Posts Tagged ‘criminalisation’

European governments should stop treating solidarity and compassion as a crime

May 15, 2019

Two recent cases of criminalization of human rights defenders in Europe helping people at sea:

Iuventa crew
Iuventa crew

On 13 May 2019 MarEx  reported that the crew of the rescue ship Iuventa operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet has received the Swiss Paul Grüninger human rights award for saving the lives of around 14,000 of men, women and children in the central Mediterranean. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/paul-grueninger-award

The award is seen as a statement against the criminalization of those helping people at sea and comes whilst the crew is under criminal investigations in Italy for “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” They face up to 20 years in prison and fines of 15,000 Euro ($16,900) per saved person. The prize money of 50,000 Swiss francs contributes to the defense.

The Iuventa was the first rescue vessel seized in Italy in August 2017. Captain Dariush was master of the Iuventa for three voyages off the Libyan coast: “We’re being charged for saving lives. This is absurd,” he said. “It is European politicians who block any safe way for people in need, so we had to act.

The crew says: “Although we have to stand trial, it is us who accuses Europe. We accuse European politicians of turning their backs on people in need. We accuse the E.U. of collaborating with regimes who violate human rights.” The Italian public prosecutor’s office has been investigating the crew for almost two years. Covert investigators claim to have observed the Iuventa crew cooperating with smugglers. However, the NGO claims that scientists at Goldsmiths, University of London have said there is no evidence for this. “They have compared the accusations of the Italian police with all available data, meteorological measurements, logbooks and recordings of the Reuters agency. In their study for Forensic Architecture, they conclude that the allegations are false.” The trial is expected to begin in autumn, and it is expected that charges will be brought against the 10 crew members. It is a precedent for Europe, says lead lawyer Nicola Canestrini: “This trial will show whether Europe can continue to stand for fundamental rights and solidarity in the world.

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Tom Ciotkowski is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 7,500 Euros on trumped up charges. In July 2018, he was observing French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food to migrants and refugees in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer. “Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested. He has committed no crime and is being unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police in Calais,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration Maria Serrano.

Tom’s case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that human rights defenders supporting migrants and refugees face at the hands of police in Calais. His case also reflects a wider European trend of criminalizing acts of solidarity, as a way of discouraging others from standing up for human rights. We need courageous, compassionate people like Tom more than ever

[BACKGROUND At the end of July 2018, Tom Ciotkowski was observing French riot police ID-checking volunteers who were trying to distribute food to migrants and refugees. He recorded on his mobile phone an official pushing and kicking a volunteer. When Tom complained about the behaviour of the police, an officer approached him and another female volunteer, who he hit with a baton. When Tom asked the officer for his identification number and told the policeman not to hit women, he was pushed hard by an officer and fell backwards over a metal barrier separating the pavement from the road. As Tom fell backwards, a passing lorry narrowly missed him. He was then arrested, put in custody for 36 hours and charged with contempt and assault (“outrage et violence”). In May 2019, Tom filed a complaint against the police officer who pushed him and against other officers who provided reports stating false facts against Tom to support his arrest and prosecution.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

Report “Indigenous World 2019” launched on 24 April in NY

April 24, 2019

On 24 April 2019, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, IWGIA released The Indigenous World 2019, an extensive yearbook presenting a comprehensive, global overview of the developments indigenous peoples experience. The book documents an increasing trend towards the harassment and criminalization of indigenous peoples and communities. It also highlights the rising tensions between states and indigenous peoples, shrinking civil society space, loss of land rights and lack of access to justice for indigenous peoples to enjoy their rights.

“Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the world’s population, yet they represent 15% of the world’s poorest, and in 2017, half of the approximately 400 environmental and human rights defenders killed. The numbers for 2018 are as-yet-unknown, but this troubling trend hasn’t seemed to stop,” Julie Koch, IWGIA Executive Director, says. “We need to do more to protect, learn from and support indigenous peoples and their traditional, sustainable practices as key actors in ensuring a safer and more equitable world.”

In 2018, there has been an increase in the documentation and reporting of illegal surveillance, arbitrary arrests, travel bans preventing free movement, threats, dispossession and killings of indigenous peoples. We have witnessed instruments meant to protect indigenous peoples being turned against them, through the use of legislation and the justice system, to penalize and criminalize indigenous peoples’ assertion of their rights. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/08/08/9-august-international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples-un-experts-see-increasing-murder/]

The intensification and exploitation of natural resources is leading to a global crisis for indigenous peoples’ rights,” Koch says. Many indigenous peoples live in the Earth’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots and are often called the “guardians of the forest”. Several studies have shown that tree cover loss is significantly reduced on indigenous land compared to non-indigenous controlled land.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/15/documenting-the-killings-of-environmental-defenders-guardian-and-global-witness/

Tensions are rising between states and indigenous peoples

Human Rights Defenders/Journalists in Mexico in 1919: 2 killed – 2 released

February 16, 2019

Jesus Eugenio Ramos Rodriguez was at breakfast Saturday morning 9 February 2019 when he became the second journalist murdered in Mexico this year. Rafael Murua, a community radio station director in the northern state of Baja California Sur who had received death threats for his work, was found dead in a ditch Sunday, 21 January 2019, after being reported missing. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/22/first-mexican-journalist-killed-in-2019-protection-mechanism-failing/]

On 11 February 2019 Front Line Defenders and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT/FIDH) – together with 2 other NGOs – brought out a joint statement in which they celebrate the release of human rights defenders Damián Gallardo and Enrique Guerrero, but urge Mexican authorities to include the end of criminalisation against human rights defenders as a central theme in the human rights agenda of this Presidential term.

[On 28 December 2018, Messrs. Damián Gallardo Martínez and Enrique Guerrero Aviña were released after a resolution in this regard by the Eighth District Court of Federal Criminal Proceedings in the State of Jalisco. Both human rights defenders had been arbitrarily imprisoned since May 2013 and had been victims of repeated violations of their human rights since their arrest, including acts of torture and ill-treatment and numerous violations of their due process rights.]

….In this regard, we once again urge [See Joint Open Letter to the President Elect of the United Mexican States, Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dated 27 August 2018, “To put an end on the criminalisation of human rights defenders must be a priority for the new Mexican] the Mexican Administration to include as a central theme in the human rights agenda the development, with the participation of civil society, of a State policy that puts an end to the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Mexico.  Download the full Statement

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/mexico-journalist-murdered–as-2018-sets-homicide-record-11150600

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/10/americas/mexico-journalist-shot/index.html

UN Experts consider human rights defenders in Italy under threat

December 2, 2018

In Europe it is not just in Hungary where human rights defenders are under pressure [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/07/26/some-facts-about-refugee-flows-which-hungary-seems-not-to-know/]. On 21 November 2018 a group of UN experts  – including Michel Forst, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – expressed concern that amidst Italy’s proposed tightening of immigration rules HRDs are the subject of smear campaigns.

Since coming into power in June 2018, the new Italian Government has implemented the anti-migrant and exclusionary measures it campaigned upon. “Removing protection measures from potentially thousands of migrants and limiting their ability to regularise their stay in Italy will increase their vulnerability to attacks and exploitation. They will be at greater risk from traffickers and other criminal groups, and many will have no means to meet their basic needs through lawful means”.

While acknowledging the challenges Italy faces due to the absence of an effective European-wide system of solidarity, the UN experts said this did not justify violations of human rights. “The government must adhere to the values enshrined in the Italian constitution, and the international commitments it signed up to,” they said in an appeal to the government to reconsider the legislative changes.

During the most recent electoral campaign, some politicians fuelled a public discourse unashamedly embracing racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric. Such speech incites hatred and discrimination,” the experts said. ……“We are also concerned about the continuing smear campaigns against civil society organisations engaged in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the criminalisation of the work of migrant rights defenders, which have become more widespread in Italy,”.

The UN experts urge the Italian government to combat incitement to hatred and discrimination, racism and xenophobia. “Perpetrators of hate crimes must be held accountable and justice provided to the victims. Italian authorities should implement the national and relevant European legal framework and provide the needed responses to hate crime and the use of hate speech.”

The experts have contacted the government about their concerns and await a reply.

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23908&LangID=E

Some FACTS about refugee flows (which Hungary seems not to know)

July 26, 2018

UNHCR just published its Global Trends Report 2017 (see link below) and it contains some interesting facts, some myth-busting:
Fact 1:  85% refugees are hosted in the developing world (many of which are desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations). At the end of 2017, Turkey continued to be the country hosting the world’s largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million. Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people was a refugee under the responsibility of UNHCR.

 Fact 2: Two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries. Altogether, more than two-thirds of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries, namely:
1. Syrian Arab Republic (6.3 million)
2. Afghanistan (2.6 million)
3. South Sudan (2.4 million)
4. Myanmar (1.2 million)
5. Somalia (986,400)

Fact 3: Four out of five refugees remain in countries next door to their own. About 2.7 million people were newly registered as refugees during 2017. Crises in South Sudan and Myanmar caused new refugee numbers to grow. Most of them fled to neighboring countries or elsewhere in their immediate region. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 31 per cent of the global refugee population.

Still, Hungary found it necessary to pass legislation that criminalizes individuals and groups deemed to be supporting asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants. On 21 Jun 2018 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said: “Parliament’s decision is an attack on fundamental human rights and freedoms in Hungary. The constant stoking of hatred by the current Government for political gain has led to this latest shameful development, which is blatantly xenophobic and runs counter to European and international human rights standards and values.” …“To target those dealing with the most vulnerable, simply because they are foreigners, is truly disgraceful.”

The new legislation criminalizes a range of activities, including distributing information on migration-related matters, providing advice to migrants and refugees, and conducting human rights monitoring at borders. The authorities will be able to arrest, charge and immediately remove from Hungary’s border area with non-Schengen countries any lawyer, adviser, volunteer or legally resident family member suspected of helping a person to make an asylum claim or obtain a residence permit, or of providing other legal or humanitarian assistance. Under the legislation, individuals could face up to one year in prison and organisations could be banned. In addition, foundations that provide funding for NGOs that work on migrant issues could face charges. Hungarian authorities also announced this week that they would introduce a 25 per cent tax on funding for NGOs which “support immigration”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/18/excellent-background-piece-to-hungarys-stop-soros-mania/

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http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5b27be547/unhcr-global-trends-2017.html?utm_source=NEWS&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Opening_Global+Trends+report&utm_campaign=HQ_PS_EN_NEWS_B-JULY_180725_PROS_5

https://reliefweb.int/report/hungary/ 

2018: Latin America still the graveyard for environmental human rights defenders

April 28, 2018

This blog has on several occasions drawn attention to reports that show that Latin America is among the deadliest places to be a human rights defender [e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/06/latin-america-philippines-most-dangerous-places-for-human-rights-defenders/]. An infographic – published on 27 March 2018 by Latin America Press – summarises criminalization of land & environmental rights defenders in Latin America.

 
http://www.lapress.org/objetos/informe/48PI_criminalization-defenders-of-the-land.pdf
In 2016/17 an Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay. AI concludes that environmental leaders are under constant threat. Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/]

The report, A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay, outlined the three “ingredients” both countries use to undermine the efforts of human rights defenders. First, they delegitimize activists through smear campaigns. Second, they apply laws and regulations that allow for forced evictions. And, third, they misuse the criminal justice system to prosecute activists for unfounded reasons.

Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said in a press release.

The report included examples of how these ingredients combine on the ground. For example, Amnesty International highlighted the case of community activists working to protect their home in Peru’s Cajamarca region from the gold and copper Conga mining project. On 26 April 2013, police arrested 16 protesters on trumped up charges of abduction and coercion. The state prosecutor sought 30-year prison sentences. But the evidence presented was secondhand and so spotty and contradictory that a court dismissed the case in 2017.

In Paraguay, the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People was evicted from their ancestral lands by a court order following a dispute with local businessman German Hultz. The community was forced onto a nature reserve where they struggle to survive because hunting and fishing is not allowed. During the court proceedings leading up to the eviction, their opponents stigmatized the indigenous community by referring to them as a “gang of criminals.”

On 24 April 2018, Front Line reported that on 19 April 2018, Olivia Arévalo Lomas, a woman human rights defender and spiritual leader of the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous peoples, was killed by unknown assailants just a few feet from her home in the community of ‘Victoria Gracia’, in Peru. The defender was shot in the chest and died instantly. Her body was left on the street in full view of her local community (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/olivia-arevalo).  The killing of Olivia Arévalo Lomas comes after a spike in violence, threats and intimidation against members of FECONAU communities in Ucayalí, such as Santa Clara de Uchunya. In the past six months, several members of FECONAU have been subjects of attacks. A representative of FECONAU, Edinson Mahua, was shot at close range and narrowly escaped serious injury, while community leaders in Ucayalí have received anonymous death threats. 

In the meantime Colombia has seen a spike in assassinations of human rights defenders in 2018, according to study by Colombian NGO Somos DefensoresA total of 46 human rights leaders have been killed so far this year, up from 26 in the same period last year; paramilitary groups were responsible for three of the killings, four were murdered by guerrilla groups and another four were killed at the hands of security forces. The investigative body also recognized a total of 132 acts of aggression against public defenders so far this year. Of the registered acts, there were 12 attacks, 66 death threats and one case of forced disappearance. The provinces in which the aggression occurred were predominately in areas at the heart of the country’s conflict, with Cauca, Antioquia and Norte de Santander figuring heavily in the statistics.

The UN has said it is “extremely concerned” about the increase in violence surrounding social leaders while Inspector General Fernando Carrillo has “urged” authorities to “assume their commitments to defend the lives of social leaders.” While the government has attempted to reel in the varying armed criminal groups responsible for a lot of these acts — as seen with the 2016 peace deal with the FARC guerrilla organisation, and ongoing peace negotiations with the ELN rebel group — it has clearly failed to provide basic security, and protect human rights defenders, rural community leaders and other social activists.

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https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-activists-amnesty-international-2563882266.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/peru/recipe-criminalization-defenders-environment-territory-and-land-peru-and-paraguay

https://colombiareports.com/killing-of-human-rights-leaders-in-colombia-more-than-doubles-study/

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latin-america-infographic-summarises-criminalization-of-land-environmental-rights-defenders-in-the-region

ProtectDefenders.eu held its annual meeting 2017

December 28, 2017

The Newsletter of December 2017 of ProtectDefenders.eu contains a report of the 2017 Annual Meeting. The highlights:

On the 8th of November, ProtectDefenders.eu held its second annual meeting, under the motto “Champions of change – Human rights defenders at the forefront of development and democracy“. More than 30 human rights defenders at risk from all regions of the world who have benefited from the project gathered in Brussels with representatives of international NGOs and European institutions. This unique meeting has successfully brought together grassroots activists working on the frontlines for change and leading experts on the protection of human rights defenders, universal and regional protection mechanisms, and representatives of various EU institutions implicated in the protection of human rights defenders and current development agenda.

The meeting highlighted the crucial role and impact of human rights defenders around the world as promoters of a sustainable development and engaged development actors in how to integrate the protection of human rights defenders as part of an effective development and protection agenda. The widespread attempts to de-legitimise human rights’ discourse and human rights defenders’ work worldwide were addressed, by promoting a positive narrative grounded on the universality and indivisibility of human rights and its contribution to more advanced and developed societies. Human rights defenders and high-level speakers shared strategies to enhance the protection of those who strive to defend human rights, and to develop a positive narrative on the human rights’ work, legitimising their work at the local level and taking back the human rights discourse to the centre of the international agenda.

To conclude the meeting, the twelve partner organisations of ProtectDefenders.eu have issued a public statement urging all national authorities to “publicly recognise the crucial role played by human rights defenders and protect them in all circumstances from any form of judicial harassment“. As stressed by Antoine Madelin, FIDH Director for International Advocacy and Chair of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, “Human Rights Defenders are the pillars of democracy and of the rule of law but are too often subjected to unfair criminal prosecution, in an effort to undermine their work in the defence of human rights.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/24/video-of-the-defending-human-rights-is-not-a-crime-meeting-now-available/

https://www.protectdefenders.eu/en/newsletter.html

Honduras, already the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders, to get deadlier

October 2, 2017

 
Demonstrators protest in the wake of the 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Source: Creative Commons / Flickr–PBS NewsHour 

The article describes how activists in Honduras could soon face up to 20 years in prison for simply marching in the streets after Congress passed an article of the new Criminal Code last week that opposition lawmakers claim criminalizes social protest as a form of “terrorism.”…..Human rights defenders have raised alarm over the proposed reform, arguing that the sweeping definition of “terrorism” in the bill leaves activists and social leaders vulnerable to harsh criminalization and violence at the hands of military and police forces. As the piece is long and copyrighted, here just the link.

Earlier posts on Honduras, which is one of the most dangerous in the world for human rights defenders, include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/ .

Source: Honduras, the Deadliest Country in the World for Environmental Defenders, Is About to Get Deadlier – Upside Down World

Video of the “Defending Human Rights is not a Crime” meeting now available

April 24, 2017

This 5 minute video of the ProtectDefenders.eu 2016 Annual Beneficiaries’ Meeting, held in Brussels on the 29 November 2016 is now available on Your Tube. The motto was “Defending Human Rights is not a crime – #DefendersNotCriminals”.

Front Line launches its 2016 Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk

January 9, 2017

 

After a short break, this blog resumes its job of selecting and summarizing events related to Human Rights Defenders. 2016 was a horrible year for HRDs and the launch of the annual report of Front Line Defenders confirms this by reporting that “more than 1000 human rights defenders were killed, harassed, detained, or subjected to smear campaigns and other violations in 2016″.

Download the Report

According to the report, 281 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous and environmental rights. Front Line Defenders found that in the vast majority of cases, killings were preceded by warnings, death threats and intimidation which, when reported to police, were routinely ignored. In addition to killings, over half of the cases reported by Front Line Defenders in 2016 concerned criminalisation, a tactic which the organisation calls “the first choice of governments to silence defenders and to dissuade others”.

For other post on Front Line last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/category/front-line/page/4/