Posts Tagged ‘diplomacy’

Turkish human rights defenders shocked by honorary doctorate for ECtHR president Spano

September 5, 2020

This post has been written by Harry Hummel, the Senior Policy Advisor of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, with many thanks:

This week, European Court of Human Rights president Robert Spano visited Turkey. A high profile event in the country. In the face of government denial of the massive human rights violations it is committing, the voice of the European Court has an extraordinary importance. Human rights defenders therefore expressed unease about the programme of the visit, which included talks with authorities, an address to the Justice Academy and the acceptance of an honorary doctorate at Istanbul university, but no encounters with civil society human rights workers. One of the oldest human rights organisations in Turkey, the IHD, wrote: <https://ihd.org.tr/en/ihd-open-letter-to-robert-spano-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/>

Universities in Turkey are controlled by the Board of Higher Education that was established in the aftermath of the 12 September 1980 coup d’état. Universities in Turkey do not have scientific or administrative autonomy whatsoever. In the past university rectors were elected by academics serving that university but now they are being appointed by the president himself, the head of the executive branch, following changes introduced during the latest state of emergency period. Furthermore, İstanbul University that we learnt was presenting you with an honorary doctorate dismissed hundreds of academics through the state of emergency decree laws and it is one of the institutions that has virtually become the symbol of the state of emergency.

Dear President, you will see young judges and public prosecutors before you at the Justice Academy of Turkey where you are going to teach. During the state of emergency between 2016 and 2018 more than 4,200 judges and prosecutors were dismissed from their posts while more than 8,000 judges and prosecutors were inaugurated. These figures indicate that 45% of all judges and prosecutors on active duty have three years of professional experience or less. Moreover, complaints lodged by thousands of judges and prosecutors are still pending before judicial authorities for the deliverance of a ruling.

Dear President, we do see the will to maintain communication with Turkish authorities in spite of all these negative developments. Turkey, however, is not merely composed of the political power itself. There stand before your court, on one side, the political power alleged to have violated rights and on the other side the victims of those rights violations.  Turkey has a quite developed and dynamic web of civil society organizations working in the field of human rights in spite of all these setbacks. In order for your visit to Turkey to genuinely be beneficial, your lending an ear to these civil society organizations that make the voices of rights victims be heard bears vital significance. We can list the following as examples: women’s organizations that have been defending the Council of Europe İstanbul Convention at a time when withdrawal from the Convention was on the agenda, Saturday Mothers who have long been searching for their children lost under custody and whose right to assembly has been prohibited, bar associations that objected to Law No. 7249 introducing multiple bar associations and regulations that went against the right to defense, and associations of lawyers who advocate for justice and rights, who are imprisoned to this end, who go on hunger strikes. We believe that it is not late to organize a public meeting with the press during which you can answer questions by civil society organizations.

Mixed feelings were expressed in particular about  the honorary doctorate. Former Istanbul University professor Mehmet Altan wrote an open letter to Spano <https://www.expressioninterrupted.com/open-letter-to-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/> :

“The people who will be giving you an honorary doctorate are the very people who dismissed me and many other academics. Under normal circumstances, of course it would be pleasing to hear that you will be visiting Turkey. Unfortunately that’s not the case.”

The concerns about the doctorate were taken up by international human rights NGO Article 19 <https://www.article19.org/resources/open-letter-article-19-urges-president-spano-to-decline-honorary-degree/> :
ARTICLE 19 urges you to decline the offer of an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University due to the role of the University in the crackdown on the crackdown on civil society and purges of Turkish academia by the Turkish authorities.

More than 120,000 individuals <https://soe.tccb.gov.tr/> were dismissed through decree laws after the 2016 failed coup attempt, including more than 5,000 academics. While the process for these dismissals was not transparent, the Spokesman for the Council of Higher Education has previously confirmed in interviews that the management of the universities were responsible <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-38906141?ocid=socialflow_twitter>  for preparing the lists of academics to be dismissed by decree. University rectors from other universities interviewed by the BBC in 2017 stated <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-39055854>  that they prepared the dismissal lists in cooperation with the Intelligence services, using criteria defined by the government. 192 <http://bianet.org/english/print/183432-4-811-academics-from-112-universities-discharged-by-5-statutory-decress> academics <http://bianet.org/english/print/183432-4-811-academics-from-112-universities-discharged-by-5-statutory-decress>  were dismissed from Istanbul University by emergency decrees. Istanbul University itself dismissed at least 95 academics, <http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/176960-95-academic-suspended-in-istanbul-university-yok-suspends-4-rectors>  without due process or the opportunity for review. The consequences for those dismissed were devastating, as documented <https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/14/turkey-government-targeting-academics>  by Human Rights Watch.  Those dismissed from their academic positions were blacklisted, unable to find other work and had their passports cancelled. While the hundreds of academics who were dismissed for signing a peace petition had their criminal convictions overturned by the Constitutional Court, they still face unemployment as they were unable to return to their positions.

We also point out that the news about your acceptance of this honorary degree, as the Court’s most senior judge and particularly during an official visit, has raised huge concerns within Turkish civil society, undermining their trust and public confidence in the Court. We therefore respectfully urge you to decline the honorary degree you have been offered by Istanbul University.

In his speech accepting the honorary doctorate <https://echr.coe.int/Documents/Speech_20200904_Spano_Honorary_Doctorate_Istanbul_ENG.pdf> , Spano explained that accepting these kind of honors is part of the usual protocol for Court visits to Council of Europe member states:

It has long been a tradition as a matter of protocol that Presidents of the Court accept to be awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa during their official visits to Member States of the Council of Europe. Such offers have not been refused. In this regard the Court must always be seen to be independent and impartial and not making distinctions between Member States.

On this basis, I accept this award from this very prestigious institution which has been in existence for centuries as it will also give me, a former academic, an opportunity to stress the fundamental role of academic freedom and free speech in a democracy governed by the rule of law. These are core values which lie at the heart of the European Convention on Human Rights, a constellation of rights and fundamental freedoms which require that Government in all their actions be balanced and proportionate. In short, the Convention does not tolerate extremes.

The concerns of civil society are fueled by mixed feelings more generally <https://verfassungsblog.de/the-ecthr-and-post-coup-turkey-losing-ground-or-losing-credibility/>  about the approach of the Court in addressing the delaying and evading tactics of the Turkish authorities. In his open letter <https://www.expressioninterrupted.com/open-letter-to-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/> , Mehmet Altan thanks the Court for a verdict against his own imprisonment. The verdict led to his release after a lot of legal wrangling by Turkish courts about its implementation. His dismissal has not been corrected however, a decision about this is lingering before inadequate Turkish appeal procedures (as are tens of thousands of other cases) which the Court however considers a ‘domestic remedy’ that needs to be exhausted before it can take up the issue. In the letter, he also mentions the case of his brother Ahmet Altan:

“The very section of the Court that you presided had given priority status to the application of Ahmet Altan, whose novels have been published in 23 countries, and who, even despite the Covid-19 pandemic has remained behind bars in Silivri Prison for the past four years. Even though the court is very much familiar with the file’s content, unfortunately we have been waiting for that priority to come into effect for the past four years.”

Whether the visit of Spano to Turkey has had a positive effect, will likely be also measured against progress in the case of Osman Kavala, a human rights defender who the Court has said should be released. His situation is under review by the Committee of Minissters, the Council of Europe’s supervisory body for execution of Court judgements. The Committee just this week repeated its call for his immediate release <https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/implementing-echr-judgments-council-of-europe-urges-turkey-to-release-osman-kavala> .

See also:

https://ahvalnews.com/robert-spano/echr-should-call-spanos-resignation-after-turkey-visit-human-rights-defender-fincanci?language_content_entity=en and

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/european-court-of-human-rights-president-degrades-court-with-turkish-award

European rights court president draws further ire by posing with members of Turkey’s ruling party

The weakness of UN Secretaries General versus Big powers in speaking out

June 10, 2020

UN Chiefs Silenced by Big Powers with vetoes

as demonstrated again by George Floyd’s Killing

Protests in cities across the United States including in New York city. Credit: UN News/Shirin Yaseen
Thalif Deen wrote for the Santiago Times of 9 June a piece based on an IPS study about the lack of repsonse by the UN Secretary General.

…..But will any UN Secretary-General – past or present – have plucked up courage to condemn the political leadership either in the United States or China, two veto-wielding permanent members in the Security Council, in such harsh terms?

For a related issue, see: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/09/what-does-the-un-stand-for-anger-as-staff-told-not-to-join-anti-racism-protests

The piece then considers whether a single 7 year term (instead of a reelection for 5 years) would help?

…The problem is that both Ban Ki-moon and Antonio Guterres have paid no attention to the three most important words that open the Charter of the UN: “We the peoples”…“They both pay homage only to governments; it’s as if ‘the peoples’ of the world don’t exist. As a result, there is neither transparency nor accountability”, said Lewis, who was a UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and later co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World.

Guterres, he said, hides behind the Convention on Privileges and Immunities, or with willful arrogance refuses to answer questions put to him. “Thus, when asked why he’s silent on the turbulence in the United States, and in particular the excessive use of force, he defers to his spokesperson who provides fatuous nonsense in response.”

It was exactly the way Ban never felt the obligation to tell the truth about cholera in Haiti, nor to feel it necessary to explain why the $400 million fund was effectively abandoned, he noted.

Perhaps one of the few exceptions in the 75-year history of the UN was former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt who paid the supreme penalty of being vetoed out of a second term —even though he garnered an overwhelming 14 of the 15 votes in the UN Security Council. But the US ingloriously vetoed his claims for a second term….

The 1996 study sponsored by two major think tanks implicitly accused some of the world’s big powers of manipulating the election of the Secretary-General so as to ensure that U.N. heads are political creatures with no minds of their own. “It is impossible to escape the impression, that many governments, including some of the most powerful, do not want a strong, independent leader as Secretary-General,” said the study published under the auspices of the New York-based Ford Foundation and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation of Stockholm. The authors of the study – Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, both senior UN officials – said the selection of the Secretary-General is quite literally part of “an old-boy network.” “The United Nations is an intergovernmental organisation, and governments have no intentions of giving up control of it.”

Lewis argued there is no freedom of information in the UN, and that’s what gets governments like Sweden frustrated and thinking of shortening the SG’s term. “The Secretary-General should be required to hold an open press conference at least once, preferably twice a week, with a critical media corps to ask questions. If that were the case, the entire culture of his office would change.” “It’s his behaviour rather than his longevity that needs reform,” declared Lewis.

In a hard-hitting article titled “As Protests Sweep the US, the UN Tweets Platitudes”, Dulcie Leimbach, a former editor at the New York Times and founder of PassBlue, a widely-read web publication covering the United Nations, wrote: “Amid curfews in New York City, constant marches and protests, sirens from the streets and helicopters whirring above, the United Nations top leader, António Guterres, has not appeared before the media to say anything directly about the convulsions exploding across the five boroughs and far beyond. Instead, he has relied on his spokespeople to provide responses.

Leimbach also wrote that the lack of direct reference to the killing of George Floyd, and the turn of events here in the city and elsewhere, extends to the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, the US mission to the UN and other national delegations. Only the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, a Chilean who is based in Geneva, has directly addressed Floyd’s murder….

https://santiagotimes.cl/en/2020/06/09/un-chiefs-silenced-by-big-powers-with-vetoes/

Tanzania shows great power sensitivity to UN human rights criticism

April 6, 2020

Chadema party MPs Halima Mdee, Ester Matiko and Ester Bulaya attend a press conference after being released from Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 12. PHOTO | AFP

Chadema party MPs Halima Mdee, Ester Matiko and Ester Bulaya attend a press conference after being released from Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 12. PHOTO | AFP
According to BOB KARASHANI in the East African of 4 April 2020 Tanzania‘s Foreign Affairs ministry has hit out at the United Nations Human Rights Office for criticising the country’s human rights record as it heads to the October general election. According to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Col Wilbert Ibuge, the statement issued by the Geneva-based UN agency on March 17, was biased, with unsubstantiated allegations, and an attempt to both malign Tanzania’s international reputation and intrude on its sovereignty. Col Ibuge said that before going public, the agency should have first raised its concerns with the government for clarification “which would have been duly and graciously provided.”

The UN recently called the sentencing of several opposition leaders on charges including sedition and unlawful assembly “further troubling evidence” of a crackdown on dissent and stifling of public freedoms in the country. It accused the government of using the country’s criminal justice system to target its critics, and called on Tanzania to “immediately lift” a four-year ban on political rallies ahead of the October election. “The democratic and civic space has shrunk to almost nothing in Tanzania,” the agency said.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/31/annual-reports-2019-tanzania-mostly-a-bad-year/]

—–

https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Tanzania-slams-UN-rights-abuses-claims/4552908-5514120-6n56syz/index.html

New EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024

March 27, 2020

Since the adoption of the EU strategic framework on human rights and democracy in 2012, the EU has adopted two EU Action Plans (2012-2014 and 2015-2019). The new proposal follows up on this, setting out the priorities for the period of 2020-2024.

This Action Plan identifies priorities around five mutually reinforcing lines of action:

  • Protecting and empowering individuals;
  • Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies;
  • Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy;
  • New technologies: harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges;
  • Delivering by working together.

What is new in this Action Plan?

The new Action Plan builds on the previous action plans and continues to focus on some long-standing priorities, such as supporting human rights defenders and the fight against death penalty. More importance is given to empower people and defeat discrimination on all grounds. It also addresses more prominently the accountability gap, the erosion of rule of law and access to justice. This Action Plan takes account of today’s world new challenges and therefore focuses in particular on:

  • environmental challenges and climate change;
  • leveraging the benefits of digital technologies and minimising the risks of misuse in line with EU’s commitment to lead the transition to a new digital world;
  • stepping up economic, social and cultural rights;
  • more emphasis on democracy, including on the misuse of online technologies and shrinking civic and political space;
  • a stronger focus on human rights defenders;
  • strategic communication and public diplomacy.

How will the Action Plan be implemented?

The objectives under the Action Plan will be implemented at country, regional and multilateral level, taking account of local circumstances and specificities. The EU will leverage the broad range of policies, tools and political and financial instruments at its disposal to implement it, such as:

  • political, human rights and sectoral policy dialogues;
  • EU trade policies, including the EU’s generalised scheme of preferences;
  • thematic and geographical instruments under the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework;
  • actions in multilateral and regional human rights fora;
  • communication activities and awareness‑raising campaigns;
  • public statements, démarches;
  • observing trials of human rights defenders;
  • the implementation of 13 EU human rights guidelines;
  • election observation and its follow-up;
  • dialogue with civil society, human rights organisations and the business sector.

The EU Action Plan provides guidance to over 140 EU Delegations and Offices as well as Member States embassies for targeted initiatives and actions at country level all over the world.

How will the Commission and the High Representative follow up on and monitor the implementation of this Action Plan?

Actions apply to all regions in the world taking into consideration local needs and specificities. The EU’s 142 Delegations and Offices will take a lead in reflecting the priority actions in initiatives at the country level including through the adoption of tailored-made strategies at a local level. The EU will also engage with different stakeholders on the overall implementation, and organise an annual meeting with civil society. The public EU annual report on Human rights and democracy in the worldis another effective tool to monitor the progress made in a transparent manner. A mid-term review of the implementation is foreseen.

What has the EU achieved on human rights and democracy worldwide so far?

  • Since 2015, more than 30 000 human rights defenders were protected by the EU via the dedicated mechanism ProtectDefenders.eu. In 2019 alone, the EU raised Human Rights Defenders cases in dialogues and consultations with over 40 countries.
  • The EU advocated for abolition of death penalty.
  • Between January 2015 and October 2019, the EU supported over 3 350 actions relevant to children’s rights in 148 third countries and territories. For example, under the global programme on Female Genital Mutilation (€11 million), 16 countries adopted action plans and 12 established national budget lines to put an end to Female Genital Mutilation.
  • In 2014-2019, the EU supported democracy in more than 70 partner countries with €400 million aiming at, for instance, contributing to the organisation of elections and supporting oversight bodies, independent media, parliaments and political parties to play their essential role in democratic societies. 98 EU Election Observation Missionswere deployed worldwide.
  • The General System of Preference contributed to the implementation of human rights and labour Conventions, including through monitoring missions in 11 countries in the last year. For example, this contributed to a reduction of child labour to 1% in Sri Lanka through pioneering ‘Child Labour Free Zones’.

 

Joint Proposal

…Article 22 of the Treaty on the European Union offers the European Council the possibility to adopt a unanimous Decision setting out the EU’s strategic interests and objectives in specific areas of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Once the European Council sets the strategic objectives, the Council would then be able to adopt by qualified majority (QMV) decisions implementing the European Council’s strategic decisions.

Why is this proposed now? In 2018, the Commission has proposed to move from unanimity to QMV in certain areas of the CFSP. The Von Der Leyen Commission recognises that to be a global leader, the Union needs to take decisions in a faster and more effective way and overcome unanimity constraints that hamper our foreign policy, as set out in the High Representative/Vice-President’s mission letter. The Joint Proposal adopted by the College today offers such a possibility, by proposing to take decision related to the implementation of the Action Plan by QMV.

For more information:

Press release

Joint Communication EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024

EU Action Plan 2020-2024

Joint Proposal for a recommendation of the Council to the European Council

Annex to the Joint Proposal for a recommendation of the Council to the European Council

 

US absence from UN human rights council encourages China and Russia?

February 26, 2020

Secretary of State Pompeo and Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN at the time, announcing the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, June 19, 2018.

For the last decade, Western democracies and human-rights defenders have been locked in a tense struggle with authoritarian great powers at the United Nations. Since 2009, Russia and China have waged a highly successful campaign to dismantle the international human-rights system, particularly through the Human Rights Council. The two countries have made strides especially after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Council in 2018….

The campaign has been led by China, which has attacked the international human-rights system since its re-election to the Human Rights Council in 2013 for consecutive three-year terms that ended in 2019. Russia has preferred to work behind the scenes, particularly since its bid for election to the Council failed in 2016….

Both countries have also operated as part of what is called a like-minded group, a powerful international coalition that includes Algeria, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Venezuela and Vietnam. The group has challenged the UN’s human-rights mechanisms by emphasizing cooperation and dialogue over country-specific measures that name and shame abusing states, denigrating the relevance of civil and political rights while prioritizing economic and social rights and stressing the importance of sovereignty and nonintervention. Since 2013, Russia and China have played a key role in coordinating the group’s effort to undermine international human-rights protections.

In March 2018, for example, China presented a resolution to the Human Rights Council titled “Promoting Mutually Beneficial Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights,” which aimed to discard country-specific mechanisms that name and shame countries for their rights abuses.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/]. No less significant was the like-minded group’s support for China during its last Universal Periodic Review session in November 2018. The review took place amid escalating human-rights violations inside China, including the death in custody of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent activist and Nobel Prize laureate, and the mass internment of more than a million ethnic Uighur Muslims in so-called political re-education camps in the remote province of Xinjiang.

…..

An important factor contributing to the success of China and Russia in undermining the international human-rights system has been the withdrawal of the US from the Human Rights Council in June 2018. By leaving the Council, the US has created a leadership void that Russia, China and their allies have exploited to consolidate their grip on power. Just weeks after the US withdrew, Russia and China successfully lobbied to slash funding for key human-rights posts in UN peacekeeping missions that protect civilians from violence in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, including Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Worse, the like-minded group bolstered its influence over the global human-rights system when Venezuela, one of the world’s most flagrant violators of international human-rights norms, was elected to a three-year term to the Human Rights Council in October 2019. Having left the Council, the US was unable to sway the vote.

With the lack of US leadership, the European Union has struggled to push back against Russia and China’s growing influence at the UN. In July 2019, the European Union issued a joint statement with several other Western democracies, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland, condemning China’s mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. In reply, more than a dozen members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a powerful group of countries that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Qatar, signed a declaration praising China’s policies in the region. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Most worrisome, countries that once looked to the US for leadership in advancing human rights may now be looking to Russia, China and their allies for guidance in an international arena increasingly dominated by autocrats and aspiring despots.

https://www.passblue.com/2020/02/24/how-the-us-enabled-aggressions-by-china-and-russia-at-the-un/


As if to show thagt there is truth in the assertions above, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 25 February 2020 decried what he terms the “double standards” employed at the U.N. Human Rights Council in favor of Western democratic values, at the expense of what he calls the legitimate sovereign rights of nations that do not fall within the Western orbit. Lavrov did not hide his disdain Tuesday at the so-called country-specific resolutions adopted by the Council, saying the resolutions had become an increasingly popular pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

https://www.voanews.com/europe/russia-accuses-un-human-rights-council-pro-western-bias

 

Asia human rights award 2019 for the Diplomacy Training Program

December 5, 2019

On 10 December, the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) – an independent NGO affiliated with UNSW Law – will receive the 2019 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award in Taipei. For more on this and other regional awards, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/asia-democracy-and-human-rights-award. This is the first time an Australian organisation has received the award.
The Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) at the University of New South Wales has built the capacity of more than 3000 human rights defenders in over 60 countries with practical courses that build their knowledge, skills and networks. DTP is the longest running human rights training program in the Asia Pacific, with a comprehensive annual program complemented by specialist training on key issues such as Indigenous peoples, migrant workers rights, modern-day slavery and human rights and business. It links Australia to historic movements for human rights and democracy in Asia, including Indonesia and Timor-Leste, Malaysia and Myanmar.
The non-profit organisation draws on the expertise of UNSW academics and human rights practitioners who provide their training services pro bono. The award’s accompanying US$100,000 grant will support DTP’s ongoing work. The TFD also pledges to deepen its relationship with the recipient and their partners to sustain and increase their impact.
“It means so much to us to have this recognition from the region – for our work and the work of our 3000 plus alumni,” said Patrick Earle, DTP’s Executive Director. “And we are, of course, very appreciative of the support we receive and affiliation we have with UNSW. Only last week, we were handing out UNSW certificates to DTP participants from government and civil society in Papua New Guinea. They had just completed our program on Business and Human Rights and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
DTP was founded in 1989 by José Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Timor-Leste, along with the late Emeritus Professor Garth Nettheim from UNSW Law.

Sweden defies Chinese threats after award to book publisher Gui Minhai

November 19, 2019

the Swedish PEN’s Tucholsky Prize was presented to jailed Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai, . EPA-EFE/Fredrik Sandberg SWEDEN OUT
New Europe reports that Sweden’s culture minister defied a Chinese threat on Friday 15 November after she had awarded a Swedish human rights prize to detained Chinese-Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai.  The ceremony at Sven-Harry’s Art Museum in Stockholm, took place on 15 November 2019.  The Swedish section of the International organization PEN awarded its free speech Tucholsky Prize free speech prize to the 55-year-old Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen now detained in China. The Tucholsky Prize was established in 1984 and is named after German writer Kurt Tucholsky, who sought asylum to Sweden fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It has been previously awarded to writers such as Adam Zagajevski, Nuruddin Farah, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and Svetlana Alexievich.

Gui Minhai published stories about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book shop. He disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015. He then appeared on Chinese state television confessing to a fatal drink-driving accident from more than a decade earlier. He served two years in prison, was released in October 2017, and then arrested again while travelling on a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomats. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/]

Those in power should never take the liberty to attack free artistic expression or free speech,” Swedish Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind said during the ceremony. An empty chair symbolically represented the writer at the ceremony in Stockholm. The Chinese Ambassador to Stockholm, Guy Congyou, opposed both the award and its presentation by a Swedish government official. Gui Congyou told Radio Sweden that there would be “serious consequences” and “countermeasures” against Sweden.

More specifically, Gui Congyyou told Swedish news agency TT that any government representative attending the ceremony would be unwelcome in China. The Chinese Ambassador maintains that Gui Minhai is not a persecuted author but a criminal who has “committed serious offences in both China and Sweden.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven made clear that his government would not back down: “We are not going to give in to this type of threat. Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is, period,” Lofven told Swedish Television. “We have made it clear to China’s representatives that we stand by our position that Gui Minhai must be released and that we have freedom of expression in Sweden,” Lind told TT. Sweden’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday calling on China to release Gui and made an official representation to Chinese authorities over the ambassador’s statements.

China’s sensitivity on this issue has been a constant feature as shown in one of my earliest blog posts in 2012: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/

Universal human rights apply to Ilham Tohti? China and EU: disagree

October 26, 2019

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his EU counterpart Federica Mogherini in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his EU counterpart Federica Mogherini in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua

Keegan Elmer  in the South China Morning Post of 25/26 October 2019 reports that Chinese officials have told their European counterparts that human rights should be measured by the people’s well-being and rejected the EU’s support for the “universal” values enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The statements issued by both sides after a meeting between the EU’s foreign affairs chief and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi underlined their disagreements on human rights by recording their discussions on the topic in markedly different ways. While the Europeans focused on Mogherini’s support for “universality”, the Chinese statement emphasised her call for mutual respect and comments that there were “different approaches” to the issue.

According China, Mogherini had acknowledged that there are “different approaches to safeguarding and promoting human rights” and accepted that there were “problems with the human rights situation in European countries”. It continued that she had agreed to continue cooperation and exchanges with China “on the basis of mutual respect”, adding: “The EU does not intend to act as the ‘teacher’ of other countries on human rights issues.”

But the EU’s account of the meeting did not refer to Wang’s comments and said Mogherini had “underlined to the Chinese leadership that the EU will continue to stand up for the universality, interdependence and indivisibility of human rights based on the UN Charter and standards”.

China extraordinary sensitivity to ‘interference’ of any level into what it considers its domestic affairs is well-known. I touched upon this hot’ topic’ in my own 2011 article “The international human rights movement: not perfect, but a lot better than many governments think” in the book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’ (exceptionally also published in Chinese!): Yuwen Li (ed), Ashgate, 2011, pp 287-304 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4).

On the same day that the pair met in Beijing, the European Parliament awarded its 2019 Sakharov Human Rights Prize to human rights defender Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence. The statement announcing the award called for his immediate release and said “for over two decades, he has worked tirelessly to foster dialogue and understanding between Uygurs and other Chinese people”. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/24/lham-tohti-now-also-awarded-the-2019-sakharov-prize/]. Predictably, during a press conference on Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the parliament had “given a prize to a criminal”. “I don’t know how much meaning, value or influence [the prize] has,” said Hua. “I only know Tohti is a criminal that has been sentenced by a Chinese court.

Neither the Chinese nor the EU have said whether Tohti’s case or the situation in Xinjiang – where Beijing is accused of detaining a million mainly Uygur Muslims in re-education camps – had been discussed.

Carnegie paper: international community must redouble efforts to defend human rights defenders

October 22, 2019

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace pubished on 22 October 2019 a working paper by Saskia Brechenmacher and Thomas Carothers entitled “Democracy,Defending Civic Space: Is the International Community Stuck?”. It concludes that as space for civil society continues to close, the international community must redouble its efforts to defend the right of human rights defenders to hold governments around the world accountable. The Executive Summary:

Civic Space Continues to Close

Since the mid-2000s, civic space has come under attack in many countries around the world. To counter this trend, transnational actors that support civil society have responded in many ways—from exerting diplomatic pressure and building international norms to providing emergency funds for activists. Despite these efforts, governments continue to impose legal and extralegal restrictions amid a worsening larger political environment for civil society. Closing civic space now appears to be just one part of a much broader pattern of democratic recession and authoritarian resurgence. The international response seems stuck: some useful efforts have been undertaken, but they appear too limited, loosely focused, and reactive.

Areas of Progress in the International Response

  • Research and knowledge dissemination: Timely information about civil society restrictions and overall trends is now widely available. Funders, policymakers, and relevant multilateral organizations are generally more aware of the problem; some actors have carried out internal strategic reviews and trainings to strengthen their programmatic and policy responses.
  • Support for local resistance and adaptation: Major funders have established or expanded emergency funds for persecuted rights activists and organizations. Some have also initiated programs to help civic actors adapt to regulatory, political, and legal pressures, while some have examined ways to offer more flexible funding. Several new transnational coalitions and initiatives have been set up to share lessons and lead joint campaigns.
  • Diplomatic pressure and international policy changes: Western governments have sometimes applied pressure on countries that are closing civic space, and they have supported advocacy in international bodies such as the United Nations. Civil society advocates have successfully pushed for reforms to harmful counterterrorism regulations, and some have begun engaging private sector actors on the importance of protecting civic space.

Factors Limiting the International Response

  • Lack of conceptual and strategic clarity: Ongoing confusion over the root causes of closing civic space impedes efforts to develop a more unified strategy. Diverse actors disagree on whether tackling the challenge will require addressing the global political backlash against progressive causes or the overall global democratic recession, or whether a more focused approach would be more effective.
  • Countervailing interests: Most Western governments still do not strongly prioritize closing civic space in their foreign policy agendas. They often refrain from escalating diplomatic pressure on repressive governments for fear of damaging their geopolitical, security, or economic interests. The loss of U.S. leadership on the issue has been particularly damaging.
  • Closing space at home: Civic space is now under threat in many established democracies, and the international repercussions are profound. Western governments that lash out against domestic critics are less likely to speak out against civil society restrictions abroad, and they have less credibility when they do so. Their actions also set a negative example for leaders in other parts of the world.
  • Inadequate scale: The resources committed to fighting the problem have been insufficient. Funders have also generally failed to embed their responses into a broader strategic framework. Explanations include a weak appetite for political risk among funders, the cross-cutting nature of the problem, and a lack of clarity on what a large-scale response might look like.
  • Working in silos: Weak coordination and information sharing between different parts of the assistance community persist. Obstacles include the diverging policy and organizational interests within and between governments, as well as divisions in the wider funder community, including between human rights organizations and development and humanitarian actors.
  • Struggles to change aid practices: Implementing far-reaching changes in aid practices has proven difficult, due to bureaucratic inertia, risk aversion, and narrower methods of monitoring and evaluation.
  • Chasing a moving target: The problem of closing space continues to evolve quickly, which makes it difficult for the international community to anticipate new openings and threats. For example, international actors have been slow to react to the spread of new technological tools for restricting civic space online and offline.

Policy Recommendations

  • Develop a strategic framework that links closing civic space to other key foreign policy challenges, articulates a positive vision of civic space globally, and offers tailored tactical guidance. Such a strategy should differentiate short-, medium-, and long-term priorities and distinguish between different types of political contexts.
  • Improve foreign policy alignment by issuing specific guidance on defending civic space to embassies, systematically integrating the issue into diplomatic training and senior leadership briefings, designating a senior official to spearhead interagency coordination on civic space–related issues, and amplifying the voices of civil society actors, particularly in restrictive contexts.
  • Avoid setting negative precedents by ensuring that domestic legislation does not threaten civic space. Nongovernmental actors should build cross-border alliances to share knowledge and resources, engage lawmakers in established democracies who stigmatize civil society, and champion transparency and accountability in internal practices and external partnerships.
  • Bolster coordination among concerned transnational actors by evaluating existing mechanisms, investing in new platforms or tools for information sharing and institutional learning, expanding country-level networks, and forging new partnerships between governmental and private funders.
  • Adjust funding practices to ensure a balance between support for long-term institution- building and catalytic funding, and track how much funding goes directly to local organizations as core versus project support. Funders should continue to expand flexible funding strategies for hostile environments, work with intermediaries that can reach a wider range of partners, and reduce grantees’ administrative burdens.
  • Anticipate new opportunities and threats by, for example, monitoring and recognizing examples of positive reform, developing targeted roadmaps that identify opportunities and flashpoints in collaboration with embassies or local partners, and investing in technological know-how.

For the full text of this working paper, see: https://carnegieendowment.org/files/WP_Brechenmacker_Carothers_Civil_Space_FINAL.pdf

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/05/civil-society-and-human-rights-ngos-are-fighting-back-but-against-odds/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/21/amnesty-launches-report-on-laws-designed-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/

https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/10/22/defending-civic-space-is-international-community-stuck-pub-80110

NGOs call Canada’s revised guidelines on human rights defenders a step in the right direction

September 1, 2019

With human rights defenders increasingly under attack around the world, civil society organizations in June 2019 welcomed the Government of Canada’s revised guidelines aimed at strengthening its approach to ensuring the safety and security of these courageous activists. In 2016 [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/13/canada-joins-select-group-of-governments-with-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/] they were first made public. After input from civil society, the government now has revised and updated the guidelines.

.. The groups welcome Canada’s acknowledgement that human rights defenders put themselves at great risk—along with their families, communities and the movements they represent—as they work to promote human rights and strengthen the rule of law. Women and LGBTI human rights defenders, for example, face high-levels of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence because of their gender and the rights they are advocating for. “In many parts of the world, human rights defenders are at risk as a result of their courageous work and their willingness to speak truth to power. Canada and the international community need to be strong supporters of these brave individuals. Human rights defenders must be able to act freely and without any interference, intimidation, abuse, threats, violence or reprisal. We are committed to speaking out against violations, standing up for human rights defenders and striving for a world where the rights and freedoms of all people are respected,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on 17 June in Ottawa at a human rights event where the guidelines were announced.

For Canada’s new guidelines to be effective in helping to protect and support human rights defenders, they will need to be accompanied by a comprehensive implementation plan and increased Canadian funding going directly to human rights defenders and the movements they represent.  Canada also needs to take a stronger approach to support human rights defenders advocating for corporate accountability, for instance, by enabling robust investigations when defenders face heightened risks linked to private sector investments.  It will also be critically important that Canada create an advisory body that includes the participation of human rights defenders with experience and first-hand knowledge of the threats facing human rights defenders….

Importantly, the new guidelines call for Canadian diplomats working abroad at overseas missions or at Global Affairs Canada headquarters in Ottawa to take a more feminist and intersectional approach to promoting the rights of defenders. The document notes that many human rights defenders have multiple and “overlapping” identities, and often work on multiple issues.  Human rights defenders may belong to one or more groups facing discrimination, including women, LGBTI people, Indigenous people, land and environment defenders, people with disabilities, journalists, and those seeking greater freedom of religion or beliefs.  Human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict countries face unique risks posed by high levels of militarization.

Quotes from Canada’s Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders

Canada recognizes the key role played by human right defenders in protecting and promoting human rights and strengthening the rule of law, often at great risk to themselves, their families and communities, and to the organizations and movements they often represent.

Canada’s guidelines on supporting human rights defenders is a clear statement of Canada’s commitment to supporting the vital work of HRDs.”

Endorsed by:
  • Amnesty International Canada
  • The MATCH International Women’s Fund
  • Nobel Women’s Initiative
  • Oxfam Canada
  • United Church of Canada

https://www.oxfam.ca/news/canadas-new-guidelines-to-support-human-rights-defenders-a-step-in-the-right-direction/