Posts Tagged ‘in memoriam’

In Memoriam Murray Thomson one of the founders of Peace Brigades International

May 7, 2019

Age Is More: Image: Still from Murray Thomson/YouTube
Murray Thomson passed away at 96 years of age on 2 May 2019 in Ottawa, Canada. 

The founding statement for PBI that Thomson helped draft almost 40 years ago said, “We are forming an organisation with the capacity to mobilise and provide trained volunteers in areas of high tension, to avert violent outbreaks.” There was no way for Thomson and the 10 other people who gathered on Grindstone Island, southwest of Ottawa, from August 13 to September 4, 1981 to know that the seed they planted with their vision would grow into a global organization.

Fathi Zabaar, the New York City-based Tunisian human rights activist who chairs PBI’s International Council says, “In 2017, PBI’s community of activists provided effective protection and support to more than one thousand women, men and LGBTI defenders, despite the challenging context and huge risk those working to change the world continued to face.“… Along with Thomson, there were two other people from Canada at that meeting: Henry Wiseman and Hans Sinn. Wiseman passed away at 93 years of age of in Guelph, Ontario in January 2017. Sinn remains active and still lives in the Ottawa Valley.

In April 2015, Sinn told Ottawa Magazine about the founding of PBI in 1981. “Our first project was in Guatemala. The mothers of the disappeared appealed to us for an international presence. By looking for their children, who had been made to disappear, they came under threat too,” Sinn said.  Sinn added, “They needed a link to the outside world — for protection and for international pressure to help improve the situation — and we provided that.”

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Thomson’s contributions to human rights and peace extend far beyond the formation of Peace Brigades International. He helped found the Quaker Peace Education Centre-Grindstone Island in 1963, which worked to address the question: “How can we, who advocate nonviolence, actually practise it in hostile, threatening situations?” and Project Ploughshares in 1976, which was based around the observation that newly independent countries were spending vast amounts of borrowed money to build up military institutions rather than on the public interest and social needs. Thomson also helped found the Group of 78 in 1981 to promote peace and disarmament, equitable and sustainable development, and a revitalized United Nations system, and Peacefund Canada in 1985 as a campaign aimed at allowing conscientious objectors to have their tax payments spent only for non-military purposes.

Thomson helped found Canadian Friends of Burma in 1991 to support the pro-democracy movement in the struggle for peace, democracy, human rights and equality and Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention in 2008, a group which seeks a verifiable treaty on the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Thomson made an extraordinary contribution to peace, justice and human rights during his lifetime and his example inspires many of us to continue that work.

For more on Thomson’s life of faith and activism, please see the rabble.ca blog by Dennis Gruending, the Tribute to ‘a renaissance man of peace’ by Koozma J. Tarasoff, and the post by Peace Brigades International-Canada.

http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2019/05/murray-thomsons-lasting-legacy

In memoriam human rights defender Tejshree Thapa of Human Rights Watch

April 3, 2019

In Memoriam for Mwatha, human rights defender disappeared and killed in Kenya

February 22, 2019

Caroline Mwatha Ochieng
Caroline Mwatha Ochieng

Gacheke Gachihi, coordinator of Mathare Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group, celebrates the life of a fellow activist, Caroline Mwatha Ochiengwho was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests in Kenya, and was involved in documenting these cases. Through the documentation of these systematic injustices, Caroline, a founding member of Dandora Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group (the collective voice of social justice centers in the informal settlements in Nairobi), was exposed to police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice. Earlier this month, she was murdered. Her disappearance and murder sends a terrifying message to human rights defenders and social justice activists who are fighting against systematic extrajudicial killings and police brutality in Kenya.

I recall a recent event that illustrates Caroline’s tireless commitment. On December 13, 2018, at 9 p.m., I received a distress call from an activist who had been illegally arrested and detained at the Kwa Mbao Administrative Police (AP) camp — an informal settlement where the Dandora community Social Justice Centre was monitoring human rights violations. Carol Mwatha was our team leader at the notorious Kwa Mbao AP camp, which is under the jurisdiction of the Dandora Social Justice Centre. She was responsible for monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings by security agencies.

Under the leadership of Carol Mwatha, we spoke to the officer in charge of the AP camp, who was supervising those who had been arrested in the raid that evening. We demanded the unconditional release of our comrades. They were being detained illegally for refusing to bribe a police officer, something that exposes many youth in these areas to extrajudicial killing. As a result of Carol Mwatha’s intervention, our comrades were released unconditionally.

……

The struggle against social injustice and deplorable living conditions exposed Carol Mwatha to dangers that eventually led to her disappearance on February 6 and her subsequent murder. Caroline’s body was dumped in the city mortuary under a different name on Tuesday, February 12, and the police reported a story of a botched abortion to cover up her murder.

Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests, and she was involved in documenting these cases and referring them to the independent Police Oversight Authority and other organizations that have been mandated to seek accountability and redress against human rights violations in Kenya. Through the documentation of these cases, Carol was exposed to serious police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice.

In a rather bizarre twist, it turns out that the Catholic Church on Thursday refused to hold a requiem Mass for Caroline Mwatha on the grounds that postmortem results showed that she died as a result of excessive bleeding caused by possible abortion. Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops General Secretary Father Daniel Rono on Friday told the Star that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. Similar sentiments were shared by National Council of Churches of Kenya Deputy General Secretary Reverend Nelson Makanda. “The sanctity of the foetus must be protected and that starts from conception. Once fertilisation occurs that is a human being and the child must be protected to its natural death. Anyone who aborts is a murderer,” he said.

Bloggers and technologists who were forced “offline” in 2018

January 8, 2019

Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Tajik human rights defender Faiziniso Vohidova died

January 7, 2019

Radio Free Europe (RFE) announced on 4 January 2019 that Faiziniso Vohidova, a Tajik lawyer who defended dissidents for decades, died at the age of 55.

Faiziniso Vohidova in 2016
Faiziniso Vohidova in 2016

Faiziniso Vohidova was a graduate of Moscow State University and started her career as a lawyer in 1995. She was one of the last lawyers in Tajikistan who provided legal assistance to opposition figures, journalists, and victims of torture. Steve Swerdlow, researcher with Human Rights Watch, called Vohidova’s death “a huge loss for Tajikistan” and described her as a brave “lawyers’ lawyer.

[Vohidova] was an amazing combination of fierce intellect, sharp wit [and] principle. [For] duration of Tajikistan’s independence she has been part of that small group of activists and lawyers who have sought to make it live up to the democratic pronouncements written in its Constitution,” Swerdlow wrote on Twitter, adding that she was “unafraid to take on the toughest battles, fight for justice till the end, no matter what the odds.”

Rajabi Mirz, an independent journalist and rights defender in Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that Vohidova was “the last pillar” of those challenging the authorities in Tajikistan. “She was one of the few who cared about Tajikistan’s future,” Mirzo said.

https://www.rferl.org/a/faiziniso-vohidova-tajik-lawyer-who-defended-dissidents-for-decades-dies-at-55/29691242.html

Russian human rights defender Ludmila Mikhailovna Alexeeva is no longer

December 10, 2018

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/09/tribute-ludmila-mikhailovna-alexeeva#

in Memoriam Vitaly Safarov, Georgian Human Rights Defender

October 7, 2018

Vitaly Safarov.
1 OCTOBER 2018

Front Line Defenders is deeply saddened by the death of human rights defender Vitaly (Vito) Safarov, who passed away on 30 September 2018 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Vitaly first got involved in human rights work in 2013 when he became a trainer in a multicultural camp for children in Georgia. He then worked for the Georgian NGO “Centre for Participation and Development” as a trainer of youth programs. For the past two years, Vitaly was a part of the Tbilisi Shelter Initiative that provides human rights defenders from across the region with a safe space, rest, medical aid and capacity-building programs. He accompanied defenders from different countries and backgrounds on a daily basis, helping them to adapt during their stay in Tbilisi and to benefit from the Shelter’s programs.

Svetlana Anokhina, journalist from Dagestan, who stayed at the Tbilisi shelter commented: “He took care of me during my three-month stay. When I arrived, I was told: here is Vitaly and he is your case manager. 20 minutes later, he became simply Vito to me. If someone asked what he meant to me and I could not explain, I responded: “Just imagine that you have a younger brother who you would call when you are having Internet connection problems; or if you need to go somewhere but you are too tired; or if you are in a hospital and don’t know who you should turn to; or if you are just feeling bad. Vitaly always responded in such a way to these problems that he would leave you feeling much better”.

Front Line Defenders’ Protection Coordinator and Board member of Tbilisi Shelter, Maria Chichtchenkova said: “At Front Line Defenders we were privileged to collaborate with Vitaly Safarov on many projects for human rights defenders at risk. He was especially involved in our work on digital security. He had a deep commitment to working with and for HRDs of all cultures, being himself of Jewish and Yazidi roots. He had a great sense of humour, which was sometimes quite dark, but he always showed incredible kindness and tenderness to people. One of our colleagues referred to him as “Vito, defender of defenders” and that’s exactly who he was.

Vitaly Safarov will be missed and remembered by so many people.

Human Rights lawyer Louis Blom-Cooper died 19 September 2018

September 27, 2018

Louis Jacques Blom-Cooper, lawyer and writer, born 27 March 1926; died 19 September 2018. Blom-Cooper was involved in the foundation of Amnesty International in 1961, supporting Peter Benenson‘s idea for an appeal for amnesty for political prisoners. He was also a Patron of Prisoners Abroad a registered charity which supports Britons who are held overseas, and was a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform. He was a fighter against the death penalty.

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The enduring value of Louis’s work is likely to lie in his campaigning, supported by astute legal scholarship, against the death penalty, his contribution to the foundation of Amnesty International and his lifelong championship of the cause of penal reform and prisoners’ rights. For half a century he was a courageous advocate, a controversial legal author and journalist, a deputy high court judge and a forthright and radical chairman of numerous public inquiries and bodies. A man of extraordinarily wide intellectual interests, he was generous in his encouragement of younger lawyers and his availability and accessibility to his many prisoner clients.

Louis Blom-Cooper in 2015. He was a prolific, informed and provocative legal journalist, writing for the Guardian and the Financial Times
Pinterest
Louis Blom-Cooper in 2015. He was a prolific, informed and provocative legal journalist, writing for the Guardian and the Financial Times

Born in London, Louis was the son of Alfred Blom-Cooper, a fruit and vegetable trader, and his wife Ella (nee Flesseman), who lived in Mill Hill. After attending Port Regis school in Dorset and Seaford college in West Sussex, Louis joined the East Yorkshire Regiment towards the end of the second world war (1944-47). He studied law at King’s College London, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and the Municipal University of Amsterdam, where he obtained his doctorate in 1954.

He retained a spirit of inquiry in writing numerous challenging books on the death penalty, penal reform and murder law, notably the imposition of a mandatory life sentence for murder. But he also argued for the abolition of the jury system, because it did not give the convicted offender any reasons for his conviction.

….He was the first to argue for the extension of the principles of natural justice or fairness to the field of immigration and asylum law in cases such as that of the American journalist Mark Hosenball, deported in 1977 as a security risk after revealing the existence of GCHQ in a magazine article. ..

Most of all, Louis was a leading proponent of a general duty to state reasons in administrative law and made a judgment to that effect in his capacity as a high court judge. Rejected at the time as too advanced a position, the duty to give reasons for executive decisions has now been widely accepted.

….

As chairman of the Press Council (1989-90), he supported the principle that there should be a requirement that newspapers accord a right of reply to those they attacked. He also called for a law against the invasion of privacy, introduced changes to give complainants a better hearing and speed up adjudications, and also introduced a code of practice for newspapers. But it proved to be too little, too late.

In memoriam Kofi Annan – laureate of 10 human rights awards

August 20, 2018

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan died on Saturday 18 August 2018 at the age of 80. “Kofi Annan was a global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world. During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations, he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law,” the Kofi Annan Foundation and Annan family said in a statement. His wife Nane and their children Ama, Kojo and Nina were by his side during his last days.

Born on April 8, 1938, in Ghana, Annan took his first job with the U.N. in 1962,and became its seventh secretary-general serving between 1997 and 2006.

It has been pointed out by many media that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with the United Nations) in 2001 but few mention the other 9 human rights awards that he received before, such as

2001   Liberty Medal

2003   Indira Gandhi Prize

2003   Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

2004   Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award

2006   Olof Palme Prize

2007   MacArthur Award for International Justice

2007   Bruno Kreisky Award

2007   North South Prize

2008   Freedom Award (refugees).

For more on these awards, see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

The current U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, called Annan “a guiding force for good. … In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination,” he said in a statement.

Refugee defender Barbara Harrell-Bond died on 18 July 2018

July 25, 2018

Laura Hammond – Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London – wrote in IRIN the following obituary of Barbara Harrell-Bond who died on 18 july 2018. She was one of the most  prolific advocates of the rights of refugees all over the world. Tireless is often used but in her case an understatement. 

In the current international climate, refugees can use all the supporters they can get. But last week, refugees around the world lost an irreplaceable champion with the passing of Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond.

Barbara worked tirelessly for more than 35 years to improve protections for refugees, to ensure that their voices were heard not only in academic research but in real-world policy debates.

Barbara was never short of outrage at how badly refugees were being treated throughout the world. To her, fighting that injustice was the most important thing – it was all-consuming. Her research and teaching were inspirational to generations of scholars and practitioners of refugee and forced migration studies. Most memorably, she never shied away from speaking truth to power, taking on donor governments, UN bodies, large non-governmental organisations, and host governments alike. Indeed, her bold criticisms, backed by robust evidence, have inspired generations of scholars to follow her example and hold to account officials charged with assisting refugees.

I first met Barbara in 1988 while studying anthropology at the University of Oxford. I had spent the whole year studying subjects like witchcraft and totemism – things that can make people seem more exotic than understood – and I wanted to use my training in a more useful way. My tutor sent me along to meet Barbara. I stepped into her office and found a wonderful, diverse world of people who were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing – using academic research to try to make a positive difference in the world.

Trained as a legal anthropologist, she studied at Oxford under the supervision of eminent anthropologist Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard.

Her engagement with refugees and African studies came later, but her commitment to social justice was clear even from her 1967 dissertation, an ethnography of a deprived housing estate in the Oxford suburbs, Blackbird Leys. She went on to research law and dispute resolution in traditional courts in Sierra Leone.

Barbara’s work on refugees began in the early 1980s. She established the Refugee Studies Programme at Oxford (now known as the Refugee Studies Centre). Run by a tiny but dedicated team, this institution quickly became a crucial resource and meeting point for academics, practitioners, and refugees themselves. Barbara led the way in establishing refugee studies as an interdisciplinary academic field. At its centre: an agenda for influencing policy and bringing a refugee-centred focus to debates about asylum policy, social integration, and refugee assistance.

Barbara’s seminal 1986 book Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugeeswas based on research she and a band of Oxford students and local researchers conducted in what is now South Sudan. In it, she makes the very simple argument – she was the first to agree it should not have to be made – that refugees are not helpless victims, but always and everywhere have agency, resilience, and dignity, and that this must be the starting point for any assistance. Showing how badly wrong things can go when they fail to keep this basic truth in mind, this book – as well as Rights in Exile: Janus-Faced Humanitarianism (which she co-authored) – called to account those acting to aid and protect refugees. Her criticisms were always sharp, direct, and – most embarrassingly for their targets – meticulously substantiated with evidence. She did not suffer fools or egos gladly.

I worked for Barbara in 1989-1990, helping to put together material for training courses for people working with refugees. She had me working late into the night and on weekends. I remember working on New Year’s Day, stepping outside the office only to buy bread, salami, and Barbara’s cigarettes. When my work permit expired after a year, she somehow managed to get it extended through a connection in the British government’s Home Office – much to my surprise, as that was a regular target (along with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR) of her strident criticism.

These days I am less surprised; these organisations are sprinkled with people who were influenced by her, who carry with them a streak of critical boldness even as they work inside the belly of the beast.

Many years later, when we started a master’s degree in ‘Migration, Mobility and Development’ at SOAS, she told me that she was sorry we had focused on migrants of all kinds rather than focus exclusively on refugees, as she thought that the latter needed greater protection. She picked fights over this issue with many people, and she was not easy to get along with. At the same time, she was fiercely loyal to her friends, and we remained in regular contact over three decades, up to just a few weeks ago.

Barbara’s research and teaching were inspirational to generations of scholars and practitioners of refugee and forced migration studies. She was crucial in the founding of the Journal of Refugee Studies and the Forced Migration Review – respectively the world’s leading academic and practitioner publications on refugees and displacement. She also set up the Rights in Exile web portal that provides essential information and a network of experts who provide pro bono legal assistance to asylum seekers.

Barbara was also a founder of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, the leading professional association for scholarship on forced migration. The association will meet next week in Thessaloniki, Greece, where she was to have received yet another lifetime achievement award, and seen the launch of a new film about her life, Barbara Harrell-Bond: A Life Not Ordinary.

Barbara’s vision of refugee studies demanded being close to the regions and people with whom it is engaged. Disturbed by the idea of a refugee studies centre isolated in the ivory tower of Oxford, she worked with colleagues to establish the Refugee Law Project at the University of Makerere, Uganda, and refugee studies centres at Moi University in Kenya, the American University in Cairo, and others. Out of these centres have come many of the strongest and most interesting voices in refugee studies today, including academics who are or have been refugees themselves.

Her home in north Oxford was a hive of activity – every guest was pressed into voluntary service to contribute to scholarship or advocacy on refugee issues. Refugees found safe haven there. Stray academics found purpose in her fierce commitment to social justice.

When I now think about Barbara’s legacy, I realise that almost everyone I have collaborated with or respected in the field of refugee studies has a Barbara connection. In some cases she introduced us to each other. In other cases I feel a connection to someone and only find out much later that Barbara touched their lives in some way, in some part of the world – Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, India… Whether she introduced us to each other or not, having been in her orbit changed all of us and made us into a strong, subversive, passionate clan.

A few years ago I went to visit her again. She sat in her living room, which continued to be a cottage industry for refugee protection. Three student interns sat at computers. A fourth was cheerfully preparing lunch for everyone. They had all, like me all those years before, been seduced by Barbara’s passion.

http://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/07/18/appreciation-barbara-harrell-bond-refugee-advocate-and-researcher-1932-2018?utm_source=IRIN+-+the+inside+story+on+emergencies&utm_campaign=194a685f7e-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_WEEKLY_ENGLISH&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d842d98289-194a685f7e-75444053

https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/news/barbara-harrell-bond-obe-1932-2018