5 June Stockholm: breakfast seminar on the importance of whistleblowers

May 27, 2015

Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders and Svenska PEN are organizing on 5 June 2015 a seminar where , Daniel Ellsberg, and Jesselyn Radack will talk about the importance of whistleblowers, how they are treated and what states and the international community need to do to improve their protection.

Mass surveillance, corruption and human rights violations are all issues that have been brought into light by whistle blowers. Protecting and supporting these individuals is important for any democratic state, but as history tragically has shown, this is not always the case. Today, a state’s treatment of whistle blowers can be considered a democratic litmus test – a way to measure how well-functioning its democracy is.

There is some ‘soft law’ on the protection of whistle blowers in the international arena, such as Resolution 1729 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Draft Recommendation on the Protection of Whistleblowers adopted by the Committee of Ministers of 30 April 2014, and there is binding jurisprudence from the European Court for Human Rights (derived from article 10 and linked to the media), but there is no internationally binding definition of what is a whistleblower and his/her protection.

For earlier posts on this topic: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/whistleblower/

The seminar (5 June from 9.00 – 10.00 am will latched place at Civil Rights Defenders, Stora Nygatan 26, and will be moderated by Ola Larsmo, chair Svenska PEN. The seminar will be conducted in English, and broadcasted live at Civil Rights Defenders’ Bambuser Channel. For more information, please contact Miriam Nordfors: miriam.nordfors@civilrightsdefenders.org

[More about the participants:

Thomas Drake is a former senior executive at the National Security Agency where he blew the whistle on massive multi-billion dollar fraud, waste and the widespread violations of the rights of citizens through secret mass surveillance programs after 9/11. As retaliation and reprisal, the Obama administration indicted Drake in 2010 as the first whistle blower since Daniel Ellsberg charged with espionage, and Drake faced 35 years in prison, turning him into an Enemy of the State for his oath to defend the Constitution. In 2011, the government’s case against him collapsed and he went free in a plea deal.

Daniel Ellsberg is a former U.S. military analyst who served in Vietnam, worked at the RAND Corporation, and then risked decades in prison to release the top-secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and other newspapers in 1971 — thereby adding impetus to the movement to end the Vietnam War. Although Ellsberg faced espionage and other felony charges, the case against him was dismissed because of egregious misconduct by the Nixon administration. Ellsberg has been a strong supporter of modern-day NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and convicted Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Daniel Ellsberg was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2006.

Jesselyn Radack is the director of National Security & Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the leading U.S. whistle blower organization. Her program focuses specifically on secrecy, surveillance, torture and discrimination. She has been at the forefront of defending against the government’s unprecedented “war on whistle blowers”. She represents national security and intelligence community employees who have been investigated, charged or prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information, including Edward Snowden. Radack is author of TRAITOR: The Whistleblower & the “American Taliban”.]

Civil Rights Defenders – Breakfast seminar on whistle blowers; their importance and the need for protection.


Asia and human rights defenders: the shrinking space for NGOs

May 26, 2015

In a few recent posts I drew attention to the trend of shrinking space for NGOs in countries such as Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/draft-laws-on-civil-society-restrictions-also-pending-in-kyrgyzstan-and-cambodia/]. On 9 May 2015, The Economist’s column on Asia (Banyan) was devoted to the same issue, concluding that “Democratic Asian governments as well as authoritarian ones crack down on NGOs“. Under title “Who’s afraid of the activists?” it mentions China, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

It lists the usual ‘complaints’ that both authoritarian and democratic leaders use against the activities of NGOs, which range from:

  • threats to national sovereignty
  • promotion of ‘Western’ values
  • hidden agenda (such as conversion to Christianity)
  • blocking development through environmental objections.

E.g. the Indian home ministry claims that 13 billion $ in foreign money has gone to local charities over the past decade and that 13 of the top 15 donors were Christian outfits. Interestingly, similar complaints come from the biggest Indian NGO, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which itself has “strong foreign links, draws on an Indian diaspora in America and elsewhere for support, and dishes out help across borders, such as in Nepal following last month’s earthquake”.

Quite rightly the article concludes that in the long run, such limitations only rally political opponents, while (local) NGOs may face close scrutiny themselves one day (when the Government has changed hands): “Battering-rams, after all, have two ends.”

Who’s afraid of the activists? | The Economist.


Today you can watch the Oslo Freedom Forum via live streaming

May 26, 2015

The 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) will be streamed live in high-definition at oslofreedomforum.com on both Tuesday, 26 May and Wednesday, 27 May, beginning at 9:30 CET (3:30am EST, 12:30am PST). The full program can be viewed here.

This year’s theme is “Living in Truth,” in honor of Václav Havel, the great Czech playwright, dissident, and president. “In Oslo, we are honoring the spirit behind Václav Havel’s life and memorializing how he inspired millions to live in truth,” said Human Rights Foundation chairman Garry Kasparov. “Havel demonstrated that peaceful resistance and creative dissent could prevail over dictatorship and violence. We will study and celebrate his achievements in Norway over the next two days.

Speakers, performers, and artists from 35 countries, including Afghanistan, Chile, Gabon, Malaysia, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Tunisia, and Ukraine, are uniting in Oslo to share stories of how they are taking action to make the world a more free and open place.

For inquiries, please contact info@oslofreedomforum.com or join the conversation by using #OsloFF.


Amazing what can get you into trouble in Egypt..

May 25, 2015

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - croppedreports that on 21 May 2015, human rights defender Mr Negad El Borai was interrogated by an investigative judge in North Giza Court, Egypt, in relation to the drafting of a new anti-torture law! On 11 March 2015  United Group convened a meeting to discuss its draft law for the prevention of torture with other experts. The preparatory committee included judges Hisham Raouf, president of the Cairo Court of Appeal, and Assem Abdel-Gabbar, vice president of the Court of Cassation! A complaint was reportedly filed by the Supreme Judicial Council against the two judges prior to Negad El Borai’s interrogation. The draft law aims to bring Egypt’s domestic law in line with the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The investigative judge summoned Negad El Borai for another interrogation session on 26 May, i.e. tomorrow.  This probably gives the investigative judge time to think of something to charge him with! Read the rest of this entry »


UN Rapporteur urges Nauru to revoke measures that affect human rights defenders and asylum seekers

May 25, 2015

Credit: OHCHR
Where possible I like to extend coverage to countries that normally do not figure highly in the news. This press statement of 22 May 2015 from the UN Human Rights Office provides the occasion to zoom in on the Pacific island of Nauru.

Voicing concern over recent amendments to the Criminal Code in Nauru which “unduly restrict” freedom of expression, a United Nations expert on the issue today urged the Government to revoke such measures to fulfil its human rights obligations. “These new laws could be used to muzzle dissenting opinions and deter human rights defenders, academics, journalists, students, politicians and civil society members”, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, warned.

Ambiguous and imposing harsh penalties, the amended Criminal Code also includes up to seven years in prison for a wide range of legitimate expression, according to Mr. Kaye. Nauru has also curtailed the freedom of press. It imposed a prohibitive $6,500 fee for a single entry visa for foreign journalists in 2014.

Nauru should allow free space for expression without fear of criminal prosecution,” he said, adding that “it should lift all restrictions to access internet and social media, and facilitate access to the media in the country.” Since April, the authorities have blocked access to social media and internet to prevent pornography and “cyberbullying” and to protect the national culture. These restrictions, however, are “designed to prevent asylum seekers and refugees in the country from sharing information on their situation,” stressed the independent expert.

United Nations News Centre – UN rights expert urges Nauru to revoke measures that could ‘muzzle’ dissent.


Lassana Koné: an environmental human rights defender in the DRC

May 25, 2015

Koné: We want to support forest dependent communities in the protection of their natural resources and put human rights issues at the heart of forest debates’.

Lassana Koné is a lawyer in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), working for Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO working to protect the rights of those who live in the world’s forests. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) did an interview with him on 8 May 2015 in Banjul:

Lassana’s efforts in the DRC are focused on pushing for policy change regarding land reform and forest governance, seeking to secure community land titles.‘It’s a key moment because the Government is in the process of reforming the land tenure act. It is vital that the human rights of communities be enshrined in this process. It gives us an opportunity to ensure that the free prior and informed manner in which communities ought to be consulted according to international law, is finally ensured by national law’.

Lassana works with a number of local communities in advocating for such policies and, in doing so, shines a light on the abuses taking place around communal land and natural resources. He explains that, for the communities raising their voice can be dangerous.

They face a range of opponents to their demands, and these opponents can become threatening. For example many communities are being evicted for conservation projects and can be threatened by national park guards. Others find themselves face to face with powerful proponents of extractive industries. In both cases, foreign companies are usually working together with the government’.

Whist the majority of the organisation’s work in DRC is currently focused on advocacy and dialogue for policy change, they also monitor human rights abuses in forest communities and are litigating a case before the national court regarding the forced eviction of a community to make way for a national park in Kivu region.

We hope to bring a communication before the ACHPR regarding the Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya, who have suffered a massive forced eviction last year from their ancestral lands, when many thousands of families were evicted, with houses and possessions burned, by the Kenyan Government’s Forest Service. There have been some successful complaints with the World Bank and also statements by UN special procedures, but hope for a response at the regional level.’ But Lassana also sees other opportunities for actions from the ACHPR, particularly around the free prior and informed consultations of communities regarding the development and conservation projects. ‘This is something which the ACHPR Working Group on Extractives and the Environment is working on. We hope they will produce guidelines on this issue. But we are also engaging with the regional system in other ways: for this session we produced a shadow report on the situation facing indigenous Batwa people in Uganda, whilst we are also contemplating how to work with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders regarding the threats towards communities demanding their rights’.

We believe that local initiatives backed up by international support can ensure that forest peoples have their rights protected too’.

Lassana Koné can be contacted at lassana@forestpeoples.org

Cet article existe également en français .

Lassana Koné: Land and environmental rights defender in the DRC | ISHR.


Bishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador: now a saintly human right defender

May 23, 2015

Whether one believes in sainthood or not, it is not difficult to rejoice with Pax Christi International about the 23 May beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero who became known for his persistent search for truth, justice and reconciliation in the late seventies in conflict-torn El Salvador. He was shot dead while celebrating mass on 24 March 1980. The assassin has never been identified, but it is widely believed that the assassins were members of a death squad led by former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson.  Read 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.


L4L seminar looks at 25 Years ‘Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers’

May 21, 2015

Under the title ‘Lawyers are not their clients the Netherlands-based NGO Lawyers for Lawyers [L4L] puts the 25th anniversary of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers in the limelight. On 29 May 2015 the seminar starts with an introduction by Phon van den Biesen, President L4L, and Cees Flinterman, Professor Emeritus of Human Rights (University of Utrecht and Maastricht).

Basic Principle 18 states that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.

In Break-out sessions the following aspects are considered:

  1. Identification in LGBT-cases (Alice Nkom, Cameroon)
  2. Identification in terrorism cases (Magamed Abubakarov, the Russian Federation and Ayse Bingol, Turkey)
  3. Identification in certain human rights cases (Jorge Molano, Colombia)

The plenary discussion concludes with the Award Ceremony for the 2015 L4L award to Jorge Molano (see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/jorge-molano-from-colombia-laureate-of-2015-lawyers-for-lawyers-award/).

Visit www.lawyersforlawyers.org or contact the Executive Director (+31.6 262 743 90).


Draft laws on civil society restrictions also pending in Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia

May 21, 2015

Human rights defenders find it difficult to function with a fair and functioning legal regime for the creation and administration of associations (NGOs). In my post of yesterday on Russia I drew attention to the draft law declaring some NGOs ‘undesirable”. Today Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Kyrgyz lawmakers in the coming days not to follow Russia’s bad example of passing a Foreign Agents law [see also my earlier: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/kyrgyzstan-follows-bad-example-set-by-russia-foreign-agents/].

And also today Front Line and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint OMCT-FIDH programme) ask the Cambodian Government to withdraw its draft law on civil society which would create many uncertainties and restrictions. The NGOs trace the lack of consultation in the process of law- making (since 2010) and conclude that the draft law as it stands will be used arbitrarily to restrict the legitimate work of human rights organisations.

The text of the Open Letter by the Observatory can be viewed at:  Open Letter – Cambodia : Draft law on civil society.

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/russia-human-rights-ngos-likely-to-become-officially-undesirable/


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