Posts Tagged ‘Covid-19’

Joint NGO-call for UN to protect civilians caught in armed conflict

May 12, 2021

On 12 May 2021 the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and 25 other civil society organizations have issued a joint statement ahead of the May 25th UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The joint statement calls for the UN Secretary General, UN Security Council, Member States, and armed actors to take urgent and ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies, and practices, to protect civilians caught in armed conflict.

Civil Society Statement on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2021)

Over the past year, anniversaries of the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and new outbreaks of violence elsewhere, have served as grim reminders of the international community’s lack of meaningful progress to uphold their commitments to protect civilians in armed conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has interacted with new, ongoing, and protracted conflicts, exacerbating existing inequalities and protection concerns, and contributing to dramatically escalating humanitarian needs including displacement, famine and food insecurity, and desperate medical shortfalls. Civilians living in conflict-zones continue to experience the devastating impacts of conflict-related environmental damage and an increased vulnerability to climate and environmental risks with wide-ranging effects on health and human suffering.

Meanwhile, States continue to use the pandemic and other pretexts to shrink civic space. Dialogue essential to the development of policies, strategies, and plans for protection of civilians too often fails to be adequately representative and inclusive of civil society, despite their voices being essential. This is especially true for vulnerable or marginalized communities and for human rights defenders.

Parties to conflict continue to be blind to the gendered, age-specific, and intersectional vulnerabilities of civilians. In particular, conflicts continue to undermine the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities, especially when it comes to participating in decisions that impact their lives and communities. Conflict often leads to the widespread use of gender-based violence, undermining of women’s freedom of movement and access to education, health and livelihoods. The deliberate targeting and collateral impact of conflicts on women and girls continues to result in specific gendered harms that must be redressed, requiring the humanitarian system to ensure that there is gender equity in the decision-making structures at all levels. Attacks on educational institutions and their military use result in death, destruction, and loss of education, creating long-term negative consequences for whole communities.

Moreover, the absence of genuine political will to realize accountability for war crimes and other serious violations has deepened a culture of impunity.  As a result, parties to conflict continue to directly violate international humanitarian law (IHL) or enable violations by others and fail to take meaningful practical steps to minimize and respond to civilian harm in conflict.  Parties, including some States who profess to support the protection of civilians agenda are also fueling protection crises around the world, including through the supply of weapons and other forms of military and security assistance. Rather than enhancing the protection of civilians, millions have been forced to flee bombing and fighting and face hunger, starvation and disease as their access to life-saving humanitarian assistance is denied or otherwise impeded.

At the same time, protecting civilians has too often been understood through the prism of compliance with international humanitarian law. This is an incomplete view: compliance with the law is the bare minimum, but current patterns of harm and long-term effects of hostilities highlight the need for policies and practices to effectively prevent, minimize, and respond to civilian harm. The full protection of civilians must become a strategic imperative across scenarios from direct involvement in hostilities to support provided to parties to conflict, and through the full spectrum of UN and other international and regional peace operations. This should entail prioritizing the health and wellbeing of people, supporting political and social structures that ensure justice and dignity, and protecting the environment, and be understood as a wider goal of conflict prevention and response.

Ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies and practices is urgently required to adequately protect civilians caught in armed conflict:

Member States, the UN System, and the international community must recommit to a United Nations of ‘We the Peoples’, and engage conflict-affected communities and local, national, and international civil society in a direct, robust, inclusive, and sustained dialogue on the protection of civilians and measures to minimize civilian harm. Effective protection of civilians can only be conceived and implemented through safe and inclusive dialogue with conflict-affected communities and civil society at all levels. Additionally, the UN, States, and other stakeholders should support nonviolent and community-based protection mechanisms where possible such as political mediation, early warning/early response activities, and unarmed civilian

The UN Security Council, Member States, and the UN System must fulfill their commitment to the full protection of civilians, including by promoting and implementing the relevant and applicable legal and policy frameworks. Member States should partner with civil society to develop national policy frameworks that include mechanisms to systematically record casualties, track, analyze, prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian harm from the actions of their own and those of security partners, including the indirect and reverberating effects of hostilities on critical civilian objects, critical infrastructure and essential services, including health and education, and that ensure principled and sustained dialogue with humanitarian organizations in conflict contexts.

The UN Security Council, Member States and all parties to conflict must operate in a manner that preserves and protects space for principled humanitarian action, including by ensuring compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as a critical aspect of strengthening the protection of civilians. As conflicts are increasingly defined as protection crises, disproportionately affecting women, girls, and boys, and are compounded by the gendered and age-specific impacts of COVID-19, States must take actions to reinforce the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups, and the localization of principled humanitarian response. States and all other parties to conflict must facilitate unhindered access to affected populations, respecting humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. Sanctions and counterterrorism measures must include effective humanitarian exceptions and not limit principled humanitarian action. All actors must redouble efforts to protect humanitarian, education and health workers, and cease attacks on them, particularly in light of COVID-19’s effects and vaccine rollout.

The UN Secretary-General, the Security Council, and Member States must redouble efforts to ensure accountability for violations, including by publicly condemning actors who violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law and other applicable legal frameworks. The UN Security Council and Member States must strengthen the implementation of accountability mechanisms. The Secretary-General should reinforce transparent mechanisms, including at the field level, to track, analyze, and publicly report on violations caused by parties to armed conflicts, and make practical recommendations to enhance the protection of civilians and prevent further violations. Critical mechanisms established to help strengthen accountability, such as the list of perpetrators of grave violations of children’s rights included in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, must be credible and accurate, free from politicization.

Member States should engage constructively in the process to develop a political declaration that would strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects. Such a declaration should commit States to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. It should include inclusive humanitarian provisions to assist victims and affected communities including from damage and destruction to infrastructure – including schools and hospitals – and the resulting reverberating effects. This should recognize the particular vulnerability of and specific impacts of explosive weapons on children, the gendered impacts, and particular impacts on persons with disabilities.

The UN Secretary-General must work together with the UN Security Council to ensure protection is at the heart of UN peace operations.  Configurations and operations of UN peace operations must prioritize and be driven by analysis of threats against civilians, including threats of sexual and gender-based violence and threats of grave violations against children. The Secretary-General and Member States should ensure a coherent and adequately resourced approach to the protection of civilians, including that distinct capacities for protection, human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and child protection are defined and provided across the spectrum of peace operations and in UN Country Teams, and sustained throughout transitions. Peacekeeping operations should continue to strengthen implementation of the UN Department of Peace Operations PoC Policy, mitigate potential harm from their presence or operations, and incorporate local perspectives into protection strategies.

As civil society, we believe in the comprehensive protection of civilians: the protection of civilians from conflict, the protection of civilians during conflict, and the protection of civilians in the devastating and often long aftermath of conflict. Over the past year, the pandemic has further forced the world to confront the protection implications of a global health crisis. Especially in the context of conflict, States and the international community must meaningfully advance the protection of civilians, starting with a recommitment to the critical dictum of “do no harm.”

Read the full statement below and click here for the PDF.

World Press Freedom Index 2021 is out

April 24, 2021

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation.

This year’s Index, which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories annually, shows that journalism, which is arguably the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation, is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others, which together represent 73% of the countries evaluated. These countries are classified as having “very bad,” “bad” or “problematic” environments for press freedom, and are identified accordingly in black, red or orange on the World Press Freedom map. To compare with last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

The Index data reflect a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field. Will this access be restored when the pandemic is over? The data shows that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The 2021 Edelman Trust barometer reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false. In reality, journalistic pluralism and rigorous reporting serve to combat disinformation and “infodemics”, including false and misleading information.

Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring  that  public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”

For example, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil (down 4 at 111th) and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (down 1 at 148th) promoted medically unproven Covid-19 remedies. Their false claims were debunked by investigative journalists at media outlets such as Brazil’s Agência Pública and in-depth reporting by Venezuela’s few remaining independent publications. In Iran (down 1 at 174th), the authorities tightened their control over news coverage and stepped up trials of journalists in order to weaken the media’s ability to scrutinise the country’s Covid-19 death toll. In Egypt (166th), President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government simply banned the publication of any pandemic statistics that didn’t come from the Ministry of Health. In Zimbabwe (down 4 at 130th), the investigative reporter Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested shortly after helping to expose the overbilling practices of a medical equipment supply company.

Biggest movements in the Index

Norway is ranked first in the Index for the fifth year running even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic. Finland maintained its position in second place while Sweden (up 1 at 3rd) recovered its third place ranking, which it had yielded to Denmark (down 1 at 4th) last year. The 2021 Index demonstrates the success of these Nordic nations’ approach towards upholding press freedom.

The World Press Freedom map has not had so few countries coloured white – indicating a country situation that is at least good if not optimal – since 2013, when the current evaluation method was adopted. This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism, as opposed to 13 countries (8%) last year. The country to have been stripped of its “good” classification is Germany (down 2 at 13th). Dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers  during protests against pandemic restriction….The country that fell the furthest in 2021 was Malaysia (down 18 at 119th), where the problems include a recent “anti-fake news” decree allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth. Big descents were also registered by Comoros (down 9 at 84th) and El Salvador (down 8 at 82nd), where journalists have struggled to obtain state-held information about the government’s handling of the pandemic.

https://rsf.org/en/2021-world-press-freedom-index-journalism-vaccine-against-disinformation-blocked-more-130-countries

The Guardian starts new series ‘Rights and freedom’

February 23, 2021

Humanity United

On Monday 22 February 2021 the Guardian announced that it will be reporting on human rights worldwide, elevating the voices of those working on the frontline to protect rights and freedom.

A year on from the start of the world’s biggest health crisis, we now face a human rights pandemic. Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities and fragilities of health and political systems and allowed authoritarian regimes to impose drastic curbs on rights and freedoms, using the virus as a pretext for restricting free speech and stifling dissent.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, attacks on journalists, and a roll out of invasive tracking apps and extreme surveillance measures that are likely to far outlast the virus. Over the coming years, the economic fallout of the pandemic will hit millions. Those already facing stigma and marginalisation will suffer the most: women, girls, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous communities.

Human rights crises in countries including Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela and South Sudan threaten lives, health and freedoms. Yet the pandemic has also seen a growing global momentum of resistance, a fight back to protect hard-won rights. Journalism has always been a crucial tool in holding those in power to account and highlighting the drivers and systems that violate the fundamental rights of every human being, as enshrined in law. With over 200 laureates, journalists are the single biggest professional group among the winners of human rights awards [see: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/laureates]

At this critical moment, there is an urgent need to focus attention on those who are suffering and what can be done to help them. Rights and Freedom is a new Guardian reporting series to investigate and expose human rights abuses, and elevate the voices of people working on the frontline, fighting back for themselves and their communities.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-violations-against-journalists/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/18/journalists-on-the-ground-are-often-the-real-heroes/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/rights-and-freedom-welcome-to-our-series

“In Pursuit of Freedom,” digital art exhibit featuring 15 protest movements

January 18, 2021

On 13 January 2021) the Human Rights Foundation announced the opening of “In Pursuit of Freedom,” a digital art exhibit featuring 15 protest movements from around the globe. Street protests were a defining feature of recent civil and political resistance despite the spread of the novel coronavirus worldwide. Authoritarian regimes were exposed for using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for repression, stricter restrictions, and power grabs instead of protecting their citizens’ lives. Nevertheless, people took the streets to make their voices heard, and as they adapted to champion social and political change in the face of the outbreak, art was a vigorous medium of protest and creative expression to expose the deception of tyranny. “In Pursuit of Freedom: A Year in Global Protest Art” showcases moving examples of protest art from 15 countries across regions, and attests to how art can be a powerful tool for activism and protest. From Belarus to Hong Kong, visit the exhibit to see striking works of protest art by artists who committed their talent in 2020 to push for change across 15 countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/24/lebanon-human-rights-defenders-use-graffiti-to-express-hope/

Explore the exhibit

Human rights values under threat say European human rights leaders

December 10, 2020

Helena Dalli – the European Union Commissioner for Equality – and Dunja Mijatović – the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights – published a joint opinion piece “Stop the rain on human rights” in Euractive at the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2020 on 10 December:

The current pandemic crisis serves as a magnifying glass of all existing inequalities in Europe – racism, gender and sexual discrimination, treatment of migrants: there is still a long way to go to ensure full and real equality in Europe,

Regrettably, for all the progress of the past seven decades, there is still a long way to go to ensure full and real equality in Europe. Our societies breed divisive levels of inequality, fear and polarisation. Structural discrimination keeps millions of Europeans on the margins of our societies, especially in employment, health, education, housing, and the criminal justice system.

The current pandemic crisis serves as a magnifying glass of all existing inequalities in Europe and exacerbates them. Those who were poor before it became poorer; those who were disadvantaged faced even greater disadvantages. Inequalities affecting women, LGBTIQ people and ethnic minorities illustrate this problem well….

Restrictions to freedom of assembly and association, obstacles to legal gender recognition and lack of adequate protection at public events are evident failures of state authorities to uphold their commitments and legal human rights obligations to ensure equality for LGBTIQ people.

The situation is not much better for people from ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds. If you are of African descent you are more likely than white people to face discrimination in the job market, in education and housing, and to be stopped by the police without reasonable suspicion.

Hate incidents also continue to scar the lives of Jews, Muslims and Roma, who are among the preferred scapegoats of those who still stigmatise some groups of people on the grounds of their ethnic origin or religion.

The unkept promise of equality betrays a long political, philosophical and judicial tradition which places equality at the centre of European democracies. Both the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights have upheld the principle of equality and non-discrimination since the 1970s.

Yet, more and more governments and parliaments seem to pay little attention to their legal obligations, and to the destabilising consequences that keeping millions of Europeans as second-class citizens is having on our societies. Hard won progress’ longevity is not a given. We must protect and reinforce it every day.

The many challenges that our societies will have to face require that Europe strengthens the place equality occupies in our societies, starting by giving a more central focus to the principle of equality and non-discrimination in relations to all human rights, be they civil, political, economic social or cultural.

We must do better for the rights of the single mother living in poverty and for the disabled child prevented from attending a mainstream school. We must protect the rights of women and girls who have been sexually harassed, of young graduates who face discrimination in the labour market because of how their name sounds.

We also must remain vigilant in the face of worrying attempts to roll back progress towards equality for women and LGBTIQ people.

There is no easy fix, but already taking the decision to address these long-standing problems together is a good start. We firmly believe that the founding principles and values of the Universal Declaration are as relevant today as they were when they emerged from bloodshed, tyranny and war. They require that governments become stronger defenders of human rights.

We are helping them do so by addressing effectively the pervasive discriminations against women in Europe. Ratifying and implementing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is key to advance gender equality. This Convention has been ratified by 34 European countries, and signed by the EU.

However, the EU is not yet in a position to ratify because unanimity between member states has not been reached. We will join forces to make clear that the Convention protects from violence and nothing else; contrary to the misconceptions, fallacious and uninformed claims that have circulated and sown doubts.

Likewise, we are committed to fight racism and bring about an anti-racist culture. To this end, we believe that one of the priorities is to help member states stamp out ethnic profiling and end impunity for police misconduct.

We will also strengthen our work to counter discrimination against LGBTIQ people. We will continue to raise the visibility of LGBTIQ people in our dialogue with member states, support activists and use all means at our disposal to defend the right of LGBTIQ people to equality.

For this to happen, however, our voices alone will not suffice. There is the need for a renewed commitment by national authorities to uphold the founding values and legal obligations set out by the European Union and the Council of Europe. And here we get to the heart of the problem.

At best, many politicians in our member states remain indifferent about discrimination. At worst, they instigate violence and hostility. Politicians must be champions of equality, not obstacles to it. International organisations and the human rights community too have their bit to do.

We must become more inclusive in the way we defend human rights. We deliver a public service in the interest of society, but we do not own that service. We talk about, for and sometimes with people who have suffered human rights violations.

But we rarely empower them to speak for themselves. They should take part in decision-making processes as much as possible. We should learn to listen more and they must have the space to tell their stories and shape the policies and laws that concern them.

When states adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights on 10 December 1948, they pledged themselves to achieve equality. Giving practical effect to that vision is still possible – but only if we choose to strengthen freedoms, promote participation and empower all people.

EURACTIV’s editorial content is independent from the views of our sponsors.

The launch of the Freedom of Thought Report 2020

December 9, 2020

On 10 December 2020 Humanist International launches its annual Freedom of Thought Report. Time: 3pm UTC. Location: Facebook or YouTube
Speakers:

● Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

● Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, Mauritanian blogger, activist and former prisoner of conscience

● Debbie Goddard, Vice President ofAmerican Atheists and Board Member of Humanists International

● Rev. Frederick Davie, Commissioner of The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

● Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International

● Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Casework & Campaigns Manager at Humanists International

Since 2012 Humanists International has published the Freedom of Thought Report to monitor the rights and treatment of humanists, atheists and non-religious people in every country in the world.

This year, the thematic focus of the Report is COVID-19, and its impact on the non-religious people globally.

In particular the focus is on restrictions on:
● Women’s rights

● Media freedom, protest and access to information

● Individuals at risk.

2020 UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights: hopefully not business as usual

November 17, 2020

Monday 16 November the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights kicked off — with high-level business commitments to prevent human rights violations in their operations, to prepare for next year’s ten-year anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and to realise the ambition to “build back better.”

Richard Howitt of Supply Chain  is providing daily updates on the UN Human Rights Forum 2020. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/19/business-and-human-rights-where-to-go-in-the-un/]

The opening of the Forum gave a sobering assessment of how the COVID crisis has reversed business and human rights gains. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that COVID restrictions were being exploited to suppress rights and to silence dissent. She pointed out that supply chains had suffered most, with female workers disproportionately affected. 

UNICEF’s Sanjay Wijesekerg said decades of progress on child labour and child marriage were being lost. He was one of a number of speakers throughout the day calling on governments to use their financial leverage during the crisis to enforce respect for business and human rights. 

In a special session on lessons from the pandemic, Tony Khaw — Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for semi-conductor producer NXP — explained how they had been able to help foreign migrant workers, always the most vulnerable in the company’s workforce across 26 countries, who were unable to return home because of travel restrictions; and Shubha Sekhar, Director of Human Rights: Eurasia & North Africa for The Coca-Cola Company, described how human rights specialists had been embedded in the company’s crisis-management teams.

Both companies found the advantage that comes from the fact that “due diligence” meant they had already established highly developed relations with suppliers, which had enormous benefits to both companies and to the supply chain when the crisis hit. Small businesses and jobs were saved, but security of supply remained protected. 

Corey Klemmer, Director of Engagement at impact investor Domini, said investors also saw how companies with strong human rights records had been shown to be more resilient. The business case for human rights respect clearly exists in bad times, as well as good.

However, a second theme running throughout the day was what UN Global Compact Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo called a “growing disconnect” between companies adopting human rights policies and taking action to implement them.

The fourth Corporate Human Rights Benchmark annual report — launched today at the Forum — finds the most improvement this year has been in public commitments to respect human rights by business, but that a large number of companies had failed to record improvement during the year; and still, 79 of the 230 companies assessed scored zero for human rights due diligence.

The day’s closing CEO panel put this down to an issue of leadership. 

UN Working Group Chair Anita Ramasastry said the leading companies were the ones “where the CEO can speak easily about the Guiding Principles and not just having a company human rights statement. It means employees, investors, stakeholders and consumers really notice.”

Meanwhile, for anyone afraid that cross-industry collaboration between companies on broader societal issues might impinge on their competitiveness, the best answer came from Michele Thatcher, SVP and Chief Counsel at PepsiCo, who said: “We even found ourselves at Coca Cola headquarters in Atlanta, talking human rights.”

Another key finding in the Human Rights Benchmark report was in a study of automotive companies, which finds almost no correlation between companies who rate well on climate action and those who do so on human rights. The two appear to be treated entirely separately by the industry — it’s as if the term “climate justice” had never been invented. 

The case to link the two was made by former Irish President Mary Robinson, who used the Forum to appeal to companies to work directly with human rights defenders at the local level — “as they understand the link between the environment, development and rights.”

A positive sign that the linkage is being better understood came from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Filipo Veglio, who explained how the organisation has now changed its membership criteria to require a commitment to human rights, too.

What links the two major themes to emerge from the day — whether COVID or climate — is the need for companies to take steps to assist vulnerable people in supply chains, and to ensure their needs are taken into account in the change processes in which business is engaged. 

Richard Howitt will be providing daily updates on the UN Human Rights Forum 2020.

In the meantime on 11 November 2020 the Business ad Human Rights Resource Centre published:”The dirty side of development finance

…Human rights abuses and lack of meaningful consultation are a common feature of many of the so-called “development projects”. Human rights defenders, civil society and local communities all over the world have been denouncing the inherent, structural problems of the current development model for years. Yet, banks keep burying their head under the sand, failing to recognise these problems and to address them…

When the Inter-American Development bank and other financiers began talking about building three hydroelectric dams along the Pojom and Negro rivers, the word ‘development’ became the smokescreen for giving freeway to corporations. The pristine hills of Ixquisis, where local indigenous communities of Mayan descent had been living for centuries, were plundered, polluted and militarized…

In Armenia, for the past two years, local residents have been protesting against the development of the Amulsar gold mine. Built near the touristic spa town of Jermuk by the international mining company Lidyan, the mine would pose a threat to the environment and livelihoods of the local people. As the company plans to use cyanide to leach gold concentrate, the precious water sources in the area are in danger…

In Kenya, the Sengwer indigenous communities in the Embobut forest have been facing forced evictions, loss of livelihood and violent attacks because of a conservation project approved in the name of “sustainable development”…

In Nepal, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is funding a 220 kV transmission line project in the Lamjung district, failing to respect the right of the local indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent. Project documents were primarily provided in English and, even in those rare cases where consultations took place, communities could not participate meaningfully and negotiate compensation rates…

https://sustainablebrands.com/read/supply-chain/un-forum-on-business-and-human-rights-day-1-the-most-vulnerable-are-always-in-your-supply-chain

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/development-finance-linked-to-human-rights-abuses-worldwide/

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2020ForumBHR.aspx

10 December: Launch of the Freedom of Thought Report 2020 by Humanists International

November 10, 2020

International Human Rights Day 2020 is coming up and here is an early save the date for the Humanists International.

Since 2012 Humanists International has published the Freedom of Thought Report to monitor the rights and treatment of humanists, atheists and non-religious people in every country in the world. This year, the thematic focus of the Report is COVID-19, and its impact on the non-religious people globally. In particular we have seen the establishment of restrictions on:

– Women’s rights
– Media freedom, protest and access to information
– Individuals at risk

Here is the list of the event speakers:- Andrew Copson
President of Humanists International

Dr Ahmed Shaheed
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Emma Wadsworth-Jones
Humanists International’s Casework & Campaigns Manager

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir
Mauritanian blogger and anti-slavery activist

Debbie Goddard,
Vice-President of American Atheists

Rev. Fred Davie,
Commissioner of The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

The event will be live-streamed on Facebook on 10 December at 15.00 UTC.No registration is needed. Access is free. We are going to share the link of the live streaming with you in due time.Confirm your participation
to the event on Facebook now!

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/15/humanists-calls-on-un-to-stop-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/

Good news: Iran temporarily frees human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh

November 9, 2020

Many media outlets (here the Guardian) reported on Saturday 7 November 2020 that Iran has temporarily released Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer who was jailed two years ago on spying and propaganda charges. Sotoudeh’s release followed warnings last month by human rights groups that her health had severely deteriorated after she staged a six-week hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners and rights activists.

{see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/07/un-rights-chief-urges-iran-to-release-jailed-sotoudeh-and-other-human-rights-defenders-citing-covid-19-risk/ as well as:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/13/1-million-people-demand-that-iranian-government-release-nasrin-sotoudeh/ ]

“Nasrin Sotoudeh … went on furlough with the agreement of the assistant superintendent of the women’s prison,” the judiciary’s Mizan news agency said, without giving further details.

Sotoudeh, 57, who has represented opposition activists including women prosecuted for removing their headscarf, was arrested in 2018 and charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader.

Sotoudeh has been recognised widely with seven major human rights awards.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/24/martin-ennals-award-laureates-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-their-imprisoned-fellow-award-winners/

See also: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/sotoudeh-thanks-global-colleagues-as-she-is-freed-for-now/5106333.article

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/07/iran-temporarily-frees-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh

Nicaragua: things getting worse and worse for human rights defenders: COVID-19 and foreign agents

October 17, 2020

The New Humanitarian of 2 September 2020 carried a special feature on Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega is making life increasingly hard for aid and human rights groups in Nicaragua even as poverty, malnutrition, and emigration due to political strife are on the rise, and as he is criticised for a dismissive and reckless response to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, a new law for the regulation of “foreign agents” was passed on 15 October.

“In Nicaragua, simply existing as a person carries a risk,” Ana Quirós, director of the Center for Information and Advisory Services in Health, or CISAS, told The New Humanitarian. “You do not need a particular reason to become a victim of violence, of repression, kidnapping or assassination. It is a general risk.

Quirós was deported and stripped of citizenship in November 2018 after the government accused CISAS, which had been working on health education and HIV prevention in Nicaragua with the support of several international aid groups and actors – including Medico International, Medicus Mundi, and the EU – of “participating in destabilising activities”.

Quirós said individuals still working with aid and civic groups in the country are under great threat, and that several people who had been working with CISAS in Nicaragua since it was banned had been forced to flee the Central American country.

It has been during this pandemic that the absence of the NGOs has been most strongly felt, especially for us working in health,” the CISAS director said. “The government hasn’t made any efforts regarding communication, training, education in health, and with regard to the other basic human rights of the population,” Quirós said. “The population is very unprotected, and is hungry for information and real knowledge about the risks and measures that one needs to take to prevent illnesses.

Forty years after Ortega led a socialist revolution to uproot the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua continues to be burdened by a host of humanitarian concerns, albeit as it isolates itself from international aid institutions.

Under the government leadership of Ortega and his influential wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America, while the violent repression of political opponents since April 2018 has generated a migration crisis proportionately comparable to that of Venezuela. After Ortega’s re-election in 2006, Nicaragua’s poverty rate fell, following a similar trend throughout Latin America, but an independent report published at the end of 2019 estimates that it has since soared, and that roughly a third of the population, or more than two million people, now live on less than $1.76 per day.

According to the World Food Programme, 17 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the rate at nearly 30 percent – similar to humanitarian crisis settings such as Somalia – in Nicaragua’s northern provinces, which form part of Central America’s dry corridor. In 2019, WFP provided assistance to 45,000 people in Nicaragua affected by the seasonal climate change-linked emergency.

Due to severe restrictions on free assembly and expression, it is probable that protection and humanitarian needs are under-reported in Nicaragua,” ACLED wrote in an email to TNH. “It is clear from current political violence and demonstration trends in Nicaragua – particularly amid the pandemic – that the situation requires urgent attention from international humanitarian actors.

Demonstrations initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform, which has since been scrapped. They later morphed into broader political unrest as the government responded with heavy-handed measures against student protesters, and as dissatisfaction grew at government corruption and the Ortegas’ increasingly autocratic rule.

The ensuing government crackdown led to the deaths of hundreds of people – the government set the number at 197, while human rights groups say it was at least 325 – and drove more than 103,000 people to seek asylum abroad. Most fled to neighbouring Costa Rica, where at least 400,000 Nicaraguans had already been living.

In July, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the ongoing repression in the country two years after the initial protests, listing a litany of government offences between March and June, including arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, and detentions, threats, and intimidation.

Line graph of demonstrations in Nicaragua, 2019-2020

Human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees,” Bachelet reported.

The crushing of the opposition included, in 2019, the revocation of the legal status of a number of civil society groups and local NGOs – the Nicaragua Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) and CISAS among them.

Here, one cannot organise trade unions or teachers. One cannot organise any group that is not under the auspice of the regime,” Monica Baltodano, director of the Popol Na Foundation, another of the banned groups, told the independent news site Confidencial last December.

….Vice-President Murillo told Nicaraguans that the country was under divine protection, while officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order not to scare patients. In July, 25 doctors were fired for signing a letter critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It asked simply that health workers should not be persecuted and that they be allowed to use PPE.

After the United States and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year, 65 of the 148 officially recognised political prisoners were released from prison in December. Further sanctions have been imposed since, including on a second son of the presidential couple. But international political pressure has routinely been countered by the message that Nicaragua will manage on its own.

International aid groups and agencies have also experienced government pressure as it attempts to influence and define their roles. Ever since Ortega resumed the presidency in 2007, the organisations have had to operate with increasing care, former aid workers familiar with the country told TNH.

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme was told by the government that it was no longer needed as an intermediary between donors and those executing development projects. Without providing further details, the authorities said the agency and its country chief were accused of “political meddling”, and of maintaining a “hidden agenda”.

UNDP told TNH at the end of July that its operations in Nicaragua were now “limited” and that it did not have a resident representative or a deputy representative. The UN agency did not respond to requests for further comment on the situation in the country.

In 2018, the government expelled a UN human rights team after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an immediate end to the persecution of political opponents and called for the disarming of masked civilians responsible for a string of killings and detentions. Soon after, two missions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigating violence during the anti-government protests were also thrown out.

As COVID-19 cases appear to mount, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional wing of the World Health Organization – has urged the government to take stronger measures to curb the spread of the virus.

PAHO continues to await authorisation to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has donated PPE to the health ministry, while repeatedly stating that the official COVID-19 data provided is incomplete.

In spite of donations from various international sources, doctors have argued that distribution of masks and other PPE items remains inadequate. As of 26 August, Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory estimated that 107 health workers in Nicaragua had died from the coronavirus…

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few international aid groups with a presence in Nicaragua, has offered its support to help with the release of what human rights groups estimate – following the protest crackdown – to be more than 6,000 political prisoners.

In a written statement to TNH, the organisation said: “The ICRC returned permanently to Nicaragua in 2018. We have been visiting detention sites since 2019, and in November 2019 renewed our host country agreement. We can develop our humanitarian action with openness, in dialogue with the authorities and civil society, according to our humanitarian principles and working methods.”

Last Thursday 15 October Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the law for the regulation of ‘foreign agents “. The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register. Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/09/02/Nicaragua-conflict-political-unrest-poverty-coronavirus

Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law