Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Brooks’

Lawyers key to the rule of law – even China agrees but only lip service

June 26, 2019

Lawyers have an essential role in upholding the Constitution and realising the rule of law – at the Human Rights Council 41st session this week, even China agreed. So why does the Chinese government continue to harass, intimidate and persecute lawyers who defend human rights ask 4 NGOs on 25 June 2019: Lawyers for Lawyers, International Bar Association, International Service for Human Rights and Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada. In a joint statement the NGOs call on the UN expert on independence of judges and lawyers, and the Council and its members, to press for accountability.

‘The Chinese delegation recognised the need for balance in regulation between lawyers’ and judges’ rights, on the one hand, and their professional responsibilities, on the other hand’, says Sarah M Brooks, Asia Advocate at ISHR. ‘But it is hard to take this claim seriously, as Chinese authorities continue to adopt  abusive laws and measures, using them as a “sledgehammer” to restrict fundamental freedoms’.

This includes in particular lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who – since his nominal release from prison on 28 February 2019 – has been subject to invasive surveillance, restrictions on his freedom of movement, and refusal of independent medical exams. Worse, he is unnecessarily and inhumanely kept from joining his family in the U.S. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/21/jiang-tianyong-chinese-defender-of-defenders-sentenced-to-2-years-jail/]

The statement draws on research conducted by Chinese Human Rights Defenders and other partners into two ‘administrative measures’ that have had far-reaching consequences for lawyers on the ground.  The Measures on the Administration of Law Firms and Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers of Law Firms call on lawyers, law firms and regional bar associations not only to take measures to ensure that lawyers’ freedom of speech, both online and off, in professional and personal capacities, is not critical of the government. Furthermore, language added to one of the measures in 2018 specifically states that  ‘Law firms shall adhere to guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, adhere to and strengthen the comprehensive leadership of the Party over the work of lawyers, persist in preserving the authority and uniform leadership of the Party with Comrade Xi Jinping as its core, make support for the Party’s leadership and support for socialist rule of law basic requirements for the profession, and increase the conscientiousness and resoluteness with which lawyers as a group walk the path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics’.

As a result of making comments that were deemed critical of the Chinese Communist Party, from January 2017 to January 2019, groups have documented cases of at least 26 lawyers and three law firms that have been punished for their opinion or expression, or by association with lawyers. This includes well-known rights lawyers such as Yu Wensheng, Wang Yu, Xie Yanyi and, just last week, Liu Xiaoyuan. 

[for the massive crackdown in 2015, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/29/the-remarkable-crackdown-on-lawyers-in-china-in-july-2015/]

 

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Full statement

Joint statement under Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the Independent Expert on SOGI

24 June 2019

Mr. Vice President,

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report. We wish to highlight that many of the trends of restriction he notes also apply to lawyers. For example, across China, repression of human rights lawyers and legal activists continues. They are disappeared, detained, and denied basic rule of law guarantees.

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong is one example. Although he served his sentence for ‘inciting subversion of the State’, he now lives under constant police surveillance and with a serious medical condition.

What was his so-called ‘crime’? Representing fellow lawyers in court, investigating black jails, speaking out for victims of human rights violations and meeting with UN officials.

Mr Special Rapporteur, we are concerned about Chinese government actions to imprison and disbar lawyers who do not adhere to official ideology. The Chinese delegation raised earlier the need to uphold the Constitution – we couldn’t agree more. But problematic regulations passed in 2016 allow authorities to, inter alia, shut down law firms if they refuse to dismiss lawyers who express critical views, or who advocate for clients or causes unpopular with the Communist Party of China.

China’s claims to ‘faithfully uphold the rule of law’ are true only in relation to national laws created to authorize such government action. Chairman Xi has stressed the Communist Party’s control over the legal system, and has used the law to repress and punish those mandated to uphold and protect rights.

Yu Wensheng, Sui Muqing, Zhou Shifeng, Xie Yanyi, Li Heping, Wang Yu, Liu Zhengqing and Liu Xiaoyuan are only 8 out of at least 27 documented cases of human rights lawyers whose licenses have been invalidated or revoked since 2016, simply for fulfilling their professional duties.

In her UPR follow-up letter to the government, the High Commissioner identified key areas for improvement, including ‘guaranteeing an independent judiciary, fair trials, and access to legal counsel, releasing all human rights defenders, including lawyers’.

We call on you, Mr Special Rapporteur, and on this Council, to insist that China immediately stop all forms of harassment and persecution of human rights lawyers, including through administrative means, and unconditionally release those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.

Thank you.

China’s freedom of expression subject of side event on 13 March

March 4, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

In November 2018, China underwent its Universal Periodic Review and received many recommendations on freedom of expression, both online and off. This side event will elevate the views of civil society actors who are committed to seeing improvements in the protection of freedom of expression in China.

13 March 2019 , 13h30-14h30, in Room XXIII, Palais des Nations, Geneva

Panelists:

  • Judith Lichtenberg, Director of Lawyers for Lawyers
  • A 1989 democracy activist
  • Uyghur PEN representative
  • Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Sarah M Brooks, Asia Advocate, International Service for Human Rights.

Event co-organised by:

Download the event flyer

For some of my earlier posts re China: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/

Join the conversation on Twitter: #ChinaUPR

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/749qlxejj6-32025?e=d1945ebb90

China, Russia and Pakistan in UN fail at attempt to muzzle human rights defenders (for now)

July 7, 2018

On 6 July 2018 Stephanie Nebehay reported for Reuters that China, Russia and Pakistan lost their bid on Friday to weaken a U.N. resolution upholding the crucial rule of human rights defenders. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on all states to protect civil society groups from threats and intimidation, and prosecute reprisals against them. Chile presented the resolution text on behalf of more than 50 countries on the final day of a three-week session. Amendments proposed by China, Pakistan and Russia – declaring that civil society groups must respect “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” and that their funding must be “legal and transparent” – were soundly defeated. So, in spite of increasing retaliation against human right defenders and pressure on civil society in many countries [see recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/ ], the UN is still able to resist some of the more blatant attempt to silence critics.

China and Russia are often the least tolerant of civil society at home. They are now seeking to introduce similar restrictions at the international level,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told Reuters. Their attempts to place national sovereignty above international human rights law “would turn guarantees of peaceful assembly and association on their heads”.

“These amendments were a swing and a miss for China and its allies on the Council,” Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights told Reuters, using an American baseball term. “Their efforts to limit civil society’s independence and shut down civil society voices were rebuffed by a strong message – from member states across the globe – about the importance of keeping defenders’ voices at the table”.

[At the current session, China tried unsuccessfully to block the accreditation of Uighur activist Dolkun Isa, U.N. sources said. China’s delegation publicly challenged activists speaking on behalf of Uighur and Tibetan ethnic minorities. Council president Vojislav Suc, Slovenia’s ambassador, said allegations of intimidation and reprisals had emerged during the session and urged “all necessary measures” to prevent such acts.]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights/china-russia-fail-to-curb-activists-role-at-u-n-rights-forum-campaigners-idUSKBN1JW2EM

2017 (9): Business can be better allies of human rights defenders

March 9, 2017

 Just discovered that the penultimate post in my series “2017” was never published. So here comes – with delay- the missing piece “2017 (9)“:

With the USA government abandoning any leadership on human rights issues, perhaps we should turn more to the business world. So writes Sarah Brooks who works for the Geneva-based NGO, the International Service for Human Rights, in Open Democracy on 1 February 2017 (“Business can and should ally with those defending human rights”)

Business should heed the views of human rights defenders, and do more to protect their crucial work—which advances the rule of law that benefits business too. Global businesses and grassroots human rights activists may seem like strange bedfellows.  But as attacks on basic democratic freedoms and the rule of law intensify around the world, they may have more shared values and interests than one might think. We know businesses are driven by the bottom line. If they didn’t seek to increase profits, they simply wouldn’t exist. But we also know—and many business leaders are coming around to the idea—that long-term success relies on more than just profit generation and is linked to a range of external factors such as transparency, certainty, stability. And a social license to operate. Failures to understand that social license, and in particular to prevent and respond to the human rights impacts of their work, have thrust many global businesses into an unwanted spotlight. They didn’t need to find themselves there.

Because human rights defenders use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. Reputational damage and operational risks for a company are expensive. Because human rights defenders—such as lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders, or NGO workers—use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. However, business should see human rights defenders as priceless allies. They are the canaries in the coal mines, pointing to when governance failures become real financial, legal, and reputational risks to business. They are also the witnesses to corporate abuse of communities and the environment. Because of this, the work of defenders often makes those in power uncomfortable—both states and non-state actors. They are targeted with laws and policies to stifle their activities, and face intimidation and threats to their work and their lives. Yet without the work of defenders, whole societies and economies lose out. And that means businesses lose out, too.

[the author refers as examples to the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and Berta Caceres in Honduras which both let business to reassess their work] 

These cases show business can make a difference. It has a unique ability to create, maintain, and defend space for civil society through three tools: leverage, leadership, and partnerships. How do these work? Take as an example a government drafting a law that aims to close down space for NGOs to operate. In addition to running counter to international law, this would also close off channels for businesses to benefit from NGOs’ work—whether implementing community projects or helping train workers. So how might businesses respond? They can use the leverage provided by access, personal relationships and market share to push back on authoritarian impulses. To take just one example, when 30 global brands and global trade unions joined together to speak out against violent dispersal of protests and detention of activists in Cambodia in 2014, not only were the activists released, but the underlying issues of minimum wage took center stage in brand discussions with the government.

Businesses, and especially progressive businesses, also need to show leadership. In 2015, Adidas released a policy statement on human rights defenders that clearly led the pack, creating a company-wide commitment to speak out in defense of fundamental freedoms in the countries where they source. It takes a lot for a business to get in front, especially when they know that NGOs will be watching carefully to see those policies implemented. But setting the bar high has consumer appeal and can drive a race to the top. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/business-and-human-rights/]

Finally, businesses have resources. Partnerships directly with NGOs can be contentious, and businesses need to listen to and address the concerns of co-optation and whitewashing. But the global environment for traditional funding mechanisms is increasingly toxic. According to UN experts and leading funders, nearly a hundred governments have put limits on NGOs’ operations, including the ability to accept foreign (especially NGO) funding. For the financial survival of civil society, seeking support from businesses might be an option—if it is on equal footing and with clear redlines to maintain independence.

Civil society needs space and protection to carry out its work, and it is not just a moral imperative, but an investment opportunity for businesses to help secure that space and protection. The leadership, leverage and solidarity shown by companies who see support to civic freedoms and human right defenders as part of core business will pay long-term dividends.

Along similar lines runs the article “Davos | Global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants global business response” by the International Service of Human Rights on 20 January 2017:

Business and civil society alike thrive in open democracies. It is in their collective interest that business enterprises play an active role in responding to the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos have been told.

Human rights defenders and other civil society actors play a vital role in promoting and contributing to good governance, sustainable development and the rule of law. This is explicitly recognised in Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its associated indicators. In many cases, this work involves defenders exposing corruption, protesting environmental degradation, and demanding that the benefits of development are shared by all, including the most poor and disadvantaged. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, this work also involves defenders being subject to restrictions and attacks, with recent research demonstrating that those working on land and environment rights and in the field of business and human rights are most at risk of being killed. This week’s assassination of Mexican indigenous and environmental rights activist Isidro Baldenegro is just the most recent tragic example of the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms.

What is the role and responsibility, and what should be the response, of business enterprises to this crackdown? This was a key question at the World Economic Forum attended by ISHR representatives in Davos, Switzerland this week. Progressive business enterprises are increasingly recognising the shared values and interest of business and civil society in an open, enabling operating environment. This is an environment characterised by respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, access to information, public participation, non-discrimination and the rule of law. It is in such open environments that innovation, productivity and development thrive. Progressive business enterprises are also recognising the significant costs associated with the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, with the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Risks Reportidentifying the ‘fraying of the rule of law and declining civic freedoms’ as a key business risk. In his statement to the Forum, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights similarly said: ‘Business cannot thrive in failing societies, where tension spikes and communities bristle with grievances and mutual contempt. Strong civil societies, due process, equality and justice: these are what enable real economic empowerment’.

Business enterprises and business leaders exercise significant influence in shaping public and political opinion and legislative and policy-making processes, not just in areas of corporate and economic policy but on social issues such as LGBTI rights. They should exercise similar influence in response to the increasing restrictions and risks faced by defenders. The conversations in Davos this week recognised the shared interest of business and civil society in the protection of human rights defenders and civic freedoms. The killing in Mexico of Isidro Baldenegro at the same time as these discussions were taking place tragically demonstrates the need for business to move beyond recognition to action.

This action could encompass a range of responses, such as:

The global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants a global business response.

Sources:

https://www.ishr.ch/news/davos-global-crackdown-civil-society-and-civic-freedoms-warrants-global-business-response

Business can and should ally with those defending human rights | openDemocracy