Posts Tagged ‘USA’

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

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

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti looks for Executive Director

February 19, 2019


The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) advances the Haitian people’s struggle for justice and democracy on the international stage. In partnership with our Haitian sister-organization, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), IJDH advocates, litigates, builds constituencies and nurtures networks to create systemic pathways to justice for marginalized Haitians and to hold international human rights violators accountable. IJDH amplifies Haitian voices in places outside Haiti where decisions about their rights are made and helps to build an accurate, rights-based narrative of Haiti internationally.

IJDH fights for justice with high-quality legal and advocacy strategies, creativity, humility, inspiration, humor, and a compassionate, inclusive and supportive work culture. We are a small but mighty, ambitious and principled organization with a track record of securing unlikely wins for justice for marginalized communities and influencing global public discourse about human rights and justice in Haiti. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/10/14/haiti-hrd-mario-joseph-uses-his-appearance-in-the-mea-ceremony-well/]

Position Description:

Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director has overall strategic and operational responsibility for IJDH’s staff, programs, and execution of its mission. As the public face of the organization and leader of IJDH’s dynamic 6-person team, the Executive Director will prioritize:

• Providing vision and strategic direction for IJDH’s innovative advocacy portfolio in accordance with the organization’s mission;

• Raising funds to meet and grow IJDH and BAI’s combined budget of $1.4 million, including through cultivating and maintaining relationships with donors and foundations and providing financial management oversight;

• Maintaining and building a strong partnership with the BAI and other allies and collaborators, including NGOs, diaspora groups and the media to strengthen IJDH’s impact and achieve organizational goals.

Qualifications include: Substantial knowledge of Haiti; Significant social justice or human rights experience; Ability to speak and write English, and to communicate effectively in Haitian Kreyol and/or French with a commitment to learn Kreyol;

This is a full-time salaried position with health care benefits, four weeks annual paid vacation and paid sick days. The Executive Director will ideally be based in Boston or New York.

How to Apply: Please submit a resume, cover letter and three references to hiring@ijdh.org by March 1, 2019. Please include ‘Executive Director’ in the subject line. References will only be contacted for short-listed candidates.

26 February: lecture on populism and human rights by Michael Ignatieff in Geneva

February 10, 2019

The populist upsurge in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and in established democracies like the United States has exposed the political vulnerability of rule of law as a cornerstone of liberal democracy. It is not just in authoritarian populist states that the independence of judges and the authority of law have come under attack in the name of a majoritarian conception of democracy. This suggests that the rule of law has always stood in a relation of tension with other principles of democracy, including majority rule and an independent media. The lecture explores these renewed political pressures on rule of law using contemporary examples drawn from the US, the UK and Hungary. [for some of my posts on populism, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/populism/]

Tuesday 26 February 2019, 18:30 – 20:00 in the Auditorium IVAN PICTET | Maison de la Paix, Geneva

Michael Ignatieff is the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017). [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/08/11825/]

The lecture will be moderated by Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and Rector of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen Institute (IWM) in Vienna.

This event is organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

To register: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/events-1/past-events.html/_/events/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/2019/law-populism-and-liberal-democra

 

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

Meet Eva Lewis, the sole human rights defender from the USA at the HRD Summit in Paris

November 16, 2018

A young activist, Eva Lewis, who grew up on the south side of Chicago recently traveled to Paris to participate ...

Eva Lewis, founder of the I Project. Photo Credit: Provided by Eva Lewis

Katherine Newman in the Chicago Citizen proudly profiles the young woman from Chicago Eva Lewis who – as only HRD from the USA almost represented “the United States At Human Rights Defenders World Summit” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/07/24/announcement-of-the-human-rights-defenders-world-summit-in-paris-october-2018/].

A young activist, Eva Lewis, who grew up on the south side of Chicago recently traveled to Paris to participate in the Human Rights Defenders World Summit 2018. Lewis spoke on the Americas panel, alongside activists from Latin America, and discussed youth-led movements in the United States as well as the state of black and brown people in the country. “What the Summit aims to do is bring together representatives from each country to talk about the state of human rights defenders and to brainstorm ways that we can elevate our fight for human rights and create a direct action plan that can be implemented to protect human rights defenders internationally,” said Lewis.

Lewis was one representative in a diverse group of 150 human rights defenders from around the world that came to Paris for the three-day Summit.  “I was on the Americas panel and I was the only US representative and also the youngest delegate at the Summit and I was the only English speaker on my panel. Everyone on the panel talked about their own fight for human rights and how it pertains to their country and the people that they were there to represent,” said Lewis.

“I set my self up to fulfill a specific agenda which was to bring human rights of black and brown folks in the U.S. to an international platform because we don’t talk about human rights violations against black and brown people in the US as a human rights issue. This was the first time anyone had that conversation at the Summit and I was happy to be able to be the one to present that conversation.”

Nineteen-year-old Lewis is an award-winning student, activist, and artist. She is also known for founding the I Project, a non-profit organization aiming to create equitable communities in Chicago.

I really liked hearing about how people structure their organizations so what I think I gained the most from the Summit is good information about how to make the infrastructure of my own organization more sustainable. The I Project is relatively new and we’ve only had a fiscal sponsorship for about a year and we are not sustainable at all and I’m comfortable admitting that because the journey is important and part of the process,” said Lewis.

http://thechicagocitizen.com/news/2018/nov/14/young-chicagoan-represents-united-states-human-rig/

General Assembly 2018: Human Rights Defenders were a main dish on 23 October

November 7, 2018

On 26 October 2018, the ISHR reported on how the General Assembly addressed the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Special Rapporteur Michel Forst delivered a detailed reflection and assessment of global protection efforts in his report to the General Assembly this week.

On 23/24 October, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, called the international community to action, urging open and frank dialogue and solidarity to address oppression. He addressed the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee and engaged in a dialogue on his report to the General Assembly.

In light of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, his report focused on effective implementation strategies, incorporating both a reflection of progress made over the past two decades and an overview of recommendations on how to improve systems and mechanisms moving forward. ‘The past 20 years have been an era of struggle for human rights. Victories have been hard fought and challenges have proliferated,’ the Special Rapporteur said in his report. ‘The celebration of this milestone must be tempered by a recognition of the sacrifices of human rights defenders, their families and their communities.’

After surveying 140 States, the Special Rapporteur addressed the following key matters: the evolution of the use of the term ‘human rights defenders’, mechanisms and practices to support them and legal/ administrative frameworks to protect them. “20 years ago, the Declaration laid the groundwork for the protection of human rights defenders and amplified the importance of their inclusion as a stakeholder in human rights initiatives, but there is still work to be done,” said ISHR’s Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy.

Several States voiced their support for the report and the mandate, including Spain, Iceland, Canada, Australia, EU, Poland, Ireland, Switzerland, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Estonia, Czech Republic, Colombia, France, Slovenia, Norway, US, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States referenced the Secretary General’s report on reprisals highlighting attacks and intimidation against defenders in more than 38 countries, saying they are ‘alarmed and monitoring all allegations.’ The US then proceeded to list over 20 specific names of individuals from 14 different countries who are victims of such reprisals. These include:

Both China and Iran criticised the report on the basis that defenders, activists and social leaders do not deserve ‘special treatment’ regardless of the risks these individuals face. Cuba rejected any attempts to paint political prisoners as human rights defenders. The Russian Federation challenged the notion of ‘State obligation’ on the basis that the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders is a non-binding document. In response to the Russian Federation’s point on the non-obligatory nature of the Declaration of Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur swiftly reminded States that while the Declaration is non-binding it reaffirms other legally binding human rights obligations.

The Special Rapporteur concluded with a call to action at the upcoming Human Rights Defenders World Summit in Paris, where a statement will be prepared, including for presentation at the upcoming high-level event on defenders at the General Assembly.

The Special Rapporteur also referenced a document—outlining the results of his global survey on defenders in 140 countries—which he hoped would be published on the OHCHR website without further delay. He invited supporters of the mandate to inform OHCHR of the need to disseminate the report via the OHCHR website.

The Special Rapporteur referenced the study being prepared by the UN Secretary-General in efforts to protect global defenders. The report of this study will be shared with States in the coming weeks. The Special Rapporteur also voiced concern about the lack of NGO access to the UN and asked members of the Committee on NGOs to invite him in to engage with the Committee.

The Special Rapporteur concluded by saying that his report to the Human Rights Council in March 2019 will focus on the situation of women defenders.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/ga73-un-expert-defenders-reflects-20-years-struggle-progress-and-remaining-challenges

For earlier posts on the anniversary: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/20th-anniversary-un-declaration-on-hrds/