Irish Students Meet Human Rights Defenders

December 19, 2014

Not a shocking story but an excellent illustration of ​​how to motivate students through meeting Human Rights Defenders in person:

Thirty three staff and students of the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT), Tipperary were in Strasbourg last November as guests of the European Parliament’s Human Rights committee. The group spent three days in the French city. They were given a seminar on the European Parliament. However the main purpose of the visit was to attend a workshop with Human Rights Defenders from across the world. They met students involved in the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine and a young woman pleading for the lives of her imprisoned parents in Azerbaijan.

However the most heart wrenching and inspiring words came from Dr Denis Mukwege, a doctor from the Congo who has dedicated his life to treating women who are victims of the brutal conflict in the east of his country. Dr Mukwege was in Strasbourg to receive the Sakharov Prize for freedom of speech and the Tipperary students were part of a delegation of young people invited to meet with him and other nominees. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/congolese-gynecologist-wins-europes-sakharov-prize-in-2014/]

He told the group that it was the womens’ courage and stories of recovery that kept him motivated. All present felt honoured to be invited to such a prestigious event and urged everybody to remember those struggling against injustice. For more information on the groups visit: Social Community Studies facebook page at LIT

 

paul.jpg 20141126_EP-012284_MCH_135.jpg​​​​​​​

 

News – LIT-Tipperary-Students-Meet-Human-Rights-Defenders.


Tackling Human Rights Violations In Nigeria

December 19, 2014

On 19 December 2014, Naomi Sharang wrote a long piece in the Nigerian Observer (News agency of Nigeria – NAN). After a short general introduction, the author zooms in on the Nigerian situation and the role of human rights defenders, interviewing a NGO representative as well as someone from the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Here follow the main excerpts: Read the rest of this entry »


John Legend writes for Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign.

December 18, 2014

Award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend joined Amnesty International USA as part of its annual Write for Rights campaign. For Human Rights Day 2014 the Write for Rights cases included Chelsea Manning, victims of gun violence in the USA and Brazil, and women and girls of El Salvador impacted by the country’s abortion ban.

JOHN LEGEND:
Writing is a transformative experience.
I write songs to express myself.
I write songs to give hope.
I write songs to heal the hurt.
I write because living free from violence is a human right.
I write because I refuse to accept this is ‘just the way it is.’
I write because leaders who let their police forces jail, beat and kill people who are simply, peacefully trying to express themselves need to know the world is watching.
I write because I take injustice personally. Because there are no throwaway lives.
I write because silence feeds violence.
I write because lyrics change music, but letters change lives.


Most human rights NGOs welcome change in US policy on Cuba but some diehards hold out

December 18, 2014

President Obama’s announcement to normalize relations with Cuba has led to a range of reactions. Most of the world (the UN General Assembly has called for an end to the US embargo for years – in October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the policy) and certainly most of the human rights movement, including in the US itself, has welcomed the long-overdue move:

E.g. Human Rights Watch and RFK Human Rights have come with positive comments:

“It’s been clear for years that US efforts to promote change in Cuba through bans on trade and travel have been a costly and misguided failure. Rather than isolating Cuba, the embargo has isolated the United States, alienating governments that might otherwise speak out about the human rights situation on the island.” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of HRW on 18 December. [the statement of HRW added: Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days.] The embargo has imposed indiscriminate hardship on Cubans, but done nothing to end abuses,” Vivanco said. “The Obama administration should make human rights a focus of its Cuba policy but look for more effective ways – including working with other democracies in the region – to press the Cuban government to respect fundamental rights.

On 17 December, Kerry Kennedy and Santiago A. Canton, on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, welcomed the announcement saying that the change in policy will lead to an opening of dialogue at all levels between the United States and Cuba, including on the issue of protecting and advancing human rights.

Still, some chose to disagree:

The Washington Times reports that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was one of many Republicans to criticize President Obama’s move on Wednesday to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba, saying the move undermines the “quest for a free and democratic Cuba“…..Mr. Bush, who announced Tuesday he was actively exploring a bid for the presidency in 2016, said he’s “delighted” that American Alan Gross was freed after five years in prison, but said it was “unfortunate” that the United States chose to released three convicted spies as part of the deal. …Earlier this month, Mr. Bush said the U.S. should consider strengthening its embargo against Cuba at the annual luncheon of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC as he pledged support for the group, a strong defender of the policy.

In the Hudson Reporter (Hudson County is home to thousands of Cuban emigrants and refugees) Congressman Albio Sires stated: “What should be a joyous moment to celebrate the overdue homecoming of Alan Gross today has been marred by the actions undertaken by the administration to secure his release”.. “The president’s announcement today detailing plans for a loosening of sanctions and initiating discussions to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba is naïve and disrespectful to the millions of Cubans that have lived under the Castros’ repressive regime; and the thousands of human rights defenders that have fought tirelessly and at times with their lives to bring about democratic change to Cuba.  Moreover, “while I may welcome the release of over 50 political prisoners, little has been said for the countless others that remain inside a Cuban prison or the fact that the same 50 plus prisoners freed today could very well be imprisoned again tomorrow for exercising the same human rights of free speech that unjustly placed them inside prison the first time.”

US/Cuba: Obama’s New Approach to Cuba | Human Rights Watch.

http://rfkcenter.org/robert-f-kennedy-human-rights-welcomes-president-obamas-announcement-of-a-change-in-united-states-policy-towards-cuba 

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/17/jeb-bush-obamas-cuba-move-latest-foreign-policy-mi/

http://www.hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/26253357/article-Mixed-reactions-to-news-of-Pres–Obama-s-change-of-policy-on-Cuba?instance=top_story


The fight against impunity starts at home: US and torture

December 17, 2014

The issue of impunity is pertinent to the protection of human rights defenders. For that reason I refer to an interesting development that follows the disclosures on torture and abduction by the CIA in the courageous Senate report. If only more countries were willing to investigate so publicly their own records (China, Russia?).

The Federal Prosecutor must investigate former CIA boss Tenet, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others – and should not wait until they are on German soil.  Read the rest of this entry »


Civil society calls on EU to intensify support for human rights defenders in the new EU Action Plan

December 16, 2014

Seven major NGOs (Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, PBI, Protection International and the World Organisation Against Torture) have made a joint appeal to the EU to improve the European Union‘s support to human rights defenders. This is done in the form of comments on the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. That there is a need for more cohesion was demonstrated by the recent faux pas of the EU in giving a human rights award to Bahrain which can hardly be in line with the recommendations [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/what-human-rights-day-means-in-bahrain-and-how-the-eu-made-it-worse/].

Effective and meaningful support to HRDs by the EU and its member states should aspire to [excerpts]: I draw attention especially to number 6!

1. Better protect

The EU can achieve better protection of HRDs – including better prevention of the risks associated with their work:

1. Institute a system for the centralised follow-up of all human rights defenders’ cases, and their treatment by the EU and Member states at headquarters and in delegations.

2. Ensure all staff in Delegations in diplomatic missions, and at headquarters, including at the highest level, are aware of the importance of working with and for HRDs, of the EU Guidelines and of the necessity to implement them fully, and of reporting back. Systematically train EU and member states’ staff at all levels on the full implementation of the EU HRD Guidelines;

3. Facilitate emergency measures such as relocation and emergency visas for HRDs, and ensure all staff are aware of procedures. Ensure the facilitation of visas for HRDs visiting decision-makers in the EU and member states in order to reinforce meaningful exchanges on how to support their vital work;

4. Monitor and provide systematic feedback to HRDs, civil society and the public on EU and member states’ actions on HRDs, encouraging meaningful public debate on how to reinforce their vital efforts;

5. Assist and support governments and promote participation of local civil society in developing and implementing public policies and mechanisms for the protection of HRDs; and/or in advocating for the amendment or abrogation of restrictive laws; and in the fight against impunity for human rights violations committed against HRDs;

6. Ensure that an annual Foreign Affairs Council meeting is dedicated to discussing EU efforts to pursue the release of HRD, journalists and others who exercise their rights peacefully. Foreign Ministers should adopt conclusions naming jailed rights advocates from around the world and call for their immediate and unconditional release.  Every three months PSC Ambassadors should take stock, in close collaboration with civil society, of EU efforts to pursue the release of jailed HRDs. EU delegations should be requested to clarify efforts they have undertaken, ahead of these meetings;

7. In the spirit of the EU Guidelines on HRDs, the EU and its member states should commit to documenting and reporting on effective best practices in support of HRDs, and working to reproduce them where relevant in future; organise annual regional workshops with civil society to exchange best practices and lessons learned, and build the capacity of HRDs, and of senior EU and member states’ diplomatic staff.

2. Reach out

EU policies in support of HRDs must also go beyond addressing their protection in emergency situations on an ad hoc basis. This means considering HRDs not only as victims of repression, but as key actors of change in their own country who can likewise provide a valuable contribution to the design of both EU and national policies and decision-making…

8. Implement burden-sharing between the EU and Member states, to ensure that human rights defenders in all regions of a country have access to, and contact with, the EU; that the responsibility for particularly logistically challenging tasks such as trial observation, prison visits or contacts with rural areas does not fall only on one diplomatic mission, and that continued buy-in on human rights issues by all is possible;

9. Actively support HRDs through a flexible combination of concrete actions and public diplomacy, on the basis of effective consultation with concerned HRDs, including public intervention whenever this can improve the security of HRDs at risk;

10. Conduct regular visits to HRDs outside large urban centres, and increase outreach to vulnerable, marginalised HRDs and women HRDs;

11. Clearly communicate the human rights priorities of EU country strategies to local HRDs to facilitate their work.

12. Systematically include meetings with HRDs when planning high level visits to third countries (including visits by member states’ representatives and Members of the European Parliament);

13. Translate the Guidelines on HRDs into local languages, and disseminate them amongst civil society, including different ethnic minority groups and indigenous communities.

3. Do no harm

The EU and its member states should evaluate all actions taken in regard to their compliance with human rights, and concretely monitor trade and development policies and programming to ensure they are consistent with EU and member states’ human rights commitments. The EU should offer HRDs recourse in case their human rights or those of the people they defend are violated. The ‘do no harm’ principle should be integrated in other actions foreseen in the revised Strategic Framework and Action Plan (under ‘trade’, ‘development’ etc…), which is why only key actions are proposed here:

14. Ensure the meaningful consultation/participation of HRDs, possibly through the development of a specific format for regular exchanges, in the preparation of EU and member states’ human rights dialogues, strategies, development programming, and in the context of EU trade and investment policy;

15. When debating national policy with third country governments, the EU should strive to facilitate dialogue between governments and HRDs (for example on security, development, health, etc), and ensure inclusion of HRDs and social organisations in decision-making on these issues;

16. Set up a complaint mechanism for HRDs who have become victims of human rights violations in the context of EU and member states’ policies and investments.

Intensifying the European Union‘s support to human rights defenders: Civil society proposals for the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy / December 16, 2014 / Statements / Human rights defenders / OMCT.


Chinese Human Rights Defender Xu Youyu gets Olof Palme Prize

December 16, 2014

.Chinese activist wins Swedish rights prize

(Olof Palme – Photo: TT)

The Stockholm-based Olof Palme Memorial Fund said in a statement today that the Chinese pro-democracy activist Xu Youyu, who was among key signatories of a 2008 manifesto seeking sweeping political reforms in China, has won the Olof Palme human rights prize [http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/olof-palme-prize]. Born in 1947, Xu is a philosophy professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Science and was one of the most prominent signatories of the 2008 Charter 08 manifesto that urged a series of reforms in China. He was detained in May this year in a crackdown on dissent ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

He has worked consistently for a democratisation of Chinese society, while condemning any form of violence as a political method,” the Fund stated. “Through his research and dialogue-oriented debate articles, Xu Youyu has made a great contribution to the peaceful and democratic development in China.”

http://www.thelocal.se/20141216/chinese-activist-xu-youyu-wins-swedish-rights-prize


62% of human rights organisations threatened from different quarters in Pakistan

December 15, 2014

A staff report in the Daily Times of 13 December 2014 mentions a report by the Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) in Pakistan which concludes that 62% of human rights organisations received threats from one quarter or another, including religious extremist groups, feudal, political groups and law enforcement agencies.

The report on “Human Rights Organizations in Pakistan: Risk & Capacity Assessment” was launched on Friday 12 December 2014 in Lahore in the presence of the Minster for Human Rights Punjab Khalil Tahir Sindhu, journalist Hussain Naqi, Director National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) Peter Jacob, human rights defender Dr Fauzia Waqar, Sandra Petersen from Norwegian Human Rights Fund and large number of civil society representatives.

Women rights, child rights, minority rights (blasphemy cases), labour rights, and gender-based violence emerged as thematic areas increasing risk for HRDs. Human rights defenders generally face high risks, with increasing volatile political climate and growth of religious fundamentalism. Yet, 57% of organizations made no changes in work strategies after being threatened.

‘62% organisations received threats from different quarters’.


Edward Snowden gets another human rights award in Berlin

December 15, 2014

Former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden was given the Carl von Ossietzky Medal in Berlin on Sunday, a medal which honors those who exhibit extraordinary civic courage or commitment to the spread and defense of human rights. According to website of the International League for Human Rights in Berlin, which has awarded the prize since 1962, Snowden was chosen because of his “momentous decision of conscience … to put [his] personal freedom on the line” to expose the “abuse of power” exercised by the US and Germany.

Verleihung des Alternativen Nobelpreises an Edward Snowden

Snowden shares the medal with Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who broke his story, along with Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who was in Berlin to accept it on the whole trio’s behalf [Snowden appeared on skype]. Several speeches were given, including one from former federal Interior Minister Gerhart Baum and human rights lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck, who represents Snowden. Baum spoke of how the Snowden had “opened our eyes to the largest intelligence surveillance scandal I know.” See more: http://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/snowden/

The von Ossietzky medal is named after the German Nobel Peace Prize winner who spoke out actively against the Nazi regime. Not to be confused with two other awards in the name of Ossietzky.

Edward Snowden gets human rights award in Berlin | News | DW.DE | 14.12.2014.


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