Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Watch’

Nordic countries take up the human rights torch?

July 11, 2020

In an interesting article published on 10 july 2020, Bruno Stagno Ugarte – Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy of Human Rights Warch sees encouraging signs of a revival of the leading role of the Nordic countries when it comes to international human rights policy.

…There are encouraging signs these countries might be ready to re-engage in denouncing grave abuses and lead international efforts for country-specific scrutiny and accountability.

And it all started with the smallest of the lot, Iceland. [Philippines, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/22/why-iceland-led-the-un-resolution-on-the-philippines/ and Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/ ]…..

..If Iceland with a population of 365,000, found the bandwidth to lead on two issues simultaneously, its larger Nordic neighbors can surely match both its courage and performance.

There are reasons to be encouraged on that front. In June, Finland supported the creation of a Libya investigation by the Human Rights Council to document violations committed by all parties and preserve evidence. Denmark, currently a member of the Council, is considering addressing ongoing rights violations by Saudi Arabia. And now that Norway has been elected to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2021-22 term, we hope it will become a principled voice for human rights and lead on country-specific situations.

In the absence of leadership by larger states, it is incumbent on smaller states, individually and collectively, to ensure that multilateral tools remain relevant to address dire human rights situations. The Nordic countries have done so in the past; it is time for them to do so again.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/10/nordic-comeback-human-rights

Human Rights Watch seeks Director of Physical Security

July 8, 2020

Human Rights Watch is seeking a forward-thinking, innovative and experienced senior security professional who can guide a globally dispersed organization that reports on the most sensitive human rights issues. The Director of Physical Security will lead the organization to optimal and inclusive physical security risk management practices for the complex environments in which it operates.

This position is the organization’s lead on all physical security matters, providing support and leadership across a wide range of areas including crisis and incident response, asset protection, programmatic work, travel safety and event security. In partnership with the Director of Information Security, this role provides unified security risk management leadership across HRW.

The successful candidate will understand the threat landscape facing Human Rights Defenders or similar constituencies and have a proven track record of enabling work in challenging operational contexts. They will continue to lead the organization towards best practices and further embed and promote a proactive security culture; collaborate with both internal and external security groups; and have experience in crisis management, operational security and training.

The role will require international travel, including to areas that might be considered high risk. This position will be based in one of HRW’s main offices and will report to the Chief Operating Officer or their designee.

Please apply by visiting the online job portal at careers.hrw.org. Application Deadline: August 1, 2020

https://reliefweb.int/job/3650928/director-physical-security

Human Rights Defenders in Sri Lanka: fear return to a ‘state of fear’

June 14, 2020

Families hold photographs of missing loved ones during a protest in Sri Lanka Families hold photographs of missing loved ones during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, in February 2020. (TNH)

Rights groups are warning of a crackdown on dissent and rising authoritarianism in Sri Lanka, raising fears for the future of long-stalled civil war reconciliation efforts. Since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office after November elections, local rights activists have reported a rise in surveillance by state security forces, threats, and other measures more common during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009, as well as its aftermath. A long piece in the New Humanitarian of 10 june 2020 gives the details:

Surveillance has always been there, but since the election what we have seen is that it’s more open and more rampant,” said Shreen Saroor, a women’s rights activist…

Human Rights Watch says Rajapaksa is re-establishing a “state of fear” in Sri Lanka, citing interviews with dozens of activists and journalists. Many local journalists say they are self-censoring as threatening phone calls and other pressures escalate, acutely aware of the country’s history of unsolved murders and abductions. At least two reporters have already fled the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

In February, Sri Lanka announced it was backing out of commitments made to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015 by a previous administration. These promised a range of measures to investigate abuses during the civil war. ..

[see also: from my blog post https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/ Sri Lanka: Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

And, this month, Rajapaksa created two “task forces” with vague mandates, which rights groups fear could operate parallel to existing institutions. One, a body created to combat “anti-social activities”, is led by security and intelligence officials. Another task force mandated to protect cultural heritage appears to exclude non-Buddhists and non-Sinhalese. Rajapaksa’s first six months in office, the International Crisis Group said in a May report, have been “aggressively Sinhala nationalist, family-centred, and authoritarian”.

….“All these years of looking for justice would be then wasted,” said Yogeshwari, 45, whose husband disappeared 15 years ago.Families hold photographs of missing loved ones during a protest in Sri LankaTNH Families of Sri Lanka’s missing thousands fear the government is aiming to curb investigations into unsolved civil war disappearances.

In announcing his country’s withdrawal from its UN Human Rights Council commitments in February, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, said the previous pledges would infringe on “the sovereignty of [the] people of Sri Lanka”…

A government body tasked with investigating disappearances, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), didn’t begin its work until 2018. It’s effectively the only government body actively working on reconciliation issues. Ruki Fernando, an advisor with Inform, a Colombo-based human rights documentation centre, expects the Rajapaksa government to take a similar line domestically by clipping the OMP’s powers.  “It is not about shutting them down,” Fernando said. “It is more about making them administratively limp.”…

Saroor believes the Rajapaksa government will likely ramp up its stance against investigations and reconciliation efforts. “Sri Lanka transitional justice and truth-seeking will come to a standstill,” she said.

This piece was reported by a freelance journalist whose name is being withheld over concerns for their safety. 

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1687911/world

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2020/06/10/Sri-Lanka-activists-state-of-fear?utm_source=The+New+Humanitarian&utm_campaign=412d1dac95-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_06_12_Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d842d98289-412d1dac95-75444053

https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/un-chief-expresses-alarm-clampdown-freedom-expression-sri-lanka

NGOs express solidarity with Amnesty staffer Abu Zeyad

May 26, 2020

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Human Rights Watch

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by Human Rights Watch, as submitted during the Informal Dialogue with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 9 April 2020

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Internet shutdowns in times of COVID-19 could cost lives

April 2, 2020

Intentionally shutting down or restricting access to the internet violates multiple rights and can be deadly during a health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch said on 31 March 2020. Governments that are currently imposing an internet shutdown, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia (it just announced restoring service), India, and Myanmar, should lift them immediately to save lives. During a health crisis, access to timely and accurate information is crucial. People use the internet for updates on health measures, movement restrictions, and relevant news to protect themselves and others.

Burundi elections start with convicting 4 journalists

February 5, 2020

Turkey defies European Court on Kavala and undergoes UPR review

January 29, 2020

FILE - A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.
A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.

Kavala and 15 other civil society activists are accused of supporting anti-government protests in 2013 against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president. The protest action came to be known as the Gezi movement, named after an Istanbul park where the unrest started. Prosecutors are calling for life imprisonment without parole. The ECHR condemned the case, calling for an end to Kavala’s more than two years in prison and describing it as “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

The Istanbul court ruled Tuesday the ECHR decision was provisional because Ankara was appealing the verdict and that Kavala should remain in jail. The court’s decision is flawed because the European Court ruling was clear in its call for Kavala’s immediate release,” said Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkey researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

We saw multiple signs of how unfair this trial is,” said Webb, speaking after attending Tuesday’s court hearing. “The lawyers for Kavala raised many objections to the way witness evidence is used in this case. The court turns a deaf ear to all objections. It’s a shocking indication that once again, Turkey’s judiciary seems to be under heavy pressure of the executive.”

Tuesday’s court hearing was marred by chaos, with Kavala’s lawyers challenging the judge’s decision to hear some witnesses without their presence, prompting the lawyers to walk out of the room. Ankara strongly rejects the ECHR verdict, maintaining that the judiciary is independent. But observers note the case has strong political undertones. Three months ahead of Kavala’s prosecution, Erdogan accused him of “financing terrorists” and that Kavala was a representative for “that famous Jew [George Soros,] who tries to divide and tear up nations.” Erdogan did not elaborate on the comments about George Soros, who is an international philanthropist. Erdogan’s allegations against Kavala resemble the prosecution case against the jailed activist. Kavala is a pivotal figure in Turkey, using his wealth to help develop the country’s fledgling civil society after a 1980 military coup.

“Osman Kavala is very prominent within the civil society in this country,” said Sinan Gokcen, Turkey representative of Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. “He is not a man of antagonism; he is a man of preaching dialogue, a man of building bridges.”….

With the U.N. having few tools to sanction Turkey, the European Union is seen as offering the best hope by human rights advocates of applying pressure on Ankara. Turkey’s EU membership bid is already frozen, in part due to human rights concerns. But Ankara is seeking to extend a customs union, along with visa-free travel for its citizens with the EU. “It’s time all European countries should be speaking out very loud and clear on cases like this [Kavala],” said Sinclair-Webb. But even high-profile cases like Kavala’s have seen Brussels offer only muted criticism of Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul Friday for talks with Erdogan saw little criticism of Turkey’s human rights record. Instead, discussions focused on Ankara’s recent deployment of soldiers to Libya and the upholding of an EU-Turkish agreement controlling migrants entering Europe. “There are many issues to talk about with Turkey,” said Sinclair Webb. “Syria, Libya, Turkey, hosting so many refugees from Syria, and this often takes priority over Turkey’s domestic human rights crisis. This means there isn’t sufficient clarity on cases like this. What we are seeing is Turkey defying Europe’s human rights court.” Some analysts suggest Brussels could yet be lobbying behind the scenes for Kavala’s release, tying Ankara’s calls for extra financial assistance for refugees to gestures on human rights.

Pakistan: Release Manzoor Pashteen and his fellow human rights defenders immediately

HRW urges UN to address human rights violations in Turkey

https://www.voanews.com/europe/turkish-court-defies-europe-leaves-philanthropist-behind-bars

Human Rights in Africa in 2019: rage

January 16, 2020

There was rage across the African continent last year, says Human Rights Watch in its annual report, with no sign of cooling down in 2020. In Sudan and Guinea, there were manifestations of frustration with entrenched leadership.  In Zimbabwe, protests mostly about economic conditions.  While in rural Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they were about the rights of communities displaced by conflict. But the public outrage is good to see, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) at its Johannesburg report unveiling. Africa Advocacy director for HRW Carine Kaneza Nantulya says ordinary citizens took the spotlight this year.v”We’ve seen, I think, the average men and women of the African continent taking agency, being agents for their own for the changes they wanted to see, which we saw an increase of peaceful protest in different countries,” she said. “The second takeaway is that we’ve also seen a backsliding from government in terms of political and civic space.”

That has taken the form of outright police aggression and repression, as seen in Southern Africa, says the group’s Southern Africa researcher, Dewa Mavhinga. “We expected more from southern African leaders, including President Ramaphosa of South Africa, based on their commitment and promises to fulfill people’s rights across the region, “ he said.   “But we saw that there was a constriction of space for human rights defenders in countries like Zimbabwe,” Mavhinga told VOA.

But there was also a glimmer of hope, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for his reform agenda and for his reconciliatory moves with arch-enemy Eritrea, noted HRW’s Africa deputy advocacy director, Babatunde Olugboji. “He’s done quite a few great things in Ethiopia, he’s released political prisoners and is actually reforming some repressive laws,” he said. “He sort of made peace with Eritrea. So things are moving in the right direction, mostly,” said Olugboji.   “There’s still a lot to be done in Ethiopia,” he added.

He pointed to an event few people could have predicted at this time last year: the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after a 30-year rule marked by oppression,  human rights abuses, and  attempted genocide in the Darfur region.

Human Rights Watch issues World Report 2020 (covering 2019)

January 15, 2020

On 14 January 2020 Human Rights Watch published it 30th annual World Report (entitled 2020 but covering events in 2019). From the preface:

It summarizes key human rights issues in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2018 through November 2019. In a keynote essay, Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth examines the increasingly dire threat to the global system for protecting human rights posed by the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping. Deepening and increasingly sophisticated domestic repression show that China’s leaders view human rights at home as an existential threat. That, in turn, has led Beijing to see international laws and institutions for the defense of human rights as an existential threat. As a result, Chinese authorities seek to censor criticism of China overseas, mute attention to human rights in its global engagements, and weaken global rights mechanisms. At stake is a system of governance built on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect—that regardless of official interests, limits exist on what states can do to people. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/]

Noting that global institutions are built in part “on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect, that regardless of the official interests at stake, there are limits to what states can do to people,” Roth concludes that China is not simply a new and emerging power finding its place, but a country that poses an existential threat to the international human rights system.

The rest of the volume consists of individual country entries, each of which identifies significant human rights abuses, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, United States, China, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.

The book reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff undertook in 2019, usually in close partnership with human rights activists and groups in the country in question. It also reflects the work of its advocacy team, which monitors policy developments and strives to persuade governments and international institutions to curb abuses and promote human rights.  As in past years, this report does not include a chapter on every country where Human Rights Watch works, nor does it discuss every issue of importance. The absence of a country or issue often simply reflects staffing or resource limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.

The factors we considered in determining the focus of our work in 2019 (and hence the content of this volume) include the number of people affected and the severity of abuse, access to the country and the availability of information about it, the susceptibility of abusive forces to influence, and the importance of addressing certain thematic concerns and of reinforcing the work of local rights organizations.

The World Report does not have separate chapters addressing our thematic work but instead incorporates such material directly into the country entries. Please consult the Human Rights Watch website for more detailed treatment of our work on children’s rights; women’s rights; arms and military issues; business and human rights; health and human rights; disability rights; the environment and human rights; international justice; terrorism and counterterrorism; refugees and displaced people; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights; and for information about our international film festivals.

(The book was edited by Danielle Haas, senior editor at Human Rights Watch, with assistance from Naimah Hakim, Program associate. Grace Choi, director of publications and information design, oversaw production of visual elements and layout.)