CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 28th UPR session (November 2017). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

Countries examined: Benin, Gabon, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Zambia.

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 30th UPR session (May 2018). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. Countries examined include: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan:

Bangladesh (Individual/Joint): In this UPR, CIVICUS draws attention to a range of legislative restrictions which have been strengthened and imposed to curtail the operation of independent civic groups in Bangladesh. Of particular concern, are new restrictions on groups seeking funds from abroad, as well the repeated use of the penal code to arrest HRDs and place blanket bans on meetings and assemblies. We further examine the spate of extrajudicial killings against secular bloggers and LGBTI activists which is illustrative of Bangladesh’s downward spiral with respect to civic freedoms and systemic failure to protect civil society.

Burkina Faso (EN/FR): CIVICUS, the Burkinabé Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and the West African Human Right Defenders Network examine unwarranted limitations on freedom of expression and assembly. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

Cameroon: CIVICUS, Réseau des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) highlight Cameroon’s fulfilment of the right to association, assembly and expression and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We assess the ongoing judicial persecution and detention of human rights defenders on trumped up charges, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to target journalists and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.  

Colombia (EN/SP): CIVICUS highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders, social leaders and unions workers who are routinely subject to physical attacks, targeted assassinations, harassment and intimidation by state and non-state actors. CIVICUS examines the increased number of attacks against journalists as well as the government’s lack of effective implementation of protection mechanisms to safeguard the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

Cuba (EN/SP): CIVICUS and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) highlight the constitutional, legal and de facto obstacles to the exercise of the basic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The submission discusses the situation of CSOs, HRDs, journalists and bloggers, who face harassment, criminalisation, arbitrary arrests, searches of their homes and offices and reprisals for interacting with UN and OAS human rights institutions. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled both in the streets and in the media, offline and online. 

Djibouti (EN/FR): CIVICUS, Defend Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submission describes how the government of Djibouti has patently ignored the 14 recommendations made during the second UPR cycle related to the protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Instead, in the intervening period, authorities in Djibouti have continued their campaign against dissent, regularly detaining human rights defenders, journalists and trade union activists because of their criticism of the government or human rights activists.  

Russia: CIVICUS and Citizens’ Watch address concerns regarding the adoption and application of several draconian laws that have resulted in the expulsion and closure of numerous CSOs and restrictions on the activities of countless others. The submission also lays out the increasing criminalisation and persecution of dissenting views by means of growing restrictions, in both law and practice, on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. 

Turkmenistan: CIVICUS highlights restrictions to freedom of association in Turkmenistan including recent amendments to the 2014 Law on Public Associations which further limit CSOs’ ability to register, operate independently and receive funding from international sources. Additionally, we assess the use of the arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders as well as unwarranted limitations to online and offline freedom of expression.

Uzbekistan: CIVICUS, The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the International Partnership for Human Rights assess the conditions of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Uzbekistan. We highlight the lack of progress made in implementing recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle. It particular, we note that although there have been some notable improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

Joint letter to President of the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of International Service for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), Human Rights House Foundation, CIVICUS

We welcome the adoption of the resolution intended to end acts of intimidation or reprisals. However, we regret that a small group of States – most of them regular perpetrators of acts of intimidation or reprisals – have tried to undermine the Council’s efforts to end reprisals. We thank the majority of the Council members for resisting these efforts. 

Mr President, we are concerned that there were attempts to dilute several resolutions at this Council with the insertion of so-called “sovereignty” clauses. While we welcome the fact that they were ultimately defeated, we are concerned that a significant number members seek to use the concept of Sovereignty to shield themselves and other States from international scrutiny.

We also welcome that the resolution on the death penalty urges States to not impose it as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations.

We applaud the creation by consensus of an international investigative body on Yemen, and the broad State leadership on this issue. It sends a message that the people of Yemen have not been abandoned, and that accountability for international crimes is urgently required. We call on all parties to the conflict to fully cooperate with this mandate.

On Burundi, we welcome the extension of the COI’s mandate. This was the only credible response to the CoI’s concerns that crimes against humanity may have been committed, and the persistent non-cooperation of Burundi with both the COI and the OHCHR presence in the country. We urge Burundi to follow through on its promises to start cooperating with the UN system, in line with duties as HRC member, and – failing that – call on the GA to take appropriate action. 

On Myanmar, while we welcome the extension of the fact-finding mission’s mandate, we are disappointed that the Council did not do more to address the gravity of the situation on the ground, in particular acknowledging the disproportionate campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State, which have forced around half a million Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh since 25 August. We urge States to use the ongoing UNGA session to address what the High Commissioner described to the Council as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

On Cambodia, while the Council missed an opportunity for robust scrutiny of the worsening situation, the pre-election reporting in March should put authorities on notice. 

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we welcome the Council’s decision to boost scrutiny of the human rights crisis for another year, which shows how horrific the situation has become. The DRC must now cooperate with all Council mechanisms, and the Council needs to keep its eyes on the country until all actors stop committing violations and abuses, and justice for victims has been obtained. 

Finally, Mr President, we regret the increasing effort spent on procedural tricks and manoeuvers by States in an attempt avoid scrutiny – including by abusing the privilege of being a member to seek to avoid scrutiny of their own situation – instead of spending diplomatic time and capital on ending human rights violations, which is the Council’s core mandate. A renewed commitment to addressing situations based on objective criteria is now more urgent than ever.

Human Rights Organizations Urge UN Human Rights Council Member States to Reject Amendments to the Draft Resolution Renewing the Mandate of The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

In the context of the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), during the 36th regular session of the Human Rights Council, through draft resolution A/HRC/36/L.10, the undersigned human rights organizations emphasize the essential role of the Working Group and call for the renewal of its mandate so that it can continue its important mission of prevention and protection against enforced disappearances.

For us, the WGEID is a vital mechanism for the protection of people on the ground, providing victims with an efficient mechanism to speedily deal with cases of enforced disappearances, in addition to the cooperation with the homologous Committee and the wide visibility which the Working Group gives to cases of enforced disappearances, reinforcing the international commitment to prevent such atrocities.

At the present session, two amendments to the draft resolution renewing the mandate of the Working Group were submitted (A/HRC/36/L.631 and A/HRC/36/L.642). These amendments compromise the autonomy and independence by which the Working Group discharges its duties. In addition, they interfere with the fine balance between national sovereignty and the competence of international mechanisms, already achieved during the adoption of resolution 5/1 (the “Institutional Building Package”) and Resolution 5/2 (the Code of Conduct). Transposing selectively fragments from that prior global commitment represents a serious distortion on the role and institutional functions of the WGEID. In addition, the amendments set a dangerous precedent, posing a systemic risk for all other special procedures.

Accordingly, the signatory organizations urge the members of the Human Rights Council to approve the renewal of the mandate of the WGEID, at the same time as rejecting the proposed amendments.

1. Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
2. Acceso a la Justicia
3. Acción Solidaria
4. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights 5. Adivasi Koordination, Germany
6. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
7. Alkarama Foundation
8. Amnesty International
9. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
10. Asian Legal Resource Centre
11. Burundi Association for Integration and Sustainable Development (AIDB)
12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
13. Center for Reproductive Rights
14. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana.
15. Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez
16. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
17. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
18. CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
19. Comision Colombiana de Juristas
20. Comision paraa los Drechos Humanos y la CiudadaniaCODEHCIU
21. Conectas Human Rights
22. Consejeria CAMEX Oxlajuj Ix
23. Convite AC
24. Corporación Humanas – Chile
25. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) 26. Federation for Women and Family Planning
27. FIAN Belgium
28. FIAN International
29. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
30. Forum Menschenrechte (Germany)
31. Franciscans International
32. Geneva for Human Rights
33. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
34. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
35. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
36. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka
37. Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
38. Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos - IDDH
39. int. association against torture (AICT)
40. International Commission of Jurists
41. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
42. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 43. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
44. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) 45. MNDH Brasil
46. Monitor Social AC
47. Organizacion StopVIH
48. Penal Reform International
49. Plataforma Internacional Contra la Impunidad
50. Proiuris (Venezuela)
51. Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH
52. Sexual Rights Initiative
53. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
54. Tamazight Women Movement
55. The ICCA Consortium
56. Una Ventana a la Libertad
57. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)
58. West African Human Rights Defenders' Network/Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits
Humains
59. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
60. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
61. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council
Re: Support resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights

The undersigned 48 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the adoption of the resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights as tabled. We urge you to resist efforts to undermine and weaken this resolution. The balanced resolution entitled ‘Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (A/HRC/36/L.26), developed through open and transparent informal negotiations, is being considered by the 36st session of the Human Rights Council. The core group comprising Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Fiji and Uruguay will present the resolution for adoption on 28 or 29 September.

The Secretary-General's most recent report on cooperation presented at this session of the Human Rights Council reveals a worsening incidence of intimidation and reprisals, including a ‘broader’ range of actions, by increasingly ‘blunt’ means. It reports that people engaging with the United Nations experience threats, intimidation, harassment, derogatory media campaigns, travel bans, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, disbarment, and dismissal from posts.

Beyond the grave impact on the life of persons concerned and their relatives, intimidation and reprisals also constitute anattack on human rights, the rule of law, and the international and regional mechanisms themselves.

The report identifies a number of positive developments, including a strong resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the establishment of a mandate by that body to combat reprisals. It is imperative that the Human Rights Council adopts a similarly strong and substantive resolution at this session.

Despite the importance of the resolution – so tragically illustrated by the number of cases included in the Secretary General's report – a small group of States, led by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt and Cuba are seeking to seriously undermine the text. A number of amendments being promoted by these States, in addition to questioning consensus language and terminology from past resolutions, challenge key elements in the resolution, including:

  • The right of all people to safe and unhindered access to and communication with international human rights bodies, which is firmly established in international law;
  • The commitment made by Member States, in particular Council Members, to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and the acknowledgment that a failure to take steps to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for such acts may be inconsistent with that commitment;
  • The call on States to take measures to prevent the occurrence of intimidation and reprisals;
  • The responsibility of the Human Rights Council President and his Bureau to address and follow up on allegations of acts of intimidation and reprisal;
  • The recognition of developments on the issue of reprisals in United Nations mechanisms, including the special procedures and the treaty bodies;
  • The welcoming of the designation of the Assistant Secretary General on human rights, and acknowledgment of his work regarding reprisals associated with the mandate assigned to him by the Secretary General; and
  • The devotion of ‘sufficient time to discuss the report of the Secretary General’ at the Human Rights Council.

These amendments would seriously undermine the ability of the United Nations system to address the needs on the ground. For the United Nations to effectively promote and protect human rights and achieve sustainable development, the right of all people to communicate with and provide information to the United Nations needs to be protected. The proposals to weaken the resolution should be seen in the context of ongoing, systematic efforts in a number of States to restrict civil society space, the right to communicate with the United Nations and its effectiveness and legitimacy. Indeed, several of the proposing States are the subject of allegations of intimidation or reprisals in both the Secretary- General’s report and the joint communications report of Special Procedures.

We urge you not to associate with such positions. Instead, we respectfully urge your delegation to co-sponsor resolution L.26 as tabled, vote against the amendments presented, and vote in favour of the resolution as drafted.

Civil society and human rights defenders around the world look to the Human Rights Council and its Member States for support and protection, and we hope your delegation will stand with us.
Yours sincerely,

1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies 
2. Akahata A.C.
3. Alkarama Foundation
4. Article 19
5. Asian Legal Resource Centre
6. Association for Advancement of Legal Rights
7. Association for Progressive Communications 
8. Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan
9. Both ENDS
10. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
12. Canada Tibet Committee
13. Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres
14. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
15. Christian Development Alternative
16. CIVICUS
17. Collectif des Organisations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie
18. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
19. Conectas Direitos Humanos
20. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
21. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
22. Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders
23. EuroMed Rights Paris
24. FORUM-ASIA (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)
25. Global Human Rights Clinic
26. Help & Shelter
27. Human Rights Watch
28. International Commission of Jurists
29. Insan Haklari Dernegi/Human Rights Association
30. Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Politicos
31. International Centre for Ethnic Studies
32. International Service for Human Rights
33. Labour, Health and Human Rights Development Centre
34. Ligue pour la Défense de la Justice et de la Liberté / Burkina Faso Coalition of Human Rights
Defenders
35. Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture
36. Partnership for Justice
37. PROMEDEHUM
38. Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)
39. Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH
40. Réseau Ouest Africain des défenseurs des Droits Humains
41. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
42. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network
43. Union Internationale des Avocats
44. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social
45. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
46. Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights
47. Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms
48. Zo Indigenous Forum

 

36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

ISHR and CIVICUS welcome the Philippine Government’s engagement in the UPR process. However, despite claims of the State party during the May 2017 review, Filipino human rights defenders continue to have serious concerns about the environment for human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country.
 
Mr. President, the systematic and targeted killings of HRDs, under the cover of ‘counterinsurgency programs’, have long been a problem. On average, our partners documented 40 killings per year from 2001 to 2016.  In the past year, however, this number has risen to 50 HRDs, many who were leaders of peasant and indigenous communities. This is largely due to President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, which has also resulted in thousands more casualties of regular Filipino citizens.
 
Since the May review, human rights activists have seen no reprieve in the harassment and threats by State security forces. This includes the Secretary General of people’s organisation Karapatan, Cristina Palabay.

Duterte’s pronouncements endanger the lives of HRDs who speak out against his repressive policies, including the drug war and martial law declarations, as well as for respect of rights, such as to a safe and healthy environment. The filing of trumped-up charges to criminalize HRDs has been normalized by the government, hampering us from doing our work and violating our freedom of association.

Most recently, the ominous signs of a nationwide martial law under Pres. Duterte hover like a sword of Damocles over HRDs and the Filipino people. Our history shows that such a decision will worsen the current state of human rights in the country. 

We therefore urge the Council to ensure that the Philippine government respect its pledges and commitments, as stated in the UPR outcome report. We call for a halt to all forms of attacks on human rights defenders, the enactment of a law for their protection, and the acceptance of a full, independent visit to the Philippines by UN Special Rapporteurs, including on the situation of HRDs. 

36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes Poland’s commitment to engage with the UPR process and its acceptance of recommendations related to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in its recent response to the Report of the Working Group.

As outlined in our joint submission to this review, CIVICUS and the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) remain seriously concerned by the government’s control over state institutions and the media through weakened rule of law and undermined respect for fundamental freedoms.

With particular reference to media freedom, we welcome the Government of Poland’s commitment to ensure that national legislation is made consistent with European Union Law. We remain concerned however at the Government’s assertion that laws enacted in 2015 “do not restrict media freedom and pluralism”. CIVICUS and KOD believe there is still an urgent need to revisit changes made to the Broadcasting Act in January 2016, to prevent the kind of political interference which saw the dismissal of dozens of journalists from the public broadcaster.

We also welcome Poland’s acceptance of the recommendation to guarantee the freedom of assembly, but urge the Government to reconsider its rejection of the recommendation to “Repeal the restrictive amendments on the Law on Assemblies”. These amendments are inconsistent with Poland’s international obligations, because they give undue priority to public authorities, and seriously undermine the protest rights of all Polish citizens, including those that oppose the government. 

Finally, we welcome the Government of Poland’s acceptance of recommendations related to the freedom of association. We however urge the Government to ensure that these guarantees are applied equally to all, including groups promoting the rights of LGBTI people. We also urge the Government to ensure that Poland’s new counter-terrorism legislation is not used as a pretext for the erosion of the rights of minority groups, particularly those promoting the rights of Muslims.  

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
Interactive dialogue on human rights in Vietnam

CIVICUS presents this statement together with VOICE

We are gravely concerned by the crackdown on human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. Despite its international treaty obligations and recommendations accepted at the UPR to respect freedom of expression and civil society space, the Government of Vietnam is doing the exact opposite.

In the first eight months of this year, at least 16 activists have been detained, arrested or sentenced under the country’s draconian Penal Code, including 6 members of the group, Brotherhood for Democracy, who remain in pre-trial detention and could face the maximum sentence of death for their peaceful human rights work. Two female activists, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, have been sentenced to 10 years and 9 years in prison, for peacefully criticizing the government and have been subjected to dire prison conditions. I am also here with Ms. Le Thi Minh Ha, wife of Anh Ba Sam who was sentenced to 5 years for simply blogging against the Government.

There are, in fact, hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam right now, yet Vietnam fails to acknowledge their existence.  

Mr. President, we call on the Vietnamese government to implement in good faith the UPR recommendations it accepted in 2014 as well as those made by Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. We call on the Council members and observers to urge Vietnam to free all prisoners of conscience. 

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
Panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples

Disponible en Espanol

I read this statement on behalf of 39 human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on indigenous, land and environmental rights from 29 countries who met in Johannesburg, South Africa from 7-9 August 2017 to discuss strategies to advance the protection of indigenous, land and environmental rights activists.

Mr. President, 2016 surpassed 2015 as the deadliest year on record for those stood up against land grabbing, natural resource exploitation and environmental destruction. Worryingly, the number of killed has risen to 200 from 185 in 2016 and spread to several countries across the world.

In the current global climate, where repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly is becoming the norm rather than the exception, environmental and land defenders are particularly vulnerable.

When we express concerns over the collusion between States and corporate actors, we face opposition - dissent is stifled and criminalised, and our lives are threatened. Often our work is discredited and we are labelled ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-development’.

When we protest peacefully against this attack on our resources and livelihoods, we face violence from state authorities, private security groups and state-sponsored vigilante groups. When we stand up to defend the rights of our communities, we face unfounded criminal charges, unlawful arrests, custodial torture, threats to life and liberty, surveillance, judicial harassment and administrative hurdles, among other actions.

Mr. President, our families are threatened into silence and many of us have had to make the difficult decision to flee our homes and go into exile, retreating from a fight that has become too dangerous.

We need global action to counter the threats we face.

We ask the panellists to urge the Council to emphasise the need for all states to ensure that affected communities are adequately consulted, including securing their full consent prior to the development of infrastructure and extractive industries projects.  

More information:

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session
Oral Intervention at Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Thank you, Mr. President.  CIVICUS and DefendDefenders on behalf of 30 African organisations would like to thank the CoI for their report and reiterate their concerns that there are reasons to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed with impunity by state perpetrators including the National Intelligence Service, National Police, the Burundian Amy and the Imbonerakure in Burundi since the outset of the crisis in April 2015.

The killings, abductions, mass disappearances, torture and detentions of citizens have created a climate of fear and intimidation firmly entrenched in all sectors of Burundian society. A civil society law passed in January 2017 gives the authorities broad powers to control the activities and resources of civil society organisations. Almost all human rights defenders and journalists are in exile and still live in fear. The government has issued international warrants against some of them.

Most of the private radio stations remain closed, and while most journalists and HRDs are in exile, some of those who remained, such as Jean Bigirimana and Germain Rukuki, are still missing or detained.

Mr. President in a context like Burundi’s where the judiciary is not independent and all voices critical of the government are brutally attacked, there are no avenues present to hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable.

Mr. President, we call on the Council to:

  1. Renew the mandate of the COI
  2. Urge the International Criminal Court to open an official investigation into human rights violations in Burundi
  3. Initiate action for Burundi’s suspension from the UN HRC

Thank you Mr. President

Sincerely,

  1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture - Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
  2. African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), The Gambia
  3. Association pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH), Burundi
  4. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), Ethiopia
  5. CIVICUS
  6. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
  7. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, South Sudan (CEPO)
  8. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  9. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea, Eritrea
  10. ONG Ezaka ho Fampandrosoana any Ambanivohitra (ONG EFA), Madagascar
  11. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea
  12. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE), Burundi
  13. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC), Burundi
  14. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea  (HRCE)
  15. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA), South Africa
  16. International Youth For Africa, South Sudan
  17. La Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise, DRC
  18. Ligue Iteka, Burundi
  19. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda
  20. Réseau des Citoyens Probes, Burundi
  21. Réseau des Droits de l’Homme d’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
  22. SOS-Torture, Burundi
  23. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network, South Sudan
  24. Union Burundaise des Journalistes, Burundi
  25. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia
  26. Mauritius Council of Social Services, Mauritius
  27. Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  28. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  29. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
  30. Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité

Human Rights Council: 36th Session
Oral Intervention at Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS, on behalf of 20 African civil society organisations, thank the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for their worrying update.

Mr. President, we welcome this opportunity to raise concerns about the devastating situation in South Sudan with national and regional interlocutors. While we welcome some of the steps made towards establishing the Hybrid Court on South Sudan, we urge all regional and international actors to work together to ensure that justice is secured for the victims of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in South Sudan.

Today, civilians, journalists and humanitarian workers continue to be deliberately and targeted through horrific and violent attacks by both state and non-state actors. International civil society groups have documented ethnically charged sexual violence of unimaginable brutality on a massive scale, which shows no signs of abating.

Today, many South Sudanese civil society organisations and media workers are forced to work from exile, making the documentation and reporting of violations in the country particularly challenging. Given the situation, the Commission’s mandate to collect evidence, document violations and advise on accountability mechanisms is of the utmost importance and should be given full support by members of this Council.

Under the new High Level Revitalisation Forum, it is critical for the Government of South Sudan to take significant steps to show its commitment to the implementation of the Peace Agreement, including Chapter V, and to cooperate in a meaningful way with the African Union for the speedy establishment of the Court.

We urge Member States of the Council to support the Commission’s work and to urge the Government of South Sudan to respect its responsibility to protect its citizens and to put an end to the senseless violence the country has been experiencing for the past four years.

  1. African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, The Gambia
  2. Assistance Mission for Africa, South Sudan
  3. Association for human rights in Ethiopia
  4. Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC), Cameroon
  5. Center for Peace and Justice, South Sudan
  6. CIVICUS, South Africa
  7. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, South Sudan
  8. Concertation Nationale de la Société Civile du Togo, Togo
  9. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Uganda
  10. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea
  11. EVE Organisation, South Sudan
  12. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE) 
  13. International Youth for Africa, South Sudan
  14. La Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise, DRC
  15. Mauritius Council of Social Services, Mauritius
  16. ONG Ezaka ho Fampandrosoana any Ambanivohitra (ONG EFA), Madagascar
  17. Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/ West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network,
  18. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network, South Sudan
  19. Women Monthly Forum
  20. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia
  21. Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

 

To: Member and Observer states of the UN Human Rights Council
Subject: Urgent action needed on Myanmar

Dear Excellencies

We write to you regarding the deeply concerning situation in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State. Reports estimate that more than 270,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh following the outbreak of violence two weeks ago, and this figure is expected to significantly increase. Thousands of non-Muslim residents have also been internally displaced. Reports have also emerged of entire villages being burnt and hundreds killed. On 31 August, three UN Special Rapporteurs expressed concern citing credible reports of death to villagers resulting from security force attacks, and the use of helicopters and rocket propelled grenades on the population. On 5 September, speaking to reporters, the UN Secretary General warned of a risk of ethnic cleansing. Access to northern Rakhine State has been denied to independent observers and humanitarian aid agencies while media has been tightly controlled – leaving the territory under a virtual information blackout and exacerbating a humanitarian catastrophe. We call on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently act – by passing a resolution on Myanmar calling for an end to abuses against the population and ensuring immediate humanitarian access.

The UN Human Rights Council established a Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) at its 34th session in March this year, following reports of alarming human rights violations in Rakhine State beginning in October last year. In February 2017, a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and statements by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar referred to reports of egregious violations targeting the Rohingya minority at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 – including the deliberate killing of children, the burning of homes with people inside them, rape, and sexual violence. The OHCHR report concluded that reports indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity. Military operations conducted during this period bear a close semblance to current operations which involve mass exodus of Rohingya fleeing violence, multiple reports of civilian deaths, and egregious violations under an information blackout, without independent access to observers or journalists.

The current bout of violence began following reports of coordinated attacks on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed militant organisation, on 25 August – after which the Myanmar military launched a massive response. Weeks before the current outbreak of violence, on 11 August, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar expressed concern on increasing military build-up in Rakhine State. The violence broke out immediately following the release of a report by an international commission headed by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which called for reforms to address wide-ranging forms of discrimination faced by the Rohingya community. On 29 August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned all sides on fuelling further violence and called on the government leadership to condemn the inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to hatred that is proliferating. He further expressed concerns on unsupported government allegations that international aid organizations were complicit in or supporting attacks, as this places aid workers in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid.

Myanmar has so far failed to restore full humanitarian access following the preceding period of violence that began in October 2016. The Myanmar government has hitherto been reluctant to cooperate with the FFM and has denied allegations relating to violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The government has also refused to reform discriminatory laws that affect the Rohingya community and deny them full citizenship rights, leaving the community in a vulnerable situation.

It is imperative for the UN Human Rights Council to urgently address the escalating situation in Myanmar through a resolution at the upcoming 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The establishment of the FFM was considerably delayed for technical reasons. The lack of access to the country by independent investigators as well as the current outbreak of violence have further increased the magnitude of the body's work ahead of its March 2018 reporting deadline. In this context, the Council should pass a resolution on Myanmar which:

  1. Extends the time available for the FFM beyond March;
  2. Makes provision for the FFM to provide a preliminary report to the UN General Assembly in September 2017 and a final report to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in 2018;
  3. Calls on Myanmar to urgently grant full access to the FFM;
  4. Emphasises the responsibility of Myanmar to prevent and seek accountability for any retaliation or reprisal against individuals for engaging with the FFM;
  5. Expresses grave concern over recent allegations of violations and calls for an immediate end to attacks on the civilian population; and
  6. Urges full access for humanitarian aid and independent observers.

Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.

  1. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma)
  2. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  4. Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC)
  5. Awaz Foundation Pakistan - Centre for Development Services (AwazCDS-Pakistan)
  6. Burma Campaign UK
  7. Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A)
  8. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  9. Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
  10. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
  11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  12. Civil Rights Defenders
  13. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (kontraS)
  14. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  15. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  16. Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  17. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  18. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
  19. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  20. Human Rights Watch
  21. Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)
  22. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  23. Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC)
  24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  25. Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP)
  26. Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
  27. Madaripur Legal Aid Association
  28. National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
  29. Odhikar
  30. Partnership for Justice
  31. People's Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
  32. People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
  33. PILIPINA Legal Resources Center (PLRC)
  34. Pusat KOMAS
  35. Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit
  36. Safeguard Defenders
  37. South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
  38. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  39. Think Centre
  40. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

CIVICUS deeply appreciates High Commissioner’s update, regretfully on an ever darker and more dangerous world.

We are shocked by the report of the man-made disaster in YemenIn addition, according to the CIVICUS Monitor journalists and human rights defenders continue work in risky conditions caused by the ongoing conflict that has forced three million people to flee their homes.  The conflict has left more than seven million at risk of famine and there are currently 500,000 suspected cases of cholera - a third of these are children. NGOs have called for an independent international Inquiry into human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, and we strongly reiterate this call and urge members of the Council to vote for a resolution with such a mandate.

We equally share the HC’s concern about Venezuela. Findings from CIVICUS Watch show that there are serious violations of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Freedom of expression is severely constrained; Radio and Television channels have been closed and, according to Espacia Publica 49 radio stations removed from the air.  800 attacks against freedom of expression documented. Due to new regulations on peaceful assembly more than 5000 were detained during anti -government protest since April 2017 with more than 1,300 persons still in detention. Detainees were often subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and, in several cases documented, the ill-treatment amounted to torture. We call on members of the Council to address the situation in Venezuela as a matter of urgency.  The government should be made aware of the fact that those responsible for these human rights abuses will be brought to justice once judicial independence is restored. In addition we call on the Maduro government to:

  • End the repression and release all political prisoners
  • Set a date for free and fair elections with proper independent oversight
  • Restore judicial independence and the power of the National Assembly, and
  • Immediately allow sufficient international aid into the country

Civil society calls on the UN Human Rights Council to address Cambodia’s human rights crisis

The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an unfolding human rights crisis in Cambodia.

As detailed below, there has been a marked deterioration in the civil and political rights environment over the last two years, culminating in recent weeks in the closure of several independent media outlets and the arrest of Kem Sokha, the leader of Cambodia’s main political opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). (Another key opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, is in exile because of a spurious legal case against him, and would be arrested if he were to return.) 

As you may know, national elections in Cambodia have been scheduled for July 29, 2018. During the upcoming 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, a new resolution on Cambodia will be under consideration.

We call on you to support a resolution that directly addresses the human rights crisis in Cambodia, urges the Cambodian government to curb its rights violations, and take steps to create a more enabling environment for free and fair elections.

A new resolution at the Human Rights Council, when tabled, is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia for two years. Given the gravity of the situation, we are recommending that the resolution request a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that will, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, assess the civil and political rights situation in Cambodia in the pre-election period, and identify concrete actions that the Cambodian government and international community need to take to ensure that the conditions in which the election takes place accord with international human rights standards. We have included specific draft language in an appendix below.

Since the last Council resolution, adopted on October 2, 2015, the environment for civil and political rights in Cambodia has worsened significantly. Developments include:

  • The severe beating of two opposition parliamentarians on October 26, 2015, which human rights groups and later court hearings demonstrated was carried out by forces in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit. The attack took place after Cambodian diaspora in France held anti-government protests during a visit to Paris by Prime Minister Hun Sen, after which Hun Sen warned of retaliatory violence.  Only three of several identified perpetrators ever stood trial for the attack, all of whom received partially suspended sentences and were later promoted to more senior positions upon release from prison.
  • The resurrection of an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, connected to an old, politically motivated criminal case against him. The arrest warrant led to Rainsy’s decision in 2015 to remain outside of Cambodia, and was followed by additional convictions on spurious legal charges. If he returns to Cambodia, Sam Rainsy will face immediate arrest and imprisonment for these trumped-up charges. In addition, the government in 2017 passed two amendments to the 1997 Law on Political Parties that  were clearly motivated by partisan interests against the opposition (see sections below), and that have compelled Rainsy to step down as CNRP leader.
  • The government’s arrest on September 3 of CNRP’s other leader, Kem Sokha, on charges of treason. Kem Sokha, who had taken sole leadership of the party after Sam Rainsy’s exile and resignation, had already faced de facto house arrest and an in absentia criminal conviction in 2016 that was accompanied by a prison sentence of five months, for “refusing to appear as a witness” following his non-compliance with a subpoena in a politically motivated criminal investigation. Kem Sokha faced threat of arrest for much of 2016 and for many months was unable to leave his office at CNRP’s headquarters, which on several occasions was surrounded by armed forces, including military helicopters and convoys of bodyguard unit troops.
  • The earlier politically motivated prosecutions of several other elected opposition leaders, including MP Um Sam An, Senator Hong Sok Hour, Senator Thak Lany, Commune Councilor Seang Chet, as well as other opposition party organizers and activists. These cases appear to be part of an unprecedented surge in the detention of opposition supporters and civil society activists, with at least 35 documented cases since July 2015. At least 19 remain in detention as of this writing, 14 of whom were convicted of insurrection offenses following their peaceful participation in an opposition-led demonstration in 2014 that turned violent following state-instigated crackdowns.
  • Cambodian authorities’ use in August and September of Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation to intimidate—and shut down—civil society groups and independent media outlets, including the independent Cambodia Daily newspaper, which was forced to cease its operations on September 4, 2017.
  • The authorities’ campaign against independent radio, including August orders to close and revoke the license of Mohanokor Radio and its affiliates, which broadcast Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the closing of the independent radio station Voice of Democracy (VOD). Several other radio stations broadcasting programming from VOA or RFA have come under pressure from the government, and stopped broadcasting this month. Almost all domestically-broadcast media in Cambodia is now under government control, with an already entirely government controlled television media and now near elimination of independent radio.  
  • The detention, prosecution, and harassment of four senior staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) in 2016 and 2017: Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony, as well as a former ADHOC staff member who is now the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), Ny Chakrya. This group of human rights defenders, commonly referred to as the “ADHOC Five,” were held in pre-trial detention  for 427 days until released on bail, in the wake of sustained international pressure, on June 29. While their release on bail was a welcome step (especially considering some of detainees’ seriously deteriorating health conditions in prison), authorities are proceeding with their prosecution and the five still face 5 to  10 years in prison, and their freedom of movement and ability to carry out human rights work remains hindered.
  • The continuing imprisonment of Boeung Kak Lake activist and women’s rights defender Tep Vanny, who has spent over one year in prison. Tep Vanny was arrested on August 15, 2016 during a “Black Monday” protest, a non-violent campaign that called for the release of the ADHOC Five. She and a fellow community member, Bov Sophea, were convicted and sentenced to six days’ imprisonment; while Bov Sophea was released upon having served her sentence in pre-trial detention, authorities transferred Tep Vanny back to prison and reactivated a case against her stemming from 2013, when she engaged in a protest calling for the release of another human rights activist, and continue to prosecute several other spurious legal cases against her.
  • The assassination of prominent political commentator Dr. Kem Ley on July 10, 2016, a killing that came five days after a senior Cambodian general publicly called on Cambodian armed forces to “eliminate and dispose of” anyone “fomenting social turmoil” in Cambodia. Kem Ley had been a frequent critic of Hun Sen and in the weeks before his killing had given several media interviews about a groundbreaking report by Global Witness outlining the vast wealth of Hun Sen’s family, fueling concerns that the killing was ordered by higher authorities. A deeply flawed investigation saw merely the identification of one suspect, Oeuth Ang, also known as “Chuob Samlab” (“Meet to Kill”). In March 2017, Oeuth Ang was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in proceedings that ignored improbabilities and inconsistencies in his confession and shortcomings in the investigation. A month before the Oeuth Ang trial, Hun Sen brought a civil charge of defamation against a political commentator, Kim Sok, who had suggested publicly that the Cambodia People’s Party was behind the killing, and authorities also filed a criminal charge of incitement against him. In August, Kim Sok was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and ordered to pay Hun Sen US$200,000 in the civil case. Opposition Senator Thak Lany has also been convicted in absentia for similar offenses after commenting on this case.
  • Government para-police attacks on protesters and human rights observers during an October 10, 2016 peaceful celebration of World Habitat Day. Two human rights defender victims of this attack, Chan Puthisak and Am Sam Ath, were subject to spurious criminal investigations.
  • The government’s passage in 2017 of two rounds of repressive amendments to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties, which allow authorities to dissolve political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without holding hearings and without an appeal process. The amendments contain numerous restrictions that are tailored to create stumbling blocks for opposition parties, most notably provisions that compel political parties to distance themselves from members who have been convicted of a criminal charge. This impacts opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, effectively allowing the government to dissolve the main opposition party at any time they choose. Many observers suspect that the government will allow the opposition to contest the 2018 elections but has crafted these provisions to weaken the opposition or to use them to dissolve the parties outright in the event that they pose a more significant threat to the ruling party’s hold on power.
  • Prime Minister Hun Sen’s July orders to the Ministry of Interior to investigate two members of a group of civil society organizations coordinating efforts of election monitoring on an ad hoc basis under the head of the so-called “Situation Room.” The government alleges that the ad hoc group violated the vague and undefined concept of “political neutrality” enshrined in Cambodia’s widely criticized Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations (LANGO), which allows for the dissolution or denial of registration of NGOs, as well as for failing to register under LANGO.
  • Questionable legal investigations into trade unions conducted under Cambodia’s Trade Union Law, which has prevented some unions from legally registering and excluded them from collective bargaining and formally advocating for rights and improved working conditions.
  • Increasingly threatening political rhetoric, including repeated threats of violence and other forms of intimidation by government officials directed at dissidents and civil society, including in the lead-up to this year’s flawed commune elections and afterwards. Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and several senior military leaders have repeated claims that any election victory by the political opposition would lead to “civil war,” while making clear threats to use violence against any individuals who “protest” or seek a “color revolution,” a term which authorities disingenuously employ to portray peaceful dissent as an attempted violent overthrow of the state. Before his baseless accusations in September of Kem Sokha’s “treason” and “conspiracy,” Hun Sen made a number of statements that appear to equate peaceful political opposition and exercise of freedoms of speech and assembly as unlawful acts of violent rebellion. In May 2017, Hun Sen, during campaigning for the country’s 2017 commune elections, stated he would be “willing to eliminate 100 to 200 people” to protect “national security,” for the opposition to “prepare their coffins”, or against anyone who, and later repeated this claim and made a transparent reference to Sam Rainsy suggesting that Rainsy knew he would be targeted for violence. On August 2, Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said that protesters who dispute the outcome of the scheduled 2018 elections will be “hit with the bottom end of bamboo poles”—a reference to a technique used during the Khmer Rouge regime—and threatened civil servants in his ministry with termination if they do not support the ruling CPP. 
  • An August 23 Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement ordering the closure of the US non-governmental organization the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and expulsion of its non-Cambodian staff “within seven days.” The statement cites LANGO and the 1997 Tax Law, both of which the government has cited in other threats against civil society groups mentioned above.

The Cambodian government’s actions outlined above should be considered together, as a comprehensive campaign of intimidation, violence, and misuse of legal mechanisms in the lead-up to next year’s national election, meant to weaken or neutralize political opposition and hamper civil society efforts to monitor the election and freedom of speech, association, and assembly. More broadly, the government’s actions are an open-ended assault on the United Nations-backed democratic process in Cambodia that began with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the situation and the risks these conditions pose to the integrity of Cambodia’s 2018 elections. It is crucial that the international community support a UN Human Rights Council resolution that explicitly condemns the Cambodian government’s attacks on democratic and human rights norms and takes steps to address them.

As noted above, the appendix contains draft language recommending that the resolution request the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the escalating crackdown, and outline actions the government and international community should take to ensure that the conditions in which the elections take place accord with international human right standards. As outlined in the proposed text in the appendix, we also recommend that the High Commissioner should provide an oral update to the Council at its 37th session in March 2018, and present his report at the 38th session in June 2018.

We further recommend that your government, during the September session at the Council, speak out clearly and jointly with other governments against the latest abuses, and put the Cambodian government on notice that the Cambodian government’s failure to fully address these concerns will make it impossible to determine that the 2018 elections were free and fair. 

We also recommend that the Human Rights Council, at those future sessions, hold an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue including stakeholders such as staff from Cambodia’s OHCHR office, the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures and members of local and international civil society.

We look forward to discussing this matter with you or your staff in more detail.

Thank you for your attention.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

UN Human Rights Council
36th session
12 September 2017

Statement at the UN Human Rights Council during interactive diialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
CIVICUS welcomes the annual and mission reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.  We applaud the Working Group for its unstinting dedication and invaluable work in exposing the wilful and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders.

As noted by the Working Group from its annual missions to both Azerbaijan and the United States, politically motivated detention of those who dare to speak out against the government or its policies afflicts both mature and emerging democracies across the world.

It is a matter of deep concern that despite constitutional protections, peaceful demonstrators engaged in legitimate activities continue to face judicial harassment in the US. At least 20 states that have proposed legislation making it harder to protest, creating harsher penalties for protesters who are arrested.

One recent example of the criminalisation of protests is the trial of protesters arrested during the mass demonstration on Inauguration Day in January 2017. Initially, approximately 230 people were arrested and charged with felony rioting. However, on 27th April 2017, additional charges were made against 212 defendants, including three of whom had not previously been charged. 

In Azerbaijan, the authorities have failed to head repeated calls from the Work Group and a range of independent UN experts to end the use of judicial harassment to suppress independent dissent. On 3 March 2017, Journalist and blogger, Mehman Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on libel charges.

Weeks earlier on 17 February 2017, another Azeri journalist, Elchin Ismayilli, was arrested. Ismayilli is well-known for his articles detailing acts of corruption and human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The authorities haev since charged him with extortion and abuse of power in a position of influence.

We urge both Azerbaijan and the United States to immediately and unconditionally implement the recommendations made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including releasing all persons detained for exercising their legitimate rights and repeal all laws and policies which criminalise international and national enshrined rights to association, assembly and expression. 

We, the undersigned Bahraini, regional and international human rights organizations, remain alarmed at the ongoing human rights crisis in the Kingdom of Bahrain. We are also concerned about the diminished response from states at the Human Rights Council since the situation began to dramatically deteriorate over one year ago. We welcome your country’s commitment to address situations of concern based on the objective criteria laid out in the joint statement delivered by Ireland at the 32nd session of the HRC. This commitment was reiterated in a subsequent joint statement on the improvement of membership standards, signed by 48 states at the 35th session this year. However, we have yet to see this commitment translate into a principled response to the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. As this letter outlines in detail, Bahrain demonstrably meets the criteria that should compel states and the Council to act to address this situation. We therefore call on your delegation to uphold your pledge and renew both individual and collective initiatives at the Council to address the Bahraini Government’s intensifying human rights violations.

The Government of Bahrain has continued to suppress all forms of opposition, criticism, or dissent in 2017. The Government began the year by ending a de facto moratorium on the death penalty when it executed three victims of torture after trials marred by serious due process violations. In January, the Government restored domestic law enforcement powers to Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA), an institution implicated in systematic and widespread torture in 2011. In April, the King approved a constitutional amendment allowing civilians to be tried in military courts, further eroding the limited reforms made in line with the recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, was convicted of money laundering in May on politically motivated charges, and the Government used lethal force to clear a months-long peaceful sit-in around his home, killing five individuals in the process, injuring hundreds more, and arresting 286 individuals. In May, courts disbanded the Kingdom’s last major opposition political society, Wa’ad, and in June the Government indefinitely suspended operations at the country’s only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat. Meanwhile, the Government continued its relentless suppression of civil society, committing reprisals against activists and their families and convicting Bahrain’s leading human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, for commenting on continuing human rights abuses during television interviews and on social media, violating his right to freedom of expression.

We recall here the guiding considerations outlined in the June 2016 joint statement, and reaffirmed in the June 2017 joint statement, and their application to the situation in Bahrain:

Whether  there  has  been  a  call  for  action  by  the  UN  Secretary  General,  the  High Commissioner for Human Rights or a relevant UN organ, body or agency:

  • On  13 September 2016, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein stated: “In Bahrain, I am  concerned  by  harassment  and  arrests  of  human  rights  defenders  and  political activists, and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process. I urge greater attention to this situation. [emphasis added] The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.
  • Likewise, during his  Annual Report and Oral Update to the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner said of Bahrain, “I am deeply concerned over the increasing levels of human rights violations in the Kingdom. I call on the Government of Bahrain to undertake concrete confidence building measures, including allowing my Office and Special Procedures mandate holders to swiftly conduct visits.
  • And, on  2 June 2017, the High Commissioner said, “Human rights defenders working in Bahrain reportedly continue to face restrictions, intimidation, interrogations, detentions and travel bans… I urge Bahrain to choose a different path – one of engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator. My Office stands ready to offer technical assistance and advice on the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain.

Whether  a  group  of  Special  Procedures  have  recommended  that  the  Council  consider action:

  • On  16 June 2017, the Special Procedures on extrajudicial executions, peaceful assembly and association, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the working group on arbitrary detention,  issued a statement saying: “We call on the Government of Bahrain  to  immediately  cease  its  campaign  of  persecution  against  human  rights defenders, journalists and anyone else with divergent opinions, and take all measures to guarantee  a  safe  and  enabling  environment  for  all  Bahrainis,  independent  of  their political opinions, beliefs or confession.”
  • On   18  July  2017,  the  Special  Procedures  further  stated:  “We  reiterate  our  serious concerns regarding the wider context of a general crackdown and mounting pressure exerted  on  civil  society  and  dissidents  in  Bahrain,  the  ongoing  prosecution  and punishment of human rights defenders, and especially intimidation and reprisals against people who have cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms.
  • Since 2016, Bahrain has been the subject of at least ten communications from Special Procedures concerning credible allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and systematic persecution of religious groups. In many cases, these violations were in response to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Whether the state concerned has a national human rights institution with A-status [and whether that institution has drawn the attention of the international community to an emerging situation and called for action]:

  • According to the most recent  review in May 2016, Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights has not been granted A-status. The Sub-Committee on Accreditations expressed reservations regarding the institution’s independence and its effective application of its mandate.
  • The UN Committee Against Torture’s May 2017  concluding observations on Bahrain’s latest periodic report stated concerns regarding the NIHR  and six other bodies. The Committee said the following: “that they are not independent, that their mandates are unclear and overlap, and that they are not effective given that complaints ultimately pass through the Ministry of the Interior. It is also concerned that their activities have had little or no effect, and that the authorities provided negligible information regarding the outcome of their activities.

Whether the State concerned has been willing to recognize that it faces particular human rights challenges and has laid down a set of credible actions, including a timetable and benchmarks to measure progress, to respond to the situation:

  • In 2011, the Bahraini Government accepted 26 recommendations issued by the BICI, a panel of jurists and international human rights experts. The Government claimed it had fully implemented all 26 recommendations in May 2016, citing the chairman of the BICI, Cherif Bassiouni, as  evidence of its progress. However, on 10 May 2016, Bassiouni stated he was  wrongfully quoted and asserted that the Government had only implemented ten of the 26 recommendations and had failed to address “priority” reforms such as those pertaining to accountability and prisoners of conscience. All independent assessments – including those conducted by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Project on Middle East Democracy, and the United States Government – have similarly found that Bahrain’s authorities have failed to make substantive progress on the majority of reforms.
  • In 2017, the Bahraini government actively contravened BICI recommendations that had previously seen partial or full levels of implementation, including recommendations to restrict the NSA’s arrest authority and to prevent military courts from trying civilians. During Bahrain’s Second Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2012, member and observer states presented 176 recommendations to the Bahraini Government to recognize and address ongoing, widespread human rights violations in the Kingdom. Bahraini authorities partially or fully accepted 158 of those recommendations, promising to bring the national situation in line with international human rights obligations. However, by Bahrain’s Third Cycle UPR in May 2017, the Government had failed to fulfill these recommendations and had regressed in many key sectors identified for reform, as noted by OHCHR, States, and NGO stakeholders.
  • Rather  than  acknowledge  the  scope  of  the  Kingdom’s  human  rights  challenges,  as highlighted  by  the  recommendations  issued  during  both  UPR  cycles,  the  Assistant Foreign Minister, Abdulla bin Faisal bin Jabur Al Doseri,  described the result as “praise” for “Bahrain’s human rights achievements.” In a meeting with Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights in July 2017, the King dismissed the country’s human rights challenges outright, stating that the Kingdom “takes pride in its outstanding human rights record” and that “human rights represent a core part of Bahrain’s culture.”

Whether the State concerned is engaging in a meaningful, constructive way with the Human Rights Council on the situation:

  • The Bahraini Government has consistently declined to substantively engage the Council and, as indicated in the following statements, has actively targeted Bahraini civil society actors  for  their  participation  in  Human  Rights  Council  sessions  or  for  otherwise interacting with the UN. As noted, although it nominally participates in the UPR process, the Government has consistently failed to implement accepted recommendations and has submitted  misleading national reports on its progress. Moreover, in June 2016, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid Al Khalifa,  explicitly maligned the High Commissioner for urging the Kingdom to undertake human rights reform: “We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of the High Commissioner who is powerless."
  • The Bahraini Government has used wide-ranging travel bans against civil society and political figures to obstruct their access to UN bodies and mechanisms. These travel bans have been in effect since throughout the 32nd, 33rd, 34th  and 35th  Sessions of the Human Rights Council, and during Bahrain’s 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review.
  • Government ordered travel bans and reports of targeted reprisals against civil society for their engagement at the Human Rights Council have prompted statements of concern from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As noted in a statement by the OHCHR spokesperson on  14 July 2017:The continuing restrictions on civil society and political activists and the targeting of human rights defenders and organisations in Bahrain are deeply worrying. We urge the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with Bahrain’s obligations under international human rights law, in particular to guarantee the freedoms of expression, opinion and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.”
  • On  18 July 2017, following reports that Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam al- Saegh was arrested and tortured by members of the National Security Administration as a reprisal for her human rights work at the Human Rights Council, a group of United Nations experts “expressed deep concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.”

6.   Whether the State concerned is effectively cooperating with Human Rights Council Special Procedures, including by enabling country visits:

  • Bahrain has failed to follow through on repeated calls from the Council to welcome Special Procedures to visit the country and, as noted above, has dismissed the OHCHR as “powerless.”  In  2015,  Bahrain’s  Chief  of  Public  Security,  Major  General  Tariq  al- Hassan, suggested that the Government has denied the Special Procedures access to Bahrain because they are biased against the Kingdom: Hassan specifically  accused then Special  Rapporteur  on torture  Juan  Mendez  of  “prejudice”  and  spreading “uninvestigated” claims of Bahraini Government abuse.
  • Bahrain  has  not allowed  any of  the  Special  Procedures to  visit  since  2006, despite repeated requests by various mandate holders. In recent years, Bahrain has ignored or rejected country visit requests from the following: the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on arbitrary detention, the Working Group on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Working Group on discrimination against women.

Whether the State concerned is engaging with OHCHR, including in the field of technical assistance and effective engagement with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies:

  • Bahrain has failed to successfully conclude multiple rounds of negotiations with the OHCHR to carry out a technical mission to Bahrain, or to establish an OHCHR office in the country.
  • Most recently, in June 2017, renewed efforts to carry out an OHCHR technical mission to Bahrain again stalled and remain indefinitely “postponed,” similar to the indefinite postponement  and   effective  cancellation  of  the  2013  country  visit  by  the  Special Rapporteur on torture.

Whether a relevant regional mechanism or institution has identified a situation as requiring the attention of the international community; or whether the State concerned is cooperating with relevant regional organizations:

  • No competent, independent regional mechanism or institution exists in the region from which Bahrain can seek relevant assistance to positively affect the human rights situation in the country.

Whether  the  State  is  facilitating  or  obstructing  access  and  work  on  the  part  of humanitarian actors, human rights defenders, and the media:

  • Bahraini  authorities  have  consistently  and  increasingly  obstructed  the  work  of  civil society actors in the kingdom, including human rights defenders and the media.
  • As noted above in point 5, the Government of Bahrain has imposed wide-spread travel bans on civil society and political activists to obstruct their access to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.
  • On  10 July 2017, Nabeel Rajab, president and co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to two years in prison solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression by conducting interviews with television media outlets. He faces up to fifteen more years in prison if convicted on additional charges related to tweets.
  • Human rights defender Ebtisam al-Saegh has been repeatedly arrested and subjected to torture and sexual assault in relation to her work, as  noted by Special Procedure mandates on 18 July 2017. She currently faces politically motivated “terrorism” charges related to her human rights work.
  • During the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2017, three family members of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy were arrested in Bahrain as a reprisal against his human rights activities. Authorities subjected them to torture and ill-treatment to coerce false confessions on charges of “fake bomb making.” They remain in detention and face trial on these fabricated charges.
  • On 4 June 2017, Bahrain  indefinitely suspended the only independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat, ultimately forcing their office to close and all staff to be laid off.

It is clear that the Government of Bahrain has failed to uphold its international obligations to safeguard human rights and has repeatedly acted to violate and curtail the fundamental rights of people in the country. Bahrain’s current human rights situation manifestly fulfills the criteria set out in the June 2016 joint statement committing state signatories to engage – strong action is imperative to prevent further instability.

We therefore call on your Government to individually and collectively with others respond to the human rights crisis in Bahrain. Such efforts should include, but are not limited to, national statements and joint statements under Items 4 or 2 of the Council’s agenda, and ultimately a resolution by the Human Rights Council.

Sincerely,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 5 countries in advance of the 29th UPR session in January 2018. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

Countries Examined: Burundi, France, Israel, Serbia, and the UAE 

Burundi: CIVICUS, APRODH, Ligue ITEKA, DefendDefenders and FIDH examine the failure of the Government of Burundi to implement the vast majority of recommendations it accepted and noted during Burundi’s previous UPR cycle. In the submission, we highlight the restrictions on fundamental freedoms, the targeting of human rights defenders and Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with international human rights institutions and mechanisms. We further examine the high levels of impunity enjoyed by government officials, members of the security forces and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure. 

France: While France has faced serious terrorist threats since its last UPR review, measures taken to protect the public from attacks have had negative consequences for the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. In its submission to Frances third UPR review, CIVICUS outlines a series of concerns related to France’s decision to repeatedly extend its state of emergency, which has expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance of security forces without adequate judicial oversight and without due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms. 

Israel: CIVICUS, PNGO and ANND raise concern over ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since Israel’s previous UPR examination. Worryingly, the authorities continue to subvert the right to freedom of expression through the criminalization of dissent online. Human rights defenders and peaceful protesters also routinely face arbitrary arrest and are held in administrative detention to suppress their legitimate work.

Serbia: CIVICUS, the Human Rights House Belgrade (Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and Human Rights House Foundation document the continued intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. Additionally, we assess how vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets is undermining the work of civil society.

United Arab Emirates: In its joint UPR submission, CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the International Service for Human Rights examine the continued suppression of fundamental democratic freedoms in the United Arab Emirates. This report explores the ongoing systematic campaign to persecute human rights defenders through arbitrary arrests, torture, deportation and the continued use of draconian legislation to restrict freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

35th session of the  Human Rights Council  
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education

CIVICUS welcomes the reports of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.  We again commend the former Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, for his steadfast support for civil society across the world. We also welcome the new Special Rapporteur, Annalisa Ciampi, and remain committed to supporting the mandate to undertake its essential work.

The Special Rapporteur’s report on mapping the achievements of civil society articulates an unassailable case for why civil society should be seen as an ally, rather than an adversary. As expressed by the mandate holder, civil society has played a crucial in shepherding and realizing scores progressive values and rights. The report provides a wealth of examples of these achievements, including through pursuing accountability, supporting participation and empowerment, driving innovation and fostering sustainable development. We urge all states to explicitly acknowledge the integral role that civil society plays in ensuring that states can actualize their domestic and international human rights commitments.

We further reiterate the recommendations raised by the Special Rapporteur in his report on the  United States. National and public security concerns must not be misused to suppress freedom of assembly. The continued use of excessive force by police departments across the United States against peaceful protesters requires a concerted and proactive federal response. We also regret that immigrant workers face the specter of official harassment and deportation for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of association, including joining labor unions.

In the United Kingdom, we remain equally concerned by recent reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is willing to forfeit human rights in the pursuit of countering terrorism. Such a wholesale forfeit of human rights undermines the United Kingdom’s international obligations as well as efforts to address the roots causes of terrorism.

We urge all States to pledge their support to the Special Rapporteur including by providing all necessary informational and financial resources to discharge the mandate and to work closely with civil society.

We first took the initiative of a Council resolution on civil society space in 2013.  We did so in light of what we saw as two equally true but very different realities: 

  • first, the transformative role which civil society can and does play, alone or in partnership with other stakeholders; and 
  • second, that civil society space is all to regularly, and unfortunately increasingly, restricted and threatened. 

These two points are closely related – in many cases, it is exactly that positive potential for change, inherent in ordinary people working together in new and innovative ways, which provokes threats and repression.  But such negative responses are not only contrary to human rights law, they are, as recently termed in the final recent report of Special Rapporteur Kiai, “self-destructive” and “short-sighted” (A/HRC/35/28) -  a vibrant and pluralistic civil society can be of tremendous value in responding to societal challenges and assisting our citizens and societies to thrive. 

Bearing in mind this dual reality of opportunity and challenge, as well as the interlinking and mutually reinforcing nature of the core human rights concerned, we sought to explain and give better visibility to the concept of civil society space as a human rights concern. 

And so this topic concerns civil society at its broadest – not only civil society actors in the field of human rights, but also those working at all levels and with greater or lesser levels of organisation on challenges including health and humanitarian crises, realising development, protecting the environment, countering corruption and building corporate accountability, empowering persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority or dissenting views, combating racism, supporting crime prevention and even conflict prevention and resolution as experience in our States, including in particular the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet shows.

As we did in the resolutions adopted to date – 24/21, 27/31 and 32/31 – we condemn and reject all threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors. We again recall that States must ensure that domestic legal and administrative provisions and their application in practice should facilitate and protect an independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society.   And we urge all States to adopt the best practice recommendations set out in resolution 32/31 by, inter alia, taking steps to

  • ensure a supportive legal framework and access to justice;
  • contribute to a public and political environment conducive to civil society; 
  • provide for access to information;
  • provide for the participation of civil society actors in public debate; and
  • provide for a long-term supportive environment for civil society.

As we see daily in this room, the substantive participation of civil society makes this Council’s debates and work, including the UPR, richer and more meaningful.  More needs to be done to recognise civil society as having an equal stake in discussion in other multilateral fora too.  We deeply regret, for example, that civil society voices have been blocked in the NGO Committee twice this year.  We look forward to the OHCHR report scheduled for presentation at HRC38 (June 2018) on procedures, challenges and best practices in respect of civil society involvement with regional and international organisations. We hope that those best practices can feed into a process of reflection, in all fora, on how processes and procedures for participation of civil society may be further improved.

The next resolution on the subject of civil society space will be presented at HRC38 (June 2018).  [Bearing in mind pressure on the Council’s agenda, we encourage other States to consider similarly biennialising their initiatives, where possible.]

In addition to continuing to build on best practice examples, in future we intend to explore in greater detail other aspects, including those identified in the resolutions to date, such as:

  • civil society and the private sector;
  • civil society’s role in advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda;
  • civil society and children;
  • funding to civil society;  

We are convinced that work on this topic is more important than ever.  We look forward to working with all delegations, both state and civil society, in taking this initiative forward in an open and constructive way. 

35th session UN Human Rights Council
Statement on situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 
20 June 2017

CIVICUS shares the concern of the High Commissioner over the widespread human rights violations committed in the Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental provinces of the DRC since August 2016. 

Extrajudicial executions of civilians and other atrocities have been systematically carried out forcing over 30.000 people to flee to neighbouring countries and leaving approximately 1.27 million others internally displaced.

We are concerned by the threats and increased violence targeting journalists including those who covered the massacres in the Kasai region.  We express alarm over the closure of private media outlets deemed critical of the government.

Mr. Vice President, peaceful protests held recently were violently repressed and security forces carried out widespread arrests of people suspected of organising or participating in such protests.  

We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders for exposing failures of the national economy, the provision of social services and democratic reform. 

Sadly, some of these human rights defenders are being held in undisclosed locations without access to family members and lawyers. Others have been tortured while in detention.  

We urge the Council to launch an independent  international investigation into the atrocities committed in the Kasai region and for all perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions.

35th session UN Human Rights Council
General Debate
20 June 2017

 

In Egypt CIVICUS expresses its serious concern over the issuance of Law 70 of 2017 which further restricts space for human rights monitoring, advocacy and reporting. It introduces hefty fines and prison terms for civil society groups who publish a study or report without prior approval by the government, thus shutting out completely the independent voice and action of human rights organizations.  

We urge the Egyptian authorities to repeal this Law, end the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights defenders and create a safe and enabling environment for civil society free from reprisals.

CIVICUS condemns in the strongest terms the recent killings of five peaceful protesters on 23 May in Bahrain and asks for an independent, impartial investigation. We further deplore the escalation in government reprisals against Bahraini civil society, including those living in exile for their cooperation with the United Nations and this Human Rights Council. We urge the Bahraini government to release all political prisoners and human rights defenders from their degrading, torturous detention, including prominent defender Nabeel Rajab. 

In Cameroon, the government has imposed gross restriction on the rights to free speech and assembly. Beginning on 17 January 2017, the Government blocked all access to the internet in the sections of the North and Southwest regions in a blatant attempt to suppress widespread protests against government policies marginalizing the English-speaking population.  While the recent precipitous decline in respect for ongoing human rights violations has garnered some international attention, CIVICUS asks the Council for more robust scrutiny to prevent further human rights violations and restore fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.

Finally, CIVICUS continues to urge the government of Ethiopia to allow access to an international, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the deaths resulting from excessive use of force by the security forces and other violations of human rights in the context of last year’s protests. 
 

35th session UN Human Rights Council
Oral Statement – Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
15 June 2017

CIVICUS remains deeply concerned by the gross human rights violations committed with impunity by the government since the Commission’s previous Council briefing on 13 March 2017. 

The systematic oppression of Burundian’s fundamental rights persists throughout the country, characterised by arbitrary arrests, abductions, detentions and extra-judicial killings. The government continues to targets members of the political opposition, representatives of civil society and other individuals on specious grounds of supporting those who organised a failed coup in May 2015 and of association with armed groups. 

Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, including human rights activist Marie Claudette Kwizera who disappeared on 10 December 2015. Her whereabouts remain unknown. 

Mr. President, these atrocities are carried out in an environment where freedom of expression, association and assembly are gravely stifled.  

The country’s main human rights organisations have been suspended for an extended period of time and four prominent human rights lawyers have been disbarred.  Independent media outlets remain closed, while most journalists are in exile and only public assemblies organised by supporters of the ruling party are allowed.  

The vast majority of these atrocities are committed by the security forces, the intelligence service and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, who receive paramilitary training and target citizens with hate speech and threats.  

To prevent the monitoring and documentation of human rights violations and encourage impunity by the perpetrators of human rights violations, Burundi has ceased cooperating with OHCHR, withdrew from the International Criminal Court and refused to collaborate with Commission of Inquiry.  

Efforts to find lasting peace through the inter-Burundi dialogue are hampered by the absence of some of the main opposition parties and exclusion of civil society voices by the government. 

We call on the government of Burundi to support the work of the Commission of Inquiry and take the necessary steps end violence and human rights violations in the country. 

35th session UN Human Rights Council
General Debate – Ethiopia’s noncompliance with UN Special Rapporteurs
16 June 2017

CIVICUS welcomes the Communication report of Special Procedures, which sheds light on the breadth of work undertaken by this unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council.

We refer in this context to the ‘Communications’ report by the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. We note that there has been an average 50% response rate from governments on alerts and other communications. However, Ethiopia has shown a total no-response to the numerous stand alone or joint alerts they received during the period of reporting. We reiterate our grave concerns voiced also by other independent experts of the United Nations in relation to the violent crackdown on peaceful protests, which reportedly led to the death of over 800 people since November 2015 in Ethiopia. We remain extremely alarmed by numerous reports that those arrested had faced torture and ill-treatment in military detention centers. 

We also reiterate our worry regarding the Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Law adopted in August 2009. The extremely broad and ambiguous provisions of the laws   continue to be used to silence independent voices and civil society groups.

Finally, we urge the government of Ethiopia to head the calls to end the state of emergency declared on 9 October 2016. The state of emergency decree provides for a wide range of repressive measures, undermining the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including banning communications with governments and CSOs that may undermine ‘national sovereignty, constitutional order and security’.

We call on the Government as a member of the Council to fully cooperate with the mandates of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

35th session UN Human Rights Council

14 June 2017
Statement during the interactive dialogue on the report of the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Eritrea

CIVICUS welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and applauds her unwavering efforts to ampifly the voices of civil society and victims of human rights violations in Eritrea and in the diaspora.

Mr. President, the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Council is unequivocal that Eritreans continue to be subjected to grave and systematic violations of fundamental freedoms, some of which amount to crimes against humanity. Worryingly the Special Rapporteur has concluded that the human rights situation in Eritrea “has not significantly improved.” 

We remain deeply concerned that the Government has failed to take adequate measures to address the human rights situation in Eritrea as documented by the Commission of Inquiry.

During the reporting period, the Special Rapporteur received information that the government’s military and national service programmes remain arbitrary, protracted and involuntary, which is tantamount to enslavement. 

The Government has further failed to release countless arbitrarily detained prisoners for exercising their fundamental rights and refuses to provide sufficient information about the status of several prominent activists and individuals who have been forcibly disappeared. 

As a result of these and other deprivations of human rights, thousands of Eritreans, including scores of unaccompanied children, are forced to traverse perilous situations to secure refuge abroad every year. 

We support the Special Rapporteur’s decision to devote greater time and resources to address impunity, including by engaging a diversity of actors including victims, survivors, family members, human rights defenders and lawyers to help facilitate access to justice and accountability for human rights violations.

We urge the Government of Eritrea to take proactive measures to implement the specific and time-bound benchmarks developed by the Special Rapporteur to assess substantive change in the country. 

We respectfully request members and observer states of the Council to co-sponsor a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and provide the mandate holder with all necessary support. 

35th session of the Human Rights Council
Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
12 June, 2017

CIVICUS and 23 civil society groups from 12 countries were deprived from delivering this statement during the SOGI ID but given the high number of signatories, we feel compelled to deliver it. 

Across the world, we are witnessing debilitating restrictions and persecution of LGBTI civil society groups and human rights defenders.  As a movement, LGBTI advocates face compounded restrictions, as they often become the target of government crackdowns. 

Due to intersectionality there is increasing re-victimization of LGBTI children, young people, women, refugees, persons with disabilities and more. In Tunisia, a public defamation campaign against LGBTI groups was carried out in the media and LGBTI defenders have been attacked. In Pakistan, defenders working on transgender rights continue to be subject to attacks including shootings, rape in police stations and torture. In El Salvador, LGBTI activists are facing hate crimes and harassment and since 2015, seven members of the LGBTI organisation, Muñecas de Arcoiris in Honduras, have been murdered. In South Africa, despite a protective legal framework, LGBTIQ+ people and activists, and women in particular, continue to face extreme levels of violence and discrimination, including targeted rape. In Uganda, the civil society organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda, is denied access to financial resources and legal registration. The introduction of so-called anti-propaganda laws and closures of civil society organisations in Europe and Central Asia have the effect that LGBTI minors cannot access necessary information on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. The restrictions and attacks worldwide against LGBTI groups and human rights defenders often happen with impunity for the perpetrators and complicity from police and law enforcement. 

To address these concerns, we urge all states to: 1) ensure an enabling environment for and promote the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression of LGBTI civil society groups and human rights defenders of all ages and including children, 2) guarantee strong safeguards against reprisals faced by LGBTI groups and defenders and; 3) take all necessary measures to independently investigate all attacks, including killings, of LGBTI human rights defenders. 
We thank you,

Signatories

1. ACCIONA A.C. (México)
2. ARESTA (South Africa)
3. Asociación Silueta X (Ecuador)
4. Blue Veins (Pakistan)
5. Child Rights Connect (International)
6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (International)
7. Coalición LGBTI en la OEA (Latin America)
8. Congolese Civil Society (South Africa)
9. Corporación Caribe Afirmativo (Colombia)
10. EQUAL GROUND (Sri Lanka)
11. Federación ecuatoriana de organizaciones LGBTI (Ecuador)
12. Fundación Diversencia (Bolivia)
13. Latin American and the Caribbean Network for Democracy (Latin America and the Caribbean)
14. Lawyers for Human Rights (South Africa)
15. GALA (South Africa)
16. Gay and Lesbian Network (South Africa)
17. Mawjoudin (Tunisia)
18. Mulabi/ Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos (Costa Rica)
19. Red Latinoamericana GayLatino (Latin America and the Caribbean)
20. Same Love Toti (South Africa)
21. Sexual Minorities Uganda (Uganda)
22. TransAction (Pakistan)
23. Transparencia Electoral (Argentina)
24. Triangle Project (South Africa)

35th session of the Human Rights Council
General debate on High Commissioner´s oral update
7 June 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

CIVICUS welcomes the High Commissioner’s oral update. We applaud the prominence given to civic space and we share his concern that civil society faces growing and debilitating threats.

Yesterday, CIVICUS released its annual State of Civil Society report which explores the worrying backsliding on democratic norms across the world. The report underscores that The world is facing a democratic crisis through unprecedented restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which constitute a global emergency. 

The report further highlights that around the world it is becoming increasingly dangerous to challenge power, and to do so risks reprisals. In several countries, right-wing populist and neo-fascist leaders have gained prominence by winning elections or commanding enough support to push their ideas into the mainstream. Their politics and worldview are fundamentally opposed to civil society seeking to promote human rights, social cohesion and progressive internationalism.

This is happening even in countries where we believed the concepts of constitutional, participatory democracy had long been established. And while much of the world’s attention has lately focused on political shifts in the US and Europe, we see populist strongmen increasing their grip in countries such as India and the Philippines, as well as longstanding autocratic states such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, Saudi Arabia and others where independent civil society space has long been closed.

However, Mr. President, Civil Society is also fighting back. 

The last 6 months were marked by multiple forms of mass peaceful protests. Around the world, whenever new leaders have come to power on polarizing right-wing populist platforms, they have been met with major demonstrations by those taking a stance against them. The democracy of the street is alive and well.

We call on all member and observer States of Council to understand, articulate and make clear to their governments that the realization of civil society rights is an essential part of the defense of democracy and a healthy society.

We thank you

35th session of the Human Rights Council
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education
7 June 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

CIVICUS welcomes the reports of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.  We again commend the former Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, for his steadfast support for civil society across the world. We also welcome the new Special Rapporteur, Annalisa Ciampi, and remain committed to supporting the mandate to undertake its essential work.

The Special Rapporteur’s report on mapping the achievements of civil society articulates an unassailable case for why civil society should be seen as an ally, rather than an adversary. As expressed by the mandate holder, civil society has played a crucial role in shepherding and realizing scores of progressive values and rights. The report provides a wealth of examples of these achievements, including through pursuing accountability, supporting participation and empowerment, driving innovation and fostering sustainable development. We urge all states to explicitly acknowledge the integral role that civil society plays in ensuring that states can actualize their domestic and international human rights commitments.

We further reiterate the recommendations raised by the Special Rapporteur in his report on the  United States. National and public security concerns must not be misused to suppress freedom of assembly. The continued use of excessive force by police departments across the United States against peaceful protesters requires a concerted and proactive federal response. We also regret that immigrant workers face the specter of official harassment and deportation for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of association, including joining labor unions. 

In the United Kingdom, we remain equally concerned by recent reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is willing to forfeit human rights in the pursuit of countering terrorism. Such a wholesale forfeit of human rights undermines the United Kingdom’s international obligations as well as efforts to address the roots causes of terrorism.

We urge all States to pledge their support to the Special Rapporteur including by providing all necessary informational and financial resources to discharge the mandate and to work closely with civil society.

We thank you.

RE: Renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

Your Excellencies,

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to co-sponsor a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea at the forthcoming 35th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. In view of the ongoing crimes under international law, including torture, enslavement and enforced disappearances, and violations of fundamental freedoms committed in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate remains an indispensable mechanism to advance the protection and promotion of human rights in Eritrea.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was established at the 20th UN Human Rights Council Session in 2012 to monitor the human rights situation in Eritrea. From June 2014-June 2016, the mandate was also represented on the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (CoI). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was extended in July 2016 to follow-up on the recommendations of the CoI. It has been instrumental in monitoring the dire situation on the ground, highlighting on-going violations and the failure to implement the recommendations of the CoI and in providing a crucial platform to help amplify the voices and concerns of victims.

The findings of the CoI and UN Special Rapporteur reveal that the Eritrean authorities have continued to impose a broad range of unwarranted restrictions on fundamental human rights, precipitating mass migration, including of unaccompanied children. Despite commitments by the State to reduce national service to 18 months, indefinite national service and forced labor persist throughout the country. Persons who attempt to avoid military conscription, take refuge abroad, practice an unsanctioned religion, or who criticise government officials continue to be arrested and imprisoned for lengthy periods.

The absence of an independent judiciary means that victims of these human rights violations have no recourse to justice at home. As a result, in Eritrea impunity persists and those who have been subjected to enforced disappearances remain unaccounted for. 

In light of these concerns, we respectfully request your delegation to co-sponsor a resolution during the 35th UN HRC session that renews the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, provides the mandate holder with all necessary support, and urges the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the mandate holder including allowing unencumbered access to the country.

Sincerely,

  1. Africa Monitors
  2. Amnesty International
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea
  5. CIVICUS
  6. Connection e.V
  7. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  8. Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa
  9. Eritrean Lowland League
  10. Ethiopian Law Society
  11. Eritrea Focus
  12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights
  13. Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights - UK
  14. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  15. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  16. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
  17. Human Rights Watch
  18. Information Forum For Eritrea
  19. International Fellowship of Reconciliation 
  20. International Service for Human Rights
  21. Network of Eritrean Women
  22. PEN Eritrea
  23. People for Peace in Africa
  24. Release Eritrea
  25. Reporters Without Borders
  26. Stop Slavery in Eritrea Campaign
  27. War Resisters International

 

Permanent Representatives of
Members and Observer States of the
UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, 25 May 2017

 
RE: Addressing the pervasive human rights crisis in Ethiopia
 
Your Excellency,

The undersigned civil society organisations write to draw your attention to persistent and grave violations of human rights in Ethiopia and the pressing need to support the establishment of an independent, impartial and international investigation into atrocities committed by security forces to suppress peaceful protests and independent dissent.

As the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) prepares to convene for its 35th session from 6 – 23 June 2017, we urge your delegation to prioritise and address through joint statements the ongoing human rights crisis in Ethiopia.

In the wake of unprecedented, mass protests that erupted in November 2015 in Oromia, Amhara, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SNNPR) regional states, Ethiopian authorities routinely responded to legitimate and largely peaceful expressions of dissent with excessive and unnecessary force. As a result, over 800 protesters have been killed, thousands of political activists, human rights defenders, journalists and protesters have been arrested, and in October 2016, the Ethiopian Government declared a six-month nationwide State of Emergency that was extended for an additional four months on 30 March 2017 after some restrictions were lifted.

The State of Emergency directives give sweeping powers to a Command Post, which has been appointed by the House of People’s Representatives to enforce the decree, including the suspension of fundamental and non-derogable rights protected by the Ethiopian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is party. More information on the human rights violations occurring under the current State of Emergency is included in the Annex at the end of this letter.

Lack of independent investigations

Few effective avenues to pursue accountability for abuses exist in Ethiopia, given the lack of independence of the judiciary – the ruling EPRDF coalition and allied parties control all 547 seats in Parliament.

Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission, which has a mandate to investigate rights violations,in its June 2016 oral report to Parliament that the lethal force used by security forces in Oromia was proportionate to the risk they faced from the protesters. The written Amharic version of the report was only recently made public, and there are long-standing concerns about the impartiality and research methodology of the Commission. On 18 April 2017, the Commission submitted its second oral report to Parliament on the protests, which found that 669 people were killed, including 63 members of the security forces, and concluded that security forces had taken “proportionate measures in most areas.Both reports are in stark contrast with the findings of other national and international organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has rated the Commission as B, meaning the latter has

Refusal to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms

In response to the recent crackdown, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has access for independent observers to the country to assess the human rights situation recently renewed his call for access to the country during a visit to the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s government, however, has the call, citing its own investigation conducted by its Commission. UN Special Procedures have also made similar calls.

In November 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights adopted a resolution calling for an international, independent, and impartial investigation into allegations of the use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force by security forces to disperse and suppress peaceful protests. Recent European parliament and US Congressional resolutions have also called for independent investigations. The Ethiopian embassy in Belgium dismissed the European Parliament’s resolution citing its own Commission’s investigations into the protests.

As a member of the UN HRC, Ethiopia has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, and “fully cooperate” with the Council and its mechanisms (GA Resolution 60/251, OP 9), yet there are outstanding requests for access from Special Procedures, including from the special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly, among others.

Recommendations

During the upcoming 35th session of the UN HRC, we urge your delegation to make joint and individual statements reinforcing and building upon the expressions of concern by the High Commissioner, UN Special Procedures, and others.

Specifically, the undersigned organisations request your delegation to publicly urge Ethiopia to:

  1. urgently allow access to an international, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into all of the deaths resulting from alleged excessive use of force by the security forces, and other violations of human rights in the context of the protests;
  2. respond favourably to country visit requests by UN Special Procedures;
  3. immediately and unconditionally release journalists, human rights defenders, political opposition leaders and members as well as protesters arbitrarily detained during and in the aftermath of the protests;
  4. ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are prosecuted in proceedings which comply with international law and standards on fair trials; and
  5. fully comply with its international legal obligations and commitments including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and its own Constitution.

 
With assurances of our highest consideration,
 
Sincerely,

  • Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  • Ethiopia Human Rights Project
  • Freedom House
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Annex: Background

A repressive legal framework


The legal framework in Ethiopia restricts the enjoyment of civil and political rights, and therefore the activity of the political opposition, civil society, and independent media in the country.
 
The Charities and Societies Proclamation (2009) caps foreign funding at 10% for non-governmental organisations working on human rights, good governance, justice, rule of law and conflict resolution. The law has decimated civil society and human rights activism in the country. Currently, a handful of independent human rights organisations continue to operate, but with great difficulty.
 
The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (2009) has been used repeatedly to silence critical voices. Political opposition party leaders and members, people involved in public protests, religious freedom advocates and journalists have been arrested and charged under this law. Both laws are a matter of great concern and have been repeatedly raised in international forums, including at Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2014.
 
Overarching restrictions under the State of Emergency

The State of Emergency directives restrict the organisation of political campaigns, demonstrations, and any communication that may cause “public disturbance.” It also bans communications with foreign governments and NGOs that may undermine ‘national sovereignty, constitutional order and security’, and the right to disseminate information through traditional and social media. Additionally, the Command Post was given sweeping powers to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals without due process.
 
A few weeks before the State of Emergency was extended by an additional four months, the government announced it was lifting some of these restrictions, including the Command Post’s power to arbitrarily arrest people or conduct property searches without warrants, curfews, and certain restrictions regarding sharing of information online and offline.
 
Despite some improvements in internet access since mobile data services were restored throughout parts of the country on 2 December 2016, social media platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remain inaccessible except through VPNs.

Mass arrests

Since the declaration of the State of Emergency, the Command Post announced that tens of thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and transported to different detention centers throughout the country. Most of the detainees were held for a period of around three months in Awash, Alage, Bir Sheleko, and Tolay police and military camps. In November 2016, authorities announced the release of 11,607 people who were detained under the State of Emergency following “rehabilitation training programs.” One month later, authorities announced they were releasing an additional 9,800 detainees.  Former detainees have reported being subjected to torture, harsh prison conditions, and other forms of ill treatment. In late March 2017, the Command Post announced through state media that 4,996 of the 26,130 people detained for allegedly taking part in protests would be brought to court.

Continued targeting of the political opposition, the media and civil society

According to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, three of Ethiopia’s main opposition parties, the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ), Blue Party, and All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) have claimed that a large number of their members were targeted by Command Post and arbitrarily arrested.

On 30 October 2016, Dr. Merera Gudina, a professor and prominent opposition leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress was arrested after his return from Brussels where he provided testimony on the current political crisis to some members of the European Parliament and described human rights violations being committed in Ethiopia. On 3 March 2017, prosecutors formally charged Dr. Merera with a bid to "dismantle or disrupt social, economic and political activity for political, religious and ideological aim [...] under the guise of political party leadership". Dr. Merera was also accused of meeting with an organisation designated as a terrorist group contravening restrictions contained in the State of Emergency directives.

Members of the Wolqait Identity Committee, including Colonel Demeqe Zewude, have also faced allegedly politically motivated criminal charges under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Their attempted arrest sparked protests in the Amhara capital of Gondar in August 2016.

On 18 November 2016, journalists Elias Gebru and Ananiya Sori were arrested by security forces, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. Both were reportedly arrested in relation to their criticism of government policies and actions. Ananiya was released on 13 March 2017. At the time of writing, Elias is still being held in prison without due process of law.

On 6 April 2017, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court ruled that two bloggers from the Zone 9 collective previously acquitted of terrorism charge should be tried instead on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted of the charge, Atnaf Berhane and Natnael Feleke would face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The court also upheld the lower court’s acquittal of two other Zone 9 bloggers, Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella.

See additional assessment:

Civic Space in Ethiopia is rated as ‘Closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Center for Research and Maghrebi Studies urge the Government of Algeria to accept recommendations received from the international community during its UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), particularly regarding ending restrictions on the work of human rights defenders and creating an enabling environment for civil society organisations (CSOs).

ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy (the Civic Space Initiative) welcome Dr. Annalisa Ciampi as the new mandate holder of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and congratulate her on her appointment.

CIVICUS and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Uganda (FHRI) ,welcome the adoption of the UPR report on Uganda and express their appreciation to the government of Uganda for collaborating in the process.

Human Rights Council 34th Session

CIVICUS and Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum welcome the Government of Zimbabwe’s continued cooperation with the Universal Periodic Review process, including its acceptance of a number of important recommendations to improve the human rights situation in the country.

However, the greatest sign of commitment by the government is not merely attending UPR sessions and accepting recommendations. The ultimate evidence of commitment is positive change in the human rights environment.

Human Rights Council 34th Session

We address the Human Rights Council on behalf of CIVICUS in consultation with 170 Venezuelan civil society organizations.

The majority of countries participating in the UPR drew the attention of the Venezuelan State to the undermining of a broad spectrum of human rights, lack of cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, and its refusal to invite representatives of Special Procedures to the country.

Human Rights Council: 34th Session
Adoption of South Sudan’s UPR Outcome

Oral Intervention by East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) & CIVICUS

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS have very little to welcome in South Sudan’s UPR process. Out of 33 recommendations made to the Government of South Sudan to improve its catastrophic human rights situation, only 4 have been accepted.

34th session of the Human Rights Council 

Since the creation of the Council CIVICUS has appealed to States present here today to collectively address violations of the civic freedoms which they have all committed to uphold and protect.

34th session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS is deeply alarmed by the report of the Commission on South Sudan about continued mass atrocities, violence, killings and crimes against humanity at a time when the country is plagued by the worst famine. South Sudan is on the verge of an ethnic war that can destabilise the entire region.  In fact, there is a real risk of genocide. 

34th session of the Human Rights Council  

CIVICUS expresses serious concerns that the human rights situation has not improved since the last time we presented a statement here in response to the report of the Independent Experts about human rights in Burundi on 27 September 2016.

34th session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS expresses its appreciation to the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for the work she has done to highlight the worst human rights violations and the overall dire situation in Eritrea.  We also laud the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for the findings and recommendations presented in the report of the Commission. 

34th session of the Human Rights Council
8 March, 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

High Commissioner, CIVICUS welcomes your annual report and update. We are consistently awed by the breadth of work undertaken by your offices across the world. In this period where restrictions of civil society groups and HRDs are becoming increasingly normalized, CIVICUS vigorously endorses your call for the allocation of greater resources to strengthen and bolster OHCHR’s mandate and operations. 

Re: Support consensus renewal of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

7 March 2017

Your Excellency,

The undersigned 93 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The work of human rights defenders is vital to promoting human rights, upholding the rule of law, and achieving sustainable and inclusive development. Despite this critical role, the Special Rapporteur notes that defenders are under ‘unprecedented attack’ with ‘the number killed around the world continuously rising’.

34th session of the Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
7 March 2017
Delivered by Tor Hodenfield

Thanks you Mr. President,

CIVICUS welcomes the report of Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. We applaud the Special Rapporteur and his team for undertaking a frank and much needed assessment of the characteristics of the international legal framework surrounding governmental surveillance. It is clear from these reflections that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is more essential than ever.

34th session of the Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on Climate Change and the Rights of the Child
2 March 2017
Delivered by Matthew Reading-Smith

CIVICUS welcomes this opportunity to address the Vice President of the Council and the other distinguished panelists. We applaud the Council´s commitment to an integrated approach to the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. These two frameworks beckon the highest degree of international cooperation and reveal common areas of social, economic and environmental interdependence.

Two thirds of the activities of the United Nations system takes place in Geneva, making it a key centre of international co-operation and multilateral negotiation. CIVICUS’ main focus currently concentrates on the human rights mechanisms, most notably the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Special Procedures, but also on the Treaty bodies. CIVICUS also works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

UN Human Rights Council - 26th Special Session
Special Session on South Sudan

CIVICUS welcomes this Special Session following the findings and recommendations recently put forward by the Expert Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.  We agree with the assessment that South Sudan is on the verge of an unprecedented spate of violence which has strong ethnic connotations.  

The event will contribute to the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law on “Widening the Democratic Space: the role of youth in public decision-making” by strengthening recognition and deepening the understanding  among participants of how young human rights defenders play a key role in widening the role and participation of young people in  public decision-making  as a means to contribute to sustainable peace and development. 

SPEAKERS

Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi-United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth 

Ms.  Ayesha  Munu -Girls’ Rights  Defender  

Mr.  Carlos  Andres-Environmental  Rights  Defender   

Chaeli Mycroft -Ability activist 

Ms. Madeline Wells-Indigenous Peoples Rights Defender  

Peggy  Hicks-  Director  at the UN's

human rights office

DATE AND VENUE

21 November 2016, 13:15 – 14:45, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Room XXIII

ORGANISED BY

Amnesty  International,  CIVICUS,  Defence  for  Children  International,  KidsRights and World Vision

REGISTRATION

If you do not have a UN badge please register for the Forum here and upload a  letter of accreditation  by Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 6 pm, Geneva time in order to access Palais des Nations, once the accreditation is approved.

The  event  will  be livestreamed through  our Facebook  page  and  will  provide the  opportunity for  people who are not in Geneva to engage with the event and send questions. The hashtag  #YoungHRDs  will  also be used on Twitter to gather inputs and solicit questions in the lead up to and during the event.

Background:
The intergovernmental working group was mandated to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.

We remain deeply alarmed by the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation across Syria. The renewed and indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian Government and its allies on the besieged areas of Eastern Aleppo have had devastating consequences for its civilian population and the city’s remaining social infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped in Aleppo, largely deprived of access to potentially life-saving relief.  The attack on a humanitarian convoy last month and the bombing and shelling of hospitals, rescue structures and schools are against the minimal provisions of international humanitarian law and, if done deliberatively, constitute crimes against humanity.

In advance of the start of the 3rd cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April 2017, CIVICUS has made joint and stand-alone submissions examining the environment for civil society in 11 countries. The submissions specifically highlight a broad range of unwarranted legal and extra-legal restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly, association, expression and the work of human rights defenders. To compliment these narrative reports, CIVICUS and its partners provide an analysis of the State under Review’s level of domestic implementation of recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle in May 2012 and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

Countries examined: Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Morocco, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Tunisia (see from list below)

Algeria: CIVICUS and the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Research and Maghrebi Studies (IKCRMS) highlight the use of restrictive legislation to unwarrantedly limit the work of independent civil society organisations and impede peaceful protests. CIVICUS and IKCRMS further discuss continued attempts to silence independent media through the undue closure of independent outlets and the persecution of individuals and groups for exercising their right to freedom of expression. 
 
Bahrain: CIVICUS, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) underscore the severe and continued restrictions on freedom of expression including the routine judicial persecution and harassment of individuals and groups for taking part in legitimate forms of dissent both online and offline. CIVICUS, BCHR and GCHR further examine the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, religious leaders, peaceful protesters and civil society representatives through reprisals, travel bans, prison sentences, torture and other unjustified limitations. 

Brazil: CIVICUS and Conectas highlight the endemic levels of violence against journalists and human rights defenders, and particularly against land rights, indigenous and environmental activists. The submission further examines the use of legal and extra-legal restrictions on the right to free assembly in Brazil, leading to increasingly violent policing and repression of protests. It provides recommendations to the Government of Brazil to ensure an enabling environment for civil society, in accordance with the rights enshrined in Brazil’s Constitution as well as international best practice.

Ecuador: CIVICUS, FCD (Citizen and Development Foundation), Fundamedios (Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media) and AEDEP (Ecuadorean Association of Newspapers’ Editors) address concerns regarding the expansion of state controls over Ecuadorean civil society. The submission also discusses the situation of human rights defenders, particularly those working on the rights of indigenous peoples and sexual and reproductive rights. It concludes with recommendations to the Government of Ecuador on how to improve the conditions for civil society to operate free from unwarranted state interference, communicate and cooperate, seek and secure funding, and publically present their demands without fear of retaliation.

India: CIVICUS and Human Rights Defenders Alert, supported by 19 Indian civil society organisations, examine India’s fulfilment of the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We look at unwarranted restrictions on civil society groups, the use of restrictive legislation to de-register organisations and the suspension of the bank accounts of others to prevent them from carrying out their activities.  We further examine attacks, intimidation and judicial persecution of human rights defenders, the brutal assassination of journalists and often violent dispersal of peaceful demonstrations

Indonesia: CIVICUS, LBH PERS, ICJR, ELSAM, YAPPIKA focus on the failure of the government of Indonesia to fully implement all the recommendations it accepted and noted during its previous UPR review. We assess attacks and persecution of human rights defenders, the assassination of an environmental rights activist, harassment and physical attacks on journalists and the use of restrictive legislation, circulars and policies to target freedom of expression and online freedoms. The submission looks at the use of excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations and the use of pre-emptive measures to ban protests especially those held on issues affecting West Papuans.  

Morocco: CIVICUS highlights the criminalisation, intimidation and harassment of civil society groups through the imposition of travel bans, banning of meetings and conferences of CSOs and unjustifiable denial of formal registration of vocal groups. CIVICUS underscores the lack of implementation of recommendations in relation to freedom of expression, including a number of legitimate forms of free speech that continue to be criminalised.

The Philippines: CIVICUS and KARAPATAN examine the continued extrajudicial killing, intimidation and harassment of human right defenders, journalists and media workers as well as legal restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, in particular the criminalisation of libel and overbroad provisions of the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act. CIVICUS and KARAPATAN asses The Philippines level of implementation of a range of UPR recommendations pertaining to civic space.

Poland: CIVICUS and the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) highlight grave concerns on the sharp decline in respect for civic space that has occurred since late 2015 when the newly-elected government began to implement policies and introduce laws clearly aimed at curbing media freedom, free expression and dissent. As Poland appears for the third time before the UPR, CIVICUS and KOD make a series of recommendations on how Poland can reverse course and strengthen respect for the fundamental freedoms in line with its international commitments.
 
South Africa: CIVICUS and HURISA discuss the harassment of peaceful protestors and demonstrators by state security agents which impedes the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the extra-judicial killing of human rights defenders, and the failure to sufficiently amend or repeal restrictive legislation limiting freedom of information. CIVICUS and HURISA further provide an analysis of South Africa’s operationalisation of UPR recommendations on freedom of assembly, association, expression and HRDs.

Tunisia: CIVICUS and The Movement for Amazigh of Tunisa discuss the legal and extra-legal restrictions undermining freedom of expression in the country, including legal provisions that criminalise defamation, overbroad definitions in the anti-terrorism legislation and a number of recent attacks against journalists and media workers. CIVICUS and Amazigh of Tunisia further examine restrictive pre-revolution legislation that impedes the freedom of assembly. 

33rd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project thank the Independent Expert on Somalia for his report. 

As Somalia prepares for its electoral process later this year, we take this opportunity to welcome steps taken by the government to strengthen its human rights framework in preparation for the election.

While recognising this progress, we call on Somali authorities to make a concerted effort to  address undue restrictions on freedom of expression. In particular, we call on Somalia to ensure that government officials’ threats and intimidation of media workers are swiftly and effectively investigated. In June 2016, Puntland Ministry of Information issued a directive restricting journalists from interviewing persons linked to pirates and terrorists, and in an audio recording, the Minister of Information threatened to use force and to kill journalists who violate the order. Although Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the majority of violations committed against media workers, the Government should cease its practice of closing radio stations and arresting journalists deemed critical. 

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