• The French “separatism” bill raises concerns for rights and civil liberties

    Dear Commissioner Didier Reynders,

    Dear Michael O’Flaherty,

    Cc: Commissioner Ylva Johansson, Vice President Vera Jourová

    The French “separatism” bill raises concerns for rights and civil liberties: the European Commission must question France

    We, civil society organisations that advocate for rights and values, for the defence of civil liberties and the rule of law, and against any form of discrimination, are writing to raise concerns about the French “separatism” bill («projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») currently under discussion in Parliament.

    Numerous actors including associations in France[1], the national human rights body[2] and European organisations[3] have expressed major concerns over the bill and the implications it would have for rights and civil liberties. Among the provisions raising worries is a so-called “Contract” of Republican Engagement, that the Government will introduce by a Decree, which will give administrative authorities the right to withdraw public funding and extended possibilities for dissolution with a limited role for the judiciary. Additionally, it introduces unnecessary controls on foreign funding that cast a negative presumption on all civic organisations receiving funding from abroad.

    The bill may be considered by EU institutions as implementing EU law on combating terrorism, racism and xenophobia and its provisions may lead to disproportionate restrictions of freedom of association (article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU - CFR), freedom of expression (art. 11 of CFR) and freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art. 10 CFR), as well as to the violation of the right to non-discrimination (art. 21 CFR). There is concern that the bill as currently drafted will affect minorities based on their ethnic origins, Muslim populations or people considered to be Muslim, and associations standing up for their rights.[4]

    Organised civil society is a key pillar of French democracy and an important watchdog in ensuring the respect for the rule of law. We are alarmed by the fact that the law is dramatically increasing the control of public authorities and institutions on the right to associate, departing from the more than centennial liberal framework that made the French civil society sector one of the strongest and most vibrant in Europe and the world. Our concern extends to the fact that the French Government is restricting parliamentary debate to pass the law by a fast-track procedure and without consultation with civil society ahead of the legislative process.

    If the law is passed in its current form, it will also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of Europe. As a recent case in point, legislation stigmatising and restricting access to foreign funding to associations in Hungary was later proposed in Poland and Bulgaria[5].

    The European Commission recognises the important role of civil society in the “ecosystem” of access to rights by all in the EU. The recognition of civil society’s role in safeguarding the rule of law was expressed in the Commission’s first rule of law report, and through the infringement procedure against Hungary’s law on the transparency of organisations supported from abroad. Another very positive development is illustrated by the Citizens, Equality, Rights & Values (CERV) programme funding’s increase for the 2021-2027 period.

    We urge the Commission to show a similar willingness to support civic actors in France by expressing concerns about the draft law. In particular, we call on the European Commission to:

    • Question publicly the provision restricting the right to associate and civil liberties included in the draft proposal, with no delay;
    • Open discussions with the French authorities on the current state of civic space and rule of law in the country and associate French civic actors in appropriate forms.

    We are counting on the European Commission and the European Fundamental Rights Agency to act swiftly in raising concerns regarding restrictions to rights and civil liberties with regards to the draft bill.


    European and global Networks

    • CIVICUS - Global
    • Civil Society Europe - Europe
    • Equinox - Europe
    • European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) – Europe
    • European Civic Forum (ECF) - Europe
    • European Network Against Racism (ENAR) - Europe
    • Reclaim EU - Europe

    French organisations

    • Le Mouvement Associatif – France
    • Ligue des droits de L’Homme (LDH) - France
    • Action Droits des Musulmans (ADM) - France
    • Alliance Citoyenne – France

    France Separatism bill


    [1] See, for example, Joint open letter – for the attention of senators: Bill “reinforcing respect for the principles of the republic”, 7 April 2021,  the national platform, Le Mouvement Associatif, “Projet de loi Respect des principes républicains: propositions du Mouvement associative” (, 13 January 2021; The coalition for associative freedoms, a Coalition bringing together more than 10,800 supporters: "Separatism law": associative freedoms in danger.

    [2] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme , Second avis sur le projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République, 4 April 2021.

    [3] COE, The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all, 31 March 2021, The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all - Newsroom (; ECNL, France aims to strengthen respect of republican values: but how does it affect civic space?, 10 December 2021.

    [4] ADM analysis of the « projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République » 

    [5] European Commission, 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on the rule of law situation in Poland, 30 September 2021, pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf (, p. 16; European Commission, 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on the rule of law situation in Bulgaria, 30 September 2021, bg_rol_country_chapter.pdf (, p. 20.

     Civic space in France is rated "Narrowed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.


  • As the climate crisis intensifies, so does the crackdown on environmental activism, finds new report

    New research brief from the CIVICUS Monitor examines the crackdown of environmental activism and profiles important victories civil society has scored in the fight for climate justice.

    • Environmental protests are being criminalised and met with repression on all continents
    • State authorities and private companies are common perpetrators of violations to civic freedoms
    • Despite the risks and restrictions, activist groups continue to score important victories to advance climate justice.

    As world leaders meet in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Negotiations (COP26), peaceful environmental activists are being threatened, silenced and criminalised around the world. The host of this year's meeting is one of many countries where activists are regularly facing rights violations.

    New research from the CIVICUS Monitor looks at the common tactics and restrictions being used by governments and private companies to suppress environmental movements. The research brief “Defenders of our planet: Resilience in the face of restrictions” focuses on three worrying trends: Bans and restrictions on protests; Judicial harassment and legal persecution; and the use of violence, including targeted killings.

    As the climate crisis intensifies, activists and civil society groups continue to mobilise to hold policymakers and corporate leaders to account. From Brazil to South Africa, activists are putting their lives on the line to protect lands and to halt the activities of high-polluting industries. The most severe rights abuses are often experienced by civil society groups that are standing up to the logging, mining and energy giants who are exploiting natural resources and fueling global warming.

    As people take to the streets, governments have been instituting bans that criminalise environmental protests. Recently governments have used COVID-19 as a pretext to disrupt and break up demonstrations. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor indicates that the detention of protesters and the use of excessive force by authorities are becoming more prevalent.

    In Cambodia in May 2021, three environmental defenders were sentenced to 18 to 20 months in prison for planning a protest  against the filling of a lake in the capital. While in Finland this past June, over 100 activists were arrested for participating in a protest calling for the government to take urgent action on climate change. From authoritarian countries to  mature democracies, the research also profiles those who have been put behind bars for peacefully protesting.

    “Silencing activists and denying them of their fundamental civic rights is another tactic being used by leaders to evade and delay action on climate change” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor. “Criminalising nonviolent protests has become a troubling indicator that governments are not committed to saving the planet .”

    The report shows that many of the measures being deployed by governments to restrict rights are not compatible with international law. Examples of courts and legislative bodies reversing attempts to criminalise nonviolent climate protests are few and far between.

    Despite the increased risks and restrictions facing environmental campaigners, the report also shows that a wide range of campaigns have scored important victories, including the closure of mines and numerous hazardous construction projects. Equally significant has been the rise of climate litigation by activist groups. Ironically, as authorities take activists to court for exercising their fundamental right to protest, activist groups have successfully filed lawsuits against governments and companies in over 25 countries for failing to act on climate change.



  • CIVICUS at UN Human Rights Council: Human rights challenges in the context of countering terrorism

    37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Oral Statement – Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

    1 March 2018

    CIVICUS, on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s report on the human rights challenge of states of emergency in the context of countering terrorism.

    This Council has reaffirmed that the most effective means of countering terrorism is through the respect for human rights, including by addressing conditions conducive to terrorism such as a lack of respect for the rule of law, political exclusion, suppression of dissent.

    Worryingly, from the Maldives, to France, to Turkey, to Ethiopia, governments across the world are invoking states of emergency, with the effect, and in some cases the intent, of criminalising dissent and persecuting human rights defenders, protesters and civil society organisations. Rather than pursue legitimate national security objectives, these laws are applied to insulate governments from legitimate criticism. Such measures are contrary to international human rights law and are counter-productive to peace and security.

    We urge states to heed the Human Rights Committee’s guidance that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be derogated, and we consider the same to be true for other rights essential to civil society.

    All national counter-terrorism laws must be brought into compliance with international human rights law, with the full and effective participation of civil society. We call on States that are currently under States of Emergency to ensure their independent review by the judiciary, and to end them where they are no longer justified by the exigencies of the situation.

    We ask the Special Rapporteur how the Human Rights Council can better support the UN Security Council in addressing the shrinking of civic space, to provide accountability for abuses of counter-terrorism measures against persons exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression.


  • CIVICUS Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Submissions on Civil Society Space

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 5 countries in advance of the 29th UPR session in January 2018. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

    Countries Examined: Burundi, France, Israel, Serbia, and the UAE 

    Burundi: CIVICUS, APRODH, LigueITEKA, DefendDefenders and FIDH examine the failure of the Government of Burundi to implement the vast majority of recommendations it accepted and noted during Burundi’s previous UPR cycle. In the submission, we highlight the restrictions on fundamental freedoms, the targeting of human rights defenders and Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with international human rights institutions and mechanisms. We further examine the high levels of impunity enjoyed by government officials, members of the security forces and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure. 

    France: While France has faced serious terrorist threats since its last UPR review, measures taken to protect the public from attacks have had negative consequences for the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. In its submission to Frances third UPR review, CIVICUS outlines a series of concerns related to France’s decision to repeatedly extend its state of emergency, which has expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance of security forces without adequate judicial oversight and without due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms. 

    Israel: CIVICUS, PNGO and ANND raise concern over ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since Israel’s previous UPR examination. Worryingly, the authorities continue to subvert the right to freedom of expression through the criminalization of dissent online. Human rights defenders and peaceful protesters also routinely face arbitrary arrest and are held in administrative detention to suppress their legitimate work.

    Serbia: CIVICUS, the Human Rights House Belgrade (Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and Human Rights House Foundation document the continued intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. Additionally, we assess how vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets is undermining the work of civil society.

    United Arab Emirates: In its joint UPR submission, CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the International Service for Human Rights examine the continued suppression of fundamental democratic freedoms in the United Arab Emirates. This report explores the ongoing systematic campaign to persecute human rights defenders through arbitrary arrests, torture, deportation and the continued use of draconian legislation to restrict freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.


  • COP26 : « Les décideurs ont des objectifs nationaux alors que les enjeux sont transnationaux »

    Alors que la 26ème Conférence des parties des Nations unies sur le changement climatique (COP26) se déroule à Glasgow, au Royaume-Uni, du 31 octobre au 12 novembre 2021,CIVICUS interroge des militants, des dirigeants et des experts de la société civile sur les défis environnementaux auxquels ils sont confrontés dans leur contexte, les actions qu’ils entreprennent pour y faire face et leurs attentes pour le sommet.


  • COP26: ‘Decision-makers have national objectives whereas the issues at stake are transnational’

    As the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) takes place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021,CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the summit.


  • France : ‘Il faut relier les organisations plus traditionnelles des droits humains avec celles issues des minorités visibles’


    Dans le cadre de notre rapport de 2018 sur le thème de « Réinventer la démocratie », nous parlons et échangeons avec des activistes et des leaders de la société civile à propos de leur travail pour promouvoir les principes et des pratiques démocratiques, sur les défis qu'ils rencontrent et les victoires qu'ils obtiennent. CIVICUS parle aujourd’hui à Jean-Marie Fardeau, délégué national de Vox Public, une organisation de la société civile française créée en 2016 pour soutenir et accompagner les initiatives citoyennes lorsque celles-ci visent à influencer les politiques publiques pour réduire les injustices sociales, les discriminations et les pratiques de corruption.


  • French Separatism Bill threatens fundamental freedoms, warn civil society organisations

    The proposed French "separatism" bill («Projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») could threaten rights and civil liberties, according to French and European civil society organisations including CIVICUS, the European Civic Forum (ECF), Le Mouvement Associatif (LMA) and la Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH). French civil society organisations and trade unions have scheduled public demonstrations against the bill on 12 June 2021.


  • Le projet de loi Française sur le "séparatisme" suscite des inquiétudes pour les droits et les libertés civiles: la Commission Européenne doit interpeller la France

    Commissaire Didier Reynders

    Commission Européenne

    Rue de la Loi 200 / Wetstraat 200, 1040 Bruxelles

    European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights Schwarzenbergplatz 11, 1040 Vienne


    Cher Commissaire Didier Reynders, Cher Michael O’Flaherty,

    Cc: Commissioner Ylva Johansson, Vice President Vera Jourvoá

    Le projet de loi Française sur le "séparatisme"suscite des inquiétudes pour les droits et les libertés civiles : la Commission Européenne doit interpeller la France

    Nous, organisations de la société civile qui défendons les droits et les valeurs, la défense des libertés civiles et de l'Etat de droit, et qui luttons contre toute forme de discrimination, écrivons pour exprimer nos inquiétudes concernant le projet de loi français sur le "séparatisme" ("projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République") actuellement en discussion au Parlement.

    De nombreux acteurs civiques en France dont les associations, la Commission Nationale Consultative des droits de l'Homme française et des organismes européens, ont exprimé des préoccupations majeures concernant le projet de loi et ses potentielles implications pour les droits et les libertés civiles. Parmi les dispositions qui suscitent des inquiétudes figure le "contrat" d'engagement républicain, que le gouvernement introduira par décret et qui donnera aux autorités administratives le droit de retirer les financements publics et des possibilités étendues de dissolution avec un rôle limité pour le pouvoir judiciaire. En outre, seraient introduits des contrôles sur tous financements provenant de l'étranger qui jettent une présomption négative sur toutes les organisations civiques en bénéficiant.

    Le projet de loi peut être considéré par les institutions de l'UE comme une mise en œuvre de la législation de l'UE sur la lutte contre le terrorisme, le racisme et la xénophobie. Les dispositions qu'il contient pourraient conduire à des restrictions disproportionnées de la liberté d'association (article 12 de la Charte des droits fondamentaux de l'UE - CFR), de la liberté d'expression (article 11 de la CFR) et de la liberté de pensée, de conscience et de religion (article 10 de la CFR), ainsi qu'à la violation du droit à la non-discrimination (article 21 de la CFR). Il y a aussi lieu de craindre que le projet de loi tel qu'actuellement rédigé n'affecte des groupes en fonction d'origines ethniques, les populations musulmanes ou les personnes considérées comme telles, ainsi que les associations qui défendent leurs droits.

    La société civile organisée est un pilier essentiel de la démocratie en France et une observatrice essentielle pour surveiller le respect de l'État de droit. Nous sommes alarmés par le fait que cette loi n'accroisse considérablement le contrôle des autorités et institutions publiques sur le droit d'association, s'écartant du cadre libéral plus que centenaire qui a fait du secteur de la société civile en France l'un des plus forts et des plus dynamiques en Europe et dans le monde.

    Notre préoccupation s'étend au fait que le gouvernement français limite le débat parlementaire en faisant adopter la loi par une procédure législative accélérée et sans consultation de la société civile en amont du processus législatif.

    Adoptée sous sa forme actuelle, la loi créerait un dangereux précédent pour le reste de l'Europe. On a vu de tels précédents créés, comme par exemple, avec une législation stigmatisant et restreignant l'accès des associations hongroises aux financements étrangers qui a ensuite été proposée en Pologne et en Bulgarie.

    La Commission européenne reconnaît le rôle important de la société civile dans l'"écosystème" de l'accès aux droits pour toutes et tous dans l'UE. On l'a vu avec le premier rapport de la Commission sur l'état de droit et avec la procédure d'infraction contre la loi hongroise sur la transparence des organisations soutenues par l'étranger. Une autre évolution très positive est illustrée par l'augmentation du financement du programme "Citoyens, égalité, droits et valeurs" (CERV) pour la période 2021-2027.

    Nous demandons instamment à la Commission de faire preuve d'une volonté similaire de soutenir les acteurs civiques en France en exprimant ses préoccupations concernant le projet de loi. En particulier, nous demandons à la Commission européenne de :

    • d'interroger publiquement et sans délai la disposition restreignant le droit d'association et les libertés civiles incluse dans le projet de loi ;
    • d'avoir une discussion avec les autorités françaises sur la situation présente concernant l'espace civique et sur le respect de l'état de droit dans le pays, ainsi que d'y associer les acteurs civiques français sous des formes appropriées.

    Nous comptons sur la Commission européenne et l'Agence européenne des droits fondamentaux pour agir rapidement en soulevant les préoccupations concernant les restrictions aux droits et aux libertés civiles dans le cadre du projet de loi.


    Réseaux européens / globaux

    • CIVICUS - Global
    • Civil Society Europe - Europe
    • Equinox - Europe
    • European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) – Europe
    • European Civic Forum (ECF) - Europe
    • European Network Against Racism (ENAR) - Europe
    • Reclaim EU - Europe

    Associations françaises

    • Le Mouvement Associatif – France
    • Ligue des droits de L’Homme (LDH) - France
    • Action Droits des Musulmans (ADM) – France
    • Alliance Citoyenne – Franc

    France Separatism bill


  • Mali: Reverse ban on organisations receiving funds from France

    CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world is seriously concerned over a decision by the Mali government to ban organisations receiving funds from France. The ban is a total violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association; and has a chilling effect on civil society organisations in Mali.

    On 21 November 2022, the government of Mali took a decision to ban all organisations receiving funds, material, or technical support from France. This ban mainly affects organisations and groups providing emergency food aid, medical services, water supply and agricultural, as well as those involved in human rights and governance. The government of Mali is obliged to protect and promote the rights of its citizens including creating an enabling environment for civil society organisations to operate. All undue acts of intimidation, harassment, and restrictions on the right to freedom of association should be lifted in line with Mali’s international human rights obligations to enable civil society organisations (CSOs) to exercise their respective mandates.

    “The banning of these organisations is a new low for human rights in a country that has continuously failed to respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association. This is intended to restrict organisations committed to defending human rights and providing much needed livelihood. Malian authorities should immediately reverse this decision and allow organisations to continue their work uninterrupted,” said Paul Mulindwa, CIVICUS’ Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa.


    Mali has been contending with violence from extremists groups since 2012, but also a serious political and humanitarian crisis. About 1,260,528 people are displaced by the conflict. Since May 2021 and a second coup d'état that consolidated their grip, coup leaders in Mali have gradually turned away from France, whose last soldier left the country in August 2022 after nine years of engagement against the extremists alongside the Malian army. The human rights situation in Mali continues to deteriorate, with extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and other killings, injuries, and kidnappings taking place.   Human rights groups have reported an increase in enforced disappearances, illegal arrests or detentions, including prolonged detentions and violations of due process guarantees, acts of torture or other inhuman treatment, as well as numerous cases of massive and forced displacement of civilians, death threats and acts of intimidation, looting and destruction of property.

    The banning of organisation receiving funds from France came only days after the French government announced it was suspending aid to Mali. However, France still planned to provide humanitarian aid through NGOs. Since 2013, France had been providing a total of 100 million euros each year in assistance.

    The CIVICUS Monitor rates the space for civil society in Mali as repressed.

    For more information, please contact:

    Paul Mulindwa

    Advocacy and Campaigns Lead – Sub-Saharan Africa



  • Progress and shortcomings from 44th Session of the Human Rights Council

    Joint Statement for the end of the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China's imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of Covid-19, and targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

    The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

    Amnesty's Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

    During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

    Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

    We hope that the High Commissioner's reporton systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

    We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

    Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

    We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

    These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France, Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

    We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

    We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

    The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels - and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

    The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

    The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

    We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

    We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country. We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

    The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September. We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

    We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

    We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

    Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and 'Terrorism Circuit courts' in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

    As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

    In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

    To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of "freedom, peace and justice" of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.


    International Service for Human Rights
    DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    Center for Reproductive Rights
    Franciscans International
    The Syrian Legal Development Programme
    Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA World)
    Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    ARTICLE 19
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    Association for Progressive Communications
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    Amnesty International


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina FasoBrazil, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, ItalyJapan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor