Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

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/

More re-thinking and ‘shrinking’ of the modern human rights concept

September 8, 2019

I have referred to the issue of re-visiting the human rights concept – which keeps popping up especially when there is a sense of malaise – by several strands of thought within the human rights movement. Some think the answer is to broaden the base and the scope even more [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/05/amnesty-internationals-global-assembly-2019-deserves-more-attention-big-shifts-coming-up/]; others think a re-think is in order but those range from Trump’s State Department [[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/] to moderate academics [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/].

In a opinion piece in Foreign Policy of 6 September 2019 entitled “When Everything Is a Human Right, Nothing Is”  – a Lecturer in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Senior Adviser for the Institute for Integrated Transitions – shows he belongs to the latter category albeit with a strong dose of return to basics (return to the UDHR) and a whiff of cultural relativism:

.. given the myriad challenges to human rights today, rethinking some widely accepted human rights assumptions seems timely. …

Some disagreements over human rights come from repressive regimes or communal leaders, and such complaints are easy to dismiss. But when critiques come from people who are sympathetic to the cause of human rights, they reflect something more fundamentally troubling. How did an idea once powerful enough to unify a vast range of people in struggles against totalitarianism and apartheid become so impotent? A major factor, ironically, was the overweening dual ambition born of those successes. Human rights advocates have broadened the scope of issues covered by human rights while narrowing the room for differences in bringing those rights to life. In so doing, they misconstrue the original goals of human rights, most clearly embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundation for much of the post-1945 rights project. Even as their ambitions rise, human rights activists have failed to take into account how expansive new programs might aggravate suspicion of human rights in today’s multipolar world. And attempts to enforce a uniform conception of rights might reduce the space for local actors to formulate their own pathways, fueling skepticism about the rights themselves. For example, attempts by Western countries to promote gay rights in Africa triggered deep-rooted resentment about how the West treats Africa; the results are tougher laws, stronger rhetoric, more funding of anti-gay rights organizations, and even greater harassment of activists. As the New York Times reported, “More Africans came to believe that gay rights were a Western imposition.”

Non-Western countries do not necessarily disagree with basic human rights goals. Rather, as the Brazilian academic Oliver Stuenkel argues in his book Post-Western World, they contest the “operationalization of liberal norms” and “the implicit and explicit hierarchies of international institutions” that privilege Western countries. U.S. retrenchment in the Middle East and the rise of authoritarian states like China reduce the effective reach of ideas that are stretched too thin or that are not credibly universal, in the sense of being deeply grounded in all the world’s major philosophical and religious systems. And curtailing overly expansionist and revisionist aspirations, as Jennifer Lind and William C. Wohlforth recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, is essential to preserving the post-World War II liberal international order.

If advocates for human rights wish to overcome the current challenges, they would do well to learn from the course of the human rights project from ideal to reality in the wake of World War II. The framers of the Universal Declaration learned that the best way to build a system of rights with a strong claim to legitimacy across different cultures and ideologies was to stick to basics. Today, only a modest and flexible approach can restore the moral authority that gave the universal human rights idea its greatest successes.

The 1948 Universal Declaration was a product of intense debate, negotiation, and compromise, all done with the understanding that its principles could be brought to life differently in dissimilar parts of the world. Today’s human rights discourse, however, is pervaded by Western normative assumptions that are controversial even in the West. Westerners play an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organizations and scholarly debates, directly and indirectly shaping agendas, frameworks of analysis, and evaluation methods in the process. As a result, human rights have become, as the New York University professor Sally Engle Merry writes in Human Rights and Gender Violence, “part of a distinctive modernist vision of the good and just society that emphasizes autonomy, choice, equality, secularism, and protection of the body,” converting cultural norms from one part of the world into universal rights.

Consequently, nonindividualistic values—such as those promoting communal duties or those tied to religious belief—have been de-emphasized. Arguments that there are other means of promoting and ensuring human dignity are dismissed as unrealistic or ignored. African, Asian, and other non-Western human rights institutions and laws are marginalized.

Meanwhile, the number of rights, and rights claims, has risen steeply as various well-meaning special interest groups have sought to harness the moral authority of the human rights idea to their causes. The international legal infrastructure has been enlarged, producing institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and doctrines such as the “Responsibility to Protect,” but these focus mainly on geopolitically weak or unimportant—10 of the 11 situations under investigation at the ICC are African—countries, while governments such as Syria’s commit atrocities with little fear of prosecution or intervention because Russia, one of its two main international backers, undermines any attempt to hold the country’s leaders accountable.

The human rights field’s ambitions not only have produced unnecessary clashes over human rights, but they have also diminished the core rights that were meant to, above all else, uphold human dignity.

In Europe, for example, advocates for abolishing circumcision have argued that a child’s bodily integrity is a human right while attempting to reduce religious freedom to a mere right to worship. This has led government ombudspersons to call for a ban, pediatric societies to call the practice “mutilation,” the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to pass a resolution against the practice, political parties to lobby for legislation outlawing the practice, and a court in Germany to rule that the act of circumcision should be considered a prosecutable physical assault. For devout Jews and Muslims, these developments feel like direct attacks on a ritual integral to their faiths.

In Asia, instead of welcoming the 2012 Human Rights Declaration by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as representing some important steps forward, organizations such as Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the U.S. State Department criticized the document for differing from their preferred emphases. Even though it included all the civil and political rights that similar documents elsewhere have—as well as innovative provisions related to those with AIDS, childbearing mothers, human trafficking, vulnerable groups, and children—these groups objected to the declaration’s emphasis that rights must be balanced with duties and that realization of rights has to take into account the local political and cultural context. But it is precisely the regional flavor that is most likely to increase the ASEAN declaration’s legitimacy—and thus the chance that it will be embraced locally.

In Africa, select issues that concern Western countries are often promoted in ways that pay little heed to local conditions, provoking a backlash. In Kenya, international attempts to prosecute Uhuru Kenyatta for fueling ethnic violence after the 2007 election ignored how this would boost his popularity among his supporters—helping him to eventual victory in the 2013 elections.

The mindset currently prevailing among many human rights actors thus makes it extremely difficult to realize the aim of the Universal Declaration’s framers to promote the implementation of fundamental human rights principles under a variety of circumstances and cultures. The result has been to reduce both the effectiveness and appeal of those principles. Human rights organizations are less able to embed themselves within local cultures and gain legitimacy in the eyes of local people. Greater flexibility in implementation would enable human rights supporters to focus on the importance of political dynamics and incentives to promoting change within countries. For example, the end of white rule in South Africa was brought about not by threatening apartheid leaders with international justice but by first sanctioning and then offering incentives for leaders to transfer power. Reconciliation and truth commissions played prominent roles; retribution was limited. The country crafted a new, inclusive national identity and developed a constitution around existing institutions, a stark contrast to efforts in Iraq and Libya that tried to replace institutions and exclude members of the previous regime.

The human rights movement should refocus on the principles of the Universal Declaration—a document more praised than understood. Its drafters developed a framework for human rights that was both universal and flexible. Their aim was to establish a “common standard of achievement,” based on the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

This would entail recognizing that in a world of great cultural and political diversity, human rights cannot be universal unless kept to a small core of rights so fundamental that almost no country would openly oppose them.

In the original Universal Declaration, only a handful were drafted in such a way as to leave little room for flexibility in implementation. These include protections for religion and conscience, as well as prohibitions against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; and discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin. Today, many human rights treaties make these rights nonderogable—i.e., there are no circumstances under which they can be lifted or suspended. Where other rights are concerned, the framers of the Universal Declaration were clear that universality does not mean homogeneity in implementation. They expected states to experiment with different modes of implementation—to allow “different kinds of music” to be “played on the same keyboard,” as the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, who supported the U.N. process, put it. Indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt made clear in 1948 during one of the debates over the Universal Declaration that methods for implementing many rights “would necessarily vary from one country to another and such variations should be considered not only inevitable but salutary.” For example, individuals everywhere have the right to be free of torture, but different countries may legitimately come to different conclusions about when private property may be taken for public use.

Moreover, in resolving tensions among rights, no fundamental right should be completely ignored. By specifying that all rights must be exercised with due respect for the rights of others, the framers intended that clashes should be occasions to figure out how to give each right as much protection as possible while never subordinating any right completely to another. Ultimately, a culture of human rights can only be built from the bottom up. Focusing on the gravest violations of human dignity while understanding that other rights can be protected in a legitimate variety of ways is the best way to achieve this.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/06/when-everything-is-a-human-right-nothing-is/

Commission on Unalienable Rights: a more nuanced critique by Moyn

July 14, 2019

On July 12, 2019 Samuel Moyn published in Prospect an rather different, less alarmist approach to the efforts of the US State Department to redefine human rights [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]. The author [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/25/has-the-human-rights-movement-failed-a-serious-critique/] makes the point that, first, it looks like the commission will exercise no real power and second that ‘rights proliferation’ is an entirely mainstream and reasonable concern. He also makes interesting points on the composition of the Commission. Whatever one’s views on this are, the piece is worth reading in its totality:

Michael Brochstein/(Sipa via AP Images – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department in Washington.

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he has formed a new Commission on Unalienable Rights is being cited as one more reason to decry Donald Trump for busting norms and persecuting the worst-off. It is, The New Yorker wrote, an act of “unbelievable hypocrisy” for Trump to wrap himself in the mantle of human rights when he has violated them left and right, laid siege to a liberal international order founded on them, and embraced autocracy the world over.

It’s a natural response, but a closer look at the panel suggests that the criticism ought to fall on the symbolic politics of the commission, and our response needs to involve more than just championing the human rights Trump has been trashing, as if the status quo ante 2016 was working well.

It was remarkable, when Pompeo announced the commission at the State Department, how fulsomely he embraced the whole idea of human rights. It is a testament to the fact that—even under Trump—it is an idea that remains non-negotiable, something leaders must redefine in theory even when others suspect them of betraying it in practice.

Pompeo’s apparent worry, to judge from The Wall Street Journal op-ed he penned the day of the announcement, is what is known as rights “proliferation.” Specifically, he charged that, after the Cold War, rights advocates “turned their energy” to “new categories of rights.”

The commission’s very use of the word “unalienable,” which figured in America’s Declaration of Independence before falling out of general usage, trafficked in a founder fetishism that implied that it is the good old rights that matter, not newfangled ones or new claimants. And Pompeo doubled down on this nostalgia in his repeated shout-outs to 1776, and his admonition not “to discover new principles but to ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles.”

Critics have understandably guessed that the goal is to emphasize religious freedom and free-market principles, treating abortion and LGBT rights as illicit, and possibly economic and social rights too. “In effect,” Masha Gessen wrote, also in The New Yorker, “the new commission will contemplate who is and isn’t human, and who, therefore, possesses inalienable rights.” Fetuses will be accorded rights, and the LGBT community stripped of them.

It’s a reasonable fear and something to watch. But the really significant thing about the commission may lie elsewhere.

For one thing, it looks like the commission will exercise no real power. Critics fear that its true purpose is to make an end run around other parts of the State Department, such as the legal adviser’s office and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, but those departments are also run by Trump appointees.

For another, rights proliferation is an entirely mainstream and reasonable concern, backed by such august rights thinkers as Baroness Onora O’Neill, a British liberal philosopher and House of Lords member. If everything is a right, nothing is. If there are new rights, it is not obvious the old ones have the same currency. Finally, it is never totally clear what it means to call something a right to begin with—especially since most rights are not intended to function as trumps but rather signal that policymaking somehow ought to take account of the priorities that rights name. These questions will not go away. Indeed, the idea that they are already settled, through appeal to the authority, consensus, and orthodoxy of the human rights movement, resembles the Foundermania in which Pompeo indulged.

None of this means that Trumpian human rights ought not to be treated with alarm. But for now, the international consensus around human rights among transnational experts is simply too strong to allow this commission to magically shift it. Indeed, the response to Pompeo’s announcement, which reportedly surprised Foggy Bottom, proves how weak the commission is likely to be.

For that reason, it is more interesting to focus on what this move says about the conservative movement under Trump and its changing understandings of internationalism. And to understand that, it is critical to shift from Pompeo to the members of the commission he appointed.

“Human rights” have for decades, and for conservatives and liberals alike, described the values America should stand for in global affairs, especially in a world of despots. The founders announced a revolution to that world, but mainly to secure human rights for (some) Americans in their new state. Yet like liberals and conservatives for decades, the commission, originating in the State Department, presumes that human rights are already safe for the domestic politics of the United States, or someone else’s problem. Pompeo is not changing internationalist premise, and has no power as secretary of state to do so.

Before Trump, conservative internationalism has differed from liberal internationalism on details. Conservatives in the Cold War dithered about whether to support autocrats abroad but in the end, after the ascendancy of neoconservatism, embraced “democracy promotion.” As for American liberals, this has led them to idealize America’s global military ascendancy and to support many wars. And like those liberals, after a near miss under Jimmy Carter’s presidency when human rights were born, conservatives have embraced a vision of human rights abroad that ignores economic and social rights like the entitlement to a job or basic necessities—even though they were part of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Pompeo also invoked.

It is perfectly legitimate to resist militarism and neoliberalism, central fixtures of U.S. foreign policy for decades on both sides of the aisle. In fact, one might have thought that Trump, who ran as a kind of anti-war candidate playing on the economic stagnation of the rest at the expense of the rich like himself, would have raised doubts about what conservatives and liberals alike have taken human rights to be about. But no. A more debatable path for conservative internationalism is suggested by the commission’s membership.

Led by Mary Ann Glendon, the controversial Harvard Law professor and staunch right-wing Roman Catholic, the most interesting thing about the commission is not its inclusion of some house publicists of the interdenominational religious right, most of whom have (like Glendon) treated the “theocon” magazine First Things as one of their main outlets. Rather, it is the inclusion of others with links to the secular far right, or at least curious about it. Former New Left intellectual Russell Berman, along with his fellow German literature specialist David Tse-Chien Pan, both have spent lots of time working for Telos, the onetime New Left journal that since the 1980s has promoted the thinking of the European far right. As political scientist Joseph Lowndes has writtenTelos has a fascinating if small role in the American circles that led to contemporary far-right nationalism.

It is no more than a hint, in short, but the most fascinating thing about the commission’s membership is therefore that it appears to be a laboratory for new collaborations between the religious right and the secular far right. And in particular, it is a setting for experimenting with what the future of conservative internationalism should look like.

If it means, as commission member Peter Berkowitz wrote recently, that “a certain restraint is again crucial to conserving a free and open international order” after decades of promoting human rights abroad the wrong way, that is one thing. But there are other possibilities. If it means a conservative internationalism that, as Quinn Slobodian has argued, actually extends free trade while striving for racially and religiously homogeneous societies, conservative internationalism will look very different.

Ironically, neither the founders nor “natural law”—the favorite concept of several of the religious conservatives on the panel—will help it decide this dilemma on the right, which is the real story of Trump’s presidency when it comes to foreign policy. And much more is at stake than saving human rights from its new defenders in resisting the future conservative internationalism may have in store.

https://prospect.org/article/can-pompeo-redefine-human-rights-trump-era

Trump marches on with “Commission on Unalienable Rights”

July 11, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, saying the country must be “vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes.” As human rights claims have “proliferated,” he said, nations have grown confused about what constitutes a human right and which rights should be respected and treated as valid.

“I hope that the commission will revisit the most basic of questions: What does it mean to say, or claim, that something is in fact a human right?” Pompeo said. “How do we know, or how do we determine that this — or that — is a human right. Is it true, and therefore ought it to be honored?”

The commission will be chaired by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Amnesty International USA said there was no reason for such a review given the decades-old protections in place. “This administration has actively worked to deny and take away long-standing human rights protections since Trump’s inauguration,” Joanne Lin, the group’s national director of advocacy and government affairs, said in a statement.

“If this administration truly wanted to support people’s rights, it would use the global framework that’s already in place. Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as

A group of Democratic senators said in a letter last month: “We believe the extent to which this administration has undermined American leadership and credibility on promoting fundamental human rights is of historic proportions,” the senators wrote. “The department’s proposed Commission on Unalienable Rights must not serve as a platform to further erode U.S. leadership and undercut U.S. interests.”

Glendon, who joined Pompeo at the State Department for the announcement, said she was honored to do the job at a time when “basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many and ignored by the world’s worst human rights violators.”

https://bayareane.ws/2LFUzpz

NGOs in June 2020 filed an amicus curiae brief: https://democracyforward.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/URC_51_Amicus-Brief-human-rights-orgs-06.09.20.pdf

Trump’s “new” thinking on human rights in foreign policy?

June 3, 2019

President Trump and Mr. Pompeo have raised human rights abuses only sporadically, to pressure adversaries such as Iran and Venezuela, while ignoring gross violations elsewhere, a gaping inconsistency that undercuts the moral leadership of the United States. Of course, human rights are never the only concern in foreign policy and must be balanced against other factors and interests. But it does not require any more “solid definitions” to understand the horrors of Xinjiang province, where China has herded more than 1 million Turkic Uighur Muslims into brainwashing camps to eradicate their culture and language. This ethnic cleansing has come to light during the Trump administration, but its reaction has been tepid.

Do the president and the secretary need any more “solid definitions” in order to object to the methods of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose hit squad was dispatched to Istanbul to kill journalist and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi? Is the United States having trouble finding a voice to speak out against the abuse of human rights in Turkey, Egypt and Russia because of a lack of definitions — or because of a misplaced desire to butter up the authoritarians who rule them?

“Fresh thinking” is always valuable. But when it comes to human rights, time-tested institutions, principles and tools exist. They just need to be utilized.