Posts Tagged ‘social media’

The will of the people or ‘democracy under the rule of law’ in Europe ?

December 9, 2017

It is not often that I recommend the reading of long ‘governmental’ documents, but this time it do without hesitation. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs published on 4 October 2017 its 104th thoughtful report, entitled: “The will of the people? The erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe”. Below I reproduce the Conclusions and recommendations, but reading only these you miss out on gems such as the section on Media page 27:

“Until the end of the twentieth century the media landscape was dominated by newspapers, radio and television. However, the advent of the internet in the early 1990s and social media in the early 2000s brought about a radical change. The low cost of accessing the internet means that everyone is now, in principle, able to generate journalistic content (through blogs, websites, YouTube videos, live streaming, etc.). This has resulted in democratisation of the media and diversification of the media landscape, but has also had negative effects.

The independence of the media is crucial for the credibility of reporting. But on the internet this seems to be largely immaterial: media that focus on a specific political or ideological niche are highly successful online. Besides the role of the internet, another factor instrumental in undermining media independence is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of just a few companies..The income of the traditional news media is being squeezed by greater competition.

 

Online media are often funded from advertising revenue. Consequently, the facts are no longer necessarily central; what counts is attracting as many visitors as possible to the site, relying on the speed of posting news online, sensational content and the ideological message. This undermines the reliability of the media. As everyone is now potentially able to generate news and the quantity of media content has risen explosively, it is becoming ever more difficult to check the content, sender and sources. So it is easy, for example, for populist movements to claim that the traditional media, especially newspapers, are biased and mendacious. This problem is exacerbated by the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, which is disinformation generally intended to substantiate one’s own political positions or undermine the positions and reputation of political opponents.

Whereas at the time of the Arab Spring there was much praise for the positive impact of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) on the democratic process, there is now greater awareness of its darker side.61 First, social media contributes to the formation of ‘ lter bubbles’. Informational bubbles of this kind are created by the user personally (self-selection) and strengthened by search and personalisation algorithms (pre-selection). This hyperpersonalisation of news and opinion has created a situation in which people are shielded from conflicting positions and isolated from people who think differently. In addition, social media tends to polarise social debate. Although social media undeniably facilitates and intensifies political debate and discussion, the nature of reactions on social media (fast, brief, simplistic, one-sided and often anonymous) has made the tone of the social debate considerably more strident. Finally, social media makes individuals more transparent. Connections, posts and likes help to create a more complete picture of individuals, who they are and what they think, believe and want. Within a democracy under the rule of law this picture can be used, for example, to microtarget voters with a view to influencing their political choice. But social media is also a powerful tool for monitoring individuals and identifying political opponents.”

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Conclusions and recommendations

‘The rule of law is not a peaceful property, a house in which we can sleep serenely.’160

This statement, made by the late senator Willem Witteveen in a parliamentary debate on the rule of law in 2014, remains as relevant as ever. Democracy under the rule of law needs constant maintenance, in Europe as elsewhere. Since the turn of the millennium, the increasingly apparent alienation between the institutions of democracy under the rule of law and sections of the population whose circumstances and prospects have become precarious and/or who feel that the nation’s cultural identity is under threat, has created an environment fraught with risk. In several European states, movements with varying degrees of influence have emerged that want to use democratically acquired power to limit the political status and legal safeguards of other population groups. This indicates that, to a large extent, they do not feel that constitutional democracy, i.e. democracy under the rule of law, is in everyone’s interest, including their own.

As pointed out in the introduction to this advisory report, it is an essential but delicate task, when standing up for the rule of law in the international arena, to respect the democratic character of the states concerned and enhance their democratic quality. As societies become ever more complex, rights, obligations and diverse social interests must constantly be weighed against one another and conflicts resolved. This means that all levels of government need to strike a balance between catering to the public’s wishes and making an independent assessment based on the general interest. Due to a large number of developments and factors, which have been described in this report, this balance has gradually been disturbed in recent decades. Many people across Europe now feel that the institutions of democracy under the rule of law mainly benefit others, including ‘the establishment’ or minority groups. This dissatisfaction is fuelling alternative political movements that promise more consultation and more effective government.

In Europe, a broad effort is required to restore and strengthen public support for democracy under the rule of law. It should be clear to all that the rule of law does not hamper democracy but rather bolsters it. There needs to be greater awareness that democracy only benefits all citizens if it is accompanied by rule-of-law safeguards. Citizens also need to know that their voices are being heard at international level. EU institutions must serve the public visibly and tangibly. That is not sufficiently the case at present.

All member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union are responsible for maintaining democracy under the rule of law in Europe. The fact that national governments working together in the EU appear unwilling to call one another to account for the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights does nothing to enhance the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. It merely confirms the widespread perception that the EU promises human dignity but does not effectively protect it.

This does not just undermine norms and values that are a key part of the European identity; the stability of Europe, too, is at stake. If the protection of individual rights and minorities is eroded, this rapidly generates domestic tensions, bilateral conflicts and, inevitably, migratory flows that can sometimes assume unmanageable proportions.

And if the erosion of democracy under the rule of law goes hand in hand with the undermining of common EU institutions, as is often the case, those institutions will increasingly be incapable of taking effective action to resolve such crises.

Even if no large-scale escalation occurs, the erosion of democracy under the rule of law eats away at the foundations of interstate cooperation that are important in Europe. Police cooperation, the European arrest warrant, the transfer of asylum seekers under the Dublin system – all these forms of cooperation are based on mutual trust in the quality of legal systems and the protection of the core values of the rule of law. But if the factual basis for that mutual trust disappears, mutual recognition and solidarity will sooner or later also be put in jeopardy.161

In addition to these considerations, a deficient democracy under the rule of law creates an unattractive investment climate. Confidence in constitutional stability and in the fair and effective public administration of justice is, after all, essential. Without such confidence, investors will be forced to resort to arbitration and other forms of investment protection; they will then have to contend with both increasingly critical public opinion and legal objections.162

Recommendations

Below the AIV will make a number of policy recommendations concerning how the Netherlands can work in the appropriate international bodies and bilaterally to preserve the constitutional structures of democracy under the rule of law from (further) erosion. The Netherlands must be prepared to swim against the tide and continue its engagement on this issue, with a view to preventing the operation of the democratic system from eroding its own principles.

It needs to be completely clear, of course, that such efforts should support states’ democratic functioning – taking account of their historically acquired characteristics; a democracy’s procedural and substantive features must not be further torn apart, but rather woven together in a more convincing manner. This requires respect for the diversity that can exist among the member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Alignment should constantly be sought with the common fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law as accepted by all the nations concerned. The recommendations made here therefore build on what has been agreed with and by the other states.

There is a need for caution here. For various reasons, there is bound to be some discrepancy between the complexity of the problems described in this report and the recommendations presented below. First, there is no magic bullet that will halt the erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe in a simple manner, because numerous complex factors are involved (see chapter II). What is needed is a differentiated approach at various levels: national, international, governmental, societal, etc. Second, a society can only achieve democracy under the rule of law from within. Individuals and organisations from other countries can merely play a supporting role. It stands to reason that the Dutch government – to which many of the recommendations relate – can mainly offer support in the realm of social developments and their anchoring in the rule of law. Third, the political balance of forces in Europe, especially in the European Union, currently offers limited scope for voicing a powerful counter-message. Only a limited number of European countries are firmly committed to defending the principles of the rule of law. Finally, account must be taken of the increased public scepticism towards EU cooperation that has developed in the Netherlands, as in other countries.

1. Increasing institutional responsiveness

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is the most important organisation in Europe when it comes to setting standards for human rights and monitoring how they are reflected in member states’ legislation, policy and practices. Nevertheless, there appears to be little awareness in Europe of the Council’s importance in this regard. The Netherlands could take the lead in a political re-evaluation of the Council’s importance. This could be done in the following ways:

  1. Working with like-minded countries to secure a greater political role for the Committee of Ministers in monitoring the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the member states. The Committee of Ministers should not restrain the Council of Europe’s independent institutions (the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights), but support and encourage them.
     
  2. Promoting the implementation of the Brussels Declaration and the Plan of Action on Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality by entering into a twinning relationship with certain countries and helping them to increase knowledge about the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights within government and the judiciary, and among the legal profession and NGOs, to expand national parliaments’ role in implementing judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in the member states and to create an independent national human rights institute.
     
  3. Taking the initiative to expand the Committee of Ministers’ traditional focus on civil and political human rights to include the social rights laid down in the European Social Charter. The Netherlands could highlight this by providing extra support for the HELP programme.
     
  4. At set times, the government should provide the Permanent Parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice with confidential information about the deliberations in the Committee of Ministers, especially as regards the implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.
     
  5. The Netherlands can support reciprocity within the Council of Europe by asking the Venice Commission for advice on Dutch legislation in the event of dilemmas like those concerning the judicial review of legislation and the consequences of referendums.

European Union

  1. Within the EU, the Netherlands must continue its efforts to strengthen the annual rule of law dialogue, as a stepping stone towards a peer review mechanism,163 for which there is still insufficient support in the Union.
     
  2. The Netherlands can join with like-minded countries to form a (possibly informal) group of ‘trailblazers’ that launches a peer review. Such a group can set a positive example of European cooperation for EU citizens, including people in countries that do not yet want to participate. It will show them that ideas on the rule of law can be exchanged in an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust.
     
  3. Some EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary, are currently firmly opposed to the notion that membership of the Union entails certain responsibilities in terms of democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, these countries receive substantial amounts in EU subsidies. In the upcoming negotiations on the EU budget (multiannual financial framework) and how to reform it, the Netherlands should seek to link receipts from the cohesion and structural funds to success in satisfying the original Copenhagen criteria for EU accession.
     
  4. The Netherlands can express support for the European Parliament’s proposal for an    EU Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
     
  5. The Senate and the House of Representatives can play a constructive role in promoting the principles of democracy under the rule of law in Europe by raising this issue with other European national parliaments. Consideration could be given to creating a parliamentary network focusing on practical cooperation and knowledgesharing on linking democracy and the rule of law. This could be done bilaterally, but also, for example, by setting up a trilateral partnership among a number of parliaments. In addition, like-minded leaders of European political parties should enter into a dialogue in their own political group in the European Parliament with those parties that approve measures at national level that undermine democracy under the rule of law.
     
  6. Dialogue should always be preferred over confrontation in international diplomacy. The same applies when addressing the issues of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Where dialogue repeatedly fails, however, the international community should be willing, as a last resort, to draw a line in the sand. In concrete terms, this means that the Netherlands and its EU partners should make clear that there can be no room for Turkey in the Council of Europe and the European Union if it decides to reintroduce the death penalty.
     
  7. Legislation like Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law and its abuse of general legislation in respect of NGOs should consistently be condemned by the Netherlands, both bilaterally and internationally, in cooperation with like-minded countries.

OSCE

The Netherlands could in the near future consider launching a candidacy for the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This would give it the opportunity to put democratisation and the principles of the rule of law more emphatically on the organisation’s agenda, including in the field of human rights.

G20/OECD

The Netherlands is currently taking part in the G20 at the invitation of Germany, which now holds the Presidency. The Netherlands should strive for ongoing participation in this forum, which is ideally suited for working with like-minded countries to address the adverse consequences of globalisation. As in the OECD, a discussion on this subject should focus not only on trade, investment and development but also on socioeconomic rights, environmental rights and the relationship between government and citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals could provide a useful tool for this purpose.

2. Social diplomacy

The above recommendations are aimed mainly at governments and multilateral institutions. Earlier in this report, however, the AIV stated that international political pressure by governments, however essential, is not sufficient to safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe. Above all, there should be broad support in society for these values, and the public should have confidence in the institutions of democracy under the rule of law. This requires a long-term dialogue with civil society organisations, opposition movements and institutions that can translate international human rights to the national level. The AIV would make the following recommendations for this purpose.

  1. As part of its human rights policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should set up a democracy and rule of law programme that focuses on the member states of the Council of Europe where democracy under the rule of law is in danger. It should also draw on the expertise of other relevant ministries (e.g. the Ministries of Education, of Security and Justice, and of Economic Affairs).

    To support this programme, a rule of law fund should be created. During the next government’s term of office, around €2.5 million per year should be set aside for this purpose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget. The existing MATRA programme, which focuses exclusively on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in candidate and potential candidate countries of the EU and the countries of the Eastern Partnership, can be integrated into this broader rule of law fund. The MATRA programme budget is set to decline from €13.7 million in 2017 to €9.1 million in 2018 and 2019. The AIV recommends that, at the very least, this reduction should be reversed.

    The rule of law fund will support civil society organisations with a regional focus on areas such as the following:

    • People-to-people and profession-to-profession contacts. Through placements and exchanges, knowledge and experience can be shared between socially relevant professional bodies, like the judiciary and legal profession, the ombudsman, educational, knowledge and cultural institutions and the media.
    • Raising public awareness of the value and importance of democracy under the rule of law. This can be achieved, for example, by promoting education in citizenship, democracy and human rights, especially among young people. The expertise of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation can be used for this purpose.
    • Supporting citizen and other initiatives aimed at research and quality journalism in vulnerable democracies.
     

  2. In international forums dealing with internet freedom and governance (e.g. the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can devote more attention to the internet’s potential role in strengthening the principles of democracy under the rule of law where they are under threat.
     
  3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can work with the private sector (e.g. via major social media platforms and the Global Network Initiative) and NGOs in organising projects on digital citizenship, democracy and human rights. A concrete example is the organisation of a Democracy Hackathon, where European software programmers and website developers work together on ICT products (e.g. an app) that can improve trust between citizens and government (both local and national). This ‘hackathon’ could focus on a different theme every year, such as the internet and privacy, social media etiquette, fake news and fact-checking, as well as services provided by local and national government, migration and election observation.

3. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions

  1. The AIV strongly recommends that the policy capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch missions in Council of Europe member states be evaluated and, where necessary, expanded with local knowledge. This will enable the ministry and missions to identify and respond quickly to local initiatives and opposition movements in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Missions will need to have sufficient funds at their disposal for this purpose.164
     
  2. In its strategic secondment policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could focus more explicitly on both non-governmental and multilateral organisations that exert influence, directly or indirectly, on democratisation and the principles of the rule of law, for example the G20, the OECD and the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition.

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160 From senator Willem Witteveen’s contribution to the debate on the rule of law, Proceedings of the Senate 2013-2014, 22-5-1 (March 2014).
161 For example, Germany will no longer be able to avoid the decision not to send asylum seekers back to Hungary. See Politico, 11 April 2017, ‘Germany suspends migrant returns to Hungary – Hungary’s been criticized for detaining migrants in camps on its border with Serbia’, <http://www.politico.eu/article/ germany-suspends-migrant-returns-to-hungary/>.
162 See case C-284/16 (Achmea), now pending before the EU Court of Justice, which, among other things, revolves around the question of whether the Dutch-Czech arbitration agreement is compatible with EU law.
163 See the earlier recommendation for a peer review in AIV advisory report no. 87, The Rule of Law: Safeguard for European Citizens and Foundation of European Cooperation, The Hague, January 2014, pp. 35-37.
164 See also AIV advisory letter no. 32, Representing the Netherlands Throughout the World, The Hague, May 2017.

Saudi Arabia: already bad in 2016 for human rights defenders but continues in 2017

February 3, 2017

 

Nadhir Al-Majid is a well-known 40-year-old writer and teacher who has published many articles in various Arabic newspapers and electronic websites.

On 18 January 2017, the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh held its hearing in the presence of Nadhir Al-Majid, who was sentenced to seven years imprisonment followed by seven years of a travel ban in addition to a fine. Reports have confirmed that the writer was alone during the hearing and not accompanied by his family or his lawyer. He was taken immediately after the verdict to Al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh. There are fears that the authorities will refuse to officially deliver a copy of the verdict to him or his family, which might prevent them from seeking an appeal of the sentence at the Court of Appeal. The Public Prosecutor directed many charges against Al-Majid including failing to obey the ruler, participating in demonstrations, writing articles supporting protests (dating back to the year 2007), in addition to having contact with correspondents of foreign news agencies – namely Reuters, AFP, and CNN.

He was previously jailed on 13 April 2011 after he was arrested and his electronic equipment was confiscated. He was beaten, kicked and ordered to stand for hours and then placed in solitary confinement for five months. He was then placed in a cell with convicted drug dealers and weapons traders. The reason for his arrest is related to his writings, including an article entitled “I protest, I am a human being” which supports the right to demonstrate. He was released on 27 June 2012. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the prison sentence of Nadhir Al-Majid is solely related to his work in defence of human rights.

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Saudi Arabian human rights defender Essam Koshak has been detained since 8 January 2017 for his online activism.

On 8 January 2017, Essam Koshak received a phone call from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Mecca, summoning him to al-Mansour police station. On arrival, at 5pm the same day, he was interrogated by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) about his Twitter account, which he uses to highlight human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, including the detention of human rights defenders and activists. During the first three days of interrogation, his request to have his lawyer present was denied. On 12 January, Essam Koshak’s detention was extended by four days and his lawyer was finally allowed to be present during his interrogations. He was transferred on the same day to Mecca General Prison where he is currently being held. Essam Koshak is a computer engineer and human rights activist who uses social media to call for reform and respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia.

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In the meantime the organization ALQST – through Samar Badawi [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/13/saudi-arabia-arrest-of-human… ] – draws attention to their “Human Rights Situation in Saudi Arabia 2016. Annual review” (for the full report: https://t.co/ACWlRfOFRu – for inquiries, yahya.i.assiri@gmail.com). 

The report contains a chapter on Human Rights Defenders describing several cases in more detail. It states that “Many of the political prisoners in Saudi Arabia are known to be prisoners of conscience. A large number of them have been swept up in the Authorities’ so-called War on Terror, but are in fact being held for their peacefully held and expressed political or religious views. This includes calls for social reform and in defence of human rights. They are tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, which is neither legitimate nor independent of the government, and was set up for the purpose of trying terrorism cases. Most human rights defenders are also charged and found guilty under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law. Today the majority of Saudi Arabia’s human rights activists are in prison, on trial, or being subjected to intense harassment.

sources:

http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1479

http://www.satprnews.com/2017/01/31/urgent-action-human-rights-defender-jailed-for-online-activism-saudi-arabia-ua-2517/

Syrian citizen-journalist Abdalaziz Alhamza’s talk at the 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum

June 8, 2016

Abdalaziz Alhamza and his team of citizen journalists risk their lives to smuggle video out of Syria to expose the shocking brutality of both the Assad regime and ISIS. Now ISIS has put a price on his head. Abdalaziz took the stage at the 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum of the Human Rights Foundation to talk about his work and his hopes for a brighter future in Syria.

“10 December – 10 Defenders” Profiles of Human Rights Defenders against Torture

December 1, 2015

OMCT-LOGOTo portray the work of human rights defenders working on the ground to prevent torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) shares profiles of 10 persons between 1 and 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

These stories, such as those of Yavuz in Turkey, Olga in Russia, and Justin in DRC are hosted on OMCT’s website and social media, including the new LinkedIn page, as well as on Facebook and Twitter accounts, starting today. People are encouraged to like and share the posts. I will also highlight some of them in future posts.

For last year’s campaign see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/omct-launches-again-its-10-days-campaign-for-and-with-human-rights-defenders/

 

Source: OMCT showcases 10 torture activists ahead of Dec. 10 UN Human Rights Day, launching its 30th anniversary celebration / November 1, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

Unfortunately the UN voted on the Resolution on human rights defenders!

November 26, 2015

The answer to yesterday’s post [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/will-the-un-today-adopt-the-strongest-possible-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders-ask-over-100-ngos/] is that the UN did vote in favor but UNFORTUNATELY did have to vote at all. The unanimity by which UN resolutions on this topic were adopted since 1999 is now lost. But at least there is clarity: Russia and China were the main opponents.

In New York today, China and Russia broke the unanimity of the international community by requesting a vote on the resolution presented by Norway,” commented Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at the Human Rights House Network. The vote by 117 in favour of the resolution, against 14, and with 40 abstentions, in fact reflects the situation in which human rights defenders work in the countries that voted against the resolution.

Read the rest of this entry »

2nd The Hague Training Course for Human Rights Defenders & Security now open for application

March 30, 2015

After the successes of the first course in December 2014, Justice and Peace Netherlands will host the second edition of the The Hague Training Course for Human Rights Defenders on Security from 16-25 June 2015.

20 Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) from around the world will be invited to The Hague where Justice and Peace will facilitate the strengthening of their knowledge and skills on security issues and the building of their international networks. This training aims to reduce the vulnerabilities of the participants, thereby improving their security as well as the security of their families and the organisations they work for in their home countries.

The themes of the course include:

  • physical and digital security,
  • international guidelines and protection mechanisms,
  • functioning of the International Criminal Court (including a visit),
  • social media activism,
  • advocacy and policy influencing, and
  • working within repressive regimes.

Justice and Peace will also conduct a ‘Training of Trainers’ and a network event which will enable the HRDs to develop 1-to-1 relationships with parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists and scientists who might be able to advocate and support their cause in the future.

Entry requirements:

  • The participants should work as a Human Rights Defender (HRD) and work for a human rights organisation or an organisation promoting peace or social justice.
  • The HRD should implement a non-violent approach in his or her work.
  • The HRD should have adequate skills to communicate in English.
  • The HRD will organise a training for at least 5 colleagues and/or partners to share the knowledge that was gained during the training within three months of the ‘The Hague Training Course.’

Online application form here or go to justiceandpeace.nl and follow the links to the THTC page. Deadline: 13 April 2015.

via Call for Applications The Hague Training Course for Human Rights Defenders on Security now OPEN!.

Nawaf Al Hendal: portrait of a human rights defender from Kuwait

February 9, 2015

“I recognise that I may never be granted these fundamental rights in my life time, but I want more for our children. We should promise them that.”

On 30 January 2015 the ISHR Bulletin did a good write-up on Nawaf Al Hendal, a Human rights defender from Kuwait.

The Universal Periodic Review of Kuwait took place at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 28 January 2015. Prominent human rights defender, Nawaf Al Hendal, who travelled to Geneva for the review of Kuwait’s human rights record, was advised that an arrest warrant awaits him on return to Kuwait in connection with allegations of damaging foreign relations and using Twitter to insult lateSaudi King Abdullah. Nawaf discussed the situation for human rights defenders in Kuwait and the on-going threat of reprisals with ISHR.

Nawaf Al Hendal, the founder of Kuwait Watch, has been an active human rights defender in Kuwait since 2004. Nawaf’s drive to become a human rights defender initially arose when he witnessed his colleagues being subject to unfair work standards imposed by his employer at the time. Nawaf could not allow his colleagues’ rights to be eroded without any resistance. For this reason, when his colleagues felt unable to do so, Nawaf decided to fight for the protection of their rights.

‘I love my country and its people. I believe that every person in Kuwait should have access to fundamental and equal rights.’

When Nawaf realised he was able to have an impact in the protection of his colleagues’ rights, his focus extended to the protection of people’s rights more generally in Kuwait.

Nawaf is well known for his work defending the rights of stateless persons, including the Bedouin community who are deprived of the right to employment, education and healthcare in Kuwait. Nawaf, now through Kuwait Watch, is active in engaging with the UN human rights system, including making submissions to the UPR, various treaty bodies and States active in the human rights system, as well as international NGOs. Kuwait Watch also actively engages in grass roots advocacy, including organising peaceful protests and consulting with employers and medical practitioners to gain employment and medical care for Bedouin people.

Nawaf is adamant about the importance of social media in the work of human rights defenders.

‘We use social media to demonstrate the restrictions on fundamental freedoms placed on people in Kuwait to the rest of the world. We also use social media to make it clear to the Kuwaiti authorities that we will continue to defend the rights of all people in Kuwait.’

Overall, Nawaf considers that his work thus far has not gone unnoticed by the Kuwaiti authorities. Despite the troubling implications for Nawaf as an individual, he considers that the fact that a warrant for his arrest was issued simultaneously with his travel to Geneva for the periodic review of Kuwait is indicative of the Kuwaiti Government’s concern in relation to the increasing influence of Kuwaiti human rights defenders.

Nawaf explains that his advocacy is not politically driven, it is rights driven. He emphasised that Kuwait Watch is not seeking a political transformation in government but simply the development of legal protections for people in Kuwait.

‘We [Kuwait Watch] commended the Kuwaiti Government’s decision to make primary and intermediate education free and compulsory for children and prohibit children under the age of 15 years from working.’

The prosecution of human rights defenders, opposition activists and bloggers for allegedly undermining the status of the emir of Kuwait is widespread in the country. Lese-majeste, national security and ‘national unity’ laws have recently been used to prosecute activists who are critical of the human rights records of heads of state with which Kuwait has diplomatic relations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. According to Nawaf, the Public Gatherings Law, the Penal Code, national security legislation, press regulations, and lese-majeste and blasphemy laws, are all used and abused to criminalise free speech in the country.

‘As a human rights defender in Kuwait you are always at risk. In an attempt to silence dissenting voices, human rights defenders are often imprisoned for unrelated, and often fabricated, offences.’

Nawaf tells the story of his arrest in 2013 on his return to Bahrain, where he had been studying at Delmon University for Science & Technology since 2008. Nawaf was advised that he could no longer enter Bahrain as the Kuwaiti authorities intended to arrest him in connection with terrorist activities.

‘Since my arrest in 2013, I have not been able to return to Bahrain and my five years of study in Bahrain have not been recognised.’

Nawaf explained that in an additional attempt to silence dissenting voices, national newspapers and television channels have been known to print articles in an attempt to invalidate the work of human rights defenders.

‘In addition to legislation restricting fundamental rights of people living in Kuwait and the independence of human rights institutions, the legislative framework limits the number of human rights organisations to one’

Given the restriction on the number of human rights organisations in Kuwait, Kuwait Watch is registered in the United Kingdom.

‘We engage with the UN human rights system in the hope that the UN will require the Kuwait Government to enact and reform legislation to protect human rights defenders as well of the rights of all people in Kuwait.’

Nawaf emphasises the importance he places on ensuring that the next generation will have the fundamental rights they are entitled to.

‘I recognise that I may never be granted these fundamental rights in my life time, but I want more for our children. We should promise them that.’

 

Nawaf Al Hendal: Human rights defender from Kuwait | ISHR.

Human Rights Defenders in the Philippine embrace info-tech for human rights

January 27, 2015

Human rights defenders in the Philippines have been using information technology to advance their advocacy work.  Launched in 2011, the human rights website http://www.hronlineph.com started by Egay Cabalitan and Jerbert Briola is used by human rights defenders for updates on most recent social issues in the country. The website has produced a video featuring testimonies from various advocacy groups – medical, anti-mining, human rights defenders, and international support NGOs – on the usefulness of the website.

Recently HRonlinePH launched two videos about human rights and internet rights now shared on social media outlets.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gu_E0C2bPDQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPslUqomztU

Human rights defenders fully realize the potential of video to bring about change, And this video, a groundbreaking information tool for the HRonlinePH, is a supportive infrastructure how we can harness the power of technology and to help realize our shared interests in promoting and defending human rights, offline and online,” Human Rights Online Philippines said.

Featured in one of the videos are human rights defenders from Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA), Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Asia-Pacific (CATW-AP), Medical Action Group (MAG), Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).

Group takes a ride on info-tech for human rights advocacy | SciTech | GMA News Online.

2014 Oslo Freedom Forum wants to defeat Dictators

October 20, 2014

As from tomorrow, 21 October, you can follow the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum [OFF] in real time at www.oslofreedomforum.com. This year’s theme—“Defeating Dictators”—will explore nonviolent ways to challenge these regimes and stop other countries from falling under the rule of a strongman. Panel discussions are on “Tyrants and Technology” and “Dangerous Words”

OFF speakers include Egyptian comedian and TV host Bassem Youssef; Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez; Ukrainian pro-democracy activist Yulia Marushevska; North Korean refugee and rights activist Hyeonseo Lee; Mexican journalist Marcela Turati Muñoz; and Jordanian comic book artist Suleiman Bakhit.  The forum will conclude on Wednesday, October 22, with the presentation of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent to Turkish performance artist and “Standing Man” Erdem Gunduz, Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen (represented by his wife Lhamo Tso), and Nadezdha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Russian feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/vaclav-havel-prize-for-creative-dissent/]

Interesting novelty (to get more people to follow the forum on-line) is a social media contest on how the speakers inspire the audience. One winner will join the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum in person.

The full program can be viewed here: 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum | Events | Oslo Freedom Forum.

More on UN Process Toward Contentious Treaty on Business and Human Rights

July 11, 2014

The virtual ink on my post this morning is hardly dry when I see a case reported by Front Line on anti-mining protesters in Malaysia who were released on conditions that infringe their right to freedom of expression, while Mintpress of 10 July published a more detailed piece by Carey Biron on the intricacies of the new UN proposal to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations.

On 8 July 2014, six human rights defenders were released on condition a social media ban, as well as monthly reporting to the police station. Six members of the Malaysian environmentalist movement Himpunan Hijau (“Green Assembly”) were detained on charges of illegal assembly and rioting, following their participation in a protest on 22 June 2014 calling for the closure of Australian mining company, Lynas Corporation. The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant – a rare earth processing plant being set up in Kuantan – will potentially impose tonnes of toxic waste on the local community. On 22 June 2014, around 1000 activists and local residents gathered to protest Lynas Corporation’s activities at Jalan Bandaran in Gebeng. At around 4:30pm, while the demonstrators were sitting peacefully, the police moved in and reportedly started beating and arresting the protesters. Allegedly, the human rights defenders did not disperse when Kuantan police issued a directive to do so. ..The lawyer for the human rights defenders rejected the conditions, arguing that this injunction was an unconstitutional infringement of his clients’ right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the judge in Kuantan ordered an injunction (a ‘gag order’) against the six human rights defenders not to discuss their case on social media, and they must also report to the police station once per month.

The article in Mintpress entitled “Without the US and EU on board, what might become of a UN proposal to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations? is so relevant that I include the full text below:

 

In a landmark decision at the end of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

The move marked a key success for activists worldwide who have been working for decades to jumpstart such a process. Yet while the development is being lauded by many groups, others are cautioning that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad and could even divert attention from a nascent international mechanism already working toward similar goals.

That mechanism, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, was unanimously adopted only in 2011. Formal conformance to these principles has thus far seen only stuttering, initial success. And while the same session of the Human Rights Council approved a popular second resolution to now strengthen implementation of the Guiding Principles process, some worry the new treaty push will divert energy.

Indeed, this was the rationale offered by the U.S. delegation to the council, explaining why the United States voted against the start of treaty negotiations. The U.S. now says it will not take part in the intergovernmental working group that will initiate discussions around a binding agreement. It is also urging other countries to boycott the process.

“We have not given states adequate time and space to implement the Guiding Principles … this resolution is a threat to the Guiding Principles themselves,” Stephen Townley, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said on June 26.

“The proposed Intergovernmental Working Group will create a competing initiative, which will undermine efforts to implement the Guiding Principles. The focus will turn to the new instrument, and companies, states and others are unlikely to invest significant time and money in implementing the Guiding Principles if they see divisive discussions here in Geneva.”

The European Union also voted against the treaty process in June, and had initially suggested that it, too, would not take part in the intergovernmental negotiations process. Sources tell MintPress News, however, that the EU could now be rethinking this position.

Home-state skepticism

The treaty push has come primarily from countries in the Global South, spearheaded particularly by Ecuador and backed by South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. Ecuador floated the initial resolution in September, and others voting for the measure in June included China, India and Russia.

Perhaps reflecting this division, Townley warned in his speech that the treaty process would “unduly polarize these issues.” Certainly, any treaty on transnational corporate rights obligations would be largely meaningless if neither the U.S., nor the EU, takes part, given that the vast majority of the world’s major corporations are based in these countries.

“The development of a treaty on business and human rights is an important opportunity to strengthen corporate respect for human rights, the protection of human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability, and access to justice for victims of corporate human rights violations,” Phil Lynch, director of International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based advocacy group, told MintPress in an email.

“If a treaty is to be effective in fulfilling these purposes, however, it needs to be developed in close consultation with all relevant States, including those that headquarter many transnational corporations such as the US and EU States, together with other stakeholders such as human rights defenders and affected communities.”

Influential voices in the global business community, which have vociferously pushed against binding rights commitments for decades, have expressed broad concern over the idea of a treaty.

“While the business community continues to be fully engaged to effectively implement voluntary commitments for respecting human rights, no initiative or standard with regard to business and human rights can replace the primary role of the state and national laws in this area,” Viviane Schiavi, a senior policy manager with the International Chamber of Commerce, a prominent lobby group, said in astatement.

The chamber expressed its “deep concern” over the new treaty process. Like others, it is warning that the new aims will divert attention away from the Guiding Principles.

The U.S. delegation, meanwhile, has already laid down an important marker in this argument. Immediately following last month’s vote, Townley, the U.S. representative, noted that any treaty “would only be binding on the states that became party to it.”

Excuse for inaction

Among supporters of the new treaty process, response to the concerns and stances of the U.S. and EU has been highly critical. While nearly all such groups continue to support the Guiding Principles, their concern has always revolved around the voluntary nature of these principles. A binding treaty, on the other hand, would likely include enforcement mechanisms for recalcitrant corporations and governments alike.

“The U.S. position is misguided. The real threat to the U.N. Guiding Principles comes from the reluctance of governments to give effect to them,” Peter Frankental, director of the economic relations program at Amnesty International U.K., a watchdog group, told MintPress.

“Our main concern with the U.S. delegation’s stance on the Human Rights Council resolution is that it offers governments an excuse for inaction.”

Gauging progress on the Guiding Principles is complex, and it is undeniable that the global environment today around the idea of corporate rights obligations has seen a sea change from just a decade ago. Companies around the world have moved to conform their corporate policies with a variety of related concerns, though much more remains to be done.

At the same time, analysts have told MintPress that only around eight governments worldwide have come out with national action plans on how they will implement the Guiding Principles, as urged by the Human Rights Council in June. Despite its strong support for the Guiding Principles, the U.S. also has yet to release such a plan. (Last week, Danish and U.S. groups released a comprehensive report offering a roadmap for countries aiming to put together such a plan.)

“It has been clear from the outset that the U.N. Guiding Principles alone would not be enough,” Frankental said. “They must be complemented by effective regulatory measures, including with extra-territorial effect, to address the continuing human rights protection gaps relating to the adverse impacts of business.”

Parallel processes

Advocates say that these two processes can now proceed alongside one another — implementing the voluntary Guiding Principles while simultaneously pursuing a binding treaty, which would likely take a decade or more to complete.

“There is no reason why countries and businesses should not continue working on implementing the [Guiding Principles]. It has taken civil society, governments and companies years to agree on a set of criteria that businesses need to uphold when operating at an international level,” Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, a watchdog group, told MintPress.

“They should continue to work on this, but now there is a parallel process that ensures that if companies do not abide by international human rights obligations … they can be hold responsible.”

Global civil society groups are also preparing parallel pressure campaigns. Van Schaik says her office will begin pushing governments to step up their drafting of national action plans on implementation of the Guiding Principles, while simultaneously trying to convince countries that voted against the recent treaty resolution to honor it.

“We think this threat is another example of how the Western countries are trying to bully NGOs and other countries in order to weaken support for the Ecuador resolution,” she said.

“We have built in very short time a coalition that consists of more than 610 organizations … That shows there is huge support for this idea, and that people, organizations as well as 95 countries are fed up with transnational corporations’ cowboy style [of] producing where and how they want to. Enough is enough, and that was shown in Geneva last month.”

Overly ambitious?

Even among some of the most forceful proponents of stronger accountability around corporate rights abuses, however, there remains significant concern about the current scope and potential impact of the treaty process.

As it stands today, for instance, the language of the Ecuador resolution appears to focus solely on multinational corporations, leaving national companies accountable solely to domestic legislation and regulation.

As John Ruggie, the Harvard professor who led the drafting of the Guiding Principles as a U.N. rapporteur, wrote in a nuanced analysis published Tuesday, this would hold foreign companies involved in last year’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh solely responsible for the catastrophe. The treaty would place no liability on the garment factory’s local owners for the fire and building collapse, which killed more than 1,100 workers.

Ruggie, who remains a widely admired figure, also expressed concern that the treaty’s scope, as currently envisioned, is unworkably broad, warning that “neither the international political or legal order is capable of achieving [such an agreement] in practice.” Speaking also of a “resurgent polarization” seen over the past year around the issue, Ruggie warns that proponents on both sides are becoming increasingly, and unhelpfully, dogmatic.

Ultimately, observers say the ideas behind the Guiding Principles are now increasingly entrenched across the globe. But implementation remains up in the air, and it is here that the treaty’s impact is uncertain.

“What is at issue today is not whether we will have a treaty or not. What matters today are the effects of a treaty process on the politics of the corporate accountability movement and the effects of a treaty process on the likelihood of regulation by governments,” Mark Taylor, a senior researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, a Norwegian think tank, told MintPress.

“The challenge for activists — no matter where they sit with respect to a treaty — is to identify an advocacy strategy that can pressure states to deliver actual protection and accountability. Making sure any treaty process is narrowly focused, for example, on judicial remedies, would be a step in the right direction.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s new intergovernmental working group on a treaty around business and human rights is expected to begin talks next year.

Contentious Start For UN Process Toward Business And Human Rights Treaty.

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/news-un-human-rights-council-agrees-to-start-negotiating-about-a-binding-treaty-against-human-rights-abuses-by-corporations/