Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Has the Human Rights Movement failed? A serious critique.

April 25, 2018

The last year or so there has been a lot soul-searching within the broader human rights movement, questioning its relevance or even survival at a time of resurgent ‘anti-human rights’ attitudes in the superpowers (regression in China, USA, and Russia, with the EU vacillating between careful diplomacy and trade interest). A number of smaller countries have also taken enthusiastically to human rights bashing (just to mention Turkey, Philippines, Hungary, Venezuela and Burundi). In all these cases the leadership seems to imply that human rights are niceties that no longer have the support of the majority of their population, which could well be true due to the extent that their control over the media and relentless whipping up of populist feelings make this self-fulling.This blog has tried to monitor – at least illustrate – this phenomenon on many occasions [too many to list]. Now comes along an interesting piece written by professor Samuel Moyn of Yale university under the provocative title “How the Human Rights Movement Failed” (published on 23 April 2018 in the New York Times). The piece is a must read (in full) and I give the text below in green. Even if I disagree with some important parts, it remains a coherent and thought-provoking article (once you get over feeling offended by the idea that you are a plutocrat).

The key notion is expressed in the following quotes:

“.those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.”

and

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

Where I most disagree with the author is that there is lot more going on in the human rights movement than the defense of civil and political rights or playing along with elites. Either he does not know it or ignores it on purpose. The thousands of human rights defenders working in their own countries are fully aware of the realities on the ground and are often prioritizing social, economic, cultural and community rights [just a cursory sample of blog posts on environmental activists will show this: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/environmental-activists/]. International and regional NGOs mostly help and protect them! Also, the author seems to underestimate the potential attraction of the human rights cause in civil society (especially victims and young people), whose mobilization is still patchy. If the human rights movement can overcome its fragmentation and use media better this potential could turn tides. Say I!.

Here the piece in full/ judge for yourselves:

The human rights movement, like the world it monitors, is in crisis: After decades of gains, nearly every country seems to be backsliding. Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and other populist leaders routinely express contempt for human rights and their defenders. But from the biggest watchdogs to monitors at the United Nations, the human rights movement, like the rest of the global elite, seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from its difficulties.

Advocates have doubled down on old strategies without reckoning that their attempts to name and shame can do more to stoke anger than to change behavior. Above all, they have ignored how the grievances of newly mobilized majorities have to be addressed if there is to be an opening for better treatment of vulnerable minorities.

“The central lesson of the past year is that despite considerable headwinds, a vigorous defense of human rights can succeed,” Kenneth Roth, the longtime head of Human Rights Watch, contended recently, adding that many still “can be convinced to reject the scapegoating of unpopular minorities and leaders’ efforts to undermine basic democratic checks and balances.” 

That seems unlikely. Of course, activism can awaken people to the problems with supporting abusive governments. But if lectures about moral obligations made an enormous difference, the world would already look much better. Instead, those who care about human rights need to take seriously the forces that lead so many people to vote in majoritarian strongmen in the first place.

The truth is that the growth of international human rights politics has accompanied the very economic phenomena that have led to the rise of radical populism and nationalism today. In short, human rights activism made itself at home in a plutocratic world.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was promulgated in 1948 amid the consolidation of welfare states in Europe and North America and which formed the basis of the human rights agenda, was supposed to enshrine social protections. But in the 1970s, when activists in the United States and Western Europe began to take up the cause of “human rights” for the victims of brutal regimes, they forgot about that social citizenship. The signature group of that era, Amnesty International, focused narrowly on imprisonment and torture; similarly, Human Rights Watch rejected advocating economic and social rights.

This approach began to change after the Cold War, especially when it came to nongovernmental advocacy in post-colonial countries. But even then, human rights advocacy did not reassert the goal of economic fairness. Even as more activists have come to understand that political and civil freedom will struggle to survive in an unfair economic system, the focus has often been on subsistence.

In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, both human rights and pro-market policies reached the apogee of their prestige. In Eastern Europe, human rights activists concentrated on ousting old elites and supporting basic liberal principles even as state assets were sold off to oligarchs and inequality exploded. In Latin America, the movement focused on putting former despots behind bars. But a neoliberal program that had arisen under the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet swept the continent along with democracy, while the human rights movement did not learn enough of a new interest in distributional fairness to keep inequality from spiking.

Now the world is reaping what the period of swelling inequality that began in the 1970s through the 1990s sowed.

There have been recent signs of reorientation. The Ford Foundation, which in the 1970s provided much of the funding that made global human rights activism possible, announced in 2015 that it would start focusing on economic fairness. George Soros, a generous funder of human rights causes, has recently observed that inequality matters, too.

Some have insisted that the movement can simply take on, without much alteration of its traditional idealism and tactics, the challenge of inequality that it ignored for so long. This is doubtful.

At the most, activists distance themselves from free-market fundamentalism only by making clear how much inequality undermines human rights themselves. Minimum entitlements, like decent housing and health care, require someone to pay. Without insisting on more than donations from the rich, the traditional companionship of human rights movements with neoliberal policies will give rise to the allegation that the two are in cahoots. No one wants the human rights movement to be remembered as a casualty of a justifiable revolt against the rich.

If the movement itself should not squander the chance to reconsider how it is going to survive, the same is even truer of its audience — policymakers, politicians and the rest of the elite. They must keep human rights in perspective: Human rights depend on majority support if they are to be taken seriously. A failure to back a broader politics of fairness is doubly risky. It leaves rights groups standing for principles they cannot see through. And it leaves majorities open to persuasion by troubling forces.

It has been tempting for four decades to believe that human rights are the primary bulwark against barbarism. But an even more ambitious agenda is to provide the necessary alternative to the rising evils of our time.

—–

Samuel Moyn is the author of “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

New York Times profiles Saudi defender Manal al-Sharif

June 19, 2017

Manal al-Sharif, an activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, in Central Park during a tour for her new memoir. Credit Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Manal al-Sharif was 14 when she burned her brother’s Back Street Boys cassettes, then her mother’s fashion magazines. She gave up drawing human figures and reading her prized Agatha Christie novels — forbidden, she had learned, under the puritanical strain of Islam sweeping through her native Saudi Arabia at the time. All kinds of things were forbidden for women and girls, she had also learned: no plucking your bushy eyebrows, no parting your hair fashionably to the side, no revealing your face in public. The one thing she could not destroy was a plastic bag of family photographs that her mother had stashed in her bedroom. She found them, years later, after her mother had died. There was a photo of herself, in a red dress for Eid; another of her mother, in a calf-length skirt she had stitched herself; another of her dad, barechested, for the hajj. “I’m so happy she hid them from me,” Ms. al-Sharif said the other day, scrolling through the images she had uploaded on her phone. “I thought we didn’t have any.”

Ms. al-Sharif, 38, has undergone a radical change of heart since those Salafi firebrand days. She is now best known for challenging the laws and mores that keep women down in Saudi Arabia, including what she considers the kingdom’s infantilizing restrictions on the right of women to drive. Her first book, “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening,” published this week by Simon & Schuster, is a memoir of her political coming of age. It is equally a portrait of tumult and tyranny in Saudi Arabia over the last four decades — and the kingdom’s vexing relationship with the United States……..

..

…………..She lives in Australia now, with her husband, a Brazilian, and their 3-year-old son. She has applied for the Saudi government to recognize her second marriage and has yet to receive it. Exile is frustrating. “When you’re there you don’t just talk. You take action,” she said. “I feel little bit helpless now, being outside.”

And then there’s her firstborn son. He lives in Saudi Arabia, with his father. Ms. al-Sharif visits as often as she can. He asks her all kinds of questions about all kinds of things, like whether to talk to a girl.

“I say: ‘Abdalla, you’re a very intelligent boy. I’ll give you two answers. An answer that I believe in. And an answer that’ll keep you away from trouble,’” she said.

He is now 12, and she hopes he will one day read the book and understand her choices. “It tells my whole story.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/

2017 (7): Trump’s first orders to cut global funding and treaties

January 26, 2017

The ‘ink’ of my previous post [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/26/2017-6-predictions-on-trump-and-the-un-prophets-or-cassandras/] has hardly dried and I see the piece written by Max Fisher in the New York Times of 25 January 2017 that states that the latest draft orders suggest that President Trump intends to pursue his campaign promises of withdrawing the United States from international organizations: Read the rest of this entry »

Reprisals reach even an international NGO attending the Human Rights Council in Geneva

June 13, 2016

This blog has always had a keen eye out for reprisals against human rights defenders as I believe strongly that this issue is one of the most crucial facing the human rights movement. See e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/. Now it turns out that Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), received a death threat during the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council (in March). Evidence strongly suggests that a diplomat working for the Russian Federation in Geneva and attending the Human Rights Council made this threat [see confirmation in link at the end of this piece]. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Sfardjan: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

January 5, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

Bahrain: #FreeNabeel campaign more urgent than ever in view of resumption USA security assistance

July 8, 2015

Nedal Al Salman , Head of International Relations and Women & Children’s Rights Advocacy of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights [BCHR], launched today a day of solidarity for the president of the BCHR, Nabeel Rajab, with videos of supportive MEP’s. There is an urgent resolution adopted by the EU Parliament about Bahrain and in particular the case of Nabeel Rajab. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/video-statement-of-troublemaker-nabeel-rajab-who-is-on-trial-today/]

You can join in the campaign by recording your self on video, state your name and the organisation you represent and say a few words about Nabeel Rajab and call for his release. Your video/photo can be shared on twitter under the hashtag #FreeNabeel [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/nabeel-rajab/]

How difficult it is to match human rights diplomacy with geopolitical considerations is shown in the OP-ED in the New York Times of 7 July 2015 by Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy:

“Last week, the State Department announced the resumption of “security assistance” to Bahrain. This ended a four-year ban on the transfer of arms that the United States put into effect in 2011, after the Bahraini government’s harsh crackdown on Arab Spring protests. In a statement, the State Department argued that Bahrain had made enough progress in human rights reform to be rewarded by ending the embargo, even though the human rights situation in Bahrain was not “adequate.” The State Department dedicated 49 pages of its 2014 report on human rights, released last month, to Bahrain.

It is a damning document: detailing arbitrary detention, torture, prison overcrowding, constraints on free speech and more. The decision to renew security assistance — in the words of a State Department spokesman, “armored personnel vehicles, MRAPs, Humvees, TOW missiles, arms and ammunition, that kind of thing” — is not only incongruous but also shortsighted, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, criticized acts of torture in Bahrain in his opening remarks at a session of the Human Rights Council in June. He called for “an immediate investigation” into allegations of torture in Bahrain’s prisons and for the release of “all those detained in connection with their peaceful activities.”

If Prince Zeid were a Bahraini, he could probably be arrested on charges of “insulting a statutory body” — as happened to the human rights defender Nabeel Rajab after he called for prosecution of officials who committed torture in prison. He now faces at least 10 years in prison on various charges relating to his activism.

I was arrested on March 16, 2011, a day after the government announced a state of emergency, a month after the protests started. A military court sentenced me to prison for protesting and talking to the media. What they did to me in prison will stay with me for life.

On my first day in Jaw Prison, about 20 miles south of the capital, Manama, an officer spat on me, grabbed me by the hair and threw me against a wall. During interrogation, another smacked me in the face and dared me to raise my arms to shield myself. They told me I’d be beaten even more if I did.

While I was in detention, four people were tortured to death, as Human Rights Watch has reported. In the interrogation rooms, we always thought of those who had been killed, wondering who might be the fifth. After my release from prison, I fled Bahrain and in 2012 sought asylum in Britain. This January, Bahrain revoked my citizenship, along with that of 71 others, leaving me stateless.

Bahrain’s situation has not improved since 2011. Last November, an inmate was beaten senseless and thrown into solitary confinement, where he died from his wounds during the night. In March, a prison riot broke out. Prisoners were angry about their treatment in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and about the unfair trials that had put more than a thousand of them there. Prison authorities are accused by prisoners of responding with excessive force.

What happened next was incomparable to what I was put through. According to a report published last month by a coalition of rights groups, including my own, prisoners said that police officers used birdshot and tear gas against inmates inside corridors and cells. Inmates were rounded up, beaten and held in the courtyards, where they spent weeks sitting in Bahrain’s heat. Former prisoners allege that officers forced inmates to kneel and lick their boots. An imprisoned academic named Abduljalil al-Singace has been on a hunger strike for over 100 days, in protest of the ill treatment suffered by prisoners in March. (There are growing concerns for his health.)

In light of the continuing abuses, the State Department’s praise of the release of the political prisoner Ibrahim Sharif as a sign of “meaningful reform progress” is absurd. Never mind that Mr. Sharif, sentenced to five years in 2011, had served most of his sentence, and that as a political prisoner, he should never have been imprisoned to begin with. And as one political prisoner was released, another, Sheikh Ali Salman, received a four-year sentence for his opposition activities. The police also called in his deputy for questioning last week, after he made a speech against torture in prison.

When the United States expressed concerns a few weeks ago to the Human Rights Council in Geneva about “the continuing criminal cases on grounds of political expression and assembly,” Bahrain rejected them as groundless. It is Bahrain’s prerogative to disregard its American ally’s qualms, but must the United States reward such disrespect by renewing military assistance?

The answer lies in geopolitics. Persian Gulf monarchs are on high alert as the United States nears a nuclear deal with their regional rival, Iran. They want to protect their position as the West’s strategic partners and maintain their influence in the Middle East. At the same time, the rise of the Islamic State is a potent threat to their security, which America seeks to bolster militarily. Resuming arms transfers rekindles not only the American-Bahraini relationship but also the hugely important American-Saudi one.

But these diplomatic considerations come at the cost of relinquishing whatever moral standing the United States had in Bahrain. Ending the suspension of military assistance was a misuse of America’s substantial leverage to bring positive change to the human rights situation in Bahrain and the Gulf, which has only deteriorated since 2011. For Bahrainis striving for a democratic country, America’s move is completely regressive.

President Obama promised a “tough conversation” with the Gulf monarchs when he met them in May. Was this the outcome of that conversation?”

Losing Leverage on Bahrain – The New York Times.

George Clooney speaks out on sexual violence in Darfur

February 26, 2015

Getty Images

Whatever your opinion of George Clooney as an actor, there is no doubt that he is one of the most willing to use his celebrity for human rights causes. The latest example is his Op-Ed piece in the The New York Times, entitled, “George Clooney on Sudan’s Rape of Darfur” (together with John Prendergast and Akshaya Kumar, published on 25 February 2015)  .

Because Sudan’s government routinely blocks journalists from going into the Darfur region and severely restricts access for humanitarian workers, any window into life there is limited,” Clooney says. “The government has hammered the joint peacekeeping mission of the United Nations and African Union into silence about human rights concerns by shutting down the United Nations human rights office in the capital, Khartoum, hampering investigators of alleged human rights abuses and pressuring the peacekeeping force to withdraw.

The 53-year-old actor then explains the evidence that has been received from citizen journalists and local human rights defenders with that videos have been smuggled out.

Read the complete piece here.

Cao Shunli’s story continues with struggle around independent autopsy

March 28, 2014

Vigil in memory of Chinese human rights defender Ms. Cao Shunli

Vigil for Cao Shunli in March 2014 in Dublin – (c) Front Line

Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports in The New York Times of 28 March how the issue of Cao Shunli’s death in detention in China has not ended. A lawyer for Cao Shunli said her family wants an independent autopsy by pathologists from outside China, saying they do not trust local pathologists or the police to make an accurate report. “If we can we would like to invite an international expert or an international expert organization to come here to do an autopsy,” said the lawyer, Ms Wang Yu. “’The family has not requested an autopsy yet, though they want one, because they don’t trust anyone here to do a fair job,” [The Beijing Lawyers Association and the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau seem to be putting pressure on the lawyer] Read the rest of this entry »

Clashing Views of China’s Human Rights Record at UPR session today

October 21, 2013

The New York Times of Monday 20 October carries a post by Chris Buckley which looks at the documentation submitted for today’s UPR session on China and concludes that it seems as if there are two different countries facing scrutiny in Geneva. Read the rest of this entry »

MEA Nominee Mario Joseph to address prestigious law school of Indiana

May 3, 2013

Human rights lawyer Mario Joseph, MEA Nominee 2013, will give the commencement address at the IU McKinney School of Law on Saturday 11 May in Indianapolis.

Mario Joseph Final Nominee MEA 2013

Mario Joseph, Haiti – Final Nominee MEA 2013

The announcement by the University describes him as “A finalist for one of the world’s most prestigious human rights awards“, who has been called “Haiti’s most prominent human rights lawyer” by The New York Times.

Read the rest of this entry »