human rights violations

  • Human rights situation in Africa: a special focus on shrinking of civic space

    CIVICUS statement at the 71st Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

  • Nearly 70 human rights groups condemn state violence in Eswatini

    To the Government of Eswatini and the international community:

  • Nicaragua: One month later, Medardo Mairena Sequeira still behind bars

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is seriously concerned about the prolonged detention of Nicaraguan human rights defender, Medardo Mairena Sequeira. Medardo was detained a month ago as part of a wave of arrests targeting activists and people who expressed their desire to stand for the Presidency ahead of Presidential elections scheduled for November 2021.

    For far too long, President Daniel Ortega has used state apparatuses to target human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition to stifle freedom of expression and extend his grip on power. Now, a few months before the November 2021 elections, this intensified crackdown aims to silence political opponents to guarantee him victory when Nicaraguans vote. The international community must act now to prevent a further deterioration of human rights,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.

    In addition to Medardo, those detained include labour leaders Freddy Navas Lopes, Pablo Morales and Pedro Joaquin Mena. Most of the people arrested are accused of complicity in the kidnapping and killing of police officers in 2018 during large scale protests that swept through Nicaragua that year. The authorities state that they are investigating those arrested for inciting foreign interference and violating national sovereignty.

    Police also raided the home of feminist leaders Dora Maria Tellez and Ana Margarita Vijil, and arrested them. They are both members of the opposition party Unamos. For several months, leaders and members of Unamos have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. The authorities have also imposed travel bans on other members of the political opposition and civil society, and froze their bank accounts.


    Since 2018, President Ortega’s administration has precipitated a socio-political and human rights crisis in Nicaragua. Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition have been subjected to acts of intimidation, arrests and detentions by security agents. In March 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution in response to human rights violations which renews and strengthens scrutiny on Nicaragua. In March 2021, Nicaragua was also placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List, due to concerns about the country’s rapidly declining civic space. A few months before the November elections, the authorities have increased their attacks against members of the political opposition, human rights defenders and journalists.

    Nicaragua is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that measures the state of civic freedoms in all countries.

    *Photo Credit: Jorge Mejía peralta

  • Philippines: Government must stop judicial harassment against human rights groups

    CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, is alarmed by the ongoing judicial harassment against members of three human rights groups that have been accused of perjury for seeking legal protection from the Supreme Court against government harassment and intimidation.

  • Rights Groups in Indonesia stand in solidarity with the People of Myanmar

    We, the undersigned civil society organisations in Indonesia, and organisations with presence in Indonesia, express solidarity with the people of Myanmar and condemn the ongoing grave violations committed by the military junta. We reiterate our commitment to call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community to abide by its obligations to hold the perpetrators accountable and to protect the human rights of peoples in Myanmar.

  • ‘The idea that a certain group does not belong in a country is instrumental in enabling discrimination and persecution against it’

    CIVICUS speaks toSusannah Sirkin, director of international policy and partnerships and senior advisor with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Founded in 1986, PHR uses medicine and science to document and call attention to mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. PHR’s work focuses on the physical and psychological effects of torture and sexual violence, the forensic documentation of attacks on civilians, the unnecessary and excessive use of force during civil unrest, and the protection of medical institutions and health professionals working on the frontline of human rights crises. Sirkin oversees PHR’s international policy engagement, including its work with the United Nations, domestic and international justice systems, and human rights coalitions, and is also responsible for managing and multiplying PHR’s strategic partnerships globally.

    1. What is the current situation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh?

    The situation is absolutely desperate and devastating, both inside Myanmar, as far as anybody can tell, and in Bangladesh, as the world is able to see on television. Essentially, what we have witnessed over the past six months – although this has been building up for years – is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has referred to as possible genocide, and what most organisations concerned with international law and human rights have denounced as crimes against humanity. Dozens of Rohingya villages have been burnt to the ground, forcing people to flee on long journeys through the jungle to reach a very precarious situation in Bangladesh. People fleeing have been pursued and attacked with guns and other weapons not just by the military but also by civilian members of the Burmese population.

    In Bangladesh, refugees are living in incredibly overcrowded, under-resourced, and dangerous camps – it’s hardly fair to even call them “camps,” although the situation has improved a bit over the past couple of months. More than 620,000 Rohingya, about half the population, have so far fled Rakhine state, and they have nowhere else to go. So they are forced to stay on a very small piece of land in one of the poorest and already most densely populated countries in the world. There have already been outbreaks of infectious diseases, and given the problems of overcrowding and lack of basic hygiene and sanitation, which my own team at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has recently reported, it is possible for infectious diseases to spread rapidly and with lethal results.

    Essentially, the world has witnessed the virtual destruction of a culture, a community and a portion of the Burmese population. Myanmar and Bangladesh have recently reached an agreement for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar, but nobody really believes such an agreement can be implemented under the present circumstances. In the first place, refugees shouldn’t be sent back to Myanmar unless citizenship and basic rights are guaranteed. In the second, the provisions in the agreement involve Rohingya providing documents according to citizenship laws that don’t recognise them as citizens. This is obviously hugely problematic. What’s more, they have no homes to return to, as their villages have been burned, their lands and cattle seized by their non-Muslim neighbours, and many in their families and communities killed. There have also been very serious reports of mass rapes of women and girls, as well as killings of babies and young children, so the situation couldn’t be worse on any count.

    2. Why is the Rohingya minority being specifically targeted?

    There’s a long history of discrimination and persecution of minority groups in Myanmar, not only of the Rohingya but also of the Chin, Kachin, Karen, and Shan minorities. PHR has documented the persecution of ethnic minorities in Myanmar for a decade, and other human rights groups have done it long before us.

    Historically, it has been a problem for people who are not Burmese to live in Burma or Myanmar. There is a hyper-nationalist strain among both the population and the country’s leadership, and, on top of this, the country has lived for decades under a military dictatorship that persecuted not only the political opposition but also ethnic and religious minorities.

    Myanmar has failed to recognise diversity and human rights for all its population. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a country that has a Buddhist majority, have long been deprived of their citizenship and treated as if they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many Rohingya have lived in Rakhine state for several generations, well over a hundred years, and belong in Myanmar as much as anybody else. However, in the latest census they were not counted among Burmese minorities but rather as foreigners lacking the protections that citizens receive under the law.

    The idea that a certain group does not belong in a country is instrumental in enabling discrimination and persecution against it. A few years ago, PHR released a report on the burning of Muslim homes in Buddhist-dominated areas of Myanmar. We documented a well-known massacre in the town of Meikhtila, where police and security officials stood by and watched as local population burned houses and people alive. These actions had long been encouraged by racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric, fuelled by a few very charismatic Buddhist monks that had much influence with the population.

    Before the 2015 crackdown and subsequent crisis, more than one million Rohingya lived in Myanmar, most of them in Rakhine state. Their relationship with their Buddhist neighbours had been tense for quite some time, and outbreaks of violence had been relatively frequent in the past. The current crisis broke out in August 2017, when government forces were attacked by militants and a “clearance operation” was launched by Myanmar security forces in response. Mass expulsion of the Rohingya has since been executed under the pretence of a counter-insurgency operation, with the local population joining in burning villages and killing people. This looks like a very well-coordinated effort between officials and citizens, which is very disturbing.

    In present Myanmar, the situation is compounded by the denial of human rights on multiple levels. We have recently seen a frightening crackdown on the freedom of expression in the country, and for some time the area in northern Rakhine State has been closed off to journalists. For some years now, it has been very difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the area. When a government shuts down access in such way, one can only fear the worst, because it strongly suggests that they are trying to hide something.

    3. Has progressive and human rights-oriented civil society in Myanmar and Bangladesh done anything to respond to this crisis? If so, what challenges have they faced?

    There have been efforts by very courageous individuals and organisations inside Myanmar, especially those representing minority groups, as well as human rights and humanitarian organisations. But it is extremely dangerous, if not impossible, to be an independent civil society voice inside Myanmar right now. For the Rohingya in Rakhine State, speaking up means sure death, and there is no access even for journalists to document what is going on in the area. So, unfortunately, even the most courageous members of civil society have been silenced by persecution.

    In Bangladesh, there are a number of efforts underway, particularly by the humanitarian community, to help the refugees. But it’s not the best possible situation in terms of humanitarian response, either. The fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was not designated as the lead agency has been viewed negatively, although there has been strong coordination between the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR. In any case, the refugee influx has been overwhelming and the early response was insufficient. Moreover, this is happening in a challenging environment, and we need to understand that such an influx of refugees can be nothing but overwhelming for a country like Bangladesh – which makes an adequate international response all the more important.

    4. You mentioned that the area where the atrocities are occurring is closed to journalists and civil society. What challenges have PHR and similar organisations faced in documenting the abuses?

    The number one challenge is that human rights groups can’t get into Myanmar. It is therefore extremely difficult to do what we are supposed to do in terms of properly and independently documenting and assessing the facts inside the country where the crimes have occurred. The prohibition not only applies to human rights civil society organisations – representatives of the UNHCHR and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar have also been barred from visiting the country. On the other hand, entry was allowed for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who was able to interview survivors and confirm reports of atrocities.

    As we lack access to Myanmar, we have instead documented what has happened to this people by interviewing them in Bangladesh. Thankfully, human rights groups and humanitarian organisations have had access to refugee camps, and this has been critical to documenting the plight of the Rohingya and their current humanitarian situation, and reporting on it. Doing this in the middle of a huge humanitarian crisis poses specific challenges. We are basically interviewing survivors who are desperately in need of trauma recovery, medical care, shelter, food, water, sanitation, and information about their missing family members. We have interviewed people who lost everybody in their families and are the sole survivors; people who have seen their homes burned to the ground, who had family members raped and shot dead, who were shot at even while crossing the river to get to Bangladesh. Documenting these kinds of human rights violations is certainly challenging for the person that is being interviewed, but it is also challenging for the one doing the reporting, because the need is so intense and the trauma is so acute – and we are a medically-based organisation, after all.

    5. What support should the international community offer to resolve this crisis?

    First, what most urgently requires a response from global governments is the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the ground in Bangladesh, in order to meet the most desperate needs of the refugees.

    Second, there is a need for governments of the most powerful countries with influence on the Myanmar government – including China, which has consistently supported the government – to exert pressure so Myanmar immediately stops persecuting this population and gives them the citizenship and associated guarantees that they are due.

    It is important to note that there have been high expectations regarding the role of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is now Myanmar’s nominal head of state, and her apparent lack of concern and acknowledgment of what her government has been doing have been very concerning. On one hand, we need to understand that she has limited control over the country’s military forces enacting the brutal campaign against the Rohingya. On the other hand, however, the international community needs to send Suu Kyi a strong message, since so much of the Burmese population views her as a leader and a hero, and her voice could change the tenor of this crisis – it could turn the population away from prejudice, discrimination, and persecution of the Rohingya and other minorities.

    Third, there needs to be credible efforts to establish accountability and justice. This is critical, given the seriousness of the crimes that have been committed. Unfortunately, efforts to refer the crimes in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for assessment have been blocked by China, among others.

    Finally, it is also crucial to confront the flaws of the repatriation agreement, so that anybody who chooses to return to Myanmar is able to do so safely and with guarantees for all their human rights, including the right to reclaim their land, property, livelihood, and employment, as well as to practice their religion freely and safely. On the other hand, those who choose not to go back need to be guaranteed the right to claim asylum and find safe haven in another country. Policy-wise, the biggest challenge will be defining what will happen to these people who have fled in such high numbers.

    This will not be an easy crisis to solve. Global politics are not looking particularly good at the moment. World leaders and the Security Council have many other crises to deal with, including the North Korea situation, Iran, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, and so on. Many of us are worried that people are going to forget about this particular crisis unfolding in a remote part of the world, so it is vital to continue to call attention to these serious human rights abuses and not let the world forget that this is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. As recently as last week, we’ve seen reports of outbreaks of diphtheria, and there are fears of a cholera epidemic, which will not be easy to contain. The long-term solution to this crisis will most definitely require continuous surveillance, reporting, and action by UN bodies, regional organisations, individual governments, and civil society.

    • Civic space in Myanmar is rated as ‘repressed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating serious restrictions in the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression.
    • Get in touch with PHR through their website or Facebook page, or follow @P4HR and @susannahsirkin on Twitter
  • 16 Rights Groups Raise Bahrain Human Rights Concerns with Formula One

    Rights watchdogs tell F1 leaders to use their leverage to compensate victims of abuse & ensure right to protest ahead of two Grand Prix races in Bahrain

  • A year on, NGOs amplify calls for justice and accountability for Jamal Khashoggi's murder

    On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents in order to get married, but he did not make it out alive. He was brutally killed inside the consulate in what the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Dr Agnes Callamard, called a “premeditated extrajudicial killing” for which the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.

    Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi journalist and intellectual who, due to safety concerns and the inability to continue his work inside Saudi Arabia, decided to live in self-imposed exile in the United States. He was a firm promoter of freedom of speech and press freedom in the Arab world. While he was no outright opponent of the Saudi royal family and did not call for regime change in the country, he criticised the arrest of human rights defenders and the reform plans of the Crown Prince. This alone may have been enough to seal his fate.

    After more than two weeks of deception and denial about his death, on 19 October 2018 the Saudi authorities admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate by a group of men connected to the authorities, but continued to deny any direct knowledge or responsibility for the crime. One year after his murder, the remains of Khashoggi’s body are still missing and have not been returned to his family. The Saudi authorities implicated 11 individuals responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, some of whom face the death penalty. They are currently being tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, a jurisdiction notorious for violations of fair trial guarantees. The trial proceedings remain in large part secret, and criminal responsibility in the chain of command has not yet been established.

    Khashoggi’s death sparked outrage and was widely condemned. In the days and weeks following his killing, the international community began to ask questions and to demand clarity. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued several press releases, while the UN Special Procedures on enforced disappearance, summary executions and freedom of expression issued a joint Urgent Appeal. Moreover, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stressed the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible.

    On 24 October 2018, the EU Parliament issued a resolution urging the Saudi authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains. In addition to demanding an independent and impartial international investigation into the journalist’s death, the resolution also classified it as being part of a pattern of a widespread crackdown against prominent human rights defenders, women activists, lawyers, journalists, writers and bloggers, which has intensified since Mohammad bin Salman began consolidating control over the country’s security institutions. It stated that the systematic practice of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings could amount to a crime against humanity. Lastly, it requested that the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder be identified and brought to justice, following a fair trial held in accordance with international standards before an impartial court and with international observers present.

    On 5 November, 2018, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record was examined by UN Member States as part of the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The killing of Khashoggi was raised extensively during the review and featured heavily among the 258 recommendations the Saudi authorities received to improve the human rights situation in the country. At least 27 states raised concerns about Khashoggi’s extrajudicial killing, with many reiterating the need for a transparent, impartial, independent and effective investigation.

    In January 2019, Dr Callamard decided on her own initiative and under the terms of her mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to open a special human rights investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

    On 7 March 2019, in a landmark initiative, a group of 36 UN Member States led by Iceland delivered a joint statement during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) expressing serious concern over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and condemning in the strongest possible terms the killing of Khashoggi. The statement reiterated the call for a prompt, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into his murder and stressed the need to protect journalists and to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

    During the 41st session of the HRC, on 19 June 2019, Dr Callamard presented her report, which concluded that the murder of Khashoggi was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level state officials of Saudi Arabia”. The Special Rapporteur found that both the investigations conducted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to meet international standards and that the ongoing trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 suspects, while seemingly an important step towards accountability, also fails to meet international fair trial standards. Dr Callamard believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime over which states should claim universal jurisdiction. Asserting that her human rights inquiry is not a substitute for a criminal investigation or a court of law, the UN Special Rapporteur called on the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the UN Secretary-General to demand a follow-up criminal investigation.

    Most recently, on 23 September 2019, during the 42nd session of the HRC, Australia delivered a joint statement on behalf of 23 UN Member States raising concerns over the persecution and intimidation of activists, the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, and reports of torture and unfair trials as well as extrajudicial executions. Furthermore, the statement called for an end to impunity over the murder of Khashoggi and highlighted the need for the truth to be established and accountability achieved. We deeply regret that a number of states that had joined the March 2019 statement have now decided to no longer support this immediate call for action. We would like to highlight that states still have the possibility to become co-signatories until 11 October 2019.

    Additionally, during the course of the past year and as a response to Khashoggi’s murder as well as the war in Yemen, some governments have suspended weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

    While we welcome the appeals, pledges and measures taken by some states over the past year and consider them as steps in the right direction towards accountability for the murder of Khashoggi, more tangible actions must follow. There is an undeniable risk that with big events scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in 2020, such as the G20 summit and the famous Dakar Rally, state-to-state relations could normalise. We cannot stand by and allow the return of business as usual as this would mean that Khashoggi died in vain and that there is little hope for hundreds of other unlawfully disappeared, detained, tortured or executed activists whose cases failed to attract similar levels of international attention.  

    As Dr Callamard rightly said during a side event at the 42nd session of the HRC: “While one year must feel like a lifetime to Khashoggi’s family and friends, in human justice time and the search for truth it is very brief. Thus we should not lose sight of what we are trying to achieve; we should not lose hope and courage that justice can be attained.” In that spirit, the undersigned organisations renew their call for action, demanding the following:

    We call on the international community, and in particular the UN, to:

    1. Take action to ensure that a further impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective criminal investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is opened;
    2. Ensure that all perpetrators of the crime, including those at the head of the chain of command, are identified and prosecuted in a fair and transparent trial without recourse to the death penalty;
    3. Establish an immediate moratorium on all arms sales and exports of surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia;
    4. Co-sign the joint statement led by Australia on behalf of 23 UN Member States by 11 October;
    5. Introduce and endorse a UN resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia; and
    6. Urge the authorities in Saudi Arabia to implement the recommendations below.

    We call on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

    1. Return the remains of Khashoggi’s body to his family;
    2. Invite independent international experts to oversee investigations into his murder; cooperate in good faith with all UN mechanisms; and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
    3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, writers, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights;
    4. Establish a moratorium on the death penalty, including as punishment for crimes related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly;
    5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and public reporting without fear of reprisals; and
    6. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws limiting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association into compliance with international human rights standards.

    List of signatories:

    • ALQST
    • Americans for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Amnesty International
    • English PEN
    • European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
    • European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights
    • Gulf Center for Human Rights
    • Index on Censorship
    • International Service for Human Rights
    • MENA Rights Group
    • PEN America
    • Rights Realisation Centre
    • World Organisation Against Torture
  • Afghanistan: UN and Member States must take urgent steps to protect civil society

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance is deeply concerned about the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and staff of civil society organisations in Afghanistan following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the takeover by the Taliban.

    As called for by UN experts, we urge UN member states to take immediate steps to protect them as well as urgently call for a Special Session at the Human Rights Council on Afghanistan which will include a discussion on the speedy establishment of a fact-finding mission to be deployed to assess the situation on the ground and report back.

    The Taliban have a track record of abusing human rights, coordinating reprisals against their critics and attacking civilians with impunity. Following the takeover of Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes. Human rights defenders trying to leave the country have also been prevented from boarding planes as foreign missions have prioritised evacuating their own nationals and staff. Others have gone into hiding and fear for their lives.

    The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concerns about early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women.

    “The crisis unfolding in Afghanistan requires an urgent and resolute response from the UN and member states. Proactive steps must be taken to ensure the security and protection of human rights defenders especially women. Many are at risk of being targeted by the Taliban because of their work and there must be efforts taken to evacuate and resettle them and their families,” said CIVICUS’s Civic Space Researcher, Josef Benedict.

    CIVICUS has documented attacks on civil society by the Taliban in recent years. Human rights defenders particularly women have been facing threats for undertaking their work and some have been abducted and killed. Many have had to relocate due to safety concerns even as perpetrators have not been held accountable. Recent peace negotiations failed to adequately and effectively include civil society, especially women human rights defenders.

    According to information compiled by the Afghan Human Rights Defenders’ Committee (AHRDC) 17 human rights defenders were killed between September 2020 and May 2021 alone. Over 200 human rights defenders and media representatives reported receiving serious threats. In light of the present conflict conditions and political instability, these threats have magnified.

    The UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ on 16 August urged the international community to speak in one voice to uphold human rights in Afghanistan is a step in the right direction.

    “The UN Security Council must seize the current opportunity to quickly restart the stalled intra-Afghan peace talks and ensure effective representation of civil society especially women. It must also call on the Taliban to respect international human rights law, protect civilians, and end reprisal attacks”, said Josef Benedict.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Afghanistan as Repressed.

  • Alaa Abdel-Fattah’s life at serious risk: demand Egypt to immediately release him now!

    CIVICUS stands in solidarity with movements and civil society organisations calling on Egypt to immediately release human rights activist, Alaa Abdel-Fattah. 

    Alaa Abdel-Fattah is a British-Egyptian writer, human rights defender and software developer. He was one of the leading voices and campaigners during the 25 January 2011 revolution. He has been published in numerous outlets; is well-known for founding a prominent Arabic blog aggregator; and has been involved in a number of citizen journalism initiatives. His book, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, which compiles some of his deeply influential writings, has received widespread acclaim. 

    Alaa has been arrested under every Egyptian head of state during his lifetime. He is currently in detention following an unfair trial on spurious charges that relate to his human rights advocacy. On 2 April 2022, Alaa embarked on an open-ended hunger strike as a last bid for freedom. After more than 200 days of partial hunger strike, Alaa announcedthat, as of 1 November 2022, he is stopping his previous 100-calorie intake and moving to a full hunger strike. Alaa also decided that on 6 November 2022, coinciding with the beginning of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, he will start a water strike. This means that if he is not released, Alaa will die before the end of COP27. 

    “If one wished for death then a hunger strike would not be a struggle. If one were only holding onto life out of instinct then what’s the point of a strike? If you’re postponing death only out of shame at your mother’s tears then you’re decreasing the chances of victory….I’ve taken a decision to escalate at a time I see as fitting for my struggle for my freedom and the freedom of prisoners of a conflict they’ve no part in, or they’re trying to exit from; for the victims of a regime that’s unable to handle its crises except with oppression, unable to reproduce itself except through incarceration” - Alaa wrote in a letter to his family announcing escalation of his hunger strike

    On 31 October 2022, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment said,“In advance of COP27, I am joining the chorus of global voices calling for the immediate release of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, an Egyptian activist who has languished in jail for years merely for voicing his opinion. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite for climate justice!”

    We, the undersigned organisations and groups:

    1. Call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights

    2. Call on the British authorities to intervene to secure the release and allowed to travel  to the UK of their fellow citizen Alaa Abdel Fattah, as his health is deteriorating to a critical and life-threatening point

    3. Call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to publicly reiterateits call on Egypt to immediately release Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed el-Baqer, and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights

    4. Call on UN Special Procedures to publicly reiteratetheir call on Egypt to immediately release Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed el-Baqer and Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim Radwan and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights

    5. Call on all government leaders and business leaders going toCOP27 to use all possible leverage and urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detainedsolely for exercising their rights

    6. Call on civil society organisations, groups and activists going to COP27 to urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights


    1. Access Now

    2. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

    3. African Earth Farms

    4. ALQST for Human Rights

    5. Amazon Watch

    6. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

    7. Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)

    8. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

    9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

    10. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    11. Committee for Justice

    12. Committee to Protect Journalists

    13. Commonwealth Youth Peace Advocates Network Kenya

    14. Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE)

    15. Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)

    16. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)

    17. EgyptWide for Human Rights

    18. El Nadim Center

    19. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    20. Freedom Initiative

    21. Friends of the Earth Malta

    22. Friends of the Earth Scotland

    23. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    24. Human Rights Watch

    25. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement

    26. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    27. MENA Rights Group

    28. National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

    29. People in Need

    30. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

    31. Sinai Foundation for Human Rights (SFHR)

    32.  Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)

    33. The Center for International Policy

    34. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

    35. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State

    36. War on Want

    37. West African Human Rights Defenders' Network/Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (WAHRDN/ROADDH)

    38. WomanHealth Philippines

    39. World Organisation Against Torture, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Background information: On 29 September 2019, Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrestedwhile fulfilling his probation requirements at El-Dokki Police Station. He was questioned before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) on charges of joining an illegal organisation, receiving foreign funding, spreading false news, and misusing social media; he was then ordered into pretrial detention pending case no. 1356 of 2019. On the same day, Alaa’s lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer attended Alaa’s interrogation and was similarly arrested, questioned before the SSSP, and ordered into pretrial detention pending the same case and arbitrary charges. During their pretrial detention Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer were arbitrarily added to Egypt’s terrorist list in relation to a separate case(no. 1781 of 2019), for which they have never been questioned or given the right to defend themselves. As a result of this designation, they face a travel ban, asset freeze, and for el-Baqer, potential disbarment as a lawyer. On 20 December 2021, following an unfair trial before a State security emergency court, in which they were denied their right to due process (defense lawyers were denied the right to present a defense on behalf of their clients, and denied permission to copy the case files), Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison, and el-Baqer and bloggerMohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim Radwan to four years in prison on charges of “spreading false news”. Verdicts from such courts cannot be appealed. The time they spent in pretrial detention pending the original case ( No. 1356 of 2019) will not count as time served toward the December 2021 prison sentences, and the verdict is final since it has subsequently been ratified by President Al-Sisi. Further details here

    Preparations for COP27 are taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing and deep-rooted human rights crisis in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have for years employed draconian laws, including laws on counter terrorism, cyber crimes, and civil society, to stifle all forms of peaceful dissent and shut down civic space. Under the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained without a legal basis, following grossly unfair trials, or solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Thousands are held in prolonged pre-trial detention on the basis of spurious terrorism and national security accusations. Among those arbitrarily detained are dozens of journalists targeted for their media work, social media users punished for sharing critical online content, women convicted on morality-related charges for making Tik Tok videos, and members of religious minorities accused of blasphemy. Prisoners are held in detention conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, and since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power hundreds have died in custody amid reports of denial of healthcare and other abuses. Egypt remains one of the world’s top executioners, executing 107 people in 2020 and 83 in 2021, with at least 356 people sentenced to death in 2021, many following grossly unfair trials including by emergency courts. The crisis of impunity has emboldened Egyptian security forces to carry out extra-judicial executions and other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture with no fear of consequences. 

     Civic space in Egypt is rated as "Closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor 

  • Amidst an ongoing human rights crisis, the Council must take stronger action

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

  • Bahrain: Human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja begins hunger strike

    The prominent Danish-Bahraini human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, who has been arbitrarily detained in Bahrain since 2011 after leading peaceful protests calling for fundamental freedoms and rights in Bahrain, began a hunger strike on Wednesday 9 August. 

    During a phone call with one of his daughters Mr. Al-Khawaja explained his hunger strike: 

    The hunger strike is in protest against the continuation of my detention. But also specifically in protest of the denial of medical treatment. Keeping in mind a lot of the health issues are caused or were made worse because of the torture I was subjected to.

    Today was the 11th appointment in 5 months that they [Bahraini authorities] have not taken me to. My last meal was yesterday at 6 PM, and this strike is water only. I will not be taking any kind of other fluids, including glucose or IV.” 

    Denial of adequate medical treatment
    Mr. Al-Khawaja has continued to be repeatedly denied access to adequate medical treatment. This includes access to a cardiologist despite being at risk of a heart attack or stroke at any time. As recently as Monday 7 August 2023, Mr. Al-Khawaja was not taken to a planned heart appointment, because the prison administration insisted that Al-Khawaja was to be transported handcuffed in an armoured vehicle – a violation to the Mandela Rules (Rule 73, 2-3).

    Today, on Wednesday 9 August Al-Khawaja was denied an appointment with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for treatment to his worsening glaucoma. Al-Khawaja was confirmed with glaucoma in early 2023 – after several prior concerns were raised by Amnesty International. Al-Khawaja informed one of his daughters this week that his eye condition needs constant monitoring; including examination devices at a certified ophthalmologist in order to determine how to control the glaucoma. The deliberate medical negligence and ignorance of Al-Khawaja’s several health conditions is a violation to the Mandela Rules (Rule 27).

    Statement by Maryam Al-Khawaja, daughter: “With this hunger strike my father is making a life attempt to be treated with humanity and decency by Bahrain. My father is a torture survivor, a prisoner of conscience and UN-declared arbitrarily detained. He should never have been imprisoned to begin with, but 12 years later we are still fighting to ensure he is given access to adequate medical treatment for conditions mostly caused by the Bahrain regimes own torture. My father is fighting for Baharin to live up to the absolute bare minimum rules laid out by the UN’s Mandela Rules and we urge the international community to ensure this. My father and all other prisoners of conscience in Bahrain must be released immediately and unconditionally.”


    • Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja is a prominent Danish-Bahraini human rights defender who was detained in 2011 in Bahrain after leading peaceful protests calling for fundamental freedoms and rights in Bahrain. Almost 12 years later, he remains at Jau Prison facing dire prison conditions and systematic denial of medical treatment.
    • In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented that Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and sexually assaulted by security forces in 2011.
    • In a joint communication made public on 4 May 2023, six UN experts – including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, and the Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mumba Malila – expressed their utmost concern at the continued arbitrary detention of human rights defender Mr. Al-Khawaja.
    • On April 3, 2023 the UN Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the deteriorating health of Mr. Al-Khawaja, calling on the Bahrain government “to provide urgent medical care & immediately release him”.
    • On May 16, 2023 several human rights organisations – including Amnesty International and DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture – called on the Bahrain Governemnt to ensure Al-Khawaja adequate medical treatment
    • On August 9, 2023 AP News reported that several Bahrain prison inmates had started a hunger strike in latest sign of simmering unrest Bahrain

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

  • Bangladesh: Drop all charges against human rights defenders from Odhikar

    CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations, is seriously concerned over the ongoing judicial harassment against human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan. They will face their next hearing on 24 November 2021. If found guilty, both might be sentenced to up to ten years of imprisonment. 

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

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

  • Belarus: Letter to Permanent Representatives of Member & Observer States of the Human Rights Council

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council:


    The Human Rights Council will consider the possible renewal of the mandate of the OHCHR examination of the human rights situation in Belarus at its 49th session.

    We, the undersigned national, international and Belarusian organisations, urge your delegation to support the renewal of this mandate, which is critical for maintaining scrutiny on Belarus’s human rights crisis.

    The human rights situation in Belarus which necessitated Council action in 2021 is deteriorating. There are continuing cases of arbitrary detention and arrest, torture and cruel,  inhuman, or degrading treatment, and unfair and closed trials on trumped-up charges against persons perceived by the authorities as being critical of the government.

    As of 1 February 2022, well over 1000 prisoners are recognized as “political prisoners” by the Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna. However, the number of those detained for political reasons is much higher and might reach as many as 5,000. Torture and ill-treatment of those detained continue, with the objective of eliciting forced “confessions”, and punishing and silencing those carrying out human rights and civic activities. 

    In 2021, civil society came under prolonged systematic attack by the Belarusian authorities. The government liquidated at least 275 civil society organisations, including all independent human rights organisations. Authorities have initiated criminal cases against 13 human rights defenders, 12 of whom have been detained.

    Legislative amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in December 2021 re-introduced criminal liability for "acting on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organisations.” The liquidation of all independent human rights organisations by the authorities has therefore led to a de facto criminalisation of human rights work. Independent media also face systematic persecution, with journalists frequently being labelled as “extremist”, targeted under defamation charges, and blocked from publishing. At least 31 journalists and media workers remain behind bars on criminal charges and at least 22 lawyers have been disbarred by Belarusian authorities on political grounds or because of their representation of defendants in politically sensitive cases . In addition, Belarus is considering introducing criminal proceedings in absentia, with implications for those who have fled the country.

    Those who are subject to human rights violations in Belarus do not currently have any effective legal remedies or recourse to justice, and look to the United Nations Human Rights Council to ensure an accountability process for serious human rights violations.

    At the 46th session, the Human Rights Council mandated the OHCHR to conduct an examination. This was a welcome development given the widespread and systematic, human rights violations that occurred in Belarus in the context of 2020’s presidential election, and the environment of impunity and lack of accountability within which they occurred.

    Unfortunately, the OHCHR examination received only around 50 per cent of the budget for its work in 2021 against what was originally approved by the Council at HRC46. It became fully operational only in the final months of 2021. Despite these challenges, the OHCHR examination is still expected to provide a report to the Human Rights Council at the 49th session.

    Given the current dire human rights situation in Belarus, and the ongoing importance and unique nature of the OHCHR examination, we call on this Council to renew the mandate at HRC49, and ensure its work is sufficiently resourced and funded.

    Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration,


    • Amnesty International
    • ARTICLE 19
    • The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • Civil Rights Defenders
    • FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
    • Human Rights House Foundation
    • Human Rights Watch
    • IFEX
    • Index on Censorship
    • International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
    • International Commission of Jurists 
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    Civic space in Belarus is rated as "closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor . Belarus is also on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist 

  • BULGARIA: ‘Our society has finally become sensitised to domestic and gender-based violence’

    VictoriaPetrovaCIVICUS speaks with Victoria Petrova, Communications and Development Director at the Bulgarian Fund for Women (BFW), about civil society’s struggles to end domestic and gender-based violence in Bulgaria.

    Established in 2004, the BFW is the only Bulgarian feminist civil society organisation (CSO) supporting organisations, collectives and activists that challenge the status quo and work towards systemic change for women, girls and all marginalised communities.

    What does BFW do?

    The BFW has played a pivotal role in advancing women’s rights across Bulgaria for two decades. Our focus has recently extended. As well as funding projects, in 2020 we started providing core funding to help organisations meet essential needs such as administrative costs, office space, equipment and staff salaries, which often remain uncovered by project funding.

    Core funding is of paramount importance to ensure the sustainability of CSOs. Financial stability empowers organisations to be strategic, proactive and resilient in the face of challenges. As of today, providing core funding objective has become our biggest focus.

    We also have other funding mechanisms such as project funding and the Open Opportunity programme, which provides rapid funding of up to 10,000 BGN (approx. US$5,500). This has proven invaluable in times of crisis or in the face of unforeseen challenges, such as last year’s attack on the Rainbow Hub, an LGBTQI+ space in the capital, Sofia. A far-right former presidential candidate attacked the hub during an event and injured a participant, an activist and Rainbow Hub team member. The premises were destroyed. Through the Open Opportunity programme BFW gave them a grant so they could get it fixed.

    Overall, BFW distributed a total of over US$700,000 in direct grants to CSOs in 2022 alone.

    We’ve also taken proactive steps to contribute to building capacity in the organisations we support, recognising the significance of robust women’s rights organisations in a context where great gender inequalities persist.

    It is estimated that one in three women, or approximately one million, suffer from domestic and gender-based violence in Bulgaria and at least 15 women have been killed by former or current intimate partners, husbands or other relatives since the beginning of 2023. Women do a disproportionate share of household chores and care work. There aren’t enough support services, such as public kindergartens. There is a significant pay gap and women are grossly underrepresented in politics – only about 25 per cent of members of parliament are women. Life is even harder in small towns, where gender stereotypes are much more deeply rooted.

    Have you faced backlash for the work you do?

    Women’s rights organisations as well as the entire civil society sector in Bulgaria have encountered significant challenges since 2018. These started alongside attacks on the Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

    Attacks were sparked by a far-right party, VMRO, and also by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) after it shifted its stance in relation to the Convention. The party with the biggest parliamentary representation, GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria), sort of washed its hands at the time and left the matter with the Constitutional Court. And the Court ruled that ratifying the Istanbul Convention would be unconstitutional. This made Bulgaria one of the few European states that haven’t ratified the Convention.

    These days, attacks focus on the changes recently made to the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act. Regressive and pro-Russian groups such as Revival (Vazrazhdane) and BSP claim that this law seeks to impose the Istanbul Convention and implement what they call ‘gender ideology’. A few months ago, the BSP even started collecting signatures to enable a referendum against ‘gender ideology’. The party has recently announced it has collected the required number of signatures.

    What recent changes were made to the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, and why?

    Changes to this law had been pursued for years but faced rejection by some political parties, including Revival, the BSP and some GERB members. They were finally introduced in July and they represented progress, even though they did not include the definition of ‘intimate relationship’ proposed by women’s advocates, as a result of which they did not extend protection to people who are in relationships but are unmarried and not in a domestic partnership.

    Regrettably, this omission meant that the shocking Stara Zagora case, in which an 18-year-old woman was beaten and disfigured by her boyfriend, did not fall within the law’s purview. This attack happened in late June but only became public in late July, as a result of the victim’s family’s engagement with the media out of frustration with the slow pace of the investigation.

    In response, around 10,000 people protested in Sofia and tens of thousands demonstrated in other regions, demanding justice for victims and action against domestic and gender-based violence. This groundswell of public engagement was unprecedented, shaking the normalised apathy or victim-blaming that had often been the response to similar cases in the past.

    This forced parliament to reconsider the bill, and on 7 August it reconvened to widen its scope to cover ‘intimate relationships’. This was a step in the right direction, although some concerning elements remain.

    First, criteria for people to be considered as intimate partners include having been in a relationship for at least 60 days, without any clarity as to what counts as the start of those 60 days and, more concerningly, what happens if violence occurs within the first 60 days. Second, at the last minute, members of parliament inserted the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in the definition, therefore limiting its scope to heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples were completely excluded from seeking protection under this law.

    Bulgarian politicians should do much better. During that same debate a GERB member of parliament, former Minister of Culture and former Chairman of the Parliament, Vezhdi Rashidov, made extremely offensive comments. It was during the break, when he thought his microphone was off and basically called raped women ‘whores’. Our organisation wrote an open letter asking for his resignation, and just a few days later he announced he was resigning.

    Unfortunately, his comments reflect widespread attitudes among many of our politicians towards women’s rights and domestic and gender-based violence. We are fed up with their sexist jokes, homophobic expressions, lack of understanding and deliberate disinformation regarding gender issues and women’s rights.

    What do you think made the Stara Zagora case so impactful?

    The impact of the Stara Zagora case can be attributed to several factors, primarily stemming from systemic failures that occurred across various institutional levels. The perpetrator’s swift release within 72 hours of the attack, despite being on probation for prior offences, set the tone for public outrage.

    Public indignation also resulted from the discrepancy between the severity of the attack, which involved the use of a knife and resulted in 400 stitches, a broken nose and a shaved head, and its categorisation as a mere ‘soft bodily injury’.

    There was a shift in public sentiment that revealed heightened awareness and empathy for victims. The usual response in these cases is often victim-blaming. This time, however, many more people sided with the victim. Although some anti-rights voices questioning the victim’s innocence emerged, particularly on social media, most public figures refrained from such insensitivity.

    As a result, over the past few weeks, we have started to see more and more domestic violence cases being reported on the media. So I’d say the Stara Zagora case sensitised society and accelerated change. I hope people will now be more willing to seek protection and justice, and institutions and the media will be more willing to empathise with the victims.

    What else should be done to combat gender-based violence more effectively?

    While there are organisations like BFW that have worked against gender-based violence for decades, it’s evident that a comprehensive national campaign led by the state is needed to catalyse broader change. Such a campaign should aim to reach people across all socio-economic strata, fostering a shared understanding of gender equality and the unacceptability of violence.

    Education and prevention are paramount, and they must begin at an early age. Teaching children about gender equality and the importance of rejecting violence from the outset can contribute to lasting change.

    The establishment of more crisis centres across the country to provide immediate support and safety for victims is also crucial. Only 15 out of 28 regional cities have crisis centres so far. Perhaps positive change will now take place as four ministries have got involved in solving the issue.

    Finally, ratification of the Istanbul Convention remains a pivotal goal. Its comprehensive framework can guide Bulgaria in its efforts to counter gender-based violence. We will continue advocating for these changes and support other organisations that work for women’s rights.

    How do you connect with the global women’s movement and what additional support do you need?

    We participate in networks like Prospera and On the Right Track. These connections expose us to diverse perspectives and experiences and enrich our understanding of the broader movement.

    Collaboration among organisations and international assistance are essential to counter anti-rights narratives, fend off far-right movements that are unfortunately increasingly organised and determined and promote positive change. When helping people and organisations, we sometimes tend to be reactive to attacks. We need to support each other to be more proactive.

    As I already mentioned, core funding is of huge importance to our grantees, but it is for us as well. I am happy to see that more of our donors started providing this type of long-term support, and I am hopeful that even more will recognise the need for it in the future.

    To end on a more positive note, I am thankful that Bulgarian society has finally become sensitised to the topic of domestic and gender-based violence. This isn’t a private issue but an issue that affects the whole of society. We are all responsible for educating ourselves on the topic, learning about its different forms, stepping up when we see something unacceptable and supporting people who are brave enough to report violence.

    We look forward to a collective push toward lasting change, supported by all of you.

    Civic space in Bulgaria is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the BFW through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@bgfundforwomen on Twitter.

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

  • Burundi: The Human Rights Council should continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability

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

    At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (the Council) in October 2020, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for a further year. This allowed the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses, monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi to continue its work. By adopting resolution 45/19, the Council recognised that changing political circumstances do not equate to human rights change, and maintained its responsibility to support victims and survivors of violations and continue working to improve the situation in the country.
    Ahead of the Council’s 48th session (13 September-8 October 2021), we are writing to urge your delegation to support efforts to ensure that the Council continues its scrutiny and pursues its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. In the absence of structural improvements, and in view of the recent increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, we consider that there is no basis, nor measurable progress, that would warrant a departure from the current approach or a failure to renew the mandate of the CoI. At the upcoming session, at minimum, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground, including the following elements.
    First, the resolution should acknowledge that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, as well as cases of torture, enforced disappearances and targeted killings, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections. Serious violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity, continue. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016.1 Even if some human rights defenders have been released, national and international human rights organisations are still unable to operate in the country.
    The resolution should acknowledge that any substantive change to the Council’s consideration of Burundi’s situation is dependent on demonstrable and sustainable progress on key human rights issues of concern. The Council’s approach should rely on benchmarks designed to measure tangible progress and based on key indicators identified by the CoI.2 The Burundian Government should acknowledge existing human rights challenges explicitly and grant access to and cooperate with independent human rights mechanisms. It should also design a clear implementation plan and timeframe.
    Second, the Council’s approach should focus on the following core functions:
    (i) Continued independent documentation of violations and abuses, monitoring of, and public reporting on, the human rights situation in Burundi, with adequate resources. 
    These functions remain essential, espe­cial­ly in the absence of a strong human rights movement and independent institutions in Burundi. This work should be conducted by the CoI, or a similarly inde­pendent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi and use professio­nal me­tho­dologies to collect detailed information. The mechanism or team should be mandated to esta­blish responsibilities and identify all those suspected of criminal responsibility. To follow up on the CoI’s previous work, including on links between human rights violations and economic networks and corruption, it should en­ga­ge in thorough analysis of political, social, and economic dynamics in Burundi. To do so, it requires an adequate level of expertise, resources, and staffing.
    (ii) Follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular on justice and accountability.
    The reports and recommendations of the CoI since 2017 form a road map for reform, particularly in the area of justice and accountability. The Burundian Government has not taken meaningful steps to resume cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or to cooperate with regional human rights mechanisms.3 The national human rights institution, the Commission Nationale Indépendante des Droits de l’Homme du Burundi (CNIDH), lacks independence, demonstrated by its failure to investigate and report on politically motivated human rights violations, and therefore cannot be a substitute for the CoI, despite its renewed A status. Therefore, an independent mechanism or team that is also mandated to conduct substantive work on justice and accountability remains essential. In addition to documenting violations and identifying all those suspected of criminal responsibility, its work should also include recommendations on ending impunity.
    The CoI, which is due to present a written report to the Council at its upcoming 48th session, continues to provide critical oversight of the human rights situation in Burundi. Like its predecessor, the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), it has documented gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses. The thoroughness and visibility of its work has put those suspected of criminal responsibility on notice that their conduct is being monitored and documented. 
    Concrete and long-term improvements in the human rights situation in Burundi will not come as a result of the Council relaxing its scrutiny. Rather, continued international scrutiny and substantive work towards justice and accountability constitutes the best chance to achieve meaningful change in the country.
    At its 48th session, the Council should avoid sending the Burundian Government signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms. The Council should ensure continued documentation, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation, with a focus on justice and accountability. It should urge the Burundian authorities to make concrete commitments to implement human rights reforms within a clear time-frame, which should be measured against specific benchmarks.
    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.
    1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
    2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
    3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    4. Amnesty International
    5. Article 20 Network
    6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    7. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
    8. Association des Journalistes Burundais en Exil (AJBE)
    9. The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI)
    10. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    11. Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG)
    12. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
    13. CIVICUS
    14. Civil Society Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (COSOME)
    15. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
    16. Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
    17. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    18. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
    19. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center
    20. European Network for Central Africa (EurAc)
    21. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
    22. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
    23. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
    24. Human Rights Watch
    25. INAMAHORO Movement, Women and Girls for Peace and Security
    26. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    27. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    28. International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT)
    29. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    30. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
    31. Light For All
    32. Ligue Iteka
    33. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
    34. Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
    35. Odhikar
    36. Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
    37. Protection International Africa
    38. Reporters Without Borders
    39. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
    40. SOS-Torture/Burundi
    41. Tournons La Page
    42. TRIAL International
    43. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    Civic space in Burundi is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    1 In its latest oral briefing to the Council, assessing the human rights situation against specific action points identified in their September 2020 report, the CoI concluded that “the current situation in Burundi is too complex and uncertain to be referred to as genuine improvement” (Oral briefing of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council 46th session, 11 March 2021, available here
    2 See the 2020 civil society letter, available at: DefendDefenders et al., “Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful human rights progress,” 20 August 2020 (accessed on 22 July 2021). The latest CoI report is available here
    3 The African Union (AU) human rights observers were never fully deployed and faced a number of serious limitations to their work. Their mission ended on 31 May 2021. Burundi never cooperated with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to implement its resolutions.
  • BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS: ‘This treaty should not be negotiated behind closed doors’

    IvetteGonzalezCIVICUS speaks about the process to develop an international treaty on business and human rights and the role of civil society with Ivette Gonzalez, Director of Strategic Liaison, Advocacy and Public Relations at Project on Organising, Development, Education and Research (PODER).

    PODER is a regional civil society organisation (CSO) based in Mexico, dedicated to promoting corporate transparency and accountability in Latin America from a human rights perspective, and to strengthening civil society affected by business practices to act as guarantors of long-term accountability.

    Why is a treaty on business and human rights so important?

    We live in a world virtually ruled by capital. Since this hegemonic capitalist and patriarchal economic model has taken hold, it has become clear that whoever has the capital calls the shots.

    When companies directly influence the decisions of state powers, be it the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government, or others such as international organisations or banking institutions that should operate for the public benefit, and instead put them at the service of the private and exclusive benefit of a few people and prioritise the creation and accumulation of wealth over human rights, it results in a phenomenon we call ‘corporate capture’. Corporate capture is observed on all continents and results in the weakening of the state and its institutions. The strength of the state needs to be restored and the treaty on business and human rights could contribute to this.

    A legally binding international instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises seeks to curb violations committed by companies of multiple human rights such as the rights to health, freedom, privacy and access to information and the impunity with which they operate, which allows them to destroy the environment, territories, families and entire communities.

    All companies must operate with due diligence on human rights to identify, prevent, address and remedy abuses and violations, as a continuous cycle of management including project planning, investment, operations, mergers, value and supply chains, relationships with customers and suppliers, and any other activity that could cause negative impacts on rights and territories. The treaty serves as a means for states, as the primary duty bearers in charge of protecting human rights, to hold companies to their responsibilities and monitor compliance.

    An international treaty would also be a unique development in that it would cover the extraterritorial activities of companies, such as the activities of companies that may be headquartered in a country in the global north but have operations in the global south. At the moment, in many instances and jurisdictions, companies are only self-regulating and are not accountable for their human rights abuses and violations, and the destruction they cause to life and the planet. Some states are making progress on regulations and policies, but there are still gaps at the international level. We want this treaty to address the huge gap in international law that allows corporate crimes to go unpunished.

    What progress has been made in negotiating the treaty?

    Interesting developments took place at the eighth session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights, held from 24 to 28 October 2022. While there is no strict timeline or deadline for producing the final version of the treaty, one of the experts convened by the Intergovernmental Working Group for the development of the instrument proposed 2025 for concluding the negotiations. This is the deadline that is expected to be met if states have the political will to build consensus. For the time being, some states that were reluctant to participate in the past are now showing a little more interest.

    For now, the draft has 24 articles, the first 13 of which were discussed in the last session. Discussions included central issues such as the definition of victims’ rights and their protection and the definition of the purpose and scope of the treaty: whether it should include only transnational corporations or other companies as well. The state of Mexico, for example, argues that this instrument should cover all activities that have a transnational character. There have also been discussions on the prevention of damages and access to reparations, as well as about legal liability, the jurisdiction that will deal with complaints, statutes of limitation and international judicial cooperation, among other issues.

    Some states have made contributions to improve the content under negotiation. In contrast, other states seek to minimise the scope of the treaty in certain regards, such as protections for Indigenous peoples and communities, environmental safeguards and women’s and children’s rights, among others.

    Some states support the most recent proposals of the chair rapporteur, the Ecuadorian ambassador, but a large part of civil society considers that, for the most part, they detract from what was achieved during the seven years up to 2021, and weaken the treaty. They promote power asymmetry between northern and southern states, as well as between companies and rights-holding individuals and communities. The third revised draft is the one we recognise as legitimate and the basis on which we believe negotiations should continue.

    How is civil society contributing to the treaty process?

    Dozens of CSOs are pushing for an effective treaty, including PODER, along with the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), which brings together more than 280 CSOs, social movements and activists from 75 countries, and several other alliances, movements and coalitions such as the Treaty Alliance, Feminists for a Binding Treaty and the Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity.

    Of course there is diversity of opinion within civil society on a number of issues, but we all agree on the need to regulate business activity with a human rights perspective. We have identified the elements this treaty should contain and the conditions required for its implementation. And we are trying to inject urgency into the process, which is going too slowly, while human rights violations and attacks against human rights defenders do not stop, but instead increase every year.

    Civil society has advocated with decision-makers to open up spaces for discussion with civil society. PODER, along with ESCR-Net, has in particular insisted on the constructive and proactive participation of states from the global south in the process, and specifically from Latin America. We also work to integrate a gender and intersectional perspective into both the process and the text. One example for this has been the proposal to use Mexico’s feminist foreign policy.

    Civil society’s point of departure is the conviction that it is not possible to develop a legitimate treaty without placing the participation of rights holders – affected rural people and communities, Indigenous peoples, independent trade unions, LGBTQI+ people and people in vulnerable situations, among others – at the centre of the whole process.

    What are the chances that the final version of the treaty will meet civil society’s expectations and fulfil its purpose?

    We hope the treaty will contribute to ending corporate impunity and states will assume their obligation to protect human rights in the face of corporate activity. It will prevent abuses and violations, redress grievances and ensure these situations do not recur.

    Although there are established processes for the development of international treaties, this is an unusual treaty and should be treated as such, and changes should be made to both process and content as necessary for it to be truly effective.

    For it to fully meet the expectations of civil society would require a paradigm shift based on the principle that business has a social function and that its operations should not exceed certain limits for a dignified life and a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We know that our full aspirations will not materialise with a treaty, with National Action Plans and regulations and standards, even if they are properly implemented. But these are all important steps in trying to balance the scales by limiting the power that the global economic system has given to business corporations.

    While the treaty is unlikely to meet all our expectations, CSOs that are demanding the highest standards for this treaty will continue to do so until the end. We will continue to bring proposals from experts and affected communities and groups fighting for justice and redress for the harms they experience first-hand, opening up spaces for their voices to be heard and remain at the heart of the negotiations at all times, and including human rights and environmental defenders in consultations on the text.

    This treaty should not be negotiated behind closed doors or with the private sector alone, as this would allow for the repetition of the same cycle of opacity and privilege that has brought us this far, and would only contribute to maintaining an unsustainable status quo.

    Get in touch with PODER through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@ProjectPODER on Twitter.

  • Call on UNHRC to adopt a resolution on human rights situation in Occupied Palestine

    HRC 30th Special Session: Call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in IsraelOn 27 May 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will hold aSpecial Session in relation to the escalating human rights violations against the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line.

    A draft resolution from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the issue was circulated to UN member states. There is still time to call on our respective governments to support the resolution ahead of the vote in the UN Human Rights Council on 27 May 2021. Let’s act now!

    Israel’s repression against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line intensified in May 2021 in response to widespread Palestinian demonstrations against Israel’s imminent threat of eviction and displacement of eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. This is only the latest in a series of measures, which form part of Israel’s decades-long institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole. While the international community has ensured Israel’s impunity since 1948, enabling Israel to continue to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations. Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and refugees and exiles abroad, are denied their right of return and continue to steadfastly resist 73 years of Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid.

    What can you do?

    This resolution needs all the support it can garner. Encourage your friends and colleagues throughout the world to mobilize their networks. In particular, we seek support from human rights and anti-racism movements in in all parts of the world to place pressure on their governments to support a commission of inquiry.

    1. Sign the petition through this link
    2. Write to your foreign ministry calling on it to support the OIC resolution and the establishment of an ongoing commission of inquiry on violations committed on both sides of the Green Line and to reject any proposed amendment that would undermine or seek to restrict or undermine the commission of inquiry. A list of contact information for foreign ministries can be found here.
    3. Send a copy of the correspondence to your country’s ambassador in Geneva. Contact information can be found here.
    4. Follow the Special Session, which will be livestreamed and use social media to tweet at your representatives and @UN_HRC with #SupportPalestineCOI to raise awareness about the debate and the call for an independent commission of inquiry.

    What is the Special Session about?

    The special session was convened based on a request by Pakistan, on behalf of the state members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other UN members and observers indicated below. 

    In addition to the debate, the OIC has presented a resolution requesting that the HRC appoint an ongoing independent commission of inquiry to investigate, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, all violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law since 1 April 2021, which will also be mandated to study all underlying root causes, including Israel’s systemic discrimination and repression, thereby encompassing the crimes of apartheid and persecution.

    This comes following years of work by civil society, including Palestinian, regional and international human rights organisations, urging states to address the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid imposed over the Palestinian people as a whole. 

    Palestinian civil society, supported by a broad coalition of 120 regional and international organisations, urgedmember states to ensure the creation of a commission of inquiry to monitor, document and report on all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the latest Israeli attacks against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line and address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression. In addition, the organisations called for the mechanism to address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression.

    What is a commission of inquiry?

    UN commissions of inquiry are international independent investigative bodies designed to examine serious situations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Based on their mandates, they collect information on violations, establish the facts, and identify perpetrators. As such, these investigatory bodies can play an important role in promoting accountability for violations and preventing future violations.

    Why is this important?

    This is an important resolution as it is the first time the Human Rights Council:

    • Addresses the root causes of Israel’s systemic discrimination, including Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid, by establishing a commission of inquiry, which would address Israeli violations against the Palestinian people;
    • Includes a geographic scope encompassing, for the first time, Israeli violations targeting the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, in recognition that Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression targets the Palestinian people as a whole.

    What is at stake?

    1. Some delegations may attempt to change the language and weaken the resolution given that the proposed commission of inquiry has a real potential to begin to address the root causes of human rights violations in Palestine, to seek meaningful accountability, and to preserve evidence that can be used in international criminal proceedings to hold perpetrators accountable.
    2. We need UN member states to take the opportunity to establish an ongoing commission of inquiry that addresses the current systematic violations but also future violations in the context of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people, with the aim to bring an end to decades of impunity and international inaction in the face of mass atrocities against Palestinians.
  • Call to action to protect the democratic transition and human rights in Sudan

    A military coup targeting the civilian government in Sudan took place on Monday 25 October 2021. The African Union suspendedSudan’s membership. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat made a statement noting that the deeply concerning events occurring in Sudan have resulted in the arrest of the Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdock, who was releasedon October 26, and other civilian officials. The total number of arrests made during the coup in unknown, but it is believed all cabinet ministers have been arrested and are being subjected to torture or at severe risk of torture. Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat calls for “the immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and [the] military” and “the release of all arrested political leaders”.

    At the international level, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan and United Nations Security Council must take urgent action to protect Sudan’s transition to democracy and the human rights situation in the country following the second military coup in so many months which targeted the civilian government today.

    The UN High Commissioner strongly condemnedthe military coup in Sudan and the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, the suspension of key articles of the Constitutional Document and the governing bodies, deplored the reported arrest of the Prime Minister, several Ministers, leaders of the Forces of the Freedom and Change and other civil society representatives, and call for their immediate release, and reminded the military and security forces to refrain from unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, to respect people’s freedom of expression, as well as the right of peaceful assembly.

    It is crucial that women’s rights and the situation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) is addressed in the international community’s response to the coup as their position is particularly worrisome and today’s events have only exacerbated their already vulnerable position. This comes as militarisation of the State and violence against protestors remain some of the biggest threats to women’s rights in Sudan.

    Civil and political rights were once again violated as peaceful protesters were met with violence including live ammunition, resulting in at least five confirmed deaths and hundreds being injured. Rapid Security Forces (RSF) stormed medical centers that were providing medical care to the injured. A number of activists and protesters were arrested in several cities. Residential areas were also attacked by weapons. Further the majority of means of communication in the country have been cut off including phone lines and internet connection. Blanket internet shutdowns contravene international law. On October 26, Internet and mobile services were briefly restored for a few hours, they must be immediately restored

    We call on all States at the Human Rights Council to consider urgent action, such as convening a Special Session, to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law. In addition, the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan on 3 November presents one opportunity for States to bring to the fore these issues and call on the required urgent action. We urge all States to make statements during Sudan’s UPR condemning the coup and supporting the civilian-led democratic transition, and make recommendations relating to[1]:

    • reform of the military and security forces
    • accountability for violence against protesters
    • access to justice for women
    • legal reforms combatting violence and discrimination against women
    • ensuring gender equality
    • ratification of international and regional instruments
    • women, peace and security
    • guaranteeing freedom of expression and assembly
    • the protection of women human rights defenders.

    Read also here a statement by the MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition.




    • Sudan Women’s Rights Action
    • Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa
    • International Service for Human Rights
    • Global Fund for Women
    • Inter Pares, Canada
    • Canada for Africa Group
    • Rights for Peace Foundation
    • Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan
    • Vital Voices, USA
    • Equality Fund, Canada
    • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


    • Susan Bazilli, Director of International Women’s Rights Project
    • Karen Breeck MD
    • Carole Doucet, Gender/ Women, Peace and Security Expert Adviser
    • Georgina Bencsik, Advisor, Consultant and Strategist
    • Monique Cuillerier (WPSN-C)


    Civic space in Sudan in rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

    [1] In March 2021 Sudan Women Rights Action, Nora Centre for Combating Sexual Violence, ISHR and the Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa made a joint submission to the UPR of Sudan. Read here a summary of the recommendations to Sudan on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and the full joint submission to the UPR of Sudan.



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