Six female human rights defenders Samah Hamid wants you to know

March 5, 2015

Samah Hadid – a human rights activist from Australia – writes on 6 March that the following women human rights defenders are worth knowing more about. I have abridged her text a bit:

Human rights activist Samah Hadid.

Human rights activist Samah Hadid. Photo: Supplied

This year’s International Women’s Day [IWD] is dedicated to women who ‘Make it Happen’, and plenty of women come to mind who embody this theme. As attacks on women human rights activists and defenders continue to rise, I think this IWD is a perfect time to celebrate the women who are champions for the freedom of others.

Salwa Bugaighis- lawyer and political activist from Lybia

Salwa was shot dead in 2014 and her assassination left me and many worldwide devastated. Salwa was a courageous lawyer who from a young age pushed for democracy in Libya. She was actively involved in Libya’s revolution and has been described as the “Libyan human rights activist who took on Gaddafi”. Salwa was also actively involved in Libya’s post-revolution transition, calling for the inclusion of women in this process. At every chance, she pushed for national reconciliation in the troubled country. We can all take inspiration from Salwa’s courageous activism. Her commitment to peace and freedom is a legacy we should all aspire to.[see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/human-rights-lawyer-salwa-bugaighis-killed-in-libya/]

 

Mu Sochua- politician and women’s rights advocate from Cambodia

Mu Sochua grew up during the reign of the brutal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. She was forced into exile and returned to rebuild her country.  As the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Mu advocated to end human trafficking and the exploitation of female workers, and drafted crucial laws on ending violence against women. Standing strongly behind her principles, Mu stepped down as minister and decided to become an opposition figure in light of government corruption and repression. As a result, Mu has faced, and continues to be threatened with, imprisonment for criticising the government and Prime Minister.

Gillian Triggs- president of the Australian Human Rights Commission and legal expert

The head of Australia’s Human Rights Commission has recently faced an onslaught of politically driven attacks and abuse from leading politicians, including the Australian Prime Minister, for her human rights advocacy. Triggs, a highly accomplished lawyer and academic, has been unfairly targeted for promoting and protecting human rights, particularly on the issue of asylum seeker children locked up in immigration detention. Yet in the face of political pressure and relentless attacks by the government, she remains determined to fulfil her mission of protecting human rights in Australia.

Rebiya Kadeer- Uyghur activist and leader

Rebiya is many things: businesswoman, mother of eleven children, political leader and, let’s face it, one of China’s fiercest freedom fighters. As a member of the persecuted ethnic Uyghur minority in China’s Xinjiang region, Rebiya has spent her life campaigning for the rights of Uyghurs. Her activism has come at a price; Chinese authorities sentenced her to eight years in prison for her work and she was later forced to live in exile. Despite this, Rebiya – who is known as the ‘Mother of the Uyghur nation’ – has not been silenced by Chinese authorities and continues her activism at the age of 60! [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/challenges-for-human-rights-education-at-side-event-council-on-25-september/]

Yara Sallam- feminist activist and human rights lawyer from Egypt

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the age of 28, Yara is a leading human rights activist in Egypt. Her commitment to defending human rights, especially women’s rights in Egypt, is inspiring for a fellow young Arab woman like myself . As a feminist, she has championed greater space for women to exercise their civil and political rights and to be free from sexual violence. Yara was recently sentenced to two years in prison for attending a protest in Egypt, where it is now illegal for citizens to effectively exercise their right to protest. Even from prison, Yara continues to champion the causes of vulnerable women who have been detained and imprisoned.[for more on her: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/yara-sallam/]

Nimko Ali- anti-FGM campaigner in the UK

Nimko is survivor of female genital mutilation and a fierce campaigner who leads the anti-FGM campaign in the UK. She has propelled the issue onto the front pages of newspapers and into the halls of parliament, advocating for stronger legislation and policy changes. She is a co-founder and director of Daughters of Eve, a not-for-profit raising awareness about FGM and providing support to survivors of FGM. Nimko has faced verbal and physical attacks for speaking out and yet her advocacy remains steadfast. Nimko considers herself a survivor, not a victim. Her fighting spirit is one we can all learn from. I certainly have.

Six female human rights defenders you should know.


Another memorable speech by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

March 5, 2015

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On 5 March 2015 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Member States to uphold the human rights principles underlying their communities in their fight against radicalism.

Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council earlier he warned of the “real danger” that opinion-leaders and decision-makers would “lose their grasp” of the values that States built 70 years ago “to ward off the horror of war.”

The fight against terror is a struggle to uphold the values of democracy and human rights – not undermine them,” Mr. Zeid declared. “Counter-terrorist operations that are non-specific, disproportionate, brutal and inadequately supervised violate the very norms that we seek to defend. They also risk handing the terrorists a propaganda tool – thus making our societies neither free nor safe.”

At the same time, the UN human rights chief said he was “appalled” by the “rising tide of attacks” around the world targeting people on account of their beliefs. Such “horrific acts of racial and religious hatred,” he said, spanned countries in Western Europe and North America, where “unfair policing, daily insults, and exclusion” affected large swathes of the population. Meanwhile, he added, “the tentacles of the extremist takfiri movement” – an ideology where one believer apostasies another and then condemns them as impure – had reached into a wide range of countries, from Iraq and Syria to Nigeria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Zeid voiced deep concern at the tendency of States to clamp down on the most basic of human rights, including the adoption of measures that restrict freedom of expression and democratic space.

When powerful leaders feel threatened by a tweet, a blog, or a high-school student’s speech, this speaks of profound underlying weakness,” he continued. “And when writers are abducted, jailed, whipped, or put to death; when journalists are assaulted, subjected to sexual violence, tortured and killed; when peaceful protestors are gunned down by thugs; when human rights lawyers, human rights defenders and land activists are arrested and jailed on spurious charges of sedition; when newspapers are attacked or shut down – such cases attack and undermine the foundations of stable governance.”

It is the people who sustain government, create prosperity, heal and educate others and pay for governmental and other services with their labour,” Mr. Zeid concluded. “It is their struggles that have created and sustain States. Governments exist to serve the people – not the other way round.

United Nations News Centre – Member States must enforce human rights amid rising tide of extremism – UN rights chief.


Chief Registrar of Kenya promises action on 15,000 human rights complaints

March 4, 2015

Judiciary chief registrar Anne Amadi gestures while she appeared before PAC to shed light on the spending of the judiciary on June 10, 2014.pic\file

Judiciary chief registrar Anne Amadi on June 10, 2014.pic\file
If true, the news in The Star of 3 March 2015 is good news for human rights defenders in Kenya. The chief registrar Anne Amadi said that the judiciary is set to prosecute more than 15,000 cases on human rights violations across the country, adding that the backlog and delay of cases over the years have greatly affected administration of justice, especially affecting human rights defenders.

It is very unfortunate that the judiciary has never had clear policy frameworks to urgently deal with cases surrounding human rights violations and defenders,” Amadi said. Importantly, she added that the State has for years viewed human rights defenders’ pleas as criticisms and unpatriotic, hence used threats and physical surveillance to intimidate the human rights champions.

Amadi was speaking during the launch of a report on the situation of human rights defenders in Busia, Kwale and Marsabit counties.

Judiciary to prosecute 15,000 human rights cases, says Amadi | The Star.


Human Rights NGOs in UK under pressure from politicians and tabloids not to be ‘apologists’ for terrorism

March 3, 2015

It is not often that the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, writes about human rights defenders, but when it does [3 March 2015], it is vicious. Under the headline “No excuses! Theresa May leads politicians queuing up to blast British apologists for ISIS murderers“, it zooms in on Amnesty International and other NGOs that have worked on occasion with a local group called Cage. The latter is an islamic group led by a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg. The group’s research director, Asim Qureshi, recently described IS killer Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John“) as a ‘beautiful young man’ and accused the security services of radicalising him.

This then led British politicians, from government and opposition, to outbid each other in the strongest possible terms to demand that everybody distance themselves from that group. E.g., Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said: ‘I condemn anyone who attempts to excuse that barbarism in the way that has been done by Cage.‘ Jacqui Smith, a Labour former Home Secretary, called Cage ‘outrageous apologists

Steve Crawshaw, of the office of the secretary general at Amnesty, admitted yesterday it was ‘highly unlikely’ they would work with Cage again, although together with Liberty, Justice and five other human rights groups, it had joined with Cage in a ‘collective’ to make representations to an inquiry into the treatment of British Army detainees.
Asked if Amnesty had played to a ‘myth’ of victimisation, Mr Crawshaw added: ‘I don’t think we have played to anybody’s myth. I can’t condemn strongly enough anybody, in any context who seeks to find some justification somehow for how they can justify killing civilians…Our colleagues there (in Iraq) are risking lives in order to document the terrible crimes of IS and therefore to hear somehow that we are turning away from those things, I do think is quite extraordinary.’

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said yesterday: ‘Amnesty has no formal or financial relationship with Cage. Amnesty has, along with a number of others human rights organisations, worked on issues relating to Guantanamo and torture.’

Read more: No excuses! Theresa May leads politicians queuing up to blast British apologists for ISIS murderers | Daily Mail Online.


EU says no impunity for perpetrators of recent violence in Bangladesh

March 2, 2015

On 27 February bdnews24.com in Bangladesh reported that the EU delegation said – at the end of three sub-groups meetings with the government – that victims of violence must get justice. The meetings discussed issues of governance, human rights and migration, trade and development cooperation under the framework of the 2001 Cooperation Agreement.

Victims of violence deserve proper justice,” the EU said, pointing out that human rights’ is the “corner stone” of the EU-Bangladesh relations.

The EU delegation said the discussions between the Dhaka and Brussels were “open and constructive”. They exchanged views on a wide range of issues.

In particular, the need to protect the fundamental democratic rights of the people of Bangladesh was discussed, in view of the recent incidents of violence…The EU delegation also addressed the need to strengthen cooperation on democracy, governance and human rights, in particular, the implementation of the international human rights standards relating to the judiciary and freedom of expression.

Recent developments on rule of law, good governance, transparency, accountability for extrajudicial killings, freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and civil society were some of the issues of “mutual interest and concern” they discussed.

The focus of one sub-group meeting was labour rights, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, the situation of the Rohingyas, women and children’s rights, the death penalty and migration issues. The EU reiterated the importance of protecting human rights defenders. Bangladesh’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council should be an opportunity to work more closely with the EU on promoting and protecting human rights.

The EU and Bangladesh agreed to continue their dialogue on these issues.

via EU wants troublemakers punished – bdnews24.com.


Monday 2 March, start of the #idefend campaign

February 28, 2015

On Monday 2 March 2015 starts the “#idefend – Making sure civil society has its voice” campaign. It is an initiative of the Delegation of the European Union to the UN in Geneva in partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Permanent Missions of Brazil, the Republic of Korea and Tunisia.

The #idefend campaign takes a public stance to support the voices of civil society.#idefend aims at expressing solidarity with all those human rights defenders and civil society actors, whose dedication and everyday work improve the human rights of people in every corner of the world. Join the campaign and help empower those who speak up for human rights!

Human rights defenders are not violent seditionists, criminals, nor bloody revolutionaries, as so many governments like to portray them. They are the best of us, all of us. And they have a message. To all governments, we say: focus on their message. Listen to what they are saying. Understand the message, talk to them about it, be persuaded or persuade, without violence, instead of silencing them, punishing them, their families, and their communities.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sadly, over the past years, we have observed a worrying trend at the Human Rights Council: Human Rights Defenders and civil society representatives are hampered from speaking at the Council, sometimes they are harassed upon their arrival to Geneva, or subject to reprisals in their home country upon their return. This is not acceptable.
Peter Sørensen, Head of the EU Delegation to the United Nations

#idefend | Making sure civil society has its voice.


13th International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights started in Geneva

February 28, 2015

The 13th edition of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) has started in Geneva. It will run until 8 March at:
MAISON DES ARTS DU GRÜTLI | 16 RUE GÉNÉRAL DUFOUR
PHONE +41 (0)22 809 69 00 |

For the programme go to: http://www.fifdh.org/site/2015-programm

There is also the possibility to see there the pre-demo of THF’s Gallery.


Amnesty International’s annual report 2014/15 is out with video introduction

February 27, 2015

In case you missed it, AI‘s annual report came out some days ago. The video above gives a short summary.

As usual the report provides a comprehensive overview of the state of human rights in 160 countries over the course of 2014. Amnesty-Internationa

In its annual assessment of the world’s human rights, AI says that without urgent action and a fundamental shift in approach, there is strong reason to believe the next few years could see:

  • more civilian populations forced to live under the quasi-state control of armed groups, subject to abuse, persecution and attacks
  • deepening threats to freedom of expression and other rights, including violations caused by new draconian anti-terror laws and intrusive mass surveillance
  • a worsening humanitarian and refugee crisis with even more people displaced by conflict as governments continue to block borders and the international community fails to provide assistance and protection

If lessons are not learned – if governments continue to ignore the relationship between the current security crisis and the rights failures which have led us here – then what was a bad year for rights in 2014 could get even worse in the years to come,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.


Human rights defender Kalimuthu Kandhasamy in Tamil Nadu arrested for using the word human rights!

February 26, 2015

HRD Alert – India (a Forum of Human Rights Defenders) and Front Line Defenders have called for the release of Mr Kalimuthu Kandhasamy who was arrested in the morning of 26 February 2015.

[Kalimuthu Kandhasamy is the District Organizer of Citizens for Human Rights Movement (CHRM), which provides legal counsel and assistance to victims of human rights violations in Tamil Nadu, including by providing assistance in complaints before courts, human rights institutions, law enforcement officials and other relevant bodies. The organisation was founded by People’s Watch, an NGO that monitors human rights violations and provides legal assistance to victims in Tamil Nadu. The human rights defender also works as an assistant to a lawyer providing legal representation in People’s Watch’s cases.]

The accusations against Kalimuthu Kandhasamy include, ‘impersonating a public servant’, cheating, and improper use of emblems. And here comes the almost funny part: the charges against Kalimuthu Kandhasamy are reportedly in relation to the fact that CHRM contains the words “human rights” in its title. It is claimed that this is in violation of the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, which reportedly states that no non-governmental institution should have the terms “human rights” in its name (this amendment was made on the recommendation of the Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission [SIC] that no non-governmental institution should have the terms “human rights” in its name! Would seem a clear violation of the right to association). The accusations are being brought under sections 170 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 5 of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1950.

The human rights defender denies that either he or CHRM have posed as a public authority.


George Clooney speaks out on sexual violence in Darfur

February 26, 2015

Getty Images

Whatever your opinion of George Clooney as an actor, there is no doubt that he is one of the most willing to use his celebrity for human rights causes. The latest example is his Op-Ed piece in the The New York Times, entitled, “George Clooney on Sudan’s Rape of Darfur” (together with John Prendergast and Akshaya Kumar, published on 25 February 2015)  .

Because Sudan’s government routinely blocks journalists from going into the Darfur region and severely restricts access for humanitarian workers, any window into life there is limited,” Clooney says. “The government has hammered the joint peacekeeping mission of the United Nations and African Union into silence about human rights concerns by shutting down the United Nations human rights office in the capital, Khartoum, hampering investigators of alleged human rights abuses and pressuring the peacekeeping force to withdraw.

The 53-year-old actor then explains the evidence that has been received from citizen journalists and local human rights defenders with that videos have been smuggled out.

Read the complete piece here.


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