Posts Tagged ‘DRC’

41st UN Human Rights Council: what the NGOs see as its result

July 16, 2019

On 12 july 2019, ISHR published what key civil society organisations thought of the just finished 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Civil society organisations welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council’s 41st session, including the extension of the SOGI mandate, adopting the first resolution on the Philippines and extending its scrutiny over Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belarus and Ukraine. This session witnessed heightened scrutiny of Council members by shedding light on the situations in Saudi Arabia and China. It missed an opportunity, however, to ensure that human rights are not sidelined in Sudan.

16 leading human rights organisations (see below) expressed regrets that Council members seek to use their seats to shield themselves and others from scrutiny. They called on States to stand with victims of human rights violations. They welcomed the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly association, that the Council stood up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls, and that it continued to address the threat posed by climate change to human rights. They also welcomed the reports on Venezuela, called on the High Commissioner to immediately release the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements, and on all States to pursue accountability for victims of intimidation and reprisals.

Full statement below:

By renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), the Council has sent a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It reaffirmed that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity. We welcome the Core Group’s commitment to engage in dialogue with all States, resulting in over 50 original co-sponsors across all regions. However, we regret that some States have again attempted to prevent the Council from addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.

This Council session also sent a clear message that Council membership comes with scrutiny by addressing the situations of Eritrea, the Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows the potential the Council has to leverage its membership to become more effective and responsive to rights holders and victims.

The Council did the right thing by extending its monitoring of the situation in Eritrea. The onus is on the Eritrean Government to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its membership obligations.

We welcome the first Council resolution on the Philippines as an important first step towards justice and accountability. We urge the Council to closely follow this situation and be ready to follow up with additional action, if the situation does not improve or deteriorates further. We deeply regret that such a resolution was necessary, due to the continuation of serious violations and repeated refusal of the Philippines – despite its membership of the Council– to cooperate with existing mechanisms.

We deplore that the Philippines and Eritrea sought to use their seats in this Council to seek to shield themselves from scrutiny, and those States [1] who stood with the authorities and perpetrators who continue to commit grave violations with impunity, rather than with the victims.

We welcome the written statement by 22 States on China expressing collective concern over widespread surveillance, restrictions to freedoms of religion and movement, and large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We consider it as a first step towards sustained Council attention and in the absence of progress look to those governments that have signed this letter to follow up at the September session with a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

We welcome the progress made in resolutions on the rights of women and girls: violence against women and girls in the world of work, on discrimination against women and girls and on the consequences of child, early and forced marriage. We particularly welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls under its new name and mandate to focus on the intersections of gender and age and their impact on girls. The Council showed that it was willing to stand up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls by ensuring that these resolutions reflect the current international legal framework and resisted cultural relativism, despite several amendments put forward to try and weaken the strong content of these resolutions.

However, in the text on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, long standing consensus language from the Vienna Declaration for Programme of Action (VDPA) recognising that, at the same time, “the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgment of internationally recognized human rights” has again been deliberately excluded, disturbing the careful balance established and maintained for several decades on this issue.

We welcome the continuous engagement of the Council in addressing the threat posed by climate change to human rights, through its annual resolution and the panel discussion on women’s rights and climate change at this session. We call on the Council to continue to strengthen its work on this issue, given its increasing urgency for the protection of all human rights.

The Council has missed an opportunity on Sudan where it could have supported regional efforts and ensured that human rights are not sidelined in the process. We now look to African leadership to ensure that human rights are upheld in the transition. The Council should stand ready to act, including through setting up a full-fledged inquiry into all instances of violence against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country.

During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, States heard loud and clear that the time to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is now  for the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We recall that women human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily detained despite the calls by 36 States at the March session. We urge States to adopt a resolution at the September session to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country.

We welcome the landmark report of the High Commissioner on the situation for human rights in Venezuela; in response to the grave findings in the report and the absence of any fundamental improvement of the situation in the meantime, we urge the Council to adopt a Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism in September, to reinforce the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner and other actors to address the situation.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This mandate is at the core of our work as civil society and we trust that the mandate will continue to protect and promote these fundamental freedoms towards a more open civic space.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. We acknowledge some positive signs of re-engagement in dialogue by Belarus, and an attempted negotiation process with the EU on a potential Item 10 resolution. However, in the absence of systemic human rights reforms in Belarus, the mandate and resolution process remains an essential tool for Belarusian civil society. In addition, there are fears of a spike in violations around upcoming elections and we are pleased that the resolution highlights the need for Belarus to provide safeguards against such an increase.

We welcome the renewal of the quarterly reporting process on the human rights situation in Ukraine. However, we also urge States to think creatively about how best to use this regular mechanism on Ukraine to make better progress on the human rights situation.

The continued delay in the release of the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements established pursuant to Council resolution 31/36 in March 2016 is of deep concern.  We join others including Tunisia speaking on behalf of 65 states and Peru speaking on behalf of 26 States in calling on the High Commissioner to urgently and fully fulfill this mandate as a matter of urgency and on all States to  cooperate with all Council mandates, including this one, and without political interference.

Numerous States and stakeholders highlighted the importance of the OHCHR report on Kashmir; while its release only a few days ago meant it did not receive substantive consideration at the present session, we look forward to discussing it in depth at the September session.

Finally, we welcome the principled leadership shown by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in pursuing accountability for individual victims of acts of intimidation and reprisals under General Debate Item 5, contrasting with other States which tend to make only general statements of concern. We call on States to raise all individual cases at the interactive dialogue on reprisals and intimidation in the September session.

[1]States who voted against the resolution on the Eritrea: Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, India, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Philippines and Pakistan.
States who voted against the resolution on the Philippines: Angola, Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Hungary, Iraq, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the Philippines.

*Statement delivered by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) on behalf of: DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ); Center for Reproductive Rights; ARTICLE 19; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Human Rights House Foundation; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Franciscans International; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

For the preview of the the 41st session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-human-rights-council-starting-on-24-june/

http://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc41-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights Foundation announces its first 10 Freedom Fellows

May 22, 2019

Yesterday I referred to the new look of the Human Rights Foundation [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/human-rights-foundation-uses-2019-oslo-freedom-forum-for-rebranding/], here is a substantive new proframme. On 21 May 2019 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the creation of the Freedom Fellowship, a program that awards 10 human rights defenders, social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from authoritarian countries around the world with the unique opportunity to increase the impact of their work. HRF is partnering with the Center for Applied Nonviolent Tactics and Strategies (CANVAS), founded by Srdja Popovic. The fellows will work with HRF staff and a team of specialists to improve leadership, movement building, fundraising, marketing, and digital security.
The first ‘class’ comprises:

  • Rania Aziz , Sudanese activist organizing professional and youth groups in the country against the dictatorship of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. She is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an outlawed group of unions currently leading protests in the country.
  • Fred Bauma. Congolese human rights activist also known as “Congo’s Gandhi”. He is the leader of the pro-democracy youth group LUCHA, which advocates for nonviolent, community-level change and governmental reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/amnesty-internationals-annual-write-for-rights-campaign-focuses-on-freedom-of-expression/]
  • Vanessa Berhe, Eritrean free-speech and democracy activist. She is the founder of One Day Seyoum, a human rights organization that campaigns for the release of jailed Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye, and raises awareness around a continued crackdown on democratic ideals in Eritrea.
  • Andrei Bystrov, lawyer, historian and democratic activist from Moscow. He is a co-founder of the December 5 Party, a pro-democracy political party that was born out of the 2011 anti-Putin protests.
  • Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal is a student activist, publisher, and author who advocates for education reform in Thailand. He founded Education for Liberation of Siam, a student group that challenges the Thai military junta’s unjust actions in the country’s education system.
  • Rodrigo Diamanti, Venezuelan human rights activist and nonviolence expert. He founded the international NGO, Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, which has coordinated creative protests against Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship in more than 52 countries.
  • Edipcia Dubón, Nicaraguan pro-democracy and women’s rights advocate. She is the coordinator of Dialogue of Women for Democracy, a think tank that promotes open discussions about the challenges faced by women in Nicaragua.
  • Asma Khalifa, Libyan activist and researcher who has worked on human rights, women’s rights, and youth empowerment since 2011. She is the co-founder of Tamazight Women’s Movement, an organization working on gender equality and research on the indigenous women of Libya and North Africa.
  • Farida Nabourema, Togolese writer and democracy activist who began her career in activism when she was 13 years old. She co-founded the Faure Must Go movement, a hallmark of the Togolese struggle against Faure Gnassingbé’s oppressive rule.
  • Johnson Yeung, Hong Kong human rights advocate who works on freedom of assembly and expression, protection to HRDs, and capacity building to right-based CSOs. He is the chair of the board of the Hong Kong Civil Hub, which produces regular briefings on Hong Kong shrinking civic space, and builds solidarity around international rule of law and human rights communities.


In partnership with CANVAS, HRF launched the Freedom Fellowship in 2018 with a pilot opportunity for Jhanisse Vaca Daza, a civil society activist from Bolivia. During her Freedom Fellowship experience, Vaca Daza co-founded the Bolivian movement: Ríos de Pie (Standing Rivers), which has quickly gained a national following, becoming one of the leading nonviolent resistance movements in response to Evo Morales’ authoritarian regime. Vaca Daza will provide her insights from the past year as the manager for the Fellowship. “This is a truly diverse class of fellows, and they are going to learn as much from each other as from their mentors,” said Vaca Daza. “Anyone running a non-profit or civil society organization or start-up needs help and guidance with personal leadership, movement building, marketing and media strategy, fundraising, and digital security. My own experience was transformative, and I’m looking forward to bringing world-class expertise in each of these areas to 10 new Fellows.”

The Fellows will meet one another as a group for the first time at this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, which will be held from 27-29 May in Norway. There will be special programming curated to begin their Freedom Fellowship experience starting May 25. If you would like more information about the program, please contact: jhanisse@hrf.org.

Home

Djimon Hounsou set to play Congolese Nobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege in new film

March 12, 2019

Djimon Hounsou (Left) set to play Congolese Nobel winner Denis Mukwege in new film. Pic credit: Fraternité Matin

On 9 March 2019, Mildred Europa Taylor reported for Face2FaceAfrica that Djimon Hounsou is set to play the roll of Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege in a new film, the   biopic ‘Panzi’, based on the book “Panzi” which was published in 2014. The 63-year-old Mukwege, a renowned Congolese gynaecologist and surgeon, has helped thousands of women and girls who have been victims of rape and sexual abuse at the hands of rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the beginning of the civil war in the early 90s. He received many human rights awards [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/breaking-news-see-which-other-awards-the-2018-nobel-peace-prize-laureates-won-already/]. He founded the Panzi Hospital in the South Kivu province in 1999 to provide free and comprehensive care for female victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the conflict. The life of the “rape surgeon” has already been documented in the film, “The Man Who Mends Women”, and a book. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/12/profile-denis-mukwege-democratic-republic-of-congo-courageous-doctor-rape-women/]

Hounsou, a Beninese-American actor and model who is best known for his Oscar-nominated performances in “Blood Diamond,” and “In America” will headline “Panzi.” The film will be produced by Cynthia Pinet at Paris-based 1divided Films. Last October, it was announced that the film was in casting and scheduled to start shooting this summer in Central Africa.

https://face2faceafrica.com/article/djimon-hounsou-set-to-play-congolese-nobel-winner-denis-mukwege-in-new-film

Internet shutdowns to silence opposition – what to do?

January 28, 2019

“African governments use Internet shutdowns to silence opposition more and more —what can people do?” askson EuroNews of

What would you do if your government decided to intentionally shut down your access to the Internet? Millions of people around the world have had to answer this question time and time again over the past few years, as government-mandated Internet blackouts are on the rise. Less than a month into 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Zimbabwe have experienced government crackdowns on Internet connections.

From 2016 to 2018, 371 separate cases of Internet shutdowns were documented around the world. More than half of them occurred last year alone, according to international non-profit organisation Access Now.

Authorities have used a number of reasons to justify the blackouts, including public safety, national security and stopping the dissemination of rumors and illegal content. However, advocacy groups investigating governmental tendencies to exert control over the flow of information don’t buy it. They claim it has more to do with silencing opposition movements and protests and trying to limit political instability.

They harm everyone: businesses, emergency services, journalism, human rights defenders, and demonstrators. They don’t help victims or restore order,” Access Now’s website reads.

In the past few weeks, several African governments have turned to partial or complete shutdowns in attempts to control the public discussion.

Sudan doubled down on social media amid widespread anti-government protests, with Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition calling on network operators to fight back against state pressure — but it wasn’t the only African country to do so.

Zimbabwean authorities were quick to gag social media — including Facebook and Whatsapp — as soon as civil unrest over rising fuel prices spread in Harare and other major cities, and the DRC also ordered a full blackout following recent elections…..

From 2016 to 2018 alone, Africa witnessed 46 Internet shutdowns,…….Chad, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Algeria, Togo, Cameroon, Gambia, Uganda, Gabon, Algeria, Morocco, Lybia, Tunisia, and Algeria have all cracked down on their citizens’ access to the Internet in the past.

How did citizens react to Internet or social media shutdowns?

People always find a way”, Zimbabwean analyst Alexander Rusero told Euronews. “But it {VPN} doesn’t work for everyone”, Rusero pointed out. “Usually the ones in Harare, at the centre of the country, manage to”.

The analyst was quick to underline the issues behind similar crackdowns…”During the Internet blackout there were a lot of lies and rumors — they spread faster than you would believe. Media relies on social media, and so do critical opinion leaders. Outside those platforms, fake news manifest”.

Jean-Hubert Bondo, a journalist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doesn’t believe the problems end here. “Many Congolese families live off their small cybercafés. Also, we are in a country where there are not enough physical libraries. Students and researchers use the Internet to research their work at the university. Young people animate pages on Facebook and WhatsApp”, he told Euronews. “To deprive us of the Internet is to take us back to antiquity”. As for the VPNs Rusero mentioned — the most common ways to avoid Internet censorship worldwide — Bondo said that, during the latest shutdown, they failed to work. “In response to what is being perceived as a violation of human rights, Bondo reported that several Congolese civil society organisations have now lodged a complaint against the main telecommunication companies.

In Uganda, a crackdown on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and mobile money apps in February 2016 as citizens were heading to the polls sparked a legal case that will be discussed in court in February 2019. “Shutdowns may not silence people, but they do hinder communication”, said Ugandan blogger Ruth Aine Tindyebwa….

https://www.euronews.com/2019/01/26/african-governments-use-internet-shutdowns-to-silence-opposition-more-and-more-what-can-pe

https://www.dailynews.co.zw/articles/2019/01/27/ed-justifies-internet-shutdown

Surangya’s take on human right in 2018

January 2, 2019

There are many people looking back on 2018 in terms of human rights. I would like to share the following by Surangya published on 1 January 2019 in Newsclick, entitled: “From terror plots to national security threats, political dissenters faced several charges and labels for raising their voice and questioning excessive power“, with its own angle and priorities:
Political Freedom

As 2018 draws to an end, we take a look at how the year fared for dissent and democracy in different parts of the world:

…Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons for protesting the occupation

The occupying state of Israel is perhaps one of the best examples of a country normalising violence of all sorts. For decades, Israel has occupied Palestinian lands and subjected the people to all kinds of humiliation. This has only intensified the resistance against the occupation, with Palestinians ferociously protesting, even at the cost of their lives…..Israel recognises this threat, which is why as of November 2018, there were almost 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, most of whom challenged the occupation in one way or another. Even more astonishing is the fact that among these prisoners are nearly 250 children, over 40 of whom are under 16 years of age..This imprisonment of children and subjecting them to torture, inhumane living conditions, often even solitary confinement, is a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, to which Israel is a signatory. Just recently, a 17-year-old Palestinian boy, Ahyam Sabbah, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for a charge of attempted stabbing…

Plot to assassinate the prime minister in India

… With the general elections approaching in 2019, the far-right government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with Narendra Modi at the helm, has been looking for any excuse to silence those highlighting this government’s many flaws and suppression of minorities. The most prominent case this year was of the arrest of 10 renowned human rights activists, who were labelled members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and made part of a plan to assassinate Prime Minister Modi, despite there being no concrete evidence supporting these allegations. The wording of the UAPA is such that any speech a person makes questioning the state can be seen as a threat to the country’s security and sovereignty. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/22/attack-on-human-rights-defenders-in-india-are-an-attack-on-the-very-idea-of-india/]

PD%203.PNGVaravara Rao, Vernon Gonsalvez, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Stan Swamy were amongst the activists who faced charges.

Failed peace process in Colombia

Two years after the signing of a peace treaty between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, Cuba, the government has failed to make good on its promises. While the guerrilla organisation surrendered arms for the most part after the treaty was signed, the government now shows no political will to implement the accords and demobilised combatants have been subject of unabated persecution. 92 people who participated in the reincorporation process have been killed……For the more than 400 social leaders and human rights defenders assassinated by right-wing paramilitary and state forces since the Havana agreements were signed, the legal system has been much slower to find those responsible and the government has shown it has no desire to dismantle the criminal structures that carry out these crimes. Just in 2018, human rights organisations reported that over 226 leaders were assassinated and the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC) declared in August that under Duque’s presidency, there has been an increase in the attacks against indigenous people.

Impending elections always create an upsurge in state clampdowns on people’s rights to free speech and protest.

Crackdown in Congo

As the Democratic Republic of Congo finally hit the polls on December 30 after a delay of two years, there was widespread apprehension over the fairness of these elections. President Joseph Kabila held on to power for two years after his constitutionally mandated term ended in December of 2016. Despite being president for the permitted two terms, he remained reluctant to give up control over the country, and only agreed to not contest this time after naming Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as his successor. Shadary is a former minister of interior, and remains under sanctions by the European Union for committing human rights violations in Congo…..At least 2,000 activists, opposition members, and journalists have been put behind bars since the protests against Kabila began in 2015. Many were released after weeks or months of detention and reported mistreatment. In November alone, at least 18 pro-democracy activists were arrested from the capital city Kinshasa. It remains to be seen if the much anticipated elections will bring a change and some relief to the people of Congo.

Philippines

A scenario similar to this, but of a different magnitude, is being witnessed in the island nation of Philippines under the authoritarian regime of Rodrigo Duterte, with widespread attacks on activists and pubic dissenters…Earlier this month, the government approved extension of martial law for the third time, making it effective for another year. While the stated purpose of this is to combat “extremists”, often labelled as members or leaders of the banned Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) or New People’s Army (NPA), those facing chargers are mostly activists challenging Duterte’s authority. In late February, the Duterte regime released a list of almost 600 activists and political dissenters, which was called the Terror List. Labelled terrorists and members of banned groups, many in the list are renowned activists and public figures, including Victora Tauli-Corpus, the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Brasil

Any concrete evidence to show Lula’s involvement in the corruption scandal is yet to be presented. His indictment, however, gave the extreme right candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign a push, ultimately leading to his victory. The judge responsible for the legal crusade against Lula, Sergio Moro, has been rewarded with a place in Bolsonaro’s cabinet as the Minister of Justice. The attacks against Brazil’s social movements have already intensified. Two leaders of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) were assassinated days before the Human Rights Day on December 10. Members of social movements fear that such incidents will become more commonplace under Bolsonaro, known for encouraging Brazilians to resort to violence when faced with social conflicts.

The year ahead…

While 2018 saw several right-wing regimes and authoritarian leaders accede to power, the coming year offers hope of being different as discontent against neo-liberal systems is rising. The Yellow Vests movement in France, which is still going strong after almost a month and a half, is an inspiring instance of that. Several countries will hit the polls in 2019. The need for mobilising against anti-people parties and disseminating the truth about such parties which often seem appealing to the masses with their populist messages is now stronger than ever, especially if we are to make 2019 any different.

TRIAL books success in two major cases against impunity

May 2, 2018

Two major cases of universal jurisdiction – after years of work – have finally borne fruit in the month of April 2018: One verdict in Switzerland (Sperisen) and one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Colonel “Marocain”) make the case that the mobilization of human rights defenders and civil society can really make a change.

TRIAL is also organising on 18 June  2018 a round-table <http://tracking.etapestry.com/t/35021127/1307643942/76621378/0/96504/?x=04c6288b> in Geneva on the fight against wartime sexual violence. This event will also be the occasion to celebrate the organization’s 15th anniversary.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/13/trial-at-14-has-a-facelift/]

—-

https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/affaire-sperisen-lancien-chef-de-la-police-du-guatemala-complice-dexecutions-extrajudiciaires/

https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/drc-head-of-militia-receives-20-years-sentence-for-mass-crimes/

Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty 2016 to Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the DRC

December 15, 2016

On 13 December 2016 Human Rights First convened its annual Human Rights Summit: American ideals. Universal values, at the Newseum in Washington D.C. in the context of International  Human Rights Day. During the Summit Human Rights First awarded the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty to anti-slavery activist Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Murairi was selected for his work on behalf of vulnerable rural populations to combat contemporary forms of slavery in the mining sector in the DRC. (The Roger Baldwin Medal  is given in alternating years by the ACLU to US citizens). HRF logo

It also presented the 2016 Beacon Prize, awarded annually to an individual or organization whose work embodies the best in the tradition of American leadership on human rights, to Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Inc., in recognition of her pioneering leadership in the fight to end modern slavery.

Source: Human Rights First Hosts Annual Human Rights Summit | Human Rights First

Profile of Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo: an amazingly courageous doctor

April 12, 2016

Dr Denis Mukwege is a surgeon and the most prominent human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He won several international awards as detailed in earlier posts [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/congolese-gynecologist-wins-europes-sakharov-prize-in-2014/https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/human-rights-first-honors-doctor-denis-mukwege-in-washington-on-21-october/]. He was in Geneva on the occasion of the 2016 International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights for the screening of the documentary film The Man Who Mends Women. The ISHR met with Mukwege on 31 March 2016 and published the following profile with details of his grassroots activities to defend women’s dignity and of the threats he faces due to his work: Dr. Denis Mukwege

Read the rest of this entry »

Justin Bahirwe: a lawyer trying to reduce torture in the DRC

December 24, 2015

 

OMCT-LOGOOMCT did the following interview in its series “10 December, 10 Defenders” with Justin Bahirwe , a lawyer from the DRC.

When listening to a soft-spoken, articulate, impeccably dressed 34-year-old Justin, you would think he is promoting human rights in a peaceful, predictable, functioning State. You cannot tell he lives in Bukavu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a desolate place where the world’s deadliest conflict since WW2 has not relented for over two decades, killing some 5.4 million people, where tens of thousands of children are recruited as soldiers – if they do not die of diarrhoea or malaria – political opponents are killed, corruption is rampant and deeply-rooted, the infrastructure nonexistent and extreme poverty pervasive. Read the rest of this entry »

Human Right Defender Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo

November 29, 2015

On 26 October 2015, the ISHR published a profile of human rights defender Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo. It was conducted on the margins of a meeting of the African Commission. ISHR-logo-colour-high

Jean-Pierre Okenda has taken his own route toward improving human rights impacts of extractives projects in his country. His role, as coordinator for a platform of civil society organisations in the mining sector, involves a great deal of immersion in books and texts, but also with people.

In the context of the DRC, it was absolutely critical that I redirect my work to make clear the connection between human rights and the extractive sector, and that meant research. It means understanding the global stakes of the issue. It meant explaining how bilateral relations and investment treaties really impact ordinary citizens and their rights.” Research for research’s sake is not Mr Okenda’s goal. He aims to develop networks, training, and tools to empower affected communities and other organisations to better document, understand, and evaluate the human rights impacts of a project.  He also emphasises the role of research in strengthening peoples’ understanding of the links between human rights, extractives industries, and taxation, incomes, and other ‘technical’ issues. He also urged legal reforms to help protects human rights at the local level.

Building relationships with the government and enterprises is a challenge – but it is possible, if one understands where they start from. I sent a questionnaire on human rights to local and national authorities, and you know what? There was, aside from a small amount of general familiarity at the central level, a total gap in terms of human rights knowledge. This made it clear that – sometimes – violations arise because of this lack of awareness or training. And yet, they are still responsible for protecting and realising these rights!” It is important,’ he added, ‘that they know what we are looking for when we come and ask for such and such a document’.

With corporations, it is the same. They limit themselves to two things: to the legal framework, and to the business’s internal priorities and policies. If they don’t have an internal policy, it’s likely that they don’t know a thing about human rights. To get them to think about human rights, it is critical to use another language they will understand, the language of professionalism.To further insist on empowering local communities and civil society to act, Mr Okenda noted the critical importance of having decentralized human rights institutions, so that even communities far from Kinshasa could seek resources and assistance to combat violations and abuses. ‘There is a growing global move toward more participation of civil society, in decisions related the politics and planning, in addition to the implementation. We need to see this apply in the area of extractives as well.’ The participation at the global level of local communities in the conversation about human rights and businesses is important. But the ability to participate is limited, says Mr Okenda, and so while human rights are central to the resolution of the issue, they will always be limited by governments’ hypocrisy, by neoliberalism, the financial crisis, and other geostrategic concerns.

Mr Okenda is clear: risks do exist, for all human rights defenders, including intimidation, violent attacks, denunciation, and abusive prosecutions. For those working on investment and extractives issues, the problem is that these might sometimes be the very same individuals or institutions (e.g., government agencies) that are meant to be protecting the people.So, according to Mr Okenda, defenders face every day a personal dilemma – to do what they think is right and defend a community’s interests, or to protect their property and the lives of themselves and their families.  In addition to overt risks, some defenders face pressure from their families themselves, who worry about the impact of rights defence work on safety and security. ‘When the family becomes vulnerable, you are really weakened, too.’ Nonetheless, concludes Mr Okenda: Even if there are risks, even if we human rights defenders face failure or lose patience, it is essential to keep speaking out. Silence is the biggest threat.Mr Okenda remains optimistic in his work. Efforts to encourage the government to recognize human rights defenders, and – along with corporate actors – see defenders as partners as opposed to adversaries, will be key.

Source: Defender Profile: Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo | ISHR