Posts Tagged ‘NGO’

New SG of the ICJ, Santiago Cantón, want to mobilise the human rights community again

May 12, 2023

Santiago Cantón, secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists. (Geneva Solutions/Michelle Langrand)

On 11 May 2023 Geneva Solutions carried an interview with the incoming Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists:

The new head of the International Commission of Jurists warns of the challenges human rights face as democracies across the world falter and calls on human rights groups to rally behind a new purpose. After spending the last few years in the United States, Santiago Cantón, the Argentinian jurist who recently became the new secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), will call Geneva his home for the next five years.

The discreet organisation of well-respected judges and lawyers, located in the Paquis neighbourhood and now celebrating its 70th anniversary, is almost as old as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Born from the ashes of World War II initially to investigate abuses committed in the Soviet part of post-war Germany, the group has made vital contributions over the decades to the human rights architecture. Most notably, they helped push for the creation of an international criminal court and several UN human rights instruments, including the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, first proposed by its then-president Niall MacDermot.

Cantón, 60, also brings with him some heavy baggage of experience in human rights. He was the executive secretary from 2001 to 2012 of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, one of the arms of the Organization of American States tasked with reviewing rights abuses. Before that, Cantón served as the commission’s first special rapporteur on freedom of expression from 1998 to 2001. More recently, Cantón was part of the UN Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry on abuses committed in the occupied Palestinian territories during the 2018 protests.

As a young student, Cantón saw his country fall into the clutches of a military junta that would rule ruthlessly for ten years. While initially drawn to diplomacy and foreign relations, Cantón knew it wasn’t an option to place his skills at the service of a dictatorship. He opted instead to study international law and human rights.

One of his first experiences, and the one to inspire him the most, was advising former US president Jimmy Carter in his democracy programmes in Latin America, most notably supporting elections in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in 1990 at a time when the two countries were emerging from bloody conflicts and transitioning into democracies. He saw the region break away from the chains of military regimes and usher in a new era of democracy and rule of law. “1948, with the universal declaration of human rights, was the big bang of human rights,” he told Geneva Solutions. “Since then, the architecture of human rights created throughout the world has been extraordinary.”

But the tides have turned. “Human rights are in decline and have been since the beginning of the century,” he regretted.

For Cantón, part of it is due to a lack of leadership. “We don’t have the same leaders in the world, and the governments that support human rights today, do not have the leadership they need to have for political reasons.” He said long gone are the Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Patricio Aylwin of Chile, leaders who stood up for democratic values following their countries’ exit from military rule.

“You do have leadership on the wrong side. And they’re winning,” he added. He cited the leaders of El Salvador and Mexico, as well as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and the US’s Donald Trump, as examples of how populist leaders have successfully appealed to disillusioned populations.

“Take El Salvador. Here we have someone that has 70 to 80 per cent of popularity. People (feel) that democracy did not deliver. They are tired and want to change everything completely,” he said. President Nayib Bukele’s recent sweeping crackdown that saw over 60,000 suspected gang members arrested has been praised by many Salvadorians fed up with the violence and insecurity that has gangrened the country for years. And despite the harsh criticism his methods have drawn from human rights campaigners, political figures across the region are flaunting it as a successful model that can be replicated in their own countries.

Cantón cautions against the temptation of wanting to scrap everything. “We cannot just change everything! There are things we need to keep, and human rights is one of those,” he said.

On Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the usual trio singled out for their authoritarian regimes, Cantón prefers to avoid tired narratives. “it’s not a question of left and right, it’s a question of the strength of the rule of law, and the rule of law is declining,” he observed.

Beyond that, human rights that touch upon issues associated with deeply entrenched cultural values have also been met by a wall of resistance. Cantón hasn’t finished unpacking he has already faced a first crisis. A report published by the ICJ in early March on how to apply human rights standards to criminal law was falsely accused across the internet of condoning sex between adults and minors. For Cantón, the world is increasingly polarised, and he views social media as a significant contributing factor. “It’s hard to find the middle ground, and when things are so polarised, they keep getting pushed harder towards two crazy extremes.”

But governments are not the only ones that need to do some soul-searching. Civil society is also struggling to maintain morale, according to Cantón. “It’s very frustrating when you take one step forward, and you have to go back like ten steps,” he said. For the past years, human rights groups have been on the defence, trying to protect hard-won advances. “We need to mobilise the human rights community again, strongly behind something,” he said.

One of the initiatives the ICJ is working on is the creation of a standing independent mechanism to investigate rights violations. UN-backed probe mechanisms are usually set up on a case-by-case basis and have been accused of being selective and politically motivated. The group of lawyers suggests that such a permanent expert body, created through the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly, could help by making it easier to trigger investigations.

“It would be a game changer,” Cantón said.

Sam Gregory finally in the lead at Witness

April 5, 2023

On 4 April 2023 WITNESS announced that Sam Gregory will be stepping into the role of Executive Director after two decades of service to the organization. Sam is a highly respected human rights leader and award-winning technologist who brings over 25 years of global experience innovating and leading interventions at the intersections of video, technology and human rights.

If Sam’s name sounds familiar – it should! [Also from this blog, see:] He has dedicated over two decades to WITNESS, most recently directing programs and strategy. In that capacity, Sam has supported WITNESS’ global teams and partners in more than 100 countries addressing urgent issues such as land rights, state violence, and war crimes – as well as spearheading our pioneering work on emerging technologies such as deepfakes and AI. Sam brings both the history and an ambitious vision for the future of WITNESS.

Sam steps into this role at an exceptional moment for those concerned with information technology and human rights. This era of omnipresent video, growing misinformation, synthetic media, and declining trust in a shared reality presents a serious threat to the idea of truth itself. Sam has led a global effort to ‘prepare, not panic’ for the new digital landscape, fighting for preservation of truth, trust in critical voices, and media integrity efforts. He is also a fierce advocate for centering the voices of those most removed from decision-making centers yet most profoundly impacted by the proliferation of new technologies.

Read more about him here:…

Andrew Anderson steps down as head of Front Line Defenders

January 29, 2023

On 27 January 2023, it was announced that Andrew Anderson is stepping down as Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, after two decades of leading the organisation’s work to support and protect human rights defenders at risk.

Andrew joined the organisation as Deputy Director in 2003 and has since 2016 served as its second Executive Director.

This February marks my 20th anniversary with Front Line Defenders, an organisation I have been honoured to lead. I think it is a good time for others to take on the leadership of this exceptional organisation,” said Andrew Anderson. “I am confident I am leaving an organisation that is in excellent shape with a hugely dedicated and talented staff team, a strong new Strategic Plan for 2023-27, robust funding and a track record of delivery on behalf of human rights defenders at risk.”

Last year, the organisation delivered another record of over 1,000 protection grants to the most at risk HRDs around the world, including in severe crises such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran and Myanmar. With over 100 defenders in attendance, the 2022 Dublin Platform last October was again a brilliant manifestation of the range and diversity of human rights defenders we are providing support to.”

See also: and

Front Line Defenders expanded significantly in size and scope during Andrew’s tenure as Executive Director, further establishing the organisation as a trusted and central partner for HRDs at risk globally In 2018 the organisation was awarded the UN Prize for Human Rights.

The Board of Front Line Defenders has asked Olive Moore to take on the role of Interim Director, supported by the organisation’s management team. Olive has served as Deputy Director of Front Line Defenders since 2020, prior to which she held a range of roles working on human rights and humanitarian issues for Trócaire, Amnesty International, The World Bank and the Irish Government.  

The Board will oversee a competitive, international recruitment process for a new Executive Director of Front Line Defenders to take forward the organisation’s work to support and protect human rights defenders.

HURIDOCS – who will continue Friedhelm Weinberg’s excellent leadership?

December 12, 2022

After more than 10 years, Friedhelm Weinberg will be leaving HURIDOCS in early 2023. Having worked with him in person on many occasions, I can testify that his leadership has been most impressive, for the NGO itself [see e.g.] and the in the area of networking with others, such as the MEA and THF [see e.g. his:]. In his own announcement, he modestly refers to all his colleagues:

It has been an incredible decade with HURIDOCS, working with amazing colleagues and partners at the intersection of human rights and technology. Together, we have drastically increased support to activists to leverage technology for documentation, litigation and advocacy work. We have pioneered flexible, reliable and robust software tools such as Uwazi, while responsibly sunsetting the past generation of open source software.

None of this would have been possible without the team we have built, and that was collaborating remotely across the globe well before 2020. It’s a committed, humorous and professional bunch, and I have learned so much with every single one of them, as we made things happen and as we hit walls and then picked each other up. I am also grateful to our board that brings together wisdom from leading NGOs, technology companies, the financial sector, but, more importantly, people that were generous with guidance, encouragement and critique.

It has also been a decade of many heartbreaks. From partners whose offices have been raided, that have been declared foreign agents, threatened, attacked. From wars and conflicts breaking out, affecting people we work with. From the difficulties of all we’re doing sometimes not being enough. From worrying how to raise the money to sustain and grow a team that can rise to these challenges.

It is a bittersweet departure, because it has been life-affirming – and yet it is for a perspective that fills me with warmth and excitement. For a while, I will be with our children, with the second one due to arrive in early 2023. 

As I have made the decision to leave HURIDOCS, I also have felt really down and much of the stress built up over a decade manifested physically. Seeking treatment, I have been diagnosed with burnout and depression, and have been recovering with the support from specialists, friends and family. This is neither a badge of honor nor something I want to be shy about, it’s just the reason you haven’t seen much of me recently in professional circles. It’s getting better and I am grateful to have the time and space for healing.

Currently, Nancy Yu is leading HURIDOCS as Interim Executive Director, as Lisa Reinsberg as the Board Chair holds the space and directs the succession process. I am grateful to both of them to step up and step in, as well as the team, our partners and funders for a decade of working together to advance human rights.

As the search for his successor has started, please have a look at the recruitment announcement and consider applying or sharing it with suitable candidates:

25 Years EuroMed Rights

October 1, 2022

Wadih Al-Asmar, President, and Rasmus Alenius Boserup, Executive Director of EuroMed Rights write about the 25th anniversary of EuroMed Rights: Since its inception, EuroMed Rights has become one of the most prominent and most active actors in the Euro-Mediterranean region on human rights protection and democracy promotion. To mark this milestone, we asked members from North and South to tell us what EuroMed Rights meant to them and their organisation. Read the interviews below There is also a dedicated 25th anniversary webpage

What a journey it has been since the network was founded in 1997. “After the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the initiators of EuroMed Rights felt that creating some sort of platform to monitor the Barcelona Process would enhance human rights work significantly.
Kamel Jendoubi, Tunisia

Sharing our experience gives us energy, it keeps us up and running!
“I think the greatest benefit of being a member is the exchange of experience with other human rights activists, including from the North. Being a human rights defender is tough and we may find solace in sharing our experience and our highs and lows, it gives us energy, it keeps us up and running!”

Eva Abu Halaweh, Jordan

It is fundamental to make the voice of the network heard! “We always tried to bring a certain dimension on European issues, to analyse them from a different perspective. It worked and that shows how important and impactful the work of the EuroMed Rights network can be!”

Catherine Teule, France

EuroMed Rights is more than a talking shop, it’s a practice shop!
“This is a network of people and not just a network of good intentions. It’s about understanding and feeling what a denial of human rights means in people’s lives, so we can do something about it together. Very few networks in the world offer this kind of activities.”
Tony Daly, Ireland
See what current and past members have to say in this video.

A new human rights NGO: Rights Initiative

September 19, 2022

To the plethora of existing human rights NGO was recently added Rights Initiative. Inspired by people who stand up for their rights, human rights defenders. Its mission is to uncover the political economy of human rights and increase the resources of civil society activists. Founded in 2021, in the Netherlands, with the idea to reflect, disrupt, and shift-the-power in practice, as an independent non-governmental organization advancing economic and social rights. It wants to generate knowledge, strengthen the voice of social movements and build alliances to influence decision making around resource mobilization and public spending. Rights Initiative co-creates, supports or takes on sub-grantee roles, trialing innovative and #decolonizingaid ways of working. Enhancing public finance is a means to advancing economic and social rights.

More at:

International NGO opens office in Taiwan

May 17, 2022

On 16 May 2022 Safeguard Defenders announced the opening of its first Asian office in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

With our focus on the decline in human rights in China and other authoritarian states in the region, Taiwan was an obvious choice because of its open society and geographic proximity. Only recently emerging from its own authoritarian past, this progressive democracy has now become a popular base for civil society and media, particularly as Hong Kong’s human rights situation rapidly deteriorates under Beijing’s control.”

The story behind Safeguard Defenders goes back to 2009, the year when a small NGO called China Action was founded in Beijing by human rights activists Peter Dahlin from Sweden and Michael Caster from the U.S. and a small group of Chinese rights lawyers and other human rights defenders (HRD). ,,China Action was shuttered in 2016 after Chinese authorities targeted it in a major crackdown and when many of its staff and partners were detained, disappeared or imprisoned, including Peter. The foundation for Safeguard Defenders was laid in 2016, and was publicly launched in 2017. The organisation has inherited the mission of China Action, but with an expanded scope to support the survival and effectiveness of civil society and HRDs in some of Asia’s most hostile environments, including China.

Safeguard Defenders has been researching developing rule of law issues including arbitrary detention, the black jail systems of RSDL and Liuzhi, forced confessions, transnational repression including global harassment and kidnappings, and the CCP’s secret police institution, the National Supervisory Commission. See e,g, :

Coming in the next few months, Safeguard Defenders will have several key and ground-breaking reports on China on issues including the practice of sending political prisoners to psychiatric hospitals, the latest violations of human rights in the name of Covid, and how Beijing has weaponized exit bans. It will also be launching a brand new website. Follow on Twitter. 

China’s reaction will not be nice…

New program director of Human Rights Watch generates interest

May 7, 2022

In 1 May 2022 the Times of Israel reported that “Sari Bashi, a longtime activist with the organization who is married to a Palestinian, to head up programming at HRW amid search for successor to departing director Kenneth Roth” {see also:]

I’m thrilled, honored, humbled and grateful to announce that next month, I will begin my appointment as @hrw’s new Program Director, supervising our research and investigations as we reorient ourselves to strengthen the broader human rights ecosystem and meet today’s challenges,” Bashi tweeted on Friday.

In the past, Bashi, a lawyer by training, co-founded and directed Gisha, an organization that pushes for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. From 2015 to 2018 she served as the director of Israel-Palestine for HRW, and returned to the organization last year as a special adviser.

A year ago, HRW issued a sweeping 213-page report accusing Israel of apartheid. Israel rejected the report, calling its “fictional claims… both preposterous and false,” and accusing HRW of having “a long-standing anti-Israel agenda.” [see also:]

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. [See also:]

In recent years, Bashi, a US native, has been open about her relationship with a Palestinian man originally from Gaza, and the struggles they have faced to live in the same place. They lived together for a few years in the United States as well as in South Africa, and have based their lives in Ramallah, she said, since they are unable to live together in Israel.

The reaction was quick in coming. On 2 May Just the News stated: “A powerful nongovernmental organization with a massive budget and an alleged ideological bias against Israel will continue targeting the Jewish state after it completes a major leadership change now underway, according to experts and lawmakers who spoke to Just the News.” “Unfortunately, the extremely biased attitude toward Israel which Kenneth Roth represented in Human Rights Watch will, most probably, be cemented with the appointment of Sari Bashi,” said Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a think tank. “Throughout her career, Ms. Bashi has constantly demonstrated her lack of objectivity and overwhelming animus towards the state of Israel.”

New NGO launched in UK to defend human rights in Saudi Arabia

May 13, 2021
Mohammed bin Salman Editorial credit: Matias Lynch /

On 12 May 2021 5Pillars (RMS) announced the creation of a new NGO to deal with human rights in Saudi Arabia. The UK-based Standing Against Nefarious & Arbitrary Detention (SANAD) was aunched in an online conference, which focussed on human rights in Saudi Arabia, especially the freedom to criticise the regime and violations perpetrated against those who have been detained, imprisoned or even disappeared.

Bilal Ithkiran, the SANAD CEO, said the organisation would “seek to identify anyone who has been detained for criticising the regime and those who have been denied due process or have had their rights violated.

He said SANAD hopes, via peaceful means, to develop an optimistic society that looks to the future in a professional manner.

Dr Sue Conlan, a human rights activist and lawyer, said SANAD aims to establish human rights in Saudi Arabia through media awareness and to collaborate with other similar organisations and bring about legal and civil proceedings where appropriate.

“We aim to build databases on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and collate evidence and initiate legal proceedings against anyone involved in perpetrating human rights violations in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Dr Saeed Al Ghamdi, an academic and chair of the trustees, said the organisation has launched “to support the the oppressed and push back the oppressors.” He said that the “human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is passing through a very difficult and painful time.”

He added that “the courts are dictated to by the regime” resulting in “prolonged sentences for a stance, an opinion, a tweet or a word they’ve said.”

Abdullah Al Ghamdi, a board member of SANAD, said the path ahead will be “difficult but it is not impossible.” But Al Ghamdi, whose mother is currently being unlawfully detained, ended on an optimistic note saying: “Victory will belong to those who are patient, resilient and steadfast.”

Finally, Fahad Al Ghuwaydi, who has been detained on three occasions in Saudi Arabia for his activism, said the Saudi government’s abuses can be broken down into four phases.

He said: “As a previous detainee myself, I know too well these four phases. I know all too well how they will follow you. How they will follow an individual before they’re detained. I know too well what happens inside the prisons and I know too well how you are denied your most basic of rights as a detainee. I also know too well the obsession that the detainee suffers after they are released from prison.”

Al Ghuwaydi concluded by demanding “the decreasing of pressure upon the people. We demand the release of the political detainees, who were detained oppressively.”

Amnesty International says repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly have intensified in Saudi Arabia.

“Among those harassed, arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and/or jailed were government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, relatives of activists, journalists, members of the Shi’a minority and online critics of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Amnesty says on its website.

“Virtually all known Saudi Arabian human rights defenders inside the country were detained or imprisoned at the end of the year. Grossly unfair trials continued before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and other courts. Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes. Migrant workers were even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic, and thousands were arbitrarily detained in dire conditions, leading to an unknown number of deaths.”

Human Rights First to Present Saudi Organization ALQST with William D. Zabel Human Rights Award

October 7, 2020

On 6 october 2020 Human Rights First announced that it will present Saudi human rights organization ALQST with its annual William D. Zabel Human Rights Award, in recognition of its unwavering commitment to human rights in Saudi Arabia and around the world. For more on this award, which was renamed in 2018:

Human Rights First has tremendous respect and admiration for the work of ALQST for Human Rights and its founder, Yahya Assiri,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “Their work documenting human rights violations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the face of escalating pressure on human rights defenders couldn’t be more important, especially in an environment where information on these abuses is difficult to come by. In the present climate, where Saudi leaders can kill their critics with impunity, the work of Yahya Assiri and ALQST is critical.” [see also:]

ALQST is one of the most active and trusted organizations that consistently monitors and documents human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, where escalating repression in recent years has decimated civil society and criminalized human rights activists. Through its extensive network of local sources, ALQST has unparalleled access to developments on the ground. Its analysis and reports are relied upon by international NGOs, media outlets and others amplifying the voices of Saudi human rights defenders and their messages among the international community. In the run-up to this year’s G20 summit in November, due to be hosted by Saudi Arabia, ALQST has been at the forefront of calls for governments and businesses not to turn a blind eye to the Saudi authorities’ egregious rights violations.

This award sends a message that all the heroes who have courageously defended human rights in the country, for which they have often paid the highest price, have not been forgotten. We take this occasion to reiterate our call for their immediate and unconditional release.”aid ALQST founder Yahya Assiri. [see also: /]

The award is typically presented to recipients at an in-person award dinner and ceremony in New York. However, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights First will instead host a virtual event on October 21 to honor ALQST. The event will showcase ALQST’s work and feature an interview between Mr. Assiri and CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.