Posts Tagged ‘threats’

María Ruth Sanabria: 40 years of taking risks as human rights defender in Colombia

January 20, 2019

The Lutheran World Federation published on 18 January a profile of Colombia HRD María Ruth Sanabria: “40 years of taking risks to defend the rights of others“.

María Ruth Sanabria, Colombian human rights defender. Photo: LWF Colombia
María Ruth Sanabria, Colombian human rights defender. Photo: LWF Colombia

Despite continued threats on her life, María Ruth Sanabria remains undeterred in the struggle for the rights of marginalized people. This includes a project called “Towards the territorialization of peace through women’s bodies, voices and words,” supported by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Ever since she was young, Sanabria always felt drawn to dealing with “the pain of others,” and describes this characteristic as the essence of a true human rights defender. Looking back at more than 40 years of advocacy work, she remembers the people who lost their lives because of their work as human rights defenders, a task that is becoming increasingly dangerous in Colombia. Sanabria is gravely concerned about the prevailing discrimination and attacks against human rights’ defenders in her country. She has been the target of attempts against her life. And, she is not the only one. According to the Piedra en el Zapato [A pebble in your shoe] report published by the organization Somos Defensores [We Are Advocates] in 2017, there were more than 500 attacks against human rights’ defenders, leading to 106 murders, 370 threats, 23 arbitrary detentions, nine case of legal prosecution and two instances of theft of sensitive information. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/28/2018-latin-america-still-the-graveyard-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

She was aged only 17, when she first became involved in the peasants’ struggle for land rights in San Alberto, a small village in the northern department of Cesar. She later became acquainted with the Indupalma’s Union of palm tree workers, many of who were persecuted and killed during the 1984 economic liberalization crisis, and the subsequent paramilitary attacks.

Following the murder of her husband, a peasant leader, in the early 1990s, and a series of threats against her, Sanabria fled San Alberto in 1994, and sought refuge in Arauquita town in the northeastern department of Arauca. She recalls arriving there with her four children, four boxes and 10,000 Colombian pesos (USD 3).

Fleeing meant she not only had to leave behind a major part of her life, but she also had to gain recognition as a woman leader and advocate in an unfamiliar environment. Gradually, she began to participate in political fora via the Unión Patriótica party, which saw 3,500 of its members murdered during the second half of the 1990s.

In 2001, she met Armando, her partner, who is also a human rights advocate. Together, they formed the Arauquita’s section of the Permanent Committee for the Defence of Human Rights – Arauca Chapter (CPDH). The threats from armed groups resumed, and there were new attempts against her life again, which forced her to seek refuge in Argentina in September 2006. She returned in 2007 only to witness the vicious attacks that paramilitary forces meted on peasant leaders and human rights advocates.

Her contact with the LWF started with a meeting involving its office in Colombia, CPDH and the Arauca Peasant Association (ACA), where joint work was initiated. The strong bond of trust that was established then is still going strong. Thanks to the LWF, “the CPDH was able to open its first offices in Arauquita and Fortul, although the latter was dismantled after the conflict took a turn for the worse,” she says. The office also acted as a center for workshops, which previously had been held under trees, in slums, and in the streets. “The people from the Lutheran World Federation have always been there for us through the toughest of times,” Sanabria concludes.

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/maria-ruth-sanabria-40-years-taking-risks-defend-rights-others

Front Line Defenders says record number of activists killed in 2018

January 9, 2019

In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work – the highest number ever on record – according to data collected by Front Line Defenders. More than three-quarters of these, 77% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/28/annual-reports-2017-by-front-line-defenders/]

Front Line Defenders reports that the murders of HRDs were not isolated events, but were preceded by judicial harassment, threats and physical attacks. At least 49% of those killed had previously received a specific death threat, and in an additional 43% of killings there had been general threats made to HRDs in the area. In the vast majority of cases, HRDs did not receive the necessary protection and support from state authorities from the time they reported threats to the time they were murdered.

According to the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018, in addition to the threats experienced by male colleagues, WHRDs face gendered and sexualized attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own human rights movements. Such violations include removal from public or high-ranking positions in NGOs, trade unions, and political societies; smear campaigns questioning their commitment to their families; sexual assault and rape; militarized violence; and the harassment and targeting of their children. In Saudi Arabia, authorities arrested, sexually assaulted, and tortured WHRDs who led the successful campaign for the abolition of the driving ban in 2018. Despite these attacks and the ongoing threats to stay silent, WHRDs in Saudi Arabia, as well as their family members, have publicly reported and condemned the abuses and are receiving unprecedented national, regional, and international visibility for their activism.

In addition to physical attacks and torture, the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018 highlights the continuing trend towards restrictive legislation aimed at stifling the powerful work of HRDs and WHRDs, including:

  • A Digital Security Act in Bangladesh carrying a 14-year sentence for using digital media to “cause damage to the state”;
  • Retrospective legislation in Xinjiang province, China, legalising the use of “re-education” camps for the minority Uyghur population, including HRDs;
  • Anti-terror legislation in Nicaragua widening the definition of terrorism to include those accused of damaging property, leading to dozens of arrests of protesters now facing terrorism charges and 20 years in prison.

Front Line Defenders Digital Protection Team responded to a high number of reports from Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela in 2018. According to the Global Analysis, authorities around the world frequently used phone and email surveillance to target LGBTI+ defenders, WHRDs and environmental activists in particular. The report notes that in Tanzania, Pakistan, Russia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and many countries in MENA, governments claimed that HRDs were threatening “national security” as an excuse for censoring and blocking NGO websites.

Despite the severe and sometimes life-threatening risks faced by HRDs and WHRDs, Global Analysis 2018 highlights a number of major success achieved by HRDs and WHRDs in 2018, including:

  • The critical and leading role played by HRDs in securing The Escazu Agreement, now signed by 24 states in Latin America and the Caribbean, which stipulates a participatory approach to environmental projects and the mitigation of conflicts;
  • The monumental vote for reproductive rights in Ireland, secured through the extensive, decades-long campaigning of Irish WHRDs in the face of defamation, smear campaigns, and threats;
  • The Coalition of Women Leaders for the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who successfully campaigned for a province-wide decree in Equateur protecting women’s land and forest rights.

In response to attacks against HRDs in 2018, Front Line Defenders is working with HRDs to promote their security with a range of protection programming. In addition to risk management and digital protection trainings, advocacy at the national, international, and EU level, emergency relocation, Front Line Defenders provided nearly 550 protection grants to activists at risk in 2018. Front Line Defenders also works with HRDs to devise visibility campaigns to counteract the defamation and smear campaigns that put them at risk.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

 

Amartya Sen supports Naseeruddin Shah for having made a video clip for Amnesty India

January 7, 2019

Amartya Sen backs Naseeruddin Shah, says actor being disturbed
Amartya Sen said that many institutions in the country are under attack. (Photo: PTI)
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Sunday 6 January 2019  came out in support of actor Naseeruddin Shah, who recently stoked a controversy with his remark on mob violence and appeared in a video for Amnesty India against alleged government crackdown on NGOs, and said attempts were being made to “disturb” the actor. In a 2.13-minute solidarity video for Amnesty, Shah had said on 4 January that those who demand rights are being locked up. [for example: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/07/india-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-abound-under-unlawful-activities-prevention-act/ ]

On being asked about the actor’s comments, Sen said, “We must protest against such attempts to disturb the actor. What has been happening (in the country) is objectionable. It should stop.” The 85-year-old economist Amartya Sen said that many institutions in the country are under attack, and their freedom is being encroached. “Even journalists are facing harassment,” he said.

Further talking about the troll attacks against personalities like Shah, Sen said, “Losing the ability to tolerate others is a serious cause for concern, it points to losing of the ability to think and analyse.”

Under the hashtag #AbkiBaarManavAdhikaar, Amnesty India had claimed that India has witnessed a massive crackdown on freedom of expression and human rights defenders. In a solidarity message in Urdu, Shah had said, “Artistes, actors, scholars, poets are all being stifled. Journalists too are being silenced.” “In the name of religion, walls of hatred are being erected. Innocents are being killed. The country is awash with horrific hatred and cruelty“. Last month, the 68-year-old also said that the death of a cow had acquired more significance than that of a police officer in the country. He was speaking in the wake of a mob violence that broke out in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr on December 3 over alleged cow slaughter in the Mahaw village. The violence led to the death of two men, including a police inspector.

The National Award-winning actor’s visit to a literary fest in December was cancelled following protests by Hindu outfits over his comments on mob violence.

Illustrative storm in a Zimbabwean teacup: billionaire vs HRW

January 3, 2019

 Human rights defender … Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch

In a Facebook post the billionaire Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa defended his wife Tsitsi’s philanthropic work ands lashed lashed out at an unnamed human rights defender while also appearing to demand his sacking by his employer. This person was soon identified as Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa Director of Human Rights Watch.

Masiyiwa wrote: “Sadly, one of the foremost bullies is a Zimbabwean who works for an international organisation that is highly respected for its work on human rights. It’s founder, now 95, is a close family friend. I hope my human rights friend is happy now that he has stopped her from using Twitter. Maybe now he and others like him will stop this pathetic misogyny. What about the rights of women like my wife to also express an opinion?

In December, Mavhinga took issue with a post by Tsitsi Masiyiwa, in which she suggested human rights causes should only be supported after establishing the motive of those sponsoring them.“Some outcries and actions in pursuit of justice seem and look so right until you discover the source of the outcry and sponsor of the cause. Take a step back and reflect on some of the things we consider good and just causes,” Tsitsi said in a December 18 tweet. In reply, Mavhinga told Masiyiwa’s wife: “If you are implying that all and any outcry and pursuit of justice is sponsored, then that really is sad. When your husband pursued his fight to be licensed [Econet mobile phone network] it was a just cause. In such position of privilege, you should choose your words more carefully, lest you promote injustice.” Mavhinga was not the only one to see this post an an effort to brush up the government’s human rights record and many others expressed similar dismay. As a result Strive Masiyiwa and his wife wife both felt forced to close their Twitter accounts. 

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth on Wednesday weighed in on the side of Mavhinga, telling Masiyiwa that their employee “didn’t bully anyone”. Roth said Tsitsi’s comment “closely paralleled the claim of President Mnangagwa and some of his supporters that critics of human rights conditions under his rule are not genuine but are sponsored by outsiders.” He insisted that Mavhinga’s response was “entirely fair – an appropriate way to ensure that your wife’s comment, despite what her intentions might have been, wasn’t understood as an endorsement of the president’s and his allies’ attacks on human rights critics.”

Strive Masiyiwa and his wife

With no further instigation, others took up the theme as well, so your wife chose to close her Twitter account,” he added. “Unlike your statement here, the responder (Mavhinga) didn’t bully anyone – and certainly not your wife – but simply responded to what he feared, whatever her intentions, would be taken as an attack on t he credibility of the human rights movement. That others picked up on this point, without any encouragement or prompting by him, does not make him a bully but speaks to the resonance of his comment,” said Roth. Roth was also dismissive of the claim that Mavhinga was a misogynist, insisting “he would have responded to comments along the lines that your wife made regardless of who had made them.

Zimbabwean lawyer Brighton Mutebuka said he was “thrilled” that Human Rights Watch had backed Mavhinga.  “To seek to use his influence inappropriately to get Dewa fired is unacceptable. Human Rights Watch is a global brand. They would not have taken making such a swift rebuttal and backing Dewa lightly,” Mutebuka said, writing on Facebook. “Whilst Strive and his wife are entitled to their very optimistic views concerning the political trajectory that Mnangagwa’s government is on, they should be aware that a great many people do not share those views. They should also stand ready to be challenged on that, provided that such exchanges are nuanced, proportionate and civil. This is what democracy is founded on.”

Mavhinga and Human Rights Watch had come out of the exchanges as “principled, fearless and uncompromising” whilst Masiyiwa and his wife came across as “petulant, haughty, entitled, patronising and intolerant of divergent views”, he added.

https://www.zimlive.com/2019/01/human-rights-watch-rejects-strive-masiyiwa-bid-to-get-its-southern-africa-director-fired/

Shelter City Netherlands: New call for temporary relocation in 2019

November 13, 2018

Justice and Peace Netherlands is launching a new call for human rights defenders at risk to participate in the Shelter City initiative around March 2019. The deadline to apply is 30 November 2018.  Shelter City offers human rights defenders (HRDs) at riska possibility for rest and respite by letting them escape temporarily from a threatening situation. The initiative can benefit human rights defenders that are threatened or under intense pressure due to their work. Shelter City is an initiative coordinated by Justice and Peace Netherlands together with  municipalities in the Netherlands, local partners, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/23/two-dutch-calls-for-human-rights-defenders-in-need/]

How does Shelter City work? Through temporary relocation, human rights defenders will be offered a shelter for 3 months in one of the Shelter Cities in the Netherlands, during which they can rest, continue their work in safety, build up capacity (including a one-week compulsory training on security), extend their network and raise awareness about the situation in their country. Activities can include meetings with NGOs and public authorities, public lectures, rest or leisure, treatment for work-related problems, continuing working on human rights in their country, raising awareness of human rights among the Dutch public or participating in local initiatives organised by the municipality and/or the host organisation. At the end of the programme, participants are expected to return with new tools and energy to carry out their work at home. A monthly stipend, accommodation, health insurance, visa and return flight tickets to The Netherlands are provided.

Who can apply for Shelter City? For the purposes of Shelter City, the term HRD is intended to refer to the broad range of activists, journalists, scholars, writers, artists, political figures, lawyers, civil rights defenders, independent media professionals, civil society members, and others working to advance human rights and democracy peacefully around the world.
Applicants must fulfil the following conditions:

In order to be eligible to the Shelter City programme, HRDs must meet the following conditions:

  1. They implement a non-violent approach in their work;
  2. They are threatened or otherwise under pressure due to their work.;
  3. They should be able to be relocated for a period of maximum 3 months. Limited spots are available for people who are not able to stay for the full 3 months;
  4. They are willing and able to return to their country of origin after 3 months;
  5. They are willing to speak publicly about their experience or about human rights in their country to the extent that their security situation allows.
  6. They have a conversational level* of English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs);
  7. They are willing and able to come to The Netherlands without accompaniment;
  8. They are willing to begin their stay in The Netherlands around March 2019.


Note that additional factors will be taken into considerationin the final round of selection, such as the added value of a stay in The Netherlands as well as gender, geographic, and thematic balance. Please note that we can only accept HRDs currently residing in a third country under exceptional circumstances.
An independent commission will select the participants.

Apply for Shelter City 2019: <https://eu.jotform.com/JPNL/apply>

For more information, sheltercity@justiceandpeace.nl

 

To say it again clearly: assaults on human rights defenders are incompatible with international human rights treaties

June 27, 2018

In a ground-breaking joint statement on 23 May 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and representatives from all of the UN human rights treaty bodies have affirmed that all forms of abuse or undue restrictions against human rights defenders constitute violations of States’ parties obligations towards the realisation of rights set out in the Treaties. The statement was adopted on the eve of the 30th annual meeting of Treaty Body chairs on the occasion of a consultation initiated by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and ISHR in New York.

This pronouncement constitutes a major step forward in the protection of human rights defenders and lays the ground for substantial enhancement of treaty body recommendations and jurisprudence in that area” says ISHR head of treaty body advocacy Vincent Ploton.

The statement reiterates the vital and central role played by human rights defenders to promote and support the application of the fundamental rights enshrined in the core international human rights treaties. It further contextualises the importance and relevance of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders which “reaffirms, is underpinned by, and elaborates binding human rights obligations, including rights set out in the Treaties, and is relevant to the interpretation and implementation of the Treaties”.

The Committee on economic, social and cultural rights (CESCR) was the first to adopt in 2016 a statement affirming that threats and violence against human rights defenders amount to violations of the Covenant. “We are delighted that fellow Treaty Bodies are now following suit with the adoption of this new joint statement”, says ISHR’s New York Director Madeleine Sinclair.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, the statement confirms that the core international human rights treaties and the Declaration prohibit discrimination against individuals and groups who champion such human rights norms and standards. It reaffirms that all individuals should be able to engage with treaty bodies free from all forms of interference, intimidation, abuse, threat, violence, reprisal, or undue restriction. It concludes with a series of practical measures that States ought to take to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders, including the adoption of specific legislation to protect and recognise defenders, and the revocation of legislation which restricts or hinders their work.

Read the full statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23154&LangID=E

[The statement was endorsed by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the following Treaty Body members in their individual capacity: Virginia Brás-Gomes, CESCR Chair; Dalia Leinarte, CEDAW Chair; Noureddine Amir, CERD Chair; Ahmadou Tall, CMW Chair; Danlami Basharu, CRPD Vice-Chair; Felice Gaer, CAT Vice-Chair; Marcia Kran, HRCttee member; Olga Khazova, CRC Vice-Chair and Satyabhooshun Gut Domah, SPT member.]

https://www.ishr.ch/news/treaty-bodies-threats-and-assaults-human-rights-defenders-incompatible-core-international-human

UN rapporteurs ask India to protect journalist Rana Ayyub and refer to fate of Gauri Lankesh

May 27, 2018

Many newspapers reported (here India Today) that a group of UN human rights experts has expressed concern over continued threats to journalist Rana Ayyub, calling on the Indian government to urgently take steps to protect her and ensure the threats against her are promptly and thoroughly investigated. “We are highly concerned that the life of Rana Ayyub is at serious risk following these graphic and disturbing threats,” said the UN experts.

Ayyub is an independent journalist and writer whose work has included investigations into alleged crimes committed by public and government officials.

The experts recalled the murder of another Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who had also received death threats for her work. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/06/gauri-lankesh-and-gulalai-ismail-win-2017-anna-politkovskaya-award/]

The UN experts are: Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

https://www.indiatoday.in/pti-feed/story/un-experts-asks-india-to-protect-journalist-rana-ayyub-from-online-hate-campaign-1242829-2018-05-27

Human rights defenders in Asia suffer reprisals says Gilmour

May 18, 2018

On 18 May 2018 several newspapers – such as The Guardian and Scoop (NZ) – carried a piece by Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights based in New York, which describes with great frankness how human rights defenders in Asia are under attack. To quote liberally:

In February, hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process, environmental activists and human rights defenders were labeled “terrorists” by their own government. The security of the individuals on this list is at stake, and some have fled the Philippines. The UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extra-judicial executions. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he wanted to slap her, and later announced that he would like to throw other UN human rights officials to the crocodiles. The national Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines was threatened with a zero budget and its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is in detention for her advocacy. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/10/there-seems-to-be-no-limit-to-what-duterte-is-willing-to-say-and-may-get-away-with/]

…..If governments in the region can target high profile human rights defenders and those associated with the UN with impunity, what is the message to others at community level who are not afforded the same visibility? ..

In the run up to the 2018 national elections in Cambodia, the Government has cracked down on the opposition, independent media and civil society. ..

In Myanmar, there were reports of violent reprisals by Tatmadaw, the armed forces, against civilians who met with Yanghee Lee, UN independent expert on Myanmar, following her visit to Rakhine State. …..

Bogus accusations of abetting terrorism are a common justification that we hear from governments to defend the targeting of the UN’s important civil society partners. We have countless cases of advocates charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities, or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the state.

I recently met with a group of human rights defenders from across South-East and South Asia about their experiences, which in some cases have been made worse by speaking out or if they share information with the UN. The stories about these reprisals were common – they have been charged with defamation, blasphemy and disinformation. They are increasingly threatened and targeted for their work, indeed some have been labeled as terrorists. There were also accusations of activists being drug addicts or mentally unwell.

Some governments feel threatened by any dissent. They label human rights concerns as “illegal outside interference” in their internal affairs; or as an attempt to overthrow regimes; or as an attempt to impose alien “Western” values.

Opposition to economic development and investment projects seems to incite particular ire. Agribusiness, extractive industries, and large-scale energy initiatives, including those that involve indigenous peoples’ land, often bear the brunt of the backlash.

Women’s rights activists and advocates of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons seem to be particularly targeted. Many are ostracized by their communities, labelled as outcasts, or branded as immoral. Sexual violence is part of this backlash, including rape threats.

Those working for religious freedom have been called ‘anti-Islam’, they and their families threatened or harassed. When advocacy for religious tolerance intersects with that of women’s rights and sexual freedom, the stakes can be even higher.

……

We are taking these allegations seriously, and addressing particular incidents of reprisals with governments. Civil society has to be heard – for the sake of us all.


For more of my posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1805/S00115/human-rights-advocates-in-asia-under-attack.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/18/imprisoned-threatened-silenced-human-rights-workers-across-asia-are-in-danger

 

Bangladesh Government depicted as “against human rights defenders”

March 5, 2018

Among the many (written) NGO statements issued during the current session of the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva, this one by the Asian Legal Resource Centre stands out by describing a whole government apparatus as standing against independent human rights defenders. It was dated 26 

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wants to bring the situation of human rights defenders of Bangladesh to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Government of Bangladesh stands against the human rights defenders with draconian legislations and various institutions and agencies of the State. Independent dissenting voices face systemic harassments. Given the circumstances, the human rights defenders have to work without any notion of protection while defending rights in the country. The threats against the human rights defenders are increasing as the 3rd Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is approaching.

The Government of Bangladesh has amended the existing laws and has adopted new laws with vague definitions and harsher provisions to stifle the human rights organisations and individual defenders along with other dissenting voices.

The incumbent government made the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2016. This law not only intimidates the civil society actors but also prevents the expected outcome that the human rights organisations strive for achieving for the society. The law provides the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), a wing under the Office of Prime Minister, the power to review and cancel proposed projects by NGOs. A persons’ travelling out of Bangladesh in relation to the projects requires prior governmental approval. The NGO Affairs Bureau is authorised to scrutinise the activities through inspections and monthly coordination meetings by the representatives of the NGOAB while prior approval is also required for planned activities before receiving the grants. Without any judicial process the NGOAB is empowered to impose sanctions for alleged ‘non-compliance’ against any organisation or individual receiving foreign funds for voluntary activities. Such actions also include fines, disciplinary actions, and cancellation of registration of the NGO even for ‘derogatory’ remarks. The decisions of the NGOAB can only be brought before the Secretary of Office of the Prime Minister as an ‘appeal’. The law establishes the bureaucrats’ control over voluntary activities while Bangladesh’s bureaucracy has reputation for systemic corruption and abuse of power.

Bangladesh’s Cabinet has approved the Digital Security Bill-2018 on 29 January 2018. This Bill may be enacted in any day during the ongoing Session of the national parliament. This proposed law curtails both the freedom of press and the writ of human rights organisations. The police is authorised to arrest any person without a warrant of arrest issued by a Court of the country if the police officer believes that an offence is committed under this law. A person can be imprisoned for 14 years, with or without a fine of BDT 10 million for publishing any material online for ‘spreading negative propaganda against Liberation War or the Father of the Nation’ while there is no definition of ‘negative propaganda’ provided in the law. Publishing ‘false’ and ‘distorted’ information to tarnish the image of the State is punishable with three years’ imprisonment and with or without a penalty of BDT three hundred thousand. If a person is held for the second time for the same crime he or she will be imprisoned for five years with or without a penalty of BDT one million. Such provision will put the human rights defenders in grave danger, as they have to contest the official version of the State, which always denies allegation of human rights abuses and accuses the rights groups for ‘tarnishing the image of the State’. For example, the government and the law-enforcement agencies of Bangladesh deny every incident of enforced disappearances and each of extrajudicial executions while the human rights defenders and media explore and expose the truth.

Bangladesh Government, by default, protects the perpetrators of human rights abuses in a deeply rooted culture of impunity. The State prevents the basic institutions from functioning and serving the people with fairness. Instead, the incumbent government uses all the institutions, including the judiciary, as tools to secure its power at the cost of the lives and liberties of the ordinary people.

The participation of independent human rights organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council makes them governmental targets for exposing the human rights realities. For example, Odhikar, a locally based human rights organisation, contributed to the UPR process during the first and second cycles in 2009 and in 2013. This rights group consistently documented the cases and pattern of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, custodial torture, curtailing the freedom of expression and opinion, and denial of justice to the victims of gross human rights abuses in Bangladesh. The government started harassing this organisation for publishing a fact-finding report on a massive crackdown in May 2013. Its leaders were made the victims of the country’s first ever cyber crime case, which is still pending before a special tribunal incepted for holding trial of such cases. Their bank accounts are frozen and NGO registration’s renewal has been halted since mid 2014. The activists who are engaged in standing beside the victims of human rights violations remain under active surveillance by the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

Bangladesh is moving toward another general election by the end of 2018. The incidents of gross human rights abuses are also on the rise. The incumbent government is using the State’s law-enforcement agencies and judiciary to drive away the political opposition. The government has already started arresting the opposition activists arbitrarily as the main opposition leader is afraid to be convicted in controversial corruption cases. As days pass on more violation of human rights would deteriorate the situation requiring the human rights defenders to assist the victims. The activities of the rights groups would invite more reprisals against the human rights defenders, except those who directly or indirectly align with the incumbent government for their financial and political benefits.

Bangladesh’s system of governance is authoritarian and coercive by nature. The institutions – be it a constitutional body or a statutory entity – function according to the wish of the Prime Minister, as a supreme controller of everything. The universal normative principles of justice and good governance do not exist or work in this country. As a result, all the basic institutions constantly fail to act for the actual purpose of upholding the rule of law and facilitate functional democracy. The judiciary and the entire criminal justice apparatus, survive as mere facades. These facades facilitate the process of silencing the society’s vibrant voices.

The ALRC urges the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to request Bangladesh for sending invitation to the mandate for country visit. The Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to focus on Bangladesh’s domestic human rights realities and intervene for the protection of victims from gross violation of rights.

For some of my other posts on Bangladesh see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/bangladesh/

http://alrc.asia/bangladesh-government-stands-against-independent-human-rights-defenders/

New: the Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship launched

February 12, 2018

The Scottish newspaper the National reports that a human rights fellowship has been launched in Scotland:

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance welcomed the move

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance welcomed the move
 Two international human rights defenders will come to Scotland for three months to study under a new research fellowship. Participants will soon be invited to apply for the scheme which will combine study at the University of Dundee with the opportunity to build relationships and share expertise with Scottish human rights and equality organisations. The Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship will be a partnership between the Scottish Government and the University of Dundee, supported by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and campaign groups Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International, Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and Beyond Borders.

The Scottish Government said it is part of on-going work to promote human rights. Equalities Secretary Angela Constance MSP said: “Across the globe there are people defending basic human rights that everybody should be able to take for granted. From standing against torture, arbitrary detention and discrimination, to campaigning for access to housing, health care, education, food and water. “Often this requires great self-sacrifice in the face of persistent difficulties, abuse and even threats to personal safety. As a country that firmly believes in human rights and equality, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them and offer practical help where we can. “This fellowship provides a place of safety so participants can carry out research, develop new skills, build networks and return better equipped to continue their work fighting for the fundamental rights we need to demand for each other.”

The initial 2018 fellowship, with two recipients visiting from September, will cost £35,000.

Professor Nick Fyfe, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Dundee, said: “We are proud to be the host partner for the Human Rights Defenders Fellowship.“With significant expertise in human rights and an interdisciplinary approach championed by our Institute for Social Sciences Research, we are confident that the fellows will find a strong and welcoming community of human rights researchers ready to help them make the most of the three months they will spend working with the Scottish Government, Scottish universities and Scottish civil society organisations.