Posts Tagged ‘Front Line Defenders’

Sex workers fighting for human rights among world’s most at risk activists

August 20, 2021

On 12 August 2021 Front Line Defenders came out with an unique report saying rights defenders working in sex industry face ‘targeted attacks’ around the world. The same day Sarah Johnson devoted a piece to it in the Guardian:

Sex worker rights defenders from Yosoa in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Yosoa conduct health outreach and provide support after police, client or family violence.

Sex worker rights defenders from Yosoa in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Yosoa do health outreach work and provide support after police, client or family violence. Photograph: Erin Kilbride/Front Line DefendersRights and freedom is supported by

Humanity United

Sex worker activists are among the most at risk defenders of human rights in the world, facing multiple threats and violent attacks, an extensive investigation has found.

The research, published today by human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, found that their visibility as sex workers who are advocates for their communities’ rights makes them more vulnerable to the violations routinely suffered by sex workers. In addition, they face unique, targeted abuse for their human rights work.

Drawing on the experience of 300 individuals in Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, El Salvador and Myanmar, the report focuses oncases of sexual assault, threats from managers and clients, raids on homes and offices, physical attacks and police surveillance endured by sex workers undertaking human rights work.

The services the activists provide to fellow sex workers include: negotiating access to brothels, conducting gender rights training, offering legal and health counselling, reporting experiences of violence, and campaigning for freedom of movement and free choice of employment for those seeking to leave sex work.

Erin Kilbride, research and visibility coordinator at Front Line Defenders and lead author of the report, said: “Sex worker rights defenders take extreme personal risks to protect their communities’ rights to access justice, healthcare, housing and food, while responding to the immediate threats of police and domestic violence, discrimination, criminalisation and structural poverty.”

Often these activists were the only people able and willing to provide health education in locations in which sex was sold, the report found. They ensured treatment for sex workers who would otherwise be left with crippling injuries and life-threatening illnesses.

Activists’ role in creating community networks and defending sex workers’ right to assemble were also highlighted in the repot. “Coming together, even in private, is a radical, resistant, and dangerous act for defenders whose very identities are criminalised,” it said.

Defenders interviewed said they had been subjected to violations above and beyond what are typical for sex workers in their area. These included torture in prison, threats by name on the street, targeted abuse on social media and demands for sex in exchange for an advocacy meeting with a police commissioner. They also faced attacks from clients….

In Tanzania, sexual assaults in detention by the police have become a common occurrence for sex workers. They are often forced to perform sex acts in exchange for release. But human rights defenders have also been forced to perform sexual acts in order to secure other sex workers’ release. If they refuse, they are often tortured. One woman was given electric shocks after she refused to perform sex acts during a one-week detention related to her human rights work.

In El Salvador and other countries, physical attacks by clients and managers began after they learned about a sex worker’s activism, said the report.

In Myanmar, police followed activists to brothels to conduct raids duringhuman rights trainings. Some activists had been forced to change where they sell sex because police surveillance increased after they became known for their human rights work.Advertisement

Activists were often belittled at police stations in front of the sex workers they had tried to help. Htut, an outreach worker for Aye Myanmar Association, a network of sex workers, said: “[The police] let us in to the stations but then use rude words, take money from us, insult us, embarrass us, and made me feel bad about myself. It feels like they want to prove to the other sex workers that being an advocate is a humiliating thing.”

In Kyrgyzstan, sex workers have been paid or threatened by the police to help entrap rights defenders when they go to an area to distribute health supplies.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that sex worker activists have been under threat for their human rights work, much of it is dismissed by people ranging from the police to their own families, who assume such attacks are a result of being a sex worker.

Kilbride said: “Human rights defenders who are sex workers themselves are the best, and sometimes the only, activists and communities workers qualified and capable of accessing the most dangerous locations in which people sell sex.

The targeted attacks they experience – ranging from sexual assault in detention to raids on their homes and offices – are indicators of how powerful their human rights work is.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/aug/12/sex-workers-fighting-for-human-rights-among-worlds-most-at-risk-activists

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/first-global-report-sex-worker-rights-defenders-risk

331 Human Rights defenders killed according to Front Line’s Global Analysis 2020

March 24, 2021

On 9 February 2021, Front Line Defenders published its Global Analysis 2020 which details the physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment, and gendered attacks faced by HRDs, especially women and gender non-conforming human rights defenders.

In 2020, human rights defenders responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by taking on additional, and often leading, roles around community health and support to fill gaps left by governments. HRDs proved invaluable to saving lives, delivering food parcels or PPE or medicines to the sick and elderly who were unable to move during lockdown periods. And yet, despite measures taken to respond to the pandemic, HRDs continued to face an onslaught of attacks, ranging from criminalisation and harassment to physical attack and killings, as political and economic elites lashed out against those working for social, economic, racial and gender justice. This is a deliberate and well-resourced attack on human rights and human rights defenders by corrupt and autocratic governments and political leaders who fear democracy and the realization of human rights will end their plunder and put them in jail.

The report gives a breakdown of the most common violations by region both by gender and in total as reported to Front Line Defenders in 2020. The gender breakdown percentages shown reflect the violations experienced as a proportion of the total number of violations to which each group was exposed. At least 331 environmental defenders were killed globally. The majority of those deaths were among people who worked in the defense of land and environment rights, and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Of the 331 murders registered last year, Colombia had the most murders at 177, by far the highest. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/15/hrw-blasts-colombia-over-human-rights-defenders-murders/]

This is the video of Front Line Defenders “Global Analysis 2020” Press Conference (11 Feb 2021)

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/14/front-line-defenders-global-analysis-2019-is-out-304-hrds-killed/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2020

Colombia accounts for half the number of all environmental defenders murdered in 2020

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021 Mongabay writes about the terrible situation that of the 331 murders of environmental defenders registered worldwide in 2020, Colombia had the most murders at 177.

Impunity still reigns when it comes to the murders of human rights defenders around the world, according to the Front Line Defenders organization, in its global analysis of 2020. The analysis examined 331 homicides of leaders who fight for the defense of the land, the environment, Indigenous peoples, women and the LGBTIQ community. Of these, 177 cases occurred in Colombia.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, defenders have been exposed not only to the day-to-day risks they face from their work and the virus, but also to pressure from governments to control information. Not all of these HRDs are recognized, but the Digest counts some 50 laureates from Colombia [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest]

Many of those killed, the report states, supported communities in their fight against COVID-19 , worked on food security issues, access to medical care and were critical of governments. For Front Line Defenders , the health crisis increased risks, especially for women defenders, leaders of the LGBTIQ community and vulnerable populations such as refugees, migrants and sex workers.

Fidel Heras Cruz traded the tranquility of a simple, quiet life for the front line of the fight against economic powers that threaten the environment. Photo: Courtesy COPUDEVER.

For Shirley Muñoz, who coordinates information systems for the Somos Defensores de Colombia, the pandemic made the state abandonment more evident. Colombia accounts for 53% of all rights defenders cases globally in 2020.

“In many territories, the control of the pandemic was exercised by illegal armed groups through fear and threats, and defenders had to be locked up in their homes, which made them more at risk,” Muñoz said in an interview with Mongabay Latam. A large number of the murders that we verified were committed in or near the defenders’ homes.”

Front Line Defenders believes that cases may continue to increase as verifications of allegations are made, and that upcoming figures from Somos Defensores de Colombia will bring the final number of deaths in 2020 higher.

According to Front Line Defenders, 69% of the murders that occurred last year occurred against leaders who worked in defense of the land, the environment and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Report authors point out that the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has emphasized that the loss of biodiversity could put world food security at risk and Indigenous communities play a fundamental role in the conservation of ecosystems. Since 2017, Front Line Defenders has registered 327 murders of defenders of the rights of Indigenous peoples in the world.

They tried to kidnap Irma Lemus (center) on her journey into exile. Photo: Radio Progreso.

In Colombia, violence has been particularly directed against those who participate in the implementation of the Peace Agreement with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), those who are part of the initiatives to replace drug crops, and those who oppose natural resources extraction projects.

In addition to homicides, Front Line Defenders also recorded the most common types of human rights violations, which in the case of Latin America are physical attacks (27%), detentions and arrests (19%), harassment (13%), legal actions against leaders (13%), and smear campaigns (7%) .

The report notes that many defenders who were detained were also exposed to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Even though many countries allowed the release of prisoners due to the pandemic, according to the report, defenders were not among those released despite serving sentences for “non-violent crimes.”

In the case of Colombia, it is likely that the number of attacks on defenders reported in 2020 has dropped, but this does not mean – warns Muñoz – that the violence has. The reason is that during the pandemic it is presumed that there is a large under-registration since many organizations in charge of registering this type of human rights violations were not able to monitor the territories. So, Muñoz concludes, “there were attacks, but not all of them were recorded.”

Javier Francisco Parra was shot dead in the municipality of La Macarena, Meta, Colombia. Photo: Cormacarena.

Front Line Defenders stresses that direct human rights violations were compounded by restrictive legislation that was introduced in response to the pandemic. “Several other laws were passed designed to limit the ability of human rights defenders and civil society to function well and safely. […] Other governments, including Peru, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, allowed development, deforestation and mining projects to continue despite economic closures, ”the report indicates.

Human rights defenders not only have to protect themselves from physical attacks and murder, but also from digital attacks.

In 2020, a team of Front Line Defenders protection coordinators received 304 requests for support for the following reasons: 26% received threats via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; 16% were hacked or had their social media accounts compromised; 11% reported telephone surveillance; another 11% reported physical monitoring and 9% said that devices with important information were confiscated or stolen from them.

More than a quarter of those most affected by this type of attack are human rights defenders (17%); rights of the land, the environment and Indigenous peoples (16%). Front Line Defenders claims it received dozens of reports of online gatherings – especially from LGBTIQ groups, feminists and black advocates – that were infiltrated by attackers taking advantage of security breaches

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/02/colombia-biden-violence-cauca-duque-peace-farc/

Over 100 NGOs write to Prime Minister of Denmark to pressure Bahrain to release Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja.

January 27, 2021
Over 100 NGOs urge Bahraini king to release rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja

The Danish government should renew and strengthen efforts to secure the immediate and unconditional release of prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 108 international and Bahraini rights groups said on 24 January 2021 in a joint letter to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. As reported by the AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA).

The human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 59, is serving a life sentence in Bahrain’s Jaw prison for his peaceful political and human rights activities, in violation of his right to freedom of expression. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/abdulhadi-al-khawaja/]

There is no doubt that the conviction and sentencing of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was unfair and oppressive and tried to silence his prominent voice demanding the rights of Bahrainis,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Al-Khawaja should not have had to spend a single minute behind bars, yet he has been unjustly detained for almost a decade.

He had worked as the Middle East and North Africa protection coordinator for Front Line Defenders from 2008 until early 2011. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-abdulhadi-al-khawaja

https://en.abna24.com/news//over-100-ngos-urge-bahraini-king-to-release-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja_1108546.html

Fatima Al-Bahadly 2020 Front Line laureate MENA

January 20, 2021

It has now been made public that Fatima Al-Bahadly, a human rights defender from the city of Basra, has received the 2020 Frontline Defenders Award.

The award was granted to Al-Bahadly for her role in founding Al-Firdaws Society, an organisation that focuses on protecting women affected by war and strengthening their role in peace building.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/fatima-al-bahadly

https://www.middleeasteye.net/video/iraqi-female-rights-activist-receives-frontline-defenders-award-0

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/front-line-defenders-award

9 December: 2020 Front Line Defenders Award Ceremony on line

December 9, 2020

The 2020 Front Line Defenders Award Ceremony [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/30/2020-front-line-defenders-award-ceremony-on-9-december-and-the-winners-of-2020/], will be on-line on 9 December, International Human Rights Defenders Day:

To watch :

in English: www.frontlinedefenders.org/2020award

YouTube:https://youtu.be/KebPxuAa_ac

Vimeo:https://vimeo.com/frontlinedefenders/2020awardenglish

Facebook <https://www.facebook.com/FrontLineDefenders>
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Also available in French, Spanish, Arabic and in Tamil and Armenian .

2020 Front Line Defenders Award Ceremony on 9 December and the winners of 2020

November 30, 2020

Front Line Defenders will be celebrating the 2020 Front Line Defenders Award Winners at an online Award Ceremony on 9 December.

The event will be available on the Front Line Defenders Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/FrontLineDefenders, YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/frontlinehrd  and at http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/2020award

For more on this and other awards especially for human rights defenders, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/2E90A0F4-6DFE-497B-8C08-56F4E831B47D

This year’s Regional Award Winners include four women human rights defenders and an indigenous collective.

The 2020 Laureates are:

Mekfoula

Mekfoula Mint Brahim is is the President of Pour une Mauritanie Verte et Démocratique (For a Green and Democratic Mauritania), an organisation leading women’s empowerment projects in rural areas. She is also a member of Alliance pour la Refondation de l’Etat Mauritanien (AREM), which promotes good governance and fights against impunity.

Read More

The Guardia Indígena del Cauca – Kiwe Thegnas (Defenders of Life and Territory), member of the organization Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca (ACIN), CRIC branch, is a community life and ancestral resistance composed of women, men, boys and girls who defend their territories in a peaceful, unarmed way.

Read More

Juwairiya Mohideen is a Muslim woman human rights defender based in Puttalam in the North West of Sri Lanka. In 2010 she established the Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), providing daily practical support, comfort, advice and legal assistance to women and girls facing abuse, violence and discrimination.

Read More

Lara Aharonian is co-founder of the Women’s Resource Center Armenia, a non-governmental feminist organization based in Yerevan that works to empower women and girls to become active citizens by combatting gender stereotypes and providing psychological and legal support to survivors of gender-based violence in Armenia.

Read More

Iraqi Women Human Rights Defenders have faced a wave of assassinations and attempted killings, particularly especially in the southern city of Basra. Since mass popular protests erupted throughout the country in 2019, human rights defenders have been targeted for attack, including kidnappings, physical attacks and killings.

For last year’s Front line award see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/17/breaking-news-2019-front-line-defenders-award-to-5-lgbti-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/2020-front-line-defenders-award-human-rights-defenders-risk

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day: two special events

November 30, 2020

On the occasion of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day (29 November) and marking this year’s 16 Days Campaign to combat gender based violence, Front Line Defenders presents a new edition of Cypher: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/sites/default/files/cypher05.pdf , the digital monthly comic magazine featuring stories of human rights defenders from around the world. This edition features stories of WHRDs working for accountability in the context of the rights of women and girls, with a focus on GBV, from Zimbabwe, Transnistria/Moldova, Tonga and Argentina. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/23/new-cypher-comics-for-human-rights-defenders/]

Also in celebration of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in Geneva organises an on-line ‘exhibition “The Gaze that Subverts” of pieces by the painter Z.

Each painting tells a story of a woman or women who, in defiance of patriarchal structures and authoritarian repression, occupy public space in China in their fight for justice.

Z’s paintings are both prompted by, and provide – in their embodiment, the bent torso, the flexed muscle – a response to, a central question of rights defence: ‘How do we change unjust power relationships with the all-too-scarce resources we have at our disposal?’

The exhibition runs from 29 November 2020 through March 2021. A public event to close the exhibition will be announced in the coming months. Download the flyer <https://ishr.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=97549cf8cb507607389fe76eb&id=d75b3cecd8&e=d1945ebb90>

Cypher Comics no 4 is out

November 3, 2020

Front Line Defenders has released the fourth edition of the monthly digital magazine, Cypher <http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/cypher> , featuring stories of the 2020 Front Line Defenders Regional Award Winners – HRDs from Mauritania, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Armenia and Iraq.

In July 2020, Front Line Defenders launched Cypher (@cypher_comics on Instagram). See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/23/new-cypher-comics-for-human-rights-defenders/

If you are interested in an annual subscription to receive printed editions of Cypher, please email campaigns@frontlinedefenders.org, with ‘Subscription’ in the subject line, and you will be sent more information about options.

Download Cypher Edition 04 (PDF)

Download Cypher Edition 04 (Epub)

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/cypher-comics

Women human rights defenders in Poland under severe pressure

November 2, 2020

On 2 November 2020 ILGA Europe, Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freemuse and KPH Campaign Against Homophobia issued on joint statement demanding that Poland drop unfounded charges against women rights defenders for peaceful activism

Image: Elżbieta Podleśna / Image from Amnesty International UK website

Unfounded charges of “offending religious beliefs” are being brought against three women human rights defenders in Poland for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression, a coalition of six nongovernmental groups said. The first hearing in their case is scheduled for November 4, 2020, in the town of Plock. 

The Prosecutor General should drop the charges – and ensure that the three women can carry out their human rights work without harassment and reprisals by the authorities. The Polish authorities should amend their legislation in line with international and regional human rights standards and abstain from using it against activists to unduly curtail their right to freedom of expression.  

The three human rights defenders, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna – whose surnames are not being used to protect their privacy – are facing trial for “offending religious beliefs” under Article 196 of the Criminal Code (C.C.) in relation to the use of posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo symbolic of the LGBTI flag around her head and shoulders. The authorities are alleging that the three activists pasted the posters on 29 April 2019 in public places such as on portable toilets, dustbins, transformers, road signs, building walls in public areas in the city of Plock and have “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”. They now face up to two years in prison if found guilty for their peaceful activism. 

The authorities arrested and detained Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019 and in July 2020, they officially charged the three activists. 

Having, creating or distributing posters such as the ones depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo should not be a criminal offence and is protected under the right to freedom of expression.  

In its current formulation, Article 196 of the Criminal Code imposes undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression by providing overly broad discretion to the authorities to prosecute and criminalise individuals for expression that must be protected. This is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations.  

Poland is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression.  

Furthermore, in 2013, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights noted that “Restrictions on artistic freedoms based on insulting religious feelings… are incompatible with [ICCPR]”. In 2019, this was again highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression who stressed that criminalising expression that insults religious feeling limits “debate over religious ideas and… such laws [enable] governments to show preference for the ideas of one religion over those of other religions, beliefs or non-belief systems”. Freemuse is particularly concerned about the policing of artistic and creative content by the authorities in Poland and regard it as an unlawful attack on freedom of artistic expression. 

Amnesty International has previously called on the Polish authorities to repeal or amend legal provisions, such as Article 196 of the Criminal Code, that criminalises statements protected by the right to freedom of expression, for example in the report ‘Targeted by hate, Forgotten by Law: Lack of a coherent response to hate crimes in Poland’. Many other national and international human rights organisations have criticised provisions of the Polish Criminal Code, including Article 196, as problematic because they constitute restrictions on the right to freedom of expression not permissible under international human rights law. 

International human rights law permits states to impose certain restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression only if such restrictions are provided by law and are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the protection of certain specified public interests (national security, public order, protection of health or morals) or for the protection of the rights of others (including the right to protection against discrimination). When restricting the right to freedom of expression to protect public order or morals, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets the ICCPR, observed that states must not base their restrictions on principles deriving “exclusively from a single tradition” e.g. Christianity. States may impose certain restrictions on certain forms of expression if they can demonstrate that such restrictions are necessary and proportionate to the specified purpose (that is, the measure is designed to be effective in achieving its goal, lesser measures do not suffice and without putting in jeopardy the right itself). The current formulation of Article 196 of the C.C. does not appear to pass the test of proportionality and necessity. ..

The organisations recall that everyone has a right to express themselves safely and without fear of reprisals, and that the right to freedom of expression is protected, even if  some people might find the expression to be deeply offensive (Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34 on Freedom of Expression, para. 11). In the words of the European Court of Human Rights the right to freedom of expression “is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna now face up to two years in prison if found guilty under the unfounded charges brought against them. The case against them is not unique but an example of the repeated harassment activists and human rights defenders face simply for carrying out peaceful activism in Poland, which Polish and international human rights organisations have documented and denounced at length in the last several years.  

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna stood against hate and discrimination and for years they have been fighting for a just and equal Poland. They deserve to be praised and not taken to court for their activism.  

To date, around 140,000 people have joined an international campaign urging the Prosecutor General to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights defenders. The campaign is available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/poland-activist-elzbieta-podlesna/.    

Elżbieta is one of the courageous 14 women human rights defenders who were beaten and targeted for standing up to hate in Poland during the Independence March in 2018. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/after-two-years-justice-for-14-woman-human-rights-defenders-in-poland/]

At the time of her arrest in May 2019, she had just returned from a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands with Amnesty International, where she participated in several events and advocacy meetings with activists and supporters to raise awareness about the situations of peaceful protesters and the crackdown they are facing in Poland.  

https://undocs.org/A/HRC/23/34

Amnesty International, report ‘Targeted by hate, Forgotten by Law: Lack of a coherent response to hate crimes in Poland’, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur37/2147/2015/en/.

See their story at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/04/14-women-blog/.  

——

https://freemuse.org/news/poland-drop-charges-against-women-rights-defenders-ngos-call-to-drop-unfounded-charges-for-peaceful-activism/