Groups protest Azerbaijan’s harassment of activist Rasul Jafarov

azerbaijan rasuljafarov

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has been informed of ongoing judicial harassment against Azerbaijani civil society activist Rasul Jafarov (above). He actively participated in the “Sing for Democracy” and the “Art for Democracy” movement ahead of the Eurovision song contest in Baku in May 2012, and was planning a campaign called “Sports for Human Rights” prior to the European Games to take place in Baku in June 2015. Mr. Jafarov is also the Head of the “Human Rights Club”, established in December 2010.

Jafarov is one of the 30 Under 30 young activists recently celebrated by the National Endowment for Democracy.


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Human Rights Council must address Burma’s backsliding

BURMA FIDHLast year, Burma experienced a backsliding of its human rights situation. As the country enters an election year, the situation on the ground has deteriorated, according to a leading human rights group.

Attacks on civilians in Kachin and Shan States, sexual violence committed by security forces during armed conflict, the existence of political prisoners, the harassment of human rights defenders, activists, and media professionals, extrajudicial killings, land confiscation, and the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities – in particular of Rohingya – are serious human rights challenges that remain unaddressed, says the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH):

Since 2011, the narrative of Burma’s reforms has been floating around international arenas. This has resulted in a decrease in international pressure on the Burmese government, which was reflected in weaker condemnatory language of UN resolutions related to Burma. The Burmese government has taken advantage of this new international dynamic and has sought the discontinuation of international monitoring mechanisms, such as the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country.

Against this backdrop, FIDH calls on the UN Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a period of at least one year by adopting a resolution under the HRC’s agenda item 4. By adopting such a resolution, the Council will show its relevance and continue to exert the necessary pressure on the Burmese government to carry out meaningful reform.

At HRC28, FIDH, in collaboration with Forum-Asia and Human Rights Watch, will organize a side event on the human rights situation in Burma. Panelists will include Altsean-Burma’s Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard, and Women Peace Network Arakan’s Director Wai Wai Nu, a young Rohingya activist who spent seven years in jail as a political prisoner. The panelists will also participate in a round of meetings with diplomatic missions.

FIDH, alongside Human Rights Watch, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Blue Earth Alliance, will also support an exhibition by the award-winning photographer Greg Constantine (Plaine de Plainpalais, Geneva, 4-29 March 2015). “Exiled to Nowhere” will highlight the plight of Burma’s Rohingya (above), whose situation has been documented by Greg Constantine as part of his work on stateless people.


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Converting Iran’s Ayatollahs?

irankhameneiIran’s President Hassan Rohani could come under pressure if his administration succeeds in reaching an enduring agreement that would rein in Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, Golnaz Esfandiari writes for RFE/RL’s Persian Letters:

In an interview with the popular site, analyst and university professor Sadegh Zibakalam predicted that, if a lasting nuclear deal is reached, Rohani will face a new wave of opposition from his hard-line opponents who would focus on issues such as culture and the economy.

Rohani is already facing criticism over his cultural and social policies that hard-liners find too liberal. Zibakalam believes that the criticism will increase after a deal is struck.

“To demonstrate that the deal with the West does not mean a retreat in other arenas, government critics will definitely put more restrictions on civil liberties and the press,” Zibakalam said.

Western diplomats have continually projected pragmatism onto ideological opponents, David Brooks writes for The New York Times:

They have often assumed that our enemies are driven by the same sort of national interest calculations that motivate most regimes. They have assumed that economic interests would trump ideology and religion – that prudent calculation and statecraft would trump megalomania. They assumed that Islamic radicals could not really want to send their region back into the 12th century….. All of this might be defensible if Iran is really willing to switch teams, if religion and ideology played no role in the regime’s thinking. But it could be that Iran has been willing to be an international pariah for the past generation for a reason. It could be that Iran finances terrorist groups and destabilizes regimes like Yemen’s and Morocco’s for a reason. It could be that Iran’s leaders really believe what they say.

It could be that Iranian leaders are as apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American as their pronouncements suggest they are. It could be that Iran will be as destabilizing and hegemonically inclined as all its recent actions suggest. Iran may be especially radical if the whole region gets further inflamed by Sunni-Shia rivalry or descends into greater and greater Islamic State-style fanaticism.

Other analysts are also wary of trusting an ideologically-driven authoritarian regime in the midst of a combustible region and caution against making bets on regime change or liberalisation, Michael Crowley writes for Politico:    ”

We certainly can’t know what Iran will look like in 10 to 15 years,” said Gary Samore, who handled the Iran nuclear portfolio in the Obama White House until 2013.

A 10-year time frame would be a “catastrophic mistake,” said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. Iran is “a system permeated by ideology, so Khamenei dying tomorrow is not likely to change the system dramatically.”   

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The Malaysiakini model

malaysiakiini cima reportMalaysiakini is a unique case study of media development. Malaysia has extensive controls of print media, and yet the online space has remained relatively open. In a new report for the Center for International Media Assistance, Tim Carrington investigates Malaysiakini’s viability as a model for online news organizations.

Malaysiakini, an online news platform operating in a country of continuous and pervasive media controls, has taken advantage of a precarious space allowing comparatively free journalism on the Internet. In Malaysia, it has successfully increased demand for reliable and independent news, along with support for human rights, open government, and free expression. And it has built a viable business model that enables it to employ about 40 reporters, publish in four languages, and expand into video products and business news. These parallel successes, in a flawed media environment, are the upshot of courageous, pragmatic and innovative founders and well-conceived support from the international media development community. Outside Malaysia, Malaysiakini’s ability to establish a credible and sustainable independent news operation online suggests there are opportunities for online journalism in dozens of countries that restrict and control traditional media activities, but allow somewhat more liberal policies to govern the Internet. RTWT

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Asia’s Unsung Female Leaders

Burma_zin_mar_aungAs we approach International Women’s Day, a new e-book, “It’s Not OK,” published by Radio Free Asia, shines a spotlight on young, female human rights activists in Asia who are speaking out in their communities even as entrenched social values demand that they remain voiceless, notes New America:

Many live in countries under strict authoritarian rule – with little tolerance of dissent, few legal rights and protections, and embryonic civil societies. They are factory workers whose pay has been withheld by trafficking gangs, mothers whose children have been kidnapped with the complicity of the police, and lawyers who refuse to accept political complacency. What are the factors contributing to the rise of these young women activists in Asia? And what can we in the West learn from their struggles and successes?

Join New America and Radio Free Asia for a conversation with some of Asia’s most prominent female human rights activists to dive deeper into their stories.

Zin Mar Aung (above) @zinmaraung1976 Co-founder of RAINFALL Winner of International Women of Courage Award in 2012 Co-founder of Yangon School of Political Science [a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy].

Catherine Antoine @antoinec Director and Managing Editor, Radio Free Asia Online Executive Producer, “It’s Not Ok”

Binh T. Nguyen, MD Director, Human Rights For Vietnam PAC Former chair, Virginia Asian Advisory Board Director, Virginia Foundation for the Humanity and Public Policies

Elizabeth Weingarten @elizabethw723 Associate Director, Global Gender Parity Initiative.

New America 1899 L Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036 Monday, March 2, 2015 | 12:15 pm - 1:45 pm. Follow the discussion online using #ItsNotOk and following@NewAmerica.



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