Newsletter - Franciscans International - November 2016  

Greetings from the FI Office!

We thank you for your involvement and interest in FI's work to influence key policy makers to promote human rights for marginsalised and disadvantaged groups.  Here are some of FI's recent activities.  For questions or more information, please contact communications[at]

Transnational Corporations Need to Be Held Accountable for Human Rights Abuses

FI advocacy director addresses full room at Forum on Business and Human Rights

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises continue to be regularly involved in human rights and environmental abuses through their activities in the countries where they operate. At the same time, communities affected by these abuses continue to struggle and to face serious obstacles in defending their rights and to obtain justice and reparation. 

FI actively participated in the second session of the UN Inter-Governmental Working Group (IGWG) on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, which took place on October 24-28, 2016. FI advocated for the need of a legally binding treaty that strengthens the accountability of companies for the human rights abuses that they are responsible for.  More than 100 civil society representatives coordinated their work at the IGWG through the civil society coalition formed around the negotiation process called the “Treaty Alliance,” of which FI is an active member.

In addition to submitting a position paper to the Working Group in advance of the session, FI advocated for its position through various means. Notably, FI’s partners from around the world spoke at events and lobbied diplomats throughout the week, giving their accounts on how mining has violated several rights of the communities in which they live and work, and advocating for the need of a legally binding treaty. They included Mr. Henri Muhiya, from the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Mr. Jaybee Garganera, from Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) in the Philippines; Mr. Pablo Sanchez, from GRUFIDES in Peru, and Mr. Rodrigo Peret from SINFRAJUPE / Churches and Mining in Brazil. 

Following its work at the IGWG, FI was invited to present civil society’s perspective at a conference  organised by the Mission of Ecuador, during the annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, a few weeks later, on November 16th. FI’s advocacy director spoke to a full house, giving a positive evaluation of the IGWG session, noting the important role that civil society had played nationally in getting more countries to engage with the process, and reminding the audience that the ultimate goal of the treaty is the advancement of human rights protection. She also saluted civil society’s role in giving both convincing examples of human rights abuses perpetrated by big business, and concrete suggestions for provisions to be included in the treaty to prevent and redress these abuses.  

Haiti: Take Measures to Prevent Prolonged Pre-Trial Detention

Jocelyne Colas in Geneva

In Haiti, a majority of people in detention – including minors who are often imprisoned  alongside adult offenders –  have not had the chance to be heard by a judge: they have not been convicted or tried for their alleged crimes and are held in illegal pre-trial detention for years (in some cases, up to six years).   Many detainees are not aware of their rights, have no access to legal counsel, and do not understand legal proceedings which often take place in French, rather than in their native Creole language.  Given the time spent in pre-trial detention, many of these people have spent more time in detention than they would have serving their sentence if convicted.  With such high numbers of people in pre-trial detention, prisons are extremely overcrowded, they lack security, and they have dire conditions of health and sanitation.

Jocelyne Colas, president of Haiti’s Justice and Peace National Episcopal Commission (Komisyon Episkopal Nasyonal Jistis ak Lapè - JILAP), and partner of FI, has been working for more than a decade to reform the justice system in her country, and ensure that human rights are increasingly respected.   JILAP accompanies victims of unjust detention; they train people on human rights and advocate for greater human rights accountability from government officials; they work on changing laws for better access to justice, advocating for an increase in the number of judges and fighting for a greater use of the Creole language when it comes to legal proceedings.                                                                                                                            

Jocelyne Colas was in Geneva in October to prepare for Haiti’s second UPR review –  a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council that periodically examines the human rights performance of all UN Member States - scheduled for November 7th, 2016.  Along with other partners, JILAP contributed to FI’s joint submission for Haiti’s review, bringing up the issues of prolonged preventive detention, extreme poverty, access to education, and the large numbers of unregistered births in Haiti. Mrs. Colas visited several permanent missions while she was in Geneva, sharing some of the cases she had witnessed, and asking diplomats to make specific recommendations to the Haitian delegation in order to improve the country’s human rights record, including in matters of pre-trial detention. 

On November 9th, Haiti adopted the UPR report, accepting several recommendations advocated for by JILAP, FI and its partners. In particular, in relation to pre-trial detention, Haiti accepted recommendations asking for the allocation of additional resources to strengthen its legal framework, to speed up case processing and to reduce the number of pre-trial detainee. Recommendations regarding separating minors in detention from adults were also made and accepted.  FI’s Americas Programme will continue to work with JILAP and other local partners to ensure that these recommendations are followed up by the Government, so that people in detention have better access to justice and have their human rights fulfilled. 

Japan: Respect Okinawan’s Right to Self-Determination and Freedom of Expression

Japanese police officer watches protesters closely

The Ryukyuan/Okinawan people are indigenous people living in Okinawa, in the southernmost part of Japan; they represent Japan's largest minority group, with 1.3 million living in Okinawa. After World War II, the Ryukyu Islands were occupied by the United States.  Although Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, the Japanese and United States governments have continued to impose a heavy burden of US military bases on Okinawa.  Since the end of World War II, 20% of Okinawan land has been used as a US military base, despite the oppostion  of the local government and community in Okinawa, representing a stark violation of these people’s right to self-determination. 

The Japanese and US governments are currently preparing to build another large military base in Oura Bay, off the coast of the Henoko, as well as a large US military helipad in Takae. The Ryukyuan/Okinawan people have shown clear opposition to the construction of the base, through peaceful protests. There have been a number of reports of violence and force used against citizens by Japanese police and US military employees, an example of which is the Japanese Coast Guard’s forcefully removing of protesters, cameramen, and journalists at sea.   In addition to infringing on the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to self-determination, the building of the base violates environmental rights, with risks of destroying coral and attacking the region’s rich biodiversity.

Responding to an invitation from the Bishop of the Naha-Okinawa Diocese, FI travelled to Okinawa at the end of October to discuss the situation in Okinawa, meet directly with the civil society groups who are contesting the construction of the base, and strategise on how to highlight the case at Japan’s upcoming UPR Review in November 2017.  FI was also invited to speak at the Diocese’s conference to express its solidarity with those who oppose the base, and committed to work on joint advocacy actions at the United Nations. Furthermore, FI plans to co-sponsor a debate in July 2017 during the UN Human Rights Council, to parallel the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, who expressed concern about the situation in Okinawa during his visit to Japan in April 2016. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo: End Repression Against Dissident Voices and Ensure Democratic Elections

Panel addresses international community about the situation in DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo finds itself at an important crossroads: President Joseph Kabila’s second term is coming to an end on 19 December  2016, and the country’s Constitution prevents him from taking on a third term.   The Government should be preparing the ground for credible and democratic elections – but instead, it has deliberately stalled the organisation of these elections, and Kabila has not yet pronounced his intention to step down.  Those loyal to the President have been seeking to silence and repress those calling for timely elections and a peaceful transition of power.  At least 17 people (the opposition claims it is closer to 50) were killed on September 19 and 20, 2016, in two days of street clashes between security forces and protesters against a delayed presidential election. Several opposition party buildings were also burned.

Along with EurAc, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, Amnesty International, Caritas Internationalis, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and many other civil society NGOs, Franciscans International co-hosted a debate that featured various perspectives from both the field and the international community. Ida Sawyer, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch, and Ambassador Carl Hallergard, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva, detailed the situation, mentioning the atmosphere of repression and the silencing of dissident voices.  Msgr. Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, vice-president of the National Episcopal Conference and Bishop of the Bokungu-Ikela Diosece;  Micheline Mwendike and Fred Bauma from la LUCHA, a grassroots movement of young people striving for non-violent change, shared the stories of their work in such a difficult context,  of creative ways forward, and of their hope that peaceful and credible elections are still possible.  Fred Bauma also shared his experience of prison, where he was detained for 17 months for having spoken against the government’s violent actions, and taken part in peaceful protests.

The panellists warned of the danger of impending dictatorship and increasing violence and human rights abuses, calling on the UN Human Rights Council and the international community to apply strong and concrete sanctions against specific officials and security forces responsible for violations and violence against dissidents in this pre-electoral context.

On September 30th, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution, calling the government to create “without delay the necessary conditions for the holding of free, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections.”  The Human Rights Council will continue to monitor the situation, with special attention to violations against liberty, free speech, and basic citizen rights. 

The event was broadcast live – you can watch it on our facebook page here.

© Franciscans International • Geneva • New York •
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