Posts Tagged ‘criminalisation’

Ecuador: unique case of mass amnesty for environmental defenders

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022 CIVICUS reported on a very interesting case: On 11th March 2022, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill granting amnesty to 268 people who faced prosecution for their defence of land, indigenous and environmental rights, and for their involvement in 2019 protests. The bill was approved by the plenary of the National Assembly with 99 favourable votes out of the 125 parliamentarians in attendance.

Among those benefitted by the amnesty, 153 are land defenders, 43 are environmental activists, 12 are Indigenous leaders criminalised for administering Indigenous justice and 60 others were more generally facing charges related to their involvement in the October 2019 demonstrations. Several defenders, such as Gabriela Fraga, Nancy Simba, Ángel Punina, Javier Ramírez and Jovita Curipoma, were cleared of charges related to resistance against extractive industries. Civil society groups also highlighted the case of Víctor Guaillas, a water defender who had been detained on charges of ‘sabotage’ in 2019, for whom amnesty came too late. Guaillas was one of the 62 people murdered in November 2021 amid a riot in a Guayaquil prison.

Ecuador’s Human Rights Alliance (DDHH) called the move a “historical precedent against the criminalisation and prosecution of rights defenders.” In a statement, the coalition said that this amnesty “means vindicating the right to truth and justice for those who exercise the right to defend human rights” in a context of recurrent criminalisation of these actors.

In a separate but related development, in December 2021 President Guillermo Lasso had made stigmatising statements about social movements and Leonidas Iza, the president of the Indigenous confederation Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE). Iza and former CONAIE president Jaime Vargas were among those facing prosecution related to October 2019 protests, and were both granted amnesty in March 2022.

On 21st December 2021, during a weekly broadcast programme in which he discusses government initiatives, Lasso called Iza “an anarchist” and “a violent man,” and claimed that the Indigenous leader “hates democracy.” The President accused the CONAIE leader of incentivising violence during the October 2019 protests. Lasso also said his government would use all the power of the state to jail “those who want to anarchise this country, disrupt public services, and deepen an economic crisis that has already been affected by the pandemic.”

On 22nd December 2021, the DDHH issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Indigenous movement and Leonidas Iza. The coalition said that Guillermo Lasso’s “violent and contemptuous discourse stigmatises the work carried out by social and political leaders, social and Indigenous movements, and makes unfounded and reckless attacks against Leonidas Iza.”

Lasso repeated his statements in a programme aired on 4th January 2022, calling Iza “an enemy of Ecuadorean democracy.”

On 27th January 2022, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed the violation “of the rights to prior consultation, to nature, water, a healthy environment, culture and territory, as well as comprehensive reparation measures”, regarding the A’i Cofán Indigenous people of the Sinangoe community in relation to mining concessions that affected their ancestral territory without their free, prior and informed consent. In their ruling, the country’s highest court reaffirmed the state’s obligations in consultation processes on plans and projects that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests.

Indigenous communities and organisations have led the international campaign “Who Should Decide?”. Just days before this court ruling, they delivered more than 365,000 signatures to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to decide on the future of their ancestral territories.

International group Amazon Frontlines said that the Constitutional Court ruling recognises “for the first time, the right of Indigenous communities to have the final decision over oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their lands.” The organisation also evaluated that Ecuador “now has one of the most powerful legal precedents in the world on the internationally recognised right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-268-rights-defenders-and-protesters/

Prosecution of human rights defender Öztürk Türkdoğan in Turkey should be dropped

February 23, 2022

All charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of Turkey’s most prominent human rights organisation and a respected lawyer, should be immediately dropped, Amnesty International said ahead of the start of his trial. Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), faces baseless charges of “membership of a terrorist organization”, “insulting a public official” and “insulting the Turkish nation and the Turkish state” for public statements he made in relation to his association’s human rights work.
See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/22/turkey-arrests-and-backsliding-on-femicide/.


The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan is an undisguised attack on this one human rights defender and also on all those who speak out for human rights in Turkey,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Research for Europe. “With these spurious charges against the co-chair of Turkey’s longest-standing human rights organisation, the prosecuting authorities send a chilling message that increases the climate of intense fear among Turkey’s already beleaguered human rights community.

According to IHD’s records, over 200 separate criminal investigations and prosecutions of IHD members and elected representatives of the organization are ongoing across Turkey.

The criminalization of human rights defenders and of the Human Rights Association are the true insults here. The authorities’ unrelenting attack on Öztürk Türkdoğan and Turkey’s civil society movement has to end,” said Julia Hall. “Turkey must immediately drop all charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan and create an enabling, protective environment for civil society in line with its obligations under international human rights law.”

In December 2021, the Turkish authorities initiated three separate prosecutions against Öztürk Türkdoğan. He was tried under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code allegedly for “insulting” a public official in a statement published on the IHD website on 29 June 2018. The first hearing of this prosecution, in which the Minister of Interior is the alleged victim, was held on 18 February 2022. The next hearing will be held on 11 May.

He was also charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the penal code after the authorities detained him and searched his home on 19 March 2021. During the search, his phone and laptop were confiscated. The first hearing for this case will take place on 22 February 2022.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/02/turkey-baseless-prosecution-of-ozturk-turkdogan-an-attack-on-all-those-who-speak-out-for-human-rights/

https://www.arabnews.com/node/2029361/middle-east


2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

January 18, 2022

The new #PeoplePower2021 report shows where civil society conditions are improving and getting worse. A closer look at top violations & trends.

2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

  • 9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted 
  • Country downgrades include Poland, Singapore, Nicaragua, Jordan and South Africa
  • Detention of protesters is the top violation of civic freedoms in 2021
  • COVID-19 continues to be used as a pretext to restrict rights across the globe

The fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association continue to deteriorate year after year worldwide, according to a global report released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online research platform that tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. The new report, People Power Under Attack 2021, shows that the number of people living in countries with significant restrictions on civic rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, amount to almost 89% of the population this year. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/26/10th-edition-of-civicuss-state-of-civil-society-report-2021/

The CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only 3.1% of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.

Nearly two billion people live in countries with the worst rating, ‘closed’, where the authorities are routinely allowed to imprison, injure and kill people for attempting to exercise their fundamental freedoms. China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and 21 other countries fall under this category – Nicaragua and Belarus joined their ranks this year. 

It is nearly two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus is having a dire impact on civic freedoms globally, one that will have lasting impact if remedial action is not taken. Our research shows the detention of protesters and the use of restrictive laws to muzzle dissent are becoming more prevalent, as governments use the pandemic to introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms. 

“Governments across the world are setting a very dangerous precedent by using the health emergency as a smokescreen to crack down on protests and enact or amend legislation that will further limit peoples’ rights. Specifically, disinformation legislation is being enacted and used to criminalise speech, a concerning practice that could become the new norm to crush dissent,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Cluster Lead. 

This year, 13 countries have been downgraded and only one improved their rating.  The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about civic space restrictions in Europe, where four countries dropped a rating: Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Poland. Europe has the greatest number of ‘open’ countries, but year after year we continue to see signs of serious deterioration.

Also alarming is the deterioration of civic space conditions in Africa, where South Africa, Botswana, Mali and Mozambique all dropped ratings. In the Americas, Nicaragua joined Cuba in our worst category, ‘closed’. The Middle East and North Africa retained its status as the region with the worst civic rights record, with Jordan being downgraded to ‘repressed’. In Asia, Singapore also fell into the ‘repressed’ category, as a persistent clamp down on dissent and opposition voices continues. 

https://monitor.civicus.org/widgets/world

“What we are seeing is not a proportional reaction to a health emergency, where restrictions are meant to be extraordinary measures to deal with a crisis that is temporary. On the contrary, governments are using the pandemic as a pretext to further accelerate the crackdown on human rights that we have been documenting over the past years.” 

Although only one country – Mongolia – improved its rating in 2021, it is important to highlight the resilience of civil society. Governments have not been successful in silencing alternative voices or limiting their activism. Despite increasing restrictions, civil society has found ways to continue to speak up and claim their rights.  

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021. 

Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

As the climate crisis intensifies and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate social and economic inequalities, the efforts of civil society are fundamental to achieve tangible results and systematic change. However, a new report by CIVICUS shows how activists, human rights and environmental defenders face profound barriers: not only are governments and businesses failing to take urgent steps to mitigate the climate crisis; they are also actively trying to silence activists, disrupt and prevent climate actions and repress environmental, land and Indigenous rights defenders. In addition, companies play a crucial role in limiting human rights activism.

CIVICUS’ report highlights the role of companies across the world in perpetrating, contributing to, or allegedly benefiting from attacks on human rights defenders and rights groups, including: Feronia PHCFormosa Plastics GroupSOCFINNewmont Mining CompanyXiang Lin SI LtdGreat Season LtdChevron EnergySomkhele and Tendele Coal Mining, PanAust, Oxec, OCP Ecuador and Petroecuador, SG Interests, Celtejo, Mineral Commodities (Ltd) (MRC) and Mineral Sands Resources, PetroTal, Enbridge, Lydian Armenia, andthe RWE Group. The report also highlights positive developments from Chevron and the Mizuho Financial Group.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) had already asked most of these companies to respond to the allegations included in the report, previously. Responses can be found in the companies’ dashboard. BHRRC asked RWE Group to respond to the allegations; RWE’s response is included below.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/civicus-report-highlights-role-of-companies-in-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-amid-increasing-restrictions-on-civil-society/

Greece’s mistaken deterrence: migrants and aid workers facing heavy prison sentences

November 17, 2021
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

A post by Marion MacGregor published on 15 November 2021in ‘Infomigrants’ brings out an awful truth which I have to face up to even though Greece is my adopted country. In the face of Turkey ‘weaponsing’ migrants, it is trying its hands at deterrence in the hope that it will diminish the pressure of inflows

Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those migrants who ended up being marked as migrant smugglers.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad is in prison, he says, because of something he was forced to do. The Somali is serving an impossibly long sentence of 142 years (!) after he was convicted last December for driving an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants to Greece. He says that he didn’t have a choice, because the smuggler hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun before abandoning the boat in rough seas. As 28-year-old Mohammad told journalists and members of the European Parliament who visited the prison last week, he “didn’t think saving people is a crime.”

In the same prison on the Greek island of Chios two men from Afghanistan, Amir Zaheri and Akif Rasouli, both in their 20s, are also serving sentences of 50 years for similar criminal offences. The men’s convictions and staggering prison terms show how far Greece is ready to go in order to stop migrants in their tracks.

On the day the smuggler abandoned them at sea between Turkey and Greece, Mohammad and nearly three dozen other migrants were only concerned about their lives. Mohammad says that he called the Turkish coast guard repeatedly, begging to be rescued. But when it arrived, the Turkish patrol boat circled the migrants’ dinghy sending water into the boat and gradually pushing it toward Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned, AP reports.

The survivors were finally rescued by the Greek coast guard, and Mohammad helped others onto the rescue boat. He admitted to having driven the boat after the smuggler left. It didn’t cross his mind that would lead to him being prosecuted as a smuggler.

It’s not possible that someone who comes to claim asylum in Greece is threatened with such heavy sentences simply because they were forced, by circumstances or pressure, to take over handling a boat,” one of the lawyers representing the three imprisoned in Chios, Alexandros Georgoulis, told AP. Greek authorities, he said, “are essentially baptizing the smuggled as the smuggler.”

From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland
From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland

Greek authorities have also accused aid workers and volunteers helping migrants in Greece of serious crimes. In one widely publicized case, the Syrian human rights worker Sara Mardini, a refugee herself, and an Irish volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering, human trafficking and other offenses. Due to face trial on the island of Lesbos alongside 22 other civil society activists later this week, Binder says he is “terrified.”

I’ve had a taste of life in prison on Chios. It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell,” Binder told The Guardian. “The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a campaigner with an Amnesty International group which plans to monitor the trial in Greece, says that this is not only happening there. “Human rights defenders across Europe are being criminalized … for helping refugees and migrants,” he told The Guardian. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/mary-lawlor-condemns-criminalization-of-those-saving-lives-in-the-mediterranean/

AP reports that, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and legal proceedings since 2016 against private entities involved in search and rescue.

I think it’s important to challenge these in the courts, to not at all sit back and accept that we should be cast as smugglers or spies because I offered CPR, (or) more often than not just a smile, to someone in distress,” Binder told the news agency. “It is preposterous that we should be cast as criminals. I don’t accept it….It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t deserve to drown in the sea.

Binder told The Guardian that he has not bought a return ticket to the UK, where he has been studying. He and Mardini face a maximum eight-year sentence, convertible into a fine. They are still under investigation for offences which could carry 25-year sentences if they are convicted.

In my view, the problem can only be tackled in a European context [see e.g. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration-and-integration_en%5D but it seems most member states cling to outdated notion of sovereignty.

Not directly related but possibly relevant is recent legislation in Greece, adopted on November 11, 2021, that makes it a criminal offence to spread “fake news.” Human Rights Watch said that the Greek government should immediately move to revoke the provision, which is incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom. “In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out on important issues of public interest, if the government claims it’s false,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The criminal sanctions risk making journalists and virtually anyone else afraid to report on or to debate important issues such as the handling of Covid-19 or migration or government economic policy.

While the trial began Thursday, it was almost immediately suspended. The court’s decision to adjourn, said 27-year-old Binder, a diver and German national, “is further proof of the absurdity of this case.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/11/18/drop-charges-greece-delays-trial-humanitarians-who-aided-refugees-sea

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/36487/greece-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-decades-in-prison

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-aid-worker-faces-trial-in-greece-41058865.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/17/greece-alleged-fake-news-made-crime

https://reliefweb.int/report/greece/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un-expert

https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/11/19/trial-of-aid-workers-in-greece-is-adjourned-amid-protests_5de29280-fde8-4c77-b7c2-ef878c497157.html

See also in March 2022: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/17/ray-hope-fight-against-greeces-border-abuses,

and on 12 April: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/04/un-committee-enforced-disappearances-publishes-findings-greece-and-niger

Team 29, prominent legal defense group in Russia, folds under state pressure

July 24, 2021

Tanya Lokot on 21 July 2021 in Global Voices wrote about the closure of Team 29:

For almost seven years, Team 29 (Komanda 29), a group of independent lawyers, attorneys, advocacy experts and journalists, has fought for the rights of Russian activists, political prisoners, and other citizens. On July 19, the group announced it was shutting down its operations in order to protect its staff and clients from possible criminal prosecution. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/13/russian-human-rights-defenders-try-technology-and-gaming-innovations/

The decision to suspend their work comes after Russia’s internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Team 29’s website—allegedly, for publishing content produced by Spolecnost Svobody Informace (Freedom of Information Society), a Prague-based non-profit organisation which the Russian state had labelled as an “undesirable organisation” earlier in June 2021.

In a July 18 post on their Telegram channel, Team 29 said the Russian prosecutors had “conflated” the group with the Czech NGO (implying they were the same organisation), a charge that Team 29 denies.

While its lawyers plan to appeal the allegations as “arbitrary and contrived”, the group decided to act swiftly out of an abundance of caution to prevent further criminal charges against its staff, collaborators and supporters.

Under these circumstances, the continued activity of Team 29 poses a direct and obvious threat to the safety of many people, and we cannot ignore this risk. We are making the difficult decision to suspend the activity of Team 29. The attorneys and lawyers will continue to work on their client’s cases in a purely private capacity, unless the defendants refuse their services given the current situation.

We are closing all of the Team 29 media projects and purging the archive: all (!) texts, guides, reports, investigations, legal explainers, stories of political prisoners, court documents, interviews, podcasts, our literary project, our social media posts—the existence of this content online can be construed as “disseminating materials of an undesirable organisation” according to the logic that was used to block our website.

In their Telegram statement, the group also implored its supporters to delete any direct links or reposts of their content, as these could be interpreted as participating in the activity of an “undesirable organisation”. However, mentioning the organisation or sharing opinions about the situation was not illegal, according to the team.

Additionally, Team 29 said it was shutting down its crowdfunding efforts, and would refund subscribers for any funds that were unspent.

The founder of Team 29, Saint Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov, is himself currently under investigation and facing felony charges for his work defending Russian journalist Ivan Safronov who is accused of treason. Though he now heads Team 29, Pavlov was previously the inaugural president of the Czech NGO, but hasn’t been involved with the Freedom of Information Society in any official capacity for the past five years.

Though it’s their digital footprint that is facing pressure from the authorities, Team 29 is best known for their legal support and human rights work in Russia. Writing on his own Telegram channel, Ivan Pavlov argued that it was this work on the ground, defending Russian citizens, that got Team 29 in trouble:

Our authorities have done everything to criminalize the activity and even our very name, Team 29. This is a peculiar sort of recognition of the effectiveness of our work and a compliment from our procedural opponents, who once again have been exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior.

Founded in 2014 by Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and freedom of information advocate, Team 29 has long been a thorn in Kremlin’s side. After authorities blacklisted Pavlov’s previous organisation, Institute for the Development of the Freedom of Information, as a “foreign agent”, Team 29 was born.

Since then, the group of defense lawyers, attorneys and reporters has taken on some of the most high-profile political cases in the country, including the trial of scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev on treason charges, the court battle around the designation of Alexey Navalny’s political movement and anti-corruption organisation as “extremist,” and the case of Karina Tsurkan, a former energy executive who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges in December 2020.

Apart from defending political prisoners and activist groups in court, Team 29 has also published legal advice guides (archival link), spearheaded creative anti-corruption investigations, and even provided legal representation for a whistleblower from the infamous “troll factories” who took their Internet Research Agency to court in a labour dispute.

In an interview to independent Russian news website Meduza, Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer formerly with Team 29, said that the latest events were likely “a cumulative effect” of all of their high-profile work. He said both he and Pavlov have received threats implying they were “like a bone in the throat not only for investigators, but also other people and state agencies”, so “that is why the decision was made to bomb us with everything they have”.

Despite the closure of their website, the group said its individual group members would continue their ongoing legal defense work as private individuals. According to Ivan Pavlov‘s Telegram post, Team 29 was “never a formal organisation, but rather a collective of like-minded people” and that “as long as there are people, there will be new ideas and new projects”.

The International Service for Human Rights publishes its Strategic Framework for Human Rights Defenders 2021 – 2025

January 18, 2021

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS are people who promote and protect the human rights of others, whether individually or in association with others. They are people who act with humanity, serve humanity and bring out the best in humanity. For all of these defenders, international and regional human rights mechanisms can protect and amplify their work and impact on the ground. This strategy has been developed in a context characterised by uncertainty and change, including a worsening climate emergency, a global pandemic and associated financial crisis, deepening inequalities, worsening authoritarianism and populism, as well as the erosion of multilateralism, and the rule of law. It is also a context characterised by increased awareness and action at the local, national, regional and international levels. Human rights defenders are mobilising around issues such as environmental justice, racial justice, gender equality, freedom of For many defenders working in restrictive national contexts, regional and international mechanisms may be the only platforms available. For these mechanisms to be effective, however, they need to be credible, accessible and responsive to defenders, providing them with a safe and influential platform from which to demand justice, push for accountability, and contribute to positive change. freedom of expression and association, access to information, democratic representation and participation, the redistribution of economic and political power, and state and corporate accountability for intersecting human rights violations and abuses.

On many of these issues, we are at an inflection point; a point at which the work of human rights defenders is perhaps more imperilled but more important than ever. For example:

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, whose knowledge is vital to live more responsibly and sustainably, are being killed and displaced for their work to prevent exploitation and to protect precious forests and oceans.

STUDENTS AND WORKERS mobilising online and offline to call for democratic freedoms and protest against authoritarianism are being surveilled, harassed and criminalised under abusive counter- terrorism laws.

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS taking to the streets to demand racial justice are being met with disproportionate force from police and security forces.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS are being detained and tortured in retaliation for their work to challenge patriarchy and demand an end to discrimination and violence.

AT-RISK MIGRANT ACTIVISTS AND HUMANITARIAN WORKERS who support migrant rights are being criminalised and prosecuted as threats to national security.

The freedom, safety and work of these and many other human rights defenders is vital to build a better future for all. The purpose of this Strategic Framework is to guide the effective pursuit of ISHR’s Vision, Mission and Values, and the achievement of ISHR’s Overall Goals. It articulates Strategic Goals and a framework for identifying priorities, and maps an organisational structure and working methods that will ensure agility and sustainability in a fast changing world. The strategy was developed through a highly consultative process over a 10 month period with extensive and invaluable inputs from human rights defenders, NGOs working at the national, regional and inter-national levels, human rights experts, and diplomatic and financial partners, as well as ISHR Board and staff. It is complemented with a results framework, and implemented through an annual activity plan and budget, and reviewed and updated on a biennial basis to ensure it remains relevant, responsive, ambitious and agenda setting. The framework provides the structure for our planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning process.

Mary Lawlor condemns ‘criminalization’ of those saving lives in the Mediterranean

October 9, 2020

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, and the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members are human rights defenders and not criminals,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on 8 October 2020.

“I regret that the criminal proceedings against them are still open and they continue to face stigmatization in connection with their human rights work protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean Sea.

In September 2016, a criminal investigation was opened against some crew members of the Iuventa rescue ship. Charges against them included aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration, an offence that carries a jail term of between five and 20 years, and a fine of 15,000 euros. On 18 June 2019, a motion for the dismissal of the preliminary criminal investigation against the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members was filed, but a formal decision is still pending. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

Ms. Rackete was arrested by Italian authorities on 29 June 2019 for docking her rescue ship, with 53 migrants on board, without permission. At the beginning of this year, acting upon appeal, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that she should not have been arrested. Despite this, Ms. Rackete continues to face charges, including aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration. She risks up to 20 years of imprisonment , and various fines of up to 50,000 euros.

Since 2014, at least 16,000 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM’s ‘Missing Migrants’ project. “The Italian Government must publicly recognise the important role of human rights defenders in protecting the right to life of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean and must end the criminalization of those who defend their human rights,” Lawlor said.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by: Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora Okafor, Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/

The same day Human Rights Watch came out with an initial assessment by civil society of the legislative and non-legislative proposals contained in European Commission’s Pact on Migration and Asylum.: The commitment to a more human approach to protection and the emphasis on the fact that migration is needed and positive for Europe with which the European Commission launched the Pact on Migration and Asylum is welcome. However, this rhetoric is reflected only sparsely in the related proposals. Instead of breaking with the fallacies of the EU’s previous approach and offering a fresh start, the Pact risks exacerbating the focus on externalisation, deterrence, containment and return.


https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/08/pact-migration-and-asylum

Criminalisation of human rights defenders in Europe denounced in UN

September 30, 2020

 

In a statement delivered on 24 September 2020 in Geneva, ISHR was joined by human rights groups and other community organisations defending the rights of migrants to draw attention to the concerning trends of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe. Responding to the opening remarks of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and building on years of work by other experts in the UN system, the groups highlighted the links between protecting the rights of migrants, and the creation of a safe environment for those who seek to protect them. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

ISHR human rights advocate Sarah M Brooks, pointing to research conducted by Migration Policy Group (MPG), CEPS, PICUM and other partners within the frame of the ReSOMA project, noted that in the last five years – from 2014 to 2019 – at least 60 cases of criminalisation, concerning more than 170 individuals, had been documented across the European Union.

Carmine Conte, legal policy analyst at MPG, underlines that since the emergence of the ‘refugee crisis’, there has been an escalation of judicial prosecutions and investigations against volunteers, human rights defenders, crew members of boats involved in search and rescue operations, but also ordinary citizens, journalists, mayors and religious leaders helping migrants.

The European Fundamental Rights Agency has also spoken out on this concern. In the area of migrant search and rescue (SAR) NGOs alone, in the two years between 2018 and 2020, experienced 40 cases of criminal charges, disciplining including administrative fines, de-flagging, seizure and confiscation of ships, or their crews were otherwise were prevented from leaving or docking at port. The Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights has recently condemned Malta and Italy using COVID-19 as yet another excuse for non-rescue:

The rights of migrants cannot be fulfilled, Brooks said, without protection of fundamental freedoms for those engaged in the defence of migrants’ rights. ‘Whether it is through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid or policy advocacy, exercising the right to protest and civil disobedience – including migrants’ own strikes,’ she said, ‘these are protected acts. ‘European governments must do more to protect the right to defend rights.

Lina Vosyliute, Research Fellow at CEPS, one of the leading think-tanks on the EU affairs, has described the increasing suspicion, harrasment, disciplining and criminalisation of those who help migrants  as ‘policing humanitarianism’. At the heart of the problem are so-called  ‘crimes of facilitation of irregular migration’, which Vosyliute deems ‘the most misused criminal provision against human rights defenders in Europe’. The EU Facilitation Directive falls short of the UN Migrant Smuggling protocol, since it does not require any evidence nor suspicion of ‘financial or other material gain’. Under this provision in the EU and Schengen states introduced laws that prosecute ‘any intentional assistance’ to migrants, leaving out the question of motive and, specifically, ‘material or financial benefit’ that are central to smuggling crimes.

Vosyliute concludes, ‘The vague definition of crime is counterproductive. While some prosecutors are investigating on human traffickers or migrant smugglers, who take thousands of euros from asylum seekers and migrants to board on unseaworthy dinghies, others keep policing humanitarians and human rights defenders.’  The prosecutions of Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete in Italy, Team Humanity and Proem Aid volunteers in Greece, or farmer Cedric Herrou in France [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/interview-with-cedric-herrou-migrants-rights-defender-who-is-the-central-person-in-the-film-libre/], and many others, who helped migrants out of compassion, are used by governments to rather show a strong stance against irregular migration, than to fight the crime.

But far more simple acts of solidarity are also being met with administrative, civil and even criminal penalty. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/]

Says Marta Gionco of PICUM, a platform representing more than 160 organisations across Europe and globally that defend undocumented migrants’ human rights: ‘In recent years,  people across Europe have been put on trial for simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone’s life who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; providing shelter and food; or lending a cell phone’.

In response to this trend, last year more than 110 organisations signed a statement asking the European Union to revise the EU Facilitation Directive and support and defend the rights of migrant rights’ defenders across the EU.

Although the majority of documented cases end in acquittal, the financial, social and psychological impact of months, and often years, of criminal proceedings has had a clear chilling effect on their work.

When courts have determined that an individual is not guilty of a crime, state prosecutors – for example, in France – have nonetheless appealed. In the case of defender Pierre Manoni, despite a court decision finding that solidarity is constitutionally protected, prosecutors have filed four separate appeals to question his acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion.  Short-term detentions are also common, with police often failing to substantiate charges. These lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings put peoples’ lives on hold risk.

When these human rights defenders are migrants themselves, the consequences of criminal proceedings are often harsher, frequently resulting in loss of residence permits and threats of deportation. For instance, in 2018 asylum seekers in Moria camp protested in Sappho square after the death of an Afghan asylum seeker.  They were violently attacked by extreme right groups. However, it was not violent attackers, but the asylum seekers themselves who were prosecuted, for the ‘occupation’ of public space.

In another case, Ahmed H – a long-term resident in Cyprus – organised a protest at Hungarian border zone. He has been accused of terrorism-related crimes, for holding a megaphone, and deprived family life for four years. Time and again, asylum seekers and migrants helping each other during the journey are prosecuted as criminals. And in some cases, when they arrive in their destination country, this ‘criminal record’ alone can preclude the access to the right of asylum.

Brooks notes that the European Union, and many EU member states, have been powerful voices at the Human Rights Council and abroad in defending and supporting human rights defenders. However, when it comes to policies at home – often driven by border management mindsets and national security rationales – those same governments are engaged in judicial harassment of defenders.

As Front Line Defenders has noted, criminalisation is only one way in which migrant rights defenders are being targeted, including within Europe. They are also subjected to physical and verbal attacks, short term detention, smear campaigns and arson attacks on their property. Their experiences are largely under-reported because, the organisation notes, human rights defenders and aid workers prioritise cooperation with the authorities; even if it’s extremely fragile, it can be beneficial to the protection of migrants.

‘Judicial harassment, trumped-up charges, threats and intimidation and chilling effects are not unique to countries outside of Europe’s borders. It’s time that European governments took seriously their obligations at home’, Brooks asserts.

The right to help is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that, as the UN has emphasised, ’no one is left behind’.

Says CEPS’ Vosyliute: ‘Our newest study on civic space shows that the work of human rights defenders is ever more vital. Volunteers are sewing masks and distributing soap and hand sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus among various marginalized communities, like those in Moria refugee camp. At the same time, human rights defenders are even more at risk’.

Yet, COVID-19 restrictions are also disproportionately targeting refugees and other migrants and those who assist them. ‘For instance, in France, volunteers helping those stuck in Calais Jungle, received fines for violating social distancing rules. In Greece, some NGOs could not provide psychosocial counseling in camps due prolonged quarantine imposed on refugee camps, but not on the rest of the island. Italian and Maltese governments have  prevented SAR NGOs to disembark rescued migrants for weeks’.

Civil society actors have raised concerned over worsening legal environment. For instance, the Greek authorities have advanced additional registration requirements targeting NGOs working in the area of migration, asylum and integration.

According to the NGO law experts of the Council of Europe, those regulations are incompatible with the freedom of association – ‘onerous, complex, time-consuming and costly for NGOs’ – especially given the context and dire needs among asylum seekers and migrants.

European governments and the EU should be expected to uphold their human rights obligations to create and enabling environment for human rights defenders, as outlined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. A recent legal analysis of the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ legal package in Hungary, conducted by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP on behalf of ISHR and the Slovenia-based Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PiC), found that such an obligation exists for European governments in view of international and EU law.

At the same time, clear expectations have been set out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose human rights watchdog, ODIHR, has called out dangers for human rights defenders in similar situations. As early as 2014, their guidelines on protection of human rights defenders alerted European states that ‘[any] legal provisions that directly or indirectly lead to the criminalisation of such [human rights] activities should be immediately amended or repealed’. More recently, the Council of Europe’s NGO Expert Council came up with Guidelines that seek to prevent the misuse of criminal law provisions against NGOs that assist migrants and uphold their rights.

‘The framework is there’, the groups conclude, ‘but Europe needs to choose to do more’.

Watch the statement here: https://youtu.be/ZHat_xPd2z8

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-criminalisation-defenders-europe-must-end

Absurd prosecution of the crew of the ship Iuventa continues in Italy

July 31, 2020

AI has started a campagiun to call on the Italian prosecutor to drop the absurd investigation against the crew of the rescue ship “Iuventa 10”. Despite having saved more than 14,000 lives, they are accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe

Three years after the baseless criminal investigation began, the Iuventa 10 crew remain in limbo with the threat of long jail terms hanging over them,” said Maria Serrano, Amnesty campaigner on migration.

[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe. Wrapped up with the fate of these ten men and women are the fates of hundreds of others and thousands of refugees and migrants they are helping.” .

We could no longer stand by and watch people disappearing in the Mediterranean mass grave. We chose to use our privilege to be eyewitnesses, reporters, and a safe harbour for thousands of people on the move,” said one of the Iuventa10

“It was, still is and will remain the task of all of to save human lives wherever possible, to offer protection to those who need it, to treat everyone with dignity and to fight with them for the world in which we want to live.”

Forensic Architecture reconstructionhttps://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-seizure-of-the-iuventa

BACKGROUND:

The Iuventa case is not an isolated one. Across Europe people standing in solidarity or assisting refugees and migrants have been threatened, smeared, intimidated, harassed and dragged through the courts simply for helping others. Authorities have misused and abused anti-smuggling laws to criminalize human rights defenders and punish solidarity.  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/1828/2020/en/

Fewer rescue assets had led to an increase of the death rate in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016 more than 50,000 women, men and children have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, where they are exposed to arbitrary detention, torture, extortion and rape.

The Iuventa case was the first judicial proceeding launched against a rescue NGO in Italy, following a smear campaign in which NGOs were stigmatized.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/italy-crew-of-rescue-ship-face-20-years-in-jail-on-third-anniversary-of-smuggling-investigation/

International Migrants Day: the story of the Ocean Viking

December 18, 2019

THE Ocean Viking, a refugee rescue ship operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), saved the lives of 60 people from a watery grave in the Mediterranean last week. The European Union — having ignored the refugees’ initial distress calls as they attempted to escape war-torn Libya in an unseaworthy boat on the evening of November 28 — refused to provide the Ocean Viking with a port of safety. It wasn’t until Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando called on Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to end the five-day standoff on Twitter that the ship was allowed to dock.,,,

SOS Mediterranee and MSF originally began operating refugee rescue missions in the central Mediterranean onboard the Aquarius. But after a series of legal threats from EU member states, the charities were forced to abandon it.

In 2016-7 when we started operations, we were celebrated as heroes. The Aquarius rescued nearly 30,000 people,” Starke says. “But then in June 2018, the escalations started. We were the first ship to be refused access to harbours in Italy. We had to bring the rescued all the way from Italy to Valencia. That was the first really significant standoff, which by now has become the norm.”..

In November 2018, while the Aquarius was docked in Marseilles, the Panamanian government — under pressure from Italy — withdrew its flag from the ship. ….

“We tried Switzerland, Germany and France. These would have been robust flags — meaning that if there was political pressure then they would not give in so easily to the Italian government. But none of the governments granted them to us” and we had to give up.

It’s maritime law to rescue people in distress at sea. All we do is follow existing laws. And according to those laws, a rescue is only completed once the rescued have reached land: once they’re put in a port of safety. At the moment, it is European countries that have the nearest port of safety to our rescues and the only countries that can be considered safe. The fact is our work is hampered by European governments.

Despite abiding by refugee and maritime law, it is often the Ocean Viking’s crew (and the entire civil refugee rescue fleet in general) that are portrayed as the criminals or as human traffickers. “All we do is save people’s lives. We are human-rights defenders. However, if you talk to to some politicians, if you read some newspapers, if you read some of the nasty emails we receive, they say we smuggle people. They say we’re criminals.

Despite the EU’s willingness to allow refugees escaping Libya to die crossing the world’s deadliest border and the demonisation of those trying to prevent that, Starke says that he is optimistic. “I’m optimistic the situation will change, simply because it has to change.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

https://www.un.org/en/observances/migrants-day

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/it-shouldnt-be-civil-society-versus-european-governments