Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei's solidarity with a Cuban prisoner of conscience

 “The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
Ai Weiwei

Trace consists of 176 portraits of those imprisoned or exiled for their beliefs
Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has a new exhibit titled @LARGE: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz  that opened on September 27, 2014 and will be on view through April 26, 2015 at the old Alcatraz prison.

 Trace, one of seven installations by the artist features 176 portraits, all built using Lego bricks. Each portrait “represents an individual who has been imprisoned or exiled because of his or her beliefs, actions, or affiliations." Ai Weiwei has called them “heroes of our time.” One of them is Cuban prisoner of conscience Iván Fernández Depestre.

Take a look inside "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” in the video below and hear from the people behind this unprecedented exhibition exploring human rights and freedom of expression.

Often times victims of repression are made to feel alone and isolated by the regime oppressing them but with this exhibition Ai Weiwei highlights many who are still jailed. Among them a Cuban prisoner of conscience.

Ai Weiwei Explores Human Rights and Freedom of Expression
in Series of New, Site-Specific Installations Inspired by Alcatraz Island
Exhibition on view September 27, 2014 Through April 26, 2015
For more information visit here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Solidarity: Wear Yellow for Hong Kong and Carry an Umbrella

" People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists." - G.K. Chesterton, "Eugenics and Other Evils"

Protestors hold up their cellphones in a display of solidarity (AFP/Getty)
Today, in Hong Kong huge numbers of residents are taking to the streets in nonviolent protest because according to Yang Jianli, president of Initiative for China, Teng Biao, a human-rights lawyer, and Hu Jia , winner of the Sakharov Prize, "Beijing is reneging on the 'One Country Two Systems' principle laid out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution." The people of Hong Kong, according to the nongovernmental organization Human Rights in China "are rejecting the August 31, 2014 decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on the “selection” of the Chief Executive, which requires candidates to be endorsed by a majority of a Beijing-controlled nominating committee. In the face of threats and Beijing’s hardline stance, the students, supported by Hong Kong labor unions and the public, have resorted to civil disobedience—class boycotts and peaceful sit-ins—to press for meaningful universal suffrage."

Whats taking place in Hong Kong has some similarities to Venezuela ( and this has generated some confusion in a video that went viral). In both places totalitarians are tightening controls over a free people, who are rising up nonviolently in defense of their freedoms.

The Chinese dictatorship has responded threatening a crackdown on protesters and their exists the possibility of another Tiananmen Square like massacre but this time in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, big money interests and lobbyists for the Peoples Republic of China, such as Henry Kissinger are known to disregard human rights embracing the worse of regimes for narrow interests. Listen to the students who took part in a week long boycott of classes and were interviewed on September 22, 2014. No doubt many are now out in the mass demonstrations:

Twenty five years ago in June the international community turned its back on demonstrators in Beijing and following the slaughter continued business as usual led by the United States with the Chinese regime that had murdered thousands of its own citizens and jailed thousands more for nonviolently demonstrating for an end to corruption and democratic reforms. Economic interests trumped human rights. The legacy of the crackdown has been succinctly described by Human Rights in China:
In 1989, millions of democracy and labor activists and other citizens throughout China demanded reforms. The leaders responded with tanks and violence and then attempted to silence demands for political reform with the benefits of economic liberalization. What the Chinese people got are unsustainable and inequitable development, growing social conflicts, and massive environmental and human costs.
The movement in Hong Kong is nonviolent and international solidarity and support needs to be nonviolent in order to have a positive impact. Solidarity demonstrations are being held around the world in Delhi, Washington DCNew York City, and a college student, Heather Pickerell, has called on students to wear yellow in solidarity with demonstrators in Hong Kong on October 1st. More information is available on the campaign's facebook page and on tumblr.

Tomorrow I will be wearing yellow and carrying an umbrella in solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong. Hope to see you doing the same.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Another 3 business men jailed in Cuba under dubious circumstances

Why Western businessmen doing business with the Castro regime are on a fool's errand.
Automobile executive Cy Tokmakjian sentenced to 15 years prison in Cuba
On Saturday, September 28, 2014 the news came out that a Cuban court had sentenced Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian to 15 years in prison on corruption charges. The sentence amounts to a life sentence. Cy Tokmakjian is currently 74 years old and has been jailed in Cuba since 2011. Two other executives from the Tokmakjian Group - Canadians Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche - were sentenced to eight and 12 years in prison.

The Tokmakjian Group, of which Cy was the chief executive officer (CEO) said the court had seized its assets in Cuba, worth about $100 million. The company went on to say that the entire process fell short of international due process standards:
"Lack of due process doesn't begin to describe the travesty of justice that is being suffered by foreign businessmen in Cuba."
This is not the first time that this has happened, and there is a systematic method to the Castro regime's madness. The judicial system in Cuba is not independent and is subject to the whims of the dictatorship under guidelines following a communist Soviet model. Human Rights Watch describes the reality of the Cuban legal system:
The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba explicitly states that the courts are "subordinate in the line of authority to the National Assembly... and the Council of State," a supreme executive branch body, and that the Council of State may issue the courts instructions. This structure robs Cuban courts of even the semblance of independence and impartiality.

British investor Stephen Purvis smiles on way to trial in Cuba
Since the rule of law does not exist in Cuba the question that arises is what is the political calculation for the dictatorship? British investor, Stephen Purvis, who was jailed for 15 months and who the Castro regime confiscated 17.3 million dollars of his company's assets in an August 2013 letter to The Economist explained what may be behind these arrests:
I spent time with a number of foreign businessmen arrested during 2011 and 2012 from a variety of countries, although representatives from Brazil, Venezuela and China were conspicuous in the absence. Very few of my fellow sufferers have been reported in the press and there are many more in the system than is widely known. As they are all still either waiting for charges, trial or sentencing they will certainly not be talking to the press. Whilst a few of them are being charged with corruption many are not and the accusations range from sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity. It is absolutely clear that the war against corruption may be a convenient political banner to hide behind and one that foreign governments and press will support. But the reasons for actively and aggressively pursuing foreign business are far more complicated.  Why for example is the representative of Ericsson in jail for exactly the same activities as their Chinese competitor who is not? Why for example was one senior European engineer invited back to discuss a potential new project only to be arrested for paying technical workers five years ago when he was a temporary resident in Cuba?
A more fundamental question for investors in places like Cuba and North Korea is: "What were you thinking?" Cuba is a communist dictatorship and by definition communism argues for abolishing all private property, and claims that everything that is owned is owned by all members of society. In practice this means that it is "owned" by a governing elite and in the case of Cuba this means the Castro family and a small ruling clique overseeing a huge fortune.

If you want to experience human rights abuses in a communist prison then doing business in Cuba or North Korea is probably a good idea otherwise it seems to be a fool's errand.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

27th Human Rights Council session ends in victory for civil society

Some good news for a change. 

Ten successive hostile amendments to resolution protecting civil society were defeated by vote on the final day of the 27th Human Rights Council session. During the adoption of the resolution Germany highlighted the right to funding for civil societyThis was a defeat for the dictatorship in Cuba that sought to curtail civil society participation during the 27th session itself with two egregious examples in the general debate on item 3 and later the same day in the general debate on item 4.

Below is the text of the draft resolution protecting civil society that was adopted by consensus.

Human Rights Council
Twenty-seventh session
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development

Argentina, Australia,* Belgium,* Benin, Botswana, Bulgaria,* Burkina Faso, Canada,* Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia,* Cyprus,* Czech Republic, Denmark,* Estonia, Finland,* France, Georgia,* Germany, Greece,* Guatemala,* Hungary,* Iceland,* Ireland, Israel,* Italy, Japan, Latvia,* Liechtenstein,* Lithuania,* Luxembourg,* Montenegro, Netherlands,* New Zealand,* Nigeria,* Norway,* Peru, Poland,* Portugal,* Romania, Senegal,* Sierra Leone, Slovakia,* Slovenia,* Spain,* Sweden,* Switzerland,* Tunisia,* Turkey,* United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay,* Yemen:* draft resolution

27/… Civil society space

The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
Guided also by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and all other relevant instruments,

Recalling the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

Recalling also all Human Rights Council resolutions relevant to creating and maintaining civil society space, inter alia, resolutions 12/16 of 2 October 2009, on freedom of opinion and expression, 21/16 of 27 September 2012, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, 22/6 of 21 March 2013, on protecting human rights defenders, 24/8 of 26 September 2013 on equal political participation, 24/21 of 27 September 2013 on civil society space: creating and maintaining, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment, 24/24 of 27 September 2013, on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, 25/38 of 28 March 2014, on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, and 26/13 of 26 June 2014 on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet,

Recognizing the important role of civil society at the local, national, regional and international levels, and that civil society facilitates the achievement of the purposes and principles of the United Nations,

Reaffirming that special emphasis should be given to measures to assist in the strengthening of a pluralistic civil society, including through the strengthening of the rule of law, social and economic development, the promotion of the right to freedom of expression, online and offline, including artistic expression and creativity, access to information, the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including the right and ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources, and the administration of justice, and to the real and effective participation of the people in the decision-making processes,

Recognizing the crucial importance of the active involvement of civil society, at all levels, in processes of governance and in promoting good governance, including through transparency and accountability, at all levels, which is indispensable for building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies,

Recognizing also that creating and maintaining a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity assists States in fulfilling their existing international human rights obligations and commitments, without which equality, accountability and the rule of law are severely weakened,

Mindful that domestic legal and administrative provisions and their application should facilitate, promote and protect an independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society, and in this regard strongly rejecting all threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors, and underscoring that States should investigate any such alleged acts, ensure accountability and effective remedies, and take steps to prevent any further such threats, attacks, reprisals or acts of intimidation,

Underscoring that the legal framework within which civil society operates is that of national legislation consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law,

Deeply concerned that, in some instances, domestic legal and administrative provisions, such as national security and counter-terrorism legislation, and other measures, such as provisions on funding to civil society, have sought to or have been misused to hinder the work and endanger the safety of civil society in a manner contrary to international law, and recognizing the urgent need to prevent and stop the use of such provisions, and to review and, where necessary, amend any relevant provisions in order to ensure compliance with international human rights law and, as appropriate, international humanitarian law,

Welcoming the recent enactment by some States of national legislation and policies to facilitate, promote and protect civil society space consistent with international human rights law, and looking forward to their effective implementation,

1. Welcomes the holding on 11 March 2014 of the panel discussion on the importance of the promotion and protection of civil society space and the summary report thereof;

2. Reminds States of their obligation to respect and fully protect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all individuals, inter alia, the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to assemble peacefully and associate freely, online as well as offline, including for persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and that respect for all such rights, in relation to civil society, contributes to addressing and resolving challenges and issues that are important to society, such as addressing financial and economic crises, responding to public health crises, responding to humanitarian crises, including in the context of armed conflict, promoting the rule of law and accountability, achieving transitional justice goals, protecting the environment, realizing the right to development, empowering persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups, combating racism and racial discrimination, supporting crime prevention, countering corruption, promoting corporate social responsibility and accountability, combating human trafficking, empowering women and youth, advancing social justice and consumer protection, and the realization of all human rights;

3. Urges States to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity;

4. Emphasizes the importance of civil society space for empowering persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups, as well as persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and in that regard calls upon States to ensure that legislation, policies and practices do not undermine the enjoyment of their human rights or the activities of civil society in defending their rights;

5. Also emphasizes the important role of artistic expression and creativity in the development of society and, accordingly, the importance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society in that regard, in line with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

6. Urges States to acknowledge publicly the important and legitimate role of civil society in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law;

7. Also urges States to engage with civil society to enable it to participate in the public debate on decisions that would contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law, and of any other relevant decisions;

8. Stresses in particular the valuable contribution of civil society in providing input to States on the potential implications of legislation, when such legislation is being developed, debated, implemented or reviewed;

9. Urges States to ensure access to justice, accountability and end impunity for human rights violations and abuses against civil society actors, including by putting in place, and where necessary reviewing and amending, relevant laws, policies, institutions and mechanisms to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity;

10. Calls upon States to ensure that provisions on funding to civil society are in compliance with their international human rights obligations and commitments and are not misused to hinder the work or endanger the safety of civil society actors, and underlines the importance of the right and ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources for its work;

11. Urges all non-State actors to respect all human rights and not to undermine the capacity of civil society to operate free from hindrance and insecurity;

12. Emphasizes the essential role of civil society in subregional, regional and international organizations, including in support of the organizations’ work, and in sharing experience and expertise through effective participation in meetings in accordance with relevant rules and modalities, and in this regard reaffirms the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with subregional, regional and international bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms;

13. Recognizes the valuable contribution of national, subregional, regional and international human rights mechanisms and bodies, including the universal periodic review and special procedures of the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies and national human rights institutions, to the promotion and protection of civil society space, and encourages these mechanisms in the framework of their existing mandates to continue to address relevant aspects of civil society space;

14. Welcomes the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to promote and protect civil society space, including its work on widening the democratic space, and invites it to continue efforts in this regard;

15. Requests the High Commissioner to prepare a compilation of practical recommendations for the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society, based on good practices and lessons learned, and in this regard to continue to engage with and seek the views of States, the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies, relevant United Nations bodies and agencies, regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, civil society and other stakeholders, and to submit the compilation to the Human Rights Council at its thirty-second session;

16. Decides to remain seized of the matter.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Protests at the United Nations in Caracas and New York City a success

"Together we will achieve the FREEDOM of political prisoners in Venezuela!" - Lilian Tintori
Protests at the United Nations today in New York City (Left) and Caracas (right)
Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López Mendoza, successfully held simultaneous nonviolent protests at the United Nations in New York City and in Caracas to demand that human rights be respected in Venezuela and that all prisoners of conscience in Venezuela be freed. Over twitter today she announced:
"To protest for our rights is not only a right it is our obligation! Today I go to the United Nations. Venezuela our call is to a nonviolent and peaceful protest. Today I go to the United Nations for my human rights. Human rights belong to us, they are not negotiated and are enshrined in our constitution and in the United Nations."

Letter turned into the United Nations in Caracas today
 In Caracas, Lilian Tintori met with United Nations officials and turned in the above letter demanding the release of political prisoners and measures to restore human rights and democratic norms in Venezuela. Demonstrations in solidarity with these demands also erupted in Mexico.

Protest in Mexico for human rights in Venezuela on September 26, 2014
In recent days the systematic decline in and violation of human rights in Venezuela has called the attention of the Organization of American States and The New York Times

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on September 22, 2014 expressed "its deepest concern for the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela in light of the recent events that took place in that country. These events include the continued stigmatization by high-level public officials of critical media outlets and journalists, punitive lawsuits and the dismissal of journalists, and the reported blocking of the internet signal of media outlets." 

The New York Times Editorial Board published an editorial on September 20, 2014 titled, "Venezuela's Crackdown on Opposition" highlighting among other travesties the show trial of opposition leader, Leopoldo López that has been underway since July 2014.

The struggle for freedom and human rights in Venezuela continues.