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Reprisals on Human Rights Defenders: Need for NGO Action

In Being a World Citizen, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, World Law on February 5, 2019 at 11:28 PM

By René Wadlow

On January 23, 2019, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, in a statement listed States which had carried out reprisals or intimidation including killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests against individuals cooperating with the UN on human rights issues. He said,

“The world owes it to these brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information and to engage with the United Nations to ensure their rights to participate is respected. Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.” He went on to add “Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation of security.”

The UN human rights bodies and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have established a number of mechanisms for gathering information on the status of human rights in certain countries or about certain issues. In practice, most of this information is complaints on the violation of human rights. In some cases, the information comes from the local branch of an international nongovernmental organization and also from a national human rights organization. In other cases, it comes from a victim or the family of a victim. Information may also come from journalists, religious groups, or visitors to a country who are willing to carry a message out of the country.

Many human rights defenders are people working in isolated, remote areas far from the international networks of protection. These unsung defenders become a vulnerable target in areas where impunity prevails, and assailants operate with virtual no fear of having to account for their crimes. Nevertheless, international appeals with accuracy of information and speed of reaction can be helpful which the Association of World Citizens (AWC) knows from direct experience.

With the often cited “War on Terrorism”, there is a disturbing trend to use national security reasons and counterterrorism strategies by States as a justification for blocking access by communities and civil society groups to UN human rights staff. Women cooperating with the UN have reported threats of rape and being subject to on-line smear campaigns.

The information is collected at the UN High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva and is evaluated to see if the information fits into a pattern of continuing human rights violations or if it is an individual event. In some cases, the same information is also given to well-known human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The AWC receives a certain amount of information which is usually passed on orally to the UN Secretariat in Geneva without the names of the contacts. Like journalists, one must protest one’s sources. On the other hand, the AWC cannot prove the information. Thus, in its public statements, this association only raises broad country situations such as the national minorities and the Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma). However, in private letters to the UN Ambassadors in Geneva and New York, we raise specific cases, often of what is increasingly called “human rights defenders”.

I present the States listed by broad geographic region rather than all together in alphabetical order as they are in the UN statement as other States in each region may also have human rights violation issues, often inter-related to the State named. Thus, the list of States is only those which the UN is aware that there have been reprisals against individuals who have given information to the UN units. We will close with some observations on what NGOs can do to limit such reprisals.

Middle East & North Africa

Bahrain
Egypt
Israel
Saudi Arabia
Morocco

Africa

Cameroon
Democratic Republic of Congo
Djibouti
Mali
Rwanda
South Sudan

Asia

China
India
Maldives
Myanmar
Philippines
Thailand
Turkey

Latin America

Colombia
Cuba
Guatemala
Guyana
Honduras
Trinidad and Tobago
Venezuela

Europe

Hungary
Russian Federation

Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan
Turkmenistan

The impact and increasingly higher profile of human rights informants has left them more and more exposed to a high risk of harassment, repression, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial executions. Governments are not the only actors. Depending on the country, there can be gangs, militias, paramilitary and other nongovernmental groups who also menace people thought to be giving information to the UN or to international human rights organizations.

The publication by the UN of its list is done with the hope that governments themselves will take positive action to protect. In some countries, internal security services or police-related “death squads” may act without the knowledge of the highest authorities of the State. In other States, there is little repression that does not come on orders of the higher authorities. There is a need for representatives of NGOs and also the media to be alert, especially for violations in States which are not otherwise in the news. Active networking remains crucial.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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Migration in a Globalized World Economy

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Europe, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on December 21, 2018 at 12:12 AM

By René Wadlow

The present era of globalization of the economy is not new, but as a term and also as an organizing concept for policy making, it dates from 1991 and the formal end of the Soviet zone of influence which had some of the structures of an alternative trading system.

Earlier, dating from the 1970s the term used was “interdependence”. The emphasis was on economic relations but there was also some emphasis on cultural and political factors. In a July 1975 speech, United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who had an academic background and kept himself informed of theoretical trends said “All of us – allies and rivals, new nations and old nations, the rich and the poor – constitute one world community. The interdependence on our planet is becoming the central fact of our diplomacy… The reality is that the world economy is a single global system of trade and monetary relations on which hinges the development of all our economies. An economic system thrives if all who take part in it thrive.”

Interdependence was to help build a world society based on equality, justice, and mutual benefit. As Secretary Kissinger said the need was “to transform the concept of world community from a slogan into an attitude.”

Interdependence was to be articulated into policies leading to disarmament, peaceful change, improved welfare especially for the poorest and respect for human rights. However, in practice the continuing USA-USSR tensions, questions of access to oil especially in the Middle East and the difficulties of establishing rules and controls for the world trade system kept “interdependence” as a slogan and not as a framework for policies and decisions of major governments.

The term “globalization” has progressively replaced that of “interdependence” The concept of globalization continues the interdependence focus on global economic linkages but adds an emphasis on the organization of social life on a global scale and the growth of a global consciousness. Global consciousness is the essential starting point of world citizenship. Globalization is a socio-economic process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural patterns recede and in which people become increasingly away that these geographic constraints are receding.

The rapid pace of globalization requires that research and practice keep up with the speed of changes in order to reduce unnecessary risks and to provide legitimacy and confidence in the world system. However, within the world society – as within national societies – there are many different interests. At the world level, there are not yet the web of consensus-building techniques found in public and private institutions at the national level.

There were recently two intergovernmental conferences being held at the same time which indicated the possibilities and the difficulties of reaching agreement among most of the States of th World: COP 24 held in Katowice, Poland devoted to issues of climate change and the conference on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, held in Marrakech, Morocco.

The COP 24 had the advantage of building on the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and on the serious scientific research carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Katowice conference was to develop a common system of rules, reporting and measurement for the Paris Climate Accord. This “rule book” was largely accomplished. A sub-theme was to show that the international spirit which had led to the Paris Agreement was still alive and well despite criticism and a lack of visible progress.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is the first of its kind, although there are earlier agreements on the status of refugees. In many countries, there has been sharp debates on immigration policy – often with more heat than light. Some States have already indicated that they will not sign the Compact even though it has been repeatedly pointed out that the Compact is not a treaty and thus not legally binding. The Compact sets out aspirations and strengthens some of the processes already in practice. The representatives of some States which signed indicated that they will be “selective” in the processes which they will put into practice.

Blue: Will adopt the Compact, Red: Will not adopt the Compact, Yellow: Considering not adopting, Gray: Undetermined

There was an agreement to hold a review conference in 2022. There is a growing tendency in inter-governmental treaties to set a review conference every four or five years to analyze implementation and the changing political and economic situation.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has been stressing for some years the importance of migration issues. Migration is likely to increase as climate changes have their impact. Thus, the AWC calls upon Nongovernmental Organizations to focus cooperatively and strongly on migration and the standards of the Global Compact.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Khalil Gibran: The Foundations of Love

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Literature, Middle East & North Africa, Poetry, The Search for Peace on December 18, 2018 at 7:26 AM

By René Wadlow

Life without love is like a tree without blossom and fruit. And love without beauty is like flowers without scent and fruits without seed… For Love is the only flower that grows and blossoms without the aid of seasons… Love is a rose, its heart opens at dawn.”

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) the Lebanese poet, whose birth anniversary we mark on January 6, in many ways represents the deeper spirit of Lebanon though he lived most of his life outside the country: in Paris as an art student and in the USA where he started to write directly in English. His best known book The Prophet was written directly in English.

In “My Birthday”, written in Paris on January 6, 1908 Gibran wrote “Thus have I walked round the sun twenty and five times. And I know not how many times the moon has encircled me. Yet I have not unveiled the secrets of life, neither have I known the hidden things of darkness… Much have I loved in these five and twenty years. And much that I have loved is hateful to people, and much that I have hated is by them admired… I have loved freedom, and my love has grown with the growth of my knowledge of the bondage of people to falsehood and deceit… Love is the only freedom in the world because it so elevates the spirit that the laws of humanity and the phenomena of nature do not alter its course.”

In a vision that was correct, he added in the 1908 birthday essay “And today, today I stand in remembrance as a tired wayfarer who stands mid-way on the ascending road.” He died in 1931 at the age of 48. (1)

For Gibran, Love and Beauty are the foundations of existence. As he wrote in an essay which gave the title to the book “A Tear and a Smile” Then my heart drew near to wisdom, the daughter of Love and Beauty, saying ‘Give me wisdom that I may carry it to humankind’. She answered ‘Say that happiness begins in the holy of holies of the spirit and comes not from without.

A Tear and a Smile sums up well Gibran’s attitude toward life which is always made up of contrasts: light and dark, knowledge and doubt.

How beautiful is life, beloved.
Tis like the heart of a poet,
Full of light and spirit,
How harsh is life, beloved
Tis like an evildoer’s heart
Full of guilt and fear.

In “The Hymn of Man”, nearly a credo of his views, he stresses the ‘both/and’ of contrasts:

I have hearkened to the teachings of Confucius and listened to the wisdom of Brahma, and sat beside the Buddha beneath the tree of knowledge. Behold me now contending with ignorance and unbelieving.

I have borne the harshness of insatiable conquerors, and felt the oppression of tyrants and the bondage of the powerful. Yet I am strong to do the battle with the days.

I was,
And I am.
So shall I be to the end of Time.
For I am without end.

(1) Quotations are from Khalil Gibran A Tear and A Smile. Translated from the Arabic by H.M. Nahmad (London: William Heinemann, 1930)

Painting: Age of Women by Khalil Gibran

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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