Posts Tagged ‘international human rights movement’

More re-thinking and ‘shrinking’ of the modern human rights concept

September 8, 2019

I have referred to the issue of re-visiting the human rights concept – which keeps popping up especially when there is a sense of malaise – by several strands of thought within the human rights movement. Some think the answer is to broaden the base and the scope even more [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/05/amnesty-internationals-global-assembly-2019-deserves-more-attention-big-shifts-coming-up/]; others think a re-think is in order but those range from Trump’s State Department [[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/] to moderate academics [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/].

In a opinion piece in Foreign Policy of 6 September 2019 entitled “When Everything Is a Human Right, Nothing Is”  – a Lecturer in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Senior Adviser for the Institute for Integrated Transitions – shows he belongs to the latter category albeit with a strong dose of return to basics (return to the UDHR) and a whiff of cultural relativism:

.. given the myriad challenges to human rights today, rethinking some widely accepted human rights assumptions seems timely. …

Some disagreements over human rights come from repressive regimes or communal leaders, and such complaints are easy to dismiss. But when critiques come from people who are sympathetic to the cause of human rights, they reflect something more fundamentally troubling. How did an idea once powerful enough to unify a vast range of people in struggles against totalitarianism and apartheid become so impotent? A major factor, ironically, was the overweening dual ambition born of those successes. Human rights advocates have broadened the scope of issues covered by human rights while narrowing the room for differences in bringing those rights to life. In so doing, they misconstrue the original goals of human rights, most clearly embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundation for much of the post-1945 rights project. Even as their ambitions rise, human rights activists have failed to take into account how expansive new programs might aggravate suspicion of human rights in today’s multipolar world. And attempts to enforce a uniform conception of rights might reduce the space for local actors to formulate their own pathways, fueling skepticism about the rights themselves. For example, attempts by Western countries to promote gay rights in Africa triggered deep-rooted resentment about how the West treats Africa; the results are tougher laws, stronger rhetoric, more funding of anti-gay rights organizations, and even greater harassment of activists. As the New York Times reported, “More Africans came to believe that gay rights were a Western imposition.”

Non-Western countries do not necessarily disagree with basic human rights goals. Rather, as the Brazilian academic Oliver Stuenkel argues in his book Post-Western World, they contest the “operationalization of liberal norms” and “the implicit and explicit hierarchies of international institutions” that privilege Western countries. U.S. retrenchment in the Middle East and the rise of authoritarian states like China reduce the effective reach of ideas that are stretched too thin or that are not credibly universal, in the sense of being deeply grounded in all the world’s major philosophical and religious systems. And curtailing overly expansionist and revisionist aspirations, as Jennifer Lind and William C. Wohlforth recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, is essential to preserving the post-World War II liberal international order.

If advocates for human rights wish to overcome the current challenges, they would do well to learn from the course of the human rights project from ideal to reality in the wake of World War II. The framers of the Universal Declaration learned that the best way to build a system of rights with a strong claim to legitimacy across different cultures and ideologies was to stick to basics. Today, only a modest and flexible approach can restore the moral authority that gave the universal human rights idea its greatest successes.

The 1948 Universal Declaration was a product of intense debate, negotiation, and compromise, all done with the understanding that its principles could be brought to life differently in dissimilar parts of the world. Today’s human rights discourse, however, is pervaded by Western normative assumptions that are controversial even in the West. Westerners play an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organizations and scholarly debates, directly and indirectly shaping agendas, frameworks of analysis, and evaluation methods in the process. As a result, human rights have become, as the New York University professor Sally Engle Merry writes in Human Rights and Gender Violence, “part of a distinctive modernist vision of the good and just society that emphasizes autonomy, choice, equality, secularism, and protection of the body,” converting cultural norms from one part of the world into universal rights.

Consequently, nonindividualistic values—such as those promoting communal duties or those tied to religious belief—have been de-emphasized. Arguments that there are other means of promoting and ensuring human dignity are dismissed as unrealistic or ignored. African, Asian, and other non-Western human rights institutions and laws are marginalized.

Meanwhile, the number of rights, and rights claims, has risen steeply as various well-meaning special interest groups have sought to harness the moral authority of the human rights idea to their causes. The international legal infrastructure has been enlarged, producing institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and doctrines such as the “Responsibility to Protect,” but these focus mainly on geopolitically weak or unimportant—10 of the 11 situations under investigation at the ICC are African—countries, while governments such as Syria’s commit atrocities with little fear of prosecution or intervention because Russia, one of its two main international backers, undermines any attempt to hold the country’s leaders accountable.

The human rights field’s ambitions not only have produced unnecessary clashes over human rights, but they have also diminished the core rights that were meant to, above all else, uphold human dignity.

In Europe, for example, advocates for abolishing circumcision have argued that a child’s bodily integrity is a human right while attempting to reduce religious freedom to a mere right to worship. This has led government ombudspersons to call for a ban, pediatric societies to call the practice “mutilation,” the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to pass a resolution against the practice, political parties to lobby for legislation outlawing the practice, and a court in Germany to rule that the act of circumcision should be considered a prosecutable physical assault. For devout Jews and Muslims, these developments feel like direct attacks on a ritual integral to their faiths.

In Asia, instead of welcoming the 2012 Human Rights Declaration by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as representing some important steps forward, organizations such as Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the U.S. State Department criticized the document for differing from their preferred emphases. Even though it included all the civil and political rights that similar documents elsewhere have—as well as innovative provisions related to those with AIDS, childbearing mothers, human trafficking, vulnerable groups, and children—these groups objected to the declaration’s emphasis that rights must be balanced with duties and that realization of rights has to take into account the local political and cultural context. But it is precisely the regional flavor that is most likely to increase the ASEAN declaration’s legitimacy—and thus the chance that it will be embraced locally.

In Africa, select issues that concern Western countries are often promoted in ways that pay little heed to local conditions, provoking a backlash. In Kenya, international attempts to prosecute Uhuru Kenyatta for fueling ethnic violence after the 2007 election ignored how this would boost his popularity among his supporters—helping him to eventual victory in the 2013 elections.

The mindset currently prevailing among many human rights actors thus makes it extremely difficult to realize the aim of the Universal Declaration’s framers to promote the implementation of fundamental human rights principles under a variety of circumstances and cultures. The result has been to reduce both the effectiveness and appeal of those principles. Human rights organizations are less able to embed themselves within local cultures and gain legitimacy in the eyes of local people. Greater flexibility in implementation would enable human rights supporters to focus on the importance of political dynamics and incentives to promoting change within countries. For example, the end of white rule in South Africa was brought about not by threatening apartheid leaders with international justice but by first sanctioning and then offering incentives for leaders to transfer power. Reconciliation and truth commissions played prominent roles; retribution was limited. The country crafted a new, inclusive national identity and developed a constitution around existing institutions, a stark contrast to efforts in Iraq and Libya that tried to replace institutions and exclude members of the previous regime.

The human rights movement should refocus on the principles of the Universal Declaration—a document more praised than understood. Its drafters developed a framework for human rights that was both universal and flexible. Their aim was to establish a “common standard of achievement,” based on the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

This would entail recognizing that in a world of great cultural and political diversity, human rights cannot be universal unless kept to a small core of rights so fundamental that almost no country would openly oppose them.

In the original Universal Declaration, only a handful were drafted in such a way as to leave little room for flexibility in implementation. These include protections for religion and conscience, as well as prohibitions against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; and discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin. Today, many human rights treaties make these rights nonderogable—i.e., there are no circumstances under which they can be lifted or suspended. Where other rights are concerned, the framers of the Universal Declaration were clear that universality does not mean homogeneity in implementation. They expected states to experiment with different modes of implementation—to allow “different kinds of music” to be “played on the same keyboard,” as the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, who supported the U.N. process, put it. Indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt made clear in 1948 during one of the debates over the Universal Declaration that methods for implementing many rights “would necessarily vary from one country to another and such variations should be considered not only inevitable but salutary.” For example, individuals everywhere have the right to be free of torture, but different countries may legitimately come to different conclusions about when private property may be taken for public use.

Moreover, in resolving tensions among rights, no fundamental right should be completely ignored. By specifying that all rights must be exercised with due respect for the rights of others, the framers intended that clashes should be occasions to figure out how to give each right as much protection as possible while never subordinating any right completely to another. Ultimately, a culture of human rights can only be built from the bottom up. Focusing on the gravest violations of human dignity while understanding that other rights can be protected in a legitimate variety of ways is the best way to achieve this.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/06/when-everything-is-a-human-right-nothing-is/

Positive communication is the (only) way forward for effective human rights work!

May 30, 2019

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. But to make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future” says Thomas Coombes – head of brand and deputy director of communications at Amnesty International – in a piece in Open Global Rights of 19 February 2019. I have perhaps also contributed to the gloom with many posts about the decline of the international guman rights regime [with some more constructive posts e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/26/barbara-von-ow-freytag-argues-well-for-a-new-communication-based-approach/ ]. I think rightly Thomas argues: “to break this cycle and sell hope to the media, we need two things: challenging ideas and surprising stories“. Please read the full (short) piece:

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. We in the human rights community are driven by a desire to make known the suffering and injustice we see in the world, yet what people need from us is not information about what is going wrong, but hope and a means of making it better.

To make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future. At Amnesty International we have a saying: better to light a candle than curse the darkness. But in the human rights movement, we spend a lot more time cursing the darkness. We want to expose terrible suffering so that people are shocked into action. But when we only show the abuses, people start to believe that we live in a world of crisis with no alternative. They accept that reality, give up, or turn to people who preach division, fear and a false sense of safety.

While the human rights movement will always have to expose abuses, we also need to give people a chance to unite behind a cause, challenge governments to live by their values and build support for our way of seeing the world. Hope-based communication is simply a smart strategy for shifting public opinion not by saying what is popular, but by making popular what needs to be said.

Hope-Based Communication is about illustrating what we want to see, not just what other people are doing. Because the human mind adapts easily to bad news, every dose of shock that we administer to the global conscience inoculates people. Without a tangible, believable alternative vision of how things should be, we risk reinforcing current rights abuses as a regrettable but inevitable reality.

Constant stories of crisis create an alarming picture of the world in our minds. When news is all about negative, sensational and exceptional events, it skews our view of other people, cultivates distrust and blinds us to important but unsurprising developments, as Rob Wijnberg, has argued in his manifesto for constructive news outlet The Correspondent. To break this cycle and sell hope to the media, we need two things: challenging ideas and surprising stories.

The environmental movement has already made that first step from dire warnings to big ideas that convince people that another world is possible. For example, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein writes about how promises of a bright green future offered a way forward: “What this part of the world has clearly shown is that there is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels than the creation of real alternatives.

The human rights movement must now do the same thing, and new research offers us a way to completely reframe the way we talk about human rights. For example, Amnesty International Australia now says “Bring them here” of refugees, rather than asking the government to stop treating them like criminals. Anat Shenker-Osorio’s linguistic analysis of how advocates in Australia, the UK and USA make the case for human rights shows that we talk about human rights as an object that is given to individuals, rather than a tool for people to improve their communities and live together. It encourages us to be more specific about power relations and use the language of journeys instead of war.

We want to take society on a journey to a better place, but when we lean heavily on the language of conflict: we fight, recruit, mobilise, resist, defend, protect and counter. We build coalitions. We wage campaigns. We seek to win battles. We ask people to take sides. This language is divisive—it won’t power a constructive, unifying movement. Instead, we need to talk about building, growing and sticking together.

Research from the Common Cause Foundation shows that altruism is as great a motivator to good causes as self-interest, if not more. Successful movements are propelled forward by enthusiasm and passion. While Donald Trump united his base with the simple red baseball cap, ordinary people demanding women’s rights queued for hours to buy “Together for Yes” buttons in Ireland and thronged the streets wearing green scarves in Argentina.

More and more research points to the fact that fear and pessimism triggers conservative and suspicious views, while, hope and optimism tend to more liberal views. Joyful, inspiring content like Planned Parenthood’s Unstoppable campaign serves not just to inspire, it creates political momentum. Anger mobilizes, hope organizes.

New approaches to stories about people seeking refuge highlight not what they flee but what they create in their new home, how the act of welcome transforms the host, or the power of friendships that face adversity and politics.

The stories we tell become our reality, so we need stories of humanity and compassion, reinforcing the idea that human rights are about people standing up for each other

How do we talk about hope and opportunity when human rights defenders are under attack and we need to defend ourselves, to fight back? How can we be positive when it is our duty to document despair?

Human rights defenders have “long been on the front line”, as Kathryn Sikkink argues in Dejusticia’s Playbook for Human Rights Actors. She warns that the frame of crisis and peril inadvertently harms perceptions of the movement’s effectiveness and legitimacy.

The most urgent challenge is to rebrand what it means to do human rights. The space that we most need to create for civil society is a conscious space apart from today’s struggles in which we allow ourselves to envisage bold possibilities of a better world. Human rights should take pride in being the “slow change” movement, that brings about generational attitudinal and societal progress, offering the path out of the darkest times.


Check out this virtual guide for how you can make a shift towards hope based communications in your human rights work.


There is still a place for anger and sadness, if we balance them with a sense of how we make things better. For no matter how dark the story, there is always some glimmer of hope. And it is our job to kindle that flame. The darker the crisis, the more people exhausted by fear and anger will turn to extreme options. So, we have to give people what every human needs: hope. After all, you light a candle when it gets dark. Hope, like a candle, shines brightest in the dark.

the-future-of-human-rights-must-be-hopeful/

Civil Society and human rights NGOs are fighting back but against odds

May 5, 2019

This article by  (IPS) was published on 10 April 2019 in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), which took place  in Belgrade. Under the title “Civil Society, Once the “World’s New Superpower,” is Battling Against Heavy Odds” it describes how human rights NGOs have come under pressure in recent years

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once described civil society organizations (CSOs), as “the world’s new superpower” ..but that political glory has continued to diminish over the years against the backdrop of repressive regimes, hard right nationalist governments and far right extremist groups.

Perhaps the most virulent attacks on NGOs are on their attempts to provide protection and security to migrants and refugees in the “dangerous crossings,” from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea and the Mexico/US border. “There are now serious restrictions in civic space on every continent,” says the annual State of Civil Society Report 2019, released last week by the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS. And it singles out the Italian government’s decision to impose a hefty fine on one of the world’s best-known humanitarian organisations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while also freezing their assets, impounding their rescue vessel and investigating their staff for human trafficking…in retaliation for their efforts to save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. There were also instances of civil society activists being charged, tried and convicted in the United States for providing water supplies for migrants crossing the deadly Sonoran desert on the US/Mexico border. As these attacks continue, international institutions are “struggling” to help shore up these NGOs because these institutions, including the United Nations, are “hamstrung by the interests and alliances of powerful states.”

The report points out these institutions did little to respond to the great challenges of the day– failing to fight overwhelming inequality and also were largely silent on human rights abuses of states such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan while letting down the people of Syria and the Rohingyas of Myanmar, among many others.

Asked if there is a role either for the United Nations or its member states to protect CSOs under attack, Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, told IPS the UN is making some efforts to put the issues of attacks on CSOs and activists in the spotlight. In December last year, he said, the President of the UN General Assembly, in a symbolic event, awarded the UN human rights prize to three civil society activists and an organisation dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/20/human-rights-defenders-receive-their-2018-un-prizes/]

Recently, on March 21, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a first-of-its-kind resolution on the protection of environmental human rights defenders, said Tiwana. The UN Secretary General has a designated senior official to lead efforts within the UN system to address intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN system. And, he said, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women regularly champion the work of CSOs and women human rights defenders respectively. “However, in light of the growing restrictions on civic space, around the world, and even at the UN itself, these efforts are often not enough,” complained Tiwana. This is in part because the UN itself is also under pressure from (undemocratic) governments that restrict civil society at home, and wish to do so at the UN as well.

He said the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that measures civic freedoms finds that only 4% of the world’s population live in countries where the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are adequately protected…

“Our 2019 State of Civil Society Report points out, that the UN is hamstrung by the actions of powerful states that refuse to play by the rules including the US, China and Russia”. Tiwana said a number of rights repressing states are joining international bodies. In 2018, for example, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Eritrea, joined the UN Human Rights Council….

Second, states are withdrawing from international institutions and agreements, with the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate and undermining UN resolutions on Palestine and the Occupied Territories. Philippines has pulled out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a bid to avoid international accountability for widespread human rights violations including attacks on civil society. In 2018, the new Global Compact for Migration also saw a string of states with hardline migration policies pull out between the agreement of the deal and its signing.

Third, rogue leaders are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs, ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms, acting as unilateral strongmen or striking bilateral deals with other hardmen, undermining multilateralism and making it harder to scrutinise their actions, Tiwana noted. Potentially everything seems up for negotiation and nothing can be assured at the international level, even the 70-year-old international human rights norms that underpin civil society action, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifeen@ips.org

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/civil-society-worlds-new-superpower-battling-heavy-odds/

Hurst Hannum wants a “radically moderate approach” to human rights

April 20, 2019

Hurst Hannum in his Fletcher School office
Hurst Hannum. Photo: Alonso Nichols
A piece by Taylor McNeil in TuftsNow of 19 April 2019 is about Hurst Hannum and his latest book Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach (Cambridge University Press). Disclaimer: he and I are old acquaintances but have not seen each other for decades. I agree with much of what he says.

Hannum, a Fletcher School professor of international law, argues for bringing human rights back to the center of law and politics, while at the same time trying to define their role more carefully. Too often, he says, human rights are linked to just about everything, from punishing international crimes to seeking redress for nefarious corporate behavior and environmental degradation. “Human rights have come to mean almost anything to anyone,” Hannum said. “If something means everything, it means nothing. What we risk losing is a much narrower but more universal approach, focusing on the basic rights—civil, political, economic, social, and cultural—that government should be responsible for.

Since the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set forth as “a common standard of achievement” every country in the world has ratified at least one human rights treaty, and most have ratified a half-dozen or more. Hannum is aware that implementation leaves much to be desired, but said that “continued emphasis on ensuring those rights that a country has already recognized is most likely to be the best way forward.”

….“While the contemporary world may seem bleak, apartheid is gone, authoritarian regimes have largely disappeared from eastern Europe and Latin America, and rights are more widely respected in countries as different as South Korea, Nepal, Tunisia, Taiwan, and Mongolia,” he said. “Many of these changes can be attributed at least in part to greater awareness of and demands for human rights, even though progress is often slow and difficult.” ..

Beginning with the Carter administration in the late 1970s, human rights became a focal point for U.S. foreign policy, “although they were never the only or most important factor in determining policy,” Hannum said. Since the Clinton presidency, the U.S. has focused increasingly on promoting democracy, not human rights per se. Hannum thinks that’s a mistake. “Obviously, democracy and human rights are related—all of the things that go into making a democracy are human rights,” he said. “But since the end of the Cold War, we’ve been pushing democracy as the solution to all problems, and it turns out that it’s not.” 

Unrealistic expectations of what democracy or a free-market economy can achieve “may help to explain the recent success of nationalists and populists, who often define democracy simply as elections, ignoring the essential human rights components of freedom of assembly, association, and expression that give such elections legitimacy,” Hannum said.

He also takes aim at human rights advocates who claim more for human rights than they can deliver—especially those who “confuse human rights with outsiders intervening in all sorts of way to fix other countries,” he said. “Human rights are about persuading governments to institute reforms within their own countries, not about imposing them from the outside.”

While he fully understands the desire to expand human rights efforts to deal more directly with contemporary problems, “we can achieve more if the goals are modest,” Hannum said. Of course, he knows that “Let’s try to achieve moderate success!” is not going to be a popular rallying cry, but he argues that such an approach seems radical these days “only because it seeks to retain the consensus and universality on which human rights are based.”

https://now.tufts.edu/articles/reviving-human-rights

26 February: lecture on populism and human rights by Michael Ignatieff in Geneva

February 10, 2019

The populist upsurge in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and in established democracies like the United States has exposed the political vulnerability of rule of law as a cornerstone of liberal democracy. It is not just in authoritarian populist states that the independence of judges and the authority of law have come under attack in the name of a majoritarian conception of democracy. This suggests that the rule of law has always stood in a relation of tension with other principles of democracy, including majority rule and an independent media. The lecture explores these renewed political pressures on rule of law using contemporary examples drawn from the US, the UK and Hungary. [for some of my posts on populism, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/populism/]

Tuesday 26 February 2019, 18:30 – 20:00 in the Auditorium IVAN PICTET | Maison de la Paix, Geneva

Michael Ignatieff is the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017). [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/08/11825/]

The lecture will be moderated by Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and Rector of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen Institute (IWM) in Vienna.

This event is organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

To register: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/events-1/past-events.html/_/events/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/2019/law-populism-and-liberal-democra

 

New imagination needed to understand global human rights situation says AHRC

January 25, 2019

During the last years I did quite a few posts on the changing ‘mood’ if not reality of the international human rights movement and the place of human rights defenders in it. [e.g.https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement; /https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/25/has-the-human-rights-movement-failed-a-serious-critique/, and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/report-of-meas-25thanniversary-event-human-rights-in-a-changing-world-30-may-2018/].

Now the NGO “Asian Human Rights Commission” (AHRC) published its own view in a Statement of 23 January 2019 entitled :  “New imagination needed to understand global human rights situation.“.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where is the international support for Canada in its row with Saudi Arabia

August 27, 2018

The tension between Saudi Arabia and Canada began when Canada’s Global Affairs Twitter account tweeted this 3 August 2018 statement concerning human rights abuses: Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in , including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful activists.

The excessive response by Saudi Arabia and the various issues at stake have been sufficiently described  in the media (see several links below) but what is most disturbing is what one commentator called “Not a shred of solidarity was on offer anyway: it was all just a dispute between “friends” and “allies.” Weak EU response with obviously no support from the Trump government, has left the Canadian government close to mulling a kind of apology “Canada will of course continue to “speak out,” Trudeau said last Wednesday, but he also said this of Saudi Arabia: “This is a country that has some importance around the world. It is making progress when it comes to human rights.” There is no need for mediation,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “…Canada has made a mistake and needs to fix it.” Al-Jubeir’s views were then immediately expanded by former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird in an interview broadcast by the Saudis’ own Al-Arabiya network.

On 9 August a number of Canadian organizations expressed their support to Canada for its recent position on the detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. “and urged the international community to join Canada in calling for the unequivocal respect of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”

With Russia and quite of few other countries coming out openly to express solidarity with Saudi Arabia it is time to ask where the like-minded solidarity is and what international NGOs do to support courageous Canada??

[with exception for HRW https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/08/saudi-arabia-punishes-canada-criticizing-human-rights-defenders-arrests and AI https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/08/saudi-arabia-international-community-must-speak-up-for-human-rights-defenders-after-canadian-ambassador-expelled/]

———

http://www.mediafiledc.com/saudi-canadian-duel-takes-place-on-multiple-platforms/

https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/08/11/saudi-arabia-picks-a-pointless-fight-with-canada

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canada-owes-no-apology-to-the-saudis/

https://www.macleans.ca/politics/worldpolitics/the-trudeau-government-is-losing-its-human-rights-battle-with-the-saudis-and-missing-a-huge-opportunity/

https://interpares.ca/news/joint-statement-canadas-support-women-human-rights-defenders-saudi-arabia

 

Change of High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN: optimism warranted

August 22, 2018

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, following approval by the General Assembly, has appointed Michelle Bachelet of Chile the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  [Ms. Bachelet ended her second four-year term as President of Chile in March 2018, having already held the position between 2006 and 2010.  The first woman elected to Chile’s highest office, after her first term, she joined the United Nations as the first Executive Director of the newly established United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). A long-time human rights champion and ground-breaking leader, Ms. Bachelet is a paediatrician who began her Government career as an adviser in the Ministry of Health, rising quickly to become the first woman to lead Chile’s Health Ministry in 2000 and its Defence Ministry in 2002. Ms. Bachelet became involved in Chilean human rights activism in the early 1970s.  She and her parents were political prisoners, and her father, a general in the air force, died in prison.  After their release, Ms. Bachelet and her mother spent several years in exile.  She returned to Chile in 1979.] Her human rights background as well as her political cloud and experience give reason to hope that the Office of the High Commissioner will continue to be at the forefront in spite of the countervailing currents at the moment.  

 

 

 

 

 

Recognition of the fearless outgoing High Commissioner has continued to pour in:

The 2018 Human Rights Tulip has been awarded to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Dutch Foreign minister Stef Blok will present him with the prize on 3 September in The Hague. For more information on the Human Rights Tulip see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/tulip-award. ‘The Netherlands greatly values the way in which he has fulfilled his mandate as High Commissioner,’ Mr Blok said. ‘He addressed human rights violations wherever they occurred. This critical and independent attitude is what is needed in a world where human rights are in jeopardy in many places.

On Monday 20 August the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a wide-ranging interview days before his four-year term ends that U.S. President Donald Trump bears “a heavy responsibility” for how the media is portrayed and that his remarks could have a knock-on effect that could hurt journalists in other countries.” [U.S. newspapers across the country ran editorials last Thursday defending freedom of the press in response to President Donald Trump calling some media organizations enemies of the American people.] “The President should be aware that a heavy responsibility lies on his shoulders when it comes to the way in which the media is being portrayed,” Zeid said.

In his last major interview with UN News on 15 August, the UN human rights chief says that the “real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us.” “Governments are more than capable of defending themselves. It’s not my job to defend them. I have to defend civil society, vulnerable groups, the marginalized, the oppressed. Those are the people that we, in our office, need to represent,” he adds, noting that “oppression is making a comeback”.

When asked about whether his view of the UN and what it can achieve has diminished during his time spent speaking out loudly in defence of the abused and defenceless over the past four years, he says: “It’s very difficult to tolerate abuse of the UN when I keep thinking of the heroic things that people do in the field, whether the humanitarian actors or humanitarian personnel, my human rights people, the people who are monitoring or observing. And I take my hat off to them. I mean, they are the UN that I will cherish and remember.”

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https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-08-20/trump-has-responsibility-towards-media-un-rights-boss-says

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/08/1017052

https://www.government.nl/latest/news/2018/08/14/high-commissioner-for-human-rights-zeid-raad-al-hussein-to-receive-2018-human-rights-tulip

https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sga1824.doc.htm

Human Rights in crisis? – here the last word (before the summer!)

August 1, 2018

This blog (among many other sources) has dedicated quite a few posts to the mood of crisis that has engulfed the human rights movement, especially at international level. The international human rights regime as we have known it for the last decades is indeed under pressure, from autocratic regimes, from populist leaders and – let us be honest – from quite a few ‘normal’ people. Below you find a small selection earlier blog posts on this theme of crisis. On  30 May 2018 the MEA organized in Geneva a public event “Human Rights in a Changing World”. At this 25th Anniversary event, the leaders of the 10 international NGOs on the MEA Jury and several laureates had wide ranging discussions both in private and in public. The MEA has now produced a summary for public consumption which I have published separately earlier this day [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/report-of-meas-25thanniversary-event-human-rights-in-a-changing-world-30-may-2018/ ]

July 31 July 2018, Kathryn Sikkink published an interesting piece that has some elements in common with findings of the MEA event referred to above. The title is: “Rethinking the notion of a human rights crisis”, with as summary that “The frame of constant crisis has negative implications for human rights, especially when questions of legitimacy arise. But hope—based on empirical evidence of human rights progress—should give advocates the motivation to keep working.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

There is an epidemic of pessimism surrounding human rights today. To name but a few examples, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested that there has never been so much suffering since World War II, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner has claimed that there have been no marked decreases in human rights violations in the same time period, and international relations scholar Stephen Hopgood has argued that we are witnessing the “end times of human rights.”

Such a pessimistic mindset is understandable because of the worrisome situations that human rights activists face every day. The idea of peril and crisis, however, points not only to the present moment but also implies some knowledge about trends and change over time; it suggests that human rights were not challenged before, and that the situation is now worse.

I recognize that many alarming human rights situations exist in the world today, and I am particularly worried about the current situation in the United States, but I am not persuaded that the state of human rights globally is now worse than it has been before. Instead, let us consider how the frame of constant crisis itself could have negative consequences for human rights.

My recent book, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century, proposes that pessimistic claims need to be submitted to rigorous examination, both historical and statistical. This debate matters because of the inadvertent effects the frame of crisis and peril may have on perceptions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of human rights activism.

Historically, human rights progress has occurred as a result of struggle, and has often been spearheaded by oppressed groups. Where it has occurred, human rights progress has not been at all inevitable, but rather contingent on continued commitment and effort. Some activists and scholars fear that if they admit there has been progress, people will grow complacent and disengaged.

A recent survey of 346 individuals currently or previously working in the field of human rights found that this work is associated with elevated levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. One source of this appears to be negative self-appraisals about human rights work. These findings suggest that one of the most difficult parts of being a human rights activist is the doubt about whether you are contributing to positive change. A frame of excessive crisis thus may not only contribute to the impression that the human rights movement has historically been ineffective, but it could also diminish the motivation and well-being of activists.

By their very definition, human rights are needed when things are bad. I worked at a small human rights organization, the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time that is now seen by some as the golden age of human rights activism. Yet we never felt like human rights goals were easily within our reach. How could we, when the Argentine government was disappearing thousands of its citizens; the Salvador government, with the heavy support of the US government, was massacring people; and the world had ignored the recent genocide in Cambodia?

Some of the current pessimism also suggests that human rights activists were popular at some point in the past and are now denigrated. But human rights activists have never been popular in the countries where they work. Repressive governments have a long history of attacking and vilifying human rights groups, through smear campaigns and other repressive tactics. Human rights organizations often defend the rights of unpopular minorities such as political leftists in Latin America, the Roma in Europe, and transgender people in the US.

The fact that the fight for human rights has always faced significant opposition should not discourage us. The longer history of human rights offers a positive message that can help sustain us in the context of our current struggles. In Evidence for Hope, I explore what changes have taken place over time, using the best data I can find on what many of us would agree to be good measures of diverse human rights.

Looking at this data carefully, issue by issue, we see that some situations are worsening—such as the absolute number of refugees displaced by war or economic inequality within many countries. Nevertheless, there are many more positive trends, including a decline in genocide and politicide, a shrinking number of people killed in war, decreasing use of the death penalty, and improvements in poverty, infant mortality, and life expectancy, as well as advances in gender equality, the rights of sexual minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities.

So why is it that so many people believe human rights violations in the world are getting worse rather than better? The short answer is that we think the world is worse off because we care more and know more about human rights than ever before. The media and human rights organizations have drawn our attention to an increasingly wide range of rights violations around the world. Their success in doing so sometimes inadvertently causes people to think that no human rights progress is occurring. Discouraging results are also generated because we compare our current situation not to the past but to an imagined ideal world, and thus we always fall short.

My point here is not to suggest that the situation for human rights defenders is improving in the world. I mainly want to remind readers that human rights defenders have long been on the front line, and we should be cautious in suggesting that there was a better period for human rights in the second half of the twentieth century that has now been eroded in the twenty-first century. Some of the threats—particularly those involving invasive laws about registration and funding—are indeed new and threatening, while other challenges have been almost a constant for civil society human rights organizations over time.

Nothing about how new or old these challenges are or about any trends in fundamental human rights detracts from acknowledging the frightening challenges groups and individuals face, nor do they negate the urgent need to strategize about how to respond to these challenges. Yet, what I hope is that some information about historical trends, as well as a more focused look at data, may be useful as part of an action-oriented discussion of promising tactics and how to address these challenges.

The stakes in this human rights debate are high. Anger, hope, and the knowledge that you can make a difference in the world give people the energy to keep working. Knowing more specifically how human rights groups have made a difference can teach us more about effective strategies and tactics to use in the future.

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