Skip to Content

Rights defenders

Building alliances: Indigenous women leaders unite against development-based violence

2012-10-31 11.32.42

UN Women, 23 November 2012 The sound of helicopters still makes Soi Tonnampet shake, years later. It takes her back to the first time she and others from her indigenous community, the Karen, fled from an operation to clear areas of national parkland in Northern Thailand. She recalls that during their first three-day escape through the forest – one of many – an elderly woman died and another woman miscarried. Indigenous women shared their concerns about development-induced violence, and the strategies they have used to address it during the four-day meeting. Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker   For Lori Beyer, who is helping indigenous women contend with mining operations in the Philippines, gender-based violence has a different face. “Many of the male campaigners have to go into hiding,” she says. “It makes the women more vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation and sometimes worse.” Although they come ... Read the full article

Around the ASEAN Summit, the region’s women rally

UN Women, 20 November 2012 As world leaders meet in Phnom Penh to discuss the future of the region at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 16 – 20 November, diverse civil society groups have been working to keep their fingers on the pulse and their voices at high volume. Particularly vocal among these have been women’s rights groups, for whom the Summit and its People’s Forum are emotional rallying points – a chance to amplify issues being discussed by women in homes, civic spaces and workplaces across Southeast Asia. These range from gender-based violence to sustainable development priorities and the scarcity of female decision-makers. At the Cambodian Women’s Forum, held in the lead up to the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, a  member of the Cambodian Women’s Caucus takes notes as a campaign statement is drafted.  Credit: UN Women/Jo ... Read the full article

Where violence and HIV meet: Intersections are explored at this year’s International AIDS Conference, and the Kolkata Conference Hub

Say NO UNiTE (link), 26 July 2012 Held every two years, the International AIDS Conference is the world’s largest conference on HIV, and plays a fundamental role in shaping the global response to HIV, and keeping HIV and AIDS on the international political agenda. While the global climate for this year’s event in Washington DC (22-27 July) has seen  funding for the global HIV response diminish, important achievements are emerging on, among other areas, most-at-risk populations, the intersection of violence and HIV, parent-to-child transmission, and treatment as prevention. Attending for the first time as an official co-sponsor of UNAIDS, UN Women has been working to champion gender equality and women’s empowerment in the global response to HIV. Among the week’s discussions, UN Women convened and moderated a panel of women leaders to highlight achievements in women’s leadership that are driving change ... Read the full article

Five Questions for Catherine Smith

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 14 May 2012 In 2011 Catherine Smith, an Australian mother of six, saw her former husband jailed on 17 charges, among them: attempted murder, assault, sex without consent, and detaining with intent to obtain advantage. It had taken her 30 years of  appeals and petitions to the authorities, during which she and her family suffered repeated brutality. Smith was herself tried during this time (and acquitted) for attempted murder. Her case highlights the barriers that women in Australia face, particularly those living in rural areas, when seeking protection and redress for violence within the family. Smith and her daughter Vickie spoke at the United Nations in March at the  56th Session of the Commission on Status of Women in New York, where their story resonated with ... Read the full article

On World Press Freedom Day – What Hope for Reconciliation and Free Expression in Sri Lanka?

Nandana Manatunga1

Historical Justice and Memory Research Network, 3 May 2012. Many countries emerging from conflict have relied on the free media to involve the nation in its inquiry processes, and therefore help to validate them. From Kenya to Peru, the press has broadcast televised sessions, disseminated reports in different languages and formats and, while often divided on issues, has catalysed critical commentary and debate. This has not been the case in Sri Lanka. According to Sri Lankan NGOs public interest in the report of its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission is low. Five months after its release it has yet to be translated into Tamil or Sinhala, and with the exception of state-sponsored editorials and maverick English language platforms online, media analysis of its findings has been rare. Mentions of the Commission, along with most other issues pertaining to national security, minority rights ... Read the full article

Q&A with Hanan Abdalla, director of a new film that explores the lives of Egyptian women since the Arab Spring

UN Women, 9 April 2012 This week, “In the Shadow of a Man”, a film commissioned by UN Women, is taking the compelling stories of four Egyptian women to the Istanbul Film Festival, as part of a string of international screenings. The documentary premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, and will be followed soon with a second film by the director on women candidates in Egypt’s 2011-2012 parliamentary elections. In an interview with UN Women, young British-Egyptian director Hanan Abdalla weighs in on the issues the film addresses, and its relevance as the women’s movement gathers momentum in the country. What drew you to the subject of women’s needs in the aftermath of the Eyptian revolution? I’ve always known that there is a wealth of stories waiting to ... Read the full article

Five Questions for Shishir Chandra: Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women (MASVAW)

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 28 March 2012 Shishir Chandra is a community organizer with Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW) in Uttar Pradesh, India, an alliance of individual men and organizations that are committed to reducing gender-based violence through education and advocacy. Here he talks about the struggle to challenge gender roles for both men and women in India, and why he believes that young men can and should step up to the challenge.   1. Why do you think it’s important for young people to get involved in these issues? Although gender equality is such a burning issue, not many youth in India get an opportunity to get involved in advancing gender equality. Young men and boys all over India have had many difficult experiences regarding gender ... Read the full article

‘You have to tolerate a little bit of torture’

In part one of a two-part interview Colombo based Attorney-at-law Ranjan Mendis explains how the Sri Lankan police continue to influence the outcome of torture trials taken against them, resulting in a mere handful of convictions since the domestic anti-torture law was passed sixteen years ago. "Torture by police is the order of the day" "As a regular practitioner in criminal courts I know the day-to-day. We meet a large number of people belonging to various walks of life; torture by the police is the order of the day – the order of the day. I want to emphasize that. In India torture is very common by the police as well as by the army, but in Sri Lanka torture by the army and other armed ... Read the full article

Man on a mission for women’s justice

 March 8, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong   Nasir Aslam Zahid has led the struggle for equal rights in Pakistan, where women remain in chains. But the former judge vows to fight on. For a free man, Nasir Aslam Zahid spends a lot of time in jail. “It does sometimes baffle callers,” says the Pakistani in clipped, wry tones, at the Asian Legal Resources Centre in Hong Kong. “Most of my phone calls these days are taken from prison.” The former chief justice runs LAO, a legal aid organization based out of Central Prison Karachi, which helps women and children incarcerated across his home province, Sindh. These days he is more worried about the renovation of toilets, administering of medicine and arranging of bail than passing judgments, but both roles  have exposed him to the glut of problems facing women in his ... Read the full article

Philippines Massacre: ‘They Made a Monster’

January 8, 2010, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in the Sri Lanka Guardian For an uncut version of the interview, click here. (Link coming soon) Joseph Jubelag narrowly escaped the November massacre in Maguindanao, the Philippines, which claimed the lives of 57 people – 31 of them fellow journalists. They were allegedly murdered by a candidate for governor, part of a ruling family dynasty accused of war lordism. Jubelag expects the trial to bring a backlash against the private militias that are allowed to be kept by politicians for reasons of national security, as well as against President Arroyo for her past protection of the notorious clan. In the Philippines, local governments are allowed to ... Read the full article

‘My son was murdered and the police did nothing’

September 8, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in Ethics in Action, Hong Kong, The Alaiwah archive on Human Rights, Pakistan, and by the Aboriginal News Service Journalist and activist Baseer Naweed encountered the opaque operations of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies when his son Faraz Ahmed was kidnapped, tortured and killed outside his office during a major campaign against corruption. Five years and various threats later, he works for the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, but is no closer to the truth. Faraz Naweed. Photograph: supplied by Baseer Naweed My whole life I have been an activist. I was a student leader, then joined trade unions, then became an investigative journalist. I wouldn't say that my son was following me; in fact he would tell me I was making compromises. He'd probably have called himself an anarchist back then. When he ... Read the full article

A Thankless Task

August 22, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong August 27, Sri Lanka Guardian, Sri Lanka, and and as ‘Thankless tasks: Rights defenders in Sri Lanka & Pakistan’ in Selected Articles on politics, human rights & the rule of law in South Asia, Article 2, Vol. 08 - No. 03, September 2009 (PDF) As a truth commission secretary MCM Iqbal helped gathered evidence on thousands of forced disappearances in Sri Lanka, only to see it disappear itself As President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks of ushering Sri Lankans into a new era of peace, a slight, bespectacled man in his sixties watches him from across an ocean with the weariness of a man who has tried and failed to call his bluff. MCM ... Read the full article

Civil Action

Anjana Fernando

July 5, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Reprinted in human rights periodical Article 2, Hong Kong In Sri Lanka, victims of police torture are harassed, intimidated and even killed for speaking out against their tormentors. But a new witness protection bill may make walking the legal path a little safer. Caught on a rare tea break, Father Nandana Manatunga bats at the 'tsunami' flies that whirl around his head and ponders a Sri Lankan newpaper headline: "Witness protection bill boost to human rights". You get the feeling he'd like to be batting at something - or someone - else. Manatunga and his small team at the  Kandy Human Rights Office are preparing for a  biannual “victims’ get-together”, a mix of Buddhists and Christians, ethnic Sinhalese and Tamil, refugees from sexual abuse and police brutality – far from the conflict-ridden north ... Read the full article

Inside Burma

June 26, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in the Burma Digest, and Euro-Burma Fred Taino is a Burmese-speaking human rights defender who regularly visits Burma. Following a recent trip to Burma's biggest city, Yangon, he describes the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, how locals are fighting repression, human rights abuses and how tourists have deserted the country. Yangon looks different after Nargis. About 70% of the big trees collapsed so the view of the city has changed; much more is revealed. The tragedy is remarkable for the fact that many either lost their entire families in the cyclone, or they lost no one. I haven't come across anyone who just lost an uncle or grandfather because in the places that were hit nearly everyone was ... Read the full article

‘It was a whole traumatised society’

May 21, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK May 29, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong International criminal lawyer Carla Ferstman works for human rights organisation Redress. She talks about her experience of seeking justice for victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the rights of torture victims, and why she prefers not to talk about work at weddings. I was a criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver for two and a half years after graduation and I was looking for a little bit of a diversion, and a friend of mine told me they were looking for prosecutors to go work in Rwanda. I went out in ‘95 with the UN High Commission for Human Rights without any international experience. I’m from Montreal and they were looking for criminal ... Read the full article

Raising the Bar

May 18, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Jo Baker meets a lawyer who backed Pakistan’s rebel judiciary, and lost more than his freedom People have given up all kinds of things for their country, but Pakistani lawyer Muneer Malik’s forfeit was both brutal and peculiar. The more predictable sacrifices had already been made – his family were harassed, his colleagues beaten and his freedom temporarily taken away – but in solitary confinement in Pakistan’s notorious Attock Fort last November, Malik’s jailers chose to deprive him of one more thing: working kidneys. Who exactly was behind his poisoning, whether it was deliberate and whether, as some people believe, it was a murder attempt, has yet to come to light. Earlier that year the Pakistan courts had been in disarray. Cases for ‘disappeared’ persons were piling up, corruption scandals were ... Read the full article

Hope for Sri Lanka’s child victims

January 1, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK Torture has become a familiar feature of criminal investigations in Sri Lanka, where children as young as seven have experienced abuse under interrogation. At a small human rights unit in Kandy city, a Catholic priest has created a vital support system for the victims of police brutality. Father Nandana Manatunga relates the – often tragic – cases he has tried to help with. Our torture act passed 1994, but until about 2000 there was not a single case filed against anybody for torture in Sri Lanka. I opened my human rights office five years ago and since then we have cared ... Read the full article

Courage under Fire

July 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong A Catholic priest is helping to give hope to young human rights victims With a rakish side parting and a smile behind his eyes, it’s hard to imagine Father Nandana Manatunga at work, not because his job involves kids – for that he seems well suited – but because of the situations his wards come to him in. Dancing eyes seem at odds with the grim task of torture rehabilitation. The small island nation off the coast of India often hits the news for the long-waged and bloody war between its government and the Tamil Tiger separatists, but there are domestic issues that affect the populace even more deeply. Father Nandana runs the Kandy Human Rights Office, ... Read the full article