Posts Tagged ‘impunity’

UK outdoes Pinochet with proposed amnesty

September 13, 2021

On 10 September 2021 Brian Dooley blogged for Human Rights First: “British Government Proposes Amnesty for Killings That’s Worse Than Pinochet’s”:

In a startling move, in July 2021, the British government announced a proposal to end all Troubles-era prosecutions, granting amnesty to its soldiers for any crimes they committed during this time. While the proposal has yet to be introduced as a bill, its mere introduction has already received a strong reaction.

Last week, I visited Belfast and Derry where I met with human rights NGOs and families of those killed during the Troubles. Human Rights First has been active on these issues for decades, with a focus on past abuses and on supporting the human rights lawyers helping families bring prosecutions against those who committed them.

This recently introduced proposal is a significant setback to the families whose loved ones were killed by British forces during those years. Many of which have spent decades looking for the truth about what happened to those who were killed. During my time with them, some of the family members said that this proposal, which would eliminate any potential for accountability, has left them exasperated and angry.

Some of the killings from this period, like those on Bloody Sunday in Derry or Ballymurphy in Belfast, are well known and have received international attention. Others, such as the Springhill-Westrock shootings and many others, have had less attention. Overall, during the Troubles (1969-1998), 3,350 people were killed, including 1,840 civilians, and 47,500 were injured.

In many cases of killings, there was no real investigation done at the time. Local human rights NGO, the Pat Finucane Centre, has recently published declassified documents showing how some soldiers evaded prosecutions. The new proposal would remove any possibility of the families having any possibility for legal recourse or bringing the killers to justice.

The wide scope of the UK government’s proposed amnesty is breathtaking.

Human Rights First has for many years worked with Belfast-based human rights NGO the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ). This week, with a team of experts from Queen University, Belfast, the CAJ produced an analysis of the proposed amnesty laws, measuring the British government’s proposals “against binding international and domestic human rights law, the Good Friday Agreement and other international experiences of amnesties to deal with past human rights violations.”

This study found that the proposal would create an amnesty more sweeping than that of General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who introduced a policy to shield human rights violators from prosecution, which is often regarded as the worst. However, unlike the UK proposal, which excludes no crimes and has no temporal limits, Pinochet’s amnesty excluded certain crimes, such as sexual violence, and applied only to the first five years of the 17-year dictatorship. Additionally, Pinochet’s amnesty excluded criminal cases already before the courts and applied only to criminal prosecutions. The UK proposal on the other hand would close cases already in the system and apply to both civil and criminal cases.

Professor Louise Mallinder, one of the experts on the report and a world-renowned scholar of transitional justice who has examined roughly 300 amnesties relating to various conflicts around the world from 1990 until 2016, says the UK’s proposed amnesty “would offer the broadest form of impunity of all the amnesties surveyed.”

Yes, the British government’s standard for addressing past human rights violations by its soldiers, including murders, appears to be lower than that of General Pinochet’s.

The plan is so bad that all major political parties in Ireland, north and south, have united in rejecting it. Members of the U.S. Congress are reportedly signing a letter objecting to it.

The British government got many things wrong over the course of The Troubles. This proposed amnesty for its former soldiers is another huge mistake and should be rejected immediately.

Instead, a real process of justice should be followed, along the lines of that outlined in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. Dealing with The Troubles’ past is difficult but not impossible. The families of those killed – and of victims of human rights violations in other post-conflict situations that a new UK precedent might influence – deserve much better than what the British government has proposed.

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/british-government-proposes-amnesty-killings-s-worse-pinochet-s

European Court of Human Rights calls probe into murder of Natalia Estemirova ineffective

September 1, 2021

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch wrote on 31 August 2021 “Justice for Murder of Chechen Rights Defender Remains Elusive”

Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of Natalia Estemirova, Chechen human rights defender murdered in July 2009. It found that Russia had violated their obligations to protect her right to life by “fail[ing] to investigate effectively [her] abduction and killing.” [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BA7B3FCE-AFE7-4B72-9156-EA257B3BC205]

Natalia – Natasha to me and many others – was a colleague and very close friend. I last saw her 36 hours before the murder, while staying at her place in Grozny, as I always did when in Chechnya. We’d spent a week interviewing people whose homes police had torched because of their alleged involvement with militants, and whose relatives had been rounded up, disappeared, or killed by security officials.

We said goodbye just past midnight on July 14. When I woke up later that morning, Natasha had already left for an early meeting, so I went to the airport without getting to see her again. The next day, armed men pushed her into a car as she was running to catch a bus to the city center. They drove her into neighboring Ingushetia and shot her near the forest.

In 2011, having lost hope for an effective investigation by Russian authorities, Natasha’s family filed a complaint with the European Court, alleging a violation of her right to life because Russian authorities failed to protect human rights defenders in Chechnya, Chechnya’s leadership repeatedly threatened Natasha, and her abduction was apparently carried out by security officials.

Ten years later, the court ruled today that Russia had failed to investigate but also held that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that state agents had murdered Natasha.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/15/ngos-remember-10th-anniversary-of-natalia-estemirovas-murder/]

The ECHR noted that Russian authorities promptly opened a probe into Estemirova’s killing and identified a suspect, but emphasized that Moscow’s failure to provide full materials of the case made the court “unable to conclude that the investigation had been carried out thoroughly.” It noted some contradictions in the expert evidence led it to doubt that the investigation had been effective.

The victim’s sister, Svetlana Estemirova, alleged in her appeal that state agents were behind the killing but the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the evidence didn’t support the claim.

The court required Russia to pay 20,000 euros ($23,600) to Estemirova’s sister and urged Russian authorities to track down and punish the perpetrators of her murder.

I had very high hopes and it would be an understatement to say that I’m disappointed,” Natasha’s daughter Lana, who was 15 when she lost her mother, told me today.

The lack of sufficient evidence the court cited is a direct result of Russia’s brazen determination to protect the perpetrators of this outrageous murder. Natasha was killed for fearlessly exposing abuses by Chechen authorities. An effective investigation would leave no doubt about official involvement in her murder.

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/ap-top-news/2021/08/31/europe-court-russian-probe-into-activist-murder-ineffective

https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56609/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/31/justice-murder-chechen-rights-defender-remains-elusive

Reed Brody about the death of Hissene Habre

September 1, 2021

A bit of a special post: On 28 August 2021, Reed Brody, [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/21/the-dictator-hunter-works-from-home/] wrote on Facebook a post about the death of the former dictator of Chad Hissene Habre. Reed’s deep involvement in his case makes his observations worth a read:

A lot of people have asked me how I felt about the death in Senegal of the former dictator of Chad Hissene Habre, on whose prosecution I spent 17 years. https://www.nytimes.com/…/africa/hissene-habre-dead.html For me, especially in later years, the effort was much more about using the case to promote transformation and giving the victims a means to claim their dignity than about the person of Hissène Habré.At Habré’s trial, Kaltouma Deffalah, one of the survivors of sexual slavery, testified defiantly that she felt “strong, very courageous because I am before the man who was strong before in Chad, who …doesn’t even speak now, I am really happy to be here today, facing him, to express my pain, I am truly proud.” It was a sentiment expressed, in one way or another, by many of the survivors who testified.Since Habré was sentenced to life in prison in 2016, his victims have been campaigning to get reparations, as awarded by courts in Chad and Senegal. In fact, on the morning of his death, I was having a phone conference with the victims’ Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina [ see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/179E3C5C-9175-1B42-99C9-1004DDBC850E]and other lawyers on how to kick-start the stalled procedures, particularly at the African Union ( background here – https://www.hrw.org/…/hissene-habres-victims-continue…) That said, it is a strange feeling that he’s dead. I used to imagine that Habré and I were sitting across a chessboard in a strategic battle, trying to anticipate the other’s moves. Back in 2004, I asked the French journalist Christian Millet, who maintained friendly contact with Habré, what he thought the former dictator’s strategy was against us. And Millet responded: “Il vous attend dans sa grotte.” He is waiting for you in his cave, a reference to his days as a rebel fighter in the rocky desert of northern Chad. Habré was playing this chess game with the black pieces, waiting for us to over-extend. That is how as president of Chad, with French and American help, he defeated Libya’s Moemmar Qaddafi whose troops had occupied part of his country.In Senegal, we were in Habré’s cave, where he had used the millions he looted from the Chadian treasury to build himself a network of protection that included politicians, religious figures and journalists . But in the end, the tenacity and perseverance of his victims, the evidence of his massive crimes ( thousands of killings, systematic torture, sexual slavery ) , and the courage of some Senegalese leaders such as then-justice minister Aminata Toure, overcame Habré’s home-field advantage, and he was powerless to prevent his conviction in an exemplary and transparent trial.In his one written declaration to the investigating judges, Habré said that I was “an enemy… who has never hidden his aggressive and outrageous hostility, a specialist in forgery and lies.” How do I feel now? I’m grateful that Habré lived long enough to face justice and the accusatory gaze of his victims.”

Rida Faraj Fraitis, Libyan government staffer, abducted – UN Libya mission ‘deeply concerned’

August 19, 2021

Rida Faraj Fraitis, is Chief of Staff for the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), the UN-backed administration that since March, has been leading a new unified Libyan push towards ending years of civil conflict and division. Up until this year, the oil-rich nation was split between the former Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and a rival administration based in the east. In recent weeks, progress towards new democratic elections in December has stalled, despite wide-ranging and on-going negotiations continuing.

Mr. Fraitis was taken along with a colleague, on 2 August, following a visit to GNU premises in Tripoli: “The fate and whereabouts of both Mr. Fraitis and his colleague remain unknown and UNSMIL fears for their safety and security”, the mission said in a statement.  

The Mission expresses further concern about individuals who have taken on roles in support of Libya’s democratic transition and State institutions being targeted in this manner which has serious implications for the peace and reconciliation process and for the full unification of national institutions”, the statement continued.

UNSMIL said that it has documented several cases of illegal arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, as well as torture. The mission has also recorded cases of extrajudicial killings of citizens, officials, journalists, civil society members and human rights defenders, in the past year. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/12/libyan-human-rights-defender-hanan-al-barassi-gunned-down-in-benghazi/

The Mission is now calling on Libyan authorities to fully investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law, and international humanitarian law.

Libya must end the entrenched culture of impunity in the country”, stressed Mr. Kubis. 

Three UN workers killed following Benghazi car bomb attack, as Security Council meets in emergency session, honours their ‘ultimate sacrifice’

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097512

Yury Dmitriev wins 2021 Sakharov Freedom Award

May 21, 2021

Thomas Nilsen in the Barents Observer of 21 May reports that The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has given its 2021 award, the Sakharov Freedom prize, to Russian dissident Yury Dmitriev. for more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/DC70DA62-BCB5-497A-A145-79D1F865FC11

Dmitriev is well known for his research and campaigns to create a memorial to the victims of Soviet terror in the Republic of Karelia, a northwestern province near Russia’s border to Finland. see also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/303c010f-033a-45b1-9d25-ed42d99b1da9

“Yuri Dmitriev has returned the human value back to the Russian state. He confronts the past and gives a new vision for the future, which today’s regime does not have,” says Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Geir Hønneland, to the Barents Observer.

Explaining the reason behind the award, Hønneland says it is not only about Dmitriev as a historian. “His work has already inspired thousands of young and old people, who want to find their dearest in the darkest graves. It is about hope and common identity.

Millions were killed during Soviet terror, but the victims of these atrocities and their living relatives have never been given real justice. This was what Yury Dmitriev was working on. In the forests of Karelia, tens of thousands of people were shot and killed without trial or conviction and buried in mass graves.

Dmitriev is currently serving a 13 years prison sentence and is considered a political prisoner by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and other leading human rights organizations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/dunja-mijatovic-calls-on-russia-to-end-judicial-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/democracy-and-media/2021/05/jailed-russian-historian-receives-sakharov-freedom-award

Joint NGO-call for UN to protect civilians caught in armed conflict

May 12, 2021

On 12 May 2021 the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and 25 other civil society organizations have issued a joint statement ahead of the May 25th UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The joint statement calls for the UN Secretary General, UN Security Council, Member States, and armed actors to take urgent and ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies, and practices, to protect civilians caught in armed conflict.

Civil Society Statement on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2021)

Over the past year, anniversaries of the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and new outbreaks of violence elsewhere, have served as grim reminders of the international community’s lack of meaningful progress to uphold their commitments to protect civilians in armed conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has interacted with new, ongoing, and protracted conflicts, exacerbating existing inequalities and protection concerns, and contributing to dramatically escalating humanitarian needs including displacement, famine and food insecurity, and desperate medical shortfalls. Civilians living in conflict-zones continue to experience the devastating impacts of conflict-related environmental damage and an increased vulnerability to climate and environmental risks with wide-ranging effects on health and human suffering.

Meanwhile, States continue to use the pandemic and other pretexts to shrink civic space. Dialogue essential to the development of policies, strategies, and plans for protection of civilians too often fails to be adequately representative and inclusive of civil society, despite their voices being essential. This is especially true for vulnerable or marginalized communities and for human rights defenders.

Parties to conflict continue to be blind to the gendered, age-specific, and intersectional vulnerabilities of civilians. In particular, conflicts continue to undermine the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities, especially when it comes to participating in decisions that impact their lives and communities. Conflict often leads to the widespread use of gender-based violence, undermining of women’s freedom of movement and access to education, health and livelihoods. The deliberate targeting and collateral impact of conflicts on women and girls continues to result in specific gendered harms that must be redressed, requiring the humanitarian system to ensure that there is gender equity in the decision-making structures at all levels. Attacks on educational institutions and their military use result in death, destruction, and loss of education, creating long-term negative consequences for whole communities.

Moreover, the absence of genuine political will to realize accountability for war crimes and other serious violations has deepened a culture of impunity.  As a result, parties to conflict continue to directly violate international humanitarian law (IHL) or enable violations by others and fail to take meaningful practical steps to minimize and respond to civilian harm in conflict.  Parties, including some States who profess to support the protection of civilians agenda are also fueling protection crises around the world, including through the supply of weapons and other forms of military and security assistance. Rather than enhancing the protection of civilians, millions have been forced to flee bombing and fighting and face hunger, starvation and disease as their access to life-saving humanitarian assistance is denied or otherwise impeded.

At the same time, protecting civilians has too often been understood through the prism of compliance with international humanitarian law. This is an incomplete view: compliance with the law is the bare minimum, but current patterns of harm and long-term effects of hostilities highlight the need for policies and practices to effectively prevent, minimize, and respond to civilian harm. The full protection of civilians must become a strategic imperative across scenarios from direct involvement in hostilities to support provided to parties to conflict, and through the full spectrum of UN and other international and regional peace operations. This should entail prioritizing the health and wellbeing of people, supporting political and social structures that ensure justice and dignity, and protecting the environment, and be understood as a wider goal of conflict prevention and response.

Ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies and practices is urgently required to adequately protect civilians caught in armed conflict:

Member States, the UN System, and the international community must recommit to a United Nations of ‘We the Peoples’, and engage conflict-affected communities and local, national, and international civil society in a direct, robust, inclusive, and sustained dialogue on the protection of civilians and measures to minimize civilian harm. Effective protection of civilians can only be conceived and implemented through safe and inclusive dialogue with conflict-affected communities and civil society at all levels. Additionally, the UN, States, and other stakeholders should support nonviolent and community-based protection mechanisms where possible such as political mediation, early warning/early response activities, and unarmed civilian

The UN Security Council, Member States, and the UN System must fulfill their commitment to the full protection of civilians, including by promoting and implementing the relevant and applicable legal and policy frameworks. Member States should partner with civil society to develop national policy frameworks that include mechanisms to systematically record casualties, track, analyze, prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian harm from the actions of their own and those of security partners, including the indirect and reverberating effects of hostilities on critical civilian objects, critical infrastructure and essential services, including health and education, and that ensure principled and sustained dialogue with humanitarian organizations in conflict contexts.

The UN Security Council, Member States and all parties to conflict must operate in a manner that preserves and protects space for principled humanitarian action, including by ensuring compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as a critical aspect of strengthening the protection of civilians. As conflicts are increasingly defined as protection crises, disproportionately affecting women, girls, and boys, and are compounded by the gendered and age-specific impacts of COVID-19, States must take actions to reinforce the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups, and the localization of principled humanitarian response. States and all other parties to conflict must facilitate unhindered access to affected populations, respecting humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. Sanctions and counterterrorism measures must include effective humanitarian exceptions and not limit principled humanitarian action. All actors must redouble efforts to protect humanitarian, education and health workers, and cease attacks on them, particularly in light of COVID-19’s effects and vaccine rollout.

The UN Secretary-General, the Security Council, and Member States must redouble efforts to ensure accountability for violations, including by publicly condemning actors who violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law and other applicable legal frameworks. The UN Security Council and Member States must strengthen the implementation of accountability mechanisms. The Secretary-General should reinforce transparent mechanisms, including at the field level, to track, analyze, and publicly report on violations caused by parties to armed conflicts, and make practical recommendations to enhance the protection of civilians and prevent further violations. Critical mechanisms established to help strengthen accountability, such as the list of perpetrators of grave violations of children’s rights included in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, must be credible and accurate, free from politicization.

Member States should engage constructively in the process to develop a political declaration that would strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects. Such a declaration should commit States to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. It should include inclusive humanitarian provisions to assist victims and affected communities including from damage and destruction to infrastructure – including schools and hospitals – and the resulting reverberating effects. This should recognize the particular vulnerability of and specific impacts of explosive weapons on children, the gendered impacts, and particular impacts on persons with disabilities.

The UN Secretary-General must work together with the UN Security Council to ensure protection is at the heart of UN peace operations.  Configurations and operations of UN peace operations must prioritize and be driven by analysis of threats against civilians, including threats of sexual and gender-based violence and threats of grave violations against children. The Secretary-General and Member States should ensure a coherent and adequately resourced approach to the protection of civilians, including that distinct capacities for protection, human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and child protection are defined and provided across the spectrum of peace operations and in UN Country Teams, and sustained throughout transitions. Peacekeeping operations should continue to strengthen implementation of the UN Department of Peace Operations PoC Policy, mitigate potential harm from their presence or operations, and incorporate local perspectives into protection strategies.

As civil society, we believe in the comprehensive protection of civilians: the protection of civilians from conflict, the protection of civilians during conflict, and the protection of civilians in the devastating and often long aftermath of conflict. Over the past year, the pandemic has further forced the world to confront the protection implications of a global health crisis. Especially in the context of conflict, States and the international community must meaningfully advance the protection of civilians, starting with a recommitment to the critical dictum of “do no harm.”

Read the full statement below and click here for the PDF.

UN Spotlight on Killing of South African Environmental Defender Mama Fikile

March 16, 2021

.On 15 March 2021 Katharina Rall, Senior Researcher, Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, wrote about Mama Fikile’s murder, It is almost five months since an environmental activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made. Mama Fikile had received threats to her life but carried on with what she perceived to be the only way to protect her community’s health and livelihood.

On March 3, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Mama Fikele’s story to begin a new report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that highlights the risks many environmental defenders operate under, and the widespread attempts to silence their voices.

South African environmental justice groups have urged the government to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into Mama Fikile Ntshangase’s killing and ensure that those found responsible are held to account. But her family is still waiting for justice.

Beyond the individual tragedy and injustice, there is another reason the UN expert, Mary Lawlor, highlights the South African case in her global report. Killings of activists create an environment of fear and can have a chilling effect on the people around them. Or, as the UN expert frames it, “[t]here is no more direct attack on civil society space than the killing of human rights defenders.

As a community rights defender opposing coal mining in Fuleni, a small rural village not far from the place where Mama Fikile was killed, Billy Mnqondo once heard gunshots at the gate of his house and was warned by community members that he and his family will be in trouble if he continues to oppose mining. When, in 2018, Human Rights Watch visited Somkhele, Fuleni, and other communities affected by mining, some activists confirmed they were afraid to speak out about the impact of mining in their community, especially after Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, another prominent environmental rights defender, was killed in Xolobeni in 2016.

Violence and intimidation against those who raise their voices to defend their right to a healthy environment is endemic in South Africa.  Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 report, published jointly with groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Earthjustice,  documented how activists in mining-affected communities across the country have experienced threats, physical attacks, or property damage that they believe is retaliation for their activism. Most of these cases are not widely known and have not made headlines like the killings of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe and Mama Fikile. Yet, investigations into these killings or other attacks are moving very slowly, if at all. 

Other, less brutal ways to silence the voices of environmental rights defenders are nuisance lawsuits, known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) – baseless cases brought forward by companies to intimidate and burden activists with the onerous costs of mounting a legal defense.

South African courts are beginning to take a stance against these tactics. In February, the High Court in Cape Town issued a ruling that strengthens the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court held that a defamation suit brought by an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), and its local subsidiary against three attorneys, two activists, and a social worker in relation to their statements about its operations is an abuse of legal process. The defamation trial may still proceed, but activists can now defend themselves by arguing that the Court should assess the SLAPP nature of the case.

Following this ruling it will be harder for corporations to use South Africa’s legal system against citizens and activists to silence and intimidate them when they raise human rights concerns or seek accountability for past abuses. The government should now do its part to follow the recommendations of the UN expert by bringing those responsible for killings of environmental defenders to justice. Unless there are prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into the killings—and those responsible are brought to justice— human rights defenders will continue to live in an environment of fear.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/15/un-spotlight-killing-south-african-environmental-defender

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Large group of NGOs call on Biden administration to repeal ICC Sanctions

February 19, 2021

After the Trump administration attacks on the ICC [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/12/trump-issues-new-sanctions-on-the-icc-and-human-rights-defenders/], the question is now how the Biden administration will change course:

On 17 February 2021, more than 70 Non-Governmental Organizations, Faith-Based Groups and Academic Institutions called for the Biden Administration to Repeal ICC Sanctions:

The undersigned organizations urge the Biden Administration to engage constructively with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.S. government’s support for the ICC could help secure justice for victims in situations from Myanmar to Darfur, just as it helped facilitate the February 4 historic conviction of a former leader of an armed rebel group for war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda.There is an immediate need to act to reset U.S. policy regarding the ICC. Most urgently, we are alarmed by recent calls for the U.S. government to maintain or even expand the sanctions put into place by the Trump administration in June 2020 currently targeting the court’s work.These actions were an unprecedented attack on the court’s mandate to deliver justice and the rule of law globally, an abuse of the U.S. government’s financial powers, and a betrayal of the U.S. legacy in establishing institutions of international justice. They were also an attack on those who engage with the court, including human rights defenders and victims. These extraordinary measures have put the U.S. at odds with many of its closest allies. They also have been challenged on constitutional grounds domestically. Keeping in place the executive order authorizing sanctions would be inconsistent with the new administration’s laudable commitments to respecting the rule of law and pursuing multilateral cooperation in support of U.S. interests. It would also transform a shameful but temporary action into a standing license for other governments to attack multilateral institutions when they disagreewith those bodies’ actions. We call upon the U.S. government to rescind Executive Order 13928 and all sanctions measures against ICC officials at the earliest possible opportunity. We appeal for constructive engagement with the ICC and we urge the Biden administration and members of Congress to support that approach.

This statement was coordinated by the Washington Working Group for the International Criminal Court (WICC), an informal and nonpartisan coalition of diverse NGOs, including human rights organizations, faith based groups, professional associations, and others.

The Advocates for Human Rights, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Amnesty International USA, Anti-Torture Initiative, American University Washington College of Law, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)Center for Justice and Accountability Center for the Study of Law & Genocide, Loyola Law School, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US, Provinces Darfur Women, Action Group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Eumans European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Fortify Rights, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Global Justice Center, Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law, Guernica 37, Chambers and Centre for International Justice, Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, City University of New York School of Law, Human Rights FirstHuman Rights Institute, Georgetown University Law Center, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project, Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Criminal Court Alliance (ICCA), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Human Rights Clinic, Boston University School of Law, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School, InterReligious Task Force on Central AmericaJ . StreetJustice for Muslims Collective. Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Never Again Coalition, No Peace Without Justice, Open Society Foundations, Operation Broken Silence, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), Partners in Justice International, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness, Project Blueprint,The Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA School of Law REDRESS, The Rendition Project

HRW blasts Colombia over human rights defenders’ murders

February 15, 2021
Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, accuses the Colombian government of failing to act on the murders of rights activists
Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, accuses the Colombian government of failing to act on the murders of rights activists Raul ARBOLEDA AFP

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday 10 Febuary 2021 hit out at Colombia’s government over the rising number of human rights defenders and activists being murdered in the South American country.

Since the 2016 peace accord that ended half a century of fighting between government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an increasing number of civil society leaders have been killed each year. But “the government has acted slowly and weakly in the implementation of policies to prevent these murders,” HRW said in a statement.

Despite Colombia suffering the largest number of such murders on the continent, “the government’s response has been more focussed on making speeches and announcements than adopting measures that will have an impact in the territories” affected by the violence, said Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas.

In 2016, 61 civil society leaders were killed, a number that increased to 84 in 2017, 115 in 2018, 108 in 2019 and 133 in 2020, according to UN figures, some of which have yet to be verified. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/

Behind the wave of violence targeting advocates are National Liberation Army Marxist rebels, dissident FARC guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, as well as armed drug-trafficking groups. They are fighting each other over access to lucrative cocaine and illegal mining markets.

HRW says most victims were murdered as reprisals for opposing drug-trafficking in their territories, allegedly collaborating with the army or supporting the replacement of illegal coca plantations with legal ones. The digest of Human Rights Laureates lists 50 HRDs in Colombia. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210210-hrw-blasts-colombian-govt-over-rights-activists-murders