Asie

 

  • MYANMAR: ‘The government needs to open the doors’

    CIVICUS speaks with Nay Lin Tun, a doctor and civil society humanitarian worker in Myanmar, about conflict in Rakhine State, the difficulties faced by minorities in the region, and civil society’s work to provide help.

    nay lin tun

    Can you tell us about your background and the work you’re doing in Rakhine State?

    I’m a doctor working in public health, particularly focusing on primary healthcare, reproductive and women’s health, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. I was part of a group who founded a civil society organisation, the Center for Social Integrity, which supports communities in conflict-affected areas, including Rakhine State. We’re trying to support people based on their needs, including their needs to food, shelter and livelihoods. Right now in Rakhine State we are providing basic humanitarian support, education, healthcare, livelihoods and water and sanitation services for people in the conflict areas. Because of my experience I focus on providing healthcare and humanitarian support.

    At the moment there is fighting in the north and east of Rakhine State between the Myanmar Army and the insurgent Arakan Army. According to the United Nations there are around 35,000 newly displaced people because of the fighting in 2019, living in camps in Rakhine State. We are supporting these communities and other conflict-affected communities in the area.

    What are some of the challenges minority groups face in Rakhine State?

    In my country there are 135 recognised ethnic groups. The majority ethnic group are the Bamar, who are the main group across most of Myanmar. At the other end of the spectrum are lots of small groups, often in the regions close to borders, who are becoming less and less recognised by the government. Different groups face different challenges. In Rakhine State there are religious, ethnic and social minorities, and they all face human rights challenges.

    The Rohingya community, who are Muslims, have been subjected to a lot of abuses. They are denied citizenship and treated as stateless persons. They are not recognised as an ethnic group by the 1982 Citizenship Law. They are called Bengalis by many in the dominant population groups, because they see them as belonging to Bangladesh. They have their movement restricted and struggle to access education and healthcare.

    Local hospitals are inadequate, so if there is a medical emergency people have to travel to a major city. Before 2017 they could go to the Bangladesh side of the border on a short-term pass and get hospital treatment, but now the border area is closed and they cannot do this. But because they don’t have citizenship and their movement is restricted, it is also hard to go to the big hospitals in Sitwe, the main city in Rakhine State. People can pay for this with their lives. If there is an emergency, the only way people can negotiate to get treatment is to pay a bribe. This happened to someone I was trying to treat for a tumour.

    In another case, a pregnant woman had severe labour pains in the middle of the night. They tried to take her to hospital, but there is a curfew, introduced in 2017 and in force ever since. No one can go out between 11pm and 5am. There are many police checkpoints in the area, and while other villages were okay, in this case they would not allow this pregnant woman to pass. She had to go home. By the time she could go to hospital the next day, the child was already dead. Luckily, the mother survived.

    Rohingya people are also denied education. The highest education most people can get is at high school. They cannot join a university as a full-time student. They can only do distance learning for a few subjects. They also struggle to find work. Most Rohingya people work in farming, fishing and cutting timber, but right now they are not allowed to fish or go into forests to chop wood. Most of the farming lands are occupied by the military. Most people are now involved in daily casual work. So everyday life is very challenging.

    The Rohingya are not the only minority in the region who face difficulties. Local ethnic groups such as the Chakma, Dynat and Mu, who live on the mountains, face challenges, even though their religion is Buddhist. Because they live in remote locations, they cannot access healthcare and education. They have no life opportunities.

    What was your experience of the violence that occurred in 2017?

    What I saw was people living in fear. I saw communities that were afraid of each other: Rohingya people and Rakhine people, the majority group within the state, were afraid of each other. I worked on medical clinics in northern Rakhine State and hired a taxi to transport medicines. My driver, who was from the Rakhine group, did not want to take me to the area. You had people unable to go to the other communities because they did not think they would come back.

    What role do you think hate speech and extremist views played in stoking conflict?

    Most of the hate speech and extremist protest and provocations came from extreme groups in the big cities, and was spread by social media, whereas in rural communities it was more that you had villages of different ethnic groups that were afraid of each other. There was a lot of misinformation spread through social media, and this was viral. No one could know what was true or not. Positive stories and true information were far less viral than hate speech and misinformation.

    In the major cities, hate speech and misinformation turned a social conflict into a religious conflict between Buddhism and Islam. Extremist Buddhist monks turned this into a bigger conflict. Extremist groups spread disinformation and encouraged extremism, with the unofficial support of the military and political parties, in their own interests. People played political games in the big cities, but they had no connection to the villages in the conflict area. Those people were the most affected and they were living in fear, and live in fear now. There is a big challenge in controlling hate speech and misinformation on social media.

    It is much harder for civil society voices promoting social cohesion and religious harmony to be heard compared to hate speech, but civil society is trying to do this. These are messages my organisation is trying to promote very strongly in the conflict areas. But there is a need for more impact, and more efforts, not just from civil society but from the government. There is a need for much more activity that strengthens communities.

    What support is needed, including from the international community, to improve the lives of minorities and people affected by conflict?

    There is a lot of willingness from the international community to support people in Rakhine State, and not only Rohingya people but also other minorities. But the most challenging thing at the moment is that national government and local authorities are limiting them from doing so, and have been doing since 2017. So there is a lack of ability to really go into the villages and directly help people.

    The international community needs to engage with the national government and local authorities so that they are willing to work with them and listen to the voices of local communities and support them in the areas affected by conflict. They need to build relationships with the government, and the government needs to work with the international community. The government needs to open the doors.

    It is all about access – access to healthcare, access to education, access to livelihoods. Right now access is blocked. Even access to the internet was blocked by the government, between June and September. People don’t have access to the means to share their voices. People are also scared of speaking out because of restrictive media laws. They fear they will get into trouble. This is why I try to share their stories. So, access is the big challenge. We need more access by the community for the community. This is why the government needs to open the doors for international and local civil society.

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

    Get in touch withCenter for Social Integrity through its website andFacebook pages, and on Twitter@cfor_integrity.

     

  • REFUGEE RIGHTS: ‘It’s about finding ways to make refugee voices stronger’

    CIVICUS speaks to Evan Jones of theAsia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) about the challenges that refugees face in Asia and civil society’s work to help realise refugee rights.

     

    Evan Jones

    Can you tell us about your network and what it does?

    APRRN is a civil society network with around 400 members across Asia and the Pacific, stretching from Iran to South Korea and Taiwan and down to New Zealand. We’ve existed for 10 years and our main aim is to advance refugee rights in Asia and the Pacific. We push for legislative and policy change in the region to help refugees have sustainable lives and access to the same rights as everyone else. Our key purpose is advocacy, and underneath this there are three pillars of work: first, capacity strengthening for our members, through training and courses in areas such as refugee law, advocacy, working with the media and gender; second, information sharing across borders about best practices, contacts, resources, skills and communication ideas: if there’s a good development that’s happened in one country, we’ll try to connect civil society organisations (CSOs) in other countries to share lessons learned and possible ideas to adapt; and third, advocacy on the national, regional and international levels.

    In recent years we’ve been working on building refugee self-representation and putting refugee voices front and centre of everything we do. A refugee, someone with lived experience, is the chair of our entire network and the chairs or deputy chairs of many of our working groups are either still in refugee situations or have been earlier in their lives. Throughout our advocacy, we make sure that refugees are present in everything we do.

    What are the key current movements of people in the region, and what are the main reasons that drive people to become refugees?

    We have movements of refugees both from outside the region into the region, and also within the region. Specific refugee populations vary from country to country and also in size. In Malaysia, for example, there are about 180,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, a number of whom have arrived after the 2017 exodus. Others have been there for decades, eking out an existence, often on the fringes of society. In Thailand, there are a significant number of Pakistani refugees from religious minorities, along with groups of Hazaras from Afghanistan, Uighurs from China and Montagnards from Vietnam. In South Korea, there are refugees from Yemen. There are many populations in almost every country across the region.

    There are a number of reasons why people are forced to flee their homes, ending up as refugees in Asia. One is religious persecution. This has been clearly evident with the decades-long persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, alongside persecution of Christian minorities such as the Chin. The Ahmadi Christian minority of Pakistan are another example of a population that has been subject to ongoing religious persecution.

    Aside from refugees fleeing religious persecution, many individuals are also fleeing persecution due to their race, nationality, or membership of a particular social group. Because often ethnic minorities are targeted, we see a sizable amount of people fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, China and Pakistan. Other groups include those fleeing generalised violence and civil war, for example in Syria and Yemen, LGBTQI community members fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual identity and individuals fleeing despotic regimes such as North Korea’s.

    Refugees often find themselves in Asia for a number of reasons. For some, capital cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta were the only places they could afford to travel to at short notice and with relatively easy visa requirements. For example, in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, people from most countries can get a visa on arrival. Palestinians, Somalis and Yemenis can still get a visa on arrival in Malaysia, one of only a handful of countries around the world where they can do so. Many people came to these hubs thinking they would only be transit points, intending to claim asylum in Australia, Canada, or elsewhere, and then got stuck in these countries because they weren’t able to travel further.

    What are the key challenges refugees face?

    There are generally no local protections. There are usually no safeguards from detention, no capacity to work and no access to education and healthcare. Refugees struggle to attain almost all their human rights. This situation is common in most countries in both South and South East Asia.

    One of the biggest challenges, in Asia as well as globally, is the lack of durable solutions for refugees. Many have been and are expected to be here for years or even decades. With record numbers of refugees, no longer is it the norm nor can it be expected that refugees will be resettled in months or even years. Now, many have no real prospects of resettlement, with the number of resettlement spots globally having dropped so significantly. Under one per cent of all refugees in the world will ever get resettled, and the situation is even worse in Asia.

    Particularly in South East Asia, detention is a key concern and a continued focus of our advocacy. Instead of detention being used as an option of last resort it is quite often the norm. In Thailand for example, UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) cardholders are subject to arrest and detention if they are unable to produce a valid passport or visa. The detention centre is, in essence, a jail, where refugees are often held indefinitely until they either return home – which is not really a possibility – or get resettled, which is also unlikely for many people.

    Access to a legal right to stay is extremely difficult for people with a passport from refugee-producing countries. It’s hard to maintain or extend a visa in many countries around the region. If you’re from Afghanistan, Somalia, or Sudan, for example, often one of the restrictions to maintain a visa is that you’re expected to go home and then come back, which obviously isn’t an option for refugees. In some countries like India, we are seeing a worrying rise in racism and xenophobia, where refugees from some Muslim countries are being requested to ‘return immediately’ and told that they ‘are no longer welcome’.

    A further worrying trend that we are seeing is the use of extradition. States both within and outside the region are using extradition as a tool to have refugees forcibly return to countries from which they’ve fled. Sadly, we are quite often seeing states where refugees have sought protection going ahead with these extraditions. In essence, we see them buckling to the weight or political interests of neighbouring governments.

    One such example that made world headlines was the case of Hakeem al-Araibi. Hakeem is a Bahraini refugee who lives in Australia and was held in a Thai prison for three months, from November 2018 to February 2019, pending extradition back to Bahrain, after going to Thailand on his honeymoon. There was also the case of Sam Sokha, the Cambodian political activist, who was famous for throwing her shoe at a billboard of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, an act that was filmed and widely shared on the internet. She was arrested in Thailand in January 2018 and held in the immigration detention centre even though she had a UNHCR card recognising her as a refugee. The Thai government allowed an extradition request to be processed and sent her back to Cambodia, where she’s currently serving a prison sentence. Another case is Praphan Pipithnampron, an activist from Thailand who fled to Malaysia, claimed refugee status and was then extradited back to Thailand with the agreement of the Malaysian government. These examples show a clear and fundamental breach of the principles of refugee protection. Even with UNHCR status, the lack of legal protection leaves refugees in precarious situations across the region.

    Access to work is another major challenge. There are generally no special provisions for refugees to access work unless they happen to have come on a business visa with work rights and have maintained their visa. The lack of labour rights for refugees impacts on all other rights, including their ability to obtain food and shelter, access education and pay for healthcare. Interestingly, there have been a few small positive steps towards addressing this. A few years ago, the Malaysian government instigated a pilot project on work rights for Rohingya refugees, for a very limited number of 300 people. Whilst the initiative was a failure, the fact that the government even initiated such a program indicated a notable shift towards recognition of work rights. It shows that work rights are now on the agenda.

    Access to education differs country by country, but broadly speaking, it’s very problematic across the region. In Malaysia, there’s no capacity for refugees to access primary education. Malaysia has a reservation against the Convention on the Rights of the Child that means refugee children aren’t able to access state schooling. In Thailand, despite there being a progressive ‘education for all’ policy, practically it’s still quite difficult for refugee children to be able to attend school. This is because of the costs, the requirement to have basic Thai language skills and concerns about xenophobia and racism. Schools may not want to receive children who don’t have the relevant immigration papers or who look or sound too different.

    Across the region more broadly, there is also a hidden but major concern regarding a lack of access to tertiary education. From the perspective of states, and even many CSOs and service providers, tertiary education is seen as something that far surpasses basic needs. However, without this access, there remains a large refugee population who are simply left to linger in a state of under-productivity. They are not only unable to work, but they also cannot improve the skills and expertise that would help them grow personally and professionally if they were resettled or even decided to return home. This is starting to change just a little, and there are some positives here. For example, Japan has opened up 20 scholarship spaces for Syrian refugees, and some universities in Malaysia have also begun to offer dedicated spaces and scholarships.

    Healthcare is also problematic. Often refugees have to pay upfront for healthcare before they can be reimbursed by CSOs or the UNHCR. Refugees often fear that if they go to hospitals when they lack the correct documentation they may even be referred to immigration authorities.

    What are the challenges refugees face from anti-rights groups and majority populations?

    There were three pronounced examples over the past year of majority religious groups mobilising against minorities in the region. In South Korea in June 2018, 500 Yemenis arrived on Jeju Island. Almost immediately there was a huge outcry from the public, church groups – particularly conservative Christian groups – and the media. This fanned what was partly an anti-refugee sentiment but was more strongly an anti-Muslim sentiment that swept through the country and became conflated with refugee issues. It connected to the anti-migrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric that was coming out of Europe, and showed how these two have become intertwined. Within weeks of the story hitting the headlines a petition with more than a million signatures was sent to the president’s office requesting that South Korea pull out of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Thankfully the government didn’t go down this track but there have been high-level talks about how potentially South Korea could modify its domestic legislation for refugees and wind back some of its protection for refugees.

    In Sri Lanka, the 2019 Easter Bombings in Colombo gave rise to an immediate anti-Muslim public sentiment, which affected the refugee population in Sri Lanka, which is significantly an Afghan and Ahmadi Pakistani population. Several hundred fled from Colombo to the city of Negombo and went into hiding. Some stayed in a police station for several weeks of their own volition for protection and others were supported by CSOs. UNHCR was so concerned it sent additional staff to try to expedite cases and look at emergency resettlement out of Sri Lanka because of the fear of retribution and abuses against Muslim refugees.

    The third example was what we saw in Myanmar with the Rohingya. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment have permeated through Myanmar society. The Rohingya are denied citizenship and viewed as associated with terrorism. This resulted in what many are calling a genocide.

    Given these challenges, how is civil society in the region trying to respond, and what have the successes and challenges been?

    Negative stories dominate the discourse, and we try to counter this by placing refugees’ voices front and centre. This is something that is being supported quite strongly within the region, from Australia and New Zealand, but also now from within South East Asia. Civil society groups are realising that it is refugee voices that are the most impactful, and civil society is trying to amplify these voices to show the agency and contribution of refugees. In Malaysia, for example, there is now a completely self-organised group, the Refugee Coalition of Malaysia, where Afghani, Eritrean, Rohingya, Somali and Sri Lankan refugees are all coming together by themselves, putting forward their messages. They are offering training and they have learning centres. This is a really positive development. CSOs are trying to facilitate and support these developments.

    There’s also awareness-raising with the public, and with local host communities, the media and government. The media are stakeholders with potential for huge good but also huge harm, depending on their messaging. Many CSOs are trying to engage better with the media, including through media training. Misinformation is a major issue in some countries, such as in Myanmar, where both before and after the upsurge in violence there was a lot of anti-Rohingya messaging. However, in other countries, such as Thailand, refugee stories are rarely covered by local media.

    Over the past few years, there has also been a definite shift towards building connections with parliamentarians across the region. There has been a lot of work in trying to find champions within governments and trying to get them to work for refugees within governments and across borders. One organisation we work with quite closely that has done excellent work on several issues, including refugees, is ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights. They have a network of members of parliament in each country where they share information and strategies and use their status as elected officeholders to try to support rights.

    As well as positive shifts on labour rights and education in Malaysia, the government there is also looking at possible ratification of the Refugee Convention. Another positive move in Malaysia which shouldn’t be underestimated is that the government is speaking more openly about the issue, and in many cases speaking the right language. Five years ago you would not have seen the Malaysian government speaking out bilaterally or within ASEAN about the atrocities in Myanmar. Now the government is quite strong in calling attention to the situation in Myanmar and has also spoken out about other vulnerable populations, such as the Uighurs in China. They seem to be heading in the right direction.

    Another positive development has come in Thailand. Despite the fact that there is still immigration detention, in January 2019 the Thai government signed a memorandum of understanding to release mothers and children from the immigration detention centre to live in the community. This might seem a small win, but it was a practice that went on for so long. It was a change largely driven by civil society advocacy.

    Elsewhere there are regressions, as with the anti-refugee sentiment in South Korea. There are still a million-plus Rohingya sitting in camps in Bangladesh and there’s the growing prominence of the Uighur detention camps in China. There have been other headline stories this year, such as that of Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi Arabian woman who was fleeing from Kuwait to Australia and was stuck in a hotel within Bangkok airport. So even when we see governments in the region appearing to move in the right direction, all of a sudden they do something that takes them back again, such as threatening to return refugees for the sake of maintaining diplomatic relations. But we can have some cautious optimism that things are progressing in the right direction.

    What more could be done to support refugees and the civil society that supports them in the region?

    While the Refugee Convention is still incredibly important, this is no longer the pinnacle and the sole focus of our advocacy. We have states that have signed it that completely ignore it. So now we’re looking for tangible legal and policy changes on the ground.

    International civil society can help by keeping things on the agenda. Asia as a region is quite often forgotten and underrepresented globally. The huge refugee movements and protracted situations in Asia are often completely overlooked. A million Afghanis have been in Iran for 40 years with several million more in Pakistan. There are 100,000 Myanmar refugees on the Thai border along with the million-plus Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Compare this to headlines about migration in Europe and the USA and you’ll soon realise that our perception of refugee crises is skewed. There are these massive populations that don’t make the same global media impact and don’t get the attention they deserve. Keeping things on the agenda is really important.

    Cohesive messaging and cohesive action are also important. We all need to be able to work together to share resources and best practices, understand what is happening in other regions and learn the lessons that can be applied. I think in civil society we tend to look at the same things again and again: we look at national governments, the United Nations, we talk to ourselves a lot, but I think there are under-utilised mechanisms, such as ASEAN, the European Parliament and the private sector. I think in sensitive situations, such as with the Uighurs, the European Parliament could be lobbied to put pressure on ASEAN, which could then put pressure on the government of China. We need to look outside the box at how we can utilise regional platforms and also have other countries exert their influence in the region.

    People such as Abdul Aziz Muhammat, who spent years in the Australian government’s detention centre in Papua New Guinea and campaigns for refugees’ rights, should inspire us, and he should be a person we all aspire to be. He’s had such a traumatic life and so many things have gone against him, but he remains so positive and so ardent about supporting other populations. He continues to speak up for those left behind after him. To see refugees who have gone through everything and still fight for other refugees is inspiring. It’s about finding ways to make refugee voices stronger.

    Get in touch with APRRN through theirwebsite andFacebook profile, and follow@APRRN_ on Twitter.

     

  • BANGLADESH : « Pour lutter contre le viol, nous avons besoin d’une réforme profonde du système juridique »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Aparajita Sangita, activiste des droits humains bangladeshi et cinéaste indépendante primée au niveau international. Aparajita a travaillé à travers plusieurs films sur la discrimination sexuelle et les droits des femmes, et a été impliqué dans diverses actions sociales, telles que des projets d’éducation pour les enfants des rues et des banques alimentaires. En réponse à son activisme, elle a été harcelée par la police. Pour son activisme sur les réseaux sociaux, elle a également été poursuivie pour harcèlement en vertu de la draconienne loi sur la sécurité numérique. Les charges retenues contre elle ont été abandonnées en réaction aux manifestations qui ont eu lieu dans la rue et sur internet.

    Aparajita Sangita

    Quels éléments ont déclenché les récentes manifestations contre le viol au Bangladesh ?

    Dans la nuit du 5 janvier 2020, une étudiante de l’université de Dhaka (UD) a été violée après être descendue d’un bus universitaire dans le quartier de Kurmitola de la capitale, Dhaka. Les étudiants de l’UD ont été perturbés par cet incident, qui a donné lieu à des manifestations et à l’organisation de plusieurs événements.

    Malgré les manifestations généralisées contre le viol, la violence sexuelle à l’égard des femmes a persisté et même augmenté pendant la pandémie de COVID-19.

    Le 25 septembre, une femme en visite au MC College de Sylhet avec son mari a été violée dans un foyer du campus par des activistes politiques liés au parti au pouvoir. Au même temps où éclataient des manifestations en réaction à cet incident, une vidéo montrant une femme en train d’être maltraitée à Begumganj, dans le Noakhali, est devenue virale sur les réseaux sociaux le 4 octobre. La vidéo montre un groupe d’hommes entrant dans la maison de la femme, la déshabillant et l’agressant physiquement, tout en laissant tout cela enregistré dans une vidéo.

    Ces incidents ne sont que quelques-uns des nombreux cas de viols et de violences sexuelles contre les femmes qui ont circulé sur les réseaux sociaux au Bangladesh. Les auteurs de ces violences sont des parents, des hommes proches, des forces de l’ordre, des fonctionnaires, des dirigeants politiques et des acteurs religieux.

    Tout cela a déclenché les manifestations de masse contre le viol qui ont eu lieu en octobre 2020, où des gens de tout le pays se sont rassemblés pour protester contre la violence à l’égard des femmes. Le mouvement contre le viol a commencé à Shahbag, connu sous le nom de « Bangladesh’s Movement Square », mais s’est rapidement étendu à toutes les villes, et même aux villages, à travers le Bangladesh. Il s’agit de Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainabganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira et Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    Le mouvement de protestation contre le viol a rassemblé des personnes de différents horizons, notamment des membres de partis politiques, des écrivains, des militants culturels, des activistes des réseaux sociaux, des joueurs de l’équipe nationale de cricket, des activistes des droits des femmes et des journalistes. Pour la première fois au Bangladesh, des femmes ont manifesté contre le viol au milieu de la nuit. À Dhaka, ils ont marché de Shahbag au Parlement, portant des torches et criant des slogans.

    Quelles étaient les principales revendications des manifestants ?

    Le mouvement de protestation anti-viol a formulé neuf demandes pour mettre fin aux viols et aux violences sexuelles. Il s’agit notamment de l’introduction de sanctions exemplaires pour les personnes impliquées dans des viols et des violences contre les femmes dans tout le Bangladesh et du licenciement immédiat du ministre de l’intérieur, qui n’a pas rempli son rôle de rendre la justice.

    Les manifestants ont également exigé la fin de tous les abus sexuels et sociaux à l’encontre des femmes tribales, la création d’un comité pour prévenir le harcèlement sexuel à l’encontre des femmes dans toutes les organisations gouvernementales et dans le secteur privé, ainsi que dans les établissements d’enseignement, conformément aux décisions de la Haute Cour, et la pleine application de la Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes (CEDAW). Ils ont également appelé à l’abolition des lois et des pratiques qui perpétuent les inégalités entre les sexes.

    Il a également été demandé de mettre fin au harcèlement mental des victimes pendant les enquêtes et de garantir leur sécurité juridique et sociale, d’inclure des experts en matière de criminalité et de genre dans les tribunaux de prévention de la répression des femmes et des enfants, et de créer davantage de tribunaux pour assurer un traitement rapide des affaires.

    Enfin, les manifestants ont demandé la modification de la section 155(4) et d’autres sections pertinentes de la loi sur les preuves afin de mettre fin à la recevabilité des preuves de la moralité des plaignants dans les procès pour viol et au retrait des manuels scolaires de tout matériel jugé diffamatoire envers les femmes ou les présentant comme inférieures.

    Comment les autorités ont-elles répondu aux manifestations ?

    Le 6 octobre, les manifestants ont marché de Shahbag jusqu’au bureau du Premier ministre avec des drapeaux noirs, mais ont été arrêtés par la police près de l’hôtel Intercontinental. Plusieurs dirigeants et activistes d’un corps étudiant de gauche ont été blessés par la police.

    En outre, le communiqué publié par la direction de la police le 10 octobre contenait des éléments de diffamation des manifestants. Il a déclaré que certains secteurs essayaient d’utiliser la manifestation « pour servir leurs intérêts », en sapant l’ordre public et en « créant du chaos social ». La police a averti les manifestants d’éviter toute « activité anti-étatique » et a annoncé que la police s’engageait à assurer la paix et l’ordre interne à tout prix. Cette déclaration a provoqué la panique des manifestants, qui craignaient la répression.

    En plus de faire face à la répression policière, plusieurs femmes activistes, dont la dirigeante de l’Association des étudiants de gauche, qui ont participé au mouvement anti-viol, ont été menacées par téléphone et par Facebook Messenger. Certains des activistes ont également été menacés de poursuites pénales.

    Qu’est-il arrivé au mouvement depuis lors, la campagne s’est-elle arrêtée ?

    Après que les manifestations contre les viols et les agressions sexuelles se soient répandues dans tout le pays, la loi sur la prévention de la répression des femmes et des enfants a été modifiée. La peine de mort a été imposée comme la punition la plus sévère pour le viol. Auparavant, la peine maximale pour viol au Bangladesh était la prison à vie. La peine de mort n’était appliquée que dans les cas de viols collectifs ou de viols ayant entraîné la mort de la victime.

    En conséquence, les manifestations ont cessé, car beaucoup de gens pensaient que la peine de mort réduirait les crimes de viol. Cependant, de nombreuses défenseures des droits des femmes insistent sur le fait que la peine de mort n’est pas la solution et demandent une réforme approfondie du système juridique et davantage d’éducation pour lutter contre ce qu’elles considèrent comme une épidémie de violence à l’égard des femmes au Bangladesh.

    Que peut faire la communauté internationale pour soutenir le mouvement ?

    Suite aux différents cas de violences sexuelles et de viols commis contre les femmes, nous avons vu un important mouvement de protestation émerger dans le pays. Cependant, certains manifestants et activistes ont reçu des menaces pour avoir élevé la voix. La solidarité de la communauté internationale est essentielle pour ceux qui protestent contre les violations des droits humains et formulent des demandes justes.

    La société bangladaise est extrêmement patriarcale, et il y a eu de nombreuses tentatives au fil des années pour restreindre la vie et la voix des femmes. Le viol est une expression de ce contexte. Vivre en sécurité est un droit fondamental de chaque femme, et il est de la responsabilité de chaque citoyen, ainsi que de la communauté internationale, de garantir ce droit.

    L’espace civique au Bangladesh est classé « reprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor. 

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘Out of fear, people are being silent’

    CIVICUS speaks with Aklima Ferdows, who works with the Centre for Social Activism in Bangladesh, about civil society’s challenges and support needs in the face of a sustained government crackdown.

    Can you tell us about your background and work?

    I have a civil society background, working with civil society organisations (CSOs) for almost 10 years, mostly on advocacy and capacity development. I also have law background and voluntarily work with the Centre for Social Activism (CSA), whose work focuses mostly on the freedom of expression and protection of human rights defenders. CSA documents human rights violations and advocates for the rights of marginalised communities on the ground.

    What are the current challenges around the freedom of expression in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh had a long struggle for freedom and finally got independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a nine-months’-long war. But unfortunately, although we achieved our independence, our freedom is not assured even after so many years of independence. For civil society workers, human rights defenders, journalists and citizens in general, there is an environment of fear and self-censorship in the country now. Out of fear, people are being silent or are speaking on relatively ‘softer issues’ such as the rights of poor people, women and children. Because of fear of reprisal, people are refraining from doing things they used to do or not protesting or speaking openly. People need to think several times before they speak and act.

    Social media and online content monitoring are becoming strict, and you can see the changes in social media use. People used to share various types of news, updates and their thoughts. Now they mostly use social media for sharing their personal stuff or family related activity. People also complain about their calls being recorded. There were efforts to make people register to use social media with their national identity document. Some websites and online portals have been banned, contents are blocked and there are occasional internet shutdowns and slowdowns, including during elections. We have had several killings of online activists in recent years. Other online activists have left the country or gone silent. People’s ability to express themselves freely and creatively is limited and people are more fearful about sharing their views with other people.

    As an example of how the freedom of expression is restricted, in August 2019 a local councillor filed a case in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts area against one of the reporters of the Daily Star, a major daily newspaper, simply because the reporter had used the word ‘Indigenous’ in a report. The plaintiff alleged that the journalist had intentionally made a provocation to destroy peace in the hills in the report, titled, ‘Three Indigenous villages face land grabbing’. The police were ordered to investigate. Although the court dismissed the case, it showed how sensitive the authorities can be. The people living in the country's plains and hills have long been demanding constitutional recognition as Adibashi (‘Indigenous’ in English). The Press Information Department issued a release (reference no. 2,704) in March 2015 urging the media, experts, university teachers and civil society members to avoid that word in discussions and talk shows on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. There is no legal barrier to using the word ‘Adibashi’ anywhere in the country, but it seems that we are trying to push a group of people in their own country into a status of denial.

    Eighty-three lawsuits were filed against the Daily Star’s editor, Mahfuz Anam, by plaintiffs across the country, in 56 districts, who were not personally aggrieved. The matter began on 3 February 2016 when the editor of a TV talk show made an introspective comment about a lapse in his editorial judgment in publishing reports, based on information given by the Taskforce Interrogation Cell during the rule of the 2007-2008 caretaker government, without being able to verify those independently. He was accused of defamation and sedition. The number of cases show how many people can be mobilised against one. Allegations and legal actions can be brought against anyone on the grounds that they are trying to instigate communal violence, hurt religious sentiment or cause law and order violations.

    What are the other key restrictions against civil society freedoms, and what are the impacts on civil society?

    People need to get permission from the local authorities to hold an assembly or gathering. This has become very strict now. In some cases, people don’t get permission and, in some instances, permission have been withdrawn at the last moment.

    Another source of fear is the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement agencies. It is being used against opposition parties and their related organisations, but also against civil society, garment workers, student groups and cultural activists. The police force is often aggressive and there is impunity. So, people are reluctant about organising collectively as they did before. There are clear, direct threats as well as intimidation and there are also smears. For example, anti-corruption campaigners have been accused of avoiding paying taxes. And then there are repressive laws, which affect the freedom of expression and other freedoms of the people.

    Cases are being brought to harass people under the Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018. The law brought in jail sentences to a maximum of three years or fines of 300,000 taka (approx. US$3,750), or both, for publishing or assisting in the publication of information that is offensive or is known to be false with the intention of tarnishing the image of the state, or spreading confusion, or sending or publishing information intended to annoy or humiliate someone. The punishments can be almost doubled for a second offence. Now anyone can claim that someone is spreading rumours or is humiliating someone else, even if they are just sharing news online without any intention of spreading confusion or humiliating someone.

    The law also brought in a sentence of seven years in jail for hurting religious sentiment and values, and there are sentences of up to 14 years in jail or 2,500,000 taka (approx. US$29,450) in fines, or both, for charges of computer spying or digital spying for collecting, preserving, or sending any secret documents through a computer, digital device, computer network, digital network, or any electronic form. Journalists fear that the provisions of this Act will work against conducting investigative journalistic work and compromise the quality and freedom of journalism in Bangladesh. Under an earlier law, the ICT Act of 2016, several cases were brought against activists, journalists and activists. Now the police don’t even need a warrant to take someone in for questioning; it can be done based on mere suspicion.

    Another key obstacle for civil society is the restriction of funding. This has been going on for some time. The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act controls foreign funding for CSOs. There is also a funding shortage from foreign donors and development partners for rights advocacy programmes following the passing of the NGO Law and development partners have shifted their priorities to other regions. One of the provisions of the NGO law allows the NGO Affairs Bureau to suspend the registration of a CSO or to close it down if it makes any ‘derogatory’ remarks about the constitution or constitutional bodies.

    Any CSO or person receiving funding from a foreign entity must have permission. To get permission you need to give a copy of the proposal to the NGO Affairs Bureau, which sits in the prime minister’s office. Permission is sometimes withheld. Critics of civil society have occasionally raised concerns about some CSOs, alleging they could have links to terror financing, or that they are doing different work in the name of development. There is a fear that anything that doesn’t go well with the authorities could be blocked and the CSO denied funding.

    Then there is the new draft Volunteer Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act of 2019. According to media reports, the draft says that all CSOs will have to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare, and any receiving foreign funding will also have to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau. CSOs cannot set up and operate unless they do so. Section 10 states that all CSOs will be able to work in only one district when they first register. After registration, CSOs can expand their scope of work, but only to five districts at a time. We have 64 districts, so this is the most restrictive.

    Section 14 requires CSOs to have an account with a state-owned bank and conduct all financial transactions via state-owned banks. It requires CSOs to submit their annual workplans, audit reports and activity reports. It also requires CSOS to submit tri-monthly bank statements to the local social welfare office and registration authorities. Section 11, in sub-sections 1 and 2, states that registrations must be renewed every five years, and failure to reregister or the refusal of registration will result in an organisation being dissolved.

    Incredibly, section 16 says that the government can expel the heads of CSOs and replace them with a government-appointed five-person committee and section 17 says that CSOs can be dissolved if they are believed to not be working in the best interests of the public or to have broken the law.

    According to the NGO Affairs Bureau, between March and June 2019, the government cancelled the registration of 197 CSOs.

    Civil society members are in a very tight situation now. They have become very cautious and are playing safe out of fear. If they don’t compromise, they might lose the funding they have and face threats. We are not seeing CSOs making many statements on human rights issues. Many CSOs are struggling for funding. There are some social movements starting up, working on issues such as the protection of natural resources and against gender-based violence, but they are being cautious about talking about gross human rights violations.

    What impacts did the December 2018 general election have on civil society?

    In advance, people felt a participatory election might not be held. I went out one day just to see how many posters in the vicinity were from the opposition. In my neighbourhood, I would say 99 per cent of the posters were of the ruling party candidate. Opposition party candidates and activists were not fully free to campaign, and the election was allegedly manipulated.

    Fears increased during the election, in which the ruling party won a landslide victory, because it confirmed the ruling party’s power. The ruling party has everything and after the election, we hardly hear the strong voice of opposition.

    What role is being played by student groups affiliated with ruling party?

    One of the main sources of attack are by the non-state actors linked to the ruling party, particularly its student and youth wing. Academic institutions such as universities are controlled by ruling party student activists. At protests, ruling party student groups work alongside law enforcement officers to attack people and harass them. This sometimes includes sexual harassment of women protesters.

    Given these challenges, what are the main support needs of Bangladeshi civil society?

    Bangladeshi civil society voices should be raised with unity and there is a need to raise concern about Bangladesh at the international level more and more. At the international level, the rights of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have received huge attention, which is necessary, but this should not be used to overshadow other human rights violations in the country.

    We also need security and protection initiatives for CSO members. Bangladeshi CSOs should be developing these but they do not have funding for this, and requests for security and protection in funding proposals do not get much attention. There is also a need to explore flexible funding for CSOs.

    There is a need for more solidarity actions with local civil society. Those few organisations that are still trying to defend human rights, and local and grassroots groups, urgently need solidarity.

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

     

  • CORÉE DU SUD : « Les activistes et déserteurs nord-coréens subissent une pression croissante pour les faire taire »

    Ethan Hee Seok ShinCIVICUS s'entretient avec Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, analyste juridique pour le Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), une organisation de la société civile (OSC) basée à Séoul et fondée par des défenseurs des droits humains et des chercheurs de cinq pays. Créée en 2014, elle est la première OSC basée en Corée qui se concentre sur les mécanismes de justice transitionnelle dans les régimes les plus répressifs du monde, y compris la Corée du Nord. Le TJWG poursuit l'objectif de développer des méthodes pratiques pour lutter contre les violations massives des droits humains et promouvoir la justice pour les victimes avant et après la transition. Ethan travaille au Central Repository Project du TJWG, qui utilise une plate-forme sécurisée pour documenter et faire connaître les cas de disparitions forcées en Corée du Nord. Il utilise des actions législatives et juridiques pour sensibiliser à la situation des droits humains en Corée du Nord.

     

    Pouvez-vous nous parler du travail que font les groupes de la société civile sud-coréenne sur les droits humains en Corée du Nord ?

    Il existe un éventail assez large d'OSC travaillant sur les questions des droits humains en Corée du Nord. TJWG a travaillé pour ouvrir la voie à la justice transitionnelle en Corée du Nord, remplissant sa mission principale, la documentation des droits humains.

    Le projet phare du TJWG a abouti à la publication d'une série de rapports sur les exécutions publiques en Corée du Nord, sur la base d'entretiens avec des personnes en fuite vivant maintenant en Corée du Sud. Nous enregistrons les informations géo-spatiales des sites de tuerie, des lieux de sépulture et des lieux de stockage des enregistrements, tels que les tribunaux et les établissements chargés de l'application de la loi, en demandant à nos personnes interrogées d'identifier les emplacements sur Google Earth. La première édition du rapport a été publiée en juillet 2017 et reposait sur 375 entretiens, et la deuxième édition a été lancée en juin 2019, à la suite de 610 entretiens.

    Nous sommes également en train de constituer une base de données en ligne, FOOTPRINTS, qui enregistre les enlèvements et les disparitions forcées commis en Corée du Nord et par la Corée du Nord. La plateforme utilise Uwazi, une technologie gratuite et open source qui permet d'organiser, d'analyser et de publier des documents, développée par l'OSC HURIDOCS. Une fois rendu public, FOOTPRINTS offrira une plate-forme facilement accessible et de recherche simple pour retrouver les personnes capturées et disparues en Corée du Nord.

    Outre le travail de documentation et d'établissement de rapports, nous avons été activement impliqués dans des initiatives de plaidoyer nationales et internationales. En collaboration avec d'autres OSC des droits humains, le TJWG a rédigé et présenté une lettre ouverte exhortant l'Union européenne à renforcer le libellé et les recommandations des résolutions annuelles sur les droits humains adoptées par l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies (ONU) et le Conseil des droits de l’Homme sur la Corée du Nord. Nous avons également présenté des cas au Groupe de travail des Nations Unies sur la détention arbitraire, au Groupe de travail des Nations Unies sur les disparitions forcées ou involontaires et à d'autres experts des droits humains des Nations Unies.

    En juillet 2020, le gouvernement sud-coréen a révoqué l'enregistrement de deux OSC et a publié un avis d'examen administratif et d'inspection aux groupes « dirigés par des fugitifs » axés sur les droits humains en Corée du Nord. Pourquoi ces groupes sont-ils ciblés ?

    Le catalyseur direct a été les provocations nord-coréennes de juin 2020. Le 4 juin, Kim Yo-Jong, sœur du guide suprême Kim Jong-Un et premier directeur adjoint du département du Comité central du Parti des travailleurs de Corée, a critiqué les « brochures anti-RPDC » [République populaire démocratique de Corée] distribuées en Corée du Nord par des « fugitifs de Corée du Nord » et a menacé d’arrêter le tourisme sur le mont Kumgang, de démolir complètement la région industrielle de Kaesong, de fermer le bureau de liaison intercoréen, et de résilier l'accord militaire de 2018 qui créait des zones tampons démilitarisées, tout ce à moins que les autorités sud-coréennes ne prennent « des mesures appropriées ».

    Quatre heures seulement après le bombardement matinal de Kim Yo-Jong, le Ministère sud-coréen de l'Unification (MOU) a annoncé qu'il préparerait un projet de loi interdisant la distribution de tracts en Corée du Nord. C'était un changement radical dans la position de longue date du gouvernement, qui avait constamment contourné une telle législation par crainte de violer la liberté d'expression.

    Le 10 juin 2020, le MOU a annoncé qu'il déposerait des accusations criminelles contre Park Sang-Hak et Park Jung-Oh, deux fugitifs nord-coréens, pour violation de l'article 13 de la loi sur l'échange et la coopération intercoréennes, qui doit être approuvée avant tout échange intercoréen de marchandises, et qu'il révoquerait la reconnaissance juridique de leurs organisations, Fighters For Free North Korea (FFNK) et KuenSaem, pour l'envoi de brochures en Corée du Nord par l'utilisation de montgolfières et des bouteilles en PET pleines de riz jetées dans les courants océaniques, tel qu’ils l’ont fait le 31 mai 2020.

    Alors que le gouvernement nord-coréen a finalement atténué sa rhétorique, le gouvernement sud-coréen a commencé à sévir contre les organisations de défense des droits humains et les groupes de déserteurs nord-coréens, considérés comme un obstacle à la paix intercoréenne.

    Le 29 juin 2020, le MOU a tenu une audience et le 17 juillet il s'est appuyé sur l'article 38 du Code civil, vestige de l'époque autoritaire, pour annoncer la révocation de la reconnaissance légale de la FFNK et de KuenSaem pour avoir enfreint les conditions d’obtenir un statut juridique en entravant gravement la politique de réunification du gouvernement, en distribuant des brochures et des articles en Corée du Nord au-delà des objectifs déclarés de sa charte et en fomentant des tensions dans la péninsule coréenne.

    Le protocole d'entente a également lancé des « inspections commerciales » d'autres groupes nord-coréens de défense des droits humains et de transfert et de réinstallation, parmi les plus de 400 associations reconnues avec l'autorisation du protocole d'accord, peut-être en vue de révoquer leur reconnaissance légale. Le 15 juillet 2020, la North Korean Defectors Association a reçu un avis du MOU lui indiquant qu'elle serait inspectée pour la première fois depuis sa reconnaissance en 2010. Le lendemain, les autorités du MOU ont informé les journalistes qu'elles procéderaient d'abord à des inspections commerciales sur 25 groupes nord-coréens de soutien et d'implantation et de défense des droits humains, 13 d'entre eux dirigés par des transfuges nord-coréens, et que d'autres seraient inspectés à l'avenir. Tout en reconnaissant que la question des brochures avait déclenché les inspections, le protocole d'entente a ajouté que les inspections commerciales ne seraient pas limitées aux personnes impliquées dans la campagne de distribution de brochures.

    Combien de groupes ont été inspectés après les annonces ?

    En raison du tollé national et international sur la nature manifestement discriminatoire des inspections des groupes de défense des droits humains et des personnes évadées de Corée du Nord, le mémorandum d'accord a quelque peu modéré son approche et a commencé tardivement à faire valoir qu'il vérifiait toutes les OSC enregistrées dans le cadre du PE.

    Le 6 octobre 2020, le protocole d'entente a déclaré aux journalistes qu'il avait décidé d'inspecter 109 OSC, sur un total de 433, en raison qu’elles n’avaient pas soumis leurs rapports annuels, ou que les documents soumis étaient incomplets. Selon les informations fournies, 13 des 109 groupes à inspecter sont dirigés par des personnes qui ont fui la Corée du Nord; 22 (dont 16 qui travaillent sur les droits humains en Corée du Nord et la relocalisation des déserteurs, cinq qui travaillent dans le domaine social et culturel et un qui travaille dans le domaine de la politique d'unification) ont déjà été inspectés et aucun n'a révélé de motifs sérieux de se voir retirer la reconnaissance; et le protocole d'entente prévoit d'achever l'inspection des 87 OSC restantes d'ici la fin de 2020.

    En tout état de cause, le gouvernement semble avoir déjà atteint son objectif de signaler clairement à la Corée du Nord qu'il est prêt à répondre à ses demandes en échange de liens plus étroits, quitte à sacrifier certains principes fondamentaux de la démocratie libérale. Le gouvernement a également envoyé un signal clair au transfuge nord-coréen et aux groupes de défense des droits humains, qui a eu l'effet dissuasif auquel on pourrait s'attendre.

    Comment la société civile a-t-elle répondu à ces initiatives gouvernementales ?

    Malheureusement, la société civile sud-coréenne est aussi polarisée que sa politique. Les progressistes actuellement au gouvernement perçoivent les conservateurs comme les héritiers illégitimes des collaborateurs du régime colonial japonais de 1910-1945 et du régime autoritaire postindépendance, en vigueur jusqu'en 1987. L’ancien président progressiste, Roh Moo-Hyun, au pouvoir entre 2003 et 2008, s'est suicidé en 2009 lors d'une enquête pour corruption à son encontre, généralement considérée comme politiquement motivée, menée par son successeur conservateur. L'actuel président, Moon Jae-In, a été élu en 2017, au milieu d'une vague d'indignation publique face à la destitution de son prédécesseur de droite pour corruption et abus de pouvoir.

    La plupart des OSC sont dominées par des progressistes qui s’alignent politiquement avec le gouvernement actuel de Moon. Les progressistes sont relativement favorables à l'agenda des droits humains, mais restent généralement silencieux en ce qui concerne les droits humains en Corée du Nord, étant donné leur attachement au rapprochement intercoréen. Les mêmes personnes qui parlent haut et fort des « femmes de réconfort » japonaises soumises à l'esclavage sexuel par le Japon impérial avant et pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, ou des outrages de l'ère autoritaire, ignorent les outrages actuels, à savoir les atrocités nord-coréennes au nom de la réconciliation nationale.

    La plupart des groupes de défense des droits humains nord-coréens sont structurés autour de déserteurs nord-coréens et d'églises chrétiennes de droite politique qui caractérisent passionnément les gauchistes comme des marionnettes nord-coréennes. Beaucoup adoptent également une position hostile sur d'autres questions contemporaines des droits humains, telles que les droits des personnes LGBTQI+, ce qui est assez ironique étant donné que le juge australien Michael Kirby, auteur principal du rapport de l'ONU qui en 2014 a condamné les violations graves des droits humains en Corée du Nord en tant que crimes contre l'humanité, est homosexuel.

    Les OSC établies, pour la plupart progressistes, n'ont pas été ciblées par le gouvernement dirigé par le président Moon ; au contraire, des personnalités éminentes de la société civile ont été nommées ou élues à divers postes ou ont reçu de généreuses subventions. Il y a ceux qui expriment en privé leur consternation et leur inquiétude face aux tendances illibérales du gouvernement, mais peu de gens sont prêts à soulever la question publiquement en raison de la profonde polarisation politique.

    L'espace de la société civile - structuré par les libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression - devient-il plus restrictif sous l'actuel gouvernement sud-coréen ?

    Le gouvernement Moon a montré des tendances inquiétantes et illibérales envers les groupes qui, selon lui, se dressent sur son chemin, tels que les groupes nord-coréens de défense des droits humains et les transfuges, qui font face à une pression croissante pour garder le silence et cesser leur travail de plaidoyer.

    Le président Moon a rouvert le dialogue avec le gouvernement nord-coréen pour établir des relations pacifiques, neutraliser la menace nucléaire venant du Nord et ouvrir la voie au regroupement familial, entre autres objectifs louables.

    Cependant, conjointement au président américain Donald Trump, le président Moon a utilisé une stratégie diplomatique qui minimise le souci des droits humains. En particulier, ni la déclaration de Panmunjom de 2018 entre la Corée du Nord et la Corée du Sud ni la déclaration conjointe publiée après le sommet Trump-Kim de 2018 à Singapour ne mentionnent les violations flagrantes des droits humains commises par la Corée du Nord.

    Dans les semaines qui ont précédé la rencontre du président Moon avec le dirigeant nord-coréen Kim à Panmunjom, il a été signalé que les activistes nord-coréens étaient empêchés de mener leur activisme. En octobre 2018, la Corée du Sud s'est conformée à la demande de la Corée du Nord d'exclure un journaliste déserteur de la couverture d'une réunion en Corée du Nord. Le 7 juillet 2019, deux déserteurs, des pêcheurs présentés comme des tueurs fugitifs, ont été livrés en Corée du Nord cinq jours après leur arrivée et sans même maintenir l'apparence d'une procédure régulière.

    Le gouvernement Moon a également eu recours à des tactiques illibérales contre d'autres opposants présumés. Un homme qui, le 24 novembre 2019, avait accroché une affiche se moquant du président Moon en le qualifiant de « chien de poche de Xi Jinping » (faisant référence au président chinois) sur le campus de l'université Dankook, a été inculpé et le 23 juin 2020, le tribunal lui a infligé une amende pour « intrusion dans un bâtiment », conformément à l'article 319 (1) du Code pénal, alors que les autorités universitaires avaient clairement indiqué qu'elles ne souhaitaient pas porter plainte contre lui pour cet exercice de leur liberté d’expression. Beaucoup ont critiqué le processus pénal et la condamnation comme un retour aux vieux jours militaires.

    Le gouvernement a également pris des mesures pour exercer un contrôle croissant sur les procureurs. Le ministre de la Justice Choo Mi-ae a attaqué des procureurs qui ont osé enquêter sur des allégations de corruption et d'abus de pouvoir contre le gouvernement, alléguant l'existence d'un complot visant à saper le président Moon.

    Une autre tendance inquiétante est la tactique populiste des politiciens du parti au pouvoir, et du législateur Lee Jae-jung en particulier, d'utiliser Internet pour inciter leurs partisans à s'engager dans des actions de cyber-intimidation contre les journalistes.

    Que peut faire la communauté internationale pour soutenir les groupes attaqués ?

    En avril 2020, le parti au pouvoir a remporté les élections législatives, obtenant une écrasante majorité, remportant 180 sièges sur 300, grâce à son succès relatif à la contention de la pandémie de la COVID-19. L'opposition est désorganisée. Plutôt que de l'appeler à l'humilité, tout cela a enhardi le gouvernement, de sorte que ses tendances illibérales risquent de perdurer. En raison de la forte polarisation politique, il est peu probable que les politiciens du parti au pouvoir et leurs partisans prêtent beaucoup d'attention aux critiques internes.

    C’est pourquoi la voix de la communauté internationale sera essentielle. Il est beaucoup plus difficile pour le gouvernement d'ignorer les préoccupations soulevées par les OSC internationales et de les écarter comme des attaques à motivation politique. Une déclaration conjointe ou une lettre ouverte dirigée par CIVICUS serait utile pour transmettre fermement le message que les droits humains en Corée du Nord concernent réellement la communauté internationale.

    En outre, la Corée du Sud soumettra prochainement son cinquième rapport périodique au Comité des droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, élaboré en fonction de la liste de points à traiter préalables à la soumission des rapports. Étant donné que les questions et préoccupations concernant la Corée du Nord ne sont pas incluses dans cette liste, il serait utile que les OSC internationales unissent leurs forces pour les inclure dans la discussion orale avec les membres du Comité des droits de l’Homme et dans leurs observations finales.

    À court terme, des visites en Corée du Sud du Rapporteur spécial des Nations Unies sur la promotion et la protection du droit à la liberté d'opinion et d'expression, du Rapporteur spécial sur le droit à la liberté de réunion pacifique et d'association et du Rapporteur spécial sur la situation des défenseurs des droits humains seraient d’excellentes occasions d’internationaliser la question et de faire pression sur notre gouvernement.

    Même les progressistes pourraient soutenir une réforme de la loi obsolète sur l'enregistrement des OSC, par exemple, par intérêt personnel, si non pas par principe, en cas de changement de gouvernement.

    L'espace civique en Corée du Sud est classé « étroit » par leCIVICUS MonitorContactez le Groupe de travail sur la justice transitionnelle via sonsite Web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@TJWGSeoul sur Twitter.

     

     

  • HONG KONG : « La loi sur la sécurité nationale viole la liberté d’expression et intensifie l’autocensure »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Patrick Poon, chercheur indépendant sur les droits humains, de la situation des droits humains à Hong Kong à la suite de l’adoption d’une nouvelle loi sur la sécurité nationale (LSN) en juin 2020. Patrick est un chercheur en doctorat à l’Université de Lyon en France,a précédemment travaillé comme chercheur sur la Chine à Amnesty International, et a occupé différents postes au sein du China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, du Independent Chinese PEN Center et du China Labor Bulletin.

    L’espace civique à Hong Kong est de plus en plus assiégé depuis le début d’une vague demanifestations de masse pour les libertés démocratiques en juin 2019, déclenchée par l’introduction d’un projet de loi sur l’extradition. LeCIVICUS Monitor a documenté l’usage excessif et mortel de la force contre les manifestants par les forces de sécurité, l’arrestation et la poursuite d’activistes pro-démocratie, ainsi que des attaques contre les médias indépendants.

     

  • INDE : « Les organisations de la société civile qui osent dire la vérité au pouvoir sont attaquées »

    Mrinal SharmaCIVICUS s’entretient avec Mrinal Sharma, avocate et chercheuse en droits humains, sur l’état des libertés civiques en Inde. Mrinal travaille à aider les défenseurs des droits humains détenus illégalement et les demandeurs d’asile, les réfugiés et les apatrides en Inde. Elle a travaillé comme conseillère politique à Amnesty International Inde jusqu’à ce que le gouvernement indien ait obligé l’organisation à fermer en octobre 2020. Son travail avec Amnesty s’est concentré sur les personnes arbitrairement privées de leur nationalité en Assam, les obstacles à l’accès à la justice au Cachemire et la diabolisation des minorités dans l’Inde. Mrinal avait auparavant travaillé avec la Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative et le Refugee Solidarity Network.

     

  • KAZAKHSTAN : « La quarantaine est devenue une sorte de prétexte du gouvernement pour persécuter la société civile »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Asya Tulesova, une défenseuse des droits civiques et environnementaux du Kazakhstan. Le 8 juin 2020, Asya a été arrêtée et détenue après avoir participé à une manifestation pacifique dans la ville d’Almaty. Elle a été libérée le 12 août 2020, mais en liberté conditionnelle. Le cas d’Asya faisait partie de la campagne de CIVICUS #StandAsMyWitness, lancée le 18 juillet, à l’occasion de la journée de Nelson Mandela, pour demander la libération des défenseurs des droits humains qui sont emprisonnés, persécutés ou harcelés pour avoir défendu la liberté, les droits et la démocratie et exposé la corruption des gouvernements et des sociétés multinationales.

    Asya Tulesova

    Pourriez-vous nous parler un peu de votre histoire et de votre militantisme en faveur de l’environnement ?

    Ces dernières années, j’ai travaillé pour une organisation de la société civile, la Fondation civique du bon sens, axée sur le développement communautaire. Nous travaillons sur des projets environnementaux et éducatifs visant à améliorer la qualité de vie des communautés locales. En 2015, nous avons lancé notre projet de surveillance de la qualité de l’air à Almaty dans le but de donner à la population l’accès à des informations gratuites et actualisées sur la qualité de l’air dans la ville. Le projet a considérablement amélioré la compréhension des gens sur l’importance de la question.

    Quand je me suis rendu compte que la qualité de l’air était une question politique, j’ai essayé de me présenter au conseil municipal. Toutefois, ma candidature a été rejetée en raison de légères divergences dans mes déclarations d’impôts. Ce même raisonnement a été utilisé pour exclure des centaines de candidats se présentant comme indépendants dans tout le Kazakhstan. Nous avons intenté un procès contre la commission électorale centrale, mais nous n’avons pas réussi à convaincre le tribunal de rétablir ma candidature, même si nous avions toutes les preuves à l’appui de ma demande. Mon cas est actuellement examiné par le Comité des droits de l’homme des Nations unies.

    Nous poursuivons notre activisme environnemental en publiant des articles, en effectuant des recherches sur la pollution de l’air, en participant à des événements publics et en organisant des débats publics sur la question. En avril 2019, mon collègue militant Beibarys Tolymbekov et moi-même avons été arrêtés pour avoir tenu une banderole lors du marathon annuel d’Almaty ; nos amis Aidos Nurbolatov, Aigul Nurbolatova et Suinbike Suleimenova ont été condamnés à une amende pour nous avoir filmés en train de tenir la banderole. En tant que membres d’un mouvement de jeunes militants, nous voulions attirer l’attention des gens sur l’injustice des prochaines élections présidentielles et le manque de candidats indépendants. Beibarys et moi avons été placés en détention administrative pendant 15 jours. Pendant ma détention, j’ai entamé une grève de la faim pour protester contre la décision du tribunal, et à un moment donné, ma codétenue m’a donné un coup de poing dans le ventre car je refusais de me conformer à sa demande de mettre fin à ma grève de la faim. Notre arrestation a donné lieu à une série de manifestations dans tout le pays et à une augmentation de la participation politique des jeunes. Nous avons poursuivi nos efforts avec l’objectif d’attirer davantage de candidatures indépendantes à la compétition électorale.

    Le statut d’activiste au Kazakhstan est associé à un certain degré de pression constante de la part du gouvernement et des autorités chargées de l’application de la loi. De nombreux militants et défenseurs des droits humains, ainsi que des journalistes, vivent sous une surveillance intense et font l’objet d’une surveillance et d’une intimidation constantes de la part des forces de l’ordre ou d’autres personnes agissant en leur nom.

    Que s’est-il passé lors de la manifestation de juin 2020 où vous avez été arrêtée ?

    Lors de la manifestation du 6 juin 2020, j’ai été témoin d’actes de brutalité policière à l’encontre de manifestants pacifiques. Ce n’était pas la première fois ; chaque manifestation pacifique "non autorisée" que nous avons menée jusqu’à présent s’est accompagnée d’un usage excessif de la force par la police. Mais cette fois-ci, j’ai décidé de me tenir devant l’un des fourgons de police remplis de personnes détenues illégalement pour empêcher qu’on les emmène. Plusieurs policiers m’ont attaqué, m’ont traîné hors du fourgon, et quand j’ai essayé de revenir, ils m’ont jeté à terre. Dans cet état d’esprit, j’ai enlevé la casquette à un policier pour protester contre les actions illégales de la police et la détention de manifestants pacifiques. Il est difficile d’exprimer ce qui me passait par la tête à ce moment-là. J’étais vraiment en état de choc.

    Cela a été enregistré sur vidéo et j’ai été accusée d’« insulte publique à un représentant des autorités » en vertu de l’article 378, partie 2 du code pénal et d’« atteinte non grave à un représentant des autorités » en vertu de l’article 380, partie 1.

    Comment avez-vous ressenti le fait d’être en prison ? Aviez-vous peur d’attraper la COVID-19 ?

    J’ai été en prison pendant plus de deux mois. Le centre de détention où j’ai été emmenée est situé à l’extrême nord d’Almaty. On m’y a emmené la nuit et on m’a d’abord mis dans une cellule de quarantaine pour les détenus nouvellement arrivés, où j’ai passé plus de dix jours à me familiariser avec le règlement intérieur de l’institution. Après cela, j’ai été transférée dans une autre cellule.

    En raison de la pandémie de la COVID-19, les visites de famille et d’amis ont été interdites. Je ne pouvais parler à ma mère que deux fois par semaine pendant dix minutes par appel vidéo, et je recevais mes avocats toutes les deux semaines. Les conditions dans cet établissement étaient bien meilleures que dans le centre de détention temporaire situé au poste de police où j’avais passé deux jours auparavant La cellule était relativement propre et disposait de deux lits superposés pour quatre personnes, d’un évier et de toilettes. Nous nettoyions la cellule à tour de rôle. Deux de mes compagnons de cellule fumaient dans la salle de bain. Nous étions nourris trois fois par jour, principalement de ragoûts et de soupes. On nous emmenait faire des "promenades" cinq fois par semaine, dans une installation spécialement conçue, qui était en fait une cellule sans fenêtre ni toit. Nos promenades duraient généralement 15 à 20 minutes. J’ai donc dû écrire une plainte aux autorités de l’institution pour me conformer à leur propre règlement intérieur et nous donner une heure complète de marche. Nous prenions une douche une fois par semaine, à raison de 15 minutes par personne.

    Plusieurs fois par semaine, je recevais des colis de ma famille et de mes amis. Leur soutien m’a beaucoup aidé à garder le moral. J’ai reçu une radio envoyée par un autre militant, Marat Turymbetov, dont l’ami Alnur Ilyashev avait été détenu dans le même centre pour avoir critiqué le parti Nur Otan au pouvoir. Nous avons passé beaucoup de temps à écouter la radio en attendant des nouvelles, mais la plupart des nouvelles concernaient la pandémie de la COVID-19. De temps en temps, nous entendions des rumeurs sur des cas de COVID-19 dans l’institution, mais rien n’était certain, donc je n’avais pas trop peur d´attraper le virus. Ma mère, cependant, était très inquiète à ce sujet et m’envoyait des médicaments de temps en temps. La pandémie a été très dure pour notre pays et a fait de nombreuses victimes.

    Cette fois-ci, je n’ai pas personnellement connu de violations majeures pendant ma détention, si ce n’est que le personnel a enfreint certaines règles internes. Je sais que d’autres détenus ont passé des mois dans l’institution sans recevoir des visites de la personne qui enquête sur leur cas, de leur avocat ou des membres de leur famille. J’ai d’abord eu des soupçons lorsque, au centre de détention temporaire, j’ai été placée dans une cellule avec la même femme qu’au centre de détention spécial pour infractions administratives un an plus tôt.

    Je ne peux pas dire que j’ai l’impression d’avoir été détenue pendant longtemps, mais cela a suffi à accroître mon appréciation et ma compassion pour les militants et autres personnes qui ont passé des mois et des années en prison. Par exemple, le défenseur des droits humains Max Bokayev est en prison depuis plus de quatre ans pour avoir soutenu une manifestation pacifique contre la vente illégale de terrains à des entreprises chinoises. Pendant la quarantaine, de nombreux militants et dirigeants politiques ont été soumis à des fouilles et des arrestations, faisant de la quarantaine une sorte d’excuse du gouvernement pour persécuter la société civile. Parmi les militants détenus figuraient Sanavar Zakirova, qui a été persécutée pour ses tentatives d’enregistrement d’un parti politique, les militants Abay Begimbetov, Askar Ibraev, Serik Idyryshev, Askhat Jeksebaev, Kairat Klyshev et bien d’autres.

    Que pensez-vous de la peine que vous avez reçue ?

    Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ma sentence, c’est pour cette raison que nous allons faire appel. Le tribunal doit tenir compte du degré de danger que représentent pour la société les infractions que j’ai commises, qui ne constituent guère un crime. Cependant, je regrette mon manque de maîtrise de moi-même et l’impolitesse dont j’ai fait preuve. Je crois fermement en la protestation non violente et mon cas est une grande opportunité pour nous et pour le gouvernement de condamner la violence venant des deux côtés.

    De quel soutien les activistes comme vous ont-ils besoin de la part de la communauté internationale ?

    Je suis très reconnaissante que mon cas ait reçu l’attention et le soutien de la communauté internationale. C’était un honneur d’être représentée dans la campagne CIVICUS, #StandAsMyWitness. Je suis également très reconnaissante à ma mère, à mes avocats, à ma famille, à mes amis et à mes supporters au Kazakhstan et dans le monde entier, qui ont trouvé de nombreuses idées créatives pour sensibiliser le public et attirer l’attention nécessaire sur mon cas et sur le problème des brutalités policières au Kazakhstan. Personnellement, j’ai été très inspirée par l’une des initiatives lancées par mes bons amis Kuat Abeshev, Aisha Jandosova, Irina Mednikova et Jeffrey Warren, Protest Körpe, une façon simple et visuellement belle de présenter les demandes de justice et de droits humains de façon agréable et affectueuse. Il est facile de participer. La plupart des messages de Protest Körpe sont universels et concernent de nombreux pays - faisons entendre nos messages ! Je pense que nous pouvons apprendre de Protest Körpe et d’autres initiatives de nouvelles tactiques créatives et les adapter à notre contexte local. Ne serait-ce pas formidable si ces campagnes et ces mouvements pouvaient former un réseau afin que nous puissions tous partager et tirer parti des expériences des autres ?

    L’espace civique au Kazakhstan est considéré comme « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez Asya surFacebook.

     

  • LGBTQI RIGHTS: ‘There is an ongoing desire among many to more closely regulate morality’

    T King OeyAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to T King Oey, an Indonesian capacity development expert and a founder and board member ofArus Pelangi, the Indonesian Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual and Intersex Communities.

    How does your network work, and what are the challenges you are addressing?

    Our organisation, Arus Pelangi, which means the Flow of the Rainbow, was established in 2006. This was during the Reformasi era that followed the ousting of President Suharto in 1998 after three decades in power. After this there was much more freedom and many repressive laws were revised. At this time LGBTQI people felt we should come together to stand for our rights. Before then the only context in which people talked about LGBTQI people was in relation to the mitigation of HIV/AIDS. So we decided to form an organisation purely to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI people.

    Arus Pelangi is a coalition of national and local groups of LGBTQI people. We network a lot with other human rights organisations, including those working on other aspects of diversity and legal reform. We have also been instrumental in the formation of a network across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries – the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus. It is based in the Philippines and Arus Pelangi is an important member. At the same time we are reaching out to local communities around the huge country of Indonesia. There are still capacity challenges in enabling far-distant communities to make their voices heard.

    What challenges have you faced in recent years?

    The space for democracy in Indonesia is becoming more restricted, and it is harder for us to be visible. When we started in 2006 we saw it as strategic to raise our visibility as much as possible, so people could see and understand LGBTQI people and know who we are. So we took part in demonstrations, held flash mobs, held public discussions, made media appearances – anything to make us visible as a group.

    From the very beginning there were all kinds of groups attacking us. But things got much worse in 2016, when all of a sudden there was this massive wave of attacks. Persecutions also began from 2016 onwards. The trigger was a pronouncement by the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, that LGBTQI people should be banned from university campuses. Suddenly everyone joined in, saying that LGBTQI people should be banned from everywhere, that we should be criminalised.

    These attacks came especially from hardline religious groups. These groups had always advocated for criminalisation, but suddenly they had momentum because of what the minister had said.

    From then on it was no longer possible to be visible as an organisation, and to some degree even as individuals.

    How have extremist groups been able to organise, and how have they mobilised support?

    The Reformasi era created all kinds of freedoms for people to organise themselves, but the fundamentalists had the same freedoms, and they did very well in organising themselves. They have received lots of funding from Saudi Arabia.

    There has been a two-track development in Indonesia. Indonesia has become more part of a global society, more integrated in terms of technology, but at the same time people’s minds have become more conservative, due to the influence of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists have had more chances to preach, and to organise in all kinds of groups and organisations. One of the most well-known is Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), which has been very vocal in attacking us, and they have been able to stop some of our activities.

    The attitude of the police has been ambivalent. They haven’t stopped the FPI from attacking us. Rather they have said that for our safety it would be better if we disband. They always use this argument of safety. Since 2016 the police have also been proactive in outing and arresting people. People are arrested, paraded in front of the media and then released without charge.

    This has had a huge effect on the whole community. People have become afraid. Since 2016 we have held hardly any public events. We have to keep things secret and do everything underground. We have also had to learn to take security measures. Many of our people became depressed and closed themselves away, stopped going out. It’s just like being back in the Suharto era. We aren’t free any more.

    Fundamentalists reached the level of power that in 2017 they were able to put Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of our capital city, Jakarta, into jail for blasphemy. This was when the network of fundamentalist groups reached the height of their power. They were able to work together to do this. Indonesia has a blasphemy law, and once someone has been indicted, it is certain they will be convicted. I haven’t heard of any case when someone charged with blasphemy has walked free.

    How has the government responded?

    What is interesting is that this level of fundamentalism got to the point where it was threatening the position of President Jokowi. Only then did we see a concerted effort from the government to push back, and this process is still going on. The government has banned one of the fundamentalist groups, an international Muslim network that calls for the establishment of the caliphate, on the grounds that it does not adhere to the national ideology, known as Pancasila.

    A law the government recently passed on civil society organisations enabled it to do this. Human rights organisations criticised this law for being too loose and flexible. It could potentially enable the government to ban any group. This is the first time it has been used. The same law could be used against any group. It’s a double-edged sword.

    The government is considering banning the FPI. The government is also saying that it is coming to realise how many campuses have been infiltrated by fundamentalist groups, but it’s hard to know what’s going on behind the scenes.

    Has the April 2019 presidential election brought any changes?

    President Jokowi won re-election in April, but it seems he felt he couldn’t do it without the support of the moderate Muslims, as he took an Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate. Ma’ruf is a fairly conservative cleric who has made all kinds of negative pronouncements against LGBTQI people. It’s a mystery for many people, even for supporters of President Jokowi, why he was chosen over all other candidates.

    For LGBTQI people, now President Jokowi has won re-election, it remains to be seen whether the coming five years will bring any improvement. We don’t believe President Jokowi is against LGBTQI people, and on some occasions, he has said that the rights of LGBTQI people should be protected. But this is the kind of thing he has said when he has been interviewed by the BBC. It is a message for the outside world, rather than for a domestic audience.

    What is also disappointing is that in his first term, President Jokowi prioritised a focus on the investment climate, emphasising massive infrastructure projects, such as ports, roads and power plants, and reforming the bureaucracy to remove obstacles against investment. Just recently he has announced that his second-term priorities are the same. He said nothing about human rights. Many were hoping that he would be less cautious in his second term. It remains to be seen how committed he will be to human rights.

    As well as LGBTQI groups, which other communities are subject to persecution?

    Other groups particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses are minority Muslim sects, which have been heavily persecuted over the years, and communists and those associated with them. This goes way back to the mass killings of 1965-1966. Survivors and second and third-generation family members are still suffering from discrimination and threats.

    The struggle for gender equality goes back many decades. Women are targeted by conservative groups. Shariah law applies in the province of Aceh, and they have introduced and are applying draconian punishments such as caning and stoning to death. Several LGBTQI people have been the victim of caning. There are attempts to criminalise non-normative sexuality elsewhere in Indonesia.

    There is an ongoing effort and desire among many to more closely regulate morality. It is a continuous battle to try to prevent more repressive measures. For example, parliament is currently debating a law on domestic violence, and conservative law-makers are asserting that many things we would consider as sexual violence, like marital rape, are not included. The dividing line is between following a hardline interpretation of the Quran or not. Despite its secular appearance, Indonesia has become a de facto religious state.

    How is civil society responding to these challenges, and what support could the international community and international civil society best offer to Indonesia’s LGBTQI community?

    Civil society has been trying to respond through networking, joint statements, lobbying parliament and campaigning, including through Change.org. But it can feel like fighting an impossible war, because the conservatives always seem to be more powerful, better organised and better resourced.

    We have to be careful when considering outside assistance, because one of the arguments that fundamentalists always use is about foreign influences and attempts to make Indonesia a liberal country. LGBTQI is characterised as a western concept that is incompatible with the culture. Of course if you look at the culture and history of Indonesia you see all kinds of expressions of non-binary gender, including in dances, songs, literature and rituals. This culture has been denied consistently by conservatives who say that the only culture is hardline Islam. The conservatives forget that Islam itself is an imported religion.

    In 2015, when the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage, this created quite an uproar in Indonesia. Conservative groups always point to this and say that once they give in to one thing, this is what will happen. The global debate about same-sex marriage works both ways for us, because LGBTQI people in Indonesia have never suggested this – it seems too far away to even contemplate this, and we need to have our fundamental rights respected first – but at least it tells us we’re not alone.

    So you have to be careful, but solidarity helps. It helps LGBTQI people here to know they are not alone and have not been abandoned. If people have any chance to speak to government officials from Indonesia, they should use that opportunity to speak up for LGBTQI people and other vulnerable groups.

    At Indonesia’s United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session in 2017, many shadow reports pointed to the severe situation of LGBTQI people. There was quite a bit of criticism. The usual attitude of the Indonesian government is to cite social conservatism, but this time it was forced to acknowledge the need to take steps and it committed to hold a dialogue with the LGBTQI community. This was a concession that came because of international pressure. Of course, it remains to be seen what will happen on the ground. We have to keep the pressure on.

    Civic space in Indonesia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with T King Oey throughArus Pelangi‘s website.

     

  • MALAYSIA: ‘We need global solidarity to push back on attacks on rights’

    As 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 Thilaga Sulathireh of Justice for Sisters and Seksualiti Merdeka about LGBTQI rights in Malaysia and the ways in which state and non-state forces are working together to deny rights.

    Can you tell us about your work and the status of LGBTQI rights in Malaysia?

    I work with Justice for Sisters and Seksualiti Merdeka. Justice for Sisters is a network that primarily works for the human rights of trans people in Malaysia, and we provide legal support, do human rights documentation, engage in national policy work and undertake advocacy with the United Nations (UN) to highlight human rights violations. At Seksualiti Merdeka, we recently launched a website, Queer Lapis. We do capacity strengthening and content production. The work we do is very much grounded in feminist, intersectional principles, and from a queer perspective.

    The human rights of LGBTQI people are definitely regressing in Malaysia. Malaysia historically inherited section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalises ‘unnatural’ sexual acts, from British colonial rule. Section 377 has been amended several times, and the last amendment in 2017 resulted in the imposition of mandatory whipping as a punishment for consensual carnal intercourse deemed unnatural. The law is gender-neutral but it is used in political ways. As a result, people see it as a law that applies to gay people. We also have shariah laws in three states of Malaysia, introduced between 1995 and 2013, that penalise same-sex relations and posing as a woman or man. Unlike Section 377, these laws directly criminalise sexual and gender identity. The implementation of these laws varies according to state, but amongst them, the law against posing as a woman is most actively used.

    Has the situation for LGBTQI people changed in recent years?

    In recent years, arrests and raids made under these laws have decreased, because of a legal challenge that took place between 2010 and 2015. An appeal went through the different stages of courts. We got a negative decision in the High Court and then won in the Court of Appeal, which upheld that the law was unconstitutional, but then the decision was overturned by the Federal Court. But because of the activism around this case, the number of arrests significantly reduced.

    At the same time we saw a shift in tactics by the government’s Islamic Department, which has adopted a softer evangelical approach towards LGBTQI people. They saw that heavy prosecutions were giving the department a bad image, so there was a shift towards a softer approach, around promoting the ‘rehabilitation’ of LGBTQI people. There is a narrative that LGBTQI people need help in returning to the ‘right path’.

    We saw an increase in state-funded ‘rehabilitation’ activities in this decade, at the same time that Seksualiti Merdeka, which used to organise festivals, was banned in 2011. The government decided it needed to increase its response to this growing LGBTQI movement. This gave rise to more groups that promote and provide ‘rehabilitation’ or ‘conversion therapy’. We have seen more anti-LGBTQI campaigns in universities and on social media. We have seen more concerted efforts overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which sits under the Prime Minister’s office, and which launched a five-year action to plan to address the ‘social ills’ caused by LGBTQI behaviour. This brought together most ministries.

    As well as the use of various laws and increased state funding for anti-LGBTQI activities, we have seen a heavy-handed response to the freedoms of association and assembly of LGBTQI people. For example, when LGBTQI people have taken part in women’s marches, their organisations have been investigated.

    Did anything alter as a result of the May 2018 election, which saw the first change of government in Malaysia’s independent history?

    The 2018 election has historic in that it changed the administration, but the government has adopted and continued the same policies. Nothing has changed from the LGBTQI perspective. We still see the same amount of resources going into policies that treat LGBTQI people as a problem.

    There is also an ongoing struggle between the new government and the former ruling party that is now in opposition, and this is used to justify the lack of change for LGBTQI people. Right after the election a lesbian couple was arrested in the state of Terengganu, which is an opposition-controlled state. They were charged for sexual relations between women and caned openly in the public court. After this there were also two cases of caning of sex workers.

    So there is all this moral policing. Homophobia is real, but there is also a political tussle and mind games being played over who are the guardians of Islam and race. In this crossfire LGBTQI issues and people become politicised.

    Who are the main groups attacking LGBTQI rights in Malaysia?

    All the groups attacking LGBTQI rights use evangelical language, similar to the right wing in Europe or the USA. They reject the universality of human rights, are nationalistic, oppose pluralism and diversity in many ways, prioritise a particular race or religion and support ‘conversion therapy’. Some of the state-funded activities towards LGBTQI people are carried out by these groups.

    There are celebrity preachers who post social media videos encouraging people to troll LGBTQI people and those who post LGBTQI-related content. There are also individuals who make homophobic comments and conservative student groups who organise against LGBTQI people. But they are less physically aggressive than those in Europe and the USA. They are often careful not to insult LGBTQI people out of fear of giving Islam a bad name.

    There are also ethno-nationalist groups, with the purpose of protecting Muslims and ethnic Malays, that also engage in anti-LGBTQI activity. These don’t adopt an evangelical approach. They engage more in reporting LGBTQI people to the police, and sometimes physical intimidation and violence. At the last women’s march, we saw some of these groups physically intimidating participants. They also issue statements and have an active social media presence.

    Then there are groups that call themselves Islamic non-governmental organisations (NGOs), some of which come together under a coalition of Islamic NGOs that participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). These include groups that use more rights-oriented language, given that they engage in the UPR process, and particularly use the language of religious rights. They position what they call the ‘rehabilitation’ of LGBTQI people as consistent with these religious rights. They also cite examples such as the case of a bakery in the USA that was taken to court for refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding to support their arguments for religious rights. Some of these are groups of doctors, lawyers and academics, and they make pseudo-scientific and legal arguments against LGBTQI rights. Some of these Islamic NGOs also provide services, and as such are involved in the government’s ‘rehabilitation’ programme.

    Within civil society, there is a tension between groups that support the universality of human rights and those that oppose it. Between those that promote pluralism and liberalism and those that oppose these. Between those that support LGBTQI rights and those that talk in terms of ‘rehabilitating’ LGBTQI people.

    How do these tensions play out around civil society’s engagement at the international level?

    Some of those Islamic NGOs engage in policy spaces. If LGBTQI CSOs attend a government consultation on the UPR, they share the space with these.

    The UPR process – and UN processes more generally – offer a key site of contestation between these two camps. The second UPR cycle in 2013 was seen by critics as an attempt by civil society to push for the recognition of LGBTQI rights and destabilise the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution. There was a lot of pushback. And then in the third UPR cycle in 2018, these groups participated in the process and claimed space. Some of the recommendations of this group were included in the report compiled by the UNHRC.

    When the Government of Malaysia tried to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, there was a lot of pushback from these groups and attempts to mobilise Muslim people against ratification. The government pulled out of ratifying on the grounds that it would affect the position of Islam and could offer an entry point to the recognition of LGBTQI rights.

    How do different groups that oppose LGBTQI rights connect and receive support?

    After the corruption scandal that led to the ruling party losing the election, ethno-nationalist groups are no longer as closely linked to political parties as they used to be. I suspect now they are mostly self-funded. With Islamic NGOs, I suspect they receive some foreign funding. Some have a presence outside Malaysia as well. There is an umbrella group, ISMA (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity), which apparently has an office in Germany.

    We also believe some groups receive state funding for their participation in the government’s anti-LGBTQI programme. When a colleague raised the issue of state-sponsored violence against LGBTQI people at a UPR meeting, this created a lot of protest from Islamic NGOs, including those linked with ISMA, who demanded an apology and retraction. The small organisations that are providing ‘rehabilitation’ services also mobilised in their support, making quite clear the connections between groups receiving state funding to provide services and Islamic NGOs advocating against LGBTQI rights.

    How is progressive, rights-oriented civil society trying to respond?

    In the last few years LGBTQI groups are also pushing back and being more organised. The coalition of human rights organisations that participated in the UPR process has also tried to engage with Islamic NGOs and tried to increase engagement by pro-human rights Islamic organisations. They had some success in the UPR process in getting some groups to recognise the discrimination LGBTQI people face. Now there are more civil society groups that are countering arguments against universal human rights online, and more actions to communicate human rights messages in popular ways and in different languages. LGBTQI groups are working on communication strategies. We need this because we face overwhelming misinformation about LGBTQI people.

    LGBTQI groups recognise that these issues aren’t restricted to Malaysia alone. We see a lot of tension at the UN level and realise these issues are ongoing, with states pushing the adoption of problematic language. For example at the Commission on the Status of Women in 2019, language about sexual orientation and gender identity was dropped because of pushback from conservatives. This is a global issue. Civil society everywhere is dealing with these challenges. So how can we come together and strategise around this? How can we do global activism better?

    We need to make sure there is diverse representation in these international forums. We need to have global solidarity to push back on attacks on rights.

    Because there’s a religious dimension to this, and because Islamophobia is on the rise, we need also to be careful when talking about these issues not to encourage more Islamophobia. We need to have more conversations about how we address intersectional forms of oppression and also give spaces for Islamic groups to participate in processes that help address Islamophobia. This is something that as civil society we need to be sensitive to.

    Civic space in Malaysia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Justice for Sisters through itswebsite andFacebook page, orfollow@justice_sisters on Twitter.

     

  • MYANMAR : « Si le coup d’État n’est pas renversé, il y aura beaucoup plus de prisonniers politiques »

    CIVICUS parle du récent coup d’État militaire au Myanmar avec Bo Kyi, ancien prisonnier politique et co-fondateur de l’Association d’assistance aux prisonniers politiques (AAPP). Fondée en 2000 par d’anciens prisonniers politiques vivant en exil à la frontière entre la Thaïlande et le Myanmar, l’AAPP est basée à Mae Sot, en Thaïlande, et possède deux bureaux au Myanmar, ouverts depuis 2012. L’AAPP travaille pour la libération des prisonniers politiques et l’amélioration de leur vie après leur libération, avec des programmes visant à leur garantir l’accès à l’éducation, à la formation professionnelle, aux conseils en matière de santé mentale et aux soins de santé.

     

  • Pakistan: la société civile demande la libération immédiate de Mohammed Ismail et mettre fin à l'harcèlement

    Dernière nouvelle à propos du cas du professeur Mohammed Ismail: 

     


    Les membres soussignés de CIVICUS, l'Alliance mondiale des organisations de la société civile et leGroupe d'Affinité des Associations Nationales (AGNA) exigent la libération immédiate du professeur Mohammed Ismail de la détention préventive au Pakistan et mettre un terme à toutes les formes de harcèlement et d’intimidation et menaces contre lui et sa famille.

    Mohammed Ismail est, depuis longtemps, membre d'AGNA, un réseau de 90 associations nationales et plates-formes régionales du monde entier. Il est le point focal du Forum des ONG pakistanaises (PNF), une organisation qui rassemble d'autres organisations de la société civile (OSC) au Pakistan. Sa fille, Gulalai Ismail, est une défenseuse des droits humains qui a été victime de persécution par les autorités du fait de son plaidoyer en faveur des droits des femmes et des filles et de ses efforts pour mettre fin aux violations des droits humains envers le groupe ethnique pachtoun. Elle a, par la suite, obtenu l'asile aux États-Unis d'Amérique.

    En juillet 2019, Mohammed Ismail a été accusé d'infractions à la Loi Antiterroriste par rapport au travail légitime de sa fille, Gulalai Ismail, en faveur des droits humains. Le 24 octobre 2019, il a été abordé devant le tribunal de Peshawar par des hommes vêtus d'uniformes militaires noirs, qui l'ont forcé à monter dans un véhicule noir. Il reste porté disparu jusqu'au matin du 25 octobre, lorsqu’il a comparu devant un magistrat judiciaire, sous la garde de l'Agence Fédérale d'Investigation du Pakistan, et a été inculpé de nouvelles accusations en vertu de la loi sur la criminalité électronique au Pakistan. Il est toujours en détention et les demandes de libération sous caution déposées ont été rejetées par les tribunaux.

    En outre, nous sommes profondément préoccupés par les rapports fiables reçus au sujet des conditions épouvantables dans lesquelles le professeur Ismail est placé en détention, qui peuvent être considérées comme des traitements cruel, inhumains et dégradants. Il a été privé de soins médicaux malgré ses multiples problèmes de santé, notamment un trouble neurologique, des disques disloqués au dos, des douleurs aux reins et des taux élevés de créatinine. On lui a également refusé des soins médicaux pour traiter son hypertension.

    Avant sa détention, Mohammed Ismail et sa famille avaient été victimes d'intimidations pendant des mois, y compris au moins trois rafles dans leur maison familiale à Islamabad, ainsi que de menaces de blessures physiques à la jeune sœur de Gulalai Ismail.

    Les accusations portées contre Mohammed Ismail ne sont pas fondées et semblent avoir été présentées par les autorités pour le faire taire et aussi museler Gulalai. Ce harcèlement et cette intimidation judiciaire mettent en évidence le climat hostile où des défenseurs des droits humains, des journalistes et d'autres acteurs au Pakistan exercent leur liberté d'expression et expriment leurs critiques à l'égard de l'État.

    Nous, les membres de CIVICUS et de l'AGNA, exhortons les autorités pakistanaises à libérer le professeur Ismail immédiatement et sans condition, à mettre un terme aux actes de harcèlement à l'encontre du professeur Mohammed Ismail, de Gulalai Ismail et de leur famille, et de retirer toutes les charges portées contre eux. Nous demandons également aux autorités à prendre des mesures immédiates pour veiller à ce que tous les défenseurs des droits de l'homme au Pakistan puissent mener leurs activités légitimes sans aucune entrave ni crainte de représailles.

    Signatures
    Areen Abu al rob, PCS Palestine
    Ronja Ievers, Hui E! Community Aotearoa
    Sophie Kange, Uganda National NGO Forum
    Marisa Gomez Crespo, Plataforma de ONG de accion social
    Ilina Neshikj, Balkan Civil Society Development Network
    Mpho Tapela, Botswana Council of NGO’s
    Siaka Coulibaly, RESOCIDE
    Siale ILOLAHIA, PIANGO
    Kai Klandorf, Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations
    Analia Bettoni, Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo
    Addys Then Marte, Alianza ONG
    Lavea Peseta. L.Nafo'i, Samoa Umbrella Non Government Organization
    Jitram Lama, NGO Federation Nepal
    Oyebisi Seyi, Nigeria Network of NGOs
    Jane Salmonson, Scotland’s International Development Alliance
    Maja Stojanovic, Civic Initiatives, Serbia
    Vertti Kiukas, SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health
     

     

  • SRI LANKA : « Le contrôle des médias a donné au gouvernement un grand avantage »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Sandun Thudugala, directeur des programmes du Law and Society Trust (LST), au sujet des élections législatives qui ont eu lieu au Sri Lanka le 5 août 2020, dans le contexte de la pandémie de la COVID-19. LST est une organisation de recherche et de défense juridique fondée en 1982 à Colombo, au Sri Lanka, dans le but de promouvoir des réformes juridiques pour améliorer l’accès à la justice, la judiciarisation des droits et la responsabilité des institutions publiques.

    A l’approche des élections d’août 2020, le CIVICUS Monitora documenté le fait que les avocats de droits humains et les journalistes étaient victimes d’arrestations, de menaces et de harcèlement. Unrapport du rapporteur spécial des Nations unies (ONU) sur les droits à la liberté de réunion pacifique et d’association, publié en mai 2020, a également montré que la société civile était confrontée à des difficultés d’enregistrement et de fonctionnement et à divers obstacles à l’exercice du droit de manifestation.

     

  • THAILANDE : « Les jeunes remettent en question le fait que le gouvernement sape leurs droits et compromette leur avenir »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec la directrice exécutive d’Amnesty International Thaïlande, Piyanut Kotsan, sur le mouvement démocratique et la répression des manifestations en Thaïlande. Fondée à Bangkok en 1993, Amnesty International Thaïlande compte plus de 1 000 membres dans tout le pays. Son travail se concentre sur la promotion de la liberté d’expression en ligne et hors ligne, la liberté de réunion pacifique, l’éducation aux droits humains, le droit à l’avortement, les droits des migrants et des réfugiés, et la dénonciation de la torture, des disparitions forcées et de la peine de mort.

     

  • VIETNAM: ‘The government is using non-state actors against minority religions’

    Thang NguyenCIVICUS speaks with Thang Nguyen of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), a civil society organisation based in the USA and Thailand, about the challenges for civil society and religious minorities in Vietnam, and about their work to enable civil society responses.

    Can you tell us about BPSOS and the work it does?

    I’m currently the CEO and President of BPSOS, having joined initially as a volunteer. BPSOS was founded in 1980. We have two major divisions. The first, our domestic programme, is about serving refugees and migrants in the USA, across six locations. Second, we have our international initiatives, run from our regional headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.

    In Bangkok, we provide a legal clinic to help refugees and asylum seekers with their asylum claims and with protection – not only those coming from Vietnam but also from other countries, including Cambodia, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We have a programme to help Vietnamese human rights defenders at risk, whether they be in prison or in hiding in Vietnam or seeking refuge in Thailand or elsewhere. A major component is to build capacity for civil society in Vietnam at the community level. Finally, we have a religious freedom project, working with local, regional and global partners, to build up a network for advocates for freedom of religion or belief in South East Asia. We hold an annual conference, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference (SEAFORB).

    What are the key current challenges experienced by civil society in Vietnam?

    The regime is still very oppressive. The government has heavy-handed policies against people coming together to form their own associations, which make it hard for organised civil society to develop. The government is now somewhat more tolerant with individuals speaking out, or perhaps it is that the government struggles to control expression on social media to the same extent.

    Another challenge comes with the people themselves. Living in a closed society, they don’t have many opportunities to develop the necessary skills or experience to come together and form associations.

    Further, there’s very little commitment or investment from the international community to develop civil society in Vietnam, compared for example to Cambodia or Myanmar. There are very few organisations from outside Vietnam that work hand in hand with groups in Vietnam to help them develop capacity to implement programmes.

    Because of this, there are very few truly functional independent civil society organisations in Vietnam and the number of these has decreased over the last five years because they cannot sustain themselves in the face of interference from the government. There are only individual human rights defenders, some of them well-known, but not organised civil society.

    In contrast, there are tens of thousands of government-owned ‘non-governmental’ organisations (GONGOs) that are controlled by the Communist Party. They present themselves as the civil society of Vietnam.

    What are the challenges minority groups face in Vietnam, particularly religious minorities?

    Many of the minority groups are indigenous peoples, but the government of Vietnam does not recognise them as such; it only classes them as ethnic minorities. They therefore face a fight for the right to be recognised as indigenous people. They are often separated from their ancestral land.

    For many groups, a religion that is a minority belief in Vietnam is part of their social and cultural makeup. For example, the Cham are Muslim and the Khmer Krom are Theravada Buddhists, which is very different from the Mahayana Buddhism practised by the majority of Vietnamese Buddhists. Then there are the Hmong and the Montagnards: Christianity has spread among the Montagnards for decades, and the government wants to control and stop this. Since the early 1980s, Christianity also started to develop in the Northwest Region among the Hmong population. The government of Vietnam viewed this as an undesirable influence from the west, and therefore it has taken drastic messages to stop its further spreading in the Northwest and Central Highlands regions.

    Most of these groups of people are located remotely and so don’t have access to the internet, and don’t know how to attract resources, even from within Vietnam. Other people in Vietnam aren’t aware of the situation, let alone the international community. Little information is available about these groups.

    The government authorities are directly suppressing independent house churches. In the Central Highlands, thousands of house churches have been closed, set on fire and destroyed. In 2004 the government issued an ordinance on belief and religion, meaning that house churches have to be registered. There are credible reports that the government trained a lot of its own people to become pastors, and they have set up new churches allowed by the government. These are run and controlled by the government.

    A major challenge is the forced renunciation of faith. Christians have been ordered to leave their parish churches and told not to follow any religion, or to join a government-controlled church. People who have resisted joining government-controlled churches have been harassed, persecuted and tortured. Several deaths in police custody have been documented. There are quite a lot of religious prisoners of conscience, many of them Montagnard Christians.

    The repression of the Hmong is even more drastic. In many parts of Northwest Region, Hmong Christians who have refused to renounce their faith have been evicted from their villages by the local authorities. Their villages have been declared as Christian-free zones. Tens of thousands of Hmong have been affected, something that continues to this day. They became itinerant, and it has taken them many years to coalesce into new communities, usually in previously uninhabited areas unknown to local government. Many moved to the Central Highlands. They are completely undocumented and so have become functionally stateless. They live outside society. Married people are not issued with marriage certificates, babies do not get birth certificates, children can’t formally receive education – although some slip into school unofficially – and people can’t get legal employment, set up a business, or open a bank account. They are restricted in their travel: pastors can’t travel into these communities, while they cannot travel to worship elsewhere.

    In many provinces Catholics, even when they are part of the major ethnic groups, have been persecuted by the government. And then there is the Cao Dai religion, a minority religion with about five million reported followers, although the government only recognises around 1.2 million Cao Daiists. Its church structures were disbanded in 1978. In 1997 the government created a new Cao Dai sect, and then 10 years later turned this into a new religion with a similar name and transferred all the property of the Cao Dai religion to it. To the world the government presents this sect as the representative of the Cao Dai religion.

    The government is also using non-state actors against minority religions. In Nghe An Province, the authorities use organised mobs known as Red Flag Associations, which are supported and encouraged by local authorities to attack churches and beat up parishioners. We have had several reports of this.

    What steps are needed to help civil society respond to these rights violations?

    Because of the restriction of organised civil society there’s very little response to the suppression of religious minorities. This lack of organised civil society also makes it difficult to foster partnerships between civil society groups in Vietnam and international human rights organisations. In response, we are trying to build community capacity to develop organisations in Vietnam to protect rights.

    We train a lot of people in Vietnam to know how to report human rights violations. So far we’ve trained about a thousand local rapporteurs and they have generated about 200 different reports that have been submitted to various United Nations (UN) special procedures and UN bodies, and shared with other governments and international human rights organisations to raise awareness of the situation in Vietnam.

    We are helping to form community-based CSOs in each minority community. So far there are about 20 of these, and we aim to have 100 by the end of 2020. We have incubated a number of CSOs specialising in different aspects of human rights, based on the international commitments Vietnam has made as a result of signing various conventions. For example, we have supported the creation and development of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, the Vietnam Coalition Against Torture and the Vietnam Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable. We have worked with Montagnard people to form a CSO specialising in Montagnard minorities. Now we are connecting these specialist CSOs with their peers outside Vietnam. For instance Vietnamese Women for Human Rights is now a member of FORUM-ASIA, a network of human rights organisations throughout Asia and the Pacific. We are cultivating these kinds of partnerships.

    What more support is needed?

    Once CSOs in Vietnam have developed some capacity, there is a need to connect them with civil society outside Vietnam. We are advocating for organisations to offer internship and fellowship schemes to enable staff to develop skills, experience, connections and exposure outside Vietnam.

    We hope to see more projects geared at further developing civil society in Vietnam, through training, coaching and technical assistance as well as advocacy. There has been an almost complete lack of this kind of investment from civil society worldwide. Organisations are issuing statements about Vietnam and that is appreciated, but this is the next step needed. Amnesty International now has a Vietnamese national working on Vietnam, who was with BPSOS before, so this is a positive step and a model to replicate.

    It would be much more effective if international human rights organisations working on Vietnam could coordinate among themselves, and with groups within Vietnam. For instance, a joint advocacy project on the functionally stateless Montagnard Christians, with pressure coming from multiple directions, would help.

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

    Get in touch with BSPOS through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@BoatPeopleSOS on Twitter.