Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Today: the people of Ukraine win this year’s European Union Prize

October 19, 2022

The European Parliament on Wednesday 19 October awarded “the people of Ukraine” its annual Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought amid the ongoing war with Russia. For more on this award and its previous laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449

This award is for those Ukrainians fighting on the ground. For those who have been forced to flee. For those who have lost relatives and friends. For all those who stand up and fight for what they believe in. I know that the brave people of Ukraine will not give up and neither will we,” said Roberta Metsola, the European Parliament’s head.

EU Commission chief Ursula von Der Leyen congratulated the people of Ukraine and said: “Their spirit and determination to fight for the values we hold dear is an inspiration to us all.”

At (the EU Council) we’ll focus on continuing our assistance; we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter.

Last year: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/21/alexei-navalny-wins-eus-sakharov-prize/

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20221017IPR43706/the-ukrainian-people-awarded-the-european-parliament-s-2022-sakharov-prize

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/ukrainian-people-awarded-eus-sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought/2715666

Nobel Peace Prize 2022 goes to well-recognised human rights defenders

October 7, 2022

On 7 September 2022 The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 to one individual and two organisations, who represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.

This year’s Peace Prize is awarded to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties. The first two are well-known and received many important human rights awards.

Ales Bialiatski was the winner of 11 other awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/72682FFF-628F-4A5D-B6B3-52A776FF0E47, while Memorial got 7 awards earlier [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BD12D9CE-37AA-7A35-9A32-F37A0EA8C407], Oleksandra Matviichuk, the chair of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties received a few days ago the Right livelihood award [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/75690f04-7a51-4591-8e18-0826b93959b3]

Ales Bialiatski founded the organisation Viasna (Spring) in 1996 in response to the controversial constitutional amendments that gave the president dictatorial powers and that triggered widespread demonstrations. In the years that followed, Viasna evolved into a broad-based human rights organisation that documented and protested against the authorities’ use of torture against political prisoners. Government authorities have repeatedly sought to silence Ales Bialiatski. He was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014. Following large-scale demonstrations against the regime in 2020, he was again arrested. He is still detained without trial. Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/viasna-human-rights-centre/

The human rights organisation Memorial was established in 1987 by human rights activists in the former Soviet Union who wanted to ensure that the victims of the communist regime’s oppression would never be forgotten. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and human rights advocate Svetlana Gannushkina were among the founders. Memorial is based on the notion that confronting past crimes is essential in preventing new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Memorial grew to become the largest human rights organisation in Russia. In addition to establishing a centre of documentation on victims of the Stalinist era, Memorial compiled and systematised information on political oppression and human rights violations in Russia. Memorial became the most authoritative source of information on political prisoners in Russian detention facilities. The organisation has also been standing at the forefront of efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights and government based on rule of law. During the Chechen wars, Memorial gathered and verified information on abuses and war crimes perpetrated on the civilian population by Russian and pro-Russian forces. In 2009, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was killed because of this work. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/15/ngos-remember-10th-anniversary-of-natalia-estemirovas-murder/]

Civil society actors in Russia have been subjected to threats, imprisonment, disappearance and murder for many years. As part of the government’s harassment of Memorial, the organisation was stamped early on as a “foreign agent”. In December 2021, the authorities decided that Memorial was to be forcibly liquidated and the documentation centre was to be closed permanently. The closures became effective in the following months, but the people behind Memorial refuse to be shut down. In a comment on the forced dissolution, chairman Yan Rachinsky stated, “Nobody plans to give up.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/29/russias-supreme-court-orders-closure-emblematic-memorial/]

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in Kyiv in 2007 for the purpose of advancing human rights and democracy in Ukraine. The center has taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy. To develop Ukraine into a state governed by rule of law, Center for Civil Liberties has actively advocated that Ukraine become affiliated with the International Criminal Court. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Center for Civil Liberties has engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population. In collaboration with international partners, the center is playing a pioneering role with a view to holding the guilty parties accountable for their crimes.

By awarding this Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 the Norwegian Nobel Committee is honouring outstanding champions of human rights and consistent efforts in favour of humanist values, anti-militarism and principles of law.

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2022/press-release/

Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award 2022 to two Ukrainian journalists

May 10, 2022

DW Freedom of Speech Award 2022

Ukrainian visual journalist and novelist Mstyslav Chernov and photojournalist Evgeniy Maloletka are this year’s DW Freedom of Speech Award laureates. For more on this and other awards for press freedom, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/b9e2c660-8e41-11ea-b31d-31ce896d8282

Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka have a way of reporting that is painful to read and watch, but what really hurts is the truth that their reporting conveys: Russia brutally attacking Ukraine, and thereby Ukrainian civilians, under a fabricated pretense. While there are nuances to every story, there is no way facts can be negotiated. This is exactly what the Kremlin is doing: Distorting facts, spreading misinformation,” said DW Director General Peter Limbourg. “

The journalists, who both remain in Ukraine to continue their coverage of the war, welcomed the news about receiving the DW Freedom of Speech Award as an acknowledgment of their work. The award ceremony will be held on June 20 as part of the DW Global Media Forum.

AP journalist and novelist Mstyslav Chernov and freelance photojournalist Evgeniy Maloletka are both from eastern Ukraine. Previously, their reports and footage from the conflicts in Crimea and eastern Ukraine have been published in various international media, including BBC, Deutsche Welle, The New York Times, Washington Post, Der Spiegel and others. As a war reporter in several conflict zones such as Iraq or Syria, Chernov has been wounded multiple times. Before the war, Maloletka had also been working on a project about the Hutsul community in western Ukraine, their traditions and daily life, and on the impact of the conflict in the Donbas. Evgeniy Maloletka is a freelance photojournalist based in Kyiv.

The report “20 days in Mariupol: The team that documented city’s agony” offers a unique account of Mariupol under Russian siege, with Chernov and Maloletka being the last journalists in the city before their evacuation. They documented the city’s first deaths at the city hospital of Mariupol and the attack on the maternity ward with pregnant women and children in it, as well as numerous bombings. During this work, the journalists themselves were under constant attack and took great risks only to find a steady connection to upload their footage of the siege, bringing it to the attention of the international community. They were evacuated by Ukrainian soldiers to avoid them falling into the hands of Russians, who had been hunting them down.

AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Julie Pace: “Mstyslav and Evgeniy were the world’s eyes and ears in Mariupol, producing courageous and compelling reporting as the only international journalists inside the besieged city. The harrowing realities of Russia’s war would have remained unseen without their bravery. We are extremely proud of their work.

See also: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/9/pulitzer-prize-board-honours-courage-of-ukrainian-journalists

https://www.dw.com/en/dw-freedom-of-speech-award-2022-goes-to-ukrainian-journalists-mstyslav-chernov-and-evgeniy-maloletka/a-61638608

2022 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent

May 10, 2022

On 3 May 2022 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the three recipients of the 2022 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

The 2022 laureates are: professional basketball player and human rights advocate Enes Kanter Freedom, Iranian artist project PaykanArtCar, and Ukrainian-born Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova. This year’s laureates will receive their awards on Wednesday, May 25, during the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Enes Kanter Freedom is a professional basketball player and vocal advocate for human rights. Since the start of the 2021 NBA season, he has used his global platform to consistently raise awareness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s human rights abuses. Using his basketball shoes as the canvas for his messages, he wore multiple artistic designs highlighting issues such as the Uyghur genocide, the occupation of Tibet, slave labor at the Nike shoe factories, and the intolerance of China’s dictator. As a result of his creative dissent, he is now banned from China and was dropped by both the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets, despite being only 29 years old and in the prime of his career. Freedom’s perseverance has captured the attention of international media and informed millions of sports fans about the global struggle for individual rights in places like Tibet and the Uyghur region. At a time when professional athletes display incessant hypocrisy, unlimited greed, and double standards, Freedom emerges as the moral conscience of professional basketball. Freedom first came to international attention as an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, making him a target of Turkey’s government — he was deemed a “terrorist” by the regime, stripped of his passport, and was publicly disowned by his family. In late 2021, he changed his name and added “Freedom” as his official last name. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/525e5018-7f56-4009-85b8-3f3cce9a8810

The PaykanArtCar unites the talents of contemporary Iranian artists in the diaspora with a beloved symbol of Iranian national pride — the Paykan automobile — to advocate for human rights in Iran. The car used was once gifted by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran to the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and was purchased at an auction to serve as the canvas for artwork by Iranian artists in exile. Each year, PaykanArtCar commissions an exceptional Iranian artist-in-exile to use the car to capture the Iranian struggle for human dignity and basic freedoms. The inaugural PaykanArtCar was designed by Alireza Shojaian and features a historic Persian design with a provocative message about the brutality and ruthlessness faced by the marginalized and oppressed LGBTQ+ community inside Iran. The PaykanArtCar represents brave, creative dissent against the human rights abuses of Iran’s theocratic dictatorial regime. The PaykanArtCar will travel to Norway to be present at the Oslo Freedom Forum as part of Human Rights Foundation’s Art in Protest exhibit and will be parked at the event venue. The second edition of PaykanArtCar will be painted by a female Iranian artist and will advocate for women’s rights in Iran.

Marina Ovsyannikova is a Ukrainian-born Russian journalist and activist, who staged a live protest against the war in Ukraine during a news broadcast of Russian state TV. Ovsyannikova was a longtime editor at Russia’s Channel One, where her job was to assist those engaged in disinformation to be distributed to the Russian people. After thinking through ways in which she could protest, she chose to interrupt a live broadcast, holding a sign calling for “no war.” Following her demonstration on live TV and a subsequent anti-war video, Ovsyannikova was held overnight in a police station, denied access to a lawyer, and ultimately fined 30,000 roubles — she disappeared without contact for more than 12 hours. The Kremlin denounced her protest as “hooliganism,” and Ovsyannikova faces up to 15 years in prison under Russia’s disinformation laws. In a recent article, she expressed profound regret for her years as a participant in “the Russian propaganda machine” where her job was to create “aggressive Kremlin propaganda – propaganda that constantly sought to deflect attention from the truth, and to blur all moral standards,” she says: “I cannot undo what I have done. I can only do everything I possibly can to help destroy this machine and end this war.”

For more on the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/438F3F5D-2CC8-914C-E104-CE20A25F0726

New “Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award” to Ukrainian and Hungarian press cartoonists

May 10, 2022

Geneva Solutions of 3 May 2022 reported on the first issue of the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award. This is in fact a merger of two pre-existing awards for cartoonists [for more info, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/f60cb3d4-c79a-43aa-9b5c-351c56c02ae1]

The conflict in Ukraine with all these absurd symbols (Vladimir Kazanevsky for Nebelspalter)

Ukrainian Vladimir Kazanevsky and Hungarian Gabor Papai were announced as the winners of the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award at a ceremony at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva and presented by the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation. Jury : Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch (president), Sami Kanaan, City of Geneva and cartoonists Ann Telnaes (USA), Kak (France) and Chappatte (Switzerland). The portraits below were done by True Heroes Films (THF)

Vladimir Kazanevsky

Vladimir Kazanevsky, Ukraine’s leading cartoonist, was working in his studio early in the morning of 24 February when he heard loud explosions near the airport in Kyiv. He and his wife fled to western Ukraine, along with a huge wave of families fleeing the bombings. From there they went to Presov, a town in Slovakia with a community of artists.

Deprived of his drawing materials, catalogues and books, which he had to leave behind in Kyiv, Kazanevsky continues to draw relentlessly: Putin in action, on a tank or on the bow of the Titanic. “Autocrats and dictators are afraid of our cartoons, and they are right, because our drawings are powerful weapons,” he says.

Fiercely determined to continue the fight against Russian aggression, the 71-year-old sees his work as an act of resistance. An act of defence of freedom of expression against war propaganda.

Gábor Pápai

For several years, Hungarian cartoonist Gàbor Pàpai and his newspaper Népszava – the only opposition daily still alive in Budapest – have been the subject of attacks and legal proceedings by the authorities – even though Hungary is part of the European Union.

This cartoon, “The Chronicle” by Gábor Pápai, published in Hungary’s daily newspaper Népszava on 28 April shows the Hungarian National Public Health Centre’s chief doctor looking at Jesus on the cross and suggesting that many people who had deceased from the coronavirus had already been likely to die because they had suffered from pre-existing conditions.

It was intended to ridicule Hungary’s chief health figure for having tried to minimise the number of deaths solely attributable to the coronavirus in Hungary and, by extension, to mock the government’s handling of the crisis.

“Its depiction and use of Jesus on a cross sparked an outcry from the representatives of the Christian Democrat Party, an ally of the ruling Fidesz, to the point that the Secretary of State for persecuted Christian communities, Tristan Azbej, accused Gábor Pápai of blasphemy and threatened to sue him or Népszava,” as Reporters Without Borders, who came to the defense of Papai, explains.

The Catholic religion, the fight against Covid or simply Hungarian history are all pretexts for prosecution in a country ranked 92nd in the world press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). This shameful ranking has been deteriorating ever since Viktor Orbán became Prime Minister, putting all independent media in great difficulty. Some, like Népszava, are directly threatened with extinction. Gàbor Pàpai, far from being intimidated, continues to critically observe and draw all political actors in Hungary.

Read more about the 2022 laureates

https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/ukrainian-and-hungarian-press-cartoonists-collect-award-in-geneva-view-a-gallery-of-their-wo

https://www.kofiannanfoundation.org/articles/world-press-freedom-day-2022/

Monitoring and documenting violations in Ukraine

April 22, 2022

HURIDOCS has been working with urgency to meet the needs of our Ukrainian partners to enable effective, comprehensive and safe documentation of human rights violations. The HURIDOCS Team on 19 April 2022 tells how:

A maternity ward and children’s hospital are hit by an airstrike. Schools and apartment blocks are shelled. A psychiatric facility is attacked. Residential areas are targeted by cluster bombs. Critical infrastructure is struck by missiles. Mass civilian graves are discovered.

These horrendous attacks on civilians in Ukraine, some of them on healthcare facilities, are labelled by the United Nations as ‘acts of unconscionable cruelty’. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on 24 February 2022, is unfolding as a series of atrocities committed against civilians.

Indiscriminate attacks using missiles, heavy artillery shells, rockets and airstrikes on civilians and non-combatants are in contravention of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. Apart from attacks on civilians, Russia is reported to be shelling agreed-upon humanitarian corridors from conflict zones and therefore halting mass evacuations. 

Borodyanka, a Ukrainian commuter town near Kyiv, was among the first places to be hit by Russian airstrikes.

Kyiv Declaration calls for support to groups actively documenting violations

Leaders of more than 100 Ukrainian civil society organisations have published the Kyiv Declaration, which defines the invasion as “a war against the fundamental principles of democracy”. The #KyivDeclaration asks for solidarity and immediate action, and outlines six urgent appeals to the international community. The organisations are collectively calling for the creation of safe zones in Ukraine, military aid, sanctions against Russia, humanitarian aid, freezing assets and revoking visas of prominent Russian families, and providing equipment to track war crimes. This includes technology and support to groups who are actively documenting the events in Ukraine, as well as human rights groups and lawyers who will be supporting accountability efforts in the long run.

An appeal from 100 Ukrainian civil society leaders

HURIDOCS has been working with urgency to meet the needs of our Ukrainian partners to enable effective, comprehensive and safe documentation of human rights violations. 

“When Russia started its full-scale invasion in February this year, we revived the work of EuromaidanSOS. We are faced with a large number of war crimes that need to be documented. Among these are indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, deliberate killings, torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, enforced disappearances and other crimes listed in the Rome Statute. Such acts are not justified by any circumstances of the war. Russia is simply using war crimes as a way of waging war.

Our volunteers from EuromaidanSOS are based in different parts of the country, and some of them work directly in hot spots, where they face constant connectivity issues. This is why usable technical solutions are indispensable. As this work is undertaken in the context of war, it is important to have qualified technology support. We are very grateful to the organisations, such as HURIDOCS, providing it in this difficult time for us.”– Oleksandra Matviychuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties and Board Member of HURIDOCS

Documenting violations is vital for accountability

Four days into the Russian invasion, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor opened an investigation into war crimes being committed in Ukraine. In conjunction with the investigation, the ICC launched a contact portal and anyone with relevant information is urged to come forward and share the details with the ICC. The United Nations Human Rights Council expressed that it is gravely concerned about the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis and passed a resolution to establish a Commission of Inquiry. The Commission will first and foremost collect evidence of violations and those responsible, and subsequently submit reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Germany has launched an investigation by collecting evidence of suspected crimes on civilians and critical infrastructure. Germany’s probe is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute crimes against international law outside of its borders.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement where she expressed horror by the images of civilian bodies on the streets and in improvised graves in the town of Bucha. She stated that reports of egregious crimes raise serious questions about possible war crimes and grave breaches of international and humanitarian law. She urged that “it is vital that all efforts are made to ensure there are independent and effective investigations into what happened in Bucha to ensure truth, justice and accountability, as well as reparations and remedy for victims and their families”.

In addition to these and other measures already underway to investigate possible war crimes and breaches of international and humanitarian law, some of the most authoritative civil society organisations in Ukraine have established a global initiative to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable. The ‘Breaking the Vicious Circle of Russia’s Impunity for Its War Crimes’  initiative was jointly established by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the Center for Civil Liberties, and is also known as the ‘Tribunal for Putin’.

The Tribunal for Putin aims to document events which can be classified as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Tribunal for Putin will also collect evidence and facts on the crimes committed and will work with existing international mechanisms of the United Nations, Council of Europe, OSCE, EU and the International Criminal Court. The initiative has called for support from various actors such as international organisations, networks, government agencies, public associations, volunteer initiatives and groups who all share the common goal of restoring peace in Ukraine and ensuring that justice will prevail.

Civil society plays a crucial role in seeking justice

In this context, it is clear that the systematic documentation of human rights violations, irrespective of who is committing the transgression, is critical to achieving justice and accountability. Documentation should not only be undertaken to assist future justice and accountability mechanisms but also to support the process of reckoning and healing.

Civil society plays a key role in efforts to document and monitor violations, and to build and strengthen cases for accountability. Civil society actors are usually the first to respond to crises, have the deepest community reach and can mobilise the people who are living through these experiences. Documenting human rights violations as they happen is imperative in the process of restoring justice. To effectively and safely assist the community there is a need for strong digital tools to gather, process, preserve, manage, protect and analyse the rapidly growing bodies of potential evidence, including large amounts of storage-intensive video. In addition, deterrence against the worst violations can also be established through credible documentation strategies.

HURIDOCS is a longtime supporter of civil society organisations and human rights defenders who use human rights documentation strategies and tools as a means to strengthen accountability and advocate for justice. We are already supporting a number of groups working on documenting human rights violations in Ukraine and HURIDOCS invites other initiatives who need support with their documentation efforts to contact us. We value diverse approaches to documenting violations, as it may strengthen accountability measures and aid in articulating narratives during the process of memorialisation. 

Support for documenting violations in Ukraine

With the increased need for support to document violations in Ukraine to strengthen accountability, the Alfred Landecker Foundation has partnered with HURIDOCS to increase our capacity to support civil society-led initiatives where our expertise can be helpful. HURIDOCS is grateful to the Foundation for the support, as it comes at a time when documenting threats to peace, justice and democracy is critical. The support from the Alfred Landecker Foundation will be used to assist groups who are already participating in documentation efforts, and to aid other initiatives related to documenting violations in Ukraine. 

HURIDOCS is currently supporting our partners in the following ways:

  • Training and consultation on information collection, protection and management techniques and associated tools, such as Uwazi;
  • Setting up digital information repositories to securely store sensitive data;
  • Refinement and integration of existing technology solutions to document, protect and analyse evidence of human rights violations; and
  • Hardening and scaling infrastructure to preserve and protect large amounts of information.

There is a significant and growing need to support organisations with their efforts to gather, process, preserve, manage, protect and analyse information on abuses. Reliable documentation of violations is essential for the restoration of justice in the pursuit of upholding democracy and human rights.

Results 49th session Human Rights Council as seen by NGOs

April 15, 2022

13 organisations – including the ISHR – have shared reflections on the key outcomes of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. . Full written version below [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/guide-to-49th-session-of-human-rights-council-with-human-rights-defenders-focus/:

We stand in solidarity with human rights defenders in Ukraine, as well as those in Russia and around the world striving for peace, justice and accountability.

We welcome the Council’s swift response to the devastating human rights consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, setting up a strong accountability mechanism. The war in Ukraine represents the latest in a growing regional human rights crisis and the action taken by the Council to establish this accountability mechanism is an important step. 

Since the Council took action in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian human rights defenders have documented evidence of violations that may amount to war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks, forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia, abductions and disappearances of political activists and human rights defenders, and the intentional targeting of local political figures, journalists, civilians, and civilian infrastructure. While we welcome the Council’s initial response, it is imperative that the Council remain diligent and responsive to situational needs, including a potential special session prior to HRC50 should the situation in Ukraine continue to deteriorate.

Every human rights situation must be dealt with on its merits, with Council members ensuring a principled and consistent application of international law and standards, including in all situations of occupation. It is imperative that the Council uses all available tools to ensure the fulfilment of the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people as a whole struggling against Israel’s apartheid,  and to act with urgency to support Palestinian civil society in a context of mounting repression.

We recall the mounting recognition of Israel’s imposition of an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, including by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, but also prior to his historic report, in a joint statement by 47 UN Special Procedures which stated that “above all, the Israeli occupation has meant the denial of the right of Palestinian self-determination.” In a joint statement at this session,  90 organisations reiterated that “Double standards on this matter, including those propagated by Europe and the United States, severely undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of international human rights and humanitarian legal standards. For 73 years, the international community has enabled Israeli impunity and failed to hold Israeli perpetrators accountable for serious crimes against Palestinians.  Accountability is long overdue.”

This Council must also urgently act to dismantle systemic racism in border control and migration governance and play its role in upholding all human rights for all at international borders, including the right to seek asylum. All human beings crossing European borders from Ukraine are fleeing the same dangers. We deplore the discrimination and violence against Africans and other racialized groups fleeing Ukraine, as well as the different approach taken towards refugees fleeing other conflicts.

We welcome the Council’s decision to extend the mandate of the OHCHR Examination on Belarus. We remind the Council that the original Examination did not start its work for a number of months which resulted in delays in documenting and analysing evidence of human rights violations committed in the context of Belarus’s 2020 presidential elections. We are concerned by reports that the Examination will be moved from Geneva to Vienna and delays which could result from such action. We encourage the Council to engage with OHCHR to ensure that the Examination rolls over without delay.

We welcome attention paid to the issue of transitional justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the context of the interactive dialogue at this session, and stress that any meaningful transitional justice process must include a judicial mechanism with a strong international component to hold perpetrators to account.

While we welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, we urge the Council to revisit its business as usual approach to the human rights situation in Iran. We regret that the resolution fails to contain any substance on the situation of human rights in the country, a situation that is unique for country resolutions under item 4. As noted by the Special Rapporteur in his report to this Council, “institutional impunity and the absence of a system for accountability for violations of human rights permeate the political and legal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” We furthermore urge the Council to answer the Special Rapporteur’s appeal for “the international community to call for accountability with respect to long-standing emblematic events that have been met with persistent impunity”.

It is clear from its interim report to this Council that the Fact-finding Mission for Libya must be renewed in June, ideally for a period of two years.  Much more work needs to be done to promote the institutions necessary for accountability in the country. 

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Myanmar – by consensus – maintaining enhanced monitoring and reporting on the ongoing crisis, and with calls for suspension of arms transfers to Myanmar as a necessary step towards preventing further violations and abuses of human rights.

We celebrate the establishment of a Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, as the repression intensifies, and the government does not show any willingness to cooperate with the UN. The Group’s mandate to investigate human rights violations since April 2018, including root causes and intersectional forms of discrimination, identify perpetrators, and preserve evidence, will pave the way for future accountability processes, putting victims at the heart of the Council’s response.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on human rights defenders and we stress that recognizing and protecting human rights defenders involves not only their holistic and security protection but also recognition of the important work they do in conflict and post-conflict situations. We also welcome the reference of the impact of arms transfers in this resolution, but regret a more substantive reference could not be made in the operational paragraphs. We also regret that child human rights defenders have not been included in the resolution despite the strong request from many States.

We welcome the leadership of Uruguay, on behalf of GRULAC, and the EU on the resolution on the rights of the child and family reunification in the context of migration and armed conflict, ensuring a strong focus on children as rights holders, prevention of family separation and the establishment of effective and accessible family reunification procedures. We are concerned once again, by the attempt to weaken the text on child participation through amendments. Finally, we regret that the resolution does not include a clear reference to the existing standards on prohibition of child immigration detention, and that the important recognition, especially in the context of the resolution, that various forms of family exist was not retained in the text. 

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, although we regret that the resolution does not clearly stress the need for additional resources to the mandate due to its necessary focus on activities of UN on counter-terrorism in New York. We recognise the important analysis on states of emergency that was very relevant during the pandemic.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on disinformation. The resolution reaffirms the central role of the right to freedom of expression in countering disinformation and stresses that censorship cannot be justified to counter disinformation, including through Internet shutdowns or vague and broad laws criminalising disinformation.  It also draws attention to the role of algorithms and ranking systems in amplifying disinformation. We urge States to follow the approach of the resolution and counter disinformation through holistic measures, including by ensuring a free, independent, plural and diverse media, protecting the safety of journalists, and promoting access to information held by public bodies.

Whilst underlining the importance of protecting the independence of the OHCHR and ensuring there is no state interference in its work, we welcome the resolution on promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, its emphasis on austerity measures and policies imposed by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and its impact on economic, social and cultural right. We regret the language calling out IFIs was not stronger and in this regard encourage the workshop that will be convened by the High Commissioner to address the specific impacts of austerity measures imposed by IFIs on human rights specifically on recovery from COVID 19 Pandemic. 

We welcome reports 49/68 on […] prevention and technical assistance and capacity-building, and 49/88 on the contribution of […] all human rights […] to achieving the purposes and upholding the principles of the UN Charter – they emphasized how the Council and the broader human rights community can work more effectively and coherently across all UN pillars to sustain peace – including through systematically integrating human rights in UN common analysis and programming, and increasing synergies between UN pillars; and ensuring human rights are at the centre of a new social contract.

We regret that the Council failed to respond to several human rights situations.

In the context of new heights of repression threatening the survival of independent civil society in Algeria, we welcome the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of Algeria to take all necessary steps to guarantee its people’s rights to freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly, to which we add the right to freedom of religion or belief. Special Procedures have repeatedly warned about increasing crackdown on religious minorities, in the context of a sustained crackdown on civil and political freedoms.

We note the High Commissioner’s announced visit to China, while expressing concerns at the lack of transparency over agreed terms for unfettered access. We recall precedents that cast shadow over the possibility that the Chinese authorities indeed allow genuine unrestricted access and inquiry, across the country. We deplore her Office’s lack of coherence in responding to serious human rights violations in China, as this Council still awaits a long-promised report on grave violations in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region, with no further indication on its protracted release.

We express deep disappointment in a lack of follow up by States to the joint statement condemning widespread violations in Egypt delivered last March.   The Egyptian human rights movement and independent rights NGOs continue to face a real and imminent threats to their existence.  The authorities continue to misuse counterterrorism laws to arbitrarily detain thousands, including hundreds of human rights defenders, activists, political opponents and journalists, while systematically resorting to enforced disappearances and torture. Judges continue to sentence hundreds of defendants following their convictions as a result of unfair criminal trials, including to death, amid an alarming spike in executions since late 2020.  Given the failure of the Egyptian authorities to meaningfully address the on-going human rights crisis and tackle impunity for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations, we strongly urge follow up action at this Council.  The price of silence is too high.

It is unfortunate that the Council did not take steps to respond to the substantial and growing attacks on human rights on the territory of the Russian Federation. Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, the authorities have further clamped down on the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression and made legitimate human rights work increasingly difficult. Peaceful protest is effectively forbidden. Independent media are forbidden from printing facts and required to solely report government narratives. Two decades of repression against independent civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders laid the groundwork for the authorities to be able to launch an unprovoked attack against Ukraine and the Council has a responsibility to respond accordingly. We demand that the Council establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia at its soonest opportunity.

Finally, we call on the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia’s rights of membership of the Council for committing widespread, gross and systematic human rights violations, some amounting to war crimes.

Signatories: International Service for Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights House Foundation, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Commission of Jurists, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI),  Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, child rights connect, Habitat International Coalition, FIDH.

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc49-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

Suspension of membership UN Human Rights Council finally operationalised

April 8, 2022

(Credit: UNTV)

It was big news that Russia was stripped of its seat in the Un human Rights Council.

In March 2014 in one of my first blog posts I argued for making better use of the possibility to suspend member states (be it in the context of reprisals): “The resolution establishing the new Human Rights Council – replacing the previous Commission – states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” And one of the novelties touted was that the General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. 

The chilling effect that reprisals can have – especially when met with impunity – is potentially extremely damaging for the whole UN system of human rights procedures and will undo the slow but steady process of the last decades. Taken together with the above-mentioned seriousness of the aggravating character of reprisals, a powerful coalition of international and regional NGOs could well start public hearings with the purpose of demanding that States that commit reprisal be suspended.

If States can lose their right to vote in the General Assembly if they do not pay their fees for several years, there is in fact nothing shocking in demanding that States, who persecute and intimidate human rights defenders BECAUSE they cooperate with the United Nations, are not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the UN human rights body.” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]

UN members voted on Thursday 7 April to strip Russia from its seat at the Human Rights Council, over alleged civilian killings in the region around Kyiv, Ukraine. The proposal, presented at a UN General Assembly emergency session in New York, was backed by 93 countries. Russia, China, Belarus, Syria and Iran were among the 24 countries to vote against, while 58 countries, including India, Brazil and South Africa abstained.

Introducing the US-led resolution, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, ​​Sergiy Kyslytsya, told fellow members that suspending Russia’s right to sit on the Council, was “not an option, but a duty”.

This is the second time in the history of Human Rights Council (HRC) since its creation in 2006 that a sitting member has been kicked out. The first one was Libya, when late former dictator Muammar Gaddafi led a deadly crackdown on protests in 2011, only to be reinstated eight months later. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/07/05/amnesty-and-hrw-trying-to-get-saudi-arabia-suspended-from-the-un-human-rights-council/

This is the first time a permanent member of the UN Security Council has been removed from any UN body.

Countries react

Taking the floor, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, echoed Russia’s comments and said the move was politically driven. Belarus dubbed it an attempt to “demonise” Russia. Warning that they would abstain, several countries including India, Egypt, Senegal, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, argued it was too soon to vote on such a proposal and that investigations into the allegations should be conducted beforehand.

In a statement published on its website, Russia’s permanent mission in Geneva called the decision “an unlawful and politically motivated step, the sole purpose of which – to exert pressure on a sovereign state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy”.

Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said after the vote that Russia had already withdrawn from the council before the assembly took action, apparently in expectation of the result. By withdrawing, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said Russia avoided being deprived of observer status at the rights body.

See also the Geneva Solutions piece: https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/what-does-russia-s-suspension-mean-for-the-human-rights-council

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/un-votes-russia-out-of-the-human-rights-council-over-alleged-gross-violations-in-ukraine

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115782

Russia refuses to further participate in the Council of Europe

March 11, 2022

In a short statement that was issued on 10 March 2022, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that they will no longer participate in the Council of Europe in response to ‘the EU’s and NATO’s continued efforts to destroy the Council of Europe and the common humanitarian and legal space in Europe’. It could mean that Russia may leave Europe’s main organisation on human rights, rin response to its recent suspension related to the war in Ukraine.

Russia will not participate in the transformation by NATO and the EU obediently following them of the oldest European organization into another platform for incantations about Western superiority and narcissism,” the ministry said, according to Russian media outlet RIA News. “Let them enjoy communicating with each other without Russia.

Russia joined the Council of Europe in the winter of 1996, and since then the country has had a moratorium on the death penalty. Two years later, Moscow ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (ECHR).

Several times Russia was deprived of the right to vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, despite the fact that it is one of the five largest sponsors of the organization. After the start of the special operation in Ukraine, the Council of Europe suspended Moscow’s membership.

On 17 March 2022 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has formally decided that the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the organisation. This happens after just over a quarter century of membership, since Russia joined on 28 February 1996. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/09/ruxit-a-real-possibility-and-bad-for-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.dailysabah.com/world/europe/russia-refuses-to-participate-in-council-of-europe

https://www.echrblog.com/2022/03/russia-will-no-longer-participate-in.html

https://www.echrblog.com/2022/03/what-would-russias-departure-from.html

https://www.echrblog.com/2022/03/formal-end-of-russias-council-of-europe.html

but…https://www.echrblog.com/2022/03/echr-continues-to-apply-for-russia.html

Warning: Human rights defenders in Ukraine and in exile will be danger

March 4, 2022

Isabel Linzer and Yana Gorokhovskaia in Just Security of 3 March 2022 state that “Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Imperils Human Rights Defenders and Political Exiles“:

It is not just human rights defenders in Russia who are at risk [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/27/anti-war-human-rights-defenders-in-russia/] but (soon?) also those based in Ukraine or exile:

.. while general humanitarian aid is essential to accommodate the expected millions fleeing the conflict, Ukraine’s allies should also provide immediate, strategic support to individuals who may be targeted for reprisals by Russian authorities, specifically human rights defenders, journalists, as well as political exiles from authoritarian states. As intelligence reports have suggested, Ukrainian and foreign activists – democracy’s vocal defenders – may be singled out for attacks by Russia.

As of 2021, Freedom House documented over thirty physical acts of transnational repression – attempts to silence dissent beyond its borders through physical violence or other coercion – committed by Russia since 2014. Increasingly, Russian authorities have also helped other repressive States, including Belarus, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, reach political activists and dissidents who reside in Russia. Among other dangers, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to extend the reach of these authoritarian practices and endanger civil society activists who had previously found safe haven in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s civil society is exceptionally vibrant. Widespread civic mobilization was crucial during both the Orange Revolution in 2005 and the Maidan Revolution in 2014. A dozen activists who participated in protests in 2014 were elected to the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) and others joined regional and local councils around the country. Ukrainian civil society was instrumental in providing military supplies to the under-resourced Ukrainian army when Russian-backed forces began an armed conflict in the east of the county in 2014. Since then, non-governmental groups have worked hard to help internally displaced people including through programs that support young people and women. Though it has faced challenges, today Ukraine’s civic sector represents a wide range of causes and identities, including free expression, anti-corruption, and LGBT+ rights. Many of these same civic causes have been under attack in Russia for years.

Last week, reporting revealed that U.S. intelligence was aware of lists, drafted by the Russian government, of people in Ukraine who would be arrested or assassinated following the invasion. Russian and Belarusian dissidents, journalists, activists, religious and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQI+ individuals were identified as potential targets, and the U.S. government has reportedly warned individuals of the threats against them. Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to confirm these chilling reports when he declared the invasion on Feb. 24, saying, “We will hand over everyone who committed bloody crimes against civilians, including Russian citizens, to court,” in a thinly-veiled threat to people his government broadly defines as opposition.

In addition to Ukrainian activists, the country is also home to many foreign activists. Ease of entry facilitated by Ukraine’s visa-free entry regime for citizens of dozens of countries makes it a natural refuge for people escaping repressive regimes and a hub of diaspora activism. Now, Ukraine’s uniquely inclusive civil society landscape may provide the Kremlin with an abundance of individuals it views as politically threatening to target for repression.

These are credible threats. …

Russia not only engages in transnational repression directly. It also helps other States to pursue their dissidents within its sphere of control.  Wherever the Russian government controls territory, activists, members of civil society, and political dissidents are at risk. Following a mass protest movement in response to fraudulent elections, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko undertook an aggressive campaign to pursue opponents within Belarus and abroad, relying especially on Russian assistance. The world was stunned when Minsk forced the landing of a RyanAir flight to arrest a dissident journalist on board, but Belarus has also extracted dozens of its citizens from Russian territory, with the full cooperation of Russian authorities. Many had been living in Russia for years and had done little except post messages of support for pro-democracy protests in their home country. Ukraine today is home to thousands of Belarusians who fled Minsk’s brutal repression. Their safety has been stripped from them by the invasion. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/05/joint-statement-on-the-sentencing-of-two-members-of-human-rights-group-viasna-in-belarus/

Protecting civilians, and especially human rights defenders both Ukrainian and foreign, is one of the most urgent non-military actions Ukraine’s allies can take. They should coordinate to warn and, when desired by the individuals in question, extract and resettle vulnerable individuals. Family members of potential Russian targets should also be relocated, to prevent them becoming leverage points used against those who are evacuated. Given the Kremlin’s track record of transnational repression across Europe, at-risk individuals should be given the option of swift relocation to geographically distant countries, like the United States, rather than remaining in border States where they are more vulnerable. Civil society organizations in a position to offer digital security training and socio-psychological assistance to members of civil society should be given ample funding to do this work…