Deportation of Human Rights Defenders: two European cases next to each other

September 1, 2015

Just two cases (unrelated) to show how media report differently (or not at all):

Antifascists hold an action protesting public events held on the occasion of the day of memory of the Latvian Legion Waffen-SS at the Freedom Monument in Riga
© SPUTNIK/ ILYA PITALEV Anti-Nazi Activism Now Seen As ‘National Security Threat’ in Lithuania

On 1 September Sputnik reports under the title “Moscow slammed Vilnius for persecution of human rights defenders” how Moscow is concerned about Lithuanian authorities’ recent decision to deport three rights activists. “Lithuanian authorities handed over decisions to three well-known Latvian human rights activists that they had to leave the country within 24 hours, with two being banned entry for five years,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This shameless move by Lithuanian authorities, which can only be interpreted as persecution of human right defenders, causes serious concern.

Source: Russia Criticizes Lithuania’s ‘Shameless’ Deportation of Rights Activists

Then I remembered an old case from a Danish newspaper of 21 May 2015 which read: “Russia moves to deport Danish activist group“.

It said that 3 members of a Danish human rights group faced possible deportation after being accused of breaching immigration rules. The Danish, German and Latvian citizens were participating in a workshop jointly organized by the prominent Russian rights group Committee Against Torture and the Danish Institute Against Torture (Dignity). Migration officials had stormed the hotel venue in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fifth-biggest city, and demanded that the foreigners accompany them for questioning. A court in Nizhny ruled that German lecturer Uwe Harlacher, a psychologist, had entered the country with the wrong visa, said the head of the Committee Against Torture, Igor Kalyapin.
[Last year, four American students were deported after attending a leadership conference. Russian officials said they had tourist visas but were not engaged in tourism.]

Not enough detail in any of these cases to judge definitely who is right and wrong, but interesting to note how authorities like to play with rules which suit them.


MI5 spying on Martin Ennals: what’s new?

August 21, 2015

On Friday, 21 August, the Guardian reported on MI5 spying on Dorris Lessing but also on Martin Ennals. [“The files released on Friday reveal that MI5 also kept a close watch on prominent figures of the left who were never members of the Communist party. They include the brothers David and Martin Ennals..the latter became general secretary of the National Council of Civil Liberties, a founder member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and secretary general of Amnesty International…. [Shortly after the end of the second world war] MI5 replied that its files on the Ennals brothers had been “in great demand recently”. MI5 was concerned that UN groups, in which it said both brothers were involved, might be infiltrated by the Communist party. MI5 noted that Martin was “well known to Special Branch for his activities in the Anti-Apartheid Movement”.

However, nine months ago (25/26 October, 2014) the Daily Mail had already referred to this issue under the title: “Revealed: How Special Branch spied on leading anti-apartheid activist“.

The Government is facing calls to reveal the truth about a spying operation on one of Britain’s most respected human rights activists. Previously secret documents show the late Martin Ennals was put under years of surveillance by Special Branch. He was a key figure at Amnesty International and the National Council for Civil Liberties – now known as Liberty – and a leading campaigner against apartheid. Details of his marriage, family and holiday destinations were recorded. His luggage was also regularly searched as he made trips to and from Britain. But the files, released by the Metropolitan Police under the Freedom of Information Act, have been heavily redacted.

His son Marc, who is mentioned in the files, added: ‘If they were doing this to him, they must have been doing this to millions of others who were essentially much more of a threat. He was just fighting for human rights.’” Marc Ennals said it was ‘frustrating’ that so much material from the files had been redacted and the freedom of expression group Article 19, which Martin Ennals helped found in the 1980s, called on the Government to ‘come clean’.

Whether that is now the case I cannot judge, but as founder of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights and a close personal friend of Martin Ennals, I can hardly be surprised by the ‘revelations’. Martin told me from the first day we met that I would alway have to assume that conversations and documents would be overheard or read. That he was accused of communist sympathies was also not a secret as he had taken a very public anti-McArthy stand in UNESCO as explained in the biography I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, OUP, 2009, Vol 2, pp 135-138 (ed. David P. Forsythe). Perhaps the most ‘shocking’ is the normalcy of the assumption that anti-apartheid activities are (were) a valid source of concern!

http://www.martinennalsaward.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=98&Itemid=74&lang=en

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2807885/How-Special-Branch-spied-leading-anti-apartheid-activist.html

MI5 spied on Doris Lessing for 20 years, declassified documents reveal | Books | The Guardian.


Syria: Mazen Darwish free after 3 years, but still to be acquitted

August 12, 2015

Yesterday I reported on Human Rights Watch honoring Yara Bader as the representative of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. Now I am catching up on the release of her husband and the founder of the Centre, Mazen Darwish, after more than three years in jail.  A verdict in his case is expected later this month. Darwish was arrested, along with two colleagues, in February 2012 during a raid. Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani were freed last month (17 July and 18 July 2015, respectively) as part of an amnesty that was to have included Darwish, but his release was delayed.

Many NGOs (i.a. Frontline, the Observatory, AI and HRW) and Governments have welcomed the release but warn that Mazen Darwish, and his colleagues Hussein Ghrer and Hani al-Zaitani, have been charged with “publicising terrorist acts” and are still to be tried before the Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court. They invariably call for all charges against them to be dropped. “Mazen, Hussein and Hani are not terrorists, they are human rights defenders,” FIDH President Karim Lahidji said “All charges against them must be dropped immediately”. “We urge the Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court to acquit them during the verdict hearing on August 31, as their judicial harassment has only been aimed at sanctioning their human rights activities”, OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock concluded.

See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/syrian-journalist-mazen-darwish-deserved-winner-of-unescoguillermo-cano-award/

[On May 15, 2013, in its Resolution 67/262, the UN General Assembly called for the release of the three defenders. In January 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also found that the three defenders had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty due to their human rights activities and called for their immediate release. Finally, UN Security Council Resolution 2139, adopted on February 22, 2014, also demanded the release of all arbitrarily detained people in Syria.]

Syria: Finally free, Mazen Darwish must now be acquitted.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/mazendarwish

http://tvnewsroom.org/newslines/world/syria-releases-award-winning-activist-mazen-darwish-79643/


4 Human Rights Defenders receiving the Alison des Forges Award 2015

August 11, 2015

2015 Alison Des Forges Award Honorees

2015 Alison Des Forges Award Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR – 2014 winner). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India – 2014 winner). © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

Human Rights Watch just announced that its Alison Des Forges Award winners 2015 come from Uganda, Syria, Malaysia and Azerbaijan:

Nisha Ayub, Malaysia
For over a decade, Nisha Ayub has championed the rights of transgender people in Malaysia through support services, legal and policy analysis, and public outreach. Human Rights Watch honors Nisha Ayub for challenging the discriminatory laws that prevent transgender people in Malaysia from living free of violence, fear, and oppression.

Yara Bader, Syria
Yara Bader, a journalist and human rights activist, works to expose the detention and torture of activists – including her husband, Mazen Darwish recently released – in war-torn Syria. She has experienced first-hand how the Syrian government uses its security and intelligence agencies to brutally crack down on independent voices. Human Rights Watch honors Yara Bader for her tremendous courage in speaking out on behalf of Syrian detainees despite grave risks to her safety.

Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan 
Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist in Azerbaijan, has dedicated her life to the fight against corruption, for human rights, and for freedom for political prisoners in a country under increasingly harsh authoritarian rule. Human Rights Watch honors Khadija Ismayilova for her extraordinary courage as a journalist and human rights activist in the face of an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. She is currently behind bars. see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/khadija-ismayilova-azerbaijan-is-not-deterred/

Nicholas Opiyo, Uganda
Nicholas Opiyo is a leading human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights organization. He has successfully argued several high-level constitutional challenges, including to the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013, which was declared null and void in August 2014. Human Rights Watch honors Nicholas Opiyo for his unfaltering dedication to upholding the human rights of all Ugandans by promoting universal access to justice.

 

The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on February 12, 2009. For more on the award, see: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/alison-des-forges-award-extraordinary-activism. See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/events-in-memory-of-alison-des-forges-at-buffalo-university/

The four 2015 honorees will be honored at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners held in more than 20 cities worldwide in November 2015 and March-April 2016. Also two 2014 recipients of the award, Father Bernard Kinvi from the Central African Republic and Dr. M.R. Rajagopal from India will included in this series of events:

 

Father Bernard Kinvi, Central African Republic
Father Bernard Kinvi is a Catholic priest who directs the hospital at the Catholic mission in Bossemptele, Central African Republic. In early 2014, when sectarian violence devolved into coordinated violence targeting Muslim civilians, Kinvi saved the lives of hundreds of besieged Muslims, whom he gathered from their homes and sheltered in the Catholic church. Despite repeated death threats, Kinvi persisted in protecting those in his charge until they could be taken to safety. Human Rights Watch honors Father Bernard Kinvi for his unwavering courage and dedication to protecting civilians in the Central African Republic.

Dr. M. R. Rajagopal, India
Dr. M. R. Rajagopal is a leading palliative care physician from India who, for more than 20 years, has battled conditions that cause patients to suffer severe pain unnecessarily. As clinician, academic, and activist, Rajagopal is a global force behind efforts to promote and put into practice palliative care as a human right. He built the world’s most successful community-based palliative care program, and he and his organization, Pallium India, played a key role in convincing India’s government to make morphine accessible. Human Rights Watch honors Dr. M. R. Rajagopal for his efforts to defend the right of patients with severe pain to live and die with dignity.

Rights Activists Honored | Human Rights Watch.


Filipino nun wins Weimar human rights award 2015 for fight against mining excesses

August 11, 2015

<p>Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in Manila in early August. (Photo by Leon Dulce)</p>

Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in early August (Photo by Leon Dulce)

A Benedictine nun, Stella Matutina, is the recipient of Germany’s “Weimar Award for Human Rights” 2015 for her anti-mining advocacy in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

Sister Stella Matutina has been recognized for “[engaging] herself extraordinarily for the rights of the native population, despite being exposed to permanent threats to her safety due to her engagements”. “This highlights the situation of Mindanao and the Philippines in general where the poor, the farmers, the indigenous peoples, the human rights activists and defenders of the environment endure harassment and face risks and death,” the 47-year-old nun told ucanews.com (Jefry Tupas, 7 August 2015) . More than a personal recognition, Matutina said the award acknowledges the “collective sacrifices” of freedom and environment defenders in the face of a “systematic effort to limit democratic space and security threats”.

Matutina has been a vocal opponent of attempts to convert the farmlands in Mindanao to plantation crops like palm oil, pineapples, and bananas. She has also led a campaign against the entry of large-scale mining companies in tribal communities in Mindanao. In 2012, the Philippine military labeled Matutina a “fake nun” and accused her of being a communist New People’s Army guerrilla. In 2009, soldiers detained Matutina and two other anti-mining activists in the town of Cateel in Mindanao for giving a lecture on environmental awareness to residents of an upland village. Early this year, authorities charged Matutina, other Church leaders and human rights activists with kidnapping, human trafficking, and illegal detention for taking care of displaced tribal people in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

These are proof that helping the oppressed, the poor, the abused comes with great risks,” said Matutina, chairwoman of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and secretary-general of the environment protection group Panalipdan.

Since 1995, the Weimar Award has honored individuals or groups engaged in the fight for freedom and equality, the prevention and condemnation of genocide, the right to free speech, and the respect and preservation of political, ethnic, cultural and religious rights of minorities, among others. The award comes with a 2500,00 Euro stipend.

The same Weimar Human Rights Award went in 2000 to Father Shay Cullen of the Peoples Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation for his work defending the rights of children and women, victims of human trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.

via Filipino nun wins German human rights award ucanews.com.

worth noticing also is the language of Radio Vatican used in its own announcement:

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/08/07/philippine_nun_honoured_with_german_human_rights_award/1163662


IOC repeats mistake: Winter Olympics 2022 to China

August 11, 2015

After the IOC awarded the winter olympics 2022 to China, Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch’s Director of Global Initiatives, had this to say on 31 July 2015:

http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/31/ch…

see earlier: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/coalition-of-human-rights-defenders-and-others-call-on-olympic-committee-to-change-its-ways/


The remarkable crackdown on lawyers in China in July 2015

July 29, 2015

On 10 July 2015 over 250 lawyers and support staff were detained or questioned by the police in China in one of the largest crackdowns in recent years. Many newspapers and NGOs have reported on this phenomenon. This is the situation on 29 July: Read the rest of this entry »


Elsa Saade talks about her work for “Gulf Centre for Human Rights”

July 28, 2015

On 26 June 2015 the ISHR (International service for Human Rights) featured a portrait of Elsa Saade, a woman human rights defender who works for the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent, non-profit and non-governmental organisation that works to provide support and protection to human rights defenders in the Gulf region by promoting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Elsa, who has worked closely on the issue of women human rights defenders in the Gulf and neighboring countries, explained how women human rights defenders are at particular risk. E.g. she  received a message from a women defender stating that she could no longer talk, that she was going underground. ‘They are threatening to kill me’, she said. ‘They will arrest me. I need to disappear.’ Elsa confirmed that she could not mention the defender’s name or where she is from as it would endanger her life, however highlighted how women not only face pressures from the government or non-state actors when she stands up for human rights, but even faces societal and cultural clashes which could be reflected inside her home.

Elsa explained how States in the Gulf region are mostly patriarchal. The simplest example of patriarchy is the fact that women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive. Two women defenders in Saudi Arabia, Maysaa Al Amoudy and Lujain Al-Hathlol, who were caught driving as a statement to allow women to drive, were arrested and tried in the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which deals with cases of terrorism and State security. They currently await sentencing.

Elsa referred to the situation in Iran, KSA, and Syria, which she considers is especially bad. ‘If we hadn’t publicised certain cases, some of our human rights defenders would already be dead. If no-one knew their names, the government wouldn’t consider them, as if they didn’t exist. Those who exercise their right to freedom of expression face death threats, flogging and indefinite prison sentences.’..‘Some defenders fall silent but others gain confidence when bad things happen – it confirms the need to struggle for their rights. Although the conditions are depressing, it is inspiring to see how tragedies motivate women to raise their voice. Out of their misery they create something beautiful.’

At this point, Elsa further referred to cases of women Syrian refugees in Lebanon and how important their role in the house, family and society was. On that account she mentioned several challenges that humanitarian people who help Syrian refugees face. Having worked in the field she highlights that they are often at risk.

As a result of my work I have personally experienced challenges. I was put in a situation were I could have been beaten several times, just because I was helping the Syrian refugees.’ As a woman, and especially after having widened the scope of interest in the region’s several HRD cases, Elsa has begun to feel increasingly vulnerable. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk. In Lebanon the situation is not so bad for women. But on a recent trip to Egypt I felt incredibly paranoid. I was on the constant look out. That is why so many women defenders prefer to stay on the low.’

Elsa is adamant, however, on the necessity of continuing her work to support human rights defenders.

Without human rights defenders, the reality would remain hidden. There is a clash between three concepts: reality, delusion and myth. You have the myth, the image that the State wants to portray; the delusion, as people keep quiet to put bread on the table; and the reality on the ground. Human rights defenders, be they journalists, bloggers, lawyers, teachers or women defenders, portray this reality. They are the ones who ask for accountability, for independent judges, for basic human rights.’

[The Gulf Centre supports and protects human rights defenders in different ways to eventually create a community of strong and safe human rights defenders protected by international mechanisms. Firstly, it can mobilise a network of prominent human rights defenders to generate support amongst each other. Secondly, it runs UN advocacy projects and provides funding and technical assistance for HRDs to attend UN meetings. Thirdly, it allocates private funding for relocation, personal finance, appeals, and assisting with the provision of safe havens in case they are in danger. Fourthly, it runs training workshops on various issues HRDs are in need of and specifically on how to engage with UN mechanisms and protection mechanisms.]

For previous posts on the Gulf center: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/gulf-centre-for-human-rights/

 

Elsa Saade: Human rights defender from the Gulf Centre for Human Rights | ISHR.


Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize 2015 goes to CAR Interfaith Peace Platform

July 28, 2015

The 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize goes to the Interfaith Peace Platform for the work achieved to reconcile religious groups in the hope of reaching a lasting peace in Central African Republic (CAR), a country devastated by a war between fractions.

The award [see: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/sergio-vieira-de-mello-prize] was established in Sergio Vieira de Mello’s memory, who was killed in the UN compound bombing in Bagdad on 19 August 2003.

The Interfaith Platform promotes dialogue as a preventive measure against religious violence and a means to pursue peace across CAR. It was established in 2013 by representatives of the three most important religions in the country, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the President of the Islamic Council in CAR, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama and by the President of the Evangelical Alliance, Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyaméné-Gbangou. Read the rest of this entry »


Fury about US award for Askarov in Kyrgyzstan: backlash or impact?

July 23, 2015

Awarding the State Department prize for human rights defenders to Azimzhan Askarov in Kyrgyzstan has led to a most interesting follow up. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/us-state-department-2014-human-rights-defender-award-to-azimjon-askarov-and-foro-penal/]In retaliation Kyrgyzstan has cancelled a coöperation treaty with the USA which has been in force since 1993.

The bilateral agreement that facilitated cooperation between the countries in certain areas was renounced by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariev.As a result US aid to Kyrgyzstan will no longer be free of taxes and other custom duties as from August 20. US civil and military aid personnel, working in Kyrgyzstan will be deprived of their near diplomatic status. On Monday, the US warned Kyrgyzstan that if the accord got canceled, it would damage a range of its aid programs in the country.

On 23 July 2015 Tatyana Kudryavtseva of the 24.kg news agency collected a range of reaction from a variety of persons in Kyrgyzstan under the title “Very expensive Azimzhan Askarov“. Interesting to note that almost all ‘expert’ reactions assume that Askarov is guilty with the exception of the Chairwoman of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society. Still, there is almost unanimity that the move by the Kyrgyz Government was ‘unwise’ to say the least. Here follow some excerpts:

Giving the US State Department Award to the human rights activist Azimzhan Askarov has become a real time bomb. It would seem that nothing terrible has happened. But the news about the award was the trigger. It all ended in scandal – Kyrgyzstan’s government denounced the agreement with the USA on cooperation of 1993. Almost all the projects implemented in the country at the expense of American money turned out to be under threat. Read the rest of this entry »


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