Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Troubling Trends in Southern Africa: Tanzania and Zimbabwe

August 5, 2020

Tanzania's President John Magufuli addresses members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party (CCM) at the party's sub-head office on Lumumba road in Dar es Salaam, October 30, 2015
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli addresses members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party (CCM) at the party’s sub-head office on Lumumba road in Dar es Salaam, October 30, 2015 Emmanuel Herman / REUTERS

Michelle Gavin – In a blog post of 29 July, 2020 – draws attention to the deterioriation in Tanzania where President John Magufuli claims that Tanzania is free from the virus and tourists should feel confident about visiting the country. To ensure that the public will take his word for it, official data on the number of positive cases has not been released since the end of April, part of a pattern of hiding, or tightly controlling information that in most countries can be accessed and interrogated without incident. Since his election in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform, Magufuli’s penchant for eliminating or suppressing discordant narratives has proven toxic to his country’s democracy.

Brave Tanzanians continue finding ways to speak out about the shrinking space for discourse and dissent in their country [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/31/annual-reports-2019-tanzania-mostly-a-bad-year/]. Outsiders, including UN human rights experts, have spoken out about the persecution of journalists, civil society leaders, and opposition politicians [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/06/tanzania-shows-great-power-sensitivity-to-un-human-rights-criticism/. ….

In this climate, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the upcoming October elections. The legal context in which opposition parties operate has changed, limiting their capacity to mobilize voters, and major civil society organizations have been disqualified from observing the polling. In Zanzibar, where citizens’ civil and political rights have been denied multiple times in the context of elections, the voter registration system has only added to citizens’ mistrust of the process. The stage increasingly looks to be set for an election that serves the interests of the current leader, but erodes popular trust in democracy itself.

in the meantime in neighbouring Zimbabwe dozens of people have been arrested and detained in the past few weeks over protests against government officials and corruption. Speaking on Tuesday 5 August 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa accused who he referred to as “rogue Zimbabweans” of working together with foreign detractors to destabilise Zimbabwe. “We will overcome attempts at destabilisation of our society by a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors,” Mnangagwa said.

Inflation in Zimbabwe is more than 700 per cent and last month the World Food Programme projected that by the end of the year 60 per cent of the country’s population will lack reliable access to sufficient food.

Footage of violence carried out by security forces and the detaining of opposition politicians and government critics has drawn international condemnation. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter call to action, Zimbabweans have expressed their thoughts and demands for actions on social media using the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.

The UN Human Rights Council is among those expressing concern about claims the authorities in Zimbabwe are using the COVID-19 outbreak to crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

“While recognising the government’s efforts to contain the pandemic”, the OHCHR spokesperson said, “it is important to remind the authorities that any lockdown measures and restrictions should be necessary, proportionate and time-limited, and enforced humanely without resorting to unnecessary or excessive force”.

Amnesty International said in a statement released last week that a number of activists had gone into hiding after police published a list of names of those wanted for questioning in connection with the planned protests. 

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa, said: “The brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders who have had the courage to call out alleged corruption and demand accountability from their government is intensifying. The persecution of these activists is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system and mockery of justice.

Shannon Ebrahim – Independent Media’s foreign editor – on 5 August 2020 wrote from Pretoria that a week ago she was a speaker at a webinar on Zimbabwe organised by the South African Liaison Office, and sh spoke after the spokesperson of the MDC Alliance, Fadzayi Mahere. I was impressed by her eloquence, professionalism and commitment to human rights and the rule of law.It never occurred to me, looking at this immaculately-dressed young lawyer, that in three days she would find herself in a filthy police holding cell overnight with other women, no water, no sanitiser, only an overflowing pit latrine and a few filthy blankets.

,,Mahere saw her colleagues, Terrence and Loveridge, in the other holding cells. They had been abducted, beaten and tortured, and had bleeding head injuries. They had been blindfolded, told they were at Lake Chivero and were going to be fed to the crocodiles.

…It is a great tragedy that 40 years after liberation, Zimbabweans are asking themselves how there is no rule of law or political freedom.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/16/human-rights-in-africa-in-2019-rage/

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https://www.cfr.org/blog/troubling-trends-threaten-what-little-trust-remains-tanzanias-democracy

https://www.voice-online.co.uk/news/world-news/2020/08/04/zimbabwe-president-mnangagwa-issues-warning-to-critics/

https://www.bignewsnetwork.com/news/265993300/explainer–what-you-need-to-know-about-whats-happening-in-zimbabwe

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/zimbabweans-are-relying-on-us-to-speak-for-them-when-they-are-silenced-9c650bdc-66b9-4cdf-9be8-900b5a13d0c6

Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack

Global Witness: 2019 worst year ever for land rights and environmental defenders

July 29, 2020

On Wednesday 29 July 2020 Global Witness revealed the highest number of land and environmental defenders murdered on record in a single year, with 212 people killed in 2019 for peacefully defending their homes and standing up to the destruction of nature. 2019 is thus the deadliest year since the advocacy group began compiling data in 2012. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

More than half the killings were in Colombia and the Philippines and indigenous people made up 40% of the victims, the Britain-based group said inn its report. It was a significant rise on 2018, when 164 killings were recorded.

The threat from mining and large-scale agriculture caused the most number of deaths, with these sectors also responsible for worsening climate change impacts, Global Witness said.

Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritise extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting people, and their land, at risk,” said Rachel Cox, a campaigner at Global Witness.

Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting climate-critical forests and ecosystems. When they take a stand against the theft of their land, or the destruction of forests, they are increasingly being killed,” she said.

Latin America accounted for more than two-thirds of all victims last year, with Colombia the deadliest country of all, with 64 killings.

In Asia, the Philippines had 43 killings compared to 30 the previous year, with six in India, three in Indonesia and one in Cambodia, according to Global Witness.

Many more were attacked, arrested, threatened and sued, said Global Witness, which recorded killings in 21 countries.

In the Philippines – which was the deadliest country in 2018 – “relentless vilification” of activists by the government and impunity for attackers may be spurring an increase in killings, it said.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte did not respond to requests for comment.

At least 119 activists and farmers have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to Global Witness, while local campaign groups put the figure at about 200.

Dozens of United Nations experts last month called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines, including killings of farmers and indigenous people.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the “downward spiral of the human rights situation”, and a new anti-terrorism bill could be used to target activists, they said.

“Days after the act was signed, the harassment of human rights defenders has visibly worsened,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Philippine human rights advocacy group Karapatan.

“While rural communities, including indigenous peoples, grapple with the impact of COVID-19, they are constantly hounded by military operations that benefit mining corporations encroaching on their ancestral land,” she said.

Two of the country’s biggest agribusiness brands – Dole Philippines and Del Monte Philippines – earlier this year said they would review their processes to better protect land rights.

But attacks against activists during coronavirus lockdowns signalled more violence worldwide, Cox said.

“Governments around the world have used the crisis to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and roll back hard-fought environmental regulations,” Cox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This a more worrying time than ever.”

ttps://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/global-witness-records-the-highest-number-of-land-and-environmental-activists-murdered-in-one-year-with-the-link-to-accelerating-climate-change-of-increasing-concern/

https://news.trust.org/item/20200728231459-86pra

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/dangerous-day-land-rights-defenders-killings-surge-200729022143251.html

NEW: “Cypher”: Comics for Human Rights Defenders

July 23, 2020

On 23 July 2020 Front Line Defenders launched the first edition of a very interesting new Monthly Digital Magazine: Cypher – Comics as Eyewitness”.

This project advances the organization’s storytelling and narrative framing work in collaboration with and in support of human rights defenders (HRDs). Working with artists from around the world, including the awardwinning visual storyteller, Beldan Sezen, as creative director, the Magazine will be a monthly publication featuring 3 or 4 stories of HRDs and the challenges they face.
Each month, Front Line Defenders will collaborate with comics artists
from around the world, pairing them with HRDs to develop stories
that portray their work and the challenges, risks and threats they
face. The first edition features stories from:
Kenya (artist: Nomes Dee) – a profile of Ruth Mumbi’s efforts to defend the rights of evicted families in the Kairobangi neighborhood of Nairobi as the COVID-19 pandemic spread; [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/22/human-rights-defenders-in-york-programme-tell-their-story-ruth-mumbi/]
Pakistan (artist: anonymous for security reasons) – the story of the abduction enforced
disappearance of Pakistani HRD Idris Khattak, as told from the perspective of his daughter;
Lebanon (artist: Pascale Ghazaly) – with COVID-19 hitting, ongoing street protests against political and economic corruption and the collapse of the economy, Ethiopian domestic workers found themselves kicked out and abandoned, as even the embassy refused to help; a collective of domestic workers organized critical support;
Brazil (artist: Lyvia Emanuelly ) – transvesti HRD Rosa Luz is a social media and YouTube influencer and rap/hip hop musician; when she used her art to criticize political leaders, she faced intense backlash in the media and from politicians, including death threats, only returning to her public role after a hiatus to ensure her security.

Front Line Defenders comes to this project following a four-year process of developing, producing and disseminating the critically-acclaimed nonfiction graphic novel, La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/04/04/la-lucha-the-story-of-lucha-castro-and-human-rights-in-mexico-new-comics-book-out/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/sites/default/files/cypher01final.pdf

NGO statement on the achievements and challenges of the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

July 21, 2020

Further to my post of yesteday [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/20/un-human-rights-council-concluds-44th-session-and-appoints-four-special-rapporteurs-including-irene-khan/] here a more complete assessment of the result of the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Counccil as seen by the following NGOs: ARTICLE 19, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and IFEX, and published on 20 July 2020

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam on giant screens remotely addressing the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 44th session on in Geneva, Switzerland, 30 June 2020, FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The 44th session of the HRC resulted in a number of welcome resolutions, on peaceful protests and freedom of opinion and expression among them, and country-specific discussions. However, several States escaped collective scrutiny this session.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/25/human-rights-defenders-and-the-44th-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]

The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China’s imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts during this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of COVID-19, and the targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

Amnesty’s Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

We hope that the High Commissioner’s report on systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France , Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns.. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels – and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country.

We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September.

We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of “freedom, peace and justice” of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.

https://ifex.org/human-rights-council-ngo-statement-on-the-achievements-and-challenges-of-the-44th-session/

Human rights defenders in Canada subject to pressure from China

July 20, 2020

CP-Web. People wearing masks stand during a rally to show support for Uighurs and their fight for human rights in Hong Kong, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) ORG XMIT: LJM106
People wearing masks stand during a rally to show support for Uighurs and their fight for human rights in Hong Kong, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Lee Jin-man / The Associated Press

Marcus Kolga (documentary filmmaker and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Center for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad) and Yang Jianli (former political prisnoner in China – founder and president of Initiatives for China) wrote an inteteresting piece in the Vancouver Sun of 18 July 2020. Here the piece in full:

In May of this year, the Coalition for Human Rights in China published a report exposing incidents of Chinese government harassment against human rights activists in Canada that have taken place between July 2019 and March 2020. The report described efforts undertaken by the Chinese government to suppress dissidents and mobilize overseas Chinese communities to act as agents of influence.

This civil society report follows one published in March by Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), which explicitly warned that regimes like those in China, Russia and Iran are “harassing human rights defenders in Canada and interfering with freedom of assembly and media,” with the aim being to impose a “chilling effect on human rights activism and freedom of expression.

Both reports provide clear evidence that the Chinese government is intensifying its clandestine operations to threaten, bully, intimidate and silence activists in Canada when they raise concerns about democracy and civil rights in Hong Kong, Beijing’s systemic mass abuse of Uyghur, Tibetan or Falun Gong human rights, or Chinese government influence operations in Canada.

China’s efforts to mute criticism in Canada is occurring in the shadow of that country’s arbitrary, unlawful detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were taken hostage in retaliation for the lawful arrest of Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou on a United States extradition request.

Amnesty International Canada has stated that Chinese state actors have almost certainly become emboldened by the inadequate response of Canadian officials.

The academic freedom and freedom of expression of university students in Canada speaking out on China has been stifled. Indeed, many fear that the Chinese government is monitoring their speech and activities — a fact that has been confirmed by the NSICOP report, which states that Canada’s intelligence agency “CSIS assesses that the PRC and the Russian Federation are the primary threat actors on Canadian campuses.”

The Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China has called for a public inquiry into threats at Canadian educational institutions and has recommended setting up a monitoring office to register complaints of harassment and refer such incidents to police. Amnesty International has warned about the rampant hacking of phones, computers and websites on university and college campuses, public rallies, and cultural events in Canada, implicating China for hacking. The individuals behind these threats are often anonymous but can be characterized as state propagandists and foreign influence agents who are supported and often directed by the Chinese government.

Among the threats outlined in the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights for China report are “bullying, racist, bigoted, threats of violence including sexual violence and even death.” It has called for the expelling of Chinese diplomats — of which China has more of in Canada than any other country — and applying Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible for engaging in information warfare and threats against Canadian civil society activists.

On August 17, 2019, at a Toronto rally held in support of civil rights in Hong Kong, more than one hundred protesters blocked the pro-democracy activists, loudly chanting “One China.” They insulted the pro-democracy demonstrators and took photos of them in efforts to intimidate them. When activists sang “O Canada,” the counter protesters booed them and sang China’s national anthem, eventually requiring a police escort for the pro-democracy activists to leave safely.

Mehmet Tohti, a leading Uyghur Canadian activist, says that threatening phone calls are another method by which the Chinese government intimidates those who raise concerns about the over one million Muslim Uyghurs who have been forced into concentration and forced labour camps in Xinjiang and elsewhere. Chinese security officials are making direct phone calls to Uyghur-Canadians demanding that they remain silent with the threat of targeting family members who remain in China with harassment or worse.

Chemi Lhamo, a member of Canada Tibet Committee and Students for a Free Tibet, faced a massive harassment campaign in 2019, when she was elected president of a University of Toronto student union. Among the racist, anti-Tibetan messages she received was one that read: “China is your daddy — you better know this.”

While Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne welcomed the Coalition for Human Rights in China report and promised to follow up on its recommendations, no meaningful action was taken. Chinese government harassment against Canadian civil society activists continues to escalate, and the mass human rights abuses committed by Beijing continue unabated, with total impunity.

In order to protect its own citizens and uphold its commitment to protecting human rights, Canada must immediately apply Magnitsky human rights sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the mass violation of human rights against Uyghurs, Tibetans, the citizens of Hong Kong and in mainland China. According to China expert Jonathan Manthorpe, roughly US$1 trillion has been “spirited out of China by Communist party leaders and their hangers-on” who seek to hide their assets “in stable overseas havens like Canada, the United States, Australia or Europe.”

Canada can help curb China’s barbaric abuse of human rights by threatening to freeze the assets of those who are responsible for them. Minister Champagne signalled last Wednesday, that the government is open to considering the option of Magnitsky sanctions and we urge him to do so in co-ordination with UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Canada should immediately consider adopting legislation that requires the registration of Canadian citizens acting as agents for foreign governments — similar to Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency law. Such legislation will introduce serious punitive consequences for anyone who acts against Canada and its citizens on behalf of malign foreign regimes.

Finally, Canada should consider expelling Chinese diplomats who use their diplomatic cover to engage in information warfare, intimidation and influence operations. Canada’s security agencies are likely aware of which “diplomats” are engaging in such activity. It should be noted that, as of March 2020, China had many more diplomats accredited to Canada than any other nation, with 163 compared to 146 for the United States or 22 for the United Kingdom.

China’s information warfare and influence operations targeting Canada will assuredly only intensify over the coming months. If Canada wishes to protect its citizens against foreign harassment, intimidation and threats, it must act immediately to show Beijing, Moscow and Tehran that their actions have consequences.

The Canadian government speaks loudly of the need to protect international human rights, but it must now back that rhetoric with action if defending the values of human rights, freedom and democracy are truly its aims.

https://vancouversun.com/opinion/marcus-kolga-and-yang-jianli-canada-must-take-measures-to-end-foreign-attacks-on-human-rights-activists-in-canada

The South Africa based NGO CIVICUS celebrates Mandela Day with campaign #StandAsMyWitness

July 18, 2020

On 18 July, the world celebrates the birth and legacy of Nelson Mandela: In prison for 27-years, South Africa’s first democratic president, resilient spirit, and compassionate advocate for human rights for all. It’s been 30 years since the world rejoiced his release from prison as a global icon of peace. Yet, all around the world people are still imprisoned, persecuted, and harassed for their stand for freedom, rights and democratic values, and for calling out corrupt governments and multinational companies.

They are asking you to #StandAsMyWitness.

Thousands are in jail following unfair trials and trumped-up charges. Many are currently in pre-trial detention, facing long prison sentences for their human rights activities. For defenders locked up in overcrowded prisons, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens their already precarious health and welfare. They need you to use your voice so they are not silenced.

Launching on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, the campaign calls for rights defenders’ immediate release from jail and persecution, and for states, authorities and multinational corporations to guarantee peaceful human rights activities – without fear of reprisals and intimidation.

Adding your voice will give human right defenders, families, friends and colleagues a reason to renew their hopes for a better future during these unprecedented times.

1. Engage on Social Media

Use this social media toolkit to share your messages of solidarity. https://thesocialpresskit.com/standasmywitness

2. Send a Letter

We’re featuring 6 activists to shine a spotlight on their cases and demand their immediate release. They are from 6 countries, and you will find 6 template letters for each of them! Take a look. Choose 1, or if you have time 2. Write to their respective governments and demand their release:

  1. Teresita
  2. Sudha
  3. Asya
  4. Maria Esperanza
  5. Niger activists
  6. Loujain

3. Share the details of HRDs not mentioned in our Interactive Map.

Do you know any human rights defenders in detention or facing judicial harassment that you would like us to profile? Tell us about them by following the link below.

HRDs Map

Interactive Map of Human Rights Defenders in Detention

see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture-in-geneva-on-18-july-2019/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/involved/support-campaigns/stand-as-my-witness

Amnesty International’s bid to block spyware company NSO fails in Israeli court

July 15, 2020

Amnesty International’s bid to block spyware company NSO Group’s international export licence has been shut down in a Tel Aviv court, apparently due to a lack of evidence, reported several media, here in the New Statesman of 14 July 2020. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/ ]

The case argued that the Israeli defence ministry should revoke the group’s export licence in light of numerous allegations that its phone-hacking Pegasus spyware has been used by governments (including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UAE) to spy on civilians including an Amnesty International employee, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists..

The district court judge Rachel Barkai wrote in a statement that there was not enough evidence to “substantiate the claim that an attempt was made to monitor a human rights activist”. She wrote that in reviewing materials provided by the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she was persuaded that export licences were granted as part of a “sensitive and rigorous process”, and closely monitored and revoked if conditions were violated, “in particular in cases of human rights violations.”

Amnesty International decried the court’s decision. Danna Ingleton, acting co-director of Amnesty Tech, said in a statement: “Today’s disgraceful ruling is a cruel blow to people put at risk around the world by NSO Group selling its products to notorious human rights abusers. […] The ruling of the court flies in the face of the mountains of evidence of NSO Group’s spyware being used to target human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia to Mexico, including the basis of this case – the targeting of one of our own Amnesty employees.

NSO said: “Our detractors, who have made baseless accusations to fit their own agendas, have no answer to the security challenges of the 21st century. Now that the court’s decision has shown that our industry is sufficiently regulated, the focus should turn to what answer those who seek to criticise NSO have to the abuse of encryption by nefarious groups.”

The NSO Group is currently embroiled in another lawsuit brought by WhatsApp, which alleges that Pegasus spyware was used to hack more than a thousand of the messaging platform’s users. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/nso-accused-of-largest-attack-on-civil-society-through-its-spyware/]

https://tech.newstatesman.com/security/amnesty-international-nso-group-export-licence

UN experts address 3 big ones: USA, China and India

June 27, 2020

Home

Joint statements by groups of UN experts are becoming more frequent, with at least three this month. When it comes to major powers like the USA, China and India – who are rather sensitive when criticised – there must be safety in numbers:

Addressing the USA after George Floyd..

On 5 June 2020 nearly 30 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council called for the United States to reform its criminal justice system in the wake of a recent spate of killings of African Americans, including at the hands of the police. In their statement they urged the US authorities to address systemic racism and racial bias, and to conduct independent investigations into cases of excessive use of force by police officers.

The UN human rights experts charged that these killings involved impunity, disregard or depravity toward human life, and the use of public spaces to assert racial control, with each characteristic of a modern-day lynching. “The latest videos to surface showing white men chase, corner, and execute a young man who was out jogging, or showing an officer kneeling with his weight on a man’s neck for eight minutes shock the conscience and evoke the very terror that the lynching regime in the United States was intended to inspire”, they said.

With millions of Americans taking to the streets, the experts also expressed concern about police response to these protests. They said demonstrations have been marked by violence, arbitrary arrest, militarisation and the detention of thousands of protesters. Journalists of colour have also been targeted and detained, some of whom have faced violence and harassment.

UN Experts Urge India To Release Protest Leaders

On 26 June 2020 13 UN experts jointly called on India to immediately release human rights defenders who have been arrested for protesting against changes to the nation’s citizenship laws. “These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated,” the experts said.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/05/indias-overblown-notion-of-sovereignty-no-to-un-advice-for-supreme-court/]

Authorities should immediately release all human rights defenders who are currently being held in pre-trial detention without sufficient evidence, often simply on the basis of speeches they made criticising the discriminatory nature of the CAA,” they said. (Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Khalid Saifi, Shifa Ur Rehman, Dr. Kafeel Khan, Sharjeel Imam, Akhil Gogoi.)

The experts also highlighted their concern that the authorities’ response to the protests seemed discriminatory. It appears they have not similarly investigated allegations of incitement to hatred and violence made by CAA supporters, some of whom are reported to have chanted “shoot the traitors” at counter-rallies.

UN experts call for decisive measures to protect ‘fundamental freedoms’ in China

On 26 June 2020 almost 50 UN independent experts on Friday to express their continuing alarm, urging the country to “abide by its international legal obligations”.

After having “repeatedly communicated” their concerns, they highlighted the repression of protests and democracy advocacy in the Hong Kong; impunity for excessive use of force by police; the alleged use of chemical agents against protesters; the alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations; together with the alleged harassment of health care workers.

The experts also raised their “grave concerns” on issues ranging from the collective repression of specific communities – “especially religious and ethnic minorities, in Xinjiang and Tibet” – to the detention of lawyers and prosecution – in addition to disappearances – of human rights defenders across the country. .

They urged China to invite civil and political rights monitors to conduct independent missions “in an environment of confidentiality, respect for human rights defenders, and full avoidance of reprisals” and encouraged the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to urgently monitor Chinese human rights practices. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1065722

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2006/S00162/un-experts-urge-india-to-release-protest-leaders.htm

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1067312

Zambian NGO establishes fund to assist human Rights defenders

June 23, 2020

On 23 June 2020 Ulande Nkomesha reported in News Diggers that the Alliance for Community Action (ACA) has partnered with like-minded organisations and individual activists to set up a legal and humanitarian fund for human rights defenders in Zambia. In a statement issued by (ACA) information and advocacy officer Jimmy Maliseni, the NGO explained that the fund had been necessitated by the continued shrinking space for civic actors, and that the detention of critical voices had prompted well-wishers to partner with ACA to offer financial and material support to human rights advocates.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/09/human-rights-defender-linda-kasonde-creates-new-ngo-in-zambia/

https://diggers.news/local/2020/06/23/aca-establishes-human-rights-fund-to-strengthen-civic-activism/