Posts Tagged ‘Sri Lanka’

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka are all in the same rickety boat when it comes to human rights

December 17, 2020

TRT World published a summary of a report by the South Asia Collective “India and Pakistan no different on how they treat minorities”. Please note that Turkish Radio and Television Corporation is the national public broadcaster of Turkey. One looks there in vain for information on human rights violations in Turkey itself. Still the report referred to (produced with the financial support of the European Union and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) is of interest:

The past ten years have been abysmal for minorities and civil rights activists in South Asian countries including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020. 

Governments have introduced repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, persecute journalists and bar people from organising peaceful demonstrations, says the report published by the South Asia Collective, an international group of activists and NGOs. Some laws disproportionately target minorities such as Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, and Christians in Pakistan.  One policy that transcends almost all the regional governments is their attempt to restrict the role of NGOs – especially if they receive funding  from abroad. 

India, where minorities have faced state-sanctioned violence since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was re-elected last year, has handicapped foreign NGOs by setting limits on how they can spend money received from international donors.  Most of the affected NGOs are the ones that work in areas which highlight abuse of power, government indifference towards the plight of minorities, and the brutality of security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/06/istanbul-court-jails-four-human-rights-defenders-on-terror-charges-seven-acquitted/]

“BJP rule has been characterised by the open targeting of several high-profile NGOs, with foreign funding freezes being the weapon of choice,” the report said. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

New Delhi's discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India's Muslims.
New Delhi’s discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India’s Muslims. (AP Archive)

Other policy changes such as requiring NGOs to register with income tax authorities every five years are a similar tool of “administrative harassment”. ..

The intimidation is not limited to NGOs as journalists reporting on creeping BJP authoritarianism often feel the wrath of the state.   “…between 25 March and 31 May 2020, at least 55 Indian journalists faced arrest, physical assaults, destruction of property, threats or registration of FIRs (police reports),” the report said. 

New Delhi increasingly relies on internet controls to curb dissent. Internet shutdowns jumped to 106 in 2019 from only six in 2014 as authorities used different laws to control the flow of information.  Kashmir faced a complete internet blackout for months after the Muslim-majority region’s nominal autonomy was withdrawn last year…

India is also using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target Dalits, a caste of Hindus who face widespread discrimination under the country’s hierarchical caste system… Changes in the Citizenship Act that target Muslim migrants and the brutal police reponse to subsequent protests — in which 22 people were shot dead in Utter Pradesh state in a single day — further illustrate the worsening status of minorities in India. 

In neighbouring Pakistan, India’s archrival, minorities and those activists trying to help them, fare no better. 

“NGOs and INGOs (international NGOs) are subject to extensive regulation involving multiple, lengthy procedures of registration, security clearance, and approvals for funding,” the report said.

The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam.
The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam. (AP Archive)

In recent years, Islamabad has increased vigilance on NGOs which it fears might be working on a foreign agenda to promote dissent.  What will particularly bother Pakistan’s policymakers is the report’s focus on how the country’s Blasphemy Law, meant to protect religious sentiments, continues to be misused against minorities. 

In reality, the law explicitly discriminates against Ahmadiyas since parts of it criminalise public expression of Ahmadiya beliefs and prohibit Ahmadiyas from calling themselves Muslims, praying in Muslim sites of worship and propagating their faith.”  Just this week, a report by the United States Commission on International Rights Freedom pointed out that Pakistan accounts for nearly half of the incidents of mob violence against alleged blasphemers.  

At times, people accused of blasphemy are killed in court in front of police and lawyers.   Christians, another minority, are frequently targeted while authorities do little to protect them.  For instance, a church constructed in the Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab province had to be sealed in 2016 after local Muslims agitated against it.  This alienation doesn’t stop at the places of worship – young Chrsitan students are continuously harassed by their peers to convert to Islam, the report said. 

Similarly, Sri Lanka witnessed rising levels of intolerance towards minorities in recent years, especially as successive governments tried to pacify extremist Buddhists to garner their votes.  Muslims in Sri Lanka have felt a wave of discrimination and official apathy after the suicide attacks that killed more than 200 people last year.  “After the Easter attacks, Muslims, particularly a large number of Muslim men, were arrested seemingly without reasonable cause.” Jingoistic government-aligned media has helped paint Muslims as the villain in Sri Lanka. 

The incitement of hatred and vitriol by media outlets continues unabated. For example, Muslim Covid-19 patients were identified by their faith, unlike other patients, and blamed by the media for spreading coronavirus.” 

https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/india-and-pakistan-no-different-on-how-they-treat-minorities-42419

2020 Front Line Defenders Award Ceremony on 9 December and the winners of 2020

November 30, 2020

Front Line Defenders will be celebrating the 2020 Front Line Defenders Award Winners at an online Award Ceremony on 9 December.

The event will be available on the Front Line Defenders Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/FrontLineDefenders, YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/frontlinehrd  and at http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/2020award

For more on this and other awards especially for human rights defenders, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/2E90A0F4-6DFE-497B-8C08-56F4E831B47D

This year’s Regional Award Winners include four women human rights defenders and an indigenous collective.

The 2020 Laureates are:

Mekfoula

Mekfoula Mint Brahim is is the President of Pour une Mauritanie Verte et Démocratique (For a Green and Democratic Mauritania), an organisation leading women’s empowerment projects in rural areas. She is also a member of Alliance pour la Refondation de l’Etat Mauritanien (AREM), which promotes good governance and fights against impunity.

Read More

The Guardia Indígena del Cauca – Kiwe Thegnas (Defenders of Life and Territory), member of the organization Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca (ACIN), CRIC branch, is a community life and ancestral resistance composed of women, men, boys and girls who defend their territories in a peaceful, unarmed way.

Read More

Juwairiya Mohideen is a Muslim woman human rights defender based in Puttalam in the North West of Sri Lanka. In 2010 she established the Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), providing daily practical support, comfort, advice and legal assistance to women and girls facing abuse, violence and discrimination.

Read More

Lara Aharonian is co-founder of the Women’s Resource Center Armenia, a non-governmental feminist organization based in Yerevan that works to empower women and girls to become active citizens by combatting gender stereotypes and providing psychological and legal support to survivors of gender-based violence in Armenia.

Read More

Iraqi Women Human Rights Defenders have faced a wave of assassinations and attempted killings, particularly especially in the southern city of Basra. Since mass popular protests erupted throughout the country in 2019, human rights defenders have been targeted for attack, including kidnappings, physical attacks and killings.

For last year’s Front line award see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/17/breaking-news-2019-front-line-defenders-award-to-5-lgbti-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/2020-front-line-defenders-award-human-rights-defenders-risk

Sri Lankan priest Father Nandana Manatunga cares for relatives of disappeared

October 19, 2020

Quintus Colombage, for UCANEWS of 16 October 2020, reports on the role of Father Nandana Manatunga:

Sri Lankan priest gives succor to relatives of disappeared

Father Nandana Manatunga, a human rights defender and director of the Human Rights Office, was awarded the 2018 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. (Photo: HRO)

Sri Lanka has the dubious distinction of having the second-highest number of disappearances in the world. Thousands went missing during the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection of 1987-89. About 60,000 people were killed or disappeared during the youth-led insurrection.  Thousands were killed and disappeared during the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 when the country’s army defeated Tamil rebels. 

According to the UN, the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone, while other independent reports estimated the number of Tamil civilian deaths at more than 100,000. Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations.

Father Nandana Manatunga, 60, a well-known human rights defender and director of the Human Rights Office (HRO) in Kandy, has played an instrumental role in giving succor to the families of victims and providing a channel for them to tell their stories. His work has been internationally recognized and he was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2018.

Among those who attend monthly meetings of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances at Father Nandana’s office is D.G. Yashohammy, 78, a Buddhist from Wattegama. Her 22-year-old son was abducted by a group of men in military uniforms during the JVP insurrection.

This is the same story for all of us. Father Nandana has created a platform for all of us to tell our stories.

Ashoka Weerasinghe, whose son was abducted in 1989, said families could speak about their disappeared loved ones and release their trauma during the regular meetings and workshops. “These fairs and other programs have brought us together. We thank Father Nandana for giving us the opportunity to alleviate our grief. He spends at least half of his life on the work. The priest is a very happy person who is pleased to see us happy,” she said.

Tamils from the north and east join the program once a year. On the first Friday of the month, women gather at the HRO in Kandy. The teams from Kandy, Jaffna and Mannar gather in their own places. A revolving fund has been set up for each of these groups, providing financial assistance for those in need or who require legal aid.

The HRO was started in 2008 to work with people of different faiths. The office provides protection, legal aid, security, health and trauma counseling to victims of rape, torture, abduction and other serious rights violations. Father Nandana, who was ordained in 1986, said all these programs are implemented to heal the serious wounds of their minds.

We want to keep all these stories alive, otherwise the next generation will want to know what happened to them,” Father Nandana told UCA News.

“We have empowered victims and their families from different parts of the country and have challenged religious leaders to stand by the victims and campaign for reform of the police and the judiciary.

As a priest, I protect, promote and safeguard the rights of the victims of all human rights violations. It is my mission following the teachings of Christ. All religious leaders have a moral obligation to advocate for human rights.” 

———

https://www.ucanews.com/news/sri-lankan-priest-gives-succor-to-relatives-of-disappeared/89909

Five UN rapporteurs raise concern on harassment of journalist Dharisha Bastians

September 15, 2020

The Colombo Gazette on 15 September reported that a group of five UN special rapporteurs have expressed their serious concerns to the Government of Sri Lanka on the continued harassment of journalist Dharisha Bastians, the former editor of Sunday Observer and reporter for the New York Times in Colombo. [The joint letter was issued by David Kaye Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Agnes Callamard,  Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,  Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and Joseph Cannataci,  Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.]

In a joint letter to the Government dated 13th July 2020 the Special Rapporteurs said Bastians’ was being targeted for her writing and her work to defend human rights in Sri Lanka. The letter said the rapporteurs were concerned that the continued harassment of Bastians and the seizure of her computer and exposure of her phone records could endanger and compromise her sources and deter other journalists from reporting on issues of public interest and human rights. “We are particularly concerned that these measures may be aimed at discrediting her work, in an effort to stop her reporting on Sri Lankan political and human rights affairs,” the special rapporteurs letter to the Government noted.

In June 2020 the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) entered the home of Ms. Bastians in Colombo and seized her personal computer in connection with an ongoing investigation carried out over the alleged abduction of a Swiss embassy staffer in Colombo in November 2019. Bastians said the CID had arrived at her residence on two previous occasions to seize her laptop without a court order. The joint letter also noted that “pro-government media have reportedly conducted a smear campaign against Ms. Bastians and her family, supported by attacks on social media, labelling her as a traitor and a criminal.”

CLICK HERE FOR FULL LETTER

Five UN rapporteurs raise concerns on harassment of Dharisha Bastians

Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack

Human Rights Defenders in Sri Lanka: fear return to a ‘state of fear’

June 14, 2020

Families hold photographs of missing loved ones during a protest in Sri Lanka Families hold photographs of missing loved ones during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, in February 2020. (TNH)

Rights groups are warning of a crackdown on dissent and rising authoritarianism in Sri Lanka, raising fears for the future of long-stalled civil war reconciliation efforts. Since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office after November elections, local rights activists have reported a rise in surveillance by state security forces, threats, and other measures more common during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009, as well as its aftermath. A long piece in the New Humanitarian of 10 june 2020 gives the details:

Surveillance has always been there, but since the election what we have seen is that it’s more open and more rampant,” said Shreen Saroor, a women’s rights activist…

Human Rights Watch says Rajapaksa is re-establishing a “state of fear” in Sri Lanka, citing interviews with dozens of activists and journalists. Many local journalists say they are self-censoring as threatening phone calls and other pressures escalate, acutely aware of the country’s history of unsolved murders and abductions. At least two reporters have already fled the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

In February, Sri Lanka announced it was backing out of commitments made to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015 by a previous administration. These promised a range of measures to investigate abuses during the civil war. ..

[see also: from my blog post https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/ Sri Lanka: Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

And, this month, Rajapaksa created two “task forces” with vague mandates, which rights groups fear could operate parallel to existing institutions. One, a body created to combat “anti-social activities”, is led by security and intelligence officials. Another task force mandated to protect cultural heritage appears to exclude non-Buddhists and non-Sinhalese. Rajapaksa’s first six months in office, the International Crisis Group said in a May report, have been “aggressively Sinhala nationalist, family-centred, and authoritarian”.

….“All these years of looking for justice would be then wasted,” said Yogeshwari, 45, whose husband disappeared 15 years ago.Families hold photographs of missing loved ones during a protest in Sri LankaTNH Families of Sri Lanka’s missing thousands fear the government is aiming to curb investigations into unsolved civil war disappearances.

In announcing his country’s withdrawal from its UN Human Rights Council commitments in February, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, said the previous pledges would infringe on “the sovereignty of [the] people of Sri Lanka”…

A government body tasked with investigating disappearances, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), didn’t begin its work until 2018. It’s effectively the only government body actively working on reconciliation issues. Ruki Fernando, an advisor with Inform, a Colombo-based human rights documentation centre, expects the Rajapaksa government to take a similar line domestically by clipping the OMP’s powers.  “It is not about shutting them down,” Fernando said. “It is more about making them administratively limp.”…

Saroor believes the Rajapaksa government will likely ramp up its stance against investigations and reconciliation efforts. “Sri Lanka transitional justice and truth-seeking will come to a standstill,” she said.

This piece was reported by a freelance journalist whose name is being withheld over concerns for their safety. 

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1687911/world

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2020/06/10/Sri-Lanka-activists-state-of-fear?utm_source=The+New+Humanitarian&utm_campaign=412d1dac95-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_06_12_Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d842d98289-412d1dac95-75444053

https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/un-chief-expresses-alarm-clampdown-freedom-expression-sri-lanka

More on Facebook and Twitter and content moderation

June 3, 2020

On 2 June 2020 many media (here Natasha Kuma) wrote about the ‘hot potatoe’ in the social media debate about which posts are harmful and should be deleted or given a warning. Interesting to note that the European Commission supported the unprecedented decision of Twitter to mark the message of the President Trump about the situation in Minneapolis as violating the rules of the company about the glorification of violence.

The EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “we welcome the contribution of Twitter, directed to the social network of respected European approach”. Breton also wrote: “Recent events in the United States show that we need to find the right answers to difficult questions. What should be the role of digital platforms in terms of preventing the flow of misinformation during the election, or the crisis in health care? How to prevent the spread of hate speech on the Internet?” Vice-President of the European Commission Faith Jourova in turn, said that politicians should respond to criticism with facts, not resorting to threats and attacks.

Some employees of Facebook staged a virtual protest against the decision of Mark Zuckerberg not to take any action on the statements of Trum,. The leaders of the three American civil rights groups after a conversation with Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, released a joint statement in which they say that human rights defenders were not satisfied with the explanation of Mark Zuckerberg position: “He (Zuckerberg) refuses to acknowledge that Facebook is promoting trump’s call for violence against the protesters. Mark sets a very dangerous precedent.”

————-

Earlier – on 14 May 2020 – David Cohen wrote about Facebook having outlined learnings and steps it has taken as a result of its Human Rights Impact Assessments in Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka

Facebook shared results from a human rights impact assessments it commissioned in 2018 to evaluate the role of its services in Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Director of human rights Miranda Sissons and product policy manager, human rights Alex Warofka said in a Newsroom post, “Freedom of expression is a foundational human right that allows for the free flow of information. We’re reminded how vital this is, in particular, as the world grapples with Covid-19, and accurate and authoritative information is more important than ever. Human rights defenders know this and fight for these freedoms every day. For Facebook, which stands for giving people voice, these rights are core to why we exist.

Sissons and Warofka said that since this research was conducted, Facebook took steps to formalize an approach to determine which countries require more investment, including increased staffing, product changes and further research.

Facebook worked with BSR on the assessment of its role in Cambodia, and with Article One for Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Recommendations that were similar across all three reports:

  • Improving corporate accountability around human rights.
  • Updating community standards and improving enforcement.
  • Investing in changes to platform architecture to promote authoritative information and reduce the spread of abusive content.
  • Improving reporting mechanisms and response times.
  • Engaging more regularly and substantively with civil society organizations.
  • Increasing transparency so that people better understand Facebook’s approach to content, misinformation and News Feed ranking.
  • Continuing human rights due diligence.

…Key updates to the social network’s community standards included a policy to remove verified misinformation that contributes to the risk of imminent physical harm, as well as protections for vulnerable groups (veiled women, LGBTQ+ individuals, human rights activists) who would run the risk of offline harm if they were “outed.”

Engagement with civil society organizations was formalized, and local fact-checking partnerships were bolstered in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Sissons and Warofka concluded, “As we work to protect human rights and mitigate the adverse impacts of our platform, we have sought to communicate more transparently and build trust with rights holders. We also aim to use our presence in places like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia to advance human rights, as outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in Article One and BSR’s assessments. In particular, we are deeply troubled by the arrests of people who have used Facebook to engage in peaceful political expression, and we will continue to advocate for freedom of expression and stronger protections of user data.

https://www.adweek.com/digital/facebook-details-human-rights-impact-assessments-in-cambodia-indonesia-sri-lanka/

————

But it is not all roses for Twitter either: On 11 May 2020 Frances Eve (deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders) wrote about Twitter becoming the “Chinese Government’s Double Weapon: Punishing Dissent and Propagating Disinformation”.

She relates the story of former journalist Zhang Jialong whose “criminal activity,” according to the prosecutor’s charge sheet, is that “from 2016 onwards, the defendant Zhang Jialong used his phone and computer…. many times to log onto the overseas platform ‘Twitter,’ and through the account ‘张贾龙@zhangjialong’ repeatedly used the platform to post and retweet a great amount of false information that defamed the image of the [Chinese Communist] Party, the state, and the government.”…..

Human rights defenders like Zhang are increasingly being accused of using Twitter, alongside Chinese social media platforms like Weibo, WeChat, and QQ, to commit the “crime” of “slandering” the Chinese Communist Party or the government by expressing their opinions. As many Chinese human rights activists have increasingly tried to express themselves uncensored on Twitter, police have stepped up its monitoring of the platform. Thirty minutes after activist Deng Chuanbin sent a tweet on May 16, 2019 that referenced the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, Sichuan police were outside his apartment building. He has been in pre-trial detention ever since, accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

…..While the Chinese government systematically denies Chinese people their right to express themselves freely on the Internet, … the government has aggressively used blocked western social media platforms like Twitter to promote its propaganda and launch disinformation campaigns overseas…

Zhang Jialong’s last tweet was an announcement of the birth of his daughter on June 8, 2019. He should be free and be able to watch her grow up. She deserves to grow up in a country where her father isn’t jailed for his speech.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/v7ggvy/chinas-unleashing-a-propaganda-wolfpack-on-twitter-even-though-citizens-go-to-jail-for-tweeting

To see some other posts on content moderation: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/content-moderation/

Human Rights Defenders issues on the agenda of 43rd Human Rights Council

February 24, 2020

On 17 February 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published – as usual – its excellent “HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session”. Here some excerpts that relate directly to human rights defenders in the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from 24 February to 20 March 2020.  If you want to stay up-to-date: with all issues follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders. The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders. In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. [for some of my ealrier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]. During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France.
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway.

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

Country-specific developments

China Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/joint-letter-by-22-states-to-human-rights-council-re-chinas-uighurs/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Saudi Arabia The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation. [for other posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

Egypt The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council’s attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/ ]

India The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/]

Burundi. At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/

Sri Lanka. Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

Other country situations:

    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
    • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
    • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
    • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine
    • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic);
  2. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia;
  3. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  6. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  7. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  8. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Some resolutions werealready announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  3. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  4. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  5. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  7. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  9. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  10. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  11. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00.

NOTE: The UN’s liquidity crisis is having a serious impact on this session and the next one (44th in June) and ISHR – jointly with 26 other NGOs – have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/20/lack-of-funds-forces-lack-of-oversight-by-un/]

For more information contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseinyATishr.ch 

For a survey of the 42nd session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/02/result-of-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

See also CIVICUS advisory on this Council session: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/4282-advocacy-priorities-at-43rd-session-of-un-human-rights-council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-key-issues-agenda-march-2020-session

Sri Lankan Government accused of embarking on process to silence critics

January 22, 2020

img

MENAFN in the Colombo Gazette of 13 January 2020 reports that the new Government in Sri Lanka, headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has been accused of embarking on a strategy to “militarize and securatize” Sri Lanka unleashing a chilling process of repression targeting critics and human rights defenders. Two human rights groups, the International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka (ITJP) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) said that with the help of activists in Sri Lanka (who cannot be named for their own safety) they have documented 69 incidents of intimidation and threats both before and after the elections which have targetted journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, plaintiffs, academics and opposition figures. In some cases the threats have been so serious the individuals have fled the country.

The report also illustrates how Gotabaya Rajpaksa has spread his tentacles across the government by appointing many members of his former army regiment to positions of authority and has increasingly militarized the policing and intelligence functions. Those involved in investigating past crimes including fraud have been removed from their posts.

Individuals previously accused of corruption or alleged to be involved in war crimes are now in office again – the ‘deep state’ is out in the open, occupying positions of authority,’ said Bashana Abeywardene of JDS, adding that it’s cast a pall of silence over once outspoken journalists, trades union activists and human rights activists.

On 16 January Amnesty International echoes this in https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa37/1678/2020/en/

Sri Lankan human rights defender barred from legal practice appeals to Supreme Court

January 2, 2020

Dr Kumaravadivel Guruparan filed a Fundamental Rights Petition in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka last week, challenging the decision of the University Grants Commission and University of Jaffna to bar him from legal practice.

The senior lecturer of law at Jaffna University and prominent civil society representative was barred from engaging in private practice following pressure from the Sri Lankan military, after he took up a public interest habeas corpus case into the 1996 disappearance of more than two dozen Tamil youth.

The incident drew outrage from around the world, with hundreds signing a statement condemning the ‘threats, harassment and reprisals’ against the prominent human rights lawyer and the international human rights organisation Front Line Defenders has issued an urgent appeal. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/kumaravadivel-guruparan

https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/jaffna-university-senior-lecturer-appeals-legal-practice-ban-supreme-court