Joint NGO Letter to Russian President to stop clampdown on human rights defenders

October 22, 2014

If there was any doubt on where civil society stands on the issue of reprisals and repression of NGO activity in Russia, the letter below and the enormous number and variety of organizations having signed it should put the doubt to rest: [see also: https://plus.google.com/+HansThoolen/posts/2nWSsUBuCJw]

Dear President,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, are writing to urge you to stop the clampdown on the right to freedom of association and end reprisals against independent non- governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia.

We are deeply concerned that under the legislation on “foreign agents”, hundreds of NGOs have been subjected to unannounced inspections by government officials which have interrupted and obstructed their legitimate work with dozens currently embroiled in lengthy court hearings. Several NGOs and their leaders have had to pay prohibitive fines, and some were forced to close down because they refused to brand themselves as “foreign agents” – an expression akin to spying. Recent legislative changes now give the Ministry of Justice powers to register organizations as “foreign agents” without their consent and without a prior court decision. More than a dozen of leading Russian rights groups have already been branded by the Ministry. These NGOs are not foreign spies or “agents”, and have worked in the interest of the people of Russia. Many more face the same fate.

Under the previous legislation, NGOs in Russia were already accountable to the government and the public, having to report on their activities and finances. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the only purpose of the legislation on “foreign agents” is to publicly discredit and stigmatise them.

We believe that NGOs are essential to the healthy functioning of society. They play an important role in providing much needed services to the public. They help keep officials accountable and improve policies in the interests of the people.

We are calling on you as the President of the Russian Federation and the guarantor of its Constitution and of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined therein, to take all necessary steps to ensure that the “foreign agents” law is repealed and NGOs in Russia are able to do their work without hindrance, harassment, stigmatisation or reprisals. 


• Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture (ACAT) (France)
• Agir ensemble pour les droits de l’homme (AEDH) (France)
• Amnesty International
• ARTICLE 19 (UK)
• Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria)
• Bunge la Mwananchi (Kenya)
• Centre de recherche et d’information pour le développement (CRID) (France) • Centrum Kształcenia Liderów i Wychowawców im. Pedro Arrupe (Pologne)
• CIVICUS
• Comité catholique contre la faim et pour le développement – Terre solidaire (CCFD) (France)
• Committee on the Administration of Justice Ltd (CAJ) (Northern Ireland, UK)
• Cordaid (Pays-Bas)
• Danny Sriskandarajah, our Secretary General
• English PEN (UK)
• European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) (UK)
• Emmaüs International (France)
• Finnish PEN (Finlande)
• Foundation Max van der Stoel (Pays-Bas)
• Free Press Unlimited (Pays-Bas)
• Front Line Defenders (Irlande) • Fundacja Edukacja dla Demokracji (Pologne)
• Fundacja im. Stefana Batorego (Pologne)
• Gevalor (France)
• Greenpeace Spain (Spain) • Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka (Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights) (Pologne)
• Hivos (Pays-Bas)
• Human Rights Commission (Kenya)
• Human Rights House Foundation (Norway)
• Human Rights House Foundation HRHF (Switzerland)
• Human Rights Watch
• Index on Censorship (UK) • INPRIS – Instytut Prawa i Społeczeństwa (Pologne) • Instytut Spraw Publicznych (Pologne)
• International Service for Human Rights
• Kansalaisjärjestöjen ihmisoikeussäätiö KIOS (Finlande)
• Kenya Human Rights Commission (Kenya)
• Koalicja Karat (Pologne)
• La lliga del drets dels pobles (Spain)
• Ligue des droits de l’Homme (France) • Małopolskie Towarzystwo Oświatowe (Pologne)
• MEMORIAL Deutschland e.V. (Germany)
• Milieudefensie (Pays-Bas)
• MONIKA – Naiset liitto ry (Finlande)
• Movies that Matter (Pays-Bas)
• Naisten Linja Suomessa ry (Finlande)
• Netherlands Helsinki Committee (Pays-Bas)
• Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten (NJCM)
• Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ) (Pays-Bas)
• NGO Working Group OSCE (Switzerland)
• Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l’Homme (joint program FIDH and OMCT) (France/Switzerland)
• Pakolaisneuvonta ry (Finlande)
• Pat Finucane Centre, (Irlande)
• Queer Youth Norway (Norway)
• REDRESS (UK)
• Reporters sans frontières (RSF) (France)
• Russie-Libertés (France)
• Sadankomitea (Finlande)
• Society for Threatened Peoples (Switzerland)
• Stiftung Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte (Germany) 
• Stowarzyszenie Wschodnioeuropejskie Centrum Demokratyczne (Pologne)
• The Bellona Foundation (Norvège)
• The Norwegian LGBT Association (Norvège)
• UNITED for Intercultural Action (Pays-Bas)
• XENION Psychsoziale Hilfen für politisch Verfolgte e.V. (Allemagne)
• Автономная некоммерческая правозащитная организация «Молодежный центр консультации и тренинга» (Russie)
• Автономная некоммерческая организация «Правозащитная организация «МАШР» (Russie)
• Благотворительный фонд развития города Тюмени (Russie)
• Общественная правозащитная организация «Солдатские матери Санкт-Петербурга» (Russie)”

 

Russian Federation: Joint NGO Letter to the President of the Russian Federation: To stop clampdown on freedom of association / October 21, 2014 / Statements / Human rights defenders / OMCT.


Congolese gynecologist wins Europe’s Sakharov Prize in 2014

October 22, 2014

The 2014 Sakharov Prize goes to the Congolese physician Denis Mukwege for his treatment of the victims of gang rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese physician Denis Mukwege, will be awarded this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

Mukwege has been treating rape victims at a clinic in Bukavu on the Rwandan border for decades. He has performed thousands of surgeries on women to heal their injuries sustained in violent attacks, often by local militias. The 59-year-old founded a gynaecology unit and maternity ward in Bukavu in 1996, the first of its kind in the area. He has since expanded the station to an entire hospital, which he runs. The Second Congo War began in August 1998, ravaging the region. Mukwege is said to have performed over 10,000 operations on rape victims ever since.

The other finalists were Ukraine’s pro-Western Euromaidan movement and Azerbaijani rights defender Leyla Yunus.[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/more-on-the-sakharov-prize-and-the-arab-nominees/]

For more information on the award see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/sakharov-prize-freedom-thought

The 2014 prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Strasbourg on 26 November.

Congolese gynecologist wins Sakharov Prize | News | DW.DE | 21.10.2014.

for our french speakers: http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2014/10/21/le-docteur-mukwege-recoit-le-prix-sakharov-pour-son-soutien-aux-femmes-violees-en-rdc_4510098_3214.html

 


Glimmer of hope for Sotoudeh and Iran crashed by Tehran Bar Association

October 21, 2014

The glimmer of hope for Nasrin Sotoudeh and Iran which I saw in my post of 6 September [http://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/glimmer-of-hope-in-iran-nasrin-sotoudehs-ban-to-practice-overruled/] seems to have been crushed already. Yesterday, 20 october, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the joint programme of FIDH and OMCT, has received new information that on 18 October 2014, a three-member disciplinary investigation panel of Tehran’s Bar Association has now suspended Nasrin Sotoudeh’s law license for three years, based on a complaint filed by the Islamic Revolution Court’s Prosecution Office (unlike the first disciplinary panel of the Tehran Bar Association which rejected a similar request). Read the rest of this entry »


Former prisoner of conscience from Bangladesh now President of Inter-Parliamentaty Union

October 20, 2014

On 16 October 2014 the Inter-Parliamentary Union [IPU] announced that a former “prisoner of conscience”, the Bangladeshi Saber Hossain Chowdhury, was  elected as new IPU president.

A former businessman with an education in law, politics and economics in the UK, President Chowdhury first became an MP in 1996 at the age of 35. He was also the youngest member of the government when he held two deputy ministerial posts in succession between 1999 and 2001. A political prisoner in the early 2000’s, he is described as a firm believer in the rule of law and human rights. He was involved in ground-breaking legislation to criminalize custodial torture in Bangladesh and to address domestic violence.

via Press Release 16 October 2014.


2014 Oslo Freedom Forum wants to defeat Dictators

October 20, 2014

As from tomorrow, 21 October, you can follow the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum [OFF] in real time at www.oslofreedomforum.com. This year’s theme—“Defeating Dictators”—will explore nonviolent ways to challenge these regimes and stop other countries from falling under the rule of a strongman. Panel discussions are on “Tyrants and Technology” and “Dangerous Words”

OFF speakers include Egyptian comedian and TV host Bassem Youssef; Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez; Ukrainian pro-democracy activist Yulia Marushevska; North Korean refugee and rights activist Hyeonseo Lee; Mexican journalist Marcela Turati Muñoz; and Jordanian comic book artist Suleiman Bakhit.  The forum will conclude on Wednesday, October 22, with the presentation of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent to Turkish performance artist and “Standing Man” Erdem Gunduz, Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen (represented by his wife Lhamo Tso), and Nadezdha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Russian feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/vaclav-havel-prize-for-creative-dissent/]

Interesting novelty (to get more people to follow the forum on-line) is a social media contest on how the speakers inspire the audience. One winner will join the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum in person.

The full program can be viewed here: 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum | Events | Oslo Freedom Forum.


Retaliation now reaches even Human Rights Commissioners in the Maldives: UN deeply concerned

October 19, 2014


(Ravina Shamsadani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: UN Multimedia)

On 17 October 2014 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights felt duty bound to express deep concern about a criminal case initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against members of the country’s own official Human Rights Commission!

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), noted that five members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives were now facing “serious criminal charges” following the submission of their written contribution to their country’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), presented to the UN Human Rights Council (the actual UPR of the Maldives is scheduled to be held between April and May 2015). “The Government has a responsibility to ensure a safe operating space for the Commission and for civil society actors in the country, so that they are able to coöperate with UN human rights mechanisms without fear of reprisals.” the spokesperson stated.

[It is not the first time the Supreme Court of the Maldives has come under rebuke from OHCHR. In 2013, former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for reforms to the judiciary to safeguard the rule of law following the Supreme Court’s repeated interventions in the presidential election process in the Maldives which, she said, were undermining the country’s democracy. In that specific case, the Court had nullified the first round of the election on the basis of irregularities in the process, despite conclusions by national and international observers that the election was free and fair.]

United Nations News Centre – Maldives: UN ‘deeply concerned’ as Supreme Court prosecutes rights advocates.


2nd Werner Lottje Lecture on 10 November in Berlin with Alejandra Ancheita and Michel Forst

October 18, 2014

2000 appr Werner LottjeOn 10 November 2014 will take place the 2nd Werner Lottje Lecture. This annual event – organised by Bread for the World and the German Institute for Human Rights – honors one of Germany’s most influential and visionary human rights defenders, who died in 2004 [see: http://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/werner-lottje/]. As Werner Lottje was one of the founders of the Martin Ennals Award, the organisers have in mind to invite every year one of the Final Nominees of the MEA as main speaker. The theme this year is again directly linked to Human Rights Defenders (“Current challenges in the Protection of HRDs”) . The main elements in the programme are: Read the rest of this entry »


Special Rapporteur on HRDs in first address to General Assembly: Combat reprisals and protect human rights defenders

October 17, 2014

The need to combat impunity for attacks against human rights defenders, together with the enactment of specific laws and policies to protect their work, have been identified as key priorities by the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, in his inaugural report to the UN General Assembly next week. This is stated by the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.
 

The report, which will be presented to the General Assembly in New York in the week of 20 October, sets out a vision and priorities for the mandate over the coming three years, including a focus on groups of human rights defenders who are ‘most exposed’ or at risk, such as those working to promote economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of minorities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women human rights defenders, and those working on issues of business and human rights or on accountability for past violations. According to the Special Rapporteur, each of his ‘future thematic and mission reports will contain a specific section dedicated to analysing the development of trends and particular threats facing the most exposed groups’.

The report expresses grave concern at the related issues of lack of cooperation with the mandate by some States, and the intimidation and reprisals faced by many human rights defenders in connection with their engagement with international and regional human rights mechanisms. The Special Rapporteur is ‘struck by the number and gravity of threats’ against those who cooperate with the UN, the report says, including ‘threats against the defenders themselves or their families, defamation campaigns, death threats, physical violence, abductions, hounding by law enforcement, assassinations or various forms of harassment and intimidation by the police’. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur pledges to follow-up more actively and systematically with States in relation to the investigation and remediation of alleged threats and attacks against defenders.

The need to ensure accountability and combat impunity for attacks against defenders comes through as a strong theme in the Special Rapporteur’s report, with Mr Forst identifying that ‘it is partially because of the de facto impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of reprisals against defenders that the phenomenon grows and expands’ and pledging that ‘one of the main lines of his work will be to combat the culture of impunity’. It is likely that the Special Rapporteur will dedicate a forthcoming report to this topic.[for examples see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/]

Building on the recommendation of the previous Special Rapporteur that States enact specific laws and policies to protect human rights defenders, Mr Forst’s inaugural report identifies a need to ‘intensify efforts to convince governments to develop specific national measures, following the examples of Brazil, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Mexico’ and foreshadows a future study focusing on the importance of national laws and mechanisms and ways to improve their effectiveness. He also pledges to play a significant role in the identification and dissemination of ‘good practices’ in the implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, including through a more visible social media presence for the mandate.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur identifies a need to further intensify cooperation with other UN mandate holders, together with the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders appointed by regional mechanisms, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In this regard, it is notable that the Special Rapporteur has already issued joint statements with other mandate holders, such as the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association and Assembly, on issues including the detention of Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to criminalise human rights defenders in Ethiopia, and the passage of draconian anti-protest legislation in the Australian state of Tasmania.

via Special Rapporteur: Combat impunity and enact laws to protect human rights defenders | ISHR.


Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards 2014 to Juan Mendez, Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders and Colibri

October 17, 2014

Pamela Constable describes with passion in the Washington Post of 14 October 14 the work of the Colibri Center for Human Rights in Tucson as recipient of one of the three Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards of 2014. The other awards go to veteran international human rights lawyer Juan Mendez and Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders, a nonprofit based in Mexico City that assists women in Mexico and Central America who are involved in defending social and human rights. Juan E. Mendez, 69, is a well-known human rights defender and now U.N. special rapporteur on torture human rights official. He was born in Argentina, jailed for defending political prisoners and then exiled after an international campaign. He worked for many years for human rights NGOs, especially Human Rights Watch.

The regional awards, given by the Institute for Policy Studies, are named for the two victims of a 1976 car bombing in which former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt were assassinated by agents of Chile’s military regime.

via Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards go to border activists, lawyer, Latina organizers – The Washington Post.


More on the Sakharov Prize and the Arab nominees

October 16, 2014

A few days ago I published a piece about the little ceremonial dropping of Arab nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/europes-sakharov-prize-in-trouble-with-regard-to-arab-nominees/]. The main actor in this story – Alaa Abdel Fattah – has given his own views in a piece  in Jadaliyya on 7 October, entitled “On the Sakharov Prize”. To do justice I copy it in its entirety below:

[Sculpture of Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Dr. Andrei Dmitievich Sakharov. Photo by David via Flickr.]
[Sculpture of Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Sakharov. Photo by David via Flickr.]

It was with joy that I received the news of my nomination for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the same joy any act of solidarity inspires.

Since my release from prison in Egypt on bail, with my fate still bound to the Special Terrorism Courts and the draconian Protest Law, I have been facing constant harassment from official and unofficial representatives of the regime. New trumped-up criminal charges pop up every few days. A horde of political talk show hosts on supposedly independent TV stations discusses old and out-of-context tweets, twisting my words and assigning sinister implications to them. There is an insistent tarnish campaign meant to prepare the general public for my eventual return to prison. Needless to say, I am banned from appearing on local TV stations, and I am forbidden to travel outside Egypt.

So it is solidarity such as that of European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) that creates the pressure to keep me out of jail and out of harm. It was also a comfort to find comrades in unexpected places; GUE/NGL’s stance against neoliberal policies and against the distortion of European democracy seemed in line with the aspirations of persecuted revolutionaries in Egypt and the broader Arab context.

I was proud to be nominated along with Tunisian rapper, Ala Yaacoubi, and Moroccan rapper, Mouad Belghouate, both imprisoned for insulting the police in their popular songs. I was relieved that the European Parliament members (MEP) who nominated us understood the point of doing symbolic/verbal violence to the image of the powerful who consistently commit systemic actual violence to the bodies, souls and livelihood of the powerless; relieved that the MEPs understood the meaning of questioning the humanity of those who derive their power from dehumanizing their opponents.

I was not surprised when a new tarnish campaign was launched in reaction against my nomination. My family has faced such campaigns before by supporters of the Israeli occupation and Israeli apartheid. The latest when my sister, Mona Seif, was shortlisted for the Martin Ennals Award. But I was surprised when the president of the GUE/NGL decided to withdraw my nomination based on a two-year-old tweet taken out of context. And I was surprised that this was done without an attempt to contact me for clarification, and without any regard for how such public condemnation affects my safety and liberty. The president of the GUE/NGL has now sent a clear message to the Egyptian authorities that whatever international solidarity and support I have is fragile—easily destroyed with a tweet.

The GUE/NGL are of course free to form their opinion based on whatever sources of information they choose—including well-known neocons writing for the Wall Street Journal about an out-of-context tweet. However, since they made the nomination and made it publicly, it was their responsibility to ascertain how the manner of retreating from it would affect my safety. Other options were available to them; they could have asked me to withdraw, or they could have quietly dropped my name from the short-list.

The GUE/NGL’s president’s statement claims that I “called for the murder of a critical number of Israelis.” For what it is worth, here is what I would have said if anyone from GUE/NGL or any other MEPs had asked me to clarify.

The tweet in question is certainly shocking if taken out of context, but even then it cannot be framed as “a call” for anything. It was a “mention” to two friends, part of a private conversation—a thread spanning multiple tweets—that took place over a public medium (limited to 140 characters) on the first night of Israel’s 2012 attack on Gaza. A conversation between friends who already knew enough about each others’ views to make it unnecessary to clarify and elaborate, for instance, the distinction between civilians and combatants—as one would if one were making a public statement. As this was not a public statement, only those who follow all three of us on Twitter would have had this tweet appear on their timeline at two a.m. on 15 November 2012. And even after the tarnish campaign, it has only been retweeted four times.

To pretend that you can interpret this tweet two years later without consulting the people involved in the conversation, and to claim that it constitutes a call to action, is simply ridiculous. That I should now feel the need to explain and clarify what was not intended for a general public in the first place, and to be condemned for my thoughts, not my actions, in such a manner is clearly an attack on my personal liberty. The chilling effect of having to adapt to such harassment and condemnation should be perfectly clear for those honoring Andrei Sakharov’s legacy.

The conversation relating to the war on Gaza started with a friend expressing her doubt that the conflict would ever be resolved by local actors. The other friend in the conversation and I replied, insisting that like most such conflicts, it would be resolved locally. The tweet stated what seems to be the basic strategy of most national liberation movements, especially those that opt for armed resistance: To make the price of occupation/colonization/apartheid too expensive for the society that supports it. The strategy of the Palestinians is exactly that—via both violent and nonviolent means (boycott, divestments and sanctions, and armed resistance, for example). Since this was during a time of war, I had armed resistance in mind. Think of Vietnam or Algeria; many would say this is exactly what happened: After a critical number of casualties in asymmetric wars, the civilian population supporting the occupier refused to continue its support—despite the fact that the casualties suffered by the society resisting colonization were massively higher.

My tweet was not a call for anything; it was not even a statement of opinion. It was a statement of one of the facts of the conflict. If GUE/NGL had asked me about my views I would have directed them to my March 2012 debate on Deutsche Welle.

It should perhaps be remembered that the first laureate of the Sakharov Prize was Nelson Mandela back in 1988, when he and the African National Congress (ANC) were considered terrorists by many democratic governments. At the time, his views on the necessity of violence for resisting apartheid must have required and inspired complex debates on appropriate tactics and strategies, the rules of engagement, the moral, political and social limitations that should be put on revolutionary violence, etc. There would have been plenty of statements attributable to him or his comrades—including the famous Rivonia Trial speech in which he admits to planning sabotage—that would have looked pretty scary out of context.

Finally, I hardly ever call for any solution or action on my own. As an individual, I have always expressed my opinions and positions in the clearest and strongest language. But as an activist, I have always worked for any given cause with and through the largest united front possible. When it comes to calls for solutions or actions, and for the sake of consensus, I would make the very compromises I refuse to make when speaking only for myself.

More importantly, I do not call for anything when it is not a cause that I am directly engaged with. I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but I never presume to tell them what to do.

If my views on violence—specifically against civilians—are what is in question, the answers can be found in my actions and my published views in my local context and my own struggle in Egypt.

 [This piece is co-published with Mada Masr]

On the Sakharov Prize.


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