Posts Tagged ‘profile’

Profile of Nicoline Nwenushi wazeh Tumasang from Cameroon

March 6, 2021

On 29 January 2021 the ISHR published this interview with Nicoline Nwenushi wazeh Tumasang, an inspiring human rights defender from Cameroon who shares her story of hope, resilience and fight for gender equality.

I am Nicoline Nwenushi wazeh Tumasang, a gender and development specialist, jurist, human rights defender and civil society activist. I am also the CEO and founder of Pathways for Women’s Empowerment and Development and its Integrated agricultural Training Center (PaWED/IATC), whose missions are to ensure a gender just society in which men and women enjoy equity, contribute and benefit as equal partners in the development of the country and the world. I am also one of the chairs of Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement (CAWOPEM).

My priority areas of intervention include but are not limited to research on women’s equal and meaningful participation; empowerment for women and girl’s for economic rights and freedom; campaign and advocacy towards the realisation of the right to education for crisis-affected and displaced children and youth; advocacy and campaign to end the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon and limit atrocities especially sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) on women and girls; capacity and movement building; advocacy and lobbying; networking and fundraising.

The year is 2050 : what does the world look like – in particular for women, ethnic minorities, LGBTI people, etc. ?

It is a world where gender and social justice prevails and all stakeholders work in synergy to ensure equity, safety, and contribute their full potential and benefit as common humanity….Through designing advocacy and campaign strategies, empowering, creating awareness and holding service providers accountable. Contributing to building the resilience of the vulnerable masses and creating safe spaces for women, girls and other socially vulnerable groups.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

Before joining the civil society world as a human rights defender, I palpated vulnerability in accessing justice. These vulnerabilities, especially that of widows, triggered my passion to defend human rights. However, the outbreak of the Anglophone crisis in 2016 was a decisive period for me.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work?

Although I have personally not faced any physical attacks and threats, our work has been greatly impeded by intimidation from government, shrinking civic space measures, insecurity due to the ongoing armed conflicts and government’s denial to call for ceasefire, as well as threats and intimidation from the non-State armed groups.

What could be done for you to be able to work and live safely?

A specific legislation on the protection of human rights defenders particularly women human rights defenders, scrupulous punishment of offenders and compensation for damage will provide us with a safe and conducive working environment. Also, funding of our projects will give our work better visibility and respect.

How does the Covid-19 pandemic affect your work?

From an economic perspective, COVID-19 and the lockdown measures have devastating effects on the women’s economic empowerment projects that we were running hitherto. Our inability to sell three thousand (3000) broiler chickens in our Integrated Agricultural Training Center (IATC) has caused us damages worth some $8000 and a risk for the Microfinance institution to forfeit our assets used as collateral to obtain the loan. This equally means that the women who were beneficiaries of this project and had gained a certain degree of financial independence and security from gender-based violence have lost their livelihood activities and will have to strive to start all over again. Furthermore, telecommuting has left most of our beneficiaries behind due to the lack of android gadgets, sustainable connectivity and power supply.

Photo credit (in order of appearance): PaWED; Center regional delegation of MINPROF for PAWED; Yaoundé’s Women’s March against Kumba killings

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-nicoline-nwenushi-wazeh-tumasang-cameroon?fbclid=IwAR2Ri-UkKELjcenwPqC3FKLeh4mVHS2WzWVDMKqX9boNpiVhwUENN2VDpZE

Profile in Persecution: Hasan Radhi AlBaqali

March 3, 2021

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) posted on 18 the following profile on Hasan Radhi AlBaqali who was a 28-year-old security personnel at a private company when he was arrested by Omani authorities on 22 February 2016 at Muscat Airport Oman based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. During his detention, he was subjected to torture and to several human rights violations. Recently, his health condition has been deteriorating, and he has not been provided with adequate medical care. He is currently held in Jau Prison.

At the end of 2012, Hasan left Bahrain into exile. While being in exile between 2012 and 2016, he was convicted in absentia with: 1) Disturbing the peace, 2) rioting, 3) placement of objects resembling explosive devices, 4) arson, 5) possession and fabrication of combustible or explosive materials, 6) possession of arms, 7) travelling to Iran to receive military training, and 8) membership in a terrorist cell. Consequently, he was sentenced in absentia to nearly 100 years in prison. It is believed that Hasan’s conviction was due to his peaceful participation in the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.

On 22 February 2016, airport security officers at Muscat Airport Oman arrested Hasan based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. Then, he was turned over to Bahraini security forces, who put him aboard one of their private planes, drugged him via several injections which knocked him unconscious, and flew him back to Bahrain. His personal belongings including phone, money, passport, and national ID card were taken from him en route and have not since been returned to him or his family. After arriving in Bahrain, Hasan was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) building in Adliya.

From the date of arrest till the next day, 23 February, Hasan was subject to enforced disappearance until 10 p.m. of 23 February when he was able to call his family, telling them that he was in the CID building. The family received this call after multiple attempts to reach him through the Omani Embassy and through several human rights organizations.

Hasan was interrogated for 15 days between the CID and Building 15 of Jau Prison, where he was tortured by National Security Agency (NSA) officers and CID officers in order to give a false confession. He was beaten on his head, neck, and stomach, subjected to electric shocks to his testicles, placed naked in a cold room and submerged in cold water, deprived from sleep, and threatened with his life and wife. As a result, he confessed to the charges attributed to him. During this period, Hasan’s lawyer was unable to attend the interrogations, and Hasan was unable to meet his parents. Instead, he was able to only call them four times during this entire period, where the duration of each call was less than one minute.

Hasan was prevented from attending his trial, and he was brought to court once but was forced to remain in the police vehicle outside under the pretext that there were not enough police officers present to guard him inside the courtroom. Consequently, he was convicted in November 2016 of attempting to kill a policeman, although he was outside Bahrain when this incident happened. Therefore, he was sentenced to an additional 7 years in prison. Hasan appealed his sentence, and on 2 February 2017, the Appeals Court reduced his sentence from seven years to five years. On 15 May 2018, in an unfair mass trial that involved 138 individuals, the Bahraini Fourth High Criminal Court convicted Hasan of: 1) training to the use of firearms and explosive devices for terrorist purposes, (2) possession of firearms without a license and using them for purposes contrary to safety and public order for terrorist aims, and (3) the charge of joining a terrorist group, Zulfiqar Brigades, whose purpose violates the provisions of the constitution. Consequently, he was sentenced to another 7 years in prison, in addition to the revocation of his nationality.

In November 2016, following the issuance of the seven-year sentence against him, Hasan was subjected to a second and more severe round of torture. He was beaten on his head, stomach, and waist, and he was repeatedly electroshocked on his testicles. This torture led to a severe deterioration in Hasan’s health. He suffered from loss of focus due to frequent head injuries, severe injury to his testicles as he began to urinate blood, and chronic abdominal pain.

At that point, the Office of the Public Prosecutor (PPO) ordered that he be examined at Salmaniya hospital. The decision may have been motivated by the fact that Hasan’s sister filed complaints with both the Office of the Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit. An examination at the hospital on 19 November 2016 found that he had suffered “testicular trauma,” with edematic swelling of the left testicle and epididymis to more than one third larger than the normal size. He was removed from the hospital and returned to prison before he could complete a proper course of treatment, and the family has not been given full access to his hospital records. The PPO insists that the medical records should stay under their custody and that if the family wants any medical information they should seek it through the prosecutor’s office. Throughout this second round of interrogations, Hasan was also denied access to an attorney, was not allowed to receive visits from his family, and his phone calls to family were limited to a single minute.

Recently, Hasan’s health has been deteriorating since the injuries sustained from torture were not treated properly. He was seeing blood in his urine and feces as well as feeling severe pain in his stomach, kidneys, and bladder. In light of this, in the beginning of January, he was taken to an appointment in the Military Hospital and did the PCR test ahead of a surgery for varicose in his testicles which was scheduled for the third week of January 2021. However, instead of being returned to Building 14 and placed in isolation, he was taken to solitary confinement in the isolation building, Building 15 of Jau Prison. He was not informed of the steps to be followed ahead of the surgery, leaving him with no knowledge about his situation. Additionally, he was not given any medication to ease the pain he was feeling. Finally, within the closed cell, he could not know day from night and as such could not pray. These conditions took a psychological toll on Hasan since the pain, coupled with the isolation and lack of knowledge about his fate, brought him to the point of hysteria. Furthermore, he had been prohibited from contacting his family since his transfer, therefore making him forcibly disappeared. He was only able to call them on 16 January after going on a hunger strike in order to pressure authorities to grant him the right to call. In that call, he explained to them what occurred over the last two weeks and requested that they contact governmental bodies in order to alleviate his suffering. Although the family did contact the Ombudsman Office, because they are not routinely informed about his medical situation, they could not provide all the relevant information.

Hasan’s arrest, confiscation of his belongings, torture, unfair mass trial, denial of medical treatment, and enforced disappearance violate both the Bahraini Constitution as well as international obligations to which Bahrain is party, namely, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since Hasan was arrested for political reasons and given that his conviction depended on forced false confessions, we can conclude that he is arbitrarily detained by Bahraini authorities.

Accordingly, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on Bahraini authorities to uphold their human rights obligations by investigating all allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, and denial of proper medical treatment to ensure accountability. ADHRB also demands that Hasan be provided with the required medical treatment for all the injuries and health problems resulting from torture within safe and healthy conditions. ADHRB reiterates its demand for Bahraini authorities to release Hasan immediately, along with all political prisoners that were tried based on confessions taken under torture.

A human rights defender’s story: Alicia Wallace from the Bahamas

February 17, 2021

On 15 January 2021 The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published a long interview with Alicia Wallace, a human rights defender from the Bahamas. Here it is in full:

“I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.”

The year is 2050. What does the world look like – in particular for women, Black people, LGBTI people?

We are making strides toward equality and we are centered in all decision-making processes. We are protected and respected. It is a norm for us to be in positions of leadership. Diversity is expected. We are as safe at night as anyone is during the day. We have access to education, healthcare, food, and housing. All of our needs are met. Redistribution of wealth is in progress. Our survival is not dependent on or propping up the capitalist system. We are defining justice for ourselves. We recognise ourselves as the source of our own healing.

How did your work help achieve the vision you just described?

My work provoked conversation. It made information, from academic theory to changemaking methodologies, accessible to everyone. I created spaces where people have been comfortable to question, critique, challenge, learn, share, and create. I developed tools for all of us to be able to think outside of the reality we used to know. We knew we were not bound to it because I put significant emphasis on imagination and future-making. I found a way to fight the injustice we faced and facilitate collaborative visioning, imagining, and creating. We channeled our rage, weaponised hope (inspired by the work of artist Angelika Wallace-Whitfield), and we came together to co-create the futures. I helped to create tools and systems to enable that practice.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

I am a queer Black woman. I have student loan debt. I am unwaged. I am a survivor of violence. My life is a collection of moments that make it necessary for me to defend and promote human rights if I am to survive and leave the world better than I met it. Perhaps what prompts me to action is recognition of another important fact—I have privilege. I have had experiences I may never speak of, and I know that my circumstances could be a lot worse. It is important for me to use what I have to help us all get what we ought to have had a long time ago. For me, the defining moment happens over and over again, when I feel rage threatens to control my body, and I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to turn channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work? 

I’ve been experiencing rape and death threats for the past six years. Most of it has been online. The most troubling threats come following participation in direct action or agitation from people in positions of influence. In 2018, when I participated in the 71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, a radio personality made dangerous statements about me on the air. The same person incited the first threats of violence against me in 2014, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I made a report to the CEDAW focal point on reprisals, but the outcome was not favorable. A government representative called me to suggest I report the incident to the police, but did not offer support in doing so and could not cite an offense, according to Bahamian law, that I would be reporting. It was a ridiculous suggestion that gave me no help. The government, of course, reported its “action” to the UN, even claiming that I said I no longer felt unsafe. I told the focal point that this was untrue and that, at the very least, the government should have been instructed to publicly state its support for human rights defenders, enact hate speech and hate crime legislation, and direct the radio personality to cease and desist all reference to me and any other human rights defenders. It would have cost the UN nothing to support me and other human rights defenders by making these recommendations to the government. Instead, I am left to fend for myself in a place where I continue to live and work without protection, legal or otherwise.

On this see what was stated by Andrew Gilmour in December 2019: “The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.”[from: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/]

What could be done for you to be able to work safely and effectively?

Institutions and people in positions of power need to rebuke violence, harassment, and threats of violence. The State needs to enact legislation against hate crimes and hate speech. It needs to publicly state its support of human rights defenders, make it clear that the relationship between itself and advocates is complementary, not adversarial, and assert that it will protect us. The United Nations and other bodies in control of international mechanisms and reporting processes need to take responsibility for the safety and security of the human rights defenders it depends on to monitor and evaluate State action. These organisations need to raise the bar, calling States to higher standards. They have to make it clear to States and the general public that the safety and security of human rights defenders are a matter of priority before we are detained, disappeared, or murdered.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work? 

It has, as predicted, increased the volume of work. People, especially vulnerable people, are suffering. The pandemic has created crisis after crisis, from domestic violence and unpaid care work to unemployment and disruption of education. In anticipation of the effects of COVID-19 and State actions in response to it, Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR)—where I am a steering committee member—produced guidelines for feminist policymaking during this time. This is one of the most critical pieces of work I have contributed to this year. In addition, I have been engaged in rapid response, working on policy recommendations to end gender-based violence, and continuing the regular programming of Equality Bahamas. It has been a busy year, but one of learning and where I have been able to see and strengthen my own agility. Human rights defenders have to be able to anticipate, prepare, respond, pivot, assess, and revise at all times, and especially during the crisis. The work has intensified and been taxing, but I believe that we have learned more this year than we have in years gone by, people are more aware of inequalities, and in addition to getting more people on our team, we can get institutions to make substantive change.

You are the producer of a monthly newsletter called The Culture RUSH. How does fusing pop culture with social justice help achieve your vision?

I want people to understand the movement for justice and equality. I want to see a broader understanding of feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, and the importance of  centering vulnerable people in decision-making processes, programmes, and activities. We need more people on our team. That requires two main actions: communicating in clear, accessible ways, and meeting them where they are in order to deliver the message. Academic text, feminist theory, and the language of institutions and advocacy are not as appealing or accessible as pop culture. People know what’s going on in Cardi B’s marriage, Megan Thee Stallion’s friend group, and the lives of real housewives. If WAP gets us talking about women’s pleasure, let’s talk about  women in rap, lyrics, and music videos. In The Culture RUSH, I make connections between pop culture and social justice. In January 2021, I am starting Scorch, a paid subscription newsletter breaking feminist theory and academic text down into digestible bites (similar to Blinkist). I’m excited about making human rights and social justice accessible and interesting to wider audiences. When people are interested, they’re more likely to get invested, and when they’re invested, we can convince them to take action with us. People power is how we win.

Thank you, Alicia! 


Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, gender expert, and research consultant. She is the Director of Equality Bahamas which promotes women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as human rights through public education, community programming, and advocacy. Her work has included a two-year educational campaign ahead of a national referendum on gender and citizenship, the design and coordination of  Women’s Wednesdays—a month event series bringing women together to share knowledge and ideas—and management of a disaster relief donation and distribution center. Alicia is also a steering committee member of Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR). She has a weekly column on social and political issues in the Bahamian daily newspaper The Tribune and has published academic papers. 

Photo credits in order of appearance: Blair J. Meadows, Equality and Justice Alliance, Equality Bahamas

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-alicia-wallace-bahamas

Writer Tran Duc Thach sentenced to 12 years in Vietnam

December 22, 2020

PEN America reported on 17 December 2020 that writer Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in Vietnamese prison.

This picture taken and released by the Vietnam News Agency on 15 December 2020 shows Vietnamese writer Tran Duc Thach during his court trial in Nghe An province, as he was sentenced to 12 years in jail. -/Vietnam News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Vietnamese writer Tran Duc Thach was convicted on charges of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s criminal code. He was arrested in April for Facebook posts criticizing corruption in government and human rights abuses in the country.

Poet, blogger, and human rights defender Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years probation. PEN America condemned the sentencing today as a repressive attack on free expression in the country. “This is a shocking and shameful outcome in a case that never should have been brought to trial in the first place. Thach should be celebrated for his civic engagement and advocacy, not subjected to mistreatment and imprisonment,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “This draconian sentence is another blatant violation of basic human rights and stifling of freedom of expression by the Vietnamese state in the name of national security. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thach was initially arrested on April 23 for “activities against the people’s government.” Authorities reportedly used several Facebook posts he published criticizing government corruption and human rights violations as the primary implicating evidence. During the trial, provincial prosecutors claimed that Thach’s activism and writings “threatened social stability, encroached upon national independence and socialism, reduced people’s trust in the political institution of the state of Vietnam, and infringed upon national security and social safety and order.”

Thach is a prolific writer, whose work includes his 1988 novel Doi Ban Tu (Two Companions in Prison), his memoir Ho Chon Nguoi Am Anh (A Haunting Collective Grave), and his poetry collection Dieu Chua Thay (Things Still Untold). His writing commonly deals with human rights issues within Vietnam. Thach is also co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society group that has been repeatedly targeted by authorities for their activism, with several members of the group apprehended in recent years. Thach has faced repeated harassment for his writing and his activism.

Thach is just one of those who has been targeted by the Vietnamese government’s heightened campaign against internet personalities, rights advocates, and independent journalists, a campaign that has become more pronounced in the run-up to the country’s 13th National Congress scheduled for January 2021. According to the NGO Vietnam Human Rights Defenders, there have been 17 subversion-based convictions this year alone while 31 individuals are currently held in pre-trial detention. Additionally, the government has leveraged the pandemic to arrest dissidents on the pretext of public security and stifling COVID-related disinformation.

PEN America has been active in advocating for other targeted or imprisoned Vietnamese writers, including Pham Doan TrangNguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”), and Nguyen Huu Vinh, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In PEN America’s 2019 Freedom to Write Index, released earlier this year, the organization noted that the lengthy imprisonment of bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Ho Van Hai “demonstrate the longstanding risks associated with online expression in the country.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/01/facebook-and-youtube-are-allowing-themselves-to-become-tools-of-the-vietnamese-authorities-censorship-and-harassment/

Environmental defenders at the Young Activists Summit speak their mind

November 20, 2020

Kyra Dupont for Geneva Solutions News of 20 November 2020 interviewed two environmental defenders: Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old Ugandan and and Solar Impulse founder Piccard to see how their actions resonated.

The Young Activists Summit (YAS) taking place online today aims to shine a spotlight on young activists who are advancing climate action – but also foster greater dialogue between generations. Young activists have become the face of today’s climate crisis. But the fight did not start with Generation Z – nor are they the only ones affected by the realities of global warming. The Young Activists Summit, hosted in Geneva, will give young people a platform to speak up on climate issues, while at the same time encouraging dialogue with an older generation of climate influencers, including Solar Impulse founder Bertrand Piccard.

Roots of a fight. Vanessa Nakate grew up in Kampala in a middle-class family inspired by a father trader in solar batteries and involved in community work as a member of the Rotary Club. “Like my father, I wanted to help out those in my community, find a way to change their lives.” As she was looking for a meaningful cause to dedicate herself, the student in business administration discovered climate change.

I had already seen floods, landslides, droughts but I had never connected them to climate change because in schools in Uganda this is something we do not worry about: it either belongs to the past, or to the future. When I started reading about it, I grew to understand that this is the current threat humanity faces right now. I decided that I had to take action and be part of the climate movement.

Vanessa Davos.jpg

Like Nakate, Piccard – the son of oceanographer Jacques Piccard – was also inspired by family members. While studying at medical school (he became psychiatrist) he started fighting for cleaner aviation and ultralight airplanes.

I was horrified by how human beings could pollute and all the disrespectful way of treating the environment.”

The power of youth. Worried by the unusually high temperatures hitting Uganda, Nakate began protesting against climate inaction in front of Ugandan parliament in 2019. She also staged hunger strikes every Friday for three months. It did not have much impact nor did it attract much attention being the sole protester outside the government gates. But an activist was born. Eventually, other young Ugandans started responding to her calls on social media.

For Piccard too, beginnings were hard. To his great surprise, his fiercest opponents were the ecologists who did not want cleaner aviation, only fewer planes. It took a good 35 years to win his case. Today, he is respected for realising the impossible: he is the visionary initiator of Solar Impulse, the first zero-fuel aircraft with perpetual autonomy. Thanks to his round-the-world flight, the “explorer for sustainability” was able to launch the Solar Impulse Foundation and its 1,000 solutions to protect the environment in a profitable way. He is now listened to by chiefs of state and respected institutions like the European Commission or the United Nations.

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Swiss psychiatrist and pilot Bertrand Piccard receives the Knight of the Legion d’Honneur insignia from French President François Hollande. (Credit: Keystone / Etienne Laurent)

Injustice as a driving force. Nakate’s energy comes from her desire to end the injustice afflicting her country and the African continent in general. In Uganda, 90 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for their survival, “a matter of life and death”.

This is why she is not afraid to tell the truth and speak up in front of decision-makers. Convinced young people can make a difference, she founded Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up Movement Africa before joining the ranks of a handful of activists at the UN climate summit, COP25, in Madrid in December 2019 where she met Greta Thunberg. She was also invited by Arctic Basecamp in Davos where she co-wrote a letter to the participants of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

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Climate activists Isabelle Axelsson, Loukina Tille, Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg, and Luisa Neubaue, from left, arrive for a news conference in Davos on 24 January 2020. (Credit: Keystone / Markus Schreiber)

Thousands of young people mobilised for climate change, a powerful grassroots movement that did not exist in the same way when Piccard started to voice his concerns.

“They are very fortunate to be such a big group with such a loud voice. When I was their age, I was very lonely and not a lot of people were speaking about these climate issues. It gives us strength. It gives power. People listen to them. But it also gives them responsibility.”

The keys to sucess. In order for youth aspirations to bear fruit, their message must be practical and concrete with very targeted requests, says Piccard. Development aid should help incentivise developing countries to be cleaner, more efficient and sustainable so donors and investors know that they are not losing their money.

“To say they want to fight climate change is too vague (…) By being practical and voicing specific and understandable claims, they will have a much more positive outcome than if they just protest and say “we are paying the cost of rich countries”.”

Refusing economic growth is purely idealistic, according to Piccard. Its reduction would lead to social chaos, the bankruptcy of thousands of companies and the unemployment of millions of people. The decision-makers must find an advantage in investing in developing countries. Solidarity, yes, but with good leverage.

“To fight poverty in developing countries, you need to localize the production of energy and give energy access to everybody. And you can only do that with renewable energies. If you put solar energy in a village in Uganda, it will create a local economy. People who have solar energy will sell the electricity to people charging their phones, doing business, pumps for irrigation. They will store it in batteries and sell the electricity further…”

Nakate says she is fighting for the fact that the impacts of climate change are not borne equally or fairly between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations. Many victims of climate change have disproportionately low responsibility for causing the emissions responsible for global warming. Meanwhile the $1bn promised by the Green Climate Fund is still underfunded. A balance still needs to be found between the young activist’s call for climate justice and proper use of funds seniors like Piccard insist on.

The power of education. Well aware of the interactions between climate and social justice, Nakate started to work on the Green Schools Project, a renewable energy initiative which aims to transition schools to solar energy and install eco-friendly stoves. This way, she hopes to bring transition to renewable energy in rural schools and give them access to electricity and a better education.

“I never had the opportunity to learn about it, to understand the danger that our planet is facing. If you know that you are in a burning house, you will do everything you can to stop the fire. So, I believe in creating awareness, and this awareness only comes through education.”

Nakate especially believes in educating girls, the number six tool to fight the climate crisis on the list of the DrawDown project.

“There are a lot of different technologies to move towards sustainability but most of them need so much funding. Educating girls is something we can do right now. When you educate these girls from the most affected communities, it also benefits their families and cascades into their communities. They will make better decisions in their lives, have fewer children, survive the risk of hunger, resist school drop-outs, know how to build resilience. They are tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s campaigners, tomorrow’s scientists who will make the best decisions for their countries.”

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“Women leaders make the best decisions for their countries. We need more girls in decision-making positions,” says Nakate (Credit: Ronald Meyna)

Africa’s contribution to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions is less than four per cent of the total. But despite being one of the lowest emitters, it is the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Yes, those who are the least responsible are suffering the most and yes, it comes as an injustice, says Nakate. But like Piccard in his own time, she resorted to take control of her own destiny.

“We cannot lay back and feel comfortable because our emissions are limited. If we do not speak up for ourselves, we will continue experiencing direct impacts of climate change.”

About the Chilean American Poet and human rights defender, Marjorie Agosin

November 9, 2020

Jackie Abramian, contributor of ForbesWomen of 5 November 2020, gives a voice to Chilean-American poet, novelist, and human rights activist Marjorie Agosin. The piece is too rich to summarize, so here it is in full:

Chilean American Poet, Marjorie Agosin
Chilean American Poet, Marjorie Agosin. John Wiggins

Like a beam of light piercing through the darkest tunnels of human destitute, Chilean-American poet, novelist, and human rights activist, Marjorie Agosin unveils the misery of the marginalized, weaving Latin America’s brutal history with her own Jewish traditions of survival and endurance. Memory and remembrance surface and resurface as a constant in Agosin’s writing. She ­flirts with her ancestral ghosts to unveil universal pain, desperation of loss and exile, and a yearning to belong.

Braided Memories - Marjorie agosin
In Braided Memories (Solis Press, 2020), Marjorie Agosin awakens her great-grandmother, Helena … [+] Marjorie Agosin

Her most recent poetry collection, Braided Memories (Solis Press, 2020), with photographer Samuel Shats, awakens her great-grandmother, Helena Broder’s memory, and escape from Vienna for Chile after the 1938 “Night of Broken Glass.” Agosin journeys to Prague and Vienna to shed light on her ancestors–finding their Stolperstein–stumbling stones of brass plate inscriptions of Holocaust victims’ name and life dates, set before their homes. Her great grand cousins’ spirits fly over Vienna “like a Chagall dream.” In Helena’s imprisoned “silent gaze” she imagines her train ride from Vienna with strangers “familiar in the knowledge of certain escape.” We learn how Helena taught Agosin to “leave glasses of wine before the vacant places” of the dead, how she “acquired the blessing of forgetfulness” and left to “roam on the other side of imaginary spaces.” Agosin, grateful for the remembering gift, becomes Helena’s “tranquil memory.

“The hand that writes knows before the actual writing foreshadows. I hear a voice, a spirit that comes to me—call it intuition or God. You either suppress it or follow it for the magic of discovery,” speaking in her gentle Chilean accent, Agosin is alone with her creative thoughts in spaces that make poetry happen. “Poetry is the soul of life, the language of sentiments. Poetry is not in a hurry—the world is in a hurry and that’s why we fail to see the most important problems of our civilization.”

As a human rights activist, Agosin’s 84 works of poetry, fiction, and literary criticisms have earned her the Pura Belpré Award, Letras de Oro Prize, Latino Literature Prize, Jeannette Rankin Award in Human Rights, U.N. Leadership Award for Human Rights, the Gabriela Mistral Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Chilean government, and the Fritz Redlich Human Rights Award by the Harvard Program on Refuge and Trauma. She holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MA and a Ph.D. from Indiana University–and has been a Professor in Latin American studies and Spanish at Wellesley College for over 30 years.

Born in the U.S., Agosin spent her childhood in Chile before the rumbles of a U.S.-backed coup sent her family fleeing the país de poetas (land of poets) to settle in the U.S. The coup overthrew the democratically elected socialist leader, Salvador Allende and on September 11, 1973 brought Augusto Pinochet to power. During the 17-year rule, Pinochet imprisoned, tortured and killed some 130,000 Chileans–and thousands “disappeared.”

Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love - Marjorie Agosin
Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love (U. of New Mexico Press, 1996) is Agosin’s landmark work with a … [+] Marjorie Agosin

Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love (U. of New Mexico Press, 1996) is Agosin’s landmark work with a foreword by Isabel Allende. It spans 30-years of interviews with members of Latin America’s most influential women’s resistance the Arpilleras (burlapin Spanish) movement. The tapestries of embroidered cloth scraps made by impoverished women memorialize the “disappeared” loved ones under Pinochet’s rule. Agosin worked with the initial group of 12 women and brought their stories to the world. They were part of the anti-Pinochet art workshops, funded by Vicarâia de Solidaridad human rights organization of the Chilean Catholic Church. The embroideries, smuggled and sold abroad, provided income for the destitute women. {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/22/arpilleras-making-a-come-back-as-blankets-that-protect/]

“As a woman and a mother, this is the most important work I’ve done–it changed my life,” Agosin was 24 when she first saw an Arpillera shown by the Chilean National Literature Prize-winning writer, Antonio Skármeta–whose book Ardiente paciencia inspired Academy Award-winning movie on Neruda, “IL Postino”.

Arpillera
Arpillera, means burlap in Spanish, a patchwork picture made by the women, became popular in Chile … [+] Marjorie Agosin

Like poetry, women’s distinct resistance movement reaches the core of what it means to be human, Agosin believes. The tapestries reveal an innate grief, immortalize memory, unfulfilled yearning to reunite with loved ones, and the trauma of lifelong scars.

In her most favorite poem The Most Unbelievable Part, Agosin explores how power corrupts and turns ordinary people into torturers. How in 1973 Pinochet designated La Esmeralda, the 1400 feet-long Chilean navy training vessel, into a detention and torture center for the “disappeared.”..

“Poetry is the intimacy of memory–it transcends history. The poem wrote the story of the tortures on La Esmeralda, not the other way around,” explains Agosin. “Torture is a metaphor for how power works—how a woman of privilege treats her maid.”

Considering Chile her home that gave her “a beautiful language” (she still writes in Spanish), and refuge to her family when they came on ships from war-torn Europe, Agosin’s exilic yearning of the familiar stranger expresses the constant pangs of un-belonging. In her Pura Belpré Award–winning young adult novel, I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Atheneum Books 2014)

Kids Post Summer Book Club Selections
WASHINGTON DC – JUNE 01: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by author Marjorie Agosin is one of the Kids … [+] The Washington Post via Getty Images

and its sequel, The Maps of Memory: Return to Butterfly Hill (Atheneum Books2020), Agosin recreates her happy childhood in Chile through the 11-year-old Celeste Marconi’s life. Her peaceful life, extended family, deep ties with the sea and the pelicans of the hill-town of Valparaiso unravel with the political shift to dictatorship. Celeste goes into exile to Maine and returns years later to find her country scarred by the brutality of dictatorship, and is determined to find her displaced classmates, re-build and heal her town and country. Like Celeste, Agosin is not totally at home in Chile.

“I’m home in books, poems, writings, friendships, history, travels–in places where Jews lived, and among trees and nature–human beings are not exiled from the beauty of the world,” Agosin immerses herself in her seacoast Maine home–which reminds her of Chile– surrounded by her garden dotted with quaint alcoves that invite the visitor to stop, rest, and embrace nature. “I’m at home in sacred places, from mosques to churches to synagogues.”

In A Cross and a Star: Memoirs of a Jewish Girl in Chile (Feminist Press, 1997)and Always from Somewhere Else: A Memoir of My Chilean Jewish Father (Feminist Press, 2000)Agosin meets her parents at history’s crossroads. Her father, as an infant with chickenpox, was hidden, crossed the ocean and was named Moisés. He became a medical doctor in Chile and later emigrated to the U.S., becoming a foreigner once again. Her blond, blue-eyed mother could only attend an impoverished rural school–not a Catholic school because she wasn’t baptized, nor the German school run by the Nazis.

“My mother’s story explains what’s it like to be a minority in south of Chile when the Nazi’s arrived–how Chile denied and marginalized its minorities and its indigenous people,” Agosin wonders why vast majority of Chile’s Jewish community stood in silence against Pinochet’s atrocities as she explores human rights abuses from Latin America to the unfair partition of Israel which offered a refuge for the Jewish people displaced by the Holocaust–and in process displaced the Palestinians. 

“Unfortunately Israel continues to suppress the Palestinian people that deserve the right of self-determination. To continue with the occupation of their lands violates the spirit of Israel as a vibrant democracy. Only a two state solution will allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and with the dignity each one deserves,” Agosin states.

Agosin is inspired by her “amazing group of politically engaged” students at Wellesley College whose worldview, commitment to academic learning, open expression, and internships across the world to engage with the vulnerable reflects in their “gratitude for the possibility of learning as they face economic and emotional challenges amidst a pandemic.” Her immense empathy and loyalty to amplify all injustices reveals an undeniable allegiance to the spiritual and universal values of preserving memory.

“Memory is the active cause. Memory will not remember itself, like the Stolperstein tiles. Memory is a process, a constant commitment; without it we won’t remember the future. Memory is the future of the past,” Agosin confirms.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackieabramian/2020/11/05/chilean-american-poet-marjorie-agosin-unpacks-remembrance-giving-the-future-a-past/?sh=5b80f5fb12f4

Profile interview with Ahmer Khan, a journalist from J&K with a mission

November 4, 2020

On 18 October 2020 the Week published an interesting interview with Ahmer Khan, an award winning multimedia journalist under the title: “Covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the trauma of J&K, my homeland’’

ahmer-khan Ahmer Khan, multimedia journalist from Kashmir

Ahmer Khan is an award-winning, multimedia journalist from Kashmir. He was nominated for the Emmys 2020 for the Vice News film, India Burning, which focused on the plight of the 200 million Muslims in the country after the rise of Hindu nationalism. Khan is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize by European Commission 2018, AFP Kate Webb Prize 2019, and the Human Rights Press Award 2020. He is also among the finalists for the Rory Peck Award 2020. He has contributed to major international publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, TIME, Al-Jazeera, Radio France International,, The Christian Science Monitor and Vice News, among others. Khan talks to THE WEEK about his career and what it is to be a journalist in Kashmir.

Edited excerpts:

Was it the camera or telling stories through visuals that you were attracted to? 

Well, it was a little bit of both. Kashmir and photography are directly proportional to each other. First, I used to click pictures with a Sony Ericson handset. But I always knew what I was going to do in future. So I studied journalism and worked simultaneously.   

What exactly did your work consist of in ‘India Burning’? 

..I was a local producer of the film and I shot some parts of the film as well. My responsibility was to take care of everything in Assam. From set-up to the execution.

Is there a reason why you work with international media rather than the national media?  

Yes, of course. I have never worked with any Indian organisation purposely. I did not want my stories to get distorted and manipulated the way editors of most of the Indian organisations do. I am grateful that I have found work elsewhere because there is too much saturation and it is hard for stories to get accepted anywhere now.  

How did you establish your name in the industry? 

I think I chose to report outside Kashmir from the beginning. I didn’t restrict myself to Kashmir or even India. I have reported from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That is something not everyone does.  

Has living amidst the conflict in Kashmir, in any way, affected you as a person and as a journalist?

Our home is a dystopian state. We all have had encounters affecting our lives forever. My father passed away when I was 10 years old. I think every job/assignment in Kashmir is scary. The fear of uncertainty is always there. 

You deal with more humanitarian stories, you are always in the middle of conflict and turbulence, you report on natural disasters and political disruptions. What is it that drives you to this beat? 

It all comes from the basic human tendency of wanting to explore more of what you have grown up seeing. I grew up in the ’90s in Kashmir when the turmoil was at its peak and then I witnessed the uprising from 2008, 2010 and the following years. I, like any other Kashmiri, witnessed young Kashmiris being killed, tortured and extreme human rights violations on the streets. It is too much to handle and process, but when one looks at the other side of the world, we see pain everywhere and start being grateful for what we have. I think for me, covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the daily trauma of my own homeland.  

How is covering stories in Kashmir different from other places in India?

In Kashmir, everything is way too personal. At times, we have to cover the stories while looking at the dead bodies of our own people. It is hard to keep aside your human side. But covering other human rights stories elsewhere and in mainland India, including Assam and Delhi has surely strengthened me more. Although, in Kashmir, it is getting extremely difficult to work freely as days pass. There is a constant fear of being muzzled for telling the truth. And, I think it’s happening across the South Asian countries.

You deal with a lot of life-threatening situations, you have also been harassed by the authorities. How does that make you feel? 

Most people in the media in Kashmir have faced harassment and intimidation by the state. We have recently seen journalists being booked in stringent terror laws. We are living through one of the most dangerous periods of all times for the Kashmiri press to work. It is natural to feel worried. There is a continuous fear of life for all of us. .. 

You identify yourself as a multimedia journalist. How is covering a story through writing, photography and videography different? 

I am quintessentially a photographer and videographer. I started writing because I know the media nowadays is shrinking into one multimedia space. One skill isn’t enough. So the work adds. When you go to cover the story, you have to shoot, take quotes, video interviews and also make sure that you have got all aspects of the story in terms of text, video and photos. It is hard work but satisfactory in many ways. I also do radio stories. In fact, my Lorenzo Natali Media award was for my first radio story for Radio France International. Being a freelance journalist, you have to keep up with the demands of editors as there is a lot of uncertainty. 

What do you have to say about the mainstream journalism that is turning blasphemous? 

What they are doing is not journalism. It is dangerous and authoritarian. If a journalist does not report about the oppressed, undermined or underprivileged, he or she is just doing PR. …

https://www.theweek.in/leisure/society/2020/10/18/covering-other-humanitarian-stories-helped-me-process-the-trauma-of-jandk-my-homeland.html

Fikile Nsthangashe: “I will die for my people” and she did..

November 2, 2020

Portrait of a Community Activist

In the Daily Maverick of 1 November 2020 Estelle Ellis tells the sad story of murdered land rights defender Fikile Ntshangase in South Africa

A strongly worded statement from a large number of civil society organisations in South Africa has condemned the death of KwaZulu-Natal community activist Fikile Ntshangashe who was gunned down in her home last week as lawyers were preparing for a groundbreaking appeal fighting an order that her community organisation and those who assisted them should pay for a failed attempt to stop further mining operations in the area.

I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” This was the quote that activists remembered Mama Fikile Nsthangashe by after she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni near Mtubatuba on 22 October 2020.

As the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), she was deeply involved in the challenge against the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. She was described by her fellow activists as a strong, passionate and principled leader.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court of Appeal will hear one of Nsthangashe’s final stands – an appeal in the case brought by MCEJO to stop the mining operations in the area.

According to a joint statement issued by environmental rights NGO Groundworks; Earthlife Africa; Global Environmental Trust, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Women Against Mining United in Action the South African Police were called on to act swiftly and arrest those responsible for her death.

The statement alleges that four gunmen arrived at Ntshangashe’s home on 22 October 2020 at about 18:30. Her 11-year-old grandson was with her. She was shot five times and died at the scene.

“Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele,” the statement reads. “Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and [her organisation’s] opposition to that expansion … Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to be signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Ntshangase refused to sign the agreement, which certain of her fellow sub-committee members signed, purportedly doing so on behalf of the organisation … She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MCEJO and that the agreement only benefited Tendele. She also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele. Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had spoken to her of a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature,” she added.

According to the statement the expansion of the mine would require the relocation of 21 families (19 of them MCEJO members) from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing. We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers,” the statement concluded.

Martin Mosweu from the Southern Africa Resource Watch said he was deeply saddened and angered by the killing of Ntshangase.

She was hailed as a courageous human rights defender by her community for standing against the Tendele Coal Mine expansion in violation of the right to a safe environment. The murder of Fikile Ntshangase is a cause of concern to the work of human rights defenders in South Africa and in the SADC region. Governments are failing in their international obligations to the Declaration of Human Rights by not protecting and supporting human rights defenders in the context of their work. In Southern Africa, people who live near mines continue to face threats of violence and intimidation from mining companies who blatantly disregard their socio-economic, land, and environmental rights. Human rights defenders continue to be threatened and killed for standing up against powerful mining companies that violate human rights, often with impunity and tacit support from governments. This is why many mining communities throughout the region are now taking a stand and demanding a new order, insisting on extractive projects that secure a beneficial win-win relationship, free and prior informed consent in involuntary displacements, and community engagement in all stages of the mining cycle for inter-generational sustainable livelihoods,” he added.

Papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal for a hearing on Tuesday, in one of the last battles that Ntshangase had been passionately fighting on behalf of her community, has painted a stark picture of the conflict in the area.

The appeal, brought by MCEJO and the Global Environmental Trust is against the refusal by the Pietermaritzburg High Court to issue an interdict to stop mining operations in the area.

The community claimed that the mine did not have the necessary environmental authorisation, lacked land use authorisation, had not removed or altered the traditional graves in the area according to law and had failed to comply with the Waste Act.

The mine, however, argued that it had all the valid mining rights and permissions to carry on with its operations. In papers filed at court, lawyers for Tendele, stressed that their operations were conducted in terms of valid Mining Rights and Environmental Management Programmes granted and approved by the Department of Mineral Resources in 2006 and that while the legislative framework had changed there were transitional measures put in place for mines like Tendele.

This, according to papers before court included the waste management at the mine.

According to papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), represented by advocate Max du Plessis SC; intervened in the matter because of its concerns that the judgment opened the door for mining companies to operate illegally. The CER also expressed its concern over a cost order made in the original case as this “would discourage communities from approaching the courts to defend their constitutional rights through the fear of being debilitated by having to pay the legal costs of industry and the state”.

For another land issue in South Africa, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/rural-women-in-south-africa-win-landmark-case-in-court/

Sierra Leone anti-FGM activist Rugiati Turay wins German human rights prize

October 30, 2020

Campaigner Rugiati Turay has won the Theodor Haecker human rights prize for fighting female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone. [for more on this and similar awards see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/23523519-3931-9E2E-2D4F-8F614F366500]

Rugiatu Turay, anti-FGM activist from Sierra Leone

When Rugiati Turay was 12, she was taken to an aunty together with her three sisters and a female cousin.

We were told it was just a visit,” Turay, now 47, recalls. “But I was grabbed and blindfolded and taken to a room. Women sat on me and held me down.”

Turay’s clitoris was then cut off. She still remembers the pain.

“I bled excessively and I almost lost my life. For one week, I could not walk,” Turay told DW. “All I knew was just the pain and the bleeding.”

Like Turay, some 90% of women and girls in Sierra Leone undergo female genital mutilation, or FGM. It is a cultural practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genital organs, such as the clitoris or labia.

In Sierra Leone, the cutting is part of the initiation into secret women’s societies, known as Bondo, that prepare girls for marriage and motherhood.

When she was cut as a girl, Turay didn’t have the knowledge to express what had happened to her. She just knew it was wrong, she said in a telephone interview from Lunsar, a town some 120 kilometers (74 miles) from the capital, Freetown. Rugiatu Turay works to persuade traditional practitioners to lay down the tools used to cut girls

“I started talking to my friends, explaining to them what I went through,” she said. “Because we were all eager … to become members of the Bondo society. But when I experienced what I experienced, I thought it is high time to talk to others and not to be fooled.”

More than a decade later, Turay found herself in Kalia refugee camp in Guinea, where she had fled Sierra Leone’s civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002. In the camp, she was shocked that amid the hardship and insanitary conditions of the camp, mothers were still organizing for their daughters to be cut.

That was the moment when Turay, who had trained and worked as a teacher before fleeing the fighting, started on her journey to campaign to stop female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone.

The nation is one of 28 African countries where female genital mutilation is practiced

“I decided [that] we needed to engage these people. They needed to know that we have run away from violence committed to us by people  and we are now perpetuating that violence on us,” she said.

In 2000 while still in Kalia camp, Turay founded the Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), together with a group of like-minded women, to reduce the incidence of FGM among the refugees.

The name was taken from the “strong and fearless” Amazonian warrior women from Greek mythology, explains Turay, chosen because “looking at the issues I was determined to address and knowing [Sierra Leone] and the people where I came from, I knew it was going to be a rough battle.”

In 2003, when she returned home after the end of the civil war, Turay started up a branch of the grassroots organization in her hometown of Lunsar.

As part of their activities, Turay and other AIM activists visit villages to talk to those involved in FGM, from women and girls, to local chiefs and imams. They also seek out the soweis, the traditional cutters, who earn a living from the practices. They seek to convince them to stop cutting and look for alternative livelihoods for these women. AIM has held several public ceremonies involving hundreds of soweis who have vowed to lay down their knives and razor blades.

It has also held a large alternative rites of passage lasting for 14 days to replace the traditional Bondo bush ceremony that girls usually pass through during initiation  but without the cutting.

As well as running a safe house for girls fleeing from FGM and other violence such as forced marriage, AIM has built a school that includes a curriculum teaching about cutting.

Turay’s work hasn’t been easy. Initially, she couldn’t even rent a building for AIM as no one wanted to have anything to do with an anti-FGM organization. Luckily, her father supported her efforts, turning over his own house to use as her office.

She, and others involved in the organization, have also faced numerous death threats as well as being banned by the village chief – something Turay says has only hardened her resolve.

“When you threaten me and say you’ll kill me, I come back and I engage you,” she said.

“I ask, ‘Why do you really want to kill me? Tell me, what have I done? Have I killed anyone? No, I want to change your beliefs that are not progressive, that have killed so many people, that have kept others quiet but suffering in silence’.”

And so I use those threats and I talk to the leaders of the secret society and I engage them.”

Because of coronavirus travel restrictions, Turay will attend the awards ceremony on October 24, 2020 virtually. Turay was nominated by the German women’s rights organization, Terres des Femmes, for the award.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/19/profile-of-fahma-mohamed-a-young-british-anti-fgm-human-rights-defender/


https://www.dw.com/en/sierra-leone-anti-fgm-activist-wins-german-human-rights-prize/a-55356392

Interview with Sarah Bireete, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance Uganda

October 3, 2020

The Business and human rights resource Centre on 18 august 2020 published an interview with Sarah Bireete, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), Uganda

Sarah Bireete – Personal Archive

Sarah Bireete is an energetic human rights defender from Uganda, who is currently busy setting up a working group on civic space research in the country, while also running the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog. We sat down with her to explore her views on trust between business and civil society, and how multinational companies should respond to a growingly heavy-handed response to protests in the country.

Hi Sarah! Please tell us about you and your work!

I am a lawyer, a Human rights activist, and the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog in Uganda. I also have my own social media channel, Good Morning Uganda, followed by over 20000 followers.

How are businesses in Uganda affecting civic space and human rights in general? Are they cooperating well with civil society or is there something that could be improved?

The first thing is that international companies should observe the laws of the country in which they operate and the international law and best practice. But the practice is that most international companies that come from democratic countries, where they respect people’s rights, when they come to Uganda they tend to be blind to people’s rights, especially labour rights, people’s protection, especially in risky sectors like the flower farms. We have had experiences in the country where women worked with no protection against the pesticides, and they experienced health hazards, which made them unable to fend for families.

One of the most shocking experiences was from the flower sector, where one of the embassies was protecting an irresponsible investor from their country against the labour rights of local people. It was really amazing that ambassador called the HRD directly, and threatened them to keep quiet about labour rights of ordinary women working on flower farms.

Enno Schröder Flower farm around Kampala, Uganda

In the oil sector as well, most multinational companies are ignoring the basic human rights, the right to property, clean environment, fair and prompt compensation. Civil society believes that most of them are not helpful as they are not upholding practices that are respected in their own countries and are not following best practices established by international processes, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. We are struggling with this, because we expect multinational companies to come in with an upper hand, and improve practice in oil governance in the country. What we expect is a partnership with developed countries, in line with international protocols governing diplomacy, and with companies based in this countries – this would help us improve the welfare of the people in the least developed countries. We don’t expect big companies to come in and negatively affect people and shrink space for civil society.

Is there trust between multinational companies and civil society in Uganda? Can multinational companies help civil society protect and expand civic space in some way?

Trust between civil society and multinationals gets eroded when we see them coming in to exploit the most vulnerable of our people.

Multinational companies come into the country and give work to mainly low wage workers – they have limited knowledge, they are vulnerable, they need to make a living for their families – and then they get exploited by people that we would expect would have higher protection standards. This erodes people’s trust because it appears as though they are just trying to exploit the situation, instead of trying to improve the welfare of society they’re coming into. But in the context of the business and human rights approach, we as civil society need to work a lot with these companies to show them that they shouldn’t lower standards – they should maintain the same standards as in their countries of origin.

Multinational companies should also work with civil society actors to help us push back against the government if it is shrinking civic space and to push the government to help improve the welfare of the people, as they make profit.

We have seen more attacks on journalists and opposition figures in Uganda in the past year, and more heavy-handed response to protests – how should have the business community reacted?

When there is unrest in the country, the companies will not be able to do their business they came to do. When people are not happy and are agitated, they will not deliver at their place of work. So these businesses need to come into the country, and make human rights a condition for them doing business in a country: that would ensure human rights are observed. In their conversations, they should tell the government that if they continue to violate human rights, they might suspend business there.

We expect multinationals to say to government ‘these are not the standards we expect to work in. They cannot make profit when country is not governable, so they should help improve the situation and tell government that they cannot violate human rights because it will make situation worse for everyone.