Here is an invitation to join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on threats to civil society around the world:
Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 – 1:00pm
The hearing will be live-streamed via YouTube on the Commission website, https://humanrightscommission.house.gov/.
A healthy and functioning civil society is vital for human rights and democracy everywhere. Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a crucial role in realizing the rights protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They educate individuals about their rights; document human rights abuses; monitor the behavior of governments, including police and security forces; and advocate for the rule of law. CSOs also contribute to development, provide disaster relief, and deliver humanitarian aid in war zones.
But in recent years, civil society has been under threat. The legal “space” in which civil society is permitted to operate is being systematically “closed.” More and more countries are passing restrictive laws that hamper civil society organizations by limiting or even criminalizing the receipt of foreign funding, imposing onerous administrative requirements, or defaming CSOs as terrorists or foreign agents. Even worse, advocates for human rights and political reform face torture, disappearance, and assassination. These repressive policies are no longer confined to authoritarian states or countries in transition, but are occurring in established democracies, including in close U.S. allies like India, Egypt, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
- Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
- Vanessa Tucker, Vice President for Analysis, Freedom House
- Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
- Douglas Rutzen, President & CEO, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
- Maria Stephan, Senior Policy Fellow, United States Institute of Peace
Source: Threats to Civil Society Around the World
The U.S. State Department has just released its annual report documenting the human rights situation of countries around the world.
Unfortunately, the current Secretary of State has decided to downplay the importance of this yearly event, revealing the Trump administration’s apparent disregard for human rights observance and reporting.
Nonprofit Quarterly writes:
Given that the 41st annual Human Rights Reports were issued by the Trump administration, the rollout naturally included some controversy, which centered on the decision by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to hold an official unveiling.
Critics argued that his absence gave the report less attention, as Reuters reported, with only an anonymous U.S. official answering reporters’ questions by phone instead of the usual press conference.
The administration’s commitment to human rights was already under fire, after news recently emerged that the U.S. is considering leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights Council under new Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.
The 2016 U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices for Guatemala, with a fairly conservative analysis of the human rights situation, states that:
Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders reported 14 killings of human rights defenders through November 30, compared with 12 killings in all of 2015. The NGO also reported 205 attacks against human rights defenders through October, compared with 493 attacks in all of 2015.
According to various human rights NGOs, many of the attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources.
Here is the Guatemala 2016 Human Rights Report:
“After spending the past three years travelling around the world and documenting the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur is more appalled than ever to see attacks against them multiplying everywhere, assailing bloggers, indigenous peoples, journalists, community leaders, whistle-blowers and community volunteers. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has become convinced that the incidents in question are not isolated acts but concerted attacks against those who try to embody the ideal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a world free from fear and want. ” – Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur –
The European Parliament in Strasbourg has approved an urgent resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Guatemala. Deputies expressed their concerns and acknowledged the work carried out by human rights defenders, urging the Guatemalan government to adopt measures aimed at protecting HRDs from assaults and dangers they are confronting regularly.
The figures are alarming. Parliamentarians recalled that between January and November 2016, 223 assaults were registered against Human Rights Defenders s as well as 14 killings and 7 attempted murders. Since the beginning of the year, 2 Human Rights Defenders were killed in Guatemala. The majority of these crimes were the final act of a long and repetitive cycle of violence.
The EP also underlined the hostile environment in which justice officials have to work. They face harassment, criminalization, coercion, discredit and intimidation campaigns, which undermine the independence of the judiciary system in the country.
The resolution also supports the new justice reform initiative, which has been presented recently in the Guatemalan Congress. It aims at undertaking legal reforms to strengthen the Rule of Law in the country.
According to Beatriz Becerra, vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament and member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), “human rights defenders are the most powerful asset in the achievement of a more independent justice, however, they are defamed, harassed and ultimately assassinated. For these reasons the Guatemalan government have to protect them with ambitious public policies”.
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“Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Guatemala are subjected to death threats, physical attacks, acts of harassment, surveillance, stigmatization, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and killings. Many of the violations are carried out by clandestine security structures and illegal groups. The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases the risk exponentially for HRDs.
A serious issue is the unfair use of criminal proceedings in order to prevent HRDs from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities. Many criminal proceedings are launched by private companies (often backed by European and North American governments) related to the mining sector and the construction of dams, spuriously accusing HRDs of crimes such as acts of terrorism, usurpation of land, kidnappings and others. As part of the criminalization process, campaigns of defamation and stigmatization have been carried out by both state and non-state actors, particularly transnational companies and right-wing media publications. State authorities continue to publish statements and press releases in which they publicly incriminate HRDs on unverified charges.”
Front Line Defenders