Posts Tagged ‘Santiago A. Canton’

New SG of the ICJ, Santiago Cantón, want to mobilise the human rights community again

May 12, 2023

Santiago Cantón, secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists. (Geneva Solutions/Michelle Langrand)

On 11 May 2023 Geneva Solutions carried an interview with the incoming Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists:

The new head of the International Commission of Jurists warns of the challenges human rights face as democracies across the world falter and calls on human rights groups to rally behind a new purpose. After spending the last few years in the United States, Santiago Cantón, the Argentinian jurist who recently became the new secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), will call Geneva his home for the next five years.

The discreet organisation of well-respected judges and lawyers, located in the Paquis neighbourhood and now celebrating its 70th anniversary, is almost as old as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Born from the ashes of World War II initially to investigate abuses committed in the Soviet part of post-war Germany, the group has made vital contributions over the decades to the human rights architecture. Most notably, they helped push for the creation of an international criminal court and several UN human rights instruments, including the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, first proposed by its then-president Niall MacDermot.

Cantón, 60, also brings with him some heavy baggage of experience in human rights. He was the executive secretary from 2001 to 2012 of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, one of the arms of the Organization of American States tasked with reviewing rights abuses. Before that, Cantón served as the commission’s first special rapporteur on freedom of expression from 1998 to 2001. More recently, Cantón was part of the UN Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry on abuses committed in the occupied Palestinian territories during the 2018 protests.

As a young student, Cantón saw his country fall into the clutches of a military junta that would rule ruthlessly for ten years. While initially drawn to diplomacy and foreign relations, Cantón knew it wasn’t an option to place his skills at the service of a dictatorship. He opted instead to study international law and human rights.

One of his first experiences, and the one to inspire him the most, was advising former US president Jimmy Carter in his democracy programmes in Latin America, most notably supporting elections in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in 1990 at a time when the two countries were emerging from bloody conflicts and transitioning into democracies. He saw the region break away from the chains of military regimes and usher in a new era of democracy and rule of law. “1948, with the universal declaration of human rights, was the big bang of human rights,” he told Geneva Solutions. “Since then, the architecture of human rights created throughout the world has been extraordinary.”

But the tides have turned. “Human rights are in decline and have been since the beginning of the century,” he regretted.

For Cantón, part of it is due to a lack of leadership. “We don’t have the same leaders in the world, and the governments that support human rights today, do not have the leadership they need to have for political reasons.” He said long gone are the Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Patricio Aylwin of Chile, leaders who stood up for democratic values following their countries’ exit from military rule.

“You do have leadership on the wrong side. And they’re winning,” he added. He cited the leaders of El Salvador and Mexico, as well as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and the US’s Donald Trump, as examples of how populist leaders have successfully appealed to disillusioned populations.

“Take El Salvador. Here we have someone that has 70 to 80 per cent of popularity. People (feel) that democracy did not deliver. They are tired and want to change everything completely,” he said. President Nayib Bukele’s recent sweeping crackdown that saw over 60,000 suspected gang members arrested has been praised by many Salvadorians fed up with the violence and insecurity that has gangrened the country for years. And despite the harsh criticism his methods have drawn from human rights campaigners, political figures across the region are flaunting it as a successful model that can be replicated in their own countries.

Cantón cautions against the temptation of wanting to scrap everything. “We cannot just change everything! There are things we need to keep, and human rights is one of those,” he said.

On Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the usual trio singled out for their authoritarian regimes, Cantón prefers to avoid tired narratives. “it’s not a question of left and right, it’s a question of the strength of the rule of law, and the rule of law is declining,” he observed.

Beyond that, human rights that touch upon issues associated with deeply entrenched cultural values have also been met by a wall of resistance. Cantón hasn’t finished unpacking he has already faced a first crisis. A report published by the ICJ in early March on how to apply human rights standards to criminal law was falsely accused across the internet of condoning sex between adults and minors. For Cantón, the world is increasingly polarised, and he views social media as a significant contributing factor. “It’s hard to find the middle ground, and when things are so polarised, they keep getting pushed harder towards two crazy extremes.”

But governments are not the only ones that need to do some soul-searching. Civil society is also struggling to maintain morale, according to Cantón. “It’s very frustrating when you take one step forward, and you have to go back like ten steps,” he said. For the past years, human rights groups have been on the defence, trying to protect hard-won advances. “We need to mobilise the human rights community again, strongly behind something,” he said.

One of the initiatives the ICJ is working on is the creation of a standing independent mechanism to investigate rights violations. UN-backed probe mechanisms are usually set up on a case-by-case basis and have been accused of being selective and politically motivated. The group of lawyers suggests that such a permanent expert body, created through the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly, could help by making it easier to trigger investigations.

“It would be a game changer,” Cantón said.

Most human rights NGOs welcome change in US policy on Cuba but some diehards hold out

December 18, 2014

President Obama’s announcement to normalize relations with Cuba has led to a range of reactions. Most of the world (the UN General Assembly has called for an end to the US embargo for years – in October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the policy) and certainly most of the human rights movement, including in the US itself, has welcomed the long-overdue move:

E.g. Human Rights Watch and RFK Human Rights have come with positive comments:

“It’s been clear for years that US efforts to promote change in Cuba through bans on trade and travel have been a costly and misguided failure. Rather than isolating Cuba, the embargo has isolated the United States, alienating governments that might otherwise speak out about the human rights situation on the island.” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of HRW on 18 December. [the statement of HRW added: Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days.] The embargo has imposed indiscriminate hardship on Cubans, but done nothing to end abuses,” Vivanco said. “The Obama administration should make human rights a focus of its Cuba policy but look for more effective ways – including working with other democracies in the region – to press the Cuban government to respect fundamental rights.

On 17 December, Kerry Kennedy and Santiago A. Canton, on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, welcomed the announcement saying that the change in policy will lead to an opening of dialogue at all levels between the United States and Cuba, including on the issue of protecting and advancing human rights.

Still, some chose to disagree:

The Washington Times reports that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was one of many Republicans to criticize President Obama’s move on Wednesday to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba, saying the move undermines the “quest for a free and democratic Cuba“…..Mr. Bush, who announced Tuesday he was actively exploring a bid for the presidency in 2016, said he’s “delighted” that American Alan Gross was freed after five years in prison, but said it was “unfortunate” that the United States chose to released three convicted spies as part of the deal. …Earlier this month, Mr. Bush said the U.S. should consider strengthening its embargo against Cuba at the annual luncheon of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC as he pledged support for the group, a strong defender of the policy.

In the Hudson Reporter (Hudson County is home to thousands of Cuban emigrants and refugees) Congressman Albio Sires stated: “What should be a joyous moment to celebrate the overdue homecoming of Alan Gross today has been marred by the actions undertaken by the administration to secure his release”.. “The president’s announcement today detailing plans for a loosening of sanctions and initiating discussions to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba is naïve and disrespectful to the millions of Cubans that have lived under the Castros’ repressive regime; and the thousands of human rights defenders that have fought tirelessly and at times with their lives to bring about democratic change to Cuba.  Moreover, “while I may welcome the release of over 50 political prisoners, little has been said for the countless others that remain inside a Cuban prison or the fact that the same 50 plus prisoners freed today could very well be imprisoned again tomorrow for exercising the same human rights of free speech that unjustly placed them inside prison the first time.”

US/Cuba: Obama’s New Approach to Cuba | Human Rights Watch.–Obama-s-change-of-policy-on-Cuba?instance=top_story

RFK Training Human Rights Defenders in Social Media

April 10, 2014
You can participate in an on-line conversation on the use of social media in human rights work on 15 April 2014 organised by the John F. Kennedy Centre for Human Rights [RFK]. The speakers are: 
Santiago A. Canton is the Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. Mr. Canton was the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, after serving as the first Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the Inter American System. Mr. Canton was also Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), a democratic development institute based in Washington D.C. Mr. Canton was a political assistant to President Carter in democratic development programs in countries in Latin America. In 2005, Mr. Canton was awarded the Chapultepec Grand Prize for his contributions to the promotion, development, strengthening and defense of the principles of freedom of expression throughout the Americas.
Maria Isabel Rivero is a Uruguayan journalist and has been director of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Press and Outreach Office since July 2007. She started working at the Commission in 2006, through a competition for the post of press coordinator for the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. She studied social communications at the Catholic University of Uruguay and has a Master of Latin American Studies degree from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Before joining the IACHR, she was a journalist for 15 years, working for an international news agency in Santiago (Chile), Asunción (Paraguay), Montevideo (Uruguay), and Washington, D.C. (United States).

Ali Ravi is Senior Consultant – Digital Strategy, Security, Capacity. With advanced degrees in Electrical Engineering and Robotics, Ali Ravi’s work focus has primarily been on information systems design, Digital strategy development and adult-learning methodology. He has spent 15 years in the NGO world as Technology Strategist for smaller NGOs, and Digital Strategy and Security educator/trainer for individuals involved in progressive causes.

Maya Derouaz is the Social Media Manager at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). She has developed the social media presence of OHCHR on various platforms since 2012. Ms Derouaz has also been advising, designing and implementing communications strategies aimed at increasing the visibility of OHCHR on social media. She leads various social media campaigns in order to disseminate key information on the activities of the UN Human Rights Office on the ground. Ms Derouaz took part in the development of a National Agricultural Programme for Eritrea when she worked at the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome. Ms Derouaz holds a Master of Arts in International Affairs from Sciences Po Paris, a Bachelor of Arts in Languages and Business from Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi and has a keen interest in new media, global politics and sustainable development.

Lely Djuhari is Communication Specialist at UNICEF, working on social media. She has also worked in other humanitarian and development agencies in Indonesia, Southeast Asian countries, Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, Turkey, South Caucasus and Central Asia. She managed wide ranging multi-country advocacy campaigns on inclusion of children with disabilities, ethnic minorities such as the Roma; disaster risk reduction into mainstream education; child-friendly schools during post-tsunami reconstruction, the roll out of journalism education and child rights in 30 universities in Europe and Central Asia; groundbreaking research and advocacy for maximizing safer online access for boys and girls. As a correspondent for The Associated Press and Kyodo News English Service during 2004-1998, she covered social and political issues in Indonesia, East Timor`s path to nationhood and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.  While on a Chevening scholarship at London`s City University, UK, she explored new media and new competencies needed by journalists in an increasingly connected world.

Human Rights Affairs: Social Media & HR | RFK – Training Institute.