Posts Tagged ‘digest of human rights awards and laureates’

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Call for nominations for the 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award

March 2, 2021

The Lawyers for Lawyers Award aims to honour lawyers who have made significant contributions to the protection of the rule of law and human rights in challenging environments. Through the bi-annual Award, Lawyers for Lawyers generates public recognition for the work and outstanding achievements of lawyers at risk. See for the award and its laureates: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0

Nominations must be submitted using the nomination form here. Please send the complete nomination form, including the required attached documents to info@lawyersforlawyers.nl or lawyersforlawyers@protonmail.com.

The closing date for submission of nominations is16 April 2021.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/04/24/lawyers-for-lawyers-raises-the-alarm-filipino-lawyers-at-risk/

Christiane Amanpour, Jeff Kaufman and Jason Rezaian talk about the film Nasrin

March 2, 2021

Washington Post Live on 2 March 2021 published a fascinating insight into the making of the film Nasrin [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/16/new-film-nasrin-about-the-iranian-human-rights-defender/]. Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most recognised human rights laureates in the Digest with 7 major awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/848465FE-22DF-4CAF-928F-7931B2D7A499

The transcript is verbatim and long, so you would have to follow the link at the bottom of the post to get the full story. Here just some excerpts:

MR. IGNATIUS: So, we have with us Christiane Amanpour, the international anchor for CNN; Jeff Kaufman, who is the producer and writer of this film; and my colleague, Jason Rezaian, who is our Tehran bureau chief.

MR. IGNATIUS: If I could ask Jeff to begin by telling us a little bit about Nasrin, her career as a human rights activist, how you came to make this documentary about her.AD

When we first reached out to Nasrin about doing a documentary about her life and work, there was a trust-building process through friends, and one of the things that she shared with us was a strong interest in having her story really be a story about so many others. We had known Nasrin’s work for years, and one of the things I loved about Nasrin is she is a Muslim woman who often reached out on behalf of other faiths and other backgrounds to support people in need. And I thought that that was such a powerful message for our own country as well. As a matter of fact, I think everything about Nasrin is a powerful message for democracy and mutual respect in this country and around the world.

So, when Nasrin said yes, we could do a film with her, she worked out sort of a complicated process. I couldn’t go to Iran because of past work I had done, and it wouldn’t have made sense to have a big American crew show up in Tehran anyway. So, we worked with these really remarkable, talented, and courageous individuals who followed Nasrin around from both working with at-risk clients, to protests, to art galleries, theaters, bookstores. It was a thrill for us to sort of be there with them, and we are so happy to be able to bring her story to you.

MR. IGNATIUS: Jeff, if I could ask, one of the most powerful things about this film is the footage from inside Iran. Did the people who were shooting this footage for you run personal risks? And I worry that some of them may have, themselves, been subject to arrest or difficulties with the authorities.

MR. KAUFMAN: No one has been subject to arrest or difficulties with authorities because of the film itself, but because they are also activists and believed that their work can push society forward, they have put themselves, on occasion, at risk for that.

We–Marcia and I, so often throughout the production of this film, would say to Nasrin and her husband, Reza, you know, we will stop at any moment if you feel this puts you or anyone else at risk. That was always our largest concern. And we did the whole film in secret, didn’t even fundraise in public, because we wanted to keep as much privacy for them as possible during the process. And even when we were editing, we said to Nasrin and Reza, “Hey, we will stop now if you think this is a concern.” But they felt–you know, Nasrin has this wonderful quote. She says, “Our children must not inherit silence.” And she will say over and over again, as do other human rights advocates, that repressive governments, they use pressure and force and intimidation to make people quiet, and Nasrin refuses to have her voice muffled. So, we are proud that the film can help amplify that voice.

I just want to add that I got a message from Nasrin’s husband this morning. I had asked if there was a message from Nasrin. And he said two things. He said that the cell she is in now, just so you know, is an 8-foot by 13-foot cell that has 12 beds in it, bunkbeds. And it is a low ceiling, there’s no windows, and very little access to clean water. So that is the conditions that she is living in right now.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask Christiane. Christiane, I think you have interviewed Nasrin in the past and you have interviewed many other courageous men and women who have taken these risks to stand up for human rights. What it is that motivates a special person like Nasrin, in your experience?

MS. AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I’m shaking my head because I am just so horrified at what her husband, Reza, has described as her latest terrible conditions inside a political prison, where she is not a political person. And I think this is what also really, for me, has been emblematic of all the human rights defenders who I have interviewed around the world. I haven’t had the pleasure of interviewing Nasrin, but I have had the pleasure of interviewing Shirin Ebadi, who as you remember also was a human rights lawyer in Iran. She also cannot go back to Iran. She was the first Iranian to win the Nobel Prize, and I covered the stories that she, and the cases that got her that Nobel Prize. And I know the risk that comes with it, and I know that they are not strictly speaking party political.AD

And I think this is one thing that came across in Jeff and Marcia’s film, and we talked about it when we did the interview. She is not being political. She is not talking about tearing down the regime or wanting any kind of regime change. She is just talking about basic, fundamental rights for the people of Iran, mostly in her case women and children, but some young men as well, under their own constitution. It is not like she is going out saying and taking cases to court that she is trying to try under Western law or whatever. It is under their own constitution. And this is what makes everybody, and certainly me, so angry that this is what has happened to her, this incredible woman.

I think what makes them take those risks, David, is that they truly believe in human rights. They truly believe in the dignity of each and every individual, and–this is important–they truly believe and want to hold their own governments accountable to the promises that those governments made. As I said, Nasrin defends cases based on the Islamic law in Iran, of the Islamic Republic, based on the promises that that regime made to the people 40 years ago, when the revolution started. And you can see that they have completely reneged on those promises, and that is why people like her are so utterly important.

MR. IGNATIUS: Jason, you were imprisoned in the same prison where Nasrin is being held today. As Christiane said, the reports from her husband, Reza, her conditions are horrifying. You have been there. Maybe you could just describe for our audience a little bit of what that prison is like, what it feels like to be there, the feelings that go through the many, many dozens, hundreds of people who are being held there unjustly.

MR. REZAIAN: Well, thank you for the question, David, and for the opportunity, and thank you to all three of you for taking part in this, and for David and Christiane for supporting me and my family while I was locked up in Evin Prison, which is a big reason why this film has been so important for me to get involved with.

I think that the reality of the political prisoner system in Iran, Christiane makes a very important point. I wasn’t a political prisoner, either. I was just a reporter doing my job. But our arrests and our detentions are very much politicized events.AD

The intention of our jailers is to really break us, to make us hopeless, to disassociate ourselves from society, and in Nasrin’s case, they have failed miserably. I did have the opportunity to interview Nasrin once, in 2013. It was a couple of months after Hassan Rouhani was elected president, and there was the hope that there would be more moderate attitude from the leadership in Tehran.

And ahead of his first trip to the UNGA, they released Nasrin, and my wife and I, who was working for Bloomberg at the time, visited Reza and Nasrin and their children in their home, on that very first day that she was released. And although she was relieved and happy to be back with her family, she made it clear that she was not at all satisfied that she had been released, because so many of her colleagues and friends and other innocent people were being held in prison.

And I think for someone like her, I imagine one of the most frustrating things about her experience would be that she understands the laws that she is trying to uphold much better than the people who are implementing them and using them against her, and I think that for that reason she is an incredible example and hero to so many.AD

And I just think that, you know, I want everybody to understand that Iranian woman are the backbone of that country. There is no doubt about it. They really, really are. Unlike women in many parts of the Islamic world, the Iranian women have been very strong, very mobilized, very much part of society, as you can see. Nasrin and Shirin and the others don’t just emerge out of nowhere. It is a long, long tradition. And I think it is great that Jeff is showing this, and I think it’s great that the world needs to understand it. And if I might just say also, you know, the first female to win a field mathematics medal was an Iranian-American.

So, there is a huge amount of success by Iranian women around the world, and that is why I think it is really important to show what Iranian woman are trying to do for their own girls and women and for their rights in their own country, and what an incredible hard, hard job it is, and how much personal risk they take.

And I also want to pay tribute to the journalists, as Jeff said. At the beginning of the film, he said, “I pay tribute to all the camera people and the crews, who I cannot name.” He explained why. But it is really important to understand that this story is being told despite the massive crackdown, and I think that is fantastic….

MR. IGNATIUS: So, Jeff, I want to ask you about one of the really moving parts of this film, and that is the footage of Nasrin’s husband, Reza, who has stood by her unflinchingly, supporting her, believing in her. He seems like a remarkable person. The fact that you were in touch with him today is especially moving to me. Tell our audience a little bit about Reza, Nasrin’s husband, and why he has been such a supporter of his wife’s cause and commitment.

MR. KAUFMAN: I will. I am so glad you asked. One of the reasons we wanted to do this film, besides profiling Nasrin, was because we wanted to fight back on the demonization of Iran and the demonization of Islam, that is being used too often for political purposes in this country, and no one has a better way to do that than Nasrin and Reza.

I think this film is an example that we can overcome obstacles from great distances, and even technological imitations, but sometimes it’s difficult.

I asked Reza, Nasrin’s husband, if Nasrin had any message to share for this conversation, and I got a note from him this morning. These are Nasrin’s words through Reza. Nasrin said, “What occupies my thoughts the most is those who are on Death Row here in Gharchak Prison. Right now, there are 17 women on Death Row facing imminent execution.” And she closed by saying, “I am hoping for an end to the death penalty across the world.”

So, you know, there’s Nasrin facing enormous pressure and difficulties, but as usual she is not thinking about herself. She is thinking about others and she is trying to push her country forward.

Jason, let me ask you, as someone who was imprisoned unjustly, whose cause was taken up by your newspaper and by many, many thousands of Americans, what difference you think that public pressure from the United States, from world public opinion, made in your ultimately being released?

MR. REZAIAN: So, I think it made a huge amount of difference in my case. And oftentimes when we are talking about foreign nationals being held hostage in Iran, usually they are dual nationals, and, you know, Iran tries to suppress this information of our second nationality as much as possible. For me, it became clear, as my case was being brought up more and more, my treatment by my captors got better and better. And I realized, at some point during the process of going on trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, I don’t think I need to tell anybody that’s in the conversation with me but maybe some folks at home listening should know that if you ever find yourself on trial in a court with “revolutionary” in its name, you don’t have a good chance of winning.

But I realized that my real case was in the case of international public opinion, and the more people who kind of pushed for my release, the more involved the U.S. government got, and so much of that started, first and foremost, with my family, very early on with my imprisonment. My mom went on Christiane’s show and talked about my situation. And our colleagues at The Washington Post, who didn’t let a day go by without raising my case.

So now, you know, when I’m contacted by the families of people who are being held in prison in Iran, unfortunately there are five Americans being held at this very moment, and I’m in touch with every one of those families, I tell each one of them, make as much noise as you possibly can, and when your loved one gets out, they will thank you for it. And time and again, when people have been released, that I have written about, they contact me and say, “Thank you for making sure that I wasn’t forgotten about.” And my attitude is, what kind of hypocrite would I be if, after getting all the support that I got, that I didn’t pay it forward by helping people who have had their voices silenced?

MR. IGNATIUS: I hope we made a little noise today on Nasrin’s behalf. We are unfortunately out of time, but I want to close by thanking our guests, Christiane Amanpour from CNN, Jeff Kaufman, in particular, who made this extraordinary film, and my colleague, Jason Rezaian. You can watch “NASRIN,” this powerful, upsetting film, in the USA and Canada now on demand. International audiences can stream the film starting in a week, on March 8….

https://www.washingtonpost.com/washington-post-live/2021/03/01/transcript-nasrin-conversation-with-christiane-amanpour-jeff-kaufman-jason-rezaian/

A new tool to champion human rights defenders

March 2, 2021

Pip Cook published on 2 March 2021 a piece in Geneva Solutions which is hard to ignore for me in view of my own participation in it: the Digest: “A new tool to champion human rights defenders“. [see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/02/digest-of-laureates-ready-this-blog-changes-orientation/]

From left to right: Neri Colmenares, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Juwairiya Mohideen, Nemonte Nenquimo and Intisar Al-Amyal. (True Heroes Films)

A new online tool has been launched to champion human rights defenders and bring greater recognition to their work. Launched this month by True Heroes Films, a Geneva-based media organisation which uses digital storytelling to raise the profile of human rights defenders around the world, the Digest of Human Rights Awards includes over 2,800 winners of 220 prestigious awards.

The Digest, while raising awareness about the work of human rights defenders, also  aims to serve as a useful tool for both the media and the human rights world to go beyond the often fleeting publicity that surrounds award ceremonies and ensure their work is not forgotten.

Hans Thoolen, co-founder of True Heroes and the Martin Ennals Award, told Geneva Solutions that the idea for the digest came out of a research project he undertook in 2013 into the value of human rights awards.

Awards help bring greater recognition to a cause, boosting an individual’s profile and granting them greater protection, be it through prize money or the support of NGOs. However, many awards remain relatively unheard of and receive very little publicity, which Thoolen said is “absolutely crucial” to their value.

Journalists are incorporated into the broad human rights movement. Without publicity, human rights defenders would be working mostly for nothing,” said Thoolen. “They need public attention for their cause and what they are trying to change. Without it, nobody would know what they are doing.

In fact, the Digest reveals journalists make up the largest professional group of award recipients, with more than 400 laureates from the media. The database also provides images of the laureates and biographies of their life and work, as well as details of the awards themselves.

Human rights awards generally try to achieve three main objectives,” explained Thoolen. “One is recognition at a psychological level, which should not be underestimated. Many human rights defenders are not very popular in their own society, sometimes not even within their own family, so when they get recognition that can be a very important boost to their mental health.

The value of awards also lies in “concrete support”, be it in the form of prize money or training opportunities, or the chance to connect with others working in the same field. They also provide protection for the laureates, which is another reason publicity is essential – to make it known that the world is watching. Although this publicity can bring with it some risks, Thoolen explains that his long career working in the human rights world has shown him that these are outweighed by the benefits.

The feedback we get from lawyers is always the same: the [human rights defenders] have already taken enormous risks by going public. They are not afraid, and clearly the publicity helps them.

Showcasing the work of thousands of people from all different backgrounds, championing everything from women’s rights to freedom of speech, Thoolen also hopes the Digest will serve as a “hall of fame” for role models to inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Most people get into human rights work when they’re hit by something, but usually it’s not by reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Thoolen. “What inspires people is seeing and hearing a person: a human rights defender. They are the entry point into the much broader human rights movement.

The piece then gives some recent winners of prestigious human rights awards featured in the Digest:

Abdul Aziz Muhamat – Martin Ennals Award, 2019. 

Juwairiya Mohideen – The Front Line Defenders Award, 2020. 

Nemonte Nenquimo – Goldman Environment Award, 2020.

Mohammad Mosaed – International Press Freedom Awards and Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech, 2020. . 

Rugiati Turay – Theodor Haecker Prize, 2020. 

Intisar Al-Amyal – Per Anger Prize, 2020. 

Nominations for the Tipperary Peace Award 2021 are now welcome

March 1, 2021


Because of the situation with Covid it has not been possible to have any award presentation in 2020. With restrictions easing later this year it should be possible to have an award presentation sometime in 2021. Therefore, the Tipperary Peace Convention is now seeking nominations for the 2019/2020 Award. For more on this and other peace awards that are regularly given to human rights defenders see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/291021c0-8f0b-11e7-a9a3-e7b866ab493f.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/malala-yousafzai-a-lot-more-awards-than-the-un-thinks/


Nominations can be submitted by E-Mail to: martinquinns@eircom.net or alternatively by post to the Hon. Secretary, Tipperary Peace Convention, 18 Father Matthew Street, Tipperary Town, Co. Tipperary. The aim of the Tipperary Peace Award is to recognise those who work tirelessly in countries around the world to end conflict and war, to facilitate reconciliation and peace making efforts, to provide humanitarian support and to campaign for justice and equality.


If you think that you know of someone who should be nominated then please do so today and include a brief resume to include the reason why you consider the person/s should receive the Award.

https://www.tipperarylive.ie/news/newsletter-tipperary/612362/nominations-sought-for-tipperary-international-peace-award.html

The Guardian starts new series ‘Rights and freedom’

February 23, 2021

Humanity United

On Monday 22 February 2021 the Guardian announced that it will be reporting on human rights worldwide, elevating the voices of those working on the frontline to protect rights and freedom.

A year on from the start of the world’s biggest health crisis, we now face a human rights pandemic. Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities and fragilities of health and political systems and allowed authoritarian regimes to impose drastic curbs on rights and freedoms, using the virus as a pretext for restricting free speech and stifling dissent.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, attacks on journalists, and a roll out of invasive tracking apps and extreme surveillance measures that are likely to far outlast the virus. Over the coming years, the economic fallout of the pandemic will hit millions. Those already facing stigma and marginalisation will suffer the most: women, girls, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous communities.

Human rights crises in countries including Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela and South Sudan threaten lives, health and freedoms. Yet the pandemic has also seen a growing global momentum of resistance, a fight back to protect hard-won rights. Journalism has always been a crucial tool in holding those in power to account and highlighting the drivers and systems that violate the fundamental rights of every human being, as enshrined in law. With over 200 laureates, journalists are the single biggest professional group among the winners of human rights awards [see: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/laureates]

At this critical moment, there is an urgent need to focus attention on those who are suffering and what can be done to help them. Rights and Freedom is a new Guardian reporting series to investigate and expose human rights abuses, and elevate the voices of people working on the frontline, fighting back for themselves and their communities.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-violations-against-journalists/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/18/journalists-on-the-ground-are-often-the-real-heroes/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/rights-and-freedom-welcome-to-our-series

Cartoons and human rights come together in Geneva

February 23, 2021

Kyra Dupont in Geneva Solutions of 23 February 2021 goes into the history that links Geneva and cartoons: “Drawings for peace, the role of Geneva” Geneva is said to be the cradle of comics thanks to Rodolphe Töpffer who was the first to put words on an illustrative sequence in the 1830s. Geneva has remained a vivid breeding ground for cartoons since then. (Credit: Patrick Chappatte) “Töpffer pioneered the genre, his work was a laboratory,” confirmed Zep at the opening of the exhibition, The comic strip, a Geneva invention? last November. The comic artist and creator of the bestselling Titeuf series discovered him at the age of 20 and admits that it is difficult to escape his influence for a cartoonist living in Geneva.

Since then, Switzerland remains the country with the most important press organizations’ ratio in the world compared to its population.

…..there is indeed a Geneva breeding ground for comic strips and press cartoons, two universes which cohabit in “a kinship never totally assumed, a bit like cousins from first-generation families with their own associations, their own interests, but both take part in this great wealth of talent and artists in a very small area with a very small population,” explains Patrick Chappatte, press cartoonist for Le Temps or the Boston Globe, among others. Indeed, political cartoonists are doing more than well in French-speaking Switzerland between Mix and Remix or Burki, which have now disappeared, but also Barrigues, Herman, Benedict, the new artists of the satirical newspaper Vigousse or the recent application La Torche 2.0 which develops press cartoons on smartphones.

Chappatte recalls that the press cartoons developed hand in hand with press freedom and democracy. Today we cannot imagine the front page of our newspapers without them.

“As luck would have it, today we are in a period where press cartoons are heckled and democracy is being questioned everywhere. We are living in a paradoxical era where we can say absolutely everything and send each other the worst things on social networks, and at the same time we bear a cautious attitude in the traditional media, companies under economic pressure, and exercise great caution in crisis management. On the one hand a precautionary principle is applied to humour and opinion, and on the other hand the real reactionaries are completely unleashed on social networks.”

The filtering of the media, the real professional entities, is what is most damaging to democracy and freedom of expression, according to the cartoonist who had to stop drawing for The New York Times when it decided to no longer publish daily political cartoons in its international edition in June 2019. “They took the easiest path in order to not have problems with political cartoons in the future… Did we just invent preventive censorship ? This, in the end, is about democracy,”  reacted Chappatte in his Ted talk, “A free world needs satire”.

Chappatte is the president of the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation. Renamed last October, the Geneva-based Cartooning for Peace Foundation was created in 2010 at the initiative of Kofi Annan See https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/EBEE0ECF-565B-6614-9B67-A6938EB46155. Every two years, with the support of the city of Geneva, the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation rewards a cartoonist for his courage and his role in promoting freedom of expression and human rights in particularly difficult circumstances. Note there is also the US-based Robert Russell Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/089b7a90-6c76-11e7-9ec2-2b88daf768c2]

This year, Chappatte was also awarded the Fondation pour Genève prize for his outstanding contribution to the influence of Geneva and his commitment to freedom of press and expression. “It’s quite a strong message at a time when press cartoons are being called into question,” says Chappatte, who regrets that the sanitary crisis has delayed the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation’s price to May 2021.

The extremists, the autocrats, the dictators and all the ideologues of the world cannot stand humour…We need political cartoons more than ever and we need humour.

For some earlier posts on cartoons see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/cartoons/

HRD issues on agenda of 46th Session of the council

February 22, 2021

Although I have decided to focus this blog mostly on human rights defenders and their awards, I will make an exception for the regular sessions of the UN Human Rights Council of which the 46th session has started on 22 February and which will last until to 23 March 2021. This post is based on the as always excellent general overview published by the International Service for Human rights: “HRC46 | Key issues on agenda of March 2021 session”. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda which affect HRDs directly:

Modalities for NGOs this year: According to the Bureau minutes of 4 February 2021: “Concerning the participation of NGOs in the 46th session, the President clarified that under the proposed extraordinary modalities, NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC would be invited to submit pre-recorded video statements for a maximum of three general debates in addition to the interactive dialogues, panel discussions and UPR adoptions as they had been able to do during the 45th session. In addition, “the Bureau agreed that events organised virtually by NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC could be listed on the HRC Extranet for information purposes.”

Human Rights implications of COVID-19

The pandemic – and States’ response to it – has presented various new challenges and threats for those defending human rights. The pandemic has exposed and deepened existing discrimination, violence and other violations. Governments have used COVID as a pretext for further restricting fundamental rights, including through the enactment of legislation, and specific groups of defenders – including WHRDs and LGBTI rights defenders – have lost their livelihoods, access to health services have reduced and they have been excluded from participating in pandemic responses. Action to address the pandemic must be comprehensive and systemic, it must apply a feminist, human rights-based, and intersectional lens, centred on non-discrimination, participation and empowerment of vulnerable communities. Last March ISHR joined a coalition of 187 organisations to draw the Council’s attention to the situation of LGBTI persons and defenders in the context of the pandemic.

#HRC46| Thematic areas of interest

Protection of human rights defenders

On March 3rd and 4th, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on her annual report “Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders”, and the country visit report of her predecessor to Peru.

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue including:

  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • Appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.

During its 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

During the organisational meeting held on 8 February, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insist on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other thematic reports

At this 46th session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders, and consider the annual report of the Secretary-General on the question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights. The debates with mandate holders include:

  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, annual report on COVID-19, culture and culture rights and country visit to Tuvalu 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, annual report on twenty years on the right to adequate housing: taking stock – moving ahead and country visit to New Zealand 

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture, annual report and country visit to Maldives
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, annual report on combating anti-Muslim hatred
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, annual report on artificial intelligence and privacy, and children’s privacy, and country visit reports to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, United States of America, Argentina, and Republic of Korea.  

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including:

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on interrelation of human rights and human rights thematic issues including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, annual report on human rights and the global water crisis: water pollution, water scarcity and water-related disasters 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, annual report on human rights impact of counter-terrorism and countering (violent) extremism policies and practices on the rights of women, girls and the family

Country-specific developments

China 

A pile of evidence continues to mount, including the assessment from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, about policies of the Chinese government targeting ethnic and religious minorities, including Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongolians. The rule of law is being further eroded in Hong Kong, as deeply-respected principles of due process and pluralistic democracy are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Human rights defenders and ordinary citizens confront ongoing crackdowns on civic freedoms, pervasive censorship and lightning-fast recourse to administrative sanction, enforced disappearance and trumped-up national security charges to silence critics.  – In the face of this, inaction has become indefensible.

The UN Special Procedures issued a sweeping statement in June 2020, calling for the international community to take ‘decisive action’ on the human rights situation in the country. At the March session, ISHR urges States to convey at the highest level the incompatibility of China’s actions domestically with its obligations as a new Council member, and to continue to press for transparency, actionable reporting and monitoring of the situation. Statements throughout the Council are key moments to show solidarity with individual defenders – by name – , their families, and communities struggling to survive. And finally, States should take every opportunity to support efforts by China that meaningfully seek to advance human rights – while resolutely refuting, at all stages of the process, initiatives that seek to distort principles of human rights and universality; upend the Council’s impressive work to hold States up to scrutiny; and weaken the effectiveness and impact of the Council for victims of violations and human rights defenders. Furthermore, other Council members should step up their commitments to the body’s mandate and purpose, and reject efforts by China and its partners and proxies. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/

Egypt

The Egyptian authorities continue to systematically carry out patterns of reprisals against human rights defenders for their legitimate work, including for engagement with UN Special Procedures. These have included arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, torture, unlawful surveillance, threats and summons for questioning by security agencies. The government’s refusal to address key concerns raised by States in its response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address its deep challenges and to engage constructively with the Council. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Egypt. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/

Saudi Arabia

In 2020, the Council continued its scrutiny over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Yet, the Saudi government has failed the litmus test to immediately and unconditionally release the women’s rights activists and human rights defenders, instead they continued to prosecute and harshly sentence them for their peaceful activism. On 10 February 2021, it was reported that WHRDs Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Nouf Abdulaziz have been released conditionally from prison after spending over two and a half years in detention solely for advocating for women’s rights, including the right to drive and the dismantling of the male guardianship system. ALQST reported that WHRDs Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi remain in detention and that “in a worrying development, the Public Prosecution has appealed the initial sentence issued on 25 November 2020 by the Criminal Court against al-Sadah of five years and eight months in prison, half of it suspended, seemingly with the aim of securing an even harsher sentence”. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c

The government’s refusal to address this key concern raised in the three joint statements demonstrates its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council.  ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Nicaragua 

On 24 February, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Nicaragua. Despite the renewal of Resolution 43/2, the human rights situation in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated over the last months. Civil society space has sharply shrank, due to new restrictive laws on foreign agents and counter-terrorism, while attacks against journalists and human rights defenders -the last remaining independent human rights observers – continue. The lack of an independent judiciary or NHRI further deprives victims of the possibility to seek justice and redress. Whilst the repression deepens, State inaction in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the passage of hurricanes have also exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights. In light of upcoming elections in Nicaragua, ISHR urges the Council to renew and strengthen its resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, laying down a clear benchmark of key steps the State should take to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate in good faith, while clearly signaling the intention to move towards international investigation and accountability should such cooperation steps not be met within the year. States should also increase support to targeted defenders and CSOs by raising in their statements the cases of student Kevin Solís, Aníbal Toruño and Radio Darío journalists, trans activist Celia Cruz, as well as the CENIDH and seven other CSOs subject to cancellation of their legal status.

Venezuela

Venezuela will come under the spotlight several times with oral updates from OHCHR on the situation of human rights in the country (25 February, 11 March) and an update from the international fact-finding mission on Venezuela (10 March). OHCHR is mandated to report on the implementation of the recommendations made to Venezuela, including in reports (here and here) presented last June.  The fact-finding mission has started work on its renewed and strengthened 2-year mandate, despite delays in the disbursement of funds and is due to outline its plans to the Council. Intensifying threats and attacks on civil society in Venezuela since November 2020, provide a bleak context to these discussions. States should engage actively in dialogue on Venezuela, urging that recommendations be implemented – including facilitating visits from Special Rapporteurs; that the fact-finding mission be granted access to the country and that civil society be promoted and safeguarded in its essential work.

Burundi

On 2 February 2021, the Supreme Court of Burundi announced its decision allegedly adopted on 23 June 2020 to sentence 12 defenders to life in prison. The date of the adoption of this decision was announced after the Court decided to defer it further to 30 June 2020 and again after that. The Court never assigned or informed the 12 concerned of the proceedings. This case was investigated and judged in the absence of all those concerned and the sentence only made public seven months after the alleged proceedings took place. Among the victims of this arbitrary procedure are renown lawyers such as Me Armel Niyongere, Vital Nshimirimana and Dieudonné Bashirahishize, who are being targeted for their engagement in the defense of victims of the 2015 repression in Burundi and for filing complaints for victims to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.  A group of civil society organisations denounced the dysfunctioning and lack of independence of judicial proceedings in the country. After confirming the 32 years sentence of defender Germain Rukuki, Burundi continues its crackdown against civil society. In addition to ensuring the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, members of the Council need to call on Burundi to uphold its international obligations and stop reprisals against defenders for engaging with any international mechanisms. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/ The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi on 10 March.

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 25 February. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Belarus
  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on ensuring accountability and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine
  • Oral updates and enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • High-level Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 46th session held on 8 February, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes seven panel discussions. States also announced at least 28 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council proposed candidates for the following mandates: 

  1. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (member from Africa) 
  2. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (member from North America)
  3. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 
  4. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
  5. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (member from African States)
  6. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (member from Asia-Pacific States).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 46th session

At the organisational meeting on 8 February the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  • Promotion of the enjoyment of the cultural rights of everyone and respect for cultural diversity (Cuba)
  • Human rights and the environment, mandate renewal  (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland)
  • Prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Denmark)
  • Question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights (Portugal)
  • Guarantee of the right to the health through equitable and universal access to vaccines in response to pandemics and other health emergencies (Ecuador)
  • Negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures (Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement-NAM)
  • Human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Morocco, Norway, Peru, Romania, Republic of Korea, Tunisia)
  • Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  • Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  • Situation of human rights in Myanmar, mandate renewal (EU)
  • Combating intolerance based on religion or belief (OIC)
  • Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OIC)
  • Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (OIC)
  • Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OIC)
  • Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (OIC)
  • Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights (African Group)
  • Persons with albinism (African Group)
  • Impact of non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin to countries of origin (African Group)
  •  The situation of human rights in Iran, mandate renewal (Moldova, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Iceland)
  • The right to privacy in the digital age, mandate renewal (Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico)
  • The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, mandate renewal (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  • Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) 
  • Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, UK) 
  • Read the calendar here.

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Belarus, Liberia, Malawi, Panama, Mongolia, Maldives, Andorra, Honduras, Bulgaria, the Marshall Islands, the United States of America, Croatia, Libya and Jamaica. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. It publishes and submits briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as a mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. 

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Panel discussions scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming. Theme: The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these efforts
  2. Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty. Theme: Human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty, in particular with respect to whether the use of the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime rate
  3. Meeting on the role of poverty alleviation in promoting and protecting human rights
  4. Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child [two accessible panels]. Theme: Rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals
  5. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities [accessible panel]. Theme: Participation in sport under article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  6. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent. (Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination)

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

To stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC46 on Twitter, and look out for the Human Rights Council Monitor. During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

To compare: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/hrc45-key-issues-for-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-key-issues-agenda-march-2021-session

Journalists on the ground are often the real heroes

February 18, 2021

Janine di Giovanni, Senior Fellow at Yale University, wrote on 9 February 2021 in iwpr.net/ a piece “The real heroes are the journalists on the ground, fighting to bring truth to light”

Based on her many years of reporting in North Africa and the Middle East and observing revolution after revolution she published the book: The Morning They Came for Us. Here she looks back on the Arab spring and the current situation. Journalists are indeed among the most targeted as also shown by the Digest for Human Rights Laureates recently launched by THF: there are some 450 journalists and media workers among the laureates [see:https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates].

Spotlight

Back in 2011, it was a revelation to see thousands of people marching for freedom. Each demonstration, each revolution was different but there were common themes. The main rallying cry from the crowds in Tahrir Square or Ben Ghazi or Homs or Aleppo or Tunis was always the same: we want our freedom.

It was exhilarating. Crowds were rising up against decades of dictatorships, of corruption, voicing their frustration at the lack of opportunity. What they wanted was the right to speak and write and live in accordance with their personal liberties. 

As someone who grew up first in North America, later in the UK and France, freedom of speech was a tenet of human rights I took for granted. Not so for my colleagues in Tunis who had to work underground with white-hat hackers like Anonymous to overthrow Ben Ali’s ministry of information and get their messages out. Not so for my Syrian colleagues in Aleppo or Damascus who risked everything to plead for freedom, and if they were caught, were thrown into prison and tortured or killed. Or my Egyptian friends who were tortured in prison and stripped of all rights. 

What the authorities want to say is, “It’s dangerous to speak out”. The number of the missing in Syria, the number of imprisoned in Egypt is enormous: many of them are our comrades and colleagues who tried to express and explain what was happening. These activists and journalists are what their repressive governments say is a threat to “national security”. 

Ten years on, what have we learned? Egypt under General Sisi remains even more repressed and dangerous for journalists than ever. The proportions of journalists attacked in 2020 as opposed to ten years ago is shocking:  according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 27 journalists are imprisoned, two murdered and one missing. 

This includes Aamar Abdelmonem, a freelancer, imprisoned in December 2020 on false charges, denied medication in prison (he is diabetic) and his eyeglasses. When I read about the cases of my colleagues who are incarcerated for simply telling the truth, I realize how lucky I am to live in a society where I can write what I choose. 

Always, when I think of press freedom I think of my colleague Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by henchmen under the order of Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Jamal’s work is not over – it lives on in the spirit of every reporter working to bring truth to light. They are not only journalists but also lawyers, human rights defenders, members of civil society. You might not hear about them – because they are working quietly but with great precision and care. They are my heroes.

As an international journalist, I am forever grateful to the journalists working under the radar in these countries – the ones who risked arrest to meet with me or speak with me or share their experiences or notes, the ones who came to my hotel in Cairo, risking everything, the ones who met me in Damascus cafes under the eyes of the mukhabarat, then saw the security guards and had to flee. The ones on the ground working when the international press cannot. 

They are our heroes, our inspiration and above all, our colleagues. We must not forget them – and we must do everything in our power to protect them. Part of the reason I am proud to be a part of the IWPR international board is to spread the word of the excellent work that is done on the ground by my colleagues. In the words of the former assistant secretary general for human rights at the United Nations, Andrew Gilmour, we are living in times when the pushback to human rights has never been greater. Which means those of us who can raise our voices louder to protect our friends on the ground must do so, with conviction and passion.

Janine di Giovanni is a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, IWPR international board member and the author of nine books. In 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave her their highest prize for non-fiction for her lifetime body of work, which largely focuses on human rights.

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/why-local-voices-matter

Mary Robinson and the case of the Arab Princess

February 16, 2021

There’s a saying in show business that you can spend 20 years becoming an overnight star. In politics, the same is true in reverse, as the sad case of Mary Robinson and Princess Latifa of Dubai shows. Mary Robinson as former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a widely-honored human rights defender [with 9 awards to her name, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4E44A265-DF1A-45E2-8C6A-3294577EA211] was a much admired personality. For that reason I was reluctant to highlight her role in the sad case back in December 2018, although many human rights NGOs (including AI and HRW) did criticise her.

The former UN human rights Commissioner has been criticised for describing the daughter of Dubai’s ruler as “troubled” after she was reportedly forcibly returned to the kingdom after fleeing months earlier. Mary Robinson met with Sheikha Latifa on 15 December and photos released showed the two women smiling together in what appears to be a home. Ms Robinson, the former president of Ireland, told BBC’s Radio 4 the princess was a “vulnerable” woman with a “serious medical situation” for which she was receiving psychiatric care.

Immediately the highly publicised and bizarre meeting in December was panned by rights groups for being stage-managed by the Emirati ruling family (Ms Robinson is a personal friend of Sheikha Haya, a wife of the Dubai ruler.) Defending her comments, Ms Robinson released a statement saying: “I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”

Toby Cadman, a barrister instructed by Detained in Dubai to act on behalf of the princess, told Review: “I am extremely disappointed that she would lend herself to what has been interpreted as a whitewash. We have requested an independent assessment of [Princess Latifa’s] state of mind and her physical well-being. It’s up to the United Nations to be satisfied that she is not being detained against her will.” Then in January 2019 Mrs Robinson stated that she contacted Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights. On 18/02/2019 Former Irish president Mary Robinson said she has no regrets over getting involved in the case of a Dubai princess who had tried to flee the UAE.

Exactly one year on from Latifa’s dramatic capture at sea, rights groups told The Independent they were deeply concerned about her welfare and still had no knowledge of what happened to her between her March 2018 capture and December when she reappeared in Dubai. Pleas to the UAE for an independent delegation to be granted access to the royal to assess her, have gone unanswered. “Human Rights Watch is still calling for her to be able to travel to a third country where we and other monitors can be assured she is able to speak freely and independently without fear of retaliation,” Hiba Zayadin of HRW told The Independent.Ms Robinson is not equipped to make an evaluation of Latifa, who was in the presence of people who allegedly forcibly disappeared her,” she added.

Amnesty International put out a similar call. “There has been no reply from the UAE, which has never responded to anything regarding domestic human-rights abuses that Amnesty International has attempted to raise with them,” said Amnesty’s Devin Kenney.

Now, 16 February 2021, after new footage was shared by BBC Panorama, in which the 35-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai has confirmed that commandos drugged her as she tried to flee by boat and flew her back to detention and accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of holding her “hostage”, Mrs Robinson has stated that she feels “horribly tricked” by the family of Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, and has joined in calls for immediate international action in order to establish Princess Latifa’s current condition and whereabouts

Fortunately some of the worst rumours turn out not to be true e.g.that  Sheikha Latifa was killed during early 2019 through extreme physical torture by the female maids inside the palace.[https://www.weeklyblitz.net/news/fraud-racket-plays-new-trick-centering-a-murdered-princess/].

Robinson is rightly revered for her life’s work, and that work is not invalidated by her unacceptable interference in the case of Princess Latifa. But her reputation has been tarnished by this.

And on 25 February followed this https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/25/princess-latifa-letter-uk-police-investigate-sister-shamsa-cambridge-abduction

For those interested in the many articles about his case:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/dubai-paid-for-robinson-to-visit-runaway-princess-c3gnrv8cj
https://www.irishcentral.com/news/politics/former-irish-president-defends-decision-to-meet-princess-allegedly-detained-against-will
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/the-mysterious-story-of-princess-latifa-her-reported-escape-from-dubai-and-her-meeting-with-mary-robinson-37679044.html
https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/mary-robinson-visit-to-dubai-a-private-family-matter-says-princess-haya-895790.html
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/robinson-writes-to-un-human-rights-chief-wp2z8vc9j
http://www.midwestradio.ie/index.php/news/28421-mary-robinson-s-address-to-ireland-s-diplomats-today-will-take-place-behind-closed-doors
https://www.wsj.com/articles/mrs-robinson-and-the-missing-princess-11547078838
https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/mary-robinson-dubai-princess-latifa-escape-uae-sheikh-mohammed-haya-a8717081.html
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6586191/UAE-swaps-British-arms-consultant-centre-bribery-scandal-Dubai-princess.html was there a swap? https://scroll.in/latest/909621/christian-michels-family-to-move-un-after-claims-that-he-was-extradited-in-swap-for-dubai-princess
https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mary-robinson-cancels-appearance-dubai-festival-over-jailed-uae-activist-840835552
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/uae-injustice-intolerance-repression
https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/former-president-mary-robinson-has-no-regrets-over-dubai-princess-visit-905272.html
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/letter-robinson-sent-to-un-about-princess-latifa-visit-is-not-for-public-distribution-37833996.html
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6925547/Lisa-Bloom-calls-Dubai-rulers-HORSE-banned-Kentucky-derby-protest.html
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190629-reports-dubai-princess-left-crown-prince-husband-fled-uae/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/18/uae-release-latifa-shamsa-women-rights

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/28/the-tourists-who-flock-to-dubai-seem-happy-to-overlook-a-few-missing-princesses