women human rights defenders

 

  • ‘Against hopelessness, we need to work not to lose the very small windows of freedom that we can find under this dictatorship’

    CIVICUS speaks to an Iranian woman human rights defender about the causes and significance of the recent protests in Iran, as well as the prospects for change in a country with a closed civic space and a theocratic government that maintains a firm grip on power. She asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

     

  • 16 Days of Activism - Women in Solidarity during COVID-19

    16 Days of Activism, running annually from 25 November to 10 December, comes at the end of a year that saw a global pandemic affect families, economies, and every aspect of society worldwide. All around the globe, women stepped up when governments and businesses failed to act. After a tough year, this 16 Days global civil society alliance CIVICUS is celebrating the inspiring stories of women: activists involved in protest, women human rights defenders behind bars, and women’s organisations across the globe working to mitigate rising levels of gender based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

     

  • 36 States stand with Saudi women human rights defenders

    Human Rights Council Stands with Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders

    Since early 2018, tens of women human rights defenders have been detained in Saudi Arabia for their human rights work. Last week, a cross-regional group of 36 States, including all EU Member States, called for the release of detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. This statement sent a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold it accountable for human rights violations. The joint statement at the Council comes at a critical time as the Saudi Public Prosecution announced last week that some of the defenders will be referred to trial. 

    During the interactive dialogue held last week with the UN High Commissioner at the Human Rights Council, 36 States*, led by Iceland, called on Saudi Arabia to release women human rights defenders who are detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

    International Service for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Women’s March Global, CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain - have been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders. Ahead of the 40th session of the Council, over 50 NGOs called on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.

    Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate welcomed the leadership of Iceland for this landmark statement and criticised other states who didn’t join; and said that “this was the first time ever States at the Council collectively condemned human rights violations committed inside Saudi Arabia, a country that has until now escaped Council scrutiny despite being a Council member with an appalling human rights record. The Saudi authorities, as Council members, now have an opportunity to engage constructively with the Council and immediately release the defenders. States should follow up on the joint statement by presenting a resolution at the June session if inadequate progress has been made.” said El Hosseiny. 

    "We appreciate last week’s joint statement, a one of a kind initiative that followed tireless advocacy efforts by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition. It's heartening to see this resolution calling for the release of ten prominent women human rights defenders, some of whom were subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. Yet, we shouldn't forget that there are many more in prison who can't be named out of fear for potential reprisals to them and their families. Some family members have been targeted already. We will continue to work and advocate to ensure that all defenders are free from prison and retaliation and that their perpetrators are held accountable," said Weaam Youssef, WHRDs Programme Coordinator of the GCHR.

     “We welcome this joint statement from members states at the UNHRC,” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga MENA Advocacy Lead at CIVICUS. “We see this as the first step of a much more rigorous process of accountability for complete impunity towards human rights defenders. More needs to be done to protect civil society in Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia is rated closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    "This is a very big step for the 36 member states who have come forward to take - yet we are disappointed that more have not followed" said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Executive Director at Women's March Global. "This step shows that while progress is being made and the work of our coalition is making a difference, more work still needs to be done in holding Saudi Arabia accountable. We are concerned with every passing day at the safety of these activists and hope that member states will continue to keep pressure on Saudi Arabia."

    "We welcome the joint statement on Saudi Arabia and calling attention to the country's systematic rights abuses. We remain concerned over the ongoing detentions of women rights defenders, journalists, and other peaceful critics of the government. We call on Saudi Arabia to release all prisoners of conscience to undertake serious and good faith steps to bring its domestic laws into line with international standards, in particular the country's overly broad counter-terror law." Tyler Pry, Advocacy Officer, ADHRB.

    The joint statement called for the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Aziza Al-Yousef, Eman Al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan Al-Anezi. Some of the women have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture.

    Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades and those named above are not the only ones in prison, they are just emblematic cases. The decision by the Saudi government to allow women to drive is only a cosmetic change that fails to address the root causes of discrimination against women: the male guardianship system. 

    * The States who signed the joint statement are: Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Montenegro, Malta, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, and Monaco.

    Read the joint statement here.

     

  • 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.

     

  • Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

    By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

    Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • CIVICUS at the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

    CIVICUS at UN65 Banner2

    Women civil society leaders, activists, protesters and human right lawyers are central to shaping public life - through campaigns, protests and policy interventions. Across the world, women and girls are at the forefront of mobilising - for equality, meaningful democratic processes, their freedom to express themselves, safer spaces, and a protected environment, to name just a few. The theme of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), running from 15 to 26 March 2021, is Women in Public Life: Equal Participation in Decision-Making.

    Recognising the important work of women activists worldwide, CIVICUS, working together with members and partners, will:

    • Profile women in mobilisation, protest and civil society, and their role in public life;
    • Make recommendations to multilateral bodies and governments to help realise SDG5 and SDG16 - reflecting and based on women’s lived realities;
    • Renew calls for meaningful participation, resourcing, care work and visibility for women working in civil society.

    HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED?

    Building on our 16 Days of Activism campaign, CIVICUS will showcase inspirational stories, amplify member voices, draw attention to women human rights defenders at risk, and find out more about how Covid-19 is impacting women’s rights to protest.

    We invite you to:

    1. During CSW65, from 15 - 26 March 2021, talk about your work on social media - as a women human rights defender, activist, protester - using any of these hashtags: #Wedefend #SheDefends #CSW65
    2. Follow and tag CIVICUS Alliance (Facebook|Twitter) when posting during CSW65. We will promote and share as many of your activities as we can.
    3. Share stories of arbitrarily detained women human rights defenders as part of our #StandAsMyWitness campaign by filling out this form to share documented cases of currently detained women human rights defenders.
    4. Add your signature to our Global Statement calling for support and protection of women in civil society

    READ MORE

    Powerful personal stories from women activists and journalists who are facing online harassment.  CIVICUS has partnered with Global Voices to produce this article series: https://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/op-eds/4951-harassment-goes-virtual-women-activists-and-journalists-speak

    How Women Human Rights Defenders face greater risks because of their Gender by Masana Ndinga-Kanga http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/women-human-rights-defenders-face-greater-risks-gender/\

    REPORT: In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications/3791-in-defence-of-humanity-women-human-rights-defenders-and-the-struggle-against-silencing

     

     

     

     

  • CIVICUS at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

     

    Together with our members, CIVICUS is participating in the Commission on the Status of Women (11-22 March, UN Headquarters, New York). This is the 63rd session of the global intergovernmental body, which is dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. There are a number of events and advocacy activities taking place during the two week UN meeting. See our programme and learn more about how governments, UN agencies and civil society work together at this annual meeting to advance gender equality,  via our CSW portal

     

  • CIVICUS calls for urgent investigation into death of woman human rights defender in Kenya

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, has called on authorities in Kenya to urgently investigate the death of a woman rights defender.

    The body of activist Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was discovered almost a week after she had been reported missing on 6 February 2019.

     

  • Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

    Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    UAE Infographic

     

  • Free Saudi Activists commemorate 2-Year anniversary of the Saudi government's arrest of women's rights defenders

    COALITION TO HOST A WEBINAR ON MAY 15 PROVIDING UPDATES ON PRISONERS, STATE OF WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA AND CAMPAIGN PROGRESS

     

  • Free Saudi Activists commemorating 2-year anniversary of the Saudi government’s arrest & torture of WHRDs

    On 15 May, Free Saudi Activists, a coalition of women human rights defenders and organisations advocating for the release of women’s rights activists from prison, is hosting a webinar to update the public on the status of those who were arrested two years ago for calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system and defying the government’s ban on women driving. The arrests involved approximately a dozen women human rights defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al-Hathloul, who remains in prison along with other activists. Reports suggest that these WHRDs have been subject to multiple human rights violations under Saudi authority, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault, and have been denied due process.

    In addition to updating the public on the prisoners’ status, webinar panelists will address the state of women’s human rights across Saudi Arabia, as well as the coalition’s campaign progress and future advocacy efforts.  

    What:   Representatives from the Free Saudi Activists Coalition will participate in a 1 hour webinar to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the arrest of women human rights defenders. Panelists will provide an update on the human rights violations suffered by those who remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia, as well as a more comprehensive assessment of the state of women’s human rights in the kingdom. Free Saudi Activists Coalition members will also discuss their campaign efforts to date and their future plans to secure the unconditional release of the Saudi prisoners. The webinar will be followed by a Twitter storm to help raise awareness.

    When:     Friday, May 15th from 3:00pm-4:00pm GMT +2

    Who:   The event is organized by the Free Saudi Activists coalition, which includes Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and Women’s March Global. 

    The event will be moderated by:

    UmaMishra-Newbery - Women’s March Global Executive Director 

    Webinar panelists include: 

    Salma El Hosseiny – Programme manager, Human Rights Council, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Suad Abu-Dayyeh - Middle East and North Africa Consultant, Equality Now

    Husain Abdulla - Founder and Executive Director, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 

    Weaam Youssef- Programme Manager, Women Human Rights Defenders Programme, Gulf Centre for Human Rights 

    Masana Ndinga Kanga - Crisis Response Fund and MENA Advocacy Lead, CIVICUS

    Why:   Saudi Arabia has one of the worst international records when it comes to the protection and advancement of women’s human rights. Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are arbitrarily detained and at increased risk, must be released - including Saudi activists While Saudi authorities propagate a message of progress on its human rights record, the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of women’s human rights defenders - for peacefully protesting the ban on women driving and calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system - shows the inherent disconnect between the government’s actions and their alleged push towards respecting its human rights obligations. Continued advocacy by groups like the Free Saudi Activists and coalition members is vital to putting public pressure on Saudi authorities and the international community to hold the government accountable for its actions. 

    How:   Media is invited to attend at any time during the event. 

    Register HERE

    ABOUT FREE SAUDI ACTIVISTS
    Free Saudi Activists is a coalition of women human rights defenders advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi women’s human rights activists from prison. The coalition includes representatives from the ADHRB, CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), WHRD-MENA and Women’s March Global. 

    Website: freesaudiactivists.org

     

  • Free Saudi Women Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Saudi Women Activists

    SaudiArabia JointStatement

     

    • Coalition of global human rights groups launch a campaign for release of all Saudi women activists behind bars
    • At least 12 women human rights defenders arrested in past six months and have had their rights violated for their activism
    • Almost a quarter of a million signatures on a petition calling on the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable 
    • More than 170 NGOs have called on the UN to suspend Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council and hold inquiry into human rights abuses
    • The coalition calls for action including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been enabling war in Yemen since 2015  

    On November 29, the world commemorates International Women Human Rights Defenders Day - just 10 days before the 20th Anniversary of the international signing of the Declaration on human rights defenders. On these important milestones, we turn the spotlight on the rights of women human rights defenders and call attention to serious violations of these rights globally but particularly in Saudi Arabia.

    Since May 2018, at least a dozen women’s rights defenders have been arrested and subject to human rights violations for their activism in Saudi Arabia. Recent reports have emerged that some of the detained women activists have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture. Testimonies recount that this abuse has left some of the women unable to walk or stand properly with uncontrolled shaking and marks on their bodies. One of them has attempted suicide multiple times.

    “Since May we have been advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders - and to learn of the torture WHRDs are subject to fuels our work even further,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery,Director of Global Community from Women’s March Global.

    A campaign launched by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition including Women’s March Global and Coalition partners, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders.

    More than 240,000 signatures have been collected on Women’s March Global’s Change.org petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. More than 170 NGOs have called on the United Nations to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council and to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country.

    “Among the women’s rights defenders jailed this year in Saudi Arabia are partners and friends. One young woman was kidnapped and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will – just as the authorities had planned with prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director.

    “We can’t forget the brave women’s rights defenders who are at risk of torture and abuse in prison, and we fear greatly for their well-being.”

    Notably, Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades, and those recently arrested are not the only ones in prison, where other women are serving prison sentences or even facing execution for protesting.

    “Authorities continuously violate rights to peaceful assembly, curb the formation of independent civil society organisations, and restrict freedom of expression for Saudi activists” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, MENA Advocacy Lead from CIVICUS.

    “The very women at the forefront of campaigning for the right to drive, which was recently granted, have been detained for their calls for an end to the male guardianship system over women,” said Ndinga-Kanga.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Saudi Arabia as “closed”.

    “Women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, in the absence of any independent NGOs, provide a vital lifeline of support for equality and protection from violence for women of their country who are left with blocked access, inadequate resources or ineffective protection from violence of all forms," said a Saudi human rights defender who can’t be named for their own protection.

    The coalition partners have called for international action, including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is enabling the war in Yemen since 2015. Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate said that UN Human Rights Council members should call for a Special Session on the increasing internal repression by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful critics.

    "Silence by the world's top UN human rights body on these egregious violations would only embolden the Saudi authorities to escalate their internal repression and continue to torture defenders, with complete impunity,” said El Hosseiny.

    “Action by the international community will put Saudi Arabia on notice not only that domestic repression is unacceptable, but that its actions in Yemen are unacceptable,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRBExecutive Director.

    “We call for accountability for those responsible, not only for the arrests of women’s rights defenders, but the millions facing famine in Yemen, and for the kingdom to meet its international treaty obligations.”

    Women’s March Global, GCHR, ISHR, CIVICUS and ADHRB reiterate calls for Saudi Arabia to immediately release all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and end the abuse and torture of women human rights defenders in prison. The Saudi claims that torture is not taking place in prison are not credible and the international community must act immediately to protect these detainees, especially the women who are reportedly being subjected to torture.

    To arrange interviews or for further information or media assistance, please contact:

    For the CIVICUS Press Centre, click here.
    CIVICUS facebook page
    CIVICUS twitter account

    About CIVICUS:

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ayene

     

  • Harassment goes virtual: Women activists and journalists speak out


    Journalists theBridge series

     

    Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are originally published onGlobal Voices through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.

     

    Inday Espina VaronaFor this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

    There has been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public. In this first part of the series, Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story.

     
    Evgenija CarlCalled a prostitute by the prime minister, a Slovenian journalist tells her story (Ler em portugues)

    Evgenija Carl is an investigative journalist from Slovenia. After she produced a television report about the opposition SDS party in 2016, a leading politician at the time, Janez Janša, called her a “prostitute” on Twitter. When Janša later became Slovenian prime minister, the online abuse intensified. Read Evgenija Carl's story here.

     

     

    Maya El AmmarOnline rape threats connect Lebanese activist to ‘thousands of other women’ facing abuse (باللغة العربية)

    Since October 2019, anti-government protests known as the “October Revolution” have erupted across Lebanon. Protesters have called for the removal of the government and raised concerns about corruption, poor public services, and a lack of trust in the ruling class. Protests have been met with unprecedented violence from security forces. Feminists have been at the forefront of the revolution and have stepped up to provide assistance in the aftermath of the explosion. In the third part of this series,Maya El Ammar, a Lebanese feminist writer, activist and communications professional, tells herstory and the online abuse she continues to face. 

     

    Chantal MutamurizaPersonal attacks follow Burundi human rights defender into exile in Uganda (Lire en français)

    Under the regime of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, journalists and rights defenders continue to face challenges. The arrest of political activists and the recent public announcement of the sentencing of 34 exiled people—including journalists and human rights defenders—to life imprisonment illustrate the obstacles to free expression in the country. Chantal Mutamuriza, a feminist, human rights defender, and founder of the Light For All NGO, tells us her story of the continuous online harassment she faces day in and day out.

     

    Weaam YoussefIntimidation, censorship, and defamation in the virtual sphere

    In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists, and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is the story of Weaam.

     

  • In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

    WHRDs PolicyBriefIn recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

    This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

    Download the Report

     

  • India: Two more women activists arrested as crackdown on protesters continue

    Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.

     

  • India: Women human rights defenders still in pre-detention after 300 days

    INDIA Protests DevanganaKalita NatashaNarwal

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Front Line Defenders call for the immediate release of women human rights defenders Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal who have now spent 300 days in pre-trial detention.

    Devangana and Natasha were arrested on 23 May 2020 due to their peaceful campaign against the regressive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The women human rights defenders have faced multiple cases (First Information Reports) including under the anti-terror law, aimed at prolonging their detention. Devangana and Natasha’s arrest and continued incarceration highlights the escalating crackdown on dissent by Indian authorities.

    Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal are founding members of the Pinjra Tod, a collective of women students and university alumni from across Delhi, who advocate on women’s rights, student’s rights and to lessen restrictions, placed on female students. The collective argues against using concepts of safety and security to silence and suppress women’s rights to mobility and liberty. Since the CAA was passed in December 2019, the women human rights defenders had played a critical role in peacefully protesting and mobilising against the law. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described the law as ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’.

    On 23 May 2020, the Special Crimes Cell of the Delhi Police arrested Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in connection with their alleged role in a sit-in protest against the CAA that took place at Jaffrabad metro station in Delhi in February 2020. Among the charges laid against them include obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions, wrongful restraint, and assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty. The defenders were granted bail the following day (24 May) by the Metropolitan Magistrate Delhi. In the order granting bail, the judge noted that the defenders were merely exercising their right to freedom of expression by protesting and did not engage in any form of violence.

    Despite being granted bail, the defenders were never released. In what has become a familiar pattern for arrest of human rights defenders, Devangana and Natasha were rearrested on 26 May by a Special Investigation Team of the Crime Branch of the police and remanded in Tihar jail. The new charges include serious offences of murder, attempted murder, criminal conspiracy and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ under the Penal Code; offences under the Arms Act and the Prevention of Destruction of Public Property Act.

    Natasha and Devangana were subsequently charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), India’s primary counter-terrorism law which has been increasingly misused by the government of Narendra Modi. The UAPA has become the weapon of choice to detain human rights defenders, journalists and protesters under catch-all charges. For Natasha and Devangana, each time they were granted bail by court, a further FIR with more severe charges was filed against them, preventing release. Multiple cases culminated in FIR 59/2020 which includes sections of the UAPA, under which Natasha, Devangana and several other human rights defenders are currently jailed.

    “The arbitrary detention of Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal for 300 days now, is aimed at punishing them for their human rights work. The Indian authorities must drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against them and release the women human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally” said Olive Moore, Deputy Director - Front Line Defenders.

    Human rights defenders across India have been arrested and detained for long periods for their involvement in protests or criticising the authorities. A series of vaguely worded and overly broad laws are being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in detention. These includes the UAPA, section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

    “The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and critics. The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations and highlight the increasingly repressive civic space we have seen in India under the Modi government,” said David Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.

    In December 2019, India’s rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent during 2019 and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.

    For further information, please contact:

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation: Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher –

    Front Line Defenders: Adam Shapiro, Head of Communications & Visibility – - +1-202-294-8813

     

  • Ladies European Tour community should #StandWithSaudiHeroes

    In December 2019, the Ladies European Tour announced that it would hold a tournament in Saudi Arabia from the 19th to the 22nd March 2020 in collaboration with Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.

    While this announcement can be seen as an embedment of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing”—hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years.

    Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into the prominent journalist’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.

    In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions presented to the Council her investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the killing reflected a broader crackdown against activists, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Special Rapporteur called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into business deals with business, businesspeople, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role with Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.[1]

    The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for human rights defenders— applying a counter-terrorism framework to arbitrarily detain, torture and put on trial dozens of them for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul,Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya al-Zahrani, Nassima Al Saddah and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.

    These women were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in 2018 in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. It was reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere to.

    While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive andremoving travel restrictions for women over 21,the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe lack of gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders.

    The world’s top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) has unprecedentedly scrutinized the human rights record of Saudi Arabia in 2019. In March 2019, Iceland on behalf of 36 States delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, expressed serious concern over the continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention as well as accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi. In September 2019, Australia delivered another joint statement that set out a list of measures that the Saudi government should take to improve its human rights record, which to this date the Saudi government failed to comply with.

    Lastly, we also draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which provide that businesses should seek to prevent (...) adverse human rights impact that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts. The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in events is essential to upholding your credibility.

    Take Action:

    In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs have called on Ladies European Tour organizers, players, and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism.

    Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Ladies European Tour fans to help increase awareness and show solidarity by sharing on social media messages of support and solidarity with #StandWithSaudiHeroes.

    While official Ladies European Tour voices and players are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the sport around the world speak up, too. You too can help the activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle. In the lead up to the tournament, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.

    Signatories:

    1. ALQST
    2. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    4. Equality Now!
    5. Gulf Center for Human Rights
    6. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    7. MENA Rights Group
    8. Women’s March Global

    [1] See full recommendations to corporations on page 98- Section K: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Documents/A_HRC_41_CRP.1.docx

     

  • Omani human rights activist silenced and pushed into exile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Poland: Escalating threats to women activists

    Investigate, Protect Rights Defenders, End Hateful Rhetoric

     

  • Rights organisation calls for release of activist Sudha Bharadwaj on 2nd anniversary of her arrest

    SudhaBharadwaj

    • CIVICUS urges authorities to drop baseless charges against Sudha Bharadwaj 
    • There are concerns for Bharadwaj’s health in prison during COVID-19 pandemic
    • Bharadwaj is featured in international campaign #StandAsMyWitness calling for release of human rights defenders 

    August 28 2020 marks two years since the arrest and detention of Indian activist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj. Ahead of this second anniversary, global civil society organisation CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her. 

    Bharadwaj has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations. It is also alleged that she and ten other human rights defenders were conspiring to incite Dalits, a marginalised group, at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018.

    Sudha Bharadwaj was initially held under house arrest until October 2018, when she was then moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai. There are concerns that the 59 year old, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, will be susceptible to COVID-19 in the cramped prison, where an inmate has already tested positive for the virus. A July medical report found that she is also now suffering from Ischemic heart disease.

    Despite her underlying health issues, last week Bharadwaj’s plea for bail to the Bombay High Court was opposed by the National Investigation Agency which claimed her condition is not serious. The treatment of Bharadwaj highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

    UN experts have expressed concerns about the terrorism charges laid against Sudha and about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’s vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ which have been routinely used by the government to stifle dissent:

    “Sudha is a lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. However, her human rights activities have put her in the firing line of the Modi regime, which is abusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and using it to round-up activists and human rights defenders on trumped-up charges,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS.

    Sudha Bharadwaj is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature in CIVICUS’ global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world. People are also encouraged to share the defenders’ individual stories on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness.

    ABOUT CIVICUS

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has 10,000 members worldwide.

    CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world. India’s civic space rating was downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ last year owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.

    INTERVIEWS

    For interviews with CIVICUS please contact:

    and   Phone/Whatsapp: +6010-4376376 

     

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