Posts Tagged ‘restrictive laws’

Amnesty launches report on Laws designed to silence human rights defenders

February 21, 2019

The report lists 50 countries worldwide where anti-NGO laws have been implemented or are in the pipeline
Governments around the world are stepping-up their attacks on civil society organisations and human rights defenders, according to a new Amnesty International report. On 21 February 2019 RTE Ireland summarizes it as follows: It says governments are creating laws that subject non-governmental organisations and their staff to surveillance, bureaucratic hurdles and the threat of imprisonment. The international human rights group says the global assault on NGOs has reached a crisis point as new laws curb vital human rights work. The report, Laws Designed to Silence: The Global Crackdown on Civil Society Organisations, lists 50 countries worldwide where anti-NGO laws have been implemented or are in the pipeline.
Amnesty International says these laws commonly include implementing ludicrous registration processes for organisations, monitoring their work, restricting their sources of resources and, in many cases, shutting them down if they do not adhere to the unreasonable requirements imposed on them.
[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/global-statement-on-the-20th-anniversary-of-the-un-declaration-on-human-rights-defenders/]
We documented how an increasing number of governments are placing unreasonable restrictions and barriers on NGOs, preventing them from carrying out crucial work,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “In many countries, organisations who dare to speak out for human rights are being bullied into silence. Groups of people who come together to defend and demand human rights are facing growing barriers to working freely and safely. Silencing them and preventing their work has consequences for everyone.”  SEE ALSO NAIDOO’S OP-ED: http://news.trust.org//item/20190220144717-jcwuf/
https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/global-assault-on-ngos-reaches-crisis-point/

https://www.rte.ie/news/2019/0221/1031852-amnesty_assault_on_ngos/

FIDH collected Russia’s 50 anti-democracy laws

March 18, 2018

 

Since re-election in 2012, the Russian president has overseen the creation of 50 laws designed to strangle opposition voices and raise the level of fear and self-censorship in society. FIDH with its Russian member organizations released a table of the latest 50 new anti-democracy laws since 2012. It explains the impact of each of them on the fundamental freedoms of Russian citizens, cutting down every day a little bit more the free exchanges with the outside world. It also provides some, far from exhaustive examples of the legal abuses it provokes in the every day life of citizens.

Not only the present but also the past gets filtered and controlled.

The laws and regulations range from increased surveillance and censorship powers, to laws banning “questioning the integrity of the Russian nation” – effectively banning criticism of Russia’s presence in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea – broad laws on “extremism” that grant authorities powers to crack down on political and religious freedom, to imposing certain views on Russian history forbidding to think differently.

CHECK OUT THE TABLE OF LAWS

Profile of Stephania Koulaeva, human rights defender in Russia

January 8, 2016

In December 2015 the ISHR published this profile of Russian human rights defender Stephania Koulaeva 

Stephania Koulaeva, a historian by education, explains the ever-expanding scope of her human rights work. Her interest was drawn to the memorial movement in Russia: ‘at first from a historical perspective, then from a human rights perspective.’ As a student, Stephania was involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, primarily focused on the rights of the Roma minority, the most visible minority in Russia at the time. After new waves of migration began from Central Asia in the late nineties, Stephania expanded her work to issues surrounding migration. This then broadened further to include women’s rights, LGBTI rights, and she eventually became involved in the protection of human rights defenders. Her organisation, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC Memorial) is the only organisation in Russia that combats discrimination on such a wide range of issues.

Unfortunately, shrinking space for civil society has consistently been a serious threat within Russia. ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, neo-nazis attacked and occasionally murdered human rights defenders working on discrimination issues. At that time that was the primary danger; the main danger we face now is political oppression by the Government.’

Over the past few years – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s 2012 return to presidency – the Russian Government has cracked down on NGOs, often by accusing them of being ‘foreign agents’ due to their ‘political activity’. ADC Memorial was forced to choose between officially registering as a ‘foreign agent’ or closing down for submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture in the lead up to Russia’s 2012 review by that body. As the label of ‘foreign agent’ would greatly restrict the work ADC Memorial was able to carry out, it made the difficult decision of closing the organisation down in 2014. Since then, ADC Memorial has been operating without official Russian registration.

The continued operation of ADC Memorial does not indicate an alleviation in the Government’s harsh approach to civil society, and in November of this year, prominent NGO Memorial Human Rights Centre was targeted in the same manner: ‘They received a letter from the prosecutor stating that they had violated the Constitution of the Russian Federation for fulfilling their work.’ Memorial Human Rights Centre had previously ‘criticised Russian aggression in the Ukraine’ and ‘disagreed with the arrest of certain civil activists’. It is most likely being threatened due to this ‘political action’. ‘This is a very dangerous step for the Government to take. They are now criminalising human rights activity; the situation is rapidly getting worse.’

Stephania has a positive outlook on her previous interactions with the UN, acknowledging that the UN has done their utmost to stop the criminalisation of human rights defenders. ‘We’re very grateful for all the support that we’ve received from various treaty body committees that we’ve worked with; they’ve all recognised the work of civil society and given meaningful recommendations in the framework of their mandate.’ However, the political reality of the UN’s influence is not always as effective. ‘It’s very difficult to oppose Russian politics, even at the level of the United Nations.’ Stephania is now looking outward to bring domestic change to Russia, as anti-discrimination laws now seem ‘unlikely – although pressure on the Government will continue.’ She hopes to find some success in international courts, citing potentially useful precedents at the European Court of Human Rights in cases regarding migrants and stateless people.

‘We can’t simply stay within our borders – it’s impossible to tackle issues solely within Russia without also looking at related issues in neighbouring countries.’

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/12-human-rights-defenders-who-are-not-on-the-slopes-of-sochi/

Source: Defender profile: Stephania Koulaeva working in Russia | ISHRISHR-logo-colour-high

Michael Sfardjan: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

January 5, 2016

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Human Rights Defenders – among the top 10 issues for Business and Human Rights in 2016

December 20, 2015

The Institute for Human Rights and Business has published: Human Rights Defenders and Business – Searching for Common Ground. This is the fourth in a series of Occasional Papers by IHRB to provide independent analysis and policy recommendations about timely subjects on the business and human rights agenda. In this instance, this paper is co-published with Civil Rights Defendersand Front Line Defenders, both organisations with practical research, campaigning, and advocacy experience of the issues raised in the paper.

As cases in this Paper show, journalists exposing corruption, Internet activists demanding accountability, and community activists campaigning for land rights have all faced pressure.

More than sixty governments have passed laws in the last three years to place restraints on the ability of human rights defenders to hold their governments to account. Among those targeted are individuals and organisations who challenge economic policies or business conduct. Human rights defenders’ activities are being criminalised and they face surveillance, intimidation, lawsuits, arrests, and torture – in some cases, even death.

Companies are engaging with civil society, but mutual suspicions remain. Companies share common goals with human rights defenders – accountability, transparency, the rule of law, and due process. Companies should build on these common interests and engage human rights defenders, and where possible, speak out in their defense. To download:

The same institution – to mark International Human Rights Day 2015 – published the seventh annual list of the Top 10 Business & Human Rights Issues for the 2016 (these issues are not ranked in order of importance). The one specific on human rights defenders reads:
Defending Defenders: A Role for Business in Championing Civil Society

More than sixty governments have passed laws in the past three years to place restraints on the ability of human rights defenders to hold their governments to account for actions that undermine respect for international standards. Among those targeted are individuals and organisations who champion alternate economic paradigms or challenge government policies or business conduct. Some have faced intimidation, surveillance, lawsuits, arrests, and torture.

Twenty years ago, after a trial that failed to meet international standards, the Nigerian Government executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders who opposed the activities of Shell in the Niger Delta. The case sparked global awareness of business’ human rights responsibilities beyond the factory walls, leading to the development of standardsadvocacyinitiativescodes of conducts, and eventually a comprehensive UN framework and principles for business and human rights.

Despite some progress over the past two decades, suppression of activists too often continues. The UN has passed a resolution recognising the legitimate role of peaceful activists who call out abusive behaviours, including business actions that undermine respect for human rights. Yet a growing number of governments are also passing new laws to restrain civil society activities.

Human rights defenders are like canaries in a mine. When they campaign against abuses, they highlight society’s fundamental problems, such as lack of accountability, transparency, or the rule of law. Courts have jailed journalists exposing corruption, governments have tried Internet activists, authorities have prevented activists from travelling abroad, and states have cracked down on funding sources of non-governmental organisations. International financial institutionsare also under focus. The international community is increasingly paying attention to their cause. At the 2015 UN Forum on Business & Human Rights, there was special focus on human rights defenders and the role of business.  

In the year ahead, some governments, businesses, and NGOs will likely sharpen criticism of states that unjustifiably attack human rights defenders, as well as the companies that benefit from such crackdowns and choose to say nothing. With rising concerns over terrorism and the resulting tendency in many countries to emphasise security threats over protecting human freedoms, the road ahead for those who dissent will not be easy. The combined voice of global business will be critical in effectively promoting the legitimate role of individuals and organisations that champion human rights principles and standards in societies around the world. 

Sources:

Top 10 Business and Human Rights Issues for 2016 – Top 10 Emerging Issues

http://www.ihrb.org/publications/reports/human-rights-defenders.html?utm_source=IHRB+Subscribers&utm_campaign=0e75f77298-eNews_Update_Quarterly_Update_2&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_94694639e6-0e75f77298-120645865

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/business-and-human-rights/

Interview with Lira Ismailova, Human Rights defender from Kyrgyzstan

September 21, 2015

ISHR-logo-colour-high on 21 September 2015 carries an interview with Lira Ismailova, a human rights defender from Kyrgyzstan.

She starts by crediting her mother, Tolekan Ismailova – a celebrated Kyrgyz human rights defender, with influencing her. Lira, previously a lawyer advocating for a wide range of human rights related issues, currently works at Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan – which focuses on defending freedom of association and protecting human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan.

‘My first position in the field of human rights was with an NGO working for the protection of the rights of internal migrants. I then advocated for the repeal of the death penalty in Kyrgyzstan. I participated in a working group to prepare a draft law for reforming our criminal legislation, and on several reforms for the penitentiary system which included monitoring prisons in Kyrgyzstan.’ Lira’s work on the death penalty was ultimately successful in 2007 when President Bakiyev abolished the death penalty. However, this achievement did not herald a significant practical improvement in the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan. Instead, since then, it is ‘much more difficult’ for human rights defenders on the ground.

Lira recalls numerous occasions when she and her family had to temporarily leave Kyrgyzstan for safety reasons. Lira highlighted the restrictions imposed on Bir Duino’s operations and recalled that its Kyrgyzstan office has been burgled twice in connection with attacks on ‘nationalists’. Bir Duino’s activities were also ‘supervised’ by authorities during the trial of well-known human rights defender Azimzhan Askarov in 2013 who is currently serving a life sentence in a Kyrgyz prison [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/fury-about-us-award-for-askarov-in-kyrgyzstan-backlash-or-impact/].

Lira considers that the Kyrgyz government’s moves to create new restrictive legislation, along with the State Committee for National Security putting direct pressure on lawyers and human rights defenders, has added to the shrinking space for civil society. See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/draft-laws-on-civil-society-restrictions-also-pending-in-kyrgyzstan-and-cambodia/

‘We need help from international institutions to raise awareness of the Government’s attempts to implement these restrictive laws and help us to stop these laws from passing in Parliament’ 

 

…..According to Lira, it is critical that, among other international mechanisms, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders visit Kyrgyzstan.  Some of the main aims of such visit would be to observe the effect of Russian-derived legislation on civil society space and support human rights defenders, such as Askarov a defender who needs urgent humanitarian aid.

Lira adamantly talks about what needs to be done in Kyrgyzstan – the Government needs to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in accordance with the UN Declaration on human rights defenders; ensure that national legislation complies with this Declaration, including by repealing legislative barriers to obtaining financial resources, independence, freedom of association, assembly and expression; and create a parliamentary committee on observance of the situation with the human rights defenders.

Source: Lira Ismailova: Human Rights defender from Kyrgyzstan | ISHR

Asia and human rights defenders: the shrinking space for NGOs

May 26, 2015

In a few recent posts I drew attention to the trend of shrinking space for NGOs in countries such as Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/draft-laws-on-civil-society-restrictions-also-pending-in-kyrgyzstan-and-cambodia/]. On 9 May 2015, The Economist’s column on Asia (Banyan) was devoted to the same issue, concluding that “Democratic Asian governments as well as authoritarian ones crack down on NGOs“. Under title “Who’s afraid of the activists?” it mentions China, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

It lists the usual ‘complaints’ that both authoritarian and democratic leaders use against the activities of NGOs, which range from:

  • threats to national sovereignty
  • promotion of ‘Western’ values
  • hidden agenda (such as conversion to Christianity)
  • blocking development through environmental objections.

E.g. the Indian home ministry claims that 13 billion $ in foreign money has gone to local charities over the past decade and that 13 of the top 15 donors were Christian outfits. Interestingly, similar complaints come from the biggest Indian NGO, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which itself has “strong foreign links, draws on an Indian diaspora in America and elsewhere for support, and dishes out help across borders, such as in Nepal following last month’s earthquake”.

Quite rightly the article concludes that in the long run, such limitations only rally political opponents, while (local) NGOs may face close scrutiny themselves one day (when the Government has changed hands): “Battering-rams, after all, have two ends.”

Who’s afraid of the activists? | The Economist.

China’s new foreign NGO law bound to make things worse for ‘sensitive’ human rights defenders

April 8, 2015

Maya Wang (twitter @wang_maya), a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, published on 8 April 2105 an interesting post under the title “China’s new foreign NGO law will help silence critics“.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Willem Velthoven.

Some years back I participated in an interesting meeting with Chinese academics in Beijing about exactly this issue of the status of NGOs in China. The meeting resulted in a book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’ (exceptionally also published in Chinese!) edited by Yuwen Li and published by Ashgate in 2011 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4). Although almost all participants agreed that the current regime for establishing associations is too cumbersome and too heavy-handed for Chinese civil society to flourish, the Government made clear that its main concern remained with what Maya calls ‘sensitive’ NGOs. Those working on issue that are even faintly related to human rights or smack of possible activism, especially when funded from abroad, are seen as a danger and should be subject tot maximum control. That seems to be born out by the draft of the long-awaited ‘Foreign NGOs Administration Law’, likely to be adopted this year and of which Human Rights Watch obtained a copy.

As Maya states, it has never been easy to run an independent organisation in China. The risks of being arbitrarily shut down or harassed are high, as shown by the arrest on 8 March of five women’s rights activists and a 24 March raid on an NGO that supports their work in Beijing. But the absence of a national law governing NGOs, coupled with differences in attitudes towards NGOs by regional leaders, have afforded some leeway for those with creative strategies. It has been common for ‘sensitive’ NGOs to register as a business to bypass the wary eyes of the state, or not register at all. And over the years, some international funding to these organisations in China has been tolerated.

 

Especially ‘sensitive’ NGOs have been unable to access domestic funding sources because they are not legally registered as a nonprofit and anyway those who did want to fund would receive official harassment. The new Foreign NGOs Administration Law is bound to end the funding lifeline that allowed more outspoken NGOs to operate.

The draft law is likely to significantly tighten the Government’s control over civil society says Maya: “If approved, the Ministry of Public Security (not the Ministry of Civil Affairs) will now have the power to supervise and approve registration of foreign NGOs. That ‘supervision’ can entail entering the premises of the foreign NGO at any point, questioning its staff, and copying or seizing any document, all tactics more commonly reserved for a criminal investigation. Foreign NGOs will have to submit for approval annual work plans and funding allocations, and will be prohibited from engaging in a range of peaceful activities, from raising funds or accepting donations in-country to recruiting volunteers or trying to recruit members ‘directly or indirectly.’” Violations of these prescriptions mean that an NGO’s representative in China would be liable to punishments, including a 15-day detention.

“The draft law is another step towards the Chinese Government’s ‘differentiated management’ model of NGOs, in which domestic groups working on issues approved by the state, such as charities for people with disabilities, can register easily and are considered for increased state funding and support.  But those engaged on rights or lobbying are stifled. The draft explicitly prohibits activities that ‘endanger…national security, unity and solidarity’ or that ‘go against China’s social morality’. These are vague terms, but ones frequently used to silence peaceful government critics and activists.”

China’s new foreign NGO law will help silence critics.

Amnesty’s Moscow office decries “foreign agents law” together with 148 other NGOs

November 24, 2014

Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, posted a clear and inspiring blog on 21 November about the “foreign agent” label with which the Russian Government is trying to discredit legitimate work by human rights defenders.  [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agents/]. In spite of the harassment the writer keeps up hope that justice will ultimately prevail:

“……Two years ago, the law adopted by the State Duma entered into force. It is universally known as the “Foreign Agents” law, despite the fact that it is actually an amendment to an old law “on non-commercial organisations”. The updated law with all its novelties wasn’t put into use at first, but in February 2013 the Russian Prosecutor’s Office began mass inspections of NGOs across the country. These inspections were followed by court hearings. The wide-scale campaign to smear NGOs began.

However, despite the authorities’ demands, human rights activists refused to call themselves foreign agents voluntarily. When all the Russian NGOs united in solidarity and declared, once for all, that they are not “agents”, it prompted widespread admiration.

Russian authorities had to rush to modify the fateful law. Following these amendments, “foreign agents” are now being unilaterally registered, without any judicial review. The leading human rights organizations are on this list too. Registration now consists of a penstroke by the Ministry of Justice. Just this week, two more organizations were put on the register and stigmatized by the “foreign agent” label.

Russian NGOs still reject the insulting stigma – none of the forcibly registered organizations is going to lie to themselves and to society. They are not “agents”. These people, representing various NGOs in different cities around our country are working for the good of our fellow citizens by helping those whose rights have been violated by the Russian authorities.

The past two years of pressure and denigration of civil society activists, the wave of state propaganda and streams of lies and insults have made the lives of human rights defenders, environmentalists and activists very difficult. Their struggle is widely known amongst their NGO colleagues in other countries, evident through numerous solidarity actions that have been conducted abroad in support of Russian civil society over the past two years.

Up to the present day, on the second anniversary of the shameful “Foreign Agents” law, almost 150 NGOs – national and international – have signed a letter to President Putin calling for him to overturn the disgraceful legislation.

Along with my colleagues from Amnesty International, and in the presence of journalists, this week I delivered this letter to the Presidential Administration. Our colleagues from 32 countries that have signed the letter are now waiting for Russian authorities to react.

We brought the letter with six pages of signatures and a 90cm x 150cm poster reprinting the words of the letter. To our great surprise, both were accepted, although the large poster caused some fuss among Presidential Administration employees.

One might say: “Oh, everything is meaningless.” It is nothing like that. More than 50 years of Amnesty International activism in every region of the world suggests the opposite.

There were darker days in the history of our country. We experienced numerous campaigns of lies and slander against individual citizens, groups of citizens and nations. Mudslingers have been always singing from the same song sheet as the authorities.

However, the inexorable course of history teaches us that truth is always restored and justice prevails. It may take years, and sometimes requires a lot of strength.

But we all know that those defamed and stigmatized with the “foreign agent” label are very brave and courageous people. And ultimately, this dark page of history will be remembered with disgust.

A version of this blog originally appeared (in Russian) on Ekho Moskvy’s website.

Open letter to Putin – 148 NGOs slam ‘foreign agents’ law | Amnestys global human rights blog.

Human Rights Defenders in Hungary: not yet ‘foreign agents’ but getting close

June 13, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT joint programme, expressed its concern that the Hungarian government is alarmingly shrinking the space of civil society by hindering their access to funding, conducting unexpected inspections and blacklisting prominent human rights organizations. The Observatory – not by accident – did so on 12 June 2014, the day the Hungarian Government was meeting representatives from a group of donor Governments including Norway.OMCT-LOGOlogo FIDH_seul

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