Posts Tagged ‘smear campaign’

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

How social media companies can identify and respond to threats against human rights defenders

October 15, 2019

global computer threats

Image from Shutterstock.

Ginna Anderson writes in the ABA Abroad of 3

..Unfortunately, social media platforms are now a primary tool for coordinated, state-aligned actors to harass, threaten and undermine advocates. Although public shaming, death threats, defamation and disinformation are not unique to the online sphere, the nature of the internet has given them unprecedented potency. Bad actors are able to rapidly deploy their poisoned content on a vast scale. Social media companies have only just begun to recognize, let alone respond, to the problem. Meanwhile, individuals targeted through such coordinated campaigns must painstakingly flag individual pieces of content, navigate opaque corporate structures and attempt to survive the fallout. To address this crisis, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube must dramatically increase their capacity and will to engage in transparent, context-driven content moderation.

For human rights defenders, the need is urgent. .. Since 2011, the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR) has ..noted with concern the coordination of “traditional” judicial harassment of defenders by governments, such as frivolous criminal charges or arbitrary detention, with online campaigns of intimidation. State-aligned online disinformation campaigns against individual defenders often precede or coincide with official investigations and criminal charges.

……

While social media companies generally prohibit incitement of violence and hate speech on their platforms, CHR has had to engage in additional advocacy with social media companies requesting the removal of specific pieces of content or accounts that target defenders. This extra advocacy has been required even where the content clearly violates a social media company’s terms of service and despite initial flagging by a defender. The situation is even more difficult where the threatening content is only recognizable with sufficient local and political context. The various platforms all rely on artificial intelligence, to varying degrees, to identify speech that violates their respective community standards. Yet current iterations of artificial intelligence are often unable to adequately evaluate context and intent.

Online intimidation and smear campaigns against defenders often rely on existing societal fault lines to demean and discredit advocates. In Guatemala, CHR recently documented a coordinated social media campaign to defame, harass, intimidate and incite violence against human rights defenders. Several were linked with so-called “net centers,” where users were reportedly paid to amplify hateful content across platforms. Often, the campaigns relied on “coded” language that hark back to Guatemala’s civil war and the genocide of Mayan communities by calling indigenous leaders communists, terrorists and guerrillas.

These terms appear to have largely escaped social media company scrutiny, perhaps because none is a racist slur per se. And yet, the proliferation of these online attacks, as well as the status of those putting out the content, is contributing to a worsening climate of violence and impunity for violence against defenders by specifically alluding to terms used to justify violence against indigenous communities. In 2018 alone, NPR reports that 26 indigenous defenders were murdered in Guatemala. In such a climate, the fear and intimidation felt by those targeted in such campaigns is not hyperbolic but based on their understanding of how violence can be sparked in Guatemala.

In order to address such attacks, social media companies must adopt policies that allow them to designate defenders as temporarily protected groups in countries that are characterized by state-coordinated or state-condoned persecution of activists. This is in line with international law that prohibits states from targeting individuals for serious harm based on their political opinion. To increase their ability to recognize and respond to persecution and online violence against human rights defenders, companies must continue to invest in their context-driven content moderation capacity, including complementing algorithmic monitoring with human content moderators well-versed in local dialects and historical and political context.

Context-driven content moderation should also take into account factors that increase the risk that online behavior will contribute to offline violence by identifying high-risk countries. These factors include a history of intergroup conflict and an overall increase in the number of instances of intergroup violence in the past 12 months; a major national political election in the next 12 months; and significant polarization of political parties along religious, ethnic or racial lines. Countries where these and other risk factors are present call for proactive approaches to identify problematic accounts and coded threats against defenders and marginalized communities, such as those shown in Equality Labs’ “Facebook India” report.

Companies should identify, monitor and be prepared to deplatform key accounts that are consistently putting out denigrating language and targeting human rights defenders. This must go hand in hand with the greater efforts that companies are finally beginning to take to identify coordinated, state-aligned misinformation campaigns. Focusing on the networks of users who abuse the platform, instead of looking solely at how the online abuse affects defenders’ rights online, will also enable companies to more quickly evaluate whether the status of the speaker increases the likelihood that others will take up any implicit call to violence or will be unduly influenced by disinformation.

This abuser-focused approach will also help to decrease the burden on defenders to find and flag individual pieces of content and accounts as problematic. Many of the human rights defenders with whom CHR works are giving up on flagging, a phenomenon we refer to as flagging fatigue. Many have become fatalistic about the level of online harassment they face. This is particularly alarming as advocates targeted online may develop skins so thick that they are no longer able to assess when their actual risk of physical violence has increased.

Finally, it is vital that social media companies pursue, and civil society demand, transparency in content moderation policy and decision-making, in line with the Santa Clara Principles. Put forward in 2018 by a group of academic experts, organizations and advocates committed to freedom of expression online, the principles are meant to guide companies engaged in content moderation and ensure that the enforcement of their policies is “fair, unbiased, proportional and respectful of users’ rights.” In particular, the principles call upon companies to publicly report on the number of posts and accounts taken down or suspended on a regular basis, as well as to provide adequate notice and meaningful appeal to affected users.

CHR routinely supports human rights defenders facing frivolous criminal charges related to their human rights advocacy online or whose accounts and documentation have been taken down absent any clear justification. This contributes to a growing distrust of the companies among the human rights community as apparently arbitrary decisions about content moderation are leaving advocates both over- and under-protected online.

As the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression explained in his 2018 report, content moderation processes must include the ability to appeal the removal, or refusal to remove, content or accounts. Lack of transparency heightens the risk that calls to address the persecution of human rights defenders online will be subverted into justifications for censorship and restrictions on speech that is protected under international human rights law.

A common response when discussing the feasibility of context-driven content moderation is to compare it to reviewing all the grains of sand on a beach. But human rights defenders are not asking for the impossible. We are merely pointing out that some of that sand is radioactive—it glows in the dark, it is lethal, and there is a moral and legal obligation upon those that profit from the beach to deal with it.

Ginna Anderson, senior counsel, joined ABA CHR in 2012. She is responsible for supporting the center’s work to advance the rights of human rights defenders and marginalized dommunities, including lawyers and journalists at risk. She is an expert in health and human rights, media freedom, freedom of expression and fair trial rights. As deputy director of the Justice Defenders Program since 2013, she has managed strategic litigation, fact-finding missions and advocacy campaigns on behalf of human rights defenders facing retaliation for their work in every region of the world

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how-can-social-media-companies-identify-and-respond-to-threats-against-human-rights-defenders

Polish judges have become human rights defenders

April 8, 2019

Barbora Cernusakova (Amnesty International’s Poland researcher) posted in Euronews on 4 April 2019 a piece entitled “When Polish judges become human rights defenders”

“There is a danger when politics enters the judiciary,” warned Judge Sławomir Jęksa in his summing up of his decision to accept the appeal of a woman who had been charged for using offensive language at a rally. She had, he reasoned, not only been entitled to express herself in the way that she did, especially since she was expressing genuine concerns about the encroachment on human rights in Poland. Days after his ruling, Judge Jęksa found himself at the receiving end of just the sort of political interference of which he had warned. The Disciplinary Prosecutor started proceedings against him on the grounds that his ruling was an “expression of political opinions” and “an offence against the dignity of the office of the judge.”

Judge Jęksa does not have much faith in the disciplinary procedure which will take place in the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. The Disciplinary Chamber is a special body whose members were chosen by a body formed of politicians from the governing party. He is just one of several judges facing similar pressures. More than a dozen judges have faced disciplinary proceedings since last autumn. These may result in sanctions, including their dismissal from office.

Some of the more outspoken judges who publicly expressed their opposition to the government’s interference with the judiciary have even received death threats…..

This is all happening in the context of a wider smear campaign against judges that have upheld decisions in defence of human rights that began in 2017. Judges are constantly portrayed as “enemies of the people” who “damage the interests of Poland.” Pro-government media and social media accounts have gone as far as invading their privacy by regularly publishing their personal information, including details about their sick leave and their trips abroad.

Despite this, judges in Poland continue to organise and collectively resist the pressures from the government. “For the first time in our careers we have to stand our ground and show we are not just civil servants, but the authority that protects legal order,” Judge Dorota Zabłudowska told me.

But the ongoing struggle over the independence of the judiciary in Poland is not only about them. It is a fight for human rights that ultimately affects everyone in the country and indeed in Europe. In a significant move yesterday, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure to protect judges in Poland from political control. …The chilling effect of the abuse of this already flawed disciplinary system is real and this has now been called out by the Commission. Member states should back this step and call on Poland in the General Affairs Council next week to end the harassment and intimidation of judges.

This decision draws an important line in the sand and makes clear that interfering with the independence of the judiciary cannot and will not be tolerated. Allowing one member state to operate outside the rule of law would be to allow the entire system to be contaminated…

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/27/polish-ombudsman-adam-bodnar-winner-of-2018-rafto-award/

https://www.euronews.com/2019/04/04/when-polish-judges-become-human-rights-defenders-view

UN Experts consider human rights defenders in Italy under threat

December 2, 2018

In Europe it is not just in Hungary where human rights defenders are under pressure [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/07/26/some-facts-about-refugee-flows-which-hungary-seems-not-to-know/]. On 21 November 2018 a group of UN experts  – including Michel Forst, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – expressed concern that amidst Italy’s proposed tightening of immigration rules HRDs are the subject of smear campaigns.

Since coming into power in June 2018, the new Italian Government has implemented the anti-migrant and exclusionary measures it campaigned upon. “Removing protection measures from potentially thousands of migrants and limiting their ability to regularise their stay in Italy will increase their vulnerability to attacks and exploitation. They will be at greater risk from traffickers and other criminal groups, and many will have no means to meet their basic needs through lawful means”.

While acknowledging the challenges Italy faces due to the absence of an effective European-wide system of solidarity, the UN experts said this did not justify violations of human rights. “The government must adhere to the values enshrined in the Italian constitution, and the international commitments it signed up to,” they said in an appeal to the government to reconsider the legislative changes.

During the most recent electoral campaign, some politicians fuelled a public discourse unashamedly embracing racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric. Such speech incites hatred and discrimination,” the experts said. ……“We are also concerned about the continuing smear campaigns against civil society organisations engaged in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the criminalisation of the work of migrant rights defenders, which have become more widespread in Italy,”.

The UN experts urge the Italian government to combat incitement to hatred and discrimination, racism and xenophobia. “Perpetrators of hate crimes must be held accountable and justice provided to the victims. Italian authorities should implement the national and relevant European legal framework and provide the needed responses to hate crime and the use of hate speech.”

The experts have contacted the government about their concerns and await a reply.

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23908&LangID=E

Europe also sees shrinking space for human rights defenders

April 4, 2017

On 4 April 2017 Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, wrote about “The Shrinking Space for Human Rights Organisations“. The new EU ‘alert site I referred to yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/03/protectdefenders-eu-launches-new-alert-website-but-no-single-stop-yet/] showed in 2016 some 86 reported violations in the European (and Central Asian) region, mostly detention and judicial harassment. Also the recent CIVICUS findings of the narrowing space for civil society points in this direction. An example could be Hungary as illustrated by reports of Human Rights Watch (2016), Human Rights First (2017) and Amnesty International (2016/17); the issue of academic freedom is not directly related but part of the restrictive trend [see links below].

Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Sfardjan: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

January 5, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

Filipino nun wins Weimar human rights award 2015 for fight against mining excesses

August 11, 2015

<p>Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in Manila in early August. (Photo by Leon Dulce)</p>

Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in early August (Photo by Leon Dulce)

A Benedictine nun, Stella Matutina, is the recipient of Germany’s “Weimar Award for Human Rights” 2015 for her anti-mining advocacy in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

Sister Stella Matutina has been recognized for “[engaging] herself extraordinarily for the rights of the native population, despite being exposed to permanent threats to her safety due to her engagements”. “This highlights the situation of Mindanao and the Philippines in general where the poor, the farmers, the indigenous peoples, the human rights activists and defenders of the environment endure harassment and face risks and death,” the 47-year-old nun told ucanews.com (Jefry Tupas, 7 August 2015) . More than a personal recognition, Matutina said the award acknowledges the “collective sacrifices” of freedom and environment defenders in the face of a “systematic effort to limit democratic space and security threats”.

Matutina has been a vocal opponent of attempts to convert the farmlands in Mindanao to plantation crops like palm oil, pineapples, and bananas. She has also led a campaign against the entry of large-scale mining companies in tribal communities in Mindanao. In 2012, the Philippine military labeled Matutina a “fake nun” and accused her of being a communist New People’s Army guerrilla. In 2009, soldiers detained Matutina and two other anti-mining activists in the town of Cateel in Mindanao for giving a lecture on environmental awareness to residents of an upland village. Early this year, authorities charged Matutina, other Church leaders and human rights activists with kidnapping, human trafficking, and illegal detention for taking care of displaced tribal people in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

These are proof that helping the oppressed, the poor, the abused comes with great risks,” said Matutina, chairwoman of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and secretary-general of the environment protection group Panalipdan.

Since 1995, the Weimar Award has honored individuals or groups engaged in the fight for freedom and equality, the prevention and condemnation of genocide, the right to free speech, and the respect and preservation of political, ethnic, cultural and religious rights of minorities, among others. The award comes with a 2500,00 Euro stipend.

The same Weimar Human Rights Award went in 2000 to Father Shay Cullen of the Peoples Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation for his work defending the rights of children and women, victims of human trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.

via Filipino nun wins German human rights award ucanews.com.

worth noticing also is the language of Radio Vatican used in its own announcement:

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/08/07/philippine_nun_honoured_with_german_human_rights_award/1163662

Smear campaign by Sri Lankan State radio station against HRD Nimalka Fernando

November 17, 2013

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), expresses its great concern about the smear campaign and threats suffered by Ms. Nimalka Fernando, attorney-at-law, women’s rights activist and President of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) in Sri Lanka. [Ms. Fernando was also a convener of the alternative summit to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is taking place in Sri Lanka from November 10 to 17, 2013 amid strong criticism of the country’s human rights abuses.] Read the rest of this entry »