Posts Tagged ‘international human rights’

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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More annual reports 2017: Freedom House

January 19, 2018

Having just blogged about the annual report of HRW and AI USA (see links below), I hasten to say that there are several other annual reports referring to President Trump’s damaging effect on human rights and democracy. Freedom House, for instance, issued its annual report 2017 which pointed out that Trump’s penchant for attacking civil society groups, the media, and even the courts have a tangible, negative impact, stating that, “the administration’s statements and actions could ultimately leave them weakened, with serious consequences for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s role in the world.” The report noted that under Trump, the United States has seen the sharpest drop in political rights and civil liberties in over 40 years.

Key Findings:

  • With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
  • There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated “Free” by the report, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States.
  • Of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) Not Free.
  • The Middle East and North Africa region had the worst ratings in the world in 2016, followed closely by Eurasia.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/ai-welcomes-resistance-to-trumps-human-rights-policies/

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https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017

Human Rights Watch and Kenneth Roth take a stand against Trump’s dictator friendly policies

January 19, 2018

In its annual report on the state of human rights around the world for 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said growing intolerance in states like the US represented “an enormous threat” to minority groups in those countries. Donald Trump‘s public admiration for strongman leaders and breaking of “taboos against racism and xenophobia” have encouraged oppression around the world.

Its executive director, Kenneth Roth, struck out at the US President who he said “displays a disturbing fondness for rights-trampling strongmen”. He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte, of the Philippines, as examples, saying: “This makes it much more difficult to stigmatise these authoritarian leaders when Trump says these are great guys.”

Mr Roth added in a post accompanying HRW’s 2018 world report that in the past year, ”Secretary of State Rex Tillerson largely rejected the promotion of human rights as an element of US foreign policy while more broadly reducing the role of the US abroad by presiding over an unprecedented dismantling of the State Department.” “He refused to fill many senior posts, dismissed several veteran diplomats, slashed the budget, and let the department drift. Many career diplomats and mid-level officials resigned in despair,” .

The report urges democratic governments to address the problems that allowed populism to prosper in 2017, such as income inequality, fears of terrorism and growing migration. HRW hailed Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France’s elections as a “turning point”, saying he had “openly embraced democratic principles” on his way to defeating the far-right Marine Le Pen.  HRW also criticised the “hesitancy” of the EU to intervene in specific cases of rights abuse: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decimated Turkey’s democratic system as the EU focused largely instead on enlisting his help to stem the flight of refugees to Europe and security cooperation. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi crushed public dissent in Egypt with little interference from the US or the EU, which accepted his claim that he was providing stability.

In the USA, HRW’s report said, “civic groups, journalists, lawyers, judges, many members of the public, and sometimes even elected members of Trump’s own party” had reacted against what it called the President’s “regressive” outlook.

(The Trump administration did make interventions in support of human rights in a limited number of countries such as Iran and Cambodia.)

Helas, the HRW report confirms what many feared earlier in 2017, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/.

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http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/donald-trump-human-rights-watch-world-report-hrw-oppression-encourage-news-media-a8165381.html

http://fp-reg.onecount.net/onecount/redirects/index.php?action=get-tokens&js=1&sid=b8ofn3rfd1a65vca5imc12g270&return=http%3A%2F%2Fforeignpolicy.com%2F2018%2F01%2F18%2Fhow-to-stand-up-for-human-rights-in-the-age-of-trump%2F

2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras?

January 26, 2017

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Already on 22 November 2016 Colum Lynch posted in “Foreign Policy” an insightful piece entitled: “The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump”.  It records the thinking of senior UN staff and NGO leaders who are going to confront a Donald Trump with a hard-line national security team. They fear that a Trump presidency could spur a global retreat from international human rights principles, marking the dawn of American leadership (see long extracts from the piece below) on green. Now – on 26 January 2017 – Daniel Warner in his weekly blog in the Tribune de Geneve wrote a post entitled: “The U.N., Trump and Cassandra” in which he reports that a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the total disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill – tried before in 2015 – may not pass, but the writer fears it reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration. See his words below marked in blue.

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The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, informed his staff in the weeks following the U.S. election that they will have to serve as the front line in an international effort to check any excesses on the human rights front. A chief concern, officials say, is that if the U.N. doesn’t call out its most powerful member for straying from universally accepted human rights norms, the rest of the world will be emboldened to ditch them. “We are going to speak up,” one U.N. official told Foreign Policy. “It’ll be rough, but if [Trump] puts any of those ghastly campaign pledges into action we will condemn.”

…..Still, Trump’s campaign pledged to restore waterboarding, deport millions of undocumented migrants, and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. …

The U.N.’s approach to human rights is particularly tricky for the incoming U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who headed the U.N. refugee agency for nearly 10 years. Guterres has been an outspoken champion of refugees, pressing European governments, as well as the United States, to resettle far larger numbers of refugees. Two weeks after Trump called for his ban on Muslims last December, Guterres admonished the Security Council, saying, “Those that reject Syrian refugees because they are Muslims are the best allies in the recruitment propaganda of extremist groups.” But Guterres may be constrained as the leader of the United Nations, a job that requires a close relationship with the United States and other big powers. ……

That makes it likely that Zeid will take the lead on human rights. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Zeid, a Muslim prince from the Jordanian royal family, has repeatedly excoriated Trump, telling reporters in December that his threat to ban Muslim travel to the United States is “grossly irresponsible.” In September, Zeid included Trump, along with France’s Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, on a list of “populists, demagogues, and political fantasists” who promoted their arguments grounded in “half truths and oversimplification.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

Some U.N. officials say Zeid’s criticism of the U.N.’s most powerful country could strengthen his hand in disputes with other U.N. members, particularly those from the developing world who have long accused the United Nations of applying greater pressure on small powers for breaching human rights norms, while letting the United States and other big powers off the hook. Other U.N. officials fear that Zeid may be exposing the organization to a battle with the U.N.’s most powerful players that he can’t win. In September, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin formally protested Zeid’s public denunciations of Trump and other European nationalists. “Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time, and we’re unhappy about it,” Churkin told The Associated Press.

More recently, Zeid tangled with China over his attendance at a ceremony for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which honored a Uighur economist, Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence on charges of fomenting separatism and violence. A senior Chinese official appealed to Zeid not to attend the event, according to a U.N. official. But Zeid refused, insisting that he had an independent mandate to shed light on human rights violations wherever they occur, including China.

Even before Trump’s election, U.N. officials believed that human rights were under threat from authoritarian governments, including China, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey, which have been engaged in major crackdowns on civil liberties at home. “They are backsliding on human rights, but from a position of weakness,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York City-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “Both [Vladimir] Putin and Xi Jinping are engaging in the worst crackdowns in their countries in two decades, each driven by the terror as to how their countries will react to a weakening economy; they’re trying to snuff out in advance opposition they anticipate.”

Roth said there is a real danger that Trump and other populist leaders will accelerate the curtailment of human rights. “The entire human rights movement is weary about Trump,” he said. “It’s not clear what his values are. That is why his initial appointees are so important.” Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, fears Trump’s controversial positions, including torture and deportation, would embolden smaller countries. When big powers, particularly the United States, tread on human rights the world tends to follow. If smaller countries, such as Burundi and Kenya, hear Trump threatening to cast out foreign refugees they may choose to act in kind, Christopoulos said. Saudi Arabia threatened this year to cut funding to U.N. relief programs and to lead a walkout by Muslim states from the United Nations if the U.N. didn’t lift its name from a list of countries that killed or maimed children in armed conflict, according to a senior U.N. official. In its defense, Saudi officials noted that the United States had shielded its closest Middle East ally, Israel, from being included on the same list in 2015. It was only fair, therefore, that Riyadh be spared the shame of being included on the list...

Rights advocates say the rising tide of nationalism and populism in Europe and the United States represents a potentially existential threat to the human rights movement, as governments that once championed the cause on the international stage head into retreat. Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has railed against “left-wing human rights lawyers” who are seeking the prosecution of British soldiers alleged to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has proposed that London withdraw from key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that potentially expose British troops to prosecution. A generation of European nationalist leaders, including Le Pen and Wilders, who had been on the fringe of the European political spectrum, have seen their electoral prospects grow in the face of spreading anti-immigrant sentiment. That has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of the “only outspoken leaders on human rights,” Roth said. In her first statement following Trump’s election, Merkel said she would work closely with Trump, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the dignity of men regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”

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Daniel Warner further wrote: Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (Rep-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the U.N., and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator. Or, as John Bolton, once U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the U.N., the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with U.S. participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the U.N. Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.
I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope.  Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.
On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the U.N?

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Sources:

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump | Foreign Policy

The U.N., Trump and Cassandra : Le blog de Daniel Warner

see also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/23/2017-4-canadas-year-of-real-human-rights-action/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/24/2017-5-with-trump-us-president-sweden-must-stand-up-for-human-rights/

Defending the Defenders: networking in the USA

May 23, 2014

With the introduction: “Human rights defenders are people like you – people who stand up for the right of others in the face of risk. In the U.S., human rights defenders face specific threats that impact their collective ability to work and seek justice“,  five NGOs based in the USA and working for human rights in the US call on other human rights defenders to register for a training course on human rights education on Wednesday 28 May 2h00 pm to 3h00 pm (EDT). Dream Defenders, Maryland Legal Aid, the US Human Rights Network [USHRN], the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Center for Reproductive Rights come together to teach about the work of U.S.-based human rights defenders and the special protections they have under international law; and to have the opportunity to hear from fellow human rights defenders about how they have successfully used these international protections and other forms of international advocacy to protect themselves and their ability to work. Speakers:

  • Ejim Dike, Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network
  • Sunita Patel, Staff Attorney at Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Karla Torres, Human Rights Fellow at Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Ahmad Abuznaid, Legal and Policy Director at Dream Defenders
  • Reena Shah, Director of Human Rights Project at Maryland Legal Aid

For more information and to download the flyer in PDF:  Defending the Defenders | US Human Rights Network.

Right to Privacy in the Digital Age: 24 February expert seminar in Geneva

February 17, 2014

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights,  is organising an expert seminar on The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, a topic of great importance for human rights defenders.  It will take place on Monday 24 February 2014, in room XXI in the Palais des Nations, Geneva. It purpose is to examine the international human rights law framework of the right to privacy, and identify challenges raised by modern communications technologies; foster understanding of how the right to privacy is implemented by governments, as well as addressed by the private sector and civil society; examine the extent to which domestic and extraterritorial surveillance may infringe on an individuals’ right to privacy; and  identify ways forward to ensure the protection and promotion of the right to privacy.

Registration: Owing to limited space, reservation is recommended as soon as possible: alice.priddy[at]geneva-academy.ch.  Please note that a live streaming of this seminar will be webcast. Read the rest of this entry »

WORLD HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM initiated by Brasil and to be continued in Morocco and Argentina

January 20, 2014

 

For those who think that large international human rights meetings tend to take place in the ‘western’, you should check out the programme and website of the WORLD HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM which was held in Brasilia from 10 – 13 December 2013: http://www.fmdh.sdh.gov.br/index.php/en/program [representatives from 74 countries, more than 500 different activities and over 9.000 participants].

One such activity was the seminar “Comparative experiences for the protection of human rights defenders at the international level” chaired by Luciana García, director of the Department of Defence of Human Rights, from the Brazilian Human Rights Secretariat. Luis Enrique Eguren, President of Protection International, shared the table (picture above) with experts from other organisations, such as: Andrea Rocca of Front Line Defenders, Laura Tresca of Article 19, and Michelle Morais de sa Silva, General Coordinator for Accompaniment in Projects of International Cooperation.

The WFHR is an initiative of the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency of the Brazilian Republic, whose main objective is to promote a space for the public debate on Human Rights in which the progress and challenges are addressed with respect for the differences and social participation, with the aims of reducing inequalities and fighting against human rights violations…The Minister Maria do Rosário, from the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil: “We organise this forum in Brazil because we think governments must always be opened to dialogue with civil society, precisely because this strengthens democracy …..We learn with Mandela that it is ourselves who must be the actors for the promotion of peace”.

At the closing ceremony of the World Human Rights Forum it was announced which countries will host the next events: Morocco in 2014 and Argentina in 2015.

via PI INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE WORLD HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM CELEBRATED IN BRASILIA | | Protection InternationalProtection International.

Irish Foreign Minister announces review of foreign policy; believes that values and economic dynamism are compatible

November 18, 2013

Eamon Gilmore made the announcement at the 13th annual NGO Forum on Human Rights, which is taking in Dublin Castle today.

(Minister Eamon Gilmore at the 13th annual NGO Forum on Human Rights, on 13 November)

Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, announced at the 13th annual NGO Forum on Human Rights in Dublin [this year’s forum was on “Ideals and Interests: the place of human rights in foreign policy] that he had initiated a complete review of Ireland’s foreign policy and external relations – the first such audit to be carried out in nearly two decades. This is important as Ireland – although a small nation – is one of the few with an explicit policy to support human rights defenders.

Read the rest of this entry »

Frequently asked question: how do I become an international human rights lawyer?

April 27, 2013

How do I become an international human rights lawyer? is the topic of an article by Hannah Gannagé-Stewart in the Guardian of Friday 26 April 2013. She rightly starts by stating that “the life of an international human rights lawyer is not all jet setting glamour”. Still, it is one of the most frequent questions put to me at the end of a lecture, often during the reception afterwards under 4 eyes: “I would like to work for human rights – what do you advise me?” is the usual opening line. My half-serious standard reply: “if your really want to work FOR human rights, I advise you to get very rich and donate half your wealth to the human rights movement“, is not always appreciated, but correct at the macro level as the shortage of funds is much more problematic than that of talent and devotion in the human rights movement. The question asked was of course situated at the micro level as in: “I want to work IN human rights (even if the pay is not very good)“.

The Guardian piece (although focusing on the UK) contains good, practical advice and most of it would be valid in other countries:

“Jet-setting round the globe, setting the worlds highest courts alight with spectacular oratory performances, radically changing the lives of the most vulnerable. Hell, theres probably a Nobel peace prize in there somewhere too right? Think again. There are actually very few lawyers who would describe themselves as international human rights lawyers, Read the rest of this entry »