Posts Tagged ‘definition of HRD’

Good introduction to the Anniversary of the UN Declaration on HRDs in 2018

December 11, 2017


COMMENTARY 05 December 2017

In “Defending Rights, Fighting Fatalism Janika Spannagel makes the point that we should take a long-term view in assessing human rights progress.  I plead guilty by having started 2017 with a series of ten posts on the indeed gloomy outlook for human rights (e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/). Perhaps it is fitting to end the year with a bit more ‘optimistic’ long term view:

In 2017, both activists and political pundits embraced a rhetoric of doom and gloom about the global state of human rights. But faced with a world painted in ever darker colors, we risk losing sight of the bigger picture. This month marks 19 years since the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted. Its troubled story can teach us something about the long arc of history when it comes to the advancement of human rights worldwide.

There is no doubt that human rights defenders are under attack today. But that is not new. Defending human rights is and always has been a highly political and often dangerous undertaking. People who have raised their voices against injustice, from totalitarianism and colonial oppression to capitalist exploitation, have been persecuted and silenced throughout human history. Repressive regimes and groups in power seem just as quick and clever in adapting methods of control as their opponents are in carving out new spaces.

However, rather than giving in to fatalism we should learn from history that counter-discourse and pushback is an inevitable part of the human rights success story. On December 9, 1998, the United Nations (UN) member states unanimously declared that everyone has a right to defend human rights. This consensus in the UN General Assembly, however, did not mean that states were in wide agreement. Born out of a context of intense persecution of dissidents in the late 1970s, the lengthy negotiation process for what eventually became the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was at the verge of collapsing time and again over surprisingly topical issues like foreign funding, supremacy of domestic law, or national security.

Stories like that of the Declaration illustrate how writing human rights history requires both perseverance and the prompt use of political windows of opportunity. These stories teach us not to submit to pessimistic rhetoric that can easily cloud our judgment, but to remain committed to multilateral cooperation on rights issues, particularly during challenging times. 

To learn more about how the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted against all odds, what difference it has made and why the term “human rights defenders” was omitted from the document, see my recent analysis of the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. (http://www.geschichte-menschenrechte.de/en/schluesseltexte/erklaerung-zu-menschenrechtsverteidigern-1998/ in english, in spite of title)

With the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders coming up on 9 December 2018 [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/01/20th-anniversary-of-un-declaration-on-human-rights-defenders-starts-with-crucial-draft-resolution-in-the-ga/], the article above makes good reading.

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http://www.gppi.net/publications/human-rights/article/defending-rights-fighting-fatalism/

Human Rights Council extends mandate on human rights defenders – after considerable wrangling

March 24, 2017

On Thursday 23 March 2017 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it extended, for a period of three years, the mandate of the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/22/un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-wraps-up-his-first-mandate/]

The press statement by the UN (see below) explains that there was quite a bit of wrangling on wording, but in the end the draft resolution (A/HRC/34/L.5) on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michael Forst, was adopted without a vote as orally revised, in the same terms as provided for by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 16/5. It urges again all States to cooperate with and assist the Special Rapporteur in the performance of his tasks, to provide all information and to respond to the communications transmitted to them by the Special Rapporteur without undue delay; and calls upon States to give serious consideration to responding favourably to the requests of the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries.

(here the detailed report on the failed efforts – mainly by Russia and China – to weaken the text:) Read the rest of this entry »

Protesters – or (human rights) defenders?

October 29, 2016

The definition of who is a human rights defenders and who is not, is in my view and that of many others not a very fruitful debate [see inter alia” https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/hinah-jilani-on-human-rights-defenders-the-first-report-of-her-maastricht-lecture/] What is more relevant is the question of how they are described in the media. On this topic  has written a clarifying piece in the The Independent of Canada on 28 October 2016, entitled: “Calling Indigenous Peoples ‘land protectors’ or ‘land defenders’ is not loaded language. Calling them ‘protesters’ is.”

Land Protectors shut down work on the $12 billion Muskrat Falls hydro project in a fight to protect their traditional food and way of life. Photo by Justin Brake.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hinah Jilani on human rights defenders: the first report of her Maastricht lecture

November 17, 2014

The 5th Theo van Boven lecture was given by Hinah Jilani on 11 November 2014 in Maastricht. As a primeur here is a report written by Daan Bronkhorst (1953) who has been at the staff of Amnesty International Netherlands since 1979. He has written on refugees, transitional justice, history and other issues, and produced a Dutch-language encyclopedia of human rights. He is now writing a PhD study on human rights defenders.

Hinah Jilani on human rights defenders

Observations on a lecture

by Daan Bronkhorst

At the law faculty of Maastricht University, the 5th Theo van Boven Lecture was presented on 11 November 2014 by Hinah Jilani. From 2000 to 2008, she was the United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. She is in various respects an emblematic human rights defender herself. Already in 1980, with her sister Asma Jahangir she founded the Legal Aid Cell in Lahore. She was co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women’s Action Forum. She was the target of arrests and death threats, once narrowly escaping a gunman who killed the woman she was counseling at that time.

In the lecture, she described human rights defenders as those who bring to the fore information on the abuses to be addressed by governments and organizations. They contribute to relief and protection, they provide a measure of accountability, they inform governments on possible actions and help ensure a measure of justice. In conflict situations, they have a critical role in promoting peace and peace building. They prompt recognition of participatory democracy and transparency. ‘Human rights defenders are not just making human rights violations visible, they confront states with their duty to protect’, she said. For their work, defenders are considered a threat in most parts of the world. They experience vilification, unfair trials, acts of violence, self-imposed exile and reprisals.

Jilani said that ‘time and again, I was pressured by governments to define human rights defenders. I was wondering why there was this insistence. Then I understood then that when you define, you can make it easy to exclude people.’ Among human rights defenders, Jilani includes professionals as well as peasants, workers, teachers, doctors, judges, MPs and many others. ‘Actually anyone who undertakes any activity for the promotion and protection of human rights, and is harmed becomes of that, comes under the protection of the [1998 UN] Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.’ Quoting examples from her native country, Pakistan, she described the threats that befall the defenders not just from state oppression, but also coming from the ‘lack of judicial independence, social biases, traditional and religious practices, economic interests and political privileges.’ Women are targeted and ostracized by the elders of their communities. There is a positive note as well: ‘Until not so long ago judges used to honour honour killings in Pakistan. Today that has become unthinkable.’

 Jilani pictures the defending of the defenders as ‘often a story of one step forward and two steps backwards’. Leaders of indigenous communities, representatives of migrants and refugees, trade unionists: they are all increasingly targeted. More and more reports of attacks now come from Africa. In an increasing number of countries law and policies are leading to the shrinking of civil society space. Meetings are dispersed for alleged security reasons, the defenders are called insurgents or anti-state elements, or simply terrorists. In the UN Declaration, Jilani said, civil society was explicitly given a role in safeguarding democracy and human rights. ‘The defenders initiated programs for institution building, education and the enforcement of the rule of law. But it is impossible for them to achieve those aims if civilians are not allowed to live their normal lives.’ She also cracked a nut with the media: ‘The media have been the first to attack human rights defenders. They have not taken the effort to understand their work. They hit back at the very people who stand up for them when freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are threatened.’

Jilani’s opinions and convictions can be considered as leading in the field. Her observations, I think, also give rise to a number of questions. I mention three.

         First, the concept. That the UN Declaration offers no definition has the advantage of greater inclusion, but the risk of confusion and erosion. There are conspicuous inconsistencies in the UN Declaration with later commentaries and explanations issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Is the term meant to denote only those who are at risk, or also those working from safe offices in say Geneva? That the very concept of the human rights defender is still in the air even at the UN is testified by the November 2013 debate that led to a resolution on women human rights defenders. In the last-minute final text some of the draft’s references, such as to violence against women and to the refraining from invoking customs and religion, were left out, even though shortly before having been adopted in UN General Assembly resolutions.

            Second, the scope of the work of human rights defenders. It is one thing to state that human rights work contributes to processes such as that of peace building and social justice, it is another to imply that their actual work is in those fields. There is much consensus about human rights including protection from torture or equality before the law, but not on such issues as the human rights scope of poverty. What is the dividing line between what is injustice and what is a human rights violation? This ties in with a larger present-day debate on the position and foundations of human rights. Will human rights defenders get lost in this debate and become one more bone of contention? Or can a somehow limited purview of their work strengthen human rights’ position?

            And third, the empirical data that support the call for better protection and underpinning of the human rights defenders’ work. Jilani’s statement that the space for human rights defence is shrinking on a worldwide scale and that attacks on human rights defenders are increasing, is reflected in reports by international defenders organizations. Simultaneously these organizations report greatly expanding international networks, much success in training, rising awareness of the international community. Is there a discrepancy here? Is the image of increasing threats perhaps self-serving the (donor) organizations? To the perceived rise of menaces one can argue that not long ago in most non-Western countries there was no civil society space at all. Also, since so many more individuals and groups are now labeled ‘human rights defenders’, the absolute number of those victimized may grow even if their proportion decreases. If there is indeed progress, this may prompt emphasizing the effectiveness of programs and using this as leverage for work on situations where the threats persist or newly occur.

Canada’s New Democratic Party honors disappeared Sikh, Jaswant Singh Khalra, as Human Rights Defender

September 9, 2013

Canada: NDP Remembers Defender Of Human Rights Jaswant Singh Khalra

The Sikh wire in Canada reports on an interesting mix of party politics and the officialisation of the term ‘human rights defender’: 

In April 2013, with thunderous applause and support at the federal NDP convention in Montreal, a resolution to recognize Jaswant Singh Khalra [abducted 18 years ago] as a defender of human rights was passed by the membership of Canada’s NDP (New Democrats ). After the adoption of the resolution, Leader of the Official Opposition and Canada’s NDP Tom Mulcair spoke with the daughter of the late Jaswant Singh Khalra, Navkiran Kaur about spreading her father’s message of peace and justice. “Jaswant Singh Khalra spoke on Parliament Hill and delivered his last international speech while he was here in Canada. He came to this country because we had a reputation of being defenders of human rights – we must uphold that” said Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek).   Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) added: “Our resolution sends a clear message – an NDP government will return Canada to the world stage as a nation of neutrality, committed to defending the human rights of all.”

The Sikh Wire – Canada: NDP Remembers Defender Of Human Rights Jaswant Singh Khalra.

 

Edward Snowden portrayed as a Human Rights Defender by US groups

June 28, 2013

In a post on 4 June under the title “Bradley Manning not a Prisoner of Conscience for Amnesty International ?” I related the controversy surrounding the status of human rights defender for Breadly Manning. On 13 June, under title “Snowden a human rights defender?  – Russia seems to think so” I referred to a similar issue with regard Read the rest of this entry »

Assessing Needs of Human Rights Defenders and Strategies for Collaboration: results of a workshop

June 20, 2013

As far back as October 2012 in Lima, Peru, during the 7th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED – U.S.A) organised a workshop on one of my favorite topics: how the existing efforts for and among human rights defenders (HRDs) could more effectively meet the needs of endangered human rights defenders (HRDs) Read the rest of this entry »

Snowden a human rights defender? – Russia seems to think so

June 13, 2013

Human Rights activist, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a national her, anti-fascism New Yorkers said at a rally on June 10
(Getty Images)

Yesterday I referred to the difficulty of defining human rights defenders in relation to a Nigerian politician, and here comes another, maybe more difficult one:

As the United States Justice Department prepare charges against  Edward Snowden, former federal government contractor who revealed the NSA’s secret surveillance program rights violation, as ABC News reportedRussia said Tuesday 11 June that it would consider a request from him for safe haven and The Guardian reported tuesday that Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says any appeal from whistleblower Edward Snowden for asylum will be looked at ‘according to facts,’

Aleksey Pushkov, chair of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, said Snowden is a “human rights activist.” Referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Pushkov said, “In this sense, Snowden — like Assange — is a human-rights activist.”

I’m willing to sacrifice all that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people all around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden himself told The Guardian.

Russia might aid Snowden human rights activist – National Human Rights | Examiner.com.

Nigerian Governor Fashola hails late Dosunmu as Human Rights Defender

June 11, 2013

There is and always will be debate on who is a human rights defender. At a recent meeting in May 2013 at York University, UK, there were several sessions and academic interventions devoted to the topic (when the report is out, I will revert), but in the meantime is interesting to note the use of the term – posthumously – for one of the leading politicians in Nigeria: Read the rest of this entry »