The impending threat towards human rights

In October 2021 Israel deauthorized six human rights organizations (NGOs)[1] and just two months later the Russian Supreme court ordered that the human rights organization Memorial Human Rights Center be liquidized.[2] These actions by non-democratic states are not uncommon and similar developments have occurred in the past year in Hong Kong[3] and Myanmar.[4] These actions must be regarded as more than non-democratic retributions; they need to be seen as an impending threat towards human rights.

Human rights organizations have long been a groundbreaking force in building democratic societies and ensuring human rights.[5] One of the main reasons for this might be that as opposed to governments these organizations generally do not have interests that interfere or triumph in their fight for democracy and human rights.[6] A government, for example, usually has economical interests in order to keep the country’s economy afloat. These interests can be in the form of tax on business transactions, import, export or tourism, which are mainly dependent on cooperation from foreign governments and foreign populations. Organizations however, are solely dependent on support. This itself might pose as an interest since organizations are dependent on financial support but the general goal and interest of the organizations as well as their supporters, is the cause.[7]

Human rights organizations have the possibility of acting and speaking up in cases where governments refuse to act or are hindered due to other interests. An example of this lies in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Many governments refused or deliberately avoided giving the Palestinian government any support or recognition for a number of years.[8] In comparison to neighboring countries that are rich in oil, Israel has a strong economy due to industrial export, tourism, agriculture, and advanced technology. Although a recent development of privatization of companies, the main influx of capital has previously passed through the Israeli government. Along with high taxation of citizens in an ever-growing population, this has enabled the government to further invest in Israel’s economic growth.[9] The Israeli government is therefore an attractive business partner in a variety of sectors and other governments and companies are willing to see past Israel’s “internal policies” in order to maintain their business interests. This has not only ensured Israel the right to further their occupation of Palestine and to time and time again violate Palestinians rights, it has also ensured them the right to further their strong economic status and maintain business interests that are not always entirely democratic.[10]

When the Swedish government in 2014 through the Foreign Minister recognized Palestine as an official state,[11] there was major backlash from not only the state of Israel but also from Swedish citizens.[12] A widely supported opinion amongst the Swedes seemed to be that the Swedish government acted prematurely by recognizing the state of Palestine. Some argued that it was not the obligation of the state to take a stand in internal conflicts in foreign states meanwhile others argued that the recognition was ineffective. However, one thing could be ascertained, the relations between Israel and Sweden were destroyed.[13]

When the Israeli government and military deauthorized six Palestinian human rights organizations, Norway was one of the only states that issued a statement about the attack.[14] The Swedish state for instance refused to issue a public statement denouncing the attack even though they had given economic aid to one of the organizations being deauthorized, which they even continued to do after the attacks.[15] The motive behind the refusal to take action should be quite clear, Sweden had finally re-established diplomatic and business relations with Israel and had learned from the previous incident not to jeopardize this through foreign affairs.[16] In contrast, many human rights organizations did not stay silent. They condemned the attack and excessively communicated the reasoning, timing, and consequences of the actions taken by the state of Israel and the Israeli military.[17] Similar reactions followed after Russia’s liquidation of Memorial Human Rights Center.[18] Most governments however, seemed to be stuck with handling the oppressor and never seemed to get to the point of handling the actual violations further than through assessments in internal meetings.

When an organization is shut down, its work is usually paused due to the organization fully having to handle their status as an illegal organization through international advocacy and court proceedings.[19] Their work cannot continue as before until their status as an illegal organization is lifted or revoked. Meanwhile, the organization may be forced underground or abroad and in worst-case scenarios the organization is forcibly shut down. This is not only due to the work itself being made more difficult but also because of the increasing threat towards the safety of the employees. Many employees even face serious state retributions such as long prison sentences. An organization’s legal status is therefore extremely important since it in many cases determines whether the organization can continue its work in the region.

Human rights organizations sole existence is entirely dependent on the absence of state interference. Without their right to exist freely, there is no possibility for organizations to criticize or hold states accountable. When organizations are targeted by governments as retribution for their human rights work it is therefore vital for other democratic states to condemn the attack. Without accountability, any government is free to remove every organization that they are not in agreement with. Without these human rights organizations, who will fight for democracy and defend human rights when states stay silent? Who will document the violations, collect witness testimonies and evidence in order to hold the oppressors accountable? Who will communicate to the world what is happening if the local human rights organizations are forcibly removed?

Human rights organizations act when no one else has the courage, the possibility, or the will. The increasing rate at which organizations are being removed is therefore incredibly dangerous. Not only do local communities lose their advocates, their support systems and lawyers, we internationally lose voices that highlight, question, and stand against the government’s oppression of people. When states refuse to act and human rights organizations are silenced, everyone needs to act in order to ensure that the work of building democracies, keeping peace, and protecting human rights moves forward. If we don’t act in the state of injustice, the violations continue. This is why human rights organizations are so important, they do not stay silent, they act, usually in every way possible.

Frida Eneheim, law student

[1] European Parliament, Parliamentary questions, 2021, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[2] Osborn, Andre and Antonov, Mikhail, Russia shuts Memorial Human Rights Center in ’one-two punch’, 2021, Reuters, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[3] Amnesty, Amnesty International to close its Hong Kong offices, 2021, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[4] Human Rights Watch, Myanmar: Junta Blocks Lifesaving Aid, 2021, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) and United Nations, Deep fears of violent crackdowns in Myanmar, UN rights chief warns, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[5] Council of Europe Portal, Human Rights Activism and the Role of NGOs, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[6] For example: Amnesty, Who we are, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[7] For example: Amnesty, Finances and Pay, 2018, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[8] Permanent Observer Mission of The State of Palestine to the United Nations New York, Diplomatic Relations, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[9] Britannica, Economy of Israel, (Downloaded 2022-02-14)  and Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ECONOMY: Sectors of the Israeli Economy, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[10] AL JAZEERA, Pegasus: What you need to know about Israeli spyware, 2022, (Downloaded 2022-02-14 and Williams, Dan, Israel ramps up scrutiny of police as NSO scandal spreads, 2021, Reuters, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[11] Wallström, Margot, Därför erkänner Sverige i dag Staten Palestina, Regeringskansliet, 2014, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) (In Swedish).

[12] Agence France-Presse in Stockholm, Sweden officially recognises state of Palestine, The Guardian, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) and Rohwedder, My and Knutsson, Johan, Sveriges erkännande  av Palestina väcker reaktioner, Sveriges Radio, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) (In Swedish).

[13] Lars Adaktusson, Återupprättande relationer mellan Sverige och Israel, Sveriges Riksdag, 2019/20:19, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) (In Swedish).

[14] Utenriksdepartementet, Utenriksministerern bekymret over terrorlisting av palestinske organisasjoner,, 2021-10-28, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) (In Norwegian).

[15] Grossman, David, Sverige fortsätter samarbete med terroranklagade organisationer, Omvärlden, 2021, (Downloaded 2022-02-16) (In Swedish).

[16] For example: Business Sweden, Sverige och Israel lanserar en samarbetsplattform för att driva innovativa projekt inom forskning och utveckling, 2020-06-08, (Downloaded 2022-02-14) (In Swedish).

[17] NGO Monitor, NGO Reactions to Six NGOs Being Declared ”Terror Organizations”, 2021-10-26, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[18] The Kyiv Independent, Statement: 28 Ukrainian NGOs call for action against Russia’s closure of Memorial human rights group, 2022-01-05, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

[19] Alloush, Basma, Overcoming the Hurdles; The Struggle of Palestinian Humanitarian NGOs, The Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy, (Downloaded 2022-02-14).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s