Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

The risky lives of Human Rights Defenders during the pandemic

July 15, 2021

Meredith Veit in Open Global Rights of 14 July 2021 wrote how limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locking down.

Human rights defenders march in Thailand after a peaceful protester was threatened by gunshots from a mine security officer in January 2021. Photo courtesy of Meredith Veit


“Risking your life for human rights during a pandemic” is part I of a three-part series on COVID-19 and human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) across the world have been exposed to a wide range of dangers and threats—from smear campaigns and harassment to arbitrary detentions, abductions, and assassinations. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has worsened the conditions for a kind of work that is already extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally  arduous.

As outlined in Front Line Defenders’ most recent annual report, at least 331 human rights defenders were murdered in 2020 (an 8.8% increase compared to 2019). 

While certain restrictions have been necessary for containing the spread of a highly contagious virus, severe limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locked down.

At the onset of the pandemic, Protection International (PI) began conducting research via organisation-wide surveys to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights defenders (HRDs) that we work with. PI works principally in 11 countries—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand and Indonesia. Our findings validate what many human rights practitioners had feared would happen: public health measures are being weaponized against HRDs; there has been a rise in both physical and digital threats and attacks; business interests continue to prevail over human rights; political prisoners continue to be detained and neglected amidst the emergency; and the right to defend human rights is gravely at risk. 

Just one month after lockdowns began, our staff reported that the public health crisis had swiftly exacerbated existing challenges–including heightened physical and digital surveillance, increased criminalization, illegal detentions, and arbitrary arrests. Rates of gender-based violence, including against women HRDs, skyrocketed, and the disproportionate burden of familial care on women rose. The needle on the risk-ammeter didn’t rise gradually; HRDs felt the shock almost instantaneously. 

First, we’ll discuss the most prominently worrying and overarching trend: government’s weaponizing COVID-19 restrictions against their own citizens.

During times of crisis, states lean heavily on law enforcement for the implementation of emergency measures, and due to misinterpretation of government mandates, or sometimes purposefully harsh directives, HRDs and journalists often face the brunt of their brute force. Nearly all PI teams reported that confinement measures have allowed for greater surveillance of defenders.

In Guatemala, for example, a staff member described an unusually persistent police presence outside of their home. In Colombia, our team reports that threats against defenders and their activities have increased, as the government excuses authorities who are acting out under the guise of necessity to control the spread of the virus. 

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, many states did not clearly delineate that press should be excluded from confinement orders. A year later, journalists and dissidents continue to be targeted, discredited, and censored through the veneer of spreading mis- or dis-information about the virus or the effectiveness of the government’s response. In Tanzania, for example, the late President John Magufuli did not acknowledge that COVID-19 was an issue of concern until February 2021 and two editors of independent newspapers said that “officials had informally told them not to publish material that the government would not like.”

Brazil has suffered a similar fate. President Bolsonaro has denied the legitimacy of the pandemic, and he “accus[ed] the press for the chaos that the country is experiencing to divert attention from his disastrous management of the health crisis,” explains Reporters Without Borders. Administrations who baselessly and sweepingly blame journalists and human rights defenders for the impacts of the pandemic are undoubtedly contributing to the rise in violence against them.

Latin America has historically been the region most riddled with killings of HRDs, and this pandemic year has been no exception. The case of Colombia is particularly disheartening, considering that it not only continues to be the most dangerous country in the world for HRDs, but also that the government’s response to the increase of violence and massacres during the pandemic has been to deploy “militarization” techniques. Strict confinement has limited HRDs’ access to protection networks, routes, and allies, especially those who have limited or no access to the internet. Armed actors have taken advantage of confinement measures to more easily locate and murder defenders. Somos Defensores reported a 61% increase in HRD assassinations during the first quarter of 2020 in comparison to the same period of 2019. According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), at least 308 HRDs and social leaders have been killed in Colombia since the initial lockdowns began on 25 March 2020, including 83 in 2021. Many Colombian HRDs have used temporary relocation programs to find refuge, but towards the beginning of the pandemic, many of these programs were suspended due to travel restrictions. Once emergency evacuations started to be coordinated again, Colombia was the top country for HRD displacements in 2020.

Protection International Colombia has been working principally with Indigenous communities in the Orinoquía region in the east of the country, which continues to be largely neglected by emergency response and relief efforts. Many Indigenous HRDs are left worrying about basic needs such as health and food supplies, forcing defenders to side-line activities related to protecting their land and the environment. Restrictions on mobility and a lack of connectivity have particularly impacted rural HRDs, especially women. “The already enormous burden of familial and household care that falls on women’s shoulders has increased dramatically. Furthermore, they are more exposed and left vulnerable to domestic violence, since, if there is a cell phone in the house, the man normally has it,” explains Aída Pesquera, PI Representative in Colombia. “All of this notably limits them in the exercise of their human rights work.”

Protection International has been working with local leaders to provide cell-phone data to ensure defenders are able to communicate with their protection networks, provide support to communities by facilitating their access to the internet, as well as carry on with their ancestral self-protection practices. “We support them to move to a place where they can safely connect, and we hold virtual workshops every week on protection,” says Pesquera, “We also provide didactic material that they can use autonomously between sessions.”

While Indigenous groups in Colombia and Brazil were hit hardest by the pandemic, they are not yet on the list of prioritized groups for receiving the vaccine even though roll-out has officially begun.

Woman from a rural area of Colombia stands near a mural (2019). Photo courtesy of author

Since we began collecting data, these issues have persisted or even worsened over time. While vaccine inoculation may be on the horizon for some, the reality is that many HRDs are not anywhere near the top of national priority lists for receiving it. We expect that HRDs will continue to work in confrontation with the obstacles listed above for the remainder of 2021, at least.

Human rights groups have been shouting this since March 2020, but we have not yet reached a point where we can stop repeating it: The pandemic cannot be used as a pretext to unjustifiably curtail fundamental rights and freedoms. Governments have no excuse for overtly obstructing the right to defend human rights. One year later, we continue to call on the international community to protect and uphold human rights, especially in times of crisis when they are most at risk of being undermined. Many of us have settled into our routines of the “new normal,” but normalizing these abuses is dangerous. We must continue to speak out. We urge governments around the world to ensure the safety of defenders and to guarantee their right to freedom of expression and their right to defend human rights, even within the context of restrictions that are necessary and proportional.

Meredith Veit is a writer, researcher, multimedia storyteller, and human rights advocate. Her topics of special interest include the right to defend human rights, freedom of the press, digital security, and technology.


https://www.openglobalrights.org/risking-your-life-for-human-rights-during-a-pandemic/

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/protect-civic-space-post-pandemic-recovery

10th edition of CIVICUS’s State of Civil Society Report (2021)

May 26, 2021

Protests prove the power of collective action as states fail pandemic test, says new report

As COVID-19 swept the globe, deepening existing fault-lines in societies and generating fear and uncertainty, many governments used the pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on civic freedoms, sparking protests in many countries. The annual State of Civil Society Report 2021, by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, shows that despite the odds, millions of people around the world mobilised to demand more just, equal and sustainable societies during the pandemic.

Mobilising against the odds

Globally, the mass mobilisation that made headlines and changed the conversation was the resurgence of demands for racial justice under the Black Lives Matter banner in the USA and beyond following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020. People from all walks of life came to the streets to demand an end to systemic racism and police brutality.

The scourge of racism was highlighted in places as diverse as Colombia, the Netherlands and South Africa. The determination to end police brutality resonated widely, encouraging uprisings against police violence, notably in Nigeria.

Even in highly repressive countries, people bravely put their bodies on the line to oppose abusive power and demand democratic freedoms.

India witnessed the largest coordinated strike in world history as farmers defied brutal tactics to protest against corporate capture and elite collusion. Exposure of grand corruption in authoritarian Russia brought people to the streets, where they were met with more repression.

Bold civil disobedience against military might was offered in Myanmar. Dreams of democracy were deferred in Algeria, Belarus and Hong Kong, among others, but people showed extraordinary courage, taking to the streets in the face of great odds, keeping alive hopes for change.

Proving the power of collective action

The success of collective action led to breakthroughs in democracy and human rights across the globe.

In Chile, concerted street protests led to a commitment to develop a new constitution through democratic processes, with gender parity and Indigenous representation guaranteed. Sustained mobilisations in Argentina resulted in abortion being legalised, while in several countries young environmental activists took action to keep climate change in the spotlight.

Civil society’s collective action forced an election re-run in Malawi, and overcame systematic voter suppression in the USA. In Thailand, tens of thousands of protesters called for democratic reforms, including, for the first time, demanding a curb on the powers of the monarchy; activists used many creative forms of protest, including using giant inflatable ducks during mobilisations and holding ‘Runs Against Dictatorship’.

Following civic actions, same-sex relations were decriminalised in Bhutan and Gabon and same-sex marriage legalised in Costa Rica.

Many states failed the pandemic test

The pandemic offered a stress test for political institutions, and most were found wanting. The inadequacy of healthcare and social support systems was revealed. International cooperation was lacking as governments asserted narrow self-interest, birthing the dismal practice of vaccine nationalism by wealthy industrialised countries.

Many governments poured out official propaganda and sought to control the flow of information, ramping up censorship and criminalising legitimate inquiry and commentary. China was in the front rank of states that expanded surveillance practices and trampled on the right to privacy.

During the pandemic, several states increased their coercive power. In the Philippines, people were put in dog cages for breaking pandemic regulations, while in several Middle Eastern and North African states, including Bahrain, Egypt and Iran, human rights defenders remained in crowded jails, at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Some countries – notably New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan – got the virus under control, won public trust and communicated pandemic response measures clearly, while largely respecting rights and democratic freedoms. This shows that the path of repression taken by many was not a necessity but a choice.

Pandemic proves the need for civil society

When states failed to respond effectively to the pandemic, civil society stepped up, providing help to people most in need and defending rights. Civil society organisations responded swiftly with vital support, distributing cash, food, medicines and sanitary supplies, sharing accurate information on the virus and providing healthcare and psychological services.

Looking forward

CIVICUS’s report calls on states to reverse rights restrictions imposed under the pandemic at the earliest opportunity. It urges them to respect human rights and democratic freedoms, and listen to the voices of protesters. It asks the international community to do more to uphold norms on civic freedoms and support peaceful assembly.

The great current wave of protests is sure to continue. People are brave to protest, but they should not have to do so at the risk of being thrown behind bars, or facing brutal, even lethal, violence.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/state-civil-society-report-2021-enarpt

https://civicus.org

What can funders do for Human Rights Defenders during COVID-19?

September 29, 2020

 David Mattingly in Open Global Rights asks: “What Kind of Support Do Human Rights Defenders Need During COVID-19?“. The details are worth it:

 

…as governments grapple to provide relief, local organizations and activists are playing a critical role in responding to the pandemic. But they continue to face increased restrictions, threats, and attacks intended to curtail activism and stifle dissent—and they urgently need sufficient resources and political support from the international philanthropic community to continue their efforts.  The Fund for Global Human Rights initiated a COVID-19 impact survey to assess the challenges and opportunities that emerged for civil society over the first three months of the pandemic. Drawing on a deep global network of frontline activists and organizations from more than twenty countries, the Fund surveyed over 200 grantee human rights organizations in late April and early May to better understand how the pandemic has impacted their work. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/23/us1-million-fund-to-support-100-ngos-hit-by-covid-19/]

The survey offers valuable insights into how the activism landscape has changed—and what kind of support is necessary to sustain human rights work through this period of global crisis and beyond. Despite the challenging circumstances, frontline activists are demonstrating remarkable resilience and pivoting to respond differently to community needs. 

Nearly half of the survey’s respondents reported that they were still able to engage in their core work areas, like advocating for LGBTQ equality or defending Indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights. And 40% of respondents said that they were able to continue some core activities while also taking on new areas of work such as monitoring government actions in response to the pandemic, documenting the impact of COVID-19 on their constituencies, or providing community education on health and safety. Remarkably, 11% of respondents said that they had engaged entirely with these new areas of work or activities, which  they had not previously carried out, in order to address the pandemic. A minimal number of respondents—only 3%—answered that they were unable to continue working, and none expected to shut down entirely. 

Despite this largely positive outlook, the picture is likely to change over time as groups learn of more lost funding, donors shift priorities, and the public health crisis deepens across new geographies. This change is already taking place as activists working with historically marginalized groups—including Indigenous peoples and religious, ethnic, and racial minorities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—have seen firsthand.

Around the world, botched or wanting pandemic responses have highlighted deep cracks in global and domestic systems—from massive disruptions in the transnational food supply chain to marginalized workers being excluded from government assistance programs. Human rights activists have demonstrated their capacity to redirect their resources and balance short-term—and often life-or-death—priorities with their longer-term goals. Thanks to this capacity for adaptation and responsiveness, civil society is poised to meet this moment of reckoning. 

However, human rights defenders are working under tremendous pressure. The pandemic has generated new priorities and urgencies, even as the immense challenges of frontline activism have multiplied. 

From Hungary to Brazil, governments have taken advantage of lockdowns and emergency measures to close civic spaces, curb fundamental freedoms, and stifle opposition. And in an effort to consolidate power, authoritarian or populist leaders are abusing prudent health and safety restrictions to specifically target human rights defenders. Nearly half of survey respondents reported that they had already been targeted by restrictions, curfews, or containment measures.

In Honduras, several prominent activists were arrested on trumped-up charges related to the pandemic, many of whom were attacked or jailed without access to legal recourse. Over 50% of survey respondents reported challenges to the normal functioning of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.

In addition to these mounting dangers, survey respondents reported that infrastructure issues—including lost funding (37 respondents), sick staff (10 respondents), and reduced staff due to budget cuts (25 respondents)—were impacting their work. A quarter of respondents reported that technical difficulties, such as the lack of reliable internet or access to banks, pose a major challenge. Others mentioned dealing with impacts to their personal well-being, looking after sick family, or lacking access to critical supplies as paramount difficulties—an important reminder that human rights defenders are vulnerable to the same systemic inequalities they fight to overcome.

The imperative for human rights groups to demonstrate their relevance by addressing their community’s needs is made crystal clear by the impacts of the pandemic, which cut across areas of economic and social rights, health rights, migrants’ rights, and beyond. As they fill gaps in governments’ pandemic responses and fight for those most vulnerable to receive the resources and attention they need, frontline groups have the opportunity to continue expanding their grassroots constituencies by demonstrating their value to more people.

In recent years, the international human rights movement has been in a process of rethinking its role and strategies, and the pandemic is accelerating this reflection. This kind of crisis—and the myriad effects reported by survey respondents—begs funders to consider how they balance being nimble, adaptive, and reactive to emergencies such as COVID-19 with the values and strategy of long-term support and movement building.

These examples and data demonstrate the importance but also the effectiveness of partnering with frontline groups that are rooted in their communities and well-positioned to continue their critical, long-term work even as they adapt to shifting priorities. As funders, we must trust our frontline partners to assess their communities’ greatest needs and offer the flexibility to pivot amid a crisis. This means flexible funding, of course, but it also entails support for holistic security and wellness, and emergency funds and political support for activists that are targeted.

As different groups learn to navigate this new operating environment, it is critical that funders make space for cross-regional and intersectional exchanges, following the lead and priority of frontline activists, to compare  strategies, share learning, and foster solidarity.

More than 70% of survey respondents said they had explored or considered engaging with other groups working on similar issues and were interested in connecting with their peers. But with nearly a quarter indicating they have unreliable internet, funders must play a greater role in providing tech support and the means to collaborate. 

The Fund’s COVID-19 impact survey set out to answer the same question activists ask every day: what does our community need? The answers were a heartening reaffirmation of the resilience of civil society, as well as a pertinent reminder that, in times of crisis, our support must meet the demands of the moment.  

The pandemic is accelerating the need for adaptation and, as funders, we should take our cue from how local rights groups are nimbly pivoting to address both immediate and longer-term needs. As grassroots activists and advocates overcome mounting adversities to offer life-changing support in a historic moment of global turmoil, funders must learn, adapt, and evolve alongside them.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-kind-of-support-do-human-rights-activists-need-during-covid-19/

Shalini Randeria’s lecture on Press Freedom in the time of Coronavirus

July 10, 2020

On 30 April 2020 at the occasion of World Press Freedom Day the Graduate Institute in Geneva organised a lecture by Shalini Randeria Professor, Anthropology and Sociology and Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, on “Defending Press Freedom in the Time of Coronavirus“. Even after 6 weeks it is still valid, here in full:

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

The coronavirus crisis has provided a welcome pretext for soft authoritarian regimes the world over to strengthen their hold on power, with their declared states of exception potentially becoming the new normal. Curbing press freedom was among illiberal rule’s casualties even prior to the pandemic; attacks against independent newspapers and TV channels have not been limited to the Trump Presidency, which is notorious for its charge of “fake news” against critical reporters. But neutrality of the press can be a risky principle in the face of “alternative facts” such as Trump’s recent home remedies for the coronavirus.

The USA was ranked 45th out of 180 countries for its hostility towards news media in Reporters without Borders’ recently published World Press Freedom Index, with China (ranked 117th), Iraq and Iran among the countries mentioned for censoring coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Instead of suppressing the spread of COVID-19, placing limits on press freedom could backfire, not only by reducing public awareness about the grave risks of the virus, but also preventing public debate about steps needed to mitigate the risks.

Moreover, this gag on press freedom compounds an unprecedented lockdown in which parliaments – even in liberal democracies – are hardly functioning, courts are not in regular session, street protests are impossible due to restrictions on the right to assembly, elections have been cancelled (for the most part), and universities are closed.

Under these circumstances, a free press is the only institution of countervailing power that could hold a government to account.

A widespread anti-press sentiment along with the detention, intimidation and jailing of activists and journalists, has become the order of the day in Turkey and India, to name but a few of the countries witnessing systematic assaults on press freedom in recent years, assaults that have escalated under the conditions created by the curtailment of civil liberties due to the threat of coronavirus.

Hungary suspended its parliament and further curbed freedom of expression, giving Prime Minister Orban unfettered emergency powers to rule by decree. China expelled American journalists for reporting on the dangers of the virus, while Iraq temporarily withdrew Reuter’s license after it published a story on the government’s under-reporting of COVID-19 cases.

On 10 April 2020, The New York Times reported that 28,000 workers at news companies in the USA had lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. It is unlikely that the news industry will receive the federal aid that it is pleading for to prevent further job losses and closures.

What Buzzfeed has called “media extinction” comes in the wake of decades of layoffs and the shutting down of small local and regional newspapers, but also of large, progressive news sites, such as ThinkProgress in 2019. Fox News, however, continues to gather strength, posting record ratings in the first quarter of this year.

The commercialisation of the public sphere, along with the enormous concentration of power in the hands of very few media companies, which are closely linked to politicians in many a liberal democracy, spells danger for press freedom, as does repression by authoritarian governments. Both trends result in a near monopoly over information.

The WHO’s Director-General alerted us recently that the pandemic is also an “infodemic”, one that has given a fillip to spurious conspiracy theories circulating widely in various social media: “fake news” spread not only by ill-informed private individuals or ill-intentioned groups but also by governments.

But it has drawn attention once again to the dangers of “dead” or “buried” news suppressed by those in authority along with the deployment of all kinds of strategies to control information and mute public debate.

The rhetoric of the pandemic as “war” against an invisible enemy employed in France, as much as in China and the US, serves the same function.

Liberal democracies need strong civil society organisations that can mobilise public opinion and foster public debate, monitor the functioning of institutions, and hold politicians and public officials responsible.

In the absence of the freedom of the press, neither protest nor dissent can be voiced. The COVID-19 crisis may have accelerated the speed of the movement towards the slippery slope of dismantling democracy and human rights in many parts of the world.

https://graduateinstitute.ch/communications/news/defending-press-freedom-time-coronavirus

30 “information heroes” honored by Reporters Without Borders

June 16, 2020

Coronavirus “information heroes” – journalism that saves lives

On 15 June t2020 he NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a list of 30 coronavirus “information heroes” – 30 journalists, whistleblowers and media outlets whose courage, perseverance or capacity to innovate has helped to circulate reliable and vital information during the Covid-19 pandemic. See the list

Every crisis produces its heroes. Around the world there are journalists, whistleblowers and media outlets that have managed to overcome the barriers to information created since the start of the pandemic. Through their reporting or by means of initiatives that have needed courage, audacity and determination, they have provided access to trustworthy and quality information, helped to resist censorship, and combatted the runaway disinformation that threatens public health.

Some people have taken such big risks to report the reality of the pandemic that they have died as a result, while others have disappeared or have been jailed,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Prosecuted, attacked, insulted – many have paid a high price for defending the right to information and for combatting the rumours and disinformation that aggravate the consequences of this public health crisis. These new heroes remind us that journalism can save lives. They deserve our attention and admiration.”

The list compiled by RSF, which is not intended to be exhaustive, includes both well-known media figures and people the public have not heard of. Although they come from all five main continents, nearly a third of these 30 heroes are from Asia, where the pandemic originated. Six are from Europe and Central Asia, and the others are from Africa, the Americas and the Middle East.

What most of these heroes have in common is the fact that they revealed information highlighting the pandemic’s gravity or their government’s mismanagement of the crisis. Some are veteran reporters like Ana Lalić in Serbia or combative investigators like Blaž Zgaga in Slovenia, Andjouza Abouheir in Comoros and Sergei Satsukin Belarus. However, others are ordinary citizens who, in response to the urgency and gravity of the public health crisis, decided to blow the whistle with the aim of saving as many lives a possible. It was an eye doctor, Li Wenliang, who first alerted the world to the existence of a fast-spreading disease in December 2019. And it was a lawyer, Chen Qiushi, who posted videos on his blog revealing the chaos in the hospitals in Wuhan, the site of the initial Covid-19 outbreak. Li died of the virus while Chen was forcibly quarantined and never reappeared.

You often pay dearly for the truth. In Venezuela, freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas spent 12 days in prison for a tweet questioning official pandemic figures. In India, newspaper reporter Vijay Vineet is facing a possible six-month jail sentence for reporting that lockdown restrictions forced hungry kids to eat cattle fodder. In Bangladesh, the well-known cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore is facing a possible life sentence for posting cartoons on Facebook about politics during the Covid-19 crisis that alluded, inter alia, to corruption.

Others have avoided prison but can no longer work. After a lengthy and violent police interrogation over an article questioning the Kingdom of Eswatini’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, Swati Newsweek website editor Eugene Dube had to flee to neighbouring South Africa. Chris Buckley, a Beijing-based reporter for the New York Times, was forced to leave China after spending 76 days in Wuhan at the height of the outbreak. For the first time in 24 years, his visa was not renewed.

Many of these heroes displayed courage in resisting pressure and censorship. They include Caixin, an independent English and Chinese-language media outlet in Beijing whose reporting has questioned the Chinese government’s narrative. For some, such as Afghan reporter Anisseh Shahid, it took courage to simply keep reporting in the field with the threat of infection compounding the threat of a Taliban attack. In the United States, several White House correspondents have distinguished themselves by their perseverance in adversity. Despite constant attacks by President Trump and his aides, they continue week after week to question his handling of the pandemic.

This exceptional crisis has also produced innovative initiatives that have helped to get the facts out and combat disinformation. In Africa, the Ivorian web radio WA FM and the Togolese news site TogoCheck were created to combat rumours and fake news and disseminate trustworthy information that the public can use to protect themselves and their health. In Brazil, alternative media outlets pooled resources to form a “Gabinete de crise” to inform the abandoned inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, while the Wayuri Network’s journalists have risen to the challenge of informing more than 750 indigenous communities in the Amazon. In Russia, 25 media outlets formed Syndicate-100 to make it easier for medical personnel, who have been hit hard by the epidemic, to report problems and alert the public.

Finally, RSF pays a special tribute to journalists in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s business capital and the site of Latin America’s biggest Covid-19 outbreak. The photos of bodies in Guayaquil’s streets have gone around the world. Despite being unprepared and lacking personal protective equipment, the city’s journalists have continued to work and to report in locations with a high infection rate. And this has taken a heavy toll. Thirteen of them have died of the virus.

https://rsf.org/en/news/coronavirus-information-heroes-journalism-saves-lives

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

Coalition of 187 global organisations issues joint statement re the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on LGBTI

June 11, 2020

Drafted by ILGA World, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), COC, OutRight Action International, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights (RFSL), GATE and ARC International, the statement was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in advance of its 44th session on 22 June 2020.

The statement addresses several issues, including:

  • the right to health;
  • the rise of stigma and discrimination and scapegoating of LGBTI persons;
  • access to housing, water and sanitation;
  • the right to work and impacts on livelihood; and
  • civic space restrictions.

While acknowledging that actions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic are urgent and necessary, signatories of the statement urge UN Member States and stakeholders to ensure that international human rights obligations are complied with, and specific vulnerabilities of LGBTI persons are taken into account, during the implication of such emergency response measures.

Five key recommendations to States and stakeholders are included in the statement, including:

  • ensure accessibility of health care and services to every person, including sexual and reproductive health, without discrimination of any kind;
  • comply with international human rights laws and standards when implementing emergency measures, following requirements of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC);
  • guarantee that shelters are inclusive for all persons regardless of their SOGIESC and implement measures allowing LGBTI persons to report violence and discrimination suffered in a private context, including at homes and shelters;
  • ensure that emergency measures to address the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, as well as recovery plans, are inclusive to LGBTI persons – especially to trans, older and homeless LGBTI persons; and
  • ensure access to national, regional and international systems of accountability. States and stakeholders should implement lines of action designed to sustain and ensure the continuity of the engagement of civil society and human rights defenders in UN bodies and mechanisms.

In its conclusion, the statement urges authorities ‘to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing misconceptions, prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination against persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics.’

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/18/17-may-was-international-day-against-homophobia-covid-19-makes-things-worse/

https://www.curvemag.com/us/ibahri-signs-joint-statement-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-lgbti-persons-human-rights/

Virtual Human Rights Council adopts President’s statement on implications of COVID-19

May 30, 2020

On 29 May 2020 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a decision appealing to States to ensure human rights were at the front and centre of national responses to the pandemic and not side-lined while contending with the multiple ill effects of the virus on their societies.

Today’s decision is a profound reminder of the far-reaching effects of this deadly virus on all aspects of our livelihoods and our rights which we cannot take for granted”, stated Council President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger. “We are all in this together, and we must act together with a sense of purpose if we are going to achieve our common agenda to promote and protect human rights around the globe”, she added.

The President’s Statement, presented by Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger, and adopted by the 47 member States of the human rights body by silence procedure, “calls upon States to ensure that all human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled while combatting the pandemic and that their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are in full compliance with their human rights obligations and commitments”.

The adopted statement also calls on High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to produce a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world, including highlighting good practices and areas of concern, to be presented at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council scheduled to take place in February/March 2021. [One is to hope that it will include a hard look at the fragmentation of Covid-19 relate policy statements, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/27/proliferation-of-human-rights-bodies-guidance-on-covid-19/]

States also invited the High Commissioner to present an oral update on the human rights impact of COVID-19 at the 44th session of the Council which is still scheduled to start on 22 June, which is expected to set the tone for similar statements addressing the multiple human rights angles of the virus during the planned three-week meeting. Since suspending its 43rd session on 13 March due to coronavirus restrictions, the Human Rights Council has been conducting its business in a virtual manner holding regular Bureau meetings, with States and NGOs, and three “virtual informal conversations”, including with the High Commissioner and Special Procedures who have issued more than 90 press releases and statements addressing COVID-19.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-adopts-president-s-statement-human-rights-implications-covid-19

4 June 2020 Webinar on business and human rights in the context of COVID-19

May 27, 2020

Having just posted a report on the prolifiration of intergovernmental responses to the Corona virus pandemic [https://wp.me/pQKto-4ob], it perhaps good to point to the webinar that Business & human rights is organising on 4 June 2020 on Risks and Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

This webinar will have a focus on the risks and protection of HRDs, particularly labour rights and land/environmental defenders and ensuring their participation in the post-pandemic recovery.

Date & Time: 4 June, 4.15 – 5.15 (ICT) / 10.15 – 11.15 (BST)

It will have two parts: a closed and an open session. The closed session – happening on Jitsi – will be a safe space for civil society organisations, human rights defenders, including labour rights and land and environmental defenders, labour unions, and journalists to jointly define practical recommendations on what governments and companies can do to address human rights situation, particularly of labour, land, environmental defenders and civic freedoms, in the context of COVID-19. This part of the webinar is invite-only.

The second part – happening on Zoom – will be an open session, will be an opportunity for civil society, defenders, and journalists to interact with government and business representatives and discuss how companies, governments and civil society can work together to ensure all stakeholders are able to shape recovery efforts, and make sure they are human rights compliant. Anyone is free to join us in the public session by RSVP-ing below.

Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19

May 27, 2020

On 22 May 2020 in “Just Security” [see: https://www.justsecurity.org/about-us/) published a post ” Mapping the Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19 Mitigation “. It is in some ways rather critical of the response by intergovernmental bodies in the human rights area when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts by pointing out that they have collectively put out more than 150 statements on respecting human rights during the pandemic since late February. ..To help those interested in keeping track of the many statements, the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published a webpage – COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies – listing and linking to all relevant press releases and other guidance. This article serves to provide an overview of – and initial response to – the nature, scope, and sources of human rights advice available to States in the context of the pandemic. Having myself contributed with my blog to the proliferation of policy repsonse by NGOs and IGOs, I feel that this piece deserves full citation:

Read the rest of this entry »

17 May was International Day against Homophobia: COVID-19 makes things worse

May 18, 2020

The commemoration on 17 May comes as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic which has increased the vulnerability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) a large group of United Nations and international human rights experts (for names see the link below) call on States and other stakeholders to urgently take into account the impact of COVID-19 on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse (LGBT) persons when designing, implementing and evaluating the measures to combat the pandemic.

…..
COVID-19, and the measures taken to address it, exacerbate inequalities and discrimination. The existence of criminalization laws, for example, makes LGBT persons more vulnerable to police abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention in the context of movement restrictions and curfews. While contributing to the fight against the pandemic by staying at home, LGBT children, youths and elders are forced to endure prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members, which exacerbates rates of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse, as well as damage to mental health. In many jurisdictions, LGBT persons, particularly those most impoverished or without proper documentation, rely overwhelmingly on informal economies made impossible by COVID-19 restrictions. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and the loss of income might also increase the vulnerabilities of LGBT persons to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The reallocation of health resources has also created or exacerbated shortages of antiretrovirals for those living with HIV, while also impacting the ability of trans men and women to receive hormonal therapy or gender-affirming care. Gender-based curfew laws and policies have reportedly condemned gender-diverse persons to permanent seclusion while making trans individuals targets for humiliation and violence when going out.  

The pandemic has also created a context conducive to increased persecution. Some States have enacted measures which intentionally target LGBT persons under the guise of public health, including proposing legislation to deny transgender and gender diverse persons of their legal recognition. Hate speech explicitly or implicitly inciting violence against LGBT persons has been on the rise, including discourse by prominent political or religious leaders blaming the pandemic on the existence of LGBT persons in the community. Surveillance and other digital technologies enacted to track COVID-19 carriers increase risks of infringing privacy and exacerbating stigma.

………We therefore urge States and other stakeholders, on the eve of this 17 May 2020 and in times of COVID-19, to give visibility to and protect LGBT persons in the context of the pandemic. We call on States to pursue all means necessary – including conducting research, adopting legislation, public policy, and ensuring access to justice mechanisms – to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing misconceptions, prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination against persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. We urge all stakeholders, particularly States, to urgently implement lines of action designed to sustain and ensure the continuity of the work of civil society and human rights defenders – the capacities existing within this sector must not be put in peril. And, to effectively meet these objectives, we urge States to engage with LGBT persons, organizations and communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of the measures adopted to respond to the pandemic.The history of LGBT persons, like others subjected to discrimination and violence, has been one of suffering, endurance and hope – a vital struggle for freedom and equality in the face of singular adversity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we call upon State authorities to listen to the particular concerns of LGBT persons, respect their expertise over their own lives and communities, and accept their solidarity in the construction of new realities of freedom and equality for humankind. 

Already facing bias, attacks and murder simply for who they are or whom they love, many LGBTI people are experiencing heightened stigma as a result of the virus, as well as new obstacles when seeking health care,” added UN SG Guterres. There are also reports of COVID-19 directives being misused by police to target LGBTI individuals and organizations.”

“LGBTI people are often exposed to additional stigma, discrimination and violence, including when seeking medical services – and perhaps saddest of all, within their own families during lock-downs. They are also in some places being treated as scapegoats for the spread of the virus,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said. Referencing the theme for the international day, Ms. Bachelet urged everyone to stand up against hate and ‘break the silence’ surrounding the discrimination and violence suffered by LGBTI people.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/21/nine-things-everyone-needs-to-know-about-international-lgbti-rights/

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/covid-19-the-suffering-and-resilience-of-lgbt-persons-must-be-visible-and-inform-the-actions-of-states

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064232