Posts Tagged ‘India’

Global Witness report 2021: continued disaster

October 5, 2022

Stuti Mishra in the Independent of 29 September 2022 summarises and analyses the report “A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide” by Global Witness

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2022/09/27/13/10185902.jpg?quality=75&width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quot; alt="<p>A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru (EPA)

More than 1,700 environmental defenders have been killed around the world in the last decade with one death reported every other day on average…The report titled A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide, released by Global Witness, reveals the increasing threats environmental activists are facing as the climate and biodiversity crisis worsens.

The research states that a total of 1,733 people have been killed over the past 10 years trying to protect their land and resources. That is an average of one defender killed approximately every two days over 10 years.

The report shows Brazil has been the deadliest country for environmental defenders with 342 lethal attacks reported since 2012 with over 85 per cent of killings within the Brazilian Amazon.

The data found within the report also shows that over half of the attacks over the 10-year period have taken place in three countries — Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines — with around 300 killings reported in these countries.

Mexico and Honduras witnessed over 100 killings while Guatemala and India saw 80 and 79 respectively, remaining one of the most dangerous countries. The report also reports 12 mass killings, including three in India and four in Mexico.

Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings in 2021, totalling 54 killings, up from 30 the previous year. Almost half of those killed were again Indigenous people while over a third were forced disappearances, including at least eight members of the Yaqui community.

The report also reveals that over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America. In Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, a big majority of 78 per cent of these attacks occurred in the Amazon.

Meanwhile, the biggest increase in lethal attacks was witnessed in Brazil and India in 2021 with 26 deaths reported in Mexico, up from 20 and 14 in India, up from four.

Both Colombia and the Philippines saw a drop in killings to 33 in 2021 from 65, and 19 from 30 in 2021 respectively. Yet overall they remain two of the countries with the highest numbers of killings in the world since 2012.

2021 Highlights from Global Witness report

  • Around 200 Land and Environmental Defenders were killed in 2021 – nearly four people a week
  • Over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America
  • Nearly 40 per cent of all attacks reported were against Indigenous people
  • Mexico recorded the highest number of killings in 2021
  • Brazil and India both saw a rise in lethal attacks in 2021
  • 50 of the victims killed in 2021 were small-scale farmers
  • Around 1 in 10 of the defenders recorded killed in 2021 were women, nearly two-thirds of whom were Indigenous [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo remained the country with the highest number of attacks — eight defenders were killed there in 2021. All eight of these killings were in Virunga National Park, which remains extremely dangerous for the park rangers protecting it.

The organisation began collecting data on attacks against those defending land and the environment in 2012 and found that the control and use of land and territory is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened. Much of the increasing killing, violence and repression is linked to territorial conflicts and the pursuit of economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources from the land, it states. The research has also highlighted that Indigenous communities in particular face a disproportionate level of attacks — nearly 40 per cent — even though they make up only 5 per cent of the world’s population.

However, the research found that the figures also do not capture the true scale of the problem, as tightened control on media has led to severe underreporting in some countries where environmental defenders are most vulnerable. Research has also found that few perpetrators of killings are rarely ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments to properly investigate these crimes.

While a majority of these attacks are not properly investigated or reported on, a big proportion of these attacks were linked to sectors like mining and infrastructure, including large-scale agribusiness and hydroelectric dams.

Many authorities ignore or actively impede investigations into these killings often due to alleged collusion between corporate and state interests, the report says.

All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

They play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritising profit over human and environmental harm.

a spokesperson for Global Witness said

With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems,” a spokesperson for Global Witness said, adding that the organisation makes an “urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.”

Apart from killings, the report also reveals a number of tactics being used to silence them, like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalisation – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported.

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/decade-defiance/

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/global-witness-report-environment-defenders-threat-b2176247.html

Sedition law suspended by India’s Supreme Court

May 12, 2022

Having posted before about this nefarious law [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/16/delhi-high-court-re-establishes-that-criticism-is-not-sedition/], it is good news that on 11 May 2022 India’s Supreme Court suspended this law which activists say is often used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to target free speech and dissent.

Mr Modi’s critics say that the law, which was once used by Britain to target independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, has been abused by his government against many journalists, activists, and students. Section 124A of the Indian penal code gives wide-ranging powers to the police to arrest people, who can even face life imprisonment, for an act or speech that “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government”.

India’s official crime data says 236 people faced sedition charges between 2018 and 2020. India sparked global outrage last year after 22-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested for sedition for allegedly creating a “toolkit” to aid anti-government farmer protests.

See also:

The rigours of Section 124A (are) not in tune with the current social milieu, and was intended for a time when this country was under the colonial regime,” India’s chief justice N V Ramana, part of a three-judge bench hearing a petition against the law, said. Mr Ramana asked the government not to file any new sedition cases and pause ongoing sedition investigations.

All pending trials, appeals and proceedings” under sedition, the court said, “be kept in abeyance” until the “re-examination of the provision is complete“.

The government had said Monday that it had decided to “re-examine and reconsider” the law but it remained in force. The top court also urged people jailed for sedition to approach local courts for bail.

Amnesty International welcomed the Supreme Court’s order “For far too long, authorities have misused the sedition law to harass, intimidate, and persecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, filmmakers, singers, actors, and writers for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Aakar Patel, Chair of Amnesty International India’s Board, said. “Sedition has been used as a tool of political repression by successive governmens”i

Nagpur-based lawyer Nihalsingh Rathod, who represents many accused in the Elgar Parishad case said the legislature should have re-examined the relevance of sedition a long time ago. The Supreme Court’s interim order was an important step in rights jurisprudence, he said.

“It won’t bring complete respite as no state invokes an isolated provision. In present cases too they invoke many provisions, including UAPA. But still, it brings hope that the process of looking at sedition and jurisprudence around it is being re-examined. It offers some hope that sedition law will undergo some churn that has never happened,” he said…

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/indias-top-court-suspends-use-of-controversial-sedition-law/wy0racqs4
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/sedition-law-lawyers-and-free-speech-activists-welcome-sc-order/articleshow/91500777.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

India sinking in civic freedoms survey

March 21, 2022

While the world’s attention is understandably focused on the war in Ukraine, other major countries should not stay outside the limelight, e.g. India (conspicuously absent in the condemnation of the aggression) which continues to flaunt human rights. [See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/28/anti-terror-laws-in-india-keep-being-used-against-human-rights-defenders/].

On 10 March 2022, The Wire in New Delhi reported that India has been added to CIVICUS’ watchlist of countries that have seen a “rapid decline” in civic freedoms by an independent monitor, highlighting the drastic measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to silence critics of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India and Russia were added to CIVICUS Monitor’s Watchlist. CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories.

India has remained a “repressed” nation in the ‘People Power Under Attack 2021’ report by the CIVICUS Monitor, along with 48 other countries including Afghanistan, Russia and Hong Kong. Its rating was first downgraded in 2019, “due to a crackdown on human rights activists, attacks on journalists and civil society groups, and the assault on civic freedoms in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir”.

This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

In its report, CIVICUS highlighted several developments that it saw as cause for concern.

In January, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids on Madurai-based human rights watchdog, People’s Watch. The raid came against the backdrop of 6,000 other civil society organisations, including Oxfam, losing their foreign funding licenses under the controversial Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are among the civil society groups that have had to close their offices in India.

Meanwhile, scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws. They include the 15 human rights defenders linked to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon incident who have been accused of having links with Maoist organisations, based on evidence believed to be “fabricated”.

Waiting for bail, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who remained in custody since October 2020 in the Elgar Parishad case under UAPA, died in July last year. [Update on this case: The death of Jesuit priest and Adivasi rights activist Stan Swamy in judicial custody will “forever remain a stain on the human rights record of India”, says a new brief by the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The group had formally adopted its opinion on Swamy’s death during its 92nd session on November 16, last year but made its comments public just this week. The Working Group transmitted to the Indian Government a communication concerning Swamy on May 12 last year, but did not receive any response. India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]. In its communication, the Working Group urged the Government to prioritize the use of non-custodial measures at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the pretrial phase, in the current context of a global pandemic. Furthermore, its source submitted that placing Father Swamy in prison increased his risk of contracting COVID-19 and thus put his life at risk. The failure of the Government to heed these prescient warnings led to his avoidable death in custody, the opinion states.] [https://theleaflet.in/un-working-group-asks-india-to-accord-stan-swamys-family-with-compensation-and-reparations-under-international-law/]

Further, at least 13 activists who were arrested under the UAPA for their work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 remain in detention. The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions ensure that those detained under the law are held in pre-trial detention for long periods.

“The office raids and foreign funding bans are part of the government’s strategy to harass and silence their critics,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor. “The use of broadly worded anti-terrorism laws against activists, journalists, academics, and students, reflect a multi-year decline in the state of civic and democratic freedoms in the country.”

Journalists have continued to be targeted in India for their work in recent months and there have also been concerns about the widespread surveillance of activists, journalists and others critical of the Modi government following the Pegasus spyware expose.

The government must release all human rights defenders detained and come clean about its surveillance of activists and journalists as well as establish an independent and effective oversight mechanism to monitor all stages of interceptions of communications,” said Henri Tiphagne, national working secretary of HRDA – India.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, 21 members of European Parliament stated, “We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament, are writing to express our concern over the treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs) in India.” “We have followed cases of HRDs being jailed for their peaceful work, targeted under anti-terror laws, labeled as terrorists, and facing increasing restrictions on their ability to safely mobilize and access funds due to restrictive legislation. We are especially concerned about the safety of unjustly jailed defenders with emphasis on 15 HRDs accused in what is known as the Bhima Koregaon case and 13 defenders currently in jail for their campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”

They expressed worry that the prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez remained in detention under the UAPA in one of the most overcrowded and unsanitary prisons in the country for his documenting of rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Echoing calls by UN experts, they viewed their case as emblematic of the way the Indian government “continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms in the country.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/23/india-arrests-khurram-parvez-again/]

See also 31 March: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/31/human-rights-watch-submission-universal-periodic-review-india

https://thewire.in/rights/for-rapid-decline-in-civic-freedoms-india-added-to-civicus-monitors-watchlist

“Advanced persistent threat” group targeted Indian human rights defenders for decade

February 14, 2022
. (“National Flag of India” by Sanyam Bahga is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Two years ago it was reported that an Indian “hack-for-hire group” had targeted journalists and human rights defenders [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/after-nso-now-indian-based-hacking-group-targets-ngos/], but on 11 February 2022 Steve Zurier in SC Magazine reported that researchers discovered an advanced persistent threat group that targeted Indian dissidents and remained undetected for a decade or more, starting with simple phishing lures some 10 years ago and then graduating to providing links to files hosted externally in the cloud for manual download and execution by the victims.

In a blog post, SentinelLabs researchers reported on ModifiedElephant, which has been operating since at least 2012. The researchers said the threat group operates through the use of commercially available remote access trojans and has ties to the commercial surveillance industry.

The threat actor uses spearphishing with malicious documents to deliver malware such as NetWire, DarkComet, and simple keyloggers with infrastructure overlaps that helped the researchers connect the dots to previously unattributed malicious activity.

ModifiedElephant’s activities have been traced to long-standing political tensions in India, which exploded on Jan. 1, 2018, when critics of the government clashed with pro-government supporters near Bhima Koregaon. Later in 2018, raids conducted by police led to several arrests and the seizure of computer systems, which revealed incriminating files that pointed to an alleged plot against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thanks to the public release of digital forensic investigation results by Arsenal Consulting and those detailed in SentinelLabs blog, the researchers allege that ModifiedElephant compromised the computers that were later seized, planting files that were used as evidence to justify the imprisonment of the defendants. Over a decade or more, the group targeted human rights activists, human rights defenders, academics, and lawyers across India with the objective of planting incriminating digital evidence — and they are still operating today.

The case has become part of a larger trend of private and commercial company’s copying government and nation-state methodologies, persistently looking to penetrate into politically involved individuals, said Gadi Naveh, cyber data scientist at Canonic. Naveh said although most of the tools described aren’t top grade, continuous fueling of the attack eventually gets the target and larger funding gets even better tools, as was implied by Amnesty International.

“We assume these tools and methods that move from nation-states to commercial organizations will keep answering the demand and available funds for getting data,” Naveh said. “The move of data to the cloud makes the top-tier actor act there, but as with RATs and keyloggers, we are seeing the same military-grade tools moving after the new data sources in the cloud.”

Daniel Almendros, cyber threat intelligence analyst at Digital Shadows, added that he and his team view ModifiedElephant as a fascinating, albeit dangerous actor. Almendros said ModifiedElephant has a wide range of tools in its arsenal that it uses to target a large number of victims. They use a blend of off-the- shelf tools (NetWire and DarkComet  RATs), paired with spearphishing emails related to the sensitive 2018 Bhima Koregaon affair.

“The phishing lures have improved in subtlety as well as boldness, they have shifted from fake double extension file names to commonly used Office filenames,” Almendros said. “In one instance, an assassination attempt story was added to provoke the user to click on the phishing lure. These emails were distributed to many different users. The group likely has a connection with Indian state espionage. Because most APT attention stems from China and Russia-based threats, ModifiedElephant was initially overlooked for years. In addition, the group’s specific targeting and use of commodity malware helped the group evade detection for a prolonged period.”

https://www.scmagazine.com/news/cloud/modifiedelephant-an-indian-apt-group-targeting-dissidents-operated-undetected-for-nearly-10-years

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-we-know-of-hacking-group-modifiedelephant-7770228/

Anti-terror laws in India keep being used against human rights defenders

January 28, 2022

On 26 January 2022 four major NGOs made a strong joint statement on India:

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of 18 human rights defenders under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in reprisal for their advocacy work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019. Thirteen of those arrested under the UAPA are currently in Rohini, Tihar, and Mandoli jails, New Delhi. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the human rights defenders arrested, and the dismissal of all charges against them.

The CAA has been widely criticized by activists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, students and the international community for being openly sectarian and discriminatory against Muslims. After the CAA’s adoption, protesters across the country took the street to voice their concerns against the legislation, which goes against India’s Constitutional principles of secularism and equality. Police authorities responded by arresting human rights defenders and activists who spoke up against the CAA. Most of them were student activists and human rights defenders from the minority Muslim community.

The arrests of human rights defenders began in February 2020 and are still ongoing. Many of them had multiple First Information Reports (FIR) registered against them and were charged with serious offenses, including under UAPA. Of those arrested, only five human rights defenders – Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and Md. Faizan Khan – were released on bail. Thirteen others – Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Tahir Hussain, Saleem Malik, Mohd. Saleem Khan, Meeran Haider, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Shifa Ur Rehman, Athar Khan, and women human rights defenders Ishrat Jahan and Gulfisha Fatima– remain in jail. Despite prolonged incarceration, the trial for their case has not commenced yet.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/01/eu-human-rights-committee-condemns-indias-arrest-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/

On 24 January 2022, a Delhi court framed charges against human rights defender Sharjeel Imam while rejecting his application for bail. The charges include Sections 124A (“sedition”), 153A (“promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153B (“imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration”), 505 (“statements conducing to public mischief”), along with Section 13 (“punishment for unlawful activities”) of the UAPA.

Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, and Gulfisha Fatima have reported custodial violence and torture by the Delhi police. There has been no effective investigations into these allegations or responsibility taken for their treatment. Shifa Ur Rehman, who has been in detention since 26 April 2020, suffers from severe kidney disease and has been denied access to adequate medical care in prison.

We express our deep concern over the harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders that appear to be in retaliation to their peaceful activism and the legitimate expression of dissent against a discriminatory law. Despite the risks, human rights defenders have raised their voice for those oppressed by the CAA and in support of the Constitutional values that represent India.

We call on the Indian authorities to protect those defending human rights values and principles enshrined in national laws and to uphold international human rights commitments. We stand in solidarity with those who cannot speak out due to their incarceration, threats by Indian authorities, or due to a prevailing sense of fear. The treatment of these human rights defenders highlights a pattern of perpetrated abuse and violence, which is also exerted through legal mechanisms. This is especially concerning given India’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and its pledge to preserve and protect human rights.

We urge the relevant authorities in India to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arrested for protesting against the CAA, dismiss all charges, and cease all forms of harassment against them.
2. Guarantee under all circumstances that the arrested human rights defenders are not subjected to any form of torture and other ill-treatment while in police custody, and guarantee their access to adequate medical care and treatment.
3. Initiate a thorough judicial review of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in genuine consultation with independent civil society organizations and human rights defenders, with a view to aligning these laws with India’s obligations under international human rights law.
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions—including police and judicial harassment.

Please inform us of any actions that may be taken with regard to the above case.

-FIDH
· Civicus:
· Front Line Defenders
· World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-ongoing-targeting-of-18-human-rights-defenders-under-anti

International Press Institute: in 2021 45 journalists died doing their work

January 19, 2022

A total of 45 journalists died in 2021 while practicing their profession, with Mexico being the most dangerous country in the world for reporters, the International Press Institute (IPI) reported today in Vienna.

Seven Mexican journalists were assassinated this year for their work, with which the Latin American country once again leads the annual list of dead reporters. India and Afghanistan follow, each with six journalists killed, ahead of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with three.

In 2020, 55 journalists died around the world, eleven of them in Mexico. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

According to the IPI, a global network of media owners and editors, the safety of journalists remains a global challenge. For this reason, the Institute “urges the authorities to end impunity for these crimes and to guarantee the protection of journalists, who must be able to carry out their work freely and safely.”

Of the 45 journalists killed, 40 were men and five were women, the IPI detailed. Twenty-eight of them were killed for their work, three died while working in a conflict zone and two when covering internal disturbances in a country.

In eleven cases the causes of the deaths are still being investigated, while a journalist drowned while covering the rescue of an elephant from a river in India, showing how dangerous the profession can be.

The number of journalists killed this year is the lowest recorded by the IPI since 1997. However, the IPI emphasizes that the decrease in the number of journalists killed and assassinated is not an indication of the good state of press freedom in the world.

Waves of violence against the press can lead to self-censorship when journalists avoid certain topics that put their lives in danger,” says IPI.

This is made even worse in a climate of impunity in which murderers must not answer for their actions. IPI stands in solidarity with the families and colleagues of all journalists killed for their work in 2021 and demands that those responsible be held accountable for their actions” the statement concludes.

Vincent Raj Arokiasamy wins Raoul Wallenberg Prize of the Council of Europe

January 18, 2022
Defender of disadvantaged population of “untouchables” in India receives Raoul Wallenberg Prize

Vincent Raj Arokiasamy, founder of the organisation “Evidence” in India, has been awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize for his outstanding determination and persistence in bringing meaningful change to the lives of the Dalits, historically known as “untouchables”. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/730A3159-B93A-4782-830F-3C697B0EC7A0

“Vincent Raj Arokiasamy (better known as “Evidence” Kathir) has risked his life to help an exceptionally disadvantaged part of the Indian population whose plight is often ignored by national and international communities. In defending human rights with incredible commitment and resilience, his courageous actions for the so-called “untouchables” fully reflect the spirit and values of the Raoul Wallenberg prize”, said Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

Vincent Raj Arokiasamy has demonstrated enormous courage and taken grave risks regarding his own and his family’s lives. He has rescued some 25,000 victims in 3,000 incidents of human rights violations. As a result, he has to live apart from his family to protect them. He has devoted his life to the cause of promoting justice for Dalits and others whose voices are rarely heard.

The award ceremony will take place on Wednesday 19 January at 12h30 CET in a hybrid format. The event will be live streamed, and speakers include the Secretary General, the Chair of the Jury and the Laureate. A screening of József Sipos’s documentary on the life of Raoul Wallenberg “The Lost European” will follow the ceremony. The documentary can be streamed online, free of charge, until 23 January. The film streaming is made available with the support of the Permanent Representation of Hungary to the Council of Europe.

17 January marks the anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s arrest in Budapest in 1945. The Swedish diplomat used his status to save tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. His actions show that one person’s courage and ability can really make a difference. Starting in 2014, at the initiative of the Swedish Government and the Hungarian Parliament, the Council of Europe has created the Raoul Wallenberg Prize to keep the memory of his achievements alive. The Prize, worth €10,000, is awarded every two years in recognition of extraordinary humanitarian achievements by a single individual, a group of individuals or an organisation.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/human-rights-rule-of-law/-/defender-of-disadvantaged-population-of-untouchables-in-india-receives-raoul-wallenberg-prize

India arrests Khurram Parvez again

November 23, 2021

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India arrested on Monday, 22 November 2021 prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez after a day of extensive searches at his residence and office in Jammu and Kashmir capital Srinagar. He is an internationally recognized human rights defender, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/81468931-79AA-24FF-58F7-10351638AFE3

A family member told The Wire that Khurram’s residence in the city’s Sonawar locality was raided by NIA officials who were accompanied by local police and paramilitary troopers, on Monday morning. Another raid was carried out later in the day at his office in the Amira Kadal locality.

The raids were carried out in connection with a case (RC 30/2021) filed by the agency earlier this year.

Sources said the investigators confiscated Khurram’s mobile phone, laptop, some books and documents from his office and residence before taking him to the agency’s camp office in Srinagar’s Church Lane on Monday afternoon. “In the evening, we got a call to bring his clothes,” said a family member, adding that his wife and their son went to the office and handed his clothes to the officials there.

The NIA has not so far issued any statement on the arrest of Khurram, who is also the chairman of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. Sources said his family was handed the arrest memo on Monday evening and he is likely to be flown to New Delhi on Tuesday.

The United Nations said it was disturbed by the reports of Khurram’s arrest, “I’m hearing disturbing reports that  Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir & is at risk of being charged by authorities in #India with terrorism-related crimes. He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender,” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, tweeted. David Kaye, a former UN Special Rapporteur, said Khurram’s arrest under terrorism charges was “yet another extraordinary abuse in Kashmir.”

World Organisation Again Torture (OMCT), a Geneva based non-profit which works with groups across the world to fight for human rights, said it was “deeply concerned” by Khurram’s arrest, “We are deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody. We call for his immediate release,” OMCT said in a tweet.
One of the most prominent rights defenders from Kashmir, Khurram has extensively worked on documenting the abuses allegedly committed both by security forces and militants in Kashmir as coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a rights group based in Srinagar. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/human-rights-defender-khurram-parvez-reluctantly-released-in-india/

The JKCCS has published more than a dozen reports on human rights abuses in Kashmir and its last report, ‘Kashmir’s Internet Siege’ focused on the mass detentions and the reported breakdown of the judicial system in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/

Khurram’s last tweet on August 30 this year was about a programme organised by Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and its members countries across Asia who pledged “that truth will not be buried, disappeared won’t be ever forgotten & perpetrators will never be forgiven.”

However, India’s government resists any notion of having acted wrongly:

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that the [UN] statement makes “baseless and unfounded allegations” against Indian security forces. “It also betrays a complete lack of understanding on the part of the OHCHR of the security challenges faced by India from cross-border terrorism and its impact on the most fundamental human right ‘the Right to Life’ of our citizens, including in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Asserting that all actions are undertaken in accordance with the law, he said, “We urge the OHCHR to develop a better understanding of the negative impact of terrorism on human rights.”

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/prominent-human-rights-activist-arrested-by-india-s-top-anti-terrorism-agency/9b91bc37-0dd2-48d4-aedc-b020fb36ea54

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/valley-rights-activist-khurram-parvez-detained-by-nia/cid/1840157

https://thewire.in/rights/khurram-parvez-nia-arrest

https://www.reuters.com/world/india/un-criticises-disturbing-arrest-rights-activist-indian-kashmir-2021-11-23/

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/global-rights-bodies-call-for-release-of-kashmir-based-activist-khurram-parvez/article37640132.ece

https://thewire.in/diplomacy/un-ohchr-khurram-parvez-arrest-india-dismiss

2021 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award

October 4, 2021

The 2021 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award were announced in Stockholm on Wednesday, 29 September at Kulturhuset, Stockholm. For more in this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/97238E26-A05A-4A7C-8A98-0D267FDDAD59

Marthe Wandou, Cameroon

“For building a model of community-based child protection in the face of terrorist insurgency and gender-based violence in the Lake Chad region of Cameroon.”

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Vladimir Slivyak, Russia

“For his defence of the environment and for helping to ignite grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia.”

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Freda Huson of the Wet’suwet’en people, Canada

“For her fearless dedication to reclaiming her people’s culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects.”

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Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India

“For their innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India.”

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For last year’s winners, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/

https://rightlivelihood.org/2021-announcement/

Positioning China as THE threat, overlooks the bigger issues within democracies

August 7, 2021

Zack Beauchamp in VOX of 28 July 2021 makes a strong but perhaps controversial plea that “In the fight for democracy’s future, Indian and American politics is more important than anything China is doing“:

Donald Trump and Narendra Modi shaking hands while standing in front of US and Indian flags.
Donald Trump and Narendra Modi.

One of the emerging tenets of the Biden presidency is that the United States and China are locked in ideological conflict over the fate of democracy.

In March, during his first press conference as president, he declared that “this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.” In April, during his first address to a joint session of Congress, he labeled this struggle “the central challenge of the age” — and that China’s Xi Jinping is “deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world.”

More recently, in last week’s CNN town hall, he warned that Xi “truly believes that the 21st century will be determined by oligarchs, [that] democracies cannot function in the 21st century. The argument is, because things are moving so rapidly, so, so rapidly that you can’t pull together a nation that is divided to get a consensus on acting quickly.”

Inasmuch as there is a Biden doctrine, the notion that the US needs to protect democracy from China’s authoritarian model is at the center of it. “Biden’s administration [is] framing the contest as a confrontation of values, with America and its democratic allies standing against the model of authoritarian repression that China seeks to impose on the rest of the world,” Yaroslav Trofimov writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Biden’s thinking captures an important insight: that the struggle over democracy’s fate will be one of the defining conflicts of the 21st century. But his analysis is crucially flawed in one respect: China is not an especially important reason why democracy is currently under threat — and centering it is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous.

In countries where democracy is at real risk of collapse or even outright defeated — places like India, Brazil, Hungary, Israel, and, yes, the United States — the real drivers of democratic collapse are domestic. Far-right parties are taking advantage of ethno-religious divides and public distrust in the political establishment to win electorally — and then twist the rules to entrench their own hold on power. Leaders of these factions, like former US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aid and abet each other’s anti-democratic politics.

More traditional authoritarian states, even powerful ones like China or Russia, have thus far played at best marginal roles in this struggle.

“Much of the recent global democratic backsliding has little to do with China,” Thomas Carothers and Frances Brown, two leading experts on democracy, write in a recent Foreign Affairs essay. “An overriding focus on countering China and Russia risks crowding out policies to address the many other factors fueling democracy’s global decline.”

This misdiagnosis has real policy stakes. Leaning into competition with China could lead the US to excuse anti-democratic behavior by important partners, like Modi or the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, in a manner reminiscent of US relations with anti-communist dictators during the Cold War. Moreover, too much emphasis on competition with China could distract from the place where Biden has the most power to affect democracy’s fate — the home front, an area in which voting rights advocates increasingly see him as indefensibly complacent.

There are real problems associated with China’s rise. Its increasing military belligerence, predatory economic practices, and horrific human rights abuses in places like Xinjiang are all very serious concerns. But the fact that China is the source of many real issues doesn’t mean it’s the source of democratic erosion worldwide — and positioning it as such will do little to advance the democratic cause.

Democracies are rotting from within, not without

In his public rhetoric, Biden often argues that the US needs to prove that democracy “works” — that it can “get something done,” as he said last week — in order to outcompete the Chinese model.

While he hasn’t spelled out the nature of this competition all that precisely, the concern seems to center on Chinese policy success: that its rapid economic growth and authoritarian ability to make swift policy changes will inspire political copycats unless democracies prove that they can also deliver real benefits for their citizens.

“I believe we are in the midst of an historic and fundamental debate about the future direction of our world,” the president wrote in a March letter outlining his national security strategy. “There are those who argue that, given all the challenges we face, autocracy is the best way forward. And there are those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting all the challenges of our changing world.”

But at this point, the fear of Chinese political competition is mostly hypothetical. While the Chinese government and state media frequently tout the superiority of its political model to American-style democracy, there’s little evidence that these efforts are all that influential globally — and certainly not in the countries where democracy is most at risk.

A look back at the Soviet Union, the last major challenge to the hegemony of liberal democracy, is telling. ln ideological terms, there’s no comparison: Soviet communism was a far more powerful model than Chinese authoritarian state capitalism is today.

CHINA-BEIJING-XI JINPING-JULY 1 MEDAL-AWARD CEREMONY (CN)
Xi Jinping.

Marxist ideals inspired revolutionary Communist movements and governments around the globe, successfully toppling Western-backed governments in countries ranging from Cuba to Vietnam to China itself. By contrast, there are vanishingly few foreign governments or even political parties today openly vowing to emulate modern China. While the Soviets had the Iron Curtain in Europe, modern China’s most notable client state is North Korea — perhaps the most isolated and mistrusted government on the planet.

In the countries that observers worry most about — established democratic states experiencing “backsliding” toward authoritarianism — Chinese influence is minimal at best.

In backsliding democracies, authoritarian-inclined leaders win and hold power through the electoral system for domestic reasons. Corruption scandals in India and Hungary, violent crime in the Philippines, a racist backlash against America’s first Black president: These are some of the key factors in the rise of authoritarian populists, and they weren’t created or even significantly promoted by China.

Elected authoritarians still bill themselves as defenders of democracy while in power — even after they start undermining the electoral system with tactics like extreme gerrymandering and takeovers of state election agencies. Their political appeal isn’t grounded in an overt rejection of democracy in favor of a Chinese model, but rather a claim to be taking democracy back from corrupt elites in the name of the “true” people, typically defined in ethno-nationalist terms.

The ideology driving modern democratic decline is vastly different from the sort that China promotes at home and through official state media. It represents a home-grown challenge inside the democratic world, rather than an externally stoked, Cold War-style threat.

That’s not to say China does nothing to undermine democracy outside its borders. It has, for example, exported surveillance technology and provided training in “cybersecurity” for foreign officials that amount to teaching them tools for controlling public opinion — underscoring its role as a global pioneer in using technology to repress dissent.

Yet even in this area, China’s influence can easily be overstated. Backsliding countries typically do not ban websites outright or arrest online dissidents in the way China does. Instead, they rely on spreading misinformation and other more subtle uses of state power. When they do use more traditional authoritarian tools, they often don’t need China’s help in doing so — as shown by recent reporting on Israel’s NSO Group, a company with close links to the Israeli state that sold spy software to India and Hungary (whose governments allegedly used it to surveil journalists and opposition figures).

In his recent book The Rise of Digital Repression, Carnegie Endowment scholar Steven Feldstein attempts to systematically document the use of digital tools and tactics for undermining democracy around the world. He found that while such practices were indeed becoming more widespread, this is largely due to domestic factors in authoritarian and backsliding countries rather than Chinese influence.

“China really wasn’t pushing this technology any more so than other countries were pushing advanced technology or censorship technologies,” he told me in an interview earlier this year. “What I saw — when I spoke on the ground to intelligence officials, government officials, and others — was that there were many other factors at play that were much more determinative in terms of whether they would choose to purchase a surveillance system or use it than just the fact that China was trying to market it.”

The problem with blaming China for democracy’s crisis

Biden and his team recognize that many of the challenges to democracy have domestic roots. But in casting the rise of anti-democratic populism as part of a grander ideological struggle against an authoritarian Chinese model, they conflate two distinct phenomena — and risk making some significant policy errors.

Again, an analogy to the Cold War is helpful here. One of the most grievous errors of America’s containment policy was its repeated willingness to align itself with anti-communist dictators. The perceived need to stop the expansion of Soviet influence consistently trumped America’s commitment to democracy — with horrific consequences for the people of Iran, Argentina, Indonesia, and Bangladesh (to name just a handful of examples from a very long list).

The more China is treated like the new Soviet Union — the principal ideological threat to democracy whose influence must be curtailed — the more likely the US is to repeat that mistake.

Take India, for example. In the past six months, Biden has courted Modi’s government as a potential counterweight to China. “There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than one between the U.S. and India. We are the world’s two leading democracies,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a July 28 press conference in New Delhi.

Yet this is an Indian government that has assailed the rights of its Muslim citizens, strong-armed US social media companies into removing critical posts, and arrested a leading protest figure. Earlier this year, V-Dem — a research group behind the leading academic metric of democracy — announced that India under Modi was an “electoral autocracy,” rather than a true democracy. It’s easy to see how an emphasis on China could lead to these problems getting swept under the rug.

“There has long been a bipartisan consensus in Washington that India is a critical ally in its attempt to check Chinese influence in Asia,” the Indian intellectual Pankaj Mishra wrote in a June Bloomberg column. “In overlooking the Modi government’s excesses, Biden probably counts on support from a US foreign policy establishment invested more in realpolitik than human rights.”

If you take the notion that democracy’s crisis is emerging from within seriously, then it follows that very best thing that Biden could do for democracy’s global future has nothing to do with China or even foreign policy. It’s arresting creeping authoritarianism at home.

Black Voters Matter Protest
Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) are arrested during a protest to support voting rights outside of Hart Senate Office Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021.

Biden has acknowledged this at times, writing in his March letter that his global strategy “begins with the revitalization of our most fundamental advantage: our democracy.” And yet that urgency hasn’t translated into action — legislation necessary to safeguard American democracy from the GOP’s increasingly anti-democratic politics appears stalled out. Biden, for his part, has refused to publicly endorse more aggressive action to break the logjam — like abolishing the filibuster for voting rights bills.

The New York Times recently reported that “in private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression’” — an implausible claim that reflects an administration that, according to activists, has “largely accepted the Republican restrictions as baked in and is now dedicating more of its effort to juicing Democratic turnout.”

Shoring up American democracy after the recent attacks it has suffered should be the top priority of any US government concerned with democracy’s global fate. But for all of Biden’s lofty language about out-competing China and winning the future for democracy, there’s a striking lack of urgency when it comes to the perhaps the most important backsliding country — his own.

In this sense, China has very little influence over the future of democracy globally. The key battles are happening not in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait, but in the legislatures of New Delhi and Washington. If there really is to be a grand struggle for democracy’s survival in the 21st century, it needs to start there.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/22590777/biden-china-democracy-voting-india-doctrine