human rights defenders
BANGLADESH: HRD tortured while in arbitrary detention must be released and charges be dropped
Bangladesh authorities must immediately release human rights defender Mohammad Abdul Kaium, who has been allegedly tortured in custody during his arbitrary detention. The fabricated case filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA)-2018 and other penal laws should be dropped immediately.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has verified information that Mohammad Abdul Kaium, a human rights defender associated with Odhikar, an independent rights organisation working on key issues of civil and political rights, is facing state-orchestrated persecution from the Sheikh Hasina regime in Bangladesh.
Kaium edits online news portal www.mymensinghlive.com and is a journalist with www.bdpress24.com. He is also a web developer. In 2018, Kaium signed an agreement to provide web-development service for Idris Ali Khan, a close relative of a Member of Parliament of the ruling party, whom Kaium had criticised in the past. The agreement was worth BDT 120,000 (USD 1,394).
On 11 May 2019, Idris Khan summoned Abdul Kaium to his office to receive his payment. Upon Kaium's arrival Idris Khan offered USD 200, significantly lower than the agreed amount. Kaium refused to take the lower payment. As he left Idris Khan's office in Kristopur, Mymensingh district town – an area which is under the Kotwoali police station's jurisdiction – two plain-clothed officers of the Detective Branch (DB) Police arrested him. The police officers also seized a cell phone from Kaium.
The DB police ordered Abdul Kaium to give them ‘the USD 200' and searched him. Failing to find the money, the police tortured him and ordered Kaium to confess that he extorted money from Idris Khan. While he was in detention, a team of plain-clothes detectives raided Kaium's house in the Bhatiashor area of Mymensing town without a search warrant. The police seized the files and other items, including the signed web development agreement between Kaium's company and Idris Khan, as well as the key to Kaium's room. However, the police have not yet submitted a list of seized items to the court.
Kaium has told AHRC's Human Rights Fact-Finding Team that on the evening of 11 May, from his cell, he overheard Idris Khan bribing the police officers to torture him. Kaium also saw from his cell DB police Sub Inspector (SI) Akram placing money in the drawer of his office desk.
Later the same evening, DB Officer-in-Charge (OC) Shah Kamal, SI Akram, SI Monju, SI Jewel and SI Porimol ordered Kaium to confess to receiving US dollars from Idris Khan. Kaium refused, and asked the police officers why he was being kept in detention without a court appearance. Kaium reports that the DB officers became angry and threatened to kill him under the pretext of 'crossfire' unless he provided a confessional statement on his alleged involvement in an illegal currency-exchange business. As Kaium continued to refuse, he was subjected to a prolonged physical attack by all officers present, including being slapped, punched, hit with his belt and struck with a wooden chair. The police also seized Kaium's National Identity Card and forced him to divulge the passwords of his social media and email accounts, and the login details of his online news portal.
On 12 May, a case was brought against Kaium by police in response to a complaint filed with Trishal Police Station by Idris Ali Khan on the same day.
It includes the following charges under the repressive Digital Security Act of 2018:
- Section 23 – digital or electronic fraud; punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a BDT 500,000 (USD 5,809) fine; or seven years’ imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD 11,619) fine;
- Section 25 – publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 300,000 to one million fine;
- Section 29 – publishing, broadcasting, etc., defamatory information, punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 500,000 to 1 million fine.
The police also accused Kaium of offences under the Penal Code of 1860:
- Sections 385 – putting a person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion punishable by five to 14 years' imprisonment with fines; and,
- Section 386 – extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt, punishable by 10 years' imprisonment with fine.
On 13 May, Kaium was brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Mymensingh. The police requested he remain in police remand for five days while Kaium's lawyer sought bail. On 14 May, the Magistrate rejected both petitions for remand and bail and ordered that Kaium be detained in prison. On 23 May, the Sessions Judge's Court rejected Kaium's bail petition.
The factual information in relation to Kaium's detention establishes that the police illegally arrested and detained him a day before the case was fabricated against him. Although according to the First Information Report the alleged incident occurred in the jurisdiction of the Kotowali police, the complaint was registered in a different jurisdiction. The police arbitrarily detained Kaium for over 36 hours following his arrest in violation of Article 33 (2) of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Section 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898.
The Court failed to protect Kaium's right to liberty and also ignored the fact that the police officers tortured Kaium in custody. It indicates that the Court's complicity in maintaining the culture of impunity in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh authorities must halt the practice of fabricating cases against independent human rights defenders and journalists.
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Guatemala: Respect fundamental rights ahead of Presidential elections
CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society, is gravely concerned of increasing attacks and restrictions on democratic and civic freedoms in the wake of Guatemala’s 25th June presidential elections. We call on the authorities to guarantee freedom and safety for people to participate in the political process without intimidation before, during, and after the elections.
We are appalled by the growing restrictions being imposed on civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) including indigenous leaders, justice operators and journalists in Guatemala. The authorities continue to undermine the rule of law and several HRDs have been investigated, detained, convicted, or forced into exile.
An example of this is the growing attacks on a leading human rights organisation protecting human rights defenders in Guatemala, Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) and its director Jorge Santos. They have been targeted with defamation campaigns, including through the spread of false allegations to discredit the organisation.
The authorities are also imposing restrictions on representatives of political groups preventing them from participating in the elections. Carlos Pineda, a businessman and presidential candidate was disqualified when the Constitutional Court ruled that he did not comply with legal requirements. Three others including Roberto Arzu García-Granados, indigenous Mayan leader Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas Andrade have been prevented from running.
Civil society groups are also concerned about restrictions that may be imposed after the elections irrespective of the outcome. On 31 May 2023, 22 of 24 political parties contesting signed a declaration called "Life and Family", committing themselves to prevent the advancement of sexual and reproductive and LGBTIQ+ rights policies following the elections.
CIVICUS calls on the Government of Guatemala to lift all restrictions against HRDs, members of the political opposition and civil society organisations and create an environment free from intimidation and harassment before, during and after the elections.
In July 2022, CIVICUS, Acción Ciudadana and Redlad submitted Guatemala’s UN Universal Periodic Review which outlined the extreme violence against HRDs and journalists, who continue to face attacks, harassment, stigmatisation and killings. State and non-state actors have escalated attacks with impunity. The submission further reports cases of judicial harassment against justice officials and journalists and the gradual reduction of the space for a free and independent press.
As a result of these developments, civic space in Guatemala is currently rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe.
“Fake news” violates citizens’ right to be informed
CIVICUS speaks to Lyndal Rowlands, United Nations Bureau Chief at Inter Press Agency on what is “fake news”, its effect on civil society and how civil society can respond to it.
1. How would you define fake news? How is this different from propaganda and established forms of political campaigning?
Fake news only very recently became a part of our collective vocabulary. During the 2016 United States of America presidential election “content mill” websites created articles which mimicked the real news but were in fact entirely made up with the sole intention of going viral to make money from “clicks” or people visiting their websites. Yet before most of us had even begun to wonder what exactly fake news was, the term was co-opted by the very people who arguably benefited from fake news in its original form, and I think that it is important for civil society to pay attention to this later shift in how the term fake news has been employed.
As comedian John Oliver has said, audiences need the press to help them to sort out fact from fiction and yet now that same press finds itself under attack. Even small mistakes made by journalists, have been seized upon by political figures as a way to discredit and delegitimise the so-called fourth estate. In light of this, I think it’s important to try and restore trust in the vast majority of the media who do uphold the professional standards that differentiate them from fake news.
So, rather than trying to define fake news, I think that it’s better to focus on how we can discern which news audiences should trust and why. A few things that I would suggest would include making sure that you get your news from a wide variety of sources, finding out who owns the media companies you are getting your news from, and making sure that you double-check check anything that seems unusual against a primary source.
2. Why do you think we are seeing a rise in fake news?
The motivation for the initial rise in fake news was advertising revenue, however the disinformation that we are now seeing shared is more complex. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says that the spread of disinformation can help benefit a political side because it makes it more difficult for undecided voters to find out the truth. These undecided people may hear so much shouting and disagreement going on that they decide that it’s simply easier to go about their everyday lives, than to try and work out exactly who is telling the truth.
This may explain why USA President Donald Trump’s team have now referred to three separate incidents which haven’t happened: namely Trump’s reference to “last night in Sweden”, Kelly Anne Conway’s reference to the Bowling Green Massacre and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s three references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta.
As professor Rosen says, many of the Trump/Republican administration’s policies are not necessarily popular so by surrounding them with “fog and confusion” the administration “can get a lot more done”. However it’s also another reason why it’s so important that we all commit to not add to that fog and confusion ourselves, by making sure we don’t inadvertently share disinformation.
3. Why do you think some citizens believe fake news?
Sometimes we may believe a fake news story because it confirms our world view. We may then not be corrected, because for most of us, our world view has become increasingly polarised because of social media bubbles, which mean that we now almost exclusively see news which confirms our pre-existing opinions and values.
4. How does fake news impact on civil society and human rights defenders?
Attacks on press freedom affect civil society and human rights defenders because it is the job of the media to hold the powerful to account. If the vital democratic role of a free press is endangered through accusations that they are fake news and should be censored, then who will be there to report when the government or others in positions of power attack people demonstrating in the street or imprison them?
Those who spread disinformation may also use it to discredit human rights defenders and civil society organisations. They may make up information about how many people attended a demonstration or argue that protestors are “paid”. Disagreements have begun to emerge over which protestors are violent, and whether they have been planted by the opposition, in order to discredit one side or the other. This may lead eventually to a curtailing of the right to protest, if peaceful protestors are successfully discredited.
5. How should civil society respond to fake news?
Sadly, the same people who seek to curb the freedoms of civil society organisations often also seek to control the media, so I definitely think that civil society and the media should work together to address these issues. Many media organisations are now also set up to serve the public interest as non-profit organisations, and many journalists are also freelancers, so there are other things that the media and non-profits have in common. If you rely on high quality journalism to get your story out, don’t forget to also support the journalists who produce these stories. If you can’t afford to buy a subscription, find other ways to support journalists, even through messages of support. Foundations and other funding organisations should also seriously consider supporting public interest journalism.
In countries where the media is not free or where due to ownership interests they only partially or incompletely cover civil society issues, civil society organisations have also successfully begun using social media to tell their own narrative. By telling their stories directly to the public civil society organisations can also counter the sharing of disinformation. However, I would also encourage civil society to work together with the media, since there are many journalists who are committed to accurately representing issues on a wide range of topics in the public interest from human rights to climate change.
•Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter at @lyndalrowlands
#HRC51: States must ensure systematic investment in meaningful, safe and inclusive participation of civil society
Statement at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council
General Debate on Item 3
Delivered by Nicola Paccimiccio
Thank you, Madame Vice-President.
We welcome the report of OHCHR on the essential role of civil society, which concludes that civil society must be empowered and protected. It highlights that there is much more to be done to address challenges in this respect.
Looking forward, civil society should be meaningfully included in all post-pandemic processes, and we urge States to take particular note of the recommendation to urgently and actively facilitate meaningful participation of diverse civil society entities in the development of a pandemic treaty.
The resolution on the Council’s role in prevention adopted by this Council during its 45th Session acknowledged the important role played by civil society organizations and human rights defenders in preventing human rights violations, including by providing information on early warning signs. This role is only possible through the protection, and empowerment, of civil society to operate without risk of reprisals.
As access to resources continues to be an existential threat to civil society participation, we similarly call on States to implement the recommendation to refrain from limiting receipt of funds, including from foreign sources. We look particularly to States introducing or misusing legislation which undermines this recommendation, including India’s Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, Zimbabwe’s proposed Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment Bill, and legislation relating to so-called ‘Foreign Agents’ in Russia.
We call on States to ensure more systematic investment in meaningful, safe and inclusive participation at all levels, including by proactively addressing threats to civil society and human rights defenders. By doing so, States would be ultimately securing the mechanisms, enablers, and spaces that they themselves need to work with and for the societies they serve.
We thank you.
25 organisations' urgent appeal for the release of Nabeel Rajab
25 human rights organizations have signed an urgent appeal letter to Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, to ask for a clear, public stance on Nabeel Rajab's case and the human rights abuses in Bahrain.
Read the full letter here.
A year after imprisoned Saudi activist Abdullah al-Hamid’s passing, NGOs call for accountability & release of all HRDs
April 24, 2021 marks one year since prominent Saudi human rights defender Dr Abdullah al-Hamid passed away, while serving an 11-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges. Before his passing, Dr al-Hamid was suffering from heart conditions and was advised to undergo surgery. However, prison authorities delayed his operation for several months, leading to the deterioration of his health. As a consequence, on April 9, 2020, he suffered a stroke in al-Ha’ir prison, entered into a coma, and eventually passed away.
Activism works: on Mandela Day, let's boost efforts to free human rights defenders around the world
- #StandAsMyWitness campaign launched two years ago on Nelson Mandela Day
- Campaign has been part of successful global calls to release incarcerated human rights defenders
- 21 human rights defenders currently featured in the campaign have spent 50 years collectively in prison
In honour of Nelson Mandela Day 18 July, global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls for renewed efforts to help free 21 human rights defenders featured in its #StandAsMyWitness global campaign. Altogether, they have been imprisoned for half a century - and some face many more years behind bars. Activism makes a difference - #StandAsMyWitness has already been part of successful global calls leading to the release of 20 activists across the world.
Launched two years ago on Mandela Day, #StandAsMyWitness urges governments to free activists in prison or facing pre-trial detention after protecting and promoting human rights.
“Over 30 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and still human rights defenders are wrongfully incarcerated in both authoritarian regimes and democratic states. Their crime? Standing up for the rights of women, children and Indigenous people; fighting for climate justice; advocating for free and fair elections; and promoting democratic freedoms,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.
Human rights defenders in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign include Iranian lawyer Nasrin al-Sotoudeh, sentenced to 38 years on charges that include insulting Iran’s supreme leader; Mexican Kenia Hernandez, facing a decade in prison in retaliation for her work defending Indigenous communities; and Buzurgmehr Yorov, a 50-year old lawyer from Tajikistan, sentenced to 22 years behind bars after defending government opponents.
Mr Mandela, perhaps the most iconic and respected human rights defender, was released after 27 years following global opposition to his incarceration. Similar efforts by civil society and sustained public pressure are needed to secure the freedom of rights defenders currently facing long sentences.
“We urge people across the world to demand the release of brave activists in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign: sign a petition, use our hashtag on social media, or lobby your government. It is scandalous that those fighting for justice and equality have spent even one day in prison, never mind many years,” said Kode.
Sustained action from different sources can make a difference; since its launch two years ago, #StandAsMyWitness has worked with human rights organisations and civil society to guarantee the release of 20 human rights defenders.
They include activist Teresita Naul from the Philippines, released in October after many awareness-raising efforts by civil society; Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, freed in June last year after nearly five years of civil society campaigning and diplomatic pressure from democratic governments; and women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from Saudi Arabia, released after 1000 days in 2021 following a prominent global campaign demanding her release.
South Africa’s iconic former president spent 27 years behind bars before his release. Let’s work together to make sure human rights defenders currently languishing in prison are not forgotten - let’s fight for their freedom together. They are urging you to: Stand As My Witness.
Below is a list of the human rights defenders featured in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign. To find out how to get involved, check out CIVICUS’s campaign webpage: Stand As My Witness.
- Eswatini: Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube - MPs who campaigned for democratic reform
- Hong Kong: Chow Hang-Tung - pro-democracy activist, sentenced for organising unauthorised Tiananmen Square Massacre commemoration vigil
- India: Khurram Parvez - Kashmiri rights activist; listed in Time magazine’s 100 ‘Most Influential People 2022’
- Belarus: Viasna Human Rights Defenders - members of Viasna human rights centre; jailed for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression
- Tajikistan: Buzurgmehr Yorov - human rights lawyer representing members of the opposition; recipient of Homo Homini human rights prize
- Mexico: Kenia Hernandez - Indigenous and women’s rights activist; arrested after protest
- Nicaragua: Maria Esperanza Sanchez Garcia - targeted for her civic activism
- Nicaragua: Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena - opposition activists initially sentenced to more than 200 years in prison after taking part in anti-government protests
MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA:
- Algeria: Kamira Nait Sid - Indigenous and women’s rights activist campaigning for the rights of the Amazigh people in Algeria
- Bahrain: Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja - detained after democracy protests in 2011; recipient of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award 2022 for human rights defenders
- Egypt: Hoda Abdel Moneim - human rights lawyer and former member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights
- Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh - human rights lawyer specialising in the rights of women, children and human rights defenders
- United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor - on the advisory boards for Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights; imprisoned for publishing information on social media
Adoption of Papua New Guinea's Universal Periodic Review
Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Papua New Guinea
Delivered by Lisa Majumdar
Thank you, Mr President.
Transparency International PNG, PIANGO and CIVICUS welcome the government of Papua New Guinea's engagement with the UPR process, although we regret its late response to recommendations.
Space for civil society remains significantly obstructed in Papua New Guinea. Human rights defenders (HRDs) face legal persecution such as arrest and detention as well as harassment, intimidation, threats and violence, including from companies that they criticise. The risk is greatest for HRDs who challenge vested political, social and economic interests, especially land and environmental HRDs.
Many journalists have reported intimidation aimed at influencing coverage of government figures and by agents of members of parliament. Just last month, long-standing and experienced news manager Sincha Dimara was suspended by her news outlet, allegedly following a request from the authorities.
There is no freedom of information legislation in Papua New Guinea and no domestic laws or policies to recognise and protect HRDs, who, along with journalists, continue to face harassment for undertaking their work.
Defamation laws, such as the Defamation Act 1962 and defamation sections in the Cybercrime Act, have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and political discourse.
Our organisations call on the Government of Papua New Guinea to take concrete steps to address these concerns, including by:
- Reviewing and amending criminal defamation provisions in the Cybercrime Act to ensure that it is in line with ICCPR article 19 and international law and standards;
- Ensuring that journalists and writers can work freely and without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions or exposing abuses or corruption by the authorities and companies;
- Ensuring that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance;
- Establishing an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.
We thank you.
Civic space in Papua New Guinea is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor
Advocacy priorities at the 52nd Session of UN Human Rights Council
As a global civil society alliance with a mandate to strengthen citizen action and civil society throughout the world, CIVICUS’ key priorities and recommendations ahead of the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (27 February to 4 April) relate to protecting fundamental freedoms and supporting civil society where they face grave risk.
AFGHANISTAN: ‘The international response has been extremely weak and shameful’
CIVICUS speaks with activist Arzak Khan, about the situation in Afghanistan following the takeover by the Taliban. Arzak is a digital rights expert with extensive experience in the use of innovation to influence social change and he has been working to assist Afghan human rights defenders. While some activists, journalists and others who were at risk of reprisals from the Taliban because of their work were able to leave the country, many others have not been able to and have gone into hiding. There have been reports of activists facing systematic intimidation. Afghanistan is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watchlist of countries experiencing a rapid decline in civic freedoms
What is the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover?
On 15 August 2021, the Taliban entered the Afghan capital of Kabul, completing a rapid takeover with a speed that surprised many Afghans and the country’s neighbours. Following the fall of Kabul, the situation in the country has been uncertain. Prices for basic food items are increasing, people are becoming jobless, single mothers have been made redundant from jobs and a lot of uncertainty exists over girls’ education.
Already a number of cases of human rights violations have been reported, and brutal crackdowns on protests and the women’s movement are taking place. The excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by Taliban security forces as they crack down on protests have been highlighted by both traditional and social media since the fall of Kabul. It is important to remember that when the Taliban last ruled in the 1990s, women had to cover themselves fully, from head to toe, and were not allowed to walk outside without being escorted by a male family member.
Afghan women have now realised that those dark days are not behind and are taking to the streets to advocate for women’s rights and demand equality, justice and democracy. The Taliban have fired teargas and used batons to break up their protests. Journalists who have covered protests have been jailed and tortured. Such actions highlight the rapidly deteriorating state of civic freedoms and the need to ensure that civic space is defended at all costs.
What kinds of risks do civil society activists and organisations currently face?
In their first news conference after taking charge of Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban promised women’s rights, media freedom and amnesty for former government officials. However, there is a high degree of hostility towards activists and civil society organisations (CSOs), and Taliban security forces on the ground have often accused them of spying for foreign governments.
The more radical parts of the Taliban feel that because CSOs and activists cooperated with parties to the conflict, they are legitimate targets and should be punished for their role. CSO offices have been raided; all records, equipment and fixtures have been taken away. Many activists fear for their lives as the regime targets people from CSOs that have been vocal on important issues, such as women’s rights, LGBTQI+ rights and human rights in general.
Due to increased threats against human rights defenders and activists, many have gone into hiding or are trying to flee the county. Even if the Taliban regime chooses not to target CSOs, activists and human rights defenders, it remains to be seen if they can provide a secure environment and prevent attacks from other actors, such as Islamic State-Khorasan – the local branch of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan – and other rogue elements.
Are journalists currently able to report on the situation on the ground?
To be honest, press freedom does not exist in Afghanistan any more. Absolute disregard for press and media freedoms is visible in the violent retaliation against journalists and media workers covering the recent protests. Images of the arrest and brutal flogging of two reporters who were detained while covering a women’s rights demonstration in Kabul is just once such incident that has been publicised globally. The senior Taliban leadership claims that journalists are not being attacked or tortured, but there’s a big difference between the Taliban on the media, who are more moderate and articulate, and the Taliban in the streets, who are uneducated, trigger happy and outright violent. Journalists and media outlets are unable to report the situation on the ground due to mounting pressure from local Taliban militias. Many journalists have been threatened with images of beheading to stop them reporting atrocities on ground.
How have you been supporting civil society and activists?
The stunningly swift collapse of the Afghan state created a situation of panic even for someone who has been closely monitoring the political developments in the country. Given the rapid response that was needed, I was able to quickly assess the situation on the ground and mobilise our partners to support Afghan activists, journalists and advocates for women’s rights to identify escape routes and lobby for securing visas, flights, or any kind of way out of Afghanistan to safe locations.
Everything had to be done swiftly as there was high risk that these individuals and their families might be targeted by the Taliban because of their affiliation with international organisations. Assistance for healthcare, including mental health support to overcome trauma and terror, especially for women and children, had to be arranged for people escaping the regime.
What do you think of the response by the international community so far?
Despite urgent warnings from activists and civil society groups about the risks that human rights defenders, activists, marginalised communities and women would face under the Taliban, the international response to support our work has been extremely weak and shameful. It seems that states that over the past two decades played a critical role that led to civil society gains are now ready to sacrifice the blood and sweat of the people who worked to bring change to Afghanistan.
On 7 October 2021, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create a Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan. The resolution fell short of civil society demands for the establishment of an international monitoring and accountability mechanism. It is crucial that UN member states support the adoption of a resolution to create an independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority, that they support civic space freedoms and ensure that CSOs and activists are allowed to operate without fear of torture or death, and that the Taliban regime is held accountable for its actions.
What else can international civil society and the international community do to support Afghan civil society?
Civic space has been under attack in the South Asia region, and in Afghanistan it has become violent. To counter this trend, transnational actors that support civil society need to respond in a multi-dimensional manner. Unfortunately, the international response since the fall of Kabul seems stuck: some useful efforts have been undertaken, but they appear too limited, loosely focused and reactive rather than strategic and long-term.
The international community and donor agencies should exert diplomatic pressure on the Taliban regime so it commits to protecting civic space in line with international human rights norms. They should establish emergency funds for persecuted rights activists and organisations and offer operational support to CSOs. Funders should also continue to expand flexible funding strategies to overcome legal barriers and help CSOs operate in hostile environments, working with intermediaries that can reach a wider range of partners and reducing grantees’ administrative burdens.
For now, the future looks very uncertain. How the Taliban regime will react in the coming months is the million-dollar question. Between hope and hopelessness, I wish that peace can prevail, and that the international community does not turn its back on the people of Afghanistan, who have been victims of global powers’ regional dominance.
Civic space inAfghanistan is rated ‘repressed’by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Afghanistan: Joint call for immediate end to attacks against HRDs & need for protection & accountability
The threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and media workers in Afghanistan must end – the undersigned international human rights organisations said.
From September 2020 until May 2021, a total of 17 human rights defenders have been killed, including nine journalists, based on information compiled by the Afghan Human Rights Defenders Committee (AHRDC). Nine of those killed were in the first five months of this year. During this period, over 200 human rights defenders and media representatives reported that they were receiving serious threats to the AHRDC and the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee. A report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in February 2021, noted that 65 media practitioners and human rights defenders have been killed since 2018. In most of these cases, no perpetrators have been held to account. These attacks are aimed at silencing peaceful dissent and those working on human rights, especially women’s rights, as well as those seeking justice and accountability for human rights violations. The timing of escalating attacks against human rights defenders, activists, and journalists appears to be linked to the ongoing peace process between the Government of Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban.
It is vital to uphold and prioritize freedom of expression during this critical time in Afghanistan and for its future. The progress made on creating safe space for human rights defenders especially women human rights defenders and journalists is at stake with the United States and NATO forces’ full withdrawal announcement from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021. The attack targeting school children in Kabul on 8 May, is a devastating reminder of escalating violence against civilians, especially against women and girls. The international community, as stakeholders of the current political processes, including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and NATO member States, should under international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law, protect the rights of all, especially those being targeted such as human rights defenders and civil society activists. However, with the announcement of unconditional withdrawal and no progress on the peace process, the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders and journalists do not seem to be a priority.
The lack of respect for International Humanitarian Law and the absence of accountability for attacks against human rights defenders and activists, have only increased the danger to defenders and emboldened perpetrators. Afghan authorities and the international community must call on all parties to stop using civilian targets for military gains and safeguard the progress in human rights made over the last two decades and ensure that they are not scaled back as a result of the ongoing negotiations.
Civil society members, women human rights defenders, and journalists are systematically threatened and attacked for the work they carry out. Those working outside the capital are especially exposed to serious threats due to the lack of support available in Kabul and through some international networks and embassies. Many of these defenders have had to relocate within Afghanistan and, in some cases, even temporarily leave the country with their families for safety concerns. Defenders fear publicly denouncing attacks they are subjected to due to concerns over the security and sustainability of their work. This demonstrates the immense pressure under which Afghan defenders, activists, and journalists are forced to live and work.
State mechanisms for the protection of defenders including the recently appointed Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders have yet to be operationalized. The government has failed to adequately respond to complaints of threats and early warning signals of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists. Defenders are faced with the impossible choice of balancing their commitment to work in their country with threats against themselves and their families. We call on the Government of Afghanistan to take greater responsibility to ensure the safety and security of defenders, activists, and journalists, and to end impunity for the attacks against them.
Women human rights defenders, journalists, and minority groups in Afghanistan have been among the worst affected. Many women defenders have been compelled to relocate internally or outside the country, stop their work, or stay at home. Attacks on women defenders have included harassment of family members and colleagues. Women who have campaigned for years for equal rights, and equal participation in public spaces, including the peace process, have found themselves under attack in reprisals against them for their work.
The Government of Afghanistan and international stakeholders and facilitators in the ongoing peace process must take responsibility through their conduct and engagement in the country to stop the increase in violent attacks against human rights defenders. Rights groups and the United Nations have consistently called for the effective participation of civil society representatives, especially women human rights defenders, in the peace process given its huge impact on security on the ground. Despite this, and even though rights groups and women defenders have worked continuously to engage with the peace process, the Moscow summit in March 2021 did not see effective representation of women. A peace process, or negotiation, that fails to include women representatives adequately and effectively, and in parallel engages with the Taliban without benchmarks on human rights, undermines women’s safety and progress made on human rights over the past years. Much more must be done to ensure that the peace process takes into account the threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks occurring in the country and to ensure that it does not exacerbate people’s suffering.
The crisis unfolding in the country requires a strong commitment to direct engagement and support for Afghan defenders to work and live in safety and dignity. It requires the international community to proactively support those defenders who have worked to promote and protect human rights, at great personal cost. As human rights organizations focusing on the protection of human rights defenders, we call for an effective protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Afghanistan. We, therefore, call on the Government of Afghanistan and relevant international actors to take the following measures:
- The newly established government-led Joint Commission must deliver on its objectives to provide effective protection to human rights defenders at risk. We call for access to information on the measures that the Joint Commission has taken so far to provide immediate protection to defenders, investigate the threats against them, and bring suspected perpetrators to justice.
- Ensure that human rights standards and the protection of human rights defenders are articulated as key benchmarks for any sustainable peace process. The Taliban and others targetting civilians and human rights defenders must immediately halt violence and prioritize intra-Afghan peace talks as a way to ensure sustainable peace.
- Offer human rights defenders immediate practical support on the ground at all levels, including through diplomatic and political channels.
- Actively ensure justice and redress for violence and threats against defenders especially by local authorities and law enforcement to ensure prompt responses to security threats.
- Establish a national monitoring mechanism, and an impartial and independent mechanism internationally to investigate the killings of human rights defenders, journalists, clarifying the circumstances in which the defenders were killed, expeditiously bringing those responsible to justice.
- Collaborate with human rights defenders and civil society organisations for designing and implementing robust protection policies with a gender perspective and an intersectional approach.
- Ensure effective representation of human rights defenders, especially women, in any peace process that has a bearing on their security, including but not limited to the peace process. Participation must include guarantees of safety and effective and equitable representation of views.
- Amnesty International
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- World Organisation Against Torture
- (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Front Line Defenders
- South Asians for Human Rights
- Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia & Pacific
- Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
For further information, please contact:
- Front Line Defenders: Adam Shapiro, Head of Communications & Visibility – - +1-202-294-8813
- South Asians for Human Rights: Anushaya Collure, Programme Coordinator – +94)-11-2695910
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) - .
- Amnesty International: Samira Hamidi, Regional Campaigner,
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation: Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher -
- FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: Juliette Rousselot, +33 (0)6 81 72 10 73,
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications - - +41 79 539 4106
- Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia & Pacific -
- Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: Tessa Cerisier <>;
Afghanistan: UN and Member States must take urgent steps to protect civil society
🇦🇫#Afghanistan: UN & Member States must take urgent steps to protect civil society in the country.— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) August 18, 2021
The #Taliban have already begun carrying out raids on the homes of activists. Our statement: https://t.co/dOfHDMeFra pic.twitter.com/sA3ss79FPc
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance is deeply concerned about the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and staff of civil society organisations in Afghanistan following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the takeover by the Taliban.
As called for by UN experts, we urge UN member states to take immediate steps to protect them as well as urgently call for a Special Session at the Human Rights Council on Afghanistan which will include a discussion on the speedy establishment of a fact-finding mission to be deployed to assess the situation on the ground and report back.
The Taliban have a track record of abusing human rights, coordinating reprisals against their critics and attacking civilians with impunity. Following the takeover of Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes. Human rights defenders trying to leave the country have also been prevented from boarding planes as foreign missions have prioritised evacuating their own nationals and staff. Others have gone into hiding and fear for their lives.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concerns about early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women.
“The crisis unfolding in Afghanistan requires an urgent and resolute response from the UN and member states. Proactive steps must be taken to ensure the security and protection of human rights defenders especially women. Many are at risk of being targeted by the Taliban because of their work and there must be efforts taken to evacuate and resettle them and their families,” said CIVICUS’s Civic Space Researcher, Josef Benedict.
CIVICUS has documented attacks on civil society by the Taliban in recent years. Human rights defenders particularly women have been facing threats for undertaking their work and some have been abducted and killed. Many have had to relocate due to safety concerns even as perpetrators have not been held accountable. Recent peace negotiations failed to adequately and effectively include civil society, especially women human rights defenders.
According to information compiled by the Afghan Human Rights Defenders’ Committee (AHRDC) 17 human rights defenders were killed between September 2020 and May 2021 alone. Over 200 human rights defenders and media representatives reported receiving serious threats. In light of the present conflict conditions and political instability, these threats have magnified.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ on 16 August urged the international community to speak in one voice to uphold human rights in Afghanistan is a step in the right direction.
“The UN Security Council must seize the current opportunity to quickly restart the stalled intra-Afghan peace talks and ensure effective representation of civil society especially women. It must also call on the Taliban to respect international human rights law, protect civilians, and end reprisal attacks”, said Josef Benedict.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Afghanistan as Repressed.
ALGERIA: ‘The authorities are arresting human rights defenders to suffocate civil society’
CIVICUS speaks about the situation of human rights and civic freedoms in Algeria with Rachid Aouine, Director for SHOAA for Human Rights.
SHOAA for Human Rights is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at supporting and protecting human rights in Algeria. Founded in 2020 and based in London, UK, it raises human rights awareness and monitors, documents and denounces abuses committed against citizens by those in power.
What is the current situation of human rights and civic space in Algeria?
As a result of the escalation of repressive practices by the Algerian authorities, human rights are in a critical state. Arbitrary arrests have increased, targeting journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists and political activists associated with political parties linked to the Hirak protest movement for their exercise of the rights to the freedoms of association, expression, belief and peaceful assembly. In recent months they have been criminalised in an unprecedented way.
The authorities are unjustly prosecuting people for their alleged association with the political opposition movements Rachad and the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie, which in May 2021 were designated as ‘terrorist organisations’ by the High Security Council. This is a consultative body chaired by the president. It has also blamed these organisations for the devastating forest fires that overtook north-eastern Algeria in August 2021 and the murder of activist and artist Djamel Bensmaïl while he was in police custody. It announced it would intensify efforts to arrest their members until their ‘total eradication’.
Since early 2021, prosecutions on bogus terrorism charges have proliferated alarmingly. For those convicted of these charges, the Penal Code dictates sentences ranging from one year in jail to lifelong imprisonment and the death penalty.
Of course, those arrested and prosecuted have seen their due process and fair trial guarantees systematically violated.
A new wave of arrests started in February 2022. Why are the authorities targeting human rights defenders in such large numbers?
The Algerian authorities are arresting human rights defenders to suffocate civil society. Human rights defenders are the only limit to their power, because they are the only ones defending and advocating for human rights in Algeria. Their elimination would effectively end the flow of information about the human rights violations they commit to the outside world.
Rather than addressing the problems that civil society denounces, the authorities are attacking those advocating for change, because they view change as a threat and a limitation to their power. To cover up the ongoing human rights violations, they are using systematic repression, specifically targeting human rights defenders and the exercise of the freedom of expression.
Three years after the Hirak protests, the authorities continue to restrict protests. What tactics of suppression do they use?
Indeed, three years after Hirak (which stands for ‘movement’ in Arabic) peacefully pushed for political change and forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, at least 300 activists, many of them associated with Hirak, are being held by the authorities.
Through presidential decrees, the Algerian authorities have recently enacted new legislation hostile to the freedoms of expression and assembly. In June 2021, the Penal Code was amended by presidential decree, leading to the expansion of an already too broad definition of terrorism. People are now being accused of crimes such as ‘offending public bodies’, ‘spreading false information’, ‘membership of a terrorist group’, ‘apology for terrorism’, and ‘conspiracy against state security’. A Facebook post may lead to charges such as ‘using information technologies to spread terrorist ideas’ and ‘disseminating information that could harm the national interest’. Even a simple remittance is listed as an act of treason.
All human rights defenders and advocates who fall under the thumb of these new laws, in particular articles 87 bis and 95 bis of the Penal Code, are automatically slapped with vague charges such as ´undermining national unity’ as well as bogus terrorism-related charges. Despite the presentation of evidence of their innocence by their defence, judicial authorities impose the verdicts sought by the authorities.
The authorities are also accusing pro-Hirak CSOs of allegedly holding activities contrary to the objectives listed in the Law on Associations and in their own by-laws. On this basis, some of them have been dissolved, including Rassemblement Action Jeunesse and the cultural association SOS Beb El Oued, whose president was sentenced to a year in prison for ‘undermining national unity and national interest’ in connection with the association’s activities.
Political activists and leaders of parties linked to Hirak are also punished for ‘crimes’ such as ‘calling for a gathering’, and parties are accused of not complying with the Law on Political Parties by organising ‘activities outside the objectives stipulated in its by-laws’. This happened, for example, after several activists gathered to discuss the establishment of a united front against repression.
What needs to change in Algeria?
Civil society must be preserved while there is still something left. Civil society plays a major role in any movement for change. When CSOs are absent or disabled, people are left without protection and guidance. This is especially true in efforts to avoid violence and prevent human rights violations; when a society is devoid of CSOs, people lack guidance in knowing what steps to take and human rights violations go unaccounted for. Civil society associations, centres and bodies are key for framing the protest movement – to provide it with structure, strategy and a goal.
If nothing is done about it, the authorities will continue repressing independent civil society and the human rights situation will worsen. If nothing is done, the goal of democracy and respect for human rights will float further and further away, until it’s completely out of reach.
How can international civil society support Algerian civil society in its struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms?
Algerian civil society cannot achieve its goals on its own; it needs cooperation and support from the international community. To address human rights violations and promote democratic freedoms in Algeria, domestic civil society must establish relationships of cooperation and work jointly with international organisations.
Algerian civil society can develop an effective strategy by opening international lines of communication and becoming a major source of information on the real conditions of human rights on the ground. On the basis of this information, international organisations can help activate international monitoring mechanisms and put pressure for change on Algerian authorities.
Algeria: Critically-ill activist Abdallah Benaoum must be immediately released
The Algerian authorities have accelerated the arbitrary detention and prosecution of activists and journalists amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, most recently refusing requests to provisionally release and provide adequate medical care for Algerian activist Abdallah Benaoum, imprisoned solely for his critical views of the authorities' crackdown on Hirak protests, ten national, regional and international groups said today, ahead of his trial scheduled on 27 October. Lawyers and family members fear for Benaoum’s life.
Abdallah Benaoum has been in pre-trial detention for eleven months for Facebook posts he published criticizing the authorities and opposing the holding of presidential elections. He is in urgent need of a heart surgery that authorities are denying by his continuous unlawful detention and their refusal to grant him access to the medical care he requires.
On 28 May 2019, human rights defender Kamel Eddine Fekhar died in custody at the age of 55 after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his unlawful detention for expressing views critical of the government and his prison conditions. On 11 December 2016, British-Algerian freelance journalist Mohamed Tamalt, 41, died in custody in a hospital in Algiers, following a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment during his imprisonment for Facebook posts "offending" then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
To avoid a similar fate for Abdullah Benaoum, the undersigned organisations call on Algeria to abide by its commitments under international human rights law, release Benaoum immediately and unconditionally, and allow him to undergo his heart surgery in accordance with his wishes.
Police in Oued Rhiou, a town in Relizane province, arrested Benaoum and another activist, Khaldi Ali, on 9 December 2019, three days before contentious presidential elections. A prosecutor in the Relizane First Instance Tribunal charged both men with "insulting state institutions," "undermining the integrity of the national territory," "harming national interest," “undermining army morale,” “attempting to pressure judges on pending cases” and "incitement to an unarmed gathering" under Articles 146, 79, 97, 75, 147 and 100 of the Penal Code.
None of these charges are legitimate offences under international human rights law since they impose undue restrictions to the right to freedom of expression. The case file indicates that the prosecutor presented as evidence videos and publications found on Benaoum's personal Facebook account, in which he called for the boycott of presidential elections, writing "no to military elections," "Hirak students in all governorates are faced with the harshest repression." In the posts he also criticized the light sentencing of a police officer for the killing of a young man in Oued Rhiou. The prosecutor submitted this as evidence that Benaoum was inciting disobedience and undermining state security.
On the day of his trial on 16 July, Benaoum was unable to stand on his feet and talk, according to his lawyer. The judge eventually agreed to call a doctor three hours after the opening of the trial. The doctor concluded that Benaoum was unfit to stand trial. However, despite this, the judge refused his lawyer's request for provisional release. On 2 September, the judge again rejected another petition for his provisional release. The hearing is now scheduled for 27 October.
Benaoum suffers from a heart condition – atherosclerosis - which can lead to a heart attack and requires urgent medical intervention. He underwent a first heart surgery in 2018, but his health condition started to deteriorate after an incarceration later that year and deteriorated further after his latest arrest in December 2019. Doctors established that he needed a second surgery.
In a hand-written letter submitted to his lawyers on 4 September 2020, the activist complained of poor medical care and ill-treatment in detention.
The authorities have denied multiple requests for provisional release on the motive that the allegations against him constitute serious crimes. Authorities have been transferring Benaoum back and forth between a prison in Relizane near his hometown and two prisons in the Oran province, at 160 km from his place of residence, which has further deteriorated his health. He is currently detained in the Oran central prison.
Denying a prisoner much-needed medical care violates the rights to health and to life and may amount to torture and other ill-treatment in certain circumstances. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules, require states to ensure that people in detention can enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, adequate or appropriate and timely medical care must be provided to all detainees as part of state duties. Similarly, according to Algerian law, “the right to medical care is guaranteed for all categories of detainees. Medical services are provided to inmates, in the establishment's infirmary or, if necessary, in any other health structures.”
Pre-trial detention must be an exceptional measure and based on an individualised determination that it is reasonable and necessary, specified in law and without vague and expansive standards. The Algerian authorities have failed to justify the need for the imposition of this measure, notably against a prisoner of conscience whose health and life are at risk. The decision to hold Benaoum in pre-trial detention despite the circumstances contravenes article 123 of the Algerian Code of Criminal Procedure as well as Algeria’s obligations under international human rights law.
The National Union of Magistrates has denounced the pervasive and abusive recourse to pre-trial detention as well as the lack of independence of the justice system from executive authorities, in a country where members of the judiciary have been sanctioned professionally for working independently or calling for judicial independence.
The authorities’ refusal to release him also runs counter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recommendation to release detainees to contain the spread of COVID-19, notably those who have underlying medical conditions and those held simply for expressing dissenting views. The recent death of two detainees and the infection of at least eight others illustrates the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in in Algeria’s prisons.
Benaoum’s lawyers and his mother were not able to visit him on 1st and 2nd October 2020. Prison authorities claimed to his family that Benaoum himself had refused visits and claim he is refusing medical care. According to his lawyers, however, this is inconsistent with Benaoum’s request not to stop visiting him, which he wrote in a hand-written letter on 4 September, and the activist only requested for his doctor, who did his first surgery in 2018, to be able to supervise the second surgery. In July, in another letter, Benaoum complained of isolation from the outside world and difficult prison conditions. The activist had not been able to receive any family visits from March to September 2020 due to restrictions related to COVID-19.
Benaoum had only been free for five months before his new arrest in December 2019. The activist was incarcerated between April 2018 and June 2019 on charges of "offending the President of the republic" and "reviving the wounds of the national tragedy" under article 46 of the Law on Peace and National Reconciliation of 2006, which prohibits publications about the Algerian civil war. He was conditionally released following a request from his lawyers, 10 months before the end of his sentence. In 2013, Benaoum had also been the subject of two communications from UN Special Procedures in relation to arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force.
- Amnesty International
- Article 19
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- CGATA (General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria)
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Riposte Internationale
- SNAPAP (Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel)
- SESS (Solidarity Union of Higher Education Teachers)
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
An Urgent Call to Release Human Rights Defenders in Honour of Nelson Mandela Day
Dear World Leaders,
On Nelson Mandela Day, civil society organisations across the globe call on you to release imprisoned human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.
Like Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid, there are thousands of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience wrongfully accused and in jail around the world. They have been imprisoned for seeking gender, social, political, economic and environmental justice, for defending excluded people, and for promoting democratic values.
Many of these human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience are serving sentences for crimes they never committed, after being convicted in unfair trials. Our organisations have for several years documented the unlawful jail terms handed down to human rights defenders in several countries.
We are particularly concerned that the authorities in many countries continue to detain human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognise the governments of Iran, Ethiopia, Turkey, Bahrain and Cameroon for releasing prisoners as part of their response to this unprecedented health crisis. However, not many human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience were included, and it is now more urgent than ever to release them.
There are also hundreds of human rights defenders who remain in pretrial detention who have not been charged or tried. Overcrowding and poor sanitation in jails increase the risk of COVID-19 infection and should be strong factors for the reduction of prison populations.
We also urge you to stop the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in jail solely for reporting on human rights violations during the pandemic. Although COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted in some parts of the world, some countries have used the pandemic as a pretext to restrict civic freedoms. Journalists and human rights defenders have been physically assaulted and subjected to arbitrary detention and judicial persecution for reporting on the virus.
We need human rights defenders now more than ever. It is their duty to hold governments to account, to ensure states respect international human rights laws during the pandemic, and to tackle environmental degradation and inequalities that have accelerated the impact of COVID-19.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, recently said:
“Governments are facing huge demands on resources in this crisis and are having to take difficult decisions. But I urge them not to forget those behind bars, or those confined in places such as closed mental health facilities, nursing homes and orphanages, because the consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic.”
Sadly, some imprisoned human rights defenders have died under suspicious circumstances in various countries during the pandemic.
As we commemorate Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July, we remember that Mr. Mandela urged all of us to take on the burden of leadership in addressing social injustices. We call on you to give millions of families, friends and colleagues of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience around the world a reason to renew their hope for a better future during these unprecedented times.
We urge you to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in jail solely for their peaceful human rights activities, and stop all judicial persecution against them.
- Prioritise and release detainees who have not been charged, and those held in pretrial detention.
- Stop carrying out new arrests and detentions, particularly on journalists and activists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, and those accused of breaking lockdown regulations.
1. A Common Future 2. A.C. Reforma Judicial 3. Abraham's Children Foundation 4. ACPDH 5. ACSIS 6. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture 7. Action D'urgence pour Toute Détresse 8. Action for Humanity and Social Progress 9. Action pour la Lutte Contre l'Injustice Sociale 10. Action pour le Développement 11. Action To Heal Foundation Sierra Leone 12. Actions pour la Protection des Femmes 13. Active Vision 14. Admiral development organization 15. Adolescents Initiatives Support Organization 16. Afghanistan Democracy and Development Organization 17. Africa Intercultural Development Support Trust 18. Africa Rise Foundation 19. African Center for Solidarity and mutual Aid between the Communities CASEC - ACSAC 20. AFRICAN FOUNDATION FOR ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT - AFED 21. African Holocaust 22. African Observatory Of Civic Freedoms And Fundamental Rights OCFFR-AFRICA 23. AJBDEM DURABLE 24. ALUCHOTO 25. Amis des Étrangers au Togo 26. Amnesty International 27. Asia Pacific Forum on Families International 28. Association des blogueurs pour une citoyennetÃ active 29. Association Femmes et Enfants 30. Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives Trust 31. Association for Health, Safety and Environmental Awareness International 32. Association pour les droits de l'Homme et l'Univers Carcéral 33. Association pour les victimes du monde 34. Association pour l'Integration et le Developpement Durable Durable au Burundi, AIDB 35. ASUTIC Senegal 36. Avenir Jeune de l'Ouest 37. AWHES 38. Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights 39. Banjul Youth in Community Services 40. Banlieues Du Monde Mauritanie 41. Bareedo Platform Somalia 42. Bella Foundation for Child and Maternal Care 43. Bousla Organisation 44. BRIGHTER FUTURE FOUNDATION 45. Burundi Child Rights Coalion 46. CAHURAST-Nepal Campaign Against Ignorance and Illiteracy 48. Capellanes conacce 49. CAPTE - Uruguay Silvia FLORES MOSQUERA 50. CareMe E-clinic 51. CEAMUJER 52. Center for the Development of Civil Society 53. Centre d'Initiatives et d'Actions pour le Développement durable au Burundi 54. Centre for Human Rights and Social Advancement CEFSAN 55. Centre Oecuméniquepour la Promotion du Monde Rural 56. Centro para la Acción Noviolenta y Cultura de Paz en CentroamÃrica 57. CESPHA 58. ChildHelp Sierra Leone 59. Circles of Hope Community Support Group for PLHIVAIDS 60. CIVICUS 61. Commonwealth Society of Nigeria 62. Cooperation for Peace and Development 63. Corporacion Regional Yariguies GEAM 64. COSAD BENIN 65. Differentabilities 66. DISCOURAGE YOUTHS FROM POVERTY 67. Domestic workers Union 68. DreamBoat Theatre for Development Foundation 69. Droits de l'homme sans frontières 70. Edmund Rice International 71. Edo Civil society organisations 72. EIP 73. Fater Bibi Technologies 74. FCPEEP 75. FEDERATION DES FEMMES POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT INTEGRAL AU CONGO 76. FINESTE 77. Formidable Initiatives for Women and Girls 78. Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance 79. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights-Birati 80. Free political prisoners 81. FUNDACION SIMAS 82. Fundación T.E.A. Trabajo - Educación - Ambiente 83. FUTURE LEADERS SOCIETY 84. Global Witness 85. Give Hope Uganda 86. Governance and Forest Initiatives 87. GreenLight Initiative 88. Hadejia youth movement for social cohesion 89. Health NGO's Network 90. Healthy Choices Ic., 91. Human Rights Committee 92. Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons 93. IFAN 94. INSPIRIT Creatives UG NGO 95. Institute for Public Policy Analysis and Implementation 96. Integrated Agricultural Association-I,A,A 97. International Dalit Solidarity Network 98. International Falcon Movement - Socialist Educational International 99. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 100. Iraqi journalists right deafenc association 101. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 102. Justice Acess Point 103. JusticeMakers Bangladesh 104. Key Populations Alliance of Zambia 105. Khpal Kore Organization 106. Kibera Joy Initiative 107. Kumakomo Community Radio 108. Le Réseau Nigérien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains 109. Leadership initiative network for the Advancement of women and youth 110. Local Community Development Association 111. Lumiere Synergie Developpement 112. Maecenata Foundation 113. MAMAS FOR BURUNDI ASSOCIATION 114. Manna Development AGency 115. Marketplace 247 116. MFFPS 117. Millennium Sistahs Trinidad and Tobago Inc 118. Missing Link Uganda 119. Mouvement des Femmes et Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité au Burundi 120. Mouvement Populaire pour la Santé au Gay 121. Movement for Social Justice MSJ-4 122. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda 123. Network of Civil Society Organisations for Election Observation and Monitoring - ROSE 124. Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women 125. New Owerri Youth Organisation 126. NGO Collective for Food Security and Rural Development - COSADER 127. NGO CONSTRUISONS ENSEMBLE LE MONDE 128. NGO Defensoria Ambiental 129. NGOs Council ASDGC Kenya 130. Nipe Fagio 131. Nouveaux Droits de l'homme Congo Brazzaville 132. ONG ASSAUVET 133. ONG BAL'LAME 134. ONG Programa sociocultural CRP 135. Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations Network 136. PAMOJATWASIMAMA 137. Partenariat pour la Protection Integree 138. PAYNCOP 139. Peace and Life Enhancement Initiative International 140. PHY ORG 141. Plan international 142. Princegnf 143. Prisma European Network 144. Psychologues du Monde Afrique 145. ReacciÃ³n ClimÃ¡tica 146. Real Agenda For Youth Transformation Trust 147. REDHNNA-Red por los Derechos Humanos de los niños, niñas y adolescentes 148. REPONGAC 149. Research and Advocacy Unit 150. Root Change 151. Ruheso Tanzania 152. RUKIGA FORUM FOR DEVELOPMENT 153. Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization 154. Save Our Continent, Save Nigeria. 155. Save the Climat 156. Secours de la Femme Rurale au Developpement, Safrd 157. SHAKHI 'Friends of Women' 158. Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care 159. She's Writes 160. Sierra Leone School Green Clubs 161. Social Justice Forum 162. Social Mission Catalysts LLC 163. Solidarity health Foundation 164. Solidarity Youth Voluntary Organisation 165. SOS Jeunesse et Enfance en Détresse - SOS JED 166. South Sudan Civil Society Forum 167. Sustainable Develipment and Peace Building Initiatives 168. Tanzania Development Trust 169. Tanzania Peace Legal Aid and Justice Center PLAJC 170. Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai 171. the Wuhan election campaign 172. The Angelic Ladies Society 173. Transitional Justice Working Group 174. Tsoro-o-tso San Dev Trust 175. Ugonma Foundation 176. Ukana West 2 Community Based Health Initiative 177. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social- UNITAS 178. Unique Foundation The Gambia 179. Vijana Corps 180. Wacare Organization 181. Welfare Association for Development Alternative -WADA 182. Women Against Violence and Expediency Handling Initiative 183. Women Friendly 184. Women Working for Social Progress 185. World Federalist Movement Canada 186. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 187. WORLDLITE 188. Young Professional Development Society Nepal 189. Your Health Your Responsibility 190. Youth Alliance for Rural Development in Liberia Inc. 191. YOUTH AND ENVIRONMENT VISION 192. Youth Arm Organization 193. Youth For The Mission 194. Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana 195. YOUTHAID-LIBERIA 196. Zambian Governance Foundation 197. Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Campaign
ANGOLA: “The ruling party sees local elections as a threat”
View the original interview in Portuguese here
CIVICUS speaks about the situation in Angola with Pascoal Baptistiny, Executive Director of MBAKITA – Kubango Agricultural Benevolent Mission, Inclusion, Technologies and the Environment, a civil society organisation based in the Cuando Cubango province in southern Angola. Founded in 2002, MBAKITA defends the rights of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities, denounces the discrimination they suffer and the expropriation of their lands, and promotes a more just, democratic, participatory, tolerant, supportive, healthy and humane society.
What is the state of civic space in Angola, and what are the main constraints faced by Angolan activists?
The repression of civic space in Angola is one of the biggest challenges facing Angolan civil society today. Activists suffer arbitrary and illegal arrests, torture and ill-treatment, abductions, killings, harassment and disappearances by government forces, police and state intelligence services. This repression has made many Angolans careful about what they say in public. The few organisations that defend human rights in Angola often do so at great risk to the activists involved and their families.
Could you tell us about the restrictions you and your colleagues faced in 2020?
In 2020, my MBAKITA colleagues and I faced obstacles aimed at preventing, minimising, disrupting and reversing the impact of our organisation’s legitimate activities that focused on criticising, denouncing and opposing rights violations and ineffective government positions, policies and actions.
The various forms of restriction we experienced included arbitrary restrictions and the interruption of demonstrations and meetings; surveillance; threats, intimidation, reprisals and punishments; physical assaults; smear campaigns portraying MBAKITA members as ‘enemies of the state’ and mercenaries serving foreign interests; judicial harassment; exorbitant fines for the purchase of means of transport; burglary of our offices and theft of computer equipment; search and seizure of property; destruction of vehicles; the deprivation of employment and income; and travel bans.
In addition, 15 activists were arbitrarily detained and ill-treated during the COVID-19 prevention campaign. On 1 May my residence was invaded, and its guards were teargassed. On 16 November, two female activists were raped. Fatalities for the year included three of our activists and one protester.
What kind of work does MBAKITA do? Why do you think it has been targeted?
MBAKITA is an organisation that defends and promotes human rights. We work to promote, protect and disseminate universally recognised human rights and freedoms, and especially the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, the freedom of the press, the right to self-determination by Indigenous peoples, the rights to land, adequate food, clean water and the environment, and the fight against torture and ill-treatment.
We challenge violations of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of Indigenous and migrant people, ethnic and linguistic minorities, LGBTQI+ people and people with disabilities.
My organisation uses peaceful and non-violent means in its activities. However, we have faced incalculable risks as a result of our human rights work in the southern provinces of Angola.
MBAKITA has been systematically attacked for several reasons. First, because in 2018 we denounced the death of four children during Operation Transparency, an action against diamond trafficking and undocumented migrants carried out by the Angolan police and armed forces in the municipality of Mavinga, in the Cuando Cubango province. Second, because in 2019 we denounced the diversion of funds intended to support drought victims in Angola’s southern provinces by provincial governments. Third, because in April 2019, two activists of the organisation denounced the illegal appropriation of land by political businesspeople – generals, legislators and governors – in territories belonging to the San and Kuepe Indigenous minorities and used for hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits, which make up the diet of these groups. Fourth, because in February 2020 MBAKITA denounced the diversion of funds designated for the purchase of biosecurity products for the prevention of COVID-19 and the diversion of food destined for the Basic Food Basket Assistance Programme for Vulnerable Groups. Fifth, because we participated in and conducted an awareness-raising campaign on COVID-19, which included the distribution of biosecurity materials purchased with MISEREOR-Germany funds. And finally, because we participated in all demonstrations held by Angolan civil society, including the most recent one on 9 January 2021, focused on the fight against corruption and the demand for local elections, under the slogan ‘Local elections now, 45 years in power is too long!’ and for the fulfilment of various electoral promises, including those of 500,000 jobs, the reduction of the cost of living for families and the socio-economic inclusion of Indigenous minorities.
Why were the elections scheduled for 2020 cancelled?
For one thing, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But aside from this deadly pandemic, the government was never interested in holding local elections in 2020. The ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), sees local elections as a threat to central power and fears losing its grip on power. It fears introducing an element of voter control over local government, that is, citizen participation and control over the management of public funds. The government thinks that the people will wake up to the idea of the democratic state and the rule of law, and that many people will become aware of their rights and duties. This would run counter to the MPLA’s intention, which is to perpetuate itself in power.
The promise of local democracy in Angola has been a failure. Three years into his term in office, President João Lourenço has failed to deliver even 10 per cent of his electoral promises, leaving 90 per cent of Angolans in a state of total scepticism.
In Angola, the party that has been in power for more than 45 years does not tolerate free people. Today, human rights defenders lose their jobs, are unable to feed their children, lose their careers and even their lives if they dare to be free, to desire democracy and to exercise their freedom.
What are the prospects that the situation will change in the near future?
For the situation to change, civil society has a lot of work to do. The most important and urgent actions are acquiring training in individual, institutional and digital security, learning English, obtaining observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, observing and participating in demonstrations and other public events, advocating and lobbying for the legalisation of human rights organisations, conducting prison visits, including interviews with prisoners and gathering evidence of torture, ill-treatment and imprisonment conditions, observing trials of activists in the lower courts, fundraising for the sustainability of human rights defenders’ activities, and monitoring the 2021 local elections and the 2022 general elections.
What kind of support do Angolan activists need from international civil society to be able to continue their work?
Needs are enormous and varied. Activists urgently need protection and security, including training in risk analysis, security planning and international and regional human rights protection mechanisms, as well as skills in investigating, litigating, documenting, petitioning and reporting human rights violations. Specifically, MBAKITA would like to receive technical assistance to assess what security arrangements could be put in place to increase the physical protection of the organisation’s office and my residence, as well as financial support for the purchase of such arrangements, such as a security system or a video surveillance camera.
Assaulted activists, and especially the 15 MBAKITA activists who have been direct victims of repression and torture at the hands of government forces, also need post-traumatic psychological assistance. Financial assistance would help us pay the fees of the lawyers who worked for the release of six activists who were imprisoned between August and November 2020. It would also help us replace stolen work equipment, without which our ability to work has been reduced, including two vehicles, computers, memory cards, a digital camera and a camcorder.
In the case of activists threatened with arbitrary detention, kidnapping or assassination, who have no choice but to leave the country or their region of origin quickly, we need support for transportation and provisional accommodation. Our activists would also benefit from exchanges of experience, knowledge and good practice, opportunities to strengthen their knowledge of digital security, training in journalistic and audio-visual techniques and the acquisition of English language skills.
Finally, the operation of organisations and their sustainability would be helped by obtaining support for the installation of internet services and the creation of secure websites, the acquisition of financial management software and resources to recruit permanent staff, so that staff members are able to support their families and fully dedicate themselves to the defence of human rights.
Are Rising Attacks On Human Rights Defenders The ‘New Normal’?
By Mandeep Tiwana
At CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance working to strengthen citizen participation, we receive bad news of attacks on compatriots every day. In the past few years, with nauseating regularity, we’ve heard from colleagues who’ve been arbitrarily imprisoned, had their organisations’ starved of resources or have had their life’s work to create just, inclusive and sustainable societies ridiculed by crafty politicians.
Read on: Inter Press Service
Bahrain: End Degrading Treatment of Activists
Bahraini authorities’ treatment of wrongfully imprisoned detainees violates international standards on prisoner treatment and in some cases may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, a coalition of ten rights groups said today. The authorities should ensure that all detainees are treated with humanity and in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, including access to the adequate medical care they require and contact with their relatives.
Family members of 12 opposition activists or human rights defenders held in Building 7 of Jaw Prison have told rights groups that under new regulations the authorities shackle the men, many of them elderly and in poor health, whenever they leave their cells, including for medical visits. The men are serving long prison terms in connection with their prominent and peaceful roles in the pro-democracy uprising in February 2011.
“These new regulations degrade and humiliate prisoners who clearly pose no escape risk,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities can take reasonable measures to prevent escapes, but shackling infirm patients, many of them torture victims, clearly goes beyond any need for security.”
The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the groups said.
On April 12, 2017, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights defender held in Building 7, began a hunger strike to protest the new regulations at Jaw Prison, which the prisoners believe are a disproportionate response to the escape of 10 prisoners from another part of Jaw Prison on January 1.
In addition to the shackling, which has led the detainees to refuse to attend medical appointments in protest at what they perceive as degrading treatment, the authorities have cut visiting hours and the time for phone calls with their relatives.
Since the escape, which resulted in the death of a police officer, family members of the opposition and human rights activists and several other prisoners have told the rights groups that the authorities’ treatment of their relatives has worsened significantly.
Since March 1, authorities have shackled prisoners in Building 7 whenever they leave their cells. This practice is contrary to Rule 47 of the Mandela Rules, which states that restraint instruments should only be used as a precaution against escape or to prevent prisoners from injuring themselves or others. Family members of prisoners in other buildings have also told rights groups that their relatives are shackled whenever they leave their cells and that since the escape, their cells are locked most of the day, meaning that those without toilet in their cell have only limited access to toilets.
International human rights mechanisms have said that the use of restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute ill-treatment. The prison authorities appear willing to abide by some of the Nelson Mandela Rules by transferring patients requiring specialized treatment to specialized institutions or civil hospitals. But the disproportionate use of physical restraints is degrading and is preventing detainees from getting the health care they require.
Family members of Al-Khawaja, 56, told rights groups that he had an appointment with an eye specialist at the Bahrain Defense Forces military hospital on March 12 because of headaches and vision problems. But the prison administration insisted that he had to wear the prison uniform, have his legs and ankles shackled, and submit to full body strip search.
The family said he refused because of the humiliation involved. Al-Khawaja wrote to the prison authorities in March requesting a new medical appointment and to be allowed to go without a strip search and shackles, but has received no response. On April 12, he began a hunger strike. His family expressed concern about the impact of his hunger strike on his already deteriorating health and said that on April 15 he refused medical attention to address a low blood sugar level in protest at the regulations.
On April 20, Al-Khawaja began to take necessary liquids to avoid losing consciousness and being transferred to hospital, where he feared he would be force-fed, as in past hunger strikes. He suffers from exhaustion, general weakness, and dizziness. He has lost weight and his blood sugar remains low.
A family member of Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, 55, who requires crutches or a wheelchair as the result of polio and sickle-cell anemia, told rights groups that he refused to attend medical appointments, including a March 12 appointment with a hematologist and an appointment in early March to deal with a shoulder infection, because of the prison authorities’ insistence on shackling him with chains during the transfer.
Family members say that Mohamed Hassan Jawad, 69, and Hasan Mshaima, 69, have also refused essential medical appointments in protest over the authorities’ insistence that they be shackled and wear the prison uniform. Mshaima has heart problems and is a former cancer patient who requires regular checks-ups. His family said that he needs Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans every six months and that the last one was over eight months ago.
“These leading Bahraini political and human rights activists have suffered deteriorating health during their prolonged arbitrary detention since 2011,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. “Shackling these prisoners of conscience is not a legitimate prison security measure but is intended to degrade and humiliate them. The international community must not forget these long-term prisoners of conscience and should work to end their unjust and punitive detention.”
Since March 1, the prison administration has reduced all prosioners’ family visits from one hour to 30 minutes, once every two or three weeks, and that prisoners are now separated from their families by a glass barrier during visits. Since June 2016, phone calls to their families, which they are allowed to make up to three times per week, have been cut from 40 minutes to 30 minutes combined for all calls. On March 20, prison authorities stopped providing the detainees with toilet paper or tissues.
On March 1, the detainees in Building 7 and others in Jaw Prison began boycotting family visits in protest.
“These opposition activists are prisoners of conscience who should not have spent even a single day in prison,” said Lynn Maalouf, research director at Amnesty International’s Regional Office in Beirut. “The authorities must immediately put an end to the collective and arbitrary punishment of the entire Jaw prison population as a result of the escape of a group of prisoners; they must release all prisoners of conscience without delay and ensure all prisoners are treated humanely and receive the adequate medical treatment they require.”
Rule 36 of the Nelson Mandela Rules states that discipline and order shall be maintained with no more restriction than is necessary to ensure safe custody, the secure operation of the prison, and a well-ordered community life. Thus, while authorities can take steps to minimize the risk of further escapes, the measures they introduce must be proportionate, should not impinge on prisoners’ dignity, and should not unnecessarily aggravate the suffering inherent in the deprivation of liberty.
Any deliberate infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners should be investigated and those responsible held accountable.
Eleven of the 12 detainees in Building 7 were sentenced in trials that did not meet international standards on fair trials and convicted of crimes that included alleged involvement with a group whose purpose was to replace Bahrain’s monarchy with a republican form of government. The evidence produced against them at their trial consisted only of public statements advocating reforms to curtail the power of the ruling Al Khalifa family and “confessions” that were coerced while they were in incommunicado detention. The twelfth detainee, Sheikh Ali Salman, whose nine-year prison sentence was reduced to four years on April 3, was convicted in relation to peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, following a grossly unfair trial.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s report of November 2011 said that authorities subjected the group to a “discernible pattern of mistreatment,” including torture, after their arrests in some cases. Authorities have not provided physical or psychological rehabilitation for detainees who were tortured.
• Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
• Amnesty International
• Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
• Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
• CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
• English PEN
• European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
• Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
• Human Rights First
• Human Rights Watch
Bahrain: On 7th anniversary of beginning of popular movement, NGOs call for end to systematic targeting of human rights defenders and journalists
On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, the undersigned NGOs call on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and to stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Bangladesh: Drop all charges against human rights defenders from Odhikar
CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations, is seriously concerned over the ongoing judicial harassment against human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan. They will face their next hearing on 24 November 2021. If found guilty, both might be sentenced to up to ten years of imprisonment.