Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

Documentary film Arica gets attention from United Nations Human Rights Council

September 15, 2021

On 2 June 2021 Davide Abbatescianni wrote in Cineuropa about Lars Edman and William Johansson’s film which documents the devastation caused by a Swedish mining giant in a Chilean desert town

Over 30 years after Swedish mining and smelting giant Boliden shipped almost 20,000 tons of toxic mining waste to the Chilean desert city of Arica, a group of Special Rapporteurs from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) led by Dr Marcos Orellana have made allegations of ongoing human rights abuses, as exposed in Lars Edman and William Johansson’s documentary Arica [+]. The feature was presented at last year’s IDFA and is set to continue its festival run in Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium.

Exposure to the waste led to numerous cases of cancer, birth defects and serious diseases. Currently, the Chilean government estimates that around 12,000 people were exposed to the toxins. The UNHRC has advised the Swedish government that “urgent measures should be taken to repatriate the hazardous wastes to Sweden and/or ensure the disposal of the hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner”.

Particular criticism is aimed at Boliden Mining, which the body accuses of “intimidating and threatening behaviour” towards human rights defenders – namely, the legal team representing the victims in Arica. They allege that such an approach, adopted by Boliden following the decision by the Swedish court of appeal not to hear the Arica case on the grounds that Boliden’s actions took place too long ago to be tried under Swedish law, was “a deliberate attempt to produce a wider, chilling effect of silencing and intimidating other lawyers and human rights defenders”. The United Nations’ action has been welcomed by victims and campaigners, including community campaigner Rodrigo Pino Vargas, who said: “For over 30 years, we have seen our families and our neighbours suffer the consequences of this Swedish waste. We have buried our children and been forced from our homes. We will not stop until our voices are heard and the damage is repaired. Even when we win in court, we find nothing but broken promises. For the first time, the intervention of the United Nations gives us hope that our human rights will be upheld. The people of Arica demand that immediate action be taken to meet our health needs and that the toxic waste be returned to where it belongs – in Sweden.”

The acclaimed documentary, shot over the course of 15 years, sheds light on a shameful case of modern colonialism. After losing their case in 2018 with a sentence that ultimately sided with Boliden, rejecting the Chilean judges’ verdict on the firm’s responsibilities and decriminalising their misdeeds, another appeal was lost in 2019. As of today, the Swedish Supreme Court has not granted Arica’s victims the right to appeal, and Boliden is threatening to sue their lawyers to make them pay the legal costs, a sum close to $5 million.

Producer Andreas Rocksén commented: “When Lars and William began filming 15 years ago, their intention was to ensure that the voices of the people in Arica, affected by the waste that came from under the soil where they grew up, would be heard. What has happened since has surpassed any expectations: their story is being heard around the world, and yet those same people in Arica are still fighting for justice. We will continue to amplify their voices as best we can and applaud all the different initiatives aimed at seeing their human rights upheld.”

Meanwhile, political pressure in Sweden is mounting as the country prepares to host the Stockholm+50 event, marking 50 years since the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Arica was produced by Swedish independent studio Laika Film & Television, and was co-produced by Belgium’s Clin d’Oeil Films, Chile’s Aricadoc, Norway’s Relation04 Media and the UK’s Radio Film Ltd. Its world sales are entrusted to Swiss outfit Lightdox.

https://www.cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/405513

2021 Per Anger Prize to South African housing rights defender Zikode

March 30, 2021

S’bu Zikode, co-founder of Abahlali baseMjondolo movement speaking at the Poverty Scholars Program: Poverty Initiative Strategic Dialogue, November 13, 2010. Image by Michael Premo,  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Nwachukwu Egbunike reported on 29 March 2021 in Global Voices that Sibusiso Innocent Zikode – an advocate for homeless people in South Africa – has won the 2021 Per Anger Prize.

For more on the Per Anger Prize and its previous laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/1E4D13EA-630A-4935-A4EF-674A51561F86

Zidoke was the co-founder, 16 years ago of Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu phrase that roughly translates as “the people of the shacks”), a South African movement that has been working to resist “illegal evictions and campaign for the right to housing for all,” especially for shack dwellers. The movement grew from a protest organised from the Kennedy Road informal settlement in the eastern city of Durban in early 2005 and expanded to Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town.

Zikode has said that “a shack without water, electricity, and sanitation is not worth calling a home,” according to a press statement from the Living History Forum. “On the contrary, it means life-threatening circumstances that are particularly harsh towards women, children, and minority groups,” says Zikode.

The housing problem and the attendant lack of sanitation have exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic among the disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in South Africa.

South Africans are still divided along the lines of those with homes and the homeless, the shack dwellers. However, the 2004 “sequence of popular protest against local governments” across South Africa led to the emergence of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), “an autonomous shack dweller’s movement,” according to Richard Pithouse, scholar in political and international studies at the Rhodes University, South Africa. AbM “emerged from this grassroots ferment and has since issued a compelling demand for organisational autonomy, grassroots urban planning and the right to the city,” says Pithouse.

In May 2005, residents of six shack settlements and local municipal flats in Durban had organized a protest of over 5,000 people demanding access to land, adequate housing, toilet facilities, and the end of forced evictions.

Nigel C. Gibson, British activist and scholar states that the protesters “presented a memorandum of 10 demands that they had drawn up through a series of meetings and community discussions.” This led AbM, in early 2006, to “organize a boycott of the local government elections scheduled for March of that year,” says Gibson.

But AbM’s fight for the vulnerable did not go down well with many.

In September 2009, the AbM movement’s original home in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban was attacked by armed men, in full view of the police. The attackers were searching for Zikode, whom they threatened to kill.

The attacks which were reportedly carried out by “people associated with the local branch of the ANC” (African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party), left two people dead, many injured and 30 shacks destroyed.

In the aftermath, S’bu Zikode went into hiding, and the police arrested 13 AbM members.

Human rights group, Amnesty International described the attack as “apparently politically motivated violence.”

Nonetheless, violence directed at AbM has neither deterred its leaders nor the movement. Rather, they have strengthened their resolve to continue fighting for the rights of vulnerable South African shack dwellers to live a dignified life.

https://globalvoices.org/2021/03/29/south-african-shack-settlement-activist-wins-the-2021-per-anger-prize/

https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/durban-shack-dwellers-activist-sbu-zikode-awarded-international-prize-for-human-rights-be0e48e6-c665-4746-90b9-20ae56687816

https://www.groundup.org.za/article/swedish-award-offers-some-protection-says-activist-living-in-the-shadow-of-death/

Right Livelihood Awards ceremony to be livestreamed on 3 December 2020

December 2, 2020

The Right Livelihood Awards ceremony 2020 will be live-streamed on 3 December 2020.

For the winners see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/

As Iran prepares to execute Ahmadreza Djalali, the world reacts

November 26, 2020

Around the world, shock and outrage has been the reaction to the news that Iran is preparing to execute Swedish-Iranian emergency medicine specialist Dr Ahmadreza Djalali. In a call from Evin Prison on 24 November, Ahmadreza told his wife Vida, who lives in Sweden, that he believed he may be executed in less than a week. He has been transferred into solitary confinement and it has been reported that he will shortly be sent to Rajai Shahr Prison where this draconian death sentence would be delivered.

Dr Djalali has been used as a bargaining chip as part of Iran’s hostage diplomacy. A dual national, illegally detained in solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer before being sentenced to death in October 2017. The court based their sentence for “corruption on earth” on “confessions” elicited after torture, threats to kill Ahmadreza Djalali’s wife and two young children, solitary confinement and his prolonged ill treatment.

The UN, EU, Council of Europe, European governments, worldwide academic institutions, civil society and thousands of individuals have all called for Dr Djalali’s release.

UN experts Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued a statement saying: “We are horrified by the reports that Mr. Djalali is soon to be executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. His torture, arbitrary detention, death sentence and now reported imminent execution are unconscionable acts that should be condemned by the international community in the strongest terms. We urge the Iranian authorities to take immediate action to reverse this decision before it is too late.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, said:

“We call on members of the international community to immediately intervene, including through their embassies in Tehran, to save Ahmadreza Djalali’s life before it is too late.”

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights said: “We stand in support of Dr Djalali and his family. Ahmadreza has already suffered gross injustice, pain and the cruel separation from his wife and two children. For three years he has faced a baseless death sentence while Iran has used him as a bargaining chip and sought to gain leverage with the international community by unjustly incarcerating Dr Djalali and other dual nationals. Now is the moment for the Islamic Republic to act to cease this action to execute Dr Djalali and instead, release him to return his life in Sweden with his family.

https://researchprofessionalnews.com/rr-news-europe-universities-2020-11-academic-groups-sound-alarm-over-djalali-death-sentence/embed/#?secret=xEX33rLMOr

Amazon Forest Defender Osvalinda winner Edelstam Prize 2020

November 25, 2020

The Edelstam Prize 2020 is awarded to Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira from the Amazon rainforest territory in Brazil for outstanding contributions and exceptional courage. She has fearlessly and continuously been reporting to federal authorities illegal logging of the forest in the Areia region. For more on this and similar awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/CAA00E38-C320-41E0-9FD4-B3BF3DC0D54F

Mrs. Osvalinda Alves Pereira from Pará in Brazil is an Amazon rainforest defender and community organizer who puts herself at great risk in defending the forest and its population. Defending the forest from illegal logging is very dangerous, as laws are rarely enforced against the perpetrators of the abuses. Criminal logging networks deploy men to protect their illegal activities and intimidate, threaten and kill those who obstruct their activities which are causing the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Osvalinda Alves Pereira and her husband, Mr. Daniel Alves Pereira, have received numerous threats for nearly a decade from criminal networks involved in illegal logging in the state of Pará. For more than 18 months they have been in hiding, with the support of the Federal Program to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, and Environmental Defenders; however, they are now back in Pará as they feel that, even if the security is not strong enough, they have to continue their work within the rainforest areas where the illegal logging is taking place.

“The courageous activity of Mrs. Osvalinda in reporting illegal logging of the Amazon rainforest despite constant threats and in standing up for her convictions in times when justice is required sets an important example for the resilience needed to protect and defend our environment. Brazil has signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and has committed to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030. However, authorities are failing to implement and enforce environmental laws in the Amazon, which heavily undermines the work to protect the forest,” says Caroline Edelstam, Chair of the Edelstam Prize Jury and co-founder of the Edelstam Foundation

Large farmers involved in illegal logging often use land-reform settlements where poor farmers have small plots to have access to the nearby protected forests. Osvalinda Alves Pereira founded the Areia II Women’s Association to develop sustainable organic agriculture and to reforest areas where logging has occurred. She is a local leader of the Areia Settlement Project, which is geographically situated as a gateway to three major conservation units: the Trairao National Forest, the Riozinho de Afrisio Extractive Reserve, and the Jamanxim National Park, which are areas of great interest to illegal loggers. Pará is today the state with the highest reported number of conflicts over land and resources.

In spite of offers of bribes and persistent threats, Osvalinda Alves Pereira has courageously continued to report the activities of the illegal loggers. Criminal networks are engaged in the large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, illegal land seizures, as well as illegal mining in the Amazon. They employ armed men to intimidate the local population. The vast majority of threats and attacks against forest defenders is never properly investigated or punished. As a consequence, forest defenders are at great risk, and Osvalinda Alves Pereira fears for her life.

“It is important to find ways to enforce national and international law and promote accountability for serious abuses of human rights. In this case, Brazil, should be able to provide protection to forest defenders who receive death threats. Impunity is not an option. The international community also has a responsibility to uphold justice and ensure the protection of victims and defenders of the forest, including both environmental enforcement officials and members of the Indigenous and other local communities, and to uphold the principle that nobody is above the law. This year, nearly 8000 square kilometres have been deforested,” says Caroline Edelstam, Chair of the Edelstam Prize Jury.

The prize will be awarded during a live-streamed ceremony tomorrow, the 24th of November at 5 pm CET, 2020 on http://www.edelstam.org

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/05/li-wenzu-wife-of-wang-quanzhang-wins-2018-edelstam-award/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/23/brazilian-forest-defenders-are-not-alone

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http://www.edelstam.org/news/threatened-amazon-forest-defender-receives-the-edelstam-prize/

Sweden’s aid to Cambodia refocuses on civil society

June 17, 2020
Sweden’s Ambassador to Cambodia Bjorn Haggmark (left) meets with Kem Sokha, leader of the dissolved main opposition CNRP, at Sokha’s home, in this photograph posted to Sokha’s Facebook page on May 19, 2020.
The Cambodia Daily

On 13 June 2020 this newspaper reported that Sweden said it would phase out bilateral development funding to Cambodia by the middle of next year in order to focus aid on promoting human rights, democracy and rule of law in the country following severe rights restrictions in recent years.

In a press statement on Friday, the Swedish Embassy in Phnom Penh said its government decided on Thursday to shift its funding away from bilateral aid to the Cambodian government and toward programs that aim to develop democracy in the Asia Pacific region, which would also aid Cambodia.

The statement said Sweden would still support civil society, human rights defenders and democracy advocates in Cambodia, though it did not clarify which organizations may qualify for assistance.

In full: https://vodenglish.news/sweden-to-refocus-cambodia-aid-due-to-rights-concerns/

https://english.cambodiadaily.com/politics/sweden-to-refocus-cambodia-aid-due-to-rights-concerns-165383/

Internet of things (IoT) connectivity for Natalia

May 28, 2020

Swedish operator Tele2 is to provide IoT connectivity to the Civil Rights Defenders’ Natalia Project, allowing those in the program who feel under threat to use a specially issued wearable device to send a distress signal with a GPS location to nearby local contacts, as well as to the Civil Rights Defenders headquarters in Stockholm. [The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction]. In the future, Tele2 will provide IoT connectivity to every unit in the Natalia Project, including roaming on more than 450 networks worldwide

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/04/24/the-natalia-gps-alarm-bracelet-wins-golden-egg-awards-in-stockholm/

The Natalia Bracelet is named in honor of Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist who was abducted and murdered in Chechnya in 2009.

Phyllis Omido, a Kenyan environmental human rights defender who participates in the Natalia Project, said the scheme has freed her from fear as she knows that someone is watching over her, adding that no tangible change can be achieved when one constantly lives in fear of retribution. 

https://www.telecompaper.com/news/tele2-provides-iot-connectivity-for-civil-rights-defenders-security-alarms–1340142

Mural of human rights defenders Vitaly Safarov, Greta Thunberg and Berta Cáceres unveiled at Hague university

May 19, 2020
A portrait of late human rights defender and multiculturalism activist Vitali Safarov was created as part of the mural by artists Karski & Beyond. Photo via Hague University of Applied Sciences.
On 15 May 2020 Agenda.ge reported that a mural portrait of Vitali Safarov, the Jewish-Georgian human rights defender and activist killed in Tbilisi in 2018, now adorns a facade of the Hague University of Applied Sciences alongside faces of student climate movement figure Greta Thunberg and assassinated Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. Re Safarov see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/22/vitos-trial-in-georgia-opens-crucial-to-challenge-raising-hate-crimes/. The 25-year-old can be seen on the large work by artist duo Karski & Beyond, painted on an outside wall of the university after the project originated at one of their sessions involving students. Thunberg, a teenage climate activist who has become widely acknowledged for inspiring school student strikes on climate change [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/greta-thunberg-receives-amnestys-ambassador-of-conscience-award/], and Cáceres, an indigenous leader on environmental concerns who was killed in 2016 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/], are the other two personalities seen in the artwork.

Started in an initiative by Justice & Peace Netherlands to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the declaration of universal human rights, the creative project pays tribute to the activists for their commitment to “climate, freedom and equality”, the university said.

The mural] is a tribute to three people who show that it is really possible to make a difference”Hague University of Applied Sciences

https://agenda.ge/en/news/2020/1530

Ali Gharavi of the “#Istanbul10” speaks about his experience and his hope

May 6, 2020

Ali Gharavi is a consultant working with human rights defenders, their organisations and communities. He is one of ten people who were arrested in Turkey in July 2017 at an information management and well-being workshop on Buyukada island. The hashtag #Istanbul10 was used in the sustained advocacy efforts that called for the dropping of all charges against them and their immediate release. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/16/turkey-who-will-defend-the-human-rights-defenders/]

In March 2020, ahead of an anticipated – but since postponed – verdict hearing, Ali spoke with IFEX Regional Editor Cathal Sheerin about how his experience being arrested in Turkey and jailed for four months has affected his life and informed his work. “While I breathe, I hope: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10″ (interview published through a partnership between Global Voices and IFEX).

Ali Gharavi. Credit Annie Game
CS: How do you feel about the upcoming hearing? I feel a combination of anticipation and anxiety. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions over the last almost three years and the verdict was supposed to have been reached at the last hearing. In terms of realistic outcomes, we’ve talked about two or three possibilities with our families, lawyers and the authorities in Sweden. I’ve been trying to keep my wits about me and not putting all my eggs in one basket, but we’re pretty optimistic that the outcome could be acquittal.

What makes you optimistic for acquittal? I’m only nominally optimistic really because these things can turn on a dime. At the hearing before the last one, the prosecutor said that – of the ten of us plus Taner Kılıç – he would accept acquittal for five because of lack of evidence, but the rest he wanted to convict. I was in the acquittal group. All of us are quite adamant, however, about not having this ‘split’ decision.

Why do you think you were divided into two groups? It’s really hard to say. Two of us in the acquittal group – Peter Steudtner and I – are not Turkish, so it’s possible that they want to remove the international angle from all of this. However, that’s just my speculation. It’s actually quite arbitrary, and I think this is partly because they have no evidence. It might even be a way to ramp this down: Let’s acquit half of them now and then acquit the rest in a trickle.

…..
How aware were you when you were detained of the advocacy that was taking place on your behalf? What impact did it have on your morale? Maintaining my morale was one of the biggest challenges for me. I was held at four different sites. At one point, they transferred us to the anti-terrorism headquarters for interrogation, which sounds like – and was – quite a harrowing experience. ……

I’ve done letter-writing campaigns in the past, and I never knew for sure if they had any effect on the people who were in jail, but having been on the inside, I can say that those moments were life-saving. Sometimes my lawyer would search for my name on Twitter and print out all the tweets that had been posted that week about me; there was also this Twitter campaign, #haikusforAli, and demonstrations in Brussels, sit-ins in front of embassies. All of those moments reminded me that people on the outside were thinking of me and mobilising. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those were the things that saved me when I was in the depths of an abyss.

How has the experience affected how you work?  The kind of work I’d been doing was intended exactly for this kind of situation, where you need to pay attention to the whole person, not just their devices or the organisation’s activities. Because of my incarceration, I now understand that at a molecular level. For me, the whole experience has placed a higher premium on understanding people – who they are, where they are – as a big part of how we can actually help them regardless of whichever aspect of their work we’re trying to assist them with. One thing the experience revealed was how inadequately resourced and researched care and crisis response is: how do you care for not just the person incarcerated, but also his family, the community around him, his colleagues?

Once the crisis is ‘over’ the assumption is that life goes on as usual, whereas there’s actually recovery that needs to be done. Often there’s also a massive financial burden due to legal costs and the inability to work for a while. After my release I went to Berlin and arrived into a very supportive debriefing environment. It’s a very privileged situation to be in – those ten days were very helpful in making me understand that I’d be going through this trauma and recovery and that it’s not just business as usual. There was a crowd-funder created for me so that I didn’t just have to drop back into work, and there was physical and psychological therapy too. I knew it intellectually, but now I know it viscerally, that just because you get released the trauma doesn’t just go away. It takes years to be functional again. People assume that when you recover you’re going to go back to being who you were, but that’s not true.

Would you ever return to Turkey? It would be very difficult for me to feel safe there, but I would go, if only in order to ‘get back on the horse’. If the verdict doesn’t go the way we expect, then I’d be incarcerated if I turned up there, so I obviously wouldn’t return. I love Turkey – the people and the environment – and I feel like a big part of my life and friends is now off-limits to me. But I dream of when I’ll be able to go back, hug the people who were inside with me and eat baklava with them. As Cicero said: ‘While I breathe, I hope.’

The humanity of what I experienced in detention was humbling. Regardless of why those people were incarcerated with me, they – that young 19-year-old who spoke to me in German, and others – were an amazing source of inspiration and support. During the toughest times I’d be angry with them, but they were amazingly unwavering. I’ve heard via word of mouth that those two supposed ISIS members are now back with their families and all is well. I owe them a big debt of gratitude.

Most of the time I was incarcerated alongside political prisoners who faced trial on specious charges, or who had been (and continue to be) detained for years on end as they wait for an indictment. And now we hear that despite the mortal threat of COVID-19 sweeping through the prison system, those prisoners will stay behind bars.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/20/corona-virus-threatens-human-rights-defenders-in-detention-egypt-and-turkey/]

‘While I breathe, I hope’: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10

While I breathe, I hope: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10

Gui Minhai: 10 years jail sentence in China

February 25, 2020
Members of the pro-democracy Civic party carry portraits of Gui Minhai and Lee Bo during a protest in Hong Kong.
Members of the pro-democracy Civic party carry portraits of Gui Minhai and Lee Bo during a protest in Hong Kong. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

A court in Ningbo said on Tuesday that Gui had been found guilty and would be stripped of political rights for five years in addition to his prison term. The brief statement said Gui had pleaded guilty and would not be appealing against his case. The Swedish foreign minister, Ann Linde, told Radio Sweden: “We have always been clear that we demand that Gui Minhai be released so he is able to reunite with his daughter, his family and that demand remains…We demand immediate access to our Swedish citizen in order to give him all consular support that he is entitled to.

Gui appears to have been tried and convicted in secret, denying him any chance of a fair trial,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International, calling the verdict “deplorable” and based on unsubstantiated charges.

For previous posts on this shocking story:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/10/sweden-charges-ex-ambassador-to-china-over-pressure-on-daughter-of-gui-minhai/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/sweden-defies-chinese-threats-after-award-to-book-publisher-gui-minhai/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/25/gui-minhai-detained-hong-kong-bookseller-jailed-for-10-years-in-china