Posts Tagged ‘military’

Policy response by Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: WOLA

April 14, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I am giving some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America), as published in Reliefweb of 13 April 2020.

In the midst of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America, saving lives and reducing community transmission of the disease should be the number one priority of governments, international organizations, the business community, and civil society groups. Addressing the virus will require decisive public health interventions grounded in the best available public health recommendations. At the same time, the pandemic is having serious consequences for democracy, equality, and human rights in Latin America. Actions that are taken by governments today will have long-term impact.

Over the years, WOLA has worked with civil society partners in the aftermath of disasters, both natural and man-made. Though this pandemic is unprecedented, the lessons we’ve drawn from those experiences are clear: we cannot wait until the pandemic passes to investigate challenges to human rights, raise questions, and hold governments accountable. Some public health interventions will include infringements on key rights, like restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly. Those should be time-limited and legally grounded restrictions. Other interventions will require significant investment in health care, social safety nets, and community support and action. These should be transparent, equitable, and accountable.

While acting promptly and decisively, governments across the Americas need to protect key values like democracy and human rights.Upholding these values is critical to establishing the public trust and the social cooperation that will be required to combat this public health emergency and to move forward in the future. Otherwise, the fight against COVID-19 will not only lead to ineffective public health responses, but could further fuel anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies in the region.

Some challenges that WOLA will be monitoring in the Americas include:

Reinforcement of authoritarian tendencies

Many governments have appropriately invoked emergency powers to respond to the crisis—but their implementation has not been without concern. In El Salvador, over 1,200 people have been detained in “containment centers” for violating curfew orders, provoking debate among legal experts about the legality of such measures (the country’s Supreme Court ruled on April 8 that curfew violations do not justify arbitrary detentions by the police and military). In Honduras, the president issued a decree temporarily restricting freedom of speech rights as guaranteed in the nation’s constitution, asserting this was necessary to combat the spread of misinformation related to the pandemic; the move received strong criticism from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations. In Venezuela, the de facto Maduro government has sought to silence criticism of its response to the pandemic, harassing and detaining journalists who question official statistics.

Emergency powers need to be clearly limited; the role of legislatures and judiciaries in overseeing and reviewing the exercise of executive power should not be indefinitely suspended. These powers and roles are easy to ratchet up and hard to ratchet back down. It’s been a difficult struggle for governments and societies in the hemisphere to overcome the legacy of Cold War-era military dictatorships; backsliding needs to be avoided.

Military engagement in civilian governance

In some countries, militaries will necessarily play an important role in responding to public health emergencies given their resources, surge capacity, off-the-shelf plans, logistical capabilities, and medical facilities…….In a region still struggling to overcome a history of military dictatorships, any deployment in the current crisis must have a clear end date so that the military’s presence on the street does not become “normalized.”Whatever supporting role the armed forces may play in responding to the pandemic, the military should remain under firm civilian control.

….public health responses that need military involvement must not result in a retreat of democratic progress made over the last few decades in the region.Corruption

……The fight against corruption is a key part of restoring—or establishing—functioning democracies. In Latin America, we’ve seen a major attack on entrenched corruption in the last few years, from Peru to Mexico, and in reaction we’ve seen corrupt actors fighting to preserve their privileges and impunity in countries like Guatemala and Honduras.The need for transparency

Both to provide effective guidance to the public and to assure accountability, governments need to provide clear, consistent, and accurate information based on the best available science from health professionals about the virus and its spread. Authorities also need to be transparent about how public funds are being spent to address the crisis. Additionally, once states impose restrictions on the freedom of movement and assembly, leaders should be clear about what criteria they are using to justify implementing—and eventually lifting—these restrictions. As was highlighted in the IACHR’s resolutionon the pandemic and human rights in the Americas, governments must also refrain from restricting the work and movement of journalists and human rights defenders to provide information and document abuses that may occur in the governments’ response to COVID-19.

The spread of disinformation related to the pandemic is a particularly serious concern. Contrary to other presidents in the region, the presidents of Brazil and Nicaragua have sought to downplay the crisis and even encourage social interaction, while Mexico’s president was slow to act to promote social distancing. The situation in Brazil is particularly worrisome, with President Jair Bolsonaro disregarding all expert medical advice and defying measures taken by governors across the country, as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise at an alarming rate. These actions, which contradict public health experts’ advice, present the population with damaging mixed messages about how they should respond as concerned citizens, which will worsen and prolong the severity of the pandemic….

Restrictive measures will disproportionately affect low-income workers and those in the ****informal sectors **of the economy,** which accounts for over 50 percent of employment in Latin America. Many of these measures will especially impact women, who make up a large share of the informal sector in Latin America. Governments will need to implement income supplements, food security, and strong social safety net measures to protect this population. These measures must take into account gender disparities, and the particular risks that women face; there are already reports from across the region of increases in domestic and gender based violence.

Without increased support, poverty and inequality will increase, along with political discontent and instability. Communities in Colombia, Honduras, and Bolivia have all protested in recent weeks—“the government locks us up, hunger is going to kill us,” read one protest sign in Bolivia, reported El País. In Colombia, where some 40 percent of the workforce consists of informal workers, communities across the country have taken to hanging red flags outside their homes to indicate that they are hungry.

Protecting those in the most vulnerable situations

Governments will need to prioritize protections for historically underserved populations, who traditionally have poor access to health services and live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. Specifically, governments will need to ensure protections for:

Migrants and asylum seekers

Many countries have closed their borders and are limiting entries to their own citizens and legal residents. Others are taking more extreme measures and closing their borders completely. These measures will limit movement and the ability of individuals fleeing violence and persecution to seek protection abroad. The United States, for instance, has used public health as a pretext for ending the right to asylum at the border. In the last two weeks, U.S. border agents have expelled more than 6,000 migrants, including asylum seekers, without giving them a chance to seek protection.

Similarly, countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador have imposed new restrictions making it difficult for Venezuelan migrants, who are fleeing dire circumstances, to gain entry and access services. Many are choosing to return home despite the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela; some of these migrants are now being confined in overcrowded “quarantine zones” with reportedly poor sanitary conditions near the border.

As governments in the region limit public services, asylum seekers waiting for a resolution of their cases will confront an even longer **period of uncertainty.** For undocumented migrants who are apprehended and detained in countries such as Mexico, they may be held in detention centers with a history of overcrowding and poor hygiene. Anti-immigrant sentiment is likely to increase in this context.

Incarcerated individuals

There are an estimated 1.6 million people behind bars in Latin America, many of whom are in pretrial detention. With prisons and detention facilities already overloaded and ill-equipped to control contagion or address COVID-19 illness, governments should urgently take measures to **ease prison congestion,** such as releasing those who are older and have underlying health issues, mothers and pregnant women, those in pretrial detention, LGTBQ+ individuals, and those who have completed much of their sentence. Moreover, governments must and refrain from measures that would result in even more people being confined in such facilities, including those detained for violating stay-at-home orders.

Afro-descendants, Indigenous, and other groups

Progress on public health requires understanding that we are all in this together. Placing blame on specific groups or excluding them from access to health care and other necessities can be a dangerous temptation for leaders seeking scapegoats or those who seek to deflect blame from their own failures. Limiting access to health care or other protections to certain categories of people is a violation of fundamental rights and will only serve to exacerbate the current crisis….

Restrictive measures as a pretext for political repression

Governments may be tempted to use restrictive measures imposed for public health reasons as a tool to repress political opponents. Even where restrictions are initially conceived in good faith, certain sectors of the population may be targeted for more aggressive controls, policing, and disproportionate punishments….Increasingly empowered nationalist leaders may face the temptation to undermine or defund international systems and conventions, processes of conflict resolution, and human rights. But now more than ever, there is a need for international cooperation during a pandemic. This is a time to strengthen institutions that promote peaceful, negotiated solutions—not only to deal with the health crisis but also to other arenas of political conflict.

…..

We will be investigating and analyzing trends. We will be making recommendations to policy makers. We will be working with partners and civil society activists throughout the region who are facing new challenges to basic freedoms. As we recognize the absolute centrality of taking strong and decisive measures to protect the health of the public, we will redouble our efforts to stand for human rights and democracy during this crisis and beyond.

View original

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/monitoring-anti-democratic-trends-and-human-rights-abuses-age-covid-19

After 30 years Salvadoran military involved in killing of Jesuit priests banned from USA

January 30, 2020

The crime is one of the most emblematic of the Central American country’s civil war that pitted then-leftist guerrillas the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) against the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army. The FMLN is now a political party. The case had a lot in common with the killings of the Dutch IKON TV crew a few years earlier [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/25/murder-of-dutch-ikon-journalists-in-1982-in-el-salvador-revisted/]

In a statement, the U.S. Secretary of State said it had “credible information” that the current or former officials were directly or indirectly involved in “a gross violation of human rights or significant corruption.” It was not clear what had prompted the United States to issue the designation at this point in time.

[In El Salvador, the Supreme Court of Justice declared a 1993 amnesty law unconstitutional in 2016 and ordered lawmakers to create a new law that would guarantee justice and reparation for victims. However, the process has been delayed.]

https://wtvbam.com/news/articles/2020/jan/30/us-bans-13-salvadorans-over-1989-jesuit-priest-killings/979853/?refer-section=world

Ray of Hope (2): Guatemala and impunity

May 25, 2018

On 24 May 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, welcomed the ruling issued unanimously by the High Risk “C” Tribunal in Guatemala yesterday against four high-ranking former military officials for crimes against humanity, aggravated sexual violence and enforced disappearance. “This is a milestone judgement for Guatemala and beyond with regards to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of serious human rights violations committed by senior military officers during an internal armed conflict,” High Commissioner Zeid said. The judgment, citing international human rights standards, found that the practice of sexual violence, torture and enforced disappearance formed part of the military strategy during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. It also held that past crimes involving serious human rights violations are not subject to time limits for prosecution and cannot be subject to amnesty.

The High Commissioner said that this ruling, together with the jurisprudential precedents established in other transitional justice cases, such as Sepur Zarco, Dos Erres, Plan de Sánchez and Myrna Mack, sends a clear message that it is possible for Guatemala to advance in the fight against impunity of the past, which in turn, strengthens the fight against the impunity of the present and the consolidation of the rule of law. On 4 May 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had already held the State of Guatemala responsible for the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio.“

I pay tribute to the Molina Theissen family for their courage and perseverance to fight for over three decades for their right to justice and the truth,” Zeid said. Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen was detained at a military checkpoint on 27 September 1981 and transferred to the “Manuel Lisandro Barillas” Military Brigade in Quetzaltenango, where she was held captive, interrogated, subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as sexual violence. She escaped on 5 October 1981. The following day, her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio was taken by force from the family’s home in Guatemala City, put into a nylon sack and taken to an unknown destination in a vehicle with an official Government license plate. He has never been found.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/23/ray-of-hope-lesotho-court-takes-stand-against-defamation-of-hrds/

https://reliefweb.int/report/guatemala/milestone-judgement-guatemala-un-human-rights-chief

 

Violence in the occupied territories keeps HRDs busy

February 13, 2016

Israel has used excessive force against Palestinians, Makarim Wibisono, the outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Gaza and the West Bank said, calling for an investigation. He demanded that all Palestinian prisoners, including children, be charged or released. “The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders”.  Makarim Wibisono has announced he is resigning in protest at the Israeli government’s response to his concerns (his term would have expired on 31 March). The special investigator quoted statistics by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which say that about 5,680 Palestinians, including children, were detained by Israel as of the end of October 2015. Detaining these people “often under secret evidence, and for up to six-month terms that can be renewed indefinitely, is not consistent with international human rights standards,” Wibisono said, adding that the Israeli government “should promptly charge or release all administrative detainees.” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon branded Wibisono’s report as biased. “The report reflects the one-sidedness of the mandate and its flagrant anti-Israel bias. It is this one-sidedness which has made the rapporteur’s mission impossible to fulfill, hence his resignation,” he said.

Front Line reports that on 3 February 2016, human rights defender Mr Awni Abu Shamsiyya, son of human rights defender Mr Emad Abu Shamsiyya, was arrested alongside youth activist Mr Nizar Silhab Al-tamimi. The arrest took place after a raid on the Shamsiyya family home in Tel-Rumeida, Hebron. Awni Abu Shamsiyya and Nizar Silhab Al-tamimi were accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers and of posting inflammatory statements on Facebook. [Awni Abu Shamsiyya is a 16 year old, known for his participation in the Palestinian non-violent popular resistance movement in Hebron. He is also an active member of the Human Rights Defenders Group, a non-partisan group that aims to document and expose violations of international law and injustice against families in areas of conflict under Israeli occupation. His father, Emad Abu Shamsiyya, is a long-standing activist in Palestine and volunteer at B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, where he is involved in documenting the occupation of Tel-Rumeida. He is also a deputy coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders Group.In May 2015, Emad Abu Shamsiyya’s family home was subjected to an attempted arson attack by settlers in the middle of the night. In March 2015, a group of soldiers invaded  his family home, searched the house and confiscated the family’s computer hard disk and a memory card containing footage filmed by  B’Tselem volunteers. Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - croppedhttp://www.btselem.org/hebron/20150402_night_search_and_confiscation]

On 4 February 2016, Awni Abu Shamsiyya and Nizar Silhab Al-tamimi were interrogated by Israeli police and intelligence services before being brought before the military court of Ofer, where the accusations against the young activists of throwing a Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers and posting inflammatory statements on social media were presented, and a fine of appr €460 was requested by the military prosecutor. The court ordered Awni Abu Shamsiyya’s release after holding that the accusations against him had not been proven, however, the trial of Nizar Silhab Al-tamimi was postponed to 7 February 2016 after it was claimed by the military prosecutor that his confession had been obtained.

 

As an illustration of the context in which the violence and arrests occur see the report of Tuesday, 9 February 2016, by the International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team (Hebron), which published graphic pictures of Israeli forces patrolling the Palestinian market in occupied al-Khalil (Hebron), harassing and intimidating residents.

Israeli forces ontheir patrol through the Palestinian market

Israeli forces on their patrol through the Palestinian market

Any male adult or youth was stopped on their way to work and forced by the Israeli soldiers to lift up their shirts and trouser-pants, as well as throw their IDs on the ground. After throwing their IDs on the ground Israeli soldiers ordered the men to move back, so they could pick up the IDs from a ‘safe distance’. Most Palestinians were dismissed after this humiliating procedure, whereas some of them were detained for minutes or violently body-searched.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also interesting to note here the protest by Palestinian human rights defenders who are condemning the killing by Hamas of one of the resistance organization’s own members in Gaza. On Sunday, the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced it had executed Mahmoud Rushdi Ishteiwi. Qassam said that the slaying of Ishteiwi implemented a death sentence issued by “the military and Sharia judiciaries of Qassam Brigades for behavioral and moral excesses that he confessed.”

Killing Ishteiwi in such a way constitutes an assault on the rule of law and might institutionalize a serious case of extrajudicial execution,” said the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). “Prosecuting collaborators with the Israeli forces is necessary, and the Palestinian armed groups play an important role in such prosecution,” PCHR stated. “However, only official authorities should open investigations and hold the perpetrators to account.” Following news of Mahmoud Ishteiwi’s execution, Buthaina Ishteiwi told the Wattan news outlet that she believed her brother had been killed due to a dispute with his superiors.

[Under the laws of the Palestinian Authority, death sentences issued by courts can only be carried out after ratification by the PA president. The West Bank-based PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has not ratified any death sentences in a decade. Hamas has however continued the use of the death penalty in Gaza. According to PCHR, a total of 172 death sentences have been issued since the PA was established in 1994, of which 30 were in the West Bank and 142 in Gaza. Eighty-four death sentences were issued since Hamas took over in Gaza in 2007. But however serious the threat from informants, Palestinian human rights defenders have been adamant that even wartime collaboration must be dealt with according to the rule of law. Both PCHR and Al Mezan have moreover long advocated the total abolition of the death penalty in all cases. In a short film entitled “Against the Death Penalty” and released in December, PCHR highlights its campaign to end the practice once and for all.]

https://www.rt.com/news/332245-israel-excessive-force-palestine/

Source: Palestinian human rights defenders condemn execution by Hamas | The Electronic Intifada

http://palsolidarity.org/2016/02/intimidating-military-patrol-of-palestinian-market/

Profile of Paul Mambrasar: defender of indigenous Papuans

December 28, 2015

OMCT, in its series “10 December – 10 Defenders”, carried the story of Paul Mambrasar from West Papua, the least populous province of Indonesia, where is torture used to crush and silence. Home to the world’s largest gold and third-largest copper mines, West Papua has abundant natural resources including timber and palm oil that make it a coveted region. This has generated continuing conflict and made it one of Asia’s sorest spots in terms of human rights violations. From the 1960s on, Indonesia has maintained heavy military presence, resorting to extrajudicial killings, torture and abuse to crack down on activists in an attempt to crush the Papuan independence movement, whether peaceful or violent, leaving locals deeply resentful and suspicious of the national Government.OMCT-LOGO

Indigenous Papuans marginalized in their homeland, suffer state violence and stigma, while their natural resources are exploited by others and compromise their ancestral way of living. The on-going conflict with separatists merely exacerbates discrimination against Papuans, who have been repressed by decades of institutional racism and Indonesian occupation. This is the vicious cycle of violence that Paul has to deal with in his daily fight for the respect of the human rights. “Torture worsens the distrust West Papuans have in the State which, by failing to uphold the rule of law, merely fuels more separatist sentiments,” sums up Paul, Secretary of the Institute of Human Rights Studies and Advocacy (Elsham), a non-governmental organization defending human rights in Wet Papua.

Paul’s challenging working environment is the result of decades of quasi-institutionalized abuses resulting in many layers of deep-felt and pervasive grievances of West Papuans against the Indonesian Government. He is, however, gradually managing to build networks in his country, also thanks to support from organizations such as OMCT, and gradually drawing attention to the regular violations committed.

Discrimination and marginalization of Papuan have therefore worsened the situation. Government policies have also contributed to the problem. The arrival of migrants, fostered by transmigration programmes, has upset the demographics and social and cultural heritage of the people of West Papua and exacerbated competition over land and resources. Compounded with the socially and environmentally destructive development projects pushed in the region by Indonesia, this has caused widespread social disruption and environmental damage, forcing Papuan tribal groups to relocate, according to researchers from Yale Law School cited by Elsham in a 2003 Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights session.

Unreported exactions keep occurring as foreign eyes and independent international observers are barred from West Papua. It is therefore only thanks to the work of local organizations and human rights defenders such as Paul, who runs Elsham’s office in West Papua and attends international advocacy meetings at the Human Rights Council in Geneva communicating regularly with donors, that the world can know what is happening there.

“Impunity has allowed the security force, the police and the army, free access to inflict fear and terror through torture and other physical abuses,” Paul explains his motivation. “In order for torture to end the Indonesia State must take a strong action to punish those involved in its practice.”

Despite these odds and the many challenges of his job including being under Indonesian intelligence surveillance as an “independence sympathizer”, Paul, 51, trusts that the human rights conditions in West Papua will improve.

[When the Dutch Government granted independence to Indonesia in 1949, Papua was not part of it. At the end of the Dutch colonial rule, Papua was first administered, and then absorbed, by Indonesia in 1969, following a sham “referendum” requested by the United Nations. This so‑called “Act of Free Choice” was in fact a vote by just over a thousand selected Papuans (out of a population of 800,000 at the time) who had been pressured to agree to integration within Indonesia. This vote has been the bone of contention between Papuans and the Republic of Indonesian. Papuans have ever since agitated for independence, and have been conducting a still ongoing, low-level guerrilla warfare against Indonesian forces, in turn engaged in bloody repression and unpunished human rights violations. Papuans – who are Melanesian and whose ancestors arrived in the New Guinea region tens of thousands of years ago – do not identify culturally with the Asians. They see their Papuan identity and indigenous culture based on customary subsistence-based agriculture threatened by the arrival of migrants who, in turn, see the traditional Papuan way of life as backward.]

In this context see also the CNN report on the closure of NGO offices: http://freewestpapua.org/2015/12/13/indonesian-government-forces-all-ngos-to-leave-west-papua/

— by Lori Brumat in Geneva

Source: Indonesia: Meet Paul: Restoring the human rights of indigenous Papuans amid on-going conflict / December 10, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala

October 8, 2015

The newsletter of the ISHR of 7 October 2015 carries an interview with Iduvina Hernandez, co-founder of Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy in Guatemala.

Iduvina Hernandez founded the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy (SEDEM), together with US citizen Rachel Garst in 2000. As journalists, Iduvina and Rachel had studied the behaviour of armed forces and intelligence services which were linked to numerous human rights abuses. The organisation initially questioned the meaning of ‘oversight’ and ‘accountability’ of security services for the public as Guatemala was having raging debate about security forces and intelligence sources. In order to expand this discussion, the organisation started building citizen networks in the provinces providing them with training so as to enable them to conduct independent oversight of State security forces actions in their region.

Guatemala’s public security is handled by the military and dominated by a national security doctrine. Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have been documented in a country still haunted by genocide. Civil society organisations have suggested that the militarisation of public security makes human rights abuses more probable, a fact that Iduvina’s organisation aims to change.

‘In a true democracy the military has nothing to do with citizen security.’

Iduvina believes human rights work is in her DNA since she grew up in a family where solidarity was a critical value. She remembers seeing people hidden in her home when she was a child, her father explaining that these people’s lives were in danger. At that point, Iduvina already felt like part of the framework working to protect them.

‘We can always do something for anyone, in any place, in any way.’

From an early age Iduvina was part of the student movement, working for student rights and then became  a student leader for the University Students Association from 1976 to 1981. She lost many friends along the was due to disappearances or killings. She was even forced into exile but returned to the country as soon as she got the opportunity.

Challenges and threats to human rights defenders

One of Iduvina’s major challenges is linked to personal issues. As director of her own organisation she works on a volunteer basis and is therefore forced to have several jobs in order to sustain herself.

As for security conditions in Guatemala they expose human rights defenders to serious risks throughout their work. This usually includes being targeted by various Government actors and former members of the military often linked to the Government.

Iduvina highlights that though the social movement recently overthrew the former president, disappointingly there has not been any significant change in the political sphere.

‘The new person in charge is a fascist and very old. His policies, as well as his security policies, will be the same. We are afraid because we have a Government that does not respect human rights and certainly does not defend human rights.’

Iduvina states that the dangers that human rights defenders face in Guatemala stem from: Government action; Government policies; Government tolerance towards perpetrators; perpetrators’ actions; corruption; the composition of the judicial sector; and impunity.

The legislative framework for NGOs and human rights defenders

A restrictive law against NGOs was introduced in 2003 which imposed new conditions and limitations on NGOs – especially those working for the promotion of human rights. While registering a NGO used to be a simple process (only requiring registration at the  city hall office) the 2004 amendment to the Constitution now requires NGOs to register at the Minister of Interio. This has become a real obstacle for human rights defence as NGOs now need approval to work legally and even to change their board membership. This particularly targets ngos working for the promotion of human rights. Iduvina’s organisation once had to wait  6 months to be registered, whilst another organisation not involved with human rights was registered in 10 days.

‘An organisation working against genocide was required to maintain the same board and president as they were not granted approval to change the legal representation. If you are not registered you cannot deal with the banks, you cannot receive donations, you are on standby.’

No specific law in Guatemala protects the work of human rights defender though there are a number of institutionstasked with their protection. Iduvina believes that oversight over the process of registering NGOs must be removed and thinks it necessary to have a law  to protect the work of human rights defenders. Yet she believes it would be easier and more achievable to introduce a chapter on human rights defenders into the Special Ombudsman Law. With the composition of the current political system – dominated by right-wing ideas – this is still something she knows will be difficult to strive for. Attempting to implement such changes now would likely restrict human rights defenders further.

National and International Advocacy Goals

At the national level Iduvina is currently working on a draft national policy for the protection of human rights defenders. This includes the creation of  focus groups and the use of  workshops and interviews to identify the real needs of  grassroots defenders.

At the international level, Iduvina says it is essential that the international community bears in mind that Guatemala is not a consolidated democracy and that human rights defenders continue to be at high risk.

‘It is more important today than it has ever been. The movement to overthrow the Government suggested that things were going to change in Guatemala. We need to make clear to the international community that although the demonstrations were a huge success, the root problems have not changed, not yet. We still need the international community’s eye on the country, especially as the new President is in many ways worse than the last – coming from the armed forces and involved in the genocide. He is an enemy of democracy.’

Iduvina would like the Special Rapporteurs on the situation on human rights defenders and on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, to visit Guatemala. She would also welcome visits from other special procedures and treaty bodies, in particular those working to protect the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression

The Future for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

The future for human rights defenders in Guatemala is two sided, says Iduvina. On one hand the social movement has helped to extend their work and in some spaces of society they will now achieve more respect and understanding for their work. On the other hand if the political system does not change, human rights defenders will be confronted with new threats and new levels of risks.

Source: Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala | ISHR

Myanmar: backsliding by prosecuting human rights defenders instead of perpetrators

March 19, 2015

Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar Yanghee Lee. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On 18 March 2015 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), Ms. Yanghee Lee, called on the country’s authorities to address ongoing challenges to the democratic reform process “before they undermine the success achieved so far.

I was very disturbed by reports on 10 March that excessive and disproportionate force had been used against students and other civilians and that 127 people were subsequently arrested,” Ms. Yanghee Lee said during the presentation of her first report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. She welcomed the release of some detainees but also called for the immediate release of all the others. Further, Ms. Lee drew attention to the pressure on human rights defenders, including prosecutions under outdated defamation and national security laws, which have a “chilling effect on civil society activities.” I am concerned journalists are still being interrogated and arrested, and that 10 journalists were imprisoned in 2014. This needs to stop if Myanmar wants to create a meaningful democratic space,.

..More needs to be done to address the underlying issues at the heart of the conflicts, including discrimination against ethnic minorities. Four bills currently before Parliament risk increasing tension, she emphasized.

During my last visit in January 2015, I witnessed how dire the situation has remained in Rakhine state. The conditions in Muslim IDP [internally displaced persons] camps are abysmal and I received heart-breaking testimonies from Rohingya people telling me they had only two options: stay and die or leave by boat,” she said. Mrs Lee was verbally abused by a radical monk during her last visit, as reported on 21 January: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/u-n-rapporteur-on-myanmar-called-whore-by-radical-buddhist-monk/ 

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Thai Junta summons human rights defenders

June 2, 2014

The Asian Human Rights Commission reports that only a few hours ago (around 9 pm) on 1 June 2014, the National Council on Peace and Order Maintenance [NPCO] in Thailand issued Orders No. 42-44/2014 – broadcast on the radio and television – demanding that 38 persons report themselves to the Jamjuree Room at the Army Club on Thewet Road between 10 am and noon. Similar to earlier orders, the penalty for not obeying the summons carries a prison term and a 40,000 baht fine.The list includes a number of human rights defenders, activists, academics, and journalists, such as:

  • Jittra Kotchadet, long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender.
  • Tewarit Maneechay, human rights defender and journalist for the independent media site Prachatai.
  • Suthachai Yimprasert, a historian at Chulalongkorn University, and
  • Kengkij Kitirianglarp, a political scientist at Chiang Mai University; the two academics have consistently acted in support of human rights.
  • Pranee Danwattananusorn, the wife of Surachai Danwattananusorn (a former political prisoner) and who has worked to support the rights of political prisoners and human rights defenders.
  • Karom Phonpornklang, a lawyer who has defended numerous political prisoners.

The full lists can be found in:  THAILAND: Junta summons additional human rights defenders, activists, academics, and journalists — Asian Human Rights Commission.

Human rights defender Mohammed Bedaiwi killed in Iraq

March 25, 2014

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - croppedreports that on 22 March 2014, human rights defender and director of Radio Free Iraq, Mr Mohammed Bedaiwi, was shot dead, allegedly by an officer of the Presidential Regiment, in Baghdad. Mohamed Bedaiwi was a professor at the University and, for the past two years, the director of the Baghdad office of Radio Free Iraq. The station broadcasts from Prague. Mohammed Bedaiwi was stopped at a checkpoint on his way to work. An argument began between an officer and the human rights defender, and other officers reportedly began to beat Mohammed Bedaiwi. The incident culminated in the killing of the human rights defender. Reports indicate that the officer has been arrested but his identity has not been disclosed, leading to fears that the case may end in impunity. Mohammed Bedaiwi was very well-known and local sources consider it unlikely that the officers did not recognise him. On 23 March 2014 over 40 media institutions, including newspapers, radio stations and satellite TV channels, refrained from publishing or broadcasting in protest at the killing of Mohammed Bedaiwi. There have also been vigils and marches around the Iraqi capital in honour of the human rights defender. The press syndicate has expressed its concern about the killing of a journalist by an armed officer of the Presidential Guard.

[Since 2003 approximately 274 media professionals have been killed in Iraq; in the last four months alone, 11 journalists have been killed]

Week of Action against crackdown on Cambodian garment workers: 10 January

January 8, 2014

 

While we were celebrating the New Year, Cambodian garment workers protesting for a rise in wages faced a violent police crackdown on 2 January 2014. Freedom Park in Phnom Penh was forcibly cleared by police and mass actions are now banned from the site. Violent crackdowns were instigated by Cambodian military when workers of the Yak Jin factory held a protest asking for a salary increase. Soldiers threatened protesters with “metal pipes, knives, AK47 rifles, slingshots and batons” and arrested 10 people, including monks and human rights defenders. On 3 January,  protesters rallied at the Canadia industrial park and were met with live ammunition, teargas and grenades, leading to a violent clash that ended in 4 dead and 21 wounded. In all, 23 people have been arrested, their location unknown.

[Cambodia’s garment industry comprises 500,000 workers, a majority of whom are women from the rural areas. It provides products for western brands such as  H&M, Adidas, GAP, and Walmart. Some of the factories are Korean-owned.]

A group of NGOs is organizing a Week of Action at international level. For more info write to apwld[at]apwld.org – a campaign kit will be available at apwld.org

For more information:

Global Week of Action against Gov’t Crackdown on Cambodian Protesters.