Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

The bravest World Cup team in Russia….

June 7, 2018

On 7 June 2018, one week before the opening of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, Amnesty International comes with a marvelous contribution: a team of 11 Russian human rights champions who routinely put their lives on the line to defend human rights in Russia. A new campaign, Team Brave, will profile a human rights defender from each of the 11 regions hosting World Cup matches to raise awareness of their important work, and you can send messages of solidarity to show these brave individuals that they are not alone.

As World Cup excitement builds, we want to highlight the work of the inspiring men and women who risk their lives and freedom to fight for human rights in Russia. The lineup of Team Brave includes activists who have fought to end torture in police stations, protect the environment, defend LGBTI rights and sex workers’ rights, and support victims of domestic violence – they are the real champions in Russia,” said Inga Kelekhsaeva, Russia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

The lineup of Team Brave includes activists who have fought to end torture in police stations, protect the environment, defend LGBTI rights and sex workers’ rights, and support victims of domestic violence – they are the real champions in Russia:
  • Grozny: Oyub Titiev, the head of the NGO Memorial’s office in Chechnya imprisoned under bogus charges since January 2018
  • Sochi: Andrei Rudomakha, an environmental human rights defender who was brutally attacked in 2017
  • St Petersburg: Irina Maslova, who founded a movement to defend the rights of sex workers.
  • Volgograd: Igor Nagavkin, who worked on fighting torture and corruption in the Volgograd region until he was arbitrarily detained in October 2016.
  • Rostov-on-Don: Valentina Cherevatenko, a women’s rights activist
  • Kaliningrad: Igor Rudnikov, an independent journalist investigating cases of corruption until his arbitrary detention in 2017.
  • Samara: Oksana Berezovskaya, who runs an LGBTI rights organization
  • Nizhny Novgorod: Igor Kalyapin, who founded the Committee Against Torture
  • Kazan: Yulia Fayzrakhmanova, an environmental human rights defender
  • Yekaterinburg: Aleksei Sokolov, who fights torture and other abuses in the prison system
  • Saransk: Vasiliy Guslyannikov, the founder of the NGO Mordovian Republic Human Rights Centre

Many of these human rights defenders have faced harassment, intimidation, physical attacks, smear and in some cases have been arbitrarily detained simply for carrying out their vital work.

As part of the Team Brave campaign, Amnesty International is asking supporters to take action for three of the human rights defenders featured, who remain in prison to date or whose assailants remain at large.

Oyub Titiev has been detained for almost six months on fabricated charges because of his human rights work. Environmental human rights defender Andrei Rudomakha was brutally assaulted in 2017 by unknown assailants for documenting illegal construction work on the Black Sea coast, and his attackers still walk free. Igor Nagavkin has spent more than a year and a half in pre-trial detention on trumped-up charges for his work defending prisoners’ rights and combatting torture and corruption.

The Russian authorities cannot continue to intimidate and harass every critic into silence. With the eyes of the world on Russia, they must decide what they want the legacy of this World Cup to be. There can be no winners in Russia until human rights defenders are recognized, protected and free to do their important work unobstructed and without fear of reprisals.”

[On 29 May, FIFA took the important step of launching a complaints mechanism for human rights defenders and media representatives to report rights violations and committed to supporting human rights defenders and freedom of the press in relation to FIFA’s activities. With the 2018 World Cup taking place amidst a crackdown on human rights by the Russian authorities, FIFA commitments and mechanisms will be put to the test. Amnesty International has urged the Football’s governing body to be ready to confront the Russian authorities and use all of its leverage to effectively protect human rights defenders and stop the 2018 World Cup providing the backdrop for a renewed wave of oppression.] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/24/fifa-expresses-concern-about-chechen-human-rights-defender-but-to-whom/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/06/russia-the-bravest-world-cup-team-youve-never-heard-of/

Death of international human rights regime declared premature by professor Nye

May 24, 2018

Joseph S. Nye, a professor at Harvard, in a piece of 10 May 2018 entitled “Human rights and the fate of the liberal order“, takes issue with those who despair of the current slide of the human rights system as we know it. The piece is certainly worth reading in total:
Image courtesy Pawel Ryszawa via Wikimedia Commons.

Many experts have proclaimed the death of the post‑1945 liberal international order, including the human-rights regime set forth in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The cover of Foreign Policy recently displayed the white dove of human rights pierced by the bloody arrows of authoritarian reaction.

According to ‘realist’ international relations theorists, one cannot sustain a liberal world order when two of the three great powers—Russia and China—are anti-liberal. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa argue that the era when Western liberal democracies were the world’s top cultural and economic powers may be drawing to a close. Within the next five years, ‘the share of global income held by countries considered “not free”—such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—will surpass the share held by Western liberal democracies’.

There are several problems with this argument. For starters, it relies on a measure called purchasing power parity, which is good for some purposes, but not for comparing international influence. At current exchange rates, China’s annual GDP is $12 trillion, and Russia’s is $2.5 trillion, compared to the United States’ $20 trillion economy. But the more serious flaw is lumping countries as disparate as China and Russia together as an authoritarian axis. There is nothing today like the infamous Axis of Nazi Germany and its allies in the 1930s.

While Russia and China are both authoritarian and find it useful to caucus against the US in international bodies like the United Nations Security Council, they have very different interests. China is a rising power that is highly intertwined with the international economy, including the US. In contrast, Russia is a declining country with serious demographic and public health problems, with energy rather than finished goods accounting for two-thirds of its exports.

Declining countries are often more dangerous than rising ones. Vladimir Putin has been a clever tactician, seeking to ‘make Russia great again’ through military intervention in neighbouring countries and Syria, and by using cyber-based information warfare to disrupt—with only partial success—Western democracies. A study of Russian broadcasting in Ukraine found that it was effective only with the minority that was already Russia-oriented, though it was able to produce polarising and disruptive effects in the political system. And the revival of Cold War–style information warfare has done little to create soft power for Russia. The London-based Soft Power 30 index ranks Russia 26th. Russia has had some success cultivating allies in Eastern Europe, but it is not part of a powerful authoritarian axis such as existed in the 1930s.

China is different. It has announced its willingness to spend billions to increase its soft power. At meetings in Davos in 2017 and Hainan in 2018, Xi Jinping presented China as a defender of the existing international order, but one with Chinese rather than liberal characteristics. China does not want to overturn the current international order, but rather to reshape it to increase its gains.

It has the economic tools to do so. It rations access to its huge market for political purposes. Norway was punished after the dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Eastern Europeans were rewarded after they watered down European Union resolutions on human rights. And Singaporean and Korean companies suffered after their governments took positions that displeased China. The Chinese government’s massive Belt and Road Initiative to build trade infrastructure throughout Eurasia provides ample opportunities to use business contracts to wield political influence. And China has increasingly restricted human rights at home. As Chinese power increases, the global human-rights regime’s problems will increase.

But no one should be tempted by exaggerated projections of Chinese power. If the US maintains its alliances with democratic Japan and Australia, and continues to develop good relations with India, it will hold the high cards in Asia. In the global military balance, China lags far behind, and in terms of demography, technology, the monetary system and energy dependence, the US is better placed than China in the coming decade. In the Soft Power 30 index, China ranks 25th, while the US is third.

Moreover, no one knows what the future will bring for China. Xi has torn up Deng Xiaoping’s institutional framework for leadership succession, but how long will Xi’s authority last? In the meantime, on issues such as climate change, pandemics, terrorism and financial stability, both an authoritarian China and the US will benefit from cooperation. The good news is that some aspects of the current international order will persist; the bad news is that it may not include the liberal element of human rights.

The human-rights regime may face a tougher environment, but that is not the same as a collapse. A future US administration can work more closely with the EU and other like-minded states to build a human-rights caucus. A G10, comprising the world’s major democracies, could coordinate on values alongside the existing G20 (which includes non-democracies such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia), with its focus on economic issues.

Others can help. As Kathryn Sikkink points out in her new book, Evidence for hope, while US support has been important to human rights, the US was not always very liberal during the Cold War, and the origins of the regime in the 1940s owed much to Latin Americans and others. Moreover, transnational rights organisations have developed domestic support in numerous countries.

In short, we should be concerned about the multiple challenges to liberal democracy during the current setback to what Samuel P. Huntington called the ‘third wave’ of democratisation. But that is no reason to give up on human rights.

FIFA expresses concern about Chechen human rights defender, but to whom?

May 24, 2018

In less than a month, millions of people will turn their eyes upon Russia as the 2018 Football World Cup kicks off. On 23 May 2018, the NGO Civil Rights Defenders published FIFA’s reply to an open letter it and and 13 other international and Russian human rights groups sent to FIFA, urging the association to start engaging with the Russian authorities on the human rights crisis in Chechnya, especially the case of Oyub Titiev [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/].

 

Oyub Titiev in Memorial’s local office in Grozny, Chechnya. In the background a portrait of his murdered colleague, Natalia Estemirova.

[In January 2018, Chechen authorities started a campaign against the leading Russian human rights organisation Memorial, by jailing prominent human rights defender and head of Memorial’s local office, Oyub Titiev, on fabricated charges. In February, it was announced that the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, was confirmed by FIFA as the team base for Egypt.]

Such engagement is consistent with FIFA’s responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” the letter addressed to Mr. Infantino, President of FIFA, read. “It is also consistent with the commitment in article 3 of FIFA’s statutes to promote the protection of international human rights, and would demonstrate determination to implement its new Human Rights Policy”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/fifa-governance-committee-starts-dealing-with-a-human-rights-policy/]

FIFA has now replied (follow link for full text) to the letter, thanking the rights groups for raising concern about the detention of Oyub Titiev: “… FIFA values the important work done by human rights defenders such as Mr. Titiev and yourselves and is, in accordance with paragraph 11 of its human rights policy, committed to respect and help protect the rights of everyone who is working to advance human rights in relation to FIFA’s activities.” 

This is quite a change from the traditional view that politics and sport have nothing to do with each other, but it does not say WHAT and with WHOM in Russia FIFA has taken up the case. That will probably remain confidential.

The assault on human rights in the UN is starting to hurt

April 1, 2018

Success in passing the “win-win resolution” in the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/26/chinas-win-win-resolution-gets-the-votes-in-the-un-council/], is just the visible part of a larger and more ominous assault on the human rights system as it has been built up (however incomplete and painstaking) over the last decades. Julian Borger in the Guardian of 27 March 2018 (“China and Russia accused of waging ‘war on human rights’ at UN”) describes how the two countries lobbied to cut funding for human rights monitors and for a senior post dedicated to human rights work. This all seems to fit very well with the trend started in 2016 and which I tried to describe in early 2017 in a series of posts, of which the last one was: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/.

The funding of the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva has also been cut. The current high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has announced that he will be stepping down this year and not seeking another term in the post, explaining to his staff that the lack of global support for protecting human rights made his job untenable. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Last week, Zeid was due to address the UN security council on plight of civilians in Syria but before he began, Russia called a procedural vote to stop him speaking on the grounds that the council was not the proper forum for discussing human rights. “The fifth committee has become a battleground for human rights,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, was quoted in the Guardian. “Russia and China and others have launched a war on things that have human rights in their name.”

China has real political momentum at the UN now,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said. “It is now the second biggest contributor the UN budget after the US, and is increasingly confident in its efforts to roll back UN human rights activities. It is also pushing its own agenda – with an emphasis on ‘harmony’ rather than individual rights in UN forums. And a lot of countries like what they hear.”

A western diplomat at the UN conceded that human rights were losing ground at the UN, in part because China had become a more assertive voice, prepared to lead lobbying campaigns, and because Beijing is increasingly leveraging its vast and growing investments in the developing world to win votes for its agenda at the UN.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/27/china-and-russia-accused-of-waging-war-on-human-rights-at-un

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/03/a-new-low-for-the-un-security-council-as-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-the-table/

Unfortunately Europe is not stepping up its human rights policy in US absence

March 22, 2018

There is no doubt that Europe is doing more than other regions to support individual human rights defenders and their organisations. The statement issued on 27 February 2018 to mark World NGO Day by EU High Representative Fedrica Mogherini says all the right things: “Civil society organisations are a voice for those who are too often not heard. They have the courage to stand up against injustices, even if sometimes with risks for themselves”. She noted that the EU’s annual support worth two billion Euros represents 73 percent of the world’s support to local civil society organisations. “The European Union will never leave human rights defenders and civil society organisations alone; it’s the most invaluable partnership we can rely on to protect rights and build opportunities.”
Still, there are also critical voices concerning what Europe is doing or not doing e.g. with regard to the increasingly harsh treatment of migrants (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 7 March).[see recent post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/]
Moreover, there is growing disappointment over the region’s unwillingness to stand up for human rights in its foreign policy, especially from those who had hoped that Europe would be able step up when the USA is no longer leading. Two lengthy pieces attest to this:
The first is by on 21 March 2018 under the title “The European Union has decided that it’s time to cuddle up to dictators’ in the Washington Post

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (in green tie) meets with other officials in Brussels on Wednesday. (Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has just set a new low for Europe’s standing in the world. In the wake of Russia’s sham presidential election on Sunday, Juncker sent the victorious Vladimir Putin a message of unctuous praise. “Congratulations on your re-election,” Juncker tweeted. ……..Just like the United States’ President Trump, who was widely criticized this week for congratulating Putin on the Russian election’s outcome while failing to mention its flagrantly undemocratic character, Juncker had nothing to say about the brazen ballot stuffing, the intimidation of independent candidates, the unexplained deaths of activists, the role of state media, or a host of other irregularities leading up to the poll.

This latest failure of moral courage once again shows the growing indifference of European leaders and governments to the defense of human rights. At a time when the Trump administration seems uninterested in advancing the cause of democracy overseas and has just chosen Gina Haspel, who is closely linked with the George W. Bush administration’s policies on torture, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Europe should be at the forefront in taking a united stand against the flagrant abuse of human rights. But it isn’t. Dissidents and activists pushing for civil rights and democracy outside the E.U., and who once looked to Europe as a beacon for the values of freedom, can count on little support from Brussels these days. Authoritarian regimes have every cause to be overjoyed.

…When Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took the floor at last month’s annual Munich Security Conference, he was, once again, treated with kid gloves. Forget about the torture, the executions, the flogging, the deaths during detention.

…French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have rolled out the red carpet for Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi — despite a crackdown on opposition that in its harshness has left the Hosni Mubarak regime far behind. Disappearances, torture, police brutality, detentions without trial: None of this seems to bother the French or German leaders. “Disgraceful policies of indulgence” was the term human rights activists used in connection with Sissi’s visit to Paris in October.

On China, the E.U. has completely discredited itself in the eyes of reformers and those struggling for human rights. It has criticized neither the Communist Party’s state-of-the art mass surveillance of its citizens nor the constant harassment and imprisonment of dissidents. Indeed, in June the E.U. failed, for the first time ever, to make a statement about China’s crackdown on dissidents and activists at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. The 28 member states couldn’t agree. (Greece blocked the statement. ..Athens didn’t want to offend Beijing). Hungary, which has also benefited from Chinese investments, has repeatedly blocked E.U. statements criticizing China’s rights record under Communist President Xi Jinping, according to diplomats.

….But there can be no hiding the shameful reality. Europe has lost its moral compass. Its current enthusiasm for interests and “stability” will one day come back to haunt it.

The second piece is by FLORIAN IRMINGER on 22 March 2018 in Open Democracy under the title Council of Europe: don’t compromise on human rights in Russia!”

After congratulating Vladimir Putin on re-election, the COE must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries. In the past year, Russia has seen numerous violations of freedom of assembly, as well as politically motivated criminal investigations dogged by poor evidence and procedure. While Vladimir Putin won the recent presidential election, he made his country fail a much more important test: the test of human rights, freedoms, and space for civil society and independent voices. So why has Thorbjørn Jagland and the Council of Europe welcomed him as a winner? …This came shortly after the OSCE election observation mission concluded that the presidential election took place in an “overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”

…Instead of abiding by his mission to defend the Convention and therefore highlighting the shortcomings during election day and the generally repressive climate, the Secretary General “hoped” for active engagement with Russia. He spoke of “our common duty to work together in order to consolidate and strengthen our common European legal and human rights space.” 

The Council of Europe must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries

Since Vladimir Putin’s re-accession to the presidency in 2012 – and the fully devoted Duma elected in 2011 – 50 laws have been adopted “designed to strangle opposition voices and raise the level of fear and self-control in the society,” as reported by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/18/fidh-collected-russias-50-anti-democracy-laws/]

In light of President Putin’s internal policies, we need a Council of Europe that stands firm on its values and upholds the human rights obligations enriched in the European Convention for Human Rights. What we see instead is a Secretary General “touring European capitals [since November 2017] warning of a serious risk that Moscow could withdraw… unless its demands are met.”

 

..Russia has now said it will stop contributing financially to the Council of Europe. At the Council of Europe, just like at the United Nations with President Trump’s administration, we see that governments are willing to defund the structures with which they disagree. In other words, they institute a relativism in such mechanisms and threaten their ability to continue working independently and serve the purpose they were set up for: holding governments accountable to their own commitments. 

Yes, we must fight for the European Convention to apply to as many citizens as possible in Europe. However, we must not shy away from saying that the cost of withdrawing from the Council of Europe is high for the Russian state, for its credibility at home and abroad. The Council of Europe is worth something. If states can be members at no cost – not even the cost of showing respect and cooperation to the organisation – it will soon be worth nothing….

—–

https://www.kuna.net.kw/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2697509&language=en

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-un/u-n-rights-chief-attacks-eu-and-u-s-over-migrants-and-dreamers-idUSKCN1GJ1IZ

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/03/21/the-european-union-has-decided-that-its-time-to-cuddle-up-to-dictators/?utm_term=.f50fe466fd4f

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/florian-irminger/do-not-compromise-on-russian-human-rights

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

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

——

37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

Now arson attack on Memorial’s office in Ingushetia

January 17, 2018

Memorial / memohrc.org

Unknown arsonists wearing masks torched the office of Russia’s prominent human rights group Memorial in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia on 17 January in the morning. Security camera footage captured two masked men climbing into the organization’s office in the town of Nazran and setting three rooms on fire. The attack comes a week after the arrest of Oyub Tityev, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, on (fabricated) drug charges. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/]

Amnesty International and Front Line (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/memorial) – amongst others – condemned the attach, while TASS reports that the Kremlin calls not to draw conclusions on oppression of human rights defenders in Chechnya. “I don’t think that it is right to draw such conclusions after the head of the Memorial Center’s Chechen branch was caught with drugs,” he said. “An investigation is underway, and only investigators are eligible to say if accusations are credible. We don’t believe it possible to draw any general conclusions in this case,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peksov added. While commenting on the fire at the Memorial Center’s office in Ingushetia, Peskov said that “that is two different republics, two different regions of Russia.

https://themoscowtimes.com/news/masked-arsonists-torch-memorial-human-rights-office-in-north-caucasus-60201
http://tass.com/politics/985454

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-42718183

Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiev arrested on trumped-up charges

January 15, 2018

 
The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.

This blog has paid attention to many cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Chechnya, especially since two of the laureates of the MEA were linked to work there (the Joint Mobile Group (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/17/russia-defenders-attack-closing-office-un-joint-mobile-group-chechnya/) in 2013 and earlier Lyda Yusopova in 2004 http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/lidia-yusupova/]. But things continue to be extremely difficult, as shown by case of Oyub Titiev, who heads the regional office of the Memorial, and was arrested last week. Open Democracy (on 12 January 2018) in partnership with OVD-Info, wrote about this and other politically-motivated arrests in Russia (see below in green). Front Line (12 January 2018), Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, US State Department, IFEX and others spoke out on the case.

On the morning of 9 January, Oyub Titiev (60) was detained by people wearing the uniform of traffic police officers. A friend of the human rights defender who witnessed the arrest from his car, said he had wanted to stop to speak with Titiev, but Titiev indicated he should drive past. Titiev’s lawyers were not allowed to see him for several hours. That evening Titiev was charged with possessing drugs (Article 228). He categorically denies the accusation. On 10 January police arrived at Titiev’s home looking for his son and brother, and when they did not find them they forced all the other family members out of the house, locked the doors and took the keys. The law enforcement officers wanted to use the fact they had the keys to influence Titiev’s relatives, since to gain entrance to the property the family members would need to go to the police station. On 11 January a court in closed session remanded Titiev in custody for two months.

Titiev took up the post of head of the Chechnya office of Memorial after the kidnapping in Grozny and subsequent murder of his predecessor Natalia Estemirova in July 2009. The Chechen public figure Ruslan Kutaev, who heads  the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, was also charged with illegal acquisition and possession of drugs. On 20 December 2017 he was released having served over three years in prison. There is evidence that Kutaev was tortured following his arrest. According to human rights defenders, the charges were trumped up.

The European Court of Human Rights is tired of hearing identical cases concerning torture in Russia, and has therefore asked Russia to pay compensation to Ildar Dadin on the basis of a simplified procedure. The European Court has proposed that Russia admit to violations of the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment with regard to Ildar Dadin during the latter’s transfer to a prison colony and in the prison colony itself. The Court decided not to ask the Russian government for commentary.

In December 2015 activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony for “repeated violation of the rules for holding public events” (Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). In 2014 Dadin had been arrested four times and fined for taking part in public protests. Later, his prison term was reduced to two-and-a-half years. On 22 February 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court quashed Dadin’s conviction.

Five members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) have been banned from visiting Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina) and the so-called Kremlin Central, which is on the territory of Matrosskaya Tishina. According to the authorities, this is because the five members of the PMC are witnesses in the criminal prosecution of another member of the PMC, Denis Nabiullin…

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/titiev

https://www.thedailybeast.com/frame-up-the-outrageous-arrest-of-a-chechen-human-rights-defender

https://news.trust.org/item/20180110165044-wbsm1

later followed: https://memohrc.org/en/news_old/speaking-grozny-tv-ramzan-kadyrov-revealed-real-reason-behind-arrest-human-rights-defender

2017 was a grim year for imprisoned technologists

December 29, 2017

Prison Hands

Since its founding, EFF has highlighted and defended cases of injustice and fearmongering perpetrated against innocent technologists. We advocate for unjustly imprisoned technologists and bloggers with our Offline project. In 2017, we continue to see fear being whipped up against those who oppose oppression with modern tools—as well as those who have done nothing more than teach and share technology so that we can all use and understand it better:

Dmitry Bogatov, software developer and math lecturer at Moscow’s Finance and Law University. Bogatov ran a volunteer Tor relay, allowing people around the world to protect their identities as they used the Internet. It was one part of his numerous acts of high-tech public service, which include co-maintaining Xmonad and other Haskell software for the Debian project. For his generosity, Bogatov has now spent over a hundred days in pretrial detention, wrongfully accused of posting extremist materials that were allegedly sent via through Tor server. Law enforcement officials around the world understand that data that appears to originate from a particular Tor machine is, in fact, traffic from its anonymised users. But that didn’t stop Bogatov’s prosecutors in Russia from accusing him of sending the data himself, under a pseudonym, to foment riots—and added new charges of “inciting terrorism” when a judge suggested the earlier charge was too weak to hold Bogatov in pre-trial detention.

Ahmed Mansoor, of the United Arab Emirates. Mansoor has been a tireless voice for victims of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, amidst the Arab uprisings, he was one of five Emirati citizens to be sentenced to prison for his social media postings. That case provoked international condemnation, and the group was soon pardoned. Mansoor was subsequently targeted with sophisticated government spyware on his iPhone; he recognised and passed on the malware link to experts, which led to the discovery of three previously unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS. In April, Mansoor was seized by the UAE authorities again. On the day of his arrest, the UAE’s official news agency saying that he had been arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and accused of using social media to promote sectarianism and hate, among other charges. Mansoor’s family did not hear from him for two weeks, and he has been denied access to a lawyer. Just a year ago, Apple was able to roll out a security fix to their users because of Mansoor’s swift, transparent, and selfless actions. Millions of people are safer because of Ahmed’s actions, even as his family fears for his own physical and mental safety. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/28/ahmed-mansoor-under-arrest-emirates-under-pressure/]

Alaa abd el-Fattah ran Linux installfests across the Middle-East and was a key online voice in the Egyptian uprising. Since then he has been jailed, in turn, by the democratically elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and then when Morsi was overthrown in a coup, by incoming President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Alaa’s appeal against a five year prison sentence for protesting—widely seen as a means to silence him on social media—was refused in November of this yearAmnesty and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have both condemned Alaa’s continuing imprisonment.

Another long-term case is that of Saeed Malekpour, who has been in jail in Iran since 2008. Malekpour returned from Canada to visit his sick Iranian father in October of that year, at a time when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was starting to target technologists and Internet experts. As an open source coder, Malekpour had written a free front-end image management utility for websites. The Guard found this software on a Farsi pornography site, and used it to as a pretext to seize Malekpour from the streets of Tehran, charge him with running the web site, and sentencing him to death. Malekpour’s death sentence has been anulled twice following international pressure, but a change of government in his home country of Canada risked reducing the level of support for Malekpour. A campaign to encourage the new Trudeau administration to continue to advocate for Malekpour, even as Canada seeks to normalize relations with Iran, seems to be working. One of Malekpour’s advocates, former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, has said that the Canadian government is now working on the case. The continuing monitoring of Malekpour’s life sentence is a small consolation, but better than the alternative.

Peter Steudtner and Ali Gharavi travel the world, teaching and advising Internet users on how to improve their privacy and digital security online (Ali was an advisor for EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defence project). The two were arrested in a raid by Turkish police on a digital security workshop in July in Istanbul, along with Amnesty Turkeys’ director, Idil Eser, and eight other human rights defenders. The two technology consultants have been accused of aiding terrorists, despite the long history of both as peaceful advocates for secure online practices. After months of detention, concentrated diplomatic and public pressure led to both being released to join their families in Germany and Sweden. We’re delighted that they are free, but their unjust prosecution—and that of their Turkish colleagues—continues in the Turkish courts. 

Bassel Khartabil, the Syrian free culture advocate. Before his arrest and torture in 2012, Bassel was the driving force behind countless projects to turn technology for the public good in his country. He founded a hackerspace in Damascus, translated Creative Commons into a Middle Eastern context, and built out Wikipedia and Mozilla for his fellow Syrians. Bassel’s generosity brought him notability and respect. His prominence and visibility as a voice outside the divided political power-bases of Syria made him an early target when the Syrian civil war became violent. Bassel was killed by the Syrian government in 2015, shortly after he was removed from a civilian prison and sent into the invisibility of Syria’s hidden security complexes.

 

https://personalliberty.com/grim-year-imprisoned-technologists-2017-review/