Posts Tagged ‘Global Geneva (magazine)’

The Legacy of Martin Ennals: defending the human rights defenders

March 14, 2019

On 6 March 2019 Global Geneva published an article by John Horekens entitledDefending Human Rights Defenders: The Legacy of Martin Ennals”

Can a human rights award make a difference to the plight of victims by drawing public attention to their situation? Or even protect them from being killed or tortured? John Horekens argues that international prizes such as the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) can do just that. And even more. They recognize the courage and resilience of those who have decided to stand up for their rights, and the rights of others, regardless of the consequences.

It contains a short history of the MEA and argues forcefully for its place in Geneva. And has nice pictures!
Abdul Aziz Muhamat on stage in Geneva delivering his acceptance speech. The presentation slide was taken in Manus; on the left of Muhamat (blue T-shirt) is Behrouz Boochani (bare-chested) who was awarded Australia’s Victorian Prize for Literature in January 2019)

 

Abdul Aziz Muhamat, aka QNK002, is a Sudanese refugee currently interned by the Australians on Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. Standing left, here is at the MEA Award ceremony in Geneva in February, 2019. Arnold Tsunga, right, is a Zimbabwean lawyer and 2006 laureate in 2006 and currently an MEA Board member.

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Martin Ennals in 1978. (Photo: Amnesty International).

It all started in London in 1992 when a group of Martin Ennals’ friends and relatives decided to commemorate the activist’s outstanding contribution to the modern human rights movement in creating this award. A founding member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Secretary-General of the National Council for Civil Liberties, Ennals tirelessly advocated equal rights for all and for the development of global human rights. He created several non-governmental human rights organizations and was the first Secretary-General of Amnesty International (AI). During his tenure, AI was awarded inter alia the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and the UN Human Rights Award in 1978.

 

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By 2007, close links had developed with the City of Geneva, leading to an agreement with the local government providing strong multi-year support for the ceremony itself. Its timing was moved in 2019 to February so as to benefit from increased public interest at a time when the Human Rights Council (HRC) prepares for its main session. Created in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly, the HRC is the UN body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world and for addressing situations of human rights violations. It meets in Geneva for three regular sessions every year to discuss thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention.

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…..For Sandrine Salerno, municipal councillor and the leading proponent of the award within the City government, all this only underlines how deeply Geneva is committed to the defence of fundamental rights. “As a host to most major international organisations active in the human rights area, and with a long tradition of welcoming asylum-seekers, migrants, and people needing protection and assistance, the City of Geneva has made the promotion of human rights one its main international policy priorities.”

On the occasion of the MEA’s 25th anniversary in 2018, leaders of its jury organizations gathered with former laureates, providing an opportunity to discuss the state of human rights and human rights action today. In particular, they addressed issues such as how to influence authoritarians, counter populism, and the means for developing human rights action. “It is not easy to attribute impact to an organization working in the field of human rights”, says Dick Oosting, current Chairman of the Foundation Board. “Awards are only a tool.” But, he adds, “with its jury of ten major NGOs and its partnership with Geneva, the Martin Ennals Award has credibility that can provide real protection. We know this because our laureates and finalists tell us so.” Abdul Aziz Muhamat aka QNK002 on Manus Island can vouch for that.

John Horekens is a former senior official of the United Nations and of the international Red Cross. He is the vice-chairman of the Martin Ennals Foundation Board.

For the full text see: http://www.global-geneva.com/defending-human-rights-defenders-the-legacy-of-martin-ennals/

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FOR MORE ON MARTIN ENNALS: see the biography I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, OUP, 2009, Vol 2, pp 135-138 (ed. David P. Forsythe).

Geneva: the right place for the world’s human rights award

October 5, 2017

Global Geneva published today, 4 October 2017, an article by me called “[Geneva] The right place for the world’s human rights award“. Rather than summarizing it, here is the full article. There are lots of other interesting pieces in the issue, see: http://www.global-geneva.com.

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The 2017 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders will be announced on Tuesday, 10 October, 2017 at the University of Geneva (UniDufour) in Geneva, Switzerland. For further information, go to MEA: This article also appears in the Oct-Nov 2017 edition of Global Geneva magazine.

WITHOUT INDIVIDUAL HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS (HRDs), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights law risk being a dead letter. Almost all human rights organisations have a mandate to come to the succour of threatened colleagues via urgent appeals and other campaigns. Some 150 now run an award and the number keeps growing – half were created since the beginning of the 21st century.

Curiously, however, the best known of these awards, the Nobel Peace Prize, is given out annually in Oslo and not in Geneva, the international hub for human rights. Alfred Nobel died on 10 December. Decades later, the United Nations declared 10 December as International Human Rights Day and designated 21 September as the International Day of Peace. The strange result is that the Nobel Peace Prize – intended for contributions to ‘peace’, not necessarily ‘human rights’ – is awarded every year in Oslo on 10 December, which is ‘Nobel Day’ in Sweden and Norway, and International Human Rights Day for the rest of the world.

In 1992, I became involved in the creation of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA). Originally, this was meant to keep alive the memory of the first Secretary General of Amnesty International and a key figure behind the creation of the modern human rights movement. In recognition of his work, 10 global human rights organisations, (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), Front Line Defenders, Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung, HURIDOCS, Human Rights First, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Service for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), all agreed to form the Jury. Later, a panel of regional NGOs joined the common effort.

The small volunteer secretariat operated out of Geneva, but many of the first award ceremonies were held abroad in places where the laureates are active. In 2001, it was decided to make Geneva the permanent location for the annual ceremony. By 2008, the lakeside city started offering serious support by making the award part of its “International Geneva” plan, an effort to galvanize the private and public sectors, including the rest of Switzerland, with regard to the region’s crucial importance as a hub for critical global issues. Since then, cooperation has grown into an admirable win-win partnership with the award run on a fully independent basis, while Geneva provides the infrastructure for the ceremony.

This suits all parties. The actual decisions are made by an autonomous jury of experts enabling the city to avoid having to deal with controversial aspects.

Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) is one of the three finalists, and is subject to a travel ban to Geneva where he is supposed to attend the 10 October 2017 Martin Ennals Award Ceremony. Despite requests directly to Egyptian President Al-Sisi, the ban – at this time of writing – has yet to be lifted.

Presenting the awards: a matter of protection – and courage

The wisdom of this separation was reiterated in 2016 when the MEA went to an imprisoned scholar belonging to the Uyghur minority. China reacted furiously, but its target ended up being the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who courageously persisted in presenting the award at the ceremony as his predecessors have done over the years.

How effective are human rights awards? To answer this, one needs to know in which way they are intended to help human rights defenders. In the first place, all awards seek to offer recognition and encouragement at the psychological level. This goal should not be trivialized as activists often have to work in difficult environments. Furthermore, they may prove unpopular even within their own social circles.

Secondly, many awards come with some financial support. Even relatively small amounts go far in cash-strapped organizations, many based in developing countries.

Finally, the most important but also elusive goal is protection. The latter is not really possible without a fair degree of publicity. An example: On 13 May 2008, Mutabar Tajibaeva, a detained human rights activist in Uzbekistan, was announced as that year’s MEA Laureate. A few weeks later, on 2 June, she was released from prison on medical grounds, and a few months later, was allowed to travel abroad. She came to Geneva to receive the MEA in person, declaring publicly that the award saved her life. However, one cannot state categorically that her release was a direct result of the award; many other actors contributed to the pressure that resulted in her release from prison.

Karla Avelar 2017 FINALIST – EL SALVADOR: Karla Avelar has dedicated her life to defending, nationally and internationally, the Human Rights of LGBTI persons, HIV affected persons, migrants, persons deprived of liberty in situations of vulnerability as well as victims of discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For human rights abusers: embarrassment fueled by global press coverage 

That such impact cannot be taken for granted is shown by the case of Ahmed Mansoor from the United Arab Emirates, the 2015 Laureate. The government did not lift his travel ban and he had to address the audience via a video link.

His case received further global coverage in August 2016. Flaws in Apple’s iOS operating system were discovered by Mansoor who alerted security researchers to unsolicited text messages he had received. Apple has since released a software update that addresses the problem. Then, on 20 March, 2017, around midnight, Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at his home in a raid by a large team of the Emirates’ security forces.

His importance as a human rights defender was demonstrated by the international response to this sudden arrest. In addition to many newspapers and social media, the UN Special Procedures and the EU Parliament quickly called for his release. But today, six months later, he continues to linger in jail.

FreeThe5KH 2017 FINALIST = CAMBODIA: Mr Ny Sokha, Mr Yi Soksan, Mr Nay Vanda, Ms Lim Mony and Mr Ny Chakrya, the “Khmer 5” are Cambodian human rights defenders who face judicial harassment and had spent 427 days in pre-trial detention, as a result of their legitimate human rights work.

Some believe that human rights awards can endanger the lives of laureates. Clearly, this is a danger, but the best judge of the balance between increased risk and greater protection remains the human rights defender in question. And generally, they seem to regard public exposure foremost as a form of protection, reflecting the increased importance of the media even in tense situations. The biggest problem with seeking increased protection through publicity is perhaps that the media are not automatically interested in all human rights awards.

That the media are increasingly referring to the MEA as the “Nobel prize for human rights” is perhaps the best sign that after almost 25 years, the award has found its status and place in Geneva. With the delivery of the 2017 prize on 10 October in Geneva, it will again be in the hope to go ‘from the front line to the front page’.

Hans Thoolen is a Dutch national who has worked for various NGOs and inter-governmental organizations, including 12 years in Geneva. He is now retired but not tired. Read his blog: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/

Source: The right place for the world’s human rights award | Global Geneva

New magazine “Global Geneva” puts “Civitas Maxima” in the limelight

March 21, 2017

Global Geneva is a new English language magazine for the international hub that Geneva want to be. In the issue of 15 March 2017. William Thatcher Dowell discusses the work of ‘CIVITAS MAXIMA’A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity“.

The International Criminal Court at the Hague was created in 2002 to hold individuals responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The concept was good, but the international tribunal was almost immediately paralyzed by politics (See article in the latest edition of Global Geneva on justice must be seen to be done). As William Dowell writes, Alain Werner, who created Civitas Maxima in 2012, has a different idea: “represent the victims and fight the cases in domestic courts if need be

Rather than depend exclusively on international tribunals, Werner believes that it is worth shifting the focus to the actual victims of war crimes, and working with them to compile the solid evidence that is needed to enable a prosecution to stand up in any court of law. Once the evidence is there, the cases can be prosecuted in any court that expressly outlaws crimes against humanity. It does not matter if the court is an international tribunal, a specially constituted war crimes court or even an ordinary domestic court.

The name, Civitas Maxima, which translates roughly as “the greater state”, is reference to the legal term in Latin that captures the notion that all civilized societies hold certain values in common.  The implication is that any society, which considers itself civilized, will instinctively condemn international crimes such as crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far, Werner’s group has been investigating well over 10 cases, and at least three have led to actual arrests by national authorities since 2014. That may not seem much, but in fact, it represents a third of the extra-territorial arrests by national states for international crimes in 2014 and 2015. During that period, only eight extra territorial arrests by national authorities took place world-wide. One of Werner’s cases is currently being prosecuted in Switzerland; two are in Belgium. One of the accused, a naturalized American who held Belgian nationality and was arrested in Spain, died while in jail awaiting trial this spring.  This was the first time ever a Western businessman was arrested for the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Werner did this in conjunction with a local Sierra Leone partner, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL). Most of the current public cases involve militia leaders who were responsible for atrocities during civil wars in Liberia.

Alain Werner as a lawyer is also representing victims of Hissène Habré, who was president of Chad from 1982 until 1990. The Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, convicted Habré last May on charges of rape, sexual slavery, and slaughtering members of opposing tribes. Werner had been working on the case since 2008, and it was typical of the kind of case that the ICC would have particular difficulty in dealing with, even if it had jurisdiction. …….“One of the major issues in international justice,” Werner says, “is the fact that politics always affects the process. The International Criminal Court tries to create the impression that it is independent, but so far it has been mainly driven by political factors.” The answer to this conundrum, Werner feels, is for more independent organizations with legal expertise similar to that of Civitas Maxima to take the lead in building convincing cases that will stand up in court, and which cannot be ignored. “Organizations that advocate and write reports, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are doing a great job,” he says. “But in the end, you badly need independent lawyers and trained investigators who can compile evidence that meets international standards.”

A key requirement, of course, is funding. Werner says, “If you work independently you have to come up with the funds on your own, and in our case that is complicated by the fact that we do not accept funding from governments.”  

[Werner’s own involvement in prosecuting war crimes started with his work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003, including the trial of the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor…… In 2009, he went to Cambodia to represent victims in the case of the Khmer Rouge who had run the infamous S-21 concentration camp that fed into the “killing fields.”  After that he joined an independent group, the Aegis Trust, which also runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda , and which had a small programme focused on helping victims gather evidence.  The initiative ran out of funding after about two years, but by then Werner was already heavily involved in a number of cases involving victims of Charles Taylor’s operations in Liberia.  Werner decided that he couldn’t abandon the work, and so he created Civitas Maxima]

Werner is also collecting evidence from victims of Ivory Coast’s current president, Alassane Ouattara, whose forces are accused of committing atrocities during the post-electoral violence of 2010 and 2011. His predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, is the first head of state to be tried for war crimes at the ICC for atrocities committed during the same period by his own forces.  With both current and past president accused of war crimes, Ivory Coast is a particularly sensitive area…..

We need to grow the concept,” he says. “Will Civitas Maxima continue to be successful, or will another independent take the idea and make it grow? I don’t know, but I am convinced that we really need this innovative approach. In the United States, you have a head of state saying that torture is fine and in the Philippines another one boasting about the fact that he has killed criminals. The climate is getting crazy. We absolutely need more fiercely independent lawyers to use their expertise to counter impunity for mass crimes.

Source: CIVITAS MAXIMA—A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity | Global Geneva