human rights defenders

  • 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. 

  • Bangladesh: Drop charges against Odhikar Leadership & stop harassment of Human Rights Defenders

    Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system, eleven rights groups said today.

  • Bangladesh: Quash conviction and release rights defenders

    Odhikar Adil and Elan 2

    Photo credit: Odhikar

    Leaders of Prominent Rights Group Convicted on Trumped-Up Charges

    Bangladesh authorities should immediately release human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, quash their convictions, and end all reprisals against them for their legitimate human rights work, said 72 organizations today. Khan and Elan were sentenced by the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka to two years’ of prison and a 10,000 Bangladeshi Taka fine each in retaliation for their work documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh.

    The Bangladesh Government has persistently targeted and launched a smear campaign against Khan and Elan, the secretary and director, respectively, of prominent Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar. Following the 2013 publication of Odhikar’s fact-finding report documenting extrajudicial killings during a protest, both defenders were arbitrarily detained – Khan for 62 and Elan for 25 days. After being released on bail, they continued to face prosecution and judicial harassment on trumped-up allegations that their 2013 report was “fake, distorted, and defamatory.” 

    After years of stalling, Bangladeshi judicial authorities accelerated the hearings in their case following the designation of US sanctions against the country’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its officials in December 2021, blaming human rights organizations like Odhikar for this outcome. Their case has been marred with due process violations, such as the failure to provide the defense with advance information on the prosecution witnesses or a copy of the Criminal Investigation Department’s further investigation report until the day before a hearing. 

    In addition to targeting Odhikar’s leaders, the Government interfered with the organization’s ability to conduct its human rights work by blocking their access to funds and leaving its registration renewal application pending since 2014. Following the US sanction designations, the Government increased surveillance and harassment against those affiliated with Odhikar and ordered the organization to provide sources and proof for its findings of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. On June 5, 2022, the Government’s NGO Affairs Bureau officially denied Odhikar’s application for renewal, stating that the organization’s publications have “seriously tarnished the image of the state to the world.” 

    The Government then continued to besmirch the organization publicly, even criticizing and questioning the credibility of the US Department of State’s 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh for relying on Odhikar’s documentation. UN human rights experts have expressed their concernsover the Government’s actions, stating that “the defamation of Bangladeshi-based human rights organisations by high-profile public figures is a clear attempt to undermine their credibility, reputation and human rights work in the country.” 

    Human rights defenders should be allowed to conduct their necessary and important work without fear of harassment, intimidation, and reprisals. Instead of prosecuting and punishing those who document and expose human rights violations, the Government should investigate and hold the perpetrators of these violations accountable. 

    We stand with Khan and Elan and urge the authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, as they have been detained solely for their human rights work. The authorities should reverse their convictions, and ensure they are able to continue their human rights documenting and reporting without fear of reprisals. 


    1. Advocacy Forum Nepal 
    2. Amnesty International
    3. Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network (ADPAN)
    4. Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T)
    5. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
    6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    7. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
    8. Association of Family Members of the Disappeared, Sri Lanka
    9. Asociacion Pro Busqueda de Ninas y Ninos Desaparecidos, El Salvador
    10. AwazCDS-Pakistan 
    11. BALAOD Mindanaw
    12. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) 
    13. Belarusian Solidarity Foundation
    14. Bir Duino, Kyrgyzstan
    15. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
    16. Capital Punishment Justice Project, Australia 
    17. Centre for the Sustainable use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR), Bhubaneswar, India
    18. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)
    19. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    20. Civil society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN)
    21. Collectifs des Familles de Disparus en Algérie
    22. Defence for Human Rights Pakistan (DHR)
    23. Desaparecidos - Philippines
    24. Eleos Justice, Monash University, Australia 
    25. Euro-Mediterranean Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED), France
    26. Families of the Disappeared (FOD), Sri Lanka
    27. Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
    28. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    29. Forum ONG Timor-leste
    30. Free Jonas Burgos Movement
    31. HAK Association, Timor-leste
    32. Human Rights Alert, Manipur, India
    33. Human Rights First
    34. Human Rights Hub, Sri Lanka
    35. Human Rights Watch 
    36. Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared Families (IKOHI)
    37. Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI - Indonesia)
    38. Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
    39. Indonesia's NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG)
    40. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka
    41. Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) - Indonesia
    42. International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED)
    43. International Federation of ACATs (FIACAT)
    44. International Legal Initiative (ILI) - Kazakhstan
    45. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    46. JAAWABODA KENDRAYA (J. K.), Sri Lanka
    47. Karapatan Alliance Philippines (KARAPATAN) 
    48. Karnali Integrated Rural Development And research Centre ( KIRDARC ) Nepal 
    49. Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM)
    50. Legal Literacy - Nepal
    51. Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental
    52. Madres de Plaza de Mayo - Linea Fundadora, Argentina
    53. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
    54. Martin Ennals Foundation
    55. National Fisheries Solidarity Organization, Sri Lanka
    56. Negombo Citizens’ Committee (N.C.C.)
    57. Nonviolence International Canada
    58. Pakistan Development Alliance 
    59. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
    60. Programme against custodial torture & Impunity (PACTI) 
    61. Public Association “Dignity”, Kazakhstan, Astana
    62. Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
    63. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
    64. Sindhi Foundation
    65. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
    66. The Awakening, Pakistan 
    67. The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) 
    68. The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL)
    69. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Washington DC
    70. We Remember-Belarus
    71. Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)
    72. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Belarus: CIVICUS condemns harsh verdict on human rights defenders

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, expresses serious concerns over the sentencing of Viasna human rights defenders, Maria Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk by the Minsk City Court this afternoon. Maria and Andrey were both sentenced to 15 years and 6 years respectively following a trial marked by irregularities.  

  • BELARUS: ‘Despite the repression, we haven’t halted our work for a single day’


    CIVICUS speaks with Marina Kostylianchenko of Viasna about the closure of civic space and criminalisation of activism in Belarus.

    Viasna (‘Spring’) is a Belarusian human rights civil society organisation (CSO) that provides assistance to political prisoners and their families. It was founded in 1996 in response to large-scale repression of protests by the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. In 2003 it was shut down by the government and subsequently persecuted for operating as anunregistered organisation. Repression increased in reaction to 2020 protests that followed a presidential electionwidely seen as stolen. Viasna founder Ales Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. In 2023 he wassentenced to 10 years in prison and Viasna was declared an ‘extremist group’.


    What tactics of repression have the authorities used against Viasna?

    Ever since it was established in 1996, Viasna has been under scrutiny. It was able to operate officially for only a very short period, as the Supreme Court dissolved it as early as 2003. Successive attempts to secure legal status have been unsuccessful so we have continued working without official approval. Just like other people in Belarus, we have faced repression, including detentions, fines and imprisonment for our human rights activism.

    A big shock came in 2011 when Viasna founder and leader Ales Bialiatski was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison on fabricated charges of tax evasion. He was unexpectedly released under an amnesty nearly three years later.

    An unprecedented peak in repression followed the 2020 mass protests. This had a profound impact on the operation of human rights organisations. For example, Viasna expanded its scope to include a hotline for people to seek advice and report detentions and other human rights violations. We also started collecting information about politically motivated criminal prosecutions and recognising detainees as political prisoners, documenting instances of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and ultimately launching the #FreeViasna campaign for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders.

    In 2021 the government focused on dismantling civil society. Security forces conducted home and office searches and issued arrest orders targeting Viasna staff and staff of other CSOs and independent media. On 14 July, 15 Viasna members and volunteers were detained nationwide, including Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valentin Stefanovich and lawyer Vladimir Labkovich, who are still in custody. In 2023 they were sentenced to 10, nine and seven years in jail respectively, along with substantial fines, for allegedly smuggling money and financing protests. The coordinator of the Viasna volunteer service, Marfa Rabkova, and volunteer Andrei Chepyuk, also remain in prison, with sentences of almost 15 and six years respectively.

    In August 2023, Viasna was declared an extremist organisation, which in line with recent amendments to the Criminal Code means that any staff member could be criminally prosecuted and sentenced in absentia. Anyone might also face criminal liability for providing information or contributing to Viasna’s work in any way.

    The authorities are trying to erect a barrier between us and the people we help. But despite the repression, we haven’t halted our work for a single day.

    In what conditions does Viasna currently work?

    We operate in exile. Most members of Viasna had to leave Belarus in 2021 to avoid prison and be able to continue their human rights work.

    Forced relocation has implications, as over time a gap inevitably emerges between those who left and those who remain in Belarus.

    Moreover, new challenges and areas of work have arisen. For instance, an increasing number of people are being released after completing their sentences and require medical care, rehabilitation and help with adjusting back into society. Those who left Belarus face difficulties in adapting to a new environment and struggle with getting legal status, employment, housing and everyday matters.

    Even though the coordinator of the Viasna volunteer service has been imprisoned for over three years, our work with volunteers both inside Belarus and among the diaspora has never ceased. Volunteers are mainly engaged in research and data collection, translation of texts into multiple languages and the creation of illustrations and designs. They also assist at events we organise or participate in.


    Do imprisoned activists face further pressure while in jail?

    In 2023, all our colleagues were transferred to reformation colonies to serve their sentences. The conditions there are particularly harsh, primarily due to severe restriction of communication with the outside world. Unlike in pretrial detention facilities, where human rights activists could receive letters, parcels and money transfers from sympathisers, now only close relatives, usually only one or two people, are allowed to call or send mail and parcels. Even then, calls are limited to a maximum of 10 minutes a week and parcels to one or two per season.

    Another form of pressure exerted on political prisoners is confinement for 10 or more consecutive days in cold punishment cells where they are not allowed to have warm clothes or other belongings, including books and pens. Inmates are punished for any reason, such as not adhering to the prescribed greeting procedure, failing to fasten a button or neglecting to shave. If a political prisoner commits several such violations, they are classed as a ‘persistent violator of internal regulations’, which justifies further pressure.

    All prisoners, except older ones and those with disabilities, are required to work, usually in hazardous industries or cold rooms for eight or more hours a day. Wages are symbolic: after subtracting various payments for their maintenance in prison, only tiny amounts are transferred to prisoners’ personal accounts, which are then used to pay off fines.

    We practically have no information about our imprisoned colleagues’ health conditions, but we know barely any medical care is provided in prison facilities.


    How have you organised to support your imprisoned colleagues?

    In 2021, in collaboration with Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Libereco, Ostgruppen and other partners, we initiated a solidarity campaign to advocate for the immediate release of our imprisoned colleagues.

    We’re continually exploring new modes of engagement with Belarusian civil society and other communities to advance our cause. For instance, on 8 December 2023 we unveiled an art installation, ‘Unbreakable’, in the heart of Vilnius, depicting the faces of five Viasna political prisoners and featuring descriptions in three languages – Belarusian, Lithuanian and English. We participate in any event available to speak about the plight of our colleagues criminalised for their commitment to human rights.

    Several international awards have significantly bolstered attention for our cause. In 2022 Viasna was honoured with the Tulip of Human Rights award from the Dutch government, and Ales Bialiatski became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate alongside the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties and the Russian organisation Memorial. As a result of the Nobel Prize people in other countries found out who Ales is and why he is in prison, and expressions of support and solidarity increased.

    What support do you receive from the international community, and what further support do you need?

    A coalition of international human rights organisations has repeatedly issued joint statements urging the immediate release of Viasna’s political prisoners. Representatives of the United Nations, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have also been vocal about the more than 1,500 political prisoners in Belarus.

    Unfortunately, we haven’t yet identified the leverage that would foster the immediate release of Viasna activists. At the same time, the authorities are doing everything to isolate our colleagues and make them believe they’ve been forgotten. That’s why it’s so important to show support by sending them letters and postcards, helping their families and friends, signing petitions and holding solidarity actions around the world. For example, Libereco activists stage monthly rallies in Berlin and Zurich and organise solidarity races to raise awareness.

    Every show of support matters. We urge people to join our initiatives, spread information as widely as possible and come up with new forms of solidarity actions. To this end, we have created free-of-charge designs for printing on T-shirts, posters, leaflets, stickers and postcards. We would also appreciate support for our activities and our incarcerated colleagues through a subscription on Patreon or a one-time donation via Stripe.


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

    Get in touch with Viasna through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@Viasna onTwitter. Contact the#FreeViasna campaign through itswebsite and follow@FreeViasna onTwitter.

    The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIVICUS.

  • Blocage de l'accès internet au Cameroun prive la société civile des ressources essentielles


    Le Cameroun a vu l'État imposer toute une série de restrictions aux droits fondamentaux de la société civile en 2017, notamment une fermeture d'Internet de quatre mois dans les régions anglophones du pays en réponse aux protestations contre la marginalisation de ces régions. CIVICUS parle avec Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, Directrice du Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme de l’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC). Créé en 2007, le REDHAC est un réseau d’activistes et d’organisations de la société civile d’Afrique centrale qui compte des membres dans huit pays de la région et se concentre principalement sur la protection des droits humains fondamentaux.

    1. Comment décririez-vous l'état actuel de la démocratie au Cameroun? La pratique de la démocratie dans le pays a-t-elle changé au cours des dernières années?

    La démocratie est actuellement en recul au Cameroun malgré des nombreuses structures successivement mises en place par le gouvernement pour garantir la pratique démocratique. Tels sont les cas de l’Observatoire National des Élections (ONEL), une structure indépendante de supervision et contrôle du processus électoral créé en Décembre 2000; et ses successeurs l’ONEL1 et ELECAM (Elections Cameroun) de 2006. Tous les membres d’ELECAM sont des cadres du Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC), le parti au pouvoir, nommées par décret présidentiel et financés par le gouvernement. En conséquence, son impartialité n’est pas garantie.

    Il y’a une décennie on observait que la pratique démocratique se mettait en place étant entendu que c’était un processus. Mais cela n’a été que de courte durée car en 2013 le président a déclaré la guerre à la secte terroriste Boko Haram qui sème la terreur à l’Extrême Nord du Cameroun. En conséquent, la démocratie a pris un coup dur, sous la forme d’une loi électorale qui ne favorise pas la transparence et l’alternance, qui n’est pas indépendante et qui limite la participation par les coûts exorbitants, alors que le salaire minimum est de 25000 francs; des lois restrictives des libertés fondamentales; de l’absence d’application des lois votées; et de l’établissement d’un État de non droit.

    L'Etat du Cameroun reste répressif. Nous assistons chaque jour à la violation des libertés fondamentales, et en particulier de la liberté d'expression et de la liberté d'association. La prédominance du pouvoir exécutif sur les pouvoirs législatif et judiciaire reste constante. La pratique de la démocratie n'a véritablement pas changé au cours de ces dernières années, car nous avons toujours eu le même président depuis 35 ans. En plus de cela il y a l’absence véritable d'un vrai parti d'opposition car toute manifestation d'un parti autre que le parti au pouvoir est réprimée par le gouvernement.

    1. La société civile est-elle actuellement en mesure de contribuer à la gouvernance démocratique au Cameroun?

    On peut répondre par oui et non: Oui, car elle reste la moins corrompue et la plus neutre parmi les autres forces (traditionnels, religieuses, élites, administratives); et non, parce qu’elle est déstructurée, amateur, sans financement.

    1. Comment les restrictions récentes à la liberté d'expression, telles que le blocage de l'accès à Internet, ont-elles affecté la société civile?

    Les restrictions à la liberté d’expression sont devenues une règle au Cameroun, et incluent la censure, des menaces, des arrestations et détentions arbitraires, des intimidations, des cambriolages dans les locaux des OSC, des fermetures des medias, des impôts très élevés pour les patrons de télévision privés, et la mise en résidence surveillée. De novembre 2016, date à laquelle la crise a commencé dans le Nord-Ouest et le Sud-ouest du Cameroun, on a assisté à des restriction additionnelles: la coupure de la connexion internet pendant trois mois (janvier-avril 2017) et des perturbations de la communication et coupures dans les organisations de la société civile hors des deux régions où les activistes qui manifestait avaient été arrêtés. En conséquent, la société civile a été privée d’accès à l’information, de moyens pour diffuser et partager de l’information et pour s’organiser efficacement, et de la possibilité de recevoir des rapports pour poursuivre des activités, ce qui a produit des retards auprès des bailleurs et le ralentissement de la mise en œuvre des activités. En plus, la société civile a été affectée par l’interruption du soutien financier par des partenaires en raison de leurs délais dans la soumission des rapports narratifs.

    1. Comment la société civile y a-t-elle réagi?

    La société civile a très mal appréhendé la coupure d’internet dans les régions du nord et du sud-ouest Cameroun suite à une décision du gouvernement. Du coup elle a mobilisé toutes ses forces et énergies afin de convoquer ce dernier à rétablir la connexion internet dans ces deux régions. Plusieurs organisations de la société civile d’autour le monde, et notamment les sociétés civiles camerounaises à l’instar du REDHAC, se sont démarquées par ses multiples communiqués de presse condamnant ce geste du gouvernement. Bien plus, le représentant spécial du Secrétaire général et chef du Bureau régional des Nations Unies pour l’Afrique centrale (UNOCA), François Louncény Fall, a décrit la décision du gouvernement comme ayant créé une «situation déplorable». Après d’énormes efforts et de multiples combats fournis par les organisations de la société civile, internet fut rétablit trois mois plus tard.

    1. Quel soutien ou solidarité la société civile internationale peut-elle vous offrir en ces temps?

    Nous avons besoin de plusieurs formes de soutien. Premièrement, de soutien financier à moyen et à long terme et avec une certaine souplesse dans la soumission des projets et rapports, ainsi que des fonds d’urgence permanents capables de réduire les vulnérabilités des défenseurs en danger. Deuxièmement, on a besoin de soutien technique, sous la forme par exemple de l’approvisionnement de matériel sophistiqué de sécurité (cameras de surveillance, systèmes d’alarme, empreinte digital, cameras photo avec la capacité d’authentifier des photos et vidéos lors du monitoring et la soumission de rapports) et autres outils informatiques sécurisés. Finalement, on a besoin aussi des formations permanentes pour renforcer les capacités de la société civile en termes de sécurité numérique, physique et de gestion de leurs données informatiques; des formations relatives à la consolidation de la démocratie et l’état de droit et à l’implication au processus électoral et à la bonne gouvernance; des formations sur la surveillance et le signalement des violations des droits humains en toutes circonstances et en particulier dans les périodes de conflit ou de terrorisme; et des formations en plaidoyer national, régional et international.

    ·         L'espace civique au Cameroun est classé comme ‘répressif’ par leCIVICUS Monitor,indiquant de sérieuses restrictions aux libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression.



  • Brazil: Ensure justice for Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips and act to protect Indigenous rights defenders


    Authorities in Brazil must thoroughly investigate the brutal murders of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips in the Javari Valley (Amazonas state) and act to protect Indigenous territories and defenders, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS said today.

    Pereira and Phillips went missing on 5th June as they returned from a reporting trip on the Itaquaí River, in the northern Amazonas state. The response of the Brazilian authorities to their disappearance was slow, and initial search efforts were largely led by Indigenous defenders of the União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (UNIJAVA). Late last week, authorities confirmed that Pereira and Phillips’ bodies were found after a suspect confessed his involvement in the crime. The pair were ambushed by members of an illegal fishing operation in protected areas of the Javari Valley, which Phillips had reportedly photographed a day earlier. 

    These devastating killings are not an isolated event as Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries for land and environmental defenders. At least 20 environmental defenders were killed in 2020, according to Global Witness. These attacks reflect the Bolsonaro government neglect toward Indigenous territories and his administration’s active effort to dismantle Brazil’s environmental governance institutions. Shortly before his killing, Pereira had spoken to a journalist about Bolsonaro’s efforts to undermine Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency (FUNAI), of which he had taken unpaid leave after being sidelined for leading a successful operation against illegal mining inside Yanomami territory. Maxciel dos Santos, another Indigenous protection agent, was shot and killed in the Amazonas state in September 2019. The murder remains unsolved three years on.

    Bruno Pereira was a civil servant who formerly headed the effort to protect Indigenous peoples who live in voluntary isolation. He had recently been working directly with Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley on the protection of their territories through UNIVAJA. Dom Phillips was a British journalist who lived in Brazil for over a decade, and whose reporting increasingly focused on the Amazon rainforest and environmental issues. He was conducting interviews and research for a book about the rainforest’s protection.

    We stand in solidarity with Indigenous rights defenders and the families of Pereira and Phillips as they demand justice. Today, environmental groups, Indigenous organisations and civil servants have scheduled protests in front of FUNAI buildings. CIVICUS joins their calls for a thorough investigation to hold all perpetrators accountable. Inquiries must also be made into the role of the Brazilian State in allowing criminal networks to operate with impunity, enabling attacks on Indigenous territories and human rights defenders. We call on the international community to express their support for environmental and Indigenous rights defenders in Brazil, and the journalists’ whose important work shines a light on the risks they face.

    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 Brazil as obstructed. 


    In his electoral campaign, President Jair Bolsonaro vowed to “end all activism in Brazil.” Since he took office in 2019, Indigenous communities and environmental and land rights defenders have become increasingly vulnerable to attacks, as the government emboldens criminal groups that engage in illegal logging, mining, land grabbing and other activities. Other widely documented attacks include public vilification of CSOs, criminalisation of activists and attempts to monitor critics and discredit the media.

  • BURUNDI: ‘Human rights activism can hardly be carried out openly anymore’

    CarinaTertsakianCIVICUS speaksabout the repression of civil society and human rights defenders and LGBTQI+ rights in Burundi with Carina Tertsakian, co-founder of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI).

    Active from mid-2019 until December 2023, the BHRI was an independent initiative that worked in cooperation with a range of people inside and outside Burundi todocument the human rights situation and advocate for human rights.

    Has there been any improvement in the human rights situation in Burundi?

    Burundi’s overall human rights record has remained largely unchanged since President Évariste Ndayishimiye took office in 2020. Back then people had high hopes because the new president had a less bloody past than his predecessor. But there’s been little progress in the protection of civil and political rights. The authorities have continued to arrest, prosecute, ill-treat and sometimes torture people for political reasons. Those arrested have included activists, journalists and opposition members.

    Even though the most serious forms of rights violations such as political killings and enforced disappearances have decreased, human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists have been arbitrarily arrested simply due to their involvement in human rights activities or their affiliation with independent civil society organisations (CSOs). They are typically accused of undermining internal state security or territorial integrity, among other baseless charges.

    What are the conditions for LGBTQI+ people in Burundi?

    In August 2023, 24 people were arrested for their alleged involvement in organisations that help LGBTQI+ people. While some were acquitted or released, others faced sentencing. One activist who was acquitted passed away before being released. The case is ongoing, drawing attention to the larger underlying issue that homosexuality is still criminalised in Burundi.

    It’s nearly impossible to identify openly as an LGBTQI+ activist in Burundi. While some organisations engage in activities to support LGBTQI+ people, they avoid explicitly identifying as LGBTQI+ organisations. The 24 people who were arrested, for instance, had participated in training on awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

    In his recent year-end speech, President Ndayishimiye vilified LGBTQI+ people, labelling homosexuality as a sin and encouraging public stoning of those perceived as ‘homosexuals’. This horrifying statement has further fuelled hateful rhetoric online. On a positive note, a Burundian CSO and several prominent activists in exile strongly criticised Ndayishimiye’s statement, something that is extremely difficult to do inside Burundi.

    To what extent is it possible for human rights organisations to work in Burundi?

    In 2015, a significant political and human rights crisis unfolded in Burundi, marked by a violent crackdown on civil society, particularly on critics and those suspected of opposing the government. As a result, leaders of major human rights organisations fled the country and remain in exile. Some faced charges and were convicted in absentia, including to life imprisonment.

    Human rights activism can hardly be carried out openly in Burundi anymore. Ever since 2015, activists addressing politically sensitive issues face direct threats and can’t work freely inside the country. Even those previously affiliated with human rights organisations that no longer operate in Burundi continue to face arrests.

    Activists advocating for economic and social rights experience comparatively less pressure. Some CSOs working on anti-corruption and good governance issues have been more or less allowed to function, although the government has occasionally impeded their activities, for example, by disrupting or prohibiting press conferences.

    Have Burundian activists found safety in exile?

    Exiled activists based in Europe or Canada are relatively safe, whereas those in Rwanda may encounter additional pressure. In 2015, as many HRDs and journalists fled, the government in Burundi banned or suspended their organisations and shut down several independent radio stations. Some exiled journalists established radio stations abroad, mainly in Rwanda.

    The Burundian government has taken advantage of recently improved relations with Rwanda and pressured the host country to silence these journalists or hand them over. The Rwandan government gave some of these journalists an ultimatum to either remain silent or leave, forcing some to halt operations from Rwanda and relocate again. Some of these journalists were among a broader group, including other HRDs, who were tried and sentenced in absentia.

    What are your key demands for the Burundian government?

    Burundi’s civil society demands that the government lift civic space restrictions, enabling HRDs, journalists and other independent voices to express themselves freely without harassment. We support these demands.

    First of all, the government must release Floriane Irangabiye, a journalist sentenced to 10 years in jail in May 2023. Five other HRDs were charged and tried earlier, in April. The government targeted them because of their association with an international organisation the regime dislikes and accused them of illegally receiving funds. Although released after two months thanks to international pressure, some have been given a suspended sentence, so we call for all charges against them to be dropped.

    The safety of exiled activists must also be ensured before they can return, which requires the lifting of their sentences. As long as HRDs continue to face convictions in absentia, there will be significant impediments to any form of human rights activism in Burundi. We further urge the government to revoke the bans and suspensions imposed on CSOs since 2015.

    Despite the government’s claim that Burundi is a democracy, it is certainly not. If it were, it would allow people to voice criticism and the activities of HRDs wouldn’t be criminalised.

    What support do Burundian human rights activists receive from international allies, and what further do they need?

    When European Union countries, the USA and other governments raise concerns about blatant human rights violations in Burundi, particularly through their embassies in the country, it really makes a difference. Although it may take years to secure the release of an HRD, intensified international pressure has proven effective.

    There are too few independent human rights groups left in Burundi, and it’s difficult to provide international support to virtually non-existent entities. Those still active are mostly individual activists, so it is challenging for donors to support them. One notable exception is the independent newspaper Iwacu, which, despite facing constraints, continues its work. We encourage donors to sustain their support of the media outlet, which represents one of the few remaining independent voices in Burundi.

    Human rights organisations operating from exile need ongoing support, and could expand their work if they had more sustainable funding. It’s hard to work from abroad. After several years in exile, activists begin to feel disconnected and demotivated as they don’t see things change.

    Civic space in Burundi is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

  • CAMBODIA: ‘This is a textbook case of organised crime with links to the state’

    CIVICUS speaks with Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national and co-founder of Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC), a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia’s natural environment. Due to their work, the authorities have systematically intimidated and criminalised MNC activists. Gonzalez-Davidson has been convicted in absentia for his activism and currentlyfaces further charges.

    Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson

    What were the origins of MNC?

    We founded MNC in 2013, and the most important factor leading to its founding was that the environment in Cambodia, and especially the forest, was being decimated so fast. Because I could speak Khmer, I was a translator and was reading about it in the news and eventually also seeing it happen.

    This senseless destruction was being disguised as development, but in reality it was organised crime sponsored by the state, including the army, the police, politicians at all levels and local authorities. It was painful to see. Local Indigenous people were being cheated and this got me fired up.

    I also came to the realisation that civil society, and especially international organisations that were allegedly protecting the environment, were not doing anything that was effective enough. Local groups were not able to do much, and some international groups were doing greenwashing: misleading the public with initiatives that were presented as environmentally friendly or sustainable, but were not addressing the real causes of the problems. 

    A small group of friends and I started a campaign to stop a senseless hydroelectric dam project, which we knew was never about electricity but about exploiting natural resources and allowing logging and poaching. I was deported a year and a half after we started MNC. Over time, we have had to evolve to try and expose environmental crimes by the state on a large scale.

    What have been the main activities and tactics of MNC?

    They have changed over time. Back in 2013 to 2015, we could still do community empowerment and hold peaceful protests. We could bring people from cities to remote areas. In 2015, the harassing and jailing of activists started. We realised peaceful protests could not happen anymore because protesters would be criminalised. We continued to do community empowerment until 2017, but then had to stop that too.

    One of our biggest tactics is going to a location, recording short videos and presenting them to the public so that Cambodians can understand, click, share and comment. We have received millions of views. We also did shows on Facebook live and lobbied opposition parties in parliament. From 2019 onwards, activists could no longer appear in the videos and we had to blur their faces and distort their voices. Now we can’t even do that because it is too risky.

    What is the state of civic space in Cambodia?

    The regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen has destroyed democratic institutions, including active and independent civil society, independent media and opposition parties. It has dismantled all these as it realised people were ready and hungry for democracy.

    There is a lot for the regime to lose if the status quo changes, mainly because of money. The regime is mostly organised crime. They don’t want pesky independent journalists, activists organising protests or CSOs doing community empowerment. They don’t want to lose power and be held accountable. This is why now there is very little space compared to five years ago, and the situation is still going downhill. 

    Most civil society groups have retreated and are not pushing the boundaries. They are afraid of their organisation being shut down, funding being cut, or their activists and staff being thrown in jail. Indeed, working in Cambodia is difficult but it’s not acceptable to have a very small number of CSOs and activists speaking up.

    What gives me hope is that conversations and engagement among citizens about democracy are still happening, and that repression cannot go on forever.

    Why has MNC been criminalised, and what impact has this had and what is impact of the court cases?

    Cambodia doesn’t really have any other group like us. We are a civil society group, but we are made up of activists rather than professional staff. Other activists used to do forest patrols in the Prey Lang forest, but the government forced them to stop. There are also Indigenous communities and environmental activists trying to do some work, but what happened to MNC is also a message to them.

    In 2015, three MNC activists were charged and subsequently convicted for their activities in a direct-action campaign against companies mining sand in Koh Kong province. In September 2017, two MNC activists were arrested for filming vessels we suspected were illegally exporting dredged sand on behalf of a firm linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. In January 2018, the two activists were fined and sentenced to a year in jail.

    In September 2020, three activists affiliated with MNC were arbitrarily detained while planning a peaceful protest as part of a campaign against the planned privatisation and reclamation of Boeung Tamok lake in the capital, Phnom Penh. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison for ‘incitement’.

    Most recently, in June 2021, four environmental activists affiliated with MNC were charged for investigating river pollution in the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh. They have been charged with ‘plotting’ and ‘insulting the King’. There are currently six MNC activists in detention.

    We have been charged with threatening to cause destruction, incitement, violating peoples’ privacy – just for filming at sea – and the latest additions to the list are ‘plotting’ to violently overthrow institutions – just for recording sewage going into the Mekong river – and insulting the King. The government is no longer even pretending that this is about law enforcement and is now just picking crimes to charge us with.

    As we become more effective in what we do, the state’s rhetoric against us has become more aggressive. The authorities have vilified us, calling us traitors and terrorists. Repression starts from the very bottom, with the local police, the mayor, the military police and their civilian friends who are in the business of poaching, logging and so on. They follow you, threaten you and even try to bribe you. They also control the media narrative and have trolls on social media. Even if all you do is a media interview, they will threaten you online.

    This has created a climate of fear among activists. As in any other dictatorship, Cambodia has always been ruled by fear. This percolates down to young people, who make up the vast majority of our activists. Their families and friends get really worried too. When people feel there is less of a risk in getting involved, the state hits activists and civil society again with more arbitrary and trumped-up charges, as a way to instil further fear in people’s minds.

    The impact of the court cases against MNC has been strong. At first we were able to put up with them by diversifying our tactics and putting new strategies in place, but over the last two years and with six people in jail, it’s become more difficult. But this won’t stop our activism. It will not defeat us.

    Have you faced threats from private companies?

    The line between the private sector and the state is blurred in Cambodia, and in certain cases is just not even there. You don’t have a minister or the army saying, ‘this is my hydroelectric dam’ or ‘we are doing sand mining’, but everyone knows the links are there.

    Those representing the state will provide the apparatus and resources to threaten activists and local communities, and businesspeople – who sometimes are their own family members – will give them a percentage of the earnings. For example, sand from mining exported to Singapore – a business worth a few hundred million dollars – was controlled by a few powerful families, including that of the leader of the dictatorship, Hun Sen. This is a textbook case of organised crime with links to the state. And when a journalist, civil society group or local community tries to expose them, they use the weapons of the state to silence, jail, or bribe them. 

    Why did MNC decide to formally disband?

    In 2015 the government passed a repressive NGO law with lots of traps that made it difficult for us to be in compliance. I was also no longer in the country, as I was not allowed to return even though I had been legally charged and convicted there. In 2013, when we registered, there were three of us, plus two nominal members who were Buddhist monks. The other two founders were taken to the Ministry of Interior and told to disband or otherwise go to jail, so they decided to disband.

    We also thought it would be better not to be bound by the NGO law. Cambodian people have the right to protect their national resources. According to the Cambodian Constitution and international treaties the state has signed, we are not breaking the law. But we know this will not stop them from jailing us.

    What can international community do to support MNC and civil society in Cambodia?

    Some things are being done. Whenever there is an arbitrary arrest of activists, there are embassies in the capital, United Nations institutions and some Cambodian CSOs who speak up. 

    That’s good, but sadly it’s not enough. If you are doing business with Cambodia, such as importing billions of dollars per year worth of garments, you have to do more than just issue statements. You should make a clear connection between the health of democracy in Cambodia and the health of your business relationships. For example, the UK is working on a trade deal with Cambodia, and it must attach to it conditions such as ensuring a free media and halting the arbitrary jailing of activists. 

    The problem is that some diplomats don’t understand what is going on or don’t care about the human rights situation. Southeast Asian countries should also help each other and speak up on the situation in Cambodia. Not just civil society but members of parliament should call out, send letters to their ambassador and so forth.

    Civic space inCambodiais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Mother Nature Cambodia through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@CambodiaMother on Twitter. 

  • Cambodia: A year on, the persecution of human rights defender Rong Chhun and other activists continue

    Stand with Rong Chuun

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Cambodian authorities to drop the baseless charges against trade union activist and human rights defender Rong Chhun and to release him immediately and unconditionally. One year on from his arrest, his ongoing persecution highlights the unrelenting government repression against activists in the country and his ongoing detention during a pandemic is putting his life at risk.

    Rong Chhun, the President of the independent Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, was arrested on 31 July 2020. He has been a vocal human rights defender and has long raised concerns about the plight of farmers’ and workers’ rights.

    Chhun was charged with incitement under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code after he advocated for the land rights of villagers living near the Cambodia-Vietnam border. He was jailed at Prey Sar Prison and his trial began in January 2021. He has been denied bail amid an unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia’s prisons.

    “The authorities must drop the politically-motivated charges that have been brought against Rong Chhun. Speaking up for local communities should never be a crime. The persecution against him exemplifies the systematic weaponization of the courts by the Hun Sen regime to target activists and silence all forms of dissent,” said Lisa Majumdar, CIVICUS Advocacy Officer.

    Rong Chhun’s arrest last year sparked a wave of arrests in relation to planned protests to demand his release. Many of the activists arrested remain in detention and have also been denied bail. They include Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, and Eng Malai (aka So Metta), who are members of Khmer Thavrak and Sar Kanika a former activist for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).  Others detained include Muong Sopheak and Mean Prommony, member and Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA).

    “It is extremely disturbing that activists in Cambodia have been denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time poses a serious risk to their lives - and adds another layer of punishment for these activists. The international community must do more to stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and demand their release,” said Lisa Majumdar.

    Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action. They have also been ongoing police ill-treatment against the families and relatives of detained activists  from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have been holding protests.

    Civic space in Cambodia is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

  • Cambodia: Drop Fabricated Charges against ‘ADHOC 5’

    Cambodian authorities should immediately drop politically motivated bribery charges against five human rights defenders known as the ADHOC 5 (“FreeThe5KH” in social media campaigns), five international organizations said today. The trial of the five – four current and one former senior staff members of the nongovernmental Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) – is scheduled for August 27, 2018, after lying dormant for a year. If convicted, each faces between 5 and 10 years in prison.

  • Case of Zambia’s 42-for-42 tests freedom of expression and assembly

    On May 17, six Zambia activists, civil society leader’s and a musician will appear before the magistrates in Court 3 in the capital Lusaka. This is not the first appearance as their case has been postponed several times. The six (pictured) are jointly charged with disobeying lawful orders after they held a protest last September questioning the government why it has used 42-million Kwacha to purchase 42 firetrucks, a cost that the six say is exorbitant. Laura Miti of theAlliance for Community Action who is also one of the six accused tells CIVICUS briefly about the case and why it is important.

    Defiant and standing strong: Six of the Zambian activists and civil society leaders at one of the many court appearances after they held a protest in Lusaka last year questioning the government over expenditure

    1. Can you tell us more about the court case in which you are appearing for in court on May 17?

    The court case is the result of a peaceful protest that the Alliance for Community Action led on Parliament on 29 September 2017. The protest was called for together with civil society organisations and the general public to demand that accountability for a purchase by government of 42 fire trucks for 42 million Kwacha. Protesting and freedom of expression are both values enshrined in our Constitution so we were not breaking the law. The protest was broken up by the police and 6 protesters arrested and charged with disobeying lawful orders. Instead we were arrested and held for 10 hours and later released after being charged.

    2. What does this case mean for the state of the freedom to protest and freedom of expression in Zambia?

    By misapplication of the Public Order Act, Police in Zambia routinely prevent or break up protests that are even mildly critical of the government. However, protests or marches in support of government are allowed to go on even if the protester are openly breaking the law by being carrying weapons and being violent. The way this case has been held is an assault on both freedoms and it is concerning for us.

    3. What challenges do you face as a woman human rights defender?

    The terrain for women who speak out and challenge authorities is not easy for activists and it is even tougher for women due to the patriarchal nature of our society. As happens with all female activists, those who are unhappy with my work tend to attack my person and speak about my private life rather than engage with the issues at hand. This then discourages other women from speaking out and holding the state to account.

    4. How can international civil society support you and the other 5 you are jointly charged with?

    The defence of human rights in Zambia is for Zambians to ensure but a breakdown of human rights anywhere in the world, affects us all. We therefore believe that the excesses of the Zambian government should be called out by all who believe in a just world. When representatives of the Zambian government travel to international fora, they should be asked to explain the steep degeneration of the Zambian democratic space and respect for human rights in the last few years.

    5. Please describe in one paragraph what you or your CSO does in Zambia

    The Alliance for Community Action (ACA) works to grow the routine demand and supply of public resource accountability in Zambia, with focus on instituting the demand in the general public. The ACA would like Zambians to routinely link the quality of services they access to the budgetary and expenditure choices made by government and to demand accountability. The ACA encourages Zambians to speak up and ask targeted questions about how public money is spent and capacitates ordinary citizens to do so.

  • China must protect the rights of detained human rights defenders Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing

    Today, 19 September 2022, marks one year in detention for two young Chinese human rights defenders: Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist and key actor in China’s #MeToo movement, and Wang Jianbing, a labour rights advocate.[1]

    CIVICUS and other civil society groups, call on Chinese authorities to respect and protect their rights in detention, including access to legal counsel, unfettered communication with family members, their right to health and their right to bodily autonomy. We emphasise that their detention is arbitrary, and we call for their release and for authorities to allow them to carry out their work and make important contributions to social justice.

    Who are they ?

    In the 2010s, Huang Xueqinworked as a journalist for mainstream media in China. During that time, she covered stories on public interest matters, women’s rights, corruption scandals, industrial pollution, and issues faced by socially-marginalized groups. She later supported victims and survivors of sexual harassment and gender-based violence who spoke out as part of the #MeToo movement in China. On 17 October 2019, she was stopped by police in Guangzhou and criminally detained in RSDL for three months – for posting online an article about Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement.

    Wang Jianbing followed a different path, but his story – like Huang’s – demonstrates the commitment of young people in China to giving back to their communities. He worked in the non-profit sector for more than 16 years, on issues ranging from education to disability to youth to labour. Since 2018, he has supported victims of occupational disease to increase their visibility and to access social services and legal aid.

    Arbitrary and incommunicado detention

    On 19 September 2021, the two human rights defenders were taken by Guangzhou police; after 37 days, they were formally arrested on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Using COVID-19 prevention measures as an excuse, they were held for five months in solitary confinement, and subject to secret interrogation, in conditions similar to those of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. After months of delays and no due process guarantees, their case was transferred to court for the first time in early August 2022.

    We strongly condemn the lengthy detentions of Huang and Wang. In a Communication sent to the Chinese government in February 2022, six UN independent experts – including the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Working Group on arbitrary detention (WGAD) – raised serious concerns about Wang’s disappearance and deprivation of liberty. They asserted that Wang’s activities were protected and legal, and that Chinese authorities used a broad definition of ‘endangering national security’ that runs counter to international human rights law.

    In May 2022, the WGAD went one step further, formally declaring Wang’s detention to be ‘arbitrary’and urging authorities to ensure his immediate release and access to remedy. Noting other, similar Chinese cases, the WGAD also requested Chinese authorities to undertake a comprehensive independent investigation into the case, taking measures to hold those responsible for rights violations accountable.

    We echo their call: Chinese authorities should respect this UN finding, and immediately release Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing. 

    [1] As their cases are deeply connected, their friends and supporters refer to them as a single case called the ‘Xuebing case’, using a portmanteau of their first names.

  • CIVICUS and Colombian Confederation of NGOs concerned about aggressions and impending restrictions on civil society

    Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Colombian Confederation of NGOs (CCONG) are deeply worried about the growing challenges faced by civil society in Colombia. Several activists have been attacked while potentially restrictive legislation is underway and would curtail civil society organisations’ ability to contribute to the implementation of the peace agreements.

  • CIVICUS and Consorcio Oaxaca demand the immediate release of unjustly detained Mexican human rights defenders

    Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Mexican CSO Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca (Consorcio Oaxaca) are deeply concerned about the widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture against human rights defenders in Mexico. A recent report, jointly published by 11 Mexican and international human rights organisations, sets out how such practices are extensively used to restrict the work of human rights defenders.

  • CIVICUS Calls For Calm and Respect of Voters’ Rights in Kenya Elections

    As Kenyans go to the polls tomorrow to vote in general elections, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS calls on the authorities, leaders of political parties and communities to adhere to democratic principles and respect the will of all Kenyans.

    Kenya has a history of violence during election seasons and fear of a recurrence has dominated the period of political campaigns. Kenyan authorities and leaders of political parties have a responsibility to ensure a peaceful and transparent election, which will enhance Kenya’s democratic credentials.

    Human rights violations committed over the last few months have raised security concerns and increased calls for all involved in the vote to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the 2007-2008 elections in which over 1,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 internally displaced.  

    Last week, Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) head of Information, Communication and Technology, was found dead after being missing for three days.  Msando had played a key role in the development of a new electronic ballot and voter registration system and complained of death threats shortly before he was killed. 

    Since Msando oversaw the new electronic system regarded as key to eliminating vote rigging and ensuring the credibility of the elections, his killing raises serious concerns over threats of violence related to electoral malpractices. Prior to the adoption of the new system, Kenya’s High Court nullified a contract awarded to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair Printing and Publishing, a company with alleged links to President Uhuru Kenyatta.  Following the court’s 9 July ruling, President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Coalition questioned the independence of the judiciary and accused it of supporting the political opposition.  

    The election campaign period has also been dominated by an exchange of accusations between President Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition leader, Raila Odinga.  The President accused Odinga of trying to divide Kenya and provoke violence and Odinga, in turn, accused the President of planning to rig the vote. While the 2013 elections were largely peaceful, violence erupted following the 2007 elections after political figures encouraged supporters to protest election results.  

    “Kenya’s politics is largely based on ethnic affiliations and the views of political figures are taken seriously.  It will be very important for leaders to avoid using language that may incite the population and instigate violence during and after tomorrow’s elections.   Said David Kode, CIVICUS’ Head of Advocacy and Campaigns.

    There has been violence among rival parties’ supporters during the nominations of candidates for positions of president, legislators and local councillors.  Human rights defenders and journalists have also been attacked, intimidated and vilified as they sought to access voter registration stations and polling booths and report on political campaigns. On 18 June 2017, Walter Menya of the Nation newspaper was arrested and held at an undisclosed location for two days before being released without charge. Some communities have heightened tensions by accusing activists and journalists of anti-nationalist agendas for making representations at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 polls. 

    CIVICUS calls on the Kenyan authorities, politicians and leaders to act in a responsible manner and respect the will of the electorate during and after the elections. 

    Kenya’s civic space is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe. It is currently on the Monitor’s Watch List of countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    Watch our interview with activist and poet Sitawa Namwalie talking about about her hopes and fears for 2017 Kenyan Elections. 


    For more information, please contact:

    Grant Clark

    Senior Media Advisor



    T: +27 63 567 9719


    David Kode

    Head of Advocacy and Campaigns



  • CIVICUS calls on interim government of Kyrgyzstan to cease intimidating civil society activists

    30 June 2010. Johannesburg. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is concerned that two prominent human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan -- who are among the leading voices documenting the ongoing crisis -- were detained and interrogated by the Office of the Prosecutor of the Osh Oblast, Kyrgyzstan on 28 June. This action of the authorities sends a negative message to civil society groups working towards restoring peace in the country.

    According to local sources, Tolekan Ismailova of Human Rights Center "Citizens against Corruption" and Aziza Abdirasulova of Public Foundation "Kylym Shamy" were interrogated as witnesses, related to misinformation about death toll published in the online newspaper

    Although the news site journalist received news of 20 deaths during the military operations in Nariman village of Karasuu district on 21 June via online mailing lists, Ismailova and Abdirasulova feel they were wrongly accused of spreading misinformation. Ismailova had immediately contacted upon hearing the news, to inform the paper that the actual death toll was two individuals.

  • CIVICUS Concerned over Increased Harassment of Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan

    13 July, 2010-- Johannesburg ---CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is concerned by recent reports that Uzbek officials are intensifying pressure against human rights defenders in response to the political upheaval and violence in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. 

    In Uzbekistan, many human rights defenders have long faced harassment and state scrutiny of their activities. Often, the state has demonstrated a deep distrust for human rights advocacy, labeling activists as "enemies" of the state and accusing them of criminal activities. Now local sources report that Uzbek law enforcement agencies have received orders from their superiors to increase vigilance and take preventative measures with the population.

    According to local sources, human rights activists Saida Kurbanova and Mamir Asimov of Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), have been summoned by a local police station, where they have been questioned and forced into signing warning notices about their "illegal activities against the public." Another HRSU staff has reported the spreading of false rumors about his work that he believes may be part of an attempt by the security forces to build a case against him. Human Rights Alliance leader Elena Urlayeva, who has been working with Kyrgyz refugees, was harassed at her home on July 4, 2010 by an unknown woman aggressively demanding that she stop her advocacy work. That same night, her husband was attacked and severely beaten near their home by two men instructing him to "tame" his wife.

  • Civil society assess outcomes of UNGA76 Third Committee session

    17 NGOs that closely follow and engage with the Third Committee have joined together to publish a joint statement on outcomes of this 76th session.

  • Civil society letter to U.S. State Dept on Human Rights Defenders

    80 civil society organisations from 30+ countries urge Honarable Secretary of State, Antony Blinken to strengthen U.S. government foreign policy to support human rights defenders globally

    Hon. Antony Blinken Secretary of State

    United States of America

    CC:      Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman,Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    Senator James Risch, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman,House Committee on Foreign Affairs

    Representative Michael McCaul, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

     Dear Secretary Blinken:

    We, the undersigned organisations, work to promote human rights, democracy, media freedom, environmental sustainability, and an end to corruption around the world. The protection of human rights defenders — such as activists, lawyers, and journalists — is critical to each of our missions. We are deeply concerned by the unabated rise in reprisals against human rights defenders, both globally and within the United States, and the chilling effect that these attacks have on fundamental freedoms and civic space.

    We would like to request the opportunity to begin a discussion with the incoming State Department political leadership on the role that the Biden Administration will play in protecting human rights defenders.

    As the Administration prepares to re-engage the U.S. government at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, we encourage you to elevate the protection of human rights defenders as a U.S. foreign policy priority and commit to play a global leadership role on this issue.

    Read the full letter here

    Signed by

    1. Access Now
    2. Accountability Counsel
    3. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies Al-Haq
    4. Alliance of Baptists Amazon Watch
    5. American Jewish World Service
    6. Amnesty International USA
    7. ARTICLE 19
    8. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
    9. Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc (BALAOD Mindanaw)
    10. Bank Information Center
    11. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    13. Center for Civil Liberties
    14. Center for Human Rights and Environment
    15. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
    16. China-Latin America Sustainable-Investments Initiative Church World Service
    17. CIVICUS
    18. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Committee to Protect Journalists
    19. COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peacebuilding Nigeria
    20. Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
    21. Crude Accountability
    22. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    23. EarthRights International
    24. Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines Equitable Cambodia
    25. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders FORUM-ASIA
    26. Freedom House
    27. Freedom Now
    28. Front Line Defenders
    29. Gender Action
    30. Global Witness
    31. Green Advocates International (Liberia)
    32. Greenpeace
    33. Human Rights First
    34. Inclusive Development International Indigenous Peoples Rights
    35. International International Accountability Project International Rivers
    36. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    37. Jamaa Resource Initiatives Kenya
    38. Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space Just Associates (JASS)
    39. Kaisa Ka (Unity of Women for Freedom) KILUSAN
    40. Latin America Working Group
    41. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
    42. National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
    43. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala - NISGUA
    44. Network Movement for Justice and Development
    45. Odhikar – Bangladesh OECD Watch
    46. Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union Azerbaijan
    47. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    48. Open Briefing
    49. OT Watch
    50. Oxfam America
    51. Peace Brigades International - USA (PBI-USA)
    52. Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies
    53. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
    54. Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
    55. Project HEARD
    56. Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER) - Latin American NGO
    57. Protection International
    58. Rivers without Boundaries Coalition Mongolia Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    59. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
    60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network Swedwatch
    61. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
    62. Transparency International
    63. United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
    64. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
    65. Witness Radio – Uganda

    Civic space in United States of America is rated Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.




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