Posts Tagged ‘sexual violence’

New Amnesty report: Governments failing women human rights defenders

December 1, 2019

Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women's Day 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women’s Day 2019 © Ema Anis for Amnesty International

Governments around the world are failing to protect women human rights defenders from increasing attacks, Amnesty International said on 29 November 2019, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. In a new report –Challenging power, fighting discrimination” – based on interviews with 23 activists across 21 countries, Amnesty highlights how women human rights defenders continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalised and even killed for their campaigning.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination: if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power…All over the world, women human rights defenders are speaking out against injustice, abuse and discrimination, often because they have experienced it first-hand…..They are central to human progress: they fight for human rights and against patriarchy and racism, while pushing for ground-breaking reforms on so many fronts. Governments must live up to their commitment to ensure these activists can operate freely and safely.

In recent years, campaigners working on the rights of women, LGBTI people and other marginalised groups have come under growing pressure from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups. Women campaigning on these issues tend to be the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world.

Sexual violence

The report highlights several cases in which violence, including sexual violence as a form of torture, was used against women human rights defenders to silence them. In Bahrain, Ebtisam El-Saegh, an activist with the human rights organisation SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, was sexually assaulted, badly beaten, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated while in detention in 2017. El-Saegh told Amnesty: “I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’.”

In Egypt, Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender woman human rights defender was arrested in March this year following her involvement in peaceful protests in Cairo. She faced trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.’ While in detention, she was subjected to a forced anal examination and other forms of sexual assault. Even though she was undergoing gender affirming treatment, Malak was placed in an all-male detention facility which put her at increased risk of sexual violence. She was eventually released in July this year.

Smear campaigns

Women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns which vilify their “deviant behaviour” and are designed to fuel hostility against them. After rescuing migrants from the central Mediterranean Sea in June 2019, Carola Rackete, the Italian captain of the rescue boat Sea-Watch 3, was repeatedly insulted by the Italian Minister of Interior who called her a pirate and a criminal. His slurs were followed by vicious verbal attacks by others who incited sexual violence against her while also targeting her gender and appearance.

In Mauritania, Mekfoula Brahim, a woman human rights defender who has campaigned for an end to female genital mutilation, was branded an apostate in 2016 Facebook posts after defending a blogger sentenced to death for criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. The slur exposed her to the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ACT3011392019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/governments-failing-protect-women-activists-increasing-attacks-new-report

http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/353494

International Civil Society Week 2019: Keita speaks for the youth

May 3, 2019

This article bwas written in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW). It portrays Liberian youth activist Keita.

Youth activist Abraham M. Keita is the founder of the Liberia-based Giving Hope to Children Foundation. Credit: A D McKenzie/IPS

Abraham M. Keita says he was nine years old when a girl of thirteen was sexually assaulted and strangled in his home community in Liberia. The anger, outrage and sadness he felt would lead him to start advocating for children’s rights – participating in marches, organising protests and going up against the powerful, in a country where sexual abuse of children is among the worst in the world, according to United Nations figures. Keita will turn 20 years old later this month, and he says he has already spent half of his life as an activist for change. “I’ve been marching since I was 10,” he told IPS with a quiet smile. Keita, the 2015 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize, is also the founder of the Liberia-based Giving Hope to Children Foundation.

Keita is among a growing movement of youth activists who are fighting for the defence of civil liberties and demanding that government act on important issues such as protecting children from violence, ensuring sustainable development, and reducing global warming, according to ICSW organisers.

The youth engagement in ICSW in general is always extremely important to achieve the creation of partnerships among diverse groups and to continue raising awareness of the contributions young people offer to civil society spaces,” said Elisa Novoa, CIVICUS’ youth engagement coordinator. During the event, youth activists sent out a message calling for civil society to “open up the space” to diverse groups. “Civil society should understand the importance of sharing power and enabling inclusion in a meaningful and uplifting manner,” their statement said. “We as young people of diversity acknowledge and recognise the importance of having voices of vulnerability at the forefront of change. We need to redefine how we provide solutions and build togetherness.”

Activists also requested trust from donors, encouraging sponsors to be bold in funding organisations that are truly youth led. For many such groups, a central theme is protecting the vulnerable, a position that Keita has taken. He told IPS that he grew up among vulnerable children, living in poverty in a slum in the Liberian capital Monrovia with his mother and siblings – his father was killed before he was five years old, during Liberia’s brutal and long-lasting civil war. Different sides in the conflict used children as child soldiers and sexually abused many of them, as reports by the UN and other organisations have shown. That legacy continues, with a high number of girls and women being assaulted, while most of the rapists go unpunished. According to Liberian government figures, from January to September 2018, nearly 900 sexual and gender-based cases of violence were reported, including 500 rape cases of which 475 involved children. The statistics provide “alarming evidence that we are still not dealing with this problem in an effective manner”, said Liberia’s President George Weah last October, as quoted in local media.

Keita points out that since many incidents of sexual violence go unreported, the number of children affected is much higher than in official data. Furthermore, cases of sexual violence are not prosecuted quickly enough.

“Hundreds of cases are still in the courts, and the perpetrators are roaming freely,” he said. The problem is rooted in all levels of society and includes civil society as well as government representatives, with individuals responsible for protecting children being charged with sexual abuses.

In 2017, a Liberian lawmaker allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl, making her pregnant. Keita organised protests against the powerful individual and was himself arrested and charged with “criminal coercion”, he said. These charges were eventually dropped. The lawmaker meanwhile appeared in court, spent two days in jail, and since 2017, activists have not been able to locate the girl or her family, Keita told IPS. He and other advocates are still pushing for prosecution of the case, even if that may lead to their own detention, he added.

Arrests and smears are among the official tactics used to suppress youth advocates, similar to those used against human rights defenders in general, said ICSW delegates. Members of the public, too, sometimes think that youth activists are misguided and can tend to dismiss their work.

But as youth around the world join forces, their campaigns for rights and environmental action are becoming a growing force….

Along with their idealism, youth activists are aware of the risks they run. Keita told IPS that he sometimes felt a “little afraid”, and that his mother and family members worry too. “But whatever happens to me, I want to act so things will change, [and] not continue being the same,” he said.

Women human rights defenders and journalists in Iraq receive training in Safety and Digital Security

April 29, 2019

To strengthen the resilience of Iraqi women journalists and women human rights defenders against online and offline gender-based attacks, Internews conducts workshops and other activities that focus on digital and physical security:

Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to Reporters without Borders, ranking 160 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Women journalists and activists in Iraq have a particularly difficult time due to online threats and attacks that adversely affect their ability to express themselves freely and advocate effectively. Women have witnessed an escalation in online abuse over the past few years, not just in numbers, but also in methods and sophistication. The risk of harassment and gender-based attacks online is not limited to the digital space as research has shown that online abuse and stalking often escalate into real world physical violence if left unaddressed.

In an interview with The New Arab, Hala ‘Asif, a 24-year-old journalist working as a correspondent for the channel NRT in Baghdad, noted that, “Foreign journalists often investigate political affairs in Iraq, which sometimes is impossible for us to cover as it would be too dangerous and would prevent us from working safely in our country. I would like to go to other provinces in Iraq and carry out investigations about relevant issues, but as a young woman it would cost too much to take care of my safety.”

To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews, with funding from the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues. Internews’ program, Women Voices (Aswat Al-Maraa), aims to challenge societal attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by supporting journalists and women human rights defenders to shed light on sensitive issues through coordinated reporting and advocacy. The program works with female Iraqi journalists and media outlets to create a nationwide coalition of women journalists and human rights defenders to strengthen their resilience against gender-based attacks and build the capacity of journalists to report on sensitive human rights and SGBV.

Within the Women’s Voices project, Internews has conducted so far two training-of-trainers (TOT) workshops that focus on the digital and physical security of the project participants. Through a peer-to-peer program, TOT trainees have trained eighty women from Erbil, Najaf, and Halabja how to protect themselves from threats online and in their everyday lives.

….Another participant, from the Erbil workshop, said, “Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country.”

To support the voices and participation of women in some of the world’s most challenging places, Internews’ MENA team ensures the implementation of digital as well as a physical security trainings in all of its projects across the region. ​

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/09/defenddefenders-launched-new-security-manual-for-human-rights-defenders-in-africa/

https://reliefweb.int/report/iraq/uplifting-voices-women-supporting-their-physical-safety-and-digital-security

Profile of Valentina Rosendo Cantu, human rights defender in Mexico

March 13, 2019

On 8 March 2019 LEXICON marked International Women’s Day  – in partnership with Peace Brigades International,- with a profile of Valentina Rosendo Cantu, a human rights defender in Mexico. This is the story of a woman who fought for her dignity and transformed her trauma and suffering into resilience. Her case led to a groundbreaking verdict by the Inter-American Court in June 2018.

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TRIAL books success in two major cases against impunity

May 2, 2018

Two major cases of universal jurisdiction – after years of work – have finally borne fruit in the month of April 2018: One verdict in Switzerland (Sperisen) and one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Colonel “Marocain”) make the case that the mobilization of human rights defenders and civil society can really make a change.

TRIAL is also organising on 18 June  2018 a round-table <http://tracking.etapestry.com/t/35021127/1307643942/76621378/0/96504/?x=04c6288b> in Geneva on the fight against wartime sexual violence. This event will also be the occasion to celebrate the organization’s 15th anniversary.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/13/trial-at-14-has-a-facelift/]

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https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/affaire-sperisen-lancien-chef-de-la-police-du-guatemala-complice-dexecutions-extrajudiciaires/

https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/drc-head-of-militia-receives-20-years-sentence-for-mass-crimes/

Profile of Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo: an amazingly courageous doctor

April 12, 2016

Dr Denis Mukwege is a surgeon and the most prominent human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He won several international awards as detailed in earlier posts [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/congolese-gynecologist-wins-europes-sakharov-prize-in-2014/https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/human-rights-first-honors-doctor-denis-mukwege-in-washington-on-21-october/]. He was in Geneva on the occasion of the 2016 International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights for the screening of the documentary film The Man Who Mends Women. The ISHR met with Mukwege on 31 March 2016 and published the following profile with details of his grassroots activities to defend women’s dignity and of the threats he faces due to his work: Dr. Denis Mukwege

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George Clooney speaks out on sexual violence in Darfur

February 26, 2015

Getty Images

Whatever your opinion of George Clooney as an actor, there is no doubt that he is one of the most willing to use his celebrity for human rights causes. The latest example is his Op-Ed piece in the The New York Times, entitled, “George Clooney on Sudan’s Rape of Darfur” (together with John Prendergast and Akshaya Kumar, published on 25 February 2015)  .

Because Sudan’s government routinely blocks journalists from going into the Darfur region and severely restricts access for humanitarian workers, any window into life there is limited,” Clooney says. “The government has hammered the joint peacekeeping mission of the United Nations and African Union into silence about human rights concerns by shutting down the United Nations human rights office in the capital, Khartoum, hampering investigators of alleged human rights abuses and pressuring the peacekeeping force to withdraw.

The 53-year-old actor then explains the evidence that has been received from citizen journalists and local human rights defenders with that videos have been smuggled out.

Read the complete piece here.

Human Rights First Honors Doctor Denis Mukwege in Washington on 21 October|

October 17, 2013

Dr. Denis Mukwege

As founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Denis Mukwege and his staff have treated over 30,000 survivors of sexual violence. The hospital not only addresses the immediate medical needs of survivors, but also provides legal and psycho-social services. Dr. Mukwege has received numerous awards for his tireless advocacy against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and for his courageous efforts to provide essential services to survivors of rape.

Human Rights First will honor Dr. Mukwege with its 2013 Human Rights Award, an honor dedicated to human rights defenders on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom. Physicians for Human Rights collaborates with Dr. Mukwege and the staff of Panzi Hospital to bolster local networks of collaboration among the health and legal communities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to end impunity for sexual violence and support meaningful access to justice for survivors of these crimes.

On Monday 21 October 2013 (15h30) there is a public reception at the Stewart R. Mott House, 122 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC.

 via Reception Honoring Dr. Denis Mukwege | Human Rights First.

 

Colombian Human Rights Defender dies under controversial circumstances

March 4, 2013

Colombian human rights defender Angélica Bello died on 16 February in controversial circumstancesFor years Angélica Bello, a human rights defender from Colombia, rarely spent a day alone – that would have been, simply, too dangerous. A number of threats against her because of her job helping the many survivors of sexual violence – women caught up in Colombia’s long-running armed conflict – meant that it was too dangerous for the 45-year-old mother of four to travel alone. In 2000, two of her daughters were kidnapped and kept as sexual slaves by paramilitaries, and were only released after Angélica personally intervened. Read the rest of this entry »

MEA Laureate files complaint against Uzbek government for forcible sterilisation and torture

February 28, 2013

mutabar in berlin zoo Duco oct 2008

Mutabar Tadjibayeva, one of Uzbekistan’s best known human rights defenders and Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2008, has filed a complaint against Uzbekistan for her brutal torture and forced sterilisation when she was serving an eight-year prison sentence for her human rights activities. The international human rights organisations FIDH and REDRESS recently filed the complaint on her behalf before the UN Human Rights Committee. This is the first known case before the Committee involving a Uzbek human rights defender being forcibly sterilised.

Tadijbayeva has repeatedly sought an investigation from Uzbek authorities into the serious human rights violations that she has suffered since 2002, but her claims have never been investigated and no-one has ever been prosecuted for them. Tadjibayeva is asking the Committee to order Uzbekistan to conduct an effective investigation, punish those found responsible and provide her with reparation, including compensation, as well as her full medical records about the surgery that left her infertile, among other things.
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