Posts Tagged ‘populism’

James Goldston adds voice to debate on future of the human rights movement

August 21, 2019

, Executive Director of the Open Society Justice Initiative and previously in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, wrote on 20 August 2019 an opinion piece in ‘Balkan Insight’ entitled: Illiberal Populism: A Wake-Up Call for Human Rights”. His conclusion is that human rights defenders need to up their game but be under no illusion that they alone can defend liberal values. “The battle against illiberal populism will ultimately be won in the arenas of politics and power — in voting booths, legislative offices, the media and the streets.
The criticisms – although overblown especially by populist leaders – contain truth, and they lead to clear prescriptions, says Goldston: We must pay more attention to economic suffering. We must relearn how to speak less like lawyers and more like people. And we must work more collaboratively with like-minded groups that don’t identify themselves as rights defenders, but whose contributions — whether through science, technology, economics, or the arts — can foster rights awareness.

Some of this is happening, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/05/amnesty-internationals-global-assembly-2019-deserves-more-attention-big-shifts-coming-up/

.. But rolling back reactionary politics worldwide requires not just rights activism but also deeper engagement in political debate and elections. That’s a task not just for the rights movement, but for everyone.The author notes that although annual philanthropic funding for “human rights and social justice” has increased worldwide in recent years, it remains under $3 billion. {and human rights defenders a tiney partof that, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/important-report-to-help-you-understand-human-rights-grantmaking/]

……

Illiberal Populism: A Wake-Up Call for Human Rights

UN secretary-general attacks populists in Charlemagne Prize speech

June 5, 2019

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in Aachen | Florian Ebener/Getty Image
The human rights agenda is losing ground to nationalist agendas, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned: “Many people are turning inwards looking at a golden age that probably never was,” he said of populists, religious extremists and nationalists.  Accepting the prize for work done in the service of Europe’s unification, the former Portuguese prime minister said that there is no alternative to the European Union, as no country can meet current challenges alone.

..He called on the Continent to come to grips with some serious challenges, such as migration, climate change and the disruption created by technological developments.

While he noted that many societies are today multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious, Guterres stressed that there is work to be done to ensure that each community is respected and that it feels it belongs to society as a whole.

Guterres also praised Europe’s 1-year-old General Data Protection Regulation, which sets rules for how companies and other entities have to deal with data protection and people’s privacy in the current digital world. The law is a testament to how the EU can ensure the protection of human rights, he said.

On how to revigorate the human rights ides, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/30/positive-communication-is-the-only-way-forward-for-effective-human-rights-work/

Breitbart tries its hands on the Italian migration situation

May 24, 2019

The screamng headline “Italian media has alleged that pro-migrant activists and leftist politicians are behind an attack by the United Nations on the immigration of policy of populist Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.” is a give away. It is indeed from Breitbart News (24 May 2019). I will not often refer to this source but thought that it would good to see what kind of nonsense is produced and effectivley reaches a lot of people. I will let the piece below speak for itself, including the almost comical notion that UN Rapporteur Michel Forst should not work with Front Line Defedners.

For the migration defenders context in Italy see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/. Read the rest of this entry »

Right-wing Nationalism Undermines Human Rights work by UN

May 12, 2019

Under the title “Rise of Right-wing Nationalism Undermines Human Rights Worldwide”

The rise of right-wing nationalism and the proliferation of authoritarian governments have undermined human rights in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. As a result, some of the international human rights experts – designated as UN Rapporteurs – have either been politically ostracized, denied permission to visit countries on “fact-finding missions” or threatened with expulsion, along with the suspension of work permits.

The Philippines government, a vociferously authoritarian regime, has renewed allegations against Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/02/duterte-there-is-no-war-on-human-rights-defenders-only-on-criminals/]

…Anna-Karin Holmlund, Senior UN Advocate at Amnesty International, told IPS “We have witnessed several deeply worrying personal attacks by UN Member States against the independent experts, including personal attacks, threats of prosecution, public agitation and physical violence in the past year”…

Meanwhile, the Government of Burundi has closed down the UN Human Rights Office triggering a protest from Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/final-step-burundi-closes-down-un-office/ ]

And under the Trump administration, the US has ceased to cooperate with some of the UN Rapporteurs, and specifically an investigation on the plight of migrants on the Mexican border where some of them have been sexually assaulted—abuses which have remained unreported and unprosecuted. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/us-ngos-react-furiously-to-visa-restrictions-imposed-on-icc-investigators-by-trump-administration/]

The government of Myanmar has barred a UN expert from visiting the country to probe the status of Rohingya refugees.

In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, postponed an official visit to Morocco because the government “has not been able to ensure a programme of work in accordance with the needs of the mandate and the terms of reference for country visits by special procedures.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/21/special-rapporteur-diego-garcia-sayan-not-swayed-by-moroccan-assurances-for-his-visit/]

Referring to the situation in Colombia, Robert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said May 10: “We are alarmed by the strikingly high number of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, and by the fact that this terrible trend seems to be worsening”…

And last month, Israel revoked the work permit for Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch, prompting a protest from the United Nations……According to a report in the New York Times March 10, Leilana Farha, the UN Special Envoy for Housing was “shocked” to discover that some of the Egyptians she interviewed in Cairo’s poor areas “had suffered reprisals for talking to her.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/%5D

..

Urmila Bhoola of South Africa, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, told IPS she has visited Niger, Belgium, Nigeria, El Salvador, Mauritania, Paraguay and, lastly Italy, in October 2018. She pointed out that “country visits are only conducted upon invitation from governments”. “I have issued requests for country-visits to many countries but due to the mandate’s name and focus, member states are often reluctant to invite the mandate on contemporary forms of slavery, to conduct a visit”. In this sense, she pointed out, member states may not openly refuse a visit but may not reply to country visit requests….

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/rise-right-wing-nationalism-undermines-human-rights-worldwide/

 

Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2019 goes to Hungarian Márta Pardavi

April 5, 2019

Hungarian human rights lawyer Márta Pardavi has been awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2019. As an outspoken critic of the Hungarian government and its policies, Márta is often smeared and her work discredited. The award is a recognition of her work of many years, fighting against the attempts to systematically dismantle democracy, normalisation of xenophobia and hate crimes in Hungary.

Márta Pardavi is the Co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, one of Hungary’s leading human rights organisations. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee is a watchdog organisation that protects human dignity and the rule of law through legal and public advocacy methods. Being both vocal and successful in its activities, and particularly because of their work to support asylum seekers, the organisation has become a prime target of the government’s toxic campaigns.

“Democracy is under threat all over the world and now we see what authoritarians do when they get to power. They target critics, human rights defenders and treat marginalised groups as threats to society. We see this happening in Hungary, but also in other countries such as Poland. This award sends a very strong message, that our work is recognised, and that we as civil society organisations will continue to defend democratic values”, said Márta Pardavi.

Márta Pardavi, Civil Rights Defender of The Year 2019

“For many years, human rights lawyer Márta Pardavi has courageously defended civil and political rights in Hungary. She is leading the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s work in the field of refugee protection, and with dignity and professionalism, confronts those who attempt to systematically dismantle civil society and normalise xenophobia and hate crimes. For her dedication and exceptional contribution to resist inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable, Márta is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2019”, , said the Board of Civil Rights Defenders in its motivation.

During the first two decades of Hungary’s post-communist history, the country was a young but stable democracy, and a role-model of successful transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Today, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been in power almost a decade, a period during which Hungary has undergone dramatic changes. Too many posts in this blog have been devoted to this, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/hungary/.

….But despite this climate, human rights defenders and human rights organisations continue to challenge state policies and propaganda, and the public support for their activities is growing.

“Many civil society organisations are working to address this and while it was probably both unwanted and unintended, the Hungarian government’s pressure has made us better at working together, making us stronger. And the same is true for the government’s anti-NGO campaigns – we have seen that civil society support is growing as an unintended consequence of the state propaganda”, said Márta Pardavi.

For  more on the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-award

https://crd.org/2019/04/04/civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-2019-marta-pardavi/

 

Human Rights Defenders’ issues in the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council

February 20, 2019

Based on the – as usual – excellent briefing by the International Service for human Rights on the key issues on the agenda of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council (starting on 25 February 2019), I am focusing on the items that concern human rights defenders most.

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 40th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 25 February 2019 to 22 March 2019.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions.

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders

The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, on the situation of human rights defenders working on rights related to land and environment, in particular the specific risks faced by women human rights defenders, to combat impunity for attacks against them, and ensure full civil society participation in development and the management of natural resources. The resolution should call on States to commit to conditioning the provision of diplomatic support to business – such as export credit guarantees and trade support – on companies’ commitment to respect, consult and protect defenders. It should also acknowledge the increasing willingness of some companies to speak out against threats and attacks on human rights defenders, and to raise the bar on accountability for companies who don’t.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on women human rights defenders on 28 February. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/17/latest-report-by-special-rapporteur-on-women-human-rights-defenders-is-now-available/]

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. [I did almost too many posts on this, see recent ones: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue including:

  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • The appointment of UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

However, ISHR and most NGOs remains deeply concerned about reprisals against defenders who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistently with previous calls, urges all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out. (In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals)

Country-specific:

China

The past year was marked by vitally important monitoring and review of China’s human rights situation by the United Nations human rights system. The upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council provides a key opportunity for States to reinforce the issues raised over the last year, and express collective concern about worsening rights abuse in China and the government’s failure to follow through on its obligations and commitments.

ISHR and almost 40 other organisations are calling on the Council to adopt a resolution addressing human rights in China, with particular focus on Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minority groups, over a million of whom are being interned and detained in Xianjiang region alone. [see: https://www.ifex.org/china/2019/02/19/xinjiang-resolution/]

Saudi Arabia

If the international community is serious about contributing to advancing women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, it should recognise Saudi women human rights defenders as agents of change and urge the Saudi authorities to take all necessary measures to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for them to continue their vital work. ISHR recalls that in November 2018, Saudi Arabia underwent its Universal Periodic Review where at least 23 States called for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists in the kingdom. Over 170 organisations from across the globe have previously called for the Council to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country. [see also how Saudi Arabia is trying to cover up its violations: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/%5D

Burundi

At last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, who will present its oral briefing on 12 March at 12:00. ISHR continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/final-step-burundi-closes-down-un-office/]

Other thematic reports and country situations

The Council will also consider the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on several occasions. The High Commissioner will present a report on the issue and the Special Rapporteur will present her annual report focused on national security restrictions on civic space, as well as reports of the visits to TunisiaSaudi Arabia, Sri Lanka,  France and Belgium. [see inter alia: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/anti-terrorism-legislation/]

The Council will consider several reports on torture, including the annual report of the Special Rapporteur, the reports from his visits to Serbia and Kosovo, Ukraine, and Argentina, and two reports by the Secretary General on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and the Special Fund established by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

At this 40th session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally.

Country situations

The High Commissioner will present her first annual report to the Council on 6 March at 10:00. In addition, the Council will consider reports by the High Commissioner and mandate holders on several country situations. The Council is also expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. The country-specific debates include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan 
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
  • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
  • Interactive dialogue on the OHCHR report on Sri Lanka
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine 
  • High Commissioner oral briefings and Secretary General reports on the following countries: Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Yemen and Afghanistan

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on several countries and provides an opportunity for Saudi Arabia, China, Nigeria and Chad to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 40th session held on 11 February 2019, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes four panels of discussion and 108 reports. States also announced at least 15 resolutions but more can resolutions can be expected. These include:

  • Rights of Child (GRULAC and the EU)
  • Human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (EU, Japan)
  • Human rights situation in Myanmar (EU)
  • Human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Morocco, Norway, Peru, Romania, Republic of Korea, Tunisia)
  • Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (UK, Germany, Macedonia)
  • Human rights situation in South Sudan (UK)
  • Human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom)
  • Human rights defenders (Norway)
  • Human rights situation in Iran (Macedonia, Moldova, UK, Sweden)

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived onhttp://webtv.un.org. These panel discussions include:

  • Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Human rights in the light of multilateralism: opportunities, challenges and the way forward” which will take place on 25 February at 16:00.
  • Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty, titled “Human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty, in particular with respect to the rights to non-discrimination and equality” which will take place on 26 February at 09:00.
  • Debate on the mitigation and countering of rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies (for the Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), which will take place on 15 March at 16:00. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/24/mea-at-25-high-level-anniversary-panel-looks-at-human-rights-in-crisis/]

Side events

Many side event will be organized by NGOs (you can download the draft list of NGO events here). the ISHR is organizing at least 3 that are of particular interest to human rights defenders:

  • Protection of women human rights defenders, 1 March from 11:30 to 13:00 in Room XXV
  • Can the UPR advance Freedom of Expression in China?, 13 March from 13:30 to 14:30 in Room XXIII
  • 20 years after the adoption of the HRD Declaration: The positive experience of West Africa on the development of national laws protecting defenders, 20 March 15:00 to 16:00 in Room XXIII

Also relevant are:

  • Reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, organised by Forum-Asia, will take place on 28 February, at 14:00 (time and location TBC). This side event aims to provide the international community with information on the Government’s implementation of the resolution 30/1 from the perspectives of civil society, and share proposals for further action by the Human Rights Council.
  • Counter terrorism laws and civic space, organised by the Civic Space Initiative (A19, CIVICUS, ICNL and WMD) and will take place on 1 March at 10:30 (time and location TBC).
  • Escazu and Beyond: Strengthening the global normative framework on protecting environmental defenders, organised by CIVICUS and will take place on 5 March at 11:00 (time and location TBC). The side event aims to bring together civil society representatives, UN bodies and State representatives to discuss their intersecting role in promoting and protecting civic space for environmental defenders.
  • Saudi Arabia : Time for accountability, organised by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, to take place on 4 March.
  • Film screening of the Long Haul: a documentary tribute to human rights activist and professor Sir Nigel Rodley, organised by the International Commission of Jurists and the Permanent Mission of the UK. It will take place on 7 March from 13:00 to 15:00.
  • South Sudan: No sustainable peace without justice, organised by DefendDefenders. It will highlight ongoing grave violations in South Sudan despite the signing of the Revitalised Peace Agreement, lack of domestic accountability, and the need to renew the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights (CoHR) in South Sudan. It will take place on 8 March from 13:00-14:00 in Room XXIV (time and location TBC).
  • Human rights in Myanmar, organised by Forum Asia, will take place on 11 March at 16:00 (time and location TBC). Defenders from Myanmar will present their perspectives on the next steps the Human Rights Council should take to ensure justice and accountability for mass atrocity crimes, to address root causes, and provide support for victims.
  • Human rights in Malaysia, organised by Forum Asia, will take place on 13 March at 13:00 (time and location TBC). Following Malaysia’s UPR in November 2018, civil society from the country will suggest steps for the government to implement its UPR recommendations, while engaging with civil society and the national human rights institution in the process.

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2019. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/09/ishr-sets-out-the-priorities-for-the-human-rights-council-in-2019/]

If you want to stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC40 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc40-key-issues-agenda-march-2019-session-0

26 February: lecture on populism and human rights by Michael Ignatieff in Geneva

February 10, 2019

The populist upsurge in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and in established democracies like the United States has exposed the political vulnerability of rule of law as a cornerstone of liberal democracy. It is not just in authoritarian populist states that the independence of judges and the authority of law have come under attack in the name of a majoritarian conception of democracy. This suggests that the rule of law has always stood in a relation of tension with other principles of democracy, including majority rule and an independent media. The lecture explores these renewed political pressures on rule of law using contemporary examples drawn from the US, the UK and Hungary. [for some of my posts on populism, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/populism/]

Tuesday 26 February 2019, 18:30 – 20:00 in the Auditorium IVAN PICTET | Maison de la Paix, Geneva

Michael Ignatieff is the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017). [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/08/11825/]

The lecture will be moderated by Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and Rector of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen Institute (IWM) in Vienna.

This event is organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

To register: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/events-1/past-events.html/_/events/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/2019/law-populism-and-liberal-democra

 

Dan David Prize for Defending Democracy to Reporters Without Borders and Michael Ignatieff

February 8, 2019

The internationally Dan David Prize annually awards three prizes of US $1 million each to outstanding figures and organizations whose efforts have made outstanding humanistic, scientific and technological contributions and represent remarkable achievement in selected fields within the three dimensions of time – Past, Present and Future. This year’s fields were: Macro History, Defending Democracy, and Combatting Climate Change.

On 6 February 2019 WEBWIRE reported that the  Laureates in the “Present” dimension, in the field of Defending Democracy, are: Reporters Without Borders, an international organization helping to sustain the freedom of the press across national boundaries; and Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University in Budapest.

Reporters Without Borders, also known under its French name Reporters sans frontières (RSF), defends freedom, independence and pluralism of journalism. It monitors government policies regarding the press and other media, and provides material, financial and psychological support for journalists and newspapers discriminated against and persecuted by the authorities. ..RSF has launched in 2018 a key initiative about Information and democracy. by creating an international commission composed by 25 prominent figures from 18 nationalities, including Nobel laureates, famous journalists facing authoritarian strongmen and specialists of new technologies. This commission adopted the “International Declaration on Information and Democracy”, which aims at establishing basic principles for the global information and communication space. 12 heads of Governments and States committed to sign a pledge on Information and Democracy based on this declaration.

RSF also launched the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), with the aim of promoting journalistic methods, editorial independence, media transparency, and respect for journalistic ethics by giving concrete advantages (especially technological and economic ones) to news media that adhere to standards defined collaboratively in a process of self-regulation. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/30/world-press-freedom-index-2018-is-out-colorful-but-disheartening/]

Michael Ignatieff has advocated for democracy around the world as a reporter, a champion of human rights, and as one of the first to warn against the rise of ethnic nationalism. In particular, he is acknowledged for his leadership as the President and Rector of the Central European University in Budapest, standing in the front lines against the campaign to stifle academic freedom, free expression and pluralism in the country.

The liberal democratic order faces a rising tide of new authoritarianism and populism; the very values that have sustained freedom and democracy are called into question,” observed Ariel David, a member of the Dan David Prize’s board and son of the Prize founder. “Reporters Without Borders and Michael Ignatieff are being recognized for their leadership in the daily struggle to protect freedom of the press and freedom of academia. These basic liberties are pillars of democracy and it is no coincidence that the media and universities are often the primary targets of the populist and authoritarian regimes that have risen to power.” The Dan David Prize is named after the late Mr. Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist whose vision is the driving force behind the international Dan David Prize.  His aim was to reward those who have made a lasting impact on society and to help young students and entrepreneurs become the scholars and leaders of the future.

https://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=235457

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

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