Posts Tagged ‘annual report 2018’

Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) reports to Human Rights Council on media casualties

March 13, 2019

Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), a nongovernmental organization presented a statement on press freedom and journalist killings duringUnited Nations Human Rights Council 40th session in Geneva on 13 March 2019.

The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) documented last year the killing of 117 journalists, an increase of 17 percent in media casualties compared to the previous year. In five countries journalists paid an unacceptable toll: Afghanistan with 17 killed, Mexico also with 17 killed, Syria with 11 killed, Yemen and India, with 8 journalists killed in each of those countries. The PEC urged the Members of the Human Rights Council to fight more firmly impunity and to bring the responsible of those crimes to justice.

The PEC is also worried by the large number of arrests among journalists in the recent turmoilin Sudan, the repression of press freedom in Nicaragua and Venezuela, the statement reads. PEC expressed itsspecial concern with the continuous judicial harassment of journalists in Turkey in the statement.

PEC was one of the organizers of the panel discussion on human rights violations in Turkey, which the Turkish government mobilized its entire diplomatic corps to prevent during 40th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March. The move prompted an outcry from human rights defenders.[see: https://stockholmcf.org/erdogan-govt-fails-to-cancel-un-human-rights-council-event-on-turkey/%5D

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF (Stockholm Centre for Freedom) show that 211 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 11, 2019, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 134 were under arrest pending trial while only 77 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 167 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey. The government also closed down some 200 media outlets.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/20/european-parliament-rapporteur-on-turkey-kati-piri-it-makes-no-sense-to-continue-talks-on-eu-membership/

Gulf Center publishes 2018 survey of human rights in the Middle East

March 12, 2019

A Bahraini woman sits near portraits of jailed political activists, in the village of Sitra, 12 February 2016
A Bahraini woman sits near portraits of jailed political activists, in the village of Sitra, 12 February 2016  MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) released its seventh annual report on human rights activism in 2018, entitled Breaking Boundaries. It remembers the women and men human rights defenders imprisoned for their work across the region, particularly in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The report features a summary and case updates of 145 women and men human rights defenders across the Gulf and neighbouring countries as well as the legal and political developments relevant to human rights in these countries. Additionally, it summarises GCHR’s research, advocacy and capacity-building activities with regional and international partners. [for my earlier post on the GCHR, see:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/gulf-centre-for-human-rights/]

In this 2018 report, GCHR recognises that despite increased restrictions on civic space and aggressive prosecution of human rights defenders, the boundaries crumbling since 2011 are worth celebrating. In the act of breaking these boundaries, solidarity networks nationally, regionally, and internationally have been nurtured and strengthened. With continued activism of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society, GCHR foresees that governments’ disrespect for human rights and freedoms in the region will be increasingly overturned.

The main focus of the report is to shed light on human rights activism. While governments intensified their harassment and prosecution of journalists, human rights defenders, online activists, and civilians, through the advocacy efforts of civil society on different fronts, the defence of human rights in the region has been met with international recognition, including many international awards for human rights defenders from across the Gulf and neighbouring countries.

The spotlight on governments, especially in the Gulf, unveiled the extent to which governments reject accountability to their people and commitment to human rights internationally. To mention a few examples: Bahrain denied the entry of United Nations experts along with extending travel bans on human rights defenders so they continue to miss UN Human Rights Council sessions. In Iraq, peaceful assembly was met with tear gas and live bullets to disperse the protests, leaving dozens killed and hundreds arrested. In Iran, well-known lawyers were among those sentenced to prison for defending women’s rights to reject forced hijab. And notoriously, Saudi Arabia arbitrarily arrested over 20 men and women who defend and advocate for women’s rights, even after the Kingdom formally lifted the driving ban on women.

Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of GCHR, says: “It is hard work to support human rights defenders and ensure their safety and security. Yet a success such as having the European Parliament formally and publicly denounce human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 and again in February 2019 shows the importance of diligence, solidarity and commitment to research- and evidence-based advocacy in the pursuit of defending human rights. Not to mention the attention facing Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council this month, where 36 States, including all EU Member States, called on 7 March 2019 for the release of detained women human rights defenders, sending a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold its members accountable.

GCHR presented a number of recommendations at the end of this report to governments, and the international community. Emphasis is placed on guarantees of a legal framework grounded in respect for human rights, especially for the freedom of expression and opinion, to protect the safety of journalists, media workers and online activists whom governments across the region relentlessly harassed, targeted, or prosecuted. Other recommendations are made to ensure the safety of civilians such as in conflict-zones, as well as in countries in transition where respect for freedom of association and assembly are essential for peace and justice.
To download the full report, follow the link.

https://www.ifex.org/middle_east_north_africa/2019/03/11/human-rights-activism/

High Commissioner Bachelet presents her annual report: quite a list of problem areas

March 7, 2019

In the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, in presenting her annual report and oral update, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focused on explaining how inequalities in income, wealth, access to resources, and access to justice constituted fundamental challenges to the principles of equality, dignity and human rights for every human being. Inequalities affected all countries. Even in prosperous States, people felt excluded from the benefits of development and deprived of economic and social rights, leading to alienation, unrest and sometimes violence. To achieve the 2030 Agenda, the world’s States needed to advance on tackling inequalities – inequalities of resources, income, power, access to justice and with respect to the basic conditions for human dignity.

Inequalities were a driver of several of the global trends which were of greatest concern to the Human Rights Council and other inter-governmental bodies, the High Commissioner stressed. Involuntary and precarious migration was a case in point. She underlined that inequalities and the failure to give equal weight and respect to all human rights had the power to erode all three pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, development, and human rights. However, human rights provided hope. They bound humanity together with shared principles and a better future, in sharp contrast to the divisive, destructive forces of repression, exploitation, scapegoating, discrimination and inequalities. She then listed many specific situations:

In Sudan, for the past several months, people protesting harsh economic conditions, and bad governance, have been violently dispersed by security forces, sometimes using live ammunition…

In Zimbabwe, protests against austerity measures have also been met with unacceptable violence by security forces. The Government’s effort to launch a dialogue process in recent days is encouraging, but I am worried by reports of door-to-door raids, as well as intimidation and harassment of activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers representing those arrested.

In Haiti, protests also broke out last month over rising food prices and corruption. At least 41 people were killed and 100 injured. The government has announced measures to curb high prices, raise wages and fight corruption. Ensuring accountability – including for alleged cases of excessive use of force by police – and a constructive dialogue will also be essential.

In France, the “Gilets Jaunes” have been protesting what they see as exclusion from economic rights and participation in public affairs. We encourage the Government to continue dialogue – including follow-up to the national discussions which are currently underway – and urge full investigation of all reported cases of excessive use of force.

She then turned to:

The situation in Venezuela clearly illustrates the way violations of civil and political rights – including failure to uphold fundamental freedoms, and the independence of key institutions – can accentuate a decline of economic and social rights. ..

In the context of Nicaragua‘s very serious social and political crisis, the resumption of national dialogue could constitute a significant step to address the grave problems facing the country. These include increasing restrictions to civic space; persecution of dissenting voices; and crackdowns on press freedom, as well as austerity measures, and unemployment. ..

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the devastating impact of the occupation on economic and social rights is closely interlinked with violations of civil and political rights. …

..

I am shocked by the number of killings of human rights defenders around the world – some, reportedly, by State agents, and others, insufficiently protected by the State from attack by economic or other interests. Attacks on journalists, and media freedoms, are becoming increasingly widespread. Sound, independent information is the foundation of public participation in democratic governance. Restrictions on the civic space are being enacted by numerous States, across several regions. I remain very concerned about reprisals against victims, human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations who cooperate with the UN.

Today, allow me to voice my concern at the apparently arbitrary arrest and detention, and alleged ill-treatment or torture, of several women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. The persecution of peaceful activists would clearly contradict the spirit of the country’s proclaimed new reforms. We urge that these women be released.

In Turkey, I call on the authorities to view critical or dissenting voices – including human rights defenders, academics and journalists – as valuable contributors to social dialogue, rather than destabilizing forces. The recent prosecution of 16 civil society activists for “attempting to overthrow the government,” for their alleged roles during protests in 2013, is emblematic of many other trials lacking international due process standards.

In China, rapid development has lifted millions of people out of poverty – and yet in some areas, communities and individuals have been left behind. My Office seeks to engage on this issue with the Government for full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region…

In India, where there has also been significant poverty reduction in overall terms, inequality remains a serious issue. In addition, we are receiving reports that indicate increasing harassment and targeting of minorities – in particular Muslims and people from historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups, such as Dalits and Adivasis. It appears that narrow political agendas are driving the further marginalisation of vulnerable people. I fear that these divisive policies will not only harm many individuals, but also undermine the success of India’s economic growth story.

….The continuing movement of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States is a result of failure to ensure that development reaches everyone – with persistent violations of rights leading to profound inequalities. The comprehensive development plan being developed by Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and ECLAC is a welcome response to this challenge, very much in line with the Global Compact for Migration. In Mexico, too, the government is making efforts to move from an approach focused on detention and deportation of migrants to a new focus on protection of the rights of migrants, including opportunities for regularization, and alternatives to detention. In the United States of America, the new Migrant Protection Protocols which restrict access to asylum and other forms of human rights protection – and push migrants back across the border to wait for their proceedings without due process or safeguards– are a source of concern. A recent report by the Inspector General for the United States Department of Health and Human Services indicates that thousands more migrant children have been separated from their families than had been previously reported.

The Office has raised concerns with Australia about the imminent transfer of migrants from Manus Island and Nauru to new detention centres. Those people have been suffering for more than six years; more humane policies could, and should, be implemented….

I commend Germany‘s successful programmes to help migrants integrate into the economy and society, as well as legislation in several countries – including Finland, Portugal and Spain – which enable the entry and stay of migrants in vulnerable situations, based on human rights grounds. I am troubled about other aspects of European migration policies, particularly the number of fatalities in the Mediterranean. Another 226 deaths were recorded in the first two months of this year. With several NGO vessels forced to suspend operations by measures that essentially criminalise solidarity, the ancient responsibility of rescue at sea is increasingly falling on merchant vessels – which are often ill-suited to such a task. In addition, some governments have refused entry to ships.

..

In the Sahel, the Office has been implementing an innovative approach aimed at reducing the risk of harm to civilians during counter-terrorism operations. OHCHR is working with the G5 Sahel Joint Force operating in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to establish a Compliance Framework to guide military operations. A training programme is underway; standard operating procedures are being developed which aim to reduce civilian harm and ensure sensitivity to gender issues; and a network of legal advisors is being established within the Joint Force to ensure the operational application of international human rights and humanitarian law…I encourage Cameroon to also consider the benefits of such an approach….

In Myanmar, economic interests and activities appear to be a key factor driving both violence and displacement by the Myanmar military, together with the dehumanisation of the Rohingya, and long-term discrimination. I am concerned by the failure to take any meaningful measures towards the safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return of the Rohingya and others – in compliance with their rights to citizenship and other rights. …..

……

In Yemen, I am deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians, despite the current ceasefire. This remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The conflict has not just killed and injured thousands of civilians.

Amid these negative trends, there are some hopeful areas, in which far-sighted leadership seeks to advance civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, to ensure a convergence of positive and constructive forces.

In Ethiopia, reforms have sought to address a wide spectrum of human rights issues, including benefit to sustainable development. The depth and pace of Prime Minister Abiy’s political and economic reforms, and the appointment of women to senior positions, could open the path to a more inclusive and effective development model, providing hope for Ethiopia’s young population. My Office will continue to assist the Government to devise sound laws, mend grievances, and set up measures to prevent violence in areas of the country.

………

At this session, the Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders presents a report on the rising attacks on, and repression of, women’s human rights defenders in the context of today’s backlash against women’s human rights. It makes clear that women defenders face the same risks as men, but with additional threats shaped by a view that women should be bound to the service of a male-dominated society. Physical and sexual violence, public shaming – including on the Internet – and attacks on their families and children are among the tactics increasingly used to silence women activists.

Recently a group of 30 women leaders issued an Open Letter emphasising the “urgency and peril” of the current roll-backs to hard-won rights and freedoms. I fully share their concerns, and will continue to work against gender inequalities with all the energy and principle that I can muster.

….. Before closing today, I would like to add a few additional situations of increasing concern.

In Libya, escalating violence since the beginning of the year – in particular, hostilities in the city of Derna and in the south of the country – could spark an even more chaotic situation, given the increasingly fragmented political context and continuing lawlessness. Armed groups which fall outside of effective State command and control structures, but which are integrated into State institutions, continue to commit grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law throughout the country, in almost complete impunity. The number of civilians killed and injured in 2018, as documented by UNSMIL and OHCHR, was 40% higher than in 2017. Prevention measures should be considered a matter of urgency.

I remain concerned about the ongoing tensions in Kashmir, as shelling and firing on both sides of the Line of Control continue to contribute to loss of life and displacement. I encourage both India and Pakistan to invite my Office to monitor the situation on the ground, and to assist both States to address the human rights issues that must be part of any solution to the conflict.

In the Philippines, …..  I encourage the Philippines to adopt a public health approach, and harm reduction initiatives, that comply with human rights standards, as recommended to the 2016 General Assembly Special Session.  ……. The drug policies in place in the Philippines, and its lack of respect for rule of law and international standards, should not be considered a model by any country.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet takes her place to present her annual report before the UN Human right council members in Geneva. March 6, 2019.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet takes her place to present her annual report before the UN Human right council members in Geneva. March 6, 2019. (AFP)

Many media have picked on one more aspects of her speech. E.g. TRT World focused on:

Bachelet renewed her request to access China‘s Xinjiang region, where large numbers of the Uighur ethnic minority are reportedly being held in re-education camps. She also re-issued her requests for “full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” (A UN panel of independent experts has said there are credible reports that nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities are being held in Xinjiang, known as ‘East Turkistan’ by Uighurs who want a homeland separate from China. Beijing at first denied the allegation, but later admitted putting people into “vocational education centres”) [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/29/three-ngos-urge-you-to-nominate-ilham-tohti-for-the-rafto-prize/]

Bachelet also called on Saudi Arabia to release women activists allegedly tortured in detention after authorities accused them of harming the country’s interests. Human rights defenders have named 10 Saudi women held for their campaigning, voicing fears that they could face harsh sentences. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is preparing the trials of detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women’s rights activists, after completing its investigations, state news agency SPA said last Friday. “Today, allow me to voice my concern at the apparently arbitrary arrest and detention, and alleged ill-treatment or torture, of several women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia,” Bachelet said.

(European countries will urge Saudi Arabia on Thursday to release activists and cooperate with a UN-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the first rebuke of the kingdom at the Human Rights Council, diplomats and campaigners told Reuters.) [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/jamal-khashoggi/]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged the Philippine government to comply with international human rights standard in its brutal drug war, which she said lacks respect for the rule of law. Bachelet encouraged the Duterte administration to “adopt a public health approach, and harm reduction initiatives, that comply with human rights standards.” “The drug policies in place in the Philippines, and its lack of respect for the rule of law and international standards should not be considered a model by any country,” she said.


https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24265&LangID=E

https://www.trtworld.com/europe/un-human-rights-chief-paints-bleak-picture-in-annual-report-24708

https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1092840/un-human-rights-chief-urges-govt-to-respect-rule-of-law-in-drug-war?utm_expid=.XqNwTug2W6nwDVUSgFJXed.1

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

World Press Freedom Index 2018 is out – colorful but disheartening

January 30, 2019

The World Press Freedom Index 2018 is out.

Published every year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Press Freedom Index is an advocacy tool. The Index is a point of reference that is quoted by media throughout the world and is used by diplomats and international entities such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

The Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. (It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country or region.)

Click here for more information

THE PRESS FREEDOM MAP, which is distributed in print and digital versions, offers a visual overview of the situation in each country and region in the Index. The colour categories are assigned as follows: good (white), fairly good (yellow), problematic (orange), bad (red) and very bad (black).

 

https://rsf.org/en/ranking

2018 will go down in history as a year of shame for Iran

January 24, 2019

On 23 January 2019 RFE/RL reported that Iranian human rights defender Reza Khandan got a six-tear prison sentence. The next day Amnesty International issued a damning overview of the situation of human rights defenders in that country: Iran arrested more than 7,000 people in a sweeping crackdown against protesters and dissidents in the past year. See more below:

Rez Khandan with his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, in Tehran in 2013
Rez Khandan with his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, in Tehran in 2013

Read the rest of this entry »

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

Read the rest of this entry »

Annual Report of the Syrian Network for Human Rights in 2018

January 13, 2019

The Annual Report of the Most Prominent Work of the Syrian Network for Human Rights in 2018

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) is a non-profit non-governmental human rights organization that was founded in June 2011 in light of the systematic rise of violations of human rights in Syria. SNHR aims to support the preserving and defending of victims’ right and consequently accounting process, achieve justice and peace, raise the awareness of the Syrian people in regard to their civil and political rights, and amass efforts and capacities in the context of stopping violations of human rights in Syria. The Syrian Human Rights Network works primarily on monitoring and documenting violations in Syria, and publishes research and reports related to such violations, as well as visual evidence from its investigations, such as photos, maps, graphs and infographics, in addition to working on advocacy and mobilization to defend the rights of victims, for justice and accountability in Syria. It also contributes to progress towards achieving justice and accountability in Syria.

SNHR is a member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICR2P), a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, a founding member and a member of the executive committee of the Transitional Justice Coordination Group (TJCG), and a partner with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. Additionally, SNHR collaborates closely with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI), which was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council, and with a number of international human rights organization such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Al Karama organization, and The Syrian Campaign, In addition to a number of local Syrian organizations.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/16/the-silenced-voices-of-syria-special-campaign-aimed-at-human-rights-defenders/]

View full Report

Global Witness report 2018 on environmental defenders: bad (but 2017 was worse)

January 9, 2019

This morning I blogged about Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018 report which notes a record number of human rights defenders killed in 2018 with the majority being environmental defenders [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/]. On 24 December 2018 referring to a preliminary Global Witness report, wrote that – while the numbers were still being finalized – the death toll for this group in 2018 was slightly lower than in 2017 (“For embattled environmental defenders, a reprieve of sorts in 2018”). This is most likely due to definition issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

Front Line Defenders says record number of activists killed in 2018

January 9, 2019

In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work – the highest number ever on record – according to data collected by Front Line Defenders. More than three-quarters of these, 77% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/28/annual-reports-2017-by-front-line-defenders/]

Front Line Defenders reports that the murders of HRDs were not isolated events, but were preceded by judicial harassment, threats and physical attacks. At least 49% of those killed had previously received a specific death threat, and in an additional 43% of killings there had been general threats made to HRDs in the area. In the vast majority of cases, HRDs did not receive the necessary protection and support from state authorities from the time they reported threats to the time they were murdered.

According to the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018, in addition to the threats experienced by male colleagues, WHRDs face gendered and sexualized attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own human rights movements. Such violations include removal from public or high-ranking positions in NGOs, trade unions, and political societies; smear campaigns questioning their commitment to their families; sexual assault and rape; militarized violence; and the harassment and targeting of their children. In Saudi Arabia, authorities arrested, sexually assaulted, and tortured WHRDs who led the successful campaign for the abolition of the driving ban in 2018. Despite these attacks and the ongoing threats to stay silent, WHRDs in Saudi Arabia, as well as their family members, have publicly reported and condemned the abuses and are receiving unprecedented national, regional, and international visibility for their activism.

In addition to physical attacks and torture, the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018 highlights the continuing trend towards restrictive legislation aimed at stifling the powerful work of HRDs and WHRDs, including:

  • A Digital Security Act in Bangladesh carrying a 14-year sentence for using digital media to “cause damage to the state”;
  • Retrospective legislation in Xinjiang province, China, legalising the use of “re-education” camps for the minority Uyghur population, including HRDs;
  • Anti-terror legislation in Nicaragua widening the definition of terrorism to include those accused of damaging property, leading to dozens of arrests of protesters now facing terrorism charges and 20 years in prison.

Front Line Defenders Digital Protection Team responded to a high number of reports from Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela in 2018. According to the Global Analysis, authorities around the world frequently used phone and email surveillance to target LGBTI+ defenders, WHRDs and environmental activists in particular. The report notes that in Tanzania, Pakistan, Russia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and many countries in MENA, governments claimed that HRDs were threatening “national security” as an excuse for censoring and blocking NGO websites.

Despite the severe and sometimes life-threatening risks faced by HRDs and WHRDs, Global Analysis 2018 highlights a number of major success achieved by HRDs and WHRDs in 2018, including:

  • The critical and leading role played by HRDs in securing The Escazu Agreement, now signed by 24 states in Latin America and the Caribbean, which stipulates a participatory approach to environmental projects and the mitigation of conflicts;
  • The monumental vote for reproductive rights in Ireland, secured through the extensive, decades-long campaigning of Irish WHRDs in the face of defamation, smear campaigns, and threats;
  • The Coalition of Women Leaders for the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who successfully campaigned for a province-wide decree in Equateur protecting women’s land and forest rights.

In response to attacks against HRDs in 2018, Front Line Defenders is working with HRDs to promote their security with a range of protection programming. In addition to risk management and digital protection trainings, advocacy at the national, international, and EU level, emergency relocation, Front Line Defenders provided nearly 550 protection grants to activists at risk in 2018. Front Line Defenders also works with HRDs to devise visibility campaigns to counteract the defamation and smear campaigns that put them at risk.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018