Posts Tagged ‘intimidation’

How social media companies can identify and respond to threats against human rights defenders

October 15, 2019

global computer threats

Image from Shutterstock.

Ginna Anderson writes in the ABA Abroad of 3

..Unfortunately, social media platforms are now a primary tool for coordinated, state-aligned actors to harass, threaten and undermine advocates. Although public shaming, death threats, defamation and disinformation are not unique to the online sphere, the nature of the internet has given them unprecedented potency. Bad actors are able to rapidly deploy their poisoned content on a vast scale. Social media companies have only just begun to recognize, let alone respond, to the problem. Meanwhile, individuals targeted through such coordinated campaigns must painstakingly flag individual pieces of content, navigate opaque corporate structures and attempt to survive the fallout. To address this crisis, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube must dramatically increase their capacity and will to engage in transparent, context-driven content moderation.

For human rights defenders, the need is urgent. .. Since 2011, the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR) has ..noted with concern the coordination of “traditional” judicial harassment of defenders by governments, such as frivolous criminal charges or arbitrary detention, with online campaigns of intimidation. State-aligned online disinformation campaigns against individual defenders often precede or coincide with official investigations and criminal charges.

……

While social media companies generally prohibit incitement of violence and hate speech on their platforms, CHR has had to engage in additional advocacy with social media companies requesting the removal of specific pieces of content or accounts that target defenders. This extra advocacy has been required even where the content clearly violates a social media company’s terms of service and despite initial flagging by a defender. The situation is even more difficult where the threatening content is only recognizable with sufficient local and political context. The various platforms all rely on artificial intelligence, to varying degrees, to identify speech that violates their respective community standards. Yet current iterations of artificial intelligence are often unable to adequately evaluate context and intent.

Online intimidation and smear campaigns against defenders often rely on existing societal fault lines to demean and discredit advocates. In Guatemala, CHR recently documented a coordinated social media campaign to defame, harass, intimidate and incite violence against human rights defenders. Several were linked with so-called “net centers,” where users were reportedly paid to amplify hateful content across platforms. Often, the campaigns relied on “coded” language that hark back to Guatemala’s civil war and the genocide of Mayan communities by calling indigenous leaders communists, terrorists and guerrillas.

These terms appear to have largely escaped social media company scrutiny, perhaps because none is a racist slur per se. And yet, the proliferation of these online attacks, as well as the status of those putting out the content, is contributing to a worsening climate of violence and impunity for violence against defenders by specifically alluding to terms used to justify violence against indigenous communities. In 2018 alone, NPR reports that 26 indigenous defenders were murdered in Guatemala. In such a climate, the fear and intimidation felt by those targeted in such campaigns is not hyperbolic but based on their understanding of how violence can be sparked in Guatemala.

In order to address such attacks, social media companies must adopt policies that allow them to designate defenders as temporarily protected groups in countries that are characterized by state-coordinated or state-condoned persecution of activists. This is in line with international law that prohibits states from targeting individuals for serious harm based on their political opinion. To increase their ability to recognize and respond to persecution and online violence against human rights defenders, companies must continue to invest in their context-driven content moderation capacity, including complementing algorithmic monitoring with human content moderators well-versed in local dialects and historical and political context.

Context-driven content moderation should also take into account factors that increase the risk that online behavior will contribute to offline violence by identifying high-risk countries. These factors include a history of intergroup conflict and an overall increase in the number of instances of intergroup violence in the past 12 months; a major national political election in the next 12 months; and significant polarization of political parties along religious, ethnic or racial lines. Countries where these and other risk factors are present call for proactive approaches to identify problematic accounts and coded threats against defenders and marginalized communities, such as those shown in Equality Labs’ “Facebook India” report.

Companies should identify, monitor and be prepared to deplatform key accounts that are consistently putting out denigrating language and targeting human rights defenders. This must go hand in hand with the greater efforts that companies are finally beginning to take to identify coordinated, state-aligned misinformation campaigns. Focusing on the networks of users who abuse the platform, instead of looking solely at how the online abuse affects defenders’ rights online, will also enable companies to more quickly evaluate whether the status of the speaker increases the likelihood that others will take up any implicit call to violence or will be unduly influenced by disinformation.

This abuser-focused approach will also help to decrease the burden on defenders to find and flag individual pieces of content and accounts as problematic. Many of the human rights defenders with whom CHR works are giving up on flagging, a phenomenon we refer to as flagging fatigue. Many have become fatalistic about the level of online harassment they face. This is particularly alarming as advocates targeted online may develop skins so thick that they are no longer able to assess when their actual risk of physical violence has increased.

Finally, it is vital that social media companies pursue, and civil society demand, transparency in content moderation policy and decision-making, in line with the Santa Clara Principles. Put forward in 2018 by a group of academic experts, organizations and advocates committed to freedom of expression online, the principles are meant to guide companies engaged in content moderation and ensure that the enforcement of their policies is “fair, unbiased, proportional and respectful of users’ rights.” In particular, the principles call upon companies to publicly report on the number of posts and accounts taken down or suspended on a regular basis, as well as to provide adequate notice and meaningful appeal to affected users.

CHR routinely supports human rights defenders facing frivolous criminal charges related to their human rights advocacy online or whose accounts and documentation have been taken down absent any clear justification. This contributes to a growing distrust of the companies among the human rights community as apparently arbitrary decisions about content moderation are leaving advocates both over- and under-protected online.

As the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression explained in his 2018 report, content moderation processes must include the ability to appeal the removal, or refusal to remove, content or accounts. Lack of transparency heightens the risk that calls to address the persecution of human rights defenders online will be subverted into justifications for censorship and restrictions on speech that is protected under international human rights law.

A common response when discussing the feasibility of context-driven content moderation is to compare it to reviewing all the grains of sand on a beach. But human rights defenders are not asking for the impossible. We are merely pointing out that some of that sand is radioactive—it glows in the dark, it is lethal, and there is a moral and legal obligation upon those that profit from the beach to deal with it.

Ginna Anderson, senior counsel, joined ABA CHR in 2012. She is responsible for supporting the center’s work to advance the rights of human rights defenders and marginalized dommunities, including lawyers and journalists at risk. She is an expert in health and human rights, media freedom, freedom of expression and fair trial rights. As deputy director of the Justice Defenders Program since 2013, she has managed strategic litigation, fact-finding missions and advocacy campaigns on behalf of human rights defenders facing retaliation for their work in every region of the world

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how-can-social-media-companies-identify-and-respond-to-threats-against-human-rights-defenders

Andrew Gilmour’s 2019 report on reprisals: it gets worse but response remains mostly rhetoric

September 23, 2019

UN Human Rights Office). The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent.  Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists. “Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us.  This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said. The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year.  It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations. “Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations. “A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.” He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations.  However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/%5D

However, the ISHR – which has followed the phenomenon much more systematically, made a more detailed and sombre assessment on 19 September: “Beyond rhetoric – States should step up efforts to prevent reprisals”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/] and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/]

It notes that during the second interactive dialogue on reprisals with the Assistant Secretary-General, only Germany and Costa Rica raised specific cases of reprisals in Egypt and Nicaragua, respectively. The Bahamas and the Maldives shared good practices. Other States condemned reprisals rhetorically, expressing particular concern about reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders and LGBTIQ defenders, as well as by Council members.

During the dialogue Germany followed up again on the case of Egyptian lawyer Ebrahim Metwally who was arrested on his way to Geneva to attend a meeting with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He was tortured and has been detained since September 2017. During the first interactive dialogue in September 2018, Germany was the only country to raise concern over an individual victim of reprisals. Costa Rica was the only other country to raise a specific situation of reprisals this year: it expressed particular concern about acts of intimidation and reprisals in Nicaragua.

The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.

The Maldives also told the Council that it is investigating the deaths of human rights defender Yameen Rashid and journalist Ahmed Rilwan to bring the perpetrators to justice; that the defamation law providing imprisonment sentences for journalists was repealed in November 2018; and that an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act is currently considered in parliament, which would guarantee that the Commission can communicate with international organizations. The Maldives agreed with the Assistant Secretary-General that the powerful impact of prevention is through a zero tolerance policy for reprisals and committed to condemn all reprisals as a matter of urgency. The Maldives admitted that that they ‘have seen it first hand and do not want to bear witness to it again!’.

In its statement during the interactive dialogue, ISHR asked the Assistant Secretary-General what steps should be taken to ensure a more comprehensive report to the Council. This came in response to notably missing cases that ISHR submitted implicating Brazil, Russia and the United States.  The Assistant Secretary-General acknowledged ISHR’s leading role in efforts to end reprisals, expressed his concern regarding the situations mentioned, but disagreed with ISHR’s statement that Secretary-General Guterres is pandering to certain States, ignoring victims’ legitimate claims and undermining efforts to protect victims from reprisals. He explained that the particular case raised by ISHR concerning remarks made by the then U.S. National Security Adviser, Mr. John R. Bolton, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo did not fall under the reporting mandate of the Secretary-General as the intimidation related to the International Criminal Court. However, ISHR recalls that the Secretary General’s 2018 reprisals report stated that ‘while recognising the independent judicial character of the International Criminal Court, the Court is regarded as a related organisation in the United Nations’ and cases related to the ICC have been included several times previously, for example:

  • The 2018 reprisals report documented that two defenders in Iraq faced reprisals after attending a preparation meeting for a conference aimed at calling on Iraq to join the Court (para 29).
  • The 2017 reprisals report included Israel in the reprisals report regarding incidents of reprisals and intimidation of defenders engaging with or promoting engagement with the International Criminal Court (para 39).

Read ISHR’s full statement at the interactive dialogue here.

UN human rights report shows rise in reprisals against activists, victims

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc42-beyond-rhetoric-states-should-step-efforts-prevent-reprisals

 

 

Intimidation and Reprisals on UN premises – NGOs ask for more action

September 17, 2019

On 23 August 2019, 23 NGOs wrote to the United Nations to raise concerns over the alarming pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society during sessions of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies. The letter calls on the ASG to raise this issue during his speech before the HRC on 19 September 2019, and urges the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of reprisals are not repeated in the future. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/05/human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

Below is the original text of the letter, as sent to the UN representatives in question:

To: Mr Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; H.E. Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal and President of the Human Rights Council; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Mr Gilmour, 

We, the undersigned organisations, write to raise deep concerns about a consistent pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society from around the world during sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Treaty Bodies. We are particularly concerned by acts of intimidation perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. 

During the 41st session of the HRC, staff of Permanent Missions and individuals wearing non-diplomatic badges, who were later verified as working with UN Member and Observer States, attended our side-events, and blatantly eavesdropped on our conversations, recorded our comments, took photos and videos of the audience, and made threatening gestures and remarks. 

We are all the more concerned as this is not the first time that human rights defenders and other individuals engaging with the HRC have faced acts of harassment and intimidation. Rather, these tactics are part of a consistent and systematic pattern of behaviour that we have unfortunately come to anticipate and expect at every session of the HRC. 

Furthermore, HRDs engaging with the Treaty Bodies also face intimidation and reprisals perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. There have been multiple instances of so-called “GONGOs” – governmental non-governmental organisations – registering for confidential and closed briefings with Treaty Bodies’ members. This allows them to know exactly who among civil society is present during these briefings. There has also been cases of briefings that have been filmed without the permission of NGOs. 

What is more, governments’ support given to GONGOs means that they are often granted consultative status with the UN. On the contrary, independent NGOs continue to be denied the ECOSOC status, demonstrating that reprisals against HRDs also occur within the UN system. In addition, the proliferation of GONGOs both at the HRC and Treaty Bodies, allows them to influence the discourse about human rights in a particular state or region, thus minimising the real issues at stake. 

The aforementioned acts of harassment and intimidation are concerning not only because they create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, but also because numerous human rights defenders who have travelled to Geneva to participate in HRC or Treaty Body sessions have faced reprisals upon their return to their countries as a direct result of this. As such, we take these acts of intimidation very seriously and submit that they may result in further acts of retaliation.

We note with appreciation that the current president of the HRC, his Excellency Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal, addressed some of the issues raised in this letter during the final meeting of the 41st session of the HRC. He expressed his concern that “civil society organisations continue to face intimidation and reprisals” and pointed out that a number of cases had been reported to him, including of verbal harassment and unauthorised photographs taken during side-events. He emphasised that “any acts of intimidation against any individual or group that attempts to cooperate with the Human Rights Council is unacceptable”, and reminded Member and Observer States of their responsibility to ensure that civil society operate in a safe space. 

In addition, in July 2019, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, working in conjunction with the University of Oxford, Tibet Justice Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council launched the report “Compromised Space for Unrepresented Peoples at the United Nations”. Based on interviews and testimonies from 77 HRDs working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples, it identifies a systematic attack on the UN human rights system by certain governments. This is characterised by “blocking tactics […] including deferring ECOSOC status decisions, and intervening in plenary statements, to more overt instances of harassment, intimidation and outright violence, which constitute state reprisals”. Such challenges are compounded for HRDs from minority, indigenous and marginalised groups.

While we acknowledge that HRC presidents, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) reprisals team, the Treaty Bodies’ focal points for reprisals and yourself have all previously raised awareness on this issue, we strongly believe that there is a need to draw further attention to such acts of intimidation and harassment. We further note that to date, the OHCHR has not developed a systematic and practical response to the practices outlined in this letter. 

It is our contention that failure to sanction reprisals on UN premises will only embolden such acts elsewhere. Therefore, we call on you to raise this grave pattern during the presentation of the UNSG annual report on reprisals during the 42nd session of the HRC. We also call on you to urge the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of intimidation do not happen in the future. 

Yours sincerely, 

  1. Access Now 
  2. ALQST 
  3. Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 
  4. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. CCPR Centre 
  8. Committee for Justice 
  9. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
  10. Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
  11. MENA Rights Group 
  12. The Omani Centre for Human Rights
  13. OMCT
  14. Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 
  15. International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE 
  16. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 
  17. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism 
  18. Right Livelihood Foundation 
  19. Rights Realization Centre 
  20. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  21. Statelessness Network Asia Pacific 
  22. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
  23. World Uyghur Congress 

https://unpo.org/article/21663

 

Ending reprisals: side event in Geneva on 18 September

September 13, 2019

I provided already a list of side events at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/09/42nd-session-of-the-human-rights-council-list-of-side-events/]. Here is one that is really crucial: Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts.

It takes place on Wednesday, 18 September 2019, 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm in Room VIII, Palais des Nations, Geneva

The event seeks to provide a space for human rights defenders and experts to shed light on the nature and extent of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN; discuss and expand on the Secretary-General’s report; and consider efforts to date to address reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN as well as ways to further develop and strengthen policies and practices to prevent and address reprisals.

Panellists:

Moderator:  Phil Lynch, ISHR Director

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals (among many): https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

 

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/alert-to-the-human-rights-councils-35th-session-32381?e=d1945ebb90

Environmental defenders in Alberta, Canada, be warned….oil will get you

July 9, 2019

2019-07-01_thumb

Press Progress blog of 3 July 2019 analyses the agressive tone of Alberta‘s Premier Jason Kenney, who talks of “war” on environmental defenders. Civil liberties groups and human rights organizations are warning that his new “war room” is an attempt to intimidate critics and put a chill on free expression rights in the province. Described as a “fully staffed, rapid response” unit mandated to respond to “all the lies” about the oil industry, the $30 million “war room” is part of Kenney’s so-called “fight back strategy” that aims to wage war against environmental groups. Kenney has also indicated he will launch a public inquiry into the activities of environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation, while Kenney’s energy minister has promised the government will assemble a team of lawyers to launch lawsuits against environmentalists.

“Talk of a war room, focused on targeting ‘offending’ environmentalists, seems determined to send a clear message,” Amnesty International Canada Executive Director Alex Neve told PressProgress. Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms program, agrees the campaign’s stated mission could be “very problematic from a free expression perspective.”

Standing behind Kenney at the press conference was Vivian Krause, a self-described “researcher” who focuses on “the money behind environmental campaigns.” Krause’s research, which is often panned by her critics as a “conspiracy theory,” claims environmental groups funded by the Rockefeller Brothers are secretly working to cap oil production in Alberta.

Also sharing the stage with Krause and Kenney was Tim McMillan, President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Oil Producers (CAPP) as well as Sandip Lalli, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Kenney was introduced at the press conference by Robbie Picard, an oil activist who has been involved with groups like Canada Action and Rally for Resources, but better known for creating the “I Love Oilsands” t-shirts. As Maclean’s notes, Picard is known to be “a bit too enthusiastic in his cheerleading” for the oil industry, as well — in a 2018 appearance on Rebel Media, Picard described environmentalists as “terrorists” who should face “six months in jail” for protesting the oil industry.

Jason Kenney’s ‘War Room’ is a Threat to Free Speech, Say Civil Liberties and Human Rights Groups

ISHR on Reprisals: UN and States must do more to address reprisals

May 13, 2019

On 6 May 2019 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) submitted two reports to the UN Secretary General on the topic of reprisals against human rights defenders. The conclusion is that many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms. The reports were prepared in response to the call made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights inviting representatives of civil society to provide information on preventing and addressing acts of intimidation and reprisals related to cooperation with the United Nations. This blog has devoted many posts to this nefarious issue, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

Read the rest of this entry »

ISHR: new report on reprisals and restrictions against NGO participation in the UN

June 8, 2018

There are many different approaches States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report of 30 May 2018 [The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations] outlines what these are and provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter reprisals and restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies’. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report, ‘The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations‘ documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to physical threats and attacks.

States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’. Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to coöperate with the UN are well documented.

These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

I have published many posts on the issue of reprisals [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/] starting with https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

UN Rapporteurs urge ASEAN summit to address regional human rights concerns

November 11, 2017

Four UN human rights experts*(including Michel Forst, the Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders) have called on states to address pressing human rights issues during the 31st ASEAN Summit being held from 10-14 November in the Philippines. Recognising the important work of the many active civil society organisations across the region, the experts expressed concern about “a worrying deterioration in the environment in which they operate.

Human rights defenders, social activists, lawyers, journalists, independent media and even parliamentarians trying to speak out and protect the rights of others, increasingly face a multitude of risks ranging from judicial harassment and prosecution to threats, disappearances and killings,” said the experts. They observed rising numbers of cases of serious human rights violations affecting among others, people working on women’s rights, environmental and land issues and lawyers dealing with drug cases.

The experts called on the 10 ASEAN Member States to amend or repeal existing legislation and to reconsider draft laws that are being or could be applied to criminalize or restrict the vital work of civil society.  “We condemn the public vilification, harassment, arrests and killings of members of civil society, and call on Member States to rigorously uphold their duty to ensure the freedom and protection of those exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the experts said. “Independent media, members of civil society and human rights defenders should be viewed as partners and as an essential element of democracy.

 

This summit should be seen as an opportunity to make real progress on these issues and to show the world that the Member States of ASEAN are fully committed to securing the human rights of all in the region,” the group said.

(*) The UN experts are: Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;  Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22380&LangID=E

Repressive governments and Ophelia compete to prevent HRDs to travel to Dublin

October 18, 2017

Andrew Anderson, the executive director of Front Line Defenders, published a piece at the beginning of the Dublin Platform for Human Rights hosted by Front Line Defenders in Ireland

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders
Thwe Thwe Win is one of the 117 at-risk activists invited to the 2017 Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders who actually made it to the bi-anual gathering of global activists. ….

Like thousands of people trying to get into Ireland on Monday, dozens of our international guests had flights canceled or postponed. Another 11, however, were prevented from attending long before Ophelia hit, banned from leaving home by their governments…..It is an opportunity for defenders typically preoccupied with defending their communities – and surviving the threats that ensure – to spend 72 hours not being physically surveilled by a totalitarian state, threatened at work by an extremist group, or receiving menacing phone calls demanding their stop their activism. It is an opportunity to relax, something activists tend to forget to do. It is also a chance for defenders to learn from their peers around the world. Feminists from Nigeria strategise with Colombians about how to peacefully defend indigenous land from paramilitaries. Emirati human rights defenders chat to Moroccans about the high-tech spying software both their governments recently purchased. Bahrainis lament with Bangladeshis the unrelenting influence of Saudi Arabia in each oppressive state’s policies. Rights activists from most of the former Soviet block tend to tease the Russian about their own governments’ adopting a “copy and paste” approach to many of Russia’s anti-NGO laws.

This year there will be a noticeable gap in our Dublin Castle crowd. Last week, we learned that our Kuwaiti invitee was threatened by state officials not to travel. The Bahraini invited is currently in detention; last time she was there, they sexually assaulted her. The second young Bahraini woman we invited in her place – who boldly took to Twitter to speak out for the former – now has a travel ban. The Saudi activist learned he was on an intelligence surveillance list last week; he rang our Blackrock office to say he was too scared to leave home. The Gulf has been a blackhole of restrictions of freedom of movement for human rights defenders for some time now, but unfortunately that’s not the end of it. Our Syrian colleague has had his passport confiscated by state security in Turkey, and a Ukrainian lawyer has yet to be granted permission to travel.

An activist in Cameroon was arrested for his peaceful activism a few weeks ago – he won’t be joining us this week; he’s in prison. A Cuban human rights defender planned to leave home in Guantanamo City extra early, knowing he’d be stopped at the town’s many American-run military checkpoints – security in Guantanamo is tight. Ultimately, he was never granted the “exit permit” required to leave Cuba. In Colombia, David Rabelo Crespo was recently released from prison after 7 years for a crime he did not commit, but has still been forbidden from travel to Dublin.

Governments world-over know that it is not laws, conventions, or UN resolutions that bring human rights reform to a country – it’s people. They know that activists are only as powerful as their communities, both local and international, and are working harder than ever to ensure that networks of solidarity cannot flourish.

Radical social change – the kind that undermines dictatorships, dismembers racist populist tides, secures indigenous peoples’ rights to their land – has always been born out of collective struggle. It is clear that in preventing our human rights defender colleagues from Bahrain, Kuwait, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Syria, and Bolivia from traveling, the respective authorities are not only vindictive, they are terrified of activists. Authoritarians think that if they lock human rights defenders away – behind bars or travel bans or physical attacks – that we will stop listening, that we will forget them. Authoritarians are wrong……….When governments work hard to silence activists, we must work harder to hear them.” [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/closing-civil-society-space-a-euphemism-for-killing-human-rights-defenders/#more-7208]

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights,made statement on 17 October 2017 which is worth reading in its totality but I copy here only the part on reprisals:

At times – as some of you have experienced or witnessed – engagement with the UN on human rights can lead to reprisals and intimidation. This has been a long-standing concern to the Organization, and we are distressed at the increasing number of such acts. These range from travel bans, threats and harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, restrictive legislation, physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, denial of access to medical attention, and even killings. Intimidation of human rights defenders is happening all the time. The purpose is to penalize individuals who have already spoken out, thereby also sending a signal to many others from speaking out in future.

Recognising the gravity of this issue, last October the Secretary-General announced that he had asked me to lead efforts to strengthen UN-wide action for prevention of, protection against, investigation into and accountability for reprisals. Many Governments are very supportive, and have offered resources for this endeavor. Our host country Ireland is very strong in this regard. We are trying to get as much information about what is going on, and for this we need your input, and will circulate our email address to help us get it.… I recount a few lines of what I said in my speech to the Human Rights Council three weeks ago as I presented the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals:

We believe the significance of this report goes far beyond the individual cases contained in it. I think we should see these individuals as the canary in the coal mine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all. (…)

It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases to you, the UN membership, of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their respective Governments – was to cooperate with the UN institutions and mechanisms whose mandate of course derives from you, the UN membership. (…)

I salute the extraordinary courage that it sometimes takes for the victims and their families to come forward and share their stories with us, and also the dedication of the civil society organizations who act on behalf of those affected.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

Sources:

Its people and not laws that bring human rights reform to a country

http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22251&LangID=E

United Nations’ Andrew Gilmour: HRDs are like “the canary in the coalmine, bravely singing until they are silenced..”

September 22, 2017

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights (file). UN Photo/Manuel Elias

On 20 September 2017 the UN reported that a  growing number of human rights defenders around the world are facing reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the United Nations, ranging from travel bans and the freezing of assets to detention and torture, says a new report issued by the world body.

“It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their governments – was to cooperate with UN institutions and mechanisms,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour“We should see these individuals as the canary in the coalmine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all,” Mr. Gilmour told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as he presented the Secretary-General’s report.

The report, the eighth of its kind, names 29 countries where cases of reprisal and intimidation have been documented; this is higher than the previous highest number of 20. Eleven of the States are current members of the Human Rights Council, a news release pointed out. Some have featured in the annual report on reprisals nearly every year since it was instituted in 2010. [see my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/23/reprisals-at-the-un-more-calls-for-action-no-action/]

Mr. Gilmour told the Council that the problem was much more widespread than presented in the report. “Since this report is limited to reprisals against people cooperating with the UN, the cases covered in it represent only a small portion of a far more generalized backlash against civil society and others challenging State authorities, especially human rights defenders”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

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Amnesty International has launched a campaign to publicize what it says is a worsening situation for human rights activists throughout the world. The group hopes its “Brave” campaign will persuade governments to keep the promises they made in United Nations treaties to protect defenders of human rights. The organization Front Line Defenders says 281 people were killed in 2016 for defending human rights. In 2015, the number was 156.

Guadalupe Marengo, head of Amnesty’s Human Rights Defenders Program, told the VOA that “In the current context of us-versus-them, of demonization, of full frontal attack actually I would say on human rights, it is crucial that we take stock and that we call on the authorities to stop these attacks immediately.” …….Amnesty says human rights defenders are arrested, kidnapped and killed around the world. It says they are also attacked using online technology. Surveillance tools are used to study their activity. Marengo says campaigns launched on social media tell lies about the activists in an attempt to cause others to oppose them. “They are accused of being terrorists; they are accused of being criminals, they are accused of defending ‘immorality.’” Amnesty International hopes the “Brave” program will show the worsening situation for human rights activists worldwide.

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To underscore the point the NGO CIVICUS made a statement to the same (36th) UN Human Rights Council based on a panel discussion on the rights of indigenous people. 

“I read this statement on behalf of 39 human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on indigenous, land and environmental rights from 29 countries who met in Johannesburg, South Africa from 7-9 August 2017 to discuss strategies to advance the protection of indigenous, land and environmental rights activists. Mr. President, 2016 surpassed 2015 as the deadliest year on record for those stood up against land grabbing, natural resource exploitation and environmental destruction. Worryingly, the number of killed has risen to 200 from 185 in 2016 and spread to several countries across the world.

In the current global climate, where repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly is becoming the norm rather than the exception, environmental and land defenders are particularly vulnerable. When we express concerns over the collusion between States and corporate actors, we face opposition – dissent is stifled and criminalised, and our lives are threatened. Often our work is discredited and we are labelled ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-development’.

When we protest peacefully against this attack on our resources and livelihoods, we face violence from state authorities, private security groups and state-sponsored vigilante groups. When we stand up to defend the rights of our communities, we face unfounded criminal charges, unlawful arrests, custodial torture, threats to life and liberty, surveillance, judicial harassment and administrative hurdles, among other actions.

Mr. President, our families are threatened into silence and many of us have had to make the difficult decision to flee our homes and go into exile, retreating from a fight that has become too dangerous. We need global action to counter the threats we face.

We ask the panellists to urge the Council to emphasise the need for all states to ensure that affected communities are adequately consulted, including securing their full consent prior to the development of infrastructure and extractive industries projects. “

Sources:

United Nations News Centre – Growing number of rights defenders facing reprisals for cooperating with UN

http://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/2953-joint-statement-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/amnesty-human-rights-campaign/3861696.html