Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Carmel Budiardjo: human rights defender from Indonesia dies

July 12, 2021

A leading human rights advocate and former political prisoner in Indonesia, Carmel Budiardjo, has died, aged 96.

Carmel Budiardjo played a leading role in reporting human rights violations in Indonesia, including in West Papua, Timor-Leste, and Aceh province. She had herself been jailed without trial in 1968 for three years under the government of General Suharto, while her Indonesian husband was jailed for twelve years. They had been caught up in an anti-communist purge led by Suharto, having been arrested in 1965 on charges of involvement in an attempted coup against his predecessor President Sukarno. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/3BDAA6C3-CFA6-444F-7F15-77D914ACFA8B

After being released she was deported to England, where in 1973 she founded TAPOL, which stands for ‘tahanan politik’ or ‘political prisoners’ in Bahasa Indonesian.

For decades, the NGO has campaigned for the release of poilitical prisoners in Indonesia, including many who have been incarcerated in Papua merely for exercising their basic rights such as to freedom of expression or assembly.

Over the next three decades, TAPOL’s work widened to also address broader wider issues of human and environmental rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia.

According to prominent journalist John Pilger, Budiardjo’s “tireless work saw the release of political prisoners in Indonesia and gave crucial support to the heroic (independence and human rights) struggles in East Timor and West Papua“.

Despite the brutal repression of human rights activism by Suharto’s New Order regime, Budiardjo and TAPOL built an extensive network and collaborated with brave human rights defenders and pro-democracy campaigners in Indonesia.

Budiardjo raised international attention towards the 2004 assasination of Indonesian human rights campaigner, Munir Said Thalib, after whose death a lethal dose of arsenic was identified in his body.

Around the same time she launched a campaign demanding an international embargo against the British government selling arms to Indonesia when Indonesian militrary forces had launched a major offensive to crush the Free Papua movement.

She remained an active campaigner well into her 90s, concerned with the plight of political prisoners in Papua and throughout the Indonesian republic

The author of several books, Carmel Budiardjo is remembered as an inspirational defender of human rights.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/446720/carmel-budiardjo-rights-defender-who-shone-a-light-on-papua

In memory of Emirati human rights defender Alaa Al-Siddiq

June 23, 2021
Alaa Al-Siddiq, ALQST for Human Rights, https://www.alqst.org/en/post/ALQST-mourns-the-death-of-its-executive-director-alaa-al-siddiq

On 21 June 2021 the Gulf Centre for Human Rights pays tribute to prominent Emirati human rights defender Alaa Al-Siddiq who died in a tragic car accident in the UK, and joins the growing calls for an investigation into the circumstances of her death.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is deeply saddened by the loss of courageous Emirati human rights defender Alaa Al-Siddiq, Executive Director of ALQST for Human Rights and a Senior Researcher at Wejha Centre for Studies, who died tragically in a car accident in Oxfordshire, the United Kingdom on 19 June 2021.

We would like to pay tribute to her unique courage, her kind heart, her wonderful personality, and her tireless work to defend human rights in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. We will remember the anniversary of her loss as the Day of the Gulf Women Human Rights Defenders.

Alaa was a forceful and determined 33-year-old woman. She was outspoken and always defended her father, Sheikh Mohammed Abdul Razzaq Al-Siddiq, a prisoner of conscience who is a member of the “UAE 94”. In 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison in a show trial based on trumped-up charges, that violated international standards.

Documenting human rights violations in the UAE and other Gulf countries comes at a price. Despite all the challenges and threats she faced, Alaa never stopped fighting for freedom for her father and other wrongfully detained prisoners of conscience, hoping for a country that respects human rights including freedom of speech.

Alaa’s role as Executive Director of ALQST, a leading organisation in documenting human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, didn’t make things easier. Alaa was always receiving threats on her Twitter account: https://twitter.com/alaa_q, yet she dealt with the e-flies with patience, civility and respect.

Her relationship with GCHR was a very strong and fruitful one that produced a report, Torture in the United Arab Emirates: The Tolerance Charade“, published in March 2021 with the Wejha Centre for Studies. She also contributed to several successful online events using Zoom and Clubhouse, including a side event during the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2020.

In December 2020, Alaa was among the WHRDs in the MENA region that GCHR celebrated via a Twitter campaign during the #16DaysofActivism against gender-based violence (GBV). (See the main image above.)

It is a very big loss, and no one will be able to fill her empty place,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director, who added, “It is a very sad day for me as we have lost a wonderful woman, a true courageous, independent, hardworking and ever-patient advocate.

I cannot believe that we lost Alaa. She was very courageous! She carried on in the fight against oppression despite all the hardships. Alaa was a genuine voice in a country where everything is built on lies,” said Salma Mohammad, GCHR Project Coordinator.

According to the police and local authorities, the circumstances of the car crash were an accident, but they are still looking for witnesses to find out exactly what happened. GCHR calls on the UK police to publicise the information about the incident which took the life of Alaa Al-Siddiq and injured four others.

New NGO launched in UK to defend human rights in Saudi Arabia

May 13, 2021
Mohammed bin Salman Editorial credit: Matias Lynch / Shutterstock.com

On 12 May 2021 5Pillars (RMS) announced the creation of a new NGO to deal with human rights in Saudi Arabia. The UK-based Standing Against Nefarious & Arbitrary Detention (SANAD) was aunched in an online conference, which focussed on human rights in Saudi Arabia, especially the freedom to criticise the regime and violations perpetrated against those who have been detained, imprisoned or even disappeared.

Bilal Ithkiran, the SANAD CEO, said the organisation would “seek to identify anyone who has been detained for criticising the regime and those who have been denied due process or have had their rights violated.

He said SANAD hopes, via peaceful means, to develop an optimistic society that looks to the future in a professional manner.

Dr Sue Conlan, a human rights activist and lawyer, said SANAD aims to establish human rights in Saudi Arabia through media awareness and to collaborate with other similar organisations and bring about legal and civil proceedings where appropriate.

“We aim to build databases on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and collate evidence and initiate legal proceedings against anyone involved in perpetrating human rights violations in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Dr Saeed Al Ghamdi, an academic and chair of the trustees, said the organisation has launched “to support the the oppressed and push back the oppressors.” He said that the “human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is passing through a very difficult and painful time.”

He added that “the courts are dictated to by the regime” resulting in “prolonged sentences for a stance, an opinion, a tweet or a word they’ve said.”

Abdullah Al Ghamdi, a board member of SANAD, said the path ahead will be “difficult but it is not impossible.” But Al Ghamdi, whose mother is currently being unlawfully detained, ended on an optimistic note saying: “Victory will belong to those who are patient, resilient and steadfast.”

Finally, Fahad Al Ghuwaydi, who has been detained on three occasions in Saudi Arabia for his activism, said the Saudi government’s abuses can be broken down into four phases.

He said: “As a previous detainee myself, I know too well these four phases. I know all too well how they will follow you. How they will follow an individual before they’re detained. I know too well what happens inside the prisons and I know too well how you are denied your most basic of rights as a detainee. I also know too well the obsession that the detainee suffers after they are released from prison.”

Al Ghuwaydi concluded by demanding “the decreasing of pressure upon the people. We demand the release of the political detainees, who were detained oppressively.”

Amnesty International says repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly have intensified in Saudi Arabia.

“Among those harassed, arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and/or jailed were government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, relatives of activists, journalists, members of the Shi’a minority and online critics of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Amnesty says on its website.

“Virtually all known Saudi Arabian human rights defenders inside the country were detained or imprisoned at the end of the year. Grossly unfair trials continued before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and other courts. Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes. Migrant workers were even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic, and thousands were arbitrarily detained in dire conditions, leading to an unknown number of deaths.”

https://5pillarsuk.com/2021/05/12/human-rights-organisation-launches-in-uk-to-safeguard-rights-in-saudi-arabia/

Rescuing refugees ‘a moral imperative’ not a crime

April 15, 2021

Pip Cook in Geneva Solutions of 30 March 2021 published a good overview of the vexing issue of saving refugees in Europe [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/]

MSF worked in collaboration with Sea-Watch on board the Sea-Watch 4 until February 2021, providing medical care and supporting with humanitarian assistance for rescued people. (Credit: Médecins Sans Frontières)

As countries across Europe adopt increasingly tough migration policies, NGOs are being prosecuted for acts of solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. We speak to Stephen Cornish, director general of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Switzerland, and Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist and author who was imprisoned in Australia’s offshore asylum system for six years, about the threat this growing hostility poses to Europe’s democracies.

On 4 March 2021, Italian prosecutors charged dozens of people from humanitarian organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Save the Children with colluding with people smugglers while carrying out rescue operations in the Mediterranean. After an investigation spanning nearly four years, crew members, mission heads and legal representatives who saved thousands of people from drowning at sea are facing years in prison, sending shockwaves through the humanitarian community. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/

It’s hard to imagine how saving a life can become a criminalised activity,” says Stephen Cornish, director of MSF Suisse, speaking to Geneva Solutions. The organisation, which denies the accusations, estimates that its six humanitarian ships helped save more than 81,000 lives at sea. “It would be like criminalising the fire department for going to put out a fire.”

The investigation is one of dozens brought against NGOs running search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean since 2016, when a handful of humanitarian organisations including MSF and SOS Mediteranee launched vessels in response to a rise in the number of people attempting the perilous journey from countries such as Libya and Turkey to claim asylum in Europe. Over the past few years, these vessels have been frequently detained by authorities or trapped at sea for weeks at a time, refused entry to ports where they can safely disembark. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/]

Hostility towards rescue agencies has grown since the height of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, says Cornish, when over one million people – the majority of whom were refugees fleeing the war in Syria – fled to Europe by sea over the course of the year, mainly arriving in Greece and Italy. The EU’s failure to share responsibility for the dramatic rise in the number of people seeking asylum in Europe left countries such as Greece and Italy overwhelmed, Cornish says: “People initially responded with charity and welcome, but then the failure was at a government level not to share the responsibility, and to repopulate people across different states.”

As anti-refugee politics became increasingly mainstream across Europe, countries began to tighten their borders and scrabble for ways to reduce ‘irregular’ migration into the bloc. Last week marked five years since the introduction of the EU-Turkey Deal – a key pillar of these efforts. The agreement called on Turkey to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching the EU in exchange for financial assistance and the promise of the eventual creation of legal resettlement pathways to Europe.

Five years on, Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, with the EU accused of outsourcing its migration management and turning a blind eye to the poor living conditions facing many refugees in the country. The agreement is also widely viewed as creating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Greek islands, which became a final destination for thousands of asylum seekers trapped in overcrowded camps waiting for their applications to be processed.

The inhumane conditions in refugee camps on the Greek islands are well documented, with reports of squalid facilities, violence, abuse and a lack of basic amenities commonplace. At times, there have been 40,000 people living in camps designed for a few thousand. As well as Syria, the majority of people are fleeing war and persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one in four are children. The horrific fire that engulfed the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on Lesvos in 2020, leaving 13,000 people without shelter, became a tragic symbol of Europe’s failed migration policy.

MSF has been operational on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios for many years, although it ceased operations inside Moria citing mass deportation and potential refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees. It no longer accepts EU funding in opposition to the policy.

“[The impact of the EU Turkey Deal] has been horrendous,” says Cornish. “There are still 15,000 people trapped in limbo, in no man’s land in Greece with no way forward and no way back, and suffering at the hands of supposed democracies.”

We see suicides, we see self-harm in children, we see long term PTSD and people with no hope, no ability to move forward or backward, trapped in punishment,” he says. “We put people in hell holes, and then when hell breaks loose, we pretend like we don’t see it.”

The deal has recently been extended until 2022, when the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum is expected to come into force. The New Pact focuses on fast-tracking screening and asylum processes at Europe’s external borders and includes a system of “mandatory solidarity” by which member states do not have to commit to resettling refugees but can instead fund repatriation. It has been widely criticised by humanitarian organisations for repeating the mistakes of the EU-Turkey Deal and failing to improve the situation for asylum seekers and refugees.

“Everything we’ve seen that failed in the US and failed in Australia, and is failing in Greece and Italy, we’d like to now make more semi-permanent policy,” says Cornish of the New Pact, which is currently being negotiated by member states and in the European Parliament. “As we harden these policies, all we do is push people into the hands of traffickers. We push them to take riskier routes and have higher death tolls and greater suffering.”

While the number of asylum seekers and migrants crossing the Mediterranean has decreased dramatically since 2015, migration has continued to be a highly politicised issue across Europe. Countries have adopted increasingly hostile policies which humanitarian organisations say fail to address flaws in existing systems, to the detriment of the people these systems were initially created to help.

Last week, the UK announced an overhaul of its asylum policy, which was met with outrage from humanitarian actors. Under the new plans, migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by routes deemed illegal will be indefinitely liable for removal even if they are granted asylum, creating a two-tier system which has been criticised as a violation of international law and eroding the right to asylum.

UK home secretary Priti Patel argues that current European policies “play into the hands of people smugglers”, however human rights and migration experts argue that, while governments fail to expand safe and legal routes, it is inhumane and unjust to punish asylum seekers for resorting to irregular routes when the only other option is an interminable wait in one of Europe’s refugee camps.

“Since a number of years [ago], we have made it almost impossible to be able to flee and request asylum from a conflict zone,” says Cornish. “We put all of these hurdles in place to make it impossible to be able to declare asylum and come [to Europe], and then we criminalise anybody jumping the line because we say they’re not following the procedures.”

Lessons from Australia. It has also been reported that asylum seekers in the UK could be shipped overseas while their asylum claim is pending – a policy that echoes Australia’s offshore processing asylum policy, instituted twice from 2001 to 2008 and 2012 to present.

Under the policy, asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in Australia by boat were immediately sent to offshore processing centres on the pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. The detention camps – which held over 2000 people at a time – have been widely condemned for systemic abuses and human rights violations. Although over 85 per cent of people sent to Nauru and Manus were recognised as refugees, the majority were left there for years awaiting resettlement.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian refugee who was detained on Manus Island for six years after attempting to reach Australia by boat in 2013, experienced the horror of Australia’s inhumane asylum policy first-hand. He spoke to Geneva Solutions ahead of the FIFDH event he took part in alongside Stephen Cornish.

“The dangerous side is that Australia is introducing this policy to countries in Europe, especially the UK,” says Boochani, who continued his work as a journalist writing for publications such as the Guardian from Manus. “Australia became a model for many of these countries. And for many years, we were warning about this, we were talking about it, but no one heard us.” [See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/55687980-7bdc-11e9-8427-f3aebfb2928e]

This policy damaged the political culture in Australia [and] the democracy in Australia,” says Boochani. “It damaged the principles in Australia and damaged morality in Australia. I think if the UK followed this policy, you cannot say that [you’ve] just damaged the refugees, you’ve damaged your principles, your democracy, your system, your morality, and your political culture too.

MSF’s Cornish shares Boochani’s concern that Europe’s asylum policies are damaging the democracy and social fabric of countries, partly fuelling the rise in far-right politics that has gained traction across the continent in recent years.

There have also been reports of mounting deportations and systemic violent pushbacks at Europe’s external land borders by the EU border agency Frontex. At sea, NGOs have also collected evidence of refugees being intercepted and illegally pushed back to Turkey from Greek waters. International human rights and refugee law requires states to protect the right of people to seek asylum and protection from refoulement even if they enter irregularly. The increasingly frequent pushbacks have prompted calls by the UN Refugee Agency for an urgent investigation.

Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation. While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, they must also respect human rights. Pushbacks are simply illegal,” said UNHCR’s assistant commissioner for protection Gillian Triggs in a statement…

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/cornish-it-s-hard-to-imagine-how-saving-a-life-can-become-a-criminalised-activity

Will UK Government cut their human rights support by 80%?

March 18, 2021

On 17 March 202 Ben McInerny of the international Observatory for Human Rights drew attention to the distressing news that “the British government plans to continue slashing overseas aid, with spending on the newly formed Open Societies and Human Rights directorate set to fall by as much as 80%.”.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, the leader of the SNP Iain Blackford MP condemned the proposals, calling for greater bipartisan oversight of the reduction in aid spending: “Only this morning, it has emerged that the UK Government also plan to cut their human rights support and anti-corruption measures by a staggering 80%. If the Prime Minister is prepared to stand up for such callous cuts, is he also prepared to guarantee that he will allow for a straight vote on them in the House of Commons?”

One of the projects reportedly threatened by these cutbacks is a £16m initiative aimed at advancing press freedom across the Middle East and North Africa – a region which has seen a “decline in freedom of expression, media freedom and civic space”, according to participants of the 2020 Global Conference for Media Freedom.

The UK took a global role with the launch of the media freedom initiative by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) under the previous Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The UK also co-hosted the 2019 Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. However, though Dominic Raab has been supportive, he has had no direct involvement and this may be reflected in the budget cuts.

Despite the UK government’s attempts to depict post-Brexit Britain as a global “force for good”, these cutbacks come as part of a precipitous contraction of overseas aid spending. 

Earlier this month, leaked Foreign Office internal documents revealed proposed aid cutbacks of more than 50%, with Syria and Libya seeing a reduction in funding of 67% and 63% respectively..

David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, said the changes would undermine Britain’s “global reputation”, stating that:

 “The phrase ‘global Britain’ rings hollow. As the UK prepares to host the G7, the reduction of assistance to Yemen is a stark warning of what is to come as the government delivers on widespread cuts across the entire UK aid portfolio”

Andrew Mitchell, Former Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, said reducing the aid budget to less than 0.7% of gross domestic income (GDI) remains unlawful without a change to legislation, adding that:

“To grow the budget to 0.7% from 0.5% took four years, but the equivalent cut is being undertaken in a matter of weeks”

Boris Johnson has said the decision to cut aid budgets is justified by the current Covid-19 crisis, stating that “current straitened circumstances” make reductions necessary, although no other G7 country is cutting its aid programme to the same extent.

It is imperative that funding, crucial to the provision of humanitarian assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable groups, be at least 0.7% of GDI. The Covid-19 crisis should not be an excuse to reduce aid spending, but rather a reason to increase it.

Five young women human rights defenders to watch

March 16, 2021

Sarah Noble in Geneva Solutions of 15 March 2021 writes about her encounter with five young women activists from around the world who shared their motivation, their pandemic experiences, and advice for future generations:

On International Women’s Day, I was privileged to moderate the conversation, at an event hosted by the EU mission to the UN in Geneva and UN Women. I came away convinced world leaders could learn a lesson or two. They aren’t waiting to be invited to the decision-making table, and are already driving change in their communities and beyond.

The solidarity among them encapsulates a global movement led by female youth, determined in their fight for gender equality, education, eradicating period poverty, and dealing with climate change.

“We do not have to wait for the adults to start campaigning for the action that we want to see,” said Amy Meek of the UK. Along with her younger sister Ella, Amy, 17, launched an award-winning campaign, now a charity, called Kids Against Plastic. The sisters (see picture) were motivated by realising the devastating impact the misuse of plastic was having on the planet and also its potential legacy for future generations.

“I grew up realising how much girls were taught to be weak, were taught to be submissive while boys are taught to be strong and to be leaders. For me it was really puzzling, ”said Yande Banda, a passionate 17-year-old feminist activist and education advocate from Zambia. Yande is the chairperson of Transform Education, a global youth-led coalition hosted by the UN, where she advocates for a gender transformative approach to education. “I began being an advocate and in particular a feminist, ever since I could realise the consequential inequalities within society – so I would say I was around six years old,” “The fight to end the climate crisis has not stopped for the pandemic and as feminist leaders, neither have we”.

İlayda Eskitaşcioğlu, 28, is a human rights lawyer and a PhD student at Koç University in İstanbul. She founded an NGO, We Need to Talk, in 2016, which aims to fight against period poverty and period stigma in Turkey. “Periods do not stop for pandemics! Neither does the fight for gender equality! We are still breaking taboos, step by step – fathers, brothers, romantic partners, co-workers, teachers, those that are not menstruating, period poverty is your problem too! ” We Need to Talk provides sanitary products to three vulnerable target groups: Seasonal agricultural workers, refugees and pre-teens who are going to school in remote rural areas, and tries to start an honest and open conversation around menstruation in the Middle East.

Lucija Tacer is the current UN youth delegate for Slovenia and an advocate for women’s rights. She has made gender equality the priority in her interventions at the world body. “I entered into a workplace where all of the partners and the high level people are men, except one or two women and 100 percent of the secretaries were female and just being in that environment every day really got me thinking, what is going on here ? ”

Julieta Martinez, 17, from Chile is the founder of the TREMENDAS Collaborative Platform, which promotes the empowerment of girls, and young people by putting their skills and talents at the service of the community.

“Amazingly talented girls are all around the world. We have to continue looking for them. We have to continue giving them a space. And we have to continue this fight to actually get to gender equality… Girls, young women and adolescents have the right to raise their voices, to be heard and to take action for their dignity, their integrity and to be agents of social change in a society where human and youth rights must always be defended. ”

Watch the full event on youtube here.

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/five-young-women-activists-to-watch-a-moderator-s-take

What can human rights defenders expect from diplomatic support? – the case of the UK

February 25, 2021

On Wednesday 24 February 2021 Megan Thornberry writes about a report by the University of York and others concluding that human rights defenders have been at increased risk during pandemic, and calls for UK government to provide better protection.

There is a dearth of serious and quantitative research into how human rights defenders experience diplomatic support and interest in their work. So, this report – published by Amnesty International UK and the Center for Applied Human Rights, in collaboration with the Law Society of England and Wales, Peace Brigades International UK, Bond and other NGOs – is most welcome.

Research by the University’s Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) and Amnesty International UK shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 94 per cent of human rights defenders interviewed reported face threats, death threats, abuse, and harassment.

It is reported that only 6 per cent of these activists, including lawyers, journalists, women’s rights defenders, and LGBTQ+ activists, received support from the UK government.

Researchers interviewed 82 human rights defenders from seven countries about their experiences with UK government support:

  • 40% had contacted the UK government embassy as part of their work in the last two years, where as 70% had contacted other embassies
  • 75% could not recall a time in which their resident country’s UK embassy had spoken out in support of specific at-risk human rights defenders
  • 31% had been in contacted by their UK embassy seeking to further its knowledge about the struggles for human rights

The report highlights the increased threats to LGBTQ+ rights during the pandemic, as poor job security has driven many to return to unsafe and unaccepting hometowns in order to live with family. Particularly in countries such as Russia and the Philippines, this has placed LGBTQ+ activists at a higher risk of abuse. LGBTQ+ activists have also reported an increase in discrimination towards LGBTQ+ groups due to their being blamed for the pandemic.

Dr Piergiuseppe Parisi, a research associate at the Human Rights Defender Hub at CAHR and direct contributor to the report, said: “Human rights defenders are active agents of positive change. The UK should make sure that they are recognised as such, that they have the means to carry on with their crucial work and that they have access to rapid response protection mechanisms when they are in danger.”

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The UK government has pledged to stand up for human rights defenders around the world. We now need to see words turned into action. The UK’s voice has power. It’s time to use it and to be a world leader.”

https://nouse.co.uk/2021/02/24/human-rights-defenders-have-been-silenced-during-the-pandemic-says-york-report

Post Brexit trade deals risk to leave human rights out

January 4, 2021

Simon Tisdall – in a strongly-worded opinion piece in the Guardian of 3 January 2021 entitled “‘Global Britain’ is willing to trade away everything. Including scruples” – attacks the UK’s new deal with Turkey which ignores its appalling human rights abuses and should have been scrutinised by parliament

Simon Tisdall
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey’s ‘strongman’ president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hailed the trade deal with Britain as the start of a ‘new era’. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Sun 3 Jan 2021 07.00 GMT

The UK’s new trade agreement with Turkey, signed last week, ignores the Turkish government’s continuing human rights abuses, boosts its dangerous president, and undermines ministerial pledges that “global Britain” will uphold international laws and values. The deal took effect on 1 January without even rudimentary parliamentary scrutiny. Here, stripped of lies and bombast, is the dawning reality of Boris Johnson’s scruple-free post-Brexit world.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s “strongman” leader, is pleased as punch. He’s the new, biggest fan of Britain’s international trade secretary, Liz Truss, whose shabby work this is. Erdoğan hailed the deal as the start of a “new era” and a landmark for Turkey. After years of disastrous economic mismanagement and fierce rows with the US and EU over Turkish policy towards Russia, Syria, Libya, Greece and Cyprus, Erdoğan badly needed a win. Hapless Truss delivered….

This rushed deal rides roughshod over widely shared human rights concerns. It may be naive to think that the agreement, which replicates existing EU-Turkey arrangements, would allow matters of principle to imperil £18.6bn in two-way trade. Yet Britain is Turkey’s second-largest export market. Ankara was desperate to maintain tariff-free access. This gave Johnson and Truss leverage. It was a sovereign moment. But they failed to demand that Erdoğan change his ways.

…Selahattin Demirtaş, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party, languishes in jail despite an order to free him – from the European court of human rights.

Alive to these and similar problems relating to other post-Brexit trade partners, the House of Lords amended the government’s Trade Bill last month to require human rights risk assessments when making agreements – to ensure compliance with the UK’s international treaties and obligations. But the government is expected to scrap the amendment when the bill returns to the Commons. The Turkey deal contains no such safeguards.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/13/uks-human-rights-policy-after-brexit/]

In its scramble to replace lapsed EU arrangements, Johnson’s government has so far “rolled over” about 30 existing trade deals. Like the Turkey deal, they have not faced thorough parliamentary scrutiny. The list includes other countries or entities with contentious human rights records, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Bilateral deals with notorious rights abusers such as China and Saudi Arabia have not been attempted – yet…

This lucrative business, or the prospect of losing it, may help explain the haste in finalising the Turkey deal. Yet the fact that Erdoğan stands accused of using British-made equipment and technology to repress domestic opponents, attack Syria’s Kurds, intervene in Libya’s civil war, and stoke the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict should have given serious pause. These actions run contrary to British interests, as does Erdoğan’s trouble-making in the eastern Mediterranean. Yet Johnson’s government, ever mindful of its Brexit needs, has kept its head down.

Full and timely parliamentary scrutiny of post-Brexit trade deals would help bring such omissions and contradictions to light – but is sadly lacking, as Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, said in November. She accused the government of “sheer bumbling incompetence” after Greg Hands, the trade minister, admitted there was not enough time for MPs to scrutinise trade deals before the 31 December deadline. So much for a sovereign parliament “taking back control” of Britain’s destiny and laws.

The Turkey deal illustrates a bigger, fundamental hypocrisy. Extolling a future “global Britain” in 2019, foreign secretary Dominic Raab promised that “once we’ve left the EU … human rights abusers anywhere in the world will face consequences for their actions”. In January 2020, Raab assured the Commons that “a truly global Britain is about more than just international trade and investment … Global Britain is also about continuing to uphold our values of liberal democracy and our heartfelt commitment to the international rule of law.”

Raab seems to mean well, but ne’er-do-wells such as Erdoğan are laughing fit to burst. Raab’s recent imposition of sanctions on individual rights abusers in Russia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere does not affect the bigger picture. It is of a British government hellbent on cutting hasty, ill-considered deals with all manner of undesirable customers around the world, without proper regard for the political, legal, strategic and human consequences. And to think Tory aristocrats used to look down on trade.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/03/global-britain-is-willing-to-trade-away-everything-including-scruples

75 countries join statement on reprisals at the Third Committee but more needed

November 30, 2020

As reprisals is one of the main topics on this blog [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/] readers will forgive me to report a bit belatedly on the GA Third Committee statement which the Service for Human Rights, quite timely, on 19 October 2020, brought to our attention:

For the second year in a row, a cross-regional group of countries called on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN.

In a joint statement presented to the Third Committee of the General Assembly today, 75 countries (listed below) acknowledged the crucial role civil society and human rights defenders play in the work of the UN and condemned acts of intimidation and reprisal against them. This represents an increase compared to the 71 countries that joined a similar statement last year

This welcome move led by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN is in line with the call made last September in resolution 42/28 at the Human Rights Council for the General Assembly to remain seized of all work in this area. 

The joint statement welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN and shared his concerns on the growing number and patterns of reprisals globally; the disproportionate impact on certain groups, including women human rights defenders and peacebuilders; and the continued attacks on journalists and media workers. 

30 years ago, the Commission on Human Rights first expressed concern about reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN and searching for a solution requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue. Yet we find ourselves three decades later grasping for anything resembling progress. This year’s report is appalling as ever’, said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair.

The joint statement highlighted the need for more frequent reporting on reprisals, including in New York, to increase awareness and accountability. ‘At this point the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals is only considered once a year by the Human Rights Council. We are disturbed by the high number of countries cited (45 in 2020), the vast majority of which have been cited before. The increase in the number of countries cited for a pattern of intimidation and reprisals is equally alarming. For countries like Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Israel, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela, and for the overwhelming majority of victims cited in 30 years of reporting whose cases remain unresolved, it seems a report delivered once a year is not enough’, added Sinclair.  

‘While we welcome this statement and the leadership of the United Kingdom as a step towards enhanced dialogue on the issue of reprisals at the General Assembly, more needs to be done to protect the right of everyone to communicate with the UN. We echo previous calls for States to step up efforts to address reprisals, including by referring to  specific cases during future dialogues at the UN’, added Sinclair. 

The full statement as delivered is available here. The statement was made by the United Kingdom on behalf of Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Fiji, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Palau, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, The Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA, Uruguay, Vanuatu. 

New States joining this year include: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Honduras, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay; States who joined last year but not this year include: Samoa and Turkey.

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, m.sinclair@ishr.ch

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-75-countries-join-statement-reprisals-third-committee

Mary Lawlor’s first report to the Third Committee of General Assembly

November 16, 2020

On 20 October 2020 (sorry for the delay) the ISHR reported on the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, presenting her first report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/].

The Special Rapporteur appealed to States to help stop the killing of human rights defenders, which she identified as the mandate’s core priority. Defenders, she said, are ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make all of our lives better‘ and shared her hope that all would work together to find ways to protect them. 

The Special Rapporteur’s report outlined how she intends to approach and develop the subject of her mandate in the coming years. Her priorities include: those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, with attention paid to the most marginalised and vulnerable, among them women defenders, those defending the rights of LGBTI persons, defenders who are children, defenders with disabilities, defenders working on the rights of migrants, the climate crisis, defenders working in isolated and remote areas, defenders serving long terms in prison, reprisals against defenders who cooperate with the UN, the issue of impunity for those who attack defenders, the role of businesses and financial institutions in both harming and protecting the work of defenders, and strengthening follow-up to individual cases brought to her attention. 

As the Third Committee continues to grapple with the difficulties of moving its work online, the dialogue was plagued by a number of IT issues, including not being webcast for the first 35 minutes, and several statements remained muted in the archived video made available later. 

A large number of States took the floor to welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and echo her concerns and priorities. Many of the States that spoke touched on the need to address the worrying deterioration of civic space brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic. The UK delivered a joint statement on reprisals on behalf of 75 States, following up on its initiative last year when it delivered the first ever such statement.

The US raised a number of individual cases and country situations: Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran; China’s systematic persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including those from Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, naming Ilham Tohti and Joshua Wong in particular; in Zimbabwe, opposition leader Job Sikhala, parliamentarian Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. China used its time to question the notion of a human rights defender arguing there is no accepted definition of the term and that defenders are not ‘above the law’. China also accused the US of suppressing civil society during the pandemic. 

In her concluding remarks, the Special Rapporteur touched on the need for the UN’s human rights work to be properly funded and for States to cooperate fully with Special Procedures through standing invitations and positive responses to requests for visits. She emphasised her desire to cooperate with States, to have an open dialogue, and cited recent talks with Bahrain, Burundi and Iran in that regard. She indicated she hoped these talks would result in releases of defenders soon. The Special Rapporteur also emphasised that her approach would include specifically highlighting positive changes in each of her reports.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-un-expert-urges-protection-defenders-ordinary-people-doing-extraordinary-things?fbclid=IwAR1j9EqgUZ4RKAcMH7nWp7AIAZUL3HqrAq_k8M9epUtlF_ECrNAaLCrbrJ0