human rights defenders

 

  • MEXICO: ‘Human rights defenders constantly put their freedom and their lives at risk’

    AntonioLaraCIVICUS speaks with Antonio Lara Duque, a human rights lawyer with the Zeferino Ladrillero Human Rights Centre (CDHZL), about the situation of Indigenous rights defenders in Mexico, and specifically about the situation of Kenia Hernández, a criminalised and unjustly imprisoned woman Indigenous leader.

    CDHZL is a civil society organisation in the state of Mexico that accompanies the struggles of Indigenous communities, native peoples and collectives who are seeking a dignified life by claiming and exercising their human rights.

    Who is Kenia Hernández, and why is she detained?

    Kenia is an Indigenous Amuzga young woman. She is 32 years old. She is the coordinator of the Zapata Vive Libertarian Collective, which promotes peaceful resistance against the neoliberal development model. She is a lawyer by training, a self-identified feminist and is dedicated to defending human rights, and specifically to defending people imprisoned for political reasons, looking for missing people with the goal of finding them alive and giving legal support to female victims of violence.

    Kenia was arrested on 18 October 2020 under accusations of attacks on a public thoroughfare and robbery with violence. She was charged with serious crimes to ensure she could be kept in the most terrible maximum-security prison for women in all of Mexico.

    On 15 March 2022 the trial court in Ecatepec, in the state of Mexico, will determine whether she is guilty or innocent in one of the five criminal cases against her. All these cases were fabricated with the sole purpose of isolating her and preventing her from continuing mobilising, as well as to send a signal of exemplary punishment to all those people she managed to bring together into a nationwide movement that questioned the private management of highways.

    Is Kenia’s case part of a broader trend of criminalisation of Indigenous defenders in Mexico?

    Indeed, Kenia’s case reveals that the Mexican state has a clear policy of a ‘pedagogy of punishment’, for two reasons.

    First, it sends a signal to the people who protest, and particularly to those who protest against the privatisation of highways, that they should no longer resort to public demonstrations as a form of social mobilisation, because if they do, they will bring upon themselves an unjust and cruel imprisonment such as the one experienced by Kenia.

    Second, Mexican state officials are trying to subdue and bend the will of Kenia, to punish her for protesting, but also to weaken her convictions, to subdue the energy and strength she puts into protest, to let her know who is in charge and who must obey. As she has not submitted to them, they continue to keep her in prison. They know that if she is released she will go back to her activism.

    Both situations are seriously worrying, because they seek to reverse decades of social struggles and opening of democratic spaces.

    What is civil society, and specifically CDHZL, doing to secure her release?

    CDHZL is dedicated to disseminating, promoting and defending the human rights of peoples, organisations and human rights defenders. We defend the environment, land and territory, the human right to water and Indigenous culture. And we focus particularly on the protection of human rights defenders, since in Mexico these are people who constantly put their freedom and their lives at risk.

    Part of our work consists in providing legal defence to human rights defenders who are unjustly criminalised and imprisoned for the peaceful defence of their rights. In its 10 years of existence, CDHZL has helped around 250 people regain their freedom.

    We hope that soon Kenia will be another of them. Mexican civil society has given a lot of visibility to her case, putting her criminalisation on the public agenda and involving key people, in particular Mexican senators, to convince relevant decision-makers to stop criminalising Kenia. We have also tried to bring her case to the international arena, pointing out the punitive policy of the Mexican federal government.

    Through its large team of lawyers, CDHZL has sustained a legal defence in the five legal processes against Kenia, with all that they entail: dozens of hearings, challenges and trials of guarantees, some of which we won. But clearly this is much more than a legal struggle, as high-ranking officials are determined to keep Kenia in prison at all costs.

    Has there been any improvement in the situation of Indigenous defenders under the current leftist government?

    We expected improvements in the situation of Indigenous peoples and human rights defenders and collective rights more generally, but unfortunately there continues to be a generalised disdain among the federal government, regardless of its leftist leanings.

    The government has been unable or unwilling to tune in to the most heartfelt demands of Indigenous peoples. Aggressions against human rights defenders have continued, including disappearances, murders and imprisonments. When it comes to imprisonment, Kenia’s case is one of the most shocking examples of the misuse of the criminal justice system against a human rights defender under a government that claims to be the architect of a ‘fourth transformation’ – a process of profound change supposedly comparable to those of independence (1810-1821), reform (1858-1861) and revolution (1910-1917).

    What kind of regional and international support does Mexican civil society need in its struggle for human rights and civic space?

    Undoubtedly, international observation, very poorly accepted by the current government, would help recover democratic spaces for social protest and the free expression of ideas.

    Appeals to the Mexican government can help sensitise the authorities to the importance of respecting human rights and those who defend them beyond political party affiliations.

    International mediation and good offices will undoubtedly be a key tool to strengthen civil society in the defence of human rights, particularly in processes where the life and freedom of human rights defenders and Indigenous peoples’ rights are at stake.

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

    Get in touch with CDHZL through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow @cdhzloficial on Twitter.

     

     

  • MEXICO: ‘The problem of insecurity is paramount, but it cannot be solved with militarisation’

    CIVICUS speaks about the militarisation of security in Mexico and its implications for civil society with Sofía de Robina, a lawyer with Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín pro Juárez-Centro Prodh.

    Centro Prodh is a Mexican civil society organisation (CSO) founded in 1988 by the Society of Jesus with the aim of defending victims of serious human rights violations and promoting structural changes to allow all people in Mexico to enjoy and exercise the full range of their human rights equally. Its work focuses specifically on Indigenous peoples and groups, women, migrants and victims of repression.

    SofiadeRobina

    What trends do you see in the militarisation of public security in Mexico?

    At Centro Prodh we have seen that starting in 2006, with the deployment of the armed forces in the fight against drug trafficking, there has been an increased focus on the use of force by elements of the military sector instead of on strengthening the civilian police with a focus on prevention and prioritising access to justice and the fight against the corruption of authorities linked to organised crime. Consequently, rather than decreasing, violence increased, as did human rights violations.

    The presence of the army and its responsibility for human rights violations dates a long way back – it was involved in the so-called ‘dirty war’ of the 1960s and 1970s. However, this trend deepened under the administration of President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party, continued under President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and further intensified under the current government of MORENA’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

    Over 80 per cent of the current members of the National Guard – created in 2019 through a constitutional reform and initially under the civilian command of the Ministry of Public Security – come from the military. According to the National Guard Law, the institution performs tasks of migration review and supervision, surveillance and investigation. This is extremely worrying as it is becoming a military body. Practically all of its commanders, both administrative and operational, come from the Ministry of National Defence (SEDENA), which means the National Guard is increasingly subordinate to the army.

    Congress recently approved an executive initiative to reform the National Guard Law, transferring its operational and territorial command to SEDENA. This is contrary to the constitution, which establishes that public security should be the responsibility of civilian institutions, as ratified by the Supreme Court.

    In addition, in 2020 it was established that the armed forces could continue to carry out tasks related to public security, without making clear how they would comply with the principles of exceptional, extraordinary, subsidiary, complementary and supervised intervention. Initially it was agreed that they would do so until 2024, but Congress has just approved a reform to extend the deadline until 2028, without providing any justification.

    All these decisions are evidence of the government’s commitment to militarised security instead of strengthening civilian police forces and state and federal prosecutors’ offices, which we believe would be more appropriate if the objective is to investigate crimes and human rights violations.

    Moreover, military presence has been strengthened not only in the area of public security, but also in other areas of public administration, such as customs and ports, as well as in the construction of public works. The armed forces have one of the largest budgets in the public administration and are not subject to adequate controls, even though they have historically been characterised by a lack of transparency and accountability.

    The National Human Rights Commission has shown no signs of true autonomy when it comes to military oversight. This is evidenced by the small number of recommendations it has issued despite the abundance of complaints involving the National Guard, as well as its refusal to challenge the unconstitutional legal changes.

    The attorney general’s office has also failed to carry out relevant investigations into the matter, perpetuating impunity. Oversight bodies are clearly not a sufficient counterweight to SEDENA’s growing power.

    Why has this trend developed?

    It is undeniable that the current context is one of unprecedented violence and that organised crime carries great weight in Mexico. It is responsible for many human rights violations, often in collusion or at least with the acquiescence of authorities at all levels. In some places, removing the armed forces overnight would not be the most appropriate measure to take.

    It is understandable that both the government and society are concerned about security: it is one of the problems that most affects Mexicans. However, the government has opted for militarisation, indicating that there are no other options available. Meanwhile, it has not taken any steps to strengthen adequate investigations to dismantle corruption and organised crime networks.

    The militarisation of security has not yielded good results. It has failed to reduce violence and has perpetuated human rights violations. For this reason, international organisations promote a ‘programmatic’ or gradual withdrawal of armed forces, while civilian forces and access to justice are strengthened. However, these recommendations are not being heeded and the role of the armed forces continues to be increased.

    We can’t emphasise enough that action must be taken to tackle insecurity. But it is important to discuss what measures should be employed. We believe it should be done by strengthening the civilian police and improving access to justice, and not by means of militarisation.

    How is Centro Prodh working on the impacts of militarisation?

    Centro Prodh defends and supports people who have been victims of serious human rights violations, mostly enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions. We work from a comprehensive defence perspective that includes legal defence, organisational and educational support for communities and organisations, international litigation, campaigns and public policy advocacy.

    Militarisation is one of the main focuses of our work because it has a great impact on human rights, especially for people in vulnerable situations and historically excluded people who are at the centre of our attention: poor people, migrants, Indigenous people and women.

    Although militarisation has deepened in recent years, Centro Prodh has long worked on cases of serious rights violations due to military involvement in public security. These types of abuses have always occurred, and we do not foresee them stopping any time soon.

    It is common that, as in the Tlatlaya case – where it’s alleged senior army officers ordered soldiers to kill suspected members of criminal gangs and survivors were tortured, and which remains unpunished – the armed forces carry out detentions making a disproportionate use of force and resort to torture to fabricate evidence, without being held accountable for it.

    We have worked on cases that have reached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), such as the case of the Campesinos Ecologistas (‘environmental peasants’), two peasants who were defending their land and were arbitrarily detained and tortured by military forces. In 2010, the IACtHR ordered the Mexican state to redress the violations suffered by the two activists and implement structural changes to eradicate the causes of the abuses: to maintain an updated register of detainees with accessible information and control mechanisms, investigate allegations of torture and reform the Code of Military Justice to ensure that military jurisdiction does not apply to cases of human rights violations.

    We have also worked domestically on case of torture committed the armed forces – and specifically by SEDENA and the navy – which have often included sexual violence against women, including cases brought by Claudia Medina and Korina Utrera, Denis Blanco and Charly Hernández.

    In working with the families of the 43 students who were disappeared in Ayotzinapa in 2014, we have also observed the resistance of the armed forces to hand over information and be held accountable.

    In short, our concern about the militarisation of public security stems from our work to document and support action on cases of serious human rights violations committed by the armed forces.

    How is civil society responding to militarisation?

    Civil society has mobilised against militarisation for many years, and not just under the current government. This has been a longstanding and ongoing concern.

    Organisations working on the ground throughout Mexico have documented the impacts of militarisation. The Women’s Human Rights Centre in Chihuahua has done crucial work documenting violations, particularly disappearances perpetrated by the armed forces, and obtained a recent IACtHR ruling in the case of Alvarado v. Mexico, which established that ‘the intervention of the armed forces in public security activities must be based on criteria of strict proportionality, exceptionality and due diligence to safeguard the guarantees established in the Convention, because the fundamental role of the military forces cannot be conciliated with the essential functions of the civil authorities’.

    Organisations such as Tlachinollan have highlighted the repercussions of the presence of the armed forces in Indigenous and poor territories. They have worked on cases such as that of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, two Indigenous women who survived sexual torture by the armed forces, which led to a ruling by the IACtHR.

    Many local organisations, such as Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Centre in the south of Mexico and Casa del Migrante de Saltillo in the north, have expressed concern about the militarisation of the borders and the National Guard’s conduct in migration-related tasks .

    International human rights organisations have expressed similar concerns. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been vocal on the issue since its first visit to Mexico in 1996. It has issued constant recommendations to successive governments ever since.

    So have various United Nations’ (UN) human right experts, such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The Committee on Enforced Disappearances recently visited Mexico and referred to militarisation as one of the main reasons why we currently have more than 105,000 disappeared people.

    The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also consistently and emphatically expressed its concern about the military presence and resulting human rights violations.

    What alternatives is civil society proposing?

    Civil society stands in line with the recommendations made by international organisations, which are very clear: a programmatic withdrawal of the armed forces should be undertaken and civilian institutions should be strengthened – by means of training, funding and a public security strategy that addresses the root causes of the problem – alongside investigative institutions to ensure access to justice.

    Unfortunately, instead of following these recommendations, the government has deepened militarisation not only de facto but also de jure, through the creation of a dense legal and institutional framework. This indicates that the trend will be difficult to reverse and will have long-term consequences. SEDENA has always resisted controls and will not voluntarily give back the power it has gained, and it will not be easy for future governments to take it away from it. The possible erosion of the military’s subordination to civilian power opens up a question mark over the future of democracy.

    What kind of support could the international community provide?

    It is very important for the international community to keep an eye on what is happening in Mexico, monitor the decisions being made, defend civil society in the face of a government that has repeatedly restricted its work and that of independent journalists, and offer support to victims. We need their help so that human rights are placed at the centre of our politicians’ decisions.

    Our criticisms are not personal or partisan attacks. Over the years we have looked at the faces of people who have suffered the consequences of militarisation first-hand. The work we do is indispensable in any democracy.


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

    Contact Centro Prodh through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@SofiadeRo and@CentroProdh on Twitter.

     

  • Narendra Modi Has Five Years to Change His Track Record on Democratic Values

    By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

    Recent raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the homes and offices of human rights lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising are deeply worrying. Together with their organisation, Lawyer’s Collective formed in 1981, Grover and Jaising have frequently used India’s courts to seek justice for victims of major rights violations such as the Union Carbide Bhopal gas leak, 1984 Delhi riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Lawyer’s Collective has also played a key role in the passing of legislation to address violence against women and sexual harassment at the workplace.

    This is not the first time that outspoken rights advocates and their organisations have been targeted in India. Nonetheless, for the country’s premier investigation agency to go after Lawyer’s Collective for alleged violations of the discretion riddled Foreign Contributions  Regulation Act (FCRA) which has been discredited by UN experts, might be a step too far in a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

    Read on: The Wire 

     

  • New UN resolution stresses that States must ensure protection of human rights defenders in conflict situations

    CIVICUS welcomes a new resolution on human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 1 April at the end of the Council’s 49th session.

    The resolution highlights the myriad roles of human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict settings: from monitoring, documenting and raising awareness; to promoting accountability; fighting impunity; countering disinformation and misinformation; assisting victims of human rights violations and abuses in gaining access to justice; and raising the human rights impacts of conflict.

    Human rights defenders working in these situations require specific holistic and security protections. We welcome that the resolution highlights the value of relocation initiatives to protect human rights defenders from violence and attacks. It also recalls the rights of everyone to freedom of movement, to seek and enjoy asylum, and to be protected against refoulement. We call on States to ensure such emergency support procedures are in place to facilitate relocation initiatives and to ensure protection of relocated defenders.

    The resolution further urges States to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, particularly in light of their role in conflict prevention and resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. The resolution raises concerns about legislative measures – including national security, counter-terrorism and cybercrime legislation, and laws regulating civil society organizations – that have been misused to target human rights defenders or endangered their safety. Such laws have contributed to the erosion of civic and democratic space in recent years all over the world, and we call on States to lift all undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    We call on all States to support and implement the resolution, and we call on the Council to closely monitor compliance with the resolution and to hold States accountable for their treatment of human rights defenders.

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘María Esperanza’s case is part of a growing process of criminalisation of social protest’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ana Lucía Álvarez, Nicaragua officer of the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), about the case of María Esperanza Sánchez, unjustly imprisoned in Nicaragua since March 2020, and the ongoing campaign for her release.

    IM-Defensoras is a network of activists and organisations from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua that seeks to provide a comprehensive, regional response to the increasing violence against women human rights defenders in Mesoamerica. Founded in 2010, it seeks to empower and connect women defenders involved in various organisations and social movements to strengthen networks of protection and solidarity among them and to increase the visibility, recognition and impact of their human rights work.

    Ana Lucia AlvarezEntrevista

    How long has María Esperanza been in prison, and why?

    María Esperanza was captured on 26 January 2020. She is an activist who for a long time accompanied relatives of political prisoners. I believe she began her activism and her organisation after the citizens’ uprising of April 2018. She was already being persecuted, so she was staying in a safe house. The police illegally and arbitrarily raided the house, without a search warrant, and arrested her. She was accused of trafficking narcotics, psychotropics and other controlled substances to the detriment of public health. Her trial is being handled by lawyer Julio Montenegro, who specialises in cases of criminalisation of protest and judicial prosecution of activists and human rights defenders. 

    Do you consider María Esperanza’s case to be part of a broader attack on civic space in Nicaragua?

    There is definitely a growing process of criminalisation of social protest in Nicaragua. The first upsurge in criminalisation came after Operation Clean-up, which ended around August 2018. This was a pseudo-military operation carried out by police and para-police forces to dismantle any organisation of territorial protection that the population had built through barricades in neighbourhoods and roadblocks around the country.

    Once Operation Clean-up was over, the criminalisation of those who had taken part in the civic struggle began. More than 800 people became political prisoners, before being released in 2019 by unilateral decision of the government through the Amnesty Law.

    María Esperanza had already been persecuted, harassed, put under surveillance and threatened before she was imprisoned for her human rights work. Her arrest and trial, like those of so many others, were plagued by irregularities. Violations of due process are systematic. In Nicaragua, the justice system is totally co-opted. It has collapsed and is under the control of the presidential couple: President Daniel Ortega and his vice-president and wife, Rosario Murillo.

    How has the situation of civil society changed since the 2018 wave of protests?

    More than 350 people were killed in a span of six months during the 2018 protests. The symbolic and emotional weight of that death toll in a country that has experienced civil wars, dictatorships and armed uprisings has been tremendous. In Nicaragua there has never been accountability, there have always been policies of wiping the slate clean, which has deepened the wounds.

    In addition to the suffering of the 350 dead, there were over 800 people imprisoned for political reasons, and while many have since been released from prison, we purposefully say that they have been released rather than that they are free, because after their release, political persecution has not ended for them. Systematic harassment by police and para-police forces continues, and it becomes an obstacle to the enjoyment of many rights, including the right to work.

    For these people, the effects of the economic crisis that the country is currently experiencing are compounded by the difficulties brought about by political persecution. They often cannot leave their home because there is a patrol outside, or they go out and they are followed, and then those who follow them learn the names of their employers and start to harass them as well.

    Persecution happens at the local, neighbourhood level. The ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, has established various structures that are used to maintain territorial control through surveillance and repression: Councils of Citizen Power, Family Cabinets and Sandinista Leadership Committees. If you are an opponent or a human rights defender, there will always be a neighbour of yours who is involved in one of these structures and informs the regime and the police of what you are doing, and then you start to be persecuted and harassed, and maybe at some point you get arbitrarily arrested.

    Harassment and hypervigilance cause psychological damage not only to the persecuted individual but also to their family. This has had an impact on the increase in emigration, which is a dual phenomenon, caused by both political persecution and social need. Since 2018, 120,000 people have left Nicaragua, a huge number for a country of just six million.

    The 2021 presidential election openly exposed the regime’s lack of legitimacy. On what basis does the government stand?

    In the run-up to the 2021 election, persecution was only exacerbated. In order to carry out the electoral farce of November, the government imprisoned 10 presidential pre-candidates and many people with a key role in the electoral process and in the formation of alternatives. This sent a very clear message, as a result of which there is still a lot of self-censorship.

    Daniel Ortega has continued to concentrate and consolidate his power. We are currently living under a regime that has become totalitarian, where all freedoms are totally restricted. This is the only way the government can sustain itself, because it has no legitimacy. That is why repression and social control continue to increase rather than decrease. In the absence of such levels of repression and social control, the very high level of popular rejection of the regime would make it impossible for it to maintain political control.

    As a result, repression, territorial control, neighbourhood repression, the criminalisation of protest and social dissent, and the closing of spaces for the exercise of the freedom of expression and media freedoms can be expected to continue.

    Now a combination of laws has been passed that includes a Cybercrime Law. And we have already seen the first political prisoner convicted under this law, which does nothing other than criminalise the freedom of opinion.

    What the government is looking for with political prisoners is to use them as hostages. Among the people arrested recently are presidential candidates, businesspeople, bankers, lawyers, activists and human rights defenders. The government is trying to negotiate their release to gain legitimacy and international approval.

    The truth is that the government has no international support. The only foreign leaders who attended the presidential inauguration were Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and outgoing Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández.

    How can the international community support Nicaraguan civil society in its struggle for the recovery of democracy and human rights?

    We need to amplify denunciations of violations and sharpen accountability mechanisms. Civil society in Nicaragua has made a tremendous effort not only to document human rights violations but also to identify their perpetrators. Given that the justice system in Nicaragua has collapsed, and that civil society is doing everything within its power, the onus is on the international community to push for accountability and punishment of those responsible.

    Daniel Ortega’s regime is no longer a political project but an economic enterprise. Its control of the state allows Ortega to use corruption networks to his advantage. In the light of this, the international community should fine-tune its mechanisms, review economic sanctions and identify the companies that continue to do business, not always entirely legally, with the Ortega regime. Since many association agreements have democratic and anti-corruption clauses, they need to be made operational. Personal sanctions must also be imposed on the architects of corruption and repression.

    What kind of pressure should be exerted to get María Esperanza Sanchez released?

    María Esperanza was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Everything that has happened to her and to the rest of the political prisoners is completely arbitrary; that is precisely why we consider them to be political prisoners. What we demand is the unconditional and guaranteed release of them all.

    What happens to them will depend to a large extent on the strength with which the opposition and the international community manage to exert pressure, and on the correlation of forces that is established between the Nicaraguan government and the human rights movement.

    We must campaign and keep up the pressure. We must continue to put our finger on all the arbitrariness, illegalities and human rights violations. There are still people in Europe and other parts of the world who think Ortega is the idealistic revolutionary of the past, and not the despot he has become. The best way to expose dictators and human rights abusers is to keep communicating the truth on the basis of well-documented evidence.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Nicaragua is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watch List, which identifies countries in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place.
    Get in touch with IM-Defensoras through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@IM_Defensoras on Twitter.

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘The regime seeks to annihilate all forms of autonomous citizen organisation’

    CIVICUS speaks with María Teresa Blandón, a Nicaraguan human rights defender and director of Feminist Programme La Corriente, a civil society organisation (CSO) whose legal status was recently cancelled by the authoritarian regime led by President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo.

    Maria Teresa Blandon

    What is the reason for the current wave of intensified in repression in Nicaragua?

    Repression increased on the eve of the fraudulent 2021 elections, when the state specifically targeted the leaders of the main opposition groups who had been building alliances to participate in the elections, because even though they knew that conditions were extremely adverse, they insisted that this was the way out of the crisis.

    From January 2022 onwards, the Ortega-Murillo regime further escalated its offensive, possibly due to a failure in its political calculations: it had thought that once the electoral fraud had been consummated and the opposition was thrown in jail, the opposition would abdicate its role and the regime would obtain the endorsement of the international community.

    But neither of these things happened: the opposition did not resign itself and there was no international support; on the contrary, the regime’s isolation only deepened. The Nicaraguan opposition continued to constantly denounce the establishment of a de facto police state and to call for the regime’s exit through civic means. The CSOs that managed to remain in the country continued to denounce systematic human rights violations and repression, hence the approval of new laws to strip them of their legal status and assets.

    Faced with a lack of legitimacy, the Ortega-Murillo regime has deepened its strategy of annihilating any form of citizen organisation that is not subordinate to its interests. To date, more than 1,600 CSOs have been eliminated by the National Assembly and in many cases their assets have been confiscated through the application of laws that openly violate our country’s constitution, which recognises the right to free association and expressly prohibits confiscation.

    Until very recently, the power to cancel an organisation’s legal personality was in the hands of the National Assembly, but a new law assigned it to the Ministry of the Interior, which now has the absolute power to decide who has the right to associate and who does not. The procedure has been expedited and there is no recourse to appeal, which clearly speaks of the situation of defencelessness Nicaraguan civil society finds itself in.

    The judiciary has remained silent in the face of the unconstitutionality appeals filed in 2021, following the approval of the Law on Foreign Agents, which obliges CSOs that receive funds from international cooperation sources to report their activities at a level of detail that makes it practically impossible for them to operate.

    This way, the regime eliminates all forms of autonomous participation, leaves activists and human rights defenders in a more precarious situation, and obtains the resources it needs to feed the clientelist practices that are its trademark.

    One of the problems faced by the regime is precisely its lack of resources to sustain the community development projects carried out by many of the eliminated CSOs. It can no longer count on support from Venezuela, nor can it continue to expand the family businesses that the Ortega-Murillo clan has built while in power. Many of these companies have been sanctioned, including the one that monopolises the fuel business, which has forced them to carry out various manoeuvres to keep them active.

    What work does your organisation do?

    Feminist Programme La Corriente has existed for almost 30 years and was born with the aim of contributing to generating critical thought and encouraging new forms of participation by women in Central America. Over the last 15 years we have expanded our work with young people and sexual and gender dissident collectives.

    Throughout our journey, we have contributed to challenging heterosexism, misogyny and macho violence and built vital networks for the defence of rights. We have prioritised issues related to the prevention of violence, voluntary motherhood, women’s right to decide about their bodies and respect for sexual and gender diversity.

    Efforts to research the reality experienced by women, young people and dissident bodies have been key to the development of training and public communication programmes. For us it is of vital importance to strengthen collective action through social movements capable of thinking and acting on the changes required by Nicaraguan society. We are also part of Central American and Latin American networks and alliances, from where we contribute to advocacy processes with governments and global institutions.

    Precisely because we generate critical thought and defend rights, in May this year the National Assembly cancelled our legal status and in early July the police took over our facilities.

     

    On what grounds was the organisation ordered to shut down?

    Generally speaking, the arguments put forward by the Sandinista deputies who control parliament include an unfounded accusation that CSOs are potential money launderers because they receive funding from foreign sources, deliberately ignoring the fact that these sources are linked to governments and duly established cooperation agencies.

    They also cite alleged bureaucratic infractions such as the expiry of the term of the board of directors, failure to update statutes and refusal to provide information requested by the Ministry of the Interior. On the latter point, it is worth highlighting the abusive ministry’s intervention: in accordance with the new law, it requires CSOs to submit detailed information on each activity to be carried out and personal data of the people with whom they work.

    Such demands denaturalise the meaning of CSOs, turning them into an extension of the state, clear evidence of the totalitarian zeal of this regime. It is clearly an attempt to impose a model of absolute control that requires the dismantling of all forms of autonomous civil society participation.

    Likewise, by shutting down CSOs that work with low-income groups of the population, the regime is trying to regain control of what it thinks of as its social base, which it seeks to recover or retain by means of clientelist policies. This is why it has eliminated organisations that promote access to education for low-income children and young people, fulfil the needs of people with disabilities, promote access to land and other resources for rural and Indigenous women and provide sexual and reproductive health services and support for women who are victims of violence, among others. 

    CSOs that work in the field of citizen participation from a rights-based perspective and with a clear focus on the defence of democratic values have also been closed. They have been declared opponents of the regime and their representatives have been subjected to surveillance, threats, exile and imprisonment. It is also a kind of revenge for generating evidence that contradicts the official discourse and denouncing the systematic violation of rights by the Sandinista regime.

    Why has the regime specifically targeted feminist organisations?

    Hostility against Nicaraguan feminists dates back to the 1980s. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), as a guerrilla force turned into party that came to power, never really reflected on the patriarchal logics of power, but simply replicated them unceremoniously.

    The feminists of my generation had to endure an authoritarian and abusive relationship with the Sandinista government, which at different times expressed discomfort with the existence of women’s organisations, because from their perspective this weakened the unity of revolutionary forces.

    They exercised their veto power to prevent women’s collectives from placing demands related to macho violence and sexual and reproductive rights on the public agenda. The leaders of these collectives were silenced and forced to take on the priorities set by the ruling party leadership.

    The watershed that marked the feminist movement’s definitive break with the FSLN occurred in the late 1990s, when Zoilamérica Narváez, daughter of Rosario Murillo, who is both Daniel Ortega’s wife and Vice President, denounced the abuses committed by her stepfather for more than 20 years. When feminists clearly stood on the victim’s side it meant a break with the FSLN leadership, which has since perceived us as enemies. Zoilamérica’s denunciation encouraged further accusations involving other members of the FSLN national leadership, including the late Tomás Borge.

    Additionally, during the 2005-2006 electoral campaign, part of the feminist movement participated in an electoral alliance of opposition parties that included the Sandinista Renovation Movement, now UNAMOS, which the FSLN considers traitors to the revolution for having demanded democratisation of the party and questioned Ortega’s authoritarian and strongman leadership.

    As he returned to power in 2007, it immediately became clear that Ortega’s strategy was to dismantle feminist networks, which by that point had increased their capacity to put forward ideas and influence Nicaraguan society. The stigmatisation campaign began with a speech by Murillo in which she accused feminists of trafficking in women’s suffering and of wanting to impose a way of life alien to Nicaraguan culture. That same year, the government began to pressure international aid agencies to suspend their support for feminist collectives, causing many of them to leave the country.

    Among the main strands of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s discourse was its supposed commitment to gender equality: they proclaimed as a key advance the achievement of gender parity in all branches of government. This idea was taken up by United Nations (UN) bodies and multilateral financial institutions, but feminists provided clear evidence confirming the persistence of inequalities and the absence of public policies to address women’s demands.

    The absolute criminalisation of abortion, the absence of policies to prevent and punish macho violence, including sexual abuse against girls and adolescents, which is prevalent in Nicaragua, the absence of sex education, the failure to comply with the law that established the creation of a fund to distribute land to rural women and the violation of the labour rights of workers in foreign factories are among the many problems that remain unresolved by a regime that dares to compare itself with the countries that have made the most progress in terms of gender equality in the world.

    What should donors, and the international community in general, do to help Nicaraguan civil society?

    In such turbulent times and with so many hotspots of tension in the world, it is hard to appeal for solidarity with Nicaraguan society, which continues to bet on civic and peaceful change to move away from this new dictatorship and lay the foundations for the country’s democratisation.

    However, we must continue to appeal to democratic governments, regardless of their ideology, so they do not look away from what is happening in Nicaragua and support our just demands for the immediate release of political prisoners, the suspension of the police state, an end to the persecution of CSOs and the Catholic Church and the full restoration of our rights.

    We call for a coherent position on the part of democratic governments, UN agencies, multilateral financial institutions, regional integration blocs and political party forums to avoid any action that could contribute to prolonging the stay of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship in power.

    At this point it is inadmissible that they denounce the regime’s systematic human rights violations, including the commission of crimes against humanity, while at the same time voting in favour of granting loans to the very same regime, which in addition to increasing a debt that is already greater than the country’s GDP gives it greater room for manoeuvre to remain in power.

    Active support for human rights defenders, independent journalists and CSOs is vital to sustain hope for democratic change that does not impose further suffering on the Nicaraguan people.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with La Corriente through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@LaCorrienteNica on Twitter. 

     

  • Nicaragua: Urgent call to stop judicial persecution of HRD Medardo Mairena Sequeira

    Medardo Mairena Sequeira, who appeared in court yesterday to face trumped charges, was found guilty of conspiracy to undermine National integrity.

     

  • Niger: CIVICUS welcomes release of human rights defenders

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the decision by Nigerien authorities to release three human rights defenders after six months in detention. We now call on the Nigerien authorities to drop all charges against them. Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maïkoul Zodi were among civil society members who gathered peacefully in Niamey, on 15 March 2020, to protest about corruption in the Ministry of Defence.

     

  • Omani human rights activist silenced and pushed into exile

    CIVICUS interviews Habiba Al Hinai a human rights defender from Oman who had to leave the country for her own safety. She also elaborates the situation for human rights defenders in the country. She is currently living in Germany with her son after she felt that had become difficult for her to live in her home country due to her human rights activities.

    1. What are the restrictions you and other human rights defenders in Oman have faced after being active in the uprising in 2011?
    In 2011, and like in many suppressed Arab countries, Oman witnessed wide spread human rights demonstrations that triggered an extremely violent government reaction attempting to suppress such unusual public actions. Demands of Omani demonstrators were not something new to the authorities, especially with rampant corruption, unemployment, poverty, limited education, suppression of press freedom and freedom of expression, ignoring women and children's rights, conducting of false elections and enforced restrictions and monitoring of civic society associations. The protests resulted in the death of two innocent civilians, in addition to tens wounded by rubber bullets and hundreds detained from different parts of the country.

    As expected, the government responded with an iron fist to human rights movements such as teachers, doctors and workers strikes by imprisoning demonstration organisers along with many human rights defenders, activists, writers, bloggers and the educated elite. As a result of this oppression, many activists had to run away to other countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Australia and ask for political asylum, as it has been made impossible for them, facing all kinds of threats of detention and imprisonment, to conduct human rights activities within Oman.

    In 2012, I was arrested along with two of my colleagues during our coverage of a strike by more than 4 000 workers in the desert oilfield. In 2016. I had to pay a fine as I was convicted of two charges for “insulting the Omani people” and “disturbing the general order set by the government”. These charges arose over a post I wrote on my Facebook page. Because of this statement, I had to sign a statement written by the top security service stating that I will not continue with my human rights activities or otherwise I would be sent to prison. Our organisation’s website, Facebook account and Twitter account were hacked and I was kicked out of the Facebook group so that I cannot edit it anymore. The account is still running and all that’s being said on the site is that we are very happy and have no human rights complaints anymore. For this reason, it would not be safe to start another website, Facebook or Twitter account without having high levels of digital security as it can be hacked again.

    A lot of human rights activists in Oman have been sent to courts and faced long and costly trials over fake accusations. Many have served prison sentences of one to three years in prison for “defaming the Sultan” following Facebook and Twitter posts that criticised Sultan Qabos bin Sa’eed Al Sa’eed. This is part of a punishment method for activists who refuse to stop their work. The security services are using different kinds of tools as punishment, including judicial, religious or social pressure. Sadly many activists end up in prison, unable to work or are banned from travelling. Luckily, I was able to leave Oman before I could have been banned from travelling. The political situation in Oman is dire now since the Sultan is of advanced age and is quite sick, which has led to all the different political factions fighting over who will take over power. Unfortunately, the government is using this time to punish activists through prison sentences and other restrictions.

    2. What is the situation in general for civil society in Oman?
    The situation is that all independent civil society organisations (CSOs) are banned from carrying out their activities and CSO workers have been threatened to not even work online or even form WhatsApp groups. Making calls on Skype, Signal, Messenger and WhatsApp is also banned. All independent magazines and newspaper have been closed down and reports indicate that three journalists from the Al Zaman newspaper have been sentenced to three years in prison for publishing articles critical of the state. Six activists have fled to the United Kingdom where they have been granted asylum, which is a new phenomenon for us. Many of those human rights defenders who are not in prison right now in Oman are waiting for their cases to be finalised by the courts.

    The result of this is fear of doing any human rights work. We don’t know who will rule Oman after the Sultan and many people in Oman are in general very afraid because they don’t know what will happen in the future. Additionally there is a lot of corruption and the unemployment rate is very high. 70% of the population are youth under the age of 30, meaning youth unemployment is very high. Omanis feel that the Sultan cannot solve these problems because of his age and illness and are unsure as to who will rule the country in the future.

    The crackdown on civil society has resulted in very little reporting on the human rights situation in Oman and most human rights defenders have completely stopped making posts online. The state security has managed to control and push the society back and to make civil society afraid. This has resulted in nobody recording the human rights violations publicly from inside Oman and only space left is for Omani human rights defenders who are abroad to publicly report about the situation.

    3. What specific restrictions have you faced as a woman human rights defender?
    In general, the environment for women human rights defenders in Oman is very unhealthy. The government uses its political power and pressures religious entities and our families to pressure us with the aim of breaking us down. Methods used to shame women human rights defenders include defamation and spreading bad news about women activists. This has resulted in many women human rights defenders being silenced.

    Almost all the women human rights defenders in Oman stopped their activism because they couldn’t take the pressure. The government has contacted over and over the families of women activists to pressure them to stop their female family member from activism. This and the other restrictions became too much for most women human rights defenders to handle. I worked on women’s rights, children’s rights and other human rights issues in Oman and I was punished for it. Besides the detention and paying a fine, I also underwent interrogations by the security forces and was told by the government that I didn’t have a permit to do any work on women and children’s rights.

    In my situation, the government sent my own family members to break me down. The government used them and some of our personal differences to come and detain me when I attended a protest in 2011. This creates terrible cracks in the family and I suffered a lot. Now some of my family members chose to abandon me or don’t talk to me. If they even support me financially, they will face a backlash from the government. The restrictions I faced are still causing me great problems. After I was imprisoned in the middle of the dessert in temperatures that could sometimes reach 50 degrees with my hands ties and with no air conditioning, I have a phobia of indoor spaces and this is still very stressful for me today. Currently I am seeing a psychiatrist in Germany for a treatment.

    4. What support is needed from international civil society and international actors?
    The international community must be aware of the human rights situation in Oman. Many people and governments around the world don’t think there is an issue with human rights in Oman including the European Union. This has a lot to do with us not being able to report on the situation from Oman. The government in Oman managed to scare us quickly before the international community knew what was happening.

    It is important to pressure the embassies of Oman around the world. Just recently, I saw that the Omani embassy in London had invited a big INGO for an event at the embassy. This is a sign of how good the Omani government is at networking and putting on a certain face to the outside world including human rights organisations worldwide. It is important that international human rights organisations do not accept invitations to events by the Omani embassies. If they do attend, they must pressure the government officials while at the events.

    The United States of America had previously started a Female Genital Mutilation campaign in Oman but when the US-Iran deal came into place with Oman being a key actor in the deal the US started being friendlier to the Omani government. In the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Oman in March 2015, the United States was very gentle concerning the human rights situation in Oman. But the international community can do a lot through diplomacy. When UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to association and assembly, Maina Kiai, came to Oman, he met with activists. Luckily, international organisations supported Maina Kiai’s critical reports but this report must be collected and used as part of diplomacy at an international level. Unfortunately, the Omani government does very good diplomacy so governments need to be persistent.

    • Follow Habiba Al Hinai on Twitter @HabibaAlHinai
    • Oman is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka

    Dear Mr. President

    We, 48 undersigned organizations from 24 countries, strongly condemn the continuing wave of detentions and harassment of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, anarchists and opposition party members in Belarus.

     

  • Open letter: Stop reprisals against Mongolian human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren

    CIVICUS and over 120 civil society organisations have signed a joint letter to urge the authorities in Mongolia to stop reprisals against human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren and to ensure that environmental defenders, and communities impacted by development projects, can freely and safely defend human rights and protect the environment without fearing reprisals.

     

  • Outcomes from the UN Human Rights Council...to be continued

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 43rd Session, which was scheduled to run from 24 Feb – 20 March, was suspended after three weeks on 13 March until further notice.

    CIVICUS fully supports the suspension of the Session on public health grounds, and the precautionary measures taken before the suspension. However, we remain concerned that public participation in the Council risks being disproportionately affected, especially in light of the decision to cut General Debates from the 44th Session (June), which removes a key platform for civil society to engage with governments. The UN depends on information from the ground in order to make evidence-based decisions, and we call on states to take steps to ensure that the participation of civil society is not compromised.

    In Nicaragua, a human rights crisis has seen hundreds of thousands flee the country and an ongoing crackdown against human rights organisations, community leaders, and journalists. The situation is compounded by a lack of political will from the government to engage with regional or international mechanisms, or to ensure accountability. CIVICUS welcomes that the draft resolution on Nicaragua tabled during the Session would provide a mandate for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation at this critical time, and we urge all states to support this resolution when the Session resumes.

    We also call on states to support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. The 43rd session marked the final one for the current Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and we thank her for her outstanding work during her mandate. Myanmar has undergone significant developments in its human rights framework since the Special Rapporteur began her term – from elections in 2015 which saw a groundswell of hope for positive change, to the dawning realisation of crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. But the curtailment of fundamental freedoms and total crackdown on any criticism of authorities has remained grimly consistent. Those on the ground, the human rights defenders and activists who are trying to achieve change, need international support from the Human Rights Council.

    In late 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against the lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. When the Session resumes, the Human Rights Council will vote on extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. We welcome support shown by states so far for the renewal of the mandate, and we urge adoption of this resolution when the Session continues.

    What is a Special Rapporteur?
    Special Rapporteur is a title given to an independent expert who works on behalf of the United Nations who has a specific country or thematic mandate from the Human Rights Council. Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They can only officially visit countries that have agreed to invite them. Aside from fact-finding missions, Rapporteurs regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. 

    The mandates for Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and opinion, and on human rights defenders, are set to be renewed when the Session resumes. We encourage all member and observer states to show their full support for these mandates by co-sponsorsing the resolutions.

    Just prior to the suspension of the Session, Mary Lawlor was appointed as new Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. We look forward to working with her as she protects those on the frontline of defending human rights around the world, and we thank Michel Forst, the outgoing mandate holder, for his tireless work.

    Towards the beginning of the Session, the High Commissioner’s update on Sri Lanka highlighted ongoing impunity for past grave human rights abuses in the country. The new Sri Lankan government, which came into power in 2019, has said that it intends to renege on Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 which provided commitments to accountability, truth and reconciliation. The human rights space in Sri Lanka has deteriorated sharply under the new administration, and the undermining of this resolution – currently the only route to ensuring transitional justice in Sri Lanka – would not only be fatal to victims and their families, but also a significant setback to the UN itself. We urge states to strongly encourage Sri Lanka to uphold its commitments and reiterate calls for an international accountability mechanism to ensure that accountability remains a possibility.

    Although India was not on the official agenda of this Session, the ongoing crackdown on Kashmir, a discriminatory citizenship law and violent suppression of protests proved an ongoing issue throughout the Session.

    CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, ISHR, FIDH, OMCT and ICJ organized a side event to discuss the current situation and ways in which the international community, including the Council, could contribute to constrictive progress. With key partners, CIVICUS also joined important statements on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as well as on India’s recent discriminatory citizenship law, and we were encouraged to see several states raise their own concerns about India during debates.


    Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
    Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

     

    Our joint and stand alone country statements at the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council
    Angola Burundi El Salvador  Eritrea Fiji
    India Iraq Iran Jammu & Kashmir Madagascar
    Myanmar Nicaragua Sri Lanka See all statements

     

     

  • PALESTINE: ‘The counter-terrorism law is used to restrict political work in Palestine & shrink civic space in Israel’

    CIVICUS speaks withEinat Fogel-Levin, International Advocacy Coordinator for the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), about growing restrictions on Palestinian civil society. HRDF is an Israeli civil society organisation (CSO) working to protect Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders (HRDs) by providing legal aid and defence to those facing various forms of legal persecution and fending off attacks on their bodies, persons and work.

     

  • PALESTINE: ‘They label us antisemites or terrorists to silence us and paralyse our human rights work’

    NadimNashifCIVICUS speaks about civil society’s online activism against repression and oppression in Palestine with Nadim Nashif, executive director and co-founder of 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media.

    7amleh is a civil society organisation that advocates for Palestinian digital rights. With the aim of creating a safe, fair and free digital space for Palestinians, it researches digital rights, provides training to Palestinian activists and organisations and leads local and international advocacy campaigns.

    What is the focus of 7amleh’s work?

    We focus on digital rights and digital activism. Palestinian people have been living under occupation for the past seven decades. This kind of occupation obviously involves lots of violence, repression and oppression.

    As technology progressed and the internet became part of our lives, the same power relations were replicated in the online world. Palestinians live under siege from the Israeli government. This siege is not only physical; it has also migrated to the virtual world.

    There are frequent attempts to prevent Palestinians from exercising their freedom of expression online. This is done by pressuring companies to exclude Palestinians. For instance, many social media platforms are biased in their policy toward Palestinian content and many digital payment platforms don’t allow Palestinians to use them under various excuses due to Israel’s pressure. PayPal, for instance, is available to Israelis but not Palestinians. Palestinians’ freedom of expression is also limited because they can be arrested for what they post on social media. There’s an evident practice of discrimination against Palestinians.

    Our organisation is recording all these cases of restriction and documenting them to fight for the rights and freedoms of Palestinians.

    How have Palestinians worked around these restrictions to make themselves heard?

    The Palestinian identity is under attack. For instance, the Israeli army doesn’t let the Palestinian flag be raised. But Palestinians have tried to find creative ways to express their identity. For example, to represent their flag while not raising an actual flag, they have chosen to display the flag’s colours. These are the colours that can be found in watermelons, so they will instead draw a watermelon.

    Social media platforms use the available technology, their algorithms and search engines, to cooperate with the Israeli authorities by monitoring speech and deleting content when certain keywords come up. For example, Palestinian political movements are considered by Israel and the USA to be terrorist organisations, so their names are banned from social media. But digital activists are finding ways to write them that trick artificial intelligence, such as by adding full stops between letters. This is how they can still express themselves and find ways not to be banned entirely online. Those are some tactics Palestinians are using to refuse to play by the rules of those who want to limit them and tell them how to think, write and express their national identity.

    Digital activism is key. When you experience human rights violations on a daily basis, the camera becomes a tool of resistance. For many Palestinians, it is the only defence from soldiers and violent settlers attacking them constantly. In many cases, home evictions were prevented because they were livestreamed. That’s why the Israeli government initiated legislation to criminalise photography and video-making.

    Online global solidarity is also key, as shown by the 2021 case of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, in which online solidarity movements applied pressure to prevent house evictions. As a result, the Israeli government’s plan didn’t succeed.

    How have the authorities reacted to this activism?

    They have constantly tried to silence the Palestinian narrative and raise the Israeli one, by criminalising Palestinian activists and sending them to jail. There are cases in which you don’t even understand why someone is in jail.

    I remember the case of a young teenager from Jerusalem who posted on Facebook some phrases about Palestinians needing to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it from Israeli settlers. He spent one and a half years in jail because of this, which was not a call to violence at all. He just said, ‘Hey, this is our holy place, we need to protect it’. You can be sent to jail for saying something about protecting a place! This example is just one of many.

    The Israeli government is pushing many laws and regulations to be able to do this. One of them is the so-called ‘Facebook law’ it is trying to pass. Officially, it’s meant to help deal with harmful content. But it aims to grant Israeli courts the power to demand the removal of user-generated content on social media platforms that can be perceived as inflammatory or as harming the security of the state, people or the public. It is so vague that anything the Israeli authorities don’t like will be sent to the courts, without those affected being able to defend themselves. Using ‘secret evidence’, Israel can order companies to take down content they consider to be illegal. This would obviously be used exclusively against Palestinians.

    Many tactics of online repression are already being used, including lots of online brigading – coordinated actions by groups constantly reporting social media content to the Cyber Unit. Palestinians are under surveillance 24/7, especially on social media. Accounts are continually under surveillance and reported to social media companies. These companies are taking down almost 90 per cent of what the Israeli government asks them to.

    How can international civil society and the international community best support Palestinian civil society?

    I think they must take a firm stand when human rights violations happen. There’s an ongoing attempt to silence Palestinian civil society by labelling us as antisemites or terrorists. These accusations have profound effects: they aim to paralyse Palestinian civil society and prevent it recording human rights violations and atrocities – war crimes – committed against Palestinians.

    Internationally recognised Palestinian human rights organisations have been on the ground for more than four decades and have recorded everything. They clearly have nothing to do with terrorism or antisemitism – all they care about is human rights and democratic values. But many governments around the world fail to reject the accusations against them. Why?

    Any outstanding personality or activist standing up for Palestinians faces a smear campaign. We are trying to develop tools that help us deal with this, but it’s not simple. Palestine is not the only place where this is happening. We’ve seen shrinking civic space and civil society activists and organisations stigmatised as terrorists or terrorist supporters in many other countries in the global south, with many countries of the global north cooperating and supporting the regimes that oppress them.

    No human being would accept having their freedoms taken away without fighting back, as Palestinians do; it’s a natural human reaction. We hope allies and friends from global rights movements, political movements and civil society organisations will stand up for us and raise their voices on our behalf.

    Civic space in Palestine is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with 7amleh through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@7amleh and@NadimNashif on Twitter.

     

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘This victory belongs to everyone who supported and fought with us’

    MariaSolTauleCIVICUS speaks about the recent acquittal of 10 human rights defenders in the Philippines with Maria Sol Taule, a human rights lawyer and member of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.

    Founded in 1995, Karapatan is a national alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. It documents and denounces extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary imprisonment and militarisation, helps organise mass actions to expose human rights violations and challenge the prevailing culture of impunity, and monitors peace negotiations between the government and the insurgent National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Karapatan has recently provided legal counsel to criminalised human rights defenders and campaigned for their acquittal, including through online campaigns such as #TogetherWeDefend and #DefendTheDefenders.

    What were the accusations brought against the 10 human rights defenders who were recently acquitted?

    The 10 human rights defenders were charged with perjury, but on 9 January 2023, after three years of court trial, the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 139 acquitted them on grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove that the officers of Gabriela, Karapatan and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) – had ‘wilfully or deliberately asserted a falsehood’.

    The origins of the case date back to May 2019, when Sr. Elenita Belardo, RGS of the RMP; Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Wilfredo Ruazol, Edita Birgos, Gabriela Krista Dalena and Jose Mari Callueng, all from Karapatan; and Joan May Salvador and Gertrudes Libang of Gabriela jointly filed a petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data before the Supreme Court of the Philippines in response to relentless red-tagging – the labelling of activists, human rights defenders and CSOs critical of government policies and actions as linked to communist insurgent groups, leading to accusations of being destabilisers and enemies of the state – and other attacks against CSOs and their members.

    The respondents in the petition included former President Rodrigo Duterte, other high-ranking officials from the police and military, including former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., and officers of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

    The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed it in June 2019. According to the Court of Appeals, the petition did not conform with the requirements of the rules on the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data. The Court also said that the allegations in the petition and documents submitted did not fulfil the evidentiary standard to establish that the petitioners’ right to life, liberty, security and privacy were violated or threatened with violation by the respondents.

    Shortly after the petition was dismissed, one of them, former National Security Adviser General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., filed a retaliatory suit of perjury against the petitioners. He filed it before the Quezon City Office of the City Prosecutor.

    Esperon alleged that the original petition had indicated that the RMP was a corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), when in fact its registration had been revoked. Esperon implicated Gabriela and Karapatan because the petition had been jointly filed by the three organisations.

    In their defence, Gabriela and Karapatan said that they could only attest to facts and circumstances pertaining to themselves, as evidenced by the separate verifications attached to the petition, while RMP said that the mention of its status as being registered corporation had been made in good faith: RMP first heard that its registration had been revoked when Esperon filed the case, as it had not received any notification from the SEC and had consistently filed its annual reports with it.

    The case was initially dismissed at the prosecution level, but Esperon filed a motion for reconsideration, which was granted. It was later filed in court and became a full-blown trial.

    How did civil society advocate for the 10 human rights defenders’ acquittal?

    From the time we received a subpoena informing us of the perjury charges against officers of the three organisations, we knew that this was a malicious and retaliatory suit resulting from our filing of a petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data before the Supreme Court.

    Human rights defenders were being attacked once again. So we knew that apart from a good legal defence, we needed to build a solid support coalition among civil society in the Philippines and abroad. We launched a campaign around the hashtags #TogetherWeDefend and #DefendTheDefenders and lobbied with our allies and networks in the Philippines. We also lobbied with the diplomatic community in the Philippines through trial observations and gathered the support and solidarity of international CSOs to back our call for their acquittal. So this victory belongs to everyone who supported and fought with us.

    What is the context currently like for Filipino civil society?

    The situation has steadily worsened following the results of the presidential election held in May 2022, which was won by an alliance of two authoritarian dynasties: the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was elected president, and Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, was elected vice-president.

    The 2020 Anti-Terrorism Law passed under Duterte is being intensely used against activists. Dozens of petitions were filed before the Supreme Court challenging the law’s constitutionality, but the Court ruled most of its provisions to be constitutional. Activists are illegally arrested, abducted, tortured and even killed, and nobody is prosecuted for these gruesome crimes. The NTF-ELCAC continues to vilify and red-tag human rights defenders. Many are also facing trumped-up criminal charges. More than 800 political prisoners are currently languishing in various jails in the Philippines.


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

    Get in touch with Karapatan through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@karapatan and@soltaule on Twitter.

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘We will make sure that human rights are on the electoral agenda’

    CIVICUS speaks about civil society responses to the growing restrictions on civic space in the Philippines with Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, Chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and Executive Director of the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights).

    PhilRights is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works on human rights education, training, research and information, and that monitors and documents human rights violations. Established in 1991 by PAHRA, PhilRights serves as the alliance’s research and information centre. It played an important part in advocacy that led to the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines in 2006 and continue to play a leading role in the submission of alternative reports on economic, social and cultural rights to United Nations human rights mechanisms. It has published several human rights training materials that are extensively used by CSOs and social movements.

    Nymia Pimentel Simbulan

    Photo Credit: Schwanke/Brot fuer die Welt

    What is the state of civic space in the Philippines, and what risks do civil society activists and organisations face?

    Civic space in the Philippines is currently restricted, particularly for human rights organisations and defenders. It has slowly become narrower over time, and it is increasingly challenging for human rights organisations and defenders to exercise rights such as those to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. 

    This has been going on for years. In 2018 the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a memorandum with new requirements CSOs must comply with. This made CSOs suspicious and apprehensive because they were being asked to provide the SEC with sensitive information like sources of funding, areas of operation and details of board members as a requirement in the renewal of their registration. The new regulations were used by the government to monitor their operations and activities, including for human rights CSOs.

    A big problem we have right now is ‘red tagging’: the practice of state agents labelling activists, human rights defenders and CSOs that are vocal and critical of government policies, programmes, pronouncements and actions as being linked to communist insurgent groups and accusing them of being destabilisers and enemies of the state. This is a common strategy used by the Philippine government through the security sector as a way of intimidating and silencing individuals, groups and members of the opposition who openly criticise the state. 

    The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has been notorious in red-tagging since the second quarter of 2021. This body was created following the passage of the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, in the midst of the pandemic. Its mandate was to put an end to the local insurgency problem but in the implementation of its mandate it has targeted legitimate opposition, human rights defenders, media practitioners and progressive church leaders through red-tagging and vilification campaigns, the filing of trumped-up charges and dissemination of lies and fake news through the social media.

    Also rampant is harassment of human rights lawyers, defenders and media personalities who are vocally critical of the government and its policies. One case worth mentioning is that of Maria Ressa, a Filipino-American journalist who became known for exposing corruption and human rights violation through Rappler, a Manila-based digital media company for investigative journalism. She was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize but continued to be harassed and criminally charged on multiple fabricated accusations, including fraud, tax evasion and receiving money from the CIA.

    What was the process leading to the approval of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, and what role did civil society play in it?

    The Human Rights Defenders Protection Act was passed by the House of Representatives on 17 January 2022, but it is not yet law. For it to become law, the Senate must still pass a counterpart of the bill, which it has not yet done.

    Still, the passage of the bill by the House, without a single legislator voting against or abstaining, is quite unprecedented. This is a piece of legislation that human rights activists have long been advocating for.

    Civil society has lobbied for the passage of the bill into a law for years, not only under the current Congress but also under the previous one. Civil society representatives repeatedly met with the House’s human rights champions. Encouragingly, there are also human rights champions in the Senate who have consistently supported the civil society campaign for the passage of the bill.

    Much work remains to be done with human rights champions in the Senate. Given time constraints, I don’t know if the bill will be passed. If it is, civil society will use it in our human rights advocacy work. If it is not, unfortunately we will be back to square one in the next Congress.

    Do you think the human rights situation will feature in the campaign for the May presidential election?

    I think it will, because PAHRA has come up with a human rights electoral agenda that its member organisations have approved, so while we continue to do our human rights education work and launch campaigns, we will make sure that the human rights electoral agenda reaches communities and the general public.

    When connecting with political parties, we have noticed that they are open to the human rights agenda promoted by PAHRA, so we provide them with a copy so that they can bring up these issues in their campaigns.

    How does PhilRights support civil society organisations and activists in the Philippines?

    We conduct research on various human rights issues. For instance, in the past we did research on children’s involvement in armed conflict and the phenomenon of child soldiers. Right now, we are actively involved in monitoring and documenting human rights violations in the context of the so-called ‘war on drugs’. We have set up a very good documentation mechanism that we use when we go to communities, particularly urban poor communities. We conduct interviews and gather first-hand information from the families and relatives of the victims of extrajudicial killings connected to the ‘war on drugs’.

    With the data that we gather we produce reports, human rights briefs, infographics and posters that we disseminate locally and internationally among the human rights community, the public and international allies and networks.

    In addition, we do human rights education and training. We have produced training modules on human rights education and the rights-based approach to development, and we conduct human rights education in the same communities where we have documented human rights violations. 

    How can international civil society best support Filipino civil society’s human rights work?

    International civil society can support Filipino civil society by disseminating information about what is happening in the country. This will also encourage collaboration because local CSOs are best placed to provide the information materials that international CSOs need.

    International CSOs can also help by organising webinars and inviting Filipino human rights defenders to share their narratives and experiences. We are very open and willing to collaborate with organisations such as CIVICUS and Amnesty International, among others. Institutions willing to support human rights defenders in the Philippines can also do so through funding or linking Filipino CSOs with potential funders.

    Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with PhilRights through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@PhilRights on Twitter. 

     

  • Philippines: Government should be held accountable for the killings of activists

    The Philippine Government must face international accountability for its widespread killing of activists and human rights defenders, and the grave human rights violations it has committed, seven human rights groups said in a statement today.

     

  • Philippines: Halt judicial harassment and investigate killing of activists

    Hon. Menardo Guevarra

    Secretary, Department of Justice

    Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila,

    Philippines 1000

     

    Dear Secretary Guevarra,

    RE:  Halt judicial harassment and investigate killing of activists in the Philippines

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.

    We are writing to you with regards to recent reports we have received on the judicial harassment of human rights defenders in the Philippines as well as allegations of extrajudicial killings of activists. We are concerned that harassment and attacks continue to be perpetrated against those who are “red-tagged” and accused of supporting the communist insurgency. The government’s anti- insurgency campaign has failed to distinguish between armed combatants and civilians, including human rights defenders. As a consequence, many groups and individuals have been targeted simply because of their critical views of the government. We set out our concerns in more details below.

    Fabricated charges filed against human rights defenders

    The chairperson of human rights group Karapatan Elisa “Tita” Lubi and Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Southern Mindanao Region Secretary General Jayvee Apiag are currently facing attempted murder charges which we believe have been fabricated. The charges were filed by Corporal Elvin Jay Claud in relation to an alleged 20 May 2018 armed encounter between elements of the New People’s Army and the Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion and 10th Infantry Division in Sitio Balite, Brgy. Salapawan, Paquibato District, Davao City. The case was only filed on 3 June 2020 — two years after the alleged encounter.[1]

    Jayvee Apiag has testified that at the time of the incident he was at Barangay Madaum, in Tagum City, to conduct a fact-finding mission on the extrajudicial murder of Ariel Maquiran, a banana plantation worker.  Elisa “Tita” Lubi, has also shared evidence with the courts confirming her presence in Metro Manila preceding, during and following the alleged incident. In addition to exculpatory evidence, it is also implausible that Lubi was engaged in armed combat as she is 76 and is suffering from hypertension and arthritis.[2] We are also seriously concerned that Lubi and Apiag were also deprived of due process: they did not receive subpoenas to participate in the preliminary investigation of the case to assert their innocence and avail of appropriate remedies for the case’s dismissal.[3]

    In a separate incident, on the morning of 21 March 2021, Karapatan human rights worker, Renalyn Tejero was detained after a raid on her apartment in Cagayan de Oro City by the Philippine National Police and Philippine Army. She was shown a warrant and was only able to read the words “homicide” and “RTC 34, Cabadbaran.” She was also interrogated without a lawyer, despite requesting one. Tejero is now facing murder and attempted murder charges which we believe to be fabricated. She has been accused by four soldiers of the 12th Scout Ranger Company of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion of the Philippine Army in the alleged murder of Corporal Marion Suson, in an encounter with supposed New People’s Army members on 9 November 2019. Renalyn Tejero is currently being held at the Police Regional Office (PRO) 13’s headquarters at Camp Colonel Rafael Rodriguez in Butuan City. Previously, in November 2020, she was red-tagged by a group named "Movement against Terrorism," along with 32 other individuals from various progressive organizations in the Caraga region.[4]

    CIVICUS believes these trumped-up charges are a clear form of reprisal on the human rights defenders’ efforts to hold government officials including President Rodrigo Duterte accountable.

    Killing of nine human rights defenders and political activists

    On 7 March 2021, police and military conducted raids across four provinces throughout the Southern Tagalog region that led to the killing of nine human rights defenders and political activists.

    • Ariel Evangelista was a human rights defender and leader of the progressive group for fisherfolk, People’s Solidarity Against Environmental and Land Destruction, UMALPAS KA) a community organization that monitors the impact of eco-tourism projects in Batangas.[5] His partner, Anna Mariz Lemita-Evangelista, was a staunch supporter of coastal protection in Batangas, and an educator and community organizer in Cavite.[6] Police shot dead both human rights defenders during a raid on their house in Barangay Calayo, Nasugbu, Batangas.
    • Emmanuel Asuncion, a labour organizer and the coordinator of the Cavite chapter of BAYAN, a left-wing group, was shot dead by policemen in the office of the Workers' Assistance Center (WAC) in Dasmariñas in Dasmariñas, Cavite.[7]
    • Melvin Dasigao[8] and Mark Bacasno[9] were human rights defenders, youth organisers, and members of SIKKAD K3, a group working for the rights of the urban poor, who were killed in Rodriguez.
    • Puroy Dela Cruz and Randy Dela Cruz of the indigenous Dumagat tribe were shot dead by the police in Sitio Mina, Barangay Sta. Inez, Tanay, Rizal.[10]
    • Urban poor activists Abner Esto and Edward Esto were killed by the police in sitio Macaingalan, Barangay Puray, Rodriguez, Rizal.[11]

    Six others have been arrested: labour activists Esteban Mendoza, Elizabeth Camoral, Ramir Corcolon, Arnedo “Nedo” Lagunias and Eugene Eugenio; and human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas. The raids were reportedly conducted as part of the joint operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army under Case Operation Plan ASVAL against individuals and organizations that they have red-tagged as members or fronts of “communist terrorist groups.” On 5 March 2021, two days before the raids, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” and “finish off” all communist rebels should they find themselves in an armed encounter, and to “forget human rights” in the process.

    Security forces claimed that the nine killed during the raids resisted arrest or exchanged gunfire, and that firearms and explosives were recovered from those arrested[12]. Testimonies from their families, witnesses, and neighbors disprove these claims, asserting that they were unlawfully killed and the firearms and explosives recovered from the raids were planted. No one has been held accountable for their killings.

    In a separate incident on 28 March, Dandy Miguel, a union leader and labour rights activist, was killed in the province of Laguna. He was gunned down by a still unidentified man while riding his motorcycle in Barangay Canlubang. Miguel, 35, was the vice chairperson of Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK-KMU), a labour rights center based in Southern Tagalog.[13]

    International human rights obligations

    The Philippines government has made repeated assurances to other states that it will investigate and address human rights violations. Indeed, such assurances have been used to deter further international scrutiny on the country. However, the charges brought against Elisa “Tita” Lubi, Jayvee Apiag and Renalyn Tejero highlight that an ongoing and unchanging pattern of the government targeting human rights defenders with trumped-up charges. Extrajudicial murders of human rights defenders with a complete lack of accountability brings into even starker question the Philippines’ intention and ability to uphold its commitments.

    These actions are also inconsistent with Philippines’ international human rights obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Philippines ratified in 1986. These include obligations to respect and protect fundamental freedoms which are also guaranteed in the Philippines Constitution. The Philippines government has an obligation to protect human rights defenders as provided for in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to prevent any reprisals against them for their activism.

    The killings of the of the nine activists reflect findings from human rights groups as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ June 2020 report that there have been widespread and systematic human rights violations by the government, including the killing of human rights defenders, since 2016 when President Duterte took power.[14] These violations are in contravention of the right to life guaranteed under the ICCPR. Further, these actions contravene the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials which states that force should be used only as a last resort, in proportion to the threat posed, and should be designed to minimise damage or injury.

    Therefore, we call on the Philippines authorities to:

    • Immediately dismiss the malicious and fabricated charges against Elisa “Tita” Lubi, Jayvee Apiag and Renalyn Tejero and release all other human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained for their activism;
    • Ensure prompt, thorough, and effective investigations into the reports of unlawful killings of the ten activists, and ensure that those suspected of involvement are brought to justice;
    • Send a clear public message to all security forces in the region, that unlawful killings are unacceptable and strictly prohibited at all times; and
    • Halt all forms of intimidation and attacks on human rights defenders, ensure independent and effective investigations into their killings and enact of a law for their protection.

    We urge your government to look into these concerns as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you regarding our inquiries as soon as possible.

    David Kode,
    Advocacy and Campaigns Lead,
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


    [1] ‘Rights workers challenge arrest warrants in Davao court’, Bulatlat, 30 March 2021,  https://www.bulatlat.com/2021/03/30/rights-workers-challenge-arrest-warrants-in-davao-court/

    [2] ‘Rights group urge court to reinvestigate murder charges on chairperson and regional officer’, Davao Today, 31 March 2021, http://davaotoday.com/main/human-rights/rights-group-urge-court-to-reinvestigate-murder-charges-on-chairperson-and-regional-officer/

    [3] Urgent appeal for action to dismiss trumped up and malicious charges against Filipino human rights defenders’ Karapatan, 1 April 2021, https://www.karapatan.org/urgent+appeal+for+action+to+dismiss+trumped+up+and+malicious+charges+against+filipino+human+rights+defenders

    [4] ‘Fast Facts: Who is Renalyn Tejero, the Lumad activist arrested in Cagayan de Oro?’, Rappler, 24 March 20201, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/things-to-know-renalyn-tejero-lumad-activist

    [5] Ariel Evangelista and 4 Other HRDs killed and four arrests in coordinated raids by police and military’, Frontline Defenders, 12 March 2021, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/ariel-evangelista-4-other-hrds-killed-and-four-arrested-coordinated-raids-police-and-military

    [6] ‘Chai Lemita-Evangelista, youth leader and community organizer’, Bulatlat, 16 March 2021, https://www.bulatlat.com/2021/03/16/chai-lemita-evangelista-youth-leader-and-community-organizer/

    [7] ‘Bloody Sunday 'chase'? Cops search home, kill activist in another town’, Rappler, 8 March 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/police-search-home-kill-activist-another-town-cavite

    [8] Melvin Dasigao, Frontline Defenders, 8 March 2021, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/melvin-dasigao  

    [9] Mark Bacasno, Frontline Defenders, 8 March 2021, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/mark-lee-coros-bacasno

    [10] ‘4 other victims of #BloodySunday killings identified’, Philippines Reporter, 12 March 2021,  https://philippinereporter.com/index.php/2021/03/12/4-other-victims-of-bloodysunday-killings-identified/

    [11] Ibid.

    [12] ‘Philippine police kill 9 in raids on suspected rebels’, Associate Press, 8 March 2021, https://apnews.com/article/philippines-police-manila-718cd406f3fad454c6a72e873b4aef45

    [13] ‘Labor rights leader shot dead in Laguna’, 29 March 2021, Rappler, https://www.rappler.com/nation/labor-rights-leader-dandy-miguel-killed-laguna-march-28-2021

    [14] ‘Philippines: UN report details widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity’, OHCHR, 4 June 2020,  https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25924&LangID=E


     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 Philippines as Repressed

     

  • Philippines: Indigenous rights activists at risk after being tagged as ‘terrorists’

    The government in the Philippines has officially labelled a number of local indigenous rights activists, as well as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, as “terrorists”.

     

  • Repressive Vietnam Ramps Up Crackdown On Activists and Bloggers

    Authorities in Vietnam have increasingly been using the country’s draconian security laws to attack and silence human rights defenders in recent weeks.  

    Ahead of Vietnam’s Independence commemorations on 2 September 2017, global civil society alliance CIVICUS demands the release of all bloggers and activists prosecuted on fictitious charges and jailed following questionable judicial processes. We have observed with serious concern, the state’s ongoing campaign of persecution of those who highlight human rights violations and are critical of the government and the Communist Party.  

    Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns officer: “Vietnam has always been a repressive state but the ongoing increased onslaught against activists and bloggers is very disturbing. The Communist Party continues to use security laws to prosecute human rights defenders and security forces attack, intimidate and harass bloggers.”

    On 29 July 2017, Hanoi police arrested four activists - Pham Van Troi, pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, writer Truong Minh Duc and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, accusing them of "plotting to overthrow the people's government". Nguyen Trung Ton, president of the Brotherhood for Democracy NGO, is accused of associating with Nguyen Van Dai, a lawyer detained by Vietnamese police since 2015 for anti-state propaganda.

    Nguyen Trung Ton has, in the past, been a victim of judicial persecution and violent attacks for his peaceful human rights activism. He was jailed for two years in 2011 for "propaganda against the state" and in February 2017 was abducted and beaten, suffering multiple injuries including broken bones.

    On 25 July 2017, human rights activist Tran Thi Nga was sentenced to nine years imprisonment plus an additional five years of house arrest after she was convicted for spreading “anti-state propaganda” in online videos and articles she posted, in which she condemned Vietnam’s abuse of human rights. A member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, she was initially arrested in January 2017. Before that, she was arrested in 2014 and tortured for documenting human rights violations.

    Vietnam has also increased its stranglehold on bloggers. On 27 June blogger Ngoc Nhu Quynh - known as ‘Mother Mushroom’, - was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the Penal Code, following a one-day trial that was sealed off to the public. She was known for using the famous tagline ‘Who will speak out if you don’t?’ Her blog entries concerning deaths of people in police custody and interviews given to foreign media were presented as evidence of anti-state propaganda.

    CIVICUS demands that the Vietnamese authorities:

    • Release the four activists arrested on 29 July and all others being detained for their human rights activities.
    • Review the country’s Penal Code with a view to amending the vague anti-state propaganda clause.
    • Stop persecuting and harassing human rights activists, lawyers and bloggers.

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a tool that tracks the state of civil society in all countries.

    For enquiries, contact:

    Teldah Mawarire

    Advocacy & Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS

    Email: 

    Tel: 27 (0)11 833 5959