civic freedoms

  • Malaysia: Slow progress on reforms and ongoing restrictions on freedoms

     Anwar Ibrahim Nov 2022 Annice Lyn GettyImages 1444180402

    A year on from Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim being sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister and forming a unity government, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS believe there has been a  lack of progress in undertaking reforms to ensure better human rights protection. At the same time, authorities have continued to restrict fundamental freedoms.

    While we note some positive steps, such as the legal reforms passed in April 2023 to remove the mandatory death penalty and reduce the number of offences punishable by death, commitments from Azalina Othman, the minister in the Prime Minister Department (Law and Institutional Reform), in July 2023 to review several existing laws linked to race, religion and royalty (known as 3R issues), as well as the Prime Minister’s announcement in September 2023 that the government has agreed in principle to enact the freedom of information act, the government still needs to do more to ensure human rights reforms in the country.

    As with previous governments, the current government does not appear to tolerate criticism, scrutiny, accountability, or dissenting opinions. In the past year, the government has repeatedly suppressed freedom of expression and assembly. This has included targeting human rights defenders, filmmakers, LGBTQI communities, and other minorities that seek to promote and protect human rights, prosecuting them under Malaysia’s many repressive laws. People’s attempts to peacefully assemble have faced restrictions, while the media have faced challenges in undertaking work, including having their content blocked.

    As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the government’s actions to stifle freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are inconsistent with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments made to the international community. We urge the government to halt the ongoing clampdown on civic space and take steps to reform laws and policies used to stifle dissent.

    Use of restrictive laws to stifle freedom of expression.

    Since it was adopted in 1998, the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) has emerged as one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression in Malaysia; in the past year, authorities have repeatedly used Section 233 of the law to target online expression, often in conjunction with other laws, such as the Sedition Act, but also at times as a standalone offence. It was reported in early 2023 that 444 cases had been opened for investigation under Section 233 of the CMA between 2020 and 23 January 2023. Approximately 38 cases were prosecuted, 31 cases include convictions, and seven more cases are still under trial.

    The colonial-era Sedition Act is routinely abused by authorities, with the Anwar Ibrahim government no exception, to suppress dissent and silence opponents. The law has also been used to stifle discourse concerning racial and ethnic groups, religion, and Malaysian royalty. Furthermore, Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code criminalise alleged blasphemy and are often used to restrict expression permitted under international human rights law.

    These laws have been used to investigate, arrest, charge, and convict individuals who have criticised government officials, institutions, or Malaysian royalty or shared opinions about sensitive issues such as race or religion. It is common for authorities to use multiple laws to investigate individuals but for the investigation to result in charges under only one (if any) law. Alleging criminality under multiple different laws is a frequent intimidation tactic used by the Malaysian authorities, creating a threatening environment that chills freedom of expression.

    Numerous cases were documented in 2023 about the use of these restrictive laws to silence dissent. Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the CMA were used not long after the elections in December to arrest and remand a man for three days for allegedly insulting the king on Facebook.

    In January 2023, the film makers and artists behind the movie Mentega Terbang (Butter-fly) have faced a distressing witch hunt and threats carried out by both the State and non-state  actors, and by people using social media to target them. In March 2023, the actors and filmmakers were investigated under the under Section 298A of the Penal Code for causing disharmony, Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for statements that lead to public alarm and distress, and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 for improper use of network facilities. In early September 2023, the Minister of Home Affairs banned the  film from screening in Malaysia under Section 26 of the Film Censorship Act (2002). The order was gazetted as Film Censorship (Prohibition) Order 2023 on 1 September 2023.

    In July 2023, in the run up to six state elections, the government, through the Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil, sent constant reminders to the public and politicians that any posts or comments on 3R issues will not be tolerated. He also said the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) will monitor that speech and expression on social media.  In the same month, Muhammad Sanusi Md Noor, then Caretaker Kedah Chief Minister, was arrested and charged under the Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act. He faced two charges for allegedly expressing seditious statements against the Selangor royal institution on the appointment of the Selangor state Chief Minister.

    On 24 November 2023, Razali Idris, Information Chief of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu), Terengganu executive councillor and Kijal assemblyman from an opposition political party was charged under the Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act for allegedly making seditious remarks about the court decision against MP Syed Saddiq and another politician who was granted a discharge not amounting to acquittal. He alleged that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and judges were under the control of the current Prime Minister.

    The Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) has been used to suppress political opposition, ban books that may be critical of the government or considered blasphemous to Islam, and curtail freedom of expression in general. Section 7 of the law grants the Home Minister ‘absolute discretion' to ban or censor ‘undesirable publications’ based on vaguely worded criteria.

    In May 2023, Malaysian authorities raided 11 nationwide outlets belonging to the Swiss watchmaker Swatch and seized over 100 colourful watches from their ‘Pride Collection’, created to celebrate the Pride movement and promote LGBTQ+ rights ahead of Pride Month in June. The Home Minister also allegedly issued warning notices to five other stores. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has specified that the raids were due to the product line’s association with the LGBTQ+ community, reaffirming the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of the action. The raids and watch seizures were carried out under the PPPA.  The raids are a clear warning to intimidate LGBTQ+ persons into hiding from a government that is threatened by the notion of pride in diverse genders, identities, and sexual orientations. The raids have once again contributed to the ongoing hostility and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, who already feel unsafe and at risk of reprisal for expressing themselves.

    In August 2023, Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) officials raided the bookstore Toko Buku Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur and seized two book titles, Marx Sang Pendidik Revolusioner (Marx, the Revolutionary Educator) by Robin Smalls and Koleksi Puisi Masturbasi (the Masturbation Poetry Collection) by Benz Ali, who is also the owner of the bookstore. The confiscation was conducted under the PPPA.

    In September 2023, Malaysia’s Court of Appeal ruling to reinstate the nationwide ban on the book ‘Gay is Okay: A Christian Perspective’ represents an alarming continuation in the suppression of freedom of expression in the country. This case traces back to a ban imposed in November 2020 by the Minister of Home Affairs under Section 7 of the PPPA. The ban cited concerns about the book’s content being prejudicial to public order, morality, and public interest. In February 2022, the Kuala Lumpur High Court lifted the ban, emphasizing the lack of evidence supporting the ban’s justification and the violation of procedural fairness. On 23 November, eight Chinese language books published by the Gerakbudaya local bookstore were confiscated by the Ministry of Home Affairs because they allegedly contained ‘communist elements’. According to Gerakbudaya, none of the books were on the Home Affairs's list of publications banned under the PPPA.

    Restrictions on media freedom

    Our groups continue to document restrictions to media freedom. Under this current government, multiple websites have been restricted by different internet service providers without notice or warning. Many official media outlets, as well as blogs that are critical of the government, have also faced this issue.

    On 27 June, MalaysiaNow, an online news platform, was reportedly inaccessible, but only to people who use Celcom and Maxis service providers. Two websites that publish current events and critical political commentary faced a similar issue. On 3 July, Malaysia Today was observed to be blocked from users of the same telecommunications providers. A blog run by a former member of parliament, Wee Choo Keong, was  blocked on 24 July. Choo Keong has threatened legal action against the MCMC a regulatory agency supervised by the Ministry of Communications and Digital if they do not lift the ban on his website.

    On 7 August, the government blocked access to the news website to at least some internet users. In response to UtusanTV’s inaccessibility, on 10 August communications minister Fahmi Fadzil stated that he did not give any instructions to block the websites.

    On 18 August, news website TV Pertiwi claimed that the MCMC, had blocked it. The company received no notice of the alleged block. The MCMC also ordered the media to remove six pieces of content from its website on vague grounds that it allegedly incited ‘hatred towards the royal institution as well as ethnicity and religion, which could potentially disrupt public peace and harmony within the country’, but the TV Pertiwi staff refused to comply with this injunction. Its TikTok account was also banned.

    The absence of transparency and explanation underscores the need for a sensitive and sensible balance between regulation and Internet liberties. Under the pretext of preventing misinformation, blocking news portals and critical voices in Malaysia resembles an opaque veil, concealing intentions and disregarding due process.

    Restrictions on and harassment of protesters

    The Anwar Ibrahim government has yet to address any of the restrictive provisions in the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA). The law contains onerous requirements, such as the need to provide detailed information about the planned event and its organisers, that falls short of international standards. Furthermore, anyone who organises an assembly without giving the required notice can be charged with a criminal offence carrying a fine of up to RM10,000 (USD 2,152). Section 9(5) of PAA requires organisers to notify the police five days before a protest but still lacks an exception to the notice requirement for spontaneous assemblies where it is not practicable to give advance notice. The law also makes it a criminal offence for people under 21 years old to organise an assembly and for children to attend an assembly. Further, non-citizens are also denied the right to organise or participate in protests, which is clearly discriminatory.

    In addition, this government has continued to harass protesters for organising and participating in peaceful protests. In February 2023, police recorded statements from 10 individuals and opened two investigation papers under Section 9(5) of the PAA in connection with protest gatherings over Quran burning at two embassies in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The following month, the police announced it had opened an investigation into seven individuals, including organisers, speakers and participants, under Section 9(5) of the PAA and Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1995 after about 300 people, including human rights defenders and civil society groups, took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate International Women’s Day.

    Also in March 2023, police opened an investigation into a peaceful gathering held in support of opposition leader and BERSATU party president Muhyiddin Yassin, who was called in by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Putrajaya. In May 2023, police opened investigation papers under Section 9 (5) of the PAA after at least 400 individuals, including from civil society, participated in a peaceful march for the annual International Labour Day in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. In August 2023, the police said they were investigating a hunger strike outside the Sungai Buloh prison by relatives of those detained under the draconian Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA).

    In September 2023, police attempted to block a group of around 50 farmers from the state of Perak – supported by Lawan Lapar, a movement aimed at ensuring food security, and members of the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) – from handing over a memorandum at parliament to protest against land eviction measures that were affecting their livelihood. Despite the attempt to block them, they persevered and met representatives from the government as well as parliamentarians outside parliament. Following this, police opened up investigations into the protest under Section 186 of the Penal Code for ‘obstructing civil servants from performing their duties’. On 18 September, three PSM leaders were called in for police questioning.

    Separately, police also tried to block the ‘Save Malaysia’ protest organised by opposition groups on 16 September against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) in a corruption case. The police repeatedly demanded publicly that the organisers ‘apply for permit’ despite the law only requiring the organisers to give notice. Following the peaceful protest – in which around 800 people participated – police said they were going to question at least 25 people under the PAA. 

    Human rights defenders at risk

    Human rights defenders remain at risk in Malaysia and there is a lack of mechanisms to protect them in law and practice.

    Sisters in Islam (SIS), a women's rights organisation that promotes the advancement of Muslim women's rights, has been fighting a legal battle for nine years against a Selangor fatwa that labelled them as a deviant group. In March 2023, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against the fatwa by SIS.

    In July 2023, Myanmar refugee activist Thuzar Maung and her family were abducted by unidentified men from their residence in Ampang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, based on reports from witnesses and CCTV footage, and have not been seen since. Thuzar Maung is an outspoken supporter of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement. Their whereabouts remain unknown and questions have been raised about how seriously the police are investigating the case.

    In the same month, there was an attempt on the life of lawyer and human rights defender Siti Kasim after an improvised explosive device (IED) was found under her car. The object – plastic bottles with wires inside – was found attached to the undercarriage of her vehicle after she had sent it for servicing at a workshop in Kuala Lumpur. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, on 9 August 2023 called on the government to ‘effectively investigate the attack & ensure her safety’. However, no one has been brought to justice for the crime.

    In October 2023, Wong Yan Ke, a former student activist who works at Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), a leading human rights organisation., was found guilty under Section 504 of Malaysia’s Penal Code. This followed his actions during the university’s convocation ceremony in October 2019, when he raised a placard and shouted slogans accusing the Vice Chancellor of the university of making ‘racist’ remarks during the Malay Dignity Congress and calling for the official’s resignation. He was subsequently fined RM5,000 (approx. USD 1,200). The court ordered that he spend three months in jail should he fail to pay the fine.

    In the same month, three land rights defenders were arrested for trying to block a forced eviction by the Perak state government. One of them was shoved by an officer from the Land and Minerals Office and suffered injuries to her nose and mouth, as well as wounds on her legs and hands, and has required medical treatment.

    On a positive note, in November 2023, Chang Lih Kang, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, acknowledged the role of human rights defenders in advocating for the rights and concerns of marginalised communities. The minister said that ‘they act as watchdogs, exposing injustices, discrimination, and human rights violations that might otherwise go unnoticed’.

    Human rights obligations

    The Unity government’s actions are inconsistent with Malaysia’s human rights obligations to respect and protect fundamental freedoms, as well as constitutional guarantees under Article 10 of the Malaysian Constitution for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Furthermore, during Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2018, the government made commitments to repeal the draconian Sedition Act, Peaceful Assembly Act and other laws that restrict fundamental freedoms. However, nearly four years on, no progress has been made on these commitments.

    On 14 October 2021, the UN General Assembly elected Malaysia to join the UN Human Rights Council from 2022 to 2024. In line with pledges made in its efforts to win the seat, the Malaysian government committed to human rights protections in Malaysia. However, there has been a continued deterioration in the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms under the previous and the current government. At the upcoming Universal Periodic Session at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in January 2024, the government has another opportunity to renew its commitments to human rights protection. 


    • Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and all other major international human rights treaties;
    • Issue a standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, and prioritise arranging visits for the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, on human rights defenders, and on freedom of religion or belief;
    • Bring national laws into compliance with international human rights law, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, by repealing or reforming the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) in line with international freedom of expression standards, including repealing Section 233(1)(a);
    • Reform the Penal Code to protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including by repealing Sections 504 and 505(b), 298 and 298A (1) of the Penal Code;
    • Cease the judicial harassment of persons, in particular journalists, social media users, human rights defenders, artists, and cultural performers, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and freedom of religion or belief, drop all pending criminal charges for such acts, and release all those detained for the exercise of these rights;
    • Develop, with the full and effective participation of civil society, a national action plan to promote inclusion, diversity and pluralism, including by implementing Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action;
    • Amend the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to guarantee fully the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as provided in international law and standards. In particular, repeal provisions that prevent children and non-citizens from organising and participating in protests. Further, provide an exception to the notice requirement for spontaneous assemblies where it is not practicable to give advance notice, and remove excessive fines currently imposed on protests and organisers;
    • Halt the systematic questioning, harassment and arrest of protesters under the Peaceful Assembly Act and other laws for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly;
    • Provide human rights defenders (HRDs) with a safe and secure environment in which to carry out their work, conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances, attacks, harassment and intimidation against them and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice;
    • Establish mechanisms that protect HRDs, including by working with civil society to adopt a specific law on the protection of HRDs;
    • Ensure that any processes to review and reform legislation are fully transparent and ensure the full and effective participation of all concerned stakeholders, including civil society.

    For further inquiries please contact:

    1. Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Program Officer at ARTICLE 19, .
    2. Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific Researcher, .
  • Alert: Continued deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela


    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) are deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela. On 28 and 29 March 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) issued rulings No. 155 and 156 by which it declared the National Assembly in contempt of court, stripped legislators of parliamentary immunity, and assumed congressional powers as well as the prerogative to delegate them to whoever it decided, namely the Office of the President.

    In practice, many civil society organisations in Venezuela have expressed an opinion that these rulings amounted to an attempted coup against the legislative branch of government, a fundamental pillar of democratic institutions and the embodiment of the people’s right to be represented in the arena where key decisions concerning their lives and rights are made. Similarly, the Venezuelan Attorney General considered these decisions represent a rupture of the Constitutional order.

    The latest developments are the culmination of a several years’ long process of erosion of congressional authority which has plunged the country into a deep social crisis. Through the past year and a half, the TSJ issued more than 50 rulings that undermined the functions of the National Assembly and conferred unlimited powers onto the executive branch of the state. This is the reason why the backing down by the TSJ on its latest rulings did not amount to a restoration of the separation of powers and the rule of law. The fact that this reversal was executed at the executive’s request further emphasised the judiciary’s lack of independence and the on-going degradation of Venezuelan republican institutions.

    Over the years, the erosion of constitutional checks and balances and the resulting political polarisation have progressed hand in hand with increasing restrictions on civic freedoms, namely the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly without which an empowered and enabled civil society cannot exist.

    In turn, the increasing concentration of decision-making powers in the executive leadership has led to serious policy-making failures, thereby intensifying rather than resolving the social crisis facing the country, including acute shortages of food and other basic goods, challenges with the public health system and a spike in street violence which disproportionately affects impoverished communities. We are also concerned about state repression against individuals and civil society groups when they speak up, organise and protest about their troubles.

    In the face of this multidimensional crisis, we call on Venezuelan Government to:

    • Restore the constitutionally defined functions and resources of the National Assembly as well as the prerogatives of its members, devolve the extraordinary powers conferred onto the executive by subsequent TSJ rulings, and introduce measures to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
    • Repeal the current state of exception, established through an executive decree, and comply with human rights commitments under international law to guarantee basic enabling conditions for human rights defenders and civil society organisations. 
    • Guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and of expression. Security forces must refrain from the use of force against, or the arbitrary arrest of peaceful protestors.
    • Engage in dialogue with relevant national actors, including civil society, to resolve the current crisis; and ensure access to food and medicine for the entire population.

    We also urge the international community and in particular, the Organization of American States and its members to assist in resolution of the social and political crisis facing Venezuela.

    Eleanor Openshaw, ISHR NY Office: +1 212 490 2199,
    Inés Pousadela, CIVICUS Policy and Research: +598 2901 1646,

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

    Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

    Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

    A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

    A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

    Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

    1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
    2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
    3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
    4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
      Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

    Eleanor Openshaw,
    ISHR Oficina de Nueva York

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

    Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

    Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

    A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

    A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

    Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

    1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
    2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
    3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
    4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
      Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

    Eleanor Openshaw,
    ISHR Oficina de Nueva York

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

  • Amid COVID-19, what is the health of civic freedoms?

    By Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS and Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Research Officer

    More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus. Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent. But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.

    Read onInter Press Service News Agency

  • AUSTRALIA: ‘People deeply understand that rights and liberties are won through protest’

    DavidMejiaCanalesCIVICUS speaks with David Mejia-Canales, senior lawyer at theHuman Rights Law Centre (HRLC), about anti-protest legislation being introduced in states across Australia and its impact on civil society activism.

    The HRLC is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) that advances strategic legal action, policy solutions and advocacy to support people and communities to eliminate inequality and injustice in Australia.

    What is the situation of civic freedoms in Australia following last year’s change of government?

    Australia doesn’t have a national charter of human rights that legally protects people’s human rights. We are the only western democracy without a national charter or similar document. There are, however, three charters of rights operating successfully at the state and territory levels. This means that the protection of your civic freedoms in Australia is at least partly dependent on the jurisdiction you are in.

    Following last year’s election, we have a new federal government that is willing to consider ambitious reforms on how civic freedoms are protected in Australia. The new government has initiated a parliamentary inquiry to make improvements to our human rights frameworks, including considering whether Australia should have a national charter of human rights. Later this year, Australians will vote on a referendum to alter the constitution to establish a permanent, constitutionally enshrined, First Nations advisory body to the legislative and executive branches of government. We are heartened by these steps in the right direction. However, the proof will be in the implementation of all these measures.

    What is driving the increase of anti-protest legislation at the state level?

    As environmental activism increased in response to the worsening climate crisis, state governments have increasingly sought to introduce laws explicitly criminalising protest. These laws are often so broad and vague that it could be argued that they are introduced more for the benefit of newspaper front pages than for a genuine, legitimate purpose.

    It is also important to note that other laws and powers are being increasingly used to criminalise protest, even where not originally intended for this purpose. For example, move-on orders, surveillance and bail conditions are all regularly used in attempts to silence protesters.

    Due to Australia’s incredibly lax lobbying regulations, it is impossible to know in what measure state governments around the country have introduced these laws as a result of pressure from oil, gas and mining corporations. Fossil fuel companies donate millions to the major parties to discourage politicians from regulating them properly. Overall, corporations spend billions hiring lobbyists to cosy up to politicians.

    They can do all this because Australia lacks basic transparency and integrity safeguards, and our outdated laws leave money in politics woefully underregulated. We need to address the power of harmful industries to skew democratic processes to win political outcomes that put their profits ahead of our wellbeing.

    Which groups are being targeted by anti-protest laws?

    These laws are almost exclusively targeting environmental activists. However, many of these laws are so vague and broad that they often end up criminalising other types of conduct occurring in the public realm, like blocking a road or obstructing a public passageway. While their intent is to criminalise protesters, these laws are so broad that they could be used against anybody. In some jurisdictions penalties consist of steep fines or two years in prison. Often the penalties are grossly disproportionate to the offences.

    In the state of New South Wales, a police taskforce was established with the express purpose of breaking up environmental protest groups. A taskforce is a concentration of police resources usually reserved for very serious crimes like murder or to deal with organised criminal groups. In Western Australia, anti-terrorism police have been involved in seizing devices like phones and memory cards of journalists covering protests.

    What are the recent amendments to the protest law in South Australia?

    South Australia is the latest jurisdiction to have imposed severe penalties on people for engaging in peaceful protest, joining New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria. South Australia’s anti-protest laws carry the harshest financial penalties in Australia.

    The Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment was rushed through the South Australian Legislative Assembly without any public consultation: it was introduced and passed on 18 May 2023. It was a response to protest activity in the city of Adelaide, which briefly closed traffic on a bridge.

    The bill dramatically increases the maximum fine for obstructing a public place from AU$750 (approx. US$500) to AU$50,000 (approx. US$33,300) and introduces prison penalties of up to three months. It will surely have a chilling effect on protest in South Australia, undermining people’s ability to exercise this right.

    How has civil society responded to the amendment?

    There has been an incredible response. South Australia is rightly proud of its history of protest and dissent. It was the first place in Australia, and the second in the world, to grant women the right to vote, and the first place in the world to grant women the right to stand for election to parliament. South Australians deeply understand that these, and many other rights and liberties, were won through protest.

    It is incredibly heartening to see such a strong reaction from civil society, including unions, climate defenders, women’s rights organisations, LGBTQI+ organisations, charities, legal assistance services and the legal profession. Civil society deeply resisted these laws not just in parliament but also in the streets, through rallies and other forms of protest. It was because of this incredible response that at least one of the worst elements of the bill was removed through an amendment in the upper house.

    The amendment involved a single word – ‘recklessly’. In the original definition, the offence applied to ‘a person who intentionally or recklessly engages in conduct that obstructs the free passage of a public place’. This would have disproportionately criminalised very peaceful protest activity like handing out flyers on a sidewalk, because it would apply even to people unintentionally committing an offence.

    What can the international community do to support civil society’s response to restrictions?

    The right to protest is a fundamental human right that, together with the right to vote, has been instrumental in advancing other human rights and civil liberties. It is critical that the international community join civil society in Australia and anywhere to fight back against any interference in the right to protest. This could be as simple as amplifying the calls of activists on the ground and supporting their movements.

    As the climate crisis intensifies it is crucial that we all protect the right of those fighting for climate justice to continue to gather and demand better from our governments.

    Civic space inAustraliais rated ‘narrowed’by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the HRLC through itswebsite and follow@davidHRLC on Twitter.

  • Bolivian government using law and force to cow civil society into silence


    CIVICUS speaks to Marco Antonio Gandarillas, Director of the Centre of Information and Documentation Bolivia (CEDIB), a human rights organisation founded in 1970 with the aim of providing information and consulting services with a critical eye on the social reality of Bolivia and Latin America. He speaks on the protests gripping the country in recent years, the response of state security forces and the dire situation of environmental activists.

    1. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been protests over water, mobilisations for and against the president’s re-election, violent protests against the coca Bill, and countless local protests. Are we seeing a peak in social mobilisation in Bolivia?
    Conflict is a part of this country’s political culture: as sociologist Fernando Calderón would put it, politics in Bolivia is “done in the streets”. We have government agencies and civil society organisations dedicated to counting social conflicts in Bolivia, because this is a country that is in permanent conflict.

    The current situation must be apprehended in historical perspective. When President Evo Morales attained power in 2006, it was initially a rather convulsive stage. Certain actors, notably centres of regional power, disputed power spaces with the state. Starting with the constitutional process in 2006-2008, disputes between regional power groups and the central state subsided, and some stability ensued. There were some violent incidents here and there, but generally speaking it was a phase of low levels of conflict that lasted several years.

    Around 2011 the situation changed again, with sustained increases in conflict, particularly fuelled by socio-economic factors. The turning point was the mobilisation of the indigenous peoples of TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure), a highly biodiverse protected area. The people of TIPNIS mobilised to reject the construction of a highway that would cut through their territory. The conflict was particularly relevant because this was a sector that had been an ally of the government, and that by mobilising independently raised a national conflict with the state. They received numerous expressions of public support and this became one of the main topics of public debate.

    It should be noted that this process of de-alignment was important at the level of social leadership, but not so much at the grassroots level of indigenous organisations. Indigenous peoples actually live very far removed from conventional partisan politics and were not necessarily aligned with the government to begin with. In fact, many indigenous peoples – we are talking about more than thirty groups in the highlands, and about as many in the lowlands - never saw President Evo Morales as one of their own. President Morales represents the sector of the cocaleros, colonisers from the highlands who occupied the lowlands to grow coca in territories originally belonging to smaller and more vulnerable indigenous peoples. So there is actually not a single standpoint attributable to “the indigenous peoples”. Politically, indigenous organisations were a circumstantial ally of a government that at first advocated certain rights, promoted legal progress and proposed dialogue and social pacts. But the government also supported the expansion of agribusiness in the lowland territories of indigenous peoples, even allowing illegal activities such as coca cultivation for cocaine production.

    In short, since 2011, and more intensely on the eve of the latest presidential election (the third) that President Morales won in late 2014, we have had a number of conficts that is even higher than the number of conflicts that took place in 2003, a time of social upheaval leading to the fall and flight of then-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Although larger in number, however, the nature of conflicts has also changed. At present, there is a great proliferation of disaggregated conflicts, many of which are accompanied by high levels of violence.

    2. How has the state reacted to the protests?
    It has become commonplace for conflicts to be contained by heavy police intervention, often resulting in fatalities. The security forces, and particularly the police, enjoy total impunity: no cases of deaths caused by repression have been truly probed, and perpetrators have never even been prosecuted.

    For instance, last year the conflict involving mining cooperatives resulted in seven deaths, six on the side of the miners plus a high authority – the deputy Interior Minister – who was lynched. There are detainees, but there is no evidence of legal proceedings complying with due process guarantees having been initiated against the material and intellectual authors of these crimes. Five of those people were killed by police-issued weapons, but perpetrators have not been identified.

    This increase in conflict levels is the result of growing social unrest, which has surprisingly not expressed itself at the polls. From President Morales’ 2014 solid victory – he was re-elected with about 60% of the vote – the government deduced that society supported their economic model, regardless of the fact that according to the available data, the main reason for most conflicts was socio-economic in nature, revolving around wages, land, natural resources, public services and the allocation of public funds.

    Therefore, as he was inaugurated for the third time, President Morales embraced the deepening of the government’s model as his main objective. This triggered new conflicts and worsened existing ones. I think this is at the basis of the high levels of violence that now characterise social conflict, along with the impunity with which repressive agencies act.

    3. Was the repression of protests accompanied by legal changes that may have fueled police violence and increased impunity?
    Legal changes have indeed also taken place, as part of a regional trend. Under pressure from the United States of America, all countries in the Southern Cone have introduced repressive reforms into their criminal codes, typifying various forms of social protest as criminal offences. An ambiguous figure that almost all countries incorporated was that of “fight against terrorism”.

    In Bolivia, the government soon realised that it could not control society solely through the co-optation of social leadership – what I call “clientelistic social control” – and therefore began to deploy a strategy of repressive social control. The new tools it used went beyond police repression: they included for instance smear campaigns and “public lynching” of dissenting voices by government authorities. Any sector, institution or leader who appears as overly critical is accused by the president of being right-wing, destabilising or promoting coups. This in turn justifies the adoption of further measures such as the physical seizure of organisations’ headquarters, which has often occurred. Many grassroots organisations that were independent from the government, including large indigenous organisations such as CIDOB (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia) have been forcibly taken over by government-affiliated groups that had their legitimately elected authorities removed and replaced with activists from their own ranks or even with government officials. In general, they sought to make this look as if this had been the outcome of a confrontation between groups, when in fact the police intervened to remove legitimate leaders and replace them with impostors. A recent example of this was the attempted takeover of APDHB (Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia) in February 2017.

    Once the government was engaged in media lynching, it was only natural for a conviction to develop regarding the need to regulate those situations in which protesting is not acceptable. Various laws – including the Investment Promotion Law and the Mining Law, both passed in 2014 –, along with a number of supreme decrees, for instance those about cooperatives, classified a variety of forms of legitimate social opposition as criminal offences, in many cases carrying prison sentences ranging from 4 to 8 years. I do not know of any specific case in which the Investment Law has been applied to someone for blocking a road; this legislation works rather as deterrence of mobilisation against state-promoted initiatives.

    4. Are there any specific issues or mobilised groups that are targeted with higher levels of violence?
    Mobilisations with a national ambition and involving political questioning of the government are most harshly repressed. Such was the case of the mobilisation by mining cooperatives. In the pre-electoral period in 2014, miners were promised many things that eventually found their way into a Mining Law (Law No. 535/2014) granting them unrestricted access to exploitation areas. Failure to comply with these provisions led to their mobilisation in 2016.

    At the same time, other sectors – particularly indigenous peoples – typically react when their territories and livelihoods are affected by extractive activities. 2011 was a turning point for them too. Until then, there were umbrella indigenous organisations at the regional and national levels. Since then, government action has focused on de-structuring indigenous organisation: most departmental, regional and national organisations have since been seized, or parallel organisations have been established. Indigenous communities’ capacity for national action against mining or hydrocarbon exploitation has therefore been greatly affected. These days, in the context of a large hydroelectric project north of La Paz, the government strategically avoids dealing with local actors, who are directly affected and therefore oppose the project, and deals instead with a regional leadership that no longer represents anybody but turns out to be their preferred political partner.

    In dozens of territories, still known as TCOs (tierras comunitarias de origen or “original community lands”), simultaneous processes of resistance are taking place against a number of extractive projects. But these resistances are taking place on a local scale that is often almost imperceptible to the media and public opinion.

    5. Have other fundamental civic space freedoms been affected?
    Restrictions have been introduced in all areas, but the freedom of association has been hit the worst. From 2011 onwards, the government has targeted not only the directly affected groups mobilised against extractive activities but also the organisations supporting them through research, advocacy and by shaping public opinion. Thus, many research centres and environmental, human rights and indigenous rights NGOs have become enemies to be defeated by the state. In addition to systematically smearing them in public, the government has passed legislation – notably Law No. 351 on Legal Personalities (2013) – in order to deplete the urban civil society that works in solidarity or campaigns on behalf of indigenous and other excluded groups. Law No. 351 replaces the entire previous legal framework of the Civil Code and requires civil society to align its objectives and activities with government policies. More than in the forcible shutting down of organisations, the new legal framework has resulted in “silent suicide”. In a context in which, since judicial authorities are now elected by popular vote, the judiciary has become subordinate to the executive and due process guarantees fail, civil society has felt intimidated. Many organisations have decided to either close their doors or change their goals and lower their profile so as not to disturb power. In so doing, civil society has lost strength and independence.

    Over the past few years, CEDIB has received countless inspections by various state agencies. Neither public offices nor private companies are subjected to the kind of controls that this small organisation has had to submit to. We have had audits of all kinds, including some that are blatantly illegal, as when we had to respond to a requirement to submit accounting documentation dating back more than twenty years, although the Commercial Code establishes an obligation to keep records going back just five years.

    However, CEDIB is a prestigious centre and has a certain specific weight. In fact, the state is one of the main users of our services and data. So our relationship with the state is complex and contradictory, as the authorities demand resources from us all the while wishing we were politically aligned with the government. This leads to some authorities, as the vice president did at some point, launching attacks against us, while at the same time others keep recognising that they need our information and advice. And in the eyes of society and even the media – including para-governmental outlets – we are still a serious and credible organisation whose existence is vital for democracy. That, in a way, is what has kept us going.

    6. How has civil society responded to the deterioration of its enabling environment?
    Unfortunately, historic NGO networks have not been able to curb authoritarian advances. Other governments in the past had tried to deprive civil society of its autonomy, but had failed to do so because NGO networks used to be stronger. Vis-à-vis our current government, however, civil society organisations have become weak and intimidated, partly because of the already mentioned administrative restrictions and reprisals used against them, and also as a result of reductions in development aid funding.

    Civil society has not just been attacked: it has also suffered divisions. In the face of reduced flows of international cooperation funds, many organisations were left without sources of external funding, which used to be prevalent in the sector, and therefore sought refuge in the state. Other organisations were co-opted not by means of state resources but by President Evo Morales’ developmentalist discourse, which accurately reflected their own ideals and trajectory. And for many others – I would say for the majority – what prevailed was the feeling of impotence vis-à-vis a government that proved itself capable of doing whatever they wanted with them, be it legally or extra-legally. In other words, fear prevailed given the credible threat of controls resulting in steep, impossible-to-pay fines and even in prison sentences for organisations’ staff.

    As a result, there is now a large set of NGOs that are actually para-governmental organisations and survive on contracts, consultancy work and other state resources. In addition, there are a number of NGOs that have been founded and are directed by high state authorities. All senior public officials, starting with President Evo Morales, manage NGOs that have been set up in order to run government programmes with international cooperation or public funds. It has been reported that, for instance, a foundation run by the president has its own television channel and handles large state advertising contracts.

    Still, along with three other organisations – the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB), the Centre for Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS) and the Centre for Local Development Studies and Support (CEADL) – we did submit a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in defence of the freedoms of associacion and expression as a negative ruling was issued by the Constitutional Court. But it was just the four of us, out of a very vast group of NGOs that did not come together in defence of these freedoms. Fear semed to be the common denominator among them all.

    7. Have you missed out on international solidarity as a result of Latin American and global progressives’ sympathies for President Evo Morales? In which ways could the international community support civil society in Bolivia?
    We are currently facing a transition scenario. President Morales can no longer run for re-election, and there are several crises underway. One of those crises has derived from the fall in commodities’ prices, which has had a major impact on this ultra-extractivist country that has placed all its bets on primary exports. In other words, we will have not just a change of government but also a change in the state, as a result of impending public spending restrictions. Politically, the upcoming transision must involve the recovery of infringed rights, which requires the repeal or reform of various pieces of legislation and the abandonment of intimidatory practices. It is necessary to ensure a favourable environment for the activities of civil society and journalists, to make public management transparent, and to build an agenda for the strengthening of civil society.

    At the international level, the critical phase was overcome years ago. There was a period in which it was outrightly condemned to criticise, or even relativise, the very optimistic view that prevailed abroad about what was going on in Bolivia. We were told that criticism amounted to “play into the hands of the right” and in favour or international power centres. That ended even before TIPNIS: in 2010, the Mother Earth Summit (World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) held in Cochabamba exposed major contradictions between what the government said abroad and what they did domestically: between its environmental discourse, on the one hand, and the expansion of extractivism and the advances of deforestation, on the other.

    Another, more recent turning point was the Indigenous Communication Summit in November 2016. The Bolivian government acted as convenor of this annual summit of movements, and then tried to control it, bypassing the entire indigenous leadership from other countries. They did this so clumsily that even the groups that came in most convinced that in Bolivia there was an indigenous intercultural revolution underway, came out disillusioned. The government attempted to control them in the same way it has done with Bolivian indigenous organisations - they even accused them of having come to Bolivia to conspire to organise a coup, which made no sense.

    In this context, the first thing we need from the international community is that they condemn the regression we have experienced in terms of fundamental rights. The legal framework established by Law No. 351 is rather suited to a dictatorship: a government requiring civil society to organise along its own objectives is completely unacceptable.

    Second, we need a rapprochement with the civil societies of the countries in our region. In recent times, regional mafias have mobilised across borders, and we need common standards in order to fight them. Not only governments but also civil societies need to have an agenda beyond our own country’s borders, that is, with an international projection – regional to start with, and then global as well.

    • The Centre of Information and Documentation Bolivia is one of Bolivia’s most prestigious and socially rooted civil society institutions. CEDIB administers one of the most important archives containing documents of major historical importance, and its research has great impact on public opinion.
    • Get in touch with CEDIB through their Facebook page or website, or follow @cedib_com on Twitter
    • Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘narrowed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor

  • BURKINA FASO: ‘Pro-democracy civil society is practically paralysed by the intensity and ferocity of the repression’


    CIVICUS speaks with Ousmane Miphal Lankoandé, Executive Secretary and Coordinator of the governance and citizen mobilisation programme at Balai Citoyen (‘Civic Broom’) about human rights and civic space in Burkina Faso.

    Founded in 2013, Balai Citoyen is a civil society organisation (CSO) that mobilises citizen action to promote democracy, government integrity, justice and the rule of law in Burkina Faso.

    How have human rights and civic freedoms deteriorated under Burkina Faso’s military junta?

    Since the rise of the military to power in January 2022, there has been a clear deterioration in human rights and civic freedoms, a phenomenon that became even more marked following the second coup in September 2022. Any voice of dissent from the official line of the military regime is systematically repressed.

    To achieve this, the regime gradually introduced insidious measures. Initially, it suspended the activities of political parties, even after it restored the constitution following a temporary suspension. In addition, some international media have been banned from broadcasting and some national media have been suspended. Journalists and activists are subjected to intimidation and threats, and some have been kidnapped. The fate of several, including two Balai Citoyen activists, remains unknown to this day.

  • Cambodia: the Council must address human rights and political crisis

    Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 10: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you Special Rapporteur. The shrinking civic space and political monopolisation raised in the report has entrenched Cambodia into a de facto one-party state.

    Repressive laws are routinely misused to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. Human rights defenders, trade unionists, youth activists and journalists and other critical voices are routinely subject to judicial harassment and increasing online surveillance. Environmental activists from Mother Nature Cambodia, along with political activists, have been particularly targeted. Highly politicized courts mean that those arbitrarily detained and charged are often held for prolonged periods in pre-trial detention and have no chance of getting a fair trial.

    These concerns have escalated over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s repressive response have exacerbated restrictions on fundamental freedoms.

    The main opposition party was dissolved in 2017 and its politicians remain barred from politics. Communal and national elections, set for 2022 and 2023 respectively, are likely to take place under a political climate severely unconducive to being free or fair.

    The fragile veneer of democracy engendered by the Paris Peace Accords has disintegrated past the point of no return in recent years. Those calling for human rights on the ground can no longer afford for the Council to treat the situation as business-as-usual. The Council must take meaningful action now to address the ongoing human rights and political crisis in Cambodia.

    Special Rapporteur, given that the Cambodian government has indicated no political will towards democratic or human rights reform, what action must the Council and member states take to protect civic space and contribute to concrete human rights progress on the ground?

    We thank you.

    Civic space in Cambodia is rated as "repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • CIVICUS Monitor: Informe global y nuevas clasificaciones
    • Un creciente número de personas viven en países ‘cerrados’, ‘represivos’ y ‘obstruidos
    • Los países que han sufrido retrocesos incluyen Estados Unidos, Ecuador, Chile e Costa Rica
    • Las principales violaciones incluyen: detención de personas manifestantes, censura y ataques a periodistas
    • Las libertades de expresión, asociación y reunión pacífica se deterioraron durante la pandemia de COVID-19

    Las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión continúan deteriorándose en todo el mundo, de acuerdo con un informe global publicado por el CIVICUS Monitor, una investigación colaborativa que da seguimiento a las libertades fundamentales en 196 países. El nuevo informe, El poder ciudadano bajo ataque 2020, muestra que el número de personas que viven en países con restricciones significativas del espacio cívico continúa aumentando año tras año.

    El 87% de la población mundial vive en países con un espacio cívico calificado como ‘cerrado’, ‘represivo’ u ‘obstruido’ -un aumento de más del 4% respecto al año anterior. Más de un cuarto de estas personas vive en países con la peor calificación, ‘cerrado’, países donde regularmente se permite a actores estatales y no estatales encarcelar, herir y asesinar a personas por intentar ejercer sus libertades fundamentales. China, Arabia Saudita, Turkmenistán y otros 20 países se encuentran dentro de esta categoría.

    La pandemia de COVID-19 ha tenido un impacto grave en las libertades cívicas a nivel mundial. En tiempos de crisis, el espacio para el diálogo abierto y constructivo entre los gobiernos y la sociedad civil, así como el acceso a información oportuna y confiable, son fundamentales. Sin embargo, nuestra investigación demuestra que los gobiernos han tomado un rumbo diferente y están usando la pandemia como una oportunidad para introducir o implementar restricciones adicionales a las libertades cívicas.

    Nuestros datos muestran que la detención de personas manifestantes y el uso excesivo de la fuerza son las tácticas más comunes utilizadas por las autoridades en el poder para restringir el derecho a la reunión pacífica. Si bien esta violación de derechos ya era común el año anterior, las autoridades han hecho uso de la pandemia como excusa para restringir mucho más este derecho. Censura, ataques a periodistas, y el acoso e intimidación contra personas defensoras de los derechos humanos fueron tácticas habituales documentadas a lo largo del año.

    “Utilizar la detención como principal táctica para restringir las protestas solamente demuestra la hipocresía de los gobiernos que emplean la COVID-19 como pretexto para reprimir protestas -es más probable que el virus se propague en espacios confinados como las cárceles”, declaró Marianna Belalba Barrero, Investigadora principal sobre espacio cívico de CIVICUS. “Nuestra investigación refleja una profundización de la crisis del espacio cívico en todo el mundo y resalta cómo los gobiernos están utilizando la pandemia como una excusa para restringir mucho más los derechos, por ejemplo, a través de la aprobación de legislación para penalizar la expresión”.

    Este año, once países han empeorado y solo dos han mejorado su calificación. El CIVICUS Monitor está particularmente preocupado por las restricciones al espacio cívico en las Américas, donde cuatro países empeoraron su calificación: Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador y los Estados Unidos. Asimismo, resulta alarmante el deterioro del espacio cívico en África Occidental, donde cuatro países -Costa de Marfil, Guinea, Níger y Togo- pasaron de ‘obstruido’ a ‘represivo’.

    Existe una creciente preocupación sobre el declive de los derechos democráticos y civiles en Europa, donde Eslovenia también empeoró su calificación. El empeoramiento de las condiciones del espacio en Asia sigue siendo motivo de preocupación, donde Filipinas pasa de ‘obstruido’ a ‘represivo’. Oriente Medio y África del Norte, una región donde la mayoría de los países se encuentran en la categoría ‘cerrado’, agrega un país más a la lista, Irak, que pasa de ‘represivo’ a ‘cerrado’.

    Con mejoras limitadas pero esperanzadoras, la República Democrática del Congo y Sudán mejoraron su calificación, pasando en ambos casos de ‘cerrado’ a ‘represivo’.

    “En la mayoría de las regiones, la situación de las libertades cívicas es sombría este año. En una época en la que los derechos cívicos son más necesarios que nunca para exigir cuentas a los gobiernos, el espacio para hacerlo se encuentra cada vez más restringido. Es crucial que los gobiernos progresistas trabajen de cerca con las y los defensores de derechos humanos y la sociedad civil para detener este declive y ejercer resistencia contra las fuerzas autoritarias”, afirmó Belalba Barreto.

    Sin dejarse intimidar por las restricciones, las y los defensores de derechos humanos y la sociedad civil continúan operando, adaptándose y resistiendo. Las protestas masivas fueron a menudo un factor clave que generó cambios positivos. En Chile, las protestas masivas forzaron al gobierno a realizar un referéndum para el cambio de la constitución. En los Estados Unidos, algunos Estados se comprometieron a desmontar o realizar reformas estructurales a sus fuerzas policiales tras las protestas del movimiento Black Lives Matter. Mientras en Malawi, meses de protesta dieron como resultado una histórica repetición de las elecciones presidenciales y la transición de poder.

    Más de veinte organizaciones colaboran en el CIVICUS Monitor con el objetivo de proporcionar una base empírica para llevar a cabo acciones destinadas a mejorar el espacio cívico en todos los continentes. El Monitor ha publicado más de 500 actualizaciones sobre el espacio cívico en el último año, las que se analizan en El poder Ciudadano Bajo Ataque 2020. El espacio cívico de 196 países se clasifica como cerrado, reprimido, obstruido, estrecho o abierto, siguiendo una metodología que combina varias fuentes de datos sobre las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión. 

  • CIVICUS Monitor: Nouveau rapport mondial et classifications

    Onze pays déclassés dans un nouveau rapport international sur les libertés civiques

    • Un nombre croissant de personnes vit dans des pays classés comme « fermés », « réprimés » et « obstrués »
    • Les pays déclassés comprennent les États-Unis, les Philippines, la Guinée, Niger, Côte d'Ivoire et l'Irak.
    • Les principales violations incluent la détention de manifestants, la censure et les attaques contre des journalistes.
    • Les libertés d'expression, d'association et de réunion pacifique se sont détériorées pendant la pandémie de COVID-19.

    Les libertés fondamentales d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression continuent de se dégrader dans le monde entier selon un nouveau rapport publié aujourd'hui par CIVICUS Monitor, un projet collaboratif de recherche qui fait un suivi des libertés fondamentales dans 196 pays. Ce nouveau rapport intitulé « Le pouvoir du peuple attaqué 2020 », montre que le nombre de personnes qui vivent dans des pays imposant d'importantes restrictions sur l’espace civique continue d'augmenter d'année en année.

    Désormais, 87 % de la population mondiale vit dans des pays considérés comme « fermés », « réprimés » ou « obstrués », soit une augmentation de plus de 4 % par rapport à l'année dernière. Plus d'un quart de la population mondiale vit dans des pays se trouvant dans la pire catégorie, celle des pays « fermés », où l’on permet régulièrement que des acteurs étatiques et non étatiques emprisonnent, blessent et tuent des personnes pour avoir tenté d'exercer leurs libertés fondamentales. La Chine, l'Arabie saoudite, le Turkménistan et vingt autres pays se trouvent dans cette catégorie.

    La pandémie de COVID-19 a eu des conséquences désastreuses sur les libertés civiques partout dans le monde. En temps de crise il est fondamental de disposer d’un espace de dialogue ouvert et constructif entre les gouvernements et la société civile, ainsi que d’avoir un accès à des informations rapides et fiables. Cependant, nos recherches montrent que les gouvernements ont emprunté une autre voie et qu'ils utilisent la pandémie comme une opportunité pour introduire ou appliquer des restrictions supplémentaires sur les libertés civiques.

    Nos données montrent que la détention de manifestants et l'usage excessif de la force à leur encontre sont les tactiques les plus couramment utilisées par les autorités gouvernementales pour restreindre le droit de réunion pacifique. Même s'il s'agissait d'une violation fréquente au cours de l'année dernière, les autorités ont utilisé la pandémie comme un prétexte pour restreindre davantage ce droit. La censure, les attaques contre des journalistes et le harcèlement et l'intimidation des défenseurs des droits de l'homme ont également été des tactiques courantes documentées tout au long de cette année.

    « L'usage de la détention comme tactique principale pour restreindre les manifestations ne fait que montrer l'hypocrisie des gouvernements, car ils utilisent la COVID-19 comme un prétexte pour réprimer les manifestations et le virus se propage plus facilement dans des espaces restreints, comme les prisons », affirme Marianna Belalba Barreto, responsable de la recherche sur l'espace civique chez CIVICUS. « Notre recherche reflète une crise croissante de l'espace civique dans le monde et met en évidence la façon dont les gouvernements utilisent la pandémie comme excuse pour restreindre davantage les droits, notamment en adoptant des lois qui criminalisent l'expression. »

    Cette année onze pays ont été déclassés et seulement deux ont vu leur classement s'améliorer. Le CIVICUS Monitor est particulièrement préoccupé par les restrictions pesant sur l'espace civique dans les Amériques, où quatre pays sont descendus de catégorie — le Costa Rica, le Chili, l'Équateur et les États-Unis —. La détérioration de l'espace civique en Afrique de l'Ouest est également alarmante et quatre pays — la Côte d'Ivoire, la Guinée, le Niger et le Togo — sont passé de la catégorie « obstrué » à celle de « réprimé ».

    Le déclin des droits démocratiques et civiques en Europe est de plus en plus préoccupant. D'ailleurs, la Slovénie a aussi été déclassée. La dégradation de l’espace civique en Asie demeure une source de préoccupation, les Philippines étant passées de la catégorie « obstrué » à celle de « réprimé ». La région MENA compte le plus grand nombre de pays dans la catégorie « fermé » et un pays de plus est venu s’ajouter à la liste, l'Irak passant de la catégorie « réprimé » à celle de « fermé ».

    Avec des améliorations limitées mais toujours bienvenues, la RDC et le Soudan ont amélioré leurs classements et sont passés de la catégorie « fermé » à celle de « réprimé ».

    « Cette année dans la plupart des régions le panorama des libertés civiques semble sombre. À un moment où les droits civiques sont plus que jamais nécessaires pour demander des comptes aux gouvernements, les opportunités pour le faire se font de plus en plus rares. Il est essentiel que les gouvernements progressistes travaillent en étroite collaboration avec les défenseurs des droits de l'homme et avec la société civile pour mettre un terme à cet engrenage pernicieux et pour repousser les forces autoritaires à l'œuvre », affirme Belalba Barreto.

    Sans se laisser décourager par les restrictions, les défenseurs des droits de l'homme et la société civile continuent de travailler, de s'adapter et de résister. Les manifestations de masse ont souvent été le facteur clé ayant conduit à des changements positifs. Au Chili, des manifestations de masse ont forcé le gouvernement à organiser un référendum pour changer la constitution. Aux États-Unis, certains états se sont engagés à démanteler ou à entreprendre une réforme structurelle de leurs forces de police à la suite des manifestations Black Lives Matter. Au Malawi, des mois de manifestations ont conduit pour la première fois à l’annulation de l'élection présidentielle, à la tenue de nouvelles élections et à la passation du pouvoir.

    Plus d'une vingtaine d'organisations collaborent au sein du CIVICUS Monitor afin de fournir une base empirique pour les actions visant à améliorer l'espace civique sur tous les continents. L'année dernière le Monitor CIVICUS a publié plus de 500 mises à jour sur l'espace civique, lesquelles sont analysées dans le rapport « Le pouvoir du peuple attaqué 2020 ». L'espace civique de 196 pays est classé dans une des cinq catégories disponibles, soit fermé, réprimé, obstrué, rétréci ou ouvert, selon une méthodologie qui combine plusieurs sources de données sur les libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression.

  • Civil society organisations call on Tunisia to lift all restrictions on civic space and independent bodies and restore the rule of law


    Tunisia: More than 100 civil society organisations have endorsed a statement calling for an end to restrictions in Tunisia.                                                                  

  • Denmark: Reject discriminatory "Security for all Danes” Act and respect freedom of assembly

    Members of the Danish Parliament Folketinget

    Christiansborg 1240 Copenhagen K

    Tel.: +45 3337 5500


    URGENT: Reject discriminatory "Security for all Danes” Act and respect freedom of assembly.

    Dear Members of the Danish Parliament,

    The undersigned civil society organisations wish to express our serious concerns over restrictive provisions in the proposed “Security for all Danes” Act which we believe could potentially limitcivic freedoms in Denmark and undermine the country’s commitments to international human rights standards and European Union Law. Submitted to parliament in January 2021, the draft law follows previous measures by the government intended to address insecurity in vulnerable areas but which, in reality, sow division and inflame discrimination against excluded groups.

    Concerns over harsh and disproportionate draft law

    We are particularly concerned that the draft law “Security for All Danes” seriously contravenes the basic democratic right to peaceful assembly. We believe this law to be excessively strict; the introduction of Section (6b) to the Act of Police Activities empowers police to unilaterally issue a broad ban on peaceful assembly in a specific place for up to 30 days with the possibility of a 30-day extension.

    Additionally, the bill proposes penalties of imprisonment of up to one year for those who are deemed to violate the law and a fine of a minimum of DKK 10,000 (USD 1600). The fines proposed are harsh and the threat of detention is a disproportionate response to the right to freely assemble. We are equally concerned about the absence of clarity on effective remedy for those whose fundamental rights are violated. International law says the authorities should provide some form of independent and transparent oversight panel that can determine if the person received timely access to legal help and if they were offered remuneration for any wrongs committed against them.

    Impact on Denmark’s human rights record

    Denmark is rated ‘open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that measures the state of civic freedoms in over 196 countries across the world. Only 3.4%of the world’s population live in ‘open’ countries where democratic rights, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly and association, are recognised. The publication of the draft law may affect Denmark's reputation as a robust advocate for human rights in the international community. There are also serious concerns from civil society that the law may be used to justify unlawful actions by people who violate human rights.

    Denmark has historically advocated for the promotion and protection of human rights in different countries across the world, making a difference in many communities. We urge the Danish government not to tarnish its human rights record by implementing this bill.

    Potential to incite hate and division

    If implemented in its current form, the Act would incite hate and division and seriously undermine the rights of excluded groups, such as those who are nationally in the minority.

    The Act aims to put an end to citizens’ feelings of insecurity caused by the “appearance and behaviour of young men.” While announcing the law to Parliament on 6 October 2020, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen alluded toa link between criminality and people from so-called “non-Western” backgrounds. This law follows other packages which target “non-Western” neighbourhoods, such as the ‘Ghetto Package,’a law permitting the sale of apartment blocks in areas largely inhabited by immigrants.

    According to the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL),such legislation is at odds with EU ruleson the prohibition of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin and with fundamental rights of freedom of assembly as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which also prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, social origin, race, and membership of a national minority.

    Ahead of the next sitting in Parliament to discuss this restrictive draft law, we call on Danish Parliamentarians and the government to:

    • Reject the proposal as it stands;
    • Request the Ministry of Justice to carry out a review of the proposal and involve civil society, targeted communities and other interested parties;
    • Assess the impact of this law against international standards and compliance with EU law;
    • Refrain from statements inciting hate and discrimination against minority


    Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen

    Minister for Justice, Nick Hækkerup

    Minister of Immigration and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye

    Endorsed by CIVICUS

    • Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) European Civic Forum
    • ARCI, Italy 
    • New Europeans, Europe Advocates Abroad, Greece Osservatorio Repressione, Italy Peace Institute, Slovenia Obywatele RP, Poland BlueLink Foundation, Bulgaria
    • Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PIC), Slovenia Umanotera, Slovenia
    • CNVOS, Slovenia
    • International Institute for Nonviolent Action - Novact, Spain Bulgarian Fund for Women, Bulgaria
    • Ligue des droits de l’Homme, France
    • The Voice of Civic Organizations, Slovakia
    • Nexus (Consulting and support for Alert and Mobilization initiatives), France Spiralis, Network of the development of NGO´s, Czech Republic
    • European Movement Italy, Italy
    • NETPOL - Network for police monitoring, United Kingdom New Europeans Minsk, Belarus
    • Human Rights House Zagreb, Croatia Irídia - Center for Human Rights, Spain Gong, Croatia
    • Netherlands Helsinki Committee, The Netherlands Associazione Antigone, Italy
    • Grup de Periodistes Ramon Barnils (Ramon Barnils Group of Journalists) / Observatori Crític dels Mitjans Mè (Mè Critical Media Watchdog), Spain
    • Društvo Asociacija, Slovenia
    • Focus, Association for Sustainable Development, Slovenia Institute of Public Affairs (ISP), Poland
    • Europe Section of the National Network for Civil Society (BBE), Germany Òmnium Cultural, Spain
    • Statewatch, United Kingdom Civil Society Advocates, Cyprus ENAR, Europe
  • Every single person is a potential activist today 

    Civil society actors and leaders from around the world gathered from 30 May to 3 June 2022 at the World Justice Forum in The Hague, the home of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, and online to share insights and recommendations on three important priorities for strengthening justice and the rule of law.

    The forum, which focused on fighting corruption, closing the justice gap, and countering discrimination, served as an ideal platform to collectively address the declining state of civil society. I had the privilege of participating in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Legacy conversation with Sherrilyn Ifill and the Recommendations, Commitments, and Investments to Advance Justice and Rule of Law plenary.  

    Throughout the conference, immense emphasis was placed on the constant threats to and continuously shrinking civic space. Our research from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that, currently, only 3% of the world’s population live in conditions of open civic space, where their governments broadly respect and promote the democratic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression and allow their citizens to participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect them. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor also shows that in the last year, the top two violations in relation to civic space were the detention of protestors and the intimidation of human rights defenders. This points to a trend of a lack of investment in and strengthening of institutions that are meant to defend human rights and the people that speak on behalf of human rights.  

    In the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, we are witnessing a number of states, and international institutions, particularly in European democracies, divert funding and resources away from institutions and mechanisms that are devoted to defending human rights and strengthening civic space. Not only does this pattern of behaviour display a negative vote against democracy, but it contributes to the continuous fall of trust in public institutions, and not enough is being done to challenge the lack of investment in civil society from those in power. At this point, the fight for democracy rests solely on the shoulders of individuals who are constantly putting their lives at risk to fight against the worldwide decline of civic space.  

    While international and public institutions have the power and resources to address the humanitarian crisis that faces us, their abstinence from actively investing in and protecting civil society displays a glaring lack of moral empathy for those on the ground.   

    In light of these global challenges, the panel discussions at the World Justice Forum brought forth much-needed insights and recommendations to rebuild and strengthen civil society and the rule of law with respect to the three main priorities of the forum.  

    One of the key recommendations from the World Justice Forum’s Outcome Statement highlighted the need for states to create enabling environments for innovation and for civil society to operate. During the pandemic, we witnessed some of the most significant protest movements despite extreme COVID-19 restrictions; this indicates that people are able and willing to mobilise regardless of restrictive laws intended to silence dissent.  

    Conversations during the forum also pointed to the dire need for people-centred approaches. A practical example is citizen assemblies whereby people-driven resolutions are prioritised at international levels. Access to information and access to solidarity mechanisms also play a vital role in enabling people on the ground to advocate for fundamental rights, and states must invest in creating spaces for citizen participation.  

    A stronger effort needs to be taken to ensure that institutions are open to scrutiny and to being held accountable. Too many a times do we witness leaders making promises of a better tomorrow on international stages but do not hold open dialogues with and remain accountable to those who elected them. This includes extending open standing invitations for UN experts to visit and provide recommendations to affected countries.  

    There is a need for norms, narratives and investments that will help stimulate larger segments of trust and support towards civil society from a wide range of state and non-state actors. Concrete examples of how this can be done are available from CIVICUS’ work on reviewing approaches to civil society sustenance and resilience, including in the context of the pandemic.  

    In the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals, we said that this would be the Decade of Action, it is actually the Decade of Agitation, and governments that wake up to this sooner will be wiser because every single person on the planet with a phone is a potential activist today.  

    Lysa John is the Secretary-General of CIVICUS. She is based in South Africa and can be reached via her Twitter handle:@LysaJohnSA. 

  • Government repression undermines legitimacy of Cambodian elections

    The assault on civic freedoms in Cambodia has narrowed the democratic space in the country and raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the 29 July elections. Over the last year, monitoring by the CIVICUS Monitor shows how the authorities have outlawed the leading opposition party, shutdown or arbitrarily interfered with media outlets, introduced laws to restrict and silence civil society and jailed its critics.

  • IRAN: ‘The regime uses executions to maintain its grip on power through fear and intimidation’


    CIVICUS speaks with Jasmin Ramsey, Deputy Director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), about the ongoing wave of executions as part of the Iranian regime’s effort to suppress dissent and discourage further protests.

    Founded in 2008, CHRI is an independent civil society organisation that works to protect and promote human rights in Iran. Headquartered in New York, it researches and documents human rights violations throughout Iran, and provides governments, the United Nations, think tanks, global media and research centres around the world with detailed information, analysis and policy recommendations. CHRI’s approach is strictly nonpartisan, operating within the framework of international human rights law.

    What has led to the current wave of executions in Iran?

    Executions in Iran are not just a pillar of the founding of the Islamic Republic, but a ruthless tool wielded by the regime to maintain its grip on power through fear and intimidation. Although the vast majority of the more than 834 people who were hanged in Iran in 2023 were accused of drug offences or other non-political activities, the increase in executions after the protests, and the growing number of political prisoners among those executed in recent years, underscore the regime’s desperation to crush dissent. It is determined to prevent the emergence of another grassroots movement such as the Woman, Life, Freedom protests triggered by the September 2022 killing of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police.

    This wave of state-sanctioned killings has galvanised civil society to unite in condemnation. Women prisoners of conscience, in particular, have shown remarkable resilience, leading calls against the death penalty among Iranian civil society through joint statements and hunger strikes.

    Iranian civil society is uniting to demand not just a cessation of executions, but the abolition of the death penalty. No matter how much the regime uses force and violence, it has failed to quell the desire for fundamental and systemic change in Iran. At every turn, society is pushing back against state policies that are repressive and discordant with the desires and beliefs of much of the population.

    Alongside increasing executions, how else has the regime reacted to the protests?

    Repression in various forms has escalated significantly since the emergence of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in 2022, manifesting in various forms such as increased arrests and detentions of peaceful activists and family members seeking justice for victims of state violence.

    The government is also pushing for a law to impose harsher penalties on women appearing in public without the mandated hijab. This proposed law burdens citizens, encourages vigilante violence and increases women’s vulnerability to abuse through increased surveillance and state security forces deployed on the streets.

    Is there any space for civil society in Iran?

    While technically there might some room for civil society to operate in Iran, as established in legislation, the reality is starkly different. Article 27 of Iran’s constitution allows for public gatherings and marches under some conditions, but protests critical of the state are swiftly suppressed, often with violence. Fundamental rights such as freedoms of speech, expression and the press are severely curtailed, and peaceful activism is often treated as a threat to national security.

    Despite these challenges, activists and citizens persist in reclaiming their rights, using a variety of methods such as social media posts, prison letters and acts of civil disobedience, like women defying the state’s forced hijab law by walking the streets unveiled. Despite facing repression and economic hardships exacerbated by governmental corruption and sanctions, their determination remains strong.

    I am grateful to be doing this work in a place of safety, where, at least for now, I am shielded from the dangers faced by activists in Iran. I consider myself fortunate to learn from the courageous Iranians, especially women, who persist and resist despite immense risks. CHRI’s mission is to amplify their voices and advocate for civil society’s demands internationally, a task that comes with its own set of challenges. However, these challenges pale in comparison to the dangers faced by those on the frontlines in Iran.

    What should international allies do to support the struggle for freedoms in Iran?

    During the initial surge of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement, there was a heightened international focus on the events unfolding in Iran. This sparked hope for more substantial action from governments with influence over the Islamic Republic. At that time, we outlined steps for the international community to pressure Iran to cease its violent crackdown on protests.

    Among our recommendations, we emphasised the need for governments that have diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic to recall their ambassadors in protest against the killing of protesters and hanging of prisoners. We asked them to summon Iran’s diplomats to communicate directly their outrage and warn that further costs and isolation would ensue unless the Iranian authorities halted executions, annulled death sentences, ceased torture under custody, released prisoners and respected due process for those accused.

    We urged the international community to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation and impose or expand human rights sanctions against Iranian officials and entities associated with rights violations and freeze the assets of officials who violated human rights, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and many more.

    We also asked parliamentarians around the world to sponsor individual political prisoners, particularly those facing execution, to publicise their cases and the unjust nature of their prosecution or sentences and publicly demand their safety and release, both on the international stage and directly with Iranian ambassadors and other Islamic Republic officials.

    Additionally, we urged states to suspend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal, which could provide increased revenue to the Iranian state and therefore increase its repressive capacity. We demanded it be expelled for multilateral bodies and various international platforms and associations, particularly those whose principles it blatantly violates. We also asked governments to support the United Nations (UN) Fact-Finding Mission on Iran and assist those fleeing Islamic Republic persecution, and asked tech companies to support safe digital communications for the Iranian people.

    This roadmap remains relevant today. It is crucial for international allies to rally behind the UN’s independent international Fact-Finding Mission, tasked with investigating atrocities committed by the regime since the onset of the violent repression of the protests in September 2022. As the Fact-Finding Mission presents its first report to the UN Human Rights Council in mid-March, a united, multilateral approach to supporting its mandate is essential for holding the Iranian government accountable and advancing the struggle for justice and human rights in Iran.

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

    Get in touch with CHRI through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@ICHRI onTwitter and@centerforhumanrights onInstagram.

  • Journalists on the front lines of global assault

    By Cathal Gilbert, David Kode and Teldah Mawarire

    With reporters under attack the world over, it is imperative that citizens rally to protect press freedom. We live in a time when hard-won human rights protections are at risk of being swept aside by a rising tide of authoritarianism, fear mongering and xenophobia. The resulting global assault on fundamental civic freedoms is, in turn, devastating press freedom and exposing an increasing number of journalists to the threat of censure, the loss of livelihood and physical attack.

    Read on: News24

  • Maldives: release judges immediately and respect citizens' civic freedoms

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Voice of Women (VOW) Maldives condemn the ongoing attacks on the Maldivian judiciary, which has included targeting judges for simply upholding the rule of law and the constitution.  On 6 February 2018 authorities arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, just one day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency.   Justice Saeed is now in an intensive care unit at the Indira Ghandi medical Hospital in the capital, Male.

  • Protests prove the power of collective action as states fail pandemic test, says new report

    As COVID-19 swept the globe, deepening existing fault-lines in societies and generating fear and uncertainty, many governments used the pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on civic freedoms, sparking protests in many countries. The annual State of Civil Society Report 2021, by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, shows that despite the odds, millions of people around the world mobilised to demand more just, equal and sustainable societies during the pandemic.

  • Public Development Banks can’t drag their feet when it comes to building a sustainable future

    A coalition of civil society organisations is demanding public development banks (PDBs) to take radical and innovative steps to tackle human rights violations and environmental destruction. No project funded by PDBs should come at the expenses of vulnerable groups, the environment and collective liberties, but should instead embody the voices of communities, democratic values and environmental justice.

    The demands, part of a collective statement signed by more than 50 civil society organisations, come as over 450 PDBs gather in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from October 19th, for a third international summit, dubbed Finance in Common.

    The COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency, coupled with human rights violations and increasing risks for activists worldwide, is bringing the need to change current practices into even sharper focus. While public development banks may drag their feet on addressing intersecting and structural inequalities, civil society organisations are taking actions aimed at creating dignified livelihoods by embedding development with concrete affirmative measures towards climate, social, gender, and racial justice.

    PDBs cannot be reluctant to act. They need to hit the target when it comes to supporting the transformation of economies and financial systems towards sustainability and addressing the most pressing needs of citizens worldwide – from food systems to increasing support for a just transition towards truly sustainable energy sources. PDBs must recognise that public services are the foundation of fair and just societies, rather than encouraging their privatisation and keep austerity narratives alive.

    9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted, and with an environmental activist killed every two days on average over the past decade, development banks have an obligation to recognize and incorporate human rights in their plans and actions, following a “do not harm” duty.

    Communities cannot be left out of the door. They need to be given the space to play the rightful role of driving forces in the answers to today’s global challenges, without them PDBs will move backwards rather than forward – and this means more environmental degradation, less democratic participation, and to put it bluntly an even greater crisis than the one we are facing today. And nobody needs that.

    The recommendations in the collective civil society statement emerge from a three-year process of engagement and exchange, involving civil society networks in an effort to shape PDBs policies and projects. You can find some of their words and messages below.

    As the call for accountability grows, the Finance in Common summits are an opportunity for PDBs to show moral leadership and help remedy the lack of long-term collaborations with civil society, communities and indigenous groups, threatening to curtail development narratives and practices.


    Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) the Nigerian national network of 3,700 NGOs said:“The Sahara and Sahel countries especially have been facing the most serious security crisis in their history linked with climate change, social justice and inequalities in the region. Marked by strong economic (lack of opportunities especially for young people), social (limitation of equitable access to basic social services) and climatic vulnerabilities, the region has some of the lowest human development indicators in the world – even before the covid pandemic. Access to affected populations is limited in some localities due to three main factors: the security situation, the poor state of infrastructures and difficult geographic conditions. PDBs must prioritise civil society organisations and Communities initiatives supporting state programs of decentralization, security sector reforms and reconciliation. This will help reduce the vulnerability of populations and prevent violent extremism.”

    Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of Spong, the NGO network of Burkina Faso said: “Development projects shape our world; from the ways we navigate our cities to how rural landscapes are being transformed. Ultimately, they impact the ways we interact with one another, with plants and animals, with other countries and with the food on our plates. The decisions taken by public development banks are therefore existential. Such responsibility comes with an even greater one to include communities directly concerned by development projects, those whose air, water and everyday lives are affected for generations to come. For this to happen, public development banks must reinforce their long-term efforts to create dialogue with civil society organisations, social movements and indigenous communities in order to fortify the democratic principles of their work. We encourage them to listen, to ask and to cooperate in innovative ways so that development stays true to its original definition of progress and positive change; a collective, participative and fair process and a word which has a meaning not for a few, but for all."

    Tity Agbahey, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for human rights in development said: "Many in civil society have expressed concerns about Finance in Common as a space run by elites, that fails to be truly inclusive. It is a space where the mainstream top-down approach to development, instead of being challenged, is further reinforced. Once again, the leaders of the public development banks gathered at this Summit will be taking decisions on key issues without listening to those most affected by their projects and the real development experts: local communities, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, feminist groups, civil society. They will speak about “sustainability”, while ignoring the protests against austerity policies and rising debt. They will speak about “human rights”, while ignoring those denouncing human rights violations in the context of their projects. They will speak about “green and just transition”, while continuing to support projects that contribute to climate change."

    Comlan Julien AGBESSI, Regional Coordinator of the Network of National NGO Platforms of West Africa (REPAOC), a regional coalition of 15 national civil society platformssaid: "Regardless of how they are perceived by the public authorities in the various countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to covering the aspects and spaces not reached or insufficiently reached by national development programmes. Despite the undeniable impact of their actions on the living conditions of populations, NGOs remain the poor cousins of donor funding, apart from the support of certain philanthropic or charitable organisations. In such a context of scarce funding opportunities, aggravated by the health crisis due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, Pooled Finance, which is in fact a paradigm shift, appears to be a lifeline for CSOs. This is why REPAOC welcomes the commitments made by both the Public Development Banks and the Multilateral Development Banks to directly support CSO projects and programmes in the same way as they usually do with governments and the private sector. Through the partnership agreements that we hope and pray for between CSOs and banks, the latter can be assured that the actions that will be envisaged for the benefit of rural and urban communities will certainly reach them with the guarantees of accountability that their new CSO partners offer”.

    Frank Vanaerschot, Director of Counter Balance, said:

    “As one of this year’s organisers of the Finance in Common Summit, the EIB will brag about the billions it invests in development. The truth is the bank will be pushing the EU’s own commercial interests and promoting the use of public money for development in the Global South to guarantee profits for private investors. Reducing inequalities will be second-place at best. The EIB is also co-hosting the summit despite systemic human rights violations in projects it finances from Nepal to Kenya. Instead, the EIB and other public banks should work to empower local communities by investing in the public services needed for human rights to be respected, such as publicly owned and governed healthcare and education - not on putting corporate profits above all else.”

    Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate at Accountability Counselsaid: “PDBs must be accountability to the communities impacted by their projects. All PDBs need to have an effective accountability mechanism to address concerns with projects and should commit to preventing and fully remediating any harm to communities”.

    Jyotsna Mohan Singh, Regional Coordinator, Asia Development Alliance said: “PDBs should have a normative core; they should start with the rights framework. This means grounding all safeguards into all the various rights frameworks that already exist. There are rights instruments for indigenous people, the elderly, women, youth, and people living with disability. They are part and parcel of a whole host of both global conventions and regional conventions. Their approach should be grounded in those rights, then it will be on a very firm footing.

    Asian governments need to support, implement, and apply strict environmental laws and regulations for all PDBs projects. The first step is to disseminate public information and conduct open and effective environmental impact assessments for all these projects, as well as strategic environmental assessments for infrastructure and cross-border projects.”

    List of Signatories.

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