Posts Tagged ‘awards’

Profile of Behrouz Boochani who Just Wanted to Be Free

August 5, 2020

The New York Times Magazine of 4 august features a long, substantial and richly illustrated story by Megan K. Stack – an author and a journalist- on Behrouz Boochani the Iranian refugee rescued from Australia’s off shore camps [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/01/behrouz-boochani-gives-interview-in-new-zealand-finally-out-of-manus-island/].

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/

Here follow some long excerpts that give you a flavour of a profile worth reading in full:

Behrouz Boochani’s book, “No Friend but the Mountains,” won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 while he was still detained on Manus Island.
Behrouz Boochani’s book, “No Friend but the Mountains,” won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 while he was still detained on Manus Island.Credit…Birgit Krippner for The New York Times

He fled Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He exposed Australia’s offshore detention camps — from the inside. He survived, stateless, for seven years. What’s next?

..The cellphone was everything on Manus. Boochani and the other detainees hoarded their cigarettes for weeks to barter for phones with the detention center’s local employees. Once acquired, the phones had to be hidden from the guards, who conducted surprise dawn inspections to hunt for contraband. Boochani’s phone was confiscated twice; each time, there was no recourse but to start over again, one sacrificed smoke at a time.

The phones quickly became the only tool successful at breaking through the shroud of secrecy that Australia tried to throw over the migrants’ detention. Locked up in the disused rooms of the old naval base, the asylum seekers were called by serial numbers instead of names. Communications were tightly restricted. Under Australian law, workers who spoke publicly about what they saw or heard at the detention sites faced up to two years in prison. But official documents and accounts from survivors and whistle blowers gradually leaked out, along with accusations of sexual and physical abuse. Asylum seekers sought solace in self-harm as their mental and physical health crumbled under the strain of prolonged and uncertain detention.

Boochani wrote “No Friend but the Mountains” in Persian, sending texts of ideas and descriptive fragments to nonexistent WhatsApp numbers that he used to organize his thoughts. Once satisfied with a passage, he sent it to Moones Mansoubi, a translator in Sydney, who organized the material into chapters before sending it along to Omid Tofighian, an Iranian-Australian philosophy professor. Slowly, haltingly, Boochani and Tofighian texted back and forth about how best to translate and arrange the passages into a draft. Together they blended poetry and prose into a genre Tofighian calls “horrific surrealism.”

First-person narratives that paint historical events from the perspective of the persecuted have proven powerful and enduring. These stories are subversive; the images slip into a reader’s mind and create empathy where there was little before. They can permanently alter the way history is recorded and understood.

Boochani’s book challenges readers to acknowledge that we are living in the age of camps. The camps lie scattered throughout the Middle East, cluster on Greek islands and stretch like an ugly tattoo along the U.S.-Mexican border. Camps sprawl through Bangladesh, Chad and Colombia. People are suspended in a stateless and extralegal limbo on the tiny Pacific island nation Nauru, in Guantánamo and in the Syrian town of al-Hawl. At no time since humans first drew borders have there been more migrants and refugees than today. Countless individual lives weave into a collective panorama of displacement and statelessness and detention. These truncated journeys are a defining experience of our times.

As for Boochani, he refuses to cede the story of his hardships to third-party observers. He criticizes journalists who depict refugees as faceless victims. He bristles at perceived condescension from academics or activists who benefit from what he describes as an industry built around the plight of refugees. When Kristina Keneally, a prominent center-left senator in Australia, sent a tweet supporting Boochani, he tweeted in anger: “Such a rediclilius [sic] and unacceptable statement by Labor Party. You exiled me to Manus and you have supported this exile policy for years…

The miseries of offshore detention were meant to pressure migrants to abandon their asylum claims so they could legally be sent back whence they came and — more crucial — to create a spectacle so chilling that “boat people” would stop coming to Australia altogether. That was the first and last point of this byzantine enterprise.

…After six months of misery and unanswered questions, immigration officials appeared at the camp and warned asylum seekers that they would be stuck in Manus for a long time yet. Enraged detainees rioted that night, lunging at the guards and hurling chairs. Local police and Manus residents rushed into the compound to quell the unrest. Dozens of detainees were injured, some suffering broken bones and severe lacerations. One man lost an eye; another’s throat was slashed, reportedly by a guard. Barati, Boochani’s close friend, was viciously attacked by a group that included an employee of the Salvation Army, which had a $50 million contract from the Australian government to provide counseling to the asylum seekers. The assailants killed Barati by dropping a heavy rock onto his head. He was the first detainee to die on Manus.

In 2019, most of the asylum seekers were moved to motels in Port Moresby because, it seemed, nobody knew what else to do with them.

The first time I saw Boochani, he was still being detained on Manus Island. It was a chilly, wind-scraped morning in 2019. Boochani was discussing his book via video link at the annual writers festival in Byron Bay, Australia. When his face flickered onto the screen, the overflowing crowd that jammed the seaside auditorium gasped and burst into applause. Boochani looked haggard and detached; dangling hair framed his craggy features. “Oh, God,” said a woman near me. “He looks so alone.”…

Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, frequently says the asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea include men “of bad character” — “Labour’s mess” that he has been forced to “clean up.” Pauline Hanson, a right-wing populist senator, called the men “rapists” on the floor of Parliament this past winter. “These people are thugs,” she said. “They don’t belong here in Australia.”..

All told, Australia has locked up thousands of desperate people, including children, in de facto prisons on Manus and Nauru. The detentions have been harsh but effective, officials say: The flow of boats slowed and eventually stopped. Asylum seekers are still stuck on Nauru; until last year, they included children. The Australian government recently spent about $130 million to reopen the detention center on Christmas Island — despite the lack of new arrivals to lock up. In other words, the policy is still unapologetically intact, ready and waiting for any boats that make it to Australian waters.

It was a brilliant January day in Christchurch, New Zealand. Screeching gulls wheeled in off the Pacific; swollen roses bobbed in the breeze. In the hydrangea-fringed garden of a spare, tidy house, Boochani sat smoking. He couldn’t smoke inside because the house wasn’t exactly his; it was on loan from the University of Canterbury. Boochani’s neighborhood looked as if Beatrix Potter had painted it in watercolors: prim, ivy-laced cottages and tidy beds of hollyhocks and lavender. It was nice, Boochani conceded. Too nice, sometimes. “It’s too much, you know?” he said. “It’s too much peace and too much beauty. It’s hard to deal with this. It’s like you go from a very cold place to a very hot place.”

During these early and disorienting weeks, Boochani got word that it was finally time to begin the final steps to resettle in the United States. He’d been awaiting this news for months, but when his chance came, he backed out. Reports of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, immigration crackdowns and political tumult had eroded his eagerness. “I don’t feel safe in America now,” he said simply. “I don’t mean that someone would kill me. But I don’t trust the American system. It’s like chaos there now.”

Instead, Boochani took a bold gamble: He applied for asylum in New Zealand. He accepted a fellowship with the university’s Ngai Tahu Research Center, which specializes in Maori and Indigenous studies — a nod to his Kurdish identity — although the post would remain a secret while his application to stay in New Zealand was pending. Neither his whereabouts nor his plans were public knowledge. Conservative politicians in both New Zealand and Australia were calling for Boochani to be turned out. What would he do then, where would he go? He shrugged; he didn’t answer; instead, he began to roll another cigarette. ..

..This is the complication and the delicacy of Boochani: His most famous work was derived from the considerable suffering he endured at the hands of the state. He is proud, even cocky at times. And yet this pride must wrestle with the dehumanization he has endured. His existence was controlled by a hostile bureaucracy for years; now his days were arranged by benevolent well-wishers.

Then, on July 23, Boochani’s birthday, he finally got word from his lawyer: His application had been accepted. Boochani could stay in New Zealand. He was free. On the phone, he let out a wild and incredulous laugh. Of course! When else? It had been his birthday, too, the day he was lifted from the sea and taken into Australian custody. Hearing him laugh like that, I remembered one of his stories: When he was born, his parents asked a visiting cousin who knew how to read to choose a name for the baby. The cousin opened a book and poked his finger onto the page at random, striking the word “Behrouz” — Farsi for “fortunate.” Literally, “good day.”

Boochani rode his bike from his house to the sea. He looked at the expanse of ocean, these waters that had almost killed him, the sea he suspected of absconding with years of his life, the waves that crashed now on the mineral grains of this new land he called home. He looked at the ocean, at all of that past and all of that future, the churn of time and destiny, and he smoked a cigarette. Just one cigarette. One cigarette and the sea in his eyes. And then he rode home again.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/magazine/behrouz-boochani-australia.html?referringSource=articleShare

Mandela Prize 2020 awarded to Greek and Guinean humanitarians

July 22, 2020

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UN Photo/Ariana LindquistUnveiling Ceremony of Nelson Mandela Statue from South Africa 17 July 2020

The 2020 Nelson Mandela Prize {SEE: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/nelson-mandela-prize-un] is awarded every five years and recognizes those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity, will go to Marianna Vardinoyannis, of Greece, and Doctor Morissana Kouyaté, of Guinea, it was announced on Friday.

United Nations Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, female laureate of the 2020 United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.

The President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, made the announcement, and will recognize the laureates during a virtual ceremony on 20 July, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. An in-person award ceremony will take place at a later date, at UN Headquarters in New York.

Ms. Vardinoyannis is the founder and president of two foundations dedicated to children: the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” and “ELPIDA Friends’ Association of Children with cancer.”

She has been involved in the fight against child cancer for some 30 years and, thanks to her work, thousands of children have been cured. Notably, the ELPIDA association was instrumental in setting up the first bone marrow transplant unit in Greece, in 1999, and the country’s first oncology hospital for children, in 2010.

Her foundation also supports programmes for the medical care of refugee children and other vulnerable social groups, human rights education, programmes, and the fight against human trafficking. Ms. Vardinoyannis has been a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador since 1999.

United Nations Morissanda Kouyate, male laureate of the 2020 United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.

As Executive Director of the Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices (IAC), Dr. Kouyaté is a leading figure in efforts to end violence against women in Africa, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He has received several international humanitarian awards for his work.

Dr. Kouyaté created IAC in 1984 in Dakar, Senegal, at a time when FGM was a highly controversial and sensitive issue for discussion. The organization aims, through education, to change attitudes towards the practice, and allow all African women and children to fully enjoy their human rights, free from the consequences of FGM, and other harmful practices. 

It is a partner organization with the UN reproductive rights agency (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and UN childrens’ agency (UNICEF).

“I am pleased to join you to celebrate the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela – one of the greatest leaders of our time, a moral giant whose legacy continues to guide us today”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message to the virtual General Assembly commemoration.

Quoting Madiba Mr. Guterres said: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”.

Maintaining that “inequality damages everyone”, the UN chief said it was “a brake on human development and opportunities”.

“The answer lies in a New Social Contract, to ensure economic and social justice and respect for human rights”, stressed the UN chief.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1068721

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1068571

In memoriam Santiago Manuin, defender of Peru’s Amazon forest

July 3, 2020

Neil Giardino for ABC News reports on the passing of Santiago Manuin, one of the most celebrated defenders of Peru’s Amazon rainforest and the leader of the Awajún tribe, whose vast and besieged territory spans the country’s mountainous northern region along the Ecuador border. He died on Wednesday of COVID-19 at the age of 63.

Manuin devoted his life to defending his tribe and their ancestral land, which in recent decades had endured illegal gold mining and logging, persistent threats linked to narco-trafficking and state-sanctioned oil and gas operations….

In 2009, Manuin nearly died defending Awajún territory after he was shot eight times by Peruvian security forces. The incident, referred to as “the Bagua Massacre,” occurred when police fired on thousands of Awajún and Wampis tribespeople who were blocking a jungle highway to protest a U.S.-Peru trade agreement that would’ve opened up land in the Amazon for gas, oil and lumber extraction. More than 30, both officers and natives, died in the clash.

For the Westerner, the Indigenous person is an impediment to development because we refuse to destroy the land. That’s why they label us anti-development,” he said. “Indigenous peoples are not anti-development. We protect the forest and live for the forest. Our spirituality is tied to it. We don’t need to go to the largest churches to pray. We pray within this natural world. We live in this plenitude.”..

In 1994, Manuin won the international Reina Sofia Prize for his defense of the Amazon, and in 2014 he was awarded Peru’s National Prize for Human Rights for a life lived in service of Indigenous peoples and the rainforest..

https://www.weisradio.com/santiago-manuin-tireless-defender-of-the-amazon-rainforest-succumbs-to-covid-19/

Hull and Oxford University honour UN Special Rapporteur Professor Subedi

April 24, 2020

The University of Hull in the UK has awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD), honoris causa, to Professor Surya P. Subedi, QC, OBE, DCL in recognition of his accomplishments in the field of international law and human rights, the university said in a press statement. Professor Subedi had obtained an LLM with Distinction and a prize for best LLM student of the year in 1988 at Hull. Commenting on the award of such a high accolade by Hull, he said he was honored by the recognition of his accomplishments by his alma mater.

The 62-year-old professor was graduated from the Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Upon completion of his LLM, Professor Subedi won an FCO scholarship to study for a DPhil (PhD) in Law at the University of Oxford and obtained his degree with a prize in 1993. Last year, Oxford awarded him the highest degree – the Doctor of Civil Law in recognition of his contribution to international law and human rights.

This year the University of Oxford has established two awards in the name of Professor Surya Prasad SubediThe first prize named Dr Surya Subedi Award in Human Rights Law will be given to the outstanding performer in the Human Rights Law (Bachelor’s degree) and the second award named the Dr Surya Subedi Award for the D Phil in Law will be given for the doctoral thesis adjudged the best in the Faculty of Law. Prof Subedi expressed his happiness over the establishment of two awards by one of the world’s distinguished universities in his recognition. .

https://www.nepal24hours.com/oxford-university-establishes-two-awards-in-honour-of-prof-subedi/

https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/hull-university-awards-doctor-of-laws-to-uk-based-nepali-professor-subedi/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surya_Subedi

Viasna, Belarusian human rights defenders group, wins OSCE’s 2020 Democracy Defender Award

March 24, 2020

 

Belarussian Human Rights CentreViasna (‘Spring’) has received the 2020 Democracy Defender Award of the OSCE. The award honours a person or group for exceptional contributions to the promotion of democracy and the defense of human rights in the spirit of Helsinki Final Act principles and other OSCE commitments. It was established in 2016 to recognize the contribution civil society makes to defending and promoting democracy. Earlier, the award was received by the Russian movement “Golos”, the Serbian non-governmental organization CRTA, and the Ukrainian activist Oleksandra Matviychuk. “Human Rights Centre Viasna receives the award this year for its mission of defending human rights in Belarus and building a just, free and democratic society for all its citizens,” the OSCE statement reads.

According to Viasna Chairman Ales Bialiatski [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/22/good-news-ales-bialiatski-belarus-best-known-human-rights-defender-freed-from-prison/], the award is a clear signal to the Belarusian authorities as an incentive to serious reforms in the field of human rights and a substantial improvement of the situation with the rights and freedoms of Belarusian citizens. “..The repressions against the Belarusian human rights defenders will not stop our work in support of democracy and human rights in our country. We are grateful to the OSCE member countries that nominated HRC Viasna. We believe that the courageous and persistent efforts by human rights defenders in the OSCE region, in spite of the obstacles, will help make our world a better place,” he stressed.

Active from 1996, the organisation was founded on the principle of respect for human rights, and its main goal is to contribute to the development of civil society in Belarus. HRC Viasna conducts research on the state of civil society and rule of law in Belarus, with the aim of improving implementation of human rights obligations and commitments, the OSCE notes.

http://spring96.org/en/news/96213

Viasna as Democracy Defender: Belarusian human rights watchdog wins OSCE award

2020 International Women of Courage Awards by the U.S. State Department

March 4, 2020

Today, Wednesday 4 March 2020, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo hosts the Annual International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State to honor 12 women from around the world.  The First Lady of the United States Melania Trump will deliver remarks to recognize the accomplishments of these women. For more on this and 7 other international awards that have word COURAGE in their name, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

The 2020 announcement comes remarkably quickly on the heels of last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/usas-international-women-of-courage-awards-for-2019/

This year will bring the total to 146 awardees from 77 countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials. Following the IWOC ceremony, the 12 awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visiting various cities throughout the country, before reconvening in Los Angeles for the conclusion of their program on March 16. The 2020 awardees are:

Zarifa Ghafari (Afghanistan) After successfully launching and operating a women-focused radio station, Afghanistan’s Zarifa Ghafari became mayor of Maidan Shar, in conservative Wardak province, at the age of 26.  When she showed up to start work, a male mob appeared and she was forced to flee.  Despite death threats, Ms. Ghafari came back, defying her conservative critics and their narrative that a woman is unfit to lead.  She then withstood a walkout by all of the male members of her office.  She later demonstrated ability and courage in tackling her town’s problems.  Despite fierce opposition from vested interests, she successfully launched a “Clean City, Green City” campaign that reduced littering.  Ghafari’s courage has inspired girls and women not only in her community and the wider province, but across the country.  In her capacity as a trail-blazer and door-opener for a new generation of young women, she has helped empower the women of Afghanistan.

Lucy Kocharyan (Armenia) Using her platform as a journalist, Kocharyan has championed children with mental health issues and has emerged as a leading voice in the fight against psychological, physical, and domestic violence against women and children.  Through her dedication and resolve, Kocharyan became famous for launching “Voices of Violence” in August 2018.  She has become a spokesperson on gender-based violence in Armenia and has continued to speak out despite harsh criticism – from people on the street who yell “shame” as she passes by, to parliamentarians speaking out against her and threatening her with lawsuits.  She successfully started a conversation about domestic and sexual violence that is slowly leading to some action. Gender-based violence is a pervasive problem throughout Armenia, where traditional social norms regarding masculinity, femininity, gender equality, and the division of household tasks remain rigid, making her achievements and impact all the more impressive.

Shahla Humbatova (Azerbaijan) Shahla Humbatova has worked as a defense lawyer in Azerbaijan since 2013, and is one of a handful of legal advocates who have been consistently willing to defend individuals facing punishment for exercising their fundamental freedoms.  She has bravely defended human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, youth activists, members of the political opposition, and others.  Her example has inspired other lawyers to better advocate for their clients in politically sensitive cases, and her courage in representing LGBT clients in a conservative culture has pushed civil society further down the path to tolerance.  She is one of only two female lawyers to take these cases on in a difficult environment in which human rights lawyers have regularly been harassed and threatened in social media, suspended from practicing law, and disbarred. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/annual-reports-2019-azerbaijan-in-review-muted-hope-for-2020/]

Ximena Galarza (Bolivia) Ximena Galarza is a Bolivian journalist with over 25 years of experience. She has worked as a reporter, a television presenter, and news editor on some of Bolivia’s most important news channels including Red UNO, Cadena A, and TVU. Across her extensive career, Galarza has interviewed hundreds of politicians, academics, intellectuals, artists, and experts. She has also trained journalists to better inform the public of their rights and obligations. Galarza’s work has supported democracy in Bolivia and exposed corruption and violations of democratic freedoms. Since 2015, Galarza has hosted the program Jaque Mate (Check Mate) on TVU, one of Bolivia’s most prestigious news programs. In 2019, two of Galarza’s interviews impacted Bolivia’s history by demonstrating fraud in the October 20 presidential elections.  The electoral irregularities were later confirmed by an independent analysis from the Organization of American States.

Claire Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) Claire Ouedraogo is the President of the Songmanegre Association for Women’s Development (Association féminine songmanegre pour le développement), an organization she founded that focuses on eliminating female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and promoting female empowerment through family planning education, vocational training, and micro-credit for women in the rural and underserved Center North region of Burkina Faso. She also serves as a senior advisor on the National Council to Combat Female Genital Mutilation. She is an active member of the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights. In 2016, the prime minister of Burkina Faso nominated her as an Ambassador of Peace for her work in empowering rural women. Despite the increased threat of terrorist attacks and violent acts against civilians in Bam Province, Mrs. Ouedraogo continues her courageous work on behalf of vulnerable women threatened both by FGM/C and terrorism.

Sayragul Sauytbay (China) Sayragul Sauytbay was born in Ele Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China.  She attended medical university and worked as a doctor, teacher, education director, and headmaster. In July 2016, Sayragul and her family attempted to move to Kazakhstan but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) confiscated her passport and prevented her from going with her husband and children.  From November 2017 to March 2018, Sayragul was forced by the CCP to teach Chinese to ethnic minority people in a detention camp.  In March 2018, Sauytbay fled to Kazakhstan to avoid being sent back to the camps, where she feared she would die.  Subsequently, Sauytbay become one of the first victims in the world to speak publicly about the CCP’s repressive campaign against Muslims, igniting a movement against these abuses.  Her testimony was among the first evidence that reached the broader international community of the CCP’s repressive policy, including both the camps and the coercive methods used against Muslim minorities.  Sayragul and her family received asylum in Sweden, where they now live.

Susanna Liew (Malaysia) Following the February 2017 abduction of her husband, Christian pastor Raymond Koh, allegedly by state agents, Susanna Liew has fought on behalf of members of religious minorities who disappeared in Malaysia under similar circumstances—including Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy, and Ruth Sitepu—or who face persecution for their beliefs.  Susanna actively pursued justice for her husband and others during the Malaysian Human Rights Commission’s (SUHAKAM) 2018-2019 public inquiry into enforced disappearances and continues to push the government to investigate these cases and prosecute those responsible.  Despite police harassment and death threats, she continues to advocate for her husband and others, not because of her faith or theirs, but because of their rights as Malaysians.  Susanna and Raymond founded Hope Community in 2004, a non-profit organization that works with the poor, needy, and marginalized.  She previously served as a school principal and educator.

Amaya Coppens (Nicaragua) Coppens is one of the leaders of the 19th of April Student Movement in Nicaragua. She participated in numerous protests against the Sandinista government and the violent, repressive tactics deployed by its security forces. In September 2018, she was abducted by Nicaraguan police from her residence after participating in a peaceful protest. She was released in June and continued to speak out against the regime in Nicaragua. She had the opportunity to repatriate to Belgium during her first captivity, but refused. On November 14, Coppens was imprisoned again when she and 12 other activists attempted to bring water to mothers of political prisoners on hunger strike. She and other political prisoners were released by the regime on December 30, 2019.

Jalila Haider (Pakistan) Known as the Iron Lady of Balochistan, Jalila Haider is a human rights attorney and founder of “We the Humans – Pakistan”, a non-profit organization to lift local communities by strengthening opportunities for vulnerable women and children. She specializes in defending women’s rights and provides free counseling and legal services to poverty-affected women. The first female attorney of her Hazara community, Haider led a peaceful hunger strike to recognize the right to life for the Hazara following a series of targeted attacks. Ms. Haider has taken up the cause of many other vulnerable communities. As Balochistan’s President of the Women Democratic Front and Balochistan’s branch of the Aurat (Woman’s) March, she fought against violence against women in public spaces, at work, and at home.

Amina Khoulani (Syria) Khoulani is a survivor of the Assad regime’s detention and torture centers, which have arbitrarily detained over 140,000 Syrians, and has dedicated her life to helping the families of forcibly disappeared Syrians.   A long-time civil society activist, she fled Syria in 2014 after her release from prison. She was imprisoned for six months for “peaceful activism” and her husband detained for two and a half years at the notorious Sadnaya Prison. They survived, but her three brothers died while in regime custody.  From this devastating experience, Khoulani rededicated her life to seeking information and justice for the families of the disappeared. She is a founding member of “Families for Freedom”, a women-led movement launched in 2017 by families who’s loved ones have been detained and disappeared in Syria. Forced from her home and country, living under constant threat as a refugee without government representation, she continues to advocate for human rights, democracy, and peace in Syria.

Yasmin al Qadhi (Yemen) After obtaining her journalism degree, Yasmin Al-Qadhi was one of the first women to write articles for local newspapers during the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests in Sanaa’a.  When the civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015, Yasmine and her sister Entisar established the Marib Girls Foundation.  Through the foundation, she works with senior army officials to combat child recruitment and obtained the military’s commitment to release any child recruited or detained.  She fostered support for women displaced by the conflict by coordinating with the local and international community.  She also raised awareness by co-producing a film about the negative effects of displacement on women and children. Yasmine still resides in Yemen, a tribal society where women are discouraged from working in public spaces. She is working to change social norms and has become a role model in her society.  Both at home and abroad, she encourages women’s empowerment and meaningful participation in civil society and the UN-led peace process.

Dr. Rita Nyampinga (Zimbabwe) Rita Nyampinga has been a human rights defender for more than 35 years, fighting for gender equality in the workplace since she joined a trade union in 1983.  She is also a trained mediator, and a mentor for girls and young women in leadership.  Her experiences during detention led her to form the Female Prisoners Support Trust to support women and children in detention and raise awareness of the appalling conditions they face. Dr. Nyampinga continues to serve on several boards including Women Coalition of Zimbabwe, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Women Academy on Political Leadership Excellence, and Women AIDS Support Network.  Her goal is to see a world that protects and respects the rights of prisoners through a just and fair legal system that is nondiscriminatory based on gender.  In 2010 she became the Social and Economic Justice Ambassador for Zimbabwe’s Coalition on Debt and Development.  Dr. Nyampinga won the Female Human Rights Activist of the Year in 2014 from Alpha Media House.

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2020 International Women of Courage Award Recipients Announced

In memoriam Thich Quang Do, dissident monk in Vietnam

February 25, 2020

AFP reported on 23 February 2020 that Thich Quang Do, a dissident Buddhist monk who has effectively been under house arrest since 2003 has died at the age of 93. Head of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the vocal patriarch was born in 1928 in Thai Binh province and spent most of his life advocating for religious freedom and human rights in communist-run Vietnam. His staunch activism landed him under what was effectively house arrest in 2003 in Ho Chi Minh City, where he was under constant surveillance. Do died on Saturday night 22 February at Tu Hieu pagoda, UBCV announced on Sunday morning. According to his will signed on April 2019, Do requested a “simple funeral, not more than three days.” “After the cremation, my ashes will be scattered at sea,” said the statement quoting his will.

Do has long been a thorn on the side for communist-run Vietnam, and he has been nominated multiple times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his vocal advocacy for democracy. In 2001, he wrote an “Appeal for Democracy” and also called on northern and southern dissidents to drop their cultural differences and unite in 2005. He received Norway’s Rafto human rights award the following year for “his personal courage and perseverance through three decades of peaceful opposition against the communist regime in Vietnam.” He also won a Hellmann/Hammett grant in 2001 and the Homo Homini award in 2002.

The UBVC has been banned since the early 1980s, when it refused to join the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/02/23/asia-pacific/vietnamese-dissident-monk-nobel-dies/#.XlUxREPgpTY

German opera comes to its senses and rescinds award ceremony for General Sisi

February 5, 2020

The Semper Opera House in Dresden, Germany (AFP
The Middle East Eye correspondent reported on 4 February 2020 that an annual awards ceremony at the Semper Opera House in Germany’s Dresden has been cancelled after the decision to grant Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi a presitigious prize created a public relations crisis.

Sisi, the general-turned-president who is a chief architect of serious human rights violations [for just a few examples, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/], was set to receive the Order of St George at the Semper Opera Ball on Friday. It is awarded to “those who have, like St. George, been a force for good in the world, despite all opposition – those who swim against the current.

Though the Semper Opera Ball will go ahead, hosting 2,500 guests, its PR agency Zastrow + Zastrow told Middle East Eye that the award ceremony traditionally accompanying it has been scrapped. Sisi, however, has already been handed the prize. A delegation from the Opera Ball Association, led by its director Hans-Joachim Frey, visited Cairo on 26 January and presented the award to Sisi at the presidential palace. News about the award quickly sparked a backlash against the event and its organisers.

At the time, Frey defended the award as a token of appreciation for what he described as Sisi’s role in restoring stability and peace to Egypt and Africa. But that characterisation has been denounced by human rights defenders. On Tuesday, Vanessa Ullrich, an expert at Amnesty International Germany, told MEE that those granting Sisi an award have a “responsibility to carefully consider who is the right person to honour in public and who is being called an outstanding bridge-builder and peacemaker”.

MDR, the main broadcaster of the event, condemned the award as “wrong”, saying the media organisation had no influence on the decision. The network’s entertainment chief, Peter Dreckmann, promised his team would not broadcast any part of the event that features Sisi’s award.

Multiple celebrities who had been invited to the ball have also distanced themselves from the event, in the aftermath of what German media described as a “scandal”. The latest were German billionaire Dietmar Hopp and former Bayern FC president Uli Hoeness.

Hopp, who was due to be awarded the same medal as Sisi, said on Tuesday he has turned down the award. Hoeness, who had been chosen to present the award to Hopp, has also followed suit, according to the German press agency DPA. The gala’s main host, prominent TV anchor Judith Rakers, announced on Wednesday she was pulling out altogether, complaining the Semper Opera Ball had been turned into a political event. Following Rakers’ withdrawal, her nominated replacement Mareile Hoppner also announced her rejection of the role. She cited the “very justified criticism of the selection of a prize winner”.

In response to the outcry, Frey apologised for the award. “We are aware of the irritation that has arisen and we sincerely regret it,” he said in a statement. “We would like to apologise for the award ceremony and distance ourselves from it. The award ceremony was a mistake.” Frey also said the award will not be part of the Semper Opera Ball programme, “in word or picture”.

Despite Frey’s apology, public figures have continued to pull out of the event. Dresden’s mayor was among those who denounced the honour.  “It is inconceivable for me how this honour has come about and which criteria were followed,” Mayor Dirk Hilbert said. “I am reserving the right to decide whether I will appear officially in the programme as I have done before, and whether I will take part in the ball with my guests.

Still, It was not immediately clear whether the award will be reversed. Sisi is not attending the gala.

[ The Award Committee seems to have problems in slecting winners anyway: In 2009, the Order of St George was controversially awarded to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three years ago it was handed to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman].

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/german-opera-crisis-over-sisi-award

Malala Yousafzai, a lot more awards than the UN thinks

January 13, 2020

On 27 Pakistani human rights defender Malala Yousafzai has been declared as “the most famous teenager in the world” by the United Nations in the ‘Decade in Review‘ report of the UN. In recognition of her efforts for children’s rights which started before she was shot in the head by Taliban militants, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. According to the UN review reportThe attack made waves around the world and was widely condemned. On Human Rights Day that year, a special tribute to Malala was held at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, pushing for action to ensure every girl’s right to go to school, and to advance girls’ education as an urgent priority,”.

Malala’s activism and profile have only grown since the assassination attempt. She won several high-profile awards, including the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (alongside Indian social reformer Kailash Satyarthi), and became a UN Messenger of Peace in 2017, with a special focus on girls’ education,” the report added. Recently the 22-year-old was also chosen by Teen Vogue as its cover person for its last issue of the decade.

Just to make sure the record is correct, Malala has in fact received at least the following 10 awards:

2013   Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards

2013   Index on Censorship Awards

2013   Simone de Beauvoir Prize

2013   Tipperary Peace Prize

2013   Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

2013   Ambassador of Conscience Award

2013   Anna Politkovskaya Award

2014   Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award

2014   Nobel Peace Prize

2014   Liberty Medal

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/12/1053481

 

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai declared as “the most famous teenager in the world”: UN

Al-Haq named 2019 recipient of Human Rights and Business Award

November 27, 2019

On 26 November 2019 in Geneva, at the annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Human Rights and Business Award Foundation named Al-Haq as recipient of the 2019 Human Rights and Business Award.  An independent Palestinian organization based in Ramallah (West Bank), Al-Haq “Law in the Service of Man” was founded in 1979 “to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.  Al-Haq documents and monitors violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Occupied Palestinian Territory and works to stop violations against Palestinians whether by Israel, by the Palestinian Authority, or by others including companies.

For more on the award, started in 2018, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/human-rights-and-business-award

In recent years Al-Haq has done ground-breaking work drawing attention to how certain companies operating in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including firms doing business with or in Israeli settlements, are involved in human rights abuses and breaches of international humanitarian law, notably the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Board members of the Human Rights and Business Award Foundation – Christopher Avery, Regan Ralph and Valeria Scorza – said in a joint statement today: “Al-Haq does exceptional work in difficult circumstances, using international law as the basis of its research and advocacy.  It is encouraging that an increasing number of human rights defenders in the Middle East are giving attention to the behavior of companies – Al-Haq is a recognized leader in this development.”

The foundation’s Advisory Network members who nominated Al-Haq for the award praised the organization for:

  • its professionalism, meticulous research and resolute advocacy;
  • its wide network of field researchers in communities across Occupied Palestinian Territory who closely monitor business activities and their impact on people;
  • its contributions to the treaty on business and human rights being drafted at the UN; and
  • its capacity-building activities – helping other NGOs in the Middle East develop their work on human rights concerns relating to business.

Al-Haq has previously received awards for its work, including:

1989   Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize

1990   Reebok Human Rights Award

2009   Geuzenpenning

2011   PL Foundation Prize (Poul Lauritzen Award)

2018   Prix des droits de l’homme de la Republique Francaise

Al-Haq and its staff have been targeted for their human rights work.  The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders [Observatory] has repeatedly raised concerns about attacks and threats against Al-Haq, including multiple death threats against Al-Haq’s General Director Shawan Jabarin and against its representative before the International Criminal Court.  In July 2019 the Observatory issued an urgent appeal after 4IL – the official site of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs – published an article accusing Shawan Jabarin of “terrorism”, which led to death threats against him on its public platforms.  “4IL platform’s online visitors launched into an incitement to violence and hate speech against Al-Haq, including calling for Mr. Shawan Jabarin’s killing.  These comments were not filtered nor regulated by 4IL moderators.”  The Observatory has also called attention to cyber-attacks against Al-Haq; the hacking of Al-Haq staff e-mail, land-line phones and mobile phones; and a smear campaign sending to Al-Haq’s European donors false allegations against the organization, allegations purported to have been from Ernst & Young and an alleged official of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – the firm and the PA confirmed that these allegations were false and unfounded.  It should be noted that Shawan Jabarin was banned from international travel by Israel between 2006 and 2012. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2011/11/30/israel-refuses-to-let-hrd-shawan-jabarin-travel-to-receive-award-in-denmark/]

Al-Haq’s research and advocacy on concerns about business involvement in abuses of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law, listed on its website particularly in this section, has included:

  • Al-Haq has called on companies to pull out of the Jerusalem Light Rail project insofar as it runs through Occupied Palestinian Territory, connects Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land, fragments Palestinian land, and restricts free movement of Palestinians. For example, see Al-Haq’s Feb 2019 and May 2019 statements about Canadian company Bombardier.  Companies that withdrew from bidding for the Light Rail project include Bombardier, French firms Alstom and Systra, German firm Siemens, and Australian firm Macquarie.  In 2012, the UN Human Rights Council had expressed its “grave concern” at “The Israeli decision to establish and operate a tramway between West Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev, which is in clear violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions” (Resolution 19/17, paragraph 4e).
  • A 2019 submission to the UN working group developing a draft treaty on business and human rights, and continued advocacy and analysis in that regard.
  • A 2019 submission to the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee in support of a treaty on the right to development.
  • Raising concerns in a 2019 statement about Airbnb and a 2019 letter to Booking.com, that by listing properties in Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory, these firms are transgressing international law.
  • 2018 advocacy and research on Ireland’s Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, to prohibit the import of settlement products and services to Ireland.
  • Al-Haq’s advocacy, including a 2018 joint briefing paper, calling for corporate accountability in situations of armed conflict to be included in the International Law Commission’s (ILC’s) draft principles on the protection of the environment. The principles adopted by the ILC in 2019 did include such a principle.
  • A 2018 joint communication to the International Criminal Court about the alleged pillage of Palestinian natural resources by private actors including Israeli and multinational corporations.
  • A 2018 letter to Honda Motor Co., highlighting Honda’s complicity (through its Israeli affiliate Mayer) in violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated in Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. Honda failed to respond to these concerns when invited to do so by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
  • Raising concerns in 2018 about Chinese company Hubey Pengdun Group, in relation to its partnership with a winery based in an Israeli settlement in Occupied Palestinian Territory: “Grapewashing the Occupation: The Case of the Chinese Hubey Pengdun Group”.
  • Responding to German multinational HeidelbergCement in 2017 about its quarries in Occupied Palestinian Territory, expropriating natural resources in contravention of international law. In June 2015 Norway’s largest pension fund KLP had excluded HeidelbergCement from its investment portfolio, due to its operations in the occupied West Bank.
  • A 2015 letter calling on the Dutch Government to prevent the export of dogs by Dutch firms to the Israeli security forces, given their use to attack and intimidate Palestinian civilians. The letter includes links to videos of dogs attacking a 53-year old woman and a 20-year-old boy.
  • A 2013 report on the discriminatory appropriation of water in the occupied West Bank (for sale to Israeli settlers) by Mekorot, the national water company of Israel: “Water For One People Only: Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory]”.

Al-Haq