civil society


  • Saudi Arabia: States should adopt a resolution at UNHRC to address human rights violations


    Your Excellency,

    We remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, in particular the recent mass executions of 37 men on 23 April, the continued arbitrary detention of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders and the ongoing impunity for serious human rights violations, including torture.


  • SDGs: ‘Gaps in data coverage are most likely to exclude the poorest people’

    Claire MelamedCIVICUS speaks to Dr Claire Melamed, CEO of theGlobal Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, an open, independent, multi-stakeholder network aimed at harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development. Its network includes hundreds of data champions representing the full range of data producers and users from around the world, including governments, statistics agencies, companies, civil society groups, international organisations, academic institutions and foundations.

    Why is data important?

    Data can help governments improve policy-making and service delivery, including aligning budgets with needs. It can also help citizens and civil society groups to have a voice: to make better decisions and hold leaders accountable for their actions. Private companies use data to build capacity and drive entrepreneurship and innovation. In other words, data is a major potential driver of sustainable development. The problem is that very important decisions affecting development around the world are often based on incomplete, inaccessible, or simply inaccurate information.

    If you’re missing in the data, then you’re missing in the decisions on budgets and policies that are made with that data. A government is not going to build a road or a school or a hospital for people that it doesn’t know are there, and it’s not going to solve a problem it can’t see.

    Of course, not all governments want to solve those problems, and data is also an important tool for civil society advocates who want to highlight problems or put a spotlight on inequality. We’ve all been asked ‘show me the numbers’, and it’s really important that advocates can do that.

    What is the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and what work do you do?

    The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is a growing network of hundreds of partners from governments, multilateral institutions, civil society, the private sector, the United Nations (UN), and academia. What they have in common is a desire to use data to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We’re coming up to our fifth birthday in September 2020.

    We help governments, civil society groups and others who want to use data to improve their work to find the best solutions to their problems, and then put them into practice. Data is not only about numbers and platforms, it’s also about people, relationships and institutions. So we put a lot of effort into working with governments, the UN and others over the long term, so that good innovations are adopted in a sustainable way that builds trust and respects people’s rights, while also solving practical problems and helping governments deliver.

    One of the things we focus on is how data can better represent the lives of the people who are the least powerful. This is partly about making sure that everyone is represented in the data. Through the Inclusive Data Charter we bring together a wide range of actors to make specific plans and commitments to improve their data on the most marginalised people.

    We also believe that people can represent themselves through data. We recently worked with a group of civil society organisations to publish a guide on citizen-generated data (CGD), which is about people collecting data that represents their own experiences and what they think is important, and then feeding that into government systems to influence decisions about budget and policies. It’s already being tested in Kenya, working with the National Statistical Office, and we would love to work with other groups to use it and make it better.

    How available is the data required to monitor progress towards the SDGs?

    The availability of data on the SDGs is highly variable. In general, issues such as health and education, which were included in the monitoring framework of the Millennium Development Goals, have better data coverage than new issues such as the environment or governance. However, even for those issues where there is some data, it is often out of date or has gaps in coverage. Gaps in coverage are most likely to exclude the poorest people.

    A large number of the indicators relating to civic space and participation are still ‘tier 2’, meaning that the data is not yet regularly produced. This is the case with SDG 16.7 (‘ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making at all levels’), 16.10 (‘ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements’) and 17.17 (‘encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships’). There has been progress in developing methodologies, but the next step is for countries to begin to collect the data regularly and use it to inform their policy-making.

    We have been working with civil society groups to increase the use of CGD for the SDGs. The guide to CGD that I mentioned is being tested in Kenya is one example of a tool that will be useful in increasing civil society voice in SDG monitoring and delivery.

    How would you assess state reporting on SDG commitments, given their universal and interdependent nature?

    It is highly variable. No country is yet collecting all the data that is needed, and in some cases there are gaps that are limiting the ability of civil society to hold governments to account.

    Over the past couple of years, we have provided support to a number of countries, including Costa Rica, Kenya, the Philippines and Sierra Leone, to define their priorities and make plans to improve their data in key areas. We’re already seeing improvements in how governments are using data for agriculture, environmental management, water and other areas.

    We are working with the World Bank Group, the UN and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network on the ‘Data For Now’ initiative to scale up the use of real-time, dynamic, disaggregated data to achieve and monitor the SDGs. We aim to put tested methodologies to use to give governments and civil society groups the information they need to make the right decisions to achieve the SDGs. ‘Data For Now’ is working with governments to increase the timeliness of data in different sectors, including Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, Mongolia, Nepal, Paraguay, Rwanda and Senegal.

    Are current pressures on multilateralism impacting on progress on SDG commitments?

    Most definitely. The crisis of multilateralism is having a negative impact, in two ways. There are some goals, such as those on climate, which can only be achieved through multilateral action, which is particularly difficult in the current political climate. Additionally, if multilateralism is seen as less important, then the effect of peer pressure and the influence of global norms will be reduced, weakening government incentives to take actions on the SDGs.

    Get in touch with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data through theirwebsite, where you can also sign up to the newsletter‘Our World in Data’, orfollow@Data4SDGs and@clairemelamed on Twitter.


  • Seis de cada diez países reprimen duramente las libertades cívicas

    Estos resultados se basan en los datos publicados hoy por el Monitor CIVICUS, un proyecto global de investigación colaborativo cuyo objetivo es la evaluación y el seguimiento del respeto de las libertades fundamentales en 196 países.

    CIVICUS acaba de publicar hoy People Power Under Attack 2018, un nuevo informe que pone de manifiesto que casi seis de cada diez países están restringiendo gravemente las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión de las personas. Esta proporción refleja la crisis continua a la que se enfrentan las organizaciones de la sociedad civil y los activistas de todo el mundo y, además, pone en relieve el hecho de que el espacio para el activismo cívico se ve con frecuencia socavado a través de la censura, los ataques contra periodistas y el acoso a defensores y defensoras de los derechos humanos.

    «Estos datos constituyen una señal de alerta. Dada la magnitud del problema, los líderes mundiales, incluido el G20 que se reúne esta semana, deben tomarse mucho más en serio la protección de las libertades cívicas», declaró Cathal Gilbert, director de investigación sobre el espacio cívico de CIVICUS. «En 2018 la sociedad civil fue testigo de la aplicación de varias innovaciones por parte de los Estados con el objetivo de erradicar y acallar las críticas de aquellos que se atreven a desafiar al poder».

    El informe se basa en datos del Monitor CIVICUS – un proyecto de investigación colaborativo – y muestra que la sociedad civil es objeto de graves ataques en 111 de los 196 países analizados, es decir, casi seis de cada diez países de todo el mundo. Esta cifra es superior a la de nuestra última actualización de marzo de 2018 en la cual se contabilizaban 109 países. En la práctica, esto significa que la represión del activismo cívico pacífico sigue teniendo nefastas consecuencias para la sociedad civil en todas partes del mundo, ya que sólo el 4 % de la población mundial vive en países donde los gobiernos respetan debidamente las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión.

    La clasificación del espacio cívico de nueve países ha empeorado en esta última actualización mientras que ha mejorado la de otros siete. La situación se ha degradado en Austria, Azerbaiyán, Gabón, Kuwait, Italia, Nauru, Papúa Nueva Guinea, Tanzania y Senegal, y ha mejorado en Canadá, Ecuador, Etiopía, Gambia, Liberia, Lituania y Somalia.

    El informe People Power Under Attack 2018 también ofrece un análisis sobre los tipos de violaciones más frecuentes registradas en el Monitor CIVICUS durante los últimos dos años. A nivel mundial, los ataques contra periodistas y la censura representan los dos tipos de violaciones más comunes, lo que indica que los que tienen el poder están haciendo todo lo posible por controlar el discurso colectivo y reprimir la libertad de expresión. El hostigamiento de activistas y el uso excesivo de la fuerza por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad durante las manifestaciones son el tercero y cuarto tipo de violación más común registrada en el Monitor CIVICUS desde octubre de 2016.

    «Aunque existe una gran preocupación por la proliferación de leyes restrictivas y no sin razón, nuestros datos muestran que no son más que la punta del iceberg. Las medidas extrajudiciales, como los ataques contra periodistas o manifestantes, son mucho más comunes», declaró Gilbert. «Estas tácticas han sido concebidas de forma cínica y pretenden crear un efecto disuasivo y evitar que los demás se expresen o se conviertan en ciudadanos activos».

    Los datos publicados hoy por CIVICUS también traen buenas noticias. Tanto en los siete países en los que mejoró la clasificación del espacio cívico como en otros lugares, vemos pruebas claras de que el activismo pacífico puede obligar a los gobiernos represivos a seguir un camino diferente. En Etiopía, por ejemplo, tras años de disturbios y una fuerte represión de todas las formas de disidencia, el 2018 supuso un giro notable. El nuevo primer ministro, Abiy Ahmed, ha liberado a presos políticos, ha suavizado las restricciones impuestas sobre las comunicaciones electrónicas y ha logrado importantes avances en la reforma de algunas de las leyes más represivas del país. Los cambios en el liderazgo político en Gambia y el Ecuador también han conducido a un mejor entorno para el ejercicio de las libertades fundamentales.

    «Las recientes mejoras en Etiopía muestran lo que se puede lograr cuando existe voluntad política y cuando los líderes toman decisiones valientes para responder a los llamamientos de la sociedad civil», afirmó Gilbert. «Este debería ser un ejemplo para los países represivos de todo el mundo. Al eliminar las restricciones y proteger el espacio cívico, los países pueden aprovechar el verdadero potencial de la sociedad civil y acelerar su progreso en una gran cantidad de frentes».

    Más de veinte organizaciones colaboran en el Monitor CIVICUS 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 1 400 actualizaciones sobre el espacio cívico en los últimos dos años y dichos datos son analizados en el informe People Power Under Attack 2018. El espacio cívico de 196 países queda clasificado en una de las cinco categorías disponibles – cerrado, reprimido, obstruido, estrecho o abierto – siguiendo una metodología que combina varias fuentes de datos sobre las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión.


  • Silence Does Not Mean Consent: The Dire State of Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea

    Located in the west of Central Africa between Cameroon and Gabon, and with a population of less than a million people, Equatorial Guinea is often described as one of the most censored countries in the world. The space for civil society - civic space - is closed, and consequently, independent journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) are vulnerable to judicial persecution, threats and attacks from the state. Recent acts of intimidation, arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment of HRD Alfredo Okenve on the day he was supposed to receive a human rights award from the French Embassy in the capital city of Malabo exemplify the risks faced by HRDs.

    Cover EG

    President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is Africa’s longest-serving head of state and the world’s longest-serving non-royal leader, having seized power from his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema through a coup d’état in 1979. Equatorial Guinea remained isolated until oil was discovered in the early 1990s and the country opened up to more foreign investment. However, despite the vast amounts of funds secured from the sale of oil, Equatorial Guinea’s human development indicators remain extremely low. Much of the wealth is controlled by President Obiang’s family and close associates while a majority of citizens lack basic services and live in poverty. President Obiang and his ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) have used violence, repression, intimidation and harassment to maintain control of all state institutions and military forces for four decades. Groups or political parties and activists that are perceived by government officials to threaten the power base of the PDGE are either co-opted, harassed, intimidated, or forced to self-censor.  

    This policy brief sheds light on some recent human rights violations committed by the regime and restrictions placed on citizens. Since assuming power four decades ago, President Obiang has refused to implement any verifiable and irreversible democratic or political reform. The ruling PDGE party, maintaining stringent control over all aspects of governance, has completely closed spaces for civil society reforms. Given this, Equatorial Guinea’s UPR hearing offers a rare opportunity to hold the government responsible for human rights violations. The African Union (AU), donors, multilateral organisations and global civil society have a responsibility to exert pressure on the government to implement much-needed reforms.

    Read the Policy Brief: ENGLISH | SPANISH


  • SLOVENIA: ‘The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to restrict protest’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent right-wing shift in Slovenia with Brankica Petković, a researcher and project manager at the Peace Institute in Ljubljana. Founded in 1991, the Peace Institute-Institute for Contemporary Social and Political Studies is an independent, non-profit research institution that uses research and advocacy to promote the principles and practices of an open society, critical thought, equality, responsibility, solidarity, human rights and the rule of law. It works in partnership with other organisations and citizens at the local, regional and international levels.


  • South African NGO scores legal victory in limiting the influence of ‘big money’ on democracy

    A South African NGO My Vote Counts recently won a court case in which it asked that political parties must be compelled to publicly reveal their sources of funds. CIVICUS speaks to Elizabeth Biney, a researcher with My Vote Counts on why they had taken this case and why this is an important victory for South Africa’s democracy

    Q: Why is it important for political parties to reveal sources of private funding?

    My Vote Counts believe that access to the private funding information of political parties is important and reasonably required for the effective exercise of political rights enshrined in the South African Constitution — namely, the right to vote and to make political choices. Political parties in South Africa occupy a unique and influential role in our constitutional democracy. Under our current electoral system, that is, a list system of proportional representation, only political parties determine which persons become members of the legislature as well as the national and provincial executives. These people then go on to shape public policies and the laws of the country. Given their pivotal role in the democratic functioning of the country, we cannot disassociate their activities from their funding sources.

    There is also the argument to be made in advocating for the disclosure of private funding information as a deterrent to corrupt activities. Transparency in the funding of political parties is good for our democracy, broadly speaking.

    Mandatory disclosures of private funding also allow us to detect and prevent possible cases of corruption and to control the influence of money in our politics. It is reasonable to anticipate that private political contributions can influence the manner in which political parties function. For instance, a political party may take a particular policy position in order to satisfy the expectations of substantial donors, at the expense of the majority that voted for it in an election. Secret funding of political parties creates the scope for and facilitates corruption.

    Therefore, the disclosure of this kind of information is not only necessary to preempt future likely behavior of parties, it gives more depth and value to the right to vote. Having all the correct information available to the citizenry before they make a political choice means people are making informed choices — a voter is knowingly choosing a party and its principles and programmes. Having ratified three anti-corruption international agreements, including the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the South African government already acknowledges the relationship between political donations and corruption. The obvious next step is to put appropriate preventative mechanisms in place to guard against political corruption. One such measure is to have formal legislation or regulation that compels parties to publicly and proactively disclose their private funding information.

    Q: What are the arguments by those parties who are against revealing funding sources?

    Under the South African Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), access to information can be refused for a number of reasons, all of which seemingly pivot on the “right to privacy”. For example, a request for information can be refused if the information contains financial, commercial or technical information of a third party. Another problem with PAIA is when the disclosure of the information “would constitute an action for breach of a duty of confidence owed to a third party in terms of an agreement”. This is particularly concerning because it essentially allows parties to enter into confidential agreements with donors in order to avoid disclosing private funding information. In any case, political parties may rely on any of these provisions to deny access to their private funding information.

    Some reasonable arguments have been advanced by smaller parties that warrant consideration. Most smaller parties are concerned about the possible intimidation of their funders and subsequently the loss of financial support to compete effectively with the ruling party.

    Undoubtedly the effects of funders withdrawing donations to opposition parties for fear of reprisals from a governing party may be a reasonable concern. However, this should be addressed through existing appropriate legislation. In any case, parties cannot sustain this argument since the potential threat is criminal in nature and would warrant legal action.

    However, the prevailing contention (mostly by the major opposition party) is that of the right to privacy versus disclosures.  For them, a disclosure regime will not only limit the rights of donors to privacy and to express their political support in secret; it limits the privacy of political parties themselves. We find this elevation of the right to privacy over the right of access to information very problematic. Privacy, like any right in the Bill of Rights, is not absolute and therefore can be reasonably attenuated. Our Constitutional Court has said as much when it affirmed that the right to privacy exists on a continuum — so the more public the space, the more it can be justifiably limited. The two rights are equally important so they need to be weighted carefully to ensure our democratic processes are responsive, accountable and transparent.

    Q: What are the next steps now that you have won the court case?
    The judgment will be referred to the Constitutional Court for confirmation, we will await that decision. In the meantime, we continue with our lobbying for legislative reform. The judgment was handed down after a parliamentary process had been initiated to review the current political financing landscape, with the intention of reforming it. So, there is now a parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on the Funding of Political Parties investigating the challenges in our party financing regime. We have been engaging with them on some critical issues as well as monitoring the entire process.

    The Committee has produced a draft political party Bill and is accepting public comments on the Bill. We are in the process of making written and likely oral submissions on this draft Bill with the hope of improving it to meet both international best practices and constitutional standards.

    Q: In your opinion, what is the state of democracy in South Africa?
    This is never an easy question to answer and besides it can yield such diverse responses given its subjective nature. Personally, I think our democracy is under threat. The level of political impunity and sheer disregard for ethics and good governance, both politically and administratively is alarming. You only need to track the number of issues that civil society has taken the government and Parliament to court on to see that the protection of South Africans and our liberties are in the hands of civil society and the media.

    Despite the slippery slope that we find ourselves in, South Africa’s democracy will not fail just yet. We have a constitutional democracy which means that despite political and administrative attempts to circumvent our democratic rights, the Constitution is paramount and the role the judiciary in this regard cannot be under estimated. Also, South Africa has a vibrant civil society sector constantly fighting for change and we will need to work together for the broader constitutional goal of a free and democratic society.

    Q: What role can civil society play in South Africa to strengthen democracy?
    I think civil society is doing what it is intended to and all it can do at the present moment. We are constantly asking the difficult questions that the ordinary citizen may be too scared to ask. We are demanding accountability of our leaders and private businesses.

    Although government is trying to close down the dissenting spaces that we operate in, we are putting up a fight. Our democracy can only flourish if there are oversight bodies like civil society. You cannot underplay the significant role that public watchdogs play in ensuring accountability, fairness and transparency in democratic governance.

    For us specifically, our role is to ensure that a few financial backers do not corrupt our political system. We want to see our democracy be as participatory as possible, and so we need to limit the influence of big money.


  • SOUTH KOREA: ‘North Korean defectors and activists face increasing pressure to stay silent’

    Ethan Hee Seok ShinCIVICUS speaks with Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, a legal analyst with the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), a Seoul-based civil society organisation (CSO) founded by human rights advocates and researchers from five countries. Founded in 2014, it is the first Korea-based CSO focused on transitional justice mechanisms in the world’s most repressive regimes, including North Korea. TJWG aims to develop practical methods for addressing massive human rights violations and advocating justice for victims in pre and post-transition societies. Ethan works on TJWG’s Central Repository project, which uses a secure platform to document and publicise cases of enforced disappearances in North Korea. He uses legislative and legal action to raise awareness about North Korean human rights issues.


    Can you tell us about the work being done by South Korean civil society groups about the human rights situation in North Korea?

    There is a rather broad range of CSOs working on North Korean human rights issues. TJWG has been working to prepare the ground for transitional justice in North Korea, in line with its core mission of human rights documentation.

    TJWG’s flagship project has resulted in a series of reports mapping public executions in North Korea, based on interviews with escapees living in South Korea. We record the geospatial information of killing sites, burial sites and record storage places, including courts and security service facilities, by asking our interviewees to spot the locations on Google Earth. The report’s first edition was released in July 2017 and was based on 375 interviews, and its second edition was launched in June 2019 after conducting 610 interviews.

    We are also currently in the process of creating an online database of abductions and enforced disappearances in and by North Korea, called FOOTPRINTS. This uses Uwazi, a free, open-source solution for organising, analysing and publishing documents, developed by HURIDOCS, a CSO. When launched to the public, FOOTPRINTS will provide an easily accessible and searchable platform to track individuals taken and lost in North Korea.

    Other than documentation and reporting work, we have been active in international and domestic advocacy. Jointly with other human rights CSOs, TJWG drafted and submitted an open letter urging the European Union to strengthen the language and recommendations in the annual human rights resolutions adopted by the United Nations’ (UN) General Assembly and Human Rights Council on North Korea. We have also made case submissions to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other UN human rights experts.

    In July 2020, the South Korean government revoked the registration of two CSOs and issued a notice of administrative review and inspections of ‘defector-run’ groups working on human rights in North Korea. Why are these groups being targeted?

    The direct catalyst was the June 2020 provocations by North Korea. On 4 June, Kim Yo-Jong, sister of supreme leader Kim Jong-Un and the first vice department director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee, criticised the ‘anti-DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] leaflets’ flown to North Korea by ‘North Korean escapees’ and threatened the cessation of Mount Kumgang tourism, the complete demolition of the Kaesong industrial region, the closure of the inter-Korean liaison office, or the termination of the 9/19 military agreement (the 2018 agreement to create demilitarised buffer zones) unless the South Korean authorities took ‘due measures’.

    Just four hours after Kim Yo-Jong’s early morning bombshell, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced that it would prepare legislation banning the distribution of leaflets to North Korea. This was a complete reversal of the government’s longstanding position, which consistently avoided such legislation for fear of infringing upon the freedom of expression.

    On 10 June 2020, the MOU announced that it would file criminal charges against Park Sang-Hak and Park Jung-Oh, two defectors from North Korea, for violating article 13 of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, which requires prior approval of any inter-Korean exchange of goods, and would revoke the incorporation of their organisations, Fighters For Free North Korea (FFNK) and KuenSaem, for sending leaflets in air balloons and rice-filled PET bottles on sea currents to North Korea, as they did on 31 May 2020.

    While the North Korean government eventually toned down its rhetoric, the South Korean government began to take actions against North Korean human rights and escapee groups, viewed as a hindrance to inter-Korean peace.

    On 29 June 2020 the MOU held a hearing and on 17 July it announced the revocation of the legal incorporation of FFNK and KuenSaem for contravening incorporation conditions by grossly impeding the government’s reunification policy, dispersing leaflets and items to North Korea beyond the stated goals of their incorporation and fomenting tension in the Korean peninsula under article 38 of the Civil Code, a relic from the authoritarian era. 

    The MOU also launched ‘business inspections’ of other North Korean human rights and escapee settlement support groups among the over 400 associations incorporated by MOU’s permission, possibly with a view to revoking their incorporation. On 15 July 2020, the Association of North Korean Defectors received a notice from the MOU that it would be inspected for the first time since its incorporation in 2010. The following day, MOU authorities informed journalists that they would first conduct business inspections on 25 incorporated North Korean human rights and escapee settlement support groups, 13 of them headed by North Korean defectors, with more to be inspected in the future. While acknowledging that the leaflet issue triggered the inspections, the MOU added that the business inspections would not be limited to those involved in the leaflet campaign.

    How many groups have been reviewed or inspected after the announcements were made?

    Because of the international and domestic uproar caused by the obviously discriminatory nature of the inspections targeting North Korean human rights and escapee groups, the MOU has somewhat toned down its approach, and has belatedly begun to argue that it is focusing on all CSOs registered under the MOU.

    On 6 October 2020, the MOU told reporters that it had decided to inspect 109 out of 433 CSOs for failing to submit annual reports or for submitting insufficient documentation. According to the information provided, 13 of the 109 groups to be inspected are headed by North Korean escapees; 22 (16 working on North Korean human rights and escapee settlement, five working in the social and cultural fields and one working in the field of unification policy) have already been inspected and none has revealed any serious grounds for revocation of registration; and the MOU intends to complete the inspection for the remaining 87 CSOs by the end of 2020.

    In any case, the government appears to have already succeeded in its goal of sending a clear signal to North Korea that it is ready to accommodate its demands in return for closer ties, even if it means sacrificing some fundamental principles of liberal democracy. The government has also sent a clear signal to North Korean human rights and escapee groups with the intended chilling effect.

    How has civil society responded to these moves by the government?

    Civil society in South Korea is unfortunately as polarised as the country’s politics. The ruling progressives view the conservatives as illegitimate heirs to the collaborators of Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945, and post-independence authoritarian rule up to 1987. The previous progressive president, Roh Moo-Hyun, who served from 2003 to 2008, killed himself in 2009 during a corruption probe, widely seen as politically motivated, under his conservative successor. The incumbent Moon Jae-In was elected president in 2017, riding a wave of public disgust at his right-wing predecessor’s impeachment for corruption and abuse of power.

    Most CSOs are dominated by progressives who are politically aligned with the current Moon government. The progressives are relatively supportive of the human rights agenda but are generally silent when it comes to North Korean human rights because of their attachment to inter-Korean rapprochement. The same people who talk loudly about Japanese ‘comfort women’ – women forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan before and during the Second World War – or authoritarian-era outrages readily gloss over present North Korean atrocities in the name of national reconciliation.

    Most North Korean human rights groups are formed around North Korean escapees and the Christian churches of the political right that passionately characterise leftists as North Korean stooges. Many are also generally hostile to contemporary human rights issues such as LGBTQI+ rights, which is rather ironic as Australian judge Michael Kirby, the principal author of the 2014 UN report that authoritatively condemned the grave human rights violations in North Korea as crimes against humanity, is gay.

    The largely progressive mainstream CSOs have not been on the receiving end of persecution by the government led by President Moon; on the contrary, prominent civil society figures have even been appointed or elected to various offices or given generous grants. Some do privately express their dismay and concern at the government’s illiberal tendencies, but few are ready to publicly raise the issue because of the deep political polarisation.

    Is the space for civil society – structured by the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression – becoming more restrictive in South Korea under the current administration?

    The Moon government has displayed worryingly illiberal tendencies in its handling of groups that it views as standing in its way, such as North Korean human rights and escapee groups, who have faced increasing pressure to stay silent and cease their advocacy. 

    President Moon has reopened a dialogue with the North Korean government to establish peaceful relations, neutralise the North’s nuclear threat and pave the way for family reunification, along with other estimable goals.

    However, along with US President Donald Trump, President Moon has employed a diplomatic strategy that downplays human rights concerns. Notably, neither the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration between North and South Korea nor the Joint Statement issued after the 2018 Trump-Kim summit in Singapore make any mention of the North’s egregious human rights abuses.

    In the weeks before President Moon met North Korean leader Kim in Panmunjom, there were reports that North Korean defector-activists were being prevented from carrying out their activism. In October 2018, South Korea acquiesced to North Korea’s demand to exclude a defector journalist from covering a meeting in North Korea. On 7 July 2019, there was an extraordinary rendition of two defectors, fishers who were allegedly fugitive murderers, to North Korea five days after their arrival without any semblance of due process.

    The Moon government has resorted to illiberal tactics on other perceived opponents as well. A man who put up a poster mocking President Moon as ‘Xi Jinping’s loyal dog’ (referring to the Chinese president) at the campus of Dankook University on 24 November 2019 was prosecuted and fined by court on 23 June 2020 for ‘intruding in a building’ under article 319 (1) of the Penal Code, even though the university authorities made clear that they did not wish to press charges against him for exercising his freedom of expression. Many criticised the criminal prosecution and conviction as a throwback to the old military days.

    The government has also moved to exercise ever more control over state prosecutors. The Minister of Justice, Choo Mi-ae, has attacked prosecutors who dared to investigate charges of corruption and abuse of power against the government, claiming a conspiracy to undermine President Moon.

    Another worrying trend is the populist tactic by ruling party politicians, notably lawmaker Lee Jae-jung, of using the internet to whip up supporters to engage in cyberbullying against reporters.

    What can the international community do to support the groups being targeted?

    In April 2020 the ruling party won the parliamentary elections by a landslide, taking 180 of 300 seats, thanks to its relative success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. The opposition is in disarray. All this has emboldened rather than humbled the government, and its illiberal tendencies are likely to continue. Due to the severe political polarisation, ruling party politicians and their supporters are not likely to pay much heed to domestic criticism.

    The voice of the international community will therefore be crucial. It is much more difficult for the government to counter concerns raised by international CSOs as politically motivated attacks. A joint statement or an open letter spearheaded by CIVICUS would be helpful in forcefully delivering the message that human rights in North Korea are of genuine concern for the international community.

    Furthermore, South Korea will soon be submitting its fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee in accordance with the list of issues prior to reporting (LOIPR). Because North Korea-related issues and concerns are not included in the LOIPR, it would be extremely helpful if international CSOs joined forces to include them in the oral discussion with the members of the Human Rights Committee and in their concluding observations.

    In the shorter run, country visits to South Korea by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders would be excellent opportunities to internationalise the issue and put pressure on our government.

    Even progressives may support a reform of the outdated law on CSO registration, for instance, as a matter of self-interest, if not of principle, in case of change of government.

    Civic space inSouth Korea is rated ‘narrowedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Transitional Justice Working Group through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@TJWGSeoul on Twitter.


  • Squeezing civil society hurts India’s economy and democracy

    By Mandeep Tiwana

    India played a key moral role in international affairs during the anti-colonial struggles and as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war. What happened then?

    Read on: Open Democracy



  • Sri Lanka government must respect the rule of law and protect civic space

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and The Innovation for Change South Asia Hub are extremely concerned about the political crisis in Sri Lanka and its impact on the rule of law and civic space in the country.

    We are gravely concerned that President Maithripala Sirisena has undermined the rule of law by unconstitutionally removing the sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with former President and current Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa overnight. Rajapaksa’s administration was implicated in serious violations during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war and the suppression of freedoms of the media, expression, and association.

    This was followed by a decision to undemocratically suspend Parliament denying Members of Parliament, who exercise sovereignty on the peoples’ behalf, the ability to assemble at this crucial time. We demand that the Parliament be reconvened immediately allowing representatives of the people to decide the way forward and to prevent the nation from plunging into a state of political instability and impunity.

    Our organisations are also alarmed by reports of the forcible take-over of state media institutions and intimidation of journalists disrupting the free flow of information to the public. We condemn such actions and call on the authorities to ensure that press freedom, a crucial component of a democracy is respected.

    We are also concerned that these political developments may put the civic freedom of Sri Lankans at risk. Citizens must be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

    We hope that Sri Lanka’s democratic gains of the past several years will not be lost and we stand in solidarity with civil society and human rights defenders from Sri Lanka at this difficult time.


    Omid Salman (I4C South Asia Communications Specialist):

    Josef Benedict (CIVICUS Research officer):


  • States must partner with civil society as second wave of COVID-19 hits countries


    Arabic | Portuguese

    As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, civil society organisations responded nimbly and effectively, providing frontline help and defending the rights of people across the world. A report released today by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, ‘Solidarity in the Time of COVID-19’, highlights the irreplaceable role of activists, NGOs and grassroots organisations during the pandemic and calls on states to work with civil society to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and create a better post-pandemic world. 


  • Syria’s CSO sector and population buckle under humanitarian crisis

    Following the chemical attack in Syria and the subsequent airstrikes on Syria by the United States, United Kingdom and France, CIVICUS interviews a representative of The Arguendo Initiative about the humanitarian crisis and human rights violations taking place in Ghouta, Syria. The objective of the Arguendo Initiative is to enhance collaboration and information sharing to help people create a better and more informed society. The Arguendo Initiative is a member of CIVICUS and expresses concerns over the crisis in Syria and the lack of an adequate response from the international community to address the human rights violations.


  • Syrian civil society not being heard by international donors

    CIVICUS asked Nibal Salloum, program manager at the Syrian peace-building organisation Nuon, about the situation for civil society in Syria and the challenges faced working in a conflict area. Nuon is a Syrian civil society organisation that works on peace building from a human rights approach in Southern Syria and with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.


  • Tanzania: Civil society groups all on UN Human Rights Council to address crackdown on human rights

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland


    Ahead of the 39th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council”), which will be held from 10-28 September 2018, we write to call on your delegation to deliver statements, both jointly and individually, to address the ongoing crackdown on civic space and human rights back­sliding in the United Republic of Tanzania.

    Considering the rapidly declining environment for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society, jour­na­lists, bloggers, the media and dissenting voices in Tanzania, we, the undersigned non-governmental organisations (NGOs), make a joint appeal to Member and Observer States of the Council. At the 39th session, States should urge the Tanzanian Government to change course, cease any form of intimidation, harassment and attacks against HRDs, journalists, bloggers, and opposition members and their suppor­ters, and amend restrictive laws and regulations with a view to bringing them in line with international human rights standards.

    Since 2015, Tanzania has implemented newly-enacted draconian legislation and applied legal and extra-judicial methods to harass HRDs, silence independent journalism and blogging, and restrict freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. 

    We call on your delegation to make use of the following agenda items[1] to raise concern, jointly and individually, and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Tanzanian authorities:

    • General debate (GD) under item 2, following the High Commissioner’s update;
    • General debate under item 3, in relation to reports of the High Commissioner and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR);
    • General debate under item 4;
    • General debate under item 10; and
    • Interactive dialogues (IDs) with the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.
    • Additionally, bilateral and collective engagement in multilateral fora such as the Council and at the embassy level, in Tanzania, should be used to raise relevant issues with the Government.

    Through these opportunities for dialogue, your delegation can help the Council fulfil its responsibility to “address situations of violations of human rights […] and make recommend­ations thereon” and to “contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies.”[2]

    The 39th session should be leveraged to help prevent a further deterioration of the human rights situation in Tanzania and send the Tanzanian Government a message that the international com­munity expects it to uphold its citizens’ human rights, in line with its obligations and the country’s history of openness, engagement, and respect for human rights.

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information.


    1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    2. Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity
    3. ARTICLE 19
    4. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    5. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
    6. Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center
    7. Сenter for Civil Liberties – Ukraine
    8. CEPO – South Sudan
    9. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    10. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) – Uganda
    11. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    12. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
    13. Conectas Human Rights – Brazil
    14. DefendDefenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    15. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    16. Freedom House
    17. Global Witness
    18. HAKI Africa – Kenya
    19. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
    20. HURISA – South Africa
    21. International Civil Society Center
    22. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique – Mozambique
    23. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka – Burundi
    24. Observatoire des droits de l’homme au Rwanda – Rwanda
    25. Odhikar – Bangladesh
    26. Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
    27. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    28. Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
    29. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    30. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZSCD) – Zambia

    [1] See the annexfor more detailed proposals for action, as well the report and letter referenced in footnotes 3 and 4.

    [2] UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, paras. 3 and 5(f).



  • THAILAND: ‘Young people question the government abusing their rights and compromising their future’

    CIVICUS speaks to Amnesty International Thailand’s executive director, Piyanut Kotsan, about the Thai pro-democracy movement and the repression of protests. Established in Bangkok in 1993, Amnesty International Thailand has more than 1,000 members across Thailand. Its work focuses on the promotion of the freedoms of online and offline expression and peaceful assembly, human rights education, abortion rights and the rights of people on the move, while denouncing torture, enforced disappearances and the death penalty.


  • The aid sector must enforce standards, rebuild trust to survive abuse scandals

    By Anabel Cruz, Chair of the Board of CIVICUS

    Critics are using the recent scandals to delegitimise aid and humanitarian efforts. We, in civil society, must all be prepared to have this debate - seriously and honestly.

    Read on: Thomson Reuters Foundation News  



  • The CIVICUS Monitor – global data provides picture of a global crackdown

    By Cathal Gilbert, Dom Perera and Marianna Belalba

    Today we launch ratings for all UN Member States on the CIVICUS Monitor – the first ever online tool specifically designed to track and rate respect for civic space, in as close to real time as possible.


  • The compromised state of civil society in Bangladesh

    Open contribution by Rezwan-ul-Alam


  • The UN’s NGO Committee Defers Rights Groups

    • More than half of NGOs had their applications for NGO status deferred, even though no specific objections were made to their applications
    • Organisations working on human rights, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, and migration are repeatedly obstructed
    • India, Nigeria and Sudan routinely block applications from NGOs working in their respective countries
    • The longest waiting organisation, the International Dalit Solidarity Network, has had its application delayed since 2007.


    • Togo’s violations of the press are out of step with democratic norms


      CIVICUS speaks toKoffi Déla Frack Kepomey, the executive director of Concertation Nationale de la Société Civile du Togo (CNSC-Togo) concerning the recent closure of a television and radio station by the regulatory authority as well as the torture of a journalist.

      1. Two independent media outlets, LCF television station and radio City FM, were closed by the media regulatory authority High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication  (HAAC) on 6 February 2017. Can you detail these closures?

      The High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) issued a communiqué on 19 September and 26 December 2016 respectively saying that it had informed media outlets LCF and City FM which are under the media group Sud Média, of irregularities and invited them to comply with the rules before 5 February 2017. A failure to comply would lead to the withdrawal of their licenses the HAAC said.

      During a press conference convened by the president of the HAAC, Pitang Tchalla, on 3 February 2017, he declared that he was not aware of the existence of documents constituting a file of the Sud Média group and announced they will be closed after 5 February 2017.

      The director of the Sud Média group, Luc Abaki, confirmed that the Sud Média group complied with the rules and that all documents had been provided to the then HAAC president Philippe Evegno.

      Some questions remain to be clarified after the closure such as what exactly is the Sud Média group being blamed for? What are the underlying and unsaid reasons for this case?

      Although it is the HAAC that attributes frequencies to radio and television stations, and gives authorisation to the written press, the HAAC also does not have the authority to cancel frequencies from those with legal existence. This power belongs to the justice arm of the state. Article 130, title IX of the Constitution states, among others that “… the HAAC has the competence to grant authorisations to new installations of private television and radio stations”. Additionally, article 24 of the Organic Law establishing the HAAC specifies that the HAAC has the competence to grant authorisations for the installation and operation of television and radio stations. Analysing these two situations shows clearly that the powers that be have decided to muzzle the press.

      CNSC remains particularly concerned about the increasing restrictions for the freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Togo.

      2. Journalist Robert Avotor was violently attacked on 7 February 2017 and tortured for two hours by security forces when reporting on a land dispute in Akato-Viépé. What happened?

      The journalist Robert Avotor was carrying out his reporting work when he was arrested, handcuffed and tortured. This happened in Akato-Viépé, a suburb of Lomé, where he was reporting on a land dispute.

      According to the journalist there is a land dispute in Akato-Viépé following a decision of the Supreme Court ruled that some buildings had to be demolished. Gendarmes came to force people from the area. There were about one hundred men in combat uniforms. Robert went there to do a report. He had his press vest and his press card. He descended from his motorcycle and approached the gendarmes and presented himself and requested to speak with the chief of the gendarmes.

      Here are the facts as described by the journalist in his own words: “One of them asked me who I am and I repeated to him that I am a journalist. They responded that there was no chief among them, that they were all chiefs. After this, they asked me to show my press card, which I did. Afterwards they said: ‘We don’t eat cards here’. One of them ordered me to leave the premises. He had hardly finished saying that when he started to beat me. I ran but other gendarmes caught me and started clubbing me. They then handcuffed me, put me in a corner and walked away. Some minutes later, they came back and asked me for which press organisation I work for. I told them I came from L’Alternative. They asked me who the director was. I said it was Ferdinand Ayité. They responded, ‘This time, we have you. We always come across this name. We will make you feel what we are capable of. When you are in the crowd, you make noise. Today, it’s you alone.’ They left me in the corner. They handcuffed my hands behind my back. From time to time they came back to tighten my handcuffs. This hurt my wrists.

      At a certain point, I felt the need to relieve myself. I asked them if they would permit me to urinate. They categorically refused. I then urinated in my pants and this amused them. They also brought in another person that they had discovered filming the eviction. I was there, handcuffed, for more than two hours. They then handcuffed us together (with the other person that had also been arrested), and we got into their vehicle. Once we arrived at the Gendarmerie of Sagbado, they erased all the images in our phones and on our devices. They gave us back our phones and asked us to leave. They took note of our identity numbers and we left around 14.30.”

      According to Ferdinand Ayité, director of L’Alternative, journalist Robert Avotor has been subject to anonymous calls and harassment since the attack on 7 February. On the night of 19 February, while going home by motorcycle, he was followed by a car that sped up and hit the rear of his motorcycle, leading him to fall.

      The Minister of Security, Yak Damehame, has received the journalist a couple of days later, together with the director of l’Alternativenewspaper and other media actors, in which he reassured to take the necessary sanctions to those responsible.

      3. How would you describe the situation of freedom of expression in Togo?

      The closure of these two independent media described above and the attack on and torture of journalist Robert Avotor by security forces are incidents that bear a heavy cost for freedom of expression in Togo.

      The mission of the High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) is “to guarantee and ensure the freedom and protection of the press and other ways of mass communication” and the first article of Organic Law 2004-021/PR of 15 December 2004 regulating the HAAC, modified  by Organic Law  2009-029 of 22 December 2009 and Organic Law 2013-016 of 8 July 2013 says the HAAC is an “independent institution, independent of the administrative authorities, of all political power, of all associations and pressure groups”. The HAAC does not have the calling/ vocation to close media.

      Togo has ratified international agreements, and in particular, it has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and also its Constitution does not permit torture.

      These incidents constitute an obstacle to the exercise of the freedom of press and the freedom of expression, also protected by the Togolese Constitution and are an attack on human rights. They risk to annul all the efforts the government has implemented in that sense, and above all eligibility for different programmes of the Millenium Challenge Corporation.

      4. How has Togolese civil society reacted to these developments?

      Confronted with these events, civil society in Togo has mobilised to express their indignation through press statements, open letters and public marches. A public march was organised on 25 February in Lomé by CSOs and press organisations, joint by certain political parties, to condemn the closure of LCF and City FM. Although the march was authorised by municipal authorities, the crowd was dispersed by security forces using teargas grenades and batons, and chased protestors into the compound of the University of Lomé. CSOs and press organisations condemned strongly this violation of peaceful assembly.

      Joint press statements were organised to denounce the violations of the freedom of expression, and open letters were written to government structures to use their influence to guarantee the freedom of expression. For example, CNSC has written to the MCA Cell, a structure put in place by the government to assist Togo to benefit from the Treshold and Compact of the Millenium Challenge Corporation.

      5. Can you tell us some more about the environment for civil society in Togo?

      At the moment we can say that there is a beginning of awareness within Togolese civil society in terms of mobilisation that needs to be encouraged. However, civic space is still under threat and there is need for more sensitisation and capacity enhancement to preserve civil society.

      6. What support can international and regional groups offer to CNSC-Togo and other civil society organisations in the country?

      Togolese CSOs not only need capacity enhancement for the effective preservation of civic space but also institutional support. There is a need to strengthen CSOs and activists on the preservation of civic space by accentuating the use of technology and including them in regional and international networks in order to share experiences and information.

      Institutional support is a big need of CSOs in Togo, for them to achieve increased effectiveness and sustainability. Additionally regional and international groups must advocate, to the international community and the partners for Togo to respect regional and international instruments in practice.

      Confronted with this situations, CNSC-Togo has addressed a communication to the Coordinator of the Cell MCA – Togo, a cell that was set up by the state to improve the indexes of development, freedom, corruption in order for Togo to benefit from the Millenium Challenge Corporation. We have asked the cell to use its influence to bring the president of the HAAC to reconsider its decision to withdraw the authorisation to close the LCF and City FM stations of the Sud Média group.

      • For more information on CNSC-Togo and their activities, visit their website,
      • Please describe in one paragraph what CNSC-Togo does.CNSC (Concertation de la Société Civile du Togo) is a Togolese civil society network with 72 member organisations, working mainly on the themes of democracy, good governance, and the promotion and protection of individual and collective rights of Togolese citizens.

      Togo is ranked as obstructed by the CIVICUSMonitor.


    • Treaty pushes for environmental justice in Latin America and the Caribbean

      By Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary General

      Despite closing space for civil society, the new Escazú Agreement—which offers protection measures for environmental groups and defenders—is a shining example of citizens organizing in creative ways to fight for social justice.

      Read on: Open Global Rights