Dear ISHR Community,
Great events are coming up – next year our International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) will celebrate 50 years of existence – a great anniversary. I would like to take this as an opportunity to call on all national sections and actors of the ISHR in this newsletter to review on these decades of working for human rights as well as look forward for ways to strengthen and expand the ISHR even further.
The protection of human rights defenders and lawyers is a prominent concern for the ISHR, the United Nations, and other international human rights organizations. Publicizing the work of human rights defenders often is an effective way to enhance their protection and to create attention for the activities that are carried out. That is why we want to grow: This newsletter refers to an extensive research of human rights organizations in six African countries: Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia in West Africa, DRC, CAR and Cameroon in East and Central Africa. The studies are available for you on our homepage.
Times of turmoil, civil war, legal insecurity and even war are not times to give up on human rights, but are times to even more emphasize that all human beings share the same human dignity and the same human rights and that the major and most honorable task of all States is to preserve them. To generate attention, we would like to ask you all to connect with us through Social Media as well. Use our platforms to spread the news, engage in dialogue and give a voice to ISHR and human rights defenders worldwide.
ISHR grows with your participation. So reach out to us with your creative ideas to spread the good news of Human Rights engagement via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher
President of the International Council of the ISHR
Ulrich Nitschke, Jessica Blum
Managing Editors, ISHR Secretariat
HUMAN RIGHTS WORLDWIDE
Human rights are made for times of unrest
By Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, President of the International Council of the ISHR
The International Society of Human Rights connects sections of human rights defenders from many countries on all continents. On UN’s Human Rights Day 1993, December 10, 1993 25 Ukrainian human rights activists – members of the International Society for Human Rights globally – established the international public organization “International Society for Human Rights – Ukrainian Section” (ISHR-US). Today ISHR in Ukraine has more than 3,500 members.
The human rights label is ingenious, and one can derive the most important characteristics of human rights from it.
Human rights are universal. They simply apply to “people”.
They are inalienable (meaning they cannot be taken away from a person) since an individual, even in the worst situation or as a criminal, remains a human being.
Tell Me About The War gains considerable attention
The joined video project “Tell me About the war”, that was created by various ISHR sections and published for the 75 years end of the Second World war has gained considerable attention. After being showcased in our last newsletter, the project has been picked up in international newspapers and shown several times on Belarusian television in a 7-minute feature that is still available in the media library. In Georgia, it was viewed by over 23000 people on the Facebook page of the Georgian section alone and additionally achieved a good response in Moldova and Ukraine.
Some audience references state:
“A big thank you to the organizers of the project for the opportunity to participate and be its consumer, for the opportunity to approach the true meaning of the word ‘man’ by absorbing the values presented by people who understand firsthand the value and meaning of the words ‘war’ and ‘peace’.”
“After watching this video, I was grateful to the veterans for giving us a chance to live a new life. We have to protect this world, otherwise they fought in vain.”
“The film “Tell me about the war” left unforgettable emotions. It was as if we were transported back to those years and felt everything the veterans said to the core.”
“Tell me about the war” is a joint project carried out by the International Society for Human Rights, which was produced in 2020 through support of the German Federal Foreign Office. It features veterans from 7 countries of the former Soviet Union. Their stories and wartime experiences are filled with their views on what it means to gain and maintain peace. Eventually, their messages are of high relevance to the next generation of people worldwide.
Decades in the service of human rights
On March 26th, the long-time Executive Chairman of ISHR Germany Karl Hafen celebrated his 70th birthday. The ISHR sections congratulated him through short video contributions in order to convey their best wishes of congratulations even in spite of the distance.
Image source: IGFM
In recognition of decades of dedication to the worldwide ISHR movement, in 2018 Hafen was awarded the Swiss Human Rights together with his wife Wenche, who has faithfully stood by his side throughout all these years. In 2002, Karl Hafen was awarded the Federal Medal of Merit and the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon in 2008. The ISHR with its approximately 30 worldwide sections would not exist today without the immense work of Karl Hafen.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank him once again from the bottom of our hearts for his loyal service and great commitment. We warmly congratulate Karl Hafen on his 70th birthday.
FROM THE SECTIONS
To a 50th anniversary of the ISHR with brave representatives from a free Belarus!
By Carmen Krusch-Grün and Pavel Pernikau.
Founder of the International Society for Human Rights – Ivan Ivanovich Agrusov. © IGFM
Next year the ISHR will be 50 years old, half a century full of painful and cruel human rights violations all over the world, but also half a century full of courageous human rights activists working for human rights. How did it all start? The founder of the ISHR was the exiled Russian Ivan Agrusov, who was threatened with the death penalty in his homeland, the former Soviet Union under Josif Stalin. He could not come to terms with the fate of his compatriots, could not be indifferent to the political prisoners who tried to be free in his homeland, and who were held and tortured for years for this. He gave them a face and allowed us to help them and their families. With letters and aid packages to the prisoners and families, with public relations work, a lot of ingenuity and full of charity.
Nowadays, the ISHR counts over 30 sections and countless working groups worldwide. Our experience in working for human rights in the Soviet Union had made us professionals working for human rights and welded us together into one big family around the world. The world is full of extreme human rights violations and the fall of the Soviet Union freed up resources for other focus issues.
When I hear today that Syarhei Pyatrukhin, whose letters from prison were still sparkling with his own sense of humor in the fall of 2020, has just been put in a “Karcer” as a punishment for trying to cut his wrists as well as Ihar Losik for his second hunger strike, then it drives me through my core.
Both are well-known journalists and video bloggers; together they had over half a million regular subscribers to their independent video channels. Both were arrested in June 2020, and more are being added to the already brought upon them criminal charges while complaints on constantly prolonged pre-trial detention and the conditions they are locked up bring them into the “Karcer.” Both are strong, freedom-loving characters. Both are typical examples of well over 200 political prisoners in Belarus.
They both have their birthday in May and will then be in custody for almost a whole year, Sergey Petrukhin will be 50 (Latest update: On April 14, Petrukhin was sentenced to three years in prison in his absence), the same age as ISHR next year, Ihar Losik will be 29.
The ISHR is currently trying to do everything possible to have the honor of welcoming both of them personally as its guests on its 50th anniversary! Next, we want to hold a cross-NGO video conference, where we identify common problems and create solutions. For this, we ask all interested parties to contact us.
Dr. Carmen Krusch Grün, ISHR-East; Pavel Pernikau
In reference to the situation in Belarus, we want to point out a petition for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus: www.libereco.org/petition
Swiss Human Rights Award – Special Award in the Corona Crisis
By Hanspeter Hartmann.
Serneus, Switzerland. The Corona pandemic has affected the lives of many people. For the first time in decades, the Swiss Human Rights Award awarded by the Swiss Section (IGFM-CH) could not be presented in 2020. The awarding of the prize to the already chosen laureate had to be postponed to 2021. Now, the board of IGFM-CH has decided to award a special prize.
The team of Sleep-in de la Caravane Sans Frontières provides shelter, food and emergency assistance for the poorest and homeless in the city of Geneva. © ISHR-CH
The prize is to go to an organization that has been particularly active in preserving human rights during the Corona pandemic. Unlike the traditional award ceremony, this prize will not be presented in person at a formal event but will be awarded via virtual media. Instead, the prize is exceptionally endowed with a monetary amount, especially since the selected organization is in dire need of any financial resources to help those in need during the Corona crisis.
The special prize of ISHR-CH in the Corona pandemic will be awarded to the Geneva organization “La Caravane Sans Frontières” and will be endowed with a monetary amount of CHF 2,000.00.
La Caravane Sans Frontières
The non-profit organization from Geneva helps the poorest and homeless in the city of Geneva during this hard time. It provides shelter, food, emergency assistance, counseling and social assistance to the needy in this difficult situation. This tireless work of Mrs. Silvana Mastromatteo and her team is what the Board of IGFM-CH would like to honor with the Special Award for Human Rights. The organization “La Caravane Sans Frontières” is a true champion of human rights in Switzerland. Even in rich Switzerland there is poverty and need. Even in rich Switzerland there are people who lack the fulfillment of the most basic human rights.
Cuba experts discuss at ISHRs 3rd Online Symposium
“The human rights situation is more critical than in Fidel Castro’s time”
Frankfurt am Main/Havana. Popular vacation destination with disastrous human rights record: “In Cuba, persecution continues and it is even getting worse. At the moment, you see military everywhere on the streets, which is supposed to prevent protests from happening due to the severe lack of food,” explains Berta Soler, spokeswoman for the “Ladies in White”, in a video message at the beginning of the Cuba Symposium of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) on March 18, 2021.
The occasion of the symposium was, on the one hand, the Day of Action for the Freedom of Political Prisoners and, on the other hand, the anniversary of the so-called Cuban Black Spring, when 75 civil rights activists were arrested in March 2003 and subsequently sentenced to long prison terms. Under the motto “Patria y Vida – Cuba between Rigidity and the Courage to Live,” Cuba experts, witnesses and victims of the Cuban regime discussed the current human rights situation as well as Europe’s role in promoting democracy and economic development.
The full article, as well as a summary of the issues, is now available on ISHRs website.
Report on Guatemala: ISHR joined forces to help the victims of 2020 hurricanes
Report repared by Lic Maria Renee Bobadilla and Haydee Marin.
San Pedro Carchá, Guatemala. At the end of 2020, hurricanes ETA and IOTA doubly hit Guatemala and its villages, leaving more than 900,000 children without homes and schools to the point that today it is estimated that more than 3,000 children and teenagers are living in shelters.
Image source: ISHR Guatemala
The International Society for Human Rights Guatemala Chapter, Cofraternidad Carcelaria de Guatemala (Prison Fellowship Guatemala) joined forces to help the victims of this terribly affected area.
They received donations of food, books, notebooks and clothing, which were donated in the affected areas. At present, aid is still being collected to be able to re-establish education in these affected areas, since there are no furniture, roofs or school supplies to receive classes.
San Pedro Carchá is a city in the Coban municipality of the Alta Verapaz department in the north-central region of the Republic of Guatemala. With its 279,972 inhabitants, it is the fifth most populous city in Guatemala. A full overview about figures and pictures about the delivery aid of ISHR in Guatemala can be found on our website.
Events & Resources
Book Launch: Grievous religious persecution: a conceptualisation of crimes against humanity of religious persecution (2020)
Authored by Dr. Werner Nicolaas Nel
Dr. Werner Nicolaas Nel is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law within the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and book review editor of the International Journal for Religious Freedom. In his book Nel focuses on grievous religious persecution as one manifestation of crimes against humanity. In spite of shocking reports in recent years about mass-scale atrocities, the issue of religious persecution so far has received comparatively limited attention in academic literature. The official book launch was streamed live on February 25th. [More information]
ISHR Annual General Meeting
The next Annual General Meeting of the International Society for Human Rights expected to take place this fall. Since the current situation does not allow for reliable planning, the Board reserves the right to hold the meeting in an online conference. We will publish the date for the conference in the next newsletter for June 2021.