Posts Tagged ‘media framing’

Prize for best Dissertation on Human Rights; deadline 1 November

September 8, 2015

False modesty could have prevented me from making this announcement, but I think that getting the highest number of quality submissions is more important.  So please pass this on:

The Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM) invites law graduates to participate in the sixth Thoolen NJCM Dissertation Prize (2015) for the best human-rights thesis on university and higher professional education level.

To be considered eligible, the dissertation must have been written in the last two academic years (2013-2014 or 2014-2015) and must have received at least a Dutch ‘8’ grade equivalency by an internationally recognized university. The submitted dissertation must be written in either Dutch or English, concern a human-rights based subject and be in a direct relation to internationally recognized human rights.

The winning dissertation will be published by the NJCM!

The dissertation must be handed in before the 1st of November 2015 at NJCM’s secretariat. Send four copies of your dissertation before this date to: NJCM P.O. box 778, 2300 AT  Leiden.

For more information and the full text of the Regulation for the Thoolen NJCM – Dissertation Prize go to: <>

The jury
* Mr. H. (Hans) Thoolen
Co-founder and first Chair of the NJCM; Secretary of the Board of the Martin Ennals Foundation
* Dr. (Michiel) van Emmerik
Associate Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at Leiden University
* Prof. C. (Kees) Flinterman
Honorary professor of human rights law at Utrecht University and Maastricht University
* Prof. J.E. (Jenny) Goldschmidt
Honorary professor of human rights law at Utrecht University; director Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) from 2007 to 2014
* Prof. N.M.C.P. (Nicola) Jägers
Professor of International Human Rights Law of Tilburg Law School, Tilburg University; Commissioner of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights
* Prof. R.A. (Rick) Lawson
Dean of the Leiden Law School; professor of European Law at Leiden University
* Prof. B.E.P. (Egbert) Myjer
Professor emeritus of human rights law at VU University Amsterdam; judge of the European Court of Human Rights from 2004 to 2012; Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists from 2013

Previous prize winners are:
2013: Suzanne Poppelaars
Het recht op bronbescherming: Hoe verder na Voskuil en Sanoma?
2011: Laura Henderson  []
Tortured reality. How media framing of waterboarding affects judicial independence
2009: Erik van de Sandt
A child’s story for global peace and justice. Best practices for a child-friendly environment during the statement- and testimony-period in respect of the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Code
2007: Shekufeh Jalali Manesh
Het recht van het kind op behoorlijke huisvesting en het BLOEM-model
2005: Janine de Vries
Sexual violence against women in Congo. Obstacles and remedies for judicial assistance

Copies of the winning dissertations can be purchased through NJCM’s secretariat:

Human Rights Defenders must shift their framework, to earn the public’s support

April 20, 2015

Open Democracy carries regularly interesting pieces related to human rights defenders (e.g., but I draw your attention to a particular pertinent one on the ‘framing’ of the human rights debate. This blog has always taken a special interest in this aspect of human rights work [see e.g.]. This post by Rachel Krys focuses on the United Kingdom but much is relevant to other European countries where similarly there are sustained efforts – with the media leading or at least being a conduit – to give ‘human rights’ either a bad name or at least portray it as something ‘foreign’, ‘European’ [!!] and only necessary for others. Read the rest of this entry »

Human rights defenders in Russia should be proud to be ‘Foreign Agents’

November 22, 2013


This blog has on several occasions made mention of the dangerous developments in Russia where the ‘foreign agents’ law is being used to delegitimize human rights defenders. Front Line just came with an update showing that the legal aspect of this issue (is the law legally permissible under the Russian Constitution or the European Convention Human Rights?) is coming under scrutiny. On 18 November 2013, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow heard the cases of 3 NGOs – Human Rights Centre ‘Memorial’, GOLOS, and the Public Verdict Foundation – which challenge the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. Following the presentation of their arguments, the court accepted their request to postpone the hearings until 4 February 2014. Significant, as it was taken in order to await for the rulings of the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) or the Russian Constitutional Court, whichever comes first:

  • On 6 February 2013, eleven Russian NGOs lodged a complaint with the ECtHR alleging that the ‘Foreign Agents’ law violates four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 10 (Freedom of Expression), Article 11 (Freedom of Association and Assembly), Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination), and Article 18 (Limitations on Rights).
  •  On 13 August 2013, Kostroma Centre for Civic Initiatives Support lodged a complaint with the Russian Constitutional Court arguing that the ‘Foreign Agent’ law violates five articles of the Russian Constitution, namely Article 19 (Equality before the law), Article 29 (Freedom of ideas and speech), Article 30 (Right of Association), Article 32 (Right to participate in managing state affairs), and Article 51 (right not to give incriminating evidence against oneself).
  •  On 30 August 2013, the Russian Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, also lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court against certain provisions of the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. In particular, the Ombudsman argued that the definition of terms ‘foreign agent’ and ‘political activities’, as provided by the law, are politically and legally incorrect.

Still, one wonders whether the battle should not be fought also in the public domain as the ‘foreign agent campaign’ by the authorities is clearly not about financial control (there is enough of that already to satisfy any suspicious prosecutor) or political control (in which case registration as simple lobbyist would suffice) but about  ‘framing’ the human rights defenders as traitors, unpatriotic people. The requirement to identify oneself as foreign agent on every paper or poster is a clear indication of what the Government wants to achieve. This kind of action by governments (not just Russia) is a deliberate (mis)information effort that should be fought in the same arena of public perception. Admittedly far from easy and costly but there are things that COULD be done, I think:

  • bumper stickers and T-shirts with “I am a foreign agent” (in Russian of course, but supporters abroad could have it in English)
  • well-known Russian celebrities could make statements such as:  “IF …is a foreign agent ,in that case I am also one!”
  • production of video clips that poke fun at the idea, etc

As a concrete example: on 21 November 2013, a year after the law came into effect, Amnesty International Norway, LLH (the Norwegian LGBT Organisation) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee called themselves for one day foreign agents in solidarity with Russian organisations who struggle to keep their work going (see also in Norwegian: Of course, people on the ground know best what will work, but I think some form of ‘counter-defamation’ should be tried. It would benefit Russia and could de-motivate the authorities in other countries watching what happens in Russia.


Zimbabwe: Human Rights Defenders hunted through the criminal process in run up to referendum

March 9, 2013

Jestina Mukoko with letters from Amnesty International members

(Jestina Mukoko with letters from AI members © Amnesty International)

15 Zimbabwean Civil Society Organizations, on 9 March 2013 issued a joint statement condemning the sustained and escalating assault on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision by the State. The cite as the latest example the charging of Jestina Mukoko on which AI issued a separate alert on 8 March:  “Prominent Zimbabwe human rights defender hunted down through the media”.
The criminalization of the work of civil society by the Government of National Unity is in direct contradiction with the letter and Spirit of the Global Political Agreement. It appears to us that the persecution of Jestina, who is not at anytime a fugitive from justice, is a direct victimization of an individual, who has been a victim of abduction by State security agents. State actions against Jestina were condemned by the Supreme Court and her prosecution quashed. Read the rest of this entry »

Pakistan military try to subdue local Human Rights Watch director Ali Dayan Hasan through media campaign

February 6, 2013

In a long but interesting blog post in the Huffington News of 4 February 2013 Malik Siraj Akbar, takes issue with Pakistan’s reaction to criticism on it human rights record by organisations such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). “A pack of lies” is Pakistan army’s favorite defensive phrase whenever it is blamed for committing human rights abuses or covertly sponsoring Islamic extremist organizations. On December 13, 2012, the Pakistan army described an Amnesty International report, The Hands of Cruelty, as “a pack of lies”.  On February 2nd, the Pakistan army once again used its favorite ‘a pack of lies” phrase to reject the Human Right Watch World Report 2013. The army says the report is “propaganda driven and totally biased” which is “yet another attempt to malign Pakistan and its institutions through fabricated and unverified reports, completely favouring an anti-Pakistan agenda.”

The author then goes on to explain the powerful position of the army and why it reacts so vehemently. The part that is of special interest for the protection of human rights defenders follows:

English: Human Rights Watch logo Русский: Лого...ThePakistan military does not solely suffice with rebuttals. It oftentimes turns unimaginably nasty against those who question its authority. In this case, the H.R.W.’s Pakistan Director Ali Dayan Hasan, a widely respected human rights defender, has become the focus of a malicious and misleading campaign in the national media. The military has unleashed a media trial of Mr. Hasan with the help of Pakistan’s largest media group, the Jang, questioning his integrity and even patriotism to the extent that it now raises genuine concerns about his personal safety and that of his family.

The News International, an English language newspaper published by the Jang media group, has become a tool in the hands of the military in the extremely dangerous campaign against Mr. Hasan. Last year, the newspaper bullied the human rights activist so much that it even published his U.S., Pakistan and London U.K. telephone numbers. This was a clear violation of journalistic standards but the newspaper apparently did so in order to encourage Islamic fundamentalists to directly threaten him on the phone numbers printed in the newspaper.

Ahmed Noorani, a young, angry and highly opinionated journalist, has been bullying Mr. Hasan and his organization for more than one year in his dispatches which, whenever attacking the H.R.W., hardly undergo the routine process of fact-checking, language correction and copy editing which is essential to sift opinion from reporting.

On February 24, 2014, the Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, a group of professional Pakistani journalists, sent a letter to the publisher and top editors of the News International, to express “our dismay at the unethical and false reporting in your paper … that is not only inaccurate and based on lies, but also endangers the life and safety of a Pakistani citizen.” One year later, the newspaper still continues to publish unsubstantiated personal attacks against Mr. Hasan which seem to be caused by the reporter’s personal dislike for the H.R.W.’s Pakistan head.

The Pakistani military and sections of the media must stop harassing Mr. Hasan. Such childish and unprofessional behavior does not help Pakistan’s democracy. Reports issued by H.R.W. and other international think-tanks and human rights groups are professional analyses of different countries. It is absolutely irresponsible and unethical to respond to such criticism with personal attacks on individual professionals affiliated with these organizations. It amounts to shooting the messenger. In a countries like Pakistan Mr. Hasan is a rare breed of bravery and hope for millions of citizens who want their rights to be respected and protected by their government. Human rights activists and journalists in Pakistan risk their lives on a daily basis to speak up for the citizens’ democratic rights and Pakistan’s largest media outlet should appreciate courageous Pakistan rights activists, such as Mr. Hasan, instead of endangering their lives.


‘media framing’ and the independence of the judiciary: the case of water boarding

April 30, 2012

What follows are my  SPEAKING NOTES ON THE OCCASION OF THE NJCM-THOOLEN AWARD  on Thursday 26 April 2012, the Hague. At this gathering of the Dutch Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (NJCM) I had the honor to hand over the award for the best master thesis on human rights. 

Dear friends,

When the Dutch Lawyers Committee, in 2005, decided to make an award in my name, I was most touched, especially as they had apparently dropped the requirement that I should die first.  Being alive has the additional advantage that on occasion I will be able to hand over the award myself, which I will do with the greatest pleasure in a few moments. This pleasure is the greater as the winning master paper touched on a topic very close to my heart: the role of the media or as it is sometimes referred to the “Fourth Estate”. There is some controversy about who exactly coined the term, but the most telling statement comes from Oscar Wilde who wrote: “Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. …”. That was said in 1981 and it is hard to imagine that that Oscar Wilde would come to a different conclusion more than a century later.

Spinning (an important element in the toolkit of media framing) has become a profession and the title ‘spin doctor’ is quite appropriate as the results are indeed often doctored. There are surely great historical cases that we cannot recognise because we ourselves have been successfully framed; who knows what positive image Attila the Hun could have enjoyed if only his PR people had done a more professional job. To take a more serious and recent case: let’s look at the so-called ‘failure’ of the UN in Somalia. This was a combined UN-US operation with a humanitarian mandate. When in October 1993, 18 U.S. Rangers were killed in a fierce battle with Aideed’s forces and television showed the body of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets, American public opinion overnight turned against further U.S. involvement in Somalia and Clinton pulled out all troops soon afterwards. Although the Rangers were part of Washington’s own separate Somalia operation, and the US did not want to function under UN command, the incident was played and replayed as a major “UN failure.” The UN was widely, and wrongly, blamed for the gruesome deaths of the U.S. Rangers, despite the fact that they were not part of the UN operation, something that President Clinton finally acknowledged in 1996. Yet most people around the worlds continue to hold the UN responsible. I am afraid that each of us can probably come up with a favorite case of the media having got the better of the truth but that should not be tonight’s debate.

Laura Henderson in her paper “Tortured reality” has gone one important step further. She has investigated how media framing of waterboarding affects judicial independence. She had to limit herself to the US judiciary and to the specific case of ‘waterboarding’ in order to create an environment stable enough to draw some statistical conclusions. Her research is done very neatly. She makes clear that the concept of independence of the judiciary has always been defined broadly and not just as a prohibition of interference by the state, although that remains the classical background.  Cases of media pressure are dealt with in jurisprudence but they have always been considered in the context of an independent judge who is well-trained and not easily swayed by what the flimsy press has to say. The little jurisprudence there is does not contemplate a case of wilful, orchestrated influencing of all the media with the purpose of changing the perception and language of an existing concept.

What makes the study of Henderson stand out that it exactly tries pin down to what extent this has happened with the question whether the technique of ‘waterboarding’ changed in the minds of the judges after the 11 September watershed (no pun intended). The torrent of rhetoric not only framed everything in a ‘war’ context but also specifically tried to downplay the labelling of waterboarding as torture. And she did find the evidence. I will not reveal it all – you have to read for yourself the whole article once the NJCM has rightly published it. Laura herself indicates that further work is needed on how the independence of the judiciary is undermined by media framing and I hope that will be the case. She also gives some very useful indications of how the media framing could be countered, e.g. by strengthening the pluriformity of the media and raising the awareness of the judiciary. She describes her recommendations as ‘simple, yet effective”.  Here I beg to differ. There is nothing simple about changing the media landscape, especially if one adds the television and social media, which her study understandably had to leave out. The magnitude and multitude of media is such that no-one can really do much about it. All recent studies on the effect of the internet on our information intake show that they tend to solidify the dominant opinions/news/books etc, while giving great potential to small niche items, including the nutty and the genial. What gets squeezed is the moderate, considered, well-argued, balanced stuff in the middle. My fear is that the voice of the NJCM may well have the qualities described above!

In the end there can be only one winner. A feature of almost any award and painfully brought home two days ago in Geneva where I was for the announcement of the 3 nominees for 2012 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. All 3 nominees are extremely courageous Human Rights Defenders (Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the multimedia monk form Cambodia, and Shirin Ebadi’s former lawyer: Nasrin Sotoudeh) and the Jury making the final choice on 2 October will have a hard time.

Still, the hard choices have been made already for the NJCM Thoolen Award – may I take this occasion to thank the Jury and Franka for their excellent work – and I am proud to hand over the prizes to the 3 finalists.