Posts Tagged ‘Open Democracy’

Jackie Smith sees a world that prioritizes people over economic growth

March 3, 2020

Jackie Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and the editor of the Journal of World Systems Research, published a piece called “Human rights, not corporate rights” in Open Democracy of 26 February 2020. It is an excerpt of an essay published as part of a series by the Great Transition Initiative. To view the full series, click here. Jackie Smith argues that human rights offer a powerful framework for challenging corporate hegemony and creating a more just and sustainable world.

The growth and concentration of corporate power is one that deserves far more attention and critical analysis than it has received in academic and policy circles.

Capitalist globalization policies over recent decades have helped corporations grow and consolidate wealth on a global scale, which they have used to further concentrate market and political influence. The number of transnational corporations in the top 100 economic entities – including both corporations and governments – jumped to 69 in 2015 from around 50 at the turn of the twenty-first century. National governments are no longer the most powerful entities, and their position is continuing to slide as corporations grow. Alarmingly, among the leading industries are those most in need of governance for the sake of the common good: namely, those dependent on the perpetuation of our carbon-intensive economy, financial speculation, wasteful consumption, and the commodification of health care.

While corporate power has grown, the power of workers and communities has been steadily eroded by neoliberal globalization. The decline of trade unions and the growth of precarious work, fueled by the evangelization of neoliberal principles by economists and political leaders in governments and global institutions like the World Bank, have reduced the ability of people and communities to come together to advance a different vision of how the world could be organized. Cities have been hamstrung by budget constraints as they contend with effects of neoliberal globalization such as rising housing costs, effects of climate change, and social polarization. At the same time, critics of corporate globalization in the academy have been neutralized by the corporatization of universities and the polarization and commodification of political and media discourses. Indeed, we might say that today, global hegemony is exercised not by a national state or collection of states, but by the owners and managers of global corporations.

It is imperative, then, that scholars and activists do far more to focus on this critical issue and help find ways to challenge more directly the role of corporations in society today. Corporate concentration and market monopolization – enabled by US international economic policies, weak antitrust laws and implementation, corporate taxation, campaign financing, and other – undermine human rights in cities and communities worldwide.

By supporting human rights globalization as a counter-movement to corporate globalization, we can advance people-centered policies and build upon earlier work of transformative movements worldwide.

The United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process gives local human rights defenders one way of fighting back. US human rights defenders have recently challenged predatory corporate practices in a report to the United Nations. The report highlighted the impacts of corporations on local human rights, democratic political participation, housing, health, and racial and gender equity. It documented at great length the extent to which corporate practices violate government commitments in both national and international legal instruments.

While the UN process is limited in its ability to change behaviors of recalcitrant governments, what is powerful about international human rights treaties and institutional processes like the UPR is their ability to help social movements come together across various divides and promote a shared vision of the world we wish to see. Paraphrasing Frederick Douglass, human rights activists like to remind skeptics that those in power have never ceded power without popular pressure: “Human rights don’t trickle down, they rise up!”

The process of compiling UPR reports and then working to follow up with them helps groups and activists articulate shared priorities and visions of justice that account for global and historical omissions in local and national discourses. The UPR does not simply track violations but centers concrete remedies in the formal reports it makes to national governments. It is here that local activists have found opportunities to forge alliances with local government officials, who see value in using the international stage to amplify their pleas for federal funding to support social welfare needs. Thus, the UPR process helps build new community collaborations and foster public discourse and consciousness-raising around human rights as an alternative framework.

Corporate hegemony has constrained the political discourse and the political imagination we need to envision and fight for a world that prioritizes people and communities over economic growth and endless consumption. Although the odds seem daunting, global ideals and institutions that have been slowly and steadily advanced by human rights advocates over centuries may provide tools for advancing new projects and strategies that can realize human-centered policies and a more just and sustainable world.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/human-rights-not-corporate-rights/

“to the streets” – the new battlecry of the human rights movement?

December 22, 2019

The Economist of 14 November 2019 contains a timely article on “Economics, demography and social media only partly explain the protests roiling so many countries today“. Two pieces published more or less simultaneously this month go into this question in relation to the human rights movement. Is #TakeToTheStreets the ‘new’ tool for human rights defenders?

The first is by Cate Brown in Open Democracy of 11 December “The era of state mobilization is over: Welcome to the streets”, – ss civilian protesters take to the streets to demand their rights, human rights leaders consider a future of citizen-led activism.

Protestors in Hong Kong gather against emergency anti-mask legislation, passed in response to months of demonstrations. Photo: Etan Liam/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

States are no longer trusted as representatives of popular interests or reliable guarantors of human rights, even in democracies. In response, civilian protesters have flooded the streets of major global capitals to demand immediate government action.

In Baku, demonstrators rallied for their right to assembly. In Beirut, citizens are calling for an end to government corruption. In Baghdad, protesters demand electoral reform, despite the deadly response of Iraqi security forces. In Santiago, dissent against a four percent increase in metro fares became a rallying cry for larger social reforms. And in Hong Kong, citizens have vowed to make ‘weekday chaos’ the new normal, adapting their tactics after six months of unanswered calls for political autonomy. Search the trending hashtag #TakeToTheStreets and you’ll find citizen-led anti-Trump and anti-Brexit movements in the United States and the UK. Search the #GiletsJaunes and you’ll find France’s infamous Yellow Vest movement celebrating their protest anniversary one year on.

…..quick concessions have failed to quiet broader calls for political reform. Instead, the single-issue protest movements have metastasized, gained momentum, and demonstrated staying power in the streets. Social media videos, like clips of Madi Karimeh, Lebanon’s ‘DJ of the Revolution’, or of the 170,000-person human chain linking protesters from Lebanon’s northern capital in Tripoli to its southern capital in Tyre, have helped build a sense of unity and vision among city-level protest movements…“Citizens are again claiming their rights in the streets, but there’s an important difference this year,” says Blavatnik School Professor of Practice of Public Integrity Chris Stone. “Citizen protesters are asking a new question: can we create a notion of rights enforcement that doesn’t depend on states?” It’s important for human rights organizations to consider this question. For years, the human rights movement has relied on parallel actions by frontline human rights defenders and global advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Frontline activists have played a central role in documenting incidents of abuse, convening civil society and amplifying messages across social networks. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International then strengthened their campaigns with rigorous investigation and documentation, and provided an important bridge to pliable state leaders and UN representatives.

But with a cadre of autocratic leaders like Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or populist leaders like US President Donald Trump, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro leading some of the world’s most influential states, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth suggests a tactical pivot towards nontraditional human rights allies and coalitions of smaller or midsize states.

“We used to look towards Geneva, New York, DC, and Brussels,” confirms a senior researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), “But the allies that we used to take for granted are no longer there.” Without reliable allies at the state level, the fundamental architecture of the human rights movement could be forced to change. “We need to invest in networks that are more grassroots-oriented,” continues the EIPR research lead, speaking on account of anonymity. “Local networks will help us diversify our allies and introduce us to arenas of mobilization that the Egyptian human rights movement knows nothing about.”

My generation of millennial protestors needs to recognize this opportunity: in the absence of reliable state allies, global rights organizations are ready to partner with us. Of course, groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have always worked with frontlines activists, but young civilian protesters may have a new opportunity to lead the way.

First, protesters need to invest in relationships that will strengthen their movements and amplify their demands. Next, protesters must look beyond the trending hashtags and the size of the crowds in the street: In a 2017 op-ed, Turkish scholar Zeynep Tufekci, author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, warns that social media networks may make it much easier to pull off a large protest than it used to be, but “the significance of a protest depends on what happens afterwards.”

Protesters gathered in Beirut, Baghdad, Santiago, Port au Prince, Barcelona and Hong Kong must organize their crowds and identify next steps for collective action. With an agenda in hand, international rights organizations can extend their support. And together, we can push for more participatory, safe and inclusive states. For now, the hashtag #TakeToTheStreets is still trending. We’ll see how far people-power can go.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/era-of-state-mobilization-is-over-welcome-to-the-streets/

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The second piece is by in Foreign Policy in Focus of 10 December 2019: “As the Decade Closes, the Power of Protest Endures” –Despite the dashed hopes of the early 2010s, social movements are still winning important fights — and building a framework for human survival.

..as we mark the final Human Rights Day of this decade, we are ending the way we began — in the streets. In Hong Kong, Nicaragua, in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, and elsewhere, people have been on the march, facing bullets, beatings, and prison to demand an end to repressive and unaccountable government, to reject corrupt elites, and secure their rights. Are they naïve? Or do they know something important and powerful?

And what of the lawyers and communities challenging injustice in court, the investigators building meticulous records of human rights crimes, the journalists dragging into public view the buried facts, the advocates and activists pressuring and cajoling governments, companies, and other powerful actors to defend human dignity? They persist because they know the power of protest and resistance, and the efficacy of the human rights ideal, even if the tally of the past decade offers little encouragement.

From 2010 through 2012, protest movements swept across Iran and much of the Arab world. But in 2019, Tunisia stands alone among the countries of the Arab Spring in making the transition to democracy, and among its neighbors renewed repression and brutal wars have followed the uprisings. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions have been injured, and tens-of-millions have been displaced. The cost in lives, resources, and squandered potential is incalculable. Ten years ago, the smart phones and social platforms that helped to enable the protests were celebrated as vectors of positive change, opening avenues for speech and organizing beyond the control of authoritarian governments. They are now more often seen as fueling division, empowering surveillance, invading our privacy, and eviscerating the economic underpinnings of a free press.

Those who have sought refuge from obliterating violence and repression have met a rising tide of xenophobia, as politicians long confined to the margins of power ride a narrative of cultural, economic, and security threat, often focused on Muslims, refugees, LGBT people — anyone  seen as the “other” — to its center. They have sometimes been buoyed by hyper-partisan and often fraudulent media operations.

In the world’s biggest democracies — India, Brazil and the United States — the gravest threats to human rights and democracy come from elected presidents who openly praise dictators, demonize minorities, and undercut the rule of law, putting vulnerable populations at even greater risk. It would be easy to make a longer list of reversals: the promise of South Sudan, newly independent in 2011, now mired in war; Myanmar, where the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has emerged as an apologist for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; Tanzania, where the media and civil society face ever tighter controls, arrests, and killings. And in Russia, a protest movement in 2011 held out hope for change, but instead Vladimir Putin increased his grip domestically, and enhanced his influence globally. Perhaps nowhere exemplifies the retreat more starkly than China, where once some Western analysts breezily promised that rising prosperity would bring progress on human rights and democracy. Instead, President Xi Jinping has put the fruits of development to work to build an algorithmically enhanced authoritarianism unrivaled in the scope of its ambition for control.

And yet. The protesters taking to the streets in Lebanon and elsewhere are not looking to a global scoresheet and calculating their chances. They are demonstrating that power without legitimacy can be checked in local struggles rooted in the demand for accountability, and ultimately for human rights. Ethiopia’s initial opening toward greater democratic space under President Abiy Ahmed tells us that some leaders appear to have learned this lesson, despite the crowing autocrats on the world stage.

And it isn’t only in street protest or in national struggle that we see the tools and values of human rights successfully at work. The millions of women and girls who bravely stepped forward to publicly shared their stories in response  to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo call built a global movement demanding an end to sexual violence. Persistent journalists turned accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s predation from Hollywood gossip into international news, and across the world, investigative reporting exposed the misogynistic abuses of other powerful figures.

They did so in the face of a U.S. president whose misogyny is proudly on display. Trade unions and women’s rights groups successfully fought for a new international treaty protecting against violence and harassment at work. Unevenly perhaps, but unstoppably, court cases, new regulations, a resetting of workplace norms, and sustained activism are creating new protections for women’s basic right to be free of harassment and violence. Spurred by litigation, culture change, and legislators responding to social movements, the rights of LGBT people are expanding around the world. A rearguard action by opponents in Russia and the United States decrying “gender ideology” and battling the spread of both women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights is meeting both energized defense, and deep shifts in public opinion.

In a thousand smaller struggles, the embedding of human rights standards in domestic and international law is helping to bring the perpetrators of war crimes to justice, to secure land and environmental rights for communities threatened by development, and forcing companies to respect their human rights responsibilities. Local human rights defenders around the world don’t rely solely on the courage of their own conviction, or even the force of local law, rooted in their own experience, cultures and struggles, they are also part of a global ecosystem of shared norms, institutions, strategic collaboration, and communication that forms a resilient mesh that should be fostered and sustained. …

But a new global social movement is growing, in schools and on the streets. And existing norms around water, health, humanitarian disasters, and livelihoods offer a rich framework for building the accountability that is needed to spur action from wanton governments and companies. If we are back where we started the decade, we know the task, we have the tools — and like the protesters, we know the value of sticking to it.

5 things funders should know about the impact of human rights activism

November 20, 2019

Fund for Global Human Rights horizontal logo

Measuring the effectiveness of a grant can be tricky – it’s often hard to see the real impact of the work activists do. But the need is as great as ever. People who defend human rights face mounting challenges around the world: restrictive laws, patchy public support, physical and digital threats, and attacks from organised crime, corporate interests and religious fundamentalists. In this moment, it’s critical that funders in the international arena stick with their frontline grantees.

At The Fund for Global Human Rights, we’ve spent more than fifteen years supporting such activists. Through this, we’ve learned five key lessons about how to measure the effectiveness of grassroots human rights work – takeaways that, in this challenging global environment, all supporters of grassroots activism can use.

1. It’s not about the numbers

People hostile to human rights and their defenders are spreading mistrust about civil society, so funders and activists are being pressed to demonstrate more wins, bigger gains and higher figures. But activism isn’t a numbers game – the changes we achieve can’t always be quantified. To understand what drives progress we have to look beyond the numbers that funders often use to measure success: how many schools were built, say, or how many people attended a workshop or community meeting. Three new schools don’t guarantee equal opportunity for all pupils. And high turnout at a meeting does not mean the information shared was useful or later applied.

For example, the Fund recently brought together migrants’ rights activists from North Africa, Latin America and the US to form alliances, share learning and discuss better ways to protect the rights of child migrants. We aren’t measuring the success of that convening by counting how many people attended. The real impact comes afterwards, when participants return to their work with fresh ideas, new contacts and strengthened resolve. Numbers alone don’t tell that story.

2. Change takes time

Movements aren’t built in a day – or by a one-year, one-off grant. Philanthropic organisations often award short-term, restricted funding and measure impact project by project. But real progress requires flexible financing over the long term.

Look at a recent landmark moment for India’s LGBTQ movement. In September 2018, India’s Supreme Court struck down a provision in the country’s penal code that essentially outlawed same-sex relations and encouraged discrimination by criminalising “carnal intercourse” as “against the order of nature”. That victory was the result of decades of work by Fund grantees like Ondede-Swatantra and Vikalp Women’s Group, as well as other courageous activists who campaigned tirelessly to defend the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people. For more than a decade, the Fund has stood with and supported these remarkable activists with long-term, flexible financing and other forms of continued strategic support. The years of renewed support paid off when they achieved an historic victory. Would this incredible success have been realised if, half-way through a protracted legal and social battle, funders had pulled their support?

3. Measuring failures and setbacks is key

Learning from adversity can bring more insight than analysing a victory. The entire human rights community can learn from transparent reporting and honest assessment.

For example, during a visit to a grantee in Myanmar, Fund staff observed that no women were participating in meetings. We raised this issue with our grantee, and thanks to our long-term support and close working relationship they trusted us enough to have a frank discussion about it without fear of reprisal. The activists explained the challenges they face due to cultural norms in gender roles, but also took responsibility for their failure to prioritise gender parity. As a result, far from terminating the grant-making relationship, we’re providing them with additional resources, such as exchanges with women’s rights organisations, in order to adopt a strong feminist approach. We’re also undertaking a gender audit of the Fund’s entire Myanmar programme, because we believe that more inclusive organisations and movements are more powerful. Failure can be a bitter pill, but measuring and learning from it is essential.

4. Little victories add up to big results

Real progress is often the result of many small steps. Not every success story makes the news, but incremental victories can amount to lasting, systemic change. Take Fund grantee the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines, or LAGABLAB, as an example. Although the Congress of the Philippines failed to pass a national Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill last year, LAGABLAB’s members still managed to mobilise a faction of equality champions in government and inspired eighteen cities, six provinces and three local districts to pass their own anti-discrimination ordinances. These victories at the personal or local levels pave the way for larger national outcomes – and they should be celebrated, too. By investing in incremental change, we’re building the foundation for something larger.

5. Context matters

Measuring impact can be like comparing apples and oranges. Success looks different everywhere, and positive social change in one environment might not even be possible in another. The Fund awarded its first grants to Tunisian human rights organisations in 2004. Long stifled by the administration of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian civil society received little support from US and European funders. We recognised that under Ben Ali’s brutal rule many local groups had necessarily modest ambitions. So for years we supported besieged human rights organisations, helping to keep their lights on and operations afloat. We understood that making an impact in Tunisia meant maintaining a nascent human rights movement that would be able to step forward when the time came. Less than six months after a discouraging Fund visit to Tunisia in October 2010, that opportunity arrived. Popular protests overthrew the Ben Ali regime, human rights activists were welcomed back into public life and civil society emerged to help build a new Tunisia based on dignity and equality. That movement existed, in part, because we recognised that its survival through a difficult period was a victory in and of itself. Using context to set realistic expectations ensures that every activist receives the right support.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/frontline-insights/5-things-funders-should-know-about-impact-human-rights-activism/

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/22/carnegie-paper-international-community-must-redouble-efforts-to-defend-human-rights-defenders/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/important-report-to-help-you-understand-human-rights-grantmaking/

The story of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa: a survivor from Burundi

May 27, 2019

On 24 May 2019 Open Democracy published another long piece on an inspiring human rights defender – in cooperation with the Fund for Global Human Rights.  In “How international solidarity saved an activist’s life in BurundiAntoine Kaburahe describes the story of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2007. [http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/pierre-claver-mbonimpa-2/]. The author was personally involved in the case and the piece is a good example of how international solidairy can save lives.

A man standing beside children in green clothing
Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa visiting minors detained in prison
..Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was the founder of a human rights organisation, APRODH, in his home country of Burundi, and it had worrying information: the ruling party was secretly distributing weapons to its youth wing. APRODH had also investigated the military training of young Burundians across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Burundians had been involved in a long-running conflict – without unofficial support from their government. In 2014 Mbonimpa had been imprisoned by the Burundian authorities, which accused him of “smearing the government and lying”. Thanks to an international mobilisation, including a call from Barack Obama, then US president, he had been released on parole, but the regime kept an eye on him…..Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was used to threats. But that day, the killers meant them. It was in the evening that the news dropped. Pierre-Claver had been shot. Word spread rapidly: ‘Mutama’, the ‘old man’, as he is affectionately called, is well-known and respected for his commitment to human rights in Burundi…

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa remembers well what had happened. He had been in his car with his driver. “I saw behind us a motorcycle that was riding at a breakneck speed. The bike got to us at a fast pace. The man shot four bullets. The shooting was almost close-range. A bullet hit me on the neck and blood spurted.” Bleeding heavily, he was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. I went there to see what was happening: at the time I was still a journalist in Burundi before being myself forced into exile. The crowd was already at Bujumbura Central Polyclinic.

Security guards sent by various embassies came to ensure my safety at the Polyclinic, because there was a rumour that I was going to be killed in my hospital bed,” says Pierre-Claver. “All the embassies worked in synergy for my evacuation. “Despite my weakness, my pain, I would like to say that I saw a great surge of solidarity at that moment,” says Pierre-Claver. “In my room I saw distinguished individuals such as diplomats of the African Union, those of the European Union and ambassadors.

It was clear to his supporters that Pierre-Claver needed to leave the country immediately. Currently in Belgium as a refugee, [his daughter] Zygène Mbonimpa remembers with overwhelming emotion the support of The Fund for Global Human Rights: “Doctors quickly noticed that Mutama had been seriously affected. He needed care he could not find in Burundi. And then, we were afraid he would be finished off on his hospital bed. I wrote to Tony Tate [programme officer at the Fund] and his reaction was quick. He agreed to pay for flight tickets, and the organisation also contributed to the payment of hospitalisation costs in Burundi.”

Tate confirms Zygène’s account... I immediately sought approval from my directors and board members to make an emergency grant,” he says. “We were able to wire the money to APRODH’s account within 24 hours. After the money arrived, it became clear that Pierre-Claver would receive other money and assistance from other funders as well. The money The Fund provided was combined with others to pay for the travel costs of one of his family members to accompany him to Brussels.

That financial support was critical. The Belgian embassy had agreed to give Pierre-Claver a visa, but the family had to find air fares in a very short time. “Without this support, we would have had a big problem to raise this money while Dad’s life was in a very critical condition,” says Zygène. Tate says he was pleased that the Fund was able to respond to the incident and ensure the safety of one of its long-time partners: “My hope was that the family would see that as an organisation, we stand by our grantees in good times and in bad,” he says. “As a human rights funder, we have an ethical responsibility to provide emergency funding when activists we support are in danger. Human rights work is inherently risky and those who support it must stand ready to respond quickly when defenders are in need.”

In Brussels, Pierre-Claver was quickly operated on. Doctors first fastened a metal frame on his head to hold his skull together. He spent 121 days in hospital, fed by serum and then a kind of porridge, as he could not open his mouth or chew food. He sat in an armchair, unable to lie down, and his weight went down from 82 kg to 54 kg. But his ordeal did not stop there. As they had missed him, those who wanted to kill him went after his family. First, his son-in-law, Pascal Nshirimana, was killed, and while he was still in the hospital, his son Weli, 24, was also killed. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/12/mea-laureate-mbonimpa-has-message-of-hope-at-his-sons-funeral/]

Through all this, the now seventy-year-old activist has remained a man guided by peace and justice. We have never heard him speak of revenge…

Always on the phone, Pierre-Claver continues to encourage teams on the ground. He also travels very often in the sub-region. “It is important that the international community continues to support independent human rights organisations in Burundi,” he says, “because with the closure of UN organisations and the ban on international media including the BBC, there is a risk that human rights violations will be committed behind closed doors. Organisations such as APRODH still have focal points. But they need means to work.”

Pierre-Claver remains modest and accessible despite two honorary doctorates by major Belgian universities and several international awards. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/17/mbonimpa-wins-also-the-2017-civil-courage-prize/]. Asked what he thinks of those who tried to kill him, he simply answers: “I forgave those who shot me and those who killed my son and my son-in-law. But I want justice. If the assassins were arrested, I would be happy to see justice doing its job. For my part, I will not ask for any compensation. What would they give me for the death of my child and my son-in-law?

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/frontline-insights/how-international-solidarity-saved-an-activists-life-in-burundi/

Vito’s trial in Georgia opens – crucial to challenge raising hate crimes

April 22, 2019

Vitali Safarov – Image: Svitlana Valko

……The investigation and trial into Vitali Safarov’s murder is the first time Georgian law enforcement are dealing with an alleged hate crime murder. And proving “ethnic hatred” as a motive, and that the crime was carried out by a group, is not an easy task for the prosecution – and requires a high level of professionalism. It took more than half a year for Georgian investigators to collect evidence and witness statements, as well as to conduct several expert examinations. According to Agit Mirzoev, head of the Centre for Participation and Development, both suspects are believed to be members of a neo-Nazi group that is known for having attacked foreign citizens and homeless persons in a central Tbilisi neighbourhood. Speaking to Ekho Kavkaza on 16 April, defence counsels stated that neither Kandelakishvili, nor Sokhadze were involved in a neo-Nazi organisation.

Mirzoev says that the suspects’ social network accounts were filled with far-right images and music. Here, according to Mirzoev, Sokhadze and Kandelakishvili paid respect to Adolf Hitler, bragged about cleansing the city of homeless persons, made threats against LGBT persons, and published videos of themselves training with bladed weapons and killing stray dogs. Sokhadze, who is believed to be a leader of the group, used the nickname “Slayer” online. Sokhadze’s social media account has since been deleted after the arrest, but prosecutors and the Centre for Participation and Development have screenshots.

Human rights groups have worked hard to keep the investigation in the public spotlight and encourage Georgian law enforcement to rise to the challenge. Initially the prosecutor’s office inclined to ignore the hate motive and charged only Kandelakishvili with premeditated murder, treating Sokhadze as a passive accomplice and charging him with not reporting the crime. But public pressure has worked: on 16 April, the prosecution charged both suspects with premeditated murder, committed by a group, on the grounds of ethnic hatred. If convicted, the defendants face sentences of between 13 to 17 years in prison. Neither defendant admitted their guilt.

…….Furthermore, on 16 April, the defence lawyers asked the judge to dismiss all evidence and witness testimonies presented by the prosecution. They claimed the evidence had been manipulated “in the interest of a certain segment of the population” – clearly referring to members of civil society and others who insist that the murder was a hate crime. The judge rejected the defence’s motion, admitting all evidence and witnesses from both the prosecution and the defence. The evidence will now be presented by the parties and reviewed by the judge during further sessions of the trial, which is expected to last several weeks. The next session is scheduled for 24 April.

… And the trial’s outcome is important in Georgia, a multi-ethnic country with centuries-old traditions of diversity – and where different cultures, languages and faiths co-exist. Sadly, Georgia is also a place where today the extreme right are growing in numbers and strength. Indeed, the struggle for justice for Vitali has spurred an anti-xenophobia campaign (“Georgia: No Place for Hate”), which is organised by his colleagues in the Centre for Participation and Development and other local NGOs. Right before the beginning of the hearings, over a hundred people gathered in front of the court building for a solidarity demonstration. They held photographs of Vitali and posters calling for a Georgia without hatred and racism, demanding justice and no impunity for the perpetrators. Activists and friends of Vitali wore pins reading “Never forget”, complete with his image. As he watched the participants of the action, Leri Safarov, Vitali’s father, could not hold back tears. “Only now am I starting to really know my son and understand what he was doing. Please carry on his work.”

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/vitali-safarov-trial-georgia/

Iran’s election to a UN ‘Gender Equality’ body should not obscure the real work

March 18, 2019

UN Commission on the Status of Women opening session, March 2019. Photo: Li Muzi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Anne Marie Goetz in Open Democracy of 13 March 2019 goes in more depth on what the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York can do and points our that  “Never before has social protection – pensions, health insurance, social security, child benefit, parental leave – been addressed by the CSW. Achieving progress on these issues is threatened by both religious and market fundamentalisms – though a number of states including Lebanon, Namibia, and Uruguay are resisting this backlash.“…

The US, Bahrain and Malaysia have reiterated during this week’s CSW discussions that the family – not the state – is the main source of social protection for many women. This is what I’d call a ‘family fallback’ approach which, combined with cuts to public services, requires women to expand their mothering roles to pick up the slack. Some countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, defend this maternal focus as a national cultural preference. The US is now among those supporting this view, arguing that any proposals on women’s rights should only be applied ‘as nationally appropriate’. This allows the notion of ‘national sovereignty’ to trump global standards on gender equality.

But the US position is so extreme that Shannon Kowalski, advocacy and policy director at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told me it’s expected that “major fractures will emerge” even with its conservative friends. Few developing countries can stomach the Trump government’s drift towards abstinence as the foundation of family planning.

Moreover, the US’s refusal to participate in the 2018 Global Compact for Immigration discussions has alienated countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia, which have proposed, for instance, that social security benefits earned by immigrant women should be portable and redeemable when they return home.

A diverse counter-movement against the current global ‘illiberal drift’ is also visible at this year’s CSW. The ‘Buenos Aires Group’, consisting of many South American states (notably Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), has emerged as a defender of LGBTIQ rights and a skeptic about privatisation of public services. This year Tunisia and Lebanon, in the Arab states group, and South Africa, Namibia, Liberia and Cape Verde in the ‘Africa Group’ of countries, are championing progressive positions on women’s rights as well. This support from the Global South vitally shows that the gender equality agenda is not just the concern of the usual suspects in the North – Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and the EU.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/religious-and-market-fundamentalisms-threaten-gender-equality-un-summit/

Marielle Franco: one year after her killing in Rio

March 13, 2019

A long piece in Open Democracy of 12 March provides more details and links tentatively the murder to the State:

Three moments have been key in unravelling the truth regarding this political crime. The first, the detention in December 2018 of Marcello Moares Siciliano, also a counselor in Rio de Janeiro. He was identified as the supposed intellectual author of the crime and he is being directly accused of being involved in the murder. The State Prosecutor and the Police searched his home and found material connected to the murder that also pointed towards two ex-military police officers who were also detained as possible complices.

The second, in January of this year, was the major revelation that these two military police officers have dark connections to Flavio Bolsonaro, the son of president Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently a senator. The accused are suspected to be members of the militia group ‘Escritório do Crime’, one of the most dangerous criminal groups currently in the west of Rio de Janeiro.

The third, is the unexpected arrest of a military police officer and another ex-police officer only a few days before commemorating one year since her murder. One is accused of pulling the trigger, and the other of driving the vehicle used for the attack. These appear to be the first concrete results of a complex investigation that remains plagued with uncertainty that would confirm the Brazilian state’s role in the murder…

What is certain is that the investigation has also suggested a link between Marielle’s opposition to the militarisation of Rio de Janeiro and her murder. She had discovered some worrying conexions, which could imply her death was caused by powerful mafias that wished to silence her. The complexity and the difficulty of clarifying the events surrounding her death show there are powerful interests impeding the investigation.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/who-killed-marielle-1-year-later-few-answers/

Unfortunately Europe is not stepping up its human rights policy in US absence

March 22, 2018

There is no doubt that Europe is doing more than other regions to support individual human rights defenders and their organisations. The statement issued on 27 February 2018 to mark World NGO Day by EU High Representative Fedrica Mogherini says all the right things: “Civil society organisations are a voice for those who are too often not heard. They have the courage to stand up against injustices, even if sometimes with risks for themselves”. She noted that the EU’s annual support worth two billion Euros represents 73 percent of the world’s support to local civil society organisations. “The European Union will never leave human rights defenders and civil society organisations alone; it’s the most invaluable partnership we can rely on to protect rights and build opportunities.”
Still, there are also critical voices concerning what Europe is doing or not doing e.g. with regard to the increasingly harsh treatment of migrants (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 7 March).[see recent post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/]
Moreover, there is growing disappointment over the region’s unwillingness to stand up for human rights in its foreign policy, especially from those who had hoped that Europe would be able step up when the USA is no longer leading. Two lengthy pieces attest to this:
The first is by on 21 March 2018 under the title “The European Union has decided that it’s time to cuddle up to dictators’ in the Washington Post

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (in green tie) meets with other officials in Brussels on Wednesday. (Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has just set a new low for Europe’s standing in the world. In the wake of Russia’s sham presidential election on Sunday, Juncker sent the victorious Vladimir Putin a message of unctuous praise. “Congratulations on your re-election,” Juncker tweeted. ……..Just like the United States’ President Trump, who was widely criticized this week for congratulating Putin on the Russian election’s outcome while failing to mention its flagrantly undemocratic character, Juncker had nothing to say about the brazen ballot stuffing, the intimidation of independent candidates, the unexplained deaths of activists, the role of state media, or a host of other irregularities leading up to the poll.

This latest failure of moral courage once again shows the growing indifference of European leaders and governments to the defense of human rights. At a time when the Trump administration seems uninterested in advancing the cause of democracy overseas and has just chosen Gina Haspel, who is closely linked with the George W. Bush administration’s policies on torture, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Europe should be at the forefront in taking a united stand against the flagrant abuse of human rights. But it isn’t. Dissidents and activists pushing for civil rights and democracy outside the E.U., and who once looked to Europe as a beacon for the values of freedom, can count on little support from Brussels these days. Authoritarian regimes have every cause to be overjoyed.

…When Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took the floor at last month’s annual Munich Security Conference, he was, once again, treated with kid gloves. Forget about the torture, the executions, the flogging, the deaths during detention.

…French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have rolled out the red carpet for Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi — despite a crackdown on opposition that in its harshness has left the Hosni Mubarak regime far behind. Disappearances, torture, police brutality, detentions without trial: None of this seems to bother the French or German leaders. “Disgraceful policies of indulgence” was the term human rights activists used in connection with Sissi’s visit to Paris in October.

On China, the E.U. has completely discredited itself in the eyes of reformers and those struggling for human rights. It has criticized neither the Communist Party’s state-of-the art mass surveillance of its citizens nor the constant harassment and imprisonment of dissidents. Indeed, in June the E.U. failed, for the first time ever, to make a statement about China’s crackdown on dissidents and activists at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. The 28 member states couldn’t agree. (Greece blocked the statement. ..Athens didn’t want to offend Beijing). Hungary, which has also benefited from Chinese investments, has repeatedly blocked E.U. statements criticizing China’s rights record under Communist President Xi Jinping, according to diplomats.

….But there can be no hiding the shameful reality. Europe has lost its moral compass. Its current enthusiasm for interests and “stability” will one day come back to haunt it.

The second piece is by FLORIAN IRMINGER on 22 March 2018 in Open Democracy under the title Council of Europe: don’t compromise on human rights in Russia!”

After congratulating Vladimir Putin on re-election, the COE must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries. In the past year, Russia has seen numerous violations of freedom of assembly, as well as politically motivated criminal investigations dogged by poor evidence and procedure. While Vladimir Putin won the recent presidential election, he made his country fail a much more important test: the test of human rights, freedoms, and space for civil society and independent voices. So why has Thorbjørn Jagland and the Council of Europe welcomed him as a winner? …This came shortly after the OSCE election observation mission concluded that the presidential election took place in an “overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”

…Instead of abiding by his mission to defend the Convention and therefore highlighting the shortcomings during election day and the generally repressive climate, the Secretary General “hoped” for active engagement with Russia. He spoke of “our common duty to work together in order to consolidate and strengthen our common European legal and human rights space.” 

The Council of Europe must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries

Since Vladimir Putin’s re-accession to the presidency in 2012 – and the fully devoted Duma elected in 2011 – 50 laws have been adopted “designed to strangle opposition voices and raise the level of fear and self-control in the society,” as reported by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/18/fidh-collected-russias-50-anti-democracy-laws/]

In light of President Putin’s internal policies, we need a Council of Europe that stands firm on its values and upholds the human rights obligations enriched in the European Convention for Human Rights. What we see instead is a Secretary General “touring European capitals [since November 2017] warning of a serious risk that Moscow could withdraw… unless its demands are met.”

 

..Russia has now said it will stop contributing financially to the Council of Europe. At the Council of Europe, just like at the United Nations with President Trump’s administration, we see that governments are willing to defund the structures with which they disagree. In other words, they institute a relativism in such mechanisms and threaten their ability to continue working independently and serve the purpose they were set up for: holding governments accountable to their own commitments. 

Yes, we must fight for the European Convention to apply to as many citizens as possible in Europe. However, we must not shy away from saying that the cost of withdrawing from the Council of Europe is high for the Russian state, for its credibility at home and abroad. The Council of Europe is worth something. If states can be members at no cost – not even the cost of showing respect and cooperation to the organisation – it will soon be worth nothing….

—–

https://www.kuna.net.kw/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2697509&language=en

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-un/u-n-rights-chief-attacks-eu-and-u-s-over-migrants-and-dreamers-idUSKCN1GJ1IZ

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/03/21/the-european-union-has-decided-that-its-time-to-cuddle-up-to-dictators/?utm_term=.f50fe466fd4f

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/florian-irminger/do-not-compromise-on-russian-human-rights

Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiev arrested on trumped-up charges

January 15, 2018

 
The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.

This blog has paid attention to many cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Chechnya, especially since two of the laureates of the MEA were linked to work there (the Joint Mobile Group (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/17/russia-defenders-attack-closing-office-un-joint-mobile-group-chechnya/) in 2013 and earlier Lyda Yusopova in 2004 http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/lidia-yusupova/]. But things continue to be extremely difficult, as shown by case of Oyub Titiev, who heads the regional office of the Memorial, and was arrested last week. Open Democracy (on 12 January 2018) in partnership with OVD-Info, wrote about this and other politically-motivated arrests in Russia (see below in green). Front Line (12 January 2018), Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, US State Department, IFEX and others spoke out on the case.

On the morning of 9 January, Oyub Titiev (60) was detained by people wearing the uniform of traffic police officers. A friend of the human rights defender who witnessed the arrest from his car, said he had wanted to stop to speak with Titiev, but Titiev indicated he should drive past. Titiev’s lawyers were not allowed to see him for several hours. That evening Titiev was charged with possessing drugs (Article 228). He categorically denies the accusation. On 10 January police arrived at Titiev’s home looking for his son and brother, and when they did not find them they forced all the other family members out of the house, locked the doors and took the keys. The law enforcement officers wanted to use the fact they had the keys to influence Titiev’s relatives, since to gain entrance to the property the family members would need to go to the police station. On 11 January a court in closed session remanded Titiev in custody for two months.

Titiev took up the post of head of the Chechnya office of Memorial after the kidnapping in Grozny and subsequent murder of his predecessor Natalia Estemirova in July 2009. The Chechen public figure Ruslan Kutaev, who heads  the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, was also charged with illegal acquisition and possession of drugs. On 20 December 2017 he was released having served over three years in prison. There is evidence that Kutaev was tortured following his arrest. According to human rights defenders, the charges were trumped up.

The European Court of Human Rights is tired of hearing identical cases concerning torture in Russia, and has therefore asked Russia to pay compensation to Ildar Dadin on the basis of a simplified procedure. The European Court has proposed that Russia admit to violations of the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment with regard to Ildar Dadin during the latter’s transfer to a prison colony and in the prison colony itself. The Court decided not to ask the Russian government for commentary.

In December 2015 activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony for “repeated violation of the rules for holding public events” (Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). In 2014 Dadin had been arrested four times and fined for taking part in public protests. Later, his prison term was reduced to two-and-a-half years. On 22 February 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court quashed Dadin’s conviction.

Five members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) have been banned from visiting Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina) and the so-called Kremlin Central, which is on the territory of Matrosskaya Tishina. According to the authorities, this is because the five members of the PMC are witnesses in the criminal prosecution of another member of the PMC, Denis Nabiullin…

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/titiev

https://www.thedailybeast.com/frame-up-the-outrageous-arrest-of-a-chechen-human-rights-defender

https://news.trust.org/item/20180110165044-wbsm1

later followed: https://memohrc.org/en/news_old/speaking-grozny-tv-ramzan-kadyrov-revealed-real-reason-behind-arrest-human-rights-defender

Four young women human rights defenders speak out

September 21, 2017

Millennials often get a bad rap, accused of being politically apathetic and selfie-obsessed, says SARA VIDA COUMANS in Open Democracy of 15 September 2017, but around the world, young people who are sick of government inaction are stepping up to speak passionately on behalf of their communities. These four young women live in different continents and have had diverse experiences. Each is involved in Amnesty International campaigns, fighting for human rights from Australia to Peru. Here they talk about their local struggles, and what motivates them. (“We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too”)


Madeline Wells, indigenous rights activist in Tasmania.

Madeline Wells.

Madeline Wells. Photo: Lara Van Raay. All rights reserved.

“As a First Nations person, I have always felt I have a duty to fight for the rights of my people, a feeling of being part of something much bigger than me,” she said. “Activism can come in many different forms. It doesn’t have to be rallies or marches.” Climate change disproportionately impacts indigenous communities, and indigenous youth “face many other injustices: deaths in custody, high rates of youth detention, racism and discrimination, high suicide rates, and poor healthcare,” she added. “Activism can come in many different forms. It doesn’t have to be rallies or marches – art, music and dance are equally powerful ways of speaking out, and social media has had a huge impact.”


Nancy Herz, student and author from Norway.

Nancy Herz.

Nancy Herz. Photo: Vincent Hansen. All rights reserved.

In 2016 Herz wrote an article entitled “We Are the Shameless Arab Women and Our Time Starts Now” – and a movement of women reclaiming the word “shameless” subsequently started in Norway. “We don’t want to have our identities defined by others,” she said. “We don’t want to have our identities defined by others.” “I feel so proud when I receive messages from young girls who say I have encouraged them to speak out – that because I dare to be myself, they do too,” said Herz. “This is what fighting against injustice is about. By using our voices, we can make the space for freedom of expression bigger…it’s an ongoing struggle, but I believe that we have to keep pushing towards a world in which everyone can enjoy their basic right of living freely.”


Sandra Mwarania, youth activist from Kenya.

Sandra Mwarania.

Sandra Mwarania. Photo: Kenneth Kigunda / Amnesty International Kenya. All rights reserved.

Mwarania co-founded the Student Consortium for Human Rights Advocacy. “Young people are brilliant creatives, strategic thinkers, problem solvers, innovative communicators and active doers,” she said. “It is unfortunate that we are yet to be taken seriously by decision-makers who still perceive us as inexperienced and rowdy.” “We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too.” “As well as being well-informed on human rights issues, students and young people need the skills to address the pressing socio-political issues around them,” Mwarania added. “When young people are engaged at every level of the decision making process, the results can be amazing. We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too.”


Fabiola Arce, women’s rights defender from Peru.

Fabiola Arce (holding megaphone).

Fabiola Arce (holding megaphone) in #NiUnaMenos protest in Lima, Peru, 2016. Photo: Andrick Astonitas / Amnesty International Peru.

Arce has campaigned to pressure her government to investigate cases of forced sterilisation of women in the 1990s. “This serious human rights violation mostly targeted indigenous women, and caused a huge amount of pain and suffering,” she said. “Peru has a huge historical debt to women, and that’s part of what motivates me.” “We are determined not to let the injustices of the past go unaccounted for. Peru has a huge historical debt to women, and that’s part of what motivates me to work towards shaping a different future.”

Amnesty International’s BRAVE campaign works with young women human rights defenders like these and fights for their recognition and protection. Find out more.

Source: “We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too”: young women human rights defenders speak out | openDemocracy