Posts Tagged ‘diplomacy’

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/

Human rights defenders at Gymnich’ meeting in Helsinki

August 30, 2019

Sometimes small announcement are the most interesting: Foreign Ministers from 28 EU countries continue their ‘Gymnich’ meeting in Helsinki today, 30 Augsut 2019. On the agenda they’ll be discussing the situation in the Middle East, hybrid threats, the Arctic and the wildfires in the Amazon rainforest. Over lunch ministers will get the chance to meet with international human rights defenders to hear their stories. …..

 

Morning headlines: Friday 30th August 2019

Why Iceland led the UN resolution on the Philippines

July 22, 2019

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to sever diplomatic ties, Iceland expressed hope the Philippines will cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s investigation into the human rights situation in the country, including the drug war. “Icelandic authorities sincerely hope that the Philippine authorities will engage the UN on this and the resolution,” Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs said in a press statement. The resolution was backed by 18 out of 47 member-countries. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/un-council-agrees-action-on-philippines-in-spite-of-vehement-objection/]

President Rodrigo Duterte blasted Iceland for failing to “understand” the Philippines. “Iceland, ano ang problema ng Iceland? Ice lang. (What’s the problem of Iceland? It has only ice.) That’s your problem you have too much ice and there is no clear day or night there,” Duterte said rather unsuitably but then added that – as a country that enjoyed low crime rates – Iceland was unable to comprehend the need for a bloody drug war in the Philippines.

But why did tiny Iceland, of all countries, file the resolution in the first place?’ Sofia Tomacruz in Rappler of 19 July 2019 tried to answer this:

When Iceland led the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, it did so as a country that puts a high priority on human rights. As one of the most peaceful countries in the world, Iceland also leads by example when it comes to observing human rights. Iceland carried that responsibility when it became a member of the UN rights council last year, taking the place of the United States which left the rights body it called a “cesspool of political bias.” “For a small and peaceful country like Iceland, international law and the multilateral system is our sword, shield and shelter,” Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs said in statement to Rappler.

ICELAND'S FOREIGN MINISTER. Iceland's Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson at the United Nations. Photo from the Government of Iceland website

ICELAND’S FOREIGN MINISTER. Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson at the United Nations. Photo from the Government of Iceland website

In an interview with the Iceland Monitor, Iceland Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson said, “We are fortunate enough to enjoy human rights in Iceland, which we take for granted….It is our duty to contribute to the fight for improving the state of human rights affairs in the world.

According to the Fund for Peace’s 2019 Fragile States Index, Iceland was considered among the most stable countries in the world, enjoying stable observance of human rights and the rule of law among other factors. The Philippines, meanwhile, was described as a state with “high warning” over eroding human rights and higher levels of crime and violence. Aside from this, the 2019 Global Peace Index ranked Iceland as the most peaceful country in the world, while the Philippines was 134th out of a total of 163 countries.

GLOBAL PEACE INDEX. Iceland is ranked as the most peaceful country in the world according to the 2019 Global Peace Index. Screenshot from Visions of Humanity.org

Iceland is ranked as the most peaceful country in the world according to the 2019 Global Peace Index. Screenshot from Visions of Humanity.org

For Human Rights Watch deputy director of Geneva Laila Matar, Iceland’s actions as a new member of the powerful rights body live up to its reputation as a country that champions human rights. “Iceland is a country that takes the Human Rights Council seriously and that takes their membership in the Human Rights Council seriously. The Human Rights Council is meant to ensure that gross violations of human rights are addressed,” Matar said in an interview with Rappler.

https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/235775-why-iceland-led-un-resolution-drug-war-killings-philippines

https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/701688/iceland-hopes-phl-will-cooperate-with-un-probe-on-ejks-drug-war/story/

Alarm bells about China’s growing coalition of the ‘unwilling’

July 20, 2019

On 18 July 2019ecturer on Human Rights, School of Law, University of Essex, wrote in The Conversation a piece that sounds alarm bells about “China is building a global coalition of human rights violators to defend its record in Xinjiang – what is its endgame? Worth taking note:

Read the rest of this entry »

UK joins small group of countries with specific guidelines on human rights defenders

July 19, 2019

The United Kingdom has recently published guidelines for the protection and support of rights defenders around the world. It joins a small group of countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Canada (although they differ – see the websites of these countries). There are also some mulitlateral ones such as the EU Guidelines.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/01/13/quick-reminder-of-the-eu-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/] and those of the OSCE.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/13/canada-joins-select-group-of-governments-with-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/02/swiss-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders-analyzed-by-civil-society/.

In the foreword to the publication Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, states: To demonstrate our commitment of continued support of human rights defenders globally, this document sets out why human rights defenders are important to us and acknowledges the risks they face in the pursuit of universal human rights. We hope it will give human rights defenders encouragement to know how we may be able to support them, including through our network of embassies and high commissions overseas. Whilst every situation may be different depending on local context, our values and commitments in providing support remain the same

Human Rights Watch was not impressed: While welcome, real support requires a willingness to speak out even when it carries political costs. The new guidelines praise the courageous work of human rights defenders in the face of risks including threats, intimidation, harassment, and detention. The guidelines rightly identify groups which are in greater danger, such as journalists, women, and LGBT activists, and express the UK’s commitment to support them “wherever they are in the world.” But when it comes to actually standing up for human rights defenders, the UK’s record is patchy. While it sometimes speaks out in private, it remains reluctant to do so publicly, even though doing so would raise the cost to states that seek to silence those who speak truth to power. The UK government has so far done very little about credible reports of the torture, sexual harassment, and assault of Saudi women activists currently on trial for defending human rights in their country. It has failed to hold Hungary to account for its efforts to clamp down on human rights groups and rule of law. And it has failed to criticize United Arab Emirates authorities for the unjust imprisonment of Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor on his peaceful calls for reform. The UK hopes that by publishing these guidelines, defenders might be encouraged to understand that the British government might be able to support them. But if the UK is really serious about this, it should be willing to speak out publicly on their behalf when they are in trouble, including when their safety is at risk in countries that are UK allies. In short, the UK’s new Prime Minister should make it a priority to protect and support human rights defenders no matter where they are in the world.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/19/will-next-uk-government-stand-human-rights-defenders

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/815986/UK-Support-for-Human-Rights-Defenders.pdf

Sports and Politics: Minsk 2019 apes Baku 2015 and with similar results

June 17, 2019

Belarus news, Alexander Lukashenko, European Games 2019, European Games Minsk, European Games Baku, Belarus human rights, Belarus press freedom, sports and human rights, European Olympic Committee, corruption in sport

Minsk, Belarus, 05/09/2019 © Tricky_Shark / Shutterstock

The second edition of the European Games is set to kick off on June 21 2019 in Minsk, Belarus. Events covering 15 different sports, from archery to sambo, will be contested over nine days. The 10 disciplines recognized as Olympic sports are especially important because they serve as qualifications for Tokyo 2020. Belarus finds itself trying to oversee a successful international sporting event while at the same time dismissing condemnation of its domestic political situation.

International organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch routinely criticize the human rights conditions in Belarus. Actions such as peaceful protests and membership in opposition organizations are basically criminalized under Belarusian law. Access to websites critical of the government is routinely denied, and press freedom curtailed. To add to this, Belarus remains the last country in Europe to employ the death penalty. These issues once again have risen to the fore when Belarus was selected to host the European Games that are thought to represent a different political culture.

These views are echoed by Human Rights Watch, which strongly pushed the European Olympic Committees (EOC) for assurances that journalists can carry out their work unhindered during the games. For its part, the EOC states that it will appoint special observers to ensure press freedom, but critics contend this is not enough. Key questions remain about the conditions for journalists when the games are over, and whether the EOC will ensure action if serious issues arise. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) went so far as to contemplate a boycott of the 2019 European Games. It was a half-hearted idea, as the DOSB viewed the maneuver as a last resort rather than an actionable response to the situation in Belarus. In the end, the requirement for athletes to achieve qualifications for the Tokyo Olympics quashed any sort of political activism.

Further, the Sports and Rights Alliance — a coalition of leading NGOs, sports organizations and trade unions — petitioned for positive advancements for Belorussian human rights prior to the commencement of this year’s games. It alleges that the EOC overlooks duties established in the Olympic Charter to protect human rights and dignity. At the recent Olympism in Action Forum, which focused on the relation of human rights and sport, David Grevemberg, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, stated that “You’re judged by the company you keep and what you stand for.”..

Azerbaijan hosted the first European Games in Baku in 2015. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/12/baku-games-starting-today-with-avalanche-of-human-rights-criticism/] It is apparent that the past experience of 2015 had little effect on the EOC, and that the organization will not shift its mandate to accommodate the demands put forward by human rights defenders. Baku 2015 provides a template and numerous lessons for Minsk 2019. In the case that Minsk can put on a well-managed spectacle with memorable moments of sporting excellence, human rights concerns will not overshadow the Belarusian edition of the European Games.

.,… Lukashenko explained that “Visitors should get positive impressions of their stay in Belarus, in Minsk, and should take these impressions back home.” The president often refers to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and how the event improved opinions about Russia prior to the ensuing scandals linked to the Kremlin. Lukashenko knows there is a tough task ahead of him in regard to the human rights lobby and criticism of his strongman style of governance. However, the EOC’s president, Janez Kocijančič, firmly stated that any human rights concerns would not overshadow the competition, and that it is not in the dominion of the sports committee to influence domestic politics of host nations. This is a reaffirmation that sport is to be kept separate from politics and goes neatly along with Lukashenko’s retorts to criticism…

It is naive to believe that sport and politics are separate, as much as EOC and Belarusian officials insist on that principle. While the actual sporting activities are guided by apolitical rules, both the atmosphere and the message of large-scale events are inherently political. Hosting duties bring international scrutiny of human rights offences, while the country anticipates a public relations makeover. Both require diplomatic nuance and managed interactions with the regional community. Thus, levels of political involvement are apparent….

International sporting events held in countries with tainted human rights records often become lighting rods in the global community. It is of great importance to highlight these issues and to focus attention on states that regularly infringe upon basic freedoms. However, little perceptible success has been achieved by international NGOs advising boycotts or protective mechanisms by the umbrella organizations responsible for the events — in this case the EOC.

It is a difficult task to shift the development and implementation of a large-scale multidisciplinary event with a lot invested in its success on all sides. Campaigns need to expand their reach beyond those involved in the human rights movement who are already aware of calls to action. Social engagement must overcome the collective excitement over sport.

……

It seems that sport governing bodies struggle with achieving a balance between spectacle and sport. This issue will continue to complicate the relationship between athletics and politics, as liberal democracies balk at the cost of hosting such events, while states with debatable democratic records seek legitimacy from the international community. Sports diplomacy delivers this through soft power.

See on this tipic also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Belarus Understands the Diplomatic Power of Sport