United Nations

 

  • ‘Even the most progressive UN agencies have become vulnerable to the threat of corporate capture; fortunately, there are precedents of the UN tackling this kind of challenge’

    As the2017 State of Civil Society Report identified, private sector influence on international governance is an increasing civil society concern. CIVICUS speaks on this issue withThea Gelbspan, Membership and Solidarity Director atESCR-Net – the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.ESCR-Net is acollaborative initiative of groups- grassroots organisations, social movements, civil society organisations and academic centres -as well as individuals from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights.With over 280 members in 75 countries,ESCR-Net seeks to strengthen all human rights,with an emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights, and further develop the tools for achieving their promotion, protection and fulfilment.ESCR-Net members engage in mutual learning and exchange, deepen solidarity, enter into collaborations and join collective work in efforts to build a global movement to make human rights and social justice a reality for all.

    1. What are the current major trends in private sector partnerships with the United Nations system, particularly with regards to Agenda 2030?

    All agencies and offices of the United Nations (UN) are subject to frameworks that the UN system adopts and operates under, including the last of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 17, to revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. That goal clearly states that its “sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society.” Moreover, it cites an urgent need for action to “unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources.” Through Goal 17, the UN system has, regrettably, enshrined a mandate for its various agencies and operations to explore partnerships with companies and private investors. The UN Secretary-General's Guidelines for a Principle-Based Approach to Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector, adopted in 2000, also detail the UN’s internal rules and procedures and have provided further guidance that directs this trend.

    In the face of these developments, ESCR-Net members have expressed a growing concern about what they have termed the corporate capture of UN processes and institutions. Corporate capture refers to the means by which an economic elite undermines the realisation of our human rights and our environment by exerting undue influence over decision-makers and public institutions, in domestic and international spheres. Softening regulations, weakening regulatory powers, bankrolling elections, utilising state security services against local communities, causing judicial interference and implementing revolving-door employment practices are just some of the instances of corporate capture that ESCR-Net members have tracked.

    We are concerned that even the most progressive UN agencies and offices have become vulnerable to the threat of corporate capture. For example, on 16 May 2017 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced a new five-year partnership with Microsoft, consisting of a US$5 million grant, plus a commitment of pro-bono assistance to the OHCHR. After an exchange between the ESCR-Net Secretariat and the OHCHR, on 17 October 2017 the members of ESCR-Net’s Corporate Accountability Working Group sent a letter to raise concern regarding the actual or perceived effect that this partnership will have on the OHCHR’s independence.

    2. What do you think is motivating partnerships, both from the private sector and UN viewpoints?

    The UN Charter establishes that its member states are fiscally responsible for UN activity expenses(Chapter IV, article 17.2).Yet, as many UN member states fail to fulfil their obligations in terms of member dues and the overall financing of agreed-upon priority activities, a worrying gap has emerged that the private sector is now seeking to fill. Similarly, in the face of a substantial crisis in terms of public development financing, we have witnessed the whole-hearted embrace of public-private partnerships across the UN system, with a notable deficit in terms of critical assessments of this model.

    3. What are the implications of this on the space for civil society participation at the international and local levels?

    Human rights defenders (HRDs) play a critical role in identifying, mitigating, exposing and ensuring accountability for the adverse human rights and environmental impacts associated with some corporate activity and development projects. Yet all too often, governments have criminalised legitimate activity to defend and promote human rights and corporate accountability. We have witnessed a series of attacks, harassment, restrictions, intimidation, reprisals (including arbitrary arrest and detention), disappearances, judicial harassment, torture and killings of HRDs confronting human rights abuses that derive from private sector activity. Too often the application of restrictive or vague laws - such as those relating to national security, counter-terrorism, and defamation - inhibit the work of HRDs at the behest of private sector interests. Business actors also have been known to interfere with access to information and communication, financial freedom and trade union activities undertaken by HRDs.

    Unfortunately, as the UN system has forged more and more partnerships with private sector interests, the ability of its human rights mechanisms to uphold universally recognised standards effectively with actors who do not believe that such standards apply to them could be compromised, as could the system’s ability to provide protection for HRDs at risk.

    To counter these trends, ESCR-Net members have called on states to recognise and support the leadership and contributions made by communities affected by business-related abuses and generate sustainable economic and development models that align with human rights and minimise environmental impacts. In order to create an enabling environment for the defence of economic, social and cultural rights, states must mandate human rights and environmental due diligence, including project assessment, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and ensure the rights of people affected, or potentially affected, by corporate activity to participate actively, freely and meaningfully in those processes.

    4. What can be done in the face of these challenges?

    I think that a challenge of this magnitude truly requires collective efforts - across borders and regions - to confront these trends and elevate alternative approaches to advancing sustainable development that promote an environment that is friendly to human rights and those who defend those rights.

    This model of work can prove to be quite effective. For example, the ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group (CAWG) was central to the advocacy that led to the UN Human Rights Council’s creation of an Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises(IGWG) to begin drafting a binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. As part of this work, CAWG participants in three regional consultations and strategy meetings repeatedly raised the issue of corporate capture, as well as the possibility of using the UN process, and the international attention it attracts, to confront this trend at the national level.

    Now, as the negotiations within the IGWG have progressed, ESCR-Net members are calling attention to the risk of corporate capture of the binding treaty process itself and advocating for clear lines to be respected in terms of private sector participation.

    This is not the first time the UN system has grappled with the threat of undue influence that corporations or industry sectors may exert over the very treaties or bodies that are supposed to regulate corporate practices. The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control contains an explicit recognition that establishes the tobacco industry’s irreconcilable conflict of interest in public health matters. Its article 5.3 states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” Accordingly, precedents exist. We can insist on clear lines that keep private sector interests out of spaces that are not appropriate for their participation.

    In any accord, human rights are clear, universally accepted and non-negotiable standards that imply clear obligations for states and, progressively, responsibilities for non-state actors including those from the private sector. ESCR-Net understands human rights to transcend the UN system and the purview of law, being derived, essentially, from long legacies of struggles by social movements and communities for a life of dignity. We must stand together to support these values that we share, in the face of ongoing efforts to turn public affairs over to market forces. Together with CIVICUS and other important civil society networks, ESCR-Net envisions a world where all people can enjoy human rights and social justice.

    Get in touch with ESCR-Net through their websiteor Facebookpage, or follow @ESCRNet on Twitter.

     

  • ‘In response to anti-right narratives, we need to support one another in all of our diversity’

    Sahar MoazamiAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to Sahar Moazami, OutRight Action International’s United Nations Program Officer. Sahar is trained as a lawyer specialising in international human rights law. Primarily based in the USA, OutRight has staff in six countries and works alongside LGBTQI people across four continents to defend and advance the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world. Founded in 1990 as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, it changed its name in 2015 to reflect its commitment to advancing the human rights of all LGBTQI people. It is the only LGBTQI civil society organisation with a permanent advocacy presence at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

    OutRight is unique in that it has a permanent presence at the United Nations (UN). Can you tell us what kind of work you do at the UN, and how this work helps advance the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world?

    OutRight is indeed uniquely placed. We are the only LGBTQI-focused and LGBTQI-led organisation with UN ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council accreditation) status focusing on the UN in New York. Prior to 2015, when we formalised the programme as it exists today, we would do UN work, but with a focus on human rights mechanisms in Geneva and a more ad-hoc participation in New York, such as making submissions on LGBTQI issues to human rights treaty bodies with civil society partners in specific countries or bringing speakers to sessions and interactive dialogues.

    In 2015 we reviewed our strategic plan and realised that we were uniquely placed: we are based in New York, we are the only LGBTQI organisation here with ECOSOC status, there are a number of UN bodies here in New York, and there is a bit of a gap in LGTBQI presence. So we decided to shift our focus, also taking into consideration that we work with a lot of great colleagues overseas, like ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), which is permanently based and has staff in Geneva, or COC Netherlands, which has easier access than us to Geneva mechanisms. So it made sense, given that we had great colleagues working in Geneva and we were the only ones based here, to try and make sure we were using our resources constructively and thus covering all spaces. As a result, we now focus specifically on the UN in New York, which is quite an interesting landscape.

    While there are 47 states at a time that are actively engaged with the Human Rights Council in Geneva, all states that are UN members have a permanent presence in New York, throughout the year. This creates an opportunity for continuous engagement. We are part of an informal working group, the UN LGBTI Core Group, which includes 28 UN member states, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch, alongside OutRight Action International. This group provides the space to do LGBTQI advocacy throughout the year and gives us direct access to the 28 member states involved. We work in the UN LGBTI Core Group to identity and take advantage of opportunities for promoting LGBTQI inclusivity and convene events to increase visibility. While we also engage with other states, the Core Group provides a specific space for the work that we do.

    In addition to year-round engagement with member states, there are a number of sessions that are of particular interest: the UN General Assembly, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March and the High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Developments Goals in July. In all of these forums we provide technical guidance to UN member states on using inclusive language in resolutions and outcome documents and we host events with Core Group and non-Core Group member states relevant to topics and themes discussed in these forums, with the aim of increasing LGBTQI visibility and inclusion. Throughout the year we also work on the Security Council, as members of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

    Every December we hold our own flagship programme, in which we support between 30 and 40 activists from all around the world to come and undergo training on UN mechanisms in New York, and take part in numerous meetings with UN officials and bodies, and member states.

    The impact that our work has on people’s lives depends on our ability to leverage the status that we have to open doors. We use the access we have via our ECOSOC status to get our partners into spaces otherwise not available to them and to support them in their advocacy once they are there. So many things happen at the UN that have an impact on our lives, yet it is a system that is difficult to explain. It is easier to show activists the various UN mechanisms, how they work and how activists can use them to further their work.

    Being able to open spaces, bringing information and perspectives into the conversation and then getting the information that we are able to gather back to our partners on the ground so they can use it in their advocacy – that is what I am most proud of in terms of the real impact of our work on people’s lives.

    Over the past decade there have been sizeable advances in recognition of the human rights of LGBTQI people. Have you experienced backlash from anti-rights groups that oppose these gains?

    I think we are seeing significant progress. Over the past year, a number of countries passed or began to implement laws that recognise diverse gender identities and expand the rights of transgender people, remove bans against same-sex relations and recognise equal marriage rights to all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation. At the same time, and maybe in reaction to these gains, we are experiencing backlash. We are witnessing the rise of right-wing nationalism and anti-gender movements targeting gender equality and advocating for the exclusion of LGBTQI people and extreme restrictions on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This has led to a rise in queerphobic, and especially transphobic, rhetoric coming from political actors and, in some cases, attempts to roll back progress made to recognise the diversity of gender identities.

    The CSW is a good example of a space that has undergone regression, particularly regarding the rights of LGBTQI people. What we saw during its latest session, in March 2019, was a very vocal and targeted attack against trans individuals. The anti-gender narrative was present in side events that were hosted by states and civil society groups both at the UN and outside the UN.

    Do you think these groups are part of a new, more aggressive generation of anti-rights groups? Are they different in any way from the conservative groups of the past?

    I wouldn’t say they are so new, and they certainly did not come out of nowhere. Such narratives have been around in national discourse for quite a while. What seems new is the degree to which the right-wing groups promoting them have become emboldened. What has emboldened them the most is that powerful states are using their arguments. This anti-gender narrative has penetrated deeply and is reflected in negotiations and official statements. During the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, for example, representatives of the USA attempted to remove the word ‘gender’ from numerous draft resolutions, requesting to replace it with the term ‘woman’. And at the 63rd Session of the CSW, a number of delegations negotiating the official outcome document, including from Bahrain, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the USA, attempted to remove or limit references to gender throughout the document, proposing instead narrow terms reinforcing a gender binary, excluding LGBTQI – and especially trans persons – from the CSW's guidance to states on their gender equality efforts.

    So clearly the anti-rights discourse is not coming from fringe right-wing CSOs or individuals anymore, but from heads of state, government officials and national media platforms, which give it not just airtime, but also credibility. As a result, anti-rights groups feel increasingly free to be more upfront and upright. I don’t know if they are really increasing in popularity or if people who have always held these views are also emboldened by leaders of nations who are using the same rhetoric. Maybe these right-wing populist leaders just opened the door to something that was always there.

    But I think there is one change underway in terms of the kind of groups that promote anti-rights narratives. In the past it was clear that these were all religion-based organisations, but now we are seeing secular and non-secular groups coming together around the narrative of biology. Some of them even identify as feminists and as human rights defenders but are particularly hostile toward trans individuals. Of course, there are some groups that are clearly hijacking feminist concepts and language, attaching them to new interpretations that are clearly forced, but there are also groups that actually consider themselves to be feminists and believe that trans individuals should be expelled from feminist spaces.

    Either hypocritically or out of some sort of conviction, these groups are using feminist language to further their goals. And they are using the same rhetoric against abortion rights and the rights of LGBTQI people. They are well-funded. They have plenty of resources and supporters. Of course, plenty of people stand vocally in support of abortion rights, sexual health and education, and the human rights of LGBTQI people, but what I am trying to emphasise is that the anti-rights forces are mobilising people differently and are able to amplify their message in a way that makes them very dangerous.

    From our perspective, they are mobilising against the rights of certain people – but that is not the way they frame it. They are not explicit in using the human rights framework against certain categories of people. Rather they claim to be upholding principles around, say, the freedom of religion, the rights of children, or women’s rights. They depict the situation as though the rights of some groups would necessarily be sacrificed when the rights of other groups are realised; but this is a false dichotomy. Human rights are universal as well as indivisible.

    How can progressive rights-oriented civil society respond to help resist these advances?

    I think there are different tactics that we could use, and we are already using. There is an argument to be made against responding to things that are said by anti-gender and anti-rights groups. Faced with this challenge, different people would have different responses, and I can only speak from my personal background and for my organisation. I think that these are false narratives and we shouldn’t engage with them. We need to be more proactive. Rather than engaging, we should focus on ensuring that all the work we do is truly collaborative and intersectional, and that we acknowledge each other and support one another in all of our diversity.

    People who really uphold feminist values agree that the root of gender inequality is the social construction of gender roles and norms, and that these constructions produce personal and systemic experiences of stigma, discrimination and violence. Those of us who believe this need to continue mobilising our narratives to fight against structural barriers to equality. The fact that some anti-rights groups are using a bogus feminist rhetoric is no reason to abandon feminism, but rather the opposite – we need to embody the version of feminism that is most inclusive, the one that is truer to its principles. We cannot accept their claim that they speak for all of us. We need to reclaim feminism as our own space and reject the terms of the debate as they are presented to us.

    Get in touch with OutRight Action International through its website and Facebook page, or follow @OutRightIntl on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Market discourse has captured the development agenda to a point that may be incompatible with UN mandates’

    CIVICUS speaks with Barbara Adams, senior policy analyst at the Global Policy Forum (GPF),an independent policy watchdog that monitors the work of the United Nations and scrutinises global policy-making. Founded in 1993 by a group of progressive scholars and activists, GPF promotes accountability and citizen participation in decisions on peace and security, social justice and international law. It does so by gathering information and circulating it through a comprehensive website, playing an active role in civil society networks and other advocacy arenas, organising meetings and conferences and publishing original research and policy papers.

    1. What is driving the turn towards the private corporate sector for development funding?

    To implement the 2030 Agenda, many in the international community have addressed the financing gap, proclaiming the need to go from “billions to trillions” of dollars. This has propelled a turn to the private sector, and not just the private sector - given the trillions needed - but more so the corporate sector.

    According to this view and the analysis of multilateral development banks, as reflected in a 2015 report by the World Bank, the global community needs to move the discussion from billions in official development assistance to trillions in investments of all kinds, to meet the investment needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While admitting that the majority of development spending happens at the national level in the form of public resources, advocates stress that the largest potential for additional funds is from private sector business, finance and investment - working in partnership with governments. Assessments, however, have not adequately addressed the accompanying policy influence,  programme distortions and undermining of the 2030 Agenda and ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This has been the conclusion recently reached by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda.

    A related trend is the emphasis put on multi-stakeholder partnerships by some governments and United Nations (UN) agencies and the former UN Secretary-General. This has been reinforced by the 2030 Agenda, and the push for its implementation and achievement of the SDGs.

    For instance, a report released in 2015 by the UN Environment Programme emphasised the need to “access private capital at scale, with banking alone managing financial assets of almost US$140 trillion and institutional investors, notably pension funds, managing over US$100 trillion, and capital markets, including bond and equities, exceeding US$100 trillion and US$73 trillion respectively.”

    2. To what extent has market discourse captured the development agenda, and why has this happened?

    The fact that the action phase of the ‘big three’ landmark agreements - the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and the Paris Agreement - is dominated by attracting private financing demonstrates the extent to which market discourse has captured the agenda. On a planetary scale this discourse or narrative capture continues patterns well underway at national and global levels.

    Inadequate quantity and quality financing of the UN and its mandates by the member states has prompted different patterns of finance, including through philanthropists and big business. Core or un-earmarked resources have plummeted from nearly half of all resources in 1997 to less than a quarter today. According to a recent report by the UN Secretary-General, some 91 per cent of all UN development system activities in 2015 were funded with non-core and earmarked or project-based resources. A report that we published a couple of years back showed that between 1999 and 2014, total non-core resources for UN-related activities increased by 182 per cent in real terms, while core resources increased by only 14 per cent. Much of this increase has gone through a proliferating number of UN trust funds.

    The growing use of trust funds - where contributions have jumped by 300 per cent over the last decade - allow donor governments and corporate interests to direct UN funding choices outside the ‘one country, one vote’ UN policy processes. This represents a substantial change in the funding architecture of the UN development system, characterised by the growing ‘bilateralisation’ of funding for multilateral aid.

    The Third International Conference for Financing for Development launched the Financing for Development Business Compendium, which highlights 33 efforts aimed at mobilising business sector capital, claiming these provide “a strong indication of the broad scope of ongoing initiatives and the potential for scaling up to achieve the demands of the Sustainable Development Goals.” It also launched the Global Infrastructure Forum to bridge the “infrastructure gap.” The AAAA conference outcome document agreed that “to bridge the global infrastructure gap, including the $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion annual gap in developing countries, we will facilitate development of sustainable, accessible and resilient quality infrastructure in developing countries through enhanced financial and technical support.”

    To mobilise this support, the AAAA endorsed blended finance and emphasised public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a method of high potential among the instruments of blended finance. In order to assess this potential, it called for “inclusive, open and transparent discussion when developing and adopting guidelines” for PPPs and iterated that they “should share risks, reward fairly, include clear accountability mechanisms and meet social and environmental standards.”

    To date, PPPs have been more commonly executed in developed countries, as lower-income countries are less likely to attract large private investors. The extensive use of PPPs in Portugal and Spain contributed to their domestic financial crisis, yet domestic experiences are not informing the donor push for PPPs in developing countries. This is despite warnings that modalities that were unsuccessful in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries are even more unlikely to succeed in less developed countries, where cost recovery is more difficult.

    At a global level, the embrace of partnerships with the business sector brings with it a number of risks, side-effects and spill-over effects that have not received careful consideration and adequate independent scrutiny regarding compatibility with UN mandates for human rights and sustainable development; and their extra-budgetary funding lines remove the global partnerships from regular review and impact assessment.

    3. Are civil society actors being recognised as UN partners alongside corporate actors?

    The emphasis on public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder partnerships has technically included civil society organisations (CSOs). For example, member states have adopted mechanisms to support such engagement, such as in the resolution of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and in structuring the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a multi-stakeholder forum (A/RES/68/1). However, this inclusion tends to be procedural and more needs to be done to recognise the expertise and experience of civil society and its contribution in enriching substance in the context for policy decisions as well as in implementation strategies and monitoring. It is essential to differentiate the classifications of non-state stakeholders, rather than lumping them together as partners, and to recognise their different mandates and commitments to the public good.

    However the emphasis on multi-stakeholder partnerships tends to be driven by the funding gap issue and it favours the corporate sector.

    While CSOs focus on the enabling environment for their participation in key policy streams, it is important to broaden this attention. While the embrace of partnerships continues, the UN Secretary-General’s June 2017 report, ‘Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: ensuring a better future for all’, (A/72/124) has put in motion the mandate from the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) (A/RES/71/243) to “recalibrate and enhance other critical United Nations skill sets to match the needs of the 2030 Agenda,” and seeks “revamped capacities in partnerships and financing.”

    Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council resolution establishing an Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights (OEIGWG), seeks “an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises” (A/HRC/RES/26/9).

    The UN General Assembly partnership resolution has been on the General Assembly’s agenda since 2000 and is the main intergovernmental framework in place to govern non-state partnerships and hold them to account. But it lacks robust reporting and implementation. Its latest iteration is ‘Towards global partnerships: a principle-based approach to enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners’ (A/RES/70/224). While it references for the first time the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, its main emphasis continues to be the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles, which pre-date and are inadequate for the comprehensive 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

    In December 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted decision A/72/427, in which member states decided to “defer, on an exceptional basis, the consideration of the item entitled ‘Towards global partnerships’ and to include it in the provisional agenda of its seventy-third session.”

    4. What can civil society do to respond to these trends?

    There are a number of ways to respond, starting with an analysis and understanding of the overall context within which partnerships are promoted - the inadequate financing of the UN and its mandates by the member states. Crucial for CSOs is to assess their own situation and actions and the extent to which organisations have become passive participants in processes that are very limited, if not counter-productive to the pursuit of human rights and to strengthening the normative ability of the UN.

    Another way to take action is to monitor these trends at the UN more broadly than in specific processes and siloes, and be more actively involved in the partnership resolution dynamics and the importance of championing the public interest. This will require strategic substance-led alliances, not ‘big tent’ groupings in which strategies based on substance tend to evaporate.

    Additionally, it is important for civil society to undertake monitoring and to mobilise to prevent UN system activities, practices and appointments that undermine UN values-based mandates and that contradict the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

    Finally, civil society actors need to support each other to strengthen the independence of civil society monitoring, not only in developing countries but all countries. An independent civil society cannot rely only on financing through development assistance that focuses primarily on developing country policies and programmes.

     

  • "Stubbornly optimistic": Reflections from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG

    FRANÇAIS

    It has been a little over 60 days since I took on my new role with CIVICUS and the question I get asked most frequently is:How does it feel to be SG?Fortunately, this query has an easy answer! It involves being reminded on a daily basis of the need to celebrate and reinforce efforts taken to defend and strengthen rights-based values and freedoms by individuals and organisations worldwide. It also involves being stubbornly optimistic about our ability as civil society to demonstrate greater accountability and impact, while continuing to learn from each other and from unconventional champions of the causes we believe in!

     

  • “Fake news” violates citizens’ right to be informed

    CIVICUS speaks to Lyndal Rowlands, United Nations Bureau Chief at Inter Press Agency on what is “fake news”, its effect on civil society and how civil society can respond to it.

    1. How would you define fake news? How is this different from propaganda and established forms of political campaigning?
    Fake news only very recently became a part of our collective vocabulary. During the 2016 United States of America presidential election “content mill” websites created articles which mimicked the real news but were in fact entirely made up with the sole intention of going viral to make money from “clicks” or people visiting their websites. Yet before most of us had even begun to wonder what exactly fake news was, the term was co-opted by the very people who arguably benefited from fake news in its original form, and I think that it is important for civil society to pay attention to this later shift in how the term fake news has been employed.

    As comedian John Oliver has said, audiences need the press to help them to sort out fact from fiction and yet now that same press finds itself under attack. Even small mistakes made by journalists, have been seized upon by political figures as a way to discredit and delegitimise the so-called fourth estate. In light of this, I think it’s important to try and restore trust in the vast majority of the media who do uphold the professional standards that differentiate them from fake news.

    So, rather than trying to define fake news, I think that it’s better to focus on how we can discern which news audiences should trust and why. A few things that I would suggest would include making sure that you get your news from a wide variety of sources, finding out who owns the media companies you are getting your news from, and making sure that you double-check check anything that seems unusual against a primary source.

    2. Why do you think we are seeing a rise in fake news?
    The motivation for the initial rise in fake news was advertising revenue, however the disinformation that we are now seeing shared is more complex. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says that the spread of disinformation can help benefit a political side because it makes it more difficult for undecided voters to find out the truth. These undecided people may hear so much shouting and disagreement going on that they decide that it’s simply easier to go about their everyday lives, than to try and work out exactly who is telling the truth.

    This may explain why USA President Donald Trump’s team have now referred to three separate incidents which haven’t happened: namely Trump’s reference to “last night in Sweden”, Kelly Anne Conway’s reference to the Bowling Green Massacre and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s three references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta.

    As professor Rosen says, many of the Trump/Republican administration’s policies are not necessarily popular so by surrounding them with “fog and confusion” the administration “can get a lot more done”. However it’s also another reason why it’s so important that we all commit to not add to that fog and confusion ourselves, by making sure we don’t inadvertently share disinformation.

    3. Why do you think some citizens believe fake news?
    Sometimes we may believe a fake news story because it confirms our world view. We may then not be corrected, because for most of us, our world view has become increasingly polarised because of social media bubbles, which mean that we now almost exclusively see news which confirms our pre-existing opinions and values.

    4. How does fake news impact on civil society and human rights defenders?
    Attacks on press freedom affect civil society and human rights defenders because it is the job of the media to hold the powerful to account. If the vital democratic role of a free press is endangered through accusations that they are fake news and should be censored, then who will be there to report when the government or others in positions of power attack people demonstrating in the street or imprison them?

    Those who spread disinformation may also use it to discredit human rights defenders and civil society organisations. They may make up information about how many people attended a demonstration or argue that protestors are “paid”. Disagreements have begun to emerge over which protestors are violent, and whether they have been planted by the opposition, in order to discredit one side or the other. This may lead eventually to a curtailing of the right to protest, if peaceful protestors are successfully discredited.

    5. How should civil society respond to fake news?
    Sadly, the same people who seek to curb the freedoms of civil society organisations often also seek to control the media, so I definitely think that civil society and the media should work together to address these issues. Many media organisations are now also set up to serve the public interest as non-profit organisations, and many journalists are also freelancers, so there are other things that the media and non-profits have in common. If you rely on high quality journalism to get your story out, don’t forget to also support the journalists who produce these stories. If you can’t afford to buy a subscription, find other ways to support journalists, even through messages of support. Foundations and other funding organisations should also seriously consider supporting public interest journalism.

    In countries where the media is not free or where due to ownership interests they only partially or incompletely cover civil society issues, civil society organisations have also successfully begun using social media to tell their own narrative. By telling their stories directly to the public civil society organisations can also counter the sharing of disinformation. However, I would also encourage civil society to work together with the media, since there are many journalists who are committed to accurately representing issues on a wide range of topics in the public interest from human rights to climate change. 

    Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter at @lyndalrowlands

     

  • 750+ organizations highlight the vital role of the UN High Commissioner in calling out violators

    Joint NGO letter to the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 5 September 2018

    As local, national, regional, and international civil society organizations from every corner of the world, we offer warm congratulations on your appointment as United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

    We are committed to a world in which every person enjoys human rights and dignity and in which our communities are fair, just and sustainable. We consider that a strong High Commissioner, working in strategic partnership with independent civil society, can contribute significantly to the realization of this vision. 

    You take up office at a time when human rights are under attack and when we risk the reversal of many of the achievements of the modern human rights movement. We look to you in these troubled times to be an unwavering voice in the defence of human rights, and of victims, rights-holders and human rights defenders around the world. 

    On every continent, the rights of individuals, communities and peoples are being violated and abused by governments and non-state actors, often with complete impunity. Civil society, peaceful dissidents, and the media are often brutally silenced. The role of your Office in ensuring robust monitoring of, and reporting on, such situations is essential for curbing violations and deterring further abuse, as well as for ensuring justice and accountability. Technical-assistance and capacity building by the OHCHR is also critical and, to be effective, should be approached holistically alongside a rigorous assessment of the rights challenges in the country, including through key indicators to measure progress and assess the degree of engagement and cooperation by the State.

    As High Commissioner, you have a unique role to play in bringing country situations of concern to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, particularly situations that may not be on their agenda or which receive limited attention, often because of political pressure. This role should extend to providing briefings to the Security Council on situations either on its agenda or that, if left unattended, could represent a threat to international peace and security.Monitoring missions and inter-sessional briefings to the HRC can be initiated at the High Commissioner’s prerogative, on the basis of your Office’s universal mandate, bringing attention to neglected country situations and contributing towards the achievement of the Council’s mandate to prevent human rights violations. 

    We are aware that the position of High Commissioner comes with its own challenges. Many States will insist you avoid “naming and shaming” and push you to engage in “quiet diplomacy” and to respect national sovereignty. Often, those most intolerant of criticism and most forceful in suppressing dissent will speak the loudest in seeking to mute your voice. Survivors, victims and defenders on the front line in countries where their rights are being violated will rely on you as a human rights champion, to have the courage and conviction to call out violators clearly and publicly, even when it’s challenging or unpopular with governments. 

    Globally, the rights essential to civic space are being systematically undermined. Civil society and human rights defenders face severe daily risks in their struggle to defend human rights on the ground, including imprisonment, asset-freezes, defamatory campaigns, torture, enforced disappearance, and even death. Risks are also present in the UN context, where individuals frequently face intimidation, harassment or reprisals for their engagement with the UN. We urge you to be a staunch defender of the rights of defenders both on the ground and at the UN, to publicly call out violators, and to undertake or push for investigations into attacks and reprisals. We also encourage you to take full advantage of the distinct, often innovative complementary role of civil society to the work of the OHCHR, and ensure the Office works closely with civil society as a strategic partner at the national, regional, and international levels. 

    Currently, the human rights framework itself is under unparalleled attack. Authoritarian populists are attacking the universality of human rights, disproportionately and unlawfully restricting rights in the purported interests of “national security,” often tacitly or openly encouraging attacks by their followers or vigilantes on rights defenders as well as the vulnerable and poor, while selectively interpreting human rights and seeking to co-opt or subvert human rights mechanisms to suit their political agendas. Safeguarding and strengthening universal human rights norms and mechanisms should be a core responsibility of the High Commissioner. 

    The current climate highlights the need for a strong public advocacy role for your mandate in the defence of international human rights law and the international human rights system, as well as a strong role internally within the UN to mainstream respect for human rights throughout the work of UN organs and agencies, and within the Sustainable Development Agenda.

    Once again, we congratulate you on your new role, and stand ready to support you and your Office in the fulfilment of your vital mandate. 

     

  • Achieving Sustainable Development Post- 2015 will Require Addressing Governance Challenges

    Parliamentarians, civil society and academia have repeatedly emphasised the centrality of governance to sustainable development, taking into account capacity development needs of both people and institutions for good governance at different levels, from local to global.

    The press conference held at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), discussed a wide-range of issues, including: the current international development agenda, assessment of progress on the MDGs, governance bottlenecks to the achievement of MDGs as well as the need to align the Post-2015 agenda with the needs and aspirations of global citizens. If sustainable development is to be achieved, “there is need to deal with bureaucratic bottlenecks” in our governance structures and systems  said Hon. Ebrahim Abrahim, South Africa’s Deputy Minister in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, is committed to taking a leading role in the Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and in shaping the post-2015 global development framework. Mr. Ebrahim cautioned that as important as it might be, the eradication of corruption alone is unlikely to lead to the full realization of MDGs as it was just “one of the many” governance problems the world is facing today.

    Read more at United Nations South Africa

     

  • Alarming trends facing protest movements

     

    40th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Statement delivered during General Debate (Monday 11 March)

    CIVICUS is deeply alarmed that protest movements find themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights. Across the world, protest movements are being met by campaigns of violence and aggression from states that are increasingly brazen about defying global human rights commitments.

    At a time when many hard-won gains are being directly threatened by state and non-state actors, we urge the states present here today to recall that it was people organising in protest and civil disobedience who rolled back slavery, overturned colonial and racist systems of governance, and fought for women’s rights.

    Today, these struggles persist. Yet governments are increasingly responding to legitimate demands of protesters and their movements with absolute intolerance, including extra-judicial killings and torture. 

    CIVICUS echoes the concerns raised by the High Commissioner regarding the brutal crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe, where scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and children as young as 12 arrested, as well as the systemic campaign of brutality deployed against peaceful protesters in Sudan. 

    We ask all states present here today: what measures will you take to ensure that emerging protest movements from Serbia to Algeria to Malawi are nurtured rather than repressed?

     

  • Apply: Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator

    • New programme to support youth tackling major social issues through data collection
    • Initiative will amplify activists’ work and hold leaders accountable
    • Selected activists will receive funding, technical assistance and networking support

    2019 is kicking off with an exciting, innovative, youth-led and multi-partner programme called the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator! The launch of the Accelerator is a direct response to the challenges young people face in accessing sufficient and appropriate resources to meaningfully engage in development decisions and activities that affect their communities.

    The Accelerator will support promising youth advocates who are using data in innovative ways to address Global Goals 1-6 -- local development challenges related to poverty, hunger, health and well-being, education, gender equality and water and sanitation. These youth-led initiatives should relate to:

    • Data sourcing & Accountability: Initiatives that gather community views and experiences and/or crowdsourced data related to the specific development issue you’re working on. For example: Float Beijing Citizen Generated Data Quality
    • Data translation & Storytelling: Initiatives and campaigns that translate existing development data into stories that showcase progress and encourage leaders across sectors to act. For example: Stories for Advocacy

    Chosen youth advocates will receive funding, technical and networking support, valued at up to US$30,000.

    Apply Now!

    Do you want to increase youth representation and influence in development decisions in your community? Do you want to generate and use data to improve accountability for local development?  Do you have a great idea, but need a little extra support to realise its full potential? 

    If this sounds like you, check the eligibility criteria and frequently asked questions, and apply before 31st October! 

    Still not sure if this is the right opportunity for you, contact the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator coordination team at

    Important Dates

    • Applications open: 26 September 2018
    • Applications close: 31 October 2018
    • Finalists announced: 30 November 2018
    • Virtual orientation (mandatory): December 2018
    • Workshop in Arusha, Tanzania (mandatory): 21-25 January 2019 

    If you are selected, you will also have the opportunity to engage in additional networking opportunities to increase the visibility of your initiative, build local and global solidarity and mobilise funds.

    See press release

     

  • As global tensions rise, the UN stands on the sidelines

    By  Mandeep Tiwana

    It’s tempting to lay the blame for unresolved conflicts at the UN’s door but the reality is that the UN can only deliver when it has the support of member states and the buy-in of citizens.
    Read on: Jerusalem Post

     

  • Attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras

     

    Statement at the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Response to country reports from the High Commissioner and Secretary General

    CIVICUS is extremely concerned about attacks against human rights defenders across Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala, of which governments of these counties show little sign of adequately addressing.

    In Colombia, increased violence against human rights defenders took the lives of 110 people in 2018. 20 were members of indigenous or afro-Colombia communities. Delays in implementing the peace agreement has fueled further risk, especially in rural areas which have been most affected by conflict.  We are concerned by the alarming increase in the number of threats and attacks against journalists, and we call on the government of Colombia to accelerate implementation of the peace agreement which would expand civic space.

    In Honduras human rights defenders are routinely attacked, criminalized, harassed and targeted by smear campaigns. We are also deeply concerned by the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly in contexts of protests. We call on the government of Honduras to adopt a comprehensive, rights-based and gender-responsive policy for the protection of human rights defenders and to reform laws which criminalise them, including the overly-broad law on terrorism.

    In Guatemala, too, the environment for human rights defenders continues to be hostile. Local organisation UDEFEGUA reported that at least 24 human rights defenders were killed in 2018. And since the beginning of 2019, there have been two further murders. Human rights defenders, especially indigenous leaders and land defenders, are subject to judicial harassment and intimidation. CIVICUS is concerned that in the approach to the June 2019 general elections, violence against defenders may increase.

    In all three cases, lack of investigations into crimes against human rights defenders has created a climate of impunity and increased risk. We call on all three governments to conduct investigations into attacks and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, and to develop effective protection mechanisms and policies so that human rights can be defended without fear of reprisal.


    The CIVICUS Monitor rates the state of civicspace in Colombia as Repressed, Honduras as Repressed, Guatemala as Obstructed

     

  • Beyond 2015 Call for Inputs on Governance & Accountability in the Post-2015 Framework

    This call for inputs opens the opportunity for all participating organizations in the Beyond 2015 Campaign to collaborate in the framing and content of our joint position paper on Governance and Accountability. Send your input to b2015governance[at]gmail.com by 16 Nov 2012. Be sure to include your organization's full name, country and a contact person in your submission.

     

  • Bin the Travel Ban: Lift undue restrictions on Mozn Hassan and Egyptian civil society’s right to freedom of association

    Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.

    Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding case”.

    In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the “NGO Foreign Funding” case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On June 27, 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo - acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General - from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.

     

  • Burkina Faso at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

    Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains, the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and CIVICUS welcome the government of Burkina Faso's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome passing of a new law on the protection of human rights defenders in June 2017, making Burkina Faso only the second African country to do so.

    However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Burkina Faso only partially implemented the one civic space recommendation received during its 2nd Cycle review. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

    A new law on freedom of association, passed in 2015, allows authorities to delay the granting of legal personality in order to conduct a “morality” test on the applicant if deemed necessary. Civil society in Burkina Faso are further concerned about article 56 of the law which establishes a mediation commission, the members of which are not guaranteed to be independent of government.

    Despite the new HRD law, in recent years journalists and civil society activists, in particular those critical of the government, have continued to experience threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Freedom of expression has been undermined in recent years, including through the forced closure of some media outlets. 

    Serious violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including the killing of at least 14 unarmed protestors, took place during a coup d’etat in September 2015.

    Mr President, we call on the Government of Burkina Faso to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

     

  • Burundi at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

    38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
    Adoption of the UPR report of Burundi 

    Mr. President, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS take note of the government’s engagement with the UPR process and welcome its decision to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or punishment.  However, we regret the fact that the provisions of the Optional Protocol have not been implemented.  In fact torture and the inhumane treatment of citizens have become commonplace in Burundi since its last review.  

    Burundi has not fully implemented any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space. Instead the authorities have selectively used restrictive legislation like the Law on Assemblies and Public Demonstrations (2013) to pre-empt and prevent peaceful demonstrations by citizens.  

    Since April 2015, the Burundian authorities have used violence against peaceful protesters and are responsible for the numerous killings, abductions, acts of torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests of real or perceived opponents of the regime.  These acts have largely been carried out by security forces, intelligence services and the youth wing of the ruling party – the Imbonerakure.  Some of these crimes amount to crimes against humanity and they have been carried out with utmost impunity.  

    Legal restrictions adopted by the national assembly that increase government control of the activities and funding of national and international NGOs and the ban imposed on some civil society organisations have stifled freedom of association. The violence against representatives of civil society has forced many human rights organisations to close down and most of them now operate from abroad. 

    Mr. President, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS call on the Government of Burundi to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


     

     

  • Burundi: Continued UN investigation of human rights violations needed

    Frances

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland
    Burundi: Call to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry

    Excellencies,

    Ahead of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. [1] Such a resolution should also ensure continuity for the work of the CoI through continued adequate resourcing of its secretariat, including its crucial investigative and evidence-gathering work.

    The renewal of the CoI’s mandate is critically important to improve the human rights situation in Bu-rundi, and it offers the Council a number of practical and effective advantages. Among other things, it would allow the Council to:

    • Avoid a monitoring gap, which is all the more important given the Burundian Government’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding regarding its presence in the coun-try; [2
    • Ensure the continued documentation of human rights violations and abuses ahead of the upcoming elections of 2020, through testimonies of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, and other actors operating in and outside of the country;
    • Ensure ongoing public reporting and debates — while the African Union’s observers continue to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi despite a number of limitations imposed by the authorities, their findings are not publicly reported. Interactive dialogues at the Council provide the only regular space for public reporting and debates on human rights developments in the country; and
    • Enable the CoI to continue to highlight under-addressed aspects of the crisis — for instance, the Commission has stressed the importance of dedicating more attention to violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

    At the Council's 36th session (September 2017), the CoI informed the HRC that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Burundi since 2015,” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” At the 37th and 38th sessions of the Council (March and June-July 2018), the CoI described a political, security, econ-omic, social and human rights situation that has not improved since September 2016. In March 2018, the Commission’s Chairperson, Mr. Doudou Diène, stressed that the situation in the country continued to deserve the Council’s “utmost attention.” In October 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015. A preliminary exam-ination of the situation had been opened in April 2016.

    The constitutional referendum that was held on 17 May 2018 was marred with violence and repression, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of citizens campaigning for a “no” vote. [3] The BBC and VOA, two of the country’s main international radio stations, have been suspended for 6 months at the start of the official campaign, illustrating the climate of fear in which journalists and medias were pre-vented from a proper coverage of the event. [4]  In the Commission’s words, as of June 2018 “human rights violations, among which extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment […], facilitated by a continuing environment of threats and intimidation,” continue unabated. The CoI added: “The fact that several missing people have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country gives reason to fear the continuation of practices consisting of getting rid of the bodies of people arrested sometimes by individuals in police uniform or identified as agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) or the Imbonerakure.” [5

    Since it became a member of the Council, on 1st January 2016, Burundi has delivered multiple state-ments that have made clear its refusal to cooperate with human rights monitoring and investigation bodies and mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly launched attacks, which have sometimes des-cended to a personal level, against the High Commissioner, UN officials, and independent experts. With no basis or evidence, it has publicly questioned the independence, competence, professionalism, inte-grity and legitimacy of High Commissioner Zeid and his Office, and has threatened, stigmatised, and exercised reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations. [6] Burundians who have sought protection outside of Burundi have been subjected to harassment and persecution, including by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure.

    Members of the CoI continue to be denied access to Burundi. Furthermore, at the time of writing, the Burundian authorities have withdrawn visas from the team of experts mandated by HRC resolution 36/2, despite the fact that the latter was adopted at Burundi’s own initiative, with its support and the support of members of Burundi’s own regional group. Burundi’s action in this regard clearly violates its Council membership obligations.

    Recalling the letter a group of civil society organisations wrote in September 2017,7 we urge the Council, consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, to pave the way for accountability by renewing the mandate of the CoI to enable it to continue monitoring human rights developments in the country, documen-ting violations and abuses, and publicly reporting on the situation.

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

    Sincerely,

    Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi) African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
    Amnesty International
    Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
    Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
    Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation South Sudan (CEPO)
    DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-N)
    Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
    Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
    Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
    Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC)
    Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
    Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
    Human Rights Watch
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Ligue Iteka
    Mouvement Citoyen pour l’Avenir du Burundi (MCA)
    Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
    Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
    Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
    Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
    SOS-Torture/Burundi
    TRIAL International
    Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


    1. See its webpage: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundi.aspx
    2. See the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement at the Council’s 37th session (OHCHR, “Introduction to country reports/briefings/updates of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under item 2,” 21-22 March 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22875&LangID=E, accessed 20 July 2018).
    3. FIDH and Ligue Iteka, “A forced march to a Constitutional Referendum,” May 2018, www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/report_burundi_may2018_referendum_on_constitution.pdf (accessed 27 July 2018). 
    4. Reporters Without Borders, “Harassment of Burundi’s media intensifies for referendum,” 16 May 2018, www.rsf.org/en/news/harassment-burundis-media-intensifies-referendum# (accessed 7 August 2018). 
    5. OHCHR, “Oral briefing by the members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi to the Human Rights Council,” 27 June 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23274&LangID=E (accessed 20 July 2018). 
    6. See DefendDefenders, “Headlong Rush: Burundi’s behaviour as a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” 25 July 2018, www.defenddefenders.org/publication/headlong-rush-burundis-behaviour-as-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/ (accessed 25 July 2018). 
    7. “Renewing the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and Ensuring Accountability for Serious Crimes,” 19 September 2017, www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/hrc36-renewing-the-mandate-of-the-commission-of-inquiry-on-burundi-and-ensuring-accountability-for-serious-crimes/ (accessed 30 July 2018).
     

     

  • Burundi: Human rights violations continue

     

    UN Human Rights Council – 40th regular session
    Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

    CIVICUS is extremely concerned that grave human rights violations in Burundi continue without any signs of abating.

    The Commission of Inquiry reported in September 2018 that serious violations, including crimes against humanity, remained routine. During the May 2018 referendum, local authorities, the youth wing of the ruling party, the police and intelligence services summarily executed, abducted, detained and intimidated those who voted against the constitutional changes or those perceived to have done so.  In total more than 20 people were killed in incidences related to the referendum. 

    The 32-year jail sentence handed to human rights defender Germain Rukuki under trumped up charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security” despite repeated calls for his release from the international community is a vivid reflection of the state of human rights in Burundi. Other human rights defenders have been jailed under similar circumstances.  Three representatives of the CSO – PARCEM are serving ten-year sentences after being charged with “threatening national security,” and human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga is also in detention in an unrelated case.

    Mr. President, media restrictions continue as most private radio stations remain closed since 2015.  The National Communication Agency suspended the broadcasting licenses of the BBC and VOA after accusing them of violating Burundi’s media laws.  The activities of more than130 INGOs providing vital health and social services in Burundi were affected after they were banned in Burundi for three months in September 2018.

    We call for the immediate release of all human rights defenders and urge Burundi to fully cooperate with the COI and re-open the OHCHR office.

     

  • Civic space and fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe

    Joint Statement at the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council

    CIVICUS and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) welcome the High Commissioner’s update. With a continued focus on prevention, we request the High Commissioner and the Council to pay attention to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. The government has continued with its crackdown on civil society in violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

    The state’s attacks on civil society have been systematic. Since the January 2019 shutdown atrocities where more than 17 people were shot dead and several injured, civil society members across the country have reported an increase in surveillance, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention and interruption of their meetings by suspected state agents. Their legitimate and vital work of providing oversight, supporting and protecting vulnerable citizens, is now criminalised.

    The nation is currently gripped with a crippling economic situation which is creating a restless population. The response of the government by closing civic space and trampling on fundamental freedoms is deplorable.

    In the same period, Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media has led an onslaught against civil society leaders whom they accuse of planning to topple the government. These baseless allegations have been followed by a spate of arrests of civil society activists.  A total of eleven civil society leaders are currently facing charges designed to criminalise human rights work.

    CIVICUS and the Forum request the members of the Council to pay special attention to the situation in Zimbabwe, to read the warning signs of a deteriorating situation and act accordingly.


    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Civic Space Initiative statement on public participation guidelines

    39th Session of the Human Rights Council
    General Debate

    Civic Space Initiative, including Article 19, CIVICUS, European Center for Not-for-profit Law, International Center for Not-for-profit Law and World Movement for Democracy, welcomes the draft guidelines on effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

    We emphasise the critical importance of equal and meaningful participation in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as already laid out in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Equally, we recognise the centrality of participation in building democratic societies, social inclusion, gender equality and in advancing economic development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

    We welcome the transparent, open, and inclusive manner in which the OHCHR developed the draft guidelines, including consultations our organizations participated in all parts of the world.

    We underscore allpractical recommendations at national and international level which will help UN member States to create an environment necessary for the public to have their say. We highlight in particular the rightof access to information and States’ obligations to encourage and support civil society to do its work and refrain from any harassment and reprisal of rights-holders.

    Therefore, we strongly encourage the Council to endorsethe guidelines on effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs, and call on all UN Member States, local authorities, relevant United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, funds and programmes to promote the use and implementation of the guidelines within their work and public outreach.    

    We look forward to working with OHCHR, as well as States at the international and national level to enhance the right to public participation.

     

  • CIVICUS Addresses the New UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

    39th Session of the Human Rights Council  
    Opening Statement to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
     

    High Commissioner Bachelet, CIVICUS warmly welcomes you to the Council and congratulates your appointment as 7th UN High Commissioner. You take up this position at a time when human rights and the institutions to uphold them are under attack, and we look to you to be the voice of the thousands of human rights defenders working on the front lines, risking their lives on a daily basis. 

    We also welcome your call for new strategies and stronger tools for prevention, early intervention and also accountability so that the power of justice can deter and prevent even the worst violations and crimes. 

    The CIVICUS Monitor, a platform that tracks and rates civic space globally, has developed a Watch List of countries where on which individual activists and civil society organisations are experiencing a severe infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law, and urgent action is needed to reverse the trend. The Monitor  recently placed Bangladesh, Cameroon, the DRC, Guatemala, Maldives and Nicaragua on its Watch List

    These violations include brutal attacks by police on peaceful protests in Nicaragua and Bangladesh; the killing of 18 human rights defenders since January 2018 in Guatemala; flagrant disregard for the rule of law in Maldives ahead of elections scheduled this month; killing of protesters, targeted campaigns of harassment and arbitrary detention of activists and political opposition in the DRC; and the prosecution of human rights defenders and journalists on trumped-up charges in Cameroon amidst an escalating civil conflict and humanitarian crisis. 

    We call on you, High Commissioner and on all delegations to address these attacks and restrictions as a bellwether for further violations to come, and act now to reverse these worrying trends.

     

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