Posts Tagged ‘reprisals’

Human rights defenders in Asia suffer reprisals says Gilmour

May 18, 2018

On 18 May 2018 several newspapers – such as The Guardian and Scoop (NZ) – carried a piece by Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights based in New York, which describes with great frankness how human rights defenders in Asia are under attack. To quote liberally:

In February, hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process, environmental activists and human rights defenders were labeled “terrorists” by their own government. The security of the individuals on this list is at stake, and some have fled the Philippines. The UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extra-judicial executions. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he wanted to slap her, and later announced that he would like to throw other UN human rights officials to the crocodiles. The national Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines was threatened with a zero budget and its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is in detention for her advocacy. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/10/there-seems-to-be-no-limit-to-what-duterte-is-willing-to-say-and-may-get-away-with/]

…..If governments in the region can target high profile human rights defenders and those associated with the UN with impunity, what is the message to others at community level who are not afforded the same visibility? ..

In the run up to the 2018 national elections in Cambodia, the Government has cracked down on the opposition, independent media and civil society. ..

In Myanmar, there were reports of violent reprisals by Tatmadaw, the armed forces, against civilians who met with Yanghee Lee, UN independent expert on Myanmar, following her visit to Rakhine State. …..

Bogus accusations of abetting terrorism are a common justification that we hear from governments to defend the targeting of the UN’s important civil society partners. We have countless cases of advocates charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities, or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the state.

I recently met with a group of human rights defenders from across South-East and South Asia about their experiences, which in some cases have been made worse by speaking out or if they share information with the UN. The stories about these reprisals were common – they have been charged with defamation, blasphemy and disinformation. They are increasingly threatened and targeted for their work, indeed some have been labeled as terrorists. There were also accusations of activists being drug addicts or mentally unwell.

Some governments feel threatened by any dissent. They label human rights concerns as “illegal outside interference” in their internal affairs; or as an attempt to overthrow regimes; or as an attempt to impose alien “Western” values.

Opposition to economic development and investment projects seems to incite particular ire. Agribusiness, extractive industries, and large-scale energy initiatives, including those that involve indigenous peoples’ land, often bear the brunt of the backlash.

Women’s rights activists and advocates of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons seem to be particularly targeted. Many are ostracized by their communities, labelled as outcasts, or branded as immoral. Sexual violence is part of this backlash, including rape threats.

Those working for religious freedom have been called ‘anti-Islam’, they and their families threatened or harassed. When advocacy for religious tolerance intersects with that of women’s rights and sexual freedom, the stakes can be even higher.

……

We are taking these allegations seriously, and addressing particular incidents of reprisals with governments. Civil society has to be heard – for the sake of us all.


For more of my posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1805/S00115/human-rights-advocates-in-asia-under-attack.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/18/imprisoned-threatened-silenced-human-rights-workers-across-asia-are-in-danger

 

UDHR at 70: human rights defenders are the key to celebration

March 6, 2018

The ISHR on 28 February 2018 made the following statement which seem obvious to the readers of this blog but it cannot be stressed enough: Human rights defenders risk their freedom and sometimes their lives to advocate for the rights of fellow human beings. On the occasion of the Human Rights Council’s High-Level panel commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, ISHR stressed that the realisation of the UDHR depends on the work of human rights defenders and that States who restrict the work of defenders are in turn violating their obligations under the UDHR. 

2018 is not only the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), it also marks the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on human rights defenders which was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly in 1998.

The rights enshrined in the UDHR cannot be guaranteed without a safe and enabling environment for the people exercising and fighting to defend those rights. States who commit to guarantee the UDHR cannot restrict the work of defenders, nor fail to act upon their obligation to protect them.

20 years after the adoption of the Declaration, human rights defenders have perhaps never been more under threat. They are subjected to judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearance, physical violence and even murder.

Defenders are also attacked when they bring their voices to the international community. Last year, a report by the Secretary-General found evidence of a strategy on the part of some States to prevent the activities of individuals cooperating with the UN. The report also highlights that the incidence of reprisals is becoming broader and that the means used are increasingly blunt…

The realisation of the UDHR depends on the work of defenders, who risk their lives and their freedom to advocate for the rights of others,” said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate. “It is alarming that States are increasingly shrinking civil society space on one hand, and professing their commitment to guarantee the UDHR on the other hand“.  These unprecedented attacks against civil society and defenders amount to violations of the same rights to which they are advocating for.

States must translate their commitment to the UDHR by taking immediate and effective measures to ensure that defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without any hindrance, to ensure accountability for all perpetrators, and access to remedies for victims.

The Human Rights Council plays an important role in contributing to the realisation of the UDHR on the ground. Accordingly, any proposals to strengthen or enhance the efficiency of the Council should be measured through the lens of increasing its impact, rather than the relatively insignificant time or money it may save. Finally, it is imperative that any legitimate process to strengthen the Council include the meaningful participation of civil society in all stages.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc37-defenders-are-key-realise-universal-declaration-human-rights

see also: https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc-consultation-civil-society-key-if-council-be-reformed-fit-purpose

Preview of Human Rights Defenders issues at the 2018 session of the UN Human Rights Council starting Monday

February 24, 2018

Thanks to the International Service for Human Rights I am able to give you a short overview of what issues directly relevant to human rights defenders are coming up in the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council starting on Monday 26 February 2018. For the broader human rights view please follow the link at the end of this post.

Thematic

Protection of human rights defenders working in the context of people on the move

A few days ago I posted https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/michel-forst-empowering-defenders-on-the-move-is-crucial-to-the-prevention-of-further-tragedy/ which refers to:

– the Global Compact for Migration which States will negotiate (in an open letter sent on 21 February, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid urged States to develop a compact that ‘explicitly recognizes and fully conforms to the existing international human rights framework as the authoritative protection agenda for all migrants’)

–  a thematic report on the situation of defenders of the rights of people on the move by the Special Rapporteur Michel Forst (read  ISHR’s detailed analysis)

– the OHCHR Principles and Practical Guidance for the protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations (Principle 18 which states that States should ‘respect and support the activities of human rights defenders who promote and protect the human rights of migrants’)

– the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s report which is expected to focus on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the context of migration.

Reprisals

During its last session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The resolution established a dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals at each September Council session. Through the resolution, the Council also affirmed the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation.Reports of cases of reprisals not only continue, but grow in spite of the passage of this resolution, and the appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General as the Senior Official on addressing Reprisals. As requested by Council Resolution 12/2, the General Debate under Item 5 of the Council is a key moment for States and civil society to raise and follow up cases of reprisals, and to push for accountability for such acts. [one of my favorite topics: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Other key thematic report will be the one by the body working on developing a treaty on business and human rights. The open-ended inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as IGWG), will present its third report to the Council. ISHR is concerned about the limited protection for human rights defenders in the current elements discussed at the last session. Any process towards drafting a business and human rights treaty should effectively prevent and respond to cases of reprisals.

Country-specific developments relating specially to HRDs:

Burundi. During the 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi; one led by the European Union extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and a second resolution by the African Group that requested OHCHR to urgently dispatch a team of three experts to engage with the Burundian authorities and all other stakeholders. Read here ISHR’s analysis of the two resolutions. At the 37th session, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present an oral briefing to the Council. In addition, the High Commissioner will give an oral briefing of the Council on the mission of the OHCHR. Furthermore, the Secretary-General’s report on Burundi noted that OHCHR continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses, primarily by the State and affiliated actors, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, more than 1,000 arbitrary arrests and detentions and restrictions on the freedoms of association, expression and movement. Burundi’s vice president criticised the report, suggesting that the Secretary-General has been transformed into an opposition member. ISHR and other NGOs continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, which both clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member of the Council. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/] For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

China. Since Xi Jinping’s assumption of power in 2013, the situation for human rights defenders in China has gone from bad to worse. Five current cases illustrate the sense of impunity with which Chinese authorities trample on the rights of civil society actors. ISHR has discussed many of them in detail, but in short they include:

  • the baseless house arrest since 2010 of Liu Xia, a poet and the widow of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo;
  • the prolonged detention of rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado, and without charge or access to lawyers since July 9, 2015;
  • the seizure and disappearance in January 2018 of bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen previously forcibly disappeared from Thailand in October 2015;
  • the detention and prosecution for inciting separatism of Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan cultural rights and education advocate; and
  • the punitive disbarment in January 2018 and, later that month, arbitrary detention of Yu Wensheng, a prominent human rights lawyer.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/10/more-on-residential-surveillance-in-a-designated-location-rsdl-in-china/

Other country situations:

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in many instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates and the situation of human rights defenders. They include:

  • The High Commissioner will present his reports on Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, Afghanistan and give oral updates on the situation of human rights in Haiti, Yemen, Ukraine, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congoand Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • OHCHR will present its report on Cyprus and an oral update on Eritrea.
  • The Council will consider the written update of OHCHR on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
  • The Council will consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and renew its mandate.
  • The Council will consider the report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • The fact-finding mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will present an oral update to the Council and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar will also present her report to the Council.
  • The Council will consider the interim report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran and Cambodia.
  • The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic.
  • The Independent Expert on Mali will present his report to the Council, who will also hold an interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Mali.
  • The Council was intending to consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, Asma Jahangir, however due to her death, it is currently unclear whether and how the report will be considered. {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/11/asma-jahangir-one-of-the-worlds-most-outstanding-human-rights-defenders-dies-at-age-66/]

The High Commissioner will present his annual report in the last interactive dialogue of his term. Read here ISHR and other regional and international human rights organisations’ open letter to the Secretary General on the selection process of the next High Commissioner. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): States to be reviewed

During this session the Council will adopt the UPR reports which list the recommendations the State under review is expected to implement of the following 14 countries: Czechia, Argentina, Gabon, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, Benin, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. ISHR submits briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocates for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following a number of vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session, including:

  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  • Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali

 

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session, including:

  • The annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming will take place on 26 February 2018 from 16:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the challenges and opportunities of the promotion and protection of human rights in the light of the UPR mechanism. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • High-level panel discussion on the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action will take place on 28 February 2018 at 16:00 to 18:00. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child will take place on 5 March 2018 from 09:00 to 11:00 and from 16:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the protection of the rights of the child in humanitarian situations. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • Debate on promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination will take place on 16 March 2018 at 09:00 to 11:00. This panel will be held in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The concept note will soon be made available here.

Side events. States and NGOs are holding a series of events. You can download the list of State events here and NGO events here. I will post on some of these separately.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc37-key-issues-agenda-march-2018-session

Overview of recent campaigning for human rights defenders in Vietnam

November 18, 2017

The NOW! campaign, founded by 14 human rights organizations, calls for the immediate release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. The campaign has established a comprehensive online database containing information about Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience. According to the database, Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience included bloggers, journalists, environmentalists, students, farmers, and workers who were arrested for their peaceful activism. Together, these men and women are serving 955 years and one month in prison, followed by 204 years under house arrest. Most of them were charged with violating article 79 of the criminal law, “plotting to overthrow the government”, and article 88, “conducting propaganda against the state”. But Civil Rights Defenders, one of the members of the NOW! campaign, said that the number of prisoners of conscience could be higher. [see also earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/14/assaults-on-human-rights-defenders-on-the-rise-in-vietnam/]

A letter signed by 17 civil society organizations urged leaders who attended the 2017 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Vietnam to raise the issue of human rights violations committed by state forces. The letter informed APEC leaders that Vietnam has detained at least 25 peaceful activists and bloggers since last year. “This crackdown is contrary to the goal of “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future” which is the stated theme of this year’s APEC gathering. Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards. We believe it is in the strong interest of APEC and of the international community to speak out against the widespread and systematic violations of human rights violations in Vietnam.”

Nine human rights groups launched the #StopTheCrackdownVN campaign decrying the crackdown of bloggers and activists in recent months and the harsh prison terms handed out to critics of the state. Don Le, a writer and member of Viet Tan political party, explained how the notorious articles 79 and 88 of the law are used by authorities to silence citizens: The law also allows authorities to filter, block or temporarily shutdown networks on the basis of any information that may be seen to “incite” mass gatherings that disturb national security and order. Given the Vietnamese government’s broad interpretation of national security, we might expect to see more attacks and shutdowns aimed at independent media and bloggers and arrests of peaceful community mobilisers.

But Vietnam is not easily impressed as the recent case of reprisals shows: Front Line Defenders reports that three human rights defenders were briefly arrested after meeting the EU Delegation in Hanoi. [On 16 November 2017, human rights defenders Pham Doan Trang, Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Quang were arrested by police after attending a meeting with the European Union Delegation in Hanoi to discuss human rights issues ahead of the EU – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled for 1 December 2017. After being kept incommunicado without access to legal representation, the human rights defenders were released. They remain under surveillance.] From Line adds that: Authorities in Vietnam have a habit of tightening the grip over human rights defenders and civil society ahead of international meetings. During the APEC Summit in Danang between 6 and 10 November 2017, and afterwards, during the state visits of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, several human rights defenders and activists were kept under house arrest and heavy surveillance. Reports also state that human rights defenders were harassed by policemen in plainclothes to prevent them from meeting with international officials or organising demonstrations.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement in July 2017 expressing concern about the detention and persecution of citizen journalists: We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all those detained in connection with their exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, and to amend the overly broad ill-defined laws that are used – under the pretext of national security – to crack down on dissent.

20th anniversary of UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders starts with crucial draft resolution in the GA

November 1, 2017

9 December 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of the ‘UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms‘ (in short the UN Declaration on HRDs).  The General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have over the years adopted annual resolutions, informed by reports by the Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. However, as this blog and many others can testify, human rights defenders continue to face severe risks and are increasingly targets of actions taken by state and/or non-state actors in violation of the Declaration.  As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Declaration, the Norwegian delegation has just now tabled a draft resolution at the 72nd session of the General Assembly. The text is not officially out yet but the main new elements in the draft resolution are:

  • a high level meeting on HRDs in the General Assembly in New York next year, and
  • a request to the UN Secretary General/OHCHR to put together a comprehensive report on what UN can do to assist States.

Secretary-General Guterres should have no problem accepting such a request as he stated in the Human Rights Council on 27 February this year: “…To human rights defenders, I say: thank you for your courage. The United Nations is on your side. And I am on your side. I remind Member States of their responsibility to ensure that human rights defenders can operate without fear of intimidation.” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/28/new-secretary-general-at-human-rights-council-tells-human-rights-defenders-and-i-am-on-your-side/]

The UN Mission of Norway is as usual in the lead in getting this resolution adopted, while facing the danger of hostile amendments. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/23/norwegian-resolution-un-human-rights-council-defenders-amendments/]. They have their work cut out and any help in lobbying for this new draft would be most welcome. The text of the draft resolution as tabled follows below (it should be issued soon as an “L” document) in which I have highlighted operative paragraphs 14-17.

Draft resolution – version for tabling Read the rest of this entry »

Repressive governments and Ophelia compete to prevent HRDs to travel to Dublin

October 18, 2017

Andrew Anderson, the executive director of Front Line Defenders, published a piece at the beginning of the Dublin Platform for Human Rights hosted by Front Line Defenders in Ireland

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders
Thwe Thwe Win is one of the 117 at-risk activists invited to the 2017 Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders who actually made it to the bi-anual gathering of global activists. ….

Like thousands of people trying to get into Ireland on Monday, dozens of our international guests had flights canceled or postponed. Another 11, however, were prevented from attending long before Ophelia hit, banned from leaving home by their governments…..It is an opportunity for defenders typically preoccupied with defending their communities – and surviving the threats that ensure – to spend 72 hours not being physically surveilled by a totalitarian state, threatened at work by an extremist group, or receiving menacing phone calls demanding their stop their activism. It is an opportunity to relax, something activists tend to forget to do. It is also a chance for defenders to learn from their peers around the world. Feminists from Nigeria strategise with Colombians about how to peacefully defend indigenous land from paramilitaries. Emirati human rights defenders chat to Moroccans about the high-tech spying software both their governments recently purchased. Bahrainis lament with Bangladeshis the unrelenting influence of Saudi Arabia in each oppressive state’s policies. Rights activists from most of the former Soviet block tend to tease the Russian about their own governments’ adopting a “copy and paste” approach to many of Russia’s anti-NGO laws.

This year there will be a noticeable gap in our Dublin Castle crowd. Last week, we learned that our Kuwaiti invitee was threatened by state officials not to travel. The Bahraini invited is currently in detention; last time she was there, they sexually assaulted her. The second young Bahraini woman we invited in her place – who boldly took to Twitter to speak out for the former – now has a travel ban. The Saudi activist learned he was on an intelligence surveillance list last week; he rang our Blackrock office to say he was too scared to leave home. The Gulf has been a blackhole of restrictions of freedom of movement for human rights defenders for some time now, but unfortunately that’s not the end of it. Our Syrian colleague has had his passport confiscated by state security in Turkey, and a Ukrainian lawyer has yet to be granted permission to travel.

An activist in Cameroon was arrested for his peaceful activism a few weeks ago – he won’t be joining us this week; he’s in prison. A Cuban human rights defender planned to leave home in Guantanamo City extra early, knowing he’d be stopped at the town’s many American-run military checkpoints – security in Guantanamo is tight. Ultimately, he was never granted the “exit permit” required to leave Cuba. In Colombia, David Rabelo Crespo was recently released from prison after 7 years for a crime he did not commit, but has still been forbidden from travel to Dublin.

Governments world-over know that it is not laws, conventions, or UN resolutions that bring human rights reform to a country – it’s people. They know that activists are only as powerful as their communities, both local and international, and are working harder than ever to ensure that networks of solidarity cannot flourish.

Radical social change – the kind that undermines dictatorships, dismembers racist populist tides, secures indigenous peoples’ rights to their land – has always been born out of collective struggle. It is clear that in preventing our human rights defender colleagues from Bahrain, Kuwait, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Syria, and Bolivia from traveling, the respective authorities are not only vindictive, they are terrified of activists. Authoritarians think that if they lock human rights defenders away – behind bars or travel bans or physical attacks – that we will stop listening, that we will forget them. Authoritarians are wrong……….When governments work hard to silence activists, we must work harder to hear them.” [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/closing-civil-society-space-a-euphemism-for-killing-human-rights-defenders/#more-7208]

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights,made statement on 17 October 2017 which is worth reading in its totality but I copy here only the part on reprisals:

At times – as some of you have experienced or witnessed – engagement with the UN on human rights can lead to reprisals and intimidation. This has been a long-standing concern to the Organization, and we are distressed at the increasing number of such acts. These range from travel bans, threats and harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, restrictive legislation, physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, denial of access to medical attention, and even killings. Intimidation of human rights defenders is happening all the time. The purpose is to penalize individuals who have already spoken out, thereby also sending a signal to many others from speaking out in future.

Recognising the gravity of this issue, last October the Secretary-General announced that he had asked me to lead efforts to strengthen UN-wide action for prevention of, protection against, investigation into and accountability for reprisals. Many Governments are very supportive, and have offered resources for this endeavor. Our host country Ireland is very strong in this regard. We are trying to get as much information about what is going on, and for this we need your input, and will circulate our email address to help us get it.… I recount a few lines of what I said in my speech to the Human Rights Council three weeks ago as I presented the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals:

We believe the significance of this report goes far beyond the individual cases contained in it. I think we should see these individuals as the canary in the coal mine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all. (…)

It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases to you, the UN membership, of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their respective Governments – was to cooperate with the UN institutions and mechanisms whose mandate of course derives from you, the UN membership. (…)

I salute the extraordinary courage that it sometimes takes for the victims and their families to come forward and share their stories with us, and also the dedication of the civil society organizations who act on behalf of those affected.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

Sources:

Its people and not laws that bring human rights reform to a country

http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22251&LangID=E

United Nations’ Andrew Gilmour: HRDs are like “the canary in the coalmine, bravely singing until they are silenced..”

September 22, 2017

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights (file). UN Photo/Manuel Elias

On 20 September 2017 the UN reported that a  growing number of human rights defenders around the world are facing reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the United Nations, ranging from travel bans and the freezing of assets to detention and torture, says a new report issued by the world body.

“It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their governments – was to cooperate with UN institutions and mechanisms,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour“We should see these individuals as the canary in the coalmine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all,” Mr. Gilmour told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as he presented the Secretary-General’s report.

The report, the eighth of its kind, names 29 countries where cases of reprisal and intimidation have been documented; this is higher than the previous highest number of 20. Eleven of the States are current members of the Human Rights Council, a news release pointed out. Some have featured in the annual report on reprisals nearly every year since it was instituted in 2010. [see my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/23/reprisals-at-the-un-more-calls-for-action-no-action/]

Mr. Gilmour told the Council that the problem was much more widespread than presented in the report. “Since this report is limited to reprisals against people cooperating with the UN, the cases covered in it represent only a small portion of a far more generalized backlash against civil society and others challenging State authorities, especially human rights defenders”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

———

Amnesty International has launched a campaign to publicize what it says is a worsening situation for human rights activists throughout the world. The group hopes its “Brave” campaign will persuade governments to keep the promises they made in United Nations treaties to protect defenders of human rights. The organization Front Line Defenders says 281 people were killed in 2016 for defending human rights. In 2015, the number was 156.

Guadalupe Marengo, head of Amnesty’s Human Rights Defenders Program, told the VOA that “In the current context of us-versus-them, of demonization, of full frontal attack actually I would say on human rights, it is crucial that we take stock and that we call on the authorities to stop these attacks immediately.” …….Amnesty says human rights defenders are arrested, kidnapped and killed around the world. It says they are also attacked using online technology. Surveillance tools are used to study their activity. Marengo says campaigns launched on social media tell lies about the activists in an attempt to cause others to oppose them. “They are accused of being terrorists; they are accused of being criminals, they are accused of defending ‘immorality.’” Amnesty International hopes the “Brave” program will show the worsening situation for human rights activists worldwide.

——–

To underscore the point the NGO CIVICUS made a statement to the same (36th) UN Human Rights Council based on a panel discussion on the rights of indigenous people. 

“I read this statement on behalf of 39 human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on indigenous, land and environmental rights from 29 countries who met in Johannesburg, South Africa from 7-9 August 2017 to discuss strategies to advance the protection of indigenous, land and environmental rights activists. Mr. President, 2016 surpassed 2015 as the deadliest year on record for those stood up against land grabbing, natural resource exploitation and environmental destruction. Worryingly, the number of killed has risen to 200 from 185 in 2016 and spread to several countries across the world.

In the current global climate, where repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly is becoming the norm rather than the exception, environmental and land defenders are particularly vulnerable. When we express concerns over the collusion between States and corporate actors, we face opposition – dissent is stifled and criminalised, and our lives are threatened. Often our work is discredited and we are labelled ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-development’.

When we protest peacefully against this attack on our resources and livelihoods, we face violence from state authorities, private security groups and state-sponsored vigilante groups. When we stand up to defend the rights of our communities, we face unfounded criminal charges, unlawful arrests, custodial torture, threats to life and liberty, surveillance, judicial harassment and administrative hurdles, among other actions.

Mr. President, our families are threatened into silence and many of us have had to make the difficult decision to flee our homes and go into exile, retreating from a fight that has become too dangerous. We need global action to counter the threats we face.

We ask the panellists to urge the Council to emphasise the need for all states to ensure that affected communities are adequately consulted, including securing their full consent prior to the development of infrastructure and extractive industries projects. “

Sources:

United Nations News Centre – Growing number of rights defenders facing reprisals for cooperating with UN

http://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/2953-joint-statement-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/amnesty-human-rights-campaign/3861696.html

Important side event on Thursday 21 September 2017: Ending Reprisals

September 19, 2017

organizes on 21 September 2017 an important side event: “Ending Reprisals: Discussion with Human Rights Defenders and Experts”. The purpose of this discussion is to contribute to the critical debate on developing and strengthening procedures to prevent and address reprisals at the UN, ensuring that the voices of defenders are at the front and centre of the discussion.

This panel coincides with the presentation of the Secretary-General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (‘the reprisals report’) at the Council’s current session. [for some of my earlier posts on this crucial topic see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Panelists: 

  • Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, OHCHR
  • Claudia Samayoa (UDEFEGUA), Human Rights Defender from Guatemala
  • Ellecer Carlos (iDEFEND & PAHRA), Human Rights Defender from the Philippines
  • Women human rights defender from Burundi, member of the MFFPS

Moderator:   Tess McEvoy, Legal Counsel, ISHR

(Attendance with UNOG pass only.)

Source: Invitation: Thursday 21 September, 3.00pm – Ending Reprisals: Discussion with Human Rights Defenders and Experts

Russia before the European Court for limiting NGOs communication with international bodies

August 8, 2017

In an intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in a case against Russia, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has called on the Court to explicitly rule that that the rights to freedom of expression and association include the right to unhindered access and communication with international human rights bodies.

A law in Russia requires that an NGO receiving foreign funding and engaging in ‘political activity’ register as a ‘foreign agent‘. ‘Foreign agents’ not only have to comply with cumbersome financial and reporting requirements, but the negative stigma associated with this label have been described as debilitating. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/16/russian-court-declares-adc-memorial-formally-as-foreign-agent-others-to-follow/]

After submitting a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) Memorial – an NGO at that time operating in Russia – was required to register as a foreign agent on the basis that submitting the report constituted ‘political activity’. Following this, ADC Memorial brought a case against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the administrative consequences associated with being labeled a foreign agent violate the rights to freedom of expression and association protected by the European Convention of Human Rights. ‘This case raises issues regarding meaningful protection the European Convention on Human Rights provides individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and association with international human rights bodies and mechanisms’, says ISHR’s Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy. ‘It also demonstrates a serious and systematic human rights problem of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN.’

ISHR submitted a third party intervention in the case of ADC Memorial. ‘The intervention is designed to assist the Court by providing an extended analysis of the scope of the rights to freedom of expression and association in international law to inform the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights’, McEvoy states. The analysis concluded that accessing and communicating with the UN is protected under the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and that reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN would violate those rights. ‘It is vital that human rights defenders have the ability to communicate, publish and disseminate information to international human rights institutions to effectively promote and protect human rights. We call on the European Court to ensure that right is protected’.

For more information contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch.

Source: Reprisals | ISHR calls on European Court to protect the right to communicate with international bodies | ISHR

Reprisals at the UN: more calls for action – no action

June 23, 2017

The UN and States must take visible and sustained action against acts of intimidation and reprisal against those engaging or seeking to engage with the UN“, says the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in two reports issued on 22 June 2017.  Unfortunately, the NGO community (the main victims of the practice of reprisals) finds it difficult to come up with new ideas on how counter the trend while States continue to block the participation and input by human rights defenders. [ see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

ISHR’s latest report to the UN Secretary-General demonstrates again the need for the UN and States to act to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN, and lays out a series of recommendations in that regard. The report documents a disturbing pattern of reprisals against human rights defenders seeking to cooperate with the UN. It includes alleged cases of travel bans in Bahrain in the context of the Universal Period Review this May; disappearances and detention of defenders and lawyers, as well as intimidation of their families in China; and restrictions imposed on NGOs in Egypt.The report welcomes recent positive steps such as the appointment of Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour as the first high-level official on reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights, but highlights that more needs to be done. ‘In the overwhelming majority of cases, steps taken by the State to prevent, investigate or ensure accountability for reprisals have been inadequate or non-existent, and in many States there has been a high-level of impunity’ said ISHR’s Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel, Tess McEvoy. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/05/assistant-secretary-general-andrew-gilmour-appointed-as-the-uns-focal-point-to-combat-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/]

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States. However the UN itself also has a duty to step up. ‘Where States fail to adequately investigate and ensure accountability in relation to credible allegations of intimidation and reprisals, the UN should ensure an international, independent investigation into the case‘, said McEvoy. In the report ISHR called on UN bodies to take a more proactive role in combating reprisals and intimidation, and among other things, urged:

  • The Human Rights Council President and Bureau to clearly outlines steps the Council will take on receipt of information about credible risks of reprisals.
  • Treaty bodies to fully adopt and implement the San Jose guidelines.
  • The Assistant Secretary-General to ensure that rights holders and victims are kept regularly appraised of the status of their case.

     

    On the same day ISHR published a statement to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR calling for a stronger focus on the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and the development of processes to ensure civil society can freely engage without fear of intimidation and reprisal. ‘Civil society is not only necessary for developing recommendations, but is essential for the working towards the implementation of these recommendations. The role of civil society must therefore be protected and enhanced’, said ISHR.

    While recommendations received are often accepted at ‘Geneva level’, implementation of these recommendations on the ground remains patchy. Item 6 on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council provides a opportunity for dialogue on implementation.

    Alleged cases of intimidation and reprisals of human rights defenders engaging or seeking to engage in the UPR have escalated. ISHR received reports of cases in Egypt, India and Venezuela in the past year. Ongoing reprisals in Bahrain  are particularly concerning, including the imposition of travel bans on 27 defenders during the 27th UPR pre-session – including Sayed Hadi Al Musawi – as well as the interrogation of Abtisam Alsayegh in relation to her UN engagement. ISHR’s statement reiterated calls for States to ask advance questions, and make recommendations about the prevention, investigation, prosecution and remediation of reprisals.

    Reprisals against human rights defenders for their engagement with the UPR remain worryingly prevalent,’ said McEvoy. Given civil socity’s fundamental role in the UPR, we call on the President, Bureau and Secretariat to establish an institutionalised reprisals mechanism to prevent, investigate, remedy and promote accountability for reprisals associated with the UPR’, McEvoy continued. These calls form part of ISHR’s broader strategy to strengthen the UPR  which can be accessed hereContact: Tess McEvoy, Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel, and focal point for ISHR’s UPR advocacy, on: t.mcevoy@ishr.ch.

    http://www.ishr.ch/news/report-sg-un-and-states-must-do-more-prevent-and-ensure-accountability-reprisals-0