Posts Tagged ‘in memoriam’

Remembering Andrew Blane, an Amnesty icon

October 13, 2019

Andrew with his dear friend, the Nobel prize winning Joseph Brodsky, clowning around at Morton Street where he became a longtime tenant. (Photo: Sharon Woolums)

The Villager (Sharon Woolums) writes about the memorial for Andrew Quarles Blane, who died on 6 September 2019 at the age of 90. The memorial was held on 6 October at Grace Church. A Greenwich Villager since 1965, Andrew quintessentially represented all the best of the Village then and now. Best known for his contribution to Amnesty International (AI), which he joined in 1969, Andrew was one of nine delegates to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for Amnesty in 1977.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, spoke of Andrews’ deep sense of justice, humanity and empathy leading to his contributions for the Human Rights Movement — for the release of Prisoners of Conscience, the abolition of torture and the death penalty. Andrew was elected vice chair of the International Executive Committee (IEC) by the International General Assembly from 1979-1985. Known for his patience, warmth, kindness, generosity and humor, Andrew mentored many young activists. Egeland characterized Andrew as politically liberal and a progressive, but a traditionalist in lifestyle.

Nate Schenkkan, director of Special Research at Freedom House, spoke of Andrew’s involvement at the U.N. Convention against Torture and his reaction to Abu Ghraib: “Torture to him was…an assault on their soul,” Schenkkan said. Saga Blane spoke of her father’s steadfast moral compass, his pure and incorruptible heart, and his idealism which left all who came in contact with feeling seen and valued.

Andrew spent his childhood in Guatemala. His family moved back to their home state of Kentucky, where he graduated from Centre College. In 1950, he enrolled in Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Billed as a “dynamic lay evangelist” Andrew traveled the South speaking to gatherings of students. He earned a masters degree’s in divinity at Cambridge University in 1957 and a doctorate in Russian history from Duke University.

Andrew’s comprehensive biography came out in 1993. He taught Russian history at the City University of New York until his retirement. David Hawk, former executive director of AI USA in 1974, commented, “Andrew was an enormously gentle but profound intellect and committed advocate.” Out of Morton Street came the birthplace of Amnesty’s U.N. office and the Artist for Amnesty Project. With Southern charm, Andrew opened his pull-out couch welcoming traveling asylum seekers, dissidents and friends. Andrew is survived by his wife of 36 years, Dr. Jaana Rehnstrom, their children, Eliot Blane of Manhattan, Saga Blane/Jake Jeppson of Brooklyn and grandson, Finn Blane Jeppson.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the newly-formed Andrew Blane Memorial Fund for Human Rights Defenders at andrewblane.com.

Remembering Andrew Blane, a Greenwich Villager who earned Nobel Peace Prize

In memoriam Louis Joinet: a great human rights defender who deserves more recognition outside France

September 25, 2019

Louis Joinet (born in Nevers on He was a French magistrate, independent expert to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and very active in the NGO human rights world in particular with regard to the dictatorships in Latin America (he was named illustrious citizen of Montevideo).

He co-founded the Union of the Judiciary (Syndicat de la magistrature) in 1968.  At the beginning of his career, he was interested in the early stages of computer sciences in order to evaluate the impact of these technologies on the law. He represented France in the Council of Europe. His report will gave birth to the Data Protection Act. He then participated actively in the drafting of the law relating to computers, files and freedoms of 6 January 1978. He was an adviser on human rights to the succesive Prime Ministers of François Mitterrand between 1981 and 1993.

In the UN context he was the author, in 1997, of the principles against impunity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights , also known as the “Joinet Principles” , which are part of the principles of transitional justice. .

He published his memoirs in 2013 (Mes raisons d’État : mémoires d’un épris de justice, Éditions La Découverte). One of the characters of the French television series Sanctuaire , broadcast in 2015, which addresses in particular the role of France in the attempt to negotiate, in the mid-1980s between ETA and Spain, is inspired by Louis Joinet  (“Avec “Sanctuaire” j’ai voulu faire un film sur une gauche qui se perd” [archive], teleobs.nouvelobs.com, 2 mars 2015).

His wife Germaine Joinet, doctor and activist in various associations, died in 2008.

 

Ciné-ONU and the Goethe Institute screened  “Un certain monsieur Joinet” (52 mn) on 24 October 2012 at the Goethe Institute in Brussels. According to Amnesty International, “the documentary gives an insight into the fifty years of struggle by Louis Joinet for human rights, from the war in Algeria to Pinochet’s Chile, from enforced disappearances to the fight against impunity”.  Language: French with English subtitles. Directed by: Frantz Vaillant. Only the trailer is on the internet and information on how to get hold of the full film is missing.

There is also an interview with him from 2012:

https://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2019/09/23/la-mort-de-louis-joinet-cofondateur-du-syndicat-de-la-magistrature_6012734_3382.html

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Joinet

https://www.unbrussels.org/invitation-to-the-screening-of-un-certain-monsieur-joinet/

In memoriam Hungarian author György Konrád – age 86

September 15, 2019

Featured photo by Lajos Soós/MTI
MTI-Hungary Today reported on 14 September 2019 that Hungarian author, essayist and sociologist György Konrád died on Friday 13 September at the age of 86. He was one of the best-known representatives of Hungarian prose around the world, with works translated into many languages.

Born in Debrecen in 1933, Konrád survived the Holocaust in a safe house in Budapest. He graduated as a teacher from Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University in 1956. After serving in the National Guard during the 1956 revolution, he made his living through ad hoc jobs for a few years. In 1959 he got full-time state employment, working as a children’s welfare supervisor until 1965. The experience amassed during this time served as the basis for his first novel The Case Worker. He was working closely with urban sociologist Iván Szelényi with whom he wrote a book on the sociological problems of new housing estates.

Citing political reasons, the communist authorities banned the publication of his second novel, The City Builder. After losing his job in 1973, Konrád, together with Szelényi, wrote The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, a sociological analysis of political history questioning workers’ rule in then Hungary. The political police, however, confiscated the manuscript and arrested the authors for incitement against the state. They were informed that they would be permitted to emigrate with their families. Szelényi accepted the offer, while Konrád remained in Hungary, choosing internal emigration.

He published in Hungarian samizdat and through western publishing houses. Virtually from this period until 1989, Konrád was a forbidden author in Hungary, deprived of all legal income. In 1987-88 he taught world literature at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

In the 1980s Konrád was member of the Democratic Opposition and in 1988 became a founder of the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). In 1990 he was elected president of PEN International, holding the post full time until 1993. Between 1997 and 2003, Konrád was twice elected president of Berlin-Brandenburg’s Akademie der Kuenste. His long list of awards included the peace prize of PEN International (1991), the French Legion of Honour (1996), the Charlemagne Prize (2001) and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award (2007).

 

Author György Konrád Dies Aged 86

 

In memoriam Chinese human rights defender Ji Sizun

July 15, 2019

Undated photo of award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun, who died of cancer at 71, weeks after the end of his prison term, July 10, 2019.

Undated photo of award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun, who died of cancer at 71, weeks after the end of his prison term, July 10, 2019. Courtesy of an RFA listener.

Award-winning Chinese human rights activist Ji Sizun has died of cancer, pn 10 July 2019 weeks after the end of his prison term. He was 71. Ji, a self-taught legal activist from the southeastern province of Fujian, died of colorectal cancer on Wednesday afternoon at the Zhangzhou Xiangcheng Hospital in Zhangzhou city, his family said.

He had just finished serving a four-and-a-half year jail term for publicly supporting the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and had been held incommunicado and under close surveillance by the authorities since his “release” in April. His family members were denied permission to visit or speak with him until he was unconscious (!), and Ji’s body was sent directly for cremation after his death by the authorities. His sister said her brother had dedicated his life to human rights work, which was why he had never married. “He would say that his work was too dangerous, so he didn’t want to have a wife and child to care about him.”

Ji’s cancer was diagnosed while he was in prison, and he was offered treatment in a local hospital, according to Ji Zhongjiu, a lawyer who had tried to visit him there.

A source close to the case said Ji’s remains had been handed over to his local neighborhood committee, rather than to his family, sparking suspicions that Ji’s death may not have been entirely due to natural causes. “There are huge question marks over this whole thing … as for the family’s letter entrusting them with this task, the family are very confused about that,” the source said. “The letter was signed on June 12, and Ji suddenly died less than a month after they signed it, so clearly there are suspicions that the authorities have been playing god.” He said the family never wanted Ji to be cremated.

Earlier this year, Ji was awarded the fifth Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, for his contribution in promoting legal rights and education at the grassroots level in China. Cao died in March 2014 after she was denied medical treatment for months while in detention. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/human-rights-defender-ji-sizun-in-jail-awarded-5th-cao-shunli-memorial-award-for-human-rights-defenders/

The Chinese authorities should investigate the circumstances and causes of human rights activist Ji Sizun’s death, Human Rights Watch said.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/activist-death-07102019113636.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/10/china-account-activists-death

Robert Bernstein, publisher and human rights advocate, dies at 96

May 29, 2019


Robert L. Bernstein was the publisher of Random House and founding chairman of Human Rights Watch. (Elisabeth D. Bernstein)

Standing at 6 foot 3, with freckled features and a low-key leadership style, Mr. Bernstein began his career as a junior office boy at Simon & Schuster and rose to become the president, chief executive and chairman of America’s most renowned publishing house…


Mr. Bernstein’s memoir, “Speaking Freely: My Life in Publishing and Human Rights,” was published in 2016. (Courtesy of the New Press)

For decades, he spent what few free hours he had promoting human rights, a passion that deepened in the 1970s when he visited Moscow with a delegation of American publishers. His meetings with dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, led him to create the Fund for Free Expression, a group of writers, editors and other literary figures concerned with rights abuses around the world. In the aftermath of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, he also formed Helsinki Watch to monitor the protection of basic freedoms behind the Iron Curtain. It was followed by similar organizations centered on the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, which merged in 1988 to form Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Bernstein sometimes held board meetings for the organization out of Random House’s headquarters in Manhattan and participated in its research activities firsthand. In 1985 he flew to Nicaragua and drove “to within 20 miles of the Honduran border,” according to a Times report, “to investigate charges that acts of terrorism were being waged by the contras against unarmed civilians.”

Combining his interests, Mr. Bernstein published works by dissidents around the world, including Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner; Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet political prisoner; Jacobo Timerman, who was tortured by Argentina’s military government in the 1970s; and Vaclav Havel, the Czech statesman and playwright.

Mr. Bernstein shifted his focus to Human Rights Watch, which was active in 70 countries by the time he stepped down as chairman in 1998. That same year, President Bill Clinton honored him as one of the first recipients of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, calling Mr. Bernstein “a pathbreaker for freedom of expression and the protection of rights at home and abroad.”..

In 2009, he took the unusual step of criticizing the organization he had founded, writing in an op-ed column for the Times that Human Rights Watch had issued reports “on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

The group, he argued, was better served focusing on closed authoritarian states such as Iran than condemning violations of international law in Israel. (Two chairs of the organization disagreed with his reasoning, writing in a letter to the Times that “it is essential to hold Israel to the same international human rights standards as other countries.”)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/robert-bernstein-random-house-publisher-and-human-rights-advocate-dies-at-96/2019/05/28/6b85f126-8153-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bd940d7ef530

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.”

….

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