Venezuela must end action against human defender Diamanti

vzla rodrigo diamantiHuman rights and pro-democracy groups are calling for the immediate cessation of all unwarranted harassment and legal action against leading human rights defender Rodrigo Diamanti by the Government of Venezuela. 

Diamanti has been summoned by the Venezuelan Attorney General to appear on September 25, some four months after his arrest and detention in May.  It is likely that unsubstantiated criminal charges will once again be brought against him. Rodrigo has been prohibited from leaving Venezuela since his detention in May.

He founded the non-governmental organization Un Mundo Sin Mordaza (A World Without Censorship) to promote human rights with art and education, and is internationally renowned for using innovative methods to mobilize thousands of Venezuelans, particularly youth, in favor of peaceful democratic change in the country. 

On May 7, Diamanti was arrested at Maiquetía International Airport and detained for two days by the Bolivarian Service of National Intelligence (SEBIN).  The World Movement joined with the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (Redlad) in condemning that arbitrary detention by the security forces in an alert issued on May 8.  The statement demanded that the Government of Venezuela restore the dignity of Venezuelan citizens by immediately respecting their rights to freedom of speech, association, and peaceful assembly as articulated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The World Movement is closely monitoring, and will speak out against, the unjustified actions of the Venezuelan Government against peaceful civil society organizations and their leaders, such as Diamanti.  

Afghanistan: failed transformation, death of democracy or hope for reform?

2015 is supposed to mark the start of Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade,” notes a prominent analyst. But if the country is to even get to 2015 in one piece, its new leaders must act fast to correct course after the failed transformation of the last decade, Ahmed Rashid writes for the New York Times:

On Sunday, after months of bitter wrangling, the two leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election agreed to form a national unity government. Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun technocrat, is to be president, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister of mixed Tajik and Pashtun descent, is to be chief executive, a newly created post akin to prime minister. …The four-page joint agreement between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah calls for convening a loya jirga, a traditional gathering of tribal representatives and elected district councilors, in the next two years in order to amend the Constitution to reflect the recent creation of the chief executive post.

But a loya jirga should be called as soon as possible, so as to promptly give constitutional cover to the power-sharing agreement between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah. The assembly should also discuss how the present presidential system, which is highly centralized, could be improved and how electoral reforms can be made to prevent future vote-rigging. And the gathering should be convened before the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year: This would allow the legislators who are elected then to have some of the legitimacy that is lacking at present.

NY Times

NY Times

“Death of democracy” is the phrase that has gone viral on social media among young Afghans since the September 21 announcement of a deal between the country’s two presidential election rivals, according to Afghan analyst Helena Malikyar:

Afghans celebrated the end of a deadlock that had plagued their country’s April 5 presidential elections because of the tremendous adverse effects that the impasse had brought onto the nation’s economy, security, and the function of the entire state apparatus.

However, the political deal that entails the formation of a “government of national unity” by rival presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, is widely seen as a setback in the country’s process of democratisation. By brushing aside people’s votes, the political elite’s deal has disenchanted ordinary citizens and has shaken their confidence in the democratic process

Appointments will be key to everything, both in terms of how power is split and wielded and what sort of government Afghanistan is to get, Kate Clark writes for the Afghanistan Analysts Network:

The deal keeps repeating that appointments will be on merit, but that is something that has proved very difficult up until now. In Afghanistan, positions are often considered as ‘spoils’ and a means of rewarding supporters; patronage underpins power and authority. What has enabled the government so far to nevertheless survive has been the large inflows of foreign capital and foreign military support, but both are already tailing off. A united government will already have difficulty coping with all the problems Afghanistan faces. A weak and contested administration could well find those problems overwhelming.

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

But the National Democratic Institute (NDI)* welcomed the conclusion of the 2014 presidential electoral process and the political agreement that enables the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.

“The establishment of the national unity government provides a critical framework for political leaders to work in tandem to address the country’s political, economic and security challenges,” the group said, and it also commended the new government’s plan to form a special commission on electoral reform:

The commission should examine the root causes of serious flaws in the electoral process and offer recommendations for reforms that, if adopted, could promote Afghan confidence in the country’s electoral and political institutions. Such reforms could include constitutional, legislative, operational and institutional aspects as well as accountability mechanisms. Political will must be exercised and adequate resources allocated to implement such reforms. 

The Middle East Institute’s Louis R. Hughes Lecture Series this week hosted a panel discussion exploring the role of democratic governance in both Pakistan and Afghanistan (above). Have the conditions been right within these countries for democracy to take root? Has it been given a fair chance to succeed? Should it be held to different standards than democracy in the West? Experts Hassan Abbas (National Defense University), Sarah Chayes (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Joshua White (Stimson Center), and Moeed Yusuf (United States Institute for Peace) consider these questions, as well as whether future reforms could improve the efficacy of the existing governments in both countries.

* NDI’s election assessment mission fielded 100 Afghan staff observers in 26 provinces for the April first round elections and the June presidential runoff. The Institute mobilized 25 international and 25 Afghan observers to monitor the presidential runoff audit. The NDI mission was informed by a pre-election assessment the Institute conducted in December 2013. NDI supported the efforts of multiple domestic monitoring groups that mobilized thousands of citizen monitors for the two elections and the comprehensive audit. The Institute will issue a final report on the 2014 elections, including recommendations to strengthen the electoral process, in the near future.  

Jailing of Tohti ‘will radicalize more Uyghurs’

china tohti2China’s sledgehammer approach to dissent was on display once more this week, when the authorities sentenced the Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti to life in prison on Tuesday, notes a leading rights advocate. The verdict attracted widespread international condemnation and risks further accelerating a vicious circle of repression, discrimination and violence in China’s westernmost region, Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas Bequelin writes for the New York Times:

The escalation of violence is the direct result of China’s repression. The overwhelming majority of Uyghurs are still opposed to violence, and to any form of radical Islamism, which they see as foreign and counter to their moderate way of life. Yet it should surprise no one that as Beijing tightens its grip, more Uyghurs are becoming radicalized.

Wang Lixiong, one of the few Han scholars to speak openly about the nation’s ethnic policies, said in an interview that silencing a moderate like Mr. Tohti would prove counterproductive.

“Ilham had an extensive network among Uyghurs and Han Chinese,” he said. “Now that he’s gone, it will give radicals an example to show to their people that whoever is a moderate and still harbors illusions of improving ethnic ties should look at Ilham’s case for proof that it’s a dead end.”

The news that Tohti had been sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism drew a torrent of international outrage this week, Andrew Jacobs writes for The Times:

By contrast, Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese scholar and Nobel laureate who agitated for an end to single-party rule, is serving 11 years for subversion.

Many analysts said the severe sentence, handed down on Tuesday, fit in with Beijing’s increasingly heavy-handed treatment of China’s ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, where resistance to rule by the Han majority shows no signs of abating. A slow-boil Uyghur insurgency in Xinjiang, the resource-rich expanse of northwest China, has claimed hundreds of lives in a wave of violence over the past year.

Gardner Bovingdon, a professor at Indiana University who studies the region, said attempts at social engineering would probably exacerbate discontent among Uyghurs, who speak a Turkic language and are culturally more Central Asian than East Asian, Jacobs adds:

“Forcing Uyghurs to assimilate with the Han while flooding the streets with armed troops is not the way to ease the mounting anger and estrangement,” said Professor Bovingdon, who, like a number of Western experts on Xinjiang, has been unable to obtain a Chinese visa in recent years.

The Communist Party’s aversion to outside criticism is well known, and Chinese leaders have long had zero tolerance for any challenge to their handling of minority affairs. Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said party officials believed that any airing of minority grievances could encourage strife.

“The fact that Ilham Tohti survived so long makes him an outlier,” Mr. Bequelin said. “The truth is, there is a well-enforced prohibition against Uyghurs and Tibetans criticizing minority policies, and reality finally caught up with him.”


Rights groups probe Azerbaijani crackdown




Under pressure from human rights activists, a natural resources industry watchdog is reviewing whether to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership over Baku’s crackdown on civil society groups, Transitions Online reports”

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has dispatched a delegation to Baku to investigate the government’s recent moves against human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations, according to the Financial Times.  A decision to suspend Azerbaijan would be a blow to the government, an early supporter of the decade-old initiative. EITI represents a coalition of governments, corporations, and civic groups that promotes open accountability of revenues from petroleum and other natural resources. …

Human Rights Watch has pressed the EITI to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership. “Azerbaijan’s government is squeezing activist groups to the breaking point while claiming to international audiences that it’s a leader on open civic participation and good governance,” Lisa Misol, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last month. “Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy.” 


Freedom House

Freedom House

Three UN human rights representatives have also condemned Baku’s ham-handed treatment of activists and efforts to shut down critical groups. “We are appalled by the increasing incidents of surveillance, interrogation, arrest, sentencing on the basis of trumped-up charges, assets-freezing, and ban on travel of the activists in Azerbaijan,” UN special rapporteurs Michel Forst, Maina Kiai (right), and David Kaye said in a statement. …RTWT

You are cordially invited to a reception with special guest Maina Kiai, executive director of InformAction and recipient of Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom Award. He will give brief remarks about key challenges to human rights in Africa and globally. 

Maina Kiai has campaigned for human rights in Kenya and internationally for the last 20 years. He founded the unofficial Kenya Human Rights Commission and later served as Chairman of Kenya’s National Human Rights Commission, earning a national reputation for his courageous and effective advocacy against official corruption and impunity following the violence that convulsed Kenya in 2008. Mr. Kiai has directed Amnesty International’s Africa Program, led the International Council on Human Rights Policy, and currently serves as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and assembly.


Kremlin targets journalists investigating deaths of Russian soldiers


Credit: BBC

Credit: BBC

Journalists investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers that news reports claimed were killed during Russia’s alleged involvement in Ukraine’s conflict have been targeted in a series of attacks since late August, writes Elena Milashina, Moscow Correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The attacks, mostly by unknown assailants, began after they tried to investigate the mysterious deaths of Russian soldiers.

According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), the Moscow-based press freedom group, attacks on local and international journalists covering the story have spiked. In at least five cases in August, GDF documented threats, arbitrary detentions, denial of access to public information, use of violence, and physical assaults……

The attacks started after the independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, published a series of reports claiming members of 76th Division had been deployed secretly to eastern Ukraine, and had been actively involved in the conflict with pro-Russia separatists. Russia denies the claims. On August 29, the newspaper’s publisher, Lev Shlosberg, who is also a politician with the opposition party Yabloko, was the victim of a vicious attack that he said was in retaliation for his paper’s investigation into the deaths of Russian paratroopers in Ukraine. In a series of reports, the newspaper alleged that up to 100 soldiers from Pskov were killed in eastern Ukraine in August. …..

On Tuesday, Shlosberg filed a formal request asking the office of the Russian general prosecutor to investigate the deaths of 12 soldiers who served in Pskov region, the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

After he filed the request, the state-owned news channel Vesti released a lengthy report on Shlosberg’s case. But instead of following up on his inquiry, the broadcaster portrayed him as a traitor and recipient of foreign grants, including from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.