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

     

     

  • 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: ‘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: 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.

     

  • 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: De-escalate violence and respect freedom of peaceful assembly

    Bangkok, 16 August 2019 – We, the undersigned civil society organisations, express our deep concerns on the escalating violence in Hong Kong and urge the authorities to ensure conditions for peaceful assembly and association are present, and the protestors to exercise their rights to protest peacefully. We call on the Hong Kong Government to take meaningful action to curtail actions by law enforcement that escalate this violence and to proactively address the demands of the Hong Kong protesters.

    The protests started over proposed amendments to the extradition laws which would have allowed local and foreign suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Such a move would undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and exposes suspects to risks of human rights violations. Despite statements that the bill is ‘dead,’ the Chief Executive of Hong Kong has stopped short of withdrawing it. Protesters are calling for its complete withdrawal, as well the unconditional release of arrested protesters and the subsequent dropping of charges against them. They are also calling for the Government to drop the use of the word ‘riots’ in relation to the protests, initiate an inquiry to police brutality, and implement genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

    Over the past few weeks, the police have repeatedly used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, in several cases, causing severe injuries. Protesters have been subjected to indiscriminate violent attacks both from the police and from unidentified individuals. These actions are often excessive and violate international human rights norms. Protesters have also been witnessed attacking police officers and destroying property. Recent reports of Chinese military troops in the Hong Kong border may signal a further escalation of tensions over the coming days.

    The undersigned organisations also raise concerns over the use of the term 'terrorism' by Chinese officials to describe these protests. Such discourse delegitimises the valid concerns of the protesters and seeks to justify possible extreme measures against them. We particularly note allegations that China’s State-sponsored media have started to label the Hong Kong democracy group Demosisto as a separatist movement, in efforts to stain their credibility.

    The undersigned organisations condemn these violations as they continue unabated in the absence of meaningful action from the Government. We call on the Government of Hong Kong to immediately take meaningful action to de-escalate the situation, including through taking steps to genuinely engage with pro-democracy leaders and address concerns on the violations of the rights of the Hong Kong people.

    We call on all parties to help ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association can be exercised peacefully, and to immediately end all forms of violence. Police forces must ensure their actions are justified, and strictly proportionate to the risks faced at hand, including when considering the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets, among other measures. The use of any such weapons should be done in strict observance of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Government should initiate investigations into violations of freedom of peaceful assembly by state forces. Protesters should express their views in peaceful ways, and refrain from resorting to violence.

    We also call on the Hong Kong Government to immediately release all who have been arrested for conducting peaceful assembly and association and to drop all charges against them.

    As protests continue, we call on the international community to keep monitoring the human rights violations and abuses and use bilateral and multilateral fora to speak out against such. We also urge the international civil society to provide solidarity to the Hong Kong people as they strive to claim and protect their rights.

    Signatory organisations:

    1. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    3. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
    4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS)
    5. Human Rights Watch

    For further information, please contact:

    • ANFREL, Karel Jiaan Antonio Galang, karel[AT]anfrel.org
    • CIVICUS, Josef Benedict, josef.benedict[AT]civicus.org
    • East Asia and ASEAN Programme, FORUM-ASIA, ea-asean[AT]forum-asia.org
    • Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, RobertP[AT]hrw.org, mobile: +66-85-060-8406

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

     

  • Joint Letter to UN Human Rights Council: More attention needed on human rights violations in China

    To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council

    RE: Sustaining attention to human rights violations in China

    Excellency,

    After another year marked by enforced disappearances, denial of due process, and continued efforts to suppress human rights, we call on your delegation to join with other States to take collective, coordinated action at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council to hold China accountable for its human rights record.

    One year ago today, the High Commissioner released a statement  calling on China to address a wide range of human rights violations. The concerns he raised were echoed by many States at the March 2016 Human Rights Council, including through a strong cross-regional statement delivered on behalf of twelve States.  These States reiterated the High Commissioner’s call for China to uphold its own laws and international commitments, and urged China to release lawyers and other human rights defenders detained for their human rights work.

     

  • Outcomes & reflections from the UN Human Rights Council

    Joint statement at the end of the 41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    By renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), the Council has sent a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It reaffirmed that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity. We welcome the Core Group's commitment to engage in dialogue with all States, resulting in over 50 original co-sponsors across all regions. However, we regret that some States have again attempted to prevent the Council from addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.

    This Council session also sent a clear message that Council membership comes with scrutiny by addressing the situations of Eritrea, the Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows the potential the Council has to leverage its membership to become more effective and responsive to rights holders and victims. 

    The Council did the right thing by extending its monitoring of the situation in Eritrea. The onus is on the Eritrean Government to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its membership obligations. 

    We welcome the first Council resolution on the Philippinesas an important first step towards justice and accountability. We urge the Council to closely follow this situation and be ready to follow up with additional action, if the situation does not improve or deteriorates further. We deeply regret that such a resolution was necessary, due to the continuation of serious violations and repeated refusal of the Philippines – despite its membership of the Council– to cooperate with existing mechanisms. 

    We deplore that the Philippines and Eritrea sought to use their seats in this Council to seek to shield themselves from scrutiny, and those States who stood with the authorities and perpetrators who continue to commit grave violations with impunity, rather than with the victims.

    We welcome the written statement by 22 States on Chinaexpressing collective concern over widespread surveillance, restrictions to freedoms of religion and movement, and large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We consider it as a first step towards sustained Council attention and in the absence of progress look to those governments that have signed this letter to follow up at the September session with a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

    We welcome the progress made in resolutions on the rights of women and girls: violence against women and girls in the world of work, on discrimination against women and girls and on the consequences of child, early and forced marriage. We particularly welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls under its new name and mandate to focus on the intersections of gender and age and their impact on girls. The Council showed that it was willing to stand up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls by ensuring that these resolutions reflect the current international legal framework and resisted cultural relativism, despite several amendments put forward to try and weaken the strong content of these resolutions. 

    However, in the text on the contribution of developmentto the enjoyment of all human rights, long standing consensus language from the Vienna Declaration for Programme of Action (VDPA) recognising that, at the same time, “the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights” has again been deliberately excluded, disturbing the careful balance established and maintained for several decades on this issue. 

    We welcome the continuous engagement of the Council in addressing the threat posed by climate changeto human rights, through its annual resolution and the panel discussion on women’s rights and climate change at this session. We call on the Council to continue to strengthen its work on this issue, given its increasing urgency for the protection of all human rights.

    The Council has missed an opportunity on Sudanwhere it could have supported regional efforts and ensured that human rights are not sidelined in the process. We now look to African leadership to ensure that human rights are upheld in the transition. The Council should stand ready to act, including through setting up a full-fledged inquiry into all instances of violence against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country. 

    During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, States heard loud and clear that the time to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is now for the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We recall that women human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily detained despite the calls by 36 States at the March session. We urge States to adopt a resolution at the September session to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country. 

    We welcome the landmark report of the High Commissioner on the situation for human rights in Venezuela; in response to the grave findings in the report and the absence of any fundamental improvement of the situation in the meantime, we urge the Council to adopt a Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism in September, to reinforce the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner and other actors to address the situation.

    We welcome the renewal of the mandate on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This mandate is at the core of our work as civil society and we trust that the mandate will continue to protect and promote these fundamental freedoms towards a more open civic space.

    We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. We acknowledge some positive signs of re-engagement in dialogue by Belarus, and an attempted negotiation process with the EU on a potential Item 10 resolution. However, in the absence of systemic human rights reforms in Belarus, the mandate and resolution process remains an essential tool for Belarusian civil society. In addition, there are fears of a spike in violations around upcoming elections and we are pleased that the resolution highlights the need for Belarus to provide safeguards against such an increase.

    We welcome the renewal of the quarterly reporting process on the human rights situation in Ukraine. However, we also urge States to think creatively about how best to use this regular mechanism on Ukraine to make better progress on the human rights situation.

    The continued delay in the release of the UN databaseof businesses engaged with Israeli settlements established pursuant to Council resolution 31/36 in March 2016 is of deep concern.  We join others including Tunisia speaking on behalf of 65 states and Peru speaking on behalf of 26 States in calling on the High Commissioner to urgently and fully fulfil this mandate as a matter of urgency and on all States to cooperate with all Council mandates, including this one, and without political interference.

    Numerous States and stakeholders highlighted the importance of the OHCHR report on Kashmir; while its release only a few days ago meant it did not receive substantive consideration at the present session, we look forward to discussing it in depth at the September session. 

    Finally, we welcome the principled leadership shown by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in pursuing accountability for individual victims of acts of intimidation and reprisalsunder General Debate Item 5, contrasting with other States which tend to make only general statements of concern. We call on States to raise all individual cases at the interactive dialogue on reprisals and intimidation in the September session. 

    Signatories:

    1. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    2. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    3. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    5. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    6. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    7. Center for Reproductive Rights 
    8. ARTICLE 19
    9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    10. Human Rights House Foundation 
    11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    12. Franciscans International 
    13. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
    14. Amnesty International
    15. Human Rights Watch
    16. International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) 

     

  • People power is China’s great untapped resource

    By Frances Eve, Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and Cathal Gilbert, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

    From 3-5 September, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met at the ninth BRICS summit. The venue was Xiamen - a gleaming port city which symbolises China’s rise as the new economic and political force in the world. It is also a fitting venue to mark the continued emergence of BRICS as a bloc with some serious geopolitical heft.

    But what does BRICS mean for Chinese people and how can they have any say in these annual meetings, which bring together heads of state from 5 of the most prosperous and populous emerging economies?

    These are uncomfortable questions for a group of leaders who, thus far, have not sought any meaningful inputs from their citizens on the future direction of BRICS. They are particularly awkward questions for host, China, where civil society activists, human rights lawyers, and others who seek to have a say in tackling China’s 21st century problems are systematically repressed by a small elite determined to hold on to power.

    Regular monitoring of the space for civil society by the CIVICUS Monitor and the China Human Rights Briefing shows the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are systematically curtailed in China. These research tools show that civic space is ‘repressed’ in China, indicating that citizens are not able to safely and fully exercise their fundamental rights, namely to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Based on these indicators, the state of civil society rights in China is the lowest amongst BRICS countries and in the bottom quarter for all UN member states.

    Since 2014, a series of restrictive new laws on national security, non-profit organisations and anti-terrorism have been passed, coinciding with a sustained escalation of detentions of dissidents. The latest of these is China’s new National Intelligence Law, which gives authorities “sweeping powers to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and institutions”. The Law on the Management of Overseas NGO Activities, which allows the police to control CSOs' funding sources, staffing and activities, came into force on the 1st of January this year.

    Aside from laws, China has relentlessly pursued its critics through mass arrests of lawyers and activists in 2015, the shutdown of websites promoting peaceful dialogue and deploying riot police to prevent a demonstration on poor air quality in Chengdu. The list goes on.

    The Chinese authorities’ distaste for free speech and human rights activism was perhaps best displayed following the death in July 2017 of China’s only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate  Liu Xiaobo. Rather than allow Xiaobo’s colleagues and friends to mourn, the authorities tightly controlled his burial at sea to prevent a commemoration, arrested activists after his funeral and orchestrated the subsequent disappearance of his widow, Liu Xia, whom they have held in arbitrary detention since 2010.

    None of these issues were discussed at the summit in Xiamen. The agenda was dominated by concerns of international security, especially as North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb on the first day of the summit, global trade and the rebalancing of the global financial systems.

    But if any of this is to be achieved, and particularly if BRICS is to realise its goal of “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economic growth”, its leaders will have to start listening to their people. Fans of China’s spectacular economic growth may say that political reform  is not necessary but history shows us that silencing your citizens is always a strategy with a limited shelf life. Either education and prosperity will rise to levels where citizens demand a proper say, or exclusion and frustration will spill over onto the streets.

    China’s leaders are smart enough to know that even their industrial-scale repression is only partly successful. Indeed, China does allow for tens of thousands of protests to take place across the country every year. By adopting this pressure valve strategy, China allows citizens to let off steam while it simultaneously goes after the organisers or those who share information. This month’s sentencing of a citizen journalist to four years in prison for documenting labour protests is one such example of this tactic.

    Deep down, China’s leaders know that a state can never completely kill the spirit of activism and resistance. Nowadays, the rising influence of the internet, despite being  a tool of repression and rigidly controlled and monitored in China, continues to make the spread of ideas and calls to action easier.

    BRICS may seem a strange place for China to begin the journey towards a more open society. But within the BRICS framework, China can learn from South Africa, where one of the world’s most progressive constitutions is still largely intact, there is a pluralism in the media and protests take place on a daily basis. This dialogue about the merits of democracy could take place through a genuine South-South spirit of partnership, devoid of the often toxic dynamics of North-South dialogue.

    An empowered and engaged civil society doesn’t just mean there will be greater checks on power. It is also a means to create innovation, social cohesion and prosperity within society, share new ideas, challenge the status quo and explore the wealth of generosity and creativity in each individual.

    With almost 1.4 billion people, surely this is China’s greatest untapped resource?

    Frances Eve is a Hong Kong-based researcher with the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a coalition of Chinese and international NGOs dedicated to the promotion of human rights in China.

    Cathal Gilbert is a researcher at The World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

     

  • Progress and shortcomings from 44th Session of the Human Rights Council

    Joint Statement for the end of the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China's imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of Covid-19, and targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

    The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

    Amnesty's Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

    During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

    Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

    We hope that the High Commissioner's reporton systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

    We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

    Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

    We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

    These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France, Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

    We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

    We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

    The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels - and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

    The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

    The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

    We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

    We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country. We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

    The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September. We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

    We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

    We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

    Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and 'Terrorism Circuit courts' in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

    As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

    In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

    To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of "freedom, peace and justice" of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.

    ENDORSEMENTS

    International Service for Human Rights
    DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    Center for Reproductive Rights
    Franciscans International
    The Syrian Legal Development Programme
    Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA World)
    Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    ARTICLE 19
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    IFEX
    Association for Progressive Communications
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    Amnesty International

     


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina FasoBrazil, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, ItalyJapan, 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

     

     

  • Reaction to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights update

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

     

    Thank you, High Commissioner for your update, which takes place in a difficult and unprecedented context.

    We agree with your assessment that human rights violations result primarily from processes that exclude people's voices, and gaps in protection measures. These are issues which the Council is well-placed to address.

    To this end, we hope that the Council will this session continue to address the situation in the Philippines with a strong resolution which reflects the dire human rights situation in the country and pursues accountability. Given that the situation in Burundi continues to be characterised by violations and impunity we urge the Council to renew the vital mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. We further call on the Council to heed calls from civil society and its own Special Procedures to address the escalating violations in China – in Hong Kong, Tibet and in Xinjiang – as well as to address attacks on rights defenders, journalists, and government critics across the country.

    High Commissioner, restrictions to civic space are often precursors to a worsening human rights situation. When the Council fails to address these, it misses the opportunity to work constructively to prevent further human rights violations and fails those who will be affected. A resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should address this gap. Echoing your call, we call for immediate and sustained preventive action on Tanzania before the situation deteriorates further.

    Finally, High Commissioner, we welcome efforts to ensure civil society participation despite COVID-19 restrictions. Being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room, and in-person, has long been a strength of this Council. We call on the members and observers of the Council to strengthen collaboration with partners from civil society to further our mutual goals of protecting human rights.


    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

     

     

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