Tag Archives: Human Rights

Art and freedom of expression

28 Mar

Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart, writes Deeyah Khan – a critically acclaimed music producer, composer and an Emmy award-winning documentary film director – in this statement she submitted to the United Nations in March 2014.

Art is a powerful form of communication which has a unique ability to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries, an exploration of what it means to be human. Art can be brash or sublime, basic or intricate, and is one of the first forms of human expression and which remains rooted in the creative potential for innovation and transformation. It has an extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion; protest and hope. It can start conversations; it can bring subjects into the public sphere, expose abuses and to point towards new worlds: to touch people in a deeper and more affecting way than academic and political discourse, to move us to tears, to laughter and to action. There is a reason why artists, intellectuals and women are usually the first targets of oppressive regimes, of fundamentalist groups and of reactionaries of all stripes, who cannot bear any positions that threaten their perceived monopoly on truth or which expose their corruption and cruelty.

So, where art is transgressive, it is decried as immoral, seditious or contrary to religious rules. Artists are silenced by many means, from harassment to imprisonment, from censorship to accusations of blasphemy; which can itself be a death sentence. This precious human resource is formed from deep continuities with our artistic traditions with the fertile exploration of new forms to make up the glorious potential of creativity: surely one of the pinnacles of human achievement and experience. The English radical poet Shelley considered poets to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world: the future is in the present as the plant lies in the seed, he said; and art has the potential to realise this future, a future of equality, diversity and unity. In this sense, artists should be considered providing a vital, but under-appreciated contribution to the functioning of civil society.

Artists everywhere, and in all periods, have taken a role in standing up for human rights and human dignity through their explorations of the human condition, particularly in times of unrest, oppression and chaos. It is no wonder that its liberating and unbounded potential to speak truth to power is feared by those who remain invested in the suppression of the human spirit. Where the media is controlled, art becomes the last voice of freedom; more trusted than official outlets, a channel for dissidence, a telling of alternate histories, alternate futures. Where women’s voices are silenced, women’s self-expression is an act of defiance, of refusal of the strict limitations of gender roles. Where societies are based in fear and oppression, art is a seed of hope for a better world. The creative process itself generates a sense of inner liberation which lays the seeds for calling for broader liberties. Art is a form of expression which is often one of the most available, even to the poorest individual: the tools required can be as simple as a voice, a pencil or a humble drum.

The potential for change that art can bring is shown by the extraordinary means taken to crush it: such as attacks by militant religious extremists on artistic expressions and artists in countries such as Mali and Pakistan. Last year almost 20 artists were killed. Thousands more were censored, or persecuted. Many incidents are never made publicly known – those who experience daily threats from fundamentalists in Northern Mali, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan or who are victimized by the internal conflicts of Syria or Sudan, amongst many other assaults upon artistic freedoms the world over.

When musicians, who are questioning political repression and corruption through their music, are imprisoned in Russia, Turkey, Vietnam or Tunisia, it is an attempt to silence voices, which can document oppression and express hope, and dictators wish to conceal their oppressions as much as they wish to stamp out hope. During the early days of the uprisings in the Middle East, for instance, musicians – like ‘El General’ of Tunisia – played an essential role as truth-tellers, exposing political and financial corruption as well as providing rallying anthems, providing a sense of solidarity and unity to those on the street. In the words of a rapper from Gaza, who has since been forced into accepting protection by Gothenburg City Council: “I am the CNN of the street”.

The first ever UN report on freedom on artistic expression and creativity published by the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of culture last spring was a long-awaited achievement, raising many crucial questions, calling upon governments to take action; and for violations to be recorded. However, international reports on violations of human rights tend to focus on media freedom, to the exclusion of other forms of expression. The vitality of artistic creativity is necessary for the development of vibrant, plural cultures. Artists – in the words of the Special Rapporteur – “have proven their ability to bring counterweights to existing power centres in many developing countries and inspire millions of people to discuss, reflect and mobilise”.

Organisations such as Freemuse, Arterial Network and the National Coalition Against Censorship have been established to document violations, but in comparison to the numerous organisations documenting and defending freedom of expression for journalists and more conventional political activists, artists have few organisations to monitor violations worldwide, and to provide support to people at risk, and to lobby for the changes in laws which limit the freedom of expression and for the changes in policy which would make states take responsibility for the protection of artists and of artistic freedoms.

The freedom of expression has become a focal point of clashes between groups in society, reflecting internal conflicts whether these are religious, cultural or political conflicts in nature. Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, an activist against fascism, used his rap music career to criticise the rise of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party, in Greece. He was stabbed to death by a party member. While the attention of the international media has focussed on the restrictions upon Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the imprisonment of punk activists Pussy Riot, somewhat out of the media eye, several of Mali’s world famous musicians joined forces in creating awareness of the cultural disaster of the country.

It should not be the case that only the persecution of famous artists raises outrage: a barely literate Afghan wedding musician threatened by the Taliban deserves the same support and the same attention as globally known artists, even though these rarely attract the same diplomatic attention. In a world which fears women’s participation, and women’s voices, being a woman and an artist is itself a political act, an act of resistance against the strict gender roles and limitations placed women in our world. For more than 30 years, Iranian women have not been permitted to sing solo, nor to perform before mixed audiences. We also need to recognise that it is not necessarily only the state or fundamentalists who pose a threat to free expression: for some, particularly women, the threat against their safety comes from their own relatives. Pashtu singers like Ghazala Javed, killed by her husband after she filed for divorce; Shamim Aiman Udas, killed by her brothers in a so-called ‘honour’ killing at a time when Pashtun militants were engaged in a campaign of harassment of musicians.

The marginalization of women artists, the censorship of free expression, the harassment of artists, has effects beyond those who are victimised and their families, it impoverishes debate, and delimits some of the most profound expressions of the human spirit. I believe that art is as necessary to democracy as a free press. And yet it is suppressed across the world, sometimes in more discreet ways than through the violence expressed against individuals in Mali and Afghanistan. Art is suppressed through the institution of blasphemy laws, through the high pressure tactics of special interest groups who consider their own sentiments more valid than freedom of speech, leading to subtle and devastating self-censorship; where those who distribute and market art, through galleries, publishing houses and concert venues, are rendered fearful of the implications of the most iconoclastic forms of art, which are often the most generative.

Art and freedom of expression are vital elements of any functioning democracy, and priceless human treasures. Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart. The persecution of artists must be recognized as political rather than as a facet of tradition or faith: as acts of repression against dissidents, differing from more overt political activism only in the method of expression; methods which are as old as humanity and deeply engrained into every culture and tradition, which have moved, inspired and unified people for generations. As a woman, and an artist, I believe in the power of art to bring about social change, and I believe that it is in our common interest as human beings to ensure that artists have the freedom to speak out; to release the plant from the seed.


Deeyah Khan wrote this statement about the role of art and artists in civil society for her presentation at the United Nations Human Right Council in March 2014. But, as it can be seen on the video above, because of time constraints and personal preference, Deeyah eventually decided to leave the manuscript and just speak from the heart.


» We recommend you also read this compelling and well-written story about Deeyah’s life as an artist:
Rebel filmmaker & music producer Deeyah shares life on International Women’s Day

via Arts Freedom

Right to blog: New Article 19 Report

10 May

vprotest:

ARTICLE 19 proposes a set of recommendations to state actors and policy makers about what they should do to promote and protect the rights of bloggers domestically and internationally.

Originally posted on Journalism, Journalists and the World:

For Americans the idea of using any and all means to spread ideas is second nature.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution put in writing what had become common place in first the 13 colonies and then the United States. The protection given to freedom of speech and press has expanded as technology changed.

“Press” no longer means just a printed document. It has come to mean any method of communicating thoughts and ideas.

And so blogging and Tweeting are fully protected in the United States.

In other countries, not so much.

Now Article 19 has come out with a document that talks about how press freedom issues have evolved in the age of the Internet.

The Right To Blog

Executive summary

In this policy paper, ARTICLE 19 proposes a set of recommendations to state actors and policy makers about what they should do to promote and protect the rights of…

View original 312 more words

Malian army expels French journalist from Gao

9 May

A French freelance reporter has said she was expelled from the city of Gao after reporting on allegations of human rights abuses in a nearby town, according to news reports.

Dorothée Thiénot, who contributes to various French news outlets, published an article on the French daily L’Express on January 20, 2013, that cited claims by anonymous local residents that Malian army soldiers were killing real or perceived Islamist insurgents and their accomplices in Sévaré, a frontline town in the conflict between the government and militants linked to Al-Qaeda.

The article quoted a Malian army officer as denying any knowledge of the allegations.

Thiénot told CPJ in an email that she became the target of intimidation once local army officers became aware of the story. She said two days after an officer publicly threatened to expel her from the country, two soldiers entered her house in Gao and escorted her out of the city without allowing her to collect her belongings from the house. She said she was forced to return to Bamako, the capital.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Lt. Col. Nema Sagara, a senior officer with the Mlian army, accused Thiénot of attempting to “ruin the image of the Malian army” with her reporting.

L’Express issued a press statement condemning Thiénot’s expulsion.

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2013/05/malian-army-expels-french-journalist-from-gao.php

No UN Human Rights Protection for Western Sahara

28 Apr

(Washington, DC | April 26, 2013) Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), expresses profound concern for the decision of the United Nations Security Council to renew the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) without a human rights component. Such action will leave the Sahrawi people without a permanent mechanism that can protect them from ongoing rights violations by Moroccan forces in Western Sahara.

In a press release dated April 12, 2013, the RFK Center applauded the unprecedented United States’ draft resolution calling for a human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism to MINURSO. Such initiative could prevent many of the human rights violations that national and international organizations have reported. In its recently launched report “Nowhere to Turn: the Consequences of the Failure to Monitor Human Rights Violations in Western Sahara and Tindouf Refugee Camps,” the RFK Center details grave human rights violations against the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara, including summary execution, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests, violations to the rights to life, liberty, and integrity. The report highlights violations of the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly committed by Moroccan authorities.

After its September 2012 visit to Morocco and Western Sahara, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture reported that “torture and ill-treatment were used to extract confessions and that protesters were subjected to excessive use of force by Moroccan law enforcement officials, and that members of the Sahrawi population are specifically, but not exclusively, victims of such violations.” The Special Rapporteur cited a “pattern of excessive use of force in repressing demonstrations and in arresting protesters or persons suspected of participating in demonstrations calling for self-determination of the Sahrawi population.” The Special Rapporteur also visited the Laayoune prison and reported receiving “credible testimonies relating to torture and ill treatment including rape, severe beating and isolation up to several weeks, particularly of inmates accused of participating in pro-independence activities.”

The Special Rapporteur and the United Nations Secretary General have called for a permanent human rights protection mechanism for the Sahrawi people. The Special Rapporteur recommended that “the entire region would benefit from a robust regional inter-governmental human rights monitoring mechanism as an important confidence-building measure which can help to improve the situation with respect to human rights observance and particularly with respect to the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.” In his April 8, 2013 report concerning the question of Western Sahara, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that “[g]iven ongoing reports of human rights violations, the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the camps becomes ever more pressing.”

“It is appalling that despite the evidence of unquestionable human rights violations against the Sahrawi by Moroccan state agents, the United Nations Security Council overlooked the recommendations of its own Secretary-General and Special Rapporteur and left the Sahrawi defenseless once again,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center.

The RFK Center welcomes the discussion within the Group of Friends—United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and Spain—to incorporate a human rights mandate to MINURSO and encourages that such debate be the basis for continuing discussions.  In addition, in order to address the increased concern by the international community with the human rights situation in Western Sahara, the RFK Center calls upon the Security Council to ensure that, based on the current Resolution, the UN mechanisms responsible for the protection of human rights be allowed monthly visits to Western Sahara including, among others: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expressions, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Independent Expert on minority issues, the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances. These discussions and visits should take place this year with an aim to have a permanent United Nations mechanism to effectively monitor and report on the human rights situation in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara and Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, by next year.

“Establishing a mechanism to protect human rights should be an automatic procedure for the UN, particularly in cases that the same UN reports the violations. It is inconceivable that some countries prefer to close their eyes and allow human rights violations to continue. However, even if the Security Council considers a permanent mechanism unnecessary, they can still have more effective supervision under the current Resolution, by facilitating more UN presence in the region.” said Santiago A. Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights and former Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Visiting Somali journalist shot dead in Mogadishu

25 Mar

Nairobi, March 25, 2013–Somali authorities must immediately investigate the murder of a radio journalist who was shot dead on Sunday evening in Mogadishu, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Two unidentified gunmen shot Rahmo Abdulkadir five times as she was walking to a relative’s house near Bacaad Market in Yaaqhiid District of Mogadishu, news reports said. Local journalists said the gunmen fled the scene before police arrived. News accounts reported that Rahmo’s unidentified female companion was unharmed.

Rahmo, 25, a reporter for Radio Abudwaq (Worshipper), was visiting Mogadishu from Galgadud district, a region in central Somalia, where the station was based. Abdikarim Ahmed, director of Radio Abudwaq, said the staff was shocked by the news and knew of no motive for the attack, news reports said.

Local journalists told CPJ the station covers news and social affairs for the central region of Somalia. It is unclear if the station had aired any sensitive stories in recent weeks.

Last month, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon set up an Independent Task Force on Human Rights whose mandate includes investigating past cases of journalist murders, according to news reports. The prime minister also announced a $50,000 public reward for information leading to the conviction of a journalist killer.

“Despite promising measures set up by the government last month, the number of killed journalists in Somalia continues to grow,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Authorities must double their efforts and ensure security forces in Mogadishu are prepared to ensure the security of all civilians, including journalists.”

At least one journalist has been killed in direct connection to his work in Somalia in 2013, according to CPJ research. CPJ ranks Somalia as the most dangerous country to practice journalism in Africa. For the third consecutive year, the country has ranked second on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2013/03/visiting-somali-journalist-shot-dead-in-mogadishu.php

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