Human Rights Defenders Risks

 Human Rights Defenders Risks
by Susan Basko

I was recently asked to assist in an international Consultation of Human Rights Defenders. In the consultation, we were making recommendations for the protection of people who are seen as Human Rights Defenders. I was asked to participate in the consultation because I actively defend the Human Rights of association, assembly, protest, speech, press, media, and technological use of media (such as live streaming, wifi, etc). The consultation was conducted by ODIHR (Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) of OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). There are 57 OSCE participating nations, and the U.S. is one of them. The Recommendations will be published in 2014. I have been invited to assist OSCE ODIHR with several major activities over the past couple years, based on my assistance to protest planners and media activists in the US. and worldwide. I distributed the consultation form to many others in the U.S.
Once the Recommendations have been compiled, they will reflect trends of risks that are faced by those who defend Human Rights. The OSCE has 57 participating States from Europe, Central Asia and North America: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, fYR Macedonia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Uzbekistan.

BELOW I AM POSTING MY REPLIES TO THE QUESTIONS. The compiled Recommendations from the 57 nations will be available some time in 2014. I could have spent my entire reply on the shocking hate launched at me by disturbed sociopaths on twitter, but decided those sort of attacks by people with that type of social/ mental disorder are likely to be covered by others.

I feel greatly honored to be invited to assist in improving society within the 57 nations. My experiences with OSCE over the past two years have been meaningful and important. There is a great connectedness and commonality nation to nation between those of us protecting Human Rights. There is an energy of truth and goodness that can be felt when these people gather.

Question 1: Risks, threats and challenges
Which are the specific risks, threats and challenges you (or your organization) face as a result of your human rights work? 

Please provide a brief summary of the specific risks, threats and challenges (e.g. physical and verbal attacks and threats, legal persecution and harassment, restrictive NGO legislation, restrictions to freedom of expression, assembly and association etc.) you or your organization experiences and you consider should ideally be addressed in the OSCE/ODIHR Recommendation. If available, please also provide concrete examples of incidents or documented cases of abuses you/your organization faced. Please do not exceed the given word limit. For further details about specific incidents or cases you may want to include references to published documents or materials if available.

In your response, please also include if you or others belong to a group of human rights defenders that is at particular risk and whether you see specific gender-related challenges in relation to your work and the risks and obstacles you face.

Summary: Description of main risks, threats and challenges you/your organization face/s [MAXIMUM 700 WORDS] 
(e.g. physical and verbal attacks and threats; lack of effective remedies and impunity; legal persecution and harassment, criminalization, defamation campaigns; restrictive NGO legislation, obstacles in receipt of funding, burdensome administrative requirements and informal pressure; restrictions to freedom of expression, assembly and association; surveillance and undue interferences in private life; restrictions on freedom of movement and access to carry out human rights monitoring and reporting; lack of opportunity for participation in public affairs; impediments to access and communicate with international bodies and reprisals; etc.): 

Answering on behalf of self as lawyer and many organizations and individuals to whom I give assistance:

1) Activists are having Child pornography emailed to them in tricky ways, to set them up for legal troubles and prosecution. It is unknown who is doing this, probably individuals outside the government. Govt needs to be aware of this practice and beware of prosecuting. There is one known prosecution at this time of media activist in North Carolina.

2) The U.S. government is sending National Security Letters to activists and freezing assets. The NSLs state that the person or organization or someone else is under investigation, cooperation is demanded, and not even the letter can be revealed. I am not allowed to give details, but I am aware of several of these that have had the effect of stopping participation.

3) The U.S. government and its contractors are using Twitter personas to stalk, harass, belittle and demean others. This is obvious to regular twitter users and has a chilling effect.

4) U.S. government is prosecuting journalist Barrett Brown for posting a link online to materials that were hacked. Raises dangerous practice of prosecuting people for posting links and puts HUGE damper on press freedom and communication freedom. This is a giant issue and entire US and world should be in opposition to this prosecution. Brown was writing about US govt using private companies for surveillance and linked to online info about the companies. Indictment has about 12 counts for one link with potential of decades in prison.

Specific examples of incidents and documented abuses (please add references to published materials as may be required) [MAXIMUM 400 WORDS]: 

1) Activists being emailed child pornography to set them up for prosecution:
Happened to Luke Rudkowski, Dan Johnson, Stewart Rhodes, and about 12 other people that I am aware of as a lawyer. There is one known federal prosecution based on possession of a Child porn image, of a man who is a media activist. Case is federal and in Middle District of North Carolina, but I am not at liberty to write the man’s name yet, but it is a fed case on

Info and Video about Dan Johnson et al:

Info on Luke Rudkowski:

2) National Security Letters: By law, cannot give details. But I am aware:

3) Persona Mgmt:

4) Barrett Brown prosecuted for posting a link:

Question 2: Recommendations
Based on the protection gaps and needs identified above: What measures should OSCE participating States take in order to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders and guarantee an enabling environment conducive of their work, both domestically as well as across the region?

If relevant specify by which state actors (e.g. government, regional and local authorities, public officials) the measure(s) should be taken. Also include: (a) what specific mechanisms and procedures participating States should put in place domestically to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders (recommendations concerning domestic processes/mechanisms for implementation); and (b) what participating States should do to support the protection of human rights defenders and promote an enabling environment in third countries (recommendations concerning protection of human rights defenders abroad). 

Measures participating States should take in order to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders and guarantee an enabling environment conducive to their work, including recommendations concerning (a) domestic processes/mechanisms for implementation; and (b) protection of human rights defenders abroad. 

1) Governments and people and organizations should be made aware of this new practice of tricking people into downloading Child pornography images onto their computers in order to set them up for later legal troubles. Some of the images are being sent embedded in pdf files. Governments should set up a specific and obvious protocol for anyone to whom this has happened. Awareness, education, training.

2) The U.S. practice of sending National Security Letters in what appears to be a misuse of their purpose should be addressed. The NSLs are supposed to be used for important anti-terrorism purposes and are now being used to thwart protesters, media, etc. Awareness, education, training, legal challenges.

3) Practice of using social media for COINTELPRO and harassment of activists should be forbidden.

4) Governments should be barred from prosecuting the use of links/ hyperlinks by anyone online, including activists, journalists, independent media, researchers, or ANYONE. Links should not be treated as a wrongdoing or crime in any way.