Request for Statements of Interest: Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in China

china law and policy NGO-LogoThe Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (RSOI) from organizations interested in submitting Statements of Interest (SOI) outlining project concepts and capacity to manage projects that will support the bureau’s policy priorities of fostering democracy and human rights in China.

DRL invites organizations to submit statements of interest outlining program concepts and organizational capacity to manage projects that will advance DRL policy priorities in the following areas:

  • Rule of Law ($500,000 to $1,500,000 per proposal): Encourage legal reform, support implementation of existing laws consistent with international human rights norms and/or laws that address issues of concern to citizens; support input into new draft laws or draft revised laws under review, especially on issues of broad concern (e.g. Domestic Violence Law, Food Safety Law); support measures to help China implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly with regard to inclusive education and employment issues; promote public interest law and the legal profession; establish better support systems for public interest and criminal defense lawyers; support pro-bono attorneys, legal aid, and/or targeted legal defense micro-grants; provide lawyers and legal activists with the resources to hold authorities accountable for the implementation of new laws, such as the amended Criminal Procedure Law and the Environmental Protection Law; improve legal rights awareness and access to justice for Chinese citizens, particularly underserved and vulnerable populations.
  • Civil Society ($500,000 to $1,500,000 per proposal): Build the capacity of non-governmental actors or entities to improve organizational, fundraising, collaboration, and/or advocacy skills; provide micro- or small grants to support grassroots civil society organizations and activists engaging in innovative advocacy campaigns; enhance cross-sector collaboration and support the development of domestic funding systems for NGOs; professionalize the charitable sector to align with international best practices; reform or establish underlying systems and institutions in the nonprofit sector that support civil society development; promote the human rights of LGBT people, persons with disabilities, rural citizens who have lost their land, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups.
  • Religious Freedom ($500,000 to $1,500,000 per proposal): Engage relevant stakeholders to encourage legal and policy reform expanding religious freedom, including investments in key academics connected to policymakers to better understand the positive role of religion; promote advocacy for the rights of religious minorities and unofficial religious groups, including minority women and female members of religious groups; bolster the ability of lawyers to take on religious freedom cases; support inter-faith collaboration in promoting religious freedom, including efforts to foster dialogue among multiple stakeholders on religious pluralism; and encourage space for religious organizations to provide social services and conduct advocacy as a means of demonstrating the value of religious pluralism in protection of social harmony, such as pilot projects that showcase the positive contributions of religious organizations to social service provision.
  • Labor Rights chinalaborbulletin($500,000 to $1,500,000 per proposal): Strengthen the ability of workers and workers’ organizations to advocate for improved working conditions, respect for fundamental labor rights, and election of worker representatives at the factory level, including by providing legal aid and labor rights trainings for workers and worker activists; improve access to justice for migrant workers, with particular emphasis on supporting grassroots migrant worker activists and labor organizations; promote implementation and enforcement of worker-friendly provisions of existing labor laws, including through reform-centered legal advocacy and outreach; promote representative, interests-based bargaining at the enterprise or industrial sector level, through for example, trainings on collective bargaining and other collective agreement and dispute resolution processes; encourage existing unions to improve representation of workers’ interests, in particular by increasing the role and voice of women, youth and other under-represented workers’ groups in leadership roles within the union; broaden the space for workplace democracy, including by taking advantage of provincial and sub-provincial government regulations and policies with regard to 1) the free election of trade union leaders at the enterprise level, and/or 2) participation by elected worker representatives in enterprise-level collective bargaining.
  • Public Participation, Freedom of Information, and Freedom of Expression ($500,000 to $1,500,000 per proposal): Improve the quality and scope of citizen input into government decision-making; develop online and/or other platforms to enhance accountability and public participation in government decision-making at local levels; promote government information transparency and accountability on a range of issues of importance to wide sectors of Chinese society, including through implementation and use of the Open Government Information Regulations; strengthen and institutionalize public participation methods; encourage freedom of information; develop and implement best practices for ethical and financial standards in support of transparency and accountability; support press freedom and the professionalization of journalists, including use of advanced journalism tools; promote freedom of expression and information, including through new media platforms and other creative and/or innovative tools.

Approximately $10,000,000 in HRDF funds from the FY 2015 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act will be available for China programs. To support direct and indirect costs required for implementation, the Bureau anticipates making awards in amounts of $500,000 to $1,500,000 for one to three year programs for human rights, rule of law, labor rights, religious freedom, civil society, and other programs in the priority areas listed above.

Full details here.

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Time to engage Cuban dissidents, not downplay rights abuses

cuba farinas

In the weeks leading up to a critical annual U.S. report on human trafficking that publicly shames the world’s worst offenders, human rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. And in China, they found, things had grown worse. The State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed, Reuters reports:

A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, shows that the government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

In all, analysts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – or J/TIP, as it’s known within the U.S. government — disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said. The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery – such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution – won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, according to the sources.

As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them, the sources said.

The news will hardly assuage the concerns of Cuban dissidents that the administration is downplaying human rights and democracy as it seeks to cement its new rapprochement with the island’s Communist authorities.

CUBA CENTER FOR FREE“Cuba’s democratic opposition on the island feels betrayed,” says Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Over 60 Cuban dissidents were arrested this week, including Lia Villares, the young blogger leading a campaign for the release of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” who has been imprisoned since December 25th, 2015.

Meanwhile, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights has documented 630 political arrests throughout the month of June 2015 — the highest monthly tally this year. Of those, 340 were female democracy activists.

For the Obama administration, inviting Cuban dissidents such as the Ladies in White or other well-known peaceful opponents to the Aug. 14 U.S. flag-raising at the embassy in Havana — scheduled to be attended by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez — would be proof that it’s not bluffing when it says that it will maintain its commitment to democracy and human rights in Cuba, says analyst Andres Oppenheimer:

It would also be a way for Obama to correct the mistake he made in breaking a longstanding U.S. promise to peaceful opponents that Washington would not make a deal with the Cuban regime without consulting with them. Cuba’s opposition was caught by surprise by Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, and lost political clout internally by not being able to claim even a minor role in their outcome.

In a telephone interview from Cuba, well-known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas [above] told me that, so far, neither he nor any fellow peaceful opponent he knows has been invited to the Aug. 14 ceremony. If Kerry invites dissidents, it would be the first time in his memory that the Cuban government and opponents would mingle in a social event, he said.

“It would be a step forward,” Fariñas told me. “The U.S. government would send a signal that despite the fact that they didn’t take into account the opinion of most oppositionists when they negotiated this, they still support Cuban democrats and democracy.”

He added, “and if Cuban officials don’t attend, the whole world will know which side is the intolerant side.”

The root of many of Cuba’s problems is that outdated ideologies have detached people from reality, Giancarlo Sopo writes for The Huffington Post:

Cuba’s leaders continue to delay much needed economic reforms and obsess over control out of fear of “ideological diversion.” Such obduracy comes at the expense of the Cuban people, mainly those who had nothing to do with the events of 1959.

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Trial highlights flaws in Pakistan’s criminal justice

PakistanA man whose lawyers said he had been tortured into confessing to murder, and who they said was a minor at the time of the crime, was hanged early Tuesday, despite pleas from rights groups in Pakistan and overseas, Salman Masood writes for The New York Times:

The case of the man, Shafqat Hussain, had become a cause célèbre in Pakistan, where rights groups portrayed it as a stark example of the country’s flawed judicial system as they renewed calls for abolishing the death penalty. Since lifting a moratorium on executions in December, Pakistan has put more than 200 people to death, according to Amnesty International, a human rights group. 

pakistan Raza%20Rumi“The trial of Shafqat Hussain sums up the structural flaws in our criminal justice system, where police torture and confessions under duress are the norm,” said Raza Rumi [right], a Pakistani analyst who is a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy [the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO]. “Here is a case where a poor family was unable to pursue a criminal case that requires resources and access to influential people within the state.”


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Risking liberty for laughs in Burma

Though his attire is modest — a traditional wraparound skirt, known as a longyi, under a red T-shirt emblazoned with “The Moustache Brothers,” the name of his comedy troupe — U Lu Maw delivers jokes that are a dark and bold reminder of what life was like under decades of oppressive military rule in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Philip Heijmans writes for The New York Times:

It was not until 2011 that the military regime, which had jailed an estimated 2,000 political prisoners, was succeeded by a quasi-civilian government determined to open the country. Many of those prisoners have since been released, though as of June, 169 of them remained incarcerated, with 446 activists awaiting trial, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners [a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group].

Mr. Par Par Lay was a pro-democracy activist and avid supporter of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now the country’s opposition leader. A participant in the violent nationwide uprising in favor of democracy in 1988, he died in August 2013, at 67. His cause of death was never verified, but Mr. Lu Maw blames a kidney infection caused by years of drinking contaminated water at two prison camps in northern Myanmar.

“My own brother passed away from a government killing, but not only my brother — over 2,000 people died,” he said, referring to prisoners incarcerated for any crime, whose total population ran into the tens of thousands. According to the Assistance Association, many of them succumbed from prison-related injuries or illnesses. (Myanmar’s poor treatment of its prisoners has for decades drawn sharp criticism from human-rights groups.)


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Democratic West lacks political imagination of illiberal powers

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinThe democratic West won the Cold War but in the process lost its political imagination and underestimated the tenacity of the new threats to freedom, argues Christopher Walker, the executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Today, a set of anti-democratic forces that we have found to be beyond the realm of our imagination have gathered momentum and are seeking to reshape the world order, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

For the democracies to triumph in the long battle against Soviet communism enormous commitment was necessary. Both geopolitical and ideological, the struggle called for military investment, patience and resolve. As crucially, this challenge required a reserve of imagination for understanding and responding to the Soviet challenge with the ideas, media instruments and technology that were part of the democratic world’s natural competitive advantage. 

But while the boundaries of the West’s imagination have receded, those of illiberal powers have expanded, Walker contends:

william-butler-yeats-poet-the-best-lack-all-conviction-while-theUsing globalization to their advantage, these repressive states have succeeded in inducing self-censorship in their Western partners, thus resetting norms of free expression for academia, think tanks, business and media that have far too willingly checked their standards at the door when entering these countries. This self-censorship also has affected the West’s ability to discern and respond to authoritarian motivations and aims….

More fundamentally, we still have difficulty believing that Russia and the other emboldened illiberal powers mean what they say—and that they will seek to reshape the post-Cold War liberal order as long as it is not defended.

The languid, complacent approach into which the democratic world has settled in recent years is not suited to the hostile environment for liberal values that has emerged. Without a renewal of purpose in the West and a positive vision from the democracies, the world’s fate will be left to the fertile imagination of others.


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