Posts Tagged ‘world economic forum’

Beyond WhatsApp and NSO – how human rights defenders are targeted by cyberattacks

May 14, 2019

Several reports have shown Israeli technology being used by Gulf states against their own citizens (AFP/File photo)

NSO Group has been under increased scrutiny after a series of reports about the ways in which its spyware programme has been used against prominent human rights activists. Last year, a report by CitizenLab, a group at the University of Toronto, showed that human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were targeted with the software.

In October, US whistleblower Edward Snowden said Pegasus had been used by the Saudi authorities to surveil journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his death. “They are the worst of the worst,” Snowden said of the firm. Amnesty International said in August that a staffer’s phone was infected with the Pegasus software via a WhatsApp message.

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Friedhelm Weinberg‘s piece of 1 May is almost prescient and contains good, broader advice:

When activists open their inboxes, they find more than the standard spam messages telling them they’ve finally won the lottery. Instead, they receive highly sophisticated emails that look like they are real, purport to be from friends and invite them to meetings that are actually happening. The catch is: at one point the emails will attempt to trick them.

1. Phishing for accounts, not compliments

In 2017, the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, documented what they called the “Nile Phish” campaign, a set of emails luring activists into giving access to their most sensitive accounts – email and file-sharing tools in the cloud. The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group recently warned on its Facebook page about a very similar campaign. As attacks like these have mounted in recent years, civil society activists have come together to defend themselves, support each other and document what is happening. The Rarenet is a global group of individuals and organizations that provides emergency support for activists – but together it also works to educate civil society actors to dodge attacks before damage is done. The Internet Freedom Festival is a gathering dedicated to supporting people at risk online, bringing together more than 1,000 people from across the globe. The emails from campaigns like Nile Phish may be cunning and carefully crafted to target individual activists.. – they are not cutting-edge technology. Protection is stunningly simple: do nothing. Simply don’t click the link and enter information – as hard as it is when you are promised something in return.

Often digital security is about being calm and controlled as much as it is about being savvy in the digital sphere. And that is precisely what makes it difficult for passionate and stressed activists!

2. The million-dollar virus

Unfortunately, calm is not always enough. Activists have also been targeted with sophisticated spyware that is incredibly expensive to procure and difficult to spot. Ahmed Mansoor, a human-rights defender from the United Arab Emirates, received messages with malware (commonly known as computer viruses) that cost one million dollars on the grey market, where unethical hackers and spyware firms meet. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in Dubai in 2011, a day after he was pardoned following a conviction for insulting UAE leaders. He is now in prison once more.

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in Dubai in 2011. Image: Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro

3. Shutting down real news with fake readers

Both phishing and malware are attacks directed against the messengers, but there are also attacks against the message itself. This is typically achieved by directing hordes of fake readers to the real news – that is, by sending so many requests through bot visitors to websites that the servers break down under the load. Commonly referred to as “denial of service” attacks, these bot armies have also earned their own response from civil society. Specialised packages from Virtual Road or Deflect sort fake visitors from real ones to make sure the message stays up.

 

A chart showing how distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have grown over time.

How distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have grown. Image: Kinsta.com; data from EasyDNS

Recently, these companies also started investigating who is behind these attacks– a notoriously difficult task, because it is so easy to hide traces online. Interestingly, whenever Virtual Road were so confident in their findings that they publicly named attackers, the attacks stopped. Immediately. Online, as offline, one of the most effective ways to ensure that attacks end is to name the offenders, whether they are cocky kids or governments seeking to stiffle dissent. But more important than shaming attackers is supporting civil society’s resilience and capacity to weather the storms. For this, digital leadership, trusted networks and creative collaborations between technologists and governments will pave the way to an internet where the vulnerable are protected and spaces for activism are thriving.

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Davos: businesses need strong human rights defenders

January 21, 2019

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos is going on and has this year a strong humanitarian element as shown inter alia in the article “Why businesses are nothing without strong human rights” published on 16 January 2019 by 3 authors, who have earned their reputation:

A human rights activists demonstrates in Santiago, Chile.

Profit depends on a rule of law maintained by courageous campaigners. Image: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

Let’s start with a seemingly unconventional proposition: civil society and business share the same space, and therefore should share an interest in defending what unites them. How controversial is that proposition, really? This “shared space” is anchored in accountable governance. Civil society actors and companies both depend on the same legal and institutional frameworks that define the shared space to operate. Civil society cannot flourish, and business will struggle to thrive, without the rules and standards that hold public and private powers accountable.

Civic freedoms – freedoms of expression, association, information and assembly – allow citizens to expose abuses related to corruption, workplace safety, public health, toxic pollution and gender discrimination. These rights support stable, predictable legal and regulatory environments. At the same time, they enable the free flow of information, investment and entrepreneurial innovation. When these civic freedoms are undermined, business and civil society alike are subject to the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law. Companies should recognize the positive role that civil society organizations and human rights defenders play in protecting this space. Moreover, where reasonably possible, they have a responsibility to support these crucial actors when under pressure or threat.

From the murder of the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres and the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to politically motivated charges against Cambodian trade unionists, attacks on human rights defenders and civic freedoms around the world should and do concern the business community. These freedoms are being eroded as authoritarian governments act with impunity and democracies embrace illiberal populism and nationalism. Nearly six in 10 countries are seriously restricting people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, according to the global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Sometimes, companies are complicit in this repression. Since 2015, there have been close to 1,400 recorded attacks against citizens and organizations working on human rights issues related to business.

Image: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

Multinational corporations and their investors can no longer afford to be bystanders with so much at stake. All too often, companies take the rule of law, accountable governance and stable environments for granted. Recent research by the B Team, a leading non-profit initiative formed by a global group of business leaders, has found clear evidence that limits on important civic freedoms may produce negative economic outcomes. Countries with higher degrees of respect for civic rights experience higher economic growth rates and higher levels of human development. Issues and incidents in and out of the headlines are presenting inescapable challenges to business leaders. A growing number of corporate leaders are recognizing that they must defend the interests and values that they share with civil society around the world. Some are making public statements; others are registering their concerns privately. Increasing awareness of the “shared space” in which companies and civil society operate, and expectations of the responsibilities of businesses, are compelling shareholders and employees to take sides and pressure companies, however difficult the choices and trade-offs may be.

The rise of corporate activism

Five prominent examples from 2018 demonstrate this trend:

• Eight multinational corporations and investors issued a call to protect civic freedoms, human rights defenders and rule of law in a landmark joint statement developed through the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders. The statement is the first of its kind, with supporters ranging across the consumer goods, mining, apparel, banking, jewellery and footwear sectors, and stresses that when human rights defenders are under attack, so is sustainable and profitable business. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/13/first-time-major-companies-say-that-human-rights-defenders-are-essential-for-profitable-business/]

Adidas and Nike were among global apparel brands that urged the Cambodian government to drop politically motivated criminal charges against labour rights activist Tola Moeun and others – and have publicly supported freedom of association.

• In the US, companies have spoken out in unprecedented tone and numbers against the current administration’s immigration policies: Microsoft, Cisco, Airbnb, Apple, Salesforce, and the US Chamber of Commerce, among others, challenged the travel ban imposed on citizens from half a dozen Muslim-majority countries and opposed the separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border.

• In Germany, BMW and Daimler engaged with their employees to combat xenophobia and racism following far-right riots against immigrants; Siemens even urged employees to speak out and emphasized that tolerance and respect are important business values (as its CEO, Joe Kaeser, has made explicitly clear in public statements).

• A group of 14 human rights organizations and more than 1,400 Google employees called on Google to refrain from launching a censored search engine in China (known as “Project Dragonfly”), and partly as a result, the company has discontinued the project. These advocacy efforts illustrate that employees too are leading movements within companies, especially within the tech sector, to respect human rights. Companies will need to be mindful of rising employee expectations, or risk reputational damage and the loss of valuable talent, as younger workers seek to align their values with those of their employers.

Protesters remember Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous rights campaigner murdered in 2016.

Protesters remember Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous rights campaigner murdered in 2016. Image: Reuters/Jorge Cabrera

Inescapable challenges

“Corporate activism” – whether reluctant or deliberate – is not easy. New guidance published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and the International Service for Human Rights anticipates these inescapable challenges for companies and their leaders. The guidance, titled Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, provides an analytical and operational framework, with specific examples from different countries, sectors and initiatives, to inform companies as they decide whether and how to act. It highlights five specific decision factors that companies should consider:

1. Whether the company has a normative responsibility to act, based on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. All companies must ensure – through the application of the UN Guiding Principles – that their operations do not cause, contribute and are not linked to attacks on activists and civic freedoms. If they do, they must address the causes and consequences.

2. Whether the company has a discretionary opportunity to act. If so, whether there is a compelling business case to support civic freedoms and human rights defenders and/or a willingness to make a moral choice to do so. Besides defending the core elements of the shared space, the business case rests on managing operational and repetitional risks; building competitive advantage; and overcoming mistrust and securing the social licence to operate. Companies can also make a moral choice to act, both to do no harm anywhere and to do good where possible.

Image: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

3. How the company will act in a particular situation or on a certain issue.There is no one type of action that applies to all circumstances: a spectrum of actions (individual and collective, public and private) may be combined to address an issue or situation. In some situations, such as the increasing restrictions on Hungarian civil society, companies prefer to raise concerns individually and privately with the government. In others, such as Cambodia’s crackdown on striking workers, companies choose to make collective and public statements. Companies should be guided by pragmatic flexibility as they consider circumstances, relationships and opportunities to make a positive difference.

4. Who within the organization decides whether and how, a company will act. it is essential that these decisions are involving corporate headquarters and in-country executives and staff. It is important to integrate legal counsel, human rights and corporate responsibility experts, government, public affairs and (in certain circumstances) security and human resources staff into the deliberative process. Equally, local civil society and other stakeholders with which the company should maintain steady engagement should be consulted. CEO-level decisions are essential when a company’s core values, reputation, operations and relationships are at stake.

5. Whether the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of action. Responsible companies should evaluate both the risks of action and inaction. Companies may perceive that taking critical positions, especially in public, may put relationships with host country governments at stake. But often companies will conclude that the risks and potential costs of inaction are more difficult to anticipate, mitigate and manage over the long-term than the risks of action. It is unwise to be on the wrong side of history based on a shortsighted cost-benefit analysis.

These decision factors provide practical steps that companies can and should take to be allies of civil society and not just bystanders – or worse, casualties – in the global crackdown against the “shared space”. It is not the business of companies to pick fights, but fights are already coming to companies that could make or break them. Companies should engage carefully but deliberately – in their own interest – to support and defend this invaluable but fragile shared space.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/5-ways-businesses-can-back-up-human-rights-defenders/

 

Barbara von Ow-Freytag argues (well) for a new communication-based approach

December 26, 2018

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70 – is it time for a new approach? asks Barbara von Ow-Freytag, Journalist, political scientist and adviser, Prague Civil Society Centre, in the World Economic Forum.This piece is certainly worth reading as a whole. It is close to my heart in that it stresses the need to have a hard look at how young human rights defenders  focus their energy where they can achieve real, concrete change within their own communities. Their campaigns are grassroots-led and use local languages and issues their communities understand. They often use technology and creative formats, with a heavy dose of visual and artistic elements. Where the international scene seems to stagnate and even backpedal, better use of communication skills and tools (such as images) are certainly part of the answer:

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70, a new generation of human rights defenders are reinventing themselves to fight for old rights amid a new world order. Based not on declarations, charters and international bodies, but on the values which underpin them – justice, fairness, equality – they shun the language of their predecessors while embracing the same struggle…However, in the new realities of the 21st century, the mechanisms to promote human rights that grew out of the Universal Declaration are showing their age. Authoritarianism is on the rise across the world, with popular leaders cracking down on human rights defenders.

Freedom House found 2018 was the 12th consecutive year that the world became less free. Civicus, which specifically monitors the conditions for civil society activists and human rights defenders, found civil society was “under attack” in more countries than it wasn’t, with all post-Soviet countries (except Georgia) ranging between “obstructed” and “closed”.

Image: Freedom House

Troublingly, both the willingness and the ability of Western bastions of human rights are also on the wane. Inside the EU, talk of illiberal democracy gains traction, and internal crises divert attention away from the global stage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, younger activists and civil society are giving up on western governments and international organizations to advocate on their behalf. Pavel Chikov, director of the Agora group, said recently that, “Russian human rights groups no longer have a role model,” calling the liberal human rights agenda “obsolete”.

Growing disillusionment has led many rights groups to shift away from appealing to outsiders for support. Younger campaigners no longer frame their work in the traditional language of human rights, and many do not even consider themselves human rights defenders. Instead of referring to international agreements violated, they focus on solving practical problems, or creating their own opportunities to advance values of equality, justice and fairness.

Formats too have changed. Throughout the region, tools used by civil society to raise social consciousness are becoming diverse, dynamic and smart. Instead of one-person legal tour de forces, genuinely grassroots, tech-powered, peer-to-peer or horizontal networks are proving effective. Media, music, art, film, innovative street protests, urbanism and online initiatives focused on local communities are coming to replace petitions and international advocacy.

Team 29, an association of Russian human rights lawyers and journalists, is among the most successful of this new generation. It has repositioned itself as part-legal aid provider, part-media outlet. Its website offers a new mix of news on ongoing trials, animated online handbooks for protesters, videos on torture and a new interactive game telling young people how to behave if they are detained by police.

What may look like PR-friendly add-ons are actually core to their operation. Anastasia Andreeva, the team’s media expert, says: “Before, we consulted some 30 clients, now we reach tens of thousands of people.”

Azerbaijani activist Emin Milli also embodies this journey of wider civil society – turning away from the international towards local solutions. In the early 2000s, he was a traditional human rights defender, successfully using international mechanisms, such as the Council of Europe to assist political prisoners.

After his own arrest and return to activism, Milli changed tack. “When I was in jail, I had a lot of time to think,” he told the Oslo Freedom Forum. “I decided to do something that will give voice to millions.” His idea? Meydan TV – an online-only independent TV channel, targeting a young audience, which now reaches more than 500,000 people inside Azerbaijan through its Facebook page.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/03/07/azerbaijan-harasses-human-rights-defenders-even-the-recipient-of-the-homo-homini-award/]

The key to Meydan’s success is its accessibility. Milli says: “We do stories about ordinary people. Real Azeris who have everyday problems.” Through its smart coverage, investigating and highlighting how injustice affects these ordinary people, and not referring to UN-enshrined rights and responsibilities, Meydan is “giving a voice to people who fight for women’s rights, people who fight for political rights, for civil liberties, and everybody who feels they are voiceless”.

Music, too, is increasingly being used as a vehicle to realize human rights. Though he might shun the label, Azeri rapper Jamal Ali is perhaps one of the country’s most well-known “human rights defenders”. His songs about injustice and corruption regularly go viral, raising national and international awareness in the same way a statement at the UN General Assembly might have done three decades ago.

In a 2017 hit, he highlighted how two young men had been tortured by police and faced 10 years in prison for spraying graffiti on a statue of former president Heydar Aliyev. In response, the regime arrested Ali’s mother, demanding that he remove the video from YouTube, only to ensure that Ali’s song went even more viral among Azeri youngsters.

Gender equality and women’s rights is also being advanced through unexpected new champions. In Kyrgyzstan, 20-year-old singer Zere Asylbek sparked a feminist shockwave earlier this year with her video Kyz (“Girl”). “Don’t tell me what to wear, don’t tell me how to behave,” she sings, bearing her top to reveal her bra. Seen by millions, the Kyrgyz-language feminist anthem has set off a new #MeToo debate in the Central Asian country, where many young women are still abducted, raped and forced to marry.

In the wake of the video, a first “feminist bar” is about to open in Bishkek. Other feminist videos have been used to directly address the issue of bride-kidnapping, with animated cartoons being used as part of local campaigns to change mindsets in a conservative society.

Perhaps most excitingly, an all-female team of 18 to 20-year-olds is building the country’s first micro-satellite. “Girls taking us into space is the best message against sexism,” says Bektour Iskender, whose news site Kloop initiated the project. He says the girls’ project has a deep social mission, promoting national pride and the country’s return to advanced technological development.

These examples – and countless more – show that civic groups see no value in lobbying an increasingly disinterested West and sluggish international organizations. Instead they focus their energy where they can achieve real, concrete change within their own communities. Their campaigns are grassroots-led and use local languages and issues their communities understand. They target specific audiences, often using technology and creative formats, with a heavy dose of visual and artistic elements.

Addressing discrimination, environmental protection, corruption, health issues, women’s rights, they speak not about the failure of their states to abide by international accords, but about common dignity and life opportunities, addressing people on a direct human level.

Clearly, the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are still valid, but their approach and the packaging have changed. “We all want to change the world,” says Sergey Karpov of the Russian online media and philanthropic platform Takie Dela. “Today communications are the best way”.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/12/universal-declaration-of-human-rights-70-is-it-time-for-a-new-approach/