Posts Tagged ‘minorities’

Dunja Mijatović calls on Bulgaria to counter hate speech and domestic violence

December 3, 2019

A Roma family who fled the village of Voyvodinovo, Bulgaria, during the anti-Roma protest in January 2019. ©Angelina Genova

A Roma family who fled the village of Voyvodinovo, Bulgaria, during the anti-Roma protest in January 2019. ©Angelina Genova

“The government should step up its efforts to fight the hate speech prevailing today in Bulgaria in particular against Roma, LGBTI people and other minority groups” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, on 2 December 2019 after a 5-day visit to the country.

Hate speech and hostility against Roma persist, with little if any response from the authorities to counter this long-standing phenomenon. “The lack of reaction to some very serious instances of hate speech by some high-level politicians, which systematically go unsanctioned, is worrying.” The Commissioner deplored the situation of Roma who had to leave their homes earlier this year following anti-Roma rallies in several villages, including in Voyvodinovo where around 200 individuals left in fear. “Such disastrous events illustrate the highly detrimental impact that hate speech can have on the lives of people and communities. I call on the authorities to urgently address the situation of the persons affected,” she added.

“There is a need for a political and cultural shift as regards the treatment and image of minority groups in Bulgaria. Recognising racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance for all offences and implementing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, including those on forced evictions and the registration of associations of persons identifying as a minority are among the immediate steps which the government should take.” In addition, the Commissioner is concerned about the demonstrations organised by extremist groups and calls on the authorities to strongly and publicly condemn such manifestations.

…….The Commissioner visited the only crisis shelter for women victims of domestic violence currently operating in Sofia. “As a matter of urgency, the authorities should increase the number of shelters and other social services available to victims of domestic violence.” The Commissioner is also concerned by the climate of increased hostility against human rights defenders, in particular women’s and LGBTI rights activists.

Moreover, Commissioner Mijatović is alarmed by the continuous deterioration of media freedom in Bulgaria. Non-transparent media ownership, threats and harassment of journalists, and the use of defamation suits are chronic problems. In addition, political influence over media outlets severely undermines the credibility of the press. “This must stop. Citizens need a free, investigative and independent press in order to be able to participate more actively in the democratic fabric of society. Journalists should be free to play their crucial role without interference.”

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/bulgaria-should-counter-harmful-narratives-endangering-human-rights-and-step-up-efforts-to-fight-hate-speech-and-domestic-violence

Three award-winning Colombian human rights defenders on a European tour to raise awareness

May 29, 2019

Three award-winning Colombian human rights defenders visited the Lutheran World Federation on 27-28 May as part of a European tour to raise awareness of the dangers and difficulties faced by so many people working for justice and peace in the country today. According to the Somos Defensores network which monitors attacks against human rights defenders, 2018 was one of the worst years ever for these activists and social leaders in Colombia, with over 800 attacks and 155 murders reported. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/26/somos-defensores-in-colombia-publishes-annual-report-2018-worst-ever/]

The three are recipients of the 2018 National Human Rights Defenders award, presented by the Church of Sweden and the Swedish faith-based organization Diakonia, with the support of the Swedish government. Its goal is to draw international attention to struggles of those working for human rights, especially those located in isolated, grassroots communities/

Germán Graciano Posso, legal representative of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in the northwest of Colombia, shared stories of over 300 members and supporters of his community who have been murdered in the past two decades. The small farming community of some 600 people was founded in 1997 at the height of the conflict between the government and members of the two main guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN)… Germán said he and the community “had high hopes with the country’s peace process that everything would change for the better” but that has not happened. The paramilitary presence has been growing in the past months, he said, and young people continue to be recruited into their ranks, an issue that has been acknowledged by the Ombudsman office.

Dolis Estela Valencia is a leading member of the Black and Afro-Descendant Community Council of Alto Mira y Fronteras in Tumaco, on the Pacific coast close to the border with Ecuador. The Council represents 42 local communities, working to support the Afro-Colombian people whose collective land rights were recognized by the government in 1993. Despite that legal recognition, Dolis shared her experience of death threats, forced displacements and assassinations of those struggling to defend their land and livelihoods Farmers in this community are trying to grow cocoa beans, bananas and other traditional crops instead of the coca leaves that drive Colombia’s lucrative drug trafficking industry. Her community is included in the government program for the substitution of illegal crops as part of the peace accords.

Genaro de Jesús Graciano is legal representative of a socio-environmental organization, Movimiento Ríos Vivos in Antioquia which includes 15 grassroots communities affected by the giant Ituango hydroelectric dam project. Plans for the 220-meter high dam across the Cauca river were completed a decade ago and construction began in 2011, but Genaro said the project –one of the largest of its kind in Latin America – has been flawed from the start…Genaro and his organization have filed official complaints and requests for compensation from the construction company and shareholders, the Empresas Públicas de Medellin and the regional Government of Antioquia. Besides, the national environment authority (ANLA) has issued official warnings about the dangers of this project which have been disregarded. In the meantime, 5 environmental leaders have been killed, while many others have been the targets of death threats, discrimination and exclusion from public debates about the future of the dam.

As well as sharing stories during an encounter at LWF headquarters and meeting UN special rapporteurs in Geneva, Germán, Dolis and Genaro were also visiting Berlin, Stockholm and Uppsala as part of the 16 to 29 May European tour. A fourth prize winner, 78-year-old community leader Maria Ligia Chaverra, was unable to take part in the tour because of health reasons. All of them underline the importance of the Human Rights Defenders prize in shining a much-needed spotlight on their stories and bringing international attention to the plight of their communities.

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/dangerous-task-defending-human-rights-colombia

75 human rights defenders in India will monitor violence against Dalits during India elections

April 18, 2019

Caste violence, dalit

Representational Image. (File | EPS)
Ritwika Mitra  reports on 18 April that seventy-five ‘human rights defenders’ will be monitoring elections during elections in identified ‘sensitive’ constituencies across 20 states to monitor any form of violence against Dalits during the voting process, which takes place over the period 11 April to 19 May 2019.

The National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) — a coalition of Dalit rights organisations — is coordinating with volunteers the move. “If the volunteers notice any violence during the voting, they will immediately inform the electoral officer and the police. These defenders are trained and to spot any form of atrocity against Dalits…” said V A Ramesh Nathan, general secretary, NDMJ.

The focus would be on Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Gujarat. The list, however, is not comprehensive. The coalition recently monitored the situation in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar during the first phase of the polling season. In Andhra Pradesh, there were cases where Dalits were not being allowed to vote, which were taken up by the volunteers and the issue was resolved, said Kamalchand Kispott, policy and advocacy officer, NDMJ.

http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/apr/18/lok-sabha-elections-2019-75-human-rights-defenders-to-monitor-violence-against-dalits-across-states-1965667.html

OSCE Human Rights Monitoring and Security Training for Human rights defenders: apply soon

March 23, 2019

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is pleased to offer a five-day training event on human rights monitoring and safety and security for human rights defenders (HRDs) working in three thematic areas: 1) human rights of Roma and Sinti, 2) human rights of people of African descent, and 3) environmental protection issues.
The objective of the training event is to enable human rights defenders (HRDs) to independently carry out quality and objective human rights monitoring activities in a safe and secure manner and taking into account relevant gender considerations. The event will take place in Montenegro from 27 to 31 May 2019, and will cover the human rights monitoring cycle and principles; physical safety and security of human rights monitors; and digital security, including secure information management. The language of the event will be English. The training will be based on interactive learning methods and requires a high level of active participation by all participants. During group exercises, participants will be divided based on their field of work/interest and coached by a senior professional expert. ODIHR will select up to eight participants per group.

The size of the entire group will be limited to 25 participants, selected according to the following criteria:
• Citizenship or residence in one of the OSCE participating States;
• Involvement as a human rights defender in one of the specified fields: environmental protection, human rights of Roma and Sinti, or human rights of people of African descent;
• Limited or no experience on human rights monitoring and reporting;
• No or limited previous training in safety and security (including digital security);
• Relevance of the training for future human rights activities in OSCE the region;
• Computer literacy;
• Fluency in English.

The OSCE/ODIHR recognizes as a human rights defender any person promoting and striving for the realization of human rights regardless of profession, age or other status. Human rights defenders carry out their human rights activities individually or jointly with others, as part of an informal group or as a non-governmental organization (NGO), and act in a voluntary capacity or professionally. ..The workshop is designed for activists with limited or no skills who can benefit fully from receiving the training. Accommodation and travel for the selected human rights defenders to attend the event will be covered by ODIHR.

Deadline for submission: 29th March 2019. If you have any questions about the content or the selection procedure of the training, please do not hesitate to contact David Mark david.mark@odihr.pl and Marine Constant at marine.constant@odihr.pl.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfQUm0t3S8vU3Kat8C46gbcRlxSaXQC6ZcMA7DwKmEyngknQA/viewform

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/28/human-rights-education-courses-also-exist-in-europe/

Pakistan: a bad country for religious tolerance

March 17, 2019

Nothing new but it being a Sunday here in Crete, where lots of people go to church, one is struck by the continuing religious intolerance in certain parts of the world. Here two short items  relating to Pakistan, both from March 2019:
reports that on 6 March 2019 human rights defender Afzal Kohistani was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Gami Ada, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Afzal Kohistani was a human rights defender who had been campaigning against “honour killings”, or choar, in the Kohistan region of Pakistan. He had been the central figure seeking justice for the killing of five young women and three young men in 2012 and 2013.

The 2012 and 2013 “honour killings” were linked to a video, which went viral after it appeared online in 2012. It showed five young women singing and clapping, while two young men performed a traditional dance during a local wedding in Palas, a remote area in Kohistan. The mixing of genders is considered a serious violation of tribal norms in Kohistan and the young people were killed as a result of the “dishonour” they had brought on their families and community…..Prior to his death, Afzal Kohistani had received numerous death threats for seeking to bring the perpetrators of the Kohistan killings to justice. The human rights defender and his family were forced to leave their home in 2012 and had been in hiding for the past seven years. A few days prior to being killed, the human rights defender had written to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in Hazara seeking police protection but his request never received a response. The Supreme Court’s orders for the provincial government to provide the human rights defender with protection were also not heeded. (for more detail see the link below).[ One of my first posts in 2013 concerned https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/09/28/pakistan-and-rights-of-women-unbearable/]

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A story in the Business Standard of 17 March refers to the a protest rally in Geneva by living in parts of Europe  objecting to “Islamists misusing blasphemy law to harass Christians in Pakistan”. The protesters walked from Palais Wilson, to ‘Broken Chair’ in front of the UN, during the 40th session of the

They demanded that the government must abolish the ‘dangerous’ law misused by the state and non-state actors to target the minorities. Frank John, of Drumchapel Asian Forum in Glasgow, said: “We are unhappy with the functioning of the government in because the mindset of ‘maulvis’ (Islamic hardliners) towards Christians is immoral. Every day, atrocities are being committed against our children, especially girls, which is not acceptable. Our girls are being kidnapped by misusing PPC 295C and they are converted into ” He added: “.. If we have an altercation with any person, they put us under PPC 295C. This is a and needs to be abolished.”

Dr Mario Silva, Executive of for Rights and Security said: “Pakistan systematically discriminates against minorities. Christians are particularly targetted by the law. Christian persecution is a real threat to democracy and it’s a real threat to human rights. It’s something the community needs to take a look at. He added, “The state has a responsibility to protect its minorities rather destroying them. They have to go against the perpetrators of crimes against Christians. There are attacks on Christians, suicide bombings are taking place and the government is doing nothing to investigate the persecution of Christians in the country.” Criticising the law, he said: “Blasphemy law should in fact never be a part of any democratic system of government because blasphemy law is meant to target minorities…..” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/24/pussy-riot-freed-in-russia-but-the-bigger-issue-is-blasphemy-laws-everywhere/]

Christians make up less than two per cent of the population in Pakistan. Their numbers are decreasing as many of them are migrating to other countries for their safety.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-afzal-kohistani-shot-dead-seeking-justice-“honour-killings”
https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/islamists-misusing-blasphemy-law-to-harass-christians-in-pakistan-activists-119031700034_1.html

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