Posts Tagged ‘US State Department’

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

March 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Women of Courage Awards 2019 given out at the US State Department

March 11, 2019

On 7 March 2019, US Secretary of State Pompeo hosted the Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the State Department to honor 10 women from around the world. First Lady Melania Trump delivered special remarks at the ceremony.

Now in its 13th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award wants to recognize women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since the inception of this award in March 2007, the State Department has recognized more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials. For more in this and other awards for women: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

The names of the 2019 IWOC winners are as follows:

  • Razia Sultana of Bangladesh
  • Naw K’nyaw Paw of Burma
  • Moumina Houssein Darar of Djibouti
  • Mama Maggie of Egypt
  • Colonel Khalida Khalaf Hanna al-Twal of Jordan
  • Sister Orla Treacy of Ireland
  • Olivera Lakic of Montenegro
  • Flor de Maria Vega Zapata of Peru
  • Marini de Livera of Sri Lanka
  • Anna Aloys Henga of Tanzania

Short bios of the 2019 awardees can be found through the link below.

https://www.state.gov/s/gwi/iwoc/2019/index.htm

Low key launch of 2016 State Department Human-Rights Report raises questions

March 4, 2017

The Voice of America (3/3/17: Tillerson in Background as State Department Issues Human-Rights Report) and other media reported on the low-key way in which the US State Department launched the 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 22, 2017.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 22, 2017.

Sources:

Tillerson in Background as State Department Issues Human-Rights Report

http://gantdaily.com/2017/03/03/tillerson-skips-release-of-annual-human-rights-report/

US State Department gives out International Women of Courage Awards 2016

April 8, 2016

Missing in action: Wheelchair-bound human rights advocate Ni Yulan failed to attend the awarding ceremony in the U.S. She told the BBC that her passport was withheld.Photo U.S. Department of State/Flickr

Human rights lawyer and activist Ni Yulan became one of the 2016 recipients of the International Women of Courage Awards conferred by the U.S. Department of State on 29 March. The wheelchair-bound human rights lawyer Ni Yulan from China was not present; she he told the BBC that her passport was withheld.  Yulan Ni won the Dutch Human Rights Tulip in 2011.[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/chinese-human-rights-defender-ni-yulan-freed/]

She shares the 2016 recognition from the USA with 13 other women: Read the rest of this entry »

US State Department 2014 Human Rights Defender Award to Azimjon Askarov and Foro Penal

July 23, 2015

On 16 July 2015 Assistant-Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor – Tom Malinowski – presented the 2014 Human Rights Defenders Award to Azimjon Askarov of Kyrgyzstan and Foro Penal, a NGO from Venezuela, in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information on this award see:  http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/freedom-defenders-award-us-state (note: the name varies).

Azimjon Askarov is known for trying to bring together people of all ethnicities especially Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. He is serving a life sentence for alleged involvement in the killing of a police officer. He won the 2010 Homo Homini award and was a Final Nominee for the MEA in 2011. Due to Mr. Askarov’s imprisonment, his son, Sherzod, accepted the award on his behalf.

Foro Penal, a Venezuelan pro-bono network of over 200 lawyers and 1,000 human rights defenders, advocates for human rights and rule of law in Venezuela and abroad. With severe restrictions on the media and internet access, Foro Penal provided timely, critical, and independent information during the 2014 protests, and continues to defend and promote human rights despite risk of government suppression. Founder and Director Gonzalo Himiob and Executive Director Alfredo Romero accepted on behalf of Foro Penal.

For the backlash created in the case of Mr Askarov see my next post.

2014 Human Rights Defender Award Ceremony for Azimjon Askarov and Foro Penal.

 

Bahrain: #FreeNabeel campaign more urgent than ever in view of resumption USA security assistance

July 8, 2015

Nedal Al Salman , Head of International Relations and Women & Children’s Rights Advocacy of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights [BCHR], launched today a day of solidarity for the president of the BCHR, Nabeel Rajab, with videos of supportive MEP’s. There is an urgent resolution adopted by the EU Parliament about Bahrain and in particular the case of Nabeel Rajab. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/video-statement-of-troublemaker-nabeel-rajab-who-is-on-trial-today/]

You can join in the campaign by recording your self on video, state your name and the organisation you represent and say a few words about Nabeel Rajab and call for his release. Your video/photo can be shared on twitter under the hashtag #FreeNabeel [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/nabeel-rajab/]

How difficult it is to match human rights diplomacy with geopolitical considerations is shown in the OP-ED in the New York Times of 7 July 2015 by Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy:

“Last week, the State Department announced the resumption of “security assistance” to Bahrain. This ended a four-year ban on the transfer of arms that the United States put into effect in 2011, after the Bahraini government’s harsh crackdown on Arab Spring protests. In a statement, the State Department argued that Bahrain had made enough progress in human rights reform to be rewarded by ending the embargo, even though the human rights situation in Bahrain was not “adequate.” The State Department dedicated 49 pages of its 2014 report on human rights, released last month, to Bahrain.

It is a damning document: detailing arbitrary detention, torture, prison overcrowding, constraints on free speech and more. The decision to renew security assistance — in the words of a State Department spokesman, “armored personnel vehicles, MRAPs, Humvees, TOW missiles, arms and ammunition, that kind of thing” — is not only incongruous but also shortsighted, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, criticized acts of torture in Bahrain in his opening remarks at a session of the Human Rights Council in June. He called for “an immediate investigation” into allegations of torture in Bahrain’s prisons and for the release of “all those detained in connection with their peaceful activities.”

If Prince Zeid were a Bahraini, he could probably be arrested on charges of “insulting a statutory body” — as happened to the human rights defender Nabeel Rajab after he called for prosecution of officials who committed torture in prison. He now faces at least 10 years in prison on various charges relating to his activism.

I was arrested on March 16, 2011, a day after the government announced a state of emergency, a month after the protests started. A military court sentenced me to prison for protesting and talking to the media. What they did to me in prison will stay with me for life.

On my first day in Jaw Prison, about 20 miles south of the capital, Manama, an officer spat on me, grabbed me by the hair and threw me against a wall. During interrogation, another smacked me in the face and dared me to raise my arms to shield myself. They told me I’d be beaten even more if I did.

While I was in detention, four people were tortured to death, as Human Rights Watch has reported. In the interrogation rooms, we always thought of those who had been killed, wondering who might be the fifth. After my release from prison, I fled Bahrain and in 2012 sought asylum in Britain. This January, Bahrain revoked my citizenship, along with that of 71 others, leaving me stateless.

Bahrain’s situation has not improved since 2011. Last November, an inmate was beaten senseless and thrown into solitary confinement, where he died from his wounds during the night. In March, a prison riot broke out. Prisoners were angry about their treatment in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and about the unfair trials that had put more than a thousand of them there. Prison authorities are accused by prisoners of responding with excessive force.

What happened next was incomparable to what I was put through. According to a report published last month by a coalition of rights groups, including my own, prisoners said that police officers used birdshot and tear gas against inmates inside corridors and cells. Inmates were rounded up, beaten and held in the courtyards, where they spent weeks sitting in Bahrain’s heat. Former prisoners allege that officers forced inmates to kneel and lick their boots. An imprisoned academic named Abduljalil al-Singace has been on a hunger strike for over 100 days, in protest of the ill treatment suffered by prisoners in March. (There are growing concerns for his health.)

In light of the continuing abuses, the State Department’s praise of the release of the political prisoner Ibrahim Sharif as a sign of “meaningful reform progress” is absurd. Never mind that Mr. Sharif, sentenced to five years in 2011, had served most of his sentence, and that as a political prisoner, he should never have been imprisoned to begin with. And as one political prisoner was released, another, Sheikh Ali Salman, received a four-year sentence for his opposition activities. The police also called in his deputy for questioning last week, after he made a speech against torture in prison.

When the United States expressed concerns a few weeks ago to the Human Rights Council in Geneva about “the continuing criminal cases on grounds of political expression and assembly,” Bahrain rejected them as groundless. It is Bahrain’s prerogative to disregard its American ally’s qualms, but must the United States reward such disrespect by renewing military assistance?

The answer lies in geopolitics. Persian Gulf monarchs are on high alert as the United States nears a nuclear deal with their regional rival, Iran. They want to protect their position as the West’s strategic partners and maintain their influence in the Middle East. At the same time, the rise of the Islamic State is a potent threat to their security, which America seeks to bolster militarily. Resuming arms transfers rekindles not only the American-Bahraini relationship but also the hugely important American-Saudi one.

But these diplomatic considerations come at the cost of relinquishing whatever moral standing the United States had in Bahrain. Ending the suspension of military assistance was a misuse of America’s substantial leverage to bring positive change to the human rights situation in Bahrain and the Gulf, which has only deteriorated since 2011. For Bahrainis striving for a democratic country, America’s move is completely regressive.

President Obama promised a “tough conversation” with the Gulf monarchs when he met them in May. Was this the outcome of that conversation?”

Losing Leverage on Bahrain – The New York Times.

What Wikileaks reveal about Saudi Arabia’s methods against human rights defenders

June 23, 2015

On 22 June Ms. Samar Badawi, via the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia [MHRSA], tells how the government fabricated stories to explain to the USA its travel ban on human rights defender Waleed AbuAlkhair. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/saudi-arabian-human-rights-lawyer-waleed-abu-al-khair-wins-ludovic-trarieux-prize/]
He already was portrayed as an atheist, working for foreign agendas, receiving foreign funding, etc. Now, in one of the leaked WikiLeaks cables of the Saudi Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Interior tries to justify its preventing Waleed AbuAlKhair from traveling to attend the Democratic Leaders Program sponsored by the US State Department. After the Saudi ambassador in Washington received a call from the US Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Saudi Ministry of Interior fabricated a story that Waleed is facing a family suit because of his marriage and his conversion from Sunni to Shiite Islam. None of this was mentioned in court, when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for demanding constitutional monarchy, and the establishment of two human rights organizations.
for more information: samar.badawi1@gmail.com

Two Annual Reports on Human Rights covering 2013

February 28, 2014

In this post I draw your attention to two annual reports: The US State Department released its Country Reports 2013 and Front Line Defenders published its 2014 Annual Report” which somewhat confusingly covers 2013. The last one is the most interesting from the perspective of this blog as the focus is of course on Human Rights Defenders. Read the rest of this entry »

US State Department announces today the winners of its 2012 Human Rights Awards

June 12, 2013

The US State Department announces today, 12 June 2013, the winners of its annual human rights awards: The Human Rights Defenders Award is given to individuals or non-governmental organizations that have shown exceptional valor and leadership in advocating for the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression: Syrian human rights activist Hanadi Zahlout organized peaceful protests in the beginning of the Syrian revolution and continues to work for a peaceful democratic transition. The second recipient of this award, Iraqi NGO Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, has fearlessly advocated for human rights and was critical in concrete achievements in the protection of female detainees, as well as taken on critical work on curriculum reform to promote religious freedom.

At the same time the State Department announced as the winner of the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award its Ambassador, John Tefft, in the Ukraine. And for the Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award (which honors a U.S. Department of State employee who has implemented creative strategies to support human rights and democracy) Erin Webster-Main from the Embassy Rangoon, Burma.
via Winners of the 2012 Human Rights Awards.