Posts Tagged ‘interview’

Interview with Guadalupe Marengo (“Guada”) of Amnesty International

August 2, 2019

Guadalupe Marengo: Human Rights Defender at Amnesty International

On 1 August 2019 of Geographical in the UK published an inteview with Guadaloupe Marengo (aka “Guada”), head of the Human Rights Defenders Team at Amnesty International:

..A 2017 Amnesty International report submitted to the UN points to the use of smear campaigns to delegitimise human rights defenders and undermine their work. In particular the report notes the stigmatisation of individuals and communities in Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Paraguay who are fighting to protect their access to water and land, stating that ‘their work is delegitimised through public statements and false rumours’ and that they ‘face unfair and unfounded criminal proceedings’. In response to this issue, Amnesty International set up its Human Rights Defenders team, which works globally to highlight violence against HRDs and campaign for their rights. Geographical caught up with the head of the team, Guadeloupe Marengo, following a screening of Aruanas, a new drama focusing on environmental defenders in the Amazon. [for Aruanas see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/17/aruanas-human-rights-defenders-in-fiction-series-playing-in-amazon/]. Aruanas is now available at aruanas.tv on vimeo

Aruanas

Aruanas has helped raise public awareness of the dangers faced by those working in human rights

How did you come to lead the Human Rights Defenders team at Amnesty?

I’m Mexican and I’ve been in Britain now for about 24 years. I previously worked with women ex-prisoners here in this country, and then I moved to Amnesty to work mainly on Latin America. For many years I worked researching race-relations and running campaigns on human rights violations. Then, in 2016, I became head of the global Human Rights Defenders programme.

Why did Amnesty deem it necessary to set up the HRD team?

Human rights defenders work at the forefront, so they are the ones that get attacked. Here we are, 20 years on from the UN Declaration, and statistics on how many human rights defenders have been killed, from many human rights organisations, are at least one every other day. So there’s still a lot to do.

Where are the biggest risk areas?

The HRDs who are the most marginalised are those working on sexual and reproductive rights, those working on the climate crisis and those working on Indigenous people’s rights, land rights, and migration in Europe. These are the topics of the moment and because there is an intersectional type of discrimination, depending on where you are, they are even more at risk. In particular, the world is getting far more aware of climate issues, so those in power are actually attacking human rights defenders more. I think we’re at a tipping point, the world is suddenly realising that actually, we need to do something about this. I’m hoping that series such as Aruanas are going to help win more hearts and minds. The fact is Amnesty can’t make a series like that because it’s too expensive. So it’s good that those with the money are trying to contribute positively to humanity.

Who are the perpetrators of this kind of violence?

A combination of businesses with a vested interests and also governments, which should be the ones sending a very clear signal that intimidation of human rights defenders isn’t going to be tolerated. It’s is the mix of those in power – state and non-state actors.

How does Amnesty work to protect HRDs?

What we do is show the world what’s going on. We then approach government and businesses, either lobbying through letters, or through conversations with them, or at the UN. Through our international offices we interview rights workers, we interview victims, we go to the places, we double check the information and then we publish reports.

Are there any HRD cases that stand out to you in particular?

The issue in the UK of the Stansted 15 stands out to me – how the UK accused 15 people who stopped a plane that was going to deport LGBT+ people. One, for example, was going to be deported to Nigeria – she was a lesbian, her ex-partner was waiting and was going to kill her. The UK accused the 15 of terrorism-related offences for stopping the plane. I couldn’t believe the UK was doing that. Some of the 15 were given community service. Two were given suspended sentences and they are appealing that because even though they didn’t go to prison, the charges stand.

What are your goals for the time you are head of the HRD team?

One thing I would like to do is work more in coalition with other charities, to open up to others and ensure that we’re all working together towards campaigning instead of in silos. We have more in common than we don’t. If we all work together on these issues, I think we will have more impact.

https://geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/3308-guadalupe-marengo-amnesty-international

Interview with Nfor Hanson Nchanji, human rights defender from Cameroon

July 24, 2019

ISHR interviewed Nfor Hanson Nchanji, award winning Human Rights Journalist from Cameroon. Published on 16 July 2019.

Interview with Cédric Herrou, migrants rights defender who is the central person in the film Libre

July 18, 2019

ISHR had the chance to meet with Cédric Herrou for the Geneva premiere of movie ‘Libre’ where director Michel Toesca follows him in his endeavours in France‘s Roya Valley. During our interview, Herrou, a migrant rights defender and president of association ‘Défends Ta Citoyenneté’, shared his testimony, challenges, aspirations and calls to action.  The interview was published on 22 March 2019.

Profile of Abirami Jotheeswaran, Dalit Human Rights Defender

July 17, 2019

In Conversation With Abirami Jotheeswaran: Dalit Human Rights Activist
visiting Geneva to address the UN about issues faced by Dalit Women.

Abirami Jotheeswaran is a human rights defender and the National Program Coordinator of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights NCDHR. Most recently, she was part of a fact-finding team in Mirchpur to investigate a case of caste-based violence. Anagha Smrithi interviewed her for Feminism in India (FII) of 1 July 2019:

Anagha Smrithi: Can you describe your journey towards becoming the National Program Coordinator of the NCDHR?

Abirami Jotheeswaran: Residing in Chennai, I experienced many forms of caste-discrimination throughout my lifetime. A striking incident was during my graduation, when a classmate asked me what caste I belonged to in front of all my other classmates. The question was irrelevant, more so because she was aware of my social background as she knew my family. I felt insulted in front of my classmates and realised that caste certainly exists in urban cities like Chennai. After my Masters in Computer Science, I got married and settled in Delhi. A few years later, I got the opportunity to sit for an interview with the NCDHR. Even though I didn’t have a social work or human rights background, as someone who witnessed caste discrimination during my college days, I excelled in the group discussion and interview about caste-based discrimination. NCDHR changed me as a Dalit Human Rights Defender. When I joined as a Monitoring Associate in 2005, the work was new to me and I learnt everything through trial and error. I had to work hard to improve my Hindi to be able to coordinate with the State Coordinators of Northern states. I also equipped myself with legal knowledge of various legislatures surrounding the question of Dalit human rights. I used to work more than 10 hours a day, sometimes even carrying home documents to meet my deadlines. At the same time, I was also a mother. But I persisted at work so that I could be on par with my colleagues, most of whom were men. The 14 years I have been associated with the NCDHR has deepened my understanding of caste, violence, human rights and Dalit perspectives and ideologies. Today I am the National Program Coordinator and my primary responsibilities are to keep track of human rights violations, torture and ill-treatment of Dalits, and to provide legal assistance to the victims and survivors of caste atrocities across 12 States in India.

As a National Program Coordinator, I have participated in conferences and consultations at the State, National and International level to highlight Dalit human right violations in India, and to hold the state accountable. ..My 14 years with NCDHR has taught me the importance of struggling for justice in the courtroom. Because of this, I decided to pursue my higher studies in law. Most importantly, my association with NCDHR built my Dalit ideology and my strength as a leader to deepen the struggle against the caste system.

Anagha Smrithi: You were part of a fact-finding team about caste atrocities in Haryana. How did you obtain facts when the information was hidden/ fudged by the police and administration?

Abirami Jotheeswaran: On 24 April 2010, the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Anhad facilitated a national fact-finding visit to Mirchpur in Haryana’s Hisar district, where a dominant-caste mob had attacked Dalits in the village. The team consisted of a diverse group of people of journalists, activists, publishers and human rights defenders, including myself. The NDMJ Haryana state team visited the site of violence the day after the incident took place. They identified active victims, witnesses and built trust and a relationship with them. During our fact-finding process, we held detailed interviews with the victims—this was crucial in obtaining information that the police otherwise would not reveal. Through the interviews we gained information about the social background of the victims, the occurrence of previous atrocities in the same village and the events leading up to the incident. We discovered how the mob had planned to commit the offence, which differed from the police claim that it was a spontaneous conflict. We surveyed the loss of property and investigated the collusion of the police, administration and the Khap panchayat in committing the crime and obstructing justice.

Anagha Smrithi: Was any action taken after the fact-finding report?

Abirami Jotheeswaran: Soon after the fact-finding report, the NDMJ conducted a press conference to give visibility to the caste and build pressure on the government. We demanded appropriate sections of the SC & ST act be invoked for the immediate arrest of all those involved in the violence, along with resettling the affected Dalits in a secure place. We strove to register cases against the police and administration for the negligence of official duty, and demanded employment to all the members of the affected families, as well as a proper estimation of the damage inflicted upon the families. At the state level, we participated in protests, approached the Human Rights Law Network for legal interventions and took up advocacy with the Minister of Social Justice and other state authorities to ensure immediate arrest, complete investigation, the submission of a charge sheet, relief and rehabilitation for the affected and protection for the involved witnesses. As of today, we are still consistently engaging with the legal system and following up with the victims to achieve justice.

……
Anagha Smrithi: Even in cases of cruel atrocities & oppression, there is often still resistance and assertion from the community. What sort of resistance did you observe during your fact-finding process?

Abirami Jotheeswaran: Before the incident, violence had taken place against Dalits, but no proper action was taken by the police administration. But when this carnage happened, the Dalit community lost 2 lives and immeasurable damage to the property and possessions. Despite the losses, they unanimously decided to fight for justice and not tolerate any more violence by the dominant caste. They left their houses in Mirchpur and moved towards Mini Secretariat, demanding for justice. Their journey took them to Delhi, and finally to a farmhouse in Tanwar, protesting for justice, security, rehabilitation and jobs all the way. The State Government, faced with renewed pressure finally took action against the accused and the negligent administration. Though the victims continue to live away from their homes, in difficult conditions, the spirit of resistance is still alive.

In Conversation With Abirami Jotheeswaran: Dalit Human Rights Activist

Profile of human rights defender Linda RM Baumann from Namibia

May 26, 2019

ISHR published on 25 Octpber 2018 this interview with Namibian women’s rights defender Linda RM BaumannWe carry out the universal responsibility to insure that all people are protected” affirms Linda RM Baumann in her interview with ISHR. Linda is strategic coordinator for Namibia’s Diverse Women Association (NDWA) and she advocates for LBT’s women rights.

Profile of human rights defender Rizal Rozhan from Malaysia.

May 12, 2019

Interview with Rizal Rozhan, Advocacy and Capacity-Builder Officer of EMPOWER in Malaysia, published by ISHR back in December 2018.

The UN Environmental Rights Initiative interviews Donald Hernández Palma

February 26, 2019

On 26 February 2019 the UN Environmental Rights Initiative (launched in Geneva last year during the UN Human Rights Council). The aim is to ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their activism safely, defend their local environments and the planet. 

However, alarming statistics on killings have been reported over the past few years—especially regarding the targeting of indigenous groups. Latin America has seen the highest number of murders in recent years, accounting for almost 60 per cent of the global total in 2016. In Honduras, 128 defenders are estimated to have been murdered since 2010—the world’s worst rate. UN Environment reached out to Donald Hernández Palma, a Honduran lawyer and human rights defender, for his take on the situation facing environmental and human rights defenders. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/28/peace-brigades-international-officially-launches-its-country-chapter-in-ireland/ ]

Donald specializes in criminal and environmental law, with a particular focus on mining. He is a member of the Latin American Lawyers’ Network, which works against the negative impacts of transnational extractive companies in Latin America. Since 2010, Donald has worked for the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development as coordinator of its legal department. He is also the coordinator of the Human Rights and Environmental Department.

Could you tell us a little about yourself, where you come from and how you became part of the environmental advocacy movement?

I am the son of peasant parents who cultivated coffee. I grew up in a remote village in Honduras. I studied in a school that only went up to sixth grade and had to walk almost 20 kilometres a day to go to class. Later, I studied agronomy, a profession I practiced for more than 10 years, in direct contact with peasant families across Honduras. I have directly witnessed the serious subsistence difficulties faced by my countrymen far from government aid.

Since graduating in criminal law in 2007, have been working on environmental protection issues in rural communities. In 2010, I began my work at the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development, allowing me to work in the defence of human rights for the same populations I had known for many years before.

What situations help explain the kinds of challenges environmental human rights defenders face in Honduras?

Different forms of political and economic corruption in Honduras have compromised – and in some cases denied – local communities’ access to natural resources. Many people have resisted mining, hydro and logging projects, and because of this resistance, have found themselves criminalized and harassed—even killed. Honduras is today considered one of the most dangerous countries for those who defend their land and territories.

What kind of resources are being exploited in your country and how is it affecting land, water, air and biodiversity?

Currently, 302 mining concessions have been approved by the Honduran Government for open-pit mining. Projects are awarded to national and international businesses on thousands of hectares of land, affecting populations that are rarely consulted. Meanwhile, rivers are being appropriated in many regions of the country to generate electricity. Projects are also often granted without consultation to business families, as a payback for favors made for political campaigns.

Also, thousands of hectares of land are being used to plant African palm, transgenic corn and sugar cane for biofuels. This is displacing traditional agriculture, and also causing displacement of populations from their territories to urban centres within and outside the country. Laws have also been passed in Congress to privatize criollo seeds, removing the right of indigenous peoples and peasant peoples to trade their seeds as they have been doing for thousands of years.

What has been done to address these problems?

Organizations like ours do permanent research on the concessions of common goods. This information is very difficult to obtain because it is hidden from the people. There is a law on access to public information that is not respected. We give this information to the affected peoples, whom we also organize and train on human rights and indigenous law, among other issues. We also carry out public protests, present unconstitutionality appeals before the Supreme Court of Justice and carry out legal defence actions when the leaders are criminalized for defending their territory.

What kind of national laws have been enacted? Do international laws help you in any way?

We have a mining law that is highly harmful to the population, a plant breeders’ law that harms people’s rights over seeds, and energy laws that facilitate the implementation of electrical projects that avoid environmental impact prevention processes. In addition, the modification of the criminal code criminalizes public protest. It is precisely international law that allows us to exercise defensive actions in favor of indigenous peoples and peasants, since Honduras has been found not to comply with the international treaties that bind the Honduran state to respect human rights defenders.

Are you working with any NGO groups? 

I am the facilitator at The National Coalition of Environmental Networks and Organizations Honduras (CONROA), a joint space that brings together more than 30 organizations.

Has the newly-signed treaty by 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries, formally called the Regional Agreement on Principle 10, provided any protection on people’s rights in Honduras

Unfortunately, the Honduran state was one of the countries in the region that did not sign this important treaty.

Have you encountered any successes, and is attention increasing on this issue on the ground? 

Unfortunately, an advocate such as Bertha Cáceres, our comrade in this struggle, had to die so that the eyes of the world could return to the terrible situation due to the contempt of the state against those who defend common goods. The visits of the rapporteurs (Michel Fort) and the rapporteur of indigenous peoples have been very important in forcing the Honduran State to respect human rights defenders.

Profile of migrants rights defender Mariana Zaragoza from Mexico

December 18, 2018

On 13 December 2018 ISHRGlobal published this interview with Mariana Zaragoza. Our countries are restricting migrants’ rights, and there is always something we can do to demand full protection of people“, says Mariana Zaragoza in her interview. Mariana works in the immigration programme at the Ibero-American University of Mexico and she advocates for migrants and refugees’ rights.

Interview with pro bono director, Michelle Movahed, in Newark

November 5, 2018

Since joining McCarter & English as pro bono director two years ago, Michelle Movahed has helped bring about increases in firmwide pro bono hours (by 3,000 hours annually) and in pro bono-to-billable hours ratio (even as billables increased, according to the firm). The program also has taken up a broader range of cases under Movahed, including immigration detainee asylum matters. And she recently saw through the firm’s creation of a pro bono fellowship to benefit the city of Newark, which includes a full-time attorney position. David Gialanella interviewed her on November 2018 for the New Jersey Law Journal:

What’s your single best piece of advice for handling a crisis?

Focus on what you can control, take ownership of all of it, and move forward.

Name a mentor or someone you admire, and why.

I deeply admire my clients. I’ve been very lucky to work for human rights defenders, for individuals who have stepped up to right a wrong, and, most recently, for asylum-seekers who have made harrowing journeys to escape truly horrendous trauma.

Best advice you ever got…

I’ve never been as nervous as I was the night before my first big oral argument, on our motion for a TRO to keep the doors open at the last comprehensive reproductive health clinic in Mississippi. By around 10 p.m., everyone I worked with was telling me to go to sleep and stop preparing so I’d be well-rested. I just didn’t feel like it was time yet, but I also knew I didn’t know enough to make that judgment call. So I asked for help: I wrote to the judge I’d clerked for, whose opinion I value more than almost anyone, to ask for words of wisdom. The advice he gave me was incredible, and I must have read his email a hundred times over the next 12 hours until I went in to the courthouse. He reminded me that I couldn’t lie to myself about how nervous I was, how high the stakes were, and how hard my case was. So, he said, “don’t f— it up.” If I could have that embroidered on a pillow, I would. I stayed up late, prepared until I knew I had done everything I could to avoid f-ing up, and was completely on my game at the argument. (We got the TRO, and the clinic stayed open.)

What has the #MeToo movement meant to the legal profession?

The hashtag is new, but the issues aren’t. #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #TimesUp are reminders that lawyers have a responsibility to use our privilege to challenge oppression wherever it appears. Our professional obligations include the duty to speak up when we know another lawyer has violated the rules of professional conduct; but our ability to promote justice is much broader, and we should use it.

In 50 words or less, what does the legal profession need to do to improve opportunities for women lawyers?

Every lawyer should seek out opportunities to teach, mentor, and otherwise make space for lawyers with less privilege: not only women, but also lawyers of color, who are LGBTQIA, who have disabilities, who are from other traditionally marginalized groups, and who are at the intersections of those identities.

Michelle Bachelet, new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gives major interview

October 18, 2018

In August 2018, Michelle Bachelet, twice-elected President of Chile was confirmed as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/]. Minutes after she was approved, UN chief Antonio Guterres told reporters he was “delighted” by the news of her official appointment, describing Ms. Bachelet, a “pioneer”, has been “as formidable a figure in her native Chile, as she has at the United Nations”. Shortly after assuming office in early September, Ms. Bachelet was in New York for the General Assembly’s high-level general debate. She spoke then with UN News on the rights situation around the world, the priorities for her tenure, and how can rights be better protected. It was published on 17 October 2018.

Bearing in mind her own personal experience of being detained and tortured in Chile, the interview started with a question on how she overcame the hardships she suffered under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (file photo) ILO/M. Creuset

Michelle Bachelet: ….there was a period of my life that I really hated what was happening – I had so much rage. But afterwards, I started thinking, “you know what, I do not want this to happen anymore in Chile or in any other country of the world. So, what can I do to contribute, that Chile will be a peaceful, democratic society?” So, I sort of put all my energies on that, and that is why I started working on defence issues to be able to speak to the militaries, because I never thought I was going to be Minister of the Defence or President of the Republic.,,I would say it permitted me to understand that, first of all, lessons learned, and if you really want some objective, and in a possible, constructive way, it can be done.

As the High Commissioner, you have come in a time when human rights are under serious attack globally. What your priorities are going to be?

Michelle Bachelet: …. first of all, of course, my priorities are to do what my mandate tells me to do, to be the voice of the voiceless. But also to engage with governments so they respect human rights, protect people from rights violations, and promote human rights.

….But one of my particular priorities from the Secretary-General is prevention. I am not saying I will succeed on that, maybe not. But I will try to design a system where we can have early warning signs and try to think on early action. …..

Right now, some countries do not want to cooperate with OHCHR or question the worth of the Human Rights Council. How do you plan on bringing everyone together?

Michelle Bachelet: In my opening statement, I spoke about, that consensus could be possible, that we should not lose ourselves in sterile disputes. Of course human rights is a very political thing and you see that here in the General Assembly, in the Security Council, so it is not in the Human Rights Council, by itself.

I mean, countries have their visions, their interests, and sometimes, they are not interested in some issues. But what I have been doing is meeting, not only with the whole council, but with groups of countries in Geneva such as the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the African countries, the Arab countries, the Asia-Pacific countries, the West European and Other countries, the Eastern European countries, speaking but also listening. Because, sometimes, you know what you have to do, but the way you do it can be more successful than others. Sometimes you need to speak out. Sometimes you need to strategize in terms of saying, look, it will work better if we do diplomatic prevention, if we start engaging the government. But today the world is complicated, and it is very polarized in some issues………

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What progress do you think has been done in the past 70 years?

Michelle Bachelet: …..Think of 1948: how many countries allowed women to vote, for example; how many respected of freedom of speech. If you think of the different aspects of the human rights, even in more complete things that usually people do not think of as human rights, but they are human rights: on health, on education, on sanitation, on housing. The world today is better than 70 years ago. But having said that, there are a lot of threats, there are a lot of threats for multilateralism, there is a lot of threat and pushback on human rights. …We see a pushback, we see that in some documents, human rights is not mentioned, and when you ask, they say, “it is mainstream.” And if it is mainstreamed, it is fantastic, because everybody’s doing their job. But if it is invisible, mainstream, that is not a good thing. On the other hand we see human rights defenders and civil society having their space shrink. They have been under attack. Journalists have been killed.

So there is a lot of challenges. The only thing I can say is that the struggle for human rights probably will never end, because it is a process where you advance, but there will be always people who want to push back, and that could be governments or that could be armed groups. The task of the UN is to ensure and promote the whole human rights system. And I will do what I have to do about it, but it cannot be only the task of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has to be the task of the whole UN system….

I would like to ask you about protecting those who protect: human rights defenders are often targets of abuse and violence. How can they be better protected?

Michelle Bachelet: Well, the curious thing is that, as we are celebrating the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are celebrating 20 years of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. And in November 2017, a resolution on the protection of human rights defenders was approved unanimously by the General Assembly.  No country voted against it. So, the issue is: on paper things can look very good, but reality is another thing. I think we have the task of making people accountable for the things they have approved. Second, to monitor implementation of those agreements that everybody has made, and engage governments, and in the cases where things are happening, holding them accountable and responsible for the killings, the torture, the detentions of many human rights defenders.

You have been a very important defender of women’s rights. How is that going to continue, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Michelle Bachelet: The thing is that, people tend to see OHCHR as only concerned with civil and political rights, and that is not it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states the rights for migrants, for children, for women; right to health, to education. It is very comprehensive. Even though I am not intending to replace any other agency, I always speak about gender issues, gender empowerment. This morning I was speaking about women who are women’s human rights defenders, who have been attacked, threatened with rape.

I will be always raising the voice for women, trying to support their capacities, and building partnership with UN Women, as we have spoken with Henrietta Fore, the head of UNICEF to see how we can create synergies. …..

One of the most pressing issues for the entire world is climate change. How are human rights linked to the environment?

Michelle Bachelet: ..There are so many concrete consequences that will be effects in people’s lives and their rights. That is why we also believe that working strongly to combat climate change is a very essential task, including of the High Commissioner. I think also that we need to be more part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and how we support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ..

And climate change is of huge importance, because I have seen places where there is no more water and people who depend agriculture, mainly women, and now have to think how they get their incomes. With climate change, we have seen, and scientists tell us … about worsening natural disasters and extreme weather, forest fires. And all of these will have a lot of consequences for the life of people. It is very important to work very closely on that, too. I completely agree with the Secretary-General when said that this is one of the major, major challenges that we have.

Full interview at: Human Rights