Posts Tagged ‘interview’

Interview with Karla Avelar, human rights defender from El Salvador

November 10, 2017

A former ISHR trainee, Karla Avelar defends the rights of LGBTI people. She is a finalist of this year’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In an exclusive interview with ISHR, on 6 November, she talked about her award nomination and what it means to be a trans woman and human rights defender in El Salvador. See also the THF film on her work:

 

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/16/trans-defenders-karla-avelars-life-is-under-constant-threat/

Video interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU from Uganda

April 25, 2017

On 24 April 2017 the ISHR published this interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU, grants administrator at UHAI EASHRI and transgender activist in Uganda. Cleopatra was featured in “Pearl of Africa“, a movie shown at the Geneva international Film Festival and Human Rights Forum and spoke  about the challenges she faces in her struggle to have transgender rights recognised in her country. More information on UHAI-EASHRI: http://www.uhai-eashri.org

Camara Salimata SY talks about human rights of women in Mauritania

February 18, 2017

Camara Salimata SY, is the vice-president of Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (AFCF – Association of female family heads). She talked to ISHR about her work on women’s rights and political participation in Mauritania. She also highlights the risks and challenges facing her and calls for more respect from the African Commission and African States for their human rights obligations.

The interview above is only available in French

Interview with human rights defender Victor Nanklan Touré of Ivory Coast (in French)

February 13, 2017

Victor Nanklan Touré is the president of NGO ‘Club Union Africaine Côte d’Ivoire’ which is mainly working on statelessness and land issues. A human rights advocate for over 15 years he participated in the civil society training organised in Banjul from 15 to 16 October 2016 by ISHR, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies. On this occasion he presented his work to ISHR and shared a message towards African political leaders.

The interview mentioned above is unfortunately only available in French.

Five Asian human rights defenders speak about anti-torture work in their region

February 2, 2017

The weekly video service of Just Asia of 26 January 2017 is a special focus on the regional meeting of Asian Parliamentarians & Human Rights Defenders Against Torture, held in Hong Kong in December. During the meeting focusing on modernizing criminal institutions, Just Asia interviewed several parliamentarians and human rights defenders.

Just Asia speaks to Dr. P. M. Nair, Chair Professor at the TATA Social Sciences Institute. According to Dr. Nair, institutions need to work together in India to combat torture, and he is confident that once this occurs, things will improve quickly. Dr. Nair also noted the importance of persons implementing laws and regulations to have a human rights perspective, which would particularly help vulnerable and marginalized sections of society.

Just Asia interviews Pakistani Member of National Assembly Imran Zafar Laghari, to learn his views on the rising incidents of torture and corruption in the policing and judicial systems.

In Nepal, the February 2017 deadline for the transitional justice commissions to complete their work is fast approaching. However, other than collecting over 60,000 complaints and starting preliminary investigations, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have not succeeded in anything meaningful. Meanwhile, Nepal’s Anti-torture legislation is pending in the Parliament. With Colonel Kumar Lama being released by the UK court, there are nominal chances for the Parliament to pass the anti-torture legislation and put it into practice. Just Asia speaks to Mr. Dipendra Jha, a practicing lawyer at the Supreme Court of Nepal, for his views.

Indonesia also faces a rise in executions and the use of the death penalty. At the same time, the revision of the country’s penal code has been ongoing for over a decade. Member of the drafting committee and parliamentarian Mr. Arsul Sani speaks about his views on the penal code revision process and rule of law in Indonesia.

Bangladesh has seen considerable violence and political manipulation in the last year. Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Citizens for Good Governance shares with Just Asia his views on free and fair elections and the Bangladesh electoral system.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/16/amila-sampath-the-man-behind-the-video-service-of-just-asia/

For comments write to: news@ahrc.asia.

KIOS Foundation in Finland publishes video interviews with four human rights defenders from Asia and Africa

January 19, 2017

KIOS is perhaps not the best-known human rights foundation in the world but that is surely mostly due to the fact that it operates from a small base: Finland. KIOS was founded by 11 Finnish human rights and development NGOs. The representatives of the founding NGOs form the Board of KIOS. In Finland, KIOS raises awareness on the significance of human rights and the work of human rights defenders in developing countries. It also advocates for the development of good practices in Finnish foreign and development policy in support ofHRDs. KIOS focuses its external support on 3 countries in East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and 3 in South Asia (Nepal, Sri Lanka and to Tibetan civil society organizations in exile). Some long-term partner organizations of KIOS are also supported in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia and Pakistan. Ulla Anttila is the Executive Director.

Ulla Anttila

On 17 December 2016 KIOS published four video links of interviews with human rights defenders from Asia and Africa (video links), available on You Tube:

Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Hina Jilani, first UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders

November 9, 2016

hina-jilani-biography-1_940x430The Diplomatic Courier of 9 November 2016 carries a long and serious interview with Hina Jilani, First UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders (2000-2008). In 2006, she was appointed to the UN International Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur, Sudan.  In 2009, she served on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. In 2013, she joined The Elders, a group of world leaders and human rights leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela. A preeminent lawyer, Hina Jilani co-founded the first all women law firm in Pakistan and the National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Hina Jilani has been in the forefront of human rights in Pakistan beginning from Zia Ul-Haq’s dictatorship in the 1970s.

 You served as the first mandate holder of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008 and shaped that seminal mandate. Please tell us some of the key aspects of that mandate?
Photo by The Elders.

HJ: Respect for human rights necessarily includes recognition of the legitimacy of the work of defenders. As a response to the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998. On the one hand this was recognition of the dangers that human rights defenders confront and, on the other, a step taken by the international community to create norms for the protection of human rights activity. The Declaration makes it the primary responsibility of the State not only to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders, but also to ensure that conditions exist in which they can carry out their activities.  The mandate to oversee the implementation of the Declaration was established by the UN Secretary General in 2000. The mandate required the SRSG seek, receive examine and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders and to establish cooperation and conduct dialogue with Governments and other interested actors on the promotion and effective implementation of the Declaration as well as on improving the protection of human rights defenders.

In a world where there is rising violent extremism and heightened crackdown on human rights defenders, please share some key challengers of human rights defenders around the world?

HJ: Establishing promoting and sustaining democracy, maintaining international peace and security and providing or advancing a people oriented agenda for development cannot be accomplished without the contributions that human rights defenders make. Defenders bring to the fore information on the realities of situations to be addressed without which national and international efforts would be ineffective. They contribute to poverty alleviation, humanitarian assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, and to improving individual indicators of development such as access to health care and adult literacy, among many other activities. In situations of crises, defenders can monitor an overall situation, rapidly investigate allegations of possible violations and report their conclusions, providing a measure of accountability. They also provide the international community with some independent verification of what is actually happening within an emergency situation, informing the process of taking decisions on possible actions. This was not easily done. Human rights defenders have suffered harm and face grievous threats to their life, liberty, security, independence and credibility. State apparatus, oppressive laws and other tools of repression continue to be used against defenders in attempts to deter them from the valuable work they contribute to the promotion of human rights. Human rights defenders all over the world continue to be subjected to assassinations, disappearances, illegal arrest and detention, torture, harassment and even exile.

 

……Can you speak of Blasphemy laws that target minority Muslim populations in Pakistan?  How did you face death threats and attacks on your family because of your struggles against Blasphemy laws and other human rights atrocities in an environment of impunity?

What are called “blasphemy laws” in Pakistan are provisions introduced in the Pakistan Penal Code by Zia’s regime, ostensibly to enforce respect for Islamic personalities and the Holy Quran. In reality this was a ploy to instill fear in the population. One particular provision disregards fundamental principles of criminal justice and makes mens rea irrelevant to a finding of guilt. It also prescribes a mandatory death sentence upon conviction. The law is not only flawed in legal aspects it has been used for malicious prosecution and has targeted religious minorities – not just non-Muslims, but also different minority sects of Muslims in Pakistan. Special laws were promulgated to restrict the freedom of religion of the Ahmediya community in Pakistan, that still remains a persecuted and threatened community in Pakistan. Any one raising their voice against this law is exposed to extreme violence at the hands of organized religious terrorists, who operate with impunity in Pakistan. The State has been both unwilling and unable to perform its duty to protect in cases where people are either threatened or have actually been harmed by these groups. Lawyers defending those who are accused of blasphemy, judges who have acquitted the accused persons and public figures who have pointed out the flaws in the law or the political and malicious use of the law have been killed. There is an apparent policy of silencing criticism through fear. There are, therefore, only a few voices that continue to be raised and these are people who remain extremely vulnerable to harm.

…….What is your advice to the new Secretary General of the United Nations?

HJ: The work of the United Nations for promoting peace and improving security of people living in different parts of the world can not be completed without due attention to the respect for human rights, the UN must ensure better coordination of its political and human rights policies and strategies. I would also strongly recommend that the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council seriously consider making reference to the protection of human rights defenders and to the importance and legitimacy of their work in all their resolutions relating to the maintenance of peace and security. None such resolution so far mentions this very critical aspect of the protection and promotion of human rights…

For earlier posts on Jina Jilani: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/hina-jilani/

Source: Interview with Hina Jilani, First UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders – Diplomatic Courier

Conversation with Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq

May 19, 2016

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq focuses on protecting women’s human rights, including fighting against trafficking of women and girls, and operates six safe houses for women survivors of violence. The Global Fund for Women interviewed its President, Yanar Mohammed who speaks about her work and the impact from the conflict with ISIS.

Yanar, you’ve been an activist and a defender of women’s rights in Iraq for over 13 years. What do you think are the main challenges women in Iraq are facing right now?
We focused in the last year on working against trafficking in women and girls and expanding a new network, the Network of Anti-Trafficking of Women in Iraq. We started the network in 2013, barely nine months before ISIS began gaining ground in Iraq. As ISIS grew, they started their attacks against women in the north of Iraq, including against the women of Yazidi faith. They trafficked them in broad daylight.

Trafficking in women and girls is now a tactic used by opposing groups in instances of sectarian violence in Iraq. Women and girls are looked upon as the representatives of a community’s honor, and so the sexual exploitation of women and girls belonging to a certain community is seen as the most effective way to humiliate and break it. Unfortunately, it is therefore not a surprise that the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, as a Sunni group, has targeted non-Sunni Muslim women and girls such as Shi’a Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. Retaliations ensue and wars are led on women’s bodies.

When ISIS began to enslave women, we found that this was the time when we should rise to the occasion and highlight the issue of trafficking in society and the government. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by laws, practices, programs, and by some understanding from the society as to what it means that a woman gets compromised, gets exploited, and gets enslaved. So we set up this network, which is now about 40 NGOs working together on the issue. We began to talk about trafficking in women and girls, especially sexual exploitation, and address it as something that’s not only happening under ISIS but also happening in Iraq more broadly, without anybody daring to give it any importance.

Beyond ISIS, orphans and widows of war in Iraq who are extremely impoverished have fallen prey to sexual exploitation. They are being used and exploited and violated daily in Iraq, without anybody thinking of it as a human rights issue. So this is our focus; we have decided we will work on this until we get the government to pass laws that make the suffering of these women less, and also that open the way for us to protect the women from this kind of violence.

Is there any legislation right now against trafficking?
We demanded that the government pass a law for the financial support of Yazidi women when they step out of their enslavement. When they come back to areas of Iraq that are not under ISIS control, they should be compensated just like prisoners of war for the sufferings they went through. And we were so happy when it took only a few months and the Iraqi government decided to give monthly stipends for survivors in May 2015. That was the first success of the network. At the time nobody else had demanded this kind of support for ISIS survivors, so we felt that we were on the right track and that we should proceed to the rest of our demands that we needed in order to address violence against women.

What would you say is the level of public awareness around the issue of trafficking?
We have struggled a lot to make many words and terms debatable in our society—to remove the taboo. I will give you an example: in 2003 when we began to talk about honor killings and how it needs to stop, everybody was disgusted with us and saying that women’s groups should refrain from speaking about taboo and sexual issues, and that we do not address women’s rights in a way that they find acceptable. It took us almost 5 years to make discussion of honor killings a mainstream argument. Now when you go to Iraq, the issue of honor killing has become such a regular thing to talk about. There are so many NGOs that are standing against it, talking about it, are lobbying against it. Whenever we have an issue like this, we find ourselves the first ones on the front lines to address it until, it becomes a mainstream argument. Now as we talk about trafficking and discuss sexual exploitation of women and girls this issue is a very taboo and difficult issue to address.

How many women and girls in Iraq are at risk of being trafficked?
The dilemma of displacement in Iraq is huge because of ISIS. The number of displaced people is two million, going to three million. Most of these are women, because the men are either in the Iraqi army fighting ISIS or have been recruited into militias also heading to fight ISIS, or stuck in the cities defending them. It may be impossible to give the exact number, but we can estimate that out of the 1.5 million women who are displaced, half of them are between ages 16 and 30—the biggest age group at risk of trafficking. So I would say not less than 100,000 women are being trafficked at this point in Iraq.

So the political instability caused by ISIS is increasing the threat of trafficking for women and girls, even if ISIS is not doing the trafficking directly.
Yes. ISIS has created the most ugly reality of trafficking, where they defend it as a religious right. They say it is their right to enslave the “spoils of war” who are not of Muslim faith. They describe them as faithless and as less of human beings whose enslavement makes them better, makes them closer to Islam. ISIS has brought an example that has totally shocked the region and shocked it in a way as to taking us back to a time when people had no human rights, basically. And they are trying to make it a fact to force on the people of Iraq, Syria, and maybe other places if they are allowed to expand.

Can you tell me about the shelters that your group runs?
Our shelters are currently keeping safe women who survive trafficking. They are also getting educated; our shelters are not only a place for women to rest and be safe, they are also schools for social transformation for women to turn from victims into defenders of women. We only had one shelter until 2008; since then we have expanded to have six shelters all over the country. We also have a pipeline from the southern city of Busra, to direct violated women to our shelters in Baghdad. And we have many supporters in the network of the 40-plus NGOs, who are our eyes and ears in more than nine cities in Iraq and are guiding women who are in need of shelter to us. I like to put it in a very short story: our organization was able to spread its wings over most of the Iraqi cities in the last few years.

However, the Iraqi government is not facilitating our undertaking of women into our shelters. And it boils down to one point—we need a piece of legislation from the Iraqi government to provide legal status to shelters that are run by NGOs or other private sector groups. Although the government does not have a law that says that our shelters are illegal, they do have a law that allows the ministry of social affairs to determine if they should stay open. So some of the tribal and misogynist officials did tell us in the past that we are doing an illegal thing, but they did not shut us down.

So, although we are protecting women from trafficking and domestic violence and all that—although we are doing the duty of the government, the duty the government is not taking seriously and do not want to move on, and although they should be supporting us and applauding us for doing their job, in reality they confront us, telling us that our sheltering of women is promoting promiscuity, that it is encouraging women to go against their families and have full sexual freedoms and come stay in our shelters. So some governmental officials have intimidated us in the past, telling us we are doing something illegal, when we are protecting women.

What can the international community do to help Iraqi women be empowered and experience less violence?
We are asking the international community to ask the legal committee in the Iraqi parliament to legislate for the legal status of our shelters. Letters that are addressed to the Iraqi parliament—and specifically to the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament—asking them to legislate for the legal status of women’s shelters that are run by the NGOs. This would be a great help to us.

Would you say that action now is especially important to protect women? Is right now a critical moment?
Right now is a very critical moment because ISIS is at the point where it can be defeated. It has lost the social support of those among the Sunni groups in Western Iraq that were supporting it because people saw the atrocities that ISIS can commit against them. It is a very special moment in time to act against ISIS, but is the kind of action we are seeking a military one, where we have more US army in Iraq? No.

Our experiences of the last 13 years tell us that US intervention in Iraq never brought us anything good. It always has caused more deterioration. Now is the time to have a political intervention, and to ask the Iraqi government to stop its sectarian, politics that gave way to ISIS, as well as empower the Iraqi army so that they can regain the cities that were taken by ISIS.

What are some of the other forms of violence that women come up against in Iraq?
We have many kinds of violence we undergo, and we know what is making this kind of violence worse, which is Islamist extremist parties reaching power. Some of these parties have shown us a terrible example of what they want to bring to Iraq, including legislating for Jaafari law. This law allows the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to an adult man—in other words it legalizes pedophilia in Iraq. It also allows men to be polygamous, and allows for getting rid of wives if they are not sexually pleasant for husbands.

The amount of humiliating material in this law against women is incredible, and out of this era. It’s something that modern humanity cannot even bear to hear of. We must keep this legislation outside of parliament, because the law was not passed, but it is still waiting for us. The Islamist political parties are just waiting for some stability and for the moment when they feel stronger to bring back this legislation. And that would really be the end for Iraqi women.

Source: In Conversation: Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq – Global Fund for Women

Teo Soh Lung: Human Rights Defender from Singapore

February 5, 2016

This month’s profile of a human rights defender in the ISHR Monitor is that of  Teo Soh Lung, Director of Function 8 Limited. The interview was conducted during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Singapore.

Soh Lung started her career as a lawyer with no intention of becoming a public figure, but ‘I always felt that as lawyers we should do more than just earn a living.’  Early in her career Soh Lung worked at a Catholic centre, a form of half-way house, which assisted people ranging from migrant workers, Filipino domestic workers to former convicted offenders. ‘We were happily busy doing this kind of work, not thinking that we were ‘defenders’ as such.’ 

In the early 1980s, Soh Lung became active in the Law Society of Singapore and with a number of other lawyers established the criminal legal aim scheme. In association with the Law Society she started to comment on bills proposed by the Government. ‘We thought, as lawyers we should assist the Government by commenting on bills. Singapore was a one-party State at this time. However, the Government did not want to hear our opinions and soon afterwards a law was passed which restricted our right to comment on bills.’  

On 21 May 1987 Soh Lung was arrested without charge as permitted by the Internal Security Act (ISA). Around this time 21 other young people including lawyers involved in the Law Society were also arrested. ‘I was accused of trying to overthrow the Government and manipulating the Law Society – I was made out by the Government to be the ring leader.’ 

Months later, those detained were released. Given no one knew the truth about what had transpired, 9 out of the 22 arrested decided to publish a press statement which denied the Government’s story and confirmed that they had been tortured while in detention. The next day the 8 of the 9 were re-arrested (the ninth was out of the country). ‘Our cells were incredibly dirty. There were slits for air. I was in solitary confinement the entire time, other than a lizard and insects that kept me company.’ 

While detained, Soh Lung commenced habeas corpus proceedings, arguing that she had been unlawfully detained. ‘Initially Francis Seow, the former Solicitor General, represented my case. However, when he came to the prison to interview me he himself was arrested because he was communicating with international human rights bodies and the American Ambassador – the Government alleged he was receiving money from the CIA. He spent 72 days in jail.’ Soh Lung referred to the difficultly she had finding lawyers to represent her. ‘Historically anyone that represented ISA detainees were then detained themselves.’

When the Court handed down its decision, it decided Soh Lung’s case on technical grounds. This meant that her substantive argument had not been considered – and most importantly – that she could be re-arrested as and when the Government wished. ‘As soon as we stepped outside of the prison gate I was re-arrested. This was, and still is not, unusual. The judicial system doesn’t have any power to keep people free if the Government wants them to remain imprisoned.’  Soh Lung was in prison for another 2 years, during which time the law changed and the right to judicial review, as well as the Privy Council were abolished.

‘As a lawyer if you start a fight, you need to fight until the end. After my appeals of my re-arrests were unsuccessful and the change to the law, I realised there was nothing more I could do with the judiciary to ensure my release. In 1990 after two years of detention, I was released with restrictions.’   It took Soh Lung 20 years to publish the book she wrote about her detention the year after she was released.

‘I knew people would continue to be treated as I was if I didn’t speak out about it. There were people who were arrested before me under the ISA, but I didn’t know about this when I was arrested. I wanted to create awareness within civil society.’  The civil society movement, and in particular ISA defenders, in Singapore went quiet in the 1990’s after Soh Lung’s arrest, but regained strength and became more active about the time of the release of her book and her story.

‘In 2013 there was an event on the 50th anniversary of Operation Cold Store during which names of those who had been arbitrarily detained were made public. A few years after the event, there were 1315 names on the list – which was initially a list of about 700. After all this time and among others who had similarly suffered, people had the strength to speak out about their experience.’ 

In 2010 Soh Lung and others detained with her established Function 8, an NGO which submits on indefinite imprisonment without trial that is currently permitted by three Singaporean statutes – the Internal Security Act, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act. Soh Lung travelled to Geneva as an observer on behalf of the Alliance of Like-Minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS) during Singapore’s UPR. ‘We are excited about engaging more with the UPR. It is a new process for us. One which we believe can assist to hold Singapore accountable to its international obligations and bring about national change, and hopefully one day, the repeal of the ISA.’ 

Source: Defender profile: Teo Soh Lung from Singapore | ISHR

Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala

October 8, 2015

The newsletter of the ISHR of 7 October 2015 carries an interview with Iduvina Hernandez, co-founder of Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy in Guatemala.

Iduvina Hernandez founded the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy (SEDEM), together with US citizen Rachel Garst in 2000. As journalists, Iduvina and Rachel had studied the behaviour of armed forces and intelligence services which were linked to numerous human rights abuses. The organisation initially questioned the meaning of ‘oversight’ and ‘accountability’ of security services for the public as Guatemala was having raging debate about security forces and intelligence sources. In order to expand this discussion, the organisation started building citizen networks in the provinces providing them with training so as to enable them to conduct independent oversight of State security forces actions in their region.

Guatemala’s public security is handled by the military and dominated by a national security doctrine. Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have been documented in a country still haunted by genocide. Civil society organisations have suggested that the militarisation of public security makes human rights abuses more probable, a fact that Iduvina’s organisation aims to change.

‘In a true democracy the military has nothing to do with citizen security.’

Iduvina believes human rights work is in her DNA since she grew up in a family where solidarity was a critical value. She remembers seeing people hidden in her home when she was a child, her father explaining that these people’s lives were in danger. At that point, Iduvina already felt like part of the framework working to protect them.

‘We can always do something for anyone, in any place, in any way.’

From an early age Iduvina was part of the student movement, working for student rights and then became  a student leader for the University Students Association from 1976 to 1981. She lost many friends along the was due to disappearances or killings. She was even forced into exile but returned to the country as soon as she got the opportunity.

Challenges and threats to human rights defenders

One of Iduvina’s major challenges is linked to personal issues. As director of her own organisation she works on a volunteer basis and is therefore forced to have several jobs in order to sustain herself.

As for security conditions in Guatemala they expose human rights defenders to serious risks throughout their work. This usually includes being targeted by various Government actors and former members of the military often linked to the Government.

Iduvina highlights that though the social movement recently overthrew the former president, disappointingly there has not been any significant change in the political sphere.

‘The new person in charge is a fascist and very old. His policies, as well as his security policies, will be the same. We are afraid because we have a Government that does not respect human rights and certainly does not defend human rights.’

Iduvina states that the dangers that human rights defenders face in Guatemala stem from: Government action; Government policies; Government tolerance towards perpetrators; perpetrators’ actions; corruption; the composition of the judicial sector; and impunity.

The legislative framework for NGOs and human rights defenders

A restrictive law against NGOs was introduced in 2003 which imposed new conditions and limitations on NGOs – especially those working for the promotion of human rights. While registering a NGO used to be a simple process (only requiring registration at the  city hall office) the 2004 amendment to the Constitution now requires NGOs to register at the Minister of Interio. This has become a real obstacle for human rights defence as NGOs now need approval to work legally and even to change their board membership. This particularly targets ngos working for the promotion of human rights. Iduvina’s organisation once had to wait  6 months to be registered, whilst another organisation not involved with human rights was registered in 10 days.

‘An organisation working against genocide was required to maintain the same board and president as they were not granted approval to change the legal representation. If you are not registered you cannot deal with the banks, you cannot receive donations, you are on standby.’

No specific law in Guatemala protects the work of human rights defender though there are a number of institutionstasked with their protection. Iduvina believes that oversight over the process of registering NGOs must be removed and thinks it necessary to have a law  to protect the work of human rights defenders. Yet she believes it would be easier and more achievable to introduce a chapter on human rights defenders into the Special Ombudsman Law. With the composition of the current political system – dominated by right-wing ideas – this is still something she knows will be difficult to strive for. Attempting to implement such changes now would likely restrict human rights defenders further.

National and International Advocacy Goals

At the national level Iduvina is currently working on a draft national policy for the protection of human rights defenders. This includes the creation of  focus groups and the use of  workshops and interviews to identify the real needs of  grassroots defenders.

At the international level, Iduvina says it is essential that the international community bears in mind that Guatemala is not a consolidated democracy and that human rights defenders continue to be at high risk.

‘It is more important today than it has ever been. The movement to overthrow the Government suggested that things were going to change in Guatemala. We need to make clear to the international community that although the demonstrations were a huge success, the root problems have not changed, not yet. We still need the international community’s eye on the country, especially as the new President is in many ways worse than the last – coming from the armed forces and involved in the genocide. He is an enemy of democracy.’

Iduvina would like the Special Rapporteurs on the situation on human rights defenders and on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, to visit Guatemala. She would also welcome visits from other special procedures and treaty bodies, in particular those working to protect the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression

The Future for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

The future for human rights defenders in Guatemala is two sided, says Iduvina. On one hand the social movement has helped to extend their work and in some spaces of society they will now achieve more respect and understanding for their work. On the other hand if the political system does not change, human rights defenders will be confronted with new threats and new levels of risks.

Source: Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala | ISHR