Posts Tagged ‘Thoolen’

For human rights “winter is coming”

August 24, 2017

CREDIT: HBO

Even if you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, you know the iconic, sinister saying. In the TV show, it is muttered meaningfully as a warning not only that after a long summer a harsh winter is ahead, but that winter brings with it an existential threat to the world—an army of the dead. This threat makes all the vicious scheming, treachery and feuding look insignificant and petty.

As a human rights defender watching leaders around the world scapegoating and dividing to score political points, I can’t help thinking that winter may be coming for all of us—a dark future where protection of human rights won’t mean much anymore.

The “summer” was long and fruitful. Seventy years ago the world came together in 1948 and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated for the first time that human rights must be protected across “all peoples and all nations.”

This unprecedented commitment to protect human rights everywhere was made by the survivors of a long night of horror that humanity had just endured. They joined forces to ensure that the gas chambers, the extermination of the entire peoples, and the suffering of civilian population at such scale never happen again.

Since then, people around the world have claimed remarkable victories: securing rights for women and LGBT communities, standing up to abusive governments, removing seemingly indestructible totalitarian regimes and bringing heads of states to account. People have created a society that would be unrecognizable to those who emerged from the darkest moments in human history determined that it should never be repeated.

Yet now it seems that we are going back in time. I have no illusions that the past 70 years were rosy. We human rights defenders have been like the brothers of the Night’s Watch, a bit closer to the chilly winds, warning, sounding the alarm and guarding against the worst abuses. The basic principle that kept the winds of winter at bay, that all governments must respect certain universal rights, has never felt more threatened than it does today. The inhabitants of Westeros may act as if summer will last for ever, but we cannot afford to do the same.

We are no longer fending off attacks on the rights of individuals or communities. We are no longer dealing with a few rogue governments while relying on others as allies. We are up against the assault on the entire system of human rights protection. Like Jon Snow, we must rally everyone together for our own existential fight.

This creeping assault did not start yesterday. Within just a few recent years, xenophobia, misogyny, and dehumanisation of “others” have become the slogans that brought victories to politicians who blatantly exploited their electorates’ sense of insecurity and disenfranchisement. But not only that, it has increasingly become a call for action, leading to discrimination, hate crimes, violence and deaths, as we have just seen in Charlottesville.

Vaguely defined “security concerns” are being used as justification for deviation from human rights, such as the prohibitions of torture and summary executions, in countries as different as the United States, Russia, Egypt, Nigeria, Turkey, and the Philippines.

States like Russia and China, which have consistently challenged the very notion of universality of human rights, have become emboldened and manage to increasingly dominate or stall the debate at the international level.

What is worse, countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, who have been, at least in rhetoric, the champions of human rights, have dramatically changed their positions. Like Cersei Lannister, they unashamedly pursue narrow self-interests, and in doing so pedal despicable arguments that human rights should be sacrificed for national interest.

Their position makes it all too easy for other states, with less established traditions of democracy and respect for human rights, to follow this path.

There is no denying it – the system of human rights protection built in the aftermath of some of darkest times in modern history, is descending into the dusk again. And, to use another sinister Game of Thrones quote, the night, when it comes, will be “dark and full or terrors.” Anyone who hopes to stay untouched by being far from the frontlines of this battle, has simply forgotten the previous “winters” too quickly.

The only way to protect our core common human values against such powerful forces, is to unite and act: to resist the attempts to divide us along any lines; to bring our own governments to account—to speak out, loudly and persistently, using all available means of communication, from megaphones to social media, against assault on our rights and the rights of others; to open our hearts and homes to those in need of protection; and to show our support and solidarity with every individual or community facing injustice or persecution.

In the world of Game of Thrones, a long, cold winter is quickly descending. But for human rights it does not have to be that way. If together we keep the candle of the human rights protection alight, darkness will retreat.

Source: For human rights, winter is coming | HuffPost

Treaty bodies case law database saved and resurrected by UN

February 17, 2015

For someone who 25 years ago (!!) started the development of legal databases on human rights (specifically the legal protection of refugees) and wrote articles about it (e.g Int J Refugee Law (1989) (1):89-100.doi: 10.1093/ijrl/1.1.89Pp. 89-100, see ABSTRACT below), the news that the UN has now published, on-line, a database of case law on human rights is exciting and it should be for all practitioners.

The new site http://juris.ohchr.org/ contains all case law issued by the UN human rights expert committees, the Treaty Bodies.

The database was developed using data from the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) of Utrecht University School of Law (of which I had the honor to be the first Director). Since the mid-1990s, SIM had developed a comprehensive record on the jurisprudence stemming from the decisions by four Treaty Bodies on complaints brought by individuals.  Over 20 years, academics compiled and indexed Treaty Bodies’ case law, making the SIM database the most authoritative online resource on this. Due to budget restrictions, SIM stopped updating the database  from 1 January 2014 and took it offline on 1 January 2015. However, SIM offered its data free of charge to the UN Human Rights Office.

This allowed us to build our own database, with an expanded remit and search capability, and we aim to continue developing it. It is an important part of our efforts to make the work of the Treaty Bodies more visible and accessible, and we hope it will benefit a range of users all over the world,” said Mr. Ibrahim Salama Director of the UN Human Rights Treaties Division. .

There are 10 Treaty Bodies that review and monitor how States that have ratified a particular treaty are implementing the rights contained in it. Eight (listed below) can also consider complaints by individuals who believe their rights have been violated and who have exhausted all the legal steps in their own country.

The site http://juris.ohchr.org contains case law indexed by various categories, including State, date, subject and keywords, which can all be used as search criteria. Users can submit their comments on the functioning of the database as part of ongoing efforts to improve it.

The Committees that can receive and consider individual complaints are:

  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Abstract of 1989 article on the development of legal databases: “Today’s information technology can be used to improve the legal protection of refugees, by providing information relevant to the asylum procedure, and laying the foundation for progressive development at the international level. The positive potential of legal databases is only now beginning to be realised, thanks to pioneering efforts within human rights and related documentation centre networks. UNHCR is helping to set up a case law database, in co-operation with non-governmental organizations. A database on national legislation is also planned, as is a full text database of international legal instruments database. Legal literature continues to be covered by the database REFLIT (REFugee LITerature) of UNHCR’s Centre for Documentation on Refugees (CDR/UNHCR). This article examines two basic kinds of information-retrieval systems, ‘free text’, and ‘indexed’, and considers their different structures, uses and search procedures, with reference to work on a forthcoming refugee thesaurus. The author calls attention to the need for standard formats, such as those of HURIDOCS, and to problems of scope and coverage. He suggests that information and documentation are areas in which practical co-operation between the UN, governments and non-governmental organizations could be implemented to advantage.”

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Non-cooperation from some States with the UN Human Rights Council is persistent

June 23, 2014

In a recent piece published on LinkedIn on 3 June 2014, I argued that there is not enough attention given to enforcement [https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140603192912-22083774–crime-should-not-pay-in-the-area-of-international-human-rights]. This conviction was fortified by reading the ISHR Monitor of 20 June in which Heather Collister sums up recent cases of persistent non-cooperation by States with the Council’s special procedures and other mechanisms.

The Human Rights Council heard updates from the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Eritrea, along with the latest update from the Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria. In all cases the countries in question have refused access to the mechanism created by the Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Treaty Bodies add ammunition to struggle against reprisals

May 20, 2014

Thanks to Theo van Boven, who alerted me, I am happy to report another small step in the war against reprisals. On 21 April 2014 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Strengthening on the Treaty Bodies in which operative paragraph 8 strongly condemns intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and others who coöperate with the treaty bodies. (A/RES/69/268).   For text of resolution: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/268

for more posts on reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/

African Commission leads way in designating a high-level focal against reprisals

May 19, 2014

On 16 May 2014 the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] reports that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has designated a high-level focal point to document and follow up on cases of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders that cooperate with the African human rights system. The spokesperson of the ISHR, Clement Voulé, welcomed the move and said: ‘The UN and its Member States should take note of the African Commission’s initiative and approve the designation of a high-level UN focal point’…‘Delegations in New York should also heed the call led by Botswana and joined by 56 States in Geneva in March to expedite this process and ensure a comprehensive, system-wide response to reprisals.’  While this is in itself good news and a step in the right direction, some caution is needed:

(1) The tasks of documenting, monitoring and encouraging effective Commission follow up on reprisals has been delegated to the existing African Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Reine Alapini-Gansou [‘By designating me as a focal point, the Commission has acted on the need to strengthen its response to reprisals by monitoring cases and working with States to prevent recurrence and promote accountability’]. However, there is no indication that Commissioner Alapini-Gansou is given additional powers or resources.

(2) Almost all the African countries (except Chad and Morocco) supported the UN Resolution in the General Assembly last year that in fact blocked the creation of a focal point against reprisals in the United Nations. Courageous little Botswana may well have led a large group of countries with a statement in March 2014 at the Human Rights Council [http://www.ishr.ch/news/human-rights-council-has-duty-strengthen-response-reprisals] which favors such a UN-wide focal point, but how the African group will vote next time is far from clear. See more on: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/un-general-assembly-indeed-defers-un-focal-point-on-human-rights-defenders/

Still, I hope we can all share the ISHR’s passionate statement that “Any other outcome will signal support for impunity for the perpetrators of reprisals and a betrayal of human rights defenders and others who engage with the human rights system”.

via African Commission designates high-level focal point to combat reprisals | ISHR.

How China cut short Cao Shunli’s remembrance in the UN

March 24, 2014

This is the UN footage from the dramatic session in the UN Human Rights Council of 20 March 2014 where the ISHR asked for a moment of silence to remember Cao Shunli the Chinese HRD who recently died in detention. What happened next I described in my post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/china-in-the-un-human-rights-council-manages-to-silence-cao-shunli-as-well-as-ngos/ followed by recalling the precedent setting: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/who-can-speak-for-ngos-in-the-un-a-precedent-set-in-1982/

 

Who can speak for NGOs in the UN? A precedent set in 1982

March 21, 2014

Yesterday, 20 March 2014, there was a fierce debate in the UN Council of Human Rights where the issue of the right of NGOs to speak came up, more precisely whether accredited NGOs had the right to let speakers mention other NGOs who do not have such accreditation. In this case it was China taking exemption to the FIDH letting its member NGOs (including a pro Tibetan group) take the floor in its name. For more context see my post of yesterday: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/china-in-the-un-human-rights-council-manages-to-silence-cao-shunli-as-well-as-ngos/.

The Chair and Secretariat rightly spoke of a standing practice in this regards. One such precedent is 30 years old and probably lost to most observers, so I give here my own recollection of this story in the hope that someone with access to the UN files or a better memory can confirm or correct the details.

It is 1982 and the Working group on Disappearances (created in 1980 after a long struggle and with the active support from the then Director Theo van Boven)) is reporting to the Commission on Human Rights (the predecessor of the Council). The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), of which I was the Executive Secretary at the time, has lined up to speak. Read the rest of this entry »

Zero Tolerance for States that take reprisals against HRDs – Let’s up the ante

March 13, 2014

States that commit or tolerate reprisals against #HRDs for cooperation with #UN should loose their voting rights says@thoolen is what Michael Ineichen twitted about my intervention in a meeting in Geneva  organized by the ISHR. on 11 March. And that is basically correct. However, a bit more explanation of my rather ‘extremist position’ may be in order:

The topic of reprisals against persons who cooperate (as witnesses) with the UN and its various office holders has been raised by many, including this blog. [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/protecting-human-rights-defenders-from-reprisals-crucial-issue-with-timely-article-and-side-event-on-24-september/ and https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/conclusions-of-side-event-on-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/.] When at the very well-attended side event organized by the International Service for Human Rights in the margin of the UN Council of Human Rights, the issue of reprisals came up again, I said that the international community is perhaps a bit too timid in its reaction to the increase in reprisals against Human Rights Defenders who testify to or cooperate with the United Nations. I stated that ‘messing with witnesses’ is considered by judges in almost all legal systems as an extremely grave thing. Or taking another analogy from legal thinking: a crime is considered a ‘qualified crime’ or ‘aggravated crime’ (and punished more severely) when certain circumstances are present, including when there is a dependency link between the victim and the perpetrator (think of murder or rape by the a custodian, a teacher or a doctor).

The resolution establishing the new Human Rights Council – replacing the previous Commission – states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” And one of the novelties touted was that the General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. 

The chilling effect that reprisals can have – especially when met with impunity – is potentially extremely damaging for the whole UN system of human rights procedures and will undo the slow but steady process of the last decades. Taken together with the above-mentioned seriousness of the aggravating character of reprisals, a powerful coalition of international and regional NGOs could well start public hearings with the purpose of demanding that States that commit reprisal be suspended.

If States can lose their right to vote in the General Assembly if they do not pay their fees for several years, there is in fact nothing shocking in demanding that States, who persecute and intimidate human rights defenders BECAUSE they cooperate with the United Nations, are not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the UN human rights body.

 

China Update: human rights defenders suffer but Ukraine is not (yet) an example

February 26, 2014

On the heels of my post yesterday on Cao Shunli‘s health (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/serious-concern-for-health-of-detained-human-rights-defender-cao-shunli/), exiled, blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng laments that China is cracking down harder than ever on human rights defenders, but says (somewhat unrealistically I should add) that the leadership should brace for a Ukraine-style uprising. “It is possible for the Chinese to have a similar revolution to the one in Ukraine. It could happen any time,” Chen told Nina Larson of AFP on 25 February in Geneva. “There are many, so very man arrests“, mentioning just as an example the arrest late last month of the parents of human rights activist Xue Mingkai, who had spent four years in prison for joining a banned party. While in custody, the father, Xue Fushun, plunged to his death from a window several stories up, in what police said was a suicide.

Frontline Defenders informed us a bit earlier that on 29 January 2014, the verdicts were released in the trials of human rights defenders, Mr Yuan Dong and Ms Hou Xin, both of whom are affiliated with the New Citizens’ Movement and had been facing charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order”. Yuan Dong was sentenced to 18 months in prison, whilst Hou Xin was found guilty but did not receive a sentence.  Yuan Dong and Hou Xin were originally detained, along with  Zhang Baocheng and Ma Xinli, on charges of “illegal assembly” on 31 March 2013 [http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/22993]  after banners with slogans such as “require officials to publicly disclose public assets” were allegedly unfurled during a rally in Xidan Cultural Plaza in Beijing’s Xicheng district. Hou Xin had only been photographically documenting the rally.

Besides the recent sentencing to four years imprisonment of one of the founders of the New Citizens’ Movement, Mr Xu Zhiyong, many more human rights defenders affiliated with the movement remain in detention (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/xu-zhiyongs-closing-statement-to-the-court-a-remarkable-document/)

On the other hand, on 25 February 2014 it was confirmed that Ilham Tohti (feared disappeared) has now been formally arrested on charges of  “splitting the country” and is being held in a detention centre in Xinjiang province. (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/has-uyghur-professor-ilham-tohti-disappeared-in-china/

For the full interview with Chen: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jLVlcgDJvTALGKEGE8kNJd3E43cA?docId=baf85933-271a-42b9-8e34-8210a195cbee

By the way China’s extraordinary sensitivity to ‘interference’ of any level into what it considers its domestic affairs is well-known. I touched upon this hot’ topic’ in my own 2011 article “The international human rights movement: not perfect, but a lot better than many governments think” in the book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’ (exceptionally also published in Chinese!): Yuwen Li (ed), Ashgate, 2011, pp 287-304 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4).

Video clip from 2010 by the UN focuses on Human Rights Defenders

February 20, 2014

As I had only just started my blog “Thoolen on Human Rights Defenders” in 2010, I must have missed a number of interesting things, such as this video uploaded to You Tube by the UN on 1 December 2010. Against the background music of Stand Up for Your Rights by Bob Marley, this video give the floor to some ‘ordinary human rights defenders’ from various parts of the world. Human Rights Day of 10 December 2010 was dedicated to human rights defenders who battle against discrimination. For the record.