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Rights and Development

Policy paper: Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders at the UN HRC

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), 2012 Respect and Protect? Exploring the need for the United Nations Human Rights Council to strengthen its response to reprisals. This policy paper  with the International Service for Human Rights, falls among an expanding body of concern about the reprisals that continue to take place against human rights defenders who cooperate with the Council's key mechanisms, and the Council's responsibilities in this regard. It was written in late 2011 thanks to input from a wide range of human rights practitioners working with and at the UN Human Rights Council. By addressing the extent to which the Council mechanisms rely on private actors and intermediaries, the study contends that it cannot effectively fulfill its mandate without better protecting them – and being seen to be doing so. I first look at the nature of the relationship between Council ... 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

At Rio+20, diverse women leaders bring ground realities to the forefront

UN Women, 20 June 2012 The Women Leaders’ Forum, a discussion between civil society, government and public sector representatives with UN heads of agencies, has broadened the dialogue on gender equality and sustainability at Rio +20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainability. Organized by UN Women in collaboration with the Government of Brazil and other partners, the day-long event highlighted the central role of women in sustainable development, and the ways that robust policies can  improve women’s lives by reducing poverty, advancing their economic opportunities, and protecting them from adverse health and environmental challenges. It also highlighted the inequalities that continue to slow global progress towards a green economy and a protected environment. Delivering the opening and closing remarks, UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet stressed the critical role of the women’s movement. “Twenty years ago, the Rio ... 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?

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 ... 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

Building skills, finding voices: HIV-positive women in Cambodia

UN Women, 5 April 2012 Mom Ra lives just a few hours from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, yet the 30-year-old felt very far from state support when first diagnosed with HIV. Like other HIV-positive women in her small village, she knew almost nothing about the illness and was diagnosed late, after countless costly trips to the local village doctor and losing a child to the disease. Like many such women, she says she also struggled to find information on treatments and her rights, and has been isolated by open discrimination from her neighbours. Yet in 2011 Mom Ra found promise and a sense of solidarity when she became one of 1,300 women to receive a USD 100 grant, and training to help her start a small business. The project is supported by ... 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

From the margins of memory: seeking truth for women

UN Women, 23 March For women, who have long been invisible during and after conflict, truth-seeking is an opportunity to have their experiences recognised and their roles understood, as survivors and agents of change. In the past three decades approximately 30 truth commissions have been established, along with many national and international fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry. These have been used to draw a clear picture of past events, and identify how best to move forward on issues of accountability and redress. While there has been significant progress in recent years, many of these historically failed to include or respond to women’s experiences of conflict. For individuals and societies affected by human rights violations, the right to truth can be life-changing. It gives them the right to know the fate ... Read the full article

Partnering to Close Data and Evidence Gaps for Women

UN Women, 12 March 2012 There has been growing recognition that good development models are based on evidence and mutual accountability. Yet for years the lack of gender-related statistics has been used as a reason to not take bolder action on gender equality and women’s empowerment. A dynamic new partnership, the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative, is responding to this gap. Jointly managed by UN Women and the UN Statistics Division, in collaboration with Member States, the World Bank, the OECD and others, it will work to meet the rising demand by countries across the world for greater support in accessing and using gender statistics – mainly by helping to build national capacity and strengthen national systems on data collection in critical areas. It will also promote ... Read the full article

Legal Study: Reconciling Truth and Gender – Lessons for Sri Lanka

Law & Society Trust Review, 2011 This legal study  explores the scope of the discrimination facing Sri Lanka’s largest group of war-affected survivors - Tamil women in the North and East of the country - and the need for gender-sensitive truth commissioning following the country's three-decades of conflict. It assesses key legal and practical obstacles to achieving this according to the international legal framework on non-discrimination, and briefly proposes ways to place Tamil women more centrally, and therefore legally, within the transitional narrative. The paper occupied the full December 2011 volume of Sri Lanka's Law and Society Trust Review, a monthly legal journal edited by renowned human rights lawyer, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena (please see Editor's Note, below), but was featured in various potted forms, such as for popular Sri Lankan media site, Groundviews, and on Open Democracy. The former was cited, as a sound ... Read the full article

Seen and not heard: Women in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation commission

Open Democracy50.50 Inclusive Democracy ,  also carried by the International Centre for Transitional Justice website, and Salem News, 24 Nov 2011 If and when Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) releases its report later this month, as scheduled, it will do so amid wide scepticism on many critical fronts – except, it seems, for one. The credibility, independence and the ethnic balance of the post-war commission have been well-challenged internationally, since it was established by the President last year to ostensibly help reconcile the nation.  But for the war’s tens of thousands of female survivors there has been little space and little said, by either the commission or its critics. The LLRC’s weaknesses in this area deserve greater attention. They also add significantly to the impression of an instrument trailing far behind modern truth and ... Read the full article

Update: Gender analysis of Sri Lanka’s LLRC published by local and international media, and cited in political report

Groundviews and various, Nov 2011. A renowned Sri Lankan site for independent journalism has published an abridged version of my legal study on the exclusion of Tamil women from the country's flawed Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 'Long Reads'. The section publishes long-form journalism found in publications such as Foreign Policy and the New York Times , was carried by various international news sites and blogs, including the site of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). The power and promise of national exercises like the LLRC lies in the way that they can access the voices of those who have not traditionally been heard, and use them to build a more  inclusive collective memory. Yet for Sri Lanka’s Tamil women, the LLRC simply reaffirms bad old habits, writes Jo Baker In the lead up to the ... Read the full article

Update: Presenting ‘Defamation of Religions’ research at the UN HRCouncil

I joined NGO and OHCHR staff to present research at the panel, 'Evolution of the recent debate on defamation of religions‘, on behalf of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and the SOAS Human Rights Clinic, during the 16th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.  The study (available here in full, co-written with Julia Alfandari and Regula Atteya) charts the development of discourse on religious defamation at the United Nations, and analyses blasphemy cases in Pakistan, Syria and Algeria using the international human rights legal framework.  It has been published by the Social Science Research Network , and was well used by NGOs and delegates at the Session in the lead up to a groundbreaking draft resolution that better preserved the right to free expression. The resolution was pronounced a 'landmark' by then-US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Other panelists included the Director ... Read the full article

Case Studies: The use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan

This is part of my contribution to 'Defamation of Religions: International Developments and Challenges on the Ground', published by the Social Science Research Network, for the Cairo Institute on Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). SECTION 3: CASE STUDIES FROM THREE OIC STATES The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a majority Muslim population, and has passed some of the world’s strictest national laws on blasphemy and the defamation of religion. Its provisions are established in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), its Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and its constitution. Many of these provisions were introduced or strengthened between 1977 and 1988 during the reign of military dictator Zia ul-Haq, known for his ‘Islamisation’ of the country, mostly under martial law. The following section gives an overview of Pakistan's laws on religious defamation and blasphemy, including recent amendments, and aspects of the national debate on ... Read the full article

Legal Study: Defamation of Religions – International Developments and Challenges on the Ground

Social Science Research Network2011. Abstract: This paper aims to provide a general overview of the current debate on religious defamation laws internationally, and to research and analyse the use and impact of the ‘defamation of religion’ concept and blasphemy laws on freedom of expression in three OIC member states. Part I of the paper will explore the evolution of the concept within the UN in three sections: Section One looks at the positions held by the OIC since the introduction of the initial resolution on defamation of religion at the UN; Section Two explores the counter positions held by NGOs and states in disagreement; and Section Three examines the treatment of this concept in other UN reports, namely from its committees and independent experts, as a measure of the current international consensus. Part II of this project is a study of ... Read the full article