Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Watch’

New program director of Human Rights Watch generates interest

May 7, 2022

In 1 May 2022 the Times of Israel reported that “Sari Bashi, a longtime activist with the organization who is married to a Palestinian, to head up programming at HRW amid search for successor to departing director Kenneth Roth” {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/27/after-almost-30-years-kenneth-roth-will-leave-human-rights-watch/]

I’m thrilled, honored, humbled and grateful to announce that next month, I will begin my appointment as @hrw’s new Program Director, supervising our research and investigations as we reorient ourselves to strengthen the broader human rights ecosystem and meet today’s challenges,” Bashi tweeted on Friday.

In the past, Bashi, a lawyer by training, co-founded and directed Gisha, an organization that pushes for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. From 2015 to 2018 she served as the director of Israel-Palestine for HRW, and returned to the organization last year as a special adviser.

A year ago, HRW issued a sweeping 213-page report accusing Israel of apartheid. Israel rejected the report, calling its “fictional claims… both preposterous and false,” and accusing HRW of having “a long-standing anti-Israel agenda.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/10/israeli-government-sponsored-app-goes-after-hrw-for-apartheid-categorisation/]

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

In recent years, Bashi, a US native, has been open about her relationship with a Palestinian man originally from Gaza, and the struggles they have faced to live in the same place. They lived together for a few years in the United States as well as in South Africa, and have based their lives in Ramallah, she said, since they are unable to live together in Israel.

The reaction was quick in coming. On 2 May Just the News stated: “A powerful nongovernmental organization with a massive budget and an alleged ideological bias against Israel will continue targeting the Jewish state after it completes a major leadership change now underway, according to experts and lawmakers who spoke to Just the News.” “Unfortunately, the extremely biased attitude toward Israel which Kenneth Roth represented in Human Rights Watch will, most probably, be cemented with the appointment of Sari Bashi,” said Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a think tank. “Throughout her career, Ms. Bashi has constantly demonstrated her lack of objectivity and overwhelming animus towards the state of Israel.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-israeli-to-become-new-programs-director-of-human-rights-watch/

https://justthenews.com/accountability/whistleblowers/experts-human-rights-watch-continue-targeting-israel-after-leadership

After almost 30 years Kenneth Roth will leave Human Rights Watch

April 27, 2022
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during an interview
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018. © 2018 Reuters/Pierre Albouy

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has announced that he plans to step down at the end of August 2022, Human Rights Watch said on 26 April. Roth has led the organization since 1993, transforming it from a small group of regional “watch committees” to a major international human rights organization with global influence.

I had the great privilege to spend nearly 30 years building an organization that has become a leading force in defending the rights of people around the world,” Roth said. “I leave Human Rights Watch with confidence that a highly talented and dedicated staff will carry on that defence with great energy, creativity, and effectiveness.

Under Roth’s leadership, Human Rights Watch grew from a staff of about 60 with a $7 million budget, to 552 covering more than 100 countries and a nearly $100 million budget.

Roth began his human rights career as a volunteer, working on nights and weekends while serving as an attorney and a federal prosecutor. He joined Human Rights Watch in 1987 as deputy director. At the time, the organization consisted of Helsinki Watch, formed in 1978 to support dissident movements in Eastern Europe; Americas Watch, founded in 1981; and Asia Watch, formed in 1985. Shortly after Roth joined, the organization created Middle East Watch and Africa Watch. Early in his tenure, Roth moved the organization toward a single identity as Human Rights Watch…

Roth recognized the need for real time documentation of atrocities to generate immediate pressure to end them. That led to the creation of a group of specially trained researchers who could provide a surge capacity to the organization’s regular country researchers.

Roth also embraced new possibilities to bring perpetrators to justice. As Human Rights Watch researchers meticulously documented abuses, the organization pressed the United Nations Security Council, then in a more cooperative moment, to create international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Human Rights Watch research was used to build some of the cases, and staff testified at both UN tribunals. Human Rights Watch also played a prominent role in establishing the International Criminal Court, fending off pressure from the US government seeking to ensure immunity for its own forces.

Ken’s fearless passion for justice, his courage and compassion towards the victims of human rights violations and atrocity crimes was not just professional responsibility but a personal conviction to him,” said Fatou Bensouda, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. “He has indeed been a great inspiration to me and my colleagues.”

Today, amid the horrific abuse taking place in Ukraine, an infrastructure is in place to hold perpetrators accountable.

Roth also created special teams to address the needs of certain marginalized people, including women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, refugees, people with disabilities, and older people. He also oversaw the development of specialized programs on poverty and inequality, climate change, technology, and corporate social responsibility. In addition, he initiated a program to address human rights in the United States.

Roth changed the way that Human Rights Watch directed its advocacy. The organization began focusing mainly on US foreign policy. Roth globalized the organization’s advocacy, establishing offices in Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, Johannesburg, and Sydney. He also spearheaded the organization’s work with the United Nations, with dedicated advocates in New York and Geneva.

After the 9/11 attacks, Human Rights Watch documented and exposed the use of “black sites” where US officials interrogated and tortured terrorism suspects. Under Roth, Human Rights Watch pressed the US government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for issuing the orders. Eventually the US Senate issued the Torture Report confirming Human Rights Watch’s findings and denouncing the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture.

Ken Roth turned Human Rights Watch into a juggernaut for justice,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He has inspired a generation of human rights defenders to fight for a better world. During the so-called ‘war on terror,’ Ken went to Guantanamo and brought to bear his acumen and stature in exposing the farce of the military commission process. No organization and no leader have had a greater impact in human rights on a global scale.

Human Rights Watch’s communication strategy evolved dramatically under Roth. The organization began by writing reports. Over time, it also began producing shorter and quicker reports and built a strong multimedia capacity, so that videos, photos, and graphics now routinely accompany the organization’s publications and sometimes are the publication itself. The organization also embraced social media. The organization has amassed nearly 14 million followers on the major social media platforms. Roth himself has more than half a million Twitter followers.

In his nearly 30 years at the helm of Human Rights Watch, Roth traveled the world, pressing government officials of all stripes to pay greater respect to human rights. He met with more than two dozen heads of state and government along with countless ministers and made investigative or advocacy trips to more than 50 countries. Whenever he could, he also met with communities affected by human rights violations. During his early years with the organization, he conducted fact-finding investigations himself, including in Haiti, Cuba, Israel-Palestine, Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion, and Serbia after the US bombing. In recent years, he has been especially concerned with addressing atrocities during the Syrian war as well as Chinese government repression in Xinjiang.

Roth inevitably earned many enemies. Despite being Jewish (and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy), he has been attacked for the organization’s criticism of Israeli government abuses. The Rwandan government was particularly vitriolic in its criticism of Roth after Human Rights Watch, which had issued a definitive account of the genocide, also reported on atrocities and repression under President Paul Kagame.

The Chinese government imposed “sanctions” on him and expelled him from Hong Kong when he traveled there to release the annual World Report in January 2020, which spotlighted Beijing’s threat to the global human rights system. Roth responded to these and many other criticisms by noting that the organization employs the same fact-finding methodology and applies the same human rights principles in every country where it works.

Roth has written extensively on a range of human rights issues. In addition to writing the introduction to the World Report since 1990, he has published more than 300 articles including in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs. I quoted him often in this blog: see e.g. : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/kenneth-roth/

Roth plans to write a book drawing on his personal experiences about the most effective strategies for defending human rights. “I am leaving Human Rights Watch but I am not leaving the human rights cause,” Roth said.

Human Rights Watch will conduct an open search for Roth’s successor. Tirana Hassan, chief programs officer, will serve as interim executive director.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/26/kenneth-roth-step-down-human-rights-watch

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2022-04-26/head-of-human-rights-watch-to-resign-after-nearly-3-decades

Human Rights Defender Angkhana Neelapaijit in Thailand harassed

April 14, 2022
Photo captured on a security camera of the alleged assailant, a woman wearing a mask and a black t-shirt.
Photo captured on a security camera of the alleged assailant, a woman wearing a mask and a black t-shirt. © 2022 Private

The authorities in Thailand should urgently investigate an incident intended to intimidate a prominent human rights defender, Human Rights Watch said on 13 April, 2022.

On April 12, 2022, at about 6 a.m., an unidentified assailant threw a pair of 9-inch-long scissors at the house of Angkhana Neelapaijit in Bangkok, making a hole in her front door. Security camera footage showed what appeared to be a woman wearing a face mask and a dark t-shirt with the Thai numeral 9 standing in front of the house, throwing the scissors, and then running away. Angkhana, 66, is a former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and a newly appointed member of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/0D5DED3E-F79F-4AB4-8261-F6A19486F062

Violent acts intended to intimidate a well-known figure like Angkhana not only pose a threat to her and her family, but send a spine-chilling message to the entire Thai human rights community,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai government should respond immediately by undertaking a serious investigation to ensure that everyone responsible for this incident is held accountable.”

Angkhana told Human Rights Watch that she and her family felt vulnerable after the Justice Ministry canceled her protection under the government’s witness protection program on April 1. The authorities claimed the service was no longer needed because Angkhana’s life would no longer be in danger after the Department of Special Investigation ended its investigation of the enforced disappearance of her husband, the prominent human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/17/where-is-somchai-a-brave-wifes-17-year-quest-for-the-truth/]

The Thai government should not ignore this disturbing incident, which appears to be a response to Angkhana’s effective human rights advocacy,” Pearson said. “Foreign governments and the United Nations should press the Thai government to urgently act to protect Angkhana and other human rights defenders in the country.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/13/thailand-prominent-rights-defender-harassed

Major NGO offices in Russia now closed

April 9, 2022

On 8 April 2022, the Russian government closed the offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs such as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Friedrich Ebert Foundation. This decision has been taken “in connection with the discovered violations of the Russian legislation.

On 11 March, Russia’s media regulator had already blocked access to Amnesty International’s Russian-language website.

Human Rights Watch had maintained an office in Russia for 30 years. The action was announced just days after an appeals court upheld the liquidation of Russia’s human rights giant, Memorial. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/12/it-had-to-happen-russian-authorities-move-to-shut-down-memorial/]

Human Rights Watch has been working on and in Russia since the Soviet era, and we will continue to do so,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This new iron curtain will not stop our ongoing efforts to defend the rights of all Russians and to protect civilians in Ukraine.”

Reacting to the news, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Amnesty’s closing down in Russia is only the latest in a long list of organizations that have been punished for defending human rights and speaking the truth to the Russian authorities. In a country where scores of activists and dissidents have been imprisoned, killed or exiled, where independent media has been smeared, blocked or forced to self-censor, and where civil society organizations have been outlawed or liquidated, you must be doing something right if the Kremlin tries to shut you up.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/08/russia-government-shuts-down-human-rights-watch-office

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/08/moscow-shutting-down-amnesty-human-rights-watch-in-russia-a77290

Premier League Football and human rights: continuing saga

March 25, 2022
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020.
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020. © 2020 AP Images

The English Premier League should immediately adopt and implement human rights policies that would prohibit governments implicated in grave human rights abuses from securing stakes in Premier League clubs to whitewash their reputations, Human Rights Watch said 0n 23 March 2022. The ban should be extended to state entities that they control, abusive state leaders, and individuals funding or otherwise assisting in serious abuses. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/human-rights-compliance-test-for-football-clubs/

On March 14, 2022, media reported that a consortium led by a Saudi media group closely connected to the Saudi government had expressed interest in purchasing Chelsea Football Club. This reinforces the urgent need for the Premier League to adopt policies to protect clubs and their supporters, before any sale takes place, from being implicated in efforts to whitewash rights abuses. The Premier League’s approval of the sale of Newcastle United to a business consortium led by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a government-controlled entity implicated in serious human rights abuses, was conducted in an opaque manner and without any human rights policy in place. The Premier League should reconsider the approval of the Newcastle United sale. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/]

Allowing Newcastle United to be sold to a business consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, an institution chaired by a state leader linked to human rights abuses, has exposed the farcical inadequacies of the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As another consortium with Saudi government links eyes acquiring Chelsea, the Premier League should move fast to protect the league and its clubs from being a fast-track option for dictators and kleptocrats to whitewash their reputations.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, on March 15, to express concerns over the Newcastle United decision and to raise further concerns about the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in facilitating human rights abuses.

The October 7, 2021 Premier League statement announcing the sale said that the league had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.” The league did not disclose what these assurances were, nor explain how they would be legally binding. Instead, the Premier League appears to have acquiesced to the notion that the Public Investment Fund is separate from the Saudi state, even though its chairman is the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, its board members are nearly all currently serving ministers and other high-level officials, and it is a sovereign wealth fund that reports to the government’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs…

Human Rights Watch has significant concerns around the role of the investment fund itself in facilitating human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch wrote to the fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who, according to a LinkedIn page attributed to al-Rumayyan and various media reports, was managing director of the fund between 2015 and 2019, on December 21, 2021, and again on March 15 requesting his response to allegations of serious human rights violations associated with the fund. He has not responded. Al-Rumayyan is also Newcastle United’s new nonexecutive chairman.

Human Rights Watch has reviewed internal Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim filed by a group of Saudi companies against a former intelligence official. The documents showed that in 2017, one of Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers ordered al-Rumayyan, then the fund’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the fund as part of an anti-corruption campaign. There is a risk that these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process.

..

The Premier League has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harm. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe. This gap has allowed Saudi Arabia to employ its “sportswashing” strategy in the Premier League.

On March 3, the Premier League said it was considering adding a human rights component to its owners’ and directors’ test as it reviews its governance and regulations, and Masters told the Financial Times that this had come under “a lot of scrutiny” and league officials were looking to see if “we need to be more transparent and whether those decisions should be approved by an independent body.” The Premier League should also investigate the allegations of involvement of the fund’s and al-Rumayyan’s involvement in abuses, including Khashoggi’s murder, and publish its findings.
 
Potential purchase of Chelsea FC by Saudi-led consortium
The Saudi-led consortium that has reportedly made a £2.7bn bid to purchase Chelsea is being spearheaded by the Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG), one of the largest publishing companies in Middle East, headed by a prominent Saudi media executive, Mohammed al Khereiji. The company owns more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News, and Arab News – media outlets with an apparently pro-Saudi government bias – and has its headquarters in Saudi Arabia where there are almost no independent media. Al- Khereiji is the only name mentioned in any reports regarding the Chelsea bid, and it is unclear who else is involved in the consortium.

While the media company has reportedly gone out of its way to deny any direct links to the Saudi government, it has repeatedly been reported that the group has longstanding close ties to former and current Saudi rulers. Between 2002 and 2015, three of King Salman’s sons chaired it. The position was then filled by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan, who is reported to have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, until 2018, when he was appointed culture minister. Prince Badr is also chairman of the Misk Art Institute, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s non-profit Misk Foundation.

In 2020, Al-Khereiji who holds several high-level positions, was appointed board chairman of MBC Media Solutions, a commercial advertising and sales unit created in partnership between MBC Group, a media conglomerate owned by the Saudi government, and Engineer Holding Group (EGH), the media company’s parent company which al-Khereiji also heads.

Given how closely connected the media company is to Saudi state-controlled entities, how little independence the Saudi-based media outlets under its control have, and how much influence it wields – it claims it has a combined monthly reach of 165 million people – it contributes heavily to promoting the image of the Saudi government.  

The Saudi government has gone all-out in the past years to bury its human rights abuses under public spectacles and sporting events,” Ahmed said. “Until there is real accountability for these abuses by the Saudi leadership, those silently benefiting from the kingdom’s largess risk being an accomplice in whitewashing their crimes.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/23/english-premier-league-urgently-adopt-human-rights-policy

International Women’s Day 2022

March 8, 2022

International Women’s Day is today 8 March and celebratory events are being held around the world. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, aimed at imagining “a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.” While this special day offers hope for gender equity, it is also a reminder of the omnipresent phenomenon of violence against women, which exists regardless of the day, and needs to be addressed in a fundamental way.

See also: https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/why-international-womens-day-is-important/

There is too much to choose from (as usual); for last year’s see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/08/celebrating-international-womens-day-in-2021/]

Still, here some concrete samples:

Upasana Rana reports Global Voices of 7 March on Nepal [https://globalvoices.org/2022/03/07/this-international-womens-day-lets-come-together-against-violence/]

On the same site Njeri Wangari tells us about how Feminist music icons from around Africa to celebrate this International Women’s Day. See her Spotify playlist with hits from artists like Fatoumata Diawara, Cesária Évora, Shishani Vranckx, Thandiswa Mazwai, and more.

Amnesty International issued a statement “International Women’s Day: Dramatic deterioration in respect for women’s rights and gender equality must be decisively reversed

  • Alarming assaults on women’s rights around the world in 2021/22. 
  • Legal protections dismantled, and women human rights defenders now at unprecedented risk.
  • Protection and promotion of women’s and girls’ rights and support for women human rights defenders crucial, including for Covid-19 recovery. 
  • Governments must act decisively to reverse regressions and uphold human rights for women and girls. 

Catastrophic attacks on human rights and gender equality over the past twelve months have lowered protection for and upped threats against women and girls across the globe.  On International Women’s Day, the organization called for bold action to reverse erosions of human rights for women and girls.   

 “Events in 2021 and in the early months of 2022 have conspired to crush the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls.  The world’s crises do not impact equally, let alone fairly. The disproportionate impacts on women’s and girls’ rights are well-documented yet still neglected, when not ignored outright.  But the facts are clear. The Covid-19 pandemic, the overwhelming rollback on women’s rights in Afghanistan, the widespread sexual violence characterizing the conflict in Ethiopia, attacks on abortion access in the US and Turkey’s withdrawal from the landmark Istanbul Convention on Gender Based Violence: each is a grave erosion of rights in its own terms but taken together? We must stand up to and stare down this global assault on women’s and girls’ dignity,” said Amnesty’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard. [see https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/03/international-womens-day-dramatic-deterioration-in-respect-for-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-must-be-decisively-reversed/]

Human Rights Watch focuses on Afghanistan: On International Women’s Day, we should remember Afghanistan, and consider what the state of women’s rights there means for the struggle for gender equality worldwide. The Taliban were notorious for violating women’s rights when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. So, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan again on August 15 last year, Afghan women’s rights defenders were deeply skeptical that the new rulers would be any different from the Taliban that controlled the country before, despite their pledges to respect women’s rights. They were right.

In less than seven months since taking over, the Taliban have:

  • closed most girls’ secondary schools;
  • created barriers to women and girls pursuing higher education;
  • banned women from most paid employment;
  • abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs;
  • restricted women’s movement including blocking them from leaving the country alone;
  • dismantled Afghanistan’s system that provided protection from gender-based violence;
  • created barriers to women and girls accessing health care;
  • beaten and abducted women’s rights protesters;
  • silenced female journalists;
  • banned women’s sports; and
  • appointed a men-only administration.

Afghanistan is not the only country where women’s rights are under attack this International Women’s Day. But the speed and extent of the obliteration of women’s rights in Afghanistan is a warning to women around the world about the fragility of progress toward equality, how quickly it can vanish, and how few will defend it. We should all be in solidarity with Afghan women; their fight is a fight for women’s rights everywhere. [See: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/08/standing-afghan-women-and-girls-international-womens-day]

Caitlin Fitzsimmons in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 March argues that “International Women’s Day highlights climate justice as a feminist issue”. Women are on the front lines of the global climate crisis, making up 80 per cent of the 21.5 million people displaced every year by climate-related events. [See: https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/international-women-s-day-highlights-climate-justice-as-a-feminist-issue-20220303-p5a1ba.html]

On International Women’s Day, UN Human Rights stands with women and girls human rights defenders of all ages, backgrounds & identities leading our collective struggle to protect our climate and environment. See.g.:

Meet Brianna Frueran, a Pacific climate change activist fighting for her native Samoan islands’ survival.

Meet Mya Pol, a content creator from the United States who advocates for disability rights and educates people about environmentalism on her social media platform.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113872

EU Rule of law enforcement: road is now free

February 17, 2022
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 28, 2015.
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 28, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

The decision on February 16, 2022 by the Court of Justice of the European Union to allow EU institutions to tie funding to EU states to respect for the rule of law clears the way for strong action by the European Commission, Human Rights Watch said. The EU Court’s ruling dismissed the actions brought by Hungary and Poland against the new conditionality mechanism.

The EU Court has sent a clear signal that EU funds should be used in ways that uphold rather than undermine Europe’s democratic values,” said Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU Commission should now act swiftly and demonstrate that defending the rule of law is at the top of its agenda.”

In December 2020 the EU adopted a regulation creating a new conditionality mechanism to protect the EU budget from rule of law breaches by an EU member state. A last-minute deal among EU member states obliged the Commission to wait for a ruling by the EU Court of Justice before finalizing the guidelines for applying the conditionality mechanism. Hungary and Poland brought legal action before the EU Court seeking to annul the rule of law conditionality mechanism in March 2021, initiating that process…

The court’s ruling confirms that “compliance by the Member States with the common values on which the European Union is founded (…) such as the rule of law and solidarity, justifies the mutual trust between those States.” The Court added that the EU “must be able to defend those values.”

The European Commission should demonstrate its stated commitment to protect the rule of law and democratic values in the EU by swiftly initiating procedures provided by the regulation, Human Rights Watch said. It should seek to suspend, reduce, or prevent new agreements to provide EU funds to a member state if it finds that the state has failed to respect the rule of law.

In applying the conditionality mechanism, the European Commission should ensure that a broad range of breaches to EU’s democratic values could lead it to recommend cutting funds to EU member states. These should include attacks on the independence of the judiciary, as well as state interference with media and civil society. The Commission should also seek to ensure that EU funding cannot be used to promote intolerance or discriminatory policies, including against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and other minorities.

The Commission should also ensure that carrying out this procedure does not punish EU citizens for the actions of their governments, including by negatively affecting their economic and social rights. The Commission should conduct human rights impact assessments to determine the risk that people’s rights would be harmed by any decision and should divert rather than cut funding as required, to ensure that beneficiaries’ rights are not affected.

Hungary and Poland, the two EU countries that initiated legal action against the regulation, are already facing scrutiny for their poor rule of law records under the Article 7 procedure – the EU treaty provision dealing with governments that flout EU values, which can ultimately lead to the suspension of their voting rights in the Council. Hungary is among the largest recipients of EU funding per capita, and Poland is the largest overall net recipient.

Poland’s government has eroded judicial independence and ignored recent EU Court of Justice decisions. It also used its politically compromised constitutional tribunal to undermine women’s rights and the binding nature of EU law. LGBT and women’s rights activists face threats and harassment. In Hungary, restrictive laws target civil society groups, and the government or its supporters control most media outlets. A June 2021 law banned discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation, putting health providers, educators, artists, and broadcasters at risk of sanctions.

EU member states also have a serious responsibility to ensure that all member states respect EU’s democratic values and the rule of law. On February 22 they will hold a hearing on the situation of the rule of law in Poland under the Article 7 procedure. But since Article 7 was triggered in 2017 on Poland and in 2018 on Hungary, other EU member states have failed to take further action to hold those two governments to account.

..Proceedings under Article 7 should remain the cornerstone of the action against the erosion of EU values in countries like Hungary and Poland. The EU is equipped with the tools needed to stand up against member states that disregard the EU’s own democratic values, Human Rights Watch said. What has been missing is political will by the EU Commission and by leading EU member states to take decisive action and to hold states responsible for abuses to account.

The EU Court ruling underscores that EU institutions can fight back against the erosion of the rule of law within the bloc, but much depends on the European Commission quickly building on this momentum,” Dam said. “Tying EU money to EU values and strengthening scrutiny of rule of law abuses should go hand in hand to demonstrate that EU membership and respect for the rule of law are inseparable.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/european-judges-demonstrate-in-poland-against-the-muzzle-law/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/16/eu-top-court-approves-linking-eu-funds-rule-law

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/16/poland-hungary-lose-legal-challenge-against-eu-rule-of-law-tool

Council of Europe starts infringement process against Turkey

February 3, 2022
Osman Kavala © 2017 Private
Osman Kavala © 2017 Private

The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers voted on 2 February, 2022 to begin infringement proceedings against Turkey. Human Rights Watch called it an important step to support human rights protection in Turkey and uphold the international human rights framework. The resolution concerns Turkey’s failure over the past two years to comply with the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in which the Court ruled that Turkey should free human rights defender Osman Kavala and fully restore his rights. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/18/kavala-saga-continues-turkish-court-keeps-philanthropist-in-prison/

The Committee of Ministers’ vote to pursue infringement proceedings against Turkey for its politically motivated, arbitrary detention of human rights defender Osman Kavala shows a resolve to uphold the international human rights law framework on which the Council of Europe is based,” said Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The resolution sends a reminder to all Council of Europe member states that European Court of Human Rights judgments are binding, and it is an important acknowledgement of Turkey’s rule of law crisis.

The Committee voted to send the case of Kavala v Turkey back to the European Court of Human Rights for a legal opinion on whether Turkey has met its obligations to comply with the judgment. If the European Court confirms – as it is expected to do – that Turkey has failed to implement its judgment, the Committee of Ministers may then take additional measures against Turkey.

These could include ultimately suspending Turkey’s voting rights in the Council of Europe and could even jeopardize Turkey’s membership. Turkey is the second country in Council of Europe history to be subjected to the sanction process for breaching member states’ obligations to implement European Court of Human Rights judgments. (first time was in 2017 against Azerbaijan in the case of Ilgar Mammadov).

The Kavala judgment is legally binding, yet the Turkish authorities have snubbed the Strasbourg court and ignored the decisions of the Committee of Ministers, which represents the Council’s 47 member states, calling for his release and the full restoration of his rights. Ankara has already reacted as expexted: it has accused the Council of Europe of “interfering in an ongoing judicial process

The Turkish courts and prosecutors have engaged in a series of tactics to circumvent the authority of the European Court and the Council of Europe, using domestic court decisions to prolong Kavala’s detention and extend the life of baseless prosecutions. The courts have issued sham release orders, initiated multiple criminal proceedings against Kavala on the same facts, and separated and re-joined case files accusing him of bogus offenses.

In 2021, Turkey merged the proceedings against Kavala with an entirely separate and much older case against football fans and others charged with a demonstration during 2013 protests a few kilometers away from Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

Turkey’s international partners, in particular countries that supported the infringement vote, should make it clear that Turkey’s continued failure to implement the Court’s judgment and to release Osman Kavala would have consequences on their relations with Turkey. In particular, the European Union should tie its proposed “positive agenda” with Turkey to Kavala’s release and make respect for rights a prerequisite for opening talks on the Customs Union modernization that Turkey is seeking.

Turkey knows that the European Court’s judgments are binding but has chosen to defy its obligations and the rule of law,” Reidy said. “Through the infringement proceedings and engagement from other countries, that needs to change, and Turkey should free Osman Kavala immediately and restore all of his rights.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/02/turkey-council-europe-votes-infringement-process

https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-slams-council-of-europe-for-intervening-in-ongoing-kavala-case-171229

Human Rights Watch World Report 2022: work to be done

January 18, 2022

Autocratic leaders faced significant backlash in 2021, but democracy will flourish in the contest with autocracy only if democratic leaders do a better job of addressing global problems, Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said today in releasing the Human Rights Watch World Report 2022.

From Cuba to Hong Kong, people took to the streets demanding democracy when unaccountable rulers, as they so often do, prioritized their own interests over those of their citizens, Roth said. However, many democratic leaders have been too mired in short-term preoccupations and scoring political points to address serious problems such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty and inequality, racial injustice, or the threats from modern technology.

In country after country, large numbers of people have taken to the streets, even at the risk of being arrested or shot, which shows the appeal of democracy remains strong,” Roth said. “But elected leaders need to do a better job of addressing major challenges to show that democratic government delivers on its promised dividends.

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2022, its 32nd edition, describes the human rights situation in nearly all of the approximately 100 countries where Human Rights Watch works.

World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch’s 32nd annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviews developments in more than 100 countries. READ IT HERE

In his introductory essay, Roth challenges the common view that autocracy is ascendent and democracy is on the decline. Many autocrats claim to serve their people better than democratically elected leaders, but they usually deliver mainly for themselves and then try to manipulate electoral systems so citizens cannot deliver a negative verdict. Autocrats typically try to divert attention with racist, sexist, xenophobic, or homophobic appeals, he said.

Covid-19 spotlighted this self-serving tendency, with many autocratic leaders downplaying the pandemic, turning their backs on scientific evidence, spreading false information, and failing to take basic measures to protect the health and lives of the public.

In an important and growing development that must worry some autocrats, a broad range of opposition political parties has begun to gloss over their policy differences to build alliances that prioritize their common interest in getting corrupt politicians or repressive leaders voted out of office, Roth said. 

In the Czech Republic, an unlikely coalition defeated Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. In Israel, an even unlikelier coalition ended the longtime rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Similar broad alliances of opposition parties have formed for forthcoming elections against Viktor Orban in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey. A comparable tendency within the US Democratic Party contributed to the selection of Joe Biden to contest the 2020 election against Donald Trump.

Moreover, as autocrats can no longer rely on subtly manipulated elections to preserve power, a growing number, from Nicaragua to Russia, are resorting to overt electoral charades that guarantee their desired result but confer none of the legitimacy sought from holding an election. This growing repression is a sign of weakness, not strength, Roth said.

However, to persuade people to abandon the self-serving rule of autocrats, democracies need to do better in addressing societal ills, Roth said.

For example, the climate crisis poses a dire threat to humankind, yet democratic leaders are only nibbling at the problem, he said, seemingly incapable of overcoming national perspectives and vested interests to take the major steps needed to avert catastrophic consequences. The World Report 2022 includes assessments of the climate policies of the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas emitters, as well as more than a dozen other countries where there have been significant policy developments related to the climate crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic also exposed weaknesses of democratic leaders. Democracies met the pandemic by developing highly effective mRNA vaccines with remarkable speed but have failed to ensure that the people of lower-income countries share this lifesaving invention. Some democratic governments took steps to mitigate the economic consequences of Covid-19 lockdowns, but have yet to tackle the broader and persistent problem of widespread poverty and inequality or to build adequate systems of social protection for the next inevitable economic disruption, he said.

Democracies regularly debate the threats posed by technology, he said. These include the dissemination of disinformation and hate speech by social media platforms, the large-scale invasion of privacy as an economic model, the intrusiveness of new surveillance tools, and the biases of artificial intelligence. But democratic leaders have taken only baby steps to address them.

Democracies fare no better when acting outside their borders. They frequently descend to the compromises of realpolitik, bolstering autocratic “friends” to curtail migration, fight terrorism, or protect supposed “stability” rather than defending democratic principles.

In contrast to Trump’s embrace of friendly autocrats when he was US president, Biden promised a foreign policy that would be guided by human rights. But the US has continued to provide arms to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel despite their persistent repression. In the face of an autocratic trend in Central America, Biden mainly prioritized efforts to curtail migration rather than autocracy.

Other Western leaders displayed similar weakness in their defense of democracy. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government helped to orchestrate global condemnation of the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. But while holding the European Union presidency, Germany helped to promote an EU investment deal with China despite Beijing’s use of ethnic Uyghur forced labor.

The government of French President Emmanuel Macron helped to coordinate broad condemnation of Beijing’s conduct in Xinjiang but was blind to the abysmal situation in Egypt.

If democracies are to prevail, their leaders must do more than spotlight the inevitable shortcomings of autocratic rule, Roth said. They must do a better job of meeting national and global challenges of making sure that democracy in fact delivers.

“Promoting democracy means standing up for democratic institutions such as independent courts, free media, robust parliaments, and vibrant civil societies even when that brings unwelcome scrutiny or challenges to executive policies,” Roth said. “And it demands elevating public discourse rather than stoking our worst sentiments, acting on democratic principles rather than merely voicing them, and unifying us before looming threats rather than dividing us in the quest for another do-nothing term in office.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/13/future-autocrats-darker-it-seems

https://www.rferl.org/a/human-rights-watch-autocracy-democracy-rights/31652052.html

Human Rights Watch advises new German Government

December 22, 2021
A man wearing a suit raises his right hand
Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Baerbel Bas, President of the Bundestag, during the swearing-in of the new Federal Government in Berlin, December 8, 2021.  © 2021 Florian Gaertner/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

On 10 December 2021, David Fischer, HRW’s Media Coordinator, Germany published “A Human Rights Roadmap for Germany’s New Government

…The climate crisis threatens catastrophic impacts on human rights, and ambitious climate action by the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical if Germany – the European Union’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter – is to help prevent the worst of those impacts.  The new government’s coalition agreement, a non-binding roadmap for legislative action, calls for elimination of coal energy “ideally” by 2030, promises a roll-back of subsidies for fossil fuels and legislation to deal with climate change adaptation planning. These are positive steps but insufficient to reach Germany’s contribution toward the global goal in the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In addition to the climate crisis, the new coalition between the Social Democrat Party (SPD), the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens (Die Grünen) will have to tackle challenges to the rule of law within the EU, stand up for human rights against autocrats in China and Russia, and address the many challenges arising from the pandemic.

The coalition agreement makes promising commitments to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, including to change the law on legal gender recognition for transgender people so that it is based on self-determination. The coalition also commits to protecting human rights in supply chains in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that include the right to a remedy for victims. It proposes to increase the capacity of German courts to prosecute universal jurisdiction cases such as the trial on state-sponsored torture in Syria.

Within Europe, the new government intends to push for judgements of the European Court of Human Rights to have greater impact and “be implemented in all member states”. It supports the use of mechanisms and sanctions to enforce the rule of law in European Union member states. It also calls for shared responsibility for migrants and refugees among member states, an end to pushbacks at EU borders and for the border agency Frontex to respect human rights.

Scholz’s new government will now need to live up to expectations on human rights and prove that what the coalition dubbed “Germany’s responsibility for Europe and the World” is expressed in actions and not just words.

See also: https://www.justsecurity.org/79618/how-germanys-new-government-might-pursue-its-values-based-foreign-policy-in-europe/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/08/human-rights-roadmap-germanys-new-government