You may sometimes wonder what happens to the thousands of appeals that DAN members send to authorities in foreign capitals on behalf of threatened human rights defenders around the world and, more importantly, whether your voice is having an impact.
Although it is challenging to measure exactly how much difference our appeals, petitions and letters make, DAN campaigns have seen tremendous successes – some in the most obvious form of a release, a dropping of charges against a defender or a tangible advance in an investigation – and others in less apparent, but no less important ways, such as a decrease in harassment or protection against future persecution.
One way in which we assess our impact is through the direct feedback we receive from human rights activists around the world. They confirm that support from organizations like Human Rights First and activists like you helps them-sometimes directly by deterring the authorities from persecuting them, but also indirectly by reassuring them that they are not alone and not forgotten.
We’d like to share with you a recent letter – addressed to the members of the DAN – from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, thanking you for your appeals on behalf of human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga and affirming that “international support and solidarity occupies critical space in the Zimbabwe political crisis where human rights defenders are under constant and systematic attack…” Read the letter
With best wishes,
On May 23 and 24, 2006, leading rights defenders from 22 countries will gather at the Carter Center in Atlanta to focus on the central role of human rights activists during transitions to democracy. For the third time, Human Rights First and the Carter Center have collaborated to convene a conference of the foremost experts on human rights conditions and democratic progress in their countries, together with influential policymakers for the United States, the United Nations, and various multilateral institutions, in order to share experiences and formulate concrete strategies and recommendations for effectively promoting and supporting sustainable democracies.
“Beyond Elections: Defending Human Rights in the Age of Democratization” will be co-chaired by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. Joining the discussion will be Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani, as well as representatives from numerous U.S. and European human rights organizations.
Update from the Field: Zimbabwe
Human Rights First participated in the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Forum in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on April 28 and 29. More than 50 lawyers, trade unionists, church leaders, and other activists from the region gathered to lay the foundation for an advocacy network aimed at the protection of human rights defenders in the region. The meeting was convened by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and HIVOS, a Dutch funding organization.Participants identified trends in the persecution they face in retribution for their human rights work. In southern Africa, both state and non-state actors are responsible for using political influence to threaten and intimidate defenders, conducting smear campaigns, and harassing or beating both men and women who speak out against human rights abuses. Zimbabwean human rights advocates face the most serious threats to their freedom and security in the region, including arbitrary arrests, false prosecutions, executions, and torture. Arnold Tsunga, head of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, has himself faced such persecution.
The network that was formed aims to react more effectively to emergency security situations in which a defender is in danger and advocate for laws and practices that uphold the rights of human rights defenders throughout southern Africa. Human Rights First values its partnership with human rights defenders in southern Africa.
The Human Rights Council: Now the Work Begins On May 9 member countries of the United Nations elected the members of the new Human Rights Council. In a few weeks the Council will replace the Human Rights Commission, widely criticized for its failure to act on grave abuses and for a membership that included notorious human rights abusers such as Libya, Zimbabwe, and Sudan.
Unlike the Commission, which met once a year, the 47 members of the Council will meet at least three times annually. Instead of waiting for members to agree to examine a particular country, the Council will review all countries in turn, starting with its own members.
The membership has improved but still includes countries with poor human rights records, including Russia, China, and Pakistan. One question now is whether such countries actively engage in addressing human rights problems or act as “spoilers” as the body spends its first year determining procedures and reviewing the old system, including the experts (the so-called Special Procedures) appointed to monitor abuses such as torture or extrajudicial killings.
Implications for Human Rights Defenders: Human rights defenders rely on these experts to engage countries in dialogue over specific abuses. Defenders are also concerned that independent NGO participation must not be restricted under the new Council, as the new procedures are laid out. Defenders may be able to make use of the pledges to uphold human rights each candidate country made prior to the election. Human Rights First will work with defenders to ensure that the Council becomes an effective body for promoting and protecting human rights.
We had the pleasure of meeting the Ladies in White’s U.S. representative, Yolanda Huerga, earlier this month. Ms. Huerga arrived in the U.S. 10 months ago with her husband, Manuel Vazquez Portal, an independent journalist arrested in March 2003 and conditionally released in 2004 on medical parole. Both expressed their appreciation for the support of activists like you and the need for continued international advocacy in support of human rights defenders in Cuba.