Posts Tagged ‘report’

New report Freedom House on Human Rights Defenders in Latin America

February 24, 2022

It finds that Latin American human rights defenders and their organizations face intimidation, harassment, physical attacks, and legislation that criminalizes their work, among other threats.

Latin America was the most dangerous region in the world for human rights defenders during 2020, and according to Defending Latin American Human Rights and Democracy Activists, a new report released today by Freedom House, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. Under the guise of enforcing public health measures, governments have deployed authoritarian restrictions to inhibit movement, curtail freedoms of expression and assembly, and implement militarized security policies.

This is a seminal study that lays the foundation for further areas of inquiry and analysis,” said Gerardo Berthin, vice president of international programs at Freedom House. “The report identifies the main needs of vulnerable activists and human rights defenders in Latin America and highlights major issues that merit regional and national attention.”

The report found that worsening human rights conditions have also spurred unprecedented levels of migration and displacement—including of human rights defenders—across the region. Growing migrant and refugee populations in Latin America have been especially vulnerable in the context of COVID-19, as border closures and lockdowns made living conditions even more precarious and curtailed mobility and access to information and services. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/

The democratic landscape in Latin America is discouraging. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report, fewer than 40 percent of the countries in the region are classified as Free. Against this backdrop, the new study provides a baseline review of regional efforts to protect human rights defenders and prodemocracy civil society organizations in Latin America, including through shelter and relocation programs.

Key findings:

  • Human rights defenders are increasingly being forced into exile in neighbouring countries, and many are unable to continue their work.
  • The pressure experienced by human rights defenders can push them beyond the limits of physical and psychosocial safety. This can result in some level of trauma, as well as severe psychological symptoms including anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, and suicidal inclinations. The symptoms have also taken the form of physiological conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Human rights defenders, especially women and Indigenous people, have sought to rethink “security,” moving away from a military and policing approach toward a more comprehensive and gender-balanced understanding. For example, women human rights defenders are incorporating the body, self-care, and self-awareness when defining security, and examining how these elements can affect other types of security, including the security of the family. For them, security is not just about reacting to a threat; it is also about maintaining economic security, food security, mental or psychological security, and physical health security. Indigenous human rights defenders are proposing to include their perspective in the design of protections for activists, dissidents, journalists, and others. This has begun to shift the focus of some protection mechanisms from the individual toward a more community-based model that accounts for the collective nature of human rights defense.
  • State-run protection mechanisms are often prescriptive, offering a predetermined menu of services that do not necessarily address the specific needs or risks faced by human rights defenders.
  • International protection organizations have implemented good practices pertaining to protection and security in general, aided by the expansion of internet access. This has enabled enhanced connection and communication with civil society organizations on the ground, including continuous and more systematic meetings and planning for effective protection.
  • The report contains two case studies of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan human rights defenders who have been forced into exile in Colombia and Costa Rica, respectively. The cases highlight key forms of individual, collective, and contextual support that would strengthen protection and allow human rights defenders to expand their work while in exile.
  • Few approaches to protect human rights defenders in Latin America have been evaluated systematically. The need for systematic evaluation is a key recommendation of the report, as such analysis could be used to develop future programs and strategic plans, and would help to identify the potential security risks that human rights defenders may face at home or in exile.
  • There are still gaps in knowledge about how to best support human rights defenders. However, human rights defenders themselves are driving efforts to share information about effective protection approaches. Thanks to their active involvement in protection strategies, temporary relocation providers, national protection organizations, and human rights defenders are more frequently raising the notion of holistic protection or integral security, which goes beyond physical or traditional security to include services such as medical, psychosocial, and psycho-emotional support.

Access the full report here.

https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-freedom-house-report-reveals-dire-conditions-human-rights-defenders-and-democracy

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council

August 23, 2021

Courtesy of Reliefweb, here the reference to “States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor” (A/76/143), posted 19 Aug 2021 Originally published 19 July 2021.

Summary

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, analyses the situation of human rights defenders in long – term detention, serving sentences of 10 years or longer. The Special Rapporteur draws attention to underlying factors that contribute to the phenomenon of detaining human rights defenders for lengthy periods as a result of their legitimate human rights activities. The report contains examples of individual cases of human rights defenders serving long-term prison sentences. She makes recommendations to relevant stakeholders to halt and reverse these trends and suggests ways to prevent this from happening in the future. [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/20/special-rapporteur-mary-lawlor-starts-new-website/]

1. Introduction

  1. In December 2015, woman human rights defender Lodkham Thammavong was 1 of some 30 people who protested outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok to express their concern over the Lao Government’s alleged human rights violations.
  2. Three months later, when she returned to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, she and two other human rights defenders, Soukane Chaithad and Somphone Phimmasone, were arrested by Lao police.
  3. The Special Rapporteur has received credible information that they were not informed of the charges against them and no arrest warrants were presented at the time of arrest or afterward. Ms. Thammavong and the others were reportedly forced to make false confessions, paraded on national television to apologize for being traitors and denied their rights to legal representation.
  4. A year later, in March 2017, after an unfair trial, Ms. Thammavong was found guilty of “treason to the nation, propaganda against the State, and gatherings tied at causing social disorder”. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mr. Chaithad and Mr. Phimmasone were also convicted on the same charges, and given 16 and 20 years, respectively.
  5. At the time of writing, Ms. Thammavong is currently being held in Tan Piao Prison, located around 60 km from Vientiane, making family visits difficult. She is said to be lacking access to water and still has had no access to legal counsel.
  6. Unfortunately, such attacks on human rights defenders are not rare. Hundreds of human rights defenders across the world are serving long prison sentences after being convicted on fabricated charges following unfair trials. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, were denied adequate legal representation.
  7. The Special Rapporteur has monitored numerous cases of defenders serving more than 10 years in prison, and of many other defenders facing charges for which they could be sentenced to similarly long terms. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, have been sentenced under vague and ill-defined charges often relating to treason, subversion or terrorism.
  8. Many are held in harsh conditions, and/or have been forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Some suffer from ill health and are deprived of adequate medical attention. Some are also denied regular access to their families. Some are at risk of being sentenced to death, and some have died in jail while serving long sentences.
  9. In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, intends to show that the issue of the long-term detention of human rights defenders is extensive, that there are many commonalities in the methods used to unjustly jail them and that many Member States – including some who are members of the Human Rights Council, or who aim at being a member – consistently deny they are holding defenders in jail. She advises States on how to prevent further such attacks on defenders and recommends that all human rights defenders be immediately and unconditionally released from jail.
  10. The full extent of this problem is not known. Human rights defenders are serving long terms in detention on every continent, but there are very likely many more cases than those featured in the present report that have not been brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention.
  11. The cases included here are only those where consent has been obtained directly from the defenders themselves, or from their families or representatives. Many other cases are also known to the Special Rapporteur, but are not included in the report for various reasons, including where it was not possible to obtain consent or where highlighting cases would risk making the situation of the defenders worse. Some defenders were jailed so long ago that their cases have faded from public view and no longer feature in many advocacy efforts. This can also make consent and information more difficult to obtain.
  12. There is a wide range of defenders serving long terms in detention. Some are labour leaders, some are lawyers, others are journalists. Some are jailed for defending article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlines the right for people to vote in elections. Others are targeted for peacefully advocating for democratic reform, or for exposing deficiencies in governance. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that peacefully defending these and other rights that States have promised to safeguard is never a crime.
  13. Some defenders have been targeted and jailed in reprisal for their engagement, or intended engagement, with United Nations mechanisms. Some are famous, winners of international awards for their work, with prominent international profiles, while others are relatively unknown, even within their country. Some hold dual nationalities and are citizens of countries other than the one in which they are jailed.
  14. Some defenders have been convicted in mass trials and some have been sentenced in absentia. Some defenders sentenced to long terms in jail are living in exile, unable to return to their country for fear of arrest. Others are kept in long periods of pretrial detention, not knowing if or when they will face charges that could send them to prison for long terms.
  15. Other defenders are seized and nothing is heard from or about them for many years. Not all are held by Governments. Some, like Syrian woman human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh, are believed to have been taken by militia groups. There has been no news of her current whereabouts for years.
  16. Other human rights defenders sentenced to long terms in jail die in custody. Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov was unjustly sentenced to prison in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, and he was still in prison 10 years later with serious medical problems. Despite appeals from the mandate holder, the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to the authorities for his release on health grounds, he died in detention in 2020.
  17. The Special Rapporteur notes there is often a flurry of attention and activity around a case when a human rights defender is arrested or convicted, sometimes accompanied by intense international media coverage and advocacy from foreign governments and United Nations mechanisms. But even with the most prominent defenders, attention typically fades over the years as fresh cases demand the attention and resources of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent United Nations experts and interested Governments.
  18. Many defenders serving long sentences feel forgotten or abandoned.
  19. The effect of the long-term detention of defenders can be devastating – to themselves, to their families, to their communities and to the civil societies to which they belong. Just fighting a legal case can exhaust a defenders’ resources, and that of their NGO. Indeed, this damage to them and their work is often the motivation for their being targeted.
  20. States will recall that in her first report to the General Assembly in 2020 (A/75/165), the Special Rapporteur outlined her priorities for the mandate, which included a focus on “defenders serving long terms in prison”. She believes States should have confronted this enduring problem long ago. Some States have ignored years of appeals to stop jailing human rights defenders and still refuse to release those they currently hold in detention.
  21. The Special Rapporteur is instructed under the mandate to study developments and challenges on the right to promote and protect human rights and seek, receive and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders, and to recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders.
  22. One simple piece of advice for States to better protect human rights defenders is not to put them in prison for long terms for peacefully defending the rights of others.
  23. Many States sentence human rights defenders to long terms in prison because they want to, and because they can. They want to because they are unhappy with defenders exposing corruption, pointing out human rights violations or highlighting other deficiencies in governance.
  24. Jailing defenders does not always silence them, and some continue to defend rights while in detention, but States often use this method of attack against human rights defenders to crush peaceful dissent.
  25. States can do this because they ignore international treaties they have committed to, often with negligible international consequences. They enable themselves to jail human rights defenders by passing vague laws, often in the name of national security or countering terrorism, by staging sham trials that fail meet international standards, by torturing defenders into making false confessions and by lying about the work of human rights defenders.
  26. Some States contest that those jailed are not defenders but subversives, traitors or terrorists. The Special Rapporteur knows the difference, and she respectfully reminds States that her long years of experience in identifying who is a human rights defender – and who is not – is partly why she was entrusted with this mandate. The Special Rapporteur is keen to discuss individual cases with States to better explain why those in detention referred to in the present report are human rights defenders.
  27. Despite the many detailed cases regularly presented to Member States of human rights defenders currently serving long jail terms, the Special Rapporteur notes that in response to her call to Member States for submissions to the present report, not one State acknowledged holding any human rights defender in long-term detention.
  28. Many States have for many years used this method of attack against human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur’s predecessors in this mandate have, since the mandate was established 20 years ago, repeatedly recommended that States not use unfair trials or security legislation as a pretext for jailing, or otherwise attacking, human rights defenders.
  29. In 2001, Hina Jilani, the first mandate holder on the situation of human rights defenders, in her first report to the then Commission on Human Rights, stated that: “The situation of human rights defenders … and their sentencing after unfair trials will be a matter of serious concern for the Special Representative” (E/CN.4/2001/94, para. 89 (f)).
  30. Despite regular, detailed updates to Member States from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders over many years about this unjust practice, defenders are still routinely subjected to unfair trials, after which many are sentenced to long terms in prison.
  31. In her most recent report to the Human Rights Council, presented earlier this year (A/HRC/46/35), the Special Rapporteur focused on the killing of human rights defenders. She identified a lack of political will from Member States to hold the perpetrators accountable as a key driver of the murders. In the case of long-term detention of defenders, it is less the absence of political will to prevent this abuse, but rather the active presence of a political will in States to target defenders.
  32. Some representatives of Member States have told the Special Rapporteur, in response to her raising the case of an unfair trial, that they cannot interfere in their countries’ independent judicial process. While the Special Rapporteur respects the principle of judicial independence, she cannot be silent when a criminal justice system falls short of international standards and is used to unjustly jail human rights defenders.
  33. In 2003, Ms. Jilani told Member States: “When human rights defenders are arrested, detained and/or prosecuted under security legislation, the process should be fully transparent. The charges on which the arrest and detention are based should be made public and explained in a sufficiently complete manner that the veracity of their substance can be independently verified” (A/58/380, para. 71).
  34. Many States are still failing this test of transparency and continue to consign human rights defenders to long years of misery in prison.
  35. While those mechanisms which enable long-term, unjust detention, including torture, unfair trials and the gross misrepresentation of the work of those peacefully defending the rights of others, should be addressed, the fundamental reason that defenders are held in long-term detention is because of the political will in States to do so.
  36. Targeting human rights defenders with long jail terms is never acceptable, and it is a red line no State should cross. It is immoral, illegal, inexcusable and dishonourable. This practice exposes States’ lack of resolution to fulfil the international standards they have committed to uphold. Consigning those who peacefully defend human rights to prison raises serious questions about States’ intentions to abide by the international agreements they have signed.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/states-denial-long-term-detention-human-rights-defenders-report-special-rapporteur

Mary Lawlor’s first report to the Third Committee of General Assembly

November 16, 2020

On 20 October 2020 (sorry for the delay) the ISHR reported on the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, presenting her first report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/].

The Special Rapporteur appealed to States to help stop the killing of human rights defenders, which she identified as the mandate’s core priority. Defenders, she said, are ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make all of our lives better‘ and shared her hope that all would work together to find ways to protect them. 

The Special Rapporteur’s report outlined how she intends to approach and develop the subject of her mandate in the coming years. Her priorities include: those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, with attention paid to the most marginalised and vulnerable, among them women defenders, those defending the rights of LGBTI persons, defenders who are children, defenders with disabilities, defenders working on the rights of migrants, the climate crisis, defenders working in isolated and remote areas, defenders serving long terms in prison, reprisals against defenders who cooperate with the UN, the issue of impunity for those who attack defenders, the role of businesses and financial institutions in both harming and protecting the work of defenders, and strengthening follow-up to individual cases brought to her attention. 

As the Third Committee continues to grapple with the difficulties of moving its work online, the dialogue was plagued by a number of IT issues, including not being webcast for the first 35 minutes, and several statements remained muted in the archived video made available later. 

A large number of States took the floor to welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and echo her concerns and priorities. Many of the States that spoke touched on the need to address the worrying deterioration of civic space brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic. The UK delivered a joint statement on reprisals on behalf of 75 States, following up on its initiative last year when it delivered the first ever such statement.

The US raised a number of individual cases and country situations: Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran; China’s systematic persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including those from Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, naming Ilham Tohti and Joshua Wong in particular; in Zimbabwe, opposition leader Job Sikhala, parliamentarian Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. China used its time to question the notion of a human rights defender arguing there is no accepted definition of the term and that defenders are not ‘above the law’. China also accused the US of suppressing civil society during the pandemic. 

In her concluding remarks, the Special Rapporteur touched on the need for the UN’s human rights work to be properly funded and for States to cooperate fully with Special Procedures through standing invitations and positive responses to requests for visits. She emphasised her desire to cooperate with States, to have an open dialogue, and cited recent talks with Bahrain, Burundi and Iran in that regard. She indicated she hoped these talks would result in releases of defenders soon. The Special Rapporteur also emphasised that her approach would include specifically highlighting positive changes in each of her reports.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-un-expert-urges-protection-defenders-ordinary-people-doing-extraordinary-things?fbclid=IwAR1j9EqgUZ4RKAcMH7nWp7AIAZUL3HqrAq_k8M9epUtlF_ECrNAaLCrbrJ0

Good practice examples abound in new UN report on civil society

June 15, 2020

Participation, promotion and protection are the three watchwords that should guide the UN’s work on and with civil society, says a newly-released UN report.  Offering examples of good practice within the UN system -which provide a baseline for a new UN strategy on civil society- and a range of  recommendations, the report is timed to inform decision-making at the 44th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. 

On 31 May 2020 the ISHR discussed the new report of the UN on civil society: with countless recent examples of restrictive and repressive measures taken to silence or discredit civil society actors, the UN’s new report drawing together examples of some good practices across the UN, is timely. Re-stating the vital contribution of civil society actors, the report goes on to cite examples of good practices of UN entities engaging with and protecting civil society. The report recommendations – aimed at encouraging improvement across the UN system as well as by States – echo several which ISHR has consistently voiced .

ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw said that good practice examples to inspire reform by the UN and States were valuable: ‘In days where we’ve seen journalists being arrested in Minneapolis and an increasing number of defenders murdered in Colombia – as just two such examples – we need States and UN bodies to revise and strengthen their practice to ensure the voice of civil society is heard and safeguarded.’…

The report contains examples where discussion between different stakeholders has been formalized and where their input is part of the process from policy inception to implementation,’ noted Openshaw.

One such example is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), created by the UN General Assembly which styles itself as ‘a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners’. ‘This example of civil society having a seat at the table in recognition of the experience and expertise they bring to the issue makes more evident the lack of such opportunities in other spaces, particularly in human rights bodies,’ said Openshaw.

The report also highlights clear gaps. One of the key findings is the absence in 2/3 of UN mechanisms of means to contest restrictions on civil society participation or access to information. Whilst the report makes no explicit reference to Covid-19, having sought input prior to the onset of the pandemic, it does contain recommendations that speak to shifts in practice the pandemic has engendered.It notes how the impact of any modifications should be assessed to ensure civil society is not disadvantaged or disproportionately affected. This is one of several recommendations ISHR and other civil society have been making over time.

It’s great to see that the UN has reflected the recommendations of civil society groups such as ISHR, who have experience working with defenders and engaging with UN and regional organisations,’ noted Openshaw. ‘It’s but one example of civil society expertise adding value.’

The need for the UN to improve and make more consistent its work to promote, engage with and safeguard civil society has been a long-term call. The Secretary General made such a recommendation in his 2018 report on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and again in his recent Call to Action for Human Rights. This new UN report was as a result of the request made by the Human Rights Council in 2018

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-three-key-principles-should-guide-uns-work-civil-society-says-new-report

Along with the full report, the UN has produced a one-pager summarizing key report recommendations.

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020
Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

Click to access EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

New Amnesty report: Governments failing women human rights defenders

December 1, 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women's Day 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women’s Day 2019 © Ema Anis for Amnesty International

Governments around the world are failing to protect women human rights defenders from increasing attacks, Amnesty International said on 29 November 2019, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. In a new report –Challenging power, fighting discrimination” – based on interviews with 23 activists across 21 countries, Amnesty highlights how women human rights defenders continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalised and even killed for their campaigning.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination: if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power…All over the world, women human rights defenders are speaking out against injustice, abuse and discrimination, often because they have experienced it first-hand…..They are central to human progress: they fight for human rights and against patriarchy and racism, while pushing for ground-breaking reforms on so many fronts. Governments must live up to their commitment to ensure these activists can operate freely and safely.

In recent years, campaigners working on the rights of women, LGBTI people and other marginalised groups have come under growing pressure from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups. Women campaigning on these issues tend to be the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world.

Sexual violence

The report highlights several cases in which violence, including sexual violence as a form of torture, was used against women human rights defenders to silence them. In Bahrain, Ebtisam El-Saegh, an activist with the human rights organisation SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, was sexually assaulted, badly beaten, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated while in detention in 2017. El-Saegh told Amnesty: “I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’.”

In Egypt, Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender woman human rights defender was arrested in March this year following her involvement in peaceful protests in Cairo. She faced trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.’ While in detention, she was subjected to a forced anal examination and other forms of sexual assault. Even though she was undergoing gender affirming treatment, Malak was placed in an all-male detention facility which put her at increased risk of sexual violence. She was eventually released in July this year.

Smear campaigns

Women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns which vilify their “deviant behaviour” and are designed to fuel hostility against them. After rescuing migrants from the central Mediterranean Sea in June 2019, Carola Rackete, the Italian captain of the rescue boat Sea-Watch 3, was repeatedly insulted by the Italian Minister of Interior who called her a pirate and a criminal. His slurs were followed by vicious verbal attacks by others who incited sexual violence against her while also targeting her gender and appearance.

In Mauritania, Mekfoula Brahim, a woman human rights defender who has campaigned for an end to female genital mutilation, was branded an apostate in 2016 Facebook posts after defending a blogger sentenced to death for criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. The slur exposed her to the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

Click to access ACT3011392019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/governments-failing-protect-women-activists-increasing-attacks-new-report

http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/353494

Michel Forst in last address to General Assembly pleads to fight reprisals

November 8, 2019
On 18 October 2019 the International Service on Human Rights (ISHR) reported on Special Rapporteur, Michel Forst, last appearnace before the UN General Assembly  making key recommendations to State and non-State actors and called for human rights defenders to be protected, and for authors of attacks and reprisals to be brought before justice.

On 15 October 2019, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst presented his report (A/74/159) to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on the issue of impunity for attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders. This was followed by an interactive dialogue with States. This is the last time Forst will address the Third Committee in the capacity of Special Rapporteur. Forst voiced specific concern about digital attacks against youth and women human rights defenders, and expressed the need to protect them. He also expressed concern at specific attacks on human rights defenders living in isolated environments, as well as those working on sexual and reproductive rights and on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Impunity is used as a weapon by those who wish to undermine the rule of law and silence those struggling to uphold human rights. I echo Forst’s comment that impunity is a political choice, otherwise how do we explain that around 98 percent of killings of human rights defenders in certain countries remains unpunished?’ asked ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

The Special Rapporteur – and the United States – highlighted individuals and groups from various countries who are victims of reprisals. These included:

The Special Rapporteur’s report made recommendations to States on ways to effectively combat impunity. These included:

  • Strengthening mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders;
  • Criminalising acts of violence against human rights defenders; and
  • Adopting policies that protect the right to defend human rights whilst also recognising the obstacles that certain groups such as women human rights defenders and those protecting the rights of LGBTI and indigenous persons face.

These recommendations were echoed in a side event organised by ISHR and Amnesty International on 16 October, where women human rights defenders from Yemen and Myanmar provided harrowing accounts of attacks they face in their respective contexts.

Several States voiced their support for the report and the mandate, including Norway who called on all States to support this year’s resolution on Human Rights Defenders currently being negotiated. Notwithstanding the adoption by consensus of a definition of human rights defenders in the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the usual detractors – including Russia and China – sought to delegitimise the work of human rights defenders by questioning whether the term is universally recognised. China went further to suggest that individuals were using the ‘flag of defending human rights’ to violate the law.

Notwithstanding the primary responsibility of States to combat impunity for attacks against defenders, the Special Rapporteur again emphasised his call for non-State actors to protect human rights defenders, and concluded by referencing his 2017 report on Business and Human Rights (A/72/170).

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga-74-states-must-put-end-impunity-reprisals-against-defenders

UNESCO: 9 out of 10 killings of journalists go unpunished

November 4, 2019

The report, called Intensified Attacks, New Defences, covers the period 2014-2018. It assesses trends in the safety of journalists and media professionals around the world and provides an update on the status of journalist killings, based on condemnations issued by the Director-General and recorded in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists. 2Key findings include the rise in the number of journalist killings and other attacks, as well as the continued trend of widespread impunity. The report highlights the changing nature of violence against journalists, with more and more journalists being killed outside of conflict areas, and the growing prevalence of threats and harassment in the online sphere. It also highlights the specific risks being faced by women journalists, including online where they are disproportionately targeted by harassment and abuse. The intensified attacks against journalists are being met with a growing commitment to monitoring, protection, prevention and prosecution mechanisms for the safety of journalists. New coalitions, involving Members States, civil society, the media and academia reflect a stronger and more coordinated response to the protection of journalists, in line with the logic of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

The report also notes that killings of journalists have risen by about 18 percent in the past five years (2014-2018), compared to the previous five-year period.

The deadliest countres for journalists, according to the statistics, are Arab States, where almost a third of the killings took place. The Latin American and Caribbean region (26 percent), and Asian and Pacific States (24 per cent) are the next most dangerous. Journalists are often murdered for their reporting on politics, crime and corruption, and this is reflected in the study, which reveals that, in the past two years (2017-2018), more than half of journalist fatalities were in non-conflict zones. In his statement, the UN Secretary-General noted the rise in the scale and number of attacks on journalists and media workers, as well as incidents that make their work much harder, including “threats of prosecution, arrest, imprisonment, denial of journalistic access, and failures to investigate and prosecute crimes against them”….“Without the ability to protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and contribute to decision-making, is severely hampered.

A high-profile example is the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. The case is being followed by independent UN human rights expert Agnes Callamard, among others, who has suggested that too little has been done by the Maltese authorities to investigate the killing. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/26/son-of-maltese-journalist-daphne-caruana-galizia-tells-un-impunity-continues/]

India has similarly horrifying stories to tell, where the brutal murder of Bangalore-based journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017 made headlines. Lankesh, the editor of Kannada weekly Lankesh Patrike, was shot dead in cold blood by religious activists at her residence, allegedly because of her liberal views. Though one of the six arrested gang members confessed to the crime last year, no convictions have been secured in the case. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/27/un-rapporteurs-ask-india-to-protect-journalist-rana-ayyub-and-refer-to-fate-of-gauri-lankesh/]

This year UNESCO has launched the #KeepTruthAlive social media campaign, which draws attention to the dangers faced by journalists close to their homes, highlighting the fact that 93 percent of those killed work locally, and featuring an interactive map created for the campaign, which provides a vivid demonstration of the scale and breadth of the dangers faced by journalists worldwide.

AIV report on Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights

October 16, 2019

 

Being a Dutchman I should be a bit modest about government reports, but this one by the independent Advisory Council  on International Affairs about “Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights” is worth a read. It was published on 19 August 2019.

Seventy years ago – on 10 December 1948 – the member states of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the first document in which the international community recognised and affirmed the ‘inherent dignity and […] the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’. The Universal Declaration is not a binding treaty, but it is universally accepted as a moral and legal standard for human rights.

The foundations of the Universal Declaration had been laid seven years before by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His ‘Four Freedoms’ speech outlined his vision of a world in which everyone could rely on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and the freedom from fear. Roosevelt was keenly aware that these four freedoms were inseparable. Without basic needs such as food and security, freedom of speech is of limited value. Freedom of expression is in turn necessary in order to demand social and economic justice. This understanding found expression after the end of the Second World War in the Universal Declaration, which laid down both civil and political rights (art. 1-21) and social, economic and cultural rights (art. 22-27).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the source of a network of legally binding human rights treaties to which all countries in the world have committed themselves in one way or another. Together they form the multilateral human rights system, whose significance should not be underestimated. Human rights treaties and the national laws based on them have made the rights and freedoms of hundreds of millions of people all over the world visible and tangible, helping them to speak out for better living conditions, and to be and develop themselves. This global achievement must be cherished and defended, if necessary in the face of opposition.

At the same time, unremitting poverty, hunger, economic inequality, environmental degradation, war and violence compellingly expose the fallacy that human dignity can be achieved simply by signing legally enforceable national and international agreements. True universality of human rights also requires sustained and popular support for development processes, both at home and abroad. Development is a precondition for the achievement of human rights, and human rights are necessary for development.

Human rights and development cooperation have long been seen – wrongly – as separate policy fields. Moreover, Western governments and human rights organisations in particular have traditionally prioritised the promotion of civil and political rights. Social, economic and cultural rights are also part of the treaty-based human rights system, but they have not always received the attention they deserve. Human rights, including environmental rights, are inherently inseparable. Interaction between development and human rights organisations did not commence until the 1980s, and it remains an ongoing challenge. Major multilateral actors such as the World Bank still seem reticent about making human rights a central focus of their programmes.

The Netherlands’ foreign policy is not yet truly integrated either. Its human rights policy focuses on traditional civil rights, while its development policy prioritises the creation of social, economic and environmental conditions conducive to development. In the AIV’s opinion, this compartmentalised approach is understandable from a historical perspective but it weakens the impact of policy and is counterproductive. The AIV welcomes the initiatives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation have taken to foster harmonisation, but the relationship between the two policy fields, as set out in the Human Rights Report 2017 and the policy document Investing in Global Prospects: For the World, For the Netherlands, rests, on balance, on weak foundations.

The AIV believes the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a practicable worldwide framework for a coherent (integrated) approach to sustainable development and human rights. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are concrete social, economic and environmental goals, and achieving them can also deliver many human rights goals in these fields. The 2030 Agenda also recognises that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties are the framework in which the SDGs must be achieved. The SDGs therefore recapitulate and reaffirm the reciprocal relationship between human rights and sustainable development, as originally articulated by President Roosevelt. The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs therefore provide a unique opportunity to realise this close association, both in theory and in policy and practice. The Netherlands must not miss this opportunity. Overcoming the major social, economic and climate-related challenges facing the world requires urgent action at a time when international solidarity is coming under heavy pressure.

The acceptance of the SDGs, including by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, makes it easier to implement the traditional foreign policy priority of promoting human rights. The AIV believes the SDGs and human rights can strengthen each other in a variety of areas.

Opening for dialogue

The SDGs provide an opportunity for the Netherlands to engage with countries that are reticent about, or even dismissive of, the traditional human rights dialogue, which tends to be narrowly legalistic and sometimes cursory and ritualised. The goal of human dignity is a good starting point, as it is a universally recognised and widely held ambition. Both sustainable development and human rights are aimed at achieving human dignity. The SDGs, moreover, stress the overarching principle of ‘leaving no one behind’. They also require a discussion of issues that are directly related to social, economic and environmental rights, such as good healthcare, education, clean drinking water, food security, gender equality, good working conditions and housing. Human rights in many of these areas are already laid down in international treaties. Talks can be held on how they can be achieved in tandem with the SDGs.

Support

The leaders of the UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda unanimously. The SDGs’ legitimacy is also founded on the willingness of many countries to report voluntarily to the High-level Political Forum that oversees the SDGs’ progress. Support for the multilateral human rights system can be strengthened, with the help of the SDGs, by giving human rights greater prominence. With hundreds of millions of people facing inequality, suffering extreme poverty and living in fear, it is no surprise that they rarely make a priority of pressing for their other human rights. By means of an integrated rights approach to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, it can be made clear that human rights make a tangible contribution to improving the daily living conditions of citizens. This can create and foster public support for human rights.

Oversight and monitoring

Both the SDG process and the human rights tools are aimed at measuring and assessing the action taken and results achieved, as well as collecting information and data. Currently, however, these processes often occur separately from each other. Knowledge and insight would probably be enhanced if more information were shared and used jointly. Integration of SDG and human rights data would also lighten the burden of the many international reporting requirements imposed by the 2030 Agenda and human rights treaties. The requirements are particularly onerous for countries with less well developed civil services. The data and reporting requirements, however, create a source of basic information that governments need to pursue meaningful and effective policy. The integration of SDG and human rights data and reports would therefore have a welcome multiplier effect and could significantly improve national problem analysis, planning and policy.

In view of the above, the AIV has drawn up the following policy recommendations. For each one, a number of suggestions are included on how foreign policy could be made operational.

1. INTEGRATE DEVELOPMENT, HUMAN RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY.

Dutch foreign policy should consistently promote and invoke sustainable development as a necessary condition for human rights, and human rights as a condition for development. Achieving the SDGs requires a comprehensive, rights-based approach to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development processes. The close substantive relationship and interaction between these dimensions cannot be ignored.

The AIV believes that the Netherlands’ development, human rights and environmental policies can be strengthened by increasing their coherence. The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs provide a good framework for deepening this integration. Policy on foreign trade and development cooperation is already explicitly situated in the 2030 Agenda framework, but the human rights dimension of the policy should be better elaborated. Conversely, the annual Human Rights Report could explain how various priority issues contribute to the SDGs. A human rights-based approach to sustainable development must be established and made binding at intraministerial and interministerial level. Ideally, there should be just one overarching policy framework.

The indivisibility of human rights requires foreign policy to focus more consistently on both political and civil rights on the one hand and social, economic, cultural and environmental rights – both individual and collective – on the other. An important step to strengthen coherence with domestic human rights policy would be ratification of the optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Priority 4 of the Netherlands’ human rights policy – support for human rights defenders – must provide sufficient scope to support advocates of social, economic, cultural and environmental rights.

In its capacity as a donor, the Netherlands can urge multilateral development organisations such as the World Bank to put human rights at the heart of their development programmes.

The AIV recommends that both the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Foreign Affairs take part in parliamentary debates on human rights policy.

2. USE AGENDA 2030 TO STRENGTHEN THE MULTILATERAL HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM.

There is a risk that some countries will use the SDGs, with their emphasis on collective social, economic and environmental rights, to undermine the legal obligations laid down in international human rights treaties. This requires vigilance from the Netherlands during international consultations. In bilateral and multilateral talks it must consistently emphasise that, when it comes to achieving the SDGs, human rights – with their established international minimum standards – are the cornerstones of countries’ explicit and enforceable obligations.

In the UN Human Rights Council, international financial institutions, the European Union, the Council of Europe and elsewhere, the Netherlands must consistently draw attention to the indivisible relationship between respect for human rights and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities show, binding treaties can be effective instruments to establish and implement specific human rights. Other instruments include UN declarations (e.g. on human rights defenders), resolutions (e.g. the 2030 Agenda), Global Compacts (e.g. on business and on migration) and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The AIV recommends that the Netherlands determine whether one or more specific socioeconomic rights, such as the right to clean drinking water and the right to a healthy environment, can be further elaborated with the aid of these human rights instruments.

3. IMPROVE SUPERVISION OF AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 2030 AGENDA AND ESTABLISH A LINK WITH INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS.

To make a success of the 2030 Agenda, a transparent and straightforward system of verifiable supervision and accountability is needed. There is still a great deal to be achieved in this area, and the Netherlands could play a leading role. The Netherlands should ask the UN Secretary-General to make proposals to streamline and lighten the burden of reporting to the High-level Political Forum and the UN Human Rights Council. The Netherlands can highlight the intertwined nature of human rights and the SDGs by consistently referring to the 2030 Agenda in its own recommendations for the Universal Periodic Review.

The Netherlands can ask the UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee to identify ways to enhance the SDGs’ international policy coherence. It should also urge signatories of human rights treaties to address the SDGs in the national reports that they are required to issue.

The Netherlands could also mobilise financial and human resources to help less developed countries build capacity to collect and interpret data and prepare SDG and human rights reports. Moreover, the Netherlands could also help national human rights bodies and civil society organisations improve national reporting obligations.

Within the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), the Netherlands could make proposals for the further refinement and operationalisation of the SDG indicators. To that end, it could use human rights indicators developed to measure, for instance, inclusion, gender and other forms of equality, and non-discrimination, drawing on the expertise of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The AIV welcomes the involvement of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights in the preparation of the third SDG report to be submitted to the House of Representatives. The Institute should be permanently involved in both the SDG report and the Voluntary National Reviews that the Kingdom of the Netherlands submits to the High-level Political Forum.

4. MAKE TACKLING INEQUALITY WITHIN AND BETWEEN COUNTRIES A STANDARD TOPIC IN INTERNATIONAL CONSULTATIONS.

The AIV recommends that the Netherlands draw attention to inequality in various international forums. At the High-level Political Forum at the level of heads of state and government in September 2019, the Netherlands could organise a prominent side event on income and capital inequality and its relationship with the SDGs, working in a broadbased partnership with one or more like-minded countries (North and South), multilateral organisations (World Bank, ILO), non-governmental organisations (Oxfam, Transparency International) and multinational businesses and banks. The Netherlands could subsequently organise similar side events during, for instance, the UN General Assembly and the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.

5. PROMOTE THE REFORM OF GLOBAL GOVERNANCE.

In the AIV’s opinion, the Netherlands, with its exceptionally open economy and strong international orientation, should actively promote international policy coherence and global governance. The global partnership necessary to achieve the SDGs can only work on the basis of equality. The Netherlands must work internationally to give emerging and developing countries a stronger voice in multilateral organisations and partnerships216 This applies particularly to their say in the composition of the executive boards of the main international financial institutions. Global governance also includes the network of SDG partners.

6. MAINTAIN THE NETHERLANDS’ LEADING ROLE ON BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS.

The Netherlands should pursue a stronger relationship between business, human rights and the SDG agenda. Eliminating ‘business and human rights’ as a human rights policy priority must not be allowed to diminish the Netherlands’ international prominence in this area. Cooperation with the business community on achieving the SDGs should be strengthened in both human rights policy and foreign trade and development policy.

If the private sector is to play a major part in achieving human rights and the SDGs (for example those in the area of climate change and the environment), government must actively oversee how business fulfils that role. The AIV recommends that the government prepare a second national action plan on business and human rights in order to clarify the relationship between human rights, business and the SDGs, further flesh out states’ duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, and identify instruments that encourage businesses to help achieve the SDGs while respecting human rights.

In addition to encouraging businesses to self-regulate (through international responsible business conduct agreements), the Netherlands should retain the option of binding regulations as a policy tool to deal with companies that lag behind on human rights. It should make an active, constructively critical contribution to the exploratory talks on a business and human rights treaty currently being held in the UN Human Rights Council. After all, international agreements help create a level playing field for national and multinational businesses alike.

7. MAKE COMBATING ‘SHRINKING CIVIC SPACE’ AN INTEGRAL PART OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEVELOPMENT POLICY.

Civil society organisations play an indispensable role in the SDG partnership. That is why the Netherlands’ human rights and development policy should include targeted activities to prevent deliberate government action, either political or financial, to shrink civic space. The Netherlands should publicly highlight the importance of independent civil society organisations and human rights defenders more often. The European Commission should be urged to do the same.

Measures should therefore be taken to strengthen the embassies’ knowledge and capacity regarding human rights and attacks on civil society. Dutch embassies in countries where human rights organisations are under fire should implement the EU directives on human rights defenders, which are based on the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ support for civil society organisations should be strategic and flexible, preferably using long-term core financing (rather than short-term project financing). The Netherlands should not support civil society organisations established by repressive governments.

8. ACTIVELY INVOLVE YOUNG PEOPLE IN IMPLEMENTING THE 2030 AGENDA.

The Netherlands should press for a special representative in the UN system to focus attention on the interests of future generations. Acting on a proposal by the UN Secretary-General (see chapter I), the Netherlands could encourage the High-level Political Forum for the 2030 Agenda to make the rights of future generations a standard item on its agenda.

The annual SDG report submitted to the House of Representatives includes a section on young people written by the National Youth Council. This is undoubtedly a positive move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the AIV believes the Dutch government should make far more use of young people’s ability to promote action on the SDGs. It should be standard practice for youth organisations to be involved in Dutch policymaking on the 2030 Agenda and have a say in related policy fields, such as education, climate change and sustainable development, health and equality. By guaranteeing young people a seat at the table, including at line ministries and in local government, government would increase knowledge and awareness of human rights and sustainable development among new generations.

9. STRENGTHEN THE COORDINATION AND COHERENCE OF NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ACTION ON THE SDGS.

Responsibility for coordinating internal and external SDG policy rests with the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. This can create the impression that the Netherlands’ primary focus in implementing the 2030 Agenda lies abroad. But the 2030 Agenda must be implemented in every country, including the Netherlands. The Netherlands’ international efforts on the SDGs will be convincing only if it puts its own house in order. This is a responsibility of the government as a whole.

The annual SDG progress report submitted to the House of Representatives should include a standard section on SDG efforts, including human rights, in the Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba). Although the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands are an integral part of the Netherlands, their specific development and human rights challenges do not receive the attention they deserve from the European Netherlands. The annual SDG report should also consider the coordination of SDG policy between the four countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands (the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten).

Given the overwhelming importance of the 2030 Agenda to society as a whole, the AIV calls on the prime minister to accentuate the Netherlands’ European and international profile on the SDGs and human rights in the run up to the High-level Political Forum at the level of heads of state and government in September 2019, for example by hosting the side events referred to in recommendation 4.

 

https://aiv-advice.nl/b08

Even Eritrean human rights defenders abroad are not safe

June 27, 2019
Amnesty International published on 27 Jun 2019 a report called “Eritrea: Repression without borders – Threats to human rights defenders abroad

On 12 October 2018 the UN General Assembly elected Eritrea to be one of 47 member states of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), despite its appalling human rights record. UNHRC membership comes with certain commitments, including the requirement to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, [and to] fully cooperate with the Council […]”. The Eritrean government falls far short of these requirements in practice – both domestically and internationally. This briefing highlights the routine and widespread use of harassment and threats by the Eritrean government and its supporters against Eritrean human rights defenders. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/04/eritrean-born-journalist-dawit-isaak-awarded-2017-unescos-guillermo-cano-world-press-freedom-prize/

https://reliefweb.int/report/eritrea/eritrea-repression-without-borders-threats-human-rights-defenders-abroad