Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Opiyo’

The 3 nominees for the 2021 Tulip are known

November 22, 2021

The Netherlands ministry of foreign affairs sponsors since 2008 a human rights award, the Tulip [for more information on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144]

A committee of 5 human rights experts has selected a shortlist of 12 human rights defenders from among the nominees for 2021; since then an independent jury composed of 5 members has select 3 candidates from this shortlist. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will now choose a winner from the three remaining candidates:

Human rights activist and lawyer in Uganda

As a child, he grew up in the epicentre of a brutal war between the Lord Resistance Army and government forces. Today, working as a human rights lawyer, he is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. This is his story.

Nicholas Opiyo
Nicholas Opiyo.

As a human rights lawyer, Ugandan Nicholas Opiyo is not afraid to take on sensitive cases. He challenged the law that gave the police the right to ban public gatherings. He led the campaign for the enactment of a law criminalizing torture and drafted the initial bill that was enacted by parliament in 2012. He, alongside other brave Ugandan activists, successfully challenged Uganda’s anti-gay law in 2014. He has provided legal representation to the gay community in Uganda.

Nicholas is executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, an NGO that works to protect civil liberties and improve universal observance of human rights. He defends human rights activists who are being persecuted in Uganda. He also stands up for people who are in trouble with the government and lack the resources to defend themselves. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6743A94B-BA1A-AA2A-AC6C-592EBD981EDA

Surviving war

Nicholas grew up on the outskirts of the northern Ugandan city of Gulu. His village was repeatedly attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that used child soldiers. Unlike many young people abducted into the ranks of the rebels, he survived abductions.  The rebels kidnapped his father and sister, who managed to return after several months in captivity. To avoid being kidnapped, Nicholas walked several kilometres every day so he could sleep in the city. It was safer in a church compound or on the pavement in front of shops than in his village.

Government soldiers detained Nicholas’ father as part of an operation to eliminate traitors. The soldiers took all men 18 and older to a stadium where they were held for days without food. Looking through a crack in the stadium wall, Nicholas could see his father being beaten. Nicholas’ father was released after three days because he was innocent. Unable to forget these events, Nicholas decided to become a lawyer. ‘First I wanted to be a journalist so I could speak about [mistreatment],’ he said in an interview met Buzzfeed News. ‘But I thought … I can go to court and change things.’ 

Nicholas’ work often gets him in trouble with the state. He is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. In December 2020, in the run-up to the elections, he was arrested and imprisoned. Although he was charged with money laundering, the government presented no evidence. He spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in jail. Human rights activists see the charges against Nicholas as a way to hinder his work as a human rights lawyer. Even in jail, he used his time to talk to prisoners who sought advice. In fact, he says, his arrests give him the energy to do even more. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/23/ugandan-human-rights-defender-nicholas-opiyo-arrested-like-a-criminal/]

Nunca Más: they had to flee from Nicaragua, but their struggle continues

Banished from Nicaragua, a target of cyberattacks: despite all these setbacks, the activist collective Nunca Más is continuing to work for human rights in Nicaragua. This is their story.

Nunca Más
Nunca Más.

When Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua, his supporters said that there was no longer any reason for us to exist. That human rights work in Nicaragua was a thing of the past. But that can never happen! Anyone who exercises power is capable of abusing it.’ So said human rights defender Gonzalo Carrión Maradiaga in an interview with the Nicaraguan magazine Envío. For 14 years he had been legal adviser of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which combats impunity and human rights violations.

In December 2018 the Ortega government closed CENIDH by force. The human rights defenders on its staff were expelled from Nicaragua. Gonzalo and his colleagues fled to Costa Rica, where they continued their work and in 2019 founded Nicaragua Nunca Más. Nunca Más reports on torture and other human rights violations in Nicaragua, in the interests of justice and to discourage new violations. They offer legal and psychosocial support to victims and their family members, journalists and human rights defenders, and conduct human rights training courses. They also work at international level on behalf of victims of human rights violations. At the moment, justice cannot be sought through the Nicaraguan legal system, as it is under influence of the president. Nonetheless, gathering evidence is crucial to ensure justice for human rights violation in the future.   

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Under pressure

The Nicaraguan government have not been pleased with Nunca Más’ reports, and are subjecting the organisation to severe pressure. Its website has been the target of repeated cyberattacks. Extra digital security measures have enabled the collective to safeguard personal data and sensitive digital information. Despite these difficult conditions, including being forced to live far from their familiar surroundings, its human rights defenders are persisting bravely with their struggle. Gonzalo has not seen his wife or one of his daughters for 18 months. ‘But the time will come. One day I’ll go back,’ he said resolutely in the interview with Envío.

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Mari Davtyan, lawyer in Russia, opposes domestic violence

The Russian police do not always respond to domestic violence complaints. Sometimes their failure to act has fatal results. Lawyer Mari Davtyan has been working for years now to change this situation. This is her story.

Mari Davtyan
Mari Davtyan.

In December 2017 Margarita Gracheva’s husband chopped her hands off with an axe. She had asked the police for help several times in the preceding months – in vain. Mari Davtyan was Margarita’s lawyer. Now Mari is working on the case of three teenage sisters who killed their father on 28 July 2018, when they could no longer bear his many years of physical and sexual abuse. Their mother had reported the violence to the police, but was ignored. Domestic violence is seen in Russia as a ‘family issue’, and outside interference is viewed as meddling, Mari noted in an interview with Voice of America. Mari’s strong defence for the teenage sisters has sparked a debate in Russian society on domestic violence and conservative family values.

Since 2017 domestic violence is no longer a serious offence in Russia, but a misdemeanour. Perpetrators are fined, have to do community service or are served with a training order. They are only taken to court in cases of repeated violence or serious injuries. This law is meant to preserve the ‘unity of the family’; according to this logic, fathers don’t belong in jail. Mari has been fighting for years now to change this law, ‘because it has been proven dangerous for the safety of thousands of women in Russia’, Mari said in an interview with Marina Pisklakova-Parker of the Anna Center in Moskou. Fighting and winning cases like this has ‘helped the government understand that we are not dealing with violence in the right way,’ said Mari in an interview with the Washington Post. Growing numbers of people are putting pressure on the courts and government to reflect on how they are treating victims.

Mari is also the head and legal expert of the Consortium of Women’s NGOs, which works to protect victims of domestic violence in Russia. The organisation gives courses on women’s rights to lawyers and the police and helps victims with their legal cases. ‘We have more than 100 lawyers working with us today, this year we have more than 150 cases, and I think about 1,000 consultations with individual women,’ said Mari in an interview with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). She sees that women are becoming more confident and more often have the courage to seek her out. ‘They are finding the power to ask for help and they’re starting to understand what a healthy relationship should look like,’ she said in her interview with Voice of America.  

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/weblog

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/human-rights-tulip/shortlist-of-candidates-for-human-rights-tulip-2021

Ugandan Human rights defender Nicholas Opiyo arrested like a criminal

December 23, 2020

Colin Stewart posted on December 22, 2020 in 76Crimes.com the story of how on 22 December the Ugandan police seized highly respected human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo from a restaurant where he was eating, forced him into a van and drove away with him. He was recently released on bail: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/uganda-leading-rights-lawyer-released-on-bail/2093856

Nicholas Opiyo is confronted outside a magistrate court in 2018 after attempting to prosecute Uganda’s chief of police. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Opiyo)

In a message on its Facebook page, the Uganda Police Force stated that Opiyo was arrested by a “Joint Task team of Security and Financial Intelligence, on allegations of money laundering and related malicious acts. The investigations are progressing well and any new developments will be communicated in due course,” the message continued. “He remains in our custody at the Special Investigations Division.”

Opiyo, a strong ally of the LGBTI community in Uganda, is the executive director and lead attorney of Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights advocacy organization. As an attorney, he represented presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) after Wine’s arrest before a campaign rally on Nov. 18. That arrest sparked widespread violence. Opiyo said Wine was arrested on a coronavirus violation, but “the actual reason really is that it is part of the broader attempt to stifle opposition campaigns.” He noted that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was also holding political rallies during the same period, but without police interference.

The Chimp Reports news site reported:

National Unity Platform Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Bobi Wine claimed Opiyo was arrested because he was looking into the aftermath of the November 18th protests in which over 50 people were killed. The protests were sparked by the arrest of the candidate. Bobi Wine said Opiyo was “abducted by security from restaurant in Kamwokya [a section of Kampala, the capital of Uganda], alongside other lawyers investigating murders of 18th & 19th, Nov. Thrown into private van with tinted glasses and  driven at breakneck speed to unknown destination.”

The Uganda Police Force message about Opiyo was harshly criticized in hundreds of comments on Facebook, including remarks.

The website of Chapter Four Uganda states about Opiyo:

He is the recipient of German Africa Prize, 2017, Voices for Justice Award from Human Rights Watch, 2015 and the European Union Parliament Sakharov Fellows Prize, 2016. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/08/11/4-human-rights-defenders-receiving-the-alison-des-forges-award-2015/]

He was until March of 2017, a member of the Team of Expert to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association. He is also a visiting scholar at the Centre for African Studies, Stanford University, CA, USA and the Global Health Program at the University of San Francisco (UCSF), California, USA.

Nicholas is the Board Chair of Action Aid Uganda, a member of the Human Rights Advisory Board BENETECH, a Silicon Valley human rights and tech company based in Palo Alto in California and African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL), a Washington, DC-based think and action group.

On 29 December a group of UN experts expressed their concern: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1081072

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/23/uganda-detains-leading-lawyer-for-lgbt-rights-on-money-laundering-charges

4 Human Rights Defenders receiving the Alison des Forges Award 2015

August 11, 2015

2015 Alison Des Forges Award Honorees

2015 Alison Des Forges Award Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR – 2014 winner). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India – 2014 winner). © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

Human Rights Watch just announced that its Alison Des Forges Award winners 2015 come from Uganda, Syria, Malaysia and Azerbaijan:

Nisha Ayub, Malaysia
For over a decade, Nisha Ayub has championed the rights of transgender people in Malaysia through support services, legal and policy analysis, and public outreach. Human Rights Watch honors Nisha Ayub for challenging the discriminatory laws that prevent transgender people in Malaysia from living free of violence, fear, and oppression.

Yara Bader, Syria
Yara Bader, a journalist and human rights activist, works to expose the detention and torture of activists – including her husband, Mazen Darwish recently released – in war-torn Syria. She has experienced first-hand how the Syrian government uses its security and intelligence agencies to brutally crack down on independent voices. Human Rights Watch honors Yara Bader for her tremendous courage in speaking out on behalf of Syrian detainees despite grave risks to her safety.

Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan 
Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist in Azerbaijan, has dedicated her life to the fight against corruption, for human rights, and for freedom for political prisoners in a country under increasingly harsh authoritarian rule. Human Rights Watch honors Khadija Ismayilova for her extraordinary courage as a journalist and human rights activist in the face of an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. She is currently behind bars. see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/khadija-ismayilova-azerbaijan-is-not-deterred/

Nicholas Opiyo, Uganda
Nicholas Opiyo is a leading human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights organization. He has successfully argued several high-level constitutional challenges, including to the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013, which was declared null and void in August 2014. Human Rights Watch honors Nicholas Opiyo for his unfaltering dedication to upholding the human rights of all Ugandans by promoting universal access to justice.

 

The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on February 12, 2009. For more on the award, see: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/alison-des-forges-award-extraordinary-activism. See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/events-in-memory-of-alison-des-forges-at-buffalo-university/

The four 2015 honorees will be honored at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners held in more than 20 cities worldwide in November 2015 and March-April 2016. Also two 2014 recipients of the award, Father Bernard Kinvi from the Central African Republic and Dr. M.R. Rajagopal from India will included in this series of events:

 

Father Bernard Kinvi, Central African Republic
Father Bernard Kinvi is a Catholic priest who directs the hospital at the Catholic mission in Bossemptele, Central African Republic. In early 2014, when sectarian violence devolved into coordinated violence targeting Muslim civilians, Kinvi saved the lives of hundreds of besieged Muslims, whom he gathered from their homes and sheltered in the Catholic church. Despite repeated death threats, Kinvi persisted in protecting those in his charge until they could be taken to safety. Human Rights Watch honors Father Bernard Kinvi for his unwavering courage and dedication to protecting civilians in the Central African Republic.

Dr. M. R. Rajagopal, India
Dr. M. R. Rajagopal is a leading palliative care physician from India who, for more than 20 years, has battled conditions that cause patients to suffer severe pain unnecessarily. As clinician, academic, and activist, Rajagopal is a global force behind efforts to promote and put into practice palliative care as a human right. He built the world’s most successful community-based palliative care program, and he and his organization, Pallium India, played a key role in convincing India’s government to make morphine accessible. Human Rights Watch honors Dr. M. R. Rajagopal for his efforts to defend the right of patients with severe pain to live and die with dignity.

Rights Activists Honored | Human Rights Watch.