Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Video of the “Defending Human Rights is not a Crime” meeting now available

April 24, 2017

This 5 minute video of the ProtectDefenders.eu 2016 Annual Beneficiaries’ Meeting, held in Brussels on the 29 November 2016 is now available on Your Tube. The motto was “Defending Human Rights is not a crime – #DefendersNotCriminals”.

Interpol headed by Chinese police official, human rights defenders fearsome

April 20, 2017

meng-hongwei.jpg
Meng Hongwei takes charge of Interpol

‘Old’ but underreported news is that Meng Hongwei – a top Chinese police official – has been elected president of Interpol, which worries some human rights NGOs. The Independent had an article on 10 November 2016.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has waged a four-year campaign against corruption, which includes a push to return former officials and other suspects who fled abroad. China filed a list of 100 of its most-wanted suspects with Interpol in April 2014, about one third of which have since been repatriated. The country’s police and judicial systems have been routinely criticised for abuses, including eliciting confessions under torture and the disappearance and detention without charges of political dissidents and their family members.  Many Western nations have been reluctant to sign extradition treaties with China or return suspects wanted for non-violent crimes.

Given those circumstances, Mr Meng’s election is an “alarming prospect“, said Maya Wang, Hong Kong-based researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While we think it’s important to fight corruption, the campaign has been politicised and undermines judicial independence,” Ms Wang added. Mr Meng’s election “will probably embolden and encourage abuses in the system,” she said, citing recent reports of close Chinese ally Russia’s use of Interpol to attack President Vladimir Putin’s political opponents.

This is extraordinarily worrying given China’s longstanding practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad,” Nicholas Bequelin, east Asia director at Amnesty International wrote on Twitter.

Recently, 5 April 2017, Wei Jingsheng, a well-known human rights defender in exile, said while visiting Lyon (the HQ of Interpol) that the election of Meng Hongwei as chief of the global police organisation could give Beijing new leverage over its critics. “The Chinese government’s message to all political opponents like me or party officials who have fled the country is: ‘Wherever you are, the international police work with us and we will find you’,” “That’s frightening,” he said, adding that Meng “is still vice-minister of public security in China. He has led the secret police.”

While Interpol’s charter officially bars it from undertaking “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” critics say some governments, primarily Russia and Iran, have abused the system to harass and detain opponents of their regime.

Sources:

Chinese state official named head of Interpol, raising fears for political opponents | The Independent

http://www.france24.com/en/20170405-china-dissident-sees-threat-new-interpol-chief

ProtectDefenders.eu launches new alert website but no single stop yet!!

April 3, 2017

On 30 March ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by international civil society, launched its Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders, featuring a monitoring of alerts concerning violations perpetrated against individuals promoting Human Rights around the globe. The Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders is available on: ProtectDefenders.eu website.

It could be a most useful tool as quite a few key information providers coöperate (but not AI, HRW?). However, to be really useful as a single stop for this kind of information it is paramount that the site is as complete as possible (otherwise one would still have to go back to the websites of the individual organizations cooperating in the project). This is apparently not yet the case (or maybe definitions still differ from NGO to NGO). Front Line e.g. in its 2017 report (covering 2016) states that  281 HRDs were killed around the world [https://hrdmemorial.org/front-line-defenders-017-annual-report-highlights-killing-of-281-hrds-in-2016/], while a search on the new site shows only 39 killed in 2016 [https://protectdefenders.eu/en/stats.php?yearFilter=2016&regionFilter=&countryFilter=#mf]. That is 242 killings missing (without checking the annual reports of other cooperating partners) ! This issue is important as the announcement claims that the site wants to become “a source of reliable and updated information that should allow the identification of worrying trends and  encourage the coordination of adequate responses by decision-makers and authorities to counter the violations faced by defenders”. Read the rest of this entry »

Finalists for the 2017 Front Line Defenders Award come from Ukraine, Nicaragua, Vietnam, South Africa and Kuwait

March 31, 2017

The Jury has selected human rights defenders from Ukraine, Nicaragua, Vietnam, South Africa and Kuwait as finalists for the 2017 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk:

emil-kurbedinov.jpg

Emil Kurbedinov, Crimea/Ukraine

Emil Kurbedinov is a Crimean Tatar and human rights lawyer. Since the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Emil has been defending the persecuted Crimean Tatar minority, civil society activists and journalists. He also provides emergency response and documentation of rights violations during raids and searches of activists’ homes. In January 2017, masked representatives from Crimea’s Centre for Counteracting Extremism detained Emil and took him to a local directorate of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for interrogation. A district court found him guilty of “propagandizing for extremist organisations” and sentenced him to ten days in detention.

Pham Thanh Nghien

Pham Thanh Nghien, Vietnam

Vietnamese blogger Pham Thanh Nghien spent four years in prison for her work publicising violations against and defending the rights of relatives of fishermen killed by Chinese patrols. Following her release, she was kept under house arrest, during which time she spearheaded numerous human rights campaigns and co-founded the renowned Vietnamese Bloggers’ Network. Nghien has had her home raided, been blocked from attending medical appointments, had a padlock placed on her door from the outside, and been refused a marriage certificate. Nghien has also survived numerous physical assaults aimed at stopping her powerful, peaceful work uncovering and publicising human rights violations in Vietnam.

nonhle_mbuthuma.jpg

Nonhle Mbuthuma, South Africa

Nonhle Mbuthuma has persisted in her struggle for land and environmental rights in South Africa’s Eastern Cape despite assassination attempts, ongoing death threats and the murder of her colleague. She is a founder and current member of the Executive Committee of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, formed to unite community members in five villages of the Amadiba Tribal Authority region opposing destructive mining projects. In July 2016, Nonhle and other activists successfully forced the biggest shareholder in a titanium mining project to withdraw, but threats to activists continue as the community now fears the project will continue with funding from local “front” companies.

Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli

Abdulhakim Al Fadhli, Kuwait

Abdulhakim Al Fadhli is currently imprisoned for his peaceful activism on behalf of Kuwait‘s stateless Bedoon and other minority communities in Kuwait. The term Bedoon, meaning “without” in Arabic, refers to the community of stateless persons, native to Kuwait, who are prohibited from obtaining any official state documents including, but not limited to, birth, death and marriage certificates. Abdulhakim is currently serving a one-year prison sentence and faces deportation upon release. Throughout his imprisonment, he has protested and staged hunger strikes against the inhumane and unsanitary conditions in the Anbar 4 prison facility, where he has also been subjected to solitary confinement. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/02/27/car-chase-in-kuwait-bedoun-human-rights-defender-the-target/]

francisca-ramirez

Francisca Ramírez Torres, Nicaragua

Human rights defender Francisca Ramírez Torres‘ children were attacked in attempt to stop her powerful work advocating against a destructive inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua. Francisca is the coordinator of the Council for the Defence of Land, Lake and Sovereignty, which educates communities on their rights, campaigns for the repeal of laws allowing land-grabbing. The proposed canal would displace thousands of small farmers and indigenous peoples, without respecting their right to free, prior and informed consent. Francisca has been detained, harassed, and had her home and family attacked for her peaceful resistance to this destructive canal project.

The annual Front Line Defenders Award seeks to focus international attention on the human rights defender’s work, thus contributing to the recipient’s personal security, and a cash prize of €15,000 is awarded to the Award recipient and his/her organisation in an effort to support the continuation of this important work.

Source: 2017 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk | Front Line Defenders

34th Session of UN Human Rights Council ended: the summing up by civil society

March 28, 2017

On 24 March 2017 a group of important NGOs that are active at the UN Human Rights Council made a joint statement at the end of the 34th session. These are: International Service for Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Human Rights House Foundation, CIVICUS, International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. They:

….. welcome the renewal of key Special Procedures mandates, and in particular that of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. At a time when defenders are under an unprecedented attack and killings of defenders are on the rise, the united stance of the Human Rights Council is key. While we welcome the restoring of consensus to this key resolution, we deeply regret the fracturing of the same on the right to food resolution, particularly given the increasing interrelationship of food insecurity, conflict and human rights violations.

At the outset of this session, High Commissioner Zeid has described 2017 as a pivotal year for the Council, and has diagnosed an attack on the entire rights-based system. To be a credible part of this system, and rise to the world’s challenges, the Council must – while appropriately engaging the concerned States – respond firmly to human rights violations and victims’ demands for accountability Some actions at this session have struck this balance in part; others – such as the decision hastily ending the mandate on Haiti – have not. The Council still fails to bring needed attention to a range of violations in countries such as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Egypt, Philippines, Turkey and others.

The urgent dispatch of a Fact-Finding Mission [FFM] on Myanmar is a welcome step. We now look to you, President, to consult, including with civil society, on the appointment of the FFM’s members. But we regret the dissociation of Myanmar from the resolution, and call on Myanmar to fully cooperate with the FFM. We look to all States, including in particular those with investment, trade and business relationships with Myanmar, to fully facilitate the work of the FFM. We commend the Council for recognising the fundamental relationship between violations of human rights and the commission of mass atrocities, including by advancing accountability for such crimes in the DPRK, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Finally, Mr President, we are again concerned about allegations of intimidation and reprisals against defenders from Myanmar, Bahrain and Sri Lanka, including during the current session. In line with your legal obligation, we urge you to take these cases seriously, follow-up thoroughly on the allegations, and ensure that all those who engage with the body you preside over can do so safely.

2017 EU Human Rights Defenders Award In Uganda: Call for nominations

March 24, 2017

Interesting example of how governments (here the EU) can work together to protect human rights defenders in a specific country (here Uganda). Since a few years there is an annual EU HRD Award to recognise and honour the achievements of an individual Human Rights Defender active in Uganda.

Source: 2017 EU Human Rights Defenders Award: Call for nominations – GOV.UK

Human Rights Council extends mandate on human rights defenders – after considerable wrangling

March 24, 2017

On Thursday 23 March 2017 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it extended, for a period of three years, the mandate of the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/22/un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-wraps-up-his-first-mandate/]

The press statement by the UN (see below) explains that there was quite a bit of wrangling on wording, but in the end the draft resolution (A/HRC/34/L.5) on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michael Forst, was adopted without a vote as orally revised, in the same terms as provided for by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 16/5. It urges again all States to cooperate with and assist the Special Rapporteur in the performance of his tasks, to provide all information and to respond to the communications transmitted to them by the Special Rapporteur without undue delay; and calls upon States to give serious consideration to responding favourably to the requests of the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries.

(here the detailed report on the failed efforts – mainly by Russia and China – to weaken the text:) Read the rest of this entry »

True Heroes Films organises training workshop in filming and interviewing

March 15, 2017

 is organizing a hands-on workshop to learn how to produce film portraits and testimonies on human rights and humanitarian issues. 
28 March 2017 (14h00 to 17h00) & 29 March (09h00 to 17h00) at CAGI, Route de Ferney 106, Genève 1202. By the end of the 1.5 day course you should be able to film and direct your own interviews. Cost 350CHF. For more information, contact Jo Maxwell Scott:  jo[at]trueheroesfilms.org

REGISTER ONLINE: http://trueheroesfilms.org/training/

Even landmark UN decision does not change Cambodia’s treatment of human rights defenders

March 11, 2017

I was reading (belatedly) about the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, who in January 2017 intervened strongly in the case of the 5 Cambodian human rights defenders of ADHOC (#FreeThe5KH) who have been in detention since April last year. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/] Only then did I realize that the case had led a few months earlier to a landmark decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD): the first time that any UN body has referred to HRDs as a protected group.

 

 

On 21 November 21, 2016, the WGAD ruled that the ongoing detention of Mr. Ny ChakryaDeputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), and four staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Messrs. Ny SokhaYi SoksanNay Vanda, and Ms. Lim Mony, was “arbitrary.” Following a submission made by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH partnership), the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) in June 2016, the WGAD’s Opinion No. 45/2016 ruled that the five human rights defenders (HRDs) have been discriminated against based on their status as human rights defenders, and in violation of their right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law under article 26 of the ICCPR.” This is the first time ever that the WGAD – or any other UN mechanism receiving individual complaints – has referred to HRDs as a protected group that is entitled to equal legal protection under Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ruling also recognised the violation of the five HRDs’ “rights to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance and other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights.”

 In addition, the WGAD found that the targeting of ADHOC staff members for having provided “legitimate legal advice and other assistance” violated the five HRDs’ right to freedom of association. It ruled that violations of fair trial rights (including the fact that the five were denied legal counsel from the beginning of their questioning), unjustified pre-trial detention, and statements made by the Cambodian authorities which denied the five the presumption of innocence – all of which contravene Cambodia’s international human rights obligations in respect to the right to a fair trial – are also serious enough to consider their ongoing detention as arbitrary. The WGAD concluded that “the deprivation of liberty of Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Monyand Ny Chakrya, being in contravention of articles 7, 9, 10, 11 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9, 10, 14, 22 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary.”

That Cambodian authorities are not impressed is shown by the continued detention of the 5 ADHOC HRDs and by the press release of 7 February 2017 calling for the cessation of the politically motivated criminal investigation of human rights defenders Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak. Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists signed the statement.

Phnom Penh 20170207 PHTO
Cambodian police detain protesters during a protest to free jailed activists in Phnom Penh, Cambodia May 9, 2016.© Reuters/Samrang Pring

Cambodian officials have accused Sam-at, a respected human rights monitor at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) for nearly 20 years, and Puthisak, a land rights activist from Boeung Kak Lake and former prisoner of conscience, of instigating violence at an October 10, 2016 demonstration. Para-police forces, who are regularly used to suppress demonstrations, violently dispersed what had been a peaceful protest in Phnom Penh. When Puthisak attempted to prevent para-police from confiscating a drum that was being used by a demonstrator, four or five para-police attacked him, repeatedly beating him on the head with their fists, according to a video of the incident. When Sam-at tried to stop the assault, the para-police attacked him, also beating him on the head. Both men sustained injuries that needed medical attention.

The investigation of Sam-at and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director at Amnesty International. “As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”

 

Sources:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56036#.WMP0Dhhh2V4

Cambodia: In landmark decision, UN body declares the detention of five human rights defenders arbitrary #FreeThe5KH / December 18, 2016 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/07/cambodia-drop-farcical-investigation-human-rights-defenders

2017 (9): Business can be better allies of human rights defenders

March 9, 2017

 Just discovered that the penultimate post in my series “2017” was never published. So here comes – with delay- the missing piece “2017 (9)“:

With the USA government abandoning any leadership on human rights issues, perhaps we should turn more to the business world. So writes Sarah Brooks who works for the Geneva-based NGO, the International Service for Human Rights, in Open Democracy on 1 February 2017 (“Business can and should ally with those defending human rights”)

Business should heed the views of human rights defenders, and do more to protect their crucial work—which advances the rule of law that benefits business too. Global businesses and grassroots human rights activists may seem like strange bedfellows.  But as attacks on basic democratic freedoms and the rule of law intensify around the world, they may have more shared values and interests than one might think. We know businesses are driven by the bottom line. If they didn’t seek to increase profits, they simply wouldn’t exist. But we also know—and many business leaders are coming around to the idea—that long-term success relies on more than just profit generation and is linked to a range of external factors such as transparency, certainty, stability. And a social license to operate. Failures to understand that social license, and in particular to prevent and respond to the human rights impacts of their work, have thrust many global businesses into an unwanted spotlight. They didn’t need to find themselves there.

Because human rights defenders use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. Reputational damage and operational risks for a company are expensive. Because human rights defenders—such as lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders, or NGO workers—use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. However, business should see human rights defenders as priceless allies. They are the canaries in the coal mines, pointing to when governance failures become real financial, legal, and reputational risks to business. They are also the witnesses to corporate abuse of communities and the environment. Because of this, the work of defenders often makes those in power uncomfortable—both states and non-state actors. They are targeted with laws and policies to stifle their activities, and face intimidation and threats to their work and their lives. Yet without the work of defenders, whole societies and economies lose out. And that means businesses lose out, too.

[the author refers as examples to the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and Berta Caceres in Honduras which both let business to reassess their work] 

These cases show business can make a difference. It has a unique ability to create, maintain, and defend space for civil society through three tools: leverage, leadership, and partnerships. How do these work? Take as an example a government drafting a law that aims to close down space for NGOs to operate. In addition to running counter to international law, this would also close off channels for businesses to benefit from NGOs’ work—whether implementing community projects or helping train workers. So how might businesses respond? They can use the leverage provided by access, personal relationships and market share to push back on authoritarian impulses. To take just one example, when 30 global brands and global trade unions joined together to speak out against violent dispersal of protests and detention of activists in Cambodia in 2014, not only were the activists released, but the underlying issues of minimum wage took center stage in brand discussions with the government.

Businesses, and especially progressive businesses, also need to show leadership. In 2015, Adidas released a policy statement on human rights defenders that clearly led the pack, creating a company-wide commitment to speak out in defense of fundamental freedoms in the countries where they source. It takes a lot for a business to get in front, especially when they know that NGOs will be watching carefully to see those policies implemented. But setting the bar high has consumer appeal and can drive a race to the top. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/business-and-human-rights/]

Finally, businesses have resources. Partnerships directly with NGOs can be contentious, and businesses need to listen to and address the concerns of co-optation and whitewashing. But the global environment for traditional funding mechanisms is increasingly toxic. According to UN experts and leading funders, nearly a hundred governments have put limits on NGOs’ operations, including the ability to accept foreign (especially NGO) funding. For the financial survival of civil society, seeking support from businesses might be an option—if it is on equal footing and with clear redlines to maintain independence.

Civil society needs space and protection to carry out its work, and it is not just a moral imperative, but an investment opportunity for businesses to help secure that space and protection. The leadership, leverage and solidarity shown by companies who see support to civic freedoms and human right defenders as part of core business will pay long-term dividends.

Along similar lines runs the article “Davos | Global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants global business response” by the International Service of Human Rights on 20 January 2017:

Business and civil society alike thrive in open democracies. It is in their collective interest that business enterprises play an active role in responding to the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos have been told.

Human rights defenders and other civil society actors play a vital role in promoting and contributing to good governance, sustainable development and the rule of law. This is explicitly recognised in Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its associated indicators. In many cases, this work involves defenders exposing corruption, protesting environmental degradation, and demanding that the benefits of development are shared by all, including the most poor and disadvantaged. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, this work also involves defenders being subject to restrictions and attacks, with recent research demonstrating that those working on land and environment rights and in the field of business and human rights are most at risk of being killed. This week’s assassination of Mexican indigenous and environmental rights activist Isidro Baldenegro is just the most recent tragic example of the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms.

What is the role and responsibility, and what should be the response, of business enterprises to this crackdown? This was a key question at the World Economic Forum attended by ISHR representatives in Davos, Switzerland this week. Progressive business enterprises are increasingly recognising the shared values and interest of business and civil society in an open, enabling operating environment. This is an environment characterised by respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, access to information, public participation, non-discrimination and the rule of law. It is in such open environments that innovation, productivity and development thrive. Progressive business enterprises are also recognising the significant costs associated with the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, with the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Risks Reportidentifying the ‘fraying of the rule of law and declining civic freedoms’ as a key business risk. In his statement to the Forum, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights similarly said: ‘Business cannot thrive in failing societies, where tension spikes and communities bristle with grievances and mutual contempt. Strong civil societies, due process, equality and justice: these are what enable real economic empowerment’.

Business enterprises and business leaders exercise significant influence in shaping public and political opinion and legislative and policy-making processes, not just in areas of corporate and economic policy but on social issues such as LGBTI rights. They should exercise similar influence in response to the increasing restrictions and risks faced by defenders. The conversations in Davos this week recognised the shared interest of business and civil society in the protection of human rights defenders and civic freedoms. The killing in Mexico of Isidro Baldenegro at the same time as these discussions were taking place tragically demonstrates the need for business to move beyond recognition to action.

This action could encompass a range of responses, such as:

The global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants a global business response.

Sources:

https://www.ishr.ch/news/davos-global-crackdown-civil-society-and-civic-freedoms-warrants-global-business-response

Business can and should ally with those defending human rights | openDemocracy