Posts Tagged ‘documenting’

Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev returns to prison

July 24, 2020

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Expert on Stalin atrocities Yury Dmitriyev. Photo: Igor Podgorny, 7×7-journal.ru

The Moscow Times of 22 July 2020 carries a detailed report by Evan Gershkovich on Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev who has spent decades calling attention to one of the darkest chapters in Russia’s history. He now faces up to 15 years in prison on sexual assault charges in a case his allies say has been trumped up to silence him. Acquitted of child pornography, Yury Dmitriyev now faces charges of sexual assault.

The Moscow Times profiled Dmitriyev in 2018:

Yury Dmitriyev normally hates Moscow. The concrete, the commotion, the pollution. As much as he can, he stays in Karelia, where he was born, raised and has spent his 62 years. In the northwestern region bordering Finland and the Baltic and White Seas, he can usually be found in the woods or in his study, writing.

Yet on a pleasant evening in mid-May, Dmitriyev, a prominent researcher of Soviet crimes, was happy to be in the metropolis. Accompanied by his elder daughter, Yekaterina Klodt, and his lawyer, Viktor Anufriyev, old friends greeted him with grins and tight hugs in a courtyard outside Teatr.doc, a progressive theater, ahead of a human rights awards ceremony.

One month earlier, Dmitriyev had been cleared of child pornography charges. Authorities had detained him in December 2016 after investigators found nude photos of his 11-year old adopted daughter; Dmitriyev said he took the photos to monitor her physical changes as she was prone to illness. From the outset, human rights defenders claimed that the case was fabricated to silence an outspoken activist.

If the arrest came as a shock to those who knew him, so too did his acquittal: Fewer than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia are cleared.

But authorities, human rights defenders now say, weren’t done with the historian just yet. Only a month after the awards night, a judge annulled the April decision, starting the trial anew.

Then, two weeks later, prosecutors brought additional charges to the table: This time they claimed that Dmitriyev had sexually assaulted his daughter. As of late June, the historian was back in jail facing another uphill legal battle, his freedom having been fleeting.

“The new charges are a chance for the prosecution to get it right,” Anufriyev said. “They failed the first time, so officials are giving them another chance to get the job done.”

Digging and documenting

Two decades ago, Dmitriyev discovered a set of mass graves in a Karelian forest containing the bodies of more than 9,500 victims of Josef Stalin’s Great Terror. Poring over KGB documents, the head — and sole employee — of Memorial’s Karelia branch spent the next 20 years documenting each victim’s story.

“What makes Yury unique is that he combines both the digging and the documenting,” said Sergei Krivenko, a colleague of Dmitriyev’s at Memorial and a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council. “Some people work on compiling books of names, some people search for the exact locations of the killings. No one has dedicated themselves to both the way Yury has.”

No one has dedicated themselves to both digging and documenting the way Yuri has.

Those who know Dmitriyev say he toiled everyday. “He’s been doing this work for the past 30 years, and I’m 33,” said Klodt, his elder daughter. “I’m so used to it that, for me, his work is no different than a dentist’s.”

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians say, the state has supported them in locating and memorializing the burial sites of the estimated 15 to 30 million victims of Stalin’s rule. At the location Dmitriyev discovered — Sandarmokh — local authorities helped build roads and erect monuments and aided with an annual gathering at the site.

But in recent years, human rights defenders say, the climate has become less hospitable. Those who spoke with The Moscow Times pointed to a resurgence in Stalin’s popularity as a significant reason: In June last year, Russians voted him the “most outstanding” person in history. In second place was President Vladimir Putin, who has accused the West of “excessive demonization” of the Soviet leader.

Others pointed to a surge in nationalism since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and got involved in Ukraine. “There were many foreigners killed at Sandarmokh — Norwegians, Poles, Finns and Ukrainians, including around 200 intellectuals,” Krivenko said. “This is a very important place for Ukrainians especially, and a delegation would visit the site annually.”

Dmitriyev organized the memorial visit every year on Aug. 5. He invited foreign delegations and led discussions, Krivenko said. After the events in Crimea and Ukraine, the discussions often turned to politics.

“I think this is why they went after him,” Krivenko said. He also pointed to an October 2016 decision to add Memorial to a register of “foreign agent” organizations that receive foreign funding. “I think this gave the local siloviki” — officials with ties to law enforcement — “a signal that they could go after us.”

Two months later, in December, Dmitriyev was first arrested.

Prison as a work trip

The day after the awards night, Dmitriyev was invited to speak with human rights students at the Sakharov Center, named after the Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist.

Klodt had come with him and complained that she wasn’t feeling well. “Maybe they should put you in prison for a year too so they can toughen you up,” her father joked.

Quick to laugh, thin and slightly disheveled, Dmitriyev presented an unimposing figure. But when the subject of his work came up, he turned deadly serious.

“I don’t fight the system. That’s a dead end, and I’m already old now,” he told The Moscow Times before the event. “I fight for memory. I fight so anyone who wants to can learn about their relatives, regardless of whether the government wants it or not. These people existed at some point. They worked and loved and had children. I’m for protecting the freedom of private life and of those memories.”

Without those memories, Dmitriyev continued, today’s generation cannot judge whether their government is laudable or acting improperly.

The people I dig up were in the same prison, walked the same halls and were behind the same bars.

“When a person knows the history of their family for multiple generations, they can understand what our state is doing right and what it’s doing wrong,” he said. “Called upon by the state to do this or that, they’ll say, ‘No, my great-grandfather was summoned in the same way and it ended badly for him. So maybe it’ll end badly for me as well.’”

Dmitriyev shrugged at the subject of his time in prison. “I don’t make a great tragedy out of that year,” he said. “I just think of it as a work trip. I’ve gained a better understanding of what my heroes — the people I dig up and write about — were thinking. They were in the same prison, walked the same halls and were behind the same bars.”

More difficult, he said, was being separated from his younger daughter. Dmitriyev himself was adopted, and at some point he decided he wanted to care for an orphaned child too. He hoped he’d be able to talk to her again by the end of the year. “It’s a humane policy by the prosecutor’s office,” he joked. Then he turned serious again: “I can handle it, I’m a tough person. But what about the child? She thinks everyone has abandoned her.”

Into the forest

After Dmitriyev was first arrested, the girl was taken in by her biological grandmother. Klodt said the family and the grandmother maintained regular communication. But when Dmitriyev was acquitted, Klodt said, the grandmother cut off all communication with the family. Then she sent a letter to the prosecution demanding the acquittal be overturned.

Anufriyev, Dmitriyev’s lawyer, believes that local authorities pressured her into writing the letter. He also says that the new charges of sexual assault are founded solely on a June 6 meeting between investigators and the girl during which, Anufriyev says, they coerced her into saying what they wanted. “They say they’re helping the child, but really they’re making her suffer,” he said.

Reached by phone, Tatyana Kordyukova, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, said she couldn’t comment on the case and referred The Moscow Times to the Investigative Committee. The Investigative Committee, in turn, did not respond to requests for comment.

On July 25, the retrial of the first case will begin. The Investigative Committee is currently researching the new charges, a process which could take months. The original charges carry up to 15 years in prison; the new charges up to 20.

This time, though, Anufriyev says Dmitriyev is better prepared. “After his last stint in prison, he now knows that we can fight and win this thing,” he said.

Klodt, too, is ready for the fight. “I’m not constantly hysterical like last time,” she said. “I understand that something needs to be done. I’m not giving up.”

His colleagues say they won’t give up either. When Dmitriyev was first arrested, human rights defenders, artists and writers across the country spoke out for him and wrote letters to Putin. Still, they are sober about the possible outcome.

“This is the atmosphere for us right now,” Krivenko said. He pointed to the case of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker accused of terrorism after he had refused to accept the annexation of Crimea, and Memorial colleague Oyub Titiyev, who is also in prison on charges widely believed to be fabricated.

“The only good thing from all this is that the president is showing us how it all happened in the 1930s — how people were blamed, how siloviki read signals from the top,” Krivenko said. “We used to study this in archives, now we see it in real life.”

During his short stint out of prison, Dmitriyev returned to work. Anatoly Razumov, a historian and one of Dmitriyev’s closest friends, stayed at his house from the night before the acquittal was overturned until June 19. The entire time, he says, Dmitriyev worked on a book he had to put off when he was first arrested.

In May, asked if he would return to his work or if he feared doing so would anger certain parties, Dmitriyev was unmoved. “If you’re afraid of wolves, you shouldn’t go into the forest,” he replied.


This article first appeared in The Moscow Times and is republished in a sharing partnership with the Barents Observer.

International Nuremberg Human Rights Award for Syrian photographer “Caesar”

October 1, 2017

“’Caesar’ and his colleagues were driven by a desire to ensure that the documented crimes against humanity would not go unpunished. To this end they took great risks upon themselves”, explains the jury statement. “In bestowing the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award on the ‘Caesar’ group, the jury also wishes to highlight the history of Nuremberg as the cradle of modern international criminal law.

When the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, it was “Caesar’s” job to photograph the corpses of Syrian soldiers and opposition forces and to systematically archive the images. He found the work increasingly difficult to bear. “I had never seen anything like it”, he later said in an interview with the French journalist Garance Le Caisne, whose persistence played a major part in ensuring that “Caesar’s” images found their way into the public domain.

“Caesar” decided to act rather than continue documenting in silence: over a period of roughly two years, he secretly copied his photographs onto USB sticks and smuggled them out of the country with the help of friends. His life was constantly at risk as a result.

In January 2014, “Caesar’s” photographs were published on the Internet and found to be “reliable” by an investigative commission of former chief prosecutors of international criminal courts. “Caesar” fled from Syria and by his own account is now living in Europe.

Because his life is still in danger, the photographer was not able to attend the award ceremony at Nuremberg Opera House. Garance Le Caisne accepted the award on his behalf.

Garance Le Caisne
Stadt Nürnberg/Christine Dierenbach

Source: International Nuremberg Human Rights Award for “Caesar”

Have a smartphone – become a human rights defender!

August 10, 2017

Witness’ Asia-Pacific team adapted this video from WITNESS’ tip sheet on Filming Hate – a primer for using video to document human rights abuses. “Filming Hate” guides activists through documenting abuses safely, providing context, verifying footage, and sharing that footage responsibly. It may help millions of bystanders become witnesses, and hence human rights defenders, spurred to combat hatred by wielding a powerful weapon: their smartphone. Published on 6 August 2017. Full tipsheet available on our Library at: https://library.witness.org/product/f…     Music credit: ‘India’ — http://www.bensound.com Creative Commons Attribution licence (reuse allowed)

Cataloger of Khmer Rouge Atrocities wins Judith Lee Stronach Award

April 8, 2017

Chang Youk, director of DC-Cam, talks to VOA Khmer about national reconciliation at his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 08th, 2016. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)
Chhang Youk, director of DC-Cam, talks to VOA Khmer about national reconciliation at his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 08th, 2016. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

Chhang was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. He fled to the United States as a refugee, but memories of the suffering he endured brought him back to his homeland in the early 1990s. He founded DC-Cam and has led the organization since 1995, creating a national genocide education program. Nushin Sarkarati, a senior attorney at CJA, said that without Chhang’s dedication there would be little justice for the victims and survivors.

In this photo taken on Aug. 20, 2012, Director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang arranges photos, a part of about a thousand of newly-discovered photo collection of detainees at the former Khmer Rouge main prison S-21, in his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In this photo taken on Aug. 20, 2012, Director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang arranges photos, a part of about a thousand of newly-discovered photo collection of detainees at the former Khmer Rouge main prison S-21, in his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Beth Van Schaack, a Stanford law professor who advises DC-Cam, said the group’s orientation towards victims made Chhang a natural choice for the award. “What CJA really admires about DC-Cam is it also has a very victim centered approach, working-hard to help Cambodian victims, experience justice before the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] and DC-Cam has become in many ways a model for other documentation centers around the world that are collecting information that can be submitted to justice processes where human rights are concerned,” she said.

Nate Thayer, a journalist who has reported on Cambodia for some three decades, said without Chhang’s work, the Khmer Rouge perpetrators would have gotten away with their crimes. “Youk Chhang was a one-man army fighting for justice for those who suffered in Cambodia and his personal passion and devotion bringing those who responsible for mass murder to justice, to face the music, to answer for their crime.

Peter Maguire, a law professor and an author of “Facing Death in Cambodia,” called Chhang a “Cambodian national treasure” whose efforts bring more truth and reconciliation to the Cambodian people than the combined efforts of the United Nations and ECCC.

Youk Chhang, a leading Cambodian genocide researcher, shows a copy of the Cambodian version of a Khmer Rouge history textbook to teachers in Takeo province, July 3, 2012.

Youk Chhang, a leading Cambodian genocide researcher, shows a copy of the Cambodian version of a Khmer Rouge history textbook to teachers in Takeo province, July 3, 2012.

Neth Pheaktra, ECCC spokesman, told VOA Khmer that DC-Cam deserved the award as it had uncovered valuable evidence that could be used at the court. “The work that DC-Cam has done helps the ECCC save time in finding evidence by ourselves, and it shows us the way, brings us information as well as some historical documents we needed for the trials.”

Chhang is currently working on developing the Sleuk Rith Institute, a permanent hub for genocide studies in Asia based in Phnom Penh.

Source: Cataloger of Khmer Rouge Crimes Wins Prestigious Human Rights Award

TRIAL at 14 has a FACELIFT

June 13, 2016

TRIAL InternationalThe NGO TRIAL came into being on 6 June 2002. That day, its members met for their first General Assembly, laying out the organization’s mission which still constitute its cornerstones today: fighting impunity, supporting victims in their quest for justice and redress, building an international network of committed lawyers, advocating for fairer laws and policies.

Since then, TRIAL has never stopped expanding: it is now present on three continents and recognized as a key actor in the worldwide fight against impunity. It was therefore time for TRIAL’s identity to evolve and reflect this broader scope of action. For the past three years the  staff has worked on an important makeover.

TRIAL’s new identity includes a new name, a new visual identity and a new website:

TRIAL International will from now on be the organization’s official name. [“We have outgrown the names ‘Swiss association against impunity’ and ‘Track Impunity Always’, which will no longer be used”, explained Director Philip Grant“We believe that TRIAL International will better reflect our international scope, while remaining faithful to who we are”]

The new logo combines a spunky orange with a powerful black & white doors symbol.

The main facelift is TRIAL International’s new website. [“We wanted the navigation to be very intuitive, hence the simplified sitemap, the shorter texts and the refined search function. We also wished to bring to light the human aspect of our work, with victims’ stories at the forefront”, said Kevin Karlen, the organization’s Web Project Officer.]

Source: TRIAL turns fourteen and change is in the air – TRIAL

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/07/more-on-impunity-guatemalas-ex-police-chief-jailed-for-life-in-appeal-before-swiss-court/

Images and military-style precision characterize violations-recording group

April 16, 2016

In this file photo, Videre Est Credere founder, Oren Yakobovich, holds a miniature camera with which he equips human rights defenders to expose abuses on the ground. Videre Photo/Handout via TRF

Videre Est Credere founder, Oren Yakobovich, holds a miniature camera with which he equips human rights defenders to expose abuses on the ground. Videre Photo

Astrid Zweynert of the Thomson Reuters Foundation published a very interesting interview on 15 April 2016 with Oren Yakobovich, founder of Videre Est Cruder:

Videre Est Credere, founded by Yakobovich, equips human rights defenders with cameras – some of them almost as small as a shirt button – and training to expose violence and human rights abuses around the world. “Our vision is that no human rights violation anywhere should go unnoticed, no matter how remote and dangerous a place is,” Yakobovich, a former Israeli army officer, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation before being awarded the $1.25 million Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship at a conference in Oxford this week.

Videre’s mission is to reveal abuses of armies, security forces, militia groups or officials through a network of activists who film and record abuses and violations of human rights, often at enormous personal risk. Since Videre was founded in 2008 it has distributed more than 500 videos to more than 140 media outlets, including major broadcasters such as the BBC and CNN. “It’s great to get something broadcast by a big TV channel but it’s most effective when it goes out on local stations – it makes it very clear to the perpetrators that they are being watched – and that’s powerful,” Yakobovich said. Footage has also been used in court cases to prosecute corruption and incitement to political violence.Yakobovich said his own journey to becoming a human rights activist started after he joined the Israeli Defense Forces at the age of 18.

I spent a lot of the time in the West Bank and it shocked me what we were doing there – checkpoints in crowded areas in the city, raids on Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, scaring small children,” the 45-year-old said. Eventually, he refused to serve in the West Bank, a decision that landed him in jail. “It gave me time to think and it struck me how powerful information is, but also how little voice those have who are suffering – and how little accurate information we are getting from those places.”

He became a documentary filmmaker but said he was not happy spending more time at film festivals than helping people. “I realised that people who are suffering need to tell their own stories, not the journalists or the filmmakers.” In 2005 Yakobovich joined the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and set up a video unit. Three years later he co-founded Videre Est Credere – which means “to see is to believe” – with Israeli filmmaker Uri Fruchtmann.

Videre has deployed some 600 people across Africa, the Middle East and Asia and has partnered with organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In-depth research, solid on-the-ground contacts and thorough verification are key for Videre, which is highly secretive about its work to avoid putting human rights activists at risk. No one has been killed as a result of its work but some activists have been arrested. “The safety of the people we work with is paramount,” Yakobovich said, adding that Videre applies a “military-style” precision and security to its operations. “I’m still a soldier, just not in the army anymore,” he said.

(Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)

Source: INTERVIEW-Secretive human rights group fights abuses with military-style precision

 

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/responsible-data-forum-to-be-held-in-san-francisco-on-29-march/

Using Video for Documentation and Evidence: on-line course by New Tactics from 21 July

July 7, 2014

Citizen media

(Photo credit: WITNESS, used under Creative Commons)

Kelly Matheson of WITNESS and the New Tactics community organise an online conversation on the Using Video for Documentation and Evidence from 21 to 25 July, 2014. User-generated content can be instrumental in drawing attention to human rights abuses. But many filmers and activists want their videos to do more. They have the underlying expectation that footage exposing abuse can help bring about justice. Unfortunately, the quality of citizen video and other content rarely passes the higher bar needed to function as evidence in a court of law. This online discussion is an opportunity for practitioners of law, technology and human rights to share their experiences, challenges, tools and ideas to help increase the chances that the footage citizens and activists often risk their lives to capture can do more than expose injustice – it can also serve as evidence in the criminal and civil justice processes.

Using Video for Documentation and Evidence | New Tactics in Human Rights.

The importance of archives for Truth commissions: event on 13 September

September 6, 2013

Truth commission archives are an important part of dealing with the past, which is a long-term process addressing a legacy of human rights violations.humanrightslogo_Goodies_14_LogoVorlagen Read the rest of this entry »

HURIDOCS: bursting with new ideas for documenting human rights: case law in Africa and the Americas

February 25, 2013

The HURIDOCS network publishes a Newsletter with many items that are of importance to Human Rights Defenders. The latest issue carries e.g. interesting news on access to human rights case law from the Asian and American scene. In the future it should be possible to have on-line access to the case load of these regional systems which until now are very difficult to find. Connecting these two databases in the future will be possible, but only if they are built on common standards. Developing these is a core function of HURIDOCS as illustrated by an interview with Judith Dueck who has been involved in standard formats for almost 25 years (Judith Dueck looks back upon how it was done). One reason to refer to this article of course the youth picture of me (from 1988) they added!

To get the HURIDOCS newsletter free every 15 days subscribe via the homepage: http://www.huridocs.org/

HURIDOCS 2011

Citizens with mobile phones intend to keep Kenya’s election clean and peaceful

February 24, 2013

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Bukeni Waruzi – just back from a field trip to Kenya – posted an excellent piece on “Witness‘ blog on 23 February  under the title “Can Cell Phones Save Kenya’s Elections?. Here some excerpts:

The December 2007 elections were marred by unprecedented violence: killings, rapes, lootings, attacks on civilians, and massive displacement. Historically peaceful, Kenya devolved into violence that caught many unprepared—including human rights activists who were unable to use video to document the magnitude of what was happening.