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Tirana Hassan: "The arrest warrant against Putin sends a message to despots and dictators around the world"


The lawyer assumes this Monday the direction of Human Rights Watch, the global organization that watches over the protection of human rights, under increasing threat

That human rights can evaporate from one day to the next, however established they may seem, is something that Tirana Hassan has closely observed for years, getting involved in the bloodiest conflicts on the planet.

Lawyer and born in Singapore 48 years ago, Hassan is as of this Monday the new director of Human Rights Watch, the organization scourge of governments based in New York, dedicated to the defense of human rights.

Her appointment, she maintains in a videoconference with this newspaper from Geneva, is a symptom that the defense of human rights has long since ceased to be in the hands of the West.

Hassan, who was already working, assumes the post at a time of great international volatility and regression of rights and freedoms.

The proliferation of hybrid regimes and the consolidation of populism willing to curtail democratic consensus built with care for decades is the reality faced by Hassan, the first woman to hold office.

She believes that the war in Ukraine has shown "what is possible when the world decides to defend and protect human rights", in reference to the arrest warrant from The Hague against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But she warns against the danger of applying double standards: "We expect the same protection of the rights of all refugees, the same condemnation of abuses, also in Ethiopia and in a long list of countries."


You are the first woman to lead your organization and also the first to come from the Global South.

His predecessor was an American who had been in office for 30 years.


I feel very honored and proud.

I think my appointment reflects that the human rights movement is global, that it is not exclusive to Western democracies.

It belongs to everyone, to local human rights groups, to the victims, to the survivors.

We are all catalysts for change.

When it comes to female leadership, women are often underestimated.

I know from my own experience.

I've been told things like women shouldn't be in war zones or, in the past, that I couldn't have a very public profile because Asian women tend to be shy.

I have heard many stereotypes in my life, but we are seeing that in the Global South there are women leading important movements who are anything but shy.


We see important movements of women in places like Latin America or in Iran.

Do you anticipate a real change?


The women's movement in Latin America around reproductive rights shows us what is possible when women come together, how strategic they can be.

How movements are able to promote change and transfer it from one country to another.

This is how mountains move.

Often these movements are marginalized, seen as women's issues only, but attacks on women's rights are often the first indicators of broader repression.

If they are able to succeed by suppressing women, then they will come after other groups.


Autocracies are gaining ground in the world.

Have we taken democracies for granted?

Have we not known how to protect them?


Last year we have seen an increase in attacks on democratic institutions and in general the shrinking space of civil society.

Our office in Moscow has been closed and we have been the target of Pegasus attacks by governments using cyber surveillance to threaten human rights defenders.

But there is the possibility of fighting back against autocratic regimes.

We have to be more creative.

We have also witnessed very exciting moments.

In Ukraine we have seen what is possible when the world decides to defend and protect human rights.

Now it should apply to everyone.

We expect the same protection for all refugees, the same condemnation of abuses, also in Ethiopia and in a long list of countries.

Attacks on women's rights are often the first indicators of a broader human rights crackdown


The fact that the unity and political will of Ukraine is not replicated in other conflicts has unleashed a malaise in the Global South, as if the dead or the Ethiopian or Palestinian refugees were worth less.

How right are they?


There is legitimate frustration in some countries around the world over the application of different standards and different levels of political will in Ukraine, which is not being applied in Ethiopia, in Myanmar or in Afghanistan.

That legitimacy exists, but it would be wrong to say that double standards only apply between the Global North and the Global South.

That is fiction.

We have seen how double standards are applied in the southern hemisphere as well.


The Hague believes that Putin has committed war crimes.

Will it have a deterrent effect for other dictators?


It is absolutely dissuasive.

The court's arrest warrant against Putin sends a message to despots and dictators around the world that they will be held to account for their actions.

The pace and resources that have gone into ensuring accountability in Ukraine is remarkable and shows us what is possible.

One of the reasons things have been able to move so quickly is because it has been so easy to document the widespread and brazen war crimes committed in Ukraine.

But in addition, the court's investigators have been on the ground and human rights NGOs, Ukrainian organizations and governments around the world have launched their own fact-finding missions.

In the end, it is about the level of evidence that is made available to the court.


Now there is a technology to accumulate unthinkable evidence, for example, during the wars in the Balkans.

What impact will it have on the protection of human rights?


Computer technology has revolutionized the ability to collect evidence and access areas with limited access.

One of the favorite tactics of the dictator's manual is to block access to journalists and human rights defenders.

We now use an open source investigative methodology and that means it's not just about what our investigator sees in the field.

He can cross-reference that information with hundreds of photos and videos from the internet and triangulate it with satellite imagery and witness testimony.

In this post-factual world, a lot of information reaches us, but some of it is disinformation.

We have a team that does digital investigations, that checks the fingerprint to make sure it's not tampered with.

We live in a world where the facts are being negotiated,

but with technology we can present the cases with so much evidence that it should compel governments to take action.

We can recreate in 3D the repression of protests in the United States or what happens when a Russian projectile falls on an apartment block.

So we can explain to the decision makers exactly what happened, and that changes the conversation, as we have seen.

Tirana Hassan Andre Lunn (HRW)


Is China going to be able to impose its vision that human rights are a new form of colonialism?


The idea that human rights is just a Western construct is absolutely ridiculous, that it serves a certain narrative and serves a political purpose.

It is very convenient for governments that try to divert attention from abuses and that do not comply with their own international obligations.

Our decades of experience working with human rights defenders and with victims and survivors who matter to them.

Survivors of torture in China and the more than a million relatives of workers detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang are concerned about human rights.

It is not something that one can choose to accept or not.

These are international legal obligations, which arose in the darkest moments of history and are commitments made by governments around the world.

In essence,

we are talking about human dignity.

I don't think there is a place where anyone can say that human dignity is not a universal principle.


In a recent essay you wrote that we can no longer rely on a small group of Western countries to guarantee human rights.

It is now 20 years since the US invasion of Iraq.

That failure, together with that of Afghanistan, has dampened the appetite for interventions in the name of freedom and human rights.

How can autocratic leaders like Putin be stopped?


There are no longer international superheroes that are going to come to the rescue.

It is the responsibility of all States to guarantee the defense of human rights and human rights institutions.

We have to support the protesters in Iran, in Sri Lanka and in China.

We have seen people rise up in the most repressive places, like Sudan, and it is our responsibility to support them.

If we are facing a situation in which people are willing to lose their lives to defend human rights, that should be the impetus for the world to mobilize and use all the legal and political arsenal at its disposal.

The idea that human rights are just a Western construction is absolutely ridiculous and has a political purpose.


It refers to interference in the form of government support for local organizations.


Yes, the strengthening of civil society, of the voices of dissent and, then, using the tools at our disposal, such as the Human Rights Council, the national and international judicial system, the General Assembly to exert international pressure on governments that commit abuses.

And works.

The global mobilization around Ukraine reminds us of the potential we have.


Can human rights be defended through military intervention?


No. Military intervention is not the answer to human rights.

When we get to a point where we find ourselves in a human rights crisis, it's usually not a surprise.

They don't come out of nowhere.

Ukraine, for example, what would have happened if the world had held Putin accountable for years for the repression of human rights and civil society in Russia?

And because of the Russian bombing of cities in Syria to support Bashar al-Assad?

Conflicts occur when we relegate human rights to the background.


In the chapter dedicated to Spain in your annual report, you state that pushbacks at the border "contributed to the death of migrants."

Do you think that the Spanish agents could have prevented the death of 23 people in Melilla?


The scenes in Melilla in June 2022 were horrifying and exemplify everything that is unacceptable on the part of the policy towards migrants and refugees from Spain and the EU.

Returning migrants and refugees on the spot is not only failing to comply with international obligations, but, as we have seen, it causes the loss of human lives.

Safe legal routes for migration have to be a priority.

The pattern of demonizing migrants and this pattern that is emerging now, not just in the UK but across Europe, of deporting refugees and asylum seekers is very dangerous.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-03-27

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