Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Human Rights in crisis? – here the last word (before the summer!)

August 1, 2018

This blog (among many other sources) has dedicated quite a few posts to the mood of crisis that has engulfed the human rights movement, especially at international level. The international human rights regime as we have known it for the last decades is indeed under pressure, from autocratic regimes, from populist leaders and – let us be honest – from quite a few ‘normal’ people. Below you find a small selection earlier blog posts on this theme of crisis. On  30 May 2018 the MEA organized in Geneva a public event “Human Rights in a Changing World”. At this 25th Anniversary event, the leaders of the 10 international NGOs on the MEA Jury and several laureates had wide ranging discussions both in private and in public. The MEA has now produced a summary for public consumption which I have published separately earlier this day [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/report-of-meas-25thanniversary-event-human-rights-in-a-changing-world-30-may-2018/ ]

July 31 July 2018, Kathryn Sikkink published an interesting piece that has some elements in common with findings of the MEA event referred to above. The title is: “Rethinking the notion of a human rights crisis”, with as summary that “The frame of constant crisis has negative implications for human rights, especially when questions of legitimacy arise. But hope—based on empirical evidence of human rights progress—should give advocates the motivation to keep working.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

There is an epidemic of pessimism surrounding human rights today. To name but a few examples, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested that there has never been so much suffering since World War II, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner has claimed that there have been no marked decreases in human rights violations in the same time period, and international relations scholar Stephen Hopgood has argued that we are witnessing the “end times of human rights.”

Such a pessimistic mindset is understandable because of the worrisome situations that human rights activists face every day. The idea of peril and crisis, however, points not only to the present moment but also implies some knowledge about trends and change over time; it suggests that human rights were not challenged before, and that the situation is now worse.

I recognize that many alarming human rights situations exist in the world today, and I am particularly worried about the current situation in the United States, but I am not persuaded that the state of human rights globally is now worse than it has been before. Instead, let us consider how the frame of constant crisis itself could have negative consequences for human rights.

My recent book, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century, proposes that pessimistic claims need to be submitted to rigorous examination, both historical and statistical. This debate matters because of the inadvertent effects the frame of crisis and peril may have on perceptions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of human rights activism.

Historically, human rights progress has occurred as a result of struggle, and has often been spearheaded by oppressed groups. Where it has occurred, human rights progress has not been at all inevitable, but rather contingent on continued commitment and effort. Some activists and scholars fear that if they admit there has been progress, people will grow complacent and disengaged.

A recent survey of 346 individuals currently or previously working in the field of human rights found that this work is associated with elevated levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. One source of this appears to be negative self-appraisals about human rights work. These findings suggest that one of the most difficult parts of being a human rights activist is the doubt about whether you are contributing to positive change. A frame of excessive crisis thus may not only contribute to the impression that the human rights movement has historically been ineffective, but it could also diminish the motivation and well-being of activists.

By their very definition, human rights are needed when things are bad. I worked at a small human rights organization, the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time that is now seen by some as the golden age of human rights activism. Yet we never felt like human rights goals were easily within our reach. How could we, when the Argentine government was disappearing thousands of its citizens; the Salvador government, with the heavy support of the US government, was massacring people; and the world had ignored the recent genocide in Cambodia?

Some of the current pessimism also suggests that human rights activists were popular at some point in the past and are now denigrated. But human rights activists have never been popular in the countries where they work. Repressive governments have a long history of attacking and vilifying human rights groups, through smear campaigns and other repressive tactics. Human rights organizations often defend the rights of unpopular minorities such as political leftists in Latin America, the Roma in Europe, and transgender people in the US.

The fact that the fight for human rights has always faced significant opposition should not discourage us. The longer history of human rights offers a positive message that can help sustain us in the context of our current struggles. In Evidence for Hope, I explore what changes have taken place over time, using the best data I can find on what many of us would agree to be good measures of diverse human rights.

Looking at this data carefully, issue by issue, we see that some situations are worsening—such as the absolute number of refugees displaced by war or economic inequality within many countries. Nevertheless, there are many more positive trends, including a decline in genocide and politicide, a shrinking number of people killed in war, decreasing use of the death penalty, and improvements in poverty, infant mortality, and life expectancy, as well as advances in gender equality, the rights of sexual minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities.

So why is it that so many people believe human rights violations in the world are getting worse rather than better? The short answer is that we think the world is worse off because we care more and know more about human rights than ever before. The media and human rights organizations have drawn our attention to an increasingly wide range of rights violations around the world. Their success in doing so sometimes inadvertently causes people to think that no human rights progress is occurring. Discouraging results are also generated because we compare our current situation not to the past but to an imagined ideal world, and thus we always fall short.

My point here is not to suggest that the situation for human rights defenders is improving in the world. I mainly want to remind readers that human rights defenders have long been on the front line, and we should be cautious in suggesting that there was a better period for human rights in the second half of the twentieth century that has now been eroded in the twenty-first century. Some of the threats—particularly those involving invasive laws about registration and funding—are indeed new and threatening, while other challenges have been almost a constant for civil society human rights organizations over time.

Nothing about how new or old these challenges are or about any trends in fundamental human rights detracts from acknowledging the frightening challenges groups and individuals face, nor do they negate the urgent need to strategize about how to respond to these challenges. Yet, what I hope is that some information about historical trends, as well as a more focused look at data, may be useful as part of an action-oriented discussion of promising tactics and how to address these challenges.

The stakes in this human rights debate are high. Anger, hope, and the knowledge that you can make a difference in the world give people the energy to keep working. Knowing more specifically how human rights groups have made a difference can teach us more about effective strategies and tactics to use in the future.

————–

Report of MEA’s 25thAnniversary event: Human Rights in a Changing World (30 May 2018)

August 1, 2018

And here is finally the Discussion Summary (in full) of the Martin Ennals Award 25thAnniversary event “Human Rights in a Changing World” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/24/mea-at-25-high-level-anniversary-panel-looks-at-human-rights-in-crisis/].  

 Introduction

On 30 May 2018, the Martin Ennals Foundation convened a meeting of leaders of the ten organizations that make up the Martin Ennals Jury, together with some former MEA laureates, to discuss current human rights priority issues. This, the first such meeting, took place in the context of the 25thanniversary of the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders.  The document below attempts to capture the main elements discussed and draws some conclusions.

Discussion

Three issues were scheduled to serve as the agenda:  (1) influencing authoritarians, (2) countering populism, and (3) effective human rights action. We focus on the five main points raised throughout the discussion.

  1. Human rights are increasingly the target of populist and/or authoritarian leaders as they demonize “others” to build support;

Not all authoritarians are populists, and not all populists are authoritarians. The initial discussion looked at the phenomenon of populists who build support by using messages and approaches that give cause for major human rights concerns.  Populist leaders who end up trampling human rights are often those most eager to remove constraints on their own power by weakening the institutions that can challenge them: the judiciary, media, parliaments, and civil society, especially Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).

Authoritarians are increasingly willing to stand up for their approaches, using justifications such as the need for economic development, the rejection of “Western” or “liberal” models, or the protection of national identity.  This is the case for countries where the population have little say in the choice of their leaders (e.g. China); nominal say (e.g.  Russia or Venezuela); or even where the population can vote freely (e.g. Hungary or USA).

The blaming or demonization of marginalised groups is a principal tool in the authoritarians’ arsenal. These groups can include religious or ethnic minorities, or even the targeting of criminals by extrajudicial means. But currently overshadowing all is the way that irregular immigrants have become the focus especially in Europe and the US of attempts to find a scapegoat for the problems that preoccupy the wider population.

The concerns among the population that provide the breeding ground for authoritarian leaders to reject more traditional democratic politics are linked to a variety of issues in the spheres of economic insecurity and law and order, as well as cultural displacement and loss of identity.  Populists have tapped into these concerns, but rather than looking at the deeper complexities they have created resonance with simple, compelling messages that appeal to emotion more than to reason.

The manner in which populists have built support by attacking marginalised groups includes a discourse to deny them certain basic rights. Statements that in the past were seen as reminiscent of fascism and thus politically unacceptable are now part of the political dialogue and supported or at least ‘accepted’  in many countries that were considered “liberal democracies”. Regardless of who is in power, suggesting denial of basic rights to certain groups is now common currency even in many democracies.

Immigration, and in particular “uncontrolled” or “illegal” immigration, is a particular target for populist leaders.  Human rights advocates who stand up for these people’s rights are now more easily accused of working against the national interest. Disconcertingly, blaming such an identifiable “other” time and again appears a simple but effective tool. Politicians focusing on complex causes face an uphill battle. Human rights organizations trying to protect the “other” may find their messages not just ineffective, but providing arguments for populists to use against them.

The result is that human rights, and human rights activists and organizations, are seen by significant numbers of people in many countries as serving effectively to support those who threaten their livelihood, safety and cultural values. Thus, human rights, as a concept, come under attack when associated with protecting “undesirables”.

While “human rights” as a concept may be easily misunderstood, or intentionally manipulated, views tend to be more supportive once specific rights are acknowledged and advanced. This applies particularly to a broad range of economic and social rights issues that resonate with a wider cross-section of the population: corruption, land rights, labour rights, and environmental degradation.  These issues tend to be underrepresented as human rights concerns and more effort should be made to show the connections. It was stressed that young people especially are willing to work on these issues.

A recurring theme in the discussion was that while there may be support for particular rights such as LGBT or land rights, this would not usually be translated into supporting the overarching human rights architecture in general. Messaging by human rights organizations often involves conceptual messages, which have been ineffective in the past. However, the new, and more dangerous, element is rather than just being ineffective, these messages can provide arguments in the opposite direction for populists.

The conclusion that presents itself is that those working on any particular topic will have to be much more aware of the wider context in which they work. While trying to draw attention onto specific issues, it is important to remain credible in the eyes of the wider public. This means that as human rights organizations decide where and how to focus their activities, the balance of issues worked on needs to be considered as part of the perception that the organization wants to build.

For those organizations with very specific mandates, and so a limited choice of issues to focus on, it is even more important to find approaches that do not provide arguments that can be used by those working against them.

  1. Naming and shaming needs to take into account that certain approaches can reinforce populist leaders

 

“Naming and shaming” has long been one of the main tools to press for human rights.  However, given the success of the populist messages, some leaders have been able to justify human rights violations and even use criticism to make their point to supporters. This is particularly so when the criticism associated human rights with the least “desirable”.

Even though authoritarians may feel no compunction to stand behind their methods or even boast about them, they still are sensitive to their reputations. They often mobilize significant resources to thwart or stop human rights defenders, which shows that they still think arguments in favour human rights are important enough to be dangerous for them.

There is no reason to conclude that public shaming is no longer effective, but it needs to be carefully tailored to each situation. Failure to do so can play directly into the hands of the authoritarian leader who may claim the criticism as a badge of honour. Populists are sensitive to being ridiculed; humour at their expense can be powerful. In any case the planned message needs to be carefully analysed to determine how the message could be used to their benefit by those it seeks to challenge.

Sanctions against Individuals

The use of personal sanctions and restrictions on autocrats and their cohorts is increasing and is found often to have considerable impact.   However, where this can trigger counter-measures it is important for unintended consequences such as reprisals against human rights defenders to be factored into the equation.

 

  1. Public communication

There was broad agreement about the importance of moving beyond the traditional ways of communicating human rights concerns and articulating advocacy. The human rights narrative mainly resonates with those most familiar with, and supportive of, the issues.  Messages are often legalistic and technical, limiting their appeal to a wider audience. In the current fractured political dialogue, when the objective is seen as supporting an “other” a new level of hostility can result.

The most effective communications are on issues that the recipient can identify with. This makes normative and conceptual work very hard to get the wider public people excited about. They are more likely to react to messages where they see themselves as potentially affected. This is what makes the demonization of “others” so effective.  Action against migrants or minorities does not strike people as something that can happen to them. Even when talking about civil and political rights, it is still possible to see the most serious violations such as torture and enforced disappearance as something that happens to others.

It may well be easier to mobilise people around social justice issues like corruption, land rights, labour rights, and pollution. There is a general sense that economic, social, and cultural rights are not sufficiently addressed. Countering populists will need messages in language that appeal to populist followers’ values, interests and indeed emotions. Here it is important to offer constructive solutions to move the debate forwards rather than condemning what is wrong. Furthermore, there is a need to work in alliance with broader elements of civil society such as social movements, and so tap into sources of wider support. Effective use of visual and social media is indispensable.

Dialogue with autocrats

Governments are not monoliths. There are different interests and views within autocratic states that can be utilized when dealing with them. It is important to weigh the trade-offs in any such interaction; while dialogue can be opened up it needs to be able to lead to action. There are risks that autocrats could use the fact of dialogue to legitimise their actions. At the same time, they may go along but with no intent to move forward – e.g. dialogue that only involves the foreign ministry is usually a sign that little will happen. As a rule, dialogue should go hand in hand with public communication that creates pressure. The ‘diplomacy’ must have a public component.

 

  1. Non-state actors/business and human rights

Non-state actors can play powerful roles influencing the state primarily for their own benefits, and so contributing directly or indirectly to infringement of human rights. The business sector, notably multinational enterprises, is considered a clear priority in this regard. Effective action to ensure compliance is still limited by gaps in normative rules; where such enterprises may be vulnerable to reputational risk, strengthened regulation should help ensure that they are competing on a level playing field.

There is a multitude of pressure- and leverage points. One that drew particular attention is the notion that the eventual cost to companies resulting from a lack of early engagement with the local population may be exponentially higher than had they consulted at the start. Involvement at the early planning process by all sides can reduce the risk of project failure or excessive costs later on. Other leverage points include banks/financial institutions, shareholder activism, and associated business partners such as suppliers who may have reputational concerns.

Overall, the thrust of engaging with the business sector in the sphere of human rights must be to shift the emphasis from focusing on transparency to seeking accountability.

 

  1. Supporting local action for human rights

Much of the discussion looked at recent changes in the West as to how human rights are viewed, whereas the global South continues to face the challenges it always has.  Furthermore, certain changes that originated in the West such as funding restrictions on political activity, and anti-terrorism legislation have inspired new methods to restricts human rights defenders  in countries with more structural human rights problems.

Reassuringly, experience shows that even in countries with structurally problematic human rights records there are networks of committed human rights activists. While they may be small in numbers, their commitment and drive allow them to keep human rights concerns on the agenda. Many of these activists feel unsupported when facing the resources, restrictions, and wrath of their own governments. However, this commitment to human rights by an engaged minority is a clear counterweight to populism and human rights abuses more widely.

Thus, a key message arising out of the discussion is the importance of supporting local activists and networks. Supporting them is a critical function of the international human rights movement. The work for human rights defenders cannot be seen in isolation from the causes they espouse, which in turn enables international human rights organisations to connect with broader social movements.

Rules vs implementation

While there may still be a need for developing norms and standards in certain areas (as with regard to business and human rights), the overall emphasis must increasingly be on implementation and enforcement of existing rules. This requires a more comprehensive approach that moves from identifying where norms are violated, to a systematic approach to keeping pressure on governments in question until there is change. This will involve increased coordination between international actors and those working locally.

 

In conclusion

Convening the leaders of all the MEA jury organizations together with former laureates was a first. It gave a unique opportunity to discuss the state of human rights and human rights action in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly contested world. The analysis differed in nuance only, the overall findings and conclusions had a large degree of consensus. While these outcomes may not in themselves offer ground-breaking new insights, that fact of the shared orientation and commitment is remarkable and encouraging in the face of the formidable challenges in front of us.

You can see and hear the public debate led by BBC’s Lyse Doucet on the MEA website: http://www.martinennalsaward.org (viewed by hundreds of people)

BRICS leaders should have addressed human rights at their recent summit

July 30, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) and Turkish President Recep Erdogan (R) interact during a family photo during the BRICS summit meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 July 2018. EPA-EFE/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / POO

As they met in Johannesburg last week, BRICS leaders focused on the economy, development, peacekeeping, health and industrialisation issues within the bloc (accounting for 40% of the world’s population). However, equally important issues such as the protection and realisation of human rights in the respective countries remained off the agenda. Jennifer Wells, an intern with AI South Africa, on 30 July 2018, gave a useful reminder of what could and should have been also addressed:

Brazil

Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with around 60,000 people murdered each year…Brazil’s failure to protect black Brazilians from police violence remains critical as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Candelaria killings. The tragedy, in which eight young black boys were killed by off-duty police officers in Rio de Janeiro in 1993, represents the endemic racism within the Brazilian security forces. The situation was aggravated by the murder of Rio de Janeiro human rights defender and councilwoman Marielle Franco on 14 March 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/16/marielle-franco-38-year-old-human-rights-defender-and-city-councilor-of-rio-assassinated/]

Russia

human rights defenders and civil society activists continued to face harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests across the country. The trial of human rights defender Oyub Titiev started in Chechnya. He, like several other human rights defenders, is being prosecuted on trumped-up criminal charges. Law enforcement agencies continue to launch cases on fabricated “extremism” and “terrorism” charges. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/] The Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, serving 20 years on “terrorism” charges, is on day 75 of a hunger strike demanding the release of “64 political prisoners from Ukraine”. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly has been increasingly restricted in Russia since 2012 and remains under severe clampdown. …. The rights of LGBTI people are trampled upon daily and the authorities continue to refuse to investigate the horrific gay purge in Chechnya. The World Cup has come and gone, but the suppression of freedoms and shrinking of civil liberties continues unabated.

India

It’s a similar story in India where human rights defenders are consistently under threat, attacked and threatened, often from security forces. India has witnessed horrific instances of alleged extrajudicial executions by security forces for years as police and federal forces have effective immunity from prosecution. In the North-Eastern state of Manipur, human rights defenders who have lost their loved ones in alleged extrajudicial executions and are now campaigning for justice, face unprecedented attacks. Salima Memcha, a widow who lost her husband to an alleged extrajudicial execution, was verbally threatened by security personnel. Her house was also vandalised by them. Three other human rights defenders in Manipur have faced similar reprisals for campaigning for justice for their loved ones.

China

In China, the government continues to enact repressive laws under the guise of “national security” that present serious threats to human rights. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobodied in custody whilst other human rights defenders are detained, prosecuted and sentenced on vague charges such as “subverting state power”, “separatism” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Controls on the internet have been strengthened and freedom of expression and freedom of association are under attack.[see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/12/how-china-extracts-televised-confessions-from-human-rights-defenders/]

South Africa

In the host nation, nearly a quarter of century after adopting arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, the country is bedevilled by profound inequalities, which persistently undermine economic, social and cultural rights. Failures in the criminal justice system continue to present barriers to justice for victims of human rights abuses and violations, including the state’s failure to hold perpetrators accountable for the killing of 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana in 2012 by the South African Police Service. Access to sexual and reproductive health services remain a human rights issue as does the provision of quality education.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-07-30-what-brics-leaders-should-have-talked-about/

Announcement of the Human Rights Defenders World Summit in Paris, October 2018

July 24, 2018

ProtectDefenders.eu, the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism, is organising the HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS WORLD SUMMIT 2018 – to be held in Paris, October 29-31 2018 at Palais de Chaillot (Espace Niemeyer). The event is organised with a coalition of international NGOs and human rights defenders networks – including Amnesty International, AWID, the International Service for Human Rights, and ProtectDefenders.eu’ board members FIDH, Front Line Defenders, OMCT, and RSF -, with the support of the European Union.

On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Human Rights Defenders World Summit 2018 will constitute an opportunity to review the progress made in the defence of human rights and in the protection of all those that defend these rights in all their diversity since the adoption of the Declaration. By creating a unique platform for the human rights defenders’ voices to be heard, this Summit will also call for the international community to reinforce its commitments to protect human rights defenders, celebrate the essential work HRDs carry out in the most difficult environments, and raise awareness about the threats, obstacles and restrictions HRD are constantly confronted with. The Summit intends to shape the upcoming human rights defenders’ agenda, showing the way forward to the international community engaged in the protection of human rights defenders and the promotion of a safer and more enabling environment.

To learn more about the Human Rights Defenders World Summit 2018, and meet the HRDs who are confirming their participation, check for updates at the Summit’s website.

Open call for human rights defenders

The  Human  Rights  Defenders  World  Summit  2018 will bring together a diverse group of over 150 HRDs, from around the world, for three days of meetings, panel discussions, networking and workshopping. These HRDS who are at the forefront of the struggles for social, political and environmental changes will have the opportunity to connect, work and debate together and engage with regional and international human rights organisations, global leaders from governments, the United  Nations, and the private sector. In addition to a focus on those HRDs who are most vulnerable and at risk, the Summit will be a unique space to convene marginalised groups, including ethnic and religious minorities, diverse gender identity activists, indigenous peoples and other defenders who are geographically remote from centres of power, media and international attention.

For achieving this goal, the World Summit is launching an open call for human rights defenders to present their candidacies. The aim of this call is to reach out to the most isolated and less connected defenders, traditionally underrepresented, members of less visible categories and groups or profiles of special concern. This call is, thus, very important to ensure and reinforce the representativeness, inclusiveness and diversity of the Summit’s participants.

This call will be open until 1st September, and is available in the HRD World Summit website, in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian. Please, share it widely within your network!

Communication and coordination

Louise Levayer – llevayer@amnesty.fr

Javier Roura – jroura@protectdefenders.eu

Website

https://hrdworldsummit.org

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/hrdworldsummit2018

Twitter

https://twitter.com/HRDWorldSummit

China, Russia and Pakistan in UN fail at attempt to muzzle human rights defenders (for now)

July 7, 2018

On 6 July 2018 Stephanie Nebehay reported for Reuters that China, Russia and Pakistan lost their bid on Friday to weaken a U.N. resolution upholding the crucial rule of human rights defenders. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on all states to protect civil society groups from threats and intimidation, and prosecute reprisals against them. Chile presented the resolution text on behalf of more than 50 countries on the final day of a three-week session. Amendments proposed by China, Pakistan and Russia – declaring that civil society groups must respect “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” and that their funding must be “legal and transparent” – were soundly defeated. So, in spite of increasing retaliation against human right defenders and pressure on civil society in many countries [see recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/ ], the UN is still able to resist some of the more blatant attempt to silence critics.

China and Russia are often the least tolerant of civil society at home. They are now seeking to introduce similar restrictions at the international level,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told Reuters. Their attempts to place national sovereignty above international human rights law “would turn guarantees of peaceful assembly and association on their heads”.

“These amendments were a swing and a miss for China and its allies on the Council,” Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights told Reuters, using an American baseball term. “Their efforts to limit civil society’s independence and shut down civil society voices were rebuffed by a strong message – from member states across the globe – about the importance of keeping defenders’ voices at the table”.

[At the current session, China tried unsuccessfully to block the accreditation of Uighur activist Dolkun Isa, U.N. sources said. China’s delegation publicly challenged activists speaking on behalf of Uighur and Tibetan ethnic minorities. Council president Vojislav Suc, Slovenia’s ambassador, said allegations of intimidation and reprisals had emerged during the session and urged “all necessary measures” to prevent such acts.]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights/china-russia-fail-to-curb-activists-role-at-u-n-rights-forum-campaigners-idUSKBN1JW2EM

Inventivity of evil: how states restrict HRDs access to the UN in 10 case studies

June 27, 2018

In a new report entitled “The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations” the ISHR outlines the many different ways States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to reprisals, physical threats and attacks. ‘States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’.

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.’

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to cooperate with the UN are well documented.  ‘These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

DRAMATIC ESCALATION OF HRDS KILLED IN RECENT YEARS

June 21, 2018

On Wednesday 20 June 2018, Dublin based international human rights organisation, Front Line Defenders along with the HRD Memorial Network, launched a major new report on the killing of human rights defenders (HRDs) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The report, Stop the Killings, analyses the root causes of killings of HRDs in 6 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines, which between them have accounted for 80%  HRDs killed in the last three years. 

In its Annual Reports for the last 4 years, Front Line Defenders has reported the killing of 879 HRDs. These were not random killings but the targeted elimination of those working to improve their own communities.  The use of lethal violence to silence those who defend the rights of the most vulnerable has become widespread, and is endemic in a number of countries. In its 2017 Annual Report, Front Line Defenders reported the killing of 312 HRDs in 27 countries; the true figure is certainly higher. Two-thirds of those killed were working on the environment, land rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, often in remote, rural areas.

Among the key drivers of killings and violence against HRDs detailed in the report are::

  • state failure to recognise the legitimacy and importance of the work of HRDs;
  • smear campaigns against HRDs by the state and/or its agents;
  • economic policies which prioritise the ruthless exploitation of natural resources over the protection of the environment and the land;
  • rights of peasant communities and indigenous peoples;
  • lack of effective systems to document and investigate attacks on HRDs and provide protection;
  • collusion by the state and/or its agents in the killing of HRDs.

The report was launched by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Agnes Callamard, at a special side event during  Human Rights Council proceedings on Wednesday 20 June 2018.

The full text of the report can be downloaded from: https://share.riseup.net/#VWzkKTN4f-156VE4dc-r_Q

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/05/front-lines-2017-report-confirms-worst-expectation-over-300-hrds-killed/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/15/documenting-the-killings-of-environmental-defenders-guardian-and-global-witness/

 

Civil society and human rights: topic of side event in Geneva 25 June

June 21, 2018

“How to Respond to Challenges Facing Civil Society Organisations Working on Human Rights?” is the topic of a side event on Monday, 25 June 2018(12:30 – 14:00) at the Palais des Nations, Room XXIII.

Challenges to the work of civil society organisations exist in every part of the world and take a variety of forms. Based on recent reports on civil society space of the OHCHR and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, this event gathers various stakeholders, including NGOs, governments, UN agencies and other intergovernmental organizations, to reinforce the importance of civil society engagement, and address the many challenges which hinder its effective functioning. This surely will include the question of reprisals against HRDs cooperating with the UN.
Questions to be addressed include: What are the major challenges facing civil society organisations? What are some examples of emerging good practices? How can we ensure that the needs of underrepresented parts of civil society are taken into account? What is the role of the Human Rights Council in ensuring a safe and enabling environment? Can we identify ways forward and concrete next steps?

SPEAKERS

  • Ambassador Michael Gaffey, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN in Geneva
  • Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director of UN Women’s Civil Society Division
  • Peggy Hicks, Director of the Research and Right to Development Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Phil Lynch, Director of International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Moderator: Hilary Power, Amnesty International

For some of my earlier posts on this topic: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/civil-society-organisations/

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FEf6ho01IE65f0u84nY7cmlYlSdgBziS/view

Euromed Rights announces its General Assembly for 23-24 June 2018

June 20, 2018

Euromed Rights [formerly known as the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)] announced that on 23 and 24 June, 2018, more than a hundred representatives from 80 organisations working on Human Rights on the two shores of the Mediterranean are expected to head to Brussels to attend the 11th General Assembly of EuroMed Rights. As the Euro-Mediterranean region is consumed by the migrants’ impasse, a deep social-economic crisis, the deterioration of international conflicts and the restauration of authoritarian regimes, meetings like this one are more meaningful than ever. Being the only regional organisation that gathers human rights defenders and organisations from both sides of the Mediterranean, EuroMed Rights has a crucial role to play in order to tackle the deterioration of human rights in the region with a strong, common voice.

{The General Assembly is the supreme body of EuroMed Rights and gathers every three years to elect the new President and the new Executive Committee members. The President and the Executive Committee are elected for a period of three years which could be renewed for two further terms. The Executive Committee members are also appointed as political referents for different focus areas.}

https://euromedrights.org

 

Guide to HRD issues at the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council

June 15, 2018

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 38th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 18 June to 6 July 2018. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has – as usual – published an excellent alert full of substantive issues (see link at the bottom of this post). Here I just highlight some of the session’s features that are of special interest to human rights defenders;

Sexual orientation and gender identity. The first interactive dialogue with the new Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be held between 9:00 and 12:00 on Monday 18 June. The Council will consider the new report of the mandate holder as well as the report of the country visit to Argentina.
In a joint written submission to the Independent Expert submitted in the lead-up to the presentation of his report to the Council, a group of 12 NGOs detail State obligations that if  implemented, would work towards ensuring that LGBTI defenders’ rights are protected (based in existing international human rights law and articulated in the Yogyakarta Principles (YP) and Yogyakarta Principles plus 10, (YP +10). ISHR and ILGA will organise a side-event that will build on this submission and discuss in more detail State obligations set out in the YP +10. The event will take place on 21 June 2018 from 15:00 to 16:30 in Room XXIII.

Reprisals. Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow.  Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out. [see recent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/]

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights. The Annual Full Day Discussion on the human rights of women will take place on Thursday 21 June from 16:00 to 18:00. It will focus on the specific impact of online violence on the work of women human rights defenders. It is crucial that the Council’s discussions and resolutions recognise the critical role of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and organisations led by women and girls as rights holders and agents of change. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on 20 June between 09:00 and 12:00 and will consider her report including the report of her visit to Australia. The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice and will consider their reports including a report on the country visit to Samoa and Chad.

Business and human rights. The Council consider the report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and business. It examines the duty of States to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises to whom they provide support for trade and investment promotion. It will also consider the Working Group’s report on its mission to CanadaPeru, and on the sixth session of the Forum on Business and Human Rights. Both country reports contain specific sections analysing the situation of human rights defenders, with the report on Peru raising serious concerns about the high level of threats, attacks and violence against local leaders and human rights defenders. The interactive dialogue will be an opportunity for States to follow-up to recommendations made in the UPR in that regard. The core group on the resolution on business and human rights (Argentina, Norway, Ghana and Russia) have announced that they will present a resolution at this Council session to request the OHCHR to continue with the accountability and remedy report with a focus on non-State based remedy mechanisms. The first informal consultation on the draft resolution will be held on 18 June at 16:30 in Room XXIV.

Other thematic reports

The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue and consider the report of the new Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Switzerland with Costa Rica also announced that they will be running the resolution on the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. The first informal consultations will be held on 19 June from 11:30 to 12:30 in Room V.

The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue and consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which examines regulation of user-generated content online. The Council will consider the report of the High Commissioner on procedures and practices in respect of civil society engagement with international and regional organisations. The core group on the civil society space resolution (Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia) announced that they will present a resolution this session.

The Council will also consider the reports of and hold interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, including the report of his mission to Poland, and with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, including reports of her missions to Iraq and El Salvador.

Country specific developments

Burundi During its 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi. One resolution was led by the European Union and extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. The second resolution was led by the African Group and requested OHCHR to urgently dispatch a team of three experts to engage with the Burundian authorities and all other stakeholders to “collect and preserve information, to determine the facts and circumstances in accordance with international standards and to forward to the judicial authorities of Burundi such information”. The aim was to establish the truth and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable. Read here ISHR’s analysis of the two resolutions. At the 38th session, the Council will hear the oral briefing by the High Commissioner on the mission of OHCHR on 4 July between 15:00 and 18:00. The Council will also hear an oral briefing by the Commission of Inquiry on 27 June between 09:00 and 12:00. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/26/enough-is-enough-ngos-call-for-burundi-suspension-from-un-human-rights-council/]

China. By any measure, the Chinese government is not living up to the commitments to protect and promote human rights inherent in its Human Rights Council membership. Since the twelve-country joint statement on the human rights situation in China in March 2016, there has been no concerted effort to use the Council space creatively to call for accountability and transparency related to violations in China. This, despite the fact that in July 2017, Chinese security authorities presided over the death in custody of Liu Xiaobo, the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in detention since Carl von Ossietzky died in Nazi Germany in 1938… In this context NGOs , incl. the iSHR, continue to call for the release of individuals arbitrarily detained and/or held incommunicado, including Wang Quanzhang, Gui Minhai, Tashi Wangchuk, Lee Ming-che, and Yu Wensheng. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/]

Eritrea. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with and consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea on 25 June. A cross-re­gional group of non-governmental organisations urged the Council to support and co-sponsor at the 38th session a streamlined resolution that accurately reflects the gravity of the situation on the ground, renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur under the Council’s agenda item 4, and sets out a framework for needed reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country and advance accountability.

Other country situations include: 

  • An interactive dialogue on the oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights of the minority Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in Rakhine State of Myanmar, and the oral report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • An enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the findings of the team of international experts on the situation in the Kasai regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and on the oral update by OHCHR on the situation of human rights in the DRC
  • An oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine
  • An oral update by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic
  • An interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria (oral update) and consideration of the summary report of OHCHR on the high-level panel discussion on violations of the human rights of children in Syria
  • An interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus on his report
  • During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports as part of the 29th session of the UPR. These reports list recommendations the following States under review are expected to implement: France, Tonga, Romania, Mali, Botswana, the Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, Montenegro, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Liechtenstein, and Serbia.

This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for BurundiMali and the United Arab Emirates to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers on those countries.

The Council appointed new Bureau members due to the departure of the Ambassadors of Chile and Germany. The members of the Bureau for 2018 now comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Vojislav ŠUC (Slovenia), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Evan P. GARCIA (Philippines), Vice President
  • Cristobal Gonzalez-Aller Jurado (Spain), Vice President
  • Juan Eduardo EGUIGUREN (Chile), Vice President and Rapporteur
  • François Xavier NGARAMBÉ (Rwanda), Vice President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  • The Annual Full Day Discussion on the human rights of women will be held in two sessions. First, on 21 June from 16:00 to 18:00, the panel will focus on the impact of violence against women human rights defenders and women’s organisations in digital spaces. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • The second panel will be held on 22 June from 10:00 to 12:00 and will focus on advancing women’s rights through access and participation in information and communication technologies (ICTs). The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • A panel discussion will be held on 26 June from 16:00 to 18:00 on the human rights of internally displaced persons in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • The Annual Thematic Panel Discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights will be held on 4 July from 10:00 to 12:00. The topic will be “Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals: enhancing human rights technical cooperation and capacity-building to contribute to the effective and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The concept note of the panel is available here.

The ISHR and other NGOs will again organize quite a few side events on which I will report separately.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc38-key-issues-agenda-june-2018-session