Women Human Rights Defenders Face Greater Risks Because of their Gender

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga
JOHANNESBURG, May 16 2019 – Does the name Ihsan Al Fagiri ring a bell? How about Heba Omer or Adeela Al Zaebaq?

It’s likely that these names, among countless others, are not known to the average news consumer. But their tireless and dangerous work, however, has made news headlines as protests led to historic political change in Sudan.

To the communities of protesting women in Sudan, these names represent the valiant efforts to defy the authoritarianism of the Omar Al Bashir regime.

The sustained efforts of these women include mass mobilization, calling people to the streets of Sudan through ‘Zagrouda’ (the women’s chant) in response to rising costs of living amidst the country’s worst economic crisis.

These rallying calls of #SudanUprising, have been led by Sudanese women who are teachers, stay-at-home-mothers, doctors, students and lawyers. And yet, when President Al Bashir stepped down on April 11, the names of the women who spearheaded this political shift, were largely missing from the headlines.

This erasure is not uncommon. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are often erased or slandered in efforts to intimidate them into quitting continuing their human rights work. In Egypt, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Uganda or the Philippines they are often called agents of international interests.

In Kenya, the United States and South Africa, their sexuality is called into question and they are harassed online. In China and the United Arab Emirates, they are detained for reporting or highlighting endemic levels of harassment. And yet, they refuse to be silenced.

These women are not alone at the interface of sustaining justice in sexual and reproductive health, environmental rights, economic accountability and conflict areas.

In spite of restrictions against them, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick, #SudanUprising and #AbortoLegalYa are just a few social campaigns that represent countless women at the coal face of systemic change for equality and justice. More and more WHRDs worldwide are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

But there is a stark absence of knowledge on their work. Media reporting on the courageous work of women defenders tends to focus more on the challenges they face. Awareness of their restrictions is critical to the push for justice but equally important is knowledge about the work they do to sustain women’s rights globally.

Combined with the risks of ostracization and assault from relatives, community members and the state, WHRDs defy these risks to sustain social justice. Recognizing them only for their restrictions further contributes to the erasure they experience daily from state and others.

One way the narrative on WHRDs can shift is by focusing on the critical role they play in pushing forward a progressive agenda of change for all.

In Ireland last year, activists working in sexual and reproductive health and rights achieved a landslide referendum victory in which two thirds of voters chose to legalise abortion, after many years of pro-choice campaigning.

In the southern African kingdom of eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, the first ever Pride march was held last year in support of LGBTQI rights. LGBTQI groups in Fiji also scored the same first that year – the country’s inaugural Pride event, a victory of freedom of assembly for LGBTQI activists around the world.

The power of collective action was also on display in January when five million women formed a human chain across the southern Indian state of Kerala. The massive protest was organised in response to experiences of violence against women attempting to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, a prominent Hindu pilgrimage site.

In Iran, a small women’s movement challenging the compulsory rule that requires women to fully cover their hair, has been developing. While in Colombia, activist Francia Marquez organised a 10-day march of some 80 women to protest against illegal mining on their ancestral land in the east of the country.

This activism is often thankless and dangerous work. Indeed, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for environmental women human rights defenders, with 200 environmental campaigners murdered.

WHRDs are at increasing risk of harassment not just from state actors, but also from multinational corporations, their communities and in some cases, their own families. International policy frameworks have tried to keep up with the heavy-handed crackdown from states on environmental WHRDs.

Last September, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet launched the For All Coalition to integrate human rights and gender equality throughout all major multilateral environmental agreements, including the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Coalition is an important step in highlighting the ways in which climate change disproportionately affect WHRDs, and also recognises the role of local and indigenous communities of women in the realisation of environmental protection.

These policy gains are the first step in creating an enabling environment for WHRDs working in remote areas on land, indigenous rights and climate justice. They are often labelled as ‘anti-development’ for calling for accountable and transparent change.

In South Africa and Honduras, the gains of environmental women campaigners have been some international recognition of their work, but at high costs: for some, these costs sometimes include their lives. Since 2001, 47 human rights workers in the Philippines have been killed for their work of attempting to document environmental violations.

In order to take seriously the work of women human rights defenders, the mechanisms for protecting them have to begin to adapt to respond to their nuanced needs as women. They need to be sensitive to other dimensions that affect WHRDs such as sexual orientation, gender, race, class and indigenous status. Adequate institutional and policy support must be built on intersectional feminism which is consultative and responsive.

What will create a more favourable policy environment for women activists? That answer should include decriminalizing sexual and reproductive rights, for example, and removing restrictions on the registration of associations supporting WHRDs.

Governments should also conduct training and sensitisation programmes for law enforcement agencies, members of the judiciary and staff of national human rights institutions on the challenges faced by WHRD, and develop a national action plan for the protection of WHRDs.

To this day, resources do not reach WHRDs in remote areas and on the frontlines, and not because they are not applying! Gender-sensitive resourcing is critical to address the gap.

These suggestions are a smaller part of a larger need for systemic change but point to the need for consistent global activism to support women human rights defenders at all times – oftentimes before crises emerge.

The victory of Sudanese women, and the ensuing capture of the end of dictatorship this year, should give us pause to remember particularly the women who push on through layers of repression, risking all, to demand basic rights.

Citizenship & Growth: Inclusive Citizenship Laws Tend to Foster Economic Development

By Patrick Amir Imam and Kangni Kpodar
WASHINGTON DC, May 16 2019 – The notion of citizenship has evolved over time. Historically, allegiance was typically to an ethnic group or a feudal lord. With the birth of the nation-state in the 19th century came the need to distinguish between those who belonged to the state and those who didn’t, and therefore to create a legal distinction between nationals and foreigners.

Most countries established then, or at independence, a “code of nationality” whose basic principles are still intact today. This code, in most cases, defines who is a national and how citizenship can be acquired.

Citizens benefited from such rights as voting, the ability to move freely within the country, and the eligibility to work. They also had responsibilities, such as serving in the military, paying taxes, and voting.

The modern notion of citizenship contrasts two visions. One vision, based on the declaration of human rights, is inclusive and can extend nationality to anyone meeting certain conditions. The other view, more exclusive, defines a nation more as an ethnic community. Specifically,

The inclusive vision is reflected in the law of the soil (jus soli), the principle that a child born within a country’s territory automatically acquires that country’s nationality. In this view, often found in the New World, bonds of citizenship extend beyond blood ties and encompass people of different genetic and geographic backgrounds.

This provides the basis for an inclusive system, which ensures that newcomers and their children are assimilated and can easily obtain citizenship.

The exclusive vision of the law of blood (jus sanguinis) is based on the principle that children acquire nationality from their parents, regardless of their place of birth. This is commonly the case in much of Asia and Europe and in parts of Africa.

This form of citizenship is more ethnocentric and by definition less inclusive: citizenship derives meaning, in part, by excluding noncitizens from basic rights and privileges. In such cases people can belong to a family that has lived in a country for generations and still not be citizens of their native land.

A growing number of countries are adopting citizenship laws that are a mix of the two. Whereas countries often initially adopted either jus soli or jus sanguinis rules, many countries have recently changed their policies to move toward the other vision.

In 1999, Germany significantly reformed its jus sanguinis–based citizenship law, making it possible for foreigners residing in Germany for years—particularly foreign children born there—to acquire German citizenship.

On the other hand, countries such as the United Kingdom have tightened the rules of jus soli and do not automatically grant citizenship to people born on its soil. The chart (next page) illustrates the distribution of citizenship laws across the world.

In continental Europe, jus soli has historically been the dominant choice, a reflection of the feudal tradition linking people to the lord on whose land they were born (Bertocchi and Strozzi 2010).

Most European nations drafted citizenship laws according to this model during the 19th century, as did Japan, which modeled its constitutional law on that of continental Europe.

France is an exception. The French Revolution broke this feudal link, and jus sanguinis prevailed. At the end of the 19th century, France reverted to jus soli to beef up its population, after losing the war against Prussia, and to integrate foreign communities, a step that would make for a strong military. The British, however, kept jus soli at home and throughout the British Empire.

Countries such as the United States chose jus soli, as would be expected in a country of immigrants. With the specific aim of protecting the birthright of black slaves, the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment in 1868 encoded the jus soli principle.

The relatively limited benefits of US citizenship versus US residency— a topic relevant to more than the United States, which deserves separate consideration—also meant limited fiscal costs of providing citizenship to a newcomer and the potential upside of an extra worker. (The cost of education fell on the migrant’s home country; see Bertocchi and Strozzi 2010).

Similarly, Canada, a large and sparsely populated country, welcomed immigrants with a jus soli citizenship law.

In colonized countries, citizenship laws were in general initially transferred from the colonial power (Bertocchi and Strozzi 2010). Countries with a strong national identity, such as China, Egypt, and Japan, typically make it hard to acquire nationality or obtain a second passport.

Other countries— particularly newer Western Hemisphere countries—typically make it easier to be naturalized.

Many African countries, formed by British, French, and Portuguese colonial powers, lacked national cohesion. At independence, citizenship laws were revised: most former French colonies initially stuck with jus soli; former British and Portuguese colonies tended to switch to jus sanguinis, driven by ethnic considerations.

Because many countries were artificially formed without consideration for local ethnic diversity, leading to political instability, jus sanguinis was thought to bolster national identity.

Such was the case in Sierra Leone, for instance, where the 1961 Constitution limited citizenship to transmission by descent, and only for those with black-African fathers and grandfathers. But in a heterogenous ethnic environment with forced migration the law excluded various ethnic and tribal groups, causing alienation and conflict, especially in the context of weak institutions.

The Congolese Constitution of 1964, for instance, in an effort to exclude Rwandan immigrants, recognized as citizens only those whose parents were members of tribal groups established within the territory before 1908 (see Bertocchi and Strozzi 2010). Predictably, the marginalization of certain groups—and in some cases the creation of de facto stateless people who would later rebel—was a consequence.

How do citizenship rights affect economic development? The data vividly illustrate the striking difference in the average real GDP per capita in jus soli countries versus non–jus soli developing economies.

In 2014, income per capita in the former group was 80 percent higher than in the latter. Splitting the sample of non–jus soli and jus sanguinis countries confirms that jus soli countries are richer, but there is no clear pattern when comparing mixed regimes with jus sanguinis countries.

Why the difference? Citizenship laws can be thought of as conflict-resolving or conflict-generating institutions. If inclusive, they can provide positive social capital, raising trust, cutting transaction costs, and reducing the probability and intensity of conflict.

This is especially true when other conflict-resolution institutions lack teeth (for example, government is corrupt or the courts are weak), as in most developing economies. In principle, jus sanguinis makes integration more difficult and hence hurts economic development.

There are several channels:

Distorting (and reducing) investment: Investors who lack the prospect of obtaining citizenship have shorter time horizons, are mindful of excessive exposure to one country, and become wary around election times—they are particularly vulnerable in countries with weak institutions.

In addition, their investment is distorted. If people’s property rights are not well protected because they lack local citizenship, the focus will be on investment with a quick payback or requiring limited capital. In Cambodia and Madagascar, for example, foreigners may not purchase land, which restricts investment.

Political instability and corruption: Minorities without citizenship are often at polar extremes—either excluded from economic life or playing a disproportionately significant role in the local economy. Without citizenship, the marginalized minority cannot vote or impact public life through democratic means. One way for disenfranchised groups to draw attention to themselves is through protests or violence.

This may spur governments to suppress these minorities, possibly increasing military spending and weakening growth as a result. Conversely, when a nonnational group plays a disproportionately significant role in economic life, its lack of protection by the state is a source of concern.

Because of their vulnerability, influential minorities are motivated to influence the political process and may resort to bribes, which encourages corruption and weakens institutions.

Reducing public sector efficiency: Studies have documented how divisions—whether ethnic, religious, or linguistic—often undermine public sector performance, increasing patronage, lowering trust among the population, and ultimately hurting economic development (see Easterly and Levine 1997).

Distorting the labor market: Under jus sanguinis, noncitizen local minorities may be excluded from parts of the labor market. In many countries, immigrants are barred from entire professions. For instance, in Thailand foreigners cannot become hairdressers or accountants.

In France, people from outside the European Union are not allowed to become directors of funeral companies. In these cases, jus soli expands the labor market in a way that jus sanguinis law does not—potentially broadening the labor pool and boosting the economy’s efficiency.

Our empirical results confirm that the difference in citizenship laws affects economic development, even after controlling for potential internal factors. We first compiled a new data set of citizenship laws and then estimated whether citizenship laws can explain in part the significant differences in income per capita across countries.

We found that in developing economies, particularly when institutions are weak, citizenship laws matter: jus soli, which is more inclusive in nature and encourages assimilation and integration, has a statistically significant and positive impact on income levels.

Per capita income in countries that switched to jus sanguinis was lower in 2014 (by about 46 percent) than it would have been if they had kept jus soli after independence, our results suggest.

Moreover, our research found that in jus sanguinis countries, the income gap with jus soli countries could be reduced by easier access to citizenship through marriage and naturalization. This suggest some substitutability among the paths to citizenship.

The debate over citizenship laws has been raging for the past few years—not just in developed economies but in those that are developing as well. We illustrate that such laws have a more material impact on development in lower-income countries, partly because their institutions are weaker and don’t necessarily counterbalance the negative impact of exclusive citizenship laws.

The policy implications are clear, though nuanced. At a time when developing economies increasingly send emigrants and receive immigrants, integrating these populations effectively can spur economic development.

In former colonies in particular, jus sanguinis has hurt development. All else equal, switching from jus sanguinis to jus soli can potentially enhance integration and boost economic growth.

Cameroon Crisis “More Alarming Than Ever”

Minette (38) and her family fled their home in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions after their home was burned down. They have received some plastic sheeting and utensils from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and built a temporary kitchen at their new place in Buea. Photo: Tiril Skarstein/NRC

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 16 2019 – The United Nations must act to prevent further devastation from the escalating crisis in Cameroon, human rights groups said.

Since 2016, worsening violence in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions has killed almost 2,000 people and displaced over 430,000 people.

For years, the UN has remained largely silent about the crisis. Finally, however, the Security Council held an informal meeting on Monday to address the situation in the Central African country. Still, more needs to be done.

“Security Council members should call on the government of Cameroon and leaders of armed separatist groups to end abuses against civilians in the Anglophone regions and hold those responsible for abuse accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Central Africa director Lewis Mudge.

“This…is an opportunity to remind abusers that the world is watching,” he added.

Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Secretary-General Jan Egeland made similar comments to the Security Council, lamenting on the lack of attention and humanitarian response: “When brutal fighting displaces hundreds of thousands of civilians, it usually sets international alarm bells ringing. But, the shocking unmet needs of tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in South-West and North-West Cameroon has resulted in no systematic mediation efforts, no large relief programme, little media interest and too little pressure on the parties to stop attacking civilians.”

“The collective silence surrounding the atrocities is as shocking as the untold stories are heart-breaking,” he added.

What started as protests against the growing dominance of the French language in anglophone regions in 2016 has turned into a conflict between the government and English-speaking separatists who demand a new independent state of “Ambazonia.”

Cameroonian forces have since allegedly cracked down on separatists and local communities, killing scores of civilians, burning homes, and using torture and incommunicado detention with near total impunity.

For instance on Apr. 30, soldiers killed a 16-year-old boy in the Northwest village of Kikaikelaki. According to witnesses, security forces entered the village and started to shoot indiscriminately.

One man also told HRW that authorities burned down and looted 11 homes in the village, stating: “When the military came, I hid for safety. I watched them steal gallons of fuel from a store and set my entire compound on fire. All I had is gone.”

A few days earlier, soldiers raided a health center in the in the Northwest region of Wum in search for wounded separatists and beat some of the medical staff, forcing the clinic to temporarily close.

“As they didn’t find any boys [separatists] they started beating us. I was hit so bad that I could not eat or swallow,” said one nurse.

The armed separatists have also been complicit in the crisis with reports of assaults on soldiers and kidnapping of people, including students and teachers.

In the past three years, at least 70 schools have been destroyed and over 80 percent of schools remain closed, leaving more than 600,000 children out of school in the country’s English-speaking regions.

As Cameroon becomes one of the fastest-growing displacement and humanitarian crisis in Africa, the UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock noted that the level of the crisis is “more alarming than ever.”

“Both the humanitarian and the security situation continue to deteriorate and run the risk of spiralling out of control,” Lowcock told the Security Council.

According to the Under-Secretary-General, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased 30 percent since 2018 to 4.3 million people today. This means one in six Cameroonians need aid, more than half of whom are children.

In the anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions alone, there are more than 1.3 million people that need aid, eight times as many as the year before.

At the same time, Cameroon’s East and North regions are hosting refugees who fled violence from the neighbouring countries of Nigeria and Central African Republic.

Among the biggest challenges is the lack of funding, Lowcock noted.

In 2018, Cameroon’s humanitarian response plan was just 44 percent funded. This year, only 13 percent of its appeal is funded.

Lowcock highlighted the need to increase awareness of the humanitarian situation, improve financing, and address the underlying causes of the crisis.

Egeland echoed the humanitarian chief’s sentiments, stating: “A group of displaced and disillusioned women I met told me that they felt abandoned by the international community, as well as by the conflict parties. They asked me, where is international solidarity? Where are the African organisations, the donor nations? Where is Europe? This conflict has roots in generations of interference from European powers.”

“The absence of a humanitarian response commensurate to the hundreds of thousands of people in great and unmet need is striking. We are too few humanitarian actors on the ground, and we are gravely underfunded,” he added, noting that the UN country team should be given the necessary financial and human resources.

HRW urged the Security Council to make Cameroon a formal item on its agenda and to press an investigation in order to prosecute those responsible.

Mudge also pointed to the need for the country to allow access and cooperate with international human rights organisations. In April, the Cameroon government denied a HRW researcher entry into the country after documenting a deadly attack by security forces in the Northwest region.

“Cameroon’s move to block a human rights researcher and observers shows its determination to conceal its brutality…the UN Security Council should encourage the country to allow access to international human rights organisations and cooperate with them,” Mudge said.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who recently visited Cameroon, also raised the issue of the lack of access for international and national humanitarian actors and highlighted the need to act before the situation spirals “completely out of control.”

“I believe there is a clear – if possibly short – window of opportunity to arrest the crises that have led to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, as well as the killings and brutal human rights violations and abuses that have affected the northern and western areas of the country,” Bachelet said.

“It will take significant actions on the part of the Government, and substantial and sustained support from the international community – including us in the UN….the stakes are high, not just for Cameroon itself, but for the whole region,” she added.

Frontex Mandate Expanded

The European Border and Coast Guard agency, Frontex, currently employs 1 500 border guards and works alongside national border control agencies. The plan is to significantly strengthen the existing force.

Migrants picked up by the Greek coastal guard in the Mediterranean. The European Union plans to expand its armed border guards from 1,500 to 10,000 by 2027 to patrol its land and sea borders. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS.

By Ida Karlsson
BRUSSELS, May 16 2019 – The European Union plans to deploy 10 000 armed border guards by 2027 to patrol its land and sea borders. The force will have the power to use armed force on the EU’s external borders.

The European Border and Coast Guard agency, Frontex, currently employs 1 500 border guards and works alongside national border control agencies. The plan is to significantly strengthen the existing force.

The EU guards would intercept new arrivals, stop unauthorised travel and accelerate the return of people whose asylum claim have failed. The guards could also operate outside of the bloc — with the consent of the third country governments concerned.

“The agency will better and more actively support member states in the area of return in order to improve the European Union’s response to persisting migratory challenges,”

Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs

According to the spending plan for 2021 to 2027 proposed by the European commission, the bloc will increase spending on migration and security by 20,3 billion euros.

The plan to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard agency was announced by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in a speech in Strasbourg in September last year.

“External borders must be protected more effectively,” he said.

“The agency will better and more actively support member states in the area of return in order to improve the European Union’s response to persisting migratory challenges,” European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos says.

Migration has been a divisive issue within EU since the big influx of refugees in 2015. Fears and concerns over migration have led to right wing parties gaining traction and being elected to government in a number of member states.

However European borders are under much less pressure than they were a couple of years ago. The number of arrivals to the EU fell from a height of over 1 million in 2015 to just 144 000 in 2018, according to the International organization for migration, IOM.

Rights groups have warned against creating a “Fortress Europe” with external processing camps and border guards able to use force.

Philippe Dam, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, says they see a clear shift from asylum and protection to border management and returns.

“The EU strategy is to push asylum seekers and refugees away from EU borders. It raises the question what will be the legal pathways for people in need of protection. This is not going hand in hand with improvements of the asylum system. People are sent back to situations of abuse,” he told IPS.

Human Rights Watch have documented unnecessary violence by national border guards in Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia. Hungary is also locking up people at its border and depriving them of food.

“It is unclear how abuses by the new EU borders are going to be investigated. We see the risk of accountability gaps, ” Dam says.