Posts Tagged ‘open letter’

CIVICUS and 600 NGOs: “don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19”

April 23, 2020

Six hundred NGOs signed a statement saying “We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19“:

As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.

All responses to COVID-19 must be deeply rooted in these cross-cutting principles: respect of human dignity, independence and autonomy of the person, non-discrimination and equality, and respect of diversities and inclusion. Any response must comply with international standards on emergency legislation and respect human rights and the rule of law. Extraordinary measures are legitimate only under exceptional circumstances, such as when there is an immediate threat to public health. These measures should be used in a necessary and proportionate manner and should be aligned to international human rights law.

To date, there are over two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. The next few weeks are crucial as measures put in place by states will determine the course of the pandemic. Resources will come under severe strain and there may be more shortages of personnel and protective equipment which will put countries under immense pressure. More cases may be reported which will lead to stricter measures being implemented by some states. Despite the challenges faced by governments across the globe, responses to the pandemic should not be used as a pretext to restrict civic space.

We are particularly concerned by states that are abusing emergency powers to place restrictions on fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the right to access information. Across the globe, journalists, human rights defenders and other independent voices are threatened and punished for speaking out about the extent of the pandemic in their countries, or the measures adopted in response to COVID-19. These countries include Tajikistan, Niger, Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, Bangladesh and China. Other governments are adopting legislative measures to curtail fundamental freedoms, such as in Hungary, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Philippines. Some states are abusing their powers to suppress peaceful assemblies, including in Hong Kong.

Governments including India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, have enforced internet restrictions and shutdowns which prevent many people from accessing vital information about how to protect themselves against the virus. These restrictions also negatively affect the growing number of people who are working remotely so that they can practice physical separation.

Access to information is critical in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Governments must proactively share key information about the pandemic as soon as it is available, such as important decisions, the number of cases, availability of equipment and supplies, and clear advice. Information should be widely available to everyone, not just selected government officials or other intermediaries, as is the case in Uzbekistan. This ensures that individuals, communities and health workers can react quickly and responsibly to new information.

Migrants in detention centers, for example in Mexico and Greece, are living in dire conditions without access to adequate hygiene facilities. It is also impossible for them to practice physical distancing due to overcrowding. All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since 1 March 2020 have been denied access to asylum. We commend states such as Portugal which have temporarily lifted restrictions on asylum seekers with pending applications. This ensures they have access to healthcare and social security in line with the rest of the population.

Women and children who experience or are at risk of domestic violence may be forced to remain in dangerous situations with an abusive partner or relative. At the same time, access to places of safety and support services may be reduced as shelters are impacted by public health measures and criminal justice resources are diverted.

We are concerned by governments confining persons with disabilities within institutions in several countries including France. This contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and it places persons with disabilities at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

We are concerned by governments that have imposed restrictions leading to human rights violations against LGBT+ persons, including in Peru, Uganda, and Colombia. Governments need to ensure that their policies are inclusive and that all public officials are trained on LGBT+ rights.

Several countries have released prisoners as part of their response to curb the spread of the pandemic. These actions are commendable as congested detention facilities and prisons are high risk areas. We urge countries including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Turkey, India, and the UAE to include human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and prisoners of conscience among those being released.

We are further concerned by the growing practice of monitoring and closely controlling people’s movements, even at the cost of their privacy. Efforts to contain the virus must not be used to expand systems of invasive digital surveillance. Israel and Taiwan are notable examples of how technological surveillance is being used in this context, and how disproportionate the impact of such measures may be when they are not strictly defined and limited.

The unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19 present an opportunity for states and civil society organisations to work together to defeat the virus.

We urge states to be transparent and accountable: this will ensure that any measures adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be effective. Specifically, we urge states to:

    1. Ensure all measures adopted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic fully comply with states’ international human rights obligations, and that any associated restrictions on human rights are necessary, proportionate, inclusive and time-limited. Also maintain regular contact with civil society to ensure that new measures are in line with international standards.
    2. Ensure that COVID-19 is not used as a pretext for imposing unjustified restrictions on civil society; it must not be used to target human rights defenders and journalists, and to facilitate authoritarian power grabs.
    3. Ensure the pandemic is not used as an excuse to impose forced returns or refoulement in violation of international human rights law; or as a pretext to suspend or derogate from the fundamental right to seek asylum.
    4. Ensure that the independent judiciary, and not other branches of government, decides on any measures limiting the access and operation of courts. Allow independent courts to evaluate any unlawful imposition or unjustified extension of emergency measures, or the unlawful curtailment of the rule of law.
    5. Ensure that judiciaries and other relevant state authorities give particular consideration to urgent cases, where delay is most likely to cause irreparable harm, or where protective measures are required. This refers to: migrants (including asylum-seekers and refugees as well as internal migrants), women and children, LGBT+ communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.
    6. Release detainees; immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. This will ease pressure on the prison system and reduce the chance of the prison population, and the population more broadly, of contracting COVID-19.
    7. Pay special attention to traditionally marginalised or vulnerable groups and ensure access to appropriate support, resources and protection mechanisms. Be aware of any issues relating to stigmatisation, exclusion, violence, hatred, labelling and the targeting of victims of COVID-19.
    8. Ensure that no one is left behind in the national policies and strategies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure policies are inclusive and effectively protect against discrimination on any ground. Consider persons with a disability and make sure all information is delivered in accessible formats.
    9. Apply a gender perspective in all policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    10. Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet so that all have the right to access and share information. End all unjustified interference with internet connectivity.
    11. Protect the role of independent media outlets and public interest journalism. Ensure that measures to contain the virus, as well as the fight against disinformation, are not used as a pretext to muzzle the media or regulate media freedoms.
    12. Ensure any use of surveillance to track the spread of coronavirus is limited in purpose and time and abides by human rights safeguards. States should adhere to the rights of free expression, privacy, non-discrimination, confidentiality and protection of journalist sources.

To see the NGOs that have endorsed, follow the link below:

——–

See also:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/10/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-civicus-protocol/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4379-civil-society-s-call-to-states-we-are-in-this-together-don-t-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19

https://www.newsweek.com/governments-accused-using-pandemic-threaten-human-rights-1499469

Retired civil servants in India come out to support human rights defenders

July 22, 2019

After a group of NGOs [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/], Scroll India reports on 22 July 2019 that former bureaucrats also condemn alleged intimidation of human rights defenders and dissidents and expressed concern over the CBI action against advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, and the case filed against 10 poets and activists in Assam.

Citing three recent cases, the former civil service officers condemned what they said “appears an attempt to govern by fear and intimidation”. One of the cases the former bureaucrats commented on in their open letter was the Central Bureau of Investigation’s action against advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. The searches at their homes and offices on July 11 were vindictive and the government had launched the “fresh attack” on the couple to silence them instead of following legal process, the signatories added. The group denounced “the abuse of authority in harassing human rights defenders”. The two advocates and their organisation Lawyers Collective have been “at the forefront in furthering women’s rights, gender equality, and environmental issues and have been committed to fighting over decades for the rule of law”, the open letter added. The writers pointed out that Jaising and Grover had been involved as lawyers in politically sensitive matters, especially a case in which Amit Shah, now the Union home minister, was an accused.

The former bureaucrats also referred to the labelling of social activists as “urban Naxals” by a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The wing is “certifying some of India’s most credible leaders of social movements such as Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh as ‘urban Naxals’,” they added. “These are respected persons who have given their life’s efforts in working for the common man.

The letter also mentioned the case filed by the Assam Police against 10 people, most of them Bengali Muslim poets and activists who are often pejoratively referred to as Miya and whose body of work is known as Miya poetry. “In the tradition of protest Black, Dalit and Queer poetry, these poets have created a new genre of poetry which they call Miya poetry, in which they lament and protest about the suffering of their people as a result of the NRC process,” the former bureaucrats said. “They now are charged with inciting hatred under sections which could keep them in jail for many years of their lives.”

They condemned these attacks on human rights defenders, dissenters and poets. “Dissent and freedom of expression are the life-blood of any democracy,” they added. “We find it intensely worrying that there are crude and ham-handed attempts to intimidate such voices into silence, using the institutions of state authority.”

https://scroll.in/latest/931355/former-bureaucrats-condemn-alleged-intimidation-of-human-rights-activists-and-dissidents

NGOs demand the release of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir in Mauretania

June 24, 2019

Nigerian NGO writes open letter to new President Muhammadu Buhari

May 29, 2019

On 29 May, 2019 Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director of the NGO SERAP wrote to Buhari to request “To Make Every Day Of The Remainder Of Your Stay In Aso Rock A Rule Of Law Day”.

Re: Request To Make Every Day Of The Remainder Of Your Stay In Aso Rock A Rule Of Law Day’

Your Excellency,

Ahead of your inauguration and the start of your second term in office today, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is writing to urge you to publicly commit to making every day of the remainder of your stay in Aso Rock a ‘Rule of Law’ day, including by ensuring every segment of your government’s daily operations is lawful and rule-of-law compliant, for the sake of fairness, justice, your legacy as president, and the success of your anti-corruption agenda, which has remained stuck in limbo principally because of persistent disobedience of decisions of Nigerian courts.

SERAP is a non-profit, nonpartisan, legal and advocacy organization devoted to promoting transparency, accountability and respect for socio-economic rights in Nigeria. SERAP received the Wole Soyinka Anti-Corruption Defender Award in 2014. …..The deficits in the rule of law have been particularly notable in three areas: failure to obey decisions of Nigerian courts, failure to push for transparency in asset declarations by high-ranking government officials and failure to push for unexplained wealth orders against former presidents and former governors and other senior public officials suspected of living on proceeds of corruption and ‘dirty money’.

…..Another court order that is yet to be complied with is the order for the release of Islamic Movement of Nigeria leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah, from unlawful detention, obtained by human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana. Persistent disobedience of decisions of our courts by the government has opened the way for many state governors to do the same within their states including by using anti-media laws to suppress the civic space, target journalists and human rights defenders, grant to themselves pensions for life and commit grand corruption and other appalling atrocities……Ignoring or refusing to obey decisions of our courts is implicitly rendering the judiciary powerless to enforce constitutional and legal rights, violating separation of powers, undermining the rule of law, and ultimately, raising serious question marks on the government’s commitment to fight grand corruption…

Democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law, and obeying decisions of the courts, pushing for transparency of high-ranking government officials and going after former senior officials suspected of living on proceeds of corruption and ‘dirty money’ are closely connected with the existence and consolidation of democracy, good governance and development.

SERAP therefore urges you to use the opportunity of your second term to begin to implement your oft-expressed commitment to the rule of law by immediately obeying decisions of Nigerian courts, promoting transparency in asset declarations by publishing widely details of your assets declaration, encouraging Vice-President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to do the same and instructing all your ministers to publish their asset declarations.

SERAP also urges you to immediately instruct your next Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to pursue unexplained wealths court orders against all former presidents (and their estates), former governors, former presidents of the Senate and former speakers of the House of Representatives aimed at forcing those of them suspected of living on proceeds of corruption and ‘dirty money’ to reveal sources of their fortune or risk forfeiting it.

https://www.modernghana.com/news/935530/re-request-to-make-every-day-of-the-remainder-of-your-stay.html

IF Qatar has to share World Cup 2022, FIFA’s ethical standards must apply

March 12, 2019

A coalition of human rights groups (such as Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Congress, Transparency International and the World Players Association) has sent an open letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to confirm that any country chosen to share World Cup 2022 games with Qatar will meet world football’s new ethical standards. The possible expansion of the next World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is top of the agenda at a meeting of the FIFA Council in Miami on Friday, with Infantino keen on an idea that would mean Qatar having to share the World Cup with other nations in the Middle East.

That idea would need Qatar’s approval, which is far from certain as it has been locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June 2017, but the more neutral Kuwait and Oman have been suggested as possible co-hosts.

Experts on workers’ rights in the region have been highly critical of the controversial decision to award the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010 and are now equally concerned about the prospect of one or more countries in the region having to build stadiums and upgrade infrastructure in a hurry. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/fifa-human-rights-qatar-world-cup-2022-gianni-infantino-kuwait-oman-bahrain-egypt-saudi-arabia-a8818816.html

High Commissioner, please put human rights defenders up front

September 20, 2018

In a briefing paper for the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, ISHR has set out ten concrete and practical ways in which the High Commissioner and her Office can contribute to protecting human rights defenders and promoting a safe and enabling environment for their work at the international and national-levels.

Supporting and empowering these defenders – and protecting them against those governments, corporations and fundamentalists whose currency is prejudice, profit or privilege – should be the new High Commissioner’s highest priority. She should consult closely with defenders, speak out and pursue accountability when they are attacked, push for laws and mechanisms to protect them at the national level, and ensure that the UN human rights system is safe, accessible and effective for them,‘ ISHR Director Phil Lynch said.

The ISHR briefing paper complements a broader civil society letter supported by more than 750 civil society [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/08/civil-society-sends-letter-to-new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-bachelet/].

Recommendations for the High Commissioner to support human rights defenders

  1. Be proactive in regularly consulting and working in partnership with human rights defenders and other independent civil society actors.
  2. Make clear and regular statements on the essential role played by human rights defenders and the need to ensure they can work in a safe and enabling environment without fear or hindrance, acknowledging the protection needs of particular groups of defenders.
  3. Speak out and demand accountability on cases of threats, attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, including by calling for and supporting impartial investigations, prosecution of perpetrators, and effective remedies for victims.
  4. Push and work with States to fulfil the commitments laid out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including through repealing restrictive legislation and developing specific laws, policies and mechanisms to protect defenders.
  5. Establish a comprehensive set of indicators to assess State fulfilment of human rights obligations related to human rights defenders, which could be used as an evidentiary basis for assessing compliance.
  6. Build strategic alliances with States, civil society, academics, business enterprises and other actors with a shared interest in human rights, ensuring an enabling environment for civil society and respect for the rule of law.
  7. Define an operating procedure at OHCHR to ensure that all offices establish and apply minimum standards in regard to their work on and with human rights defenders.
  8. Encourage the Secretary General to carry out a full audit of UN work on human rights defenders and to develop an organisation-wide policy on supporting and protecting defenders. More generally, work closely with the Secretary-General to ensure that all UN agencies contribute to, and coordinate on, the protection of defenders and ensuring an enabling environment for their work.
  9. Encourage the development and implementation of an effective UN-wide policy on preventing and addressing reprisals and strongly support continuation and adequate resourcing of the mandate of the UN Senior Official on reprisals.
  10. Work to ensure that UN human rights bodies and mechanisms are accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders, in particular by ensuring that any reform efforts are informed by the full and meaningful participation of civil society. Strong leadership from the High Commissioner is essential to ensure that the process to strengthen the Treaty Bodies in 2020, and the General Assembly mandated status review of the Human Rights Council in 2021, are underpinned by these principles.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/high-commissioner-put-human-rights-defenders-front

Campaign to give the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 to the global community of Human Rights Defenders

September 18, 2018

Over 200 organisations from all over the world have signed on to an open letter endorsing the idea of giving the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 to the global community of Human Rights Defenders.


12 September 2018

Dear Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,

9 December 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). It is an ideal and opportune moment to recognise and celebrate the efforts of these extraordinary individuals who despite threats of violence and unlawful imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, torture and assassination, continue to peacefully challenge injustice and call for the implementation and strengthening of the rule of law. Since 1998, over 3000 human rights defenders have been killed for defending the fundamental values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN.

In recognising the increasingly hostile environments globally, in which human rights defenders must work, the late Former Secretary-General to the United Nations, Kofi Annan, recently said:

“To stand up for human rights requires courage, perseverance, vigilance and a strong foundation of knowledge and evidence. We need to be vigilant in the protection of human rights defenders, for when the defenders’ rights are violated, all our rights are injured.”

In the same vein and emphasising the critical role that human rights defenders play in promoting and fostering stable democracies and sustainable peace, Permanent Representative of Norway to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ambassador Steffen Kongstad said: “Threats and attacks against human rights defenders may hamper the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, undermining social cohesion, and ultimately stability and development.”

Despite this recognition and respect at the highest levels of the international community, human rights defenders are killed every day. HRDs who suffer disproportionately are those activists working at grassroots and community levels, in isolated regions and from marginalised populations, who lack networks and resources to command international attention. Human rights defenders can be community leaders, lawyers, journalists, environmental activists, victims of abuse, trade unionists and teachers.

It is for these urgent reasons that Peace Brigades International with the support of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group has nominated the global community of HRDs for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. It is the highest humanitarian achievement through which to recognise HRDs and celebrate their commitment to advocating for and building societies that are peaceful, safe, inclusive, tolerant, just and sustainable for all. The nomination is currently supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs and some governments, diplomats and parliamentarians around the world.

We believe that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the global community of HRDs will mark a milestone in legitimising the crucial work they undertake to protect humanity and bring the trends of persecution they suffer to the public eye.

Furthermore, this collective award would mark a world first. By nominating a community rather than individuals or organisations, we emphasise that the trends making the defence of human rights ever more risky and ever more admirable, are global. We seek to highlight that the community itself is integral to the defence of human rights and it is the idea of community that motivates people to take enormous risks defending the rights of others and advancing peace.


For some of my earlier post on the Declaration: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/20th-anniversary-un-declaration-on-hrds/

The release of the open letter is accompanied by a public petition: Human Rights Defenders for the Nobel Peace Prize, which can be signed here.

https://peacebrigades.org.uk/open-civil-society-letter-support-nobel-peace-prize-human-rights-defenders

US withdraws from UN Human Rights Council: NGOs make clear their position

June 26, 2018

A group of 18 NGOs sent a joint letter to US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in response to a letter sent by Haley to the organisations after the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council. On 17 May 2018, 18 NGOs had sent private letters to Member States urging them to not support the US proposal to reopen the Council’s institutional framework at the General Assembly.  Read the joint letter below.

Dear Ambassador Haley,

We write in response to your letter of 20 June 2018, in which you suggest that NGOs are somehow responsible for your decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council. The decision to resign from the Council was that of the US administration alone. We had legitimate concerns that the US’s proposal to reopen the Council’s institutional framework at the General Assembly would do more harm than good. We see it as our responsibility to express those concerns and would do so again.

Although the Human Rights Council is not perfect, it does play an essential role. It makes a significant contribution to strengthening human rights standards, providing protection and justice to victims, and promoting accountability for perpetrators. The Council and its mechanisms have played a key role in securing the freedom of detained human rights defenders, and investigating rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and North Korea, to name but a few. It continues to address thematic issues of global concern including non-discrimination, freedom of expression online and offline, freedom of assembly, housing, migration, counterterrorism, and the protection of the rights of women, rights of LGBTI people, and rights of people with disabilities.

As you know, we are independent organizations that do not work on behalf of any government. We focus on building support for policies we believe will better the lives of those most affected by abuse –  which does mean we are sometimes opposed to proposals laid out by certain governments, or the proposed means of pursuing them, especially when we believe such an initiative could be more harmful than not.  With regard to the Council, our goal continues to be strengthening and supporting reform efforts that are ongoing in Geneva to ensure that they are informed by the experience and expertise of national and regional level actors, including rights-holders, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, victims, survivors (and their representatives).

We are committed to the international system, including the Human Rights Council, and to ensuring the system is fit for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights. We will continue to work towards those goals.

Signatories:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
  4. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  6. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
  7. Child Rights Connect
  8. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  9. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  10. Human Rights Watch
  11. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  12. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  13. International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
  14. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)
  15. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  16. International Women’s Health Coalition
  17. OutRight Action International
  18. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

250 NGOs address letter to Hungarian parliament regarding restriction on the work of human rights defenders

February 20, 2018

Bulgaria: 200 European Human Rights Organizations Protest in Hungary

More than 250 (!) human rights organizations protested today against the new laws proposed by the Hungarian Parliament aimed at limiting the work of NGOs helping refugees in the country. “We express our solidarity with civil society and all human rights defenders in Hungary – the brave people who are fighting for a more honest society,” reads part of the open letter  published by Amnesty International [the list can be consulted via the link below]. Today, parliament is going to discuss legislative changes that will impose new restrictions on non-governmental organizations in the country. It is expected that many of them will even be banned. According to the bills published last week on Parliament’s website, these organizations will be required to pay a 25% tax on all their foreign funding, and their workers will be banned from accessing refugee centers near the country’s borders.

The affected NGOs will also have to register with the Ministry of the Interior, which in turn will have the right to impose fines or deny them the right to work legally in Hungary. But to approve the changes, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government needs a two-thirds majority, which is not currently in parliament.

On 15 February 2018 the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe had already addressed the issue in a tough statement :

I am seriously concerned at the legislative package recently announced by the Hungarian government under the name “Stop Soros”. If adopted by Parliament, it will introduce further arbitrary restrictions to the indispensable work of human rights NGOs and defenders in Hungary. In a letter I sent to the Hungarian Parliament in May 2017, I set out my concerns regarding the then draft law on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad, which stigmatised a large number of organisations pursuing lawful activities in the field of human rights and introduced far-reaching restrictions on freedom of association in contravention of international human rights standards. I regret that instead of addressing those pressing human rights concerns, the Hungarian government appears now intent on intensifying stigmatisation and restrictions against NGOs working specifically on migration-related issues.

While I have not yet seen the final text of the proposed legislative package – changes to an earlier version I had examined were announced only the day before yesterday to make it “significantly stricter” – I am alarmed that it will aggravate the situation of freedom of association in Hungary even further. I understand that the changes made this week introduce mandatory licences for NGOs with a goal “to ensure that it is only possible to organise, support or finance migration in Hungary while in possession of a licence, which would be issued by the Minister of Interior following an assessment of the related national security aspects”. NGOs failing to abide by this requirement could be subject to sanctions, including a fine and ultimately dissolution. In addition, any such NGO that receives any amount of funding from abroad would be required to pay a 25% tax on such foreign funding.

The package also foresees the creation of “immigration restraining orders” that can be used to prevent any person deemed to “support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national” from accessing an 8-km zone from external borders – or even the entire Hungarian territory for non-nationals. Considering the context in which the proposed measures were conceived, there is an obvious risk that arbitrary restrictions may be applied on the freedom of movement of persons involved in refugee assistance at the border.

These proposed measures raise particular concerns because of the likelihood that they will be applied to organisations and individuals who carry out activities in the field of protecting the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees that should be fully legitimate in a democratic society. Unfortunately recent public declarations of the Hungarian government referring to organisations which may come under the effect of the package only reinforce these concerns. In particular, the proposed package (which the government itself has named “Stop Soros”) follows a series of legal measures and stigmatising government rhetoric targeting entities funded or otherwise linked to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, which carry out professional and important work in Hungary, including in the field of human rights.

Finally, I am alarmed at the escalating rhetoric used by the Hungarian government to portray NGOs and immigrants as a threat to national security. This discourse is stirring up among the population fears and intolerance towards foreigners and mistrust towards civil society organisations.

The proposed package of laws introduces administrative and financial burdens that constitute restrictions on freedom of association which cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society and are therefore at variance with international human rights standards. The package as a whole is stigmatising and is bound to have a chilling effect on NGOs but also their donors and individuals who work for or with them. I call once more on Hungary to refrain from penalising, stigmatising or putting at any disadvantage whatsoever NGOs, including those working in the field of migration, and to restore an enabling environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders.

The next day the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labeled the law an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association. It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing…

See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/02/in-solidarity-with-civil-society-in-hungary/

http://www.novinite.com/articles/188074/200+European+Human+Rights+Organizations+Protest+in+Hungary

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-concerned-about-proposed-additional-restrictions-to-the-work-of-ngos-in-hungary

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-law-un/hungary-anti-immigration-bill-an-assault-on-human-rights-u-n-idUSKCN1G0102

 

Human rights defenders to President Weah: the ball is in your camp

January 23, 2018

Africa on Line of 23 January 2018 report that human rights defenders NGOs have urged Liberian President Weah to prosecute war crimes.

The Center for Justice and Accountability describes the two phases of Liberia civil war, which caused the killings of an estimated 250,000 people and request that the atrocities are investigated and prosecuted. “A report by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released in June 2009 found all sides responsible for serious violations of domestic and international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, widespread and systematic rape and sexual slavery, torture, use and recruitment of child soldiers, and mass executions of civilians,” the release said.

Although the TRC recommended the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal in Liberia to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious violations of international criminal and humanitarian law, the only prosecutions to date have been outside of Liberia,” it added. Hassan Bility, Executive Director of Monrovia based Global Justice and Research Project and one of the authors of the open letter said: “Justice must be one of the cardinal points of the President’s new agenda. There must be justice for war crimes, otherwise there will be no lasting peace in Liberia.” Mr. Bility, a former journalist and torture survivor of the civil war, helped initiate the arrests of several Liberian perpetrators in Europe and the U.S. in partnership with the Swiss based NGO, Civitas Maxima.

President Weah, during his inaugural address, assured that his administration would protect human rights and justice for all Liberians: “Today, we Liberians have reached an important milestone in the never-ending journey for freedom, justice, and democracy; a search that has remained central to our history as a nation,” .

Reacting to the speech on Monday, Mr. Bility told FrontPageAfrica the President’s commitment to social justice and human rights would make some difference…“This is an opportunity for him to right many of the things that probably slipped through the safety net of the Ellen administration,” he added.

Recent cases such as the conviction of Jungle Jabbah in Philadelphia and the indictments of other alleged war criminals in Europe and the U.S. have shown that prosecuting war criminals will not reignite the civil war in Liberia, as has often been feared, added  Nushin Sarkarati, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability. “It is time to bring these examples of justice home, and make ending impunity in Liberia a priority.

However, as the the Economist on 4 January 2018 says: Yet there are doubts about the kind of leader Mr Weah will be. Since his election as a senator in 2014, he has rarely attended parliament. Nor has he introduced or co-sponsored any legislation. Mr Weah’s relative lack of education, though, only seems to make him more popular. His supporters see the former slum-dweller as one of them—a champion from their streets. Much will depend on the ministers and advisers with whom he surrounds himself. Liberia needs better roads and schools, more jobs and electricity, and a thousand other things. Presidents, unlike footballers, must aim at multiple goals.

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/news/6709-human-rights-groups-urge-president-weah-to-prosecute-war-crimes

https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21734008-far-beautiful-game-champion-footballer-george-weah-wins-liberias