human rights defenders

 

  • Reprisals perpetrated with impunity risk weakening our human rights mechanisms

    Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 5: Interactive Dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you Secretary-General for this important report. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN, and acts of reprisal threaten to weaken this engagement.

    Acts of reprisals by members of this Council are particularly egregious. There are multiple allegations against China of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations that cooperated, or were perceived as cooperating, with the UN, in particular through their arbitrary detention. This must be addressed by this Council.

    A particularly disturbing trend highlighted in the report is that of legislation affecting the ability of civil society to engage with the UN, such as Nicaragua’s Law 140 on the Regulation of Foreign Agents, which means that organisations now risk their registration for receiving technical assistance or funding for service provision, research, reporting or advocacy. It is essential that a resolution by the Human Rights Council to address reprisals addresses this concerning pattern.

    An act of reprisal perpetrated by Cambodia against prominent Cambodian human rights defender and monk, Venerable Luon Sovath, during a debate held in the Human Rights Council’s 45th Session serves to illustrate the lack of political will of Cambodia to engage meaningfully with the Council. We urge States to ensure that this is reflected in any action taken by the Council on Cambodia.

    We further urge Member States to go beyond refraining from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, to addressing them. The time is overdue to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our collective human rights mechanisms.

    We thank you.

     

  • Request for support to free imprisoned HRD Dr Abduljalil AlSingace

    We, the undersigned human rights organisations, are writing to raise urgent concerns about Bahraini human rights defender Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, who has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021, to protest the confiscation of his academic research on Bahraini culture. He turns 60 on 15 January 2022. He has been in prison for over a decade in violation of his freedom of expression and assembly rights.

     

  • Rights Groups Urge Bahrain to Release Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, Jailed Academic on Hunger Strike

    Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, an imprisoned opposition activist and human rights defender, has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021. He is protesting against persistent ill-treatment at the hands of Jau Prison authorities, the main prison in Bahrain, restrictions imposed during COVID19 limiting prisoners contact to only five numbers, and to demand that a book he wrote in prison that was confiscated be immediately handed to his family, a coalition of 16 rights groups stated today.

    A respected academic and blogger, Dr AlSingace has spent the last decade in prison serving a life imprisonment sentence. He was amongst 13 opposition activists arrested between 17 March and 9 April 2011, including high-profile political opposition leaders, activists and human rights defenders, who were then convicted by a military tribunal for their roles in the 2011 pro-democracy protest movement.

    According to the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, Bahraini authorities placed Dr AlSingace in solitary confinement for two months and subjected him to torture following his arrest, including being repeatedly beaten and “sexually molested”.

    Dr AlSingace launched a hunger strike on 8 July 2021 in response to degrading treatment he was subjected to by a prison officer, to protest the restriction of being permitted to call only five numbers during the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, and to demand the return of his book, confiscated by prison guards on 9 April 2021, and on which he worked for at least four years. We understand the book to be a study of linguistic diversity among Bahraini Arabic dialects, without any political content, yet the book has not been returned despite repeated promises by prison authorities.

    On 19 July, the Office of the Public Prosecution referred AlSingace’s case to the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior (the Ombudsman). The statement from the Public Prosecution incorrectly provided that AlSingace’s hunger strike was also related to “the refusal of the [Jau’s Reformation and Rehabilitation] centre’s administration to allow him to contact his relatives”.

    According to the Ombudsman, who cleared the prison officials from any wrongdoing and accused Dr AlSingace for alleged “smuggling” of his own work, Dr Al Singace “was not subjected to mistreatment”. This conclusion was reached without Dr AlSingace’s testimony as he refused to be interviewed. Human Rights Watch has found that the Ombudsman has repeatedly failed to investigate credible allegations of prison abuse or to hold officials accountable. The UN Committee against Torture has also raised concerns that these bodies were neither independent nor effective.

    Although the Ombudsman states that prison authorities “did not intend to confiscate the papers”, it confirms “that the reason for [Dr AlSingace’s] hunger strike was the confiscation of the papers he wrote” and that his work cannot be returned until a “legal decision” is taken.

    Many imprisoned political leaders in Bahrain are older and suffer from pre-existing health conditions and consequences of their torture in 2011, which today make them particularly vulnerable to diseases like COVID-19. Dr AlSingace has several chronic illnesses, suffering from post-polio syndrome, vertigo, causing him to lose his balance and fall, a slipped disk in his back and neck, causing chronic pain, and paresthesia in his muscles and limbs. Consequently, AlSingace requires the use of crutches or a wheelchair and is among those most at risk. Dr AlSingace has faced sustained medical negligence by prison authorities throughout his 10-year imprisonment, namely the prison’s regular refusal to take him to appointments with medical specialists over the past four years.

    We are thus deeply disturbed receive reports from family members that on 18 July 2021 Dr AlSingace was transferred to the Ministry of Interior medical facility in al-Qalaa for monitoring and to be given intravenous fluids; by 29 July AlSingace had reportedly already lost 10kg. Recent outbreaks of COVID-19 reported at Jau Prison create an additional threat to Dr AlSingace’s health.

    Since his imprisonment, the international community has made consistent calls for his immediate and unconditional release, including the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, leading international human rights organisations, and American, British and European legislators.

    The confiscation of Dr AlSingace’s book is an unjust punishment and the authorities must ensure the protection of his rights, including the return of his intellectual property. We call for Dr AlSingace’s immediate and unconditional release and for his work to be immediately given to his family.

    Signatories

    1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    2. Amnesty International
    3. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
    4. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
    5. CIVICUS
    6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    7. English PEN
    8. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    9. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    10. Human Rights First
    11. IFEX
    12. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    13. PEN International
    14. Scholars at Risk
    15. REDRESS
    16. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

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

     

  • Rights Groups: Latest arrests part of government campaign to silence activists

    The arrests of 13 activists and church development workers in the Philippines is part of an ongoing campaign by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, say global and local rights groups.

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and local rights organisation, Karapatan are calling for authorities to drop all charges against and immediately release all the activists who were arrested on July 4 in the southern city of General Santos. 

    Philippines National Police (PNP) members and military personnel raided a meeting of the Iglesia Filipino Independiente-Visayas Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-VIMROD) and presented three arrest warrants, none of which corresponded with any participants gathered.  Regardless, the entire group was arrested and fabricated charges of obstruction of justice were filed against 11 defenders, who were later released on bail, while charges against the remaining two remain unknown.

    Among those arrested were Teresita Naul, Karapatan National Council member for Northern Mindanao; Aldeem Yanez of Iglesia Filipino Independiente (IFI); Datu Jomorito Guaynon, Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organisation chairperson; Ireneo Udarbe, of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Vennel Chenfoo, previously of the Kabataan Partylist; Kristine Cabardo of the League of Filipino Students; and Roger Plana, an IFI-VIMROD volunteer.

    “The arrests are symptomatic of an ongoing drive by the regime in Philippines to silence human rights defenders and representatives of civil society,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy lead.

    Since the declaration of martial law on May 23, 2017 on spurious grounds, Karapatan has documented the arbitrary arrests of almost 1,000 people on the island of Mindanao. Some 95 of them remain detained.  The actions of the Philippines’ current administration and armed forces is an assault on people’s rights and civil liberties, aimed at pressuring human rights defenders to self-censor. 

    CIVICUS and Karapatan also urge the authorities to investigate and prosecute police and military members responsible for this gross abuse of power.

    CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space in the Philippines as ‘Obstructed’.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Grant Clark

    CIVICUS Communications

     

    Cristina Palabay,

    Karapatan Secretary General

    +63 917 316 2831

     

  • Rights organisations call for release of activist Teresita Naul on her first anniversary in detention

    • 15 March marks one year in detention for rights activist Teresita Naul
    • Philippines Human Rights Commission says Teresita was wrongfully ‘red-tagged’
    • Teresita’s daughter fears for her mother’s life in prison

     

  • Rights organisations call for release of Teresita Naul ahead of court case & global campaign launch

     TeresitaNaul2

    • Human rights organisations call for release of Teresita Naul ahead of court case 17 July
    • Naul’s family concerned about her deteriorating health in prison
    • #StandAsMyWitness campaign featuring Naul and calling for release of activists in prison launches on Nelson Mandela Day 18 July

    CIVICUS, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Karapatan and other human rights organisations in the Philippines call for the release of Teresita Naul, a human rights defender from the Philippines, ahead of her court case on 17 July, and the launch of a global campaign featuring Naul and other imprisoned human rights defenders. 

     

  • Saudi Arabia: Free Saudi activists now!

    Saudi Arabia should immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained activists, respect their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and put an immediate end to its nationwide crackdown, a coalition of leading human rights organizations said today. A symbolic display of the magnitude of the authorities’ crackdown has been the enforced disappearance, alleged torture and the extrajudicial killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

    “The nationwide crackdown against civil society in Saudi Arabia continues unabated”, said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “Journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and lawyers are facing arbitrary arrest, detention, smear campaigns labeling them as ‘foreign agents and terrorists’, and criminalisation for exercising their fundamental human rights”, added Sriskandarajah.

    As the authorities lifted the driving ban for women, they arrested dozens of women human rights defenders who have been campaigning against the ban and the male guardianship system. “These women face double the repression: they are not only targeted for speaking out against the State’s policies but also for defying patriarchy and demanding gender equality”, said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Director of Global Community for Women’s March Global.

    “Jamal Khashoggi’s arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killing in Istanbul demonstrates the extent to which the Saudi government is willing to go to suppress critical voices, from journalists to human rights defenders and women’s rights activists”, said Hussain Abdullah, director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain.

    The Saudi authorities have a long way to go to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders. This includes repealing all restrictive laws on press censorship, laws to target defenders who use the Internet for their activism, laws to restrict the establishment and operations of independent civil society organizations, and counter-terrorism laws used to imprison defenders.

    Yet, ahead of Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 5 November 2018, the Saudi authorities now have an important opportunity to demonstrate to the international community that they are committed to taking immediate steps to uphold their human rights obligations.

    “A first step in the right direction would be releasing all those detained in association with the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly”, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council advocate.

    “There has never been a more critical time for the international community to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for years of widespread and systematic human rights violations committed with impunity including gender-based discrimination against Saudis as well as violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen”, said Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

    Ahead of Saudi Arabia’s upcoming UPR, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CVICUS and Women’s March Global launch an advocacy campaign to highlight the widespread and systematic crackdown against dissent in the country.

    Join us in calling for the release of Saudi women activists by signing this petition.

    Join us in tweeting to #FreeSaudiActivists and #StandWithSaudiFeminists

    Twitter accounts: @whrdmena, @WM_Global,  @GulfCentre4HR;@ISHRglobal;@CIVICUSalliance;@ADHRB

     

  • Singapore must expand civic space and end undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms: UN Human Rights Council Side Event

    Amidst emerging threats to civic space, representatives from civil society called on Singapore’s Government to abide by its international legal obligations and commitments to respect fundamental freedoms in a Human Rights Council side event held on 29 September, a day before the adoption of the outcomes from Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

     

  • Singapore: Drop investigations and cease harassment against human rights defenders

    Seven (7) human rights organisations urgently call on the Singaporean authorities to drop their criminal investigations of human rights defenders Kirsten Han and Rocky Howe and cease harassing them through legal processes for their work.

     

  • SRI LANKA: ‘They arrest us to stop us, silence us and instil fear in others’

    CIVICUS speaks with Hejaaz Hizbullah, a human rights defender who waskept in detention for 22 months under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

    Based in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, Hejaaz is an attorney and a minority rights advocate who fights hate speech against the Muslim community. He began his career at the Attorney General’s Department and started his own law practice in 2012. He has litigated in several important cases before the Supreme Court and is among the lawyers who challenged the dissolution of parliament in 2018.

    Hejaaz

    What kind of work were you doing when you were arrested and why do you think you were targeted?

    In 2012 a hard-line Buddhist group emerged in Sri Lanka calling itself ‘Bodhu Bala Sena’, or Buddhist Force. The group began a nationwide campaign against Muslims that was based on lies, Islamophobia and hate speech. They sought to stir up Sinhala Buddhists, Sri Lanka’s majority, against the Muslim minority. Similar groups soon proliferated. As a result, there were incidents of violence against Muslims all over Sri Lanka. Muslim girls got their hijabs ripped off, Muslim businesses were attacked and torched, and Muslims were harassed everywhere.

    I began my human rights work in response to these very extraordinary circumstances. With two colleagues I launched an anti-hate hotline, a telephone helpline to assist victims of hate speech and hate crimes. We helped people protect themselves and assert themselves against racism and hate by using the tools provided in the law. We also monitored these incidents and prepared reports to bring the situation to the attention of the government.

    This work led to me appearing in cases involving human rights and constitutional law issues. One of the earliest cases I appeared in was the case of a Muslim schoolgirl who wanted to go to school in a uniform approved by the Ministry of Education that also respected her cultural and religious norms, which school authorities objected to. The case concluded with the Attorney General upholding the student’s right to wear an approved uniform of her choice that met her cultural and religious norms.

    In 2018 the then-president dissolved parliament, sacked the prime minister and appointed another one, and called for general elections. This was challenged by political parties and by a member of the Sri Lankan Elections Commission, whom I successfully represented before the Supreme Court.

    This was the kind of work I was doing when I was arrested, and there are various theories regarding why I was targeted. My arrest may have been part of an attempt to scapegoat selected Muslims who were critical of the government’s treatment of Muslims and blame them for the Easter Sunday bombings, a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist suicide bombings in April 2019. They tried to silence us personally and as a community. In that sense, my arrest is no different from so many arrests of lawyers all over the world. They arrest us to stop us, silence us and instil fear in others.

    How were you treated while in detention?

    During the first 10 months I was a detainee, so I was under police custody; then I was produced before a judge and I became a remand prisoner. For the following year I was in the custody of the Prisons Department, and my experience was radically different.

    As a detainee you are in the custody of those who are trying to frame you and fix you for an offence you did not commit. For 24 hours, seven days a week, you are exposed to your tormentors and under their control – for everything, including food, sleep and family and lawyer visits. Remand prison was different because the guards just knew I was a special case but beyond that they did not care much about me.

    As a detainee I was locked up 24 hours a day: the cell was opened only to let me use the toilet or go for questioning. In remand prison we spent around six hours a day outside in the yard, which was good. However, both places degrade you and seek to destroy you mentally and psychologically. I am happy that I survived without too many scars; many are not that lucky.

    Were you aware of the international solidarity around your case and how does it feel to be out on bail?

    As a detainee I knew very little, just what my wife would tell me when I met her on Saturdays for around 15 minutes. It was only after I was remanded that I learnt more about the support I was receiving from the international community. This gave me real hope and made me even more determined to fight back, so it was incredibly helpful. I am grateful for the support I received and for the international and local pressure that forced the Attorney General to agree to release me on bail.

    Being free is like being born again. I am slowly trying to rebuild my life. My imprisonment had deep effects on the lives of my family: everybody’s life was on pause for almost two years. But being on bail is not easy: I am always looking behind my shoulder and concerned about the progress of my case.

    What are your thoughts on the use of the PTA law?

    In its judgment on my case, the Court of Appeal described the PTA as a ‘draconian law’ leading to a cycle of abuse. That is precisely what it is. The PTA puts detainees into a legal blackhole from which they find it almost impossible to get out. I am a lawyer and had lots of legal backing, support and attention, and still found it tough. Many others don’t have a fighting chance.

    The government has recently made some amendments to the PTA, but they have not changed some of the worst aspects of the law, such as the use of confessions against those who are co-accused. Whilst amendments have been cosmetic, they have in fact opened a window for judges to intervene, and if they do, the situation of detainees may improve. I think the judiciary will grab this opportunity.

    What is the current state of civic freedoms in Sri Lanka?

    My answer to your question would have been different if not for what I am seeing today. It seems freedom is what we carve out for ourselves through courage. Desperate times have pushed people to desperate measures, and they have now overcome their fears and are fighting for their freedom. They are fighting in the legal space that has been created through years of jurisprudence. The theoretical space has now been occupied in real time and I feel is also being expanded. All good news! However, this is not due to any state intervention but due to the actions of people responding to the dire circumstances they find themselves in.

    How can international civil society and the international community support criminalised human rights defenders?

    When human rights activists are arrested, the state would like the whole world to forget them. They hope grand allegations and prolonged detentions will suffocate everyone’s will and resolve to fight. Civil society and the international community can help us by keeping us alive outside the prison walls: by asking the important questions and putting pressure on the government to justify its actions.

    Civic space inSri Lankais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow@hejaazh on Twitter 

     

  • SRI LANKA: ‘Trolls accusing people of being traitors are organised and political’

    Ahead of the Sri Lankan presidential elections on 16 November 2019, CIVICUS spoke with Sandya Ekneligoda, a human rights defender and campaigner for justice for families of people who have been disappeared. Sandya is the wife of disappeared cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda and has been subjected to a barrage of hate, abuse, intimidation, harassment and death threats on social media.

    sanya Eknaligoda

    Photo: Ravindra Pushpakumara

    Can you tell us about the campaign on enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka and how you became involved in it?

    My husband Prageeth Ekneligoda was abducted in January 2010. Since that terrible day, I have campaigned for the truth behind his disappearance. When domestic efforts failed, I traveled to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to press for justice. During my activism journey, I have worked with other mothers of the disappeared to raise awareness. We have asked the government to deliver on the truth behind the thousands of disappearances in our country. We also want the authorities to give support to families who often struggle with their livelihoods once a family member has been taken.

    There has been some progress with the International Convention on Disappearances, signed in 2007 and in effect since 2010, but much work needs to be done to find the truth and support the victims. The Convention has not yet resulted in relevant domestic legislation. To keep momentum going on Prageeth’s case I have attended court over a hundred times tracking the habeas corpus case. Meanwhile, in the north, hundreds of mothers have been protesting on the streets seeking answers about their children. Justice for those disappeared remains a critical issue for the country to resolve.

    What threats have you faced for your advocacy?

    I have faced a number of different threats. I have been called a traitor and received hate speech on Facebook. In 2016, Prageeth and myself became the targets of a defamation campaign that took many forms, including public speeches and posters smearing my name. I believe this was an organised smear campaign by the Rajapaksa clan, the clan of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I have also been targeted by nationalistic Buddhist monks. Venerable Gnanasara Thero, General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist nationalist organisation, threatened me as I was monitoring Prageeth’s court case. I filed a case against him, and he was found guilty by the court in Homagama in 2019. After this decision I got a lot of vicious threats, including threats to kill me and my children.

    In 2018, I managed to navigate my way through one of the Rajapaksa clan’s attempts to lure me into a trap. They sent one of their men, a former air force officer, to meet me. He offered to disclose information on chemical weapons in return for safe passage to the USA. I do not believe this was genuine; it was a way of distracting me from my important work to seek justice for Prageeth. These obstacles have not stopped me fighting for justice but they make life as an activist challenging.

    What is the situation for civil society in Sri Lanka a decade after the end of the conflict?

    Between 2010 and 2015 the situation for civil society in Sri Lanka was terrible. Repression was so severe we faced imminent threats of being forcibly disappeared or killed if we spoke out. We saw the state using the Prevention of Terrorism Act to try to silence activists. An example of this was the 2014 unlawful detention of Balendran Jeyakumary, an activist campaigning for the disappeared.

    After political change in 2015 the situation improved. There have been some incidents but space to talk about issues has increased. Recently, however, we have seen more clampdowns on the freedom of expression, including the arrest of Shathika Sathkumara, an award-winning writer, as well as of journalist Kusul Perera. This really troubles me. Although the environment is calmer, we see toxic elements appearing in social media. Trolls accusing people of being traitors and disseminating hate speech have emerged on Facebook and other social media platforms. This is organised and political.

    Are there any particular issues affecting civil society and the space for civil society that you are concerned about ahead of the elections?

    The participation in the elections of Gotabaya Rajapkasa, former defence chief and brother of Mahinda Rajapkasa, has re-energised racists and nationalists, who had been a bit dormant after 2015. These elements are now becoming quite vocal and issue threats. For example, following a petition filed by Gamini Viyingoda and Chandragupta Thenuwara querying Gotabaya’s eligibility for elections, Madumadawa Aranvinda, a politician, posted the comment that roughly translated as “there was a name which sounds like Viyangoda which was Ekneligoda and best wishes to you both and good luck.” As my husband was disappeared for speaking out, this was clearly a threat to the petitioners to stay silent.

    Ahead of the elections there’s a looming possibility that violence will erupt. There have already been some examples. When Gotabaya’s legal team won the petition, a Gotabaya supporter set fire to the house of a United National Party supporter. In a highly polarised context, with the two bigger parties fielding strong candidates, it’s possible that the parties will encourage proxies to incite violence. This violence could also turn against civil society activists raising issues. I feel wary of the path ahead as impunity prevails, as reflected in the little progress experienced in mine and other cases.

    What support does Sri Lankan civil society need from the international community and international civil society to help build greater respect for human rights and democratic freedoms?

    If Gotabhaya comes into power there will be a surge in threats. International civil society groups should be ready to help those most at risk, like myself, who have named and shamed him. This is an important time for international civil society to show its solidarity with activists in Sri Lanka and check in with friends and colleagues on protection needs. It’s also really important that organisations continue to work with the victims who raised awareness about the need for truth following the end of the war despite the threats they faced. Civil society organisations must stay vigilant and keep pushing on investigations for important justice cases in Sri Lanka, such as my fight for the truth about what happened to my husband, Prageeth.

    Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    This interview was undertaken by independent researcher Yolanda Foster on behalf of CIVICUS.

     

  • Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack

    Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

    SriLankaCourts

     

  • Sri Lanka: Release human rights defenders detained for advocating for education rights

    CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society, stands in solidarity with five human rights defenders (HRDs) detained for participating in peaceful protests to promote and protect education rights in Sri Lanka. Ahead of their hearing on 11 November 2021, we urge the courts to grant them bail immediately. We also call on the government of Sri Lanka to drop all charges against them and respect their rights to dissent and to peaceful assembly.

     

  • Sudan: Stop harassing journalists and human rights defenders

    The ongoing prosecution, harassment, and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders by the Sudanese transitional authorities is a clear violation of Sudan’s international human rights obligations and poses major setbacks to the democratic commitments of the transitional leadership, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS today.

     

  • Syrian civil society not being heard by international donors

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

     

  • Tanzania: worrying signs for freedom of expression and association

    TanzaniaFlag_Wikipedia

    The attempted assassination of outspoken government critic Tundu Lissu on 7 September 2017 is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at constraining freedom of expression and association in Tanzania.  Tundu, a member of the political opposition and head of the Tanganyika Law Society was attacked by unidentified assailants near his home in Dodoma and is now recovering in a hospital in neighbouring Kenya. He has been arrested six times this year for openly criticising the government of President John Pombe Magufuli.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS condemns this violent attack on Tundu, which follows his string of arrests for his dissenting views as well as steps taken by the Tanzanian government over the past few months, to curtail fundamental human rights and stifle activists and civil society organisations that express views critical of government actions.  

    At the moment, new applications for the registration of NGOs have been suspended until 30 November 2017 as NGOs currently registered undergo a mandatory “verification process.”  The vetting of NGOs began on 21 August 2017 after the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children published a notice stating that the Registrar of NGOs will examine all NGOs in order to correct and update the database for NGOs.

    CIVICUS is concerned by the manner in which the verification process is being carried out as local NGOs were not involved or consulted in the planning of the process. Furthermore, the sheer amount of documentation required of NGOs including the presentation of proof of payment annual fees and receipts since registration is cumbersome and presents an added administrative burden.   

    Several NGOs may be deregistered if they fail to provide all the information required by the authorities.  In addition, the requirement for a letter of recommendation from a Community Development Officer is also problematic, especially for NGOs working on rights and governance and who may have been critical of the human rights practices by the government in the past.   

    Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator: “This verification process is extremely unfair and raises many questions because any NGO that had not been previously registered cannot go through the vetting exercise and will be outlawed even before the process begins. There is no grace period whatsoever availed by the state to those who have been unable to register in the past.”

    The government has also set out five zones where NGOs must travel to for verification. This presents difficulties for NGOs who operate in remote areas and may not be able to afford to pay for this travel and the gathering of documents.

    CIVICUS calls on the government of President John Pombe Magufuli to respect the freedoms of association and expression in line with the Tanzanian Constitution and its international human rights obligations. 

    In July 2017 CIVICUS placed Tanzania on a watch list of countries in which there are growing and worrying threats to civic space. CIVICUS remains concerned over growing restrictions on freedom of expression and association.

    Civic space in Tanzania is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    ENDS

    For more information contact:
    Teldah Mawarire
    Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator, CIVICUS
     
    Tel: 0027 11 833 5959

     

  • Thai government fails to accept recommendations to repeal restrictive laws at UN periodic review

    Human rights groups CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) are disappointed by the Thai government’s failure to accept recommendations to repeal restrictive laws as recommended by members states of the UN Human Right Council, despite making commitments to civic freedoms. These actions highlight the inconsistent approach of the government to human rights that is undermining its credibility.

     

  • Thailand:Civil society groups urge government to dismiss cases brought by company against human rights defenders

    Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
    Office of the Permanent Secretary,
    Prime Minister’s Office
    Royal Thai Government
    Government House
    1 Pitsanulok Road
    Dusit, Bangkok 10300
    Thailand

    RE: New Lawsuits Brought by Thammakaset Company Limited Against Human Rights Defenders

    Dear Prime Minister Prayut,

    The 89 undersigned organizations write to express our deep concern regarding recent spurious complaints brought by Thammakaset Company Limited against several human rights defenders in Thailand.

    We respectfully urge the Thai government to take immediate action to oppose and seek the dismissal of cases filed by Thammakaset that run counter to your government’s proclaimed policy to support business and human rights as well as Thailand’s interests, legal obligations, and international human rights law commitments.

    To date, Thammakaset—a Thai-owned poultry company in Lopburi Province— has filed no fewer than 13 criminal and civil complaints against a number of human rights defenders, including former employees. While Thai authorities and courts have dismissed most of the complaints, some are still pending and, in November 2018, a company representative pledged to bring more complaints.

    In December 2018, Thai authorities summoned 14 former employees of Thammakaset, all migrant workers, to acknowledge complaints by the company, alleging that the workers “wrongly filed a false case with officials and caused damage to another [person or entity].” Lopburi Province police also called Suthasinee Kaewleklai, the Thailand Coordinator of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN)—an advocacy group that supports migrant rights in Thailand—to report to the police on January 28, 2019 to discuss a separate complaint by Thammakaset against her. On the same day, the Lopburi Province police requested information from witnesses as part of an investigation into complaints brought by Thammakaset at the end of 2018 against six individuals relating to activity on social media.

    Thammakaset’s criminal complaints stem from its former 14 employees’ involvement in reporting labor rights abuses to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW) and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) in 2016. In separate investigations, both DLPW and the NHRCT found evidence of labor rights abuses, including that Thammakaset failed to pay minimum and overtime wages and failed to provide adequate leave to workers as required by law. On January 15, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order requiring Thammakaset to pay 1.7 million Thai Baht (US$51,470) in compensation to the 14 former employees for violations of Thailand’s Labor Protection Act.

    Thammakaset recently brought additional legal complaints against human rights defenders involved in publicly reporting on labor rights abuses and employer reprisals against the workers. As of October 2018, Nan Win, a former Thammakaset employee, faces new criminal defamation charges for speaking out on the alleged labor abuses and reprisals against the 14 former employees in a film produced by the human rights organization Fortify Rights and during a Facebook-live press conference that Fortify Rights organized. Sutharee Wannasiri, a former human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, also faces criminal and civil defamation charges for sharing Fortify Rights’ film on social media. The Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to consider the complaints against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri on February 4 and March 11, 2019, respectively, and the Civil Court scheduled hearings in August 2019 to consider the civil complaint against Sutharee Wannasiri.

    We are alarmed that Thai authorities are proceeding to investigate and prosecute these complaints by Thammakaset, particularly after the Don Mueang Sub-District Court has already dismissed similar criminal defamation charges in July 2018 brought by the company against the same 14 former employees. These new charges filed by Thammakaset constitute harassment by the company that waste valuable time and resources of police, prosecutors, and judicial officers.

    The complaints by Thammakaset appear to be reprisals brought to harass human rights defenders involved in exposing abuses. Such reprisals interfere with the work of human rights defenders and prevent the implementation of labor rights protections. The cases brought by Thammakaset are emblematic of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits. These cases demonstrate the dangers SLAPP suits pose for workers and human rights defenders in Thailand and illustrate the need for your government to adopt clear policies and enact regulations and laws to oppose such cases from proceeding. Thammakaset has a long history of aggressively using the courts to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, who have exposed business related human rights abuses. In August and October 2017, Thammakaset filed criminal suits against two migrant workers and Suthasinee Kaewleklai for the alleged theft of employment timecards. In fact, the timecards were presented to Thai government labor inspectors as evidence of labor violations, assisting officials to perform their duty as required by law. Although Thai courts eventually dismissed Thammakaset’s complaints, the cases should never have proceeded in the first place and resulted in undue stress, unnecessary legal costs, and lost time and wages for those facing charges.

    We recognize recent legislative steps by the National Legislative Assembly in December 2018 to amend Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code. This amendment allows a court to dismiss and forbid the refiling of a complaint by a private individual if the complaint is filed “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts in order to harass or take advantage of a defendant.” Section 161/1 should apply to the recent complaints brought by Thammakaset.

    This amendment is insufficient to address SLAPP suits generally in Thailand. In addition to relying on the court’s application of Section 161/1, we urge your government to clearly demonstrate its opposition to SLAPP lawsuits, such as the ones filed by Thammakaset. Seeking the expeditious dismissal of the recent complaints by Thammakaset would be instructive to both foreign and Thai businesses operating in Thailand and demonstrate your government’s commitment to implementing the law and upholding business and human rights principles.

    To prevent future SLAPP lawsuits like those filed by Thammakaset, we recommend that Thailand develop comprehensive anti-SLAPP legislation that fully protects workers, human rights defenders, and others from judicial harassment. It is also essential that the public prosecutor and the Attorney General’s Office be provided with adequate resources and support to exercise their powers under Section 21 of the 2010 Public Prosecutor Organ and Public Prosecutors Act to screen out unwarranted complaints, including those brought to harass, intimidate, or retaliate against human rights defenders or others. Thailand should also decriminalize defamation and end imprisonment or fines as a penalties for acts of defamation.

    We urge the Thai government to follow the recommendation provided by a group of six United Nations human rights experts in May 2018 to “revise its civil and criminal laws as well as prosecution processes to prevent misuse of defamation legislation by companies.” During its official visit to Thailand in April 2018, the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights similarly called on the Thai government to “ensure that defamation cases are not used by businesses as a tool to undermine legitimate rights and freedoms of affected rights holders, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.” The Working Group further recommended “enacting anti-SLAPP legislation to ensure that human rights defenders are not subjected to civil liability for their activities.” We encourage the Thai government to incorporate these recommendations into Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and also ensure meaningful consultations with Thai civil society on developing and implementing the National Action Plan.

    We thank you for your attention to the issues and recommendations raised in this letter. We welcome the opportunity to assist and support the Thai government in meeting its commitments to uphold business and human rights principles as well as to protect the rights of workers, human rights defenders, and basic freedoms in Thailand.

    Sincerely,

    1. Aksi! for Gender, Social and Ecological Justice, Indonesia
      2. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
      3. Amnesty International
      4. Anti-Slavery International
      5. Article 19
      6. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
      7. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
      8. Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Hong Kong
      9. Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
      10. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
      11. Assembly of the Poor, Thailand
      12. Australian Council of Trade Unions
      13. Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI)
      14. Bune United Sisters, Tombil Community, Minj , Jiwaka Province, PNG
      15. Burma Campaign UK
      16. Business & Human Rights Resource Center
      17. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
      18. Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Philippines
      19. Chab Dai
      20. CIVICUS
      21. Civil Rights Defenders
      22. Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons
      23. Community Resource Centre Foundation
      24. Conservation International
      25. Cross Cultural Foundation
      26. Danish Ethical Trading Initiative
      27. Environmental Justice Foundation
      28. Ethical Trading Initiative
      29. Ethical Trading Initiative Denmark
      30. Ethical Trading Initiative Norway
      31. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
      32. FishWise
      33. Fortify Rights
      34. Foundation for Education and Development (FED)
      35. Free the Slaves
      36. Freedom Fund
      37. Freedom United
      38. Frontline Defenders
      39. GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women, Philippines
      40. Global Coalition on Migration
      41. Global Legal Action Network
      42. Global Migration Policy Associates
      43. Greenpeace
      44. Highlands Women Human Right Defenders Movement, PNG
      45. Human Rights and Development Foundation
      46. Human Rights Lawyers Association
      47. Human Rights Now
      48. Human Rights Watch
      49. Humanity United Action
      50. IJM Foundation (มูลนิธิไอเจเอ็ม)
      51. Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, Indonesia
      52. International Accountability Project
      53. International Labor Rights Forum
      54. Kabar Bumi (Indonesian Migrant Workers Union), Indonesia
      55. Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy (KOCUN), the Republic of Korea
      56. Kugar Farmers Association, Kudjip, BANZ, Jiwaka Province, PNG
      57. LawAid International
      58. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
      59. Liberty Shared
      60. Manushya Foundation
      61. MAP Foundation
      62. MARUAH, Singapore
      63. Migrant Workers Rights Network
      64. National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders (NAWHRD), Nepal
      65. National Indigenous Women Forum (NIWF), Nepal
      66. NEthing, India
      67. North Whagi Country’s Women Association, Jiwaka Province, PNG
      68. Oxfam
      69. RITES Forum, India
      70. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
      71. Rural Women Association Alga, Kyrgyzstan
      72. Shan Women’s Action Network
      73. Slave Free Seas
      74. Social accountability international
      75. SRED, India
      76. Stop the Traffik Australian Coalition
      77. Suara Perempuan Desa (Rural Women’s Voices), Indonesia
      78. SwedWatch
      79. Tarangini Foundation, Nepal
      80. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights
      81. Trades Union Congress
      82. Uniting Church of Australia (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania)
      83. Verité
      84. Voice
      85. Voice for Change, Jiwaka Province, PNG
      86. Walk Free Foundation
      87. We Women Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka
      88. Women’s League of Burma
      89. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

     

  • The Council must address arbitrary detention of human rights defenders

    Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President.

    No one should be arbitrarily detained simply for peacefully protecting equality, freedom and justice for all. But worldwide, people are in prison for standing up for their rights and for the rights of their communities.

    Teresita Naul is a human rights defender who dedicated her life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. She is detained in the Philippines under spurious charges. Teresita’s case is illustrative of how the Philippines has repeatedly criminalised the work of human rights defenders.

    Sudha Bharadwaj is a human rights lawyer, and one of many human rights defenders charged and detained in India under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This is a clear example of a case in which the use of vague and overly broad national security and anti-terrorism provisions has given authorities wide discretion to criminalise peaceful activities, a tactic highlighted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

    María Esperanza Sánchez García is human rights defender detained in Nicaragua, where false charges have been used as a strategy to criminalise activists and defenders to deny them status of political prisoner, and arbitrary detention used as a tactic to dismantle the political opposition.

    Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, has spent a decade arbitrarily detained in Bahrain. This year he turned 60 in prison, separated from family and friends.

    Human rights defenders are critical to the functioning of the Council’s mandate. We call on the Council to ensure that States who routinely practice arbitrary detention of human rights defenders are held to account and to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can continue their vital work.

    We thank you.

    Civic space in the Philippines, India and Nicaragua is repressed and closed in Bahrain as rated by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • The work of human rights defenders is crucial to the work of this Council

    Statement at the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     Item 3 General Debate

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Mr President.

    The work of human rights defenders is crucial to the work of this council. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to power, at great personal risk. The report by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders shows all too clearly what this risk entails.

    In Belarus, seven members of the Human Rights Centre Viasna have been jailed for their human rights work – which is evidence of a larger repression. In Nicaragua, human rights defender María Esperanza Sánchez García has been arbitrarily detained for over two years under false charges. Nicaragua has systematically sought to silence the voices of human rights defenders.

    The Special Rapporteur reiterated again that States must ensure an enabling environment to protect human rights defenders. Spurious legal proceedings brought against defenders not only act as a chilling effect but are also a serious drain of the human and financial resources of defenders and NGOs, compounding other serious challenges in access to resources which prevent defenders and NGOs from carrying out their work. We call on States to ensure access to resources for human rights defenders and other civil society.

    The Council is currently negotiating a resolution which will highlight the work of human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations which resonates all too well in the world today.

    Human rights defenders play a crucial role in conflict prevention and in post-conflict reconstruction, and it is vital to ensure their safety and ability to operate. We call on all states to support and implement the resolution, and we call on the Council to hold states accountable for their treatment of human rights defenders.