Posts Tagged ‘the Guardian’

Human rights defenders in Greece, my adopted country: not doing well

July 28, 2022
OHCHR | Ms Mary Lawlor

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, conducted an official visit to Greece from 13 to 22 June 2022, to assess the government’s efforts towards creating an enabling environment for those seeking to protect and promote human rights.

Human rights defenders in Greece, particularly those working on migration, operate in an environment of pervasive fear and insecurity, concluded Mary Lawlor. “I am concerned about the increasing criminalization of humanitarian assistance in Greece. Solidarity should never be punished and compassion should never be put on trial,” she said while presenting her preliminary findings at the end of a 10-day mission in the country.

With Greece facing intense international criticism over unlawful pushbacks of migrants at its borders and wider human rights concerns related to migration and asylum, the Greek government has moved to silence groups and individuals documenting these abuses. While acknowledging Greece’s migration challenges and government efforts to address them, Lawlor criticized burdensome rules for the registration of nongovernmental organizations working on migration, introduced in 2019, calling them discriminatory and in violation of Greece’s international human rights obligations. See my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/17/greeces-mistaken-deterrence-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-heavy-prison-sentences/

The UN expert noted that human rights defenders not only face criminal sanctions for their activities, but are operating in an increasingly hostile environment where the general public is influenced by negative rhetoric from high-ranking officials and their unfavorable portrayal in the media, which often conflates their activities with traffickers and criminal networks.

Greece fell 38 positions within a year in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 report on the Press Freedom Index, with the organization marking it the lowest-ranked European Union country for press freedom. “Journalists who counter the government’s narrative on the management of migration flows are often under pressure and lack access to mainstream media outlets.… Journalists reporting on corruption are sometimes facing threats and even charges,” Lawlor said. She noted that journalists have very limited or no access to facilities where migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are being held, further contributing to a general lack of transparency regarding the government’s policies in this area.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/18/greek-court-fails-human-rights-defenders-on-antisemitism/

Lawlor will present a detailed report with her findings at the March 2023 session of the UN Human Rights Council. The government should listen to what the UN expert has to say and champion human rights defenders. The European Commission, which noted in July last year the narrowing space in Greece for groups working with migrants and asylum seekers, should step up its engagement on the issue and press Greece to stop harassing civil society groups and activists.

https://www.ohchr.org/en/media-advisories/2022/06/un-human-rights-expert-visit-greece-assess-situation-human-rights

https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/06/greece-migration-policy-having-suffocating-effect-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/europe-and-central-asia/greece/report-greece/

see also later:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/31/greece-should-face-more-checks-over-asylum-seeker-treatment-eu-official

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/31/i-was-close-to-death-syrian-man-tells-how-greek-officials-pushed-refugees-back-out-to-sea

Disappointment with UN High Commissioner’s visit to Xinjiang boils over

June 9, 2022

Many have been the reactions to the UN High Commissioner’s visit to China, some even expressing doubt BEFORE the visit took place [see: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/24/what-will-the-un-human-rights-commissioner-see-in-xinjiang and https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/05/20/un-rights-chiefs-credibility-stake-china-visit]. The open referred to in the Guardian of 9 June 2022 was signed by academics in wake of Michelle Bachelet’s China visit and demands release of UN report on human rights abuses.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said on 28 June that Bachelet should condemn human rights violations in Xinjiang, and call on China to release people arbitrarily detained and end systematic attacks on ethnic minorities in the region. “The high commissioner’s visit has been characterized by photo opportunities with senior government officials and manipulation of her statements by Chinese state media, leaving an impression that she has walked straight into a highly predictable propaganda exercise for the Chinese government,“.

Dozens of scholars have accused the UN human rights chief of having ignored or contradicted academic findings on abuses in Xinjiang with her statements on the region. In an open letter published this week, 39 academics from across Europe, the US and Australia called on Michelle Bachelet to release a long-awaited UN report on human rights abuses in China.

The letter, published online, included some academics with whom Bachelet had consulted prior to her visit to Xinjiang. The letter’s signatories expressed gratitude for this, but said they were “deeply disturbed” by her official statement, delivered at a press conference in Guangzhou at the end of her six-day tour. They said her statement “ignored and even contradicted the academic findings that our colleagues, including two signatories to this letter, provided”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visits China.

It is rare that an academic field arrives at the level of consensus that specialists in the study of Xinjiang have reached,” the letter said. “While we disagree on some questions of why Beijing is enacting its atrocities in Xinjiang, we are unanimous in our understanding of what it is that the Chinese state is doing on the ground.”.

Rights organisations and several governments have labelled the campaign a genocide or crime against humanity. Beijing denies all allegations of mistreatment and says its policies are to counter terrorism and religious extremism.

At the end of her visit Bachelet said she had urged the Chinese government to review its counter-terrorism policies in Xinjiang and appealed for information about missing Uyghurs. She was quickly criticised by some rights groups for giving few details or condemnation of China while readily giving long unrelated statements about US issues in response to questions from Chinese state media.

The academics’ letter is among growing criticism of Bachelet for not speaking out more forcefully against Chinese abuses after her visit, as well as a continued failure to release the UN report, which is believed to have been completed in late 2021. On Wednesday dozens of rights groups, predominately national and local chapters of organisations associated with Uyghur and Tibetan campaigns, demanded her resignation. See: http://www.phayul.com/2022/06/09/47195/

The 230 organisations accused Bachelet of having “whitewashed the Chinese government’s human rights atrocities” and having “legitimised Beijing’s attempt to cover up its crimes by using the Chinese government’s false ‘counter-terrorism’ framing”.

“The failed visit by the high commissioner has not only worsened the human rights crisis of those living under the Chinese government’s rule, but also severely compromised the integrity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in promoting and protecting human rights globally,” the statement said.

They also decried that she had repeatedly referred to the detention camps in Xinjiang by the Chinese government’s preferred term: “vocational education and training centres”.

All this led to speculation that Mrs Bachelet’s decision not to seek a second term was related to the critcism [see: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/13/un-human-rights-chief-michelle-bachelet-no-second-term-china]

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/09/fury-at-un-human-rights-chief-over-whitewash-of-uyghur-repression

https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2022/05/statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights-michelle-bachelet-after-official

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/29/1101969720/un-human-rights-chief-asks-china-to-rethink-uyghur-policies?t=1654771491735

Rohingya human rights leader Mohibullah murdered in Bangladesh refugee camp

September 30, 2021

Illustration: Fortify Rights

Illustration: Fortify Rights

Fortify Rights, a human rights organisation on Thursday urged the Bangladesh government to immediately investigate the assassination of Rohingya human rights leader Rohingya human rights leader Mohibullah

In a written statement the organisation called on the authorities to get to the bottom of the murder and hold the perpetrators accountable. No one has claimed responsibility for his murder, but a Rohingya leader claimed that Ullah was killed by the extremist group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which was behind several attacks on Myanmar security posts in recent years.

This is a devastating loss for everyone who knew and loved Mohib Ullah, and it is also a tremendous loss for Myanmar, the Rohingya people, and the human rights movement more broadly,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. 

He also said Mohibullah was committed to truth, justice, and human rights and had been facing serious and sustained threats in Bangladesh.  Smith further said the Rohingya leader had needed protection. 

Dhaka must prioritize the protection of Rohingya people, including human rights defenders, who routinely experience heightened threats to their personal security,” he added. 

Mohibullah, 46, who led the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, was shot dead at around 8:30pm at a Kutupalong camp office in Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday.  

He had represented the Rohingya community at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2019.   In his address to UNHRC, he said: “Imagine you have no identity, no ethnicity, no country. Nobody wants you. How would you feel? This is how we feel today as Rohingya …”

For decades we faced a systematic genocide in Myanmar. They took our citizenship. They took our land. They destroyed our mosques. No travel, no higher education, no healthcare, no jobs … We are not stateless. Stop calling us that. We have a state. It is Myanmar.”

Mohibullah came to the limelight on 25 August 2019 when a rally organised by Arakan Rohingya Society to observe two years of the latest Rohingya exodus from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, drew more than 100,000 people.

https://www.tbsnews.net/bangladesh/fortify-rights-calls-swift-probe-rohingya-leader-mohibullah-murder-309355

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/29/rohingya-leader-shot-dead-in-bangladesh-refugee-camp

https://www.bnionline.net/en/news/mohibullahs-murder-sends-deadly-message-human-rights-defenders

Sex workers fighting for human rights among world’s most at risk activists

August 20, 2021

On 12 August 2021 Front Line Defenders came out with an unique report saying rights defenders working in sex industry face ‘targeted attacks’ around the world. The same day Sarah Johnson devoted a piece to it in the Guardian:

Sex worker rights defenders from Yosoa in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Yosoa conduct health outreach and provide support after police, client or family violence.

Sex worker rights defenders from Yosoa in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Yosoa do health outreach work and provide support after police, client or family violence. Photograph: Erin Kilbride/Front Line DefendersRights and freedom is supported by

Humanity United

Sex worker activists are among the most at risk defenders of human rights in the world, facing multiple threats and violent attacks, an extensive investigation has found.

The research, published today by human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, found that their visibility as sex workers who are advocates for their communities’ rights makes them more vulnerable to the violations routinely suffered by sex workers. In addition, they face unique, targeted abuse for their human rights work.

Drawing on the experience of 300 individuals in Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, El Salvador and Myanmar, the report focuses oncases of sexual assault, threats from managers and clients, raids on homes and offices, physical attacks and police surveillance endured by sex workers undertaking human rights work.

The services the activists provide to fellow sex workers include: negotiating access to brothels, conducting gender rights training, offering legal and health counselling, reporting experiences of violence, and campaigning for freedom of movement and free choice of employment for those seeking to leave sex work.

Erin Kilbride, research and visibility coordinator at Front Line Defenders and lead author of the report, said: “Sex worker rights defenders take extreme personal risks to protect their communities’ rights to access justice, healthcare, housing and food, while responding to the immediate threats of police and domestic violence, discrimination, criminalisation and structural poverty.”

Often these activists were the only people able and willing to provide health education in locations in which sex was sold, the report found. They ensured treatment for sex workers who would otherwise be left with crippling injuries and life-threatening illnesses.

Activists’ role in creating community networks and defending sex workers’ right to assemble were also highlighted in the repot. “Coming together, even in private, is a radical, resistant, and dangerous act for defenders whose very identities are criminalised,” it said.

Defenders interviewed said they had been subjected to violations above and beyond what are typical for sex workers in their area. These included torture in prison, threats by name on the street, targeted abuse on social media and demands for sex in exchange for an advocacy meeting with a police commissioner. They also faced attacks from clients….

In Tanzania, sexual assaults in detention by the police have become a common occurrence for sex workers. They are often forced to perform sex acts in exchange for release. But human rights defenders have also been forced to perform sexual acts in order to secure other sex workers’ release. If they refuse, they are often tortured. One woman was given electric shocks after she refused to perform sex acts during a one-week detention related to her human rights work.

In El Salvador and other countries, physical attacks by clients and managers began after they learned about a sex worker’s activism, said the report.

In Myanmar, police followed activists to brothels to conduct raids duringhuman rights trainings. Some activists had been forced to change where they sell sex because police surveillance increased after they became known for their human rights work.Advertisement

Activists were often belittled at police stations in front of the sex workers they had tried to help. Htut, an outreach worker for Aye Myanmar Association, a network of sex workers, said: “[The police] let us in to the stations but then use rude words, take money from us, insult us, embarrass us, and made me feel bad about myself. It feels like they want to prove to the other sex workers that being an advocate is a humiliating thing.”

In Kyrgyzstan, sex workers have been paid or threatened by the police to help entrap rights defenders when they go to an area to distribute health supplies.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that sex worker activists have been under threat for their human rights work, much of it is dismissed by people ranging from the police to their own families, who assume such attacks are a result of being a sex worker.

Kilbride said: “Human rights defenders who are sex workers themselves are the best, and sometimes the only, activists and communities workers qualified and capable of accessing the most dangerous locations in which people sell sex.

The targeted attacks they experience – ranging from sexual assault in detention to raids on their homes and offices – are indicators of how powerful their human rights work is.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/aug/12/sex-workers-fighting-for-human-rights-among-worlds-most-at-risk-activists

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/first-global-report-sex-worker-rights-defenders-risk

Australia’s migration “detention” industry again denounced

July 21, 2021

Behrouz Boochani wrote in the Guardian of 21 July 2021 a trenchant opinion piece: “For eight years, Australia has been taking refugees as hostages. It’s time to ask: who has benefited?” About Boochani, see also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2080f978-3f72-4e02-9ed1-dcea4299ccd0

The government needs our bodies for political power, while the detention industry needs us to fuel its money-making torture machine. But what has Australia truly gained?

Behrouz Boochani

Kurdish-Iranian born journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani spent six years in Australian-run detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He now lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photograph: Martin Hunter/AAPWed 21 Jul 2021 03.14 BST

Eight years have passed since the Australian government mandated offshore detention for all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, which led to the banishing of more than 3,000 refugees to Nauru as well as Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Since then, we have heard many tragic stories about the stranded refugees – stories of death, violence, child detention, family separation and countless violations of human rights. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/15/rescuing-refugees-a-moral-imperative-not-a-crime/

We have heard the stories of the hundreds who have been traumatised and the 14 who were killed. We got to know about Reza Barati who was surrounded by a group of guards and beaten to death. We were told about Hamid Khazaei who developed a leg infection, ended up in a wheelchair and died while in custody. Faysal Ishak Ahmed also died in a Brisbane hospital. For the refugees Australia imprisons, music is liberation, life and defiance.

When I think about the stories of these refugees, including myself, the first thought that springs to mind is the abduction of human beings on the sea. We were kidnapped and forcibly transferred to an island we had never heard of. We were robbed of our identity. We turned into a string of numbers through a carefully planned process of dehumanisation. We were led into an evil system which was designed to diminish our identity.

The offshore detention policy was a form of official hostage-taking. For years, the Australian government refused to accept us, while preventing us from being transferred elsewhere. Even when it succumbed to public pressure by signing a resettlement deal with the United States, the government prolongated the transfer process. After all these years, many refugees are still held in indefinite detention.

The offshore detention policy is a combination of hostage-taking, deception, secrecy, corruption, populist propaganda and systematic torture

In addition to being a form of official hostage-taking, the policy provided a platform for the spread of populist ideas and false claims. Kevin Rudd, for example, announced this policy just before the 2013 federal election, while Scott Morrison went to the Christmas Island detention centre alongside a dozen reporters in 2019 and posed heroically against the backdrop of the sea.

They deceivedthe public into believing that the offshore detention policy was like a building that would collapse if one brick were to be removed from it. They warned against the invasion of boats on Australian shores, but no boats arrived. What boats anyway? They returned every single one to Indonesia.

This is a key point, because whenever the public has put pressure on the government since 2013, officials have highlighted the risks of opening up the borders. This turned out to be an outright lie. What the government has done is create unjustified fear while hiding behind the notion of national security.Advertisement

The reality is they needed our bodies for retaining their political power. Along the way, they created a $12bn detention industry which has greatly benefited politicians as well as certain security and medical companies. The contracts signed with Paladin is the only instance leaked to the media, but I believe that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Loghaman Sawari

The Australian government has made every effort to preserve its detention industry. When thousands of refugees were transferred to the US, the government brought in a group of New Zealanders previously held in Australia. At the end of the day, human bodies are fuel to this money-making torture machine.

The offshore detention policy is a combination of hostage-taking, deception, secrecy, corruption, populist propaganda, and of course, systematic torture. It is sadistic, costly, and unnecessary. After all these years, Australians need to find the courage to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What have we gained? What have we lost?” These are crucial questions.

It is time to challenge the foundations of this deceitful policy. In the last eight years, human values have been undermined, more than $12bn has been spent and the international reputation of Australia has suffered immensely. The key question to ask right now is: “Who has benefited from this policy?”

Written by Behrouz Boochani, a former detainee and nor adjunct senior fellow at University of Canterbury [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/01/behrouz-boochani-gives-interview-in-new-zealand-finally-out-of-manus-island/]

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jul/21/for-eight-years-australia-has-been-taking-refugees-as-hostages-its-time-to-ask-who-has-benefited

Forensic Architecture and similar in Berlin are building Investigative Commons, a kind of super-hub for human rights activism

June 28, 2021

The Guardian of 27 June 2021 carries a fascinating article entitled “Berlin’s No 1 digital detective agency is on the trail of human rights abusers” about investigators in Germany who are using Google Earth, YouTube clips and social media posts to bring political crimes to the courts

Projecting images across a 3D model can help determine real-world distances between objects.

Projecting images across a 3D model can help determine real-world distances between objects. Photograph: Forensic ArchitecturePhilip Oltermann in Berlin@philipoltermann

…..this second-floor space inside a beige brick former soap factory is something closer to a newsroom or a detective agency, tripling up as a lawyers’ chambers. Next month it will formally be launched as the home of the Investigative Commons, a kind of super-hub for organisations whose work has revolutionised the field of human rights activism.

Most of the desks will be taken up by Forensic Architecture, a team of architects, archaeologists and journalists whose digital models of crime scenes have been cited as evidence at the international criminal court, contributed to the sentencing of the neo-Nazi leaders of Greece’s Golden Dawn party, and led to an unprecedented apology from Benjamin Netanyahu over the accidental killing of a Bedouin teacher.

Then there is the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a human rights NGO headquartered on the floor below, which last year brought to court the first worldwide case against Syrian state torture.

Bellingcat – the organisation started by British blogger Eliot Higgins that revealed the perpetrators behind the poisonings of MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny – will have its name on a desk in the hub as well as Mnemonic, a Berlin-based group of Syrian exiles who build databases to archive evidence of war crimes in their homeland, and Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who worked with whistleblower Edward Snowden to expose the National Security Agency’s (NSA) global surveillance programme.

They all share, says Poitras, “a commitment to primary evidence”: each group works on the cutting edge of what has come to be known as “open-source intelligence”, the mass-harvesting, modelling and examination of publicly available material from Google Earth, social media posts or YouTube videos. In the post-truth era, they excel at the painstaking task of corroborating the facts behind disputed events. “The traditional model for human rights work is that you have a big NGO that sends experts to the frontline of a conflict, speaks to sources and then writes up a report on their return,” says Forensic Architecture’s British-Israeli founder Eyal Weizman. “Nowadays, evidence is produced by people on the frontline of the struggle. You no longer have one trusted source but dozens of sources, from satellite images to smartphone data. Our challenge lies in assembling these sources.”

Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative journalism website Bellingcat.

Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative journalism website Bellingcat. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Observer

These groups have occasionally collaborated, but have broadly followed their own paths for over a decade. The decision to pool their investigative tools, with the added legal heft of ECCHR, is a sign that open-source investigations could be coming of age, moving one step further away from art and academia towards a world where the ultimate judge of their work will be a sober, bewigged individual in a courtroom.

“Facts need good litigators,” says Weizman. “Human rights work is transforming: you used to have these big clearing-house-style NGOs that did everything. Now it’s more like an ecosystem of investigators and litigators. Rather than one person writing up a report, there is a constant workshop, with people being brought in all the time as long as confidentiality allows.”

As with any all-star team, there is a risk of key players stepping on each other’s toes as they jockey for the same position on the field.

“Of course there’s a certain tension,” says ECCHR’s founder, Wolfgang Kaleck. “You have to be aware which pitch you are playing on at any given stage, and what the rules of the game are.”

The first showcase of the physical collaboration is a joint investigation documenting human rights abuses in Yemen. Syrian journalist Hadi al-Khatib’s Mnemonic has amassed and verified thousands of videos of airstrikes in the multisided civil war on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula.

Forensic Architecture applied its own mapping software to tell the story of these incidents through time and space. Evidence from the scenes of these attacks, such as fragments of munition found on site, then provided clues as to the identity of the western manufacturers of the weapons used – which is where ECCHR’s lawyers have come in.

The fact that this assembly line for investigations into human rights abuses will be physically located in Berlin has much to do with the German capital’s history and social environment – but also the conditions for investigative work in post-Brexit Britain.

Both Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture were once British success stories. The former was started in 2014 from the front room of Leicester-based Higgins, then still an office worker-cum-blogger going by the Frank Zappa-inspired alias Brown Moses. The latter grew out of, and continues to be affiliated with, Goldsmiths, University of London, and was nominated for the Turner prize in 2018.

But as these groups have grown on the back of their successes, Britain’s departure from the EU has made the task of bringing in new researchers with international backgrounds more cumbersome, with EU nationals now required to show proof of settled status or a skilled-worker visa. Goldsmiths announced a hiring freeze last May.

Traditional human rights NGOs have started using Berlin as the place to launch their own open-source investigations. Amnesty International’s Citizen Evidence Lab, which has used satellite technology and 3D modelling to uncover human rights abuses in Ethiopia and Myanmar, has been led for the last five years from the city. Human Rights Watch’s Digital Investigations Lab has key staff in Berlin, as well as a project with the German space agency.

Bellingcat, which made its name with an investigation into the 2014 crash of the Kuala Lumpur-bound Malaysia Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam, moved its main offices to the Dutch capital in 2018. “Brexit created uncertainties on the horizon,” says Higgins. “We didn’t want to be a in a position where our international staff couldn’t stay in the UK. We needed something that gave us more flexibility.”

Another factor behind the move was that investigative journalism per se is not a recognised charitable purpose in the UK, and consequently has limited access to the funding opportunities and tax advantages of charities. In the Netherlands, Bellingcat is now set up as a stichting, or foundation.

As well being a founding member of the Investigative Commons, Forensic Architecture is moving a quarter of its staff to Germany to set up Forensis, an NGO that will be a registered association or eingetragener Verein under German law, allowing it to access funding that would not be available in the UK. It will focus its work on human rights issues with a European dimension, from cybersurveillance and rightwing extremism to immigration.

The University of London will continue to be a home for the group of digital detectives but could eventually become more of an “incubator” for new research methods, says Weizman.

Berlin has been in a similar situation before. In around 2014 the city looked briefly as if it had become the world’s ultimate safe harbour, from where hackers, human rights groups and artists would expose humanitarian abuses globally.

WikiLeaks staffers were marooned in Berlin’s counterculture scene, fearful of being detained upon return to the US or the UK. Poitras edited her Snowden film, Citizenfour, in the city, concerned her source material could be seized by the government in America. Chinese dissidents such as Liu Xia, Liao Yiwu and Ai Weiwei also found new homes here.

For multiple reasons, that promise was not fulfilled. …

“Perhaps then the expectation of what Berlin could become was simply too great,” says Kaleck, who is Snowden’s lawyer. Nowadays, Berlin may be less of a city for dreaming of digital revolutions, and more of a place to get work done. “We’re on an even keel now – that’s a good starting point.”

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2021/jun/27/berlins-no-1-digital-detective-agency-is-on-the-trail-of-human-rights-abusers

Ramsey Clark, US attorney general and civil rights activist dies at 93

April 11, 2021

Ramsey Clark, who was attorney general in the Johnson administration before becoming an outspoken activist for unpopular causes and a harsh critic of US policy, has died. He was 93. see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6790030F-0B3B-2518-90DF-DD16787FCA9F

After serving in President Lyndon B Johnson’s cabinet in 1967 and 1968, Clark set up a private law practice in New York in which he championed civil rights, fought racism and the death penalty and represented declared foes of the US including former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. He also defended former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“The progressive legal community has lost its elder dean and statesman,” civil rights attorney Ron Kuby said. “Over many generations, Ramsey Clark was a principled voice, conscience and a fighter for civil and human rights.”

Clark defended antiwar activists. In the court of public opinion, he charged the US with militarism and arrogance, starting with the Vietnam war and continuing with Grenada, Libya, Panama and the Gulf war. When Clark visited Iraq after Operation Desert Storm and returned to accuse the US of war crimes, Newsweek dubbed him the Jane Fonda of the Gulf

Clark said he only wanted the US to live up to its ideals. “If you don’t insist on your government obeying the law, then what right do you have to demand it of others?” he said.

The Dallas-born Clark, who was in the US Marine corps in 1945 and 1946, moved his family to New York in 1970 and set up a pro bono-oriented practice. He said he and his partners were limiting their annual personal incomes to $50,000, a figure he did not always achieve.

Clark’s client list included such peace and disarmament activists as the Harrisburg seven and the Plowshares eight. Abroad, he represented dissidents in Iran, Chile, the Philippines and Taiwan, and skyjackers in the Soviet Union.

He was an advocate for Soviet and Syrian Jews but outraged many Jews over other clients. He defended a Nazi prison camp guard fighting extradition and the Palestine Liberation Organization in a lawsuit over the killing of a cruise ship passenger by hijackers.

“We talk about civil liberties,” he said. “We have the largest prison population per capita on Earth. The world’s greatest jailer is the freest country on Earth?”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/11/ramsey-clark-attorney-general-critic-us-policy-saddam-hussein-dies-aged-93

The Guardian starts new series ‘Rights and freedom’

February 23, 2021
Humanity United

On Monday 22 February 2021 the Guardian announced that it will be reporting on human rights worldwide, elevating the voices of those working on the frontline to protect rights and freedom.

A year on from the start of the world’s biggest health crisis, we now face a human rights pandemic. Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities and fragilities of health and political systems and allowed authoritarian regimes to impose drastic curbs on rights and freedoms, using the virus as a pretext for restricting free speech and stifling dissent.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, attacks on journalists, and a roll out of invasive tracking apps and extreme surveillance measures that are likely to far outlast the virus. Over the coming years, the economic fallout of the pandemic will hit millions. Those already facing stigma and marginalisation will suffer the most: women, girls, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous communities.

Human rights crises in countries including Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela and South Sudan threaten lives, health and freedoms. Yet the pandemic has also seen a growing global momentum of resistance, a fight back to protect hard-won rights. Journalism has always been a crucial tool in holding those in power to account and highlighting the drivers and systems that violate the fundamental rights of every human being, as enshrined in law. With over 200 laureates, journalists are the single biggest professional group among the winners of human rights awards [see: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/laureates]

At this critical moment, there is an urgent need to focus attention on those who are suffering and what can be done to help them. Rights and Freedom is a new Guardian reporting series to investigate and expose human rights abuses, and elevate the voices of people working on the frontline, fighting back for themselves and their communities.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-violations-against-journalists/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/18/journalists-on-the-ground-are-often-the-real-heroes/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/rights-and-freedom-welcome-to-our-series

Geng Xiaonan, Chinese publisher who spoke up for dissident academic, is jailed for three years

February 10, 2021

The Guardian of 10 February 2021 reports that a Chinese publisher who spoke out in support of a dissident academic has been jailed for three years in Beijing after she pleaded guilty to illegal business operations.

Geng Xiaonan, 46, and her husband Qin Zhen, were arrested in September on suspicion of publishing thousands of illegal titles. According to reports, Geng told the court she was guilty of the charges against her, that she was the primary decision maker, and asked it to show leniency to her husband and staff who were just following instructions. She also asked for leniency for herself, because she was sole carer to her ailing father. Qin was given a suspended sentence of two-and-a-half years.

The court proceedings were streamed live and reportedly viewed more than 80,000 times before the recording was taken offline, according to local media. The South China Morning Post said several dissidents and supporters had been prevented from attending the hearing.

Geng had spoken in support of Xu Zhangrun, a Beijing law professor who has been a vocal critic of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist party, when he was detained in July last year for six days.

in 2020 Geng was awarded the Lin Zhao Memorial Award, commemorating a Mao-era dissident who was executed after continuing to write in prison using her own blood as ink. [see: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/justice-12112020092429.html.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Geng had also tried to raise awareness about the disappearance of citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, and said it was another example of the Chinese government criminalising dissent. Her jailing is the latest in a string of crackdowns on prominent people who have criticised the party, including academic Xu Zhiyong, and businessman Ren Zhiqiang.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/10/chinese-publisher-who-spoke-up-for-dissident-academic-is-jailed-for-three-years

Israel and Apartheid: Israeli Human Rights Group stirs debate

January 18, 2021

At the risk of inviting a torrent of abusive reactions, I think that the question of whether there is a case of APARTHEID is a legitimate one as a recent human rights NGO report asserts that one unequal system governs Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

B’Tselem, a prominent Israeli human rights group has intensified its criticism of the country’s policies toward Palestinians, saying Israel pursues a nondemocratic “apartheid regime” and “Jewish supremacy” in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The report of Tuesday 12 January 2021 reflects a recent shift by critics within Israel, widening their focus beyond the country’s half-century military occupation of Palestinian territories to policies stretching back to Israel’s founding, and endorsing highly charged parallels to South Africa’s former regime of white rule.

An editorial in the Guardian of 17 January states: It was a deliberate provocation by B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights group, to describe the Palestinians in the Holy Land as living under an apartheid regime. Many Israelis detest the idea that their country, one they see as a democracy that rose from a genocidal pyre, could be compared to the old racist Afrikaner regime. Yet figures such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have done so. There is a serious argument about injustices to be had. Palestinians – unlike Israeli Jews – live under a fragmented mosaic of laws, often discriminatory, and public authorities which seem indifferent to their plight. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It is a charge that should not be lightly made, for else it can be shrugged off. Some might agree with the use of such incendiary language, but many will recoil. The crime of apartheid has been defined as “inhumane acts committed in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

Many Israelis firmly reject the comparison. They boast of a vibrant Israeli democracy, say Palestinians have representation in their own semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, and justify restrictions on Palestinians as necessary security measures in the absence of peace.

B’Tselem’s director Hagai El-Ad, who is Jewish, said he hoped the report would inform the analysis of the incoming Biden administration as it considers how to steer U.S. policy, after the Trump administration sided with Israel and against Palestinian positions on the most sensitive aspects of the long-running conflict between the two peoples. “I expect this will be part of a new chapter for fighting for justice in this place,” El-Ad said.

B’Tselem, which has documented Israeli human rights abuses in Palestinian territories since 1989, said it now rejects the commonly held notion that Israel maintains two separate regimes side-by-side: a democracy inside Israel, where the country’s 20% Palestinian Arab minority shares equal citizenship and rights with its Jewish majority, and a military occupation imposed on Palestinian non-citizens in territories captured in 1967 which Palestinians seek for an independent state. “One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians,” B’Tselem said in a statement Tuesday.

Daniel Estrin notes in his piece on NPR some reactions:

The Israeli government did not issue an immediate public response, but defenders of Israeli policy accused B’Tselem of radicalized anti-Israel propaganda.

This is no longer the same NGO that once gained respect, even from critics, by championing human rights based on credible research. Today, it is a platform for demonizers,” Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of pro-Palestinian groups, said in a statement.

B’Tselem seeks to “fundamentally delegitimize Israel and call for its destruction – because one does not reform an Apartheid regime, one ends it,” said Eugene Kontorovich of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank.

Another prominent Israeli advocate for Palestinian rights, lawyer Michael Sfard, issued a legal opinion last year that Israelis practice apartheid over Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but he stopped short of evaluating whether the same definition applied within Israel proper.

Last year, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din found that Israeli officials were culpable of the crime of apartheid in the West Bank.

B’Tselem said Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel have more rights than non-citizens in the West Bank and Gaza but that they were second-class citizens to Jewish Israelis. It pointed to Israel’s construction of hundreds of Jewish communities while building few communities for the country’s Palestinian citizens; and laws that grant automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews around the world but exclude non-Jews, including Palestinians.

B’Tselem’s criticisms of Israel’s military occupation include travel restrictions placed on Palestinians, who require Israeli travel permits; and Palestinians’ lack of voting rights in the Israeli political system which holds sway over their lives.

B’Tselem said it decided to embrace the apartheid terminology following the adoption in 2018 of Israel’s Nation State Law, which defined Israel as a Jewish state and accorded Jews priority in areas ranging from the official use of Hebrew versus Arabic, to land development, to the government’s discussion last year of potentially annexing occupied West Bank territory without extending voting rights to Palestinians living there, a move Israel says is possible.

“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it: it is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid,” El-Ad said.

The human rights group’s name, B’Tselem, Hebrew for “In the Image,” is taken from Genesis 1:27 which states that humanity was created in the image of God.

See also: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/18/israel-moves-to-rein-in-rights-group-over-use-of-term-apartheid

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/12/956020789/israeli-human-rights-group-says-the-country-pursues-nondemocratic-apartheid-regi?t=1610539620271

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/17/the-guardian-view-on-israel-and-apartheid-prophecy-or-description

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00023/quibbling-over-cruelties-human-rights-watch-israel-and-apartheid.htm