China

 

  • ‘Invocamos el principio de extraterritorialidad para llamar al Estado chino a rendir cuentas del impacto de sus inversiones en América Latina’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con las cuatro responsables de la iniciativa regional “Explorando nuevos caminos para la defensa de los derechos humanos frente a las inversiones chinas en América del Sur: El Examen Periódico Universal de las Naciones Unidas y el Principio de Extraterritorialidad”: Paulina Garzón,de la Iniciativa para las Inversiones Sostenibles China América-Latina (IISCAL),María Marta Di Paola, dela Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN) de Argentina; Sofía Jarrín, del Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales (CDES) de Ecuador; y Julia Cuadros, de CooperAcción, una organización de Perú.

    1. ¿Qué impacto están teniendo las inversiones chinas en América Latina, y por qué es preocupante?

    A pesar de la desaceleración de la economía china en los últimos años, las inversiones chinas continúan creciendo en América Latina. En 2016 los préstamos soberanos de los bancos chinos alcanzaron 21.000 millones de dólares (más que el monto prestado por todos los bancos multilaterales) y la inversión directa llegó a los 10.358 millones (un crecimiento de 29,4% con respecto a 2015). La República Popular de China es el primer o el segundo socio comercial para todos los países sudamericanos, y resalta el hecho de que la gran mayoría de las exportaciones hacia China se concentra en petróleo, minerales y soja. En otras palabras, las inversiones chinas o motorizadas por la demanda china han dado un nuevo impulso al sector primario y, dentro de éste, a las industrias extractivas, de modo tal que la relación económica entre China y América Latina impone grandes desafíos tanto ambientales como en relación con los derechos de las comunidades donde se asientan estas inversiones.

    El crecimiento y la escala del financiamiento chino en América Latina ha tomado a las organizaciones sociales y a las comunidades por sorpresa. Hasta ahora, es poco lo que la sociedad civil ha podido hacer para demandar rendición de cuentas directamente a los bancos, compañías y agencias reguladoras chinas, en parte por falta de conocimiento y acceso a los procedimientos de estas instituciones, pero sobre todo por el hermetismo que las caracteriza. Ello se ve agudizado por el hecho de que la mayoría de los capitales chinos que llegan a la región aterrizan en Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Ecuador, Perú y Venezuela, países que tienen una o varias de las siguientes características: dificultades para acceder a los mercados financieros; gobernanza ambiental debilitada; y disminución de espacios de participación ciudadana. En estos países, vemos que las empresas transnacionales han contribuido a la violación de los derechos humanos, entre las que se cuenta la práctica sistemática de criminalización de los defensores ambientales.

    Sobre esta misma línea, cabe agregar que China ha seguido el principio de “no interferencia” en la construcción de su relación con América Latina, lo cual ha dado como resultado una interacción casi exclusiva con los gobiernos de turno, sin inclusión de actores no gubernamentales. En este contexto, las organizaciones sociales latinoamericanas no hemos logrado establecer canales de diálogo sustanciales con las instituciones chinas, y tanto menos en lo que se refiere a la demanda de rendición de cuentas acerca de los impactos negativos de su intervención.

    1. ¿Qué está haciendo la sociedad civil de América Latina para llamar a China a rendir cuentas de los efectos ambientales y sociales de sus inversiones en la región?

    Un grupo de organizaciones de varios países que han visto su situación de derechos humanos deteriorarse por efecto de la penetración de estas inversiones, hemos decidido hacer uso de las herramientas que ofrece el sistema internacional de derechos humanos para establecer una conversación sobre la necesidad de llamar a los gobiernos a rendir cuentas de los efectos de sus inversiones y de las acciones de sus empresas en el extranjero. Para ello aprovecharemos el hecho de que la República Popular de China realizará en noviembre de 2018 su Examen Periódico Universal (EPU) en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas (ONU), la evaluación de derechos humanos a la que deben someterse cada cuatro años todos los estados miembros de la ONU, sin excepción.

    Pese a que no cuenta con una autoridad y mecanismos de aplicación, el sistema universal de derechos humanos, dentro del cual se encuentra el mecanismo EPU, ofrece valiosas oportunidades de incidencia para la sociedad civil en todo el mundo. El EPU ofrece un espacio para que las comunidades afectadas en sus derechos civiles, políticos, económicos, sociales o culturales hagan oír sus reclamos. Por lo general, la responsabilidad por los derechos vulnerados es adjudicada al Estado dentro de cuyo territorio ocurren dichas violaciones de derechos. Así, en el marco del EPU de China, el grueso de las recomendaciones que recibe el Estado chino se vinculan con el trato que reciben sus ciudadanos dentro de su territorio. Sin embargo, nada impide a las comunidades afectadas en sus derechos en diversos países de América Latina presentar reclamos por las acciones de un país extranjero miembro de las Naciones Unidas. En otras palabras, nada impide a los grupos vulnerados invocar el principio de extraterritorialidad para demandar a un Estado extranjero el cumplimiento de las obligaciones de derechos humanos contraídas por la aceptación de los instrumentos de las Naciones Unidas, así como a través de todo compromiso voluntario que dicho Estado haya ratificado y asumido.

    Eso es precisamente lo que pensamos hacer durante la EPU de China. En vistas de este proceso, el Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales (CDES) de Ecuador, la Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN) de Argentina, CooperAcción de Perú y la Iniciativa para las Inversiones Sostenibles China América-Latina (IISCAL), hemos creado una alianza regional con el objeto de investigar colaborativamente y elaborar un informe sombra nacional para cada uno de los países sudamericanos incluidos en el proyecto, así como un informe sombra regional. En marzo de 2018 estos informes serán presentados a la Oficina del Alto Comisionado de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas como aportes para el EPU de China.

    Esta iniciativa cobró vida en 2017, con la búsqueda de una alianza regional para fortalecer nuestro trabajo de incidencia frente al Estado chino. La participación en el mecanismo del EPU es para nosotras una ventana de oportunidad para canalizar las preocupaciones y visibilizar las múltiples violaciones a los derechos humanos de las comunidades afectadas por proyectos cuyo financiamiento y operación se vinculan con inversiones del Estado chino.

    Las organizaciones involucradas tenemos una extensa y probada trayectoria de trabajo sobre financiamiento internacional y derechos humanos y ambientales, y nos contamos entre las pocas organizaciones de la sociedad civil de la región que han realizado un trabajo sistemático de investigación e incidencia sobre inversiones chinas en sus respectivos países. Además, gozamos de la confianza, credibilidad y reconocimiento de las organizaciones de base y otros actores relevantes. De hecho, en varios casos, hemos abogado frente a las entidades chinas para que mejoren sustancialmente su comportamiento ambiental y social y para que actúen como buenos ciudadanos globales. La falta de respuestas por parte de tales entidades nos ha llevado a buscar nuevos espacios de interlocución con la República Popular de China en los foros internacionales. Tenemos la esperanza de que el EPU de China y demás mecanismos de las Naciones Unidas ofrezcan el tan necesario espacio para lograr un compromiso serio de parte de los bancos y empresas chinas en materia de internalización de los principios de derechos humanos en sus operaciones en el extranjero.

    1. ¿Cuál es el sustento legal de la iniciativa? ¿A qué instrumentos, convenciones y legislación apelarán para apoyar sus reclamos?

    La República Popular de China ha ratificado varios instrumentos internacionales de derechos humanos. Entre ellos, los más importantes a la hora de constituir el marco de referencia y argumentación para el trabajo que pretendemos llevar adelante son el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales, el Protocolo de San Salvador (Protocolo Adicional a la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos en materia de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales) y los Principios de Maastricht sobre las Obligaciones Extraterritoriales de los Estados en el Área de los Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales. Estos últimos, en particular, establecen que los Estados tienen la obligación de respetar, proteger y cumplir los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales tanto dentro de su territorio como fuera de él, y estipulan que la responsabilidad del Estado se extiende a los actos y las omisiones de los agentes no estatales que actúan por instrucciones o bajo la dirección o el control del Estado en cuestión.

    Cabe señalar que si bien nuestra argumentación se basa en el principio de responsabilidades extraterritoriales, ello no excluye la posibilidad de apelar en los informes sombra a otros instrumentos internacionales que integran el sistema universal de las Naciones Unidas, aún si no han sido ratificados por el Estado chino. En ese sentido, deba presumirse que, al aceptar ser miembro de las Naciones Unidas, China se compromete a promover sus principios y apoyar la implementación de los tratados, pactos y convenios internacionales elaborados en el seno de la organización.

    También es importante destacar que según el artículo 16 de la Constitución China, las empresas estatales tienen poder de decisión con respecto al funcionamiento y la gestión dentro de los límites prescritos por la ley, a condición de que se sometan al liderazgo unificado del Estado, en cuyo caso deben cumplir con todas las obligaciones del plan estatal. En otras palabras, las empresas estatales chinas son actores cuasi-estatales. Funcionan como una extensión de la estructura del Estado chino, ya que le pertenecen, son patrocinadas por él o actúan en pos de sus intereses. Ello convierte a las responsabilidades de derechos humanos de las empresas estatales de la República Popular de China en responsabilidades del Estado chino.

    El hecho de que China ocupe un puesto en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas y de que, durante una visita del Secretario General de las Naciones Unidas a China el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de ese país haya declarado que “la ONU es una plataforma efectiva para los desafíos globales y la institución central para los esfuerzos internacionales en tratar los asuntos globales” constituye para nosotros una ventana de oportunidad. El EPU de la República Popular de China que se realizará en noviembre del 2018 es la oportunidad más concreta y cercana que tenemos.

    • Visite las páginas web delCDES,CooperAcción,FARN eIISCAL, o siga en Twitter a @CDESecuador, @CooperAccionPER, @farnargentina y @PaulinaGarzón

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 44th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The three-week human rights council sits from 30 June to 17 July, and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate, and for the 47 Council members to address. CIVICUS will be conducting and presenting evidence on a variety of thematic and country-focused issues. Full overview below:

    Country-specific situations

    The Philippines (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

    Our members on the ground have documented serious human rights violations, including attacks on fundamental freedoms and against human rights defenders and journalists. Thousands of people have been killed in extra-judicial executions perpetrated by authorities with the full backing of the Duterte government in the context of their so-called ‘war on drugs'. Recently the country has been added to the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, while the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights released a damming report on the country. We urge member states to deliver a strong resolution during the council to hold the government to account.

    United States of America (Civic space rating:Narrowed)

    Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the United States to protest the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on 25 May. Their demands for justice for George Floyd and other Black people unlawfully killed at the hands of police have been met with force. The US has been added to the CIVICUS Monitor’s Watchlist as a result of attacks against protesters and the media. CIVICUS reaffirms that the right to protest, as enshrined in international law, must be protected.  CIVICUS urges the member states and observers of the Human Rights Council to raise such attacks in the Interactive Dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and in the Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism.

    Eritrea (Civic space rating:Closed)

    As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001. Impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention, violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances. During this session, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea is up for renewal. We urge States to support its adoption, in light of the lack of progress and accountability in the country.

    China (Civic space rating:Closed)

    50 UN experts have called on the Human Rights Council to take immediate action on grave human rights abuses in China, including Hong Kong and Xinjiang. This week Hong Kong's new national security law came into force, risks destroying Hong Kong's  free and open civil society, including media outlets. Already someone has been arrested for displaying a pro-independence flag. Urgent action is needed. CIVICUS fully support the proposal from UN experts to establish a UN mechanism to closely monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China. At the very least, States should demand in dialogues that China fulfills its human rights obligations.

    Hungary (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

    There has been a rapid decline in civic freedoms in Hungary. The government has criminalised fake news about the pandemic, with penalties of up to five years in prison. To date, the police have initiated criminal proceedings against nearly 100 people. During the pandemic, Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán was able to temporarily rule by decree, which has set a dangerous precedent for Orbán to further consolidate power, restrict rights and bypass constitutional safeguards. The country has been added to the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist. CIVICUS recommends that UN member states raise concerns about Hungary and how it has used COVID19 as a smokescreen to close civic space and target its critics.

    Thematic mandates

    Civic freedoms in the age of COVID-19

    The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated human rights challenges worldwide. As countries have grappled to respond, CIVICUS has documented multiple instances of such responses restricting civic space, including: 

    • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship
    • Detentions of activists for disseminating critical information
    • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets
    • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers

    In a report that will be presented at this Session, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression set out a number of recommendations for States in order to guarantee freedom of expression during a pandemic. Chief among these was ‘Ensuring accountability, such that no State is free to use this public health crisis for unlawful purposes beyond the scope of the health threat.’

    Peaceful Protests

    This Session will see a resolution on peaceful protests debated by the Council. The resolution provides an opportunity to push for reforms of protest laws and police tactics, and to strengthen accountability frameworks for violations during protests. We urge States to propose language which reflects the current situation of impunity for violence against peaceful protesters by state and non-state actors.

    Human rights and Migration

    This Session, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and migration will deliver a report on migration and freedom of association, which included key recommendations for States to ensure that freedom of association is protected. We call on States to use the Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report to make public commitments to protect the right to freedom of association for migrants, and to co-sponsor the resolution due for presentation at the Session which will renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 45th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 14 September - 6 October, 2020 and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. Stay up to date by following @civicusalliance and #HRC45


    CIVICUS will be engaging on a range of issues in line with our mandate to protect and monitor the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of association. In terms of country-specific situations, CIVICUS will be presenting evidence and recommendations on rights abuses in the Philippines, Burundi, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and China. With relation to thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on deliberations related to the prevention of human rights abuses, reprisals, and arbitrary detention. Full summaries below.

    Civil society Participation in times of COVID19
    Like last session, civil society participation has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Travel restrictions and distancing guidelines means that in-person participation is conspicuously limited, particularly for organisations from the Global South. Opportunities for remote participation via video messaging are providing a welcome alternative - because of this change, people and groups affected by issues being discussed will, to some extent, be able to address the Council without being limited by their ability to travel to Geneva, as is usually the case. But being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room and in-person, whether through side events or statements, has long been a strength of the Council. The human rights defenders who attend Council sessions strengthen resolutions by providing first-hand information and serve to hold states to account, and their participation reinforces valuable partnerships. Like last session, opportunities to do so in-person will be very much missed.

    see individual member country ratings - ...

    Country-specific situations

    The Philippines (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

    • Extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders continue
    • Abuse of COVID19 emergency measures to target government critics
    • Serious concerns remain over domestic accountability mechanisms, and impunity still reigns for attacks on activists and journalists.

    CIVICUS welcomed the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2019 (41st Session) which mandated welcome monitoring of the human rights situation in the Philippines. The subsequent report by the Office of The Human Commissioner on Human Rights, presented in July 2020 (44th Session) shows clearly that human rights violations remain rampant, and that accountability for such violations remains distant. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing human rights conditions still further; in June, the Philippines was added to CIVICUS’s Watchlist, reflecting its sharp decline in civic freedoms.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS joins civil society partners in the Philippines and internationally in calling for a Council-mandated independent investigative mechanism to address the ongoing systemic human rights violations perpetrated with impunity. This is clearly warranted by the situation set out in the OHCHR report, the lack of political will to engage and the demonstrable lack of adequate domestic investigative mechanisms.


    Burundi (Civic space rating:Closed)

    • Elections in May were marred by violence and rights violations
    • The Youth league, the Imbonerakure, continue to carry out brutal attacks on critics of the government
    • Activists and journalists remain imprisoned, while hundreds of thousands remain in exile.

    An atmosphere of fear and violence prevails in Burundi, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity for attempting to exercise their rights to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Any criticism of the ruling authorities is severely punished and there is virtually no media freedom. The internet is heavily censored, many websites are blocked and online criticism of power holders is subject to severe penalties.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS calls for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in the country.


    Cambodia (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    • COVID-19 government measures have provided an opportunity to crack down on civil society groups.
    • At least 22 people have been arrested for sharing allegedly ‘false news’ related to the pandemic.
    • Opposition Leader, Kem Sokha, on trial since January on unsubstantiated charges of treason. Sokha has been barred from politics and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted

    The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society groups, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. The latest activists to be convicted of ‘incitement’, three employees of NGO Mother Nature, were sent to pre-trial detention on 6 September.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS encourages States to deliver statements jointly or in a national capacity under the Item 10 interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Item 2 general debate focusing on attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and other members of independent civil society, recommending a stronger approach to address the worsening situation. CIVICUS further encourages States to explore supporting a resolution which mandates yearly reporting from the High Commissioner, with updates in between Sessions.


    Saudi Arabia (Civic space rating: Closed)

    • It has been over two years since Saudi Arabia intensified its crackdown on women human rights defenders
    • Reports of detined activists and critics of the government being subjected to torture in prison
    • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to make direct orders for the arrest of activists

    It has been over two years since women human rights defenders have been in prison, simply for demanding that women be treated equally to men. Punishment in the country is severe, with torture being formed used for many offences, and the country remains one of the world’s top executioners. When it comes to freedom of assembly, protesting is considered a criminal act and those who defy the ban can face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

    Recommendations
    States that flagrantly abuse human rights in their own territories undermine and delegitimise the work of the Council must be held up to scrutiny. Along with civil society partners, CIVICUS recommends that States ensure sustained attention by the Council at its 45th session by jointly reiterating calls on the Saudi government to implement the above-mentioned benchmarks, and by supporting the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation.


    China (Civic space rating:Closed)

    • Mass detention, torture and mistreatment of millions of Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in Xianjang
    • Chinese Communist Party continues to censor reporting about COVID-19
    • Excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests around Hong Kong protests

    On 26 June 2020, an unprecedented 50 United Nations experts called for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China.” They highlighted China’s mass human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, suppression of information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and attacks on rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and critics of the government across the country. They also raised concerns about the decision to draft a national security law for Hong Kong  – without any meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong – which imposes severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region. It was passed on 30 June 2020.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS endorses the call by UN experts for a Special Session of the Human Rights Council to evaluate the range of violations by China’s government, and to establish an impartial and independent UN mechanism to closely monitor, analyze, and report annually on that topic. We urge the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy, consistent with his Call to Action on Human Rights, and we call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to fulfil her independent mandate to monitor and publicly report on China’s sweeping rights violations. We support the call that UN member states and UN agencies use all interactions with Chinese authorities to insist that the government comply with its international human rights obligations.


    Thematic situations

    Prevention of human rights abuses
    The ability to take Council action with regards to prevention of deteriorating human rights situations relies on an accurate flow of information from the ground, whether from human rights defenders or independent media. Civil society – including human rights defenders, journalists, and human rights monitors – are often the first affected by a worsening human rights situation. An increasingly inability to express dissent, gather in protest, or operate as independent civil society is often a clear signpost that further human right violations are to come, to be met by willfully restricted avenues of domestic resistance. As an immediate example, in the case in Tanzania, time is fast running out for the HRC to operationalize its protection mandate in order to prevent further deterioration.

    In the report presented in March 2020 (the Council’s 43rd Session), the Rapporteurs highlighted this importance of civic space. As such, a resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should highlight civic space restrictions as indicators for a worsening human rights situation. This would enable the Human Rights Council to take action to prevent severe human rights violations, including by working with the state in question constructively to roll back restrictions to civic space, before the situation becomes beyond repair. Specifically, that civil society indices, such as the CIVICUS Monitor, could be used to develop a more specific set of indicators and benchmarks relating to civic space which would then trigger intervention.

    Further intervention could be operationalized through a Working Group on Prevention or the country level mechanism in New York.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS encourages states to recommend that the use of such civic space indices is articulated in the resolution on the Council’s role in prevention. CIVICUS also recommends that states use civic space indicators in a systematic manner at the Human Rights Council in order to further operationalize its prevention mandate. This includes raising civic space concerns through individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and special sessions and urgent debates.


    Reprisals
    UN initiatives are only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account. Reprisals have a significant impact on citizen participation at every level of the international human rights infrastructure and are another example of civic space being squeezed.

    There is no political cost to states engaging in reprisals, and we recommend that the new resolution incorporates an accountability mechanism. There are a number of emerging trends in types of reprisals leveled against individuals and civil society – false narratives driven on social media and the engagement of non-state actors being just two such escalating tends.

    Recommendations
    Often, the only deterrent to states engaging in this practice is to publicly name them. CIVICUS recommends that States use the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General to raise specific cases of reprisals – cases of reprisals in Egypt, Bahrain, Viet Nam and China are particularly prevalent. CIVICUS also recommends that reprisals taking place within the UN itself are highlighted.


    Arbitrary detention
    Popular action is on the rise across the globe as people take to the streets to demand justice, equity and democratic rights. But this has been mirrored by an unprecedented use of excessive force and arbitrary detention to silence the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of assembly. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor found that one of the most commonly-logged violations of civic rights was against the right to peaceful assembly. This trend looks set to continue, with States both weaponizing repressive laws in order to create justification for detention and arresting peaceful protesters on vague and ill-defined grounds.

    In July, the Human Rights Committee published its General Comment 37 on Article 21 of the ICCPR – the freedom of peaceful assembly. In its guidance relating to arbitrary detention around freedom of assembly, the GC highlights that ‘the procedural guarantees of the Covenant apply to issues such as detention in connection with peaceful assemblies’. It also states that ‘preventative detention of targeted individuals, to keep them from participating in assemblies, may constitute arbitrary deprivation of liberty, which is incompatible with the right of peaceful assembly’, and that practices of indiscriminate mass arrest prior to, during or following an assembly, are arbitrary and thus unlawful’.

    The CIVICUS Monitor as well as other monitoring trackers show that states are falling well short of this guidance. In India, thousands have been held in preventative detention in the context of CAA protests. In Iraq, approximately 3,000 demonstrators were detained during mass protests between October 2019 and April 2020. In Zimbabwe, a number of activists were arrested or abducted to prevent the protests from taking place. Belarus’ practice of mass detentions in the context of protest has prompted condemnation from the UN. Reports from the United States of unidentified police officers detaining protestors may also give rise to arbitrary detention. In Hong Kong, new security law allows for retroactive detention of protestors, well after the protests had ended.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS recommends that States raise arbitrary detention in the context of protests in statements, jointly or in your national capacity, during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and call on the Working Group to look specifically at this issue. CIVICUS further encourages States to name country situations in which individuals have been arbitrarily detained in the context of protests – for example the United States, Belarus, Zimbabwe.


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 47th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 47th Session is set to run from 21 June to 15 July, and will cover a number of critical thematic and country issues. Like all Sessions held over the course of the pandemic, it will present challenges and opportunities for civil society engagement. CIVICUS encourages States to continue to raise the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective.

     

  • BRICS bloc’s lofty aims lack legitimacy without civil society

    By Mandeep Tiwana and Cathal Gilbert

    As Xiamen prepares to host 2017 summit, the group's vision of a "just, equitable and democratic multi-polar international order" is not served well by its member states' disregard for citizens' voices.

    Read on: Asia Times 

     

     

  • China must protect the rights of detained human rights defenders Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing

    Today, 19 September 2022, marks one year in detention for two young Chinese human rights defenders: Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist and key actor in China’s #MeToo movement, and Wang Jianbing, a labour rights advocate.[1]

    CIVICUS and other civil society groups, call on Chinese authorities to respect and protect their rights in detention, including access to legal counsel, unfettered communication with family members, their right to health and their right to bodily autonomy. We emphasise that their detention is arbitrary, and we call for their release and for authorities to allow them to carry out their work and make important contributions to social justice.

    Who are they ?

    In the 2010s, Huang Xueqinworked as a journalist for mainstream media in China. During that time, she covered stories on public interest matters, women’s rights, corruption scandals, industrial pollution, and issues faced by socially-marginalized groups. She later supported victims and survivors of sexual harassment and gender-based violence who spoke out as part of the #MeToo movement in China. On 17 October 2019, she was stopped by police in Guangzhou and criminally detained in RSDL for three months – for posting online an article about Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement.

    Wang Jianbing followed a different path, but his story – like Huang’s – demonstrates the commitment of young people in China to giving back to their communities. He worked in the non-profit sector for more than 16 years, on issues ranging from education to disability to youth to labour. Since 2018, he has supported victims of occupational disease to increase their visibility and to access social services and legal aid.

    Arbitrary and incommunicado detention

    On 19 September 2021, the two human rights defenders were taken by Guangzhou police; after 37 days, they were formally arrested on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Using COVID-19 prevention measures as an excuse, they were held for five months in solitary confinement, and subject to secret interrogation, in conditions similar to those of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. After months of delays and no due process guarantees, their case was transferred to court for the first time in early August 2022.

    We strongly condemn the lengthy detentions of Huang and Wang. In a Communication sent to the Chinese government in February 2022, six UN independent experts – including the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Working Group on arbitrary detention (WGAD) – raised serious concerns about Wang’s disappearance and deprivation of liberty. They asserted that Wang’s activities were protected and legal, and that Chinese authorities used a broad definition of ‘endangering national security’ that runs counter to international human rights law.

    In May 2022, the WGAD went one step further, formally declaring Wang’s detention to be ‘arbitrary’and urging authorities to ensure his immediate release and access to remedy. Noting other, similar Chinese cases, the WGAD also requested Chinese authorities to undertake a comprehensive independent investigation into the case, taking measures to hold those responsible for rights violations accountable.

    We echo their call: Chinese authorities should respect this UN finding, and immediately release Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing. 

    [1] As their cases are deeply connected, their friends and supporters refer to them as a single case called the ‘Xuebing case’, using a portmanteau of their first names.

     

  • CHINA: ‘Crackdown on Jasic labour struggle seeks to eliminate unrest during economic downturn’

    China JasicIn July 2018, police in Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, Chinadetained and used physical violence against several workers at Jasic Technology, a welding equipment manufacturer, after they attempted to form an autonomous union under the auspices of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the sole legal vehicle for workers’ rights in China. The workers had long complained about low wages, poor working conditions and management abuses.

     

  • CHINA: ‘Its international role both originates in and enables domestic political control’

    CIVICUS speaks about China’s growing international role withSharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC), Adjunct Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law and Professor of Law Emerita at the City University of New York School of Law. Founded in 1989by overseas Chinese students and scientists, HRIC isa Chinese civil society group that promotes international human rights and advances the institutional protection of these rights in the People’s Republic of China. Through case and policy advocacy, media and press work, and capacity building, HRIC supports civil society as the driving force for sustainable change in China. HRIC has offices in New York and Hong Kong, and is active on local, regional, and global platforms.

    Have there been any recent changes in the ways China engages in the United Nations (UN) system?

    China has been increasingly active and sophisticated in its engagement with the UN human rights system. As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council – where it formally replaced Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC) in 1971 – China has invoked its ‘One China Policy’ to block the recognition and admission of the ROC by other international bodies. At the same time, the shift of key players within the UN human rights system, and particularly the withdrawal of the USA from the Human Rights Council (HRC), has weakened principled leadership by Western democratic governments. This is especially concerning in the face of China’s increasingly aggressive, multi-pronged and sophisticated challenges to international standards and norms. A key element of China’s strategy has been essentially to counteroffer a model of governance that it refers to as human rights, democracy and rule by law ‘with Chinese characteristics.’

    In addition to the HRC, China is active on human rights-related issues before various UN General Assembly committees, including the Third Committee, on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, and the Fifth Committee, on administrative and budgetary issues. Some key issues it engages in include counterterrorism, information security, treaty body strengthening processes and other human rights mechanisms and procedures, and civil society participation.

    China Interview SharonHom

    As part of the party-state’s overarching strategy to expand and strengthen China’s influence internationally, China has been promoting the appointment and influence of Chinese nationals to key UN bodies and UN specialised agencies. For example, Mr Zhao Houlin was the first Chinese national to serve as Secretary-General of the 150-year-old International Telecommunication Union (ITU), from 2014 to 2018 and 2019 to 2020. As a key agency for information and communications technologies promotion, collaboration and standardisation, the ITU was a leading UN agency involved in the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). Endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 of 21 December 2001, the WSIS was convened in two phases. The first phase took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and the second in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. China was active in pushing back against the inclusion of human rights-focused language in the outcome documents of phase one – the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Geneva Plan of Action – and opposed the accreditation of what it perceived to be hostile civil society groups, including HRIC.

    In addition, Mr Liu Zhenmin, appointed in 2017 as UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, advises the UN Secretary-General on social, economic and environmental issues and guides the UN secretariat’s support for follow-up processes under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Chinese nationals have also served on the International Court of Justice, including Ms Xue Hanqin, who has served as a jurist since 2010 and was named Vice President of the Court in 2018.

    The appointments of nationals of a UN member state to key positions in UN bodies and agencies is not, of course, inherently problematic. Issues from a human rights perspective only emerge when any member state challenges existing standards regarding the rule of law as ‘inappropriate’ or advances a model of development that rejects a rights-based framework, as China now does.

    What are the Government of China’s motivations in its international engagements? What agendas is it particularly pursuing?

    The Chinese party-state’s motivations in its international engagements are primarily aimed at advancing the ambitious vision of President XI Jinping to see China take a leading role on the global stage, as laid out in part in his vision for the realisation of a ‘China Dream.’ Internationally, the party-state wants to ensure the narrative of China is ‘properly’ told, without questioning of or pushback against some of the more problematic elements of its model of governance.

    Specific objectives include limiting civil society engagement with and input into UN human rights mechanisms to government-approved civil society groups; redefining the foundational principle of the UN human rights system from one of the universality of human rights to that of the ‘conditionality’ of human rights; and shifting human rights protection from state accountability to a cooperative enterprise among member states. If achieved, these objectives will undermine the integrity and efficacy of the existing human rights system and enable states to become the arbiters of what human rights to confer on their people, the ‘operators’ of their respective human rights systems, and the overseers of accountability.

    Is one of the benefits of China's increasing international role that there is less oversight of its domestic human rights record?

    The international role of the Chinese party-state both originates in and enables its agenda for domestic political control. China’s increasing efforts to undermine and redefine fundamental human rights and specific human rights mechanisms on the international stage limits the protections and redress available to Chinese people for violations of international rights guarantees. Its agenda for international influence also serves to legitimise as well as decrease scrutiny of its domestic policies and practices. In addition, the tendency for international actors to either appease or otherwise act in complicity with the Chinese state has also led to serious consequences both for Chinese people as well as others around the world.

    One of the most vivid examples of China’s attempts to redefine human rights accountability and the lack of pushback by governments is the passage of the China-led resolution A/HRC/37/L.36 in March 2016 at the HRC. The resolution, ‘Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights’, which included language of the so-called ‘Xi Jinping Thought’, passed with 28 votes in favour and 17 abstentions; the only vote against came from the USA.

    What kind of alliances or partnerships is China making with other states to work internationally?

    One of China’s most ambitious and formidable global development strategies in recent years is the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, an international infrastructure and investment programme that has already involved almost 70 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe. Proposed by Xi Jinping in 2013, the Initiative is aimed at connecting major African and Eurasian nations through infrastructure development and investment, including a ‘digital silk road’ of Chinese-built fibre-optic networks. The Initiative has raised serious political and economic concerns among an increasing number of states, including Japan and the USA, about the Chinese political and strategic ambitions embedded in these economic partnerships. More recently, even some member states, the putative beneficiaries, are starting to push back against the ‘win-win’ arrangements that are now clearly ending up with them as client or debtor states.

    In addition, as one of the leading states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – a regional multilateral organisation with the primary goal of coordinating counterterrorism efforts and economic and military cooperation – China has been deployed in troubling joint military exercises, including simulated rescues of hostages being held by Muslim or Chechnian separatists. In accordance with SCO member and observer obligations, member states have returned Muslims to China to face uncertain fates, an action very much in conflict with the international non-refoulement obligations of all states. The SCO consists of eight member states and four observer states. However, though all the members of the multilateral regional organisation have incredibly troubling domestic human rights records, the SCO has been warmly welcomed by the UN as an observer at the UN General Assembly since 2005.

    What are the impacts of China’s involvement on international institutions and on the space for civil society in those institutions?

    China’s increasing involvement and influence in international institutions such as the UN poses a steep and growing challenge to the meaningful participation of civil society organisations (CSOs). As a member of the UN NGO Committee, China and ‘like-minded’ states act in concert to block UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accreditation to CSOs they deem critical or disparaging of China. When CSOs legitimately seek to participate as part of partner or league organisations, China has sought to challenge their participation. For example, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) often participates as a member of the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation. However, China has attempted to block interventions by the WUC in the HRC sessions and even to ban them from the buildings and grounds. China once even branded the WUC President Mr Dolkun Isa as a terrorist in an effort to block his participation in side events at the HRC in Geneva, and at General Assembly side events in New York. Ironically, these unfounded smear efforts served only to increase interest in various events.

    How is civil society working on issues around China’s international-level engagement, and what support does civil society need to be able to work effectively on this issue?

    Despite the many and significant challenges inherent in this work, CSOs around the world are increasingly working together to address China’s efforts to distort and subvert human rights norms on the international stage, and to address serious rights abuses. This includes collaborations between local, regional and international civil society groups to issue joint letters, briefings and submissions for UN human rights mechanisms and procedures, interventions at HRC sessions and side events and other targeted activities.

    The key support that civil society needs, especially smaller CSOs, is two-pronged: financial support to continue to carry out their missions and conduct the necessary research and projects related to understanding and responding to China’s actions on the international stage; and for governments of other states to act more aggressively and effectively to counter China when it acts inappropriately, and in particular to ensure a safe and enabling environment for domestic CSOs.

    Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Human Rights in China through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@hrichina on Twitter.

     

  • CHINA: ’30 years after Tiananmen, the world witnesses the consequences of nurturing China’

    4 June 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in China when hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed peaceful pro-democracy protesters were killed in Beijing and tens of thousands of demonstrators in cities across China were arrested.

    In May 1989, people gathered in Tiananmen Square, in Central Beijing, to call for political and economic reform. Hundreds of student protesters went on hunger strike to put pressure on Communist Party leaders. An estimated one million people joined the protests to support the students and demand reform. The Chinese authorities responded with overwhelming repression. Military units were deployed and unarmed protesters and onlookers were killed en masse. The Chinese government never acknowledged the events surrounding the Tiananmen massacre. It remains a contentious topic to this day, and all mention of the protests is banned in China, both online and offline.

     

  • China: Impunity persists for attacks against human rights

     

    Statement at 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council


    Delivered by Sarah M Brooks, The International Service for Human Rights

    Madame High Commissioner,

    As you must be aware, the human rights situation in China remains dire. Major research reports published in the last two months independently reach the same conclusion: the Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity against its Turkic Muslim population. The international community, this Council, and your Office cannot remain silent.

    We request that you urgently strengthen monitoring and initiate public reporting on the human rights situation across China.

    This is essential to providing objective, independent and concrete information to all stakeholders, and to seeking constructive solutions to protect vulnerable populations from further abuse.

    In your last update to this Council, you pointed to the curtailment of fundamental rights and freedoms in the name of national security, especially targeting Uyghurs and Tibetans; restrictions on free speech and detentions linked to the Covid-19 response; the investigation of protesters in Hong Kong; and arbitrary arrest,and unfair trials of lawyers, journalists and defenders.  

    In the months since, little has changed. More is needed.

    We acknowledge your call for unfettered access to ‘all regions of China’. We emphasise that access is not a prerequisite for accountability. Ongoing negotiations should not delay urgently needed action.

    Human rights violations across China, Uyghur and Tibetan regions, as well as Hong Kong have become increasingly severe over the last years, even while Chinese authorities have consistently denied meaningful cooperation. We are here as allies, but the victims and communities urgently need you, your Office, and the UN as a whole to respond.  

    Thank you.


    Civic space in China is currently rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • China: Open letter from global civil society calls for release of student activists and workers

    On 9 and 11 November, only days after China underwent a UN review on its human rights situation, Chinese authorities carried out a massive crackdown, forcibly disappearing student activists in five cities across the country. The missing activists are supporters of workers at Jasic Technologies, in Shenzhen, who have been fighting for their rights. This is the most severe case of repression against workers and students in China in recent years.

     

  • China’s growing power is a new challenge for civil society

    By Andrew Firmin 

    In one of the world’s most powerful countries, merely wanting to speak your own language can be risky. After spending more than two years in detention, Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk was recently sentenced to five years in prison. His crime, in the eyes of China’s authorities: giving a video interview about the eradication of the Tibetan language in schools and public places.

    Read on: Asian Correspondent

     

  • CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on eight countries to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of the 31st UPR session (November 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 second UPR cycle over 4-years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

    Countries examined: Chad, China, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Senegal

    Chad EN or FR -CIVICUS and Réseau Des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) examine ongoing attacks on and intimidation, harassment and judicial persecution of HRDs, leaders of citizen movements and CSO representatives. We further discuss restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association in Chad including through lengthy bans and violent repression of protests and the targeting of unions which protest against austerity measures or the reduction of salaries for workers.

    China - CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) outline serious concerns related to the escalation of repression against human rights defenders, particularly since 2015, which Chinese activists described as one of the worst years in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful activism. The submission also describes unlawful restrictions on the freedom of association, including through the Charity Law and the Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations. CIVICUS and AHRC call on the government of China to immediately release all HRDs arrested as part of the “709 crackdown” and repeal all laws restricting civic space in China.

    Jordan -CIVICUS, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and Phenix Center highlight the lack of implementation of recommendations on the right to freedom of association. Current legislation governing the formation and operation of civil society organisations (CSOs), including trade unions, imposes severe restrictions on the establishment and operation of CSOs. We are also concerned by the restrictive legal framework that regulates the right to freedom of expression and the authorities’ routine use of these laws to silent critical voices.

    Malaysia - CIVICUS and Pusat KOMAS highlight a range of restrictive laws used to constrain freedom of association and to investigate and prosecute government critics and peaceful protesters, in their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We also raise concerns about the harassment of and threats against HRDs as well as the increasing use of arbitrary travel bans by the government to deter their freedom of movement.

    Mexico (ES) - CIVICUS and the Front for the Freedom of Expression and Social Protest (Frente por la Libertad de Expresión y la Protesta Social - FLEPS) address concerns regarding the threats, attacks and extrajudicial killings of HRDs and journalists for undertaking their legitimate work. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled through stigmatisation, criminalisation and violent suppression of social protests and restrictions on freedom of expression and independent media.

    Nigeria - CIVICUS and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNGO) examine the difficult operating environment for journalists who are routinely harassed, beaten and sometime killed for carrying out their journalistic work. CIVICUS and the NNGO are concerned by the actions of some officers of the Department of State Services who are at the forefront of persecuting human rights defenders.

    Saudi Arabia - CIVICUS, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) address Saudi Arabia’s continued targeting and criminalization of civil society and human rights activists, particularly under the auspices of its counter-terror laws, which severely undermine the freedoms of association, expression and assembly.

    Senegal - CIVICUS and the Coalition Sénégalaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (COSEDDH) document a number of violations of the freedom of expression and restrictions on media outlets. In particular we discuss the continued criminalisation of press offences in the new Press Code, including criminal defamation, among other restrictive provisions. Since its last UPR examination, implementation gaps were found with regard to the rights to the freedom of expression and issues relating to the freedom of peaceful assembly.

     

  • Civil society facing reprisals for engagement in UN human rights mechanisms

    Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

     


    Acts of reprisal pose a threat to the functioning of UN human rights mechanisms as a whole. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN. Reprisals lead to self-censorship, weakened engagement and watered-down reporting, and represent an attack against UN mechanisms themselves.

    This week, the Amnesty International India section was forced to stop its ongoing work and let go of its staff after a complete freezing of the organisation’s bank account. India is a member of this Council, and it is particularly egregious that the country has effectively shuttered a critical voice in researching and reporting human rights violations to UN mechanisms.

    We are also alarmed that in China, one of the most prolific perpetrators of reprisals, human rights defenders, activists and lawyers reported that they had been targeted for engaging with the United Nations staff or human rights mechanisms. In September 2018, the Permanent Mission of Burundi in Geneva requested that OHCHR withdrew the accreditation of various human rights defenders. In Cambodia, attacks by the government against prominent rights group LICADHO, STT and Mother Nature, among others, risks impeding them from their vital monitoring and reporting work and severely restricts the ability of defenders to engage with human rights mechanisms at a critical time when Cambodia's human rights are in freefall.

    We urge Member States to not only refrain from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, but to address them. It is past time to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our human rights mechanisms.

     

  • Five countries added to the civic space watchlist

    • Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan join global watchlist
    • Escalating rights violations include arrests, abductions and assassinations of activists, as well as the persecution of journalists and media blackouts
    • International community must pressure governments to end repression and bring perpetrators to account

    Five countries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan.

    Activists, civil society groups and peaceful protesters in these countries are experiencing an alarming number of attacks to their civic freedoms as protected by international law. In particular, the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Violations include the murder of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia; excessive force and mass arrests against protesters in Hong Kong, Egypt and Kazakhstan; and the arbitrary arrest of activists in Guinea who are trying to uphold the constitution and presidential term limits as the country prepares for 2020 elections. 

    “It is deeply alarming to see ongoing and serious  attacks to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “The scale of these violations is often under reported as journalists in these countries are facing their own host of restrictions” Belalba said. “We call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression.”

    In September 2019, demonstrations against alleged government corruption in Egypt were met with excessive force. The use of tear gas was widespread and videos have surfaced of police beating protesters before being taken into custody. In a bid to silence government critics, security forces have carried out sweeping arrests of protesters, detained journalists, blocked news websites and disrupted online messaging services. Civic space in Egypt is rated as Closed.

    Human rights groups in Hong Kong have documented excessive and unlawful force by security forces against protesters including the use of truncheons, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters have also been attacked by pro Beijing mobs. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in the context of the mass protests as of mid-September 2019 and some have been ill-treated in detention. Civic space in China (Hong Kong) is rated as Closed.

    In Colombia, dozens of community leaders have been killed this year, and violence has escalated ahead of October's Municipal Elections. Thousands have marched across the country calling for an end to the violence and impunity for these crimes. Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders and environmental activists. Civic space in Colombia is rated as Repressed.

    In Guinea, plans to change the constitution, which could see the presidential term limit abolished, has sparked opposition and protests. Activists opposing constitutional changes have been arbitrarily arrested, and security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas during protests, killing several people and injuring dozens more. Civic space in Guinea is rated as Obstructed.

    While in Kazakhstan, since June 2019 elections human rights abuses have hit a new high. The work of journalists and electoral observers has been obstructed, while thousands have been detained in post-election protests. Civic space in Kazakhstan is rated as Obstructed.

    In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments and the perpetrators of these attacks. The CIVICUS Monitor rates countries based on the state of their civic space as either open, narrow, obstructed, repressed or closed. These ratings are based on multiple streams of data that assess the state of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

     

  • Global Call to Join a Diplomatic Boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

    • Beijing Olympics Begin Amid Atrocity Crimes
    • Global Groups Call for Action on Rights Concerns

       

    • HONG KONG: ‘This is a leader-full movement, ran by countless small networks of talented people’

      johnson yeungCIVICUS speaks about the protests that have rocked Hong Kong since June 2019 with Johnson Ching-Yin Yeung, democracy movement organiser and chairperson of the Hong Kong Civil Hub. The Hong Kong Civil Hub works to connect Hong Kong civil society with like-minded international stakeholders willing to help promote the rule of law, democracy and human rights in Hong Kong. 

      What triggered the mass protests that have taken place for several months?

      The protests had both short and long-term causes. When Hong Kong was decolonised in 1997, China signed an international treaty promising that people in Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. In other words, Hong Kong would have its own government, legislation, courts and jurisdiction. But, long story short, China is not fulfilling that promise and Hong Kong is slowly becoming more like China due to Chinese intervention in our government and judiciary. Following the2014 Umbrella Movement, there have been increasing restrictions on the freedom of association, and for the first time in decades the government made use of colonial-era laws and outlawed organisations that advocated for Hong Kong’s independence. We expect restrictions on association, funding and exchanges with international organisations and civil society to increase over the next few years.

      Political participation has also been under attack. In 2017, for the first time since 1997, a few lawmakers were disqualified and expelled from the legislature. In the past three elections there have been disqualifications of candidates. This is becoming a major tactic used by China, based on claims that certain candidates are not respecting the law or they will not be loyal to Beijing. This explains why at some point people decided to take their grievances to the streets, given that most institutional channels for political demands are shut down.

      People took to the streets in 2014, under the Umbrella Movement. But protest is being severely punished. In April 2019, several pro-democracy leaders weresentenced to eight to 16 months in prison. Local leaders who advocate for political independence have also been punished with up to seven years of imprisonment.

      The current protests began in June 2019. On 9 June,more than a million people mobilised against the Extradition Bill, aimed at establishing a mechanism for transfers of fugitives to mainland China,  currently excluded in the existing law. Three days later, the legislature decided to continue the legislation process regardless of the opposition seen on the streets, so people besieged the parliamentary building, to which the Hong Kong police reacted with extreme brutality, firing teargas and rubber bullets, shooting into people’s heads and eyes.

      Amnesty International made a comprehensive report on the incidents of 12 June and concluded that the police had used excessive force, even though the protest had been authorised by the Hong Kong government.

      What changed after the repression of 12 June?

      There was a huge outcry because we had never experienced this kind of repression before, and two million people – almost one quarter of the population of Hong Kong – took part in the protests that took place four days after.

      From then on, protesters had a few additional demands on top of the initial demand that the extradition agreement be withdrawn, something that happened three months after the first protest. Protesters demanded the release of the arrested demonstrators and the withdrawal of the characterisation of the protests as riots, which is cause enough to hold someone and convict them: all it takes is for a defendant to have been present at the protest scene to face up to 10 years in prison for rioting. Protesters also demanded an independent inquiry into police activity. Over the past six months we’ve documented a lot of torture during detentions. Excessive force is used all the time against peaceful protests, so people really want the police to be held accountable. A recent survey showed that 80 per cent of the population support this demand. But the government is relying solely on the police to maintain order, so they cannot risk such investigation. Last but not least, there is the demand of universal suffrage and democratic rights, without which it is difficult to foresee anything else changing for real.

      What did not change was the government reaction and the police repression.Over the next few months, around 7,000 people were arrested – 40 per cent of them students, and 10 per cent minors – and around 120 people were charged. The fact that only 120 out of the 7,000 people arrested were charged shows that there have been lots of arbitrary arrests. The police would arrest people on grounds of illegal assembly. I was arrested in July when I was just standing in front of the corner line. I complied with police instructions, but I still got arrested.

      Thousands of people were injured during the protests. The official number is around 2,600 but this is a very conservative estimate because more than half of the injured people were not brought to public hospitals and did not seek medical assistance because they were afraid they would be arrested. Some doctors and nurses organised underground settlements to treat serious injuries like infections or rubber bullet injuries. But they had to remain anonymous and there simply were not enough of them and they didn’t have enough medical supply. There have been at least 12 suicides related to the protest movement. Lots of people have gone missing. Students and activists who are arrested are often deprived of their right to a lawyer and a phone call, and no one knows where they are detained. In many cases, it’s hard to verify whether people are in fact missing or have fled the country.

      Analysts have claimed that the strength of the current protests lies in their ‘leaderless’ character, something that prevents the government stopping the movement by jailing leaders. Do you agree with this characterisation?

      Many observers have seen the way we have used technology to coordinate the protests and they have concluded that our movement has no leaders. It is true that our movement is characterised by the decentralisation of communications and mobilisation. But this does not mean it is aleaderless movement. On the contrary, the Hong Kong protest movement is a leader-full movement: it is full of leaders and is run by countless small networks of talented people capable of organising and coordinating action on their own.

      While the demography of the protests is quite diverse in terms of age, background and social class, more than the 50 per cent of protesters are female, and the major force of the protests are people aged 20 to 49. There is also a strong presence of highly educated people: more than 85 per cent of protesters have tertiary education or above.

      But a notable characteristic of this disparate protest movement has been its unity, which may have resulted from the longstanding repression of civil society. When the leaders of the 2014 protests – most of them young students – were sentenced to prison, older people showed up at the protests because they felt that they had not been doing enough. People also united against police brutality, because there was no previous history of such a serious crackdown on protesters and people felt morally responsible to show up in support.

      Can you tell us more about how the protest movement has used technology for organising and coordinating action?

      During the first few months at least, people would rely on their cellphones and the Telegram app. People would have strategic discussions and channel these discussions into a Telegram channel. These are not the safest communication tools but they can hold more than 3,000 subscribers, which means that you can speak to 3,000 people at the same time, you can share action timetables, the site of protests or the location of the police with a huge number of people. We use a live map to inform protesters where the police are and where the protests are taking place, so they can avoid being arrested. Another app shows which businesses and stores are supportive of the movement. Pro-democracy businesses appear in yellow, while pro-government ones appear in blue.

      We also use Telegram bots for international advocacy. A group of people is dedicated to disseminating information on Twitter and Interact.

      We also use social media as a recruitment tool because after an action is held, people use social media to reflect about the strategies used and assess the outcomes. But after a few months, people started using online apps less and less. They would instead form their own groups and organise their own actions. There are frontier leaders, first leaders, people working on documentation, people who organise street protests – each is doing their own thing while at the same time warning others about clashes and organising timetables. This is how we use civic tech.

      How has the movement managed to grow and thrive in adverse conditions?

      Several elements explain why people keep showing up and why the movement is so resilient against government repression. First, people deploy their actions in their own neighbourhoods. We disperse action rather than concentrate it, because when we use concentration tactics, such as holding a protest in front of a government building, we become an easy target for the police. In the face of dispersed actions, the police would try to disperse protesters but would often end up attacking passers-by or people going about their business in their own neighbourhoods. For many people not involved directly in the protests, this was also a wake-up call and functioned as a recruitment mechanism: police brutality ceased to be a far-away problem; instead, it hit home and became personal, triggering a protective reaction.

      A tactic commonly used by protesters is the Lennon Wall, in which people post messages in public spaces, which creates a sense of community and helps organise public support. Lennon Walls appear in various places and people use them to send and receive information about the protests. People also put posters in bus stops so when people are waiting for the bus they can get information about the protests. People sing in protest in shopping malls. This way, people use their lunchtime to sing a song and protest while going about their business, and they reach people who don’t read the news and don’t pay much attention to politics. That is one of the key lessons here.

      Another key lesson concerns the importance of the unity between the moderate side and the radical front of the protests. Given that even authorised protests would be dispersed with teargas for no reason, some people began resorting to more militant actions to combat the police and protect their space. Some social movement analysts claim that radical incidents diminish popular support for the movement, but this does not seem to be happening in Hong Kong. In a recent survey, more than 60 per cent of respondents said they understood the use of violence by the people. I suppose that one reason why people do not reject militant actions is that they view the government and the police as responsible for most of the violence, and view violence by protesters as a fairly understandable response. Another reason is that radical protesters have been careful not to target ordinary people but only the police and pro-government businesses.

      What else have you learned in the process?

      A big lesson that we’ve learned concerns the effectiveness of creativity and humour to offset government repression. Protesters used laser tags to disable cameras used for the surveillance of protesters, so people started to get arrested for buying laser tags. After a student was arrested for possessing a laser tag, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in a public space and used laser tags to point at a public building. Another example of an effective response took place in early October 2019. There is a law that states that people can be jailed for a year if they wear a mask or anything covering their faces, so people responded in defiance, forming a human chain in which everyone was wearing some kind of mask.

      We’ve also come to understand the importance of global solidarity and leveraging geopolitics. The Hong Kong diaspora has organised a lot of lobbying and advocacy in various cities around the world. We have also lobbied foreign governments and supported the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill that was introduced in the US Congress following the Umbrella Movement in 2014, but that was only passed in November 2019. This law requires the US government to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and requires the US Department of State and other agencies to conduct an annual review to determine whether changes in Hong Kong's political status – namely its relationship with mainland China – justify changing the unique and favourable trade relations between the USA and Hong Kong. This is huge, and we are trying to replicate this in other countries, including Australia, Canada, Italy and New Zealand.

      We have also done advocacy at the United Nations (UN), where some resolutions about police brutality have been passed. But the UN is quite weak at the moment, and aside from the documentation of human rights violations there is not much they can do. Any resolution regarding the protests will be blocked by China at the UN Security Council. That said, a thorough UN investigation on police brutality would send a strong message anyway. We have been communicating with human rights civil society organisations to do more advocacy at the UN.

      We are also looking for alternative tactics such as working with unions in France, because water cannons are manufactured in France and we hope something can be done about it.

      What have the protests achieved so far?

      The democratic camp has made a lot of progress. In November 2019 we had elections for the District Council. True, the District Council doesn’t have any real political power because it carries out neighbourhood duties, like garbage collection and traffic management. Still, in the latest election 388 out of 452 seats went to the pro-democracy camps, whereas back in 2015 they were only 125 pro-democracy representatives, compared with 299 who were pro-Beijing.

      That said, I don’t think the pro-democracy movement should put too much of its energy into institutional politics because the District Council is not a place where the political crisis can be solved. However, the elections served as a solid foundation for organisers to organise people at the local level.

      According to the polls, almost 90 per cent of the people supported independent investigation of human rights violations, more than 70 per cent demanded the resignation of the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and 75 per cent supported universal suffrage. That kind of popular support has remained stable for several months, which is pretty amazing.

      What are the challenges ahead?

      While there is no sign of protests calming down, there is also no sign of the government making concessions anytime soon. Violence is escalating on both sides, and the protest movement might lose public support if some demonstrators decide to go underground. The Chinese government will not let itself be challenged by protesters, so it is infiltrating organisations and tightening the grip on civil society. Organised civil society is relatively weak, and Beijing can easily interfere with academic institutions, schools and the media by appointing more allies and dismissing those who are critical of the government. The next five years will likely be tough ones for civil society and democracy in Hong Kong, and we will have to work to strengthen civil society’s resilience.

      Another important issue is that a lot of young protesters are traumatised by the violence they have witnessed and experienced. We have support groups with social workers and psychologists, but they cannot provide support in their official capacity or they would find themselves under pressure by their employers who take money from the government. Social workers are also at risk and the police constantly harass them. To strengthen self-care and gain resilience for the battle ahead, we need to train more people and create support groups to help people cope, control their stress and share their stories.

      Another potential challenge is the limited sustainability of global solidarity. Right now Hong Kong is in the spotlight, but this will not last long. Our struggle is for the long haul, but the world will not be paying attention for much longer. So we will need to build more substantial and permanent alliances and partnerships with civil society groups around the world. We need to empower local groups and give people new skills regarding international law, advocacy and campaigning. The protest movement is not going anywhere. It’s going to be a long struggle so we will have to train more organisers. We will disseminate the knowledge gained by the protesters, so when they are sent to jail others will take over.

      Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

      Get in touch with the Hong Kong Civil Hub through itswebsite and follow@hkjohnsonyeung on Twitter.

       

    • HONG KONG: ‘We may have not achieved our demands yet, but we've built solidarity’

      Millions of peopletook to the streets of Hong Kong in June 2019 to protest against a proposed Extradition Bill that would have allowed the government to send people, including foreigners, to face trial in mainland China, in courts controlled by the Communist Party. Many in Hong Kong see this proposal as eroding the special freedoms afforded to them under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model, established prior to Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. CIVICUS speaks to Wong Yik-mo, vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella body of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups, which has been among the organisers of the mass protests against the Extradition Bill.

      What has driven the mass protests over the past few weeks? What are your demands?

      The protests were part of a campaign to demand that the government withdraw the so-called Extradition Bill, which would amend the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill to allow individuals, including foreigners, to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party. This is clearly a direct threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong.

      The first march took place on 31 March 2019 and included only 12,000 protesters. We held five demonstrations in total, the biggest of which brought out one million people to the streets on 9 June and two million on 16 June.

      During the demonstration held on 12 June, tens of thousands of protesters assembled around the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region building and its nearby roads. The police used beanbag rounds, rubber bullets, pepper spray and batons on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, leaving dozens injured.

      As things developed, we added new demands to the original one, which was focused basically on the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill. We are now also demanding the dropping of all charges against protesters and the retractation of the characterisation of the 12 June protest as a ‘riot’, an independent investigation into the abuses of power committed by the police during the 12 June protest, the resignation of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and free elections.

      What were the tactics used to organise and mobilise the protests?

      The Civil Human Rights Front has organised demonstrations the ‘traditional’ way, that is, by notifying the police and advertising our plans beforehand. But many other protesters, such as those surrounding the Police Headquarters, organised and mobilised through the internet. They did it very smartly and were able to mobilise without leaders. It happens often that netizens discuss strategies online and when some good ideas come up, people echo and support them, and that is how tactics are chosen. People then know what to do, without the need for clear instructions.

      How have the government and the police responded to the protests?

      The government did not respond to our demands at all! Even after one million people took to the streets on 9 June the government announced that the second reading of the bill would continue as scheduled. On 12 June, protesters tried to stop the second reading by surrounding the Legislative Council, mostly in a peaceful way. The police however used excessive force against protesters: they fired teargas canisters at them, causing some of their clothes to be burnt. Ten canisters were fired at the protest area designated by Civil Human Rights Front, without any warning. When canisters landed in the middle of the crowds, they caused panic and nearly resulted in a stampede. Rubber bullets were also fired at the heads or faces of protesters, and bean bag rounds were also used.

      The police also targeted the press and fired teargas at first-aid stations where about 100 injured protesters had found refuge. In an effort to justify all this, the 12 June protests were subsequently referred to as ‘riots’ by the police and Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

      Do you think you have achieved anything so far and what are your next steps?

      Despite the fact that many protesters were injured, and some even decided to end their lives, the fact remains that two million people – more than a quarter of our population – took to the streets. The Chief Executive had to announce the ‘suspension’ of the bill. Although that was not the full withdrawal we demanded and we continue to fight for, that’s what we have achieved so far. And more importantly, we have built solidarity.

      From the 2014 Occupy Movement we learned that we should not blame each other, even if we tend to use different means of protest, such as peaceful demonstrations or some tactics such as storming buildings. In the course of the current campaign we have come to admit that all the protesters love Hong Kong, and that only by recognising each other’s effort can we be strong enough to fight against the government.

      What is the situation of the civic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression in Hong Kong? What is the likelihood of Hong Kong maintaining its own space distinct from China’s?

      The freedom of expression is shrinking. In schools and universities, speech is censored. Academic institutions claim to be ‘neutral’ and non-political, but apparently just criticising the government can get you in trouble. Candidates for the Legislative Council have been barred from running just for expressing their political views, even on social media posts.

      International best practice on the freedom of peaceful assembly is that notification should be provided to the police when protests are planned, for administrative reasons such as arrangements regarding traffic. In Hong Kong, however, one needs to obtain a Letter of No Objection in order to ensure that a protest is deemed ‘legal’. The police even have the right to issue a Letter of Objection, forcing protest organisers to require an authorisation rather than merely providing notification.

      What support do activists in Hong Kong need from the international community and international civil society to help build greater respect for human rights and democratic freedoms?

      We need the world to understand the special status of Hong Kong and create awareness globally, that we do not enjoy fundamental freedoms like we used to, and we don’t have democracy, unlike what most people would think.

      Many governments have criticised China’s human rights record when handling regions like Tibet and Xinjiang, and Hong Kong deserves the same level of attention. We urge the international community to put pressure on China to make sure that Hong Kong gets back its freedoms and its democracy is protected, as stipulated in its Basic Law. Foreign governments should also take into consideration Hong Kong’s special status as the bridge between the free world and China. If one day Hong Kong becomes just like China, and its rule of law is completely destroyed, then communication between the west and China would become even more difficult.

      Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

      Get in touch with Civil Human Rights Front through theirFacebook page.

       

    • Hong Kong: A year on, the National Security Law has crushed civic freedoms

      New research on the state of civic freedoms in Hong Kong - a look at restrictions over the past year

      CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the alarming regression of civic freedoms in Hong Kong. One year one from the passage of the draconian National Security Law, our research shows it has been weaponised to target dozens of pro-democracy activists and has created a chilling effect within civil society.

      The National SecurityLaw (NSL) punishes four types of activities: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces”, all carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison.These offences are vaguely defined and can easily become catch-all offences to prosecute activists and critics with potentially heavy penalties.

      TheNSLestablishes new national security bodieswhich are partially or fully controlled by People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials, in violation of the Basic Law.It gives Hong Kong police sweeping new powers including to conduct warrantless searches and covert surveillance, and to seize travel documents of those suspected of violating the security law. The law also contravenes the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and undermines the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, guaranteed under Article 14 of the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

      "The national security law has become the most dangerous threat to civic freedoms in Hong Kong and has allowed for any form of dissent to be criminalised. The law has increased the climate of fear in Hong Kong and has been weaponised to target government critics, including people who are merely expressing their views or protesting peacefully”,said David Kode, Head of Advocacy at CIVICUS

      Morethan ahundred people have been arrested underthe National Security Law including pro-democracyactivists,formerlawmakers,lawyers,journalists and students.Activists have been accused of inciting or abetting secession or subversion just for showing leaflets and banners with reference to Hong Kong Independence or for their social media posts. 

      In January2021, 55 people,including pro-democracy activists,opposition candidates, former lawmakers and lawyers, were arrested and detained under law for ‘subversion’ for holding and participating in primaryelections held by Hong Kong’s pro-democratic party in July 2020. 47 of the activists have been charged.

      TheNSL has alsodramatically changed the environment for civil society in Hong Kong, greatly impeding the ability of civil society to carryout their work.Some have quit on the eve of the law’s introduction while others have exercised greater caution in their activities. The chilling effect of the crackdown on the entire sector cannot be overstated.

      The lawhas also been deployed against the media. Media owner Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, a major pro-democracy newspaper, has been detained since December2020. He is facing multiple charges, including ‘colluding with foreign forces’. In May 2021, authorities announcedthey had frozen assets belonging to Lai under the national security law marking the first time a company has been targeted by the controversial legislation.  On 17 June, six of the newspaper’s staff and executives were arrested for their role inthe publication of more than 30 articles that called on foreign countries to impose sanctions. All were charged under the NSL. Apple Daily ceased operations on 26 June.

      The use of the national security law to silence activism is a violation of international law. The repression against pro-democracy activists and other critics has led to the dismantling of civil society in Hong Kong, forcing many to flee the territory. The international community must not remain silent in the face of such abuses but must stand up and stand in solidarity with those defending human rights” said David Kode.

      Since 2019, theHong Kong authorities have also deployed other laws to criminalise peaceful protests in particular the Public Order Ordinance which has been used to charge activists holding and participating in an ‘unauthorised assembly’, It carries a maximumfive-year sentence.  The UN Human Rights Committee has criticised the law, saying that “it may facilitate excessive restriction” to basic rights. 

      Pro-democracyactivist Joshua Wong was sentenced to 13 and a half months in December 2020 for a mass protest outside a police station in June 2019. Wong’slong-time fellow activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were also sentenced to 10 and seven months in prison for ‘incitement,’ referring to their use of a megaphone to shout slogans during the protest. 

      In April 2021,the courts sentenced ten pro-democracy activists to between eight and 18 months in prison for gatherings that were part of a series of mass protests triggeredby the proposed Extradition Bill. In May 2021, eight activists were sentenced for organising a protest in October 2019. More recently, On 4 June 2021, the authorities bannedthe annual Tiananmen massacre vigil for a second straight year and arrested barrister and activist Chow Hang Tung for breaching section 17A(1D) of the Public Order Ordinance by ‘promoting an unauthorised assembly’. 


      More information

      Download the Hong Kong research brief here.


      Interviews

      To arrange interviews, please contact Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher  and 

       

    • Hong Kong: A year on, the National Security Law has crushed civic freedoms

      New research on the state of civic freedoms in Hong Kong - a look at restrictions over the past year

      CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the alarming regression of civic freedoms in Hong Kong. One year one from the passage of the draconian National Security Law, our research shows it has been weaponised to target dozens of pro-democracy activists and has created a chilling effect within civil society.

      The National SecurityLaw (NSL) punishes four types of activities: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces”, all carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison.These offences are vaguely defined and can easily become catch-all offences to prosecute activists and critics with potentially heavy penalties.

      TheNSLestablishes new national security bodieswhich are partially or fully controlled by People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials, in violation of the Basic Law.It gives Hong Kong police sweeping new powers including to conduct warrantless searches and covert surveillance, and to seize travel documents of those suspected of violating the security law. The law also contravenes the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and undermines the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, guaranteed under Article 14 of the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

      "The national security law has become the most dangerous threat to civic freedoms in Hong Kong and has allowed for any form of dissent to be criminalised. The law has increased the climate of fear in Hong Kong and has been weaponised to target government critics, including people who are merely expressing their views or protesting peacefully”,said David Kode, Head of Advocacy at CIVICUS

      Morethan ahundred people have been arrested underthe National Security Law including pro-democracyactivists,formerlawmakers,lawyers,journalists and students.Activists have been accused of inciting or abetting secession or subversion just for showing leaflets and banners with reference to Hong Kong Independence or for their social media posts. 

      In January2021, 55 people,including pro-democracy activists,opposition candidates, former lawmakers and lawyers, were arrested and detained under law for ‘subversion’ for holding and participating in primaryelections held by Hong Kong’s pro-democratic party in July 2020. 47 of the activists have been charged.

      TheNSL has alsodramatically changed the environment for civil society in Hong Kong, greatly impeding the ability of civil society to carryout their work.Some have quit on the eve of the law’s introduction while others have exercised greater caution in their activities. The chilling effect of the crackdown on the entire sector cannot be overstated.

      The lawhas also been deployed against the media. Media owner Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, a major pro-democracy newspaper, has been detained since December2020. He is facing multiple charges, including ‘colluding with foreign forces’. In May 2021, authorities announcedthey had frozen assets belonging to Lai under the national security law marking the first time a company has been targeted by the controversial legislation.  On 17 June, six of the newspaper’s staff and executives were arrested for their role inthe publication of more than 30 articles that called on foreign countries to impose sanctions. All were charged under the NSL. Apple Daily ceased operations on 26 June.

      The use of the national security law to silence activism is a violation of international law. The repression against pro-democracy activists and other critics has led to the dismantling of civil society in Hong Kong, forcing many to flee the territory. The international community must not remain silent in the face of such abuses but must stand up and stand in solidarity with those defending human rights” said David Kode.

      Since 2019, theHong Kong authorities have also deployed other laws to criminalise peaceful protests in particular the Public Order Ordinance which has been used to charge activists holding and participating in an ‘unauthorised assembly’, It carries a maximumfive-year sentence.  The UN Human Rights Committee has criticised the law, saying that “it may facilitate excessive restriction” to basic rights. 

      Pro-democracyactivist Joshua Wong was sentenced to 13 and a half months in December 2020 for a mass protest outside a police station in June 2019. Wong’slong-time fellow activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were also sentenced to 10 and seven months in prison for ‘incitement,’ referring to their use of a megaphone to shout slogans during the protest. 

      In April 2021,the courts sentenced ten pro-democracy activists to between eight and 18 months in prison for gatherings that were part of a series of mass protests triggeredby the proposed Extradition Bill. In May 2021, eight activists were sentenced for organising a protest in October 2019. More recently, On 4 June 2021, the authorities bannedthe annual Tiananmen massacre vigil for a second straight year and arrested barrister and activist Chow Hang Tung for breaching section 17A(1D) of the Public Order Ordinance by ‘promoting an unauthorised assembly’. 


      More information

      Download the Hong Kong research brief here.


      Interviews

      To arrange interviews, please contact Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher  and 

       

       

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