Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Kenyan documentary Softie shows defenders torn between family and the struggle

October 22, 2020

Katharine Houreld writes for Reuters on 21 October 2020 a very interesting piece about a documentary that puts the focus on the difficult dilemmas facing human rights defenders.

Njeri and Boniface Mwangi are activists – they protest together and are arrested together – but as the film progresses, the focus moves from whether their crusade will succeed to whether their family will implode.

Families of human rights defenders or activists … I want people to know we exist,” Njeri, a movie buff and avid motorcyclist, told Reuters at the film’s Kenya premiere this week. “Our children really struggle.”

Softie – an award-winner at the Sundance and Durban film festivals – shows the evolution of Boniface from an activist outraged by the 2007-8 election violence into a political candidate promising his new Ukweli party will change the system from within, a decade later.

His family grapple with his absence, a house permanently full of people, and death threats targeting their three young children. Njeri, fearing for their lives, eventually takes the kids to the Unites States in 2016.

In one tense on-camera exchange before his family leaves, Boniface pleads with his wife: “you need to have an ideal that you live for, that’s worth dying for.” “You think it will be better if you die?” Njeri replies sadly.

A later scene lays out the stakes. The couple’s eldest son Nate returns from his American school with something he has made for father’s day: a loving card for his mother. When filmmaker Sam Soko asks from behind the camera why there’s no message for his father, Nate shrugs.

Moments like that forced a reckoning, said Boniface, who appeared with his family at the premiere, all in matching purple outfits. Now he’s building his party, taking a rest from protests and spending time making meals for his family. He’s finally realised he can’t – and shouldn’t – try to change everything himself.

Change is not an event… it’s not a popcorn that pops in a microwave,” he told Reuters. “It’s a very slow painful marathon – and then the marathon doesn’t end.”

The film started out as a five-minute Youtube clip about organising a protest, said Soko, who is an activist himself. It sprawled into a seven year project, now streaming on PBS in the United States and Britain’s BBC.

It’s essentially still an activist manual,” he said. “But a different kind of manual … (about) what it means to love.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-film/kenyan-documentary-spotlights-activist-torn-between-family-and-the-struggle-idUSKBN2761FY

Nicaragua: things getting worse and worse for human rights defenders: COVID-19 and foreign agents

October 17, 2020

The New Humanitarian of 2 September 2020 carried a special feature on Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega is making life increasingly hard for aid and human rights groups in Nicaragua even as poverty, malnutrition, and emigration due to political strife are on the rise, and as he is criticised for a dismissive and reckless response to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, a new law for the regulation of “foreign agents” was passed on 15 October.

“In Nicaragua, simply existing as a person carries a risk,” Ana Quirós, director of the Center for Information and Advisory Services in Health, or CISAS, told The New Humanitarian. “You do not need a particular reason to become a victim of violence, of repression, kidnapping or assassination. It is a general risk.

Quirós was deported and stripped of citizenship in November 2018 after the government accused CISAS, which had been working on health education and HIV prevention in Nicaragua with the support of several international aid groups and actors – including Medico International, Medicus Mundi, and the EU – of “participating in destabilising activities”.

Quirós said individuals still working with aid and civic groups in the country are under great threat, and that several people who had been working with CISAS in Nicaragua since it was banned had been forced to flee the Central American country.

It has been during this pandemic that the absence of the NGOs has been most strongly felt, especially for us working in health,” the CISAS director said. “The government hasn’t made any efforts regarding communication, training, education in health, and with regard to the other basic human rights of the population,” Quirós said. “The population is very unprotected, and is hungry for information and real knowledge about the risks and measures that one needs to take to prevent illnesses.

Forty years after Ortega led a socialist revolution to uproot the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua continues to be burdened by a host of humanitarian concerns, albeit as it isolates itself from international aid institutions.

Under the government leadership of Ortega and his influential wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America, while the violent repression of political opponents since April 2018 has generated a migration crisis proportionately comparable to that of Venezuela. After Ortega’s re-election in 2006, Nicaragua’s poverty rate fell, following a similar trend throughout Latin America, but an independent report published at the end of 2019 estimates that it has since soared, and that roughly a third of the population, or more than two million people, now live on less than $1.76 per day.

According to the World Food Programme, 17 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the rate at nearly 30 percent – similar to humanitarian crisis settings such as Somalia – in Nicaragua’s northern provinces, which form part of Central America’s dry corridor. In 2019, WFP provided assistance to 45,000 people in Nicaragua affected by the seasonal climate change-linked emergency.

Due to severe restrictions on free assembly and expression, it is probable that protection and humanitarian needs are under-reported in Nicaragua,” ACLED wrote in an email to TNH. “It is clear from current political violence and demonstration trends in Nicaragua – particularly amid the pandemic – that the situation requires urgent attention from international humanitarian actors.

Demonstrations initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform, which has since been scrapped. They later morphed into broader political unrest as the government responded with heavy-handed measures against student protesters, and as dissatisfaction grew at government corruption and the Ortegas’ increasingly autocratic rule.

The ensuing government crackdown led to the deaths of hundreds of people – the government set the number at 197, while human rights groups say it was at least 325 – and drove more than 103,000 people to seek asylum abroad. Most fled to neighbouring Costa Rica, where at least 400,000 Nicaraguans had already been living.

In July, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the ongoing repression in the country two years after the initial protests, listing a litany of government offences between March and June, including arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, and detentions, threats, and intimidation.

Line graph of demonstrations in Nicaragua, 2019-2020

Human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees,” Bachelet reported.

The crushing of the opposition included, in 2019, the revocation of the legal status of a number of civil society groups and local NGOs – the Nicaragua Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) and CISAS among them.

Here, one cannot organise trade unions or teachers. One cannot organise any group that is not under the auspice of the regime,” Monica Baltodano, director of the Popol Na Foundation, another of the banned groups, told the independent news site Confidencial last December.

….Vice-President Murillo told Nicaraguans that the country was under divine protection, while officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order not to scare patients. In July, 25 doctors were fired for signing a letter critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It asked simply that health workers should not be persecuted and that they be allowed to use PPE.

After the United States and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year, 65 of the 148 officially recognised political prisoners were released from prison in December. Further sanctions have been imposed since, including on a second son of the presidential couple. But international political pressure has routinely been countered by the message that Nicaragua will manage on its own.

International aid groups and agencies have also experienced government pressure as it attempts to influence and define their roles. Ever since Ortega resumed the presidency in 2007, the organisations have had to operate with increasing care, former aid workers familiar with the country told TNH.

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme was told by the government that it was no longer needed as an intermediary between donors and those executing development projects. Without providing further details, the authorities said the agency and its country chief were accused of “political meddling”, and of maintaining a “hidden agenda”.

UNDP told TNH at the end of July that its operations in Nicaragua were now “limited” and that it did not have a resident representative or a deputy representative. The UN agency did not respond to requests for further comment on the situation in the country.

In 2018, the government expelled a UN human rights team after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an immediate end to the persecution of political opponents and called for the disarming of masked civilians responsible for a string of killings and detentions. Soon after, two missions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigating violence during the anti-government protests were also thrown out.

As COVID-19 cases appear to mount, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional wing of the World Health Organization – has urged the government to take stronger measures to curb the spread of the virus.

PAHO continues to await authorisation to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has donated PPE to the health ministry, while repeatedly stating that the official COVID-19 data provided is incomplete.

In spite of donations from various international sources, doctors have argued that distribution of masks and other PPE items remains inadequate. As of 26 August, Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory estimated that 107 health workers in Nicaragua had died from the coronavirus…

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few international aid groups with a presence in Nicaragua, has offered its support to help with the release of what human rights groups estimate – following the protest crackdown – to be more than 6,000 political prisoners.

In a written statement to TNH, the organisation said: “The ICRC returned permanently to Nicaragua in 2018. We have been visiting detention sites since 2019, and in November 2019 renewed our host country agreement. We can develop our humanitarian action with openness, in dialogue with the authorities and civil society, according to our humanitarian principles and working methods.”

Last Thursday 15 October Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the law for the regulation of ‘foreign agents “. The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register. Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/09/02/Nicaragua-conflict-political-unrest-poverty-coronavirus

Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law

Final three nominees Human Rights Tulip 2020

October 15, 2020

Oct 15, 2020 | News |

After several rounds of deliberation, an independent jury of human rights experts decided on three candidates out of a shortlist of 13 candidates as the 3 final nominees:

Lilit Martirosyan

Lilit Martirosyan is Armenia’s first registered transgender woman. She is a LGBT activist who has been committed to equal rights for all, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, since 2009. Martirosyan is the founder and current president of the Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO, founded in 2016. The NGO is run by and for trans people and sex workers in Armenia and the South Caucasus.

Read the complete bio.

The Sudanese Professionals Association

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) is an umbrella association of 17 different Sudanese trade unions. The organization started in October 2012, though was not officially registered until October 2016 due to government crackdowns on trade unions.

In December 2018, the group called for the introduction of a minimum wage and participated in protests in the city of Atbara against the rising cost of living. In 2019 SPA was a driving force behind the Sudanese revolution.

Read the complete bio.

TZK’AT Network of Ancestral of Community Feminism

The TZK’AT Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism from Ixmulew is an organisation of indigenous women defending life, women’s rights, natural resources and territory, in different regions of Guatemala. The organisation was formed by 10 women human rights defenders in October 2015 with the aim of mentoring and supporting each other. All of them have suffered persecution, stigmatisation, death threats, territorial displacement, criminalisation and sexual violence.

Read the complete bio.

This year’s jury was chaired by Eduard Nazarski and included the following jury members:

  • Eduard Nazarski: former director of Amnesty International The Netherlands
  • Adriana van Dooijeweert: President at Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
  • Zohra Moosa: Executive Director at MamaCash
  • Danielle Hirsch: Director of Both ENDS
  • Antoine Buyse, Professor of Human Rights and Director at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
  • Ernst Hirsch Ballin: member of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), chair of the human rights committee

What’s next?

The winner of the Human Rights Tulip 2020 will be chosen by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok and will be announced at the end of November. The winner will receive the Human Rights Tulip during an award ceremony on International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

For more on this and similar awards for HRDs, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/06/pakistani-digital-activist-nighat-dad-recipient-of-2016-human-rights-tulip/

Human Rights Defenders issues in 75th Session of the GA’s Third Committee

October 14, 2020

On 8 October 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) extended its excellent alert service to the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly which is the principal human rights committee . This year’s session will run for seven weeks from 5 October to 20 November.

This year’s Third Committee is expected to consider approximately 60 resolutions on a range of topics. ISHR will be closely monitoring the work of the Third Committee as well as relevant developments in the plenary of the General Assembly and will report on key developments relevant to human rights defenders and civil society.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Third Committee is operating in a hybrid fashion, with some sessions held in person and others virtually. All interactive dialogues with Special Procedures and UN officials will be held virtually, as will negotiations on resolutions (informals). However, general debates and voting on resolutions will take place in person. 

Covid-19 restrictions will have a significant impact on civil society’s ability to engage with States in both formal and informal settings. Given this, it is vitally important that States reach out to and engage with civil society and specifically invite NGOs to participate in informals held to negotiate Third Committee resolutions. 

Formal meetings of the Third Committee can be watched live on the UN Web TV. Follow us on Twitter at @ISHRglobal using #UNGA75 for the latest updates.

Resolutions 

This year, due to the complexities of managing multiple consultations online, main sponsors of draft resolutions have been encouraged to streamline proposals, biennialise them or implement a ‘technical’ or ‘procedural’ rollover. They’ve also been encouraged to refrain from tabling new draft resolutions not previously negotiatied. We are yet to have a good sense of how widely States will follow this advice or, critically, what impact such limitations will have on gaining human rights advances this year.  

Finally, whilst all negotiations of resolutions will happen virtually, voting will be in person with explanations of position taking place in person or submitted in writing by the relevant State and included as part of the official record of the session. With restrictions in place, some missions may have smaller delegations working at the Committee and these, as well as traditionally smaller delegations, may find covering the various sessions challenging. It has yet to be seen how this might impact upon voted resolution outcomes, including on the participation of these delegations during the in-person voting of resolutions.   

Thematic
  • Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (Lead Sponsors: Mexico and Switzerland) – The Third Committee will consider a resolution on the right to privacy. In previous years this biennial resolution expressed concern that the right to privacy of those defending human rights can be undermined. ISHR hopes to see this language maintained in the text, as well as strengthened language on surveillance technologies, encryption and internet shutdowns, as well as the gendered impact of privacy regulations.
  • Treaty bodies (Lead Sponsor: Iceland) – The Third Committee will once again consider the biennial resolution on the ‘Human rights treaty body system’ at this session. The last resolution on this topic was adopted by consensus in 2018. The text of the resolution is not expected to change much. The resolution is significant because it recalls resolution 68/268 on “Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system”, encourages all stakeholders to continue their efforts for the full implementation of resolution 68/268, and reaffirms the formula contained in 68/268, which sets out how the allocation of meeting time and corresponding financial and human resources to the treaty bodies would be identified and requested by the Secretary-General. The negotiation of this resolution will take place in the context of the ‘2020 review’ of 68/268, which was initiated earlier this year and co-facilitated by Switzerland and Morocco. 
  • Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (Lead Sponsor: Finland) – This year  we’ll see the return of the biennial resolution on extra-judicial killings which seeks to ensure the protection of the right to life of all persons. This resolution historically includes a paragraph referring to groups that are vulnerable to extrajudicial killings. This paragraph urges States to protect against and investigate killings committed for reasons related to their activities as human rights defenders, or because of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ISHR together with other NGOs will be advocating to ensure this language is maintained.
  • Death Penalty (Lead Sponsor: Brazil) – The Third Committee will once again consider its biennial resolution on the death penalty. This resolution calls for States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty. In the previous two negotiations, Singapore has successfully introduced a hostile amendment to the resolution reaffirming the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems. Other delegations together with civil society groups have objected to this amendment, emphasizing that sovereignty requires compliance with international human rights commitments and the emerging customary norm that considers the death penalty as running foul of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  • Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (Lead Sponsors: France and Netherlands) – The broad scope of this resolution is expected to pay much needed attention to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on all forms of violence perpetrated against women, girls, adolescents and other marginalised  groups. ISHR supports the inclusion of references to human rights defenders in the text and will be advocating alongside other NGOs to ensure this language is maintained and strengthened.
  • Human rights defenders (various) – While there is no thematic resolution focused on human rights defenders this session, a number of resolutions include or are relevant to human rights defenders. ISHR will be advocacting to ensure language referencing human rights defenders is both maintained and strengthened across these resolutions. These resolutions include the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, Women and girls and the response to COVID-19 and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.    
Country situations

For the 18th year, Canada will present a resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran spotlighting the continued dismal human rights situation and lack of progress over the last year. The European Union will again lead on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, similarly underlining the lack of human rights progress. Ukraine will again present a resolution condemning Russia’s activities in Crimea (Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine). A resolution on the Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar is again expected to be led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic will be led by the USA and Saudi Arabia. 

On 6 October, Germany delivered a joint statement on Chinaon behalf 39 States. A similar statement was delivered on behalf of 25 States last year. The statement addressed widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet. The joint statement endorsed an unprecedented appeal from 50 UN Independent Experts for the creation of a UN mechanism for monitoring human rights in China. A recent global civil society appeal from over 400 organizations echoed the experts’ call.

Other key issues  

Some resolutions are expected to become battlegrounds regarding references to gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as has been the case in previous sessions of the Third Committee. While negotiations on some resolutions, including resolutions on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation and Intensification of efforts to end obstetric fistula may not be re-opened. Others that will be negotiated at this session include the resolution on Child, early and forced marriage, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and Women and girls and the response to COVID-19.

The Third Committee will consider the Human Rights Council Report which lays out resolutions and decisions taken by the Council through the year, including those just adopted and decided upon in Geneva this week.  No challenge to any part of the report is expected. 

Human Rights Council elections will take place on 13 October. ISHR is once again disappointed that this year all regions, save for the Asia Pacific region, have presented closed slates. In addition to this, the fourth candidate for the African region—Gabon—was only announced on 6 October, just one week before the election. ISHR has published ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking membership. These provide a quick ‘at-a-glance’ objective comparison of the candidates, focusing on their cooperation with the Council, their support for civil society, their engagement with UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures, among others. Together with 18 other NGOs, ISHR has also issued a public call for Member States to refrain from voting for any candidates who do not meet the membership criteria of upholding high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms. See latest: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/13/human-rights-council-election [“Saudi Arabia failed in its attempt to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the next three-year term starting on January 1, while China, Russia and Cuba were elected on Tuesday in a vote that caused an outcry among human rights defenders.“]

The Fifth Committee will consider the UN’s annual budget during its main session (October- December. In the meantime, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question (ACABQ) has published its report on the proposed programme budget for 2021. One concerning element is that the ACABQ has recommended that the Fifth Committee deny the majority of the Secretary-General’s resource request for additional funding for the treaty bodies on the basis that it (1) doubts that OHCHR actually requires more staff in order to prevent backlogs of reports and communications to the treaty bodies from accumulating (when backlogs of communications have been a major problem for the treaty bodies since 2017, and as the treaty bodies’ inability to meet during the pandemic has now resulted in major backlogs in both areas); and 2) that the Third Committee will be taking action on the matter of treaty body strengthening during its main session that may affect their resource needs (which ISHR understands to be incorrect). Delegations that support the work of the treaty bodies should advocate in the Fifth Committee for the full allocation requested by the Secretary-General. 

Overview of Reports and Dialogues with UN Experts

The UN Special Procedures – Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups – will report to the Third Committee and hold virtual interactive ‘dialogues’ with member States.  Several of this year’s reports reflect concerns about increased attacks on human rights defenders and emphasise the critical importance of creating and maintaining space for civil society. Click here for a list and schedule of dialogues.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/75/165): In her first report to the Third Committee, Mary Lawlor highlights that the global reaction to the pandemic has largely increased the threats to civic space and human rights defenders and often been characterized by ‘declarations of states of emergency that are not compliant with human rights obligations and by abuse of constitutional powers.’ Lawlor also sets out her priorities as mandate-holder which include focusing on those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, the most marginalized and vulnerable defenders such as women defenders, LGBTI defenders, and defenders working on the rights of migrants. Lawlor will also focus on reprisals against defenders cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, the issue of impunity, the impact of businesses and financial institutions on defenders’ work and strengthening existing mechanisms of protection. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (A/HRC/45/28): emphasises that effective participation by civil society is essential to the realization of people-centred sustainable development and strongly condemns acts of reprisal against critics and opponents of development projects including members of civil society organisations.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development (A/75/167): In this report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Saad Alfarargi, explores the international dimensions of financing for development policies and practices from the perspective of the right to development and notes that civil society organisations face severe barriers in participation and access to international negotiations and discussions for financing development.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (A/75/161): notes the grave risks that environmental defenders face in their work and emphasises on the need for protection for environmental defenders through effective and timely remedies.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/75/184): Clement N. Voule’s  report focuses on ‘Celebrating women in activism and civil society: the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association by women and girls’. The report notes that women are at the forefront of today’s most pressing global struggles and examines the gendered and intersectional barriers, reprisals and backlash faced by women to their full and equal enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Voule provides recommendations to promote an enabling environment for the rights of women to assemble and associate. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/75/185): The first report to the General Assembly of the new mandate holder, José Francisco Calí Tzay, summarizes the activities of the mandate since the last report of the previous mandate holder (A/74/149) and analyses the specific impacts on indigenous people of the COVID-19 pandemic, including harassment, attacks and killings of indigenous rights defenders. A presentation of the report and interactive dialogue will take place on 12 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (A/75/144): In her report on the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of domestic violence, Dubravka Šimonović notes the increase in domestic violence against women due to lockdowns imposed by governments to control the virus. Šimonović finds that state responses have largely been gender-blind, including funding cuts to civil society organisations and women’s organisations providing essential services such as crisis centres, helplines, shelters and safe accommodation. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 9 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (A/75/258):  Victor Madrigal-Borloz discusses the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) and gender-diverse persons including social exclusion and violence and the interaction with institutional drivers of stigma and discrimination. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 29 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/75/261): focused on the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom, highlighting the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society. The Special Rapporteur finds that threats to and restrictions on academic freedom limit the sharing of information and knowledge, an integral component of the right to freedom of expression. He reveals that academics and their institutions face social harassment and State repression for their research. The Special Rapporteur concludes with a set of recommendations to States, academic institutions, international organizations and civil society. 
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (A/75/147): proposes a preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on two particular aspects: data protection and surveillance. Concerns arise when surveillance apparatus traditionally employed for State security purposes is proposed or hurriedly deployed for a public health purpose. Necessity, proportionality and safeguards in law consistent with international law must exist when such surveillance measures are applied.
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: to be issued. 
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: to be issued.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights: to be issued.

For more information: Contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/third-committee-of-un-general-assembly-2018-will-consider-human-rights-issues/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-75th-session-third-committee

Colombia”s human rights defenders: ‘We’re being massacred’

October 8, 2020

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá Colombia reports for the Guardian of 8 October 2020 on the latest Amnesty International study entitled “Why Do They Want To Kill Us?” and published on Thursday. It identified four areas of the country as particularly dangerous for activists: Buenaventura; the Amazonian province of Putumayo; the war-torn Catatumbo region on the Venezuelan border; and the Kubeo-Sikuani indigenous settlement in the eastern planes

Activists in Colombia have warned that they continue to face extermination despite the coronavirus pandemic, as Amnesty International accused the country’s government of doing little to protect them.

At least 223 social leaders – community activists defending human, environmental, and land rights – have been murdered this year, according to local watchdog Indepaz.

“We are being massacred, drop by drop,” said Danelly Estupiñán, who leads the Black Community’s Process (or PCN), an activist group dedicated to Afro-Colombian rights, in Buenaventura, an Afro-Colombian port city on the Pacific coast. Estupiñán has received countless death threats, been followed by suspicious men, and had her house broken into in recent months

For years, Colombia has been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for people who are defending human rights, territory, and natural resources,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty, said in a statement to media on Thursday.

Defenders will continue to die until the government effectively addresses structural issues such as the deep inequality and marginalization suffered by communities, ownership and control of the land, substitution of illicit crops, and justice,” Guevara-Rosas went on to say.

Human rights defenders across the country told Amnesty International’s researchers that the Covid-19 outbreak has also prompted authorities to reduce the protection arrangements – including state-provided bodyguards and armoured vehicles.

A historic 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and what was then Latin America’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Farc), was supposed to end decades of the bloodshed.

But though the accord formally ended five decades of civil war that killed 260,000 and displaced over 7 million, only a small fraction of its provisions have been implemented, while violence continues to rattle the countryside as Farc dissidents, other rebel militias, and cartels jostle for control.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/


https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/debemos-proteger-quienes-defienden-tierra-ambiente-colombia/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/08/colombia-activists-murder-amnesty-international

Iranian human rights defender Narges Mohammadi released from jail, finally

October 8, 2020

Iranian opposition human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, at the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran (AFP/File photo) By MEE staff

Prominent Iranian human rights defender Narges Mohammadi has been released from prison, her husband confirmed on Thursday 8 October 2020. She had been serving a eight and a half years out of a10-year sentence for ‘forming and managing an illegal group’

Ismail Sadeghi Niaraki, prosecutor in Zanjan province, said a newly passed law reducing prison sentences included the activist and said she had been released on that basis, according to BBC Persian. Mohammadi, who was held in Zanjan Prison in northwestern Iran, was the spokeswoman for the Centre of Human Rights Defenders in Iran.

Originally serving a six-year sentence dating from 2011, she had been released on bail before being arrested again on new charges in 2015.

The mother of two was then sentenced to 16 years in prison for “forming and managing an illegal group” among other charges, with a minimum of 10 years having to be served. Coronavirus: Iran reports record high death numbers as it grapples with third wave

Her husband, Taghi Rahmani, confirmed the news on Twitter. “Narges was released from Zanjan prison at three in the morning,” he tweeted. “Wishing freedom for all prisoners.

UN rights experts in July called for Mohammadi’s release after she reportedly fell ill with Covid-19, warning her life was at stake.(see: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26118&LangID=E

“The Iranian authorities must act now before it is too late,” the 16 independent experts said in a statement.

Iran has released more than 100,000 prisoners since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March, as a way of reducing infection.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/07/un-rights-chief-urges-iran-to-release-jailed-sotoudeh-and-other-human-rights-defenders-citing-covid-19-risk/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/06/exclusion-of-human-rights-defenders-from-covid-release-measures-is-the-norm/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-narges-mohammadi-release-prison-human-rights

https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Iran-frees-rights-activist-after-more-than-8-15630185.php

UN rights chief urges Iran to release jailed Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders, citing COVID-19 risk

October 7, 2020

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According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), conditions in Iranian prisons, suffering from chronic overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, have worsened during the pandemic. Shortage of water and inadequate protective equipment, testing, isolation and treatment have led to a spread of coronavirus among detainees, reportedly resulting in a number of deaths. 

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined the responsibility of States to ensure health and well-being of all individuals under their care, including those in prisons. 

Under international human rights law, States are responsible for the well-being, as well as the physical and mental health, of everyone in their care, including everyone deprived of their liberty,” she said in a news release, on Tuesday 6 October 2020.  

People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk,” she added. 

In February, the Iranian judiciary issued directives on temporary releases to reduce the prison population and avoid further spread of the virus, benefiting some 120,000 inmates, according to official figures, said OHCHR, adding that the measures appear to have been suspended, and prisoners have been required to return in large numbers.  

In addition, people sentenced to more than five years in prison for “national security” offences were excluded from the schemes. 

As a result, most of those who may have been arbitrarily detained – including human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists, and others deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or exercising other rights – have been placed at a heightened risk of contracting the virus, added the Office. 

“I am disturbed to see how measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been used in a discriminatory way against this specific group of prisoners,” said High Commissioner Bachelet. 

One of the most emblematic cases is that of prominent lawyer and women’s rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was given a combined prison sentence of over 30 years on charges related to her human rights work. Her life is believed to be at considerable risk as she suffers from a heart condition, and has been weakened by a long hunger strike.  

Once again, I urge the authorities to immediately release her, and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice,” said Ms. Bachelet 

Over the years, she has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the Government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/]

The High Commissioner also voiced concerns over persistent and systematic targeting of individuals who express any dissenting view, and the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights. 

“It is disheartening to see the use of the criminal justice system as a tool to silence civil society,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1074722

CIVICUS publishes “CIVIC FREEDOMS AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A SNAPSHOT OF RESTRICTIONS AND ATTACKS”

October 6, 2020

The CIVICUS Monitor has produced on Monday 5 October 2020 a new research brief on the state of civic freedoms amid the global pandemic. The brief provides a snapshot of restrictions facing activists, journalists and civil society organisations. There are over 35 country case studies and it is broken into five parts:

  • Protests in the time of COVID-19
  • Freedom of expression under threat
  • Restrictive laws under the pandemic
  • Excluded groups left further at risk
  • Bright spots during the pandemic.

Also worth flagging, is that at the end of November, the CIVICUS Monitor will be releasing its annual global index on the state of civic freedoms (see last version. This is the flagship data report which rates and measures the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and free speech across 196 countries. The report will provide global statistics on areas such as, excessive force against protesters, the detention of protesters, the detention of journalists, acts of censorship, etc. This data will also be disaggregated at the regional level.

  • Civic activism continues during the COVID-19 pandemic and people have continued to mobilise to demand their rights.
  • Violations of protest rights have been documented: protesters are being detained, protests are being disrupted and excessive force is being used by states.
  • Restrictions on the freedom of expression and access to information continue.
  • States are enacting overly broad emergency legislation and legislation that limits human rights.

In April 2020, just one month after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, we highlighted a series of alarming civic space violations by states. As noted in our previous brief, in many countries the emergency measures introduced to tackle the pandemic have had troubling impacts on human rights and the space for civil society. After more than six months of the pandemic, violations and restrictions on civic space continue.

Since 2016, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented and analysed the state of civic space in 196 countries. Civic space is the bedrock of any open and democratic society and is rooted in the fundamental freedoms of people to associate, peacefully assemble and freely express their views and opinions. This brief covers civic space developments in relation to COVID-19 between 11 April 2020 and 31 August 2020. It is compiled from data from our civic space updates by activists and partners on the ground.

International human rights law recognises that in the context of officially proclaimed public emergencies, including in public health, which threaten the life of a country, restrictions on some rights can be justified. As explained in our previous brief, those limitations need to comply with international standards. But while international law is clear, some states have gone beyond justifiable restrictions, with negative consequences on civic space and human rights while also creating additional barriers for already excluded groups.

Although states placed restrictions on large public gatherings during the pandemic, people have continued to mobilise through various forms of protest. However, a number of violations were documented during protests, including the detention of protesters, protest disruptions and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies. In addition, violations on the freedom of expression, which featured prominently in our first COVID-19 brief, have continued. These violations include censorship of free speech, targeting of media outlets and detentions of journalists. States have also continued to pass restrictive laws, such as overly broad emergency laws, under the guise of fighting the pandemic. Citizens, journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) have experienced harassment and intimidation. During the pandemic, many excluded groups have faced additional risks and violations.

See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/23/civicus-and-600-ngos-dont-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19/

and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/annual-reports-2019-civicus-global-report/

https://monitor.civicus.org/COVID19Oct2020/

UN SG Antonio Guterres rebukes Polisario for human rights violations

October 5, 2020

In a strong worded report, Guterres recalled that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has pointed out in multiple reports this year to the surge of “harassment, arrests and ill-treatment of bloggers, doctors and nurses” by the Polisario militias.

The Polisario used the Covid-19 pandemic to crackdown on dissent in a new wave of repression to silence critical bloggers, journalists, activists and anyone who challenges the authoritarian status quo in the camps.

Repression did not spare the medical staff and human rights activists in the Camps who exposed the cover up by the Polisario of the real scale of Covid-19 outbreak.

Last May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a response to a complaint submitted by polisario opponent El Fadel Breica against the Algerian State, following his abduction by the polisario, that Algeria is responsible for the violations committed in its territory.

Similarly, the Human Rights Committee reaffirmed in its findings, in March 2020, the full responsibility of Algeria in the abduction and enforced disappearance of the Polisario dissident, Khalil Ahmed, whose case was raised in the Secretary-General’s report of 2019.

International rights watchdogs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have on multiple reports drew attention to the plight of the population held against their will in Tindouf where the Algerian state has relegated the destiny of thousands of Sahraouis to the mercy of a separatist militia that trades in their suffering.

From humanitarian aid embezzlement by the Polisario officials to slavery and forced disappearances in the Tindouf camps, Algeria has abdicated its responsibilities and forsaken a civilian population to the mercy of a separatist militia.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly called on Algeria to uphold its responsibility and allow a census of the population held in the camps to enable them to enjoy full refugee rights including having the choice to return to their homeland Morocco.

https://northafricapost.com/44289-antonio-guterres-rebukes-polisario-for-human-rights-violations.html

Interview with Sarah Bireete, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance Uganda

October 3, 2020

The Business and human rights resource Centre on 18 august 2020 published an interview with Sarah Bireete, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), Uganda

Sarah Bireete – Personal Archive

Sarah Bireete is an energetic human rights defender from Uganda, who is currently busy setting up a working group on civic space research in the country, while also running the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog. We sat down with her to explore her views on trust between business and civil society, and how multinational companies should respond to a growingly heavy-handed response to protests in the country.

Hi Sarah! Please tell us about you and your work!

I am a lawyer, a Human rights activist, and the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog in Uganda. I also have my own social media channel, Good Morning Uganda, followed by over 20000 followers.

How are businesses in Uganda affecting civic space and human rights in general? Are they cooperating well with civil society or is there something that could be improved?

The first thing is that international companies should observe the laws of the country in which they operate and the international law and best practice. But the practice is that most international companies that come from democratic countries, where they respect people’s rights, when they come to Uganda they tend to be blind to people’s rights, especially labour rights, people’s protection, especially in risky sectors like the flower farms. We have had experiences in the country where women worked with no protection against the pesticides, and they experienced health hazards, which made them unable to fend for families.

One of the most shocking experiences was from the flower sector, where one of the embassies was protecting an irresponsible investor from their country against the labour rights of local people. It was really amazing that ambassador called the HRD directly, and threatened them to keep quiet about labour rights of ordinary women working on flower farms.

Enno Schröder Flower farm around Kampala, Uganda

In the oil sector as well, most multinational companies are ignoring the basic human rights, the right to property, clean environment, fair and prompt compensation. Civil society believes that most of them are not helpful as they are not upholding practices that are respected in their own countries and are not following best practices established by international processes, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. We are struggling with this, because we expect multinational companies to come in with an upper hand, and improve practice in oil governance in the country. What we expect is a partnership with developed countries, in line with international protocols governing diplomacy, and with companies based in this countries – this would help us improve the welfare of the people in the least developed countries. We don’t expect big companies to come in and negatively affect people and shrink space for civil society.

Is there trust between multinational companies and civil society in Uganda? Can multinational companies help civil society protect and expand civic space in some way?

Trust between civil society and multinationals gets eroded when we see them coming in to exploit the most vulnerable of our people.

Multinational companies come into the country and give work to mainly low wage workers – they have limited knowledge, they are vulnerable, they need to make a living for their families – and then they get exploited by people that we would expect would have higher protection standards. This erodes people’s trust because it appears as though they are just trying to exploit the situation, instead of trying to improve the welfare of society they’re coming into. But in the context of the business and human rights approach, we as civil society need to work a lot with these companies to show them that they shouldn’t lower standards – they should maintain the same standards as in their countries of origin.

Multinational companies should also work with civil society actors to help us push back against the government if it is shrinking civic space and to push the government to help improve the welfare of the people, as they make profit.

We have seen more attacks on journalists and opposition figures in Uganda in the past year, and more heavy-handed response to protests – how should have the business community reacted?

When there is unrest in the country, the companies will not be able to do their business they came to do. When people are not happy and are agitated, they will not deliver at their place of work. So these businesses need to come into the country, and make human rights a condition for them doing business in a country: that would ensure human rights are observed. In their conversations, they should tell the government that if they continue to violate human rights, they might suspend business there.

We expect multinationals to say to government ‘these are not the standards we expect to work in. They cannot make profit when country is not governable, so they should help improve the situation and tell government that they cannot violate human rights because it will make situation worse for everyone.