Posts Tagged ‘foreign funding’

Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack

Breaking: EU Court rules against Hungary’s foreign funding law

June 19, 2020

The EU Reporterof 19 June 2020 comes with the good news that on 18 June, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recognized that Hungary’s 2017 law “on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad” (i.e. receiving foreign funds) unduly restricts the freedom of movement of capitals within the European Union (EU) and amounts to unjustified interference with fundamental rights, including respect for private and family life, protection of personal data and freedom of association, as well citizens’ right to participate in public life. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) welcomes this decision and hopes it will put an end to the Hungarian government’s constant attempts to delegitimise civil society organisations and impede their work.

It concerns decision (Case C-78/18, European Commission v. Hungary, Transparency of Associations).

This decision is more than welcome! It strongly asserts that stigmatizing and intimidating NGOs receiving funding from abroad and obstructing their work is not accepted in the European Union,” said Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), member organisation of FIDH and of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network. “Today’s ruling is a victory not only for Hungarian civil society organisations, who have campaigned fiercely against this law since its adoption, but for European civil society as a whole. It is a clear reaffirmation of the fundamental role played by civil society in a democratic State founded on the rule of law.”

Hungary should now withdraw this anti-NGO law and conform with the CJEU’s decision,” added OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

https://www.eureporter.co/eu-2/2020/06/19/eus-top-court-rules-that-hungarys-anti-ngo-law-unduly-restricts-fundamental-rights

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

New Zealand funds much-needed human rights monitoring in the Pacific

August 22, 2019

Susan Randolph – Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mackenzie Smith

New Zealand is supporting a new rollout of human rights monitoring in the Pacific. Funding of $US400,000 will allow the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) to expand its programmes in the region. The non-profit organisation which is holding workshops in Auckland this week said it would use the money to build data sets on economic and social rights in the Pacific. Its development lead Anne-Marie Brook said it was the first time they had accepted money from a government and a clause had to be inserted into its contract with New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry to safeguard HRMI’s independence.

[see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/07/pacific-human-rights-defenders-can-do-more-to-deal-with-extractive-industries/]

Because human rights are so politically sensitive, it’s really clear that human rights needs to be measured independently of government because governments often face conflicts of interest,” she said. HRMI’s data on the Pacific is porous and often anecdotal, according to its economic and social rights lead Susan Randolph. The funding would allow more comprehensive data to be collected to help Pacific governments and civil society groups tackle human rights abuses, she said.

In Tuvalu, where the country’s first human rights institution was set up only late last year, the Chief Ombudsman Sa’aga Talu Teafa said they were still figuring out the best approach. “It’s very young, we call it very young. That’s why we are here to learn and to know what other institutions or what other human rights defenders are doing regarding human rights implementation,” he said.

It’s the same in Samoa, where recently the Ombudsman’s office, finding no data on violence, had to come up with its own to produce a report.

Tuvalu Chief Ombudsman, Sa'aga Talu Teafahome.

Tuvalu Chief Ombudsman, Sa’aga Talu Teafahome. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mackenzie Smith

New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s Pasifika advisor Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Vaine Samu said the Pacific had a history of resistance to human rights monitoring because of faith-based systems. “Our religions, our faiths, our churches, are very, very important to us. But so are our traditional, cultural, ancestral beliefs as well,” she said. “At hui like this we are able to come together, fono, and talk about these issues, these mindsets, so that we can advance human rights forward.”

https://www.newsie.co.nz/news/160079-nz-funds-human-rights-monitoring-pacific.html

Egypt: crackdown and new NGO law dont augur well

July 25, 2019

On 23 July 2019 FIDH, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) denounce the new crackdown and call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately end any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all peaceful activists, in particular political opponents and human rights defenders in Egypt, such as former member of Parliament and human rights lawyer Zyad al-Elaimy. At least 83 persons, including political opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders, have been arrested in Egypt over terrorist charges since June 25 for their alleged implication in a plot against the State.Human Rights Watch published the next day an elaborate report on Egypt’s New NGO Law which renews draconian restrictions and imposes disproportionate fines and bans links with foreign groups. Here some key elements but the ful lreport should be read:

NGOs come out in support of India’s Lawyers Collective

June 27, 2019

UPDATE 11 July: https://www.news18.com/news/india/cbi-raids-senior-lawyers-indira-jaising-anand-grovers-home-offices-for-violating-foreign-funding-norms-2225819.html
On 26 June 2019, a group of 10 major NGOs issued a joint statement to the Indian Government that it should withdraw criminal charges against the NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’ and its representatives.They strongly condemn the filing of criminal charges against Indian NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’, its President, Senior Advocate Anand Grover, and other representatives. Criminal charges were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 13, 2019, relying on an investigation report of January 2016 of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA report has been challenged by Lawyers Collective in January 2017 and the case is under consideration by the High Court of Bombay.Lawyers Collective is a human rights organisation based in New Delhi with its registered office in Mumbai and was founded by noted Indian human rights defenders and lawyers Ms Indira Jaising and Mr Anand Grover. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are senior advocates with an exceptional profile of public service, probity and personal and professional integrity as lawyers and as human rights defenders. Ms Jaising was an Additional Solicitor General of India between 2009 and 2014, and was also a member of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) between 2009 and 2012. Mr Grover held the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health between 2008 and 2014. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover, through Lawyers Collective, have advocated for advancing the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of Indian society, thereby upholding constitutional values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Lawyers Collective’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) was first suspended on May 31, 2016, and its bank accounts frozen. The FCRA license was not renewed on October 28, 2016, and was cancelled on November 27, 2016. Lawyers Collective petitioned the High Court of Bombay to challenge the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal in January 2017 and March 2017, respectively. In January 2017, its domestic accounts were unfrozen. Lawyers Collective’s challenge to the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal are currently pending before the High Court.

Filing of criminal charges while the matter is under consideration by the High Court is a blatant misuse of its agencies by the Indian Government to target critical human rights work undertaken by Lawyers Collective and its representatives, often involving sensitive cases against Indian ministers and senior officials of the ruling political party.

On May 15, 2019, the MHA wrote to CBI for ‘further investigation as per law’ into the matter relating to Lawyers Collective. On June 13, 2019, the CBI solely relying on the impugned MHA report registered a First Information Report under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, false statement made in declaration and various sections under the FCRA and Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act 1988. Given that there has been no change in circumstances since 2016 and also no material or evidential basis to support the provisions invoked under the IPC and PC Act, the filing of criminal charges is a blatant act of reprisal against Lawyers Collective and its representatives.

Such actions by the Indian Government are contrary to its pledge at the UN Human Rights Council and its obligations and commitments under several international human rights treaties and declarations. The FCRA has been time and again criticised by human rights defenders and NGOs within and outside India for its regressive and unfair interference in the functioning of organisations. Indian human rights defenders have condemned the use of FCRA and the accusations of “foreign funding” to quash dissent and smear individuals and groups.

In his analysis of the FCRA in 2016, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai concluded that certain provisions of FCRA were not in conformity with international human rights law and noted that “access to resources, including foreign funding, is a fundamental part of the right to freedom of association under international law, standards, and principles, and more particularly part of forming an association”. In June 2016 Kiai joined the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling on the Government of India to repeal the regressive FCRA, which was being used to “silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

We strongly call upon the Indian Government to cease misusing the country’s laws, including the FCRA, against human rights defenders. In the specific case of Lawyers Collective, we urge the criminal charges be immediately withdrawn pending the decision of the High Court of Bombay. We appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India to take cognizance of this matter and take immediate actions under the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (PHRA) and to undertake a legal review of the FCRA under Section 12 (d) of the PHRA.

We further call upon the Indian Government to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Lawyers Collective and Mr Anand Grover, as well as against all human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance.

Signatory organizations:

Amnesty International
CIVICUS
Forum Asia
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights Defenders Alert
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

——————————————————-

Pamela Philipose in The Wire gives a more detailed report: Backstory: Shrinking Spaces Need Expanding of Awareness; First they come for the human rights activists, and then they come for the defenders of human rights activists…

The filing by the CBI of a criminal case against the Lawyers Collective, a prominent legal resource organisation with a national and international reputation, has a significance that goes beyond the hounding of two prominent legal personalities, Indira Jaising and Anand Grover (‘After CBI Files FIR, Lawyers Collective Calls It an Attack on Free Speech’, June 18). It may well be a foretaste of what the new government has in store for those who stand up against state repression, or seek to expose malfeasance within the political, corporate and personal spaces.

The message could not have been clearer: the crackdowns that we witnessed in the first tenure of the Modi government – from the cancellation of registrations of hundreds of thousands of civil rights organisations to the incarceration under a draconian law of those supposedly linked to the Bhima Koregaon violence through elaborate police chargesheets – could manifest themselves with redoubled force during the second.

Also Read: After CBI Files FIR, Lawyers Collective Calls It an Attack on Free Speech

Significantly, this attempt to silence Jaising and Grover comes at a time when the independence of the judiciary is under tremendous strain from an executive seeking to bend the bench to its will (‘Centre’s Refusal to Elevate Justice Kureshi Raises Troubling Questions’, June 21). We have already seen a whistle blower police officer, critical of Narendra Modi, getting life imprisonment in Gujarat (‘Sanjiv Bhatt Case: In 16 Years, Gujarat Saw 180 Custodial Deaths – and Zero Convictions‘, June 21). The Gujarat dimension is conspicuous in all these instances, but there have been others like a rapper being hauled up for ‘sedition’ for her social media posts (‘Rapper Hard Kaur Charged With Sedition for Posts Against Adityanath, Bhagwat’, June 20) and journalists being thrown into Adityanath’s jails like hardened criminals (‘Editorial: The Yogi as Commissar‘, June 11).

Taken together, these recent occurrences may seem disparate in nature but point in the direction of an increasingly repressive state. This move to crush Lawyers Collective, when taken together with the arrest of the human rights defenders implicated in the Bhima Koregoan case, seems powered by a drive to wipe out human rights activism in the country.

Just a cursory look at the numerous petitions expressing outrage over the CBI move indicates the broad swathe of human rights Lawyers Collective has been involved in. Jaising and Grover have contributed significantly to changing the architecture of law and justice delivery in this country.

A petition from People’s Union of Civil Liberties, unequivocally condemned the move as a “brazen abuse of the process of law”, and noted that the organisation had “taken up important cases throughout the 38 years of their existence. In a separate statement, women activists recalled how “Indira Jaising, since the 1980s, has unwaveringly stood by the Constitution’s Fundamental Rights”, whether involving herself in the changes made to rape laws in 1983, securing inheritance rights for women as in the Mary Roy case, securing guardianship for single women in the Githa Hariharan case, battling sexual harassment in the Rupan Deol Bajaj case and campaigning for the formulation and enactment of the Domestic Violence Act.

Anand Grover and Indira Jaising.

It also applauded the battle Anand Grover has waged for over for two decades on behalf of the LGBTQI+ community in 2001 when a Public Interest Litigation was filed against Section 377 (IPC) and the way he “represented the Cancer Patients Aid Association and individuals against the patenting and pricing of drugs”, playing a key role in the formulation of The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017.

LGBTQI+ citizens, groups, collectives, and organisations iterated that the Lawyers Collective has been central to “the very story of the movement against Section 377 of the IPC”; while the Bebaak Collective, representing a large section of Muslim women, underlined the fact that the “two most significant legal cases in recent times” involved the Lawyers Collective articulating the intrinsic rights of Muslim women in the triple talaq and female genital mutilation cases.

These petitions – and there were many others emerging from bodies of international human rights activists to national and international intellectuals – indicate that there is rising alarm over the way political elites in India are seeking to consolidate themselves through the capture and control of the institutions of power. But these petitions also indicate that information, such as the life’s work of Jaising and Grover, is not known beyond small professional and activist groups. Consequently, the dynamic to defend such work also remains confined to these circles.

This must change. The Jaising-Grover legacy needs to be taken to a new generation of Indians who may be unfamiliar with cases fought aeons ago, but needs to realise that their everyday rights have got strengthened because of stalwarts such as them. It is precisely in times of shrinking spaces that the attempt to build popular awareness on human rights and their defenders should take place.

The media has a major role in achieving this and that is why pieces such as ‘Documenting Anand Grover, Indira Jaising’s Fight for Human Rights Over the Years’ (June 20), are valuable. The point to remind ourselves as journalists is this: in many profound ways, the work of both journalists and lawyers, while having separate pathways, are both concerned with the investigation; argumentation on, and exposure of, wrong doing; and the delivery of justice. This makes it incumbent upon the media to closely follow the Lawyers Collective issue in the days and months ahead, because of the tremendous consequence it holds for justice delivery and human rights in India.

national human rights commission, nhrc, cbi, fcra, Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, fcra violations, india news, Indian ExpressNHRC said it had made it clear in the past that matters relating to FCRA violations are outside its purview.

The direction came on complaints filed by Henri Tiphagne, a human rights activist associated with Human Rights Defenders’ Alert and Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

https://thewire.in/media/backstory-shrinking-spaces-need-expanding-of-awareness

Express News Service

Indian Government accused of harassment of Amnesty and Greenpeace India

February 22, 2019

Shemin Joy, for DH News Service, New Delhi, reported on 21 February 2019 that a letter addressed by 3 UN Rapporteurs to the Indian government has now been made public as no reply was received. The letter will now be part of the report to be discussed in UN Human Rights Council as India has not responded to the charges. In the letter, the Special Rapporteurs referred to the raids and searches conducted at the offices of Amnesty International India and Greenpeace India as well as the blocking of foreign funding to these NGOs. ….concern is expressed at the alleged smear campaign against Amnesty International India, in what seems to be an attempt to tarnish the organization’s reputation in the absence of formal charges

We reaffirm our position that the ability to access foreign funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association, and reiterate our concerns at the highly detrimental impact of the FCRA, which has been increasingly used to obstruct Indi.reiterate our concerns at the highly detrimental impact of the FCRA, which has been increasingly used to obstruct Indian civil society’s access to international funding,” they said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/05/india-should-end-funding-restraints-on-human-rights-defenders-says-hrw/]

The seven-page letter was written by Special Rapporteurs David Kaye (promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression), Clement Nyaletsossi Voule (rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association) and Michel Forst (situation of human rights defenders) on December 20 last year and had said that they would make public the letter after two months with or without the government’s response.

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/national/smear-campaign-against-amnesty-719547.html

Acquittals in bogus foreign funding case in Egypt welcome but long overdue

December 20, 2018

Responding to the news that the South Cairo Criminal Court on 20 December 2018 acquitted all 43 defendants in the retrial of Egypt’s notorious “foreign funding” case – also known as Case 173Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director said: “Today’s acquittal of all 43 NGO workers in the first ‘foreign funding’ case is a step in the right direction for Egyptian justice. This was a bogus case that targeted human rights defenders simply for doing their legitimate work and should never have happened in the first place…However, today’s ruling only relates to the first phase of the case which investigated the funding of international organizations; the investigation into local Egyptian NGOs is ongoing and dozens of staff are still at risk.”

Since the ‘foreign funding’ case was opened Egyptian human rights defenders have been treated as enemies of the state, subjected to an unprecedented crackdown, including asset freezes, travel bans and prosecutions. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/03/egypt-the-foreign-funding-accusation-against-human-rights-defenders-goes-in-overdrive/]

The key test now will be whether today’s court decision paves the way for an end to the persecution of all human rights defenders in the country. The Egyptian authorities must lift all travel bans and asset freezes against NGO staff and drop their investigations into Egyptian NGOs and human rights defenders for their legitimate human rights work.”

[In June 2013,the first phase of the investigation into NGO funding (Case 173 of 2011) concluded when 42 foreign and Egyptian NGO workers were sentenced to prison terms of between one and five years and a series of international NGOs were closed. Since 2014, investigative judges have been conducting a criminal investigation into the work and funding of local NGOs and have issued asset freezes against six organizations and 10 human rights defenders. They have banned at least 30 human rights defenders and NGO staff from travel abroad. The judges also summoned at least six directors and 61 civil society organization staff for interrogation and later ordered their release on bail.]

Excellent background piece to Hungary’s Stop-Soros mania

May 18, 2018

published a long, interesting article entitled “The Open Society Foundations — and their enemies“. It is very much linked to the anti-Soros drive earlier reported [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/09/urgently-seeking-professors-to-stop-the-anti-soros-bill-in-hungary/] but digs deeper and looks at the various dilemmas facing the Open Society Fund and similar donors in authoritarian/populist settings. The relocation of the Budapest office provides a timely backdrop.

George Soros founded the Open Society Foundations. Photo by: Mirko Ries / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Here some interesting quotes but the whole article is worth reading:

The risk that Open Society weighs is not the potential for its activities to create controversy, but for that controversy to prevent the foundation from being able to carry out its activities. “We don’t exist to defend ourselves. We exist to make change out there,” .. “If we only existed to protect ourselves, then that would be their victory….That is a classical philanthropic reaction — let’s not go anywhere near that, because that’s controversial. If you do that, if you allow controversy … to stop you from doing things, then an authoritarian government or a reactionary player in society … have a very easy task.” — Jordi Vaquer, Open Society Foundations’ regional director for Europe

..Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is not alone in flinging those accusations — Soros is a favorite boogeyman for pro-Brexit voters in the United Kingdom, populists across Eastern Europe, and even Republicans in the United States. But in Hungary, the anti-Soros campaign has moved to the very center of political life. Orban’s party and supporters invoke Soros’ name and image to paint an apocalyptic vision of what might happen if the Hungarian-American financier, his foundation, and the NGOs they support are allowed to carry out their alleged “globalist” agenda.

Devex spoke to Gabor Gyulai, director of the Refugee Programme at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and another NGO Power of Humanity.

“In countries where millions of people are actively working in solidarity with refugees, or with LGBTI people, or with victims of domestic violence, civil society organizations have something they can build on to shape a message that will attract broader support. In a society where the vast majority believes that what you are standing up for is not a valid cause, there is much less to build on, said Gyulai, an expert on refugee issues who is also working with the United Nations to build a global network of open access courses on asylum law. The problem gets even more difficult when the state is actively working to prevent that kind of coalition from forming.”  Less than a week after Devex met with him, Gyulai’s name appeared on the list of “Soros mercenaries.”

…..

The risk that Open Society weighs is not the potential for its activities to create controversy, but for that controversy to prevent the foundation from being able to carry out its activities. “We don’t exist to defend ourselves. We exist to make change out there,” Vaquer said. “If we only existed to protect ourselves, then that would be their victory….That is a classical philanthropic reaction — let’s not go anywhere near that, because that’s controversial. If you do that, if you allow controversy … to stop you from doing things, then an authoritarian government or a reactionary player in society … have a very easy task.” — Jordi Vaquer, Open Society Foundations’ regional director for Europe

….

Zoltan Mester (left) and Vilja Arato, employees of the With the Power of Humanity Foundation. Michael Igoe/Devex

Among With the Power of Humanity’s staff, the debate over what is and is not an encroachment into party politics plays out constantly, Mester said. “Every day it’s a big fight … because especially in this time and especially in Hungary, everybody thinks that political is something bad … In Hungary if you say ‘political,’ you think about … party politicians.”…

“George Soros could have done many other things with his fortune, but that was the vision from the start — that those two were going to be the pillars of the ways in which he would then seek to define open society,” Vaquer said. “If you look at our budget 30 years later, that’s still what we are doing overwhelmingly. We’re still supporting civil society organizations and individuals. We haven’t changed that.”

The Open Society Foundations office in Budapest, Hungary. Devex/Michael Igoe

Faced with a constant barrage of accusations that they are part of George Soros’ secret plan to meddle in national politics, some of Open Society’s grantees find themselves responding to the obligatory questions that follow…..In accusing the foundation of orchestrating a global campaign to transform Europe and erode countries’ national sovereignty, OSF’s enemies ascribe much more power and reach to the organization than its employees and grantees would ever claim to have. It is tempting to do the same thing when asking if Open Society has been successful in achieving its goals. The declines in democratic freedom currently underway in many countries where Open Society operates might raise questions about whether the foundation and its benefactor have been operating with the right theory of change.

….

With the erosion of the values and norms it promotes, Open Society is not necessarily thinking differently about how the foundation measures its impact, but its leaders are coming to terms with a more realistic view of what is possible. “I think it has made us extremely aware of the limitations of what can be achieved with cross-border philanthropic activity,” Vaquer said. “It was perhaps a product of the exceptional time that was the 1990s that OSF had such a disproportionate impact on some places, in terms of being part of their political transformation, but that was probably exceptional.”

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[Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.]
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Egypt: the ‘foreign-funding’ accusation against human rights defenders goes in overdrive

April 3, 2018

An Egyptian lawyer, Samir Sabry, has requested the Attorney General to bring human right defender Asmaa Mahfouz to court. The reason? Winning the Sakharov Prize in 2011! If Egypt Today had reported it a day earlier (on 1 April), I would have credited it as a good April 1st spoof, but unfortunately it is not. In his complaint, Sabry called for the Attorney General to transfer Mahfouz to a Criminal Court trial and ban her from travelling outside the country. He stated that the prize, worth €50,000  was given to her suddenly, and he did not know why. He asked whether it is funding, a reward, or for certain service, and what the reason is for this award. The complaint from Sabry also claimed that this is a Jewish award [SIC} and questions the award’s links to Zionism. According to Sabry, the answer is that Mahfouz received the prize money, and accepted the award, in return for betraying Egypt.

Asmaa Mahfouz was one of the founding members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which sparked nation-wide demonstrations in April 2008 and was indeed awarded the Sakharov prize in 2011 (sharing it with four other Arab figures).

The prize in question is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought [http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought], which is of course is not granted by Israeli but by the European Parliament!

However, the issue of foreign funding is a major one in the Egyptian context as demonstrated by the case of two Egyptian woman human rights defenders in the ‘NGO foreign-funding case” (as ISHR reminds us on 29 March 2018):  harassed and targeted Egyptian woman defenders Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/right-livelihood-has-to-go-to-egypt-to-hand-mozn-hassan-her-2016-award/] face life imprisonment if their cases are brought to trial simply for conducting legitimate human rights work.

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