Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament’

India sinking in civic freedoms survey

March 21, 2022

While the world’s attention is understandably focused on the war in Ukraine, other major countries should not stay outside the limelight, e.g. India (conspicuously absent in the condemnation of the aggression) which continues to flaunt human rights. [See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/28/anti-terror-laws-in-india-keep-being-used-against-human-rights-defenders/].

On 10 March 2022, The Wire in New Delhi reported that India has been added to CIVICUS’ watchlist of countries that have seen a “rapid decline” in civic freedoms by an independent monitor, highlighting the drastic measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to silence critics of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India and Russia were added to CIVICUS Monitor’s Watchlist. CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories.

India has remained a “repressed” nation in the ‘People Power Under Attack 2021’ report by the CIVICUS Monitor, along with 48 other countries including Afghanistan, Russia and Hong Kong. Its rating was first downgraded in 2019, “due to a crackdown on human rights activists, attacks on journalists and civil society groups, and the assault on civic freedoms in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir”.

This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

In its report, CIVICUS highlighted several developments that it saw as cause for concern.

In January, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids on Madurai-based human rights watchdog, People’s Watch. The raid came against the backdrop of 6,000 other civil society organisations, including Oxfam, losing their foreign funding licenses under the controversial Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are among the civil society groups that have had to close their offices in India.

Meanwhile, scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws. They include the 15 human rights defenders linked to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon incident who have been accused of having links with Maoist organisations, based on evidence believed to be “fabricated”.

Waiting for bail, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who remained in custody since October 2020 in the Elgar Parishad case under UAPA, died in July last year. [Update on this case: The death of Jesuit priest and Adivasi rights activist Stan Swamy in judicial custody will “forever remain a stain on the human rights record of India”, says a new brief by the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The group had formally adopted its opinion on Swamy’s death during its 92nd session on November 16, last year but made its comments public just this week. The Working Group transmitted to the Indian Government a communication concerning Swamy on May 12 last year, but did not receive any response. India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]. In its communication, the Working Group urged the Government to prioritize the use of non-custodial measures at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the pretrial phase, in the current context of a global pandemic. Furthermore, its source submitted that placing Father Swamy in prison increased his risk of contracting COVID-19 and thus put his life at risk. The failure of the Government to heed these prescient warnings led to his avoidable death in custody, the opinion states.] [https://theleaflet.in/un-working-group-asks-india-to-accord-stan-swamys-family-with-compensation-and-reparations-under-international-law/]

Further, at least 13 activists who were arrested under the UAPA for their work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 remain in detention. The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions ensure that those detained under the law are held in pre-trial detention for long periods.

“The office raids and foreign funding bans are part of the government’s strategy to harass and silence their critics,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor. “The use of broadly worded anti-terrorism laws against activists, journalists, academics, and students, reflect a multi-year decline in the state of civic and democratic freedoms in the country.”

Journalists have continued to be targeted in India for their work in recent months and there have also been concerns about the widespread surveillance of activists, journalists and others critical of the Modi government following the Pegasus spyware expose.

The government must release all human rights defenders detained and come clean about its surveillance of activists and journalists as well as establish an independent and effective oversight mechanism to monitor all stages of interceptions of communications,” said Henri Tiphagne, national working secretary of HRDA – India.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, 21 members of European Parliament stated, “We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament, are writing to express our concern over the treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs) in India.” “We have followed cases of HRDs being jailed for their peaceful work, targeted under anti-terror laws, labeled as terrorists, and facing increasing restrictions on their ability to safely mobilize and access funds due to restrictive legislation. We are especially concerned about the safety of unjustly jailed defenders with emphasis on 15 HRDs accused in what is known as the Bhima Koregaon case and 13 defenders currently in jail for their campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”

They expressed worry that the prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez remained in detention under the UAPA in one of the most overcrowded and unsanitary prisons in the country for his documenting of rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Echoing calls by UN experts, they viewed their case as emblematic of the way the Indian government “continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms in the country.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/23/india-arrests-khurram-parvez-again/]

See also 31 March: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/31/human-rights-watch-submission-universal-periodic-review-india

https://thewire.in/rights/for-rapid-decline-in-civic-freedoms-india-added-to-civicus-monitors-watchlist

NGOs protest harassment of Ambika Satkunanathan in Sri Lanka

February 17, 2022

On 14 February 2022 FIDH published a joint statement to support Sri Lankan human rights defender Ambika Satkunanathan:

We the undersigned human rights organizations, express our deep concern about the statement issued by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry on February 4, 2022, in which the government denounced testimony given by Ambika Satkunanathan, a leading human rights lawyer, to the European Parliament on January 27. The government statement clearly constitutes an act of harassment and intimidation. We condemn the Sri Lankan government’s tactics to intimidate human rights defenders, and express our full solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, a well-known, respected and courageous human rights defender. Targeting her for providing accurate testimony about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka to the European Parliament is completely unacceptable, and sends a chilling message to all Sri Lankan civil society, especially those in the north and east, who are already operating under considerable duress under the current administration.

Sri Lanka’s international partners, including the European Union, should publicly condemn the Sri Lankan government’s statement and express solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, who has been targeted for her international engagement, and increase their efforts to engage with Sri Lankan civil society at large.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement contains numerous false claims in an attempt to disparage and delegitimize a distinguished human rights advocate, placing her at risk of physical danger in retribution for her brave work. The government’s claim that her testimony was “reminiscent of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] propaganda that once stoked hatred among communities,” and that “such allegations need to be refuted in the interest of social harmony” Is particularly insidious and dangerous.

The government’s statement mirrors its repeated practice of falsely equating human rights defenders and human rights advocacy with those pursuing “terrorism.” The statement’s language aligns these baseless allegations with vague and frequently abused provisions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), exposing Ms. Satkunanathan to a heightened risk of threats, attacks and persecution.

Ms. Satkunanathan was a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka before that body’s independence was compromised under the current administration and led the first national study on Sri Lanka’s prisons. Prior to that, she was for many years a legal consultant to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is the author of an important recent report on abuses committed during the so-called “war on drugs.”

We are concerned that the government’s statement seeks to place the blame on human rights defenders if the European Union determines that Sri Lanka failed to meet its human rights commitments under GSP+, the preferential tariff system. The European Union should remind the Sri Lankan government that the responsibility to uphold its international human rights obligations rests with the government. The government’s treatment of human rights defenders reflects its lack of respect for international human rights law.

We support Ms. Satkunanathan’s testimony to the European Parliament, which accurately described a situation already reported by the United Nations and many domestic and international human rights organizations. The government’s response contains numerous false statements, including:

- The government claims to be “engaged in long standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the UN Human Rights Council.” On the contrary, in February 2020, soon after taking office, the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew Sri Lankan support from consensus resolutions of the council, repudiating commitments made by the previous government. Special Procedures mandate holders of the Council issued a statement on February 5, 2021, noting that their recommendations, including on torture, the independence of the judiciary, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, minority rights, counterterrorism, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of assembly and association, had been ignored.

- The government claims to be “strengthen[ing] rule of law, access to justice and accountability.” However, President Rajapaksa campaigned on a platform of protecting “war heroes” from prosecution, and has appointed individuals implicated in war crimes to senior government posts. His presidential commission on “political victimization” has sought to interfere in judicial proceedings and block trials and investigations in human rights cases implicating the president’s associates and the president himself. The president pardoned Sunil Ratnayake, one of very few members of the armed forces ever convicted of human rights violations, who murdered eight Tamil civilians including children.

- The government denies that civic space is shrinking, as Ms. Satkunanathan described in her testimony. Yet under the current government, many human rights defenders have said that they are subjected to continual government intimidation, intrusive surveillance, and attempts to block their access to funds. In her most recent update to the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet wrote that, “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.” The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in his end-of-mission statement last December documented government intimidation of civil society and a “shrinking civic space.”

- The government claims there is no “concrete evidence of discrimination against minorities.” In fact, for nearly a year the government banned the burial of people said to have died with Covid-19, causing immense distress to the Muslim community without any medical justification in what is only but one example of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Such burials are now permitted only at a single remote site. In January 2021 High Commissioner Bachelet found that, “Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalized and excluded in statements about the national vision and Government policy… Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is increasingly scapegoated.” The High Commissioner’s findings are in line with reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used almost exclusively against members of the Tamil and Muslim communities. The government continues to deny efforts to commemorate war victims belonging to the Tamil community.

- The government denies Ms. Satkunanathan’s description of alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the context of Sri Lanka’s “war on drugs.” However, these abuses are widely documented. In September, High Commissioner Bachelet said, “I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.”

The Sri Lankan government’s statement attacking Ambika Satkunanathan for her testimony to the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights exemplifies threats faced by human rights defenders, particularly when they engage with foreign and international forums, and it further shows the government’s refusal to address the ongoing serious human rights violations taking place in the country. Instead of trying to silence those who seek to defend human rights, the government should give serious consideration to their input and contributions, and take urgent action to ensure that they can work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals.


https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/sri-lanka/sri-lanka-organisations-express-solidarity-with-human-rights-defender

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambika_Satkunanathan

Dutch university closes human rights centre funded by China

January 29, 2022

The Scholars at Risk Media Review of January 2022, carries an in-depth article about a university funding row which has raised fears of Chinese influence, written by Yojana Sharma on 26 January 2022:

The Free University of Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam or VU Amsterdam) in the Netherlands has said it will return Chinese funding for its Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre (CCHRC) after an embarrassing row over Chinese influence on academia when it emerged that several of the centre’s academics publicly denied China oppresses Uyghur peoples. See also: https://chinachange.org/2020/04/30/one-chinese-gongos-war-against-global-human-rights/

But the row in the Netherlands amid other recent controversies over Chinese funding of university centres and Confucius Institutes in Germany and the United Kingdom has also made university disclosure of foreign funding more urgent, academics said. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the CCHRC at VU Amsterdam received a subsidy of between €250,000 (US$282,000) and €300,000 (US$339,000) from the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China.

According to documents obtained by Dutch broadcaster NOS, the Chinese university was the sole financial contributor to the CCHRC during those years, which has raised eyebrows.

VU Amsterdam has said it would return the money it had already received from China for this year, NOS revealed last week. But the university only backed down after the damaging revelations prompted a public outcry and strong statements by the Dutch education minister and others condemning the activities of the centre.

On Wednesday NOS said the activities of the Centre were being suspended, with all its lectures for students cancelled, ascribing the decision to the executive board and deans of the university. The Centre’s activities were already in doubt after the return of funds, making it dependent on the university or other donors for its continued survival.

The row blew up just as the Dutch education ministry is due to present its National Guidelines on Knowledge Security on 31 January and to announce its ‘Government-wide knowledge security front-office’, which is expected to have an advisory role and support universities in identifying risks.

It also followed the publication last week of the European Commission ‘toolkit’ for universities on how to deal with foreign interference.

Dutch Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf responded swiftly and unequivocally to the report, saying he was “very shocked” that the funding arrangement signalled possible academic dependence.

“It is urgent and sensible that the Free University now takes action quickly. Scientific core values such as academic freedom, integrity and independence must always be guaranteed,” he said in a statement.

The minister added: “It is important that Dutch knowledge institutions are and remain alert to possible risks of undesired influence by other countries and that they take adequate measures to safeguard academic core values, especially when it comes to universal values like human rights.”

The centre runs an academic journal and organises conferences. Its mission, laid down in the financing agreement with the Chinese university, is to draw attention to a “global view of human rights”, and specifically to the way in which non-Western countries such as China view human rights.

University’s lukewarm initial response

After a lukewarm initial response when the university merely underlined that “as befits the Free University, the research of the CCHRC is independent, interdisciplinary, dialogical and socially relevant”, it added to its statement just hours later, saying “even the appearance of dependence is unacceptable” and announced that it was “taking appropriate measures”, including halting the funding from China.

The university said it has not yet decided whether it will also refund subsidies from previous years, but it said it would first conduct an investigation to determine “whether the independence of the institute’s research has been safeguarded on all fronts”.

The CCHRC website noted in October 2020 that a delegation of people affiliated to the centre ‘recently’ visited the western Chinese region of Xinjiang… the CCHRC website noted: “The situation we encountered in the four cities in this trip did not reflect the grim situation as depicted in the Western reports. There is definitely no discrimination of Uyghurs or other minorities in the region.”

CCHRC Director Tom Zwart, professor at Utrecht University, who is also a frequent guest at Chinese state events and on Chinese state television, told NOS any similarities between the centre’s positions online and those of the Communist Party were “coincidental” and were not steered by any direct influence. Zwart described the CCHRC website as a place for “uncensored free thought”, ascribing the comments on its webpages to individuals “who do not represent the organisation as a whole”.

On 26 January CCHRC released a new statement on its website saying the website would be “temporarily taken offline” in order “to check whether a sufficiently clear distinction is made between statements made on behalf of the Centre and opinions and observations made in a personal capacity.”

It added: “[The] Centre explicitly endorses the conclusions of the United Nations regarding the systematic violation of the Uyghur human rights. In this vein, the Centre’s director, in the presence of members of the Chinese State Council and the Politburo, called on 8 April 2021 to respect and protect the rights of Uyghurs and stop repressive anti-terrorism policies.”

Ingrid d’Hooghe, an expert on China-Europe relations and senior research fellow at the Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden University in the Netherlands, said: “The director of the Centre said in an interview which was also on TV that they were fully independent, there was nothing that made them say what they were saying. But apparently it did not cross their mind that even if they are independent, it doesn’t look like it.

Dutch academic Lokman Tsui, a researcher on digital freedoms and a former assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said via Twitter: “Important to note: until this year, they [the university in Chongqing] were the only funder. Problematic, because it’s hard to be independent if your research centre relies on one single funder. Problematic also, because public universities in China are closely affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.”

Tsui added: “But whether the research centre is independent or not is also beside the question. The more important question is: Why is the university allowing its integrity and its reputation to be compromised by accepting money meant to validate China’s atrocious human rights record?”

Need for disclosure legislation

“We need legislation that universities have to make funding public,” Fulda said, pointing to Section 117 of the United States Higher Education Act which requires universities that receive foreign gifts of US$250,000 or more within a calendar year to file a disclosure report to the government.

Other draft foreign influence bills, including the Senate Bill S.1169 in the US, are currently attempting to tighten those rules, including reducing the amount that has to be declared by institutions and individuals if the funding comes from certain countries such as China, after a number of universities failed to report substantial foreign gifts under Section 117.

An amendment to the UK Higher Education Bill tabled on 12 January in the House of Commons would require disclosures of foreign funds of £50,000 (US$68,000) going back 10 years.

“The question is, if the Dutch government or other governments in Europe issued new regulations where universities were forced to make these contracts public, whether it would change things, and I think it would,” said Fulda.

Leiden Asia Centre’s d’Hooghe said: “There is no regulation that forces people to register somewhere what kind of collaboration they have. With new regulations in Australia and, to a certain extent, in the US and Canada, you have to become public with that kind of information. Not so in the Netherlands.”

“It’s not necessarily that people want to keep it a secret, it’s just not something that is done routinely. So at top levels in the university, but often even at the faculty level, the departments don’t have a good overview of exactly what kind of research is being done with whom, and how this is financed,” she said

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) published a “Framework for Knowledge Security” in July 2021 that outlined risks and the need for monitoring research collaboration, as well as recommending that universities set up their own internal ‘knowledge security advisory team’ to include experts such as cybersecurity specialists.

The focus is on building risk awareness but does not go as far as requiring disclosure of foreign funding. Some universities have pointed out that they cannot ‘police’ research or researchers on behalf of the government.

Who will investigate?

The Netherlands Inspectorate of Education has not indicated that it will carry out a broader investigation into China influence at universities in the country, saying in a statement following the VU Amsterdam row: “No other signals about Chinese influence are known to the inspectorate.”

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the Inspectorate of Education “would be wise to do more homework in this area”.

“In a decade of documenting Chinese government threats to academic freedom around the world, Human Rights Watch has found threats at universities from Australia to the United States, and proposed a code of conduct to help mitigate these risks.

“One key step: universities should publicly disclose all direct and indirect Chinese government funding and a list of projects and exchanges with Chinese government counterparts on an annual basis,” she said.

“In showing its permeability to Chinese government influence, the Free University shouldn’t limit its response simply to returning the funding. It should urgently assess whether students and scholars of and from China on its campus are subjected to harassment or surveillance,” which she noted had been well documented elsewhere, notably in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.

“University leadership and scholars should assess whether censorship and self-censorship have eroded the curriculum or classroom debate,” Richardson added.

“The Free University should also join forces with counterparts across Europe – from Berlin to Cambridge to Budapest – who have faced similar problems, and agree to share information and adopt common standards with the goal of collectively resisting Beijing’s efforts to curtail academic freedom. The list of potential participants – supposedly ‘free’ universities – is disturbingly long.”

EU toolkit for universities: will it make a difference?

The EU issued a toolkit for universities on 18 January. Although it is comprehensive, d’Hooghe noted that “these rules are not binding because the EU has no competence in the area of education”. Universities are outside Brussels’ remit.

She saw it more as a “service to EU member states who still don’t have national rules, who find it very difficult to develop them or don’t have the capacity to develop them”.

While many ongoing collaboration projects with Chinese universities continue, despite academics and researchers being unable to travel due to pandemic restrictions, d’Hooghe said she knew of many who “are staying away” from starting new projects with China, in part due to risks, including reputational risks.

But she noted that legislation on a national level regarding foreign influence could be tricky. “University autonomy is regarded as an important value and very important for science to advance, so universities are very reluctant to be limited by binding regulations.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/20/dutch-university-hit-chinese-government-funding-scandal

9 November Webinar on reprisals in the European diaspora

November 5, 2021

On 9 November 2021 at 2pm CET, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) will be co-organizing with MEPs an event in the European Parliament presenting its report on third country reprisals against human rights defenders in Europe. With growing threats from China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan on European soil, UNPO wants greater action taken against their reprisals on minority rights diaspora in Europe. Our report can be found here. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/22/unpo-reprisals-on-the-rise/]

Event information :

Format : Webinar, with Presentation of report and testimonies

Date : Tueday, November 9

Time : 14.00 CET

Stream link : https://youtu.be/_WPgpYCuNrI

Event description :

UNPO has been working hard to expose the difficulties activists for self-determination and minority rights face due to reprisals by state actors. These can range from intimidation and threats to murder. As part of our broad Compromised Spaces campaign we wanted

Schedule and Panelists :

Moderator : Shima Silavi, Program Officer, UNPO

Hosts as MEPs : Jordi Sole MEP, Heidi Hautala MEP, Ignazio Castaldo MEP, David Lega MEP.

14.00 Opening Remarks

14.20-14.40 Presenting the Report : “Compromised Space: Foreign State Reprisals against Unrepresented Diplomats in Europe” Shima Silavi.

14:40 – 14:55 Ahwazi Arab Witness – Iran. Hawra Nissi, Daughter of Ahmad Mola Nissi, an Ahwazi Arab political activist who was shot dead in front of his home in the Hague in 2017

14:50 – 15:10 Uyghur Witness – China, Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress

15:10 – 15:25 Crimean Tatar Witness- Russia. Ayla Bakkalli, Representative of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, Mejlis of Crimean Tatars People – UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

15: 25 – 15:40 Expert – Oxford University Dr. Fiona McConnell, Associate Professor in Human Geography. Fellow and Tutor at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Prize for Geography in 2019.

https://unpo.org/article/22170

Alexei Navalny wins EU’s Sakharov Prize

October 21, 2021

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been awarded with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award winner was selected by the leaders of the political parties represented in the European Parliament during a plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday 20 October 2021. [For more on this and other awards in the name of Sakharov, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449]

Navalny, the most prominent foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was nominated alongside Afghan women, whose plight has taken centre stage after the Taliban takeover, and Jeanine Áñez, a Bolivian politician who became interim president in 2019 after alleged electoral fraud by Evo Morales. Áñez was later arrested for allegedly plotting coup d’état against Morales. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/29/the-nominees-for-the-eus-sakharov-prize-2021/]

The award is supposed to be presented during a European Parliament session in Strasbourg on December 15, although this seems unlikely to happen in the case of Navalny since he’s currently serving a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for fraud in Russia.

See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/c549c081-1c9f-489a-8ba6-6e2323cb9fcb

He says the charges were politically motivated to halt his challenge to the Kremlin. Russian authorities have opened a new criminal case against Navalny that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

Today’s prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release,” said David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, in a tweet. The main political parties also celebrated the laureate’s work and recognition, although some

“His unbroken commitment for a democratic Russia is representative of the many activists who are fighting for liberal rights,” wrote David McAllister, a German MEP of the centre-right EPP group and chairman of the parliament’s committee on foreign affairs.

His bravery for freedom of thought and expression show how they are the precondition for democratic politics, human dignity & peace,” said Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, from Renew Europe.

https://www.euronews.com/2021/10/20/alexei-navalny-wins-sakharov-prize-the-eu-s-highest-award-for-human-rights-work

United Arab Emirates: Dubai Expo continues whitewashing – EU Parliament call for boycott

October 4, 2021

Expo 2020 On 1 October 2021. Human Right Watch published “UAE: Tolerance Narrative a Sham Censorship; Surveillance; Prison or Barred Entry for Critics”. It stated that the United Arab Emirates authorities are using Expo 2020 Dubai to promote a public image of openness that is at odds with the government’s efforts to prevent scrutiny of its rampant systemic human rights violations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/03/uaes-new-human-rights-institute-sounds-like-a-joke/

Expo 2020 is a prominent global cultural event built on the free exchange of ideas. Domestic critics are routinely arrested and, since at least 2015, UAE authorities have ignored or denied requests for access to the country by United Nations experts, human rights researchers, and critical academics and journalists. The government’s pervasive domestic surveillance has led to extensive self-censorship by UAE residents and UAE-based institutions; and stonewalling, censorship, and possible surveillance of the news media by the government. “Dozens of UAE peaceful domestic critics have been arrested, railroaded in blatantly unfair trials, and condemned to many years in prison simply for trying to express their ideas on governance and human rights,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Expo 2020 is yet another opportunity for the UAE to falsely present itself on the world stage as open, tolerant, and rights-respecting while shutting down the space for politics, public discourse, and activism.” Expo 2020 is being held from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, with the theme, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.”

This event, as with other expensive entertainment, cultural, sports, and educational events before it, is designed to promote a public relations image of the UAE as an open, progressive, and tolerant country while its abusive authorities forcefully bar all peaceful criticism and dissent, Human Rights Watch said.

…. Major international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have also faced increased restrictions on their ability to visit and engage with government officials on human rights issues. Staff of both organizations were refused access to prisons and high-profile trials, and eventually admission to the country. UAE authorities have rarely responded to either organization’s requests for information or meetings.

The UAE has embarked on a decades-long effort to whitewash its reputation on the international stage. These efforts were made explicit in the government’s 2017 Soft Power Strategy, which includes cultivating “cultural and media diplomacy” as a central pillar and has a stated objective “to establish [the UAE’s] reputation as a modern and tolerant country that welcomes all people from across the world.” Expo 2020 is the latest in a long list of investments in ambitious cultural and educational projects that seek to further that goal, Human Rights watch said. Others include the acquisition of the Louvre, the Guggenheim, and New York University outposts, establishing Dubai as a luxury tourism destination, and hosting global cultural events such as the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi and the upcoming World Expo in Dubai.  

While leading international academic and cultural institutions first established a presence in the UAE with the promise to serve the public good by promoting “ideas, discourse, and critical thinking,” they have since remained silent in the face of increasing repression of basic rights. … Some of those whose communications and devices were targeted by the government surveillance and who are residents of the UAE, were subsequently arrested and abused in detention.Among them is the prominent Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. [See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A] A UAE court sentenced Mansoor to 10 years in prison in May 2018 following a grossly unfair trial, partly based on private email exchanges and WhatsApp conversations. A 2016 Citizen Lab report demonstrated five other cases where arrests or convictions of users followed malware attacks against their Twitter accounts from 2012 to 2015. This repressive environment, coupled with the authorities’ use of advanced spyware to target anyone deemed a threat to the country, has led citizens, residents, and even journalists, academics, businessmen, and others who frequent the UAE to warily restrict their public criticism of the authorities. As one journalist said about their office based in Dubai, “The head of office is shit scared of the authorities … There is a practice of holding back stories if they can’t get official comment – which they often can’t. They don’t go hard on the UAE.” Governments and businesses have a human rights responsibility to avoid contributing to UAE authorities’ efforts to whitewash its abuses. As countries prepare to showcase their pavilions at the Dubai EXPO, they should help prevent the UAE’s whitewashing attempts by either advocating for the UAE to unconditionally release all those unjustly detained for exercising their right to free expression and to regularly open up the country, including its jails and its courts, to scrutiny by independent researchers and monitors, or not participate in the EXPO, Human Rights Watch said. “With widespread arrests, intimidation, surveillance, and retaliation that citizens and residents face for speaking out, Expo participants and other countries should raise concerns about rights abuses in the UAE,” ..The HRW report contains a lot more detail about the media repression.

The European Parliament has called on the United Arab Emirates to immediately release three prominent human rights defenders and urged EU member states to boycott next month’s Dubai Expo in order to “signal their disapproval” of rights violations. In a resolution adopted on Thursday, the parliament demanded the “unconditional release” of Ahmed Mansoor, Mohammed al-Roken, and Nasser bin Ghaith, as well as all other Emirati political activists and dissidents. Mansoor was arrested in 2017 on charges of publishing false information and rumours, and using social media to “damage the country’s reputation”.

According to letters that were published online in July, the 52-year-old said he had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest, cut off from the outside world as well as fellow prisoners.

Roken, a university professor and human rights lawyer, was arrested in July 2012, and convicted in July 2013 over charges of “establishing an organisation seeking to bring about the government’s overthrow”. He was sentenced to 10-years in prison and stood trial as part of a group that became known as the “UAE 94”. Former US intelligence officials admit to hacking for UAE at hearing in Virginia. See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/7B69B1D9-E359-444A-B448-02E8B9C0750C

Meanwhile, Ghaith, an economist, and human rights defender was arrested in August 2015 and jailed in March 2017 for 10 years over tweets that criticised Egypt, a key ally of the Gulf country. Ghaith had tweeted a picture of a burnt building in Cairo on 11 August 2015, a few days before the anniversary of the killing of hundreds of protesters in Rabaa square. 

In the resolution, which passed with 383 votes in favour, 47 towards and with 259 abstentions, the parliament criticised Mansoor’s prolonged detention and urged member states to boycott the upcoming World Fair in Dubai.

“In order to signal their disapproval of the human rights violations in the UAE, [the European Parliament] invites the international companies sponsoring Expo 2020 Dubai to withdraw their sponsorship and encourages member states not to participate in the event,” the resolution said.

Dubai has poured billions of dollars into Expo 2020, hoping the exhibition will generate new business and spur its economy amid a slowdown in growth due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Thursday’s strongly-worded resolution also condemned the role the UAE played in the extradition of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Hathloul was kidnapped in the UAE in 2018 and flown into Saudi Arabia against her will, where she faced a trial based on a loosely worded terror law often used to prosecute activists. She was released in February after almost three years in prison but is subject to a five-year travel ban and other restrictions.

On 15 September 2021 the Middle East Monitor has reported that the UAE had placed an additional 4 human rights defenders on its terror list:

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have placed 38 individuals and 15 companies on a terrorism list, saying they are “keen to target networks linked to the financing of terrorism.”

The updated list, issued by the Council of Ministers under Ministerial Resolution No. 83 of 2021, includes the names of four Emirati opposition figures living in exile: Ahmed Al Shaiba Al Nuaimi, Muhammad Saqr Al Zaabi, Hamad Al Shamsi and Saeed Al Tunaiji.

The UAE seeks to curb the political and legal activities of these activists who document human rights violations in the Emirates, WAM reported.

The four opposition activists are believed to be part of a small group that survived the state security apparatus’ 2012 arrest campaign of dozens of academics, lawyers, community leaders and students calling for political reform. However, they were outside the country and then tried in absentia in a case known as the “UAE94”.

The four opposition figures had announced the formation of the “Emirati League Against Normalisation” more than a year ago and issued a statement calling the normalisation agreement with the Israeli occupation a departure from the principles on which the UAE was founded.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/01/uae-tolerance-narrative-sham-0

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/uae-european-parliament-release-political-prisoners-boycott-dubai-expo

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210915-uae-puts-4-human-rights-defenders-on-terror-list/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/uae-ahmed-mansoor-activist-former-un-official-urges-release

The nominees for the EU’s Sakharov Prize 2021

September 29, 2021
Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought Award Ceremony 2020
Last year’s Sakharov Prize ceremony  

This year’s nominations for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought were presented in a joint meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee in Brussels on 27 September 2021. They are:

Alexei Navalny, nominated by the EPP and Renew Europe for his courage in fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights, is a Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption activist and major political opponent of the country’s president Vladimir Putin. Known through his LiveJournal blog, YouTube and Twitter, where he has millions of followers he came to international prominence by organising demonstrations, running for office and advocating reforms against corruption in Russia, Putin and his government. In August 2020, while on a trip to Siberia, he was poisoned. He spent months recovering in Berlin, but returned to Moscow in January 2021 where he was arrested. In February he was sentenced to 2½ years in prison. Now incarcerated in a high-security penal colony, he went on a 23-day hunger strike in April to protest the lack of medical care. In June 2021, a Russian court banned Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Afghan women, nominated by S&D and the Greens/EFA for their brave fight for equality and human rights. Under the previous Taliban regime, women experienced forced marriage, high maternity mortality, low literacy, forced virginity tests and couldn’t travel without a male. Following the Taliban’s return to power, women are again excluded from government and education and their rights and freedoms are threatened. The women included in the nomination are:

  • Shaharzad Akbar – chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)
  • Mary Akrami – head of the Afghan Women’s Network [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/C78046E0-F42F-8A60-205C-CC55E54281CD]
  • Zarifa Ghafari – mayor of Maidan Shar since 2018
  • Palwasha Hassan – activist and the director of the Afghan Women Educational Centre (AWEC)
  • Freshta Karim – founder of a mobile library and advocate for education and learning
  • Sahraa Karimi – first female president of the Afghan state film company
  • Metra Mehran – women empowerment and education advocate and co-founder of the Feminine Perspectives Movement
  • Horia Mosadiq – human and women’s rights activist
  • Sima Samar – human rights advocate, former Minister of Women’s Affairs and former chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4AEEBC97-C788-49F5-8DE1-33F7855D2192]
  • Habiba Sarabi – member of the negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  • Anisa Shaheed – political reporter


Jeanine Áñez,
nominated by the ECR, is a Bolivian politician and symbol of repression against dissidents and deprivation of due process and rule of law in Latin America. She became interim president in November 2019, after alleged electoral fraud by incumbent Evo Morales. In November 2020, after free and fair elections there was a peaceful transfer of power. However, on 13 March 2021 she was arrested on charges of “terrorism, sedition and conspiracy”. Accused of plotting a coup d’état against Morales, she has been imprisoned ever since.

Sultana Khaya, nominated by The Left, is a Sahrawi activist and human rights defender based in the Western Sahara, promoting the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi people. She is the president of the organisation League for the Defence of Human Rights and against Plunder of Natural Resources in Boujdour/Western Sahara and member of the Saharawi Organ against the Moroccan Occupation (ISACOM). She has been under de facto house arrest without a warrant since 19 November 2020. Since 2005, she has suffered physical attacks, death threats, torture and sexual assaults. Over the last year, the Moroccan authorities have intensified repression against Saharawi activists and journalists, who are subjected to ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and harassment in order to silence or punish them for non-violent action against the occupation of Western Sahara. On 1 July 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor strongly condemned the reprisals against Sultana Khaya.

Global Witness, nominated by Marie Toussaint and other 42 MEPs, is a UK-based NGO, which for more than 25 years has investigated and exposed environmental and human rights abuses in the oil, gas, mining and timber sectors, tracking money and influence through the global financial and political system. Nowadays, it also focuses on the issue of the climate emergency, attacks on public space and civic freedoms and the protection of environmental defenders throughout the world. Since 2011, Global Witness and its 22 local partners have addressed abuses of power to protect human rights, verifying and publishing each year the number of defenders killed worldwide. Sewe also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

For more on the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449 

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/eu-affairs/20210916STO12702/sakharov-prize-2021-the-nominees

https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/european-group-nominates-11-afghan-women-for-human-rights-award20210928181723/

https://www.reuters.com/world/russias-navalny-nominated-eu-rights-prize-2021-09-27/

China – EU investment deal off the rail

May 21, 2021
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing's sanctions were a 'necessary and justified response'
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing’s sanctions were a ‘necessary and justified response’ GREG BAKER AFP

As earlier reported human rights defenders objected to the proposed EU-China investment deal {https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/06/china-eu-deal-what-about-human-rights], now the European Parliament has rejected it. HRW said: “On May 21, only a few months after the conclusion of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), a trade deal between the EU and China, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to freeze its ratification. The deal has been controversial in the Parliament given concerns about forced labor in China, its rushed conclusion, and its lack of human rights protections and redress mechanisms. Beijing’s counter-sanctions against several European lawmakers and institutions managed to unite the European Parliament on CAI like nothing else has, and will now prevent any movement on ratification as long as they remain in place“.

But the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to refuse any consideration of the EU-China investment deal as long as Chinese sanctions against MEPs and scholars were in place. France24 on 212 May gives China’s expected angry reaction:

China slammed the European Union’s “confrontational approach” after MEPs voted to block a landmark investment deal over Beijing’s tit-for-tat sanctions against EU lawmakers. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing’s sanctions were a “necessary and justified response” to previous EU measures against Chinese officials over human rights concerns in Xinjiang.

China has imposed sanctions on relevant institutions and personnel of the EU who spread Xinjiang-related lies and false information and who have seriously damaged China’s sovereignty and interests,” Zhao said at a regular press briefing.

He urged the EU to “immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, abandon its confrontational approach” and push EU-China relations “back to the right track of dialogue and cooperation”.

Defenders of the pact see it as a much-needed opening of China’s economy to European companies, but it is set to face a difficult ratification process among the 27 member states and European Parliament.

The investment deal aims to open China’s market and eliminate discriminatory laws and practices preventing European companies from competing on an equal footing, according to the European Commission.

EU foreign direct investment in China since 2000 — excluding Britain — amounted to $181 billion. The corresponding sum from China is $138 billion.

Ties between the EU and China soured suddenly in March after an angry exchange of sanctions over human rights concerns.

The EU sanctioned four Chinese officials over suspected human rights violations in China’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Beijing responded by imposing its own sanctions against European politicians, scholars and research groups.

Adding to the pressure, about 50 human rights defenders from China who have gone into exile in Europe — including the artist Ai Weiwei — asked the EU on Thursday to suspend extradition treaties with Beijing.

In an open letter to EU leaders, they asked Brussels to freeze or revoke arrangements made by 10 EU member states, including France, Belgium and Spain.

These bilateral treaties “not only present a potential threat to our freedom of movement within the European Union, but to our freedom of association and freedom of expression, as Beijing may seek our extradition for statements we make in Europe”, it said.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/20/european-parliament-freezes-trade-deal-china

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210521-china-slams-eu-s-confrontational-approach-after-investment-deal-blocked

Turkey finally starts paying a prize for its authoritarianism

May 20, 2021

Ahval on 20 May 2021 reports that the European Parliament said the EU’s membership talks with Turkey should be formally suspended unless the country reverses its democratic backsliding.

Parliamentarians said they were alarmed by the “authoritarian nature of the presidential system” in Turkey in a report adopted on Wednesday. The resolution was probably the toughest and most critical yet of Turkey, said rapporteur Nacho Sánchez Amor.

 “It reflects all that has unfortunately happened in the country in the last two years, in particular in the fields of human rights and rule of law, which remain the main concern for the European Parliament, and in its relations towards the EU and its members,” Amor said.

EU institutions should now make any positive agenda on Turkey conditional on democratic reform, he said.

Turkey began membership talks with the EU in October 2005. The negotiations were partly frozen a year later due to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports to ships from the Greek part of Cyprus. The EU informally approved a freeze in the membership process in 2016 citing a deterioration in democracy.

Turkey reacted angrily to the report, saying it was unacceptable in a period when relations with the EU were based on a positive agenda and a membership perspective.

The text contains “false allegations regarding human rights, democracy, the rule of law, our governmental system and political parties; and views Turkey’s effective, solution-oriented, humanitarian and enterprising foreign policy as a threat,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. See also my recent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/22/turkey-arrests-and-backsliding-on-femicide/

EU lawmakers pointed to a “continued hyper-centralisation of power in the presidency” and called on Turkey’s relevant authorities to release all imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, academics and others, who it said the government had detained on unsubstantiated charges.

Turkey adopted a full presidential system of government at elections in 2018, awarding President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vast executive powers, including the ability to rule by decree.

MEPS also highlighted Turkey’s “hostile” foreign policy, including towards Greece and Cyprus, and over its involvement in Syria, Libya, and the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which they said consistently collided with the EU’s priorities.

Lawmakers also urged Turkey to recognise the Armenian Genocide, which they said would pave the way for genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian people.

https://ahvalnews.com/eu-turkey/eu-parliament-highlights-authoritarianism-turkey-call-halt-talks

China-EU deal – what about human rights?

January 6, 2021

A long-awaited deal, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment includes provisions for settling disputes and outlines clear rules against the forced transfer of technologies — a practice in which a government requires foreign investors to share their technology in exchange for market access.

The EU previously said the agreement should increase the transparency of Chinese state subsidies and make sustainable development a key element of the relationship between the two trading blocs.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said “both sides had made tremendous efforts” at a press conference following Wednesday’s meeting and that they had “overcome difficulties” to conclude talks. It said the deal focuses on institutional opening up with market access as the key principle of the deal, which will mean more investment opportunities for businesses on both sides and “a better business environment”.

But the EU expressed concerns about “the restrictions on freedom of expression, on access to information, and intimidation and surveillance of journalists, as well as detentions, trials and sentencing of human rights defenders, lawyers, and intellectuals in China.” The EU’s diplomatic agency, the European External Action Service, has called for the immediate release of Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak in China and has been sentenced to four years in prison.

The issue of human rights could prove to be a sticking point for the deal clearing the EU Parliament, with critics drawing attention to reports of forced labour in some regions of China.

The stories coming out of Xinjiang are pure horror. The story in Brussels is we’re ready to sign an investment treaty with China,” Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian MEP for Renew Europe, said on Twitter. “Under these circumstances, any Chinese signature on human rights is not worth the paper it is written on”.

There could also be friction with the new US President-elect Joe Biden and his administration, as just weeks ago the EU proposed a trans-Atlantic dialogue to address “the strategic challenge presented by China’s growing international assertiveness.”

Amid concerns about the human rights situation in China, the EU said the seven-year-long negotiations were concluded in “principle” during a video conference involving Mr Xi, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel. German chancellor Angela Merkel – whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU – and French president Emmanuel Macron also took part in the discussions with the Chinese president, the EU said. Macron highlighted the “concerns” of EU countries regarding human rights and called for the “closure of internment camps”, according to the speech given by his office. He also pleaded in favor of “measures to ban forced labor” and called for “a visit of independent United Nations experts”.

According to the EU, the deal was negotiated after China pledged to continue ratifying the International Labor Organization’s rules on forced labor. “We are open for business but we are attached to reciprocity, level playing field and values,” Ms von der Leyen said.

French president Emmanuel Macron attends an EU-China video conference along with Chinese president Xi Jinping, German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and president of the European Council Charles Michel, at the Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France
French president Emmanuel Macron attends an EU-China video conference at the Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France (Sebastien Nogier, Pool via AP)

The video conference launches a ratification process that will take several months. To enter into force, the agreement will need to be ratified by the European Parliament, and the issue of human rights could be a sticking point.

https://www.chesterstandard.co.uk/news/national-news/18976931.leaders-eu-china-seal-long-awaited-investment-deal/

https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/30/eu-and-china-set-to-sign-historic-investment-deal-but-could-human-rights-concerns-scupper-