Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

For human rights “winter is coming”

August 24, 2017

CREDIT: HBO

Even if you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, you know the iconic, sinister saying. In the TV show, it is muttered meaningfully as a warning not only that after a long summer a harsh winter is ahead, but that winter brings with it an existential threat to the world—an army of the dead. This threat makes all the vicious scheming, treachery and feuding look insignificant and petty.

As a human rights defender watching leaders around the world scapegoating and dividing to score political points, I can’t help thinking that winter may be coming for all of us—a dark future where protection of human rights won’t mean much anymore.

The “summer” was long and fruitful. Seventy years ago the world came together in 1948 and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated for the first time that human rights must be protected across “all peoples and all nations.”

This unprecedented commitment to protect human rights everywhere was made by the survivors of a long night of horror that humanity had just endured. They joined forces to ensure that the gas chambers, the extermination of the entire peoples, and the suffering of civilian population at such scale never happen again.

Since then, people around the world have claimed remarkable victories: securing rights for women and LGBT communities, standing up to abusive governments, removing seemingly indestructible totalitarian regimes and bringing heads of states to account. People have created a society that would be unrecognizable to those who emerged from the darkest moments in human history determined that it should never be repeated.

Yet now it seems that we are going back in time. I have no illusions that the past 70 years were rosy. We human rights defenders have been like the brothers of the Night’s Watch, a bit closer to the chilly winds, warning, sounding the alarm and guarding against the worst abuses. The basic principle that kept the winds of winter at bay, that all governments must respect certain universal rights, has never felt more threatened than it does today. The inhabitants of Westeros may act as if summer will last for ever, but we cannot afford to do the same.

We are no longer fending off attacks on the rights of individuals or communities. We are no longer dealing with a few rogue governments while relying on others as allies. We are up against the assault on the entire system of human rights protection. Like Jon Snow, we must rally everyone together for our own existential fight.

This creeping assault did not start yesterday. Within just a few recent years, xenophobia, misogyny, and dehumanisation of “others” have become the slogans that brought victories to politicians who blatantly exploited their electorates’ sense of insecurity and disenfranchisement. But not only that, it has increasingly become a call for action, leading to discrimination, hate crimes, violence and deaths, as we have just seen in Charlottesville.

Vaguely defined “security concerns” are being used as justification for deviation from human rights, such as the prohibitions of torture and summary executions, in countries as different as the United States, Russia, Egypt, Nigeria, Turkey, and the Philippines.

States like Russia and China, which have consistently challenged the very notion of universality of human rights, have become emboldened and manage to increasingly dominate or stall the debate at the international level.

What is worse, countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, who have been, at least in rhetoric, the champions of human rights, have dramatically changed their positions. Like Cersei Lannister, they unashamedly pursue narrow self-interests, and in doing so pedal despicable arguments that human rights should be sacrificed for national interest.

Their position makes it all too easy for other states, with less established traditions of democracy and respect for human rights, to follow this path.

There is no denying it – the system of human rights protection built in the aftermath of some of darkest times in modern history, is descending into the dusk again. And, to use another sinister Game of Thrones quote, the night, when it comes, will be “dark and full or terrors.” Anyone who hopes to stay untouched by being far from the frontlines of this battle, has simply forgotten the previous “winters” too quickly.

The only way to protect our core common human values against such powerful forces, is to unite and act: to resist the attempts to divide us along any lines; to bring our own governments to account—to speak out, loudly and persistently, using all available means of communication, from megaphones to social media, against assault on our rights and the rights of others; to open our hearts and homes to those in need of protection; and to show our support and solidarity with every individual or community facing injustice or persecution.

In the world of Game of Thrones, a long, cold winter is quickly descending. But for human rights it does not have to be that way. If together we keep the candle of the human rights protection alight, darkness will retreat.

Source: For human rights, winter is coming | HuffPost

Trans defender’s Karla Avelar’s life is under constant threat

May 16, 2017

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, wrote the following piece “Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats” in the Huffington Post of 13 May 2017 (in full below). Karla (El Salvador) is one of the three finalists of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/26/breaking-news-three-human-rights-defenders-selected-as-finalists-for-the-2017-martin-ennals-award/].  An rise in deadly violence against transgender women in El Salvador prompted the United Nations on Friday to call for an investigation into crimes against sexual minorities in the conservative Central American country. So far this year, seven transgender women have been killed in El Salvador, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights [http://www.reuters.com/article/us-elsalvador-violence-lgbt-idUSKBN189018]

CARLOS CRUZ, COMCAVIS TRANS
Karla Avelar, advocating despite the danger.

Six times in two years. Human rights activist Karla Avelar has been forced to move home six times in the last two years after being physically threatened by individuals she believes are gang members and for her work as a human rights defender in El Salvador.

She’s a leading advocate for the human rights of LGBT people, founder and head of COMCAVIS TRANS, an organization known for its work for transgender people for nearly a decade. It’s dangerous, unpopular work, and Avelar is regularly targeted and threatened.

A couple of weeks ago she was forced to move home when people tried to extort from her possible prize money for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award, for which she is a finalist. The award’s winner will be decided and announced in October, but news of her nomination has prompted these latest threats.

It hasn’t been an easy life. She was shot in two separate incidents, spent five traumatic years in jail and has been a constant target of abuse for being a transgender woman. Avelar told my colleague Mariel Perez-Santiago at her office in San Salvador last year how she had been raped by more than a hundred men on her first day in prison, and that the attacks continued with the complicity of prison staff.

She became a formidable advocate for the rights of trans people in and out of prison, helping to win important reforms in the prison where she used to be an inmate. Thanks to her campaigning, transgender women are now separated from men in different wards, and human rights organizations are allowed access to the prisoners to educate them about their rights. She also represented El Salvador’s LGBT civil society at the country’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva.

Her advocacy has led to international recognition including becoming a finalist for this year’s Martin Ennals Award. “Transgender persons, and the wider LGBT community, face widespread hostility and social rejection in El Salvador,” said the Martin Ennals organization in a statement. “Crimes against them are almost never brought to justice, which results in a climate of impunity. Sadly, this treatment of transgender people can be seen well beyond El Salvador. We aim to highlight Ms. Avelar’s bravery in continuing her work. We are encouraged that the authorities contacted her after the media coverage of the latest threats. This needs to be followed up with judicial proceedings against those responsible and, most importantly, effective protection for Karla Avelar.”

Her profile has meant that the threats against her are receiving attention, and the Attorney General’s office has been in touch with her to discuss issues of her safety. But for Avelar and others in El Salvador’s LGBT community the risks are daily and grave. She estimates around 600 cases of unsolved murders of LGBT people in the country over the last 25 years.

“Sadly, these most recent threats against me are not surprising and are part of a broader and systematic pattern of persecution of members of the LGBT community in El Salvador,” said Avelar. “I will not be silenced by these threats, but the Salvadoran government must guarantee my safety and that of all human rights defenders and activists, who work tirelessly to monitor and urge respect for the human rights of the most vulnerable.”

Forced to leave her home again and again, she’s asking for protection as well as international visibility. Making her more famous won’t guarantee her safety but we can try to help by sharing her story with whoever we know, by showing that we’re watching, and by saying that she should be protected and never be forced to move again.

Source: Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats | HuffPost

Lifetime Achievements in Human Rights: 4 Human Rights Defenders

February 24, 2017

Anna Neistat, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International, writes in the Huffington Post of 23 February 2017 about 4 Human Rights Defenders who deserve a “Lifetime Achievements” Oscar. Since it’s awards season, Amnesty International is paying tribute to four human rights heroes whose dramatic stories could – and should – be made into movies:

Itai Peace Dzamara

It’s been almost two years since Zimbabwean journalist and activist Itai Peace Dzamarawas dragged from a barbers’ chair by five armed men while he was getting a haircut.  Dzamara, the leader of a pro-democracy movement called “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, had long been considered an enemy of the state by the Zimbabwean government. Just two days before his abduction he had delivered a speech at an opposition rally in Harare, calling for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. If this were a movie, justice would have been done long ago. Dzamara would have been returned to his wife and children, and the men who abducted him held accountable. But this isn’t Hollywood. This is Zimbabwe, where basic rights and freedoms have been trampled on throughout the long years of Robert Mugabe’s reign. As Itai Peace Dzamara and his family know, anyone who dares to speak out is a target for intimidation, harassment and arrest, and there’s no happy ending in sight. Despite a court ruling ordering state security agents to investigate Dzamara’s disappearance, there were gaps in the investigation and his whereabouts remains a mystery. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/05/itai-dzamaras-disappearance-worrying-for-all-human-rights-defenders-in-zimbabwe/]

Berta Cáceres 

GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL FOUNDATION
 

Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Honduras has the highest number of killings per capita of environmental and land activists in the world. The vast majority of these killings go unsolved and unpunished. One story that really stands out in this deadly context is that of Berta Cáceres. Berta was the leader and co-founder of an organisation that was campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric project on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities in Honduras.  In the early hours of 2 March 2016, she was murdered in her own home. Berta knew that she was putting her life in danger, but she was willing to take the risk to stand up for indigenous communities.  Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Despite the stark warning that her death served, environmental activists in Honduras say that stopping their work is not an option – no-one else will defend their communities and rights. They continue Berta’s work every day, reminding us that we should never take freedom for granted. It is essential that Berta’s assassination is solved, to show that there is a price to pay for attacking and killing environmental activists. Berta’s story ended in tragedy, but we will not stop fighting until we are sure that other activists will not meet the same fate. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]

Sirikan Charoensiri

Sirikan Charoensiri, also known as “June”, is a young lawyer who has bravely stood up for human rights during a dark period of military rule in Thailand. In June 2015, she was on hand at a peaceful protest by pro-democracy student activists in Bangkok to monitor the situation and provide legal representation, if necessary.  She now finds herself facing sedition charges and a potential trial in a military court alongside her clients. She also faces charges in two additional cases relating to her defence of the student activists and could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. As the Thai authorities have escalated their crackdown in the name of security, people who stand up for human rights in the country are increasingly falling foul of a government intent on silencing dissent. As June herself put it: “There is now an environment where risk is visible and imminent.” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/international-day-of-women-human-rights-defenders-agents-of-change-under-pressure/]

Narges Mohammadi

Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. In Iran, human rights defenders and other peaceful critics are subject to relentless harassment. Over the past year, those jailed after shockingly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts including lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.  Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi knows better than most how vengeful the Iranian authorities can be towards anyone who dissents. She is currently serving a total of 22 years in prison for speaking out against issues such as Iran’s prolific use of the death penalty and acid attacks on women. What makes her situation even worse is that she is critically ill and cannot receive proper medical care in prison. Just as cruelly, the authorities have at times denied her access to her young children, who had to leave Iran to live with their father in France after she was jailed. Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. We will continue to fight until she is free.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/12/retaliation-against-iranian-human-rights-defender-for-meeting-with-ashton/]

Itai, Berta, Sirikan and Narges are just a handful of the outstanding human rights defenders around the world who deserve recognition, but have instead been silenced by forces of cruelty, injustice and repression.

Source: Lifetime Achievements: Paying Tribute to 4 Human Rights Heroes | The Huffington Post

2017 (8): Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda

January 28, 2017

In the Huffington Post of 27 January 2017 David TolbertPresident of the International Center for Transitional Justice, wrote: “Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda”.  In the piece he says many useful things especially that “it is clear that a coalition of forces must emerge in American civil society to provide the backbone of resistance to the Trump agenda.” Here some excerpts:

(see also https://plus.google.com/+HansThoolen/posts/hNZtNKR5KKL)

….

– Trump has rushed headlong into creating further divisions and has begun an assault on human rights and basic decency — including a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees from entering the United States and the resurrection of CIA “black sites“ — and promises more to come. 

– The new president exalts torture, mocks the disabled, casts aspersions on those who defend human rights, appeals to racist sentiments through coded and not-so-coded language and denigrates women in both word and deed.

– He shows no regard for the Geneva Conventions or the painstaking work of generations of human rights activists, many of them American, to ensure that civilians are not abused in times of conflict and that the vulnerable are protected. 

– For good measure, he seems to demean virtually every restraint that protects the citizen from the state. His first call as president to a foreign leader was to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who crushed the protests against army rule, devastated Egypt’s civil society with draconian laws targeting human rights defenders and turned Egypt’s legal institutions into “kangaroo courts.” A chilling signal indeed.

Say what you will, Trump has clearly laid down the gauntlet that places the most powerful of nations on the side of the privileged and signals that human rights will be honored only in the breach. This can hardly be a surprise, given his campaign rhetoric that called openly for torture and other serious crimes that violate international and domestic law. 

…….

….. The whiff of McCarthyism is in the air for those of us who do not define ourselves as allegiant to Trump’s vision of America.

The inaugural speech and Trump’s first actions also send powerful messages regarding the struggle for human rights across the planet. The consequences of his dark vision will be dire. The record of the United States is patchy at best in terms of promoting human rights abroad, but it has played an important role in a number of areas, commencing with Eleanor Roosevelt’s work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

While its record in Latin America and the Middle East has been particularly deplorable, this country has supported civil society groups in a number of countries and other international initiatives that have promoted accountability for human rights violations. It has worked with other countries and the United Nations to advance the normative agenda that has enshrined human rights in international law and broadly supported the human rights movement in areas such as individual liberties and women’s rights. Mr. Trump will end these efforts in an obvious return to the old adage: “Governments can boil their own people in oil for all we care, as long as they support us.” 

This abdication of American support for human rights will not only undermine those countries that respect human rights but will also embolden those who seek to undermine the United Nations and other institutions that have advocated for and protected those rights. The emerging Trump-Putin partnership will mean that victims of human rights abuses around the world will have nowhere to turn to, as avenues to redress, accountability and acknowledgement of the violations close down.

The question is, what can we do? What is our responsibility as human rights defenders, but also as citizens of the United States and the world at large?

…..

While there is not a single “silver bullet” to take on what we will face ahead, we need to move past “conversations” and start organizing. It is hard to imagine — in this diverse and app-based world of today — that a single organization can take the lead in such a movement, like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (with lots of allies and competition, of course) did for the Civil Rights Movement. However, it is clear that a coalition of forces must emerge in American civil society to provide the backbone of resistance to the Trump agenda. 

We cannot afford atomization along the lines of our specific causes, be they accountability for human rights violations, racial injustice, inequality, LGBTI rights, indigenous rights or other human rights causes we support. If we are to have a chance to stop Trump’s destructive agenda, we must unite and act as a movement as strongly against the Dakota Access Pipeline as against a registry for Muslims or systemic police violence against African-Americans. Our goals in protecting human rights in the United States must be as clearly defined as our actions must be coordinated. 

…..

The time for action and resistance is now. I and the organization that I lead, the International Center for Transitional Justice, have over the years had a great deal of experience in addressing the abuses of regimes across the world that disregard human rights and commit abuses. Once rights and the institutions built to protect them are pushed to the side and the strong man reigns, the path to violations becomes real and the difficulties of re-establishing the rule of law become very steep indeed. The warning signs here in the United States are now laid bare. They should be a call to action for us all.

Source: Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda | The Huffington Post

5 Myths About the UN Human Rights Council (for US audience)

January 13, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

DETERMINED: the voices of 20 women human rights defenders

December 21, 2015

In order to match moral obligation with political declarations, the Global Fund for Women launched a new online campaign in October 2015 called Determined. Featuring the voices and stories of 20 courageous women human rights defenders from around the world, Determined raises awareness of global situations — from forced marriage and domestic violence to the denial of girls to receive education and the exclusion of women from political processes. The campaign recognizes the crucial role defenders play in effectively eliminating what continues to be the most acceptable human rights violation, the violence that prevents women from having fully realized and fully dignified lives.

On the occasion of international human rights day, Samina Ali (www.twitter.com/GroundbreakHers) in the Huffington Post of 11 December 2015 highlighted four of the 20 women human rights defenders in the campaign:

1. Nilce Naira Nascimento, Brazil
Article 23 of UDHR: Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

2015-12-10-1449719648-2069767-Nilce.jpg

Nilce responds to Brazil’s strong racial divide and inequality through her work with CRIOLA, a women’s rights organization led by black women who work with other Afro-Brazilian women and girls in the poorest areas of Rio de Janeiro to empower them to combat this rampant racism and improve the living standards for the Afro-Brazilian community.

2. Swastika TamaNg, Nepal
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

2015-12-10-1449719720-2122292-Swastika.jpg

When Swastika came out as a transgender woman five years ago, her father disowned her and she had to leave home. With little education, she had no job prospects so she turned to being a sex worker. Through her involvement with Mitini Nepal, an LGBTQI support and advocacy group, she was able to understand her gender identity and is now working to achieve human rights for LGBTQI people in Nepal, where existing laws protecting LGBTQI’s rights are rarely enforced.

3. Asipa Musaeva, Kyrgyzstan
Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

2015-12-10-1449719804-2914822-Asipa.jpg

At the young age of 17, Asipa was in an accident that severely injured her hip, leaving her permanently disabled. She found that perceptions around her disability made it difficult for her to find a job, or to be treated with dignity by those around her. She founded the Republican Independent Association of Women with Disabilities of Kyrgyzstan. In the face of tremendous obstacles, including her arrest, she and her group advocated for public spaces to be accessible for people with disabilities. The law was ultimately adopted, and today Asipa and her organization continue to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities

4. Nela Pamukovic, Croatia
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

2015-12-10-1449719900-9095078-Nela.jpg

In 1992, Nela co-founded the Centre for Women War Victims (ROSA) during the Bosnian war, when rape was used as a weapon to terrorize communities and intimidate women. Now, more than 20 years later, women survivors of rape are still healing from the trauma and stigma of their experience. ROSA provides women with a safe space to share their stories, and their advocacy led the Croatian parliament to pass the first law in the country recognizing rape as a war crime.

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/

Source: This Human Rights Day, Fight for Human Rights in New Ways | Samina Ali

Human Rights Day 2015: human rights defenders are main topic

December 10, 2015

International Human Rights Day is an occasion for many organizations to publish statements on human rights. For those who have not enough time to go through all of them, here a selection of four main statements that focus on human rights defenders:  Read the rest of this entry »

Closing Civil Society Space – a euphemism for Killing Human Rights Defenders

November 30, 2015

The Huffington Post of 29 November 2015 carried a good piece by Brian Dooley (Human Rights First) under the title “When Closing Civil Society Space Means Killing Human Rights Defenders”. He states that “what sometimes gets overlooked in the discussion around “shrinking civil society space” are direct, violent attacks on human rights defenders.”

He refers to this year’s Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) which details killings of HRDs in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. And a Note by the UN Secretary-General in July this year included how “defenders also describe their sense that they are often on their own, with the media showing little interest in reporting acts of aggression against them and with little support from political figures…”

Read the rest of this entry »

Contrasting views of human rights in business: World Bank and IT companies

November 19, 2015

Here two contrasting statements on the theme of business and human rights. One describes the hesitation of the World Bank to apply human rights criteria and even use the word human rights (posted in the Huffington post of 18 November 2015 by Nezir Sinani [www.twitter.com/NezirSinani] and Julia Radomski, and the other is a piece written by Owen Larter and Nicolas Patrick entitled “Microsoft & DLA Piper – Why Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders are Right for our Business” [published in the ISHR Monitor on 27 October 2015]. Read the rest of this entry »

MEA Laureate Mbonimpa has message of hope at his son’s funeral

November 12, 2015

Since I published my post about MEA Laureate Pierre Claver Mbonimpa two days ago (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/burundi-what-more-early-warning-does-one-need/) the situation has not improved and the hope is that the UN will find the muscle to impose itself. In the meantime, the Huffington Post of 12 November carries a long piece on Mbonimpa and his Burundi by Charlotte Alfred under the title “Burundi’s Human Rights Legend Urges Hope After His Son’s Killing“.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is founder and president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees in Burundi.</span>

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa founder and president of the APRODH in Burundi (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa wasn’t able to attend his son’s funeral. Instead, he sent a message from Belgium, which was read out at the funeral of his son, Welly Nzitonda, on Tuesday, according to independent journalist network SOS Médias Burundi: “Do not lose courage … The tragedies we face will end with a resolution of the conflict in Burundi.

……..

“The problem that plagues the country is not ethnicity, but politics,” Mbonimpa told the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010. “It is politicians who manipulate the population in pursuit of power.”

For the full article, worth reading, see: Burundi’s Human Rights Legend Urges Hope After His Son’s Killing