Posts Tagged ‘judicial harassment’

Criticizing Kremlin leads to treason charges

October 8, 2022
Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza in Moscow.
Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza in Moscow. © 2021 AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

On 7 October 2022 Human Rights Watch criticised sharply the Russian charge of high treason against an opposition politician, Vladimir Kara-Murza. It is “a blatant attempt to quash any criticism of the Kremlin and deter contact with the international community“, Human Rights Watch said. 

This is the third baseless criminal charge against Kara-Murza since he was detained in April 2022. He has already been indicted for spreading “fake news” about the Russian Armed Forces because he publicly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and for alleged involvement with an “undesirable” foreign organization. He now risks an additional sentence of up 20 years if convicted on high treason charges. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/14/human-rights-defender-vladimir-kara-murza-arrested-in-russia/]

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a longstanding proponent of democratic values and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir  Putin and Russia’s war on Ukraine,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is painfully obvious that the Kremlin sees Kara-Murza as a direct and imminent threat.  These charges against him and his prolonged detention are a travesty of justice. Russian authorities should immediately and unconditionally free Kara-Murza and drop all charges against him.” See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/34e43b60-3236-11ea-b4d5-37ffeeddd006

Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, said the high treason charges relate to Kara-Murza’s  public criticism of the Russian authorities in international forums.

Kara-Murza has called for sanctions against the Kremlin and has spoken in person before national political bodies throughout Europe and in the United States, and at many international and intergovernmental forums, including at the United Nations. He was a key figure advocating for the US Magnitsky Act that gave rise to the Global Magnitsky sanctions regime for serious human rights violations.

Kara-Murza was also a close friend of the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. He survived two near-fatal poisonings, in 2015 and 2017, which Bellingcat investigative journalists reported was most likely orchestrated by the Russian Federal Security Service and which the Russian authorities have failed to investigate. 

Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February, the Russian authorities have expanded their repressive toolbox. In March, Russian authorities criminalized calls for sanctions against Russia, and in July also criminalized “confidential cooperation” with foreign states, international or foreign organizations as well as public calls for action that are “against national interests.”

These new provisions cannot be applied retroactively to the years of advocacy by Kara-Murza, Human Rights Watch said, and so he is being charged with high treason under Russia’s criminal code, which was expanded in November 2012. The definition was expanded to include consultations or any other assistance to a foreign state or international or foreign organizations…

Russia’s rules on prosecution and trial of treason cases also breach human rights safeguards, in particular fair trial guarantees. For example, the criminal case materials in such proceedings are classified so that the defense team may not have access to key pieces of evidence, and the trial takes place behind closed doors, preventing public scrutiny.

Ivan Safronov, a journalist, was recently convicted of high treason and sentenced to 22 years in maximum security prison and given a substantial fine for his journalistic investigations of defense contracts, spotlighting how treason cases are handled.  He was tried behind closed doors, key evidence obtained by fellow journalists was not accepted by the court, and his defense team came under immense pressure. Two of his lawyers had to flee the country, and a third was detained on accusations of spreading false information and remains in detention.

“Sadly, it is unrealistic to expect that fair trial standards will be observed in Kara-Murza’s case,” Williamson said. “By jailing leaders like him, Russian authorities are attempting to instill fear in the Russian people and eradicate any opportunity for civil society to mobilize and oppose the Kremlin and its war.” 

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/07/russia-first-treason-charges-criticizing-kremlin

Steven Donziger finally free..!

April 29, 2022

Steven Donziger, the human rights lawyer who took on Chevron, spent nearly a thousand days in jail or on house arrest. Amnesty says it was corporate retaliation.

This article originally appeared on 26 April at Common Dreams:

Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger walked free Monday after 993 days of detention stemming from his decades-long legal fight with Chevron, which deployed its vast resources in a campaign to destroy Donziger after he won a $9.5 billion settlement against the fossil fuel giant over its pollution of the Amazon rainforest.

“It’s over. Just left with release papers in hand,” Donziger wrote on Twitter. “Completely unjust that I spent even one day in this Kafkaesque situation. Not looking back. Onward.”

Donziger’s case has attracted global attention and outrage, with the UN high commissioner on human rights calling his prolonged detention a violation of international law. Lawmakers in the United States have also decried Donziger’s prosecution as an “unprecedented and unjust legal assault.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/14/why-is-the-harvard-administration-so-reluctant-to-speak-up-for-steven-donziger/

“We are relieved that Steven Donziger will finally recover his freedom after almost 1,000 days of arbitrary detention, which included 45 days in prison and over 900 days under house arrest,” Daniel Joloy, senior policy advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement Monday. “He should have never been detained for even one day, as it has been clear the whole process against him has been in retaliation for his human rights work that exposed corporate wrongdoings.”

“Corporations must not be allowed to continue abusing the U.S. justice system to silence and intimidate human rights defenders or anyone else exposing their wrongdoing,” Joloy added.

…In 2014, a federal judge with ties to Chevron ruled that Donziger was guilty of a “pattern of racketeering activity,” a charge he has denied. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision was based on testimony from a witness who later admitted to lying.

https://www.salon.com/2022/04/26/human-rights-lawyer-took-on-chevron-is-finally-free–after-993-days-_partner/

Fortify Rights calls on Thailand to drop charges against human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit

March 3, 2022

On 2 March 2022, Fortify Rights called on the Thai authorities to drop all remaining cases brought by Thai chicken company Thammakaset Company Limited against human rights defenders and protect the right to freedom of expression. On February 22, the Bangkok South Criminal Court rescheduled the start of the criminal defamation trial against Angkhana Neelapaijit to 25 April. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/0D5DED3E-F79F-4AB4-8261-F6A19486F062
 
Delaying the trial affects access to justice and leaves the defendant in fear and worry,” said Angkhana Neelapaijit. “It affects the person’s livelihood and freedom during the bail process. The delays are incredibly traumatizing.” 
 
Thammakaset first filed a complaint against Angkhana Neelapaijit more than two years ago, on October 25, 2019, alleging criminal defamation for posting two tweets on social media on December 3, 2018 and June 28, 2019 that expressed support for human rights defenders facing lawsuits by the company. On August 16, 2021, the court concluded that the case should proceed to trial following four preliminary hearings that spanned more than 17 months. The court originally scheduled the trial to start on March 3, 2022 but postponed the start due to rising COVID-19 cases in Thailand.
 
Angkhana Neelapaijit also faces a second criminal defamation complaint brought by Thammakaset in June 2020 that is part of a combined case that includes charges against Fortify Rights Senior Human Rights Specialist Puttanee Kangkun and Thanaporn Saleephol, a former Fortify Rights Communications Associate. The complaints against the three women all relate to similar social media posts expressing solidarity with others facing lawsuits brought by Thammakaset. The Bangkok South Criminal Court is scheduled to continue preliminary hearings on the combined case on March 21.

The Community Resource Center Foundationa Thai nonprofit and legal aid organization committed to promoting human rights, community rights, and environmental protection – is providing legal representation to human rights defenders facing complaints by Thammakaset, including in the cases against Angkhana Neelapaijit, Puttanee Kangkun, and Thanaporn Saleephol.

“Thailand should be proud and promote the work and achievements of Angkhana Neelapaijit as a strong Thai woman human rights defender, a winner of the prestigious Magsaysay award, and a former National Human Rights Commissioner,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “These types of lawsuits create an insecure environment for human rights defenders, hampering their ability to conduct critical activities that benefit the public. The case against Angkhana Neelapaijit and others should be dropped.” See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/03/magsaysay-awards-2019-honor-4-outstanding-asians/

On March 31, the Court of Appeal will also decide whether to uphold an earlier decision by the Criminal Court to acquit human rights defender and former Thammakaset employee Nan Win and former Fortify Rights Thailand Human Rights Specialist Sutharee Wannasiri of criminal defamation charges brought by Thammakaset in October 2018.
 
Since 2016, Thammakaset has filed at least 37 complaints against 22 human rights defenders. The courts have dismissed or ruled against the company in almost all cases.
 
In 2018, the National Legislative Assembly amended Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code, allowing judges to dismiss and forbid the refiling of a complaint by a private individual if the complaint is filed “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts to harass or take advantage of a defendant.” Section 165/2 also allows the presentation of evidence to show that the complaint “lacks merit.” Despite these amendments and specific requests for the court to apply Section 161/1 to prevent cases brought by Thammakaset from moving forward, the courts have allowed these cases to proceed.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/09/andy-hall-finally-acquitted-of-criminal-defamation-in-thailand/

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2203/S00035/thailand-drop-criminal-complaint-against-2019-magsaysay-award-winner-angkhana-neelapaijit.htm

Prosecution of human rights defender Öztürk Türkdoğan in Turkey should be dropped

February 23, 2022

All charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of Turkey’s most prominent human rights organisation and a respected lawyer, should be immediately dropped, Amnesty International said ahead of the start of his trial. Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), faces baseless charges of “membership of a terrorist organization”, “insulting a public official” and “insulting the Turkish nation and the Turkish state” for public statements he made in relation to his association’s human rights work.
See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/22/turkey-arrests-and-backsliding-on-femicide/.


The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan is an undisguised attack on this one human rights defender and also on all those who speak out for human rights in Turkey,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Research for Europe. “With these spurious charges against the co-chair of Turkey’s longest-standing human rights organisation, the prosecuting authorities send a chilling message that increases the climate of intense fear among Turkey’s already beleaguered human rights community.

According to IHD’s records, over 200 separate criminal investigations and prosecutions of IHD members and elected representatives of the organization are ongoing across Turkey.

The criminalization of human rights defenders and of the Human Rights Association are the true insults here. The authorities’ unrelenting attack on Öztürk Türkdoğan and Turkey’s civil society movement has to end,” said Julia Hall. “Turkey must immediately drop all charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan and create an enabling, protective environment for civil society in line with its obligations under international human rights law.”

In December 2021, the Turkish authorities initiated three separate prosecutions against Öztürk Türkdoğan. He was tried under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code allegedly for “insulting” a public official in a statement published on the IHD website on 29 June 2018. The first hearing of this prosecution, in which the Minister of Interior is the alleged victim, was held on 18 February 2022. The next hearing will be held on 11 May.

He was also charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the penal code after the authorities detained him and searched his home on 19 March 2021. During the search, his phone and laptop were confiscated. The first hearing for this case will take place on 22 February 2022.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/02/turkey-baseless-prosecution-of-ozturk-turkdogan-an-attack-on-all-those-who-speak-out-for-human-rights/

https://www.arabnews.com/node/2029361/middle-east


Interpol: UAE Major General and Chinese Public Security Official are not good candidates for Interpol!

November 16, 2021

INTERPOL is going to have its General Assembly on the 23 – 24 November 2021 in Lyon. The election of both its President and a member of the Executive Committee look terrible. Already in 2017 there was a problem: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/20/interpol-headed-by-chinese-police-official-human-rights-defenders-fearsome/. (The former chairman of Interpol Meng Hongwei was also a ministry of public security official, serving as vice-minister. However, Meng’s Interpol term ended prematurely in 2018 when he disappeared during a visit to China and was later jailed for 13 years on bribery charges, amid Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign targeting millions of officials.)

Several prominent members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have warned that the appointment of the Emirati official Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi to the position of president of Interpol would “undermine the mission and reputation” of the global police organisation. In a letter sent to the European Commission president, three MEPs urged European Union (EU) states to elect an Interpol chief that comes “from a country with an established criminal justice system and longstanding respect for human rights”.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), the French League for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights are also concerned about the candidacy of Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi call to reject him.

Ahmed Al-Raisi has been Inspector General of the UAE’s Interior Ministry since 2015 and is also in charge of the UAE police force. Under his leadership, forces have carried out repeated and systematic arbitrary detentions and tortured prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders with complete impunity. One of the most emblematic cases concerns human rights defender Ahmed Mansour. Winner of the 2015 Martin Ennals Award and member of the GCHR steering committee, Ahmed Mansour has been imprisoned since March 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in 2018 for, according to the authorities, criticising the Emirati government and tarnishing his country’s image on social networks. Since 2017, he has been held in solitary confinement in Al-Sadr prison, in a 4m2 cell, without access to medical, hygiene, water or sanitary facilities. The inhumane conditions of Ahmed Mansour’s imprisonment have been the subject of several appeals without any favourable response from the Emirati authorities. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]

According to reports of several NGOs, torture is used systematically in detention centres in order to obtain confessions of guilt or testimonies against other detainees, particularly in the prisons of Al-Razeen, Al-Wathba and Al-Sadr. In addition, some prisons, such as Al-Awair prison and the Al-Barsha police detention centre, are overcrowded and unsanitary, making it extremely difficult to comply with social distancing and recommended hygiene practices in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic….In addition, prisoners are regularly denied medication and medical treatment for pre-existing health problems or illnesses developed during detention. Several UN experts have condemned these practices and expressed their concerns to the UAE authorities in recent years, but the authorities have not changed their practices.

Such inhumane treatment is recurrent in the UAE and is in flagrant contravention of international law and the Nelson Mandela Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners. While Major General Al-Raisi is, by virtue of his office, responsible for investigating complaints of abuse by the police and security forces in his country, none have been conclusively investigated. In the absence of any enforceable accountability mechanisms in the UAE, the GCHR has filed a complaint in France, against General Major Al-Raisi for acts of torture. Unfortunately, Interpol did not listen: https://www.businessinsider.com/interpol-president-uae-official-accused-of-torture-elected-2021-11

Another problematic candidate is Hu Binchen, the deputy director-general of the Chinese Ministry of international cooperation department, who is one of three candidates vying for two seats as Asia delegates on the committee.

The 13-member executive committee oversees the work of Interpol’s general secretariat and helps set future policy. Interpol controls a number of databases containing identifying details of people and property, which assist in global policing. It also operates the system of red notices, which are requests “to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition”.

However, there are long-running concerns over governments or authorities misusing the system to track down dissidents. While there are clear rules against the use of red notices on refugees, high-profile cases have shown countries are repeatedly able to obtain red notices, against Interpol policy.

Activists and advocacy groups, as well as 50 members of an international cross-party group of legislators, the Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China, have lodged their objections at Hu’s potential election to the committee, noting alleged attempts by China to use the red notice system to target exiled Uyghur activists.

“By electing Hu Binchen to the executive committee, the general assembly would be giving a green light to the PRC government to continue their misuse of Interpol and would place the tens of thousands of Hong Kong, Uyghur, Tibetan, Taiwanese and Chinese dissidents living abroad at even graver risk,” said the letter from the Alliance, citing the July detention of Uyghur activist Idris Hassan in Morocco.

Allowing Interpol to be used as a vehicle for the PRC government’s repressive policies does great harm to its international standing.”

The human rights group Safeguard Defenders said the Chinese ministry’s international cooperation department, in which Hu is a senior official, oversaw operations named Sky Net and Fox Hunt, chasing down fugitives overseas. It alleged “teams were sent by the ministry “to intimidate and harass ethnic Chinese to force them to return to China ‘voluntarily’”. In a report also released on Monday, Safeguard Defenders said there had been a tenfold increase in the issuance of Chinese red notices between 2000 and 2020.

A later development is that 259 organizations, call on INTERPOL to immediately ban the Myanmar military junta from representing Myanmar as a member of INTERPOL. They demand that the military junta is excluded from the upcoming 89th INTERPOL General Assembly and all benefits and future cooperation that membership entails. [see: https://www.forum-asia.org/?p=36143]

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/litigation/open-letter-to-the-representatives-of-the-member-states-of-the

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/eu-lawmakers-say-uae-police-chief-would-undermine-interpols-reputation

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/15/chinese-official-seeks-interpol-role-sparking-fears-for-dissidents

https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/china-s-nominee-to-interpol-committee-opposed-by-lawmakers-from-20-countries-121111600231_1.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/20/uae-nominee-interpol-ahmed-naser-al-raisi-torture-claims

https://www.thestar.com/news/world/europe/2021/11/22/interpol-election-raises-rights-concerns-about-fair-policing.html

Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova being disbarred

February 10, 2021
Shahla Humbatova. Photo: US State Department.

On 9 February 2021 Hamida Giyasbayli of OC Media reports that Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova has vowed to fight disbarment procedures against her despite what she says is a campaign of ‘harassment and threats’ from the Bar Association.

The Azerbaijani Bar Association has accused Humbatova of submitting a fake document as evidence during a civil case she was litigating, a criminal offence. They have also accused her of owing ₼460 ($270) in membership fees.  The association has taken her to court in an attempt to disbar her, which would strip her of the right to practice law.

Humbatova is well known in Azerbaijan for taking on high-profile human rights cases, including those of queer Azerbaijanis as well as blogger Mehman Huseynov. The move to disbar her follows the disbarment of dozens of other human rights lawyers in recent years, leaving few remaining lawyers taking on such cases. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/e761cd05-65b0-4a02-8abe-e8ce9c58faed]

Speaking with OC Media, Humbatova said the allegation she submitted fake documents was baseless, and that her defence had submitted evidence proving this.

She confirmed that she had owed eight months of membership fees, but insisted the association did not make any effort to notify her of this. ‘I learned about this from the media the day after the Board’s decision [to take me to court]’, she said.  She immediately made the payment, so when the Bar went to court with her disbarment request, there was no longer any debt. Emin Abbasov, a legal practitioner who also works on human rights cases, criticised the proceedings against Humbatova for being conducted behind closed doors and without any records.  Abbasov, along with four others, is himself appealing to the European Court of Human Rights after being denied certification by the Bar Association.                                                                                                                     

Humbatova told OC Media that the move to disbar her was a continuation of the policy of dismantling human rights defenders in the country.  ‘It is lawyers and human rights activists who are fighting against politically motivated arrests, torture, repression of dissidents and those who simply demand their rights, and informing the public and international organisations. Therefore, they are being neutralised’, she stated.

In December 2019, 42 member organisations of the Human Rights House, a global rights group, called on the Azerbaijani Bar Association to ‘halt reprisals against a number of human rights lawyers, including Shahla Humbatova and Elchin Sadigov’. Sadigov is Humbatova’s current lawyer. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/annual-reports-2019-azerbaijan-in-review-muted-hope-for-2020/

Pakistan goes after family of escaped human rights defender Gulalai Ismail

February 4, 2021
Mohammed Ismail, above in 2019, faces charges of sedition and terrorism financing, which human rights defenders say are bogus and thinly veiled revenge against the family for embarrassing the state security services.
Mohammed Ismail, above in 2019,.Credit…Saiyna Bashir for The New York Times

Jeffrey Gettleman and Zia ur-Rehman report in the New York Times of 3 February 2021 that Mohammed Ismail, father of the women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail, now faces harsh terrorism charges that critics say are about revenge, not justice. (Digest: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/91dafeaf-7056-466f-82b9-4a380ba6391a]

Gulalai Ismail, one of Pakistan’s boldest human rights defenders and a stalwart critic of Pakistan’s security services, succeeded in escaping to the United States in 2019, humiliating the authorities who had been persecuting her. Now Pakistan has taken aim at her parents, accusing them of terrorism, and throwing her father, who was recovering from Covid-19, into jail.

A bail hearing ended with Mohammed Ismail being led away in handcuffs. He faces charges of sedition and terrorism financing, which human rights defenders say are bogus and thinly veiled revenge against the family for embarrassing the state security services.

Ms. Ismail, who now lives in New York and has applied for political asylum in the United States, said the charges against her and her parents were “malicious and false.” “This is about setting a precedent,” she said on Wednesday, by phone from Brooklyn. “If a woman raises her voice, the whole family will face consequences.

Ms. Ismail made a name for herself by spotlighting the rampant abuse of women and girls in Pakistan, especially gang rapes perpetuated by government soldiers. She also joined the Pashtun Protection Movement, a human rights protest group known as the P.T.M., and whose rallies became the focus of a massive crackdown by the Pakistani security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/06/gauri-lankesh-and-gulalai-ismail-win-2017-anna-politkovskaya-award/]

https://www.ucanews.com/news/civicus-demands-release-of-pakistani-rights-activist/91311#

EU law on corporate due diligence and SLAPPs: crucial and urgent matters

November 19, 2020

European Parliament is deciding its position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence should look like. Richard Gardiner (a Senior Campaigner for Corporate Accountability at Global Witness) on 2 September  2020 explains more and more recently (11 November 2020) a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups call on the EU to to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs)

As the European Parliament begins developing proposals for a new – and momentous – law to hold business to account for its impact on people and planet, Richard Gardiner sets out how this process came about and what needs to happen now to ensure this really delivers results.

Where are we now?

Following the publication of the European Commission study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence in early 2021.

In response to this announcement, Members of the European Parliament are now starting work to develop a European Parliament position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence could look like. This work will take place within the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee and will be led by MEP Lara Wolters.

The goal of this work is to influence the final Commission legislative proposal and ensure that the Commissioner follows through on his commitment to present an ambitious framework for this law.

Potential to be a real game changer?

Global Witness has long advocated for mandatory corporate accountability rules to tackle corporate abuse against people and planet.

Our recently published report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ shows that while land and environmental defenders continue to act as the first line of defence against climate breakdown, far too many businesses, financiers and governments either fail to protect them or – in the worst examples – can be complicit in the violence they face.

These brave people play a vital role challenging companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through virgin forests, protected wetlands, indigenous territories and biodiversity hotspots. They are on the frontline of our global, collective fight against climate change. However, despite their importance to the preservation of our planet, our report shows that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2019 – the bloodiest on record, with the deadliest sectors for this violence being mining, agribusiness and logging.

Our findings show that an average of four land and environmental defenders are killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. These are reinforced by our previous investigations on continued deforestation, minerals that fuel and fund conflict, and grand-scale corruption.

There is clearly a legislative gap when governments and citizens have no legal means to hold corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses. As the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU is now looking to lead the global debate on corporate accountability and this new law will shape not only corporate behaviour within the EU but also globally.

What needs to be in this new law?

Civil society united in their calls for the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. We have consistently pointed to the fact that voluntary measures have proved to be vastly insufficient and new legislation is urgently needed to establish clear, robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, to respect human rights and the environment.

As the European Parliament begins to discuss the details of corporate accountability legislation, Global Witness is part of a coalition of NGOs that has published its call to action for the key elements needed to hold businesses to account:

  • The new law must apply to all businesses, including finance, of all sizes and sectors acting in the EU.
  • Business must have a duty to address all the adverse human rights, environmental and governance impacts in their global supply chains.
  • Businesses must conduct Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) Due Diligence to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, monitor and account for their adverse risks.
  • Businesses must engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as part of their RBC due diligence.
  • Businesses must be made liable for the human rights, environmental and governance adverse impacts in their global value chains.

You can read the full paper here.

So what happens next?

The months between now and the end of the year promise to be extremely interesting on the topic of corporate accountability across all the EU institutions. Firstly, the European Parliament will aim to finalise its advice to the Commission by end 2020 in order to ensure that it can be taken into account in the Commission proposal. Secondly, the Commission has draft plans to release a public consultation on the new due diligence legislation in Autumn 2020 to get public input on how to draft their proposal.

And finally, the German Presidency of the European Council have indicated that due diligence is a key political priority for their Presidency and they will aim to have Council conclusions on this topic by the end of the year. At Global Witness, we will continue to engage with all the European institutions to ensure that EU policy makers live up to their commitments to introduce a meaningful and impactful new law.

SLAPPs: More and more journalists and civil society organisations are being sued by powerful businessmen and politicians. The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups calling on the EU to ensure those with a watchdog role are protected from gag lawsuits.

‘SLAPP’ stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. Expensive and unscrupulous law firms market this attack-dog service to powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years just to shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/]

This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The European Court of Human Rights and other national and regional courts have consistently and explicitly recognised in their judgments the important role a free press, and more broadly civil society, plays in holding the powerful to account. Their judgments reaffirm the obligation states have to create an environment that is conducive to free speech. Because without this, democracy weakens and dies.

The holes in our laws that allow powerful people to hammer their critics into submission are a hole in European democracy. Cases of abuse pepper the continent. Poland’s second-biggest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has received over 55 legal threats and lawsuits by a number of actors, including from Poland’s ruling party, since 2015.

French businessman Vincent Bolloré and companies affiliated with the Bollore Group have blanketed journalists and NGOs in libel suits to stop them covering his business interests in Africa. In Spain, meat producer Coren is demanding €1 million in damages from an environmental activist for criticising its waste management practices, having previously threatened activists and scientists who were researching nitrate levels in its local waters.

The people we depend on for information about what is happening around us are being distracted, impeded, or entirely blocked from pursuing their work by these costly and resource-intensive legal attacks. The situation is becoming skewed beyond recognition. When it comes to certain people, governments, companies and topics, it’s not writers, film makers or journalists who decide what we read, watch and talk about.

It’s not even the courts, for SLAPPs rarely make it to a hearing, let alone a court judgment. Rather, it’s the oligarchs and their associates in politics, through the lawyers they pay, who are shaping the narrative and preventing the truth from emerging.

We’ve seen a worrying pattern emerge in Europe of government officials or beneficiaries of large public contracts adopting the tactics of celebrities and oligarchs to shield themselves from the heightened level of scrutiny that their positions or financial links to government warrant. The fact that the threats are often cross-border ratchets up the costs for journalists and activists, who find themselves summoned to court far from home in Europe’s most expensive legal jurisdictions.

Awareness of this problem is growing. European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has promised to ‘look into all possible options’ to counter the threat SLAPPs pose to European democracy. One promising solution lies in the institutions of the European Union, and it could help realter the balance between pursuers of SLAPPs and the public’s right to be informed of matters in the public interest.

EU-wide legislation should be adopted to protect people across the European Union from SLAPPs. This has to be a priority. As in other parts of the world, rules should be in place across the EU to allow SLAPP suits to be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, to sanction SLAPP litigants for abusing the law and the courts, and to provide measures to allow victims to defend themselves.

When we consider the importance of public watchdogs such as investigative journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the absence of safeguards is a threat not only to press freedom but to the proper functioning of Europe’s internal market and, increasingly, to Europe’s democratic life.

The reality is that for every journalist or activist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters sent by law firms, perverting laws meant to protect the reputations of the innocent from attacks by the powerful.

SLAPPs are a far less barbaric means of silencing someone than a car bomb or a bullet to the head, but their silencing effect is often just as destructive.

Signatories

Andorra should drop charges against woman human rights defender Vanessa Mendoza

November 16, 2020

It is not often that Andorra figures in this blog but on 6 November 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) refers to the case of Vanessa Mendoza, the president of Associació Stop Violències, who demands that all women in Andorra are able to enjoy their rights to sexual and reproductive health, in particular the decriminalisation of abortion. Due to her advocacy including with the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), she is facing intimidation, judicial harassment and defamation.

Vanessa Mendoza, President of Associació Stop Violències, is facing at least two judicial proceedings related to her activism. In one case where she received formal notification, she is facing charges of slander against the government, defamation against the co-princes and crimes against the State institutions due to statements she made to the media and her engagement with CEDAW. These charges carry up to four years imprisonment. In a separate case in relation to organising a protest in September 2019 calling for decriminalising abortion, she was brought before the police to testify in November 2019, but has not yet received a formal notification of the charges she is facing

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Andorra, which took place on 5 November 2020, the State delegation of Andorra said that Mendoza ‘is not risking in any case a jail sentence’. ISHR urges Andorra to drop all charges against Mendoza, provide assurances that she will no longer face any intimidation, threats or judicial harassment, and guarantee her right to an effective remedy for the reprisals that she was subjected to.

ISHR welcomes the Netherlands’ statement at the UPR raising concerns about the reprisals against Mendoza for her engagement with CEDAW, and recommending that the Andorran government ‘stop the judicial harassment, the reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders in relation to the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms and engagement with the UN’.

The UN Secretary-General, in his 2020 annual report on reprisals, documented that the Andorra Government is taking ‘disproportionate measures’ against Stop Violències and its President for their participation with the CEDAW.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/andorra-drop-charges-against-vanessa-mendoza-and-guarantee-safe-and-enabling-environment-women

Dunja Mijatović calls on Russia to end judicial harassment of human rights defenders

October 1, 2020

Yuri Dmitriev

Yuri Dmitriev

On 30 September 2020 the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg issued the following statement:

“Yesterday’s judgment against Yuri Dmitriev, a Russian historian and human rights defender, sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in a high-security prison having been acquitted earlier on the same charges, raises serious doubts as to the credibility of his prosecution”, says today Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/24/gulag-historian-yury-dmitriyev-returns-to-prison/]

Mr Dmitriev is widely known in Russia and beyond for his research and his work focusing on the commemoration of victims of past political repression. The harsh verdict delivered by the Karelian Supreme Court in the absence of the legal counsel chosen by Mr Dmitriev cannot be deemed to have complied with fair trial guarantees and is a further illustration of a broader pattern of judicial harassment against human rights defenders, journalists and other independent or critical voices, which has been growing in the Russian Federation in recent years.

Once again I urge the Russian authorities to reverse this alarming trend of targeting Russian civil society. As a matter of urgency the criminal prosecution of a number of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists, including those of Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, Yulia Tsvetkova, Anastasia Shevchenko [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/22/in-russia-first-criminal-case-under-undesirable-organizations-law/%5Dand Semyen Simonov for engaging in legitimate civil society activities, must stop. As a Council of Europe member state, Russia should also adopt structural measures at the political, legislative and practical level which genuinely create a safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders, as required by European human rights standards. Instead of intimidating and harassing civil society, the Russian authorities at all levels should effectively co-operate with them and publicly acknowledge their essential role and invaluable contribution to society’s democratic development.”


 Commissioner website