Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Poland and Israel: human rights defenders not welcome

May 9, 2018

For those who think that muzzling human rights defenders is an exclusively non-western affair, look at these examples: Poland and Israel.

On 9 May 2018 Katharina Rall, environment researcher at Human Rights Watch, critically looks at Poland‘s efforts to hamper the freedom of expression and demonstration by human rights defenders at the forthcoming climate summit, known as the COP24. It will bring together state parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and thousands of experts, journalists, businesses and nongovernmental groups.  UN experts cite concerns about the ban on spontaneous assemblies in Katowice during the talks, which will make it difficult for groups to respond to developments at the negotiations. In a letter sent to the Polish government last month they said that by “curtail[ing] the possibility of spontaneously expressing views about the unfolding of the climate talks and organizing peaceful assemblies to this effect”, the new law appears to go beyond the rights restrictions necessary to ensure security and safety at the conference. The UN experts also noted that the law “appears to give sweeping surveillance powers to the police and secret services to collect and process personal data about all COP24 participants”. This is a serious issue for the safety of climate activists at the summit. [The Polish government has yet to respond to the UN rights experts. But a reply from the Polish environment minister to similar concerns raised by the Bureau of the Aarhus Convention, a regional human rights and environmental body, has done little to dispel them.]

Just the day before, 8 May 2018, AP reported that Israel’s Interior Minister, Arieh Deri, has ordered the head of the local office of Human Rights Watch to leave the country within 14 days for allegedly supporting boycotts of Israel. HRW responded that it stands by Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen of Iraqi descent, and accused Israel of trying to muzzle criticism of its human rights record. It says neither it nor Shakir support boycotts, and that it will challenge the decision in court. Iain Levine, a Human Rights Watch official, says Israel’s actions, such as compiling a dossier on Shakir, and “deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook.” [In April last year his appointment had already let to controversy, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/27/human-rights-watch-granted-israeli-work-permit-in-the-end/]

http://news.trust.org//item/20180509072953-izwk3/

https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/israel-expel-human-rights-watch-rep-boycott-claims-55019948

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

——

37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

Human Rights NGOs in Europe no longer the standard to follow!

January 27, 2018

In January 2018 the EU Fundamental Rights Agcncy (FRA) published a Report “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU“. Its conclusion is that the situation is getting more difficult. Also, on 26 January 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published an interview with Michel Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders said that the EU are setting a bad example by allowing some of its members to stifle human rights groups, which is encouraging crackdowns elsewhere in the world.

In the interview done by Umberto Bacchi, Michel Forst said that the EU has historically done a good job supporting and protecting rights advocates worldwide but the bloc’s authority is now being undermined from within. Officials in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and other countries pointed at recent laws in Hungary and Poland to justify their own regulations which may curb the independence of non-governmental organisations.

There is a need for European countries to be more coherent … not to teach human rights outside of Europe and then not respecting human rights inside Europe,” said Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. Charities in dozens of countries, from Angola to India and Tajikistan have faced restrictions targeting their funding and operations over the past two years, according to an EU report. The trend is part of a global backlash on civil society that has seen rights activists in some parts of the world criminalised or branded as troublemakers, Forst stated.

Last year, Hungary introduced a measure requiring NGOs that get money from abroad to register with the state, a bill that NGOs say stigmatizes them and is intended to stifle independent voices. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/]. Poland instead introduced legislation to set up a centralised authority controlling charities’ funding. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/02/backsliding-on-civic-space-in-democracies-important-side-event-on-3-march-in-geneva/%5D. As countermeasure, the EU should boost direct funding of rights groups operating within its borders, Forst said. “What is absurd for me is that the EU is funding organisations in Latin America, in Africa – which is good – but there is no more funding for EU NGOs,” he said. Money should be allocated from a dedicated fund and not channelled through governments, he said.

Besides Europe, Forst also singled out Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers held in offshore camps, adding it was “not a safe place” for human rights defenders due to pressure from the government. A December report by Pro Bono Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, two rights groups, found Australian NGOs were often pressured into “self-silencing” their advocacy work fearing funding cuts and political retribution.

(Global civil society) space is shrinking because it is shrinking in Europe, because it is shrinking in the Americas, in Australia,” said Forst.

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The FRA’s report finds that civil society organisations in the European Union play a crucial role in promoting fundamental rights, but it has become harder for them to do so – due to both legal and practical restrictions. This report looks at the different types and patterns of challenges faced by civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU. While challenges exist in all EU Member States, their exact nature and extent vary. Data and research on this issue – including comparative research – are generally lacking. The report also highlights promising practices that can counteract these worrying patterns.

Backsliding on civic space in democracies – important side event on 3 March in Geneva

March 2, 2017

One of the side events in Geneva during the UN Human Rights Council that is of special importance for human rights defenders is held tomorrow, 3 March 2017, from 13:00 – 14:00, in Room XXI, Palais Des Nations, Geneva.

Across the world, well-established principles and standards fundamental to maintaining a safe and enabling environment for civil society are being questioned and threatened in mature and consolidated democracies. In both the global North and global South, governments with vibrant civil societies and constitutional and historical commitments based on their struggles for democracy and freedom are adopting increasingly hostile and corrosive policies and practices to suppress independent civil society voices. The event will provide an opportunity for the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and civil society leaders to reflect on the global climate for civil society operating in mature democracies and articulate key measures these states must take to ensure an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders both at home and at the UN Human Rights Council. In advance of their examination under the Universal Periodic Review in May 2017, the event will also bring together civil society leaders from India, Brazil, Poland, and South Africa to examine state backsliding on civic space norms.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-h…]

Panelists:

  • Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Camila Asano, Conectas – Brazil
  • Henri Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Association – India
  • Maciej Kozłowski, Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) – Poland
  • Corlett Letlojane, HURISA- South Africa

Moderator: Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research, CIVICUS

The event is co-sponsored by key international NGOs: –Amnesty InternationalCIVICUS, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Human Rights Defenders Alert India (HRDA), The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS)

https://www.forum-asia.org/?p=23168

Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Defender remembered by Aryeh Neier

March 31, 2014

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

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

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

Write for Rights – Amnesty International’s main campaign starts on 6 December

December 2, 2013

Write for Rights is one of Amnesty International’s major global campaigns

Write for Rights” is one of Amnesty International’s major global campaigns. AI is capable of getting its own outreach and does not need my blog but I want to refer to it anyway as it is such a quintessential human rights action model.   Read the rest of this entry »

Incoming President of UN Human Rights Council pledges support for human rights defenders

December 14, 2012

The incoming President of the Human Rights Council – Polish Ambassador  Remigiusz Henczel – pledged to continue the efforts of his predecessors in ensuring full participation of civil society and human rights defenders in the work of the UN’s main human rights body. He added that to make human rights a reality, the work of human rights defenders must be fully supported by the work of the Council. These positive remarks were made during the Council’s 7th organisational session (10 December) for the next cycle, which will start on 1 January 2013. The organisational session was the first meeting with the Council members newly elected by the General Assembly on 11 November 2012.

In her closing remarks as the outgoing President, Ambassador Dupuy Lasserre of Uruguay highlighted some of the successes and challenges of her 18-month term. She underscored the need for the Council to drive important ‘unpoliticised messages’ while involving a wide range of actors to promote and protect human rights. The President also highlighted the importance of strengthening the stance taken by the Council on reprisals to prevent intimidation against human rights defenders.

For those who are interested to know more about the Council or want to follow its proceedings more closely I recommend the International Service for Human Rights (http://www.ishr.ch/council) who also publishes the Human Rights Monitor, a non-governmental but unbiased take on the sometimes bewildering number of UN human rights bodies and procedures. The draft programme of work of the Council’s 22nd session in March 2013 is available on the OHCHR extranet and here.

ISHR-logo-colour-high

 

The newly elected members of the HRC are (by region):

  • Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone
  • Asia: Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates
  • Eastern Europe: Estonia, Montenegro
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela
  • Western Europe and Others: USA, Germany, Ireland

The members leaving at the end of 2012 are (by region):

  • Africa: Cameroun, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal
  • Asia: Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia
  • Eastern Europe: Hungary, Russian Federation
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay
  • Western Europe and Others: Belgium, Norway, USA

Also interesting to note that Belarus did not observe the diplomatic tradition of making complimentary statements but expressed concern about the election of a Polish diplomat as the next President of the Council and the ‘overrepresentation’ of EU members in important mandates. This discontent was clearly influenced by Poland’s leading role in the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus earlier this year.

Belarus regime confiscates office of NGO VIASNA

November 27, 2012

On 26 November 2012, the Belarusian authorities did the next step in their harassment of HRDs and confiscated the office of Human Rights Centre Viasna.

The seizure is connected to the case of Viasna’s chairman Ales Bialiatski, who in November 2011 was sentenced to 4,5 years in prison and confiscation of property. The office premises were registered on Ales Bialiatski personally, as Viasna for years has been denied legal registration by the authorities.

Viasna has had the office on Nezalezhnastsi Avenue for 12 years. The confiscation is the latest of many acts of harassment by the authorities against the organisation during the years. [Since Viasna has not been able to register and operate legally in Belarus, the organisation was forced to open private bank accounts abroad. In August 2011 Ales Bialiatski was arrested, suspected of serious tax evasion, after Lithuania and Poland had disclosed information about Belarusian individuals’ bank accounts, at the request of the Belarusian authorities. On 24 November 2011, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and confiscation of property.]

On 26 November, a final activity was arranged at the office as Viasna invited journalists, human rights defenders and others to the premises before the doors were to be sealed by the authorities. However, “Viasna will continue activities as usual”, says courageously Valiantsin Stefanovich, Viasna deputy Chairman.

Belarus clearly likes to thumb its nose at the UN Special Rapporteur!

Related articles

http://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/news/viasna-loses-its-office-in-minsk/