Posts Tagged ‘climate’

Opening statement by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focuses very much on climate change

September 11, 2019

The Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the 42nd Session of the UN human Rights Council in Geneva on 9 September 2019 was widely reported in the media as having an exceptionally strong focus on climate change and human rights.

The crucial paragraph on environmental human rights defenders is quoted below:

Read the rest of this entry »

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

August 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

UN secretary-general attacks populists in Charlemagne Prize speech

June 5, 2019

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in Aachen | Florian Ebener/Getty Image
The human rights agenda is losing ground to nationalist agendas, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned: “Many people are turning inwards looking at a golden age that probably never was,” he said of populists, religious extremists and nationalists.  Accepting the prize for work done in the service of Europe’s unification, the former Portuguese prime minister said that there is no alternative to the European Union, as no country can meet current challenges alone.

..He called on the Continent to come to grips with some serious challenges, such as migration, climate change and the disruption created by technological developments.

While he noted that many societies are today multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious, Guterres stressed that there is work to be done to ensure that each community is respected and that it feels it belongs to society as a whole.

Guterres also praised Europe’s 1-year-old General Data Protection Regulation, which sets rules for how companies and other entities have to deal with data protection and people’s privacy in the current digital world. The law is a testament to how the EU can ensure the protection of human rights, he said.

On how to revigorate the human rights ides, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/30/positive-communication-is-the-only-way-forward-for-effective-human-rights-work/

International Civil Society Week: 3 human rights defenders engaging business

May 4, 2019

Sutharee Wannasiri (Thailand)

Sutharee Wannasiri

Sutharee has been supporting the 14 Myanmar workers that have denounced labour rights abuses at the Thammakaset Farm in Thailand. She has actively engaged in public advocacy to demand business accountability on labour rights abuses, and an end to the judicial harassment workers are facing in retaliation for reporting these. To date, Thammakaset Farm has filed more than 13 criminal and civil complaints against the workers and the local CSO staff from Migrant Worker Rights Network and the journalists supporting them, including her – many of them are ongoing. The majority of the cases have been dropped by the courts.

Sutharee said:

“It is also the responsibility of international brands that buy from Thailand to make sure the companies they are sourcing from are not engaged in judicial harassment that creates a chilling effect on whistleblowers and other defenders. They should establish mechanisms that allow workers and defenders to communicate with the brands directly and ensure that they are protected from any retaliation from suppliers during the investigation. The results should be made public and bring accountability for the abuses.”

 

Amanda Segnini (Brazil)

Amanda Segnini

The organization engajamundo focuses on youth empowerment in Brazil, with a particular focus on climate change. Its main goal is to make young people ware of their power to transform their communities. The organization is concerned about how civic freedoms will be negatively affected under the new government of President Jair Bolsonaro. Engajamundo is open to dialogue and ongoing engagement with companies if there is an alignment in values. Amanda believes that companies and civil society could engage more with one another if they find a shared purpose.

Amanda said:

It might be right for companies to say something in support of activists that are under attack – but only if they have been working with the community long-term and have an ongoing relationship with them: for example, if they work with local producers and source responsibly from them. If such a community is under attack, a brand should say or do something in their support. But if they only say something without having that relationship, it’s like they are just ‘riding on the wave’, taking advantage of the buzz. Companies also should not censor civil society they engage with. For example, once we were invited to take part in a corporate event, but they tried to censor what we wanted to say. We decided not to participate in the end.”

 

Sasa Uzelac (from Serbia)

Sasa Uzelac

Sasa is the Solidarity Center‘s Regional Coordinator for South East Europe. Solidarity Center was established by AFL-CIO, and is the biggest international organization supporting trade unions and associations working to protect labour rights in South East Europe. He says trade unions and workers’ associations are increasingly under attack from governments, companies, and far-right political organizations and movements. Sasa says the tide of far-right populism is creating additional problems for organizations and people advocating for labour rights. Workers’ rights are being endangered on a daily basis by “ruthless” employers and “mindless” government officials. Freedom of association, decent working conditions, and human rights in the field of work are at risk due to governments’ failure to sanction unlawful activities by employers.

Sasa said:

“The best thing brands can do is to introduce union practices from their country of origin, rather than exploiting the weaknesses of the local system and local practices in their operations. But sadly they are not doing that to a high enough standard in this region. When big international companies enter the market, they should also make sure that the health and safety standards are brought to the levels of their countries of origin.”

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/human-rights-defenders-discuss-engaging-with-business-at-international-civil-society-week-in-serbia

First ‘Prix Liberté of Normandy” for teen climate activist Greta Thunberg

April 10, 2019

Greta Thunberg
The activist is making waves globally (Photo: Anders Hellberg)

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg – who is a vegan – has won the newly created Prix Liberté, launched last year by the Region of Normandy in France, reports  in Plantbasednews. Thunberg, 16, is the first recipient of this new award, which was designed to honor a young person ‘engaged in a fight for peace and freedom’. The award comes with prize money of  €25,000. [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/prix-libert-normandy ] The campaigner has made global headlines through her efforts, which includes encouraging students to attend demonstrations demanding political action on climate change while ‘on strike’ from school. Her influence has spread beyond her native Sweden throughout Europe and beyond

“I am very grateful and honoured to have won the Prix Liberté!” Thunberg said in a post on social media. “The other final nominees have stood up for human rights in a way that I can’t even imagine. We must constantly be reminded of the sacrifices they have made. Lu Guang and Raif Badawi are true heroes of our time.”

Thunberg said she will be splitting all of the prize money between four organizations dedicated to climate justice: These include CARE, which helps women and girls in the global south to cope with the effects of rising temperatures and a changing climate, and  The Adaptation Fund – which helps vulnerable communities in developing countries adapt and build resilience to climate change, 350.org and Greenpeace International who in Thunberg’s words ‘both fight for climate justice, the environment, and to keep the fossil fuels in the ground’, will also receive donations. Thunberg will receive her award on June 4, 2019, at the Normandy International Forum for Peace.

See also my old post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/03/11/link-between-protecting-the-environment-and-human-rights-asserted-by-un-expert-knox/

https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/vegan-climate-activist-greta-thunberg-wins-prix-liberte

Profile of William Leslie Amanzuru, Africa’s defender of the month

November 7, 2018

On 6 November 2018, the African network NGO DefendDefenders published this profile of their ‘Defender of the month’: William Leslie Amanzuru from Uganda:

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Southeast Asia: women on the frontlines of climate justice

January 21, 2016

Nathalie Margi writes in Open Democracy of 6 December 2015 that throughout Southeast Asia, hundreds of women environmental human rights defenders have been jailed, attacked and defamed as threats to “national security”. They remain without adequate resources, protection and funding for their work. In the piece entitled “Defending land and community: women on the frontlines of climate justice”, she says inter alia:  Read the rest of this entry »

Special Rapporteur’s next report focuses on HRDs and large-scale development projects: you can contribute!

June 14, 2013

The next thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, to the General Assembly in October 2013 will focus on the links between large-scale development projects and a safe and enabling

environment for human rights defenders, with a particular emphasis on the challenges of the human rights-based approach to development and the role of human rights defenders. This is indeed – as also shown in this blog – a growing area of concern with many HRDs working on e.g. land grabbing, forced evictions, environmental issues or the protection of indigenous minorities under constant threats and many having been killed .

To this end, the Special Rapporteur is requesting Member States, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and regional human rights mechanisms to answer a questionnaire. If you would like to contribute to this exercise, kindly complete the questionnaire and send it to defenders@ohchr.org. Deadline: 24 June 2013!. Should you have any question, please send an e-mail to the same address.  Questionnaire to be found via Questionnaire on large-scale development.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

Job Opportunity: Manual on Documenting Violations against Women Human Rights Defenders

June 4, 2013

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) is looking to recruit an editor for the Manual on Documenting Violations against Women Human Rights Defenders. The editor will work closely with members of the WHRD IC’s Documentation Manual Working Group to complete the manual. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Guatemalan Human Rights Defender murdered – 3 others released by kidnappers

March 27, 2013

On 18 March 2013, the body of human rights defender and indigenous peoples’ leader Encarnación Marcos Ucelo was found, following his kidnapping by heavily armed men the day before. His body reportedly showed signs of strangulation and his hands were tied. Fellow indigenous leaders Messrs Rigoberto Aguilar, Rodolfo López and Roberto González were also kidnapped by the armed men, but all three were released on 17 and 18 March 2013.

Encarnación Marcos Ucelo was a member of the Xinca indigenous people in Santa Maria Xalapán, situated in the department of Jalapa in Eastern Guatemala. He had worked as secretary of the Indigenous Parliament of Santa Maria Xalapán for almost two years and was also involved in a commission established in 2012 to investigate the historical land rights of indigenous peoples and campesino communities in Guatemala. Rigoberto Aguilar, Rodolfo López and Roberto González are all members are of the same indigenous community, while Roberto González is also Mayor of Santa Maria Xalapán and President of the Parliament.

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped condemns the killing of Encarnación Marcos Ucelo, and expresses serious concern for the security and physical and psychological integrity of Rigoberto Aguilar, Rodolfo López and Roberto González and urges the authorities in Guatemala to initiate an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation and take all necessary measures to guarantee the security and physical and psychological integrity all other indigenous peoples’ rights defenders of the Santa Maria Xalapán community.