Posts Tagged ‘civil society activists’

UN Rapporteurs urge ASEAN summit to address regional human rights concerns

November 11, 2017

Four UN human rights experts*(including Michel Forst, the Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders) have called on states to address pressing human rights issues during the 31st ASEAN Summit being held from 10-14 November in the Philippines. Recognising the important work of the many active civil society organisations across the region, the experts expressed concern about “a worrying deterioration in the environment in which they operate.

Human rights defenders, social activists, lawyers, journalists, independent media and even parliamentarians trying to speak out and protect the rights of others, increasingly face a multitude of risks ranging from judicial harassment and prosecution to threats, disappearances and killings,” said the experts. They observed rising numbers of cases of serious human rights violations affecting among others, people working on women’s rights, environmental and land issues and lawyers dealing with drug cases.

The experts called on the 10 ASEAN Member States to amend or repeal existing legislation and to reconsider draft laws that are being or could be applied to criminalize or restrict the vital work of civil society.  “We condemn the public vilification, harassment, arrests and killings of members of civil society, and call on Member States to rigorously uphold their duty to ensure the freedom and protection of those exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the experts said. “Independent media, members of civil society and human rights defenders should be viewed as partners and as an essential element of democracy.

 

This summit should be seen as an opportunity to make real progress on these issues and to show the world that the Member States of ASEAN are fully committed to securing the human rights of all in the region,” the group said.

(*) The UN experts are: Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;  Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22380&LangID=E

Repressive governments and Ophelia compete to prevent HRDs to travel to Dublin

October 18, 2017

Andrew Anderson, the executive director of Front Line Defenders, published a piece at the beginning of the Dublin Platform for Human Rights hosted by Front Line Defenders in Ireland

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders
Thwe Thwe Win is one of the 117 at-risk activists invited to the 2017 Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders who actually made it to the bi-anual gathering of global activists. ….

Like thousands of people trying to get into Ireland on Monday, dozens of our international guests had flights canceled or postponed. Another 11, however, were prevented from attending long before Ophelia hit, banned from leaving home by their governments…..It is an opportunity for defenders typically preoccupied with defending their communities – and surviving the threats that ensure – to spend 72 hours not being physically surveilled by a totalitarian state, threatened at work by an extremist group, or receiving menacing phone calls demanding their stop their activism. It is an opportunity to relax, something activists tend to forget to do. It is also a chance for defenders to learn from their peers around the world. Feminists from Nigeria strategise with Colombians about how to peacefully defend indigenous land from paramilitaries. Emirati human rights defenders chat to Moroccans about the high-tech spying software both their governments recently purchased. Bahrainis lament with Bangladeshis the unrelenting influence of Saudi Arabia in each oppressive state’s policies. Rights activists from most of the former Soviet block tend to tease the Russian about their own governments’ adopting a “copy and paste” approach to many of Russia’s anti-NGO laws.

This year there will be a noticeable gap in our Dublin Castle crowd. Last week, we learned that our Kuwaiti invitee was threatened by state officials not to travel. The Bahraini invited is currently in detention; last time she was there, they sexually assaulted her. The second young Bahraini woman we invited in her place – who boldly took to Twitter to speak out for the former – now has a travel ban. The Saudi activist learned he was on an intelligence surveillance list last week; he rang our Blackrock office to say he was too scared to leave home. The Gulf has been a blackhole of restrictions of freedom of movement for human rights defenders for some time now, but unfortunately that’s not the end of it. Our Syrian colleague has had his passport confiscated by state security in Turkey, and a Ukrainian lawyer has yet to be granted permission to travel.

An activist in Cameroon was arrested for his peaceful activism a few weeks ago – he won’t be joining us this week; he’s in prison. A Cuban human rights defender planned to leave home in Guantanamo City extra early, knowing he’d be stopped at the town’s many American-run military checkpoints – security in Guantanamo is tight. Ultimately, he was never granted the “exit permit” required to leave Cuba. In Colombia, David Rabelo Crespo was recently released from prison after 7 years for a crime he did not commit, but has still been forbidden from travel to Dublin.

Governments world-over know that it is not laws, conventions, or UN resolutions that bring human rights reform to a country – it’s people. They know that activists are only as powerful as their communities, both local and international, and are working harder than ever to ensure that networks of solidarity cannot flourish.

Radical social change – the kind that undermines dictatorships, dismembers racist populist tides, secures indigenous peoples’ rights to their land – has always been born out of collective struggle. It is clear that in preventing our human rights defender colleagues from Bahrain, Kuwait, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Syria, and Bolivia from traveling, the respective authorities are not only vindictive, they are terrified of activists. Authoritarians think that if they lock human rights defenders away – behind bars or travel bans or physical attacks – that we will stop listening, that we will forget them. Authoritarians are wrong……….When governments work hard to silence activists, we must work harder to hear them.” [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/closing-civil-society-space-a-euphemism-for-killing-human-rights-defenders/#more-7208]

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights,made statement on 17 October 2017 which is worth reading in its totality but I copy here only the part on reprisals:

At times – as some of you have experienced or witnessed – engagement with the UN on human rights can lead to reprisals and intimidation. This has been a long-standing concern to the Organization, and we are distressed at the increasing number of such acts. These range from travel bans, threats and harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, restrictive legislation, physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, denial of access to medical attention, and even killings. Intimidation of human rights defenders is happening all the time. The purpose is to penalize individuals who have already spoken out, thereby also sending a signal to many others from speaking out in future.

Recognising the gravity of this issue, last October the Secretary-General announced that he had asked me to lead efforts to strengthen UN-wide action for prevention of, protection against, investigation into and accountability for reprisals. Many Governments are very supportive, and have offered resources for this endeavor. Our host country Ireland is very strong in this regard. We are trying to get as much information about what is going on, and for this we need your input, and will circulate our email address to help us get it.… I recount a few lines of what I said in my speech to the Human Rights Council three weeks ago as I presented the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals:

We believe the significance of this report goes far beyond the individual cases contained in it. I think we should see these individuals as the canary in the coal mine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all. (…)

It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases to you, the UN membership, of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their respective Governments – was to cooperate with the UN institutions and mechanisms whose mandate of course derives from you, the UN membership. (…)

I salute the extraordinary courage that it sometimes takes for the victims and their families to come forward and share their stories with us, and also the dedication of the civil society organizations who act on behalf of those affected.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

Sources:

Its people and not laws that bring human rights reform to a country

http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22251&LangID=E

Have a smartphone – become a human rights defender!

August 10, 2017

Witness’ Asia-Pacific team adapted this video from WITNESS’ tip sheet on Filming Hate – a primer for using video to document human rights abuses. “Filming Hate” guides activists through documenting abuses safely, providing context, verifying footage, and sharing that footage responsibly. It may help millions of bystanders become witnesses, and hence human rights defenders, spurred to combat hatred by wielding a powerful weapon: their smartphone. Published on 6 August 2017. Full tipsheet available on our Library at: https://library.witness.org/product/f…     Music credit: ‘India’ — http://www.bensound.com Creative Commons Attribution licence (reuse allowed)

Nigeria: “Human rights activists of today are cowards, they are afraid to die for the course they are pursuing”

February 20, 2017

This rather shocking statement comes from Nigeria. Two newspapers sources (Vanguard.com and The Anchor on Line) report on events held to mark ’50 years activism’ by the Agbaakin Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oloye Rasheed Olalekan Alabi, where such hyperbolic language was employed. One was held on 21 January 2017 at the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ Press Centre, Ibadan. The other on 20 February in the Excellence Hotel, Lagos State. Other strong language was used there to make Nigerian youth more aware and committed…read of yourself…:

Agbaakin Olubadan, Oloye ‘Lekan Alabi Marks 50 Years of Human Rights Activism

Read the rest of this entry »

Why do Gandhi and Martin Luther King scare the Angolan government?

March 29, 2016

On 28 March 2016 the New York based Human Rights Foundation strongly condemned the convictions and sentences handed down by a court in Angola against a group of 17 youth activists for reading a book that advocates nonviolent resistance to dictatorship. The court declared the activists — including prominent Angolan rapper Luaty Beirão — guilty of “rebellion against the president” and “planning a coup,” sentencing them to prison terms that range from two to eight years. Beirao, also known by his stage name Ikonoklasta, has been an outspoken critic of the government, calling for a fairer distribution of the southern African state’s oil wealth. His term is five-and-a-half years.

Angola: HRF Condemns Convictions and Demands Release of Youth ActivistsSource: Vice News

Read the rest of this entry »

Side event on Protection of human rights defenders in economic, social and cultural rights

March 1, 2016

ISHR-logo-colour-highOn Monday 7 March 2016, from 13h30-15h00 in Room XVIII, Palais des Nations, Geneva, there will be a side event:Protection needs of human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights: Challenges and good practice. (see my previous post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/regional-update-for-asia/)

The current and previous Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders have emphasised the specific risks that defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights face. Whether they are activists fighting corruption or promoting transparency, working on land and environment rights, or defending their right to housing, ESC-rights defenders are among the most isolated and stigmatised defenders. This side event hopes to shed light on the risks faced by economic, social and cultural rights defenders, and draw on the report of the Special Rapporteur presented to the 31st session of the Human Rights Council to present good practices in furthering their protection.

panelists:

Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Navi Pillay, former High Commissioner for Human Rights

Allo Awol, human rights defender from Eritrea

Arutchelvan Subramaniams, human rights defender from Malaysia

Pedro Tzicá, human rights defender from Guatemala

Moderator: Ms Catarina de Albuquerque, Executive Chair of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Interpretation in English and Spanish will be provided. The event will be webcast live at www.ishr.ch/webcasts

Source: Protection needs of human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights | ISHR

‘The Interview’ Sequel plays at the Korean Border

April 21, 2015

The Hollywood Reporter (THR) of 20 April 2015 contains an interesting and detailed piece by Paul Bond who went with the Human Rights Foundation on a trip to South Korea, to see how defector send films, television shows, books, and offline versions of Wikipedia into North Korea. The experience inspired nine articles, all of them published on THR’s website, but the centerpiece is this one: ‘The Interview’ Sequel: Inside the Frightening Battle Raging on the North Korean Border’.  The articles all together give an interesting picture of the powerful role that film can play in the case of closed societies where there is hardly any internet (here North Korean), but also how the South Korean authorities out of fear for retaliation limit the human rights defenders’ actions.

Left: U.S. resident Thor Halvorssen filled bags with The Interview,leaflets and American music to be ballooned into North Korea but was stopped April 9 by South Korean police. Right: Lee Min Bok prepared a balloon with Interview,Zero Dark Thirtyand U.S. dollars but was prevented from launching it by two guards.

 

To trick North Korean authorities, Interview begins with state propaganda clips before switching abruptly to a 12-minute subtitled edit of Interview — a bit from the beginning, middle and end, with the more vulgar parts removed.

For the full article please go to: ‘The Interview’ Sequel: Inside the Frightening Battle Raging on the North Korean Border – Hollywood Reporter.

 

Joseph Bikanda, Coordinator of Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network, has the floor

April 16, 2015

The Newsletter of International Service for Human Rights in Geneva gave on 2 April 2015 the floor to Joseph Bikanda, the Coordinator of the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN), a Network made up of 5 sub-regional networks of human right defenders (HRDs), including the East and Horn of Africa, the Central, the West, the Southern and the North African HRDs Networks.

Joseph first became involved in human rights as a university student. A group of students needed a voice to advocate on their behalf. Joseph became that voice. In doing so, Joseph learnt about human rights mechanisms existing at the time. ‘I found myself surrounded by the human rights world and knew that it was the right place for me. Since then I have been working in human rights in various capacities.

Joseph stated that PAHRDN’s key focus is to strengthen the capacity and provide support to regional networks, civil society organisations and HRDs. ‘You are always stronger working together in a network, and if each element of the network is more capable and works together – you are even stronger’

..Regional and international human rights mechanisms support HRDs, but networks such as PAHRDN are essential to create local supporting mechanisms for HRDs’.. Joseph explains that PAHRDN has established local mechanisms to ‘fill the gap as best we can’. These mechanisms include providing emergency support, lawyers, trial observation and practical support for HRDs.

One of our key roles is to provide support for HRDs in emergency situations when they are being harassed, targeted or when their lives are in danger. We have also created urgent mechanisms which apply pressure to perpetrators of human rights abuses.’

Joseph commented on the essential role that HRDs played in initiating the development of the law for the protection of HRDs in Côte d’Ivoire. He shared his hope that each African country develops similar laws in the near future and, in particular, that each of those laws is effectively implemented. ‘I hope to see HRDs develop further as key actors combatting corruption and promoting transparency. Involving HRDs in decisions ensures that the views of civil society are raised and considered.’

In his discussion with ISHR, Joseph identified that his primary objectives of attending the March session of the Human Rights Council were to raise awareness of – the horrific situation in Burundi, in particular the persecution of journalists and HRDs; the continued fighting in South Sudan and the abduction of children for combat; and the concerning counter terrorism laws in Cameroon and Ethiopia, which lack differentiation between defenders and terrorists.

You can follow Joseph Bikanda on Twitter at @Bikjo.

Joseph Bikanda: Coordinator of Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network | ISHR.

ASEAN human rights defenders formulate demands ahead of People’s Forum later this month

April 1, 2015

ASEAN People's Forum

Casey Hynes reports on 26 March that human rights defenders are preparing to bring up strongly the case of their missing Laotian colleague Sombath Somphone at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum that convenes in Kuala Lumpur on 21-24 April 2015. Sombath was kidnapped in Vientiane, Laos, in 2013 [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/laos-un-experts-on-two-year-old-disappearance-of-human-rights-defender-sombath-somphone/].

The ACSC/APF allows civil society activists from all the ASEAN countries to voice their concerns about rights violations in their countries, and become empowered by the strength in numbers there. In countries such as Laos and Vietnam, dissent is often suppressed with jail time or enforced disappearances, which makes it extremely dangerous for activists to speak out. Jerald Joseph, chair of the APF’s Regional Steering Committee, said that by coming to the forum, activists who face risks in their home countries find a safer space to voice their concerns.

ACSC/APF organizers recently condemned the crackdown on protesters in Burma, where 100 people were arrested for speaking out against a new education law. They also pointed to a spate of political arrests in Malaysia and the murder of Indonesian farmer and lands rights activist Indra Pelani, who was allegedly shot to death by “security guards of a subsidiary company of Asia Pulp and Paper”.

There are numerous cases where human rights defenders have just disappeared. Somchai Neelapaijit in Thailand, Sombath Somphone in Laos, and Jonas Burgos in the Philippines—where are they?” said Mugiyanto, a member of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development.

The Laos government is notorious for restricting civil society activism, and for routinely committing human rights abuses. However, Laos is set to take over the ASEAN chairmanship in 2016, and Joseph said they’ll have to answer for some of their abuses when that happens. Already, civil society actors have been discussing the rights situation in Laos with activists and government officials there. “The conversation has started, and the pressure is up already,” he said in a phone interview.

Participating organizations sent a letter on behalf of the ACSC/APF to all the ASEAN member governments in January, highlighting their priorities for “reclaiming the ASEAN community for the people.”

The letter stated:

While ASEAN governments are heading towards developing the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision, the people of ASEAN continue to suffer from authoritarian and military regimes, increased militarisation, violence and armed conflicts, unlawful foreign interference, lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights violations, undemocratic processes, corruption and poor governance, development injustice, discrimination, inequality, and religious extremism and intolerance. …

The failure of ASEAN to meaningfully address the people’s issues is deeply rooted in the organisation’s continued adherence to a neo-liberal model that prioritizes corporate interests and elite groups, including state-owned enterprises, over the interests of the people. Our engagement with the ASEAN process is therefore anchored on a critique and rejection of deregulation, privatisation, government and corporate-led trade and investment policies that breed greater inequalities, accelerate marginalization and exploitation, and inhibit peace, democracy, development, and social progress in the region.

The authors identified four priorities for ASEAN governments to focus on: development justice; democratic processes, governance, and fundamental rights and freedoms; peace and security; and discrimination and inequality.

ASEAN rights activists demand change ahead of People’s Forum | Asian Correspondent.

Call for the release human rights defender Mohamed Mchangama in Comoros

February 17, 2015

The New York based Human Rights Foundation on 11 February 2015 called on the government of the Comoros to release Mohamed Said Abdallah Mchangama, President of the Federation of Comorian Consumers (FCC).
HRF to the Comoros: Release Activist Mohamed Mchangama and Drop Incitement Charges Against Him

Mchangama is one of the leaders of the “Madji Na Mwendje” (power and water) movement, formed by the FCC and other civil society organizations to protest the government’s inability to resolve the frequent power blackouts and water shortages plaguing the island. The movement called on all Comorian civil society groups to engage in a three-day general strike scheduled for February 9-11. The Sunday before the strike was set to start, Mchangama was summoned to appear at the police station of Moroni where he was immediately arrested and is currently being held.

Civil society leaders like Mchangama are a threat to competitive authoritarian regimes because of their ability to channel people’s frustration at corrupt and incompetent governments. By arresting him, the government seeks to quash a legitimate demand from hundreds of thousands of Comorians living below the poverty line. He must be released immediately,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation. “We have seen similar instances of repressing freedom of expression in the region. In Burundi, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was arrested for criticizing the ruling party during a radio interview; and in Swaziland Thulani Maseko and Bhaki Makubu were both arrested for questioning the independence of the judicial system. These are all legitimate concerns in any democratic society. It is these abusive governments that are at fault here, not the people,” said Halvorssen.

For more information contact: Jamie Hancock at jamie[at]thehrf.org or see the original piece:

HRF to the Comoros: Release Activist Mohamed Mchangama and Drop Incitement Charges Against Him | News | The Human Rights Foundation.