Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Father SHAY CULLEN on the need to protect human rights defenders

April 7, 2021

Pope Francis supports human rights defenders

On 26 March, 2021 catholicprofiles.com gave the floor to Father Shay Cullen, a well respected human rights laureate [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/95256CE6-CDE8-DC2A-76AF-28026D673652]:

.. Prayer is a public way for a Pope to make a social and political statement of great importance.

We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis,” he said.  Pope Francis is very aware of the struggle and needs of these dedicated human rights activists fighting for justice and peace and the human dignity. Those standing for racial equality in the “Black Lives Matter” campaign and those fighting for women and children’s rights in the “Me Too Movement.”

He addressed all people – Christians, non-Christians, people of all religious beliefs or those with none at all – who have dedicated their lives serving humanity and giving unselfish service without seeking reward. They need and deserve our support when we can’t help the victims of abuse directly. They do the vital work for us defending victims of rights violations and courageously give their lives doing it. In the Philippines, 318 human rights workers and activists were killed between July 2016 and June 2020. As many as 110 lawyers were killed from 1972 to the present. Sixty-one of those killings have taken place since 2016. Also, 86 journalists and reporters have been killed since 1992.

They are accepting serious risks defending victims of abuse and violations of their human dignity and rights. The suffer hardship and abuse, rejection and imprisonment and death because of their work for human rights in supporting the downtrodden and abused victims. They are survivors themselves. They have that most fundamental love of others to uphold the dignity and rights of every human being…..

Many others have escaped to try and reach Europe in search of a new life. Pope Francis has prayed and appealed for European countries to open their borders to welcome the war refugees. Germany and some nations did. Canada has received thousands of refugees and many from Syria in recent years. However, the anti-asylum people and Neo-Nazis of Europe rose up and opposed any welcome and right-wing political parties grew to stop it and largely succeeded. Some Catholic countries slammed shut their doors with dark compassionless hearts and built fences to keep out the refugees, thousands of them homeless children. Too bad if Jesus of Nazareth and his parents were arrested at the Egyptian border and deported them to the cruel baby-killer King Herod for a death penalty, there would have been no Christianity.

Under international law, a person fleeing persecution seeking asylum has a right to reach the country of destination and choice by any means available to ask for protection, shelter and asylum. Many hard-hearted people see them as parasites, pests and vermin to be rejected. The newly proposed UK asylum law is suggesting to do just that by declaring asylum seekers who reach the UK as “illegals.”

There can be no “illegal” entry to a country by an asylum seeker. Many Germans escaping East Germany seeking asylum in the West during the Cold War would have to be declared illegal entry and returned to the communist East if such crossing the border seeking asylum was said to be illegal. Such escapes were cheered and encouraged. The proposed law by the UK wants to make illegal what under international law is right and legal and just. To deport an asylum seeker without due process and evaluation would be a violation of that refugee’s human rights, according to some UK human rights lawyers.   

More dictators and populist autocratic leaders have emerged in recent decades. Pope Francis’s prayer is badly needed in Myanmar as the people have shown courage and bravery in facing down the military that staged a coup six weeks ago. The defiance and resilience of the people and youth is inspiring and as many as 260 have been killed by the military, thousands more arrested and detained.

The cries and voices of the oppressed and imprisoned Uyghurs are being heard and supported by the human rights campaigners. They will be encouraged by the prayer and support of Pope Francis, a world-renowned voice for the voiceless and oppressed people. Many are calling for an end to what they call a genocide. Millions of Uyghurs are allegedly imprisoned in re-education camps by the communist regime and women forcibly sterilized, raped and killed, according to escaped witnesses interviewed on world media.

In every country where tyrants and dictators arbitrarily arrest and imprison their own people and kill them with impunity, the voice of protest denouncing the evil deeds can be heard. We are all challenged to join the prayer of Pope Francis and thousands of human rights defenders to campaign on social media and sign petitions in their support. If ever the tyrant’s goons come for us, may we have human rights defenders at our side.

https://www.catholicprofiles.org/post/pope-francis-supports-human-rights-defenders

ISHR annual report 2021 covering 2020: HRDs are the “essential workers”

April 6, 2021

published its latest annual report, outlining key impacts during the last year and its vision for 2021 and the years ahead . They have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the “essential workers” of our times, ISHR strives for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.

What did we achieve in 2020?

Here are just a few examples of our collective impact: 

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

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

Possible grants for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the Right to Defend Rights in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar.

March 22, 2021

The NHRF is opening a specialised and limited call for concept notes for projects contributing to building resilience, adaptability and increased safety and security for human rights defenders and human rights movements. Projects focusing on digital security and new technological threats used against human rights defenders and projects that seek to give psychosocial and multifaceted support to human rights defenders will be prioritized. The applicant should explain how the initiative will lead to a positive change for human rights defenders in their local communities.

Geographical location: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar. Regional initiatives that include human rights defenders from one or more of the listed countries are also welcome to apply.

Thematic area and target groups: Protection of human rights defenders at risk, the right to defend rights, digital security, psychosocial support, pressure on and repression of civil society. Initiatives with a strong gender focus will be prioritized.

Amount: 15-25,000 USD. Please note that the proposed project budget must be proportionate to the applicant’s current annual budget and must not exceed an amount that is more than double the current annual budget.

Project timeline: One year (12 months)

Project start date: End of 2021/beginning of 2022*.

Deadline for registration and concept note: 18 April 2021

(NB: This call is part of the NHRF’s resource mobilisation, and grantmaking is dependent upon positive response from the NHRF’s network.)

Priority will be given to:

  • Organisations that are led by the target group or that have a strong link to the community and have special competence in the thematic area of focus
  • Organisations that adapt an inclusive approach, for example for gender, minorities and persons with disabilities
  • Organisations that work with women human rights defenders, LGBTIQ- defenders, environmental defenders and trade union activists
  • Organisations that have proven experience from working in networks, both nationally and regionally
  • Organisations focusing on digital security and psychosocial support

How to apply

Organisations working within the thematic area are invited to complete the eligibility quiz and concept note form in the NHRF application portal. You will also be asked to upload an overview of a one-year budget of the proposed project. Applicants must adhere to the word limits within the submission form.

The NHRF will review submissions and then make a shortlist of applicants that will be invited to submit a full application. This process could take time – up to 6 months – so we ask applicants to please be patient with our processes.

Please visit the NHRF’s page for grantseekers for more information.

Facebook launches a human rights policy and fund for human rights defenders

March 17, 2021

According to Reuters on 17 March 2021 Facebook said it was launching a corporate human rights policy and a fund aimed at supporting human rights defenders facing online threats.

Facebook has – belatedly, according to some – released a global corporate human rights policy, along with a fund supporting those defending human rights. Rather than introducing any new rules on content, the new policy essentially codifies and regulates the company’s existing practices and introduces more transparency. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/03/more-on-facebook-and-twitter-and-content-moderation/]

This new policy sets out the human rights standards we will strive to respect as defined in international law including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs),” says Facebook’s director of human rights, Miranda Sissons, in a blog post.

“And it sets out how we will apply these standards to our apps and products, policies, programming, and overall approach to our business.”

The most critical human rights issues, such as risks to freedom of expression, will be reported to the company’s board of directors. Meanwhile, Facebook will release an annual public report on how it’s addressing human rights concerns stemming from its products, policies or business practices.

And a new fund – the amount’s undisclosed – will give offline support to those defending human rights under threat, starting in Asia later this year. This is expected to involve offering security to activists and journalists.

“We’ll also build on our existing work to protect defenders’ accounts — efforts that include combating malicious actors who are targeting them, protecting them from incorrect content removals using Cross Check, offering advanced security options, taking steps to thwart unauthorized access to the accounts of defenders who are arrested or detained, and partnering with human rights organizations on outreach and training,” says Sissons.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2021/03/17/facebook-promises-more-support-for-human-rights/?sh=fad8f837353a

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-human-rights/facebook-launches-fund-for-human-rights-defenders-facing-threat-idUSKBN2B8305?il=0

UN Spotlight on Killing of South African Environmental Defender Mama Fikile

March 16, 2021

.On 15 March 2021 Katharina Rall, Senior Researcher, Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, wrote about Mama Fikile’s murder, It is almost five months since an environmental activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made. Mama Fikile had received threats to her life but carried on with what she perceived to be the only way to protect her community’s health and livelihood.

On March 3, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Mama Fikele’s story to begin a new report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that highlights the risks many environmental defenders operate under, and the widespread attempts to silence their voices.

South African environmental justice groups have urged the government to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into Mama Fikile Ntshangase’s killing and ensure that those found responsible are held to account. But her family is still waiting for justice.

Beyond the individual tragedy and injustice, there is another reason the UN expert, Mary Lawlor, highlights the South African case in her global report. Killings of activists create an environment of fear and can have a chilling effect on the people around them. Or, as the UN expert frames it, “[t]here is no more direct attack on civil society space than the killing of human rights defenders.

As a community rights defender opposing coal mining in Fuleni, a small rural village not far from the place where Mama Fikile was killed, Billy Mnqondo once heard gunshots at the gate of his house and was warned by community members that he and his family will be in trouble if he continues to oppose mining. When, in 2018, Human Rights Watch visited Somkhele, Fuleni, and other communities affected by mining, some activists confirmed they were afraid to speak out about the impact of mining in their community, especially after Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, another prominent environmental rights defender, was killed in Xolobeni in 2016.

Violence and intimidation against those who raise their voices to defend their right to a healthy environment is endemic in South Africa.  Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 report, published jointly with groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Earthjustice,  documented how activists in mining-affected communities across the country have experienced threats, physical attacks, or property damage that they believe is retaliation for their activism. Most of these cases are not widely known and have not made headlines like the killings of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe and Mama Fikile. Yet, investigations into these killings or other attacks are moving very slowly, if at all. 

Other, less brutal ways to silence the voices of environmental rights defenders are nuisance lawsuits, known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) – baseless cases brought forward by companies to intimidate and burden activists with the onerous costs of mounting a legal defense.

South African courts are beginning to take a stance against these tactics. In February, the High Court in Cape Town issued a ruling that strengthens the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court held that a defamation suit brought by an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), and its local subsidiary against three attorneys, two activists, and a social worker in relation to their statements about its operations is an abuse of legal process. The defamation trial may still proceed, but activists can now defend themselves by arguing that the Court should assess the SLAPP nature of the case.

Following this ruling it will be harder for corporations to use South Africa’s legal system against citizens and activists to silence and intimidate them when they raise human rights concerns or seek accountability for past abuses. The government should now do its part to follow the recommendations of the UN expert by bringing those responsible for killings of environmental defenders to justice. Unless there are prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into the killings—and those responsible are brought to justice— human rights defenders will continue to live in an environment of fear.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/15/un-spotlight-killing-south-african-environmental-defender

CALL FOR NOMINATIONS Front Line Defenders 2021 Award for human rights defenders

March 16, 2021

Front Line Defenders is currently accepting nominations for the 2021 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk:

award banner

For more on the annual Front Line Defenders Award and its Laureates see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/2E90A0F4-6DFE-497B-8C08-56F4E831B47D.

Starting in 2018, Front Line Defenders changed the format of the Award, naming 5 Regional Award Winners, with one chosen as the Global Laureate by a jury comprised of representatives of Ireland’s parliament from a number of political parties. In 2021, Front Line Defenders took the decision to name all 5 regional winners as Global Laureates, in response to the overwhelming positive response to the greater visibility and recognition of the winners of the Award.

For each region of the world (Africa; Americas; Asia-Pacific; Europe & Central Asia; and Middle East & North Africa) there will be one winner selected and Front Line Defenders will recognize all five as the 2021 Front Line Defenders Award Laureates.

In addition to the Award, winners will receive:

  • a modest financial prize;
  • a security grant to improve their security measures;
  • collaboration with Front Line Defenders for media work in recognition of the Award;
  • advocacy by Front Line Defenders related to the Award and the work of the winners;
  • an event co-organized by the HRD, local partners and Front Line Defenders to give visibility to the Award in the winners’ countries (as determined and guided by the winners);
  • the Global Laureates will attend a ceremony in Dublin at a date to be determined;
  • ongoing security consultation with Front Line Defenders

If you would like to nominate a HRD for the 2021 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, please follow this link to the secure online nomination form

2021 Front Line Defenders Award – Nomination Form

As the person, group or organisation making the nomination, you will be consulted by Front Line Defenders to verify the information submitted and possibly for additional information. Please complete all parts of the nomination form to the best of your ability.

Please submit nominations via the online form. If there are any problems using the form, or if you have any questions, please contact: campaigns@frontlinedefenders.org

Philippines killings continue and de Lima stays in jail

March 9, 2021

Human rights groups called on the Philippine government to investigate what they said was the use of “lethal force” during police raids on Sunday that left at least nine activists dead. The raids in four provinces south of Manila resulted in the death of an environmental activist as well as a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among others, and resulted in the arrest of four others, activist groups said.

These raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

These incidents, he said, were “clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign“. “The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and noncombatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders.” The United Nations has warned in a report that “red-tagging”, or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.

The Philippines government should act now to investigate the use of lethal force in these raids, stop the mayhem and killings that has gone hand in hand with the practice of red-tagging,” Robertson said.

Sunday’s raids, which human rights group Karapatan condemned, came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” communist rebels and “ignore human rights”.

“Nothing could be more apt than calling this day a ‘Bloody Sunday,’” Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay said.

Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were “legitimate law enforcement operations”, and authorities acted on the basis of search warrants for possession of firearms and explosives.

“As usual these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed. If (the) motive was to kill them they should all be dead but there were those who did not resist arrest so they were collared,” Parlade told Reuters in a phone message. — Reuters

In the meantime on 7 March 2021 Rappler.com reported that UK lawmakers called for release of jailed Duterte critic De Lima

Senator De Lima’s prosecution appears to have set the pattern for silencing of President Duterte’s opponents,’ write 27 UK parliamentarian as she entered her 5th year in jail, her office said Sunday, March 7. https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/35cd51c0-93fb-11e8-b157-db4feecb7a6f

Signatories include Rt Hon Dame Diana Johnson, MP (chair, All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group), Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Harriett Baldwin MP, Paul Blomfield MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Lyn Brown MP, and Dawn Butler MP, according to the Office of Senator Leila de Lima.

President Duterte’s self-styled ‘war on drugs’ has seen an estimated 30,000 extra-judicial killings – along with increased targeting of journalists and human rights defenders, and the undermining of judicial independence,” they added.

A Muntinlupa court on Friday, March 5, dismissed her second drug case appeal, even as she was earlier acquitted in another case. A third case against her is pending before another court.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/world/rights-groups-call-for-investigation-into-killings-of-philippine-activists-221956

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/03/08/bloody-sunday-left-activists-labor-leaders-executed-philippines-after-duterte-says

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086782

https://www.rappler.com/nation/uk-lawmakers-call-for-release-duterte-critic-leila-de-lima

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/