Over the past 11 years I’ve led workshops for human rights defenders at risk in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and East and Central Europe. Many of the HRDs trained at those workshops on Risk Analysis and Protection Planning reported stigmatisation, online abuse, threats and attacks. But earlier this year I received a call for help from a much closer source.
Last week the government and people of Eritrea celebrated 25 years since independence. No one can deny the courage, resilience and sacrifice of those Eritreans who fought for the independence of their country, yet sadly this very fact prompts the question as to what exactly there is to celebrate 25 years on.
Abdulhadi is two years old and is currently being held with his mother, Zainab Al-Khawaja, in Bahrain's Isa Town Women's Detention Centre. Zainab is one of the best known human rights defenders in Bahrain. She faces three years and one month in prison on several charges, including "destroying public property", for exercising her right to free expression by tearing up pictures of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.
When I visited Azimjan Askarov in prison in Bishkek in December 2010 there were some grounds for hope that he would be released. He had been sentenced in September 2010 to life in prison, but the process had been seriously flawed and the Kyrgyz human rights Ombudsman had found that the charges against him were politically motivated. When we met with Azimjan our main concern was that his health was improving following the torture he had been subjected to.
At the end of March, I visited environmental and land rights defender Máxima Acuña de Chaupe at her home in the Cajamarca region of Peru. The next nonfiction graphic novel we are producing is about environmental and land rights defenders challenging and at risk from resource extraction companies. Máxima is confronting Newmont Mining (US) and its Peruvian counterpart, Yanococha Mining, which are trying to remove her from her land to build a huge gold mine, known as Conga.
On 27 September China will co-host with UN Women a “Global Leader's Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment” in New York. Chinese President Xi Jinping will address the gathering, as will Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon. The event will mark 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and is intended to place 'gender equality, women's rights and women's empowerment at the centre of the global agenda'.
When I arrived at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) in Beijing, Chinese authorities welcomed hundreds of foreign dignitaries and international rights groups with rainbow coloured scarves. Yet, while China hosted what would come to be known as the pre-eminent gathering on gender equality for the next twenty years, the government was also systematically disempowering Tibetan women through its repressive policies towards the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
The following guest blog by Peace Brigades International volunteer Niamh Ni Bhriain, a former Frank Jennings Intern with Front Line Defenders, describes a visit to human rights defender David Ravelo Crespo in prison