Posts Tagged ‘woman human rights defender’

Rita Aciro winner of the 2021 EU’s Human Rights Defenders’ Award in Uganda

May 1, 2021

Noelyn Nassuuna in KFM of 30 April 2021 reports that Ugandan women’s rights activist Rita Aciro is the winner of the 2021 European Union Human Rights Defenders’ Award.

The award is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognise a human rights defender in Uganda for their outstanding contribution.

Aciro, the Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network was recognised for her outstanding work to advance the role of girls and women in all aspects of life in Uganda. For last year’s see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/19/eus-ugandan-human-rights-defenders-award-2020-to-aime-moninga/

Speaking during the award ceremony last evening, the Germany Ambassador to Uganda Matthias Schauer said human rights need to be defended all over the world especially for disadvantaged groups.

While receiving the award, Aciro said it was an honour of the invisible Human Rights Defenders in homes, and public spaces who never have the spot light yet do an incredible job in giving a voice to women and girls.

Profile of Muay: A Laotian Woman Human Rights Defender

March 18, 2021

On 17 a blog post in hrcessex by Sarah Mui profiles Muay: “A Fierce Woman Human Rights Defender”

Houayheung (“Muay”) Xayabouly is not only a mother, small business owner and the primary breadwinner of her family, but shehas also been breaking down stereotypical gender roles by being a fierce human rights defender and environmental activist in Laos.She is viewed as a public figure among her community because of her work to shed light onto the countless human rights violations that she and fellow Lao people have endured at the hands of the national government. In 2019, the Lao government decided to make an example out of Muay and unjustly sentenced her to five years in prison, for which she was stripped of all fair trial guarantees. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I urge all who read this to remember her name, learn her fight and spread awareness to demand that all charges be dropped and Muay be set free.

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundatio

In 2017, Muay began raising awareness on social media over the excessive tolls that she along with other people in her community were being charged when crossing a bridge on the border of Laos and Thailand. The cost of the toll was equivalent to several meals, but Lao people relied on it to travel to and from work each day, including Muay herself. It turned out that the Lao government had given the private international company, Duangdee, the concession to charge the toll when it constructed the bridge in the first place. This concession left her community in an impossible situation where they were perpetually indebted to this private company who took advantage of the bridge’s necessity. Muay’s video about the toll deeply resonated with the Lao people, who agreed that the government benefited from the financial relationship with Duangdee. This made Muay realize the importance of using her voice to speak up for Lao people, and it was then that she made the decision to dedicate her life to fighting for them.   

The Lao government did nothing in response to their people’s outcry over the excessive tolls, but rather chose to focus attention on finding ways to intimidate Muay. Soon after the video went viral, the police were sent to her location to warn her to not criticize it.

In 2018, Muay challenged the Lao government over the corrupt hiring practices of public sector and governmental positions in that they were being appointed on the condition of bribes instead of through proper hiring procedures. This was quite personal for Muay because her own brother had been deeply impacted by this practice. He had always aspired to become a police officer but was cheated out of money and the position of his dreams due to these dishonorable practices. Muay’s video discussing the topic received over 320,000 views as of July last year. 

Soon after Muay’s widely viewed video, she was fired from her job as a tour guide for “unknown” reasons other than the fact her employer had been mysteriously pressured to do so. 

Muay was not going to let the government deter her from helping Lao people. Later that year, she decided to create a school for Lao children to address the dire inequalities that they faced in accessing education. The current practice was for parents to pay a bribe to secure a spot for their children, otherwise they could not provide them an education. She started multiple fundraisers to accomplish this goal, including selling shirts that said, “I don’t want to buy government positions,” referencing the Lao government’s corrupt hiring practices in addition to holding a concert featuring a number of local performers. 

Again, instead of actually listening to the suffering of its people, the government chose to continue to try to intimidate Muay by shutting down the fundraising concert and prohibiting the selling of shirts. 

The year 2018 was also troubling because that summer a dam collapsed in Attapeu Province, which led to numerous deaths, disappearances and displacements of Lao people. The government purportedly underreported the impact of the collapse and restricted access to the scene by the media and independent aid organizations. Muay decided to take matters into her own hands and post her own videos of the disaster and its significant effect on the community. 

In response to the shocking video, Muay was called to the police station and was told to cease all criticism of the Lao government. 

Around the same time, Muay had learned that donations for the impacted families of the dam collapse were being sold by Lao police for their own monetary gain. She could not allow her community to suffer so she started collecting donations for them herself. She documented and shared this all on social media.

Within a few days, the Lao government issued a press statement advising the public against reading “unofficial news” about the collapse. 

In the autumn of 2019, the Lao people who lived close to the dam were again harmed after a tropical storm caused major flooding, leaving over 100,000 displaced from their homes. Again, disturbed by the Lao government’s indifference towards its people, Muay posted another video calling the government out for its slow response and its lack of preventative measures which could have mitigated the storm’s impact.  

Around the same time, the Lao government sent police to arrest Muay without a warrant while she was dining at a restaurant. She tried to post a video about what had happened, but she was forced to delete it. She was then placed in pre-trial detention long before her hearing and was denied an impartial lawyer and the ability to challenge her detention. She was subject to repeated long interrogations where she was coerced to confess to “spreading propaganda against the Lao government.” She was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, for which she visitation has been limited and closely monitored. She has not been able to see her young daughter but a handful of times and international NGOs have been completely barred.

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundation

The Lao Government is Using Muay as an Example to Silence Dissent 

Muay is a strong and dedicated woman human rights defender and environmental activist who has fought endlessly for her community. Instead of taking accountability and listening to the suffering of its people, the Lao government has instead chosen to turn a blind eye to its human rights obligations and punish Muay for her significant contributions to her country. Until now, Muay’s story has only been made available by a few NGOs working hard to shed light onto her fervent advocacy and now wrongful detention. To spread the word about her fight, please share this blog, follow #FreeMuay and visit this link to demand that Muay be set free!

About the Author: Sarah Mui is an American human rights lawyer currently in the LLM for International Human Rights Law program at the University of Essex. She is also a research assistant with the Manushya Foundation located in Bangkok. Sarah hopes to work in the field women’s rights upon graduation. 

https://hrcessex.wordpress.com/2021/03/17/muay-a-fierce-woman-human-rights-defender/

Profile of Nicoline Nwenushi wazeh Tumasang from Cameroon

March 6, 2021

On 29 January 2021 the ISHR published this interview with Nicoline Nwenushi wazeh Tumasang, an inspiring human rights defender from Cameroon who shares her story of hope, resilience and fight for gender equality.

I am Nicoline Nwenushi wazeh Tumasang, a gender and development specialist, jurist, human rights defender and civil society activist. I am also the CEO and founder of Pathways for Women’s Empowerment and Development and its Integrated agricultural Training Center (PaWED/IATC), whose missions are to ensure a gender just society in which men and women enjoy equity, contribute and benefit as equal partners in the development of the country and the world. I am also one of the chairs of Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement (CAWOPEM).

My priority areas of intervention include but are not limited to research on women’s equal and meaningful participation; empowerment for women and girl’s for economic rights and freedom; campaign and advocacy towards the realisation of the right to education for crisis-affected and displaced children and youth; advocacy and campaign to end the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon and limit atrocities especially sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) on women and girls; capacity and movement building; advocacy and lobbying; networking and fundraising.

The year is 2050 : what does the world look like – in particular for women, ethnic minorities, LGBTI people, etc. ?

It is a world where gender and social justice prevails and all stakeholders work in synergy to ensure equity, safety, and contribute their full potential and benefit as common humanity….Through designing advocacy and campaign strategies, empowering, creating awareness and holding service providers accountable. Contributing to building the resilience of the vulnerable masses and creating safe spaces for women, girls and other socially vulnerable groups.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

Before joining the civil society world as a human rights defender, I palpated vulnerability in accessing justice. These vulnerabilities, especially that of widows, triggered my passion to defend human rights. However, the outbreak of the Anglophone crisis in 2016 was a decisive period for me.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work?

Although I have personally not faced any physical attacks and threats, our work has been greatly impeded by intimidation from government, shrinking civic space measures, insecurity due to the ongoing armed conflicts and government’s denial to call for ceasefire, as well as threats and intimidation from the non-State armed groups.

What could be done for you to be able to work and live safely?

A specific legislation on the protection of human rights defenders particularly women human rights defenders, scrupulous punishment of offenders and compensation for damage will provide us with a safe and conducive working environment. Also, funding of our projects will give our work better visibility and respect.

How does the Covid-19 pandemic affect your work?

From an economic perspective, COVID-19 and the lockdown measures have devastating effects on the women’s economic empowerment projects that we were running hitherto. Our inability to sell three thousand (3000) broiler chickens in our Integrated Agricultural Training Center (IATC) has caused us damages worth some $8000 and a risk for the Microfinance institution to forfeit our assets used as collateral to obtain the loan. This equally means that the women who were beneficiaries of this project and had gained a certain degree of financial independence and security from gender-based violence have lost their livelihood activities and will have to strive to start all over again. Furthermore, telecommuting has left most of our beneficiaries behind due to the lack of android gadgets, sustainable connectivity and power supply.

Photo credit (in order of appearance): PaWED; Center regional delegation of MINPROF for PAWED; Yaoundé’s Women’s March against Kumba killings

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-nicoline-nwenushi-wazeh-tumasang-cameroon?fbclid=IwAR2Ri-UkKELjcenwPqC3FKLeh4mVHS2WzWVDMKqX9boNpiVhwUENN2VDpZE

A human rights defender’s story: Alicia Wallace from the Bahamas

February 17, 2021

On 15 January 2021 The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published a long interview with Alicia Wallace, a human rights defender from the Bahamas. Here it is in full:

“I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.”

The year is 2050. What does the world look like – in particular for women, Black people, LGBTI people?

We are making strides toward equality and we are centered in all decision-making processes. We are protected and respected. It is a norm for us to be in positions of leadership. Diversity is expected. We are as safe at night as anyone is during the day. We have access to education, healthcare, food, and housing. All of our needs are met. Redistribution of wealth is in progress. Our survival is not dependent on or propping up the capitalist system. We are defining justice for ourselves. We recognise ourselves as the source of our own healing.

How did your work help achieve the vision you just described?

My work provoked conversation. It made information, from academic theory to changemaking methodologies, accessible to everyone. I created spaces where people have been comfortable to question, critique, challenge, learn, share, and create. I developed tools for all of us to be able to think outside of the reality we used to know. We knew we were not bound to it because I put significant emphasis on imagination and future-making. I found a way to fight the injustice we faced and facilitate collaborative visioning, imagining, and creating. We channeled our rage, weaponised hope (inspired by the work of artist Angelika Wallace-Whitfield), and we came together to co-create the futures. I helped to create tools and systems to enable that practice.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

I am a queer Black woman. I have student loan debt. I am unwaged. I am a survivor of violence. My life is a collection of moments that make it necessary for me to defend and promote human rights if I am to survive and leave the world better than I met it. Perhaps what prompts me to action is recognition of another important fact—I have privilege. I have had experiences I may never speak of, and I know that my circumstances could be a lot worse. It is important for me to use what I have to help us all get what we ought to have had a long time ago. For me, the defining moment happens over and over again, when I feel rage threatens to control my body, and I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to turn channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work? 

I’ve been experiencing rape and death threats for the past six years. Most of it has been online. The most troubling threats come following participation in direct action or agitation from people in positions of influence. In 2018, when I participated in the 71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, a radio personality made dangerous statements about me on the air. The same person incited the first threats of violence against me in 2014, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I made a report to the CEDAW focal point on reprisals, but the outcome was not favorable. A government representative called me to suggest I report the incident to the police, but did not offer support in doing so and could not cite an offense, according to Bahamian law, that I would be reporting. It was a ridiculous suggestion that gave me no help. The government, of course, reported its “action” to the UN, even claiming that I said I no longer felt unsafe. I told the focal point that this was untrue and that, at the very least, the government should have been instructed to publicly state its support for human rights defenders, enact hate speech and hate crime legislation, and direct the radio personality to cease and desist all reference to me and any other human rights defenders. It would have cost the UN nothing to support me and other human rights defenders by making these recommendations to the government. Instead, I am left to fend for myself in a place where I continue to live and work without protection, legal or otherwise.

On this see what was stated by Andrew Gilmour in December 2019: “The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.”[from: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/]

What could be done for you to be able to work safely and effectively?

Institutions and people in positions of power need to rebuke violence, harassment, and threats of violence. The State needs to enact legislation against hate crimes and hate speech. It needs to publicly state its support of human rights defenders, make it clear that the relationship between itself and advocates is complementary, not adversarial, and assert that it will protect us. The United Nations and other bodies in control of international mechanisms and reporting processes need to take responsibility for the safety and security of the human rights defenders it depends on to monitor and evaluate State action. These organisations need to raise the bar, calling States to higher standards. They have to make it clear to States and the general public that the safety and security of human rights defenders are a matter of priority before we are detained, disappeared, or murdered.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work? 

It has, as predicted, increased the volume of work. People, especially vulnerable people, are suffering. The pandemic has created crisis after crisis, from domestic violence and unpaid care work to unemployment and disruption of education. In anticipation of the effects of COVID-19 and State actions in response to it, Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR)—where I am a steering committee member—produced guidelines for feminist policymaking during this time. This is one of the most critical pieces of work I have contributed to this year. In addition, I have been engaged in rapid response, working on policy recommendations to end gender-based violence, and continuing the regular programming of Equality Bahamas. It has been a busy year, but one of learning and where I have been able to see and strengthen my own agility. Human rights defenders have to be able to anticipate, prepare, respond, pivot, assess, and revise at all times, and especially during the crisis. The work has intensified and been taxing, but I believe that we have learned more this year than we have in years gone by, people are more aware of inequalities, and in addition to getting more people on our team, we can get institutions to make substantive change.

You are the producer of a monthly newsletter called The Culture RUSH. How does fusing pop culture with social justice help achieve your vision?

I want people to understand the movement for justice and equality. I want to see a broader understanding of feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, and the importance of  centering vulnerable people in decision-making processes, programmes, and activities. We need more people on our team. That requires two main actions: communicating in clear, accessible ways, and meeting them where they are in order to deliver the message. Academic text, feminist theory, and the language of institutions and advocacy are not as appealing or accessible as pop culture. People know what’s going on in Cardi B’s marriage, Megan Thee Stallion’s friend group, and the lives of real housewives. If WAP gets us talking about women’s pleasure, let’s talk about  women in rap, lyrics, and music videos. In The Culture RUSH, I make connections between pop culture and social justice. In January 2021, I am starting Scorch, a paid subscription newsletter breaking feminist theory and academic text down into digestible bites (similar to Blinkist). I’m excited about making human rights and social justice accessible and interesting to wider audiences. When people are interested, they’re more likely to get invested, and when they’re invested, we can convince them to take action with us. People power is how we win.

Thank you, Alicia! 


Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, gender expert, and research consultant. She is the Director of Equality Bahamas which promotes women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as human rights through public education, community programming, and advocacy. Her work has included a two-year educational campaign ahead of a national referendum on gender and citizenship, the design and coordination of  Women’s Wednesdays—a month event series bringing women together to share knowledge and ideas—and management of a disaster relief donation and distribution center. Alicia is also a steering committee member of Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR). She has a weekly column on social and political issues in the Bahamian daily newspaper The Tribune and has published academic papers. 

Photo credits in order of appearance: Blair J. Meadows, Equality and Justice Alliance, Equality Bahamas

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-alicia-wallace-bahamas

Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova being disbarred

February 10, 2021
Shahla Humbatova. Photo: US State Department.

On 9 February 2021 Hamida Giyasbayli of OC Media reports that Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova has vowed to fight disbarment procedures against her despite what she says is a campaign of ‘harassment and threats’ from the Bar Association.

The Azerbaijani Bar Association has accused Humbatova of submitting a fake document as evidence during a civil case she was litigating, a criminal offence. They have also accused her of owing ₼460 ($270) in membership fees.  The association has taken her to court in an attempt to disbar her, which would strip her of the right to practice law.

Humbatova is well known in Azerbaijan for taking on high-profile human rights cases, including those of queer Azerbaijanis as well as blogger Mehman Huseynov. The move to disbar her follows the disbarment of dozens of other human rights lawyers in recent years, leaving few remaining lawyers taking on such cases. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/e761cd05-65b0-4a02-8abe-e8ce9c58faed]

Speaking with OC Media, Humbatova said the allegation she submitted fake documents was baseless, and that her defence had submitted evidence proving this.

She confirmed that she had owed eight months of membership fees, but insisted the association did not make any effort to notify her of this. ‘I learned about this from the media the day after the Board’s decision [to take me to court]’, she said.  She immediately made the payment, so when the Bar went to court with her disbarment request, there was no longer any debt. Emin Abbasov, a legal practitioner who also works on human rights cases, criticised the proceedings against Humbatova for being conducted behind closed doors and without any records.  Abbasov, along with four others, is himself appealing to the European Court of Human Rights after being denied certification by the Bar Association.                                                                                                                     

Humbatova told OC Media that the move to disbar her was a continuation of the policy of dismantling human rights defenders in the country.  ‘It is lawyers and human rights activists who are fighting against politically motivated arrests, torture, repression of dissidents and those who simply demand their rights, and informing the public and international organisations. Therefore, they are being neutralised’, she stated.

In December 2019, 42 member organisations of the Human Rights House, a global rights group, called on the Azerbaijani Bar Association to ‘halt reprisals against a number of human rights lawyers, including Shahla Humbatova and Elchin Sadigov’. Sadigov is Humbatova’s current lawyer. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/annual-reports-2019-azerbaijan-in-review-muted-hope-for-2020/

Will Loujain al-Hathloul be released on Thursday 11 February? – She was.

February 9, 2021

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul had been sentenced to almost six years in jail (AFP/File photo) By Ali Harb in Washington

After more than 1,000 days in detention where she endured torture and hunger strikes, Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is expected to be released on Thursday, her sister revealed in a tweet on Monday. 

A Saudi court sentenced Hathloul to close to six years in prison late in 2020 on charges of contacting foreign organisations stemming from her human rights work. With time served and the court suspending part of the jail sentence, she was set for release in March. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/29/loujain-al-hathloul-sentenced-to-over-5-years-prison-by-saudi-terror-court/]

Her early release would come weeks into the administration of US President Joe Biden, who has vowed to “reassess” relations with Riyadh and prioritise human rights in its dealings with the kingdom. In a phone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan last week, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken stressed “several key priorities of the new administration including elevating human rights issues and ending the war in Yemen”, according to a statement by the State Department.

In 2019, Hathloul and fellow detained feminist activists Nouf Abdulaziz and Eman al-Nafjan received the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. In 2020 she received the Prix de la Liberte (Normandy) and the Magnitsky award [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/%e2%80%8b%e2%80%8bmartin-ennals-award-finalists-2021-announced/

And it did happen on 10 February 2021: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/saudi-arabia-release-of-womens-rights-defender-loujain-al-hathloul-long-overdue/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/loujain-al-hathloul-saudi-activist-be-freed-sister-says.

However, see https://redactionpolitics.com/2021/03/07/loujain-al-hathloul-still-not-free-argue-human-rights-groups/

Pakistan goes after family of escaped human rights defender Gulalai Ismail

February 4, 2021
Mohammed Ismail, above in 2019, faces charges of sedition and terrorism financing, which human rights defenders say are bogus and thinly veiled revenge against the family for embarrassing the state security services.
Mohammed Ismail, above in 2019,.Credit…Saiyna Bashir for The New York Times

Jeffrey Gettleman and Zia ur-Rehman report in the New York Times of 3 February 2021 that Mohammed Ismail, father of the women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail, now faces harsh terrorism charges that critics say are about revenge, not justice. (Digest: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/91dafeaf-7056-466f-82b9-4a380ba6391a]

Gulalai Ismail, one of Pakistan’s boldest human rights defenders and a stalwart critic of Pakistan’s security services, succeeded in escaping to the United States in 2019, humiliating the authorities who had been persecuting her. Now Pakistan has taken aim at her parents, accusing them of terrorism, and throwing her father, who was recovering from Covid-19, into jail.

A bail hearing ended with Mohammed Ismail being led away in handcuffs. He faces charges of sedition and terrorism financing, which human rights defenders say are bogus and thinly veiled revenge against the family for embarrassing the state security services.

Ms. Ismail, who now lives in New York and has applied for political asylum in the United States, said the charges against her and her parents were “malicious and false.” “This is about setting a precedent,” she said on Wednesday, by phone from Brooklyn. “If a woman raises her voice, the whole family will face consequences.

Ms. Ismail made a name for herself by spotlighting the rampant abuse of women and girls in Pakistan, especially gang rapes perpetuated by government soldiers. She also joined the Pashtun Protection Movement, a human rights protest group known as the P.T.M., and whose rallies became the focus of a massive crackdown by the Pakistani security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/06/gauri-lankesh-and-gulalai-ismail-win-2017-anna-politkovskaya-award/]

https://www.ucanews.com/news/civicus-demands-release-of-pakistani-rights-activist/91311#

Patti Smith recognized with International Beethoven Prize

December 16, 2020
Musician Patti Smith attends a special screening of The Seagull at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York, NY on May 10, 2018. (Photo by Stephen Smith/SIPA USA) (Newscom TagID: sipaphotoseight127601.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Patti Smith is honored for her social commitment “She is an activist – with her books, her songs and her life. She stands up for human rights, peace, freedom, poverty reduction, inclusion and climate protection all her life,” the message said. In addition, Smith is a declared Beethoven fan. The Beethoven Academy has taken human rights, peace, freedom, poverty reduction and inclusion as its guiding principles. The International Beethoven Prize was awarded for the sixth time. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/c05408e0-e598-11e7-a009-858a33846a9e].

For last year’s award see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/09/igor-levit-wins-the-2019-beethoven-prize-for-human-rights/

Libyan human rights defender Hanan al-Barassi gunned down in Benghazi

November 12, 2020

International media (here CNN) reported on 11 November 2020 on the killing of prominent Libyan lawyer and women’s rights activist Hanan al-Barassi, who was gunned down by armed men Tuesday in the eastern city of Benghazi. Her killing in Benghazi, which falls under the control of the Libyan National Army (LNA), came just a day after she shared comments on social media criticizing the son of renegade military general and LNA leader Khalifa Haftar. “The assassination of human rights defenders and opinion-holders and the silencing of voices is a heinous crime and a disgraceful form of tyranny and a desperate attempt to destroy hope for the establishment of a civil and democratic state,” Libya’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, tweeted Tuesday.

According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), al-Barassi — whom the mission describes as a “vocal critic of corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations” — was shot “in broad daylight” by unidentified armed men. “Her tragic death illustrates the threats faced by Libyan women as they dare to speak out,” UNSMIL added. In videos posted publicly on her Facebook page, al-Barassi expressed criticism of figures loyal to the LNA. In a livestream shared on Monday, just a day before her killing, al-Barassi said she would not be silenced by threats. “I won’t surrender, only with bullets will I ever surrender — if I die, so be it. Only in death will I be silenced. Tomorrow I will have several surprises [to share], several surprises,” she told viewers. The LNA has not yet responded to a CNN request for comment on al-Barassi’s death.

Elham Saudi, the director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, an organization which seeks to defend and promote human rights in the conflict-ridden country, called the attack an “appalling and painful reminder of the reality on the ground” for women in Libya. “With no accountability, violators will continue to get away with literal murder in broad daylight,” she added.Al-Barassi’s killing follows a series of attacks against those critical of forces aligned to the LNA.

In 2019, one of Libya’s most prominent female politicians and a vocal critic of Haftar, Seham Sergewa, was abducted from her home in Benghazi by a militia group loyal to the LNA; while an investigation was launched into her abduction, she has yet to be found. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/28/two-years-after-murder-of-salwa-bugaighis-in-libya-still-no-investigation/]

“The killing of an outspoken lawyer in broad daylight in Benghazi will send chills through activists across the region,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This brutal killing smacks of a cold-blooded execution. The only way to end this cycle of violence is if authorities hold criminals to account for these terrible acts.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/11/africa/libya-lawyer-rights-activist-killed-intl/index.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/11/libya-outspoken-benghazi-lawyer-murdered

Fikile Nsthangashe: “I will die for my people” and she did..

November 2, 2020

Portrait of a Community Activist

In the Daily Maverick of 1 November 2020 Estelle Ellis tells the sad story of murdered land rights defender Fikile Ntshangase in South Africa

A strongly worded statement from a large number of civil society organisations in South Africa has condemned the death of KwaZulu-Natal community activist Fikile Ntshangashe who was gunned down in her home last week as lawyers were preparing for a groundbreaking appeal fighting an order that her community organisation and those who assisted them should pay for a failed attempt to stop further mining operations in the area.

I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” This was the quote that activists remembered Mama Fikile Nsthangashe by after she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni near Mtubatuba on 22 October 2020.

As the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), she was deeply involved in the challenge against the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. She was described by her fellow activists as a strong, passionate and principled leader.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court of Appeal will hear one of Nsthangashe’s final stands – an appeal in the case brought by MCEJO to stop the mining operations in the area.

According to a joint statement issued by environmental rights NGO Groundworks; Earthlife Africa; Global Environmental Trust, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Women Against Mining United in Action the South African Police were called on to act swiftly and arrest those responsible for her death.

The statement alleges that four gunmen arrived at Ntshangashe’s home on 22 October 2020 at about 18:30. Her 11-year-old grandson was with her. She was shot five times and died at the scene.

“Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele,” the statement reads. “Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and [her organisation’s] opposition to that expansion … Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to be signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Ntshangase refused to sign the agreement, which certain of her fellow sub-committee members signed, purportedly doing so on behalf of the organisation … She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MCEJO and that the agreement only benefited Tendele. She also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele. Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had spoken to her of a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature,” she added.

According to the statement the expansion of the mine would require the relocation of 21 families (19 of them MCEJO members) from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing. We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers,” the statement concluded.

Martin Mosweu from the Southern Africa Resource Watch said he was deeply saddened and angered by the killing of Ntshangase.

She was hailed as a courageous human rights defender by her community for standing against the Tendele Coal Mine expansion in violation of the right to a safe environment. The murder of Fikile Ntshangase is a cause of concern to the work of human rights defenders in South Africa and in the SADC region. Governments are failing in their international obligations to the Declaration of Human Rights by not protecting and supporting human rights defenders in the context of their work. In Southern Africa, people who live near mines continue to face threats of violence and intimidation from mining companies who blatantly disregard their socio-economic, land, and environmental rights. Human rights defenders continue to be threatened and killed for standing up against powerful mining companies that violate human rights, often with impunity and tacit support from governments. This is why many mining communities throughout the region are now taking a stand and demanding a new order, insisting on extractive projects that secure a beneficial win-win relationship, free and prior informed consent in involuntary displacements, and community engagement in all stages of the mining cycle for inter-generational sustainable livelihoods,” he added.

Papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal for a hearing on Tuesday, in one of the last battles that Ntshangase had been passionately fighting on behalf of her community, has painted a stark picture of the conflict in the area.

The appeal, brought by MCEJO and the Global Environmental Trust is against the refusal by the Pietermaritzburg High Court to issue an interdict to stop mining operations in the area.

The community claimed that the mine did not have the necessary environmental authorisation, lacked land use authorisation, had not removed or altered the traditional graves in the area according to law and had failed to comply with the Waste Act.

The mine, however, argued that it had all the valid mining rights and permissions to carry on with its operations. In papers filed at court, lawyers for Tendele, stressed that their operations were conducted in terms of valid Mining Rights and Environmental Management Programmes granted and approved by the Department of Mineral Resources in 2006 and that while the legislative framework had changed there were transitional measures put in place for mines like Tendele.

This, according to papers before court included the waste management at the mine.

According to papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), represented by advocate Max du Plessis SC; intervened in the matter because of its concerns that the judgment opened the door for mining companies to operate illegally. The CER also expressed its concern over a cost order made in the original case as this “would discourage communities from approaching the courts to defend their constitutional rights through the fear of being debilitated by having to pay the legal costs of industry and the state”.

For another land issue in South Africa, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/rural-women-in-south-africa-win-landmark-case-in-court/