Posts Tagged ‘profile’

Chilean human rights defender, José (Pepe) Zalaquett, no more

February 22, 2020

Brazil remembers Sister Dorothy Stang murdered 15 years ago

February 13, 2020

Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is pictured in a 2004 file photo in Belem, northern Brazil.  (CNS/Reuters)

12 February 2020 was the 15th anniversary of Sr. Dorothy Stang‘s assassination in the Amazon region of Brazil. The nun was 73 when she was murdered on 12 February, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. She had lived in the country for nearly four decades and was known as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest. The U.S.-born nun is remembered as a crusader for the poor and the landless and for her love of the land and the Amazon forest.

Lise Alves, for the Catholic News Service, wrote about her on 12 February 2020:

She taught me how to be a missionary in Brazil; she was my mentor,” Sr. Rebeca Spires told Catholic News Service. Spires, who, like Stang, is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, said the first thing Stang gave her was Brazil’s land statute. “She was all about doing things within the law,” said Spires.

…She said that, in the early 2000s, Stang started to pressure public officials to combat land invasions by ranchers and large landowners, who wanted to take away areas occupied by smaller farms. The officials “became extremely irritated with her, with her persistence,” Spires said. “Although threatened with death, Dorothy never failed in her life’s mission, to fight for the poor of the land, so that they had their rights guaranteed and a dignified life,” read the statement issued by the Brazilian bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission to mark Stang’s death.Mary Cohen, a lawyer in Belem and a member of the Brazilian bishops’ justice and peace commission, was president of the human rights commission at Brazil’s lawyer association when Stang was in Anapu. Cohen remembered Stang’s determination, as the nun pushed and pressured government agencies into taking action. “She once slept on the steps of the INCRA (Institute for Agrarian Reform) so they would talk to her. She had a lot of determination, and that invigorated all of us,” said the lawyer. That determination made many people in the region angry. Trying to reduce the tension between landowners and peasants and their advocates, the lawyer’s association gave Stang a human rights award two months before she was killed.

We thought that more media attention and recognition of her work would keep her safe, that they (landowners and ranchers) would be deterred. We were wrong,” said the lawyer. And although Stang’s assassination made international headlines and caused worldwide commotion, those who continue her work say the threats today to the landless and their advocates are even greater. “There are still a lot of people being threatened, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s life,” Sr. Jane Dwyer, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur who worked closely with the murdered nun, told CNS.

Dwyer, who still lives in Anapu, told CNS she was uneasy about giving interviews over the telephone. She said that, since 2015, 19 landless, small-scale farmers had been assassinated over land conflicts in the area. “Nineteen in the last five years,” she said. “Of the 19 assassinations, in only one did authorities bring someone to justice,” added Spires, who works with the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council in Belem. Cohen said those who speak out today against the rich and powerful in the region continue to be threatened. “Her successor, Father Amaro (Jose Amaro Lopes de Souza), continues to be threatened, and when they were unable to scare him off, they accused him of extortion and inciting violence among landless peasants,” she said…

“The synod document is titled ‘Querida Amazonia’ (Beloved Amazonia), which … embodies what Sister Dorothy spoke of her entire life: ‘Dear Amazon, we are here to defend you, to protect you. Dear people of the Amazon, we are here to help you in your fight, in your resistance, in the recognition of your rights.'”

“Are You With Me?” – the life of Kevin Boyle

December 23, 2019

One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyleis the title of a piece by Charles Norchi (law professor) in Global Geneva of 6 December 2019. It is about the new book by Mike Chinoy about the life and work of Kevin Boyle, the Northern Irish human rights activist: “Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement”. It chronicles the life of a man who spanned civil rights in Northern Ireland and the human rights movement from the halls of academia to international organizations and tribunals.

Boyle, a scholar-teacher-advocate-counselor who, like Eleanor Roosevelt, occupied multiple roles in the human rights movement, played a significant role in helping to bring an end to this turmoil which also affected the United Kingdom itself, Ireland, Europe and the United States. Yet he remained an unsung hero, until this book.

…Chinoy delivers the reader to a front row seat of the late 20th Century human rights canvass – the Northern Ireland civil rights movement, advocacy before the European Court of Human Rights, academia, civil society and the flowering human rights movement. Boyle was at the forefront of it all. From his perch at the Queen’s University Law Faculty in Belfast, he drafted proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. He also shone a light upon the abuses perpetrated by the British army and Northern Ireland police in a landmark case to the European Commission on behalf of seven Northern Irish men who were interned without trial, beaten and tortured. He mobilized international law on behalf of victims of torture, unjust imprisonment, discrimination and defended freedom of expression, belief and association.

Boyle with former Irish president Mary Robinson during her stint as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (1997-2002).

Boyle also guided Amnesty International’s campaign against apartheid in South Africa, and spearheaded efforts to defend Salman Rushdie as Director of Article 19. Yet he never neglected human rights teaching, because students were the future. So he Directed the University of Essex Human Rights Law Centre and was founding Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland at Galway. When President Mary Robinson became United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she wisely appointed Boyle her chief legal advisor – so he moved to Geneva.

This human rights law professor, advocate and activist died of lung cancer at age sixty-seven. At the time my University of Maine School of Law colleague Orlando Delogu who taught with Boyle at Galway observed, “He was single minded in his defence of oppressed people. The breadth of his interests was quite amazing, but always behind the scenes, the use of law – never violence.” Boyle helped lay the foundation for expanded human rights protections across the planet and inspired generations of scholars and activists.

How did Chinoy choose the title for this book? Boyle was first a university teacher. While lecturing he would pause and ask his students, “Are you with me?” It was a two-fold question. Did they understand the material? And would they be with him on the front line in the fight for human rights? “Are you with me?”

Are You With Me? will be launched at Essex University on 19 March 2020, with book events to follow in Dublin, Belfast, London, Galway and  Oxford. it can be pre-ordered through Lilliput Press: https://www.lilliputpress.ie/product/are-you-with-me

One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyle

Interview with Olga Karach of International Center for civil initiative in Belarus.

December 20, 2019

On 21  October 2019 ISHR published this filmed interview with Olga Karach, Chief of International Center for civil initiative OUR HOUSE from Belarus.

 

Meet Marisa Hutchinson of the Association EQUALS in Barbados

November 10, 2019

On 22 October 2019 ISHR published this interview with Marisa Hutchinson, Board member of the Association EQUALS in Barbados

Guatemalan human rights defender Abelino Chub Caal wins Trócaire human rights award

November 8, 2019

Abelino Chib Caal from Guatemala in Dublin after he was awarded the Romero International Award by Trócaire, for his work defending human rights. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Abelino Chib Caal from Guatemala in Dublin after he was awarded the Romero International Award by Trócaire. Photograph: Dave Meehan

On 26 April, 2019 Abelino Chub Caal walked free after spending 813 days in prison. Less than six months later, the Guatemalan human rights defender stood before a large Irish audience at the Riddel Hall in Belfast to accept the Trocaire Romero Award. This was the second edition of the award [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/trocaire-romero-award]. The inaugural award in 2018 went to Sr Bridget Tighe in recognition of her humanitarian work in Gaza and the Middle East (for more on her click here)

The following week Sorcha Pollak of the Irish Times sat in a small meeting room in the Irish Times building with the Guatemalan teacher who has dedicated his life to fighting for the environmental and cultural rights of the indigenous people of his home country. A few days later, the 35-year-old flew back to Guatemala, unsure of the reception he will receive in a country which has an extremely poor international reputation for its treatment of community leaders who call for greater equality and recognition of human rights.

This has been the struggle of the indigenous people throughout our lives,” explains Caal in Spanish. “We’ve been completely rejected by the state. On the one hand the government says we’re the pride of Guatemala and they get millions of dollars in tourist money but at the same time we’re being repressed. They criminalise and persecute us; they send people to their deaths. They harass men and women who raise their voices against the injustice.”

Caal first became involved in the campaign for equal land rights aged 14 when his family’s community, in the department of Izabal in eastern Guatemala, was suddenly taken over by the cattle farm of a French woman operating in the area. “She had about 1,000 cattle just roaming around the community. They slept under our roof and ate all our crops.” He was deeply shocked when a community leader, who had come to the town to educate locals about their rights and the international treaties they could cite as protection, was thrown in jail for eight years.

After school, having graduated with a diploma in sustainable tourism, Caal began working for the Guillermo Toriello foundation which promotes local development. He also trained as a teacher but never got the chance to use his qualification. “I’ve dedicated myself to the community struggle and to becoming a mediator between state institutions and communities on land issues. It’s a legitimate and true struggle, the land for us is like our mother.”

The mining industry along with the rapidly growing production of palm oil, fruit, sugar cane and rubber by multinational companies is being carried out at the expense of local communities, says Caal. “They’ve accumulated all the land they can. All areas of flat land have been declared private property for palm plantations but not for the production of food.

“The state’s intention is to dispossess and exterminate the life of the indigenous communities. The communities are being expelled from their land and left without any alternatives. They just treat them as if they were toys.”

Caal cites examples of fellow human rights activists who were jailed for their work defending local communities, including Bernardo Caal Xol who was sentenced to eight years for his efforts to halt the development of a hydroelectric project along the Cahabon river by the Spanish ACS construction group which is chaired by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez.

In February 2017, Caal was arrested and charged for alleged aggravated land grabbing, arson, coercion, illicit association and belonging to illicit armed groups. He spent the following two years in prison in Guatemala city.

While former government officials, locked up on corruption charges, made his life in prison difficult, he was surprised by the reception from gang members. “They were actually really respectful to me and called me profe [teacher]. They said I didn’t deserve to be there.”

During his two years behind bars, Caal witnessed hitmen inside the jail killing other prisoners and frequently worried for his safety. Despite being released earlier this year, after he was absolved of all charges, he knows that many other land rights defenders continue to face similar treatment. “The president is attacking human rights defenders, insinuating they have connections to drug trafficking. I wasn’t the first person to go to prison and I certainly won’t be the last. Our economic powers, they either send you to prison or send you to the grave.”

Upon his release, Caal spent one month in a safe house in Guatemala city and another three months in Costa Rica before travelling to Ireland to accept the Romero International Award presented by Irish NGO, Trócaire. He hopes his time in Ireland will raise awareness around the daily struggles faced by indigenous people across Guatemala in their attempts to hold on to their land. “We have been completely rejected by the state, we can’t be at peace. We just ask that people continue to show their solidarity with us.”

Caal is conscious that the Guatemalan public prosecutor’s office has not accepted his release and is appealing the decision. We part with uncertainty as to what will happen when he arrives home.

Gary Walsh of Trócaire says the voices of land rights defenders like Caal should put pressure on countries worldwide, including Ireland, to sign an international treaty on business and human rights which would help protect indigenous peoples around the globe.

Land grabs, environmental damage and violent attacks, including murder, are all too common features of how big business interacts with communities in the developing world,” says Walsh. “This has been facilitated by the absence of any global framework governing how businesses impact the human rights of the communities they engage with.” A binding international treaty is needed to ensure businesses operating outside the EU respect human rights, and that vulnerable people are protected, says Walsh. Recent negotiations held in Geneva around the revised draft of a legally binding treaty showed some progress despite insufficient engagement from EU member states including Ireland, said a spokeswoman for Trócaire

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/guatemalan-activist-abelino-chub-caal-wins-tr%C3%B3caire-human-rights-award-1.4076152

Profile of Widad Akreyi, Iraqi human rights defender

November 5, 2019

Dr. Widad Akreyi at the award ceremony for the 2018 International Woman Harmony Award, Cortona, Italy, Nov. 23, 2018.

Congo’s Hip-Hop artist Moses Kabaseke Defender of the Month for DefendDefenders

October 23, 2019

Human Rights Defender of the Month (September 2019): Moses Kabaseke 

Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.

Moses Kabaseke refers to DRC as the rich country with the poor people. “Back home a life means nothing. In Congo, life is something that can be taken from human beings easily – there’s no justice,” he states. “It’s difficult for people that have not experienced atrocities to understand how that feels like. With my music, I try to capture the trauma and injustices experienced by so many.” When he was only seven years old, his father was killed. “Every night when my mother was crying, I felt so bad. Since that age, I decided to fight for what was right.” In 2012, history repeated itself when his stepfather was killed before his eyes. At that point his mother had to make the difficult decision to leave home. In a quest to find safety, she brought her four children to Uganda.

“We don’t want to be here, but we are forced to be here,” he stresses, pointing out that life in exile is difficult. Being away from home, without external support and regular income, they face many challenges. “We need to look for ways to pay our bills. However, my siblings and I all have the blood of our father, so the thing we know how to do is music; so, we perform.”

In Uganda, Kabaseke continued his human rights promotion by composing music. After five years of hard work, often performing in Kampala’s bars, restaurants, and churches to finance his music, he recently finished his first autobiographical album. The album, ‘Les Mille Cris’ (Thousands of Cries), which contains ten songs written and produced by himself, conveys messages about human rights violations and injustices in DRC, and life as a refugee, among others. “Les Mille Cris is about breaking down the truth, sensitising Africans and victims of violations, and giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Through his music, he encourages people to tell their story, and moreover, urges the world to listen. Speaking the truth can come at a high cost. “As the number of my followers increase, my personal insecurity increase. Personal safety is essential as an artist talking about human rights,” he says. When asked what inspires him to continue despite the many challenges he is faced with, he states that “I promote human rights because I have been a victim of the system […] we are the main actors in the process of change. We have to stand for our rights.” Moses Kabaseke has partaken in several trainings organised by DefendDefenders, and performed at DefendDefenders’ events.

Check out Moses Kabaseke’s music:

Human Rights Defender of the Month (September 2019): Moses Kabaseke

Flight from Manus: the inside story of an exceptional case

September 30, 2019

The journalist Michael Green produced for Earshot a fascinating story on the long trip of Abdul Aziz Muhamat from Manus Island to Geneva. Green followed Aziz closely for years and came to Geneva with him for the Martin Ennals Award ceremony where I met them both. Now the story is complete with beautiful pictures, insights and sound tracks. Flight from Manus cannot really be summarised and the best is to see the whole story for yourself (link below).

One day, he’s in a detention centre. The next he’s in Geneva, where his face is on billboards and he’s celebrated as a champion of human rights. Aziz was in an incongruous situation, burdened with a heavy choice….

…..With some delays and complications, he made it to Switzerland, but he was only given permission to stay for two weeks. Then, he’d have to return to Manus Island — back to the situation he was being celebrated for campaigning against.

After he accepted the award, a meeting frenzy ensued. Over the following days, Aziz met with a slew of diplomats, dignitaries, politicians and UN bodies. He made speeches at universities and at the United Nations Human Rights Council….[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/02/mea-laureate-abdul-aziz-addresses-un-human-rights-council-on-off-shore-refugee-policy/]

One day, when he arrived for an event at a university, I noticed he was sporting a brand new navy blue overcoat. That morning, someone who had attended the awards ceremony recognised Aziz at the train station. The man said he’d been following Aziz on Twitter and noticed that he was always wearing the same flimsy, zip-up top. He wanted to buy Aziz a proper winter coat — and took him into a nearby store to do just that. Aziz never even got his name.

And yet, despite the all interest and adulation, he still wasn’t free…

..Aziz started getting headaches every day. In his meetings, people were telling him he should not go back to Manus Island. His friends back there were saying it wasn’t safe to return. Despite his doubts, and a crushing sense of guilt and duty towards the people he left behind, Aziz decided he would be a more effective advocate if he could remain in Europe. On the day he was due to leave Switzerland, in early March, Aziz instead sought asylum. He submitted himself to a new detention centre — and to a new uncertain, indefinite future…

…The months went by. ……Finally, in June, Aziz received a phone call from his lawyer that changed everything. Switzerland granted him asylum and permanent residency. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/10/aziz-mea-laureate-2019-recognised-as-refugee-in-switzerland-from-where-he-promises-to-continue-the-sttuggle/]

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The sound bites were turned into a podcast, The Messenger, co-produced by Behind the Wire and The Wheeler Centre.

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For those in Geneva on Wednesday 2 October 2019 (18:15 – 19:30) in Auditorium A2 of the Maison de la paix, Geneva, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will be speaking about “Surviving Manus Island detention Centre:  A testimony” Moderator: Vincent Chetail  A staunch defender of human rights and dignity, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will share his experience and offer his insight into what lies ahead.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2720741894616336/

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https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-30/refugee-abdul-aziz-muhamat-manus-to-geneva/11539314

see also: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-09/un-bachelet-criticises-australia-asylum-seeker-policies/11588084

‘Bertxit’: ..Bert Verstappen leaves HURIDOCS after 32 years

September 27, 2019

The SIM team in 1984, Bert Verstappen on the right

It is usually not a compliment when somebody is described as ‘furniture’. But Bert Verstappen, senior documentalist at HURIDOCS, is the exception. And the furniture in mind is an expensive, solid oak Dutch cupboard where all valuables are kept. Bert Verstappen – an historian by education – started working as a conscientious objector doing alternative service in the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM) in approximately 1983, soon after I became the founding director.

He proved his value immediately by working on themes such as documenting human rights violations and together we started a long term research project on the practice of fact finding by NGOs, which resulted in the first-of-its-kind publication of Human Rights Missions, a  Study of the Fact‑Finding Practice of Non‑governmental Organizations, published in 1986 by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (ISBN: 90 247 3355 3). Morever, as SIM had become the initial ‘secretariat’ of the new HURIDOCS network created in 1982, Bert gave a lot of support to the fledgling unit. In 1987 HURIDOCS moved to Oslo and Bert moved with it, learned Norwegian very quickly and kept the flame burning for many years. He moved to Geneva with HURIDOCS after the big Crete conference in 1992.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bert (l.) 1993 in Geneva with Theo van Boven and Oldrich Andrysek

There he continued to coordinate the work of different task forces and co-authored essential HURIDOCS publications. He was involved in many capacity building projects, providing expertise mainly from the documentation angle.  As from 1 October 2019 he goes into retirement but will remain involved in some HURIDOCS projects on a part-time basis until the end of the year, ensuring a “soft bertxit”.

The development of new tools deeply changed HURIDOCS’ work throughout the years. We renew ourselves constantly. I have committed my career to this exciting challenge because I want to feel useful to human right defenders. Their courage is a source of inspiration for all of us” says Bert Verstappen on the HURIDOCS website

If you want to know more about the history of HURIDOCS in which Bert has played such an important role, see:

“We were breaking new ground”

and about the organnisation today: https://www.huridocs.org/who-we-are/