Posts Tagged ‘Covid-19’

The risky lives of Human Rights Defenders during the pandemic

July 15, 2021

Meredith Veit in Open Global Rights of 14 July 2021 wrote how limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locking down.

Human rights defenders march in Thailand after a peaceful protester was threatened by gunshots from a mine security officer in January 2021. Photo courtesy of Meredith Veit


“Risking your life for human rights during a pandemic” is part I of a three-part series on COVID-19 and human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) across the world have been exposed to a wide range of dangers and threats—from smear campaigns and harassment to arbitrary detentions, abductions, and assassinations. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has worsened the conditions for a kind of work that is already extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally  arduous.

As outlined in Front Line Defenders’ most recent annual report, at least 331 human rights defenders were murdered in 2020 (an 8.8% increase compared to 2019). 

While certain restrictions have been necessary for containing the spread of a highly contagious virus, severe limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locked down.

At the onset of the pandemic, Protection International (PI) began conducting research via organisation-wide surveys to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights defenders (HRDs) that we work with. PI works principally in 11 countries—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand and Indonesia. Our findings validate what many human rights practitioners had feared would happen: public health measures are being weaponized against HRDs; there has been a rise in both physical and digital threats and attacks; business interests continue to prevail over human rights; political prisoners continue to be detained and neglected amidst the emergency; and the right to defend human rights is gravely at risk. 

Just one month after lockdowns began, our staff reported that the public health crisis had swiftly exacerbated existing challenges–including heightened physical and digital surveillance, increased criminalization, illegal detentions, and arbitrary arrests. Rates of gender-based violence, including against women HRDs, skyrocketed, and the disproportionate burden of familial care on women rose. The needle on the risk-ammeter didn’t rise gradually; HRDs felt the shock almost instantaneously. 

First, we’ll discuss the most prominently worrying and overarching trend: government’s weaponizing COVID-19 restrictions against their own citizens.

During times of crisis, states lean heavily on law enforcement for the implementation of emergency measures, and due to misinterpretation of government mandates, or sometimes purposefully harsh directives, HRDs and journalists often face the brunt of their brute force. Nearly all PI teams reported that confinement measures have allowed for greater surveillance of defenders.

In Guatemala, for example, a staff member described an unusually persistent police presence outside of their home. In Colombia, our team reports that threats against defenders and their activities have increased, as the government excuses authorities who are acting out under the guise of necessity to control the spread of the virus. 

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, many states did not clearly delineate that press should be excluded from confinement orders. A year later, journalists and dissidents continue to be targeted, discredited, and censored through the veneer of spreading mis- or dis-information about the virus or the effectiveness of the government’s response. In Tanzania, for example, the late President John Magufuli did not acknowledge that COVID-19 was an issue of concern until February 2021 and two editors of independent newspapers said that “officials had informally told them not to publish material that the government would not like.”

Brazil has suffered a similar fate. President Bolsonaro has denied the legitimacy of the pandemic, and he “accus[ed] the press for the chaos that the country is experiencing to divert attention from his disastrous management of the health crisis,” explains Reporters Without Borders. Administrations who baselessly and sweepingly blame journalists and human rights defenders for the impacts of the pandemic are undoubtedly contributing to the rise in violence against them.

Latin America has historically been the region most riddled with killings of HRDs, and this pandemic year has been no exception. The case of Colombia is particularly disheartening, considering that it not only continues to be the most dangerous country in the world for HRDs, but also that the government’s response to the increase of violence and massacres during the pandemic has been to deploy “militarization” techniques. Strict confinement has limited HRDs’ access to protection networks, routes, and allies, especially those who have limited or no access to the internet. Armed actors have taken advantage of confinement measures to more easily locate and murder defenders. Somos Defensores reported a 61% increase in HRD assassinations during the first quarter of 2020 in comparison to the same period of 2019. According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), at least 308 HRDs and social leaders have been killed in Colombia since the initial lockdowns began on 25 March 2020, including 83 in 2021. Many Colombian HRDs have used temporary relocation programs to find refuge, but towards the beginning of the pandemic, many of these programs were suspended due to travel restrictions. Once emergency evacuations started to be coordinated again, Colombia was the top country for HRD displacements in 2020.

Protection International Colombia has been working principally with Indigenous communities in the Orinoquía region in the east of the country, which continues to be largely neglected by emergency response and relief efforts. Many Indigenous HRDs are left worrying about basic needs such as health and food supplies, forcing defenders to side-line activities related to protecting their land and the environment. Restrictions on mobility and a lack of connectivity have particularly impacted rural HRDs, especially women. “The already enormous burden of familial and household care that falls on women’s shoulders has increased dramatically. Furthermore, they are more exposed and left vulnerable to domestic violence, since, if there is a cell phone in the house, the man normally has it,” explains Aída Pesquera, PI Representative in Colombia. “All of this notably limits them in the exercise of their human rights work.”

Protection International has been working with local leaders to provide cell-phone data to ensure defenders are able to communicate with their protection networks, provide support to communities by facilitating their access to the internet, as well as carry on with their ancestral self-protection practices. “We support them to move to a place where they can safely connect, and we hold virtual workshops every week on protection,” says Pesquera, “We also provide didactic material that they can use autonomously between sessions.”

While Indigenous groups in Colombia and Brazil were hit hardest by the pandemic, they are not yet on the list of prioritized groups for receiving the vaccine even though roll-out has officially begun.

Woman from a rural area of Colombia stands near a mural (2019). Photo courtesy of author

Since we began collecting data, these issues have persisted or even worsened over time. While vaccine inoculation may be on the horizon for some, the reality is that many HRDs are not anywhere near the top of national priority lists for receiving it. We expect that HRDs will continue to work in confrontation with the obstacles listed above for the remainder of 2021, at least.

Human rights groups have been shouting this since March 2020, but we have not yet reached a point where we can stop repeating it: The pandemic cannot be used as a pretext to unjustifiably curtail fundamental rights and freedoms. Governments have no excuse for overtly obstructing the right to defend human rights. One year later, we continue to call on the international community to protect and uphold human rights, especially in times of crisis when they are most at risk of being undermined. Many of us have settled into our routines of the “new normal,” but normalizing these abuses is dangerous. We must continue to speak out. We urge governments around the world to ensure the safety of defenders and to guarantee their right to freedom of expression and their right to defend human rights, even within the context of restrictions that are necessary and proportional.

Meredith Veit is a writer, researcher, multimedia storyteller, and human rights advocate. Her topics of special interest include the right to defend human rights, freedom of the press, digital security, and technology.


https://www.openglobalrights.org/risking-your-life-for-human-rights-during-a-pandemic/

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/protect-civic-space-post-pandemic-recovery

Father Stan’s death: callousness that amounts to murder

July 5, 2021

What many feared has happened, jailed Indian tribal rights activist Stan Swamy has died of a cardiac arrest in Mumbai city. He was 84. He was jailed last year under draconian anti-terror law UAPA in connection with the Elgar Parishad case – his death has triggered a flood of messages on social media from political leaders, intellectuals and other activists. Swamy, the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India, was arrested in October 2020.

Members of the civil society on Sunday 4 July 2021 had urged the chief justice of the Bombay High Court to intervene and provide relief to ailing activist Stan Swamy. They demanded that the 84-year-old, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and had been put on ventilator support, should be granted bail immediately and allowed to return to Jharkhand.

Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders shared a similar Tweet, saying it was “horrible news” that Swamy was put on a ventilator: “He’s spent 9 months in jail on unfounded charges. I’m deeply saddened and expect that every possible specialist treatment will be provided to him.”

Mr Gilmore – the European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights, – re-tweeted Ms Lawlor’s post and added: “India: I am very saddened to hear that Father Stan Swamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples’ rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities.”

The Jesuit priest, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, was moved to a private hospital in May after he tested positive for Covid. As he was very belatedly released on bail into hospital and was denied critical treatment in detention, he should be considered a death in the custody of the state.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren stated on Monday: Shocked to learn about the demise of Father Stan Swamy. He dedicated his life working for tribal rights. I had strongly opposed his arrest & incarceration. The Union Govt should be answerable for absolute apathy & non provision of timely medical services, leading to his death.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/11/the-indomitable-father-stan-swamy-defending-the-adivasis-and-the-dalits-a-cause-of-arrest/

I understand there will be likely a virtual memorial tomorrow, but no details known yet.

A joint statement by important international NGOs (Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CSW, FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, International Commission of Jurists, International Dalit Solidarity Network, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders)) was issued on 5 July: https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-joint-statement-on-the-death-of-human-rights-defender-father

The Government keeps insisting that all was ‘legal’: https://www.mangalorean.com/govt-rebuts-un-says-stan-swamys-detention-was-lawful/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-57718356

https://scroll.in/latest/999322/as-activist-stan-swamys-heath-worsens-civil-society-members-call-for-bail-specialised-treatment

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-stan-swamys-death-marks-a-tragic-moment-for-indian-democracy-akhil-gogoi/387163

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/elgar-parishad-case-stan-swamys-death-devastating-eu-un-human-rights-reps-on-stan-swamys-death-2479792

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/activists-opposition-call-out-custodial-murder-of-stan-swamy-101625494111357-amp.html

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-joint-statement-on-the-death-of-human-rights-defender-father

https://www.indialegallive.com/column-news/stan-swamy-uapa-unlawful-activities-prevention-act-kanchan-nanaware-varavara-rao-binayak-sen/

https://www.miragenews.com/death-in-custody-of-priest-stan-swamy-is-596431/

Joint statement by U.N. rapporteurs emphasizes digital rights as “top priority” to rebuild civic space

June 29, 2021

A bit belatedly, I refer to the statement made by Access Now welcoming on Tuesday, 8 June 2021, the timely new statement from U.N. Special Procedures emphasizing that digital rights are “a top priority” to rebuild civic space amid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The nine experts are taking part in RightsCon 2021 (June 7-11), marking the third consecutive year that Special Rapporteurs have issued a statement in light of thematic discussions to be held at the global summit on human rights in the digital age.

The experts pointed to recent instances of digital repression including non-transparent content takedowns and manipulation — as the world is witnessing in Palestine, India, and Colombia — and called upon businesses to uphold their responsibility to respect human rights. They stressed that “the opacity that prevails in the ways content is moderated by Governments and companies reinforces global perceptions of discrimination, inefficiency and censorship. There is an urgent need for transparency.”

The diversity and scope of issues addressed within the mandates of the nine U.N. experts speaks to the heightened role of technology — and the need to center digital rights — in the pandemic recovery. We are thrilled to have such a robust presence of U.N. Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights in this year’s RightsCon program,” said Peter Micek, U.N. Policy Manager at Access Now. “The statement decries patterns of abuse accelerating digital inequalities and discrimination against users most at risk, reminding states and the tech sector to undertake systemic efforts to reach those most affected.”

“We look forward to continuing to engage with the U.N. experts at RightsCon and beyond to address the intersection of technology within their mandates through a human rights-centered and intersectional lens,” said Laura O’Brien, U.N. Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “As we recover from the pandemic, we cannot understate the value of civil society engagement with U.N. experts.”

The experts warned particularly “against using the pandemic as an excuse to rush forward ‘digital transformation,’ as exemplified in digital vaccine certificates, without prioritising foundational digital rights safeguards” — a call that Access Now emphasizes.

The nine Special Procedures and their mandates include: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Clément Voule, the right to peaceful assembly and association; Olivier De Schutter, extreme poverty and human rights; David R. Boyd, human rights and environment; Gerard Quinn, the rights of persons with disabilities; Tlaleng Mofokeng, the right to physical and mental health; Irene Khan, freedom of expression; Mary Lawlor, the situation of human rights defenders; and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights — Dante Pesce, Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, and Anita Ramasastry.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2106/S00090/un-joint-statement-experts-call-for-centering-digital-rights-in-pandemic-recovery-on-eve-of-rightscon-2021.htm

https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/06/20/business/sunday-business-it/access-nows-digital-security-helpline/1803849

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.

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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