Elena Pershakova, a Russian woman human rights defender defending the rights of citizens victims of law enforcement entities' abuses, has recently concluded a successful and fruitful temporary relocation stay in Georgia, funded by ProtectDefenders.eu with the support of the Tbilisi Shelter City programme.
Today, more than 550 human rights defenders at risk and their relatives from all corners of the globe have benefited from a temporary relocation grant from the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism, allowing them to get away from a dangerous context and strengthen their skills and capacities to continue their work.
Click to Read More to learn about Elena's experience
"My expectations towards my participation in Tbilisi Shelter City programme, thanks to the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, were fully met. I got to change the working situation, meet a lot of new people and even got new skills: had started to learn English, began to learn how to drive a car and other things. Despite my frequent working trips, I rarely manage to travel for personal purposes, and this was a great opportunity. I became calmer, less irritable, less nervous. On a 10-point scale, I feel myself at 9!
I think that participation in such programs as Tbilisi Shelter for Russian human rights defenders is needed not only because they are vulnerable and subjected to pressure and threats. First of all, it is important to understand the number of prejudices connected with the relations between Russia and Georgia: one must fight against prejudice. We need to discover the Caucasian traditions for ourselves by the example of the most hospitable Caucasian country - Georgia.
In addition, Georgia has much interesting achievements which we could learn: the success of the police reform; organization of public mass events and legislation on this topic. Now there are activists and NGO staff in Russia, in relation to whom there is a constant persecution from different sides. And the experience of Georgian NGOs that have evolved over the last 4-5 years under completely different conditions, even with regard to supervision and control over non-profit organizations will be very useful for my colleagues.
In Georgia, of course, you start to feel yourself much more secure. For example, my first trip to the metro in Tbilisi: I will never approach a policeman in Russia to ask anything, direction or advice. And in Tbilisi, I overcame myself, asked the way - and received a very friendly, human response. Psychologically, in Georgia, you are relaxing, and friendliness to non-citizens from the locals is helping on it. I was struck by the culture and nature of Georgia, but Georgians are generally a special attraction. To learn how to rest – what is was the most difficult skill for me - this is what you need to do in Georgia. In Moscow it is not common to show strong friendliness on the streets to strangers. In Georgia, you will not just be helped, but will also go where you need, or help you get any kind of service."
Picture: Tbilisi Shelter City
With the support of a grant provided through ProtectDefenders.eu and as part of an advocacy speaking tour organized by PBI, the director of Alianza Sierra Madre, Isela González attended the 34th Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, presented his annual report, highlighting the grave human rights situation that environmental defenders face.
In the interactive dialogue with SR Michel Forst, PBI expressed concerns on the worsening situation of human rights defenders in the Latin American region and specifically the murders of the environmental defenders, members of the raramuri community, Isidro Baldenegro and Juan Ontiveros, which happened within two weeks of each other in the Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico.
In the meetings with UN special procedures, Isela González explained the accompaniment which the organization provides to the indigenous raramuri communities in Chihuahua, who are claiming their rights to land and territory against the exploitation of the wood resources in the region.
In the side event “Environmental Human Rights Defenders: Responding to a Global Crisis”, convoked by the Permanent Mission of Spain, UNHCHR, PBI and other human rights organizations and networks, the defender called the attention to the structural impediments that arose, such as the lack of recognition of their ancestral territory and the lack of adequate resources, which are an obstacle to legal and administrative's defence in litigation.
According to data from civil society, Chihuahua is the state with the highest number of killings of human rights defenders in Mexico, and a PBI early alert was published recognizing the gravity of the situation in the state, with the intention of preventing future violations.
You can download PBI statement here: bit.ly/34-HRC-PBI
On February 1st, the Hamburger Stiftung für politisch Verfolgte welcomed their new guest Nur Nobi Dulal (46) from Bangladesh in the safety of Hamburg. Nur Nobi Dulal will be relocated away from danger for the next twelve months, as part of a relocation programme funded by ProtectDefenders.eu and supported by Amnesty International and PEN International.
As a blogger, writer and filmmaker, Dulal has been campaigning for the freedom of speech, women’s rights and against religious oppression as well as terrorism in his home country for years. Just as long, he has been threatened by islamists but also by the Bangladeshi government. Because in his home country the writer is in constant danger of being killed by a radical Islamist movement, the Dulal family has had to relocate again and again since 2015. Moreover, he risks up to 14 years of imprisonment due to his criticism of state and religion on the basis of article 57 of the “Information and Communication Technology Act” of the Bengali penal code.
In 2011, Nur Nobi Dulal was voted Bangladesh’s “Blogger of the Year“. In 2012, he founded the Online Activist Forum, which is advocating the freedom of speech. His blog Itishon, founded in 2013 – in terms of readership the second largest blog of the country – was shut down by the authorities on 25 September 2016. In addition, he runs the online bookstore iKarigor.com, which is renowned for its liberal and religion-critical range of books.
In 2013, the terrorist group Hefazat published the names of 84 "Islamophobic" bloggers, among others Dulal’s name. So far, eight of these bloggers have been murdered. Dulal’s name is also on a death list of the terror organization Ittehadul Mujahedini. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the situation has recently become even more serious. Those affected cannot count on protection by the police.
With the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a report in Spanish, French and English about the plight of journalists in Mexico’s eastern state of Veracruz, one of Latin America’s most dangerous places for the media.
Entitled “Veracruz: journalists and the state of fear,” the report is the fruit of a visit carried out by RSF to Mexico in June 2016 -within the framework of the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism- during which it met with local journalists, representatives of NGOs and representatives of federal and state-level institutions involved in protecting media freedom in Mexico.
The report examines the appalling environment for journalists in Veracruz. Caught between ultra-violent criminal cartels and corrupt politicians, journalists who take too close an interest in sensitive stories or in organized crime are liable to be admonished, threatened and even gunned down in cold blood.
From 2000 to 2016 in Mexico, 99 journalists were the victims of murders that were clearly or probably linked to their work, and 20% of these murders took place in Veracruz alone. Cases of physical attacks and disappearances are also legion, and the shocking level of impunity shows the ineffectiveness of the many mechanisms created for protecting journalists.
The report includes the accounts that RSF received from Veracruz journalists about their problems, the need to censor themselves and the decision that some have had to take to flee the region. The families of victims also describe their mostly unsuccessful battles for justice.
The report concludes with a series of recommendations for Mexico’s federal authorities and for Veracruz’s new governor, Miguel Ángel Yunes, the heir of the appalling record of his predecessor, Javier Duarte, who disappeared into thin air late last year after the federal authorities accused him of illicit enrichment.
The recommendations, to be presented in detail at RSF’s press conference on 2 February, aim to end the vicious circle of violence, improve the existing mechanisms for protecting journalists and effectively combat the chronic impunity that constrains media freedom in Veracruz and the rest of Mexico.
In December 2016, ProtectDefenders.eu supported a three-days training for 25 human rights defenders from the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe conducted by the OMCT, jointly with the Zimbabwe Organisation for the Youth in Politics (ZOYP). The main objectives were to strengthen the advocacy work of the participants as well as to sensitize them on security issues in their work, especially ahead of the 2018 elections.
The training has enabled the participants to exchange experience and expertise to comprehensively address the repression and criminalisation of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, as well as to reinforce their digital, physical, and psychological security measures. The training also addressed the local, regional and international legal and policy frameworks that are relevant to the protection of human rights defenders and their work. Finally, participants were also formed on how to conduct trainings and share further to fellow activists the knowledge they acquired during the workshop.
In January 2017, OMCT, within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu, allocated a grant to the NGO “Avenir Jeunes de l’Ouest”, an NGO defending and protecting human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual (LGBTI) people in Cameroon, a country where homosexuality is criminalised.
The grant enabled the NGO to rent a new office after it was expelled without notice from the previous premises it was renting, when the owner discovered that the NGO was defending LGBTI rights.
The grant also covered the employment during six months of a guard for the office. Thanks to OMCT support, “Avenir Jeunes de l’Ouest” has improved the security of its office and staff, which has helped the NGO to continue its critical human rights work.
ProtectDefenders.eu has allocated more than 550 emergency to human rights defenders and organisations. More information is available here.
In February 2017, ProtectDefenders.eu supported an international advocacy, outreach and solidarity mission in Mexico, carried out by OMCT in the framework of the Observatory. The mission was conducted in order to seek the release of human rights defenders Damián Gallardo Martínez, Enrique Guerrero Aviña and Librado Baños Rodríguez, who have been victims of arbitrary detention, criminalization, torture and ill-treatment for three years and a half, despite UN recommendations.
The mission delegation could visit the three defenders in prison, and met with numerous civil society representatives from across the whole State of Oaxaca as well as official representatives in Oaxaca and Mexico City. In addition to addressing the pattern of arbitrary detention of human rights defenders in Mexico, the mission also noted the lack of guarantees for human rights defence in the State of Oaxaca.
From November 28 to December 2, almost 700 LGBTI human rights defenders and allies from 101 different countries gathered in Bangkok, Thailand to take part in the 28th ILGA World Conference. Thanks to the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, ILGA could meet one of the first LGBTI human rights defenders to receive support from European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism: a video interview will be released in the upcoming weeks.
For five days, advocates from all over the world met to network and engage in dialogue on issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex communities both at the local and at the international level, to take stock of the many groundbreaking moments celebrated in the past few years and to strategize about the future of these movements.
With nine Pre-Conferences, 20 Rainbow Talks and 25 workshops on topics ranging from integrated security for activists to the economic cost of social exclusion for LGBTI communities, from fundraising to strategic litigation, the conference offered an important occasion for LGBTI human rights defenders to strengthen their capacities, network and discuss on ways to shape a world in which everyone can live safely, equally and free.
Picture: Jacuzzi News
Publication of an international judicial observation report, after the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a FIDH-OMCT partnership) mission, carried out in the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu
Paris-Geneva, February 15, 2017 – A Kyrgyz court ruled to uphold human rights defender Azimjan Askarov’s life sentence, after what was a mock retrial falling short of basic fair-trial requirements and running against United Nations recommendations to release him, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) reported today.
The Chuy Regional Court, which reconsidered Azimjan Askarov’s case in appeal from October 4, 2016 to January 24, 2017, upheld the 2010 verdict which had been issued in a trial marred by a flawed investigation, bias, lack of substantial evidence and allegations of torture and the absence of investigation thereof. In its decision published in April 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee requested the authorities to release Azimjan Askarov and quash his conviction. Neither of the recommendations were brought into effect.
Moreover, the Chuy Regional Court itself, by refusing to hear some defence witnesses, restricting access to the courtroom, failing to investigate credible allegations of torture and ignoring acts of pressure and intimidation targeting defence witnesses and lawyers, failed to guarantee Askarov’s right to a fair trial in accordance with international human rights standards.
“Kyrgyzstan has also made a complete mockery of its international human rights obligations, ”said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “If this country wants to be a European trading partner it has to be clear to it that it has to behave very differently.”
Tomorrow, President Atambayev is scheduled to meet with European Union (EU) leaders in Brussels, including EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to discuss a new Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation and a Memorandum of Understanding on a 13 million euros worth project aimed at supporting judicial reform in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly after the court’s decision on January 24, 2017, UN bodies and the EU voiced serious concerns over the “ serious shortcomings” in Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system, recalling that “ full compliance with its international human rights obligations, including the opinions of the UNHRC, is essential to maintain the international standing of the Kyrgyz Republic”.
“The arbitrary character of Azimjam Askarov’s detention is unquestionable. EU leaders must take the opportunity of President Atambayev’s visit to remind him of Kyrgyzstan’s human rights commitments and the need to demonstrate at the highest level the will to support a genuine judicial reform. Support to judicial reform is meaningless if the right to a fair trial is not guaranteed and justice remains vulnerable to political interference, ” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH Honorary President.
Azimjan Askarov is a human rights defender from the South of Kyrgyzstan where he had been investigating police brutality from 2002 to 2010. He was arrested on June 15, 2010, in the immediate aftermath of violent inter-ethnic confrontations opposing Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. He was charged with participating in mass unrest, inciting ethnic strife, illegal weapons possession, complicity in the murder of police officer Myktybek Suleimanov, attempted murder of other police officers and incitement for taking hostage a mayor. Azimjan Askarov argued that he was not present on the bridge where the attack on Mr. Suleimanov occurred. His claim was corroborated by several testimonies.
From the very beginning of the judicial proceedings in 2010, the case against Azimjan Askarov, built on testimonies extracted under torture and on statements from Kyrgyz police officers whose work had been under the scrutiny of Azimjan Askarov, was marked as politically motivated. As reported by the Observatory in “ Kyrgyzstan at a crossroads: shrink or widen the scene for human rights defenders”, Mr. Kubatbek Baybolov, former Prosecutor General at the time of Mr. Askarov’s conviction recounted that Interim President Roza Otunbayeva had instructed the Judiciary to sentence AzimjanAskarov to life imprisonment. He added that the elements in the criminal case failed to demonstrate Mr. Askarov's guilt.
The report is available on FIDH and OMCT websites at the following links (ENG/RU):
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
On the 18th and 19th February, RSF organised in Istanbul a training in Istanbul on the basics of journalism for 5 Syrian journalists, four of them exiled in Turkey and working for Syrian media, the fifth one still in Syria working as freelance reporter covering the war. This training, conducted within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu, responded to their needs to be trained on the essential rudiments and principles of journalism, as well as on security, as they all learnt the profession by doing and never had the opportunity to be trained as such.
The training was led by a French journalist, Sophie Nivelle Cardinale, who is working with several French information media, and who has documented the war in Syria on several occasions. The RSF Head of Middle-East desk also followed the training and met with the participants.
One of the participants, Hadi Abdullah, was awarded in November 2016, 2016 RSF-TV5 Monde Press Freedom prize in the journalist category. He is a 29-year-old freelance reporter who has braved many dangers to cover the war in Syria, entering high-risk areas where few colleagues venture in order to film and to enable civil society’s actors to speak to the outside world. By his courage, Hadi Abdullah has become the international community’s eyes, reporting the atrocities committed every day in Syria.
For this reason, he is now a target for both pro-government forces and armed groups. He has had many brushes with death and was briefly kidnapped by the Al-Nusra Front last January. His cameraman, Khaled al-Issa, was killed in June by an explosive device left outside the home they shared, and Abdullah himself was badly injured by the blast.
ProtectDefenders.eu attended the East And Horn Of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) General Assembly Meeting, which took place in Kampala, Uganda, on the 21st and 22nd of February 2017.
The General Assembly of the Network meets every five years with the aim of assessing the progress made in the implementation of the plan of action, addressing the challenges met by the secretariat and the network members as well as mapping out a way forward. The Assembly elected the Chairperson of the Network and its focal representatives of countries.
The grants coordinator of the EU HRD mechanism had the opportunity to present ProtectDefenders.eu to the various stakeholders attending the event, met the Protection Team at EHAHRDP, and held bilateral meeting with the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, one of EHAHRD-Net's partners based in Kampala.
"Everyday in Honduras, human rights defenders face killings, threats and criminalisation. The Honduran authorities must show genuine political willingness to confront this crisis" urged the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT - FIDH partnership), on the occasion of the publication of the report on the international fact-finding mission carried out in the country within ProtectDefenders.eu, launched on December 1st in Panama City, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The predicament of human rights defenders in Honduras has received a great deal of international attention in 2016, following the murder of Berta Cáceres, an emblematic Lenca indigenous defender. This crime is just the tip of the iceberg; the high levels of violence directed against defenders in Honduras have made it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defence.
Since 2001, 17 defenders have been murdered, although they were beneficiaries of IACHR precautionary measures - an average of one per year. Since May 2015, the Observatory has documented 16 killings of human rights defenders - almost one per month. These figures clearly demonstrate that the situation is becoming more acute.
Attacks against defenders tend to go unpunished, largely due to inefficiencies in the administration of justice as well as a number of other structural factors. Meanwhile, there have been a great many incidences of defenders being criminalised, and the judicial system has shown remarkable diligence in pursuing these cases. According to IACHR, since 2010 there have been 3,064 cases in Honduras where human rights defenders have been criminalised as a means of intimidation.
The report concludes that Honduras needs a clearer and more protective national framework, one which fully recognises the human rights of the rural population, indigenous peoples and the LGBTI community. This would improve the working environment of defenders of these rights, and would allow them to enjoy a greater degree of legitimacy and visibility, especially in situations of conflict over natural resources and hetero-patriarchal stereotypes respectively.
In December 2016, Adan Guillermo López Lone, a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy (AJD, Asociación de Jueces para la Democracia), visited the UK, France, Switzerland and Belgium to meet international actors. The tour was sponsored by PBI Honduras within ProtectDefenders.eu.
The main purpose of the tour was to raise awareness about the Honduras’ government failure to implement the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) sentence on the López Lone and others vs. Honduras case.
During the tour, López Lone met with representatives from the British Foreign Office, The Law Society, the UN OHCHR, the Geneva Bar Association, the offices of three UN Special Rapporteurs (on the situation of human rights defenders, on the independence of judges and lawyers, and on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association), the French Magistrates Union, the French Foreign Ministry, Cáritas and other civil society actors.
In the UK, Guillermo was a key speaker at a meeting organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the Law Society and PBI UK about challenges facing the rule of law in Central America.
The tour was very successful and gathering international support for AJD’s struggle to see the sentence implemented. The British Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay, visited Honduras after Guillermo’s tour and raised the issue with the Honduran government. The three UN rapporteurs’ offices with which Guillermo had met issued a joint public statement about the case.
In addition, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales sent an amicus curiae to the IACHR ahead of a February 2017 audience on the government’s compliance with the sentence. The French Magistrates Union sent a public letter to the Honduran government calling for full compliance with the sentence. A French MP committed to ask a parliamentary question about the case and send a letter to the Honduran authorities.
According to Guillermo, PBI’s accompaniment has been instrumental in raising international awareness about the case and advocating for judicial independence in Honduras. PBI’s advocacy and outreach has helped give visibility to the situation facing justice operators in the country. The European tour was very important in strengthening AJD’s international support network and the legitimacy of its work in Honduras.
In February 2017, OMCT, within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu and jointly with the Mexican NGO “Consorcio Oaxaca”, carried out a two-days training to 37 human rights defenders mainly from remote areas in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, focusing on international mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders and for the advancement of their causes.
During the training participants learnt in a very practical way about the ways to engage with UN mechanisms dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders including Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, as well as how to engage with diplomatic missions in the country (including through the EU Guidelines). Participants also learnt about the tools available within ProtectDefenders.eu. Finally, they learnt about international and regional standards in the fight against torture and through the example of the right to be free from torture how to engage with international mechanisms to promote their causes (UN Treaty Bodies, UPR, UN Special Procedures, IACHR, etc.).
In December 2016, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT-FIDH partnership supported by the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism) jointly with several Cambodian organisations, welcomed the recent Opinion No. 45/2016 adopted by the UNWGAD that recognise the arbitrary nature of the ongoing detention of human rights defenders Ny Chakrya, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Lim Mony in Cambodia.
The decision of the WGAD followed a submission made by OMCT, FIDH, CCHR and LICADHO in June 2016. In a landmark move, the WGAD also referred for the first time ever to human rights defenders as a protected group that is entitled to equal legal protection under Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The five human rights defenders have been in pre-trial detention on charges of bribery since April 2016.