[Repost] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Press Conference Opening Statement – The Toll of 2020!

10 December 2020

9 December 2020

2020 is a year none of us will ever forget. A terrible, devastating year that has scarred so many of us, in so many ways.

At least 67 million people infected, and 1.6 million dead, in a pandemic that is far from over.

A devastating impact on countries’ economies and on employment, income, education, health and food supply for hundreds of millions of people.

A massive setback to development, to efforts to alleviate poverty and to raise the status of women and girls.

2020 has taken its toll not only across all regions and virtually all countries, but also on the full range of our human rights, be they economic, social, cultural, civil or political. COVID-19 has zeroed in on the fissures and fragilities in our societies, exposing all our failures to invest in building fair and equitable societies. It has shown the weakness of systems that have failed to place a central focus on upholding human rights.

Recent weeks have seen extraordinary progress in vaccine development. This is testimony to the ingenuity and determination of humans in a time of crisis. But vaccines alone cannot resolve the pandemic, or heal the damage it has caused.

States need not only to distribute these vaccines equitably all over the world – they need to rebuild economies, repair the damage done by the pandemic, and address the gaps that it has exposed.

We face three very different possible futures:

  • We can emerge from this crisis in an even worse state than when it began – and be even less well prepared for the next shock to our societies.
  • We can struggle mightily to get back to normal – but normal is what brought us to where we are today.
  • Or we can recover better.

The medical vaccines that are being developed will hopefully eventually deliver us from COVID-19, albeit not for many months yet. But they will not prevent or cure the socio-economic ravages that have resulted from the pandemic, and aided its spread.

But there is a vaccine to hunger, poverty, inequality, and possibly – if it is taken seriously – to climate change, as well as to many of the other ills that face humanity.

It is a vaccine we developed in the wake of previous massive global shocks, including pandemics, financial crises and two World Wars.

The name of that vaccine is human rights. Its core ingredients are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 72nd anniversary we celebrate tomorrow, on Human Rights Day. The Universal Declaration is made actionable through the obligations that almost all States have undertaken by ratifying one or both of the International Covenants spanning all five areas of human rights.

The Universal Declaration also gave birth to other important international treaties to better protect the rights of specific groups such as children, women, people with disabilities and migrant workers; and ones aiming to tackle forms of discrimination which lead to the greater inequalities, poverty and lack of development that have fed and fertilized the socio-economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has shone a stark spotlight on our failure to uphold those rights to the best of our ability, not just because we couldn’t, but because we neglected to – or chose not to.

The failure of many countries to invest sufficiently in universal and primary healthcare, in accordance with the right to health, has been exposed as extremely short-sighted. These vital preventive measures are costly, but nothing like as costly as failing to invest in them has proved to be.

Many governments failed to act quickly or decisively enough to halt the spread of COVID-19. Others refused to take it seriously, or were not fully transparent about its spread.

Astoundingly, even to this day, some political leaders are still playing down its impact, disparaging the use of simple measures such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. A few political figures are even still talking casually of “herd immunity,” as if the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is a cost that can be easily borne for the sake of the greater good. Politicizing a pandemic in this way is beyond irresponsible – it is utterly reprehensible.

Worse still, rather than bringing us together, the response to the pandemic has in some places led to further division. Scientific evidence and processes have been discounted, and conspiracy theories and disinformation have been sown and allowed – or encouraged – to thrive.

These actions have plunged a knife into the heart of that most precious commodity, trust. Trust between nations, and trust within nations. Trust in government, trust in scientific facts, trust in vaccines, trust in the future. If we are to bring about a better world in the wake of this calamity, as our ancestors undoubtedly did in the wake of World War II, we have to rebuild that trust in each other.

It has been shocking, but sadly not at all surprising, to see the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on individuals and groups who are marginalized and suffer discrimination – in particular people of African descent, those from ethnic, national or religious minorities, and indigenous peoples. This has been the case in some of the world’s richest countries, where the mortality rate of some racial and ethnic minorities has been up to three times that of the overall population.

When COVID-19 hit, members of discriminated groups and indigenous peoples were over-exposed to contagion because of their low-paid and precarious work in specific industries. Many of the people we suddenly started to recognize and refer to as essential – health care workers, cleaners, transport workers, shop employees – come from such minorities.

They were also under-protected because of limited access to health-care and social protections, such as sick leave and unemployment or furlough pay. They were less able to isolate themselves once infected – due to inadequate living conditions, limited access to sanitation, the inability to work from home. This meant the virus could spread much more easily within their communities, and from those communities back into wider society.

Over the past 11 months, the poor have become poorer, and those suffering systemic discrimination have fared worst of all.

Children in homes with limited or no Internet access or computer equipment have fallen behind in their education, or dropped out of it altogether, with girls especially badly affected. In terms of basic economic security, employment, education, housing and food, the pandemic is having a negative impact that is so vast and so wide-ranging it is almost impossible for us to grasp its enormity.

Had adequate social and economic protections been in place for a much higher proportion of the world’s population, in poor countries and in rich ones – had we applied the human rights vaccine – we would not be in such a bad state as we are today. COVID-19 has very clearly demonstrated that inequalities and discrimination not only harm the individuals who are directly affected, and unfairly impacted – they create shock waves that ripple across the whole of society.

This was shown most graphically when the coronavirus ripped its way through shockingly ill-prepared and underequipped institutions such as care homes for older people and people with disabilities, orphanages, migrant dormitories and prisons. A compelling case, if ever there was one, for better regulated institutions and increased alternatives to incarceration.

Those who were most critical to saving lives were themselves inexcusably put at risk, with shortages of masks and protective clothing as the pandemic surged through the wards. Health workers are only some 2-3 percent of national populations, yet they comprise around 14 percent of COVID cases reported to the WHO.

The impact on women has been particularly devastating. Because of the horrendous increase in domestic violence all across the world, and because a large proportion of women work in the informal sector and in health care. And because many were left with no choice but to withdraw from the labour market in order to care for children no longer able to go to school, and for older people and the sick. In some areas, women’s rights risk being set back decades, including through more limited access to sexual and reproductive rights.

If we are to recover better, women will need to play a much greater role in decision-making and priority-setting. It is no coincidence that in a world where so few countries have women leaders, several of the countries viewed as having handled the pandemic most effectively were in fact led by women.

Discrimination also lies at the heart of another of 2020’s defining features, when racial injustice and police brutality were brought sharply into focus by the killing of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed. In many countries, we saw a burgeoning realization of persistent racial injustice and systemic racism, raising unresolved histories of racist oppression, and demanding far-reaching structural changes.

In countries in conflict, COVID has added an additional layer to already multi-faceted human rights calamities. In Yemen, a perfect storm of five years of conflict and violations, disease, blockades, and shortage of humanitarian funding, set against an existing backdrop of poverty, poor governance and lack of development, is pushing the country remorselessly towards full-scale famine. There has been no shortage of warnings about what will happen in Yemen in the coming months, but a distracted world is doing little to prevent this very preventable disaster.

Rights to free expression, to assemble and to participate in public life have been battered during the pandemic. Not because of warranted restrictions on movement to constrain the spread of COVID, but by the actions of some governments taking advantage of the situation to shut down political dissent and criticism, including by arresting civil society actors and journalists. Some appear to have also been using COVID fears and restrictions as a way to tilt elections in favour of the ruling party.

The contribution of civil society to surviving the pandemic and recovering better once it is over, will be absolutely vital, and the curtailing of civil society’s contributions is one of the surest ways of undermining that recovery, by removing one of the key remedies.

The pandemic has left us exposed, vulnerable, and weakened. Yet, in its devastation, it has also provided clear insights on how we can turn disaster into an opportunity to reset our priorities and improve our prospects for a better future.

Even with stretched resources, the main ingredient that we need to build that future is political will. The will to put our money where it is most needed – not wanted, needed. The will to fight corruption, because in many countries, even very poor countries, there is more money available, but much is lost when it goes straight into the pockets of a few. We need to address inequality, including with tax reforms that could help fund major socio-economic improvements.

Similarly, richer countries need to help poorer countries survive this crisis and recover better. Repairing the frayed system of multilateralism will be essential to manage the recovery. The work must begin at home, but leaders in powerful countries need to once again recognize that, more than ever, our world can only meet global challenges through global cooperation.

Narrow nationalistic responses will simply undermine collective recovery. The first test of this will be our ability to ensure that new COVID vaccines and tools reach everyone who needs them. The pandemic has highlighted over and over again that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Will we seize this moment to devise ways to recover better? Will we properly apply the human rights vaccine that can help us build more resilient, prosperous and inclusive societies? Will we take the immediate necessary steps to combat the biggest existential threat of all, climate change?

Let’s hope so. Because if we do not, especially with regard to climate change, 2020 will simply be the first step on the road to further calamity.

We have been warned.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville – + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Ravina Shamdasani – + 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.orgorLiz Throssell– + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.orgor Marta Hurtado – + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

Tag and share – Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights


[Repost] UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020)

23 November 2020

We have extracted some interesting excerpts from UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020):


We are pleased to share with you a set of indicators developed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, M. Clément Voule, which were launched on the 7th month anniversary of the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by WHO. These indicators aim to measure State’s compliance with international standards regarding civic space, peaceful assembly, and political participation during public health emergencies.  These indicators are available in the following formats: 

1)      10 printable assessment cards:  they can be used by field presences and civil society actors to measure the degree of conformity of measures taken by governments to tackle COVID19 and their impact on the civic space in general. They are available in English, French and Spanish and downloadable under toolbox section here.

2)      An online survey (in ENGLISHFRENCH and SPANISH). Field presences and civil society can carry out their assessment online and share their results with the Special Rapporteur preferably before 30 November 2020. The results of this survey will be fed into the preparation of a dedicated report on “protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations”, which the Special Rapporteur was tasked with by Resolution A/HRC/44/L.11 adopted at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. This report will be presented to the HRC in June 2022. 


In its Resolution 44/7, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to consult Member States and other relevant stakeholders in order to prepare and submit to its forty-seventh session an analytical study on the promotion and the protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change.  Accordingly, we would welcome your inputs to the study by e-mail to bschachter@ohchr.org and miyer@ohchr.org by no later than 31 December 2020. We would also welcome your kind assistance in circulating this call for inputs as widely as possible within your networks.  In formulating inputs, you are welcome to respond, as appropriate, to the attached questionnaire. For environmental considerations, electronic submissions are encouraged and we ask that responses not exceed five pages. Please submit contributions in MS Word or compatible format in either of the official working languages of the United Nations (French or English). Inputs received will be posted on our website.


[Repost] October news updates from The Working Group For An ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

17 November 2020

Please click on the link below to download a copy of the latest news updates from The Working Group For An ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GlO_e1_lH_WGs6dflV_hStmJfVsnTMod/view?usp=sharing


[Repost] Amnesty launches human rights learning app to equip next generation of activists

2 November 2020

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/amnesty-launches-human-rights-learning-app-to-equip-next-generation-of-activists/

Amnesty International has launched Amnesty Academy, a free human rights learning app which aims to educate the next generation of human rights defenders on a host of topics including freedom of expression, digital security, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Learners around the world will be able to access courses ranging from 15 minutes to 15 hours in over 20 languages, including Urdu, Bangla, Hungarian, Korean, Russian, Thai, Czech and Turkish. All courses can be downloaded within the app, which is available on iOS and Android devices, allowing for offline learning.

“This app has been designed to empower and encourage everyone everywhere to learn about human rights. Sharing knowledge is a vital way to help us stand up for our own and for each other’s rights, and to struggle for justice and equality all over the world,”

said Julie Verhaar, Amnesty International’s Acting Secretary General.

Among Amnesty Academy’s key features is a flexible self-paced approach to learning, allowing users to start courses as and when it suits them. Learners who complete some of the longer courses will be awarded an official certificate signed by Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

The courses available on Amnesty Academy have been developed and fine-tuned over the past three years as part of Amnesty International’s human rights learning website. They have now been optimized for mobile use, making human rights learning more accessible than ever.

“Human rights education is the foundation of Amnesty’s work. Our overall goal is to ensure that people worldwide know and can claim their human rights. The Amnesty Academy app brings us closer to this goal by providing a simple and accessible platform for millions of people to access quality human rights education,” said Krittika Vishwanath, Head of Human Rights Education at Amnesty International.

Amnesty Academy will be regularly updated to accommodate learning in many more languages and with new course offerings in the months and years to come.

iOS link

Android link


World Day Against the Death Penalty 2020

10 October 2020

Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Sobering. Singapore hangs an average of 2 persons per month.

Mainly drug traffickers.

Of course, criminals need to be punished.

Longer prison terms and rehabilitation.

Killing them off –  No; Not Again; Never Again.

Abolish the Death Penalty.


MARUAH shares this video message in solidarity with lawyers who work hard to defend clients facing the Death Penalty, all activists who are lobbying against the death penalty, especially those in Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign and for each of them who was hanged to death. 

 
MARUAH Secretariat, 10th October 2010.


[Repost] CALL FOR ENTRIES | #JusticeForWageTheft Poster Competition

5 October 2020

Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), together with the Cross-Regional Center for Migrants and Refugees (CCRM) and the Civil Society Action Committee (AC), is organizing the #JusticeForWageTheft Poster Competition as part of the Justice for Wage Theft Campaign. The competition aims to raise awareness and visibility on the issue of wage theft experienced by migrant workers who have been forced out of their jobs, forced to go on unpaid leave without being given their earned wages, salaries, and benefits, and forced to return home into situations of debt bondage.

THEME OF THE COMPETITION:  Wage theft against migrant workers and all related issues such as non-payment of wages and end of service benefits, forced unpaid leave or reduced wages, and lack of efficient and just redress mechanisms.

The competition is open internationally. All artists aged 18 and above are qualified to apply and submit an entry. A regional winner will be determined for all six regions across the globe while a global winner will be chosen from the regional winners and will be determined through a panel of judges and via online voting. The selected entries for both the regional and global level will win a cash prize.

You may access the full mechanics of the competition via this link: https://bit.ly/2EHgdbT

To join the competition, please submit your entry via our entry submission form: https://bit.ly/3mQ3Ye3

All entries must be submitted on or before 28 October 2020. Winners will be announced on 11 November 2020.

Please feel free to widely circulate information on the competition among your network, along with the mechanics and flyer of the competition.

Thank you and should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact MFA.

Change is upon us, let us dare to make it a transformation towards justice and peace.


MARUAH’s Statement: Abolish the Death Penalty

1 October 2020

1 October 2020

MARUAH is relieved that an interim stay of execution had been granted to Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, and he was spared from being hanged to death on Friday, 18th September 2020. We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has ordered a subsequent hearing fixed on 6th October 2020 to hear further arguments on his case. MARUAH appreciates the appeal and the work of the pro bono team of lawyers and volunteers led by lawyer M Ravi which has led to this stay order, till the verdict at the hearing. Syed Suhail was sentenced to death on 2016 for drug trafficking.

Syed Suhail’s case has also brought to light that his personal correspondence including letters to his lawyer, had been sent by the Singapore Prison Service to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). There has been no statement from the AGC. But Ministry of Home Affairs had stated that, in 2018, there was “no legal prohibition’ to sharing correspondences. Numerous troubling questions have surfaced on what had happened in the past and the current legal prohibition that is available. Pertinently, MARUAH is concerned over the past practices as even if there was no legal provision, there is an inherent ethical code that correspondence on cases ought not be shared without approval of the inmate or the lawyer. We note that in a recent case in April this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the prison service cannot pass to AGC the prisoners’ correspondences to lawyers or family members, without their consent or a court order. This chain of shared correspondences, inadvertently, raises questions related to the integrity of prosecutorial processes and prejudice. In the light of what Syed Suhail’s case is highlighting, MARUAH asks that an independent inquiry be held to ascertain breaches that have taken place in the past and to assess impact on the outcome against defendants in the court cases.

Singapore reviewed the Death Penalty in 2012 to review the charges that carried a mandatory death sentence for a person guilty of drug trafficking offence. It offered certificates of substantive assistance for drug traffickers who give assistance that enable broader investigations into the case for prosecution. The certificate offers an eligibility to be reprieved from capital punishment. MARUAH notes that Syed Suhail has not been given such a certificate. We ask what are the conditions that the accused persons have to fulfil in the process of offering assistance so that the prosecution will offer such certificates. There is a lack of transparency on the scoping of ‘assistance’, risking clarity on the certification.

MARUAH believes that death penalty is inconsistent with prevailing customary international law. Involved in a research with National University of Singapore, MARUAH has to accept that most Singaporeans still see the death penalty as a deterrent, keeping Singapore safe. To validate this belief, MARUAH asks that data on all forms of drug-related offences and number of executions be made public so that we can assess the co-relation between the death penalty and keeping Singapore drug-free. We agree that Singapore needs more debates and education on the death penalty so that citizens understand that this is an inhuman punishment as the death penalty constitutes a violation to the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Singapore and Singaporeans can do better and work on alternative punishments, such as longer prison terms, instead of executions. MARUAH reiterates its call along with many committed stakeholders, that Singapore ought to look at the practices in many countries,[1] and so Abolish the Death Penalty.

MARUAH


[1] As of 2017, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty and 142 were abolitionist in law or practice, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Capital punishment is meted out for drug-related crimes in 15 countries, but according to rights group Amnesty International only four countries recorded executions for drug offences in recent years – Singapore, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China.


Public Consultation by MARUAH – Singapore Universal Periodic Review 2021 [Fri 2 Oct, 8pm (SG time)]

27 September 2020

Please register at https://forms.gle/KL9dMieoWzu7P3Yb7 before 11.59pm on Thursday, 1 October 2020. We will be sending the video conference link via email to all those who have registered.

Read more about:

MARUAH’s UPR submissions to the UN Human Rights Council: https://maruah.org/upr/

Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs on UPR: https://www.mfa.gov.sg/SINGAPORES-FOREIGN-POLICY/Key-Issues/Singapore-Universal-Periodic-Review

UN Human Rights Council’s UPR process: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BasicFacts.aspx

Thank you.


[Repost] Penang Institute Monographs – Human Rights Derogations in Southeast Asian Countries during the Covid-19 Pandemic

5 September 2020

We are pleased to share a publication published by the Penang Institute. The “Human Rights Derogations in Southeast Asian Countries during the Covid-19 Pandemic” was written by Braema Mathiaparanam (Visiting Senior Research Fellow, History and Regional Studies Programme).

The full publication can be found at: https://penanginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Human-Rights-Derogations-in-Southeast-Asian-Countries-during-the-Covid-19-Pandemic.pdf

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • The ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has issued a statement of concern and has reminded governments to continue observing human rights during the pandemic, and that even if some rights have to be restricted, this should not be done disproportionately.
  • All members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have pre-existing forms of restriction on the freedom of expression and press freedom as well as censorship, which intensified in this pandemic.
  • It is challenging to contain Covid-19 infections while ensuring that human rights are not derogated. However, the lockdown measures imposed in some countries in Southeast Asia during the containment period became opportunities to intimidate, detain and arrest opposition party members, activists and journalists.
  • Countries have also taken a strict stance on fake news and disinformation, leading to many arrests across countries. Increased surveillance was also used to track threats to authority figures and the government, alongside gaining evidence on criminal activities such as drug-trafficking and money laundering.
  • Certain communities were overlooked in government policies and assistance especially in terms of food and supply, economic aid and information sharing. Prisons and detention centres are overcrowded, leading to more outbreaks of Covid-19 infections.
  • Countries have national, regional and international obligations and responsibilities that they have agreed to and breaches of these state obligations need to be addressed, especially when the actions taken cannot be justified even as emergency measures.
  • Covid-19 will not be the last crisis, and governments can use lessons learnt from Covid-19 to improve their responses for the next crisis and take counter-measures that also adhere to human rights principles.

Post GE2020 Webinar: “Our Youth, Our Future” on 5 September 2020 (via Zoom)

5 September 2020

MARUAH hosted the GE2020 Post election webinar entitled “Our Youth, Our Future” this morning (5 September).

We would like to thank all our speakers, Discussant Prof Kenneth Paul Tan and Moderator Ms Braema Mathi for taking time to share their thoughts and contributing to a lively discussion. We also would like to thank all Zoom participants and viewers who watched the webinar via the Facebook livestream.

The video from the webinar has been uploaded to MARUAH YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/glRSVAvrdqE, please feel free to share this with all your contacts.

If you would like to join MARUAH as a volunteer, please fill in this form – https://bit.ly/3jLdqx6.

Thank you and we look forward to having you at our next online discussion. 

MARUAH Secretariat