Posts Tagged ‘rule of law’

26 February: lecture on populism and human rights by Michael Ignatieff in Geneva

February 10, 2019

The populist upsurge in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and in established democracies like the United States has exposed the political vulnerability of rule of law as a cornerstone of liberal democracy. It is not just in authoritarian populist states that the independence of judges and the authority of law have come under attack in the name of a majoritarian conception of democracy. This suggests that the rule of law has always stood in a relation of tension with other principles of democracy, including majority rule and an independent media. The lecture explores these renewed political pressures on rule of law using contemporary examples drawn from the US, the UK and Hungary. [for some of my posts on populism, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/populism/]

Tuesday 26 February 2019, 18:30 – 20:00 in the Auditorium IVAN PICTET | Maison de la Paix, Geneva

Michael Ignatieff is the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017). [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/08/11825/]

The lecture will be moderated by Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and Rector of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen Institute (IWM) in Vienna.

This event is organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

To register: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/events-1/past-events.html/_/events/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/2019/law-populism-and-liberal-democra

 

Justice’s law firm exists 60 years In Geneva

September 28, 2018

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) celebrates its 60th year in Geneva.

2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the ICJ’s move to Geneva thanks to the Swiss jurist Jean-Flavien Lalive, who was ICJ’s Secretary General in 1958. This makes the ICJ one of the earliest international organizations to establish its headquarters in Geneva. DISCLAIMER: I worked for the ICJ from 1977-1982. The ICJ was at that time a small organisation with less than 10 persons including the interns. As Executive Secretary – the grandiose title belied my real position as the personal assistant of the impressive Secretary General Niall MacDermot. Still, then as now the ICJ plays a preeminent role as a non-governmental organization seeking to defend human rights and the rule of law worldwide.

The ICJ will mark this event with two major initiatives:

  • A visibility campaign from 26th September to 9th October: the TV screens on the Geneva public transport network and five vehicles will carry the slogan “Global Advocates for Justice and Human Rights – 60 years in Geneva”
  • The launch of the “60th Anniversary Appeal” to all lawyers in the Republic and canton of Geneva to support the ICJ and, in turn, their less privileged colleagues, victims of persecution on five continents.

Geneva can be proud of its image as the world human rights capital. It is a beacon for justice advocates around the world. We must continue to make it shine,” said Sam Zarifi, Secretary General of the ICJ. “Through its 60-year history, the ICJ has contributed significantly to Geneva’s human rights record: the campaigns that led to the creation of the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1993 and the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, as well as the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1984 are some emblematic examples,” said Olivier Coutau, Head of La Genève Internationale.

The international reputation of the ICJ rests on these pillars:

  • 60 Commissioners – eminent judges and lawyers – from all regions of the world and all legal systems – with unparalleled knowledge of the law and human rights;
  • Cooperating with governments committed to improving their human rights performance;
  • Effective balance of diplomacy, constructive criticism, capacity building, and if necessary, ‘naming and shaming’;
  • Unmatched direct access to national judiciaries, implementing international standards and improved legislation impacting millions;
  • Guiding, training and protecting judges and lawyers worldwide to uphold and implement international standards (e.g.in 2018, the ICJ provided local trainings on five continents to assist 4,300 judges, lawyers and prosecutors strengthen their ability to protect and promote fundamental rights)
  • Working for access to justice for victims, survivors and human rights defenders, in particular from marginalized communities;
  • Following a strict result based management in project delivery.

The ICJ has been awarded, during its long history, some of the most prestigious international awards: the Council of Europe Human Rights Prize, the United Nations Award for Human Rights, Erasmus Prize, Carnegie Foundation Wateler Peace Prize.

https://www.icj.org/global-advocates-for-justice-and-human-rights-the-icj-60-years-in-geneva/

Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar winner of 2018 RAFTO award!

September 27, 2018

Polish lawyer Adam Bodnar – Defender of minority rights and judicial independence in Poland (Photo credit: Kluczek/RPO.GOV.PL )

The Rafto Prize 2018 is awarded to the Polish lawyer Adam Bodnar and the institution he leads, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, for the important stance taken in the face of current political developments in Poland.  A key function of the Ombudsman, or the Commissioner for Human Rights, is to ensure that the public authorities secure and respect the human rights of all members of Polish society. As lawyer and Ombudsman, Adam Bodnar (41) has highlighted the crucial role played by independent Ombudsman institutions in safeguarding human rights in Poland – and other countries – where such actors and institutions  increasingly have come under attack.

Since Law and Justice (PiS) won the Polish election in October 2015, the party has used its majority in the National Parliament to adopt legislation that reduces the independence of the courts and centralizes state powers. New laws grant the government control of state media and place severe limits on freedom of information and political lobbying. The rights of vulnerable groups have been repeatedly ignored.  “The award is not just an award to my work and the institution, but mostly a support from your community given to the Polish civil society, academia, judges and lawyers fighting for rule of law, juridical independence, pluralism and protection of minorities in Poland,” said Adam Bodnar.

The Rafto Prize for 2018 to Adam Bodnar and the Ombudsman for Human Rights highlights the rolling back of democracy and human rights protections in Poland. The conflict over the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court are important internationally because they are symbolic of an alarming tendency where the independence of courts increasingly is under political pressure. It is crucial that the international community, the EU, Norway and other European countries take a clear stance against human rights violations and attacks on the rule of law and minority rights that take place in our own region. Adam Bodnar, being the civil servant, cannot accept the prize money awarded along with the Rafto Prize. The Rafto Foundation will identify and donate the prize money to civil society working for human rights in Poland.

For more on this and other awards: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/rafto-prize

https://www.rafto.no/news/the-2018-rafto-prize-to-ombudsman-adam-bodnar

The will of the people or ‘democracy under the rule of law’ in Europe ?

December 9, 2017

It is not often that I recommend the reading of long ‘governmental’ documents, but this time it do without hesitation. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs published on 4 October 2017 its 104th thoughtful report, entitled: “The will of the people? The erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe”. Below I reproduce the Conclusions and recommendations, but reading only these you miss out on gems such as the section on Media page 27:

“Until the end of the twentieth century the media landscape was dominated by newspapers, radio and television. However, the advent of the internet in the early 1990s and social media in the early 2000s brought about a radical change. The low cost of accessing the internet means that everyone is now, in principle, able to generate journalistic content (through blogs, websites, YouTube videos, live streaming, etc.). This has resulted in democratisation of the media and diversification of the media landscape, but has also had negative effects.

The independence of the media is crucial for the credibility of reporting. But on the internet this seems to be largely immaterial: media that focus on a specific political or ideological niche are highly successful online. Besides the role of the internet, another factor instrumental in undermining media independence is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of just a few companies..The income of the traditional news media is being squeezed by greater competition.

 

Online media are often funded from advertising revenue. Consequently, the facts are no longer necessarily central; what counts is attracting as many visitors as possible to the site, relying on the speed of posting news online, sensational content and the ideological message. This undermines the reliability of the media. As everyone is now potentially able to generate news and the quantity of media content has risen explosively, it is becoming ever more difficult to check the content, sender and sources. So it is easy, for example, for populist movements to claim that the traditional media, especially newspapers, are biased and mendacious. This problem is exacerbated by the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, which is disinformation generally intended to substantiate one’s own political positions or undermine the positions and reputation of political opponents.

Whereas at the time of the Arab Spring there was much praise for the positive impact of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) on the democratic process, there is now greater awareness of its darker side.61 First, social media contributes to the formation of ‘ lter bubbles’. Informational bubbles of this kind are created by the user personally (self-selection) and strengthened by search and personalisation algorithms (pre-selection). This hyperpersonalisation of news and opinion has created a situation in which people are shielded from conflicting positions and isolated from people who think differently. In addition, social media tends to polarise social debate. Although social media undeniably facilitates and intensifies political debate and discussion, the nature of reactions on social media (fast, brief, simplistic, one-sided and often anonymous) has made the tone of the social debate considerably more strident. Finally, social media makes individuals more transparent. Connections, posts and likes help to create a more complete picture of individuals, who they are and what they think, believe and want. Within a democracy under the rule of law this picture can be used, for example, to microtarget voters with a view to influencing their political choice. But social media is also a powerful tool for monitoring individuals and identifying political opponents.”

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Conclusions and recommendations

‘The rule of law is not a peaceful property, a house in which we can sleep serenely.’160

This statement, made by the late senator Willem Witteveen in a parliamentary debate on the rule of law in 2014, remains as relevant as ever. Democracy under the rule of law needs constant maintenance, in Europe as elsewhere. Since the turn of the millennium, the increasingly apparent alienation between the institutions of democracy under the rule of law and sections of the population whose circumstances and prospects have become precarious and/or who feel that the nation’s cultural identity is under threat, has created an environment fraught with risk. In several European states, movements with varying degrees of influence have emerged that want to use democratically acquired power to limit the political status and legal safeguards of other population groups. This indicates that, to a large extent, they do not feel that constitutional democracy, i.e. democracy under the rule of law, is in everyone’s interest, including their own.

As pointed out in the introduction to this advisory report, it is an essential but delicate task, when standing up for the rule of law in the international arena, to respect the democratic character of the states concerned and enhance their democratic quality. As societies become ever more complex, rights, obligations and diverse social interests must constantly be weighed against one another and conflicts resolved. This means that all levels of government need to strike a balance between catering to the public’s wishes and making an independent assessment based on the general interest. Due to a large number of developments and factors, which have been described in this report, this balance has gradually been disturbed in recent decades. Many people across Europe now feel that the institutions of democracy under the rule of law mainly benefit others, including ‘the establishment’ or minority groups. This dissatisfaction is fuelling alternative political movements that promise more consultation and more effective government.

In Europe, a broad effort is required to restore and strengthen public support for democracy under the rule of law. It should be clear to all that the rule of law does not hamper democracy but rather bolsters it. There needs to be greater awareness that democracy only benefits all citizens if it is accompanied by rule-of-law safeguards. Citizens also need to know that their voices are being heard at international level. EU institutions must serve the public visibly and tangibly. That is not sufficiently the case at present.

All member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union are responsible for maintaining democracy under the rule of law in Europe. The fact that national governments working together in the EU appear unwilling to call one another to account for the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights does nothing to enhance the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. It merely confirms the widespread perception that the EU promises human dignity but does not effectively protect it.

This does not just undermine norms and values that are a key part of the European identity; the stability of Europe, too, is at stake. If the protection of individual rights and minorities is eroded, this rapidly generates domestic tensions, bilateral conflicts and, inevitably, migratory flows that can sometimes assume unmanageable proportions.

And if the erosion of democracy under the rule of law goes hand in hand with the undermining of common EU institutions, as is often the case, those institutions will increasingly be incapable of taking effective action to resolve such crises.

Even if no large-scale escalation occurs, the erosion of democracy under the rule of law eats away at the foundations of interstate cooperation that are important in Europe. Police cooperation, the European arrest warrant, the transfer of asylum seekers under the Dublin system – all these forms of cooperation are based on mutual trust in the quality of legal systems and the protection of the core values of the rule of law. But if the factual basis for that mutual trust disappears, mutual recognition and solidarity will sooner or later also be put in jeopardy.161

In addition to these considerations, a deficient democracy under the rule of law creates an unattractive investment climate. Confidence in constitutional stability and in the fair and effective public administration of justice is, after all, essential. Without such confidence, investors will be forced to resort to arbitration and other forms of investment protection; they will then have to contend with both increasingly critical public opinion and legal objections.162

Recommendations

Below the AIV will make a number of policy recommendations concerning how the Netherlands can work in the appropriate international bodies and bilaterally to preserve the constitutional structures of democracy under the rule of law from (further) erosion. The Netherlands must be prepared to swim against the tide and continue its engagement on this issue, with a view to preventing the operation of the democratic system from eroding its own principles.

It needs to be completely clear, of course, that such efforts should support states’ democratic functioning – taking account of their historically acquired characteristics; a democracy’s procedural and substantive features must not be further torn apart, but rather woven together in a more convincing manner. This requires respect for the diversity that can exist among the member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Alignment should constantly be sought with the common fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law as accepted by all the nations concerned. The recommendations made here therefore build on what has been agreed with and by the other states.

There is a need for caution here. For various reasons, there is bound to be some discrepancy between the complexity of the problems described in this report and the recommendations presented below. First, there is no magic bullet that will halt the erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe in a simple manner, because numerous complex factors are involved (see chapter II). What is needed is a differentiated approach at various levels: national, international, governmental, societal, etc. Second, a society can only achieve democracy under the rule of law from within. Individuals and organisations from other countries can merely play a supporting role. It stands to reason that the Dutch government – to which many of the recommendations relate – can mainly offer support in the realm of social developments and their anchoring in the rule of law. Third, the political balance of forces in Europe, especially in the European Union, currently offers limited scope for voicing a powerful counter-message. Only a limited number of European countries are firmly committed to defending the principles of the rule of law. Finally, account must be taken of the increased public scepticism towards EU cooperation that has developed in the Netherlands, as in other countries.

1. Increasing institutional responsiveness

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is the most important organisation in Europe when it comes to setting standards for human rights and monitoring how they are reflected in member states’ legislation, policy and practices. Nevertheless, there appears to be little awareness in Europe of the Council’s importance in this regard. The Netherlands could take the lead in a political re-evaluation of the Council’s importance. This could be done in the following ways:

  1. Working with like-minded countries to secure a greater political role for the Committee of Ministers in monitoring the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the member states. The Committee of Ministers should not restrain the Council of Europe’s independent institutions (the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights), but support and encourage them.
     
  2. Promoting the implementation of the Brussels Declaration and the Plan of Action on Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality by entering into a twinning relationship with certain countries and helping them to increase knowledge about the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights within government and the judiciary, and among the legal profession and NGOs, to expand national parliaments’ role in implementing judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in the member states and to create an independent national human rights institute.
     
  3. Taking the initiative to expand the Committee of Ministers’ traditional focus on civil and political human rights to include the social rights laid down in the European Social Charter. The Netherlands could highlight this by providing extra support for the HELP programme.
     
  4. At set times, the government should provide the Permanent Parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice with confidential information about the deliberations in the Committee of Ministers, especially as regards the implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.
     
  5. The Netherlands can support reciprocity within the Council of Europe by asking the Venice Commission for advice on Dutch legislation in the event of dilemmas like those concerning the judicial review of legislation and the consequences of referendums.

European Union

  1. Within the EU, the Netherlands must continue its efforts to strengthen the annual rule of law dialogue, as a stepping stone towards a peer review mechanism,163 for which there is still insufficient support in the Union.
     
  2. The Netherlands can join with like-minded countries to form a (possibly informal) group of ‘trailblazers’ that launches a peer review. Such a group can set a positive example of European cooperation for EU citizens, including people in countries that do not yet want to participate. It will show them that ideas on the rule of law can be exchanged in an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust.
     
  3. Some EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary, are currently firmly opposed to the notion that membership of the Union entails certain responsibilities in terms of democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, these countries receive substantial amounts in EU subsidies. In the upcoming negotiations on the EU budget (multiannual financial framework) and how to reform it, the Netherlands should seek to link receipts from the cohesion and structural funds to success in satisfying the original Copenhagen criteria for EU accession.
     
  4. The Netherlands can express support for the European Parliament’s proposal for an    EU Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
     
  5. The Senate and the House of Representatives can play a constructive role in promoting the principles of democracy under the rule of law in Europe by raising this issue with other European national parliaments. Consideration could be given to creating a parliamentary network focusing on practical cooperation and knowledgesharing on linking democracy and the rule of law. This could be done bilaterally, but also, for example, by setting up a trilateral partnership among a number of parliaments. In addition, like-minded leaders of European political parties should enter into a dialogue in their own political group in the European Parliament with those parties that approve measures at national level that undermine democracy under the rule of law.
     
  6. Dialogue should always be preferred over confrontation in international diplomacy. The same applies when addressing the issues of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Where dialogue repeatedly fails, however, the international community should be willing, as a last resort, to draw a line in the sand. In concrete terms, this means that the Netherlands and its EU partners should make clear that there can be no room for Turkey in the Council of Europe and the European Union if it decides to reintroduce the death penalty.
     
  7. Legislation like Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law and its abuse of general legislation in respect of NGOs should consistently be condemned by the Netherlands, both bilaterally and internationally, in cooperation with like-minded countries.

OSCE

The Netherlands could in the near future consider launching a candidacy for the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This would give it the opportunity to put democratisation and the principles of the rule of law more emphatically on the organisation’s agenda, including in the field of human rights.

G20/OECD

The Netherlands is currently taking part in the G20 at the invitation of Germany, which now holds the Presidency. The Netherlands should strive for ongoing participation in this forum, which is ideally suited for working with like-minded countries to address the adverse consequences of globalisation. As in the OECD, a discussion on this subject should focus not only on trade, investment and development but also on socioeconomic rights, environmental rights and the relationship between government and citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals could provide a useful tool for this purpose.

2. Social diplomacy

The above recommendations are aimed mainly at governments and multilateral institutions. Earlier in this report, however, the AIV stated that international political pressure by governments, however essential, is not sufficient to safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe. Above all, there should be broad support in society for these values, and the public should have confidence in the institutions of democracy under the rule of law. This requires a long-term dialogue with civil society organisations, opposition movements and institutions that can translate international human rights to the national level. The AIV would make the following recommendations for this purpose.

  1. As part of its human rights policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should set up a democracy and rule of law programme that focuses on the member states of the Council of Europe where democracy under the rule of law is in danger. It should also draw on the expertise of other relevant ministries (e.g. the Ministries of Education, of Security and Justice, and of Economic Affairs).

    To support this programme, a rule of law fund should be created. During the next government’s term of office, around €2.5 million per year should be set aside for this purpose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget. The existing MATRA programme, which focuses exclusively on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in candidate and potential candidate countries of the EU and the countries of the Eastern Partnership, can be integrated into this broader rule of law fund. The MATRA programme budget is set to decline from €13.7 million in 2017 to €9.1 million in 2018 and 2019. The AIV recommends that, at the very least, this reduction should be reversed.

    The rule of law fund will support civil society organisations with a regional focus on areas such as the following:

    • People-to-people and profession-to-profession contacts. Through placements and exchanges, knowledge and experience can be shared between socially relevant professional bodies, like the judiciary and legal profession, the ombudsman, educational, knowledge and cultural institutions and the media.
    • Raising public awareness of the value and importance of democracy under the rule of law. This can be achieved, for example, by promoting education in citizenship, democracy and human rights, especially among young people. The expertise of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation can be used for this purpose.
    • Supporting citizen and other initiatives aimed at research and quality journalism in vulnerable democracies.
     

  2. In international forums dealing with internet freedom and governance (e.g. the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can devote more attention to the internet’s potential role in strengthening the principles of democracy under the rule of law where they are under threat.
     
  3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can work with the private sector (e.g. via major social media platforms and the Global Network Initiative) and NGOs in organising projects on digital citizenship, democracy and human rights. A concrete example is the organisation of a Democracy Hackathon, where European software programmers and website developers work together on ICT products (e.g. an app) that can improve trust between citizens and government (both local and national). This ‘hackathon’ could focus on a different theme every year, such as the internet and privacy, social media etiquette, fake news and fact-checking, as well as services provided by local and national government, migration and election observation.

3. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions

  1. The AIV strongly recommends that the policy capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch missions in Council of Europe member states be evaluated and, where necessary, expanded with local knowledge. This will enable the ministry and missions to identify and respond quickly to local initiatives and opposition movements in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Missions will need to have sufficient funds at their disposal for this purpose.164
     
  2. In its strategic secondment policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could focus more explicitly on both non-governmental and multilateral organisations that exert influence, directly or indirectly, on democratisation and the principles of the rule of law, for example the G20, the OECD and the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition.

__________________________________________________

160 From senator Willem Witteveen’s contribution to the debate on the rule of law, Proceedings of the Senate 2013-2014, 22-5-1 (March 2014).
161 For example, Germany will no longer be able to avoid the decision not to send asylum seekers back to Hungary. See Politico, 11 April 2017, ‘Germany suspends migrant returns to Hungary – Hungary’s been criticized for detaining migrants in camps on its border with Serbia’, <http://www.politico.eu/article/ germany-suspends-migrant-returns-to-hungary/>.
162 See case C-284/16 (Achmea), now pending before the EU Court of Justice, which, among other things, revolves around the question of whether the Dutch-Czech arbitration agreement is compatible with EU law.
163 See the earlier recommendation for a peer review in AIV advisory report no. 87, The Rule of Law: Safeguard for European Citizens and Foundation of European Cooperation, The Hague, January 2014, pp. 35-37.
164 See also AIV advisory letter no. 32, Representing the Netherlands Throughout the World, The Hague, May 2017.

2016 Tang Prizes to Louise Arbour and US sinologist

June 22, 2016

 On 21 June 2016  it was announced that Louise Arbour, a Canadian lawyer and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was named the winner of the second Tang Prize in rule of law. The Tang Prize is awarded to Arbour “for her enduring contributions to international criminal justice and the protection of human rights, to promoting peace, justice and security at home and abroad, and to working within the law to expand the frontiers of freedom for all,”  Arbour, 69, was also the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR) between 1996 and 1999. In 1998, Arbour became the first prosecutor to get a conviction of genocide in an international tribunal, when the ICTR convicted Jean-Paul Akayesu, a mayor in Rwanda, of genocide. Tribunal defined rape as a means of perpetrating genocide — the first time that rape was considered an act of genocide by an international tribunal. The following year, as the chief prosecutor for the ICTY, Arbour again made history by indicting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who became the first sitting head of state to be tried for war crimes by an international tribunal.

A Tang Prize award ceremony will be held Sept. 25 in Taipei. The laureate will receive a cash prize of US$1.23 million and a research grant of up to NT$10 million to be used within five years.

The biennial Tang Prize was established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin to complement the Nobel Prize and to honor top researchers and leaders in four fields: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law.

This year the Tang Prize in the category sinology also has a human rights component as the laureate is William Theodore de Bary, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University. Read the rest of this entry »

Panel on Human rights defenders and the rule of law – 8 June Geneva

May 29, 2015

The International Service for Human Rights and United Kingdom Mission in Geneva are organising a panel discussion on “Human rights defenders and the rule of law” on Monday, 8 June 2015, 16.30-18.00 (followed by a reception) at the Graduate Institute, Maison de la Paix (Auditorium 2), Genève, Switzerland.

This event will discuss the importance of the rule of law in safeguarding the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly for human rights defenders and activists, and the vital role of human rights defenders and international mechanisms in establishing, maintaining and promoting the rule of law. It will also explore the notion that respect for the rule of law requires respect for the rule of international law and national law that is in conformity with international law.

Panelists:

  • Olga Abramenko, Director, ADC Memorial (Russia)
  • Ruki Fernando, Human Rights Advisor, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre (Sri Lanka)
  • Mona Rishmawi, Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights

Moderator: Julian Braithwaite, UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva

If you want to attend please contact before 3 June: anne.jahren@fco.gov.uk

For those unable to attend, you can follow the event on Twitter through @UKMissionGeneva and @ISHRGlobal.

Human rights defenders and the rule of law: panel discussion on 8 June.

What the Human Rights Council did on HRDs in March 2015

April 7, 2015

For those (few, I hope) who do not regularly read the Human Rights Monitor of the ISHR, here is a wrap-up of the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in relation to human rights defenders:ISHR-logo-colour-high

5 Resolutions adopted: Read the rest of this entry »

Stop dancing with dictators, says Chinese human rights defender Teng Biao

March 17, 2015

‘Chinese leaders are not known for tolerating dissent, but Xi Jinping is less tolerant than his predecessors.’  Photograph: EPA/WU HONG

‘ Xi Jinping, even less tolerant than his predecessors.’ Photograph: EPA/WU HONG

Human rights defender Teng Biao, a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, President of China Against the Death Penalty, and Co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative, is in Ireland as the guest of Front Line Defenders. In a post of 10 March 2015, he depicts the grim situation of human rights defenders in China since President Xi took office. ‘Chinese human rights defenders are facing the most severe crackdown since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989’ he statesThe hard-hitting piece [“Over 1,000 human rights activists were detained since President Xi took office“] is interesting enough to provide in full:

“I remember Cao Shunli’s speech during her trial. She was a brave activist who fought for land rights, documented cases of human rights abuse and participated in the United Nations human rights system.Tang Jingling, a lawyer in Guangzhou, is a prominent leader of the non-violent civil disobedience movement.

Ilham Tohti is a Uighur professor who set up a website to promote the rights of the muslim Uighur people. He advocated mutual understanding and reconciliation between Han Chinese and the Uighurs.

Pu Zhiqiang and Xu Zhiyong are both well known lawyers who have played a key role in abolishing the laws allowing extrajudicial detentions, in breach of China’s own constitution. Xu also founded an NGO called the Open Constitution Initiative, focusing on religious freedom and free speech. The organisation worked on the issues of forced eviction, forced abortion and ensuring transparency in local elections.

Guo Feixiong, Liu Ping, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, all took an important part in the New Citizens Movement which has campaigned for constitutional government and for Communist Party officials to declare their assets.

Cao Shunli was arrested on her way to a human rights training in Geneva and died in custody as a result of torture, on March 14th, 2014. All the others are now in jail.

Chinese leaders are not known for tolerating dissent, but Xi Jinping is less tolerant than his predecessors. Over a thousand human rights activists have been detained since Xi took office, and Chinese human rights defenders are facing the most severe crackdown since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Xi’s suppression is widespread, targeting not just those at the forefront of the human rights struggle in China, but also faith groups, internet users, universities, and the media. Many members of China’s budding civil society, who have avoided politically risky issues so far, are now also being jailed.

In the past, those who crossed a red line, who stood out, took to the street, or who engaged in organised actions were the main targets of the crackdown. Now, the dragnet is much wider and is being used against anyone who demonstrates. At least 10 feminist activists were detained last week as they planned to stage a small protest against sexual harassment on public transport, which is a common occurrence in China. The government seems to be targeting all the nodes that connect civil society, picking off emerging civil society leaders, and destroying the capacity for civil resistance.

It seems that the Communist Party of China has never been stronger or more confident: China is the second largest economy in the world. China is exerting more influence on the international stage. There is no viable opposition, and the Chinese model is more effective than western democracies that have been bogged down by financial crises and intractable social problems. But as David Shambaugh pointed out in his recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “A more secure and confident government would not institute such a severe crackdown. It is a symptom of the party leadership’s deep anxiety and insecurity.”

For the Communist Party of China, “governing the country according to law” does not mean the “rule of law” as you and I understand it. It is first and foremost a tool to further control society, as the Party understands perfectly well that the rule of law, freedom of information, religious freedom, property rights, and other basic features of democratic governance would mean the demise of the Party’s rule, as Freedom House pointed out in its recent report.

Chinese civil society, fragile as it is, owes its emergence to the dedication and sacrifice of many human rights defenders. Every day, we receive information from all over the country about human rights defenders being detained, disappeared, tortured, or sentenced. But despite the perilous journey, more and more Chinese people – lawyers and journalists, farmers and bloggers, poor and rich, young and old, males and females – have stepped up to join the human rights movement, driven by their dignity, belief in freedom, and the desire to make a difference in our time of great change.

These Orwellian rulers can only do so much damage to the spirit of the people. A few are silenced but many more are inspired by a combination of international and domestic recognition, the admiration of “fellow travellers”, a sense of mission, and occasional victories in human rights cases. I speak from experience. I have been banned from teaching, fired from my job, disbarred, disappeared, detained and tortured for my human rights work since 2003, but I have never felt that I should stop. I believe it is my responsibility to fight for freedom for the next generation, for the dream that my children can live in a free and democratic country. This dream is shared by more and more Chinese people, even at this unlikely moment when the night seems the darkest.

Most Beijing watchers in the west misunderstand Beijing. Every time Beijing has a new slogan like “rule by law” or “harmonious society,” they embrace it as a sign of change, ignoring all the evil the Communist Party of China has been perpetrating. They fail to see where the real hope lies and remain fixated on the ruling class. Their selective blindness has hindered the West’s understanding of the real state of affairs in today’s China. If we human beings can learn anything from modern history, it is that it is time for the West to stop wishful thinking, to stop dancing with dictators, and to support human rights activists who are challenging the one-party dictatorship in China. History will judge the crimes committed by dictators against universal values, and it will also remember those Western governments who adopted short-sighted policies of appeasement in dealing with autocratic regimes and favouring trade over human rights.”

Over 1,000 human rights activists were detained since President Xi took office.

The Plight of China’s Human Rights Lawyers Worsened

January 19, 2015

Under the title “The Plight of China’s Rights LawyersFrances Eve, in Chinafile of 16 January 2015, has made an excellent compilation of the travails of the Chinese human rights lawyers in 2014. It was one of the worst years for civil society and human rights defenders in particular.

Pu Zhiqiang, center, pictured in 2011 talking with the media while he was serving as artist Ai Weiwei’s lawyer – Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

At least 9 lawyers either are currently facing criminal charges or began serving prison sentences in 2014: Ding JiaxiPu ZhiqiangQu ZhenhongTang JinglingXia LinXu ZhiyongYu WenshengChang Boyang and Ji Laisong (the last 2 now released). The unprecedented scale of criminal prosecution against rights lawyers sharply contradicts the goal of “governing the country by law,” which was proclaimed at October’s Fourth Plenum meeting. Here the whole piece for those interested:

“As the year came to a close, at least seven prominent Chinese human rights lawyers rang in the New Year from a jail cell. Under President Xi Jinping, 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for China’s embattled civil society. Bookending the year were the cases of two prominent legal advocates: in January, Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years imprisonment for his moderate criticism of government policy and leading the “New Citizens’ Movement,” a group advocating for political reforms in China. Outspoken free speech lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who turns 50 tomorrow, has spent the past six months in detention as authorities continue to build a case against him.

The past year has been distinctly bad for a band of crusading lawyers, who for the past decade or so, since their movement first emerged, have described their mission asweiquan, “safeguarding rights.” According to several Chinese rights lawyers, more members of their ranks—which have grown from just a handful to over 200—are currently in detention than at any time since 2003, when lawyers involved in this kind of work first began to face criminal detention.

Among the first to be arrested was Gao Zhisheng, a feisty and outspoken defender of everyone, from factory workers and peasants to journalists and underground Christian and Falun Gong practitioners, who was sentenced to three years in 2006 on the politically motived charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Suspending his sentence, authorities instead held Gao several times in detention incommunicado—where he was brutally tortured—until 2011, when judges ordered Gao to be sent to prison for “violating” his parole. Gao, who was released into a form of house arrest in August 2014, was a prominent case, yet imprisoning lawyers was still unusual at the time. Since then, rights lawyers who have taken on cases involving politically “sensitive” issues have increasingly faced threats, harassment, administrative punishments, the revocation of their law licenses, and, as in a few widely publicized cases, disappearance and eventorture.

But since President Xi Jinping came to power, the government’s war on rights lawyers has escalated. At least nine prominent lawyers either are currently facing criminal charges or began serving prison sentences in 2014: lawyers Ding JiaxiPu ZhiqiangQu ZhenhongTang JinglingXia LinXu Zhiyong, and Yu Wensheng, as well as Chang Boyang and Ji Laisong who were both released on bail awaiting trial after months in detention. The unprecedented scale of criminal prosecution against rights lawyers sharply contradicts the goal of “governing the country by law,” which was proclaimed at October’s Fourth Plenum meeting, a gathering of senior Chinese Communist Party leaders.

A student leader in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, Pu Zhiqing had gone on to represent several high profile free-speech cases, including an anti-defamation ruling in favor of the magazine China Reform in 2004 and a much heralded defence of the authors of a widely read exposé of rural corruption. More recently, he defended activist artist Ai Weiwei and petitioner Tang Hui—who was sent to a re-education through labor (RTL) camp for petitioning for stronger punishment for her daughter’s rapists—in a case which garnered widespread public sympathy. State media evenfeatured Pu in reports on RTL, an unusual platform for a government critic. But now Pu has been detained on charges of “creating a disturbance” and “illegally obtaining personal information” after attending a seminar in May discussing the June Fourth Massacre. Police later tacked on additional charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “inciting separatism,” reportedly over a blog post Pu had written criticising the government’s version of the Kunming knife attack in March 2014. Lawyer Qu Zhenhong, who initially served as Pu’s lawyer, was arrested in June in connection with his case.

Tang Jingling, arrested after taking part in a commemorative “June Fourth Meditation” last summer, was a lawyer who defended victims of government land grabs, counterfeit medicine, and village corruption until authorities refused to renew his law license in 2006. He then became a “citizen representative,” continuing to give legal assistance, and later a member of a non-violent civil disobedience movement that works on labor rights, the hukou system, and equal education. At the end of the year, Guangzhou police transferred Tang’s case to the local prosecutor, an indication that he may be indicted and tried soon. If convicted, Tang faces a lengthy prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” Meanwhile, his wife has faced harassment forspeaking out on his case.

In November, authorities arrested two lawyers, Yu Wensheng and Xia Lin, after they were hired by families to represent activists detained for expressing support for the protests in Hong Kong. Yu faces a charge of “creating a disturbance” and Xia, a former member of Pu Zhiqiang’s legal team and partner at Pu’s Huayi Law Firm, is accused of committing fraud. Those imprisoned last year include the lawyer Ding Jiaxi, who is serving a 42-month sentence after demanding government transparency and anti-corruption measures with the New Citizens’ Movement, alongside Xu Zhiyong, whose advocacy and election to his district’s People’s Congress made him another former darling of the Chinese press. Xu missed the birth of his daughter while he awaited his January trial.

While incarcerated, these lawyers have all been granted only limited access to their attorneys. The PRC Law on Lawyers (2007) authorizes lawyers to meet with their clients starting on the very day when they are put under detention, as does China’s Criminal Procedure Law. But, according to lawyers and family members of detainees, such provisions are rarely respected on the ground and often overridden by local administrative or Party orders, especially in political cases.

Family members of the jailed lawyers have reason to fear, since rights lawyers are no strangers to torture in detention and police brutality. Tang Jingling told his lawyer he was assaulted at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center, and in an open letter to Xi Jinping Pu Zhiqiang’s wife decried the “inhumane mental and physical torment” her husband has been subjected to at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center. In Heilongjiang province in March, four lawyers were taken into custody and severely beaten after they requested to meet with their clients; according to their family members, the four suffered 24 broken ribs among them. Gao Zhisheng suffered such ill-treatment in prison that he lost almost all his teeth and remains very frail.

China’s leaders are far from governing the country under a system based on the rule of law. Instead, they are paying lip service to the idea in order to give legitimacy to the Communist Party’s rule while building a legal system that serves their political interests. This includes manipulating the criminal justice system to silence dissent and rein in human rights lawyers who push for judicial independence, fair trials, and protection of their clients’ legal rights. Chinese law bars a convicted lawyer from practising law for good. This is at the heart of what makes the currently growing trend of criminalizing rights lawyers particularly troubling.

Allowing lawyers and the judiciary to carry out their work without political interference is a key indicator of a country’s success in promoting rule of law. In November, China’s nominal legislative body, the National People’s Congress, posted online for “public consultation” several amendments to the country’s Criminal Code. Among these draft amendments is Article 35, which would revise the Criminal Law on the disruption of court proceedings by giving authorities overly broad powers to interpret speech in court as insulting, threatening, or disruptive and includes the vague provision prohibiting “anything else that seriously disrupts court proceedings.” The effect of these changes would be to criminalize lawyers’ speech during trials if they challenge the court, punishable by up to three years in prison. More than 500 rights lawyers across China have signed an open letter to the NPC, demanding they drop this amendment as it runs “counter to the direction of judicial reform.”

China’s embattled rights lawyers, however, have refused to be coerced into submission. On the contrary, they are increasingly challenging authorities for failing to practice the respect for the law that they preach. More young lawyers are joining the movement. Trained professionals, they strongly believe that all suspects should be afforded a fair and public trial, and they see no reason why ruling élites should be above the law. Many are paying a heavy price, but see it as a part of the struggle for a “better future.” Facing the charges against him, Pu Zhiqiang is fully aware of what awaits him. As he said to his lawyer from jail: “If we lose, I probably can’t be a lawyer after I get out, so what can I be?”

The Plight of China’s Rights Lawyers | ChinaFile.

Asma Jahangir speaks on human rights restrictions justified in name of religion

December 9, 2014

From left: Asma Jahangir, Bill McKibben, Alan Rusbridger and Basil Fernando (photo: Wolfgang Schmidt/Right Livelihood Award Foundation)

(The four winners of this year’s Right Livelihood Award (from left): Asma Jahangir, Bill McKibben, Alan Rusbridger and Basil Fernando. US whistle-blower Edward Snowden (not pictured) also received an honorary award)

Qantara.de 2014 on 9 December 2014 published an interesting interview by Roma Rajpal Weiss with Asma Jahangir, a prominent human rights defenders, winner of the Right Livelihood Award of this year and Laureate of the MEA as far back as 1995. The title “Every restriction is justified in the name of religion” is taken from Asma’s statement that most restrictions on the human rights of women in Pakistan are justified by arguments (perhaps rather feelings) based on religious or tradition. Read the rest of this entry »