A “Crisis Point” for Human Rights Defenders


By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 1 2018 (IPS) – Globally, the people working to defend our human rights are increasingly under attack, reaching a “crisis point.”

More than 150 human rights defenders (HRDs) from around the world gathered in Paris this week to set out a vision for the enduring fight for human rights at the second Human Rights Defenders World Summit.

Among those who attended was United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who highlighted the key role that HRDs play in societies.

“When you see someone in chains—someone whose rights are being denied—you don’t turn away. You challenge injustice. You stand up for the rights of others,” she told participants.

“Every step towards greater equality, dignity, and rights which has been made…has been achieved because of the struggles and the advocacy of human rights defenders,” Bachelet added.

The meeting marks the 20th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the international community during the first summit to ensure all can enjoy “freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want.”

However, governments have fallen short on their commitments as HRDs continue to be killed around the world with impunity.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst recently expressed alarm over such trends, stating: “The Declaration has become a milestone in the human rights project…however, I am more concerned than ever.”

“We are facing an alarming panorama for human rights defenders. Their situation is deteriorating all over the world despite States’ obligations to ensure the protection of human rights defenders,” he added.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo echoed similar sentiments during the summit, stating: “The level of danger facing activists worldwide has reached crisis point. Every day ordinary people are threatened, tortured, imprisoned and killed for what they fight for or simply for who they are. Now is the time to act and tackle the global surge in repression of human rights defenders.”

In a recent report, Forst found that at least 3,500 HRDs have been killed since the adoption of the Declaration.

In 2017 alone, over 300 HRDs across 27 countries were killed, double the numbers from 2015, Front Line Defenders found.

Almost 85 percent of the recorded murders were concentrated in five Latin American countries: Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Colombia, which is currently the deadliest place for HRDs, saw a increase in the number of murders of HRDs following the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In 2017, over 120 social and environmental leaders were killed by paramilitary or unidentified armed groups largely in areas where FARC has since left, contributing to struggles for power and land.

In May, Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and Duvian Andres Correa Sanchez were killed. They were a part of the Rios Vivos Movement which has rallied against the Hidroituango hydroelectric dam for its environmental and human rights impacts including the displacement of local communities.

In fact, Front Line Defenders found that 67 percent of those killed in 2017 were defending land, environmental, and indigenous people’s rights, and almost always in the context of mega projects, extractive industry, and big business.

The Wayúu Women’s Force, an indigenous environmental group, have been facing death threats for its opposition to a coal mine operating on their ancestral territory. A right-wing paramilitary group Aguilas Negras, or Black Eagles, reportedly dispersed leaflets promising to “clean” the region of the indigenous Wayúu.

“Every case of an attack on a human rights defender constitutes an attack on human rights – the rights of us all,” Bachelet said.

However, impunity continues to reign in many countries including in Colombia where human rights groups have said the government is failing to investigate crimes and prosecute those behind them, and have urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation.

But even in cases where the perpetrators are brought to a court, justice still remains elusive.

In Guatemala, the head of security of a mine—then owned by Canadian company Hudbay Minerals—was acquitted for the 2009 murder of indigenous activist Adolfo Ich Chaman and shooting of German Chub despite witness testimony and physical evidence.

The 2013 lawsuit also included 11 women who were allegedly raped at gunpoint by the mining company’s security forces during a forced eviction in 2007.

Following the ruling, the judge requested that criminal charges be brought against those involved in the prosecution including Chaman’s wife for “obstructing justice and falsifying information.”

“The systemic, widespread impunity is a very bad signal sent to the families of the victims and to anyone standing up for human rights…beyond these attacks and killings, it is ultimately our rights, our democracies that are in great danger,” Forst recently said to the General Assembly.

There has been some progress in recognising the importance and achievements of HRDs around the world. Most recently, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yazidi activist Nadia Murray and Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege for their role in the fight to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Both Forst and Bachelet stressed the need to take action and for all stakeholders to use this opportunity to move forward, particularly in the wake of the 20th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as well as the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted at the Palais de Chaillot where the Summit aptly held their closing ceremony.

“The Summit is a key opportunity for human rights defenders around the world, facing vilification and increased attacks, to come to together and discuss next steps on their own terms,” Forst said.

“What human rights defenders teach us is that all of us can stand up for our rights and for the rights of others, in our neighborhoods, in our countries and all over the world. We can change the world,” Bachelet echoed.

This year has seen numerous events focusing on HRDs including the three-day summit and an upcoming high-level meeting to take place in mid-December in New York to address good practices and new opportunities in the Declaration’s implementation.

—————————-

Annex:

Geneva Centre Executive Director: We must unmask the greatest scam of the century through the promotion of equal citizenship rights

GENEVA, Nov 1 2018 (Geneva Centre) – Security cannot be achieved by reactivating the armament race and an environment of tension and division, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, said during the “A New Human Concept of Security” conference organized by the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade.

“We live in troubled and uncertain times. Our era is defined by an environment of tension and division. It is compounded by the manipulation and hijacking of religions, creeds and value systems. For what purpose? For accessing power through violence in some parts of the world or through counter-factual political scheming in other parts,” Ambassador Jazairy underlined in his presentation.

In this regard, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director highlighted the need to address ominous threats and divisive narratives descending on modern societies in Arab and Western societies alike. The rise of violent extremism on the one hand and of militant forms of nationalism and populism on the other represent a threat to multicultural societies, human well-being as well as world peace and stability.

Exclusion and marginalization of people as witnessed in several countries – he noted – fuel xenophobia, bigotry and racism. Proliferation of crises and conflict have the potential to divide societies and to foster hatred, intolerance and animosity between peoples regardless of cultural and religious origins.

In this connection, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director said that the “dismal situation undermines the foundations of contemporary society. Outbreaks of endogenous and exogenous violence occur whether physical or verbal in different regions of the world.”

This has given rise to a “pincer movement of two extremes expressed through violent extremism and xenophobic populism.” The “greatest scam of the century”, highlighted Ambassador Jazairy, “is the misuse of universal inclusive values shared by all religions and value-systems to serve the opposite goals of discrimination and exclusion.”

To “unmask this scam”, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director underlined that the promotion of equal citizenship rights is the silver-bullet. It will eliminate the fear of the Other and prevent potential social and/or religious tension or conflict that prevail within multicultural societies and across diverse nations.

Most of today’s international conflicts are grafted on internal upheavals which themselves spring from the denial of equal citizenship rights. If we can defuse an exacerbation of internal dissent through dialogue and conflict resolution, the temptation for foreign interference will be reduced pari passu. Thus conflict will be circumscribed and peace will be given a chance,” he said.

In addition, Ambassador Jazairy appealed to international decision-makers to sign and endorse the 2018 World Conference declaration entitled “Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights” that has been endorsed by more than 50 international opinion-makers. The latter was adopted at the 25 June 2018 World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and Value-Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” held at the United Nations Office at Geneva under the Patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

He said the World Conference Declaration offers an inspiring ideal of world citizenship that responds to citizens’ aspiration to a sense of belonging which will “foster their unity in diversity.” “A sense of belonging and sharing that extends to the nation and beyond to the world community,” he concluded.

ECPD conference responds to appeal by Executive Director of the Geneva Centre. Adopts a resolution endorsing the World Conference outcome Declaration

The participants present at the ECPD conference on “A New Human Concept of Security” unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming and endorsing the World Conference outcome Declaration entitled “Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights.”

Through the unanimous adoption of the resolution, the participants call on all States to respect the Declaration and to support the implementation of its provisions. The resolution read as follows:

To: the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue,

We the participants of the XIV International Conference on A New Concept of Human Security, 26/10/2018, Belgrade of the ECPD, University for Peace established by the UN, choose to add our support to the outcome Declaration: ‘Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights’ (General, 25/6/2018) that emanated from the World Conference (Geneva, Palais des Nations, 25/6/2018) on ‘Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights,’

We do so,

  • “In recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights of the members of the human family which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world and;
    • “Within a framework of philosophy, global citizenship and the golden means that spreads equal citizenship rights (ECR) as a gateway to world peace.

“Furthermore, we support its suggested follow-up actions of a periodic holding of World Summit, the setting-up of an International Task-Force on ECR and to include a relevant item in the Universal Periodic Review.

“Agreed by all participants/Signed by Dan Wallace, Roberto Savio, Jeffrey Levett and Negoslav Ostojic.”