Posts Tagged ‘empowering civil society’

Gilbert Sendugwa: African human rights defender and freedom of information campaigner

May 15, 2015

 

Interview with Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator of Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a pan-African network based in Kampala, Uganda, published by the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] on 28 April 2015:

Before I started working with the Centre, I worked with issues of health and education. And it was always a big issue: information. I always asked: How do we get the information we need? How do people get the information they need from the Government in order to get on in life?’ In 2010 Gilbert went to work for AFIC, a network which has grown to 35 member organisations from 22 African countries, which are working on issues of access to information at the national level.

The main focus of the Centre so far has been to push for ratification of the many African instruments which enshrine the right of freedom of information, as well as ensure that these rights are reflected in national legislation and practice’. They do this through international advocacy campaigns and supporting national strategies. And with a good degree of success. In 2010 Angola, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe were the only States with Freedom of Information Legislation. The number now totals 16, and with Tanzania likely to become number 17 next month….

Nonetheless, as Gilbert says ‘We have come to see that the passage of laws might be the easiest part’. Therefore AFIC is putting increasingly more energy into initiatives for implementation.

The objective of these laws is to empower the people. Implicitly, this means taking power away from those who have it and giving it to the population, so that they can help themselves advance in all of their rights. However, sometimes this provokes fear in the powerful and a reluctance to provide the information’.

Gilbert suggests that this fear can manifest itself in two ways: some Governments will not legislate on the issue, whilst others do, but ensure that the environment for civil society is not conducive to people having the confidence to use the law. He says that in many States fear of reprisals deters requests for information. A successful law on access to information, it seems, must go hand in hand with a safe and enabling environment for human rights defence in general. However he points out that a common mistake of advocates on this issue is to see the State as a monolith. Rather, he argues, when it comes to implementation it is necessary to look at the various agencies from which you are soliciting information. ‘It is them who can grant the information or not. If you look at Uganda –  as pointed out in their review by the ACHPR this week – some ministries have responded to all requests for information, whilst the response rate from the ministries for finance and education, for example, is zero’.

AFIC is pushing for implementation by training civil society on accessing information and producing a manual for them. They are also increasing their work with States, having seen results when these two approaches work in parallel. Developing a website with the Ugandan Government led Rwanda to follow, whilst they have also trained officials and are producing a separate manual for them.

As ISHR prepared to make a statement on the importance of an enabling environment for human rights defenders working on corporate accountability, Gilbert admitted that this was one of the most challenging areas for freedom of information activists across the continent. ‘It is very difficult and risky to request information, whether it be regarding concessions, payments or environmental impact. But at the end of the day we are simply talking about the ability for communities to evaluate the impact of a project upon their lives and check the level of compliance of a business or a State with human rights law’.

Gilbert Sendugwa can be contacted at gilbert@africainfocentre.org. Follow him on Twitter: @GilbertSendugwa

Gilbert Sendugwa: Human rights defender and freedom of information campaigner from Uganda | ISHR.

Human Rights Defenders in the Philippine embrace info-tech for human rights

January 27, 2015

Human rights defenders in the Philippines have been using information technology to advance their advocacy work.  Launched in 2011, the human rights website http://www.hronlineph.com started by Egay Cabalitan and Jerbert Briola is used by human rights defenders for updates on most recent social issues in the country. The website has produced a video featuring testimonies from various advocacy groups – medical, anti-mining, human rights defenders, and international support NGOs – on the usefulness of the website.

Recently HRonlinePH launched two videos about human rights and internet rights now shared on social media outlets.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gu_E0C2bPDQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPslUqomztU

Human rights defenders fully realize the potential of video to bring about change, And this video, a groundbreaking information tool for the HRonlinePH, is a supportive infrastructure how we can harness the power of technology and to help realize our shared interests in promoting and defending human rights, offline and online,” Human Rights Online Philippines said.

Featured in one of the videos are human rights defenders from Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA), Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Asia-Pacific (CATW-AP), Medical Action Group (MAG), Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).

Group takes a ride on info-tech for human rights advocacy | SciTech | GMA News Online.

Special Rapporteur on HRDs in first address to General Assembly: Combat reprisals and protect human rights defenders

October 17, 2014

The need to combat impunity for attacks against human rights defenders, together with the enactment of specific laws and policies to protect their work, have been identified as key priorities by the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, in his inaugural report to the UN General Assembly next week. This is stated by the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.
 

The report, which will be presented to the General Assembly in New York in the week of 20 October, sets out a vision and priorities for the mandate over the coming three years, including a focus on groups of human rights defenders who are ‘most exposed’ or at risk, such as those working to promote economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of minorities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women human rights defenders, and those working on issues of business and human rights or on accountability for past violations. According to the Special Rapporteur, each of his ‘future thematic and mission reports will contain a specific section dedicated to analysing the development of trends and particular threats facing the most exposed groups’.

The report expresses grave concern at the related issues of lack of cooperation with the mandate by some States, and the intimidation and reprisals faced by many human rights defenders in connection with their engagement with international and regional human rights mechanisms. The Special Rapporteur is ‘struck by the number and gravity of threats’ against those who cooperate with the UN, the report says, including ‘threats against the defenders themselves or their families, defamation campaigns, death threats, physical violence, abductions, hounding by law enforcement, assassinations or various forms of harassment and intimidation by the police’. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur pledges to follow-up more actively and systematically with States in relation to the investigation and remediation of alleged threats and attacks against defenders.

The need to ensure accountability and combat impunity for attacks against defenders comes through as a strong theme in the Special Rapporteur’s report, with Mr Forst identifying that ‘it is partially because of the de facto impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of reprisals against defenders that the phenomenon grows and expands’ and pledging that ‘one of the main lines of his work will be to combat the culture of impunity’. It is likely that the Special Rapporteur will dedicate a forthcoming report to this topic.[for examples see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/]

Building on the recommendation of the previous Special Rapporteur that States enact specific laws and policies to protect human rights defenders, Mr Forst’s inaugural report identifies a need to ‘intensify efforts to convince governments to develop specific national measures, following the examples of Brazil, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Mexico’ and foreshadows a future study focusing on the importance of national laws and mechanisms and ways to improve their effectiveness. He also pledges to play a significant role in the identification and dissemination of ‘good practices’ in the implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, including through a more visible social media presence for the mandate.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur identifies a need to further intensify cooperation with other UN mandate holders, together with the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders appointed by regional mechanisms, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In this regard, it is notable that the Special Rapporteur has already issued joint statements with other mandate holders, such as the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association and Assembly, on issues including the detention of Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to criminalise human rights defenders in Ethiopia, and the passage of draconian anti-protest legislation in the Australian state of Tasmania.

via Special Rapporteur: Combat impunity and enact laws to protect human rights defenders | ISHR.

Ban Ki-Moon calls civil society “an indispensable part of the United Nations”

March 27, 2014

Civil society actors must be able to do their work freely, independently, safe from fear, retaliation or intimidation. This requires collective action to denounce reprisals and defend free voices and protect those targeted,” said the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, referring to civil society as “an indispensable part of the United Nations”. “We must expand the space for civil society to meaningfully participate and contribute,” he added in a video statement screened at a discussion on the promotion and protection of civil society space, in the context of the Human Rights Council’s 25th session.humanrightslogo_Goodies_14_LogoVorlagen

Civil society actors around the world face risks ranging from threats and intimidation to horrible reprisals, even killings”, said UN Human Rights Deputy, Flavia Pansieri at a discussion on the promotion and protection of civil society space. “From the NGO who is prohibited from receiving funding to the whistle-blower who is imprisoned for revealing corruption… we must work to protect civil society from such practices,” she said.

Hina Jilani, Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights award winner Biram Abeid returns triumphantly to Mauritania

June 28, 2013

(Picture courtesy of IRA Mauritania)

For those who are sceptical of human rights awards and their impact, the following report should give some food for thought: “Following a month-long trip across Europe,

Read the rest of this entry »

Egyptian NGO bill with big shortcomings in crucial last phase

May 31, 2013

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi
(Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi)

In the context of restrictive legislation to hinder the work of human rights defenders, the Egyptian case deserves urgent attention now. The law on NGOs is being rewritten in this important country and others in the region may follow the example. Despite recent amendments Read the rest of this entry »