?

We are making strides toward equality and we are centered in all decision-making processes. We are protected and respected. It is a norm for us to be in positions of leadership. Diversity is expected. We are as safe at night as anyone is during the day. We have access to education, healthcare, food, and housing. All of our needs are met. Redistribution of wealth is in progress. Our survival is not dependent on or propping up the capitalist system. We are defining justice for ourselves. We recognise ourselves as the source of our own healing.

How did your work help achieve the vision you just described?

My work provoked conversation. It made information, from academic theory to changemaking methodologies, accessible to everyone. I created spaces where people have been comfortable to question, critique, challenge, learn, share, and create. I developed tools for all of us to be able to think outside of the reality we used to know. We knew we were not bound to it because I put significant emphasis on imagination and future-making. I found a way to fight the injustice we faced and facilitate collaborative visioning, imagining, and creating. We channeled our rage, weaponised hope (inspired by the work of artist Angelika Wallace-Whitfield), and we came together to co-create the futures. I helped to create tools and systems to enable that practice.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

I am a queer Black woman. I have student loan debt. I am unwaged. I am a survivor of violence. My life is a collection of moments that make it necessary for me to defend and promote human rights if I am to survive and leave the world better than I met it. Perhaps what prompts me to action is recognition of another important fact—I have privilege. I have had experiences I may never speak of, and I know that my circumstances could be a lot worse. It is important for me to use what I have to help us all get what we ought to have had a long time ago. For me, the defining moment happens over and over again, when I feel rage threatens to control my body, and I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to turn channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work? 

I’ve been experiencing rape and death threats for the past six years. Most of it has been online. The most troubling threats come following participation in direct action or agitation from people in positions of influence. In 2018, when I participated in the 71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, a radio personality made dangerous statements about me on the air. The same person incited the first threats of violence against me in 2014, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I made a report to the CEDAW focal point on reprisals, but the outcome was not favorable. A government representative called me to suggest I report the incident to the police, but did not offer support in doing so and could not cite an offense, according to Bahamian law, that I would be reporting. It was a ridiculous suggestion that gave me no help. The government, of course, reported its “action” to the UN, even claiming that I said I no longer felt unsafe. I told the focal point that this was untrue and that, at the very least, the government should have been instructed to publicly state its support for human rights defenders, enact hate speech and hate crime legislation, and direct the radio personality to cease and desist all reference to me and any other human rights defenders. It would have cost the UN nothing to support me and other human rights defenders by making these recommendations to the government. Instead, I am left to fend for myself in a place where I continue to live and work without protection, legal or otherwise.

On this see what was stated by Andrew Gilmour in December 2019: “The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.”[from: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/]

What could be done for you to be able to work safely and effectively?

Institutions and people in positions of power need to rebuke violence, harassment, and threats of violence. The State needs to enact legislation against hate crimes and hate speech. It needs to publicly state its support of human rights defenders, make it clear that the relationship between itself and advocates is complementary, not adversarial, and assert that it will protect us. The United Nations and other bodies in control of international mechanisms and reporting processes need to take responsibility for the safety and security of the human rights defenders it depends on to monitor and evaluate State action. These organisations need to raise the bar, calling States to higher standards. They have to make it clear to States and the general public that the safety and security of human rights defenders are a matter of priority before we are detained, disappeared, or murdered.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work? 

It has, as predicted, increased the volume of work. People, especially vulnerable people, are suffering. The pandemic has created crisis after crisis, from domestic violence and unpaid care work to unemployment and disruption of education. In anticipation of the effects of COVID-19 and State actions in response to it, Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR)—where I am a steering committee member—produced guidelines for feminist policymaking during this time. This is one of the most critical pieces of work I have contributed to this year. In addition, I have been engaged in rapid response, working on policy recommendations to end gender-based violence, and continuing the regular programming of Equality Bahamas. It has been a busy year, but one of learning and where I have been able to see and strengthen my own agility. Human rights defenders have to be able to anticipate, prepare, respond, pivot, assess, and revise at all times, and especially during the crisis. The work has intensified and been taxing, but I believe that we have learned more this year than we have in years gone by, people are more aware of inequalities, and in addition to getting more people on our team, we can get institutions to make substantive change.

You are the producer of a monthly newsletter called The Culture RUSH. How does fusing pop culture with social justice help achieve your vision?

I want people to understand the movement for justice and equality. I want to see a broader understanding of feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, and the importance of  centering vulnerable people in decision-making processes, programmes, and activities. We need more people on our team. That requires two main actions: communicating in clear, accessible ways, and meeting them where they are in order to deliver the message. Academic text, feminist theory, and the language of institutions and advocacy are not as appealing or accessible as pop culture. People know what’s going on in Cardi B’s marriage, Megan Thee Stallion’s friend group, and the lives of real housewives. If WAP gets us talking about women’s pleasure, let’s talk about  women in rap, lyrics, and music videos. In The Culture RUSH, I make connections between pop culture and social justice. In January 2021, I am starting Scorch, a paid subscription newsletter breaking feminist theory and academic text down into digestible bites (similar to Blinkist). I’m excited about making human rights and social justice accessible and interesting to wider audiences. When people are interested, they’re more likely to get invested, and when they’re invested, we can convince them to take action with us. People power is how we win.

Thank you, Alicia! 


Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, gender expert, and research consultant. She is the Director of Equality Bahamas which promotes women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as human rights through public education, community programming, and advocacy. Her work has included a two-year educational campaign ahead of a national referendum on gender and citizenship, the design and coordination of  Women’s Wednesdays—a month event series bringing women together to share knowledge and ideas—and management of a disaster relief donation and distribution center. Alicia is also a steering committee member of Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR). She has a weekly column on social and political issues in the Bahamian daily newspaper The Tribune and has published academic papers. 

Photo credits in order of appearance: Blair J. Meadows, Equality and Justice Alliance, Equality Bahamas

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-alicia-wallace-bahamas

Andrew Gilmour’s 2019 report on reprisals: it gets worse but response remains mostly rhetoric

September 23, 2019

UN Human Rights Office). The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent.  Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists. “Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us.  This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said. The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year.  It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations. “Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations. “A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.” He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations.  However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/%5D

However, the ISHR – which has followed the phenomenon much more systematically, made a more detailed and sombre assessment on 19 September: “Beyond rhetoric – States should step up efforts to prevent reprisals”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/] and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/]

It notes that during the second interactive dialogue on reprisals with the Assistant Secretary-General, only Germany and Costa Rica raised specific cases of reprisals in Egypt and Nicaragua, respectively. The Bahamas and the Maldives shared good practices. Other States condemned reprisals rhetorically, expressing particular concern about reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders and LGBTIQ defenders, as well as by Council members.

During the dialogue Germany followed up again on the case of Egyptian lawyer Ebrahim Metwally who was arrested on his way to Geneva to attend a meeting with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He was tortured and has been detained since September 2017. During the first interactive dialogue in September 2018, Germany was the only country to raise concern over an individual victim of reprisals. Costa Rica was the only other country to raise a specific situation of reprisals this year: it expressed particular concern about acts of intimidation and reprisals in Nicaragua.

The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.

The Maldives also told the Council that it is investigating the deaths of human rights defender Yameen Rashid and journalist Ahmed Rilwan to bring the perpetrators to justice; that the defamation law providing imprisonment sentences for journalists was repealed in November 2018; and that an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act is currently considered in parliament, which would guarantee that the Commission can communicate with international organizations. The Maldives agreed with the Assistant Secretary-General that the powerful impact of prevention is through a zero tolerance policy for reprisals and committed to condemn all reprisals as a matter of urgency. The Maldives admitted that that they ‘have seen it first hand and do not want to bear witness to it again!’.

In its statement during the interactive dialogue, ISHR asked the Assistant Secretary-General what steps should be taken to ensure a more comprehensive report to the Council. This came in response to notably missing cases that ISHR submitted implicating Brazil, Russia and the United States.  The Assistant Secretary-General acknowledged ISHR’s leading role in efforts to end reprisals, expressed his concern regarding the situations mentioned, but disagreed with ISHR’s statement that Secretary-General Guterres is pandering to certain States, ignoring victims’ legitimate claims and undermining efforts to protect victims from reprisals. He explained that the particular case raised by ISHR concerning remarks made by the then U.S. National Security Adviser, Mr. John R. Bolton, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo did not fall under the reporting mandate of the Secretary-General as the intimidation related to the International Criminal Court. However, ISHR recalls that the Secretary General’s 2018 reprisals report stated that ‘while recognising the independent judicial character of the International Criminal Court, the Court is regarded as a related organisation in the United Nations’ and cases related to the ICC have been included several times previously, for example:

  • The 2018 reprisals report documented that two defenders in Iraq faced reprisals after attending a preparation meeting for a conference aimed at calling on Iraq to join the Court (para 29).
  • The 2017 reprisals report included Israel in the reprisals report regarding incidents of reprisals and intimidation of defenders engaging with or promoting engagement with the International Criminal Court (para 39).

Read ISHR’s full statement at the interactive dialogue here.

UN human rights report shows rise in reprisals against activists, victims

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc42-beyond-rhetoric-states-should-step-efforts-prevent-reprisals