Posts Tagged ‘NGOs’

New book: The vitality of human rights in turbulent times

September 14, 2021

“If attention is directed towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a different set of views of the cathedral emerges says Gráinne de Búrca on 9 September 2021 about her book “Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era“.

Cover for 

Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era

In the book, she examines a number of human rights campaigns around the world and their degree of success as well as their limitations. “I argue that even in a very turbulent and difficult era when human rights are under challenge from all sides, human rights approaches not only retain vitality and urgency for activists, but have also delivered substantive results over time. I suggest that if attention is directed away from a predominant focus on a handful of prominent Global North NGOs, and towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a fuller set of views of the cathedral—of the landscape of human rights—emerges. The book advances an experimentalist theory of the effectiveness of human rights law and advocacy which is interactive (involving the engagement of social movements, civil society actors with international norms, networks and institutions), iterative (entailing ongoing action) and long-term (pursuing of social and fundamental changes that are rarely rapidly achieved).

Yet there is little reason for complacency or sanguinity. These are highly challenging times for human rights, and for human rights defenders, activists and advocates everywhere. The tide of illiberalism continues to surge around the world, and liberal democracy is in an increasingly unhealthy state. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing inequalities, corporate power continues to grow and to elude governmental control, while powerful new alliances of religious and political actors have been moving not only to repress the rights of disfavored communities and constituencies, but also to try to reshape understandings of human rights in highly conservative, exclusionary and illiberal directions. Repression of civil society, and of freedom of assembly, expression and protest continues apace, with the number of killings of environmental and other activists growing each year.

At the same time, long-standing critiques of human rights from the progressive left have become popular and mainstream, with influential books in recent years deriding the weaknesses, failures and dysfunctions of human rights, and their complicity with colonialism and neoliberalism. Many of these critiques have been powerful and important, and several have prompted reflection and proposals for reform on the part of human rights practitioners and scholars

But several of the most prominent critiques go beyond a call for rethinking or reform. They argue that the age of human rights is over, that its endtimes are here, that human rights law and the human rights movement are ill-suited to address the injustices of our times, that the failure of human rights approaches to seek or bring about structural change or economic justice highlights their deeply neoliberal character or companionship, and that human rights advocates should perhaps no longer seek to preserve human rights, but should make way instead for more radical movements.

In my book, I argue that some of the more damning critiques are exaggerated and partial. Like the proverbial view of the cathedral, several of the sharpest criticisms focus only or mainly on one particular dimension of the human rights system, and tend to caricature and reduce a complex, plural and vibrant set of movements to a single, monolithic and dysfunctional one. At the same time that the most pessimistic of the critics are writing obituaries for human rights, multiple constituencies around the world are mobilizing and using the language and tools of human rights in pursuit of social, environment, economic and other forms of justice. From #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice and Indigenous movements to reproductive rights marches in Poland, Argentina, and Ireland, to protest movements in Belarus, Myanmar, Nigeria and Chile, the appeal of human rights at least for those seeking justice (even if not for academic critics) seems as potent as ever.

None of this is to suggest that human rights advocates should not constantly scrutinize and reevaluate their premises, institutions and strategies. On the contrary, hard-hitting critiques of human rights for failing to tackle structural injustices and economic inequality have helped to galvanize change and a reorientation of priorities and approaches on the part of various relevant actors and institutions. Human rights activists and movements should exercise vigilance to ensure that they serve and are led by the interests of those whose rights are at stake, that they do not obstruct other progressive movements and tactics, and that their approaches are fit for the daunting and profoundly transformative challenges of these pandemic times, including accelerated climate change, digitalization, ever-increasing inequality and illiberalism. With attention to these risks and dangers, the diverse and heterogeneous array of actors that make up the international human rights community have an indispensable role to play, in a turbulent era, within the broader framework of progressive social, economic, environmental and cultural movements.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/grainne-de-burca/

Results of 47th session of the Human Rights Council

August 7, 2021

The ISHR and 17 other organisations (see below for their names) share reflections on the key outcomes of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

GENDER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

MIGRANTS RIGHTS

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

ARMS TRANSFERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

ALGERIA

While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

BELARUS

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

CHINA

The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

COLOMBIA

We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally

ETHIOPIA

The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

ERITREA

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.

NICARAGUA

We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

PALESTINE

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population […] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid.” We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.”

THE PHILIPPINES

While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

SYRIA

We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VENEZUELA

In the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.

*American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc47-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

69 NGOs address worsening situation in Eswatini

July 22, 2021

On 21 July 2021 FIDH and many other NGOs addressed an open letter to the Government of Eswatini and the international community:

We, the undersigned 69 civil society organisations, are deeply concerned about the eruption of state violence in Eswatini. We stand in solidarity with the people of Eswatini in condemning the government’s violent repression of mass protests demanding democracy and economic justice.

We support the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s call urging the authorities to fully adhere to human rights principles and reminding them that peaceful protests are protected under international human rights law. We call on the Government of Eswatini to immediately cease its brutal crackdown against civilians, restore and maintain internet access, and engage in inclusive dialogue with pro-democracy groups and politicians.

We call on the international community, including the United Nations, African Union, Southern African Development Community, and individual governments, to demand that the Government of Eswatini respect human rights, allow a thorough, independent investigation of who authorised violence against protesters, including shoot to kill orders, and support a peaceful transition to a democratic form of government.

Reports out of Eswatini indicate that, since late June, the army and police forces have killed dozens of unarmed civilians and injured around 1,000 people, including by shooting indiscriminately at and wounding protesters. The government has reportedly imprisoned hundreds of people, many of them young people, and shut down internet access across the country for several weeks, which Amnesty International calls “a brazen violation of the rights to freedom of expression and information.” Reports further indicate that security
forces have sought to intimidate human rights defenders and activists with unlawful surveillance, imposed a curfew, and restricted public gatherings and petition deliveries to the government. This political crisis caused by state-sponsored violence risks creating a humanitarian crisis, as hospitals struggle to treat the influx of people injured by security forces, food and fuel supplies become limited, and people’s movement and ability to conduct basic commerce is restricted.

Specifically, we lend our support to the demands of civil society organisations, political organisations, and people’s movements within Eswatini calling for a long-term resolution to the current political crisis through an inclusive political dialogue, the total unbanning of political parties, a transitional authority, new democratic Constitution, and a multiparty democratic dispensation.In the immediate term, we join democracy defenders in Eswatini in the following demands, calling for action from the Government of Eswatini to cease violence, restore and maintain communications services, and provide urgently needed humanitarian support:

● The immediate cessation of the killing of civilians and the return of the army to the
barracks;

● The immediate restoration of civic services such as the rapid issuing of death
certificates for those killed in the past days;

● Mandatory independent pathologists to conduct post-mortems on the deceased;

● Urgent humanitarian support to the affected families, workers and citizens who
need basic necessities such as food, sanitary towels, baby food, etc.

● The provision of direct financial support to resuscitate affected small and medium
enterprises;

● The full and permanent restoration of internet and communication services and
peoples’ right to freedom of expression; and

● The urgent availability of vaccines to all emaSwati and the end of unnecessary
lockdowns.

As the Government of Eswatini, Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy, violates the human rights of residents, suppresses freedom of speech and assembly, and jails young people for demanding a brighter future, the international community cannot remain silent.

We call on partners in international civil society, regional governmental bodies, and diplomats to join us in amplifying the demands of the Eswatini people and seeking the protection of people’s human rights.

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/swaziland-eswatini-civilian-killings-must-stop-now

30 NGOs call on Google to drop plan for a Cloud region in Saudi Arabia

May 27, 2021
Groups call on Google to drop out of Saudi project over human rights concerns

© Getty Images

The Hill of 26 May 2021 reports that a coalition of more than 30 human rights and digital privacy rights groups called on Google to abandon its plans to establish a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia over concerns about human rights violations.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN America, wrote in their letter that Saudi Arabia’s record of tamping down on public dissent and its justice system that “flagrantly violates due process” made it unsafe for Google to set up a “cloud region” in the kingdom.

While Google publishes how it handles government requests for customer information and reports when requests are made through formal channels, there are numerous potential human rights risks of establishing a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia that include violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and association, non-discrimination, and due process,” the groups said. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/

The letter also pointed to Saudi authorities who have routinely sought to identify anonymous online dissenters and spy on Saudi citizens through digital surveillance. The groups also pointed to how they themselves are believed to have been put under surveillance by the Saudi government.

“Google has a responsibility to respect human rights, regardless of any state’s willingness to fulfill its own human rights obligations,” the letter continued, pointing to Google’s statement in which it expressed its commitment to human rights and to “improve the lives of as many people as possible.”

In order to address these concerns, the groups called on Google to conduct a “robust, thorough human rights due diligence process” and to “draw red lines around what types of government requests concerning Cloud regions it will not comply with” due to human rights concerns.

“The Saudi government has demonstrated time and again a flagrant disregard for human rights, both through its own direct actions against human rights defenders and its spying on corporate digital platforms to do the same,” the letter read. “We fear that in partnering with the Saudi government, Google will become complicit in future human rights violations affecting people in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region.”

https://thehill.com/policy/technology/555597-groups-call-on-google-to-drop-out-of-saudi-project-over-human-rights

Joint NGO-call for UN to protect civilians caught in armed conflict

May 12, 2021

On 12 May 2021 the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and 25 other civil society organizations have issued a joint statement ahead of the May 25th UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The joint statement calls for the UN Secretary General, UN Security Council, Member States, and armed actors to take urgent and ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies, and practices, to protect civilians caught in armed conflict.

Civil Society Statement on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2021)

Over the past year, anniversaries of the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and new outbreaks of violence elsewhere, have served as grim reminders of the international community’s lack of meaningful progress to uphold their commitments to protect civilians in armed conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has interacted with new, ongoing, and protracted conflicts, exacerbating existing inequalities and protection concerns, and contributing to dramatically escalating humanitarian needs including displacement, famine and food insecurity, and desperate medical shortfalls. Civilians living in conflict-zones continue to experience the devastating impacts of conflict-related environmental damage and an increased vulnerability to climate and environmental risks with wide-ranging effects on health and human suffering.

Meanwhile, States continue to use the pandemic and other pretexts to shrink civic space. Dialogue essential to the development of policies, strategies, and plans for protection of civilians too often fails to be adequately representative and inclusive of civil society, despite their voices being essential. This is especially true for vulnerable or marginalized communities and for human rights defenders.

Parties to conflict continue to be blind to the gendered, age-specific, and intersectional vulnerabilities of civilians. In particular, conflicts continue to undermine the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities, especially when it comes to participating in decisions that impact their lives and communities. Conflict often leads to the widespread use of gender-based violence, undermining of women’s freedom of movement and access to education, health and livelihoods. The deliberate targeting and collateral impact of conflicts on women and girls continues to result in specific gendered harms that must be redressed, requiring the humanitarian system to ensure that there is gender equity in the decision-making structures at all levels. Attacks on educational institutions and their military use result in death, destruction, and loss of education, creating long-term negative consequences for whole communities.

Moreover, the absence of genuine political will to realize accountability for war crimes and other serious violations has deepened a culture of impunity.  As a result, parties to conflict continue to directly violate international humanitarian law (IHL) or enable violations by others and fail to take meaningful practical steps to minimize and respond to civilian harm in conflict.  Parties, including some States who profess to support the protection of civilians agenda are also fueling protection crises around the world, including through the supply of weapons and other forms of military and security assistance. Rather than enhancing the protection of civilians, millions have been forced to flee bombing and fighting and face hunger, starvation and disease as their access to life-saving humanitarian assistance is denied or otherwise impeded.

At the same time, protecting civilians has too often been understood through the prism of compliance with international humanitarian law. This is an incomplete view: compliance with the law is the bare minimum, but current patterns of harm and long-term effects of hostilities highlight the need for policies and practices to effectively prevent, minimize, and respond to civilian harm. The full protection of civilians must become a strategic imperative across scenarios from direct involvement in hostilities to support provided to parties to conflict, and through the full spectrum of UN and other international and regional peace operations. This should entail prioritizing the health and wellbeing of people, supporting political and social structures that ensure justice and dignity, and protecting the environment, and be understood as a wider goal of conflict prevention and response.

Ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies and practices is urgently required to adequately protect civilians caught in armed conflict:

Member States, the UN System, and the international community must recommit to a United Nations of ‘We the Peoples’, and engage conflict-affected communities and local, national, and international civil society in a direct, robust, inclusive, and sustained dialogue on the protection of civilians and measures to minimize civilian harm. Effective protection of civilians can only be conceived and implemented through safe and inclusive dialogue with conflict-affected communities and civil society at all levels. Additionally, the UN, States, and other stakeholders should support nonviolent and community-based protection mechanisms where possible such as political mediation, early warning/early response activities, and unarmed civilian

The UN Security Council, Member States, and the UN System must fulfill their commitment to the full protection of civilians, including by promoting and implementing the relevant and applicable legal and policy frameworks. Member States should partner with civil society to develop national policy frameworks that include mechanisms to systematically record casualties, track, analyze, prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian harm from the actions of their own and those of security partners, including the indirect and reverberating effects of hostilities on critical civilian objects, critical infrastructure and essential services, including health and education, and that ensure principled and sustained dialogue with humanitarian organizations in conflict contexts.

The UN Security Council, Member States and all parties to conflict must operate in a manner that preserves and protects space for principled humanitarian action, including by ensuring compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as a critical aspect of strengthening the protection of civilians. As conflicts are increasingly defined as protection crises, disproportionately affecting women, girls, and boys, and are compounded by the gendered and age-specific impacts of COVID-19, States must take actions to reinforce the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups, and the localization of principled humanitarian response. States and all other parties to conflict must facilitate unhindered access to affected populations, respecting humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. Sanctions and counterterrorism measures must include effective humanitarian exceptions and not limit principled humanitarian action. All actors must redouble efforts to protect humanitarian, education and health workers, and cease attacks on them, particularly in light of COVID-19’s effects and vaccine rollout.

The UN Secretary-General, the Security Council, and Member States must redouble efforts to ensure accountability for violations, including by publicly condemning actors who violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law and other applicable legal frameworks. The UN Security Council and Member States must strengthen the implementation of accountability mechanisms. The Secretary-General should reinforce transparent mechanisms, including at the field level, to track, analyze, and publicly report on violations caused by parties to armed conflicts, and make practical recommendations to enhance the protection of civilians and prevent further violations. Critical mechanisms established to help strengthen accountability, such as the list of perpetrators of grave violations of children’s rights included in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, must be credible and accurate, free from politicization.

Member States should engage constructively in the process to develop a political declaration that would strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects. Such a declaration should commit States to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. It should include inclusive humanitarian provisions to assist victims and affected communities including from damage and destruction to infrastructure – including schools and hospitals – and the resulting reverberating effects. This should recognize the particular vulnerability of and specific impacts of explosive weapons on children, the gendered impacts, and particular impacts on persons with disabilities.

The UN Secretary-General must work together with the UN Security Council to ensure protection is at the heart of UN peace operations.  Configurations and operations of UN peace operations must prioritize and be driven by analysis of threats against civilians, including threats of sexual and gender-based violence and threats of grave violations against children. The Secretary-General and Member States should ensure a coherent and adequately resourced approach to the protection of civilians, including that distinct capacities for protection, human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and child protection are defined and provided across the spectrum of peace operations and in UN Country Teams, and sustained throughout transitions. Peacekeeping operations should continue to strengthen implementation of the UN Department of Peace Operations PoC Policy, mitigate potential harm from their presence or operations, and incorporate local perspectives into protection strategies.

As civil society, we believe in the comprehensive protection of civilians: the protection of civilians from conflict, the protection of civilians during conflict, and the protection of civilians in the devastating and often long aftermath of conflict. Over the past year, the pandemic has further forced the world to confront the protection implications of a global health crisis. Especially in the context of conflict, States and the international community must meaningfully advance the protection of civilians, starting with a recommitment to the critical dictum of “do no harm.”

Read the full statement below and click here for the PDF.

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

Belarus: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders!

March 22, 2021

On 18 March, 2021 a Joint NGO Statement on Belarus was published: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders:

The Belarusian authorities are conducting a targeted campaign of intimidation against civil society in an effort to silence all critics of the government. Following the disputed presidential election on 9 August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest the announced result. Peaceful protests continue and reprisals against protesters continue too, with frightening regularity and increasing severity. Riot police have used unlawful force, detaining thousands of people. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread. Over 33,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations or voicing their dissent and an increasing number are being prosecuted under trumped up criminal charges and handed prison sentences. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d]

Human rights defenders have played an invaluable role in documenting these violations, providing legal assistance, and advising people of their rights. The Belarusian authorities are now escalating pressure on human rights defenders by imposing unfounded criminal charges, opening bogus criminal investigations, and conducting raids and searches in retaliation for these defenders’ legitimate human rights work. Some are in pre-trial detention or under house arrest and there are allegations they have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities have compelled lawyers for most of these activists to sign non-disclosure agreements that bar them from sharing any information about the investigation.

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

In January 2021, authorities targeted the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, and its director, Syarhei Drazdouski, and lawyer, Aleh Hrableuski, are now under house arrest and in pretrial detention, respectively. The Office is a well-respected NGO that has been supporting people with disabilities by offering them legal advice and advocating for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus visited the office and the homes of Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski simultaneously (allegedly to inspect the scene of the crime). They removed computers, phones, and some documents. They also took statements from both men.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department published a message on its official website launching a process of verification into the activities of the members of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a part of an investigation into “possible inappropriate acquisition of funds received in the form of charitable contributions and international support in the period from 2020 to the present for the purpose of providing assistance to Belarusian citizens with disabilities”.

Siarhei Drazdouski commented in a Facebook post on 3 February:

“Allegedly we were financially supporting people accused of taking part in protest actions. In fact, we advised several victims [of human rights violations] – both people with disabilities and without – to seek help from lawyers.”

Allegations of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

On 2 February 2021, Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski were questioned for seven hours at the Financial Investigations Department. Their lawyers were not allowed to accompany them, and they were subjected to ill-treatment.

According to Syarhei Drazdouski, the interrogators, who did not introduce themselves, openly called him a “criminal, a fraudster, a liar and an accomplice.” While the interrogation was mostly conducted politely, several times other staff members came in and insulted and aggressively swore at him.

Aleh Hrableuski reported that, when he continued to refuse to give them the information they demanded, he was restrained, forcibly stripped naked and made to sit naked on a chair and not raise his eyes. Investigators eventually released him.

On 3 February 2021, both men were taken for questioning again, but this time Hrableuski was remanded in custody and Drazdouski was put under house arrest. Their lawyers were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, as is increasingly the practice in Belarus, and very little information is available about the charges against them.

Viasna

On 16 February 2021, the Belarusian authorities carried out raids simultaneously throughout the country on the homes of staff and offices of Human Rights Centre Viasna, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the independent trade union REP. The raids were carried out in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk, and Brest as part of unfounded criminal proceedings under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order), which the authorities have launched to target civil society activists, journalists, and human rights monitors. According to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the investigation is aimed at “establishing the circumstances of the financing of protest activities”. (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/24/fake-letter-tries-to-discredit-viasna-in-belarus/]

Dzmitry Salauyou, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was among those whose homes were searched on 16 February. Special forces and officers from the Department for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption, a police unit also involved in the harassment of protesters, broke down the door to his flat to enter and carry out the search. They confiscated computers and telephones and demanded that his wife tell them the password for her mobile phone. They threatened that if she did not comply, she would go to prison, and their 13-year-old child would be put in state custody. Dzmitry Salauyou was detained and alleges that he was beaten by special forces in the mini-bus on the way to the pretrial detention centre. Subsequent medical reports documented head trauma consistent with being hit on the head, increased intracranial pressure, and suspected damage to cervical vertebrae.

On 18 February, he was sentenced to 12 days’ detention on administrative charges for holding an “illegal picket.” The conviction was based solely on the fact that the building in which Dzmitry Salauyou lives has a concrete frieze depicting Belarus’ historical coat of arms, Pahonia, which has been adopted as one of the symbols of the protest movement. According to the judge, the Pahonia is considered a symbol of protest and could be considered evidence of “staging a one-person picket”. Dzmitry Salauyou told the court that the frieze had been installed when the house was built about eight years ago.

On 1 March, the day following his release, Dzmitry Salauyou was detained at Minsk airport as he was trying to leave the country with his family. The Investigative Committee interrogated him at their offices as a suspect in a criminal case under Article 342(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training or other preparation of individuals to take part in group actions that gravely violate public order’), which carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. He was released but is under travel restrictions. Both Dzmitry Salauyou and his lawyer were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Other Members of Viasna Accused of Criminal Offences

Marfa Rabkova, the youth coordinator of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was arrested on 17 September 2020, and has been in pretrial detention ever since. On 25 September, she was charged under Article 293(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training and other preparation of people for participation in mass riots’), which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. On 11 February 2021, she was also charged under Article 130(3) of the Criminal Code, (‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord committed by a group’), and under Article 285 (2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’) which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment.

Andrei Chepyuk, a volunteer for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Minsk, was detained on 2 October 2020 and on 9 October he was charged under Article 293(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (participation in mass disorder). On 28 January 2021, it became known that he is also charged under Article 285(2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’). He is being held in pretrial detention centre No.1 in Minsk.

Tatsyana Lasitsa, an activist who volunteers for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Homel, was detained on 21 January. She had assisted with the legal defense of people detained and fined for their participation in protests. She has been charged under Article 342 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘organization or participation in group actions that gravely violate public order’). She is being held in the pretrial detention centre in Homel.

Leanid Sudalenka, the director of the Homel branch of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was detained on his way to the office on 18 January 2021. He has been charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (‘organizing and preparing actions that gravely violate public order or active participation in such actions’). Sudalenka had provided legal assistance to dozens of Homel region residents who were detained and charged for their participation in post-election protests. He is being held in pretrial detention in Homel. In 2019 he was awarded two prizes for his human rights work over 20 years, the French prize Freedom Equality and Brotherhood, and a National Belarusian Prize as Human Rights Defender of the Year.

We call on the Belarusian authorities:

  • To abide by their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.
  • To fully respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and ensure that everybody has the right to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and government bodies and to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • In line with these obligations, to release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsyana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Syarhei Drazdouski, and Aleh Hrableuski immediately and unconditionally as they have been detained for their legitimate human rights work, drop charges against them and ensure their right to a remedy for unfounded criminal prosecution.
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and carry out prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by Syarhei Drazdouski, Aleh Hrableuski, and Dzmitry Salauyou
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to reasonable accommodations and the right to effective access to justice on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural accommodations in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stage.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/18/joint-statement-belarus-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders

Large group of NGOs call on Biden administration to repeal ICC Sanctions

February 19, 2021

After the Trump administration attacks on the ICC [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/12/trump-issues-new-sanctions-on-the-icc-and-human-rights-defenders/], the question is now how the Biden administration will change course:

On 17 February 2021, more than 70 Non-Governmental Organizations, Faith-Based Groups and Academic Institutions called for the Biden Administration to Repeal ICC Sanctions:

The undersigned organizations urge the Biden Administration to engage constructively with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.S. government’s support for the ICC could help secure justice for victims in situations from Myanmar to Darfur, just as it helped facilitate the February 4 historic conviction of a former leader of an armed rebel group for war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda.There is an immediate need to act to reset U.S. policy regarding the ICC. Most urgently, we are alarmed by recent calls for the U.S. government to maintain or even expand the sanctions put into place by the Trump administration in June 2020 currently targeting the court’s work.These actions were an unprecedented attack on the court’s mandate to deliver justice and the rule of law globally, an abuse of the U.S. government’s financial powers, and a betrayal of the U.S. legacy in establishing institutions of international justice. They were also an attack on those who engage with the court, including human rights defenders and victims. These extraordinary measures have put the U.S. at odds with many of its closest allies. They also have been challenged on constitutional grounds domestically. Keeping in place the executive order authorizing sanctions would be inconsistent with the new administration’s laudable commitments to respecting the rule of law and pursuing multilateral cooperation in support of U.S. interests. It would also transform a shameful but temporary action into a standing license for other governments to attack multilateral institutions when they disagreewith those bodies’ actions. We call upon the U.S. government to rescind Executive Order 13928 and all sanctions measures against ICC officials at the earliest possible opportunity. We appeal for constructive engagement with the ICC and we urge the Biden administration and members of Congress to support that approach.

This statement was coordinated by the Washington Working Group for the International Criminal Court (WICC), an informal and nonpartisan coalition of diverse NGOs, including human rights organizations, faith based groups, professional associations, and others.

The Advocates for Human Rights, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Amnesty International USA, Anti-Torture Initiative, American University Washington College of Law, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)Center for Justice and Accountability Center for the Study of Law & Genocide, Loyola Law School, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US, Provinces Darfur Women, Action Group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Eumans European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Fortify Rights, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Global Justice Center, Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law, Guernica 37, Chambers and Centre for International Justice, Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, City University of New York School of Law, Human Rights FirstHuman Rights Institute, Georgetown University Law Center, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project, Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Criminal Court Alliance (ICCA), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Human Rights Clinic, Boston University School of Law, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School, InterReligious Task Force on Central AmericaJ . StreetJustice for Muslims Collective. Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Never Again Coalition, No Peace Without Justice, Open Society Foundations, Operation Broken Silence, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), Partners in Justice International, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness, Project Blueprint,The Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA School of Law REDRESS, The Rendition Project

Call for independent investigation into Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo’s death

February 16, 2021

On 17 February 2021, 10 human rights NGOs addressed an Open letter to all Commonwealth Heads of Government

Excellencies,

Re: Call for independent investigation into Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo’s death 

On the one-year anniversary of the death of popular gospel singer and peace activist, Kizito Mihigo, civil society organizations around the world are calling on the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into his death in custody. As your governments prepare to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June, we are writing to ask you to engage with your counterparts in the Rwandan government in support of this call.

On February 14, 2020, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) confirmed that Mihigo had been arrested close to the border, accused of attempting to illegally cross into Burundi, joining “terrorist” groups and of corruption, as well breaching the terms of his release from prison in 2018. Just days later, on February 17, 2020, Rwanda National Police announced that Mihigo had been found dead in his police cell in Kigali at 5 am that morning, in an alleged suicide. See: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/laureates/f8f64eb0-a9b5-40b2-a5f5-ccfb52168854/edit

However, there are reasons to doubt this version of events. In Rwanda, dissidents and critical voices are often the target of threats, judicial harassment, and arbitrary arrest. In recent years, several opposition members and journalists have gone missing or been found dead in suspicious circumstances. After he released a song in 2014 expressing compassion for victims of the genocide and of other violence, understood as a reference to the crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front as it took control of the country in 1994, Mihigo was threatened, detained incommunicado, and imprisoned for several years. After his release in 2018, and up to the days before his death, Mihigo informed contacts that he was being threatened to give false testimony against political opponents of the government and wanted to flee the country because he feared for his safety. The news of Mihigo’s death caused shockwaves in Rwanda and beyond. Before falling out of favour with the government in 2014, Mihigo had played a prominent role in Rwandan public life including helping to compose the new national anthem in 2001 and regularly performing at official functions. A genocide survivor himself, Mihigo’s work to promote reconciliation received equally widespread recognition; in 2011, for example, First Lady Jeannette Kagame presented him with a Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers award in honour of his work.

On the day that Mihigo’s death was announced, and before an independent investigation could have been conducted, RIB spokesperson Marie-Michelle Umuhoza told local media that Mihigo had “strangled himself” with his bedsheets, had displayed “unusual behavior” while in custody, and had refused to speak with investigators, his lawyer and his family. On February 26, citing an autopsy report, the National Public Prosecution Authority concluded that Mihigo’s death “resulted from suicide by hanging” and said that it would not pursue criminal charges…

Mihigo is one of several detainees to have died in suspicious circumstances while in detention in Rwanda over the last several years. Independent, impartial and effective investigations capable of leading to credible prosecutions are essential to deter future violations and to promote accountability, justice, and the rule of law, and failure to conduct such investigations is a violation of the state’s obligations under the right to life. 

To ensure justice for Mihigo’s death, Rwandan authorities should allow an independent body to carry out an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation.

In the Commonwealth Charter of 2013, member states reaffirmed their core values and principles, including upholding human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law and the role of civil society. Holding the CHOGM summit in Rwanda without addressing the absence of progress by Rwandan authorities towards accountability for human rights concerns more generally, and Mihigo’s death in particular, casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth’s human rights commitments.

For the sake of human rights in Rwanda and the integrity of the Commonwealth, we urge you to support the call on the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into Mihigo’s death in custody.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zpA3pj8un5cRPt0VEKKJaNex9CjDPwyc/view

NGO Statement remembers the one-year anniversary of the ban on the Maldivian Democracy Network

December 19, 2020

Today – 19 December 2020 – marks one year since the Government of the Maldives arbitrarily shut down the longest serving human rights group in the country, the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and arbitrarily confiscated all of its funds. Since then, the Government has not reversed any of its unconstitutional actions related to the dissolution of MDN.

We remind the Government of the Maldives that Article 30(b) of the country’s Constitution guarantees the right to establish societies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Article 43 affords everyone the right to fair administrative action that adheres to basic fairness and procedural propriety. MDN has been deprived of these rights through arbitrary action taken without due process.

An administrative decision was taken based on allegations of a criminal offence, depriving the organisation and the human rights defenders involved of their right to appeal in the criminal and civil processes initiated by the Government of the Maldives. The right to appeal is guaranteed by Article 56 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the organisation has not been given the right of reply or to defend itself against what is widely seen as a biased decision based on the interpretation of an academic research.

We are disappointed that the Parliament of the Maldives has refused to investigate the matter and hold the government accountable. We urge the Parliament not to use its mandate selectively, and call on it to conduct its affairs equally, uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Government of the Maldives, by taking arbitrary and unconstitutional actions to silence civil society, has set a dangerous precedent that has resulted in a violent witch-hunt of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. We call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to conduct a fair and open enquiry into these deplorable actions and stop the harassment of the human rights community in the Maldives, as several United Nations Member States recommended during the third Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives in November 2020[1].

Signed by:

The Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

CIVICUS

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) is a non-partisan civil society organisation based in the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland, operating under the Swiss civil code. MDN, registered  in the Maldives from 2006 until December 2019, was one of  the longest-running human rights groups in the country until the Government of  Maldives forcefully shut down the organisation.

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/26/maldives-mohamed-nasheed-from-human-rights-defender-to-president-to-exile/

[1] Recommendations made to the Maldives at the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review