Posts Tagged ‘threats’

A human rights defender’s story: Alicia Wallace from the Bahamas

February 17, 2021

On 15 January 2021 The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published a long interview with Alicia Wallace, a human rights defender from the Bahamas. Here it is in full:

“I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.”

The year is 2050. What does the world look like – in particular for women, Black people, LGBTI people?

We are making strides toward equality and we are centered in all decision-making processes. We are protected and respected. It is a norm for us to be in positions of leadership. Diversity is expected. We are as safe at night as anyone is during the day. We have access to education, healthcare, food, and housing. All of our needs are met. Redistribution of wealth is in progress. Our survival is not dependent on or propping up the capitalist system. We are defining justice for ourselves. We recognise ourselves as the source of our own healing.

How did your work help achieve the vision you just described?

My work provoked conversation. It made information, from academic theory to changemaking methodologies, accessible to everyone. I created spaces where people have been comfortable to question, critique, challenge, learn, share, and create. I developed tools for all of us to be able to think outside of the reality we used to know. We knew we were not bound to it because I put significant emphasis on imagination and future-making. I found a way to fight the injustice we faced and facilitate collaborative visioning, imagining, and creating. We channeled our rage, weaponised hope (inspired by the work of artist Angelika Wallace-Whitfield), and we came together to co-create the futures. I helped to create tools and systems to enable that practice.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

I am a queer Black woman. I have student loan debt. I am unwaged. I am a survivor of violence. My life is a collection of moments that make it necessary for me to defend and promote human rights if I am to survive and leave the world better than I met it. Perhaps what prompts me to action is recognition of another important fact—I have privilege. I have had experiences I may never speak of, and I know that my circumstances could be a lot worse. It is important for me to use what I have to help us all get what we ought to have had a long time ago. For me, the defining moment happens over and over again, when I feel rage threatens to control my body, and I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to turn channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work? 

I’ve been experiencing rape and death threats for the past six years. Most of it has been online. The most troubling threats come following participation in direct action or agitation from people in positions of influence. In 2018, when I participated in the 71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, a radio personality made dangerous statements about me on the air. The same person incited the first threats of violence against me in 2014, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I made a report to the CEDAW focal point on reprisals, but the outcome was not favorable. A government representative called me to suggest I report the incident to the police, but did not offer support in doing so and could not cite an offense, according to Bahamian law, that I would be reporting. It was a ridiculous suggestion that gave me no help. The government, of course, reported its “action” to the UN, even claiming that I said I no longer felt unsafe. I told the focal point that this was untrue and that, at the very least, the government should have been instructed to publicly state its support for human rights defenders, enact hate speech and hate crime legislation, and direct the radio personality to cease and desist all reference to me and any other human rights defenders. It would have cost the UN nothing to support me and other human rights defenders by making these recommendations to the government. Instead, I am left to fend for myself in a place where I continue to live and work without protection, legal or otherwise.

On this see what was stated by Andrew Gilmour in December 2019: “The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.”[from: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/]

What could be done for you to be able to work safely and effectively?

Institutions and people in positions of power need to rebuke violence, harassment, and threats of violence. The State needs to enact legislation against hate crimes and hate speech. It needs to publicly state its support of human rights defenders, make it clear that the relationship between itself and advocates is complementary, not adversarial, and assert that it will protect us. The United Nations and other bodies in control of international mechanisms and reporting processes need to take responsibility for the safety and security of the human rights defenders it depends on to monitor and evaluate State action. These organisations need to raise the bar, calling States to higher standards. They have to make it clear to States and the general public that the safety and security of human rights defenders are a matter of priority before we are detained, disappeared, or murdered.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work? 

It has, as predicted, increased the volume of work. People, especially vulnerable people, are suffering. The pandemic has created crisis after crisis, from domestic violence and unpaid care work to unemployment and disruption of education. In anticipation of the effects of COVID-19 and State actions in response to it, Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR)—where I am a steering committee member—produced guidelines for feminist policymaking during this time. This is one of the most critical pieces of work I have contributed to this year. In addition, I have been engaged in rapid response, working on policy recommendations to end gender-based violence, and continuing the regular programming of Equality Bahamas. It has been a busy year, but one of learning and where I have been able to see and strengthen my own agility. Human rights defenders have to be able to anticipate, prepare, respond, pivot, assess, and revise at all times, and especially during the crisis. The work has intensified and been taxing, but I believe that we have learned more this year than we have in years gone by, people are more aware of inequalities, and in addition to getting more people on our team, we can get institutions to make substantive change.

You are the producer of a monthly newsletter called The Culture RUSH. How does fusing pop culture with social justice help achieve your vision?

I want people to understand the movement for justice and equality. I want to see a broader understanding of feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, and the importance of  centering vulnerable people in decision-making processes, programmes, and activities. We need more people on our team. That requires two main actions: communicating in clear, accessible ways, and meeting them where they are in order to deliver the message. Academic text, feminist theory, and the language of institutions and advocacy are not as appealing or accessible as pop culture. People know what’s going on in Cardi B’s marriage, Megan Thee Stallion’s friend group, and the lives of real housewives. If WAP gets us talking about women’s pleasure, let’s talk about  women in rap, lyrics, and music videos. In The Culture RUSH, I make connections between pop culture and social justice. In January 2021, I am starting Scorch, a paid subscription newsletter breaking feminist theory and academic text down into digestible bites (similar to Blinkist). I’m excited about making human rights and social justice accessible and interesting to wider audiences. When people are interested, they’re more likely to get invested, and when they’re invested, we can convince them to take action with us. People power is how we win.

Thank you, Alicia! 


Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, gender expert, and research consultant. She is the Director of Equality Bahamas which promotes women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as human rights through public education, community programming, and advocacy. Her work has included a two-year educational campaign ahead of a national referendum on gender and citizenship, the design and coordination of  Women’s Wednesdays—a month event series bringing women together to share knowledge and ideas—and management of a disaster relief donation and distribution center. Alicia is also a steering committee member of Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR). She has a weekly column on social and political issues in the Bahamian daily newspaper The Tribune and has published academic papers. 

Photo credits in order of appearance: Blair J. Meadows, Equality and Justice Alliance, Equality Bahamas

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-alicia-wallace-bahamas

Afghanistan: 65 media workers and rights defenders killed since 2018

February 15, 2021

UNAMA/Freshta DuniaThe Pul-e-Kheshti Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. (file photo) 15 February 2021Human Rights

On 15 February 2021 the UN reported that 65 journalists, media professionals and human rights defenders were killed in Afghanistan between 1 January 2018 and 31 January 2021, with 11 losing their lives since the start of peace negotiations last September. 

This trend, combined with the absence of claims of responsibility, has generated a climate of fear among the population”, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a news release, announcing the findings from its latest report

The violence, the Mission said, resulted in contraction of the human rights and media space, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and leaving their homes, communities – and even the country – in hope it will improve their safety.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/afghanistan-human-rights-defenders-targeted-but-fearless/. The Digest of Human Rights Laureates lists some 20 defenders: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

“The killings have had the broader impact across society of also diminishing expectations around efforts towards peace”, UNAMA added. 

The special report Killings of Human Rights Defender and Media Professionals also documented “changing patterns” of attacks.  The most recent wave, that of intentional, premeditated and deliberate targeting of individuals with perpetrators remaining anonymous contrasts to previous years, UNAMA said. In the past, such deaths were mainly as a result of proximity of individuals to attacks by organized armed groups, mainly the Islamic State in the Levant-Khorasan-Province (ISIL-KP), involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/30/car-bomb-kills-two-human-rights-workers-in-afghanistan/

The report underscored the role of all actors in preventing such killings and intimidation, promoting accountability and preventing impunity. Investigations into killings must be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent, it urged, adding that the prosecution of suspected perpetrators should strictly follow due process and fair trial standards.   

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA, underscored the importance of media professionals and human rights activists. 

The voices of human rights defenders and the media are critical for any open and decent society. At a time when dialogue and an end to the conflict through talks and political settlement should be the focus, the voices from human rights and the media need to be heard more than ever before, instead they are being silenced”, she said. 

The Afghan people need and deserve a flourishing civic space – a society where people can think, write and voice their views openly, without fear”, Ms. Lyons added  UNAMA reportHuman rights defenders, journalists and media workers killed by incident type

Recommendations 

Among its recommendations, the report called on the Government to put in place an adequate preventive framework, including special protective and proactive security measures for rights defenders, journalists and media workers subject to threats or other types of intimidation.  

It urged the Taliban to adopt, publicize and enforce policies that prohibit the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, as well as to repeal existing and refrain from new policies that limit civic space. 

The report also called on the international community to continue to engage with rights defenders, journalists and media workers at risk and increase support to programs that provide security, travel, financial, capacity building and other assistance to them.

It also called on non-state actors to stop all killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law. 

Killings of Human Rights Defender and Media Professionals

Five UN rapporteurs raise concern on harassment of journalist Dharisha Bastians

September 15, 2020
The Colombo Gazette on 15 September reported that a group of five UN special rapporteurs have expressed their serious concerns to the Government of Sri Lanka on the continued harassment of journalist Dharisha Bastians, the former editor of Sunday Observer and reporter for the New York Times in Colombo. [The joint letter was issued by David Kaye Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Agnes Callamard,  Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,  Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and Joseph Cannataci,  Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.]

In a joint letter to the Government dated 13th July 2020 the Special Rapporteurs said Bastians’ was being targeted for her writing and her work to defend human rights in Sri Lanka. The letter said the rapporteurs were concerned that the continued harassment of Bastians and the seizure of her computer and exposure of her phone records could endanger and compromise her sources and deter other journalists from reporting on issues of public interest and human rights. “We are particularly concerned that these measures may be aimed at discrediting her work, in an effort to stop her reporting on Sri Lankan political and human rights affairs,” the special rapporteurs letter to the Government noted.

In June 2020 the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) entered the home of Ms. Bastians in Colombo and seized her personal computer in connection with an ongoing investigation carried out over the alleged abduction of a Swiss embassy staffer in Colombo in November 2019. Bastians said the CID had arrived at her residence on two previous occasions to seize her laptop without a court order. The joint letter also noted that “pro-government media have reportedly conducted a smear campaign against Ms. Bastians and her family, supported by attacks on social media, labelling her as a traitor and a criminal.”

CLICK HERE FOR FULL LETTER

Five UN rapporteurs raise concerns on harassment of Dharisha Bastians

Nine human rights groups express fear over threats from security officers of the Liberian Government.

August 6, 2020
Human Rights Activist, Adama K. Dempster

In a statement issued in Monrovia on August 5, 2020, the groups in a collective letter noted that “Credible threats” have been made against a staff of the Global Justice and Research project (GJRP), Hassan Bility, as well as witnesses of alleged crimes by a recent defendant of a war crimes unit in the United Kingdom.

The human rights organizations that include CIVITAS MAXIMA, Center for Justice and Accountability, Center for Civil and Political Rights, Civil Society Human Rights Platform, Human Rights Watch and the Advocates for Human Rights amongst others also indicated in the release that “Credible threats have been made against Adama Dempster, Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, in connection to his human rights work and advocacy for a war crimes court.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/23/human-rights-defenders-to-president-weah-the-ball-is-in-your-camp/]

The groups said that Dempster, who led the civil society delegation that traveled to Geneva to report to the United Nations on Liberia’s human rights record, has also received credible information that he is being “targeted for elimination.”

These threats come from certain leading figures within the Liberian government’s security services, and confidential sources state that they are related to Dempster’s work delivering human rights reports to the International Community and the United Nations against the current Government, as well as his advocacy for a war crimes court,” said the human rights groups.

Bility’s GJRP has been actively involved in researching and identifying some key perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Liberia’s civil war, and some based on the work of GJRP have been prosecuted in the United States while others are detained in Europe awaiting trial for their roles. Among those prosecuted in the United States under this effort is Mohammed Jabateh (alas Jungle Jabbah).  In Europe, Martina Johnson of the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) with some former fighters of the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-K) of warlord Alhaji G.V. Kromah has been arrested.

The recently announced threats against human rights advocates come following the release and subsequent coming to Liberia Agnes Reeves Taylor, former wife of jailed Liberian President Charles Taylor.

There are still more warlords and war crimes perpetrators in Liberia who were identified in Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation report, and some are currently serving in the National Security Agency (NSA).

The human rights organization state in their statement that: “The intimidation and threats against GJRP staff and witnesses started immediately after Agnes Reeves Taylor, who was indicted in 2017 in the United Kingdom for torture, returned to Liberia in July 2020. They included multiple threatening phone calls to GJRP staff, including the director, Hassan Bility, as well as against witnesses of her alleged crimes.”

According to the human rights groups, several witnesses have said that people claiming to be Reeves Taylor supporters have threatened their lives — including in person, and claiming also that certain public statements about Bility and the GJRP by Reeves Taylor, who was not acquitted, but whose case in the UK did not go to trial based on a point of law, also raise concerns.

The groups also reminded the Government of Liberia of the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations, issued in 2018.

The UN body said that the Government of Liberian should make certain that “all alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes are impartially prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted and punished in accordance with the gravity of the acts committed.”

The Human Rights Committee’s Observations required Liberia to report by 27 July 2020 on the implementation of the recommendations regarding accountability for past crimes. Liberia has not met this deadline. “We sincerely hope that Liberia will take its international treaty obligations seriously by implementing the recommendations and submitting its follow-up report to the Committee,” said the groups.

The groups called on the Government of Liberia to ensure that human rights defenders in Liberia are protected from harassment and threats by individuals within the Government security services.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/05/protect-human-rights-defenders-liberia

https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/ranking-state-security-officers-linked-to-threats-against-human-rights-advocates/

Human Rights Organizations in Liberia Alarm Over Being Targeted by Government’s Security, Call for Protection

Nobel Laureate Denis Mukwege under threat in Congo

August 5, 2020

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Denis Mukwege, says his family has been intimidated and threatened since he denounced the recent massacre in Kipupu in Mwenga territory in South Kivu of Congo. Mukwege, who is the founder and Medical Director of Panzi Hospital and Foundations, said in a statement on Monday 3 August 2020 that since 2012 and even after two assassination attempts, he had continued to receive death threats [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/breaking-news-see-which-other-awards-the-2018-nobel-peace-prize-laureates-won-already/].

Since my tweet on Sunday, July 26 denouncing the recent massacre in Kipupu in Mwenga territory in South Kivu, I have received various hate mails, and members of my family have been intimidated and threatened,” he said.

Since then[ 22 years ago], I have not ceased to campaign for the search for truth and the application of justice, without which we cannot hope for lasting peace,” he said.

While calling for peace, the Nobel Peace Prize Laurel made a case for the examination of the mapping report carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, adding that the report contained a compilation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides detailed from 1993 to 2003. “Without analyzing these crimes-which mark the history of the Congo-and without justice being rendered for these crimes, no people involved in these conflicts will be able to recover or live in peace,” he said. He further said it seemed that advocating for the creation of a special jurisdiction to try crimes in the Congo scares some people who pour out their hatred on social media by pitting one against the other, often on the basis of lies. However, he said reconciliation between peoples and the establishment of reparations for the victims could not be achieved without our relentless search for the truth. “No intellectual malfeasance, no threat, no intimidation, will prevent me from expressing myself on the reality of the atrocities experienced by the populations of my country and the consequences of which I treat every day in my hospital in Bukavu,” he said.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/12/djimon-hounsou-set-to-play-congolese-nobel-prize-winner-denis-mukwege-in-new-film/

Read more: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/my-family-under-threat-over-congo-massacre-tweet-peace-laureate-mukwege.html

Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack

Intimidating break-in into the house of Turkish human rights defender Eren Keskin

June 18, 2020

Unknown perpetrators broke into Human Rights Association (İHD) Co-Chair Eren Keskin‘s house yesterday (June 16) to “threaten and intimidate her”, the association has said in a written statement.

Pretending to be burglars, the perpetrators ransacked the house but did not steal anything, according to the statement. The incident happened when Keskin was not at home and the police came to the house and made examinations. It was found after the police’s examination that a ring was taken and left on the table in the living room in what the İHD said was “a message” to the lawyer.

The incident was directly aimed at “threatening and intimidating” Keskin, according to the association. “She is known for clearly and fearlessly expressing her thoughts. For this reason, she often faces investigations and cases that we can call ‘judicial harassment.

“Our association will make the necessary applications nationally and internationally and will closely pursue the case. We remind the government of its duties with regards to the protection of human rights defenders in Turkey and would like to express that the government will directly be responsible for any unfavorableness that may develop.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/28/eren-keskin-in-turkey-sentenced-to-prison-and-more-to-come/

https://youtu.be/HOk0ykxtU-s

Rights Defender Eren Keskin Deposed over Her Tweets from Five Years Ago

http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/225874-unknown-perpetrators-break-into-rights-defender-eren-keskin-s-house

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/home-human-rights-lawyer-eren-keskin-broken

TRANET-Africa reports attacks increasing on youth human rights defenders

May 12, 2020

Sri Lankan Government accused of embarking on process to silence critics

January 22, 2020
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MENAFN in the Colombo Gazette of 13 January 2020 reports that the new Government in Sri Lanka, headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has been accused of embarking on a strategy to “militarize and securatize” Sri Lanka unleashing a chilling process of repression targeting critics and human rights defenders. Two human rights groups, the International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka (ITJP) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) said that with the help of activists in Sri Lanka (who cannot be named for their own safety) they have documented 69 incidents of intimidation and threats both before and after the elections which have targetted journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, plaintiffs, academics and opposition figures. In some cases the threats have been so serious the individuals have fled the country.

The report also illustrates how Gotabaya Rajpaksa has spread his tentacles across the government by appointing many members of his former army regiment to positions of authority and has increasingly militarized the policing and intelligence functions. Those involved in investigating past crimes including fraud have been removed from their posts.

Individuals previously accused of corruption or alleged to be involved in war crimes are now in office again – the ‘deep state’ is out in the open, occupying positions of authority,’ said Bashana Abeywardene of JDS, adding that it’s cast a pall of silence over once outspoken journalists, trades union activists and human rights activists.

On 16 January Amnesty International echoes this in https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa37/1678/2020/en/

More about MEA finalist Sizani Ngubane from South Africa

January 7, 2020
staff writer on the Christian Science Monitor published on 6 January 2020 a Question and Answer piece with Sizani Ngubane, the South African land rights defender who became a finalist for the Martin Ennals Award [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/breaking-news-mea-has-3-women-hrds-as-finalists-for-2020/ ]
The first inkling Sizani Ngubane had that she might grow up to be an activist came when she was just 6 years old. It was the early 1950s, and while her father, a migrant worker, was away from the family home near the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg, his brother evicted her mother from their land. “You’re a woman,” she remembers her uncle telling her mother, “so you have no right to this property if your husband isn’t around. Those were the early years of apartheid, South Africa’s infamous system of white minority rule, and a woman like Ms. Ngubane’s mother had few places to turn. The white government wasn’t likely to be on her side, and neither were the men in charge in her own community. At 6, of course, Ms. Ngubane didn’t know exactly what was happening, but her mother’s humiliation told her all she needed to know. “From that experience I just said to myself, when I grow up I want to be part of the people who are going to correct these wrongs,” she says. 

In the 70 years since, indeed, she has become the voice for tens of thousands of women like her mother. In the late 1990s, Ms. Ngubane was a founding member of the Rural Women’s Movement, which today counts some 50,000 members. Among other work, the organization fights to make sure women have access to, and ownership over, the land on which they live and work. This has been a major challenge in many rural areas under the authority of semi-autonomous traditional chieftaincies that were originally set up by the apartheid and colonial governments. These leaders have often been reticent to give more rights to women. As South Africa’s government mulls over whether to expropriate some land from white owners and return it to the country’s black majority, her work has become all the more urgent – and complicated.

Ms. Ngubane spoke by phone with the Monitor’s Johannesburg bureau chief Ryan Lenora Brown about why land is so important in South Africa, and what keeps her going as an activist.

Since the start of democracy in South Africa, there’s been a program to provide land or money to people who were stripped of their land during the colonial or apartheid periods. But it’s moved slowly, and over the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about expropriating land – that is to say, redistributing the land, whether current landowners want that or not. What do you think of that idea? And do you think it will really happen?

I support it. A large percentage of South African arable land is still in the hands of white people, even though they are a small minority in this country. How equal is that? How constitutional is that? But the problem now is that our government is not really doing anything about it. They promised us in the 1990s that by 2014 they would have redistributed 30% of land into hands of original users. I say users and not owners because in our culture land is not owned. Mother Nature was not a commodity that could be bought and sold. But only about 10% of that land has been returned to date. So I think those promises were politically motivated to get people to come out and vote in elections. I don’t see real transformation of the land situation happening anytime soon.  

Why is access to land so important for South African women in particular?

When you begin to give land to women, a lot of abuses in society are eliminated. They can feed their own families without fear of being evicted. They can inherit land when their male relatives die. And most importantly, they are not so controlled by the men in their lives. Because when land is the main value of a society and women cannot own land, we are nothing. We are not 100% human beings. It is easy to abuse and abandon us. So the land is the only way out for us.

What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of? 

The thing I’m most proud of isn’t necessarily any legal battle we’ve won. It’s the fact that before we started this movement women in many rural communities were not empowered to speak. Now we see our women speaking up for their rights, even at national and international levels. And no one tells them to shut up, because we have taught them that this is our constitutional right. [The men] know they must listen.

You’ve been an activist for nearly six decades. And there are still more battles to be fought. Right now, for instance, you’re preparing to go to court as part of a challenge against the Ingonyama Trust, an organization run by the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini that controls an area in eastern South Africa the size of Belgium. I’m wondering what keeps you going through battles like this one. 

It comes from my heart. From when I was 6 years old I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. Don’t ask me how exactly I knew there was a world outside that rural community where I grew up. The only other place I had ever seen was the city of Pietermaritzburg [10 miles away], where I went once a year with my mother to buy school shoes. But somehow I knew even then I was going to grow up to see the world, and learn from it. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

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On 28 November 2019 Kim Harrisberg reports for the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the “Death-Defying South African Nominated for International Human Rights Award“. A South African women’s land rights activist who has been stabbed with a knife, slapped with a gun and hit by a speeding car and those are just a few of the murder attempts on Sizani Ngubane who is currently in hiding to prevent further attempts on her long life of activism.

“We cannot separate women’s land rights from gender based violence in South Africa,” said the 74-year-old activist who frequently champions women’s access to land in rural KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province. “We are celebrating 25 years of democracy, but rural women are still treated like children. It is not in line with our constitution,” Ngubane, founder of the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) land rights group, said in a phone interview.

Land is a hot topic in South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa last year launched a process to change the constitution with a proposed redistribution of land aimed at addressing high levels of inequality. But in KZN, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controls 2.8 million hectares of land, a fragmented sub-tropical area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust established in 1994. The Zulu monarch wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign an agreement promising to exclude territories that the king controls from land reform.

Land rights activists are challenging the control wielded by such traditional authorities over rural communities, particularly on women who are often evicted once widowed. “The trust has turned communities into tenants by leasing ancestral land to them,” said Ngubane, adding that a compulsory rent, rising 10% every year, had to be paid by community members who otherwise face eviction.

Ngubane, along with rights groups, is challenging the Ingonyama Trust in Pietermaritzburg High Court in March 2020. The work of the Rural Women’s Movement includes finding housing for evicted women and children, helping grow food on communal land for the hungry and sick, campaigning for better legal protection of women’s land rights and more. “We are like one big family,” Ngubane said. “We have now begun to spread our wings into different parts of the country.” Launched in 1998, the Rural Women’s Movement has grown to 50,000 women, said Ngubane.

Ngubane said there was retaliation and danger involved in challenging the traditional authorities, citing burnings, kidnappings and beatings of outspoken women and men. “My dream is that one day KwaZulu-Natal will be like other provinces, where women’s rights are seen as human rights and women are given the same power over land that men are keeping for themselves,” Ngubane said.

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2020/0106/A-woman-s-right-to-her-land-Q-A-with-Sizani-Ngubane

Death-Defying South African Nominated for International Human Rights Award

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2019-11-28-human-rights-award-nominee-in-hiding-as-she-fights-for-womens-land-rights/