Posts Tagged ‘The Bahamas’

Human Rights Day 2019: anthology part II

December 17, 2019

As always a lot of reports on 10 December 2019 came in after the posting of my anthology [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/11/human-rights-day-10-december-2019-an-ant]. So here a second collection:

Zimbabwe:

In a statement to mark International Human Rights Day, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) said young people have a significant role to play in the protection and promotion of human rights. The ZHRC said rights come with certain responsibilities and obligations and young people should exercise their rights responsibly. “For instance, young people must shun all forms of violence and refrain from being used to oppress other people, engaging in political violence and other acts inconsistent with human rights principles and values of respect for human dignity, honesty, justice, fairness and equality,” reads the ZHRC statement. The commission said it is advocating for youths across the political divide to push their parties towards embracing human rights. ZHRC said youths should positively change the national narrative towards enjoyment of rights.

The Bahamas Weekly used the occasion of International Human Rights Day to publish a statement by the OAS Secretary General: ..As Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), I have dedicated myself above all else to promoting a strong vision: more rights for more people. ..This year I particularly want to express my concern about the violence suffered by people who defend human rights in the Americas. Unfortunately, all too often we are forced to remember what should be obvious: the human rights of social leaders are, as are the human rights of all citizens of the Hemisphere, inviolable. I want to recognize these leaders and defenders of human rights throughout the Hemisphere. For the OAS, it has been and remains imperative to accompany and support their efforts to promote, assert, respect and protect human rights. This work constitutes a central axis for social transformation and the consolidation of peace, democracy and the validity of human rights in the region. It is fair to make a special mention of all those women leaders defending human rights, for transforming their realities, for being peace-building agents, for opening spaces that historically have been denied them, making way for more women to exercise their rights every day with a powerful agenda of equality and peace.

The New Times of Rwanda focused on people with disabilities.

…..Despite political will and legal guarantees, persons with disabilities are generally denied many of their rights and dignity across the world. This is often due to discrimination and stigma in society. We see this discrimination and stigma in the way people relate to persons with disability and in the language that is used towards them, their parents and their siblings. We also see it in the names people give them, the way people look at them and the manner in which they are often dismissed, excluded and marginalized in schools and businesses etc.

This is why we must work hard on changing mindsets and improving awareness. We need the current and the next generation to realize that people with disabilities are still people, who think and dream and feel the same way we do. And they have abilities, as much as the rest of us, but they sometimes need some assistance to realize their full potential.

The Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) calls for the empowerment of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life. Disability is referenced in various parts of this Agenda and specifically in parts related to education, economic growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, access to services, as well as data collection and monitoring. The 2030 Agenda encourages us to focus on providing fair and equitable opportunities to all, including persons with disabilities……How often do we stop to ask, “How accessible are our homes, schools, hospitals, public transport, churches, public offices, entertainment buildings to persons with disabilities?” Do we include sign language in meetings and television? Do we welcome persons with disabilities in our workshops and on our panels to discuss important topics pertinent to all? In our families, study and work environments, in our churches and communities, are we having conversations about the needs and rights and abilities of persons with disability?

Finally, empowerment is about equipping persons with disabilities with skills and facilities, including assistive devices, which allow them to actively and independently contribute to the development of themselves, their families, communities and countries. It is about not giving them a fish to survive on for a day but teaching them to fish to create a better future and, and also contribute to Rwanda’s development.

Yemen:

Over 17 NGOs wrote to the leaders of all warring parties in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE:

We write to you on Human Rights Day to call on you to take meaningful steps to end detentionrelated abuse in Yemen. Steps taken in recent weeks by both the Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to unilaterally release hundreds of detainees were positive. There remains an urgent need to address rampant, ongoing detention-related abuse that continues to affect tens of thousands of Yemenis across the country. The impact of detention-related abuse goes beyond the person detained – it impacts their family members, their loved ones and wider society. In addition to ending the suffering of victims and their families, ending and redressing detention-related abuses also would contribute towards reaching a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict in Yemen.

We specifically write to ask you to build on recent positive steps by using your authority and influence to help ensure the release of all those arbitrarily detained, an end to enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, the improvement of conditions of detention, including the facilitation of family visits, and full cooperation with efforts to ensure that individuals reasonably suspected of responsibility for war crimes and serious human rights violations, including torture and hostage-taking, are prosecuted in fair trials that preclude the death penalty.

……. While the recent unilateral release of prisoners – mostly fighters – by both the Houthis and KSA, may help build confidence between the parties, more extensive and comprehensive steps must be taken to address rampant detention-related rights abuse, regardless of the state of political talks. To that end, we call on you to use your influence and good offices to help bring about an end to ill-treatment, torture, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances by all parties to the conflict. We urge you to help secure the release of those arbitrarily detained, human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful activists; and that anyone deprived of their liberty is granted regular access to their families and lawyers; and that international monitors are allowed immediate access to all detention facilities, unofficial and official.

Nigeria: Lawyers and activists have used this year’s International Human Rights Day to assess the human rights situation in Nigeria. Marking the event last week in Abuja, the activists were of the view that the human rights situation has dropped since the return of democracy in 1999. Speaking at the event organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), and civil society groups, senior lawyers and rights defenders called on legal practitioners and citizens to defend liberty. In his remark, Jibrin Okutepa (SAN) said “until the legal profession begins to take objection to every violations of human rights, including self-violations, and begin to apply sanctions, the government will continue to violate human rights with such impunity and audacity of arrogance.” Speaking on the topic ‘The State of Human Rights in Nigeria’, a civil society activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), criticised the Social Media Regulation Bill and Hate Speech Bill before the National Assembly as a breach of the provisions of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which grants freedom of expression. “When you get to a situation in a country where the leader says people should not talk, then they are afraid of something. It is either we are getting set for a third term agenda or getting set for a full blown civilian dictatorship,” he said. Also commemorating the day, the Avocats Sans Francaise France (ASFF) otherwise known as Lawyers Without Borders, called on security agencies to adhere to the rule of law and due process in the discharge of their duties.

Heinrich Boell Foundation: used the occasion to publish a article by ISHR’s Salma El Hosseiny the 20th anniversary (in 2020) of the creation of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. For the full article follow the link below.   All UN agencies should treat the Declaration on human rights defenders as a ‘guiding star’ for their work. UN agencies working on promoting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should integrate the protection of defenders as a vital component of contributing to implementation of the SDGs and the prevention of human rights violations. At a time where people across the globe are demanding more inclusive, sustainable and fairer societies, defenders are acting as leaders and agents of change to ensure that the world’s leaders have no choice but to listen.


 

Youths urged to defend human rights

http://www.thebahamasweekly.com/publish/oas-media-releases/Secretary_General_on_International_Human_Rights_Day64244.shtml

https://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/featured-human-rights-day

https://news.pngfacts.com/2019/12/eu-recognizes-five-civil-society.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/joint-letter-detention-yemen

https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/lawyers-activists-assess-human-rights-situation.html

https://www.boell.de/en/2019/12/10/protecting-those-who-defend-our-human-rights

Andrew Gilmour’s 2019 report on reprisals: it gets worse but response remains mostly rhetoric

September 23, 2019

UN Human Rights Office). The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent.  Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists. “Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us.  This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said. The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year.  It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations. “Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations. “A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.” He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations.  However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/%5D

However, the ISHR – which has followed the phenomenon much more systematically, made a more detailed and sombre assessment on 19 September: “Beyond rhetoric – States should step up efforts to prevent reprisals”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/] and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/]

It notes that during the second interactive dialogue on reprisals with the Assistant Secretary-General, only Germany and Costa Rica raised specific cases of reprisals in Egypt and Nicaragua, respectively. The Bahamas and the Maldives shared good practices. Other States condemned reprisals rhetorically, expressing particular concern about reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders and LGBTIQ defenders, as well as by Council members.

During the dialogue Germany followed up again on the case of Egyptian lawyer Ebrahim Metwally who was arrested on his way to Geneva to attend a meeting with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He was tortured and has been detained since September 2017. During the first interactive dialogue in September 2018, Germany was the only country to raise concern over an individual victim of reprisals. Costa Rica was the only other country to raise a specific situation of reprisals this year: it expressed particular concern about acts of intimidation and reprisals in Nicaragua.

The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.

The Maldives also told the Council that it is investigating the deaths of human rights defender Yameen Rashid and journalist Ahmed Rilwan to bring the perpetrators to justice; that the defamation law providing imprisonment sentences for journalists was repealed in November 2018; and that an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act is currently considered in parliament, which would guarantee that the Commission can communicate with international organizations. The Maldives agreed with the Assistant Secretary-General that the powerful impact of prevention is through a zero tolerance policy for reprisals and committed to condemn all reprisals as a matter of urgency. The Maldives admitted that that they ‘have seen it first hand and do not want to bear witness to it again!’.

In its statement during the interactive dialogue, ISHR asked the Assistant Secretary-General what steps should be taken to ensure a more comprehensive report to the Council. This came in response to notably missing cases that ISHR submitted implicating Brazil, Russia and the United States.  The Assistant Secretary-General acknowledged ISHR’s leading role in efforts to end reprisals, expressed his concern regarding the situations mentioned, but disagreed with ISHR’s statement that Secretary-General Guterres is pandering to certain States, ignoring victims’ legitimate claims and undermining efforts to protect victims from reprisals. He explained that the particular case raised by ISHR concerning remarks made by the then U.S. National Security Adviser, Mr. John R. Bolton, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo did not fall under the reporting mandate of the Secretary-General as the intimidation related to the International Criminal Court. However, ISHR recalls that the Secretary General’s 2018 reprisals report stated that ‘while recognising the independent judicial character of the International Criminal Court, the Court is regarded as a related organisation in the United Nations’ and cases related to the ICC have been included several times previously, for example:

  • The 2018 reprisals report documented that two defenders in Iraq faced reprisals after attending a preparation meeting for a conference aimed at calling on Iraq to join the Court (para 29).
  • The 2017 reprisals report included Israel in the reprisals report regarding incidents of reprisals and intimidation of defenders engaging with or promoting engagement with the International Criminal Court (para 39).

Read ISHR’s full statement at the interactive dialogue here.

UN human rights report shows rise in reprisals against activists, victims

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc42-beyond-rhetoric-states-should-step-efforts-prevent-reprisals

 

 

News from the human rights film front (2019)

March 20, 2019

The HRW festival in London is still running (https://ff.hrw.org/london) but others have finished and here is a selection of the wining films:

ONE WORLD FESTIVAL

The film Heart of Stone has taken the Best Film prize at this year’s edition of the One World festival of human rights documentaries in Prague. The winning documentary is about an Afghan refugee in France. The Best Director award went to Denmark’s Mads Brugger, maker of Cold Case Hammarskjold.

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The 2019 FIFDH [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/20/17th-edition-of-the-geneva-international-film-festival-and-forum-on-human-rights-from-8-to-17-march-2019/]. The awards list is as follows (extract):

Grand Prize of Geneva

Endowed with CHF 10,000 – Offered by the City and State of Geneva: Delphine et Carole, Insoumuses, by Callisto McNulty Learn more

Gilda Vieira de Mello Prize in tribute to her son Sergio Vieira de Mello

Endowed with CHF 5,000 – Offered by the Barbara Hendricks Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation: On her Shoulders, by Alexandria Bombach Learn more

Youth Jury Prize

Endowed with CHF 500 – Offered by Peace Brigades International (PBI): Still Recording, by Ghiath Ayoub and Saeed Al Batal Learn more

Endowed with CHF 500 – Offered by the Eduki Foundation: Carmen y Lola  by Arantxa Echevarría Learn more

Grand Prize for Fiction

Endowed with CHF 10,000 – Offered by the Hélène and Victor Barbour Foundation: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by Chiwetel Ejiofor Learn more

Prize of OMCT

Endowed with CHF 5,000 – Offered by the World Organization Against Torture: Congo Lucha, by Marlène Rabaud Learn more

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And there is an award-winning Bahamian film “Cargo” which is being shown in cinemas: At the age of 9, Bahamian writer/director Kareem Mortimer saw haunting images of the bloated bodies of Haitian would-be migrants washed up on a beach. Apparently they were trapped and locked in the hold of a ship by a smuggler who did not have the decency to set them free. It was this experience that inspired him to make the drama/thriller feature film Cargo. The film previously debuted in Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Curacao, Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada, Suriname and St Lucia and will be released in the Trinidad, US and Canada in the summer. It has won five awards: Best Feature, Silicon Valley African Film Festival; Bahamian Icon Award; Best Film, Haiti International Film Festival, Los Angeles; Trident Award, Barbados Independent Film Festival; and Amnesty International Human Rights Prize for Film, TT Film Festival in 2017.
The poster for the film Cargo.

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https://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/french-doc-heart-of-stone-takes-top-prize-at-one-world-festival

https://fifdh.org/en/edition-2019/news/article/le-palmares-integral-du-fifdh-2019-349874

https://newsday.co.tt/2019/03/18/award-winning-bahamian-film-cargo-for-tt/

 

Bahama Human Rights Association scores in court

November 13, 2015

On 27 March 2015, I posted about the little known Bahamas [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/grand-bahama-human-rights-association/]. So it is with pleasure that I can report that the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association has scored a victory in court re the controversial immigration law.

On 12 November it reported:  the Supreme Court’s decision to open the files on the controversial new immigration policy is a great victory for transparency and human rights in The Bahamas. For far too long in this country, the inner workings of government have been carried on behind a veil of secrecy, their rationale and ultimate ends remaining obscure. The time has now come to shed light on what is done in the public’s name and we applaud the court for leading the way in this regard. While praising this ruling as just, fair and in the service of the public interest, we must pause and lament the fact that the government found itself unable to act in an open and humane manner on its own, without the help of the court. In any event, we feel the decision sets a great precedent for future cases and sends a clear message that government business should be conducted neither in the dark, nor in violation of the fundamental rights and protections enshrined in our constitution. We look forward to the government’s prompt and full compliance with the ruling, and expect that a great deal of information will be presented to the court as a result. At the outset, the GBHRA had been of the view that the new immigration policy was the brainchild of a single minister, however we were told repeatedly that it is a creation of the cabinet as a whole. The court’s order, therefore, should turn up numerous reports, internal memorandums and other correspondence that will shed light on how this policy came to be, and which will be of use to both local and international human rights defenders in this and many similar cases.

Source: thebahamasweekly.com – GBHRA: A great victory for transparency and human rights

IACHR Hearing on the Bahamas : “great step forward” or “defamation”?

March 27, 2015

The Bahamas are not the most talked about nation when it comes to human rights but this story is a marvelous lesson in effective diplomacy by human rights defenders.

ICHRA-meeting.jpg

A group of NGOs [i.c. the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA), the Caribbean Institute for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and and the Haitian Organization for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS and STDS] managed to get a hearing on Friday 20 March 2015 before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) about the treatment of migrants in the country. In short: The main concern was that the Government has put into effect new immigration restrictions without any amendments to the relevant law. It was claimed that Haitians had been targeted and there had been unlawful detention as well as mistreatment. To its credit the government of the Bahamas participated in the hearing and was represented by Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez. He refuted the allegations made by the group. [“Indeed, our support of Haiti and its people in the attainment of economic, political and social stability emanates from an abiding and unflinching belief in the dignity of our shared human condition”] Gomez added that the Government received intelligence that Haitians were being smuggled to his country for as much as US$5,000. Still, Gomez invited the IAHRC to conduct an on-site visit to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre. “We have invited them to do an onsite visit. They have indicated a willingness to accept that invitation and act on it and the ball is within their court with respect to indicating to us when they wish to come. They’ve also given us some questions at the hearing which will be answered in the course of things within the next fortnight or so, though we have no deadline within which to answer them.

 

Mitchell: Activists Defamed Country

However his colleague the Minister of Immigration, Fred Mitchell, reacted very differently a few days later when he called on the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association to explain why it is attempting to “defame” the country’s name through “irresponsible” efforts. “These people who went to Washington – Bahamians – making these exaggerated claims about abuse of migrants to this country must answer the question to the Bahamian public,” he said at a press conference. “What they are doing will aid and comfort people who are trying to sabotage this country through a criminal enterprise. They have to answer that question. Their actions are irresponsible.” He added: “You can disagree with policy. There are domestic remedies for people to take if you have a difficulty with the policy. If there are specific abuses, there are domestic remedies but to actually go and defame the country in another country, I want to describe that as a particular thing, but I’ll just stay my hand for the moment. But they do have to account to the Bahamian public for their conduct, knowing what we know.”

Compare this with the tone of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) in a statement of 24 March, which thanked the government for participating in the hearing and for “sharing the view” that the Immigration Bill should be reviewed. The letter is such a beauty that I copy it below in full.  Diego Alcalá, deputy director of the Caribbean Institute for Human Rights, also used positive language and called the invitation “a great first step”.

But then the issue of reprisals..

During the hearing, petitioners also requested that the IACHR assist The Bahamas in designing and implementing a training protocol on Human Rights for State agents, including the role of human rights defenders and their protection. In his contribution, Mr Alcalá said: “Human rights defenders in The Bahamas are confronting a hostile environment that put their security and work at risk. Members of our delegation have been threatened for expressing their opinions against recent changes in migration policies. Also, high-level government officials have made expressions against them, minimising their work or even depicting it as ‘alarmist and inflammatory’.” Mr Alcalá referred to threats against GBHRA executive members Fred Smith and Joe Darville with charges of criminal libel and sedition, and pointed to the cancellation of the Kreyol Connection radio show following critical statements by the government.

Mr Smith, the GBHRA president, told The Tribune that he has made numerous complaints to the Commissioner of Police over verbal and physical attacks he has experienced due to his environmental and human rights activism. However, he did not feel the concerns are taken seriously given the government’s own proclamation against his organisation: “Joe Darville and I have been called social terrorists. Fred Mitchell (the Minister for Foreign Affairs) has threatened to have us prosecuted for criminal libel, sedition. On social media, we have had horrific accusations made against us, that we’re traitors against The Bahamas and that we should be deported.

During Friday’s hearing, commissioner and country rapporteur Tracy Robinson responded by saying: “In relation to human rights defenders, the commission is always concerned when there are allegations of either threats or stigmatisation of human rights defenders and we ask the state to pay close attention to the allegations made. The commission has very clear rules and principles about the use of criminal laws, including criminal libel laws, in a context where human rights defenders are exercising their rights to protect the interest of others.

The GBHRA’s reaction was coolly that it hoped Friday’s hearing would foster closer working ties with human rights groups and the government!

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Full text of the letter by the GBHRA:

“The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) would like to publicly thank the government for participating in the recent international hearings in Washington D.C. concerning the country’s new immigration policy. 

The hearings before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), convened at the request of the GBHRA and its international partners, we hope will serve as an opportunity for government and human rights defenders to work together closely on reforming current immigration policy and law, specifically the proposed amendments to the Immigration Act, currently before the Senate.

Considering the reaffirmation of its commitment to human rights best practices and international law during the hearings, we are confident the government shares our view that the Bill should be reviewed in light of the comments of the IAHCR commissioners.

The GBHRA looks forward to contributing to this effort in any way it can, and more generally speaking, stands prepared to partner with government to enhance respect for individual rights, strengthen the rule of law and prevent official actions which could pose a risk to our international reputation in the long run.

We likewise thank the government for extending an invitation to the commissioners to conduct an on-site visit to The Bahamas, and have expressed our avid support for such a visit to the Commission.

The GBHRA would also like to express our formal gratitude to the commissioners, the IAHCR and the Organization of American States (OAS) as a whole, for the careful attention currently being paid to human rights issues in The Bahamas.

The commissioners performed a great service to our country during the hearings, reminding us of the expectations of international law on the question of immigration enforcement.

Specifically, their comments affirmed: that detention must be a measure of last resort, not a general rule; that children should not be detained under any circumstances; that the impact of policies on women and children must be a matter of special consideration; that due process, the presumption of innocence and access to justice must be guaranteed for all migrants; and that the government has a duty to address violence and abuse during immigration enforcement exercises.

With regard to this last point, the commissioners made it clear that the government has a responsibility to not only prosecute those who would commit violence or abuse, but also do all in its power to prevent such attacks in the first place.

The commission asked for a report in writing on the extent to which the current policy conforms with the above requirements, and the GBHRA is confident the government will promptly comply with this formal request.

Finally, the GBHRA also welcomes the commission’s offer of help in revising and redrafting the current Bill. We are sure the government will be receptive to this offer, particularly with a view to better clarifying where immigration policy ends and law begins – another issue raised by the commissioners during the hearing.”