Posts Tagged ‘in memoriam’

IM: Adri Kemps: former director AI Netherlands and volunteer at Netherlands Helsinki Committee.

May 18, 2020

On 13 May 2020, Adri Kemps passed away at the age of 65. He was – from 1993 – 2001 – Director of Amnesty International Netherlands. Even after an infarct in 2015 he continued to be active in human rights work e.g. as an active volunteer at the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.  Adri was known for his cheerful character, optimistic outlook, but above all his passion, especially about human rights. He could be stubborn and persistent as well, but always engaging and a true gentleman. That combination brought him many successes, as the obituary written by his friend and long-time colleague Harry Hummel underlines.

Remembering the life of Adri Kemps (1955 – 2020)

…. Adri was part of a brilliant team, at the national office of Amnesty International. Human rights until that time were a concept only known to a group of foreign policy experts and to a minute fraction of the legal community. Amnesty in the Netherlands was hugely successful in popularizing the concept as a notion that stood above political struggle. Adri and his friends developed campaigns to mobilise public support to raise human rights issues in countries around the world. A new action method for Amnesty, that was viewed by many in the organization’s London headquarters as a suspect deviation. This group of volunteers was dominant in the Netherlands’ representation in Amnesty’s international decision-making bodies. By 1980, they formed the majority of the executive board of Amnesty Netherlands. A group of people aged 25 or younger leading an organization with a budget of millions and several dozen staff members, unthinkable in today’s professionalized civil society sector in the Netherlands.

At that time, Adri was part of the board for a couple of years. He was also engaged in setting up a number of other organizations working on international solidarity (as this was called). He soon left for Nicaragua, joining his partner Marijke (who he had met at Amnesty), and gradually carving out a role for himself in development work in that new location.

In the beginning of the 1990s, a much more mature man, he joined Amnesty Netherlands again as Executive Director. An exceedingly difficult job, he had to lead an organization that was professionalizing rapidly but still maintained some characteristics of the volunteer spirit. The period was a challenging time for human rights, and yet it was a high period for their national as well as international recognition. Adri skilfully utilized this for the benefit of the organization.

After yet another, shorter period living in Nicaragua, he returned to the Netherlands to head the Netherlands Fundraising Regulator (CBF). An entity that runs a certification scheme for fund-raising NGOs, independent from both government and civil society, yet a civil society body itself, and subject to diverse pressures and not easy to lead.

He started running into health problems, including a stroke now six years ago. During his recovery, he joined the Netherlands Helsinki Committee’s office, and stayed on to work on an increasingly broad range of assignments. His expertise and strategic and tactical insight helped the organization tremendously in its fund-raising efforts. He took on substantive activities as well – things important for the promotion and defence of a healthy society but that did not necessarily fall in the defined areas of work of the organization – a training on strategy development for fund-raising organizations in Ukraine, involvement in a study on political advertising on the internet.

He continued to be active in local social democracy in Haarlem, where he lived, and increasingly also in initiatives to recreate a sound environment and in addressing the climate crisis. The extreme political repression that has developed over the past years in Nicaragua, the country where he had lived for such a long time, affected him a lot. He spent time advising on initiatives to help local people and increase pressure on the government.

The maxim that to be a human rights activist, you must by definition be an optimist, definitely applied to Adri. His co-workers at the NHC remember him as a friendly, interested and cheerful colleague, bringing a lot of positivity and creativity to the workplace.

Adri (in the middle) at a meeting with Ukrainian civil society and government representatives, discuss effective government-civil society partnerships

https://www.nhc.nl/in-memoriam-nhc-expert-advisor-and-volunteer-adri-kemps/

Filmmaker and human rights defender Shady Habash dies in Egyptian pre-trial detention

May 2, 2020

Shady Habash, 24, was a film director and cinematographer (Instagram/@ShadyHabash)

On 2 May 2020 the Middle East Eye reported that Egyptian film director and photographer Shady Habash reportedly passed away in Tora prison in the capital Cairo on Friday, according to human rights organisations.

Continuing Egypt’s revolution from exile: Ramy Essam and Ganzeer

[Habash and his colleague Mustafa Gamal were arrested following the release of Balaha, a song that indirectly poked fun at Sisi, the former defence minister who came to power after a military coup ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Essam, the singer who performed Balaha, is currently in exile in Sweden. The author of the song, Galal el-Beheiry, is also in jail.  “Balaha” is a derogatory nickname for Sisi, in reference to a character from a classic Egyptian movie known for being a compulsive liar. A statement by Essam after Habash’s arrest said that the director “doesn’t have anything to do with the content and message of the song”. Charges brought against Habash and Gamal include membership of a “terrorist group,” spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military. They have both been in pre-trial detention pending investigations since their arrests.]

Human Rights Watch has estimated that more than 60,000 political prisoners have been languishing in Egyptian jails since Sisi became president in 2014.  The former army general has routinely jailed critics, including secular and Muslim Brotherhood politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders. Hundreds have died in custody through medical negligence or other poor detention conditions.

On 5 May Egypt’s public prosecutor said that alcohol poisoning caused the death in jail of this young video maker after he drank liquid sanitiser he had mistaken for water.  https://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-video-maker-died-alcohol-poisoning-jail-prosecutor-015419633.html

For some older posts on Egypt, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/

In memoriam Leandro Despouy: Argentinean human rights defender at the global level

March 16, 2020

When a good friend and soul mate dies, it is sometimes difficult to write something meaningful. So it was when I learned that Argentine human rights lawyer Leandro Despouy – whom I have known since 1976  – had died on 18 December 2019 in Buenos Aires, after a two-year battle with cancer. He was born on 4 April 1947 in San Luis.

The Argentine media paid quite a bit of attention to his passing but (understandably?) focused on his place in Argentinean politics (in the Radical Party) and his institutional role as Head of the Auditoría General de la Nación from 2002 – 2016.  But Leandro Despouy was of great importance to the international human rights movement as it developed in the last quarter of the 20th century. I hope that this ‘obituary’ does some justice:

He started as a lawyer and university teacher before state terrorism (in the form of the far-right death squad Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, known as Triple A) pushed him into exile in 1975 to France. He stayed a refugee until 1983 when he was able to return to his beloved country where he was appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador for Human Rights by President Alfonsin. More about what he was able to do in that capacity follows below but I wanted to give special attention how remarkably active Leandro was during his exile. He did not succumb to porosity and made the best of his chances. Always upbeat and entrepreneurial he had great social skills.

Friends helped him with a part-time job (between 1975-1977) as professor of Political Economy at the Université de Paris VIII. In order to make ends meet he accepted many different part-time jobs, including (his favorite!) driving around fashion models and their clothes. The models were quickly enamored of this elegant Latino and sometimes donated suits making him the best dressed refugee in Paris. His own work situation improved when he became one of the assistants of well-known parliamentarian Nicole Questiaux for the 13th arrondissement in Paris and as from July 1981 for her replacement, Louis Moulinet.

Interestingly enough his first activist attention while in exile went to the repressive situation in Uruguay (he told me it was easier to keep politics out of it than in the case of his own country) and it was in that context that we set up SIJAU (Secretariat Internationale des Juristes pour l’Amnestie en Uruguay). Leandro – with the help of French lawyers like Joinet and Weil – managed to organise in December 1978 in the French Senate (!) an international conference that helped the opposition to unite and put pressure on Uruguay.

He undertook a similar effort on Paraguay with the creation of SIJADEP (Secretariat Internationale des Juristes pour l’Amnestie et Democratie en Paraguay).

Leandro was regularly in Geneva to follow up with the UN (and sleeping on my couch) and when the first UN mandate for disappearances was created he was briefly hired as a consultant by the then Director Theo van Boven. The Argentine Ambassador got wind of it and with ‘terrorist’ accusations this had to be terminated quickly.  In the summer of 1982 he did a short stint as Professor of Human Rights at the Centre International des Droits de l`Homme, in Strasburg, France.

Then comes the return to Argentina with the slow process of normalisation and the question of how to deal with the crimes of the recent past. From 1984-1989  he is General Director of Human Rights at the Ministry for Foreign Affaires and with it comes a series of opportunities at the international level. Here some examples:

President of the First International Conference of States Parties on the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987).

In 1983 Leandro becomes a Member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (later reduced to an advisory body for the new Human Rights Council). He plays a very active role, as Chairman and as:

  • Special Rapporteur of the Subcommission on disabled persons and human rights to study the connection between human rights, violations of fundamental human freedoms and disability which resulted in his final report, “Human Rights and Disabled Persons.” Which was adopted by ECOSOC resolution 1992/48 of March 1992
  • Special Rapporteur of the same on extreme poverty and human rights. Interim report adopted on 10 June 1994, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/19

In 2000 Leandro heads the Argentine Delegation at the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and from March 2001 to March 2002 he is President of this Commission (currently the United Nations Human Rights Council).

In 2002 in Argentina he becomes the President of the Auditor General’s office (a function reserved for a member of the opposition under the Argentine constitution) but continues to accept assignments of an international nature:

In 2003: he is appointed as Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, United Nations Human Rights Council (until 2009). In that capacity he and four other special rapporteurs asked in 2005 to be admitted to Guantanamo Bay to visit the prisoners held at the US naval base. He and one other was refused permission (see: https://newsarchive.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=608&LangID=E}

He remained a sought-after speaker at courses and conferences, such as those organized by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law of San Remo, the Committee of the International Red Cross, FLACSO Argentina ,Harvard University, the European Society of International Law, and the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.

In 1993 he becomes the Assistant Special Representative of the Secretary Generals of the United Nations and Organization of American States, in the context of the UN and OAS joint mission to Haiti.  Between 1999 and 2006 he regularly carried out Expert tasks mandated by a variety of UN agencies for short jobs in e.g.: Brazil, Paraguay, Equatorial Guinea, Colombia, Russia and Ecuador.

This is of course not a complete biography and any additional information would be most welcome. Leandro certainly deserves a lot more recognition at the international level. When Ben Whitaker died in 2014. Leandro was one of the first to honor his contribution [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/07/16/ben-whitaker-died-one-of-the-early-human-rights-defenders-at-the-international-scene/]. I hope this does the same for Leandro.

In memoriam Thich Quang Do, dissident monk in Vietnam

February 25, 2020

AFP reported on 23 February 2020 that Thich Quang Do, a dissident Buddhist monk who has effectively been under house arrest since 2003 has died at the age of 93. Head of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the vocal patriarch was born in 1928 in Thai Binh province and spent most of his life advocating for religious freedom and human rights in communist-run Vietnam. His staunch activism landed him under what was effectively house arrest in 2003 in Ho Chi Minh City, where he was under constant surveillance. Do died on Saturday night 22 February at Tu Hieu pagoda, UBCV announced on Sunday morning. According to his will signed on April 2019, Do requested a “simple funeral, not more than three days.” “After the cremation, my ashes will be scattered at sea,” said the statement quoting his will.

Do has long been a thorn on the side for communist-run Vietnam, and he has been nominated multiple times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his vocal advocacy for democracy. In 2001, he wrote an “Appeal for Democracy” and also called on northern and southern dissidents to drop their cultural differences and unite in 2005. He received Norway’s Rafto human rights award the following year for “his personal courage and perseverance through three decades of peaceful opposition against the communist regime in Vietnam.” He also won a Hellmann/Hammett grant in 2001 and the Homo Homini award in 2002.

The UBVC has been banned since the early 1980s, when it refused to join the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/02/23/asia-pacific/vietnamese-dissident-monk-nobel-dies/#.XlUxREPgpTY

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

February 22, 2020

Brazil remembers Sister Dorothy Stang murdered 15 years ago

February 13, 2020

Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is pictured in a 2004 file photo in Belem, northern Brazil.  (CNS/Reuters)

12 February 2020 was the 15th anniversary of Sr. Dorothy Stang‘s assassination in the Amazon region of Brazil. The nun was 73 when she was murdered on 12 February, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. She had lived in the country for nearly four decades and was known as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest. The U.S.-born nun is remembered as a crusader for the poor and the landless and for her love of the land and the Amazon forest.

Lise Alves, for the Catholic News Service, wrote about her on 12 February 2020:

She taught me how to be a missionary in Brazil; she was my mentor,” Sr. Rebeca Spires told Catholic News Service. Spires, who, like Stang, is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, said the first thing Stang gave her was Brazil’s land statute. “She was all about doing things within the law,” said Spires.

…She said that, in the early 2000s, Stang started to pressure public officials to combat land invasions by ranchers and large landowners, who wanted to take away areas occupied by smaller farms. The officials “became extremely irritated with her, with her persistence,” Spires said. “Although threatened with death, Dorothy never failed in her life’s mission, to fight for the poor of the land, so that they had their rights guaranteed and a dignified life,” read the statement issued by the Brazilian bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission to mark Stang’s death.Mary Cohen, a lawyer in Belem and a member of the Brazilian bishops’ justice and peace commission, was president of the human rights commission at Brazil’s lawyer association when Stang was in Anapu. Cohen remembered Stang’s determination, as the nun pushed and pressured government agencies into taking action. “She once slept on the steps of the INCRA (Institute for Agrarian Reform) so they would talk to her. She had a lot of determination, and that invigorated all of us,” said the lawyer. That determination made many people in the region angry. Trying to reduce the tension between landowners and peasants and their advocates, the lawyer’s association gave Stang a human rights award two months before she was killed.

We thought that more media attention and recognition of her work would keep her safe, that they (landowners and ranchers) would be deterred. We were wrong,” said the lawyer. And although Stang’s assassination made international headlines and caused worldwide commotion, those who continue her work say the threats today to the landless and their advocates are even greater. “There are still a lot of people being threatened, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s life,” Sr. Jane Dwyer, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur who worked closely with the murdered nun, told CNS.

Dwyer, who still lives in Anapu, told CNS she was uneasy about giving interviews over the telephone. She said that, since 2015, 19 landless, small-scale farmers had been assassinated over land conflicts in the area. “Nineteen in the last five years,” she said. “Of the 19 assassinations, in only one did authorities bring someone to justice,” added Spires, who works with the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council in Belem. Cohen said those who speak out today against the rich and powerful in the region continue to be threatened. “Her successor, Father Amaro (Jose Amaro Lopes de Souza), continues to be threatened, and when they were unable to scare him off, they accused him of extortion and inciting violence among landless peasants,” she said…

“The synod document is titled ‘Querida Amazonia’ (Beloved Amazonia), which … embodies what Sister Dorothy spoke of her entire life: ‘Dear Amazon, we are here to defend you, to protect you. Dear people of the Amazon, we are here to help you in your fight, in your resistance, in the recognition of your rights.'”

Asma Jahangir memorial lecture at second anniversary of her death

February 12, 2020

At the second anniversary of her death, an ‘Asma Jahangir memorial lecture’ was held in Islamabad [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/11/asma-jahangir-one-of-the-worlds-most-outstanding-human-rights-defenders-dies-at-age-66/].

Human rights defender Rehman presented an overview of the human rights situation in Pakistan at the first ‘Asma Jahangir Memorial Lecture’ held on Tuesday 12 February 2020. On this occasion he warmly recalled HRCP’s co-founder, remembering her as the ‘voice of sanity and compassion’. Rehman spoke about people’s fundamental right to ‘economic justice’. Citing examples ranging from bonded labourers and small farmers to lady health workers and journalists, he said that people’s economic rights – the ‘right to employment, and just and equitable conditions of work’ should not be subject to the “availability of resources.” He also reminded the government of their international commitments for political and civil rights.While the Constitution protected people’s social and economic wellbeing, said Rehman, it was critical to secure the substance of these rights, their availability to all citizens and their incremental expansion. “Economic justice must not, therefore, be sacrificed at the altar of national security,” he said. He reminded the audience that ‘all citizens of Pakistan’ had the right to economic justice, and that Asma Jahangir would not have stood quietly by in such a situation.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Secretary-General Harris Khalique announced that the Commission was instituting the Asma Jahangir Award for Human Rights Defenders, and resuming the Nisar Osmani Award for Courage in Journalism and the I. A. Rehman Research Grant in Human Rights.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/612817-asma-jahangir-memorial-lecture-held

In Memory of Tunisian human rights defender Lina Ben Mhenni

January 29, 2020

On 28 January 2020 The Human Rights Foundation in New York expressed its sadness at the passing of Tunisian activist, journalist, and educator Lina Ben Mhenni, after a long battle with a chronic illness (1983-2020).

Lina was a force who fought tenaciously until her last breath. She fought censorship, corruption, and human rights abuses, all while grappling with serious illness. But nothing stood in her way. Her voice and cause will resonate with generations to come,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “She will forever be an inspiration to all of us at HRF and in the Oslo Freedom Forum community to never give up even in the darkest moments. We will truly miss our beloved friend Lina.

Lina was one of the only Tunisians to criticize the repressive government openly on international broadcasts before the Jasmine Revolution began in 2011. She is often described as one of the bravest bloggers in the world, whose work was instrumental in documenting, informing, and mobilizing citizens during the Revolution. Lina’s impactful achievements led her to be nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. She authored and published a book the same year entitled, “Tunisian Girl: A Blogger for an Arab Spring.” Much of her writing was focused on freedom of expression and rights of women and students in Tunisia.

 

 

Lina’s life experiences went beyond her 36 years. Many people know about Lina – whether through the media or different social platforms – but no amount of reporting on her could do justice to the values and principles for which she fought during Tunisia’s era of tyranny and after the Revolution,” said Aymen Zaghdoudi, MENA Legal Advisor at Article 19 in Tunisia. “Lina stood with the weak, the deprived, and the oppressed – even at the expense of her own health – and turned her pain into inspiration and hope for those around her.”

Lina spoke at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum, urging the outside world to continue to pay attention to events in Tunisia and other Arab countries where recent revolutions appeared to have ended. Upon joining the HRF community that year, she was actively involved in the discussions unfolding about the Arab Spring.

In recent years, Lina continued to press for human rights and continued democratic reform. In 2016, she started a campaign called “Books to Prison,” to counter extremism within Tunisia’s prisons. She was inspired by her father, who was a political prisoner, and had once told her that prisoners had so little to read to change their minds or be inspired. By November 2019, her campaign had collected more than 45,000 books, helping to free the minds of tens of thousands of people.  Apart from her calls for democratic reform, Lina taught linguistics at a university in Tunisia and was a professional translator. She also brought awareness to the issue of organ donation and after a kidney transplant, amazingly received silver medals in the World Transplant Games.

You can read Lina Ben Mhenni’s blog “A Tunisian Girl” here.

https://mailchi.mp/609e2865ee85/hrf-mourns-the-passing-of-suleiman-bakhit-287648?e=f80cec329e

Remembering Russian activists Stanislav Markelov and Baburova

January 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are You With Me?” – the life of Kevin Boyle

December 23, 2019

One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyleis the title of a piece by Charles Norchi (law professor) in Global Geneva of 6 December 2019. It is about the new book by Mike Chinoy about the life and work of Kevin Boyle, the Northern Irish human rights activist: “Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement”. It chronicles the life of a man who spanned civil rights in Northern Ireland and the human rights movement from the halls of academia to international organizations and tribunals.

Boyle, a scholar-teacher-advocate-counselor who, like Eleanor Roosevelt, occupied multiple roles in the human rights movement, played a significant role in helping to bring an end to this turmoil which also affected the United Kingdom itself, Ireland, Europe and the United States. Yet he remained an unsung hero, until this book.

…Chinoy delivers the reader to a front row seat of the late 20th Century human rights canvass – the Northern Ireland civil rights movement, advocacy before the European Court of Human Rights, academia, civil society and the flowering human rights movement. Boyle was at the forefront of it all. From his perch at the Queen’s University Law Faculty in Belfast, he drafted proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. He also shone a light upon the abuses perpetrated by the British army and Northern Ireland police in a landmark case to the European Commission on behalf of seven Northern Irish men who were interned without trial, beaten and tortured. He mobilized international law on behalf of victims of torture, unjust imprisonment, discrimination and defended freedom of expression, belief and association.

Boyle with former Irish president Mary Robinson during her stint as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (1997-2002).

Boyle also guided Amnesty International’s campaign against apartheid in South Africa, and spearheaded efforts to defend Salman Rushdie as Director of Article 19. Yet he never neglected human rights teaching, because students were the future. So he Directed the University of Essex Human Rights Law Centre and was founding Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland at Galway. When President Mary Robinson became United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she wisely appointed Boyle her chief legal advisor – so he moved to Geneva.

This human rights law professor, advocate and activist died of lung cancer at age sixty-seven. At the time my University of Maine School of Law colleague Orlando Delogu who taught with Boyle at Galway observed, “He was single minded in his defence of oppressed people. The breadth of his interests was quite amazing, but always behind the scenes, the use of law – never violence.” Boyle helped lay the foundation for expanded human rights protections across the planet and inspired generations of scholars and activists.

How did Chinoy choose the title for this book? Boyle was first a university teacher. While lecturing he would pause and ask his students, “Are you with me?” It was a two-fold question. Did they understand the material? And would they be with him on the front line in the fight for human rights? “Are you with me?”

Are You With Me? will be launched at Essex University on 19 March 2020, with book events to follow in Dublin, Belfast, London, Galway and  Oxford. it can be pre-ordered through Lilliput Press: https://www.lilliputpress.ie/product/are-you-with-me

One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyle