Posts Tagged ‘UN Rapporteurs’

Even landmark UN decision does not change Cambodia’s treatment of human rights defenders

March 11, 2017

I was reading (belatedly) about the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, who in January 2017 intervened strongly in the case of the 5 Cambodian human rights defenders of ADHOC (#FreeThe5KH) who have been in detention since April last year. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/] Only then did I realize that the case had led a few months earlier to a landmark decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD): the first time that any UN body has referred to HRDs as a protected group.

 

 

On 21 November 21, 2016, the WGAD ruled that the ongoing detention of Mr. Ny ChakryaDeputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), and four staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Messrs. Ny SokhaYi SoksanNay Vanda, and Ms. Lim Mony, was “arbitrary.” Following a submission made by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH partnership), the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) in June 2016, the WGAD’s Opinion No. 45/2016 ruled that the five human rights defenders (HRDs) have been discriminated against based on their status as human rights defenders, and in violation of their right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law under article 26 of the ICCPR.” This is the first time ever that the WGAD – or any other UN mechanism receiving individual complaints – has referred to HRDs as a protected group that is entitled to equal legal protection under Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ruling also recognised the violation of the five HRDs’ “rights to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance and other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights.”

 In addition, the WGAD found that the targeting of ADHOC staff members for having provided “legitimate legal advice and other assistance” violated the five HRDs’ right to freedom of association. It ruled that violations of fair trial rights (including the fact that the five were denied legal counsel from the beginning of their questioning), unjustified pre-trial detention, and statements made by the Cambodian authorities which denied the five the presumption of innocence – all of which contravene Cambodia’s international human rights obligations in respect to the right to a fair trial – are also serious enough to consider their ongoing detention as arbitrary. The WGAD concluded that “the deprivation of liberty of Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Monyand Ny Chakrya, being in contravention of articles 7, 9, 10, 11 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9, 10, 14, 22 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary.”

That Cambodian authorities are not impressed is shown by the continued detention of the 5 ADHOC HRDs and by the press release of 7 February 2017 calling for the cessation of the politically motivated criminal investigation of human rights defenders Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak. Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists signed the statement.

Phnom Penh 20170207 PHTO
Cambodian police detain protesters during a protest to free jailed activists in Phnom Penh, Cambodia May 9, 2016.© Reuters/Samrang Pring

Cambodian officials have accused Sam-at, a respected human rights monitor at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) for nearly 20 years, and Puthisak, a land rights activist from Boeung Kak Lake and former prisoner of conscience, of instigating violence at an October 10, 2016 demonstration. Para-police forces, who are regularly used to suppress demonstrations, violently dispersed what had been a peaceful protest in Phnom Penh. When Puthisak attempted to prevent para-police from confiscating a drum that was being used by a demonstrator, four or five para-police attacked him, repeatedly beating him on the head with their fists, according to a video of the incident. When Sam-at tried to stop the assault, the para-police attacked him, also beating him on the head. Both men sustained injuries that needed medical attention.

The investigation of Sam-at and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director at Amnesty International. “As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”

 

Sources:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56036#.WMP0Dhhh2V4

Cambodia: In landmark decision, UN body declares the detention of five human rights defenders arbitrary #FreeThe5KH / December 18, 2016 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/07/cambodia-drop-farcical-investigation-human-rights-defenders

UN rapporteurs urge India to repeal law restricting human rights defenders access to foreign funding

June 17, 2016

While most attention on the issue of foreign funding of NGOs has gone to Russia, which for this purpose invented the ‘foreign agent’ law, [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agent-law/], another big country – India – has been stepping up its own version through a law restricting civil society access to foreign funding:

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst. Photo: MINUSTAH

On 16 June 2016 three United Nations rapporteurs on human rights called on the Government of India to repeal a regulation that has been increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding. The experts’ call comes as the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs suspended for six months the registration of the non-governmental organization Lawyers Collective, under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. [see also my post form 2013: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/india-should-end-funding-restraints-on-human-rights-defenders-says-hrw/]

The suspension was imposed on the basis of allegations that its founders, human rights lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, violated the act provisions by using foreign funding for purposes other than intended.

We are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government,” said UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and on freedom of association, Maina Kiai.

Despite detailed evidence provided by the non-governmental organization (NGO) to rebut all allegations and prove that all foreign contributions were spent and accounted for in line with FCRA, the suspension was still applied. “We are alarmed by reports that the suspension was politically motivated and was aimed at intimidating, delegitimising and silencing Lawyers Collective for their litigation and criticism of the Government’s policies,” the experts said noting that the NGO is known for its public interest litigation and advocacy in defence of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of Indian society.

Many civil society organizations in India now depend on FCRA accreditation to receive foreign funding, which is critical to their operations assisting millions of Indians in pursuing their political, cultural, economic and social rights. The ability to access foreign funding is vital to human rights work and is an integral part of the right to freedom of association. However, FCRA’s broad and vague terms such as ‘political nature’, ‘economic interest of the State’ or ‘public interest’ are overly broad, do not conform to a prescribed aim, and are not a proportionate responses to the purported goal of the restriction.

Human rights defenders and civil society must have the ability to do their important job without being subjected to increased limitations on their access to foreign funding and the undue suspension of their registration on the basis of burdensome administrative requirements imposed to those organizations in receipt of foreign funds,” the UN human rights experts concluded.

Source: United Nations News Centre – UN rights experts urge India to repeal law restricting civil society access to foreign funding

UN Rapporteurs urge Ethiopia to end violent crackdown and impunity

February 10, 2016

On 21 January 2016 a group of United Nations Rapporteurs (Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances) called on the Ethiopian authorities to end the ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests by the country’s security forces, who have reportedly killed more than 140 demonstrators and arrested scores more in the past nine weeks. “The sheer number of people killed and arrested suggests that the Government of Ethiopia views the citizens as a hindrance, rather than a partner,” the independent experts said, while also expressing deep concern about allegations of enforced disappearances of several protesters.

The current wave of protests began in mid-November, in opposition to the Government’s ‘Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan’ to expand the capital’s municipal boundary. The ‘Master Plan’ could reportedly lead to mass evictions and the seizure of agricultural land in the Oromia region, as well as extensive deforestation. The UN experts welcomed the Government’s announcement on 12 January 2016 suspending the implementation of the ‘Master Plan’, but were concerned about continuous reports of killings, mass arrests, excessive use of force and other abuses by security forces. “The Government’s decision is a positive development, but it cannot be seen as a sincere commitment until the security forces stop their crackdown on peaceful protests,” they said. “The role of security forces should be to protect demonstrators and to facilitate peaceful assemblies, not suppress them.”

We call on the Government to immediately release protesters who seem to have been arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, to reveal the whereabouts of those reportedly disappeared and to carry out an independent, transparent investigation into the security forces’ response to the protests,” the experts said.  “Impunity, on the other hand, only perpetuates distrust, violence and more oppression.

The UN independent experts also expressed grave concern over the Ethiopian Government’s application of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 652/2009 to arrest and prosecute protesters, labelling them as ‘terrorists’ without substantiated evidence. This law authorises the use of unrestrained force against suspects and pre-trial detention of up to four months. “Ethiopia’s use of terrorism laws to criminalize peaceful dissent is a disturbing trend, not limited to the current wave of protests,” they experts noted. “The wanton labelling of peaceful activists as terrorists is not only a violation of international human rights law, it also contributes to an erosion of confidence in Ethiopia’s ability to fight real terrorism. This ultimately makes our world a more dangerous place.”

How the law was used recently is clear from the case of the “Zone 9” bloggers. Fortunately, on 16 October 2015 Front Line was able to report that all “Zone 9” bloggers were cleared of terrorism charges by the Federal Court in Addis Ababa. All bloggers and journalists whose terrorism charges have been dropped are members of the “Zone 9” and prominent social media activists. With the exception of Soliana Shimelis, the other human rights defenders, namely Mss Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye and Messrs Natnael Feleke, Befekadu Hailu, Atnaf Birhane, Zelalem Kibret, Abel Wabela, Tesfalem Weldyes and Asmamaw Haile Giorgis, were arrested on 25 and 26 April 2014 and remained in detention for over a year before being freed.  The human rights defenders’ lawyer stated that “all the evidence presented was very weak to prove they were planning any kind of terrorism”. However, charges of inciting violence remain pending against Befekadu Hailu, who might face a ten-year imprisonment sentence if convicted. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/29137

On Ethiopia: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/suffocating-dissent-in-ethiopia-counterpunch-tells-the-facts-and-names-the-names/

http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16977&LangID=E

Sombath Somphone: third anniversary of his disappearance in Laos

January 4, 2016

The first Newsletter of Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, recalls the case of Sombath Somphone, who is a founder of non-governmental organisations in the field of education and rural development He is one of the best-known defenders of social rights in Laos. For all his works and his actions he has received numerous international awards including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

Since 15 December 2012, Sombat Sombone is missing. A CCTV footage shows his last moments before his disappearance. According to these images, a motorcycle policeman asks him to get off his vehicle before two men in a vehicle took him. Various international actors, including delegations from the European Parliament and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, went on-site during official visits and used these occasions to question authorities about the situation of Sombath Sompone. According to the feedbacks of these visits, no progress has been made in the investigation into his disappearance and no concrete answer was given to their questions. Thus, many calls were made both by civil society organisations and international institutions in order to have answers on the disappearance of Sombath Sompone and the ones of many others political opponents and other disappeared persons. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/happy-new-year-that-2016-may-be-a-better-year-for-human-rights-defenders/]

A year after the disappearance of Sombath Sompone, several Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, issued a statement encouraging the Laotian authorities to intensify their efforts in the investigation process into his disappearance. See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/laos-un-experts-on-two-year-old-disappearance-of-human-rights-defender-sombath-somphone/

UN Rapporteurs urge end to harassment of human rights defenders in Occupied Palestinian Territory

December 19, 2015

 

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst. Photo: MINUSTAH

Gravely concerned at continued reports that human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Hebron, are being subjected to physical attacks and death threats, United Nations independent experts denounced on 18 December 2015 such harassment as “unacceptable” and called for it to end immediately. Human rights defenders have been subjected to physical attacks, harassment, arrest and detention, and death threats, in an apparent bid by Israeli authorities and settler elements to stop their peaceful and important work.

Amidst a charged and violent atmosphere over past months in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Palestinian and international defenders are providing a ‘protective presence’ for Palestinians at risk of violence, and documenting human rights violations,” said UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

Earlier this month, a group of UN human rights experts urged the Israeli Government to ensure a protective environment where human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory can work without unlawful restriction and without fear of retaliatory acts.

We recently addressed concerns to the Israeli Government regarding retaliatory acts by Israeli authorities against members of one organisation based in Hebron, Youth Against Settlements, after its Centre was subjected to raids and settlers allegedly called for it to be closed,” noted the UN Special Rapporteur the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Makarim Wibisono. He noted that the Centre has now effectively been shut down as a result of the Israeli military declaring the surrounding area a military zone. “We urge Israeli authorities to lift this military order”.


Source: United Nations News Centre – UN experts urge end to harassment of human rights defenders in Occupied Palestinian Territory

The remarkable crackdown on lawyers in China in July 2015

July 29, 2015

On 10 July 2015 over 250 lawyers and support staff were detained or questioned by the police in China in one of the largest crackdowns in recent years. Many newspapers and NGOs have reported on this phenomenon. This is the situation on 29 July: Read the rest of this entry »

U.N. Rapporteur on Myanmar called “whore” by radical Buddhist monk

January 21, 2015

Myanmar monk's U.N. whore rant
Wirathu:”Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn’t make you an honourable woman. In our country, you are just a whore,”

For those who think that hate speech has no place in peace-loving Buddhism, this is sobering item:

A radical Myanmar Buddhist monk, Wirathu,  called the U.N. human rights envoy – Ms Yanghee Lee –  a “whore”, and accused Lee of bias towards Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine. Wirathu denounced Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar before a cheering crowd of several hundred people, in a speech in Yangon on Friday, after she questioned draft laws that critics say discriminate against women and non-Buddhists. “You can offer your arse to the kalars if you so wish but you are not selling off our Rakhine State,” he said. Kalars is a derogatory word for people of South Asian descent.

His speech was condemned by Thawbita, a leading member of the progressive Saffron Revolution Buddhist Monks Network in Mandalay, where Wirathu is also based. “The words used that day are very sad and disappointing. It is an act that could hurt Buddhism very badly,” Thawbita told Reuters. But he is unlikely to face censure. A senior official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs told Reuters there were no plans to act against Wirathu. This is the more remarkable as in December a New Zealander and two Burmese were charged with insulting Buddhism. The arrest was triggered by a complaint by an official from the country’s religious department. [see: http://news/world-asia-30527443]

 

Rapporteur Lee in a statement released by her office on Monday said:  “During my visit I was personally subjected to the kind of sexist intimidation that female human rights defenders experience when advocating on controversial issues“.

Myanmar monk’s U.N. whore rant “could hurt Buddhism” | Asia-Pasific | Worldbulletin News.

Hinah Jilani on human rights defenders: the first report of her Maastricht lecture

November 17, 2014

The 5th Theo van Boven lecture was given by Hinah Jilani on 11 November 2014 in Maastricht. As a primeur here is a report written by Daan Bronkhorst (1953) who has been at the staff of Amnesty International Netherlands since 1979. He has written on refugees, transitional justice, history and other issues, and produced a Dutch-language encyclopedia of human rights. He is now writing a PhD study on human rights defenders.

Hinah Jilani on human rights defenders

Observations on a lecture

by Daan Bronkhorst

At the law faculty of Maastricht University, the 5th Theo van Boven Lecture was presented on 11 November 2014 by Hinah Jilani. From 2000 to 2008, she was the United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. She is in various respects an emblematic human rights defender herself. Already in 1980, with her sister Asma Jahangir she founded the Legal Aid Cell in Lahore. She was co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women’s Action Forum. She was the target of arrests and death threats, once narrowly escaping a gunman who killed the woman she was counseling at that time.

In the lecture, she described human rights defenders as those who bring to the fore information on the abuses to be addressed by governments and organizations. They contribute to relief and protection, they provide a measure of accountability, they inform governments on possible actions and help ensure a measure of justice. In conflict situations, they have a critical role in promoting peace and peace building. They prompt recognition of participatory democracy and transparency. ‘Human rights defenders are not just making human rights violations visible, they confront states with their duty to protect’, she said. For their work, defenders are considered a threat in most parts of the world. They experience vilification, unfair trials, acts of violence, self-imposed exile and reprisals.

Jilani said that ‘time and again, I was pressured by governments to define human rights defenders. I was wondering why there was this insistence. Then I understood then that when you define, you can make it easy to exclude people.’ Among human rights defenders, Jilani includes professionals as well as peasants, workers, teachers, doctors, judges, MPs and many others. ‘Actually anyone who undertakes any activity for the promotion and protection of human rights, and is harmed becomes of that, comes under the protection of the [1998 UN] Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.’ Quoting examples from her native country, Pakistan, she described the threats that befall the defenders not just from state oppression, but also coming from the ‘lack of judicial independence, social biases, traditional and religious practices, economic interests and political privileges.’ Women are targeted and ostracized by the elders of their communities. There is a positive note as well: ‘Until not so long ago judges used to honour honour killings in Pakistan. Today that has become unthinkable.’

 Jilani pictures the defending of the defenders as ‘often a story of one step forward and two steps backwards’. Leaders of indigenous communities, representatives of migrants and refugees, trade unionists: they are all increasingly targeted. More and more reports of attacks now come from Africa. In an increasing number of countries law and policies are leading to the shrinking of civil society space. Meetings are dispersed for alleged security reasons, the defenders are called insurgents or anti-state elements, or simply terrorists. In the UN Declaration, Jilani said, civil society was explicitly given a role in safeguarding democracy and human rights. ‘The defenders initiated programs for institution building, education and the enforcement of the rule of law. But it is impossible for them to achieve those aims if civilians are not allowed to live their normal lives.’ She also cracked a nut with the media: ‘The media have been the first to attack human rights defenders. They have not taken the effort to understand their work. They hit back at the very people who stand up for them when freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are threatened.’

Jilani’s opinions and convictions can be considered as leading in the field. Her observations, I think, also give rise to a number of questions. I mention three.

         First, the concept. That the UN Declaration offers no definition has the advantage of greater inclusion, but the risk of confusion and erosion. There are conspicuous inconsistencies in the UN Declaration with later commentaries and explanations issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Is the term meant to denote only those who are at risk, or also those working from safe offices in say Geneva? That the very concept of the human rights defender is still in the air even at the UN is testified by the November 2013 debate that led to a resolution on women human rights defenders. In the last-minute final text some of the draft’s references, such as to violence against women and to the refraining from invoking customs and religion, were left out, even though shortly before having been adopted in UN General Assembly resolutions.

            Second, the scope of the work of human rights defenders. It is one thing to state that human rights work contributes to processes such as that of peace building and social justice, it is another to imply that their actual work is in those fields. There is much consensus about human rights including protection from torture or equality before the law, but not on such issues as the human rights scope of poverty. What is the dividing line between what is injustice and what is a human rights violation? This ties in with a larger present-day debate on the position and foundations of human rights. Will human rights defenders get lost in this debate and become one more bone of contention? Or can a somehow limited purview of their work strengthen human rights’ position?

            And third, the empirical data that support the call for better protection and underpinning of the human rights defenders’ work. Jilani’s statement that the space for human rights defence is shrinking on a worldwide scale and that attacks on human rights defenders are increasing, is reflected in reports by international defenders organizations. Simultaneously these organizations report greatly expanding international networks, much success in training, rising awareness of the international community. Is there a discrepancy here? Is the image of increasing threats perhaps self-serving the (donor) organizations? To the perceived rise of menaces one can argue that not long ago in most non-Western countries there was no civil society space at all. Also, since so many more individuals and groups are now labeled ‘human rights defenders’, the absolute number of those victimized may grow even if their proportion decreases. If there is indeed progress, this may prompt emphasizing the effectiveness of programs and using this as leverage for work on situations where the threats persist or newly occur.

Larijani brothers, Iran, attack UN Rapporteur and human rights defenders

February 2, 2014

Just weeks before the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran is scheduled to present his latest report at the UN, the Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, and his brother, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who heads the human rights council of that same Judiciary body, renew their verbal attacks on the Rapporteur. Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s human rights defenders that make human rights a reality”

December 17, 2013

This video clip was published on 5 December 2013 by the International Service for Human RightsHuman Rights experts, Hina Jilani, Mehr Khan Williams, Jean-Daniel Vigny, and Walter Kalin tell us why human rights defenders play a critical role and why supporting them is a good way to support the whole global human rights movement.