Posts Tagged ‘stigmatization’

No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and HRDs

November 11, 2015

On 19 October Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, wrote a piece for the Monitor of the ISHR under the title “No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders”Read the rest of this entry »

Woman human rights defender Mary Jane Real from the Philippines

May 14, 2015

As part of the series “THE WOMEN WHO DEFEND HUMAN RIGHTS”, published by Protection International, here is Mary Jane Real from the Philippines:

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PI: Can you tell us a bit about how you have become a woman human rights defender?

MJR: I´ve been active in defense of human rights and women´s rights since I was a student… Around 2005, I started working with women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and became familiar with the term. At the time, Hina Jilani [former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders] helped to create the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) of which I became the coordinator. That’s how I formally transitioned into a WHRD. You can call yourself any name, but I personally find it strategic to call myself a human rights defender. Rather than talk about human rights in relation to people you advocate for or the communities you work with, the term ‘defender’ acknowledges that as an activist you also have rights that you can claim and assert for. I believe that’s critical, especially in the face of political repression and other challenges that are faced by defenders.

PI: What is the added value of having the word ‘woman’ in the term ‘woman human rights defender’?

MJR: I think, for myself, it’s important to claim that label. Gender inequality is structural and therefore, even within the human rights movement, you cannot take it for granted that women’s rights are already implicated in the term ‘human rights defender.’

One major challenge for WHRDs is dealing with lack of recognition. Even if women hold leadership positions, they still struggle to be acknowledged in the public space as critical actors. Linked to this lack of recognition is the issue of the protection that you need to do your work. To be acknowledged as a defender implies that you deserve protection and support. Unless a woman defender is recognised as a legitimate activist and defender of human rights, protection and support will always be one step remote from the risks that she faces. So, to add the word ‘woman’ to the term ‘woman human rights defender’ helps to ensure that protection of and support for women human rights defenders is in place.

PI: What are the main challenges that you and other women human rights defenders from the Philippines have to deal with? 

MJR: The Philippines is still a predominantly Catholic country with a government that is towing the line of the Catholic Church. One of the main issues that women human rights defenders are working on in the country is the issue of reproductive rights. If a country would value reproductive rights as part of women’s rights, there would not be a pressing need for WHRDs to work on the issue. However, today we still see stigmatisation and defamation (for example, publicly calling these women bad mothers and many other defamatory labels to try to ruin their reputation) as two common violations of the rights of WHRDs in the Philippines due to resistance from the Catholic Church.

I have noticed that the level of threats received by women defenders in the Philippines is not as high in, say, Latin America. The risks might not be as alarming as being arrested or getting killed. As a consequence, the public doesn’t realise that what happens in the Philippines are actually human rights violations and that the issue needs to be addressed.

LM: How should this issue be addressed? 

MJR: Well, one consideration in addressing the violations of the rights of women defenders should be the psychological implications. The psychological impact of these violations are not picked up in any of the urgent appeals or other documentation. Yet, if you talk to these women, they often talk about being burned out, about desperately trying to see family, about their struggle to balance their personal life and their wish to defend their rights. These psychological implications are not addressed at all.

PI: What would different forms of protection include?

MJR: Firstly, we cannot say that one can only be a human rights defender when they’re at risk. Secondly, when we respond to their risk, when can’t just focus on physical forms of risks and threats. The psychological aspects have just as much of an impact on the defenders and we need to respond to this aspect as well.

I think a better form of protection would look at all these different aspects of risks, physical and psychological, reactive and preventive, and protection for the short and the long term. For many of the women defenders, this also means protection for their families. In their case, often they’re expected to take care of the children.

PI: Do you think there is a role for the government in protection of women human rights defenders? Through a public policy, for example? 

MJR: Definitely, but I also think there is still a long way to go before we get there, particularly in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is more focused on promotion of human rights than on protection of human rights. This translates into a policy of non-intervention among member states.

It is therefore not surprising that the AICHR has not issued any statement on human rights issues involving states and that they have been reluctant in developing protection and redress mechanisms for human rights violations. As an intergovernmental body, AICHR reflects the human rights culture of the governments in Southeast Asia. That culture is not yet as robust and vibrant as in countries in Europe. There is an important role for civil society to advocate for governments to make protection part of state accountability.

PI: Is there anything that you would like to see changed for the next generation defenders?

MJR: I wouldn’t want the next generation to experience the same level of inequality that I have experienced in my lifetime, and my mother has experienced in her lifetime. I don’t want them to inherit those forms of discrimination and be apologetic about the fact that they are women defending human rights. I want them to be proud of the fact that they defend human rights and claim that space as a woman human rights defender.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – Mary Jane RealProtection International.

Killings of environmental human rights defenders up again compared to last year!

April 24, 2015

Jeremy Hance – writing in Mongabay on 20 April, under the title “Killings of environmental activists jumped by 20 percent last year confirms again the terrible truth that it is in the countryside, away from monitors, and in disputes over land issues that the most gruesome repression takes place and the leader is..Brazil! [for last year’s report see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/environment-deadly-for-human-rights-defenders-says-global-witness/]

Soy field in the Brazilian Amazon. Again this year, Brazil has the highest number of murders of environmental and land defenders. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Soy field in the Brazilian Amazon.  Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

The assassination, murder, and extrajudicial killing of environmental activists rose by 20 percent last year, according to a new grim report by Global Witness. The organization documented 116 killings in 2014 across 17 countries with the highest number in Brazil, which saw 29 environmental and land defenders killed. Still, the report is a major understatement of the problem as data across much of Africa, China, the Middle East, and Central Asia remains scarce to non-existent.

Across the world environmental defenders are being shot dead in broad daylight, kidnapped, threatened, or tried as terrorists for standing in the way of so-called ‘development’,” said Billy Kyte, a campaigner with Global Witness. “The true authors of these crimes—a powerful nexus of corporate and state interests—are escaping unpunished. Urgent action is needed to protect citizens and bring perpetrators to justice.

Most of the deaths last year—116 of them—were related to disputes over land. But mining was linked to 25 deaths, and hydroelectric dams and agribusiness to 14 each. Indigenous people also remain among the most targeted.

In 2014, 47 indigenous people were killed defending their natural resources, 40 percent of the total deaths of environmental and land defenders,” reads Global Witness’s new report, entitled How Many More?. This year’s report follows a landmark document last year that tracked environmental activist killing—all 908 of them—over a dozen years.

Environmental activist killings by sector. Image courtesy of Global Witness.
Environmental activist killings by sector. Image courtesy of Global Witness.

Human rights defenders are stigmatized (as ‘anti-development’) and criminalized in order to silence their opposition.

While Brazil had the highest number of environmental activist murders in 2014, the most dangerous place to be an environmental activist was actually Honduras, according to Global Witness. During the last five years (2010-2014), Honduras lost 101 activists, giving it the highest rate of environmental activist killings per capita.

“A UN Human Rights Council resolution addressing the heightened risk posed to environmental and land defenders would be a start,” Kyte said. “But, in the end, governments themselves have to take responsibility and ensure impartial, exhaustive investigations into killings of these activists. And they have to bring perpetrators to account. Many targeted assassinations of activists are being passed off as ‘common’ murders and are going unnoticed.

Environmental activist killings by country. Those in red were indigenous people. Image courtesy of Global Witness.
Environmental activist killings by country. Those in red were indigenous people. Image courtesy of Global Witness.

Read more:  http://news.mongabay.com/2015/0420-hance-activist-murder-rise.html#ixzz3XxWqLdTV

 

Killings of environmental activists jumped by 20 percent last year.

Woman Human Rights Defender María Martín about criminalization

March 8, 2015

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As I announced in an earlier post [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/mea-laureate-2014/], Protection International has done a series of interviews with woman human rights defenders. Today is the turn of Maria Martin, a member of Protection International’s Policy, Training and Research Unit, who speaks about criminalization patterns and how it specifically seems to affects women human rights defenders even more than their male colleagues. Here are some extracts:

PI: What is criminalization?

MM: To explain it in simple terms, it’s the use of the criminal legal system to try to dissuade or obstruct the work of people who defend human rights. Often, instances of criminalisation are associated with other processes like stigmatisation or the application of administrative sanctions against human rights defenders. Nevertheless it remains important to be able to distinguish criminalisation apart from these other processes.

PI: So could you explain the difference between criminalisation and stigmatisation? 

MM: Stigmatisation consists of trying to affect the image that exists of a defender. This is often related to criminalisation because it can happen in connection to judicial processes or in detention. Then again, stigmatisation can also be a consequence of criminalisation. I mean, once criminal proceedings have started, the defender’s public image will be affected, which is precisely one of the effects of this criminalisation.

PI: What do you think the impact is of criminalisation on WHRDs

MM: ..Criminalisation does not only have a strong impact on the person that is subject to it and who faces detention, guilty verdicts or unjust processes. The organisations where WHRDs work are also highly affected, since the criminalisation of one defender obstructs the work of all defenders collaborating with her…

Families of criminalised women are also affected. In this respect the criminalisation of women tends to have a stronger impact than with men. This is due to the leading role that women often play in a family, providing support for their children, parents and other dependants.

If the woman is the income-provider of the family, the economic impact on the family can be very severe. Criminalisation may also have a psychological impact on a family, because they see their loved one illegitimately deprived of her human rights and freedoms.

To compare this to the criminalisation of a male activist, normally the male defender has a partner who attends to the children and supports them during the difficult process. In contrast, women defenders are often single parents and have to single-handedly bear family responsibilities in addition to their criminal charges.

PI: What can WHRDs do to combat criminalisation?

MM: I believe women defenders must first know what criminalisation is, and how to recognise it. Only then can they work towards a strategic response within the judicial system that prevents it from reoccurring. In other words, she can develop strategic responses to condemn attacks aimed at women defenders on the bias of incorrect legal norms. On the other hand, once a process of criminalisation has been set in motion, defenders can also take actions to identify and counter the negative impact criminalisation can have in their work, on their families and society in general.

One of the situations where I have seen such a response against criminalisation was by a women defenders’ organisation in the town of Barillas in the northern part of Guatemala. There, defenders were facing police and military interventions. Local women defenders started using different tactics in order to put an end to the government’s criminalisation norms in Barillas.

They carried out large-scale protests and made trips to remote parts in the region to make a conflict little known by national and international populations more visible. Through these actions the women succeeded in putting the issue on national and international agendas. This ultimately generated enough political pressure to paralyse such repressive actions by the state.

PI: What can other actors do to combat criminalisation?

MM: For other actors, the first step is to analyse actions of all stakeholders to see what exactly generates criminalisation and why, and what laws permit such practices to take place. As for governments, they can also fight criminalisation by prohibiting law enforcement officers or justice system officials to carry out norms and practices that favour or lead to criminalisation of defenders. One way of doing this could be implementing fines against police officers that have detained defenders illegally.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – María Martín – Protection InternationalProtection International.