Posts Tagged ‘migrants rights defender’

Profile of Barun Ghimire, human rights defender from Nepal

July 5, 2021

The rights of migrant workers is a global problem, and actors in different jurisdictions have to come together to make a difference in this particular area,” says Barun Ghimire, a human rights lawyer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. “And we need to create a collective narrative that is based on a rights-based approach of migrant workers”.

Barun Ghimire is a human rights lawyer and programme manager at the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice. Barun works for the protection and defence of the rights of migrant workers in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

In this video, Barun explains his work in relation to the rights of migrants, as well as how Covid-19 has affected this group, which is facing even stronger vulnerability. He also calls the international community and other actors to come together and help improve the situation of migrants workers as well as their families.  To achieve this goal, it is necessary to create a new narrative and defend and promote the rights of migrant people in vulnerable situations, especially during and after Covid-19.

Barun was also a participant in ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) in 2020.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-barun-ghimire-nepal

Rescuing refugees ‘a moral imperative’ not a crime

April 15, 2021

Pip Cook in Geneva Solutions of 30 March 2021 published a good overview of the vexing issue of saving refugees in Europe [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/]

MSF worked in collaboration with Sea-Watch on board the Sea-Watch 4 until February 2021, providing medical care and supporting with humanitarian assistance for rescued people. (Credit: Médecins Sans Frontières)

As countries across Europe adopt increasingly tough migration policies, NGOs are being prosecuted for acts of solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. We speak to Stephen Cornish, director general of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Switzerland, and Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist and author who was imprisoned in Australia’s offshore asylum system for six years, about the threat this growing hostility poses to Europe’s democracies.

On 4 March 2021, Italian prosecutors charged dozens of people from humanitarian organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Save the Children with colluding with people smugglers while carrying out rescue operations in the Mediterranean. After an investigation spanning nearly four years, crew members, mission heads and legal representatives who saved thousands of people from drowning at sea are facing years in prison, sending shockwaves through the humanitarian community. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/

It’s hard to imagine how saving a life can become a criminalised activity,” says Stephen Cornish, director of MSF Suisse, speaking to Geneva Solutions. The organisation, which denies the accusations, estimates that its six humanitarian ships helped save more than 81,000 lives at sea. “It would be like criminalising the fire department for going to put out a fire.”

The investigation is one of dozens brought against NGOs running search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean since 2016, when a handful of humanitarian organisations including MSF and SOS Mediteranee launched vessels in response to a rise in the number of people attempting the perilous journey from countries such as Libya and Turkey to claim asylum in Europe. Over the past few years, these vessels have been frequently detained by authorities or trapped at sea for weeks at a time, refused entry to ports where they can safely disembark. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/]

Hostility towards rescue agencies has grown since the height of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, says Cornish, when over one million people – the majority of whom were refugees fleeing the war in Syria – fled to Europe by sea over the course of the year, mainly arriving in Greece and Italy. The EU’s failure to share responsibility for the dramatic rise in the number of people seeking asylum in Europe left countries such as Greece and Italy overwhelmed, Cornish says: “People initially responded with charity and welcome, but then the failure was at a government level not to share the responsibility, and to repopulate people across different states.”

As anti-refugee politics became increasingly mainstream across Europe, countries began to tighten their borders and scrabble for ways to reduce ‘irregular’ migration into the bloc. Last week marked five years since the introduction of the EU-Turkey Deal – a key pillar of these efforts. The agreement called on Turkey to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching the EU in exchange for financial assistance and the promise of the eventual creation of legal resettlement pathways to Europe.

Five years on, Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, with the EU accused of outsourcing its migration management and turning a blind eye to the poor living conditions facing many refugees in the country. The agreement is also widely viewed as creating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Greek islands, which became a final destination for thousands of asylum seekers trapped in overcrowded camps waiting for their applications to be processed.

The inhumane conditions in refugee camps on the Greek islands are well documented, with reports of squalid facilities, violence, abuse and a lack of basic amenities commonplace. At times, there have been 40,000 people living in camps designed for a few thousand. As well as Syria, the majority of people are fleeing war and persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one in four are children. The horrific fire that engulfed the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on Lesvos in 2020, leaving 13,000 people without shelter, became a tragic symbol of Europe’s failed migration policy.

MSF has been operational on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios for many years, although it ceased operations inside Moria citing mass deportation and potential refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees. It no longer accepts EU funding in opposition to the policy.

“[The impact of the EU Turkey Deal] has been horrendous,” says Cornish. “There are still 15,000 people trapped in limbo, in no man’s land in Greece with no way forward and no way back, and suffering at the hands of supposed democracies.”

We see suicides, we see self-harm in children, we see long term PTSD and people with no hope, no ability to move forward or backward, trapped in punishment,” he says. “We put people in hell holes, and then when hell breaks loose, we pretend like we don’t see it.”

The deal has recently been extended until 2022, when the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum is expected to come into force. The New Pact focuses on fast-tracking screening and asylum processes at Europe’s external borders and includes a system of “mandatory solidarity” by which member states do not have to commit to resettling refugees but can instead fund repatriation. It has been widely criticised by humanitarian organisations for repeating the mistakes of the EU-Turkey Deal and failing to improve the situation for asylum seekers and refugees.

“Everything we’ve seen that failed in the US and failed in Australia, and is failing in Greece and Italy, we’d like to now make more semi-permanent policy,” says Cornish of the New Pact, which is currently being negotiated by member states and in the European Parliament. “As we harden these policies, all we do is push people into the hands of traffickers. We push them to take riskier routes and have higher death tolls and greater suffering.”

While the number of asylum seekers and migrants crossing the Mediterranean has decreased dramatically since 2015, migration has continued to be a highly politicised issue across Europe. Countries have adopted increasingly hostile policies which humanitarian organisations say fail to address flaws in existing systems, to the detriment of the people these systems were initially created to help.

Last week, the UK announced an overhaul of its asylum policy, which was met with outrage from humanitarian actors. Under the new plans, migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by routes deemed illegal will be indefinitely liable for removal even if they are granted asylum, creating a two-tier system which has been criticised as a violation of international law and eroding the right to asylum.

UK home secretary Priti Patel argues that current European policies “play into the hands of people smugglers”, however human rights and migration experts argue that, while governments fail to expand safe and legal routes, it is inhumane and unjust to punish asylum seekers for resorting to irregular routes when the only other option is an interminable wait in one of Europe’s refugee camps.

“Since a number of years [ago], we have made it almost impossible to be able to flee and request asylum from a conflict zone,” says Cornish. “We put all of these hurdles in place to make it impossible to be able to declare asylum and come [to Europe], and then we criminalise anybody jumping the line because we say they’re not following the procedures.”

Lessons from Australia. It has also been reported that asylum seekers in the UK could be shipped overseas while their asylum claim is pending – a policy that echoes Australia’s offshore processing asylum policy, instituted twice from 2001 to 2008 and 2012 to present.

Under the policy, asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in Australia by boat were immediately sent to offshore processing centres on the pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. The detention camps – which held over 2000 people at a time – have been widely condemned for systemic abuses and human rights violations. Although over 85 per cent of people sent to Nauru and Manus were recognised as refugees, the majority were left there for years awaiting resettlement.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian refugee who was detained on Manus Island for six years after attempting to reach Australia by boat in 2013, experienced the horror of Australia’s inhumane asylum policy first-hand. He spoke to Geneva Solutions ahead of the FIFDH event he took part in alongside Stephen Cornish.

“The dangerous side is that Australia is introducing this policy to countries in Europe, especially the UK,” says Boochani, who continued his work as a journalist writing for publications such as the Guardian from Manus. “Australia became a model for many of these countries. And for many years, we were warning about this, we were talking about it, but no one heard us.” [See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/55687980-7bdc-11e9-8427-f3aebfb2928e]

This policy damaged the political culture in Australia [and] the democracy in Australia,” says Boochani. “It damaged the principles in Australia and damaged morality in Australia. I think if the UK followed this policy, you cannot say that [you’ve] just damaged the refugees, you’ve damaged your principles, your democracy, your system, your morality, and your political culture too.

MSF’s Cornish shares Boochani’s concern that Europe’s asylum policies are damaging the democracy and social fabric of countries, partly fuelling the rise in far-right politics that has gained traction across the continent in recent years.

There have also been reports of mounting deportations and systemic violent pushbacks at Europe’s external land borders by the EU border agency Frontex. At sea, NGOs have also collected evidence of refugees being intercepted and illegally pushed back to Turkey from Greek waters. International human rights and refugee law requires states to protect the right of people to seek asylum and protection from refoulement even if they enter irregularly. The increasingly frequent pushbacks have prompted calls by the UN Refugee Agency for an urgent investigation.

Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation. While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, they must also respect human rights. Pushbacks are simply illegal,” said UNHCR’s assistant commissioner for protection Gillian Triggs in a statement…

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/cornish-it-s-hard-to-imagine-how-saving-a-life-can-become-a-criminalised-activity

The International Service for Human Rights publishes its Strategic Framework for Human Rights Defenders 2021 – 2025

January 18, 2021

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS are people who promote and protect the human rights of others, whether individually or in association with others. They are people who act with humanity, serve humanity and bring out the best in humanity. For all of these defenders, international and regional human rights mechanisms can protect and amplify their work and impact on the ground. This strategy has been developed in a context characterised by uncertainty and change, including a worsening climate emergency, a global pandemic and associated financial crisis, deepening inequalities, worsening authoritarianism and populism, as well as the erosion of multilateralism, and the rule of law. It is also a context characterised by increased awareness and action at the local, national, regional and international levels. Human rights defenders are mobilising around issues such as environmental justice, racial justice, gender equality, freedom of For many defenders working in restrictive national contexts, regional and international mechanisms may be the only platforms available. For these mechanisms to be effective, however, they need to be credible, accessible and responsive to defenders, providing them with a safe and influential platform from which to demand justice, push for accountability, and contribute to positive change. freedom of expression and association, access to information, democratic representation and participation, the redistribution of economic and political power, and state and corporate accountability for intersecting human rights violations and abuses.

On many of these issues, we are at an inflection point; a point at which the work of human rights defenders is perhaps more imperilled but more important than ever. For example:

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, whose knowledge is vital to live more responsibly and sustainably, are being killed and displaced for their work to prevent exploitation and to protect precious forests and oceans.

STUDENTS AND WORKERS mobilising online and offline to call for democratic freedoms and protest against authoritarianism are being surveilled, harassed and criminalised under abusive counter- terrorism laws.

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS taking to the streets to demand racial justice are being met with disproportionate force from police and security forces.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS are being detained and tortured in retaliation for their work to challenge patriarchy and demand an end to discrimination and violence.

AT-RISK MIGRANT ACTIVISTS AND HUMANITARIAN WORKERS who support migrant rights are being criminalised and prosecuted as threats to national security.

The freedom, safety and work of these and many other human rights defenders is vital to build a better future for all. The purpose of this Strategic Framework is to guide the effective pursuit of ISHR’s Vision, Mission and Values, and the achievement of ISHR’s Overall Goals. It articulates Strategic Goals and a framework for identifying priorities, and maps an organisational structure and working methods that will ensure agility and sustainability in a fast changing world. The strategy was developed through a highly consultative process over a 10 month period with extensive and invaluable inputs from human rights defenders, NGOs working at the national, regional and inter-national levels, human rights experts, and diplomatic and financial partners, as well as ISHR Board and staff. It is complemented with a results framework, and implemented through an annual activity plan and budget, and reviewed and updated on a biennial basis to ensure it remains relevant, responsive, ambitious and agenda setting. The framework provides the structure for our planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning process.

3rd Human Rights and Business Award goes to Myanmar Migrant Workers Rights Network

November 17, 2020

On 17 November 2020, during the annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) as recipient of the 2020 Human Rights and Business Award. [see my earlier today: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/17/2020-un-annual-forum-on-business-and-human-rights-hopefully-not-business-as-usual/]

Migrant Workers Rights Network is a grassroots member-based association that works to protect the rights of migrant workers who live and work in Thailand, the majority being from Myanmar. The organization was founded in 2009 by nine Myanmar migrant leaders after seeing extensive exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in Thai factories, the seafood industry, agriculture, and construction. They decided that empowerment of migrants is the best way for migrant workers to protect themselves.

For more on this and similar awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/fd511ca0-10f0-11ea-8f61-d1d879c27588

For last year’s award see; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/human-rights-and-business-award/

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MEA 2019 laureate Abdul Aziz Muhamat wants refugees themselves to be heard

November 9, 2020

Geneva Solutions of 7 November 2020 published a call to give “a voice back to the voiceless: a call to empower refugees” written by Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who is a human rights advocate for migrants and refugees now based in Geneva. He is the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for Human Rights Defenders (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/),

He is currently a UN fellow at OHCHR, and the former recipient of the ISHR Human Rights Defenders Fellowship. He is involved in social work, advocacy, and is authoring in collaboration with other refugees offshore and inshore ( They Can’t Take The Sky):

I’m tired of hearing celebrities saying they are  “voices of the voiceless.” Unfortunately, I hear it often from celebrities with our pictures and stories, rather than from refugees themselves.

The so-called “voiceless” are individuals living in poverty and conflict zones, and were forced to leave their countries while they were muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out. But they are not voiceless. They do not need your voices but they do need you to put them behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak up. If we want to find lasting and sustainable solutions for the refugee and migrant crisis, then stop speaking for the so-called voiceless, and start working alongside them to make sure their powerful voices are heard.

Media, the arts and celebrities often say they strive to “give voice to the voiceless”. While this can empower, it can also be a potentially harmful tool for them too. It makes me feel like an object, it discourages me from speaking for myself and most importantly, it is dehumanising because someone else is speaking on my behalf. Being a refugee means more than being an alien, no right, no voice; this can sound trite, clichéd, even patronising. Speaking on our behalf can take the real voices of the concerned people away and replace them with a slogan, “Voice of the Voiceless”. Are they really voiceless? If so, then who took their voices?

What refugees urgently need, besides food and water, medical care, and a roof over their heads, is hope! And prospects of a homeland, friends, and a sense of security. Unfortunately, reality presents a completely different picture to many of them. Here is a call for reflection.

Protests and public ceremonies at least remind us of the problem, even if they do not solve them. Anyone who has never been part of a refugee trek has little idea of everything that happens along the way. These people have just turned their backs on violence, persecution, and human rights violations only to walk into hopelessness, hunger, and cold! It is a vicious cycle of evil that has been set in motion. People with a permanent home and a roof over their heads can barely imagine this. There are millions of fates and stories that tell of violence, human abysses, but some also of hope and courage.

Why is it easy to listen to someone who speaks out on behalf of victims but not to the victims directly? Is it also time to question this invisibility? The fact is that no-one is listening and no-one is offering them a platform to express their concerns on their own, so it doubles their suffering. We hide them in detention centres or camps, away from us, making it harder for them to connect with reality. But it also prevents the truth from coming out as it is, and that’s part of the complexity. The majority of these refugees are coming from countries that are torn apart by wars, extreme poverty, lack of freedom of speech, human rights abuses etc.

The media are not interested in listening to the people concerned. Instead they listen to the rich and famous, and this makes them complicit. It is on journalists and the media’s shoulders to seek out the stories of those who would be left out of the public record, like refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If we aim “to give voice to the voiceless,” it requires more than asking for sound-bite quotes, taking pictures in refugee camps or using them to sell newspapers. No, it is bigger than that, it means listening to their stories, offering them a safe platform to speak for themselves rather than to speak on their behalf, no-one was born without a voice.

No media so far asks the refugees about the impact of the US election or the EU migration policy, why? Because we don’t have a voice and our point of view is not considered as valuable. The Trump administration, but also the Democratic party, have largely dismantled the US asylum seekers and refugees resettlement programme. It became a model for the EU member States and Australia, and even questioned the refugees convention of 1951.

The actions of the US government over the last four years shaped the dichotomy of “Us-vs-Them”. It has also created social and economical inequality among the refugee communities: some were seen as vulnerable and others not, and this in turn has increased tensions within refugee communities. As an example, in 2017 when the US government made a deal with the Australians to take refugees from offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru several countries were banned and it created big tensions between the refugees. These actions show a lack of compassion for the victims of armed violence and persecution and abdicates US leadership and support for countries struggling to cope with refugee crises. The Trump administration turned a cold shoulder to countries on the frontlines of conflict, many of which are close US allies and bear the burden of caring for and protecting the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees. Even at its most robust, US refugee resettlement only directly benefits a small fraction of the world’s 26 million refugees. But when used strategically, and in combination with humanitarian assistance and technical support, it can have enormous benefits beyond helping the relatively few people rescued.

The US refugee resettlement program has traditionally aimed to identify the most vulnerable refugees, often those who are not only persecuted in their home country but also unwelcome in the country of first arrival, such as members of religious minorities or LGBT.  The American refugee policies have inspired many countries such as Australia, Europe, the UK, and especially after the domination of the right-wing in Europe. In Australia, refugees are forcibly sent to remote islands and detained for almost seven years, in Europe especially Greece became the EU warehouse for asylum seekers and migrants, and some were forcibly pushed back by some EU member States to Libya or left to drown off the coast of Libya.

Europe’s humanity is lost at sea when it comes to refugees and no-one knows when or how will the EU get it back.

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https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/giving-a-voice-back-to-the-voiceless-a-call-to-empower-refugees

Mary Lawlor condemns ‘criminalization’ of those saving lives in the Mediterranean

October 9, 2020

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, and the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members are human rights defenders and not criminals,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on 8 October 2020.

“I regret that the criminal proceedings against them are still open and they continue to face stigmatization in connection with their human rights work protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean Sea.

In September 2016, a criminal investigation was opened against some crew members of the Iuventa rescue ship. Charges against them included aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration, an offence that carries a jail term of between five and 20 years, and a fine of 15,000 euros. On 18 June 2019, a motion for the dismissal of the preliminary criminal investigation against the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members was filed, but a formal decision is still pending. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

Ms. Rackete was arrested by Italian authorities on 29 June 2019 for docking her rescue ship, with 53 migrants on board, without permission. At the beginning of this year, acting upon appeal, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that she should not have been arrested. Despite this, Ms. Rackete continues to face charges, including aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration. She risks up to 20 years of imprisonment , and various fines of up to 50,000 euros.

Since 2014, at least 16,000 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM’s ‘Missing Migrants’ project. “The Italian Government must publicly recognise the important role of human rights defenders in protecting the right to life of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean and must end the criminalization of those who defend their human rights,” Lawlor said.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by: Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora Okafor, Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/

The same day Human Rights Watch came out with an initial assessment by civil society of the legislative and non-legislative proposals contained in European Commission’s Pact on Migration and Asylum.: The commitment to a more human approach to protection and the emphasis on the fact that migration is needed and positive for Europe with which the European Commission launched the Pact on Migration and Asylum is welcome. However, this rhetoric is reflected only sparsely in the related proposals. Instead of breaking with the fallacies of the EU’s previous approach and offering a fresh start, the Pact risks exacerbating the focus on externalisation, deterrence, containment and return.


https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/08/pact-migration-and-asylum

Criminalisation of human rights defenders in Europe denounced in UN

September 30, 2020

 

In a statement delivered on 24 September 2020 in Geneva, ISHR was joined by human rights groups and other community organisations defending the rights of migrants to draw attention to the concerning trends of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe. Responding to the opening remarks of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and building on years of work by other experts in the UN system, the groups highlighted the links between protecting the rights of migrants, and the creation of a safe environment for those who seek to protect them. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

ISHR human rights advocate Sarah M Brooks, pointing to research conducted by Migration Policy Group (MPG), CEPS, PICUM and other partners within the frame of the ReSOMA project, noted that in the last five years – from 2014 to 2019 – at least 60 cases of criminalisation, concerning more than 170 individuals, had been documented across the European Union.

Carmine Conte, legal policy analyst at MPG, underlines that since the emergence of the ‘refugee crisis’, there has been an escalation of judicial prosecutions and investigations against volunteers, human rights defenders, crew members of boats involved in search and rescue operations, but also ordinary citizens, journalists, mayors and religious leaders helping migrants.

The European Fundamental Rights Agency has also spoken out on this concern. In the area of migrant search and rescue (SAR) NGOs alone, in the two years between 2018 and 2020, experienced 40 cases of criminal charges, disciplining including administrative fines, de-flagging, seizure and confiscation of ships, or their crews were otherwise were prevented from leaving or docking at port. The Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights has recently condemned Malta and Italy using COVID-19 as yet another excuse for non-rescue:

The rights of migrants cannot be fulfilled, Brooks said, without protection of fundamental freedoms for those engaged in the defence of migrants’ rights. ‘Whether it is through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid or policy advocacy, exercising the right to protest and civil disobedience – including migrants’ own strikes,’ she said, ‘these are protected acts. ‘European governments must do more to protect the right to defend rights.

Lina Vosyliute, Research Fellow at CEPS, one of the leading think-tanks on the EU affairs, has described the increasing suspicion, harrasment, disciplining and criminalisation of those who help migrants  as ‘policing humanitarianism’. At the heart of the problem are so-called  ‘crimes of facilitation of irregular migration’, which Vosyliute deems ‘the most misused criminal provision against human rights defenders in Europe’. The EU Facilitation Directive falls short of the UN Migrant Smuggling protocol, since it does not require any evidence nor suspicion of ‘financial or other material gain’. Under this provision in the EU and Schengen states introduced laws that prosecute ‘any intentional assistance’ to migrants, leaving out the question of motive and, specifically, ‘material or financial benefit’ that are central to smuggling crimes.

Vosyliute concludes, ‘The vague definition of crime is counterproductive. While some prosecutors are investigating on human traffickers or migrant smugglers, who take thousands of euros from asylum seekers and migrants to board on unseaworthy dinghies, others keep policing humanitarians and human rights defenders.’  The prosecutions of Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete in Italy, Team Humanity and Proem Aid volunteers in Greece, or farmer Cedric Herrou in France [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/interview-with-cedric-herrou-migrants-rights-defender-who-is-the-central-person-in-the-film-libre/], and many others, who helped migrants out of compassion, are used by governments to rather show a strong stance against irregular migration, than to fight the crime.

But far more simple acts of solidarity are also being met with administrative, civil and even criminal penalty. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/]

Says Marta Gionco of PICUM, a platform representing more than 160 organisations across Europe and globally that defend undocumented migrants’ human rights: ‘In recent years,  people across Europe have been put on trial for simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone’s life who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; providing shelter and food; or lending a cell phone’.

In response to this trend, last year more than 110 organisations signed a statement asking the European Union to revise the EU Facilitation Directive and support and defend the rights of migrant rights’ defenders across the EU.

Although the majority of documented cases end in acquittal, the financial, social and psychological impact of months, and often years, of criminal proceedings has had a clear chilling effect on their work.

When courts have determined that an individual is not guilty of a crime, state prosecutors – for example, in France – have nonetheless appealed. In the case of defender Pierre Manoni, despite a court decision finding that solidarity is constitutionally protected, prosecutors have filed four separate appeals to question his acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion.  Short-term detentions are also common, with police often failing to substantiate charges. These lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings put peoples’ lives on hold risk.

When these human rights defenders are migrants themselves, the consequences of criminal proceedings are often harsher, frequently resulting in loss of residence permits and threats of deportation. For instance, in 2018 asylum seekers in Moria camp protested in Sappho square after the death of an Afghan asylum seeker.  They were violently attacked by extreme right groups. However, it was not violent attackers, but the asylum seekers themselves who were prosecuted, for the ‘occupation’ of public space.

In another case, Ahmed H – a long-term resident in Cyprus – organised a protest at Hungarian border zone. He has been accused of terrorism-related crimes, for holding a megaphone, and deprived family life for four years. Time and again, asylum seekers and migrants helping each other during the journey are prosecuted as criminals. And in some cases, when they arrive in their destination country, this ‘criminal record’ alone can preclude the access to the right of asylum.

Brooks notes that the European Union, and many EU member states, have been powerful voices at the Human Rights Council and abroad in defending and supporting human rights defenders. However, when it comes to policies at home – often driven by border management mindsets and national security rationales – those same governments are engaged in judicial harassment of defenders.

As Front Line Defenders has noted, criminalisation is only one way in which migrant rights defenders are being targeted, including within Europe. They are also subjected to physical and verbal attacks, short term detention, smear campaigns and arson attacks on their property. Their experiences are largely under-reported because, the organisation notes, human rights defenders and aid workers prioritise cooperation with the authorities; even if it’s extremely fragile, it can be beneficial to the protection of migrants.

‘Judicial harassment, trumped-up charges, threats and intimidation and chilling effects are not unique to countries outside of Europe’s borders. It’s time that European governments took seriously their obligations at home’, Brooks asserts.

The right to help is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that, as the UN has emphasised, ’no one is left behind’.

Says CEPS’ Vosyliute: ‘Our newest study on civic space shows that the work of human rights defenders is ever more vital. Volunteers are sewing masks and distributing soap and hand sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus among various marginalized communities, like those in Moria refugee camp. At the same time, human rights defenders are even more at risk’.

Yet, COVID-19 restrictions are also disproportionately targeting refugees and other migrants and those who assist them. ‘For instance, in France, volunteers helping those stuck in Calais Jungle, received fines for violating social distancing rules. In Greece, some NGOs could not provide psychosocial counseling in camps due prolonged quarantine imposed on refugee camps, but not on the rest of the island. Italian and Maltese governments have  prevented SAR NGOs to disembark rescued migrants for weeks’.

Civil society actors have raised concerned over worsening legal environment. For instance, the Greek authorities have advanced additional registration requirements targeting NGOs working in the area of migration, asylum and integration.

According to the NGO law experts of the Council of Europe, those regulations are incompatible with the freedom of association – ‘onerous, complex, time-consuming and costly for NGOs’ – especially given the context and dire needs among asylum seekers and migrants.

European governments and the EU should be expected to uphold their human rights obligations to create and enabling environment for human rights defenders, as outlined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. A recent legal analysis of the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ legal package in Hungary, conducted by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP on behalf of ISHR and the Slovenia-based Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PiC), found that such an obligation exists for European governments in view of international and EU law.

At the same time, clear expectations have been set out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose human rights watchdog, ODIHR, has called out dangers for human rights defenders in similar situations. As early as 2014, their guidelines on protection of human rights defenders alerted European states that ‘[any] legal provisions that directly or indirectly lead to the criminalisation of such [human rights] activities should be immediately amended or repealed’. More recently, the Council of Europe’s NGO Expert Council came up with Guidelines that seek to prevent the misuse of criminal law provisions against NGOs that assist migrants and uphold their rights.

‘The framework is there’, the groups conclude, ‘but Europe needs to choose to do more’.

Watch the statement here: https://youtu.be/ZHat_xPd2z8

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-criminalisation-defenders-europe-must-end

Absurd prosecution of the crew of the ship Iuventa continues in Italy

July 31, 2020

AI has started a campagiun to call on the Italian prosecutor to drop the absurd investigation against the crew of the rescue ship “Iuventa 10”. Despite having saved more than 14,000 lives, they are accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe

Three years after the baseless criminal investigation began, the Iuventa 10 crew remain in limbo with the threat of long jail terms hanging over them,” said Maria Serrano, Amnesty campaigner on migration.

[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe. Wrapped up with the fate of these ten men and women are the fates of hundreds of others and thousands of refugees and migrants they are helping.” .

We could no longer stand by and watch people disappearing in the Mediterranean mass grave. We chose to use our privilege to be eyewitnesses, reporters, and a safe harbour for thousands of people on the move,” said one of the Iuventa10

“It was, still is and will remain the task of all of to save human lives wherever possible, to offer protection to those who need it, to treat everyone with dignity and to fight with them for the world in which we want to live.”

Forensic Architecture reconstructionhttps://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-seizure-of-the-iuventa

BACKGROUND:

The Iuventa case is not an isolated one. Across Europe people standing in solidarity or assisting refugees and migrants have been threatened, smeared, intimidated, harassed and dragged through the courts simply for helping others. Authorities have misused and abused anti-smuggling laws to criminalize human rights defenders and punish solidarity.  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/1828/2020/en/

Fewer rescue assets had led to an increase of the death rate in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016 more than 50,000 women, men and children have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, where they are exposed to arbitrary detention, torture, extortion and rape.

The Iuventa case was the first judicial proceeding launched against a rescue NGO in Italy, following a smear campaign in which NGOs were stigmatized.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/italy-crew-of-rescue-ship-face-20-years-in-jail-on-third-anniversary-of-smuggling-investigation/

Film “USA v Scott”: Humanitarian Aid Is Not a Crime

July 8, 2020

Murat Oztaskin – a member of The New Yorker’s editorial staff – wrote on 8 july 2020 a rich piece on the case of Scott Warren who was prosecuted for bringing water to migrants in the desert [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/29/also-in-usa-helping-migrants-is-criminalised-scot-warren-in-court-on-29-may/ ] He does so in reaction to the short documentary “USA v Scott”…

Warren was charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens and two counts of harboring, and faced up to twenty years in prison. The lead-up to his first trial, in May, 2019, is chronicled in the short documentary “USA v Scott.”….

“USA v Scott” is directed by Ora DeKornfeld, a twenty-nine-year-old filmmaker, and Isabel Castro, a thirty-year-old multimedia journalist who was born in Mexico. “I think we were both fundamentally inspired” to make the film, Castro told me, “because we saw it as such a seminal case.” In 2017 and early 2018, several No More Deaths volunteers, including Warren, were charged with federal misdemeanors for “littering” and “trespassing”—that is, for leaving water and other supplies along crossing routes in federal wildlife areas. But Warren’s arrest at the Barn proved a turning point in immigration enforcement. In early 2017, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s first Attorney General, directed federal prosecutors to use the law against harboring unauthorized migrants as a tool to help enforce the Administration’s zero-tolerance immigration agenda—until then, the law had been used almost exclusively against smugglers who trafficked migrants for profit. Warren was charged by Michael Bailey, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, a Trump appointee.

The film, which has screened at the Tribeca and Mountainfilm festivals, largely skirts politics, focussing instead on how the situation raised “moral questions for people who were living in Arizona,” Castro said. Warren frequently hosts roundtable discussions on immigration in Ajo, and the film opens on one such meeting. “Borders are supposed to keep us safe,” one member of the community says. “And now I have fear.” Another says, “My thing is, they wanna come here, they wanna come here for a better life so badly, but then they also wanna say, ‘Well, do it my old-country way.’ ” Warren listens patiently, nods. “Thank you for sharing that,” he says. The film also shows individual interviews with residents of Ajo. “To us, it’s normal,” one man says. “We’ve lived with [crossing migrants] all of our lives. It was never a big deal. And then the government stepped in and made a big deal out of it.”

Warren’s felony trial began in May, 2019. The documentary shows the tense months leading up to it, as he remains calm and diligently continues his work with No More Deaths. “We saw in Scott . . . someone who was doing very radical work but who was carrying himself in a very open and mild-mannered way,” DeKornfeld told me—someone who “could potentially connect not only with people who already agree with his politics but also those who don’t.” The trial ended, in June, in a hung jury.

Because the prosecution declined to drop all charges against Warren, the case went to a second trial, in November, where Warren was tried on the harboring charges. (The conspiracy charge was dropped, and the judge ruled that no mention of the Trump Administration’s policies could be included in the arguments.) The jury found him not guilty. After the verdict, Warren said, “The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness.” Although Warren was vindicated, the fate of Sacaria-Goday and Perez-Villanueva remains unknown.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-documentary/usa-v-scott-and-the-fight-to-prove-that-humanitarian-aid-is-not-a-crime

Oak Human Rights Fellow is migrants’ rights defender Nasim Lomani

June 13, 2020

On 12 June 2020 the Oak Institute for Human Rights announced as the 2020 Oak Human Rights Fellow: Nasim Lomani, a human rights defender and migrants’ rights activist, who has been working in Greece and across the EU for over a decade.

As a then 16-year-old Afghanistani, Lomani left for Greece nearly two decades ago. Upon arrival, he was arrested and charged with illegal crossing of the Greek border, ultimately serving a two-year prison sentence. During the process of appealing to the court for having his rights as a refugee abused and violated, he learned about the bureaucratic difficulties that all migrants face while trying to enter Europe. He joined a number of solidarity groups, such as the Network for Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees and the Migrants’ Social Center in Athens, where he coordinated free language classes and the Athens Anti-racist Festival. He also engaged in solidarity work that involved lawyers, human rights defenders, as well as refugees and migrants.
 Nasim Lomani

Nasim Lomani © Marios Lolos

In Greece, Lomani, founded City Plaza – Refugees Accommodation Solidarity Space in Athens – where he organized daily life for migrants, managed media communication, coordinated international volunteers, and served as the public representative to researchers, students, and academics. City Plaza, once one of the largest solidarity migrant accommodations in Athens, was an abandoned hotel in central Athens repurposed to offer migrants the right to live in dignity in the urban space with access to social, economic, and political rights. Lomani lived inside the now-closed City Plaza for the entirety of its existence. Over almost three and half years, it welcomed 3,000 people, lodging up to 400 at a time.  The story of City Plaza is known as an example of self-organization, self-management, and everyday processes to help empower refugees. In essence, it was a political statement against Europe’s use of militarized borders, repression, and systematic violation of human rights and refugees’ rights.

Lomani was also involved in organizing the largest NoBorder refugee and migrant solidarity camp to date, leading to the closure of the Pagani Detention Center on Lesvos island in 2009. 

Lomani is at increasing risk, as migration solidarity work and defending human rights in Greece, and Europe at large has been criminalized in recent years. Helping refugees and criticizing the human rights violations by authorities is now a major offense by both national and European law. In Greece, this has led to large-scale evictions of housing sites for refugees and asylum seekers and to increasing arrests and trials of activists on the ground. 

Lomani has been active in the human rights field since he was a child, so the Oak Fellowship will come as a much-needed respite.

Established in 1997 by a grant from the Oak Foundation, the Oak Institute for Human Rights hosts a Fellow each year. The fellowship offers an opportunity to spend the fall semester in residence at Colby, where they teach, conduct research, and raise awareness about important global human rights issues.

http://www.colby.edu/news/2020/06/12/migrants-rights-activist-to-be-2020-oak-human-rights-fellow/