Posts Tagged ‘USA’

Winners of the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize

May 13, 2019

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Goldman Environmental Prize which honors grassroots environmental heroes from six continental regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and island nations. For more more on this and other awards, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/goldman-environmental-prize .This year’s winners are Alfred Brownell from Liberia, Bayarjargal Agvaantseren from Mongolia, Ana Colovic Lesoska from North Macedonia, Jacqueline Evans from the Cook Islands, Alberto Curamil from Chile, and Linda Garcia from the United States. The winners were honored at the San Francisco Opera House in California, U.S., on 29 April 2019

https://news.mongabay.com/2019/04/meet-the-winners-of-the-2019-goldman-environmental-prize/

Goldman Prize winner survives armed attack on Afro-Colombian social leaders

Reprisal against Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed Soltan

May 12, 2019

On 10 May 2019, a number of NGOs issued a joint statement on the defamation campaign by Egypt against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan:

We, the undersigned organizations strongly condemn the defamation campaign by the Egyptian authorities against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan, 

 
Mohamed Soltan is a prominent human rights defender from The Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights advocacy group in Washington D.C. He spent nearly two years in prison in the case known as “Raba’ Operations Room,” in which authorities pressed politically-motivated charges in 2014-2015 against scores of critical journalists and political figures for “membership in an illegal group”, “publishing false news” and “planning to overthrow the ruling regime”, among other charges. Some of the charges do not constitute recognizable crimes under international law. In any case, the US State Department, and Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the casefile in April 2015, found that prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence to establish him as a suspect, let alone establishing Soltan’s individual criminal responsibility  for the alleged crimes. An Egyptian court sentenced him to life in prison in 2015.
 
In protest of his unjust detention by the Egyptian authorities, Soltan entered into an open-ended hunger strike and was supported by a worldwide campaign effort. The U.S. government intervened at the highest levels and successfully facilitated his release and return to the United States on May 30th, 2015. Since his release, Soltan has become a full-time human right advocate relentlessly defending democratic values and human rights.
 
The Freedom Initiative has worked diligently with Egyptian and international human rights organizations to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. The organization’s annual flagship event, the Egypt Advocacy Day, involved two award-winning actors who joined over 100 Egyptians and Egyptian Americans from over 25 U.S. states and six countries for meetings with members of the U.S. Congress and State Department. The aim of the meetings was to engage the Egyptian diaspora in the U.S. with their elected representatives on human rights and democratic governance issues in Egypt
 
In response, the Egyptian authorities have apparently unleashed a systematic defamation campaign against some of those who participated in the meetings and against the organizers, particularly the award-winning actors, The Freedom Initiative and Soltan. The Egyptian government,as well as privately owned newspapers, falsely accused him of being a convicted terrorist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and working on behalf of foreign agents. The defamatory statements were reported on government-sponsored media outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
 
The coordinated harassment of Soltan is part of a broader repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and is aimed to stigmatize human rights defenders, both nationally and abroad, and undermine the effectiveness of their work.
 
We stand in solidarity with Mohamed Soltan, The Freedom Initiative and all Egyptians who peacefully speak out against human rights abuses despite the hefty price. We urge the Egyptian government to respect its obligations under international human rights treaties and the Egyptian constitution, end the crackdown on critics, halt the persecution of human rights defenders and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions.
 
Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms
Amnesty International
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Egyptian Human Rights Forum
EuroMed Rights
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Freedom Initiative

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/egypt-reprisal-against-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan-for-human-rights-advocacy?e=1209ebd6d8

Microsoft exercising human rights concerns to turn down facial-recognition sales

April 30, 2019

FILE PHOTO: The Microsoft sign is shown on top of the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 19,2018. REUTERS/Mike Blak
REUTERS/Mike Blak

Joseph Menn reported on 16 April 2018 in kfgo.com about Microsoft rejecting a California law enforcement agency’s request to install facial recognition technology in officers’ cars and body cameras due to human rights concerns. Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white and male pictures. AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found.

Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan” against a database of suspects, company President Brad Smith said without naming the agency. After thinking through the uneven impact, “we said this technology is not your answer.” Speaking at a Stanford University conference on “human-centered artificial intelligence,” Smith said Microsoft had also declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly there.

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution. Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as rapid technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance, deploy autonomous weapons and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse….

Smith has called for greater regulation of facial recognition and other uses of artificial intelligence, and he warned Tuesday that without that, companies amassing the most data might win the race to develop the best AI in a “race to the bottom.”

He shared the stage with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who urged tech companies to refrain from building new tools without weighing their impact. “Please embody the human rights approach when you are developing technology,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile.

[see also my older: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/19/contrasting-views-of-human-rights-in-business-world-bank-and-it-companies/]

https://kfgo.com/news/articles/2019/apr/16/microsoft-turned-down-facial-recognition-sales-on-human-rights-concerns/

Omar Barghouti denied entry to United States

April 13, 2019

Omar Barghouti in 2014. “I am hurt, but I am not deterred,” he said.CreditRob Stothard/Getty Images
In a further sign of the increasing US policy of denying visa to those it disagrees with newspapers (here the NYT) on 11 April 2019, report that the United States has barred entry to Omar Barghouti, one of the co-founders of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (B.D.S). This U.S. entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel’s escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the B.D.S. movement,” Mr. Barghouti said in a statement. He called for an end to what he called “U.S. complicity in Israel’s crimes against our people.” [See also recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/21/many-ngo-participants-denied-visa-to-attend-commission-on-the-status-of-women-in-new-york/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/us-ngos-react-furiously-to-visa-restrictions-imposed-on-icc-investigators-by-trump-administration/]

Mr. Barghouti was supposed to speak at a series of events in the United States organized by the Arab American Institute in Washington, including at panels at Harvard University and an event with New York University. He was also planning to attend his daughter’s wedding in Texas.

Mr. Barghouti, a permanent resident of Israel, was stopped at Israel’s international airport when he tried to board a flight to Washington via Frankfurt, and airline staff told him only that the American Consulate in Tel Aviv had been directed to stop him from traveling. He said he was told it was an immigration matter but was given no further explanation.

Critics say American laws against supporters of the boycott are unconstitutional and limit free speech. But this year, the Senate passed a bill to safeguard the right of states to adopt anti-B.D.S. laws.

 

Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson winner of 2019 Thomas Dodd Prize

March 20, 2019

Bryan Stevenson (Paul Robertson Photo)

The selection committee was singularly impressed by the commitment, courage, and creativity of Bryan Stevenson and his colleagues at the Equal Justice Initiative,” said Glenn Mitoma, Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. “I look forward to welcoming Bryan and Equal Justice Initiative to UConn, both to honor them and to draw inspiration for our own work at the Dodd Center.”

Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has successfully argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a recent historic decision that found mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

Under Stevenson’s direction, the organization has won major legal challenges to excessive sentencing and illegal convictions, including reversals, release, or relief for over 145 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. The group’s education and advocacy efforts include the Community Remembrance Project, which seeks to recognize the victims of lynching by erecting historical markers at lynching sites, and the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. The museum and memorial are part of Equal Justice Initiative’s work to advance truth and reconciliation around race in America and to more honestly confront the legacy of slavery, lynching, and segregation.

Stevenson is the winer of at least6 other awards including the 2000 Gleitsman award and the Wallenberg medal [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/07/human-rights-lawyer-bryan-stevenson-to-receive-michigans-wallenberg-medal/]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/04/physicians-for-human-rights-gets-dodd-human-rights-award/

US NGOs react furiously to visa restrictions imposed on ICC investigators by Trump administration

March 16, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new visa restrictions in a press briefing on Friday. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Human rights defenders expressed outrage on Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the Trump administration is revoking or denying visas for any International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel who try to investigate or prosecute U.S. officials or key allies for potential war crimes. The move, Pompeo confirmed is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the war in Afghanistan. There was an immediate and almost unanimous outcry by the key human rights NGOs in the USA:

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU‘s Human Rights Program (the ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud, who were all detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008): “This is an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day,” Dakwar said. “It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” He encouraged ICC member countries to “publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”

Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, noted that this is just “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.” Visa bans, as Balson pointed out, are “powerful tools typically reserved for the most serious of human rights abusers.” But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC—an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under international law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The move is “is highly indicative of [the administration’s] culture of disregard for rights abuses,” said Balson. “Throwing roadblocks in front of the ICC’s investigation undermines justice not only for abuses committed in Afghanistan, but also for the millions of victims and survivors throughout the world who have experienced the most serious crimes under international law.

Pompeo’s announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by U.S. civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan….”These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” Pompeo added. “Implementation of this policy has already begun.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/15/blatant-effort-intimidate-and-retaliate-pompeo-imposes-visa-ban-icc-staff-probing-us

See also later development: https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCAKCN1R328X-OCATP

Dutch “Geuzenpenning” 2019 to Padre Alejandro Solalinde Guerra

March 13, 2019

Each year, the Dutch municipality of Vlaardingen awards the so-called ‘Geuzenpenning’; a medal honouring human rights defenders around the world.

On 13 March Padre Alejandro Solalinde Guerra (73) received this year’s Geuzenpenning. He has dedicated his life to supporting migrants on dangerous journeys in search of a better life: a phenomenon of all time. During their flight, they have to deal with many ill-treatments that undermine their human dignity, such as rape, murder and human trafficking. Padre Solalinde has supported these people for over ten years and has often been lambasted by both governmental and clerical authorities for his efforts.

On 14 March an academic event will be organized, in collaboration with Erasmus School of Law and the Erasmus Initiative on Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity, in honour of Padre Alejandro Solalinde’s work. Padre Solalinde will open the workshop with a speech. Following that, three scholars of Erasmus University from different disciplines will offer their reflections: Prof. Samer Abdelnour (Rotterdam School of Management), Prof. Kristin Henrard (Erasmus School of Law) and Prof. Gijs van Oenen (Erasmus School of Philosophy). Subsequently, the floor will be opened to a Q&A session with Padre Solalinde and the scholars of Erasmus University. [for last year’s award, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/13/girls-not-brides-winner-geuzenpenning-2018/%5D

About the Geuzenpenning, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/geuzenpenning

https://www.eur.nl/en/esl/news/annual-geuzenpenning-granted-padre-solalinde

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

Angela Davis and Birmingham human rights award: reversal reversed…

February 22, 2019

Angela Davis speaks at press conference during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 10, 2012. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports on 25 January 2019 that Angela Davis will in the end be honored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award), after first rescinding its award to Davis allegedly due in part to complaints from Jewish leaders. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/birmingham-civil-rights-institute-in-alabama-rescinds-honor-for-political-activist-angela-davis/]

“This update follows a BCRI Board of Directors January 14 public apology for its missteps in conferring, then rescinding, its nomination of Dr. Angela Y. Davis in early January,” the institute said Friday in a statement.

(Davis wrote that her pro-Palestinian activism was the reason for the original withdrawal, as did Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. But local Jewish leaders declined to comment, and no concrete evidence emerged that Jewish complaints were the deciding factor. Three BCRI board members resigned over the controversy. On Friday, Richard Friedman, the executive director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, told JTA he was “digesting the implications” of the reversal. His federation had previously praised the decision to rescind the award.)

Davis also is controversial for declining to speak out on behalf of dissidents in communist-era Europe.

https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/angela-davis-will-get-award-as-birmingham-civil-rights-body-reverses-course-again