Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Dictators hire U.S. firms to clean up their images.

May 14, 2021
Image without a caption

Kathy Kiely published on 7 May 2021 in the Washington Post a very enlightening piece showing that “Representing countries with bad records on press freedom is big business.”:

….But even if Biden’s ambition to reestablish the White House as a champion of human rights is a welcome break from the Trump administration’s dictator-coddling, his efforts to pressure countries on freedom of expression are being systematically undermined in Washington, where some nations that are the worst offenders have powerful advocates. Representing those countries is a lucrative business here in the home of the First Amendment.

Sadly, there are far too many examples in the Justice Department’s foreign-agent registration database to present a complete list here. So my research assistant, Missouri journalism student Elise Mulligan, and I decided to focus on a few countries with pressing image problems when it comes to press freedoms.

 Saudi Arabia: The oil-rich kingdom deserves top rank here for the enormity of both the fees and the crime involved. A few big-name influencers dropped the Saudis as clients immediately after the brazen October 2018 murder of journalist and Washington Post contributing op-ed writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But others made a different choice. Since Khashoggi’s death, some two dozen U.S. firms have picked up more than $73 million in fees for representing Saudi interests, according to reports they have filed with the Justice Department. Chief among them was the kingdom’s longtime main lobbying firm, Qorvis, which said in a statement at the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance that “we take the situation seriously” and would “wait for all the facts to become known.”

Here are some facts that have since become known: Saudi officials have acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed by a team of government agents sent to force the journalist to return to the kingdom and that his body was afterward dismembered. Five of the 15 hit men were convicted but have since had their death sentences commuted. And U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder.

Meanwhile, the crown prince continues to have his reputation as a visionary world leader burnished with news releases like the one prepared in January by Edelman hailing Neom, the futuristic city the prince has ordered up on the Red Sea. (Edelman took in $6.7 million from the Saudis since Khashoggi’s murder before completing its latest contracts in January, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, filings.) Or in a Hogan Lovells-produced release crediting the crown prince for “new efforts to combat extremist ideology and shut down hate speech.” This about a country that routinely makes female journalists the targets of misogynistic trolling campaigns.

Qorvis has collected more than $28 million from the Saudis since Khashoggi’s murder, filings with the Justice Department show. Firm President Michael Petruzzello has said the $18.8 million Qorvis reported receiving from the Saudis six months after the journalist’s death was for work “billed over several years and recently paid all at once.” But since then, the firm has picked up another $9 million working for the Saudis. It also has a contract to do work for the kingdom’s oxymoronically named Human Rights Commission. A bit of context: While the Saudis recently released from prison several female activists (who had asked for, among other things, the right to drive), the women are not permitted to leave the country.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/09/will-loujain-al-hathloul-be-released-on-thursday-11-february/]

Even more jaw-droppingly, some U.S. lobbying firms are producing materials flacking the Saudis’ humanitarian work in Yemen, such as a note from a Hogan Lovells partner to Capitol Hill staffers about “how the Kingdom of Saudi is leading regional efforts related to the current cease-fire and COVID mitigation in Yemen,” and a Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck flier for a Saudi-sponsored Capitol Hill conference on “protecting innocent lives” in Yemen by eradicating land mines. That all seems a bit like offering a Band-Aid to someone whose leg you just cut off, given the Saudi role in escalating Yemen’s civil war. According to the United Nations, the conflict has killed at least 233,000 people and left children starving.

The Philippines: Over the past few years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been busy shuttering his nation’s largest broadcaster and conducting an infamous campaign of online and legal harassment against much-lauded journalist and entrepreneur Maria Ressa (who just added the UNESCO press freedom prize to honors from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the National Press Club and many more). [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/28/maria-ressa-of-the-philippines-winner-of-unescos-guillermo-cano-world-press-freedom-prize-2021/]

At the same time, the blue-chip communications and public relations firm BCW Global has collected fees of more than $1 million for providing assistance to the nation’s central bank, headed by a Duterte ally. The work includes a glossy 70-page pamphlet (including plenty of photos of Duterte) touting the Philippine economy to investors, as well as news releases that highlight the accomplishments of “President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team”  and his “reform agenda.” All of that is intended to encourage investment in a country whose leader has drawn widespread condemnation for encouraging thousands of extrajudicial killings.

China: Global rainmakers Squire Patton Boggs continue to represent Beijing’s interests in Washington for a retainer of $55,000 a month, according to the firm’s most recent contract, dated last July. The firm’s January filing with the Justice Department reported payments of $330,000 from the Chinese Embassy for the previous six months of work, which included advice on “U.S. policy concerning Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet,” among other places where Beijing has been trying to muzzle dissidents, and “matters pertaining to human rights,” according to the firm’s latest filing with the Justice Department’s foreign-agent registration database.

Chinese officials have been sanctioned by the U.S. government for human rights abuses against the country’s Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and against Buddhists in Tibet, among other concerns. They’re also no friend to journalists, unsurprisingly: The prison sentence handed to Hong Kong news publisher Jimmy Lai became the latest headline in China’s crackdown on press freedom. The most recent report from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China documents the expulsions of at least 18 foreign correspondents and numerous attempts to intimidate reporters working in Hong Kong and mainland China. Most concerning are the detentions of Chinese nationals, some of whom have been held for months with no word about the charges against them or their condition.

Of course, it is hopelessly silly to be writing any of this with an expectation that it’ll change this behavior. Anyone can lip-sync the patronizing lecture on realpolitik that Washington’s foreign policy establishment deploys to edify the ignoramus idealist who thinks Americans should stand up for our own values.

Former senator Norm Coleman — who, as a senior adviser for Hogan Lovells (post-Khashoggi murder take from Saudi Arabia: $6.8 million, according to records the firm has filed with the Justice Department), has been working his Hill contacts on the Saudis’ behalf — delivered a version of this lecture in interviews immediately after Khashoggi’s disappearance. The murder was “not a good deal at all” and “there needs to be accountability,” he said, but the “strategic relationship” between the Americans and the Saudis must be maintained: Iran must be contained. Israel must survive.

There are variations on this theme for almost every bad actor on the world stage: The Philippines is a strategic base for U.S. operations in South Asia. China? Think of all those customers for our soybeans and our movies! And, at various times, Washington has tried to enlist all three countries as allies in the war on terrorism.

But if we can’t stand up for free speech, life and liberty, what, exactly, are we fighting for? May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, which the United Nations has set aside to celebrate the work of journalists in promoting democracy, accountability and the rule of law. It seems a fitting moment to consider how socially and politically acceptable it has become in this country is to undermine all those things.Advertisement. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/

The firms that lobby for Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and China did not respond to repeated requests for comment. It would be interesting to ask them how they square their work for those clients with the work they like to highlight: accounts such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alzheimer’s Association (Qorvis); campaigns for worthy causes, such as the video Edelman made for Ikea to support equal rights for women (sadly lacking in Saudi Arabia). But it’s worth pointing out this work because these clients, along with other reputable brands that these lobbying firms represent — for instance, Major League Baseball’s commissioner’s office and the California State Teachers Association (Hogan Lovells) and Coca-Cola (BCW) — might want to think twice about being in the same stable as thugs like Rodrigo Duterte and Mohammed bin Salman.

It takes more than a president to support democracy. We all need to examine our wallets as well as our consciences and consider how each of us are standing up for it. Or — wittingly or unwittingly — are not.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/dictators-crush-dissent-then-they-hire-these-us-firms-to-clean-up-their-images/2021/05/07/679bcb54-adec-11eb-ab4c-986555a1c511_story.html

Christiane Amanpour, Jeff Kaufman and Jason Rezaian talk about the film Nasrin

March 2, 2021

Washington Post Live on 2 March 2021 published a fascinating insight into the making of the film Nasrin [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/16/new-film-nasrin-about-the-iranian-human-rights-defender/]. Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most recognised human rights laureates in the Digest with 7 major awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/848465FE-22DF-4CAF-928F-7931B2D7A499

The transcript is verbatim and long, so you would have to follow the link at the bottom of the post to get the full story. Here just some excerpts:

MR. IGNATIUS: So, we have with us Christiane Amanpour, the international anchor for CNN; Jeff Kaufman, who is the producer and writer of this film; and my colleague, Jason Rezaian, who is our Tehran bureau chief.

MR. IGNATIUS: If I could ask Jeff to begin by telling us a little bit about Nasrin, her career as a human rights activist, how you came to make this documentary about her.AD

When we first reached out to Nasrin about doing a documentary about her life and work, there was a trust-building process through friends, and one of the things that she shared with us was a strong interest in having her story really be a story about so many others. We had known Nasrin’s work for years, and one of the things I loved about Nasrin is she is a Muslim woman who often reached out on behalf of other faiths and other backgrounds to support people in need. And I thought that that was such a powerful message for our own country as well. As a matter of fact, I think everything about Nasrin is a powerful message for democracy and mutual respect in this country and around the world.

So, when Nasrin said yes, we could do a film with her, she worked out sort of a complicated process. I couldn’t go to Iran because of past work I had done, and it wouldn’t have made sense to have a big American crew show up in Tehran anyway. So, we worked with these really remarkable, talented, and courageous individuals who followed Nasrin around from both working with at-risk clients, to protests, to art galleries, theaters, bookstores. It was a thrill for us to sort of be there with them, and we are so happy to be able to bring her story to you.

MR. IGNATIUS: Jeff, if I could ask, one of the most powerful things about this film is the footage from inside Iran. Did the people who were shooting this footage for you run personal risks? And I worry that some of them may have, themselves, been subject to arrest or difficulties with the authorities.

MR. KAUFMAN: No one has been subject to arrest or difficulties with authorities because of the film itself, but because they are also activists and believed that their work can push society forward, they have put themselves, on occasion, at risk for that.

We–Marcia and I, so often throughout the production of this film, would say to Nasrin and her husband, Reza, you know, we will stop at any moment if you feel this puts you or anyone else at risk. That was always our largest concern. And we did the whole film in secret, didn’t even fundraise in public, because we wanted to keep as much privacy for them as possible during the process. And even when we were editing, we said to Nasrin and Reza, “Hey, we will stop now if you think this is a concern.” But they felt–you know, Nasrin has this wonderful quote. She says, “Our children must not inherit silence.” And she will say over and over again, as do other human rights advocates, that repressive governments, they use pressure and force and intimidation to make people quiet, and Nasrin refuses to have her voice muffled. So, we are proud that the film can help amplify that voice.

I just want to add that I got a message from Nasrin’s husband this morning. I had asked if there was a message from Nasrin. And he said two things. He said that the cell she is in now, just so you know, is an 8-foot by 13-foot cell that has 12 beds in it, bunkbeds. And it is a low ceiling, there’s no windows, and very little access to clean water. So that is the conditions that she is living in right now.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask Christiane. Christiane, I think you have interviewed Nasrin in the past and you have interviewed many other courageous men and women who have taken these risks to stand up for human rights. What it is that motivates a special person like Nasrin, in your experience?

MS. AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I’m shaking my head because I am just so horrified at what her husband, Reza, has described as her latest terrible conditions inside a political prison, where she is not a political person. And I think this is what also really, for me, has been emblematic of all the human rights defenders who I have interviewed around the world. I haven’t had the pleasure of interviewing Nasrin, but I have had the pleasure of interviewing Shirin Ebadi, who as you remember also was a human rights lawyer in Iran. She also cannot go back to Iran. She was the first Iranian to win the Nobel Prize, and I covered the stories that she, and the cases that got her that Nobel Prize. And I know the risk that comes with it, and I know that they are not strictly speaking party political.AD

And I think this is one thing that came across in Jeff and Marcia’s film, and we talked about it when we did the interview. She is not being political. She is not talking about tearing down the regime or wanting any kind of regime change. She is just talking about basic, fundamental rights for the people of Iran, mostly in her case women and children, but some young men as well, under their own constitution. It is not like she is going out saying and taking cases to court that she is trying to try under Western law or whatever. It is under their own constitution. And this is what makes everybody, and certainly me, so angry that this is what has happened to her, this incredible woman.

I think what makes them take those risks, David, is that they truly believe in human rights. They truly believe in the dignity of each and every individual, and–this is important–they truly believe and want to hold their own governments accountable to the promises that those governments made. As I said, Nasrin defends cases based on the Islamic law in Iran, of the Islamic Republic, based on the promises that that regime made to the people 40 years ago, when the revolution started. And you can see that they have completely reneged on those promises, and that is why people like her are so utterly important.

MR. IGNATIUS: Jason, you were imprisoned in the same prison where Nasrin is being held today. As Christiane said, the reports from her husband, Reza, her conditions are horrifying. You have been there. Maybe you could just describe for our audience a little bit of what that prison is like, what it feels like to be there, the feelings that go through the many, many dozens, hundreds of people who are being held there unjustly.

MR. REZAIAN: Well, thank you for the question, David, and for the opportunity, and thank you to all three of you for taking part in this, and for David and Christiane for supporting me and my family while I was locked up in Evin Prison, which is a big reason why this film has been so important for me to get involved with.

I think that the reality of the political prisoner system in Iran, Christiane makes a very important point. I wasn’t a political prisoner, either. I was just a reporter doing my job. But our arrests and our detentions are very much politicized events.AD

The intention of our jailers is to really break us, to make us hopeless, to disassociate ourselves from society, and in Nasrin’s case, they have failed miserably. I did have the opportunity to interview Nasrin once, in 2013. It was a couple of months after Hassan Rouhani was elected president, and there was the hope that there would be more moderate attitude from the leadership in Tehran.

And ahead of his first trip to the UNGA, they released Nasrin, and my wife and I, who was working for Bloomberg at the time, visited Reza and Nasrin and their children in their home, on that very first day that she was released. And although she was relieved and happy to be back with her family, she made it clear that she was not at all satisfied that she had been released, because so many of her colleagues and friends and other innocent people were being held in prison.

And I think for someone like her, I imagine one of the most frustrating things about her experience would be that she understands the laws that she is trying to uphold much better than the people who are implementing them and using them against her, and I think that for that reason she is an incredible example and hero to so many.AD

And I just think that, you know, I want everybody to understand that Iranian woman are the backbone of that country. There is no doubt about it. They really, really are. Unlike women in many parts of the Islamic world, the Iranian women have been very strong, very mobilized, very much part of society, as you can see. Nasrin and Shirin and the others don’t just emerge out of nowhere. It is a long, long tradition. And I think it is great that Jeff is showing this, and I think it’s great that the world needs to understand it. And if I might just say also, you know, the first female to win a field mathematics medal was an Iranian-American.

So, there is a huge amount of success by Iranian women around the world, and that is why I think it is really important to show what Iranian woman are trying to do for their own girls and women and for their rights in their own country, and what an incredible hard, hard job it is, and how much personal risk they take.

And I also want to pay tribute to the journalists, as Jeff said. At the beginning of the film, he said, “I pay tribute to all the camera people and the crews, who I cannot name.” He explained why. But it is really important to understand that this story is being told despite the massive crackdown, and I think that is fantastic….

MR. IGNATIUS: So, Jeff, I want to ask you about one of the really moving parts of this film, and that is the footage of Nasrin’s husband, Reza, who has stood by her unflinchingly, supporting her, believing in her. He seems like a remarkable person. The fact that you were in touch with him today is especially moving to me. Tell our audience a little bit about Reza, Nasrin’s husband, and why he has been such a supporter of his wife’s cause and commitment.

MR. KAUFMAN: I will. I am so glad you asked. One of the reasons we wanted to do this film, besides profiling Nasrin, was because we wanted to fight back on the demonization of Iran and the demonization of Islam, that is being used too often for political purposes in this country, and no one has a better way to do that than Nasrin and Reza.

I think this film is an example that we can overcome obstacles from great distances, and even technological imitations, but sometimes it’s difficult.

I asked Reza, Nasrin’s husband, if Nasrin had any message to share for this conversation, and I got a note from him this morning. These are Nasrin’s words through Reza. Nasrin said, “What occupies my thoughts the most is those who are on Death Row here in Gharchak Prison. Right now, there are 17 women on Death Row facing imminent execution.” And she closed by saying, “I am hoping for an end to the death penalty across the world.”

So, you know, there’s Nasrin facing enormous pressure and difficulties, but as usual she is not thinking about herself. She is thinking about others and she is trying to push her country forward.

Jason, let me ask you, as someone who was imprisoned unjustly, whose cause was taken up by your newspaper and by many, many thousands of Americans, what difference you think that public pressure from the United States, from world public opinion, made in your ultimately being released?

MR. REZAIAN: So, I think it made a huge amount of difference in my case. And oftentimes when we are talking about foreign nationals being held hostage in Iran, usually they are dual nationals, and, you know, Iran tries to suppress this information of our second nationality as much as possible. For me, it became clear, as my case was being brought up more and more, my treatment by my captors got better and better. And I realized, at some point during the process of going on trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, I don’t think I need to tell anybody that’s in the conversation with me but maybe some folks at home listening should know that if you ever find yourself on trial in a court with “revolutionary” in its name, you don’t have a good chance of winning.

But I realized that my real case was in the case of international public opinion, and the more people who kind of pushed for my release, the more involved the U.S. government got, and so much of that started, first and foremost, with my family, very early on with my imprisonment. My mom went on Christiane’s show and talked about my situation. And our colleagues at The Washington Post, who didn’t let a day go by without raising my case.

So now, you know, when I’m contacted by the families of people who are being held in prison in Iran, unfortunately there are five Americans being held at this very moment, and I’m in touch with every one of those families, I tell each one of them, make as much noise as you possibly can, and when your loved one gets out, they will thank you for it. And time and again, when people have been released, that I have written about, they contact me and say, “Thank you for making sure that I wasn’t forgotten about.” And my attitude is, what kind of hypocrite would I be if, after getting all the support that I got, that I didn’t pay it forward by helping people who have had their voices silenced?

MR. IGNATIUS: I hope we made a little noise today on Nasrin’s behalf. We are unfortunately out of time, but I want to close by thanking our guests, Christiane Amanpour from CNN, Jeff Kaufman, in particular, who made this extraordinary film, and my colleague, Jason Rezaian. You can watch “NASRIN,” this powerful, upsetting film, in the USA and Canada now on demand. International audiences can stream the film starting in a week, on March 8….

https://www.washingtonpost.com/washington-post-live/2021/03/01/transcript-nasrin-conversation-with-christiane-amanpour-jeff-kaufman-jason-rezaian/

Pressure works: Egypt releases human rights defenders

December 4, 2020

Many media (here Sudarsan Raghavan for the Washington Post on 3 December 2020) have reported the good news that three Egyptian human rights defenders were released from detention Thursday after a wave of international condemnation against the Arab nation’s authoritarian government that included UN and Hollywood celebrities.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/25/rafto-prize-for-2020-goes-to-the-egyptian-commission-for-rights-and-freedoms-ecrf/

The trio — Gasser Abdel-Razek, Karim Ennarah and Mohamed Basheer — work for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the few remaining rights groups in Egypt, where President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has waged a massive crackdown on opponents and activists alike.

“They are fine, they are in good spirits,” said Ragya Omran, their lawyer, Thursday night.

 The three men were arrested last month after they met with 13 Western diplomats to discuss ways to improve human rights conditions in Egypt. A few days after the meeting, they were rounded up by Egyptian security forces over a week-long period and charged with “joining a terrorist organization” and “using social media accounts to spread false information.” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/18/in-reprisal-for-talking-to-diplomats-egypt-arrests-human-rights-defender-mohamed-basheern/]

“It was a very quick and clean release, which is unprecedented,” Omran said. “There was a lot of international pressure. … It worked.”

Few arrests have sparked the global outrage that followed the detention of the EIPR employees. The United Nations, France and other governments publicly denounced the arrests. Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, declared in a tweet that “meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/29/2020-award-of-european-bars-associations-ccbe-goes-to-seven-egyptian-lawyers-who-are-in-prison/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/un-expresses-deep-concern-over-egypt-using-special-terror-courts-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/

On social media, a petition campaign with the hashtags #FreeEIPRstaff and #FreeKarimEnnarah went viral, spearheaded by Ennarah’s British wife, Jess Kelly. It prompted Hollywood celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson and Emma Thompson to post videos of themselves on YouTube urging the release of the EIPR staffers. In Egypt, EIPR remained vocal and defiant.

On Thursday night, after the three men took cabs from the prison to their homes, one of the group’s leaders publicly noted that the global outcry played a significant role in convincing the regime to release his colleagues.

I can confirm my friends and EIPR colleague, Gasser, Basheer and Karim have been released and are home which I guess means we (and you) managed to #FreeEIPRstaff,tweeted Hossam Bahgat, the organization’s founder.

Bahgat, despite being under a travel ban and asset freeze imposed by the Sissi government, returned to take the helm last month after Abdel-Razek, its executive director, was taken into custody. Placed in a cold cell, he was initially denied warm clothing and a mattress, among other ill treatment, said Amnesty International.

On 18 December the EU started to look again at its relation: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201218-european-parliament-calls-for-review-in-relations-with-egypt/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/egypt-human-rights-campaign-international–outcry/2020/12/03/bda49858-3599-11eb-9699-00d311f13d2d_story.html

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/egypt-civil-rights-scarlett-johansson-eipr-leaders-release-free-karim-ennarah/

Trump’s “new” thinking on human rights in foreign policy?

June 3, 2019

President Trump and Mr. Pompeo have raised human rights abuses only sporadically, to pressure adversaries such as Iran and Venezuela, while ignoring gross violations elsewhere, a gaping inconsistency that undercuts the moral leadership of the United States. Of course, human rights are never the only concern in foreign policy and must be balanced against other factors and interests. But it does not require any more “solid definitions” to understand the horrors of Xinjiang province, where China has herded more than 1 million Turkic Uighur Muslims into brainwashing camps to eradicate their culture and language. This ethnic cleansing has come to light during the Trump administration, but its reaction has been tepid.

Do the president and the secretary need any more “solid definitions” in order to object to the methods of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose hit squad was dispatched to Istanbul to kill journalist and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi? Is the United States having trouble finding a voice to speak out against the abuse of human rights in Turkey, Egypt and Russia because of a lack of definitions — or because of a misplaced desire to butter up the authoritarians who rule them?

“Fresh thinking” is always valuable. But when it comes to human rights, time-tested institutions, principles and tools exist. They just need to be utilized.

Gender equality awards in the Emirates: all the winners are men

January 29, 2019

On 28 January 2019 Adam Taylor reported in the Washington Post that “the United Arab Emirates drew mockery this weekend after announcing the winners of its gender balance awards — every one of whom was a man”. For a blog with special interest in awards that is hard to resist!

At an awards ceremony Sunday, the UAE named the winners of its Gender Balance Index for the second round of 2018 in three categories: best personality supporting gender balance, best federal authority supporting gender balance and the best gender balance initiative. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, gave out the awards, which were accepted by an all-male cast.

In a news release, Maktoum said that gender equality was in the spirit of the founding father of the Emirates: “The achievements of Emirati women today reaffirm the wise vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, who believed in the importance of the role of women, and their right to work and become key partners in society.”

But the fact that there were zero women among the winners announced Sunday drew widespread criticism and mockery. According to the news release put out by the Dubai media office, Maktoum “recognized the efforts” of one woman — Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum — but she did not win an award. She is the head of the UAE’s Gender Balance Council and wife of a deputy prime minister. “During the Index’s second edition, recipients of the Index’s awards happened to be entities led by men,” the UAE Gender Balance Council said in a statement after the award’s received media attention. “This is indicative of the great and extraordinary progress we have made as a nation, where men in the UAE are proactively working alongside women to champion gender balance as a national priority.”

To be fair: In previous years, the UAE’s Gender Balance Index has honored women and the UAE is the highest-ranked Persian Gulf state for gender equality and second only to Israel in the wider Middle East, according to the United Nations. The country was listed as 34th among nations in a 2017 ranking, just behind Poland.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/01/28/uae-gender-equality-awards-all-winners-were-men/?utm_term=.84ffb3b4f38a

Human rights treaties promised a better future. Why did they fail?

December 26, 2018

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on trends that affect human rights defenders. I have referred to several main pieces in the course of this year [e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/01/human-rights-in-crisis-here-the-last-word-before-the-summer/]. On 20 December 2018, James Loeffler, the Jay Berkowitz chair in Jewish history at the University of Virginia, tried his hands at the the question: “Human rights treaties promised a better future. Why did they fail?” The author argues that the non-binding character of the UDHR, while politically understandable, carried the seeds of its failure: “The strategic decision to sidestep hard law in favor of soft norms yielded a new universal moral language. That success, however, came at the cost of a more comprehensive legal system that could withstand politics and compel states to do the right thing. In a world sorely lacking in global leadership, the champions of human rights stand poised to earn only the hollowest of victories.


Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, experienced the fastest decline in liberty in the last year, according to the Freedom House rankings. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

…….In 2018, however, the declaration [UDHR] remains an unfulfilled promise. Progressives fault the human rights movement for ignoring global economic inequality, and regimes like Iran and Venezuela have cynically weaponized human rights to score propaganda victories at the United Nations while shielding themselves from international scrutiny. But the real problem is less overt politicization or selective implementation than poor design. The truth is that its authors, by crafting a voluntary declaration instead of an international law, left it toothless to protect humans around the world whose rights it sought to enshrine. And in doing so, they laid out a pattern for future failures. Governments might do a much better job of safeguarding the integrity of their citizens today if only the framers in 1948 had insisted that U.N. member-states immediately accept binding rules instead of unenforceable norms.

……..Eleanor Roosevelt clashed with her Soviet counterparts, who opposed trade unions and the right to private property. Latin American representatives wanted God mentioned and abortion prohibited. The Saudis opposed freedom of religion and freedom of marriage as antithetical to Islamic views. The Americans worried about criticism over racial segregation, while the British and the French feared any provisions that might undermine their colonial empires.

What emerged from these debates was a surprisingly modest vision. The goal of the Universal Declaration was not to end state sovereignty or to level the playing field of global justice. Rather, its drafters forged a legal compact in which nation-states would commit to an internal baseline of freedom and welfare for their own citizens. In fact, the final text of the Universal Declaration is remarkably neutral on many core questions of modern politics. It does not demand democracy or proscribe autocracy. It is fully compatible with communism, capitalism and even colonialism.

Most strikingly, it is technically not law at all, but only a statement of nonbinding principles. Originally, the United Nations announced the creation of an International Bill of Rights akin to a global constitution. But over the course of 1947 and 1948, the document’s framers made the fateful decision to separate the declaration from a binding legal covenant, or international treaty, that U.N. member-states could eventually sign into law. At the time, the absence of an enforcement mechanism was viewed as a necessary price to pay for global consensus. Many also assumed that this move would suffice, since Western superpowers would backstop the system with their global clout through the Security Council.

But enumerating rights without obligating states to recognize them left international human rights as soft legal rhetoric bereft of hard legal authority. States could voice selective support for norms without any independent judiciary to verify their claims or provide a forum for injured individuals.

Sharp-eyed observers said as much at the time. In 1947, Hersch “Zvi” Lauterpacht, a leading expert on international law, objected in a BBC radio lecture that “to a lawyer, the enunciation of a right without the provision of a remedy is a juridical heresy . . . What is required at this juncture of history is not the recognition and not even the formulation of inalienable human rights but their effective protection.” A year later, he added, “It is clear to me that the declaration does not carry things further and that in some important respects has put the clock back.”

Lauterpacht was prophetic, for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the body of elected country delegates and U.N. bureaucrats charged with supervising the Universal Declaration, quickly showed itself unwilling or unable to respond to requests for help. Between 1947 and 1957, roughly 65,000 letters arrived at its doorstep from individuals alleging human rights violations in their countries. The avalanche of mail powerfully testified to the fact that the Universal Declaration had alerted people to the ideals of human rights. Yet the commission declined to investigate these complaints; neither great powers nor small ones wanted it determining when they’d broken the rules.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the gap between the stirring language of the Universal Declaration and its actual effectiveness only expanded. When new African states entered the U.N. ranks after 1960, many veteran human rights activists hoped they would use their political clout on behalf of the long-planned legal treaties related to the Universal Declaration. They did so in 1966, ushering in two major treaties designed to implement the declaration. This eventually led to other human rights treaties, addressing issues such as racial discrimination and women’s rights, along with the controversial International Criminal Court.

Yet the patchwork nature of this new system of laws made it vulnerable to intense politicization. Worse still, the new postcolonial states proved just as determined as their former Western rulers to guard their sovereignty and pick and choose which rights to observe. In 1968, when the United Nations hosted a conference in Tehran to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, Western diplomats came away dismayed by how human rights activism in the developing world had devolved into ideological score-settling. “Many of those who attended the Conference felt that this would be an occasion for mutual backslapping,” wrote Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig of the World Jewish Congress. “As it turned out, it proved to be an occasion for mutual nose-punching.”

Curiously, the political controversy over human rights at the United Nations did not stop a growing interest in the Universal Declaration itself. If anything, disillusionment with the limits of human rights law only increased reliance on the text as a norm. Across the 1970s and 1980s, as human rights grew from an elite U.N. legal project into a grass-roots movement, groups like Amnesty International routinely invoked the Universal Declaration to mobilize public opinion. In the absence of international legal enforcement, popular culture, media and protest politics could be used to name and shame states. The climax came in 1988, when Amnesty International sponsored a series of rock concerts around the world to celebrate the declaration’s 40th anniversary. Leading musicians like Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen took the stage to promote human rights awareness — along with Amnesty’s own brand and that of its corporate sponsor, Reebok.

The end of the Cold War in the 1990s brought a burst of U.N. efforts to reverse-engineer some of the pieces missing from its half-built legal architecture. The General Assembly launched the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1993 to serve as a neutral legal ombudsman, while world leaders gathered in Rome in 2002 to revive the old idea of an International Criminal Court. At the behest of the United States, the rights commission was restructured and renamed as the Human Rights Council in 2006 to depoliticize its work. Yet these institutional developments still do not make up a full legal system that can truly enforce the Universal Declaration as global law.

Last year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a 70th-anniversary hashtag, #standup4humanrights, and a website that insists “we can all be Human Rights Champions.” All it takes, apparently, is posting individual stories online and recording an article of the declaration in one’s own language. There is hardly any mention of law or politics; it suffices to “promote, engage and reflect.” That lofty rhetoric neatly captures how human rights remain captive to their flawed postwar origins. The strategic decision to sidestep hard law in favor of soft norms yielded a new universal moral language. That success, however, came at the cost of a more comprehensive legal system that could withstand politics and compel states to do the right thing. In a world sorely lacking in global leadership, the champions of human rights stand poised to earn only the hollowest of victories.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/human-rights-treaties-promised-a-better-future-why-did-they-fail/2018/12/20/bfd843ec-ffc0-11e8-83c0-b06139e540e5_story.html?utm_term=.862e2d5e78fb

Haiti HRD Mario Joseph uses his appearance in the MEA ceremony well

October 14, 2013

Mario Joseph Final Nominee MEA 2013

Mario Joseph, Haiti – Final Nominee MEA 2013

An unintended consequence of the MEA ceremony on 8 October was that Mario Joseph – one of the 3 Final Nominees for this award – used his speech to make clear how disturbed he was by the UN’s refusal to assume its responsibility for the cholera epidemic caused by UN troops in Haiti. Mrs Pillay – the UN High commissioner for human rights – in her speech replied to the challenge by repeating an earlier position that had mostly gone unnoticed: “I have used my voice both inside the United Nations and outside to call for the right — for an investigation by the United Nations, by the country concerned, and I still stand by the call that victims of — of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation”. Associated Press reported this on 8 October but left out the context by just stating: ‘Pillay said at an awards ceremony for human rights activists in Geneva… streamed live on the Internet.’  So, now you know!

via UN human rights official urges compensation for Haiti cholera victims – Washington Post.

HRDs in the school culture can end bullying

August 12, 2013

Kerry Kennedy writes in an opinion in the WashingtonPost of 12 August about how her organisation was called by the superintendent of Bucyrus City Schools to address the issue of bullying in the school. The Speak Truth To Power [STTP], human rights education curriculum offered by the Robert F. Kennedy Center is taught in schools around the world — from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to Pisa, Italy, from Stockholm to Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »