Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

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

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.

US NGOs react furiously to visa restrictions imposed on ICC investigators by Trump administration

March 16, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new visa restrictions in a press briefing on Friday. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Human rights defenders expressed outrage on Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the Trump administration is revoking or denying visas for any International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel who try to investigate or prosecute U.S. officials or key allies for potential war crimes. The move, Pompeo confirmed is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the war in Afghanistan. There was an immediate and almost unanimous outcry by the key human rights NGOs in the USA:

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU‘s Human Rights Program (the ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud, who were all detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008): “This is an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day,” Dakwar said. “It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” He encouraged ICC member countries to “publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”

Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, noted that this is just “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.” Visa bans, as Balson pointed out, are “powerful tools typically reserved for the most serious of human rights abusers.” But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC—an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under international law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The move is “is highly indicative of [the administration’s] culture of disregard for rights abuses,” said Balson. “Throwing roadblocks in front of the ICC’s investigation undermines justice not only for abuses committed in Afghanistan, but also for the millions of victims and survivors throughout the world who have experienced the most serious crimes under international law.

Pompeo’s announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by U.S. civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan….”These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” Pompeo added. “Implementation of this policy has already begun.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/15/blatant-effort-intimidate-and-retaliate-pompeo-imposes-visa-ban-icc-staff-probing-us

See also later development: https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCAKCN1R328X-OCATP

One journalist who did NOT get the Women of Courage Award (but almost)

March 12, 2019

First lady Melania Trump honors the International Women of Courage awardees during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington on March 29, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A few days ago I referred to the International Women of Courage Awards [see; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/11/international-women-of-courage-awards-2019-given-out-at-the-us-state-department/]. One name you will NOT see listed there is that of Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist.   explain why in Foreign Policy of 7 March 2019.

Jessikka Aro was to receive a “Women of Courage” prize. Then officials read her Twitter feed.

“It created a shitstorm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list,” said one U.S. diplomatic source familiar with the internal deliberations. “I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels,” the source said. The decision “had nothing to do with her work.”

The State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.

Aro received a formal invitation to the award ceremony not from the embassy but from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol on Feb. 12.

There is no indication that the decision to revoke the award came from the secretary of state or the White House. Officials who spoke to FP have suggested the decision came from lower-level State Department officials wary of the optics of Pompeo granting an award to an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. The department spokesperson did not respond to questions on who made the decision or why.

To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president. ….In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Aro said the decision to cancel her award and corresponding trip to the United States caught her completely by surprise. “[When] I was informed about the withdrawal out of the blue, I felt appalled and shocked,” Aro told FP. …

U.S. Cancels Journalist’s Award Over Her Criticism of Trump

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

Margie Orford writes well even when reporting on a meeting in Oxford

October 18, 2018

Margie Orford – an internationally acclaimed writer – wrote an excellent and very readable report on Hillary Clinton‘s visit to Oxford where she dedicated a statue to Eleanor Roosevelt in the garden of the newly opened Centre for Human Rights. It was a published in the Daily Maverick on 18 October 2018 under  the title: London Eye: Democratic institutions must be defended in an era of machismo and aggression. It is worth the read and I only quote a short section to give a flavor:

…The sun is shining, I think Eleanor is great, I have no real objection to public art and I’ve been a lifelong fan of human rights, but it’s all I can do not to yell:

Hillary! you should be in the White House. I know you’re not perfect and you had Bill as a husband, but you won the popular vote and you are sane, personable, experienced. You are not hell-bent on turning America into The Handmaid’s Tale and you’re equipped to do that really big job of being the boss of the world. Why are you here?”

As I listen to former Secretary Clinton describing this historical moment — that is now – with eloquence and erudition, I pay attention to her speech. How she speaks. What she says. …....Not only is Trump conducting a sustained attack on language and thought, he is doing the same to America’s democratic institutions. Listening to Clinton gives me that Titanic feeling. The iceberg might be orange this time, but what she says convinces me that — unless there’s a miracle, one that ordinary people opposed to tyranny will have to perform — we’re all going down…..

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2018-10-18-london-eye-democratic-institutions-must-be-defended-in-an-era-of-machismo-and-aggression/

Amnesty’s Annual report 2017 is out: depressing but rays of hope

February 22, 2018

Amnesty International´s annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights 2017, assesses the human rights situation in 159 countries and delivers a most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the world today. Here follow some summaries form the media:

AI itself highlights in the launch on 22 February 2018, the deepening human rights crisis in the Americas.  “People across the Americas faced a deepening human rights crisis fuelled by growing government intolerance of dissent and increasing demonization in political rhetoric that cemented its status as one of the most violent and unequal regions in the world“, Amnesty International warned. Nevertheless, the organization found that a growing resistance movement of both first-time and seasoned activists provides real hope of reversing the slide towards oppression and fear.

The report highlights alarming trends for the state of human rights in the Americas, including:

  • High levels of violence that continued to ravage the region, with waves of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions. In Mexico, more than 34,000 people remained missing, and extrajudicial executions were rife. A year on from Colombia’s historic peace agreement, violence was still a daily part of life, and an estimated 60,000 people were forcibly displaced due to armed conflict in 2017 alone, according to official numbers.
  • Venezuela continues to face a serious human rights crisis, fuelled by the escalation of government-sponsored violence to respond to the increasing social discontent created by rising inflation and a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained and there were many reports of torture and other ill-treatment.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean remained as the most violent regions in the world for women and girls, despite strict laws aimed at addressing the crisis. The region has the world’s highest rate of non-intimate partner violence against women, and the second highest rate of intimate partner violence.
  • Ongoing intimidation and attacks against community leaders, journalists and activists who stood up for human rights. Environmental defenders were among the most at risk. Of the 188 environmental defenders killed in 2017, 110 took place in the Americas, according to the NGO Front Line Defenders.
  • Deepening discrimination and neglect of the rights of rural communities and Indigenous Peoples, including their rights to their ancestral territory and to free, prior and informed consent on projects affecting them. From Peru to Nicaragua, national and transnational corporations sought to take control of land away from Indigenous Peoples and peasant farmers, affecting their livelihoods and contaminating their basic resources.
  • A rapidly out of control yet largely invisible refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands of people from some of the world’s most violent countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, were denied urgent asylum.

Yet these injustices have also inspired many more people to join long-standing struggles, and the report details many important achievements that human rights activists helped to secure. These include lifting the total ban on abortion in Chile and the approval of a law to help victims of enforced disappearances in Mexico find their missing loved ones. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/31/2017-a-year-to-forget-for-human-rights-defenders-but-dont-forget-the-human-rights-defenders/]

Last year proved that however disenfranchised people were, they refused to resign themselves to a future without human rights. Emerging social discontent inspired people to take to the streets, stand up for their rights and demand an end to repression, marginalization and injustice,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International The Americas was at the hub of this new wave of activism. The “Ni Una Menos” (“Not one woman less”) movement denounced violence against women and girls across the region, while survivors of gender-based and sexual violence in Argentina, Mexico, Jamaica, Peru, and many other countries took to the streets to protest against impunity for such crimes.

Protesters and refugees bear the brunt of ‘normalized’ violence: Hundreds of activists were killed last year as authorities sought to repress civil society and muzzle the media, the report says. Human rights defenders faced threats, harassment and attacks in most countries in the region, while states failed to protect them and acknowledge the importance of their work.

The injustice of President Trump’s cruel pledge to build a wall along the USA-Mexico border was emphasized by Central America’s ongoing refugee crisis. More than 50,000 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador sought asylum in other countries, thousands of whom were then apprehended at the US border. Mexico received a record number of asylum applications but repeatedly failed to provide protection to those who needed it – instead pushing people back to highly dangerous situations.

The numbers of people fleeing Venezuela rocketed as it faced one of the worst human rights crises in its recent history, fuelled by an escalation of government-sponsored violence. When the country’s crippling shortage of food and medical supplies sparked protests, the security forces’ heavy-handed response lead to more than 120 deaths.

Instead of trying to suppress people when they speak out, governments should address their concerns, said Amnesty International.

We are witnessing history in the making as people rise up and demand justice in greater numbers. If leaders fail to discern what is driving their people to protest, then this ultimately will be their own undoing. People have made it abundantly clear that they want human rights: the onus now is on governments to show that they are listening,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

[for last year see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/]

Interesting to note the different emphasis placed on the report such as in the Al-Jazeera article: “World leaders abandoning human rights: Amnesty

World leaders are undermining human rights for millions of people with regressive policies and hate-filled rhetoric, but their actions have ignited global protest movements in response, a rights group said. US President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and China’s President Xi Jinping were among a number of politicians who rolled out regressive policies in 2017, according to Amnesty International’s annual human rights report published on Thursday. The human rights body also mentioned the leaders of Egypt, the Philippines and Venezuela. “The spectres of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary-general, said. “Instead, leaders such as el-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions.”  [see also my https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/ai-welcomes-resistance-to-trumps-human-rights-policies/]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also focuses on the US angle: Amnesty International has taken aim at U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders the global watchdog says are abandoning human rights, accusing them of setting a “dangerous precedent” for other governments to follow. And then gives a useful summaries of countries in its region:

Central Asia

Afghanistan

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Belarus

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Georgia

Moldova

Russia

Ukraine

Adding  Iran and Pakistan.

 

Euronews obviously also focus on Europe:  Between eastern Europe’s “hostile discourse to human rights” and the rights of freedom of association and assembly put at risk in the entire continent, this year’s Amnesty International World Report warned that “space for civil society continued to shrink in Europe” and gives then a thematic overview of the key takeaways for Europe from the report.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/02/deepening-human-rights-crisis-spurs-new-era-of-activism-in-the-americas/
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/world-leaders-abandoning-human-rights-amnesty-180221174518140.html
https://www.rferl.org/a/amnesty-international-trump-other-leaders-setting-dangerous-precedent-abandoning-human-rights/29055935.html
http://www.euronews.com/2018/02/21/-space-for-civil-society-continued-to-shrink-across-europe-report-says

More annual reports 2017: Freedom House

January 19, 2018

Having just blogged about the annual report of HRW and AI USA (see links below), I hasten to say that there are several other annual reports referring to President Trump’s damaging effect on human rights and democracy. Freedom House, for instance, issued its annual report 2017 which pointed out that Trump’s penchant for attacking civil society groups, the media, and even the courts have a tangible, negative impact, stating that, “the administration’s statements and actions could ultimately leave them weakened, with serious consequences for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s role in the world.” The report noted that under Trump, the United States has seen the sharpest drop in political rights and civil liberties in over 40 years.

Key Findings:

  • With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
  • There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated “Free” by the report, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States.
  • Of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) Not Free.
  • The Middle East and North Africa region had the worst ratings in the world in 2016, followed closely by Eurasia.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/ai-welcomes-resistance-to-trumps-human-rights-policies/

——

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017

AI welcomes resistance to Trump’s human rights policies

January 19, 2018

Having just posted about HRW’s annual report [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/], I wanted to share also the assessment by AI USA on 19 January 2018: “USA: ‘resistance’ to Trump hailed after year of human rights violations”.

President Trump’s regressive policies have led to an upsurge in human rights activism © Amnesty International

Ahead of the one-year anniversary (20 January) of the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said:

“While the policies of the Trump administration presented daunting challenges over the past year, we also saw the rise of a fierce and determined movement of people across the country and around the world standing up to defend human rights.

“Starting with the throngs of people braving the January cold to fill the streets on the very first day of his presidency and continuing throughout the year, we have taken heart in the galvanising spirit of resistance that has swept the world. 

“We have marched alongside both seasoned activists standing up for women’s rights and we have welcomed those who have never actively protested before in denouncing Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban. 

“We have placed welcome mats for refugees at the foot of Trump Tower, and filled London’s Grosvenor Square with 100 sombre Statues of Liberty standing in silent protest at the US Embassy.  

“From Sydney to Madrid, human rights defenders have made it known that the politics of hate and fear have no place in the world we wish to build for ourselves and our children.

A year of human rights violationsAmong other things in the past year, Amnesty has strongly criticised the Trump administration’s plan (reported earlier this week) to consider using nuclear weapons in response to a cyber-attack in the USA; the ending of “Temporary Protected Status” for over 250,000 people from El Salvador in the USA; the decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, its insistence on pushing ahead with a revised multi-country travel ban; an executive order affecting the Mexico-USA border which allows for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations;  the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change; the reinstatement of the “global gag rule”affecting funding for international women’s health programmes; its continued sale of military equipment to countries with poor human rights records; and the decision to continue the construction of the Dakota pipeline despite environmental and cultural concerns.