Posts Tagged ‘Freedom House’

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

Joint Statement by NGOs: Ukraine should address attacks against Human Rights Defenders

October 8, 2018

On 3 October 2018 a number of NGOs published a Joint Statement on Ukraine deploying the many attacks against Human Rights Defenders:

More than 50 attacks on activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine have been recorded by local human rights organisations in just the last nine months, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders said today. Those under attack include people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, protect the environment, and campaign against corruption. 

The organisations criticised the lack of effective investigations into these incidents and of prosecutions of those responsible, which heightens the risk to human rights defenders and sends a message that the authorities tolerate such attacks and assaults. Recently, the prosecutor general suggested that civil society activists brought the attacks on themselves <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/09/27/7193378/&gt;  for criticising the authorities, giving an impression that human rights defenders can be openly targeted.

In most cases, the attacks have targeted individuals or groups that campaign against corruption in the local community, shine a light on the operation of local government and businesses, or defend people’s rights. The purpose of such attacks is clear: to silence activists and human rights defenders and to discourage others from speaking out against injustice and standing up for human rights. 

Two recent examples of the kind of vicious attacks that have yet to be effectively investigated took place on 22 September, in Odessa and Kryvyi Rih. Oleh Mikhaylyk, an anti-corruption activist, was shot in Odessa, in southern Ukraine, and remains in the hospital. Mikhaylyk had campaigned with the Syla Lyudei (People’s Power) movement against illegal construction in Odessa. Three hundred kilometers away, in Kryvyi Rih, unidentified assailants broke into the home of Artem Moroka after he criticised the local police on Facebook. The assailants severely beat him, breaking his nose, Moroka told Ukrainian human rights monitors.

In June, an environmental activist, Mykola Bychko, was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a village in Kharkiv region. Villagers found Bychko hanged in the woods near the village of Eskhar on June 5. The local police initially started a suicide investigation, but have yet to investigate the possibility that he was killed in connection with his activism. At the time, Bychko was documenting the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby waste treatment plant.  A lawyer representing Bychko’s family questioned the conduct of the local police for ignoring the possibility that this was an intentional killing, and for allegedly intentionally delaying the investigation. The lawyer told Freedom House that police lost relevant evidence from the site where Bychko’s body was found, such as the rope from the improvised gallows. The authorities have also not pursued allegations that Bychko had received threats related to his documentation work, such as questioning people from the waste treatment plant. 

On July 31, an unidentified assailant threw acid on Kateryna Handzyuk, a local council member who monitored police activities, in Kherson. ……….

The Ukrainian authorities should take effective steps to prevent further threats and attacks against activists and human rights defenders, and ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into such threats and attacks and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials. 

The Interior Ministry, the National Police, the prosecutor general’s office, and other relevant institutions should explicitly recognise the important work of human rights defenders in protecting human rights and uncovering corruption. The authorities should publicly denounce any threats and attacks against human rights defenders. They should take decisive measures to ensure that government critics can work in a safe and enabling environment in which they can exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and conduct their activities without fear of reprisals. 

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://freedomhouse.org/article/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5092012018ENGLISH.pdf

More annual reports 2017: Freedom House

January 19, 2018

Having just blogged about the annual report of HRW and AI USA (see links below), I hasten to say that there are several other annual reports referring to President Trump’s damaging effect on human rights and democracy. Freedom House, for instance, issued its annual report 2017 which pointed out that Trump’s penchant for attacking civil society groups, the media, and even the courts have a tangible, negative impact, stating that, “the administration’s statements and actions could ultimately leave them weakened, with serious consequences for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s role in the world.” The report noted that under Trump, the United States has seen the sharpest drop in political rights and civil liberties in over 40 years.

Key Findings:

  • With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
  • There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated “Free” by the report, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States.
  • Of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) Not Free.
  • The Middle East and North Africa region had the worst ratings in the world in 2016, followed closely by Eurasia.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/ai-welcomes-resistance-to-trumps-human-rights-policies/

——

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017

Today CIVICUS launches its worldwide Monitor to track civil space

October 24, 2016

Today, 24 October 2016, the NGO CIVICS has launched its Monitor. The CIVICS Monitor, in cooperation with 20 global research partners, rates countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression. The CIVICUS Monitor is not the first to try and provide an overview of the human rights situation the world (see links below) but to my knowledge the first to do so online, in real-time on a global scale, making use of new digital possibilities. Read the rest of this entry »

Turkey: outcry over detention of human rights Defenders – even Russia joins in

June 23, 2016

An academic and two journalists who play a key role in Turkey’s human rights movement have been jailed pending investigation into spurious allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda. Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Boarder, Front Line, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program of FIDH and OMCT), among others, have raised serious concern and demanded their immediate release.

Ahmet Nesin, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Erol Önderoğlu at the court house in Istanbul hours before being jailed pending investigation into spurious allegations of “making terrorist propaganda.” 
Ahmet Nesin, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Erol Önderoğlu at the court house in Istanbul hours before being jailed pending investigation into spurious allegations of “making terrorist propaganda.” © 2016 private

An Istanbul court on 20 June, 2016, accepted a prosecutor’s request for them to be placed in pretrial detention on suspicion of having committed terrorist offenses. They are Erol Önderoglu, who is the Turkey representative of Reporters Without Borders and a journalist with the independent news website Bianet; Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, an academic at Istanbul University’s forensic medicine department and head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey; and Ahmet Nesin, a writer and journalist.

The decision to demand the detention of Önderoğlu, Fincancı, and Nesin is a shocking new indication that the Turkish authorities have no hesitation about targeting well-known rights defenders and journalists who have played a key role in documenting the sharp deterioration in human rights in the country,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Director. “

The three were among 44 journalists, writers, and activists who participated in a solidarity campaign for media freedom in which each of them acted as a symbolic co-editor-for-a-day at the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem in Istanbul. The government sees the newspaper as hostile to it and as a result has placed it under immense pressure.

Jailing a world-renowned journalist and human rights defender such as Erol sends a very powerful signal of intimidation to the entire profession in Turkey. It’s a new, unbelievable low for press freedom in Turkey,” Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at RSF, told CPJ. At least 14 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey on December 1, 2015, when CPJ last conducted its annual census of journalists jailed around the world. [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/turkey-fair-trial-human-rights-lawyers-expression-l4l/]

Front Line Defenders has more information on these individuals: Sebnem Korur Fincanci (https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/sebnem-korur-fincanci)  who also received the International Hrant Dink Award for her human rights work. Erol Önderoğlu (https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/erol-onderoglu)  and Ahmet Nesin (https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/ahmet-nesin).

While the NGO reactions are expected, more remarkable is the reaction from Russia which (in the good company of the USA, the UN and the EU) has condemned the crackdown on Turkey’s press freedom: Read the rest of this entry »

The case for ‘smart sanctions’ against individual perpetrators

May 8, 2015

On 5 May Daniel Calingaert, Executive vice president of Freedom House, contributed an interesting piece to The Hill, in which he argues in favor of ‘targeted sanctions’ against leading individuals who have committed serious human rights violations or engaged in corruption. “Holding torturers and kleptocrats to account” certainly makes some excellent points including the realistic one that countries should be “strong and confident enough both to cooperate with authoritarian governments where prudent and to still hold their human rights abusers and corrupt officials to account“.

 Here the piece in full:

“On May 5, the European Union’s Court of Justice will hear a complaint by the head of Iran’s state broadcaster, Mohammad Sarafraz, and the news director of its English-language channel, Hamid Reza Emadi. The EU imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on them because they broadcast forced confessions by tortured or mistreated political prisoners. Sarafraz and Emadi want the restrictions lifted. But even if they lose their case, they can park their money in the United States, because they aren’t on a U.S. sanctions list.

Their case shows that sanctions hurt human rights abusers and corrupt officials, as intended. And that’s a key selling point for the bipartisan Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S. 284/H.R. 624) being debated on Capitol Hill. The bill, based on Russia-specific sanctions legislation adopted in 2012, would begin to hold human rights abusers and corrupt officials to account around the world by denying them U.S. visas and access to our financial system.

Aside from the Russia-specific sanctions, executive orders have imposed sanctions on human rights abusers in Iran (though the U.S. sanctions list for Iran is significantly shorter than the EU’s) and on seven Venezuelan officials. Targeted sanctions on human rights abusers should be expanded worldwide, because authoritarian rulers and their lieutenants are driving a global decline in respect for human rights. According to Freedom House’s ratings, media freedom has fallen to its lowest point in 10 years, and political and civil rights overall have deteriorated for nine consecutive years.

Targeted sanctions as envisioned by the Global Magnitsky Act could start to turn this trend around. It would build on current policy of condemning human rights abuses and supporting human rights defenders by actually going after the perpetrators of abuses. Perpetrators are usually shielded by their government and expect to evade justice. If a penalty loomed over their head, they may think twice about committing their crimes.

By imposing consequences on individual abusers, the Global Magnitsky Act would force authoritarian rulers into a difficult choice: either to protect the most repugnant officials and thereby expose the cruelty of their regimes or to cut loose the officials who do their dirty work and keep them in power.

A Global Magnitsky Act also targets high-level corruption — the Achilles heel of authoritarian regimes. While human rights might seem a bit abstract to ordinary citizens, corruption is all too real. Citizens understand what’s wrong with corrupt officials getting rich at the public’s expense while everyone else struggles to make ends meet.

Corruption often fuels human rights abuses. Because corrupt officials stand to lose their ill-gotten gains if they leave office, they will go to ever-greater lengths to hold onto power. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was a prime example. As he and his family amassed enormous wealth, he tightened media restrictions, selectively prosecuted opposition figures and increasingly manipulated elections.

Under the Global Magnitsky Act’s targeted sanctions, no country would be singled out. And it would apply to countries like China and Saudi Arabia that tend to escape criticism for their human rights abuses because of U.S. economic or security interests.

The executive branch would decide whom to sanction. But it would have to listen to Congress’s input and explain its decisions. And chances are that governments with an extensive apparatus of repression would end up with more than seven officials on the sanctions list.

If passed, a Global Magnitsky Act probably will elicit some angry responses, like Venezuela’s cryabout “a new escalation of aggression” and “extraordinary threat” from the United States. But authoritarian governments can’t give an honest response, because they can’t admit that they harbor officials responsible for human rights abuses and large-scale corruption. If China’s leadership were sincere, it ought to welcome a Global Magnitsky Act for reinforcing President Xi Jinping’s policy of cracking down on corrupt officials and stemming their flow of assets abroad.

The prospect of angry reactions shouldn’t discourage the introduction of the Global Magnitsky Act. The United States always meets resistance when it champions human rights, because authoritarian governments prefer to avoid responsibility for their violations. We shouldn’t let their officials abuse their power and then benefit from our legal protections.

And we shouldn’t accept their insistence that we look away from human rights abuses as the price for economic or security cooperation. The Global Magnitsky Act would focus pressure on the perpetrators, not commercial relations. We should use our influence and engage authoritarian governments on our terms. We can be strong and confident enough both to cooperate with authoritarian governments where prudent and to still hold their human rights abusers and corrupt officials to account.”

Holding torturers and kleptocrats to account | TheHill.

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/human-rights-defenders-and-anti-corruption-campaigners-should-join-hands/

 

Human rights defenders participate in MP4Freedom campaign

April 2, 2014

US-based NGO Freedom House, in cooperation with the Lithuanian Parliament and Belarusian human rights defenders, launched on 26 March 2014 the MP4Freedom initiative inviting Lithuanian MPs to become “godparents” of political prisoners in Belarus.As neighbors, Lithuanians should care about the future of the Belarusian nation,” said Petras Austrevicius, deputy speaker of the Seimas, who championed the initiative on behalf of the Lithuanian Parliament.  “The idea behind this initiative is to encourage Lithuanian MPs to engage on the issue personally by becoming ‘godparents’ of political prisoners in Belarus.”

To make this initiative effective, Lithuanian MPs should address the Belarusian authorities and demand the release of political prisoners,” said Marina Lobava, the mother of a political prisoner Eduard Lobau. “MPs can write to the heads of detention facilities requesting information about the health of a particular political prisoner. They can also help by contacting the International Red Cross and facilitating its visits to prisons. International advocacy in the EU to keep the political prisoners issue on the foreign policy agenda towards Belarus is also necessary.”

Under this campaign, the participating Lithuanian parliamentarians, who represent the governing and opposition political parties alike, take the responsibility to follow the cases of particular political prisoners in Belarus, meet with their relatives, and speak publicly both at Lithuanian and international venues on human rights violations in Belarus. There are currently 10 political prisoners in Belarus, according to the Human Rights Center Viasna.

Freedom House, the Lithuanian Parliament and human rights defenders launch initiative to support Belarusian political prisoners | Belarus: civil society under attack | Freeales.fidh.net.

2014 heralds the age of images in human rights work

December 28, 2013

To illustrate the increased use of video and images in the human rights world, just scroll down and get a feel of the amount and variety through some examples, mostly from the end of this year:

Human Rights Watch produced an end-of-year 2013 overview.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is announces the latest issue of its weekly video news bulletin (episode number 10).

Amnesty International used a slick production to get attention for the fate of Syrian refugees in Europe (not explaining why other regions are not targeted by the way).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used this video to address the world on Human Rights Day 2013;

Inspirational resilience: Celebrating Human Rights Defenders in Eurasia | Freedom House.

On Human Rights Day, US-based Freedom House recognized the work of HRDs in the Eurasia region with a slide show on: Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan.

The International Service for Human Rights in Geneva presents its work with a video.

Human Rights First used YouTube to announce its fundraising live stream for the end of the year.

There are of course many more examples, quite a few referred to in this blog over the years, such as those of the MEA: http://www.martinennalsaward.org/ but  a special mention should be made of

the organisation Witness in the USA which has pioneered the use of video cameras in the hands of human rights defenders.

When the internet some 25 years ago made it possible to send and ‘publish’ almost unlimited amounts texts, the original euphoria in the human rights movement (whose main weapon is after all documentation) was quickly dampened somewhat when it also led to information overkill. Something similar is bound to happen with images which can now be ‘published’ and transmitted as easily as documents (but without the free-text search capacity). On the other hand there will be new possibilities and different ways of getting the human rights ‘stories’ across, especially on mobile devices used increasingly by younger generations.
The True Heroes Foundation – of which I am a founding Board member – wants to follow and use this development in a way that Human Rights Defenders derive maximum benefit from the new information and communication technology. It hopes to do so by making stories and images of HRDs the most eminent entry point for those seeking information on human rights in the near future. Keep following this blog and the website www.trueheroesfilms.org in the coming year for ….I am afraid …yet MORE information!!
With these thoughts, I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST FOR 2014.
Related articles

“Friend Of Journalists” Award goes to Azeri President !

November 27, 2013

The misuse of of human rights awards is also noteworthy as seen in the post by Miriam Berger of Buzzfeed who reports on 26 November that Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president has been awarded a “Friend of Journalists” prize by local media. President Ilham Aliyev received the award — his second — in an elaborate ceremony on November 24. The survey was conducted by the Azerbaijani [!] Committee for Protection of Journalists, as well as other media representatives. He won 89% of the votes. At the acceptance ceremony, Aliyev spoke of his democratic reforms in the country. “Azerbaijan has a free media,” he said. …That few inside Azerbaijan objected may be linked to the fact that many journalists and human rights defenders are in detention or harassed into silence. Read the rest of this entry »

Ranking of countries on Human Rights: Global Network For Right and Development has a go at it

October 19, 2013

PLEASE NOTE THAT  the website is now suspended!!

Rankings of countries are popular at least with the media and public. That is also true for human rights. There is already the annual Freedom House survey as well as the UNDP development-oriented one.  Now, on 17 October, the Global Network for Rights and Development [GNRD] – created in 2008 and based in Stavanger, Norway – has published a new one, that tries to combine all social and economic indicators. It calls itself without much modesty “the Most Trustful and Complete International Human Rights Rank Indicator“, reflecting Live Data on the respect for human rights in 216 countries. The website states that it acts “in cooperation with various international organizations, governments and other NGOs to make the outcomes full and veritable. More than two thousand individuals all over the world are collecting and entering information constantly. The countries’ human rights rank indicator depends on a complex calculation of the respect for 21 interconnected human rights, including the evaluation of respect for human rights abroad, and the rights’ values. The new Indicator’s website offers to any person from any corner of the world an advantage to influence on the countries’ rank and significantly contribute to the protection of the human rights by registering a violation case in the online system….. Thus, we introduced today a real, free of bias, unique in its implementation International Human Rights Rank Indicator ihrri.com.

The problem is that verification of these claims is not possible without knowing more of the methodology, the data used and especially the ‘authorised organisations’ that are NOT listed. Theoretically the listing is an interesting notion but there must be a reason that most serious human rights NGOs have not done.

In the meantime governmental Gulfnews has already picked up on it: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/society/uae-top-for-human-rights-in-arab-countries-1.1244390

via http://www.gnrd.net/vnews.php?id=297