Posts Tagged ‘criminalization’

Michel Forst: “Empowering defenders on the move is crucial to the prevention of further tragedy”

February 20, 2018

The ISHR in a piece of 16 February 2018 draws attention to tow complementary reports on the situation of human rights defenders in a migration context. They fit admirably with the outcry of 250 NGOs concerning Hungary referred to in my earlier post of today [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/].

The first is the report, by UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst, which examines the many ways in which human rights defenders are impacted by the current environment related to migrant and refugee flows. For example, defenders may become migrants or refugees as a result of the harassment and violence they face in their own communities or countries. ‘Empowering defenders on the move is crucial to the prevention of further tragedy‘.

The second is the OHCHR Principles and Practical Guidance for the protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, especially Principle 18 which states that ‘States must respect and support the activities of human rights defenders who promote and protect the human rights of migrants’.

Both document will be considered at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The two documents are fully complementary’, Sarah Brooks of the ISHR says. ‘The recommendations of the OHCHR and the UN expert have no daylight between them – their message is quite simple. In order for lives to be saved, States must ensure that human rights defenders and civil society can operate safely and without hindrance.’

Migrants – including migrant workers – who seek to stand up for their rights and those of others face unique threats, including deportation.  The case of Sujana Rana and Rose Limu Jee, two migrant domestic workers from Nepal who were detained and deported after advocating for freedom of association in Lebanon, is a prime example. And defenders in countries of destination – whether the Gulf, the United States, or many Member States of the European Union (e.g. Hungary) – find that their own governments may rollback protections or even funding for civil society and defenders when migration-related issues are the focus, or in the worst cases criminalise assistance to migrants and refugees.

Main challenges

  • Limits on access to migrant and refugee populations. This can appear as overt limits on physical presence in border areas or due to the remote nature of some areas where populations on the move are concentrated. This includes securitised border zones and offshore facilities.  In both cases, the real impact is to increase physical and financial barriers to access, preventing people on the move from accessing independent services and much-needed legal counsel.
  • Criminalisation. Some defenders struggle against risks of criminal prosecution both nationally and as a result of local bylaws, particularly registration requirements (based on geographic areas of work, for example). The overzealous application of existing law has also been sued to accuse people of harbouring or smuggling, when in reality the individual was engaged in humanitarian activity. This threat of criminal charges has a chilling effect, as does the decrease in funding for organisations working in this area (both anti-racism work and traditional legal aid centres).
  • The growing role of non-state actors.  Especially in some parts of Latin America, organised crime poses significant threats to defenders, as well as to States should they try to protect them. Businesses are also implicated, as the report notes particular types of private employment contracts which ‘gag’ service providers and impose outsized fines or criminal penalties for discussing the situation.  Finally, in cases where governments have outsourced certain services, tools like access to information requests (normally directed at public authorities) are no longer available.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc37-global-community-must-recognise-defenders-people-move-says-un-expert

http://www.ishr.ch/sites/default/files/article/files/201802_ohchr_principles_and_practical_guidance.pdf

Alarming criminalisation of human rights defenders in Latin America

February 27, 2016

The criminalization of human rights defenders in the context of the extraction of natural resources and megaprojects is becoming a very worrisome phenomenon in Latin America, denounces the Observatory in a report published today in Mexico. Entitled “The criminalization of human rights defenders in the context of industrial projects: a regional phenomenon in Latin America”, this document points to the role of businesses, civil servants, public prosecutors, judges, and the State. The report issued by OMCT and FIDH (in the context of their Observatory for Human Rights Defenders) on 25 February 2016 describes the specific cases of human rights defenders criminalized in eight Latin American countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru).

 

The report especially stresses two core issues common to all the countries studied: Read the rest of this entry »

A woman who defends human rights: Irene Petras in Zimbabwe

May 22, 2015

Irene-Petras

Irene Petras is the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). She told Protection International (on 14 April 2015) about the context in which human rights defenders must work in Zimbabwe.

Irene joined ZLHR in 2002 and has been its Executive Director since 2008. The organisation provides legal support services to the public through its in-house lawyers and its 200 members around the country. The organisation also engages in training and capacity building. The organisation meets with its members at least once a year to review their programmes and seeks to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe and the wider African region.

Protection International: What was your personal motivation to engage in the defence of human rights?

Irene Petras: When I first started working, I was employed in private practice in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. In my daily interactions with the justice delivery system, I found that there were a lot of barriers for human rights defenders to access this system, in terms of high legal fees and a lack of lawyers that would actually understand the work of the defenders. That motivated me to start working for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and really focus on this type of work.

It can be difficult at times to keep motivated. Particularly around election periods the work can be dangerous. The support and solidarity of other human rights lawyers keep me going. On the other hand, setbacks can also give me the motivation to continue and fight. At the moment, we have a new constitution (which came into effect in May 2013) with a lot of developments within the protection of accused persons and an expanded Bill of Rights. This has also renewed my energy as well as that of the organisation to focus more on protecting human rights defenders and promote social and economic rights, which were not constitutionally protected before.

PI: Can you say something about the context that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights work in?

IP: Of course, our members are lawyers who often work in the public eye due to the nature of the cases that they handle and the human rights defenders they represent. For this reason, they are subjected to surveillance, and have sometimes been assaulted or at times arrested and maliciously prosecuted whilst working on cases and interacting with people in various state institutions. There is a range of different ways that the lawyers have been targeted because of their work trying to defend human rights. For example, some have been arrested, charged with contempt of court or obstructing the course of justice, under a range of repressive laws. Of course, none of these prosecutions have been successful.

Criminalisation has become a force of habit for some of the state actors. Instead of rationalising their behaviour and seeing other people as human beings who are exercising their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, they immediately resort to violations and use of laws and measures that criminalise the work of defenders. As they are not prosecuted or punished for such behaviour, I believe that’s why they keep using these tactics.

In fact, however, such tactics don’t really work; our cases advocating for human rights defenders have been very successful and in almost every single case we have handled since the project started in 2003, our clients have been acquitted.

Even though we’ve not had many human rights defenders convicted, they keep getting arrested and criminalised in other ways. The logical explanation for this continuation is that criminalisation is a means of retaining in power and that actors use these methods to try and stop civil society from calling for transparency and accountability for the actions state actors take as public officials.

……

PI: Do you see a difference in the way that male and female defenders are criminalised in Zimbabwe?

IP: On a general level, all human rights work can be criminalised, whether a man or a woman does the work. Having said that, there have been additional burdens for women defenders.

Zimbabwe has a very patriarchal society so there is a lot of pushback on women human rights defenders. The public opinion is that these women shouldn’t be getting out on the streets to demand their social and economic rights or becoming involved in legitimate political activity. …

PI: How are Zimbabwean WHRDs and organisations responding to criminalisation? 

IP: There have been different strategies. A lot has been linked to improving rights literacy and the importance of women participating in the society, be it at local or at national level. It is also important to have the ability to access a safety and security system that will allow the women to continue their work when an emergency has passed. In case of such an emergency, you need to be prepared with a good legal, medical, psychosocial response, as well as a welfare system. So when you’re in custody for some time, someone can take care of the children while you’re away.

…….

PI: Is it possible to prevent being criminalised in a context like that of Zimbabwe?

IP: We try to make the cost of criminalisation so high, that the perpetrators (whether at state or non-state level) reform or choose not to use these strategies. You’re increasing the cost if there’s legal defence for defenders and you’re able to be successful in these cases. You do this as well by showing a pattern of selective use of repressive legislation and publicising those trends and the identities of people that perpetrate such acts. Naming and shaming makes clear that the defender is not actually a criminal, but someone whose fundamental rights are being suppressed in a very systematic manner…

“We may not be able to change the habits of adults, who are set in their ways, but there is an opportunity to change the mind-set of how young people view human rights and they can become a real force for good.”

…..

PI: Do you want to share your hopes and dreams for the future?

IP: I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t hopeful. There’s a joke that Zimbabweans are hopelessly hopeful. There is a very dedicated, vibrant human rights community in Zimbabwe with courageous people defending human rights. I hope that we continue to grow this network. You don’t want people to become so despondent that they give up. I think it’s important for us to continue and look for new ways of doing our work and how we can engage with people that we haven’t engaged with before….

More on her and other Women Who Defend Human Rights – Irene PetrasProtection International.

Woman Human Rights Defender María Martín about criminalization

March 8, 2015

maria1

As I announced in an earlier post [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/mea-laureate-2014/], Protection International has done a series of interviews with woman human rights defenders. Today is the turn of Maria Martin, a member of Protection International’s Policy, Training and Research Unit, who speaks about criminalization patterns and how it specifically seems to affects women human rights defenders even more than their male colleagues. Here are some extracts:

PI: What is criminalization?

MM: To explain it in simple terms, it’s the use of the criminal legal system to try to dissuade or obstruct the work of people who defend human rights. Often, instances of criminalisation are associated with other processes like stigmatisation or the application of administrative sanctions against human rights defenders. Nevertheless it remains important to be able to distinguish criminalisation apart from these other processes.

PI: So could you explain the difference between criminalisation and stigmatisation? 

MM: Stigmatisation consists of trying to affect the image that exists of a defender. This is often related to criminalisation because it can happen in connection to judicial processes or in detention. Then again, stigmatisation can also be a consequence of criminalisation. I mean, once criminal proceedings have started, the defender’s public image will be affected, which is precisely one of the effects of this criminalisation.

PI: What do you think the impact is of criminalisation on WHRDs

MM: ..Criminalisation does not only have a strong impact on the person that is subject to it and who faces detention, guilty verdicts or unjust processes. The organisations where WHRDs work are also highly affected, since the criminalisation of one defender obstructs the work of all defenders collaborating with her…

Families of criminalised women are also affected. In this respect the criminalisation of women tends to have a stronger impact than with men. This is due to the leading role that women often play in a family, providing support for their children, parents and other dependants.

If the woman is the income-provider of the family, the economic impact on the family can be very severe. Criminalisation may also have a psychological impact on a family, because they see their loved one illegitimately deprived of her human rights and freedoms.

To compare this to the criminalisation of a male activist, normally the male defender has a partner who attends to the children and supports them during the difficult process. In contrast, women defenders are often single parents and have to single-handedly bear family responsibilities in addition to their criminal charges.

PI: What can WHRDs do to combat criminalisation?

MM: I believe women defenders must first know what criminalisation is, and how to recognise it. Only then can they work towards a strategic response within the judicial system that prevents it from reoccurring. In other words, she can develop strategic responses to condemn attacks aimed at women defenders on the bias of incorrect legal norms. On the other hand, once a process of criminalisation has been set in motion, defenders can also take actions to identify and counter the negative impact criminalisation can have in their work, on their families and society in general.

One of the situations where I have seen such a response against criminalisation was by a women defenders’ organisation in the town of Barillas in the northern part of Guatemala. There, defenders were facing police and military interventions. Local women defenders started using different tactics in order to put an end to the government’s criminalisation norms in Barillas.

They carried out large-scale protests and made trips to remote parts in the region to make a conflict little known by national and international populations more visible. Through these actions the women succeeded in putting the issue on national and international agendas. This ultimately generated enough political pressure to paralyse such repressive actions by the state.

PI: What can other actors do to combat criminalisation?

MM: For other actors, the first step is to analyse actions of all stakeholders to see what exactly generates criminalisation and why, and what laws permit such practices to take place. As for governments, they can also fight criminalisation by prohibiting law enforcement officers or justice system officials to carry out norms and practices that favour or lead to criminalisation of defenders. One way of doing this could be implementing fines against police officers that have detained defenders illegally.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – María Martín – Protection InternationalProtection International.

Russia: the next step in curtailing human rights defenders

January 19, 2015

The next ‘logical’ step by Russia in curtailing the work of human rights defenders is in the making: on 20 January the Russian Parliament (Duma) will debate a bill to declare certain foreign and international organisations as ‘unwanted’ and to fine anyone working with such entities. OMCT-LOGOThe Observatory, a joint programme of FIDH and OMCT, issued a statement today calling on the Duma to drop this bill. logo FIDH_seul

If adopted, the law will complement an already very restrictive legislative arsenal used to silence all forms of criticism against the regime in contradiction with international human rights instruments ratified by Russia and will allow authorities to ban legitimate human rights activities, though they are protected under international law. On January 14, the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation recommended that the lower house pass a bill to ban “undesirable foreign organisations” in Russia and ban cooperation with them. The bill, presented initially by two members of Parliament, would allow the Prosecutor General’s Office, upon consultation with the Foreign Ministry and based on information provided by the interior and security agencies, to ban foreign and international organisations that “threaten the defence or security of the State” or “public order and health”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Important Human Rights Council side event on 11 March (to be followed on internet)

February 14, 2014

The Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights organises an important side event during the upcoming UN Human Rights Council. Under the title “Creating a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders” the event will take place on 11 March 2014, from 12h00 – 14h00 in the Palais des Nations, Geneva (exact room to be determined later). Those who cannot attend in person, can follow the event through a live webcast and ask questions or share comments via Twitter using #HRDs before and during the event. Photos and further details will also be available on Facebook following the event, Read the rest of this entry »

Ukraine follows Russia’s example again: human rights defenders labeled as “foreign agents”

January 21, 2014

The ‘eastern’ pull of Ukraine is now also reflected in its repressive legislation on human rights defenders. On January 16, 2014, Ukrainian Parliament unexpectedly and hurriedly adopted a comprehensive restrictive bill, which punishes protests, criminalises libel, restricts civic organisations receiving foreign funding and labels them as “foreign agents”. The bill, entitled “On Amendments to the Law on Judicial System and Status of Judges and Procedural Laws on Additional Measures for Protecting Citizens’ safety”, was introduced on January 14, 2014 and voted only two days after, with no legal assessment, no parliamentary hearings, and no consultation. The text was swiftly adopted by show of hands, backed by 235 out of 450 parliamentarians, before it was immediately signed it into law by the President. According to the bill, all civic organisations receiving funds from foreign sources must include in their title the term “foreign agents”, register as such, submit monthly reports regarding the organisations, publish quarterly reports on their activities in the official media and may not benefit from a tax-exempt status. The bill specifies that all organisations taking part in political actions, defined as actions aimed at influencing decision-making by state bodies, a change in the state policy which those bodies have defined as well as forming public opinion for those purposes, are deemed civic organisations. Organisations failing to register may be closed by court decision.

There were quite a few other restrictions passed in the same bill as can be seen from the Open Letter of 20 January 2014 sent to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and Parliamentary Speaker Volodym, signed by Karim Lahidji, FIDH President, and Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General:

Ukraine: Call to repeal highly restrictive law on so-called “foreign agents”, libel and extremism, which blatantly violates Ukraines international obligations / January 20, 2014 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT.

Defending human rights is increasingly dangerous activity in many parts of the world, states latest UN report

January 19, 2014

The most recent report by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, has been made public and will be officially presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. It is the last report by this Rapporteur whose mandate will terminate. The report finds that human rights defenders – especially journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and those who work to promote women’s rights and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons – face ‘extraordinary risks’. It highlights cases of defamation, attacks, detention, torture and even killings. The report also documents an increased incidence of violations against people and communities opposed to mining, construction and development projects, with protesters attacked both by State and private security forces. Human rights defenders play a crucial role in exposing and seeking accountability for violations by both governments and corporations. Their work is crucial to transparency, good governance and justice for victims,’ commented Phil Lynch of the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.ISHR-logo-colour-high

The report also documents the worsening ‘use of legislation in a number of countries to refrain the activities of human rights defenders and to criminalise them’, with cited examples including laws to ‘curb the promotion of homosexuality’ and to restrict NGO access to foreign funds. In the last four weeks alone, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, Malaysia and the Ukraine have enacted or applied laws to criminalise human rights defenders and to silence their critical voice,’ Mr Lynch added.

In addition to documenting violations, the report makes a wide range of recommendations to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can operate in a ‘safe and enabling environment.

For those too busy to read the whole new UN report [PDF]  here are the

V.    Conclusions and recommendations: Read the rest of this entry »

Side event on environmental rights defenders on 3 December in Geneva with live webcast

November 30, 2013

Human rights defenders play a critical role in exposing and ensuring accountability for business-related human rights violations. Despite this, around the world, there is an increase in attacks, judicial harassment, restrictions, surveillance, intimidation and reprisals against defenders who work on land and environment issues associated with business activities. A side event on 3 December in Geneva (Palais des Nations Room XX  from 13h00 to 15h00) will pay special attention to challenges engendered by the increasing criminalisation or repression of those peacefully denouncing adverse human rights impacts of corporate projects, discussing the role of both States and companies. Read the rest of this entry »

AI and Jody Williams on today’s elections in Honduras: Will Human Rights Defenders fare any better?

November 24, 2013

Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, human rights defender from the Honduran NGO COPINH.

(Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, human rights defender from the Honduran NGO COPINH. © COPINH)

There’s hardly a moment when Honduran human rights defender Bertha Cáceres is not worrying about what may happen to her for defending the rights of her community, the Lenca Indigenous People. The risk is so high that she’s been forced into hiding. “They want to terrorize us,” she told Amnesty International.  “I cannot live my life like before. I cannot go to the office, take part in our campaign, or leave the country to denounce our situation in international forums. I can’t even go swimming in the Río Blanco, which is very important to me because it is sacred to our people,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »