Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

Next logical step: US Rescinds ICC Sanctions

April 4, 2021
ICC permanent premises
Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera/Human Rights Watch

US President Joe Biden’s cancellation of punitive sanctions targeting the International Criminal Court (ICC) removes a serious obstacle to the court’s providing justice to the victims of the world’s worst crimes, Human Rights Watch said on 2 April 2, 2021. Biden revoked a June 2020 order by then-President Donald Trump authorizing asset freezes and entry bans to thwart the ICC’s work. This was expected after an appeal by many NGOs, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/19/large-group-of-ngos-call-on-biden-administration-to-repeal-icc-sanctions/

In announcing the repeal of the executive order, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “[t]hese decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective.” The State Department also lifted existing visa restrictions.

“The Trump administration’s perversely punitive sanctions against the ICC showed stark contempt for the victims of grave international crimes and the prosecutors who seek to hold those responsible to account,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “In removing this unprecedented threat to the global rule of law, President Biden has begun the long process of restoring US credibility on international justice through the ICC.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/02/us-rescinds-icc-sanctions

Annual State Department report 2020: complete change of tone

March 31, 2021

On Tuesday, March 30, 2021, the 2020 edition of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was released by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The Secretary of State is required by law to submit an annual report to the U.S. Congress on “the status of internationally recognized human rights” in all countries that are members of the United Nations. This annual report, called the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices but commonly known as the Human Rights Report (HRR), provides information that is used by Congress, the Executive Branch, and courts in making policies and/or decisions; thus accurate information on human rights conditions is critical. The HRR also informs the work at home and abroad of civil society, human rights defenders, lawmakers, scholars, immigration judges and asylum officers, multilateral institutions, and other governments.

The country reports are prepared by U.S. diplomatic missions around the world, which collect, analyze, and synthesize information from a variety of sources, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the media. The reports do not attempt to catalogue every human rights-related incident, nor are they an effort by the U.S. government to judge others. Instead, they claim to be factual in nature and focus on a one-year period, but they may include illustrative cases from previous reporting years.

Conor Finnegan for ABC News on 30 March 2021 compared the report with those of the Trump administration:

Blinken launched the department’s 45th annual human rights report Tuesday which The report covers 2020 and found a further deterioration for human rights in many countries, particularly as governments used the coronavirus pandemic to curb their citizens’ rights.

The first report under the Biden administration also included changes that eliminated the conservative take of the Trump years, like ending former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “hierarchy” of rights and re-introducing a section on women’s reproductive rights that will be published later this year.

When human rights defenders “come under attack, they often look to the United States to speak up on their behalf. Too often in recent years, these defenders heard only silence from us,” Blinken said. “We are back for those brave advocates as well. We will not be silent.

In particular, Blinken “decisively” repudiated Pompeo’s “Unalienable Rights Commission,” a panel of academics that said in a report last July that freedom of religion and right to property were the most important human rights. While Pompeo touted the report and said it would lay a foundation for future administrations, critics accused it of minimizing minority rights. Blinken essentially jettisoned the report, saying Tuesday, “There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others. Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]

Human rights are increasingly under threat around the world, Blinken said, saying the trend lines “are in the wrong direction.”

In particular, he highlighted what he called the Chinese government’s genocide of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province, attacks on civil society and political opposition in Russia, Uganda and Venezuela and on pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, war crimes in Yemen, atrocities “credibly reported” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and abuses by the Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

While the report doesn’t touch on Myanmar’s coup and the military’s bloody crackdown on protests, because they happened in 2021, Blinken took time to again condemn the events. But after weeks of steadily increasing U.S. sanctions that have not deterred the ruling junta, he had no specific answer on what else the U.S. could do to change the darkening trajectory there.

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the "2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" at the State Department in Washington on March 30, 2021.
Mandel Ngan/Pool/ReutersMandel Ngan/Pool/ReutersU.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the “2020 Country…

Chinese officials and state-run outlets have increasingly raised U.S. race relations to say American officials are in no position to criticize Beijing — comparing Uighur slave labor in Xinjiang to Black slaves in the U.S. South.

We know we have work to do at home. That includes addressing profound inequities, including systemic racism. We don’t pretend these problems don’t exist. … We deal with them in the daylight with full transparency, and in fact, that’s exactly what separates our democracy and autocracies,” he said, adding that open reckoning gives the U.S. “greater legitimacy” to address other countries’ records, too.

The Biden administration will use all tools available to impose consequences on human rights abusers and encourage better behavior, Blinken said, including the new Khashoggi policy that imposes visa restrictions on officials that target or harass their countries’ dissidents.

Standing up for human rights everywhere is in America’s interests, and the Biden-Harris administration will stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners,” he said.

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/blinken-swipes-trump-administration-unveiling-human-rights-report/story?id=76770342

Large group of NGOs call on Biden administration to repeal ICC Sanctions

February 19, 2021

After the Trump administration attacks on the ICC [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/12/trump-issues-new-sanctions-on-the-icc-and-human-rights-defenders/], the question is now how the Biden administration will change course:

On 17 February 2021, more than 70 Non-Governmental Organizations, Faith-Based Groups and Academic Institutions called for the Biden Administration to Repeal ICC Sanctions:

The undersigned organizations urge the Biden Administration to engage constructively with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.S. government’s support for the ICC could help secure justice for victims in situations from Myanmar to Darfur, just as it helped facilitate the February 4 historic conviction of a former leader of an armed rebel group for war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda.There is an immediate need to act to reset U.S. policy regarding the ICC. Most urgently, we are alarmed by recent calls for the U.S. government to maintain or even expand the sanctions put into place by the Trump administration in June 2020 currently targeting the court’s work.These actions were an unprecedented attack on the court’s mandate to deliver justice and the rule of law globally, an abuse of the U.S. government’s financial powers, and a betrayal of the U.S. legacy in establishing institutions of international justice. They were also an attack on those who engage with the court, including human rights defenders and victims. These extraordinary measures have put the U.S. at odds with many of its closest allies. They also have been challenged on constitutional grounds domestically. Keeping in place the executive order authorizing sanctions would be inconsistent with the new administration’s laudable commitments to respecting the rule of law and pursuing multilateral cooperation in support of U.S. interests. It would also transform a shameful but temporary action into a standing license for other governments to attack multilateral institutions when they disagreewith those bodies’ actions. We call upon the U.S. government to rescind Executive Order 13928 and all sanctions measures against ICC officials at the earliest possible opportunity. We appeal for constructive engagement with the ICC and we urge the Biden administration and members of Congress to support that approach.

This statement was coordinated by the Washington Working Group for the International Criminal Court (WICC), an informal and nonpartisan coalition of diverse NGOs, including human rights organizations, faith based groups, professional associations, and others.

The Advocates for Human Rights, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Amnesty International USA, Anti-Torture Initiative, American University Washington College of Law, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)Center for Justice and Accountability Center for the Study of Law & Genocide, Loyola Law School, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US, Provinces Darfur Women, Action Group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Eumans European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Fortify Rights, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Global Justice Center, Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law, Guernica 37, Chambers and Centre for International Justice, Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, City University of New York School of Law, Human Rights FirstHuman Rights Institute, Georgetown University Law Center, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project, Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Criminal Court Alliance (ICCA), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Human Rights Clinic, Boston University School of Law, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School, InterReligious Task Force on Central AmericaJ . StreetJustice for Muslims Collective. Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Never Again Coalition, No Peace Without Justice, Open Society Foundations, Operation Broken Silence, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), Partners in Justice International, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness, Project Blueprint,The Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA School of Law REDRESS, The Rendition Project

Speculating on the Nobel Peace Prize 2021

February 4, 2021

Speculating about the Nobel Peace Prize is a sport that keeps some media busy most of the year.

Although thousands of people, from members of parliaments worldwide to former winners, are eligible to propose candidates (see list in link), it is the group of Norwegian parliamentarians that has nominated the eventual laureate every year since 2014 (with the exception of 2019), according to Henrik Urdal, Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. And for this year Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the World Health Organization and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg are among those nominated by backed by Norwegian lawmakers.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides who wins the award, does not comment on nominations, keeping secret for 50 years the names of nominators and unsuccessful nominees. But the nominators themselves can choose to reveal their choice and often do.

On 31 January 2021 Gwladys Fouche and Nora Buli started off the guessing season by reporting that, according to a Reuters survey of Norwegian lawmakers, nominees include Thunberg, Navalny, the WHO and its COVAX programme to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.

Other names are Belarusian activists Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo for their “fight for a fair election and inspiration for peaceful resistance”, one nominator, Geir Sigbjoern Toskedal, said. Another, Jette Christensen, also named the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, and IUSTITIA, a group of Polish judges defending civil rights. “My nomination this year is … for the fight to preserve democracy as a form of government in Europe,” Christensen said.

Freedom of information is a recurring theme with nominees including the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists; former Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb el Rhazoui; news website Hong Kong Free Press, the U.S.-based International Fact-Checking Network and Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF). Also mentioned are: the Black Lives Matter movement and Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has become a leading voting rights advocate.

Other nominees include former U.S. President Donald Trump (by Jaak Madison, a member of the right-wing populist EKRE party) as well as Kushner and Berkowitz for negotiating deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco), .

Also on the list are NATO and again the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) as well as Aminatou Haidar, for her peaceful campaigning towards an independent Western Sahara, the International Space Station and the International Scout Movement.

https://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/peace/

https://www.kcrg.com/2021/02/02/explainer-how-nobel-peace-prize-nominations-come-about/

https://www.euronews.com/2021/02/01/donald-trump-estonian-mep-jaak-madison-nominates-ex-us-president-for-nobel-peace-prize

MEA 2019 laureate Abdul Aziz Muhamat wants refugees themselves to be heard

November 9, 2020

Geneva Solutions of 7 November 2020 published a call to give “a voice back to the voiceless: a call to empower refugees” written by Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who is a human rights advocate for migrants and refugees now based in Geneva. He is the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for Human Rights Defenders (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/),

He is currently a UN fellow at OHCHR, and the former recipient of the ISHR Human Rights Defenders Fellowship. He is involved in social work, advocacy, and is authoring in collaboration with other refugees offshore and inshore ( They Can’t Take The Sky):

I’m tired of hearing celebrities saying they are  “voices of the voiceless.” Unfortunately, I hear it often from celebrities with our pictures and stories, rather than from refugees themselves.

The so-called “voiceless” are individuals living in poverty and conflict zones, and were forced to leave their countries while they were muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out. But they are not voiceless. They do not need your voices but they do need you to put them behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak up. If we want to find lasting and sustainable solutions for the refugee and migrant crisis, then stop speaking for the so-called voiceless, and start working alongside them to make sure their powerful voices are heard.

Media, the arts and celebrities often say they strive to “give voice to the voiceless”. While this can empower, it can also be a potentially harmful tool for them too. It makes me feel like an object, it discourages me from speaking for myself and most importantly, it is dehumanising because someone else is speaking on my behalf. Being a refugee means more than being an alien, no right, no voice; this can sound trite, clichéd, even patronising. Speaking on our behalf can take the real voices of the concerned people away and replace them with a slogan, “Voice of the Voiceless”. Are they really voiceless? If so, then who took their voices?

What refugees urgently need, besides food and water, medical care, and a roof over their heads, is hope! And prospects of a homeland, friends, and a sense of security. Unfortunately, reality presents a completely different picture to many of them. Here is a call for reflection.

Protests and public ceremonies at least remind us of the problem, even if they do not solve them. Anyone who has never been part of a refugee trek has little idea of everything that happens along the way. These people have just turned their backs on violence, persecution, and human rights violations only to walk into hopelessness, hunger, and cold! It is a vicious cycle of evil that has been set in motion. People with a permanent home and a roof over their heads can barely imagine this. There are millions of fates and stories that tell of violence, human abysses, but some also of hope and courage.

Why is it easy to listen to someone who speaks out on behalf of victims but not to the victims directly? Is it also time to question this invisibility? The fact is that no-one is listening and no-one is offering them a platform to express their concerns on their own, so it doubles their suffering. We hide them in detention centres or camps, away from us, making it harder for them to connect with reality. But it also prevents the truth from coming out as it is, and that’s part of the complexity. The majority of these refugees are coming from countries that are torn apart by wars, extreme poverty, lack of freedom of speech, human rights abuses etc.

The media are not interested in listening to the people concerned. Instead they listen to the rich and famous, and this makes them complicit. It is on journalists and the media’s shoulders to seek out the stories of those who would be left out of the public record, like refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If we aim “to give voice to the voiceless,” it requires more than asking for sound-bite quotes, taking pictures in refugee camps or using them to sell newspapers. No, it is bigger than that, it means listening to their stories, offering them a safe platform to speak for themselves rather than to speak on their behalf, no-one was born without a voice.

No media so far asks the refugees about the impact of the US election or the EU migration policy, why? Because we don’t have a voice and our point of view is not considered as valuable. The Trump administration, but also the Democratic party, have largely dismantled the US asylum seekers and refugees resettlement programme. It became a model for the EU member States and Australia, and even questioned the refugees convention of 1951.

The actions of the US government over the last four years shaped the dichotomy of “Us-vs-Them”. It has also created social and economical inequality among the refugee communities: some were seen as vulnerable and others not, and this in turn has increased tensions within refugee communities. As an example, in 2017 when the US government made a deal with the Australians to take refugees from offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru several countries were banned and it created big tensions between the refugees. These actions show a lack of compassion for the victims of armed violence and persecution and abdicates US leadership and support for countries struggling to cope with refugee crises. The Trump administration turned a cold shoulder to countries on the frontlines of conflict, many of which are close US allies and bear the burden of caring for and protecting the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees. Even at its most robust, US refugee resettlement only directly benefits a small fraction of the world’s 26 million refugees. But when used strategically, and in combination with humanitarian assistance and technical support, it can have enormous benefits beyond helping the relatively few people rescued.

The US refugee resettlement program has traditionally aimed to identify the most vulnerable refugees, often those who are not only persecuted in their home country but also unwelcome in the country of first arrival, such as members of religious minorities or LGBT.  The American refugee policies have inspired many countries such as Australia, Europe, the UK, and especially after the domination of the right-wing in Europe. In Australia, refugees are forcibly sent to remote islands and detained for almost seven years, in Europe especially Greece became the EU warehouse for asylum seekers and migrants, and some were forcibly pushed back by some EU member States to Libya or left to drown off the coast of Libya.

Europe’s humanity is lost at sea when it comes to refugees and no-one knows when or how will the EU get it back.

————-

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/giving-a-voice-back-to-the-voiceless-a-call-to-empower-refugees

ALERT: IF true, unbelievable: Trump to declare Amnesty, HRW and other NGOs as antisemitic!

October 22, 2020

The normally reliable Jerusalem (By SARAH CHEMLA) reports on 22 Ocrtober 2020 that US President Donald Trump may declare major international Human Rights NGO’s Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam as antisemitic in a soon-to-be released State Department declaration, voicing that governments should not support them any longer. If the declaration happens, it is likely to cause an uproar among civil society groups and might incite litigation. Critics of the possible move also worry it could lead other governments to further crack down on such groups, according to Politico.

T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization that represents over 2,000 rabbis, responded to the allegation on Wednesday, saying that “any US government declaration that these groups are antisemitic for criticizing the Israeli government is ridiculous, and contributes to the silencing of Israel’s human rights defenders.” It continued, adding that “the Trump administration’s smear of these three human rights organizations is yet one more example of this administration’s disregard for democracy and human rights at home and abroad.” “In casting aspersion on longtime respected human rights organizations, the Trump administration joins an ignoble list of autocratic governments that have discredited, smeared and even banned their own internal human rights organizations,” T’ruah said.”Actions such as these damage US democracy by threatening the transparency necessary to protect human rights. Human rights and civil society groups play a prophetic role, even if their words may not be ones governments want to hear.”Israel is a state bound by international human rights law, like all other members of the United Nations, and like other countries can be criticized when it fails to live up to these commitments,” it said.”By falsely smearing human rights organizations as antisemitic, the Trump administration only makes it harder to counter actual acts of antisemitism when they happen, while simultaneously harming these organizations’ effectiveness in reporting on all countries’ human rights abuses – including those of the United States.” 

ACCORDING TO Politico, the declaration is expected to take the form of a report from the office of Elan Carr, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. It would declare that it is US policy not to support such groups, including financially (NOTE: AI and HRW do not accept government funding as a matter of policy!) , and urge other governments to cease their support.The report would cite such groups’ alleged or perceived support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has targeted Israel over its construction of settlements on land Palestinians claim for a future state. The declaration is also expected to point to reports and press statements such groups have released about the impact of Israeli settlements, as well as their involvement or perceived support for a United Nations database of businesses that operate in disputed territories, Politico said. Contacted by Politico, the organizations named in the report denied any allegations that they are antisemitic. 
[In 2019, David Collier released a report into the work of Amnesty International after monitoring dozens of social media accounts maintained by the NGO and people who work for it, and concluded that the amount of hatred Israel receives is beyond any proportion, to a level that is, he said, antisemitic.“Targets are not chosen for their actions, but rather for their identity,” wrote Collier. “Persecuted Christians are blatantly ignored.”[see also: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/how-racist-blogger-david-collier-infiltrated-labour-party]

However, some differ, see e.g.: https://www.jns.org/opinion/time-to-call-out-human-rights-groups-for-their-anti-semitism/

https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/antisemitism/trump-administration-to-declare-amnesty-human-rights-watch-oxfam-antisemitic-646535

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/23/us-seeks-discredit-human-rights-groups

Turns out State Department did lie about revoking award to Finnish journalist

September 29, 2020

Back in March 2019 I reported on the US State Department revoking an award to a Finnish journalist [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/12/one-journalist-who-did-not-get-the-women-of-courage-award-but-almost/], but saying it was done in error. Now the State Department’s Office of Inspector General has established that it was done – as suspected already – because of the journalist had posted critically on President Donald Trump.

Finnish journalist speaks out after Trump administration cancels 'Courage' award

After a Foreign Policy report suggested that the State Department may have retaliated against her because of her criticism Trump on social media, then-State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino asserted it was a miscommunication and that she had been “incorrectly notified” of her award. He called it a “regrettable error,” saying Aro actually “had not” been a finalist. However, the 16-page OIG report found that Aro’s social media posts were the only reason her award was rescinded. “Indeed, every person OIG interviewed in connection with this matter acknowledged that had (the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues) not highlighted her social media posts as problematic, Ms. Aro would have received the IWOC Award,” it states. Asked about the findings of the report, Aro told CNN Friday, “In my heart I feel like an international woman of courage. That the Trump administration can’t take away from me.” The release of the report comes more than a year after a group of Democratic senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee requested an OIG probe into the circumstances of Aro’s award being revoked. Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member on the committee, said in a statement Friday that the “State Department owes Ms. Aro an apology.”
..
Moreover, the report found that the State Department had provided false information to the press and Congress to explain why the award had been rescinded. Officials from the department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs “told OIG that they disagreed with the language in the talking points and press statements suggesting that Ms. Aro was incorrectly notified and was not an awardee,” the report says. In a briefing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2019, the acting director of the Office of Global Women’s Issues said “not really” when asked if Aro’s social media posts played a role in the department’s decision and the ambassador claimed he was not “worried” about Aro’s social media posts. The “Department’s statements during this briefing do not align with the internal discussions that occurred at the time the decision was made to rescind Ms. Aro’s selection. OIG found no documentary evidence to corroborate the Department’s claims during the briefing with congressional staff,” the report states. “Also, Department officials from (the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues), (the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs), and Embassy Helsinki all told OIG that, had Ms. Aro’s social media content not come to light, she would have received the award.”

New documents raise questions over State Dept. move to rescind honor for Trump critic

Menendez said in his statement Friday that the report “confirmed that Secretary Pompeo’s Department misled the public and Congress about why it rescinded Ms. Aro’s award, covering up that her social media posts were the reason the award was withdrawn. The Trump administration also drafted talking points that falsely stated Ms. Aro had never been selected as a recipient.” “Secretary Pompeo should have honored a courageous journalist willing to stand up to Kremlin propaganda. Instead, his department sought to stifle dissent to avoid upsetting a President who, day after day, tries to take pages out of Putin’s playbook,” the New Jersey Democrat said.

Trump now starts dismanteling the Open Technology Fund

June 23, 2020

Raphael Mimoun wrote in Newsweek of 22 June 2020 an opinion piece “Dictators are Besieging Internet Freedom—and Trump Just Opened the Gates”. It is a detailed piece but worth reading:

raph-m

Last week, the Trump administration started dismantling one of the US government’s most impactful agencies, the Open Technology Fund, which supports projects to counteract repressive censorship and surveillance around the world.

The Open Technology Fund, or OTF, is relatively new, founded in 2012 as a program of the government-backed Radio Free Asia. In 2019, it became an independent non-profit reporting to the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Since its founding, the organization has funded dozens of projects now part of the toolkit of millions of rights advocates and journalists around the world. But OTF is now under attack: the new leadership of USAGM, appointed just weeks ago, fired the leadership of all USAGM entities, including OTF, dismissed OTF’s independent and bipartisan board of directors, and is threatening to hollow out OTF altogether….

Many of those tools help those who most need it, where surveillance, censorship, and repression is most acute. Just last month, Delta Chat declined a request for user data from Russia’s communication regulator—because the security architecture developed with OTF support meant it did not have any data to handover. FreeWechat, which publishes posts censored by the Chinese government on the app WeChat, has been visited over 7 million times by Chinese-speakers. Dozens more OTF-funded tools enable millions to evade surveillance by autocratic governments and access the open internet, from Cuba to Hong Kong and Iran.

OTF’s work is critical to human rights defenders and journalists, but it brings privacy and security far beyond those groups. OTF only supports open-source projects, meaning that the code used must be available for anyone to view and reuse……….

But OTF’s work on internet freedom isn’t limited to funding technology development. The organization takes a holistic approach to internet freedom, providing life-saving training and capacity-building to groups directly targeted by cyberattacks, harassment, and violence: LGBTQI advocates in Indonesia, journalists in Mexico, civic activists in Belarus, or exiled Tibetan organizations. OTF also funds events bringing together researchers, technologists, policy-makers, and advocates. Those gatherings—whether global like the Internet Freedom Festival or focused on specific countries or regions like the Iran Cyber Dialogue, the Vietnam Cyber Dialogue, or the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa–have been transformative. They have helped build a tight community in a space where trust is hard to achieve. Without such events, many of the projects, tools, and collaborations to circumvent censorship and counter surveillance would not exist.

See also: https://www.theverge.com/2020/6/23/21300424/open-technology-fund-usagm-circumvention-tools-china-censorship-michael-pack

https://www.newsweek.com/open-technology-fund-trump-dismantling-1512614

Trump issues new sanctions on the ICC and human rights defenders

June 12, 2020

On 11 June 2020 Visiting Fellow William Burke-White posted on the website of Brookings an informative piece “Order from Chaos” in which he reviews the danger of Trump’s new sanctions on the International Criminal Court and human rights defenders. It is worth reading and studying in full….:

In March, the Appeal’s Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized an investigation of potential war crimes alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago in Afghanistan, including those by the United States. While the U.S. military under President Obama did conduct investigations of its activities in Afghanistan, there remain concerns that those investigations did not go far enough up the chain of command and did not adequately include conduct by the U.S. intelligence community. In a post on this blog just after the decision, I argued that the Trump administration’s threats to prevent such a case may have actually pushed the court toward such an investigation.

William Burke-White

Today, the Trump administration issued unprecedented sanctions against the ICC, as well as the international lawyers and human rights investigators involved in the case. This sanctions regime is fundamentally misguided. It will do little to stop the ICC’s investigation, erodes the U.S. longstanding commitment to human rights and the rule of law, and may undermine one of the most powerful tools in the U.S. foreign policy arsenal — economic sanctions.

What emergency? In a moment of real national emergencies — ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic, to police misconduct, to the highest unemployment rate in a generation — the fact that President Trump, in an executive order on June 11, “declare[d] a national emergency to deal with” the threat posed by the ICC investigation in Afghanistan seems almost farcical. An underfunded court with relatively little to show for two decades of work trying to end impunity would likely be surprised to learn that, in Trump’s view, it has the power to “impede the critical national security and foreign policy work of United States Government and allied officials, and thereby threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Admitting that a duly authorized investigation of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan constitutes such a threat is both a recognition of the power of international law and a suggestion that the U.S. has something to hide.

Of course, declaring a national emergency is a necessary precondition for the sanctions imposed on the ICC and its officials. While the U.S. has had a complicated history with the ICC — from President Bill Clinton’s signing of its founding treaty to President George Bush’s early efforts to undermine the court — the new sanctions go further than any past U.S. actions in their direct attack on the ICC and its staff. Bush’s “unsigning” of the Rome Statute was largely symbolic. So, too, was the American Service members Protection Act that threatened to invade the Netherlands to rescue any U.S. citizens that might be prosecuted in The Hague.

In contrast, today’s sanctions directly target individual international lawyers and investigators working for a legitimate international organization undertaking lawful actions under its statute. More specifically, today’s sanctions seize the property of to-be-designated ICC officials who undertake investigation or prosecution of U.S. personnel and any other foreign nationals who are deemed to have assisted such efforts. So too, the new sanctions prohibit the entry into the United States of such individuals and their immediate family members.

The sanctions language is sufficiently broad that it could, in theory, apply to a victim or witness who provided information incidental to the court’s investigation or an academic whose scholarship the court relied upon in framing a legal argument. This new sanctions regime draws strong parallels to those imposed by the U.S. in the past against terrorist groups, dictators, and human rights abusers. Those same sanctions are now turned on international lawyers and human rights defenders.

The sanctions imposed today on ICC officials are unlikely to achieve Trump’s objective of blocking the investigation of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan. If anything, the sanctions will redouble those efforts. Unlike most corrupt dictators or terrorist organizations, individuals who choose to work for the ICC or in international human rights more generally are motivated by conscience, not wealth. They rarely have significant assets in U.S. bank accounts or meaningful real property for the U.S. to seize. Similarly, the foreign victims of crimes in Afghanistan who might testify before the ICC are not likely to have assets subject to seizure.

Hence, the threat of such a seizure under this new sanctions regime will do little to deter investigation or cooperation. Even blocking ICC employees from entering the U.S. will have minimal impact. Effective investigation of crimes in Afghanistan more than a decade ago does not require on-the-ground presence in the U.S. today. In fact, given the moral compass of most human rights advocates and international criminal prosecutors, treating them like terrorists under this new sanctions regime will more likely be a call to action under the law than an effective threat.

This new sanctions regime is a direct affront to international human rights and, particularly, individuals who have dedicated their lives to enforcing international law and ending impunity. President Trump has a long history of attacking international institutions that he doesn’t like. His recent criticisms of the World Health Organization are case in point. This new attack on the ICC is, however, different because it targets not just another international institution, but also the individuals who work for that institution. As such, it is an effort to directly sanction human rights defenders and officials of international justice for doing their jobs. The new sanctions regime seeks to punish those individuals, working for an international organization created by a treaty the United States signed in 2000, and undertaking a legal investigation authorized by a panel of international judges. It flies in the face of every U.S. and international effort to protect human rights defenders and offers a powerful example for despots around the world to follow suit.

Other, better tools

Finally, the use of U.S. sanctions against ICC personnel is a dangerous step toward undermining one of the most powerful and important tools of U.S. foreign policy — international sanctions. In a world where the use of force is difficult and often ineffective, carefully crafted and strategically applied sanctions are a key tool of U.S. power. For sanctions to work, however, they must be used judicially and viewed as broadly legitimate. Overuse of sanctions creates incentives for actors to find work-arounds to avoid the pain. Sanctions that are seen as illegitimate fail to garner international cooperation for enforcement and compliance. Applying tough sanctions against the personnel of an international organization undermines their efficacy and legitimacy for times when they could actually advance U.S. national security.

So, what should Trump have done instead? Simply investigate and prosecute any crimes that the U.S. may or may not have committed in Afghanistan years ago. The Rome Statute of the ICC makes clear that the court is a backstop to national prosecutions and that it will not investigate or prosecute when national governments have held themselves and their soldiers accountable. If the U.S. did nothing wrong in Afghanistan, it could simply submit to the ICC evidence of a genuine investigation with respect to both military and intelligence agency activities that reached that conclusion. And if there are violations of the laws of war in Afghanistan that have yet to be adequately investigated and prosecuted, then the U.S. has a legal and moral duty to ensure that those perpetrators are held accountable. To do so would uphold the rule of law and provide a concrete step toward renewing America’s human rights leadership.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/us-ngos-react-furiously-to-visa-restrictions-imposed-on-icc-investigators-by-trump-administration/

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/671723-icc-must-up-its-game-to-survive-after-us-onslaught

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/671723-icc-must-up-its-game-to-survive-after-us-onslaughthttps://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/un-regrets-us-presidents-sanctions-on-icc/1874839

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/12/icc-denounces-unprecedented-attacks-trump-administration

More on Facebook and Twitter and content moderation

June 3, 2020

On 2 June 2020 many media (here Natasha Kuma) wrote about the ‘hot potatoe’ in the social media debate about which posts are harmful and should be deleted or given a warning. Interesting to note that the European Commission supported the unprecedented decision of Twitter to mark the message of the President Trump about the situation in Minneapolis as violating the rules of the company about the glorification of violence.

The EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “we welcome the contribution of Twitter, directed to the social network of respected European approach”. Breton also wrote: “Recent events in the United States show that we need to find the right answers to difficult questions. What should be the role of digital platforms in terms of preventing the flow of misinformation during the election, or the crisis in health care? How to prevent the spread of hate speech on the Internet?” Vice-President of the European Commission Faith Jourova in turn, said that politicians should respond to criticism with facts, not resorting to threats and attacks.

Some employees of Facebook staged a virtual protest against the decision of Mark Zuckerberg not to take any action on the statements of Trum,. The leaders of the three American civil rights groups after a conversation with Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, released a joint statement in which they say that human rights defenders were not satisfied with the explanation of Mark Zuckerberg position: “He (Zuckerberg) refuses to acknowledge that Facebook is promoting trump’s call for violence against the protesters. Mark sets a very dangerous precedent.”

————-

Earlier – on 14 May 2020 – David Cohen wrote about Facebook having outlined learnings and steps it has taken as a result of its Human Rights Impact Assessments in Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka

Facebook shared results from a human rights impact assessments it commissioned in 2018 to evaluate the role of its services in Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Director of human rights Miranda Sissons and product policy manager, human rights Alex Warofka said in a Newsroom post, “Freedom of expression is a foundational human right that allows for the free flow of information. We’re reminded how vital this is, in particular, as the world grapples with Covid-19, and accurate and authoritative information is more important than ever. Human rights defenders know this and fight for these freedoms every day. For Facebook, which stands for giving people voice, these rights are core to why we exist.

Sissons and Warofka said that since this research was conducted, Facebook took steps to formalize an approach to determine which countries require more investment, including increased staffing, product changes and further research.

Facebook worked with BSR on the assessment of its role in Cambodia, and with Article One for Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Recommendations that were similar across all three reports:

  • Improving corporate accountability around human rights.
  • Updating community standards and improving enforcement.
  • Investing in changes to platform architecture to promote authoritative information and reduce the spread of abusive content.
  • Improving reporting mechanisms and response times.
  • Engaging more regularly and substantively with civil society organizations.
  • Increasing transparency so that people better understand Facebook’s approach to content, misinformation and News Feed ranking.
  • Continuing human rights due diligence.

…Key updates to the social network’s community standards included a policy to remove verified misinformation that contributes to the risk of imminent physical harm, as well as protections for vulnerable groups (veiled women, LGBTQ+ individuals, human rights activists) who would run the risk of offline harm if they were “outed.”

Engagement with civil society organizations was formalized, and local fact-checking partnerships were bolstered in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Sissons and Warofka concluded, “As we work to protect human rights and mitigate the adverse impacts of our platform, we have sought to communicate more transparently and build trust with rights holders. We also aim to use our presence in places like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia to advance human rights, as outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in Article One and BSR’s assessments. In particular, we are deeply troubled by the arrests of people who have used Facebook to engage in peaceful political expression, and we will continue to advocate for freedom of expression and stronger protections of user data.

https://www.adweek.com/digital/facebook-details-human-rights-impact-assessments-in-cambodia-indonesia-sri-lanka/

————

But it is not all roses for Twitter either: On 11 May 2020 Frances Eve (deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders) wrote about Twitter becoming the “Chinese Government’s Double Weapon: Punishing Dissent and Propagating Disinformation”.

She relates the story of former journalist Zhang Jialong whose “criminal activity,” according to the prosecutor’s charge sheet, is that “from 2016 onwards, the defendant Zhang Jialong used his phone and computer…. many times to log onto the overseas platform ‘Twitter,’ and through the account ‘张贾龙@zhangjialong’ repeatedly used the platform to post and retweet a great amount of false information that defamed the image of the [Chinese Communist] Party, the state, and the government.”…..

Human rights defenders like Zhang are increasingly being accused of using Twitter, alongside Chinese social media platforms like Weibo, WeChat, and QQ, to commit the “crime” of “slandering” the Chinese Communist Party or the government by expressing their opinions. As many Chinese human rights activists have increasingly tried to express themselves uncensored on Twitter, police have stepped up its monitoring of the platform. Thirty minutes after activist Deng Chuanbin sent a tweet on May 16, 2019 that referenced the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, Sichuan police were outside his apartment building. He has been in pre-trial detention ever since, accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

…..While the Chinese government systematically denies Chinese people their right to express themselves freely on the Internet, … the government has aggressively used blocked western social media platforms like Twitter to promote its propaganda and launch disinformation campaigns overseas…

Zhang Jialong’s last tweet was an announcement of the birth of his daughter on June 8, 2019. He should be free and be able to watch her grow up. She deserves to grow up in a country where her father isn’t jailed for his speech.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/v7ggvy/chinas-unleashing-a-propaganda-wolfpack-on-twitter-even-though-citizens-go-to-jail-for-tweeting

To see some other posts on content moderation: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/content-moderation/