Posts Tagged ‘human rights lawyer’

Chilean human rights defender, José (Pepe) Zalaquett, no more

February 22, 2020

Forgotten Kashmir: something has to be done

February 9, 2020

...After more than 70 years of terror, killings, torture, and disappearances, the international community must renew its efforts to end the conflict in Kashmir. In 2018 and 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released reports that documented a wide range of abuses – including kidnappings, the killing of civilians, and sexual violence – perpetrated by both sides in the conflict. The UN needs to take the lead in stopping Kashmir’s torment. ……The conflict has consumed resources that should have been used for development; instead, they were channeled to arms purchases or a regional race to develop weapons of mass destruction. Everyone, regardless of age, religion, or ethnicity, has suffered, whether as a result of displacement, family separation, loss of property, the death or disappearance of friends and close relatives, grinding poverty, or simply the prospect of a future as bleak and constricted as the present.The international community has, at times, attempted to mediate between India and Pakistan. The UN has adopted resolutions demanding a referendum on Kashmir’s future status. But, even though it has long been evident that there is no military solution to the conflict – temporary ceasefire initiatives have never resulted in a lasting agreement – India to this day has resisted a plebiscite. In 2003, Pakistan’s then-president, Pervez Musharraf, formulated a four-step approach to a political solution. Without insisting on a referendum, India and Pakistan would begin a dialogue; recognize Kashmir as the main source of bilateral hostility; identify and eliminate what was unacceptable to each side; and strive for a solution acceptable to both countries – and especially to the people of Kashmir. Subsequently, a ceasefire was declared, and high-level meetings took place, but, following a terrorist attack, India terminated the talks. In 2012, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried unsuccessfully to revive the process.

I have been personally engaged with the Kashmir issue for some time. Last year, I held meetings with senior politicians in Pakistan and India. I am well aware that India wants to treat the Kashmir conflict solely as a bilateral issue. But in that case, it should take the initiative in starting talks with Pakistan. If that does not happen, the international community must demand that the parties come together to negotiate a peaceful solution.

Again, it is not up to the UN or anyone else to impose a solution on the parties. The current situation is rooted in a highly complex mix of history and politics, and any viable settlement must reflect Kashmir’s unique circumstances. A major issue to be addressed is the “line of control” separating Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, which hinders the free movement of people, divides families, and impedes business and trade. And, of course, Kashmir’s future status is the main question that must be resolved. During my last visit to Kashmir, I saw firsthand the level of violence and the severity of human-rights violations. Conditions have deteriorated further since India repealed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in October 2019, dissolved it as a state, and reorganized it as two “union territories” – all enforced by the security forces with a wave of arrests, a ban on assembly, and an Internet and media blackout.At a time of war in Syria and Yemen, and heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, it is difficult to get the international community to focus on Kashmir. But it is crucial that the conflict not be allowed to spiral out of control, especially given that both countries are nuclear powers. Above all, the people of Kashmir deserve a ceasefire, reconciliation, and stability, and it is the duty of the UN to advance this goal. I urge the UN to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir. And I appeal to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to seize the initiative and help deliver a long-overdue and lasting peace to this region…

“The Indian government must immediately end all draconian restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Jammu & Kashmir, and fully reinstate communications”, FIDH and its member organization People’s Watch urged on 5 February 2020. In conjunction with its call, FIDH released a briefing note that highlights some of the human rights concerns that have remained unaddressed since 5 August 2019. For the past six months, the people of Jammu & Kashmir have been living under siege and denied their fundamental rights under the most draconian of measures. These grave violations of human rights must come to an end, and accountability must be established for the serious violations that have occurred since 5 August.Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General
Since the evening of 4 August 2019, internet communications, and initially telephone lines, have been cut in Jammu & Kashmir, effectively isolating residents from the rest of the world. Although phone lines were gradually reinstated and internet access restored in certain places, personal internet connections are limited to 301 government-approved websites through a very slow 2G connection. Although accurate figures are unavailable, thousands of arbitrary detentions have been reported since 5 August 2019, including hundreds of detentions under the abusive 1978 Public Safety Act (PSA). Many detainees, particularly youth and low-ranking political activists, have been transferred to jails outside of Jammu & Kashmir, the location of which is unknown in many cases. There have also been numerous reports of excessive use of force by army and police forces, including reports of deaths and injuries as a result of the improper use of pellet guns and teargas. The reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir has also resulted in a number of measures that will have long-term implications for the human rights situation in the region, including the disbanding of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) of Jammu & Kashmir – one of the few avenues for justice available to local people – at the end of October 2019. More than 500 cases of alleged enforced disappearances were pending before the SHRC at the time of its disbandment. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/17/fidh-dares-to-publish-a-report-on-key-human-rights-issues-of-concern-in-kashmir/]

Human rights violations of the gravest nature are nothing new in Jammu & Kashmir, and have gone unpunished for decades. But taking away the little autonomy the state had will only make the situation worse, especially when the people most affected by these changes have been denied their right to express their opinions. added Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch Executive Director

On 5 February the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requested an urgent intervention in the case of Mr. Miyan Abdul Qayoom, a human rights lawyer and President of Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association. Mr. Qayoom, 70,  suffers from multiple health conditions, including diabetes, double vessel heart disease, and kidney problems.
According to the information received, during the evening of January 29, 2020, Mr. Qayoom’s family received a phone call from Agra Central Jail’s authorities, in Uttar Pradesh State, informing them that Mr. Qayoom had been transferred to Sarojini Naidu Medical College after complaining of chest pain, breathlessness and his pulse rate had significantly gone down to 44pm, and asking them to visit him. On January 30, 2020, upon reaching Agra Central Jail, Mr. Qayoom’s relatives discovered that Mr. Qayoom had been taken back to the jail’s dispensary, even though his health condition had not improved.  On February 3, 2020, Jammu & Kashmir High Court Srinagar bench, after hearing the final arguments, reserved its judgement regarding Mr. Qayoom’s habeas corpus request. The scheduled date of the judgement was not known as of the publication of this Urgent Appeal…..
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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/united-nations-must-mediate-political-solution-in-kashmir-by-kjell-magne-bondevik-2020-02

Tajikistan’s jailed human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov awarded Homo Homini award 2020

February 7, 2020

Tajik lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov (file photo)
Tajik lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov (file photo)

The Prague-based NGO People in Need has awarded its annual Homo Homini prize to Tajikistan’s jailed human rights defender Buzurgmehr Yorov for his “commitment to defending basic human rights and to assure a fair trial to all citizens” of his country.  For more on this and similar awards, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/homo-homini-award.

Yorov has been promoting human rights in Tajikistan for many years despite facing severe persecution as a result of his work. He did not hesitate to defend clients who were targeted by politically motivated charges, whose cases other lawyers were not willing to take,” the NGO said on 5 February 2020. “As a result of doing his job, this prominent lawyer lost both his property and his freedom,”.

Yorov was sentenced in October 2016 on charges of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting social unrest. His 23-year prison term was later extended by five years after he was found guilty of contempt of court and insulting a government official. Last year, his prison term was cut by six years as part of a mass amnesty. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/29/in-tajikistan-lawyers-have-to-be-human-rights-defenders/]

The Homo Homini Award will be presented on March 5 to his brother, Jamshed Yorov, at the opening of the One World Film Festival, a human rights film festival held annually in the Czech Republic.

https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-tajik-lawyer-yorov-awarded-homo-homini-human-rights-prize/30418801.html

Remembering Russian activists Stanislav Markelov and Baburova

January 20, 2020

19 January rally, Moscow, 2012 CC BY NC 2.0 Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Thomas Rowley Giuliano Vivaldi wrote in Open Democracy of 18 January 2020: “To remember is to fight: the legacy of Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov“. The authors argue that his legacy remains important to this day. They do this with a selection of his articles and interviews in English.

The news broke: Russian human rights advocate and journalist killed in central Moscow. On 19 January 2009, Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova were shot by a Russian ultranationalist, Nikita Tikhonov. Markelov, a lawyer from Moscow, died at the scene. Baburova, an activist and journalist from Sevastopol who reported on Markelov’s work, died several hours later. As evidenced in the investigations and trials that followed, there was more to this tragic double murder than many western observers recognised at the time.

Eleven years on, 19 January is an important date for left-wing groups in Russia and Ukraine. Activists hold marches in memory of Markelov, Baburova and dozens of other people who have fallen victim to Neo-Nazi terror. But they also refer to issues that are often off-limits at other demonstrations. 19 January is one of the rare occasions where, particularly in Moscow, a whole range of groups — leftists, LGBT+, anti-racism campaigners, liberals, human rights activists, independent trade unionists, anarchists — come together to fill the streets with anti-militarist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist slogans for one day a year.

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 15.14.39.pngStanislav Markelov | Source: YouTube / Grani

In the years before Markelov’s murder, the streets of Russia’s big cities became a battleground as ultra-nationalists took aim at two targets: Russia’s migrant workers and anti-fascist activists. Protests, fights, murders and fabricated criminal cases flicked through headlines and news segments. “The moderate section of the nationalist movement has broken down,” Markelov said at a press conference after the murder of Alexey Krylov, a 21-year-old man who was killed on his way to an anti-fascist concert in 2008. “They have consciously gone underground… and are trying to provoke war itself.”

The investigation into the murder of Markelov and Baburova revealed that the end beneficiaries of Kremlin political technologists’ plans could be unpredictable. In the mid-2000s, Nikita Tikhonov and his accomplices in the revolutionary terror group BORN (Combat Organisation of Russian Nationalists) carried out 11 politically-motivated murders — migrant workers, anti-fascists, a federal judge being their targets. They also had deep connections to Russian Image, a magazine-turned-movement that aimed to rebrand far-right nationalism as intellectual and glamourous. In turn, Russian Image not only collaborated with pro-government youth organisations as it sought to out-position others in the competitive world of far-right activists. It also had connections in high-ranking Russian politics. With help from contacts in the police, they collected extensive personal information on Russian anti-fascists.

But while BORN and its competitors may have had their roots in the nexus of street-level and intellectual nationalism that began to emerge in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s, there was also a constellation of counter-movements developing, comprising environmental, social and political initiatives, that continued into the new decade and animated fresh protests under new conditions. It was in this milieu that Markelov, a Moscow law student, came of age politically in the long perestroika of the early 1990s — and perhaps where the pluralism of his political concerns was born. In the “October days” of 1993, Markelov served in a volunteer medical unit comprised of socialists and anarchists that patrolled the conflict zone which erupted in central Moscow as pro-government forces attacked the Supreme Soviet and the anti-Yeltsin movements. “He helped the wounded. Then he helped carry and load the dead,” Pyotr Ryabov, a Russian anarchist historian, recalled. “A real test for a 19-year-old boy.”

In 1994-1995, Markelov was involved in the radical left wing of the Student Defence trade union. This saw Russia’s student movement break, if briefly, into carnavalesque but deeply serious politics with major demonstrations on Moscow streets. The agenda ranged from higher student grants to ending the war in Chechnya and fighting big business. Indeed, in today’s light the work of Stanislav Markelov — both his legal defence and writings — appears as a vital missing link between human rights defence and critiques of Russian capitalism.

As a self-described left social-democrat, Markelov also stands out for his engagement — albeit far from uncritical — with anarchists. In the mid-1990s, he began visiting the Pryamukhino anarchist workshop in Tver, as well as participating in the Protectors of the Rainbow anarcho-ecological movement (which spanned Russia, Belarus and Ukraine), organising protest camps against new nuclear power stations in Rostov and Mogilev, Belarus. The horizontal elements of these anarchist-influenced milieu were attractive to Markelov. Looking back on the Pryamukhino workshop in 2007, he recalled: “This was a utopia made reality. […] It was here that a system of the free organisation of labour began to work.”

In distinction to many of the Russian liberal crowd, Markelov wanted to knit social and economic rights into human rights work, in order to give voice to a society being left behind in the transition. “In the 1990s, a paradoxical situation emerged,” he wrote in 2007, “you could organise hunger strikes, public demonstrations with thousands of people, even block roads, but that didn’t interest anybody.” For Markelov, a series of left-wing bomb attacks on public monuments carried out at the end of the 1990s (and whose participants he defended) suggested that Russian citizens’ desire for social justice had reached a breaking point — and had been frustrated by a dogmatic focus on liberal human rights.

Events at the Vyborg Paper Factory near the Finnish border are instructive. In the late 1990s, workers at this newly-privatised factory gave up waiting for their new owner, seized the plant, issued a single share and began working under the direction of a worker-led trade union. In an attempt to restore owner-control, riot police brutally stormed the plant on three occasions, eventually pressing riot charges against active workers. According to Markelov, who defended the employees, the reaction of the Russian liberal press was telling: demands by journalists to bring the workers to account was driven by a “fear of reevaluating the results of privatisation”. He didn’t have much time for certain sections of the human rights community, either. “You can sum up the attitude of rights defenders to [the workers at Vyborg] who came under threat of serious prison time, and who came to them for help, like this: we don’t defend these rights, they’re outside the sphere of human rights,” he wrote in 2007.

In this sense, Markelov is important as a consistent, if not widely known, critic of Russia’s new capitalism. “We were told that we can’t speak about society’s interests, collective interests, that we have individual interests which are above them,” he said at a conference in 2008. “Well sure, society’s interests were spat on in the Soviet times, but we at least had the system of Soviet paternalism. […] If something new is to emerge, then it will be in the spirit of socialist paternalism — when Soviet [social] guarantees are mixed with, well, less than democratic tendencies.”

Indeed, the left-wing human rights lawyer was invested in the idea of creating a new left tradition in Russia — one informed by the mistakes of the 1990s and the country’s earlier revolutionary history. “The main myth, which the Narodniki and Social Democrat-Mensheviks took from western social democrats,” he said at the same conference in 2008, “and which we felt on our own skin in the 1990s, is that after the fall of the cruel totalitarian Soviet system, the ordinary people, accustomed to social guarantees, a stabile social-welfare society, will be open to the ideas of democratic socialism. This was a very serious mistake.”

But while the late 1990s and early 2000s encompassed Markelov’s socio-economic interests, he shifted increasingly to defending the rights of people affected by the actions of Russian law enforcement, and Neo-Nazis. Residents of Blagoveshchensk brutalised at the hands of riot police. Relatives of anti-fascist activists killed by Neo-Nazis on Russian streets. The families of people tortured and murdered by a policeman in Khanty-Mansiisk. A journalist brutally beaten for his role in protesting the construction of a highway through a forest outside Moscow.

His bravery, courage and sheer drive were impressive. He worked extensively in Russia’s North Caucasus. In particular, Markelov represented the family of Elza Kungayeva, who was murdered by Russian soldiers during the second Chechen campaign. It was here that he gained the respect and trust of local rights defenders in an unimaginably hostile environment.

In what turned out to be the final years of his life, Markelov spent a significant amount of time defending the interests of Russian anti-fascists and their families. As political repression picks up in Russia, this year’s 19 January events will pay particular attention to repression faced by left-wing activists.

To show western readers how active and in flux Russian society was during the 1990s and 2000s – and to showcase the strategic thought of an under-appreciated and historic figure – the authors, Giuliano Vivaldi and Thomas Rowley, collect and present a selection of Markelov’s texts and interviews in English translation for the first time here. These texts span Markelov’s reflection on trade union and student activism, Soviet nostalgia, Russia’s place in the global economy, corrosive patriotism and the state and revolutionary maximalism.

Undoubtedly, Markelov would have been at the forefront of the solidarity and defence campaigns for all whose lives are touched by political repression in Russia today.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/remember-fight-legacy-russian-activist-lawyer-stanislav-markelov/

Sri Lankan human rights defender barred from legal practice appeals to Supreme Court

January 2, 2020

Dr Kumaravadivel Guruparan filed a Fundamental Rights Petition in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka last week, challenging the decision of the University Grants Commission and University of Jaffna to bar him from legal practice.

The senior lecturer of law at Jaffna University and prominent civil society representative was barred from engaging in private practice following pressure from the Sri Lankan military, after he took up a public interest habeas corpus case into the 1996 disappearance of more than two dozen Tamil youth.

The incident drew outrage from around the world, with hundreds signing a statement condemning the ‘threats, harassment and reprisals’ against the prominent human rights lawyer and the international human rights organisation Front Line Defenders has issued an urgent appeal. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/kumaravadivel-guruparan

https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/jaffna-university-senior-lecturer-appeals-legal-practice-ban-supreme-court

Wang Meiyu, democracy activist, dies in prison in China

October 2, 2019

The Guardian, Hong Kong, reported on 28 September 2019 that human rights defenders are calling for an investigation into the death of the Chinese democracy activist who was arrested for holding up a placard calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down. Wang Meiyu, 38, was detained in July after he stood outside the Hunan provincial police department holding a sign that called on Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to resign and implement universal suffrage in China. He was later charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague offense often given to dissidents.

According to Wang’s mother and lawyer, he died on Monday. Wang’s wife, Cao Shuxia, received a call from police notifying her that her husband had died at a military hospital in the city of Hengyang, where he had been held. The police officer on the telephone did not offer any explanation of the cause of death. According to Minsheng Guancha, a Chinese human rights group, Cao was later able to see Wang’s body and saw that he was bleeding from his eyes, mouth, ears and nose, and that there were bruises on his face. According to Radio Free Asia, Cao said police pressured her to accept their statement that Wang’s death had been an accident, but she refused. “The Chinese government must investigate allegations of torture and the death in detention of human rights activist Wang Meiyu and hold the perpetrators of torture and extrajudicial killing criminally accountable,” Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement.

Since Monday, Wang’s family has been placed under house arrest, CHRD said. He has two young children. Others connected to his case have also come under pressure. Late on Wednesday, six armed police detained Xie Yang, a rights lawyer, and Chen Yanhui, an activist, who had met at a hotel to discuss Wang’s case. They were released on Thursday. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/30/rsdl-chinas-legalization-of-disappearances/

Wang, who began his work as an activist when his home was forcibly demolished, had been detained and claimed to have suffered torture before. After he held up the placard calling for Xi’s resignation, he wrote online of how police stormed into his home, ordering him to write a confession letter and a statement promising he would stop. “These idiots. They can’t understand that even after these years of persecution, including being deprived of water for three days or suffering two hours of electrical needles that caused me to vomit blood, I won’t surrender,” he wrote.

Danny Ocean sings for Nansen award winner Azizbek Ashurov and refugees on 7 October in Geneva

October 2, 2019

Venezuelan singer Danny Ocean is one of the performers who will be honouring the winner of the 2019 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award at a ceremony in Geneva on 7 October. “I know how hard it is to leave behind family, friends and everything you know to build a life again somewhere new,” said Ocean, who rose to global fame with his hit Me Rehuso, in which he sings about the love he left behind when he moved from his native Venezuela to the United States of America. “Millions of people each year are forced into making this decision to protect themselves and their families. For those refugees who have lost everything, the humanity and support of others is their only lifeline. For many years the winners of the Nansen Refugee Award have been that lifeline. It is an honour for me to play a part in celebrating their extraordinary achievement.”

The ceremony will also feature a keynote address by Nadine Labaki, the Lebanese director of the Cannes Jury Prize winner, and Oscar-nominated film, Capernaum, and will be hosted by award-winning South African TV presenter Leanne Manas. Other performers joining them on the night will be Swiss musician Flèche Love and German poets and stage performers Babak Ghassim and Usama Elyas.

Last year’s winner: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/02/south-sudanese-doctor-wins-2018-nansen-medal/.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2019/9/5d91b9434/danny-ocean-perform-global-humanitarian-award-ceremony.html

UN experts urge Indonesia to protect human rights defender Veronica Koman

September 17, 2019

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman Photo: Whens Tebay

Five UN experts(Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; Ms Meskerem Geset Techane, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders) have urged Indonesia to protect the rights of lawyer Veronica Koman who advocates for West Papuan rights. They also urged Indonesia to protect people’s rights to peaceful protest and those reporting on protests in West Papua, and to ensure access to the internet

Earlier this month a police warrant was issued for Ms Koman, who is believed to be in Australia, after police claimed she spread fake news online. Indonesian authorities have blamed disinformation and Papuan independence activists for a recent wave of protests in the region

The UN rights experts said Indonesian authorities should address acts of harassment, intimidation and threats against people reporting on the protests. Ms Koman was named as a “suspect” by authorities who accused her of provoking unrest after she published reports on the protests and on a racist attack against Papuan students in Java that triggered the demonstrations. “We welcome actions taken by the Government against the racist incident, but we urge it to take immediate steps to protect Veronica Koman from any forms of retaliation and intimidation and drop all charges against her so that she can continue to report independently on the human rights situation in the country,” the experts said.

They also expressed concerns over reports indicating that the authorities were considering revoking Ms Koman’s passport, blocking her bank accounts and requesting Interpol to issue a Red Notice to locate her. The experts stressed that restrictions on freedom of expression not only undermined discussion of government policies, but also jeopardised the safety of human rights defenders reporting on alleged violations.

Protests have been increasingly taking place in the provinces of Papua and West Papua since mid-August over alleged racism and discrimination and amid calls for independence. “These protests will not be stopped by an excessive use of force or by cracking down on freedom of expression and access to information,” the experts said… The experts welcomed the engagement of the authorities on these matters and said they looked forward to continued dialogue.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/398922/un-urges-indonesia-to-protect-koman

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/09/16/un-human-rights-experts-express-support-for-veronica-koman-in-papua-case.html

https://en.tempo.co/read/1245609/veronica-koman-meets-her-duties-not-spreading-hoax-activists?TerkiniUtama&campaign=TerkiniUtama_Click_1

Human Rights Defender Linda Kasonde creates new NGO in Zambia

September 9, 2019

lets Linda Kasondeexplain her Chapter One Foundation. She says the formation has been born from the growing threat on human rights, constitutionalism and the rule of law in Zambia. Chapter One Foundation is named after Chapter One of the Laws of Zambia which contains the Constitution.

Kasonde who is executive director of the foundation noted that Increased inequality, growing populism and weakening of public institutions and public accountability were affecting the country’s ability to deliver on the sustainable development goals. “Human rights, the people that defend human rights, constitutionalism and the rule of law are facing a growing threat the world over and Zambia is no exception. Increased inequality, growing populism and weakening of public institutions and public accountability is affecting our ability to deliver on the sustainable development goals that Zambia has signed up to. The mere existence of public institutions is not enough to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights; these public institutions must also be guided by certain principles that ensure the institutions truly function for the benefit of society,” she stated.

Chapter One Foundation is financially supported by the Swedish Embassy, the National Endowment for Democracy, ActionAid Zambia and Caritas Zambia who all recognise the growing need to defend the civic space in Zambia. It is these principles that guide the work of Chapter One Foundation, our goal is to see a Zambia where citizens are freely and actively participating in the governance of Zambia, and where “we the people” take our rightful place as the authors of our own destiny. To achieve this, we recognize that we have to put the individual at the heart of our work, that is why human rights are at the core of what we do.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/09/profile-of-human-rights-defenders-godfrey-malembeka-zambia/

Interview with Kenyan human rights defender Okiya Omtatah

September 3, 2019

The Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation of 1 September 2019 carries a long profile of the human rights defender Okiya Omtatah. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/human-rights-defenders-in-kenya-honored-with-national-awards/

Okiya Omtatah

Activist Okiya Omtatah at Milimani Law Courts on September 14, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

1. The many petitions you have presented in court on behalf of Kenyans and the fact that you have succeeded in many of them points to a void in our public life as ordinary citizens created by the government through its many agencies. Sir, who is sleeping on the job that has prompted you to step in? How can we hold these public servants or institutions responsible as taxpayers for sustainable quality service delivery? Komen Moris, Eldoret

My activism is anchored on the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. My overriding objective is to the immense power of the Constitution to have the Judiciary entrench constitutionalism and the rule of law in the conduct of public affairs.

Hence, all the petitions I have filed concern public law, and they fall in three broad categories: motions challenging decisions of law-making institutions where I contest the constitutionality of statutes by Parliament or by county assemblies, and both the constitutionality and legality of subsidiary legislation; motions contesting the constitutional and legal validity of policy decisions and other administrative actions of the executive at both national and county levels, and motions seeking to protect public property from thieving public officials and private individuals.

From my experience, the struggle is against contemptuous disregard of the constitutionally prescribed limits and powers of government, and affirmation that Kenyans are not subjects but sovereign citizens with their rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. From the above, it follows that the solution to our problems is to uphold the Constitution. However, it is clear our political leadership has failed in its duty to whip us as a nation into fully implementing the Constitution so as to realise its great promise.

2. Not long ago you called on Kenyans to contribute towards instituting a suit against all the MPs over house allowances they had awarded themselves. How did this initiative go and how much were you able to raise? Githuku Mungai

The initiative was not for instituting the case but to pay for the costs of serving the petition on the MPs through full page adverts published in the Daily Nation and Standard newspapers as ordered by the High Court. I required at least a million shillings but only raised some Sh130,000.

3. Over the course of your public life, you have largely been plastered with two labels: a defender of public interest by many and a rebel to a few. This can be attributed to the many cases you have argued out in the corridors of justice, among them bank capping rates, judges retirement age, most recently the CBA-NIC tax waiver. These cases largely touch on the crucial interests of the ordinary citizen. I can’t help but ask, what is the philosophy behind what you do? Do you feel intimidated or shaken by the weight of cases you take on considering the fact that in many cases you take them on your own? Kagwera Raphael, Kisii

The philosophy behind what I do is the Gospel of Christ, who preached about God’s love and divine mercy, and continues to reveal that the Kingdom of God is among us and therefore we must do right. At creation time, God gave Adam and Eve the power over all that he had created, but He did not give them the power over themselves; He gave them the law.

And when they broke that law they lost the Garden of Eden. Hence, the rule of men is doomed since it is anathema to the will of God. Only the rule of law works. Hence, humanity cannot rule itself and prosper except by the laws anchored on promoting the rights and fundamental freedoms of all people – and that includes obeying the Constitution of Kenya, which largely mirrors the Gospel of Christ. I don’t feel threatened or intimidated by the cases I take on since I take them up as part of my apostolate. And for as long as God wants to use me to call upon all Kenyans to obey the law, I will be available to do so.

4. Having had a peaceful, respectful, issue-based and effective campaign for the Busia senatorial race during the 2017 elections, one which didn’t turn out as most of us had expected, what is your objective opinion on Kenyan politics and campaigns? Kagwera Raphael, Kisii

My Busia senatorial race was a very rewarding experience for me. Though I vied on a Ford-Kenya ticket in an ODM stronghold and, literally, I had no money to match what the incumbent unleashed, I chose the route of civic and political education to agitate for resource-based leadership and it worked very well. It was a neck and neck race where I got more than 100,000 votes, and the difference between me and the Senator wasn’t much. But even though we can’t cap the amounts of money candidates spend on campaigns, the amounts and their sources must be disclosed to law enforcement. That way, it will at least reduce the distortion illicit money has on the democratic process, especially on poverty-stricken populations scavenging for basics. We must also eradicate mass poverty at the grassroots.

5. Your nature of work in the areas of human rights demands that you really need a good and reliable sponsorship so to speak, or stable source of income from where you can get resources to mount the kind of legal challenges you undertake. What is the source of your income? What is your reaction to allegations that you are often paid to institute the cases you do? Francis Njuguna, Kibichoi

First of all I don’t need a lot of money because I don’t hire lawyers to research, draft and prosecute my cases. I do so myself. Second, I lead a very simple lifestyle which is basically a source of income through the savings I make. I have seen people who earn much more than I do lead very miserable lives due to reckless lifestyles. As for allegations, they are just that. It is human nature to speculate where you have no facts. And it is written in the Holy Book that John the Baptist ate not and he was called a madman; Christ ate and drunk and He was called a glutton.

6. Our history is full of examples of good human rights activists including yourself, Kepta Ombati, Cyprian Nyamwamu, Boniface Mwangi, among others who tried to unsuccessfully run for political office. No doubt, political office is an expansion of activism and movement work. What should good activists do to win elections and continue their good work as politicians? Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi

They should not give up and I don’t think they have. The society is changing and, soon, we will have issue-based politics and one’s ethnicity or capacity to give handouts will not be trump cards at elections. While still at it, I point out that Prof Kivutha Kibwana, the Makueni Governor who has performed exceptionally well, was and is an activist who was elected into office and has delivered on his convictions.

7. There is a popular joke in Kenya about the Judiciary: ‘Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?’ Former Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga began ambitious efforts to transform Kenya’s courts and earn back the people’s trust. What is your assessment of the transformation at the Judiciary given that you frequently interact with them? Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi

The joke is just a joke. Whereas one or two judges may not be up to scratch, most judges and other judicial officers are very hard working individuals who deliver for Kenyans in very difficult situations. The Kenyan Judiciary is the only arm of government that retains and espouses Kenya’s republican character. We cannot compare the Judiciary to the Executive and the Legislature, at both national and county levels, which are totally captive to ethnicity and corruption

8. Due to the nature of your work, sometimes you challenge decisions of the powerful and mighty. Don’t you ever fear for your life when making such challenges? Have you ever received threats to have you drop the matter you are pursuing? Emmanuel Lesikito

Though I take precaution, I know that there are no human beings who are mighty and powerful. Only God is mighty and powerful. So I have no fear of any man and their threats, since God is my shield. No man can destroy my soul.

9. Of all the advocacy and litigation cases that you have undertaken in the interest of the public good, explain the one case that posed the greatest challenge and possibly a danger to your life. Nyongesa Chris Makhanu, Nairobi

A 2012 petition where I challenged the flawed procurement of the BVR kits which failed to work on Election Day. I was offered a bribe of Sh9 million to drop the case but I refused. I then applied to court for police protection but Justice Majanja dismissed my application. Two days later I was attacked by two men who hit my head with metal bars and left me for dead. As they were clobbering me, I could hear them say something to the effect that “Ulikataa pesa sasa utakufa na kesi yako pia itakufa” (You refused our offer; we are going to kill you and your case is going to collapse). But God saved me.

10. Do you really always read Kenyan’s mood before you move to court? I am referring to the case on the new currency, which by and large has been welcomed by a majority of Kenyans. Bernard Nyang’ondi, Mombasa

No, I am driven by fidelity to the law and the public interest.

11. Thank you for fighting for the common person. My question is: Fresh job seekers are required to produce a Certificate of Good Conduct and clearance certificate from Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, among others. These requirements make me wonder, do jobseekers have to pay for not committing crime? Do they have to pay for not being corrupt? Why have you never gone to court to challenge these primitive requirements? Evans Muteti, Mombasa

Justice Odunga declared those requirements to be unconstitutional in the case that was filed by Justice GBM Kariuki. I also filed another case on the same — but it is pending at the High Court — to allow the Supreme Court to determine whether it will allow the High Court to proceed or it will hear an advisory reference on the same issue that was filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

12 Sir, you are known to be one of the most relentless and leading human rights defenders in Kenya. You are no guest in our courts and all these court cases require resources. What motivates you? Geoffrey Oyoo, Embakasi East

The Holy Scripture, especially the teachings on the salt and light of the world; the Good Samaritan, and the call to be witnesses of Christ.

13. Recently, a young woman died at KNH after she developed maternal complications due to negligence by staff on duty. Of course many other preventable deaths occur in public hospitals due to negligence. Don’t you think it is more worthwhile to fight for the rights of such helpless victims as opposed to, say, pursuing elitist court cases like the one on new currency notes? Stephen Kathurima, Nairobi

There are no elites under the law. All are equal. Secondly, I believe in draining the swamp not waiting to kill every snake and mosquito that escapes from the swamp. The mess in our hospitals and other institutions is a rule of law problem. Let’s drain the swamp by implementing the Constitution and upholding the rule of law.

https://www.nation.co.ke/news/One-on-one-with-activist-Okiya-Omtatah/1056-5256164-l8pfwyz/index.html