Posts Tagged ‘National security’

Human Rights Defenders in India: democracy is not enough

February 23, 2016

India is often called the largest democracy on earth and it does merit praise for sticking to a fair degree of rule of law in spite of severe problems such as security and poverty. Still, regular and reliable reports on the fate of human rights defenders in India give us pause to think. What follows is a collection of just some recent cases, illustrating the well-argued piece by Srishti Agnihotri (a lawyer appearing in Trial Courts and the Delhi High Court, involved in research and advocacy on women and children) under the title “Who is defending the defenders in India: Human Rights” on 22 February 2016.

The article starts by mentioning the attack on Soni Sori (see more below on her). Reports suggest that oil paint mixed with chemicals was thrown on her face by unknown assailants. This attack, … and other reports of intimidation of persons such as lawyers and journalists working in the Jagdalpur area raises the question of the safety of human rights defenders and shows that there isn’t enough being done by the State machinery to defend the defenders….

Srishti Agnihotri then makes the interesting point that “it is not necessary to be correct to qualify as a human rights defender”. E.g. the criticism of Human Rights Defenders on a particular development project may not be legally correct. However, this does not and should not disentitle them to the protection of the State against violence and reprisals. The reason for this will become clear when we examine the role human rights defenders play in a society.

These Defenders face problems, in many parts of the world, and India is not an exception. Often the work being done by human rights defenders brings them in conflict with vested interests such as the land mafia, the mining lobby, or other corporations. A case in point is the story of Satyendra Dubey, an officer in the Indian Engineering Service, who lost his life due to exposing corruption in a highway construction project. At other times, the advocacy done by them requires them to be critical of the State action including in areas where there is considerable unrest….

This gives room for propaganda that human rights defenders or NGOs are ‘anti-development’ or even ‘anti-national’. It leads to them facing the wrath of more draconian security legislations, or attacks on them by vested interests. It is very easy to make the mistake of thinking ‘Why should we use state resources to protect those who are critical of the State? The obvious answer, is that the State may not always be correct. Given the great power state and corporate entities enjoy, their ability to make mistakes if unchecked is also correspondingly large. A hard reckoning of the work done by human rights defenders shows that they act as an essential check and balance on the State, and throw light on existing state-industry nexus, to protect the rights of people. The State derives its legitimacy from an implicit contract with its citizens, which necessitates a mechanism to check that the State adheres to this contract, and this is a function carried out by the human rights defenders. In this sense, human rights defenders are necessary for a healthy functioning democracy.

………

While there are general laws that can be (and are) used to protect these defenders, but those working for the enactment of a special law argue that the role of the law is also to play a certain ‘normative, expressive and educative’ function. By this, they mean that a special law to protect human rights defenders will also confer legitimacy on the work that they are doing, and create an enabling environment where they may do so peacefully.

Of course, the enactment of a special law is not adequate to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. It has to go hand in hand with better law and order, better legal services in areas where these defenders work, transparency in governance, toleration of dissent by the State machinery, and continued proactive action by the Focal Point for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, at the National Human Rights Commission.

This focal point is involved in providing assistance to such Rights defenders, and following alleged violations of their rights. Although there has been greater collaboration between the NHRC and Human Rights defenders, much needs to be done to ensure that defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment.

The Times of India of 10 February 2016 takes to task the State of Chhattisgarh – echoing Amnesty India  – that it should do more to protect a woman journalist, Malini Subramaniam, in Bastar. “This attack is another indicator of the increasingly hostile atmosphere in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Chhattisgarh,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, Campaigner at Amnesty International India. Malini herself said: “This is not an attack on me as a person but as a journalist reporting incidents on the ground, something that they don’t want“. [The statement said, a group of over 20 people gathered outside the home of journalist Malini Subramaniam on February 7. They urged her neighbours to stone her house and chanted slogans suggesting that she was an agent for Maoist armed groups. Later that day, an anti-Maoist group released a public statement accusing her of presenting a distorted picture of Bastar and promoting Maoist ideology.]

On 21 February 2016 Saurav Datta in Catchnews poses the question “Why is Chhattisgarh govt scared of human rights defenders?“.  Isha Khandelwal, Shalini Gera and Nikita Agarwal, all in their late 20s, keep looking furtively behind their backs while packing her bags from Jagdalpur in western India’s Chhattisgarh district. They are afraid that a posse of policemen may descend upon them and subject them to custodial torture. They also fear that that they would be implicated under various provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act, a law roundly criticised by civil liberties activists as being dangerously oversweeping in its scope and ambit. The moot question here is – why should be a ragtag coalition of lawyers, operating on a shoestring budget, be subjected to state repression? The piece then goes into the background of the Indian system of legal aid and how the state administration undercuts all this in practice.

Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - croppedhas covered a lot cases in India including in the State of Chhattisgarh such as those of Malini Subramaniam and the members of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group mentioned above (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/29909 and https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/306160).

 

Front Line – on 22 February 2016 – also reported the attack on human rights defender Soni Sori who was assaulted on 20 February by three unidentified men as she travelled from Jagdalpur to her home. The perpetrators halted the vehicle and threw a black substance on her face, resulting in intense burning and her hospitalization. She is a human rights defender who advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples in India, with a focus on women’s rights. She works in Chhattisgarh, where the long-term conflict between Maoists and government security forces has greatly affected the indigenous people in the area.  During the attack, the perpetrators threatened to carry out a similar assault on the daughter of Soni Sori, lest the human rights defender halt the efforts she had undertaken to bring justice against a high-ranking police official from the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. Soni Sori had recently been attempting to file a complaint against the police official in relation to their involvement in an alleged extra-judicial killing in the Mardum area of Bashar. In July 2015, the police official in question allegedly called for the “social exclusion” of the human rights defender and members of her family. [Soni Sori has previously been targeted by the authorities on several occasions https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/taxonomy/term/18892 and https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/29351]

On 8 January 2016, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), called on the Indian government to release on bail and stop the ongoing judicial harassment of Mr. Ajimuddin Sarkar.  Mr. Sarkar is a renowned human rights defender who has investigated cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the police and Border Security Forces (BSF), and who has been instrumental in denouncing several other human rights violations in Murshidabad district. He was arbitrarily arrested on 22 September 22 and only on 8 December, 2015 released on bail, since the de facto complainant filed an affidavit stating that she did not bring any allegation of rape against Mr. Sarkar and she had no knowledge of the related criminal case against him.  Mr. Sarkar is currently receiving medical treatment, both physical and psychological, as his mental and physical health conditions deteriorated significantly during the past months in detention.[The Observatory recalls that it is not the first time Mr. Sarkar has been intimidated, judicially harassed and ill-treated by the police – see background information].

See also my earlier: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/india-human-rights-defenders-being-silenced-by-the-court/

Sources:

http://www.newsgram.com/who-is-defending-the-defenders-in-india-human-rights/ (first published at Kafila.org.)

Why is Chhattisgarh govt scared of human rights defenders?

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/raipur/Chhattisgarh-must-act-against-intimidation-of-woman-journalist-in-Bastar-Amnesty-says/articleshow/50934124.cms

http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/india/2016/01/d23556/

Report on a panel: Counter-terrorism laws must not criminalise human rights defenders

March 17, 2015

I was in Geneva last week where a number of interesting meetings took place. One of the side events I attended (a picture went out on Twitter), concerned the crucial issue of  “ Human rights defenders and national security”, on 9 March organized by a group of NGOs (International Service for Human Rights, Article 19, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights House Foundation, the International Commission of Jurists and the World Organisation Against Torture).ISHR-logo-colour-high

The panel was moderated by ISHR Director Phil Lynch, and had a very knowledgeable speakers such as Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Hina Jilani, Pakistani human rights lawyer and former Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders; Jimena Reyes, Director of the Americas Desk at FIDH; Roselyn Hanzi from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights; Gerald Staberock, Director of the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT); and Tanele Maseko, human rights defender from Swaziland.
A short report below:
Restrictions on human rights defenders

Phil Lynch opened the discussion by referring to unequivocal examples of restrictions imposed on human rights defenders by the operation of counter-terrorism laws, with examples cited including the recent amendments to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act in Australia which criminalises the disclosure of information about ‘special intelligence operations’, even where such disclosures expose or relate to serious human rights abuses; draft legislation in China which vaguely defines ‘terrorism’ to include ‘thought, speech or behavior’ that is ‘subversive’ or seeks to ‘influence national policy making’, and Law 8/2015, passed recently in Egypt, which allows individuals and associations which ‘infringe public order’ or ‘harm national unity or national security’ to be designated as terrorists. Concern was also expressed that renewed US efforts to combat extremism do not contain adequate human rights safeguards and that the imperative to counter-terrorism is being used as a subterfuge by regimes in allied States – such as Bahrain, China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – to further restrict and repress civil society.

Panelists built on these examples throughout the discussion, referring to significant limitations on, and prosecution of, human rights defenders under the guise of national security in their regions, including the prosecution of indigenous activists campaigning against major development projects in Chile under the Anti-Terrorist Act; human rights defenders being spied on by intelligence authorities in Cuba which consequently contributed to their murder; human rights defenders in Zimbabwe being charged for allegedly participating in a disruptive demonstration, or under the Official Secrets Act which forbids the release of information, even if that information regards human rights violations; and human rights defenders being imprisoned and labelled terrorists for voicing disagreement with the government in Swaziland. Members of the audience provided further examples, including defenders in South Korea being charged under a law that prohibits support for North Korea.

Legislation protecting the rights of defenders

A schizophrenia currently exists in many countries where authorities laud their own human rights mechanisms in the international sphere and then actively criminalise the activities of human rights defenders at home,’ said Hina Jilani. It is essential that along with a national law for the protection of human rights defenders, counter terrorism laws do not impose restrictions on those protections.

Counter terrorism laws should be developed in a manner that fights terrorism, while at the same time, respecting the legitimate work of human rights defenders,’ said Gerald Staberock of OMCT.

The panelists also stressed the importance of ensuring the rights of human rights defenders are not constrained under other laws, such as laws prohibiting criticism of the head of state, emir or the army.

Independence of the judiciary and the military

The discussion also highlighted the necessity to ensure the independence of the judiciary. In this regard, Jimene Reyes of FIDH referred to the use of the judicial system in Cuba as an ‘instrument of uncritical oppression’. Members of the audience identified the importance that the judiciary, as well as the executive, must be able to recognise and respect the legitimate activities of human rights defenders.

Similarly the importance of the separation between the State and the military was emphasised. Ms Reyes stressed the risk for human rights defenders if they are ‘considered by the military to be the enemy’.

Importance of civil society participation

While there is a clear trend of governments using counter-terrorism legislation to conflate the legitimate activities of human rights defenders with actions that threaten national security, the panelists were in clear consensus that human rights defenders and a strong and healthy civil society is essential to the stability of the State and good governance.

‘The work of human rights defenders and other civil society actors is crucial to address inequality and to promote good governance, accountability and inclusive development, all of which contribute to national security,’ said Phil Lynch of ISHR. ‘However, to ensure this is possible, it is essential to raise national and international awareness of the pitfalls of counter-terrorism legislation and the importance of civil society participation’.

The event concluded with a reflection of the need to counter the ‘rhetoric of fear’ and firmly establish that ‘the rights to peaceful assembly and of association do not encourage extremism, chaos, or violence but are, in fact, the best antidotes we have against all of these ills’.

Myself and others brought up the need to fight back in the public domain and the media against campaign to delegitimize the work of human rights defenders and show more the positive contribution their legitimate work brings to society.

[The high-level segment of the Council session has called on all States to fully implement Human Rights Council Resolution 22/6, which was led by Norway and adopted by consensus in March 2013. It urges States to ensure that ‘measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security … do not hinder the work and safety’ of human rights defenders.]

National security: Counter-terrorism laws must not criminalise human rights defenders | ISHR.

Southeast Asian Voices of HRDs being stifled

September 12, 2013

As concerns grow in Southeast Asia over the use of national security, anti-terrorist and defamation laws to limit freedom of expression on the Internet, a coalition of international and local NGOs and activists from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia urged governments to stop using vague legislation based on ill-defined concepts such as “national security”, “sovereignty” or “lèse-majesté” to intimidate, harass and imprison independent voices. Speaking at an event in Geneva, which coincides with the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council, FIDH, IFEX, Article 19 and PEN International united to call for the urgent revision of these laws to bring them into line with international human rights standards. Independent and dissenting voices, including bloggers and netizens, journalists, activists and human rights defenders, have increasingly been subjected to repression in Southeast Asia.

A lot more detail in  Human Rights Council : Stifled Southeast Asian Voices: NGOs Unite … – FIDH.

HRW urges Fiji to revise draft constitution

September 4, 2013

The Business Standard reports on 4 September that Human Rights Watch urged the Fiji government to amend articles that undermine human rights in a draft constitution scheduled to be promulgated Friday. Under the current draft, significant restrictions in articles 17, 18 and 19 would allow the government to interfere with key rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association. The draft constitution sets out broad limitations to these rights “in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, or the orderly conduct of elections”. In January, the government scrapped a draft of the constitution developed by a committee headed by a noted constitutional and human rights lawyer, Yash Ghai, and handed duties to draw up the constitution to government legal officers in the attorney generals chambers.”This draft constitution represents a major step backwards for human rights from the constitution thrown out by Fiji’s military in April 2009,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.”Unless the government revises this draft constitution to guarantee freedom of association, assembly and expression, its hard to see how Fiji could become a rights-respecting democracy.” Since Commodore Frank Bainimarama took power in a military coup 5 December 2006, his government has consistently attacked critics, including arbitrarily detaining them, and instituted heavy censorship. The military and police have indiscriminately arrested and detained human rights defenders, journalists and labour leaders.

via Fiji urged to revise draft constitution | Business Standard.

 

Snowden a human rights defender? – Russia seems to think so

June 13, 2013

Human Rights activist, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a national her, anti-fascism New Yorkers said at a rally on June 10
(Getty Images)

Yesterday I referred to the difficulty of defining human rights defenders in relation to a Nigerian politician, and here comes another, maybe more difficult one:

As the United States Justice Department prepare charges against  Edward Snowden, former federal government contractor who revealed the NSA’s secret surveillance program rights violation, as ABC News reportedRussia said Tuesday 11 June that it would consider a request from him for safe haven and The Guardian reported tuesday that Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says any appeal from whistleblower Edward Snowden for asylum will be looked at ‘according to facts,’

Aleksey Pushkov, chair of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, said Snowden is a “human rights activist.” Referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Pushkov said, “In this sense, Snowden — like Assange — is a human-rights activist.”

I’m willing to sacrifice all that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people all around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden himself told The Guardian.

Russia might aid Snowden human rights activist – National Human Rights | Examiner.com.

FIDH urges UN Human Rights Council to condemn Vietnam over jailing of dozens of cyber-dissidents

March 10, 2013

On 10 January 2013 I posted something on the largest ever trial of internet dissidents in Viet Nam. On 8 March this issue was continued in the UN:

We call upon the Council to press Vietnam to put an end to this repression,” said Vo Van Ai, speaking on behalf of Vietnamese campaigners and the International Federation of Human Rights. In a speech to the UN body  he said a total of 32 bloggers and other cyber-dissidents were behind bars in Vietnam, either sentenced or awaiting trial. They face prison terms of up to 16 years.

logo FIDH_seul

Such repression does not serve to protect national security, as the Vietnamese authorities claim, but to stifle the voices of an emerging civil society speaking out on corruption, power abuse, the plight of dispossessed peasants and farmers, human rights and democratic reforms,” he said. He condemned Vietnam’s use of Ordinance 44, a 2002 ruling which authorises the detention of suspected national security offenders without due process of the law and which is increasingly deployed against bloggers, sometimes in psychiatric hospitals.

Fellow-campaigner Penelope Faulker, with the French-based group Work Together for Human Rights, noted that after a 2009 United Nations review (UPR), Hanoi had pledged to uphold freedom of information. “However, in the past year alone, scores of bloggers, online journalists and human rights defenders in Vietnam have been harassed, intimated, subjected to police abuse, or condemned to extremely harsh prison sentences simply for expressing their peaceful views on the Internet,” she told the Council. The southeast Asian country has been branded an “enemy of the Internet” by freedom of expression watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

via: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/08/human-rights-activists-push-u-n-for-action-over-vietnams-treatment-of-cyber-protesters/