Posts Tagged ‘obituary’

Refugee defender Barbara Harrell-Bond died on 18 July 2018

July 25, 2018

Laura Hammond – Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London – wrote in IRIN the following obituary of Barbara Harrell-Bond who died on 18 july 2018. She was one of the most  prolific advocates of the rights of refugees all over the world. Tireless is often used but in her case an understatement. 

In the current international climate, refugees can use all the supporters they can get. But last week, refugees around the world lost an irreplaceable champion with the passing of Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond.

Barbara worked tirelessly for more than 35 years to improve protections for refugees, to ensure that their voices were heard not only in academic research but in real-world policy debates.

Barbara was never short of outrage at how badly refugees were being treated throughout the world. To her, fighting that injustice was the most important thing – it was all-consuming. Her research and teaching were inspirational to generations of scholars and practitioners of refugee and forced migration studies. Most memorably, she never shied away from speaking truth to power, taking on donor governments, UN bodies, large non-governmental organisations, and host governments alike. Indeed, her bold criticisms, backed by robust evidence, have inspired generations of scholars to follow her example and hold to account officials charged with assisting refugees.

I first met Barbara in 1988 while studying anthropology at the University of Oxford. I had spent the whole year studying subjects like witchcraft and totemism – things that can make people seem more exotic than understood – and I wanted to use my training in a more useful way. My tutor sent me along to meet Barbara. I stepped into her office and found a wonderful, diverse world of people who were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing – using academic research to try to make a positive difference in the world.

Trained as a legal anthropologist, she studied at Oxford under the supervision of eminent anthropologist Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard.

Her engagement with refugees and African studies came later, but her commitment to social justice was clear even from her 1967 dissertation, an ethnography of a deprived housing estate in the Oxford suburbs, Blackbird Leys. She went on to research law and dispute resolution in traditional courts in Sierra Leone.

Barbara’s work on refugees began in the early 1980s. She established the Refugee Studies Programme at Oxford (now known as the Refugee Studies Centre). Run by a tiny but dedicated team, this institution quickly became a crucial resource and meeting point for academics, practitioners, and refugees themselves. Barbara led the way in establishing refugee studies as an interdisciplinary academic field. At its centre: an agenda for influencing policy and bringing a refugee-centred focus to debates about asylum policy, social integration, and refugee assistance.

Barbara’s seminal 1986 book Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugeeswas based on research she and a band of Oxford students and local researchers conducted in what is now South Sudan. In it, she makes the very simple argument – she was the first to agree it should not have to be made – that refugees are not helpless victims, but always and everywhere have agency, resilience, and dignity, and that this must be the starting point for any assistance. Showing how badly wrong things can go when they fail to keep this basic truth in mind, this book – as well as Rights in Exile: Janus-Faced Humanitarianism (which she co-authored) – called to account those acting to aid and protect refugees. Her criticisms were always sharp, direct, and – most embarrassingly for their targets – meticulously substantiated with evidence. She did not suffer fools or egos gladly.

I worked for Barbara in 1989-1990, helping to put together material for training courses for people working with refugees. She had me working late into the night and on weekends. I remember working on New Year’s Day, stepping outside the office only to buy bread, salami, and Barbara’s cigarettes. When my work permit expired after a year, she somehow managed to get it extended through a connection in the British government’s Home Office – much to my surprise, as that was a regular target (along with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR) of her strident criticism.

These days I am less surprised; these organisations are sprinkled with people who were influenced by her, who carry with them a streak of critical boldness even as they work inside the belly of the beast.

Many years later, when we started a master’s degree in ‘Migration, Mobility and Development’ at SOAS, she told me that she was sorry we had focused on migrants of all kinds rather than focus exclusively on refugees, as she thought that the latter needed greater protection. She picked fights over this issue with many people, and she was not easy to get along with. At the same time, she was fiercely loyal to her friends, and we remained in regular contact over three decades, up to just a few weeks ago.

Barbara’s research and teaching were inspirational to generations of scholars and practitioners of refugee and forced migration studies. She was crucial in the founding of the Journal of Refugee Studies and the Forced Migration Review – respectively the world’s leading academic and practitioner publications on refugees and displacement. She also set up the Rights in Exile web portal that provides essential information and a network of experts who provide pro bono legal assistance to asylum seekers.

Barbara was also a founder of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, the leading professional association for scholarship on forced migration. The association will meet next week in Thessaloniki, Greece, where she was to have received yet another lifetime achievement award, and seen the launch of a new film about her life, Barbara Harrell-Bond: A Life Not Ordinary.

Barbara’s vision of refugee studies demanded being close to the regions and people with whom it is engaged. Disturbed by the idea of a refugee studies centre isolated in the ivory tower of Oxford, she worked with colleagues to establish the Refugee Law Project at the University of Makerere, Uganda, and refugee studies centres at Moi University in Kenya, the American University in Cairo, and others. Out of these centres have come many of the strongest and most interesting voices in refugee studies today, including academics who are or have been refugees themselves.

Her home in north Oxford was a hive of activity – every guest was pressed into voluntary service to contribute to scholarship or advocacy on refugee issues. Refugees found safe haven there. Stray academics found purpose in her fierce commitment to social justice.

When I now think about Barbara’s legacy, I realise that almost everyone I have collaborated with or respected in the field of refugee studies has a Barbara connection. In some cases she introduced us to each other. In other cases I feel a connection to someone and only find out much later that Barbara touched their lives in some way, in some part of the world – Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, India… Whether she introduced us to each other or not, having been in her orbit changed all of us and made us into a strong, subversive, passionate clan.

A few years ago I went to visit her again. She sat in her living room, which continued to be a cottage industry for refugee protection. Three student interns sat at computers. A fourth was cheerfully preparing lunch for everyone. They had all, like me all those years before, been seduced by Barbara’s passion.

http://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/07/18/appreciation-barbara-harrell-bond-refugee-advocate-and-researcher-1932-2018?utm_source=IRIN+-+the+inside+story+on+emergencies&utm_campaign=194a685f7e-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_WEEKLY_ENGLISH&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d842d98289-194a685f7e-75444053

https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/news/barbara-harrell-bond-obe-1932-2018

In memoriam Oby Theodora Nwankwo, Nigerian activist for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and women’s rights

January 24, 2018

In memoriam human rights lawyer Rudolph Jansen in South Africa

November 27, 2017

Human rights lawyer Rudolph Jansen has died.
THE legal fraternity is mourning the death of human rights lawyer Rudolph Jansen, who fought against injustice on behalf of the poor and marginalised for more than three decades, including with respect to the abolition of the death penalty, prison reform and land reform in South Africa. He was a long-standing member and former national director of Lawyers for Human Rights.Van Garderen, the head of Lawyers for Human Rights, Pretoria, wrote this obituary (excerpts):

Jansen, who leaves his wife Mariana, and two sons Rudolph and Gustav, died on Saturday in Limpopo, 53 years old. He completed his law studies at the University of Pretoria, and as a young advocate with the Pretoria Bar, quickly turned his attention to combating issues of inequality and injustice that were a hallmark of the apartheid state. His early and extensive pro bono work for Lawyers for Human Rights was representative of his commitment to the realisation of human rights in South Africa, which defined his career.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s Jansen joined other Lawyers for Human Rights to prevent the execution of political activists who were facing the death penalty. In those days Lawyers for Human Rights aimed at delaying executions, hopefully for long enough until the death penalty was eventually abolished. With its abolition in 1995, Jansen assisted Lawyers for Human Rights to expand its focus to unaddressed issues, including the awful conditions in prisons. With fellow human rights lawyers, Jansen challenged overcrowding, abusive practices like indefinite solitary confinement and other violations.

In 2003, Jansen took over as national director of Lawyers for Human Rights. He led the organisation for five years through a challenging period of transition and growth. Throughout, he remained a tireless champion of under-served communities in South Africa, inspiring the same commitment from his colleagues. When his tenure ended, Jansen resumed his practice at the Pretoria Bar, achieving senior status in 2014.

He developed a wide-ranging practice centred on human rights and public interest law, representing landless communities, unlawfully evicted people, and human rights defenders, among many others. Jansen’s work in recent years focused increasingly on the furtherance of South African land reform and restitution, to which he made an immeasurable contribution. His commitment to the successful implementation and achievement of this constitutional project saw him involved in ground-breaking cases addressing issues like post-settlement support and market-related pricing within the government’s willing-seller, willing-buyer policies.

Jansen’s advocacy in many of South Africa’s ground-breaking housing cases helped to ensure fair process and entrenched the right of dignity for many of the country’s marginalised. His latest involvement in legal challenges seeking to ensure the equitable distribution of the country’s mining benefits to affected communities represented the next step in his personal and professional quest for justice on behalf of those whose voices have historically been muted. He was an inspiration to many activists and human rights lawyers over the course of his life, and leaves behind a legion of individuals committed to taking forward his work and vision for a just and equal society.

 

The legacy of his work to quietly push for a more just society will continue to the next generation of human rights lawyers. Hamba kahle, Comrade Jansen.

https://www.iol.co.za/pretoria-news/top-city-human-rights-lawyer-dies-12164274

Patt Derian – the rare politician/human rights defender – no longer

May 30, 2016

Being a leading politician and human rights defender does not always go together well. Patricia Murphy (“Patt”) Derian was one of the exceptions. She passed away on 20 May 2016 at the age of 86. She was an American civil rights and human rights activist, who served under President Carter from 1977 to 1981.DERIAN PATT

After Jimmy Carter won the election, he nominated Derian to be Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and elevated the post to that of Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs effective August 17, 1977, and Derian served in that capacity for the remainder of the Carter administration. In this post she worked to improve policy coordination on humanitarian issues such as human rights, refugees, and prisoners of war.

Derian was a vocal critic of Jeane Kirkpatrick and of the so-called Kirkpatrick Doctrine during the 1980s, which advocated U.S. support of anticommunist governments around the world, including authoritarian dictatorships, if they went along with Washington’s aims —believing they could be led into democracy by example. Kirkpatrick wrote, “Traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies.” Derian objected to Kirkpatrick’s characterization of some governments as only “moderately repressive,” arguing that this line of thinking allowed the U.S. to support “a little bit of torture” or “moderate” prison sentences for political dissenters. Derian pointed out that, when it comes to human rights, in terms of morality, credibility and effectiveness, “you always have to play it straight.” Read the rest of this entry »

Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Defender remembered by Aryeh Neier

March 31, 2014

On the Human Rights Watch website, 29 March 2014, Aryeh Neier, remembers fondly Zbigniew Zbyszek Romaszewski, a physicist, who in 1979 volunteered to lead an underground Helsinki Committee in Poland under the just concluded Helsinki Accords. Romaszewski died in Warsaw on 13 February 2014 at the age of 74.

When martial law was imposed in December 1981, some 30,000 people were arrested and imprisoned. Romaszewski and his wife Zosia were among them. Some time after the imposition of martial law, we learned that the Polish Helsinki Committee had found a way to continue to operate secretly.  They managed to smuggle highly detailed reports to Helsinki Watch.  Their first report, produced under the difficult conditions of search, seizure and secrecy, was 182 pages long. Helsinki Watch published it in English translation under the title “Prologue to Gdansk.” They were a leading source of information on human rights practices in Poland in that period. In March 1984 – after we had no person-to-person contact with anyone in Poland for more than two years – I traveled to Warsaw.  Before I left, I learned that Amnesty International had designated  Zbigniew Romaszewski a prisoner of conscience. Arriving in Poland, I hoped to see Zosia Romaszewska, who had recently been released from prison.  Her husband was still in prison.  I could not say for sure that I would see her because it was not possible to make advance appointments.  All I could do was to turn up at people’s apartments and hope that I would find them there. During my visit to Warsaw I met many persons who had been imprisoned, and also family members of those still imprisoned, who had been entirely cut off from such contacts.  This included Zosia who I was able to spend several hours with. I was able to publish a number of articles in the US on the vitality of the Solidarity movement.  During a visit to Warsaw in 1985, my colleague Ken Roth spent time with both Zbigniew, who by then had been released from prison, and Zosia.  They graciously spent many hours with him.  In this difficult period, when the country was still recovering after the imposition of martial law, Zbigniew and Zosia were the key source of information on the struggling dissident movement which remained very much alive despite the Soviet-backed General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s efforts to crush it. Later on, I got to know Zbigniew Romaszewski and, a couple of times, brought him to conferences in other parts of the world to speak about how a human rights movement could cope with a repressive regime. He became a Senator in Poland and Chairman of the Polish Senate Human Rights and Rule of Law Committee. The organization he founded, now the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, is going very strong. The last time I visited Warsaw – about a year-and-a-half ago – its legal staff included 23 lawyers.  It is in the forefront of human rights advocacy in Europe.

via Remembering Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Pioneer | Human Rights Watch.

Sri Lankan HRD, Sunila Abeysekera, dies: tribute by A paper bird

September 9, 2013

Today I simply copy the tribute paid by a blogger, A Paper Bird, to Sunila Abeysekera (1952-2013):

Sunila

The last time I saw Sunila Abeysekera was almost three years ago, over breakfast on one of her very occasional visits to New York. Some people, myself included, were trying to talk her into applying for my old job at Human Rights Watch, a post I thought far too small for her. She politely demurred, in different terms: “My life is enough of a problem,” she said, “and the last thing I need in it is a large organization.” She talked about the dangers of having your work commodified and separated from the people it’s about – either by a bureaucracy, or by the kinds of personality cults that thrive around those who get called (as she was: often, unwillingly, and accurately) “heroes.” Both distract from the simple realities of the stories you try to tell, and the stories, she said, were what counted.At the same time, she was at one of those points (they came quite frequently) where her life was in serious danger in Sri Lanka. People were threatened enough by the stories for which she was witness and messenger that they wanted to kill her. Her friends wanted her to get out, and she herself said she wanted a quiet place somewhere, to rest and think. She said that kind of thing much more often than she meant it. The resting part was something of which she was utterly incapable. She never did it, not till the very last.

Sunila died on 9 September, back in Colombo, at 61, after a long battle with cancer. I didn’t know her very well, but I thought of her as a role model as well as friend. She was scholar, activist, intellectual, feminist, and listener. Others will have more and better things to say about her. I’ll just remember this: while always subordinating herself to the stories she had to tell – – horrible stories, many of them, about rape, torture, murder in the long Sri Lankan civil war – her passion for truth and her personal compassion were always part of them. Without being that kind of person, a kind you instantly recognize but can’t possibly describe, she would never have heard them, would never have won trust or become a witness.   A lot of august philosophers these days write and theorize about the role of the witness in contemporary politics and ethics, but the writing was unnecessary as long as she was alive. You could point at Sunila, and understand.

I would say “rest in peace,” but wherever she is, she isn’t resting.

via Sunila Abeysekera, witness: 1952-2013 | a paper bird.