Posts Tagged ‘minorities’

The will of the people or ‘democracy under the rule of law’ in Europe ?

December 9, 2017

It is not often that I recommend the reading of long ‘governmental’ documents, but this time it do without hesitation. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs published on 4 October 2017 its 104th thoughtful report, entitled: “The will of the people? The erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe”. Below I reproduce the Conclusions and recommendations, but reading only these you miss out on gems such as the section on Media page 27:

“Until the end of the twentieth century the media landscape was dominated by newspapers, radio and television. However, the advent of the internet in the early 1990s and social media in the early 2000s brought about a radical change. The low cost of accessing the internet means that everyone is now, in principle, able to generate journalistic content (through blogs, websites, YouTube videos, live streaming, etc.). This has resulted in democratisation of the media and diversification of the media landscape, but has also had negative effects.

The independence of the media is crucial for the credibility of reporting. But on the internet this seems to be largely immaterial: media that focus on a specific political or ideological niche are highly successful online. Besides the role of the internet, another factor instrumental in undermining media independence is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of just a few companies..The income of the traditional news media is being squeezed by greater competition.

 

Online media are often funded from advertising revenue. Consequently, the facts are no longer necessarily central; what counts is attracting as many visitors as possible to the site, relying on the speed of posting news online, sensational content and the ideological message. This undermines the reliability of the media. As everyone is now potentially able to generate news and the quantity of media content has risen explosively, it is becoming ever more difficult to check the content, sender and sources. So it is easy, for example, for populist movements to claim that the traditional media, especially newspapers, are biased and mendacious. This problem is exacerbated by the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, which is disinformation generally intended to substantiate one’s own political positions or undermine the positions and reputation of political opponents.

Whereas at the time of the Arab Spring there was much praise for the positive impact of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) on the democratic process, there is now greater awareness of its darker side.61 First, social media contributes to the formation of ‘ lter bubbles’. Informational bubbles of this kind are created by the user personally (self-selection) and strengthened by search and personalisation algorithms (pre-selection). This hyperpersonalisation of news and opinion has created a situation in which people are shielded from conflicting positions and isolated from people who think differently. In addition, social media tends to polarise social debate. Although social media undeniably facilitates and intensifies political debate and discussion, the nature of reactions on social media (fast, brief, simplistic, one-sided and often anonymous) has made the tone of the social debate considerably more strident. Finally, social media makes individuals more transparent. Connections, posts and likes help to create a more complete picture of individuals, who they are and what they think, believe and want. Within a democracy under the rule of law this picture can be used, for example, to microtarget voters with a view to influencing their political choice. But social media is also a powerful tool for monitoring individuals and identifying political opponents.”

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Conclusions and recommendations

‘The rule of law is not a peaceful property, a house in which we can sleep serenely.’160

This statement, made by the late senator Willem Witteveen in a parliamentary debate on the rule of law in 2014, remains as relevant as ever. Democracy under the rule of law needs constant maintenance, in Europe as elsewhere. Since the turn of the millennium, the increasingly apparent alienation between the institutions of democracy under the rule of law and sections of the population whose circumstances and prospects have become precarious and/or who feel that the nation’s cultural identity is under threat, has created an environment fraught with risk. In several European states, movements with varying degrees of influence have emerged that want to use democratically acquired power to limit the political status and legal safeguards of other population groups. This indicates that, to a large extent, they do not feel that constitutional democracy, i.e. democracy under the rule of law, is in everyone’s interest, including their own.

As pointed out in the introduction to this advisory report, it is an essential but delicate task, when standing up for the rule of law in the international arena, to respect the democratic character of the states concerned and enhance their democratic quality. As societies become ever more complex, rights, obligations and diverse social interests must constantly be weighed against one another and conflicts resolved. This means that all levels of government need to strike a balance between catering to the public’s wishes and making an independent assessment based on the general interest. Due to a large number of developments and factors, which have been described in this report, this balance has gradually been disturbed in recent decades. Many people across Europe now feel that the institutions of democracy under the rule of law mainly benefit others, including ‘the establishment’ or minority groups. This dissatisfaction is fuelling alternative political movements that promise more consultation and more effective government.

In Europe, a broad effort is required to restore and strengthen public support for democracy under the rule of law. It should be clear to all that the rule of law does not hamper democracy but rather bolsters it. There needs to be greater awareness that democracy only benefits all citizens if it is accompanied by rule-of-law safeguards. Citizens also need to know that their voices are being heard at international level. EU institutions must serve the public visibly and tangibly. That is not sufficiently the case at present.

All member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union are responsible for maintaining democracy under the rule of law in Europe. The fact that national governments working together in the EU appear unwilling to call one another to account for the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights does nothing to enhance the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. It merely confirms the widespread perception that the EU promises human dignity but does not effectively protect it.

This does not just undermine norms and values that are a key part of the European identity; the stability of Europe, too, is at stake. If the protection of individual rights and minorities is eroded, this rapidly generates domestic tensions, bilateral conflicts and, inevitably, migratory flows that can sometimes assume unmanageable proportions.

And if the erosion of democracy under the rule of law goes hand in hand with the undermining of common EU institutions, as is often the case, those institutions will increasingly be incapable of taking effective action to resolve such crises.

Even if no large-scale escalation occurs, the erosion of democracy under the rule of law eats away at the foundations of interstate cooperation that are important in Europe. Police cooperation, the European arrest warrant, the transfer of asylum seekers under the Dublin system – all these forms of cooperation are based on mutual trust in the quality of legal systems and the protection of the core values of the rule of law. But if the factual basis for that mutual trust disappears, mutual recognition and solidarity will sooner or later also be put in jeopardy.161

In addition to these considerations, a deficient democracy under the rule of law creates an unattractive investment climate. Confidence in constitutional stability and in the fair and effective public administration of justice is, after all, essential. Without such confidence, investors will be forced to resort to arbitration and other forms of investment protection; they will then have to contend with both increasingly critical public opinion and legal objections.162

Recommendations

Below the AIV will make a number of policy recommendations concerning how the Netherlands can work in the appropriate international bodies and bilaterally to preserve the constitutional structures of democracy under the rule of law from (further) erosion. The Netherlands must be prepared to swim against the tide and continue its engagement on this issue, with a view to preventing the operation of the democratic system from eroding its own principles.

It needs to be completely clear, of course, that such efforts should support states’ democratic functioning – taking account of their historically acquired characteristics; a democracy’s procedural and substantive features must not be further torn apart, but rather woven together in a more convincing manner. This requires respect for the diversity that can exist among the member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Alignment should constantly be sought with the common fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law as accepted by all the nations concerned. The recommendations made here therefore build on what has been agreed with and by the other states.

There is a need for caution here. For various reasons, there is bound to be some discrepancy between the complexity of the problems described in this report and the recommendations presented below. First, there is no magic bullet that will halt the erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe in a simple manner, because numerous complex factors are involved (see chapter II). What is needed is a differentiated approach at various levels: national, international, governmental, societal, etc. Second, a society can only achieve democracy under the rule of law from within. Individuals and organisations from other countries can merely play a supporting role. It stands to reason that the Dutch government – to which many of the recommendations relate – can mainly offer support in the realm of social developments and their anchoring in the rule of law. Third, the political balance of forces in Europe, especially in the European Union, currently offers limited scope for voicing a powerful counter-message. Only a limited number of European countries are firmly committed to defending the principles of the rule of law. Finally, account must be taken of the increased public scepticism towards EU cooperation that has developed in the Netherlands, as in other countries.

1. Increasing institutional responsiveness

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is the most important organisation in Europe when it comes to setting standards for human rights and monitoring how they are reflected in member states’ legislation, policy and practices. Nevertheless, there appears to be little awareness in Europe of the Council’s importance in this regard. The Netherlands could take the lead in a political re-evaluation of the Council’s importance. This could be done in the following ways:

  1. Working with like-minded countries to secure a greater political role for the Committee of Ministers in monitoring the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the member states. The Committee of Ministers should not restrain the Council of Europe’s independent institutions (the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights), but support and encourage them.
     
  2. Promoting the implementation of the Brussels Declaration and the Plan of Action on Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality by entering into a twinning relationship with certain countries and helping them to increase knowledge about the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights within government and the judiciary, and among the legal profession and NGOs, to expand national parliaments’ role in implementing judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in the member states and to create an independent national human rights institute.
     
  3. Taking the initiative to expand the Committee of Ministers’ traditional focus on civil and political human rights to include the social rights laid down in the European Social Charter. The Netherlands could highlight this by providing extra support for the HELP programme.
     
  4. At set times, the government should provide the Permanent Parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice with confidential information about the deliberations in the Committee of Ministers, especially as regards the implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.
     
  5. The Netherlands can support reciprocity within the Council of Europe by asking the Venice Commission for advice on Dutch legislation in the event of dilemmas like those concerning the judicial review of legislation and the consequences of referendums.

European Union

  1. Within the EU, the Netherlands must continue its efforts to strengthen the annual rule of law dialogue, as a stepping stone towards a peer review mechanism,163 for which there is still insufficient support in the Union.
     
  2. The Netherlands can join with like-minded countries to form a (possibly informal) group of ‘trailblazers’ that launches a peer review. Such a group can set a positive example of European cooperation for EU citizens, including people in countries that do not yet want to participate. It will show them that ideas on the rule of law can be exchanged in an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust.
     
  3. Some EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary, are currently firmly opposed to the notion that membership of the Union entails certain responsibilities in terms of democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, these countries receive substantial amounts in EU subsidies. In the upcoming negotiations on the EU budget (multiannual financial framework) and how to reform it, the Netherlands should seek to link receipts from the cohesion and structural funds to success in satisfying the original Copenhagen criteria for EU accession.
     
  4. The Netherlands can express support for the European Parliament’s proposal for an    EU Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
     
  5. The Senate and the House of Representatives can play a constructive role in promoting the principles of democracy under the rule of law in Europe by raising this issue with other European national parliaments. Consideration could be given to creating a parliamentary network focusing on practical cooperation and knowledgesharing on linking democracy and the rule of law. This could be done bilaterally, but also, for example, by setting up a trilateral partnership among a number of parliaments. In addition, like-minded leaders of European political parties should enter into a dialogue in their own political group in the European Parliament with those parties that approve measures at national level that undermine democracy under the rule of law.
     
  6. Dialogue should always be preferred over confrontation in international diplomacy. The same applies when addressing the issues of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Where dialogue repeatedly fails, however, the international community should be willing, as a last resort, to draw a line in the sand. In concrete terms, this means that the Netherlands and its EU partners should make clear that there can be no room for Turkey in the Council of Europe and the European Union if it decides to reintroduce the death penalty.
     
  7. Legislation like Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law and its abuse of general legislation in respect of NGOs should consistently be condemned by the Netherlands, both bilaterally and internationally, in cooperation with like-minded countries.

OSCE

The Netherlands could in the near future consider launching a candidacy for the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This would give it the opportunity to put democratisation and the principles of the rule of law more emphatically on the organisation’s agenda, including in the field of human rights.

G20/OECD

The Netherlands is currently taking part in the G20 at the invitation of Germany, which now holds the Presidency. The Netherlands should strive for ongoing participation in this forum, which is ideally suited for working with like-minded countries to address the adverse consequences of globalisation. As in the OECD, a discussion on this subject should focus not only on trade, investment and development but also on socioeconomic rights, environmental rights and the relationship between government and citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals could provide a useful tool for this purpose.

2. Social diplomacy

The above recommendations are aimed mainly at governments and multilateral institutions. Earlier in this report, however, the AIV stated that international political pressure by governments, however essential, is not sufficient to safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe. Above all, there should be broad support in society for these values, and the public should have confidence in the institutions of democracy under the rule of law. This requires a long-term dialogue with civil society organisations, opposition movements and institutions that can translate international human rights to the national level. The AIV would make the following recommendations for this purpose.

  1. As part of its human rights policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should set up a democracy and rule of law programme that focuses on the member states of the Council of Europe where democracy under the rule of law is in danger. It should also draw on the expertise of other relevant ministries (e.g. the Ministries of Education, of Security and Justice, and of Economic Affairs).

    To support this programme, a rule of law fund should be created. During the next government’s term of office, around €2.5 million per year should be set aside for this purpose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget. The existing MATRA programme, which focuses exclusively on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in candidate and potential candidate countries of the EU and the countries of the Eastern Partnership, can be integrated into this broader rule of law fund. The MATRA programme budget is set to decline from €13.7 million in 2017 to €9.1 million in 2018 and 2019. The AIV recommends that, at the very least, this reduction should be reversed.

    The rule of law fund will support civil society organisations with a regional focus on areas such as the following:

    • People-to-people and profession-to-profession contacts. Through placements and exchanges, knowledge and experience can be shared between socially relevant professional bodies, like the judiciary and legal profession, the ombudsman, educational, knowledge and cultural institutions and the media.
    • Raising public awareness of the value and importance of democracy under the rule of law. This can be achieved, for example, by promoting education in citizenship, democracy and human rights, especially among young people. The expertise of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation can be used for this purpose.
    • Supporting citizen and other initiatives aimed at research and quality journalism in vulnerable democracies.
     

  2. In international forums dealing with internet freedom and governance (e.g. the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can devote more attention to the internet’s potential role in strengthening the principles of democracy under the rule of law where they are under threat.
     
  3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can work with the private sector (e.g. via major social media platforms and the Global Network Initiative) and NGOs in organising projects on digital citizenship, democracy and human rights. A concrete example is the organisation of a Democracy Hackathon, where European software programmers and website developers work together on ICT products (e.g. an app) that can improve trust between citizens and government (both local and national). This ‘hackathon’ could focus on a different theme every year, such as the internet and privacy, social media etiquette, fake news and fact-checking, as well as services provided by local and national government, migration and election observation.

3. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions

  1. The AIV strongly recommends that the policy capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch missions in Council of Europe member states be evaluated and, where necessary, expanded with local knowledge. This will enable the ministry and missions to identify and respond quickly to local initiatives and opposition movements in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Missions will need to have sufficient funds at their disposal for this purpose.164
     
  2. In its strategic secondment policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could focus more explicitly on both non-governmental and multilateral organisations that exert influence, directly or indirectly, on democratisation and the principles of the rule of law, for example the G20, the OECD and the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition.

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160 From senator Willem Witteveen’s contribution to the debate on the rule of law, Proceedings of the Senate 2013-2014, 22-5-1 (March 2014).
161 For example, Germany will no longer be able to avoid the decision not to send asylum seekers back to Hungary. See Politico, 11 April 2017, ‘Germany suspends migrant returns to Hungary – Hungary’s been criticized for detaining migrants in camps on its border with Serbia’, <http://www.politico.eu/article/ germany-suspends-migrant-returns-to-hungary/>.
162 See case C-284/16 (Achmea), now pending before the EU Court of Justice, which, among other things, revolves around the question of whether the Dutch-Czech arbitration agreement is compatible with EU law.
163 See the earlier recommendation for a peer review in AIV advisory report no. 87, The Rule of Law: Safeguard for European Citizens and Foundation of European Cooperation, The Hague, January 2014, pp. 35-37.
164 See also AIV advisory letter no. 32, Representing the Netherlands Throughout the World, The Hague, May 2017.

Lawyer wins Front Line’s 2017 human rights award for helping Crimean Tartars

May 26, 2017

On 31 March this year  I announced the 5 nominees for Front Line’s human rights award [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/31/finalists-for-the-2017-front-line-defenders-award-come-from-ukraine-nicaragua-vietnam-south-africa-and-kuwait/] and today the organization announced that the winner is Emil Kurbedinov, a lawyer who is helping ethnic Tartars in Crimea.

Emil Kurbedinov said 'Winning an acquittal for my clients is almost impossible - but what I can do is show them that, despite the risks, I will not abandon them'

Emil Kurbedinov was at the ceremony in Dublin’s City Hall this morning to receive the Human Rights Defender At Risk award for 2017. According to Front Line Defenders, which has its global headquarters in Blackrock in Dublin, defending human rights activists and political prisoners in Crimea is some of the most dangerous work that any lawyer can undertake. Despite those risks, Mr Kurbedinov has spent years providing emergency legal response for the Crimean Tartar minority, which it maintains has been persecuted by Russian authorities.

In January of this year, Mr Kurbedinov was detained by representatives of Crimea’s Centre for Counteracting Extremism while on his way to represent a client whose house had been raided by police. A district court later sentenced him to ten days in detention on a charge of “propagandising for extremist organisations“.

The Executive Director, Andrew Anderson, said: “In the midst of a global crackdown on human rights defenders, the five finalists demonstrate the will to persist in the face of severe, often life-threatening risks.

Source: Lawyer wins human rights award for helping Tartars

2017 (3): HRW reminds world of continuing repression of minorities and their defenders

January 20, 2017

On 12 January 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its World Report on global human rights violations in 2016 and on the dangers the world will be facing in 2017. HRW shines its spotlight on the global rise of authoritarian populism and the concomitant toughening and broadening of anti-terrorism legislation around the world, which endangered throughout 2016 – and must be expected to keep challenging in 2017 – the very foundations of human rights law and the personal dignity inherent in every human being just as much as the despicable extremist attacks, to which they are a direct reaction.

Below the UNPO‘s (stand for the UNREPRESENTED NATIONS AND PEOPLES ORGANIZATION) reading of the report which notes with satisfaction that HRW does not neglect to emphasize in its country reports the persisting human rights abuses directed against indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious minorities around the world, but also sees some shortcomings (from its own perspective): Read the rest of this entry »

EU adopts Urgent Resolution on Ilham Tohti and the Tibetan Buddhist Academy

December 15, 2016

Just now, on 15 December 2016, the European Parliament adopted an urgent and substantive resolution on breaches of human rights, democracy, and rule of law in China. The resolution condemns in particular exactions committed in East Turkestan and Tibet against the Uyghur and Tibetan populations respectively and addresses the cases of the imprisonment of economics professor Ilham Tohti (MEA Laureate 2016) and the dismantling of Larung Gar, the largest Buddhist institute in the world. The EU demands Tohti’s immediate and unconditional release, recalling his scholarly work on Uyghur-Han relations. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/11/hot-news-ilham-tohti-chinas-mandela-wins-2016-martin-ennals-awad/]

Tohti Ilham

 

 

 

 

 

The resolution below (in full) was published by the European Parliament: Read the rest of this entry »

Sakharov Prize 2016 went ultimately to two Yazidi women

November 1, 2016

 On 26 October it was announced that Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar are the 2016 laureates of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought although Crimean Tatar Mustafa Dzhemilev was in the lead.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar are survivors of sexual enslavement by Islamic State (IS) and have become spokespersons for women afflicted by IS’s campaign of sexual violence. They are public advocates for the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority that has been the subject of a genocidal campaign by IS militants.

On 3 August 2014, IS slaughtered all the males in the village of Kocho, Aji Bashar and Murad’s hometown in Sinjar/Iraq. Following the massacre, women and children were enslaved: all young women, including Aji Bashar, Murad and their sisters were kidnapped, bought and sold several times and exploited as sex slaves. During the Kocho massacre, Murad lost six of her brothers and her mother, who was killed along with 80 older women deemed to have no sexual value. Aji Bashar was also exploited as a sex slave along with her six sisters. She was sold five times among the militants and was forced to make bombs and suicide vests in Mosul after IS militants executed her brothers and father.

In November 2014, Murad managed to escape with the help of a neighbouring family who smuggled her out of the IS-controlled area, allowing her to make her way to a refugee camp in northern Iraq and then to Germany. A year later, in December 2015, Murad addressed the UN Security Council’s first-ever session on human trafficking with a powerful speech about her experience. In September 2016, she became the first United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, participating in global and local advocacy initiatives to raise awareness around the plight of the countless victims of trafficking. In October 2016, the Council of Europe honoured her with the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/yazidi-survivor-nadia-murad-wins-vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize-2016/]

Aji Bashar tried to flee several times before finally escaping in April with the help of her family, who paid local smugglers. On her way over the Kurdish border, and while racing towards Iraq’s government-controlled territory with IS militants in pursuit, a landmine exploded, killing two of her acquaintances and leaving her injured and almost blind. Luckily she managed to escape and was eventually sent for medical treatment in Germany, where she was reunited with her surviving siblings. Since her recovery Aji Bashar has been active in raising awareness about the plight of the Yazidi community and continues to help women and children who were victims of IS enslavement and atrocities.

However, UNPO reports that there is some controversy over the decision as Crimean Tatar politician and human rights activist Mustafa Dzhemilev seemed to have had a majority in the first round.  This may lead to questions about interpreting its procedures (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sakharovprize/en/home/how-it-works.html). See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/european-parliaments-sakharov-prize-2016-nominees-announced/

Sources:

Sakharov Prize

http://www.unpo.org/article/19602

500 signatories demand release of Indian filmmaker Sarangi

April 4, 2016

A remarkably large and diversified group of some 500 film makers, writers, professionals in the area of art & culture, academics, activists and social organisations demand the release of Indian filmmaker and human rights defender Deba Rajan Sarangi in an open letter published on 3 April 2016.

They state that they are deeply shocked to hear about his arrest on 18 March, 2016, by plainclothes policemen from the Kucheipadar village of Rayagada District, Odisha. Debaranjan was in Kucheipadar to attend a funeral. He was arrested with a non-bailable warrant issued by the court of JMFC, Kashippur in pursuance of a case registered in Tikri police station of Rayagada district in 2005, when Debaranjan was actively involved in the struggle of the Adivasis in Kashipur to protect their lands from the invasion of the bauxite mining companies…

Deba Ranjan Sarangi has highlighted and critiqued policies of destructive development, unbridled mining practices, displacement, police impunity, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasi issues , growth of communal fascism in Odisha, violence on women and farmers’ suicide in the context of acute agrarian. Deba Ranjan has been put behind bars because he had the courage to show what he witnessed to the world through his expressions of film making, writing and speech. He is neither a Maoist nor a terrorist. We call upon the Odisha government to address the issues raised by the human rights defenders in the State of Odisha rather than imprisoning them and crushing the voices of film makers. We call upon the Odisha government to desist from such disgraceful attempts of violating the Indian Constitution and Indian democracy.
The link below gives a partial list of signatories:

Source: 500 Artists, Activists And Writers Demand Filmmaker Sarangi’s Release

Profile of Stephania Koulaeva, human rights defender in Russia

January 8, 2016

In December 2015 the ISHR published this profile of Russian human rights defender Stephania Koulaeva 

Stephania Koulaeva, a historian by education, explains the ever-expanding scope of her human rights work. Her interest was drawn to the memorial movement in Russia: ‘at first from a historical perspective, then from a human rights perspective.’ As a student, Stephania was involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, primarily focused on the rights of the Roma minority, the most visible minority in Russia at the time. After new waves of migration began from Central Asia in the late nineties, Stephania expanded her work to issues surrounding migration. This then broadened further to include women’s rights, LGBTI rights, and she eventually became involved in the protection of human rights defenders. Her organisation, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC Memorial) is the only organisation in Russia that combats discrimination on such a wide range of issues.

Unfortunately, shrinking space for civil society has consistently been a serious threat within Russia. ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, neo-nazis attacked and occasionally murdered human rights defenders working on discrimination issues. At that time that was the primary danger; the main danger we face now is political oppression by the Government.’

Over the past few years – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s 2012 return to presidency – the Russian Government has cracked down on NGOs, often by accusing them of being ‘foreign agents’ due to their ‘political activity’. ADC Memorial was forced to choose between officially registering as a ‘foreign agent’ or closing down for submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture in the lead up to Russia’s 2012 review by that body. As the label of ‘foreign agent’ would greatly restrict the work ADC Memorial was able to carry out, it made the difficult decision of closing the organisation down in 2014. Since then, ADC Memorial has been operating without official Russian registration.

The continued operation of ADC Memorial does not indicate an alleviation in the Government’s harsh approach to civil society, and in November of this year, prominent NGO Memorial Human Rights Centre was targeted in the same manner: ‘They received a letter from the prosecutor stating that they had violated the Constitution of the Russian Federation for fulfilling their work.’ Memorial Human Rights Centre had previously ‘criticised Russian aggression in the Ukraine’ and ‘disagreed with the arrest of certain civil activists’. It is most likely being threatened due to this ‘political action’. ‘This is a very dangerous step for the Government to take. They are now criminalising human rights activity; the situation is rapidly getting worse.’

Stephania has a positive outlook on her previous interactions with the UN, acknowledging that the UN has done their utmost to stop the criminalisation of human rights defenders. ‘We’re very grateful for all the support that we’ve received from various treaty body committees that we’ve worked with; they’ve all recognised the work of civil society and given meaningful recommendations in the framework of their mandate.’ However, the political reality of the UN’s influence is not always as effective. ‘It’s very difficult to oppose Russian politics, even at the level of the United Nations.’ Stephania is now looking outward to bring domestic change to Russia, as anti-discrimination laws now seem ‘unlikely – although pressure on the Government will continue.’ She hopes to find some success in international courts, citing potentially useful precedents at the European Court of Human Rights in cases regarding migrants and stateless people.

‘We can’t simply stay within our borders – it’s impossible to tackle issues solely within Russia without also looking at related issues in neighbouring countries.’

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/12-human-rights-defenders-who-are-not-on-the-slopes-of-sochi/

Source: Defender profile: Stephania Koulaeva working in Russia | ISHRISHR-logo-colour-high

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

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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