Posts Tagged ‘in memoriam’

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

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.

….

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.