Right Livelihood warns of human rights abuses and repression of activists during UN Human Rights Council

News 19.10.2022

Right Livelihood drew the international community’s attention to global human rights issues during the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, including the repression of activists, human rights abuses in Brazil and Western Sahara, and the shrinking space for civil society globally. 

Right Livelihood addressed the Council in Geneva over the last four weeks as part of the foundation’s Advocacy work.

Read our advocacy highlights for the 51st Session of the HRC.

In particular, Right Livelihood highlighted the following issues:

Indigenous communities in Nicaragua

In a statement prepared with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Right Livelihood detailed the dire consequences of the Nicaraguan government’s crackdown on non-government organisations

“The most direct consequence of their closure is the lack of protection for Indigenous communities, who are increasingly exposed to armed attacks, intimidation, land dispossession and forced displacement,” our statement said.

Decolonisation of Western Sahara

Right Livelihood also delivered a joint statement with the Sahrawi Organ against the Moroccan Occupation (ISACOM), co-founded by 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar.

Drawing attention to the worsening situation in Western Sahara, we urged Volker Turk, the incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit the region.

Additionally, we stated that it is time for states to stop being complicit in Morocco’s violations and for the UN to take its mandate to decolonise Western Sahara, including taking steps to address human rights abuses committed by Morroco.

Human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia

Alongside ALQST for Human Rights and MENA Rights Group, Right Livelihood warned that human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are facing increasingly long and arbitrary prison sentences.

We highlighted the cases of Right Livelihood Laureates Mohammed al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair, who are serving 10 and 15 years in prison respectively on activism-related charges, as well as the cases of Salma al-Shehab and Nourah al-Qahtani, who are serving 34 and 45 years respectively for supporting human rights on social media. 

“These lengthy sentences are spent in inhumane prison conditions and are followed by travel bans of the same length, in yet another attempt to silence and intimidate activists,” we said.

Indigenous peoples in Brazil

Right Livelihood drew attention to the short- and long-term dangers that illegal gold miners pose to the Indigenous peoples of Brazil’s Amazon region

“Despite being protected on paper, the Amazon region has seen an exponential increase in illegal mining over the past 10 years, which is estimated to have grown by over 500 per cent under the blind eye of the authorities,” the statement warned.

The illegal miners also “pose an immediate threat” to the lives of Indigenous peoples as they use violence to gain access to their territories.

LGBT+ organisations in Uganda

Non-governmental organisations defending LGBT+ rights are increasingly under pressure in Uganda, thus putting LGBT+ people at risk, Right Livelihood warned.

Sexual Minorities Uganda, one of the country’s leading organisations defending LGBT+ rights, was recently suspended. Seven other organisations are also at risk of being shut down.

“As a consequence, similar groups, health centres and home shelters are suspending their activities for fear of reprisals,” the statement said. “In a country where homosexuality can be sentenced to life imprisonment, those services are sometimes a matter of life or death.”

Political prisoners in Belarus

Right Livelihood and Laureate organisation Human Rights Center “Viasna” also drew attention to Belarus’ ongoing crackdown on political dissidents.

Political prisoners are often held in inhumane conditions. These include overcrowded cells, beatings, no access to showers and being barred from family visits.

Ales Bialiatski, Viasna’s founder, faces such conditions, as well as human rights defenders Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapiuk, who were sentenced to 15 and 6 years, respectively, nearly two years after their arrests. 

Russian dissenters for freedom and democracy

Russians speaking out against the war on Ukraine must not be left behind by the international community, Right Livelihood warned.

Due to laws targeting civil society organisations, activists and protesters, more than 18,000 Russians have been arrested since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These laws have led to the censorship and liquidation of civil society organisations.

Memorial International, the country’s top human rights organisation that received the 2004 Right Livelihood Award, was liquidated due to these laws.

Protection for human rights defenders

Human rights defenders, including several Right Livelihood Laureates, are facing mounting challenges for their work as the space for civil society shrinks. 

One such Laureate is Aminatou Haidar of Western Sahara, who was subjected to unlawful digital surveillance in October and November 2021.

Another example is seen in Belarus, where six members of the Laureate organisation Human Rights Centre “Viasna” remain imprisoned.

In Russia, the so-called “Foreign Agent Law” aimed to restrict civil society voices was used to shut down the 2004 Laureate organisation Memorial. 

Finally, in Saudi Arabia, 2018 Laureates Waleed Abu al-Khair and Mohammed al-Qahtani remain in prison simply for exercising their fundamental rights.

Violations in Western Sahara and Brazil

Right Livelihood drew attention to critical human rights issues in Morocco and Brazil as the Council prepares to conduct its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the states.

“We urge States to prioritise the issue of Western Sahara in their recommendations, calling on Morocco to put an end to all forms of repression, guarantee to all Sahrawis the full enjoyment of their fundamental rights, in particular their right to self-determination.”

In Brazi’s Amazon region, the well-being of Indigenous peoples is under threat from illegal miners.

“We thus call on States to recommend Brazil to ensure that free, prior and informed consent is always respected; immediately remove all illegal miners from the affected territories, protect indigenous communities from further invasions and guarantee accountability for crimes committed against them,” urged Right Livelihood.

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