Posts Tagged ‘foreign agent law’

Nicaragua: things getting worse and worse for human rights defenders: COVID-19 and foreign agents

October 17, 2020

The New Humanitarian of 2 September 2020 carried a special feature on Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega is making life increasingly hard for aid and human rights groups in Nicaragua even as poverty, malnutrition, and emigration due to political strife are on the rise, and as he is criticised for a dismissive and reckless response to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, a new law for the regulation of “foreign agents” was passed on 15 October.

“In Nicaragua, simply existing as a person carries a risk,” Ana Quirós, director of the Center for Information and Advisory Services in Health, or CISAS, told The New Humanitarian. “You do not need a particular reason to become a victim of violence, of repression, kidnapping or assassination. It is a general risk.

Quirós was deported and stripped of citizenship in November 2018 after the government accused CISAS, which had been working on health education and HIV prevention in Nicaragua with the support of several international aid groups and actors – including Medico International, Medicus Mundi, and the EU – of “participating in destabilising activities”.

Quirós said individuals still working with aid and civic groups in the country are under great threat, and that several people who had been working with CISAS in Nicaragua since it was banned had been forced to flee the Central American country.

It has been during this pandemic that the absence of the NGOs has been most strongly felt, especially for us working in health,” the CISAS director said. “The government hasn’t made any efforts regarding communication, training, education in health, and with regard to the other basic human rights of the population,” Quirós said. “The population is very unprotected, and is hungry for information and real knowledge about the risks and measures that one needs to take to prevent illnesses.

Forty years after Ortega led a socialist revolution to uproot the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua continues to be burdened by a host of humanitarian concerns, albeit as it isolates itself from international aid institutions.

Under the government leadership of Ortega and his influential wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America, while the violent repression of political opponents since April 2018 has generated a migration crisis proportionately comparable to that of Venezuela. After Ortega’s re-election in 2006, Nicaragua’s poverty rate fell, following a similar trend throughout Latin America, but an independent report published at the end of 2019 estimates that it has since soared, and that roughly a third of the population, or more than two million people, now live on less than $1.76 per day.

According to the World Food Programme, 17 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the rate at nearly 30 percent – similar to humanitarian crisis settings such as Somalia – in Nicaragua’s northern provinces, which form part of Central America’s dry corridor. In 2019, WFP provided assistance to 45,000 people in Nicaragua affected by the seasonal climate change-linked emergency.

Due to severe restrictions on free assembly and expression, it is probable that protection and humanitarian needs are under-reported in Nicaragua,” ACLED wrote in an email to TNH. “It is clear from current political violence and demonstration trends in Nicaragua – particularly amid the pandemic – that the situation requires urgent attention from international humanitarian actors.

Demonstrations initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform, which has since been scrapped. They later morphed into broader political unrest as the government responded with heavy-handed measures against student protesters, and as dissatisfaction grew at government corruption and the Ortegas’ increasingly autocratic rule.

The ensuing government crackdown led to the deaths of hundreds of people – the government set the number at 197, while human rights groups say it was at least 325 – and drove more than 103,000 people to seek asylum abroad. Most fled to neighbouring Costa Rica, where at least 400,000 Nicaraguans had already been living.

In July, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the ongoing repression in the country two years after the initial protests, listing a litany of government offences between March and June, including arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, and detentions, threats, and intimidation.

Line graph of demonstrations in Nicaragua, 2019-2020

Human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees,” Bachelet reported.

The crushing of the opposition included, in 2019, the revocation of the legal status of a number of civil society groups and local NGOs – the Nicaragua Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) and CISAS among them.

Here, one cannot organise trade unions or teachers. One cannot organise any group that is not under the auspice of the regime,” Monica Baltodano, director of the Popol Na Foundation, another of the banned groups, told the independent news site Confidencial last December.

….Vice-President Murillo told Nicaraguans that the country was under divine protection, while officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order not to scare patients. In July, 25 doctors were fired for signing a letter critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It asked simply that health workers should not be persecuted and that they be allowed to use PPE.

After the United States and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year, 65 of the 148 officially recognised political prisoners were released from prison in December. Further sanctions have been imposed since, including on a second son of the presidential couple. But international political pressure has routinely been countered by the message that Nicaragua will manage on its own.

International aid groups and agencies have also experienced government pressure as it attempts to influence and define their roles. Ever since Ortega resumed the presidency in 2007, the organisations have had to operate with increasing care, former aid workers familiar with the country told TNH.

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme was told by the government that it was no longer needed as an intermediary between donors and those executing development projects. Without providing further details, the authorities said the agency and its country chief were accused of “political meddling”, and of maintaining a “hidden agenda”.

UNDP told TNH at the end of July that its operations in Nicaragua were now “limited” and that it did not have a resident representative or a deputy representative. The UN agency did not respond to requests for further comment on the situation in the country.

In 2018, the government expelled a UN human rights team after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an immediate end to the persecution of political opponents and called for the disarming of masked civilians responsible for a string of killings and detentions. Soon after, two missions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigating violence during the anti-government protests were also thrown out.

As COVID-19 cases appear to mount, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional wing of the World Health Organization – has urged the government to take stronger measures to curb the spread of the virus.

PAHO continues to await authorisation to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has donated PPE to the health ministry, while repeatedly stating that the official COVID-19 data provided is incomplete.

In spite of donations from various international sources, doctors have argued that distribution of masks and other PPE items remains inadequate. As of 26 August, Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory estimated that 107 health workers in Nicaragua had died from the coronavirus…

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few international aid groups with a presence in Nicaragua, has offered its support to help with the release of what human rights groups estimate – following the protest crackdown – to be more than 6,000 political prisoners.

In a written statement to TNH, the organisation said: “The ICRC returned permanently to Nicaragua in 2018. We have been visiting detention sites since 2019, and in November 2019 renewed our host country agreement. We can develop our humanitarian action with openness, in dialogue with the authorities and civil society, according to our humanitarian principles and working methods.”

Last Thursday 15 October Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the law for the regulation of ‘foreign agents “. The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register. Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/09/02/Nicaragua-conflict-political-unrest-poverty-coronavirus

Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

Russia before the European Court for limiting NGOs communication with international bodies

August 8, 2017

In an intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in a case against Russia, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has called on the Court to explicitly rule that that the rights to freedom of expression and association include the right to unhindered access and communication with international human rights bodies.

A law in Russia requires that an NGO receiving foreign funding and engaging in ‘political activity’ register as a ‘foreign agent‘. ‘Foreign agents’ not only have to comply with cumbersome financial and reporting requirements, but the negative stigma associated with this label have been described as debilitating. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/16/russian-court-declares-adc-memorial-formally-as-foreign-agent-others-to-follow/]

After submitting a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) Memorial – an NGO at that time operating in Russia – was required to register as a foreign agent on the basis that submitting the report constituted ‘political activity’. Following this, ADC Memorial brought a case against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the administrative consequences associated with being labeled a foreign agent violate the rights to freedom of expression and association protected by the European Convention of Human Rights. ‘This case raises issues regarding meaningful protection the European Convention on Human Rights provides individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and association with international human rights bodies and mechanisms’, says ISHR’s Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy. ‘It also demonstrates a serious and systematic human rights problem of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN.’

ISHR submitted a third party intervention in the case of ADC Memorial. ‘The intervention is designed to assist the Court by providing an extended analysis of the scope of the rights to freedom of expression and association in international law to inform the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights’, McEvoy states. The analysis concluded that accessing and communicating with the UN is protected under the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and that reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN would violate those rights. ‘It is vital that human rights defenders have the ability to communicate, publish and disseminate information to international human rights institutions to effectively promote and protect human rights. We call on the European Court to ensure that right is protected’.

For more information contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch.

Source: Reprisals | ISHR calls on European Court to protect the right to communicate with international bodies | ISHR

Europe also sees shrinking space for human rights defenders

April 4, 2017

On 4 April 2017 Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, wrote about “The Shrinking Space for Human Rights Organisations“. The new EU ‘alert site I referred to yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/03/protectdefenders-eu-launches-new-alert-website-but-no-single-stop-yet/] showed in 2016 some 86 reported violations in the European (and Central Asian) region, mostly detention and judicial harassment. Also the recent CIVICUS findings of the narrowing space for civil society points in this direction. An example could be Hungary as illustrated by reports of Human Rights Watch (2016), Human Rights First (2017) and Amnesty International (2016/17); the issue of academic freedom is not directly related but part of the restrictive trend [see links below].

Read the rest of this entry »

UN rapporteurs urge India to repeal law restricting human rights defenders access to foreign funding

June 17, 2016

While most attention on the issue of foreign funding of NGOs has gone to Russia, which for this purpose invented the ‘foreign agent’ law, [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agent-law/], another big country – India – has been stepping up its own version through a law restricting civil society access to foreign funding:

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst. Photo: MINUSTAH

On 16 June 2016 three United Nations rapporteurs on human rights called on the Government of India to repeal a regulation that has been increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding. The experts’ call comes as the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs suspended for six months the registration of the non-governmental organization Lawyers Collective, under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. [see also my post form 2013: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/india-should-end-funding-restraints-on-human-rights-defenders-says-hrw/]

The suspension was imposed on the basis of allegations that its founders, human rights lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, violated the act provisions by using foreign funding for purposes other than intended.

We are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government,” said UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and on freedom of association, Maina Kiai.

Despite detailed evidence provided by the non-governmental organization (NGO) to rebut all allegations and prove that all foreign contributions were spent and accounted for in line with FCRA, the suspension was still applied. “We are alarmed by reports that the suspension was politically motivated and was aimed at intimidating, delegitimising and silencing Lawyers Collective for their litigation and criticism of the Government’s policies,” the experts said noting that the NGO is known for its public interest litigation and advocacy in defence of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of Indian society.

Many civil society organizations in India now depend on FCRA accreditation to receive foreign funding, which is critical to their operations assisting millions of Indians in pursuing their political, cultural, economic and social rights. The ability to access foreign funding is vital to human rights work and is an integral part of the right to freedom of association. However, FCRA’s broad and vague terms such as ‘political nature’, ‘economic interest of the State’ or ‘public interest’ are overly broad, do not conform to a prescribed aim, and are not a proportionate responses to the purported goal of the restriction.

Human rights defenders and civil society must have the ability to do their important job without being subjected to increased limitations on their access to foreign funding and the undue suspension of their registration on the basis of burdensome administrative requirements imposed to those organizations in receipt of foreign funds,” the UN human rights experts concluded.

Source: United Nations News Centre – UN rights experts urge India to repeal law restricting civil society access to foreign funding

Kyrgyzstan today: Parliament rejects foreign agents bill!

May 12, 2016

Kyrgyz parliament

Bishkek (AKIpress)

In 2013 it was feared that Kyrgyzstan would follow the bad example of Russia with regard to introducing a foreign agent law even if the President had his doubts. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/kyrgyz-president-says-no-need-for-foreign-agent-law/]. On 13 April 2016 the Observatory published an urgent appeal to the lawmakers to reject the bill.[Kyrgyzstan: Parliament must reject discriminatory bill targeting NGOs / April 13, 2016 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT]. Today AKI press agency reports the good news that the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan rejected the bill.  Only 46 MPs voted for the bill and 65 MPs voted against it

Source: http://www.akipress.com/news:576990/

 

 

Russia: closing offices and attacking human rights defenders

March 17, 2016

An update on the situation human rights defenders in Russia is unfortunately needed too frequently. Recently the Martin Ennals Foundation condemned the attacks on its 2013 Laureate, the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) which is known for its courageous work in opening legal cases on behalf of victims of torture in Chechnya. On March 9th, they were travelling together with journalists and the group was physically attacked, their confidential notes stolen, and the vehicles they were in burned. Their offices in Ingushetia were also attacked. The international and local media have reported (see list at bottom of the post). This is part of an ongoing pattern of threats and intimidation directed against JMG.

Now, Human Rights Watch and others report that yesterday (16 March) Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, one of the founders and participants of the Joint Mobile Group, was attacked as he was leaving his hotel in Grozny. They also pelted him with eggs, and threw flour and bright antiseptic liquid on him, which stained his face and clothes.  “The attack on Igor Kalyapin shows again that it’s open season on human rights defenders in Chechnya,” said Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities’ utter failure to hold anyone to account for a series of vicious attacks in recent years is like a bright green light for further attacks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Foreign agent law in Russia keeps widening its net

February 9, 2016

Only a few days ago I referred to the widening impact of the ‘foreign agent’ law in Russia [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/russian-foreign-agents-law-starts-to-affect-monitoring-in-detention-centers/]. Now it seems that even organizations that do NOT accept foreign funding, may actually fall under it.

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

reports that on 28 January 2016, the Orenburg regional department of the Ministry of Justice accused the Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT) and its chairman Mr Igor Kalyapin of violating the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. Read the rest of this entry »

Russian Foreign Agents Law starts to affect monitoring in detention centers

February 4, 2016

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

reports that on 26 January 2016, the Russian Duma (lower chamber of Parliament) adopted at first reading amendments to the law regulating the work of Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs). There is serious concern that if passed, the draft  amendments will put an end to the independent and effective monitoring of places of detention by excluding the many human rights defenders labeled as foreign agents.  Read the rest of this entry »

Profile of Stephania Koulaeva, human rights defender in Russia

January 8, 2016

In December 2015 the ISHR published this profile of Russian human rights defender Stephania Koulaeva 

Stephania Koulaeva, a historian by education, explains the ever-expanding scope of her human rights work. Her interest was drawn to the memorial movement in Russia: ‘at first from a historical perspective, then from a human rights perspective.’ As a student, Stephania was involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, primarily focused on the rights of the Roma minority, the most visible minority in Russia at the time. After new waves of migration began from Central Asia in the late nineties, Stephania expanded her work to issues surrounding migration. This then broadened further to include women’s rights, LGBTI rights, and she eventually became involved in the protection of human rights defenders. Her organisation, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC Memorial) is the only organisation in Russia that combats discrimination on such a wide range of issues.

Unfortunately, shrinking space for civil society has consistently been a serious threat within Russia. ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, neo-nazis attacked and occasionally murdered human rights defenders working on discrimination issues. At that time that was the primary danger; the main danger we face now is political oppression by the Government.’

Over the past few years – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s 2012 return to presidency – the Russian Government has cracked down on NGOs, often by accusing them of being ‘foreign agents’ due to their ‘political activity’. ADC Memorial was forced to choose between officially registering as a ‘foreign agent’ or closing down for submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture in the lead up to Russia’s 2012 review by that body. As the label of ‘foreign agent’ would greatly restrict the work ADC Memorial was able to carry out, it made the difficult decision of closing the organisation down in 2014. Since then, ADC Memorial has been operating without official Russian registration.

The continued operation of ADC Memorial does not indicate an alleviation in the Government’s harsh approach to civil society, and in November of this year, prominent NGO Memorial Human Rights Centre was targeted in the same manner: ‘They received a letter from the prosecutor stating that they had violated the Constitution of the Russian Federation for fulfilling their work.’ Memorial Human Rights Centre had previously ‘criticised Russian aggression in the Ukraine’ and ‘disagreed with the arrest of certain civil activists’. It is most likely being threatened due to this ‘political action’. ‘This is a very dangerous step for the Government to take. They are now criminalising human rights activity; the situation is rapidly getting worse.’

Stephania has a positive outlook on her previous interactions with the UN, acknowledging that the UN has done their utmost to stop the criminalisation of human rights defenders. ‘We’re very grateful for all the support that we’ve received from various treaty body committees that we’ve worked with; they’ve all recognised the work of civil society and given meaningful recommendations in the framework of their mandate.’ However, the political reality of the UN’s influence is not always as effective. ‘It’s very difficult to oppose Russian politics, even at the level of the United Nations.’ Stephania is now looking outward to bring domestic change to Russia, as anti-discrimination laws now seem ‘unlikely – although pressure on the Government will continue.’ She hopes to find some success in international courts, citing potentially useful precedents at the European Court of Human Rights in cases regarding migrants and stateless people.

‘We can’t simply stay within our borders – it’s impossible to tackle issues solely within Russia without also looking at related issues in neighbouring countries.’

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/12-human-rights-defenders-who-are-not-on-the-slopes-of-sochi/

Source: Defender profile: Stephania Koulaeva working in Russia | ISHRISHR-logo-colour-high