Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

New Amnesty report: Governments failing women human rights defenders

December 1, 2019

Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women's Day 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women’s Day 2019 © Ema Anis for Amnesty International

Governments around the world are failing to protect women human rights defenders from increasing attacks, Amnesty International said on 29 November 2019, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. In a new report –Challenging power, fighting discrimination” – based on interviews with 23 activists across 21 countries, Amnesty highlights how women human rights defenders continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalised and even killed for their campaigning.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination: if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power…All over the world, women human rights defenders are speaking out against injustice, abuse and discrimination, often because they have experienced it first-hand…..They are central to human progress: they fight for human rights and against patriarchy and racism, while pushing for ground-breaking reforms on so many fronts. Governments must live up to their commitment to ensure these activists can operate freely and safely.

In recent years, campaigners working on the rights of women, LGBTI people and other marginalised groups have come under growing pressure from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups. Women campaigning on these issues tend to be the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world.

Sexual violence

The report highlights several cases in which violence, including sexual violence as a form of torture, was used against women human rights defenders to silence them. In Bahrain, Ebtisam El-Saegh, an activist with the human rights organisation SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, was sexually assaulted, badly beaten, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated while in detention in 2017. El-Saegh told Amnesty: “I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’.”

In Egypt, Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender woman human rights defender was arrested in March this year following her involvement in peaceful protests in Cairo. She faced trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.’ While in detention, she was subjected to a forced anal examination and other forms of sexual assault. Even though she was undergoing gender affirming treatment, Malak was placed in an all-male detention facility which put her at increased risk of sexual violence. She was eventually released in July this year.

Smear campaigns

Women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns which vilify their “deviant behaviour” and are designed to fuel hostility against them. After rescuing migrants from the central Mediterranean Sea in June 2019, Carola Rackete, the Italian captain of the rescue boat Sea-Watch 3, was repeatedly insulted by the Italian Minister of Interior who called her a pirate and a criminal. His slurs were followed by vicious verbal attacks by others who incited sexual violence against her while also targeting her gender and appearance.

In Mauritania, Mekfoula Brahim, a woman human rights defender who has campaigned for an end to female genital mutilation, was branded an apostate in 2016 Facebook posts after defending a blogger sentenced to death for criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. The slur exposed her to the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ACT3011392019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/governments-failing-protect-women-activists-increasing-attacks-new-report

http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/353494

Afghanistan: human rights defenders targeted but fearless

November 26, 2019

Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency must immediately release two human rights defenders it detained after they exposed alleged sexual abuse against children. Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, both well-known human rights defenders from Logar province, were arbitrarily detained by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on 21 November 2019 when they were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul.

The two human rights defenders began receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, on Facebook after they gave interviews to The Guardian and Afghanistan’s TOLO News about the existence of a paedophile ring in the area. The human rights defenders uncovered more than 100 videos of the alleged abuse. Some of the victims of abuse have been murdered, according to The Guardian. “This is the latest case where human rights defenders have been targeted by the authorities for carrying out their important work. Faced with threats from both the state and non-state actors, they are operating in some of the most hazardous conditions anywhere in the world. There is impunity for attacks on these brave defenders, who have little to no protection.”

One day before he disappeared, Musa Mahmudi told a fellow Afghan human rights defender that he feared for his safety and that the NDS was planning to arrest him. He added that he was worried that he was under surveillance. Musa Mahmudi said that he had also received death threats, accusing him of “dishonouring the people of Logar.” In August 2019, Amnesty International published a briefing entitled, Defenceless Defenders: Attacks on Afghanistan’s Human Rights Community,” where the organization detailed how the Afghan government has persistently failed to investigate attacks on human rights defenders – sometimes accusing them of ‘fabricating’ their claims, declining to offer them protection; telling them to arm themselves instead. [on 26 november: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-president-orders-probe-into-alleged-pedophile-ring/30293787.html] and then; https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-releases-activists-who-exposed-alleged-pedophile-ring/30294906.html

The same day AI continued with its series of 16 omen human rights defenders from Afghanistan16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]. Untill December 10, their stories will be published one a day.

Day two: Maria Raheen

I am the director of the Journalism and Mass Communication Unit at Balkh University. I also head a non-governmental organization that works on human rights. For 20 years, as a women’s rights activist, I have pushed to address issues that prevent women from accessing their rights, not only in Balkh but also in other neighbouring provinces such as Samangan, Jowzjan, and Faryab.

One of my achievements is the establishment of the first private university in Balkh – Taj Higher Education Institute, which offers medicine, economy and law. Similar to Kabul, Herat and Kandahar, Balkh has some developments and achievements in terms of women’s rights. However, the province is still well known for the presence of armed groups, the local mafia and warlords, who have no respect for human rights. Due to existing challenges and the weak rule of law, self-censorship is embedded in the day-to-day lives of people in Balkh.

I am no stranger to tolerating injustices, especially when it is a matter of saving my life and my family’s lives. It gets challenging especially when it involves former war commanders who are now elected representatives of the area and, who would not hesitate to exert their power to commit crimes.

I hope in future like-minded women will join hands for the women’s revolution in Afghanistan, to reclaim the rights that we are entitled to.

Day one: Khawar Amiri

I am the Head of the Literacy Department of the Directorate of Education in Khost Province and have worked for many years as a mediator for women’s issues. As most women of Khost Province are illiterate, and some districts are yet to establish schools for girls, through the Literacy Department, I have conducted courses for women and girls above the age of 14 to enable their basic reading and writing skills. As a well-known human rights defender, I have worked in solving many of women’s issues through the Committee on Elimination of Violence against Women and tribal Jirgas (councils), with help of the police.

Women in Khost are exposed to discrimination and violence. Girls’ education is till grade six, after which they are sent off to marriage or asked to stay home. Forced marriages, being sold off, physical violence, lack of access to inheritance rights are some of the issues women face on daily basis.  Women don’t work in government posts in Khost, as most of the positions are held by men. Women are discouraged from applying for government positions as their posts are given to men and justified with unlawful reasons for not being appointed.

I have intervened in many cases of women being abused, sometimes solving the case with the help of local elders and at times through direct mediation. One of my biggest successes is organizing a Master’s Degree programme for women in Khost to study in India, funded by the US Embassy. Despite being threatened and attacked, I am continuing my activism.

I hope women are independent, have security, and have equal opportunities for studies, get to live a life free from violence. 

You can send a solidarity message to all of the 16 WHRDs in Afghanistan, or any one of them, and let them know that they are not alone. Please email your thoughts in a personal message to AfghanDefenders@amnesty.org and AI will share them with the activists.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/afghanistan-release-hrds-now/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/16-days-of-activism-afghanistan-whrds/

Amnesty’s Write for Rights Campaign 2019 – launched today – focuses on youth activists

November 18, 2019

Amnesty International launched its Write for Rights campaign which this year champions children’s rights and youth activists. “This year Write for Rights, Amnesty’s flagship human rights campaign, champions youth activists who are taking on the world’s biggest crises,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “From those campaigning for climate and environmental justice, to those challenging inequality, poverty, discrimination and political repression, young people have emerged as a powerful force for change who deserve the world’s support.”

Every December people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and postcards for those whose human rights are under attack, in what has become the world’s biggest human rights event.  Amnesty International is hoping to break last year’s Write for Rights record of nearly six million messages of support for activists and individuals from 10 countries whose human rights are under attack. [for last year’s campaign see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/24/amnesty-starts-again-its-write-for-rights-campaign/]

Write for Rights 2019 features youth human rights defenders and individuals from in Belarus, Canada, China, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines and South Sudan.

Launching two days ahead of Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, a day to promote children’s rights, several of the featured activists had their rights violated as children.

They include José Adrián, who was 14 when he was brutally beaten by police on his way home from school in Mexico. He is now demanding reparations for his treatment and for the police to stop arbitrary detentions in the state of Yucatán. Among the other cases are:

  • Grassy Narrows Youth, a group of youth activists from an Indigenous community in north-western Ontario who have suffered one of Canada’s worst health crises. Their community has been devastated by 50 years of mercury contamination of their fish and river system. The Grassy Narrows youth are urging the government to address the mercury crisis once and for all, including by providing specialized health care and compensation for all;
  • Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder, two volunteer rescue workers from in Lesvos, Greece, who face up to 25 years in prison for their humanitarian work helping spot refugee boats in distress;
  • Yasaman Aryani, who defied her country’s discriminatory forced veiling laws and now must serve 10 years behind bars. Amnesty is campaigning for her immediate release;
  • Marinel Ubaldo, a youth activist from the Philippines who is urging her government to declare a climate emergency and protect future generations from the devastating impacts of climate change after her home was destroyed by typhoon Haiyan.

“The Write for Rights campaign epitomizes the ideals that Amnesty International was founded on – it’s about individuals helping other individuals. We are urging people to get behind these incredible young people who are campaigning for justice, equality and freedom,” said Kumi Naidoo.

“As we know from our work over the past five decades, writing letters works. Not only can it help free prisoners of conscience, but it makes a huge emotional difference to the people we support and to their loved ones.”

Monica Benício, the partner of Marielle Franco, a local politician in Brazil who was killed last year and was featured as part of the last Write for Rights, said of the campaign: “It helps me to get up in the morning and see some meaning, knowing that there is this big global network of affection.  All these demonstrations of love and affection are helping us to mobilize, to demand justice, to pressure for investigation and above all to fight so that there will be no more Marielles.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/write-for-rights-2019-puts-youth-activism-in-the-spotlight/

After two years, justice for 14 woman human rights defenders in Poland

October 30, 2019

It was 11 November 2017 at the Independence Day march in Warsaw. For some years now this annual event, organised to mark Poland’s independence, had been tainted by the presence of some nationalist groups advocating “Europe will be white or deserted,” displaying racist and fascist symbols, while marching holding flares and throwing firecrackers on the streets of Warsaw. In 2017, these women decided it was time to act. As they unfurled a banner reading “Fascism Stop,” their peaceful protest against hate caused fury among the marchers. Video footage shows people reacting by kicking, spitting and screaming at them. They were called “sluts,” “lefty scoundrels” and “whores.” They were pushed, jostled, grabbed by the neck and dragged onto the pavement, suffering bruises and cuts. One of the women lost consciousness after being dropped on the ground and needed medical help. The authorities initially closed the investigation into the attacks with an absurd justification. But after the women appealed in February 2019, a judge ordered the investigation into the violence to be re-opened. However, adding insult to injury, the women were themselves charged with obstructing a lawful assembly and fined. And so their battle for justice began…..

Tomasz Stepien
The women being attacked at the Independence Day march in 2017.Tomasz Stepien

One by one the women stood up, said their full names and stated proudly that they wanted to be found ‘not guilty.’ Kinga, the last of them to speak, explained bluntly and movingly what compelled her to stand against hate on that night: ‘My grandfather was wounded in the battle of ’39. My mother went to the Uprising. My stepfather was in the home army in Kielce. My grandmother worked in a hospital. They are now dead and I am happy because I would not like them to see what is happening today.’

As the judgement was announced, suddenly I heard relieved sighs around the room. I turn to my colleague asking “what did he say?” and she confirmed: “They are not guilty! They are not guilty!” The judge upheld their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and, significantly, he told the women, “You were right.” As he finished, the room burst into a round of applause in celebration.

This case started with injustice but has finished with justice, and a message that fascism and hatred will not be tolerated in Poland.

https://www.euronews.com/2019/10/29/the-day-justice-was-finally-served-in-poland-for-vindicated-anti-fascist-campaigners-view

The State of the African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

October 21, 2019

African rights bodies are frustrated at every turn by the lack of cooperation and support from African Union (AU) member states who desperately try to undermine their independence and autonomy, according to a new report published by Amnesty International. The new report, The State of African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms, found that the continent’s rights bodies are working in harsh conditions whereby their decisions are blatantly ignored and their pleas for proper funding and human resources persistently fall on deaf ears.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/11/the-ngo-forum-and-the-65th-session-of-the-african-commission-on-human-and-peoples-rights/]

Africa’s human rights bodies are being wilfully subverted. The African Union’s Executive Council must resist these efforts and take its responsibility to monitor and enforce compliance with the decisions of the human rights mechanisms seriously,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Director for Research and Advocacy.

The report offers an assessment of the performance of three of Africa’s regional human rights institutions between January 2018 and June 2019: the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission); the African Child Rights Committee; and the African Court.

It found that out of the continent’s 54 countries, five (Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia) have not submitted a single report on the human rights situation in their countries since they ratified the Africa Charter for Human and People’s Rights. Many countries that submitted their human rights reports to the African Commission during the reporting period did so after delays in excess of a decade. Gambia and Eritrea set records by submitting their reports 21 and 19 years late respectively.

In the timeframe in review, the African Commission sent 83 urgent appeals to states over concerns of human rights violations. Of these only 26 (31 percent) received a written response. The African Commission further requested 27 country visits, of which only 13 were authorized in principle, and just five materialized.

Despite facing many stubborn challenges, African human rights bodies registered a relatively impressive record in developing new norms and standards including developing a draft treaty on the rights to social protection and social security. The African Commission also published seminal studies on transitional justice and on human rights in conflicts. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court) issued 25 decisions. However, only Burkina Faso had fully complied with the court’s decisions by the end of the reporting period. Some countries, including Tanzania, partially complied, while Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Libya and Rwanda didn’t comply at all.

Both the African Commission and the African Court face a chronic backlog problem because of a slow pace in determining cases. They must urgently develop plans to speed up determinations and ensure strict adherence to time limits for parties, especially state parties,” said Netsanet Belay.

The report also highlights an onslaught on human rights defenders in Africa. Between January 2018 and June 2019, appeals for protection of HRDs accounted for 71 percent of all appeals issued to state parties by the African Commission. HRDs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Egypt were the worst hit, the Africa Commission issuing 11 and 10 urgent appeals respectively to their governments. These were closely followed by Burundi with seven urgent appeals, Cameroon and Algeria each with six, and Uganda and Sudan, each with five appeals.

It is extremely alarming that governments across Africa have singled out human rights defenders to try to silence them and bring an end to their activism through brutal attacks, harassment, unlawful arrest and detention. Attacks on human rights defenders are an attack on the rights of all the people whose freedoms they are fighting for.
Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Director for Research and Advocacy

—–

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/africa-states-frustrate-continental-rights-bodies-efforts-to-uphold-human-rights/

Remembering Andrew Blane, an Amnesty icon

October 13, 2019

Andrew with his dear friend, the Nobel prize winning Joseph Brodsky, clowning around at Morton Street where he became a longtime tenant. (Photo: Sharon Woolums)

The Villager (Sharon Woolums) writes about the memorial for Andrew Quarles Blane, who died on 6 September 2019 at the age of 90. The memorial was held on 6 October at Grace Church. A Greenwich Villager since 1965, Andrew quintessentially represented all the best of the Village then and now. Best known for his contribution to Amnesty International (AI), which he joined in 1969, Andrew was one of nine delegates to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for Amnesty in 1977.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, spoke of Andrews’ deep sense of justice, humanity and empathy leading to his contributions for the Human Rights Movement — for the release of Prisoners of Conscience, the abolition of torture and the death penalty. Andrew was elected vice chair of the International Executive Committee (IEC) by the International General Assembly from 1979-1985. Known for his patience, warmth, kindness, generosity and humor, Andrew mentored many young activists. Egeland characterized Andrew as politically liberal and a progressive, but a traditionalist in lifestyle.

Nate Schenkkan, director of Special Research at Freedom House, spoke of Andrew’s involvement at the U.N. Convention against Torture and his reaction to Abu Ghraib: “Torture to him was…an assault on their soul,” Schenkkan said. Saga Blane spoke of her father’s steadfast moral compass, his pure and incorruptible heart, and his idealism which left all who came in contact with feeling seen and valued.

Andrew spent his childhood in Guatemala. His family moved back to their home state of Kentucky, where he graduated from Centre College. In 1950, he enrolled in Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Billed as a “dynamic lay evangelist” Andrew traveled the South speaking to gatherings of students. He earned a masters degree’s in divinity at Cambridge University in 1957 and a doctorate in Russian history from Duke University.

Andrew’s comprehensive biography came out in 1993. He taught Russian history at the City University of New York until his retirement. David Hawk, former executive director of AI USA in 1974, commented, “Andrew was an enormously gentle but profound intellect and committed advocate.” Out of Morton Street came the birthplace of Amnesty’s U.N. office and the Artist for Amnesty Project. With Southern charm, Andrew opened his pull-out couch welcoming traveling asylum seekers, dissidents and friends. Andrew is survived by his wife of 36 years, Dr. Jaana Rehnstrom, their children, Eliot Blane of Manhattan, Saga Blane/Jake Jeppson of Brooklyn and grandson, Finn Blane Jeppson.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the newly-formed Andrew Blane Memorial Fund for Human Rights Defenders at andrewblane.com.

Remembering Andrew Blane, a Greenwich Villager who earned Nobel Peace Prize

Panel against impunity for abuses against human rights defenders. New York on 16 October

October 9, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 16 October 2019
1:15 pm – 2:30 pm
UN Headquarters, New York
Room CR-11

This event is organised by Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights with the kind sponsorship of the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations.

Event with panellists:

  • Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Radya Al-Mutawakel, Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, Yemen
  • Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice Myanmar, Myanmar

Moderated by:

  • Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International

Welcoming remarks by:

  • Ambassador Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway

Please RSVP by 11 October.

Download the flyer here

Signatures for human rights: AI Indonesia partners with advertising company

September 14, 2019

Human rights organisation Amnesty International Indonesia has launched a campaign to spread awareness about how a single signature can make a big contribution to ending human rights violations.

According to a press release, it has partnered Grey Indonesia to produce a series of posters that utilise the simplicity of single line illustrations to visually communicate the strength of signatures. The series highlight three human rights issues that “really matter” to Indonesia’s millennial segment – child marriage, gender-related persecution, and the suppression of freedom of expression.

We at Amnesty International have witnessed how signatures can change people’s lives all over the world. With this campaign, we are hoping that Indonesian youth will recognise its power and start to take action for human rights,” said Sadika Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia communications manager.

The posters are situated in the Amnesty International office and its immediate vicinity (Menteng, which is a popular hangout spot amongst the youth). They will also be placed near other touch points and locales familiar to Indonesian millennials, such as trains stations, art galleries and coffee shops, over the next few weeks.

Grey Indonesia ECD Patrick Miciano said: “Grey Indonesia believes in what Amnesty International stands for. It is a humbling experience to be able to collaborate with one the world’s biggest defenders of human rights.

Zimbabwe: two years Emmerson Mnangagwa have shown little difference from Mugabe

August 26, 2019

Anna Chibamu, writing in the New Zimbabwe of 26 August 2019, summarises the latest report of Amnesty International which shows that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has shown little difference with his predecessor Robert Mugabe and his near-two year reign has been replete with human rights abuses. In a statement, AI deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwanawanda said Mnangagwa’s administration, since taking charge following the removal of Mugabe and the subsequent general elections last year, has been marred by a systematic and brutal crackdown on human rights and a decline in socio-economic conditions. “What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power is a ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalised,” said the group.

Amnesty International said it has documented at least 15 killings by police when nationwide protests erupted mid-January this year and last week, 128 protesters were reportedly arrested with 400 having been convicted in the disturbances that rocked the country early this year. To date, the human rights organisation said 22 people including Evan Mawarire, a well-known local cleric and activist, and trade union leader Peter Mutasa – still face trumped-up subversion charges in connection with the protests. Some of the activists and human rights defenders were arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport in May as they returned from a capacity-building workshop on non-violent protest tactics in the Maldives [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/four-zimbabwe-human-rights-defenders-detained-at-at-the-mugabe-airport-on-their-return-from-foreign-trip/]

On 24 August the Zimbabwean made similar statements.
That not everyone agrees is obivious and in a long anti-opposition rant in the Sunday Mail of 25 August one can find gems like:
The joint statement by the EU member states and the unashamed US was as condescending as it was patronising. Stripped to its bare essentials, the August 20 statement, without an iota of evidence, accuses Government of “intimidation, harassment and physical attacks” of hooligans disguised as human rights defenders.“…
and :“..they overly concerned with the rights of those who want to demonstrate — purportedly under the guise of freedom of assembly, association and expression, or any such gobbledygook — while ignoring the rights of those still nursing sutured, serrated and weeping wounds from the recent orgies of violence? Have these Excellencies, so besotted with human rights, ever lent an ear or a measly penny to those still counting losses and smarting from the recent violence, which destroyed their businesses and sources of livelihood? Is it not Mr Government who is picking up the tab? Hypocrites! But no sooner had the ink on the statement of these meddlesome Excellencies dried than we began discovering wholesale abductions, all played out to an excitable Twitter audience. Dear reader, it all happens on Twitter.”

For the diplomatic statement see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/21/statement-by-western-diplomats-in-zimbabwe-on-human-rights-defenders/

———
https://www.newzimbabwe.com/ai-mnangagwas-horror-first-year-in-office-marked-by-repression/
https://www.thezimbabwean.co/2019/08/violence-in-zimbabwe-is-escalating/
https://www.sundaymail.co.zw/when-excellencies-grace-chitungwiza-shebeen

Amnesty International’s Global Assembly 2019 deserves more attention: big shifts coming up

August 5, 2019

This weekend Amnesty International’s 2019 Global Assembly (GA) took place on the edge of Johannesburg. In a world where all news should be equal, or a world less fixated on Busi Mkhwebane or Donald Trump, global gatherings of human rights activists ought to be headline news. Their debates and decisions should be reported; their accountability structures scrutinised. But the media was visible by its absence. This is what the Daily Maverick of 4 August 2019 wrote and its is worth reading in its totality!:

Amnesty International (AI) is probably the largest international human rights organisation in the world. It has more than eight million members and each of its 69 country sections sent three elected delegates to the GA, one of whom had to be a young person under 25. AI is worth watching because its membership is largely unpaid volunteers, people prepared to get on the streets to realise their hopes for a fairer world. Unlike many other civil society organisations it doesn’t take funding from governments or private corporations. And it’s still hungry for change. But in addition to the GA taking place in South Africa, our country lent some of its most famous sons to the deliberations. The keynote opening address was delivered by Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who movingly recalled how letters from Amnesty International sent to his mother began arriving within a month of the start of his 10-year sojourn on Robben Island. “It was an abiding lesson in global solidarity,” he told delegates, who gave him three standing ovations. He was complemented by seasoned South African activist Kumi Naidoo, who is entering his second year as AI’s secretary-general. Amid the buzz of arriving delegates, last-minute preparations and a pre-conference of its youth members, I persuaded Naidoo to surrender 45 minutes of his time for a short conversation about the challenges AI faces on making itself relevant and ready for some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Naidoo started our conversation by saying that AI understands that this is a watershed time for human rights activism. He pointed out that the movement is midway through developing a new strategy that aims to help it become “a bigger, bolder and more inclusive human rights movement”. “Bigger” because AI knows it needs numbers to have political clout – it aims to increase its membership to 25 million people in the next few years. “Bolder” because many of the methods activists have used successfully in the past have been tamed. In his address to the assembly, he warned that “Our ability to raise the political cost of human rights violations simply by exposing them and naming them is receding.” He talked of the need for widespread “civil disobedience”. This might come as a shock to many of AI’s traditional members who are more used to writing protest letters. “More inclusive”, because AI’s centre of gravity has to shift south and its demographic has to quickly encompass millions more young people and black people. These are big asks, but Naidoo argues that this is a critical moment for introspection by human rights activists. In the face of galloping climate change, rising populism and “Big Men” leaders with their fingers on weapons of mass destruction, it has to be an introspection on the run. In 2019 and the years ahead we cannot afford a demobilisation of civil society as it takes time out to think. This is because, warns Naidoo, “Humanity is at a critical point. The world in which AI was created in 1961 is now very, very different.” He talks a lot, in this regard, about the climate crisis, about how real the threat of human extinction is becoming. “The Special Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018 said we have 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions.” (The report said that to limit climate change to 1.5°C it will be necessary to reduce carbon emissions by 45% globally by 2030). As a result, Naidoo believes, Amnesty now needs “to climatise all our existing work”. Hear, hear, I thought, there’s a lesson for South African civil society there. For example, one pillar of AI’s core business has always been campaigning against the death penalty. And it has done very well. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that only 23 out of its 193 member states still carry out the death penalty. But now, Naidoo says, “Humanity is facing a mass death penalty as a result of climate change.” Bearing out the importance AI attaches to this “existential threat to civilization” AI’s 2019 Ambassador of Conscience Award has been given to Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for the Future movement. AI hopes it will be handed over by the US politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Washington during the week of the great climate strike planned for 20 September.

Yet, Naidoo says, “The core DNA of Amnesty – defending human rights defenders – will continue.” The fact that the very notion of human rights is under attack makes them all the more important to defend. Thus, “Whilst last year the United Nations marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the necessary aplomb, if the UN were to try and pass such a declaration today it would not get out of the starting blocks.”

Sadly, with the current crop of leaders like Trump, Modi, Putin, Bolsanero, Johnson we know he’s right. Once again it falls to civil society to stand up and make the case for human rights. But that can’t mean just more of the same. Civil society’s methods, tactics and strategies have to adapt. For example, although AI was formed to protect what are known as first generation rights (exposing torture and the death penalty, supporting prisoners of conscience etc), Naidoo told the conference that it is socio-economic or second generation rights that matter most to billions of people – access to food, health services, basic education or water. And these days it is most often community protests to demand the fulfilment of these rights that leads corrupt and fragile states to unleash new waves of violations on the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression or association. A recent report by Global Witness records the killing of three environmental or land activists a week in 2018. In this context the climate crisis again serves to hammer home the need for change. “If people think human beings currently treat each other badly, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Naidoo muses, echoing conclusions made in a recently published UN report on Climate Change and Human Rights. So in addition to gazing at its DNA, AI also discussed its campaign methods, and it’s here perhaps that it required the deepest introspection: “At best we are winning the battles, but losing the war.” “We have access to power, without influence.” “We have to get out of our silos.”… “The catastrophic error we made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 was to frame climate change as an environmental issue.” In fact, it’s an everything issue. Much the same can be said about many of the other fronts on which civil society wages its war for dignity. Health is an education issue. Education is a gender equality issue. Water is a dignity issue. Preventable hunger is a torture issue. Nutrition is a children’s rights issue, and so on. It’s time to rethink how we articulate rights and freedoms. At the end of 45 minutes, a polite young AI staffer ushered us out of the room. Naidoo looked tired even though the day was just beginning. We are living in what philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls “the end-times” and Kumi Naidoo is the captain of one of the few human rights movements that has to find it within itself to pull us back from the brink. And that’s why the Amnesty Global Assembly should have been in the news.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-08-04-bolder-and-more-inclusive-amnesty-international-holds-global-assembly-in-sa/