Mary Lawlor has only just announced her departure (see announcement published yesterday) and already an article on Colombia of 11 July 2016 shows what insights we may miss in the future. The link between the peace process and the role of human rights defenders in Colombia was referred to in earlier posts [e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/human-rights-defenders-squeezed-by-geo-politics-the-cases-of-colombia-iran-and-cuba/] Mary Lawlor here welcomes the agreement as historic, offering the Colombian people an opportunity to make a break with the endemic violence of the past. The direct reference to the protection of human rights defenders in the peace agreement is one more reason to celebrate. Here the piece in full:
Ivette Gonzalez: Human Rights Defender from Mexico
In the ISHR Monitor of 1 July 2016 there is an interview with Ivette Gonzalez who works as a strategic engagement associate for Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER) in Mexico. Ivette was in Geneva to participate in ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme.
In Mexico, Ivette’s work at PODER is framed around the business and human rights agenda. PODER works to strengthen civil society to achieve corporate transparency and accountability with a human rights perspective. Ivette spoke to ISHR about her motivation to become involved in human rights work, in particular advocating for business and human rights:
‘Injustice and inequality as well as understanding the imbalance of wealth distribution and power triggered my motivation.’
Regarding the risks she and her organisation face on a daily basis, Ivette acknowledged that a focus on safety concerns is necessary in Mexico. PODER has implemented a very strict security protocol in the office to ensure they can work in safe conditions. All members, both those in the field and in the office, are required to follow the protocol.
‘By working in business and human rights, we are aware that powerful actors can consider our work as a threat.’
In the last few years, Ivette feels that human rights defenders and journalists are more at risk in Mexico. Discrediting campaigns point the finger at NGOs and defenders, questioning the legitimacy of their work and even accusing them of taking advantage of victims of human rights violations.
Implementation of laws for the protection of defenders
When talking about particular changes to legislation Ivette would like to see in Mexico, she mentions that the creation of laws is not the issue, but their implementation is. In Mexico, a law and protection mechanism for human rights defenders exists, but the mechanism needs to be improved with the inputs of the users of it and the people at risk. For that to happen, it is crucial that civil society are involved in the process and monitoring.
‘Even though Mexico already has the legislative tools in hand, using these tools, making them concrete and practical for defenders and activists on the ground is the missing step.’
Information is power
Regarding her goals at the international level, Ivette admits that the human rights agenda needs to have an impact at the international level, because some actors are large transnational corporations based in many different countries, and there is a lack of access to justice for the victims of corporate activities in the host and home countries.
Ivette interacts with UN mechanisms including the Special Procedures. PODER has interacted with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. In speaking of interacting with the Special Procedures, Ivette acknowledges civil society’s critical role in providing information to Special Procedures.
‘My recommendation for the international community would be to work together and form coalitions. Building new structures and making steps towards change, can be best achieved by working together.’
Learning and advocating in Geneva
Regarding her participation in HRDAP, Ivette is grateful to have been able to receive such a significant amount of information on how to effectively engage with the UN system, as well as how to efficiently use it in her existing work. She looks forward to sharing her knowledge with other civil society organisations and assisting affected communities to engage with the UN. She appreciated the opportunity to lobby various actors, as well as learn how to approach missions and engage with the system – including Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies.
‘During HRDAP, I met very brave defenders with whom I developed professional relationships. Sharing experience and expertise can strengthen our work in the pursue for the respect of human rights.’
The New York based Human Rights Foundation has announced the dates for its ‘Oslo’ Freedom Forum:
On 29 September 2016 there will be a one-day event in San Francisco, California.
The big event will be held from 22-24 May 2017 in Oslo, Norway.
Founding directors do not alway leave in such a well-planned way, but in the case of May Lawlor this is different. Having done a most admirable job in setting up and developing Front Line Defenders into the main ‘hub’ for information Human Rights Defenders over the last 15 years, she has now announced her departure.
For the few readers of this blog who need further information, please visit www.frontlinedefenders.org
The Board of Trustees now seeks an Executive Director with significant previous experience of working at a senior level for the protection of human rights defenders or equivalent experience in a human rights based activity or organization in a leadership role. The Executive Director will have strong communication, management and analytical skills. They will have an understanding of the political environment for human rights defenders and have excellent political judgement. This position will be based in Dublin but will involve frequent travel.
For more information, please contact: Claire Cronin, Cronin Partners International Search, 12 Merrion Square | firstname.lastname@example.org
Application deadline: Friday 29th July, 2016
On 5 May 2016 I reported on the Havel Prize winners [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/2016-havel-prize-of-the-human-rights-foundation-goes-to-atena-farghadani-petr-pavlensky-and-umida-akhmedova/], including the ‘protest artist’ Pyotr Pavlensky. Now that he has been stripped of this award two months later, this should also be reported. The choice may have seemed a bit shaky from the beginning, but the more important is to recognize the decisive action by the award giver, the Human Rights Foundation.
On 20 June 2016 the ISHR Monitor contained the following portrait of Ms Bose Agbonmerele Iro-Nsi, the founder and team leader of the Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP) in Nigeria. WRAHP is an NGO that works to promote community and women’s rights, reproductive health and children’s development.
Ms Bose Agbonmerele of the Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP) in Nigeria.
As an advocate, Bose focuses on access to justice for women suffering domestic violence, child abuse, and cultural practises that are detrimental to health and contravene fundamental rights of both women and children – an example includes female genital mutilation. Bose seeks to create awareness of existing laws that address domestic violence, and educates vulnerable communities on their rights contained in those laws.
‘WRAHP previously received between 2 and 4 cases of women who had suffered domestic violence each month. Since engaging with the media and speaking publically on the common violation of women and children’s rights, WRAHP now receives about 5 cases and large numbers of calls every day from women in distress.’
Challenges and risks
Cultural norms and practise endorse a system of patriarchy in Nigeria. This means that raising children in an environment rife with domestic violence perpetuates a vicious cycle. Bose highlights the importance of focusing on building awareness within the family, as well within religious institutions and churches – which can then create further awareness about Gender based violence.
‘Gender based violence constitutes a further challenge. Domestic violence is often viewed as a personal domestic dispute, which results in law enforcement agencies turning a blind eye. This further drives a system of impunity among the community. Moreover, the stigma associated with calling the police on your own family member and the lack of independence of women puts them at risk of destitution.’
Bose also identified gaps and loopholes in Nigerian laws and policies that need strengthening. She identified 2 major limitations in the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, which addresses, among other violations, female genital mutilation and acid attacks. This law is restricted to the capital of Nigeria and often imposes fines for offences that should result in more significant penalties.
Some community elders have claimed that WRAHP’s work is intrusive to their culture and traditions. As a result Bose has suffered intimidation. However, she has maintained a holistic approach to raising awareness, including amongst men who might oppose her views.
Engagement with the international community
Bose explained that her experience in Geneva at ISHR Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) has broadened her knowledge of UN mechanisms and her perspective about civil society engagement. Going forward Bose intends to incorporate the international networks she has made in Geneva into her existing regional networks. She also intends to engage with Special Procedures mandate holders to increase awareness about the human rights situation in Nigeria.
‘One of the positive aspects of my experience at HRDAP was the opportunity to share experiences with other participants. I learnt about the diverse issues which other human rights advocates face. The organisation of the programme and activities have been great.’
The change Bose would like to see
Through her brief experience at the UN, Bose has noticed the use of the phrase “intimate partner violence”. She believes the use of this phrase in addressing domestic violence overlooks other serious aspects of domestic violence. This term focuses only on partners, disregarding child abuse, parental abuse of children, and violence at the hands of extended family. Bose would like to see a more robust policy addressing all aspects of domestic violence.
Goals and objectives
Bose believes that it is crucial to understand successful strategies used by defenders working on other issues and defenders in different regions. Bose is grateful to have had the opportunity to interact with defenders working on different thematic groups, including LGBTI and business Human Rights issues. She believes that all activists share the same common goal and working together and learning from each other will help to improve advocacy success rates. Bose would like to continue engaging foreign missions to bolster her national advocacy.
In the long run, Bose would like to see herself as a regional and international advocate sharing her experiences on an international platform. She was impressed with the participation of young people in HRDAP and says she would like to encourage other young people to participate in advocacy training sessions in Nigeria.
‘I just can’t recommend HRDAP enough to other people.’
Human rights defenders from across Africa clarify misconceptions about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and highlight the need for African governments to support the court in a video released on 6 July 2016 by 21 African and international nongovernmental organizations. [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/the-fight-against-impunity-for-international-crimes-in-africa-no-free-pass-for-leaders-say-human-rights-defenders/]
In January 2016, the African Union (AU) gave its Open-Ended Committee of African Ministers on the ICC a mandate to develop a “comprehensive strategy” on the ICC, including considering the withdrawal of African member countries from the court. The committee met in April and agreed on three conditions that needed to be met by the ICC in order for the AU to agree not to call on African countries to withdraw from the court. These include a demand for immunity from ICC prosecution for sitting heads of state and other senior government officials – which is contrary to a fundamental principle of the court.
It is not clear if the AU will consider any of the open-ended committee’s assessments and recommendations at its upcoming summit in Kigali, Rwanda, from 10 – 18 July.
“The reasons why we supported the establishment of a permanent court as Africa have not changed,” says Stella Ndirangu of the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya. “The only thing that has changed is that now leaders are being held to account.”
“To say that the ICC is targeting Africa, I think, is a misrepresentation of the situation,” says Angela Mudukuti of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “It’s more Africans making use of the court they helped to create.”
Six out of the nine African situations under ICC investigation came about as a result of requests or grants of jurisdictions by African governments – Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Uganda, and the Central African Republic twice. Two other investigations in Africa, the Darfur region of Sudan and Libya, were referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council. In Kenya, the ICC prosecutor received the authorization of an ICC pretrial chamber to open investigations after Kenya repeatedly failed to investigate the 2007-08 post-election violence domestically. In January, the ICC prosecutor opened the court’s first investigation outside Africa, into Georgia, and is conducting several preliminary examinations of situations outside Africa – including in Afghanistan, Colombia, Palestine, and alleged crimes attributed to the armed forces of the United Kingdom deployed in Iraq.
The recommendations from the open-ended committee are the latest development in a backlash against the ICC from some African leaders, which has focused on claims that the ICC is “unfairly targeting Africa.” The backlash first intensified following the ICC’s 2009 arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for serious crimes committed in Darfur. While blanket immunity for sitting heads of state is available in some domestic jurisdictions, it has never been available before international criminal courts dealing with grave crimes. The AU, in 2015, adopted a protocol to give its continental court authority to prosecute grave crimes, but also, in a controversial provision, grants immunity for sitting heads of states and other senior government officials. That protocol will need 15 ratifications before coming into force, but has yet to be ratified by any country.
The video is endorsed by the following organizations that are part of an informal group that works to promote support for justice for grave crimes in Africa and beyond:
Africa Center for International Law and Accountability (Ghana)
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (Uganda)
Africa Legal Aid
Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (Sierra Leone)
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (Malawi)
Children Education Society (Tanzania)
Club des Amis du Droit du Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Coalition for the International Criminal Court (Burundi)
Coalition for the International Criminal Court (Global)
DefendDefenders – East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (Uganda)
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists (Kenya)
Kenya Human Rights Commission
Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice
Legal Defense and Assistance Project (Nigeria)
Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court
Réseau Justice Et Développement (Togo)
Southern Africa Litigation Centre
Southern Africa Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Zambia)
In a historic vote on 30 June 2016 the UN Human Rights Council created an Independent Expert dedicated to sexual orientation and gender identity issues. The “Independent expert on protection from violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people“, as the official title runs, was warmly welcomed by the LGBTI community around the world. Twenty-three Council members voted for the new position, 18 members against, and six abstained. Read the rest of this entry »