Posts Tagged ‘Civil society’

Urgently seeking professors to stop the Anti-Soros bill in Hungary

May 9, 2018

On 9 May 2018, Hungary’s (remaining) civil society issued the Professors Solidarity Call below, signed by 77 professor until now and asking for more signatories. It concerns the so-called “Stop Soros” bill, to be voted by the Hungarian parliament very soon, which will have a devastating impact on both Hungarian civil society and the asylum seekers and refugees that are already in a dire state. That Victor Orban is behind an ‘anti-Soros bill’ is the more remarkable as he himself was the beneficiary of a Soros scholarship [in 1988 a dissident Hungarian university graduate wrote a letter to George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist, asking for help obtaining a scholarship to Oxford University. In the letter, which has recently resurfaced, the young Viktor Orban said he wanted to study the “rebirth of civil society”. He got the scholarship.– the Economist 7 April 2018].

(see also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/)

PROFESSORS’ SOLIDARITY DECLARATION AND CALL FOR ACTION IN DEFENCE OF THE HUNGARIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE AND THE HUNGARIAN CIVIL SOCIETY

We, 77 university professors and academics from 28 countries around the world, express our solidarity with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the independent Hungarian civil society, which currently faces an imminent existential threat.

The so-called “Stop Soros” bill, to be voted by the Hungarian Parliament in mid-May 2018, will have a devastating impact on both Hungarian civil society and those vulnerable human beings that cannot count on anyone else’s support. The new legislation will allow the government to simply ban the activities of organizations assisting refugees and migrants in a fast and arbitrary process. Activities such as legal aid to asylum-seekers, reporting to the UN or the EU, holding university lectures about refugee law or recruiting volunteers will be rendered illegal, if these are performed by civil society actors who dare to criticise government practices. Practices, which are equally condemned by the EU and the international community.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) is an outstanding human rights organization, well-known and respected for its professionalism around the world, not only by civil society, but by academia, state authorities and the judiciary as well. The HHC has massively contributed to the promotion of refugee law education and legal clinics on various continents. We all personally know and highly respect their work. States should be proud of such NGOs, instead of aiming to silence them.

Strong and independent civil society organisations are as indispensable for democracy and the rule of law as strong and independent universities. If NGOs such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are threatened, democracy is threatened. If a prestigious organization, winner of various international human rights awards, can simply be banned from providing legal aid to refugees, if a globally reputed voice of human rights can be silenced with an administrative measure in an EU member state, then further dramatic anti-democracy measures are likely to follow. There is a real risk that the Hungarian example will be increasingly copied elsewhere, and soon it may be too late to stop the domino effect.

We call on our governments to express, without delay, their vivid discontent with Hungary’s legislation aiming at annihilating independent civil society. We call on universities around the world to do the same and actively demonstrate their solidarity with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the entire threatened Hungarian civil sector. We call on the European Union to prove to the world its credibility as a guardian and global promoter of fundamental rights, and immediately take action to prevent this flagrant human rights violation from happening on its own territory.

Signatures (in alphabetical order) at the end of the document: https://www.helsinki.hu/wp-content/uploads/Professors-solidarity-call-HHC-HU-NGOs-2018.pdf

https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21739968-election-april-8th-hungarys-prime-minister-looks-unbeatable-viktor-orban-set

Academics want UN Treaty Bodies to become ‘fit for purpose’

May 9, 2018

The Geneva Academy’s new publication Optimizing the UN Treaty Body System outlines a series of recommendations related to the functioning of United Nations Treaty Bodies (UN TBs) to prepare for the upcoming review of UN TBs by the UN General Assembly in 2020. ‘While the last words will remain with states and TBs members, this report can provide a basis for negotiations and the blueprint for future changes’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier, co-coordinator of the Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020.

This work is the outcome of a three-year consultative process to collect academic inputs and ideas via the creation of an academic network of independent researchers, a call for papers, a series of regional consultations, annual and expert conferences, as well as ongoing interactions with key stakeholders: states, treaty bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other parts of the UN. ‘The issue of TBs’ reform is almost as old as the system itself: many proposals that are on the table today were already formulated before. Our academic contribution takes these proposals out of their political context by analysing them, their relevance, their likelihood to be implemented and the possible need for updates’ adds Felix Kirchmeier.

The final objective of the publication and of the entire process is to make the TB system ‘fit for purpose’ by outlining measures to optimize its functioning, effectiveness and efficiency while safeguarding its key protection role and maintaining the existing legal framework.

‘While the publication provides several detailed recommendations, it notably call for a consolidated state report and a single review, or a semi-consolidated state report and two clustered reviews; the implementation of incremental changes in the TBs working methods; and a consolidation of TBs’ structure in terms of membership, as well as financial and substantial support’ underlines Kamelia Kemileva, Executive Manager at the Geneva Academy and co-coordinator of the Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020.

The 45-page study contains many interesting ideas and I copy here only one of particular interest which is to improve the system’s accessibility and visibility:

To meet its purpose, TB output must be accessible and visible. Many contributors expressed concern on this account. Modern technology offers easy solutions, some of which have been implemented but could be taken further.

Contributors unanimously welcomed the webcasting of country examinations and consider it an important improvement. However, they recommended that webcasts should be broadcast and archived in all working languages, as well as the language in which the review is held – the only one that is available at the moment. They also suggested that webcasts should be easier to access via links on the OHCHR home page in each country and via each committee’s session web page.

Many contributors also called for a readily accessible, up-to-date, comprehensive database of TB jurisprudence. It was noted that information on TB findings is currently hard to find (when available), that the database is incomplete, and that decisions are not always available in all UN official languages. Accessing and understanding TB jurisprudence remains a challenge for all stakeholders – whether they are victims of human rights violations, TB members, states, national and regional human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations, or scholars.

Contributors recommended that more user-friendly fact sheets and jurisprudence summaries should be prepared to disseminate TB findings and other important developments.

To increase visibility, contributors proposed maintaining dedicated pages on social media platforms. This would bring TBs’ work to the attention of larger audiences, assist Committees to update information on their activities, and create followers. More generally, the system’s achievements and impact on rights-holders should be better documented and publicized.

(my earlier posts on TBs include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/06/the-outcome-of-the-treaty-body-strengthening-process-workshop-on-9-may-2014-in-geneva/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/18/on-24-october-there-is-a-side-event-in-ny-on-the-implementation-of-human-rights-treaty-body-recommendations/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/17/treaty-bodies-case-law-database-saved-and-resurrected-by-un/)

———–

https://www.geneva-academy.ch/news/detail/121-optimizing-the-un-treaty-bodies-system

Has the Human Rights Movement failed? A serious critique.

April 25, 2018

The last year or so there has been a lot soul-searching within the broader human rights movement, questioning its relevance or even survival at a time of resurgent ‘anti-human rights’ attitudes in the superpowers (regression in China, USA, and Russia, with the EU vacillating between careful diplomacy and trade interest). A number of smaller countries have also taken enthusiastically to human rights bashing (just to mention Turkey, Philippines, Hungary, Venezuela and Burundi). In all these cases the leadership seems to imply that human rights are niceties that no longer have the support of the majority of their population, which could well be true due to the extent that their control over the media and relentless whipping up of populist feelings make this self-fulling.This blog has tried to monitor – at least illustrate – this phenomenon on many occasions [too many to list]. Now comes along an interesting piece written by professor Samuel Moyn of Yale university under the provocative title “How the Human Rights Movement Failed” (published on 23 April 2018 in the New York Times). The piece is a must read (in full) and I give the text below in green. Even if I disagree with some important parts, it remains a coherent and thought-provoking article (once you get over feeling offended by the idea that you are a plutocrat).

The key notion is expressed in the following quotes:

“.those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.”

and

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

Where I most disagree with the author is that there is lot more going on in the human rights movement than the defense of civil and political rights or playing along with elites. Either he does not know it or ignores it on purpose. The thousands of human rights defenders working in their own countries are fully aware of the realities on the ground and are often prioritizing social, economic, cultural and community rights [just a cursory sample of blog posts on environmental activists will show this: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/environmental-activists/]. International and regional NGOs mostly help and protect them! Also, the author seems to underestimate the potential attraction of the human rights cause in civil society (especially victims and young people), whose mobilization is still patchy. If the human rights movement can overcome its fragmentation and use media better this potential could turn tides. Say I!.

Here the piece in full/ judge for yourselves:

The human rights movement, like the world it monitors, is in crisis: After decades of gains, nearly every country seems to be backsliding. Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and other populist leaders routinely express contempt for human rights and their defenders. But from the biggest watchdogs to monitors at the United Nations, the human rights movement, like the rest of the global elite, seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from its difficulties.

Advocates have doubled down on old strategies without reckoning that their attempts to name and shame can do more to stoke anger than to change behavior. Above all, they have ignored how the grievances of newly mobilized majorities have to be addressed if there is to be an opening for better treatment of vulnerable minorities.

“The central lesson of the past year is that despite considerable headwinds, a vigorous defense of human rights can succeed,” Kenneth Roth, the longtime head of Human Rights Watch, contended recently, adding that many still “can be convinced to reject the scapegoating of unpopular minorities and leaders’ efforts to undermine basic democratic checks and balances.” 

That seems unlikely. Of course, activism can awaken people to the problems with supporting abusive governments. But if lectures about moral obligations made an enormous difference, the world would already look much better. Instead, those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was promulgated in 1948 amid the consolidation of welfare states in Europe and North America and which formed the basis of the human rights agenda, was supposed to enshrine social protections. But in the 1970s, when activists in the United States and Western Europe began to take up the cause of “human rights” for the victims of brutal regimes, they forgot about that social citizenship. The signature group of that era, Amnesty International, focused narrowly on imprisonment and torture; similarly, Human Rights Watch rejected advocating economic and social rights.

This approach began to change after the Cold War, especially when it came to nongovernmental advocacy in post-colonial countries. But even then, human rights advocacy did not reassert the goal of economic fairness. Even as more activists have come to understand that political and civil freedom will struggle to survive in an unfair economic system, the focus has often been on subsistence.

In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, both human rights and pro-market policies reached the apogee of their prestige. In Eastern Europe, human rights activists concentrated on ousting old elites and supporting basic liberal principles even as state assets were sold off to oligarchs and inequality exploded. In Latin America, the movement focused on putting former despots behind bars. But a neoliberal program that had arisen under the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet swept the continent along with democracy, while the human rights movement did not learn enough of a new interest in distributional fairness to keep inequality from spiking.

Now the world is reaping what the period of swelling inequality that began in the 1970s through the 1990s sowed.

There have been recent signs of reorientation. The Ford Foundation, which in the 1970s provided much of the funding that made global human rights activism possible, announced in 2015 that it would start focusing on economic fairness. George Soros, a generous funder of human rights causes, has recently observed that inequality matters, too.

Some have insisted that the movement can simply take on, without much alteration of its traditional idealism and tactics, the challenge of inequality that it ignored for so long. This is doubtful.

At the most, activists distance themselves from free-market fundamentalism only by making clear how much inequality undermines human rights themselves. Minimum entitlements, like decent housing and health care, require someone to pay. Without insisting on more than donations from the rich, the traditional companionship of human rights movements with neoliberal policies will give rise to the allegation that the two are in cahoots. No one wants the human rights movement to be remembered as a casualty of a justifiable revolt against the rich.

If the movement itself should not squander the chance to reconsider how it is going to survive, the same is even truer of its audience — policymakers, politicians and the rest of the elite. They must keep human rights in perspective: Human rights depend on majority support if they are to be taken seriously. A failure to back a broader politics of fairness is doubly risky. It leaves rights groups standing for principles they cannot see through. And it leaves majorities open to persuasion by troubling forces.

It has been tempting for four decades to believe that human rights are the primary bulwark against barbarism. But an even more ambitious agenda is to provide the necessary alternative to the rising evils of our time.

—–

Samuel Moyn is the author of “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

FIDH collected Russia’s 50 anti-democracy laws

March 18, 2018

 

Since re-election in 2012, the Russian president has overseen the creation of 50 laws designed to strangle opposition voices and raise the level of fear and self-censorship in society. FIDH with its Russian member organizations released a table of the latest 50 new anti-democracy laws since 2012. It explains the impact of each of them on the fundamental freedoms of Russian citizens, cutting down every day a little bit more the free exchanges with the outside world. It also provides some, far from exhaustive examples of the legal abuses it provokes in the every day life of citizens.

Not only the present but also the past gets filtered and controlled.

The laws and regulations range from increased surveillance and censorship powers, to laws banning “questioning the integrity of the Russian nation” – effectively banning criticism of Russia’s presence in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea – broad laws on “extremism” that grant authorities powers to crack down on political and religious freedom, to imposing certain views on Russian history forbidding to think differently.

CHECK OUT THE TABLE OF LAWS

“Crazy nurses” from Canada stress importance of recognizing non-state torture

March 1, 2018

With all the high-level segment statements by political figures in the first week of the UN Human Rights Council one tends to overlook more down to earth work such as this – proudly reported by the CBC on 28 February 2018: Once dismissed as ‘crazy nurses,’ Jeanne Sarson, Linda MacDonald from Canada travel to Switzerland to address UN Human Rights Council:

Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald travelled to Switzerland where they were one of four so-called “civil society representatives” selected to address the UN Human Rights Council.

Jeanne Sarson reading statement at UN

Jeanne Sarson reading a statement written by her and Linda MacDonald at the UN 37th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. (UN Web TV screen capture)

Their long-repeated message has been that torture isn’t just meted out by government officials and agents. Women and girls can be tortured by parents and family members, with atrocities including human trafficking, prostitution, enslavement or pornographic victimization. Naming it torture gives continuing crimes against family members the attention and weight it deserves, they believe. “Non-State Torture is identified as a distinct and specific crime and human rights offence which must not be misnamed as being another form of crime such as an assault causing bodily harm or abuse,” their website nonstatetorture.org says.

MacDonald said it felt “very affirming” for her and Sarson to make the joint statement to the council. Their story of activism began in 1993 when they met a woman who revealed she had been tortured and trafficked since she was a toddler. The nurses turned human rights defenders have now been in touch with 5,000 women around the world who say they are victims of domestic torture. .

But Sarson said she felt nervous reading the statement before the council as “non-state torture was probably a new concept for many of them.” She thought that many would be closing their ears to their message. Sarson and MacDonald’s statement urged the UN Human Rights Council’s countries to recognize non-state torture against women and girls as a gender-based human rights violation and crime. Their message received encouragement from the UN deputy high commission of the human rights council. “She said: ‘Keep pushing. We need civil society to campaign like you’re doing so society will transform,'” said MacDonald. There’s still work to be done at home. The pair have been pushing the federal government for years to include non-state as a human rights violation, but to date there has been no commitment.

MacDonald acknowledged that some members of the UN human rights council have poor records in upholding human rights, but that wasn’t her focus. She said until Canada recognizes non-state torture in its Criminal Code, “we have no room to criticize other countries.”

 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/truro-nurses-non-state-torture-1.4555659

The saga of the “anti-NGO” committee in the UN continues

February 9, 2018

This blog has several times paid attention to the rather weird situation that the UN “NGO Committee” (at NY level) has a rather negative attitude towards the very NGOs that it is supposed to assist. See e.g.:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/01/ngo-committee-of-the-un-shows-its-bizarre-bias-against-human-rights-ngos/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/04/ishr-starts-campaign-to-monitor-committee-that-throttles-ngo-access-to-the-un/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/08/un-committee-on-ngos-denies-ngo-the-right-to-speak/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/07/uns-ngo-committee-seems-not-very-fond-of-ngos/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/04/jean-daniel-vigny-hopes-to-improve-ngo-participation-at-the-un/

Now, on 29 January 2018, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) came out with the video above as well as the following statement:

A group of regional and international human rights NGOs was blocked from making a statement at the UN NGO Committee session today.  Despite a precedent set two years ago for the delivery of a general statement, all requests since have been refused.  Read here the NGOs’ call for leadership and reform:

Today a group of NGOs sought to deliver a general statement  urging the Committee to embrace the principles of transparency, accountability and accessibility in its work to ensure its practice is fair, expeditious and apolitical. The ECOSOC NGO Committee reviews applications for accreditation, providing a gateway for NGOs into the UN.  It has been much criticised – by States, UN officials and NGOs – for practices including repeated questioning of applicants and multiple deferrals of applications for no good reason. The NGOs’ attempt to speak was blocked.

ISHR along with Amnesty International, Civicus, Conectas Diretos Humanos, Human Rights Watch, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists and Outright Action International came with two key calls for Committee and observer States, related to participation and membership.

1/  The NGO Committee must provide for remote participation by accredited NGOs:

ECOSOC recently requested the NGO Committee to institute regular meetings with accredited NGOs in regard to the ‘evolving relationship’ between NGOs and the UN. Despite the fact that these have been required since 1996, the meeting scheduled to take place in the next months, will be the first. The NGOs urge that provision be made for remote participation by accredited NGOs unable to travel to New York for the meeting. ‘Clearly, access to UN conversations should not be limited to those who have resources to travel to New York or Geneva or other major UN hubs.  A diversity of voices should be heard,’ they note.  ‘We hope that States will ensure that the principle of accessibility to UN processes will be applied when defining working methods for the upcoming meeting.’

2/  States with good records on key freedoms should stand for membership of Committee:

Safeguarding civil society space at the UN is an essential component in the struggle to protect civil society space globally.  With this in mind, the NGOs call on all States with a commitment to defending the work of civil society to put themselves forward as candidates for the elections to the Committee in April. ‘Action to defend civil society space at the UN starts here at this very Committee’, say the NGOs.

Uruguay invokes ‘right to be heard’ as statement is blocked:

In response to China and Russia’s objections to the presentation of the NGO statement, Uruguay spoke forcefully in favour of hearing from civil society.  Opposition to the NGOs’ ‘right to be heard’ went against the principle of transparency in Committee practice, Uruguay said.  It also represented a step back by a Committee whose very mandate speaks to strengthening links between NGOs and the UN system.

Through their statement, civil society could provide insights that contribute to improving the work of the Committee,’  Uruguay noted. Hearing the statement ‘would allow the Committee to understand civil society’s ideas, experiences and expectations.’ The EU, UK and US also made statements of support.  These were not enough to overcome the opposition.

As we were not permitted to deliver our statement to the Committee today, we shall now request a written version be circulated to all ECOSOC members,‘ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw, reflecting on the morning’s events. ‘We shall also look into ways to ensuring NGOs can make general statements at the Committee in future.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/ngo-committee-ngos-blocked-delivering-statement

5th Werner Lottje lecture in Berlin focuses on Cambodia

February 8, 2018

On 21 February 2018, Bread for the World and the German Institute for Human Rights organise for the 5th time the Werner Lottje Lecture [the lecture is named after the German activist who was a major force in the international human rights movement [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/16/and-a-lot-more-about-werner-lottje-the-great-german-human-rights-defender/].

This year the focus is on human rights defenders in Cambodia.

For last year’s lecture see: : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/26/the-4th-werner-lottje-lecture-showcases-the-zone-9-bloggers-from-ethiopia-15-february/.

Programme:

Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel; President Bread for the World

Naly Pilorge; Acting Director, LICADHO, Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights

Julia Duchrow; Head Human Rights and Peace, Bread for the World

Michel Forst; UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

19:00 panel discussion with Gyde Jensen; MP, chair of the Bundestag Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance; Michel Forst; Naly Pilorge; and Dr. Julia DuchrowModerated by Michael Windfuhr; acting Director German Institute for Human Rights

 

Date and place: 21/2/2018, 17:30 – 20:00 at Brot für die Welt, Caroline-Michaelis-Straße 1, 10115 Berlin.

To attend please contact eimear.gavin@brot-fuer-die-welt.de (+49 (0)30 65211 1811) before 15 February.

 

There will be German – English interpretation.

 

Will Pakistan pass again the human rights progress test in the EU parliament?

February 6, 2018

, in a piece in The News on Sunday (TNS) refers to the upcoming debate in the European Parliament about whether or not Pakistan will get a prolongation of its ‘Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus status‘ by the EU (giving easy access to the EU market for textile). The second periodic review has been done and the report will be discussed in the EU Parliament shortly. The continuation or discontinuation of the status for Pakistan is crucial:

Some of the important observations made by the EU team:

It points out the government of Pakistan has established a system of Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs) at federal and provincial levels, tasked with coordinating the implementation of treaty obligations between different line ministries and departments and between the federal and provincial levels. The National Commission of Human Right (NCHR) has been established though its functional and budgetary autonomy is yet to be fully materialised. Besides, it says, the federal and provincial Commissions on the Status of Women have also played an important role in promoting human rights in Pakistan. It also praises the government’s intention “to improve data collection by establishing a Human Rights Management Information System, which will be anchored in a National Human Rights Institute.”

On the other hand, it identifies outstanding issues and points out that the right to a fair trial remains a major concern, stemming from weaknesses of the judicial system. “A large backlog of cases resulting in defendants spending years in jail before their case is heard continues to be a problem. The registration process of international NGOs (INGOs) continues to be slow and nontransparent.” The issues of forced marriages, forced conversions, forced disappearances, custodial deaths, death penalty etc have been taken up in the report as well. The concerns about freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, the situation of human rights defenders and civil society activists, and the overall ‘shrinking civil society space’ are also there.

Regarding the eight conventions on labour rights, the review report talks about the formation of a national labour protection framework by the federal and provincial authorities, the ongoing labour force and child labour surveys, improvements in the area of tripartite dialogue, formation of trade unions in the informal sector etc but calls upon the government to address the persistent obstacles for the registration and functioning of trade unions. The issues of child labour and bonded labour have also been discussed along with the efforts to curb these…

Ume Laila Azhar, Executive Director Homenet Pakistan, says it is a mix picture and the report seems to have categorically analysed the present situation of Pakistan’s executive and legislature. She finds the review report an eye-opener and urges the government functionaries to do the needful. For example, she says, “The number of labour inspectors has been stagnating countrywide and the whole labour inspection system is in need of reform, which is essential to improve the enforcement of labour rights and working conditions. Without an effective labour inspection system it is impossible to ensure labour rights.”

Zulfiqar Shah, Joint Director Pakistan Institute for Labour Education & Research (PILER), hopes the GSP Plus status will continue as the report seems to be appreciative of the pro-rights legislation done by the government. “Though it highlights human rights violation in Pakistan, it appreciates the measures taken for improvement as well.” However, he says, the review appears to be biased in favour of the government in terms of labour rights in a scenario where only one per cent of the workforce is unionised.

Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE), shares it with TNS that the second review is different from the first because this time the third party evaluation has also been done on the behest of EU. Due to this, she says, the findings cannot be termed biased as happens when the civil society of the country gives its input. The government shall seek guidelines from the report and its recommendations for the sake of its citizens as well as the continuation of GSP Plus status. Khaliq appreciates the fact that the government has recently submitted its reports to the UN regarding compliance with its certain conventions, terming it a positive trend. Earlier, there would be reluctance and delays in this regard. Lastly, she thinks even the EU Parliament is answerable to the highly vigilant civil society in Europe and cannot ignore it while deciding on the continuation of this preferential status. “So, it is equally important to convince the civil society that we are taking these issues seriously.”

Black Lives Matter awarded 2017 Sydney Peace Prize and spotlights Australia’s racial issues

October 31, 2017

This seems to be the year that human rights awards go broad groups of people. After the Ebert Prize to the  South Korean people [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/korean-people-win-friedrich-ebert-human-rights-award-for-candlelight-rallies/] and the EP’s Sakharov award to the Venezuelan opposition [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/27/european-parliaments-sakharov-prize-awarded-to-venezuela-opposition/], the Sydney Peace Prize 2017 has gone to the Black Lives Matter Global Network. This is the first time that a movement and not a person has been awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. Three of the founders will receive the award on 2 November. For more on the award: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sydney-peace-prize

On 30 October, Trevor Marshallsea of AP reported from Sydney that this award has put also the spotlights Australia’s racial issues:

The Associated Press – in this 26 January, 2017 file photo Aboriginal activists carry a banner during an Australia Day protest in Adelaide, Australia. The awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Black Lives Matter for its work on American race issues is being hailed but Australian activists say such issues need to be addressed at home as well. (Tim Dornin/AAP Image via AP)

Patrisse Cullors, one of the group’s co-founders, welcomed the award “in solidarity with the organizations and organizers of Australia who had and still have faced oppression.” The social media hashtag with which it shares its name began after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013. It gained traction when a police officer fatally shot another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri the following year, sparking protests.

http://sydneypeacefoundation.org.au/peace-prize-recipients/black-lives-matter/

Black Lives Matter award spotlights Australia racial issues – ABC News

Advice from one defender to another: what to do when your office is raided

October 25, 2017

 The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) in Uganda has written to the Non-Government Organisation Bureau (established under the NGO Act of 2016 to register, regulate, and oversee all NGO operations in the country) about the three civil society organisations it is investigating. The CID is investigating ActionAid Uganda, the Uhuru Institute for Social Development and Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies (GLISS) for allegedly funding opposition projects that the government believe are intended to cause unrest in the country. Investigators have demanded from Non-Government Organisation Bureau work plans and budgets of the three organisations. The spokesman of CID, Mr Vicent Ssekate, said the detectives want to understand whether the three organisations are following the law. “After the search of the offices of these organisations, our investigators found evidence that we suspect doesn’t tally with their mandate they stipulated while registering with the NGO Bureau. The purpose of our letter to the bureau is to obtain officially what they committed themselves to do in Uganda,” Mr Ssekate said yesterday.

Two weeks ago, detectives raided ActionAid Uganda and GLISS on the same allegations. The offices of the two CSOs were searched and financial documents and mobile phones of the workers seized by detectives. Another CSO, Solidarity Uganda in Lira District, was raided and its workers arrested on September 21. All affected organisations deny allegations that they are funding projects to destabilise the country. Since the raids, police have not got back to the NGO managers on the offences they committed. The affected NGOs are still open, but their operations have been constrained since their financial departments were disrupted by the detectives.

Since then Arthur Larok, the country director of ActionAid Uganda, shared his view: Our offices were raided in Uganda. Here’s what to do if yours are, too. This may be useful advice for other NGOs in other countries:

ActionAid Uganda leads a scenario building exercise. Photo by: ActionAid Uganda

The office raid appears to be part of a wider crackdown on legitimate protests against the plan to remove the presidential age limit from the Ugandan Constitution, thus allowing the current president to remain in power indefinitely.

We think these attacks have ulterior motives.

1. To delegitimize civil society. Police raids on our offices immediately present us as subversive elements. This could affect our public image, and that of civil society in general. It could also scare away our funding partners and threaten the stability of our work.

2. To compromise our systems and information. These attacks disrupt our work, and potentially sow seeds for future surveillance by targeting our communications systems and infrastructure.

3. To disrupt and derail us from our mission. Part of our mission as civil society is to help articulate public positions. We are opposed to regressive constitutional amendments. We will invest in organizing citizens to resist attempts to remove the age-limit, even though we know this puts us in direct conflict with the ruling party.

4. To threaten and demoralize civil society. In the hopes of driving us into self-censorship, weakening our resolve, and preventing us from tackling injustice.

5. To provide a justification for further action. Such as halting activities of civil society under the pretext that investigations are still ongoing. We have already seen this happening in the case of ActionAid, where two field activities have been halted by the police.

What can we learn from these attacks and what should civil society do to defend ourselves in ongoing efforts to protect civic space? How can we ensure that we are not derailed in our mission to tackle injustice and poverty?

Here are some tips if your office is at risk of being raided.

1. Always keep your house in order. You must update and back up all institutional information and documentation. During the impromptu siege, the police demanded documents without delay. If we had failed to do so, it may have caused unnecessary suspicion.

2. Staff and board members must understand all processes in the organization. If interrogated, we do not want colleagues to inadvertently arouse suspicion by saying inconsistent things about how we organize ourselves and what our business processes are.

3. Rapid legal response is necessary. As civic and political space continues to shrink in Uganda and globally, we must strengthen our legal response capabilities. The presence of competent lawyers is extremely important.

4. A positive relationship with the media is essential. The media were very helpful in reporting the siege — and established relations meant they did so in a manner that was both supportive and objective. Social media platforms were of increased importance during this crisis, and future investment here is key.

5. Being relevant to civil society and wider citizens’ struggles. The immense show of solidarity from other civil society organizations, politicians, and the public at our time of need demonstrated our value and relevance to civil society. The more outward looking an NGO, the more likely it is to receive much-needed solidarity from others. We were able to call upon our supporters both in Uganda and across the world to amplify our voice and provide solidarity.

6. Beware of potential informers. Finally, we have learned that the forces that seek to undermine our work are in our midst. It is therefore important to better understand our internal environment and partners with whom we work. We must remain vigilant and transparent and have the confidence to defend what we stand for.

The threat to civil society is far-reaching. We must learn from these attacks and work together to protect and defend the legitimacy and effectiveness of the work that we do.

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Arthur Larok is the current country director of ActionAid Uganda. He has previously worked with the Uganda National NGO Forum, the Forum for Education NGOs in Uganda and World Learning for International Development. He is the current chairperson of the Uganda National NGO Forum, the largest NGO platform in Uganda.

Sources:

Opinion: Our offices were raided in Uganda. Here’s what to do if yours are, too. | Devex

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