Posts Tagged ‘protest movements’

“to the streets” – the new battlecry of the human rights movement?

December 22, 2019

The Economist of 14 November 2019 contains a timely article on “Economics, demography and social media only partly explain the protests roiling so many countries today“. Two pieces published more or less simultaneously this month go into this question in relation to the human rights movement. Is #TakeToTheStreets the ‘new’ tool for human rights defenders?

The first is by Cate Brown in Open Democracy of 11 December “The era of state mobilization is over: Welcome to the streets”, – ss civilian protesters take to the streets to demand their rights, human rights leaders consider a future of citizen-led activism.

Protestors in Hong Kong gather against emergency anti-mask legislation, passed in response to months of demonstrations. Photo: Etan Liam/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

States are no longer trusted as representatives of popular interests or reliable guarantors of human rights, even in democracies. In response, civilian protesters have flooded the streets of major global capitals to demand immediate government action.

In Baku, demonstrators rallied for their right to assembly. In Beirut, citizens are calling for an end to government corruption. In Baghdad, protesters demand electoral reform, despite the deadly response of Iraqi security forces. In Santiago, dissent against a four percent increase in metro fares became a rallying cry for larger social reforms. And in Hong Kong, citizens have vowed to make ‘weekday chaos’ the new normal, adapting their tactics after six months of unanswered calls for political autonomy. Search the trending hashtag #TakeToTheStreets and you’ll find citizen-led anti-Trump and anti-Brexit movements in the United States and the UK. Search the #GiletsJaunes and you’ll find France’s infamous Yellow Vest movement celebrating their protest anniversary one year on.

…..quick concessions have failed to quiet broader calls for political reform. Instead, the single-issue protest movements have metastasized, gained momentum, and demonstrated staying power in the streets. Social media videos, like clips of Madi Karimeh, Lebanon’s ‘DJ of the Revolution’, or of the 170,000-person human chain linking protesters from Lebanon’s northern capital in Tripoli to its southern capital in Tyre, have helped build a sense of unity and vision among city-level protest movements…“Citizens are again claiming their rights in the streets, but there’s an important difference this year,” says Blavatnik School Professor of Practice of Public Integrity Chris Stone. “Citizen protesters are asking a new question: can we create a notion of rights enforcement that doesn’t depend on states?” It’s important for human rights organizations to consider this question. For years, the human rights movement has relied on parallel actions by frontline human rights defenders and global advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Frontline activists have played a central role in documenting incidents of abuse, convening civil society and amplifying messages across social networks. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International then strengthened their campaigns with rigorous investigation and documentation, and provided an important bridge to pliable state leaders and UN representatives.

But with a cadre of autocratic leaders like Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or populist leaders like US President Donald Trump, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro leading some of the world’s most influential states, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth suggests a tactical pivot towards nontraditional human rights allies and coalitions of smaller or midsize states.

“We used to look towards Geneva, New York, DC, and Brussels,” confirms a senior researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), “But the allies that we used to take for granted are no longer there.” Without reliable allies at the state level, the fundamental architecture of the human rights movement could be forced to change. “We need to invest in networks that are more grassroots-oriented,” continues the EIPR research lead, speaking on account of anonymity. “Local networks will help us diversify our allies and introduce us to arenas of mobilization that the Egyptian human rights movement knows nothing about.”

My generation of millennial protestors needs to recognize this opportunity: in the absence of reliable state allies, global rights organizations are ready to partner with us. Of course, groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have always worked with frontlines activists, but young civilian protesters may have a new opportunity to lead the way.

First, protesters need to invest in relationships that will strengthen their movements and amplify their demands. Next, protesters must look beyond the trending hashtags and the size of the crowds in the street: In a 2017 op-ed, Turkish scholar Zeynep Tufekci, author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, warns that social media networks may make it much easier to pull off a large protest than it used to be, but “the significance of a protest depends on what happens afterwards.”

Protesters gathered in Beirut, Baghdad, Santiago, Port au Prince, Barcelona and Hong Kong must organize their crowds and identify next steps for collective action. With an agenda in hand, international rights organizations can extend their support. And together, we can push for more participatory, safe and inclusive states. For now, the hashtag #TakeToTheStreets is still trending. We’ll see how far people-power can go.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/era-of-state-mobilization-is-over-welcome-to-the-streets/

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The second piece is by in Foreign Policy in Focus of 10 December 2019: “As the Decade Closes, the Power of Protest Endures” –Despite the dashed hopes of the early 2010s, social movements are still winning important fights — and building a framework for human survival.

..as we mark the final Human Rights Day of this decade, we are ending the way we began — in the streets. In Hong Kong, Nicaragua, in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, and elsewhere, people have been on the march, facing bullets, beatings, and prison to demand an end to repressive and unaccountable government, to reject corrupt elites, and secure their rights. Are they naïve? Or do they know something important and powerful?

And what of the lawyers and communities challenging injustice in court, the investigators building meticulous records of human rights crimes, the journalists dragging into public view the buried facts, the advocates and activists pressuring and cajoling governments, companies, and other powerful actors to defend human dignity? They persist because they know the power of protest and resistance, and the efficacy of the human rights ideal, even if the tally of the past decade offers little encouragement.

From 2010 through 2012, protest movements swept across Iran and much of the Arab world. But in 2019, Tunisia stands alone among the countries of the Arab Spring in making the transition to democracy, and among its neighbors renewed repression and brutal wars have followed the uprisings. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions have been injured, and tens-of-millions have been displaced. The cost in lives, resources, and squandered potential is incalculable. Ten years ago, the smart phones and social platforms that helped to enable the protests were celebrated as vectors of positive change, opening avenues for speech and organizing beyond the control of authoritarian governments. They are now more often seen as fueling division, empowering surveillance, invading our privacy, and eviscerating the economic underpinnings of a free press.

Those who have sought refuge from obliterating violence and repression have met a rising tide of xenophobia, as politicians long confined to the margins of power ride a narrative of cultural, economic, and security threat, often focused on Muslims, refugees, LGBT people — anyone  seen as the “other” — to its center. They have sometimes been buoyed by hyper-partisan and often fraudulent media operations.

In the world’s biggest democracies — India, Brazil and the United States — the gravest threats to human rights and democracy come from elected presidents who openly praise dictators, demonize minorities, and undercut the rule of law, putting vulnerable populations at even greater risk. It would be easy to make a longer list of reversals: the promise of South Sudan, newly independent in 2011, now mired in war; Myanmar, where the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has emerged as an apologist for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; Tanzania, where the media and civil society face ever tighter controls, arrests, and killings. And in Russia, a protest movement in 2011 held out hope for change, but instead Vladimir Putin increased his grip domestically, and enhanced his influence globally. Perhaps nowhere exemplifies the retreat more starkly than China, where once some Western analysts breezily promised that rising prosperity would bring progress on human rights and democracy. Instead, President Xi Jinping has put the fruits of development to work to build an algorithmically enhanced authoritarianism unrivaled in the scope of its ambition for control.

And yet. The protesters taking to the streets in Lebanon and elsewhere are not looking to a global scoresheet and calculating their chances. They are demonstrating that power without legitimacy can be checked in local struggles rooted in the demand for accountability, and ultimately for human rights. Ethiopia’s initial opening toward greater democratic space under President Abiy Ahmed tells us that some leaders appear to have learned this lesson, despite the crowing autocrats on the world stage.

And it isn’t only in street protest or in national struggle that we see the tools and values of human rights successfully at work. The millions of women and girls who bravely stepped forward to publicly shared their stories in response  to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo call built a global movement demanding an end to sexual violence. Persistent journalists turned accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s predation from Hollywood gossip into international news, and across the world, investigative reporting exposed the misogynistic abuses of other powerful figures.

They did so in the face of a U.S. president whose misogyny is proudly on display. Trade unions and women’s rights groups successfully fought for a new international treaty protecting against violence and harassment at work. Unevenly perhaps, but unstoppably, court cases, new regulations, a resetting of workplace norms, and sustained activism are creating new protections for women’s basic right to be free of harassment and violence. Spurred by litigation, culture change, and legislators responding to social movements, the rights of LGBT people are expanding around the world. A rearguard action by opponents in Russia and the United States decrying “gender ideology” and battling the spread of both women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights is meeting both energized defense, and deep shifts in public opinion.

In a thousand smaller struggles, the embedding of human rights standards in domestic and international law is helping to bring the perpetrators of war crimes to justice, to secure land and environmental rights for communities threatened by development, and forcing companies to respect their human rights responsibilities. Local human rights defenders around the world don’t rely solely on the courage of their own conviction, or even the force of local law, rooted in their own experience, cultures and struggles, they are also part of a global ecosystem of shared norms, institutions, strategic collaboration, and communication that forms a resilient mesh that should be fostered and sustained. …

But a new global social movement is growing, in schools and on the streets. And existing norms around water, health, humanitarian disasters, and livelihoods offer a rich framework for building the accountability that is needed to spur action from wanton governments and companies. If we are back where we started the decade, we know the task, we have the tools — and like the protesters, we know the value of sticking to it.

“The Animal People”, how terrorism charges were laid against animal rights activists

December 16, 2019

In the Intercept of 12 December 2019, use the release of the new documentary film “The Animal People” – which is available on demand as of this week  – to focus on the story of Harper and his co-defendants, all of whom were convicted under spurious charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism — though none of whom were found to have participated directly in any illegal acts. These were activists who attended raucous but legal protests, shared publicly available information about corporations on their website, and celebrated and supported militant actions taken in the name of the SHAC campaign. That is, they were convicted as terrorists for speech activity. It sounds eerily like the criminalisation fo human rights defenders today:

Hooded-Still-1576105098

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty protesters. Still: Courtesy of Virgil Films

The SHAC 7 case is a lesson in how legal instruments can be deployed to shut down dissent. At a time of renewed criminalization of protest activity nationwide, the so-called green scare stands as a worrying benchmark for the repression of political speech and the re-coding of protesters as criminals and terrorists. The capricious application of conspiracy charges — which we have seen recently deployed against protesters from Black Lives Matter advocates to Standing Rock water protectors — was mastered in the SHAC 7 prosecution. But “The Animal People” doesn’t only emphasize the excesses of the corporate-state power nexus; it recalls the passionate moral commitments of the SHAC members, and reminds us of a potent protest strategy and set of tactics, which I for one would happily see deployed again.

 

Courthouse-Crew-1576105412

The first half of the film traces the rise of what seemed, at certain times, to be an “unstoppable” movement. What began as a series of protests in the U.K. soon spread to the U.S., as activists in cities across the country took it upon themselves to confront Huntingdon-affiliated companies and shareholders. Some of the most committed organizers spent hours on complicated research into Huntingdon’s financial infrastructure, following the money to find any and every chokepoint on which to put pressure: be it the major banks and insurance firms propping up the company, or even the janitorial services contracted by a given Huntingdon lab. The information about potential targets was then shared on the SHAC website for activists to use as they saw fit.

……

SHAC tactics were, as any radical political experiment necessarily is, imperfect. Under the campaign’s banner, some activists exposed the names of children of targeted executives —  an outlier action, to be sure, but one that visibly still haunts a number of the SHAC defendants in the documentary. The prosecution also made much of the publication on the SHAC website of such information, even though the defendants had no direct involvement. (In the only incident of human harm associated with the movement to shut Huntingdon down, U.K. activists at one point assaulted CEO Brian Cass.)

Skepticism also hovers around the decision to focus wholly on closing Huntingdon, given the prevalence of abusive animal testing. The idea had only been to start with the company, which had already come under public scorn following the release undercover video footage of animal abuse in their labs (parts of which are replayed in “The Animal People”). The activists had planned to win against HLS and expand from there; the biochemical and pharmaceutical industry, with the weight of the federal government behind them, ensured otherwise. Huntingdon has since changed its name to the banal and faux-Latinate “Envigo.”

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“The Animal People,” along with most every decent retelling of the SHAC 7 case, makes clear that the six individuals indicted on terror charges were fall guys in the government’s scrambling attempt to put a stop to a movement, which was, against all odds, bringing major corporations to heel. “Corporations get to do what they want — that’s a rule in our society,” Lauren Gazzola, a former SHAC 7 defendant with a robust knowledge of constitutional law, tells the filmmakers. “We challenged the right of this corporation to exist.”

The story of who gets to be a labeled a “terrorist” in this country reflects the ideological underpinnings behind government policy and law. Under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, expanded in 2006 into the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a terrorist is someone who intentionally damages or causes the loss of property — including freeing animals — used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so. It is an obscene state sanctification of corporate private property over life.

…..

As I have written, the current pattern in law enforcement of labeling protests as “riots,” invoking slippery statutes of collective liability, and attempting to justify harsher crackdowns are all troubling for the same reason……

“The animal rights movement has really been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to modern government repression of activist campaigns,” the film’s co-director Denis Henry Hennelly told me by email. The sentiment was echoed by Potter, the journalist. “This is the new playbook for the criminalization of dissent,” he told me. “I’ve already seen it applied to other social movements, both here in the U.S. and internationally. In the years since the trial, though, it has only become more prescient.”

For viewers with little to no knowledge of this history of animal liberation struggle and its repression, “The Animal People” offers a compelling primer, organized through archival protest footage, old home videos of some of the SHAC 7 defendants, interviews with legal experts and investigative journalists, one smug businessman who was targeted by a SHAC campaign, and more recent interviews with the former defendants. As with any 90-minute film, the story the directors, Suchan and Hennelly, chose to tell is only one slice of an international and dispersed movement’s history. But for a documentary with some Hollywood backing — animal lover Joaquin Phoenix is an executive producer — “The Animal People” stands uncomplicatedly on the side of the SHAC defendants and doesn’t dampen their anti-capitalist message.

For Stepanian, this element of animal liberation and the necessary connection with anti-capitalist environmental activism can’t be forgotten. “In terms of the direct-action animal liberation movement today, it’s largely impotent compared to the time period of the SHAC campaign, because most messaging falls squarely in what is safe within the framework of capitalism: Much of the activity revolves around better consumer choices,” Stepanian told me. “I’d like to see another campaign with a lens critical of capitalism, which understands that it is this socioeconomic system which rewards the worst practices when it comes to the treatment of animals as resources, and rewards rapacious attitudes towards the environment.”

The film closes with a montage of uprisings, from students in Hong Kong, to the gilets jaunes in France, to Black Lives Matter activists in the U.S., and marchers for liberation in Palestine. It’s a minimal gesture toward intersectionality in a film that underplays the aspects of SHAC that were dedicated to shared struggle. “It’s not OK to be singular in your solidarity; justice and liberation for all life is paramount,” Stepanian told me, recalling how, prior to his indictment, he went on two organizing road trips with former Black Liberation Army member Ashanti Alston. “We are all intersectional activists,” he said of his former co-defendants.

Jake Conroy of the SHAC 7, who joined one of the road trips, comments near the film’s end: “It’s not just about earth liberation, it’s not just about human liberation, and it’s not just about animal liberation. It’s about collective liberation.”

https://theintercept.com/2019/12/12/animal-people-documentary-shac-protest-terrorism/

Amnesty’s Annual report 2017 is out: depressing but rays of hope

February 22, 2018

Amnesty International´s annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights 2017, assesses the human rights situation in 159 countries and delivers a most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the world today. Here follow some summaries form the media:

AI itself highlights in the launch on 22 February 2018, the deepening human rights crisis in the Americas.  “People across the Americas faced a deepening human rights crisis fuelled by growing government intolerance of dissent and increasing demonization in political rhetoric that cemented its status as one of the most violent and unequal regions in the world“, Amnesty International warned. Nevertheless, the organization found that a growing resistance movement of both first-time and seasoned activists provides real hope of reversing the slide towards oppression and fear.

The report highlights alarming trends for the state of human rights in the Americas, including:

  • High levels of violence that continued to ravage the region, with waves of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions. In Mexico, more than 34,000 people remained missing, and extrajudicial executions were rife. A year on from Colombia’s historic peace agreement, violence was still a daily part of life, and an estimated 60,000 people were forcibly displaced due to armed conflict in 2017 alone, according to official numbers.
  • Venezuela continues to face a serious human rights crisis, fuelled by the escalation of government-sponsored violence to respond to the increasing social discontent created by rising inflation and a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained and there were many reports of torture and other ill-treatment.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean remained as the most violent regions in the world for women and girls, despite strict laws aimed at addressing the crisis. The region has the world’s highest rate of non-intimate partner violence against women, and the second highest rate of intimate partner violence.
  • Ongoing intimidation and attacks against community leaders, journalists and activists who stood up for human rights. Environmental defenders were among the most at risk. Of the 188 environmental defenders killed in 2017, 110 took place in the Americas, according to the NGO Front Line Defenders.
  • Deepening discrimination and neglect of the rights of rural communities and Indigenous Peoples, including their rights to their ancestral territory and to free, prior and informed consent on projects affecting them. From Peru to Nicaragua, national and transnational corporations sought to take control of land away from Indigenous Peoples and peasant farmers, affecting their livelihoods and contaminating their basic resources.
  • A rapidly out of control yet largely invisible refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands of people from some of the world’s most violent countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, were denied urgent asylum.

Yet these injustices have also inspired many more people to join long-standing struggles, and the report details many important achievements that human rights activists helped to secure. These include lifting the total ban on abortion in Chile and the approval of a law to help victims of enforced disappearances in Mexico find their missing loved ones. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/31/2017-a-year-to-forget-for-human-rights-defenders-but-dont-forget-the-human-rights-defenders/]

Last year proved that however disenfranchised people were, they refused to resign themselves to a future without human rights. Emerging social discontent inspired people to take to the streets, stand up for their rights and demand an end to repression, marginalization and injustice,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International The Americas was at the hub of this new wave of activism. The “Ni Una Menos” (“Not one woman less”) movement denounced violence against women and girls across the region, while survivors of gender-based and sexual violence in Argentina, Mexico, Jamaica, Peru, and many other countries took to the streets to protest against impunity for such crimes.

Protesters and refugees bear the brunt of ‘normalized’ violence: Hundreds of activists were killed last year as authorities sought to repress civil society and muzzle the media, the report says. Human rights defenders faced threats, harassment and attacks in most countries in the region, while states failed to protect them and acknowledge the importance of their work.

The injustice of President Trump’s cruel pledge to build a wall along the USA-Mexico border was emphasized by Central America’s ongoing refugee crisis. More than 50,000 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador sought asylum in other countries, thousands of whom were then apprehended at the US border. Mexico received a record number of asylum applications but repeatedly failed to provide protection to those who needed it – instead pushing people back to highly dangerous situations.

The numbers of people fleeing Venezuela rocketed as it faced one of the worst human rights crises in its recent history, fuelled by an escalation of government-sponsored violence. When the country’s crippling shortage of food and medical supplies sparked protests, the security forces’ heavy-handed response lead to more than 120 deaths.

Instead of trying to suppress people when they speak out, governments should address their concerns, said Amnesty International.

We are witnessing history in the making as people rise up and demand justice in greater numbers. If leaders fail to discern what is driving their people to protest, then this ultimately will be their own undoing. People have made it abundantly clear that they want human rights: the onus now is on governments to show that they are listening,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

[for last year see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/]

Interesting to note the different emphasis placed on the report such as in the Al-Jazeera article: “World leaders abandoning human rights: Amnesty

World leaders are undermining human rights for millions of people with regressive policies and hate-filled rhetoric, but their actions have ignited global protest movements in response, a rights group said. US President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and China’s President Xi Jinping were among a number of politicians who rolled out regressive policies in 2017, according to Amnesty International’s annual human rights report published on Thursday. The human rights body also mentioned the leaders of Egypt, the Philippines and Venezuela. “The spectres of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary-general, said. “Instead, leaders such as el-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions.”  [see also my https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/ai-welcomes-resistance-to-trumps-human-rights-policies/]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also focuses on the US angle: Amnesty International has taken aim at U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders the global watchdog says are abandoning human rights, accusing them of setting a “dangerous precedent” for other governments to follow. And then gives a useful summaries of countries in its region:

Central Asia

Afghanistan

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Belarus

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Georgia

Moldova

Russia

Ukraine

Adding  Iran and Pakistan.

 

Euronews obviously also focus on Europe:  Between eastern Europe’s “hostile discourse to human rights” and the rights of freedom of association and assembly put at risk in the entire continent, this year’s Amnesty International World Report warned that “space for civil society continued to shrink in Europe” and gives then a thematic overview of the key takeaways for Europe from the report.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/02/deepening-human-rights-crisis-spurs-new-era-of-activism-in-the-americas/
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/world-leaders-abandoning-human-rights-amnesty-180221174518140.html
https://www.rferl.org/a/amnesty-international-trump-other-leaders-setting-dangerous-precedent-abandoning-human-rights/29055935.html
http://www.euronews.com/2018/02/21/-space-for-civil-society-continued-to-shrink-across-europe-report-says