Posts Tagged ‘Zimbabwe’

Havel Prize for Creative Dissent recognizes Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain, Venezuela and Zimbabwe

May 7, 2017

On 5 May 2017 the Human Rights Foundation in New York announced as the recipients of the 2017 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent the Zimbabwean activist and playwright Silvanos Mudzvova, Venezuelan satirical media project El Chigüire Bipolar, and Bahraini poet and activist Aayat Alqormozi.

the “Goddess of Democracy,” the iconic statue erected by Chinese students during the Tiananmen Square protests of June 1989.

Silvanos Mudzvova is a Zimbabwean actor, playwright, and activist known for challenging the country’s dictator, Robert Mugabe, in daring theatrical productions. Silvanos works with the protest group Tajamuka (“We are rising up”) and serves as the director of Vhitori Entertainment Trust, a theater group created to protest Zimbabwe’s democracy crisis, human rights abuses, and poor governance. Silvanos has directed several controversial performances including “The Final Push,” a political satire; “Missing Diamonds, I Need My Share;” a play on corruption in the diamond industry; and “Protest Revolutionaries,” a play that encourages Zimbabweans to plan their own Arab Spring. Silvanos has been detained and arrested several times. To avoid government persecution, Silvanos now performs what he calls “hit-and-run” performances in public spaces. Silvanos has been awarded an Artist Protection Fund (APF) Fellowship and is currently in-residence for this at The University of Manchester. “Silvanos Mudzvova’s persistence in using art and performance to challenge dictatorship is an inspiration. The persecution of Silvanos illustrates Robert Mugabe’s cruelty, intolerance, and cowardice,” said Havel Prize Committee Chairman Thor Halvorssen.

El Chigüire Bipolar is a Venezuelan satirical media project created in 2008 by Elio Casale, Oswaldo Graziani, and Juan Andrés Ravell. The website, most famous for mocking former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, is often described as a mix of the Onion and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. El Chigüire Bipolar’s popularity in Venezuela grows as the government increases pressure on independent news outlets. “El Chigüire Bipolar is playing an increasingly crucial role in resisting Maduro’s campaign to stifle free speech. Its raw humor and exacting analysis demonstrates the great power that satire has in criticizing authoritarian regimes,” said Havel Prize Committee member Garry Kasparov.

 Aayat Alqormozi is a Bahraini poet who uses her craft to advocate for the equal rights of Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, and to express her opposition to Bahrain’s monarchy. In 2011, Aayat recited poetry during a protest at Pearl Square as a part of the Bahraini uprising. In response, she was expelled from university and imprisoned for “insulting the King and encouraging hatred of the ruling regime.” Nevertheless, Aayat’s poetry and peaceful defiance have made her a symbol of resistance against the al-Khalifa regime. “Aayat’s methods for peaceful resistance are motivating the next generation of artists and political dissidents in Bahrain. Her commitment to poetry as a vehicle for social and political change is worthy of recognition and encouragement,” said Havel Prize Committee member Amir Ahmad Nasr.

Past laureates include Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot, North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak, Saudi women’s rights advocate Manal al-Sharif, and Cuban graffiti artist El Sexto. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/05/2014-havel-prize-for-creative-dissent-awarded-to-erdem-gunduz-pussy-riot-and-dhondup-wangchen/]The Havel Prize ceremony will be broadcast live at oslofreedomforum.com beginning at10:00 a.m. Central European Time on Wednesday, May 24. The event will take place at the Oslo Nye Theater. Contact: Prachi Vidwans, (212) 246-8486, prachi@hrf.org.

Source: Havel Prize for Creative Dissent Recognizes Efforts in Bahrain, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe | Human Rights Foundation Home Page

International Women’s Day 2017: honoring, defending and watching women human rights defenders

March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day focuses on many different aspects of the struggle for the human rights of women. I have selected three special actions this year:

(1) a short piece honoring woman who are land rights defenders;

(2) a digital protection tool for women human rights defenders (Cyberwomen);

(3) a documentary film on how rape was made into a international war crime.

[Of course this blog has had many earlier posts on women human rights defenders: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/ ] Read the rest of this entry »

Lifetime Achievements in Human Rights: 4 Human Rights Defenders

February 24, 2017

Anna Neistat, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International, writes in the Huffington Post of 23 February 2017 about 4 Human Rights Defenders who deserve a “Lifetime Achievements” Oscar. Since it’s awards season, Amnesty International is paying tribute to four human rights heroes whose dramatic stories could – and should – be made into movies:

Itai Peace Dzamara

It’s been almost two years since Zimbabwean journalist and activist Itai Peace Dzamarawas dragged from a barbers’ chair by five armed men while he was getting a haircut.  Dzamara, the leader of a pro-democracy movement called “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, had long been considered an enemy of the state by the Zimbabwean government. Just two days before his abduction he had delivered a speech at an opposition rally in Harare, calling for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. If this were a movie, justice would have been done long ago. Dzamara would have been returned to his wife and children, and the men who abducted him held accountable. But this isn’t Hollywood. This is Zimbabwe, where basic rights and freedoms have been trampled on throughout the long years of Robert Mugabe’s reign. As Itai Peace Dzamara and his family know, anyone who dares to speak out is a target for intimidation, harassment and arrest, and there’s no happy ending in sight. Despite a court ruling ordering state security agents to investigate Dzamara’s disappearance, there were gaps in the investigation and his whereabouts remains a mystery. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/05/itai-dzamaras-disappearance-worrying-for-all-human-rights-defenders-in-zimbabwe/]

Berta Cáceres 

GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL FOUNDATION
 

Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Honduras has the highest number of killings per capita of environmental and land activists in the world. The vast majority of these killings go unsolved and unpunished. One story that really stands out in this deadly context is that of Berta Cáceres. Berta was the leader and co-founder of an organisation that was campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric project on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities in Honduras.  In the early hours of 2 March 2016, she was murdered in her own home. Berta knew that she was putting her life in danger, but she was willing to take the risk to stand up for indigenous communities.  Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Despite the stark warning that her death served, environmental activists in Honduras say that stopping their work is not an option – no-one else will defend their communities and rights. They continue Berta’s work every day, reminding us that we should never take freedom for granted. It is essential that Berta’s assassination is solved, to show that there is a price to pay for attacking and killing environmental activists. Berta’s story ended in tragedy, but we will not stop fighting until we are sure that other activists will not meet the same fate. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]

Sirikan Charoensiri

Sirikan Charoensiri, also known as “June”, is a young lawyer who has bravely stood up for human rights during a dark period of military rule in Thailand. In June 2015, she was on hand at a peaceful protest by pro-democracy student activists in Bangkok to monitor the situation and provide legal representation, if necessary.  She now finds herself facing sedition charges and a potential trial in a military court alongside her clients. She also faces charges in two additional cases relating to her defence of the student activists and could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. As the Thai authorities have escalated their crackdown in the name of security, people who stand up for human rights in the country are increasingly falling foul of a government intent on silencing dissent. As June herself put it: “There is now an environment where risk is visible and imminent.” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/international-day-of-women-human-rights-defenders-agents-of-change-under-pressure/]

Narges Mohammadi

Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. In Iran, human rights defenders and other peaceful critics are subject to relentless harassment. Over the past year, those jailed after shockingly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts including lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.  Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi knows better than most how vengeful the Iranian authorities can be towards anyone who dissents. She is currently serving a total of 22 years in prison for speaking out against issues such as Iran’s prolific use of the death penalty and acid attacks on women. What makes her situation even worse is that she is critically ill and cannot receive proper medical care in prison. Just as cruelly, the authorities have at times denied her access to her young children, who had to leave Iran to live with their father in France after she was jailed. Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. We will continue to fight until she is free.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/12/retaliation-against-iranian-human-rights-defender-for-meeting-with-ashton/]

Itai, Berta, Sirikan and Narges are just a handful of the outstanding human rights defenders around the world who deserve recognition, but have instead been silenced by forces of cruelty, injustice and repression.

Source: Lifetime Achievements: Paying Tribute to 4 Human Rights Heroes | The Huffington Post

Line-up of speakers for Oslo Freedom Forum 22-24 May 2017 – Zimbabwean speaker detained

February 2, 2017

Oslo Freedom Forum

The New York based Human Rights Foundation has announced the initial speaker lineup for its 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF), taking place 22-24 May 2017 in Oslo. It includes quite a few well-known human rights defenders [the names are linked to short CVs]: Read the rest of this entry »

Sampling International Human Rights Day 2016: be a human rights defender. .

December 9, 2016

International Human Rights Day commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organisations to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day. The theme this year is: Stand up for someone’s rights today, in other words: be a human rights defender. .

There is a lot going on during this period, so I just give a small sample (10!) from different parts of the world: Read the rest of this entry »

The magical number 92 in Zimbabwe!

February 25, 2016

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe turned 92 this month. Public Domain photo by the U.S. Air Force.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. Public domain photo by the U.S. Air Force.

Two recent items on Zimbabwe showed an interesting link with the number 92 – coincidence?:

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, nicknamed ‘Uncle Bob’, turned 92 on 21 February 2016.

Human rights defenders have been arrested while doing their work and in 92% of the cases the arrests were unjustified and victims acquitted. We have 224 cases of human rights defenders including lawyers, members of civic society organisations, journalists and student activists arrested and charged,” said Dzimbabwe Chimbga of  Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) appearing before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights on 26 February.

Amnesty International’s and Human Rights Watch’s annual reports of 2015 contain enough information to make the 92% a good estimate

For earlier posts on Zimbabwe see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/zimbabwe/

Sources

https://globalvoices.org/2016/02/23/worlds-oldest-president-zimbabwes-robert-mugabe-turns-92/

‘Increasing cases of human rights violations worrisome’ – NewsDay Zimbabwe

Selection of what happened at the local level on Human Rights Day 2015

December 13, 2015

International human rights day is an occasion for a multitude of local activities, some denouncing violations others quietly remembering, some (trying to) march in the streets, others issuing statements. This anthology of 10 such events is far from complete but gives an idea of the variety, from human rights defenders speaking out to governmental institutions ‘celebrating’ …. Read the rest of this entry »

Follow up on the Human Rights Defenders Resolution in the UN

December 5, 2015

Last week I wrote about how the UN Resolution on HRDs did in the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/unfortunately-the-un-voted-on-the-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/] and how South Africa has turned around [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/south-africa-does-about-turn-on-un-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/]. The date of the vote in the Plenary is not yet confirmed but is likely to be 18 or 21 December. The voting record is available: http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/70/docs/voting_sheets/L.46.Rev.1.pdf

Fourteen States voted no on the resolution (China, Russia, Syria, Burundi, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan). In some of these countries civil society has expressed disappointment. e.g.

In Pakistan the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement issued on Tuesday, said: “At the same time, HRCP must express alarm and great disappointment that Pakistan chose to be one of the 14 nations that voted against the resolution.“ “While regretting Pakistan’s decision to oppose the resolution, the civil society is entitled to ask what rights defenders have done to deserve this step-motherly treatment. It is unfortunate that the government wishes to see civil society as an adversary. The civil society cannot, and must not, surrender its role as a watchdog for people’s rights because that constitutes an entitlement, by virtue of citizens’ social contract with the state, and not as a concession” “The HRCP also stresses people’s right to know through an explanation in parliament the reason why the government chose to deny the need for protection for HRDs, who include, besides human rights groups, journalists, lawyers, political and social activists.Read the rest of this entry »

Mugabe wins Chinese peace prize – this time for real

October 23, 2015

When I wrote my 1 April 2013 post about President Robert Mugabe getting the revamped Gaddafi award [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/gaddafi-human-rights-award-resurrected-mugabe-rumored-to-be-laureate/], I could not know that one day he would actually get an award. But according to the Guardian and other newspapers this what happened when he was given the “Confucius award“, which was set up in 2010 as a Chinese alternative to the Nobel peace prize after the Norwegian Nobel committee infuriated Beijing by handing its annual peace prize to the jailed dissident writer Liu XiaoboRead the rest of this entry »

A woman who defends human rights: Irene Petras in Zimbabwe

May 22, 2015

Irene-Petras

Irene Petras is the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). She told Protection International (on 14 April 2015) about the context in which human rights defenders must work in Zimbabwe.

Irene joined ZLHR in 2002 and has been its Executive Director since 2008. The organisation provides legal support services to the public through its in-house lawyers and its 200 members around the country. The organisation also engages in training and capacity building. The organisation meets with its members at least once a year to review their programmes and seeks to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe and the wider African region.

Protection International: What was your personal motivation to engage in the defence of human rights?

Irene Petras: When I first started working, I was employed in private practice in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. In my daily interactions with the justice delivery system, I found that there were a lot of barriers for human rights defenders to access this system, in terms of high legal fees and a lack of lawyers that would actually understand the work of the defenders. That motivated me to start working for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and really focus on this type of work.

It can be difficult at times to keep motivated. Particularly around election periods the work can be dangerous. The support and solidarity of other human rights lawyers keep me going. On the other hand, setbacks can also give me the motivation to continue and fight. At the moment, we have a new constitution (which came into effect in May 2013) with a lot of developments within the protection of accused persons and an expanded Bill of Rights. This has also renewed my energy as well as that of the organisation to focus more on protecting human rights defenders and promote social and economic rights, which were not constitutionally protected before.

PI: Can you say something about the context that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights work in?

IP: Of course, our members are lawyers who often work in the public eye due to the nature of the cases that they handle and the human rights defenders they represent. For this reason, they are subjected to surveillance, and have sometimes been assaulted or at times arrested and maliciously prosecuted whilst working on cases and interacting with people in various state institutions. There is a range of different ways that the lawyers have been targeted because of their work trying to defend human rights. For example, some have been arrested, charged with contempt of court or obstructing the course of justice, under a range of repressive laws. Of course, none of these prosecutions have been successful.

Criminalisation has become a force of habit for some of the state actors. Instead of rationalising their behaviour and seeing other people as human beings who are exercising their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, they immediately resort to violations and use of laws and measures that criminalise the work of defenders. As they are not prosecuted or punished for such behaviour, I believe that’s why they keep using these tactics.

In fact, however, such tactics don’t really work; our cases advocating for human rights defenders have been very successful and in almost every single case we have handled since the project started in 2003, our clients have been acquitted.

Even though we’ve not had many human rights defenders convicted, they keep getting arrested and criminalised in other ways. The logical explanation for this continuation is that criminalisation is a means of retaining in power and that actors use these methods to try and stop civil society from calling for transparency and accountability for the actions state actors take as public officials.

……

PI: Do you see a difference in the way that male and female defenders are criminalised in Zimbabwe?

IP: On a general level, all human rights work can be criminalised, whether a man or a woman does the work. Having said that, there have been additional burdens for women defenders.

Zimbabwe has a very patriarchal society so there is a lot of pushback on women human rights defenders. The public opinion is that these women shouldn’t be getting out on the streets to demand their social and economic rights or becoming involved in legitimate political activity. …

PI: How are Zimbabwean WHRDs and organisations responding to criminalisation? 

IP: There have been different strategies. A lot has been linked to improving rights literacy and the importance of women participating in the society, be it at local or at national level. It is also important to have the ability to access a safety and security system that will allow the women to continue their work when an emergency has passed. In case of such an emergency, you need to be prepared with a good legal, medical, psychosocial response, as well as a welfare system. So when you’re in custody for some time, someone can take care of the children while you’re away.

…….

PI: Is it possible to prevent being criminalised in a context like that of Zimbabwe?

IP: We try to make the cost of criminalisation so high, that the perpetrators (whether at state or non-state level) reform or choose not to use these strategies. You’re increasing the cost if there’s legal defence for defenders and you’re able to be successful in these cases. You do this as well by showing a pattern of selective use of repressive legislation and publicising those trends and the identities of people that perpetrate such acts. Naming and shaming makes clear that the defender is not actually a criminal, but someone whose fundamental rights are being suppressed in a very systematic manner…

“We may not be able to change the habits of adults, who are set in their ways, but there is an opportunity to change the mind-set of how young people view human rights and they can become a real force for good.”

…..

PI: Do you want to share your hopes and dreams for the future?

IP: I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t hopeful. There’s a joke that Zimbabweans are hopelessly hopeful. There is a very dedicated, vibrant human rights community in Zimbabwe with courageous people defending human rights. I hope that we continue to grow this network. You don’t want people to become so despondent that they give up. I think it’s important for us to continue and look for new ways of doing our work and how we can engage with people that we haven’t engaged with before….

More on her and other Women Who Defend Human Rights – Irene PetrasProtection International.