Posts Tagged ‘USA’

US absence from UN human rights council encourages China and Russia?

February 26, 2020

Secretary of State Pompeo and Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN at the time, announcing the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, June 19, 2018.

For the last decade, Western democracies and human-rights defenders have been locked in a tense struggle with authoritarian great powers at the United Nations. Since 2009, Russia and China have waged a highly successful campaign to dismantle the international human-rights system, particularly through the Human Rights Council. The two countries have made strides especially after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Council in 2018….

The campaign has been led by China, which has attacked the international human-rights system since its re-election to the Human Rights Council in 2013 for consecutive three-year terms that ended in 2019. Russia has preferred to work behind the scenes, particularly since its bid for election to the Council failed in 2016….

Both countries have also operated as part of what is called a like-minded group, a powerful international coalition that includes Algeria, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Venezuela and Vietnam. The group has challenged the UN’s human-rights mechanisms by emphasizing cooperation and dialogue over country-specific measures that name and shame abusing states, denigrating the relevance of civil and political rights while prioritizing economic and social rights and stressing the importance of sovereignty and nonintervention. Since 2013, Russia and China have played a key role in coordinating the group’s effort to undermine international human-rights protections.

In March 2018, for example, China presented a resolution to the Human Rights Council titled “Promoting Mutually Beneficial Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights,” which aimed to discard country-specific mechanisms that name and shame countries for their rights abuses.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/]. No less significant was the like-minded group’s support for China during its last Universal Periodic Review session in November 2018. The review took place amid escalating human-rights violations inside China, including the death in custody of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent activist and Nobel Prize laureate, and the mass internment of more than a million ethnic Uighur Muslims in so-called political re-education camps in the remote province of Xinjiang.

…..

An important factor contributing to the success of China and Russia in undermining the international human-rights system has been the withdrawal of the US from the Human Rights Council in June 2018. By leaving the Council, the US has created a leadership void that Russia, China and their allies have exploited to consolidate their grip on power. Just weeks after the US withdrew, Russia and China successfully lobbied to slash funding for key human-rights posts in UN peacekeeping missions that protect civilians from violence in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, including Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Worse, the like-minded group bolstered its influence over the global human-rights system when Venezuela, one of the world’s most flagrant violators of international human-rights norms, was elected to a three-year term to the Human Rights Council in October 2019. Having left the Council, the US was unable to sway the vote.

With the lack of US leadership, the European Union has struggled to push back against Russia and China’s growing influence at the UN. In July 2019, the European Union issued a joint statement with several other Western democracies, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland, condemning China’s mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. In reply, more than a dozen members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a powerful group of countries that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Qatar, signed a declaration praising China’s policies in the region. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Most worrisome, countries that once looked to the US for leadership in advancing human rights may now be looking to Russia, China and their allies for guidance in an international arena increasingly dominated by autocrats and aspiring despots.

https://www.passblue.com/2020/02/24/how-the-us-enabled-aggressions-by-china-and-russia-at-the-un/


As if to show thagt there is truth in the assertions above, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 25 February 2020 decried what he terms the “double standards” employed at the U.N. Human Rights Council in favor of Western democratic values, at the expense of what he calls the legitimate sovereign rights of nations that do not fall within the Western orbit. Lavrov did not hide his disdain Tuesday at the so-called country-specific resolutions adopted by the Council, saying the resolutions had become an increasingly popular pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

https://www.voanews.com/europe/russia-accuses-un-human-rights-council-pro-western-bias

 

Magnitsky law spawns cottage industry of sanctions lobbying

February 13, 2020

Congress passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to punish Russian officials accused of beating to death a whistleblower who publicized government corruption. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/29/european-court-rules-on-sergei-magnitskys-death/]

A decade later, the law has unwittingly spawned a multimillion-dollar lobbying cottage industry. Predictably, a number of lobbyists are gunning to remove Magnitsky penalties on their questionable clients, just as with other such sanctions laws. President Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, for example, is defending an Israeli billionaire accused of pillaging Africa, while Trump’s 2016 Tennessee state director, Darren Morris, has joined with New York law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in representing an Iraqi businessman sanctioned for allegedly bribing politicians.

But a unique facet of the Magnitsky law and subsequent amendments has created a whole new opening for more creative lobbying. Unlike similar laws blocking sanctioned parties’ US assets and banning travel to the United States, Magnitsky requires that US officials consider information from credible human rights organizations when weighing whether to apply sanctions. “That’s a pretty revolutionary provision,” said Rob Berschinski, the senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First. “Effectively, the US government has created an open inbox in which literally anyone can petition for sanctions — no matter what their motive is, no matter what the credibility of their information is.

Berschinski’s organization is among those taking advantage of the provision, lobbying for additional Magnitsky sanctions on Saudi officials responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Trump administration designated 17 Saudi officials in November 2018, but not Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed by the CIA and UN investigators to have ordered the crime.

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (click above to read the law)

“The point here is, yes, 17 people were designated under Global Magnitsky,” said Berschinski, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor under President Barack Obama. “No, they are not the people who were ultimately responsible for directing the crime, and the people who were ultimately responsible need to be held accountable.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the only Gulf target of sanctions lobbying. In recent months, lawyers for Kuwaiti private equity firm KGL Investment and its former CEO, Marsha Lazareva, have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to threaten Kuwait with Magnitsky sanctions if it does not drop embezzlement charges against her. Working on the account are big names, including President George H.W. Bush’s son, Neil Bush; former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; and ex-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, until she joined Trump’s impeachment team. But the Lazareva camp has also consistently sought to portray her defenders as “human rights activists,” notably working with Washington nonprofit In Defense of Christians and former human rights lawyer Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in its efforts.

Recent Magnitsky Act lobbying
Lobbying to remove sanctions Lobbying to add sanctions
Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan for Israeli businessman Dan Gertler Crowell & Moring and others on behalf of KGL Investment (sanctions on Kuwait)
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman / Morris Global Strategies for Iraqi businessman Khamis Khanjar Human Rights First (sanctions for killers of Jamal Khashoggi)
Venable / Sonoran Policy Group for Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic (Sonoran terminated December 2018) Schmitz Global Partners / Jefferson Waterman International (JWI) on behalf of fugitive Bulgarian businessman Tzvetan Vassilev (JWI terminated August 2019)
Source: Department of Justice / Congress

Lazareva’s champions insist she was railroaded by a corrupt judicial system and that lobbying for human rights sanctions — even if it’s spearheaded by corporate interests with deep pockets — is perfectly legitimate. To date, at least five US lawmakers have also joined the call for an investigation into Kuwait under the Magnitsky law.

“The global Magnitsky sanctions are a critical tool available to human rights NGOs to hold foreign governments accountable in cases of corruption and injustice,” said Peter Burns, government relations director for In Defense of Christians, or IDC. “IDC has advocated for their implementation in a variety of human rights and religious freedom contexts. One such case is that of Orthodox Christian businesswoman Marsha Lazareva, who is imprisoned in Kuwait on bogus corruption charges. The United States must become more effective at holding our friends, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait, accountable for religious freedom violations.”

“Are there actors out there that I’m aware of that may not have kind of the purest motives in bringing case files? Sure. But I have confidence in the integrity of the underlying decision-making system within the US government.”

IDC said it’s not getting paid for its Lazareva advocacy. But the army of lobbyists urging sanctions on Kuwaiti officials has, however, raised concerns about the integrity of the Magnitsky process.

“Are there actors out there that I’m aware of that may not have kind of the purest motives in bringing case files? Sure,” Berschinski told Al-Monitor. “But I have confidence in the integrity of the underlying decision-making system within the US government.”

This isn’t the first time lobbyists have sought to use Magnitsky in such a fashion. Back in 2017, lobbyists for fugitive Bulgarian businessman Tzvetan Vassilev sought sanctions on Bulgaria after being charged with money laundering and embezzlement. At the time, Lloyd Green, a Justice Department official under President George H. W. Bush, warned against potential abuses of the law. The Magnitsky Act … was not designed to become a sword and shield for those alleged to have committed crimes in systems that afford due process,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Hill at the time. It “should not be allowed to become a cudgel wielded by non-citizens as they seek to beat our allies into submission.

Berschinski said Human Rights First was aware of both the Vassilev and Lazareva campaigns and had declined to get involved. He declined to speculate, however, on whether such lobbying campaigns undermine the voices of traditional human rights organizations. “My sense is that at the end of the day, the US government officials who are actually making the call are making the decision on whether to designate or not on the basis of a solid evidentiary basis,” he said.

Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/01/magnitsky-sanctioned-lobbying-hire-cottage-industry.html#ixzz6Cc6LK5Tp

After 30 years Salvadoran military involved in killing of Jesuit priests banned from USA

January 30, 2020

The crime is one of the most emblematic of the Central American country’s civil war that pitted then-leftist guerrillas the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) against the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army. The FMLN is now a political party. The case had a lot in common with the killings of the Dutch IKON TV crew a few years earlier [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/25/murder-of-dutch-ikon-journalists-in-1982-in-el-salvador-revisted/]

In a statement, the U.S. Secretary of State said it had “credible information” that the current or former officials were directly or indirectly involved in “a gross violation of human rights or significant corruption.” It was not clear what had prompted the United States to issue the designation at this point in time.

[In El Salvador, the Supreme Court of Justice declared a 1993 amnesty law unconstitutional in 2016 and ordered lawmakers to create a new law that would guarantee justice and reparation for victims. However, the process has been delayed.]

https://wtvbam.com/news/articles/2020/jan/30/us-bans-13-salvadorans-over-1989-jesuit-priest-killings/979853/?refer-section=world

The favourite domain of human rights NGOs, “.ORG”, at risk

January 27, 2020

David Gilbert in Vice.com of 24 January and Caitlin Harrington in the The Cascadia Advocate of 26 January 2020 (among others) address an important issue that could affect many human righs NGOs and thus human rights defenders. A private equity fund (backed by three prominent Republican billionaire families) is expected to buy the dot-org domain, throwing into question whether the online safe haven for rights organizations and nonprofits could now face censorship or spiralling costs. Ethos Capital has offered $1 billion for the domain, which is currently operated by a nonprofit.

[Back in the fall of 2019, the private equity firm Ethos Capital announced its plans to buy the Public Interest Registry (PIR) for more than $1 billion. PIR is owned by the Internet Society and manages the .ORG domain registry, which since 1985 has been used by nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI). Dot org is what is known as top layer domain… the last part of a uniform resource locator (URL), or web address. For example, nwprogressive.org. Dot-org is home to over 10 million URLs, making it the third-largest domain on the internet today. A huge variety of organizations use the domain ending, from massive multinational organizations like UNICEF to local libraries and animal shelters. PIR is a nonprofit entity that has been managing the registry and setting the prices that owners pay when they register .ORG domains.]

In a letter to the Internet Society from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an ally of NPI that opposes the sale, it was explained that this move could cause significant harm to nonprofits and NGOs. They argue that without oversight from an appropriate placement, the registry would have the power to make policy changes that would detrimental to .ORG stakeholders, including:

  • The power to raise .org registration fees without the approval of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or the .ORG community. A .ORG price hike would put many cash-strapped NGOs in the difficult position of either paying the increased fees or losing the legitimacy and brand recognition of a .ORG domain. [Yearly fees for .ORG sites are, on average, between $10 to $20.]
  • The power to develop and implement Rights Protection Mechanisms unilaterally, without consulting the .org community. If such mechanisms are not carefully crafted in collaboration with the NGO community, they risk censoring completely legal nonprofit activities.
  • The power to implement processes to suspend domain names based on accusations of “activity contrary to applicable law. ”The .ORG registry should not implement such processes without understanding how state actors frequently target NGOs with allegations of illegal activity.

NPI cosigned EFF’s letter, with NPI’s founder and Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve explaining: “The pending sale is of great concern to NPI because we own a significant number of .org domains. We could be affected by price hikes and bad policies imposed by the proposed new owner.”…….Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, was among those expressing grave concern and opposition at the time the sale was announced.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also made the point in their letter opposing the sale, that back in 2002, amid similar talks of selling the .ORG registry, ISOC’s then president and CEO Lynn St. Amour assured the NGOs worldwide that the registry would continue to be accountable to the nonprofit sector.

Erik Brooks, founder and CEO of Ethos Capital, stated in a public blog post that the firm is investing in “the long-term vitality of .ORG and its users” and that “PIR’s partnership with Ethos will create new opportunities for PIR to provide enhanced services and support to the .ORG community.” He also promised that these enhanced services will be developed “in collaboration with the community.” But last month, ICANN published documents with the names of three directors of Ethos Capital involved in the sale redacted, which only deepened the concerns of nonprofits and NGOs.

….Tarleton argued the Washington Secretary of State’s office should be forcefully opposing the sale and calling attention to it. “This is the slippery slope of privatization that happens when no one is paying attention,” she warned.

….“We’re confident that this is in the best interests of the registry, in the best interests of the registrants, and in the best interest of the whole internet,” Andrew Sullivan, CEO of the Internet Society, a nonprofit that oversees the domain, told VICE News. But critics of the move say the promises made by Ethos Capital are not backed by any legal obligations. They also say there’s a problematic lack of transparency about the sale and who will be running the new organization overseeing the domain. So a group of respected internet pioneers and nonprofit leaders have come forward to offer an alternative proposition. But they don’t have $1 billion to offer.

This week the Internet Society and ICANN approved a 30-day extension to the process, giving both sides until 20 February to approve the sale. “This is by far the largest outpouring of public concern ICANN has ever seen,” Malthouse said. “It’s a huge opportunity for ICANN to prove it has the courage to stand behind its founding principles.”

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wxenaz/3-billionaire-republican-families-are-about-to-buy-the-dot-org-domain-thats-terrifying-nonprofits

NPI’s Gael Tarleton warns proposed sale of .ORG domain registry could harm nonprofits

Ross LaJeunesse and human rights policy at Google

January 3, 2020

The former Google Exec said it was driven out after trying to start a human rights program

An illuminated Google logo can be seen in an office building in Switzerland on December 5, 2018. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters)

Several newspapers (here the BBC) wrote on 2 January 2020 about ex-Google executive Ross LaJeunesse revelations concerning the firm’s human rights policy. This matters more than usual in view of Google’s self-professed commitment to human rights, e.g. in the context of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) which brings information technology companies together with NGOs, investors and academics. Founding companies are: Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!. GNI’s principles and guidelines provide companies with a framework for responding to government requests in a manner that protects and advances freedom of expression and privacy. Companies that join GNI agree to independent assessments of their record in implementing these principles and guidelines [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/05/23/facebook-joins-the-global-network-initiative-for-human-rights/. Or by providing funding [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/08/excellent-news-huridocs-to-receive-1-million-from-google-for-ai-work/].

A former Google executive has raised concerns about the tech giant’s human rights policies as it eyes expansion in China and elsewhere. Ross LaJeunesse, the firm’s former head of global international relations (until May last year), said he was “sidelined” after he pushed the company to take a stronger stance. Google defended its record in a statement, saying it has an “unwavering commitment” to human rights.

Mr LaJeunesse is now campaigning for a seat in the US senate. He said his experience at Google convinced him of the need for tougher tech regulations. “No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight,he wrote in a post on Medium.

Google’s main search business quit China in 2010 in protest of the country’s censorship laws and alleged government hacks. But it has since explored ways to return to the country, a major market, stirring controversy.bLaJeunesse said Google rebuffed his efforts to formalise a company-wide programme for human rights review, even as it worked to expand in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. “Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no,” he wrote. “I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.

Google said it conducts human rights assessments for its services and does not believe the more centralised approach recommended by Mr LeJeunesse was best, given its different products.

View at Medium.com

‘Just Mercy’ – starring Michael B. Jordan as human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson – goes into premiere

December 26, 2019

in Heavy.com of 25he film Just Mercy – starring Michael B. Jordan as lawyer Bryan Stevenson – will be released nation-wide as from 10 January 2020.  The movie is based on Stevenson’s best-selling memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/20/equal-justice-initiative-founder-bryan-stevenson-winner-of-2019-thomas-dodd-prize/]

It tells the story of how the Harvard law graduated moved to Alabama in order to help inmates who were wrongly condemned as death row prisoners. The main court case in the film focuses on one of Stevenson’s first clients, Walter McMillian, aka “Johnny D.” who’s played by Jamie Foxx in the movie, a 41-year-old tree-trimmer who was charged for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, a local white teenager.Stevenson’s story is lesson in justice, persistence, and pushing to do what’s lawfully right. McMillian was released from prison after seven years on death row, he passed away from early on-set Alzheimer’s in 2013. However, Stevenson is still very much alive, and still working as attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative, which he founded in 1989. As described on their official website, “EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” Stevenson, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, has helped release 135 wrongly accused prisoners sentenced to death.

We don’t see those kinds of stories very often and I think that’s created a void in our consciousness about what’s happening,” Stevenson told Delaware Online. “We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world and most people in this country have no knowledge of that. That lack of knowledge and that lack of compassion is what’s made us so vulnerable to the abuse that is on display in this story.

Over his career, Stevenson has earned 40 doctoral degrees, including those from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and University of Pennsylvania. He’s also won a long list of awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, the ABA medal, which is the American Bar Association’s highest honor, and the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union. As a professor, he’s racked up even more hardware. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award.

https://www.justmercyfilm.com/https://www.facebook.com/JustMercyFilm/

The Real-Life Bryan Stevenson Now: Where Is He Today?

 

 

USA’s International Women of Courage Awards for 2019

December 18, 2019

Stock Daily Dish on 16 December 2019 reports that Melania Trump made a rare public appearance to present 13 women with the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The prize honors those who fight for women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk. “Together, we must declare that the era of allowing the brutality against women and children is over while affirming that the time for empowering women around the world is now,” Mrs. Trump said. She called on leaders to “continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities,” and on the international community to fight all forms of injustice. For more on this award – and 7 more that have ‘courage’ in the title – see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

Each US embassy can nominate one woman for the award. The 13 women honored this year are:

Malebogo Molefhe (Botswana), who used to play for the Botswana national basketball team, has served as an advocate for survivors of gender-based violence after she was attacked and shot eight times by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 and confined to a wheelchair,

Rebecca Kabugho (Democratic Republic of the Congo), has led peaceful anti-government protests calling for credible elections in the DRC, and spent six months in prison for her role as an activist

Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka (Niger), currently the deputy director of social work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, was one of the first women to join the Nigerien army in 1996, and was one of the first to attend a military academy. She has served throughout Niger, including in the Diffa Region, a stronghold of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

Veronica Simogun (Papua New Guinea), the founder and director of the Family for Change Association, who works to help shelter and relocate women affected by violence,

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam), a blogger and activist who promotes environmental and human rights issues under the nom de plum Me Nam or Mother Mushroom. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/18/vietnamese-blogger-mother-mushroom-released/]

Saadet Ozkan (Turkey) was a primary school teacher, who uncovered a “decades-long pattern of sexual abuse” and forced a criminal investigation of the principal; she still supports the victims and their case as a private consultant.

Jannat Al Ghezi (Iraq), helps Iraqi women escape violence, rape and domestic abuse, as well as Islamic State terrorism and occupation, and offers them shelter, training, protection and legal services through the Organization of Women‘s Freedom in Iraq

Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh (Syria), known as Sister Carol, runs a nursery school in war-torn Damascus for more than 200 Muslim and Christian children, as well as a tailoring workshop for internally displaced women.

Fadia Najib Thabet (Yemen) is a child protection officer who has dissuaded young boys from joining Al-Qaeda, exposed its Yemeni branch Ansar al-Sharia as a recruiter of child soldiers and reported on human rights violations for the UN Security Council.

Sharmin Akter (Bangladesh), a student who refused an arranged marriage at age 15, which resulted in the prosecution of her mother and her much-older prospective husband,

Sandya Eknelygoda (Sri Lanka), who fought for justice after the disappearance of her journalist husband in 2010 and who has served as a voice for the families of others who have disappeared during the country‘s civil war.

Natalia Ponce de Leon (Colombia), who has become a human rights activist for the victims of acid attacks after a stalker threw a liter of sulfuric acid on her in 2014,

Arlette Contreras Bautista (Peru), a domestic violence survivor and activist, who helped launch the Not One Woman Less movement, which aims to increase the social and political awareness of women‘s rights and gender-based violence in Peru.

The newspaper noticed that Mrs Trump did not mention her husband or his presidential administration during her 10-minute remarks.

“The Animal People”, how terrorism charges were laid against animal rights activists

December 16, 2019

In the Intercept of 12 December 2019, use the release of the new documentary film “The Animal People” – which is available on demand as of this week  – to focus on the story of Harper and his co-defendants, all of whom were convicted under spurious charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism — though none of whom were found to have participated directly in any illegal acts. These were activists who attended raucous but legal protests, shared publicly available information about corporations on their website, and celebrated and supported militant actions taken in the name of the SHAC campaign. That is, they were convicted as terrorists for speech activity. It sounds eerily like the criminalisation fo human rights defenders today:

Hooded-Still-1576105098

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty protesters. Still: Courtesy of Virgil Films

The SHAC 7 case is a lesson in how legal instruments can be deployed to shut down dissent. At a time of renewed criminalization of protest activity nationwide, the so-called green scare stands as a worrying benchmark for the repression of political speech and the re-coding of protesters as criminals and terrorists. The capricious application of conspiracy charges — which we have seen recently deployed against protesters from Black Lives Matter advocates to Standing Rock water protectors — was mastered in the SHAC 7 prosecution. But “The Animal People” doesn’t only emphasize the excesses of the corporate-state power nexus; it recalls the passionate moral commitments of the SHAC members, and reminds us of a potent protest strategy and set of tactics, which I for one would happily see deployed again.

 

Courthouse-Crew-1576105412

The first half of the film traces the rise of what seemed, at certain times, to be an “unstoppable” movement. What began as a series of protests in the U.K. soon spread to the U.S., as activists in cities across the country took it upon themselves to confront Huntingdon-affiliated companies and shareholders. Some of the most committed organizers spent hours on complicated research into Huntingdon’s financial infrastructure, following the money to find any and every chokepoint on which to put pressure: be it the major banks and insurance firms propping up the company, or even the janitorial services contracted by a given Huntingdon lab. The information about potential targets was then shared on the SHAC website for activists to use as they saw fit.

……

SHAC tactics were, as any radical political experiment necessarily is, imperfect. Under the campaign’s banner, some activists exposed the names of children of targeted executives —  an outlier action, to be sure, but one that visibly still haunts a number of the SHAC defendants in the documentary. The prosecution also made much of the publication on the SHAC website of such information, even though the defendants had no direct involvement. (In the only incident of human harm associated with the movement to shut Huntingdon down, U.K. activists at one point assaulted CEO Brian Cass.)

Skepticism also hovers around the decision to focus wholly on closing Huntingdon, given the prevalence of abusive animal testing. The idea had only been to start with the company, which had already come under public scorn following the release undercover video footage of animal abuse in their labs (parts of which are replayed in “The Animal People”). The activists had planned to win against HLS and expand from there; the biochemical and pharmaceutical industry, with the weight of the federal government behind them, ensured otherwise. Huntingdon has since changed its name to the banal and faux-Latinate “Envigo.”

…..

“The Animal People,” along with most every decent retelling of the SHAC 7 case, makes clear that the six individuals indicted on terror charges were fall guys in the government’s scrambling attempt to put a stop to a movement, which was, against all odds, bringing major corporations to heel. “Corporations get to do what they want — that’s a rule in our society,” Lauren Gazzola, a former SHAC 7 defendant with a robust knowledge of constitutional law, tells the filmmakers. “We challenged the right of this corporation to exist.”

The story of who gets to be a labeled a “terrorist” in this country reflects the ideological underpinnings behind government policy and law. Under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, expanded in 2006 into the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a terrorist is someone who intentionally damages or causes the loss of property — including freeing animals — used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so. It is an obscene state sanctification of corporate private property over life.

…..

As I have written, the current pattern in law enforcement of labeling protests as “riots,” invoking slippery statutes of collective liability, and attempting to justify harsher crackdowns are all troubling for the same reason……

“The animal rights movement has really been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to modern government repression of activist campaigns,” the film’s co-director Denis Henry Hennelly told me by email. The sentiment was echoed by Potter, the journalist. “This is the new playbook for the criminalization of dissent,” he told me. “I’ve already seen it applied to other social movements, both here in the U.S. and internationally. In the years since the trial, though, it has only become more prescient.”

For viewers with little to no knowledge of this history of animal liberation struggle and its repression, “The Animal People” offers a compelling primer, organized through archival protest footage, old home videos of some of the SHAC 7 defendants, interviews with legal experts and investigative journalists, one smug businessman who was targeted by a SHAC campaign, and more recent interviews with the former defendants. As with any 90-minute film, the story the directors, Suchan and Hennelly, chose to tell is only one slice of an international and dispersed movement’s history. But for a documentary with some Hollywood backing — animal lover Joaquin Phoenix is an executive producer — “The Animal People” stands uncomplicatedly on the side of the SHAC defendants and doesn’t dampen their anti-capitalist message.

For Stepanian, this element of animal liberation and the necessary connection with anti-capitalist environmental activism can’t be forgotten. “In terms of the direct-action animal liberation movement today, it’s largely impotent compared to the time period of the SHAC campaign, because most messaging falls squarely in what is safe within the framework of capitalism: Much of the activity revolves around better consumer choices,” Stepanian told me. “I’d like to see another campaign with a lens critical of capitalism, which understands that it is this socioeconomic system which rewards the worst practices when it comes to the treatment of animals as resources, and rewards rapacious attitudes towards the environment.”

The film closes with a montage of uprisings, from students in Hong Kong, to the gilets jaunes in France, to Black Lives Matter activists in the U.S., and marchers for liberation in Palestine. It’s a minimal gesture toward intersectionality in a film that underplays the aspects of SHAC that were dedicated to shared struggle. “It’s not OK to be singular in your solidarity; justice and liberation for all life is paramount,” Stepanian told me, recalling how, prior to his indictment, he went on two organizing road trips with former Black Liberation Army member Ashanti Alston. “We are all intersectional activists,” he said of his former co-defendants.

Jake Conroy of the SHAC 7, who joined one of the road trips, comments near the film’s end: “It’s not just about earth liberation, it’s not just about human liberation, and it’s not just about animal liberation. It’s about collective liberation.”

https://theintercept.com/2019/12/12/animal-people-documentary-shac-protest-terrorism/

Carter Centre: Human Rights Defenders speak out

December 10, 2019

At the occasion of international human rights day 2019, the Carter Center published “Human Rights Defenders: In Their Own Words“, a selection of participants at the 12th Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/22/carter-centre-wants-to-preserve-the-stories-of-human-rights-defenders/]:

  • “The right to defend human rights is a right already recognized. We have to be mindful and careful and state clearly that no one should be defamed, persecuted, prosecuted, or killed because they exercise their right to defend rights, regardless of their political position.”
    CLAUDIA SAMAYOA
    Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos
    Guatemala
    and
    ALEJANDRA SERRANO PAVÓN
    Environmental Law Alliance
    Mexico

  • “We believe that if people understand the concept of human rights and are able to apply it to their lives, then there will be more peaceful coexistence. Then government can cut down on the bills for buying arms and ammunitions. Then development can take place because everybody’s living peacefully and they’re able to go about their normal businesses fully.”
    HALIMAT JIBRIL
    Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN)
    Nigeria

  • “We have seen the rise of many youth-led movements around the world, and these young protesters are speaking out and standing up not just on the issue of environmental crisis, but also on land rights, on democracy. All of them are using the internet as a tool not just for communication but also for organizing and mobilizing these campaigns.  One concrete way we can support youth-led movements is to make sure that these internet tools remain accessible, safe, and truly empowering.”
    RAYMOND “MONG” PALATINO
    Global Voices
    The Philippines

  • “The Palestinian people, just like all people around the world, are seeking the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And when that is undermined in one part of the world, it is undermined everywhere. I feel like the Palestinian situation is just a microcosm of global injustice. If we can solve one, we can solve the other. But big problems require collective minds.”
    WESAM AHMAD
    Al-Haq
    Palestine

  • “Every time that we’ve had significant change in our country, religion has been at the heart of it. It’s been part of what motivates people. It speaks to our values. To neglect religion in thinking about human rights would be to neglect a huge part of the resources that we have in taking on the injustices we face.”
    COLLEEN WESSEL-MCCOY
    Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
    United States

  • “Solidarity is not about ‘me’; it’s about ‘we.’ It’s about just being there – not being ahead of somebody or behind somebody, but standing with them.”
    STACEY HOPKINS
    Activist
    United States

  • “The relationship we build between people is the greatest wealth we can have. It is beyond money. It goes beyond what you have in your bank account. When you have a good relationship with the people – your friends, your family, your colleagues – that is a good foundation to build a country.”
    HALIDOU NGAPNA
    Carter Center Human Rights House
    Democratic Republic of Congo

  • “In 1996, we embedded human rights into our three-year program. Immediately, we started seeing change. It was like a revolution. Community members started coming out and promoting their own rights, started talking about their responsibilities. This was possible because we talked about all the aspects of human rights – economic rights, cultural rights, political rights, and civil rights. After people understood human rights, we started seeing changes in deeply rooted cultural practices, including female genital cutting and child marriage. They started having dialogues around gender-based violence against women and girls. Women started taking political positions, because they now understood they have the right to vote, and the right to be elected. Things started changing.”
    GODFREY OCHIENG OKUMU
    Tostan International
    Senegal

  • “If you’re not indifferent, the world will be different. Challenging our own indifferences is extremely important.”
    RAMESH SHARMA
    Ekta Parishad
    India

  • “In 2015, our lives began to change completely. We lost our jobs; we lost our homes; we lost our country; we lost our dignity. But we did not lose hope, and we will never lose hope.”
    MUNA LUQMAN
    Food4Humanity
    Yemen

  • “The motto of our organization is taken from John 17:21, which says, ‘That all of them may be one.’ If all should be one, there should be no violence, there should be no quarrel, there should be no killing. For all of us to be one, there must be love. There must be peace. There must be unity. And there must be togetherness.”
    VICTORIA BOLANLE IHESIULOR
    Christian Association of Nigeria, Women’s Wing
    Nigeria

    https://www.cartercenter.org/news/features/p/human_rights/hrdf-in-their-own-words.html

COP25: climate defenders also needed to be shielded

November 28, 2019

Tomorrow, 29 November, 2019, young people will gather at locations around the world for a Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike. On 2 December, United Nations delegates, world leaders, business executives, and activists will meet at the 25th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid to discuss ways to protect the environment. Participants in these events should also discuss ways to protect the protectors: the individuals and groups targeted around the world for their efforts on behalf of the planet.